So I don’t know how interesting my recap of the World Championship Spartan Race Tahoe Ultrabeast will be to the racing world, but I have some time before bed, and tomorrow I put on my Clark Kent costume to get back to adulting. And since ORM helped me upgrade my beast to Ultra status, the least I can do is put pen to paper (or finger to keypad).
First, let me say that I had a fear going into this. Specifically – the time hack. I had yet to see a race that had physically stopped me with a medic pull like hypothermia, so I didn’t realize that was even an option. I knew I had finished the Death Race this past June, but my DR was different from DRs past – primarily because there were minimal physical challenges. I walked in my underwear with no shoes for 30 miles; you know, who else does that? A child in Uganda. For food. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Then we carried some wood and did forward and back rolls until we vomited. It was a shitty and miserable 3 days full of physical discomfort but not physically breakable. Until our time trial at the very end, all I had to do was keep my head down, do the minimum, and endure.
An UltraBeast is different. All those obstacles that Spartan throws at their racers to make their Sprint/Super/Beast racers hate life and want to quit now had to be done in duplicate. That included the miles. Ask anyone who has ever known they ‘weren’t a runner’ but tried to complete a half marathon anyways and their horror story will drive home this point; if the body wasn’t trained to do the miles, it was the most miserable 13.1 of their existence.
My max milage up to that point (other than our naked and afraid DR stroll in Vermont) was 16 miles. And with my hikes up Sunrise/Frenchmen’s mountain here in Las Vegas (approximately 3750 feet in 2 miles; I have no idea what that equals in hiking and elevation lingo) I knew that uphill I averaged 2 miles an hour. Going in the race believing I had 14 hours to complete it (because I NEVER read pre-race information before hand) I was definitely nervous. But I knew I needed a benchmark. My benchmark had been DR and with that under my belt, it was time to up the game; so I had to go do the UltraBeast and see how I would do. The counter was possibly my first DNF. Never a good time.But, hey. Whatevs, go big or go home. Actually it’s slogans like that that are bullshit.
These races hurt. Standing at the top of the mountain next to that pond on Saturday, watching my friends hit that thing for the elite heat, come out and rapidly watch their A-game come undone; standing in that wind and just knowing it was going to be unbearable, I started thinking about preparation and survival in harsh conditions (thank you SISU 24 and Death Race for teaching me how to think like that). Fortunately, during a chance encounter with a friend who had just ran that day, I posed to her my dilemma and asked what she would do. She suggested a rain slicker to break the wind and keep me dry. I didn’t know where to find a rain slicker at 7 pm in Squaw Valley, but I had trash bags, which is why my camelback the next day was filled with an old but sturdy ziplock full of some Gu, a granola bar, Propel Zero packets, some hot packs, and a trash bag. Last minute, I also tied grocery bags around each of my feet – an old cold weather trick I learned years back.
So there I am, after having spent the last 24 hours watching my friends come over the finish line in varying degrees of hot mess and telling myself that maybe it really is time to rethink my hobbies; I stand at the starting line with the rest of the elite schmucks ready to make a go at it. Out of the gate, I am in the back of the pack. I’m a slow and steady girl, and I knew we would bunch up in elite heat carnage at the monkey bars after having witnessed it first hand while playing media at that spot the day before. I also knew that the best way to make it across was to reach sideways, which is why I was one of the lucky ones to make it across sans burpees (and with a badass video as proof, courtesy of Phoebe Brimer,tyvm).
So, we do some Rolling Mud (read as: cold feet immediately), some Vertical Cargo Net action, and Monkey Bars in the first mile then immediately begin the ascent. All I can say is we climbed. We climbed for three miles (there was an Over, Under, and Through around mile 2) and then the Herc Hoist – after a night of rain, creating wet slick ropes. This was easily the hardest Herc Hoist I’ve done since they upped the weight a year ago. So hard that it took way longer to do than the burpees. So hard that without grit and strategy I would have failed. I kept stopping with my feet and legs wrapped around the rope to rest my raw and sore hands. I finally got it up there and could barely climb the wall that was 100 yards away.
