Spartan Ultra World Championships was categorically going to be my last race of the season.
This 24-hour race was only a product of my success in previous Spartan races this year, and it only seemed natural to see how far I could go with the challenge. Winning the Spartan World Championships and Trifecta World Championships meant I was to receive a million dollars if I could win in Iceland and complete 100 miles doing so.
It is for this reason that I headed to Iceland. I can list bonus experiences like running with friends, seeing the Northern Lights or bathing in hot springs – but I wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for the prize money. I would rather have been at home spending time with my wife, resting my body after a long, hard, successful year.
With this in mind, weeks before I boarded the plane, I made a pact with my body. It had served me well and I knew I was taking a chance that could screw it up. Therefore, I promised it that I would only abuse it for a million dollars; as soon as this was no longer a possibility, I would give it the rest it deserves: I would quit.
So, was 100 miles going to be possible? It would depend on many things – few of which I could control. The weather could be a massive factor, but thankfully the temperature was stable at just under 0’C, and the wind was milder than expected. This meant it would come down to the course, which soon proved to be pretty tough. It consisted of roughly 6.5-mile laps, climbing over 400 meters each, with mainly uneven mossy rocks, ice or tundra under foot. Simply running 100 miles would be quite an affair; let alone with the obstacles, carries and spear throw which would result in burpees if failed.
So, on heading to Iceland, I knew that 100 miles would be a big ask, but also that I wouldn’t have to run 24 hours unless the 100 miles was possible. With this in mind, I reckoned I would run the first 6 hours and by this time I would know if it was possible and know if I had to carry on running.
When it came to it, it was clear after the first lap that it wouldn’t be. I had to average under 94-minute laps to succeed; my first lap took 90 minutes. Having experienced the course, with the uneven terrain, heavy carries and knowing night time was coming, the possibility of running a further 14 laps at that opening pace was not going to happen. So that was it. This realisation gave me a massive boost of happiness. I knew now that I would only run until it wasn’t fun anymore, then stop. So, heading out for subsequent laps, I simply tried to keep on pace for the 100, but knew full well the race would end for me long before Sunday at midday.
Main contributors for the 100 miles not being possible were: a massive climb each lap that was slick with ice; the two sandbag carries, and bucket carry, which were incredibly long, time consuming and tiring; the spear throw, which is rather difficult in windy cold dark conditions and the stamping system. For the six obstacles that held a burpee penalty, you had to get a piece of paper stamped on completion; you then had to swap this for a new one every lap. Overall this wasted between 1 and 2 minutes per lap; over 15 laps, this results in up to 30 minutes of wasted time (what should be a third of a lap). Never has admin cost so much time in a race for me.
I say that to do the 100 miles was ‘impossible’, not because I was failing to do it, but because Ryan Atkins was. He is without doubt the best 24-hour obstacle racer on the planet. He is incredibly strong, has amazing endurance, is smart and has an insane mental ability to push his body through horrible ordeals. There is simply no one better than Ryan for this task. When I asked Ryan if it was possible, he just said ‘no’. On realising this, Spartan tried to offer me 50,000 dollars to do 90 miles, but I had made my decision weeks ago and put a price on my body. I was done. On my fourth lap I ate an entire camping meal, part of my original food plan; it didn’t digest properly and stopped my body from getting any energy. So, by my sixth lap I was getting tired and the experience was no longer fun.
So, after 70 km of running I crossed the finish line (possibly one of the first to do so) and called it a day. I was done and couldn’t have been happier. Ryan went on to run 82 miles, an amazingly impressive feat but still 18 miles from the ‘million-dollar goal’. Many people will blame Spartan for the course being like this, but I genuinely think they didn’t even know themselves. Of course, they wanted to make it hard, but it’s a fine line between hard and impossible. With so many variables, trying to predict the speed of a course is a dark art. All in all, this challenge was probably good for obstacle racing and the amount of media I have had to deal with can only help the sport. I am a little annoyed that the majority of mainstream media are completely ignorant until a humungous amount of money is quoted; but I guess this is to be expected. Even now, I haven’t had any negative feelings about my weekend. Ryan deserved to win, and I am no competition for him over 24 hours. It would have been nice not to make such a big fuelling mistake, but then again stopping so early meant I was able to explore Iceland the next day and run up to hot springs the day after that.
I have already been asked if I have any regrets. In terms of stopping early, this would only be true if there had been Northern Lights, as I wanted to run under them; but they never came, and the forecast was that they wouldn’t. Regarding my approach to the race – nothing. I didn’t change anything about my season, I just added on the races I needed to chance the million. If I dropped everything and concentrated on the million, I would likely be regretting it now.
I was there not for the course, not to find my limits, not to win; I was there to see if I could win a million dollars. Life goes on; and though it may seem I’m finishing my season on a down, I am incredibly happy and proud doing so.