Boston Spartan Sprint – Mud Anyone?

Barre-Sprint-Bucket-Carry

Mother nature isn’t always going to be on your side. Rarely is there such as thing as “perfect” race conditions. Though the race day conditions for Sunday’s Boston Spartan Sprint were very good, the damage had already been done.

 

Throughout Saturday’s Super, thousands of racers faced an already muddy course and afternoon rain. That, combined with more rain overnight, made the perfect recipe for a wet and muddy Sprint course on Sunday.

Barre-Sprint-Corn-Field

Venue

The venue is located a couple hours away from Boston, at Carter and Stevens farm in Barre, MA. Because it’s on a farm, there wasn’t a crazy amount of ascent, totaling just over 300 ft in the roughly 4.5-mile course. That makes the Boston Sprint a great course to check out if you’re looking to try your first Spartan race.

 

Parking was off-site, requiring a shuttle, but only a few miles away. The Stone Cow Brewery and a BBQ pit was right at the shuttle point for anyone who wanted some food and drink before and/or after the race. Naturally, the path down to the registration tent led right by a group of cows and even parts of the course. This can be great, unless you let the muddy mess of Twister psyche you out before you even walk in the door.

Barre-Sprint-Bridge

Festival

The festival area was nice and muddy, but well organized and spread out. Spectators were able to watch the start, Twister, Bridge, Olympus, Spearman, Hercules Hoist, Monkey Bars and the finish all in the same general area. With a bit of a walk, Bucket Carry and Multi-Rig were also visible. The U.S. Army was on site with a timed challenge for anyone looking to test their athleticism, plus other vendors with free giveaways or sign-ups.

 

Because it was a Sunday, there weren’t as many competitors as a Saturday race may have seen. It was also the same weekend as the North American OCR Championships in Vermont. Because of the lighter race load, the Elite heat went off at 9:00 am, letting everyone sleep in a little. Ideally, this would have also given the course a bit of time to dry out. With the amount of rain and mud, though, not much could be done.

Barre-Sprint-Burpee-Zone

Course

The design of the course was typical to most Spartans, but also one of my favorites. Obstacles were pretty spread out through the first half of the race, with just seven obstacles in the first two miles. Many of those seven were hurdles, mud mounds, or other less taxing obstacles. Then, over the final mile or so, racers hit a gauntlet of upper body and grip obstacles. Most of the terrain was either through fields (corn or otherwise) or wooded trails. There were one or two road crossings, which was sectioned off by police.

Something that I’ve noticed is that when there’s a Beast or Super the day before the Sprint, typically some of the obstacles will be set up more difficultly than if it were just a Sprint weekend. For example, at the DC Sprint, Twister had just two sections. Here in Massachusetts, it had three.

Barre-Sprint-Hercules-Hoist

From what I’ve gathered, Spartan wants to make the longer races more challenging, with the Sprints being a sort of “gateway” into the sport. Typically, that means easier set ups. They still only do rings on the Multi-Rig, but some obstacles are harder to switch out. It’d be tough for them to take out an entire section of Twister overnight. The Hercules Hoist was set up with a heavier weight for the Super as well, which is another one that gets left for the next day’s Sprint. With the extra weight, plus rain and mud, that made the hoist one of the toughest obstacles for the day.

 

Hopefully Spartan returns to Carter and Stevens Farm next year, as it makes a great race venue, whether mother nature cooperates or not!

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, the author

Asheville Spartan Super 2018

Every year for the last three years, I have made the nine-hour drive to tackle the Asheville-Black Mountain course. Over the past three years, the Ashville course has consistently ranked in difficulty at the highest level. In comparison to other courses, it’s put in the same category as Killington and Wintergreen.  The terrain and elevation provide a physically and mentally tough course, one that provides challenges to the strongest OCR athletes and pushes many past their limitations.

With that in mind, I drove to Ashville this year with a hopeful mindset. Each year I have managed to improve my time and overall performance and this year I had the same intentions. In typical Asheville fashion, just parking on race day was a difficult task. The rain had been falling hard for the last few weeks and the parking lot was a muddy mess with many Spartans stopping to help push out vehicles and navigate to safer parking.

Standing in the start line corral, feeling the normal butterflies and anxiousness that one faces staring at a monumental task, I took a deep breath, shouted AROO, and took off running to face the rugged terrain.

The course began much like years before, swooping hard right and heading towards the cold streams that run throughout the mountain. Soon I was jumping into the cold water and maneuvering around the slippery rocks and divots. Vertical Cargo and Plate Drag were the very first obstacles we faced. I really enjoyed the cargo climb and the way they used the terrain.

Cargo Climb Plate Drag

6ft wall followed by 8ft wall and Z-wall were the next obstacles we faced. The new design on Z-wall provided increased difficulty and many athletes were forced to do burpees in several inches of muddy water.