More climbing – about 2 miles. Log carry – not gonna lie, I owned that. In fact, I owned all the heavy carry obstacles (guess my bucket and ghetto farmer carry training paid off). My log never touched the ground on both laps. The log carry put us just around mile 5. After that, it was the dig deep part – about 4 miles of climbing – just climbing. And if you have ever climbed in the Rocky Mountains, then you know it’s the Rocky Mountains because they are rocky. No soft, rolling soil trails of Vermont; no, this is the kind of terrain so unforgiving and unlovable that nothing thrives up there but rock and wind. Where every summit is a joke, because at the top of every peak, you see there is another, higher summit to climb. Three summits, if memory serves. Four if you count the extra loop for UB and the plate push after the sand bag carry on summit three. (If any fellow Spartan remembers this drastically differently then I’m sorry, I wasn’t exactly in my best frame of mind.)
So after all that climbing, I run back down the hill and at the bottom is the lake. No forget that, the Bog of Despair. I really didn’t think anything could earn that sacred title after #effnorm’s Bog of Despair specially designed for the DR time trials over the summer, but I was so, so wrong. I might have actually traded the hypothermic pond at the top of that mountain, and its subsequent suffering, for the 30% extra body weight pack dragged through a pond with a bottom made out of shoe eating molasses in Vermont I did over the summer. I saw a post that said ‘It wasn’t the lake, it was everything after.’ So true. I decided before hand to strip down some layers and put all my things into the bags. I left the shoes and double leg layers but striped my under armor long sleeve cold weather top, gloves, and buff. The buff and gloves went in the ziplock, and the shirt was tied into my trash bag, which I had donned around mile 4. As I was stripping down, my house mate Aaron Burquist came flying by, shouting ‘I think I’m in third place.’ he grabbed the life vest and jumped into that froze hell pit with zero hesitation.
I shouted some encouragement, finished getting my pack and vest strapped on and followed. Truly, it wasn’t that bad. I was already ‘cold’ so the varying degree of coldness wasn’t much. I back stroked across the pond and developed quad cramps 3/4 of the way across. I slowly got out and decided it was perfect timing to stretch my quads while I got dressed again.
Unfortunately, my ziplock bag had a busted seam; my gloves and buff were soaked. And that, my friends, is where the wheels came off the cart. I, personally, think I couldn’t have been in that bad a shape, after all I didn’t die and I didn’t get pulled, but the battle started right there. I had a dry long sleeve shirt over wet core, a set of hot hand warmers with no gloves to put them in, and a trash bag; all while being wet in blowing wind. 10 miles per hr or 30 mph, it didn’t matter; that was brutal cold. I stumble my way up the hill a little to a random booth set up by a new Spartan sponsor called Boku that was right next to a farmer carry involving logs and chain handles obstacle. Again, my training served me well, but total side note, can I just say that whatever that chocolate cup of hot liquid was those Boku folks were handing out was blessed heaven. I had doubles.
While I was sucking down that little bit of liquid gold, I ran into my buddy Bryce who was a) not wet and b) smiling.
I couldn’t understand much of anything that was going on in his world but he brought me to focus when he asked if I was ok. Because if someone asks that, there’s a reason. So I assessed my current condition and realized I probably looked cold or out of it, or both. So I snapped to. It’s that moment where you’re fading and you have to get it together, fast. Talk about Spartan Mcgyver-ism. I squatted down in my trash bag and breathed warm breath into my trash bag. Long enough so that I could convince myself to just do the next thing in front of me. So I grabbed those logs not even knowing how hard it was going to be given my present state and just moved. Across and back. Then the sweet little volunteer said it was suppose to be twice. So another round I did.
