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“This wasn’t some extreme sounding weekend activity engineered to make you feel good about your finish… this race was built to destroy.” – Jason Jaksetic (via Hobie Call)
The biggest races are always the hardest to write about. Perhaps it’s due to the raw emotions, though more likely the pure exhaustion, that comes with truly pushing your body to it’s limits. As I write this, I still have a headache (likely dehydration), there is dirt under my nails despite multiple showers, and my knees look like they were attacked by a cheese grater. I am beat, I am bruised, and once again, I am humbled by Killington Mountain and the Reebok Spartan World Championships Beast.
The 2013 Vermont Beast was not my best race ever. Nor was it my worst…though it wasn’t pleasant. It was a race that pushed my physical and mental limits, as well as blatantly pointed out my weaknesses. I suffered, I enjoyed, I wanted to quit multiple times, I persevered, I saw so many friends on the course and sidelines, and in the end I had a really good time.
Coming into this race, I was not nervous at all, though in retrospect, I probably should have been. Having made the final decision weeks before to opt out of the Ultra Beast and “simply run” the Beast left me in surprisingly good spirits. I had a fantastic first loop of the Ultra last year (which was the entire Beast course), finished fast, and felt great. This year, I would have my boyfriend/very best friend racing by my side, I knew cutoffs wouldn’t be an issue for us, there would be zero pressure on finishing. What’s more, we woke up Saturday morning to favorable conditions…the sun was shining and the temperatures were already nearing 60 degrees, my fear of freezing subsided. I was ready.
Little did I know, the 2013 course would be nothing like the 2012 course.
(1 – For the sake of avoiding a painfully long post, combined with the fact that my hands still ache from a weekend of racing, I’m going to leave out every little detail about what I ate/wore/dropped my bags/etc. It was a relatively typical pre race routine anyway. 2 – I’m certain I’m leaving out obstacles or mixing up the exact order, this recap is a mess. 3- Race photos of myself will be added as soon as they become available from Spartan Race.)
Geoff and I lined up in the 8:30 corral (which actually started at 8:45) and after the usual pre-Spartan race speech, set off for our day on the mountain. We had both decided that this race was going to be about completion, not competition. We certainly would still push ourselves, but the goal was simply a solid race.
The first few obstacles were typical: some over/under/ through walls, climbing over some giant hay bales, a larger set of walls…and then it began: the first ascent. Spartan had wasted no timing in getting us acquainted with the black diamond trails of Killington. Straight to the top of the first mountain we went, about a 1 mile climb. Now, I am no Kilian Jornet, but I can hold my own on inclines. I walk instead of run, but I’m efficient and steady, and as a result, passed a lot of people on the first climb. We went up for quite a long time, then we went straight back down some significantly technical wooded trails. We did a few basic obstacles that I had zero problem with. We did a tire drag/pull that I saw many other females struggling with, but came easily to me. I think somewhere in here was the memorization challenge (you had to memorize a word and number sequence…to be repeated at a later time during the race.) And then we encountered the first obstacle that truly tried to break me:
A sandbag carry.
And not your typical Spartan Pancake sandbag carry. No, this was an honest to goodness “the town is flooding, line up some of these sandbags” awkward, heavy sandbag. Word on the street is they were anywhere from 50-60 pounds each (though I’ve heard some people claim heavier). And we were to take these sand bags straight UP a ski slope.
|Photo credit: Chad Weberg|
|photo credit: Dan Krueger|
It was absolutely soul crushing. It took me a good 30 seconds to get the sandbag into position across my shoulders and neck. Having been suffering with a chronic neck issue that makes a lot of lifts in the gym incredibly painful, this was probably the worst thing that I could be doing. But the sandbag was there, and all I could do was put one foot in front of the other. 15 steps at a time is what I forced myself to do. 15 steps and I could take a break. The hill at times was so steep, people were on their hands and knees trying to get the sandbag up this blasted hill. Many times, a wave of shouting would roll down the hill as people screamed “ROCK!!” warning those below that a rock had come loose, and was now barreling down through the crowd.
15 steps, rest. 15 steps, rest. A few times, when I would stop to rest, I simply had to put the sandbag down to relieve pressure from my neck. But the act of picking it back up off of the ground, and replacing it on my shoulders took far more time than it should have. Regardless, I kept pressing on. 15 steps, rest. 15 steps, rest. As I neared what appeared to be the halfway mark, a volunteer opened up a point in the taped off “fence” and informed us that this was the new turnaround point. Apparently, it was taking so long for people to finish this obstacle that they were simply running out of sandbags at the bottom, and needed people to return to the bottom. I won’t lie, I was thrilled to hear the news. I was already suffering from the pain in my neck, and all pride had been tossed aside. I was already in survival mode. In fact, when Geoff came to check on me, as I had fallen so far behind, he grabbed one end of the sandbag and helped me carry it the last few yards to the turnaround. I was already humbled, and already knew this was going to be one hell of a race.
