The Spartan Race World Championships is for many (especially in the USA) regarded as the most competitive and prestigious obstacle racing world championships there is. It certainly has the most prize money, and many athletes have specialised becoming ‘spartan racers’ than all round obstacle racers, making this race incredibly competitive.
Spartan racing in itself suits me less than traditional obstacle racing. More focus on heavy carries and easier obstacles creates a balance more suited to a runner with lots of strength as opposed to a more agile runner. This didn’t stop me winning in 2014, but then again, the terrain and weather at the venue in Vermont suited me down to the ground. Since that success, I started a full time running career, but never managed to repeat the victory. The race was moved to Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe, where the dynamics changed completely.
The course became much faster, obstacles became more standardised, the running was confined to dry rocky trails and the weather was hot. But, most importantly for me – the race would be at altitude. Living at sea level, I have always found I can never perform as well once a couple of 1000 metres up. I generally pick Skyraces with a low altitude start, so the thinner air isn’t a factor and have found myself avoiding the ones where I would need to spend weeks acclimatising beforehand. Giving everything I had at this new location still earned me two fourths and a second, but never a win. Since the move, the only athletes to win have been those from the USA that live at elevation. Would I ever be able to overcome this physical and psycological barrier?
I hadn’t even planned to race in 2018. Races clashed, I had other goals and I felt I was done with giving my all but coming up short, even though I knew in another location things might be different. Even so, plans changed and flights were booked. I would have three big races over three weekends in a row. Skyrunning World Championships, Tougher Mudder World Championships and the Spartan World Championships. I would have 6 days in between the latter to relax, acclimatise and get rid of jet lag; a luxury I don’t usually have. Even though I wouldn’t be fully acclimatised, I convinced myself 6 days was better than none and could leave me in better shape for the running; but it was my carrying I was worried about. No specific training and not even taking part in a 2018 Spartan Race made me unsure how I would cope.
The course would include three big carries: a bucket and two double sand bag carries, one of which was two 60 lb bags. Other strength obstacles would include a hoist, sled pull, atlas carry, farmers walk and tyre flip. Monkey bars, a swim, crawls, walls and rings were the traditional obstacles; with a spear throw to test our skill. The course would be 22km going up a big mountain first, loop back down into the village before a smaller mountain and the final descent to the finish.
The first mountain was somewhat of a blur; I never had a good racing feeling, but I just tried to suck as much oxygen in and push through every carry and obstacle there was. I had got through the worst of the course but could tell it had stripped me of most of my power. Somehow, I had clawed my way from tenth at the beginning to second in the village – nearly 2 minutes behind. A string of obstacles revitalised me, but another double sandbag soon sent my breathing out of control once again; however, I had closed in on Robert Killian in first.
With one mountain left – I didn’t want to push, I didn’t want to catch him because it was too painful and I knew creating a gap before the finish would be even more so. I pushed anyway; and with the top in sight, I made a gap. Just downhill with some walls to go but I was in a bad way. My breathing was ragged and shallow, but I knew I couldn’t give up now. Committed now, I started hurtling. Halfway down I could tell someone was less than 20 seconds behind me. Checking back, I saw it was Ryan Atkins – ‘where the hell did he come from?’. I hit the valley floor still ahead, clambered over a ladder and started swinging through the final rings obstacle. As my hand touched the bell, Ryan jumped on leaving me time to walk over the finish line, not quite believing what I had done.
It is not often I have such an intense finish and over the years it has made me question if I still have that fight in me. Battling with Ryan down that mountain was some of the hardest running I have ever done. It wasn’t easy, but I can finally put this demon to bed. Three weekends – three World Championship races – three wins.