THE BIG SKY IS FALLING – Montana Spartan Beast and Sprint weekend

 

Linzee Knowles

I’m a sucker for this venue. Last year that mountain put me squarely over its knee and opened a 55 gallon drum of good old ‘rocky mountain whoop ass’ on me. Don’t be surprised if I can’t explain it fully, but for some reason I came back to look it in the eye again. Pride probably. Now, before we start waxing Jungian over my relationship with the Montana Spartan race weekend, I think it’s important to cover a few basic things about the race itself. Maybe then you too will understand why this is an essential part of my OCR story each year.

Fire Jump Glenn

As I said last year, I would put good money on this being one of the most idyllic locations for an OCR race. Accommodations are plentiful, reasonably priced and charming. Kalispell is used to visitors year round, and boasts just about everything an out of town visitor would need. It’s a green meadow community that welcomes visitors with open arms.

Accommodations

The race course itself crosses over miles of almost entirely forested back-country trails. It’s wild and unforgiving. It’s a venue that combines winding, thrilling single-track, punishing climbs and some incredibly steep downhill quad-busters. The view is spectacular in almost every direction. I gushed about it enough last year: it’s a gorgeous course from start to finish, no matter which way you slice it.

Yet this year, there were some who felt shortchanged by the race overall. Some even said it was an easier race than they had hoped. The stats line up with that assessment: It was almost a mile shorter and about 900 feet less elevation gain. It was a faster course for sure. Did we just witness one of the toughest events on the Spartan Race calendar get easier?

As all the snowflakes begin to melt into a boiling torrent of keyboard mashing anger directed at Spartan Inc. for making it all too easy for us… let’s just stop for a moment. Go to the fridge. Grab a Kombucha and let’s get real. Have a seat, chicken little.

Montana vista

Look at these miserable short changed Spartans

Facts from now on:

Spartan Races are as awesome and challenging as they ever were.

This was a fast and technical course. Faster than last year. Running in the reverse direction on both days opened up a different type of race. There was one less hill climb than last year, but there was also more in the way of root laden single-track in its place. The heavy carries, while shorter (as some people pointed out) were also less simple, requiring careful foot placement and guts to complete. We were treated to two sprawling barbed wire crawls. The slip wall was really tough (tiny ropes for the Trump hands era I guess).

Look, I get it. It was different. Some staple Spartan obstacles were missing; there was no tire flip and there was no heavy sled pull like last year. Instead, in their place were a few newer obstacles like the Twister, Olympus and the Bender. Some will always bemoan change. I thought it felt fresh.

Fresh Running

My take? The Big Sky isn’t falling at all.

It was as full and powerful a beast course as any out there, and as challenging a Sprint as you will find anywhere in the world. This venue still offers one of the most engaging experiences available on the OCR circuit in North America. The terrain alone is world class.

Stefan

Sure, there are differences from year to year. Obstacles change. The expectations of the participants change. We get fitter and more experienced. The rules change. It’s progress – so get over it. Here’s the deal. Spartan may just happen to be in the business of making obstacle course racing a thing. To make it a ‘thing’ you have to cater to everyone.

At one end of the OCR experience you have almost superhuman elite racers who have formed a lifestyle around these events and fully expect to be tested to the limits – both by each other and by the course design. There are a lot of people like me who do “ok” but keep coming back for more (again, the full treatment of middle aged psychologies is not the subject of this review) and then we have the noobs. The first timers.

We all have a place on the continuum.

New people have a special place. While us veterans might be thinking the sky is falling, for others, the sky is opening up wider and brighter than ever.

Don’t forget that right now someone is signing up for a race for the first time ever. They ensure that the sport continues to grow. We cannot alienate the very people who come to the sport for the first time by making races too difficult, demoralizing or dangerous for new registrants. That might mean tempering the pace of Spartan’s own internal arms race to produce the toughest races on the planet and thinking laterally rather than vertically  when it comes to developing races. I for one think that it was progressive to see Spartan thinking about all participants rather than stagnating on the same old formula, or just catering to the elites or just making it impossibly hard. Ultimately we all have to move forward if we are going to be a part of the future of this sport together – no matter which division you run in. Ringer

So… Montana may have been a little easier this year. So what?  I’m gonna say it… If you feel that it was too easy, you didn’t run hard enough. Kick it up a notch. Enter the elite or competitive heats next time and give it everything you have. Compete within your age group. Increase the stakes for yourself. Compete against your own pace goal. Try and finish burpee free. Challenge others to do the same. Oh, and by the way Ben O’Rourke is awesome. Just look at that man.

