Carolina Ultra: Twisted Trails and Bundles of Burpees

Introduction/Pre-Race

Ah, South Carolina. Known for its super warm temperatures, surely this is the race to do if you are hoping to complete the ultra in shorts and a sports bra. It will be a beautiful day, filled with lots of sunshine, love, and rainbows.

Or, maybe not.

Now, I’m from South Carolina, so I confess that my knowledge of all things cold isn’t exactly there. But, I overheard several people say they were coming from the north because they were looking forward to a warm race. Although this wasn’t exactly freezing temperatures all day, when it was time to start the race, it was roughly 36 degrees when we got started. All of the people who were anticipating and planning to wear shorts and look cute were a little disappointed.

On the race website, we were told that we had to pick up packets the night before. Problem is, packet pick up was from 2:00-5:30 in the afternoon. A friend of mine asked if I could pick his up, which of course, I was told no (which, makes sense). I didn’t think this was fair to people who…you know, have jobs… but what do I know. Luckily, even though they said packet pick up the day before was mandatory, people were allowed to grab their stuff the morning of the race.

I was lucky enough to get to grab my stuff ahead of time. So, the morning of the race, I got myself situated, grabbed my bucket, and went on my way.

When I got to the start line, everyone was huddled and shivering. You could hear people make comments related to “what the heck, I thought this was supposed to be warm!” And we waited to get started.

And we waited.

And waited.

Now, I did the Ultra Beast in New Jersey last year, and we didn’t start on time either. They at least TOLD us that we weren’t going to start on time. Here, we were repeatedly told that we would get started soon. We ended up waiting for over 20 minutes to get started. Finally, Mr. Kobl came up. I was so thankful when he let us know that we only had to do the dunk one time, and it wasn’t until the very end of the day for us. After some jokes and words of wisdom, we were off.

Spartan’s Course

Carolina Ultra Map

Once we got started, it seemed like we took a solid 3 steps before encountering the first obstacle. Almost immediately were some hay walls; following that was a creek crossing. We pretty much spent the rest of the day in the water. Our toes got really cold, really fast. Closely after was the 4-ft wall and some trail running, and some more creeks. Then it was the 6-foot wall. I saw a lot of women struggling with the 6-foot wall, which was really strange…that is until I realized that there was a layer of ice completely covering the top of the wall. After I went over the wall, SQUISH. We hopped off of the wall and into a big ol’ puddle of mud. Gross.

So…in short…the first mile was pretty much just mud and walls. Sigh.

A little bit of running later, and we get to the rope. To make things interesting, because it was extremely cold, the rope was COMPLETELY covered in ice. Even though I was in the elite division, I have never seen so many people doing burpees at a rope.

After a short run, the next few obstacles were pretty close together. It actually hurt a lot, and the burpee areas were so close that it was easy to get them confused between obstacles. In the second mile, there was the Olympus, Herc hoist, spearman, barbed wire crawl, sandbag, AND bucket within that little space. Out of those obstacles, Olympus, rope, and many other obstacles were covered in ice. Sooo many people were doing burpees. Lots of unhappy faces, and people worried about their fate for the rest of the afternoon.

After we kept running, we ran into Bender. Bender is scary when it’s covered in ice. Lots of people were worried about falling, and several of us little people had a hard time jumping and grabbing the first bar because it was so slick. After some more trail running came the Tyrolean Traverse and a vertical cargo climb. On the first lap, this cargo climb was one of the scariest cargo climbs that I have experienced. It was one that was so loose that while you were climbing, the rope would shift. I did not love it.

One piece that was interesting about this course came up closely afterward. There was an 8-foot wall on course, but it only had one step as opposed to two steps. Some of the shorter women struggled.

Then, the hard part was pretty much over. There was a portion of the race that split from an ultra course to the regular Beast so that the ultra course was a little longer and more challenging. There was not a volunteer standing here, so there were some moments where standard Beasters ran a portion of the ultra by mistake…and I’m sure some ultra runners “accidentally” took the wrong course.

Now, when they gave us a different piece of the course, I was anticipating something a little difficult. It wasn’t anything really unique. The course map claimed to be an obstacle called “Irish Tables” which I had not seen before. My friends told me that this was a high platform and one that was spooky. It wasn’t. I didn’t even realize what it was until the second lap. It was just another hurdle, with a flatter top. This obstacle is also seen in Bonefrog, but Spartan paints theirs a different color. But, it’s basically another hurdle. I was a little shocked, considering they have different heights for men and women. By the time I got to this obstacle, there was a line for men and it was completely clear for me!

