I wrestled hard with the altitude at last years Spartan World Championship Beast and got knocked down for the count.
This year, I decided to skip Saturdays Beast and focus my energy on my favourite race distance, the UltraBeast. My flight didn’t even land until after the race. Best not to keep cookies in the cupboard right?
And I’m glad I did. Although the altitude was still just as pummelling as in the Beast last year, the pace of an UltraBeast is much more relaxed – and I found I could just keep bumping up against that angry red line, without plunging over it.
At the start line, racers stood huddled together in the pitch of night. A bone-chilling breeze was already ripping through windbreakers and racers were eager to launch off into the night. The organizers announced that they cancelled the infamous swim through the freezing lake and cut off the bonus UltraBeast loop due to a severe impending storm. People booed. I booed. But really, this was in everyone’s best interest – and you have to applaud Spartan for doing something unpopular to keep people safe. I guess I wouldn’t need the full wetsuit I had in my drop bag. There was one guy in a full wetsuit suit, I suspect that didn’t take long to be one of the biggest regrets of his life.
The course this year was awesome. Last years was a horseshoe design: go up, go down. I liked it for its novelty – but this year was more typical: you climb halfway up, drop back down to the village, and then go all the way to the top.

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The start was also much improved: they set the race off through the village and parking lot, and then into over-under-through walls to break up the pack. And of course the same rolling mud pits as last year to give you soggy feet and soaked clothes right off the gun. The new start meant way less congestion on the single track, which was a big problem last year.
There were a bunch of walls and vaults as a warm-up but the first real obstacle was a set of fat monkey bars followed by hurdles and a low wall. My feet, still frozen from the Rolling Mud, protested the jarring landings so I eased myself down carefully.
An regular ol’ incline wall and back to work climbing. It was at this point that I realized the biggest obstacle would be eating. A shocker for anyone who knows me. When racing the Sun Peaks UltraBeast last week, I stuffed Oreo cookies like it was my job. Today was different. I felt nauseous… and it was difficult to swallow. Food had – gasp – lost its appeal.
So we climbed… until the Spearmen appeared on a windy ridge like a row of straw-bale gargoyles overlooking the valley below. And man was it windy. Both times I waited until the gusts stopped. Both times I rushed it. Both times I missed. Both times I did 30 airless, sand in the face, rocks in the hands burpees.
At high camp they had the next new obstacle: Olympus, which I’m certain was inspired by BattleFrogs Tip of the Spear. You traverse a leaning wall with rock climbing holds, chains and holes. Keep your feet high, keep moving steadily and it’s a blast.

Onto a plate drag and Atlas Carry – made infinitely more challenging by the fact that the air at this point was getting a little thin. At least the tracks for the plate drag were well worn from the Beasts on Saturday. Thanks guys!
We had well crossed my altitude threshold and my head now felt like a pressure cooker. I was dizzying and my legs felt heavy.
Just get over the top and back down where the air has more oxygen.
One. Step. At. A. Time.
The next new obstacle was the Spartan Ladder. You climb up from the inside and ring a bell at the top with your hand and then come down the other side, ringing a bell at the bottom with your foot. I can see this one being a cramp inducer as you pull with your hamstrings to hold the bars and it was chilly up there.

The ladder was followed quickly by a Tyrolean Traverse and a fairly long but not wet or uncomfortable crawl you could easily roll right through.
At the end of the crawl was the new Ape Hanger. The ladder bounced but didn’t rotate so I just moved down it using a little extra momentum pretty straight on. It’s easier to go sideways on the way up and then just monkey down but you can do either. There was a fairly significant drop after you hit the bell at the end. Robert Cobble was there yelling at me to land straight. Which I did. But I immediately proceeded into the star fish position in the water. Not recommended!

