Spartan Ultra Beast – Scotland’s Inaugural Test of Wills, Strength, and Determination

ULTRA BEAST – NOT to be entered into lightly!

This was the first time Spartan hosted an Ultra Beast, 26+ miles with 60+ Obstacles, in Scotland and it was in the stunning Pentland Hills, at Nine Mile Burn, just outside of Edinburgh. However, don’t let the beautiful surroundings fool you, as those hills are out to destroy you!

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REGISTRATION
Registration was on the Friday night and everything ran very smoothly and efficiently. There wasn’t very much queuing in terms of picking up your registration pack for the Ultra Beast and dropping of your transition bag was done with ease, all clearly marked. I was all sorted within 15 minutes of getting to the event, which was ideal, as I was wanting an early night with an early start time 6:30am.

GEAR
Having kept an eye on the weather forecast all week in my efforts to decide what I wanted to race in, I left it to the last moment I turned up at the event. Having raced the previous year in these hills, I knew just how quickly the weather could turn and how exposed racers could be to the winds. Having seen the low hanging clouds cast over the Pentland hills in the morning, I knew it was a job for the leggings and long thermal top. It was going to be wet and cold, and boy was I not wrong there.

AND THE JOURNEY BEGINS…WITHOUT FANFARE
Standing at the start line wondering what I had let myself in for, I was hoping for some encouragement, or to get racers hyped for what lay ahead. Inste, d it was a very intense reminder of penalties and cut off times to make it round the course. This was merely shouted across the participants as there was no PA system in place. Not sure the reasons for this, but this did make for difficult hearing as I stood near the back of the crowd.

Without warning, they counted down was shouted out “3,2,1, Go!” and that was it. The Ultra Beast had begun.

TESTING TERRAIN
Within 100 meters of the start, the course bottlenecked causing a back log of runners to have to stop and wait, as one by one runners jumped across a small burm.  I was disappointed at this. I felt this should have been thought about when creating the course; surely they could see this was going to happen?

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As the crowd of runners started to break away from one another and make their way into the hills, we were met with lots of rugged terrain, which was hard going under foot. This was the theme for most of the race, with the ankles taking a fair bit of punishment on the uneven surface. Then there were the endless hills with false summits as you thought you had reached the top it continued to go up, and if going up was bad, coming down was just as hard on the legs with the need to brace as the ground was so slippery under foot. The wrong footing could lead to landing on your bottom within a matter of seconds. Even with trail shoes, I still found myself hitting the ground on several occasions.

There were also several narrow paths throughout which meant, if you got stuck behind a slower runner, it was going to prove difficult to get past them.

ULTRA BEAST TEASING
Then there was the constant Music that could be heard out on the course. You were being pulled in to then be sent back out on the course with no idea when the first lap was to end. I reached the 23km point on the first lap with the buzz of the events village right next to me and thought I had finished the first lap. I was wrong! The course sent racers away and off for another 2km or so before we would see the end of the first lap. All I could think was, “Youré teasing me here!!”

OBSTACLES
Most of the obstacles on course were the regulars that appear in a Spartan Race, with most being achievable and only a few that would pose issue, leading in gaining those dreaded burpees if you weren’t great with grip strength, memory or a throw. All the obstacles seemed nice and evenly placed around the course with you not feeling like you were running for too long before you were faced with a challenge.

Scotland's-First-Spartan-Ultra-Beast

STRENGTH

There were your usual strength  obstacles the Block Pull, Log Flip, Bucket Brigade, 2 Sandbag Carries, Tyre Carry , Farmer’s Walk, Atlas Carry, Sled Drag, and Herc Hoist. These all just required being able to man up and dig deep for every ounce of strength you had to give. They also had a lot of these one after another leaving your arms feeling pretty drained.

