Rise of the social fitness challenge and OCR

Rise of the challenge

As the 2017 OCR season gradually opens up, you may find yourself looking for something to challenge you. You need to train, but that’s boring on its own. You crave that social world that OCR offers, but it’s months before you can actually participate. Sometimes you need something to engage you between races during the season. If you’ve been anywhere near the social media groups that have formed around our sport, you will have noticed the appearance of fitness challenges.If you are like me, you are not really surrounded by a lot of fellow OCR enthusiasts that share your particular brand of workout crazy, a social fitness challenge group may be for you. I’ll highlight some of the main fitness challenge groups related to OCR that are available:

OCRbeast.co

OCR Beast Co. offer a range of excellent paid Obstacle Course Racing specific coaching programs – available for monthly subscription from their website. They also run regular free challenges throughout the year on instagram. Most recently the dead hang challenge had , and the May Murph challenge they ran earlier this year. They have a great deal of community support and participation with over 6000 followers. Their challenges tend to last 30 days or so and have scaling options for all participants. Stay tuned for what they have coming next and definitely check into the coaching programs they offer.

Charity Challenges

Charity Challenges grew out of a twitter conversation between some friends in October, 2013. Since then they have steadily branched into a wide range of different fitness challenges and virtual events, many of which are applicable and support the sport of OCR. The primary goal of Charity Challenges is to raise money for charity, while allowing participants to enjoy fitness challenges. To participate, you donate to join that challenge, and log your reps for that challenge using your account on the charity challenges website. Team challenges are available and encouraged. Charity Challenges are extremely well attended with thousands of participants. Charity challenges produces patches and badges for completion of challenges. They are currently running a 1000 mile challenge which will last the entire year of 2017. You can sign up for that here

Machete 30

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A branch of Machete Madness, Machete 30 was founded by Victor Carrillo. Victor underwent an incredible transformation of his own to become a well recognized face in the world of obstacle course racing and now, among other things, he runs a Facebook challenge group that boasts 1200+ members. A new free fitness challenge is created and delivered to the group each month. Participants are encouraged to complete the movements each day of the month and to post a video or photograph of themselves doing so. Challenges are usually quite accessible for beginners and highly conditioned athletes alike, often involving minimal equipment. Victor is really great at engaging and encouraging participants, and community support is strong. If you’re looking for some real Machete Madness, check out Machete Madness events.

Captain Kaufmann

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Jeremy Kaufmann has produced a years worth of OCR based fitness challenges and workouts in the form of a book. Detailing dozens of innovative and tough fitness challenges, the Captain’s playbook is available both in print and in eBook form. Jeremy’s work spans a wide variety of movements essential to becoming elite at obstacle racing. I also think it is a great strength that Jeremy’s challenges are often body-weight based or may involve just basic equipment – that means it’s usually pretty easy to jump in without the need of a gym or weights. It might help to have wreck-bag or weighted vest for some challenges.  Watch out for posts with #captainschallenge on his instagram feed.

OCR Guy Challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

@ocrguychallenge is run by myself (Glenn Hole). Currently in it’s 4th volume, ocrguychallenge is a co-operative challenge group, bringing trainers, athletes and participants together under one free community. Most of the challenges are tough, but we usually offer some scaling options for novices. I like to limit challenges to just one week, which allows prominent members of the OCR community (like team HEXT, Anna Solomon, Austin Azar, Josh Stryde and Lindsay Webster) to help out without too much of a time commitment. Previous challenges have included a bucket carry for distance, pull-ups, distance running, sleep and recovery, nutrition, yoga and OCR fitness bench-marking weeks. For finishers, I produce virtual badges for the completion of each challenge, and occasionally prizes are available. To join the next challenge follow @ocrguychallenge on instagram or join the ocrguychallenge facebook group.

Other notable players to watch:

We’ve also seen notable one off challenges from the Wieclawek Brothers @YYCbrosOCR, Hunter McIntyre @huntthesheriff, @southjersey_ocr, and @teamsocialmisfits. Watch these accounts for challenges in the future!

Conclusion

The social fitness challenge is an exciting new phenomenon that seems to have grown in some part at least from the broad appeal of OCR as a sport and a lifestyle. Love them or hate them, fitness challenges are growing all the time. For me, the challenges allow me to connect with friends I’ve made on the OCR circuit in a meaningful way. We get to compete with each other and endure difficult things together each time we get together for a challenge because that’s part of why we race in the first place. It’s also a great way to hold myself and others accountable to a high standard of fitness during the off season and between races. It’s a way of developing new friendships, teams and alliances. If you feel like you need something to keep you accountable and motivated until your next race, jump in on a fitness challenge!

