Note from the editor: Horgan has been here since day dot. He has a reputation for being something of a Yoda, always around to say the right thing, to the right people, at the right time. I’ve been struggling to write my own recap of this race – and while my experience and sentiments were very different to Horgan’s, I thought this was well worth sharing, and showing a very different side of the weekends experience. Buckle up.
Disclaimer: This blog was written under the duress of exhaustion and pain.
Disclaimer 2: If you have become accustomed to my blogs which attempt to find a positive aspect to my experiences you probably are not going to find one here.
Disclaimer 3: If you are looking for an inspirational story of willpower and grit with a triumphant ending or even a tongue in cheek best face forward resolution; stop now.
Warning: If you have not directly experienced my duress induced humor; which starts with philosophical Zen like koans and illogical quips on standard inspirational clichés. If you have not heard me speak in sharply sarcastic remarks, until I’m fully engrossed in darkly sardonic metaphors. If you have not been present when I have reached the frayed ends of sanity, where the voices in my head, spring forth spewing anger and filth through the open doors of my mouth. IF this will be your first experience with that side of me; then I might suggest that you stop reading now. I simply ask this because if this is will be new to you; there is nothing in this blog that you’ll want to read. The following article is not going to be pretty. It is going to be convoluted, rife with inconsistencies, contradictions, apathy, self-indulgent tangents, possible profanity and a heaping helping of self-loathing and pity.
IF YOU’RE STILL READING YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Seriously if you’re looking for some motivating inspirational shit STOP right now. I don’t want to change any image you may have of me. I put on an excellent Jungian mask most times but this time you’re going to get the shadow and right now he’s not fucking pleased.
Still here? All right, strap in. This is going to be a bumpy fucking ride. Sit down, hold on, and shut up because I’m driving. These are my opinions and yours have not been solicited.
Before I begin let me get a little god in here first. Just in case at the end someone should strike me down they’ll know I looked higher at some point.
–Prepare your work outside. Get everything ready for you in the field and after that build your house.
-Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips.
-Do not say, ‘I will do to others as they have done to me. I will pay them back for what they have done.’
With that Norm Koch deserves all the credit in the world. He put together the most difficult Spartan Race ever created. He did his job and let no man be held under scrutiny for doing his job well and as asked. Now that I’ve said that I feel I have license to go on and say exactly how I feel, how I want to.
I didn’t come to the Ultra Beast to crush it or kill it or any other non-productive, completely ridiculous, pseudo-inspirational, two words on a gym wall motivationals. I came to face a Demon of my own. I came to look it in its eye. I came to break the bones of some skeletons that have been taking up space, collecting cobwebs. But I came to the Ultra Beast defeated. I was probably defeated the day I clicked the “check out” button on the registration page a year ago. I came to try and settle a score, but I didn’t bring any chips to the table. Maybe I thought I could gamble on an outstanding marker and expected that I could bluff far enough through the game to get some good cards later. That didn’t happen.
I don’t remember a lot of the race in any order. Lets just start with the swim. I actually thought I was doing pretty well until then. I remember looking at my watch and guessing I was on a pretty solid pace. A good friend reminded me that I could in fact swim. So with out PFD I swam out. It was cold but not miserable. I got up the ladder without difficulty, but it was at that point that I realized, no upper body strength. Bell tap, and then I was only able to get both hands on the first knot. I decided to drop. So grabbing my hat I let go. Down, down, down deep. And I puked, underwater, through my nose. Talented I know, right? It made the swim to shore lovely. So I went and did my burpees…most of them. And no I don’t care what you think, so fuck off. Which led us back into the water. This became a swim for the full length of the pond because the FUCKS in front of me didn’t want to go in over shin deep and clung like turds on a bowl to the edges. In all honesty I was already cramping at this point so swimming was a relief to my legs. When I exited I met up with a most excellent friend and Spahten who looked at me with all honesty and said, “This isn’t fun.” No. No this was most certainly not fun. Even in the most sarcastic, sadistic sense of fun that I keep tucked away in the deeper recesses of my mind. None of this was fun, and it was only about 8am.
