Analysing Spartan Auckland’s New Venue: Barry Curtis Park

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Barry Curtis Park: an Analysis

In 2019 Spartan was held at Ellerslie Racecourse in Auckland. It was due to be held there again in future years, but disruptions from covid have caused multiple postponements. Now, in 2022, Spartan is aiming to return to New Zealand. However, works at the Racecourse have made it no longer a suitable venue.

Spartan has changed venues, announcing Barry Curtis Park as the new location for New Zealand.

Barry Curtis Park will host a Spartan Sprint, Super, Kids, Hurricane Heat, NZ’s first Spartan National Championship, and potentially a Spartan Trail Run.

How will the new site fair as a Spartan venue? What can we expect for Spartan’s return to NZ?

We look at the positives and the negatives of Barry Curtis Park below.

Aerial view of Barry Curtis Park.
Aerial view of Barry Curtis Park.

This article is adapted from a conversation on episode 07 of the Obstacle Racers NZ podcast in which Max and Stephen analyse Barry Curtis Park. If you haven’t yet, please subscribe to the podcast to hear more conversations on obstacle racing.

Positives

It’s very accessible

Barry Curtis Park is accessible, being close to both Auckland city and the airport. It’s 21.5km from the Auckland CBD, 13.5km from the airport, and 16km from the previous venue of Ellerslie Racecourse. This makes it a convenient venue to travel to, both for locals but also for participants from around NZ and internationally such as from Australia.

There’re also shops, supermarkets, cafes, etc nearby to the venue, making it a comfortable venue with access to amenities.

Plenty of open space

Barry Curtis Park is fairly large. It’s 94 hectares.

For comparison, it’s larger than Ellerslie Racecourse (55 hectares) and also larger than the Auckland Domain (75 hectares). But if you’re like me, I don’t really know how to visualise how large hectares are. If you’re familiar with a 400m running track, the grass field area inside of the track is just over 1 hectare (to be precise, it’s 1.12 hectares). So imagine about 84 of those fields laid together and you’ll have the size of Barry Curtis Park.

The 94 hectares are made up of:

  • Open grass, mostly flat
  • Sports fields
  • Planted areas
  • Concrete and gravel footpaths throughout the park
  • Lakes and streams
  • Carparks, playground, and a skatepark

The space is divided into two main sections by a road running through the middle. There’s an underpass through which both sides are connected to one another. One section is mostly sports fields, while the other section is a park with open space, planted areas, water areas, and etc.

Map of Barry Curtis Park.
Map of Barry Curtis Park.

There’s plenty of open flat spaces available, so obstacles will be easy to transport in and build.

Overall there’s plenty of open space for a Spartan 5km Sprint and a 10km Super. While Ellerslie Racecourse successfully held a Sprint in 2019, it would’ve been difficult to return to the venue and fit a Super within the walls of the racecourse.

Negatives

While large, not all of the space is usable

While Barry Curtis Park is large, at 94 hectares, not all of the space is runnable. The park’s total space does include other features such as carparks, lakes and streams, a playground, and a skate park.

The 94 hectare total space does include water areas. Most obstacle races makes use of water features to add challenge to their courses. However the water areas at Barry Curtis most likely can’t be used. The water areas are signposted with do not enter signs and some are fenced off to keep people out, so it’s unlikely the fences will be taken down or the signs permitted to be ignored so that water crossings can be included in the race courses. Online, the park is described as having “protected natural streams and gullies onsite”.

Further limiting space, Barry Curtis Park is a public park. It’s most likely going to be the case that a private event won’t be able to use the full space of a public venue. While we don’t know what permits Spartan has with the Auckland Council, it’s likely that only a small section of the park can be closed off to the public for the Spartan races, or maybe the venue will remain dual use, open to the public while the races are on.

Mostly flat, with little elevation gain

The park has very limited elevation. For a demonstration, Stephen from the podcast did a 5km demo walk around the park to test things out. Strava data reported only a 44m elevation gain. This is very small compared to what most obstacle races include in their courses, and especially compared to Spartan races overseas which often include spectacular and difficult elevation with hills or mountains. Spartan New Zealand is failing to utilise the incredible natural mountains and terrain NZ has available.

Second aerial view of Barry Curtis Park.
Aerial view of Barry Curtis Park.

No technical terrain

Similar to the previous point about elevation, most Spartan races overseas often include technical terrain in their courses, such as off-road running through woods, forests, trails, sand, snow and more. Barry Curtis Park is mostly open, flat grass fields, and has no technical terrain to offer. As mentioned above, of Spartan New Zealand failing to utilise the incredible terrain NZ has available for elevation, Spartan is also failing to utalise natural assets NZ has available to offer challenging and beautiful technical terrain for running over.

