The Lost Soul Ultramarathon

LSU titleLethbridge, Alberta, Canada – Saturday, September 10th 2017

At obstacle racing media, we cover more than just OCR. Why? Cause I wanna. Plus there is a lot to learn for our sport by participating in other sports! The crossover between OCR and endurance running is fairly clear; training for an ultra prepares you for the rigors of the Spartan Race Ultrabeast or the Worlds Toughest Mudder series and vice versa. Ultra distance events also allow you to tap into a great local community of runners to push you further and share training ideas. Consider this cross pollination.

As an introduction to my first ultra distance event, there seemed no clearer place to start than my own town – Lethbridge. 

Smoky LSU

Except, was not a clear day: visibility was about a mile or less – and trying to see the other side of the valley was like looking through a glass of skimmed milk. The driest, hottest summer in years had turned most of British Columbia into a tinder box and since mid August, vast forest fires have been pouring blue tinted smoke and white ash onto the prairies. By the time I arrived at the start line on Saturday it was clearing, but I did spare a thought for the 100K and 100-mile runners who had battled through air quality indexes at +10 for most of Friday.

The history

The Lethbridge Lost Soul Ultra Marathon (LSU) is organized through a running club and runners store in Lethbridge – Runners Soul. Now in its 18th year, the LSU it has been billed as “The toughest race on the prairies.” Not to put anyone off; it is also known as “the nicest [race on the prairies!]” 

There’s a long waiting list for this race, and when entries go on sale in January, it sells out in a matter of hours. I was about to find out why. 

The setup

The entry fee is CA$160 regardless of distance, which is an excellent value given the quality of this event. Three distances are available to choose from; the 54 kilometer, the 100 kilometer, and the 100 miler. The race is capped at relatively low numbers to maintain a great experience for all.

The course is separated into 6 legs, ranging in distance from 6 kms to 16 kms. 

LSU aeiral

The first half of the course accumulates most of the elevation gain and loss, covering the eroded spurs of glacial till that form the valley walls, while the second half hugs the grassy banks of the Oldman River. Now, you’d expect the prairies to be flat, but I know better, in fact my GPS logged 53.06 kilometers or 32.9 miles with 1,441 meters or 4727 feet of elevation gain and loss during my race. This is not a flat course by any means, and this race climbs the walls of that river valley from bottom to top at least 13 times. The relatively short descents and climbs on the first two legs are extremely steep, but never dangerous.

Underfoot the surface is mostly dusty single-track, which isn’t a particularly challenging surface to run on – apart from some sections with loose sand, deep gravel or powdery dust. Grip and breathability were really great in my Merrell All Out Charge. I felt like they were a good choice for the mix of conditions.

Shoes for LSU

 

Lisa Houle (4) LSU

Do not assume that Canada would have cooler temperatures by September – cactus thrive alongside rattlesnake in the river valley. By 11 am on Saturday the mercury had risen to a punishing 37°C (98.6°F) in the river bottom!  Dante himself could have found inspiration here for his inferno. It can snow this time of year in Alberta, and one week later at the time of this publication, it is a balmy 12°C! You have been warned: if it is a warm day, be prepared for the extended rigors and heat of the ‘North Loop’. Train in the heat!

River LSU

The power of experience

The guidance strategies and course markings on the LSU must have been finely tuned over the years because I never once felt lost. Pink flags were liberally placed for high visibility. 

LSU Snake

I guess that when you get good enough at the big stuff, you can start having fun with the details. The race was full of amusing or unique things to look at, like tiny rocks painted as Minions, the odd fake snake, or rocks painted with motivational statements. 

Lisa Houle (1) Rock LSU

The hills all had different nicknames, from the rather obvious ‘First Hill’ to ‘The Final Insult.’ Very funny.

Oh, and in the woods of the north loop, there was this…

Tracy Romelle Facebook Clown

By later in the day on Friday, someone dealt with it before he could float anyone else…

Clown LSU

This wink of knowing, dark humor kept me entertained and helped me keep perspective during the painful final hours of the race. 

Those aid stations!

Food LSU

There were three aid stations on the course, each of which sat like literal oases on the prairie. Each can be visited twice on each loop and one unmanned aid station could be found halfway along the longest north loop. A bag drop can be made for two of them (HQ and the northernmost station at Pavan Park). I’m not kidding when I say that the aid stations here are probably among the best you’ll ever experience. Where else can you get a grilled salmon sandwich along with a frozen lemonade? The choice of treats and drinks was diverse. Now, I know I might be gushing because I was high on endorphins, so take this with a pinch of electrolytes. Each was an oasis, that as you’ll read later, I found very difficult to leave.

