Back to the Stone Age for Spartan racer



LIGHT MY FIRE  Shane McKay breathes life into a fire created with a bow drill, grass and the stem of a desert plant outside his Westside Road home on Sunday, August 24th. The seasoned Spartan race competitor is focused on an upcoming 50-kilometre plus Hunter Gatherer Survival Run, which takes place on October 4th near Rocksprings, Texas. Photo by Greg Amos
LIGHT MY FIRE Shane McKay breathes life into a fire created with a bow drill, grass and the stem of a desert plant outside his Westside Road home on Sunday, August 24th. The seasoned Spartan race competitor is focused on an upcoming 50-kilometre plus Hunter Gatherer Survival Run, which takes place on October 4th near Rocksprings, Texas. Photo by Greg Amos

By Greg Amos

Special to The Pioneer

Time might be trying to catch up with Invermeres best known Spartan racer, but the globe-trotting owner of TXN Installations is intent on defying the odds by going back to the stone age.

Since 2011, Shane McKay, 54, has dedicated himself to Spartan racing long-distance runs that involve many gruelling obstacles and strength-sapping challenges. But he is delving into a new desert-based outlet for his physically-demanding addiction: the upcoming second annual Hunter Gatherer Survival Run, which takes place on October 4th near Rocksprings, Texas.

It focuses on the traditional Native American way of life, before the white man came; the challenges include starting a fire using a bow drill, said Shane. They tell you what some of the challenges will be, but a lot of them, you dont find out about until youre on the course.

The run distance is described as 50-kilometre plus, and all competitors must make their sandals out of webbing and a patch of Vibram rubber then run in them for the full distance.

Everybody knows this going in; if you want to put the time into running in sandals, it helps a lot, he said. I trained in sandals all last year. My feet are in good shape and theyre used to sandals; I had practiced making them, so when the race started at 4 a.m., I was the first person out of the chute.

The run includes obstacles and challenges that involve not just carrying, climbing, throwing, digging and building, but memorization and problem solving. There are no aid stations, and each competitor must carry a few essentials food, water, a water purifier, a pack they make themselves during the race, 100 feet of para-cord and a survival knife with them the whole way. And they must learn how to start a fire using very little.

For an old guy like me, it tends to level the playing field the faster, stronger, younger competitors might not have the patience to spend time learning how to start a fire with a bow drill, or hitting targets with a homemade bow, Shane said.

After a first attempt at starting a fire with his homemade bow drill took 11 hours, Shane has honed his ability through practice. Using dry grass, the hilt of his survival knife and the stem of a desert plant called sotol (which is found only in Northern Mexico, New Mexico and West Texas), he can now get a fire going in under five minutes on a hot day.

That experience helped him win the inaugural event last year, but with an asterisk: Shane was the only racer to finish the first 50-kilometre loop before the 16-hour cut off. This year, hes expecting a much stronger field and the need to run the full distance.

It was cool to win, but I felt I had a strategy to get through 100 kilometres, he said. I had paced myself and had done everything just right, but I dont know if it felt like a victory or not.

In 2012, Shane hit his Spartan racing peak, doing 26 races. He was briefly ranked as the second-best Spartan racer in the world, finishing the year at an impressive 12th place ranking. Last year, he did about 10 races mainly survival runs, which combine the distance of an ultramarathon (usually 50 to 100 kilometres) with obstacles familiar to Spartan racers.

A memorable event for him was the Ometepe Survival Run held on an inland island in Nicaragua an event that includes battling fierce weather, and trekking through the jungle and up two volcanos, one of which is active. Its a finish line that continues to thwart him.

January 2015 will be the third time I go to Ometepe, he said. Out of 100 competing in three separate events put on by Fuego y Agua Events, the company that runs the Hunter Gatherer and Ometepe runs, just six people have finished.

Thats how tough these races are, he said, noting most people simply become too fatigued to continue after a certain point. Even the race check-in held the day before the race involves an open water swim nearly a kilometre long, just to retrieve the racing bib needed for the real event starting the next day.

Hes able to leave his company in good hands with a trusted team, and his children are now grown and have left home, so Shane takes advantage of his flexible time to pursue his passion.

I have some pretty good managers that work here, and the shop can run without me being here; sometimes I think it runs better if Im not here, he quipped. Im really fortunate that way. I can take time off to train, and it takes a lot of training.

His 20 years of experience as an ironworker played a formative role in building his endurance, and Shane noted many other endurance racers seem to come from a construction background. But those with a running background tend to do best, he added.

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