Spartan Sun Peaks 2017: A Brutal Beast

Some are dubbing the 2017 Spartan (Ultra) Beast that was held in Sun Peaks on September 23rd, 2017 as the Toughest in the World.  All I can tell you is, I somehow finished that dang Beast! I’m not sure how so many did it TWICE!  I’ll be honest right from the beginning, me & my best friend Troy whom I was helping pace came in absolutely dead last, if you go look at the results for the open heat we are the very last two names on the results sheets, and I’m totally okay with that because this race was the culmination of our very first initiation into the Trifecta Tribe & we left anything we had left in us up there on those peaks!

The Numbers:

The below photo was taken from an Instagram post by the Course Designer Johnny Waite (IG=participant_ribbon)

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-01-Stats

During the race, we would pretty much summit all three peaks that the resort has access to.  Below are the approximate ascension gains that we made on each peak taken from my Garmin stats.
1st Mountain: Sundance ~470m/1542ft
2nd Mountain: Mt. Morrisey ~390m/1280ft
3rd Mountain: Mt. Todd ~868m/2848ft

The final distance of the race is a bit of a toss-up. It was posted at 24km/14.9mi & I’ve seen people posting their results anywhere from 26-29km/16.15-18mi.

For the Ultra Beast, it took the Elites a minimum of 8:25:01 for 1st place to complete & last place came in at 13:36:46.
As for the Beast, it took the Elites a minimum of 3:33:23 for 1st place to complete & last place came in at 11:44:29.

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-02-Mtn-Map

The Experience:

I arrived in Sun Peaks on Wednesday.  I went a few days early as I was planning on working/volunteering to help set up the course.  During that time I was able to catch glimpses of what was to come.  The course maps that I had brushed passed showed early warning signs that we would summit all three of the main mountains within the Sun Peaks resort & that filled me with a little bit of anticipation.  I hadn’t really trained for the sheer elevation gain that was about to come, but I had at least recently done a few hikes, the last one being a 23.36km/14.5mi with 948m/3110ft of elevation gain so it was good practice.  The race itself left me both physically & mentally exhausted.

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-03-Course-Map

The Obstacles:

Aside from a few subtleties in how obstacles were laid out, most of the 31 obstacles were pretty much the regular staples.  Doing the Stairway to Sparta at the top of Sundance @1730m/5676ft was pretty cool & it has an absolutely beautiful view.  This was my first time coming across the Tyrolean Traverse & I somehow held on & pulled myself across it & decided to headbutt the cowbell which left its mark. =)

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-04-Death-March-2.0

Even though this wasn’t on the list, right after the Tyrolean was what many are now calling Death March Part 2 referring to the massive mountain climb done in Killington.  We had to climb up one of the ski runs called Challenger, according to sources, the run has a 474m/1555ft ascent within 1km/.62mi which was accomplished by many by crawling on hands & knees due to it being so steep.  I was told the Creek Crawl was rather beautiful, but due to the sheer time of day & lack of sunlight, I passed it by along with a few others.

You’ve been cut:

After we had completed the death march, we slowly switchback climbed up to the peak of Mt. Todd and I could see a few people standing up there waving people up.  It was nearly 6:30 pm when we reached the summit & we were greeted by Johnny Waite who told me we were done & that we had missed the deadline by about 10mins.  Naturally, I was crushed, but I quickly came to grips with it as I knew there was nothing more that I could do and that I had done well pacing Troy through those mountains.

I walked back down a bit to catch up to Troy & let him know that his silent prayers of no longer having to keep going had been answered & that we would be driven down.  I could see the confusion on his face & explained that we missed the final cut off and that all racers needed to be off the mountain by 7:30 pm.  Then I saw the anguish on his face knowing that he wasn’t going to be given the chance to earn his Trifecta that day with so much put into the effort.

We walked up & we asked Johnny if there was any way we could still finish.  He told us there were at least 2 hours left, asked us what time we had started & once we answered 8:30 am he told us we were done.  At that time another racer came up the hill & I let her know what I was told.  I could tell she was a bit more upset by the news & she went over to Johnny to plead her case.  She too was gunning for her first Trifecta.  Johnny asked her what time she had started & she answered 11:30.  Johnny walked over to the edge of the hill to survey how many others were coming.  We let him know there was probably a dozen or so behind us.  He then looked at Troy & I and told us that if we could keep up her pace & beat him down to the Z-Walls in his truck that we still had a chance.

