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Featured Review: OCR World Championship

I think it was January this year, when I first heard about OCR World Championship. I wasn’t really impressed, and thought we had a company setup to do nothing but grab a chunk of the market … they claimed they would be independent, and would work with other races in a productive manner. I thought they were crazy, and suspected their motives lay more in making money than in furthering the sport.

I’m so happy to report I was wrong.

This will be a long one. Take a pee break and get a cup of coffee.

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First – who was this race for?

If you are an OCR enthusiast. Someone who considers OCR “their sport” – regardless of how you place at it. This race was for you. If you just do one Spartan a year, and road run the rest, or Crossfit, or whatever – this event wasn’t for you. This was truly a race for the enthusiast.

OCRWC was held at Kings Domain in Ohio. Also the venue of fixed location event series, Mud Guts and Glory. I hadn’t really travelled this far for an OCR before, but with a work trip right afterwards, and a loving and supportive wife, I was able to make the logistics work and participate in the first event of it’s kind.

IMG_7819What makes a world championship *the* world championship? Prior to this weekend, we didn’t know. Spartan have their own, of course. We’re all familiar with the brutal slogfest that is Killington. Tough Mudder has their 24 hour World Toughest Mudder – another crazy endurance event. Neither of these are really OCR though. They are both endurance events with obstacles – no doubt – but the elite level of athlete podiuming these is a special breed, and they don’t really represent the thing we do every weekend. Even friendly Warrior Dash just put big money on the line to crown their own world championship – with the winners having very little OCR experience, they put on a true runners course and OCR elites faired relatively poorly.

Enter OCRWC. They turned the venue into an 8.8 mile course and they put on a TRUE obstacle course. One that featured pretty much everything we love about the sport. From technical and challenging terrain, to unique obstacles, to strength based challenges and fear based challenges. Crossing the finish line of this event reminded me why I love this sport, in a way I’ve not felt in a while. I fear it may have spoiled me …

Before I talk about my personal experience, lets talk about what this was and why it worked.

Athlete registration was taken care of on Friday night. Picking up our bib, our “completion” bracelet and our timing chip. Athlete briefing was being run on the hour, and explained the rules and regulations for the course and obstacles.

IMG_7835The venue provided ample spectator viewing. They got in for free, and could see tons of things – from saw tooth monkey bars, to 30′ ladder walls, the Platinum Rig and the 220′ water slide. Of course, the start and finish, and several more obstacles from the beginning and end of the course – all easy to see, easy to hang out at. Popup tents were welcome and vendors not charged a penny to be there.

They had plenty of vendors too – good, healthy food options from local food trucks, tents from visiting international teams and local communities, the ORM tent, and a well stocked merchandise tent, with X-Racewear and Icebug gear, and a Wreck Bag tent next to the beer tent.

Icebug played a major sponsorship roll, with banners and co-branded shirts, shoes being vended – and it was nice to catch up with the man from behind the company and get some insight into what they see for OCR. It was also nice to see OCR companies getting behind OCRWC, cementing it’s viewpoint that it was an independent race series – BattleFrog had a huge presence, with New England favorite BoneFrog proving their own obstacle, and ABF MudRun providing some obstacle challenges too. With Shale Hill and Atlas Race putting some teams and athletes together – representation from the community was good – but should have been better.

IMG_7833Shame on any OCR series offered space that didn’t take it! The OCR industry is only hurt by fragmentation and in fighting, and with Spartan Race choosing to hold their triple crown series the same weekend, it left the door wide open for “the little guys” to get in there, work together, and show them how it’s done. As it stands, this was left to a much smaller number of races than it should, and everyone who was there this weekend knows who represented – and who did not. Missed opportunity.

For once, the elite competition was taken seriously. Athlete briefing explained the rules and regulations.

To win prize money, you had to finish with your bracelet. Obstacle completion was mandatory, and if you failed out, you had your bracelet removed by a trained official – who then radio’d your bib number down to base camp. Well handled, well organized. Every failed obstacle also levied a 4min time penalty – meaning it always worth trying, even if you didn’t think you would make it. I saw athletes try obstacles for tens of minutes – in one case, completing the obstacle on her 12th attempt. She almost podiumed. Tenacity was key!

IMG_7826The briefing also covered another huge point – this was a “carry in, carry out” rule. Dumping your gu’s or packets on the trails was ground for DQ. Thank you! Outside of aid stations, when cups were spilling out of the trash bags, but contained to a small zone – the course was clean and beautiful.

