Get Blitzed! Savage Blitz Maryland – Fall 2018

Savage-Blitz-MD-Rig

Earlier this year, Savage Race introduced its first ever “Savage Blitz” in Maryland. Now, they return in the fall to not only return Savage Blitz but its first-ever Savage Blitz Pro wave, which is Savage’s competitive heat. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the course was soaked with an all-day rainstorm. But that didn’t stop Savages from coming out and trying Savage Race’s new race.

 

WHAT IS BLITZ?

On Saturday, Savage held their usual format of 6+ miles and 20+ obstacles. Blitz, which took place on Sunday, averages about 3 miles and 15-20 obstacles. Maryland’s fall Blitz saw about 3.3 miles and listed 24 obstacles on the course map. From what I can remember, I believe there were only 22 obstacles, as a second Barn Door and Blazed did not appear on the course. Blazed was most likely removed due to the rain.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Map

The obstacle list included two out of three obstacles that are new for 2018, Battering Ram and Holy Sheet. A side note, which helped me with Holy Sheet, look at the “extra” piece of sheet hanging down by where you transition to the ball holds. Pick a lane where that piece is shorter, so it doesn’t get tangled when you reach for the ball. It’s also easier if you grab above the chain, especially in wet conditions.

 

I did notice that a lot of the water obstacles are absent from Blitz, aside from one called Double Dip. Most of the grip obstacles were above dry ground, too. No Colossus, Shriveled Richard, etc. Blitz is meant to be quick and short and seems to be a nice introduction to anyone wanting to try a Savage without jumping right into a 6-mile course. Some water obstacles, though fun, can be time-consuming or scare away anyone who doesn’t want to jump into a freezing cold tub of water.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Fall-Holy-Sheet

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

New this year is Pro wave competitors wear two chip bands. One is the standard timing chip. The other is used to keep track of completing obstacles. Savage Pro competitors face mandatory obstacle completion. That’s great if you hate burpees, but can be troublesome if you need to retry and obstacle multiple times before being able to complete it. If you can’t ring the bell, you put your obstacle chip band in the “fail pail” and move on. You can still finish the race and will record your time, but lose eligibility for prizes and go into a non-completion category. Finish with the obstacle chip band, and you’ll receive a Savage wristband to show off your victory.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Nut-Smasher

Savage Race does a great job at getting course maps up early and sending out enough communication before race day. You still need to look up your bib number and do a printed waiver, where other races have the waiver as part of the sign-up process. But otherwise, registration and check-in is extremely easy. There were no lines at all and everything was quick and painless.

FESTIVAL, RESULTS & PHOTOS

The festival area had the usual beer tent, bag check, results, etc. There weren’t a lot of vendors, but not many people walked around because of the rain. At the finish line, racers received their medal, a shirt, a water, as well as their choice of a few flavors of protein-infused water (Trimino). Results were available at the results tent as soon as your chip crossed over the finish line. They were online shortly after as well.

 

Most impressive were the race photos. A lot of races take a few days to get pictures up and there are only a couple stations. Savage Blitz had a total of SEVEN obstacles with a photographer. Most of them took at least 3 or more pictures. I know other races have more people so it’s difficult to get a lot of pictures from one race, but Savage did a great job on this front. They also let you run another lap for fun, minus the medal and race shirt, so you can have another crack at the course plus more pictures.

Savage-Blitz-Bling

This was Savage’s fifth ever Blitz, with at least two more on the schedule for 2018. It’s a great introduction to Savage for OCR newcomers, as it allows you to run a minimal distance but still try some of their challenging obstacles. Competitive racers who aren’t into Their site lists Savage Blitz at every location in 2019, which would be

 

Green Beret Challenge: Atlanta XII

Background

The Green Beret Challenge is a unique OCR experience because it offers three main types: The Operator, The Commando, and the XII. While most race series offer multiple race distances, which may also include additional obstacles and miles on the trails, each GBC experience is completely different. The operator is a standard OCR, which includes trail running, heavy carries, and other type of obstacles. The Commando is a four-manned team race, where your team will be assigned certain challenges to accomplish together. Lastly, the XII is a twelve hour, multi-phase endurance challenge which combines both the Operator and Commando challenges, plus whatever craziness Mark Ballas feels like adding.

