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 Sun Peaks 2017: A Brutal Beast

Some are dubbing the 2017 Spartan (Ultra) Beast that was held in Sun Peaks on September 23rd, 2017 as the Toughest in the World.  All I can tell you is, I somehow finished that dang Beast! I’m not sure how so many did it TWICE!  I’ll be honest right from the beginning, me & my best friend Troy whom I was helping pace came in absolutely dead last, if you go look at the results for the open heat we are the very last two names on the results sheets, and I’m totally okay with that because this race was the culmination of our very first initiation into the Trifecta Tribe & we left anything we had left in us up there on those peaks!

The Numbers:

The below photo was taken from an Instagram post by the Course Designer Johnny Waite (IG=participant_ribbon)

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-01-Stats

During the race, we would pretty much summit all three peaks that the resort has access to.  Below are the approximate ascension gains that we made on each peak taken from my Garmin stats.
1st Mountain: Sundance ~470m/1542ft
2nd Mountain: Mt. Morrisey ~390m/1280ft
3rd Mountain: Mt. Todd ~868m/2848ft

The final distance of the race is a bit of a toss-up. It was posted at 24km/14.9mi & I’ve seen people posting their results anywhere from 26-29km/16.15-18mi.

For the Ultra Beast, it took the Elites a minimum of 8:25:01 for 1st place to complete & last place came in at 13:36:46.
As for the Beast, it took the Elites a minimum of 3:33:23 for 1st place to complete & last place came in at 11:44:29.

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-02-Mtn-Map

The Experience:

I arrived in Sun Peaks on Wednesday.  I went a few days early as I was planning on working/volunteering to help set up the course.  During that time I was able to catch glimpses of what was to come.  The course maps that I had brushed passed showed early warning signs that we would summit all three of the main mountains within the Sun Peaks resort & that filled me with a little bit of anticipation.  I hadn’t really trained for the sheer elevation gain that was about to come, but I had at least recently done a few hikes, the last one being a 23.36km/14.5mi with 948m/3110ft of elevation gain so it was good practice.  The race itself left me both physically & mentally exhausted.

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-03-Course-Map

The Obstacles:

Aside from a few subtleties in how obstacles were laid out, most of the 31 obstacles were pretty much the regular staples.  Doing the Stairway to Sparta at the top of Sundance @1730m/5676ft was pretty cool & it has an absolutely beautiful view.  This was my first time coming across the Tyrolean Traverse & I somehow held on & pulled myself across it & decided to headbutt the cowbell which left its mark. =)

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-04-Death-March-2.0

Even though this wasn’t on the list, right after the Tyrolean was what many are now calling Death March Part 2 referring to the massive mountain climb done in Killington.  We had to climb up one of the ski runs called Challenger, according to sources, the run has a 474m/1555ft ascent within 1km/.62mi which was accomplished by many by crawling on hands & knees due to it being so steep.  I was told the Creek Crawl was rather beautiful, but due to the sheer time of day & lack of sunlight, I passed it by along with a few others.

You’ve been cut:

After we had completed the death march, we slowly switchback climbed up to the peak of Mt. Todd and I could see a few people standing up there waving people up.  It was nearly 6:30 pm when we reached the summit & we were greeted by Johnny Waite who told me we were done & that we had missed the deadline by about 10mins.  Naturally, I was crushed, but I quickly came to grips with it as I knew there was nothing more that I could do and that I had done well pacing Troy through those mountains.

I walked back down a bit to catch up to Troy & let him know that his silent prayers of no longer having to keep going had been answered & that we would be driven down.  I could see the confusion on his face & explained that we missed the final cut off and that all racers needed to be off the mountain by 7:30 pm.  Then I saw the anguish on his face knowing that he wasn’t going to be given the chance to earn his Trifecta that day with so much put into the effort.

We walked up & we asked Johnny if there was any way we could still finish.  He told us there were at least 2 hours left, asked us what time we had started & once we answered 8:30 am he told us we were done.  At that time another racer came up the hill & I let her know what I was told.  I could tell she was a bit more upset by the news & she went over to Johnny to plead her case.  She too was gunning for her first Trifecta.  Johnny asked her what time she had started & she answered 11:30.  Johnny walked over to the edge of the hill to survey how many others were coming.  We let him know there was probably a dozen or so behind us.  He then looked at Troy & I and told us that if we could keep up her pace & beat him down to the Z-Walls in his truck that we still had a chance.

I could see Troy was physically & mentally done, he was toying with the idea of taking that ride down the mountain.  Troy was recently on disability and has since started up a youth foundation that at its core is about how everyone can change their life if they just believed better was possible, he knew he had to go on so he could use this whole experience as a life-changing beacon for others.

