Time for a quick history lesson on everyone who’s been on the women’s podium at each of the Spartan Race World Championships. A total of 14 different women have claimed a spot on the podium since the first ever Spartan Race World Championship in Texas in 2011. Since the venue moved to Lake Tahoe three years ago, Zuzana Kocumova and Lindsay Webster have finished 1st or 2nd every year.
Spartan Race returns to Squaw Valley for the fourth consecutive year on September 29, 2018. Steve Hammond, designing Tahoe’s course once again this year, said in a teaser video on Monday that the course will be 13.5 miles, start straight uphill, and that runners will get wet early. 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
I crunched a bunch of numbers based on splits at various timing mats from all 3 years in which the Spartan Race World Championship was held at Tahoe. The boxed area on each course map is the section of the race that made the biggest impact for the top racers, where you either gained a lot of ground or fell back several spots. Notice a trend? All of them involve a climb followed by a downhill section (or vice versa) in the second half of the race. If you want to do well at Tahoe, you must be able to quickly transition from your “climbing legs” to your “downhill legs.”
Last year’s race was won or lost during the 7-mile section from right after the swim (about halfway on the downhill) to the second spear throw (after the second climb towards the end). Check out this incredible stat about this section:
Only 2 people ran within 1:00/mile SLOWER than Lindsay Webster did on the 7-mile stretch between mile 8-15. Everyone in the top-10 who didn’t end up on the podium ran between 1:09 – 2:18 slower per mile on this section than Lindsay. She literally distanced himself by 8-16 minutes vs. 7 of the 10 best female Spartan Racers in the world during the second half of the race, including Faye Stenning, Rea Kolbl, Nicole Mericle, etc. There’s a reason why Lindsay and Zuzana have ended up 1st or 2nd each of the past 3 years, and their ability to push the pace on back-to-back uphill-downhill sections is the explanation. If you’re not leading them at this point in the race, it may be a better idea to play it safe and go for 3rd place instead of blowing up trying for a top-2 spot.
Don’t Go Too Fast Too Soon
Nearly 2/3 of women who finished in the top-25 gained position between the 2-mile checkpoint and the finish line. In fact, none of the top-18 racers dropped more than 4 spots over the final 14.5 miles of the race. On average, the top-25 finishers moved up 3.8 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, 6.1 spots after mile 2. Tahoe is a looong race, so don’t start too fast too soon.
TOP SPARTAN RACERS IN 2018
It’s been no secret that 5 ladies have consistently dominated the women’s field for the past 2+ years. The “Fab Five” consists of Lindsay Webster, Faye Stenning, Rea Kolbl, Alyssa Hawley, and Nicole Mericle. How dominant have these 5 women been over the past 3 years? This year, they’ve collectively run 47 races and had a top-5 finish 46 times (97.9% of the time), with Alyssa Hawley’s 6th place at West Virginia being the lone exception. In 2017 and 2016, this group finished in the top-5 in 95.5% and 86.3% of all races they ran, respectively. If any of these 5 women is in a race, they’re all a lock to finish in the top-5 nearly 95% of the time, no matter who their competition is.
The table below shows how the “Fab Five” fared head-to-head this year:
Like her husband Ryan Atkins, Lindsay is the only person with a winning record head-to-head vs. each of the best US female racers this year. Her only head-to-head losses this year have been to Faye and Rea, both at the Big Bear Beast. Lindsay has won her last 3 races by a margin of 2:28 to 3:58 over the 2nd place finisher. That gap might not sound impressive, but trust me, it’s insane. None of the last 3 races of the male US Series were won by more than 44 seconds, as Lindsay’s average margin of victory was between 3.4 and 5.4 times as large in those same races. To put it differently, you’d have dropped all the way to 9th place in Chicago if you were a male who finished 2:28 behind the winner, but that earned 2nd place for the women. Lindsay Webster has been destroying the deepest fields in women’s history by margins of victory never seen before.
Out of all athletes who have completed 4+ Spartan Races in 2018, no one has finished closer to the winner on average than Lindsay Webster, and it’s not even close. Here’s the top-10:
After a 3rd place finish in 2016, Faye Stenning had an inconsistent 2017, but she returned to form in 2018. Faye is one of only two women to beat Lindsay Webster head-to-head this year, and she owns the 2nd highest “% off winner” ratio of all US women. Faye has either won or finished 2nd in 8/10 races this year, with her worst finish 4th place at the Chicago Super and West Virginia Beast.