I could see Troy was physically & mentally done, he was toying with the idea of taking that ride down the mountain.  Troy was recently on disability and has since started up a youth foundation that at its core is about how everyone can change their life if they just believed better was possible, he knew he had to go on so he could use this whole experience as a life-changing beacon for others.

A second chance:

Once Troy had raised up enough gusto and made up his mind to finish the race it was total go time! We had about 5km/3.1m left until we were finished & it was all downhill from there after getting past the 8-foot wall.  Troy’s feet were in pain & having his toes smashed into the front of his shoes going downhill wasn’t helping.  I could hear him yelping over & over as he tried to quicken his pace to make sure we made the cutoff.

We completed the plate drag & came up to another drop, this one was pretty steep but we could see the Z-Walls & no sign of Johnny!  Once we made it passed the Z-Walls we knew we were on borrowed time.  We completed the Atlas Carry & were told to bypass the Creek Crawl due to the lack of light.  That’s when the volunteers’ radio went off.  It was Johnny asking if we had made it there, we had, just in time it would seem.

From there we trudged down a service road & a few trucks passed us, I was sure one of them was the sweepers but they all kept passing us by, each time my heart would speed up just a bit more.  We were then brought back into the trails, the one place a truck couldn’t get into, we were safe for now, or so I had thought.  We heard Johnny call out to a racer just behind us & he told them to head back to the last water station, I knew he wasn’t far behind.  A few more minutes in the trails and I heard Johnny’s voice again calling to Troy.  I was a bit out front trying to pace Troy as fast as I could.  I figured our number was up.

A Miracle For The Finishers:

I walked back & we had a quick conversation with Johnny.  He asked us if we were both a part of Vancity OCR, we let him know that we were & he then said the sweetest words my ears had ever heard.  He told us that he was going to walk us down & that we were going to finish the race with him.  OMG!

I was filled with such elation & marvel knowing at that moment we were going to finish!  Johnny walked us past a few of the obstacles & a small portion of the course that went back up into the woods for a bit & Troy & I actually picked up our pace even more and ran down into the festival area.  I completed the Herc Hoist with what felt like no force at all and climbed up & over the Slip Wall.  I somehow lost Troy in the and the mayhem that was at the end of that race & jumped the fire to receive my very well earned Beast Medal.  Troy showed up about 3 minutes behind me; he came over that wall & finished his race too.

All in a Day’s Work:

This weekend was one for the books I’ll tell ya that! First Beast & first Trifecta DONE.  Would I go back knowing that even the Sprint last year at Sun Peaks was 9.6km/5.5mi instead of the 7.3k & this year the beast was the hardest ever? Hell yeah!

Thank you Spartan, you showed me what I might actually be capable of doing & more this weekend.  Lookout endurance races, I just may be coming for you!

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-05-Finished

Photo Credits: Johnny Waite, www.SunPeaksResort.com, Ryan Fick & John Tai

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).

Spartan Vancouver, B.C. (Mt. Seymour) 2017 Sprint/Super Weekend

Spartan-Vancouver,-B.C.-2017-SprintSuper-Weekend-01-Matthew-Romero

June 10/11 2017 was the date of this year’s Sprint/Super weekend that was held up on a snow covered Mt. Seymour in beautiful Vancouver B.C.
Many racers knew ahead of time what they might be getting themselves into as pictures of snowboarders wearing shorts & sunglasses were still being posted 2 weeks before the event. Luckily things heated up the week before the race & some of the snow toward the base started to melt.

I got to see things from a bit of a different perspective & point of view at this event as I was both working it & volunteering. I initially arrived at the site on Friday June 9th at 7:30am. Due to all of the posts leading up to this day on Facebook I really didn’t know what to expect up on the mountain. I ended up packing a duffel bag full of cloths, everything from shorts & sandals to long sleeved shirts & rubber boots. I’m glad I did as I ended up using almost every bit that I brought throughout the weekend. The temperature throughout the day was pretty good & I got away with wearing a T-Shirt & a hoodie when it did lower a bit. We had sun, hail, rain, wind, fog & the rest of the whole gambit of Vancouver weather none of any of it sticking around long enough to get completely comfortable with. I ended up spending the vast majority of my time on Friday helping flag off the kids race course & setting up Registration. On Saturday I ended up helping a Registration again then I volunteered over at the kids race. I’m so glad I did! The weather during the kids race was sunny with a little fog rolling through here & there.

