Gender Differences from This Unpredictable Spartan Race Season

Men’s Overview

If I had to summarize the 2019 Spartan Race season so far, I’d say that this is the year where the “best of the rest” finally caught up to the “historical best.” Raise your hand if you thought back in January that Johnny Luna-Lima, Ryan Kempson, and Tyler Veerman would all finish ranked in the top-5 of the US National Series (USNS)? I’m sure you also thought they’d all have at least a .500 record head-to-head against Robert Killian and Ryan Woods, too, right? Ok, put your hand down, you liar.

The same 7 men dominated Spartan Race from 2016-2018: Ryan Atkins, Robert Killian, Hobie Call, Cody Moat, Hunter McIntyre, Jon Albon, and usually Ryan Woods. They were on a different level and rarely lost to anyone outside that small list of names. So how rare was it for someone else to beat them (even once) before this year? Very.

Combined, those “historical top-7” men ran exactly 100 total Spartan Races in 2017 and 2018. Only 15 different people worldwide managed to beat just one of those top-7 guys even once last year at any distance (not counting Robert Killian running Iceland with a weight vest). Only 4 men who beat ANY of those top-7 men in multiple races both years 2017-2018 (Angel Quintero, Ryan Kent, Mark Batres, and Veejay Jones). That’s insane.

Then something happened this year: the “historical top-7” men started losing to new people. In just 5 months of racing this year, SEVEN separate guys have taken down at least 2 of the “historical top-7” in at least 3 separate races. Keep in mind that Hunter and Hobie aren’t active on the Spartan scene anymore, and Cody rarely races. That means fewer chances to beat those “historical top-7” men this year. Is age or too much racing finally catching up to Woods and Killian? Was this new crop of OCR stars really talented all along, but it just took them a few years to master the sport?  It’s probably a combination of the two, but more likely the latter.

The only certainty about this season is that the competition on the men’s side is at an all-time high and will continue to get deeper next year. But what about the women’s side?

Women’s Overview

On the women’s side, it’s been all about Lindsay Webster and Nicole Mericle. Nicole started the year on fire with two wins, including a nearly 7-minute win in Jacksonville. Since then, Lindsay has been unbeatable, winning each of the last 3 US National Series races by at least 2:50.

However, just like on the men’s side, several women have tried to disrupt the status quo and have challenged most of the “Fab 5” all season. Rose Wetzel has made a comeback with a 4th-place ranking in the US National Series standings. Leigh Anne Wasteney has finished in every position 4th – 8th in the 5 US National Series races. Unfortunately, Rebecca Hammond has dealt with injuries since Seattle after a breakout 2018 campaign, but her ability is undeniable.

Two new women showed potential to be the next Rebecca Hammond and finally break up the “Fab 5” at the start of the year: Nell Rojas and Tia Reagan. However, Nell (understandably) decided to give up on OCR to focus on the 2020 Olympic marathon trials, while Tia is still in the growing stages of the sport (similar to what Ryan Woods went through a few years ago).

Want to go even deeper into the (Jack Bauer Stats) woods? Click here.

2019 Spartan Race Gender Differences (Nerd Edition)

…this is a continuation of a previous article.

Depth on the women’s side is higher than it’s ever been, with 8-10 women capable of a top-5 finish at any major race. How does it compare with the best men, though? Do women actually have better depth this year?

US National Series

To answer this, I looked at how far back of the winner each of the top-20 racers finished at each of the 5 US National Series races. In general, performance drops off noticeably around 20th place, especially on the women’s side, so I mainly wanted to focus on the best of the best racers. No surprise, those 5 races have the highest strength of schedule ratings so far this year for both genders.

Rather than give you a huge table with 60+ lines, here’s a quick overview of the time gap between 1st and 5th place for both genders at the 5 USNS races.

As you can see, the time gap between the winner and 5th place is much different for each gender. The fastest female (Lindsay or Nicole) beat her nearest competitor by nearly 3 minutes in all but 1/5 USNS races. How would the men’s results have changed if the time gaps switched genders? In other words, look at Jacksonville on the women’s side. Second place (Lindsay) finished 6:46 behind the winner (Nicole). How many men finished within 6:46 of the winner?

Amazingly, 15 men finished within 6:46 of the winner (Ryan Kempson) in Jacksonville, as shown in the table above. Go through the rest of the races and you’ll see that (on average) the 7th place male finished just as close to the male winner as the 3rd place female finished relative to the female winner. Based on time gap, the 20th place male would (on average) finish in 8th place had men had the same time gap as women that same race.

The gender time gap is more obvious when you see it on a graph. Notice how the two lines aren’t parallel and separate going to the right? That means that both gender’s performances aren’t consistent the “worse” you place (not that 15th at a USNS race is bad). There’s already a 10% gender difference at only 6th place, and the difference only gets bigger after that. On average, the 20th place male only finishes 15.7% slower than the male winner, while the 20th place female is 30.5% slower than the female winner.

