Spartan Race Palmerton Sprint #1 – Going Up?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Twister

Last year, I ran my first ever Spartan Race at the Blue Mountain Sprint in Palmerton, PA. Whenever I told someone that, their response was along the lines of, “Well, you picked a heck of a race to start with.” See, Palmerton has a reputation. The word infamous comes to mind. The climbs are long and steep. And, with an NBC Series Super only the day before, Sprint racers could expect a difficult course on Sunday.

THE FESTIVAL AND PARKING

Out of the handful of OCR races I’ve been to, Spartan has had the largest festival area. Although, it’s worth noting that I have not been to a Tough Mudder yet. And I’m not sure if Palmerton’s festival is larger because of the NBC race on Saturday, but there was plenty of space and plenty of vendors. I have heard that the line to park can grow long as the day goes, but early in the day it took no more than a few minutes to get in. Check in was simple as well and the lines moved quickly.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Men-Start

THE HILLS

Maybe “hill” is an understatement. Palmerton offers a straight up mountain course for anyone willing. The Sprint course only has one climb to the top of Blue Mountain, whereas the Super had two. This may lead you to think that the ascent on the course wouldn’t be too bad then. If you were there, then you know that’s wrong.

First off, my GPS watch thought the course was about half a mile longer than it was. I’m chalking that up to the climbs. Overall, it logged a total of 1,755 ft of ascent. On a course that was roughly 4.5-4.75 miles, that’s almost 400 ft per mile. Checking my splits, not a single mile averaged a descending number. In fact, each mile had over 125 ft of ascent. So, even when coming down the mountain, you were still going up. Mind blowing, right?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Map

THE COURSE

The layout of the course was pretty similar to 2016. Some thought that was going to be a negative, but with some of the minor route differences and new obstacles, I thought they improved on last year’s design.

Racers start out with a short climb up a snow tubing hill, followed almost immediately by a longer climb up a couple skiing hills. Almost the entire first mile is making your way up the mountain. Total ascent on the first mile is over 750 ft. The extended climb, with minimal obstacles, allowed for a spread out field.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Atlas-Carry

THE OBSTACLES

Spartan included many of its new obstacles, such as Twister and Olympus, plus several classics. One I expected to see, but didn’t, was the monkey bars. They were included in the section of the Super course that veers from the Sprint course, along with Z-Walls and a few others. The layout of the obstacles was pretty spot on. The hurdles and walls were mainly early, with the tougher obstacles coming after the mile-long climb to the top. Once the top was reached, racers almost immediately were faced with the Atlas Carry.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Ape-Hanger

A couple permanent Palmerton obstacles reappeared, of course, as well. First was the swim through Blue Mountain’s pond. A life jacket was optional for the Sprint (the day before it was mandatory for Super racers). Shortly thereafter, competitors had to try their grip strength on Ape Hanger, just shy of 4 miles in.

There were two heavy carries on the course: single sandbag carry and bucket carry. The hill that the sandbag carry was steep enough that many racers were walking. The earlier waves were told that it was a bit slippery from the overnight dew and were advised to be extra cautious. The Multi-Rig was all rings, but no bell. Instead, after swinging to the final ring, racers had to transition onto, then over the ladder wall. It didn’t add much difficulty, but was a nice little curveball to keep Spartans on their toes. Twister was saved for the final 100 yards, so that the only obstacles left on the downhill finish were Dunk Wall and Fire Jump.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Women-Finishers

THE FINISH

A volunteer awards you with a medal and even a hug as soon as you finish. One thing Spartan is great at is post-race snacks. Even though I didn’t plan on having much more than water, I grabbed each of three Clif Bar flavors, a banana, some organic chocolate milk and, of course, a cup of water. Once you’re done stocking up and leave the finisher’s corral, the finisher’s shirt pick-up is right there.

Another worthy note is that many Elite/Pro racers from Saturday stuck around for Sunday’s Sprint. Ryan Atkins, Ian Hosek and Angel Quintero took top 3 for the men, with Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning finishing on top for the women.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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LeaderBoard Training – Coached by the Pros (Part 2)

LeaderBoard-Athletes-at-Chicago-Super

A plateau isn’t just a really tall, flat piece of land. It’s also where you, as an athlete, can find yourself if you get too comfortable in your training. Without the proper guidance, your body can become accustomed to the pace, distance, workouts, weight, and so on. Luckily, as I’ve found, LeaderBoard excels at preventing plateaus so that its athletes can continue their climb to the top.

