Two hours east of Montreal, towering above Lac Memphrémagog, in Mansonville Quebec, lies Mont Owl’s Head. A relatively humble resort in a small town just north of the US and Canadian border. The challenge this giant presented however, was anything but humble, as plenty of would-be Ultra Beasters would find out this past weekend.
Spartan Race Canada is not part of the US-based Spartan experience that I’ve become so accustomed to. Sure the premise is the same: Sprint, Super, Beast, Ultra Beast, etc., but there are variations of the brand that you will only see in the Great White North. First, the Platinum Rig is the premier obstacle partner of Spartan Race Canada. If you ran the last Spartan World Championship Race in Killington, VT back in 2014 or the highly-toted OCR World Championships, chances are you’re familiar with the Platinum Rig. For those who are not, it’s an interchangeable rig design that often includes rings, hanging ropes, monkey bars, cargo nets and any combination there of, sure to give even the vets no choice but to work on their burpee form 30-times over. Platinum Rig also had other obstacles on site that I had not seen in any US-based race.
Second, the sign-in process is a hair different. You bring your receipt info (or mobile-based QR code) to a table, they assign you a bib and timing chip on the spot. No needing to hunt down your bib number online beforehand. Simply show up 90 minutes before your wave, and voila. The timing chips they use, provided by UK-based Trumin Sports, are attached to your shoes, as opposed to those awkward wrist band devices we have grown accustomed to in the States.
…the all-too-common trend nowadays is the predictable fight between Spartan Racer and the terrain: not the obstacles.
Festival entertainment, sprawling vendor alleyways, and start-line traditions all remained the same.
While each Spartan Race course is different, the all-too-common trend nowadays is the predictable fight between Spartan Racer and the terrain; not the obstacles. Their apparent recipe for success? Find a mountain. Hack a course up and down it in relentless fashion, and pack the obstacles into the last leg of the course for a truly cramp-inducing sufferfest. Mont Owl’s Head reaches 2,480 feet above sea level (or 756m if you’re doing as the Canadian’s do). The goal for Spartan this weekend was to punish you straight out of the gate, that much was clear. From the gun, racers were met with an 800ft climb up one of Owl Head’s ski slopes. Turning the corner and hopping a few 4-foot walls took you back down that same 800ft slope, before turning right back around and going back up – the only change of scenery being the racers behind you following in your footsteps as you walk beside them, on the other side of the Spartan Race trail tape. We did this again and again throughout the day. In the first 5km of the course, you were exposed to approximately 2,800ft of elevation change and three laughable obstacles – 4ft walls, hay bails, and two walls that you were supposed to jump over without touching. No challenge there. Once you came down again, you had an inverted Platinum Rig waiting for you at the bottom of the slope.
Elevation Profile for Ultra Beast
The Ultra Beast racers was treated to a 2km loop off of the regular Beast course that did have a Platinum Rig Weaver-style device. If these names sound obscure it’s because there was no course map in the festival area, so I am shooting from the hip on the names. This, in my opinion, was the most innovative obstacle of the day. You had to “weave” under and over bars and logs, as you scaled up the Rig. Hard to visualize and equally hard to complete. From there we had an ammo box carry that led us into the woods into a winding trail of switch backs – a place where seasoned veterans could truly excel.
After that short relatively flat section of the Ultra Beast loop, it was back into climbing and descending mode. Between miles 5 and 10 of the course you were simply hiking up or down the mountain with nothing more than a military-style camouflaged cargo net crawl thrown in to break up the monotony. It wasn’t until you were back down near the festival area that you were met by obstacles such as the Hercules Hoist and Rope Climb. Carry’s found their way into the latter half of the course in the form of the Spartan “Waffle”, a slosh pipe, tire flip, drag, and carry. Once again, staples of the Spartan Race we known and love, but woefully unoriginal – even less so, considering they were simply tossed in towards the end of the race to “break” perspective finishers. And break them, it did. Of the quoted “750 registered racers” in the athlete’s guide, only 125 of those finished the Ultra Beast.
The trend of simply throwing in an obstacle between miles of climbing has become an all too easy excuse for Spartan to justify a resist in innovation. Want a harder race? Find a bigger mountain! Can’t find a bigger mountain? Let’s find more ways to send racers up and down this one! While I was unimpressed with this common theme, I was impressed with the adversity racers continue to put up against the course designers. I continue to watch in awe as competitors meet these challenges head on and with incomparable success. Jesse Bruce for instance took not only the podium at the Super on Saturday but also for the Ultra Beast on Sunday. Bravo.
Myself? I DNF’d the course around Mile 15. My first ‘Did Not Finish’. The mountain won this battle. I just hope the next Ultra Beast I try (I’m looking at you Killington) will challenge my obstacle prowess as much as it does my ability (or inclination) to simply walk up and down a mountain repeatedly. You can do better, Spartan.
Photo Credit: Josh Chace