Rise of the Sufferfests – What I Loved & What I Didn’t

Let me start off by saying if you love OCR then you need to see this movie.

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It’s a ‘must see’ for those of us who would describe ourselves as being part of a ‘community’ rather than ‘oh yeah, I did a Warrior Dash once’…

If you google ‘running documentaries’ you will have a myriad of selections to choose from. There are several documentaries that are purely about specific races, there are even trail running film festivals, but there are no documentaries on OCR…until now.sufferfests-viewing-party

If for nothing else, you need to see this movie because it’s the first. And I don’t mean download it or wait for it on Netflix. You need to attend one of the showings, pay the $7 and shake Scott Keneally’s hand for being a pioneer in this community or have a viewing party with your local OCR group. Just like everyone reminisces about the first Spartan or Tough Mudder and how different things were, going to a Rise of the Sufferfests party/showing will be something you will realize later on (if not immediately) that it’s a significant milestone for OCR. And I’m confident this will be the beginning of many more things to come from Scott Keneally.

What I Loved

If you’ve done OCR to any extent then you know what it means to suffer brutal calf pain, wasted grip strength and throbbing forearms as well as hypothermia and electric shock. Scott does an A+ job at catching some of these moments. In fact, I’ve never seen better examples of hypothermic shock than what you see in Rise of the Sufferfests. You feel it. You remember it, because it happened to you before too.sufferfests-cold-guy-at-tough-guy

Another great thing Rise of the Sufferfests explores is the psychology of why we choose to do such crazy things. The movie features interviews with a variety of sociologists and other authors that give insight into the rising popularity of our cult of insanity…except as Rise of the Sufferfests points out: OCR isn’t a cult…because cults are small…and OCR is not small.

The coverage of the history of the Tough Guy challenge founded by Mr. Mouse is not only interesting, but downright necessary if you’re going to understand the origins of OCR and Mr. Mouse himself, along with his marketing techniques is every bit as noteworthy and interesting as his event. It’s truly where it all began and the Tough Guy challenge is the Torah of OCR.

The profile of Hunter Mcintyre is absolute gold. Not because of his accomplishments, but because the film shows in a brief segment how he has evolved as a person through OCR. Starting out as only a competitor and then taking on the role of a personal trainer has had a great impact on him, and that’s what we love about OCR: how it changes you.

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It made me angry. The film also explores outsiders opinions on why we choose to endure such crazy suffering in our spare time. Some of the theories are silly and some of them such as the ‘white privilege’ argument just made me angry. I have this on the list of things I love about the movie because Scott, being a good journalist, didn’t only choose to include data and experts that would flatter his personal opinions but also included insights that offer a counterpoint. That’s what a good documentary does, it challenges your personal beliefs.

What I wished was different

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, stop reading.

Seriously.

Just stop reading now. I want you see Scott’s vision unfold without any prejudice and it’s worth your time and money to go see it.

Okay..

Only us who’ve seen it are reading still right?

As a videographer and editor I always watch movies and documentaries and have opinions about how I would’ve did it differently. If I was doing a documentary on OCR I certainly would’ve told a different story, but that’s not the type of thing I’m interested in critiquing here. Rather, there’s a few different things that I would’ve done as an editor/videographer to help Scott capture the story HE was trying to tell a little bit better.

Perhaps the biggest thing was the flow of the film felt a bit ‘off’. At first it seemed like it was a documentary about Tough Guy and it’s influence and impact on what we now know as OCR, but then it shifted gears and it felt like it was more about the sociological reasons that drive OCR, then it felt like it was a documentary about Scott and how he evolved as a person through OCR, then it seemed to become a documentary about making a documentary, then it was about a man wanting to be a better role model for his newborn son. As one friend told me “I wasn’t sure what the goal of the movie was”. All of these things certainly had a place in the film, but none of them were held together very well by a single idea and I kept having to adjust my expectations on what the main point was exactly.