BEN THE LEGEND O'ROURKE

CONCLUSION

I’ll try and make my home run conclusion with a story from the race on Sunday that reminded me of what this 5-year obstacle obsession of mine is all about.

Meet Jason and Michelle Cherry.

Michelle and Jason

It was just by chance that I ran with Michelle and Jason for some of the sprint course. As we chatted, I found out that this was their first ever Spartan Race. After the event I reached out to them to describe the experience as first time Spartans:

“I signed up for the Spartan Race on a whim. I had no idea what to expect. I had heard of the Spartan before from my husband’s friend and thought – yeah that could be fun, but never went out of the way to pursue it.

I have done plenty of races, triathlons, marathons…which I absolutely love, but the Spartan was on a whole different level. When I started the race some sort of crazy adrenaline kicked in and I felt like I could handle anything that came my way. (even though I couldn’t and did a lot of burpees!) I felt like I was a kid again, running through the woods, getting dirty and loving it, experiencing challenges I had never experiences before, being encouraged by complete strangers and encouraging anyone I passed. I got to run with some pretty great people, (esp) my husband – who was my biggest cheerleader! As I approached the end of the race I really wasn’t ready to be done- Though jumping over that fire at the end was such a great feeling, and honestly I have been on a post race high since.

The people I met the race weekend were so great! It is a community I felt welcomed into and one that I am excited to be a part of! And yes, I am definitely running the beast next year when the Spartan comes back to Montana. (or maybe sooner, I’m not sure I can wait that long – we will see!)”

I can’t have said it better myself. I’ve done my fair share of races now, and yet there was something restorative about seeing the course unfold for them for the first time. I guess that I saw in them a little of myself on my first Spartan Sprint in Calgary in 2012. To them it was still crazy and new. The obstacles were difficult and exciting. They were having fun and enjoying the experience itself. No industry politics, no podium scandals, no complaints. Just pure OCR fun.

OCR is for everyone. I’m glad to see Spartan striking a smart balance across two fantastic races this weekend.

Until next year Montana.

AROO!

Glenn

all photos credit Gamefacemedia and spartan race.

LeaderBoard Training – Coached by the Pros (Part 1)

LeaderBoard-Logo

What if I told you there’s a top secret organization of podium finishers across the nation? And that the recent Spartan Super at Fort Carson, had its podium swept by this group? Well, part of that is true. There is a group of athletes training together and hitting podiums left and right. The fib was that it’s not a secret at all!

If you’ve read the Train Like a Pro series, you know Robert Killian is a coach over at a training website called LeaderBoard. If you haven’t read the series, what are you waiting for? Anyway, the great people at LeaderBoard were generous enough to let me get the real-deal experience for myself. In addition to Robert, LeaderBoard has his fellow Spartan Pro Team member, Brakken Kraker, as their other coach. Over the last month, I’ve been working directly with Brakken.

LeaderBoard-Peak-Podium-Sweep

THE PEOPLE

Though Brakken and Robert may be the faces that bring in athletes, there are other members of the team you’ll work with. Taylor McClenny, LeaderBoard’s Founder, ensures that the program maintains course towards its long-term mission. Zac Allen takes on the role of Assistant Coach. He, along with your head coach (Brakken or Robert), are your main points of contact for the program. He’s there to answer any questions you have, keep your race schedule up-to-date, and ensure you’re getting the best training experience possible. Behind the scenes, Lindsey Watts is the Head of Software Development. She takes care of website development and ensures that the fitness programming is always improving.

