Farm Fit Challenge 2017

The Farm Fit Challenge proved what a veteran obstacle course racer with a little land, an idea, and a lot of ambition could accomplish. Other than purchasing some trail tape every obstacle on the course was either found on the farm or handmade on the farm.

With all proceeds donated to the Wounded Warrior Project this event, which was limited to 40 participants, was one of those small grassroots contests that I love to race.

Held on a working farm, parking was pretty much anywhere on the grass that you could find and registration was basically just telling the kind lady with the clipboard that you were there. If you needed to change you headed to the barn and if you wanted a bag check? Well, it was safe wherever you wanted to set it down. ‘

The course setup and outline was simple but the execution was exhausting both mentally and physically. The object was to complete as many laps on the 1.2-mile course as possible in 2 hours. After the 2-hour limit athletes were no longer allowed to start another lap. The race started at 1 pm trying to take advantage of the warmest part of the November day but the constant drizzle and temps in the 40s still made for a chilly and sloppy race.

Starting off along a path through the fresh cut cornfield athletes accumulated mud by the pound on their shoes leading up to a maze of 12-foot-high sawgrass and cattails.

When you finally managed to navigate your way out of the maze it was back to running through that nasty, sticky, soul-sucking mud until you came up to the first “fit” challenge. 100 air squats had to be completed before moving on to a sandbag carry through…. You guessed it, that nasty mud.

Heavy legs got another test a short jog away in the form of bucket carry, again through the mud. Now, this bucket carry was unique. The bucket had to be carried by the handle with one hand only and was filled with 100-year-old bricks taken from a local building.

After carefully dropping your bucket off the trail led out of the field and into the large yard where you were immediately required to drop for 100 pushups. Once finished, a rope climb with bell tap was next up, failure to complete the climb meant a 25-burpee penalty. Love sit-ups? Great, cause the next fit challenge required 100 of them before getting your chance at the rig. The rig set up was a series of horizontal poles set at different heights and made all the more treacherous by the constant rain with a bell tap finish. Failure on the slick rig once again meant a 25-burpee penalty.

Tractor tire flips for 20 yards down and back was the next obstacle in line and further tested an athletes’ strength and endurance along the short course, but at least the mud was finally gone from your shoes!

One last test of strength and agility followed the tractor tire flips on the way through the course. Yet another tire, this time a truck tire, was placed on a peg. Racers had to pick the tire up and off the peg and walk it 50 yards down to where it was to be placed on another peg. A repeat of the process on the way back was required. If at any point the tire was dropped one had to start the whole process over.

Probably the most exhausting challenge of the whole event was next up in the form of a hundred plus yards of knee-to-ground lunges. It’s difficult to sit and write this review now as my glutes and hamstrings are still killing me! One last test was waiting once the lunge train was finished. A narrow balance beam, made even more difficult to cross as the rain came down and the mud and grass accumulated on top, was the last test before athletes picked up a “lap complete” band and headed back out for more!

Finishers awards were also very unique at the Farm Fit Challenge. Sections of a tree branch were cut into small sections, fire-branded with a Farm Fit brand, and then polyurethane covered.

Drinks were provided at stations along the course and were manned by a troop of Boy Scouts. I certainly hope those guys earned a special badge for braving that weather!

Fruit, chips, and hot dogs were provided at the finish along with a crock pot of baked beans. I found this event to be extremely family friendly and extremely draining physically. While the scale of the event was small the feeling of accomplishment at the end was still large. So, if you’re looking for a smaller event that’s tough while still providing a great family atmosphere check out the Farm Fit Challenge!

Spartan Race Dallas Beast 2017

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Start-Line

The Weather

There’s no way I can review this race without addressing one of the toughest obstacles of the day: the temperature.  A quick google search shows the average low in the Dallas area for October is about 56°F.  November’s average low is 45°F, but we weren’t even that lucky.  When the first wave went off this day (just before the sun came up), the temperature was at a frigid 29°F with a little bit of wind to top it off!