Which fitness challenges have you enjoyed? Are there any I have missed? Leave a comment below.

Spartan Race Canada: Sun Peaks Ultra Beast

I invited my good friend Stefan Weiclawek to share some thoughts on his experience at the Spartan Race Canada Sun Peaks Ultra Beast!
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From my experience with ultra-distance mountain runs and races, there is an expectation that you are about to spend a very long time with nothing but your own thoughts and no human contact. Standing on the frosted grass in the dim September morning light at the start of the Sun Peaks Spartan Ultra Beast, I expected this ~ 50km Obstacle Course race to be no different.

I was wrong.

The initial 10km ascent to the summit of the Sun Peaks ski resort was spent with David Deitrich, an experienced obstacle course racer and mountain runner from Austria. He and I shared the lead for the entire race. On the slower/steeper uphill climbing sections he and I traded introductions and admired the morning views between nibbles on bars and energy gels.

As we completed the summit obstacle and turned the corner to begin our descent, David took off, leaving me in behind in solo second place. I settled into a pace, chewed on a Stinger wafer and readied myself for 40km of loneliness. There were brief interactions with the friendly obstacle volunteers and portions of the course that looped back over itself where you were greeted with high fives and cheers by other racers in later heats, but the majority of the first 24.6km loop was spent in my own head, wondering just how far David was ahead of me and how far Ben Kwiatkowski was behind me.

As I descended back into the staging area my spirits were immediately lifted by the cheers and encouragement from the spectators, the Spartan Race staff and everyone’s favorite race MC. These transition areas are always a highlight, and usually the only respite you have from the isolation. You really have to find a balance between soaking up as much of it as you can while still sticking to your pace. There was no time to waste, and being in second place with David not too far ahead of me, I hurried through the drop bag area, grabbing fresh hydration bottles and some of my mom’s homemade banana bread (An absolute staple part of my race nutrition) before I headed out onto my second lap.

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This is where the entire race changed for me. The second lap of the Sun Peaks Spartan Ultra Beast became a centerpiece all of its own. Any ultra-distance enthusiast should sign up for it. The challenge and opportunity it presents is unmissable.

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I immediately assumed that this lap was going to be no different than the last, with extended periods of isolation briefly broken up with quick interactions with race volunteers.  Boy was I wrong. By just the second obstacle of the second lap, I started to run into later heat, single lap Beast racers. The minute they found out I was on my second lap of the Ultra Beast and in contention for the podium, the overwhelming support, excitement and encouragement became a powerful motivator to keep pushing. From that point forward every group of Beast runners I encountered met me with high fives and every possible combination of encouraging words the English language has to offer. I tried my hardest to reciprocate the love and excitement as best I could but there were probably instances where all I was able to muster in response was a smile and a brief head nod.

If I had to pick a point of the race to claim as the single highlight, it would be, without question the “Tangled mess of ropes” obstacle during my second lap. As I approached, I noticed there was quite a log jam of racers, but without any complaint from myself , I heard the race volunteer yell “SECOND PLACE ULTRA BEAST COMING THROUGH!!”  Immediately, every single racer on the obstacle jumped out of the way with complete disregard for their own race or well-being and ushered me through with a deafening show of excitement and support. As I crawled back up off my knees and started back down the trail, I turned around and made sure I took a quick second to snap out of my focus to throw my hands up and do my best to give a sincere, “Thank you!” to everyone there.

I may not have done a very good job of returning the gestures, but each and every high five you gave me went a long way to helping me complete my first but definitely not last Spartan Ultra Beast in a time of 6 hours 56 minutes and walking away with 2nd place.

I don’t know what the final tally was for Ultra Beast finishers that day, but I want to give a big “AROO!” to every one of you. Wear that belt buckle proudly; you worked your ass off for it.

Stefan

Stefan Wieclawek is an Ultra Runner and works as a Rock Nerd (Geologist) in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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Spartan Race Canada: Sun Peaks Beast Review

“A Wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” – Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring.

I’m a little embarrassed that I had to resort to such desperate measures as I did on the Spartan Race Canada Sun Peaks Beast, but these were desperate times. I wish it were a fable, or a tale, but it’s true. All of it. Read on to see how the Western Canadian Spartan Series brought me to my knees – quite literally – on the slopes of Sun Peaks.