From here on it’s going to get a lot fuzzy. We went up the mountain. I had some mustard. You know what? Fuck this bullshit about mustard! I poured that shit down my throat all day and all it did was irritate my soft pallet and upper esophagus. If you want to argue with me about mustard I’ve got some left. You can slather it on a certain area of mine and suck it!
Moving on. Up the mountain! You know straight up just slogging up the mountain. Oh was there an obstacle? I didn’t see it. Wait I remember it was the phoned in, half forgotten, Fedex cargo net they inherited from Tom Hanks after he got off the island.
And then there was just more walking up. At some point I ran into some Cornfeds. I managed to stay with them for a good bit. I stayed with them till just about to where we dragged a rock. It wasn’t particularly taxing until you get to end and your legs lock with 7 out of 10 pain. I know it was a 7 because I couldn’t breath to scream. I stood standing stiff as a board becoming, myself, an obstacle to other racers. And then I fell over. I managed to drag myself out of the way, by my hands. If you have ever tried to cry through the lump in your throat where a half strangled scream had been only recently stifled; you may begin to understand my agony. Then through tears: one hand, one knee, one foot, one push and I was on my feet again. In no longer than five minutes.
On to the memory: India 202-2871, and then a spear throw. Don Devaney gets all the credit. I learned the technique from his, via telephone, spear throwing lesson on Friday: “Hold it like a dart and push it at the target.” Perfect. That would be the first, the last, and the only happy moment for me on the mountain that day.
If you haven’t stopped reading yet now would be a good time. It’s not going to get better and it’s going to get a lot darker and self-indulgent. Thankfully at this point, as I write, the anger is ebbing.
So we went down the mountain. I don’t know how long we were headed down but when we got down it was at the inverted wall. My Cornfriends (in fairness for background I’ve know both of them for a long time and they are friends) were ahead of me due to my leg cramps that just continued to shift from one leg to the other from one muscle to the other. But at the inverted wall they were sitting. Rick was hurting from an earlier injury and at this point we were not aware of another very serious injury he had. But this isn’t about him. I helped him over the wall. Then it was over to the bucket carry. I think it was number 2. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. For the purposes of this it is the one where I saw another Spahten spectating. This Spahten is an animal and is always there with honest encouragement. During the carry I had to stop too many times and I sat down. That’s the race killer there. Once I finally completed the carry I asked if he could work some magic on one of the cramps that was locking. He did, but said the best thing is to walk it out even if its Frankenstien walking, His last piece of advice was “but if it is really that bad, stop your race.” Death knell. He certainly didn’t mean it to be a coffin nail. He was only truly looking out for my safety.
I’m not entirely sure but I believe this next part was the direct climb up, under the gondola. Again for purposes of my story timeline and not giving a damn about facts, this is where I started to stare at my demon. He’s only man size and not much bigger than me. He has a pronounced dragon like head with a torso covered in tight shiny green scales like a snake. His wings project backwards and would look only like a decoration. His red tongue dances and darts from his mouth through crocodile arranged teeth. He speaks telepathically in a soothing condescending voice. He never told me to quit. He made me convince myself that the race was over. That I couldn’t finish. That I was a fraud. That I should just walk down the mountain. I wanted to. But I was too high at that point. And now I was with another set of forlorn souls, Golan and Bill. Golan from Wisconsin and Bill from NH. But this is not their story. So I walked. And I sat. And I stood and walked and sat. I stared blankly down over the parking lot. I looked over the valley at a perfectly cut timberline and thought “Oh there’s a utility line over there.” And I began to break old skeleton bones. Feeling them crack in my hands.