Gender Differences Through the Years

Percent of the winner is a better ratio to account for fast and slow finishing times at every race distance from Stadium to Ultra Beast, though. Fortunately for you, I’ve spent countless hours compiling Spartan Race results since 2011. The data shows that the average female Spartan Race winner has historically finished only 79.1% as fast as the men’s winner that same race worldwide since 2011. In other words, if the male winner in a race is 1:00, then the female winner who finished 79.1% as fast would finish in roughly 1:16.

This graph probably looks crazy, but hopefully that math example above makes things clearer. Let’s be real: you probably would’ve stopped reading this article long ago if you weren’t interested in complex data. Values for the % of winner female vs. male are summarized in the table below the graphs for each region and year.

Conclusion

This relative ratio of female winning time vs. male winning time has remained pretty consistent worldwide, with most years and regions historically ranging from the upper-70s to low-80s. The fact that these ratios have stayed consistent means that the top male AND female racers have improved proportionately through the years (at least within a few % of each other). Both genders have stepped up big time this year, but the men’s field is still deeper than the women’s field by a good margin.

Look back through the early years of Spartan Race for the men, specifically. Most of the 10 best racers not named Hobie or Cody from 2011-2014 would struggle to place in the top-10 at major races these days. It took about a decade for depth on the men’s side to reach its current level. I’d argue that the women’s side is a few years behind the men in terms of depth, meaning the current state of the women’s field is right around where the men were in 2014 or so. I bet within only a couple years, several new faces will join the sport, resulting in the women’s field being as deep as the men’s field is today.

There’s no such thing as a “gimme” podium anymore at major US races for the historical top racers unless your name is Ryan Atkins, Lindsay Webster, or Nicole Mericle, as they’re the only athletes to have more than 2 podiums in the 5 USNS races this year (all were 5/5, actually). No matter which era those three would have competed in, they still would have ended up towards the top. Earning a podium won’t get any easier going forward, though, due to all the “new” racers making a name for themselves this year. It’s not like guys such as Robert Killian, Ryan Woods, or Cody Moat suddenly aren’t great anymore because they still have some of the highest odds of winning any race they enter. The rest of the field has simply gotten that much better, which gives the illusion that the “historical best” aren’t as good as they once were.

The top women probably have a few more years left to earn relatively “easy” podiums at major races, but that window is closing rapidly. Before you know it, the women’s field will be just as chaotic as the men’s field this year. Good luck predicting the top-5 finishers each race once that happens.

2018 Spartan Race World Championship Predictions — Women

Spartan Tahoe Women 2018

Time for a quick history lesson on everyone who’s been on the women’s podium at each of the Spartan Race World Championships. A total of 14 different women have claimed a spot on the podium since the first ever Spartan Race World Championship in Texas in 2011. Since the venue moved to Lake Tahoe three years ago, Zuzana Kocumova and Lindsay Webster have finished 1st or 2nd every year.

Course Design

Spartan Race returns to Squaw Valley for the fourth consecutive year on September 29, 2018. Steve Hammond, designing Tahoe’s course once again this year, said in a teaser video on Monday that the course will be 13.5 miles, start straight uphill, and that runners will get wet early. Spartan may decide to fool everyone by replicating last year’s course profile, but Steve Hammond said that it will start straight uphill and everyone will be getting wet early. I’m willing to bet that 2018 will be more like 2015 or 2016, with a long downhill section from the peak to the finish line. They haven’t released the course map yet, but everyone will know what to expect by Friday.

Most Crucial Race Section

I crunched a bunch of numbers based on splits at various timing mats from all 3 years in which the Spartan Race World Championship was held at Tahoe. The boxed area on each course map is the section of the race that made the biggest impact for the top racers, where you either gained a lot of ground or fell back several spots. Notice a trend? All of them involve a climb followed by a downhill section (or vice versa) in the second half of the race. If you want to do well at Tahoe, you must be able to quickly transition from your “climbing legs” to your “downhill legs.”

Last year’s race was won or lost during the 7-mile section from right after the swim (about halfway on the downhill) to the second spear throw (after the second climb towards the end). Check out this incredible stat about this section:

Only 2 people ran within 1:00/mile SLOWER than Lindsay Webster did on the 7-mile stretch between mile 8-15. Everyone in the top-10 who didn’t end up on the podium ran between 1:09 – 2:18 slower per mile on this section than Lindsay. She literally distanced himself by 8-16 minutes vs. 7 of the 10 best female Spartan Racers in the world during the second half of the race, including Faye Stenning, Rea Kolbl, Nicole Mericle, etc. There’s a reason why Lindsay and Zuzana have ended up 1st or 2nd each of the past 3 years, and their ability to push the pace on back-to-back uphill-downhill sections is the explanation. If you’re not leading them at this point in the race, it may be a better idea to play it safe and go for 3rd place instead of blowing up trying for a top-2 spot.