Sun Peaks

As a venue, Sun Peaks is the crown jewel in the Western Canadian Spartan Race Series. Sun Peaks Ski resort offers plenty of natural substance as a race location, and while it maybe not quite as picturesque as Montana, Sun Peaks offers the greater challenge. The single loop Spartan Beast course had roughly 1500m of elevation gain, while the Montana Beast had closer to 1200m.

The resort itself has reasonably priced accommodation on offer if you are visiting for the race (hooray for the off-season); our two bedroom chalet slept four of us comfortably, had two bathrooms, a kitchen and a hot tub for about $CAD 200 per night. More thrifty visitors would be advised to bring food with them to avoid paying inflated prices at the restaurants and pubs in the village – although the food and atmosphere was really great since a lot of race participants were able to stay and socialize after the race. Note: the city of Kamloops is a 45-50 minute drive down the valley one way which is a little far for a post race dinner, or maybe more pressingly, it’s an awfully long drive to Kamloops to get cleaned up post race. Stay where the party is. Stay up in Sun Peaks.

The bad part? Sun Peaks is a PITA to get to and if I ever go again, I would have to be flown in. That drive was almost prohibitively long, especially considering the numerous viable locations available around the province of Alberta, which is much more central for everyone in the Western Canadian catchment. Selfishly, I’d love to see a race out at Lake Louise Ski Area, Nakiska, Sunshine, West Castle Mountain, Crowsnest Pass or even Bragg Creek, and I believe it would draw in more people from around the western provinces.   

So back to my story:

After 11 hours of driving in the rain, I stumbled into my chalet at Sun Peaks Ski Resort in British Columbia. It was too quiet. Where was everyone? Then I realized my mistake; it was actually an hour later than it appeared (we’d crossed a timezone as we wove our path through the Canadian Rockies) so It made sense that my apartment full of Albertans were already in bed for an early start. I was the last to arrive, and I was being way too noisy. Quietly does it then. 

Morning arrived with the normal check-in, last minute bag drop and run to the toilets. With the Ultra Beast already underway, I stood at the base of the Mountain staring up at its crisp, yellowing outline against the bright sky wondering what was ahead. I knew it was going to be cold. It already was; frost was subliming into mist on the start line chute rails as it filled with elite heat competitors and their breath hung visibly like a cloud above the chute. It was -3C, yet there is always at least one elite with his shirt off. I wasn’t taking any chances though. Two layers for me!

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Soon we were running and power hiking our way up the mountain. You know the drill. It’s a Spartan Race…. so I’ll spare you a play-by-play. Instead, here is the highlight and low-lights reel.

Rolling Mud – The rolling mud was not very… muddy? No big deal. It wasn’t missed! It was freezing cold out there!

Log Jam – This obstacle was a series of logs that were to be crawled under. It was also a crossover point for the racecourse. The obstacle was intended to be tackled on the ascent only but some volunteers were telling runners descending the hill to go through the crawl again. The crawl was very tight and many people had difficulty squeezing between the ground and the logs, creating a bottleneck even on the elite heat.

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Balance Beam – One of the first obstacles on the course. Once again volunteers were suggesting racers take off their shoes to complete this obstacle since it was icy. Nearly everyone who removed their shoes failed the obstacle.

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The highlights – Obstacles were more widely spaced and less stacked than in previous races this year, and all of the heavy carries were long and challenging. Really challenging. The climbs were incredibly steep in places, eventually reaching a crunchy, snowy summit and a breathtaking view of the resort and valley below. Once we had reached the summit of the mountain, the course unexpectedly dug deep into the back-country of the resort along miles of mountain bike trails that delivered a rewarding rooted, icy, muddy patina underfoot. We were treated to two sandbag carries, including an extra long 50lb sandbell carry. The overall highlight for me was moving into the downhill single-track, then hurtling down the main double black diamond ski run, stopping at half a dozen obstacle stations on the way down. I ran that hard – really hard.

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Then it happened.

