PHOTOS — Spartan competitors train for pain
Be strong, stay healthy, avoid injury, take your lumps.
Endurance athletes competing in Spartan Races expect it to hurt. They train for it and they live for it.
On Saturday morning, more than 2,400 highly-tuned athletes from all over Western Canada converged on Heritage Ranch at Red Deer for the first and maybe not the last Spartan Race to be hosted here.
That decision is still being worked out, said Dean Stanton, licensee for Spartan Race in Western Canada.
A Team Canada triathlete and seasons Sparta Race competitor, Stanton said Red Deer provided an excellent venue for an event that pits human bodies against eight to 21 kilometres of tough trail, liberally strewn with obstacles designed to tax upper body strength and stretch competitors to the limit of their capabilities.
Among his favourites is a set of scaffolds strung with rope where competitors are required to lift a 40-kilogram block of concrete and then gently lower it back to the ground.
Get it wrong and you’re doing burpees — a series of sit-ups coupled with jumps that athletes must perform as penance if they fail to complete an obstacle. After watching for a few minutes, Stanton decided that the obstacle was a little too easier and should be set higher in the future.
Doing burpees eats up time on the course and saps energy.
By the time they were half way around the course, many of the competitors were down to a slow trot, taking a breather before heading into the finish line, where they would have to crawl through mud under lines of barbed wire, and then work through two more climbing obstacles before jumping over a wall of fire and into an assault by two very tall gladiators armed with enormous foam-covered battering blocks.
Eva Kuzyk of Edmonton said the barbed wire is one of her favourite obstacles. She grins from ear to ear as she talks about the blood that was pouring down her body from dozens of tiny cuts after a previous race.
She’s considering, but has not yet committed herself to joining her running mate, Kelly Veillette of Kamloops, at the next race, set for Sun Peaks, B.C. on Sept. 28.
Unlike Red Deer, which was a 13-kilometre Super event with 21 obstacles, Sun Peak will include a Beast to be run over 20 kilometres with 26 obstacles.
Certainly, injuries are a big part of the race, said one official waiting in the staging area as exhausted athletes wiped mud from their faces and headed for the showers. Broken ankles are relatively common along with the scrapes, bruises and sprains people suffer when they subject their bodies to 90 minutes or more of intense work over multiple tasks.
A few meters away, Jeff Hirsch was getting his knee taped by one of the medics hired to help treat the wounded.
Hirsch said he had damaged the knee in a previous race and it was starting to get sore, but no so sore that he was unable to complete his race.
Math teacher David Huckle from Los Angeles California said he feels very lucky to have remained injury free in more than 38 Sparta Races, of which 30 were run this year.
Huckle is racing as a guest of Sparta Race Inc. ticket after winning a competition to see who could round up the biggest team. Every Friday after school is out, he gets on a plane and heads to another venue.
It’s a great inspiration for his students, who live in one of the poorest areas of the inner city, to see their teacher competing successfully in an extreme sport that he couldn’t afford if he had to pay for his own way.
Huckle said he was a little skeptical about the venue when he got to Red Deer and found a park alongside a residential subdivision.
But his skepticism was melted away as he ran through nicely wooded pathways in the lower areas of the ranch and the adjacent McKenzie Trails.
“This was a beautiful course. The ranch is fantastic, I love the trail. They used streams and natural obstacles very well and made a very nice course.”
Red Deer volunteer Shirley Gray said she had competed previously in Mud Hero at Canyon Ski Area and volunteered for Sparta Race to see what it’s like. From what she had seen, it’s way tougher, she said.
And if it does come back next year, it will be way different, said Stanton. Part of keeping the sport exciting it mixing it up every year so the athletes never know what to expect, he said.