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).

X-Warrior Challenge announces ‘X Warrior Wild’ Event in Edmonton

Xwarrior

X-Warrior Challenge announced yesterday that they will be staging a second event in Edmonton, Alberta Canada this year, following the success of the Calgary Stadium Event earlier in May. X also hinted at a different type of event to their Stadium Sprint style race  suggesting that this could be the ‘Wild’ variant of the X-Warrior – taking place in an outdoor setting of some kind. Obstacle racers in Edmonton and Northern Alberta will be very happy to hear this announcement, especially since Spartan Race Canada and other OCR events have withdrawn from the city and the province as a whole this year.

I spoke to Race Director Darcy Chalifoux:

Alberta has such an amazing OCR community, it has been our goal to be able to bring X Warrior to the Edmonton Area. We couldn’t be more excited with the venue and partnerships we have secured. On a personal note, as I’m originally from Edmonton I couldn’t be more thrilled to bring this home.

A venue is yet to be announced and registration isn’t yet open for the Edmonton race, but you can head over to X-Warrior challenge on Facebook to stay informed on when and where this event will be taking place.

THE BIG SKY IS FALLING – Montana Spartan Beast and Sprint weekend

 

Linzee Knowles

I’m a sucker for this venue. Last year that mountain put me squarely over its knee and opened a 55 gallon drum of good old ‘rocky mountain whoop ass’ on me. Don’t be surprised if I can’t explain it fully, but for some reason I came back to look it in the eye again. Pride probably. Now, before we start waxing Jungian over my relationship with the Montana Spartan race weekend, I think it’s important to cover a few basic things about the race itself. Maybe then you too will understand why this is an essential part of my OCR story each year.

Fire Jump Glenn

As I said last year, I would put good money on this being one of the most idyllic locations for an OCR race. Accommodations are plentiful, reasonably priced and charming. Kalispell is used to visitors year round, and boasts just about everything an out of town visitor would need. It’s a green meadow community that welcomes visitors with open arms.

Accommodations

The race course itself crosses over miles of almost entirely forested back-country trails. It’s wild and unforgiving. It’s a venue that combines winding, thrilling single-track, punishing climbs and some incredibly steep downhill quad-busters. The view is spectacular in almost every direction. I gushed about it enough last year: it’s a gorgeous course from start to finish, no matter which way you slice it.

Yet this year, there were some who felt shortchanged by the race overall. Some even said it was an easier race than they had hoped. The stats line up with that assessment: It was almost a mile shorter and about 900 feet less elevation gain. It was a faster course for sure. Did we just witness one of the toughest events on the Spartan Race calendar get easier?

As all the snowflakes begin to melt into a boiling torrent of keyboard mashing anger directed at Spartan Inc. for making it all too easy for us… let’s just stop for a moment. Go to the fridge. Grab a Kombucha and let’s get real. Have a seat, chicken little.

Montana vista

Look at these miserable short changed Spartans

Facts from now on:

Spartan Races are as awesome and challenging as they ever were.

This was a fast and technical course. Faster than last year. Running in the reverse direction on both days opened up a different type of race. There was one less hill climb than last year, but there was also more in the way of root laden single-track in its place. The heavy carries, while shorter (as some people pointed out) were also less simple, requiring careful foot placement and guts to complete. We were treated to two sprawling barbed wire crawls. The slip wall was really tough (tiny ropes for the Trump hands era I guess).

Look, I get it. It was different. Some staple Spartan obstacles were missing; there was no tire flip and there was no heavy sled pull like last year. Instead, in their place were a few newer obstacles like the Twister, Olympus and the Bender. Some will always bemoan change. I thought it felt fresh.

Fresh Running

My take? The Big Sky isn’t falling at all.

It was as full and powerful a beast course as any out there, and as challenging a Sprint as you will find anywhere in the world. This venue still offers one of the most engaging experiences available on the OCR circuit in North America. The terrain alone is world class.

Stefan

Sure, there are differences from year to year. Obstacles change. The expectations of the participants change. We get fitter and more experienced. The rules change. It’s progress – so get over it. Here’s the deal. Spartan may just happen to be in the business of making obstacle course racing a thing. To make it a ‘thing’ you have to cater to everyone.

