Posted on

Featured Review: Spartan Race VT Beast 2015

We’re so lucky.

We live in New England. We are able to drive a short distance – just a few hours – and be at the foot of a venue like Killington. We have companies like Spartan Race who will come out, and setup a challenge that is physically demanding and mentally draining. We are fit and able enough to line up, and challenge that mountain.

In recent years, I’ve had my fair share of constructive feedback for Spartan HQ (some may call it whining, or complaining – but thats never the intention), and lets be clear, there will be some of that after this race – but it’s important to remember the bigger picture.

We got to go to Killington and compete in the VT Beast – and barring a few injuries here and there causing some DNF’s – for the most part, we were successful.

We’re *SO* very lucky.

12010744_917723951649285_1553962610189956222_o

This was the fifth VT Beast – my fourth – and other than year one, this is the first time Spartan were not holding their World Championships at the event. This was also the first time the VT Beast was given the designation of being a founders race – indicating they would be going back to their roots, and steering clear of the big build outs and complicated (and expensive) constructions – and staying a little closer to what made them so successful in the first place – namely, physical challenges to test strength and endurance.

IMG_9760Both of these changes caused much chatter, much speculation and much guesswork into the reasoning, and what this means for the future. Will all future Spartans be this gritty, back to the roots, carved out of wood style – or is this an outlier, and the future will return to big digs, large constructions and flashy banners? Time will tell.
The New England Spahtens were everywhere – taking biggest teams for both Beast days, the Sprint and the Ultra Beast – with over 400 registered runners – we were the community to be with, and welcome to every single new member who joined us at our biggest team tent!

The Venue

Most of us know Killington. I was staying at a motel a short drive away with Erick, and all parking was at the base lodge – getting there early was key to getting a half decent space – 6am on Saturday, 7am on Sunday meant I was always able to park close, and each day was the now common $10 charge.

IMG_9754
No ropes under the bridge at sunrise

Registration was going on right in the parking lot, and the biggest team tent was right there as you came in – nice and easy to find, but far away from anything happening at the race festival – pluses and minuses. Storms on Saturday night blew the whole thing away, so Sunday was a chilly affair – Spartan staff were apologetic, but you can’t change mother nature. The huge merchandise trailer was also in the parking lot, and after learning my lessons in previous years, I bought my venue specific shirt as soon as I checked in.

Once you walked through the venue, you saw why so much was moved out into the parking lot – since we were last here in 2013, the entire base lodge has had attractions installed – a rope maze, rollercoaster and more – it made the festival grounds cluttered and crowded – the finish line and complex tucked off to the right, with the start line and kids course across the street (accessed by a tunnel). Bag check was indoors, and for the biggest team, we enjoyed free VIP bag check – and the main lodge with it’s cafeteria was open both early in the AM and late at night, which was hugely appreciated.

IMG_9745Of course, we can’t talk about the venue without a discussion of the main pond and bridge – and the conspicuously absent rope ladders and Tarzan swing. This obstacle is a particular hatred of mine – not being strong in either upper body *or* swimming – and I was personally not sad to see it missing – but I do understand many people’s disappointment with what was a personal nemesis or challenge – looking at the festival layout, I wonder if it was simple logistics that kept them away – it was hard to route a race course there, with the roller coasters and such – or if it was simply a case of that obstacle not fitting the “founders race” feel they were shooting for. I didn’t miss it.

My Race

I ran on Saturday in the biggest team wave at 8am. We were 230+ strong for that wave alone, and all you could see in the starting coral was a sea of blue shirts – it was pretty amazing to see, and be involved in helping that happen! Being so early, we were right after the elite men and women, and the course was going to be pretty wide open for us.

As is usual, I won’t do an obstacle by obstacle break down. The course will never be the same, so whats the point? Highlights and lowlights.

In 2014, towards the end when we were beat and tired and down – they directed us straight up a slope lovingly called “the death march”. My GPS track tells me this was right up the K1 Express gondola, and you cover over 2,000’ of elevation gain in a very short distance. We did this almost immediately – and made it up considerably quicker, with considerably less swearing – but it was still a brutal, hard climb that let you know that Founders Race or not, you were in for a day of suffering.

In 2012, we did an ugly crawl / scramble up the side of the mountain where there were very few trails. We did that too. All in, I think we did five really tough, really technical climbs, with their associated decent – and Killington once again showed why it chews people up – if you entered this race with a pre-existing injury in your ankles or knees – you reduced your chance of completion considerably.