If you’re unsure what LeaderBoard is, there’s an entire first article to explain just that!

ONE OF THE FAMILY

A common theme among LeaderBoard athletes is a sense of family. It may be a little cliche, but it’s true. Ean Caskey, a member of LB since the beginning, was surprised of the familial vibe. “Once you suffer alongside someone for months on end and share your highs and lows, you feel a certain connection and pride to be part of the team,” he said. The programming, along with Slack messaging, really keeps communication open. Not only can you see how fellow athletes are doing by checking out the WOD (Workout of the Day), but there’s always discussion on the workout itself. Everyone is there to support each other, which isn’t a common theme among training programs. Got a PR? Post it in Slack and just watch as everyone gives you a congratulations and various emojis.

Naturally, the LeaderBoard family has members all over the country. So, although you may have had communication with several members, maybe you never met them. But when several members are going to be at the same race, usually dinner plans are made. Everyone gets together to hang out and share their race day stories, or whatever else may come to the table.

LeaderBoard-athletes-meet-for-dinner

 PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT

Remember that whole plateauing thing? Well, that can happen without you even realizing it. Sometimes, you just don’t think to add that one part to your workout that keeps your body guessing. Sure they can be tough. But, LeaderBoard athletes like Eric Aanerud, find that the parts he hates are actually his favorite. He explained that they are “the parts I would skip if they weren’t in there. It makes me feel like I have to do it. So I do. You get to the point where you stop asking questions and just do the work.”

I remember quite a few times thinking about how difficult a workout was, but realizing I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Not only is there a sense of accomplishment with the physical training, but it hones your mental strength as well. Jeff Shoaf, who has completed 27 races since 2014, appreciates this part of the training. “They help train your brain to keep going and not quit just because it gets hard or mentally boring,” Shoaf said.

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Forrest Bouge on his way to first place at Savage, Ohio

THE LATEST BENCHMARK RESULTS

Outside of running a race (which I’ll get to), the Benchmarks are a great way to measure progress. Since article number one, I was able to retest all five Benchmarks: the mile, carry, rig, 5k and personal trail BM. Though I expected to beat a few of my previous numbers, I hadn’t expected to PR all five. But that’s exactly what happened.

I didn’t destroy the old numbers, per se, but any improvement in 4-8 weeks is positive. First, let’s start with the rig benchmark, since I had been on the rig specialization leading up to the test. The first part of the test is a grip-alternating chin up, with the second part being a straight dead hang (without dismounting from the first part). Before, I had done eight reps of part one and 40 seconds of dead hang, which counted as two reps. That totaled 10 reps. This time around, I hammered out 10 reps of part one, but only 20 seconds of dead hang, or one rep. Overall, an improvement of one total rep.

On the bucket carry, the test consists of timed carries for the bucket, double sandbag and dumbbell, or farmer’s carry. I was fairly concerned that my total carry distance would go down, since I hadn’t been specializing in it. I was able to squeeze out an extra 15 meters combined. Again, not a large increase. But, considering it was not my specialization and definitely my weakest obstacle category, it was great to see that number go up.

Eric-Aanerud-Boise-SandbagEric Aanerud at the Boise Sprint

We all know in the sport of OCR, running is pretty much the most important part. So, I was really curious to see how those tests turned out. My previous 5k time, done on 4/22, was 23:50. Just about 2 months later, on 6/21, I ran 23:37. That’s only 22 seconds from my lifetime PR, and certainly a non-race PR. As for the mile, on 5/23 I ran a 6:26. Five weeks later, on 6/27, got that down to a 6:19, a lifetime PR.

The trail loop time trial that I discussed in the first article would be another test. The other Benchmarks I had only done one time previously. This was my third out on the trail loop. As of the last article, my time was 59:09, an improvement of 3:43 (previous 1:02:52). This time around, another time reduction, totalling 57:36. My GPS lost signal briefly, so the splits are inaccurate, but the overall time is correct. That means in just under 3 months (March 25 vs June 24), I’ve dropped over 5 minutes off my time!