Everyone that arrived early for the elite and competitive heats stood around shivering in the dark before shedding a couple extra warm layers and making their way into the start chute.  Luckily the sun started to make its way out after the first couple of waves were released.

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Map

The Course

The start line emcee told us that we would be running 14 miles while the official map showed about 12.5 for the Beast course.  My watch clocked me at about 13.5 miles, but that includes a couple of burpee stops.  One interesting note is that the Olympus obstacle ( the slanted wall that you navigate horizontally using a variety of handholds) had a penalty loop instead of the typical 30 burpee penalty.  Looks like Spartan might be trying to add a little variety to the penalties they use for failed obstacles.

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Sandbag-Hill

The course didn’t waste much time before having everyone wade through a waist-deep pool of water which got the bottom half of everybody cold and wet.  Most of the initial miles were broken up by a variety of walls in addition to the first of two sandbag carries – this one up and down a steep, rocky hill.  Next up was the first of two barbwire crawls, another wall, and the only time we were forced to submerge our entire bodies in the cold water: the dunk wall.

Luckily, this occurred just beyond the 5-mile mark and the sun was starting to warm up the air just a little.  (And by “a little,” I mean hardly at all.  It was still freezing!)

The dunk wall was followed by a lot of open ground to cover through the gorgeous Texas landscape.  Rolling hills, open fields, and plenty of cacti made for a scenic view as I tried not to think about the soaking wet clothing pressed up against my body.

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Rope-Climb

Gauntlet of Obstacles

After a few more obstacles and opportunities to wade through waist-deep water, the course really hit its stride with a brutal obstacle gauntlet over the last few miles.  The spear throw was preceded by Monkey Bars, Olympus, and the Rope Climb just to make sure our arms weren’t too fresh for the attempt.  After that was the second sandbag carry of the day followed by the multi-rig consisting of rings, a horizontal bar, and then more rings with a vertical pipe thrown into the mix.

And if that wasn’t enough, we were treated to a solid bucket carry and atlas lift before getting a chance to attempt Twister.  I don’t know about everyone else, by my arms were beat at this point in the race.  A couple more wall climbs in addition to a final Herc Hoist stood between the final Fire Jump and a shiny new Beast finisher medal.

One last item of note is that the course spread over many different parts of the ranch which required navigating mini A-frame ladders to get up and over barb wire fences numerous times.  Unfortunately, each one of these managed to create a backup on the course, even in the early heats, as only 2-3 people could use it at once.  A small suggestion for future years would be to widen these out a bit in each direction to not slow everyone down.  As I was driving out of the venue, I saw a group of about 50 people waiting to get over one of them!

Spartan-Dallas-2017-Festival

The Venue

Spartan has hosted races at the Rough Creek Lodge and Resort in Glen Rose, Texas for years and it was even the home of the 2011 Spartan World Championship.  Parking was on-site and a short walk from the festival area, which contained a wide variety of vendors and amenities for race day.  The rolling hills were well-utilized by the course which made for some amazing views (if you had a chance to look up while a sandbag rested on your shoulders).

Overall, I had a great time and would definitely return to this venue for another Spartan Race, possibly to attempt my first Ultra Beast.  Although I’ll be crossing my fingers for warmer temperatures next time!

 

Photo Credit:

  • Becky Bouillon
  • Spartan Race

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Spartan Beast 2017 – A Chilly Sufferfest in Texas

On the particularly cold October morning of Saturday, the 28th Spartan held both a Beast and Ultra Beast in Glen Rose, Texas.  The former home of the Spartan World Championships was familiar territory to the company and was utilized well.  In one of the coldest Texas OCR’s to date, competitors ran on tired legs, clawed with numb fingers, and struggled to catch their breath through miles of some of the most challenging terrain in Texas.