Pavan Aid Station

Food

Volunteers

The volunteers at the LSU were THE BEST (again excuse my endorphins). I don’t know if this is a regular thing at ultras, but at every aid station, I felt revered and respected like some kind of holy cow. Whether it was an encouraging applause, the sound of cow-bells announcing your arrival, or a knowing look from someone who has almost certainly been ‘there’ (and by there I mean the deepest ‘pain cave’), I’ve never felt so supported on-course. People knew my number and my name. They interacted with me on a personal level. They were so engaged and ‘on task’ that there was no need to really ask any questions or do anything other than check in at the station, with any assistance you needed being delivered before you even asked. OCR needs this kind of volunteer.

Volunteers

My Race

I had a fairly smooth race until the halfway mark. This was home ground for me, so I was well prepared for the elevation gain and the distance. I knew these trails and was making good time, until the heat arrived. Lost Soul Glenn (3)

Staying hydrated in +35 degrees was a huge challenge, and as I came down from the ridges above the valley, I began to look longingly at the cool river running to my right. I was having a great time still, but I wanted to jump in right then. It seemed like the perfect antidote to the problem I was having with this heat. Heat had crept in and messed with my plans to finish strongly. It was the enemy and water was my ally. I thought about running down the bank for a minute and just standing in the water for a moment; it would take the pain out of my legs and lower my core temperature. It looked so inviting.

It would also leave me prone to blisters in my shoes and chafing. I might not feel like climbing back up the bank. The energy expenditure wouldn’t be worth it. Best to press on across the flood plain which was cracked and baked hard in the sun.

The distance seemed to dilate and grow as the temperatures and exposure took their toll on my mind. I’m pretty sure I had forgotten my salt pills. I checked through my bag over and over. Yeah… they weren’t there.

I took my shirt off and packed it for a while, exchanging it for my wide-brimmed hat to shield my head from the sun. I began to divert my attention away from how difficult it was and focused on keeping my running form balanced and maintaining the right heart rate, regardless of pace. I kept my mind busy – I was going to make it to Pavan aid station and recover a little before continuing.

This was a positive thought, yet in the back of my mind, I knew things weren’t going that well. I was overheating fast, and I had a very primal thought that I was going to get into trouble soon – maybe even on the way to Pavan. My watch rang out to me to take my nutrition. I was trying not to check my distance too much, but I let myself this time. I was 35km in – 20 to go!  The taste of the homemade gel I was using was starting to get weird. I struggled to swallow it: the task of eating and running was becoming burdensome. 

Where was Pavan station? I felt like it was taking forever. But I tried to keep my mind positive. This was such a privilege to be able to run out here and to experience this kind of test. The North loop eventually spat me back out, and I made it to the Pavan Park aid station – almost delirious from the heat. I got my pack filled with more electrolytes and I ate a big handful of dill pickle potato chips from my drop bag – the sodium felt like it would be enough. It probably wouldn’t be. I didn’t think to ask for salt pills; I had come this far, and I had heard that they might not matter anyway.

The mood at the aid station was celebratory, easy, accommodating. It really felt like an oasis there. I felt myself relax for a moment – part of my brain enjoying the atmosphere and the contrast with how rough things had been just a few minutes earlier on the trail. I had to force myself to snap out of the momentary stupor to realize I was far from done. It took more effort than I expected to leave that place behind and get back on the trail. 

I grabbed a frozen lemonade which I gulped down too quickly (hello brain freeze), and set off into the heat once again. I was cooler now, and feeling cautiously optimistic, knowing that I only had about 13 kilometers to go. I ran well for about 15 minutes before my pace began to falter again and soon I was unable to drink enough water without feeling sick. Heat exhaustion. Not enough electrolytes. It felt like I was drinking plenty, but in reality, I was taking in only small sips and becoming more and more dehydrated.

Lost Soul Glenn (4)

“Hi, I’m dying”

At that time, I got a message from my wife Deanna – she knew that my pace had died, as did everyone else; my family and close friends were watching my progress the whole time in real time via a Strava Live beacon. There was nowhere to hide what was happening, and messages of support soon flooded onto the screen of my smartwatch. There was plenty of help out on the course for me, but it was huge boost to know that I wasn’t going alone on this – not at all.

Moments like this put you through a kaleidoscope of emotions.  One thought began to persist – “this is what I signed up for.” I had become lost in an environment that was wild, inhospitable, and indifferent to my goal.

I had become that ‘Lost Soul.’ It was time to pick up whatever energy I had left and make it back to the finish.

Time for redemption.

Completing two of the final climbs was accomplished by crawling on my hands and knees and once I was back on the flats, the trail brought me back to the first aid station among a set of baseball fields. There I was immediately set upon by 3 volunteers who quickly recognized the symptoms of heat exhaustion. I told them I was going to try and finish, so they stuffed my hat and buff with ice, the buff loosely wrapped around my neck to cool me down. I drank a lot of ginger ale, which seemed to help too.

