Spartan Race – Killington Ultra Beast 2016: No Small Undertaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

killington-ultra-beast-2016-stairway-to-sparta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Spartan Race Montreal Ultra Beast 2016

Spartan Race Montreal StartTwo hours east of Montreal, towering above Lac Memphrémagog, in Mansonville Quebec, lies Mont Owl’s Head. A relatively humble resort in a small town just north of the US and Canadian border. The challenge this giant presented however, was anything but humble, as plenty of would-be Ultra Beasters would find out this past weekend.

Spartan Race Canada is not part of the US-based Spartan experience that I’ve become so accustomed to. Sure the premise is the same: Sprint, Super, Beast, Ultra Beast, etc., but there are variations of the brand that you will only see in the Great White North. First, the Platinum Rig is the premier obstacle partner of Spartan Race Canada. If you ran the last Spartan World Championship Race in Killington, VT back in 2014 or the highly-toted OCR World Championships, chances are you’re familiar with the Platinum Rig. For those who are not, it’s an interchangeable rig design that often includes rings, hanging ropes, monkey bars, cargo nets and any combination there of, sure to give even the vets no choice but to work on their burpee form 30-times over. Platinum Rig also had other obstacles on site that I had not seen in any US-based race.

Second, the sign-in process is a hair different. You bring your receipt info (or mobile-based QR code) to a table, they assign you a bib and timing chip on the spot. No needing to hunt down your bib number online beforehand. Simply show up 90 minutes before your wave, and voila. The timing chips they use, provided by UK-based Trumin Sports, are attached to your shoes, as opposed to those awkward wrist band devices we have grown accustomed to in the States.

…the all-too-common trend nowadays is the predictable fight between Spartan Racer and the terrain: not the obstacles.

Festival entertainment, sprawling vendor alleyways, and start-line traditions all remained the same.

While each Spartan Race course is different, the all-too-common trend nowadays is the predictable fight between Spartan Racer and the terrain; not the obstacles. Their apparent recipe for success? Find a mountain. Hack a course up and down it in relentless fashion, and pack the obstacles into the last leg of the course for a truly cramp-inducing sufferfest. Mont Owl’s Head reaches 2,480 feet above sea level (or 756m if you’re doing as the Canadian’s do). The goal for Spartan this weekend was to punish you straight out of the gate, that much was clear. From the gun, racers were met with an 800ft climb up one of Owl Head’s ski slopes. Turning the corner and hopping a few 4-foot walls took you back down that same 800ft slope, before turning right back around and going back up – the only change of scenery being the racers behind you following in your footsteps as you walk beside them, on the other side of the Spartan Race trail tape. We did this again and again throughout the day. In the first 5km of the course, you were exposed to approximately 2,800ft of elevation change and three laughable obstacles – 4ft walls, hay bails, and two walls that you were supposed to jump over without touching. No challenge there. Once you came down again, you had an inverted Platinum Rig waiting for you at the bottom of the slope.

elevation profile for Ultra Beast course

Elevation Profile for Ultra Beast

The Ultra Beast racers was treated to a 2km loop off of the regular Beast course that did have a Platinum Rig Weaver-style device. If these names sound obscure it’s because there was no course map in the festival area, so I am shooting from the hip on the names. This, in my opinion, was the most innovative obstacle of the day. You had to “weave” under and over bars and logs, as you scaled up the Rig. Hard to visualize and equally hard to complete. From there we had an ammo box carry that led us into the woods into a winding trail of switch backs – a place where seasoned veterans could truly excel.

After that short relatively flat section of the Ultra Beast loop, it was back into climbing and descending mode. Between miles 5 and 10 of the course you were simply hiking up or down the mountain with nothing more than a military-style camouflaged cargo net crawl thrown in to break up the monotony. It wasn’t until you were back down near the festival area that you were met by obstacles such as the Hercules Hoist and Rope Climb. Carry’s found their way into the latter half of the course in the form of the Spartan “Waffle”, a slosh pipe, tire flip, drag, and carry. Once again, staples of the Spartan Race we known and love, but woefully unoriginal – even less so, considering they were simply tossed in towards the end of the race to “break” perspective finishers. And break them, it did. Of the quoted “750 registered racers” in the athlete’s guide, only 125 of those finished the Ultra Beast.