Too much narration. Yes, it needed narration, but there was simply too much of Scott explaining how he felt and what he was experiencing rather than showing it, to the point it felt more like an audio book than a film at moments. Scott is a brilliant writer and one of my favorite OCR articles of all time was written by him about his experience of DNFing a Spartan Sprint, but somehow it didn’t translate as well in the movie. In the future I would like to see Scott get better at verbalizing what’s going on in his mind at the moment he’s experiencing it and capturing it on film. I think that as a writer he probably was thinking “I can put all of this into words so much better if I can just have a moment to reflect”, but doing so is much less powerful in film. Just the visual of a few painful burpees, a disjointed sentence filled with expletives and a hangdog expression with the caption “DNF” would’ve said so much more than a clean voiceover after the fact would. And it wasn’t just this one scene, almost the entire film misses these opportunities.sufferfests-matt-and-scott-qa

Missing key figures/events/places. Yes, we all have our favorite OCR athletes, and having Hunter and Amelia were certainly excellent, if not necessary choices, but it seemed like a few people were missing. What about Hobie Call? He was synonymous with Spartan Race in the early years, Hunter has even referred to him in the past as “the Master”, yet I can’t remember whether he was even mentioned in the entire film. What about Norm Koch? Chris Accord? Certain race directors have become almost like celebrities in this community, but no mention. No mention of Shale Hill or the myriad of other obstacle focused gyms on the rise. Sure, Hunter’s gym is mentioned, but his is kinda small potatoes compared to Shale Hill. No Pak? No Atkins? Noah Galloway? No Albon? And while all of the sociological authors and experts were important to the movie, it seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time on them, especially when you consider the list of people important to defining the OCR community who were left out. Don’t get me wrong, I love A.J. Jacobs and have read a couple of his books, but there was a lot of A.J. Jacobs in this movie.sufferfests-norm-chris-garfield

In the end I want Scott be as powerful as a filmmaker as he is a writer. I think the story Scott was trying to tell was about his experience with OCR and how it evolved him as a person, the intellectual data he gathered along the way and how he used it as a tool to be a better man for his son, I just don’t think he glued all of those elements together as good as he could have to his personal story. I wish he would’ve kept a video journal of his progression. I wish somebody was aggressively pointing a camera in his face throughout some of the more notable races (not just at the end of the race)and he was forcing himself to talk about what he’s thinking and feeling, or at least capturing some of the nervousness in his face as he faced newer challenges and the laughter and joy in his expressions as he reached his goals towards the end. A couple people have anonymously told me they felt the movie was too much about Scott, but I strongly disagree; it just didn’t give us enough reason to root for him and care about how well he did at the end of the movie because we didn’t clearly understand from the beginning what his goals were and didn’t see enough of the ‘visual evidence’ to feel connected to his joys, struggles, hard work and disappointments along the way.sufferfests-scott-and-laura-messner

While it fell short of a few of my expectations, it was still a good movie and I was glad I invested my time to watch it. It was an amazing feat for someone who just did his first film and I hope to see more from him in the future.

Order this movie on Amazon here.

Order on iTunes here.

The Future Of OCR : Acre Breaker Adventure Race

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I stumbled across this event on a random email I received from a newsletter that generally lists road and trail races, not OCRs. I usually quickly browse the emails prior to deleting on the off chance an event piques my interest. To my surprise I found an OCR listed in the email. First thing I checked was distance to my house…1 hour 17 minutes. For anyone that does OCRs regularly that’s like a drive to the grocery store for many of us as opposed to the standard 2 hour drive. I got excited and decided to dig deeper into the event.

What I found out was that this was the first event by this brand. It advertised 12 obstacles in a 4K. They offered several varying options such as 4K individual, 4K team of 2, 8k(2 laps of 4K course) and 8k team of 2. Included in the marketing was the fact that you will get muddy – I was sold.

Upon arrival, there was a2-minutee shuttle ride to an open corn field where registration was held. Quick and easy check in and packet pick up, organized, FREE bag check and off to line up for my heat. I was registered in the 9am wave but got there just after my heat went off, giving me a 30 minute stroll around the start area until the next heat(9:30). The event was untimed but had a running clock at the finish line so you could gauge your total time with a little math.