Taylor and Zac were old MMA training partners, who reconnected after Zac finished filming NBC’s Spartan Race: The Ultimate Team Challenge. After discussing the sport of Obstacle Course Racing and the culture it brings, they knew it was the best entry point for LeaderBoard. The next step was finding a pro Head Coach. The list was short and, after meeting with Brakken, he was clearly the right fit. They officially launched the June 6, 2016 with 15 total athletes. Robert joined the team later that August. Today, LeaderBoard trains 65 athletes and growing.

Robert-Killian-Sandbag-Carry-Seattle-2017

HOW IT WORKS

LeaderBoard gives athletes a place to work directly with coaches, and other athletes, to better their own fitness. Taylor saw the need for their type of program. “I found it odd that programming, to date, is largely a one-way system,” he said. “It’s rare that these same systems are used as a two-way communication, where the coaches use feedback from their athletes to improve the programming and overall experience. That’s our goal.” I really think this is part of why LeaderBoard has been so successful. They’re able to adjust your program on the fly and provide the right feedback for each athlete.

The program is set up so that athletes can train up to 7 days per week, if needed. After the first few days of training, you’ll have a one-on-one session with your coach. Though it was scheduled for about 20 minutes, my chat with Brakken lasted closer to an hour. I was quickly able to see the amount of detail the coaches get to know about each person. They make it a priority to know the athlete, their PRs (Personal Records), training history and what programming works best for them.

Each day, you’ll log in at www.leaderboardfit.com, check that day’s workout(s), perform the workout, then log your results. The rest is done for you; the workouts, the distances, the paces, everything. As you log each result, your coaches will update future workouts to reflect the best possible training program for you. There have been times when my prescribed distance, or pace for a run has been altered just based on a workout I did that week. Your coaches can also change workouts based on upcoming races, depending on how important that race is to you. The schedule is set up so that you can race pretty much any weekend. But, if there’s a race that you really want to PR, the coaches will make a few tweaks so that you’re fresh come race day.

Brakken-Kraker-Monkey-Bars-at-Citi-Stadium-Sprint

COMMUNICATION

One of the areas LeaderBoard excels in is communication. In addition to the one-on-one every athlete has with their coach, they also get an invite into a group chat on a messaging program called Slack. This has been one of my favorite parts of LeaderBoard. There are several areas in Slack that I have at my disposal. The first is a group chat with all athletes and coaches on LeaderBoard. The second is a group chat just for Brakken’s athletes, with the third being a private chat set up between myself and my two coaches (Zac and Brakken). Slack allows athletes to discuss that day’s workout, ask questions about workouts, gear, races, etc., get together at common races, and even share lodging for races that are far from home.

Brakken’s athletes also have a Facebook Live event with him every two weeks. He broadcasts from whatever his location happens to be that week, discusses recent races, workouts and benchmarks. We’ll get into benchmarks later!

LeaderBoard-Dashboard

THE WORKOUTS

Each week consists of two full quality workouts, a semi-quality workout, a couple recovery days and a full rest day. Just a heads up, there’s a lot of running! I know this may seem obvious, being an OCR program, but not all of them account for it. One of the first things Brakken and I discussed was how much running I had been doing to that point. We then decided that I should try to run about four days a week, adding in a fifth if I felt good. The rest would be low or non-impact days.

Because I don’t have a lot of soft trails nearby, a few of my longer runs and interval runs were on pavement or a treadmill. About three weeks in, I could feel a slight onset of shin splints. I’ve had issues with them in the past and wanted to avoid them creeping in at all costs. I hopped on Slack, sent a message to Brakken and Zac, and we quickly figured out a plan of attack. They had me back off a day of running, and do what I could to run on soft terrain. The fourth day, when I would normally run, would be a non-impact cardio activity instead. I did this for the next two weeks, as I had a (small) race coming up. Sure enough, it worked. My legs felt fine and I had a great race.

The quality workouts are designed to push you to your limits, but not be too difficult for you to complete. If you can’t complete it, you won’t improve. Some of the quality runs have included Fartlek, 60/60 intervals, progressive tempo,  and 5/5 hard/easy intervals, among others. Not all quality workouts are just runs, either. Many include tasks that would simulate something you might see in a race, such as carries, bear walks, burpees or pull ups. On recovery and easy run days, you’ll also have a supplemental workout, which is usually based on your specialization during that time. After you log your workout, your coaches will review it and update your program as needed. Sometimes they’ll even send you an email will feedback about a given workout you logged.

