AMESBURY — Insanity is once again coming to the Amesbury Sports Park this weekend in the form of the 2011 Spartan Race, a 31/2 mile, cross country course with roughly 15 obstacle courses along the way such as a 20-foot-high cargo net climb, a rock wall traverse, a crawl through mud under 45 feet of barbed wire and, of course, a leap through fire.

"The barbed wire is generally a hit," says Spartan Race CEO Brian Duncanson. "But we've been making it longer and longer, so it's becoming a pretty good challenge."

Duncanson, who runs each event ahead of time, estimated a total of 7,000 participants over Saturday and Sunday with 2,000 spectators cheering them on to boot. Since her prediction, Sunday's race has been canceled, so the numbers may decrease by half.

Participants can expect to start the race by running up the Sports Park's 200-yard hill. Once the runners reach the top of the hill, the fun really begins.

"They usually get some sort of jump obstacle," says Duncanson. "Or they may get stuck in the mud and have to bush-whack through the woods to get out to the other side. As soon as you get on top of the hill, you have to go down, so there's different ways to go down. A lot of times we'll incorporate some sort of carrying challenge. Sometimes we'll have buckets that, once they're filled, they can have about 40-50 pounds in them. The hill's not terribly big, but once you climb it about five or six times, you'll be breathing hard."

"The Spartan Race this year is bigger, badder, and uglier than before," says Amesbury Sports Park's Meredith Robinson. "There are more obstacles and they definitely require more grit and determination to conquer them. They don't just hand out one of those Spartan medals to any Joe off the street."

Duncanson echoes that sentiment and warns anyone who ran the event last year.

"Things have changed. We changed up the order and the obstacles," Duncanson says. "We don't publish our full map ahead of time. Part of our race is that you don't know exactly what's coming up."

The Spartan Race attracts many different kinds of runners, from traditional runners who run 5K and 10Ks to folks who like a boot-camp or cross-fit style of training. Many of this year's runners are training almost strictly inside of gyms.

"That type of person is basically (looking for) a gym workout, stretched into a 3-mile run," says Duncanson. "But this has a much broader appeal. We have military, paramilitary, fire, police, all those guys. Then, of course, the weekend warriors, the desk jockeys, looking to come out and have a good time. That's the great thing about the format in Amesbury, is a 3-mile sprint. It's got the broadest appeal."

Tomorrow's race begins at 9 a.m. and should run until about 5 p.m.

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