The final leg felt better – but the ice under my hat and around my neck was melting fast so I picked up the pace. Again, congratulations started to buzz through onto my wrist – my family had seen that I had passed 50 kilometers. It was a huge boost to know I had come this far. One final challenge remained.

I made it to the final climb at the base of Fort Whoop-Up and took this last photo. 

Final hill

I’ve run up this hill dozens of times. I’ve carried buckets up and down it. I’ve ran up in the snow and in the heat. I know exactly how long it is, and that it has a second ‘summit’. Its not a big deal, maybe 300 feet from bottom to top, but after 53 kilometers it felt as tall as Everest. The sound of cow bells at the finish line nearby kept me crawling, dehydrated and unsteady, shouting at myself to keep going all the way to the top. I crawled my way to the top of that hill before hobbling my way to the finish. I don’t care how small it looks in the photo or that people routinely do ultras that are much harder than this. To me it felt like the final character building moment in what had been a humbling day. It had taken me 6 hours and 48 minutes.

Crossing the line

Lost Soul Glenn (5)

Lost Soul Glenn (6)

Nice and Tough

Make no mistake – this is the toughest race I have ever done. I expected that. What I didn’t expect to hear was that the 100 miler had just a 33% finish rate and only about 66% of runners had finished the 50K. I felt grateful to have finished, but also understood that the line between finishing and not finishing didn’t have to become a badge of honor. No matter when you called it, it was a huge accomplishment for all. 

Lost Souls Ultra Finish

Prizes

Top category finishers received an etched rock as a trophy. All runners received a personalized tile, a North Face running jersey, breakfast the next day, and a chance to win prizes in a raffle. I’m really struggling to find a fault here with the whole deal…. um… it was too hot?

Conclusion

Views

LSU is that race that everyone wants to do because it feels authentic. It’s got that locally sourced, locally grown feel that contrasts with the escalating commercialization of athletics. Capping the race at smaller numbers mean it feels exclusive, yet so inclusive of each person on course. LSU could expand the number of entrants, but then that magic could be lost or watered down. The event isn’t pretentious or showy, and Runner’s Soul appeared to transcend self marketing or promotion pushing. It’s a race that shows restraint and maturity in that regard. On a personal level, it taught me some very important lessons about my own approach to training and managing my race during extreme conditions. 

The Lost Soul Ultra is one of those rare challenges worth waiting for. Make no mistake, this is an event where a person must journey through heaven and hell to make himself whole again. Despite the smoke, the heat and the brimstone I will be back next year.

Photo credit: Ralph Arnold photographics. Facebook contributors – used by permission.

Spartan Race Calgary 2017

Calgary Spartan Race (24)

By Glenn Hole with contributions from Ashley Bender. The Calgary Spartan Race.

Tired. Overdone. Flat. Boring. Fast (pejoratively), too muddy, not long enough, bad festival area, no spectator views, bad parking arrangements. I wouldn’t do it again. How would they run a super on this postage stamp sized area?

These are some of the comments I have seen on social media and from friends within the OCR community in Alberta, Canada.

Calgary Spartan Race (6)

As you can tell, the Calgary Spartan Race has a mixed reputation in Alberta. Unlike its more scenic cousin, Red Deer, the Calgary venue is not much to look at. It’s a worn motocross circuit. At times it is extremely dusty, at others it is prone to getting so muddy that it can be a frustrating experience to even try and complete the course. Historically the festival area has also been pretty grim underfoot, with limited vantage points for spectators.

There seemed to be a clear divide in the quality and style of the races we would find in Canada versus the ones we would experience in the USA. Calgary was part of that divide.

Thankfully Spartan Race Canada has been thinking hard about how to improve the Western Canadian Spartan Race scene. The standard is now higher. The obstacles are tough and varied. The festival area was now fantastically laid out and clear of mud. It was easy to see some of the key obstacles from the sidelines. The parking was fine. The check in was busy but efficient. For those who attended the race for the first time this year, they got as true an introduction to Spartan as you would find anywhere in North America.

One Problem

There is one thing I need to get out of the way before I get to the good stuff about Spartan Canada. My one pet peeve about the Spartan Race format is the high entry fees for spectators. $15 to WATCH a Spartan Race feels a little steep – it’s a little better now you can actually SEE what is going on during the race compared to last year, but I brought 5 adults with me to watch and they were all a little frustrated with the collective entry fee of $75.

Now, I felt that the race was spectacular, and I’m not saying I understand the economics of these races. There are costs to cover overhead to reach. All I know is that spectators are free of charge at many other races and that most other races tend to have more for spectators to do during the event.

