“We have to keep making things harder”, said Dean Stanton, Director of Spartan Race Western Canada. He was looking at me with a grin. I was shivering in a thin down jacket, wet feet and a bag full of wet clothes that were seeping through my backpack. I guess it would be amusing; after all I was talking to the man responsible for my condition, after having just completed the Red Deer Sprint at Heritage Ranch, Red Deer, Alberta Canada. The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on Dean.
He continued, “Canada is producing some world class competitors so we have to build things that will challenge them – we’ve got people like Faye, the Wieclawek brothers, Josh Stryde, Mikhail and Austin Azar that can perform and excel on the world stage. We have to continually make the obstacles more challenging. They all get better that way.”
It’s true. The quality and design of the Western Canadian Spartan Race series has been excellent this year – pushing everyone to be better. Western seems to have fine tuned the formula of what makes an OCR challenging, by adding simple touches to the arrangement and execution of the race.
More relevantly for my core temperature, part of the extra challenge is that the Western Canadian series stretches deep into September – where the weather in prairies can flip flop between scorching hot and wintry. There was no snow yet thankfully, but today it was a brisk 10 degrees centigrade with a breeze that brought the temperatures closer to 5 degrees (35 F). Dean was ready for it though. Dean was dressed warmly in a ‘toque’ and a fleece. Dean is smart. Be more like Dean.
I asked him what the overall strategy was for each race.
Dean responded, “For the Super, we wanted to make sure people were running the technical trails. So after the first few obstacles were used to warm competitors up, we threw them into the single-track in the forest to thin out the field. I love that winding forest single-track. I am not a fan of using fire roads and paving at all during my course design. We make you run on the horse trails and the rough paths the whole way if we can. Then you hit the stacked obstacles.”
I didn’t mention the absence of water crossings or weighted carries on the Sprint – something that has been much talked about since the race. Maybe I should have asked about that… but gimme a break. It was cold. Besides, in my opinion, the extra heavy carry loop would have made the course too long.
“We put a lot of design and thought into our obstacles and we’ve been working on developing different setups for the rig. I love that rig. I get to change this and alter that however I want – people fail the rig a lot, but it was the same thing when we put the monkey bars in…”.
“People get frustrated and train harder when they fail an obstacle”, I added. “I’ll be back for sure after this. I have to beat it!”, I chattered.
“Right. We stacked the obstacles together in certain areas to challenge grip strength. We just made it harder – people seem to be enjoying the challenge”. He had a broad smile on his face now. The guy clearly enjoys his craft. The notoriety of being responsible for the course that probably claimed the highest number of burpees in a long time is part of a great business strategy. We want to get better. We hunger for that perfect score.
Indeed – that perfect burpee free score was reserved for only a few, and here is why and how. The Red Deer races both included a ‘stacked’ section of four grip-based obstacles with a mud obstacle thrown in to keep things slick. The sequence was 1. Multirig, 2. Wet and muddy barbed wire crawl (to lube things up a lot), 3. Slip wall, 4. Hercules hoist and then 5. Monkey bars.
The sequence resulted in me doing a solid 120 burpees in the Super, and 60 burpees in the Sprint. Additionally, for the super, the sandbag haul was twice the distance compared to last year. The atlas carry was up and down a short hill, whereas last year it was completely flat. The tire flip was nearly impossible for many, as the weight of the tires being used seemed to have doubled (or maybe I’m just getting weaker – totally possible). For both races, transferred mud meant that the 120lb sandbag hoist became almost impossible unless you picked a rope with enough knots within arms reach. Finally, the rope climb was again rendered mostly impassable for all except those who have vices for hands.
This is all good. This is exactly the kind of challenge I show up for.
As I shook hands with Dean and thanked him for his time, I had to congratulate him on a great series so far. As in my Calgary review, I told him that it is clear and obvious that something has evolved and changed. Dean, and the team at Spartan Race Western Canada are unashamedly putting us through a more punishing, more challenging iteration of the race than they have ever produced before, and I hope it’s a strategy that keeps the race strong and well attended in this venue and others.
Some quotes from other racers:
FAYE STENNING – 1st Place Elite Female Saturday and Sunday
“I had a terrible race but I LOVED the course. I found a lot of the obstacles way more challenging than the USA races . Like the rig (I failed that both days when reaching for the very last rope before the bell) and the balance beam (they have a log hop in the USA which is way easier). On Saturday the rain made even the easiest obstacles a challenge (like the transverse wall).
