“Beast” they called it.
A dramatic overstatement for marketing purposes?
Well, let’s look at some definitions I just found of the word:
Beast [noun]: A large, unusual creature, typically dangerous to humans. A thing that is formidably difficult to control or deal with. A cruel or unkind person or animal. A monster.
Okay… so what’s a monster?
A strange or horrible imaginary creature; something that is extremely or unusually large.
Yep. The Spartan Race experience I had in Vermont was at least a Beast.
This was the “World Championship” Spartan Beast with prize money set at $15,000 for 1st place which attracted elite athletes from all over the world, so the stakes were raised and the course was even more beastly than normal. Other participants who had done Spartan Beasts before were amazed by how difficult it was and just how long it was taking them to finish. There were people saying they had done marathons and triathlons and other such extreme endurance events, but this one was kicking their asses in all new ways. And then there was me in the mix: the newbie who can barely handle the shorter races, thinking she can hang with the monster on a mountain.
Each Spartan Race is a challenge. There are tough obstacles, and of course the famous 30 burpee penalty for not completing an obstacle. So what made this one so monstrous? That damn mountain. It has the word Killing right in its name…
The course took us up and down Killington Mountain –FIVE TIMES– with some smaller up-and-downs thrown in the mix just to make sure no one can use their legs for a while. It may have been a race but most of us weren’t doing much running. The ascensions were impossibly steep and surprisingly hard to climb. I imagine the elite runners may have actually run, bless their freakish hearts, but not me, and not most of the people around me. We would huff and grunt and climb and sympathize with each other and make jokes, and then when we looked up to see how far we still had to go we would groan and shout obscenities at the whole world. I llive in Texas for crap’s sake. Where the hell am I gonna practice mountain climbing? I hit the stairmaster and the leg press at the gym a few times and thought I knew somethin’.
I was gravely incorrect.
The first climb was the steepest and went all the way to the peak of the mountain; well over a mile of relentless endless uphill work. And this was just the warm-up. Most of us had to stop several times along the way for breaks and stretching and energy bars. Then the never-ending downhill was through thick forest where the only thing guiding us was a trail of plastic strips that said Spartan Race tied to some branches. The little white flags led us over fallen trees, down slippery muddy drops where we had to grab onto exposed tree roots to keep from falling, through rocky mountain streams, over piles of wet boulders, through thick sticky mud… It got so steep in places that there was a lot of slipping and landing on my butt, which led to a lot of staying on my butt to keep from falling on it and just scooting downhill for a while. Have you ever scooted down a mountain through a muddy rocky forest on your ass? And we hadn’t even gotten to the first obstacle yet.
Finally back at the bottom of the mountain (mile 4) we were faced with the first real challenge: we had to go back up again, only this time with a 60 pound sandbag. Up and back down. Not all the way up, but it was with a 60 pound sandbag… and it was far… and it was uphill. No, not uphill, upmountain.
Then there was more climbing; sometimes through the woods, sometimes up a ski slope, always unbelievably steep.
Then there were the standard obstacles, made harder by the fact that we were all exhausted from having just climbed a freakin’ mountain a couple times. There were walls to get over, cargo nets to climb, lots and lots and lots of barbed wire to crawl under. I work at Hot Lava Obstacle Course which is an indoor OCR training gym here in Austin, so I’ve got no excuse struggling with the basics, but add in a mountain like Killington and you will struggle with tying your own shoes….
There was even a memorization test thrown in: At about mile 3 we had to find a series of numbers and letters on a giant chart that corresponded with the last two digits of our bib numbers. Then a couple hours later around mile 8 (after you had totally forgotten your own name. let alone the memorization test) we got stopped and had to recite it back perfectly or do the 30 burpees.
Still, I felt surprisingly good for most of the first half. Every time we made it back down the mountain we went through a spectator area- back to civilization for a moment, and Adam was always there waiting for me. This was a major energy and spirit boost. The big rope climb Was at mile 7, well past any of the other distances I have run before, and last time the rope climb was where I failed. This time i nailed it.
