Spartan Race: Beauty and the (Montana) Beast – 2016

As I sit here pondering what to write for my review of the Spartan Race Montana Beast, what repeatedly pops into my head is this…

TANGO 521-5409, over and over and OVER again!  Forever etched in my memory and likely the only thing that kept me from full on delirium, at least for a few miles while trudging, cursing, and sweating up those brutally relentless hills.  Plus, who wants to do more burpees if they can avoid it so the memory challenge was one that no one wanted to fail!

Speaking of that elevation, THAT ELEVATION!  Anyone that was at the Spartan Race Montana Beast knows exactly what I’m talking about and the starring role it played.  For those that chose not to lose a piece of their soul that weekend, let me paint you a picture of the cruel mistress known as Bigfork!  A battle royale between you and your mind is the best way to describe it.  Saturday’s Beast entertained us with a cool 13.05-ish miles (21-ish kilometres) and over 4,000 feet of climbing!  (Stats provided by Canadian Elite racer Stefan Wieclawek…follow him and his bro at @yycbrosocr on Instagram to check out their OCR journey)  For a gal from The Pas, Manitoba where we have zero, I mean ZERO elevation change (search it on the internet and you’ll know what I mean), this was a test of not only my physical grit but mental as well (and undoubtedly why I thought at several points that breaking my own ankle to get off course was a viable option)!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0712.

montana beast 2016

(Photo Credit: Gene Quisisem)

Mile 2 was likely the one that crushed everyone’s soul.  The sandbag carry to end all sandbag carries!  And see where the picture was taken?  That wasn’t the full length of it.  We were about halfway up at this point!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0715.

One of two of the barbwire crawls…but look at that view?  How could you not stop and take in the scenery?  I talk plenty about the suckage that occurred that day but really, in hindsight, would have been utterly disappointed if Spartan race had lightened up to appease the masses.  Isn’t this what we all sign up for anyway?  The view was breathtaking (although that may very well have just been the lack of oxygen).

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0722.

Along with the usual obstacles (more to come on those) and wicked elevation (I know, I sound redundant but for real, THAT ELEVATION!), we had to contend with THIS for most of the race!  Bushwhacking at its finest!  The buzz through the festival the next day was that the elites blazed most of the non-existent trail for the rest of us that went in the later heats, so thank you for that!  With that being said, there were still plenty of nature’s obstacles to avoid while clipping along downhill.  One wrong step and one would have ended up with quite the tale to tell (and probably losing a good chunk of your tail from landing on your butt)!

map

Nothing too out of the ordinary for obstacles.  The course map stated there were 40 of them and the newest of the bunch, the Tyrolean ladder traverse was included in that.  It wasn’t difficult per se, but it took till the Sprint the next day for me to figure out a flow for it.  I think the biggest hurdle for this was the backlog of people waiting for it on the second day.  This seems to be an ongoing issue for races so hopefully it’s something addressed in the future because it definitely kills your vibe when you’re stuck in line for 15 minutes.  Chastise me for my opinion but I am not of the belief to skip obstacles simply because of a line up.  Other honourable mentions in the obstacle line up were the second barbwire crawl that was I believe was approximately 500’ long.  And yes, the dust was insane, but I have to say it was one of my absolute favourite ones.  I also wasn’t as unfortunate as my friend, Glenn (check out his review of the Sprint here and check him out on Instagram at @thespartanupguy) that almost lost an eye the second day.  The dunk wall washed off whatever dust remained into a nicely smelling mix of mud and manure.  A quick little trek up and down a small hill brought us to what everyone was likely dreading from before they were even corralled into the starting line…the BUCKET BRIGADE!  It was long, it was steep, and I legitimately saw people pulled to the side in tears.  For those of you not in the know of this obstacle, the gist of it is to grab a five gallon bucket (red for women and black for men) that have holes strategically drilled in it near the top.  Fill the bucket up from the gravel pile to cover the holes and get on with the ascending climb, holding on for dear life so you don’t lose any of those rocks that were more precious than all the gems in the world at that point of the race.  If they didn’t cover the holes upon return (and yes, they were checking EVERYONE when I went through), you had to repeat the obstacle.  A friend of mine saw a girl trip right at the bottom and literally just lie there, sobbing uncontrollably on the ground.  As the popular term goes, embrace the suck.  We signed up for this!