MEMORY
The memory test came early on. I can still remember my code now “Oscar-137-6813.” It has been imprinted in my brain. I found using my hand like a phone keyboard and memorizing the sequence on my palm made recall easier. While running, I simply tapped over and over in my hand the sequence till it was second nature. Sure enough, when the time came to recite it after a fair distance and many obstacles between, I knew no burpees were coming my way and I aced the code!

Scotland's-First-Spartan-Ultra-Beast

WATER
There were also the water obstacles: the Dunk Wall with water crossing required you to submerge under three planks of wood near to the start of the course. The water here literally took your breath away. It was all about trying to control your breathing and not panic.  There were 4 more water crossings further round the course requiring a bit of a swim, with the last swim requiring you again to submerge yourself under 2 walls. The water was not nearly as cold as the first water obstacle, but never the less, being wet was not helping in attempts to get warm.

Scotland's-First-Spartan-Ultra-Beast

HANG TIGHT
You then had your more grip orientated obstacles: Olympic Ring Swing, which required you to get across fast, however being this was straight after getting out of ice cold water getting the feeling back in the hands was the difficult part; the Tyrolean Traverse, most choosing to under hang although I did see a few attempt going on top; and Rope Climb, nearer the end of the course but straight after the atlas carry – truly testing if you had the strength left to hit that bell at the top.

Scotland's-First-Spartan-Ultra-Beast

In the last 100m of the course, there lay 5 obstacles back to back: Multirig; the Dominator, a peg board placed at an angle that required you to climb up it using the pegs then with a controlled descent (Not sure why, but this wasn’t open on the first lap);  and the Twister (killer for the grip strength) was the second last obstacle. By the time I hit Twister, grip strength was all but gone. With the wet weather making the hand bars slippery, gripping became even harder. Speaking to a few folks who had marshalled that obstacle, they  said most were receiving the penalty of 30 burpees – I’m sure as Spartan intended.

Spartan Ultra beast Twister

WHAT OTHER CHALLENGES DID THE ULTRA BEAST HAVE?
There were other obstacles such as balance beam, walls, barbed wire crawls, cargo net climbs, slip walls, z walls and the stairway.  Can’t say I personally found them too difficult and they were actually a nice break from the running.  Let’s not forget of course the Spear Throw situated near the end of the course and on an exposed area – no protection from the wind should it want to change the direction of your throw. This has never been an obstacle that I could master and always calculate for 30 Burpees at it.

TRANSITION…ON THE COURSE AND IN THE MIND
At the end of my first lap, I felt good; I was round in just under 5 Hours. I was a little tired but still full of high spirits. The thought of doing a second lap had not truly hit me. As I dropped from the wall and made my way to the transition area, I was confused to see the two friends who I had left not long after the start of the course waiting for me all changed. They had been pulled from the race. The realization then hit me that not everyone who had started this race was going to finish. The fact that participants were being pulled off the course due to hypothermia and injury was becoming all too real. I was more fueled than ever that I was not going to be one of them. I WAS GOING TO JUMP THAT FIRE AND CROSS THE FINISHLINE!

SECOND COMING
This was where true grit and determination was going to kick in. Knowing the full distance of the course and the obstacles that were ahead, I had to just put my head down and keep going. This was now a test of stamina and mental strength.

This second lap was proving to be punishing as the weather worsened further with visibility at the top of the hills becoming less than 50m and warnings from marshals to all runners to run with a group of people. Being fully exposed at the top of the hills to the harshest conditions only to then have hail begin. Nowhere to hide, everyone had to just let the sharp pain of the ice smack off our faces as we trudged on.

Scotland's-First-Spartan-Ultra-Beast

35km into the race, I was now cold to the core, not sure if I would ever know what warmth would feel like again.  It was becoming difficult to get any heat generated. Running proved challenging with heavy legs and the mere effort to place one foot in front of another was becoming draining.

EMOTIONS HIT
As I walked up to the Bucket Carry for the second time, emotions took hold of me, and I found myself crouched down over the bucket – tears streaming from my face questioning what I was doing. I was a very different person from the first lap. I was now cold and emotionally drained. The happy smiley person making jokes on the first lap had been replaced by this struggling, sobbing mess. This wasn’t the last time I was to cry on this course.

