Let me set the stage for this review so you fully understand what perspective I am coming from….
Friday morning I get a pounding migraine. Friday afternoon I drive 2+ hours to find my hotel in Gatineau and am awake all night unable to sleep with a dull headache. Saturday morning I head down for breakfast and the only item on the buffet I can eat is a hard-boiled egg which ended up costing me $11.50 until I complained to the hotel manager. Another 1+ hour drive to the mountain side resort to begin the race. I am tired, racing alone and feeling a bit ‘off’.
This Spartan Super was held at the ski slopes of Mont Ste. Marie in Quebec, Canada. The drive north from Ottawa/Gatineau was beautiful as the double lane highway gently weaves between lakes and small communities. Garmin was not able to locate it easily so I relied on a Google Map printout. Roadside construction kept us detoured through Wakefield and beyond, but only added a few minutes to our overall travel time. A convoy of vehicles carrying Spartan racers began to form and we missed the Spartan signage the first time past and had to turn around and loop back up the side of the mountain to the main event. Upon second glance the black Spartan sign was along the road but we obviously missed it the first time through.
As you approached the park you were greeted by several friendly volunteers who collected a $10.00 parking fee and provided you with a plastic Spartan bag to ‘check’ your items.
Registration/Race Kit Pick-up
Registration was fast and easy to complete online and emails were sent prior to the event confirming details and ensuring racers were made aware of any changes. You picked up your Spartan headband and timing chip inside the villa and then proceeded to the start line until the first heat (Elite) at 9 a.m began.
Bag check was available on-site free of charge, however, vehicles were close enough to come and go throughout the day.
There were ample port-o-lets on-site near the main venue area and it had main building access for additional facilities and change areas.
Spectators could sit at various locations to watch the event and music could be heard throughout the venue. The merchandise, medic and media tent were all well marked and centrally located. I jumped in the 9:00 a.m. heat to avoid waiting and to give me extra time to complete the course. The course has a base elevation of 659 feet, climbing to a summit elevation of 1910 feet and would be recommended for those who enjoy endurance and hill climbs. Obstacles began after the first 3K climb which was up the side of the mountain through a beautiful scenic, wooded trail. The Elite’s took off ahead of us few who remained at the back and we stuck together and formed a somewhat ‘motley’ crew.
The volunteers were well designated with bright t-shirts and were very motivating throughout the course. Every obstacle had a volunteer to monitor and enforce the rule to do burpees, if anyone chose to forego the challenge. Needless to say there were many racers doing burpees throughout the event!
As you descended the first mountain face the view was breathtaking and the base camp kept you motivated to continue towards your next obstacle. Over a 9’ wall we went and then down a slippery mountainside to repeat the climb 3-4 more times, each one adding elevation and difficulty to the challenge. Some of the standard Spartan obstacles were present, cargo nets, crawls, barbed wire and fire; they also added some new ones like the rotating monkey bar grab and others that await you in secrecy. Elite athletes were completing this 13+Km-21 obstacle race, in 1 hour and 53 minutes while the recreational racers could take up to 9 hours.
Much to my amazement, many of the racers on Saturday were also participating in the Beast on Sunday which boasts an incredible 20+Km course and 26 obstacles. One couple tried the Super “for fun” and loved it so much they registered for the Beast the next day and were determined enough to complete it over a 12 hour period. Some enthusiasts had flown in from other countries trying to get their International tri-fectas. One couple I interviewed, Cheryl DeBow and Robert Landman, were working on their 4th trifecta and were using their pass every weekend in Canada and the USA with a final goal of 6 trifecta’s for this year.
The Beast timings for the Elite heat were 2:18:15 for the men and 3:21:36 for the women. Tim “the wheels” tackled the beast in his wheelchair in just under -13 hours with the assistance of his team demonstrating that he is “handi-capable” conquering the challenges one obstacle at a time demonstrating strength, courage, perseverance and team work. The Spartan organizers supported Tim in his efforts with additional lighting and most spectators were brought to tears upon his cross of the finish line. A true testament to the human spirit and described as one of the core foundations of these types of racing events.
Upon completion of this grueling race you were met at the finish line with the traditional fire jump and a great photo opportunity as well as your well-earned medal and t-shirt. Water and bananas were available and your timing chip was cut off by volunteers as you exited the finisher’s area. Times were posted often and racers could review their standing throughout the event.