Behind that was more trail running, log farmers carries, the armor, a plate drag, a barbed wire crawl, and another sandbag. After some more running, we were greeted with the Stairway to Sparta.

Now, the Stairway to Sparta has become one of my favorite obstacles. Not because it is one of the most exciting obstacles, but Spartan always manages to squeeze this obstacle into the most spectacular places. This was not. This Stairway was placed conveniently in front of a single-track trail, so there wasn’t anything to see. I would like to say that as a resident of Spartanburg I can vouch and say there weren’t many stunning options…but I would at least suggest on top of a hill or something.

The Stairway to Sparta was actually replaced with the Great Wall. Now, I know there are a lot of thoughts on the Great Wall. It’s basically just Stairway 2.0. It is slightly more difficult than the regular stairway..but not by much. During the first lap, there was not a step provided for the women. So, there were more women doing burpees, simply because we couldn’t reach the grips! But, I suppose if it isn’t challenging, nobody would do it!

After this obstacle, it was on to the transition.

Transition

My friend Erika at the transition!

Now, if you’ve done an ultra or an ultra beast, you’ve seen the transition. It’s a square marked off for people to leave drop buckets. Usually, for buckets, people will go to Lowe’s and get a bucket for $5 and decorate it with stickers. I have my bucket very decorated with things, but I also tied a balloon to my bucket in order to make it easier to find. It’s a good idea for people to put their buckets in a safe place with their friends. In the elite division, you can’t take stuff from people outside of the transition area, so if you’re with your friends, you can divide and conquer!

One thing I found unusual about the transition was that there were volunteers and timers there, but nobody really did anything. Another strange thing about the transition was that my friend Crystal and I were 9th and 10th. We were not given lap leader jerseys. Instead, number 11 was. Number 11 is also someone who has a large presence in the Spartan world. Coincidence? I really hope so. It was very disappointing.

After a brief period in the transition area, it was on to the lap again.

Lap 2

The transition area spat us in a VERY muddy area past the hay walls and right in front of the creek. I sunk up halfway between my knee and hip. I’m just thankful I didn’t lose a shoe there also.

When running an ultra beast, the second lap is very different from the first. The first lap starts very early and provides an awesome opportunity for athletes to get a good start. Since it does start so early, it is usually very quiet. It’s almost peaceful until you remember that you have over 25 miles ahead of you. The second lap is at the same time as afternoon open heaters. This can be very exciting–having other people cheer for you, but also, sometimes people don’t always follow the courtesy rules suggested by the race directors. For instance, during the tyrolean traverse this time, I had an open runner come underneath my rope so that she could get a hold on her friend. Really…REALLY?!

The first obstacle we encountered here was the over walls, and then everything else was the same. There were some differences between the course; the main one being the mud! Several areas that we had previously run in were completely swamped. There were several instances where I would go running or trudge, and I would get so stuck in the mud that people would have to pull me out. Again, it is an absolute miracle that I managed to keep my shoes throughout this adventure.

Also during lap two, they had made a few modifications to some of the obstacles. The Great Wall now had a step. It was exciting to complete this in front of the open runners because they all cheered for me! It felt really nice.

On lap two, instead of going to the transition, it was over the very wobbly A-frame, and through the rolling mud. The rolling mud was ORANGE at this point. It was so difficult to wash this orange out of our clothes.

After this was the mud crawl. Basically, a third barbed wire crawl, just you are crawling in really really squishy mud. Normally this is at least a little fun, but there were sooo many large rocks in this mud. I was completely covered in bruises at the end of the day. After this the dunk, and then the slip wall. Now, the dunk wall was nothing really special other than large rocks made it difficult to get out of the water. The slip wall was actually a little different than usual. They covered the slip wall in this black tarp and made the wall more vertical. The tarp made the slip wall more difficult to dry, and although it still wasn’t difficult, for the first time ever, I did not feel safe on a slip wall.

Then was the fire jump, then the end!

Thoughts

Maybe I’m crazy, but I remember Spartan claiming that ultras were not going to be ultra beasts at the beginning of the year. They promised that ultras were not going to be two laps of the beast; rather, it would be one 30-mile loop with its own obstacles and adventure. Wrong.

I was looking forward to a big challenge, but I am glad that I was lucky enough to participate in this event. This was a good ultra beast for people to attend if they were looking to get a good beginner ultra.