On lap two they closed the high camp and diverted racers to the log carry directly due to the storm. I was super impressed with Spartan for making the call early and ensuring that everyone ran the same course safely. I was, however, intentionally overheating myself for the climb in preparation for getting wet on the Ape Hanger. I spent the entire descent removing one piece of clothing at a time and stuffing it into my pack, wasting a lot of time diddling about. I was worried about removing too much and then freezing up, as it took a long time for me to reheat after I got cold on the far side of the mountain.
The log carry was really just a warm up for the long double sandbag carry. And it was World Championship long. I tried some different carrying configurations but settled on one on the shoulder, other in my hand on the way up and then hugging them both like a bucket on the way down. I find the looser bags way easier to manage but could only find one… so that one went onto my shoulder – and the tight one went in my arm. On the second lap, we “only” had a single bag. When I set it down, I realized I had done something to my wrist well holding the bag. Thankfully it worked itself out after the bucket carry.
The sandbags were followed by the new Cornmax Flip. It’s a long water filled tube and I actually found it surprisingly challenging to get over: it’s long, skinny and wobbly. A tire just submits and goes where it’s supposed to. The Cormax does what it wants. It’s its own thing.
An 8′ wall lead down to the 1k long bucket carry. Yeah, 1k. Every plateau I was all, ok, there’s the turnaround flag. Nope just more flagging. I did all manner of grips and walking styles to keep that sucker moving. This is also where I noticed second place was moving up on lap two. 5k left. Go time. Leave it on the course time.
I was baking in my black windproof pants and wanted them off but I clearly couldn’t spare anymore time.
Next up: Stairway to Sparta. But not just any Stairway to Sparta. When I saw the video they first posted, I was terrified. The wall leading up to the ladder is but high. Thankfully they added a rope and a kicker board halfway to help you walk up.

The last obstacle before the rocky decent into the festival area was an exhausting and weird-bruise-inducing set of hurdles. The ones where you need to thrust your tummy into the bar and then swing your legs over. I won’t be wearing a two piece to the pool this week for sure. Although I haven’t checked yet… it may just have been the sting of internal bruising.
When I came up to the balance beams I was surprised. Really Spartan? These things are like double wide. Oh, but they spin. When I do short and weird balance obstacles I find it best to just run for whatever it is you’re suppose to hit on the other side, so run I did. Not pretty, but burpees are far less pretty.

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Next, the Herc Hoist. It was heavy and the rope was rough. On the second lap, still fearing second was hot on my heels, I came into the obstacle with every lane occupied by open beast runners working in teams to get the bag up – yelling rope! rope! I finally found an open spot hiding since I had to retrieve the rope from the other side of the fence to use it. I was so relieved to have a lane (and so full of adrenaline from the backup) that, although the bag seemed extra heavy, I was pumped to get it up.
After the hoist came the dunk wall I was so looking forward to on lap two, but we were being rerouted. I looked over to see that it was now lying face down in the pond: the wind was so strong it blew the wall over.
After the dunk came a slip wall and ginormous bridge. From there you’re either going to the drop bag area for round two or the finish area for the final obstacles.
After my first lap, I did my typical transition: grab fuel and go. I wasn’t eating well, so I swapped my bars for gels and set back off for another go.
I often find the second lap to be more fun than the first in UltraBeasts. Today was not the case. Lap two was harder. SO much harder.

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But that’s what makes it SO much more fulfilling.
After passing the ladder again on my second round, it was onto the finish.
The rope for the climb was tacky and rough and I was having trouble running my feet up it. I swear I must have looked like a worm slowly inching my way up. That and I was out of steam from charging in the last 5k.
I gave myself a few minutes before getting on the rig. Afterall, I was not eager to knock out 30 burpees. The top pros all struggled with it yesterday, mostly because their hands were frozen and cramping, but still, I approached it with respect. Thankfully Jesse Bruce and Stephanie Couturier were at the finish line watching and they cheered me right through.

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I collapsed for a few minutes across the line, soaking up the effort I had put out to keep the title in the last three miles – and well – trying to breathe.

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What really made THIS RACE was the people there. Not just being immersed in all things Sparta, and repping Canada. The many languages heard when not a single word was needed to express the most complex of emotions,  the coming together of people all over the world to battle the mountain and the obstacles. The lives changed, no matter how diverse.

I finally got chilled after the race when the snow hit (and did it ever hit) and was struggling to untie laces that had over-tightened in the mud and by my own pre-race jitters. A man came over and knelt beside me, explaining he didn’t speak much english… then he proceeded to claw his way through the knot. This is SPARTA.

It’s ok to for things to not be ok. It’s also ok to not be ok that things are not ok.

Performance wise, I had a terrible race weekend. 

I did get to run with some of the best in the sport, and spend time with some of my favourite people, doing what I love best. 

So really, it was a phenomenal weekend. But am I totally ok?

Nope. No I’m not. And I cannot convince myself otherwise.

