Arriving at Squaw Valley around 6:30 AM the sun was not up and it was pitch black at the venue, minus a few flood lights shining through the fog in the distance. I stepped out of my car and was greeted with cold crisp air, I looked down and saw frost covering the ground…This is not what I was expecting at all. Coming for Canada I was expecting California to feel like summer, with blue skies, warm air, and the sun shining. This was definitely not the case, it was freaking cold!
I checked in, and began to warm up for the race. The sun began to poke over the mountain tops, but the air was still cold. Luckily I had a hoodie with me so I threw that on and began to jog and stretch, waiting until the absolute last minute when I finally had to take my hoodie off and leave my stuff at the bag check, before heading to the start line.
The starting corral was blocked off by a 6ft Spartan Race wall, so everyone began to crowd in behind the wall outside of the corral. I was still really cold and wished I had a long sleeve shirt to run in. I didn’t even think about bringing a long sleeve shirt for the run, because I didn’t think I’d need one. We were in California after all, and the weather is always nice here right? At least I wasn’t the only one who was cold as all the other guys were breathing into their hands, or shoving hands into the armpits to keep them warm.
The athlete call out began and the who’s who of OCR hopped over the wall and headed to the start line. This is when things really began to sink in, in regards to where I was and what I was about to tackle. All the big names of the OCR world were here: Ryan Atkins, Jon Albon, Hunter Mcintyre, and Matt Novakovich, just to name a few. I obviously was not going to be contending with these big names on the course, but I had earned my right to be here and to run with worlds best OCR athletes, just like everyone else who was surrounding me. I began to smile with anticipation…this was going to be a blast!
Once all the star athletes got introduced the rest of us clambered over the wall and entered the starting corral. I ended up next to a fellow Spartan Racer from Calgary, gave him a fist bump and wished him good luck. With the usual prerace speech and chants of AROO sounding, I got goose bumps as the countdown began and we were off! The men’s championship heat at the 2015 Spartan Race World Championship was underway!
You could tell there was a lot of excitement and adrenaline at the start of the race as everyone burst out onto the course, at a pace that was definitely not sustainable for the entirety of the race.
Rolling Mud was the first obstacle of the course and was barely a mile in. Rolling mud is a set of 3-5 trenches filled with waste deep water with mounds of mud in between each trench. Runners have to jump into the water and then climb over the mounds of mud. This obstacle is not hard, but there was still frost on the mud mounds, which meant the water would be freezing and it was! The cold water provided a huge shock to the system and if you weren’t awake before, you definitely were after this obstacle.
The course began on a dirt road and then quickly took us into the trees along the mountainside into some single track. This was unfortunate because racers did not have enough time to spread out before the single track, resulting in a large bottle neck. Passing people had to be done off the track on a steep slope, covered in leaves and loose dirt. I passed a few people this way, but it wasn’t worth it. The amount of effort I had to put forward to only move up a position or two was simply too much. Therefore I just settled in at my current position and waited for the course to open up.
Out of the trees we headed back down towards the festival area for the vertical cargo net and the monkey bars. I flew over the cargo net and headed to the monkey bars. These were not a normal set of monkey bars as each rung was at a different height, and some even rolled around. The bars were also covered in frost, making it extremely hard to get a solid grip on the bar. I made it to the fourth last rung, which was at the lowest level and had to reach up the next rung which was at the highest. The vertical distance between the two must have been at least twelve inches and I just did not have the grip strength to pull myself up that high. I reached and tried but slipped off and had to suffer the burpee penalty. If it hadn’t been so cold I think I would have been able to do it.
Having to do 30 burpees this early in the race was definitely not optimal, especially because we were down at the festival area and I knew there was a big climb ahead. I was at least hoping that my hands might be warm after doing my burpees, but they weren’t. Hands cold and legs now on fire I headed up a dirt road to begin the long climb up the mountain.
