Spartan World Championships was a battle last year, not just between Ryan, myself and the rest of the competitors but with the course itself. The beauty with obstacle racing is every race is always different, and this would be no exception. A new venue of Squaw Valley Lake Tahoe in California would expose racers to a far drier, faster course but also one with considerably more altitude than in Vermont but a lot less ascent.
The course was roughly 23km long and would climb 1300m. Most of which was in the first half before the downhill second half back to the event arena. Customary Spartan obstacles featured, most of which just once, unlike Killington which felt like it had far more obstacle (mostly carries and drags though).
On analysing the course it was clear it would suit someone that lives at altitude and that is no stranger to mountain running, especially ones that are strong on the first climb (as there would only be one climb). As well as this you would have to be proficient in all the obstacles as on this faster course one or two sets of burpees would really make or break the race.
I asked Ryan Atkins who (besides himself and Cody Moat) would be a likely candidate to win. Without hesitation he said Robert Killian. As it happens these predictions weren’t too far off as these athletes all made the top three.
I knew it would be highly unlikely for me to repeat my performance last year, especially with this course and the level of competition stepping up once again. I was there to give it my all though and was looking forward to getting this big race (the first of three this month) done.
The race started fast as always which posed as more of a problem than usual. Having learnt lessons of competing at altitude when not acclimatised before, I knew to go off hard was signing a death sentence. But this course was planned with monkey bars after only about a mile before a long stint of single track. This meant congestion but after tussling through the monkey bars I was happy to be running next to fellow Brit James Appleton.
Sitting just within the top ten we soon came upon the Hercules hoist. Coming up to it I saw Ryan who is far stronger than me struggling but managing his hoist. This didn’t bode well for me. I spent a minute or so getting mine 1/3 of the way, in this time James managed over half way but steadily competitors were arriving and choosing burpees almost immediately. I bit the bullet and dropped the bag and headed over for burpees. It was a shame to cave this early but it was a smarter decision as it would have either taken me longer to do the hoist or I would have failed in the end anyway.
Back up and running and we were still ascending. With not being acclimatised making this slow and painful I tried to convince myself everyone was hurting just as much.
A few more obstacles done including a nasty log carry and I was nearing the top. Catching a glimpse of the leaders I was about 3-5 minutes behind… A scary thought then crossed my mind that the rest of the race was downhill! We were already half way and it had only been just over an hour! Catching anyone on the descent was going to be hard and there was probably only an hour or so left in the race as it was. I was in seventh, which definitely wasn’t a good place to be if I wanted to podium.
Trying my best to survive the swim and extraordinary barbed wire crawl I was fortunate that I didn’t fail any more obstacles. With one failing the rope climb and another the spear throw I was now battling for 4th as we came into the bucket carry with only a mile left. After 20m or so going up the ski slope I heard him put his bucket down for a rest, thank god. Taking a small rest every 10 seconds I managed to get to the top before turning for the equally painful descent. Now comfortably in 4th there was no way I was catching 3rd so it was just a case of running down and completing the traverse wall and Clif multibar rig before crossing the line.
After the Hercules hoist and struggling in the thinner air on the ascent I was never in contention for the podium but was really pleased to have managed fourth. In fact I am probably one of the happiest 4th place finishers ever, even though this is classed as a pretty hard place to come in with.
Robert Killian who was indeed exceptionally strong battled hard with Cody Moat managing to take the win. Ryan managed to take Cody on the bucket carry coming in at second. It was a hard day for Cody who had two burpee penalties but still remained in contention and took third.
I am proud as ever to have raced alongside these and all the other athletes that made up one of the most competitive obstacle racing fields ever assembled.