At one end of the OCR experience you have almost superhuman elite racers who have formed a lifestyle around these events and fully expect to be tested to the limits – both by each other and by the course design. There are a lot of people like me who do “ok” but keep coming back for more (again, the full treatment of middle aged psychologies is not the subject of this review) and then we have the noobs. The first timers.

We all have a place on the continuum.

New people have a special place. While us veterans might be thinking the sky is falling, for others, the sky is opening up wider and brighter than ever.

Don’t forget that right now someone is signing up for a race for the first time ever. They ensure that the sport continues to grow. We cannot alienate the very people who come to the sport for the first time by making races too difficult, demoralizing or dangerous for new registrants. That might mean tempering the pace of Spartan’s own internal arms race to produce the toughest races on the planet and thinking laterally rather than vertically  when it comes to developing races. I for one think that it was progressive to see Spartan thinking about all participants rather than stagnating on the same old formula, or just catering to the elites or just making it impossibly hard. Ultimately we all have to move forward if we are going to be a part of the future of this sport together – no matter which division you run in. Ringer

So… Montana may have been a little easier this year. So what?  I’m gonna say it… If you feel that it was too easy, you didn’t run hard enough. Kick it up a notch. Enter the elite or competitive heats next time and give it everything you have. Compete within your age group. Increase the stakes for yourself. Compete against your own pace goal. Try and finish burpee free. Challenge others to do the same. Oh, and by the way Ben O’Rourke is awesome. Just look at that man.

BEN THE LEGEND O'ROURKE

CONCLUSION

I’ll try and make my home run conclusion with a story from the race on Sunday that reminded me of what this 5-year obstacle obsession of mine is all about.

Meet Jason and Michelle Cherry.

Michelle and Jason

It was just by chance that I ran with Michelle and Jason for some of the sprint course. As we chatted, I found out that this was their first ever Spartan Race. After the event I reached out to them to describe the experience as first time Spartans:

“I signed up for the Spartan Race on a whim. I had no idea what to expect. I had heard of the Spartan before from my husband’s friend and thought – yeah that could be fun, but never went out of the way to pursue it.

I have done plenty of races, triathlons, marathons…which I absolutely love, but the Spartan was on a whole different level. When I started the race some sort of crazy adrenaline kicked in and I felt like I could handle anything that came my way. (even though I couldn’t and did a lot of burpees!) I felt like I was a kid again, running through the woods, getting dirty and loving it, experiencing challenges I had never experiences before, being encouraged by complete strangers and encouraging anyone I passed. I got to run with some pretty great people, (esp) my husband – who was my biggest cheerleader! As I approached the end of the race I really wasn’t ready to be done- Though jumping over that fire at the end was such a great feeling, and honestly I have been on a post race high since.

The people I met the race weekend were so great! It is a community I felt welcomed into and one that I am excited to be a part of! And yes, I am definitely running the beast next year when the Spartan comes back to Montana. (or maybe sooner, I’m not sure I can wait that long – we will see!)”

I can’t have said it better myself. I’ve done my fair share of races now, and yet there was something restorative about seeing the course unfold for them for the first time. I guess that I saw in them a little of myself on my first Spartan Sprint in Calgary in 2012. To them it was still crazy and new. The obstacles were difficult and exciting. They were having fun and enjoying the experience itself. No industry politics, no podium scandals, no complaints. Just pure OCR fun.

OCR is for everyone. I’m glad to see Spartan striking a smart balance across two fantastic races this weekend.

Until next year Montana.

AROO!

Glenn

all photos credit Gamefacemedia and spartan race.

X-Warrior Challenge 2017

It’s 9:15 am.

Darcy Chalifoux (Race Creator) and Frankie John Fuchs (course designer) stood chatting together near the start line. They don’t look nervous, but it’s just fascinating to see how they might act on a day like today. In all of the activity going on around me, I’m suddenly more interested in what they are thinking and feeling than anything else. I’m hoping it’s positive for them: people are pouring into Calgary’s Stampede Park. 

Darcy and Coach

Xwarrior Challenge (5) Start line

As an alternative to some of the other players in the Canadian OCR business, X-Warrior feels critically important for the OCR community in Alberta and Western Canada. Other OCR companies have pulled out from entire provinces (states) this year, leaving the OCR communities in entire regions without races. Alberta itself has seen a contraction of sorts, so we are all very excited to have X-Warrior challenge in town. It’s taken an heroic effort to get this event up and running. It felt great to be standing here, ready to support them.

