Spartan Iceland Ultra Beast Gear Prep

I have been tapped by Obstacle Racing Media to give you my ultimate gear prep list for The Spartan UltraBeast World Championship. It will be taking place this year in Iceland, I was there last year and am excited to be making my 2nd trip. I also just finished the World’s Toughest Mudder which took place in near freezing temps in Atlanta. I also have raced all 4 years of WTM in Vegas, along with several other Spartan Ultra Beasts.
Here’s a summary of what I wore last year in Iceland, and what changes I’m making for 2018.  At the start of the race the wind was whipping, it was quite cold, but not terrible, and the sun was out.  I started with the following gear:
Zensah compression socks in Altra MT King 1.5 shoes.  I wore compression leggings underneath windbreaker pants on bottom.  On top, I wore short sleeve Tesla fleece lined compression top under a Zensah long sleeve compression top and a Patagonia Windbreaker jacket with reinforced seams.  On my head, I wore a fleece lined winter hat and a buff around my neck and the hood of my jacket up.  On my hands, I wore 1mm Blegg Mitts.  It was mandatory to run with a foot care kit and a mylar blanket. I also wanted to carry fuel and hydration so I wore a low profile backpack with that in and I also threw in extra gloves.
Lap 1 was a 5k road run through the city of Hvergerdi and then right into the 6 mile-ish actual obstacle course part of the race.  During that first lap, we got hit with a heavy rain that lasted maybe 6 hours! During this time the sun went down and we were starting out 20 hours of darkness.  Everything we had on that was able to absorb water got saturated.  After each lap we were able to pit inside a turf soccer dome which was heated so our extra gear was in a lighted area, dry, and warm.  I carried too much out on lap one and ended up needing to change everything from head to toe at a certain point.  The rain washed away any light snow that was on the ground and made the little thermal rivers we had to cross many times wider.  For example the first couple laps the rivers may have been a foot or two wide and we were able to hop skip and jump on rocks and only get minimally muddy, but as the rain kept falling we were trudging across mid-shin deep water and mud as we approached and crossed these thermal rivers that were now more than 20 feet wide.  The air temperatures were well over 30 degrees and maybe even low 40s, but due to being wet it was tough to keep our body temps up.  After the rain stopped the temperature began to drop.  All that water began to freeze and it literally became Ice-Land.  Because studded shoes, yak traks, and anything else to improve traction was outlawed for the event the new icy conditions became super challenging.  As the hours ticked away the temperature continued to drop and in the wee hours, snow began to fall and cover the ice.  It looked very pretty, but this made the ice even more slippery as now you lost visibility on where to step to avoid slipping and falling down.  As the sun rose the temps didn’t rise significantly enough to decrease the difficulty of the course.

Feet:

Looking back I have a much better idea of what to pack this year.  Studs are still outlawed so I’m just going to go with Altra Mt Kings and Altra Superiors. I had neoprene waterproof socks last year and wore them for a couple laps, but didn’t feel like they helped as water got into them from the tops and couldn’t drain.  So I ended up running in bags of water and my feet stayed wet.  I’m packing them again, but I’ll decide on putting them on after I do a lap or two. Otherwise, I’ll wear my Darn Tough crew length socks and also pack some knee high Zensah compressions too. I didn’t use gaiters last year.  I never thought during the race that I should have packed some, but this year I’ll bring some in case I decide that I want them.

Lower Body

On my legs, I will start in full-length leggings with windbreaker pants over them, but plan to wear my 3mm XCEL Long John wetsuit as the temperature drops I snagged this last minute from Wetsuitwearhouse.com.  I wore this suit at WTM 2018 and it was the most flexible wetsuit I’ve ever worn.  This suit was super flexible and was able to run for 12 hours in it with very little restriction.  I really liked the protection factor on this suit as well.  A huge overlooked challenge by all in 2017 was the fact that you were constantly falling down.  I would describe it as a boxing match and every time you fall your whole body contracts to attempt to catch your balance and brace for impact and then as you hit the ground it’s like a body blow.  The first time you might giggle and then after a few more you might feel a little tipsy, but after hours of falling down each time you hit the ground, you won’t be able to just pop up as you just want to lay there and stare up at the sky.  I’m also going to pack some McDavid Knee and Elbow pads to throw on as the night progresses so that my joints are just a little more protected.

Upper Body

I’m planning long sleeve compression and a NorthFace windbreaker with reinforced seems to start in.  I’ll also pack a fleece top to add as a layer as the night goes on in case I need an additional layer.  I’ll have a couple extra long sleeve compression tops to change into something dry if need be.  I’m also going to bring a 1mm neoprene top and a 2mm neoprene vest as an emergency core layer.