Carrying the sandbags down the hill was only slightly easier, but we managed. FINALLY we reached the bottom, and I had never been so relieved to have an obstacle OVER. We ran around the corner and then: started the march to the top of the next summit. This one felt longer than the first, but I left my GPS in the car so I couldn’t confirm. We had, however, met up with the sprint course, and I came across many New England Spahten teammates, so there was much conversation to provide distraction. (So much conversation that at one point, while walking backwards, I actually fell into a thigh deep hole. Thankfully I didn’t get hurt, and it gave me something to laugh about). Up, up, up we went again, towards the peak the climbing had even become more hands/knees bouldering as to not slip and fall. I tried to make light of the situation by observing that believe it or not, we were this far into the course and still completely dry. Kind of unheard of for a Spartan race, and I was incredibly thankful for that.
|This picture is from the Sunday Sprint, but it’s the same aforementioned hill. That’s me in yellow, and the parking lot below (so far away you can’t even see the cars) is where we started the climb.|
|The look on my face says it all (this pic is from Saturday…)|
A few walls to climb over at the summit, a few decents broken up with some short flats (that we could actually run) and a handful of basic obstacles (Hercules hoist, monkey bars…which I fell off of, first set of burpees, tractor pull, some 8 foot walls and inverted walls. We were well into 4+ miles of the race, and just as I was remarking how crazy it was that we were STILL DRY, we rounded a corner and there they were: the first few water pits of the day (complete with volunteers spraying you with hoses). The water averaged about waist deep in each pit (I think there were three or four of them), and each one took my breath away with the cold. And from there we entered the first of 3 barbed wire crawls for the day. The first one was incredibly long (300 feet to be exact), and incredibly rocky. I crawled when I had to, rolled when I could (it was really crowded), and came out completely soaked, cut up, and dizzy. Only to encounter immediately the spear throw. Which of course, I missed. (Kudos to Geoffrey for making it AGAIN, 2/2 in Spartan Spear throws. I’m like 0/8 or something, ugh). 30 more burpees.
Next we were directed down the hill towards the start line/spectator area. Another hay bale jump, and then an obstacle that is incredibly easy, yet mentally intimidating: a wall completely submerged in muddy water that you had to go UNDER. I followed Geoff’s lead in ducking down, feeling the other side with my hand, and then just pulling myself under to the other side. As expected, the water was freezing. Next up: the giant rope climb. I have such a love hate relationship with the rope climb. I can climb a rope, I’ve done it in other races, I did it last year in the Ultra Beast. But this day, I was already beat. Soaked, starting to shiver, and everything locked up. I avoided my attempt for a minute by steadying the bottom of the rope for another racer who was 3/4 of the way up and starting to panic. I held on and encouraged her, even though she ended up not making it to the top. By that point, Geoff had already climbed to the top of the rope and back down, and came to steady the rope for me. I made it a few feet up before knowing that my body just wasn’t having it today.
|photo credit: Spartan Race Facebook|
We were at mile 7. Mentally exhausted, already, I held my head in shame as I walked over to the burpee area. Geoff, being the amazing man he is, did 15 of the burpees for me. Some people will look down on me for that, but Geoff assured me that we were in this race together, and he was going to help me out. I had resigned myself to a less than stellar race already, but was making a mental check list of what I absolutely MUST work on for future races.
A tunnel crawl followed by a shorter (and dry) barbed wire crawl, a cargo net crossing…
|Can you see me? I’m the one laying there looking terrified of falling through those holes, haha.|
… then we headed straight for what I had been dreading all day: the pond. As you may have read in a post last month, I have a hell of a time maintaining body heat. At this point in the race, I was already shivering, and knew that getting into the cold water again was going to break me. I suppose that is the point of the race. I also suppose that this is why they put the water obstacles so close to the spectator area: so you can quit. The first water obstacle was a swim out to a rope hanging from the bridge. Climb to the top, ring the bell. I looked at the volunteer who told me what I had to do….or that I could walk to the other side of the shore and opt out with 30 burpees.
|To the left was the Tarzan Swing, to the right, a rope climb. Photo Credit: Spartan Race facebook|
It was at this point I realized three things:
a) this race was NOT like last year. My nutrition and hydration wasn’t spot on like it had been the year before. I bonked, already. Further, the course was already significantly more brutal.
b) It wasn’t my day, simply put. In all fairness to the integrity of the race, I should bow out, since I’m unable to complete many of the obstacles (already 90 burpees in at this point).
c) Geoff and I were in this together. Despite his slow pace for MY sake, he was demolishing all of the obstacles. He wanted a Beast finish, and I wanted to be by his side for it. Selfish? Probably. But I wasn’t here to try and win any prizes.
|Geoff, utterly destroying that course.|
So I walked to the other side of the shore and began my burpees, as Geoff swam out and conquered the obstacle. We then ran to the other side of the pond, completed the traverse wall (no burpees!) and then were sent …back to the water for the Tarzan Swing. Geoff jumped right in, and again my heart sank as I shook uncontrollably. The volunteer told me we had to at least get in the water to our knees before going to burpee. So I did, and headed off to burpee land, feeling a huge mix of emotions. I KNEW that I wasn’t strong enough to complete the obstacle (few are, in fact this is only one of two obstacles that Geoff missed). But the fact that I was so cold I couldn’t even try just left me feeling a mix of pity (at the fact that my body can’t ever stay warm) and regret (I should have tried…though I knew that would be the end of my race).
|Geoff climbing up to the Tarzan swing|
After Geoff’s burpees, we hit the volunteers lined up waiting to ask us our memorization code from earlier. TANGO 888 2313. My volunteer had my number wrong first, couldn’t hear me the second time, and so after my third time repeating it, let me pass. I was starting to worry I had it wrong, and feared more burpees, but it was worth a laugh in the end.