LeaderBoard-Female-podium-finish

BENCHMARKS AND SPECIALIZATIONS

This is really LeaderBoard’s bread and butter and why I think their athletes see great results. The Benchmarks are specific physical tests that you’ll retake throughout your training. There’s a 5k BM, a Carry BM and a Rig BM. The Carry and Rig are tested each month and generally help you decide your specialization. The specialization pretty much determines what type of supplemental workouts you’ll be doing for the next four weeks. If you just can’t decide, there’s a “Coach’s Suggestion” to help you out!

For the first four weeks, I selected the Carry Specialization, as I didn’t have past BM tests to help me choose. This meant that many of my supplemental workouts involved either a bucket, sandbag or farmer’s carry, sometimes with an exercise circuit thrown in. After the four weeks were up, and it was time to do the Carry BM, I could tell how much I would’ve struggled if I didn’t have those four weeks under my belt. Those who picked the Carry Specialization achieved 15% more improvement on their latest Carry BM than the average. What’s even more impressive is that they also achieved 81% more improvement on their Rig BM than the average.

Next round, I’ll be training with the Rig Specialization. Athletes who had just done this specialization achieved a whopping 114% more improvement on the Rig BM than the average.  

LeaderBoard-Podium-Finishes-in-March

RESULTS

I am now the fastest racer alive! Okay, maybe not, but it’s only been a month. There’s only so much I can tell you about my improvement so far, and don’t worry, I’m getting to that. As for athletes who have been using the program for a while, there’s a great deal of standing on podiums going on. At this year’s Spartan Race it Atlanta, GA, LeaderBoard had an athlete win both the Saturday and Sunday race, two who took first and second in Masters both days, plus another that finished fourth. That’s not including the other athletes who finished top 20. Another athlete went from top 90% in his age group to top 10% basically just by having an off-season of LeaderBoard training. As I mentioned before, LB athletes also swept the men’s podium of this past weekend’s Spartan Super at Fort Carson.

As far as my results go, I can sit here and tell you how much faster and stronger I feel (which I do), but you’d have to take me at my word. I appreciate it that some of you probably do, but others may want proof. Luckily, I brought some. First off, I ran my 5k BM about 30-seconds slower than my PR, which I hit in a race at the end of last year. Why is that proof? Over the winter, I was lucky to run twice a week. Some weeks I didn’t run at all. I used it to take some time off from running and build strength. To be this close early in the season means I should have myself a new PR pretty soon.

Not enough proof? Well, when I first spoke with the team at LeaderBoard about taking this little journey, we added in another Benchmark test just for me. There’s a great trail surrounding a nearby ski resort that totals 5.1 miles and about 775 feet of total ascent. A couple weeks before beginning the program, I ran it. A few days ago, I ran it again. Below is the total time, plus splits for each mile. Total ascent during each mile is in parenthesis to account for the variation in splits. The numbers from 7 weeks ago are on the left, with the latest numbers on the right.

Total Time – 1:02:52 vs. 59:09

Mile 1 (256 ft) – 11:32 vs. 11:41

Mile 2 (244 ft) – 13:49 vs. 12:54

Mile 3 (84 ft) – 11:14 vs. 10:42

Mile 4 (89 ft) – 12:23 vs. 11:21

Mile 5 (77 ft) – 12:25 vs. 11:05

There’s still much work and testing to be done, but I’ve learned so much already this past month. I’m very excited to see what the upcoming weeks have in store. Next month, I’ll be posting another update. There will be another month of specialization and another round of Benchmarks. I’ll also be competing in a Savage Race, which I’ll compare to my experience running one last October, before training under LeaderBoard.

For more information and to book a free 7-day trial, visit www.leaderboardfit.com.

