Okay, okay, I’m not huge on corporate branding and following the herd, but I couldn’t help but use the phrase after tackling the latest race that I was in. I speak of none other than the Spartan Sprint Race that took place at Camp Fortune over the July 1st long weekend. This is a brand new race and format to the area, and pretty unique in that it combined trail running and obstacles. You might say it was tailored for people like me who like getting messy outdoors! For many however, half the challenge was getting to the start line (literally, not figuratively). With over 4,000 people eventually racing this thing, Gatineau Park was jam packed, with traffic backed up all the way to the highway in Chelsea! People had to hike 5-7km just to get to the start line of a 5k race! Lucky for me, I wasn’t in quite the same situation. However, I still have lots to tell you about, so read on to find out more, and don’t forget to check out some pictures that I snapped at the event!
I’ll get my griping out of the way early here. How is it that grass-roots awesome events like the Mad Trapper Snowshoe series, and the 5 Peaks trail running series, which both market themselves in the outdoor stores and in the running community, can only manage sub-100 participants, and offer great value for money? Meanwhile, the Spartan Race, advertising through gyms, bootcamps, radio, etc, can lure over 4,000 people to part with $60 each?? Both claim to be races, but after taking part in the Spartan, I can assure you that a large majority of the ‘participants’ were not really prepared to ‘race’. Granted, they all had a great time, but the amount of dehydrated and collapsed bodies littering this 5k course was shocking. As such, the organizers definitely underestimated what they might need on site. Namely, not enough first responders, and a complete lack of water on the course. End result were a few semi-serious injuries (broken bones and lacerations), and the eventual closing of at least one obstacle. Also the parking issue was a nightmare! But, given this was the inaugural year, I have full faith that the race director will learn from this event and come back with solutions. I’m sure plenty of racers will offer their advice on those matters!
With that out of the way, on to the race report. Incidentally, this is also the first event at which I was both racing, as well as reporting from for Get Out There Magazine. As a roving reporter for this publication, I provide video race reviews of certain events in exchange for race entries. So, while not technically paid to race, I at least don’t have to pay to race sometimes. Given what I spend on race entries, it is worth it. Mind you, it is also extra work, and has resulted in me adding more events to my calendar :-). Part of the deal is that I have to get reviews up within 24hrs of the event. In case you are interested, feel free to check out the race review that I have posted for the Spartan Sprint. Note that I will continue to also write my full reports, which will be my personal thoughts and performance, whereas the race review will be just that, a review. They will be a general overview of the races, etc, not how I did or anything. For that, I’ll keep writing my tomes here on ActiveSteve.
As it turns out, the Spartan race (and not doubt others like it) is EXACTLY the type of race I’m suited to compete in. With my light frame, experience in trail running and ability to contort and jump, etc, I feel like a true contender in this event. Mind you, I didn’t know how much of a contender until many days after the event was completed. As it turns out, my time of 33 mins. was good enough to land me in 5th place overall (only 10 seconds from 3rd) in the crowd of 4000! However, as a result of multiple start waves, and the fact that I had to wait at several obstacles due to lineups, I’ll never be quite sure if I could have outright won it or not. One of my suggestions for next year is to do wave starts, but seed it based on past qualifying times. That way, I could actually toe the line with my ‘true’ competitors. As it is, I’m sure I won my actual wave, but that was not obvious, and more importantly, not representative (necessarily) of the overall race. But enough pseudo-bragging, I’m sure you’d all like to know about the actual obstacles and conditions, right?
For starters, they had advertised that this race would feature ‘at least 10’ obstacles as part of the roughly 5k course. Due to the nature of the terrain, I wore no watch, hat, GPS, sunglasses, or anything, so actual distance is anyone’s guess. However, as to the number 10, the number was actually more like 20 obstacles, which was impressive to say the least. When you separate them by steep uphill or technical downhill sections of running though, the flow was actually quite decent. Overall, the course would still favour a runner over a pure obstacle tackler. Luckily I was both :-). To give you a quick overview of the obstacles, here is the list I’ve been able to pull together based on memory and a survey I took after the race (in the order they appeared).
- Camo Mesh Net
- Over and Under Logs
- Short Wall
- Barbed Wire (short)
- Tire carry up and down
- Long Barbed wire
- Rope Climb
- Cargo net climb
- Water Bucket carry
- Tall Wall
- Spear Throw
- Rope Hoist Cinder Block
- Water Tunnel / River
- Pipe Walk over water
- Deck Block drag / Carry
- Slippery A-Frame scramble
- Ice pit / Barbed wire
- Fire Jump
I imagine that for most of these, the obstacle objective is fairly self evident, but in a few cases, let me clarify. The very first obstacle was a camouflage mesh net more or less on the ground that I had to dive and crawl under in the mud. Apparently, later on, this was higher off the ground and you could shuffle under, but not in my case (being at the front). To also be clear, at the very start, I *wasn’t* leading. A few young bucks went out way too hard at the start, but by the time we hit the LONG barbed wire crawl, I passed most of them due to my ‘wisdom’ related to pacing :-). Short and tall walls were walls we had to scale. I was able to get even the tall wall with a single try straight up and over, and in observing others later with Deanna, I decided I was in the minority there! The tire carry was interesting, as you grabbed a tire, ran up the steep ski hill, then had to run back down it, and ditch the tire. Cinder block hoist you can see in my video, as with the spear throw and water tunnel and river, and pipe walk. You’ll also see the deck block carry, ice pit, Gladiators and fire jump.
