Review: The Inaugural Spartan Race Singapore 2015 – Was it ‘Spartan’ enough?

Earlier in the year, when we were training for our first Spartan Race Sprint (Perth), we got news that Spartan Race was looking to organise one in our very own hometown of Singapore. While we were excited of the news, we were also a little apprehensive – would it really happen and if so, did we have to wait till 2016? Then one day in March, Andrew Hostetler (Race Director, Spartan Race SG) and Eric Matta (Spartan Race SGX) turned up at the gym and we knew that shit had just got real. And then a couple of months later, we met Spartan Race CEO Joe De Sena in the flesh, and we knew shit got ‘even realer than real’.

Spartan Race Medals

Skip 8 months ahead and it is post-Spartan Sprint week, with apparently 8,000+ finishers jumping over fire to complete the inaugural Reebok Spartan Race Singapore. Immediately after the race and during the past week, the other Lion City Spartans guys and I, who achieved Trifecta Tribe for this year have been asked several times, how did the Singapore Sprint compare to the other Spartan Races that we’ve completed. Was it ‘Spartan’ enough? Well…yes…and no…

Quick and flat
When the venue of the race was announced just 3 weeks before the actual race day, the first thing we said to each other was “It is going to be a very quick and flat race”.

The race venue used a vacant field along Nicoll Highway as the festival area and start point. It took Spartans along the park connector along Kallang River, going under the Benjamin Sheares bridge towards the F1 pits, pass the Singapore Flyer then towards the stands behind the Marina Bay Floating Platform, then coming back round the same route back towards the festival area at Nicoll Highway, coming in at about 7km. With no hills to climb, the lack of undulating terrain meant that local ‘road’ runners who were used to running around the island’s park connectors and various footpath running routes would do really well. True to form, the fastest Spartan on the course came in at 45:25.

Spartan Sprint Route

Clustered Obstacles
The obstacles were organised over 3 main clusters – the festival area in the Nicoll Highway field, below the stands of the Marina Bay Floating Platform, and an empty tarmac area near the Marina Bay F1 pits. This meant it was a short dash between obstacles within each cluster and then a long run of about 2km between each cluster.

A comment appeared on my Facebook feed that went “The run to F1 pit and back was a total bore” and in some ways I agree with it. In the races we completed in Australia, UK and Vermont there was an obstacle at about every 500m. If it wasn’t a man-made obstacle, there was always a freezing river to swim across, hill to climb, creek to run in, fallen tree trunk to jump over, tree brunch to duck under, muddy field to plod through, or cow dung to dodge.

In Singapore, the long runs between clusters and then back-to-back obstacles within each clusters, didn’t really stretch the anabolic capacity of runners. There was always some ‘recovery time’ in the long (and flat) run to the next cluster.

Wall TraversePhoto by Jasmine Teh

Did you lose some weight?
Some of the strength based obstacles in the Singapore Sprint included sand bag carries, Hercules Hoist and Bucket Brigade. I was a little disappointed that the sand bag carry (which felt less than 20kg) did not involve us having to climb up and down the stairs of the Floating Platform stands, but over a relatively short distance of 50m. In Perth, men were made to carry 40kg sandbags, uphill and then back down again. How do you then compare a 5kg duffel bag Hercules Hoist in Singapore to a 28kg kettlebell in Australia? Or having to complete the Bucket Brigade twice. Uphill. In Vermont?

Let’s get wet and muddy!
We’ve grown to expect getting muddy during a Spartan Race, but the scenic, picturesque and Singapore Tourism Board postcard worthy route was urban, over tarmac and foot paths showing off the city’s skyline. The only ‘off-road’ element in the race was the grass field within the festival area. And even then, there wasn’t any mud, soil or even sand to get dirty in. Only one obstacle involved mud and water, which was an inflatable pool with some muddy ‘teh-tarik’ coloured water, one had to climb into and dunk head underwater to clear an overhead wall. The lack of mud and water I guess, made it a little less ‘Spartan’ than it could’ve been.

Muddy
The only actual ‘mud’ that was on the course was at the ‘shower’ area, around a muddied patch where racers could be hosed down with a jet spray. Here, off camera, S.R CEO Joe De Sena is getting in on the action helping ‘clean up’ the racers. (Photo by Lydia Wong)

Watered down?
“Do you think it was a watered down Spartan Race?” was one question I got asked. Well…I don’t neccsarily think so.

From the people I spoke to and from what I noticed on social media, were comments of how participants imagined the inaugural Singapore Spartan Race would’ve been tougher. But no one actually said “It was such an easy race…a walk in a park…chicken feed”.  While I might say that the Spartan Races we did abroad were more challenging because they involved tougher terrain, heavier weights and freezing conditions, the Singapore course was a very different one. It may not have had hills to climb or rivers to swim across, it’s challenge was really about completing the race quickly. Every Spartan Race anywhere in the world issues a timing chip and not without good reason. While finishing podium isn’t everyone’s goal, the timing-chip is perfect to measure oneself’s abilities against your ownself. So the flat terrain in the Singapore course, offered runners the opportunity to push themselves to run fast despite having to clear back-to-back obstacles in the 3 clusters.

So I think this year’s Singapore Sprint was a road-runners’ course, the flat terrain worked to these types of runner’s advantage because these terrains were very familiar to them. But throw in heavier weights and undulating terrain, and the race experience would’ve been very different. But that’s the great thing about Spartan Races, one needs to be prepared in various aspects – stamina, endurance, strength and power.

Slippery SlopePhoto by Lydia Wong

It can only get better
This was the first ever Spartan Race here, so apart from some crazy weirdos who travelled overseas for races, no one locally knew what to expect. And going full-tilt might’ve been a little too much for the uninitiated to handle. But that’s not saying that this course wasn’t ‘Spartan’ enough. It was a good introduction to what a Spartan Race can offer it’s participants.

The one thing that people I spoke to who had never done a Spartan Race before, said was – “I saw pictures and watched some videos online, so I expected it to be tougher. But it was definitely a great experience and I would definitely do it again”. I think that’s saying a lot to the planning and efforts of all involved – the S.R team, Mediacorp, Reebok, volunteers and sponsors – to pulling off a success in it’s inaugural ‘introduction’. I suspect this being the first race here, was also an introduction for the Spartan Race organisers to Singapore’s wondrous world of state-owned agencies, private vs state-owned lands, multiple government agency permits, cleanliness rules and safety regulations. Just following the route of the course, one might pick out just some of the government agencies the organisers would have had to deal with – National Parks, LTA, PUB, NEA, URA, Sports Council, etc, etc…

Fire JumpPhoto by Lydia Wong

With that said, I think future Spartan Races and other OCRs (Obstacle Course Races) in Singapore can only get better. We’re already observing other OCRs upping their game by offering their events in longer distances, tougher obstacles or simply improving their social media strategies. With Spartan Race participants having had a positive experience and now knowing what to expect (and how to train for it), I imagine Spartan Race Singapore can now make future races more challenging. And having seen what a Spartan Race really is, perhaps the local agencies would now just ‘Spartan the fuck up’ and loosen up.

So despite having had a different experience in the other races I’ve done, I did enjoy the event and I feel that the Singapore Sprint was indeed ‘Spartan’ enough.

Well..till the next Spartan Race, AROO!

(Post edit:  I will say though, that the euphoria I felt after completing an even more challenging course in my first Spartan Sprint in Perth is unmatched.) 

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