I will tell you, this article is related to a twelve hour endurance event, so, I have a lot to say. If you aren’t particularly excited about reading a lot of information, go ahead and skip to the “overview” portion at the bottom.

Pre-Event

One thing that I greatly appreciated was the communication. It started with a gear list, which was sent out about a week ahead of time, which allowed us all ample time to supply ourselves for the feat ahead. In addition he sent us the address, which was the same location as the Atlanta Operator, so most of us felt as least a little comfortable with location. We also were assigned a team leader, Lara Baker, who was in charge of making sure that everyone was good to go. Additionally, we were given lines from the Ranger Code, and split into groups where we had to memorize portions of the code. We were not told what we were going to be doing ahead of time, we just knew that it was going to last from 7 pm until 7 am the following morning.

Arrival

The only GBC that I had completed before this time was the Atlanta Operators back in May. The arrival for the operators was a little intimidating; the event took place on someone’s land, but the area itself didn’t have it’s own address, and we had to use the large GBC signs for navigation. Since there were only 13 people registered for this event, the signs and posters were not there. I actually ended up calling Mark Ballas to ask him if I could come in since I was three hours early). He made an effort to stop what he was doing to personally greet me and talk to me about the event. This event felt much different from the Operators. There was no DJ. No port-o-Johns. No swarms of people. Just silence. You could listen to the bugs chirping and relax by the water, but, it was silent and almost eerie. I suppose it was meant to be a foreshadow of what was coming.

Phase One

Before we got started, our team leader, Lara Baker (if you race in the South East you probably know her, she is a tough cookie who always wears her hair in blonde pigtail braids), gave us our roster numbers and lined us up with our Rucks. We were lined up by a post that had on it a “missile,” an Army uniform, and an American Flag. We knew right away that these three things were going to be carried with us throughout the night.

A few minutes later, Mark comes out. He gives us our introductory speech, talks about his extensive experience with Green Berets, and informs us that there is going to be some swimming throughout the event. So, to get started, we have to get started with a water confidence test. Weaker swimmers were instructed to grab life vests.

We head over to the dock, one by one we climb the stairs to the second level.  He tells us that we are going to stand at the edge, and he’s going to push us in one by one. Granted, the fall wasn’t huge: probably less than ten feet. He only pushed each person a little bit, so it would be more of a jump. Every person was able to land feet first, and again, the weaker swimmers were allowed to wear life vests. But, the scary thing was standing so close to Mark, paying attention to what he was saying, and knowing that the fall was coming. Luckily the water was warm, and Mark provided a rope to guide us back to the shore.

When we get out of the water, we all line up by our rucks again. Mark explains to us that phase one is going to be similar to the Operators course, only it is not a race. Rather, we have a period of time where we are going to complete this two-mile course, and we will try to complete multiple laps. He has us split into three different groups so that we can be more spread out, as some of the obstacles were built for only one at a time.

Before we were off, he informs us that many volunteers backed out last minute, which was not ideal for some night obstacles, specifically, the cargo net. He was more concerned about safety than difficulty, and let us know that if we were not comfortable completing the obstacle, he would rather skip it than risk falling.

We get going, at a reasonable pace because again, we were informed that it was not a race and we were going to be running for a certain period of time. It wasn’t until I hit the first obstacle where I realized that Mark definitely did not tell us how long that period of time would be. Sigh.

The first obstacle was one that we had seen before: the sled pull. The only difference this time is that the sled either felt heavier, or I have gotten a lot weaker. The grass was longer. But overall, not difficult, I was just slow.