DCIM100GOPROG0030784.

(I have never been so happy to see this wall in my life!)  It also marked that the end was near, but not before the a-frame cargo net and multi-rig that included an ascending bar and rings mixed with more rings and ropes.

42

The Hercules Hoist that was perched atop the action was an amazing view as well and of course, didn’t disappoint.  It wasn’t so heavy that it made me take flight but it was definitely enough to make me earn completing it!

Other noteworthy bonuses from the course that day were the water stations.  Most had a hydration pack on for the race but if you didn’t, rest assured you would have stayed hydrated adequately and one of them even provided Shotbloks.  It definitely made for a no-brainer decision to toss the pack for the Sprint the next day.

Overall, my first attendance at the Montana venue was a memorable one and I think everyone that attended can attest to the anticipation already building for next year.  For the ones that didn’t, it’s safe to say that we will all be recruiting newbies to get dragged into the awesome suckfest of this particular course!  Till next time Montana!  It’s been a slice.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0716.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0704.

(My crew and I looking naively optimistic and excited in the corral before the send off…9.5 weeks cannot come SOON enough for the next one!)

Spartan Race Montana Big Sky Sprint

DCIM104GOPRO

Who am I? I am a Spartan! A Spartan on a lot of Tylenol. Welcome to the Spartan Race weekend to end them all.

After running the Montana Spartan Beast on Saturday (you can read all about that hot mess in Katerina Walowski’s race report soon).  I questioned my sanity for even attempting to climb down from my bunk-bed (why was I on the top?) and suit up for the Spartan Sprint on Sunday. Thanks to various key players who both insulted and encouraged me into doing it and some powerful painkillers, I was riding the school bus back to the race venue.

It’s about to get good. So get comfortable, crack open a cold Kombucha and read on.
Montana Spartan Sprint 2016 Horse (5)

Compared to my home on the windy brown plains of Alberta Canada, the Flathead valley is a green oasis where spring has been in bloom for a few weeks already. The charming city of Kalispell was expecting us too, as the pubs and restaurants in the city were poised to welcome and accommodate us. We stayed in the Kalispell hostel, above a great bike shop called Wheatons.

The festival area itself is just south of Kalispell, tucked into the ancient glacial foothills of the Mission mountains. The event featured a very efficient park and ride system, some premium on-site parking and a fantastic array of vendors and sponsors. There was plenty to do and see between races, and it was a fun place to hang out and meet up with your fellow Spartans. I was glad to see that there was a great view for spectators to watch the finish line action too. A kids race was also set up nearby the main arena. It looked like a lot of fun.

The quality of the course itself was also high. The race featured just under 6 miles of famously big cobalt blue skies, shimmering lake views, deep red soil trails, lush open meadows and pristine alpine forest. The Montana Sprint is a great opportunity. Not only is this race a chance to run in one of America’s most iconic landscapes but it’s a race with pedigree, prestige and of course bragging rights. Not all races are created equally. Once you run here, you win uncontested; “Yes, it’s a Spartan race, but it’s not exactly a MONTANA Spartan Race, is it?”
Festival

DCIM104GOPRO

NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE

Looks can be deceiving, so let me be your wing-man; Montana is as savage as she is beautiful. She is unpredictable and untamed, unforgiving, but totally unforgettable.

