Looking at the Stats: Comparing the Spartan Killington Results

You finished your Spartan race. Congratulations! You checked your finishing time, and you posted your awesome fire jump picture on Facebook. As you start planning for your next race, you wonder: How did I do compared to everybody else?  Should I sign up for an Elite or Competitive wave next time? Does that twenty-year-old kid have an advantage over me? Is there a significant difference in performance between age groups? How fast do I need to be on a single lap Beast to complete an Ultra Beast?

To answer these and some more questions for myself, I decided to take a deeper look at the finishing results of the Spartan Vermont Beast, Ultra Beast, and Sprint weekend in September 2017 as published on the Spartan website. Read on, and learn how the data tells you if you’re ready for your next Spartan challenge. You will see that the cold facts show that your age and gender have little influence on your results. And as we zoom in on the small group of die-hard multiple-laps runners, you will be astounded by some real badassery.

Before we get going: this post is kinda geeky. I could not resist to occasionally add some statistical gibberish into the text. Don’t get intimidated and feel free to skip those passages. You won’t miss anything…

Overall Stats

Let’s start by looking at some overall numbers. A total of 8011 racers finished on the slopes of the beautiful mountains of Killington, Vermont. Below is a break down by type of race and gender.

Spartan-Vermont-2017-Overall-Stats

The first side note to make here is that these numbers represent only participants who actually finished their race. Information about the total number of racers who started is not publicly available. As we will see later, it is likely that the number of DNF Beast and Sprint racers is small. However, this number is significant for the Ultra Beast.

Unconfirmed information (aka rumor from Facebook) is that slightly over 1,000 racers started the Ultra Beast in Killington this year, which results in an estimated completion ratio of around 49%. Compared to previous years, where ratios in the 20-30% range have been reported, this is a high number. Is this because the course was easier or were the runners better prepared? It’s not easy to give a definite answer.  One clue is that the course this year may have been up to two miles shorter than in 2016, which at a pace of ~30 min/mile, results in a full hour more to go. An hour that many racers would not have had–as we will see later.

With 5459 male and 2552 female runners, the number of men is roughly twice as large. That said, if we look at the percentage M/F per race category, there is some significant variation. There’s a nice 50/50-ish distribution for the Open Sprint, while the women are clearly under-represented in the Ultra Beast. Ladies: I’ll show later on that on average the men hardly perform better than the women, so if you are considering joining an Ultra–go for it!

In fact, the table below shows the average finishing time per race group. Even though it would seem that the men have a natural advantage, it is clear from these stats that overall the difference between the two sexes is small. Taking the biggest group, i.e. the Open Beast on both days, which represents more than half of all participants this weekend, with an average time of 8h37 the women finished around 37 min after the men, which is only 7% slower. Just saying.

F M
Sat Beast Comp 07h40m47s 06h59m17s
Sat Beast Elite 06h14m42s 05h19m46s
Sat Beast Open 08h33m45s 07h57m54s
Sat UB Comp 13h49m12s 12h36m36s
Sat UB Elite 12h38m32s 12h15m11s
Sat UB Open 13h19m47s 12h56m29s
Sun Beast Comp 07h37m15s 06h44m25s
Sun Beast Open 08h48m54s 08h06m17s
Sun Sprint Comp 02h25m55s 02h09m03s
Sun Sprint Elite 01h55m34s 01h35m29s
Sun Sprint Open 03h12m60s 02h52m48s

 

Saturday and Sunday Beast

Let’s break down the race results for the Beast on both days. In the figures below you’ll see a scatter plot of finishing time versus age, for male and female runners separately. Each dot represents one runner, and the colors of the dot differs depending on whether the runner was in the Elite, Competitive or Open waves.

Some interesting conclusions can be drawn from these figures. To start, we can see from these graphs that the relationship between age and finishing time is very weak. To highlight this, a straight line is added to the scatter plots that best describes the trend (in statistical mumble jumble: this is the linear regression model representing the data, with the shaded area representing the 95% confidence interval of that regression). For most waves there is a slight connection between age and finishing time, but the magnitude of this is in the order of minutes. In other words, you’re never too old to do a Spartan race, and even runners of fifty-and-over can be fierce competition for the young folks in their twenties. The oldest male runner was 67 and the oldest female runner 66! Particularly noteworthy also is that the data shows that the elite women seem to get faster as they get older.

These lines are obviously highlighting the average trends. When we only look at the top performers in the male elite wave on Saturday the picture looks different. Here the faster runners are in their late twenties, and the finishing time of the fastest runner for each age group after that steadily increases.

Spartan-Vermont-2017-Sat-Beast-Scatter

Spartan-Vermont-2017-Sun-Beast-Scatter

Also remarkable from these point clouds is the significant overlap of the Elite, Open and Open wave runners. The histograms below, which count the number of runners finishing within successive intervals, visualize this.