Thinking back on the event, I was searching my memory banks to try and tell you all what I thought were the hardest obstacles for me personally on it. I was worried about the rope climb and tall wall scaling, but these actually proved to be easy peasy lemon squeezy for me (guess being light and agile truly pay off sometimes). So in the end, I’ll settle on the two obstacles that involved carrying heavy weights. First, the water bucket carry made us fill a 20L bucket with water (but only about 10L) and run through a technical bit of track in the woods. It was only about 20lbs in that case, but awkward to maneuver around people to stay ahead. Secondly, the deck block carry. I don’t know offhand what they weigh, but I opted to drag mine, and it seemed bloody slow. Next time, I’d probably opt to carry. The tire carry, on the other hand, was pretty easy. I’ve had to carry my bike on my shoulder many a time in adventure races, and the tire was far less awkward and lighter, so that made it pretty easy.
The coolest obstacle was probably the water tunnel. Basically, we entered one end of a drainpipe, not knowing how long it was, that was fairly full of water. We then had to get through to the other side. I chose the side that was a bit tighter with space, so the final stretch you almost had to hold your breath. I thought that was awesome. Not hard, just cool. Definitely not for those that were claustrophobic. I guess it is worth mentioning that you didn’t HAVE to do all the obstacles. But there was a penalty. If you skipped, or failed, an obstacles, you had to do some penalty burpees. The number varied, but there were a lot of people just skipping obstacles and doing burpees instead. For shame. I did, but only once, and I have a good reason.
Now that I talked about the obstacles, a quick run through of the running. It was at Camp Fortune. This is a ski hill. It is steep. Any questions? Apparently, a lot of people didn’t understand this, and were lamenting how hard this was to run. Ummm… Yeah. That’s the idea. Ha ha. Luckily, I do a fair bit of trail running, and hill training, so I was no fazed in the least. The trouble is that waves started every 30 minutes. Given that I only took 33 minutes, and was in a later wave, you can imagine what happened. I caught up to the waves ahead of us by the 7th obstacle, and it got worse and worse as I kept going. The problem was showing up at obstacles, and realizing I’d have to wait for people to finish before I could do them. You can quickly see how all the waiting would have easily taken a minute or two in my total time, which could have made me the overall winner had I had a clear run.
The absolute worst was the spear throw. The lineup was over 30 people long at each of the two stations. Here, I knew I had to skip and do burpees, as I’d be out way faster. 15 burpees later, I tore out of there. Hated to skip, but had a feeling my overall standing was at risk here. I was also lucky enough to do the slippery A-Frame, which was a climb over an A frame covered in plastic with water running down it. Shortly after I finished my race, they had to shut it down, as exhausted people were having accidents on it, such as a broken ankle. At least I can say that I ran the whole course! The final obstacle with the gladiators was fun. There was two of them. One swung high, the other low. I managed to somehow pirouette between the two, stumbling only slightly, and running by. Sounded like the crowd was impressed with my show. I then did the splits in the air while jumping over the fire, showboating just a bit since I was at the finish :-). However, my best feat was the up and over I did on the cargo net climb. Climbed up, and did a total 2-hand flip dismount from the top. The volunteers were saying it was ‘epic’. Wish I coulda seen it, but I was just happy I didn’t land head-first on a rock and kill myself in the process. It was controlled (barely) chaos!
Apart from the parking and actual race, the entire site was also a complete zoo. People everywhere. The start/finish area was over-crowded and cramped. There was barely enough room to walk around. There was a lack of water or food at the finish (there were jugs of water, but hard to get to, and open to all). They had a bbq, but it was pay-only, and we passed on it. Happily, we did all get medals and cool t-shirts as part of the swag though, and I know Deanna was definitely happy to add a medal to her own growing collection 😉 The own tall Spartan that you see in my picture actually remembered me all day, because at the start line he was apparently struck by my very serious face when we were asked to display that we were ready to enter battle. I definitely had a calm, strong, race face on, and was saving the energy for the run.
All in all, this was definitely a blast, and I’d love to do it again. I just hope the next one I do is a bit less chaotic, since that definitely took something away from the event. With this race out of the way, Deanna and I were mere days away from packing up and heading east for some well-earned vacation time. Much more on that in my next post! Hope you’ll come back and read that one too! Now, out into this heatwave for a little swim training.