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

Check Out Other Recaps By This Author Here

 

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).

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!

Spartan Beast Windsor, UK 2017

My Spartan journey began way back when (2014) when my brother persuaded me to run the Spartan Sprint in Calgary, Canada. Since then I have done another Sprint, a Super and now this. The Beast.

I’m excited and scared all at the same time.

First Spartan Experience

My Sprint experience in Calgary was interesting. I had trained to “run” sure, but I wasn’t prepared for the world of hurt that this 5K obstacle course race had in store for me. It took me so much longer than my brother (@theOCRGuy) that he finished the race and walked back along the course looking for me (embarrassing). After that, I vowed to never not train for a race again. It was also the day I experienced post-Spartan Five Guys Burger and Fries. Soon to become a new tradition, one that I took home with me to the UK.

Trifecta Hunt

My next Sprint in Wales, UK was better. Way better. I did it in half the time with a harder course. And as a bonus, I beat some of the lads running with me. Score. There’s something to be said about training well for a race;  you enjoy it far more not only because the world of pain is far less, but also the satisfaction of finishing without wanting to die is great. Post-race Five Guys burger and Fries was also amazing. Yay for recovery food.

The Super was next on the list. I took to this race alone. I was due to take part in another Sprint but it clashed with a friend’s Hen party so I deferred my entry and in a spur of the moment decision, decided to level up. It was a great decision. The race was well laid out and was really tough. That’s a great compliment for Spartan Races. I was exhausted by the end but was so happy to add to my own trifecta display. Sadly, no Five Guys after this race but Nandos would have to do. (Nandos is a chain of Portuguese Chicken restaurants).

I had to complete my trifecta (I know, I haven’t done it in a single season this year). It was a no-brainer. And after the Super, I am glad to be taking part in this race with three guys. Let’s be fair to me, I can handle the race alone, but the lonely trip to Windsor and then Five Guys Burger and Fries on my own after was not appealing. No doubt that this race I will be referred to as ‘one of the lads’. Game on.

The dreaded day came. I had already been assured by my brother that, “You’re going to die Nance, but you’ll be alright.” I was trying to hide the fact that I was actually terrified of what this Spartan Beast would entail. A couple of days earlier, Spartan published their race layout and the amount of Beast Green on the map was enough to realise that it was true and that I might actually die. The death waiver was signed and filed so, at least Spartan Inc. was covered.

Windsor Beast

This will be the 4th Spartan race I have taken part in and up until this point, I have always had nothing but good things to say. Having said that, I was a little disappointed with a few aspects of the day.

I’m not sure how much control Spartan had over this, but it was absolute chaos getting into Rapley Farm. A busy two-lane road already had a lane closure meaning that we were left sitting in traffic for a good 15 -20 minutes before we even got to park. Then there was a decent walk to registration, a little bit of a queue which all accumulated in us missing our 12 o’clock heat.

But, hey ho. We tagged along on the next heat. I knew this was going to challenge me, so I took the slow and steady approach. After waving the lads off I put my head down and began running.  

The obstacle count for this race was intense, so instead of boring you all with a description of each one and how it slowly destroyed my will to live, I’ll just talk about the ones that were mildly aggravating and the ones that I kind of liked (WHAT?).

Beastly Obstacles

Bottlenecks are my least favourite part of an obstacle course race. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but the first pipe crawl (which seems to be missing on the course map) caused lots of people to climb out of the muddy ditch in which it was situated and take the burpee forfeit. Not cool. I was in a queue for at least 15 minutes. Not the best way to start this Beast.

I loved any type of ‘a-wall’ obstacle and there were a few. I particularly enjoyed the climb the rope up one side and cargo net down the other side. Otherwise known as the ‘Slip Wall’. I saw strong men and women slip on this one. I instantly felt better about myself because I nailed it. Amongst these a-wall obstacles were ‘Stairway to Sparta’ and a good old ‘Cargo Net’. I mean, I was allowed to enjoy myself some of the time right?

Every time I reached one of the life draining 4′, 6′, and 8′ walls I was reminded that I hate walls. The first lot I could manage. The last two I decided to look as helpless as possible ’til someone noticed and asked if I needed help. It worked of course.

There were also plenty of ‘Pick this up, carry it round there and bring it back please’ obstacles. Tyre Carry, Log Carry, Sandbag Carry, Atlas Carry, Bucket Carry, Farmers Walk, and yet another Sandbag Carry. So many carries. My only negative opinion about these challenges was that they really weren’t that challenging. I figured that the sheer amount of obstacles they needed to cram in meant that we didn’t have to carry anything for all that long. Why am I complaining you ask? I’m not sure. I think I just felt like these obstacles were a bit of a break from the rest and I’m not sure how I felt about that.

Three barbed wire crawls meant that my forearms are significantly battered. I can see the bruises as I type and my colleagues at work are a bit concerned. They think I’m crazy and they are probably right.

