Spartan Race Takes on Fenway Park

The obstacle race leaves the woods and mud behind for their first race in an urban setting.

Spartan Race at FenwayIt took Spartan Race directors five months—and a few Fenway field trips—to plan, design, and build each of the Spartan Sprint’s 25 obstacles. Map provided by Spartan Race.

This past weekend, more than 7,000 Red Sox fans and hardcore exercise junkies swept the stands of Fenway—not for your typical peanuts and Cracker Jacks ballgame, but for one of the most challenging obstacle racing events in the world: a Spartan Race.

This particular race was called a “Spartan Sprint”, which was three miles of 22 obstacles, in, around, under, up, down, and through the oldest ballpark in the major leagues. It was also a test for Spartan to try out an entirely new format. “All of our races are in the woods, trail running through the mud and elements,” says Brian Duncanson, Spartan’s Race’s director and cofounder. “This was the first time we brought the race to an urban setting, and we couldn’t have picked a better place in America.”

The athletes who showed up this past weekend were thinking the same thing. Fenway added a unique element to Spartan’s usual gut-wrenching challenge—a view, and one with major historic significance. Participants were more psyched to run the bases in their favorite Boston landmark than they were about the hundreds of burpees and stadium stairs in front of them. “I kept dropping the sandbag because I couldn’t take my eyes off the Green Monster,” one Red Sox jersey-sporting competitor exclaimed. Other racers duct-taped GoPro cameras to their chests, so that they could remember their hour of Fenway action for years to come. Those who weren’t decked out in Red Sox paraphernalia sported handmade T-shirts that commemorated the event. Fenway turned out to be more than just a draw. For many participants, it was their inspiration.

And inspiration was needed. The race took participants over picnic tables and under barbed wire, required them to navigate climbing walls, jump over barricades, scurry up ladders, and even throw a javelin. Some of the toughest obstacles included the Hercules Pull, which required participants to hoist as much as 80-pounds up 25-feet in the air, and the 60-pound sandbag run, which, according to Duncanson, spanned “probably over a half a mile.” Most finished in about an hour, and despite sweat, bruises, cuts, and a few tears, almost all were smiling as they crossed the finish line. The more experienced Spartan racers knew what to ask when they received their medals,“Where’s my beer?”

Spartan, along with every other type of obstacle or adventure racing, is growing at an exponential rate. “We generally see around 150 percent increase in one of our events from year to year,” Duncanson says. “We’re trying to build a sport, something long-lasting. There are a lot of people who come out because it’s a fun, unique kind of experience, but we’re going to push this thing higher.” Looking forward, Spartan plans to attract more elite athletes by amping up their prize money and giving their races more structure by having timed events. Right now, Spartan features a diverse group of competitors, from runners and CrossFit fanatics, to football players and firemen. Now they’re going big—and the evidence was there on Saturday, in the form of Kevin Faulk.

The former NFL running back retired last month after spending his entire 13 year career with the Patriots. Faulk was a key member of all three Patriots Super Bowl titles and was pleasantly surprised by the intensity of the event, even admitting that he would be significantly sore the next day. “The hardest part was just understanding what each drill was,” Faulk says. “I’ve done obstacle courses in practice before, but this was different. Kind of unusual. It got the job done.”

Like most of Spartan Race’s competitors, Faulk found the obstacle course and it’s mentality sort of addicting. “It’s the competitiveness,” he says. “Everyone has some level of competitive spirit in them and this race brings it out.” Faulk’s convinced he’ll run the Spartan Fenway Sprint again next year, and may even try his luck at Spartan’s toughest challenge, the Death Race, next summer in Vermont.

And that’s the mentality Spartan Race is trying to build. Try one race, and if you love it, you’ll run another. But next time, go bigger. In Spartan’s world, there are no limits.

Kevin FaulkKevin Faulk poses with his kids after completing the Fenway Sprint. Photo by Madison Kahn.

Spartan Race participants

A group of 30 friends, all sporting custom t-shirts. Photo by Madison Kahn.