Sun Peaks Spartan Beast – Fight for the Podium

This was my last race of the season. I signed up 3 weeks before race day and hadn’t done any specific training for this event. Between signing up for Sun Peaks and running Toughest Whistler (back in June) my longest run has only been 13 km. With my recent training runs barely exceeding an hour I felt vastly unprepared for a 3+ hour effort. In order to boost my confidence, I attempted two, three hour runs, three and two weeks before the race. I managed to survive these two longer runs and hoped that’d be enough to get me through the race.

Despite my lack of training, heading into this race I knew I would have a shot at the podium. A number of top contenders (Mikhail Gerylo, Austin Azar, Luke Ball, Stefan Wieclawek, and Kristian Wieclawek) would not be competing. This left the podium open to for the taking. However, even with five top contenders absent, I knew claiming a podium spot wouldn’t be easy. I hadn’t trained for long distances all that much and felt that I was severely lacking in the elevation/mountain training in particular.

An empty podium.
The podium is open. All I have to do is take it.

Off of the start line I quickly found myself in about 20th place as many guys sprinted off of the line. It was almost comical the pace people were running. Even funnier though was getting to watch them peter out in a matter of minutes. As the competition quickly slowed I found myself in 3rd place. I was seconds behind Josh Stryde and Kody O’Brien as we headed into the first obstacles. The Bucket Carry was one of these obstacles and it was interesting to have it so early in the race. Being so early on, the Bucket Carry was no problem as I was still fresh.

At this point we were only 12 minutes into the race but I’m rarely in third place, so my mind immediately went to “now just hang on, and you’ll get at least third!” A stupid thought to have when there is still at least 3 hours left in the race. I did try and tame my excitement and focus on running smart. But I still wanted to fight for the podium so I didn’t want to get too complacent. To help with this, I set some goals.

My first goal was to stay near Kody and see how things shake out. Goal number two was to try and keep Josh in eye sight. I realized how difficult Goal 2 would be as we completed Olympus and headed back up the mountain. Josh is a world class OCR athlete and was quickly leaving the rest of us in his dust.

Josh Stryde, running.
Josh Stryde, Crushing the course and leaving the rest of us in his wake.

I took a look back and saw a guy coming up behind me (whom I later met. His name is Bo). He was a strong climber and passed me without much effort. As Bo passed me I didn’t think too much of it. I was feeling good and this was still very early on into the race. I eventually caught up to Kody about halfway up the first climb, and we ran to the summit together while exchanging a few comments about how strong of a climber that guy (Bo) was.

At the top of the first hill I hoped to catch back up to Bo and separate myself from Kody. Quickening my stride, I realized Kody was probably thinking the same thing as he began to speed up as well. Kody set a pace I was not ready for but I tried to match it as best as I could.

Kody and I came to Stairway to Sparta at the same time, we clambered up and over the obstacle and headed down the mountain. I already knew I wanted to run fast down these hills but I was not prepared to run as fast as Kody. Kody’s pace was already tough for me to handle and he took it up another level as we began to descend. Kody began flying down the mountain, and I had no choice but to fight harder and keep up. Cruising across dirt roads, and ski slopes covered in tall grass Kody and I  quickly caught up to Bo and passed him.

Initially struggling to keep up with Kody, I eventually hit a sweet spot and took off down the mountain. I pulled ahead of Kody and was flying recklessly down the slopes. I’ve never let loose like that on a descent before. I basically said “fuck it, let’s see what happens,” and threw all caution out the window as I barrelled down the mountain. This was my last race of the season, my last race on Canadian soil before I head to New Zealand for a year, and I had a shot at the podium, so I better take it!

At the base of the hill I was surprised to see that Josh wasn’t all that far ahead of me. Josh was maybe ahead of me by two minutes at most. Feeling inspired, I made quick work of the tire flip that was at the base of the second climb and headed up the second mountain.

There was a lot more power hiking on this mountain. I tried to hold a solid pace, but I had not been done any elevation training throughout the summer and my power hiking skills were lacking. I took a look back and could see Kody not too far behind me, and Bo off in the distance. My goal heading up this second ascent was to not let Bo pass me, or to at least maintain his pace on the climb once he caught up to me.