(Photo from GreenBeret Challenge: Atlanta Operators)

The next portion included a short run to a creek where we had to crawl underneath some wire. In between the two, there was some wire out that could have (and did) trip some people in transit. By the second round, all of the wire had been covered. The next piece was a trail run up a pretty rocky hill, and then, the worst f***king yoke carry I’ve ever seen. That yoke was absolutely terrible. The beam of the yoke was a bar rather than the standard wood beam. The bags were really far apart and low to the ground. You may laugh at this, but I’d be lying if I told you that my bags didn’t drag on the ground. Not only that, but it was around a dirt biking course. Which can only mean one thing: lots of little hills. Man, it was tough. I turn around and I see Lara Baker again, and she is just FLYING by on the obstacle, and she confesses that she was able to move her bags in a little bit closer, which helps a TON.

Almost immediately after was the cargo net. During the day, the volunteer moved in between the yoke and the cargo net. At night, he stationed himself and a few lights on the obstacle. I don’t think anyone opted out of completing it. It was very sturdy.

The next obstacle was a rig that was extremely well lit and attached to some trees on the side of the course. It was a little difficult to see initially, but it was very fun. I actually ran right by it the first time.

Following the obstacle was a short trail run, and then back into the water where we were initially pushed. The followed the rope back to the dock. Once we got to the dock, we were greeted by Mark Ballas.

And then, we had to turn around and do it all again.

After about three laps, it was time to be done. Some of us were sitting down, when Mark informed us that we weren’t done. It was time to go back to the dock.

Remember how earlier I said that we had to remember lines from the Ranger Code? Now was time to show our stuff. We got back onto the dock, and stood on the edge like we had when Mark pushed us in. He asked us which portion we had to memorize, and if you got it wrong, well, you can guess what happened.

Once that was done, it was time for phase 2.

Phase Two

It was time to move on to the next portion. Now that we had completed the Operators portion, it was time to move on to the Commando.

 (Photo from Green Beret Challenge Instagram)

 

We started with the rucks, and we gathered the flag, the uniform, and the Maverick Missile. First task: follow Mark. Easy enough, right? Wrong. That man can move. Some of us had to jog in order to keep up with him. Our friends with the maverick missile fell back quickly. Then it was on to our next task, where we met back up at the same bags.

One of our group members was assigned a team lead. Our next team lead was given instruction to lead a task. After Mark was done talking with him, he turned around, so that the new group lead could take command. We were instructed to take the sandbags from the sled carry earlier, put three in a bag, and put the bag on a different sled that we had to tie up. Here was where we had to use the first tool in our rucks: rope. Most of us used rope to keep the sled tied together. Then, it was time to carry the sled underneath the wire that we had to crawl under in the creek, and up the hills. This took maybe two hours, and was very challenging.

The next event was a lot of fun. Mark picked a new team lead (surprise: it was me), to lead the next event: the Bunker Build-Off. This may have been my favorite part of the entire event. I had to split up the entire group into two different teams. The task was simple: use the resources around you to build a better bunker than the opposing team. Mark Ballas and I then judged each of the bunkers. It was awesome.

Following immediately after this was another task that you may have been somewhat familiar with if you follow @greenberetchallenge on instagram. Mark had chosen another person to be the team lead, and we met by the edge of the pond where we were greeted with barrels of “goo” and logs. The mission? Create a raft that can transport your barrel. Then get in the water with the raft and move it on down to the other end

.

 (Photo from Green Beret Challenge on Instagram)

Now, I will say, Mark puts a lot of emphasis on safety. I feel like several endurance challenges are just like “whoa, look at how tough I am, I’m going to see how many people quit muahahaha” while Mark actually puts thought into what he does and makes it fun and safe at the same time. Yes, we were swimming in the dark. Yes, we were swimming with this big old raft. But every single person had to rock a life-vest with a fat glow stick attached to make sure all of our heads were above water. Mark was also in the water, making sure to swim around in order to maintain a visual on all athletes. I wasn’t worried for my safety for one second.

