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. 

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It’s fast.

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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.

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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.

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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 Kids Race Kimberley 2018 Review

Kimberley British Columbia, Canada

Confidence, exercise, empowerment, experience, getting a little dusty, a few scraped knees or elbows in the name of good fun… the Spartan Kids race is a great way to get your kids excited about the outdoors and all that. However, kids think differently. Instead, my kids are highly motivated by the less noble promise of post race ice cream and/or iPad time. In all seriousness though, they really were excited about this race.

Arrival

11:00am start. THANK YOU SPARTAN RACE CANADA. That means we are not having to be up at 5am with our kids. Someone is thinking carefully about this whole process.


Getting ready for kids race
Sponsorship Altra Team Red swag added to keep my contract alive. You didn’t say I had to wear it Altra.

Kids Race Elite

Check in was amusing. Overshares of information with the race staff as standard (like sharing exactly what where we live and what we are doing the rest of the day etc). There is lots of bouncing around and excitement – we put the bands on their wrists and head into the main arena. There is no easy way in there with a stroller – we have to walk around the back of the restaurant building and slip through a gated area to avoid flights of stairs at the front. Theo (the littlest one) is already plowing his way through our snack supply.

Kimberely Kids race

Of course if you do have elite race arm bands, make sure you put them on your kids also since this parenting thing is awfully competitive these days. We notice something is wrong. Elena’s face is puffing up and her head is bulging on one side – which turns out to be an allergic reaction to a mosquito bite on her forehead, so if one eye looks a little closed up, that is why.

Starting corall

Pre-race confidence building routines were used. Affirmations were shared. Chins were grabbed.

“You are strong, you can do this Elena”

“I know”


Race Ready Spartan Kids

So with the shout of, I AM SPARTAN! The race began!

Let’s flash forward a little in time to breakfast on Monday morning following the race. Look at the little darlings.

Drawing therapy spartan race

Getting the kids to draw about their experience was really easy and fun… can’t you tell by their faces? After some coaching and some hard negotiations over TV watching time, eventually we ended up with one sheet of paper that had most things on it. You’ll see sharp peaked mountains at the back, and the rolling hills in the front.

kids race drawing

Euan pointed out to me that the orange lines represent the orange tape on either side of the course. Obstacles are below.

Euan: You have to run inside the lines, or they kick you out.

Elena: No they don’t!

Euan: YES THEY DO. IT’S THE RULES!

Elena: I ran outside the lines and I GOT A MEDAL!

Euan: That’s cheating!

Both together: AHHHHHHHH

-CALMING EXPERT PARENT INTERVENTION-

Obviously the blue lines are the hurdles they had to cross going up and down the hill. This left certain people’s legs exposed to prickles that were hidden on the leeward side of the hurdle. Cue screeching and shoe removal mid race – a lot like an adult race TBH.

Hurdles for kids race

The hills were pretty steep, and Euan powered through, while Elena didn’t really engage with the course aggressively.Lainey on the Hurdles-ANIMATION

Once we had truly given up on running up and down the hills, the first obstacle was the Spear throw –  a blunt tipped spear (not as sharp as depicted in blue) was to be thrown into a hay bale (in pink). I’m not sure what the blue lines are above the spear. I think it’s a pile of spears. For this spear throw, I’m going to guess about a 50% hit rate I’d assume – probably about the same as the adult race. Kids don’t dwell on it much if they miss.

Spear throw (2)

After a few more steep ascents and descents (and yes there was some pretty good hills for these kids to run up and down), they made their way into the next part of the obstacle cluster.

Kids Race Kimberley Hills

The balance beam came next (0ne of the only adult obstacles I am actually good at) but my kids didn’t acknowledge this in drawing form at all. Balance Beam Spartan Kids

We then climbed the hills a few more times and arrived at the triad of obstacles shown below. The rope climb (left complete with bell) Monkey Bars (centre) and hercules hoist (blue right).

For some reason Euan thought he had to hoist all of the bags in the line – despite my wife trying to shout to him to just move on. He did about three of them before moving onto the next obstacle. I helped Lainey because she was too light to shift the bag.

Herc Hoist

The obstacles were challenging for kids, but definitely possible for slightly older kids to complete. I found them all to be very well judged in design and safety.

Help was generally on hand when needed for Euan. He’s been practicing his monkey bar skills ever since this race, since he found them quite difficult to complete on his own. He’s got it now, so thank you Spartan for helping him with the motivation to work on something. Lainey sat on my shoulder and squealed when I tried to let her go on her own!