Z-Walls

Moving forward we faced lots of climbing and navigating muddy terrain, the rain made this particular course that much more difficult and the climbs alone were taking many Spartans a great deal of time.

Technical Terrain

After a few miles of climbing we were brought down the hill and close to the festival area. Here we faced the multi-rig and several other Spartan favorites including tire flip and dunk wall.  The dunk wall was extra gross and left us all orange and muddy.

Circling out of the festival area and heading back up the mountain we began another ascent. Most of the climbs and ascents were in areas where it was nearly impossible to actually run. Rather Spartans moved in a march up the side of the mountain. One thing to mention about this venue is the amazing views. While the climb is rugged, the view from the top is absolutely breathtaking.

Mountain View

Several miles of climbing up and back down was next; stopping only for the incredible views or next obstacle tends to be the right of passage for any Spartan who tackles the Asheville Spartan course. Adjacent to Cargo Climb we came upon a newer Spartan obstacle similar to a great wall with rock grips. The rock grips were muddy and made the obstacle very difficult but equally fun.

Great Wall

Similar to years past, the last mile or so of the course brought us back down the mountain and into the festival area to finish out the last few obstacles. First, a long barb wire crawl with many spectators and finishers watching and cheering us all on. Next, the spear throw and Hercules Hoist tried our reserves.  The last few obstacles and finish line were in the heart of the festival area. It was a lot of fun to have so many cheering you on as you finished this grueling and laborious course. Jumping the fire and smiling for the customary photo danced in my memory as I collected my medal and shirt.

I do, however, feel obligated to mention that when the small rain storm rolled in during the afternoon heats, many racers were taken off of the course with no medal or finisher shirt. The Spartan Staff at this particular event (I’ve been to many and never experienced this) chose to yell, scream and curse at racers to get out of the festival area. I was very surprised by the unprofessional display and lack of organization they showed over such a small storm; by the time I had trudged back to my car the rain had stopped and the clouds had cleared.

However, outside of the storm and festival uproar, overall the 2018 Asheville Spartan Super did not disappoint; it was the perfect combination of the 2016 and 2017 courses. I am looking forward to the next event…AROO!

Spartan Portland/Washougal WA Sprint and Hurricane Heat {Journal Entry}

Hello #OCRCommunity!

After all this time together it seems that I still don’t have the capacity to write a simple Race Recap & that I tend to babble on & on about my experience getting to the race, the participation during it & then the aftermath of the whole experience.  I tried, oh lord I tried, but it just seemed so foreign to me.  This is why I plan on writing my Race Recaps as more of a Journal Entry than a traditional Race Recap.  If that bores you, then go find another author & leave a big thumbs down in the comments section.  If you happen to like it, also let me know!

 

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -01

-The Adventure Begins

Let’s start this tale off by pointing out the fact that this race wasn’t in Portland, it was situated about 30mins northeast from the edge of Portland in Washougal, WA at a local Motocross (MX) Park.  My wife (Charity), 6-year-old daughter (Sierra), & two friends joined us on our trip to the event.  Our friend Erin came along to enjoy the sights & watch over our daughter for us during the events & Troy also came along to participate.  If you’ve read any of my previous Race Recaps, you’ll know that Troy is a long time friend and has been getting increasingly addicted to OCRs as he continues to ferry my wife & I to & fro.  I really don’t know how he puts up with our crazy!

We left Vancouver Canada at approx. 8 am on Friday, swung by & picked up Erin, & headed south on our adventure to our AirBNB in Vancouver, WA.   It’s an odd thing to say that you’re traveling from Vancouver to go to Vancouver & you know the trip according to Google should take approx. 5-6 hours.  The first hurdle of our trip was the sheer magnitude of the traffic.  I figured leaving early on a Friday morning & getting near Seattle just after the morning traffic would be the way to go. Well, I was wrong!  Traffic was at a crawl the whole way through Seattle, Tacoma, & Olympia.  The trip ended up taking us close to 11 hours in total due to mainly traffic, lunch, & rest stops & the fact that a 6-year-old has the bladder the size of a pea!  We finally arrived tired and in one piece at our Vancouver, WA based AirBNB.

 

-The Sprint Awaits

We left the AirBNB around 8 am knowing full well that it would take longer than the anticipated 30mins by Google to get to the site. We also knew we wanted to start earlier so we could finish and have plenty of time to say hello to people, go back to our room, perhaps clean up some, change if needed & then head back for the event that evening.  Parking was in a field of rolling hills & was well marked and flagged by volunteers.  We were pretty early & the absolute sea of vehicles that were already parked had me pretty giddy at the sheer turn out.  I believe someone mentioned that the site sold out, well, if it didn’t, you would have fooled me, there were a LOT of participants at this one!  We didn’t get to the actual starting line until 10:45, 15 mins after our posted starting heat time.  Lesson learned, show up even earlier!  You think after 4 years of doing these that I would have learned by now!  We got on-site, parked & slowly made our way through registration.  We found the ‘Beasts OCR’ tent which wasn’t hard as they were awarded the largest team tent and introduced ourselves as part of the Vancity OCR team which merges with Beasts when we run in the USA, the Beasts will often do the same with Vancity when they come to play in Canada.