Early on in the second climb there was a sandbag carry. I picked my bag up as Josh was dropping his off. We exchanged a few words of encouragement as we passed. I carried my sandbag up the slope and as I turned back down, I saw Kody and Bo already coming up with their bags. Bo had already caught up to Kody and was closing in on me.

Dropping my bag off I pushed on up the mountain trying to keep Bo at bay. Despite my efforts, Bo eventually caught me. We exchanged names as he passed, and chatted a bit. I commented on his climbing abilities and he commented on my descending, and jokingly said see you on the descent. And I responded with “see you on the next climb.”

Bo was eventually out of sight, and I kept checking over my shoulder to see where Kody was. Kody was nowhere to be seen so I focused on catching back up to Bo. At the top of the second climb were the monkey bars. The monkey bars were clean and dry, allowing me to fly through them.

Then it was back to bombing down the mountain. I took the confidence gained from cruising down the first slope to let loose and fly down this descent as well. However, this descent was much steeper and more technical than the previous. This didn’t stop me. I charged down the mountain like a mad man, passed Bo, and kept on cruising.

My legs still felt strong with the downhill running and I kept hoping to catch a glimpse of Josh, but never did. Near the base of the ascent was the Tractor Pull. The Tractor Pull wasn’t very long, but it was enough for me to notice that my glutes and quads were beginning to tire.

Now at the base of the second mountain and approaching the third I was in 2nd place and feeling good. Even if Bo catches me on this third ascent I should be able to fly passed him on the descent again…or so I thought.

Turns out I was ~4 minutes back of Josh as I started the third climb. Which I think is pretty awesome…this time will also be important later for describing my finish…

Elevation profile of the course. The first two peaks are ~400 m, the third is ~800 m.
Elevation profile of the course. If I only knew how gruelling this third mountain would be.

At the base of the third and final climb was the Tyrolean Traverse. I consciously pulled my compression tights down to my ankles, to avoid the terrible rope burn I experienced in Calgary. I got on the rope and began to pull, feeling the rope rub across my semi-healed rope burn (from Calgary)…I cringed in pain. My tights did nothing to prevent any rubbing. So again, I gritted my teeth, said fuck it, and took on acquired more rope burn to ring that bell.

After successfully completing the Tyrolean Traverse, I began my final climb. Heading up a gently sloped fire road I ran with confidence. I believed I was two thirds through the course and was heading up the final ascent.

As I climbed I began to feel the elevation from the previous mountains begin to take its toll.  My pace slowed as the relentless climbing continued. The gently sloping fire road quickly turned into another power hike. Feeling fatigued all hope wasn’t lost as I still felt good overall. All I had to do was summit this last mountain then cruise to the finish.

I looked back and Bo was pretty close to me. If there was a time to keep Bo behind me it’d be now. Upon completing a power hiking section, the course flattened along a fire road and I picked up my pace. The road took a few turns, then…holy shit. All that I saw in front of me was a grass cliff face, and a single file line of (Ultra Beast) racers, crawling…yes crawling up it.

Me power hiking up a steep slope.
Power hiking up Challenger.

I couldn’t believe it, but I didn’t complain. I headed to it and began to climb. Power hiking some sections, and crawling up others. I attempted to move at a good pace, but simply couldn’t. The slope was too steep to move quickly (at least for me). I can quite remember but I think Bo passed me on this slope. So I tried to keep him in sight as we continue up.

I remember looking at my watch near the base of the ascent and believe I was only about 1 hour and 50 minutes  or 2 hours into the race. I figured I should still be on pace to finish the course in ~3 hours. However, this steep agonizing climb had different plans. Upon reaching what I thought was the end, the slope flattened out, made a little turn, and kept on climbing. Holy fuck, this thing kept on going and going.

I remember looking at my watch again, and seeing 10 minutes have passed, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and I’m still on this fucking slope! Now, instead of keeping a solid pace up this slope. All I wanted to do was keep moving, and hopefully regain my stride once it’s over. I especially wanted to avoid standing up and taking breaks, because the few times I did do that I took a few stumbling steps backwards, and falling down this slope would not end well. Falling down this slope, wasn’t the only risk of death as loose rocks would tumble down as racers climbed over them.

