First at the first Canadian UltraBeast

Well friends, I made it to the top of the world… twice.

For those of you who don’t know, Spartan Race Canada hosted it’s first ultramarathon distance obstacle course race in Sun Peaks this past weekend. The UltraBeast is two laps of the regular Beast course.

After being up all night with a sick baby (and having a head cold myself) I wasn’t so sure how this race would go. Particularly because the longest run I had done was the weekend before (at Spartan World Championships) and I could only barely walk down a set of stairs without grimacing as of Thursday.

Good training for Worlds Toughest Mudder though right…?

The race started off with a not-uncharacteristic 6 miles or so of climbing to what is known as “the top of the world.” It ended with an even less not-uncharacteristic climb after most people thought the race would end (12 miles). The kicker is this climb is always back out of the start finish area, to add insult to injury. And it is always a doosey.

On the climb up to the top of the world… they had an under net, log carry, Hercules hoist, traverse wall and tractor pull at the summit. All pretty standard stuff.

It was, however, the first traverse wall I have seen with so many options. The first route I took had two handholds pegged together off kilter so you could stick your fingers in and get a super solid grip. On the second go around I went for a different, less occupied, wall. The holds were really spaced out and had rounded corners. So if you have trouble with the traverse wall… outside of wiping your shoes, keeping three points of contact and holding your hips to the wall… looking for the easy route might actually pay off in some races.

On the first lap, they didn’t have the trail marked and the chase pack (where I was) went off course. I was fortunate that the guys I was with figured out where we should be going (yeah, up) with minimal extra mileage.

On the way back down, there were a couple of walls, sandbag carry, under net, barb wire crawl, hobie hop (where they banded your feet together and made you hop through a 400m course), over-unders made out of big rough tree stumps, horrific bucket carry on a dodgy trail (at miles 10 & 25 nonetheless), a balance beam, tire drag (which as far as I can tell was near impossible at the beginning of the day when the tires were full of water), cargo net, spear throw, incline wall, monkey bars – and a slippery wall, rope climb and fire jump near the halfway mark (and finish).

This was definitely a different kind of race than the world championships last week. No one counting burpees or judging form. No one checking if you had filled your bucket to the line. Pretty much a scout’s honour if you know the rules thing.

I wonder why they don’t just have a fact sheet for volunteers/racers to better know rules about specific obstacles. They put one out for Vermont and everyone I talked to really appreciated it. Especially newer racers.

In fact, most people were carrying the buckets on said super dodgy trail on their shoulders… which I believe you’re not supposed to do because of the high risk of cervical spine injury.

At the same time, it certainly was a uniquely Canadian race. The volunteers at the sandbag carry took it from me at the end. The ones at the trench obstacle offered to carry my pack through (against the rules as far as I know, but so thoughtful!). Every volunteer out there was standing on the mountain, alone or almost alone, cheering their hearts out for us. The volunteers are usually amazing people but these ones really seemed to take the cake. The Spartan staff were also superb (shout out to logistics coordinator Allana who sent out her telephone number to UltraBeast competitors!)

The other thing that I really appreciated was that UltraBeast runners had the right of way at obstacles. This was definitely a good call since I was coming around on the less competitive Beast runners on my second lap.

The volunteers were awesome about seeing me coming and clearing the way.

On my second time through the barbed wire crawl, they made everyone move over as I came through. And everyone seemed happy to do so.

It would have been super frustrating getting stuck in obstacle traffic jams the entire second lap when you’re exhausted, being chased and just want to get done.

I had also ran the first lap in 3:06 and the second lap took me 4:11 so I knew how important it was to keep moving as steady as I could.

Not only was it faster, but the first lap was definitely a lot more fun than the second. Part of that comes from the fact that I could have been better prepared.

For those of you interested in doing an UltraBeast, I’d hammer on the point that you need to replicate the race as best as you can in training. There are probably no solid rules since everyone is so particular but maybe you can gleam something from my list…

– Dress in layers. I wore pants and a short sleeve compression top. I packed a thermal layer, hoodie and toque in my drop bag. I packed sleeves, gloves and a vapor layer in my pack. That was way too much. I ended up taking my shirt off in the first lap and roasting on the climbs in my thick pants on the second lap. Bring clothes for every imaginable weather scenario. I watched youtube videos of the snow last year and the forecast looked chilly so I planned for cold. If I race in Antarctica I’m bringing shorts next time!