 

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -02

-Let’s get Dirty

The event map showed 21 obstacles, approx. 7 km of distance and a pretty flat terrain compared to those from previous race experience at other venues.

Charity’s start time was for 11:15 and the starting corral was pretty full but she was allowed to start early with us as there was still a small amount of room for those that wanted to join in on our heat.  After the initial short climb, as I mentioned before, the course was pretty flat.  The initial hill I would say was the steepest & wasn’t really all that long.  There were a few other hills strewn about here & there but maybe I’m just finally getting used to and acclimated to this stuff as I felt it was a pretty easy going course.

See the Course map for a full list of obstacles, I only failed the Multi Rig & the Monkey bars so I know I’m getting stronger & finally starting to use proper form.  I ran into no issues at the first few obstacles & then came up to my old nemesis, the Rope Climb.  I’ve only ever done it 1.5 times in the past but it was still pretty early in the race & I felt pretty good.  I made it up & back down with no issues other than getting a good rope burn on my ankle, reminder to self, wear high socks to Spartan Races. My wife finally got to see me complete the rope climb, that was a good feeling to show her how well I am progressing.  I guess that’s one more obstacle that I can hopefully continue to train for and conquer on an ongoing basis!  The dunk wall had about 4 inches of air between the bottom of the wall & the mud.

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -03

The barbed wire crawl seemed abnormally long, not as long as Vegas mind you.  I didn’t want to exaggerate the distance so I fired up Google Earth & did the best that I could to determine the actual length.  It looks like the barbed wire crawl was in the section of the course that has the Whoops/Moguls in it and is approx. 250 feet long.  It was tough with all the little bumps to get through it, maybe they just made it feel worse than it was?  We’ll come back to the wonderful barbed wire crawl later!  The Plate drag was dusty as heck & most of the lines had some pretty good bumps in them that made me walk to the plate, lift it up a bit, go back & continue to pull it, there was also a volunteer stating there were bees in the area & to beware.

We actually saw “Warning: Bees” signs strewn all about the property.  The Cliff Bucket Brigade was next, and I feel very odd about this one.  Am I crazy for saying it was just way too short & too easy?  I honestly felt like I needed to do it a second time to get the normal experience!  I didn’t do it a second-time mind you!  I just shook my fist in the air and vocally cursed Spartan for going easy on me.  I got a few chuckles & groans back from others & continued on…

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -03

I ended up bumping into Amelia Boone at the 7’ Wall.  She had already done the course earlier that day & came in 2nd place for the Elite Women.  She was now doing the course again with her dad and he was wearing a shirt that said ”Amelia will do my burpees”, man.. I should get a shirt that says that!

The Rings & Monkey bars were the last two obstacles to fail (although I’ve done the rings that ONE time!) & then the finish line.  It was at the top of what I would figure was a tabletop jump, and well, there was no fire or photographer there which was a bit sad.  I understand no fire due to fire bans and all and at least  Spartan made up for the no finish line photographer by placing a bunch of wall backdrops & props with photographers right after the finish line.   All in all, it was a pleasantly cool day, with one small shower in the middle & another larger shower at the end, but it was perfect for cooling you down.   The course wasn’t overly hard or muddy.

 

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -05

-Halftime wrap up

I would say the layout of the festival area was nice.  There was plenty of room & porta pottys throughout the area & along the course.  American Spartan races seem to have the best vendor and sponsor areas. I’m not sure why, I found this when I was working Event Sales for Spartan Race Canada.  Keep up the great work guys!  The course was a perfect one for someone new to Spartan.  I’m starting to feel Spartan is changing up their dynamic for the Sprint & making it a gateway into Spartan.  The Super is tougher & well, the Beast even more so!  I’m reading more and more people posting the same revelations.  Do the Sprint if you’re just starting out, do the Super if you’ve been doing this a while, and if you want to see what you’re made of, do the Beast.  Heck, you did the Beast & you wanna take it up one more notch!? Do the Ultra! This Portland Sprint ended up being about 6.69Km (4.15Mi)

All above photo credits go to Spartan Race

 

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat

-The Portland 4Hr Hurricane Heat #146 (My first!)

My apologies for the quality of these following photos, they were are all screen captured from and are credited to Spartan Race/Dingo Dominguez’s Facebook Live Videos
Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -14

Once we were done the sprint we headed back to the AirBNB, dropped off Erin & Sierra, quickly showered, changed, grabbed some grub & headed right back to the site.  Yes, we were just there earlier that day but probably due to the fact there wasn’t a slowly moving train of vehicles headed back to the site & the fact that we were now allowed to enter from a different direction we somehow took a wrong turn.  We were supposed to be on-site for 4pm as the HH started @ 5pm.  We ended up getting to the meeting spot around closer to 4:30 due to our directional mixup.