As we climbed up and up, I began to notice how tired my body was from doing the Ultra Beast at Sun Peaks the week before. My legs were moving but they felt empty, drained of their strength from the Ultra Beast. When I realized this I had to remind myself that I was simply here to have fun and enjoy the experience. I’d do the best I could under the circumstances but I wasn’t going to beat myself up for feeling tired or when a competitor passed me. If the World Championships was my goal for the season I wouldn’t have done an Ultra Beast the week before. But the Ultra Beast was the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year and I blew that goal out of the water! Now I am at the World Championships to enjoy myself and end the season with a smile on my face.
About one third up the mountain we came to the O-U-T walls, and as I completed this obstacle I looked off to the side to see a racer bent over, hands on his knees and throwing up. A little shocked I kept going up the mountain as the guy gave me a thumbs up. Barely 10 minutes later there was another competitor throwing up on the side of the course! I knew elevation may be a factor (Squaw Valley base elevation 1890 m) in this race but I really did not think that it would be bringing racers to spew their guts on the side of the course.
The Hercules Hoist was the next obstacle, and I approached it with confusion. Many racers were doing burpees at this obstacle. I thought to myself “how can elite racers who qualified for this heat be failing the Hercules hoist?” I grabbed a rope and began to pull the weight up and realized why many people were doing burpees. The weight was much heavier than any Hercules hoist I have done in the past. I think it had to have been at least 100lbs (maybe not, but it was freaking heavy). Using my whole body I heaved the weight to the top, and took great care to lower it slowly back to the ground (if you drop it, you fail the obstacle).
Feeling good about completing an obstacle that many people were failing I took off back up the mountain. The course finally changed from access/dirt roads to single track again, but racers had now spread out enough that there were no major bottle necks. The single track did not last long as the course returned to another road. The second strength obstacle was now visible, the log carry.
The log carry was up a steep hill with loose dirt, and the logs were big and bulky. I did not think my log was very heavy but the logs were short, with a large radius making it very difficult to carry efficiently. People were carrying the logs by bear hugging it, others had it nicely in the middle of their shoulders behind their head, or they were like me; trying to carry it like a sand bag on one shoulder. This did not work well because of the large size of the log, my neck and head were in an awkward and uncomfortable position, but it was the only position I could get the log in without fiddling around too much.
Following the course up the mountain, we ran across the base of a large cliff right before the summit and I was amazed by all the runners I could see in front of me. I took a look behind and there was a trail of runners following me. I was amazed because in most Spartan Races I’ve been in, the top handful of racers break away from the majority of the pack and then you don’t really see anyone else till the finish line. This was not the case at the World Championships. There was a train of runners both ahead and behind me, everyone in this heat had rightfully earned their spot.
The course traversed along a ridge and the final climb to the summit was now visible. This was a really cool section of the course, because you were completely exposed on the ridge right in the heart of the Sierra Mountains. If I were not in the middle of the race I would have loved to have stopped and hung out along the ridge and at the summit. Even though I was here for the experience I wasn’t going to go full tourist and sit down and take in the view…that’d just be dumb. Cresting the summit, the course quickly headed back down the other side of the mountain and it was time to let the legs spin downhill.
The downhill was short lived as the sand bag carry was fast approaching. I grabbed a sandbag and headed up a steep, rocky slope. Climbing up the slope I saw a flash of long black hair and a pink shirt, as the leader of the women’s elite heat flew past me. “Wow” I thought to myself, she was crushing it! By the time I made it to the top and headed down with my sandbag the second place female passed me. I recognized her to be Amelia Boone, and wished her good luck and told her to go get first as she zipped by.
Cruising back down the mountain and through gorgeous mountain meadows, I again let my legs spin underneath me and I tried my hardest to keep up with Amelia and use her as a pacer but she was far too quick for me. She’s definitely one of the best for a reason and it was great to see her in action.
Coming to a relatively flat area the next obstacle was the swim. All racers had to wear a life vest during the swim and as I put it on I remember thinking this is dumb, this swim wasn’t that long and I’m a good swimmer. But I can say I was glad to have that life jacket on as I plunged into the water. The water was freezing and trying to swim after nearly two hours of mountain running is not easy. It took me a very long time to complete the swim and many people passed me. Kind of unfortunate to get passed in a swimming obstacle in a running race…but oh well I was just here for fun (had to remind myself that again).