The far majority of all runners finished in a time between six and ten hours. The group of runners that completed in under five hours is predominantly in the Elite waves. On the other hand, these plots confirm the significant overlap between the distribution of the Elite, Competitive and Open Waves finishing times.

What should be the conclusion from this? It’s hard to tell based on this analysis alone. Is it possible that a runner in a Competitive wave ran faster than he or she would have done in an Open wave? Perhaps, but if you’re on a budget and not aiming for a podium place or place in the world ranking, don’t waste your money. This analysis shows that running in an Open wave does not give you a significant disadvantage.

The last observation is that the histograms are pretty symmetrical, and have the shape of a ‘Bell’. This means that roughly as many runners are faster than the average time as the number that are slower (more statistical blah blah: the distributions are approximately normal, having a median value that is similar to the average value). If the DNF count due to runners not meeting the time cut-off would be high, the distribution would look more skewed to the right. There have been Spartans who started in one of the last waves and did not make it to the cut-off in time, but for the majority there was sufficient time to make it to the finish. Stated otherwise: the Beast participants were well prepared for their challenge. This says something about this group of athletes, as we all know the Killington Beast is no joke.

Spartan-Vermont-2017-Beast-hist

Saturday Ultra Beast

We’ll move on to the Ultra Beast and start by plotting the same point clouds for the Elite, Competitive and Open wave racers.

Spartan-Vermont-2017-UBeast-Scatter

The first striking observation is that the clouds for the three categories are overlapping almost entirely. As expected, the fastest runners are in the Elite waves both for the male and female runners. The separation of the best performing Ultra Beasters and the rest of the gang is down right impressive, with over four hours of difference between the fastest runners and the average.

The spread in Elite times is significantly larger compared to the Open wave racers as well. The most logical explanation for this is that the Elites start earlier than the Open wave runners, but all are facing the same cut-off times, meaning that the Elite runners simply have more time to complete the race.

These graphs show again that on average the men tend to get a bit slower as they get older, while the women seem to get faster (geeking out: For the men the regression model shows a slight positive correlation between age and finishing time. For the women, this correlation is negative. However, the 95% confidence interval of the linear fit for the women is large due to relative small number of racers. Therefore it is entirely possible that correlation as depicted is an artifact of the data and that the real correlation is positive).

Looking at the histogram of finishing time for both sexes, shown below, we clearly see the effect of the time cut-offs. The distributions are highly skewed with a sudden drop-off in the number of racers after roughly fourteen hours. Knowing that the DNF percentage is around 50%, we can hypothesize that the distribution below represents the left half of the total population. This means that if there was no time cut-off, the Ultra Beast distribution would have a distribution with its maximum at around fourteen hours and the majority of finishers between ten and eighteen hours. This comes to five to nine hours per lap. That’s a large spread.

The Spartans with an average single lap time of five to seven hours got their buckle. I did not calculate the ratio between the first and second lap time, but my best guess is that most Ultra Beasters need about 20-40% more time for their second lap. My recommendation, based on the data I analyzed: if you want to set yourself up for success and finish the Ultra Beast within fourteen hours, make sure you can do a single lap in Vermont in about six hours and sign up in the Elite wave to give yourself some extra time. Among all waves there were 747 racers out of the 5867 Beast racers on both days who completed within six hours. This means that completing within six hours equates to finishing in the top 13%.

I already mentioned the impact of a mile shorter course compared to last year on the DNF percentage. From this histogram it can be concluded that if everybody had one hour more to run, the DNF percentage would drop significantly. This would be equivalent at putting a virtual time cut-off one hour earlier, meaning that the cut-off we see at the fourteen hour mark would shift to around thirteen hours. This would reduce the number of finishers by roughly 175-225, dropping the DNF percentage to 27.5-32.5%, which get us close to last year’s percentage.

Spartan-Vermont-2017-UBeast-hist

One last observation about this histogram. The distributions for the male and female runners are highly similar in shape.  If there had been more women, it is likely that the two distributions would completely overlap, which is another way of saying that the advantage of the men over the women would be negligible (this is assuming that the percentage of men and women who finished is the same, which is reasonable but difficult to prove without stats on the number of UB’ers that started the race). Let this be another encouragement for the women Spartans to sign up for the Ultra challenge.

Sunday Sprint

The scatter plots for the Sprint look distinctively different from those from the Beast. The dots are more spread out and more ‘rectangular’, which indicates that in all age groups racers participated with varying levels of fitness. The overlap of the Elite and Competitive wave on the Open wave is also noticeably smaller.

This is also clear from the larger separation between the trend lines, which show that in the age group of 30-40 the Elites are almost twice as fast as the Open wave runners. This suggests that the overall level of fitness and preparedness between the Open and Elite wave runners is different than with the Beast. This is intuitively understood, knowing that the Sprint is the entry-level Spartan race.