Monkey Bars

Elena however had no problem with accepting help with his obstacles, in fact – the race became a little more casual at this point and we checked out the local flora instead before dominating the slip wall.

Kids Spartan Race Kimberely

She had no problem at all with the slip wall side, but froze when it came to turning around and coming back down the ladder side of the slip wall, but then again I’m no different!

Hand over hand for this one.

Slip wall

Euan had already finished his lap as Elena crossed the finish line. He made sure she got her medal and I snapped this photo of them. They are so often at each other’s throats that it was genuinely a proud moment to see Euan showering his sister with praise for finishing her first Spartan Kids Race.

I think the only improvement to the Spartan Kids Race I would add is the opportunity for the kids to get a little bit mucky, or some kind of water obstacle to walk through or something. Having them run a free second lap would be a fun addition – I’m not sure if this was offered or not. If it was, then great!

Of course I’m proud of them for doing the Spartan Kids Race, but the greater thing for me though is to see them proud of themselves.

Thank you for a great event Spartan Race Canada!

Kids Race medal

Spartan Race Ultra and Trifecta Weekend Kimberley BC

Spartan Race is famous for heart pumping ascents and joint-snapping down-hill scrambles, but this time they may have pushed it a little too far at their new venue in Kimberley BC.

 

Excitement was in the air on the first day of the Spartan Race Trifecta weekend in Kimberley BC. The first race of the weekend was on Friday night, the Sprint. Although I wasn’t racing the Sprint, my husband and I went to watch our fellow Spartans, partake in the camaraderie, and cheer on friends. After watching the elite men and women take over an hour to finish the Sprint, I knew that the Ultra was going to take all day – what I didn’t know at that time was how rough it was going to be.

There was plenty of rumble room in the starting corral for the Ultra the next morning – 124 people in total started the race across all three heats – elite, age group, and open.

The start of the course shot into the woods for a brief scramble up and downhill before returning to the festival area to show off a thru-wall, the A-frame cargo, and the Hercules Hoist. After waving a final goodbye to the spectators, the course made its way uphill and out of site. Shortly into the climb was the Rig – which was entirely made of rings at varying heights, this proved to be quite difficult for many.

 

Most of the Kimberley BC Beast and Ultra Beast was either a steep incline or a steep decline that made obstacle placement difficult. Some obstacles did not even make an appearance at this race. Including Twister (due to a deal with platinum rig in Canada), mud mounds, or any type of water obstacle for that matter, and Bender.

After the Rig was the first climb to the top of the mountain and along that climb was a 6ft wall and sandbag carry and inverted wall. At the top of the mountain was the rope climb and then our legs were given a chance to get loose on the first and most runnable downhill in the entire course. This section was probably my favorite because it was a gradual mountain biking downhill with banked turns that allowed us to get our feet moving with some real pace.

The second hill was brutal; at some points, it was hands and feet climbing and it had me seriously questioning whether or not I would be able to complete the second lap of the Ultra. There was a lot of groaning and swearing to happen at this point in the race and it got worse as we summited and realized that log carry was at the base of the hill and that the descent was so steep and full of cut-off low-lying bushes that made it practically impossible to run down. This was beyond frustrating for someone who loves downhill running as much as I do. After quickly completing the log carry, we found ourselves running even further down the mountain. At the bottom, we reached the Tyrolean Traverse and a water station and then immediately headed back up a scramble section of hill to a filler obstacle, the Log Drag.

There were another descent and a flattish running section before the Beasts’ and the Ultras’ courses split. Ultras continued to run until we encountered an uphill barbed wire crawl at the base of ascent #3. This ascent was truly a soul-crusher (especially on lap 2) and the worst part was, there was no water station at the top. We reached the top and immediately turned back down the hill until we hit the second log carry and met back up with the Beast’s course for yet another ascent and final summit of the mountain. At the top was a long over-due water station, 8ft wall, and a volunteer excitedly yelling, “You’re only a mile from the real summit!” …

Luckily that mile turned out to be relatively flat running along the ridgeline and not just another mile long ascent.

At the official summit was Stairway to Sparta and another water station before the long and well deserved downhill to the finish… I mean… halfway point.

After Z-walls and Olympus, we reached a new obstacle, “Wrecked.” This obstacle was built with the idea that racers would throw a sand bag 8ft in the air over a wooden board and the bag would slide back to the racers via a slanted wall BUT the obstacle was unapproved by the Higher-Ups in the world of Spartan Corporate and Jonny Waite changed the obstacle on race day. Instead, racers completed “Wrecked” by doing a “Clean and Press” 5 times.

