Here’s a quick history lesson on everyone who’s been on the podium at each of the Spartan Race World Championships. Notice a trend? The same guys seem to do well year after year. In fact, only 8 separate names have occupied the 18 podium spots awarded since 2012.
Course DesignSpartan Race Race returns to Squaw Valley for the fourth consecutive year on September 29, 2018. Last year’s World Championship was basically just a backwards version of the 2016 course. No matter what happens in 2018, racers can expect to climb and descend about 4,000 feet each, swim in sub-40-degree water, and deal with the longest heavy carries of the year. Here are the elevation profiles for each of the past 3 Spartan Race World Championships, which ranged from 14.5-16.3 miles.
Steve Hammond, once again designing the World Championship course this year, dropped some hints on Monday about this year’s course HERE. Spartan may decide to fool everyone by replicating last year’s course profile, but Steve Hammond said that it will start straight uphill and everyone will be getting wet early. I’m willing to bet that 2018 will be more like 2015 or 2016, with a long downhill section from the peak to the finish line. They haven’t released the course map yet, but everyone will know what to expect by Friday.
Most Crucial Race Section
Want to know where the race was won or lost in 2017? The 7-mile section from right after the swim (about halfway on the first downhill) to the second spear throw (after the second climb towards the end). Check out this incredible stat about this section:
Only 3 people ran within 1:00/mile SLOWER than Cody Moat did on the 7-mile stretch between mile 8-15. That means he literally distanced himself by at least 7 minutes vs. everyone not named Jon Albon, Robert Killian, or Ryan Atkins during the second half of the race. If you watched the Facebook Live coverage last year, it looked as if Cody was wearing a jetpack when he took off on this section. You better be several minutes ahead of Cody Moat before a long downhill section followed by a climb or else you don’t stand a chance of beating Cody. Good luck with that.
Don’t Go Too Fast Too Soon
Only 5 men who finished in the top-25 lost position between the 2-mile checkpoint and the finish line. In fact, none of the top-25 racers dropped more than 3 spots over the final 14.5 miles of the race. On average, the top-25 finishers moved up 8.7 spots between mile 2 and the finish line, with 10 racers moving up 10+ spaces during this section. In comparison, racers who placed 26th-100th overall dropped, on average, 8.6 spots after mile 2. Moral of the story: don’t start too fast too soon.
TOP SPARTAN RACERS IN 2018
The men’s field has never been deeper in the 8-year history of Spartan Race. Ian Hosek, Ryan Kempson, Kirk DeWindt, and a couple others aren’t that far behind, but these 7 have stood out above the rest in 2018. Let’s see how they’ve fared head-to-head this year:
Even though he has “only” one win this year, Atkins is the only person with a winning record head-to-head vs. each of the best US racers this year. Out of all athletes who have completed 4+ Spartan Races in 2018, no one has finished closer to the winner, on average, than Ryan Atkins. For instance, if the winner takes 1:00:00 and you finish in 1:01:00, you’ve finished within 1.6% of the winner. Ryan’s been even closer than that and only shows up to the most competitive races each year, the US Series. When Ryan Atkins doesn’t win, he’s always just steps behind. Here’s the top-10:
Woods has won 4/10 races this year, with his worst finish 5th overall in Seattle. This is the first year he truly looks comfortable as an OCR athlete, not some guy who can get away with 60+ burpees each race because he’s a great runner. Woods is 39, which is the same age the past two champions were (Hobie Call in 2016, Cody Moat in 2017). Can Woods make it three wins in a row for 39-year-olds?
Reigning world champion Cody Moat has looked surprisingly beatable this year. No one in the sport does a better job at peaking when it matters most, though, so don’t let his record so far fool you. Cody will be ready for Tahoe.
Killian was inconsistent the first half of this year (by his standards), but he’s been unbeatable since late-July, winning the Utah Super, the Breckenridge Beast/Sprint, and the West Virginia Beast/Super/Sprint.
After a red-hot start to the year with podiums in San Jose and Seattle, Ryan Kent had an inconsistent summer, thanks in part to the disruption of moving across the country. Kent has been training at elevation all month with some impressive workouts, though, so expect him to bounce back for Tahoe.
