Spartan Ultra Quebec (Owl’s Head) 2019

This race was pretty nuts in a bunch of ways: the course itself is allegedly one of the hardest (if not the hardest) in Spartan’s quiver of locations, we had a Code Irene called (closed course because of weather), and the basic fact that this was my first Ultra. This post will be more about the race itself than my personal training and experience.

Half of you will not finish. The difference between the Beast and the Ultra is that the Beast is designed so most people finish. The Ultra is designed so 50% of you finish.

– Race Director, pre-race briefing

This was a surprise. Yes, the Ultra is meant to be Hard with a capital H, but to have the race director blatantly state the target finish rate is 50% was humbling. According to the Athlinks results, about 150 signed up (in the three heats combined), and about 50 finished.

Ask yourself, “what is my Why”? Because without your Why, you will not finish.

– a Krypteia, start corral

The race format was as follows: the Beast and Ultra took place the same day, with the Ultra starting first. The Ultra competitors would do the Beast course twice, plus an extra 4km “Ultra leg” on both laps. The Ultra leg was actually a rather nice trail run in the woods (shade was nice), the rest of the course was out on the ski runs. There were no Ultra-specific obstacles: the Beast would do 30, and the Ultras would do 60 (each twice). In typical Spartan Race fashion, the obstacles were mostly bunched together in groups of 2-3, with long periods of running in between.

Why does this place only have black diamonds?

– a fellow racer

The course itself, and I cannot stress this enough, was absolutely brutal. If you ski/snowboard, the majority of the up/down hills were single or double black diamonds. In total, the Beast went up/down the hill 6 times… given the extra Ultra leg, the Ultra went up/down 14 times, enjoying a total elevation gain of about 5000m. This sounds ridiculous but it’s correct, confirmed by my own tracker and the official Spartan map elevation chart thingy. For comparison, the Killington Ultra is closer to 4000m — so yes, Owl’s Head is harder than Killington.

I thought it was supposed to rain all day

– a very sunburned athlete

Although the forecast called for rain most of the day, we ended up seeing blazing sun for the first 10ish hours, followed by a massive storm that seemed to roll in in the span of a few minutes. After some lightning strikes within a few miles, the RD called to close the course. All athletes were directed back to the festival area (at this point I was about halfway through my second loop, 10 hours in).

Now here’s where it gets interesting: First, the event staff handed out Ultra shirts and medals to everyone. There were no checks whatsoever, literally just staff members handing out still-wrapped medal packages to anyone who stuck their hand out in the registration area. I know it was a bad situation and they just wanted everyone to get out of there without too much friction, but the way it was done really rubs me the wrong way. It’s not really “about the medal” and I’m sure most people present were honest, but I think I would’ve preferred for them to just mail the things afterwards to actual finishers.

Speaking of “actual finishers”, this is interesting too: Spartan timing seems to have extrapolated our finish times based on checkpoints. Like I said above, I got sent off course about 10 hours into the race, yet my official results put me at about 14 hours. The last two timing mats weren’t hit in my results, so I’m guessing they looked at what time athletes hit the timing mats before the course closure and estimated a finish time. Additionally, the course time limit was 16 hours: it looks like only athletes with a “projected” finish time below 16 hours were assigned finishes, everyone else (70% ish) got a DNF. Personally I’m really happy with this: their estimate is right in line with what I predicted for myself (finish-time-projection mental math is a great way to pass the time during an endurance event), and I’m sure it would’ve upset a lot of people to just assign DNFs to everyone. That being said, despite having official results, I don’t consider myself to have actually finished the Ultra — it’s a bit bittersweet.

Overall, it was a very tough event with some shenanigans thrown in for good measure. But I’ll be back next year, planning to finish “for real” this time. And this time, my Why is simple: Because it’s hard.