This is my third year running a Spartan Race in Red Deer (Sprint in 2015 and Super in 2016), and this year couldn’t have been more different than the last two experiences. For those who don’t know, for the last few years Spartan HQ had been essentially outsourcing the Canadian races to event companies, one in the east and a different one in the west.
This year HQ took back control and it completely flipped the script for almost the entire experience. The date was moved from mid-September to end of July and while Heritage Ranch is the same facility as the last few years, Spartan changed up the layout in big way.
Now I have to start out saying one problem they had was bottlenecks. The first one came right as you arrived at the parking facility which was off venue due to lack of space. The line to get on the shuttle was huge and would probably have taken me more than the hour I had until my heat (I guess that’s why Spartan really pushes the ‘be 90 minutes’ early thing, my bad).
So, I got to have a little warm up jog (/walk, not wanting to use up too much energy) of about 2.5K or 1.5 miles to get there in time. Walking past the small space that they had crammed the festival area, start and finish lines the last two years, I became excited to see what they had done new. I walked past part of the ranch we had used just for running as well as the spear throw previously, I was amazed at the how different they were using it this year, seeing the rope climb and monkey bars in the horse pens, and my intrigue grew.
Walking under the A frame cargo net, I came into the festival area. After getting through check-in pretty quickly, I was able to see the size and scope of the revamped festival area and it was amazing. Larger beer gardens, more vendor and charity tents, way more racers wanting to stick around, the ability to see multiple obstacles instead of just the last 2-3 before the finish line, more of a focus in line with the Spartan movement (no McDonalds or fast food trucks) and spectators.
I’ve never seen so many spectators at a Spartan Race. With the festival area being bigger, right on the side of the busiest highway in Alberta, more obstacles to watch and probably more publicity than before, the festival area was full of cheering people all day and showed how much this sport is growing.
I was able to get bag check done fast (it was problem last year) and made it over to the course map with enough time to take in the massive changes in layout. The course was longer for a sprint, measuring 7.5K (4.6 miles) instead of the traditional 5k (3.1) while the obstacles were more in line with Sprint maps I see for the American races, with you running a further distance without obstacles, then doing a cluster, running again, cluster, whereas in the past the western Canadian races it was short running intervals then a single obstacle or two before running again.
After the start line speech, we were off running and again it became pretty clear quickly that this wouldn’t be the usual Red Deer race.
Heritage Ranch is an actual working ranch that does trail rides, Christmas sleigh rides and more, so it’s unique for a Spartan Race in western Canada which usually take place at a ski hill or MX course. It also backs on to a huge forested area and the race organizers took full advantage of this.
In past years, racers would have to do some single track running, a few small inclines
and declines but most of the running was through more open trees, the fields and along the pathways. Not this time. This year we had to do some bushwhacking, go up and down the hills more, and while not quite like Montana, enough that I was reminded of the Beast from last year.
It was actually kind of a scaled down version of that race, where you had single track with roots and fallen trees to go over, and occasionally under, during the running sections, and once you emerged from the trees you would encounter obstacle groups.
The first was an over wall, followed by the through wall, then the vertical cargo, rolling mud, Herc hoist, and the tractor pull which were all within sight of the festival area before finishing off this section with the bucket carry which was shorter and over easier terrain then other bucket carries (looking at you Montana and Calgary).
After the bucket, it was back running some tougher, mostly downhill single track before a couple of quick obstacles in the 6ft wall and the plate drag. I could see the tyro traverse, but we didn’t do that which was personally disappointing as it’s an obstacle I’m looking for redemption on, but clearly the folks doing the Super the next day were going to.
Ascending through the same rough single track for a longer run section, we came out to another obstacle cluster within sight of the festival area starting with the traverse wall (which was unlisted on the map), Olympus, Platinum Rig, and then, after taxing our grip strength, the spear throw. This rig’s setup was 2 lower rings, 2 high rings, 2 1ft long vertical manila ropes, then 2 high rings, 2 low rings then the bell.
Now, anyone who has read my personal racing blog knows I suck at rigs, so it comes as no surprise I had to do burpees after only making it to first high ring, so I was very happy to make my spear throw (only just as it stuck in the plastic wrap that holds the hay bale together).
The section that followed almost ended my race a few times. The trail started out almost
straight vertical while in the trees, and probably only 50 feet in I caught my foot on a root and was going to end up head first into a tree before I luckily regained my balance at the last second. But I was close enough I had my forearm up against the tree hoping that would’ve done something.
Moving a little more cautiously, I continued down to the inverted wall, after which the course took us along a large pond which we ran alongside for a bit before doing a short (maybe 30 yards) swim. During the swim, my right calf cramped up and then I smashed my left knee on a large bedrock which was immersed enough to be unseen. Luckily, the running after was along a flat dirt mixed with paved pathway section to work through the pain before taking on the 7ft wall.
From there, we had a long run section through a really beat up part of the forest (kinda looked like Endor for Star Wars fans), parts of which were mossy underfoot in sections, which was a weird feeling to run over as it’s spongey but also twists your ankles all different ways. Never really got used to that, but luckily it was only for the start of that segment.
The sandbag carry ended this part, but was frustrating. After picking up the sandbag we went down through the trees, shrubs and thistle, but then came to screeching halt heading into the river. As I said earlier, bottlenecks were a problem and this one was caused by people overposing (is that even a word) for the photographer stationed there, plus a steep climb on unstable large round rocks going back up the riverbank with no room to pass meant I lost over 10 minutes of time. I couldn’t even get far enough up to offer help to those struggling ahead of us.
After finally finishing that, a quick uphill run took us up to the next obstacle grouping starting with the stairway to Sparta at the top the hill, then into barn area where we did the monkey bars, rope climb (again in true form, failed), then the Atlas carry.
A last burst of running took us into the finishing gauntlet where they stacked up the A frame, barbed wire, and slip wall with no space between to make you earn the fire jump into the finish.
The last final bottleneck was having to wait 30 minutes in line right after finishing to retrieve my bag. I guess the bright side is that only one people-jam affect my finish time. Hopefully they fixed these issues for the Sunday Super. I wasn’t there in time to see the elite race on Saturday or at all for the Super, but the results were pretty similar both days.
1. Mikhail Gerylo
2. Austin Azar
3. Kristian Wieclawek
1. Faye Stenning
2. Linzee Knowles
3. Allison Tai
1. Mikhail Gerylo
2. Austin Azar
3. Kristian Wieclawek
1. Faye Stenning
2. Allison Tai
3. Nancy Loranger
– Spartan stepped up their game for the Canadian races.
-However, they still have a few hiccups to work through.
-Really need to increasing my training for Calgary in three weeks as it will be more of a
challenge then I was expecting.
I’ll talk to you then, thanks for taking the time to read my review.
Written by Scott Morton, author of the Obstacle Course Racing Blog, The 4-0-300 Project.
Photos courtesy of Scott Morton