The thing about dragging skeletons out of closets is, they don’t want to come willingly. You gotta start with small bones. “You never thought you would actually finish this year anyway: Snap!” Then the Demon speaks and he says, “but did they have to make this so fucking hard?” And you pull out a bigger bone and think, “well you were pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, you were just trying to act cool: Snap!” And then the Demon says, “If you do go to the top you can take the gondola down.” You reach in and grab a hand full of ribs and say “I didn’t put a damn bit of effort into this race and I fucked myself right into this shitty mountain and I have no other fucking person to blame but myself! Snap! Cackle! Pop!” The Demon speaks again, he’s so cunning, He says “oh but you had so much on your plate. You don’t sleep. You have a crazy schedule. Your wife, your kids, the dog.” Now you dig in and you grab that skull. That grinning, gape mouthed fucker and you hold him up to the light for the last time and you say, “I’m a quitter that’s what I do. I quit. I quit. I quit. IFQ!” And you take that skull and you crush it under your heel and you stand up and you look at the absurdity of your situation which is: Go ahead fucking quit. But what the hell are you going to do? Go down the way you came, or go down by going forward? Forward. Up and forward.
And then down. Down, down and more down. There was no trail left. I felt like George of the jungle swinging from tree to tree. Legs cramped so fucking bad and then a horrifying collapse. My water bladder collapsed not me. It collapsed because I was out. Out of water. Great. At some point this was bound to happen but really, now? Now I went to pull a tire. Great obstacle. I’d have rather been pulling a noose around my neck at this point. Cop out obstacle. Up side, I was able to get Golan a walking stick to brace himself. Kid has the guts of a martyr but he was toast and I don’t blame him. His knee wasn’t getting any better. It was the last pitch down to safety. A stick was my parting gift to him. I left him with a crossfitter named Susan from ME. She’s pretty badass, completing a Goruck heavy. We knew some of the same people.
And the Demon managed to stick a new skeleton into my closet. A skeleton whose bones where rotting green with mold and mud. I left an injured person clearly in pain on a mountain. Fuck you Green Demon. Fuck you Ultra Beast.
When Dante descended into hell with the poet Virgil he passed through it’s many levels and the inhabitants there of. As I walked down this nasty half excuse of a goat trail I couldn’t help but think of Dante. I knew there were nine rings and that Satan was at the bottom frozen up to his waist eating those denizens of the ninth circle: Betrayers. Was that what I have become a betrayer? Turns out with a little research no I wasn’t destined for the ninth circle quite yet. I’m destined for the eighth. Circle eight that’s where I sit. The fraudulent: liars, deceivers, false prophets, panderers, seducers and thieves! These, these are my vices and those are my people. And sandbags apparently. Two sandbags because: “Fuck it I’m going to quit anyway but I’m Ultra so I have to carry two.” I want to say it was about 2 pm. I think I had it in my head that I already hadn’t made a cut off but it didn’t matter though because when I was done. I was going to quit. 10 feet. Stop. 10 feet. Stop. 10 feet. Stop. Wow that took like 16 minutes and I’m…fuck im like one one hundredth of the way there! The Demon says, “You said you’re quitting, just put the bags down and walk.” No that just means somebody else has to clean up my mess. 10 feet. “Your going to leave just leave.” No because how could I write about this later if I have to tell 3300 Spahtens not only did I quit; I trashed the course for them to pick up? The Demons is not so subtle any more: “Fuck them he say’s.” NO Demon: FUCK YOU. 10 feet. A wonderful gentleman with a beautiful smile and an ancestry I guessed to be Mexican said to me “You can’t quit now man were headed down.” I said thank you but when I’m done I’m going right through that arch, I quit. Then he, in the most elegant, cheery, Spanish accented English said. “Well I hope you change you mind.” Fuck you feelings: 10 feet!
When I got to the bottom I couldn’t quit. I couldn’t quit because telling someone I quit would be harder than actually doing it. It would have been easier to lie down and die right there than make the effort to quit. And it was so easy. It would never be easier than right there to quit. Strangely enough, you see a lot of things you need to see, only when you need to see them. Yes I’m patriotic but I don’t go busting my zipper every time I see a flag go by. I know what it means to me. That’s what matters to me. But when you see a flag on a Spartan course, it is usually being carried by someone for a reason; and usually by someone I know. If you have ever seen a man who looks like he jumped off of the pages of Robinson Caruso, its Stephen Reid. Bones. That was his flag and that was he. It dawned on me that with his “more faith than fear and more heart than scars” I just needed to keep going, off into the woods. Fill the water first.