Limited car parking

Carparking is potentially limited. The carparks built into the park look limited, and the park is also a public venue so carparking may not be able to be reserved for event participants only. With potentially thousands of people coming to the venue to run the Spartan races, there may be many disgruntled locals if people need to park in the surrounding residential and commercial areas. However, we don’t know what Spartan’s plans are and they may be able to open up some grass areas of the park, such as sports fields, to turn into carparking.

What’s Been Done Before at Barry Curtis Park

O Rock

To get an idea of how Spartan may structure their course, it’s worth looking at Spartan’s venue change announcement in which they mentioned that the “new venue has previously hosted OCR events”.

As far as we’re aware, they’re referring to O Rock. O Rock was a series of obstacle course races, which has now been acquired by Ultimate Athlete. It did previously use Barry Curtis Park as one of its venues. Similarly to Spartan, O Rock held two distances of 5km and 10km races. Their course was one 5km loop, with two 5km laps for the 10km. It was held entirely on the park section of the venue and didn’t use the sports field section.

See the map below for how the O Rock obstacle race was previously held at Barry Curtis Park,

O Rock map
O Rock course map, previously held at Barry Curtis Park.

Conclusion

How does Barry Curtis Park compare to Ellerslie Racecourse?

Barry Curtis Park is larger than Ellerslie – 94 hectares compared to 55 hectares. While Ellerslie successfully hosted a 5km Sprint in 2019, it would’ve struggled to fit in a 10km Super. Barry Curtis has more room for Spartan to expand and offer more racing options.

Barry Curtis and Ellerslie both mostly consist of flat, open grass fields. Barry Curtis does have slightly more challenging terrain to offer, with some limited planted and water areas. However it’s very likely these areas will not be allowed to be used in a race course. Overall, because the terrain is similar, we can foresee that Barry Curtis will favour the same sort of athletes who did well at Ellerslie in 2019.

Does Barry Curtis Park work as a New Zealand Spartan venue?

While Barry Curtis is accessible for participants and has plenty of nearby amenities, and plenty of open space. It also has potentially restricted use of the space, and has no hills or technical terrain usually seen in other obstacle races.

We think that neither Barry Curtis Park nor Ellerslie Racecourse are optimal as Spartan venues.

Barry Curtis is not optimal as a venue because it includes no challenging terrain commonly seen in other Spartan races – it includes no hills, no mountains, or no technical terrain. It makes for a Spartan lite, and perhaps is a more fitting venue for Spartan’s newly launched concept of a City race. A Spartan City race is described as taking place “in major metropolitan centers, taking in great sights that are easy to get to. This is an ideal race for first-timers and returning Spartans looking to test their top speed over dirt-free, urban terrain.” While Spartan Auckland fits this description, it is however not currently categorised as a Spartan City race.

Spartan has another category of races, mostly as a point for marketing, called destination races. These are described as, “A destination race is the dream that gets Spartans through the burpee zone, over their first Beast finish line and past the pain.” and Spartan US includes such destination races in their event calendar as Hawaii (Oahu), Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas, South Padre Island and more. Adding New Zealand to this list of amazing tourist-attraction islands hosting a Spartan race seems like a perfect fit. Spartan Auckland however does not seem to be promoted by the organisers, Spartan Australia and NZ, as in the same category of destination race that Spartan US makes use of.

We believe New Zealand is a missed opportunity for a spectacular Spartan destination race.

Let’s be honest, NZ has no shortage of epic and challenging venues in which to host a race, and Barry Curtis Park doesn’t make for a memorable location in which to do a racing experience – especially if you’re travelling all the way to NZ to do it. The opportunity offered by needing to change venues from Ellerslie Racecourse seems to have been squandered by shifting to a venue with similar flat, open and unchallenging terrain. When NZ has so much to offer with beautiful natural terrain, it’s such a waste of potential for Spartan NZ to be held on a flat grass park.

While it’s probably the case that shifting to a venue with similar flat, open terrain is Spartan’s deliberate strategy, and Spartan does have a partnership with the Auckland City Council which owns Barry Curtis Park. However we’re going to put it out there that we’re disappointed by the new venue. Expectations for what a Spartan in NZ can offer participants might perhaps be better handled by categorising Spartan Auckland as a Spartan City race rather than as a standard Sprint and Super, and a National Championship, race.

Spartan’s return to NZ, due to covid delays, has been a long-time coming, and we’re very excited to see it happen! We’re itching to get back out on a Spartan course again! While Barry Curtis Park may not be what we hoped for in a Spartan venue, it’s still going to be an incredible experience which we hope will lead to more Spartan racing in NZ!

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