This was the back end of what was probably my hardest race weekend to date, I raced in Ohio on Saturday after driving from NY to Ohio overnight and ended up with a bad case of insomnia and was awake for over forty hours. I spent most of Saturday driving from Ohio to Montreal and arrived to the Mont Owl’s Head parking lot sometime after 1:00AM and didn’t get to sleep (in my Prius) until just after 2:00AM and ended up getting less than four and half hours sleep. Talk about less than perfect conditions for running a Spartan Beast on one of the more challenging mountains used to date! I can’t lie, this was the main reason I decided to go to the Beast as I routinely push myself past limits that most wouldn’t.
Registration and Festival
I will keep this section short and simple, as I have come to expect with Spartan Canada events, both registration and the festival area rocked.
For the second Spartan Canada race event in a row, Spartan used MC Anthony Horng Perso. I have always been a big fan of Anthony’s as he is the MC for several other Canadian OCR races. I liked how he was able to take the standard Spartan canned, pre-race speech and add some of his own touch to it. Several racers and spectators I spoke to were all very impressed with the job he did all day.
According to my GPS watch, the course was around 22K and it started out with a trail hike straight up the face of the mountain. I could tell (unlike the Sprint) the trail wasn’t starting out with a death march to the very tippy top of the mountain and made a U-turn and headed back down. The first obstacles on the course were two walls to climb over. I started my race a little after the wave went out, so I ended up getting to the first obstacle and had to wait in line a few minutes. The course was designed to take racers up and back down the mountain pretty much the entire time and spent time both in wooded sections (out of the direct sunlight) and in the direct sunlight.
Early on, I noticed racers struggling with the heat and climbs and looking pretty beat up so I shared my hydration back pack water with several racers and I wasn’t the only one, as I witnessed a large number of other racers sharing as well. The course started out with obstacles I have seen at my previous Spartan Canada races over the past two seasons. I had been told to expect some new obstacles for the Beast, so I looked forward to seeing them all day, but unfortunately, I only saw the Platinum Rig – Stair Way to Heaven, which was used at the other Spartan Canada races I did this year. The only new obstacle I saw on the course was another Platinum Rig obstacle that was a series of vertical wooden and metal logs/poles that racers had to traverse across without touching the ground. Otherwise the Beast version of the course didn’t include anything new.
The Ultra Beast only section of the course included two more Platinum Rig obstacles: The Irish Table and Weaver. Personally, I was not happy that they placed two of the newer obstacles in a section of the course that only a limited group of racers had an opportunity to complete. While on the topic of the Ultra Beast only section, unlike last year it was not at the end of the course, but rather early on into the course and from what several of my friends (who ran the Ultra Beast) said, this wasn’t a great place for it, as it allowed non Ultra Beast racers to get in front of many of the Ultra Beast racers and this made it a little harder in some of the sections of the course that were a tight fit.
The course included several death marches up the mountain and specifically one death march later in the course that went way up the mountain. The course also had a portion of terrain trails that was really tricky ankle bitter/breaking terrain and I wasn’t the only one that took a little extra time to get through it.
I understand this was a Beast/Ultra Beast and Spartan Canada wanted to have a high number obstacles count, but I personally think they went a little too far to the dark side when it came to the amount of carry obstacles on the course, the course pretty much had them all: Sandbag Carry, Jerry Can Carry, Bucket Brigade Carry (which was late in the course and at least for me, was the one that kicked my ass the most), a Smaller Tire Drag, a Car Tire Carry, Atlas Balls, a Log Carry, a Large Truck Tire Flip and the Ultra Beast only section included the Ammo Can Carry. In my opinion that is just too many carries even for a Beast/Ultra Beast and lacked creativity when it comes to real obstacles.
The course also included every staple obstacle I have come to expect at a Spartan race: Hercules Hoist, Rope Climb, Z Walls, Inverted Walls, Balance Beam to Slack Line Crossing, Monkey Bars, four Camo Net Crawls (I can understand maybe two, but four?), two Barbed Wire Crawls, the Spear Toss, several high wall climbs, the Over-Under-Thru, Fire Jump, Slip Ramp, Hay Bales to climb/hop over and a few makeshift round metal bar obstacles strapped to tree’s in the wooded trails to climb/hop over.
The course had several long trail sections that continued for long distances before we would see an obstacle, but that is nothing new for Spartan and especially any course that Spartan course designer Norm has input in designing. As most of my readers are aware, I am not a fan of these types of courses, this sport is referred to as “obstacle course racing” and not “trail racing with obstacles”, I personally do not want to be on a OCR course that goes further than a mile before you actually see an obstacle.
The bottom line is the course was designed to use the mountain to its hardest/fullest potential and with so many carry obstacles on a very hot day this course was hard for even the very best OCR athletes.
Water Station Nightmares
Now to talk about the biggest disappointment of all regarding the course, the water stations, to start, many racers (elite and non-elite) are referring to this course as one of, if not the hardest Beasts/Ultra Beasts races to date. I have explained the terrain, mountain, and obstacles above and in my opinion, Spartan did not have enough water stations throughout the course, if I recall water station # 3 was over 11K into the course and Spartan decided last minute that racers would not be allowed to fill their hydration water back packs at these water stations.