Next up was the 7ft wall, Tractor Pull, Plate Drag and then Monkey Bars. Right after Monkey Bar,s the course crested the hill to the festival area and we rolled down through barbed wire. Hopefully, you weren’t too dizzy after the barbed wire because Spear Throw was immediately after you stood up and every one was there to watch! Bucket Carry was next, but it was a pretty short little hill, and then we made the final descent to the Slip Wall and Fire Jump. Ultras however did not go over Slip Wall; instead we branched to the left to hit the transition station before going back out on course for the second lap.

Spartan Race structures their Ultra to be complete mind games by making the course two laps of one hellish Beast course. In the transition tent, I seriously debated not going for a second lap because the first lap’s climbs were absolutely terrible. But, after sitting in transition for awhile and listening to other people’s stories about how they dropped out, and how I might have a good chance at the podium for this race, I made my way back out on to the course.

The second lap was completely mental. There were few people out on the course at this time because the Beast heats stopped going off mid-morning, (I started lap two at 1:45pm) the midday heat was intense, and all I could think about was making the cut-off points. I ran most of this lap alone –I could barely see the person in front of me or behind me type of alone, until I reached the last cutoff point and found my two wonderful teammates sitting there! The rest of the race turned in to a hike with friends. We took our time, enjoyed the course, met some people, and eventually finished at about 9:30pm.

Kimberley Ultra runners gained 13,000ft of vertical climbing over 31 miles. The first place male took over 8 hours to finish it, and the first place female took over 13 hours to finish it.

Although I would run this course again next year, I think that there are some aspects of this venue that need revision. Being that this is the first year Spartan hosted at Kimberley, there were some hiccups. The course was lacking in running sections and challenging obstacles, there were no Trifecta weekend medals for those that did three races, and the Sprint experienced unprepared water stations in the heat of the day.

I look forward to seeing how Kimberley will change for next year, and I cannot wait to run this mountain again!

Kimberley Spartan Race Trifecta Weekend Review

Spartan Race Kimberely (13)

Spartan Race returns to the Canadian Rockies.

KIMBERLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA

6 months ago (or thereabouts) Race Director Johnny Waite was scouting the location for this race on a snowmobile. Back then, temperatures could have been as low as -31ºF. Now, it’s mid-July and in this part of Canada, it can be almost as hot as Southern California.

Kimberely mountain

This a place of uncompromising toughness; a landscape in which only nature’s toughest endure – the grizzly bear, the moose, even the goddamn wolverine. It’s under those conditions that Spartan Race Canada delivered one of the toughest events ever.

The Sprint, for example, was an intense 9 kilometer trip up and straight back down the mountain in scorching temperatures. The Spartan Super, at 16 kilometers, had more elevation gain than most of the mountains in the Canadian Rockies. The Beast and Ultrabeast were among the hardest courses based on distance and climbing ever devised for a Spartan Race. I have stats to prove that claim but forget all that. Instead, let’s just say that 4 hours into the race I used a volunteer’s phone to send this text to my wife.

Text Kimberley

Let me break it down for you in terms you might appreciate. This was Spartan Beast that was so steep that I will unashamedly admit to finding and using someone’s lost ski poles to help me climb the hill. This was a race weekend where I watched a fellow elite heat racer give up on racing and begin desperately foraging for berries on the hillside for energy mid-race. “Oh boy, that was hard” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Spartan Race Kimberely (18)

The standard set of obstacles were in play on each day of the event and if you’re interested you will find maps and lists here. If you are familiar with Spartan Races, you will instantly know what to expect – obstacles like the Tyrolean traverse, the sandbag carry, and the bucket carry etc. Spartan Race Canada tried something new this year, and attempted to include an innovative wreck bag push obstacle. That idea was unfortunately reduced to 5 wreck bag clean and jerks by Spartan Race Corporate. It was still cool, but it is a real shame that Spartan Race Canada doesn’t have full autonomy over what to include.

One of my favorite obstacles on the Beast was the sled pull, and this one was set up on a slight incline making it extra difficult (still got it though). The Platinum rig was all decked out with various levels of rings that required careful planning and that 90 degree single arm lock to complete (yup, failed that one). I also succumbed to the Z wall, as a foothold block was really out of reach for my stubby legs and a leg cramp made it ugly (you know one of those ones around the corner?) It’s a frustrating one to fail but such is life.

Spartan Race Kimberely (14)

The climbing was brutal.