Battle buddies!
Battle buddies!

The whole concept of the Founders Race is that we go back to basics on the obstacles – and that was certainly the case on the heavy carries – already famous for it’s incredibly difficult terrain for carries, this year we had even more. Two heavy log carries up the side of the mountain, one sandbag carry, one Spartan pancake carry, one extremely devious bucket carry – throw into that the atlas stone carry, the new farmers log carry and a heavy log carry (same style as the atlas – point to point with five burpees in between) – we spent a lot of time carrying heavy shit.

We also saw a lot of walls. Some were early on – with an Over Under Through and a couple of short and taller walls – one noticeable wall early in the race was simply not build properly, and the center point was moving far more than I would be comfortable with. The volunteer was asking racers to stay to the sides near the supports – but I would be interested to see how this particular wall faired as the day and weekend progressed. Also interestingly, all the walls were of the old design, with wooden supports and thinner lips at the top – unlike the MA events that saw walls with thick lips (too thick to get a hold of easily), and cargo strap supports negating a foot hold.

20150921163049Somewhere around mile ten, we hit a parking lot area that had tons of walls – of all kinds – several tall, several small – something I hadn’t seen much before were invisible walls – simple suspended logs to get over, with nothing underneath to catch – plenty of them. By the end of this section, my legs were cramping, and I never wanted to see another wall again (but of course, we did!).

Throw in at least two vertical cargo nets (one of my least favorite climbs, based on how unstable they feel), we climbed a lot of stuff.

20150921163130It wasn’t all carrying and climbing – we had three really nicely done barbed wire crawls. The first was pretty flat – the second, late in the race was uphill – but the last was right before the finish line, and felt not only exceptionally long, but given how tired everyone was, I was done with crawling at this point – this one felt like hard work!

What Spartan would be complete without Spear Throws? Love it or hate it – it’s there and we had two. At the summit, in the cold mist, with winds gusting – the hay bales were low to the ground for a change, and given our banana shaped spear, I stuck it close enough for a “pass” from the staff member managing the obstacle. The second was right at the finish line. RIGHT FRIGGING AT THE FRIGGING FINISH LINE. You could smell the smoke, and still had to nail a traditional spear man obstacle – not only torturous for people who missed and had to do burpees, but a great spectator spot too. Oh, more invisible walls right there too – fortunately I got them, despite pressure from the spectators 🙂

We went up too – two “back to basics” rope climbs, that were over regular terrain, and really short – at 6’, it wasn’t a stretch to get one or two leg locks in, and tap on the bell – while these are a far cry from the 15 or 20’ cargo container constructions – they were in the woods, in trails where people didn’t expect them. Upper body strength was tested with two Spartan style rigs – both of these were my burpee makers for the day – the second one was only accessed over a tall wall – with a second wall as your exit – new touches to a nasty obstacle.

12031478_917671154987898_5510042796816669980_oWhile the bridge was closed for business, we did enter the water, but only for a short while – a nice wade across the area that used to house the tyrolean traverse was refreshing more than challenging – considering the weather, I would have LOVED to go in there more than once!

A frequent criticism I heard this weekend was how “weak” the obstacles were. Thats not one I agree with. OCR has recently entered something of an arms race with obstacles – Tough Mudder put out all the stops with massive constructions, and Battlefrog brings an extremely difficult Platinum Rig to races these days – and when you go head to head with that, you end up losing what makes your race great in the beginning. Spartan was never about having the hardest variation on monkey bars, nor was it founded on the tallest rope climbs – it has always been about getting out on the mountains and trails and testing your strength and endurance, for time. They achieved this in spades – and the biggest obstacle – Killington itself – was never easy, and was never dialed down.

There is criticism to be leveled though – and that is in the handling of the water stations on course. If there are corners to be cut, money to be saved, things to be dialed back – it is NOT in the on course stations at a venue like Killington.