Spartan-Vermont-2017-Sun-Sprint-Scatter

The histograms of the finishing time of the Sprint show a pretty remarkable picture. In the case of the Beast we saw a ‘Bell’ shape like distribution. The Sprint distribution is more triangular in shape, peaking around two and half hours. What to conclude from this?

The width and shape of the distributions confirm indeed that the level of fitness of the Sprint participants varies much more than that of the Beast runners. The finishing times are up five times (!) as long as the fastest Spartans. The peak of the distributions (the so-called modal finishing time in statistics) is also lower than the average finishing times (see the table in the section ‘Overall stats’ above).

Did you run the Killington Sprint this year and do you want to know how you did? The most common finishing time was around two and a half hours. If you did better than this, well done! Consider signing up for a Super.

Spartan-Vermont-2017-Sun-Sprint-hist

The Real Beasts: Double Lap Runners

I will end my analysis with the stats of the small group of participants for whom one race was not challenging enough. Out of the 8011 medals that were handed out on both days, 247 went to Spartans who did a double lap. There were 84 racers who ran the Beast on both days, and 124 who ran a Beast on Saturday and a Sprint on Sunday. Out of the 486 Ultra Beast finishers there were 37 who went for another lap on Sunday, 6 doing the Sprint and 31 going for the ordeal of another Beast, which essentially meant they completed three laps of the Beast that weekend. To complete the line-up, there were exactly two who ran two Sprint on Sunday. To visually depict the performance of these Spartans, I plotted their Sunday time against their Saturday time, resulting in the scatter plots below. The red dot at (11h05, 6h20) is mine, by the way…

Spartan-Vermont-2017-double-laps

The diagonal lines are added to the plot to help comparing the results: if you add up the Saturday and Sunday time, then all points that have the same total time would end up on a diagonal. There is a lot that can be seen from these plots, and I leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions from these results. But one thing I will say is this. While for all 247 double lap Spartans it can be said their performance is outstanding compared to the averages in the Beast and Sprint waves, the top performers show exceptional accomplishments. I mean, if you can complete a Beast and Sprint in around four hours, two laps of the Beast in less than ten hours, or an Ultra Beast and Beast in 14h33 you are a real machine. Aroo!

2017 Spartan Race Killington Beast: Out Of Sight But Within Reach!

There is an inherent comfort associated with the knowledge of when suffering, of any kind, will release its hold on you. It’s the water stations in life that provide the moments of reprieve needed for recovery which helps us choose to continue in and prayerfully through a struggle. It’s knowing that the day’s battering at work stops when you punch the clock. But how can you keep going when the Killington Beast finish line is never in sight?

Michael Tubiak of Connecticut and Blind Pete Cossaboon of Georgia took some time to answer a few questions to give us a bit of insight into their unseen world of suffering and victory.

Q. Can you give us some details on your visual challenges?

Michael: It started with Retinitis Pigmentosa which caused me to lose my night vision and then my peripheral. It’s like tunnel vision with blind spots where I may occasionally see the perimeter of something to the point where things appear out of nowhere…including tree branches in Killington.

Pete: I was born with partial sight and had to deal with macular degeneration. In 2005, at 33 years old, the capillaries in my right eye ruptured due to stress and on April 23, 2015, I noticed I couldn’t see any variations of light.

Q. Why do you race?

Michael: I’ve always been athletic even though I was diagnosed at 14 years old. I like showing people that a challenge shouldn’t keep you home. But my biggest reason is to be an example to my 5-year-old son Evan in case he ever experiences similar issues since visual challenges run in my family.

Pete: I found out about OCR by word of mouth and figured it would be fun proving others wrong. I signed up for Warrior Dash with no guide in 2012 needed the help of four guides that I met on the course. For my 2013 Warrior Dash, I had Thomas “Uncle Grumpy” Jones by my side helping me. Matt B. Davis opened the world of OCR for me in 2014 and I am 82 races deep as of the Killington Beast. I race for the challenge of it and for the great people I’ve met along the way.

Q. Which has been your toughest race so far?

Michael: Killington! The elevation plus nutritional issues.

Pete: 2017 Killington Beast!

Q. How do you prepare for your races?

Michael: Spartan type training with bucket, hill, hanging grip exercises in addition to strength training, and preparing for a triathlon the weekend before Killington.

Pete: I work out weekly with my guide Joey and by myself. 3-5 days a week I walk 2.5 miles roundtrip to a local store.

Q. What was the most fun moment at Killington?

Michael: Competing the beast with teammates, hearing my scout yelling “13 more miles to go,” and jumping the walls.

Pete: I really enjoy the Vertical Cargo Net and the A-Frame Cargo Net since I get to show off my 2-flip technique.

