It’s been two weeks…it’s finally time to talk about this. On September 20th, 2014 I did the single most challenging thing I have ever done in my life –
The Spartan Race Beast at Mt. Killington, VT.
The VT Beast. I thought I knew…I thought I could take it like a champ. I thought I’d be ready – really ready.
I had no idea…
Forewarning: this is going to be long. Here’s the short version:
Some say this race was unnecessarily brutal. Others say it SHOULD be – its the VT Beast… its the World Championship! Whichever camp you belong to, one thing is certain – this is the most difficult Beast that Spartan has ever offered up for our masochistic pleasure. Many succeeded, but many did not. This race broke people. The victories were hard-won. The failures hurt (literally and metaphorically).
Spartan measured about 14 miles
everyone else measured about 16.5+ miles
Elevation gain / loss I have at roughly 6,500 ft. each.
Time: the top elite man finished in 3 hrs 23 min. The majority of “normal” people seem to have finished in 8+ hrs.
I’ve run a lot of races this year – about 32 at this point. None of them could’ve possibly prepared me for The Beast.
The Spartan Race people themselves didn’t exactly help with this “preparation” thing either. There were a number of things Spartan Race did, (and didn’t do) that set people up for failure. From allowing newbies/rookies to run in early afternoon waves (most had slim hopes of finishing / finishing in daylight) to not enforcing mandatory gear requirements (headlamps, glowsticks…even hydration packs), Spartan Race set many people up for a bad experience. Course safety was a concern as well – at a number of points spectators weren’t exactly “corralled” away from runners behind caution tape. I distinctly remember actually having to meander THROUGH a crowd of spectators after the tractor pull to continue my race.
But overall, despite the organizational shortcomings and the incredibly difficult course…this was still a great Obstacle Course Race. It challenged me, it pushed me farther than I’ve ever been pushed before, and it taught me a lot. There was decent race support (hydration), there were medics everywhere, lots of volunteers, and I got a sweet (special) finisher’s medal. There’s a video near the bottom of this post that you should watch.
Still interested? Read on…because there’s more to it.
For those who DON’T know – Spartan Race is an obstacle course race series. They offer different distances, the most popular and widely known being:
- Sprint (3+ miles, 15+ obstacles, red logo)
- Super (8+ miles, 20+ obstacles, blue logo)
- Beast (12+ miles, 25+ obstacles, green logo)
They have each of these distances all over the country (and world)…but Killington, VT is home to the mother of them all. The Beast at Mt. Killington is so big, so bad, so brutal…that it was made their World Championship event (hence why most times I simply refer to it as “The Beast”). The top of the top, the “elite elites” generally finish in the rough neighborhood of 3.5 hours (give or take a half hour). “Normal” people finish anywhere from 7 – 9 hours (typically). Newbies and the ill-prepared can typically take over 10 hours…or not even finish. That said, one of the most important things to take away from this post is
…unless you’re an “Elite Elite”:
This race is NOT a race – it is a test, and NOT everyone will pass –
– just as with any test. Yes, I think this even applies to the top Elites…its just so damn difficult, it’s a test for everyone that does it…it’s just a different sort of test for them. And, just as with any test, with adequate preparation you can not only pass – you can exceed expectations and rise to the top of the class. I, however, just barely made it out of this thing. It took everything I had…and more. I was not as prepared as I should’ve been and though I got my finisher’s medal…I paid the difference.
|Photo Credit – Kim Overstreet – Ragnarok Training – Lincoln, RI|
More on that later…
What can you say about The Beast?
It’s probably harder than any race you’ve done before. Yes, even if you’ve done The Beast before, this time, it will probably be harder. Norm Koch, the Spartan Race Director and Course Designer…well…though I understand he’s a generally happy person that really enjoys life…when you’re out on that course…I really though he wasn’t hugged enough as a child. He openly admits that he has set athletes up for failure and would rather be called a bastard (than congratulated for good design) when you cross (or don’t cross) the finish line beaten, bloody and broken.
I definitely felt that sentiment. But the man sure can’t be accused of designing a wimpy, boring, or predictable course. That’s for sure.
I was, however, a bit disappointed that many of the traditionally more challenging obstacles (rope climb, Hercules Hoist, …2nd…Spear Throw…) weren’t until very late in the course. I had hopes of my first successful rope climb that day…didn’t happen. Speaking of disappointment…
As far as my earlier comments about Spartan Race setting people up for failure? There is typically (read: always) a “racer packet” that goes out maybe a week before the race listing all the important information for the day, any required gear, etc. This packet didn’t go out until a few days (max) before the race. The packet listed a working headlamp, two glow sticks (that you can attach to yourself front/back) and your own source of hydration as mandatory gear. It was clearly stated that you would not be allowed to start without a hydration pack of some sort. It was also stated that if you came across a time cutoff and did not have a working headlamp or glow sticks you would DNF. As I understand it – this did not happen. I’ve read many accounts saying that those who did not have headlamps were grouped with those who did. One person with a headlamp was made to wait at a checkpoint for people without. That person would then guide 3 lamp-less people through the remainder of the course. Given the very challenging terrain…explain to me how this is safe for those unprepared souls being guided or fair to the prepared participant made to guide? It was also made clear that a number of obstacles were to be closed at a certain point in time (for safety). It is incredibly unfortunate that one of these obstacles (Tyrolean Traverse) was late in the race. Right out of the gate, many people would not be allowed to participate in this obstacle due to start time and average completion time.
What bothered me most has to do with that last point, however – that Spartan allowed people to
register for early afternoon waves. Knowing this course was more difficult than in the past…knowing many of those people simply wouldn’t have a chance to finish…how could they happily accept your money? When I registered (and perhaps I’m remembering wrong), I don’t recall having seen something advising me not to register for a late wave if I was inexperienced. Knowing I was green, I chose to register extra early (8:30 am “confirmed” start time). Maybe it’s as simple as the old saying…
“Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance.”