Having pulled myself together, I got some pace back into the race and pushed through. I watched as runners were cramping up going up the last few hills, till it was the homeward 3km and hills seemed a thing of the past; it was thankfully much flatter and downhill to the finish.

FINISH
Entering back into the events area knowing I had only 5 more obstacles until I jumped that fire and completed the Ultra Beast overwhelmed me. I had done it; I would complete Scotland’s first Ultra Beast. From nowhere, I pulled every ounce of strength and battled through. I knew I had 30 Burpees still to complete – I just wouldn’t have the grip strength to hold me on the Twister. I didn’t care. I was in the home stretch! I felt the smile I had lost somewhere in the cold, hail covered hills come back to my face as I dragged my body over the last two 8-foot walls and jumped over that fire to claim my victory!

Scotland's-First-Spartan-Ultra-Beast

Sheer Joy to Cross the Finishline!

Sadly, no one stood there waiting to hang that Ultra Beast medal round my neck. Instead, the finish was just confusion (though I’m not sure if it was my confusion from mental depletion having just run over 30 miles). I was directed to an area where the timing chip was removed. Then, I was shuffled on to another area to confirm my name, only then for the medal to be handed to me from out of a box. This was demoralizing having just pushed myself to the extreme. We all want the memory of someone hanging that medal round our necks honoring your achievement, and this was stolen.

ON COURSE PIT STOPS
On the first lap, the pit stops were brimming with bananas and water to keep everyone’s energy levels up whilst they ran. Compared to other races I have done, I was a little surprised that this was all that was provided for the runners. Usually, there a few different choices of fuel to select being not everyone favors a banana.

My second lap of the course was a different experience all together. Lucky to have had a food bag out on course, I quickly grabbed some more food here, just as well, as I was let down by the refueling stations here after. One stop was even running short of cups for water with the marshal only having about 20 cups in hand to dish out to the rest of the runners coming up to re-hydrate.

I chatted with the marshal and found out, due to the extreme conditions being faced in the hills, all the buggies were being used to get people down off the hill, thus not being able to provide the nutrition that racers required. I was also told on my first lap that there would be energy drinks at one stop on my return, but when I arrived, this was not the case. I was just glad to have had energy blocks on me. They made the difference.

MARSHALS
The marshals were AMAZING throughout the course. I cannot fault them. They were just as wet and cold standing looking after the runners and still had smiles, words of encouragement, high fives, and hugs to give throughout the course. They deserved a medal for the shift they put in. Near the end of the Farmer’s Carry, one of the marshals shared his coffee with me. Cannot have thanked him enough. Getting something warm inside of me gave me just what I needed to complete the course.

ARE YOU READY FOR THE ULTRA BEAST?

This race should not be entered into lightly. Lack of training, unsuitable clothing, and the wrong nutrition will let you down. You need to have unbelievable mental strength to pull yourself across that line. I am strong minded and even I found myself questioning why I had signed up to push my body physically, mentally and emotionally to the breaking point. I never thought I could run a race that could almost break me, but after over 30 miles, 80 obstacles, 2000+ meters elevation gained on course, I found it! This is one race you won’t be short of a challenge. AROO!

Photo Credits: Spartan Race UK

Malaysia Spartan Sprint – Kicking off the Racing Year in Asia

While the USA is seeing freezing race temperatures, most of Asia is still sweltering in 95 degree heat, which was certainly the case for the Malaysian Spartan Sprint on March 12. The first race of the season saw a strong turn out with competitors flying in from Singapore, Hong Kong and as far as Abu Dhabi to join the fast-growing obstacle racing community in Malaysia.

As the sun rose, we were told there would be a slight delay in the start times due to a storm the previous evening, and an issue of wild boars and cows knocking over course markers! That announcement set the tone for what was an extremely challenging Sprint course – I use the term ‘Sprint’ loosely, as the race was almost 6 miles in distance.