I’m certainly not alone either: some of the most familiar faces in the province have turned out en force to see what this format is all about. Amongst them are serious western Canadian competitors such as Josh Stryde, Jessica Lemon, Austin Azar, Kody O’Brien, Linzee Knowles, Stefan and Kristian Wieclawek, Graham MacDonald and Nancy Loranger to name a few. It seems the word has gotten around. It’s a stacked elite field with all the makings of a very competitive and visceral opening sortie.

Speaking viscerally, where are the facilities?

Real bathrooms.

I could get used to this

Don’t forget the Titans

Deanna and the kids are wondering when and where the free mcflurries are happening. It’s a legitimate thing to ask, and it’s part of the bribe. I stop to talk to Stefan Wieclawek for a moment. He’s wearing a white Titan bib. He’s telling me he is going to take a shot at snagging first place in the multi-lap 6 hour X-Warrior “Titan” event. I didn’t doubt it. True enough he would later finish in first place with a total of 8 laps or 56 kilometers.

Bring on the Pain.

After a brief introduction to the course by Frankie, the start line routine kicks in. None other than Coach Pain himself appears on the grandstand stage to applause and massive cheers. We kneel as he begins his monologue with a stirring, percussive reflection on the nature of our sport.

Coach Pain X

Darcy seems a little bothered by the sound quality. He needn’t be. The message hits unexpectedly and lands perfectly. It’s a call to focus, a rousing war cry that echoes through the stadium and brings with it a collective rush of adrenaline. It’s a wake-up call for everyone involved to take this race seriously. It’s a command to become competitors. An order to conduct your goddamn business!

Having Coach Pain at the start line was the right choice. It elevated the whole experience, allowing X to hit its stride.

Coach called the first 10 runners to the line. People are bouncing on their toes. Pacing foot to foot. 

This was serious stuff.

I did not expect this.

I am not ready for this.

It was about to go down.

The first group is away and I’m up in the second wave, about 45 seconds after the first. Coach Pain bellows one last time and we’re bolting out of the corral at full tilt.

2017-05-13 | 2017 X Warrior Challenge Calgary

Immediately it’s clear that this is a runner’s race. We take in the south loop of the track, jumping a few walls before running into the stadium seating of the Grandstand.

This is brand new stuff for me, but I’m finding plenty of pace and energy tackling the stairs. We cross into the interior of the grandstand, tackling rope covered stairs and multiple vertical walls set up inside the grandstand building.

Note: OCR shoes are very squeaky on polished concrete.

We emerge into the upper levels of the grandstand, snatching a few high fives from volunteers as we pass, only to run back inside to descend (read: jump down) a long stairwell before bursting back out into the sunlight and along the northern edge of the Stampede racecourse itself.

Pace increases as concrete gives way to loose sand and hard pack. The field thins out. My shoes are biting in well and I start to close in on a few racers that stayed ahead of me in the tighter confines of the stadium, which is fast disappearing behind us.

In the distance, I can hear Coach Pain releasing the last of the elite runners with another bellowing shout “GO!”

Pace.

Obstacles come rushing at us in quick succession. We face a horizontal wall walk and a tip of the spear style obstacle before we turn back on ourselves to tackle an inverted wall. My back is starting to ache again (I hurt it a few days earlier – I’ll explain in a bit). Must push on. Gotta catch Ben O’Rourke. My nemesis.

The obstacles seem well designed, with plenty of lanes. We were never held up by bottlenecks on our heat. A decently long barbed wire crawl really lost me some ground, which I regained (at great effort – might I add) by the time we reached the bridge across the elbow river.  

That bridge was covered with a low ceiling of rope and we had to bear crawl the distance at speed. The adrenaline is still flowing; pacing a run like this stresses me out a little. The hard efforts coupled with uncertainty of what was to come added to that internal struggle. Yet, it was at this stage I realized that I this was my first race in years where I wasn’t caked in mud or had wet feet at this point. I could get used to this.