As I ran down the hill, I saw it. The stairway to Sparta obstacle stood like a steaming gateway into heaven. It was just within spitting distance of the finish area. As I ran towards it, my legs were starting to cramp up. “No worries”, I thought. This would be over soon. I climbed it carefully, pivoted over the apex and turned around lowering myself down to the ground. I was almost done, but then horror struck.sun-peaks-beast-4

The course markings turned west. West was bad. West meant we were going back across the mountainside and into the woods again. As we began climbing the hill once more, and the cheers from the arena faded along with any hope of an easy finish, I began to lose my running form. The dull pain that had been growing in my hips and knees suddenly built into a crescendo of pain that drowned out every other concern I had about finishing the race. I had descended the mountain too quickly. Like a diver trying to reach the surface without thinking, I had given myself the spartan racing equivalent of ‘the bends’. To make matters worse, my painkillers had fallen out of my pocket way back on the bucket carry.

Now I was just shuffling my feet. People who I had passed earlier were catching up to me. They patted me on the back, “keep going dude”.

I tried to keep walking, but my body was grinding to a halt. I wasn’t tired, just in a lot of pain. With just two miles to go, I dropped to my knees and sat on the side of the trail and watched as concerned runners passed me by. At this point I should offer a special thanks to Nancy Loranger, and Adam Mowat who gave me the push to stand up and keep going. Feeling encouraged, and enraged by what was happening to me, I stood up and tried to walk a little further. It was really no good. Again I crouched on the trail and took my buff from my head – almost defeated.

Was I really going to come all this way to do this? To give up and DNF? It crossed my mind more than once.

Then I saw something next to me on the ground – a gnarled stick. I grabbed it and stood against it. It was strong. I wasn’t going to give up on my last spartan race of the year without a fight.

Leaning heavily against it I began pushing myself along, trying to take as much weight off my joints as possible. Like Gandalf the Grey, I made my way through the forest. I took a hammer gel, and washed it down with what remained in my CamelBak. I was pushing hard down into the ground with the staff now, almost like I was steering a gondola through Venice, punting through a river of pain and disappointment. It must have looked very odd, but I didn’t care. I really didn’t. I just had to finish. Emerging from the forest, I could hear the festival area again. I strode faster and faster towards the slip wall with my stick.

I tossed the stick to one side to complete the obstacle and as I came down the other side, it was clear that the pain had cleared out of my joints almost as quickly as it had begun. The volunteers looked at each other like they had just witnessed a miracle as I ran back into the forest, leaving the staff in their outstretched hands.

I ran the rest of that race like Lazarus. I was back from the dead. I’d love to say that like the great wizard in Lord of the Rings, that I arrived at that finish line when I intended to, but it just goes to show – some of the best adventures have unexpected conclusions.

Glenn sexy

Final thoughts


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The Sun Peaks Beast gets a perfect score for providing an unparalleled experience to run in the Canadian Rockies. Great obstacles, huge slopes, big payoffs. This was the kind of quality spartan race we’ve been hoping for to round out the series.  I know others of you had struggles and race stories to tell too.  You can check out the winners here. Congrats to all of you who ran. Please leave a comment and discuss what your spartan race story was like!

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Gandalf

Spartan Race Canada: Red Deer Weekend Review

Red Deer title-01

“We have to keep making things harder”, said Dean Stanton, Director of Spartan Race Western Canada. He was looking at me with a grin. I was shivering in a thin down jacket, wet feet and a bag full of wet clothes that were seeping through my backpack. I guess it would be amusing; after all I was talking to the man responsible for my condition, after having just completed the Red Deer Sprint at Heritage Ranch, Red Deer, Alberta Canada. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on Dean.

He continued, “Canada is producing some world class competitors so we have to build things that will challenge them – we’ve got people like Faye, the Wieclawek brothers, Josh Stryde, Mikhail and Austin Azar that can perform and excel on the world stage. We have to continually make the obstacles more challenging. They all get better that way.”

It’s true. The quality and design of the Western Canadian Spartan Race series has been excellent this year – pushing everyone to be better. Western seems to have fine tuned the formula of what makes an OCR challenging, by adding simple touches to the arrangement and execution of the race. 

More relevantly for my core temperature, part of the extra challenge is that the Western Canadian series stretches deep into September – where the weather in prairies can flip flop between scorching hot and wintry. There was no snow yet thankfully, but today it was a brisk 10 degrees centigrade with a breeze that brought the temperatures closer to 5 degrees (35 F). Dean was ready for it though. Dean was dressed warmly in a ‘toque’ and a fleece. Dean is smart. Be more like Dean.

I asked him what the overall strategy was for each race.