I’m going to back peddle a bit here, Troy was freaking out about the HH.  He felt he wasn’t quite ready & where he needed to be physically or mentally but knew deep down inside that he would be able to get it done.  It sure didn’t help things that I wasn’t able to give him any help with preparing for the event as there is very little to no information about these HH’s.  I tried to not give him the disparaging information that I had been able to glean from the internet.  That of the fact that the HH’s can go anywhere from 4-6 hours, and are varying distances etc..  I tried to not play on that but I didn’t want to try to pass it off as a cake walk either.   We had all our gear & our special item was to bring two bricks, the kind you build a house with.  We ended up carrying those bricks throughout the day.  Doing Burpees with them, hand claps, more burpees, more hand claps, carrying them through the dunk wall.  You get my drift, they went with us, in our hands, everywhere.

 

Krypteia Dingo oversaw our little group of if I recall 59? Sorry, I have THE worst memory! Along side of ‘Beast OCR’ President Adam Birgenheier.  Again, memory fails me, but I believe that original # was supposed to be closer to 90?  Going by a fellow team mates GPS as I totally forgot to even start mine due to my brain going in overload from the days events, we ended up going for approx. 4h 13m & with a total distance of 4.2Km (2.65Mi).  The HH isn’t about how far you go, sure, it’s an endurance event, but that doesn’t always mean distance.   We started our night off owing Dingo 300 burpees in which we did like 50 of them facing down hill right at the start.  Two members dropped out during this initial barrage and a few others went up to Krypteia Dingo, had a quick chat session with him and then got back in line.  I wish I was a bit better at this & that my memory wasn’t so bad as I know I’m not doing the HH any justice.  It wasn’t an easy feat at all.  Doing those burpee’s SUCKED!  But, I dug deep & got um done!  Maybe slower than some, but I still managed to get um done & not slow down the group.  After a bit more of this and that with the bricks, we ended up getting put into 4 groups of 14, I believe another dropped out just before we grouped up so we ended up having even groups.  I was picked to be the initial leader of Team #4.

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -10

We jogged to what was the 6’ walls.  I believe we were supposed to make use of them, but they had already been taken down.  Adam openly asked what we should do instead, the Cargo Net was directly beside us so I stated we should do the cargo net instead.  Evidently, that was a good idea because that’s where we ended up going.   We had to get our team & our bricks over to the other side, only caveat was that we could only have one man at the top.

 

As this was our first group session doing something like this we awkwardly made our way through it.  We ended up having a few people hold some of the bricks, sending those people over, fireman lining their bricks up & over the cargo net then repeated it.  I believe we came in second for that task.  All of us were awarded Burpee’s or Hand Claps (basically jumping jacks without the leg movement, of course with our bricks still in hand, or some sort of torture as our reward.

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -11

After that we made our way over to the Kids Rolling Mud section.  We were asked as a team to make our way through it with a brick in each hand & to keep the bricks out of the water & mud.  This one wasn’t so bad as the kids ditches & hills weren’t so that deep or that high.  We made it through that section pretty unscathed.

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -12

That had to have been practice as we then worked our way over to the Adult Rolling Mud & Dunk Wall.  Our instructions were to get through the same as before.  Getting no mud or water on our bricks.  A few of us bailed pretty hard through this section and one of the other teams lost a brick in the water.  Once the rest of the teams were done, Krypteia Dingo recruited the rest of their team to get back in the water and help.  As it was taking them a bit longer than Dingo anticipated, he ordered them into quadrants & had them sweep their area.  That found it in under 20seconds again showing the versatility of working as a team.  From there we were brought to the Slip Wall.  Oh, don’t forget all this time we were doing our rewards & trying to pay back the 250burpees that we owed Dingo.  The task was pretty much the same, get our guys & their bricks to the other side.  This time we decided to just get enough over to make a firemans line, get the bricks over & then storm the wall as we had 3-4 ropes per team to make use of.  We flew through that task with ease & took first place buy a large margin.  Our reward, 50 clap ups.  Thank you Krypteia Dingo!

It seemed evident that he was teaching us that coming in first wasn’t always the best tactic.  I know at this point we all started to ask each other if we should sandbag ourselves to not come in first.  But, in the end, we knew that just wasn’t the absolute lesson we should take away from it.

