Yesterday, I completed the Spartan Beast during the Spartan World Championship weekend in Killington, Vermont. This was a race I did last year, so I went into it thinking I would know what to expect, but that wasn't exactly the case. The course was possibly the same length, if not a little shorter, but was a totally different animal than the year before. Basically, within about 3 miles of the course I changed my priorities of going for the best time I could to simply just finishing and not getting injured. The sense of accomplishment when I finished was great, but there was a shred of dissapointment as this was the first time I had signed up for an elite heat, and I really performed worse than I thought I was capable of. I had come off the New Jersey Super a few weeks before where I really felt fast and tough, but felt broken for much of the Vermont race. That being said, I'm glad I accepted the challenge, made a few friends on the course, and did finish, somewhere around the 50th percentile among the elites.
The course started with a 5 foot wall that everyone had to hop over to get to the "real" start line where the timing chips started. It was kind of like the scene in World War Z where the zombies are all falling over the wall. When the race started, I was able to run a decent pace for a while on a slight incline, followed by a few short walls and the over-under-through wall obstacles. We then made our first ascent of Killington Mountain, and it was probably the longest and highest elevation we reached all day (not 100% sure). This was an interesting tactic, as last year the longest climb was towards the end. Along the way were a few 5 and 6 foot walls to scale, nothing too difficult. Most people were already in hiking mode for most of this part and I still felt decent about my pace.
We made our first descent into the woods, on a very technical and slippery single-file trail. This section was a bit of a blur, but the pack I was in was all moving at about the same pace and we were comfortable going relatively quickly on the tough descent. It wasn't long before we had to make another ascent in a similarly wooded trail, just before mile 3. When we came out of the woods, there was a chart for the memorization test. My phrase to memorize was Alpha 308-6642.
The next descent was almost like running through a field of Christmas trees! Little evergreen shrubs made for unsure footing and spiky branches everywhere. We then came to the tire drag. This was uphill, you first had to drag the tire itself out and then with a rope bring it back to the starting position. I unfortunately got my tire stuck on a stump so had to go back out, dislodge it with the rope and then continue pulling, so this drained a bit of my strength.
So we get to the bottom of the hill and what is waiting for us? A 60-pound sand bag carry up about 1/4-1/2 mile straight uphill climb. The bags were not the normal "pancakes" but rather a long, thin bag. This was a tough ascent, and so early in the course I think it was the source of leg cramps which plagued myself and others throughout the rest of the course. The worst part of this obstacle was that after my wave of elites were rounding the top, the race volunteers realized that it was so long and hard that there weren't enough sandbags to go around - they weren't getting back to the bottom fast enough. They decided to shorten it for all future participants. I was really upset since I just completed the entire loop and everyone after me got an easier haul!
I don't exactly remember what happened next, but I believe we headed back up the mountain on a pretty rough climb, with 7 foot walls at the top. At this point, we were joining the trail for the Spartan Sprint going on at the same time. It was confusing and there were all of a sudden a lot more people and congestion on the trail. Sprinters on mile 1 were merged with Beasters on mile 5, so there was a little bit of animosity! We made another technical, single file descent down the mountain, leading to at some point the hercules hoist (I think?), which was definitely heavier than in past years, and some other normal obstacles like tractor pull and the inverted wall. There was a barbed wire crawl as well, this first one was moderate length and not very "wet," pretty much mud, bumpy terrain and big rocks. It was at this point that my legs started cramping. It was in the jutting around under the barbed wire that I really started to feel my inner thighs and quads tightening up. This slowed me down from this point (around mile 5+) and for the rest of the course. I failed the spear throw and did my first 30 burpees of the day. At this point, we diverged from the Sprint course and made a descent to the bottom of the mountain, near the main camp again. We came up to the first rope climb and I stupidly went in too fast instead of taking a minute to breathe. Forgetting my technique, I used way too much upper body too soon and slipped. I had made all rope climbs this season, so was very disappointed in myself!
There was another short barbed wire crawl, and a large structure called "Conex Cross?" It was a wooden ladder ascent and then a traverse across a lateral cargo net. There was no chance of falling through this obstacle, and overall it was pretty easy, though if you have a fear of heights I'm sure it was a little scary. We eventually got to the next big, time-eating challenge - the two water obstacles. There was first a decent swim in the lake to another set of rope climbs. This time I used my brain and actually passed the rope climb! You then got out of the water and had to do the traverse wall. I have done 6 spartan races before this and NEVER miss the traverse wall, yet this day I fell off with two pegs to go. After spending all the time in the water, the 30 burpees took a long time, as cramps were a big issue again.