After an injury scare during the summer, Rea Kolbl looks 100% again. Rea is known for putting in a ridiculous amount of volume each week, so maybe the forced time off her feet due to injury will end up helping her feel fresh at Tahoe. Rea is the only person besides Faye to have beaten Lindsay Webster head-to-head this year.
The number “4” seems to be reigning 3rd place Tahoe finisher Alyssa Hawley’s magic number this year. Alyssa finished 4th at the Breckenridge Beast, Utah Super, and Big Bear Beast, in addition to 6th at West Virginia. In the 6 largest races this year (5 US Series races and West Virginia), Alyssa has finished on the podium twice. She may not be winning as frequently this year, but Alyssa is as consistent as it gets during big races.
Arguably the fastest female pure runner in the field, Nicole won the individual title at the 2008 NCAA South Central Regional while a cross-country runner at Rice. Her run speed is always on display, as she immediately takes the lead in nearly every Spartan Race in which she competes. Not only that, Nicole is an unbelievable rock climber. Nicole has podiumed at the past 3 US Series races, so she is heading into Tahoe with a lot of momentum. A Colorado resident, Nicole won’t be intimidated by the mountains or elevation at Tahoe.
Surely you’ve heard her story by now, but if not, this Harvard medical student is legit. Even before her surprise podium in West Virginia, Rebecca Hammond had put together a very strong season, losing to Rea Kolbl in her first race by just 19 seconds, a 6th place finish in Utah, and ridiculous back-to-back 13- and 11-minute wins (!) at the Boston Super and Sprint.
Other Names to Watch
• Amelia Boone – No, it’s not 2013. Amelia is still one of the best female Spartan racers 5 years after winning the World Championship in Killington. She has mainly raced the Spartan Race Mountain Series this year and just finished 8th at West Virginia. That’s a recipe for success at Tahoe and maybe one last stand for the Queen of Pain.
• Leigh Anne Wasteney – Leigh Anne has been just behind the Fab Five all years, with several 6th place finishes in the US Series. A dual-sport runner and volleyball player in college, Leigh Anne’s athleticism has helped her excel at OCR.
• Sara Schwertfeger – An NCAA championship qualifying hurdler at Iowa State, Sara surprised the field with a 9th place finish at Tahoe last year. Podiums in 4/5 races this year, just her second in OCR, have shown that last year wasn’t a fluke.
• Sarah Woodward – It’s a shame that no one ever mentions Sarah among the best female Spartan Racers. Did you know Sarah Woodward has finished 9th and 8th the past two years at Tahoe? Not only that, Sarah took down Rea Kolbl and Alyssa Hawley last month at the Breckenridge Beast.
• Kristin Saad – After finishing 10th each of the past two years at Tahoe, Kristin has finished between 5th to 9th place in 4 US Series races this year. A former NCAA D1 runner at Miami University (Ohio), Kristin has the legs to keep up with nearly everyone in the women’s field.
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:
Eszter Hortobagyiova (Slovakia)
Eszter is the best European female Spartan Racer not named Zuzana Kocumova. She has finished on the podium in 19/20 career races, with the only omission being last year at Tahoe, where she finished 13th. In fact, the only women to beat Eszter ever outside of Tahoe is Zuzana (4 times) and Yoie Bohlin (2nd at last year’s Spartan European Championship). Eszter finished 2nd at this year’s European Championship, just 3:07 behind Zuzana (her narrowest European Championship win ever) and 2:19 ahead of Alyssa Hawley.
Myriam Guillot-Boisset (Spain)
Did you know that Myriam was leading last year’s Spartan World Championship by over a minute after the first heavy carry (42 minutes into the race)? I bet you also didn’t know she finished 4th at the 2016 XTerra World Championship, which is essentially an off-road triathlon. Even more impressive, Myriam finished 8th overall at the 2016 Spartan Race World Championship despite doing 300 burpees. That’s not a typo! After a 3rd place finish at the European Championship, it’s clear that Myriam can race with the best OCR has to offer. Whether or not she can avoid burpees is another story.
Alex Roudayna de la Huerta Susilla (Mexico)
Also known as Chikorita, Alex has never finished worse than 2nd in 15 career Spartan Races in Mexico, including 11 straight wins dating back to 2014. Despite sitting out last year’s Spartan Race World Championship, Alex has a 6th place finish (2015) and an 11th place finish (2016) on her resume. She may not be as dominant as in years past, but Chikorita still finished 9th in the Seattle US Series Super and 12th at the European Championship earlier this year.