Q. Funniest moment at Killington?

Michael: Funniest moments were when my scout ate M&M’s and had to dump in the woods…twice! Also when my scout asked the cameraman at the Bucket Brigade for a pic but the photog refused because he didn’t know I was visually impaired and thought I was being made fun of by my scout. There was also this psycho on the mountain cursing the downhill pretty aggressively which had me laughing.

Pete: Funniest moment for me was when I was asked if I was doing the whole thing blindfolded.

Q. Most difficult moment at Killington?

Michael: Death march! Going up and down.

Pete: Death march! I was cursing every single incline. The 2nd most difficult was the downhill. My 1st show-stopping cramp showed up just after mile 5. I prefer not to be touched but had to come out of the shell for intimate contact from Joey who is a physical therapist and trainer.

Q. Did you experience any sadness on the course?

Michael: Well, I experienced disappointment not being able to complete the Rope Climb but was sad that we didn’t finish with enough time for my scout to continue in his Ultra Beast effort.

Pete: Hearing people having to DNF was sad as well as finishing 20 minutes slower than last year.

Q. Did you ever consider quitting or at least doubt that you’d finish?

Michael: No, but this was the closest I’ve ever come to quitting.

Pete: Once, just before the cramps at mile 5 but thoughts of Joey’s sacrifices to get us there got me through.

Q. What did you learn about yourself through this experience?

Michael: My tolerance for pain was tested and is more than I expected. My toenails will depart shortly.

Pete: This was the truest test of my training and I learned how to adapt to changes.

Q. What do you hope others gained from your experience?

Michael: Inspiration they can apply to their roadblocks.

Pete: Regardless of your situation, it can be done.

Q. What would you tell your guide at this moment?

Michael: I’m sorry that I did this to you, hope we can remain friends. Without people like you Laura, I wouldn’t be able to do these things. Thank you.

Pete: Thank you, Joey! I owe you a great deal for all your efforts, training, patience, sacrifices, and for listening to my complaints…I hate hills!

Q. Would you race Killington again?

Michael: Yes, I feel less visually impaired out there. I feel like a whole person, just like anyone else and out there my son sees that his dad IS like everyone else.

Pete: 2018 Killington is already on the schedule. It’s a staple race of mine. It’s a solitary experience being the only visually impaired guy on any course but I’m joyful now knowing that Michael is out there too.

Blind Pete Cossaboon was guided by Joey McGlamory who has helped navigate Pete through Worlds Toughest Mudder, Spartan Race Agoge, and every other torturous event they can travel to. Joey runs for Ibby, just ask him!

Michael Tubiak was guided by Laura Gail who is a volunteer for https://www.achillesct.org/ as well as a 1st time Spartan. While she does train for Marathons and other traditional endurance runs, she quickly learned that she needed help on the course as well. She writes, “Thank you, Michael, for asking me to be your guide, for putting your trust in me, and for helping me realize that I’m stronger than I thought. And of course, I need to know when we are running the next one! I hope others learn that we are all capable of more than we think. Sometimes we just need to help each other.”

I had the privilege of scouting and pushing the pace for Michael and Laura as well as watching them do every last burpee for every failed obstacle…well, at least when I wasn’t off in the woods rinsing in the creeks. Hey! Don’t judge me!

God Bless and Keep Running…

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and Nelson Diaz

Killington Ultra Beast 2017 – Mental Sabotage

It was happening again. 365 days and six hours removed from a DNF at mile 27 of the 2016 Killington Ultra Beast, I’m 17 miles into the 2017 race, hiking up some ski slope in Vermont, quads locked up, body not responding, thinking about quitting. I can’t believe this is happening.

This year was going to be different. After failing last year I’d stepped my way back into ultra. There was a 50k in December, 41 miles at Black Toe in January, and the New Jersey Ultra Beast in April. I ran solid races at the Ohio Beast/Sprint in May, did five laps at the Warrior Dash in less than four hours in July, and set a new post-high school PR in the 5k on my way to a top 25 finish in a 6k just last weekend. Those accomplishments meant nothing. I’m falling apart again.

Spartan-Killington-Hurdles

Photo Courtesy of Sara Heilwagen

Going through my head are countless hours of training, including over 2000 miles of running in the last year, a new record for me. Am I really going to do this all over again? I’m thinking about the people who support me in this ridiculous habit that I currently hate. How am I going to face the people at work who have endured me talking about this for a year? And my running group, who sent words of encouragement earlier that morning. How do I tell my family and my kids that I’ve failed again? My wife is down there in the festival area waiting on me, how do I explain to her what’s going on inside my head? Most importantly, how am I going to look at myself in the mirror?