The next last bits you know. The anger is subsiding as I write. I can tell you that at the race. at this point, my venom was toxic and it was killing me quickly. I didn’t care any more. I got to try my hand at the new obstacle. Some rings and swing bars. NO problem I nailed it, until the rope. One hand two hands; and faster than you can say fireman on a pole I was in the dirt. Slicker than snot on a doorknob. I tried to burpee. My legs wouldn’t unlock. So in the now rigid, prone position where I lay. I gave three or four more attempts and I had to give up even trying, You can start breaking the bones on that skeleton your holding right now because we’re going to need the space.
Now off to the Tyrolean traverse. It said in the rules if any body part touches the water you failed. So I got on top of the rope and sank. And I went out further and it sank further. How the fuck can I keep my body out of the water when the fucking rope is under the water. So I floated my bloated, cramped, broken ass. Hand over hand down the line. Slapped the bell, rolled off and swam in. I still did it right.
Rope climb, fail. Limped past the two volunteers who couldn’t even be bothered to look up from their iPhones. Spear throw: Perfect. Perfectly short. It did stick in the ground underneath. I limped to the burpee coral. 5 or 6 until my arms couldn’t move. More broken skeleton bones. Don’t get too angry just yet, I blow off plenty of more burpees.
Texans. Why is it always Texans! They are always big happy and helpful. Hobbling now I approached the wall. My defeated face must have given me away. He asked if I needed help. I could only say yes. And that was it. Knee, shoulders, wall. Crushed my testicles in spectacular fashion and then guided myself down…to barbed wire. At this point any prone position is a lightning storm of fiery pain and agony. I made it all the way through and then through the rolling mud. I could not physically bring myself through the last section. I had indeed; quit. And so I walked. Past the American Ninja Turtle, this is only here for the elite heat to look epic on TV, 30 yards of pipe BS obstacle. No I didn’t attempt it, or burpees. Why? Fuck you that’s why. Just staying on my feet at this point was torture. Up and over and down and then to the Herculean hoist. The rope was slick but I made it no issue. Monkey bars: I’ve lost count but I think I have done 15 Spartan races, 4 or 5 hurricane heats and sometimes multiple laps of the same course. I have never, ever, ever failed the money bars. I couldn’t hold on for 1 transition. NO I didn’t do burpees. Why? Why are you still reading?
At the long over grown blow down ascent which actually might have been kinda cool I caught up with Haidar Hachem. I’m not sure what intrigued me the most, the hat, the hairiness or the stash. Either way, this is Spartan Race. You come for the race and you stay for the people. Hadir is more than a competent athlete. He began to tell me his story, a similar one to my own except he was actually on pace to finish his Ultra. As we all were at one point. But now to finish, to simply try and finish, we just had to walk up this hill and down. That’s all.
The very last bag of bones I can shove into my closet is this: I pulled my sleeves over my coveted green armbands and hobbled toward… the finish. Fraud. Coward. Quitter. Liar. Cheater.
At the start line I had given up. At mile 3 I had quit. And I stayed quit until the end of my race, the whole Beast distance. My race. NOT yours. Not yours to measure against mine. Not yours to tell me what I did wrong. Not yours to tell me that you are disappointed in me. Not yours to tell me you have lost respect for me. My race. Yes I took a 2014 Beast Medal. I crossed the start line and the finish line and at no point in between did I cut the course, or not carry the weight. I went as long as I could, as far as I could, as well as I could until I could not. No I did not do all the burpees. NO I could not do all the obstacles. It was medically irresponsible for me to continue. It was also ethically irresponsible for me to destroy myself into irreparable harm for a race. Once I finished and took my medal I went to my truck to leave. And that should have been the end.
However providence struck again as it always does in Sandy Rhee. She made a bus driver stop and let her off as she went by. Sandy has always been there for me, as she has for so many others but Sandy just seems to be there right when she’s needed the most, for me. I was changing to leave. Angry. Demoralized, Crushed. Belittled. Betrayed. Broken physically and mentally. Friendless in a sea of brothers and sisters; and then a friend. So instead I decided to stay. To watch some of my heroes actually complete their Ultra Beast. I did get a chance to meet teammates I only know online.