People are getting tired. Heavy lungs all around me. Ben has already taken a face-full of asphalt but he’s not stopping. Xwarrior Challenge (6) Ben and Glenn

With the first sandbag carry out of the way, we moved to a Z wall, and then back towards the main arena, meeting the first of the elite female wave who were battling for the podium as we ran through an underpass. After a heavy tire flip and the jarring visual contrast of running through some very dark stables, we headed back out into the blinding sunlight for a flat bucket carry.

A really fast over/under style hurdle section was in there too. Somewhere. It’s just memorable because as I jumped over the final hurdle I heard coach Pain’s voice booming across the field again. “Remember to compete! Remember to compete!”

Keep that pace up.

Closing in on the final set piece of the event there was a double tire carry, and yet another sandbag carry among the bleachers of a smaller (posher?) grandstand within the arena circle. My lower back was really slowing me down now, but Coach’s voice took over. “I KNOW SOME OF YOU HAVE GOT PROBLEMS! I KNOW SOME OF YOU HAVE GOT PROBLEMS!” He repeated over and over again. I was having problems. In my L4 and L5 specifically. You see – just two days earlier while trail running I had glanced (like a stone) over a rogue tump of grass on my way down a hill, bouncing on an unprepared, completely straight leg. My spine took the shock and punished me for it.   

Just three obstacles were left.

The axe throw… which I couldn’t complete, even with three attempts. Practice required for next year. 20 slow and painful burpees followed, but I’m right next to the start area now and the end is in sight.

Axe Throw

After a good rope climb (dry and mud-less), I felt somewhat redeemed, just in time for the final obstacle, ‘The Dragon’s Back’. You may have seen a very similar obstacle at OCRWC. It takes courage and technique to complete, leaping from a horizontal platform to an angled platform, grabbing onto a bar to pin the landing. It is a fast and thrilling way to end to the race, and probably the most technical obstacle on the course.

Crossing the line felt great. Well, everywhere except my back. I was reminded that the Titan event would circle this course for a further 5 and a half hours. Ouch.

Xwarrior Challenge (1)

I reached out to the course designer Frankie-John Fuchs for his rationale on the course design for X-Warrior Challenge:

For me, stadium course race design is very challenging and exciting. The main challenge is that the foot-print for the course is very restrictive, but the excitement comes from being able to integrate some of the amazing opportunities offered by this great facility. It doesn’t get much more iconic then Stampede Park, and in some instances, X-warrior is introducing people to this world famous location!

My general principles in designing courses are pretty simple:
1) Nobody finishes my course in under 30 mins. We say it’s going to be a 5K distance race, but it is definitely going to be a little longer than that. I love the training and preparation that people put into the races at all levels and I feel people’s desire to be tested! I also believe people are stronger than they know so they deserve the glory of not only completing a 5km race but being introduced to the deeper waters of longer, unpredictable races. As for the Titans, well… they are pretty much unstoppable, but I selfishly don’t want them to get away with too many laps and not feel it for a week. 


2) Everyone is going to hurt – I’m going to strategically stack or create obstacles that target specific areas of your body at different parts of the race to test you! I also want to minimize bottlenecks while ensuring obstacles are not too far apart.

3) You will inspire others – my favorite part of OCR is the community. I want to have the course enable this by integrating areas where racers pass by each other to allow for cheering and interaction.

My Thoughts

X was a great experience. I enjoyed every moment of that course and I felt that desire to engage with the event and bring others along with me. I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from other participants too and the format works well for anyone who enjoys OCR or running without the threat of a cold outdoor shower afterward. The Titan experience adds another strata of performance to the event, allowing endurance athletes to showcase their skill set also.

Logistically, you’ll find the venue really easy to get to. Registration was a breeze. It was entertaining for spectators and the vendor tents within the race grounds were great. There were free McFlurries. Finishers received a quality medal, a wristband, snacks, and a choice of T-shirts or tank tops. Winners were awarded a pair of Icebug trail running shoes. It’s a really rewarding event which will keep people coming back for more. Registration for 2018 is already underway and the hordes of race hungry Canadians are signing up as we speak.

Xwarrior Challenge (8) podium

Further Thoughts and Balance

There is a fine line between setting a course that will both challenge and entertain competitors and casual racers. X seemed to cater to both the strong and the speedy, but it did favor the runner a little more. I would have liked to have seen a couple of more challenging heavy objects on course – something a little grisly to get stuck into and to struggle with. Maybe a heavy plate or tire drag and push. Maybe an atlas ball maneuver or a double sandbag carry. Either way, I felt that there possibly could have been something to really allow those who are more strength focused to shine as brightly as those with speed and stamina. I think there is room for that in X. Even if it’s just a competitive wave thing.