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -13

We then Bear Crawled up hill from the Slip Wall to the Herc Hoist.  Again I did my best on Google Earth, it looks to have been about 350ft or so.  Once there, we made a wall with our bricks so we could use our hands & we all did the Herc Hoist one at a time as a team to completion.  I didn’t have an issue with it earlier that day, but the bags were heavy.  I was the first to tackle it & was fearful that I’d slow us all down, but I finished second & then moved on to the back of the line to allow the next person to continue on.   I don’t recall who won, because by this time it wasn’t about who won, it was how well did they accomplish the goal. 1st or last.  In the end, I want to say that’s what Dingo was trying to get through to us the whole time.

 

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -15

Spartan Portland Sprint and Hurricane Heat -16

-Gettin’ er done!

Lastly was the Barbed wire crawl/dead body drag.  We all made team walls with our bricks, Dingo picked out a few dead bodies from each team we were told to break up into groups of three all with one dead body each.  We then had to drag that dead body across those moguls & under the barbed wire.  Ta boot, we were told we had to stay below the line of the barbed wire at all times as it was actually “Grazing machine gun fire”  I ended up dragging the first dead body through the moguls with my partner, luckily Adam brandished himself a firehose & started to hose us all down.  Yes, I said luckily.  Sure, it was a bit cold & rather annoying, but it helped lube up our path.  This is when Adam gained the nickname of “Hoser” which I will henceforth be calling him.  You’re welcome Adam! It was a struggle getting our dead body through, but we made it! We were about a quarter of the way through & then we were told we would all have to be the dead body. Oi!  I really didn’t wanna get dragged through that as it looked like it was worse than doing the actual dragging.   At this point the daylight was starting to dwindle so we were asked to snap on our Chem Lights.  The second go round had me dragging the other team mate through the gauntlet,  I questioned his decision, not because I wanted to be lazy & get dragged, again, as it looked worse, but because he was visibly shaking & cold.  He also mentioned he may be close to hypothermia.  I offered up some advice that he may be batter to do the dragging as it may keep him more active & therefore warmer.  He opted to be dragged.  Again we slogged through it, with the task absolutely sucking the whole way, halfway through we were told this would be the last team to go & were asked to turn on our headlamps. We got to the end battered, scraped & a bit bloody from rocks & barbed wire but we made it through.  I was so happy I didn’t end up getting dragged through it too.

 

-Wrapping up the whole day, finally!

From there we were told we were going to the extraction point.  I think we were let lose still owing Krypteia Dingo around 200 burpees.  Well Krypteia, I want you to know that during the time that it took to write this I banged out 75 of them & I plan on doing the rest over the course of the day.  I got my Dog Tags & Shirt & proceeded to get stung multiple times while trying to change back at our car.  I can tell that I am getting stronger & that my body is getting more used to doing these types of activities because I was able to make it through this experience pretty unscathed & not too sore.  I’ve been getting fewer bruises as medals & the DOMS the days after aren’t so bad.  But… Let me tell ya, that wasn’t the case this time!  Maybe it was the 6+ hours of physical activity on Saturday, or the 11+ hour drive back sitting crammed in the car with 4  others or it IS the DOMS, but I was rather sore & stiff this go round.  So much so that I booked myself in for a massage on Tuesday.  Best decision of my life right there!   Today it feels like I normally do after an event like this.  Hello muscles, yes, thank you for getting me through that now rest up before tonight’s’ Bootcamp Class.  *Passes Out*

 

 

The Spartan Warrior Ethos (Memorize the bold lines, there will be a test!)

I will always place the mission first.

Every participant soon learns that their own personal needs and goals must be sacrificed in order to succeed. Though many teams fight with each other early on, once egos are set aside success is achieved.

I will never accept defeat.

Defeat is something that occurs in the mind, not on the field. It is not an impossible task or an opponent that will defeat you but rather giving up in your own mind. Personal courage and perseverance will see you through.

I will never quit.

If you do not accept defeat, you must still have the fortitude and strength to go on. Not quitting is more than just refusing to stop, it is the will to continue.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Really, this is what the Hurricane Heat is all about. The strength of the team is worth more than the sum of its members. Each task presented in the Hurricane Heat cannot be accomplished alone, and no team can move on without all its members. Someone will always be slower, someone will always be hurt, but it is not their weakness that causes failure, but the strength of their team that assures success.

Case Creek OCR

With so many large OCR events going on across the country these days it’s easy to forget that many started off as a small, local event. I always try to include a few of these into my race schedule every year due in large part to the down-home feel and personal attention to detail. The costs associated with these events are generally far less without a huge drop off in the quality of the obstacles.

If you’re a competitive athlete these smaller events may offer you a better chance to place due to the lower participation numbers while still making you work for it and there is a good chance the staff will greet you by name at the registration tents if you are a repeat attendee.  It was for all these reasons and more that I made my way to the small town of Coal Valley, Illinois on August 11th for the 6th annual Case Creek OCR.

The 3.4-mile event was held on a beautiful farm filled with rolling hills tucked into the far Northwest corner of the state. The course had a modest elevation change of around 700 feet but very few sections of the course were flat making the race feel more vertical that it was. The race director made excellent use of the surrounding farmland and wooded acreage along with a few jaunts through the race namesake, Case Creek.

