X-Warrior Challenge 2017

It’s 9:15 am.

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

Darcy and Coach

Xwarrior Challenge (5) Start line

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

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

Speaking viscerally, where are the facilities?

Real bathrooms.

I could get used to this

Don’t forget the Titans

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

Bring on the Pain.

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

Coach Pain X

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

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

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

This was serious stuff.

I did not expect this.

I am not ready for this.

It was about to go down.

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

2017-05-13 | 2017 X Warrior Challenge Calgary

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

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

Note: OCR shoes are very squeaky on polished concrete.

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

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

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

Pace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep that pace up.

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

Just three obstacles were left.

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

Axe Throw

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

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

Xwarrior Challenge (1)

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

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

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


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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

Xwarrior Challenge (8) podium

Further Thoughts and Balance

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

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

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

Conclusion and the BIG question.

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

Xwarrior Challenge (2) elites

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

Xwarrior Challenge (7) Medal

Spartan Race – Citi Field Stadium Sprint 2017

Saturday, May 13th, the sun rose… we think. Queens was experiencing a Nor’Easter so we don’t actually know; but when Spartan has a date on their calendar, you’d better expect that race to be held no matter what the weather does.

With stadium races lacking mud, the rain actually provided a nice substitute for the 2017 Spartan Race Citi Field Stadium Sprint. It added an additional challenge for racers, not only on outdoor obstacles such as the monkey bars and rope climb, but also with every step they took throughout the wet stadium steps. While I have completed many Spartan Races, it was my first stadium race, and I had a blast! I don’t know what took me so long to do one, but I already can’t wait to do another.

Unfortunately, stadium parking was $12, but that’s really my only complaint about this race.

The Course
Racers were released in heats of 15 every minute. The course was well marked with tape completely blocking off any possible wrong turns, as well as volunteers directing racers around sharp turns. As to be expected, the course included a ton of stair climbs and dizzying zig-zags throughout the benches. With the start line in the stadium, the finish line on the field, and the course everywhere in between, you could almost always hear music playing. If you’re like me and used to only hearing music as you approached the festival grounds, you were probably pleasantly surprised.

The Obstacles
There was no multi-rig! There were monkey bars, however, strategically placed in the rain. Between that and the spear throw, I did more burpees than expected.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Monkey Bars

If you failed the monkey bars or the Z-Wall, both of which were outside, you had to do your burpees on the pavement in the rain. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, especially if you’re used to doing burpees in mud and on rocks, but it was pretty comical. All racers had to do at least 5 like that, even if they completed those obstacles, since the atlas carry was also outside.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Atlas Burpees

As per usual for this race, one obstacle was 25 hand-release push-ups. I didn’t know that going into it and found it pretty cool that we were in the Mets locker room! I also wasn’t expecting the four over walls to be inside the stadium.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Over Walls

Another obstacle that took me by surprise was 20 skips with the most massive jump rope I’ve ever picked up. I was not alone as the rope crashed into the back of my head or fell out of my hands numerous times before I completed the obstacle.

The main challenge at the sandbag carry was maintaining your footing, just like the rest of the race, as you tried to move quickly since it wasn’t particularly heavy.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Cassidy Watton Sandbag Carry

“”Sandbag carry” in a stadium is really a sandbag sprint. I wish they’d put a real heavy carry in a stadium.. or a heavy sled pull or push? Anyway, given the super cute look on my face, this still hurt bad.” -Cassidy Watton

To finish it off, the last three obstacles were about 100 meters from the finish line: 30 box jumps, the wet rope clime, and the CKO punching bags. After all those stairs, I don’t think anyone enjoyed the box jumps; but knowing how close we were to the finish, it was hard not to go fast.

The Finish Line
Across the finish line, we received our stadium specific medals and upon return into the stadium, we got our Clif Builder’s Bars and bananas. I’m not quite sure why there were no FitAIDs being given out, but it was definitely missed. On our way back out to the parking lot, we picked up our 2017 Sprint Finisher shirts.

I think the main reason I enjoyed this race so much was because I was able to operate at max effort the entire time. Unlike the longer Spartan Races, there is no pacing involved. I was breathing heavy the entire time and I was always trying to catch the girl, or even the guy, in front of me. There’s no doubt that it’s fun to go fast.

The Training
A lot of people ask me what my training looks like. The answer is a lot of things… especially since I wasn’t even training for this particular event. I run an exorbitant amount of miles, do CrossFit and yoga, cycle, and ruck. But if you want to know some specific things that might help you in this kind of race, here they are: running and sprinting, stair climbs, lunges, box step-ups and jumps, burpees, hand-release push-ups, pull-ups, monkey bars, rope climbs, and sled pulls. A little bit of all of that will surely help you tackle your next Spartan Race stadium sprint!

Photo Credit: Citi Field, Spartan Race, Kirin Hartstrong, Emilie Jones