If you like unpredictable races, then the 2022 Spartan Race North American Elite Series is off to a great start. One major takeaway from the series opener in San Luis Obispo (SLO) is that athletes can no longer expect to simply show up to any course, regardless of distance or terrain, and expect to do well. In past years, you'd see the same five or so names at the front of every major race, but I have a feeling that 2022 (and beyond) is going to be different.
In fact, on the men's side, SLO had the second-smallest gap from 1st to 10th in U.S. National Series history.
Big Bear Past Results, By the Numbers
Let’s take a quick look at previous Big Bear race results, for athletes who confirmed that they’ll be racing this weekend. Just like the stock market, though, previous performances don’t necessarily guarantee future results.
Big Bear Top Contenders: Who Can Win the Super on May 15?
SLO confirmed that running/hiking up a mountain fast isn’t the same as running fast on flat ground. Case in point: Three men who previously podium'd at a Big Bear National Series race didn’t even make the top 25 in San Luis Obispo in March. Johnny Luna-Lima won Big Bear in 2019, Angel Quintero finished second in 2018, and Josiah Middaugh was leading last year’s race until the final mile before finishing third. All three of those athletes live at elevation, too, so don’t be surprised if they rebound from atypical finishes at SLO and have a great showing at Big Bear.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the other main contenders to wind up on the podium. There are 15-plus athletes who could end up in the top 5, and some are not even listed below.
Aaron has spent the past month living and trail racing in Ecuador, at around 9,000-foot elevation.
Hawk finished second and fourth in his last two National Series races, both within 2 percent of the winner’s time. He struggles with strength obstacles like the Hercules Hoist, which has hurt his placement in the past.
Ian has finished fifth all three times he’s raced a National Series race at Big Bear. He tends to peak well towards the end of the season, rather than prioritizing early-season results.
In winning the New Jersey Ultra two weeks ago, he proved that his twice-dislocated shoulder from Tahoe last year is healed. He's fearless on technical downhills and is a strong power hiker uphill.
Last year in Big Bear, Lars ran most of the race stride for stride with Ryan Atkins, and it was only his second Spartan race ever. He's a phenomenal climber who thrives on dry, West Coast mountain terrain, like Big Bear.
Mark is coming off a second-place finish in SLO, and 2021 was arguably his best season ever. Big Bear has never been a great course for his skill set, though, as he’s been 13-16% slower than the winner all three times he’s raced there.
Breakthrough races have led to new stars in the sport (see: Ryan Kempson in Jacksonville, Johnny Luna-Lima in Big Bear, Hawk Call and Rylan Schadegg in Utah). Nic will look to keep the momentum going at Big Bear after his surprise third-place finish at SLO. We saw how fast Nic was on flatter terrain at SLO, but can he run/hike steep hills?
Atkins has never finished worse than second in three races at Big Bear (two Beasts and one Super). He has missed the top 5 only five times in 58 career Spartan races, the majority of which were major ones.
Kempson finished fourth at Big Bear in 2019. He rolled his ankle badly about a week ago, but it’s looking like it will be healed by race day.
Beating Father Time at age 43, he's still one of the best climbers in the sport. He finished third the two times he raced at Big Bear.
Rylan is coming off a win in the Montana Super this past weekend. He's one of the most aggressive descenders in the sport, which should work in his favor on a steep Big Bear course.
Tyler has finished between third and sixth in six of his last seven National Series races. In Big Bear in 2019, he led the race early before fading to 11th, so maybe he should start a little slower this time.
Veejay is the defending champion on a nearly identical Super course this year. He has not finished outside the top 2 in 37 straight races under 75 minutes. (No, that is not a typo.)
Predicting the Top 5 Finishers
It’s time to make some predictions! Here's what I think the top 5 will look like.
- Veejay Jones
- Ryan Atkins
- Hawk Call
- Lars Arneson
- Ryan Woods
I think this race will play out similar to last year’s race, with Veejay hanging back until the final downhill. At that point, he'll do what he always does and will end up on top of the podium. The fight for 6th-10th will be insanely close. It’s almost disrespectful to leave athletes like Kempson, Josiah, and Johnny off the list above, due to their previous success at this venue, but that just goes to show how incredibly competitive the sport is right now.