I understand the need for paid parking spots and that carpooling can improve things, but OCR isn’t much of a spectator sport. Rugged Maniac, Mud Hero, Muddy Warrior and X Warrior Challenge, for example, have a free spectator policy. Rugged even has a full stage program with entertaining events and competitions running all day. For $15 I expect more. 

Now that is out of the way, let’s talk about the awesome action out on course.

Stats

The Spartan Race weekend began with the sprint distance on Saturday. Clocking in at 6.8 instead of the usual 4km that has been common over the years. The Super on Sunday came in at just under 11 km, which is remarkable given the size of the area. Check out the two maps we have on Strava showing the course and the layout.

Super flyby

Sprint Flyby

What to Expect

Calgary starts with a swooping vertical drop onto a wide dusty track. It’s easy to find your pace without bottlenecking. The course winds around like a game of snake, covering every lump and bump available across the track – with much of the action in good view of the festival area. The trail itself looks like a brain from above!

This is a race course that cultivates speed. There isn’t really a chance for any kind of relief or steady pace. It’s never truly flat, and what the course lacks in sustained vertical distance it makes up with the sheer number of short sharp climbs and controlled falls downhill. Some of the inclines and drop offs were more like scrambles at a 60-degree angle! The bucket carry and 50lb sandbag carry were both found on these incredibly steep sections. Even the tractor pull took place over a series of small whoops, rather than a typical flat course. For a course without any natural hills, it punched well above its weight and height; the sprint clocked 384 m elevation gain and loss while the super delivered 599 m elevation gain and loss.

Highlights

Barbed Wire from Hell

Barbed Wire

This year we were treated to a super long barbed wire crawl near the start of the race. The barbed wire was low to the ground and the crawl was cratered with watery troughs that made rolling extremely difficult. The entire route was split down the middle, turning back on itself halfway through. A lot of us didn’t see that coming. Well played.

The Stunt Park

After a grueling set of climbs and descents along the west side of the arena, we crested a hill and entered my favourite part of this race. The stunt park. It’s where dirt bikers practice balance and jumping from one rock to another.

The area is full of raised logs, drop offs, boulder piles, almost vertical climbs, and balance beams. To run on, it’s dynamic and challenging, requiring fast feet, concentration, flexibility, agility, speed, and the cardiovascular capacity of a racehorse. You get the idea. It’s by far the most effective use of embedded obstacles I’ve ever seen in a race. The section left me feeling like a superhero.

Olympus

I love this obstacle and I was so pleased to see it there again. It wasn’t particularly hard this time (if in doubt, just use the round holes instead of the chains or the climbing grips), but it’s a nice challenge and it feels great to complete it.

Faye Olympus

Tyrolean

The old ankle biter was back with a vengeance on the Super, but not for the Sprint.

Atlas Carry

A heavy Atlas Carry was added for the Super on Sunday. 5 burpees were performed at the halfway mark.

Sled Pull and Drag

The heavy sled pull was back for both races again. Again, I love the fact that competing at Spartan requires a lot of different training modalities.

Sled Drag

The Dirt

A big mud trap and a couple of short swims also were featured later in the race. They were effective at breaking down the pace of faster runners while becoming a source of muddy mayhem for more casual runners. Mud is great as an obstacle, but it can also make a race into an unpleasant experience if the entire race is too muddy. This year we had dry weather leading up to the race, so the mud was not an issue. 

Rolling Mud

Extended Bucket Carry for the Super

The bucket carry was even longer for the Super, creating somewhat of a death-march type situation.

Bucket Carry

Conclusion

The feeling of accomplishment in finishing strong on my particular race was really worth the effort. I know Ashley (who provided additional information for me about the Super) also finished first in her age group. Everyone who ran and attempted either of the Spartan races in Calgary this year should be very proud. It was the most challenging and interesting Spartan Sprint Calgary has seen to date and the Super was a huge success and an appropriate step up in difficulty over the Sprint. Overall I would say the event was a success in terms of reinventing the Spartan race in Calgary. I reached out to Johnny Waite, the new race director of Spartan race Canada,

“I am very proud of what our team is achieving with our reboot of the Canadian market, and it means a lot that the work is appreciated and acknowledged. As I said at the podium presentation, Canadians are among the very best obstacle racers in the world and we are committed to giving them some of the very best races in the world. (And, we are having fun doing it too!!)”

Keep it up guys!

Photo credits. Gamefacemedia. Johnny Waite (instagram) and Spartan Race Canada (Facebook)

Muddy Warrior 2017 Review

Muddy Warrior Start line

Muddy Warrior

Muddy Warrior 2017 is here! At Obstacle Racing Media, we feel it is just important to support the smaller, first time efforts as it is to support the larger races annnd….. Since I live pretty close, I thought I would go and check out this local race.