Bender, I have a bone to pick with you. I hated you in the Super until I beat you. Then I loved you, then you hurt me. Taking a friction burn on my upper inner arm was a gift I could have done without. The pain was real. I beat you, but I’m sorry. Our friendship is over.

On a similar note, Rope Traverse – You are just as bad as Bender. I like the skin on the back of my ankles where it is because it serves a purpose. And after taking that away from me, you also dropped me and gave me burpees. Cheers.

Next up were Twister, The Multi Rig and the Rope climb. No, no, and Just no. I hate you all. Sensing a theme here? My arms were out of energy now and I failed all of them. My legs were getting heavy now, and the race was becoming a blur. Not because it wasn’t good, I was fatigued and probably high on a combo of Clif Shot Bloks and bananas.

The last 10 – 15 minutes of the race were packed with obstacles. What a way to lull you into a false sense of security! I could see the finish line, but was still not there. My personal favourite was the ‘Balance Walls’. I am so glad I practised hard in gymnastics on the balance beam. Come at me jelly legs. Olympus just earned me more burpees. A left calf cramp on 8′ wall number 1 made it interesting and the 8′ wall number 2 was scary at the top, but when I turned to jump down, I was greeted by cheers from the rest of my team (who had probably been waiting for hours). Fire jump, medal and done. 

The Windsor Spartan Beast certainly lived up to its name. Aside from a few hiccups in parking and getting into the race, I am so glad I did it.

I have come to realize that my motto for these races really has become, ‘You can tell a race is good when it makes you never want to do it again.’

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

Rea Kolbl – Second Chance Athlete

Rea-Kolbl-warming-up-before-Palmerton-superI was lucky to be featured on the Palmerton Spartan Race episode the other day, and I got a chance to share my story of how I got to where I am now. In case you missed it, here’s the short version.

I grew up doing sports, and I was on the Slovenian National Gymnastics Team for almost 10 years. Gymnastics was my life, and I didn’t quite realize just how dangerous having just one big dream could be until I lost it; and with it, losing all of my dreams of being an athlete.

It took me a while, but I did find a new life; one where sports were a side thing, a hobby I did on most days, but taking a day off was perfectly fine, too, if there were other things that got in the way. I lost my fitness, and if someone invited me to climb a mountain I’d have to first consider if I was physically capable of the challenge.

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And then one day, I signed up for a Spartan Race. There are so many commercials and ads out there, advertising how Spartan changes lives. And really, if you pick any sport or activity, chances are there’s someone saying the same thing. But what I think makes Spartan different, is that it really does change lives (and here I’m mostly talking about Spartan and not obstacle racing, in general, because in my short career so far I haven’t had much chance to branch out and try other events).

After Palmerton episode aired, so many people reached out to me, sharing their stories which were so similar to my own. It’s a beautiful thing, realizing you’re not alone and that your experience is not so different from so many others out there. They shared their stories of injuries that ended their athletic careers when they were young; stories of being forced out of the sports, for one reason or another, thinking that that was the end of the road. But then they found Spartan. And a chance to be athletes again.

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So what I realized is that Spartan Races are giving so many people their second chance at what they loved when they were younger. It’s like a second chance sport, and it’s beautiful and amazing how much happiness this can bring. What makes OCR unique is the broad skill set it requires. You need to be fast to run the course; you need to be agile to cross the obstacles; you need to be strong to complete the heavy carries.

And I bet that no matter the sport you did as a child (or young adult), it probably covered at least some aspect that is very important for obstacle racing. It equipped you with a part of a skill set that makes you good at this, and that makes you want to try again, train harder, finish faster, and do it better. And it ultimately makes you stick with it.

There’s also this element of learning on the go that’s unlike any other sport. You don’t know the obstacles on the course ahead of time, and even if you do they might change a little, and you have to figure out how to tackle them. And this need to overcome the unknown fosters the community. There were so many races where I’ve made long-lasting friends from discussing obstacle strategies or trying to develop one together. I did a lot of trail running races before falling in love with Spartan and, while there were definitely chats at the finish line, these were more of a polite small talk. Because everyone there knows how to run, there is no point in discussing with fellow runners how to tackle the trail, how to put one foot in front of another.

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In gymnastics, the routines were so polished by the time you performed them and so individual, there was no need to chat about strategies with your competitors. But that’s different in obstacle course racing. There’s always something new to learn, and every race is a chance to improve. More importantly, it’s also a chance to make more friends.

So, people stick with it. The first time I came for the race, but then I kept coming back for the people. Spartan gave me and so many others a chance to find another passion, another focus, a sport to stick with both for the sport and the people in it.

The other day I was thinking that Spartan races are a lot like kindergarten. You play in the mud, swing on monkey bars, and you make friends. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why obstacle course racing can bring back the childhood dreams, and make you an athlete again.

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Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

Want to train like Rea? Check out one of her favorite workouts on ORM’s Train Like a Pro series.