Photo Credit: LeaderBoard, Spartan Race

Spartan Race – Citi Field Stadium Sprint 2017

Saturday, May 13th, the sun rose… we think. Queens was experiencing a Nor’Easter so we don’t actually know; but when Spartan has a date on their calendar, you’d better expect that race to be held no matter what the weather does.

With stadium races lacking mud, the rain actually provided a nice substitute for the 2017 Spartan Race Citi Field Stadium Sprint. It added an additional challenge for racers, not only on outdoor obstacles such as the monkey bars and rope climb, but also with every step they took throughout the wet stadium steps. While I have completed many Spartan Races, it was my first stadium race, and I had a blast! I don’t know what took me so long to do one, but I already can’t wait to do another.

Unfortunately, stadium parking was $12, but that’s really my only complaint about this race.

The Course
Racers were released in heats of 15 every minute. The course was well marked with tape completely blocking off any possible wrong turns, as well as volunteers directing racers around sharp turns. As to be expected, the course included a ton of stair climbs and dizzying zig-zags throughout the benches. With the start line in the stadium, the finish line on the field, and the course everywhere in between, you could almost always hear music playing. If you’re like me and used to only hearing music as you approached the festival grounds, you were probably pleasantly surprised.

The Obstacles
There was no multi-rig! There were monkey bars, however, strategically placed in the rain. Between that and the spear throw, I did more burpees than expected.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Monkey Bars

If you failed the monkey bars or the Z-Wall, both of which were outside, you had to do your burpees on the pavement in the rain. It wasn’t really that big of a deal, especially if you’re used to doing burpees in mud and on rocks, but it was pretty comical. All racers had to do at least 5 like that, even if they completed those obstacles, since the atlas carry was also outside.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Atlas Burpees

As per usual for this race, one obstacle was 25 hand-release push-ups. I didn’t know that going into it and found it pretty cool that we were in the Mets locker room! I also wasn’t expecting the four over walls to be inside the stadium.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Over Walls

Another obstacle that took me by surprise was 20 skips with the most massive jump rope I’ve ever picked up. I was not alone as the rope crashed into the back of my head or fell out of my hands numerous times before I completed the obstacle.

The main challenge at the sandbag carry was maintaining your footing, just like the rest of the race, as you tried to move quickly since it wasn’t particularly heavy.

Spartan Race Citi Field Sprint 2017 - Cassidy Watton Sandbag Carry

“”Sandbag carry” in a stadium is really a sandbag sprint. I wish they’d put a real heavy carry in a stadium.. or a heavy sled pull or push? Anyway, given the super cute look on my face, this still hurt bad.” -Cassidy Watton

To finish it off, the last three obstacles were about 100 meters from the finish line: 30 box jumps, the wet rope clime, and the CKO punching bags. After all those stairs, I don’t think anyone enjoyed the box jumps; but knowing how close we were to the finish, it was hard not to go fast.

The Finish Line
Across the finish line, we received our stadium specific medals and upon return into the stadium, we got our Clif Builder’s Bars and bananas. I’m not quite sure why there were no FitAIDs being given out, but it was definitely missed. On our way back out to the parking lot, we picked up our 2017 Sprint Finisher shirts.

I think the main reason I enjoyed this race so much was because I was able to operate at max effort the entire time. Unlike the longer Spartan Races, there is no pacing involved. I was breathing heavy the entire time and I was always trying to catch the girl, or even the guy, in front of me. There’s no doubt that it’s fun to go fast.

The Training
A lot of people ask me what my training looks like. The answer is a lot of things… especially since I wasn’t even training for this particular event. I run an exorbitant amount of miles, do CrossFit and yoga, cycle, and ruck. But if you want to know some specific things that might help you in this kind of race, here they are: running and sprinting, stair climbs, lunges, box step-ups and jumps, burpees, hand-release push-ups, pull-ups, monkey bars, rope climbs, and sled pulls. A little bit of all of that will surely help you tackle your next Spartan Race stadium sprint!

Photo Credit: Citi Field, Spartan Race, Kirin Hartstrong, Emilie Jones

Train Like a Pro: David Magida

David-Magida-at-Elevate-Fitness

You may recognize David Magida as the 2016 host of the Spartan Race U.S. Championship series on NBC Sports or even as the current host of Spartan’s live-streaming coverage. However, before he picked up the microphone, he was lacing up his shoes as one of the top competitors in Obstacle Course Racing. Magida, a former member of the Spartan Pro Team, has over 20 podium finishes to his name.