Muddy Warrior is a brand new, small scale mud run organized by a small group of OCR enthusiasts and supporters in Cardston, Southern Alberta Canada.  It’s early days for this race company so it’s fun to see the genesis of these smaller events. Even the bigger races started out small.

Check in

On the day, the weather was a little cool, which may have hindered spectator turnout a little, but parking was easy enough and we didn’t have a long way to walk to get in or a long time to get cold. The venue featured a live DJ/MC and a kids playground very closeby to keep the little ones entertained enough. There was a bag check, and race photography available on site. A food truck also showed up. For spectators, there was a bouncy castle and inflatable zorb type things you could bounce around in. Not bad for a first event!

Zob
Muddy Warrior bouncy

Check in was simple and the course used an effective timing chip system and racing bib numbers. The event was attended by a relatively small number of participants but those who attended seemed to all have a good time at the race. Remember. Small beginnings.

The Course

The course distance was 5 kilometers in a river valley, starting from the athletic fields and working its way out and back at a turnaround point with a water station near the halfway mark which could be accessed from either direction.

I logged about 100m of elevation gain and loss over the distance, which is quite manageable for experienced athletes but the hills may pose a good challenge for first-time racers or other casual muddy warriors. In all though, I would say the terrain itself wasn’t too challenging. Almost everyone could do this race quite happily without too much hardship.

Muddy Warrior wedgie maker

Obstacles

The obstacle course included a slip n’ slide (AKA the wedgie maker), a tire drag, tire flip, tire hops, hurdles, an 8 ft wall, a large hay-bale stack, two mud pits covered with string netting, a traverse wall including a rope traverse, a pair of old cars, over/under/through walls, a pyramid wall with ropes, 4 angled ninja platforms, a Zig-Zag balance beam, spider web sections and a great riverbed running section.

Muddy Warrior through

Muddy Warrior Crawl

RESULTS….

I finished in second place. Yeah, sometimes I podium. Someone faster always tends to show up when you need to be humbled. Today was such a day.

This was a first-time race from the course organizers so naturally there are a few things to tweak here and there. I’ll start with the issues I had on course, and then talk about the great stuff that worked really well.

Muddy Warrior Skip

Things to learn from

  1. Double check the course marking. This is easy to correct for next time by just adding in a few more arrows on the ground or on trees between breaks in the course marking tape. Some obstacles were too easily missed.
  2. There were no instructions on some of the obstacles that were unmanned.
  3. Some of the volunteers needed better instruction. 
  4. Many of the obstacles were not visible to the spectators, which meant that it was hard to get spectator participation or interest.
  5. I couldn’t find the defining signature of this race. More on that later and why that is important. That will happen as it develops.

The good stuff.

You can’t ever beat running over the top of cars. It’s just great fun and it makes you feel like you’re in an action movie.

Muddy Warrior Car

I also really enjoyed the massively tall slip and slide because of the speed and opportunity to catch my breath after the hill that led to it. The hay bale mountain was a really tough challenge and I would have welcomed more of those mountains in a row!

The Z wall/rope traverse was great. It was a really fun obstacle that offered enough challenge without being impossible – it wasn’t too short, but I would love to have another section to complete, making that into a uniquely challenging keystone obstacle of the race.

Muddy Warrior traverse

Running down the river-bed at high speed was probably my favourite part of the whole thing – the battle for first place took place along the riverbed and that added drama and a dynamic challenge underfoot.

Muddy Warrior River runners

Final Thoughts – Developing Identity

Many of the elements were superb and the setup is to be applauded. I loved the fact that this was a smaller local race. The course was laid out with optimism and a clear love of obstacle racing. people were having a great time. The formula is good, but with a few small adjustments to the layout and obstacles, this will continue to develop into really cool things for Cardston and Muddy Warrior.

Tips:

Showcase the awesome – Placing a few more of the key obstacles within the race-ground arena to allow participants to enjoy more interaction with the spectators during the event would be cool. Stimulate competition by letting the battles for position take place in the arena. The obstacles were awesome. Showcase that more!

Muddy Warrior Tire

Make it tough – make people carry heavy stuff up and down the hills during OCR. They like it – they showed up to go to the crazy zone. Honestly, they do – they come back next year for the unique challenge they struggled on. Bring in the heavy stuff. People will not be put off.

Muddy Warrior climb

Define yourself – Find a keystone/defining obstacle, moment or set of obstacle movements that become and define the identity of the race. Whether it’s three walls in a row, catching a chicken, or doing a Z wall with a blindfold, I don’t care. Make people change levels or positions most often.  Throw in more crawls, more cars to climb over, more heavy carries or water based obstacles than any other race, or even a pile of horse dung at the end – identify yourself as the race with the thing-a-ma-bob that makes Muddy Warrior what it is.

FINAL THANKS!

I’ll be back next year to see how things develop! Thanks for the great day and for being so accommodating Muddy Warrior.

