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.

Spartan Race Ultra Beast – Vernon, NJ

Ultra Beast Finishers Belt Buckle

New Jersey can now officially be known for it’s Beasts. Whether it be the Spartan Race event this past weekend, or the bears that inhabit Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, NJ – as both have now gathered quite the following. This event has quickly become an early season favorite for a large number of racers in the Northeast as waiting all year for Killington just wasn’t going to work any longer.

From last years snow-covered barbed wire crawls to this years bear-filled trails, Mountain Creek continues to be a great location for Spartan Race Director Norm Koch to inflict exceptional levels of pain on his racers; for me that pain came in the form of the Ultra Beast, a 2-lap sufferfest spanning almost 32 miles and 11,000 feet of technical elevation change.

As strong as the course was, the event itself wasn’t without logistical issues as our start was delayed by 40 minutes by (depending on which story you believe) “bears on the course”, the “inability to safely get volunteers to their stations in a timely manner” or a potential OCR-saboteur who “replaced Spartan Race marking tape with a competing companies tape”? Scandalous.

Registration and Gear Check were smooth as silk for Ultra Beasters, as we were required to get our bibs the night before – something I think they should adopt for all racers to ease the morning rush of folks getting to the venue. I didn’t have a chance to check out Merch or Festival Food as I was on the course before most of that opened.

Man vs. Mountain
Beast and Ultra Beast events are, first and foremost, endurance events. They are designed to have you on the course from the wee hours of the morning to the waning hours of the night. The actual obstacles are almost a welcome break to the miles and miles of climbing and descending the rugged mountainsides. And they were rugged. Spartan took no liberties with the paths we took around the resort. The first 2 miles were effectively a straight up / straight down route with a log carry at the top and a rig / rope climb. I felt it all over immediately and I was only one-fourteenth of the way through the event. The reward for completing those obstacles was another climb up the mountain to meet an uphill barbed-wire crawl, sans snow.

What I truly loved about this race, was the use of terrain on this mountain. It’s taken my body 2 days to recover to the point where I can actually type this without grimacing but I really enjoyed scaling Mountain Creek, navigating the trails on the backside of the mountain as you traveled along one of it’s many lakes, leading us over a dam in the river and under some drainage tunnels. The overwhelming majority, from my conversations with racers out on the course, is that this year was much harder than last year and a quick look at the winning time this year of 4:04:45 by Cory Sweetman vs. last year’s winning time of 2:50:44 by Drew Jett. Thankfully this year though, we were blessed with much better conditions, at least on Saturday. This mountain is making a name for itself. It’s got everything Spartan loves to showcase in it’s terrain – steep and rolling hills, lakes and ponds, and plenty of mud. For me, creative use of a venue is a huge plus, especially when your obstacle creativity seems to be somewhat… underwhelming.

We'll miss you, Dustin!

Breaking Up The Monotony
Spartan Race is known for it’s obstacles: the rope climb, the bucket brigade, and the log carry. That damn spear throw (1 for 2 this weekend – I’ll consider that a success, especially since my successful attempt came on my second lap at hour 13, when it was needed most). While these obstacles are all very well known, they’re also now getting stale. The only “new” obstacle they’ve really added to change up their events is their custom rigs. This weekend it was a ranger bar, to monkey rings, to Tarzan swings. They didn’t even have the decency to raise it more than 6 feet off the ground – sorry, tall guy problems. They’ve also changed their rope climb to an “above ground” version meaning no more pools of water underneath – simply hay bails and mulch underneath you, so you better control your descent once you ring that bell, with your hands of course, definitely not your feet!

For Spartan it’s clear that the push is to TV, whether it be in the form of the upcoming Spartan Race Ultimate Team Challenge, Spartan Race’s NBC coverage, or the lofty goal of landing this sport in the Olympics some day. Spartan needs innovation and not in the form of the Spartan Delta. While on the mountain it’s clear that plenty of people are still psyched to get their Trifecta’s, others were completely unaware of things like the Delta, the Hurricane Heat or the Agoge (man that word irks me and I don’t know why). While Spartan has the largest social media presence of most of the big-named races, they seem to be the worst at providing actual content worth paying attention to. One positive though is it seemed like they had a larger than average number of Ultra Beasters on the course Saturday, an event normally reserved for those who had truly trained (or were truly nuts) for such a task. Perhaps this is the result of people getting bored with the same obstacles over and over again?

Finish Line Dunk Wall

Why Do We Fall?
I completed the Ultra Beast in 14 hours 23 minutes. Approximately 13 hours of that was spent in a very dark place. If you’re like me, you spend a great deal of time during these “sufferfests” doubting yourself. We all tell ourselves we don’t belong here, that we’re not strong enough to finish or that we’ll never make it. But then something happens. Each step you take represents a small victory over our mental hurdles, propelling us towards the greater goal of self-realization. The mountain had plenty of ups and downs as did I this Saturday and it’s allowed me to understand why we put ourselves in these uncomfortable situations; It’s so that when we fall, we can learn to pick ourselves back up and get back out there. For me that feat was only achievable through belief in ones self and my friends. Without them, this event would have been very different for me but instead I will hold the Ultra Beast in very high regards. To me, it’s what Spartan Race really should be about. Not just brute physical fortitude, but testing ones self against all odds, and overcoming physical and mental adversity in order to understand what you are truly capable of. This is what the Ultra Beast is and if you have a chance, I would recommend trying it. Fail or succeed, I guarantee you’ll take something positive out of the experience.

Done - In every way possible

On a personal note: I was amazed and disappointed at the lack of respect people had for the course and the event this weekend. Litter is always brought up and continues to be an issue, but for me, the thing that really got to me was people leaving their gear everywhere. Shirts, hoodies, string backpacks (Why did you even bring that?!) and hydration packs were left everywhere on this course – that’s just rude. Stop it. You carried it in, carry it out! Also, if you’re starting a Beast at 2pm, and you don’t have a headlamp, you should be pulled off the course. Saying “They’ll have to drag me out of here if they think I’m coming off the course” is dumb. You were given instructions just like I was. Follow them.