We already saw how home-field advantage makes a huge difference for obstacle course racing, as several Mexican athletes shocked their U.S. counterparts in Puebla back in June. I have a feeling that the same will be true in Kelowna, as Canadian athletes won’t have to deal with the difficulties of international travel or adjusting to a slightly different culture than what athletes in the U.S. are accustomed to. (So don’t be surprised if at least half of the men’s top 10 is made up of Canadian athletes.)
Let’s take a quick look at some of the main contenders to wind up on the podium in Kelowna.
The 2022 Spartan North American Championship Contenders: Who Will Win the Title?
The former member of the Canadian National Mountain Running Team has never finished worse than 2nd in seven career Spartan races, six of which were earlier this year. Despite his inexperience in the sport, Brendan has the potential to break through in his first ever major obstacle course racing event.
Just seconds into this year's race in Utah, it was clear that no one stood a chance at keeping up with Hawk Call. After finally winning his first major Spartan race, Hawk should be more confident than anyone to take home the “W” again. The course in Kelowna is almost identical in terms of distance and elevation gain (versus what we saw in Utah). Plus, Hawk lives at over 5,000 feet elevation, so he won’t be affected by altitude. Don’t be surprised if Hawk wins by an even larger margin of victory in Kelowna than he did last month in Utah.
With nearly 40 Spartan podiums to his name, Jesse has been dominating the Canadian scene since 2013. His most impressive Spartan finishes include 15th at Abu Dhabi last year and 6th at the 2018 North American Regional Championship in West Virginia. However, Jesse completed a full Ironman Triathlon in 9 hours and 46 minutes this past weekend, so he’ll probably still be feeling the effects of that effort in Kelowna. Will his body hold up after such a hard push?
I wouldn’t recommend Josiah’s pre-race taper, as he’ll finish the four-day TransRockies Gravel Royale gravel bike race on Thursday afternoon — barely a day before Kelowna. Josiah is arguably the best climber in the field, but time will tell if his legs still have any power left in them after 250+ miles and nearly 25,000 feet of elevation gain on the bike just before this race.
Mark has a streak of 10 straight National Series races in the top nine, including four top-five finishes. If the course has moderately steep, smooth downhills, Mark could easily end up on the podium. He tends to struggle with the steeper or more technical downhill terrain, however, so his success depends on how technical the course is.
Mik is probably the best racer you’ve never heard of. Besides some guy named Ryan Atkins, Mik Gerylo has been the best male Canadian athlete for nearly a decade. He’s run 32 races in Canada since his Spartan debut in 2014 and has made the podium in 30 of them, with 21 wins along the way. His 5th-place finish at the 2018 North American Regional Championship in West Virginia surprised some people, but he has as good of a shot as anyone to podium in this year’s version of the race.
Only a fool would leave Ryan Atkins off of the podium. He is the reigning North American Regional champion, after all. After spending a week in Colorado for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race, Ryan flew to Kelowna to familiarize himself with the local terrain. Ryan always puts himself in contention and likely won’t let Hawk Call out of his sights early in the race this time. It’s a toss-up between Ryan and Hawk for the win, in my opinion.
Less than a year ago, Ryan Woods finished second at the North American Regional Championship. In fact, he’s finished 3rd, 1st, and 2nd in all three previous editions of the championship. It’s crazy how quickly people forget how good Ryan Woods has been after a couple of bad races this year. Don’t sleep on the 43-year-old Woods, as he wouldn’t be traveling across the continent from North Carolina if he didn’t think he would do well at Kelowna.
Rylan has been consistent all year, finishing 5th-8th at all four North American Elite Series races so far. His trail running has never been better, as he finished ahead of Mt. Marathon record holders David Norris and Allie McLaughlin a couple weeks ago at a trail race in Utah. No one in the field wants to see Rylan within striking distance at the top of the final downhill, as he is one of the best downhill runners in the sport.
My dark-horse pick for this race is Shaun Stephens-Whale, who won last year’s Canadian National Points Series. I’d argue that not even the race director will know the venue better than Shaun, as Shaun has been living just outside Big White Mountain for the past few weeks specifically to prepare for this race. Two of the six men who beat Shaun in Utah won’t be at Kelowna, so Shaun could easily end up in the top five.
Predicting the Top 5 Finishers in Kelowna
It’s time to make some predictions! Here’s who I think will finish in the top five, in order: