By Glenn Hole with contributions from Ashley Bender. The Calgary Spartan Race.
Tired. Overdone. Flat. Boring. Fast (pejoratively), too muddy, not long enough, bad festival area, no spectator views, bad parking arrangements. I wouldn’t do it again. How would they run a super on this postage stamp sized area?
These are some of the comments I have seen on social media and from friends within the OCR community in Alberta, Canada.
As you can tell, the Calgary Spartan Race has a mixed reputation in Alberta. Unlike its more scenic cousin, Red Deer, the Calgary venue is not much to look at. It’s a worn motocross circuit. At times it is extremely dusty, at others it is prone to getting so muddy that it can be a frustrating experience to even try and complete the course. Historically the festival area has also been pretty grim underfoot, with limited vantage points for spectators.
There seemed to be a clear divide in the quality and style of the races we would find in Canada versus the ones we would experience in the USA. Calgary was part of that divide.
Thankfully Spartan Race Canada has been thinking hard about how to improve the Western Canadian Spartan Race scene. The standard is now higher. The obstacles are tough and varied. The festival area was now fantastically laid out and clear of mud. It was easy to see some of the key obstacles from the sidelines. The parking was fine. The check in was busy but efficient. For those who attended the race for the first time this year, they got as true an introduction to Spartan as you would find anywhere in North America.
There is one thing I need to get out of the way before I get to the good stuff about Spartan Canada. My one pet peeve about the Spartan Race format is the high entry fees for spectators. $15 to WATCH a Spartan Race feels a little steep – it’s a little better now you can actually SEE what is going on during the race compared to last year, but I brought 5 adults with me to watch and they were all a little frustrated with the collective entry fee of $75.
Now, I felt that the race was spectacular, and I’m not saying I understand the economics of these races. There are costs to cover overhead to reach. All I know is that spectators are free of charge at many other races and that most other races tend to have more for spectators to do during the event.
I understand the need for paid parking spots and that carpooling can improve things, but OCR isn’t much of a spectator sport. Rugged Maniac, Mud Hero, Muddy Warrior and X Warrior Challenge, for example, have a free spectator policy. Rugged even has a full stage program with entertaining events and competitions running all day. For $15 I expect more.
Now that is out of the way, let’s talk about the awesome action out on course.
The Spartan Race weekend began with the sprint distance on Saturday. Clocking in at 6.8 instead of the usual 4km that has been common over the years. The Super on Sunday came in at just under 11 km, which is remarkable given the size of the area. Check out the two maps we have on Strava showing the course and the layout.
What to Expect
Calgary starts with a swooping vertical drop onto a wide dusty track. It’s easy to find your pace without bottlenecking. The course winds around like a game of snake, covering every lump and bump available across the track – with much of the action in good view of the festival area. The trail itself looks like a brain from above!
This is a race course that cultivates speed. There isn’t really a chance for any kind of relief or steady pace. It’s never truly flat, and what the course lacks in sustained vertical distance it makes up with the sheer number of short sharp climbs and controlled falls downhill. Some of the inclines and drop offs were more like scrambles at a 60-degree angle! The bucket carry and 50lb sandbag carry were both found on these incredibly steep sections. Even the tractor pull took place over a series of small whoops, rather than a typical flat course. For a course without any natural hills, it punched well above its weight and height; the sprint clocked 384 m elevation gain and loss while the super delivered 599 m elevation gain and loss.
Barbed Wire from Hell
This year we were treated to a super long barbed wire crawl near the start of the race. The barbed wire was low to the ground and the crawl was cratered with watery troughs that made rolling extremely difficult. The entire route was split down the middle, turning back on itself halfway through. A lot of us didn’t see that coming. Well played.
The Stunt Park
After a grueling set of climbs and descents along the west side of the arena, we crested a hill and entered my favourite part of this race. The stunt park. It’s where dirt bikers practice balance and jumping from one rock to another.
The area is full of raised logs, drop offs, boulder piles, almost vertical climbs, and balance beams. To run on, it’s dynamic and challenging, requiring fast feet, concentration, flexibility, agility, speed, and the cardiovascular capacity of a racehorse. You get the idea. It’s by far the most effective use of embedded obstacles I’ve ever seen in a race. The section left me feeling like a superhero.
I love this obstacle and I was so pleased to see it there again. It wasn’t particularly hard this time (if in doubt, just use the round holes instead of the chains or the climbing grips), but it’s a nice challenge and it feels great to complete it.
The old ankle biter was back with a vengeance on the Super, but not for the Sprint.
A heavy Atlas Carry was added for the Super on Sunday. 5 burpees were performed at the halfway mark.
Sled Pull and Drag
The heavy sled pull was back for both races again. Again, I love the fact that competing at Spartan requires a lot of different training modalities.
A big mud trap and a couple of short swims also were featured later in the race. They were effective at breaking down the pace of faster runners while becoming a source of muddy mayhem for more casual runners. Mud is great as an obstacle, but it can also make a race into an unpleasant experience if the entire race is too muddy. This year we had dry weather leading up to the race, so the mud was not an issue.
Extended Bucket Carry for the Super
The bucket carry was even longer for the Super, creating somewhat of a death-march type situation.
The feeling of accomplishment in finishing strong on my particular race was really worth the effort. I know Ashley (who provided additional information for me about the Super) also finished first in her age group. Everyone who ran and attempted either of the Spartan races in Calgary this year should be very proud. It was the most challenging and interesting Spartan Sprint Calgary has seen to date and the Super was a huge success and an appropriate step up in difficulty over the Sprint. Overall I would say the event was a success in terms of reinventing the Spartan race in Calgary. I reached out to Johnny Waite, the new race director of Spartan race Canada,
“I am very proud of what our team is achieving with our reboot of the Canadian market, and it means a lot that the work is appreciated and acknowledged. As I said at the podium presentation, Canadians are among the very best obstacle racers in the world and we are committed to giving them some of the very best races in the world. (And, we are having fun doing it too!!)”
Keep it up guys!
Photo credits. Gamefacemedia. Johnny Waite (instagram) and Spartan Race Canada (Facebook)