This past weekend, Spartan Race held their World Championship event in Vermont.
There were several events going on over the same weekend – a Sprint, a two day Beast, an Ultra Beast and a Team Death Race, and while we all overlapped and merged paths are various points during the weekend, ultimately they were all their own events, and I’ll let the participants of each tell you more of their tails.
My story is of the Beast.
Specifically, I ran the Beast on Sunday. I had already had two tastes of the mountains. In 2012, I also completed the Beast, and thought it gave me a fair insight into what was to come. Then on the Saturday I ran the Sprint with my wife Beth, which was the most brutal elevation change in a “short” race that I’ve ever come across – she will have more to tell on that in due course.
This meant that I spent all day Saturday hearing how horrible the Beast was. How brutal the course was. How much the race sucked. Seeing people cross the finish line, pick up their medals and collapse in a heap. Hearing tales of people being pulled from the course from injury, hyperthermia, exhaustion, or simply not meeting the time cuts.
So was a little apprehensive on Sunday morning. Beth was helping out Obstacle Racing Media and covering the Ultra Beast wave that left at 6am, so I had our rented apartments to myself, I hadn’t slept well, I didn’t have an appetite, and all I could see was fog and rain on the mountain, reports of aches and injuries and DNFs were all over Facebook – I believe I may have had a small pity party in my head, with myself as the only attendant. As I ate a breakfast I didn’t really taste, drank a coffee I didn’t really want and threw down some Advil to stave off the headache that was brewing, I whined on Facebook and glanced longingly at the couch – as you do.
Of course, if that was where my Sunday ended, this would be a boring review indeed – needless to say, I put on my New England Spahten drill shirt, sleeves, tac hat and Icebugs and headed on over to the venue with a couple of hours to spare before the 10am wave left.
The weather was shitty. It was cold, and drizzly rain was sweeping in. Very reminiscent of 2012, when the fog banks rolled in off the mountains and froze us all – we hopped in the starting shoot to listen to the (thankfully) much better MC pump us up, and we were off.
Climbing ski slopes sucks. No two ways about it – almost immediately, they sent us up a ski slope that ended with our path heading right back down into the woods. The wooded descent’s and ascents were my favorite. The Icebugs gripped like crazy in places people with sneakers were falling and falling hard. Passing a guy who, I found out later, had broken his leg (“I’m ok! Keep going!”) I quickly found myself going back up again to the memorization chart, and back into the woods. Running into the Team Death Race duo of Nele and Noah, who were probably in one of the darkest moments of their personal races – spent some time with them – not able to do much of anything but feel like a spare part – but not able to leave them behind either … I felt terrible when I finally made the internal call to keep going on with my own race, but as soon as I hit the sandbag carry, I found a Spahten and had them reach out to the community to try and see if we could offer any kind of support.
By now, the Sandbag carry is infamous. Falling somewhere around mile 4 of the course, they had 70lb sandbags. Mens and Women’s sandbags were easy to figure out – both were white and both weighed 70lbs – and the course went up and up and up. This is probably the most controversial obstacle of the day – with Saturday elites going up 1/2 mile, then back – and later Open waves – and seemingly a random mix of other waves doing a 1/4 mile version with no penalties. I know I was told by a volunteer to turn at a point that looked to be half way up, despite their being people ahead of me on the hill. I double checked with him and he said there is no penalty, and ushered me over. My only guess for the discrepancy here is that they only had so many sandbags, and as the weekend wore on, that number got smaller and smaller – and they needed them back down at the base for the next racers. Is this fair? Only as fair as being caught on a single track trail behind a slow walker, or life itself.
We then joined back up with the Sprint course. Their mile 2 was now the Beast mile 4 or 5 – and having ran Sprint the next day, I knew we were in for a relentless climb to the summit – what turned out to be the longest climb of the weekend. It sucked. I tried something new, and packed an old iPod Nano and headphones in a drybag. I happily plugged myself into some tunes, ignored my fellow racers and got on with the job at hand. At the summit was a 7′ wall to jump, then back down.
During the decent down, we passed the mile 6 water station (Hi Aaron!), the heavy herculean hoist (nailed this both days – but was amazed at the number of people failing!), nailed the monkey bars both days (which makes it successful attempt number 4 and 5 of my OCR career!), and hit an 8′ wall, a tractor pull and an inverse wall – then onto the longest barbed wire crawl of the course, with the lowest wire. Saturday with no pack, this was relatively easy. Sunday with people around me and a pack – Pain In The Ass. Spear throw (missed both days – first burpees of the course) and the Beast course then headed right down to the festival for the roughly half way mark.
This half way mark consisted of a dunk under muddy water, traditional rope climb obstacle (ding! bell rung), and a tunnel into a wire crawl that was a lot of fun. Huge shout out to the Spahten who crewed for us all here – I was able to pick up some more nutrition, salt pills and get a couple of hugs – which were very welcome, as I was starting to feel a little miserable at that point in the game.
We climbed over a bridge, and headed to the water.