I and many other racers wearing hydration packs shared our water with others on the course that were struggling. Then when we went to fill them, we were refused. I personally didn’t just take no for an answer, I explained to one of the volunteers (at water stations # 2) that I personally had driven over 12 hours the day/night before and had less than four and half hours sleep and my body was dehydrating much faster than I typically would and by refusing me water they were potentially placing me in a medical emergency. The volunteer rudely waved her hands in my face and said “no exception”! At this point I needed to get away from this water stations, because I was pissed off, but as I started to leave, another volunteer apologized to me and explained that Norm had come up just a little while before and gave the volunteers a hard time because they were letting racers fill the hydration packs.
This was unacceptable due to the facts that one of the emails Spartan Canada sent to racers just prior to the race suggested wearing a hydration pack. It was unrealistic to expect one fill on a hydration pack to last on a brutal 22K course, on a hot day, on a mountain that you went up and down repeatedly.
At this point, I continued on and it didn’t take long for me to start really feeling the effects due to the lack of water. I eventually made my way down to the rope climb and I was aware there was a nice and cold water hose near it (I used it to hand wash my race gear that was still dirty from racing in Ohio the day before) and located a woman holding the water hose and I was able to fill my hydration. Before I left that rope climb, I spoke to every one of the volunteers and not only asked, but strongly demanded they make sure every racer that passed by was made aware of the water hose. I also pointed out the water hose to all the racers present at the rope climb. Unfortunately, the volunteers didn’t do a great job, because I went up the mountain, completed the Sand Bag Carry and then sat down in the shade and removed my sneakers and socks and cleaned out the dirt and small rocks and while I did this I asked every racer that passed by, if they were told about the water hose and only about 70% of them were.
From this point of the course and forward, I didn’t care if they kicked me off, I was now dehydrated really bad and no matter how much water I drank I wasn’t going to recover so at the remainder of the water stations, I bluntly told the staff/volunteers that I was filling my hydration and if they wanted they could call to have me removed/disqualified from the race. I did make sure to share my water with anyone that looked like they needed water throughout the remainder of the course, so I feel I did the right thing for both my health and others on the course and would do it again.
Here are the bottom lines as far as I see them:
Point # 1: Dehydration, heat stroke, heat exhaustion can and will kill people, thousands of people raced the Beast/Ultra Beast and Spartan Canada is blessed that no one died or became seriously ill, I doubt the waiver would protect them if something horrible like that happened.
Point # 2: I mentioned the water hose above and at least early in the morning, this was the hose Spartan staff (an awesome guy named Phil) was using to fill the water containers prior to transporting them up to the water stations, I also learned, that the house next to the mentioned Platinum Rig vertical wooden logs obstacle had a water hose and allowed some racers to get water from it. Spartan also had a source of water across the street being used for showers, so that is a minimum of three sources of water that Spartan had access to and they should have had a full time dedicated team filling water containers regardless if one was empty or not.
I learned from some friends that several of the water stations ran out of water and the volunteers communicated to them they had been waiting more than forty-five minutes for water to arrive, which is just embarrassing, unacceptable and negligent. In my opinion, if they had a total of six water stations on the course, they should have had a minimum of 18 water containers on site being filled with water continuously being transported up to the water stations and not waiting for a call that a station ran out.
Point # 3: As I mentioned earlier, Spartan suggested in its second from last email blast that racers bring hydration:
“Prepare yourselves for a HOT day! Bring extra water, sunscreen, and hats! Dehydration is a very dangerous injury and the most common cause for not completing the race. We highly advise all racers to bring a Camelbak or other type of self-carry hydration device. Make sure you have had proper intake of electrolytes.”
Then they refuse too full them? I and so many of my OCR friends were in shock about this and I have heard from about twenty of them that this was the last straw and they are not planning to do Spartan Races next season. How many of the DNF’s could have finished with enough hydration?
The bling was the standard for 2016, the finisher shirt (no longer dri-fit) a Beast Finisher medal and for Ultra Beast finishers they received a mega sexy and heavy Ultra Beast belt buckle. I personally took much longer than typical to finish and received last year’s finisher medal. With all the work and effort all racers put forth, it was upsetting to not receive the new medal.
Overall Feelings and Event Rating
I typically do not write recaps this long, but this Beast/Ultra Beast was a very unique situation and due to that, I made an exception. I can’t lie, I was first disappointed that so few new obstacles were used for this race and the I hope in 2017 we will see some new creative obstacles. I am not saying to make obstacles that are mega difficult, but it would be nice to see some new creative stuff. I was also disappointed with some of the longer distance trails between obstacles, but that is a personal opinion and others don’t necessarily agree so I understand Spartan Canada is doing its best to design courses that keep everyone happy. The water situation was unacceptable and could have had deadly results.
Based on the bling, the course design, the water station nightmares, and also the good, an amazing MC, although one volunteer was rude, the remainder of the volunteers and staff were polite and many of them were very uncomfortable about the lack of water as well, but still did a great job all day and they were dehydrating just like racers. I am rating this a 3.5 out of 5 stars. I love racing in Canada and I love including Spartan Canada races, but this recap/review had to be written as honest as I could be regardless of that.
I looked for Selica and Richard Lee after I completed the course, but I couldn’t find them and the staff wasn’t sure where they were, so I didn’t get a chance to hear their side of things. I have to be honest, it was hard for me to write this recap, because I have gotten to know Selica, Richard and most of the Spartan Canada staff really well and they all are awesome people who care about what they are doing and this just seemed very uncanny for them. I am going to do my best to find a chance to talk to both of them about this and get their side of the story. I truly believe after they read this recap (I know they have read every Spartan Canada recap I have written) they will make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.
Text by: Walter F Hendrick (OCRSandy)