Spartan Race Montreal Climb        Spartan Race Montreal Running Spartan Race Montreal Rig       Spartan Race Montreal Robe Climb
The latter half of the race housed another Platinum Rig obstacle with vertical bars/logs that you needed to grip onto and traverse without touching the ground. Another Canada specific obstacle that surely bested the unfamiliar racer. Monkey bars, a balance beam, and one final traditional Platinum Rig style obstacle stood in the way of the finish line.All in all the mountain was truly the obstacle to conquer this weekend. If you need any more proof of that, you simply need only to look at the finishing times of the Super , held on Saturday. Jesse Bruce finished in a time just over 2 hours 12 mins- a mark that is rarely seen for a 9-mile Spartan Race.

The trend of simply throwing in an obstacle between miles of climbing has become an all too easy excuse for Spartan to justify a resist in innovation. Want a harder race? Find a bigger mountain! Can’t find a bigger mountain? Let’s find more ways to send racers up and down this one! While I was unimpressed with this common theme, I was impressed with the adversity racers continue to put up against the course designers. I continue to watch in awe as competitors meet these challenges head on and with incomparable success. Jesse Bruce for instance took not only the podium at the Super on Saturday but also for the Ultra Beast on Sunday. Bravo.

Myself? I DNF’d the course around Mile 15. My first ‘Did Not Finish’. The mountain won this battle. I just hope the next Ultra Beast I try (I’m looking at you Killington) will challenge my obstacle prowess as much as it does my ability (or inclination) to simply walk up and down a mountain repeatedly. You can do better, Spartan.

Spartan Race Montreal Josh ChaceIt looked so easy from behind the Start Line

Photo Credit: Josh Chace

Spartan Race – NJ Ultra Beast: MORE than just a race

My First Spartant Ultra BeastThis weekend I embarked on my first Spartan Race Ultra Beast. A 26+ mile, 50+ obstacle course, designed by none other than the infamous Spartan race designer- Norm Koch. One of the best and most life changing decisions I have ever made.

When starting the 2016 season of OCR, I decided I wanted more and ultras were seeming to be my answer. The dilemma was that I had the want but also the fear to go with it. “What if I don’t finish?” “What if I’m not as prepared as I think?” “What if I starve?” and the “What if’s” went on and on, becoming more and more ridiculous, to the point where I held off signing up until only weeks before, even still then considering my “out”. The saving grace that brought me to the start line and my first Ultra Beast finish line was the OCR and endurance world’s fellowship and camaraderie. The exact reason I started this journey. Every time I voiced a fear or reservation, ultra racers barely blinked, before responding with motivation and laughter. A recognition that, maybe we all lost our marbles and sanity to sign up for a race like this, and yes maybe all your fears are true, but you won’t know until you try and if you succeed you get a pretty sweet medal and bragging rights.My First Spartant Ultra BeastWhen race day finally arrived, kickoff was delayed a bit. Nerves would usually plague racers at this point, but I was getting practically “birthday” excited to start. The sense of knowing that not just myself, but we were all crossing something more than a starting line in a race, beat louder than most drums and in an instant we were off. All my fears were suffocated with crazy amounts of excitement.