That’s really all I’ve got, and while there’s always room to develop, X-Warrior challenge did so many things right, it’s hardly a mark down. 

X-Warrior was fast, the stadium was creatively used and featured some really fresh ideas underlying the use of obstacles and the terrain. It’s a smart and very savvy presentation, with a great intention, superb execution and a clear love of the sport underlying the whole thing. 

Conclusion and the BIG question.

I asked myself, if I was coming to this race for the first time, would it have the kind of quality, atmosphere, community, competition, excitement and difficulty curve that I experienced on my first ever OCR event? Would I come back for more? Would I train for X-Warrior challenge? 

Xwarrior Challenge (2) elites

Absolutely. I cannot wait to see what X has in store for us next in Western Canada!

Xwarrior Challenge (7) Medal

Tough Mudder Arizona 2017

Tough Mudder Arizona

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Arizona, so naturally I decided to take part in the 2017 Tough Mudder with friends I’d never met before in person. This is how most of my races go now. What did I learn? I learned that Tough Mudder is changing to rapidly become an even bigger hitter in the OCR world. Read more to learn why.

STATS AND STUFF

Event Location: Mesa, Arizona.

Actual course distance: 10.2 miles for the Full/Tougher Mudder Course

Weather: 26°C/86F, some gusty winds. Hot.

Terrain: Arid desert plateau. Minimal elevation gain/loss. Ground underfoot ranged from hard pack, powdery dust, sand, broken asphalt, desert brush, and some gravel. Oh, and mud… duh.

Events offered: Tougher Mudder (Competitive Full Course), Tough Mudder (Full Course), Tough Mudder Half, MiniMudder.

Getting there: The race takes place on the crumbling ruins of an old Nascar circuit, just on the south side of Mesa. It’s practically walking distance from Mesa Gateway airport, so it’s easily accessible. Cost of parking: $20 US.

Facilities: Porta potties in Mudder village and on course. First aid. Merchandise and food tents. Beer tent. Bag check. Rinsing area. Changing tents. ETC

Equipment needed: I ran in my Merrell All Out Crush OCR shoes, which were idea for the conditions because they drained exceptionally well. I took a hydration pack, and a couple of gels. The course chewed up my running socks and shirt a bit, so don’t go wearing your expensive duds.

Swag: A great quality tech running shirt from Merrell/Tough Mudder, a Tough Mudder headband. Brags.

IN DEPTH

Difficulty

The course for the Arizona Tough Mudder is very flat, which means it’s a suitable race for participants of almost any athletic ability. Obstacles are always optional in Tough Mudder, but some obstacle training and a background in running would make the experience a lot more fun. By entering the original Tough Mudder, you should find that slower pacing and the non-competitive atmosphere means that exhaustion doesn’t play as large a role as it might in other OCR events (shorter and competitive versions of the event are also available if the full isn’t to your liking). The biggest challenge by far in Arizona is the heat, which even in early April, can be considerably more than out of state visitors to Tough Mudder Arizona might be prepared for. 

Water

Multiple water stations were located across the course. Some of the water stations also provided 🍌 halves for participants. I counted at least five water stations. I brought a hydration pack, but didn’t really need it – call me paranoid – but this is the desert. I never felt thirsty.

Obstacles

If you’ve never done a Tough Mudder before, let me give you an introduction. The format of the original Tough Mudder is that of an event rather than a race (the new Tougher Mudder competitive wave with prize money is brand new in 2017), with the most popular iteration being the 10-12 mile distance, or the FULL Tough Mudder.  The obstacles found in a Tough Mudder are among the best in the industry, and while they may not always be the most challenging or punishing, they are always very well designed, very well built and amusingly named (See “stage 5 clinger” and “Snot Rocket”). While some of the obstacles are one person at a time kinda deals, many of them are team based, forcing you to work together. This is a critical part of the Tough Mudder. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

But don’t be fooled, these are not really easy obstacles;  it’s just that some of the obstacles are designed to mess with your amygdala more than your muscles. There’s a fear factor here, and the race designers play with almost all the phobias through a series of elaborate stunts and tasks. We get to experience the fear of heights, water, tight spaces, tight spaces with water, getting dirty, getting cold, being unable to overcome an obstacle, or even getting electrocuted in front of a crowd (not even joking). Welcome to the twisted sense of humor of Tough Mudder.

