Spartan race takes over Washougal

Event aims to help people overcome various obstacles

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Course manager Jonathon Holcomb tests a Spartan race obstacle known as "the Hercules hoist" at the Washougal MX Park.

Fresh off catering to 20,000-plus motocross fans at Washougal National, the Washougal MX Park was transformed into the ultimate obstacle course for Spartan racers last week.

Spartan’s Portland Sprint race was held in Washougal for the seventh consecutive year on Saturday, Aug. 10. The race has quickly become a favorite for athletes, fans and even the people who create the elaborate Spartan event.

More than 4,500 athletes took on the challenging 3.5-mile course that featured 22 different obstacles.

“We always try to throw in new things for each course so they are different every single year,” said Jonathon Holcomb, the event’s course manager. “We like to change things up, and sometimes the course is kept secret until race day.”

Spartan Race is a series of obstacle races of varying difficulty and distances, ranging from 3 miles to marathon length.

Spartan started in the Green Mountains of Vermont, where founder Joe De Sena observed that as society moved forward technologically, holistic health took a step backwards.

“While life is getting easier, people are becoming overweight, depressed, lonely and less self-sufficient,” according to the Spartan website.

Inspired by the warrior society of ancient Sparta, De Sena created obstacle courses to manufacture adversity. He thought that participants could learn to overcome not only the obstacles on the course, but in life. The first Spartan race was held in 2010, and the series has since grown to more than 250 events a year in 42 different countries.

A healthy addiction

Holcomb, who lives in Mississippi, raced in his first Spartan event in 2013 while going through a dark time in his life.

“I just got out of the military and was also going through a divorce,” he said. “(It was) one of those tough times when you get into tough places, and I just happened to see something on social media about a Spartan race which was 20 minutes from where I live. After volunteering on race day I was pretty much hooked.”

Now he travels the country and sets up Spartan courses for the company. Washougal is the 10th race he’s helped create this year. As a bonus, he was able to race on the course he helped build.

“It just gives you warm fuzzies,” Holcomb said. “It gives you that sense of pride, something you achieved. It motivates you to want to do better, improve your time, get into the gym.”

Washougal MX Park transformed

The gladiator-inspired transformation at the Washougal MX Park starts more than week prior to the race, when seven semi-trucks loaded with specially engineered Spartan obstacles and support gear arrive.

For eight days the team of 60 Spartan employees from all over the world, most visiting the Pacific Northwest for the first time, create the adult and children’s race courses.

“What you see here is base camp with our 52-foot trucks that travel the country,” race director Tyler Gobin said. “We have four sets of these trucks. In fact, there is a Spartan event happening in Boston this same weekend.”

Spartan crew members say Washougal has quickly become one of their favorite stops on the circuit.

“They are very accommodating here at Washougal MX Park,” Gobin said. “The dozer guy is helping us move dirt around safely and securely. Everyone is easy to work with, and this venue has great trails and variation and great scenery.”

Gobin, who grew up in Montana guiding people through the back-country, said that he enjoys creating adventures for people, and that Washougal is set up well to do just that.

“There’s a foundation for big events here,” he said, “and the whole community is accommodating.”

Most Spartans are attracted to the community of like-minded people, committed to similar goals. For most participants, Spartan is more than a race — it’s a healing lifestyle.

“We have tons of Spartans who have similar stories of going through depression or anxiety, whether from military experience or traumatic experience,” Holcomb said. “This is something to push you (through it) because you know you always want to get better.”

As the Washougal event wrapped up, Spartan team members said their goodbyes and started flying off to set up other Spartan events. The lucky ones were flying to Kaui, Hawaii, to set up a Spartan race in Hanapepe Valley, where “Jurassic Park” was filmed.

“We get travel and camaraderie,” Holcomb said with a big smile. “What’s not to like?”