Overall, this course was very repetitive. Lots of sandbags, walls, and crawls. There wasn’t much about this race that stood out as unique. However, I will say that I’m very thankful for the race director for allowing us to wait until the second lap to do the dunk wall (we may have completely turned into Spartan-pops)! I am also very thankful that Spartan provided an opportunity for people in the Southeast to participate in an ultra. I am very thankful that I have the opportunity to compete in events like this altogether. I did feel like Spartan made this an ultra at the last moment and did not have their own real plan. I will continue to hope that Spartan works to improve this event in the future!

Spartan Dallas Beast 2018-Muddy Miles and Cramping Calves

Dallas Spartan Beast 2018

On October 27th, 2018 Spartan held the annual Dallas Beast to nearly maxed out waves for all times. The course had to be cut down a few miles due to flooded areas. This didn’t stop Spartan from putting racers calves through mile after mile of foot groping, sloppy goodness. Of about twelve and a half miles nearly sixty percent of those miles were sloppy bogs or slick, muddy rocks. A fun cramp-inducing time was had by all on a well put together course in beautiful Glen Rose, Texas.

Muddy Miles on Muddy Miles

Due to frequent rain in the previous week many of the trails on Rough Creek Lodge’s ranch were a muddy mess. From the beginning even the fastest group of elites were not moving their quickest as we were pulling our feet free from mud constantly. This added an extra endurance element to an already endurance heavy event. Later on in the race, many suffered from severe burnout, muscle fatigue, and debilitating calf cramps.

Spartan ingeniously utilized the hills on the ranch. Competitors proceeded up and down them both with and without sandbags. Steep, rocky descents coupled with mud spelled potential disaster for anyone not closely watching their feet and controlling their body. I personally throttled myself down a bit on these downhills to avoid injury. Slick rocks can come out from under you in a heartbeat.

The venue was beautiful to look at as always. Rough Creek Lodge never disappointing on the views that you get to see at the top of those hills if you take the time to look around. The festival area was also set up very nicely and the starting line was again by the beautiful church on the property. The weather was absolutely optimal with a pretty still 58-degree start for the elite men and a slow warm up to around 70 as the day went on. Compared to last years freezing temperatures the weather was absolutely amazing.

The Obstacles

I would like to preface by saying that there were no mile markers at this race.  Some areas were cut due to flooding. I found this to be a good thing as it kept me focused on the task at hand rather than how far I had to go. However, this also prevents me from stating an approximate location for all of these obstacles. I would like readers to know that between each of these obstacle portions were long, long bouts of running through mud and rough terrain. Spartan did a great job of throwing great combos of obstacles at racers. Each section seemed to have an intended aspect of skill to attack and I really appreciate the thought that went into this design.

As previously stated, Spartan has an optimal venue for such a flat area in Texas and they utilize it well. The first majorly taxing obstacle was after the z- wall in the form of a sandbag carry up a steep hill and back down. This put a decent little burn in the calves especially after running through all of that mud. The spectator route was superb. It allowed spectators to see many of the most entertaining obstacles. Compared to last years Dallas Beast, Spartan did a superb job on the spectating end of things.

Climb

The slick mud made the slew of climbing obstacles far more difficult. These included: stairway to Sparta, Bender, the 8-foot wall, and the inverted wall. The first real grip tests came in the form of the Tyrolean traverse (which was hanging far too low in many lanes people were dragging their backs). The next grip obstacle was Twister following Bender. I do appreciate Spartan placing this obstacle out of the mud for the most part as it is so grip-heavy. However, there were many Spartans plunging face first into the mud for burpees at this notoriously difficult obstacle. If the strength and endurance is not still present in your shoulders and hands, it can be a real killer.

Lift

The next obstacle heavily affected by the mud was the Atlas carry.  I’ve never had trouble with an Atlas carry.   However, the first ball open this time around was a mud-covered concrete lump of fumbling, back-straining hell for me. I was picking it up out of a very large divot caused by the soggy ground and it was slicker than a freshly born calf. Finally, I had the good sense to look up and see a dry ball had became open and moved through no problem.

Spartan knows their obstacle placement game as after the Atlas Carry came the Hercules hoist and the Yokohama tire flip. For those of you who aren’t aware, Spartans tires are heavier than most. Getting under these 400 lb tires when they are sunken deep in mud is no easy feat. Though the requirement was only to flip the tire twice. Many chose burpees instead. I, however, found that once I worked my way around the tire and found a good place to get under it the rest was simple.