Then there was another decent length swim to the Tarzan swing. I had no hope of completing this obstacle, I was just too tired already and still had a lot of course to go. I literally only saw one person ring the bell and complete this obstacle in the whole time I was near the water, which was a much lower rate of completion than last year. We were tired!
After the water disaster and 60 burpees for me, there was another ascent of the mountain, though not as tough as the past ones. There was an atlas carry, a 3rd barbed wire crawl through thicker mud, and the log hop, which I passed fortunately! Oh, and before our ascent was the memory test, which I also passed. There was a set of two vertical cargo nets which were pretty tough as far as cargo nets go. Somewhere along this route came the most evil obstacle of the day. We were given large buckets, and had to fill them with gravel pebbles, then make a hike straight up hill and bring it back down. The length of the hike seemed eternal, though it was truly maybe 1/4 mile at most. We weren't allowed to lift the bucket over our shoulder, and also had to come down with the pebbles above a line marker in the bucket. This meant if the pebbles settled or you lost some and the line was showing, you couldn't burpee out of it - you had to do it again! This obstacle took a long, long time. I was only able to make 10 or so steps at a time before taking breaks, and also worried that I would spill my bucket. I have no idea what the thing weighed, but it was heavy and mentally I was gone after this obstacle!
We made a descent to the Tyrolean Traverse. Now, I was an elite and there were special rules for the traverse. We had 3 tries to complete the obstacle, and each time we failed, a 30 burpee penalty was imposed and we had to try again. If after 3 we couldn't get it, we were allowed to move on, but with a 15-minute penalty imposed. Now, I had passed the traverse last year, and if I remember, it wasn't a huge challenge, yet I failed all 3 times year year, resulting in a huge, demoralizing 90 burpees and lots of wasted time. This was the final nail in my coffin. Everything in my mind told me to "cheat" and just pretend I was running an open heat and move right along after one fail, but I couldn't bring myself to do that, so I paid the price. Looking back, I'm glad I did it by the book, because I didn't want an asterisk on my finish. The pain from this obstacle will remind me to somehow practice before I have to do one of these again!
There was another long ascent to top of the mountain - this last time up was probably as steep and long as the first climb of the day. There was an 8 foot wall at the top, which was no problem. Coming down, the terrain was pretty quick so it was nice to do a little downhill running even at the end. I could see the finish line! But wait - that was the SPRINT finish line, psych! On our descent was another conex cross and another inverted wall. Then, another sandbag carry! At this point, it didn't even matter, I knew it wasn't going to be any worse than anything I had experienced yet. These were also the 40 pound, pancakes. I did the sandbag carry pretty quickly, and didn't take any breaks. Rounding the corner was a final muddy barbered wire crawl into the slippery wall, fire jump, gladiators, and finish. Even the gladiators were meaner than usual and hit me extra hard.
My official finishing time was around 7:09, which means it took me 6:54, and then had the penalty imposed. Not to make excuses, but if I had run open I probably would have finished faster because I would have one-and-done the tyrolean traverse, had a shorter 60-pound sandbag carry, but - well who knows. I enjoyed the extra competition and challenge of running elite and playing by different rules. It was humbling, and pretty emotional at the end too because it took me so long, that green piece of metal that I hung around my neck actually meant something. This was also the completion of a trifecta for me in 2013, which had it's own special meaning.
So where am I? I'm still dissapointed I didn't do as well as I thought I could, but then again my time was decent and I still finished without getting injured. This was sort of my first taste of being completely broken down and having to rely on just putting one foot in front of the other to finish. Even last year's beast, while quite challenging, I never questioned myself in the course like I did this year.
It was a learning experience too. It made me realize that I didn't train long enough and hard enough for this event to run elite. The three carrying obstacles took too much out of me, and climbing and carrying are things I just didn't practice. Missing the spear throw, rope climb, and traverse wall didn't bother me too much, they were minor slips. But missing the tyrolean traverse - I really, really paid for that one.
So all and all, this course was worthy of being called a World Championship, and the hardest obstacle race ever put together. At least for me, it was by far the hardest fitness challenge I was ever put up against, and I'm sure for many others it was the same. I give credit to the few souls who attempted the team Death Race on the mountain this weekend, as well as the Ultra Beasters, who did 26.2 miles on the mountain. I tip my hat to you! For me, it's now time to recover and stretch for a week, and then start training again!