Race Review: The 2021 Gladiators Assault Challenge

The race I had originally planned for this weekend was called off at the last minute and there I was tapered and ready to run with nowhere to go. Fortunately, I found another one at the last minute, The Gladiator Assault Challenge. Sometimes bad news can be a blessing in disguise, here’s how my experience went at the Gladiator Assault Challenge, a race that has been going on since 2012:

Classes: Iowa, cornfields and flat land, right? Much to my regret, the night before the race I looked to see the course and realized it had 2000 feet of elevation gain on the approximately 5.5 mile course. The venue is a ski hill (honestly… I didn’t even know Iowa had ski mountains, let alone one within an hour of Des Moines). To top it off the start line was at the top of the mountain which wasn’t huge, but it was a nice touch that made for a memorable walk to the start line. Don’t show up late for this one or you’ll start the race with a beating heart rate already.

Start line visible at the top of the hill with runners showing the descent to the first obstacle, two giant mud pits.

Ground: As you would expect, the course had some pretty significant uphill / downhill sections. What was really cool was their use of the trails that cross the back of the mountain and out of the main ski slopes. Overall it was a great use of the terrain that allowed you to cover a bit of everything including nice flat stretches where you could pick up the pace, short / steep switchbacks with technical footing and a single track .

At the start line, a friend of mine had mentioned that he had escaped the course a year before due to poor course marks. I can’t speak for the past but in 2021 their rating was excellent. This shows that even if you have a local brand that may not have been perfect in the past, maybe it’s time to give them a second chance, especially after the year of the year. OCR in 2020.

Obstacles: The Midwest is clearly a black hole for the Spartan races. If you’re a Spartan fan but want lower entry fees with a more intimate feel, this is for you. Obstacles included such items as multiple giant sliding walls, short / high walls, low crawl, cage crawl, barbed wire ramp, mud pits, vertical cargo net, frame cargo net , tube ramps, spider web rope maze, and steep ascent / descent trails with ropes to name a few. The course was great fun and well done. If you’re the type of person who wants technical platforms and a lot of grip strength obstacles, you won’t be a fan of Gladiator Assault Challenge. At the end of the day, it’s an obstacle course (OCR) and the variation between brands and events is what makes our sport great. Gladiator Assault Challenge adds its own unique feel to the overall picture of the sport.

Atmosphere: The atmosphere was great with loud music and a lot of obstacles in view of the festival area. The course was organized into three different loops so that spectators could see their runners four times throughout the event. In the finishing chute you have your finishing beer, which I found really cool and added to the party atmosphere.

Competitive portion: The competitive round went first, as usual and since I wasn’t familiar with the Gladiator Assault Challenge, I didn’t expect a lot of competition. However, with fewer races in the Midwest, you never know. Spartan Pro Mike Ferguson won the event with Andrew Minear in 2nd after smoking the field. The best wife was Margaret Chamas (who finished 4e overall) with Meredith Todd in second place. Wooden swords were given to the first two of each sex. Normally going to deep three is usual for most races, but this was clearly explained in advance on their website, so no hard feelings when I crossed the line in 3rd. Honestly, I think I like my finishing photo better with 1st and 2nd with their sword and me holding a banana instead.

Overall: Gladiator Assault Challenge has been running races since 2012, making it one of the oldest continuously operating OCRs in the country. Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t followed this race before this year. While the effect of COVID canceled a lot of my usual errands, the upside is that I am discovering new hidden OCR gems (for me), like this one.

A friend told me they were expecting 2,000 people during the two-day event, which is an insane turnout for the Midwest with its low population density. The event was great, the staff were friendly, and the course was an unforgettable Midwestern race experience. I’m looking forward to next year… maybe with a little more hill training ahead of time.

Check out the 2017 video below, where you can see much of the main mountain running area. Many obstacles looked the same in 2021.

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Rating: 5/5

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