Spartan-Killington-Family

Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Harland

I see Danielle, whom I now consider my friend, coming up behind me. Danielle Rieck is famous in our circles for being the first person to attain a perfect Spartan Delta; a triple trifecta of obstacle racing and endurance events that very few have accomplished. She lost toes in the process. I hung with Danielle in New Jersey because I wanted to finish and Danielle knows how to finish things. She sees that I’m coming apart at the seams, and does her best to distract me from the pain. She asks about my kids a lot, and we talk about her nephew. It’s too late though, I’m too far gone. We get to the first barb wire crawl, the shorter one, and I’m so slow that she has no choice but to go on. I don’t blame her, I’m a lost cause.

Spartan-Killington-BarbWire

Photo Courtesy of Spartan Race

At this point, I am lower than I’ve ever been in a race. I can feel that lump in my throat growing. If there was a place to quit, I would have quit, but you’re in the middle of the woods, high on a Vermont mountain, and the only way out is to follow the crowd to the top and walk back down. So I keep walking, head down, looking at the ground. People are passing me left and right. I’m all alone. The alarm on my watch goes off, reminding me to take on nutrition so I suck down some caffeinated Tailwind and take some Carbopro VO2 max pills and BC powder, put on my earbuds, and kept climbing.

I make it to the top and do the Herc hoist and inverted wall, not really knowing why. Everybody else was doing it. Then start on the dreaded two-mile downhill that ends at the lake. With locked up quads, downhills are just awful, so I keep walking. Somewhere in the next mile, something happened. Maybe it was the caffeine or sugar from the Tailwind, the BC powder, the Beastie Boys, or something else, but at some point, I remember feeling the urge to run. So I ran.

I notice that I’m not getting passed anymore, and I don’t feel so alone. I’m part of the race again. We do the plate drag, which doesn’t seem near as hard as expected, and keep running downhill. We complete the Z-wall, and as we jump into the swim, we’re doing the math. Eight hours to finish the next ten miles. Totally doable. There is absolutely no way we’re not going to finish.

Spartan-Killington-Swim

Photo Courtesy of Sara Heilwagen

The next ten miles are a blur. I’m not going to say they were easy because they weren’t. I, and the people I met along the way, covered some tough terrain, going up, back down again, and then straight up the death march. Coming down off the peak after the death march, most of us went down backwards or slid on our butts. The last bucket carry was arduous. Legs, arms, abs, everything was cramping. But we all kept going because we knew that we’d finish.

Spartan-Killington-Bucket

Photo Courtesy of Sara Heilwagen

I surprised even myself by completing the final rig and saw my wife in the crowd smiling. After hitting the final spear throw, I found Danielle in the burpee pit. She was as surprised to see me as I was to be there, and had experienced her own emotional toils in the last ten miles. We did our last burpees together at Olympus and crossed the finish line together for the second time this year. I always expect this wave of emotions at the end, but my emotional gas tank was completely drained. There was nothing left. 30+ miles will do that to you.

My finisher’s belt buckle goes on the wall in my garage with the three dozen other medals I have. Each medal serves as a key to a memory. When I look at the buckle that says Killington, Vermont, I’m going to remember the physical and emotional roller coaster of September 16, 2017. I’m going to remember the people that I met and all their positive words to me on the course. Most of all, I’m going to remember what I learned. I learned that no matter the physical preparation, the most important preparation is mental. I learned that your mind is what gets you through the peaks and valleys.

Spartan-Killington-Medal

Photo Courtesy of Brad Heilwagen

If you’re planning to take on the Killington Ultra Beast, know this: you will want to quit. Also know that there is a place inside yourself where you can find the will to finish, and once you unlock that place, you’re unstoppable. If that doesn’t work, try the Beastie Boys.

Spartan-Killington-Sabotage

Photo Courtesy of the Beastie Boys

Killington, VT – Did Spartan “Tame” the Beast of the East?

“A Killington Beast that’s only 13 miles? INCONCEIVABLE!” – Vizzini (I am convinced he would have said that if The Princess Bride was an OCR)

New Norm™, Jason Barnes has become Spartan’s newest ambassador of pain and misery, but he may have inadvertently sent the OCR community into a complete uproar when he said in a Facebook Live video that the Killing Beast would “only” be 13.5 to 14 miles.