Open wave preparing to take off at the Dallas Beast

Venue

Mound at Rough Creek Lodge

The Rough Creek Lodge was an absolutely gorgeous venue.  It wasn’t named Rough Creek without reason.  Competitors were forced to scale giant mounds several times as well as cross the dreaded creeks and ponds that littered the ranch.  Cacti peppered the landscape.  Rocky terrain proved rough for many.  The wind cut competitors through to the bone, but still, they pressed on.  In spite of all the harshness and uncharacteristic incline, Rough Creek offered so much beauty. One of my most memorable moments was finally reaching the top of a gnarly mound to hear a fellow racer yell “Beautiful!”

As I turned towards him, I saw one of the most beautiful Texas sunrises I’ve ever laid eyes on.  Just for a moment, I forgot how cold I was.  I forgot how much further I had to run.  I remembered why I do what I do and was filled with a sense of warmth from the earth, and from those around me who shared that passion.  Spartan utilized this venue very well and on that, I have no complaints.

Beautiful church at Rough Creek Lodge

Obstacles (Climb, Crawl, Carry)

While the obstacles at the Dallas Beast certainly offered a good amount of challenge and suffering, there wasn’t much variety to be had.  For fourteen miles, aside from the rig and Twister, I spent a lot of my time wading through freezing water, climbing over or up something, or carrying something.  These are Spartan staples and they are indeed what I have come to expect from the company. I just feel a bit more variety would have made the experience better.  I appreciate Spartan’s go-to attitude for testing the grit of their competitors which the Beast certainly achieved exponentially.

There should be fewer A-frames and Cargo nets and more creativity.  The race only began to feel like less of a trudging slog and more of a fun, varied experience during the last third of the Beast. The quality and challenge of the obstacles were very good.  I just feel that with the price competitors pay for a Beast, they should get a bit more of a varied experience.

Suffering is the new Black

Just when competitors could begin to warm up, Spartan would throw them back into the water.  This presented a great challenge, but after about the sixth time it just got old. I can appreciate Spartan using the water to their advantage, but they could have at least cleared debris from some of it and added more variety for the amount paid for such an experience.

Female competitive Spartans dominating the hoist

I know Spartan seeks to push competitors to their limits.  They certainly did.  However, I can run through my pond and creeks over and over during freezing weather for free.  By no means did I not enjoy the race, nor am I saying the quality of Spartans obstacles isn’t superb.  I had a blast and I loved every second.  I just feel that suffering and variety can be had in the same event.  For this particular Spartan, the recap that sticks out in my mind is: cold, water, climbing lots of A-frames and hurdles, nets and hills, carries, some fun swinging stuff, and then it was over.  Oh, and there was a spear throw.

S

Spartan athlete Katie Windham contemplates what she just put herself through

Pre and Post Race

I can say that post-race this time around Spartan offered more contests and vendors for competitors and spectators as well as plenty of room.  However, other than viewing the finish and the Herc Hoist it was hard for spectators to see much else without walking a good distance.  I would expect this in such a long race. I just feel that with the money Spartan makes they could afford to offer more entertainment and activities for the competitors who paid a good amount of money to be there.

Everything felt more like Spartan trying to push merch on racers rather than bringing a sense of community.  Spartan’s tough exterior shouldn’t mask what it began as and I hope the vision of the business doesn’t become clouded by cash.  What Spartan does well is offer venues and experiences that are exclusive to their brand.  They do this very well.  However, they can’t continue to count on the venue and loyalist to carry the brand higher.  By no means was the festival bad. I just feel it had much more potential.

The Big Picture

Spartan Dallas was a success.  Spartan marked the course well.  There were plenty of water stations.  Volunteers did a great job even though registration took a bit longer than it should have. Given the freak cold snap, everything went smoothly for the event to my knowledge.  I enjoyed the crap out of myself and I felt greatly challenged and I thank Spartan for pushing me to some of my limits.  I can truthfully say I’ve never experienced anything like the Dallas Beast.

