A long-running obstacle-race series is setting its sights on Whistler.
The Spartan Race will bring its five-kilometre sprint and 13-km super distance races to Whistler Blackcomb on Sept. 14 and 15.
Founder Joe De Sena lived in Vancouver for a spell last year and regularly skied in Whistler—that's when he realized the mountains would be an excellent spot to run the event.
"I thought, 'This is the most epic place in the world,' so that's why we launched it," De Sena recalled. "The views, the terrain is going to be pretty unique for any of the events we have anywhere."
Though other series such as Tough Mudder have already been held in Whistler, the Spartan Race predates much of the obstacle-race craze, hosting over 130 events a year. In its 18-year history, the race has expanded to 42 countries and welcomes 1.2 million participants a year.
De Sena said the course here in Whistler, like elsewhere, would include some brutally tough elements.
"You're going to crawl under barbed wire, climb over walls, climb a rope. It's very military-inspired. Even 200 years ago, these obstacles were in use when militaries were training, so the idea is that it's not good enough to go for a run. It's not good enough to exercise on a spin bike. You need a full, complete body workout and that's what we supply," he said.
Compared to other obstacle-race events, the Spartan Race takes the "race" element seriously, as its participants are encouraged to not just finish, but win.
"We're never going to put together a silly obstacle. It's always got to be athletic and in nature. Our goal is to be in the Olympics and so we're going to time you to see how you do. We're going to rank you versus others, not only at Whistler, but around the world. We're going to hold you accountable—if you can't do an obstacle you're not going to be able to just skip it like in a Tough Mudder," he said. "We're going to make you do 30 burpees if you can't do the obstacle.
"It's not that we're more hardcore, it's that we're more legitimate."
If De Sena has his way, these events could eventually result in athletes punching their tickets to the Olympic Games, and he is hoping for inclusion in the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.
Until then, though, De Sena believes the appeal of these types of races will last, especially for those hungry to push themselves and tackle bigger challenges.
"People just want to get healthy," he said. "And in this new world where everything is accessible without any work, it doesn't feel good and healthy. When you get out of your comfort zone and reconnect with the Earth, or you reconnect with human beings—how often are we all sitting down just looking at our phones?—you meet yourself, you reconnect with yourself."