I participated, and completed the Spartan Beast, a 14 mile obstacle race on Killington Mountain in Vermont this past weekend. The course contained 38 obstacles and I've heard reports of 6000 feet of total vertical climb, depending on how one measures vertical climb. The mountain was the "39th" and ever present obstacle that was the course itself. This event took me just over 5 hours, and I was in the top 8% of all finishers, and 25% of the people registered either didn't show up or didn't finish. Not knowing the course, I put in my head a goal of not only finishing, but finishing under 5:30:00, and I reached my goal!
Three years ago, this would have seemed impossible. A once varsity high school athlete that ran 19 minute 5k's, I could barely complete a 5k in under 30 minutes three years ago and though my BMI was barely under 25, I had a good 20 pounds to lose, and had lost all my athleticism and competitiveness. I started the DVD program P90X not necessarily obese, but certainly out of shape and on my way to being obese by the time I was 35 or 40.
P90X gave me the strength (literally) and confidence to start thinking like a competitive runner again. When I use the word "competitive," I mean competing against myself - really trying to achieve the best my body can do when I go out there. Long story short, it was 3 years in the making but I progressed from 5k's to extreme trail runs, from trail runs to a half marathon, and then I found Spartan Race. Spartan Race is unlike any other obstacle racing company out there, they push you to your limits as an athlete and as a human being, and there is no question why there is such a big following. Last September, I ran an 8 mile Spartan Race and the following week, set my big goal: sign-up for and complete the Vermont Beast next year. I signed up almost, to the day, a year ago, but really kicked up the training in the past couple of months.
I have been primarily using Insanity and my own weight lifting routines to train, on top of running. In the past months, I've added some of the Spartan Workouts of the Day on top of my Beachbody workouts, and have met some New England obstacle racers who have set up live workouts specific for beast training.
The short version of the story is: the day came, and I achieved. My time was 5:13:45, which was beyond my goal. The course was over a mile longer than advertised, and way worse than anyone could have ever dreamed of, full of single file, trecherous climbs and descents and new obstacles I've never seen before in Spartan Races, including two obstacles in the freezing cold water.
The longer version of the story starts on Friday, September 21st. Already geared up and excited, I had my clothes laid out, my CamelBak stuffed with goodies, and several towels and garbage bags to deal with my dirty self for the car ride home. I actually had to play a wedding the night before the Beast, and had church early on Sunday morning, so had to do the whole trip in a day. I was invited to a happy hour with some friends on Friday, but had to decline. I had a day of perfect clean eating, 70% calories from carbs and finished off my night with some Ezekial 4:9 pasta with red sauce.
4am: my alarm goes off, but I was already awake, it was kind of like the opening scene of Training Day. My wife always makes fun of me because I am impossible to get out of bed unless it's race day. I went downstairs, made a bowl of oatmeal, finished packing, put on my race clothes, set my GPS and was off.
The drive was beautiful. I had never been to Killington, and the final turn off onto East Mountain Rd. was one of the most beautiful drives I've been on. As the mountain approached in my vista, I was both excited and terrified. I ate a banana in the car before getting out. The sun rise while in the Pioneer Valley wasn't half bad either.
The first obstacle for me was picking up my packet. First of all, I didn't have the Killington waiver, so after waiting in line for my bib, had to fill that one out at the far tent. Then, I realized I left my ID in the car, so I ended up having to run back up the hill to the parking lot and return to the first tent again and wait in line. Then, I got my registration, and aptly put on my yellow wrist band - without my timing chip. Back to the tent I went, and got a replacement band. Then I went to put on my bib and there was only one safety pin in my envelope. The volunteers knew me well as I went back to the tent for the fourth time!
I entered the festival and found a group of people that I had never met, but recognized from the NE Spahten's group. Kay, Jessica, Chris, Amy, Paul, Shaina and others. I knew Sean was running at 9:00, so I found him at the start line and wished him luck on what was about to be a 4:20 run!
