Spartan race first major return to competition in area

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JACKSONVILLE – SPARTAN hosted its first U.S. event, the June 13 SPARTAN race series in Jacksonville, since suspending its season for nearly three months, implementing aggressive new and modified operating procedures to maximize the safety of racers, staff and volunteers. The 5k Obstacle Course Race (OCR) took place earlier today at the WW Motocross Park in Jacksonville, Fla., with a reduced capacity of 1,400 racers. The event was hosted by Visit Jacksonville.

“The time was right for the Spartan community to safely return to the course, and we’re grateful to the state of Florida and city of Jacksonville for hosting this milestone event,” said Spartan’s Vice President of Production Mike Morris. “We worked closely with local officials and consulted medical and safety experts to create the event protocol, reimagining the entire experience - from parking and registration, to the start line, finish line and every touch point in between.”

For one athlete, YMCA Barco Newton fitness instructor Kasey Stevens, the event was a welcomed return to competition, but the lack of fans and spectators, plus a the reduced obstacles put a slight damper on her efforts.

“I’ve done some mega events like this in Japan and the energy was very much reduced,” said Stevens, 38. “Our YMCA offered us the entry to the race to participate and, I think, if I had paid the whole fee, about $150, I would have been disappointed.”

Spartan events focus on sport and athleticism, pushing the bodies and minds of competitors to the limit while conquering signature obstacles. The Spartan Sprint is a 5-km, 20 obstacle race offering fast-paced adventure through rugged terrain built for new and returning racers alike. The course at WW Motocross Park was fast and flat, hopping from soft, sandy track section to open pastures.

Spartan’s safety protocol required the intentional reduction of the event capacity by more than 70 percent of a once-typical Spartan event - seeing racers-per-hour dropping from the usual 1,000 to 300 or less. While the total number of racers reached nearly 1,400 throughout the day, heat sizes were drastically reduced to 24 racers departing every five minutes - which ensured a maximum of 300 racers spread out across 450 acres per hour to allow for ample social distancing. In addition, nearly 50 percent of the course was expanded to 10-feet wide in areas with more concurrent racers, and all water obstacles were removed.

“I appreciate that the SPARTAN people gave us a race to compete in and it was nice after all the virus time off to get out and kind of race, but the mental part of it was very much missing,” said Stevens. “I think the elite athletes who are the pros out there have to go to a different head space to compete hard without the crowds and excitement.”

Morris concurred that the restrictions were necessary.

“Our racers, who wanted to return to the course after nearly three months, respected our rules - and had a lot of fun in the process,” said Morris.

On-site registration was eliminated to minimize customer touch points, and before entering, participants received contactless temperature checks. No racers registered 100.4 or higher, which would have prevented them from entering the event.

Throughout the venue, all event staff and volunteers wore face coverings throughout the entirety of the event and racers were respectful, honoring Spartan’s request to do the same off the course and in the presence of others. Racers were not permitted to enter the venue more than 30 minutes prior to their start time, and had to exit within 30 minutes of their finish, to reduce lingering and the number of people on-site. All staff were tested for COVID-19 prior to the event, and maintained at least 6 feet of distance from one another throughout the event and in the days leading up to it.

“We’re proud of our team for their tireless efforts in taking this necessary first step, not only for Spartan, but the whole endurance sports industry,” said Spartan Founder and CEO Joe De Sena. “Seeing our community take on the race with these new rules and guidelines was inspiring, and we’re thankful for their support. This weekend, we showed the world there is a safe way for endurance sports to return.”

On the course, Spartan offered only sealed water bottles at aid stations, and hand sanitizer was provided after every obstacle and throughout all areas of the venue. Dedicated lanes, along with designated waiting spots, ensured all racers could stay properly distanced while waiting and holding. In keeping with nearly all other major sports preparing for a modified return to operating events, spectators were not permitted.

“The volunteers, I know, were suffering with the masks and the heat, but they were out there all day working and that must have been tough,” said Stevens. “As far as other races and sports returning, it’s going to be tough to keep interest in things like football and even road running without the fans out there. That’s where the energy comes from. The SPARTAN people deserve a lot of credit for at least trying to put on a safe event.”

On-site registration was eliminated to minimize customer touch points, and before entering, participants received contactless temperature checks. No racers registered 100.4 or higher, which would have prevented them from entering the event.

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