David-Magida-Awards-Ceremony-Spartan-World-Championships

Despite his larger frame, Magida has been a distance runner for most of his life. In high school, he was a conference champion in cross country and, after being recruited, ran for a brief time in college. After taking some time off from running due to injury, he briefly played DI-AA football at Bucknell University as a wide receiver.

Magida took nearly 5 years off before returning to running during grad school, while training for marathons. After finding success in several Spartan races and completing the first ever Ultra Beast, Magida committed to OCR training. “It was amazing and I loved it. I just fell in love with the sport,” he recalled. “I love that you can be both strong and fast. My size was not a huge disadvantage the way it was with road running.”

David-Magida-on-Savage-Nut-Cracker

One of his fondest memories of racing goes back to a victory at Spartan’s New Jersey Super. Magida had trailed the majority of the race due to lower back issues. The rest of his body wasn’t giving up, though. “I was so frustrated that day because my legs and lungs felt fine, but my back was limiting my ability to climb. I was in agony. I could not get the legs to go, and I could not put it together,” Magida remembers.

After chasing the leader the majority of the race, Magida went all-in on the downhills, clocking around a 4:30/mile average pace on the rugged descents. “It’s this really brutal course with just these big, clunky rocks all over the ground,” he explained. “So, my feet after the race were just ruined. They were blistered and bruised and felt broken. I couldn’t train for a week.”  Magida’s grit paid off in the end, though, as he seized the lead in the final half-mile. Despite getting out-climbed every ascent before that, his mental focus kept him in the lead on the final climb, allowing him to run a downhill sprint to a first place finish. After trailing for essentially the entire race, Magida won by a mere 11 seconds. “I think the thing that made this particular race special was that nothing was going my way,” Magida said. “Physically I didn’t have it. But if you search inside yourself, you’ll be amazed to find what kind of strength you possess. I learned something about myself that day. It’s the beauty of pushing your body to your limits. You learn what you’re made of.”

David-Magida-Stadium-Sprint-CBP-Monkey-Bars

Eventually, he decided to step away from racing to open his own training studios, Elevate Interval Fitness. Currently, Magida operates a location in Washington, D.C. and a second in Fairfax, VA, with a third expected to open in D.C. in 2018. Magida employs many of the methods he learned and relied upon in his OCR training to push his clients to their limits and maximize their performance. Elevate focuses on both strength and endurance training, to help athletes develop mental toughness, stay well-rounded and, as Magida says, “to have zero weaknesses.”

At Elevate, you’ll use equipment like treadmills, water rowers, airbikes, kettlebells, sandbags, TRX and dumbbells during sessions that include circuits, intervals and partner workouts. Plus, the coaches will teach you the correct technique to ensure total effectiveness and avoid risk of injury. For more information and a free intro class, visit www.elevateintervalfitness.com.

David-Magida-Savage-Race-2015

THE WORKOUT

This workout is basically a race-simulation type of workout. Magida recommends doing it only once or twice per season and allowing around two weeks before racing. He suggests only doing some light running the day before and a pretty easy workout the day after.

Pro Tip: Don’t overdo it on the first two miles, or you’ll pay for it later.

Run to be completed at a 5k race pace on a treadmill. If you want to use this as a race simulation, complete as fast as possible. Warm up with a 10-15 minute jog

  • Run 1 mile with the treadmill at 2% incline. Once finished, complete either 30 pull ups or TRX Inverted rows.
  • Run another 1 mile with treadmill at 2% incline. Once finished, complete 30 burpees.
  • Increase the incline to 4% and run 0.50 miles. Once finished, complete 50 switch/jump lunges. That is 50 total, or 25 per leg.
  • Run another 0.50 miles with treadmill at 4% incline. Once done, complete a 100-meter bear crawl.
  • Increase the incline to 6% and run 0.25 miles. Once finished, complete another 25 pull ups or TRX inverted rows.
  • Run another 0.25 miles at 6%. Once done, complete 30 burpees.
  • Run another 0.25 miles at 6%. Once finished, complete another 50 switch/jump lunges.
  • Run one more 0.25 miles at 6%. Once done, complete another 100-meter bear crawl.
  • Finally, run 1 mile with the incline back at 2%. Once done, complete the workout with another 20 pull ups or TRX inverted rows.