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Dean responded, “For the Super, we wanted to make sure people were running the technical trails. So after the first few obstacles were used to warm competitors up, we threw them into the single-track in the forest to thin out the field. I love that winding forest single-track.  I am not a fan of using fire roads and paving at all during my course design. We make you run on the horse trails and the rough paths the whole way if we can. Then you hit the stacked obstacles.”

ben Spartan Red DeerI didn’t mention the absence of water crossings or weighted carries on the Sprint – something that has been much talked about since the race. Maybe I should have asked about that… but gimme a break. It was cold. Besides, in my opinion, the extra heavy carry loop would have made the course too long. 

“We put a lot of design and thought into our obstacles and we’ve been working on developing different setups for the rig. I love that rig. I get to change this and alter that however I want – people fail the rig a lot, but it was the same thing when we put the monkey bars in…”.red-deer-rig

“People get frustrated and train harder when they fail an obstacle”, I added. “I’ll be back for sure after this. I have to beat it!”, I chattered.

“Right. We stacked the obstacles together in certain areas to challenge grip strength. We just made it harder – people seem to be enjoying the challenge”. He had a broad smile on his face now. The guy clearly enjoys his craft. The notoriety of being responsible for the course that probably claimed the highest number of burpees in a long time is part of a great business strategy. We want to get better. We hunger for that perfect score.  

Indeed – that perfect burpee free score was reserved for only a few, and here is why and how. The Red Deer races both included a ‘stacked’ section of four grip-based obstacles with a mud obstacle thrown in to keep things slick. The sequence was 1. Multirig, 2. Wet and muddy barbed wire crawl (to lube things up a lot), 3. Slip wall, 4. Hercules hoist and then 5. Monkey bars.

The sequence resulted in me doing a solid 120 burpees in the Super, and 60 burpees in the Sprint. Additionally, for the super, the sandbag haul was twice the distance compared to last year. The atlas carry was up and down a short hill, whereas last year it was completely flat. The tire flip was nearly impossible for many, as the weight of the tires being used seemed to have doubled (or maybe I’m just getting weaker – totally possible). For both races, transferred mud meant that the 120lb sandbag hoist became almost impossible unless you picked a rope with enough knots within arms reach. Finally, the rope climb was again rendered mostly impassable for all except those who have vices for hands.

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This is all good. This is exactly the kind of challenge I show up for.

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As I shook hands with Dean and thanked him for his time, I had to congratulate him on a great series so far. As in my Calgary review, I told him that it is clear and obvious that something has evolved and changed. Dean, and the team at Spartan Race Western Canada are unashamedly putting us through a more punishing, more challenging iteration of the race than they have ever produced before, and I hope it’s a strategy that keeps the race strong and well attended in this venue and others.

Now all attention turns to the peaks of central British Columbia for the final battle of the Western Series. The Sun Peaks Sprint, Beast and Ultrabeast Weekend.
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Some quotes from other racers:

FAYE STENNING – 1st Place Elite Female Saturday and Sunday

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“I had a terrible race but I LOVED the course. I found a lot of the obstacles way more challenging than the USA races . Like the rig (I failed that both days when reaching for the very last rope before the bell) and the balance beam (they have a log hop in the USA which is way easier). On Saturday the rain made even the easiest obstacles a challenge (like the transverse wall).

The terrain was awesome. I liked the mix of open fast fields and trails which were fun and technical, but not so technical that you couldn’t fly through them.

I think the Sprint should have had at least one heavy carry in it. You can’t have a Spartan Race without throwing something heavy in the mix! This would also help lengthen the race because the guys race was won in 26mins, which in my opinion is too short (that’s basically a stadium race).

Honestly, what I liked most about the race is that it was safe. I’m soooo tired of trying to run fast on extremely technical ankle-breaking terrain. I understand the reasons for making it technical, but you don’t have to make the course SO technical that it’s un-runnable… you can do that by throwing in more heavy shit.”

AUSTIN AZAR – 1st Place Super

austin-azarI usually prefer the mountainous courses, but I really enjoyed Red Deer despite being a flat course. The obstacles seem to get better and more challenging at each Western Canada event, which is nice to see. The only big disappointment for me was to see the bucket carry not in play on Sunday. We ran right by it… for some reason it wasn’t included”

KRISTIAN WEICLAWEK – 2nd Place Sprint


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“Negative aspects: They removed all heavy carries from the sprint.

Positive aspects: The difficulty of the obstacles. The uphill atlas carry although it was very short. The uphill-ness of the bucket carry, although again short, they did their best with what they had.