The Super on Saturday morning featured some added frosty-dewy challenge. I slid off the balance beam and then rig. Then I missed my spear. At the rope climb, I grabbed a rope that was coated with thick gooey mud and shot right to the bottom. 30 burpees at the finish line and my first failed rope climb. I dropped from second to fourth. Sunday in the Sprint Race, I choked on the balance beam and then missed my spear.

So many burpees.

The awesome thing about obstacle racing is that you always go home with homework. Something to improve. A way to make yourself a better athlete.

In that sense it’s these races that teach us the most. These ugly times where we cross the finish line with burnt-out triceps and stains on our chests, that offer us the most.

But they still suck. And I’m ok with that too.

If we jumped the fire 120 burpees down and with any sort of indifference, we wouldn’t go home with the same lessons: the same drive to fix the chinks in our armour.

We need both the sting of loss – and the appreciation for it’s honesty to drive us on.

My oldest daughter starts kindergarten this week. And to be perfectly honest, I have trouble embracing it. But a good friend pointed out how much one-on-one time I’ll have with my youngest and how many great times lie ahead with my growing munchkin.

In the mud, and in life, I guess it’s ok to not be ok… so long as you keep moving forward.

So it’s your first Spartan Race and you’re not sure what to expect? Read on for two top ten lists that will help you get to the start line easy.

Pack a Bag

A well packed bag is worth it’s weight when you’re dealing with the elements. Here’s a few of the items that have earned their way into my nap sack the hard way:

  1. Government issued photo ID and a completed waiver WITH my bib number on it (look it up online so you can save time and headache morning of.)
  2. An extra pen and cash.
  3. Sunscreen (and gloves to apply it), lip chap, deodorant and a comb.
  4. Gloves, compression sleeves, tights, a tank top and shorts (in case the weather changes).
  5. Blister pads, band-aids and body glide.
  6. Soap, a scrub mit, quick dry towel and a water-proof bag to keep dirty clothes.
  7. An outfit that is warm, snugly and easy to get into with wet skin. No tights. Lord no tights.
  8. Slip on shoes. I would advise against flip-flops if you plan to stay at the festival area for any length of time since they are hard to walk in if the ground is uneven or muddy (or more than likely both).
  9. Gloves, toque and winter jacket to stay warm before and after even in June.
  10. A bottle of water and some snacks. They’ll usually have a Clif Bar and some water or FitAid for you but it’s better to be over prepared when it comes to essentials.

Race Day

It can be a scary experience showing up for the first time. I figured I’d condense the experience so that you can fully know what to expect before the gun goes off. After that third AROO, you’re on your own. You’ll know at the finish line as they say.

  1. Be familiar with the route to the race and where to park. Bring cash for parking as there is usually a charge ($10 is common).
  2. Arrive early. You should have time to register, warm-up, go to the bathroom and check your bag. And you should have plenty of padding in case things go sideways.
  3. Hopefully you have your printed waiver (with bib number) and ID ready. If not, sign a waiver at the first table and look up your bib number on the big wall. You absolutely need to have ID to pick up your kit.
  4. Enter the lane that corresponds with your bib number. Hand them your waiver and tell them your bib number. Show them your ID.
  5. They’ll give you an envelope. The headband goes around your head, numbers to the front. The blue chip gets threaded through the yellow band and affixes to your wrist (you want it tight enough it does not come off but not so tight it interferes with the mobility of your wrist). Sometimes they’ll be a little chip that zap straps onto your shoe laces instead. If you’re elite, they’ll possibly give you a sweat band for your arm. Although you’re probably not reading this if you’re elite.
  6. There may be a marking station in case you want to write your number on your arms (or forehead or whatever). It’ll help you better find yourself in photos later… and you’ll have a badass looking momento for days.
  7. Apply sunscreen with gloves so you don’t grease up your hands, do any last minute adjustments to your wardrobe and make sure your shoelaces are triple knotted.
  8. Go for your easy warm-up jog and do some drills and dynamic stretches. This is also a good time to scope the course a bit and find out where the start, port-potties and bag check are.
  9. Use the washroom and check your bag.
  10. Aim to be in the pit at least 10 minutes before your wave ready to go!

 

Last but not least have fun and relax. If you need help, ask. Spartans are more than happy to help.

Woman 2 Warrior

May 16, 2016 — Leave a comment

The subject line in my email box read, “Oh my gosh, look how much fun we had.”

And attached was this video: 

 
The line pretty much summed up the Woman 2 Warrior for me and the other two ladies in our little team.
The first, a runner and tennis player, is far more accustomed to pounding asphalt than scaling walls. The second has been training for obstacles, and is one of those super capable athletic types. I rounded the team off as the OCR veteran: although I warned them they might need to carry me to the finish at some point.