Workout Totals:

  • 5 Miles of Intervals
  • 75 Pullups
  • 60 Burpees
  • 100 Switch Lunges
  • 200m Bear Crawl

Writer’s Note: Thank you to David for sharing this workout. You can follow him on Instagram.

Check out past Train Like a Pro articles:

Photo Credit: David Magida, Elevate Fitness, Spartan Race, Savage Race

Spartan Race Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast 2017 – Too Easy?

As it got closer to the 2016 Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast at Mountain Creek Resort, participants found out that the course had been rerouted from the previous year to include an additional 1,000 ft climb. Although this year, complaints filled the air that the course included less elevation gain and was too easy. In 2016, Francis DiSomma finished the Beast course in 2 hours 55 minutes with a whopping 21 minute lead on second place. However, this year the first 16 finishers of the Beast course beat his time. Could this have something to do with Norm Koch leaving Spartan Race? Possibly, but it does seem indicative of an easier course. It was a true Ultra Beast nevertheless: 2 laps of the Beast course covering over 26 miles with 60 obstacles on rugged New Jersey terrain. For those who had been attempting an Ultra Beast for the first time, it was plenty challenging; but for Ultra Beast veterans, there was no comparison… except for the brutal bucket carry right at the finish.

The first heat of the day was delayed 30 minutes and immediately I was having flashbacks to Killington. As soon as we were given the go, racers took off, running up the mountain for the first of many times that day. I jogged for about a minute and dialed it back to a power hike knowing it wasn’t worth wasting the energy. Throughout the entirety of the first lap, I was jockeying back and forth with a few people who insisted on running the climbs, but I wasn’t worried. I kept telling myself that the first lap was the warm-up and that the race didn’t begin until the second lap. I spent a lot of miles distracting myself by meeting other racers, talking about our past experiences and how the obstacles were going that day. Since it rained briefly before the start of the race, the monkey bars were pretty wet when we got to them, causing many racers to slip and start the race off with 30 burpees. For many, it was also the first time we encountered Olympus and Bender.

NJ-UB-2017-Olympus

All of this made for good conversation and I soon realized that I was actually enjoying my time spent on the mountain, rather than just grinding it out and psyching myself out. On the steep climbs, I took it slow and steady and began passing a lot of people, apparently more than I realized. I was having a fantastic race. The tyrolean traverse and herc hoist, amongst others, had never felt easier. I even made it over the 8 ft wall on my first try with no assistance – a new best for me!

By the time I came down the mountain to the final 3 obstacles – the bucket carry, twister and rope climb – I was one of the first 20 females. The bucket carry was the longest and steepest one I’ve ever done and in my opinion, it was the most challenging obstacle on the course. Completing it was quite the task in of itself, but I had also developed a splitting headache over the previous hour.

Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Bucket-Carry-1 Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Bucket-Carry-2

By the time I finally got to the twister, my headache had grown to the point where it hurt to look up into the sun to see the handles. I quickly fell and that’s when it really hit me. I was in so much pain that it took me about 20 minutes to do my 30 burpees, occasionally laying on the ground for a few minutes. Needless to say, I was no longer in the top 20, but by some miracle, I completed the rope climb and still finished my first lap in under 4 hours.

Once I got to the drop bin area, I just wanted to lay down and close my eyes for a moment. This quickly attracted the attention of the medics and I thought it was all over… again. I was about to be med-dropped. They brought me to the medical tent and gave me water and medicine, but nothing helped. They determined I wasn’t dehydrated and that it was just a migraine. All I could do was wait it out, but they urged me to pull myself from the race. I was beyond frustrated that this had happened. I’ve never felt so fresh coming off of a Spartan course as I did that day. My body felt amazing but I could barely open my eyes. TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER, it finally started to ease up a little. In a rage that a mere headache was holding me back from completing this race, I decided to just go back out and see what happened. I ate some chips, filled my hydration pack, grabbed my headlamp, and went back out on course for lap two.