Later on, came another short sandbag carry followed by an equally short bucket brigade. Some elites were shouldering the buckets. Volunteers were not correcting them.  This was unfortunate considering that immediately afterward many grip obstacles followed. This allowed them to salvage their grip for later on.

Hang on!

The plate drag was a muddy, sticky mess that added difficulty. The grip gauntlet afterward sapped the last bit of strength left in Spartans as they neared the finish. The multi-rig, Olympus, and the rope climb were nearly back to back to back.

The spear throw, slip wall, and fire jump where spectators could get a great view of finishers coming in as the annoucner did a great job as well. The finishing area and the number of spectators were very impressive.

 

 

Aside from some minor issues, the Dallas Beast was a fun and challenging experience. Many racers suffered horrible cramps. This was due to all of the mud eating away at their endurance mile after mile. It was truly a suffer fest for many. I feel they will all return next year with a new determination.

Great merchandise, attractions, and people filled the festival. Spartan did a superb job of making the awards ceremony very central. There was also a great festival for racers to enjoy afterward. This was a big leap from the lackluster festival area last year. I would certainly recommend running the Dallas beast if you are in the area, or if you would like a Texas-sized challenge.  Spartan created a great race.  They utilized the venue to its utmost potential. Aroo!

Spartan Beast 2017 – A Chilly Sufferfest in Texas

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

Open wave preparing to take off at the Dallas Beast

Venue

Mound at Rough Creek Lodge

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

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

Beautiful church at Rough Creek Lodge

Obstacles (Climb, Crawl, Carry)

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

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

Suffering is the new Black

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

Female competitive Spartans dominating the hoist

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

S

Spartan athlete Katie Windham contemplates what she just put herself through

Pre and Post Race

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

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

The Big Picture

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

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

Check Out Other Recaps By This Author

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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 Seattle Beast 2017

On Saturday, September 16, 2017, I ran the Spartan Seattle Beast at the Meadow Wood Equestrian Center in Snohomish, WA in an attempt to obtain the last medal for my Spartan Trifecta.

I’ll begin with a little bit about the venue. This is my second time completing this particular Spartan Seattle Beast and I have also done the Spartan Seattle Super once. For the most part, its a really easy location to reach and there is plenty of parking. Upon arrival, you immediately notice multiple horse arenas surrounding the registration area. This is a world-class equestrian show facility and it really does look like it. Not to mention the SkyKomish River creating the Southern border of the property.

Spartan-Seattle-Beast-Map

Before the Race

Registration/checking in was pretty rough. I arrived a little over an hour until the start time of my heat and had to wait almost 30 minutes in line to scan my barcode and get my packet. Wasn’t a big deal for me as I gave myself plenty of time, but there were quite a large number of people that I overheard talking about missing the start of their heat due to the long wait.

Normally, I like to run in the competitive heats, but due to the fact that I was driving up that morning from Portland, I was forced to sign up for the open heat and a late morning start time to avoid a wake-up time in the very early hours of the morning. Thus, I started the race at 11:15 AM.

I wear my Garmin VivoActive HR during the race to keep track of time, distance and elevation. My watch tracked the distance at 12.94 miles. One of the volunteers after the last barbed wire crawl and slip wall stated that the course was 13.6 miles, but the few people I talked to ranged from 12.7 miles to 13.4 miles.

I won’t hit on the all the obstacles as some are self-explanatory and don’t need a recap. The first half of the race differed greatly from last year if I remember correctly. The first mile flew by with only the hurdles and over-wall to get through. Then we hit the river and ran along the shore. Had to do a low crawl through sand and then coming back a low crawl through the water. This part of the race I actually really enjoyed the scenery. Running along the river with trees surrounding us made it a little tough to watch my step on the treachery terrain and not take in the view.

 

Spartan-Seattle-Beast-Start-Line

From there we came back towards the equestrian center. This year the dunk wall was early on made sure no one came away clean. Shortly after the dunk wall, I saw the monkey bars in the near distance. At first, I thought that we were headed straight there and I assumed I would be screwed. My hands were covered in mud and still not dry. I did my best to rub them in some dirt/grass, but luckily I was wrong and we actually did a little loop that allowed my hands to dry prior to the monkey bars.

