Spartan Beast – August 2011
Spartan Races – Beast
August 6th 2011
The Event: Spartan Races call themselves the “world leader in obstacle racing”. They have multiple event formats from their 5k Sprints, to their 8 mile Supers, to the 10+ mile Beasts, culminating in the multi-day Death Race. This was the first Beast, and it was obvious they were going to try to make a splash competing with other events out there of similar distances.
Getting There & Parking: The Spartan Beast was held on the grounds of the Killington mountain resort in Killington, Vermont. I didn’t see much in the way of signs to the Beast specifically, but it was easy to find my way to one of the more well-known ski resorts in the North East.
The parking was a breeze. There was plenty of free parking very close to the start line. No need to mess with shuttle buses or bringing extra cash for parking.
Check-in & Logistics: Spartan Races offered a check-in event the night before the race at a local bar/pizza shop. This allowed you to avoid any craziness the morning of the race, and you could also chill with other Spartan Beasters exchanging tales of glory from past events over food and a beer. I got to hook up with the founder of Simple Fuel, which is an all-natural supplements company that is just getting off the ground. They have some quality products with a great MRP coming soon.
If you couldn’t make it to the check-in the night before, they still had the traditional check-in on the morning of the race. Everything was done smoothly and efficiently.
The Schwag: Spartan Races didn’t pamper you with goody bags filled with free samples of energy gum, moisturizing cream, or coupons. What they did give you counted though. Beyond the t-shirt and medal given to the finishers, you also got a much deserved free beer and free food too. They spoiled racers with fresh fruit, pasta salads, burgers of all kinds, bbq chicken, chips, as well as water and Gatorade ON ICE. I will take that any day of the week over a shampoo sample. Very well done, Spartan Races.
The Race: Single track, single track, single track, and more… single track. For those of you not familiar with mountain biking, single track is a trail that is approximately the width of a single bike, and the Spartan Beast course was comprised of a lot of it. This is really my only beef with the race, so let me get it out of the way now. There was so much single track at the beginning that you were inevitably trapped behind slower racers. You could forge a new trail on your own, but you’d end up spending 5x the energy to move only a fraction faster. It was so bad that in my frustration by mile 5, I was already trying to figure out exactly how I’d address it here. I think it led to longer lines at obstacles because faster racers simply couldn’t pass the slower ones, so huge clumps of racers would arrive to obstacles at the same time. The 9:00am heat was aptly named the “competitive heat” because if you left after, you were guaranteed to have your progress hampered a fair amount. I love single track trail running. Don’t get me wrong. It just needed to be broken up a lot more with more spacious routes to allow the field to spread out from each other.
Now with my little whine session out of the way, let’s get down to business. You were greeted at the start line by a MC clad in full Spartan armor that pumped you up and let you know that you were in for hell. In my ignorance and over-confidence, I thought I had this one in the bag and was planning on finishing around 2.5 – 3 hours. With a few hundred other Spartans letting out a loud “AROOO!”, you were released to dash through smoke-filled doric columns and immediately came to a fire pit that you had to jump over while being doused with fire hoses. It was an interesting if not unusual combo. After that, it was essentially straight up 4,000+‘ Killington Mountain. The numerous single track trails were split up with some other obstacles like over, under, throughs which are a series of walls that you either have to jump over, crawl under, or jump through.
After getting to the top of the mountain, things start getting blurry, so I may have the order of things wrong, and I could miss some obstacles. Once to the top, you are greeted with your first welcome sight: a water station. After guzzling down some H20, it’s off to clamber up and over a large cargo net a-frame. Then it’s back on down the mountain with some wider trails mixed in with single track. The descent is broken up by a series of large berms and mud pools. Then it’s off onto more single track before breaking into the clearing where you run back down near the finish line to the traversing walls. The walls have different angle 2×4 blocks screwed into them and you have to make it from one side to the next without falling or grabbing the top. It’s kind of like a rock climbing wall you have to traverse horizontally instead of vertically. If you didn’t do it on your first try, it was 30 squat thrusts as punishment. I was rushing and literally jumping from one peg to the next. Needless to say, these were my first 30 squat thrusts of the day.
After wearing myself out on squat thrusts, it was back up the mountain where you are quickly confronted with a large overhanging wall made of wood slats, so you could basically climb it like a ladder. Once over that, it was keeping on back up the mountain through quite a bit more single track to essentially the same spot you hit your previous time up. The Spartan staff even greeted you with a “Welcome back!”, but instead of a cargo net on this trip, you were faced with a single 8 foot wall to bang over. After that it’s on to a strength challenge where you had to pull a concrete block tied to a rope up to the top of pulley tower and then slowly lower it back down. Then it’s back down through more steep terrain and single track to the zig zag balance beams. I was again rushing like an idiot and dropped off. 30 more squat thrusts for me! After that, I was determined not to get any more.
There was more climbing and again I’m probably getting the order wrong on these, but there was a long barbed wire crawl somewhere in there. It was 2-3x as long as any other crawl I’ve come across in my adventure running career. The barbed wire was so low, that you had to go belly-to-ground through the mud, rocks, and puddles while being doused with water. There were also a series walls going uphill that got higher with each subsequent wall ranging from maybe 5’-6’. Immediately after those walls was the gravel carry. You had to fill a 5-gallon bucket 3/4 of the way with dirt and gravel and carry it around a course. If you drop any… 30 squat thrusts! This is the first time I saw people blow off their punishment but unfortunately not the last. Come on, people! You owe us squat thrusts today!