Water. I hate water obstacles. I drown well. I don’t swim confidently. Obstacle #1 was a swim to a rope climb, with a tyrolean traverse wall and a second swim to a ladder and Tarzan ropes that EVERYONE was failing. I nailed the wall, and for the two water stops – rather than risk my race, my pride, and my life – I burpeed out. I did 30 full form burpees, with a damned smile on my face, and I stayed out of the water. Controversial? Maybe – but I don’t run elite waves and this is my race.
We had to remember our code here – score! High five from the older dude who would have given me burpees with just as much glee, I’m sure, then back up the mountain.
All I know here is we ran a lot of trails and difficult terrain, and I loved that. I had TONs of grip. I was passing people who were falling down left right and center. The atlas stone carry felt REALLY heavy, and the third barbed wire crawl was my favorite. After more climbing we hit two vertical cargo nets – the first one was starting to sag badly, and looked really hairy, but the second one seemed ok still. We then hit lots and lots of switch backs, single track terrain, ski slope hills – one of which had a nasty bucket carry obstacle that my right IT band started to fail on (maybe mile 8?) – and from that point on, I was in limp mode. Someone asked me if my leg was ok, I told them it only hurt on the hills. We laughed together. I started to catch up to the Ultra Beast folks here – easily identifiable with their green armbands. I want to buy each and everyone of them a beer – after 25+ miles, they were still smiling, chatting, running. Unbelievable, amazing, inspirational.
More hills (spotting a theme?), a tyrolean traverse (30 burpees) and my headphones went back in. More climbing, descending, climbing, descending, then a 9′ wall, that I nailed first time (yay!) and finally, some down hills – before ultimately, the final sandbag carry. I’d heard so much about it – but ultimately it was fairly straight forward – throw the sandbell on my neck / pack and move. I got to the turn without issue – but the walk down again was amazingly, shockingly painful. Every step, my right knee felt like someone was stabbing a little knife in there … thankfully, I didn’t drop the damn thing, because I don’t know I could have bent my knee to pick it up.
This was right towards the end. We hit a slippy wall, we jumped fire, and we ran through Gladiators who hit us – and then in an amazing finish, I had my medal put over my neck by Spahtens, got hugs from more Spahtens, got hugs from my wife who was waiting and enjoyed my moment.
The Beast was 14 miles, and 8 hours on the course for me. It was also one of the first times I went out on my own, and spent most of my time solo – both in my own head and in my own race. While I talked to people, even pushed a few people over walls (but only the cute ones, you know how it goes), I wasn’t really aiming to spend time with someone, or buddying up. Call it an experiment in self discovery – but I’ve spent almost the entire 2013 season with someone by my side, and enjoying the rewards that can bring. For once, I wanted to spend it in my own head. Hence the headphones for much of the latter part of the course.
One thing I discovered – the team is always there. From Spahtens at volunteer stations who were not only there with a high five and a glass of water, but also sending messages ahead – “spahtens passing mile 5!” meaning when we hit the next obstacle of station, someone from the team was there to give you a word of encouragement, a quick snack to eat – and coming through the festival area, Spahtens were everywhere – Beth, Sandy, Mary, Vince and more.
While I may have been running my own race, I was running with the team – collectively. So many people – even people I don’t recognize (hi to the two chicks on the 9′ wall! You knew me, but race brain means I have no idea who you are!) – were there to cheer me on, pass messages down the line – thank you.
So – the Spartan Race Beast.
It had its problems. Running out of trifecta medals and t shirts was inexcusable considering it happened last year too – so many people are pushing themselves to their personal imits for that small, colorful medal – and to be told they can’t have one is more heart breaking to us normal people than I think any elite or OCR professional can understand. Shortening the sandbag carry (or, making it too long to begin with) will always leave a bitter taste for some people who feel they got stiffed because they went the long way – or were told to go the short way.
Time cut offs were clearly communicated prior to the event, and so many people under estimated either the course, or their abilities – and there is some griping about being pulled early, or because of changed time limits – my only thought there is simply – try harder next year. Consider your DNF a gift – one of motivation – one of inspiration. Someone finished that course in 3 hours and 40 minutes – it’s humanly possible. If you were pulled because it got dark, and if you are angry because you thought you could do it anyway – get training. Get faster. Get stronger. Come back next year, and make DAMN SURE you finish.
Others – the oddness of the TV crews who didn’t really know what they were supposed to be doing. The biggest team tent going to a charity wave no one knew much about, and didn’t even use it. The race venue specific shirts that, once again, sold out WAY too early in the weekend leaving fans without a shirt to show off.
Despite these problems, some of which are ridiculously easy to resolve (and haven’t been) – the VT Beast remains the crown jewel in the Spartan Race crown. Without this race, Spartan Race would be a much lesser series. Without VT to provide the challenging terrain and unpredictable weather that no where else can provide, we couldn’t be so proud of our achievements when we make them.
The VT Beast broke a lot more people this year than last. I hope it never gets easy. I hope it never gets boring. I discovered somethings about myself out there this year – and I believe everyone who does this race – win, finish or DNF – also learns something.
Thank you, everyone who made this event happen. I plan on being back in 2014 for another trip up the mountain – it remains a special place.