The terrain was easily the main obstacle of this event. Most of the elevation gain happened within the first three miles and even the most indefatigable became fatigued on this sprint. This was as technically challenging and aggressive a trail as I have ever set foot on (apart from the beast the day before) and soon I found myself praying for obstacles, or burpees, or anything other than hills. At the same time, I found myself loving the experience for delivering me a little taste of the impossible. There’s a certain catharsis achieved by having to talk oneself through an experience like this. That kind of internal dialogue certainly happened to me during this race, particularly after running the beast the day before. Positive self talk is much easier when you have 1300mg of tylenol in your system.
Montana Spartan Sprint 2016 Razr (1)

It is worth mentioning that the trail required extra care to avoid the loose rocks, stumps and logs that littered the course. I counted three people down with rolled ankles from my run through the sprint alone. The take home message here is to make sure to bring the right shoes for Montana and watch your step or you’ll be taking a ride in the ATV!

NOTABLE OBSTACLES

THE SANDBAG DEATH MARCH

Photo Credit: Gene Quisisem

We need to talk about it. It was long, it was steep. People will have nightmares. I saw a lot of people staring up at the hill with wide open mouths.There was a lot of stopping. Lots of cursing. Lots of slipping. If I had to pick one obstacle or moment from the race that felt the hardest, this was it.

THE TYRO LADDER
Jacob's ladder
Climbing a horizontal rope ladder upside down is an interesting challenge, but not a particularly difficult one. By 11am the inverted ladder obstacle became so overcrowded that the officials were letting people pass on it, burpee free. It was so slow because although few people failed the obstacle, it took a while to complete it. I thought it was a great addition to the course.

THE LONG BARBED WIRE CRAWL
The second barbed wire crawl in the Montana sprint was impressively cruel. It went on forever. In fact, I’m certain this kind of experience is rare outside of North Korea. Dear leader take note! I got whipped in the face by some barbed wire someone was pulling aside while some female participants crawled under it. When he let it go, it swung back at me, and embedded itself into my eyebrow. I’m not mad. In fact, I think it makes for an awesome photo. Moral of the story: Spartan women don’t need a white knight. Leave the barbed wire alone!

THE CLIF MULTI RIG
Montana Spartan Sprint 2016 Rig

The rig was the last obstacle on the course (unless you count the fire jump). It featured a rising parallel bar, three rings, and an alternating series of three rings and three short ropes. The key to this obstacle was to use the rings only and avoid the ropes, as anyone who tried to use the tiny ropes was almost certainly headed to the burpee pen. I had failed the rig during the beast the previous day, so when I came back for the sprint I was prepared and made it all the way across without too much difficulty.

OTHER MUDSTACLES
The Montana sprint featured 24 obstacles in total, including walls of varying height, rope climb, spear throw, atlas carry, Hercules hoist, farmer log carry, shoulder log carry, inverted wall, a shorter barbed wire crawl, dunk wall (which smelled really bad), bucket brigade, monkey bars, two sets of hurdles and a vertical cargo net to name a few.

DCIM104GOPRO

DCIM104GOPRO

DCIM104GOPRO

SWAG

Finishers received a standard 2016 Spartan Sprint medal, a quality finisher’s shirt (which are much improved over last year’s awful Canadian ones), a can of FitAid, a Clif builder’s bar and a banana. A free beer was also available.

THE PRO TEAM + ELITE HEAT

Oh, and I should probably mention that there was an NBC televised spartan pro-team elite heat for both male and female athletes, which I’m sure you’ll hear a lot about elsewhere. I won’t spent much time on it here, but it was pretty cool getting to meet and talk to some of the Spartan pro-team athletes.

THE STATS

The Montana Spartan Sprint is on another scale altogether compared to anything I have ever attempted in the Sprint category. Participants climbed approximately 1709 feet over 5.7 miles. Consider that for a moment. Thanks to elite Canadian spartan Stefan Weiclawek and his trusty Sunnto Ambit 3 for this information you can follow him and his brother Kristian on Instagram by following @yycbrosocr

Montana Spartan Sprint 2016 MAP (3)

CONCLUSION

Stunning scenery. A world class course. Epic adventures. A bottomless pit of enthusiasm and camaraderie. I can’t imagine a more definitive iteration of the Spartan race format. I know exactly which race I’m going to be booking first for 2017, and the people I’ll be running it with. Now pass the Tylenol.

Party Canadians

Race area