Training and Racing

Super Spartan Race: Failed Obstacle Penalties, Really?

At the end of January I volunteered at and competed in the Super Spartan Race. This was a 8.5 mile obstacle course race down in Vail Lake Resort in Temecula, CA. The greatest thing about this race was that you could volunteer on the day of the race and receive a ridiculous amount of benefits. I volunteered doing various tasks from 6am until my noon race and here is what I got in return:

  • Free race registration including t-shirt and finishers medal
  • VIP parking 200 feet from the festival and start line
  • Volunteer t-shirt
  • Breakfast and lunch
  • Easy storage and access to my bag

I think this is a pretty great deal for a few hours of light labor and a lot of standing around. I arrived at 6am but we did not start doing anything until 6:30. Most of the other volunteers showed up at 7am so I will lock that one away as a mental note for next year. I ate some granola bars for breakfast, got checked in for my race, and then helped check in some volunteers. One thing to note, they were pretty disorganized and a little confused all around. I’m pretty sure that if I was less honest I could have just walked away and raced and no one would have noticed or been able to locate me. Good think I’m a nice guy and wanted my free lunch. After a few hours of watching the tunnel crawl it was time for me to get warmed up for my race.

The noon heat was the last one and the sun was blazing especially for January 28th. Another note is that they do not post the map of the race in advance you just figure it out as you come to it. The race started and we headed out on the first straightaway. We quickly started an uphill climb which narrowed and then slowed to a one by one walk up to the top of a ridge. I really hate it when a race like this gets to a narrow ridge before we are able to spread out. Everyone was complaining, it must have taken 5 minutes just to walk to a spot where we could get around the slow people and even then you only had intermittent spots where you could pass for almost two miles.

We finally made our way down from the first ridge to reach some obstacles which broke up the monotony. Some short walls, a log crawl, and some hay bails let to a rope climb up to the top of a shipping container. This was the first big test, a twelve foot drop into a pile of hay with an injured knee supported by a brace. I took a breath and went for it. Positioned myself so I’d split my landing heavy on my left knee and rolled into the hay. Thankfully I came out of it unscathed and was on my way. At this point the field spread out a bit as we approached the first barb wire mud crawl. Almost standard issue except for one thing, uphill! Halfway through this long distance crawl the course went up at a steep angle and yet we still had to crawl under barbed wire. That one was unique and a little complicated. No wonder I was seeing people coming back from the halfway point with cuts all over them. I on the other hand made it out unscathed.

Next I entered into the first obstacle that you could actually fail, the balance beams. At most mud runs failure means try again or move on but not at the Super Spartan. They built in penalties. Yes…penalties. You got one shot to complete the obstacle and if you failed you had to do thirty burpees. What’s a burpee you ask, just follow this link for the description. This sucked and yes I had to do them. The next four obstacles had the penalty in place and I truly did not want to do that again. I rocked the monkey bars, the rock climb, and the five foot hurdles but failed miserably on the javelin throw. This one really pissed me off, if you did not know how to throw a javelin it was really luck that was between you and more burpees. I think they should have let you keep trying and only make you do the penalty if you gave up. Let’s be honest 20, 25, 28 it all sucked.

With five miles to go I went around to the sand trap where you had to fill up a five gallon bucket with sand and march it up a hill and then back down to where you started. After that and the tire carry came the march back up and down an handful of more ridges and finally the four and a half mile mark at my post, the tunnel crawl. Two hours of watching others try this obstacle I had learned the best way to get through it and flew by a dozen people under the net in the perfect bear crawl. With three miles left to go I made it to the third and final aid station. After this was two miles of swamp running, hill climbing, and a few random obstacles. None too difficult just a rope pull of a sand bucket up a tree, a wall climb, and a twenty foot cargo net.

As I marched up and past dozens of people I noticed everyone sitting under brush and looking somewhat delirious. I and everyone in the medical tent later attribute this to the lack of water offered to the participants. 8.5 miles, 75 degrees, and 28 obstacles calls for more than three places for water. It was even worse that the last three miles were in the sun and had no water whatsoever. I was lucky that I am used to running with very little hydration but a lot of other people were not so fortunate. This is the one part of the fact that I think was irresponsible and could have gotten someone in serious trouble where no one would find them.

I made it down the final slope and hit the last six obstacles. The first two were the final penalty based challenges and after an eight mile battle there was no way I was failing. I dragged a huge rock attached to a rope through a muddle course and some water and then made it to the rope climb. Just like gym class, you had to climb up a knotted rope and ring a bell at the top of the obstacle. Totally exhausted yet determined to finish I hoisted myself up bit by bit and run that bell just as my arm strength gave out. No burpees for me!