There was one jackass who I saw pick up a rock, turn to the right and throw it. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was removing a loose rock from the trail, but that thing took off like a rocket down the slope. Luckily no one was hit, but what a dumbass.

A lot of people cheered me on as I continued up this slope, both familiar and unfamiliar faces. They told me that I was in 2nd and to keep pushing. I then got to inform them of the guy in black and orange named Bo, who was ahead of me as well. Even though I had to inform them I was in 3rd not 2nd the encouragement was welcomed and definitely help keep me moving. By far, the biggest compliment I received though was when someone looked back and said “Hey Austin! You’re killing it!” No idea how someone could think I’m Austin Azar, but that’s quite the compliment to me (and potentially an insult to Austin Azar, 2nd Place World’s Toughest Mudder, 9th Place Spartan Race World Championships, and numerous other nominal finishes and podiums). However, if Austin was actually in this race he would have been up there with Josh, not slogging along like me.

profile of Austin Azar.
Austin Azar…not me.

After 31 minutes on this slope I finally reached the top. The slope is a Double Black Diamond ski run called Challenger and covers a distance of 600 m, and 350 m of elevation…that’s fucked! But now at the top I was just happy that was over. The course returned to a dirt road, and to much more runnable terrain. However, my legs were destroyed. I couldn’t run up the gentlest of slopes. I was in survival mode.

Me crawling up the final portion of the hill.
Finally at the top. Of Challenger that is.

I hadn’t seen Josh sense the sandbag carry on the second ascent and could only assume he was miles ahead of me. Bo was insight, and I estimated he was about 4 minutes ahead of me. I looked behind me for Kody but could not see him. However, I did see Kody on that tortuous climb, so I knew he wasn’t too far back.

Finally, at the top of the final mountain, I relaxed a bit as I knew it was time to run fast and leave it all out there. I came to the 8ft wall at the top of the mountain, took a deep breath and pulled myself over. Now it’s go time I thought, hammer down the mountain and it’s all done.

Before I could settle into a good rhythm I came to the Sled Drag. I made easy work of pulling the Sled to me, but as soon as I had to hunch over and pull the sled back I struggled. Never have I struggled like this before. I was unable to walk with the sled and instead had to heave the sled back by getting my whole body into it. I would then take a few steps back and repeat.

Again, I told myself, “now is the time, to go hard. Fly down the mountain.” The slope immediately after the Sled Drag though, was incredibly steep. Too steep for me to run. I felt sloppy as I felt my body shut down. As I ran my body jarred itself down the slope with limbs and head, flailing and bobbing respectively.

Heading down this slope I fell on my ass a number of times, but got back up and kept moving. I later learned that some of the other racers, slid on their asses down this slope, which was a brilliant idea. I wish I had thought of that.

Approaching a more runnable slope, I could see Bo on the Traverse Wall at the base of said slope. “Come on, fall!” I wished to myself keeping an eye on Bo. I continued on down the slope, and saw Bo run away from the Traverse Wall as he successfully completed it.

Bo was long gone by the time I got to the Traverse Wall. I made my way through it without issue and headed to the Atlas Carry. Thankfully for whatever reason, burpees were not required at the Atlas Carry. If burpees had been required I for sure would have cramped up, as I begun to feel twinges in my groin with every step.

Continuing down the mountain on a wide gently sloping dirt road, I tried to force my legs to spin faster, but there was nothing left in the tank. I began to feel a little loopy and clumsy as I continued on. My body had had enough and there was nothing left to give. All I could do now was just hold on and hope no one will pass me.

Whenever we came to an open area of the mountain I was able to see Bo up ahead. The gap between us was not getting any smaller. If anything, the gap was growing. I was fighting as best I could to keep up, but I was a losing the fight. The fight with Bo, and the fight with my body to keep pushing.

