Calgary Spartan Race 2018
There is talk that this might have been the last year that Spartan Race Canada would be using the Wildrose venue for the Calgary Spartan Race weekend. If so, I want to share some of the great highlights of the venue and why Spartan Racing there was pretty special. Sure this venue is tired and worn, but it’s where my OCR journey began. There’s some history here and for me, racing at the Wild Rose Motocross Circuit in Calgary is like coming home.
It’s like going home to your parents house after being away at University for 3 months and realizing you missed the eccentricities of your family home and the people in it. You can forgive the shortcomings and the predictability. You’ll even eat the sprouts. Hell, in this case they never tasted better.
Here’s why Calgary IS a great venue for OCR.
It’s completely different from other venues.
There’s no venue quite like this; Red Deer is a meadowed forest single-track, Montana is a backcountry adventure run, Kimberley was – well… basically Killington. Running at the Calgary Spartan Race weekend is like running on the surface of Mars, about 4 kilometers from the business district of Calgary. It’s a stark wasteland environment of artificial hills and dips. It looked especially Martian last weekend as heavy smoke from the BC wildfires obscured the rising sun and the Calgary skyline, casting an orange tint over everything as it struggled to break through the murky blue haze.
There are a few trees and bushes here, but the flora mostly gives way to vast expanses of dust and soil. The mud here smells bad, as if Johnny Waite shipped in some manure just to make it extra special (I have it on great authority that he did not). There is a rugged utility about this race venue, and as a sandbox for a race designer, it has fewer limitations than it might seem compared to other venues with easy access, a short distance to travel to get there, and few limitations on digging and building obstacles wherever they are required. It takes a truly well-rounded athlete to flourish in all these environments, and Calgary represents a testing ground for that versatility.
The Calgary race venue pushes you to a different kind of limit than other races do on the western Canadian series. If you’re in the elite or competitive mindset, prepare to redline constantly as you try and maintain momentum over sawtooth-like elevation profile. Because of the setup and the pace, the race unfolds itself like a swift kick to the adrenal glands. You might as well pretend to be riding a dirt bike (in fact I did hear some racers making two-stroke motor noises as they banked around the wall rides). The speed gives rise to some spectacularly exciting moments and battles between runners.
It can be muddy and we NEED mud sometimes.
For those wanting that mud-run feel, Calgary certainly delivered a healthy dollop. There were at least three good mud bogs on the Sprint, and maybe more on the Super (sorry I had to bail). The second barbed wire crawl was an unavoidable slog through deep mud, which was probably the most fun I’ve had on an OCR all season.
There was also a dunk wall and lots of opportunities to get completely immersed in water. It couldn’t help but put a broad smile on my face and take me back to my first Spartan Race at this very venue where I got completely covered from head to toe in this very same mud. There is something honest about mud. As an obstacle mud favors nobody – you can’t specifically train well for the chaos it creates.
Mud enhances the difficulty of obstacles and requires extra care and obstacle strategies, but mud also plays a social role in OCR. There are probably some psychological things about breaking down people’s inhibitions and overcoming fears and reservations that I won’t explore but you know what I mean. Mud can also make things terrible if there is too much of it – for example back in 2015 and 2016 when the entire course became a quagmire. But some mud is great.
Sorry, Josh. Mud is here to stay.
The Calgary Spartan Race is full of surprising twists and turns.
The Calgary course favours the agile. You need to be able to perform well at all the regular obstacles such as the rope climb, the bucket carry, the heavy sled pulls, you will also need the agility of a soccer player. The course twists and turns on itself repeatedly within the relatively small area it covers (just a few city blocks), and features multiple hairpin bends, dramatic level changes, rock piles, log jams and tight corners.
These features make it exciting and interesting to navigate the course, and to see where other racers are. By now we all know this venue quite well and what the basic layout is, but it still feels exciting to bomb down those hills and attack those steep climbs.
You can always have fun at the Calgary Spartan race and take your own time running at your own pace and the course has plenty of fun (and probably more) to offer the casual runner, those facing personal goals rather than rivalries, or those wanting a less competitive team-based experience.
The obstacles feel dense and exciting.
I enjoy encountering obstacles during fast races like this because it feels like the obstacles really do influence the outcome. At the Calgary Spartan Race there is really no room for errors, so for those running elite or age-group, this adds another exciting paradigm to the competition. In fact, finally this feels like an OCR, not just a trail run interrupted by obstacles.
A nice highlight of the Calgary Spartan Race was the Wrecked obstacle (which involved 5 wreck bag snatches with a burpee between each) – which I’m told there was some confusion about. For the record, I did my overhead wreck bag work with burpees in between each rep. Others did not.
Confusion over obstacle rules in OCR seems to almost be an inevitability. It’s the fog of war effect. Unless we all get a walk-through on the obstacles beforehand on how to complete them (which I’m not suggesting), there will always be a different interpretation – the volunteers may also have their own interpretation which may change over the course of the day. Just roll with it and deal I guess.
I’d love to see more innovation along the lines of the WRECKED – It’s a step in the right direction.
In my review of the Kimberley Spartan Race weekend I mentioned a list of improvements I’d love Spartan Race Canada to make. Quite unexpectedly for me, The Calgary Spartan Sprint kinda delivered on most of that. There was action, adventure, and an exciting course that delivered some of the fun I’ve been craving from Spartan.
I don’t know what the future holds for the Calgary Spartan Race, or where it will be held in 2019. Maybe it’ll be right back here for 2019 again. Either way is fine with me, but the Calgary Spartan Race is still one of the classics.
I should add here that I was only able to complete the sprint. If anyone wants to add thoughts on the Super, please comment below!
All Photos Credit: Spartan Race Canada