Anne Champagne (Canada)
Champagne became one of only 3 women to have won a race outright for both genders after her win at the Killington Ultra Beast, beating all the men in the race. Anne finished 38th at Tahoe two years ago and has a top-2 finish in 3/4 races this year.
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.
Spartan changed its qualification process, and 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 (Claude Godbout (2012) and Jenny Tobin (2011)) are welcome to compete at any Spartan Race World Championship for life. As of today, no one else on this list is allowed to compete for the 2018 Spartan Race World Championship title, as all of the top-10 from last year has already automatically qualified again.
Even though the depth of the female field has increased exponentially this year, I think best-case scenario for any woman not named Lindsay Webster or Zuzana Kocumova is 3rd place at Tahoe. Lindsay Webster is currently putting together the single-most dominant season for a female OCR athlete ever, and Zuzana is, well, Zuzana. No athlete with world champion aspirations wants to hear it, but it may be a better strategy to race smart and go for the last podium spot than trying to take down the two best female OCR athletes ever. Take a look at the statistic that I showed earlier in the article about how Lindsay and Zuzana ran the second half of last year’s race by over 1:00 per mile. It’s almost impossible to outrun them they’ve finished 1st and 2nd all 3 years at Tahoe for a reason.
Here’s how I think the women’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. Lindsay Webster
Lindsay is the reigning Spartan Race World Champion but still doesn’t get the credit she deserves. It’s a shame that she is the female G.O.A.T. of OCR, yet many people still refer to Lindsay as “Ryan Atkins’ husband.” Lindsay only races at the most difficult races of the year (US Series, Canadian National Championship, Spartan Race World Championship), yet she has managed to win 14/19 Spartan Races that she has entered since 2016 without ever missing the podium. Did I mention she is the reigning Spartan Race World Champion? There’s never been a woman in the history of Spartan Race who could beat Lindsay in her current fitness level.
2. Zuzana Kocumova
Until proven otherwise, picking Zuzana and Lindsay as the top-2 female finishers at Tahoe is about the safest bet you can make in OCR. They’ve done it each of the previous 3 years at Tahoe and there’s no reason to think it will change this year. Zuzana won the Spartan Race European Championship by several minutes this summer and is a 2-time Spartan Race and was only 1:43 behind Lindsay last year. One fun stat to keep in mind: Zuzana is 39. Why is that relevant? The male Spartan World Champion has been 39 each of the past two years (Hobie Call in 2016, Cody Moat in 2017). It would be amazing for the “age 39” trend to continue for a third year in a row (switching to the women’s side), but I just don’t see any way that Lindsay will lose this race, even to the two-time World Champion Zuzana.
3. Faye Stenning
Faye seems to be the female version of Ryan Atkins, someone who’s always been close to being the Spartan Race World Champion but still hasn’t won yet. Faye doesn’t show up to the start line to finish 2nd, though. She shows up to win. This type of mindset usually produces one of two outcomes: a spot on the podium because you’re not afraid to take a risk, or a missed podium because you went for the win too soon and blew up. Faye will either end up on the podium or fade towards the end after taking too much of a risk by going for the win too early. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt that she’ll do well in Tahoe based on her previous showings there.
4. Rebecca Hammond
Rebecca is not afraid to go out with the leaders and shocked OCR fans everywhere with a 2nd place finish in West Virginia, taking down names like Faye, Rea, Nicole, and Alyssa in the process. The former collegiate and professional runner has the lungs and legs to run with anyone, and the fact that Tahoe will be “shorter” this year (13.5 miles) will only help her chances at Tahoe. Assuming Rebecca has been working on her obstacle proficiency, she will shave off valuable time lost due to inexperience that she showed at West Virginia. Rebecca will prove at Tahoe that her 2nd place finish at the North American Championship was not a fluke.
5. Rea Kolbl
Unfortunately for her opponents, grip strength endurance no longer is an issue for Rea thanks to Yancy Culp’s help. Living in Colorado means the mountains and altitude at Tahoe will play right into Rea’s strengths. Only a couple dozen men in all of OCR are faster running uphill than Rea, who is arguably the best female climber in the world. That’s a recipe for success at Tahoe. I had Rea slated for a podium spot at the beginning of the year, but I don’t know if her body has had enough time to return to peak fitness in time for Tahoe after her injury.
Rest of the top-10:
6. Myriam Guillot-Boisset
7. Nicole Mericle
8. Alyssa Hawley
9. Sara Schwertfeger
10. Eszter Hortobagyiova