Spartan Race: 2016 Killington Ultra Beast – Redemption

Everyone has that one event they look forward to all year. Kids look forward to Christmas. Matt B. Davis looks forward to Waffle House’s All You Can Eat Hashbrown Day and if you’re a Spartan Race enthusiast looking to cap your trifecta off, the Killington Beast is the pinnacle of your racing season.

If you were in Vermont last year, you know that the Beast of the East deserved far more pomp and circumstance than was delivered. For those that weren’t there, read my review of the 2015 Killington “Founders Race” here. Racers felt like they deserved better. Spartan made sure they delivered on that promise, with course designer Jason Barnes telling me “after last year, we owed it to you all”. With other big name races going under, it’s important that events listen to their customers’ feedback, and adjust course when necessary.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race Facebook Page
Photo Credit: Spartan Race Facebook Page

For the Ultra Beast runners, the weekend started on Friday with packet pickup. Early packet pickup is a simple convenience that should be offered to all racers. I received my pre-race email well before the event which included all details necessary to have a great weekend of racing. After hearing a lot of chatter on the course this weekend saying there was no communication about logistics beforehand, it deserves to be noted that Spartan did reach out to racers with plenty of time to prepare. There is always room for improvement in race logistics but the onus has to also in part be on the racers. Ultra Beast events have strict time hacks that must be made. This information was delivered beforehand and racers were told again at the start line before waves went off. Point, Spartan.

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The swim @ Killington was almost twice as long as years past Photo Credit: Dan Parker, NES

Course Design is Key

loved this course. Loved it. My biggest gripe with mountain-style Spartan courses is that they’re simply turned into a Man vs. Mountain style event, with obstacles as the second class citizen. See: Spartan Race Montreal Ultra Beast 2016. This years Killington Beast was artfully designed, weaving technical climbs in between previously unseen sections of the mountain. The balance between runnable course and climbing was perfectly done, making sure obstacles were evenly spread out throughout the mountain.

The Spartan Death March is a tradition at Killington The Spartan Death March – Photo Credit: Dan Parker, NES

Time is a Valuable Thing

My goal this race was to beat Spartan’s time hacks. This meant that racers had to complete their first lap of the Beast course by 2:30pm. It gave Elite racers 8 hours to do so, and competitive/open a bit less. The course would then close at 9:30pm sharp, which meant for most, lap 2 would have to be even faster than lap 1. Looking at the results, this was most racers undoing. With a DNF rate of what appeared to be almost 50%, the strict time cutoffs proved more insurmountable than the mountain itself.

Takeaways

PROS
After 2015, Spartan Race completely honored what the Killington Beast should be. The mix of course design, obstacle balance (including a very lengthy swim through Lake Killington) ensured that all style of racer enjoyed the event.

Hydration. There were NINE water stops on the course, including two dedicated pack refilling stations. There was even a water table BEFORE the start line. After #Watergate last year, Joe D said they would get it right this year, and they did. Water was never a concern.

CONS
Time contraints. Again, Spartan did a great job of communicating the times that racers would need to be at certain checkpoints as well as being off the course completely. Racers were told in the Athlete’s Guide that the course closes at 9:30pm and that they would be pulled without question – and they were. By the hundreds. The 9:30pm cutoff is earlier than past years and unfortunately with start times going until 2pm, many racers were not given a fair chance to conquer this event. Some left the course angry, others crying. The Beast, especially at Killington, should not have start times after 12pm if you’re going to cut off the event at 9:30pm. That’s my two cents.

Volunteer abuse continues to also be an upsetting trend. I watched a racer verbally assault two volunteers after they told her she needed to keep her pack on for the Rope Climb. “Who made that rule up?! It’s never been that way at the other events!” Listen – volunteers are there to make this event happen. Some are giving up their own free time so that you can enjoy your event. They’re following instructions. You need to do the same. Stop giving them a hard time for it.

Summary

This event was a complete 180 from last years. If there was a model for effective course design, efficient communications combined with the perfect venue, this was it. Hands down my favorite Spartan Race this year. Having never been to Tahoe for the newer World Championships, I still think Killington is where it should reside.

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Josh Chace

Josh Chace has been an obstacle and endurance race enthusiast for the last five years. He is a 2017 Team MudGear Athlete and is a co-host of the New England Spahtens Show podcast.
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