The course markings were on point this year too (last year me josh and Austin went off course because there was flagging ripped down and had to loop around and complete a missed obstacle thereby adding a few minutes to our race). It was easier on the Sunday obstacle wise for sure. But my lungs almost exploded trying to keep pace with those barbarians”

KODY O’BRIEN – 1st place competitive both days

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“Well, I’m not the best with words but…On the first day it was a quick start that saw racers out for blood, I found myself focusing on the ground in front of me a lot throughout the first 4-5 kms on the single track. Then it opened up into the field of obstacles which was where I gained momentum. Once I saw the rig and my hands were dry(ish) I knew this was my chance to pull ahead.  From there it was a lot of single track, again focusing on foot placement. Once I got to the top of the stairs I knew I was close to the end. I raced over to the spear and missed resulting in my first burpees of the year!  Finally I got to the rope, but my legs were cramping and the rope was greasy. I couldn’t make it up and finished my race with burpees!

On the second day I knew I had to redeem myself on the obstacles. I completed that race penalty free and finished right in front of my kids!

It was an amazing weekend full of amazing people and memories I won’t soon forget!”

MIKHAIL GERYLO – 1st place Sprint, 2nd place Super

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“Super: Great combo obstacle locations to make you race smart such as: herc hoist – monkey bars right after mud. Stair climb hill – spear throw. And barb wire water – rig and slip ramp.

I loved the winding single track through the woods. The weather on the days leading into it made even the slip ramp something you had to concentrate on.

Sprint: there was no room for error. Even if you spent an extra 10 seconds on an obstacle you fell back from the lead! It was a crazy quick course which was nice for my Manitoba legs.

The Sprint really saw who has been working on their top speed and obstacle confidence but really both days could have been totally different with the outcomes. The experiences of battling the entire race was something I’ll never forget with this crew.”

NANCY LORANGER – Competitive Super

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“I look forward to the Red Deer Super because the course is fast and less technical than typical Spartan races. I realize this terrain doesn’t appeal to all racers but I find it it refreshing as I can dig deep for speed and my legs don’t get maxed on big climbs/descents…

I was frustrated by the spear throw obstacle.  I believe there were only 5 spears on site….and even though I was racing competitive and had just the elite heat ahead of me, it was a bottleneck…!

Overall…I enjoy the location of the Red Deer Spartan race. Running through a maze of single track trails that shoot you out into open terrain where you can reset your pace, set your sights on a new racer to chase and psych yourself for the obstacle off in the distance.”

MICHELLE FORD – 2nd Place Spartan Super

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Since the only chance I get to practice obstacles is usually on race day, on a bit of a whim, I headed to Red Deer to take advantage of the two back-2-back races. I’m not much of an uphill runner, so being able to race on fast, flat(ish) cross-country style terrain played into my strong suites (in other words, I loved the course). Saturday’s Super was an exciting game of leap-frog for the final couple kilometers, where I managed to sneak 2nd place just seconds ahead of Jessica and Ali. Sunday’s Sprint I would have liked to have seen more heavy carries, but still had great fun being chased by Faye, who eventually nailed the spear and passed me with 400m to go. Overall the weekend was a great showcase of the OCR talent coming out of Canada right now, both for men and women and it’s pretty exciting to this sport grow in our country.

Photo Credits: Spartan Race Canada, X-warrior, Rugged Maniac 2016

Spartan Race – Calgary Sprint – The Alchemy of Design 

Calgary Spartan Race 2016 Scene

The first time I ran the Spartan Sprint in Calgary was in 2012. It turned out to be my first ever timed race; it was my gateway drug into OCR… Yada… Yada… This was my 5th time at this venue, and you’d think it would get old, but this race just evolved. Zero reference to Pokemon Go.

THE VENUE
The Calgary race venue is at a motocross circuit in an industrial park, located just a few minutes from downtown Calgary and the world famous Calgary Stampede grounds. It seems an odd location, being so close to downtown, but it works. The festival area and parking can be quite muddy so prepare your spectators with appropriate footwear!

Such proximity to civilization means that the venue presents a sandbox in which the Western Canadian Spartan Race team can build and create without too many natural limitations. However, using such a closed environment also means that there is little in the way of natural obstacles or significant elevation gain to incorporate into the course; most of that stuff has to be worked out, planned, simulated, brought in and concentrated to achieve an experience that is worth getting bruised and muddy for.

Did they achieve that? Absolutely. You could skip to the end of this review now and just know that this was the most challenging Spartan Sprint in the history of the race in Calgary, but please read on to hear how they achieved such a great race this year.