 

Muddy Warrior River

Muddy Warrior Balance

Glenn runnin

 

 

Spartan Race Canada to bring Events back to Winnipeg with Crowdsourcing

Poster

Spartan Race Canada will resurrect one of its Spartan Races in Canada this year, provided they get a minimum of 2500 registrants.

Low turnouts at OCR events in previous years meant that Spartan pulled out of some of the smaller markets in Canada this year, leaving OCR fanatics in Manitoba (a province of Canada with a population of 1.2 million) without a Spartan Race schedule for 2017. Other OCR events have been available such as Mud Hero, but the Canadian calendar for Spartan has been a little.. um… sparse?

All that could change shortly.

Spartan Canada Pro team member Johnny Fukomoto is spearheading a drive to encourage more people to sign up for the Winnipeg Spartan Sprint Race with an official facebook group created by Spartan Race Canada. This has been covered on local TV news and you can see the local news story here.

Fukomoto

For anyone in the North Dakota or Minnesota areas, this would be a great way to get your first Spartan Race under your belt! Spartan Race Canada has been killing it this year already.

Please share this article on your own social media to help spread the word about this event!

Sign up today here!

Winnipeg crowdsourcing

Photos Credit Spartan Race Canada, Johnny Fukomoto (Facebook) and Bring Spartan Race to Manitoba (Official) facebook group

Rugged Maniac Calgary 2017

Rugged Maniac Calgary 2017 Swing

Last year I called Rugged Maniac a gateway drug into the world of OCR. This year, the addiction for OCR has again seriously taken hold and I found myself heading up to Calgary for my next fix.

Was Rugged Maniac 2017 a success? Read on to find out. 

Limbo

Rugged Maniac Is In Its Own Category

It’s a combination that works well for other races in its area of the market. This isn’t a Spartan or a Savage Race. Rugged is Rugged.  It has a distinct place and identity. It’s a lot of… well… just a lot of fun.  Expect a great atmosphere with a great view of the final obstacles.

At Rugged Maniac you can expect onstage antics like the Stein holding competition, the pie eating competition, or the pull up contest to be just as much of an attraction as the race event itself. 

Beer

Rugged Maniac Festival Area

Having a festival area program is something some races seem disinterested in. My wife is yet to be bitten by the OCR bug, but when she attends races with me, she lets me know that there is nothing worse than a dull spectator area with nothing going on apart from an obscure view of the race.

If I were visiting as a spectator, I would want something to do. I could be there for hours in the sun or rain. I’d want somewhere to sit and things to occupy my kids. Maybe some games I can get involved in. Some good music. Maybe a little shade. Good food options.

I don’t want to spend half an hour walking to the venue or taking a school bus, then to pay $15 entry to the venue, only to find it is a muddy, inhospitable mess underfoot, with nothing but a row of porta potties and a bad view of the obstacles. So many race events drop the ball in this regard. However, Rugged Maniac writes the playbook on good times for spectators. Parking was excellent. Everything worked. 

Rugged Start

I ran my little heart out on this race. It’s a fierce race if you want it to be. I ran hard, getting chased down by Kody O’Brien and one other dude whose name I forget. It destroyed me, but that’s just my competitive silliness kicking in.

If you want it to be, it can be a gentler introduction to the OCR world if this is your first event. This isn’t meant to be a statement of suffering, but a chance to enjoy a challenge and experience a bit of fun.

The agenda at Rugged Maniac is for inclusion. Obstacles are all mostly easy to complete with a couple of exceptions and participants of all levels should be able to make it through without much difficulty.

Splash

About the 5k

The distance is 5k and the surface is mainly flattened grassy pasture. Despite the somewhat toned-down intensity of the obstacles, it’s a snappy race if you push yourself. The quad burners were incredibly steep: four mounds of loose dirt, increasing in height and depth really took a toll on my pace.

The rings were tough for me. I lost momentum and had to find a way to reach over beyond my normal capacity. Water balance obstacles are also surprisingly hard. Both Gauntlet and Frog Hop both created a significant energy sap as I tried to run through them. It looks easy, but it’s not. Gong

MUD + Obstacles

One impression I have of the course is of multiple level changes. Most of the obstacles took runners from the upright to prone position breaking up the ability to form a working pace.

Another simple but effective signature of Rugged Maniac is to create a pile of excavated dirt after many of the obstacles. For those who want to run this race competitively, throwing these loose mounds in creates a constant rolling assault on the cardiovascular system. As the day wears on, mud begins to make these even more chaotic and interesting for all.  

Rugged Maniac is largely devoid of heavy carries. There was an easy sandbag carry near the end of the course, but it wasn’t punishing or brutal. I should mention that for those who are pyromaniacs, you get to jump over THREE fire jumps at Rugged! This makes you feel like a legend.