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After a quick rundown by the emcee, my heat was off and running. First obstacle we came to was a small drop into an ankle deep water/mud pit. If you’ve read my reviews, you know I’m all about getting muddy and wet. Never been a fan of stadium races for this reason but hey.. variety, spice of life and all that. This was a good start for what I hoped for not having any expectations going into it.

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Next came the super fun(sarcasm font) sandbag carry. I was pleased to find something like this in a new race, telling me they had a decent idea about what to include in an OCR. This carry was on minimal elevation but involved, what seemed like, unlimited down and back paths with the “back” section going slightly uphill. Later in the course, I also came up on a bucket carry. All racers, male and female, filled the bucket 3/4 full and walked a loop.

The course included some standard crawls, one between hay bails(pictured above) positioned to allow a very narrow space to crawl through. With my slender frame it wasn’t as easy as I’d expected, causing me to wonder how a person with a stature larger than mine would navigate it, along with a barbed wire crawl (which I love seeing a new race use barbed wire). There were also several unique obstacles, which were a very pleasant surprise for a first-time event.

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One unique obstacle was a plastic drum filled and sealed with liquid inside. The objective was to roll the drum uphill to a designated row of hay bails. With the shifting liquid and uphill trajectory, this was no easy feat, especially once you got further uphill. The most interesting part was the trek back down with the drum. The weight of the liquid and downhill path provided a challenge in itself to keep the drum under control while not speeding downhill without you. This was definitely fun as it’s a change of pace, but I could certainly see this (or the path at least) being altered for future events to avoid injury risks of speeding barrels.

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We’re beginning to see some companies use metal caging or fencing in their obstacle setups now (think Savages “On The Fence”) so it was definitely exciting to see this utilized at a new race. Even more interesting was the type of fencing. This obstacle featured a thin wire fencing and a decent distance required to traverse sideways without touching the top of the fence or feet to the ground. The thickness(or lack thereof) in the fencing definitely could shred some hands up… I loved it.

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Another interesting obstacle was labeled a “fence climb”, which proved difficult for many new racers (who comprised the majority of the event) as the transition from the second to last to the top board was a distance apart, making the “over the top” transition quite steep… Again.. Loved it. There was a metal, box-shaped frame towards the end which was odd in setup, and seemed like a random add in obstacle as opposed to a planned one. It required a climb to the top and traversing along a thin metal pole to the other side where you drop down…(picture a random enclosed bus stop along the side of the road and climbing on top and across it).

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My favorite obstacle of all which was towards the beginning of the event was a water crossing. Chest high depending on height, on a morning that I woke to see 37 degrees out. It was mid 40’s by race time but this was COLD…. LOVED IT! I was admittedly a little confused by the direction to cross as I was redirected by the volunteer, causing a much further walk through the water, which I was certainly ok with.

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The race wrapped up with a fire jump, then being told I came in first overall in my heat and directed to collect my award. A very pleasant surprise as it seemed the first overall male and female of each individual heat and each team wave was awarded a very…. Unique…. Award.

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Yes, if you can’t tell that’s a raccoon skull mounted to a plaque. Certainly the most interesting award next to the cement brick received from the “Down & Dirty”(RIP) Brick division races. But instantly a favorite to be displayed(my wife told me areas of the house I can NOT display it) 😂. The medal was a standard gold circle with brand logo on a red/white/blue striped ribbon. Early registrations received a T-shirt and beer stein.

Back to my original proclamation that this could be the future of OCR. The event was filled with, what seemed to be, a largely local gathering of participants from the area and community. The Race Director informed me they expected around 100 participants, they closed at around 250.. That’s awesome.. They now plan on future events. One for super bowl Sunday(not sure that’s the best date for optimal attendance) and looking at possibly 4+ in the next year. From a first impression and attendance, they easily could succeed with some adjustments and possible tweaks for future events and here’s my suggestions.

Emcee – as opposed to standard course briefing everyone loves some pre-race hype to head on course all pumped up.