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As we set off it started with a set of walls, hurdles, the vertical cargo and then into the jungle for what seemed like a never ending hill climb which continued to the sandbag carry. The terrain was either knee deep mud or uneven trails, and this didn’t let up for the whole course. There were so many river crossings that I lost count in the end, but they were actually a welcome relief from the heat.

The middle part of the race saw a whole heap of obstacles grouped together that were testing people’s stamina and grip strength. The Hercules hoist, a cliff climb, barbed wire crawl, rope climb, Olympus (making its debut in Asia), atlas carry and then rounded off with the spear throw, saw most people hitting the ground for at least 30 burpees.

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Another hilly run followed by a long bucket brigade on a muddy track, and then the end was in sight as you could hear the noise from the race village. A dunk wall, A-frame, more water and then a 200 foot swim which saw victims fall to leg cramps so close to the finish. An unexpected challenging river run against the tide, and on to the dreaded multi-rig which of course saw more people fail than master it.

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I have never been so happy to see a slip wall knowing the fire jump was straight after it.

As I said, a Sprint course like no other, where people were posting times closer to doing the Super distance.

The great thing about obstacle racing in Asia is it seems age is no barrier in participating. Colleen, the woman that won the elite category was only 18 years old and Tess, who came in third in the elite is 47 years old, both inspirational in different ways.

Next in Asia sees a Hong Kong race in April, followed by Singapore in May.

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Photo credits – Raimi Zakaria, Patrick Yap and Ruifeng Seet

Roots 4th Birthday Bash – Peak District, England

Roots Adventure Training turned 4. So to celebrate, they held the 12-hour Roots Birthday Bash endurance event.  Now for those who don’t know, Roots is an adventure training company based in the Peak District in England. They specialize in team building events, survival skills & endurance races.

I’d been looking forward to this event for the past month for several reasons. The main one being that I had never actually done an endurance event before.

I was curious to see how I would manage. Having already signed up for the Spartan Race 4hour & 12hr Hurricane Heat, I figured that this would be an excellent starting point to see where my training needed to go.

I was right.

Roots-River-Crossing

Now I feel that I should note that some of my memories from the day are slightly hazy. I’m not sure if I can put that down to the lack of sleep before/after the event or perhaps it’s just down to the fact that we did so much throughout the day.

After a long drive from Edinburgh to the venue, we had a brief sleep before awaking before dawn to begin.

With a 6am start and two hours of map reading skills, we gathered outside the camping cabin to begin. Mustered in a circle, we had 60 seconds to empty the contents of our bags. This proved slightly more difficult than we’d realised. Personally, I’d prepacked everything tightly so emptying the bag was interesting. More so was repacking it in the same time. We quickly accrued some punishment points before we even began.

Our pre-event kit list had included the standard items but, within these items we also had to include a party hat and a balloon.

The balloon & party hat gave the list a sense of amusement which I think made the preparation somewhat less daunting. Now, standing together having reassembled my kit at least three times, I was starting to understand the time hacks that we’d be facing.

Onward to some warm up drills – counts of 8. It’s during these that we started to gel as a team. Position one was a low squat with palms to the floor. Two had us jumping back into plank position. On three our feet jumped out to shoulder width apart. Four, back to plank. Five saw us do a downward push-up and six saw us return to plank. Seven had us back in the low squat and eight rounded us off with a jump up to the start position. Under the watchful eye of the staff we had to get it right, an error had us sent back to the start position.

Eventually, we set off from the base camp. Our first major task of the day was to solve a riddle. Some may have heard of the river crossing riddle where the farmer has to take items across the river but can only take one at a time. This was our riddle. We had the farmer, a crocodile, a mouse & some cheese. Each team member represented an item within the riddle. This exercise was made more enjoyable as the four characters ‘costumes’.

