Spartan Games™, presented by Harley-Davidson, fittingly came down to the wire on the final day of the competition. With nine events down and just one remaining, the winners in both the men's and women's fields remained in doubt. It took incredible performances by the eventual victors to cement their place as Spartan Games champions.
Watch the finale of the four-part series above, and check out the five craziest moments from Episode 4 below.
A Difference of 8 Seconds
Trailing Hunter McIntyre by just two points heading into the final day of the competition, Ryan Atkins desperately needed to win the Spartan Extreme Endurance Vertical 300. One of his greatest threats to finishing first was 2015 XTERRA Triathlon World Champion Josiah Middaugh, who took the lead out of the gate and carried it for about half the race.
But as we've seen so many times from Atkins on the Spartan course, he stuck around, stayed close, and kicked it into high gear when he had to. In one of the tightest finishes at the Games, Atkins finished in first — just 8 seconds ahead of Middaugh — to reclaim the lead with just two events to go.
A Marathoner Can Deadlift?
What makes the Spartan Games so unique, and so challenging, is that it forces athletes to come out of their comfort zones and attempt new feats that are out of their areas of expertise. Endurance athletes had to lift stones and wrestle, and strength specialists had to mountain bike, run marathons, and swim.
These unorthodox scenarios created some remarkably impressive moments. Take elite long-distance runner Kellyn Taylor, who deadlifted 165 pounds as part of the DEKA Heavy event. McIntyre watched in awe as she managed to get it off the ground.
"She was absolutely incredible," the Murph world record holder said. "I was like, 'You're one of the best marathoners in history, and you're deadlifting more than guys, and you act like it's no big deal.' I like that. That's a cool athlete."
'I Got SMASHED By the Ground'
One of the most surprising showings at the Games came from Herman Demmink, a medical sales rep who received the invitation to participate just days before the competition. (Click here to see how he prepared in the 72 wild hours leading up to the event.) A masterful DEKA athlete, he completed DEKA Heavy in just 6:04.98, placing fourth. (Earlier in the Games, he came in second in the DEKA STRONG event.)
His excellent time would have been even better had he not taken a vicious spill to the ground after losing his grip on the pull-up bar. The former minor league baseball player took it in stride, but admitted that it wasn't his finest moment.
"Physically I'm fine," he said. He then added, with a laugh, "It's all pride. My pride's hurt. I just got smashed by the ground."
To his credit, he got right back up, finished the zone, and powered to the finish line. Consistent with his approach all weekend, he put his head down, persevered, and got the job done.
You'll Know at the Finish Line
During the DEKA STRONG event, the entire field rallied behind marathoner Mike Wardian, shouting words of encouragement and offering tips to help him push through. An inspirational moment, it showcased the incredible bond amongst the competitors despite their inherent competitiveness and fierce desire to win.
A similar scenario unfolded during the second iteration of the Spartan Cross. With the rest of the field urging him on and offering instruction to overcome unfamiliar obstacles, Wardian fought his way to the finish line. As he ran the final yards to complete the event, the fellow athletes roared.
"You can be any size, shape, [or] background," the 46-year-old father of two said, "and still come to a Spartan event and be challenged and learn and grow, and have an experience that will last a lifetime."
A Thrilling Finish, and a Preview of Next Year
Fittingly, the Spartan Games was still in doubt up until the final event, on both the women's and men's sides. We couldn't have scripted a more exciting and suspense-filled finish. In the end, the sport of OCR was represented well. Atkins and his wife, Lindsay Webster, won Spartan Cross 2, giving them the Spartan Games titles in their respective fields. McIntyre and Ryan Kent finished in second and third, respectively, on the men's side. Corinna Coffin and Lauren Weeks finished in second and third, respectively, amongst the women.
Speaking after the Games concluded, McIntyre reflected on the weekend. Clearly disappointed but still supremely confident, he vowed to come back next year, unseat Atkins, and return to the top of the heap.
"I need to spend time swimming," he said. "I need to spend more time biking. I need to spend more time running. I completely forgot what it felt like to be an outdoor athlete. It's a totally different experience, and I let that all go because I was like, 'I don't need it. I'm not doing that stuff anymore ... I'm still the beast tha tI've always been.'
"I showed up, and I was just a few hairs shy of what I used to be. So I went away for three years. Now I'm back and I'm like, 'God, I hate losing to Atkins. I better come back and beat him at something.' So ... I think I'm back."
Round 2? We can't wait.