The event had two different race categories, Competitive, which was the first heat of the day with open class heats taking off throughout the rest of the morning. The competitive heat awarded awesome custom plaques to the top three men and women in age group categories separated by 10-year spans and looked really cool hung on your wall at home.

The race started off as it always has by sending runners up the hill in front of the main house before taking a turn sending athletes along the edge of a field where a series of low hurdles were situated.

The next obstacle was the only one that I think Case Creek should get rid of as two blue plastic 55-gallon drums were laying on the ground and required an athlete to crawl through them. Now, this was a super tight fit for any large person and the drums were not really secured to the ground causing me to almost run the rest of the race with the barrel around my waist! From there things improved greatly as the next obstacles presented included a wall climb and low crawl along with a set of monkey bars suspended over a water pit.

The herd had not thinned out much by the time racers reached the weaver and cargo net climb causing a bit of a bottleneck but from here on out, I had no trouble with lines at an obstacle. After a log carry the course got down and dirty by sending athletes through a series of ravines with fallen trees laid over the top making many racers get down on all fours and crawl through the slop to escape. This was an excellent place for Case to set up their balance beam made of logs as racers shoes were still caked with mud from the previous low crawl.

Athletes now made their way back towards the festival area where 5 obstacles were set up within easy viewing distance for family and friends but not before finishing a log hoist which was very light and hardly slowed down an athlete at all.

First up was a low crawl over a section of fence followed by a short atlas stone carry. A low hurdle was presented right after dropping off your atlas stone followed by a set of muscle-unders requiring an athlete to lift a wooden wall up before scooting under to the next. A unique cargo net, suspended off the ground by 2 climbing walls, was the last obstacle in this section. Racers now made their way out of the festival area in one final loop scaling a giant tire wall on their way out. This final loop included such obstacles as a rope swing and mud pit crawls and ended by having racers wade against the current through the creek and back to the festival area.

The only thing I might suggest to Case Creek is to maybe stagger the men’s and women’s competitive heats by 5 minutes to help with a few of the bottlenecks. So if you’re into smaller events or not a big fan of crowds give Case Creek a try. Everyone there is super friendly and your low race fee gets you free pics and parking along with a tee shirt and post-race refreshments.  A separate kid’s only course will be held on the weekend of September 8th so get your little one signed up!

Calgary Spartan Race Weekend

Calgary Spartan Race 2018

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 A

 

There is talk that this might have been the last year that Spartan Race Canada would be using the Wildrose venue for the Calgary Spartan Race weekend. If so, I want to share some of the great highlights of the venue and why Spartan Racing there was pretty special. Sure this venue is tired and worn, but it’s where my OCR journey began. There’s some history here and for me, racing at the Wild Rose Motocross Circuit in Calgary is like coming home. 

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 JCarry

It’s like going home to your parents house after being away at University for 3 months and realizing you missed the eccentricities of your family home and the people in it. You can forgive the shortcomings and the predictability. You’ll even eat the sprouts. Hell, in this case they never tasted better.  

Here’s why Calgary IS a great venue for OCR.

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (7)

It’s completely different from other venues.

There’s no venue quite like this; Red Deer is a meadowed forest single-track, Montana is a backcountry adventure run, Kimberley was – well… basically Killington. Running at the Calgary Spartan Race weekend is like running on the surface of Mars, about 4 kilometers from the business district of Calgary. It’s a stark wasteland environment of artificial hills and dips. It looked especially Martian last weekend as heavy smoke from the BC wildfires obscured the rising sun and the Calgary skyline, casting an orange tint over everything as it struggled to break through the murky blue haze.  

There are a few trees and bushes here, but the flora mostly gives way to vast expanses of dust and soil. The mud here smells bad, as if Johnny Waite shipped in some manure just to make it extra special (I have it on great authority that he did not). There is a rugged utility about this race venue, and as a sandbox for a race designer, it has fewer limitations than it might seem compared to other venues with easy access, a short distance to travel to get there, and few limitations on digging and building obstacles wherever they are required. It takes a truly well-rounded athlete to flourish in all these environments, and Calgary represents a testing ground for that versatility. 

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (6)

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (19)

It’s fast.

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (17)

The Calgary race venue pushes you to a different kind of limit than other races do on the western Canadian series. If you’re in the elite or competitive mindset, prepare to redline constantly as you try and maintain momentum over sawtooth-like elevation profile. Because of the setup and the pace, the race unfolds itself like a swift kick to the adrenal glands. You might as well pretend to be riding a dirt bike (in fact I did hear some racers making two-stroke motor noises as they banked around the wall rides). The speed gives rise to some spectacularly exciting moments and battles between runners.

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (2)

It can be muddy and we NEED mud sometimes.