Roots-Birthday-Bags

We completed the task and moved on to our next way point. One of our jobs as a team was to find out way points via the map coordinates given to us by our guides. All the time we marched along while passing the ammo-box between one another.

At any point throughout the day, if we failed to answer a question, the team were given punishment points. We reduced these by successfully completing more 8 counts. As we got colder throughout the day the more I welcomed these. One of my favourite moments of the day came when we got to explore an abandoned mine. It was actually Ecton mine. Climbing inside the small entry hall and into the water filled cave was fun. Getting to spend time there looking for some malachite stones which the Roots team had hidden was a good challenge. We were told the history of the mine & how it had once belonged to the Duke of Devonshire and had been mined for copper, but perhaps more interesting was that it had been mined since the Bronze Age about 3500 years ago.

However, it was also at this point in the event that I started to notice a sharp pain in my shoulder. I’ve had some minor problems with my rotator cuff in the past but I had thought that it had healed. I was silently hoping it wouldn’t affect my process through the rest of the event.

As we progressed further to locate more grid points on our maps, the sun was getting lower in the sky as we entered a small valley. Ahead of us lay supplies needed to build a stretcher and carry a new addition to the group (a dummy called The General –  or as I liked to call him, Steve). Another learning experience, this time in creating knots; the clove knot and the square knot. Binding together the beams, we lifted The General onto the stretcher while supporting his neck and limbs. Suddenly behind enemy lines, our event took a covert turn. We had to safely carry The General to a safe location.

Roots-Stretcher

The sun had set, the temperature had dropped and The General was getting heavy on our makeshift stretcher. We waded through the river Manifold, under a bridge to avoid detection, up along the bank and we reached our destination, an old animal shelter where we were given a rest, time to eat, drink & told to change our shoes and socks. We could all feel that the end was coming, be it in the next hour or several hours. I think the group had a slight surge of energy with this knowledge. Our next task was to locate and retrieve. Three new locations given in succession. With only our head-torches we trekked along to discover some wonderful caves. The items we sought were illuminated by glow sticks. One of these caves is known locally as Thor’s cave, my mind suddenly perked up from the sleepy haze. The entry to this limestone cave was up a set of stairs moulded into the hillside. The entrance to the cave was slick and certainly made for an interesting climb in and out.

For me, this was actually the toughest part of the day. Throughout the day’s events, the pain in my shoulder had been getting stronger. I had informed the Roots staff and they were nice enough to alter some of the punishment workouts for me. But to gain access to some of the caves involved a bit of clambering & climbing over walls, not something I would usually have problems with but suddenly I found tears in my eyes due to damn pain. I’m not someone who likes to cry in front of others. I know there is absolutely nothing wrong with showing your emotions but it’s just a personal preference me for. With my raw team buff pulled up as far as it would go, I gritted my teeth and got on with it.

Finally, we had gathered all the objects, four lengths of wood, a jerry can, two white bottles and two lengths of rope.

OUR FINAL OBJECTIVE

We had to fill the jerry can using the two smaller bottles. All three had to be filled and attached to a rig made up of the wooden planks. The catch – at no point should the jerry can touch the ground and none of the bottles were allowed to touch the wooden support. Using what we learned earlier we rigged up a frame, attached the ropes to the cans and secured them onto the rig. With a steady march onward we made our way back to the basecamp.
We were mostly lucky on our trek back up the hill, which suddenly seemed twice as long as it had that morning. The bottles swung a few times and tapped the wood which resulted in some more punishment exercises.

Soon enough though, we reached base camp, asking for permission to put down the rig without punishment (we’d learned from experience not to trust everything our mentors had said) we created a circle around the fire to receive our finisher medals & pins and a well-earned beer.