Don’t Go Too Fast Too Soon

Nearly 2/3 of women who finished in the top-25 gained position between the 2-mile checkpoint and the finish line. In fact, none of the top-18 racers dropped more than 4 spots over the final 14.5 miles of the race. On average, the top-25 finishers moved up 3.8 spots between mile 2 and the finish line, with 10 racers moving up 10+ spaces during this section. In comparison, racers who placed 26th-100th overall dropped, on average, 6.1 spots after mile 2. Tahoe is a looong race, so don’t start too fast too soon.

TOP SPARTAN RACERS IN 2018

North America

It’s been no secret that 5 ladies have consistently dominated the women’s field for the past 2+ years. The “Fab Five” consists of Lindsay Webster, Faye Stenning, Rea Kolbl, Alyssa Hawley, and Nicole Mericle. How dominant have these 5 women been over the past 3 years? This year, they’ve collectively run 47 races and had a top-5 finish 46 times (97.9% of the time), with Alyssa Hawley’s 6th place at West Virginia being the lone exception. In 2017 and 2016, this group finished in the top-5 in 95.5% and 86.3% of all races they ran, respectively. If any of these 5 women is in a race, they’re all a lock to finish in the top-5 nearly 95% of the time, no matter who their competition is.

The table below shows how the “Fab Five” fared head-to-head this year:

Lindsay Webster
Like her husband Ryan Atkins, Lindsay is the only person with a winning record head-to-head vs. each of the best US female racers this year. Her only head-to-head losses this year have been to Faye and Rea, both at the Big Bear Beast. Lindsay has won her last 3 races by a margin of 2:28 to 3:58 over the 2nd place finisher. That gap might not sound impressive, but trust me, it’s insane. None of the last 3 races of the male US Series were won by more than 44 seconds, as Lindsay’s average margin of victory was between 3.4 and 5.4 times as large in those same races. To put it differently, you’d have dropped all the way to 9th place in Chicago if you were a male who finished 2:28 behind the winner, but that earned 2nd place for the women. Lindsay Webster has been destroying the deepest fields in women’s history by margins of victory never seen before.

Out of all athletes who have completed 4+ Spartan Races in 2018, no one has finished closer to the winner on average than Lindsay Webster, and it’s not even close. Here’s the top-10:

Faye Stenning
After a 3rd place finish in 2016, Faye Stenning had an inconsistent 2017, but she returned to form in 2018. Faye is one of only two women to beat Lindsay Webster head-to-head this year, and she owns the 2nd highest “% off winner” ratio of all US women. Faye has either won or finished 2nd in 8/10 races this year, with her worst finish 4th place at the Chicago Super and West Virginia Beast.

Rea Kolbl
After an injury scare during the summer, Rea Kolbl looks 100% again. Rea is known for putting in a ridiculous amount of volume each week, so maybe the forced time off her feet due to injury will end up helping her feel fresh at Tahoe. Rea is the only person besides Faye to have beaten Lindsay Webster head-to-head this year.

Alyssa Hawley
The number “4” seems to be reigning 3rd place Tahoe finisher Alyssa Hawley’s magic number this year. Alyssa finished 4th at the Breckenridge Beast, Utah Super, and Big Bear Beast, in addition to 6th at West Virginia. In the 6 largest races this year (5 US Series races and West Virginia), Alyssa has finished on the podium twice. She may not be winning as frequently this year, but Alyssa is as consistent as it gets during big races.

Nicole Mericle
Arguably the fastest female pure runner in the field, Nicole won the individual title at the 2008 NCAA South Central Regional while a cross-country runner at Rice. Her run speed is always on display, as she immediately takes the lead in nearly every Spartan Race in which she competes. Not only that, Nicole is an unbelievable rock climber. Nicole has podiumed at the past 3 US Series races, so she is heading into Tahoe with a lot of momentum. A Colorado resident, Nicole won’t be intimidated by the mountains or elevation at Tahoe.

Rebecca Hammond
Surely you’ve heard her story by now, but if not, this Harvard medical student is legit. Even before her surprise podium in West Virginia, Rebecca Hammond had put together a very strong season, losing to Rea Kolbl in her first race by just 19 seconds, a 6th place finish in Utah, and ridiculous back-to-back 13- and 11-minute wins (!) at the Boston Super and Sprint.

Other Names to Watch
• Amelia Boone – No, it’s not 2013. Amelia is still one of the best female Spartan racers 5 years after winning the World Championship in Killington. She has mainly raced the Spartan Race Mountain Series this year and just finished 8th at West Virginia. That’s a recipe for success at Tahoe and maybe one last stand for the Queen of Pain.
• Leigh Anne Wasteney – Leigh Anne has been just behind the Fab Five all years, with several 6th place finishes in the US Series. A dual-sport runner and volleyball player in college, Leigh Anne’s athleticism has helped her excel at OCR.
• Sara Schwertfeger – An NCAA championship qualifying hurdler at Iowa State, Sara surprised the field with a 9th place finish at Tahoe last year. Podiums in 4/5 races this year, just her second in OCR, have shown that last year wasn’t a fluke.
• Sarah Woodward – It’s a shame that no one ever mentions Sarah among the best female Spartan Racers. Did you know Sarah Woodward has finished 9th and 8th the past two years at Tahoe? Not only that, Sarah took down Rea Kolbl and Alyssa Hawley last month at the Breckenridge Beast.
• Kristin Saad – After finishing 10th each of the past two years at Tahoe, Kristin has finished between 5th to 9th place in 4 US Series races this year. A former NCAA D1 runner at Miami University (Ohio), Kristin has the legs to keep up with nearly everyone in the women’s field.