Always referred to as a future star of OCR, Veejay has lived up to the hype this year. Tahoe’s distance and the elements may not play to his strengths (yet), but he’s shown he can run with the best in the sport all year.
Ryan Woods is the best pure runner in OCR, but Mark Batres shouldn’t be overlooked. Mark has run a 1:03:56 half-marathon (4:52 pace) and a 2:19:07 marathon (5:18 pace). Like Woods, Mark Batres has finally looked like a true obstacle racer this year, not just a fast runner. He placed 24th in 2016 and 42nd in 2017, so Tahoe hasn’t treated Mark nicely in the past.
• John Yatsko – Is the most mysterious man in OCR back? He came out of nowhere to finish 5th at Utah, less than 2 minutes behind Woods, Atkins, and Moat.
• Ryan Kempson – Never afraid to go out with the leaders, Ryan had been dominating the 2018 season at all distances and appears to have finally figured out how to fuel properly.
• Brakken Kraker – Finally motivated again after struggles the past 2+ years, Brakken is one of the sport’s OGs. Don’t count Brakken out of a top-15 finish if the course is a shorter Beast.
• Joshua McDougal – The 2008 Olympian and 2x US national steeplechase champion finished 2nd at the 2015 Warrior Dash Championship before disappearing from OCR until this year.
• Tyler Veerman – Phenomenal climber and 4:14 college miler with multiple top-10 US Series finishes this year.
• Forrest Bouge – Former college wrestler who’s a strong climber with great strength-to-weight ratio, several podiums on mountain courses.
• Logan Broadbent – Finished 9th at West Virginia and 4th at the NorAm OCR Championship 15k in Vermont last month.
Like most things in the US, Americans don’t usually pay attention to what’s happening outside the country. That’s the case in OCR, too. Here are some international racers worth keeping an eye on:
Albert Soley (Spain)
Albert was basically Europe’s version of Hobie Call (circa-2011). He won his first 13 Spartan Races (technically 14, but he lost the 2017 European Championship after being penalized for missing a few burpees) and 18/22 overall. The only Spartan Race in which he hasn’t ended up on a podium was last year’s Lake Tahoe World Championship, where he finished 19th. Expect the former XTerra champion to crack the top-10 this year at Tahoe.
Jesse Bruce (Canada)
Fresh off a double podium in the 3k and 15k at the NorAm OCR Championship, Jesse Bruce showed up to West Virginia and finished 6th against the deepest field of any Spartan Race this year.
Johnny Luna-Lima (US, living in Europe)
Few know to run “their” race as well as Johnny Luna-Lima. He ran the 8th fastest second-half split of the race at last year’s championship, moving up 15 spots in the process. After an 11th-place showing at Tahoe last year, Johnny ended up on the podium at the European Spartan Championship this summer (despite being a US citizen).
Mikhail Gerylo (Canada)
Last year’s 15th-place finisher at Tahoe, Gerylo traveled from Canada to West Virginia and went home with a 5th-place finish. He has won 15 of his 21 races in Canada since 2015, never finishing off the podium. Mik also finished 6th at the 2017 OCRWC 15k.
Peter Ziska (Slovakia)
Nobody in Spartan Race history has more wins than Peter Ziska, who has nearly 60 first-place finishes to his name. Peter didn’t race Tahoe last year due to injuries, but finished 7th in 2016, 25th in 2015, and 14th in 2014.
Sergey Perelygin (Russia)
Sergey was about to take home 3rd place in the 2016 OCRWC 15k before struggling on the final wall and dropping to 5th place, just feet from the finish line. He recently won the European Spartan Race championship on a very hilly course at elevation. OCR fans will know his name if he decides to race at Tahoe this year.
Sebastian Conrad Haakansson (Norway)
The sub-2:30 marathoner is in his second season of OCR and was the first person to ever cross the finish line ahead of Albert Soley (above). He has an extensive ultra-endurance background under his belt and placed 5th at this year’s European Spartan Race Championship.
Here’s a list of some people with a top-25 finish at Tahoe (since 2015) and their best ever finish at a Spartan Race World Championship (some results are prior to 2015). What do they have in common? None of them have officially qualified for Tahoe this year. Those are some huge names missing. As of today, none of these racers qualified during the “regular season” to qualify for the 2018 Spartan Race World Championship title.