For the Beast, we ascended ski run after ski run before heading back down to the main fire road to connect to the next climb. One final climb put us up onto the top of Vimy Ridge, and apparently, the views of the valley were spectacular, but my legs were so beaten down that sightseeing was the last thing on my mind. The course eventually began to drop into the resort area with the final quad busting descent through the desert-like dust of the North Star ski run. Apart from a thrilling mountain bike switchback trail (which was probably the highlight of the race for me), there were few sections of the race where it was possible to actually run – instead, it was mainly hiking. Obstacles were spaced pretty evenly and there were 9 well-stocked water stations along the way. Despite that fact scuffles and misunderstandings over water allowances marred the day for some on Saturday’s Beast and Ultrabeast.

Mud and water were conspicuous by their absence – a technical challenge posed by the limitations of the location was given as the reason for this. On that subject, (not that we often drink water on course) if you intend to run the Spartan weekend at Kimberley, a hydration pack should be strongly considered.

It is possible you should also take fuel with you unless you are really good at picking saskatoon berries quickly! You should expect high temperatures, and you should definitely expect to run low on water or to need some hydration between stations. Many people I saw out there were very unprepared for fuel and water.  You can see more about the effect of temperature and exercise here with additional guidance here and here to determine how much water you will need. Google it and ask someone who knows what they are talking about. Test and repeat before race day.

Spartan Race Kimberely (2)

Back to my race… As I crested the top of the ridge, I took a reading from my watch. I had gained 1980 meters or 6496 feet over the 15 kilometers I had covered so far. Yeah, it was steep. Eventually, I saw myself slip back further and further into the middle and then the back of the elite pack, slowing to a hobble and finally a walk. This didn’t suit me well, and my pride was dented pretty hard when my legs couldn’t keep up with my ego. I was failing at something I usually did OK at. The finale of the race was a downhill barbed wire crawl, the spear throw, bucket carry, slip wall and finally the fire jump.

I was done.

It was a strange feeling for me to walk into the finishing area feeling like I hadn’t enjoyed myself. I almost feel ashamed of myself for thinking that, but most of the time was spent wanting the whole thing to be over. My own pride and lack of preparation were my own problems for sure and I can’t blame everything on “problems with the course.” Many people came more prepared than I was and had a far better experience out there, however, I felt a little better about it when I realized that it wasn’t just me who had a rough day on the mountain. It was steep. Very steep. So steep in fact that it became difficult to enjoy for quite a few people. The scale of the task ahead of people was massive. Racers who finished all three events for the weekend had covered a total distance of 46 kilometers and accumulated a total elevation gain of 4200 m or 13780 feet! A massive congratulations to everyone who made it!

Kimberely Spartan Glenn

But there were enough people who had problems that Spartan Race Canada took note.

Spartan Race Kimberely (6)

“This is why I’ll never run Spartan again” – Some random

“This is why people say, “never again” and actually mean it”.

– another anon

Or even simply, “Eff Johnny”

– quite a few people actually.

Spartan Race Kimberely (17)

Spartan Race Kimberely (19)

Despite this vocal group of people, 94% of people who started the beast course actually finished, while 45% of those who started the Ultrabeast finished. This is just about right for the difficulty level Spartan are aiming for, but the question for me remains on will be how many finishers and non finishers will return for more next year?

How many will feel like they don’t want to go through this again? How do we ensure volunteers don’t end up making up their own rules about water allowance and obstacle safety? For the open heat and first time racers, do the memories of the suffering fade and get replaced with the desire to conquer the event next year? If things do change, do we then feel more shortchanged if the event isn’t as hard next year? And what was that log drag obstacle about exactly?

Spartan Race Kimberely (15)

Johnny reached out to me to discuss these things, so we went Live on the Facebook feed for Obstacle Racing Media.

Spartan Race Kimberely (8)

As it turns out Johnny approached the issues people had with the race in a very contrite and considered way, answering questions for almost an hour. He took full responsibility for the problems with the course design, and promising changes – but at the same time took steps towards reshaping expectations about what a championship weekend would look like.

What’s clear is that Spartan Race Canada (and Johnny Waite himself) has things to learn in this new venue and he seems eager to go about applying the feedback provided by the participants to form a better race for everyone. I don’t think we as consumers should form a committee to decide how a race should set up.

In fact, we need to apply a little bit of the STFU principle and find ourselves in all the suffering, etc. We (I myself) HAVE to be more prepared in order to enjoy these tougher ones. A Beast at an alpine ski resort should be difficult for everyone – both professional athlete and first-time participant should expect to be tested and we should be prepared to leave it all out there on the course – otherwise what accomplishment is there?