Elite heat- I’m all for the current awards per heat. They may want to look at condensing that to one competitive wave for cost purposes but if they choose to do each heat with awards, that’s an EXCELLENT promotional point to increase attendance of medalwhores(which encompasses 80% of this sport)

Additional obstacles- The RD expressed expanding to additional and more challenging obstacles. The easy recommendations are of course rope climb, rope traverse(over the water crossing maybe?) rig, and of course, monkey bars

All about the volunteers- the volunteers were good, but we all know volunteers are the heart and soul of any event, and equally capable of making or breaking an event.

Possible chip timing?(first heat?)*see elite heat, but again, 110% for keeping awards per each heat

Photos- this is a big one for 98% of participants. I know it may not be cheap but someway of establishing photographers at the most unique obstacles. There were pictures taken by a local photogrpaher(all pics featured in review) but pics were minimal. I didn’t see any from my heat and was in the second wave of the day.

Marketing- I’m not sure what type of local advertising was done, obviously enough to pull 200+ people and myself through a local email blast, but it was clear the normal OCR junkie contingent of racers you’d normally find at an event were not present. Marketing through OCR focused outlets(Obstacle Racing Media….for example 😉) would certainly increase the exposure of the brand to the right demographic.

All in all if a local brand can start up, follow the right path and athlete devoted business practices can succeed. That’s a great sign for the future of our sport. I’ll certainly be rooting for this brand as those behind it truly seemed to want to learn and succeed.

Savage Race Maryland- Got Grip?

Anytime you go to a race you leave thinking one of two things. Either how great of a time you had and how much you enjoyed the race. Or something turned you off, be it a bad showing on your part….bad weather .. lines at obstacles ..your favorite pants ripped… forgot where you parked leaving you to walk for 20 minutes with your hand above your head, holding your keys trying to decipher if that’s your car horn or someone else’s. Rarely does someone walk away from a race, driving home and think to themselves… “Wow, that course layout and obstacle placement really elevated that race to another level”. Well today was that day…getting savage at Savage Race.

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We all know by now what to expect from a Savage Race. They’ve set themselves to a high standard that’s known by many from experiencing an event first hand, hearing someone rave in a social media setting, or reading a previous review. They’ve accepted the challenge of doing what needs to be done to exceed the standard they’ve set for themselves by adding fresh, innovative obstacles each year. They’ve also instituted an award program(Syndicate) to incentivize repeat registrations with a medal that appeals to the medal whore in all of us and providing world class customer service with a personable feel.

So going into this event, I knew what obstacles to expect. I was aware of the medal I was receiving. I wanted more, as we all, of course, want more than expected to be satisfied. To accomplish that, I opted for the Savage Pro wave. I didn’t care about my time. To be honest, I wanted the cool blue Savage Race wristband that was given to Pro Wave participants to determine 100% obstacle completion. Complete all the obstacles and keep the band. Fail an obstacle after unlimited attempts and surrender the band.

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The course map was released a week prior to the event, so on this rare occasion I took a look at it. Immediately I noticed the obstacle placement was arranged to raise the level of difficulty. I also noticed a 30% chance of rain at the time of Pro Wave, with the likelihood of rain increasing throughout the day. Savage loves grip strength based obstacles.. Which I’m all about, you can keep your heavy shit, that doesn’t appeal to me. But with their array of grip based challenges(ascending/descending monkey bars over water, hanging horizontal cage traverse over water, rotating wheel traverse over water, rig) any additional moisture would certainly increase the level of difficulty.

Fortunately the weather held off for the first wave but as I previously mentioned, obstacle placement would play a huge factor in the outcome of this race(and ultimately if I kept my cool blue wristband…because that’s what’s truly matters). For example Davey Jones Locker(15ft. Jump into 15ft. deep water) was located just before Sawtooth(hardest monkey bars in OCR IMO). So, jump in water.. Soaking wet.. Now climb monkey bars=increased difficulty.
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Shriveled Richard,(ice bath) my personal favorite, is usually found at the very beginning of the course as the first obstacle. Some have complained that this setup causes backups as you sprint off the start line, only to come to an obstacle with very limited flow through that only 4 competitors can attempt at a time. Not to mention hesitation by many from nerves of jumping into a dumpster of ice water causes longer wait times and ultimately wait lines. I have only ever seen this obstacle located anywhere other than the beginning on a Garfield Griffiths course design in Pennsylvania the previous year. This was a welcomed alteration but again, interesting placement. Shortly after exiting the ice bath, when your grip is compromised from the cold, you come upon Wheel World(series of 5 consecutive rotating wheels positioned over water). Another new obstacle that isn’t overly difficult but the placement ups the ante.

