Hey There! Katie Here.
Having been a self-proclaimed OCR/Spartan Race addict for several years......and a market research professional before that......and a lover of data analysis/synthesis well before that......I have always enjoyed pulling together data/information from various sources and putting it together in a neat little easy-to-understand way, in order to help people figure out what choice they should make/aid them in the next step of their journey.
The Spartan Race Ultra event is one of the endurance events in the obstacle course race world that I have loved the most. It's intense and unlike any other physical challenge I had ever encountered, and it truly demands that you, the athlete, level up to be able to complete it and walk away with that Finisher medal.
For many people who attempt a Spartan Ultra it is the most difficult event they have ever encountered, and yet there is a shockingly small amount of information actually published by Spartan about what the Ultra even is - what to expect, how to prepare, how it differs from other Spartan events, etc. For a first-timer, it's not difficult to guess how overwhelming it might seem to approach whether or not to even attempt one...much less which one might be the best choice for a first-time Ultra! I was fortunate that by the time I was ready to contemplate an Ultra I had already been part of the Spartan Race community for multiple years, and so I had acquired a good amount of information ahead of time. (At least...enough to have a rough idea of what I was getting myself into!) But that is definitely not the case for everyone: many who are interested in an Ultra are left to learn more about the event on their own. To compound matters, many of the articles/resources that are currently available are incredibly narrow-minded (do it this way, or else, with no explanation).
I've started to build a resource here of top Spartan Ultra Tips including: insights sourced from Spartan Pro Team members, Spartan SGX coaches, OCR trainers, OCR-specific nutritionists, and including links to well-established/trusted sources of information such as Obstacle Racing Media and Mud Run Guide. So far I've been able to post some really comprehensive, detailed content on topics including:
...Hearing from athletes about how much the information in these articles has helped them feel confident and ready for Race Day makes me so psyched to be able to help you prep for an accomplishment as big and awesome as the Ultra, so I decided it was time to take on one of my biggest projects yet!
One of the key questions often seen in various Facebook Groups or Reddit Threads dedicated to a Spartan Ultra is "how long does a Spartan Race Ultra Beast take?" or "what's the average finish time for a Spartan Ultra?" or "Spartan Ultra Beast average time." The list goes on and on, but basically people want to know how fast they've got to be able to get through the course to avoid course cutoff times. (For those who do not know, the Ultra course has various "cutoff times," indicated in the Athlete Guide sent out by Spartan the week before the race. The "cutoff times" indicate specific obstacles on the course that athletes must have completed by a certain time of day, as a way to ensure the pacing of the Ultra athletes. If an athlete does not make it to a cutoff point by the assigned time, they receive a DNF and cannot complete the course).
Clearly, this is terrifying. and there is no official data posted to give people any kind of answer for what the average finishing time of an Ultra should be, or what average pace per mile would be enough, etc.
What follows is all of the (publicly available) 2019 Spartan Ultra Finisher data, for the events that have happened so far this season. I hope you enjoy reviewing it as much as I enjoyed putting it together, and that you find it helpful, relevant, and valuable as you make your future race plans.
...HERE WE GO!
The finisher times for all Ultras used in this report are publicly available on Spartan.com . Head to the "Results+Photos" tab and you will be able to go through each individual Ultra event, and then sort each event by Wave and Gender, and then put all that data into an Excel spreadsheet like I did...row by row. (Yes, that is the level of love I have for you all and that is the amount of crazy I am.)
It is all listed out in hours:minutes (with the exception of Top Finish Times, where I included the seconds as well). So "8:20" indicates 8 hours and 20 minutes. The numbers are all averages of the results from that event, meaning in the image below the average finish time for Men was 11:56 and the average finish time for Women was 12:19.
In the Tahoe data (where I did include average pace/mile because the official distance was published by Spartan), :20 indicates an average pace of 20 minutes/mile.
There is a distinct difference between highest number of finishers and highest % of finishers, and this report favors the latter. For example: to determine which venue might be a good choice for first-timers wanting to compete in the Open Wave, the % will tell us the proportion of finishers who ran in the Open Wave which is more helpful than just the number, which doesn't give the context or "big picture."
Case in point: in New Jersey there were 458 athletes who finished in the Open Wave - the highest number of Open finishers at any event! However there were 833 finishers total, meaning only 55% of the NJ finishers were Open Wave athletes. In contrast the Ohio event only had 302 finishers in the Open Wave, but out of the total 488 finishers that is 62%.
As mentioned, this report (and any findings/insights/recommendations) are based on the Ultras that have happened so far in 2019 and includes data from the following locations: New Jersey, Ohio, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Lake Tahoe* (*2019 Spartan Race World Championship weekend).
For any Overall Average calculations/recommendations, the data from the Tahoe Ultra has been excluded due to unreliability.
While the data is not conclusive enough to tell us everything we would like to know, there are some valuable insights. For those feeling hesitant to register for an Ultra we can see at-a-glance which venues have the most finishers overall - and also which venues have the highest % of finishers who ran in the Open Wave - which may be able to give a general idea of which venues might be better choices for first-timers.
We can get a general idea of how "competitive" a venue might be by comparing the number of participants in the Elite or Age Group waves from one venue to the next, as well as the comparison of finisher times between Elite and Age Group waves at a single venue. The number of Elite/Age Group athletes could shed light on where there may be an opportunity to achieve a higher ranking, and the gap in average finish time between Elite/Age Group could indicate which wave(s) the top talent at an event is choosing to compete in.