Spartan Race Kimberely (20)

Despite that Spartan Race Canada can improve with constructive feedback, I’m full of ideas (mainly ideas I have stolen from other smarter people). My recommendations for Spartan Race Canada and participants in the event are detailed below.

Spartan Race Kimberely (16)

Glenn’s ideas on how to make a truly incredible OCR experience:

(and stolen ideas that I have claimed full credit for).

  1. We’re getting better at obstacles and some of these are getting stale. Focus on making more unique and novel experiences – push Spartan Race Corporate to get those innovative new obstacles approved. I still have a blueprint for a pegboard traverse… that would make a sick obstacle.
  2. Bring back some mud – look to the past races for elements that gave joy and entertainment to participants and spectators – as we discussed, mud and dirt is still part of the experience.
  3. Water obstacles add dynamic elements to an otherwise ordinary race. Water obstacles (even without mud) add that much needed cooling element for summer races. We need a dunk wall. A wade pool. A water slip wall. I found myself almost wishing for an arctic enema ice pool on Saturday.
  4. Photography. Part of our identity as Spartan Racers is tied up in that image of us, muddied but determined. Quality, timely photography makes us feel awesome about ourselves and proves our accomplishments. This was much improved at Kimberley over Red Deer!
  5. Create sections that are exhilarating to complete – obstacle couplets, multiple walls, balance beams, narrow singletrack, weaving through tight tree sections, creating simple level changes, swinging obstacles, direction changes, climbing, rope descents and natural obstacles all stand up well in any race.
  6. Continue to support volunteers with things they need to perform the tasks set for them. Specifically offer shelter from the elements, written instructions and explicit rules regarding water provision and obstacle safety.
  7. You probably don’t need to film burpees for anyone outside of the top 15 runners.

Spartan Race Kimberely (3)

In conclusion, it’s fairly obvious that a race doesn’t just have to be harder to be better. A truly incredible and epic race involves a strategy of variety and laying the groundwork for racers to experience adventure, competition and memorable moments in a balance worth coming back for. If Spartan Race Canada can adjust that balance next year, I think it will be a classic.

For this race, in particular, I should add that we should celebrate our volunteers who spent many hours in the heat and sun to ensure we could participate safely in this event.

I also want to congratulate the effort put in by our top athletes who showed tremendous courage, effort and stamina to battle extremely hard on one of the toughest Spartan Race weekends ever. Our Elite racing group sometimes don’t get acknowledged enough for the hours and hours of hard work they put in to compete in places like this. You should all be very proud of yourselves.

Spartan Race Kimberely (1)

Finally, for this one I think we can all celebrate crossing that finish line, or hell, even stepping up towards it. Until next year.

Spartan Race Kimberely (11)

Photo credit: Spartan Race Canada.

Red Deer Spartan Race Weekend

The Spartan Race weekend in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada 2018

By Kody O’Brien and Nancy Loranger

Red Deer (8)

DAY 1 – Kody O’Brien – Spartan Sprint

On Saturday June 9th the obstacle course racers from Edmonton and Calgary met in the middle of Alberta once again at Heritage Ranch in Red Deer anticipating the start of the 2018 Spartan season. This venue is located centrally along a highway between two major cities making it a short venture from either city, and also allowing most Racers to travel home for a good night’s rest and saving money on accommodations.

The first day would be the Spartan sprint with a posted distance of 8km and 25 obstacles (actual 7.7km) this is longer than most Sprint distance races held here by a few kilometers and much more like the USA sprint distance of 5 miles. This had racers a bit anxious (usually Sprints in Canada are about 5K/3miles) and rethinking possible game plans and strategies, wondering if they should be bringing fuel and reanalyzing pace.

The weather was perfect with overcast skies and temperatures around 19 degrees C as the elite men started to jump the wall and into the starting gate. As I looked around I saw many new and familiar faces, but everyone looked pumped up! I realized that this was going to be a very fast race. Seasoned racers knew it would be important to get out quick and secure a spot out front knowing that once the single-track approached it would be next to impossible to pass other racers.

Red Deer (4)

The first kilometer was a blistering 3 min/km pace down the paved Road and into some single track then headed back towards the festival area. This is where Spectators got their first chance to witness the carnage, where the vertical cargo, the barbed wire, Hercules hoist, 4 foot wall, rolling mud, dunk wall and A-frame were all stacked together. Note to course designers: It’s really awesome not just for spectators but as a racer to run through the festival area hearing people yelling and screaming, it fires you up! There wouldn’t be another chance to come to the festival area again until the end of the race, missing the exciting obstacles such as the rig and Olympus.