Spartan changed its qualification process, which you can read about HERE. So far, they seem to be standing by their new policy. However, Joe DiStefano did mention a little-known Spartan policy on Instagram that former champions (Hobie Call, Cody Moat, John Albon, and Robert Killian) are welcome to compete at any Spartan Race World Championship for life. Albon publicly announced that he’s traveling to the US for Tahoe, but Hobie has been silent.
Is Hobie fooling all of us by pretending to be retired from OCR again? Has he been using the “race less, train better” model that each of the past two champions have used (Cody Moat last year and Hobie in 2016)? Will he sneak up on the start line and win his fourth world title? Honestly, Hobie could literally not run a step for a full year and still place top-50 at Tahoe. He genuinely seems happy now that his (alleged) racing days are over, so I don’t think he’ll actually race this year.
Additionally, Joe Di said that the top-10 from last year are welcome to compete this year. Three people from the top-10 in 2017 haven’t officially qualified yet in 2018: Jon Albon (mentioned above), Hunter McIntyre, and Isaiah Vidal.
Hunter publicly tried to convince Joe DiStefano to let him race in West Virginia without qualifying, but he wasn’t allowed. McIntyre already mentioned that he’ll be in Tahoe to spectate, but will he decide to race just to spite Spartan, even though he’s been in 100% CrossFit mode since the summer?
Similarly, Isaiah Vidal has been solely focusing on CrossFit this year despite running a number of shorter races. Check out how consistent Hunter and Isaiah have been at every Spartan Race World Championship in which they’ve competed. Hunter’s never finished worse than 7th and Isaiah has been top-10 in each of the past 5 years. Only Hobie Call (5) and Cody Moat (6) have finished top-10 overall at 5+ Spartan Race World Championships. Even without focusing exclusively on OCR, both athletes have been unbelievably consistent when it matters most. I don’t think either will race, but based on their track records, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hunter or Isaiah came close to a top-10 finish at Tahoe if they showed up.
Sergey Perelygin (Russia)
Sergey was about to take home 3rd place in the 2016 OCRWC 15k before struggling on the final wall and dropping to 5th place, just feet from the finish line. He recently won the European Spartan Race championship on a very hilly course at elevation. Unfortunately, OCR fans not see him at Tahoe because the Russian athlete was unable to get a visa to compete in the US. He brings up a good point about Spartan only holding their world championship in the US each year so far. Will they move it to an international venue next year?
Other Notable Missing Names
We’ll see on race day, but I think some high-level athletes should get a pass based on their credentials. Chad Trammell, Marco Bedard, and Matt Kempson have proved themselves to be some of the best Spartan racers on the planet for 5+ years. What if Joe Gray, arguably the best mountain runner in the world, or Max King, who toyed with OCR for a couple years before returning to trail running, wanted to race? Should Spartan Race turn down an Olympic runner or skier because they didn’t qualify properly? The next great OCR athlete may be out there and want to prove themselves at Tahoe, but we might not even know it. Rules are rules, but is it really a World Championship if you don’t let the best people race?
LEVEL OF COMPETITION
No offense to elite racers around the world, but there are 5 OCR athletes at the top – Ryan Atkins, Ryan Woods, Robert Killian, Cody Moat, and Jon Albon – and then everyone else. This list used to include Hobie Call (retired) and Hunter McIntyre (focusing on CrossFit now), but I don’t see either of them racing in Tahoe this year.
That doesn’t mean that everyone else should just stay home, though. In fact, that’s actually the opposite. The amount of depth towards the top has never been so high, as the top-10 of many championship races are separated by only a few minutes now vs. 20+ minutes five years ago. All it takes is one failed obstacle to suddenly drop from 10th to 20th. The battle for those 11th to 30th spots will be ridiculous based on how many good racers there are today.
I’ve changed the order of the top-5 probably 10 times, but here’s how I think the men’s side of the 2018 Lake Tahoe Spartan Race World Championship will end up:
Note: This list assumes that all international racers will fly to Tahoe to race, which probably won’t be the case. Some international athletes may stay home and instead use their money to travel to OCRWC in the UK instead.