EVERYBODY GETS A PR

Right, I get it. You’re thinking, “Well, Adam, anytime someone starts a new program, they see the greatest results early on.” And you’re right. Or are you? I looked at some of LeaderBoard’s longest trained athletes, those that have been there since early on. They surely must have leveled out their Benchmark numbers.

Caskey, who is in his fourth year of OCR, hit a PR in the rig during the most recent test, and both the carry and mile this past May. Shoaf also had bests in his mile and carry at the most recent testing. Aanerud almost had a clean sweep recently, PR-ing in all but his rig (due to an injured hand).

Kirk-DeWindt-wins-Chicago-SuperKirk DeWindt fire-jumping to victory in Chicago

Kirk DeWindt, who joined LeaderBoard July 2016, shortly after his first OCR, has also found recent success. He hit a PR in both the 5k and carry during the last round of testing. It’s worth noting that DeWindt was a collegiate All-American in the mile during his college years, so it may be a bit harder to get a personal best there. Forrest Bouge ran his first OCR two years ago and was in the first group of LeaderBoard athletes. He’s hit a PR in all his Benchmark in the past 6 weeks.

OFF TO THE RACES

Now, that part that really matters to some people. How does training with LeaderBoard improve your racing? Shoaf, who had mentioned the benefit of mental toughness, has seen an increase in his ability to race through fatigue. It’s paid off in races as recently as the AT&T Stadium Sprint. Last year, he finished a respectable top 38% in his age group, top 32% of men and top 29% overall. This year, however, he rocketed up to the top 21% in both his age group and gender, plus top 18% overall.

Bouge has improved from a top 15 finisher to a top 10 finisher, with two podium finishes so far in 2017. Caskey was a top 10 finisher prior to starting LeaderBoard. So, with LB training, he’s now consistently challenging the podium spots. “The last three races I’ve been in 2nd for a large portion of the race,” he said. “ Last year that would have made me nervous and think to myself that I was going too hard. Now I feel like I belong there, and confident that my training will keep me moving forward.”

In 2016, Aanerud ran his first season as an Elite Spartan. His placement ranged anywhere from 15th to the mid-60s, and a 77th place finish at Spartan World’s. This year, his worst finish is 25th, with the majority being between 6th and 15th. Most recently, he finished 8th in Boise. DeWindt has also found success since joining LeaderBoard. He won back to back races, his first wins, at Spartan Race Chicago in June, and finishes top ten in most races he competes in.

 

Ean-Caskey-Chicago-RigEan Caskey making quick work of the rig in Chicago

I don’t get the opportunity to run a lot of races, so my main comparison is between Savage Maryland in the fall of 2016 and Savage Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. Though my overall placement wasn’t quite as good, I put that blame on my own inexperience and not my training. At the 2016 MD race, there were a total of 188 racers in the competitive heat. In 2017, the PA race had 256 racers. Unfortunately, in PA, I waited too long to get in the starting corral, and started the race towards the back. This resulted in more cattle jams and even a five-minute wait in line before a first attempt at an obstacle. That obstacle, however, was Kiss My Walls, which took three attempts in Maryland, but only two in PA.

At both races, I was able to finish the SavagePro wave completing all obstacles. To me, the difference was the new obstacles for 2017. The 2016 race had one rig. Savage PA had two rigs, plus an obstacle called Twirly Bird, which is essentially another, more difficult rig. The upper body demand was much higher at the PA race. Though I obviously can’t say for sure, it would’ve been very difficult for me to finish 100% obstacle completion had the Maryland race been as tough. This year, I even had enough energy to run the course again, in an open heat, a few hours later with some friends. Something I know I wouldn’t have been up for last fall.

BLUE MOUNTAIN CHALLENGE

Palmerton gets its own category for a couple of reasons. First off, it fully reinforced the family aspect of LeaderBoard. A group of members got together Friday night, before the Super. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it. At the Super, I had the chance to meet almost all of the LB athletes that came out to compete, which was around 15. Saturday night, the group got together again and this time I knew I couldn’t miss out. After hanging out for a couple hours to chat about races, honeymoons, training and much more, it felt like Thanksgiving dinner with the family (minus the OCR talk). We all even had a chance to catch up with our fearless leader, Brakken.