Wall Red Deer

Once leaving the festival area the course turned back into the single-track trail for about 800 m in order to to get us to the next cluster of obstacles in the field, this is where grip would be tested. Obstacles here were 7′ wall, multi rig, Olympus, and tractor pull. The rig was fairly easy if you knew how to work your way through, skipping every other distraction hold (rope, t-bar, low ring, nunchuck) and using only rings, easier said than done, this obstacle left many racers stranded in the burpee pen.

Rig Red Deer

A quick hop over the inverted wall and the next 4-5 km had only 3 obstacles spaced out in between (6′ wall, water crossing (swim) and the Atlas carry. This proved to play well into the hands of strong runners, spanning across a variety of single track and paved/gravel roads allowing racers to push the pace, but this section split opinions at about 50/50, with strong runners loving it and obstacles junkies wishing it would end already.

As the kilometers passed, eventually we reached a sign that we were getting close to the end of the course: The base of the dreaded heritage ranch stairs unveils itself. It’s about a meter 80 climb to the top these stairs, and they will leave even the best of athletes with heavy legs at the top.

Piggy back red deer

Now in the heart of the ranch, the rope climb and plate drag are piled together among other piles of horse patties… (No shortage here). Once through these obstacles and over a couple fences and the course dives back into the single track, headed towards the sandbag carry. The previous year’s sandbag carry brought many great memories and photos, heading down the river bank along wet slippery rocks, through the river and back up the other side. Many racers were disappointed with this year’s carry, saying it was too easy and that they were anticipating the river trek again. Once we dropped the sandbag off and we were on the final stretch, which was a zip through another 500 m of single track and back towards the festival area for the finale.

Log Carry Red Deer

If you had saved gas in the tank for a final push, now is the time to let ’er rip!

The final four obstacles, Monkey bars, Spear throw, slip wall, and fire jump crammed together are all that stands between you and the finish. Having the spear at the finish always makes a close race very interesting, as proved by the men’s elite finale when Josh Stryde and I showed up at the same time battling for 2nd, one stuck it while the other missed, securing the top 3 finishers.

A few notes from the Spartan Sprint race: The course was marked very well and 3 water stations were distributed evenly. Racers didn’t get a chance to see obstacles such as (bucket brigade, Tyrolean traverse, tire flip, z wall, stairway to Sparta and the twister which is still yet to be seen in Canada)

A live feed was provided by fellow elite racers Stefan Wieclawek and Linzee Knowles through the @spartanracecanada Facebook page, providing an exciting and highly entertaining bonus for all interested in following along. I also have to add that I recognize the hard work went into this race by Spartan Canada and it is much appreciated by all.

DAY 2 – The Spartan Super – Nancy Loranger

Rise and shine….hmm…more like Rise and Rain on Sunday for the 14km Spartan Super in Red Deer. After a full night of heavy rain, the skies remained gloomy and the wind picked up as racers and spectators huddled under coats and tents waiting for the Men’s Elite heat call to the start line.

Red Deer (7)

Thirty minutes before the men were scheduled to start, the announcer came out with an alarming statement to notify us that the previous night some assholes had vandalized the entire course! Course markings were torn down, water stations on the course were speared, smashed and thrown in a nearby creek, Olympus was overturned; the course was left in a state of disaster. The announcer specified that the @spartanbuildcrew had all hands on deck and were working feverishly to rebuild the course. Despite being warned that start times could be bumped upwards of 30 minutes or more, Spartan Race was ready to go for the original start time! Aroo!

I and every other person I talked with was very impressed and super grateful (no pun intended) for the hard work the crew had put into getting it back to race ready!

Inverted Wall Red Deer

The Spartan Race Super course followed the same first 2 Kilometers as the Sprint course, passing through the Festival area and its gauntlet of obstacles. Racers were already cold and wet from the rain and wind but then had to brave the frigid waters of the dunk wall before hitting the A-frame cargo and back into the forest on twisty single track.

This is where we ventured onto new trails not seen in the previous day’s Sprint course, heading north along the sandy banks of the Red Deer River. Heritage Ranch boasts some gorgeous, tight, technical trails, full of roots, downed trees, and sharp turns. It’s obvious why Spartan Race Canada choose to come back year after year. Racers were forced to look up and pay close attention to course markings or risk the chance of heading off course on a trail less traveled.

