The following article is the story of two skiers (Steffan and I) trying to become Spartan Beasts (name given to one who completes a Spartan Beast race).
If you have never heard of the Spartan race series, watch this official video, it gives you an idea of the people these races are trying to target.
There are 3 different distances for Spartan race, there is the sprint (5 km), the super Spartan (I think it is 10 km...) and the Spartan Beast (a 20 km). Each involves a number of obstacles (around 20 for the Beast), failure to complete an obstacle results in a punishment of 30 burpees. I had never done a Spartan race before, but Steffan along with many other skiers did one at Camp Fortune a couple years back. However, they had only completed a sprint. A sprint that Steffan happened to win, as a result he was given free entry to this 90 $ event. For those thinking that these races are like most races, you would be wrong. These are similar to the Ironman races series, they attract thousands of eager participants from all over the province. And they pretty much have a monopoly on the obstacle race market ( aside from a few other names, but Spartan is the big player). Therefore when there is a race it attracts all the meat heads within a radius of a several hundred kilometres. (Beasts, unlike Sprints or Supers, are few and far between, only 3 or 4 in Canada and probably a dozen in the States).
I don't think I ever would have even contemplated registering for an event like this, especially with a 90 $ registration fee (expensive, but considering the event, the infrastructure and the nice t-shirt you get for finishing, it could have been a lot more expensive). However, a week or so before the race Mike Vieira offered me his registration. He had an injury and was unable to race. At first I was skeptical, I did not want to participate in an event that claims to be the ultimate challenge (have they ever heard of Ironmans, ultras adventure races?). Anyway, in the end, I could not pass up a 90 $ registration... it is worth too much, it would have been like not eating the crappy air plane meals. You eat them, not because you want to eat them, but because you paid for the 500 $ plane ticket and you want to get the most out of it.
So at 6.30 am on Sunday morning we left Steffan's house for Mont St Marie (actually 6.45, because Steffan is, for some reason, always 15 minutes late). We had to be there for the 9 am start of the elite wave. Steffan got a spot in that wave because he had previously won an event. However, I was in the 3rd wave. Just for the sake of clarity, the elite wave is not exactly a select few of the very best. It is just the first of a series of waves of 250 people, each wave separated by 30 mins. But most fast guys are in the first wave.
10 minutes before the 9 am start as the herd of racers were anxiously awaiting the start, I decided to make sure I was in fact starting in the later wave. As fate would have it, I was actually 10 minutes away from my actual start. I quickly drank a bunch of water, took a leak and headed to the start to meet a up with a surprised Steffan. The start is an experience within itself. You've got a guy who looks like he just came off the set of Gladiator, and he is doing the usual: WHO ARE YOU?!? To which we would enthusiastically reply: WE ARE SPARTANS!!! Steffan and I were at the same time embarrassed to be at an event were people scream that they are "Spartans" at the top of their lungs, but also laughing at how ridiculous this really was.
This is probably a fair representation of the guy dressed up at the start (source here).
If you look closely you can spot the Roman with the helmet
And they are off!! With the start going straight into a narrow 4x4 track going straight up the ski hill, the usual jostling for positions was inevitable, so was the passing of many guys who sprinted the first 100 meters. We made our way up the ski hill in single file. Once we reached the top we headed back down. Half way down, we had our first dreaded obstacle, holding two ten pound weights chin high for 15 seconds (gym rats will agree, a rather easy and pointless exercise). Of course as soon as the first person dropped his weights, so did everyone else as to not fall behind. The first obstacle was not exactly going to separate the strong from the weak...
At this point, there was a group of 20 guys pretty close to each other. We started descending again, we hit a few more obstacles (like bucket carry, cargo net crossing). Going down the ski hill, there was no trail, weeds that had been growing since this spring and were now hip high and made it impossible to see where you were stepping. That is how Steffan hyper-extended his knee, it wasn't so bad at first, but it would come to haunt him later. Meanwhile, I was running downhill as if the finish line was at the bottom of the hill... not a good idea. My legs were already done.
Once we reached the bottom we started heading back up a second time. After 25 minutes of racing, Steffan took the charge with 2 other guys and started gaping the field. Once at the top, we started going down again (with a few obstacles). Once we reached the bottom for a 2nd time right after the first water point, we encountered the most annoying obstacle in the race. Crawling under barbed wire for 75 meters straight up the ski hill and, most annoying of all, back down as well. It is at this point that I lost my water bottle, and unfortunately I had just passed the water point, I would have to wait 5 km for another one. Techniques of choice for going up were; crawling on your knee and hands or full military style crawl. For going down you had more options: Steffan and I both tried the “5 year old twirling down the hill” (see video here) technique with limited success (it makes you dizzy, Steffan tried compensating by twirling the other way), or the feet first “butt scratcher” technique, and lastly, the traditional military crawl. My choice of techniques were probably not the most effective because I lost 10 positions on that obstacle.