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In previous years, Savage Race would close out your day with Colossus(warped wall followed by 24ft of a near vertical drop on a water slide). They felt compelled to mix it up this year placing a rig with varying holds and grips, just after colossus… But wait … There’s more … they added another challenge to go along with the rig. Savages newest obstacle “Tree Hugger”. A rotating series of wooden and metal poles that you’re required to traverse through without letting your feet touch the ground or the plastic bases of the wooden poles. The word I got from previous events was that this obstacle had 12 lanes, that followed a sequence of metal/wood/metal/wood/metal/wood poles to traverse. It seems they switched it up this event by making it 6 total lanes with 12 poles to traverse(6 wood/6 metal).

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So now, in order to cross that finish line, you must make your way through a rig that consisted of, in order, 2 ropes, 2 close handed grips, one horizontal straight bar and bell for completion. Followed by a long lane of metal and wooden pole traverses. While still dripping wet from the water slide. Stand alone, these obstacles are doable, yet challenging for many. Add in the placement factor and decreased grip strength from water obstacles and you’re in store for a challenge.

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More so than anything this was just the tweak I was hoping for, but not expecting when I had originally registered. A great course design is just another way Savage can keep you on your toes and not grow complacent with the high standard of execution we’ve all come to expect from the brand.

P.S. It began to rain shortly after the first couple waves making some obstacles near impossible.

P.S.S. Matty T killed it at the start line as usual.

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P.S.S.S…. Excellent Portashitter to registrant ratio. Clean, well maintained, and solid TP supply.
4💩💩💩💩 out of 5💩💩💩💩💩 rating

P.S.S.S….S? ….. Mission accomplished … See… Cool blue

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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 SoCal: Rocky Pala Raceway

On September 17-18, 2016, Spartans conquered a new venue for the Spartan Race SoCal Sprint and Beast races: Pala Raceway.

For several years, Vail Lake in Temecula has been the go-to location for not only Spartan Race but also Tough Mudder. However, all events got the boot by the new Vail Lake owners and now there is a new stomping ground for SoCal Spartans. After trading Malibu for Castaic Lake as their Los Angeles race venue, they should be used to change by now. So what’s the deal?

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Photo Credit: Spartan Race Start Line Photo Credit: Spartan Race

The start line might have been up a solid incline but beyond that, not much climbing was required. The Sprint course offered merely 600ft of elevation gain and, from reports, it appears that the Beast only had one bigger hill thrown in for good measure. The race was mostly narrow single trail covered in rocks, gravel, and sand, which made the surface very technical. The rest was the exact opposite: right on the motocross track with all those lovely little steep ups and downs. Where usually bikes fly through the air, Spartans were fighting against their burning quads and calves. It definitely was a very fast course for those who were sure-footed and nimble.

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Vail Lake had much more and steeper climbs and descends, however, the mostly broad trails and roads made it far easier to navigate them safely. By the way, local media was still worried about the heat taking out runners. Two years ago a Sunday race had to be canceled less than 24 hours before the start time.  In turn, the one and only “Hurricane Heatwave” was created.

Water stations were plentiful and other than a dog getting abandoned in the parking lot (who does that?!) on Saturday no unusual heat related mass casualties occurred. If you were wondering why Spartan staff had a dog out on the race course during the Sprint, now you know why.

Sprint racers were surprised to find a trail run instead of an obstacle course race for most of the event with a high obstacle density towards the end. The bucket carry was very tame and a sandbag carry was absent. A last minute emergency forced course designers to get creative and course markers to work long hours. Sadly, the terrain did not give them much to work with and the available space for obstacles on course was very limited. At least the mud mounds before the slip wall right before the finish line gave runners a welcome cool down at the end.