It’s hard to understate how huge this ruling and time penalty was for the elite game – it turned what could have been a straight forward run from start to finish into an obstacle challenge. It wasn’t enough to run fast – there were lots of fast runners who didn’t place – you also had to be able to do saw tooth monkey bars, Platinum Rigs, gut checks, weavers, walls, crawls and lots lots more … lose that band on an obstacle failure and you weren’t winning any cash. With enforcement of the rules being strong, random drug testing and dummy runners on the course to look out for mid-race cheating (intentional or otherwise) – this truly was given the respect it needed.

Waves were sent out well spaced and kept small in numbers – there wasn’t a single report of bottle necking or backlogging on the course. Elites first, then age groupers based on expected speed – fasted sent out first.

Everything was professionally handled, well explained and clear. There was no room for confusion, no “poor form” penalties to debate about, and it was great to hear so many international accents from the UK, Oz, Sweden (who were amazing!) and more. Truly, a WORLD Championship.

10348380_713898325366486_3020511741123719527_nSo, how about my race?

IMG_7839I was entered in the Journeyman category – qualifying by right of running a bucket load of participating races in 2014. From Shale Hill to CMC to Viking Challenge. The journeyman category was the last wave at 12:50pm. I buddied up with Rachelleanne of Team Sisu, figuring that between her 5’1″ stature and my 6′ stature, we could take on the world. I’m not even going to TRY and do an obstacle break down – I’ll let the GoPro’s and course map do that for me later – instead:

We were launched by Coach Pain Dewayne – we’ve met him before at Spartan’s and BattleFrogs and he knows how to work and pump a crowd. After a few minutes with him, a canon blast launched our wave.

Crawls were over technical terrain, but never gratuitously rocky and unbearable – thank you! My knees are sick to death of being sliced open because someone thought rocks were a better option than grass or sand. We had long crawls, short crawls, barbed wire crawls, crawls under tires, tunnel crawls and a normandy jack crawl from BoneFrog.

IMG_7830Walls were plentiful, ranging from 4′ hoppers to 10′ with step boards. Inverted walls from ABF Mud Run and traverse walls (“Tip of the Spear”) from BattleFrog. One of the biggest ladder walls (easily 30′) I’ve ever seen!

The terrain was challenging, with plenty of creek bed running, grassy trail running and steep hill running. Some of the uphills and downhills NEEDED the ropes they provided, one in particular being incredibly hairy – genuinely giving me a “what if I slip?” moment!

There were plenty of hanging obstacles too – a regular, straight monkey bar that I nailed. A huge inverted V monkey bar that cost me my bracelet, the Platinum Rig that had a massive failure rate – especially in the female crowd – and had to be dialed down for Sunday’s team racing. Two tyrolean’s – one over two lengths of rope, another on a pipe. A rope climb that I nailed – but still got penalized for because the bell didn’t ring – I touched it! I swear! Judges decision is final and I was welcome to go back up and do it again … I took the 4 minutes 🙂

IMG_7820Unique obstacles – the high wire traverse was hairy! Crossing a deep deep gorge over a wire (one to stand, one to hold) was pretty nerve wracking. Two Sternum Checks (known as Gut Check to the Shale Hill crew) that I was able to nail and a Weaver (known as The Loom – -minus the rope part) that took me out. A MASSIVE slide. 220′ massive. This was truly the one obstacle I was scared of – ever since SHS 2013, slides have genuinely given me cause for concern.

We carried a bunch too – two Wreck Bag carries at 50lbs each, a pre-filled, sealed and weighed 60lb bucket carry with no handles, a double tire carry over some technical ground – this never felt gratuitous or over the top, and the terrain was always respectable, but not crazy.

IMG_7817We started the race at one end of the festival and coursed through the grounds more than a few times – before a final loop back in the festival with people cheering us on and the finish line MC, Brett Stewart announcing each finisher by name for an amazing and personal touch.

Crossing the line saw Adrian, the man behind the whole thing with a huge beam on his face, putting that medal on my neck and immediately asking for feedback (my immediate feedback was “is the beer tent still open?”). It took me a long time to get through that course, and it left me scraped up and bruised up and PROUD that I was able to be at the first.

It’s tough to nail down that sense of pride in a blog post. I’m proud to say I was at the second ever Spartan Race. I’m proud to say I was at the first Polar Bear Challenge. I’m proud to say I’ve helped the New England Spahtens grow to the unbelievable community it is today, and in the middle of those pivotal moments have been races I’ve done. Some good, some great, some less than that – now, adding to the *special* moments I’ve had in OCR, I’m proud to say I completed the first *true* OCR World Championships.