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 AB

For those wanting that mud-run feel, Calgary certainly delivered a healthy dollop. There were at least three good mud bogs on the Sprint, and maybe more on the Super (sorry I had to bail). The second barbed wire crawl was an unavoidable slog through deep mud, which was probably the most fun I’ve had on an OCR all season.

There was also a dunk wall and lots of opportunities to get completely immersed in water. It couldn’t help but put a broad smile on my face and take me back to my first Spartan Race at this very venue where I got completely covered from head to toe in this very same mud. There is something honest about mud. As an obstacle mud favors nobody – you can’t specifically train well for the chaos it creates.

Mud enhances the difficulty of obstacles and requires extra care and obstacle strategies, but mud also plays a social role in OCR. There are probably some psychological things about breaking down people’s inhibitions and overcoming fears and reservations that I won’t explore but you know what I mean. Mud can also make things terrible if there is too much of it – for example back in 2015 and 2016 when the entire course became a quagmire. But some mud is great.

Sorry, Josh. Mud is here to stay. 


Calgary Spartan Race 2018 Josj

The Calgary Spartan Race is full of surprising twists and turns.

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (5)

The Calgary course favours the agile. You need to be able to perform well at all the regular obstacles such as the rope climb, the bucket carry, the heavy sled pulls, you will also need the agility of a soccer player. The course twists and turns on itself repeatedly within the relatively small area it covers (just a few city blocks), and features multiple hairpin bends, dramatic level changes, rock piles, log jams and tight corners.

These features make it exciting and interesting to navigate the course, and to see where other racers are. By now we all know this venue quite well and what the basic layout is, but it still feels exciting to bomb down those hills and attack those steep climbs. 

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (4)

You can always have fun at the Calgary Spartan race and take your own time running at your own pace and the course has plenty of fun (and probably more) to offer the casual runner, those facing personal goals rather than rivalries, or those wanting a less competitive team-based experience.

The obstacles feel dense and exciting.

I enjoy encountering obstacles during fast races like this because it feels like the obstacles really do influence the outcome. At the Calgary Spartan Race there is really no room for errors, so for those running elite or age-group, this adds another exciting paradigm to the competition.  In fact, finally this feels like an OCR, not just a trail run interrupted by obstacles.

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (1)

A nice highlight of the Calgary Spartan Race was the Wrecked obstacle (which involved 5 wreck bag snatches with a burpee between each) – which I’m told there was some confusion about. For the record, I did my overhead wreck bag work with burpees in between each rep. Others did not. 

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (18)

Confusion over obstacle rules in OCR seems to almost be an inevitability. It’s the fog of war effect. Unless we all get a walk-through on the obstacles beforehand on how to complete them (which I’m not suggesting), there will always be a different interpretation – the volunteers may also have their own interpretation which may change over the course of the day. Just roll with it and deal I guess.

Calgary Spartan Race 2018 (11)

I’d love to see more innovation along the lines of the WRECKED – It’s a step in the right direction. 

Wrecked

In my review of the Kimberley Spartan Race weekend I mentioned a list of improvements I’d love Spartan Race Canada to make. Quite unexpectedly for me, The Calgary Spartan Sprint kinda delivered on most of that. There was action, adventure, and an exciting course that delivered some of the fun I’ve been craving from Spartan.

I don’t know what the future holds for the Calgary Spartan Race, or where it will be held in 2019. Maybe it’ll be right back here for 2019 again. Either way is fine with me, but the Calgary Spartan Race is still one of the classics.

I should add here that I was only able to complete the sprint. If anyone wants to add thoughts on the Super, please comment below!

All Photos Credit: Spartan Race Canada

Spartan AG Etiquette

Spartan-Flag
I’ve been racing with Spartan for almost three years now. Although I haven’t been around a long time, I’ve seen several changes. Not with their obstacles per se, but with some of the ways that things are run.

One of the more significant changes in the system has been the addition of the Age Group Category. Formerly known as Competitive, the Age Group category provides an opportunity for people to challenge themselves to elite rules, who may not feel entirely confident for the elite competition. Or, they see more of an enticing opportunity for recognition among peers. No matter the reason, the Age Group category has become very popular.

I normally run elite, but wanted to give AG a shot during the Asheville Super. Although a fun course, I can say that I was frustrated with a lot of it. Not necessarily the course, but the attitude of several other runners. Now, this article is not meant to say anything negative about AG runners as a whole. Again, I had a great time, just a few things stood out to me that I felt the need to address. I’m also well aware that most of the people who don’t follow general race etiquette won’t care to read this article, but maybe someday they’ll stumble upon it and feel curious.

So, here are just a few things I’d like to address:

1) Let’s Talk Start Line
The start line can be one of the most nerve-wracking elements of the race. It’s where all of the emotions are pent up and released, all at a single moment. It can also be one of the most crucial places for athletes–how you start may not only determine your overall start place but the attitude that you will carry through the entire race.