International

Like most things in the US, Americans don’t usually pay attention to what’s happening outside the country. That’s the case in OCR, too. Here are some international racers worth keeping an eye on:

Eszter Hortobagyiova (Slovakia)
Eszter is the best European female Spartan Racer not named Zuzana Kocumova. She has finished on the podium in 19/20 career races, with the only omission being last year at Tahoe, where she finished 13th. In fact, the only women to beat Eszter ever outside of Tahoe is Zuzana (4 times) and Yoie Bohlin (2nd at last year’s Spartan European Championship). Eszter finished 2nd at this year’s European Championship, just 3:07 behind Zuzana (her narrowest European Championship win ever) and 2:19 ahead of Alyssa Hawley.

Myriam Guillot-Boisset (Spain)
Did you know that Myriam was leading last year’s Spartan World Championship by over a minute after the first heavy carry (42 minutes into the race)? I bet you also didn’t know she finished 4th at the 2016 XTerra World Championship, which is essentially an off-road triathlon. Even more impressive, Myriam finished 8th overall at the 2016 Spartan Race World Championship despite doing 300 burpees. That’s not a typo! After a 3rd place finish at the European Championship, it’s clear that Myriam can race with the best OCR has to offer. Whether or not she can avoid burpees is another story.

Alex Roudayna de la Huerta Susilla (Mexico)
Also known as Chikorita, Alex has never finished worse than 2nd in 15 career Spartan Races in Mexico, including 11 straight wins dating back to 2014. Despite sitting out last year’s Spartan Race World Championship, Alex has a 6th place finish (2015) and an 11th place finish (2016) on her resume. She may not be as dominant as in years past, but Chikorita still finished 9th in the Seattle US Series Super and 12th at the European Championship earlier this year.

Anne Champagne (Canada)
Champagne became one of only 3 women to have won a race outright for both genders after her win at the Killington Ultra Beast, beating all the men in the race. Anne finished 38th at Tahoe two years ago and has a top-2 finish in 3/4 races this year.

Who’s Missing?

Here’s a list of some people with a top-25 finish at Tahoe (since 2015) and their best ever finish at a Spartan Race World Championship (some results are prior to 2015). What do they have in common? None of them have officially qualified for Tahoe this year.

Spartan changed its qualification process, and so far, they seem to be standing by their new policy. However, Joe DiStefano did mention a little-known Spartan policy on Instagram that former champions (Claude Godbout (2012) and Jenny Tobin (2011)) are welcome to compete at any Spartan Race World Championship for life. As of today, no one else on this list is allowed to compete for the 2018 Spartan Race World Championship title, as all of the top-10 from last year has already automatically qualified again.

PREDICTIONS

Even though the depth of the female field has increased exponentially this year, I think best-case scenario for any woman not named Lindsay Webster or Zuzana Kocumova is 3rd place at Tahoe. Lindsay Webster is currently putting together the single-most dominant season for a female OCR athlete ever, and Zuzana is, well, Zuzana. No athlete with world champion aspirations wants to hear it, but it may be a better strategy to race smart and go for the last podium spot than trying to take down the two best female OCR athletes ever. Take a look at the statistic that I showed earlier in the article about how Lindsay and Zuzana ran the second half of last year’s race by over 1:00 per mile. It’s almost impossible to outrun them they’ve finished 1st and 2nd all 3 years at Tahoe for a reason.

Here’s how I think the women’s side of the 2018 Lake Tahoe Spartan Race World Championship will end up:

Note: This list assumes that all international racers will fly to Tahoe to race, which probably won’t be the case. Some international athletes may stay home and instead use their money to travel to OCRWC in the UK instead.

1. Lindsay Webster

Lindsay is the reigning Spartan Race World Champion but still doesn’t get the credit she deserves. It’s a shame that she is the female G.O.A.T. of OCR, yet many people still refer to Lindsay as “Ryan Atkins’ husband.” Lindsay only races at the most difficult races of the year (US Series, Canadian National Championship, Spartan Race World Championship), yet she has managed to win 14/19 Spartan Races that she has entered since 2016 without ever missing the podium. Did I mention she is the reigning Spartan Race World Champion? There’s never been a woman in the history of Spartan Race who could beat Lindsay in her current fitness level.

