Last Updated on March 1, 2022 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Question: “I’m signed up for the Vermont Spartan Beast. Am I going to die?”
Answer: Not likely. But you’ll probably feel like it.
We are three weeks away from what is arguably the toughest obstacle course race on the planet: the Spartan World Championships/Vermont Beast held at Killington Mountain. And the course is designed by arguably the most sadistic designer on the planet: Norm Koch, who truly gets a kick out of plotting the course through the steepest, most miserable parts of the mountain, and then makes you carry a 60 lb sandbag up it for good measure.
My favorite quote out of the race last year came from Jason Jaksetic, who said “This wasn’t some extreme sounding weekend activity engineered to make you feel good about your finish… this race was built to destroy.”
My entire body, namely my poor legs, would absolutely agree. Needless to say, this course has a reputation…and it is that time of year where people begin to freak out. Every facebook forum is filled with first-timer-questions and nerves. The search engine hits to this very blog have increased in number daily from those looking for Vermont Spartan Beast recaps.
Now I’ve had the pleasure of suffering through tens of thousands of feet in elevation and 40+ miles of this course during the 2012 Vermont SpartanUltra Beast & 2013 Vermont Spartan Beast combined. I am not an elite racer, but I’ve certainly done my time when it comes to the Vermont Beast, so yes, I’ve got some advice to offer.
Now I know what you are thinking. Heather, is it really that bad? And my answer is: yes, yes it is really that bad. Absolutely, 100% worth the suck, however, and a kickass, amazing day…as long as you let it be one. So heed these words, kids, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Heather’s tips on how to survive the Vermont Spartan Beast:
1. Smile, damnit!
Because you’re going to need it. Did I mention the race is going to suck? Because it is. You will likely start with a mile long death march up a double black diamond trail that will leave you truly questioning your spare time recreation choices. (Didn’t I get invited to a wedding this weekend? Shouldn’t I be cleaning out the garage?) Actually, you will probably spend most of the day cursing your idea of “fun”, so you might as well embrace the suck now and smile.
Honestly though, as much as it hurts, there are no short of one billion things you could be doing that aren’t nearly as awesome. Laundry, for example. Writing a thesis. Cleaning up dog/cat/kid poop.
And these are all first world problems, think of much worse realities that many of our fellow humans face everyday. War. Poverty. Starvation. Instead, you are surrounded by a group of kickass, inspiring individuals pushing their bodies to the extreme. And, let’s face it, we are playing in the mud. So smile, because life IS good.
2. One foot in front of the other.
Don’t think about how huge that mountain is in front of you, just GO. My trick is to put my head down and count 50 steps. If I get to 50 and I’m feeling good, I keep trucking. If I get to 50 and feel like I might keel over, I stop and rest for a few seconds. Then repeat.
Don’t think about how much further you have to go. Hell, don’t even think about how far you’ve come. Become robotic; don’t think, just DO.
3. Ameila doesn’t need a CamelBak…but YOU do.
Hydration and nutrition are EVERYTHING in a race like this; what you eat and drink will make or break your day. Sure Hobie and Amelia and the other elites often tackle that mountain with nothing but their sleek Reebok shorts and sports bras, but you and I are not them.
Yes, there are aid stations with water out there, but believe me when I tell you that they will not come soon enough.
The added weight and possible discomfort of a hydration pack is nothing compared to the discomfort and pure-suck of dehydration and bonking from low blood sugar. DO NOT underestimate your needs. Pack snacks for the whole day, if you’re lucky you’ll have plenty left over at the finish line. (Who wants a celebratory GU? I’ve got Margarita flavor!!!”)
4. Make Friends. Crack Jokes.
A cringe worthy statement such as “Run? I thought they said Rum!” is freaking hilarious 6 hours into a race. Equally as funny is whining at the start of a ridiculous barbed wire crawl that you don’t want to get muddy…when you are already unrecognizable because you are covered in mud.
You and everyone else on the course are all in this suckfest together, you’d be surprised how much a smile, a joke, or even a sincere “you are kicking ass today” to a stranger can not only brighten their spirits, but your own. Offer help, even if you aren’t sure another athlete needs it. It’s cliche but the statement is true: attitude *is* everything.
5. Attempt Everything.
Learn from my mistakes: try everything. When you are cold, tired, and soaking wet, something like the tyrolean traverse may just seem downright impossible, and the burpee penalty a far easier choice.
But you aren’t here for warmth and comfort, you are here for the experience. The whole, sucky, miserable, cold, exhausting, “why the hell am I here and not on some beach drinking frozen pina coladas?” experience.
Trust me when I tell you that you will get to the finish line and regret not trying everything (I skipped over a water obstacle because I was already too cold. I still regret it.) So unless you have a serious medical or safety reason preventing you from attempting each obstacle, suck it up buttercup (or as the Spartan’s like to say, STFU.) Trust me.
6. Believe you can do it.
Yes, I’ve said that this race sucks (in one form or another) at least ten times during this post. And while I’m only sort of kidding (it really does suck), the Vermont Spartan Beast is one of the most amazing athletic endeavors I’ve had the opportunity to tackle.
Killington Mountain is truly a Beast; she is a force to be reckoned with. But guess what? So are you.
Believe you can cross that finish line, and don’t for one second doubt yourself. If you’ve got that, not much else really matters.
Are you a Vermont Spartan Beast veteran? Have any advice (serious or sarcastic) you’d like to add?
Vermont Spartan Beast newbie? Got questions? ASK!
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.