Preamble: Some of the folks who have been following my races over the past couple of years have expressed some confusion about exactly what race I’ll be running next month. To quickly clarify, it’s the Spartan Summer Death Race (SDR) – a race I have never attempted before. The death race I completed last summer was called the North Face Canadian Death Race (CDR), a brutal 125 km run over three peaks in the Canadian Rockies. Obviously, the CDR is not the SDR; they are distinctly different beasts, requiring very different physical and mental skill sets, exertion levels, and all-round strategy. In my mind, the SDR will be the most difficult race to date. Much harder than World’s Toughest Mudder, and much, MUCH more difficult than the CDR.
In the case of the CDR, it has a set race course of known length that you follow, a set start time, and clearly identified cutoff times for each of the five race segments. The objective of the CDR is simple: run the course as fast as possible. The SDR does not work this way. Of course, like any race, you have to “run the course” but the course isn’t disclosed in advance and the tasks/challenges you need to complete aren’t revealed to you until the time you have to complete it. There is also no set start time or finish time; you arrive at the venue in Pittsfield, Vermont on June 27th and at some point the race “begins”. It doesn’t end for at least 48 hours. At some point, the race organizers decide to pull the plug, which is only after a good 90% of the field has given up. Keep in mind these competitors who are quitting are elite athletes. If this whole thing sounds ridiculous and confusing to you, then good, that means you understand it. The race organizers don’t cheer you on; they encourage you to quit…and whining is punished. The SDR race is designed to confuse you, to wear you down, to break you. Here’s a link to my other SDR page.
The Spartan Summer Death Race – June 27th-29th, 2014
So…where was I? Oh yes, why am I doing this?! Here’s a reminder. Aside from using my involvement in these races as a platform for raising awareness about mental illness in Canada, I also like testing my own physical and psychological limits…to see what I am and am not capable of. Of course, being a part of events like this is addictive for multiple reasons. The people you meet are incredible, and seeing the collective human spirit at these events is something to behold – something that is truly amazing to even be a part of. I guess my response to why I do these races is a question of my own: why aren’t other people doing this?! (Yes, I know the answer…just shhhhhh.)
So anyway, here I am, almost exactly one month until I begin tapering off my training before I fly off to Boston and then drive to Vermont. Needless to say, my nervous energy is building exponentially with every passing day.
Although they try to keep you in the dark regarding the nature of the race, there are a few knowns. The theme at this year’s SDR is the “Year of the Explorer”, which means they are introducing an orienteering component. This was an unexpected and, frankly, unwelcome surprise (I guess I’d better get used to those) because I didn’t know I would have to learn this stuff back when I registered for the race. But them’s the breaks. So on top of all my regular training, I’ve had to join the Manitoba Orienteering Association to learn to orienteer, map read, and estimate distance. Because of this, I can no longer simply “switch off” when I go for my training runs. Now, I have to count steps and monitor travel time as a way of judging the distances I’m travelling. On top of that, I have to be able to guess distances at (a) walking pace, (b) running pace, and (c) scrambling pace (as in, through forest or bush). This whole thing is totally foreign to me but I will have practice these skills over the coming weeks or this aspect of the competition could end my race. These skills take years to master, but I’m hoping the basics will get me by.
Another component that has a good chance of being a part of the SDR is wood splitting. For that reason, I purchased a wood splitter (a badass wood splitter I might add – the Fiskars X27) a while ago and have been splitting wood for several hours every week.
There are countless specific exercises I do as a part of my obstacle course racing (OCR) training, so I’m not going to list them all here, but just as an overview, I’ve been swimming laps to increase my overall endurance, hill running and stair climbing to improve my climbing capabilities (look, this is as good as hill training gets here in the prairies), and trail running to boost my agility/stability. Here was a snapshot of West Hawk Lake a week ago. Not exactly thawed yet (what a brutal and unforgiving winter we had this year).
Upper body strength appears to be an asset in this race as well; this is not just a race for lower body. And yes, the ice baths have started again. Cold water out of the tap these days almost doesn’t need ice added. It’s the coldest bath water I’ve ever felt. Ever. Ugh.
On the training list for this final month is running, scrambling, hiking, climbing with this huge pack on my back. Because you have to carry your own food and water for the full two days of racing, a large pack is required. After reading many pack reviews, I went with MEC’s Ibex 65 (see pics below), which is a highly durable, 65-litre pack that can probably take sharp objects (e.g., barbed wire) without self-destructing, and can take being thrown in a muddy creek over and over and over again without getting bogged down with water. It also has a ton of compartments to keep items accessible and isolated (to prevent cross-contamination), and can accommodate extra hydration reservoirs.
I’m hoping this does the trick because I decided to deviate from what most other racers use: improved load-bearing equipment (ILBE), which is basically a standard issue military pack for US Marines.
As for the rest of my equipment, I have most of it with the exception of 24 food tubes and three roll-up water bottles, which will be critical for meeting the fuel and hydration requirements for the race while still being able to transport them. I met with one of my trainers, Dean Kriellaars, the other day to discuss this plan. He estimated the caloric burn for those two days will be upwards of 17,000 to 20,000 calories, with replenishment being in the ballpark of 13,000 to 15,000 calories. Most (but not all) of these calories will be obtained through high density energy bars. However, there are limits to this strategy as your body can only take so much high density food before, well, you know what. So the plan is to systematically switch up the diet with normal food in a way that makes it tolerable for two days. Obviously, this is easier said than done, so Dean had some tricks up his sleeve that I’ll be using. Fluid requirements are temperature dependent, but are estimated to be around 14 litres per day. Huge thanks to my trainers for helping me with this stuff. I’d be lost without them.
As for the other gear, here’s what I have lined up (there will surely be changes as I continue testing):
Neoprene gloves, neoprene socks, and balaclava for those lovely pond and meltwater creek challenges (yes, hypothermia is a very real risk in the SDR). GPS watch and heart rate monitor (this is mainly for training; likely won’t use these in the race). Headlamp and back-up headlamp. Favourite Chilean cap…yeah, I’m not going anywhere without that goofy thing…it saved my tail (or head, I guess) at WTM.
Waterproof medical kit, tick repellant wipes, bivvy, Ibex rain shell, AstroGlide (yes, it’s also good for racing), bungees for additional pack compression and for splitting wood, Fiskars X27 splitter, Fiskars blade sharpener (yikes, does this thing ever work), micro can opener, spoon, hydration reservoir, and woodsman pack (TP, lighter, duct tape, Swiss Army knife).
Footwear can make or break your race, and I’m still unsure as what I’ll be using for the SDR. Currently, my weapons of choice are ASICS Fuji Racers (with the big drainage holes in the bottom) and ASICS Kahanas. Both awesome for grip and trail running, but not great for stability (these damn trade offs). Running tights, Quick Dry base layer, rain shell (this shell literally saved my life in a massive hailstorm during segment 2 of the Canadian Death Race…but that’s another story).
The precise food I’ll be using is still a work in progress, but here are some of my go-to fuels: Nuun (greatest hydration tabs ever created); CLIF Bars, bananas, BSN Syntha 6. And, I love me some Honey Bunny. Not sure why I threw the sandbags into the photo. I have a feeling I’m going to need them somehow for the race (let’s see if that gamble pays off).
So there you are. More or less up to date on the race training front. I’m doing everything I can to prepare for this race while still prioritizing my PhD dissertation research; it is much more important to me than the SDR. My goal is to do whatever I can to finish the SDR at the end of June as well as a solid draft of my dissertation by the end of August. If I can pull this off, this will be an epic summer.
More training posts to follow. Thanks for taking the time to share in my journey friends :)