Slogging along I came to a creek crossing where we had a to crawl under a low-lying bridge. Right then, the groin on my right side seized up. Wincing in pain I hobble up and out of the creek. I had no more fuel and wasn’t carrying any water so I had nothing to help the cramp.

Racer crawling under the bridge.
Not me, but this was the reason for my cramp.

I tried to run out the cramp but that didn’t work (…not sure if that would ever work). I was forced to stop and give it a good stretch. Stretching relieved the cramp and I continued on. As I kept running my groin threatened to cramp with every step, it felt like I was playing Russian Roulette.

I finally made it back down to the festival area for the last section of the course. Bo was still ahead of me, and catching up to him didn’t seem feasible. My goal was to keep moving, don’t stop, and don’t get passed.

I crushed the light weighted Hercules Hoist, headed over an A-Frame Cargo Net, up the Rope Climb, and off into a densely wooded section. There was no real trail through this section of the course. The dense woods were full of thick brush and deadfall, making it near impossible to run.

Hercules Hoist, and A-From cargo net near the spectator area.
Obstacle dense finish.

Coming out of the woods, once again I could see Bo up ahead. He was at a point where the course loops back on itself and I could see him through the trees as he headed to the Platinum-Rig. I kept checking over to see how he was doing, and I saw him doing burpees. Bo failed the Platinum-Rig! This was my chance! I should be able to pass him now! However, by the time I made it to the turn-around point Bo, had already left the rig…He was much further ahead of me then I thought.

I saw an image of the Platinum-Rig the day before and was unsure if I’d be able to complete it. But I needed to if I wanted to stay in 3rd. I was worried about this obstacle because the second half consisted of a low T-bar hold, high T-bar hold, a rod hold (aka dildo), and a ring. There was no skipping all of the tough holds. I would have to grab one if not all of them.

Half way through the rig I thought it might be possible to skip the high T-bar, and the rod. But as I hung there I realized that wasn’t possible. In what felt like a leap of faith I reached for the high T-bar, grabbed the rod, and successfully made it to the ring, and rang the bell.

All that now stood between me and the finish line was a long Sandbag Carry and the Spear Throw. I grabbed the 50lb sandbag and started to climb. That 50 lbs sandbag felt like it weighed 100 lbs. It was crushing me. Again, I was hoping that I was gaining on Bo but I wasn’t he was actually increasing his lead once again.

Racers head up the final sandbag carry.
Long gruelling sandbag carry at the end of the race was a real beast.

With that being said I had one last hope…the Spear Throw. As I neared the end of the Sandbag Carry I watched Bo head to the Spear Throw. Bo missed, and immediately began to hammer out burpees. Now this was my chance. I finished up the rest of the carry, and headed to the Spear. Bo must have had at least half of his burpees done by this point, so I needed to make this if I wanted 2nd and even guarantee 3rd as Kody was finishing up his Sandbag Carry in the meantime. I grabbed a spear, took aim, and boom! Nailed it!

Spear Throw near the finish.
The Spear Throw that gave me my 2nd place!

With a fist pump, I received a few friendly jeers from Bo as I went up and over the Slip Wall in 2nd Place. I crossed the finish line and was thrilled to just be done with this course, as it was a monster. The course covered 26 km, and 1980 m of elevation. My official time was 4:00:21.

In the finisher corral, I was greeted by Josh who had already changed out of his racing gear and into warmer clothes. He congratulated me on coming in 2nd. I asked him half-jokingly and half serious if he’d been here for 30 min, and said “Yeah, about that.”…Josh absolutely crushed that course his finishing time was 3:33:23. That is 27 minutes ahead of me. I bring this up because for one, as mentioned before there were a lot of talented racers who weren’t there today who could have filled in the gap between Josh and I. But more so it’s to show how crippling the climb up Challenger was on the rest of the field. I was in 2nd place at the base of the final climb and ~4-5 minutes behind Josh…and by the end of the race I (barely) managed 2nd place and was 27 minutes behind Josh! He seriously must have flown up that slope, and continued on like it was nothing!

Anyway, super stoked to snag a podium spot, on what was one of the toughest races I have ever done.

Me standing on the podium in 2nd!
Podium finishes are few and far between for me. But I’ll take it!

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