With time to spare, I went to the traverse wall in camp to practice, and fell off. This was an obstacle I had passed in Amesbury, so decided not to push my luck with the practice wall and just deal with it in the big race.
Bag was checked, sweats came off, so I headed to the starting line. Honestly, this was one of the most disorganized starts I have seen, I feel like one second I was standing, the next, I was running the Beast. As usual, I went out too fast, running as if I were competing in a 10k and going up the "one" hill. I'll never remember the entire race, but here are some of the highlights:
-The first set of moats. I got a little cocky and on the fourth, and biggest jump, slipped and nearly landed on my face. Somehow I recovered, and only got my left toe wet but it would have been a sad way to end my race!
-When I started having to walk. It must have been about .5 miles in. Don't get me wrong, I knew I'd be hiking a lot, but I seriously was thinking there would be more running. It turned out I only ran on the green-circle slope downhills, and the flats, and sometimes when cresting a small hill. It was at least 80% hiking for me on this day! And by hiking there was straight vertical climb on hands and knees, quad-burning climbs over grassy terrain, and super technical descents where I was one bad judgment away from a broken ankle
-The first cargo net. At this point, I had given up my individuality and helped a girl over the net. Others had held the net down for me, I wanted to just keep going, but felt obligated to hold the net for her. And I did, sure it probably added 2 minutes to my finish time, but I don't regret doing it. I coached her over the top of the net and she made it safely!
-The 1st barbed wire crawl. It wasn't muddy, it was like...rocks. And cold water. It was also very long! There were also two more later in the course
-I was really disappointed that I fell off the monkey bars. I failed this obstacle at Amesbury too, and I don't know why I did, besides that my grip wasn't strong enough on the bars and it was slippery. I made it to the 3rd bar from the end, I was so close. I can bang out 17 or so consecutive pullups so I'm baffled why I can't do this. I think it is all about grip strength and technique, and you better believe I'll be working on that this year! The burpees hurt, but I did all 30.
-It was fun making it back into civilization for the rope climb, I actually made it this time, I specifically practiced rope climbing, since I failed this one at Amesbury! I took my first hit of shot blocks as I rounded the corner and went back up hill. Good bye civilization, hello steep climbs. Oh - and I did make it through the traverse wall. I do a lot better going to my right!
-There was a sad story about this year's beast. Unfortunately a group of possibly 100+ was misguided by the course and sent on a loop off course, skipping several obstacles. After perhaps a 4 mile loop off course, several of these runners decided to leave the course and either go home, or try again on Sunday. These were ultra-beasters so if anyone decided to stay on the course, they would have had to complete at least 30 miles total. I ran into a group of ultra's who decided to do just that. I let them pass me to go in the trench crawl before me - I knew their day would be much longer than mine!
-I'm going to leave out the specific details about the first water obstacle, it has already become infamous. I just know that nobody was freaking passing this one. This was an American Ninja Warrior type obstacle, and I totally was unprepared for it. I didn't even know how to grip the ropes properly and splashed back in the water before making any headway. The water was cold, and I was worried about one girl near me who was shaking hard. What I want to know is how much extra mileage did the people that had to swim to left add to the run? I'm sure it could have easily been .5 miles before we caught up to the course where the passers of the obstacle swam to! What a punishment, 30 burpees on the shore, a longer course, and a longer swim! The water was 40 degrees, and the obstacle was called the "Tarzan Swing," so you can picture what it was like: a wobbly rope ladder, dismounting onto 5 or so greased up, knotted ropes with a bell hanging past the fifth rope.
-I'll never forget: Delta 730-2007 . "The airline, a child's bed time, the year I graduated from college." I had to memorize this phrase and recite it about an hour later at the bottom of the mountain.