Anti-Gravity (a trampoline and rope net jump) simply makes you feel like a kid again.

Slide

The final obstacle in the Rugged Maniac race is Mount Maniac and the Accelerator combo. A warped wall, a rope net climb, a ladder climb resulting in a giant slip and slide into a pool of water in front of a cheering crowd. 

Acellerator

Kody

NOTE:  Rugged Maniac had a few problems with timing last year. This year someone took the names and times of the winners for the race, which was much simpler. I don’t think there were any issues at all with the manual recording system!

Winners

Conclusion

So  was Rugged Maniac 2017 a success?

YES. In summary, what Rugged brings to the table is balance. Fun for spectators and a great race for participants. I’m gonna just come out and say it. Rugged Maniac is one of my favourite events in the western Canadian OCR calendar. It’s about the atmosphere and the execution. There’s a classy, well-designed polish to the event. People are happy at the race. There are no complaints about course design or whether this obstacle or that obstacle was present or not.  It’s a race with a beaming, colorful identity, great quality control, excellent staff and staging, and an ability to not take itself too seriously. Come on back to Canada next year!

Edit: I was sad to hear that later in the day someone disobeyed one very important rule not to wear football or soccer cleats on the course and as a result damaged the accelerator – putting it out of commission. Read the rules people!

All Photos Credit of Gamefacemedia and Rugged Maniac

Spartan Race – Red Deer Weekend 2017

TitleFollowing the departure last year of the Canadian Spartan franchise holders, the western Canadian Spartan Race series is now back in the hands of Spartan, Inc. Expectations were high that fresh ideas and fresh obstacles might make their way into the first Spartan Race event in Alberta this year. A new race director. The new build team. A new lease of life for Spartan in Canada it seems.

The Venue: Red Deer

Almost equidistant between Calgary and Edmonton, Red Deer is in a perfect place for an event to draw obstacle racers from both major cities in Alberta, Canada.

Map of Red Deer

Heritage Ranch itself is a venue with many different environments and surfaces. Mile after mile of forest singletrack means there is both the opportunity for fast paced trail running or an enjoyable adventure through the woods (whatever your style of participation is).

The winding forest climbs offer a moderately tough challenge – this is no ski hill by any stretch, but despite being touted as a race without much elevation gain, we tracked about 450 meters of elevation gain and loss on the course of the Super course, which is substantial given the topography.

Sprint Map Red Deer

Bushwhacking and off trail running was featured heavily on both days, so caution was required to protect yourself from low hanging branches and less than obvious tripping hazards. Caution was also required to stay on course in the more forested areas (more on this later). The trail included some incredibly steep, rooty descents into the forest which sent some racers tumbling into each other – or possibly even holding hands for support. It was not for the faint of heart at times but offered plenty of technical challenge for racers who attacked it at speed. It was crazy in the best possible way.

While both races followed a similar set of obstacles, the Super on the Sunday took in a more expansive area of the park, including some extra trails to the north, which followed the river and crossing some wide open pasture (which seemed to be mainly populated by thistles – so bring long socks if that happens again). A small amount of the course was on paved surfaces and well-maintained unpaved trails.Pull

There was a water crossing, which involved a swim or racers could pull themselves along a rope barrier, and a few boggy areas along the northernmost edge of the park where the Super course crossed small ponds and gullies created by the river.

Water Crossing

The sandbag carry also took place near water, with participants carrying a sandbag down a steep riverbank and across a short section of the riverbed and under a bridge, before climbing a dodgy but fun stack of boulders at the base of the bridge and back up to the start of the sandbag loop. 

Walk-o (1)

There was little in the way of mud on either course, but as ever, specialist OCR or trail running shoes are essential for this race and all other obstacle course races. Drainage is essential. Take your pick.

Pro-tip. Save some gas in the tank for the steep wooden staircase near the final obstacle run.

Austin Azar-o

I’ve asked a few members of Team Rampage Racing for their thoughts on the course.

On the spectator experience…

Kody O’BrienKody

“It was epic coming to the cargo net and hear people going nuts in the spectator area, I even heard a couple of people screaming my name. I was pretty sad with Spartan before this weekend, but Ven Hodges helped make this an epic course!”

The wide festival area and expansive viewing area was a huge win for Spartan Canada. It made it much easier than ever before to actually see the thrilling battles taking place on the elite and competitive heats as racers sped across a vertical climb, rolling mud, and the Hercules Hoist before disappearing into the forest again. Minutes later they would re-emerge back into the arena area so spectators could easily see and cheer on racers tackling the Z-Wall, the Platinum Rig, and the Spear Throw. 

There were extended sections of pure running in this race. Some people found that they might have preferred the obstacles to be more equally spaced.