Background on the Beast

Killington, VT is the Home of the Beast. It’s Spartan’s birthplace in every way. It housed their first ever event, and it is the Church in which legions of racers pay mental and physical penance to each year. Killington is and always will be the Beast of the East. So how could Spartan Race dare cut this course back to a measly ~13ish miles?! It’s easy to see why the Internet was in an uproar. Even after the event, it would seem that this year’s Beast was “easier” than past events. Let’s just look at the finishing times:

Spartan Beast – 2015
Elite Finishers:

1 Jesse Bruce 2691 34 M 3:28:05
2 Matthew Kempson 9310 25 M 3:42:46
3 Junyong Pak 8662 37 M 3:46:12

Spartan Beast – 2016
Elite Finishers:

1 Matthew Kempson 2722 26 M 3:32:48
2 Ethan Nedeau 3903 43 M 3:38:28
3 Benjamin Rodkey 4692 27 M 3:39:18

Spartan Beast 2017
Elite Finishers:

1 Francis DiSomma 2819 27 M 3:04:41
2 Brent Trail 5013 30 M 3:08:23
3 rskempson13 2464 28 M 3:09:20

 

A time of 3 hours 4 minutes won the Elite Heat at the Beast on Saturday. Is the Beast becoming passé? Has the #RoadToTahoe taken a detour around Killington, VT? If you go back to 2015 and ready my review of the “Founders Race” held in Killington, you also heard me talk about how scaled back the challenge of Killington was that year.

Man vs. Mountain

No matter the combination of obstacles, or the inclusion of the legendary swim to Tarzan Swing under the bridge, it’s not the distance that puts the “kill” in Killington. It’s the mountain itself. Racers come to Vermont from every corner of the US and beyond to leave their mark, and blood, and sweat, and tears, on that mountain. Even if Spartan has a misstep with obstacles or water supply, there will always be all 4,236 feet of that mountain, and Spartan knows how to use it. Faster finishing times simply meant more elevation crammed into smaller spaces – including a bucket carry that was unrelenting at times.

Olympus at the base of the Death March – Photo Credit: Tony Martinez on Instagram

Summiting The Beast

The Death March at Killington is like no other. It’s over 1 mile of straight up marching where seemingly every step is a foot or more in elevation gain. The sun can bake you as you climb or the winds can chill you as you ascend higher. No matter the weather, you’re in for a challenge. There were two subtle differences this year, that welcomes racers to the “top” of Mount Killington.

First – we were detoured away before hitting the true peak of Killington. A first for Spartan, not utilizing the very summit on its course. Second, a familiar group of New England Spahtens who decided to skip racing, and instead take it upon themselves to welcome each competitor to the top with hugs, candy, cookies, or a simple high-five to brighten their day. Faces changes from misery, to elation. Tears of pain turned to tears of joy. Clif Bars and GUs were traded in for Starburst and Snickers. It was truly a community supporting a community and it was the perfect way to start your descent towards the Finish Line after a long 11+ miles into the course.

The treats awaiting racers atop the mountain

Killington will always be the home of the Beast. While it may no longer be home to Spartan’s World Championship, it is absolutely a staple in most racers calendar each year. It may not attract the star power of the OCR world as it did in years past, but it still continues to deliver an experience that is the perfect balance of pain and pleasure.

Until next year, Killington.

Spartan Race: 2016 Killington Ultra Beast – Redemption

Everyone has that one event they look forward to all year. Kids look forward to Christmas. Matt B. Davis looks forward to Waffle House’s All You Can Eat Hashbrown Day and if you’re a Spartan Race enthusiast looking to cap your trifecta off, the Killington Beast is the pinnacle of your racing season.

If you were in Vermont last year, you know that the Beast of the East deserved far more pomp and circumstance than was delivered. For those that weren’t there, read my review of the 2015 Killington “Founders Race” here. Racers felt like they deserved better. Spartan made sure they delivered on that promise, with course designer Jason Barnes telling me “after last year, we owed it to you all”. With other big name races going under, it’s important that events listen to their customers’ feedback, and adjust course when necessary.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race Facebook Page
Photo Credit: Spartan Race Facebook Page

For the Ultra Beast runners, the weekend started on Friday with packet pickup. Early packet pickup is a simple convenience that should be offered to all racers. I received my pre-race email well before the event which included all details necessary to have a great weekend of racing. After hearing a lot of chatter on the course this weekend saying there was no communication about logistics beforehand, it deserves to be noted that Spartan did reach out to racers with plenty of time to prepare. There is always room for improvement in race logistics but the onus has to also in part be on the racers. Ultra Beast events have strict time hacks that must be made. This information was delivered beforehand and racers were told again at the start line before waves went off. Point, Spartan.

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The swim @ Killington was almost twice as long as years past Photo Credit: Dan Parker, NES

Course Design is Key

loved this course. Loved it. My biggest gripe with mountain-style Spartan courses is that they’re simply turned into a Man vs. Mountain style event, with obstacles as the second class citizen. See: Spartan Race Montreal Ultra Beast 2016. This years Killington Beast was artfully designed, weaving technical climbs in between previously unseen sections of the mountain. The balance between runnable course and climbing was perfectly done, making sure obstacles were evenly spread out throughout the mountain.