The Setup. 
The experience of launching off the first high ledge of the Calgary Spartan Sprint is much like climbing into a washing machine spin cycle filled with mud, water, barbed wire and fire, and from the very first deep pool of mud to the finish line the action didn’t let up for one second.

Calgary Spartan Race 2016 Spear Throw

FAST AND FURIOUS
So one design triumph is using the terrain. What the course lacks in elevation, it gained in speed and variety this year. Running with the elite heat, it felt like I was on a self-propelled roller-coaster ride, hurtling towards multiple hairpin corners, over wooden log ramps, down short but steep descents, and back up over the speed-way which was full of whoops, gap jumps, double and triple jumps. In a departure from previous races on the course, additional challenges were created by making us cross the racetrack multiple times, rather than running directly on it. The hard direction changes and multiple rapid level changes kept things very interesting.

Calgary Spartan Race 2016 Elite

WET WET WET
Underfoot, water was plentiful and also used strategically. It’s a simple tool, but it works. Long wades and huge levels of ground saturation meant that there was never an opportunity to settle into a true running pace. Every step was devilishly muddy and rutted, meaning that every opportunity to open up the throttle was met with some kind of punishing situation involving a pool of water.

Calgary Spartan Race 2016 Mud Pits

IN WITH THE NEW
Obstacles were well spaced and strategically organized. For example, the sandbag carry took place on a long wall ride section, and the bucket carry (which was new for Calgary this year) was a short, but took place on an exceptionally steep drop off. Climbing up was a difficult grunt. I was also happy to see the atlas carry finally make an appearance in Calgary, tucked into the first 2 kilometers of the race. Maybe more significantly, this was the first year of the Western Canada Spartan series to feature a multi-rig, which was placed right after the rolling mud – and as intended, I slid right off the second ring because of the mud. People with better grip strength, or the foresight to tackle the obstacle with dry hands did very well.

A similar tactic was used by placing the rope climb almost immediately after what was a very muddy and cold barbed wire obstacle crawl. Let’s talk about the rope… Mainly because I failed that too. The ropes used in western Canada must be among the most challenging of all: this rope is a 1 inch double braided polyester flat surfaced rope, which I will be purchasing very shortly from eBay for practice purposes. Elites must climb an un-knotted version, while open heat runners can take the slightly easier knotted route. I’ve never failed a rope climb until today, but I ate another 30 burpees there. I have no complaints though. We have to embrace and love the challenges! Volunteers were expertly placed and well invested in adjudicating the obstacles.

SOME THING(S) HAD TO GIVE
The only real weak point to the whole race was the barbed wire crawl. The design of the crawl was superb from a technical standpoint (I LOVED IT), forcing Spartans to crawl between crossed spears and hay bales, but it only really allowed two channels of people to crawl through at one time. This resulted in the only real bottleneck of the race later in the open heats.

Calgary Spartan Race 2016 Barbed

THE ALCHEMY OF DESIGN
The course designers at the Calgary race were sending a message: rapidly changing conditions, mud, water and careful course design can create a significant mess of anyone’s training plan, and that even without massive amounts of elevation gain it is possible to create something from nothing.

As a result of the design changes this year, overall pace was slower.  Just as a reference point, I have run Calgary in an open heat and taken just 34 minutes. Today, the course design elements meant that it took the elite winner just under 36 minutes, while I clocked in at about 50 minutes. That time differential points to a paradigm shift in the design of the Calgary race this year.

CONCLUSION
This was a great revision of the Calgary Sprint; the race wasn’t bad before, but simple design touches had a great effect on the overall feel and success of the event. It was a reinvention of sorts, resulting in the best race Calgary has seen since Spartan began here.

Whatever happens, I’m glad to see the Spartan Race is keeping things fresh in my part of the world. Aroo!

Spartan Jump Glenn

Mud Hero Alberta 2016 – Just Add Mud

View Photo: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/viewphoto/19770-110-27365667/1/

I’ll be honest. Until my wife booked me a ticket for the Mud Hero as a surprise, I had never heard of it. I thought it was just a goofy little low budget race that would have minimal attendance. It was just a small blip on my racing calendar.

I have never been so wrong! Mud Hero delivered one of the best race days ever!