Spartan-Vancouver,-B.C.-2017-SprintSuper-Weekend-02-Peter-Collins

Volunteering at the kids race has to have been the best thing that I did all weekend, even outside of participating in the Super. I was stationed on the bottom of the grassy but very wet toboggan hill at the spear throw which was furnished with plain long wooden dowels & hay bales, there’s no need to be worried, there were no points on the dowels. The course was kind of split into two sides & the kids got to run through some wooded areas a couple times when going from one side to the other & coming back again. Hearing those little tykes yell out “Aroo” before the race and seeing them run down the hill with reckless abandon really warmed my heart. I believe the kids races started around 9:30am & went until 2pm. The weekend is a bit of a blur but I believe it started with the elite category & then ranged throughout all of the ages. We had a regular length course & a bit longer course for the elites & older age ranges. As per the norm, the course got a bit slipperier throughout the day. Watching the kids race really helped get me pumped up. Just seeing the energy in these kids was infectious & really helped me get over any of my fears and tribulations that had grown over the weeks about the weather & the race. The best moment of the entire weekend happened when I was manning the spear throw, there was this one little girl who failed to get her spear close to the hay bales. Her dad grabbed her hand to move her to the next obstacle but I could tell she was disappointed so I told her she could try again & she ran right back over again. I gave a lot of kids this option to try again. Try, try again right? I moved her a bit closer but again she missed. I picked up another spear & handed it to her, this time tapping it from behind when she launched it & she hit a hay bale. She jumped up & down & hooted then started to run off to her dad to go to the next obstacle. I turned my attention to the next child & heard a little voice behind me saying “excuse me” when I turned around it was that little girl, she came back & gave my legs the biggest hug & said “Thank You!”. My heart melted & I had happy tears in my eyes for the next bit. Yeah, I’m a big softie! That right there is why I volunteer. =) Thank you little girl. On to Sunday!

Sunday morning came WAY too early with the long hours I had been putting in on site since Friday & all, but I felt great. Maybe it was due to the absolutely wonderful time I had during the kids race the day before, the new friends I had while on site, or the fact that I now knew just exactly what I was getting into after talking to those whom had been out on course for the Sprint the day before. A friend of ours, Karolina, had come from Victoria to stay with my wife & I. She was going to run both races on Saturday & Sunday but unfortunately rolled her ankle and received a 1st degree sprain a few days prior so she decided to still come and volunteer at the race. We both headed up again early to the site to help run Registration for a few hours. I was getting rather excited about running my second super by this time. My wife Charity & our friend Troy whom I was going to participate in the event with arrived on-site around 9:30. We said our goodbyes to everyone in Registration and headed over to the Starting corral.

I had been listening to Chris the DJ since Friday, it really seems he was rather ecstatic to be at this event. Even Friday while we were all setting up he was blasting some tunes and encouraging everyone with his enthusiasm. This rolled into both Saturday & Sunday, he was on point this weekend I must say. We barely got into the corral on time for the 10:30 wave. We heard the last bit of the speech, shouted out a few “Aroo’s” & we were off.

The first few obstacles came pretty quickly. Das Boat (think x-large propane tank laying on its side), Hurdles (It felt like they grabbed some of the rails that snow boarders would ride on & turned them sideways) & then OUT.

Snow-Climb-03-John-Tai

It was a bit of an uphill climb to our next obstacle, the Sandbag carry. The snow made for either good grip if you found a good packed footprint to step into or a lousy grip if you got the soft stuff as it kinda just moves out of the way. A bit more hill & then back down. Now, at first when I was going downhill I walked slowly & surefootedly (is that even a word?) but soon I learnt you could go pretty quickly as long as you slide your feet out on an angle & kept your toes pointed up a bit, it was kind of like roller skating up a steep hill but in reverse! I ended up getting better & better throughout the race & at one point I was flying down the hills without care in the world. I actually remember one point about 3/4’s of the way through the race where I had sucked back a gel & after it kicked in a few minutes later I was skipping & hopping down the hill singing the “We’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz” Ahh, the fun of being hopped up on gels! After my quite literal decent into madness came along the Atlas Carry. I had been able to take this one on in Vegas so I had hoped I could do it again. It took me two tries but I got one of the rocks up, carried it to the other side, did my burpees & then carried it right back. Yay me! I know it doesn’t sound like a huge feat, but I REALLY need to work on my grip strength!