But, as I said, despite those issues, I did experience a pretty smooth registration process, relatively organized “everything”, and good race support.
The medical situation was similar – “mostly” good.
On the final obstacle of the race – the Fire Jump, I landed funny and broke my left medial tibial plateau. For the record – I finished under my own power (rolling over the timing mat – I did have help under the actual arch). The journey from the finish line to the med tent was drawn out, slightly confused, and had its fair share of miscommunication. Eventually, after my knee had successfully had time to swell like a watermelon, I arrived at the med tent to be treated to warmth, cup-o-noodles, and ice saran wrapped to my leg. This, unfortunately (though, predictably) was the extent of what they could do for me. To their credit, I will say they did seem genuinely concerned for my well-being, and I certainly was comfortable in the med tent. So there’s that.
On a lighter note:
Running with a TomTom GPS watch may have changed the game for me.
I ran The Beast with a TomTom Multi Sport GPS watch. I usually run road races with Runkeeper on my phone, and I normally don’t have any tracking at all (GPS or not) during Obstacle Races. This time, however, I did. I have to say, I think it made all the difference in helping me keep my sanity, helping me know where I stand, and helping me maintain proper calorie intake and hydration throughout the race. I love it, and it did really well for me, but I’ll talk more about it in a dedicated review (which will come very soon).
Speaking of calorie intake – when you’re running a half-marathon that can take you 1.5 to 2.5 hours, eating some calories is important. Can you just IMAGINE how important, then, eating something during a 16.5 mile, 7+ hour event like this is? If you wait until you’re thirsty to drink, or until you’re hungry to eat…it’s already too late. I packed a LOT of food for The Beast, and I ate nearly all of it. I also drained my 3 liter hydration pack almost 3 full times. Proper calorie planning is a major key to success in The Beast. Much of what I ate consisted of Health Warrior Chia Bars – they’re stupidly tasty and have a TON of nutrients in them that your body will just soak right up, especially in circumstances like this race (see my review here). I love being part of The Tribe – it’s one more way I’m able to help inspire and motivate people to get out there and do something, whether they think its crazy or not.
For all those wondering about the obstacles themselves…
The full obstacle list, in order, is as follows:
3. Sandbag Carry 1 (45 lb pancake)
4. Bucket Brigade 1 (~80 lb bucket carry)
5. Traverse Wall
6. Tarzan Swing (swim, rope climb, tarzan swing, swim)
7. Atlas Carry (~120 lb stone)
8. Barbed Wire Crawl 1
9. Log Carry
10. Log Hop / Balance
11. 7 Foot Wall
12. Vertical Cargo Net
13. “Big Cargo” (at the mountaintop)
14. Tractor Pull
15. Memorization Wall
16. Spear Throw 1 (This is about where I lost my Battle Buddies Heather and Geoff)
17. Inverted Wall
18. Bucket Brigade 2
19. Tire Pull
20. Sandbag Carry 2 (70 lb bag)
22. Tyrolean Traverse
23. Memory Recall
24. Rope Climb
25. Spear Throw 2
26. 8′ Wall
27. Barbed Wire Crawl 2
28. Dunk Wall
29. Pipe Traverse
30. Hercules Hoist (45 lb women, 90 lb men)
32. Monkey Bars (varying heights)
33. Fire Jump
But honestly, the biggest and baddest obstacle of this entire race is not in that list: The Mountain. I’m not going to give a ridiculous in-depth heartfelt recounting of all the obstacles – I’ll let my video below do that for me.
The short version: I was beyond pleased with myself that I succeeded in the Traverse Wall, the Tyrolean Traverse, and the Hercules Hoist. Very disappointed about the PlatinumRig, Rope Climb, and Monkey Bars, and so close it was heartbreaking on my first Spear Throw. The steep, never-ending climbs and steeper, muddy, treacherous descents were incredibly challenging. The technical trails through the woods could (and probably did) end many peoples’ races with the greatest of ease.
Running with a Battle Buddy (or two) is a REALLY GOOD IDEA. I ran with these two nuts Heather and Geoff…they were pretty hilarious and kept the pain to a dull roar for the first 9 miles until I lost them (or…they lost ME?). hah. Either way, it was really good to run with them while I did. Check out Heather’s blog over at www.RelentlessForwardCommotion.com.
But, in the end, I did finish. Despite all the negative, I did finish. Despite woeful lack of preparation, I DID finish. And despite breaking my damn knee and having absolutely no gas left in the tank…I. Did. FINISH.
I learned a lot during this race. Some of it I’ll be keeping to myself, but I will share this: Like I said before – this race is not a race…it’s a test. Through enduring the trials and tribulations of this monstrous test…I learned a lot both in general and about myself. The Beast taught me about me. I learned what my body can physically do right now, and the difference between that and where I want to be. I learned just how important hydration and calories are to athletic performance. I learned about fatigue. About willpower and the strength of an unbreakable, unshakable spirit. About the value of teamwork, friendship, and camaraderie. I learned the value of each moment spent in training and preparation for any test life puts before you, be it schoolwork, children, marriage, or a physical endurance test such as The Beast. Not only that, I learned the value of each moment period, and how quickly the winds of fortune can change when you least expect it.
But, perhaps most importantly…I learned that if you really want something bad enough you can defy all odds and rip it from the cold, greedy hands of Fate.
It’s incredible to think that this time a year ago I was getting ready for my first half-marathon…and this time two years ago I had just barely begun my fitness journey and was still about 300 lbs…wondering if I’d ever shrink below a 42″ waist pant.
Nothing is impossible. Set a goal and go get it! I’ll see you at next year’s VT Beast.