So yes I am proof that I can finish a Beast, mostly, without any training. But not an ultra. I may never finish an Ultra race. I’m positive I will never finish an Ultra Beast. Now that it is all said and done. I’m done. I’m done with Beasts and trifectas and Spartan races. I will end my Spartan relationship the same place it started. When I started it was fun. It was hard and brutal but fun. Sunday was not fun. It was not fun and it got worse the further I went. That whole useless awful race catered to the Sprint distance at the end and NBC. That’s my opinion, which you are welcome to disagree with, or not. If I wanted to aimlessly hike straight up and down a mountain I would do it in Colorado for free. The distinct lack of obstacle spacing was bullshit and simply carrying something heavy up a hill is not an obstacle. Shit I would have rather the atlas stone carry 5 more times than just some endless up hill sand bag or bucket. No, Spartan has lost any allure for me. I will gladly encourage my teammates to set and accomplish goals. I would even volunteer at a Spartan Race to see and encourage others, but to give my money to that? Not anymore. Racelocal and have fun.
Like all good things this came to and end. I rattled some bones. I had open and frank discussions with my demon. He wasn’t crushed, quelled, released or any manner of exorcised. He’s still there and he speaks, a lot. A great deal of what you have just suffered through was written on that mountain in between fits of rage and despair. In the end I thought mostly of my Spahten family. I thought about the people, you people. The people I would have to tell “I quit.” Not because I was physically injured requiring immediate medical attention. No I would have to tell you I quit and then suffer all the “good effort man, you really tried” comments. As well-meaning as those are they don’t break skeleton bones. Instead I chose to finish the only way that I could. And if that means I left burpees on Killington that’s fine with me. They are up there with my ego, my pride, some dignity, a couple of aspirations and a belt buckle. But when it was really. sincerely, all done. I got in my truck put TOOL radio on Pandora and drove 3 hours straight home, by myself, and was still at work at 7am this morning.
Authors note: This was originally published without reflection or edit. It was published in raw form, The media added were not mine and the sole choice of the editor, which I am happy with. After being able to review this I have not changed anything with the exception of deleting some occasional profanities which were unnecessary. I write what I feel. After closer inspection I would simply like to say that anyone choosing to do a Spartan Race should most certainly do one or many. To have the aspiration to complete an obstacle course race on the caliber of Spartan Race is excellent. My personal experience is varied, and should not influence anyone not to do a race. I work with my Demon every day and everyday he wins some battles and I try to push through the losses the best that I can. I don’t do many things for myself and OCR are my chance to beat on that voice inside my head. On Sunday the Demon had a lot of time and distance to dance in my head and he did so without restraint. When I write down what I was experiencing you only get the edited 1% of those thoughts. So again, if you choose to judge me or my choices remember you are judging less than 1% of one race, on one day in the life that I live 24 hours a day, everyday. Thank you for reading.
15 thoughts on “Ultra Beast and other Demon speak”
[…] Ultra Beast and other demon speak by James Horgan @ New England Spahtens […]
Yeah, I gave all of this obstacle bullshit the big FU after the first Beast …… like any of these people give a shit about anything but me paying their bills with my $$. I can run, hike, mtn, bike, mx and play with my kid FOR FREE! Same thing happened in endurance mtn. biking in the late 90's … big corporate greed. It was only a matter of time for it to happen in OR ….. instead of competing against myself or someone else, I just want to run and wave to my neighbors and feel good about being alive!
Others may have heard me say this, but last year's Beast was a harbinger of no good things. They turned an exciting, difficult challenge into a grueling, boring, repetitive slog. Spartan's obstacles are a joke – without the terrain, it's just a brutal, unenjoyable hike, which I can do for free, any time I want. Which is never. Go to the Adirondacks and do a 2-peaker. Hike the Long Trail. Take in the beauty of the world – then the suffering might be worth something.