-They definitely stacked all the bulk weight moving obstacles together, with the atlas carry, tractor pull, sand bag carry, and chariots of fire all near each other. It was somewhere in the middle of all this, that we went up a grassy hill that seemed to never end. I hit the wall at this point, I seriously couldn't put one foot in front of the next, though most of the people around me were dying too. A couple people got a little fresh, I won't get into that too much, but we weren't happy. Now, I have no trouble scaling 8 foot walls, but when we got to the top and there were two 7 foot walls, I barely had the strength to get over. I decided it was time for some reinforcements, and I went for my clif bar, the only solid food I packed for the run. I muscled over the walls, and in about 20 minutes that clif bar was a life saver. I seriously felt a new surge of energy and was able to run down the hill, and complete all the upper body, bulk tasks with no problem.
-Finally, I made it to the tyrolean traverse. This was an obstacle I had heard about before and was scared of. I had never practiced it. I actually DID pass this one, but not without suffering a severe rope burn on my left ankle. Believe it or not, a Canadian guy in back of me started while I was still on the rope and he was gaining on me, so I just closed my eye and went for it for the final few meters and hit the bell. I didn't feel a thing the rest of the race, but the next morning woke up to an awesome mark on my left ankle. It's still pretty raw, I knocked off a few layers of skin!
-The next part of the race was the most difficult. We entered a wooded hike that was the longest and most difficult of all the race, to the summit of the mountain. It was basically single file and there was not way to pass anybody, unless they stopped. The group of men around me became ephemeral friends of mine, we chatted a lot on the way up, mostly about how terrible the climb was. Halfway up, I recognized a guy - it was Daniel Corbera, a death racer who I had never met but was FB friends with. It was kind was like, "Hey...are you...Daniel?" "Yeah, wait you are Dan Camp right?" "Yeah! Awesome we're FB friends." "Totally, I think your dog is awesome!" We talked about my dog for the next 4 minutes up the mountain, pretty wild times.
-I failed the rope climb at the top of the mountain. I just had no strength left and took the burpees. My push strength is way better than my pull strength and just decided it was best at that moment. The worst part was that we weren't all the way at the top yet, there was still a few turns and climbs, until we reached the highest chair lift drop point on all of Mt. Killington. Even from there, we climbed a second cargo net and finally reached the top.
-As we started to descend, I thought "Man...all I want is to take me down the f#%$ing bunny hill, do the spear throw and call it a day!" The guy next to me was like "I can't wait to get laid tonight. I have it lined up, I just have to finish the ultra, and so does she." Well, only 19 females finished the ultra, so I'm not sure how lucky he was. Speaking of, I was not lucky either as my wish for a bunny hill down was not met, in fact the climb down was the worst terrain on the entire course. Again, very difficult to maneuver and pass anybody, I stayed in my place and took it down slowly to avoid broken ankles. I had practiced descending the Metacomet trail on Talcott Mountain which was excellent practice for this run down.
-By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, there was a short loop in the woods that was FLAT! I was so excited. Being the runner that I am, I gunned it. I was sore and tired, and nearly cramping but honestly had not run at all this entire day, so I still had a ton of running endurance and made great time in that curvy woods loop.
-As expected, I failed the spear throw. I actually made it in Amesbury for the first time in my life, but not so lucky this time. I did burpees 91-120 and didn't even realize the finish line was in sight. I looked over at the ultra beasters getting their mid-way buckets and felt for them, but I was so relieved to be finishing.
Crossing the finish line was one of the best feelings in the world. A year - really 3 years in the making - I had achieved my goal. I've wanted that ugly green medal for a year now, and now it's mine, but seriously it's not about the medal, or even finishing. It's the fact that I did my best, I truly can say that - I did my best. Everyone on the mountain that day did their best, even if they didn't finish. So there we were, thousands of people in Vermont, all living to our full potential on the same day. That's awesome.
Speaking of goals, I am signed up for the elite heat next year. My goal is to take 1 hour off of my time.
Spartan Finisher Medals from 2011-2012