We then headed back out on the trails. Trails are my home turf, and I was finally able to get some RUNNING into these legs. I ate, I drank water, I almost immediately felt better. We hit a bunch more obstacles, atlas carry, an uphill mud/barbed wire crawl, cargo nets spanning large trees, a log hop (which Geoff failed, but I made, so I did some burpees for HIM. Teamwork!), I can’t remember what else. And then…the second most talked about horrible heavy carry of the day. This time, a 5 gallon bucket filled with rocks that we carried, you guessed it, up a ski slope. As much as this obstacle sucked, it was somewhat hilarious at the same time. Athletes of all sizes, men and women, walking a handful of steps and then sitting down. At this point into the race, somewhere around 10 miles in, everyone had resigned to the fact that we were all crazy for tackling such a ridiculous event, so we might as well enjoy it. I ran across my friend Brad Kloha at this point and made some wise crack about why exactly it is that we love this sort of torture.
The downhill on the bucket carry was just as slow as the uphill, but finally, we made it. Back into the woods…and more trail running. It felt really good to just run. Honestly, I don’t remember a ton about this point in the race, other than knowing we were closer to the finish than we were to the start, and one foot in front of the other would get us there. There was the Tyrolean Traverse, which I burpeed out of (what a pathetic Spartan I am, but I wasn’t getting back in the water) but waited around for Geoff to attempt it (there were significant lines at this point. And he completed it)
|photo credit: Spartan Race facebook|
And then we headed back into the woods, took a left, and climbed ANOTHER SLOPE. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. I could tell it was getting later in the day, and I knew that we had FAR surpassed last year’s time, or this years time goals. I think there may have been some walls or something, but eventually we turned, headed downhill and came up to….
A sandbag carry.
Amusing isn’t it? This time, however, we used the Spartan Pancakes. There was a female option for this one (20 lbs, vs the men’s 40 lbs), and I HAPPILY took it. Another huge climb up, though thankfully this one wasn’t as steep, and 20 lbs at this point felt like a treat compared to the previous heavy carries. We were able to complete this entire carry with only one short break at the top. Once we reached the volunteers at the bottom, he informed us cheerfully that this was the second to last obstacle, we were to head down the hill to the slippery wall and the finish line. Now, normally in the Spartan world, you don’t believe ANYTHING these volunteers tell you. Deception and misinformation is the name of the game. But the cheery, innocent smile on this young volunteer’s face led me to believe he wasn’t lying…this time.
And he wasnt: we ran down the hill, through another mud/water/barbed wire pit, over the slippery wall (that FOR ONCE wasn’t covered in soapy water), over the fire, through the gladiators, and across the finish line.
|Believe it or not, there were a few flames…|
|The gladiators let me pass and instead went for Geoff (see next pic)|
|I can’t stop laughing at this picture. I’m pretty sure you are not supposed to TAKE the stick from the poor gladiators, Geoff…|
I had never been so happy to see a finish line in my LIFE. A volunteer gave me my medal, and I got a big muddy hug (I was the muddy one) from my friend Chris Davis. I’m pretty sure the first words out of my mouth to him were “That course was f*cking INSANE.”
Somewhere around 14 miles. Something like 6500 foot elevation gain, 6500 foot elevation loss.
|GPS of the course, photo credit, Paul Jones|
My results are as follows:
Total time – 7:28:47
902 / 3124 finishers overall (Saturday race)
124 / 833 Females
25 / 177 Age Group
I’ll be honest, I don’t really feel these results are 100% accurate. My time is decent on a brutal course, no doubt. But I chose to burpee out of the water obstacles, which would have certainly left me freezing cold, significantly slower, and likely even a DNF. It is a huge topic up for debate right now in the OCR/Spartan world. Burpeeing out *IS* allowed by the rules, for the non elite athletes. But is my finishing time as accurate as someone who fully attempted every single obstacle? My mind says, know your limits and as long as you are following the rules, it counts. But my heart says no. Spartan Race’s motto is “You’ll know at the finish line”, and I know what weaknesses I will focus on for next year. I would love nothing more than to conquer those water obstacles…especially the Tarzan Swing.
But I will say, I had an absolutely amazing time regardless. The Spartan staff DID NOT DISAPPOINT with their claims of the most brutal course yet. My OCR family never disappoints with their enthusiasm and badassery. Thank you, once again, Killington Mountain, for an amazing, humbling day (and weekend…check out our Charity Challenge Sprint recap)
I will be back…