– Eat food. My stomach was rumbling audibly by the second lap. I packed a thermos of watery oatmeal but think I wanted to stop and drink it? Hell no, I ditched my extra clothes, grabbed some gels and got out of there.

– Wear sunscreen.

– Get your drop bag set up the night before. They didn’t give me one in my kit so I assumed we used our own bag and pinned the number tag at the bottom of our bib on to it. In the morning I found out that I needed to shove all my winter gear into a tiny plastic bag with all my nutrition stuff. I was lucky that the race was a two minute jog to my hotel so that I could dump my excess stuff.

– Organize that drop bag. Have stuff you probably won’t need organized in a little sack at the bottom. Then a little bag with nutrition replacement and an extra pre-filled bladder. Highest priority stuff at the top.

– Organize your transition and your mind. Have a look at where your bag is from the entrance. Do something to differentiate it, like tying a ribbon to it (just don’t get too fancy now). Know where everything is inside. Then think about moving smartly and swiftly through transition.

– Know yourself. I should know me well enough to know that I’m not going to stop for long enough to drink a thermos full of oatmeal in a race. I’ve ran entire races with my shoes untied. But I do like some food on these long hauls. Next time I’ll bring some homemade chia oatmeal cookies instead.

So I certainly made some mistakes. I’ve yet to race an OCR perfectly. I’m not sure I ever will. But it’s becoming clear to me that each OCR that you do, you get a little better. So trudge on mudders.

Be Ready for a Beast, Tough Mudder or UltraBeast

You know there’s a big endurance event in town when you overhear super fit looking people discussing menu choices based on which have more white bread and less protein. I’m sure the locals wonder if a 1980s diet convention rolled in.

Apart from carb loading (which you can find an entire article on below), there are several things that I make sure to do in the days leading up to a big race.

1. Myofascial release. I carry a lacrosse ball (for my back, hips, chest and hamstrings), doubles ball (for my feet and calves), and a strap for PNF stretching. I pretty much have a ball in some terribly uncomfortable place every time I’m sitting, and am stretching every time I’m standing still. Sitting in the car/plane while traveling to a long race, gives me plenty of time to release tight areas. I feel like it does a pretty good job counteracting the tightness caused by sitting dormant in a little metal box.

My favourite new tool is the travel sized roller, it’s so small that it fits into my carry-on and it’s even high density foam. I can roll my T-spine and IT bands at the airport!

I cannot stress enough the importance of having a supple body and addressing any areas of tightness before heading out in obstacle course race.

2. Hydrate yourself (obviously). But start before breakfast and go light on the drink about three hours from bed – otherwise, race nerves and a full bladder will have you up all night.

3. Stay off your feet. Save explorations for postrace celebration.

4. Get pumped. Whatever movie, book, song or magazine that reminds you why you’re doing this. Get pumped up but don’t stress or go crazy. To paraphrase the mighty Prefontaine, unless you’re the previous years winner, you’re not good enough to be nervous.

5. Wear compression socks. Especially if you’re traveling, have bad feet or calves, or poor blood circulation.

6. Workout the day before. I always do a bunch of drills, jogging, sprinting and dynamic stretching. I have a pretty solid routine down but I usually mix it up a bit depending on what body parts need to be woken up. Taking the day totally off before a race leaves me feeling flat and stiff.

7. Bath and stretch. I like to have an ice bath, followed by an Epsom salt bath, followed by a long stretch and roll. Gentle stretching only. I’m old school – I know. Ice bathes are definitely falling out of vogue. Something about science and the fact the lymphatic system clears junk out of your pipes and ice water inhibits that, along with healthy inflammation. I like them though, they feel good after I do them. Or maybe, more likely, I just like to take on a poop-load of discomfort.

8. Set out all your race gear and nutrition the night before so you need to think of nothing in the morning. Preferably early: I do this right when I get to the hotel so I can relax the rest of the night. It’s also good practice in case you forgot something. Also, make sure your plans for the morning, waivers, etc. are all sorted out.

9. Don’t do anything you don’t always new. You’ve heard this in regards to race morning and racing itself, but this matters in the days leading up to an event almost as much. Never ridden a horse? Now’s not the time to learn.

10. Develop a routine. This follows the last point nicely. I have a day-before-race routine that I can just move through on autopilot. It really takes down the stress of a new place, new race and all that other unknown stuff that comes with OCR… especially the races themselves!

Remember: you can do whatever you want after you cross that finish line, and you’ll feel heaps better about doing it all with a successful race under your belt.