Last Updated on January 7, 2015 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
My 2012 Vermont Spartan Beast stats: (Saturday race)
489th out of 2500 male and female finishers: top 19.5% (rumor has it, 4,000 ish started that day…)
55th female out of 683: top 8% female finishers.
11th in my age group.
I should be proud, for conquering such a ridiculous course with far less training and preparation (not by choice) than I had anticipated or hoped for. But the thing is…I didn’t show up to Killington that day to race the Beast. I showed up to FINISH the Spartan Ultra Beast and I failed. I find it humbling and ironic to sit here and tell you that my very first race “DNF” in well over 50+ races is also the race that I am, so far, the most proud of. It was by far the hardest thing I have physically attempted. It was an honor to be accepted into this invite only race. It was an honor to be one of only 64 women racing.
It is also the race that is currently plaguing every bit of my being as I replay over and over what I could have done differently.
But let it be known with absolutely no uncertain terms that “DNF” does not equal “QUIT”.
Short summary: 345 people started the Ultra Beast. 152 officially finished (only 18 of which were females). While we were given 14 hours to complete the course, I, along with many others, were pulled at 7:25 pm (5 minutes BEFORE the 7:30 cutoff, but you know, who is counting) at the tyrolean traverse, somewhere around the 10/11 mile mark of lap #2. Just over 11 hours into the race.
I’ve been thinking since Sunday morning about how on earth I am going to write a race recap about the Ultra Beast. Frankly, for anyone who did not cover at least one entire lap of the 2012 Beast course itself, it’s absolutely impossible for me to recreate it in words. According to experienced Spartan racers, this was, by far, the hardest course to date. Even harder than last year’s Vermont Beast. But for sake of the blog, my readers, and mostly, my mental well-being needing to spew my thoughts into words, I’ll certainly give this recap a try. I don’t have a lot of pictures for this one. I don’t have detailed descriptions of each obstacle. But I have a lot of emotion here, so here goes nothing.
Saturday morning. Somehow, I had managed to sleep the night before, which was a shocker because I was utterly terrified. We stayed in a house with tons of other Spartan friends, and everyone was a buzz with excitement. I was just simply terrified. It was cold and windy, and I knew within moments of the race I would be wet and freezing. But of course, there was no way on earth that I wasn’t going to start this race. So I nervously went through all of the motions. Got dressed. Drove to packet pick up. Pinned my bib on my shirt. Dropped off my Ultra bin in transition. Stood in line to sign into the Ultra Beast wall and get my neon green sweatband that distinguished the 345 of us crazies from the rest of the “regular” Beast runners. Said hi to so many Spartan friends. (Thank God for my Spartan family.) For some reason, I was confused about the start time, which turned out to be 30 minutes sooner than I expected. It’s probably best that way, as I had little time to stand around.
Geoff assured me that as soon as I started racing, adrenaline would take over and I would have a good time. And thankfully, he was right. Because as soon as we got to the very first obstacle -jumping over freezing cold water/mud filled trenches, all while a giant hose was raining frigid water down on you – and some fellow Spartan yelled out loudly and sarcastically “ahhh I got my new shoes dirty”- I smiled, laughed, and completely relaxed.
Anyone who covered at least one loop of this course (rumored to be between 14-15 miles, and not 13…no surprise there) will tell you that the hardest part was not the obstacles, but the climbing and the cold. From the very start, we climbed. I had gone into this race with very minimal recent long distance running, and I thought that was going to put me at a huge disadvantage. Turns out when it came to this race, marathon training would have been nearly worthless. Instead, I found myself thank my lucky stars that we/I had done so much hiking this summer. Not only from a physical point of view, but from a technical stand point as well. I passed people left and right on the climbs that either didn’t know how to pace themselves on the uphills or simply had a difficult time with footing. I haven’t achieved total mountain goat status yet, but all of the trail running and hiking this summer has given me a great advantage.
I honestly don’t remember the details of all of the obstacles. Thankfully someone on facebook posted the order/list of the first loop, so I can share them with you.
Dirt mounds w/ water pits
Barbed wire high crawl
Double 7 foot walls
Barbed wire crawl #1
2 short walls
Rope climb #1
40° water swim
Memorization poster (Kilo 739 2295 ….I think that is permanently planted in my brain)
Water station #2 (6 miles)
Barbed wire crawl #2
Double 7 foot wall #2
Wall climbs w/rope
Water station #3 (10 miles)
Giant dirt mounds with water
Rope climb #2
Vertical cargo net #2
Double 8 foot wall #3
Barbed wire crawl #3
Fire jump Gladiators
And remember…that’s just for ONE loop. The Ultra Beaster’s tackled all of that….twice…in addition to all of the hiking/climbing/running.