Which is exactly why, for many, this portion of the race is the most important. It is also one of the most aggravating portions of a race.
When you race, you have goals in mind. Whatever your goals are, know that they are respected, and they are not any more or less valuable than the goals of the Spartan racing beside you. The goals that you set for that particular race should help you determine where you will line up at the start. I know I don’t have to say it, but if you are aiming for a top finish, you go toward the front of the pack. If you are an athlete who is not concerned with your time or place and intend on doing a lot of walking, please head toward the back.

One thing that is also important to note is that in the Age Group Division, you’ll often see men and women have heats together. Listen fellas, just because you’re big and do CrossFit 6 times a week does not mean that it’s not cool to let a girl line up before you. Some of the girls who race are intense, and, if you know the running isn’t your strong suit, it’s totally okay.

Please pick a start line placement that is appropriate for your current physical capabilities.

2) Passing on the Course
During a race, there is a chance that you will need to pass at least one other athlete. If you do, it’s totally cool, and I promise their feelings aren’t going to be hurt that badly. But, if you’re going to pass someone, be a doll and let them know you’re coming. There’s nothing like being in the zone and then all of the sudden you’re getting knocked over by a sweaty stranger flying down a hill with no heads up. Just give them a heads up! My personal favorite is to alert by letting them know which side I’m going on. Just the phrase: “coming on your left!” lets them know to expect you.

3) Getting Passed on the Course
It happens. It stinks, and nobody enjoys being passed, but it’s a part of racing. My suggestion to you is: we all know you don’t like to get passed, but don’t be a jerk. If someone is running down the trail and shouts “coming on your left!” to you, move to the right.

This does not mean you are expected to completely stop your race so that they can run theirs. Keep your pace up, but move it over to the right. I see a lot of “coming on your left!” which is followed by the passee turning around, assessing the runner, and then sprinting on the left, making it difficult for the other runner to proceed. Don’t be that guy. If you get passed, it’s totally fun. Just run your race!

4) Single Track Trails
As a runner, I love single track trails. During Age Group races, I really don’t like the single track trails. Why? Because if you are in a later heat, they tend to get stopped up really easily.
If you’re running single track trails, please move as quickly as possible. That sounds obvious, but these areas are not great for casual strolls, because there are others who want to move around you. If you’re in an area that you’re struggling in and you know it’s going to take you a while, it’s okay to let other runners pass you. Single track trails are definitely not a place to stop for selfies or snack breaks.

Speaking of breaks…

5) Taking a Break on the Course
You don’t know how you’ll feel at all points during a race, and sometimes, you just need to take a break. Totally cool! But, if you do, please move off to the side. Whether it’s a break for a snack, getting something out of your hydro-pack, pictures, cramps, or just because you’re tired, please move over to the side. I don’t feel like I need to really explain this one much further. Plus, if you’re cramping, I’m sure you will get some offers for mustard packets!

6) Taking a Break on Obstacles
WHAT?!
Let me explain this one.
I was running Asheville and had just hit the 8-foot-wall. I am a small person, so I have to use the red blocks to help me get up. I went over to the left side of the wall, and a woman was sitting on top of the wall touching her toes and chatting with a friend who was already off the obstacle. I went to line up to complete, and the volunteer told me I needed to wait…which was fine, except the girl wasn’t moving. The right side started to line up with women. After a couple of paces between sides, I committed to the left side because the girl wasn’t at the top anymore. The volunteer told me I still couldn’t proceed though because the girl was sitting against the wall on the other side due to a cramp in her foot. It wasn’t for another minute or two that I was able to complete the obstacle.

Don’t be this girl. If you can, muster through the obstacle, and when you’re done, head off to the side of the trail for your mustard or pickle juice. Please please please do not stop in the middle of obstacles if you can avoid it. Obstacles only have limited carrying capacities, and by stopping on them for stretch breaks is limiting the number of runners that can pass through.

7) Taking a Break at Water Stations
If you see a line of people, I don’t recommend standing in front of the pitcher if you are refilling your cup. Again, there is only a limited number of people who can go at a time, so please be respectful toward those around you.

8) Thank your volunteers
We see this all of the time, and this will come as no surprise to you. We know that volunteers receive either free or discounted races because they are volunteering. But, by doing so, they may be giving up the start time that they’d prefer to run. And, these volunteers are people, using their time to ensure that you have a good race. Please thank them!

9) Be a Good Sport
At the end of the day, all of us are in this for the fun of it. We all pay lots of money for training, gear, and races. We all come to races with the expectation that we are going to have a positive experience, and part of the positive experience includes the community. Make an effort to smile at someone, to high-five a stranger, or make someone’s first Spartan Race feel like the best thing they’ve ever done.

Did I leave anything out? Add any additional “etiquette” suggestions in the comment box. Happy racing!