Yet it’s the simple things that put the ‘Tough” in Tough Mudder. Some of the most difficult sections of the Arizona course involved simple mud traps and pits. Best to be prepared for that. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

“Everest 2.0” requires speed and power to launch high enough to be grabbed by helping hands, but a relatively dry ramp at this event meant that failure was rare on this obstacle. For me, Pyramid scheme is the beating heart of the Tough Mudder experience and remains a stroke of pure genius. Why? The obstacle is designed to deliver muddy mayhem at every turn, and it requires massive amounts of teamwork to complete. Conquering it as a team results in a huge sense of accomplishment and multiple fist bumps. Just make sure you tighten the waistband of your shorts before making yourself part of the pyramid. Someone will pants you. It happens. Block Ness Monster is another highlight. This obstacle is just sheer bliss and entertainment value – note to course designers for next time – It’s much better when you can’t touch the bottom of the pool. But like I said earlier, it’s the simplicity of the setup that becomes the canvas for the adventure.

Tough Mudder Arizona

New or notable obstacles:

SNOT ROCKET/AUGUSTUS GLOOP
A vertical climb inside a tube, while you are being sprayed with water from above. This one looked pretty awful, but like nearly all of the water obstacles, it came as a welcome way of cooling off. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

BIRTH CANAL
A crawl beneath heavy, water filled tarps. This didn’t seem to require any kind of team effort and was not visible enough for any real spectator value. This obstacle should have been twice as long.  

Tough Mudder Arizona

KONG (Legionnaires only-so run another Tough Mudder and come play on this bad boy)
An impressively​ tall ring set. Although it looks cool, this is the far less interesting alternative to Electroshock Therapy. It’s presence is likely there to challenge the Tough Mudder timed event participants since electroshock therapy isn’t a suitable finish for a race I guess.

Tough Mudder Arizona

SHAWSHANKED
Think Andy Dufresne crawling his way to freedom and dropping into the muck of the sewer (this is a very literal interpretation).  A narrow horizontal tube and rope crawl, terminating in a headfirst drop into a pool of muddy water. The intimidation factor of this made it a great addition to the Tough Mudder experience. Make sure you hold your nose next time. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

Notes on the Tougher Mudder Competitive wave:

Those running the competitive wave will have found themselves much more challenged by obstacles that are meant to be completed with a more willing set of team-mates. It’s a pretty exciting addition, but I couldn’t make it to the race in time to run competitively. Plus, I had my awesome team THE ANGRY RACCOONS to run with. 

Safety

Safety on course was great. Tough Mudder has developed a solid protocol for safety and ensuring the obstacles on offer are sturdy and well tested so at the minimum, I would advise you to bring sunscreen, listen to the safety briefings, and read the signage. More than once I saw people entering deep water and needing to be rescued by very experienced looking lifeguards, but everyone was warned multiple times about the risks at Tough Mudder. The heat was probably the thing to be most concerned about at this particular event.

Turnout

HUGE. It wasn’t too hot. It wasn’t too difficult so I saw a lot of people on course clearly enjoying themselves. The staff seemed happy to be there. There were plenty of laughs. If you’re in Arizona, definitely check it out. 

CONCLUSION

Tough Mudder still manages to keep the incandescent appeal of the obstacle course alive and well in Arizona, and it is refreshing to see a company being progressive and thoughtful towards its participants. There’s buzz and movement there. Why? They have lowered the bar of entry to the Tough Mudder by expanding the shorter entry level events, and yet maintained the spirit of the original Tough Mudder. But that’s not all (this is sounding like an infomercial), TM has moved into a new arena of highly engaging competitive races that seems to hold up well against the other major players in the sport.  In short, Tough Mudder is becoming one of the most broadly appealing and interesting series of OCR events worldwide. 

I’m VERY excited to see Tough Mudder continue to make inroads into the race calendars of more pro and competitive obstacle course racers.

Your move Spartan…

The Angry Raccoons

Photo Credit: Gameface Media and Tough Mudder

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

No automatic alt text available.

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

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

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.