Sunday I was running the Sprint and ran into several LB members after my race, including Brakken. Everyone asked how I did, talked about the course, and congratulated me on my result. Speaking of, I went into the race hoping to qualify for the age group bracket of OCR World Championships. Even though I know I most likely won’t make it to the race, to say I qualified would be an accomplishment. To do this, I needed to finish top 20 in my age group in the Competitive heat(s). I researched last year’s top 20 times and set the goal of 2 hours. Well, I blew that out of the water. My final time was just under 1:37, good enough for 28th overall and 3rd in my age group. The 1st and 2nd in my age group were 1st and 3rd overall, so any better than 3rd would’ve been tough.

Tiffany-Palmer-and-Brakken-Kraker-at-Palmerton

Tiffany Palmer and Brakken Kraker at Palmerton

The rest of the LeaderBoard crew had equally impressive performances. Several Saturday racers finished in the top 35, which is especially difficult at a US Championship Series race. Two of LB’s female athletes finished top 25 (Tiffany Palmer 15th, Katie Huber 23rd). Many of those who didn’t run the Elite wave finished as some of the top racers in their age group for the Competitive wave. This was also impressive as the athletes registered for Competitive was larger than usual for Saturday’s race. On Sunday, Palmer and Huber returned for the Sprint, finishing 4th and 7th, respectively. Had Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning not stuck around from Saturday, LB may have had themselves a 1st and 4th podium showing.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Since the first article, a few things have changed at LeaderBoard. There is now a Standard and Pro program. The Standard is essentially everything I’ve experienced at half the cost of what it was. The normal cost now provides Pro, which includes a higher level of personalization. What does that mean? Closer contact with your LeaderBoard coaches, including 6 “Pro Chats” per year plus all the communication that comes with Slack. This personalization will help with individual athlete’s goals, such as a faster 5k time or getting better at hill running.

With this, however, Robert Killian is no longer one of the two Pro coaches at LeaderBoard. But, as unfortunate as it is to lose a great athlete like Killian, current coaches Brakken Kraker and Zac Allen have proven that they are more than capable of getting the best out of their athletes.

Does LeaderBoard require a certain level of commitment? Of course. Any training program does. Some days I had to do part of the workout during my lunch break and finish the rest later at home. But, tailor it to your schedule. If you can only fit in a certain amount of time, fit it. The more you can follow the program, however, the better your results will be.

Remember, everyone can start out with a seven-day free trial. LeaderBoard also added a pretty sweet referral system. If you are referred to the program, you receive $30 off your first month. Once on the program, if you refer someone, you receive $15 off your next month. Head to www.leaderboardfit.com to sign up!

Brakken-Kraker-at-Lambeau-Stadium-Sprint
Photo Credit: Spartan Race, Savage Race, LeaderBoard, David Martineau, Tiffany Palmer

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

Montreal Sprint/Super Weekend Canada

After having my ass handed to me last year, I returned to Mont Owl’s Head this past weekend looking to take a far more cautious approach to a mountain that defeated over 90% of Ultra Beasters in 2016. Thankfully, Spartan Race Canada took mercy on us as well, moving this weekend to a Sprint/Super combination – opting to push their Ultra Beast event further north to Quebec City, in August – want to join me there? Register with Code: ORM15 for 15% off!

If you’ve avoided travelling outside of the US for a Spartan Race – The “Montreal” event is a great way to dip your toes into the Great White North. It really could be called the Northern Vermont Sprint/Super because by the time you’ve put your passport away after passing through customs, you’re arriving at Mont Owl’s Head. Also, if you’re familiar with the peaks of Vermont, or New Hampshire’s White Mountains, then you’ll be right at home here. Owl’s Head has a small base but steep climbs comparable to mountains twice its size.