Roots-Ammo-Can

This experience meant a lot to me. Not only was it my first endurance event but also because I now have a starting point for what I need to work on for future events. I’m not sure I would have managed to complete the event without my fellow seeds & event staff and I’m grateful to each and every one of them for the experience. I honestly can’t recommend the Roots event enough and if you ever have a chance to take part you should.

www.rootsadventuretraining.com

Photo Credits: Turner Videos & Matt Talbot

Spartan Race – Singapore Beast Review 2016

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It has been a busy twelve months in Asia for Spartan, with the debut of the Sprint distance being held only a year ago in Malaysia and expanding to see races organized in China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

This time around the Singapore Beast race saw it go offshore to Bintan, an Indonesian Island which is a ferry ride away from the mainland, with most of the 3,000 participants opting to stay over for a weekend getaway.

The marketing for the race promised a much harder course than previous Asian ones with tougher obstacles, water crossings, a lot of mud, beach runs and varied terrain.  And it certainly delivered that!  Even Joe De Sana, Spartan Race Founder, who completed the race, said it was one of the best courses he had seen.

As the horn sounded to mark the start of the elite race, we were met with an aggressive 2km soft sand run to really get the legs warmed up, with the only break in running being the A-Frame cargo net set up on the beach.  Next it was off the sand and onto giant boulders and into rock pools that seemed never ending with no shoes being able to hold steady against slippery rocks and waves crashing in.  And just as you thought there may be some relief, there was a steep hill climb into the jungle straight out of the water.

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The rolling terrain was certainly varied as you went from beach, to jungle, to what seemed like a clay desert and then through mud and back into water.

Over a few hurdles and walls and before I knew it I was at the memory wall (it seems every race in Asia includes this as an obstacle).  This time I vowed not to forget it repeating it to myself for 21 kilometres… LIMA 383 2898!

The bucket brigade appeared next and after the brutal one in Tahoe uphill I figured this would be easy in comparison, which it was.  Onwards to a series of mud pools and then a short sandbag carry into the jungle and the inverted wall.  It was about this point when the cracks started appearing for everyone.  The first 6km felt like 16km due to the 90 degree 100% humidity weather and no one looked like they were having fun.

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Heading back into the village, and almost at the half way mark, saw a tough series of obstacles one after the other.  A tractor pull, spear throw, multi-rig, z-wall, atlas ball carry and monkey bars resulted in everyone doing at least one set of burpees.  And if that wasn’t enough, there was a river swim to get to the next part of the course.  The water was a welcomed cool down, but the leg cramps that followed were not.  I passed more than ten guys laying on the ground in pain not being able to walk.

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It was back to a long stretch of running on the varying terrain being interspersed with more walls, tyre flips, tyre drags, the Phoenician pass (with buses driving under it), and a lot of water crossings.  The tyrolean traverse was the longest one I have ever seen in a race, I took burpees as I cramped too much, which turns out was a much better option as the guy next to me fell flat on his back and hurt himself.

Thank heavens I was now two thirds down and was hoping the rest of the race would be kinder.  The log hop was next and a new addition which proved to be fun.  Followed by another long hot run and then the million-dollar question was asked… “what is your memory code?”  BOOM!  I answered correctly and off down the beach I ran.

A balance beam set up in the ocean was next and then the vertical cargo, a very long and rocky barbed wire crawl and the stairway to Sparta. I knew it was only about 2 kilometres and I would be done.

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A run back towards the village with some rolling mud and a dunk wall thrown in for good measure before hitting the Hercules hoist and a sand barbed wire crawl on the beach.  A sprint down the beach and I knew what was next – the rope climb set up in the ocean.  Not so easily done with waves crashing into your face trying to get a decent grip, but I held on for dear life and rang the bell before letting go to fall into the water (thank heavens it was high tide!)

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Over the slip wall and a jump across the fire and I was done!  A respectable third place in the elite women and first in the masters.  The coconut handed to us on finishing never tasted so good.

The race was by far the best organised one I have participated in in Asia.  The volunteers were amazing, plenty of water stations and they policed the burpee count toa degree (something that has been sadly lacking before).  But as with any obstacle race I saw a few people stretched off due to broken limbs and heat exhaustion, and sadly there was a death in the race due to a heart attack.  A reminder to always offer help to anyone on the course that may need it, which is the real essence of the obstacle race community.

