I thought I was looking for redemption.

I came to the mountain on a mission. The Beast broke me last year…and though I got my finish…it didn’t feel like a true victory. At the end there was no celebration. No camaraderie. No reveling in our success with hugs, beers, laughter and high fives. I came back looking for what I thought was taken from me. To correct my mistake. I thought I wanted…no…NEEDEDredemption.

As it turns out…I was wrong.

What I found and what I learned was much more valuable and worthwhile than that. Too bad it took me a year to figure it out.

As far as a rating goesLet’s knock this out now.

Pre-Race: 7.5
Race-Day: 8

The Course: 7.5 
Support/Swag: 7
Post-Race: 8
Overall: 38/50

Overall…average to above average. You’ll get why by the end.

The theme of the day was “struggle”.

What can I say about the Killington Beast that I (or someone else) haven’t said before? Those who have done it…know. And those who haven’t yet…can’t possibly REALLY know until you’re there. Suffering and struggling through it. There are insane ascents, vicious descents, technical trails that eat ankles for lunch and top it off with obstacles strategically placed to push you to your limits.

This year was a bit different from the past, though. This year Killington was a Founder’s Race.

What does “Founder’s Race” really mean?

Some would say it means Spartan Race is getting cheap and taking the easy way out on a course build. Spartan calls it “going back to their roots” when things were simpler. Honestly…I think it’s a little bit of both.

The “Founder’s Race” idea results in a less complicated, less grandiose build-out. No massive banners. No 5,000 foot high rope climb rigs with a water ditch below large enough to build a house in. To be perfectly honest…the build-out reminded me of some smaller, local OCR’s I’ve run lately. I kind of liked that.

Each year is different.

Each year at any given venue is its own event, and you kind of have to take it for what it is. I heard some people (some, my own teammates) complaining that this year’s VT Beast wasn’t as hard as years prior. I read one blog in particular that I thought was pretty…shall we say…elitist…about it. Complaining that US races are incredibly disorganized. It kind of offended me.

In hindsight…I WAS slightly disappointed.

As hard as it was…ultimately…it DID feel a little…disappointing in the obstacle category. There were innumerable things to climb over, at least 8 carries of some sort and three barbed wire crawls. These made up the VAST majority of obstacles. I felt there was a lot less…creativity…than I expected. Local OCR’s I’ve done…hell, even other SPARTAN races I’ve done…have had more variety than that. Is this what “Founder’s Race” means? If so…I won’t mind if I don’t run another. Lack of variety doesn’t mean it was easy…but still…it felt like something was lacking.

Despite it all…the struggle was real.

That mountain is no joke. This year’s course had all the steepest ascents and descents from last year’s course…plus new ones. The heat was a new challenge…one that got the best of me for a while. You just never know what you’re gonna get on that mountain…

Lack of water didn’t help, either

I’m not gonna sit here and make a Federal project out of it…Spartan Race blew it with water…but at least they owned their mistake. They depleted their water sources way early and lost pressure on (it seems) their one available hose. People (myself included) weren’t allowed to fill Camelbaks. I had to ration my water a lot more than usual. Given the heat…this was a challenge. One I was not prepared for.

Teamwork saved the day.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I would not have made it without my battle buddies. For the uninformed – a Battle Buddy is someone you run/crawl/climb/struggle through the race with. Maureen and Rob were mine.

Happened kind of by accident, too…I lost my original BB very early (it’s ok, we had a deal, not upset) and came across them on the first major ascent. Deciding to stick with them was probably the single smartest thing I did all day.

They had my back at every turn. I was stunned to find them waiting for me at the bottom of the bucket carry. It got the best of me, whipped my ass…and there they were. Waiting. I felt bad because I took so long…this is exactly where I lost my battle buddies last year (except it was later in the race)…but there they were. And they were right there with me until the very end. Salt tabs, conversation, looking out for each other…they covered it all. It was a much different back-half of the Beast this year getting through it with a couple of BB’s like that.

I would not have finished without them. Not this year’s Beast. No way.

Imagine an entire community like that.

That’s the New England Spahtens – over 3,000 people just like that (to varying degrees). A whole community of “care”. That’s what OCR SHOULD be like…not whining about this or that, not complaining that someone didn’t do their burpees, not bellyaching about cheating…just looking out for each other and having fun.

I almost cried at the finish line.

The look on my face at the fire jump was borderline horrified…but I jumped it. I landed. And I screamed out of pure elation. I could finally run across the finish…on my own. And I did. And there was my wife. And my Battle Buddies. And that G-Damn medal I’ve been chasing for months. I did it. The feeling is simply indescribable.

Thanks to the team…I found TRUE success.

And it was a bit different than I thought it would be. 

High fives and hugs. Shared stories of successes. Lamenting opportunities missed on-course. A teammate not-so-subtly offering a victory shot and beer. And also…asking after teammates we hadn’t seen or heard from. Not for the gossip factor…not out of curiosity…but out of genuine care, and to perhaps be ready to help console a teammate feeling like a failure. So much positivity…

Sitting in the lodge, much later, as I’m getting ready to finish my beer and head home…A teammate comes in for hers. It’s late, most others from the team have left. Despite being more sore than ever…of course I practically leap out of my chair to congratulate her.

Back to the house…where other exhausted, beaten teammates rest as well. In the morning – shared stories of success. Breakfast in town surrounded by finishers, spectators…and people who get it. The next night…furiously hitting “refresh” on Chronotrack hoping to see friends finish the UltraBeast…did they make it?

The sense of completion…of victory…of success…didn’t come from the medal, or simply from running across on my own two feet. It was everything else.