I do remember the following:
The barbed wire crawls were FREEZING. The water obstacles were FREEZING.
But thankfully, the sun came out and that, combined with running whenever the opportunity presented itself (i.e., relatively level terrain) helped keep me warm-ish. Every uphill climb was longer and steeper than they initially appeared. And every feeling of relief of a downhill was instantly squashed when the downhill proved to be even steeper and more technical than the uphills. I’m honestly not sure which one was harder. (A few days later, my screaming knees seem to believe it was the downhills).
And my fellow Spartans? They are simply amazing. Any time I approached an obstacle that required possible assistance – a large wall, a cargo net that was easier to climb if someone was stabilizing the bottom, etc – there was someone there offering help. We took turns holding up the barbed wire that was simply too close to the ground to get under. Anytime someone cried out in pain, someone checked on them. Any time someone was sitting on the ground with a cramp, multiple people offered salt pills. The feeling of camaraderie out there was simply like nothing else I’ve ever experienced….except at other Spartan races.
I didn’t have a specific plan with nutrition, but I was sure to stay on top of hydrating, taking in nutrition (Clif Bloks) and electrolytes (endurolytes), and it worked out really well for me. In the first lap, I never once bonked. In fact, I couldn’t believe how GOOD I felt and how much FUN I was having, even though this was by far the hardest race I have ever tackled. I failed some of the obstacles and did a good bit of burpees (30 for each failed obstacle, tis the Spartan way), but I conquered many with ease that left me feeling pretty awesome. Most notably, I ran my mouth as much as I moved my feet. Talk, talk, talk, to whoever would listen. Fellow racers, volunteers, I even had a nice conversation with the photographer as I passed him uphill carrying a sandbag. Anyone who knows me and the struggle I sometimes have maintaining stable blood sugar knows that if I’m talking, I’m golden. It’s when I become quiet that I am falling apart. I was glad to have friends and acquaintances out on that course, as it really the time fly by. I hope my rambling helped distract some others too….especially on that last climb.
This is *NOT* that climb.
Rumor has it 1100 feet over one mile (and like 3,000 feet in the first 5k….and somewhere between 6,000 – 9,000 feet elevation per lap, but again, who is counting?)
And when we finally got to the top…just shy of 13 miles into the course…we were told we still had about 1.5 miles left to go.
(I’ve left so, so much out. Again, this is all a blur. PTSpartanD?)
On to the most ridiculous downhill I’ve ever descended. It hurt. It hurt a lot. Every single step was carefully planned as to not turn an ankle or just start tumbling down the face of the mountain. And that’s when the sun started to fade behind the storm clouds. And that’s when I slowly started to sink into a not as happy place.
We finally made our way to the start line/finish line/transition area. I missed the spear throw – no surprise there- but did manage to BREAK the spear in half. Whoops. Still cost me 30 burpees. I climbed under the last small set of barbed wire, and then ran up the soapy wall. I’ve done this a few times before with no issue. However, that moment I approached the wall JUST as a volunteer had doused the wall –and the ropes –with dish soap. Sounds evil, right? Well it’s just the appeal of that obstacle. I fell, and I fell hard, hitting my knee. I slid to the bottom of the wall, gathered myself, and attempted a different rope. Once again, I lost footing almost at the top, and slid all the way to the bottom.
This just about broke me. Of all things, *this* is where I wanted to cry. A volunteer at the wall gave me a few encouraging words. I remembered the cold, wet gloves I had tucked in my bag and put them on. I gave the wall a third try and barely made it over. The crowd went wild as I finally got my leg over the top and was able to climb down the other side. But instead of feeling encouraged by their cheers, I was frustrated that it took me three attempts to get over that wall. I was directed into the transition area for the ultra Beasters just before the finish line.
And this is where my race went wrong.
The first lap took me 5:49. Certainly not a winning time, but well below the average time of 7:15 for the regular Beast racers. So I know “going faster” on lap one was not an issue, as I had done a pretty decent job WHILE conserving my energy for lap #2.