Photo credits: Sadali Ami & Spartan Race Singapore

Spartan Race Canada: Sun Peaks Ultra Beast

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

I was wrong.

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

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

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

——-

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

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

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

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

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

Stefan

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

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Spartan Race Canada: Sun Peaks Beast Review

“A Wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” – Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring.

I’m a little embarrassed that I had to resort to such desperate measures as I did on the Spartan Race Canada Sun Peaks Beast, but these were desperate times. I wish it were a fable, or a tale, but it’s true. All of it. Read on to see how the Western Canadian Spartan Series brought me to my knees – quite literally – on the slopes of Sun Peaks.

Sun Peaks

As a venue, Sun Peaks is the crown jewel in the Western Canadian Spartan Race Series. Sun Peaks Ski resort offers plenty of natural substance as a race location, and while it maybe not quite as picturesque as Montana, Sun Peaks offers the greater challenge. The single loop Spartan Beast course had roughly 1500m of elevation gain, while the Montana Beast had closer to 1200m.

The resort itself has reasonably priced accommodation on offer if you are visiting for the race (hooray for the off-season); our two bedroom chalet slept four of us comfortably, had two bathrooms, a kitchen and a hot tub for about $CAD 200 per night. More thrifty visitors would be advised to bring food with them to avoid paying inflated prices at the restaurants and pubs in the village – although the food and atmosphere was really great since a lot of race participants were able to stay and socialize after the race. Note: the city of Kamloops is a 45-50 minute drive down the valley one way which is a little far for a post race dinner, or maybe more pressingly, it’s an awfully long drive to Kamloops to get cleaned up post race. Stay where the party is. Stay up in Sun Peaks.

The bad part? Sun Peaks is a PITA to get to and if I ever go again, I would have to be flown in. That drive was almost prohibitively long, especially considering the numerous viable locations available around the province of Alberta, which is much more central for everyone in the Western Canadian catchment. Selfishly, I’d love to see a race out at Lake Louise Ski Area, Nakiska, Sunshine, West Castle Mountain, Crowsnest Pass or even Bragg Creek, and I believe it would draw in more people from around the western provinces.   

So back to my story:

After 11 hours of driving in the rain, I stumbled into my chalet at Sun Peaks Ski Resort in British Columbia. It was too quiet. Where was everyone? Then I realized my mistake; it was actually an hour later than it appeared (we’d crossed a timezone as we wove our path through the Canadian Rockies) so It made sense that my apartment full of Albertans were already in bed for an early start. I was the last to arrive, and I was being way too noisy. Quietly does it then. 

Morning arrived with the normal check-in, last minute bag drop and run to the toilets. With the Ultra Beast already underway, I stood at the base of the Mountain staring up at its crisp, yellowing outline against the bright sky wondering what was ahead. I knew it was going to be cold. It already was; frost was subliming into mist on the start line chute rails as it filled with elite heat competitors and their breath hung visibly like a cloud above the chute. It was -3C, yet there is always at least one elite with his shirt off. I wasn’t taking any chances though. Two layers for me!

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Soon we were running and power hiking our way up the mountain. You know the drill. It’s a Spartan Race…. so I’ll spare you a play-by-play. Instead, here is the highlight and low-lights reel.

Rolling Mud – The rolling mud was not very… muddy? No big deal. It wasn’t missed! It was freezing cold out there!

Log Jam – This obstacle was a series of logs that were to be crawled under. It was also a crossover point for the racecourse. The obstacle was intended to be tackled on the ascent only but some volunteers were telling runners descending the hill to go through the crawl again. The crawl was very tight and many people had difficulty squeezing between the ground and the logs, creating a bottleneck even on the elite heat.

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Balance Beam – One of the first obstacles on the course. Once again volunteers were suggesting racers take off their shoes to complete this obstacle since it was icy. Nearly everyone who removed their shoes failed the obstacle.