Also the weather had been gorgeous all day. It was sunny and about 70 degrees for most of the afternoon…
Then things changed.
The Beast was done playing with me and it started to growl and show fangs….
Right around the time I had to attempt the first of three major water obstacles, a cold front rolled in with dark heavy clouds and it started to rain. Fantastic.
I jumped into the frigid mountain pond water and swam out to a rope hanging under a bridge. The goal was to climb it and ring the bell at the top, and I almost made it… but it turns out it’s hard to pull your body weight out of a pond and up a rope when you’re so cold that you can’t feel your fingers. I splashed down hard and sloshed back to the shore for my first set of many burpees that were to come…
This beast was taking much longer to conquer than I had ever imagined it could.
More endless up-the-mountain ascents; more tough obstacles; more treacherous down-the-mountain sliding, crawling, scooting and tumbling; more frigid water swimming; and many more burpees. A recent knee injury I picked up at the dojo in a groundfighting collision kept blasting past the ibuprofen I was trying to appease it with and some stiff legged limping slowed me down for a few miles.
When it started to get dark we had to pull our headlamps out. This was mandatory gear that I didn’t understand when I was shopping for it or packing it. I didn’t think there was any way I would be on that course when it was dark out, but there I was trekking through the pitch black forest at night with a spotlight shining out of my forehead.
I saw many people dropping out. I saw a few scary injuries and a couple people losing their lunch. But more often I saw amazing things. I saw people who were easily three or four hundred pounds working with all their heart to get up the mountain, too. I saw a man who had to be at least 70 years old dragging himself through the mud under the barbed wire right next to me. I saw a guy in a freaking wheelchair doing the Beast course, which blew my mind right in half. He had a team of at least ten other people who worked together on the logistics of getting him and his chair either together or separately where they needed to be.
None of these people ended up on the podium or won the big prize money of course. And I doubt any of them were spotlighted on the NBC Sports special that was being filmed that day. That was saved for the star athletes who completed the course insanely fast, like there was no mountain and no obstacles. Those people are machines and they are inspiring in their own way, but to me the true champions aren’t always the ones who can breeze through hell like it’s an easy game. The strongest in the race may not be the fastest. The biggest heroes may not be the first ones to cross the finish line but the fighters who struggled the whole way and never gave up; The non-athletes who trudged up and down the mountain and in and out of the dark woods at night for hours and hours and hours, just to complete the task against all odds; The countless people who stopped to help each other out when they saw another participant sidelined with cramps, injury, or doubts; Those are the stories that will inspire and motivate and move hearts. In fact some of the biggest champions may not have finished the course at all. They came, they challenged themselves, they inspired a few hundred strangers just by showing up, and they were brave and smart enough to know when to say when.
Rock stars, one and all.
Spartan Race is working very hard to make obstacle racing a legit and formalized sport, and I think that’s pretty cool… as long as the real fighters are still welcome to run the courses along with the pros. The fastest finishing times at The World Championship Beast were around 4 hours. Those were the world class pros who won up to 15 grand for their efforts. I was on that damn course for 8 hours and 50 minutes… and I got a free banana.
But I did the damn thing.
And yes, I cried at the finish line.
No- I didn’t just cry, I faceplanted in the dirt after the friendly volunteer put the medal around my neck and I sobbed shamelessly.
Next stop: the Spartan Beast in Texas in December.
This one will be “easier” partly because it’s not the high profile world championships, partly because it’s not on a 4100 foot mountain, and mostly because I know what to expect and can train better (and longer) for it. But it will be harder because the date in December happens to be the 2nd anniversary of the day Orion was born.
So yes, I would do it again.
Maybe not the Vermont course, but I’ll be back.
Just give me a couple months to clean off my shoes….
*Click here for MORE PHOTOS by Adam Glick*