Some bad. No race is 100% smooth of course.
IMG_7829The Platinum Rig was too hard on Saturday, simply put. This was acknowledged and adjusted quickly, but leaving the Rig crew to setup their own obstacle with no guidance was a slip up.
By the time I crossed the line, there were no more XL mens finishers shirts, and that blew. The crew has committed to getting them out to us early next week.
Running in the last wave of the day, I don’t believe I saw a single professional photographer on the course – and I’m usually pretty good (read: camera whore) at spotting them. I haven’t seen the final photos yet, so hopefully I’m wrong on that!

But, if these are my only complaints – they are minor complains indeed, and fairly common to first time races. Easily fixed and immediately handled.IMG_7845

I regret not being able to stick around for the team competition (which was free), but even if I hadn’t had to hop on a flight, I’d have likely skipped going back out again!

We had a lot of expectations for OCRWC, and I believe the crew behind the weekend exceeded them, and then some. My hat is off to them. I hope they have as much success in 2015.

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OCR World Championships is almost here …

OCR_WC_DISPLAY500-01 copyIn a few days, I’m getting on a plane and flying to the OCR World Championships.

“The OCR World Championships is the first truly independent global championship for the burgeoning sport of Obstacle Course Racing. It is a singular, agnostic event created to unify, promote, and increase participation in the sport of OCR while celebrating its amazing athletes and community.”

Thats taken from their “about” page, and from day one, I was skeptical.

1512756_666598743453809_7778278050440311304_nHow can an OCR be independent? How can you have a global championship, when big races like Warrior Dash, Spartan Race and Tough Mudder won’t work with them – and in some cases have gone to lengths just to compete with them? Being a World Championship, are we only seeing elites race? Can a business live on the elites alone?

These were my early questions. I genuinely didn’t buy into how an independent OCR company could call themselves a world championship event.

As the months have past, and we’ve seen the work put in by the crew, and the involvement of other OCRs in the process of qualifying … they certainly mean it. This isn’t a cash grab or an attempt to be the next Spartan Race – but a genuine shot at providing a venue for people who love OCR to compete. They have prize money for elites of course, but are also rewarding their age groupers just as handsomely.

10557550_650943325019351_6366266850868265540_oI qualified by way of running at least four events – including Polar Bear Challenge, CMC, Spartan Races and Viking Challenge – getting entry into the Journeyman devision. I won’t be winning any money, and won’t be completing all the obstacles. The course is sounding like a pretty good challenge, and a pretty good distance.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that once the event was scheduled, Warrior Dash announced their world championship on the same date – forcing OCR WC to move a week, which was gracious of them – only to then get double booked by the Spartan Race ‘triple crown” effort to pull elites away from OCR WC.

It seems being an independent OCR World Championship isn’t something everyone welcomes, after all … which is sad.

I’ll be reporting back next week with how the event goes – I’m certainly considerably more inclined to support things now I’ve seen how much the US and international OCR world is embracing this championship … well … everyone except Spartan Race, that is. There will be lots of international racers, lots of smaller OCRs representing too.

If you’re going to be racing, swing by the community tents they’re setting up in the spectator arena, and be sure to say hello to Phil from Wreck Bag, a New England company who will be selling Wreck Bags, and has at least one – if not two – Wreck Bag obstacles on the course. You’ll find me in my New England Spahtens race gear – and if you have it, wear it – the OCR world’s eyes will be on this weekend!

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Beast 2014 – the recap

It’s customary after an OCR, to write about the event. Usually, it’s a review – but this is a bit different.

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IMG_7644I finished the Beast, and had a grand old time, even when I hated it. I earned a medal in just under 10 hours, and finished in the dark – missing my personal goal of a daylight finish. I stuck both spears, which never happens, and was told by a volunteer to walk past the last wire/rolling mud/dunk wall combo because it was dark. I picked up three unprepared people with no headlamps, and told them to keep up or DNF – and they did, and were really nice people. I did some burpees, but probably lost count and didn’t do them all.

There.

The venue had poor parking planning on Saturday morning with backlogs for shuttle buses, my mini had a BLAST at the kids race, and my wife lead an amazing group of Biggest Losers through the Sprint course – obstacles, burpees and all – earning them all Sprint medals too – for one of her most rewarding OCR experiences ever. Spectator access was great, merchandise ran out of venue shirts and trifecta plaques, and there were some good vendors.

Happy now?

IMG_7636We made this into a family weekend away in VT, we ALL did something active, challenging, hung out with the best people in the world – and I can’t tell you how much it means to me that Spartan enables us to do this stuff together as a family.

I will be back next year. My experience was awesome.

Complete obstacle run through, if thats your thing.

So – why, this week, has there been nothing but whining, moaning, groaning and complaining on the social media’s?