If it isn’t clear: I LIKED this race.   I just didn’t LOVE it.  I just feel that something wasn’t “whole” about the race.  It was as if I  was expecting an exquisite steak dinner, but I got a really tasty hamburger. The race wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t superb.  Spartan succeeded in bringing in TONS of competitors from all over the country.  Many Spartans smiled and swapped course stories.  There were tons of ultra beast competitors walking and running that I have mad respect for.  There were elites running and putting up insane times. I greatly enjoy and respect all of this.  I just hope that perhaps my next Spartan experience has just a tad more…. substance.

Check Out Other Recaps By This Author

Savage Race Dallas

Warrior Dash Gulf Coast 2017

Spartan Race Dallas – A Cold Day in Hell AKA Glen Rose, TX

Texas is apparently about as indecisive with its weather, as I am come dinner time. Labor Day weekend for the US OCR Championships had us succumbing to 95+ degree heat, while this past weekend in Glen Rose (a city outside of Dallas), participants struggled to stay warm, as temperatures dipped under 30 degrees when the first Ultra Beast wave kicked off. Anyone looking for an easy race to finally get their belt buckle was in for a frosty eye-opening.

Ultra Beast numbers continue to surge, as competitors continuously push themselves to achieve new heights – a perfect opportunity for Spartan Race to inflict creative new punishment on a fresh group of willing participants. While certain aspects of this course were punishing, we’re also starting to see a softer side of Spartan emerge as well – A “burpee free” penalty? We saw it in Atlanta, and it popped up again in Texas this weekend.

Something Old, Something New

The irony of asking if you remember the Memory Test, is not lost on me – but do you remember your first time? Echo 430-6620, Killington 2013. It’s seared into my brain, it’s not going anywhere. While the Memory Test obstacle has mostly disappeared at events the last few years, Ultra Beast runners saw it utilized in a whole new way – on an added 1-mile loop, they were told to memorize a token Spartan code: [Army Alphabet Letter] + [7-digit number]. Except for this time, they were required to recite their number to enter the transition area, before starting lap two. A nice touch, as opposed to planting arbitrary volunteers in a dead space on the course.

During the start line speech, participants were told that if they were to fail Olympus, no burpees were to be rendered. In fact, you were unable to even opt-in to burpees if you wanted to! There was a penalty loop added, where failures meant you were adding a half-mile to your Beast distance. A significant addition for the Ultra Beasters, should they miss the obstacle twice. After being dunked in water 3 times before Olympus, failure was a very real possibility for some.

Something Borrowed, Something Blue

The local Dallas Wal-Mart had no idea what hit them. Based on the number of discarded articles of clothing I saw on the course, I can only guess that racers stopped at their nearest big box retailer and grabbed the cheapest throwaway clothing they could find, to help ward off icy-cold temperatures in, what is supposed to be, a warm Texas! Added clothing may have helped for a short period of time, but once racers were dipped into a wading pond, followed by Rolling Mud & a Dunk Wall that required racers to push aside chunks of ice in order to complete, there were more than a few blue lips in the crowd of green-pinny adorned racers.

Out With The Old

There are only a handful of races left on the Spartan calendar for 2017, and with next weekend packed with a Beast, Super, and Sprint happening simultaneously up and down the east coast, racers are stretching their travel and wallets thin for a chance to podium in what is seemingly the last breath for Spartan’s Competitive Wave. Also unknown is what will truly become of the Spartan Ultra Beast belt buckle, with the announcement of the new Spartan Ultra events. 2018 looks to bring a new look Spartan Race, and hopefully, some warmer weather to Glen Rose in 2018! I know I am looking forward to seeing new obstacles from Spartan Race – more than just an Atlas Ball with a handle on it (womp womp).

Warrior Dash Gulf Coast 2017

Warriors are Willing to Work for It

Warrior Dash holds a special place in my heart despite its lack of EXTREME CHALLENGE.  The lack of difficulty is not a good reason to pass on the “beginners race.”  If Savage, Spartan, and Conquer the Gauntlet are super healthy foods like organically raised salmon, fresh farm raised avocados and naturally grown kale then Warrior Dash is a spinach/chicken wrap.  While it may not be on the “superior” level of the other races, it takes on an extremely important role in being the bridge for many into OCR or even into a healthy lifestyle.