The terrain was awesome. I liked the mix of open fast fields and trails which were fun and technical, but not so technical that you couldn’t fly through them.
I think the Sprint should have had at least one heavy carry in it. You can’t have a Spartan Race without throwing something heavy in the mix! This would also help lengthen the race because the guys race was won in 26mins, which in my opinion is too short (that’s basically a stadium race).
Honestly, what I liked most about the race is that it was safe. I’m soooo tired of trying to run fast on extremely technical ankle-breaking terrain. I understand the reasons for making it technical, but you don’t have to make the course SO technical that it’s un-runnable… you can do that by throwing in more heavy shit.”
AUSTIN AZAR – 1st Place Super
“I usually prefer the mountainous courses, but I really enjoyed Red Deer despite being a flat course. The obstacles seem to get better and more challenging at each Western Canada event, which is nice to see. The only big disappointment for me was to see the bucket carry not in play on Sunday. We ran right by it… for some reason it wasn’t included”
KRISTIAN WEICLAWEK – 2nd Place Sprint
“Negative aspects: They removed all heavy carries from the sprint.
Positive aspects: The difficulty of the obstacles. The uphill atlas carry although it was very short. The uphill-ness of the bucket carry, although again short, they did their best with what they had.
The course markings were on point this year too (last year me josh and Austin went off course because there was flagging ripped down and had to loop around and complete a missed obstacle thereby adding a few minutes to our race). It was easier on the Sunday obstacle wise for sure. But my lungs almost exploded trying to keep pace with those barbarians”
KODY O’BRIEN – 1st place competitive both days
“Well, I’m not the best with words but…On the first day it was a quick start that saw racers out for blood, I found myself focusing on the ground in front of me a lot throughout the first 4-5 kms on the single track. Then it opened up into the field of obstacles which was where I gained momentum. Once I saw the rig and my hands were dry(ish) I knew this was my chance to pull ahead. From there it was a lot of single track, again focusing on foot placement. Once I got to the top of the stairs I knew I was close to the end. I raced over to the spear and missed resulting in my first burpees of the year! Finally I got to the rope, but my legs were cramping and the rope was greasy. I couldn’t make it up and finished my race with burpees!
On the second day I knew I had to redeem myself on the obstacles. I completed that race penalty free and finished right in front of my kids!
It was an amazing weekend full of amazing people and memories I won’t soon forget!”
MIKHAIL GERYLO – 1st place Sprint, 2nd place Super
“Super: Great combo obstacle locations to make you race smart such as: herc hoist – monkey bars right after mud. Stair climb hill – spear throw. And barb wire water – rig and slip ramp.
I loved the winding single track through the woods. The weather on the days leading into it made even the slip ramp something you had to concentrate on.
Sprint: there was no room for error. Even if you spent an extra 10 seconds on an obstacle you fell back from the lead! It was a crazy quick course which was nice for my Manitoba legs.
The Sprint really saw who has been working on their top speed and obstacle confidence but really both days could have been totally different with the outcomes. The experiences of battling the entire race was something I’ll never forget with this crew.”
NANCY LORANGER – Competitive Super
“I look forward to the Red Deer Super because the course is fast and less technical than typical Spartan races. I realize this terrain doesn’t appeal to all racers but I find it it refreshing as I can dig deep for speed and my legs don’t get maxed on big climbs/descents…
I was frustrated by the spear throw obstacle. I believe there were only 5 spears on site….and even though I was racing competitive and had just the elite heat ahead of me, it was a bottleneck…!
Overall…I enjoy the location of the Red Deer Spartan race. Running through a maze of single track trails that shoot you out into open terrain where you can reset your pace, set your sights on a new racer to chase and psych yourself for the obstacle off in the distance.”
MICHELLE FORD – 2nd Place Spartan Super
Since the only chance I get to practice obstacles is usually on race day, on a bit of a whim, I headed to Red Deer to take advantage of the two back-2-back races. I’m not much of an uphill runner, so being able to race on fast, flat(ish) cross-country style terrain played into my strong suites (in other words, I loved the course). Saturday’s Super was an exciting game of leap-frog for the final couple kilometers, where I managed to sneak 2nd place just seconds ahead of Jessica and Ali. Sunday’s Sprint I would have liked to have seen more heavy carries, but still had great fun being chased by Faye, who eventually nailed the spear and passed me with 400m to go. Overall the weekend was a great showcase of the OCR talent coming out of Canada right now, both for men and women and it’s pretty exciting to this sport grow in our country.
Photo Credits: Spartan Race Canada, X-warrior, Rugged Maniac 2016