This is Sparta!

Thousands descend on Washougal for annual Spartan Portland Sprint races

A Spartan racer shows grit on the monkey bars, fighting to keep a grip, a challenging feat especially when your hands are covered in mud.

The challenging barbed wire obstacle at Washougal MX park is built on top of bumpy, muddy moguls that are typically used for motocross racing.

Elite Spartan winners Alyssa Hawley from Spokane and Greyson Kilgore of Salem, Oregon show off their trophies on the podium.

Kasey Admire from La Grande, Oregon tries to open her eyes after plunging into the mud.

Two weeks after the Washougal National motocross extravaganza, the legendary Washougal motocross track transformed itself into the ultimate obstacle course for endurance athletes. On Saturday, Aug. 11, 7,200 athletes at Washougal MX Park ran, climbed over walls, took on mud pools, slid and even crawled under barbed wire while competing in the seventh annual Spartan Portland Sprint, one of 200 Spartan Race events now held in more than 30 countries.

“I love the way it challenges me and takes me outside my comfort zone,” Spartan Race competitor Greyson Kilgore, of Salem, Oregon, said.

Kilgore won the Men’s Elite race Saturday, finishing the 3.5-mile obstacle course with a time of 33:05.

It was the first win for Kilgore, a former college decathlete who has only raced in six Spartan events — including three in Washougal.

Another Pacific Northwest athlete, Alyssa Hawley of Spokane, Washington, won the Women’s Elite division with a time of 37:31.

Hawley joined the Spartan Race three years ago, competing at the Washougal course before moving on to other locations. Since then, the Washingtonian has become one of the sport’s top athletes, now competing all over the world at Spartan Race events.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Hawley said. “I mean, this ride has been unbelievable. I’ve met so many amazing people because this Spartan community is so inviting and friendly.”

Families, friends tackle muddy challenge together

Spartan Race, Inc., is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand, boasting a community of more than five million social media followers as well as a popular NBC television series, which has helped turn obstacle-racing into one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.

The Washougal Spartan Race, known as the Spartan Portland Sprint, attracts not only top endurance athletes, but people of all ages and fitness levels looking for a muddy, fun challenge. Kassim Kurani and Holly Boston are among a group of 15 friends and family members from Anchorage, Alaska, who came to Washougal Saturday. The race was Boston’s first time at a Spartan Race event.

“Wow, I haven’t climbed a rope since high school,” Boston said. “Then, when I was crawling under the barbed wire obstacle, someone yelled at me and said, ‘You are halfway.’ I said, ‘Halfway? Are you kidding me? That’s all?'”

Saturday marked Kurani’s second race, but he said he didn’t realize the motocross moguls would be in the middle of the barbed wire section of the course.

“Doing that over muddy moguls is not for the faint of heart,” Kurani said.

Elizabeth Liechtey, from Annapolis, Maryland, had participated in one Spartan event before coming to Washougal on Saturday. She convinced her longtime friend, Mimie, from San Francisco, to join her for the weekend. The two women stopped to chat in the middle of the course right after holding their breaths and dunking their entire bodies under a wall in the middle of a mud pit.

“She (Liechtey) bribed me to travel here for the Oregon wine tasting, not so much (for) this race,” Mimie said.

The Spartan Race relies on hundreds of volunteers like Zach Wilitz, an optometry student at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. On Saturday, Wilitz monitored the spear throw obstacle on the children’s race course, where young competitors throw a stick at a target and must do 30 “burpees,” a combination of squats and lunges, if they miss.

“I … got tired of sitting at home,” Wilitz said. “So, I thought this was a good chance to come out here and see how these Spartan events work.”

Washougal first-grader Avery Axelson, 6, who will attend Gause Elementary School this year, took on the children’s course with some help from her father, Timothy Axelson. Avery pulled herself over a wall with a rope, walked through the mud and carried a bucket of heavy rocks up a steep hill, finishing the tough race with a big smile on her face.

Timothy stood by his daughter’s side, looking ecstatic.

“I think it’s fantastic. She’s just such an active kid and loves to be outside,” Timothy said of Avery. “I was shocked by how many people are here from all over the country. What a fun event.”