“Though she be but little, she is fierce”

Owl’s Head totes one of the steepest climbs I’ve experienced in my OCR days and we couldn’t escape that climb, even on the Sprint course. About two miles in, after hitting a brutal combination of Olympus, Monkey Bars, a Platinum Rig, and a grueling Bucket Carry where racers were filling their buckets with dirt and rocks, we were tortured with a slow climb to the top of the mountain – about a 1,700 foot climb all in. The reward for climbing the mountain, and subsequent descent, is a view like no other – A gorgeous lake spanning for miles and the Appalachian’s in all their glory. You had plenty of time to drink it in, as you navigated the Tractor Pull through a slick and muddy path atop the mountain. You also had some time to really open up your legs on the back half of the Sprint – something that was severely missing in last year’s event. Long winding downhills made for some nice speed before bringing you into a finishing gauntlet made up of the Spear Throw, Rope Climb, Hoist, Barbed Wire Crawl, Rolling Mud, Dunk Wall, and A-Frame Cargo Net – all within 100m of the finish line.

Combined, the Sprint and Super had approximately 5,000 competitors and the venue handled them well. Small lines at registration were quickly moved through and Spartan made it a point to bring in far more bathrooms than last year, a common gripe among attendees. Finisher shirts seem to have gone universal in North America as there’s no Canadian flag or indicator that you’ve done a Canada Spartan.

All in all, I really enjoyed this weekend, especially getting back to short course racing where you can really test your lungs and legs. It’s been some time for me since I’ve started running longer distance events, and it was refreshing to cross the finish line while it was still light out.

Were you back at Montreal for redemption after last year? I’d love to hear about it – leave us a comment below!

Spartan Race: 2017 Citi Field Stadium Sprint…Swimsuits Required

Amidst an unexpected Nor’easter with heavy rains and temperatures ranging from a 53-degree high to 45-degree low, which was 20 degrees colder than the 2016 Citi Field Stadium Sprint 0f 73 high / 56 Low, many residents from the tri-state area found logical reasons to stay indoors, but thousands of Spartans did not.

Conditions were less than stellar with many unknown variables at play prompting Spartan Race to send weather advisories en masse via social media and to registrant emails. Though a slippery and dangerous course it was, the overall winner’s times appeared unscathed as 2016 Stadium Series Champion Brakken Kraker 31:13, Michael Miraglia 32:49, and John Yatsko 33:31 swam to the podium alongside the Tsunami of Spartan Pro Team Females Kate Kramer 34:19, Cassidy Watton 35:00, and Orla Marie Walsh 37:41.

Many Elite and Competitive racers expected the monkey bars to be closed due to the heavy rain as in other Stadium races, but instead, they were greeted with slick metal, a few face plants, and 30 burpees.

Note: No serious injuries were reported from a day of slippery monkey bars except for the deep bruising to human pride and ego.

The low temperatures were no match for the highs found during the Special Spartans and Spartan Kids Race where these athletes lit up the stadium and ran as hard as they would on any other sun-filled hot summer day. Another race day high point was witnessing paralyzed and wheelchair bound Lindsey Runkel wheelbarrowing the venue then roll her wheelchair through the Atlas Carry with double-amputee Andrew Bateson on her lap and the concrete Atlas block on his. They also attempted the Spear Throw in the same fashion and with a few warmup throws and several tweaks to their technique this stack of adaptive athletes hit the target.

In retrospect, the course was more physically demanding in 2016, where racers practically touched every bleacher and stairwell at Citi Field, however, the inclement weather of 2017 created mental challenges never before experienced in a stadium series race.

At the finish line, racers were greeted with the sorely missed and familiar voice of renowned Spartan Race emcee Dustin Dorough who is pursuing other aspirations but knows he belongs among us…at least once in a while. Welcome back…and forth Dustin 🙂

As with every Spartan Race experience, there is opportunity for both the brand and the participants to continue building on past successes and correcting current missteps.

At the time of this publication, we remain uncertain if the distribution of the finisher shirts in the parking lot outside of the venue was attributed to contractual limitations of Spartan Race, bottlenecking at the finish line / photo area inside the stadium in years past, or a trial run for future standardization.  We did, however, notice that some volunteers at the registration area were not aware of the finishers shirt tent behind them, just like in 2016.

If you were on the course and not pleased with your individual outcome regardless of poor training, poor nutrition, poor attitude, or poor climate, you can always (insert Milli Vanilli song here)

Courtesy of Super Mario Bros 3 – Kooti Pie Rocks Episode

God Bless and keep running…

Photo Credits: Rosa Farciert Lopez, Adam Ortiz, and Spartan Race

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.