2. Zuzana Kocumova

Until proven otherwise, picking Zuzana and Lindsay as the top-2 female finishers at Tahoe is about the safest bet you can make in OCR. They’ve done it each of the previous 3 years at Tahoe and there’s no reason to think it will change this year. Zuzana won the Spartan Race European Championship by several minutes this summer and is a 2-time Spartan Race and was only 1:43 behind Lindsay last year. One fun stat to keep in mind: Zuzana is 39. Why is that relevant? The male Spartan World Champion has been 39 each of the past two years (Hobie Call in 2016, Cody Moat in 2017). It would be amazing for the “age 39” trend to continue for a third year in a row (switching to the women’s side), but I just don’t see any way that Lindsay will lose this race, even to the two-time World Champion Zuzana.

3. Faye Stenning

Faye seems to be the female version of Ryan Atkins, someone who’s always been close to being the Spartan Race World Champion but still hasn’t won yet. Faye doesn’t show up to the start line to finish 2nd, though. She shows up to win. This type of mindset usually produces one of two outcomes: a spot on the podium because you’re not afraid to take a risk, or a missed podium because you went for the win too soon and blew up. Faye will either end up on the podium or fade towards the end after taking too much of a risk by going for the win too early. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she’ll do well in Tahoe based on her previous showings there.

4. Rebecca Hammond

Rebecca is not afraid to go out with the leaders and shocked OCR fans everywhere with a 2nd place finish in West Virginia, taking down names like Faye, Rea, Nicole, and Alyssa in the process. The former collegiate and professional runner has the lungs and legs to run with anyone, and the fact that Tahoe will be “shorter” this year (13.5 miles) will only help her chances at Tahoe. Assuming Rebecca has been working on her obstacle proficiency, she will shave off valuable time lost due to inexperience that she showed at West Virginia.  Rebecca will prove at Tahoe that her 2nd place finish at the North American Championship was not a fluke.

5. Rea Kolbl

Unfortunately for her opponents, grip strength endurance no longer is an issue for Rea thanks to Yancy Culp’s help. Living in Colorado means the mountains and altitude at Tahoe will play right into Rea’s strengths. Only a couple dozen men in all of OCR are faster running uphill than Rea, who is arguably the best female climber in the world. That’s a recipe for success at Tahoe. I had Rea slated for a podium spot at the beginning of the year, but I don’t know if her body has had enough time to return to peak fitness in time for Tahoe after her injury.

Rest of the top-10:

6. Myriam Guillot-Boisset
7. Nicole Mericle
8. Alyssa Hawley
9. Sara Schwertfeger
10. Eszter Hortobagyiova

Read about the 2018 Spartan Tahoe Men’s Predictions Here.

Here is how they finished

2018 Spartan Race World Championship Predictions — Men

Here’s a quick history lesson on everyone who’s been on the podium at each of the Spartan Race World Championships.  Notice a trend?  The same guys seem to do well year after year.  In fact, only 8 separate names have occupied the 18 podium spots awarded since 2012.

Course Design

Spartan Race Race returns to Squaw Valley for the fourth consecutive year on September 29, 2018. Last year’s World Championship was basically just a backwards version of the 2016 course. No matter what happens in 2018, racers can expect to climb and descend about 4,000 feet each, swim in sub-40-degree water, and deal with the longest heavy carries of the year. Here are the elevation profiles for each of the past 3 Spartan Race World Championships, which ranged from 14.5-16.3 miles.

Steve Hammond, once again designing the World Championship course this year, dropped some hints on Monday about this year’s course HERE. Spartan may decide to fool everyone by replicating last year’s course profile, but Steve Hammond said that it will start straight uphill and everyone will be getting wet early. I’m willing to bet that 2018 will be more like 2015 or 2016, with a long downhill section from the peak to the finish line. They haven’t released the course map yet, but everyone will know what to expect by Friday.

Most Crucial Race Section

Want to know where the race was won or lost in 2017? The 7-mile section from right after the swim (about halfway on the first downhill) to the second spear throw (after the second climb towards the end). Check out this incredible stat about this section:

Only 3 people ran within 1:00/mile SLOWER than Cody Moat did on the 7-mile stretch between mile 8-15. That means he literally distanced himself by at least 7 minutes vs. everyone not named Jon Albon, Robert Killian, or Ryan Atkins during the second half of the race. If you watched the Facebook Live coverage last year, it looked as if Cody was wearing a jetpack when he took off on this section. You better be several minutes ahead of Cody Moat before a long downhill section followed by a climb or else you don’t stand a chance of beating Cody. Good luck with that.

Don’t Go Too Fast Too Soon

Only 5 men who finished in the top-25 lost position between the 2-mile checkpoint and the finish line. In fact, none of the top-25 racers dropped more than 3 spots over the final 14.5 miles of the race. On average, the top-25 finishers moved up 8.7 spots between mile 2 and the finish line, with 10 racers moving up 10+ spaces during this section. In comparison, racers who placed 26th-100th overall dropped, on average, 8.6 spots after mile 2. Moral of the story: don’t start too fast too soon.