A second chance:

Once Troy had raised up enough gusto and made up his mind to finish the race it was total go time! We had about 5km/3.1m left until we were finished & it was all downhill from there after getting past the 8-foot wall.  Troy’s feet were in pain & having his toes smashed into the front of his shoes going downhill wasn’t helping.  I could hear him yelping over & over as he tried to quicken his pace to make sure we made the cutoff.

We completed the plate drag & came up to another drop, this one was pretty steep but we could see the Z-Walls & no sign of Johnny!  Once we made it passed the Z-Walls we knew we were on borrowed time.  We completed the Atlas Carry & were told to bypass the Creek Crawl due to the lack of light.  That’s when the volunteers’ radio went off.  It was Johnny asking if we had made it there, we had, just in time it would seem.

From there we trudged down a service road & a few trucks passed us, I was sure one of them was the sweepers but they all kept passing us by, each time my heart would speed up just a bit more.  We were then brought back into the trails, the one place a truck couldn’t get into, we were safe for now, or so I had thought.  We heard Johnny call out to a racer just behind us & he told them to head back to the last water station, I knew he wasn’t far behind.  A few more minutes in the trails and I heard Johnny’s voice again calling to Troy.  I was a bit out front trying to pace Troy as fast as I could.  I figured our number was up.

A Miracle For The Finishers:

I walked back & we had a quick conversation with Johnny.  He asked us if we were both a part of Vancity OCR, we let him know that we were & he then said the sweetest words my ears had ever heard.  He told us that he was going to walk us down & that we were going to finish the race with him.  OMG!

I was filled with such elation & marvel knowing at that moment we were going to finish!  Johnny walked us past a few of the obstacles & a small portion of the course that went back up into the woods for a bit & Troy & I actually picked up our pace even more and ran down into the festival area.  I completed the Herc Hoist with what felt like no force at all and climbed up & over the Slip Wall.  I somehow lost Troy in the and the mayhem that was at the end of that race & jumped the fire to receive my very well earned Beast Medal.  Troy showed up about 3 minutes behind me; he came over that wall & finished his race too.

All in a Day’s Work:

This weekend was one for the books I’ll tell ya that! First Beast & first Trifecta DONE.  Would I go back knowing that even the Sprint last year at Sun Peaks was 9.6km/5.5mi instead of the 7.3k & this year the beast was the hardest ever? Hell yeah!

Thank you Spartan, you showed me what I might actually be capable of doing & more this weekend.  Lookout endurance races, I just may be coming for you!

Spartan-Beast-Sun-Peaks-2017-05-Finished

Photo Credits: Johnny Waite, www.SunPeaksResort.com, Ryan Fick & John Tai

Killington Ultra Beast 2017 – Mental Sabotage

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

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

Spartan-Killington-Hurdles

Photo Courtesy of Sara Heilwagen

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

Spartan-Killington-Family

Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Harland

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

Spartan-Killington-BarbWire

Photo Courtesy of Spartan Race

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

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

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

Spartan-Killington-Swim

Photo Courtesy of Sara Heilwagen

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

Spartan-Killington-Bucket

Photo Courtesy of Sara Heilwagen

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

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

Spartan-Killington-Medal

Photo Courtesy of Brad Heilwagen

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

Spartan-Killington-Sabotage

Photo Courtesy of the Beastie Boys

Spartan Race New Jersey Ultra Beast 2017

The Reebok Spartan Race returns to New Jersey. Also known as the Tri-State Beast & Ultra weekend at Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon is one of the most anticipated races each year by ocr and endurance enthusiasts. The sister races, the Tri-State Sprints at Tuxedo Ridge in NY occuring back-to-back the first two weekends in June and the Tri-State Super returning to Mountain Creek the first weekend of November, are among the most popular in ocr. With three great weekends spread throughout the year, the Tri-State area provides an easy opportunity for racers to get their trifectas.

After committing to the Ultra Beast in November of last year, and convincing several other “crazy” people to join me, I began researching and finding literature on training and fueling for endurance races. I created a training plan and set it to start with the new year. On January 1st, Ultra Beast training officially began for my fiancé Fontaine, brother Josh, and myself. We pushed the training to a point well beyond anything we had done before, in order to prepare for something we had never done before. Finally, it was race weekend, and we drove to a house in NY where we stayed with a group of 11 people who were from all over the US and Canada but came together to run the Ultra Beast.

We spent Friday morning packing our bins, trading our favorite fuel sources as well as suggestions on what to pack and what might not be needed. An important thing was to have some “just in case” or “worst case scenario” items so that we were adequately prepared to tackle both laps on the course. In the afternoon we dropped off our bins at the transition zone, prepared a good meal for dinner, and got to bed early.