Some female competitors have been hesitant to register for an Ultra, citing that they would feel more comfortable competing in an event where the division of men vs. women competitors was not as stark, and this report shows us which venue(s) have the highest proportion of women. Because the number of Elite/Age Group women is generally so low, it is also easy to see at-a-glance where the opportunities might be for women who are looking to get up on that podium!
First-timers and the women who are feeling hesitant to register for an Ultra will likely enjoy the Ohio venue. Ohio could also be a good place for the most competitive men and women to look, as the numbers of Elite and Age Group waves there is much smaller than at other venues.
When it comes to the most intense competition (or perhaps it is just the most intimidating venue?), Vermont seems to have that on lock-down. It has the highest % of competitive athletes (as in, the biggest % of finishers who were Elite Men, AG Men, Elite Women, and AG Women, as compared to other venues) and also the slowest average finish time. This suggests that not only are the people heading to Vermont pretty hardened athletes to begin with, but even they are feeling the challenge of the infamous Killington Course.
Arguably one of the most popular Ultra venues, New Jersey had the highest finisher number so far in 2019. It also had the highest number of female finishers (156 finishers, vs. avg. 78), the highest number of Open finishers (458 vs. avg. 220), and the highest number of Elite Women (all other venues have had fewer than 10 Elite Women).
Interestingly, it is the only venue so far in 2019 where AG Women have a faster average time than Elite Women (11:32 AG Women vs. 12:01 Elite Women).
Widely regarded as a primarily "flat" course (aka, a "Runner's Course), the Ohio Ultra has the fastest average finish time so far in 2019 (10:12, vs. avg. 11:36). This is true regardless of wave and gender: Ohio boasts the fastest average finish time across all subgroups.
Ohio had the highest percent of female finishers (21% finishers, vs. avg. 18%), as well as the highest percent of Open finishers (62% vs. avg. 51%).
The Colorado Ultra doesn't seem to stand out much at this level of analysis - it is pretty "middle of the road" on all metrics examined. (But that doesn't mean there won't be more - stay tuned!!)
Hawaii does have the smallest number of finishers – but this is likely because it's one of the most difficult venues for most Ultra participants to travel to.
One interesting point: it has the smallest number of Elite Men by a wide margin: 26 vs. the average 53 (although for you Elite Men who are reading this: the venue with second lowest number of Elite Men is Ohio with 30...which is pretty close to 26 and Ohio is probably easier to get to!).
The Spartan Race Ultra at Killington Resort in Vermont is as intimidating as it is notorious, and according to the data 2019 did not disappoint. Killington has the slowest average finish time so far (13:12 vs. avg. 11:36), and also the smallest % of female finishers (11% vs. 18% avg.) and the smallest % of Open finishers (27% vs. 51% avg.).
To clarify, unfortunately we cannot determine whether the low percent of female and Open finishers is because there was a high DNF rate of those groups, or if athletes in those waves were too intimidated by Killington's reputation and did not register for it in the first place. That being said, the low percents could be an indication that it's probably not the first-choice venue for either of these subgroups.
The 2019 Lake Tahoe Spartan World Championships weekend had some extreme and unpredictable weather changes which drastically altered the results of the Ultra. Many athletes were delayed on course due to adverse conditions, and then descended the mountain from wherever they were (without completing obstacles) to finish. Others completed differing numbers of obstacles. Some participants were disqualified completely, while others were not.
Events like this happen in the sport of obstacle course racing: it is unfortunate, but to be expected. That being said, because this data is clearly unreliable, it has been excluded from any calculations/considerations going into findings/insights/key takeaways in this report. The individual event data is shown only on the image above, because I knew people would want to see it regardless.
Also as explained above, average pace/mile was calculated for this event because Spartan published an official distance measurement. Spartan also published the obstacle count for the Ultra, so that has been included as well.
That's all for now...WHAT DO YOU THINK?? What surprised you? What do you want to dig deeper on? Does this change the way you think about next season?
I want to hear it all! Comment below...shoot me an email...repost this article and see what everyone ELSE thinks...I wanna know! Nothing gets me more psyched than knowing that something I put together helped YOU get ready to crush your Race Day.
As the 2019 season progresses, the data from additional events will be added to this database! With each new event and new set of data, the overall "Key Insights" or recommendations could change...so be sure to check back often! If you want to ensure you are kept in the loop each time we update, sign up for the Fierce Gear OCR email list and you'll get a notification right to your inbox, allowing you to be one of the first to know what's going on :)
Where possible/reasonable, I also plan to add data comparing venues year-over-year, to show how a venue may have changed over the years (and shed some light onto the question of "Which year was the Killington Ultra the hardest?").
I like how you think. Shoot me an email FierceGearOCR@gmail.com and let me know what you would like to see! Also, there may be future opportunities for access to another "level" of insider information for a small fee: I'll be sure to keep you posted!
December 25, 2019
Great information! Do you have any data on the 2019 Carolina Ultra? The weather that day was horrible.
November 26, 2019
This information is great! Thank you for sharing it…I am registered for the Montana Ultra 2020 and having some trouble getting info on possible course elevation and, even more important, the cut off time for finishing. I have heard that you must finish the first lap (are the laps different lengths?) within 5.5 hours…don’t know if that’s true. I also heard there is no total cut off time…but that can’t be accurate for safety reasons. Any insight you have about this would be greatly appreciated!
October 22, 2019
October 19, 2019
Thanks for rocking this out, it’s amazing!!!