 

Spartan-Seattle-Beast-Dunk-Wall

Obstacles

About a mile later came my personal nemesis. The Twister. I am not sure why, but in my 2 attempts so far, I haven’t even made it to the second half of the obstacle. Not this time. This time I easily made it through. I had prepared by watching the Spartan “Ring the Bell” video and other videos as well as reading strategy for completing the Twister and it definitely paid off.

After a couple more obstacles, including the atlas carry, I came upon the Z-Wall. I found what appeared to be the shortest line without looking at the path of the blocks and waited. This turned out to be a big mistake. The path that I chose had a grouping of blocks in the middle that had the foot and hand placement only a few feet apart. This may not have been so bad, except I am 6’2” and was essentially bent in half trying to keep my grip and move forward. This ended up being the first (and only) obstacle that I failed. Did my 30 burpees and moved on.

Up until this point, I was feeling really strong and confident. More than half the race was done as I had just passed mile 8 and I was riding the high of completing the Twister for the first time, despite my failure at the Z-Wall. Then things picked up.

We were back into the trails and beginning the really technical climbing. Unfortunately, I got stuck behind some people that weren’t aware that others would be trying to pass (I have no doubt they were trying their best to move quickly for them) and I wasn’t willing to take the risk of knocking them off the trail (some spots would have had a pretty nasty fall). After climbing for what felt like forever, we finally emerged near the festival area for a quick set of 3 obstacles: the new vertical cargo, rope climb and an updated version of the multi-rig. The vertical cargo had a 5 foot (by my estimate) platform that you had to climb on before you got to the cargo net to climb over. The multi-rig started with a straight bar, followed by some rings and then a baseball. It ended with a dismount onto a wooden wall that had spaces in between boards to climb up and over.

Next was the bucket brigade. I had studied the map prior to the race and knew that there wasn’t anything that I considered extremely grip intensive for the remainder of the race. I didn’t worry about saving my grip and just held onto the bottom of the bucket with both hands and moved as quickly as possible. Shortly after this came the sandbag carry. This was a single sandbag and I picked the first one I saw that looked to be evenly distributed and threw it on my shoulder. I believe I only switched shoulders once during the sandbag carry – it was not very long.

Spartan-Seattle-Beast-Bucket-Brigade
The Home Stretch

Following this was more and more trails. For every climb, there was a fairly significant downhill. It was at this point that I started to feel the cramps coming on in my calves and quads. I was prepared though and went through a couple of packets of mustard which shortly cured my cramps. I did my best to at least power walk the ascents if I wasn’t able to run them and then power down the descent. We popped out of the woods at one point to do a barbed wire crawl and the slip wall and then we were right back in. It was after the slip wall that the volunteer told us we were at 11.4 miles of 13.6.

After some more up/downs in the trails, we were finally in the home stretch. Next obstacle was the Spearman. I was somewhat nervous for this as not only is it easy to fail, but I barely managed to succeed at the Spartan Portland Sprint. In Portland, I actually stuck it into the head of the wooden figure. The volunteer told me to move and so I did, but I didn’t know if that technically counted. I did check later and confirmed in the rules that sticking it anywhere on the figure/hay counts as a completed obstacle. This time I aimed a little lower and managed to stick it in the top of the hay bail without issue.
Herc Hoist and Olympus were the next two obstacles. I liked having Olympus near the end. I normally find this obstacle pretty easy, but with the exhaustion of 12 miles on my legs, it made being in that tight position a real struggle.

The final obstacle (no fire jump due to a fire ban in the area) was the ladder climb. Tons of controversy surrounding this obstacle. I personally did not struggle with it, but I easily see how many could. I used a reverse grip with my left arm to hook it around the next rung and then stepped up. I actually found going down more difficult as I got my hands a little too close to my feet and felt like my feet were close to slipping through the ladder a few times. I looked it up afterward and the general consensus seems to be that you are meant to climb up the side of the ladder, rather than the front. Shortly after I completed someone had a pretty bad fall from near the top of the ladder. I have seen the video posted on here recently if you want to search for it.

Finishing The Trifecta

The only thing left after the ladder climb was the sprint to the finish. At the end of the day, I finished in 2 hours 51 minutes with only 1 failed obstacle. Beat my Spartan Seattle Beast time from last year by 30 minutes, and I feel I could definitely have been faster. This concludes the third and final race in my Spartan Trifecta for 2017!

Spartan-Seattle-Beast-Trifecta-GroupSpartan-Seattle-Beast-Trifecta-Medals

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