But as I sat down in transition I instantly started shivering. I realized how tired I was, how very cold it was. The sun had disappeared behind the clouds and even the spectators were bundled up and shivering…and they were dry. I on the other hand, was soaking wet. I changed my socks, I changed my arm warmers, and I changed my shoes. I suddenly felt like I was in a daze, and I couldn’t stop shivering. I wasn’t hungry in the slightest, but I knew I needed some sort of nutrition. I ate some animal crackers, some banana/mango/apple puree (think applesauce), a couple of endurolytes and downed a 5 hour energy. I looked around and could not believe how many people in the Ultra transition area were wearing regular Beast medals and picking up their bins. They had quit. Now, don’t get me wrong, they had completed the Beast course which is a huge accomplishment in itself. But they had given up on attempts at the Ultra Beast, with not even starting lap #2. I’m certainly not judging as I say that. But I will say, at that moment, shivering and tired, the appeal to do the same was unbelievable. I talked to a few friends as a distraction from my own mind, which wanted nothing more than to give up.
Jason Rita from Spartan HQ came up to me and asked me what I was planning. In near tears, I said I wasn’t sure, and asked him if he knew what the weather was going to do. It was after 3 pm at the time, the sun was gone and there were rumors of storms. Jason pulled up the weather forecast on his phone, and then told me about the course cutoffs. All I could think about was how, even now almost dry, I was freezing, and could not get warm. Carrie from HQ yelled at me to get my a$$ moving or I was never going to warm up. She was right. And choking back some tears, I put my bin away, and headed back out. I would never forgive myself if I quit then.
At this point, I had somehow managed to spend more than an hour in the transition area. And looking back now, that is exactly what cost me an official finish. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly proud of myself for having had the courage to get back out there when I wanted nothing more than to quit. But in hindsight, my hesitation and weakness at that point in the day is where I failed.
But regardless, I went back out on the course. Lap #2 was significantly different from lap #1. Not only was it colder, but it was so eerily quiet. Lap one was full of racers. Lap two was very lonely. Every now and then I would come across another racer, or another racer would pass me. There was no doubt that my body was sore by that point, but regardless, lap two was absolutely a mental game.
Maybe about an hour in, I met up with another UB’er, Jeff, and about an hour later, we joined up with Alex and Ryan. We were all miserable, but we had one goal in mind: finish. Relentless forward motion. There were no complaints. Don’t get me wrong, there were certainly comments of “oh man I’m not looking forward to the freezing cold mud” and there were cheers when one of the hoses had been shut off at a barbed wire crawl, but there were no complaints. Having finished one lap already, we all knew what we were up against, which was both a blessing and a curse. But we also all knew what we had come to accomplish. We powered through, sometimes fast, sometimes painfully slow, but we didn’t stop.
There was conversation. There was silence. The glow sticks came out and the headlamps turned on. We stopped in unison to refuel, we encouraged each other when one started to lag behind. We had an immediate goal in sight, and that was the traverse cutoff by 7:30. There were moments when some of us, and myself, I’ll admit, started to bonk. As the bitter cold caused me to shake uncontrollably and the darkness set in, I really debated, and even said “maybe enough is enough”.
But as the ever steady forward motion started to warm me up and the nutrition I had taken in 20 minutes earlier started to kick in, I felt my mood pick back up and in typical Heather fashion, my chatter box mouth came back. I was telling stories. I was cruising along. I had realized that you know what? I was going to finish this race afterall. And no sooner had I decided that fact that we rounded the corner to the next obstacle only to see it:
Everything was packed up. The lights were off, the volunteers loading up, and a line of fellow athletes getting on a bus. It had been decided for us, this would be the end.
I experienced mixed emotions at that moment. I won’t lie, it was a huge relief to sit down. To feel warm again. I felt proud of how far I had come. But before the bus had even traveled 100 yards from the location it picked us up….the sickness in my stomach started to settle in.
I failed at what I set out to do.
And what hurts the most, I believe, is that I did not fail miserably.
Had I showed up and just stumbled my way through that first lap, had I been wildly unprepared, and a mental and emotional mess, I would feel somewhat justified in this DNF. But instead, I had a good day. I had an amazing first half. I second guessed myself in transition. I second guessed myself for almost an hour, and it cost me the entire race. An entire half year of dreams and training. Over, just like that.
I know it sounds silly to most of you reading this, but right now I find myself in a very strange place. Wildly dissappointed. BURNING for redemption. This is the part of the blog post that I simply still can not put into words, and I’m sure I’ll ramble on for days to come. (That’s right, there’s plenty more of this rambling to come…)Of course I’m not going to sit here and beat myself up. I’m not going to let this consume me (OK I’m trying not to). But if Joe D or Andy W told us to show back up tomorrow to give it one last try, I assure you I’d be in the car without hesitation driving North. To say that this race, or really, falling short, is fuel for my training fire, is an understatement. As far as my racing career goes, I thought there was nothing I wanted more than an Ultra Beast finish.
And now, I know it to be true.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.