This section demanded a fair bit of running before the next obstacle, the log carry. This was a quick but very steep climb up a grassy embankment and down through a muddy swamp before returning to lighten your load and pick up the pace again. We headed back into the single track for another 2 km until the trees divided to reveal a football-sized grassy field and the Stairway to Sparta towering in the near distance.Log Red deer

Red Deer Z Wall

This field, scattered with the likes of Z-wall, Tire Flip, The Platinum Rig, Olympus and Tractor Pull, requires the racer to run lengths of the field while completing these grip-intensive obstacles. I think it would be appropriate to call this section “The Field of Burpees”. It was a challenge for everyone in that field to complete all obstacles without penalty burpees and only a handful of racers likely walked away with a ‘clean’ race. Spartan race tends to get a lot tougher in the wet!

Red Deer Tire Flip

As kilometers clicked by, racers were met with more trail running and the last remaining ‘classic’ Spartan obstacles – rope climb, sandbag carry, monkey bars and spear throw to name a few.

The last section of the Red Deer Spartan race super mirrored that of the day before allowing racers to play with the familiar ground and dig deep to push the pace for a strong finish. This was perhaps the most exciting segment of the race for both spectators and athletes. The last 200m was stacked with an uphill pavement slog to slippery Monkey Bars followed by good ol’ Spear Throw. The burpee pit was an active hang out place at both obstacles before hitting the extra slick Slip Wall and finally Fire Jump to the finish.

Overall, the Spartan race Super delivered a challenging, fast-paced course that brought most athletes to their knees upon crossing the finish line!

Red Deer (6)

Photos from Spartan Race Canada/Sweatworks.net

Spartan Sun Peaks 2017: A Brutal Beast

Some are dubbing the 2017 Spartan (Ultra) Beast that was held in Sun Peaks on September 23rd, 2017 as the Toughest in the World.  All I can tell you is, I somehow finished that dang Beast! I’m not sure how so many did it TWICE!  I’ll be honest right from the beginning, me & my best friend Troy whom I was helping pace came in absolutely dead last, if you go look at the results for the open heat we are the very last two names on the results sheets, and I’m totally okay with that because this race was the culmination of our very first initiation into the Trifecta Tribe & we left anything we had left in us up there on those peaks!

The Numbers:

The below photo was taken from an Instagram post by the Course Designer Johnny Waite (IG=participant_ribbon)

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-01-Stats

During the race, we would pretty much summit all three peaks that the resort has access to.  Below are the approximate ascension gains that we made on each peak taken from my Garmin stats.
1st Mountain: Sundance ~470m/1542ft
2nd Mountain: Mt. Morrisey ~390m/1280ft
3rd Mountain: Mt. Todd ~868m/2848ft

The final distance of the race is a bit of a toss-up. It was posted at 24km/14.9mi & I’ve seen people posting their results anywhere from 26-29km/16.15-18mi.

For the Ultra Beast, it took the Elites a minimum of 8:25:01 for 1st place to complete & last place came in at 13:36:46.
As for the Beast, it took the Elites a minimum of 3:33:23 for 1st place to complete & last place came in at 11:44:29.

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-02-Mtn-Map

The Experience:

I arrived in Sun Peaks on Wednesday.  I went a few days early as I was planning on working/volunteering to help set up the course.  During that time I was able to catch glimpses of what was to come.  The course maps that I had brushed passed showed early warning signs that we would summit all three of the main mountains within the Sun Peaks resort & that filled me with a little bit of anticipation.  I hadn’t really trained for the sheer elevation gain that was about to come, but I had at least recently done a few hikes, the last one being a 23.36km/14.5mi with 948m/3110ft of elevation gain so it was good practice.  The race itself left me both physically & mentally exhausted.

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-03-Course-Map

The Obstacles:

Aside from a few subtleties in how obstacles were laid out, most of the 31 obstacles were pretty much the regular staples.  Doing the Stairway to Sparta at the top of Sundance @1730m/5676ft was pretty cool & it has an absolutely beautiful view.  This was my first time coming across the Tyrolean Traverse & I somehow held on & pulled myself across it & decided to headbutt the cowbell which left its mark. =)

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-04-Death-March-2.0

Even though this wasn’t on the list, right after the Tyrolean was what many are now calling Death March Part 2 referring to the massive mountain climb done in Killington.  We had to climb up one of the ski runs called Challenger, according to sources, the run has a 474m/1555ft ascent within 1km/.62mi which was accomplished by many by crawling on hands & knees due to it being so steep.  I was told the Creek Crawl was rather beautiful, but due to the sheer time of day & lack of sunlight, I passed it by along with a few others.