Spartan-Vancouver,-B.C.-2017-SprintSuper-Weekend-05-John-Tai

After that came the Block Pull & a new take on the Bucket Carry which incorporated Snow instead of rocks that I really liked, maybe it’s because the snow was lighter than rocks.  =)  A few more obstacles later & we came back into the festival area to finish up our 1st lap. The course was a slightly modified version of the first lap which I likes as you knew kinda what was coming. We unfortunately didn’t get the cargo bridge, I know they had it partly assembled on Friday afternoon but I’m not quite sure why it got disassembled & put off to the side, perhaps we ran out of time to properly build it.

Spartan-Vancouver,-B.C.-2017-SprintSuper-Weekend-04-www.IcebreakConsulting.com

Up the snow wall which was a nice steep hill with a rope to help you get up if needed, an 8 foot wall and back to Das Boat & the hurdles again. We did an extended hill climb this time. I really wish I had my head fully on my shoulders before going as I totally forgot to charge up my Garmin watch but according to my wife’s our total elevation gain was 450meters or 1476ft. I thought this climb would never end, we would get to one crest & then climb some more to the next one, then repeat it over again. Coming back down this time as I mentioned before seemed to get much easier although my wife mostly opted to slide down the chutes that a lot of others had made which also looked like fun so I tried it once too. Luckily there were no obstacles to be found this time on the trek up or down the mountain. We came out a section that I had seen the day before near the kids race but was told wouldn’t be part of the race. I’m assuming they were mistaken as it wasn’t part of the Sprint but it was used as part of the Super. On our way through the back woods on a new trail we hadn’t seen on our first lap we ended up having to work our way through what I would put on par as most of the mud pits that were strewn throughout the Seattle Super course. There were a few people stuck in the mud here & I tried to make my way over to them but got stuck up past my knee as well & had to keep moving otherwise might meet the same demise they did. They did have friends working their way around back to them so I wasn’t too too worried. Once through there we made or way over to the Spear throw & I landed the hardest hit that I’ve made so far. That sucker went elbow deep into the hay bales & took a lot outta me just to get it back out. From there came the Rope Climb, the Slip wall & then the fire jump. Now, I’m not gunna slag the firejump too much, but it was quite a short width & seemed to look like the propane tank was low as fire was only coming out of the first quarter. I was hoping that Spartan would have had their photos up by now & that’s some of the reason why this blog post is a bit later than I had hoped.  I found some pictures online of the fire before the race & during the Sprint & it looked quite healthy then. I guess making it wait for me to finish my stroll through the hills of Mt. Seymour took its toll on it. Either way, the 3 of us decided to try and get the best finishing pics we could so we took on that fire one at a time. Finishing felt wonderful! Yeah, some would say it wasn’t long enough, and I kinda agree. I heard anywhere from 9.7k (6miles) up to 10.6k (6.5miles) It all depends on who you asked. My wife’s Garmin clocked us in at 10.2k (6.33miles) It just drive home, to me, the fact that back in September at Sun Peaks when we did the Sprint we traversed 9.2k (5.6miles) I should have gotten a Super credit for THAT race! But, hey, I’m good with it. I actually decided to make Sun Peaks this year the finishing piece of my Trifecta & do the Beast there, God help me!

In conclusion, I had a great time working with Spartan Race Canada, volunteering & spending time with friends and family. I look forward to this event again next year. My fears of being frozen were abated by my wonderful Virus Coffee Infused warming gear & the fact that Mother Nature decided to wake up & warm up the climate a bit. Next up, Tough Mudder in Whistler B.C., there is also supposed to be snow there & I hear there are some bears strewn about just to make things more interesting. Oh my!

Spartan-Vancouver,-B.C.-2017-SprintSuper-Weekend-06-Ryan-Fick

Cheers!

Photo Credit: Matthew Romero, Peter Collins, John Tai, www.IcebreakConsulting.com, Ryan Fick

Spartan Race Canada: Sun Peaks Ultra Beast

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

I was wrong.

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

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

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

——-

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

——-

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

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

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

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

Stefan

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

Tell us what you think of Spartan Race, leave a Review Here.

Or sign up for a Spartan Race now with codes:
ORM15 for 15% off
or
SPEAR10 for $10 off

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!

20160924_072956

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.

sun-peaks-beast-1

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.

sun-peaks-beast-6

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.

sun-peaks-beast-8

sun-peaks-beast-9

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


sun-peaks-beast-3

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!

sun-peaks-beast-5

Gandalf