The merchandise table was easily located and music kept spectators entertained throughout the event; an MC kept everyone updated as to finisher’s times with brief interviews from the top athletes and words of advice for those still conquering the mountain. Photos could be taken at the main area and were available online under your race bib #. Race standings and Spartan points get updated regularly for both the Open and Elite categories.
Overall turnout was approximately 2500 for Saturday and 3500 for Sunday’s Beast whereas the shorter events (Sprint) can host up to 15000 or more racers. These numbers are continuing to grow and the junior (kids) races have jumped in numbers to 4500 in Eastern Canada and female participation is up to 43%.
Prizes were awarded to the top Elite racers ($75-$500.00) and the purse continues to grow for those interested in competing up to the OCR World Champion level where finishers could walk away with $1000.00 to $150,000.00 dollars.
This race definitely had great communications and sent out reminders and details as the race date approached. Transfers were available and correspondence was quick and thorough. Street Teams are also a part of the Spartan approach where loyal members receive perks as they promote the brand with keen enthusiasm.
One thing to note at this race is that racers are rarely ‘alone’ along the course. At various locations (zones) throughout the event medics could be seen fully prepared with backpacks for most medical emergencies. Spartan prides itself on its safety record and has hired, in some cases, military medics who are available on site to administer first aid along the course. All of their staff are first aid trained and watch for signs of dehydration and exposure when racers past their post. They have quick response times for locations throughout the event and plan and practice their procedures with military precision.
I had the opportunity to chat with one of the founders of the Spartan Race Series Selica Sevigny who came up with the idea after attempting the Death Race in Vermont a few years back. She managed 17 hours of gruelling challenges and felt “a profound transformation” during her experience. She “conquered so many fears and unresolved doubts and realized that limitations were mostly of the mind”. That was the beginning of a whole new concept and framework on how obstacle races would be managed, marketed, organized and planned. This framework has been franchised and utilized in Canada and USA and more recently in the UK.
Selica herself continues to race and participate in her own events to ensure that quality and safety are included at every challenge. Recently, she participated with her sister and couldn’t help but appreciate the spirit of the event, camaraderie, and fantastic life-force of those conquering both their own personal demons and the challenges the terrain and course had to offer. She stated that “the obstacles are built for the participants to be pushed in a positive way to discover who they are inside”…..”it gives them an opportunity to share a common interest and afterwards share some great stories” and “it hopefully motivates people to change their lives and lifestyles and perhaps, one day, leave a legacy of happy and healthy people.”
One story she recounted was of a blind racer who conquered the course with a guide as he worked towards his first trifecta. “These racers are truly the heart of these events”…..”People are brought to tears at the finish line after having overcome so much.”
As the sport continue to grows, so too does the length of the courses, size of obstacles, elevations and in some cases the extreme conditions (heat, snow etc…) While athletes continue to strive for their next personal best and the motivation to continue on in the sport of OCR, race directors will be faced with the challenge of giving racers their next “great race”. As Selica races, she is always on the lookout for areas of improvement while always accepting feedback that she implements, when possible, into her next event. She states “each race has its own logistics and we need to be flexible and change plans as required…” and “we will continue to provide one of the safest events with fresh new ideas each year for our return Spartans!”
It looks like their hard work, passion and true appreciation of the human spirit is paying off as the Spartan Series continues to grow internationally.
Now to finish my story, I managed 7K of this race and 3 times up and down the mountain when my body began to fail me miserably, I was already 3+ hours in and other heats were passing me with ease. I was hungry, tired and feeling badly beaten down.
In 44 races, this was the first time I was unable to complete a race.
I headed off to the finish line to give in my timing chip and the volunteer there was FANTASTIC. She sat me down, got me water (my camel back was empty and had been for some time) she offered me a snack and then sat with me as I cried. She even offered me a hug, which I turned down with a chuckle; I told her I was “much too sweaty for that!”
Once I had gathered some composure and she felt that I looked well enough to stand again, I made my way back to the parking lot to head home.
The 3+ hour drive back was filled with tears and silence but there was also a moment of clarity where I gained some insight and an appreciation that I am learning to listen to my body by not ‘overdoing’ it– as was once the case–so that I may continue to enjoy these events well into my latter years.
As an OCR enthusiast, I have to wonder if these ‘so called failures’ are the catalysts towards growth and true self-understanding…..or maybe I just have to STFU!
Special thanks to Joelle Medina and Selica Sevigny for all their support!