You’ve been cut:

After we had completed the death march, we slowly switchback climbed up to the peak of Mt. Todd and I could see a few people standing up there waving people up.  It was nearly 6:30 pm when we reached the summit & we were greeted by Johnny Waite who told me we were done & that we had missed the deadline by about 10mins.  Naturally, I was crushed, but I quickly came to grips with it as I knew there was nothing more that I could do and that I had done well pacing Troy through those mountains.

I walked back down a bit to catch up to Troy & let him know that his silent prayers of no longer having to keep going had been answered & that we would be driven down.  I could see the confusion on his face & explained that we missed the final cut off and that all racers needed to be off the mountain by 7:30 pm.  Then I saw the anguish on his face knowing that he wasn’t going to be given the chance to earn his Trifecta that day with so much put into the effort.

We walked up & we asked Johnny if there was any way we could still finish.  He told us there were at least 2 hours left, asked us what time we had started & once we answered 8:30 am he told us we were done.  At that time another racer came up the hill & I let her know what I was told.  I could tell she was a bit more upset by the news & she went over to Johnny to plead her case.  She too was gunning for her first Trifecta.  Johnny asked her what time she had started & she answered 11:30.  Johnny walked over to the edge of the hill to survey how many others were coming.  We let him know there was probably a dozen or so behind us.  He then looked at Troy & I and told us that if we could keep up her pace & beat him down to the Z-Walls in his truck that we still had a chance.

I could see Troy was physically & mentally done, he was toying with the idea of taking that ride down the mountain.  Troy was recently on disability and has since started up a youth foundation that at its core is about how everyone can change their life if they just believed better was possible, he knew he had to go on so he could use this whole experience as a life-changing beacon for others.

A second chance:

Once Troy had raised up enough gusto and made up his mind to finish the race it was total go time! We had about 5km/3.1m left until we were finished & it was all downhill from there after getting past the 8-foot wall.  Troy’s feet were in pain & having his toes smashed into the front of his shoes going downhill wasn’t helping.  I could hear him yelping over & over as he tried to quicken his pace to make sure we made the cutoff.

We completed the plate drag & came up to another drop, this one was pretty steep but we could see the Z-Walls & no sign of Johnny!  Once we made it passed the Z-Walls we knew we were on borrowed time.  We completed the Atlas Carry & were told to bypass the Creek Crawl due to the lack of light.  That’s when the volunteers’ radio went off.  It was Johnny asking if we had made it there, we had, just in time it would seem.

From there we trudged down a service road & a few trucks passed us, I was sure one of them was the sweepers but they all kept passing us by, each time my heart would speed up just a bit more.  We were then brought back into the trails, the one place a truck couldn’t get into, we were safe for now, or so I had thought.  We heard Johnny call out to a racer just behind us & he told them to head back to the last water station, I knew he wasn’t far behind.  A few more minutes in the trails and I heard Johnny’s voice again calling to Troy.  I was a bit out front trying to pace Troy as fast as I could.  I figured our number was up.

A Miracle For The Finishers:

I walked back & we had a quick conversation with Johnny.  He asked us if we were both a part of Vancity OCR, we let him know that we were & he then said the sweetest words my ears had ever heard.  He told us that he was going to walk us down & that we were going to finish the race with him.  OMG!

I was filled with such elation & marvel knowing at that moment we were going to finish!  Johnny walked us past a few of the obstacles & a small portion of the course that went back up into the woods for a bit & Troy & I actually picked up our pace even more and ran down into the festival area.  I completed the Herc Hoist with what felt like no force at all and climbed up & over the Slip Wall.  I somehow lost Troy in the and the mayhem that was at the end of that race & jumped the fire to receive my very well earned Beast Medal.  Troy showed up about 3 minutes behind me; he came over that wall & finished his race too.

All in a Day’s Work:

This weekend was one for the books I’ll tell ya that! First Beast & first Trifecta DONE.  Would I go back knowing that even the Sprint last year at Sun Peaks was 9.6km/5.5mi instead of the 7.3k & this year the beast was the hardest ever? Hell yeah!

Thank you Spartan, you showed me what I might actually be capable of doing & more this weekend.  Lookout endurance races, I just may be coming for you!

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-05-Finished

Photo Credits: Johnny Waite, www.SunPeaksResort.com, Ryan Fick & John Tai