TOP SPARTAN RACERS IN 2018

United States

The men’s field has never been deeper in the 8-year history of Spartan Race. Ian Hosek, Ryan Kempson, Kirk DeWindt, and a couple others aren’t that far behind, but these 7 have stood out above the rest in 2018. Let’s see how they’ve fared head-to-head this year:

Ryan Atkins
Even though he has “only” one win this year, Atkins is the only person with a winning record head-to-head vs. each of the best US racers this year. Out of all athletes who have completed 4+ Spartan Races in 2018, no one has finished closer to the winner, on average, than Ryan Atkins. For instance, if the winner takes 1:00:00 and you finish in 1:01:00, you’ve finished within 1.6% of the winner. Ryan’s been even closer than that and only shows up to the most competitive races each year, the US Series. When Ryan Atkins doesn’t win, he’s always just steps behind. Here’s the top-10:

Ryan Woods
Woods has won 4/10 races this year, with his worst finish 5th overall in Seattle. This is the first year he truly looks comfortable as an OCR athlete, not some guy who can get away with 60+ burpees each race because he’s a great runner. Woods is 39, which is the same age the past two champions were (Hobie Call in 2016, Cody Moat in 2017). Can Woods make it three wins in a row for 39-year-olds?

Cody Moat
Reigning world champion Cody Moat has looked surprisingly beatable this year. No one in the sport does a better job at peaking when it matters most, though, so don’t let his record so far fool you. Cody will be ready for Tahoe.

Robert Killian
Killian was inconsistent the first half of this year (by his standards), but he’s been unbeatable since late-July, winning the Utah Super, the Breckenridge Beast/Sprint, and the West Virginia Beast/Super/Sprint.

Ryan Kent
After a red-hot start to the year with podiums in San Jose and Seattle, Ryan Kent had an inconsistent summer, thanks in part to the disruption of moving across the country. Kent has been training at elevation all month with some impressive workouts, though, so expect him to bounce back for Tahoe.

Veejay Jones
Always referred to as a future star of OCR, Veejay has lived up to the hype this year. Tahoe’s distance and the elements may not play to his strengths (yet), but he’s shown he can run with the best in the sport all year.

Mark Batres
Ryan Woods is the best pure runner in OCR, but Mark Batres shouldn’t be overlooked. Mark has run a 1:03:56 half-marathon (4:52 pace) and a 2:19:07 marathon (5:18 pace). Like Woods, Mark Batres has finally looked like a true obstacle racer this year, not just a fast runner. He placed 24th in 2016 and 42nd in 2017, so Tahoe hasn’t treated Mark nicely in the past.

Wildcards
• John Yatsko – Is the most mysterious man in OCR back? He came out of nowhere to finish 5th at Utah, less than 2 minutes behind Woods, Atkins, and Moat.
• Ryan Kempson – Never afraid to go out with the leaders, Ryan had been dominating the 2018 season at all distances and appears to have finally figured out how to fuel properly.
• Brakken Kraker – Finally motivated again after struggles the past 2+ years, Brakken is one of the sport’s OGs. Don’t count Brakken out of a top-15 finish if the course is a shorter Beast.

Dark Horses
• Joshua McDougal – The 2008 Olympian and 2x US national steeplechase champion finished 2nd at the 2015 Warrior Dash Championship before disappearing from OCR until this year.
• Tyler Veerman – Phenomenal climber and 4:14 college miler with multiple top-10 US Series finishes this year.
• Forrest Bouge – Former college wrestler who’s a strong climber with great strength-to-weight ratio, several podiums on mountain courses.
• Logan Broadbent – Finished 9th at West Virginia and 4th at the NorAm OCR Championship 15k in Vermont last month.

International

Like most things in the US, Americans don’t usually pay attention to what’s happening outside the country. That’s the case in OCR, too. Here are some international racers worth keeping an eye on:

Albert Soley (Spain)
Albert was basically Europe’s version of Hobie Call (circa-2011). He won his first 13 Spartan Races (technically 14, but he lost the 2017 European Championship after being penalized for missing a few burpees) and 18/22 overall. The only Spartan Race in which he hasn’t ended up on a podium was last year’s Lake Tahoe World Championship, where he finished 19th. Expect the former XTerra champion to crack the top-10 this year at Tahoe.

Jesse Bruce (Canada)
Fresh off a double podium in the 3k and 15k at the NorAm OCR Championship, Jesse Bruce showed up to West Virginia and finished 6th against the deepest field of any Spartan Race this year.

Johnny Luna-Lima (US, living in Europe)
Few know to run “their” race as well as Johnny Luna-Lima. He ran the 8th fastest second-half split of the race at last year’s championship, moving up 15 spots in the process. After an 11th-place showing at Tahoe last year, Johnny ended up on the podium at the European Spartan Championship this summer (despite being a US citizen).

Mikhail Gerylo (Canada)
Last year’s 15th-place finisher at Tahoe, Gerylo traveled from Canada to West Virginia and went home with a 5th-place finish. He has won 15 of his 21 races in Canada since 2015, never finishing off the podium. Mik also finished 6th at the 2017 OCRWC 15k.

