Who am I? I am a Spartan! A Spartan on a lot of Tylenol. Welcome to the Spartan Race weekend to end them all.
After running the Montana Spartan Beast on Saturday (you can read all about that hot mess in Katerina Walowski’s race report soon). I questioned my sanity for even attempting to climb down from my bunk-bed (why was I on the top?) and suit up for the Spartan Sprint on Sunday. Thanks to various key players who both insulted and encouraged me into doing it and some powerful painkillers, I was riding the school bus back to the race venue.
Compared to my home on the windy brown plains of Alberta Canada, the Flathead valley is a green oasis where spring has been in bloom for a few weeks already. The charming city of Kalispell was expecting us too, as the pubs and restaurants in the city were poised to welcome and accommodate us. We stayed in the Kalispell hostel, above a great bike shop called Wheatons.
The festival area itself is just south of Kalispell, tucked into the ancient glacial foothills of the Mission mountains. The event featured a very efficient park and ride system, some premium on-site parking and a fantastic array of vendors and sponsors. There was plenty to do and see between races, and it was a fun place to hang out and meet up with your fellow Spartans. I was glad to see that there was a great view for spectators to watch the finish line action too. A kids race was also set up nearby the main arena. It looked like a lot of fun.
The quality of the course itself was also high. The race featured just under 6 miles of famously big cobalt blue skies, shimmering lake views, deep red soil trails, lush open meadows and pristine alpine forest. The Montana Sprint is a great opportunity. Not only is this race a chance to run in one of America’s most iconic landscapes but it’s a race with pedigree, prestige and of course bragging rights. Not all races are created equally. Once you run here, you win uncontested; “Yes, it’s a Spartan race, but it’s not exactly a MONTANA Spartan Race, is it?”
NOT JUST A PRETTY FACE
Looks can be deceiving, so let me be your wing-man; Montana is as savage as she is beautiful. She is unpredictable and untamed, unforgiving, but totally unforgettable.
The terrain was easily the main obstacle of this event. Most of the elevation gain happened within the first three miles and even the most indefatigable became fatigued on this sprint. This was as technically challenging and aggressive a trail as I have ever set foot on (apart from the beast the day before) and soon I found myself praying for obstacles, or burpees, or anything other than hills. At the same time, I found myself loving the experience for delivering me a little taste of the impossible. There’s a certain catharsis achieved by having to talk oneself through an experience like this. That kind of internal dialogue certainly happened to me during this race, particularly after running the beast the day before. Positive self talk is much easier when you have 1300mg of tylenol in your system.
It is worth mentioning that the trail required extra care to avoid the loose rocks, stumps and logs that littered the course. I counted three people down with rolled ankles from my run through the sprint alone. The take home message here is to make sure to bring the right shoes for Montana and watch your step or you’ll be taking a ride in the ATV!
Photo Credit: Gene Quisisem
We need to talk about it. It was long, it was steep. People will have nightmares. I saw a lot of people staring up at the hill with wide open mouths.There was a lot of stopping. Lots of cursing. Lots of slipping. If I had to pick one obstacle or moment from the race that felt the hardest, this was it.
THE TYRO LADDER
Climbing a horizontal rope ladder upside down is an interesting challenge, but not a particularly difficult one. By 11am the inverted ladder obstacle became so overcrowded that the officials were letting people pass on it, burpee free. It was so slow because although few people failed the obstacle, it took a while to complete it. I thought it was a great addition to the course.
THE LONG BARBED WIRE CRAWL
The second barbed wire crawl in the Montana sprint was impressively cruel. It went on forever. In fact, I’m certain this kind of experience is rare outside of North Korea. Dear leader take note! I got whipped in the face by some barbed wire someone was pulling aside while some female participants crawled under it. When he let it go, it swung back at me, and embedded itself into my eyebrow. I’m not mad. In fact, I think it makes for an awesome photo. Moral of the story: Spartan women don’t need a white knight. Leave the barbed wire alone!
The rig was the last obstacle on the course (unless you count the fire jump). It featured a rising parallel bar, three rings, and an alternating series of three rings and three short ropes. The key to this obstacle was to use the rings only and avoid the ropes, as anyone who tried to use the tiny ropes was almost certainly headed to the burpee pen. I had failed the rig during the beast the previous day, so when I came back for the sprint I was prepared and made it all the way across without too much difficulty.
The Montana sprint featured 24 obstacles in total, including walls of varying height, rope climb, spear throw, atlas carry, Hercules hoist, farmer log carry, shoulder log carry, inverted wall, a shorter barbed wire crawl, dunk wall (which smelled really bad), bucket brigade, monkey bars, two sets of hurdles and a vertical cargo net to name a few.
Finishers received a standard 2016 Spartan Sprint medal, a quality finisher’s shirt (which are much improved over last year’s awful Canadian ones), a can of FitAid, a Clif builder’s bar and a banana. A free beer was also available.
THE PRO TEAM + ELITE HEAT
Oh, and I should probably mention that there was an NBC televised spartan pro-team elite heat for both male and female athletes, which I’m sure you’ll hear a lot about elsewhere. I won’t spent much time on it here, but it was pretty cool getting to meet and talk to some of the Spartan pro-team athletes.
The Montana Spartan Sprint is on another scale altogether compared to anything I have ever attempted in the Sprint category. Participants climbed approximately 1709 feet over 5.7 miles. Consider that for a moment. Thanks to elite Canadian spartan Stefan Weiclawek and his trusty Sunnto Ambit 3 for this information you can follow him and his brother Kristian on Instagram by following @yycbrosocr
Stunning scenery. A world class course. Epic adventures. A bottomless pit of enthusiasm and camaraderie. I can’t imagine a more definitive iteration of the Spartan race format. I know exactly which race I’m going to be booking first for 2017, and the people I’ll be running it with. Now pass the Tylenol.