1. Ryan Atkins
I almost feel stupid not picking Cody Moat to win again, but I truly think this is the year at Ryan Atkins finally wins a Spartan Race title. He’s doing a team relay for World’s Toughest Mudder and already paid for his trip for Iceland. All of this means he’s going all-in for the $1 million prize for winning Tahoe, the Greece Trifecta weekend, and reaching 100 miles in Iceland. None of that will happen without winning at Tahoe, though. He’s been living at elevation and putting in tons of mileage in the mountains all month, so altitude won’t affect him this year at Tahoe. Although he “only” finished 4th at the Tougher Mudder Championships in Seattle this weekend, Tahoe will be nothing like the flat Seattle course. The notoriously difficult heavy carries will play to Atkins’ advantage, and few can suffer as well as Ryan. Ryan will finally not be a bridesmaid after several 2nd place showings at previous Spartan Race World Championships and OCRWC events dating back to 2014.
2. Jon Albon
Even though he hasn’t officially qualified, Jon Albon lists Tahoe on his “Next Events” page on his personal website HERE. Albon flew from the UK to Seattle and won the Tougher Mudder Championship one week before Tahoe, so he’ll be heading to Squaw Valley several days before the race to acclimate for the 6,200-foot elevation start line at Tahoe. Anyone who doesn’t pick him to end up on the podium in any OCR championship race is a fool.
3. Cody Moat
You saw that stat about Cody Moat’s second half of the race last year earlier in this article. If he’s within a couple minutes of the lead whenever the first big downhill begins, he may end up winning this race. Most people forget that Cody was leading Tahoe in 2016 before struggling to stay warm after the freezing swim. He could easily be a 3-time champion if the cold didn’t affect him that day. I don’t see a way Cody Moat doesn’t end up on the podium again this year.
4. Ryan Woods
I really, really want to put Woods on the podium. It feels like 2018 is the Year of Ryan Woods, but after shifting names around about a dozen times, I just couldn’t leave the 3 men above off the podium. Woods was only 1:20 behind Cody Moat’s lead at the halfway point last year before falling back to 6th. Ryan seems to have taken it to another level this year, though, never finishing worse than 5th at the most competitive races all season. Woods has been burpee-free nearly all year, but so was Hobie Call throughout his career before a surprise spear throw miss at Tahoe that cost him any chance at winning just 40 minutes into the race. Failed obstacles have plagued Woods in the past and if there’s ever a race where you don’t want that to happen, it’s Tahoe, even if it’s just one missed obstacle.
5. Robert Killian
Robert Killian has been on fire lately, but his decision to do the 5-day Expedition OCR World Championship Race less than 2 weeks before Tahoe is questionable. His body is used to racing more than almost every top racer, but recovery between then and Tahoe will be key. This was the first year where he didn’t finish on a podium in every single US Series race or World Championship, so Tahoe may be another surprise.
Rest of the top-10:
6. Mikhail Gerylo
7. Albert Soley
8. Johnny Luna-Lima
9. Tyler Veerman
10. Jesse Bruce
CRAZY THINGS HAPPEN AT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
In reality, there are always a couple surprises each year. That’s what happens at championship races, and it will certainly happen again. It even snowed during the Ultra Beast last year, which means last year’s champion would have been crowned in a snowstorm if the race had been held one day later. Predicting exactly what will happen is almost impossible given how many variables are in each obstacle course race.
I’ve been following the Spartan circuit worldwide pretty closely, so I feel like most of the names I identified earlier as “darkhorses” will end up being correct. Hopefully they’ll give you a heads up when you think, “Who’s that guy?” while watching the Facebook Live coverage. Here are some of the previous surprises from the past three years at Tahoe:
• Previously unheard of, Robert Killian shocks the world by winning the Spartan Race World Championship title.
• Two pro runners (NCAA Champion AJ Acosta and Olympian David Torrence) entered the race to try to win a big pay day. Torrence ended up dropping out and Acosta finished 44th despite hovering in the top-20 for most of the race.
• Aaron Fletcher, an elite steeplechaser who recently graduated from college, was in 4th place 90 minutes into the race before falling off pace and finishing 17th.
• JP Donovan, Tahoe area native and a member of the US National Mountain Running Team, finished 13th in his second ever obstacle race.
• Hobie Call, who was unbeatable all year, missed his spear throw 40 minutes into the race and was never able to recover. He ended up finishing 7th.
The truth will come out on September 29th at Lake Tahoe. What are your predictions for this race?