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rig

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When the dust settled, the majority of racers appeared to be happy about the venue change. Not many miss the stinking mud of Vail Lake or the long inclines and steep descents of the hills around it and are just glad about a change of scenery… Not having to walk .75 miles from parking to the race venue along a road might also play a part in the increased satisfaction.

Weights N’ Dates

Something else that popped up at the SoCal Spartan Race was the Weights N’ Dates dating app with cleverly designed stickers for the male beauties and female beasts. While I personally have not  looked at the app, I would imagine it could help OCR addicts to find people to carpool to races with. If you pay for lunch, maybe they will take cool pictures of you for social media!

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SoCal Podium Winners

beast-winners Spartan Race Pala SoCal Beast Winners

sprint-winners Spartan Race Pala SoCal Sprint Winners

(All pictures were taken by the author unless specifically mentioned otherwise)


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Spartan Race – Killington Ultra Beast 2016: No Small Undertaking

The 2016 Killington Ultra Beast was no small undertaking. Two laps of one of the toughest Spartan Races on the map is not a feat to be taken lightly. One of the most challenging aspects of the Ultra Beast for me was knowing on the first lap that I would have to complete everything in front of me not only this time, but another. And when I dared set foot back out on that monstrous course for lap two, I already knew every last detail of what waited ahead.

I had never raced at Killington before, let alone attempt the Ultra Beast, but I figured why not. I know I could do the beast. Let’s push it a bit here.

My drop bin was prepped long before we arrived at the venue emblazoned with the words “You ran FIFTY MILES… You got this.” I was surrounded by family and friends, words of encouragement and good food leading up to the race. I was ready. Nothing much was different from any other race.

Saturday morning, my friends picked me up and drove me to the venue. They dropped off my bin so I could go directly to the start, being the only one in the 6 am heat. Standing around waiting, I got to talk to many friends I wasn’t expecting to see at the start, but I felt like I was in a daze. After a 15 minute delay and then 10 minutes of explaining the rules and singing the national anthem, we were finally off by about 6:25. Consequently, the cutoff times were all pushed back 30 minutes.

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From the very beginning, racers got spread out based on power hiking ability. The course started with a 1,000 ft ascent and from just those beginning miles, I was already thinking about lap number two – how much I didn’t want to do this twice. I knew it was far too early to think like this and I redirected my thoughts to each step, one by one.

It didn’t take long before I realized I was somewhere near the front of the pack. I could count the women in front of me: three. I wasn’t moving like I normally do through the obstacles though. I felt extremely sluggish through the first barbed wire crawl and practically powerless on the vertical cargo net. Something wasn’t right, but I knew I had to get it done; so I opted to keep my eyes on the women who kept passing me on the obstacles. I made sure I passed them back on the runnable portions of the course as well as the climbs seeing as that’s my strength.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-stairway-to-sparta

When we neared the festival grounds, my pace improved greatly, that is until I stepped into the lake. For the remainder of the swim, I was gasping for air because the water was so frigid. I climbed the ladder and made it to the top but chose not to go across the Tarzan Swing since one of the ropes was not knotted and I knew I would slip. I climbed down, swam the rest of the way across and completed my 30 burpees. Back in the lake, rocks and sand in my shoes, and then finally back on solid ground for some more power hiking – rocks and sand still in my shoes because I wasn’t taking them off.

Almost more treacherous than the ascents were the knee shattering and ankle rolling descents. If we weren’t hiking through dense woods on extremely technical “trails” then we were on the ski slopes. Usually, I’d be cheering myself on at this point because downhill running is another strength of mine and typically where I would make up a lot of time, but not on this course. A few steps into each descent and I could feel the pressure building up in my knees. I decided to go swiftly, but not too daringly, at a jog.

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I missed the spear throw… SHOCKING. And then a few obstacles later, I made it to the final and easiest object on the multi-rig, the pipe, but just could not shift my left hand forward. I fell. 60 burpees right there at the end before I could get to my sweet salvation: potato chips, sour patch kids, and chocolate covered espresso beans. But why was I so out of it?