A line for water at mile 10
A line for water at mile 10

I set off with a 3l pack. I sweat a considerable amount and knew I would easily need one refill – it not two – or risk problems. There were 6 listed water stops, and we were in the first non elite wave to go out. Water stop one told us to fill our bladders at the next one, which was fine – and for us, the second stop let us refill (thanks for volunteering here, Dennis!). Third stop said to refill at the fourth – and the fourth was around mile ten, with a heavy log carry, and this is where disaster struck. Noticing a line for the table, which didn’t have any jugs available for bladders, we spotted a group using a hose to refill. I’ve been around this block a few times, and we managed to get a couple of our bladders full again, before a staffer commandeered the hose – and started to inform people that we weren’t permitted to refill bladders – go back to the table, where there was now a reportedly hour long line for cups … we had a couple of team mates in visible distress here – empty bladders, and long lines for cups – and we were forced into a situation where we had to share what we had and get them to the next stop – hopefully where they could refill and move on at their own pace.

I’ve heard from the volunteers at the earlier tables that they were later informed that they should not allow bladder refills at all.

It was a very hot day. Killington’s very nature is that people are out there a considerably long time, and putting out a lot of exertion. Dehydration is a very simply, cheap thing to help alleviate. The arguments of Killington being a self supported race is fine, but the 2015 athlete guide (rather surprisingly to me) showed hydration bladders to be OPTIONAL (unlike headlamps). This was a simple planning fail – and a potential catastrophic one. Coupled with some hot tempers and verbal sparring, it was a way bigger problem than it needed to be.

Update – on Sunday, Joe and Spartan HQ put out a video owning the problems and asking for people to reach out, making a commitment to fix them, and not repeat their problems again. You can choose to believe this, or not, but in my five years of Spartan Racing, this is a first.

Joe Addresses Spartan Race IssuesHey Spartans – Joe De Sena here. This weekend saw 5 races in 4 countries. But when I heard about the issues we were having in Killington, I immediately left the Ft. Bragg race to come deal with it personally. The issues in water, medals and lines are unacceptable and I’m going to work with the Spartan team to make sure it never happens again. And don’t think we aren’t listening to the complaints – I love hearing them! And as anyone who knows me can attest, I want to hear them personally so I can respond. Email me at joe@spartan.com with your feedback. This was a massive weekend for Spartans but I won’t rest until we learn from our mistakes and come back stronger. – Joe

Posted by Spartan Race on Sunday, September 20, 2015

The 2015 Killington Beast – despite it’s lack of World Championship status, despite the water stop issues – ultimately ended up being one of my personal favorite events of the calendar – something 2014 could not say. I was out there for 9.5 hours, and will be walking funny for a day or two. I had amazing company with my battle buddy, Jessica, and we hit our one and only goal – finish in the daylight and don’t use our headlamps. The sweetest sight of the entire day was sitting at the base lodge, looking out over the mountains, and seeing headlamps wink on as dusk fell – while stuffing our faces full of pizza and fries.

IMG_9763Killington isn’t for everyone – don’t take it lightly. Spartan continue to struggle with some simply logistics (they also ran out of venue shirt mid Saturday *again*, and for those hunting multiple trifecta’s, they were out of medals too), but seemingly despite themselves, they continue to attract legions of fans.

If the longer format of the Killington Beast is more your preference over shorter sprints – check out Bonefrog in MA next May, and some of the longer format endurance races at Shale Hill in 2016.

For me? I’ll be back at Killington in about 12 months. Hope to see you all in the team tent again.

6 thoughts on “Featured Review: Spartan Race VT Beast 2015

  1. I agree mostly with your review but I was a bit bored with the lack of creativity, quality and variation of the obstacles.

  2. Next time, join team NE Spahtens 🙂 The PM wave left at 11:15 🙂

  3. They fixed it for Sunday and owned it – I'm ok with that.

  4. Water shortage was a huge fail that could have been easily remedied with a couple water trucks. If it was truly self supported, drop bags would have been permitted and course designed to allow access to drop bags or a steady source of water. Or at least tell us to take a water filter.

  5. Paul, I enjoyed reading your review of the Beast. I never did get to hook up with my fellow NE Spahtens, having started my race at noon, but I did completed it in under 8hrs. And earned my Trifecta! Most of the reviews I have read echo your comments… Maybe not the most exciting from an obstacle standpoint, but perhaps one of the most grueling.

  6. Great review! I'm surprised to read you had issues at the water stops early on. I went out at 11:30 and spent almost 6:30 on the course and was denied water twice. It was rough and I was super nervous! Also took a screw to my knee on one of the walls! I informed a few volunteers and the medic staff about it so hopefully they got it fixed!

Leave a Reply