“Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time. “
– Spartan King Leonidas
One of the greatest debated topics among the obstacle course racing world is the legitimacy of our sport. It seems as if the general public believes that obstacle course racing is one big field day consisting of weekend warriors in silly outfits rolling around in mud, jumping through tiny fire pits for the sake of a badass looking Facebook photo, and topping it off with turkey legs and cheap beer at an after party. The reality is that lumping ALL of the OCR’s in the racing circuit together is akin to comparing a charity 5k walk with the Western States 100. Obstacle Course races are NOT all the same; there are vastly varying levels of difficulty among courses, and while beginners to the fitness world may tackle certain events, there are also elite athletes who train 365 days a year in order to truly compete. (Even Dean Karnazes agrees.)
Anyway, this is a topic that could take up an entire post, but it was my segue into this:
the Reebok Spartan World Championships are upon us.
Held every fall at Killington Mountain in Vermont, the Spartan World Championship Beast is the pinnacle of Spartan Racing. Many of you reading this post may not quite understand the enormity of those words, so let me put it more relative terms: Boston. Kona. The Super Bowl. (No, this is far more kickass than the Super Bowl.) THIS is the weekend so many of us have been training all year for. From elites looking to take home the title of the biggest race of the season or win in overall points standing, to amateurs looking to face their fears and tackle what is hands down the most brutal course of the year. It’s Vermont. Killington. The Beast. It is what we wait all year for.
But the biggest difference between the Spartan World Championships and Boston, Kona, or even The Super Bowl is the “unknown” factor. You see, everyone knows Boston is 26.2 miles, and on the same course it’s been on for years. The same goes for Kona: 140.6 miles consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run. Sure there may be some variables, namely the weather, but for the most part, you know exactly what you are getting into. (And because I really am not a football fan, we aren’t even going to bother discussing the possible race day unknowns of the Super Bowl. Maybe the towels in the million dollar locker room won’t be fluffed, I don’t know).
This is not the case in Killington.
One of the biggest obstacles of a Spartan race is the fact that you have very little idea of what you are getting into. A course map is NEVER published prior to the race. The distance is a general estimate (for example, the Beast course is listed on the Spartan website in one place as being 10-12 miles. In another place on the same site, it says 13+ miles. Last year it ended up being somewhere just past the 15 mile mark. And the supposed “26.2 mile Ultra Beast marathon”? Ha, don’t count on it. It will be an “Ultra”, no doubt.). We know there will be obstacles, how many and which ones are left to be determined. We know there will be brutal black diamond trails, swimming in ice cold ponds, and probably lots of mud. But at what point in the race? Only the course designers know, and all they will continue to tell us is to prepare for a brutal course.
Needless to say, this is a BIG weekend for many of us.
Now, with the unknown often comes uncertainty, and with uncertainty often comes fear. My Facebook feed, being comprised of a large majority of obstacle course racers, absolutely shows this level of uncertainty. With the rise in popularity of the Spartan Race and obstacle course racing as a whole, has come a huge wave of people who have never been to the Vermont course, never tackled a race of this distance, or never even dreamed they’d be able to do such a thing. Also with the rise in popularity of the Spartan Race and obstacle course racing as a whole comes pressure and high expectations on the Spartan Race staff to make this the most epic course to date.
Not to mention, NBC will be there filming, and our sport will be nationally broadcast to the entire world.
Now, I am not an elite obstacle course racer (I just play one on TV…true story) but I did tackle 26 miles/11 hours of that course last year, and while the course will no doubt have some differences (possibly massive changes) this year, I can give you the following advice:
COMMOTION. Don’t stop moving. Those black diamond trails, which we will likely travel up and down multiple times, will leave your legs absolutely SCREAMING at you. Just take it one step at a time, count them if you have to. And remember that running is not always the faster option when it comes to these “hills”. I power walked most of those inclines last year, and passed people left and right. Use your energy wisely. There is a finish line and every step you take is one step closer to that line.
TRUST IN YOUR TRAINING. Simply put: this is why you busted your ass all summer (year?) long. This is why you did countless burpees, carried sandbags up mountain summits, and put in countless hours on the trail. If you didn’t do any of this, well, refer to the next tip:
DON’T GIVE UP. It is so cliché to say, yet so very true: your mind will give out long before your body does. You will be cold, you will be wet, you will be uncomfortable, probably miserable at times. This is all a given and unavoidable. You will also likely pass the “dignified exit”, a chance to quit, about 3 miles in (which, do not be fooled, will likely be well over an hour into the race). But DO NOT GIVE UP. Believe that you are greater than any obstacle, physical, mental, or otherwise, that you come across.
LOOK AROUND….you will be surrounded by some of the most amazing, kick ass people on the face of this planet. I for one, am honored to be consider so many of you my racing “family”. You all never cease to amaze me.
Enjoy every minute of this crazy race. As King Leonidas himself said, this isn’t madness, this is Sparta.
GOOD LUCK everyone. Geoff and I will be racing the Beast at 8:30 Saturday morning, and the Charity Challenge at 10:00 Sunday morning. I’m ready. I’m excited. This year my race is for fun, for a test of will, for a reminder of what I absolutely LOVE to do. We will be on site all weekend, so PLEASE say hi! And if you aren’t going to be there, please follow all of the weekend updates via Obstacle Racing Media and all of their social media outlets.
Make that mountain yours, my friends.