I had literally finished running a marathon in Langley and hustled hard to get there less than ten minutes before the gun went off.

And they did indeed carry me through… but thankfully for them, strictly metaphorically speaking.

The flat but well treed course was punctuated with various obstacles.

There were a few water obstacles including a crawl (on super soft tarps – which I could get used to), a cold water submersion, and of course, the slip and slide in the video above.

They had several sets of wall vaults to slanted walls. All within the grasp of a beginner. 

There were even some more intermediate obstacles out there: a traverse wall with blocks, valleys where you had to cat traverse and switch to another leaning wall on the opposite side, a super long balance beam lined with tires, an A-frame cargo net and a couple plank ladders. 

The monkey bars were the fat tube type… but spaced close enough that they stayed inline with the style of event being achievable.

One of the coolest parts was finishing on the track in the Swanguard Statium. And when we got there… hearing our team mate, who had just finished her first OCR swoon:

I feel like a new woman.

No… you feel like a warrior.

  

Woman 2 Warrior

May 16, 2016 — Leave a comment

The subject line in my email box read, “Oh my gosh, look how much fun we had.”

And attached was this video: 

 
The line pretty much summed up the Woman 2 Warrior for me and the other two ladies in our little team.
The first, a runner and tennis player, is far more accustomed to pounding asphalt than scaling walls. The second has been training for obstacles, and is one of those super capable athletic types. I rounded the team off as the OCR veteran: although I warned them they might need to carry me to the finish at some point.

I had literally finished running a marathon in Langley and hustled hard to get there less than ten minutes before the gun went off.

And they did indeed carry me through… but thankfully for them, strictly metaphorically speaking.

The flat but well treed course was punctuated with various obstacles.

There were a few water obstacles including a crawl (on super soft tarps – which I could get used to), a cold water submersion, and of course, the slip and slide in the video above.

They had several sets of wall vaults to slanted walls. All within the grasp of a beginner. 

There were even some more intermediate obstacles out there: a traverse wall with blocks, valleys where you had to cat traverse and switch to another leaning wall on the opposite side, a super long balance beam lined with tires, an A-frame cargo net and a couple plank ladders. 

The monkey bars were the fat tube type… but spaced close enough that they stayed inline with the style of event being achievable.

One of the coolest parts was finishing on the track in the Swanguard Statium. And when we got there… hearing our team mate, who had just finished her first OCR swoon:

I feel like a new woman.

No… you feel like a warrior.

  

I wasn’t sure if it was fear, excitement, or both all-rolled-into-one when I woke up Saturday morning. Let’s call it the fearcitement of my first day back on a Spartan course in what felt like an eternity.

To make things more interesting, I slept funny and tweaked my neck… which had me in hotdog mode for the days leading up. Thanks to the magic (and hard work) of my husband who is an RMT, I could pretty much turn my head come race day. Pretty much.

The course was awesome. It had a fun mix of obstacles: a mini version of the Tahoe rig (it had more rings and was half as long: like the half marathon is half as long as the full), staggered monkey bars, a barb wire crawl you had to roll a log through, and a bunch of steep and muddy banks you had to climb with a rope. 

And it was but muddy. When running through the mud every step was a surprise. Shin, knee or waist height? Thankfully I was almost always behind someone who had to find out the hard way.

The only time I really felt my neck was on the bucket carry – since my back muscles were all jacked before carrying a bucket of rocks around. Basically it took way less time for my back to seize and way more time to do the carry which was not a winning combo. I was freaked out about anything with my arms overhead but that was all fine. The body is pretty amazing.

I spent the race getting reacquainted with things I once knew… like the importance of getting low enough to actually clear the barb wire (and backing up to detangle your back skin)… like the challenge of running through hard lumpy pasture without losing an ankle… like the delicate balance of running hard but always leaving a little in the tank to explode over an 8′ wall.

I also unfortunately got reacquainted with the sting of the burpee penalty. I was finally moving up and feeling good when I face planted on the final peg of the log hop. 30 burpees.

I trotted into seventh place knowing there was a big gap both behind and in front of me. Which was nice. I do like trotting.

All in all, I’m glad to be back in the rodeo and I can’t wait to get back out there again.

See you in Montana.