Nathan Beisser

Competitor Nathan Beisser after having a great time during his run in the pro wave

 

Helping Start the Addiction

While I may not have encountered obstacles that pushed me to my brink, I did see and meet far more newcomers who were there to make an effort at slowly improving their unhealthy lifestyles than at any other race.  I also encountered more “running for a cause” teams than I have seen recently.  Warrior Dash is that beginning step that is necessary for many.  We can’t all dive head first.  Some of us have to begin with dipping one foot in at a time (not charging for parking or a bag check helps.)  This is where the average working Joe or Jill can see the potential to become greater than they thought possible.

Mud Pit

Venue

The venue of the Harrison County Fairgrounds in Gulfport, Mississippi proved to offer more challenge than most would have anticipated from a mostly flat area.  Though any sort of incline was very rarely found, running three miles in a soggy field that gave way with every step proved to take away some of the speed many competitors would have normally had on a more dry or packed terrain.  Muddy areas were easy to create and find, though they weren’t as large as I have seen before from Warrior Dash.  Even at the finish, each mud pit seemed less like a pit and more like a hole.  The trail was cleared and marked extremely well.  It would have been extremely hard to get lost.

Nets…. Nets Everywhere

The obstacles were a lot of the usual Warrior fare.  There was a lot of crawling under wire and a lot of net usage.  From normal cargo climbs to pipeline to the new (and really fun) Upslide Down I saw more cargo nets during this race than I could shake a stein at. Cargo nets serve as a great introduction to new racers as an obstacle that can burn you out.

Warrior Dash also earned positive points for its new obstacle Upslide Down.  It was a simple, fun obstacle though it could have been longer.  A flat slide lay under a cargo net.  Competitors laid on their backs and proceeded to utilize the cargo net to pull themselves down the slide.  I had a blast with this one and hope to see more like it in the future.

Pallet Jacked

Rather than placing Goliath at the end, Warrior Dash left their new obstacle “Pallet Jacked” front and center for spectators to check out.  I can rightfully say I underestimated this obstacle.   I assumed running across pallets suspended from straps wouldn’t be a problem.  However, the pallets swung and moved vertically depending on weight distribution.  I enjoyed the slight challenge of this obstacle as well as the creativity of Warrior Dash race designers in utilizing simple construction to create a very fun obstacle.  Much like a good hamburger, both of Warrior Dash’s new obstacles offered a lot of satisfaction for something so easily and affordably constructed.

Stein

Stein Holding Competition Trophy

Party Time

Warrior Dash knows what it does well and continues to improve on it year after year by offering more after race competitions and activities than any other race series.  The push-up contests let the macho bros show off for the crowd.  The tug-of-war competition gives families and teams the opportunity to work together and have a good time.  The stein holding competition allows warriors to prove their grip strength and grit and walk away with a free stein.  Even if warriors don’t want to join in on these competitions there are rigs to play on, beer pong setups to play around with, an awesome DJ, and lots of cornholing… I mean the game with the bean bags.

Tug of War

Tug of War Competition

Warrior Dash offers many of the best beer choices and food around as well as the ability to refill your stein for a moderately steep price. A plethora of patrons seemed to be having an amazing time at the festival.  I will be surprised if Warrior Dash doesn’t return to the coast next year given the huge turnout.  Seeing so many newcomers and groups of friends discovering the joys of OCR together filled my heart with glee. I left the festival with a huge smile on my face – not for my own accomplishments, but because I saw something I loved growing and I saw people spreading fitness, love, and no hate all in one place.  That’s one of the better achievements that any of us can achieve in this lifetime.

 

Mr. Incredible

Mr. Incredible receives his newly designed Warrior Dash Medal

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!