Within minutes, I felt amazing again. The fact that I was back out on the course re-energized me. I was quickly passing other Ultra Beast racers who said that their legs felt dead. I even began passing Beast racers who had just begun their first lap. Not long after, I had even caught up to some people I was running with in my first lap. I was cruising! The obstacles went exactly the same as they did in the first lap, although I probably did the bucket carry faster the second time. I failed the Multi-Rig, Olympus, & the Spear, which were all in a row, as well as the Twister, both laps for a grand total of 240 penalty burpees. All in all, I still finished the second lap in about 5 hours.

Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Twister

I could have actually put up a decent time if it weren’t for the amount of time in between laps, and that bothers me, but in comparison to what happened in Killington, I was just glad to finish. Although I am now the proud owner of a Spartan Ultra Beast belt buckle, and many have congratulated me on earning my redemption, I’m still planning on getting back out to Vermont to give it another shot. In all honesty, the courses do not compare; and in my mind, the medals do not bear the same value. The 2017 Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast had 1,046 finishers whereas the 2016 Killington Ultra Beast only had 204. Which medal would you rather own?

Spartan Race Las Vegazona 2017

Picture by Taylor Mullin (@taylor_mullin_)

Spartan Race came back to the Mesquite, Arizona Motocross Track for their “Las Vegas” race this year. The Las Vegas event has been a fast and furious race course over the last three years. The long stretches of running on sand, as well as a pretty decent amount of river running took many by surprise in 2016.

Course designer supreme, Steve Hammond, had shared some hints in the week leading up to the race that we would get treated to a repeat of last year’s course style:

Course Map

The course map supported the flat and fast statements as well.

Spartan Race - Las Vegas Course Map

Race Venue

Parking at this venue is fortunately close to the festival area. As usual, there was a lack of shade (pavilions, vendor booths, etc.) so people started to huddle in every little bit of protection from the desert sun they could find, and many did receive their first sunburn of the year.

The SGX area received some improvements and now features climbing holds added to a pull up bar, Gormax flips, as well as the usual rope climb and over wall.

Everyone who paid attention did not encounter any surprises as Steve delivered on his promise. The terrain was flat, however, the start gave a great indication of what racers are going to see a lot of: death by a dozen little bumps on the trail.

Spartan Race Las Vegas Startline

After this rough start, one mile of fine, loose sand was waiting. Fortunately, there was an opportunity to cool down during a bit of river running (~0.1 mi), which was followed by another mile of loose sand, and finally the last half of the course finished out on the motocross track. The treacherous part of those motocross venues is that the little hills and bumps don’t look intimidating at all.

However, the steep grade of these dirt mounds, along with the hard packed ground and slippery dirt on top, suck the energy out of everyone’s legs, especially since there are usually three or more of them in a row. The biggest single climb on the course can be seen behind the dunk wall, leading up to the top of the mesa.

Spartan Race Las Vegas Dunkwall

In summary, the Mesquite MX venue may be flat, but it does make up for it with its loose sand and frequent, short, steep hills.

The Twister

In recent races, as well as in Vegas, it appears as if the Twister obstacle becomes more of a menace than the rig, which was completely absent from the Sprint, but part of the previous day’s Super. For those with strong grip, it poses no problem and requires just a bit of practice to figure out which technique suits them best… and then there is Veejay, the youngest Spartan Pro Team member, doing this.

Here is another perspective on the Twister. In the front is the side-by-side grip technique while the racer in the back is going hand-over-hand, which requires more grip strength and technique, but is also much faster.

GPS Data

Everyone interested in the data can find the GPS track below, more details can be found on Strava directly.

All pictures and videos owned by the author unless otherwise noted.

Tell us what you think of Spartan Race, leave a Review Here.

Or sign up for a Spartan Race now with codes:
ORM15 for 15% off
or
SPEAR10 for $10 off