Next it was it was time to get seriously wet. Wading through pool after pool of muddy water I made it to the final barbed wire crawl. This one did not go uphill but at points the barbed wire was only a few inches off the ground. I military crawled inch by inch and made my way through only getting caught up once thankfully only on my shirt. This is where they finally had some photographers because we were back at the festival area so you get to see some pictures. I made it through and on to the fire walker. Though it looks intense this is probably the easiest obstacle with a quick jump over burning wood. It makes for a great picture! The final obstacles were in my path and I was determined to power through. Between me and the two gladiators was the tricep pull machines. Each participant had to use a real rope pull down (Like a standing rowing machine) and draw a counter down from 200 to 0. Not a fun way to finish but I made it through. Powering through the two gladiators, who missed me completely, I made it to the finish line arms raised and victorious in two hours and thirty two minutes!

I grabbed my shirt and medal and walked dazed over to the festival area. Close by was the lake and a free coconut water tent. I downed four containers of the water and made my way over to the lake. What better way to get clean and cool off then to jump into an ice cold lake. Who needs showers, not me. Just like the rest of the finishers I stumbled around to my bag and dried off. It was then that I was able to get my PP&J lunch which was glorious. Next I took off my shoes and socks and discovered my casualty of war. RIP right pinky toenail, you will be missed. A small price to pay for a great race.

All in all, this was a well put together and really fun race. Not one for the feint of heart and on par with the tough mudder, I would do it again volunteering for free next year. This time I am going to practice the javelin through while waiting for my shift so I don’t have to do the ridiculous penalty and can speed up my time. I hope that next year they add more aid stations and maybe put the photographers at some of the other obstacles so you can get a feel for the whole race. I will say though that this is the first race I’ve ever done where the digital pictures were completely free. Kudos to them for that. Now I am a Super Spartan Finisher, now they just need to have a So Cal Spartan Beast!

Take a look at the race descriptions here

25 thoughts on “Super Spartan Race: Failed Obstacle Penalties, Really?”

  1. Hey Steve!
    Here is a great way to have fun, get active and stay healthy! Hero Rush is a new, national obstacle course designed by veteran firefighters for everyone! This way participants get the chance to see if they have what it takes to be a hero and go through obstacles firefighters face everyday such as, climbing ladders, sliding down poles and going through smoke, fire, dark and confined spaces. And Hero Rush is partnering up with a great charity. The National Fallen Firefighters will be supported by the race and there is even a special time slot to remember the 343 firefighters killed in the twin towers on 9/11. Register at to see when the race comes to your area. Don’t just play in the mud. Be a hero!

  2. So are you supposed to sign up to volunteer, AND register online? Or just mark when you register to volunteer that you want to race the same day, and register day of?

  3. Thanks for taking the time to compile your thoughts and breakdown of the race. I did the Sprint last week and am deciding the best way to attack my training for the super.

    1. It is an intense race that is for sure. There is a Beast in NoCal that I want to do. The first one was only a few weeks after knee surgery so I am looking at next November. 13mi of crazy.

  4. Great description of the race! I am going to be doing the SoCal Super on January 26 and wanted to know what I was in for. I completed the Spartan Sprint in Malibu last month and just signed up for the NorCal Beast in August. Trifect medal, here I come! 🙂

    And yes…burpees suck! I had to do 90 of those suckers during the sprint. I missed the spear throw, the monkey bars (it was raining and slick), and the wall crawl (so much mud on the first step that no one was able to stay on past that first attempt).

    Love the Spartan atmosphere and looking forward to completing the next two levels of races.

    1. Thanks for commenting! The race is a lot of fun and it is great that you can volunteer day of for a free entry. Racing can get expensive! The only thing about the burpees that annoyed me was doing them after failing obstacles like the spear throw. Almost no one completed, you really can’t train for it, and you got one try. The rest were fine. Good luck on the beast in August, I plan on doing the Nov beast in Sacramento. I would love to get the tri medal but they don’t have a sprint or a super up north yet and we just moved.

  5. This was awesome, Steve. I really enjoyed learning about the race through your eyes and experience. I’m a writer, currently writing a fantasy. You’ve given me some great ideas for obstacles for my heroine to face. Thanks.

  6. Amazing! Free photos?! Unbelievable!

    That was all interesting but the best bit for me sounds like the jumping in the lake at the end. Nice one.
    It seems like volunteering is definitely the way forward.

  7. Awesome breakdown of the race. I really wish there was more of this kind of thing out there, because I feel like n omatter how you train, the course is always a major surprise the first time. I definitely struggled…stay hydrated, have fun!

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