You may have noticed that you probably need something a little more than just a swig of water to make it through the longer workouts. Although there is no real hard and fast rules about fuelling and hydration, there are some good general rules of thumb I’ll share with you here.

If the workout lasts less than 60 minutes, water alone should get you through it. However, you should have had a pre-workout snack beforehand if your last meals was more than three hours earlier. But in the case of pre-workout snacks, less is almost always more. When you exercise, blood is diverted away from your digestive tract and too much food doesn’t break down properly… usually trying to claw it’s way out mid burpee. 100 calories less than an hour out or 200 calories 2 hours out generally works.

If the workout lasts 60 – 90 minutes, you might add a little something to your water or have a wee bit of calories. You can make your own energy drink or have a handful of raisins. I advise against most packaged drinks as they are a terrifying mix of chemicals. Seriously, what in nature is that colour? Once in a while in a race situation, OK… but in training it should be reserved to trials to ensure it’s works for you. We are doing this to be healthy right? I personally use NorthStar Organic Sportdrink because it’s made of food yet it’s still convenient. Although, I’d still say that most people don’t need anything but water.

If the workout lasts 90 minutes or more, you’ll want to at least bring something to eat or a drink high in calories. You should aim to take in 150 – 250 calories per hour of easily digested carbohydrate. That becomes increasingly important for efforts longer than three hours, like a Spartan Beast or Tough Mudder for most folks. In this case, you want to start 30 minutes in (even if you’re not hungry) to keep your blood sugar level. I advise you break your caloric intake up into 2/3 times per hour. I literally will “sip” on a gel.

 

I’m a big dude. Should I eat more?

Unfortunately for big dudes, the limits of human digestion are as such no matter your size. Although, since you expend heaps more calories than us small folk, you have to be way more on top of your fuelling and hydration…. perhaps adding a pre-race gel or energy drink. Your fluid needs and capacity will likely also be higher as you have less skin area for heat to dissipate and a bigger body to power.

What are some ideas for easy pre-workout snacks?

It’s almost always a matter of personal preference combined with general rules. No excessive fibres, spice, fat or protein. Easily digested but healthy sources of carbohydrate include oatmeal, bananas, oranges, rice and the like. Keep in mind again that you should still be eating healthy food since pre-workout snacks still comprise a big portion of your diet.

Is there any value in trying my race day fuelling and hydration strategy before race day?

Yes. Never eat or drink anything that you have not tested in training. Long days make the perfect laboratory to test how your body reacts to everything you plan to race with from gear to nutrition. Keep in mind that weather (and a boat load of other things) also effect your hydration needs so with fluid intake, get to know your body… instead of creating a set in stone drinking schedule.

What should I eat and drink after I run?

On an easy day, you can probably just get away with fuelling and hydrating normally depending on weather. However, if the session was particularly long or taxing, you need to start reloading your muscles right away… both to reap the most benefit from that workout and to ensure the success of the next one. It doesn’t have to be complicated… an apple with almond butter and a big glass of water would suffice. You don’t need to chug 2 litres of chocolate milk after every easy 5k run… but if you’re spent, it’s crucial to recovery (which is where you actually grow stronger).

Does your nutrition strategy change for a two race weekend?

Yes. You need to be extra diligent on taking in a solid carbohydrate based snack with some protein and lots of water. Water is necessary to help you digest the carbs. I also started taking in a gel on the second day regardless of distance since glycogen stores are so depleted, and felt it made a huge difference.

I’m not remotely thirsty, should I drink?

Probably not. The research is pretty clear at this point that thirst is actually a good indicator if you pay attention to it. Your performance will drop dramatically though if you are thirsty. So I like to have athletes check-in with their thirst and get familiar with their fluid needs rather than get used to drinking on a schedule. What is key is that you have access to water and sip at it before you get thirsty enough to chug it (at which point it will slosh around in your tummy instead of quench your thirst). During really hot long duration races, you’ll likely want to add some electrolytes.

I’m not hungry, should I eat?

It depends. Do you plan to be out for more than three hours or is this your longest run to date? I’d say yes. Especially if you are racing. You will be running on the limits of your energetic capacities and your digestive system is very limited in terms of processing power so you really don’t want to go down that hole. If, however, you can run easily for two hours without getting hungry or seeing a decline in your mood or performance, why the heck not? I have seen people who have routinely taken one or two gels over the course of a marathon and see unimaginable leaps in performance once they took in the required amount of fuel. I have also seen people run very well on very little.