Close your eyes for a moment. Imagine that you just got busted for counting cards at the Mohegan Sun Casino and that you ran out through the parking lot attempting to elude 2 security officers with thick Boston accents. Now imagine that you turned the corner and darted into the parking garage to get away from them. Now forget that and imagine yourself running through loamy, leaf-covered trails surrounded by wild ferns, enjoying the scenery of a nature preserve. Now imagine yourself in the middle of a 5k road race in a one-road town. Now imagine encountering the usual Spartan obstacles (walls, atlas carry, rope climb, tire flip, etc.) while doing each of those. If you did all that, then in your mind you just experienced something very similar to the 2014 Connecticut Spartan Sprint hosted by the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT.
This race was different than any other Spartan Race I’ve ever experienced. Not great. Not terribly bad. Just different. By the layout of the course and the obstacles, it was clear that there were compromises with the Mohegan Sun. The race banners said Spartan Race. The festival area was all Spartan. The medals were stamped with Spartan Race. The feel of the race was NOT Spartan. The 4.5 mile sprint started and ended in the parking lot, combined periodically with other stretches of runs on highways or through the parking garage. The course was relatively flat with only a few minor uphill and downhill runs. It was the least technical Spartan Race I have ever experienced. Ironically enough though, for the first time ever in a Spartan, I rolled my ankle at about the 2.5 mile point by stepping on the side of a leaf-covered stone. The barbed wire crawl was short and on grass. The rope climb and slippery wall started in pools of water with tarp bottoms – not mud. I personally didn’t mind the absence of gratuitous mud, but it does make things more difficult. The last half mile of running on top of a small ridge was very telling and perhaps the best visual that encompasses this venue. To the left and down a small slope was the road and the casino. To the right, a bad stumble would have sent you tumbling uncontrollably down a 200 foot picturesque cliff into the river below. I’m pretty confident in stating that of all the Spartans that I have competed in, this one definitely favored fast runners more so than other races with more technical, strength, and skill components. The only major strength obstacle was the Herculean Hoist at the end, but it was indeed a major one. Apparently the sand bags had absorbed several pounds of water and were much heavier than usual. This is unconfirmed, but I heard that only 4 of the first 20 finishers actually completed it. I took it to about 4 feet from the top before I momentarily lost concentration and let it slip, giving me nice little rope burns, and ruining a burpee-free day.
Having read this, you may think that I thought the race was terrible, but it actually wasn’t as bad as I first feared when I saw the setup. The race was managed exceedingly well. Registration, bag-check, etc., was organized and well-staffed and there were plenty of volunteers on the course. I believe that Spartan did the best they could with the limitations imposed upon them by the property owners. Two really good things about this race are that 1) I don’t have cuts and scrapes all over my body and 2) a quick spray from the hose and clean as a whistle. I suppose the best way you can determine my “grade” for the race and how I “really” felt about it is whether or not I would do it again. My answer is that I will not travel from Kentucky to race at this venue a second time, but if I lived within a short driving distance I would definitely “sign up, show up, and never give up”. We will probably know soon enough whether this was considered a success in Reebok Spartan’s eyes. My best guess is that unless the financial benefits to racing at this site are considerable, then this will have been the one and only at Mohegan Sun. To me, it just didn’t seem to be a good mesh with the Spartan brand.