Granted, our raft fell apart, and we were stuck in that damn pond for what felt like forever. But. I’m here to tell the tale.

Once we were done we had time to reflect, and then it was time for the next challenge.

If you did the Alabama Commando, you’re probably familiar with this one. Create an apparatus to move said barrel using your rope and the bars from the yoke carry. Easy enough right? Except you’re wearing your rucks the entire time.

This was painful. So so painful. Probably my least favorite part of the entire night. The worst piece of it, was that I am so small, that it was extremely difficult for my team to transport it. I felt weak, and a little embarrassed. But everyone else killed it. I was so proud of how willing people were to work with people who they have not met before. It honestly felt like our group became a family. We walked them over to base camp, and at this point, we knew the sun was going to rise soon.

Phase Three

This phase was supposed to be super short and fun, but this honestly felt like it was the longest event that we did. With one hour remaining and sunrise on its way, knowing the end is near, makes it feel so much further.

Mark called my friend Jennie and I to let us know we were selected to be team captains for a relay race. The task: farmers carry down a portion of a dirt bike course and back. Each person goes. This was then followed by bringing down one of the longer sleds with two sandbags in it. Easy enough right? Well, for added difficulty, he turned the sprinklers on.

 

 (Photo taken of relay race terrain during daytime)

 

Now I know what you’re thinking: so what? Didn’t you spend a fair portion of the night swimming? The answer to that is yes, but the way this dirt was made it so slick. Almost everyone fell, and people were coming off looking like they just completed a GoodWill MudRun.

This was a lot more difficult than anticipated. The hardest part of this, in my opinion, was waiting for your turn. Now the sun was really coming up, and we all just realized we’ve been awake for freaking ever. The realization for me was difficult, and I caught myself closing my eyes in between sets. Both teams finished, with only a few minutes to spare. Everyone cheered for each other, whether they were on their team or not, and then Mark lined us up. He came around and individually shook each of our hands, placing a coin in them. And just like that, it was over.

Overview/Final Thoughts

Going into this event, I was terrified. Not because of the event itself, but because I am not a creature of the night. I was worried that the shear thought of being out so late was going to completely destroy my spirits, and make it difficult to function for several days afterwards. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the fact that it was at night. Sure, there were times that I fell on my face when maybe I shouldn’t have, and I freaked out because I assumed that every stick in the creek was a snake about to eat my brains. The thing about it being at night rather than in the day, yes it’s not as hot, but you don’t have to watch the day proceed without you. Because the sky didn’t change once it got dark, you didn’t think about time. It made it easier just to focus on the task at hand. It was enjoyable. Another really great thing about being at night, and in the middle of nowhere, was that if you were in pain, you could just look up at the stars. I live in a city, and so this is something that I don’t get to see very often. It really makes you think about how lucky each of us are to be on this planet.

One of the lessons that OCR and endurance events have taught me is that the things that scare the total shit out of you tend to be the ones that leave the biggest impression. Mark Ballas has grown really great at this. I will probably end every GBC review I do with some kind of blurb of my appreciate for Mark. He has created an event that, well, is scary. Twelve hours is an extremely long time. But, in those twelve hours, he does a good job of making everyone there feel like someone. So much of his heart and passion are being shown right in front of your very own eyes, and you get to experience his world first-hand. He puts so much thought and effort into every single event that he hosts, that you can’t help but feel a little giddy when you know one is coming up. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in this event. Through his leadership and passion, twelve hours isn’t much time at all, even if it’s at night and carrying big rucks. He smiles (sometimes maniacally) and makes an effort to get to know people’s names. You definitely won’t see this from every OCR CEO.