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The highlights – Obstacles were more widely spaced and less stacked than in previous races this year, and all of the heavy carries were long and challenging. Really challenging. The climbs were incredibly steep in places, eventually reaching a crunchy, snowy summit and a breathtaking view of the resort and valley below. Once we had reached the summit of the mountain, the course unexpectedly dug deep into the back-country of the resort along miles of mountain bike trails that delivered a rewarding rooted, icy, muddy patina underfoot. We were treated to two sandbag carries, including an extra long 50lb sandbell carry. The overall highlight for me was moving into the downhill single-track, then hurtling down the main double black diamond ski run, stopping at half a dozen obstacle stations on the way down. I ran that hard – really hard.

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Then it happened.

As I ran down the hill, I saw it. The stairway to Sparta obstacle stood like a steaming gateway into heaven. It was just within spitting distance of the finish area. As I ran towards it, my legs were starting to cramp up. “No worries”, I thought. This would be over soon. I climbed it carefully, pivoted over the apex and turned around lowering myself down to the ground. I was almost done, but then horror struck.sun-peaks-beast-4

The course markings turned west. West was bad. West meant we were going back across the mountainside and into the woods again. As we began climbing the hill once more, and the cheers from the arena faded along with any hope of an easy finish, I began to lose my running form. The dull pain that had been growing in my hips and knees suddenly built into a crescendo of pain that drowned out every other concern I had about finishing the race. I had descended the mountain too quickly. Like a diver trying to reach the surface without thinking, I had given myself the spartan racing equivalent of ‘the bends’. To make matters worse, my painkillers had fallen out of my pocket way back on the bucket carry.

Now I was just shuffling my feet. People who I had passed earlier were catching up to me. They patted me on the back, “keep going dude”.

I tried to keep walking, but my body was grinding to a halt. I wasn’t tired, just in a lot of pain. With just two miles to go, I dropped to my knees and sat on the side of the trail and watched as concerned runners passed me by. At this point I should offer a special thanks to Nancy Loranger, and Adam Mowat who gave me the push to stand up and keep going. Feeling encouraged, and enraged by what was happening to me, I stood up and tried to walk a little further. It was really no good. Again I crouched on the trail and took my buff from my head – almost defeated.

Was I really going to come all this way to do this? To give up and DNF? It crossed my mind more than once.

Then I saw something next to me on the ground – a gnarled stick. I grabbed it and stood against it. It was strong. I wasn’t going to give up on my last spartan race of the year without a fight.

Leaning heavily against it I began pushing myself along, trying to take as much weight off my joints as possible. Like Gandalf the Grey, I made my way through the forest. I took a hammer gel, and washed it down with what remained in my CamelBak. I was pushing hard down into the ground with the staff now, almost like I was steering a gondola through Venice, punting through a river of pain and disappointment. It must have looked very odd, but I didn’t care. I really didn’t. I just had to finish. Emerging from the forest, I could hear the festival area again. I strode faster and faster towards the slip wall with my stick.

I tossed the stick to one side to complete the obstacle and as I came down the other side, it was clear that the pain had cleared out of my joints almost as quickly as it had begun. The volunteers looked at each other like they had just witnessed a miracle as I ran back into the forest, leaving the staff in their outstretched hands.

I ran the rest of that race like Lazarus. I was back from the dead. I’d love to say that like the great wizard in Lord of the Rings, that I arrived at that finish line when I intended to, but it just goes to show – some of the best adventures have unexpected conclusions.

Glenn sexy

Final thoughts


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The Sun Peaks Beast gets a perfect score for providing an unparalleled experience to run in the Canadian Rockies. Great obstacles, huge slopes, big payoffs. This was the kind of quality spartan race we’ve been hoping for to round out the series.  I know others of you had struggles and race stories to tell too.  You can check out the winners here. Congrats to all of you who ran. Please leave a comment and discuss what your spartan race story was like!

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Gandalf