Patrick Wilson 

“Overall it was something new to western Canada. But I would have preferred to have less of a runner’s course.”

Patrick

Others felt a similar way about the balance between running and obstacles, particularly on the Super course. It seemed that obstacles only seemed to happen in clusters.

Jason Gelleny

Jay-o

“I really enjoyed it. I’m glad they used the terrain better. It felt like they really took advantage of the trails out here, although it was a little frustrating how long it took to get to the next cluster of obstacles. Granted that’s a selfish frustration because it’s just not as good for my own strengths. I loved the use of the river again, the sandbag through the river and up the rocks felt gritty like a battle-frog race, and the Tyrolean Traverse was cool. However, the strength based obstacles like the Herc Hoist, bucket carry, sandbag and baby tires were either way too light or too short. The obstacle clusters were fun having a few gooders in a row, and this was a much better spectator experience this time with high profile obstacles near the festival area and a clean, dry festival area! Overall I really enjoyed it!”

Others were quite happy with the setup.

Aaron Singleton Aaron-o

“I found the race to be a great balance between a runners/strength course. It was rare to see any obstacle that was stand alone (they were often stacked together) so it forced the runners to step up their obstacle game, but the long stretches of flat running balanced that out. The mad dash to the single track at the start was a blast! And coming near the festival area for obstacles was a great motivator.”

Indeed, the first 400m of the race really determined the first 2 kilometers of the outcome of the race for the competitive heats. After starting on a wide field, the course quickly turned into a single track trail where it was impossible to pass slower runners ahead. This encouraged competitive and elite racers to find the right position quickly.

Nancy Loranger

Nancy-o

“Getting to the trees first (or among the first) definitely dictated how the next 1/4 of the race would go and if you got caught behind anyone that didn’t have the same objective as you… It was frustrating…but I think it was great. Made you fight for it. I loved the clusters of obstacles. as much as I hated that rig on Sprint day… That set up of Rig/Spear changed who was where in the race. Both days. That was cool.”

For the open heats, bottlenecking on these trails became a bit of an issue in this area and at obstacles like the Tyrolean Traverse. However, the strategic placement of obstacles definitely made a difference for those who are more strength based athletes to shine. While less competitive runners would find a great challenge in facing obstacles in sequence. It was really a great setup for all.

Tyrolean Traverse bottleneckin’

NOTABLE OBSTACLES

  • The first hurdle with the small gap, that everyone went under, and smart people jumped over.
  • Olympus – one of my favourites.
  • The platinum rig that had a high failure rate on the sprint due to double ropes in the middle. This was altered on the second day to just one rope among the rings.
  • The spear throw continues to claim victims.
  • Both days featured a heavy sled pull and drag.
  • The rope on the Tyrolean Traverse chewed up ankles like a rabid dog. Remember to bring those long socks guys!
  • The water crossing was gloriously cool and fun – unless you can’t swim. Never fear. There was a flotation device on hand.
  • The Stairway to Sparta was really tough for me this time for some reason. It came at the top of the long staircase, and my legs were feeling like jello.
  • Heavy Atlas carry and rope climb couplet sent heart rates through the roof towards the final section of the course.
  • The finish line was concealed by an 8ft wall, an A frame cargo net (that crossed over the entrance to the race), barbed wire crawl, slip wall, and the fire jump. 

Entry

Distances

The Sprint course turned out to be about 6.8 kilometers in distance (longer than a typical Canadian 5K Sprint). The Super clocked in at about 11.2K which is shorter than the typical 13-kilometer course we have seen at Red Deer before.

Important note: Course marking…. More than one competitor in the Elite Sprint Heat found themselves running the wrong direction, missing a critical turn down a steep hill. They ended up finishing way too early or otherwise confused and lost. this might be due to the speed at which competition is taking place, but also partly due to the winding, off-trail nature of the course. The course organizers took note of this and re-marked some areas of the course. All athletes conducted themselves in a professional and fair manner regarding the course marking debacle. 

SUPER RESULTS

FEMALE

1 Faye Stenning 27 F 1:06:49
2 Allison Tai 35 F 1:08:16
3 Nancy Loranger 41 F 1:08:40


MALE

1 Mikhail Gerylo 28 M 56:24
2 Austin Azar 25 M 58:16
3 Kristian Wieclawek 28 M 58:52


SPRINT RESULTS

MALE

1 Mikhail Gerylo 28 M 36:58
2 Austin Azar 25 M 37:43
3 Kristian Wieclawek 28 M 38:09

FEMALE

1 Faye Stenning 27 F 45:25
2 Linzee Knowles 29 F 45:53
3 Allison Tai 35 F 47:41

 

Oh, and the volunteers were awesome!

Photo credits: Google Maps, Spartan Race Canada (Facebook) and Melodie Krawchuk (Facebook).