Marathons and 10K races are so last year. Obstacle races are the craze among fitness buffs, combining trail running with obstacles such as 8-foot walls, barbed wire, monkey bars and tractor tires. Plus, mud — big pits of gritty, sticky mud that clings for days to your clothes and hair. Three workout buddies and I decided to test our mettle in early June in Monterey, Calif., on the Spartan Beast, a 13-mile race with 25 obstacles touted as the "toughest race on the planet." You couldn't beat the setting: a coastal town known for its great food, mesmerizing scenery and cool weather. The tab: Four of us shared a two-bed room at the Padre Oaks hotel, paying $120, taxes included. The entrance fee for the Spartan Beast ranged from $110 to $205, depending on how early you registered. (The next Spartan Beast in Southern California is Sept. 13 in Temecula; a 2015 date for Monterey has not been set.) A seafood and pasta dinner (carbo loading!) with appetizers the night before the race totaled about $45. Fuel costs aside, I spent about $300 for the two-day, one-night stay.
The Padre Oaks (1278 Munras Ave., Monterey;  373-3741, www.padreoaks.com) is one of a string of low-cost hotels in the shade of coastal live oaks along Munras Avenue. The hotel is nothing remarkable: 20 rooms with views of the parking lot, each with a coffee maker, fridge, microwave, tube TV, plus free breakfast. The location was the draw. It's about 11/2 miles south of Fisherman's Wharf and about 14 miles west of Toro Park, the hilly, oak-shaded site of the race. If you need to pamper yourself with a pool, hot tub and concierge services, drive a few blocks to Casa Munras Hotel & Spa (700 Munras Ave., Monterey;  222-2446,www.hotelcasamunras.com).
As an awkward teenager, I was a busboy at a seafood restaurant on Monterey's wharf. I was itching to return for some thick clam chowder and cool ocean breezes. Instead, we ventured to Cannery Row a few miles up the coast to sample what a Yelp reviewer described as "Best clam chowder EVER." The Fish Hopper (700 Cannery Row, Monterey;  372-8543, www.fishhopper.com/monterey) sits on the water's edge. The clam chowder did not disappoint. It was creamy but not overwhelmed with butter. It came with freshly baked rolls. The seafood was fresh, and the vibe was welcoming, even for our rough-looking crew in shorts and baseball caps. The broiled sardines and baked oysters got mixed reviews from our gang, including our workout leader, who can execute 20 Marine-style push-ups but can't swallow an oyster.
On the second floor above a yogurt shop on Cannery Row, the Candy Factory (685 Cannery Row, Monterey;  655-7746) has a selection that would make Willy Wonka's head explode. We loaded up on taffy, gum balls, jelly beans and chocolate-covered marshmallows. It was pricey, and we ran the risk of a sugar crash in the middle of the race the next day, but as the kids say, "YOLO!" (You Only Live Once.)
The lesson learned
If we had planned more carefully, we would have run the obstacle race first, then rewarded ourselves with the chowder, ocean breezes and a candy fix.
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