The Spartan Death March is a tradition at Killington The Spartan Death March – Photo Credit: Dan Parker, NES

Time is a Valuable Thing

My goal this race was to beat Spartan’s time hacks. This meant that racers had to complete their first lap of the Beast course by 2:30pm. It gave Elite racers 8 hours to do so, and competitive/open a bit less. The course would then close at 9:30pm sharp, which meant for most, lap 2 would have to be even faster than lap 1. Looking at the results, this was most racers undoing. With a DNF rate of what appeared to be almost 50%, the strict time cutoffs proved more insurmountable than the mountain itself.

Takeaways

PROS
After 2015, Spartan Race completely honored what the Killington Beast should be. The mix of course design, obstacle balance (including a very lengthy swim through Lake Killington) ensured that all style of racer enjoyed the event.

Hydration. There were NINE water stops on the course, including two dedicated pack refilling stations. There was even a water table BEFORE the start line. After #Watergate last year, Joe D said they would get it right this year, and they did. Water was never a concern.

CONS
Time contraints. Again, Spartan did a great job of communicating the times that racers would need to be at certain checkpoints as well as being off the course completely. Racers were told in the Athlete’s Guide that the course closes at 9:30pm and that they would be pulled without question – and they were. By the hundreds. The 9:30pm cutoff is earlier than past years and unfortunately with start times going until 2pm, many racers were not given a fair chance to conquer this event. Some left the course angry, others crying. The Beast, especially at Killington, should not have start times after 12pm if you’re going to cut off the event at 9:30pm. That’s my two cents.

Volunteer abuse continues to also be an upsetting trend. I watched a racer verbally assault two volunteers after they told her she needed to keep her pack on for the Rope Climb. “Who made that rule up?! It’s never been that way at the other events!” Listen – volunteers are there to make this event happen. Some are giving up their own free time so that you can enjoy your event. They’re following instructions. You need to do the same. Stop giving them a hard time for it.

Summary

This event was a complete 180 from last years. If there was a model for effective course design, efficient communications combined with the perfect venue, this was it. Hands down my favorite Spartan Race this year. Having never been to Tahoe for the newer World Championships, I still think Killington is where it should reside.

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Spartan Race – Killington Ultra Beast 2016: No Small Undertaking

The 2016 Killington Ultra Beast was no small undertaking. Two laps of one of the toughest Spartan Races on the map is not a feat to be taken lightly. One of the most challenging aspects of the Ultra Beast for me was knowing on the first lap that I would have to complete everything in front of me not only this time, but another. And when I dared set foot back out on that monstrous course for lap two, I already knew every last detail of what waited ahead.

I had never raced at Killington before, let alone attempt the Ultra Beast, but I figured why not. I know I could do the beast. Let’s push it a bit here.

My drop bin was prepped long before we arrived at the venue emblazoned with the words “You ran FIFTY MILES… You got this.” I was surrounded by family and friends, words of encouragement and good food leading up to the race. I was ready. Nothing much was different from any other race.

Saturday morning, my friends picked me up and drove me to the venue. They dropped off my bin so I could go directly to the start, being the only one in the 6 am heat. Standing around waiting, I got to talk to many friends I wasn’t expecting to see at the start, but I felt like I was in a daze. After a 15 minute delay and then 10 minutes of explaining the rules and singing the national anthem, we were finally off by about 6:25. Consequently, the cutoff times were all pushed back 30 minutes.

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From the very beginning, racers got spread out based on power hiking ability. The course started with a 1,000 ft ascent and from just those beginning miles, I was already thinking about lap number two – how much I didn’t want to do this twice. I knew it was far too early to think like this and I redirected my thoughts to each step, one by one.

It didn’t take long before I realized I was somewhere near the front of the pack. I could count the women in front of me: three. I wasn’t moving like I normally do through the obstacles though. I felt extremely sluggish through the first barbed wire crawl and practically powerless on the vertical cargo net. Something wasn’t right, but I knew I had to get it done; so I opted to keep my eyes on the women who kept passing me on the obstacles. I made sure I passed them back on the runnable portions of the course as well as the climbs seeing as that’s my strength.

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When we neared the festival grounds, my pace improved greatly, that is until I stepped into the lake. For the remainder of the swim, I was gasping for air because the water was so frigid. I climbed the ladder and made it to the top but chose not to go across the Tarzan Swing since one of the ropes was not knotted and I knew I would slip. I climbed down, swam the rest of the way across and completed my 30 burpees. Back in the lake, rocks and sand in my shoes, and then finally back on solid ground for some more power hiking – rocks and sand still in my shoes because I wasn’t taking them off.

Almost more treacherous than the ascents were the knee shattering and ankle rolling descents. If we weren’t hiking through dense woods on extremely technical “trails” then we were on the ski slopes. Usually, I’d be cheering myself on at this point because downhill running is another strength of mine and typically where I would make up a lot of time, but not on this course. A few steps into each descent and I could feel the pressure building up in my knees. I decided to go swiftly, but not too daringly, at a jog.