So that brings me to the course. The green line representing the Beast course, and showing the Ultra Beast transition zone coming after obstacle 31 and having racers head back into the woods landing back on the course just ahead of the starting line to begin their second lap. In total it came to 26.4 miles covered and 59 obstacles completed for the Ultra Beasters.
Course-Map

The race started about a half hour late due to a bus breaking down with some of the elite heat racers on it, but around 6:30 or so we were finally charging out the start gate and up the mountain. After a short ascent, we came to some round hay bale “walls” and up a little further was a 6-ft wall. Heading back down was the monkey bars, wet with morning dew, if you went into it overconfident and lacking focus, you were sure to fly off, right before racers returned to the festival area to go under the dunk wall and up the slip wall.

Dunk-Wall

Classified obstacle #9 was the new Olympus obstacle and I saw very few people using the chains. The technique that seemed to work best was to push off the wall with your feet, or rest your hips on it with your knees tucked. Lead with your dominant hand reaching as far as you could and then bring your opposite hand to the hole or grip behind it and repeat until you could ring the bell. After some single lane trail hiking and climbing to the peak of the mountain, the morning air and light breeze felt great, and the water crossing was absolutely refreshing. After the Tyrolean Traverse on the other side, racers had their first break between obstacles and a chance to build some speed on a few downhill sections.

Water-Crossing

Mile 7, and obstacle 17…Spear Throw. I noticed a few spears that looked like they were bent, but for the most part, it looked like they were in good condition, and the hay bales were packed nice and tight in their stands. Shortly after was the Herc Hoist, attached to the cables of a chair lift, the extra bounce typically makes this obstacle more difficult, but the bags seemed lighter. Maybe Spartan was trying to counter the bounce of the cables, or there were less rainwater and mud soaked into the bags, I am not sure but I know most racers will not complain as those who weigh under 140 lbs usually struggle as the bag actually pulls them into the air!

After the Sandbag Carry, racers had their second chance to catch a break between obstacles. It was at this point that the male elite Beast leaders were beginning to pass us as they chased down that podium spot, and after the Atlas Carry and a quick ascent, we were back at the top of the mountain.

Mile 11, and obstacle 28, the new Bender obstacle, with the use of hands and legs it proved very similar to, and could just be considered, a metal version of the inverted wall. The third and final long running portion brought racers back to the bottom. While heading down you got to see others going back up, with what is being called a “soul crushing” bucket carry, and as you passed them you could simply feel their pain as they were hunched over or sitting on their buckets crying. The sheer angle of the ascent and distance of the carry was enough to leave your back screaming and your arms shaking. This was definitely not a carry you would ever want to do twice, or in the case of my friend Leo who had a rock shift at the last second and the volunteer could see a hole in his bucket, telling him to repeat the carry, and only on his first lap he would have to do this obstacle a total of three times.

If your arms were not destroyed enough, the Twister was next. The twisting bars really were not too hard, but the distance traversed and total time spent hanging proved too much for the grip strength of many. After the Rope Climb, it was time to replace the empty wrappers of my Camelbak with fresh bars, eat some protein pancakes, drink some fluids, and get back to it. I wanted to spend as little time in the transition zone as possible to prevent cramping in the muscles, and the desire to just cross the finish began to set in. Before getting out of the transition zone the first place female elite Beast came through to the finish.

As in any good Spartan Ra, e there were plenty of creek crossings and muddy ankle-to-knee deep trudges that only got better the second lap due to the number of people who had trampled their way through! Despite being unseasonably warm there was good cloud cover on the first lap, and a breeze throughout the whole race that keep you cool. I wore a long sleeve shirt, and compression pants that got soaked at the dunk wall and retained water until 10 miles into each lap. The long layers also helped to prevensunburnrn which can increase your chances of heat stroke. Due to the heat Spartan up’d the number of water stations from 5 to 8, with number 4 being a hydration pack refill station, and there was still plenty of water for me to refill mine on the second lap.

Soaked

A huge shoutout to open heat Beasters who were positive, motivating, and a great crowd of people. There were times when Fontaine and I would say “ultra on your left” and someone who was pacing with us would say “regular on you left” and everyone would get a good kick out of it. As we were more than 20 miles into the race and our backs, knees, ankles, and toes hurt, but we kept running, and there would be words of how impressed perople were, which motivated us not to slow down. If they saw a green wristband on our arms they insisted that we complete an obstacle before them because we were an Ultra Beaster.

All in all, we finished the 26.4 miles and 59 obstacles in 11 hours putting us back at the venue around 5:30. All 11 of us, beaten, bruised, and tired, but not broken, conquered the mountain and claimed our buckles. Feeling accomplished and proud of everything we achieved, we returned home to devour a meal and get some much-needed sleep. Some stories were shared over dinner, but most could wait till morning, and many more will continue to come, as the memories we made will be shared for the rest of our lives.