IMG_7602The course was too long? The obstacles not placed to your liking? Too high? Too many hills? There’s a Sprint in a flat field somewhere, waiting just for you.

Cheaters who cut the course, or didn’t do their burpees, or walked by an obstacle?

Unless you were in the top ten of the elite wave, really – who cares? It doesn’t diminish your race, or your achievement any.

It’s not all being flung back at my fellow athletes.

Spartan HQ? Fix the headlamp situation. There wasn’t anywhere near enough notification or noise made about it – and TOO MANY people were unprepared. Have every single headlamp checkpoint hand them out to those without them, or be prepared to pull people. If Smithfest can do it at Panic in the Dark, you can too. While I’m on that topic, there were FAR TOO MANY people simply unprepared. You knew – roughly – how long the average joe would be out there, why on earth were there heats of normal, regular people going out after noon?

IMG_7622You can’t fix stupid though. If you were sliding down the technical single track trails in your old sneakers, duck taped to your feet – what. on earth. were you thinking? The hard core, badass dude with no shirt on, shivering at an aid station at the summit? MORON. Didn’t bring a pack? Didn’t think you’d need nutrition? Thanks for making more work for the medics – they were clearly going to be sitting idle all day.

HQ can’t be blamed for these people – there will always be a lowest common denominator in any crowd, and we all saw the lowest common denominator during our own race.

There’s a bigger issue though – one that HQ needs to figure out, and quickly.

These unprepared people – the ones in sneakers, thinking they’ll finish *THE BEAST* in a few hours and head on out for a nice warm lunch and a few beers – they aren’t going away any time soon. They are the “ripped off the couch” folks, who ran a Sprint this year, saw the cool trifecta marketing and though – huh – I could get that weekend off and go to New Jersey, and having done that in my sneakers and cotton shorts, well, next stop VT. This is what the Spartan marketing machine is shooting for – fresh bodies, fresh wallets (and more power to them – they die if they don’t have fresh attendees)

Meanwhile. The fans. The super fans. The enthusiasts and regulars. The ones who show up with packs FULL of nutrition, because they know they’ll bump into a regular joe who doesn’t have any. The ones who keep Inov8, Solomon and Icebug in business. The ones who remember when Hobie had an obstacle named after him, and when they used to put dish soap on the slip wall, and CARE about litter on the course.

They’re leaving. They’re burning out. I’m likely to be one of them.

Read. Read. Read.

I ran my first Spartan in 2010. Since then, I’ve done a bunch of North East based Spartans every year. With the exception of this weekends Beast, I’ve not seen a new obstacle of note since the inverted wall was introduced. I’ve seen problems with merchandise fulfillment that haven’t been fixed. I’ve seen people who have thrown themselves into the Spartan lifestyle, and now, years later, it’s doing nothing for them. Spartan blazing a self serving trail – they don’t want OCR in the Olympics – they want SPARTAN in the Olympics. They don’t want to rip people off the couch – they want to rip them onto a SPARTAN course. Everyday joes are realizing that – no matter how much they push their training or how motivated they may be – they’ll never “progress” up the Spartan ladder anymore. This years Ultra Beast wasn’t even slightly close for most normal, “day job and kids” level athletes.

Where can you go from there?

IMG_7611There is competition. That competition is getting good. Some of that competition is getting GREAT. OCR is maturing, and it’s not in the direction Spartan is taking it. People who were huge Spartan advocates are now coming to races in Battlefrog sleeves, or skipping Spartan weekends to go run on trails in more intimate events like O2X. There are other options.

For me – while the VT Beast weekend still offers such good value for my whole family, and such positive atmospheres for people wanting to push out of their comfort zones – I’ll be there with my New England Spahtens and my family – but when it comes to taking a large chunk of cash for a Sprint distance event in 2015? I’ll save that money for a couple of high quality local OCRs instead.

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Featured Review: Spartan Race – Vermont World Championship BEAST

Credit: Mary Donohuehttp://join.nespahtens.com

 

This past weekend, Spartan Race held their World Championship event in Vermont.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Saturdays wave
Saturdays wave

 

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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.

Credit: Mary Donohue http://join.nespahtens.com

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.

Credit: Mary Donohuehttp://join.nespahtens.com

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.

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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.

Full GPS / Google Earth map with obstacle overlay. Credit Paul Jones for map, Vince Rhee for obstacle overlay.
Full GPS / Google Earth map with obstacle overlay. Credit Paul Jones for map, Vince Rhee for obstacle overlay.

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.

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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.

Credit: Mary Donohue http://join.nespahtens.com