by Khaled Allen
No matter where you find it, barbed wire is no joke, especially if it lies between you and where you want to go. Such is the case on the Spartan Race course, where you’ll have to crawl under a canopy of low-hanging barbed wire to continue the race.
Barbed wire is a cunningly simple obstacle: lines of wire with knotted ends protruding along its length. Coming into any sort of contact with the barbs leads to entanglement, forcing would-be escapees to reconsider their chosen path or else work their way slowly over the obstacle. It’s been used for centuries to stop or slow everything from invading armies to herds of cattle, performing both functions admirably.
Like I said, barbed wire is no joke.
Those who have served in the armed forces are of course familiar with this simple yet effective obstacle, as barbed wire is used in training new recruits. In the military, the standard height for the wire is 24” off the ground, which, according to our very own Spartan Blogger Brian Ansley, who has been through both the military and the Spartan varieties, allows soldiers with bulky gear to get underneath: “I thought it was a great challenge…. However, my experience was that I was usually wearing body armor, a helmet, carrying a weapon (at least one), which can add a substantial amount of weight…. This is also why the [military] barbwire is raised a little higher, I believe. This allows the soldier to have a little more clearance for their gear as they are crawling.”
Since none of our Spartan Racers carry much bulky gear, we figured we might as well up the ante by lowering the wire. Matt Murphy, the Southeast Regional Manager for Spartan Race, has this to say about the barbed wire on the course: “Army Standard is 24″ above the ground while ours is 18″, and our events have the longest barbed wire crawl as well. Nothing rivals our barbed wire!” The Spartan Race barbed wire pits are lower (sometimes less than 18”), more crooked, and longer than anything you’ve ever seen, thanks to our resident barbed wire guru, Daniel Luzzi.
I spoke with Daniel Luzzi, the man who designs and builds the barbed wire obstacle at all the Spartan Races in the States. Daniel has been with Spartan Race from the very beginning and ran his first race in Vermont. Since then, he’s been to every single race except for those in the UK.
Like a physics student waxing poetic about things that the rest of us don’t even know how to appreciate, Daniel was meticulous in describing the finer points of barbed wire obstacle construction to me. He likes to keep things mixed up, he said: heights change, layout changes, environment changes. “Every race is different. Each barbed wire pit is different,” he explained.
A few really stand out in his memory. He was especially proud of the pits his team had installed in March at the Rocky Hill Ranch course in Texas, the one in Virginia was “pretty brutal”, and the one in Utah was right in the spectator area, giving spectators a closeup view of the muddy action.
If you’re trying to prepare yourself for what you will be facing, don’t bother. Even the ground under the barbed wire changes from race to race. New York’s Tuxedo race featured hard rock and mud, while other courses have put the racers through water, dirt, or soft clay.
While our barbed wire is certainly formidable, it is definitely doable. Daniel said, “We don’t make obstacles so difficult that you can’t complete [them],” explaining that he simply tries to push people a little out of their comfort zones, forcing them to get as low to the ground as possible (in this case). “Girls’ hair gets caught; butts get caught. People need to get lower,” he explained proudly.
Of course, in the never-ending quest to challenge everyone from racing newbies to obstacle course veterans, Daniel always throws in his signature: turns. Not only do you have to crawl your way under grasping, tangling barbed wire in mud and rocks, but you’ll also have to twist and turn to navigate through the obstacle. No boring straight crawls for our Spartans! Oh yeah, and did I mention that the longest barbed wire obstacle we’ve run was 400 ft? Uphill?
This is not your standard military issue barbed wire.
Still, everyone can get past this obstacle. You just have to take your time, form a strategy, try it out and correct it as you go. “You need to think about what you’re going to do before you do it,” Daniel offers. Spartan Racing is, after all, a mental challenge as well as a physical one. Keep your head, plan your route, and get in the mud. Then, just start crawling. While you’re down there, you can appreciate the brilliant, wickedly brutal design that makes our barbed wire the best (or worst) you’ll ever have the privilege to crawl under.