Meanwhile,Steffan was still in the lead with the 2 other guys, I was probably several minutes behind (I saw Steffan crawling down as I was crawling up). After the crawl came the log cross, a log, no longer than 3 meters, 10 cm off the ground and 4 inches in width, that you had to cross. A rather simple exercise, especially for a skier. Steffan crossed without a hitch, taking the lead and heading towards the top of Mont St Marie for a 3rd time. However, embarrassingly I tiptoed onto the log and only made it a few feet... While doing 30 burpees, I got passed by guys who did not look very fast. That was my low point, I was probably in 40th or around there, my legs were done and I was basically walking as soon as I would hit anything more than a 3 % gradient and had not had anything to drink since the start of the race (about an hour earlier)
Skier Caroline Drolet- leading the women's event. This picture is at the bottom of the hill right before heading back up a 3rd time. The monkey bars were right after the log crossing
We headed back up to the top, after 1h40 of racing, I hit my first water station. I drank as much as I could, before heading back down. After drinking water, I got a second wind. However it lasted for only 15 min, after that I was ready to just curl up in a ball on the side of the trail. But, we finally hit some flatter terrain, we were going around a lake on the mtb trails. At this point, Steffan was nowhere to be seen, probably 20 mins ahead, I was around 10 or 11th just behind a pack of 3. Before the third water station, I started getting cramps in my hamstrings, so I started running with straighter legs (as to not contract the hamstring muscle). At the third water station, I gulped down 2 glasses of water. Big mistake, I should have taken on a lot more... I was rushing because I wanted to catch the group ahead of me which was in the middle of completing 30 burpees after failing to hit a straw-man with a javelin. This is when years of throwing ski poles during dryland training comes in handy. I had no problem striking the strawman with the javelin. YES! I thought, I just passed 3 guys and I was heading straight to the finish (this was after 2h40 of racing, the website said the winner would take around 2 hours and the slowest around 4 hours). WRONG! I headed to the next station where a nice young woman would tell racers in a nonchalant way: “Just head up the ski hill following the chairlift, all the way to the top” I had to ask her twice to make sure I understood correctly: “All the way to the top?? really?”. This was not a ski hill slope that we were going up, it was underneath the chair lift, waist high prickly bushes and steep rocky terrain ahead and no trail. By the end of the day, after 1800 racers, I'm sure it would have looked like a highway, but when we went through it, it was a jungle.
Steffan's legs, the scabs on the knees are from the waist high prickly bushes
Steffan with 4th place finisher
SLOWLY making my way up, I look back thinking everyone was catching me, but I was in fact making ground. I also spotted the guy behind me taking a piss, right where the next 1790 racers were going to walk through, but he didn't care, at that point, no one did. Each step you took gave you a cramp, but you never knew where the next step's cramp was going to hit. It was like torture, at one point, I get a really bad one and just screamed F*** at the top of my lungs. But I kept going. [while proof reading this, I realised how cheesy this sounds; He was in extreme pain, he could not take another step, but somehow, under all that pain he managed... lame I know].
Once at the top, I headed back down again. At this point, I had built a couple minute lead over the guys I had passed at the javelin throw. The course then brought the racers to a creek; I was walking in the creek, I was really thirsty, having only around 750 ml after 3 hours of effort. I then started drinking from the creek... probably not the best idea, but I gave me instant relief. Unfortunately, 200 meters after drinking the water from the creek, I got to the last water station.
I knew I was close to the finish, because spectators were lining the side of the course. They wanted to see us fail at one of the last obstacles; an amalgamation of monkey bars, gymnast rings and a steel beam that you had to make your way across. I didn't make it very far, neither did Steffan. But it did not matter, we were almost finished.
Steffan on the beam right before the finish
The last obstacle , a couple meters before the finish line was the men with sticks trying to beat you up. As I approached them, I gave them the finger (with a big smile on my face), I was pushed by one, for the other, I decided to run into him and try to steal his stick. It didn't work, but at least he didn't hit me. That is when I stumbled across the line, totally broken...
The next thing I did was drink water lots of it, until the woman giving the water said that I should stop, because I was: "drinking too much and could hurt myself".
I then saw Steffan at the first aid, his knee was hurting him. We sat there dreading the 250 m walk back to the car, it was not going to be easy. My legs were hurting so much I wanted to cry, but I could not show any emotional weaknss, especially at this kind of event. Weirdly enough after 20 min and drinking 2 litres of water, the pain went away. After the 10 min walk back to the car, we spoke to the winner, he had parked next to us. He was 9 times undefeated and he said that when Steffan had the lead, it was the first time he was ever challenged in a race.
Approximate distance from the finish to Steffan's car. Source: here.
Steffan suffered during the last climb and descent of the mountain. He walked the whole thing, losing 1st place and dropping to 3rd (they had built up 15 min lead on 4th). His knee kept him from running, but also said that he was so tired, he probably would have wound up 3rd anyway.
(l-r) 2nd women, 2nd men, 1st men, 3rd men- Steffan, 1st women- Caroline Drolet
And what do you get for coming 3rd in an event with 1800 participants, each paying over 75 $ to register? A 50$ credit to the Spartan Store...
Pictures from motion360.
One woman finished in over 11 hours.
Would I do it next year? Yes, but I would get a few downhill running sessions in first.