After swimming through the frigid water there was a farmers walk obstacle with two logs, then a little jog to the sled pull, and then on to one of the most grueling obstacle gauntlets ever.
Take a look at all those zig zags in that picture. Yeah something brutal is going on here. Essentially this entire section of the course was a barbed wire crawl. There was a wall to jump over, followed by a barbed wire crawl, followed by a dunk wall, followed by a barbed wire crawl, followed by a wall…etc. This pattern repeated throughout this whole section of the course. The barbed wire was very low and my pack kept getting stuck so I was forced to take it off and even after taking my pack off my shirt was still getting stuck. I got pretty frustrated at this point, because the crawl never seemed to end and I kept getting caught on the barbed wire.
Frustration and exhausting are two terrible feelings to have at the same time. Your mind ends up in a downward spiral of negativity but all you can do to overcome this, it to just keep pushing on, keep moving forward till you complete the task at hand (the brutal barbed wire crawl in this case).
Coming out of the crawl exhausted and relieved, there was a rope climb (no knots), followed by another relatively flat section of the course. A large A-frame cargo net and the atlas carry were soon to follow. And then an obstacle I’ve always wanted to attempt but it’s never been in the races I’ve done, the Tyrolean Traverse. This obstacle always looked so cool in all the pictures I’ve seen, as racers hang beneath the rope and crawl over a river. Unfortunately this tyrolean traverse was not over a body of water but I was still excited to try it. I hung from the rope and monkey crawled along till I rang the bell. It was a lot easier than I had thought it’d be, but it was really a fun obstacle and I was glad it was a part of this race.
The spear throw was next and I’m proud to say I nailed it. At this point I was feeling really good, I figured I was about three quarters of my way through the race and it was all downhill. Now was the time to hammer down the mountain and make up some time. I was feeling awesome knowing that I was almost done, I could feel the excitement build in me…but I forgot about the bucket carry. This is a staple obstacle and I haven’t come across it yet.
The bucket carry didn’t show up until 13.5 miles into the course (the race was only 14.3 miles). And it was steep and long! I filled my bucket up and began to carry it up the slope. There was a large train of guys ahead of me and I thought to myself, that this is a great opportunity to pass people (still a self-proclaimed strong man). Except I couldn’t, I was so tired and moving incredibly slow. My entire body was exhausted at this point. My legs were weak under the weight of the bucket. My hands/forearms were burning as I bear hugged the bucket as hard as I could. The bucket carry was destroying me. I barely made it 10 steps without having to put the bucket down and rest. My shoulders, hands, fingers, wrists, forearms, legs, and back were all screaming in pain as I muscled my way up to the top. I think it may have taken me at least 20 minutes to complete the bucket carry, it was seriously brutal!
Dropping that bucket off and continuing on with the course was such a rejuvenating feeling. The finish line was inching closer and you could hear the crowd cheering as racers crossed the line. I made it down to the final two obstacles; the traverse wall which I completed with ease, and then the Spartan Rig. The rig was twice the size as it normally is and consisted of a series of lateral pipes, tarzan ropes, and rings. I made it to the first set of rings and fell. My grip strength was completely gone after battling through the bucket carry. I can tell you there is nothing worse than doing 30 burpees 10 ft from the finish line, but I grinded mine out and headed over the line.
I crossed the finish line in 3:45:15, placing me 155th out of 256 males and 53rd in my age group. Considering I was here just for fun and did an Ultra Beast the week before I’m happy with these results. But I do have that itch now to come back to another World Championships and race as hard as I can, to see how good I can do…but first I need to earn that spot again (and decide if I can afford it)
This was my first World Championship experience, and I had a blast. I am however a little disappointed with the course. I was expecting the course to be littered with steep ascents and descents, followed by heavy carry after heavy carry, and this simply was not the case. The first half of the course was up hill, the second half was downhill, and the only carry that I found to be very exhausting was the bucket carry. I also did not like how there was single track very early on in race, as this resulted in a lot of congestion. I feel like racers should have been able to spread out more before forcing them into a single track.
But barring that I still had a great time, and the 2016 World Championships will be back at Squaw Valley and I’m sure racers will be in for a very different but grueling course.