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I missed the spear throw… SHOCKING. And then a few obstacles later, I made it to the final and easiest object on the multi-rig, the pipe, but just could not shift my left hand forward. I fell. 60 burpees right there at the end before I could get to my sweet salvation: potato chips, sour patch kids, and chocolate covered espresso beans. But why was I so out of it?

After the multi-rig, just before the slip wall (one of the final 3 obstacles), was an exit off to the left which brought us to the transition area. As I entered the transition area, there was a woman holding white bibs. She proceeded to hand me one and said congratulations, you’re in seventh. That was probably the first smile I cracked in several hours. I was extremely proud to be amongst the top 20 females, but I also knew how exhausted I felt. I long thought about stopping here, but it wasn’t what I set out to do. I needed to get back out there for another lap.

After 5 minutes of searching for my bin, which I just couldn’t seem to locate, others began to help and ultimately found it for me. I was greeted by my water, Gatorade, Clif Bars and Bloks, gummy bears and other treats as mentioned earlier. I also had a med kit, towel and extra socks, none of which I used. Very unlike me, I couldn’t be bothered to take my shoes off. A racer nearby took a massive container out of his bin and asked if anyone wanted a peanut butter & jelly. He must’ve had ten sandwiches! So yes, I ate one. I refilled my hydration bladder and packed my race vest with all of my new morale-boosting snacks as well as some solid calorie foods and I was off.

We set out on a short trail run beside the start chute which quickly reconnected to the course. It was there that it was apparent who had just begun the course and who was on lap two. The Ultra Beast participants jogged or even walked as Beast participants sprinted on by. But for the first time this race, I was running with people I knew. And as we approached that first climb once more, we got down on our hands and knees, crawling forward. Before long, I was by myself again and moving slower than everyone around me.

All of the obstacles were textbook Spartan with no real surprises. The course started off with some of the easier obstacles and proceeded to diminish your spirits and crush your soul as you went along. But by lap two, nothing was easy. The Bucket Brigade must’ve taken me 20 minutes the second time around. And at the Tarzan Swing, I barely made it up the ladder at which point my grip was fried. I reached out and grabbed the first rope and then let myself drop into the water. “Well, my headlamp’s gotta be dead now…” And it was.

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The burpee area was a mud pit by now and I was thankful we were getting back in the water afterwards. Upon exit of the lake, I took out my Ziploc baggie filled with sour patch kids and espresso beans, drained the lake water out, and ate the espresso beans. It only took 6 miles at a snail’s pace to realize that this would give me the boost I needed. The power hiking expert me was back.

As I climbed up through Norm’s trails in the woods once more, I was soon stuck in a very slow-moving line. I used every opportunity to climb rocks and tree roots just to pass people. Many cheered me on saying, “You go, Ultra Beast,” but I replied “More like ultra idiot.” Although I was completing the obstacles with the most ease I had all day and really began to boost my pace as I watched the clock tick down to 6:30, I was only at the plate drag. Regardless, I sprinted down the mountain to the sandbag carry, got it done as quickly as possible, and sprinted toward the cutoff. I heard a stranger say good for you for finishing strong just before I reached the rope climb… 15 minutes too late. I topped it off with a smile and a heel click, just what I said I’d do when I finished, but it wasn’t long before my timing chip was cut off and I could no longer hold back the tears.

We had 15 hours to complete the course twice. We had to be out of the transition area by 2 pm, giving us exactly 7.5 hours per lap. I completed my first lap in 6.5 hours and despite the extra hour, I still didn’t make it. Approximately 28 miles into the 32 mile Ultra Beast and all that remained from that point was the Death March with a number of obstacles back down at the base right before the finish. The Race Directors knew that racers wouldn’t make it to the finish by 9:30 pm if they didn’t get through the rope climb with at least three hours left to complete the final 4 miles. I knew if I could catch my friend and my mom doing the Beast I would make the cutoff, but I never caught up to them.

As I returned to my drop bin, I received consoling words from friends as well as strangers, none of which seemed to help. Still now, I’m not quite sure how to explain exactly what it is I’m feeling, but one thing I know for sure is that I earned my DNF.

I watched headlamps line the mountain slopes as racers completed the final ascent and descent while I waited by the fire. Everything about it was remarkable: from the simple beauty of the lights to the incredible challenge Spartan Race put in front of us on such a magnificent mountain. Although what stands out most is the physical and mental resolve of the competitors who took on, and more so those who were able to finish, the 2016 Killington Ultra Beast: no small undertaking.

killington-ultra-beast-2016-drop-bin

Photo Credit:Kevin Donoghue, Bill Durando, Spartan Race, Justina Rosado


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