Peter Ziska (Slovakia)
Nobody in Spartan Race history has more wins than Peter Ziska, who has nearly 60 first-place finishes to his name. Peter didn’t race Tahoe last year due to injuries, but finished 7th in 2016, 25th in 2015, and 14th in 2014.

Sergey Perelygin (Russia)
Sergey was about to take home 3rd place in the 2016 OCRWC 15k before struggling on the final wall and dropping to 5th place, just feet from the finish line. He recently won the European Spartan Race championship on a very hilly course at elevation. OCR fans will know his name if he decides to race at Tahoe this year.

Sebastian Conrad Haakansson (Norway)
The sub-2:30 marathoner is in his second season of OCR and was the first person to ever cross the finish line ahead of Albert Soley (above). He has an extensive ultra-endurance background under his belt and placed 5th at this year’s European Spartan Race Championship.

Who’s Missing?

Here’s a list of some people with a top-25 finish at Tahoe (since 2015) and their best ever finish at a Spartan Race World Championship (some results are prior to 2015). What do they have in common? None of them have officially qualified for Tahoe this year. Those are some huge names missing. As of today, none of these racers qualified during the “regular season” to qualify for the 2018 Spartan Race World Championship title.

Spartan changed its qualification process, which you can read about HERE. So far, they seem to be standing by their new policy. However, Joe DiStefano did mention a little-known Spartan policy on Instagram that former champions (Hobie Call, Cody Moat, John Albon, and Robert Killian) are welcome to compete at any Spartan Race World Championship for life. Albon publicly announced that he’s traveling to the US for Tahoe, but Hobie has been silent.

Hobie Call
Is Hobie fooling all of us by pretending to be retired from OCR again? Has he been using the “race less, train better” model that each of the past two champions have used (Cody Moat last year and Hobie in 2016)? Will he sneak up on the start line and win his fourth world title? Honestly, Hobie could literally not run a step for a full year and still place top-50 at Tahoe. He genuinely seems happy now that his (alleged) racing days are over, so I don’t think he’ll actually race this year.

Additionally, Joe Di said that the top-10 from last year are welcome to compete this year. Three people from the top-10 in 2017 haven’t officially qualified yet in 2018: Jon Albon (mentioned above), Hunter McIntyre, and Isaiah Vidal.

Hunter McIntyre
Hunter publicly tried to convince Joe DiStefano to let him race in West Virginia without qualifying, but he wasn’t allowed. McIntyre already mentioned that he’ll be in Tahoe to spectate, but will he decide to race just to spite Spartan, even though he’s been in 100% CrossFit mode since the summer?

Isaiah Vidal
Similarly, Isaiah Vidal has been solely focusing on CrossFit this year despite running a number of shorter races. Check out how consistent Hunter and Isaiah have been at every Spartan Race World Championship in which they’ve competed. Hunter’s never finished worse than 7th and Isaiah has been top-10 in each of the past 5 years. Only Hobie Call (5) and Cody Moat (6) have finished top-10 overall at 5+ Spartan Race World Championships. Even without focusing exclusively on OCR, both athletes have been unbelievably consistent when it matters most. I don’t think either will race, but based on their track records, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hunter or Isaiah came close to a top-10 finish at Tahoe if they showed up.

Sergey Perelygin (Russia)
Sergey was about to take home 3rd place in the 2016 OCRWC 15k before struggling on the final wall and dropping to 5th place, just feet from the finish line. He recently won the European Spartan Race championship on a very hilly course at elevation. Unfortunately, OCR fans not see him at Tahoe because the Russian athlete was unable to get a visa to compete in the US. He brings up a good point about Spartan only holding their world championship in the US each year so far. Will they move it to an international venue next year?

Other Notable Missing Names
We’ll see on race day, but I think some high-level athletes should get a pass based on their credentials. Chad Trammell, Marco Bedard, and Matt Kempson have proved themselves to be some of the best Spartan racers on the planet for 5+ years. What if Joe Gray, arguably the best mountain runner in the world, or Max King, who toyed with OCR for a couple years before returning to trail running, wanted to race? Should Spartan Race turn down an Olympic runner or skier because they didn’t qualify properly? The next great OCR athlete may be out there and want to prove themselves at Tahoe, but we might not even know it. Rules are rules, but is it really a World Championship if you don’t let the best people race?

LEVEL OF COMPETITION

No offense to elite racers around the world, but there are 5 OCR athletes at the top – Ryan Atkins, Ryan Woods, Robert Killian, Cody Moat, and Jon Albon – and then everyone else. This list used to include Hobie Call (retired) and Hunter McIntyre (focusing on CrossFit now), but I don’t see either of them racing in Tahoe this year.

That doesn’t mean that everyone else should just stay home, though. In fact, that’s actually the opposite. The amount of depth towards the top has never been so high, as the top-10 of many championship races are separated by only a few minutes now vs. 20+ minutes five years ago. All it takes is one failed obstacle to suddenly drop from 10th to 20th. The battle for those 11th to 30th spots will be ridiculous based on how many good racers there are today.