There was some more up and down madness mixed in with a fair amount of single track. By this point, the crowds were starting to thin out a little bit though, and I got passed by a Spartan Chicked girl. We leap frogged a few more times over the course of the race, but she really inspired me to push harder than I was. That girl was always pushing 110%. Bib #20054… a tip of the cap to you. This brought you through a series of log retaining walls that you had to climb over with a rope and then onward and upward to a bunch of stumps buried into the ground that you had to ninja yourself over. My long legs definitely came in handy here, and there were some NASTY spills by people trying to run through it. Some dude with no shirt and pink shorts shin smashed one stump like he was Van Damme training to beat Tong Po in Thailand. (Yes that was a Kickboxer movie reference)
It was a short run to a new twist for these types of races: the memorization test. You had to match the last 2 digits of your bib number to a code that would have to be recited later in the race. I’m not sure if I’ll ever forget PAPA 202-2871. A rope climb followed up the memorization wall, and that was followed up by a long descent along steep single track. The crowds were really starting to thin at this point, and I found myself all alone for a bit. It was really rejuvenating to be able to go at my own pace, and it helped me memorize my code as well. Before long, I caught up with a pack of people. One was a Death Racer from NYC, and I got to have a good conversation with him about these types of races and the Death Race itself. (he lasted 42 hours… props again my friend)
Eventually the trail opened up, and I dashed off down the mountain. The event staff is telling you that you are on mile 9, so you feel the end is near until remembering how long the first 3 miles took you. The last 3… yeah, probably will be a little longer. This was the first swimming obstacle, and I learned that swimming with a camera dangling from your wrist isn’t the easiest thing in the world. You climb out of the pond and jog over to a water station where you fill up on refreshing water before grabbing a 50 lbs sandbag to carry up and down very steep sections of trail. It was a LONG trail too and the sides of it were littered with discarded sand bags. I almost felt like I was walking past casualties. You could see the defeated look written on some people’s faces by this point, and one older woman having a really difficult time dug deep. After she fell in front of me and a few of us offered help, she waved us away and said that “no bag dirt was going to beat her”. Get after it! I wish I caught her bib number.
Once you stumble back down the mountain with your new sandbag best buddy, it’s off to drag a sled filled with rocks and sand around a track they had prepped for you. Before you leave from that, you are ambushed by Spartan staff asking for your bib number and code. I didn’t even stop moving and just confidently said “Bib 60. Papa 202 2871” as I strolled by. Hey cut me some slack. It was the only thing I could do with confidence the whole day, so I may as well take advantage of it!
After more uphill torture, you made it to a low crawl and monkey bars. I actually bumped into a couple dudes who I had met the night before between the two. Eric and Paul started picking up their own pace, so I had no choice but to pick up mine as well. They had buckets of chalk prior to the monkey bars, so my newly purchased $40 wide receiver gloves stayed in my pocket. My six tubes of Gu energy gel didn’t though. 150 grams of carbs in 5 hours? Yup! Sign me up. I burned through the monkey bars and just started flying down the mountain. I have no idea how many small clumps of people I passed, but it was a lot. This brought you to the second swim of the day, and it was a long one.
The worst part about it was that after this long swim, you had to climb a rope ladder suspended from a bridge right of the water. Then you had to transfer yourself to a horizontal rope to commando crawl across. This is where the lines really killed me. The water was too deep to stand in, so I was treading water for 5-10 minutes waiting for my turn on the rope ladder. A lot of the people I passed caught up with me at that point. Even worse was while I was next in line, my legs started to seize up in debilitating cramps. I made it up the ladder, but when I brought my legs up to the rope, PAIN. Every single muscle in my legs spasmed. I tried to fight through it and make my way further down the rope, but I ended up dropping off, arm swimming to the buoy ropes, and pulling myself to shore to lay in the shallows wishing the cramps away. While I was there, a kind gentleman came over to me and pointed me to a beach across the way for me to do my 30 squat thrusts. I’m sure the spectators on the bridge were wondering why so many of us were dropping off. Truth be told, it wasn’t that hard of an obstacle. If I was fresh, I would fly through it and barely give it a second thought. None of us were fresh though.
I was reunited with Eric and Paul at “Burpee Beach” and we set off together back up the mountain. Climbing over a steep bank, we all dropped to the ground with leg cramps. The next guy coming over surveyed the scene and said “What the hell is happening here? I’m scared to come over now!” It was yet another climb up around the children’s Spartan Race and over to the javelin toss. You had to get your javelin to stick into the straw man, or you guessed it… 30 squat thrusts. These were squat thrusts 91-120 for me. After battling leg cramps for another minute, it was up over a wet uneven wall, jumping over some fire, and battling with pugil-stick wielding Spartans to the finish. It was a relief to get there, and it only took 5 hours and 14 minutes. It was a brutal but enjoyable race. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2012 Spartan Beasts.
The Verdict: Obviously the course was great minus the road block causing single track. They had a kids course too, so add a check mark next to it being a complete family event. I think other events should take notice of the punishments for failing to complete obstacles. It really gave you incentive to complete the obstacle and helped prevent the blatant obstacle skipping I’ve seen at other events. Race promoters could even get very creative with their punishments.
Did I mention that Badfish, a really good Sublime tribute band, was playing starting at 3:30 at the lodge, or that they had a post-race party at a bar down the street from 8pm-2am? Add that all together with the free beer and the free food, the ample convenient parking, the night-before race packet pickup, the onsite race results via touch screen consoles, the awards given to top racers, best costume, best abs, and best injury, and I’m not really sure where you go from here. The gauntlet has been thrown down, and I sincerely hope Spartan Races and their competitors try to beat this. It will be hard though because this was nearly flawless.
For more Spartan Races in your area, check the Calendar.
To learn more about Spartan Race, check their website: http://www.SpartanRace.com