With each step, the excitement that I was finally stepping into a new level of athleticism grew. With the goal of finishing written on everyone’s face, there also laid determination, a beautiful gift that we all have when we get on that course, later to find that, the main obstacle is not forgetting it as the miles pile up and the muscles tire out.
My First Spartant Ultra BeastBefore I knew it, we had climbed a fair amount, passed the memory test, leapt over quite a few walls and had made it to the log carry. Trying to find the best proportioned log to throw on my shoulder, not thinking of whether they had separated the piles for men and women, and we were off again down to the multi-rig, which, with a miss-grip on transition, landed me in the burpee zone.  A quick climb up the rope and back up the mountain we go. From here on out, the break-down of obstacles to mileage was pretty well proportioned, along with a bear sighting or two, rolling mud straight into a slippery wall, and by mile 8, we reached a nice long farmer carry, that personally, wouldn’t be possible without the heavy rock music blaring, wrapping up the second third of the course. Before I was able to forget, we were back at the steep climbs, and by the 11th mile of my first lap, my quads were screaming on the inclines. This is where the Spartan camaraderie began to speak volumes. A few encouraging words, the reminder to check out the incredible view and a pat on the back kept me smiling throughout not just the first lap but full blown laughing in the second lap of the grueling course.
My First Spartant Ultra BeastThis race became life changing when leaving the halfway point at the drop bin zone. After shoving an everything bagel smothered in chocolate peanut butter and marshmallow fluff down, a few Oral I.V.‘s and some generously given pickle juice, second lap was about to commence. I had done Beasts plenty of times before, but getting going to take on the mountain again was the new playing field. One by one we leave that zone, physically, we were where we were, there was no changing that, but the mental strength was what would make or break us. The strategy was that of teamwork and to just not think about the miles ahead. With fellow racers words on repeat,  “one foot in front of the other” and “it WILL hurt”, there wasn’t much else to do, then accept it all and make the most of every second. Before you know it, that fire jump becomes more and more of a possibility and how could you not get excited for that massive belt buckle!
My First Spartant Ultra BeastBottom line, I didn’t know what to expect from an Ultra Beast, but this course was far from being for the faint of heart, and it did not let you forget it for a second. That being said, Spartan teaches an amazing lesson with a course like this; when your body is shutting down, it really is an amazing thing to realize how truly capable you are. A realization that you will never forget.
My First Spartant Ultra Beast

Spartan Race 2016 Tri-State: Killington, New Jersey??

Spartan Race Tri-State Mountain Creek Scenery(Photo courtesy of Pablo Correa)

Like Hyundai to a Porsche, Taco Bell to Chipotle, and fingers to toes, there are just certain things that are NOT worth the comparison including Killington/VT to Mountain Creek/NJ…unless you found yourself at this Spartan Race Tri-state Ultra Beast and Beast weekend.

With altitude, elevation, and terrain differences between the 2 locations, some might find it blasphemous to liken Mountain Creek to the legendary torture filled mountain of the East that is Killington. However, week-long rains and Spartan Race Director Norm Koch found a way to keep them both in the same conversation while ruining everyone’s hope for a friendly and manageable Spartan Race experience. Several black bears near the inverted wall causing several 10-30 minute delays for the midday racers did not help the cause either. I think official completion time reductions for these racers should be implemented, unless NJ Black Bears are considered to be Spartan Classified Obstacles.

Based on numerous accounts from Elite and Competitive racers, the frigid water march leading up to the Mile 8 Bucket Brigade became the kryptonite to the already embattled field slowing some down to a death march. For others, the green beast wedge cost them the balance of the 2016 Spartan Race Year with injuries that may prevent them from obtaining the new North Region Spartan Trifecta or any Trifecta for that matter. Although no one likes the thought of an active medic tent, the professionals of Event Medics were diligent in meeting the many needs of injured Spartans. I personally witnessed the Medical Project Manager dispatching response teams to and from obstacle locations without delay and in full composure. I salute them all, thanks for the hot cup of coffee 🙂

With that said, the Spartan keys to victory are still mind over madness, reliable cardio, the ability to handle your body weight plus the occasional 25 to 110 additional pounds, and frequent trips up and down your nearest mountain……….then repeat.

One of many inspirational moments was provided by the many racers that sacrificed their course time and bodies to assist paralyzed Lindsey Runkel in reaching the finish line within minutes of final cutoffs allowing her to be one Spartan Super away from becoming the first paralyzed female athlete to earn a Spartan Trifecta!

Another source of motivation came from the handful of teenagers fighting through the Ultra Beast and zombie walking their way into history with bloody knuckles and Finisher Belt Buckles.

13177222_1072451516134594_2458208608345557032_nAll things considered, Spartan Race continues its forward momentum with course improvements, an increased level of difficulty, and creative incentives like the Regional Race Pass that keep us coming back.

Post-Beast Questions:
Q.Why was the course so long?
     A.Because 14+ miles in Sparta equals 15.2 miles for the rest of the civilized world.

Q.Why don’t they change the obstacles?
     A.Because they still kick our hind parts.

Q.If NJ was this brutal, what will the Killington Beast and Ultra Beast be like this year?
     A.You’ll know at the finish line…or somewhere between the starting line and your DNF.

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God Bless & Keep Running!