My 2016 Spartan Race season officially began with the Vancouver Spartan Sprint on June 4. Up to this point in my training I had incorporated very little obstacle racing specific training. My main goal so far has been the Powder Face 42, a mountain marathon held on July 2. As a result a lot of my training has been focusing on building up endurance on long slow runs and relatively small amounts of strength training (burpees, heavy carries, etc.). With that in mind I knew the odds of doing well were stacked against but I was still going to give it my all and see how it goes.
Arriving at Mount Seymour I was greeted with blue skies, lush green trees, and the suns warmth…and bugs. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, the weather could not have been any better except for the insane amount of bugs. As soon as I stepped out of my car they instantly swarmed every inch of exposed skin.
In the festival area the bug population seemed to dwindle and as l warmed up with doing some light jogging the bugs seemed to target easier/slower moving targets. So in all honesty they weren’t that bad.
Before I knew it, it was time to line up for the Elite Heat. I made my way up towards the front of the start line a few rows back of the true elites. I managed to place 8th in Vancouver last year and I was aiming for another top 10 finish. As I looked around at my fellow competitors I knew this was going to be difficult to do. Most of the Western Canada Spartan Elite team was present, along with a lot of other fierce competitors that I recognized from past races. A top 10 finish in the race would not come easily but I’m not one to back down from a challenge.
Standing in the coral I grew anxious as I was revving to go. This was a new feeling for me. Normally I just show up at the start line, not really too concerned about anything and just go race. But today I couldn’t wait to get out there and compete.
The race began at a very quick pace as the top athletes led the charge up a gentle slope and across the first obstacle (little 12 inch hurdles). We then took a sharp turn and headed down a steep ski slope. The leaders began to separate themselves from the main pack immediately as about 6 racers charged down and up the slope at a blistering pace.
I was only a few seconds behind and was trying to stay as close to the leaders as I could. Heading back up the ski slope I tripped three times as my foot kept getting caught in the thick brush. Tripping once, ok no big deal, but tripping again for a second and third time on the same slope was really frustrating. I figured at this point I was in about 10th place and the leaders were still in view. I took a look behind me and there was a train of racers hot on my heels.
Pressing on, we continued up the main ski slope running over gravel roads. Halfway up the mountain we encountered the sandbag carry. I threw the bag on my back and powered up a steep boulder field. The sand bag felt lighter than I remember (I’ll take that as I sign of me getting stronger. Whoop whoop!) but the carry was quite difficult because of the technical terrain it was located on. Clambering up soccer ball sized boulders provided a unique challenge as you weren’t simply powering up a steep hill, you had to be mindful of your foot placement because a lot of the boulders were loose and would move around as you moved over them. After dropping the bag off, the course took you right back up the same slope and to the summit of the mountain.
Another added challenge to the sandbag carry was the fricking bugs. The sandbag carry was in the shade and that’s where all the bugs were hiding out. Everyone was getting swarmed by these things and it was really annoying as they latched on to your skin, but they didn’t appear to bite (but on Monday morning I was absolutely covered in bug bites…slow acting bug bites?). I for one definitely swallowed a few on my inhale breaths, just some extra fuel for the race I guess.
By the time I had reached the summit the leaders were a few minutes ahead of me and I hadn’t been passed by anyone so I still figured I was in 10th place or so. Taking advantage of the downhill I just let gravity pull me down the mountain. I managed to catch up to the guy ahead of me and we arrived at the zigzag balance beam at the same time. Feeling confident I rushed on to a balance beam and immediately slipped off. FUCK! Time to do 30 burpees. As I hammered out my burpees (not as fast as I would have like), I got past by 5 or 6 people. So now I knew I really needed to hammer it on the course if I had any hopes of going top 10.
I finished my burpees and raced down the slope. I ran down one racer and passed him as we went across the multi rig. The multi rig is new to Western Canada Spartan Races and it’s nice to finally see some of the newer obstacles make an appearance at these races. The rig consisted of one horizontal pipe, three rings, a Tarzan rope, and another horizontal pipe. Going into the rig I remember how I fell off immediately at the rig at World Championships last year. I could not afford to do another 60 burpees and get passed by another handful of racers. I made it to the rings and I could feel my grip strength failing already, so instead of hanging onto the rings with one hand, I gripped each ring with both hands as I swung across. This method was shockingly easy and I think it was relatively efficient. I had no fear of slipping or falling and I was still moving at the same pace I would be if I was only using one hand and swinging on the rings. Therefore I think moving forward I’ll use both hands from now on.
After the rig, there a few more obstacles and then I came across the dreaded Spear Throw. There were two guys doing burpees as I came up to the obstacle. I grabbed my spear, balanced it, and threw it as hard as I could. BOOM it stuck! I fist pumped and continued on, one guy just finished his burpees and took off a few seconds ahead of me.
I pushed hard as I followed the racer in front of me through a wet/swampy section of the course, where he began to pull away from as we climbed a hill. Upon reaching the top of the hill it was back down another slope and onto the z-wall traverse. I managed to close the gap with the guy in front of me on the downhill and got on my traverse wall before him. Moving cautiously across the wall in order to prevent any slip ups and subsequent burpees I rang the bell and finished the obstacle after the other guy.
Me and this guy were now playing cat and mouse, as he finished the z-wall traverse seconds ahead of me and headed back up the hill. Again I was hot on his tail as we climbed, but this guy could really climb. I was pushing hard but could not make up any ground on the ascents.
Turning a corner I saw a few of the top racers (Kristian Wieclawek and Ben Kwiatkowski) heading up a hill, not too far in the distance. “Holy shit” I thought to myself, “I’ve caught up!”…but I had not. As I continued around the corner, hidden from view was a long tractor pull, down and up a super mucky section. Normally I don’t find tractor pulls overly difficulty but the muddy ground gripped heavily on the cinder block, sapping my energy as I pulled it behind me.
At this point I knew I was not going to catch those few top guys, but I still really wanted to catch the guy who I’d been playing cat and mouse with for the last kilometer. After the tractor pull there were a few wall obstacles, and then the bucket brigade.
I grabbed my bucket and filled it up with dirt and hammered down the slope. Again on the descent I was able to make up some ground on him. I figured all I need to do now is to hammer it real hard back up the slope and I’ll be able to pass him no problem. But man could this guy climb! I know I said that before but even with the bucket he was climbing like a mad man. He left me in his dust and I had no hopes of catching him now as the finish line was fast approaching.
Feeling a little defeated I pressed on and took a look back to see if I had anyone breathing down my neck. I didn’t. I was about halfway up the slope with my bucket by the time the person behind me just started down the slope. I knew I had secured whatever position I was in and continued on at a little slower pace till I reached the top of the slope with my bucket.
Now it was a small jog, to the rope climb which are now knotless for elite and competitive waves, the barbed wire crawl and the finally the fire jump. I’m happy to say that this time I successfully dodged the barbed wire (last year I dove head first into the barbed wire and got a nasty gash on my forehead…yeah I know it was pretty bad ass).
I ended up crossing the line in 13th out 62 males in the Elite heat, with a time of 51:43. My goal was to go top 10 and I just missed it. If I had not failed the balance beam I think I would have gotten top 10 for sure. Now I know I need to take my time at the balance beam and don’t rush it!
Even though I did not hit my goal, I still had an absolute blast racing again. The course design was phenomenal. The course provided a great variety of terrain and was loaded with obstacles. My next Spartan Race isn’t until July (Montreal Beast), but I can’t wait to get back out there and put my body to the test yet again.