PREDICTIONS

I’ve changed the order of the top-5 probably 10 times, but here’s how I think the men’s side of the 2018 Lake Tahoe Spartan Race World Championship will end up:

Note: This list assumes that all international racers will fly to Tahoe to race, which probably won’t be the case. Some international athletes may stay home and instead use their money to travel to OCRWC in the UK instead.

1. Ryan Atkins
I almost feel stupid not picking Cody Moat to win again, but I truly think this is the year at Ryan Atkins finally wins a Spartan Race title. He’s doing a team relay for World’s Toughest Mudder and already paid for his trip for Iceland. All of this means he’s going all-in for the $1 million prize for winning Tahoe, the Greece Trifecta weekend, and reaching 100 miles in Iceland. None of that will happen without winning at Tahoe, though. He’s been living at elevation and putting in tons of mileage in the mountains all month, so altitude won’t affect him this year at Tahoe. Although he “only” finished 4th at the Tougher Mudder Championships in Seattle this weekend, Tahoe will be nothing like the flat Seattle course. The notoriously difficult heavy carries will play to Atkins’ advantage, and few can suffer as well as Ryan. Ryan will finally not be a bridesmaid after several 2nd place showings at previous Spartan Race World Championships and OCRWC events dating back to 2014.

2. Jon Albon
Even though he hasn’t officially qualified, Jon Albon lists Tahoe on his “Next Events” page on his personal website HERE. Albon flew from the UK to Seattle and won the Tougher Mudder Championship one week before Tahoe, so he’ll be heading to Squaw Valley several days before the race to acclimate for the 6,200-foot elevation start line at Tahoe. Anyone who doesn’t pick him to end up on the podium in any OCR championship race is a fool.

3. Cody Moat
You saw that stat about Cody Moat’s second half of the race last year earlier in this article. If he’s within a couple minutes of the lead whenever the first big downhill begins, he may end up winning this race. Most people forget that Cody was leading Tahoe in 2016 before struggling to stay warm after the freezing swim. He could easily be a 3-time champion if the cold didn’t affect him that day. I don’t see a way Cody Moat doesn’t end up on the podium again this year.

4. Ryan Woods
I really, really want to put Woods on the podium.  It feels like 2018 is the Year of Ryan Woods, but after shifting names around about a dozen times, I just couldn’t leave the 3 men above off the podium.  Woods was only 1:20 behind Cody Moat’s lead at the halfway point last year before falling back to 6th. Ryan seems to have taken it to another level this year, though, never finishing worse than 5th at the most competitive races all season. Woods has been burpee-free nearly all year, but so was Hobie Call throughout his career before a surprise spear throw miss at Tahoe that cost him any chance at winning just 40 minutes into the race.  Failed obstacles have plagued Woods in the past and if there’s ever a race where you don’t want that to happen, it’s Tahoe, even if it’s just one missed obstacle.

5. Robert Killian
Robert Killian has been on fire lately, but his decision to do the 5-day Expedition OCR World Championship Race less than 2 weeks before Tahoe is questionable. His body is used to racing more than almost every top racer, but recovery between then and Tahoe will be key. This was the first year where he didn’t finish on a podium in every single US Series race or World Championship, so Tahoe may be another surprise.

Rest of the top-10:

6.  Mikhail Gerylo
7.  Albert Soley
8.  Johnny Luna-Lima
9.  Tyler Veerman
10.  Jesse Bruce

CRAZY THINGS HAPPEN AT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

In reality, there are always a couple surprises each year. That’s what happens at championship races, and it will certainly happen again. It even snowed during the Ultra Beast last year, which means last year’s champion would have been crowned in a snowstorm if the race had been held one day later. Predicting exactly what will happen is almost impossible given how many variables are in each obstacle course race.

I’ve been following the Spartan circuit worldwide pretty closely, so I feel like most of the names I identified earlier as “darkhorses” will end up being correct. Hopefully they’ll give you a heads up when you think, “Who’s that guy?” while watching the Facebook Live coverage. Here are some of the previous surprises from the past three years at Tahoe:

2015
• Previously unheard of, Robert Killian shocks the world by winning the Spartan Race World Championship title.
• Two pro runners (NCAA Champion AJ Acosta and Olympian David Torrence) entered the race to try to win a big pay day. Torrence ended up dropping out and Acosta finished 44th despite hovering in the top-20 for most of the race.

2016
• Aaron Fletcher, an elite steeplechaser who recently graduated from college, was in 4th place 90 minutes into the race before falling off pace and finishing 17th.
• JP Donovan, Tahoe area native and a member of the US National Mountain Running Team, finished 13th in his second ever obstacle race.

2017
• Hobie Call, who was unbeatable all year, missed his spear throw 40 minutes into the race and was never able to recover. He ended up finishing 7th.

The truth will come out on September 29th at Lake Tahoe. What are your predictions for this race?

Read about the 2018 Spartan Tahoe Women Here

*Update – Here is how they finished in 2018.