People have managed to convince themselves (myself included) that paying to endure pure suffering at the hands of a wealthy corporation is somehow innately good as long as there is a shiny medal at the end. What could be more ironic?
Maybe it's the fact that I have kids now and different priorities than when I had less gray around the temples. I dunno – the blush came off the rose for me last year and I have not looked back. For those of you who continue to press on, I applaud your resolve and dedication.
Sadly, I could not make the UB this year after finishing two last year due to a lack of finances. It made me feel pretty bad about myself and then I get to read about how money was just thrown away. The race was hard last year, the Beast was hard last year, so why think it could be accomplished without training or preparation?
I've heard about a ton of cheating and obstacle bypassing this year. I guess the everyone deserves a medal mentality can't be broken, but clearly; will, self respect, dignity, or any other admirable trait can be shattered and left behind.
That will be enjoyable. And oddly enough we are home this weekend. And you have now been properly envied.
[…] Ultra Beast and other Demon speak […]
Sorry, if you sign up for the Ultra and fail, no medal. If you skip the penalty or the obstacle, no medal. Honestly, if you want a challenge everyone gets to finish do a Goruck. This is self indulgent and I’ve been there, but under similar circumstances I didn’t get the swag…
Yeah, that was me at the bucket carry and you looked like hammered shit. I had just come off my own dance with that foggy bearded beast and I was tired of seeing people I care about suffering. I was ready to carry you off the mountain. You earned the medal.
That was an amazing review. I related to so many of your experiences, too. Your review reminded me so much of my favorite author, Stephen King. Brilliant stuff, man.
That was an amazing review. I related to so many of your experiences, too. Your review reminded me so much of my favorite author, Stephen King. Brilliant stuff, man.
This hit amazingly close to home for me…At mile 4 I was face to face with my demon…He urged me to give up. My Battle Buddy saw my face and at every single access road we continued to pass- said if I wanted to quit- He was ok with it. Mile 5- Mile 6- Mile 8..He stopped asking me at mile 10- I never stopped really asking myself.
I just internally refused…I could not go home as a DNF. I have literally faced death in my lifetime twice. Once on an airplane that had mechanical failure mid flight, and once facing an over the top risky surgery for my ULTRA rare Brain disease (where they said I had 2 months til surgery- You might want to get your affairs in order- And I did- I planned my funeral and wake, etc…) But I came back from both experiences stronger and more determined to LIVE and finish the things I set out to do…The Beast was my "White Whale". I have NO delusions of an Ultra Beast or Death Race. But The Beast is an attainable – albeit extremely difficult – goal to achieve…And I felt exactly as you did up there- Please understand that I am not saying my demon is the same as yours or even on the same level- But as I read this – It brought me back to the hill- cold, cramped, my body refusing to perform the simple acts my brain was telling it to do….I will neither confirm nor deny that I teared up as I rounded that final turn out of the woods and saw the fire…And I will neither admit nor refute that as i was 15 feet from finishing- after 10 hours and 48 minutes in the cold darkness- Sandy was right there cheering me on as she has done MANY times before at the end of races when i am trailing up the rear- that I possibly burst into tears. Happiness, pride, accomplishment, victory, and most of all relief that it was finally over and I beat the mountain flooded over me and took me…Thankfully the medal girl was having issues untangling several medals and that allowed me to pull myself together when i reached her…I appreciate your honesty and your absolute candidness regarding The Beast. I know you are not looking for anyones approval or pat on the back. But allow me to thank you for writing this and I tip my hat to you. See you on the local scene.
I am going to come over to your house this weekend and we'll have a couple of beers and I'll help you finish up your burpees so you can retire from Spartan Races properly.
I appreciate my always-see-the-bright-side-motivating friends, but I adore the honest ones. You sir (Horgan) are one of my favorites .
I remember when we joked about moobs on the old street team page my friend… and could count the # of "Masshole Spahtens" on our hands. It's been a fun ride and I am lucky to know you from it– albeit 99% virtual.
Oh… and in spite of yourself– you are still inspiring.