I recommend this event for people who are looking to challenge themselves, but want to do endurance events that have a purpose. Through this event I had an opportunity to learn more about the Green Beret and Army Rangers. Mark Ballas explains how what you are doing is relevant to those special forces. Some of the other endurance events I have done have come off as very “do this because I told you too,” but that isn’t the case for this event at all. Every movement has a purpose. People don’t get cut for the sake of getting cut. Again, everyone who is there is seen as someone, and that’s extremely important. Just make suer that you are fueling properly and stay confident.

I know I wasn’t the strongest person out there, but I definitely plan on completing more events with the Green Beret Challenge. I hope to see you there too.

RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!

Europe’s Toughest Mudder Berlin

This year saw the first Toughest Mudder series in Berlin, Germany and there was a lot of anticipation around the race, bringing competitors from across the globe. One would assume with the location and elevation profile that the weather would be sweet and the running would be easy- TMHQ made sure this was certainly not the case…

On arrival to the race site, it was a lengthy walk from the car park to registration and with a heavy kit bag, it felt like we had landed mid Spartan race in the bucket brigade (silver linings- warmup?). To make up for this, registration was fairly quick and painless and soon the pit tent was full of mudders eager to get started, some first-timers, oblivious to the eight-hour beasting that was ploughing their way. Improvements on last year’s ETM pit tent included easy in-and-out doors for runners and big screens with live male and female standings for support crew to monitor without braving the elements.

In a warm 17 degrees, competitors strolled into the start chute for the race briefing. Now, although my German is limited to ‘Ya!’ and ‘Nein!’, it was clear from the start there were a significant number of German runners and so the briefing was done mostly in German which was a nice touch from TMHQ as you could see it was getting racers fired up for the course ahead. For the minority of us we were blissfully unaware of 90% of what had been told to us but this seemed to calm my nerves rather than wait in anticipation knowing what was coming!
Toughest-Mudder-Berlin-Start-Line

The sprint lap flew by and before we knew it 95% of the obstacles were open for business. This differed to the previous ETM where they had staggered openings and closed/opened new ones as the 8 hours went by- this time everything was open and stayed open until the finish which made for a pretty intense 5 miles (with some modifications being made to harder versions in the later hours). I think most people had anticipated pretty warm racing conditions which, as the obstacles opened, was soon to be the opposite- 3 back to back water obstacles (including Blockness Monster, Cage Crawl, and the very very Arctic Enema) were within a mile of one another. I managed to run one lap of this before stuffing my neo hood into my wetsuit for extra protection- brain freeze and exhaustion left me wondering what else I could be doing on a fine Saturday night which wouldn’t result in me picking out ice cubes from my kit! For me personally, I find the water affects my mental state more than any other obstacle and it’s always a constant battle to fight off the ‘I just want to curl up in my Dryrobe’ thoughts and push through.
Toughest-Mudder-Berlin-Everest

The more laps that went by, the more aching I could feel in my legs as a direct result of the hard packed trail and concrete running we were doing- I would take hills for days over this type of terrain, as I’m sure many others would agree. With no elevation, there was no opportunity for that tactical ‘walk-break’ on the uphill which inevitably fatigued everyone faster than they probably anticipated. By 5/6am there were a good chunk of runners down and out which made the later laps pretty lonely- running with only one or two people in sight for miles. No Toughest Mudder is complete without a curveball and so the heavens opened from around halfway through the race which naturally pushed those runners not possessing Hulk-like grip to the penalty runs.
Toughest Mudder-Berlin-Kong-Infinity

I thoroughly enjoyed the course and whole feel to the race (if you can describe beating yourself up for 8 hours during the night as enjoyment) and would definitely have this on my list again for next year. It’s always refreshing to see a stream of first-timers at Toughest events which means this sport is still growing and TM aren’t losing their edge. Often when I describe the event to friends or family they will say ‘why would you want to do that?!’ but the 8-hour event, in the dark, cold and (often) wet night is where you really find your limit and pushing through those limits is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
Toughest-Mudder-Berlin-Finish

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!

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Photo credit: Spartan Race Canada.