After the multi-rig, just before the slip wall (one of the final 3 obstacles), was an exit off to the left which brought us to the transition area. As I entered the transition area, there was a woman holding white bibs. She proceeded to hand me one and said congratulations, you’re in seventh. That was probably the first smile I cracked in several hours. I was extremely proud to be amongst the top 20 females, but I also knew how exhausted I felt. I long thought about stopping here, but it wasn’t what I set out to do. I needed to get back out there for another lap.

After 5 minutes of searching for my bin, which I just couldn’t seem to locate, others began to help and ultimately found it for me. I was greeted by my water, Gatorade, Clif Bars and Bloks, gummy bears and other treats as mentioned earlier. I also had a med kit, towel and extra socks, none of which I used. Very unlike me, I couldn’t be bothered to take my shoes off. A racer nearby took a massive container out of his bin and asked if anyone wanted a peanut butter & jelly. He must’ve had ten sandwiches! So yes, I ate one. I refilled my hydration bladder and packed my race vest with all of my new morale-boosting snacks as well as some solid calorie foods and I was off.

We set out on a short trail run beside the start chute which quickly reconnected to the course. It was there that it was apparent who had just begun the course and who was on lap two. The Ultra Beast participants jogged or even walked as Beast participants sprinted on by. But for the first time this race, I was running with people I knew. And as we approached that first climb once more, we got down on our hands and knees, crawling forward. Before long, I was by myself again and moving slower than everyone around me.

All of the obstacles were textbook Spartan with no real surprises. The course started off with some of the easier obstacles and proceeded to diminish your spirits and crush your soul as you went along. But by lap two, nothing was easy. The Bucket Brigade must’ve taken me 20 minutes the second time around. And at the Tarzan Swing, I barely made it up the ladder at which point my grip was fried. I reached out and grabbed the first rope and then let myself drop into the water. “Well, my headlamp’s gotta be dead now…” And it was.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-tarzan-swing

The burpee area was a mud pit by now and I was thankful we were getting back in the water afterwards. Upon exit of the lake, I took out my Ziploc baggie filled with sour patch kids and espresso beans, drained the lake water out, and ate the espresso beans. It only took 6 miles at a snail’s pace to realize that this would give me the boost I needed. The power hiking expert me was back.

As I climbed up through Norm’s trails in the woods once more, I was soon stuck in a very slow-moving line. I used every opportunity to climb rocks and tree roots just to pass people. Many cheered me on saying, “You go, Ultra Beast,” but I replied “More like ultra idiot.” Although I was completing the obstacles with the most ease I had all day and really began to boost my pace as I watched the clock tick down to 6:30, I was only at the plate drag. Regardless, I sprinted down the mountain to the sandbag carry, got it done as quickly as possible, and sprinted toward the cutoff. I heard a stranger say good for you for finishing strong just before I reached the rope climb… 15 minutes too late. I topped it off with a smile and a heel click, just what I said I’d do when I finished, but it wasn’t long before my timing chip was cut off and I could no longer hold back the tears.

We had 15 hours to complete the course twice. We had to be out of the transition area by 2 pm, giving us exactly 7.5 hours per lap. I completed my first lap in 6.5 hours and despite the extra hour, I still didn’t make it. Approximately 28 miles into the 32 mile Ultra Beast and all that remained from that point was the Death March with a number of obstacles back down at the base right before the finish. The Race Directors knew that racers wouldn’t make it to the finish by 9:30 pm if they didn’t get through the rope climb with at least three hours left to complete the final 4 miles. I knew if I could catch my friend and my mom doing the Beast I would make the cutoff, but I never caught up to them.

As I returned to my drop bin, I received consoling words from friends as well as strangers, none of which seemed to help. Still now, I’m not quite sure how to explain exactly what it is I’m feeling, but one thing I know for sure is that I earned my DNF.

I watched headlamps line the mountain slopes as racers completed the final ascent and descent while I waited by the fire. Everything about it was remarkable: from the simple beauty of the lights to the incredible challenge Spartan Race put in front of us on such a magnificent mountain. Although what stands out most is the physical and mental resolve of the competitors who took on, and more so those who were able to finish, the 2016 Killington Ultra Beast: no small undertaking.

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Photo Credit:Kevin Donoghue, Bill Durando, Spartan Race, Justina Rosado


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