Laughing

Back Row: @highexistence_training @kaufmanncommander
Middle Row: @adambelieve @leo_vitelli @spartan_champagne17 @captainkaufmann
Front Row: @worlds_toughest_morgan @ocr_jen14 @ocr_fm @plant_powered_anna @spar_taine
Photo Credits: Spartan Race and @captdavy25

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

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

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

NJ-UB-2017-Olympus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Twister

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

Spartan Race VT Ultra Beast 2016- Finding your True Grit

As we all know, or at least have heard, the coveted Vermont Spartan Beast, held in Killington VT, is the birthplace of Spartan Race, the authentic test of the Spartan Racer’s true grit. This year, race Designer and Director Norm Koch and Jason Barnes were not allowing a single racer to forget that, especially those taking on the Ultra Beast.

The Spartan Ultra Beast is generally a 28+ mile, 60+ obstacle course and part of the Spartan Endurance level of racing. For the 2016 VT Ultra Beast, each lap ranged around 16.1 miles and was one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I have ever done. Upon approaching the start line, my teammate and I knew better than to underestimate this mountain and with all the training and preparing, excitement and fear had been overwhelming. The announcers began with reviewing the rules and informing us of the new bib system for the first 20 females and 20 males to the half way point. Enter first goal. The sun slowly rose as announcer Rob Lyday prepared us, and with the final “AROO,” we were off.

VT Ultra Beast

Up and over hay bails to Sternum Checker, the first mountain hike began. Little did we know this hike up was just a warm-up for what was to come. Next up were wall jumps, a long barbed wire crawl and on to the Bucket Brigade – not the steepest of climbs with a bucket, but the distance definitely made up for it. Before we knew it, we had approached the 6-mile marker and the Tarzan Swing and swim to go with it, an iconic Killington obstacle that did not make an appearance the year before. The swim was in pretty icy temperatures to the bridge where we had the ladder climb and Tarzan swing across, drop down and swim to the other side. If either part of that was not accomplished, 30 burpee penalties were given for each failure. Just when you though the water was over, not too far into the terrain did you arrive at the rolling mud, wall, and another barbed wire crawl, my personal favorite.

VT Tarzan Swing

After finishing a long and enduring terrain climb, we arrived at the rope climb which is where we then embarked on the last and most grueling climbs of the entire race, the K1 Death March. Putting the thought of a second lap as far out of mind as possible, my teammate and I trudged upward one foot in front of the other. This is where all the true mental testing began with constant false peaks and motivation; we eventually reached the top and sped down to the spear throw, log carry, inverted wall, atlas carry, and multi-rig. With three girls in the burpee zone, I dug deep and got to the drop bin zone as tenth female.

VT Cargo Net

Trying not to spend too much time in the transition area, we quickly ate, fixed our feet and were off again. To be honest, I had done my best to push out any recollection of the last loop and feel fresh. Little did we know that we had made the mistake of which obstacle a specific time hack had been placed and upon reaching the second barbed wire crawl were faced with that truth. A quick glance at each-other and an affirming “We’ve got this” was enough to make us dig deeper than ever and give this course everything we had. Knowing what was between us and the 6:30 rope climb cut off, my mind became a battle field. Trying to displace any muscle fatigue and quiet negative thoughts I arrived at the sand bag carry directly before the rope climb. I had totally forgotten it was there. My mind brought up any and every doubt, inadequacy, and complaint it could. My quads burned, my chest tightened, but as I grabbed for the sandbag a spectator shouted out “Go Ultra Beaster! You have less than ten minutes.” The last bit of encouragement I needed to sprint up and down the sand bag carry to the rope climb and achieve the time hack with 3 minutes to spare. Any fears or doubts about a second go at the Death March were quieted and the burning desire to finish this course was in full force.

Death March

This climb was long, feeling longer than before, and with hydration low, we trekked onward. Making it to the summit with dropping temperatures and only head lamps and moonlight to guide us, we were hit with the craziest amount of energy and flew down the mountain, the smell of the finishers fire jump was finally in reach.

I have to say that this finishers jump was one of my greatest achievements. Not because I finished a race, but because of all that the race asked of me. For me, what makes an Ultra different from the rest is that it brings me to answering the question of what is my true grit. Yes, I train for these physically, but what happens when your body is tired and your mind becomes the battle field. That, is the test of your true-grit. At this Ultra Beast, I didn’t just have to face the walls of limitations I created, but had to shatter them. Much like my fellow racers and teammate found, only when we ask the most of ourselves, will we see how far our spirits can truly take us.

VT Ultra

Congratulations to all of my fellow VT Ultra Beast racers who crossed the start line. This course was definitely not for the faint of heart.