A great marketing campaign, low prices, and an unintimidating ‘fun at all costs’ atmosphere meant that the Mud Hero was one of the few recent OCR events to actually get close to capacity, with the Saturday 6km event about 95% full. The numbers are impressive: this was a three day event which saw over 15,000 people sign up and run the course. Kids races were also available and the Sunday event boasted a 10km ultra Mud Hero. 

THE GOOD
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Parking and access.
I attended with my wife and three children, so easy access to the race venue was really important for us. From the moment we arrived, mud hero was busy. However, the parking lots were plentiful, close to the event arena, and well marshalled.

Fast registration
We were running a little late, and by 11am morning, large lineups had formed in front of the registration tents. However, we were through the entire processing system in about 5 minutes because of a slick check-in system and prepared volunteers. That’s a win.

Amazing volunteers and staff.
Out on the course the volunteers were just as encouraging and well informed. Adding to the fun, some of the race crew were dressed as characters from super Mario brothers. Watching a few people getting pulled off the course by Luigi in a Razor ATV was worth the price of entry alone. Everyone was smiling. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing. Every station had volunteers. It was great!

View Photo: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/viewphoto/19770-110-27369709/1/

The Venue
Almost all of the obstacle races in Alberta tend to be on disappointingly flat courses. However, the Mud Hero is held at Canyon ski area, just a few kilometers outside of the City of Red Deer (located about halfway between Calgary and Edmonton). The result is a 6km and 10km obstacle course race that actually involves some long descents and hard climbs, with quality trails winding down to the river valley bottom before forcing runners into a grueling climb to the top of the canyon and the final muddy conclusion of the race. Course planners had thought this one out, exploiting the natural mud slides, large mud pools, rutted single-track to great effect. I can’t wait to tackle it again.

Mud
Mud gets its own category here. Mud hero featured many different types of mud, each with a unique character and effect. First there was the kind that seeps up from wet grassy soil and covers your shoes. Then there was the classy grey soupy clay mud that you might find in a high end spa (this was actually found mainly in the ‘frog spa’ area). ‘Thief’ mud that attempts to steal your shoes and finally, rich, dark, ‘black forest ganache mud’ that was used almost exclusively for the finale. I thought it would be too much mud. It wasn’t. Mud is what this race is about. I’m still chuckling to myself when I think of all the many funny situations and chaos the mud created.

View Photo: http://www.zoomphoto.ca/viewphoto/19770-110-27476569/1/

Obstacles
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Obstacles were spread evenly throughout the course, and as you will have gathered, almost all of them involved mud, were preceded by mud, followed mud, or were just well… mud. It’s a simple formula, but it works. Mud makes for an interesting dynamic in almost every situation.

My favourite obstacles were the mud slide, the backwards bullfrog crawl, the mission swing probable multi rig and the final ‘worlds most epic mud pit’. This thing was a series of mud holes, probably about a quarter of mile long, with a singular purpose, to cover people head to toe in mud. Nobody escaped it. Everyone loved it.

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Arena
The festival arena was large and open. One of the greatest features of this event was the unspoiled view of the ‘money shot’ final obstacle – the worlds most epic mud pit. Spectators could walk alongside the entire length, cheering and laughing as people worked their way through the mud and to the finish line. It’s a good way to end the race – watching your loved ones become completely covered in mud. It was clear that the organizers of Mud Hero want this to be as much fun for spectators and visitors, as it is for participants. This is a huge deal: It’s hard for my wife to wrangle three kids while I run but a well set up arena made that task so much more manageable. The arena also featured a stage with live music, DJ’s, a huge beer garden, kid’s races, sponsor tents, and the shower/changing area. Everything just worked well. The weather was even on our side.

Oh, and they had enough porta potties for those pre-race requirements.

Kids Races
Mud Hero offered great kids races! Obstacles included balance beams, spider web, tunnel crawls, tipping beams, two sizes of A-frames, and finally a small but very real mud pit filled with plenty of deep mud. It was the stuff a kid dreams of. To allow the kids to run a few extra laps if they wanted was another great gesture, and showed true understanding of how kids love to experience these new things. My son Euan (5) ran three laps of the thing! Cheers guys!

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THE BAD?
Not much to say here really. Um. The showers were a little cold and far away? The event arena was kind of big? Really scraping the barrel here.

CONCLUSION
Mud Hero is an unmissable part of the OCR calendar in Alberta, and wherever it is available elsewhere in Canada. The Alberta event punches well above it’s weight, delivering an event that was well organized, family friendly, well planned and expertly staged. Seek it out and enjoy!

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