Hands:

I learned last year that if you keep your arms warm than you can literally run with no gloves and your hands will still be warm and sweating.  I will have Blegg Mitts and Neoprene gloves to wear under them though.  In Atlanta 2 weeks ago I used the neoprene gloves under the Blegg Mitts and they worked well.  When I was running my hands stayed comfortable, but when you are touching frozen surfaces, or at Iceland where you’ll be doing 100s of Burpees, your hands will get really cold really quick.  Pro Tip: If you have hand warmers you will get a greater benefit from them by putting them in your sleeve against the underside of your wrist as it warms the blood going into your hand than just holding them.  Dry gloves are far warmer than wet ones, so have a strategy to keep your gloves from getting soaked like I did in case of a crazy rain.  Last year I brought these super insulated fleece lined gloves that got soaked at the beginning of the rain and were rendered useless.

Head/Neck:

Find a waterproof or resistant winter hat.  Also, grab a buff to cover your face during the crazy wind so the snow doesn’t hurt your face and can warm the air as you breathe it in.  I also brought snowboarding googles which were great in the windy snow but sucked in the pouring rain.  Bring vaseline to smear on your cheeks, lips, and nostrils to protect against windburn.

Carrying Method:

Athletes either ran with Ultra Vests, or Hydration or SPI belts to carry fuel and hydration.  Because it’s super cold you won’t need to drink a ton of water, but if you overdress you will over sweat and you will need more fluids.  Have a plan to get warm/hot fluids/foods into you between each lap to keep your core temp up, but don’t take too long in the pit!! The soccer dome had plenty of boiling water to make hot chocolate or soup with throughout the night.

Other Gear:

Multiple Headlamps.  I like the Black Diamond Storm and have 2 of them for Iceland as well as multiple other backup lights and a small hand flashlight as an emergency if my headlamp dies while I’m out there.  Also, pack extra batteries!! Rock Tape in case you need a mid-race tape job.  Dry towel to dry off when in to change your clothes.  Bring some big garbage bags to put all your gear in post-race to get it all back to your hotel.  Lastly, you obviously need to pack a clown mask to wear in the deep dark hours to keep the spirits up.
Get to Iceland, enjoy the culture, get some pictures of the Northern Lights and be ready for a whole lotta headlamp running.

Jon Albon – Last Days Before Iceland


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Conversations with Jon Albon after the Greece Trifecta Championship and after the Malaysia UltraBeast.

We find out his thoughts leading into the Spartan Ultra World Championship in Iceland this weekend.

Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

Wetsuit Wearhouse

Exclusive to Obstacle Racing Media customers, take 15% off any purchase by using coupon code ORM15Off. Visit wetsuitwearhouse.com for all of your wetsuit needs!

Show Notes:

Jon’s Malaysia Blog Recap

Listen using the player below or the iTunes/Stitcher links at the top of this page. 

Spartan Race – Killington Ultra Beast 2016: No Small Undertaking

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

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

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

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

killington-ultra-beast-2016-start

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

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

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

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

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

killington-ultra-beast-2016-top-of-death-march

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

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

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

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

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

killington-ultra-beast-2016-tarzan-swing

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

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

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

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

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

killington-ultra-beast-2016-drop-bin

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


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Dr. Jason Wagner Talks Elevation Training Masks

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Elevation Training Mask

Episode 181 -Jason is a doctor/obstacle racer who wrote a blog post that began this way:

I’m a lung doc and have spent more hours than I can count studying cardiovascular and pulmonary physiology. This makes it nearly impossible for me to ignore all the attention that elevation training masks are getting.

We read the rest of his post and we found it insightful and humorous. We wanted to bring him on so that we could ask questions about what training masks do/don’t accomplish. In addition, we asked him about how to train for elevation, and even IF one should attempt to train for elevation.

Today’s episode is sponsored by

PearUp – Get your group sponsored on Pear and earn up to $1,000 for custom apparel or direct donation.
Udder Mud Run – Use code RUNORM for $10 off this race!

The Liquid Run – Newport Beach. June 18th. Code ORM25 is $25.00 off.

Show Notes:

Should You Wear An Elevation Training Mask – Jason’s blog that grabbed our attention

@theobstacledoc – Jason on Twitter

You can use the player below to listen or use the iTunes or Stitcher buttons at the top of this post.

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

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

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

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