Then I ran up the hill to the ‘football field’ area that held the plate drag, dunk wall, slip wall, two 4 foot and one 6 foot wall; all of this broken up by an uncountable length of barb wire crawl. Barb wire crawl is another one of those things I do weirdly well, so that didn’t bother me, but I was stopping at every break in the crawl to huddle back in my bag next to whatever available wall and recoup. The volunteer had everyone doing burpees for the dunk wall. I don’t know why; I later heard a bunch of reasons including risk of hypothermia, but it didn’t matter, because I don’t know if I could have gotten out of my clothes and into that water another time. It might be that second and inches moment that kept me in the race. So I huddled and burpee’d and huddled. Crawled; huddled, crawled some more, huddled some more, gathered my mental fortitude and climbed the rope at the very end of the cluster of obstacles and then ran/stumbled the next third of a mile to the remaining couple of obstacles at the top of that godless hell hole.
Atlas carry – like a boss. Tyrolean Traverse – nailed it. Spear throw – didn’t nail it. My first attempted and failed obstacle, 30 burpees. During the entire nightmare on top of that mountain, all I kept telling myself was to get off this mountain. Like a mantra – ‘get this done so we can get off this mountain’ or ‘it will be warmer as soon as we get off the top of this mountain’, and I distinctly remember finishing those burpees and telling myself ‘good job, now let’s get off this mountain.’
As I headed down, the ‘darkness, the mental fog’ faded slowly. I blasted through that bucket carry like it was no big thing (given my training for that exact obstacle the month before, it really was pretty easy).
My fortitude had fully returned by the bottom and I was in good enough shape to be smiling when greeted by a trio of Rhinos. I got escorted over to the pit where I ate and got intel on the cut offs and a special piece of info, there would be no rolling mud the second lap; meaning no water or cold feet until the top. I was extremely relieved as I had planned to grab the dry socks and shoes and change them on course after rolling mud.
By now, I was 7 hours in, and I knew my finish was going to be close. Taking reference from all that went wrong on round one, I packed extra hot hands, grabbed my windbreaker type jacket, changed into my other under armor long sleeve, and double wrapped my feet with grocery bags and a hot hand in-between the two layers, all of that under my sock. I slipped out of my Trail-rocs and into my Merrills, since they had the room for the extra foot layers; ate some more, had some laughs with present company, and headed out in good spirits.
I knew I just needed to climb steadily. The Herc Hoist was much more manageable the second go round, the climb was full of good fellow UBers, and the fog and cold from the morning was gone, with bursts of sun and an unforgettable view of the Sierra Nevadas and Lake Tahoe. I pushed along with a constant check on the time situation. I kept saying that I would assess my willingness to do the water obstacle when I got there. When I got to the pond, it was closed, and it was a mandatory 60 burpees. One fellow open racer complained about having to do burpees when the lake was closed, but I did them gratefully-same with the dunk wall. Honestly, not being wet and well clothed made that second round a walk in the park. My body held up; I made the hacks, and I ran well; so, there wasn’t much down hill running discomfort until the very end. At the bottom, I was greeted by the the best cheering crew of friends, who cheered when I made the traverse and cheered when I attempted, and failed, the rig.
They cheered me through my burpees and across the finish line and hugged me in a way that reminded me what I had done was a big deal. I started to fade almost immediately so, thankfully, I was escorted to t-shirts, medals, home, shower, food, and bed – in that order.
I’m home now 24 hours later, kind of in awe at my body’s bounce back ability. Don’t get me wrong, I ate like a teenage boy and should definitely be asleep so I can be up and ready for the grind tomorrow, but I had to write this.
In assessment, I criticize myself for not suffering as hard as the others. I missed 3 of the 4 mandatory water obstacles, the obstacles that made the whole race hell. Maybe lap two wouldn’t have been so breezy? Maybe I would have been unable to recover and gotten pulled? Maybe, what if, maybe? Still, my body held up against 30 miles; I did that. With over a month of brutal heavy carry-hill training, I OWNED the heavy carry obstacles. I ran an Ultrabeast; the nods of recognition in the airport were those of respect.
Which brings me to my final thoughts on the UltraBeast- that UB racers are the second class citizen of Spartan. I heard they didn’t even have a play by play announcement going as the top two UltraBeast women battled it out for first. Seriously, the craziest, hardest working racers on the course and the respect was given as an after thought. As one friend put it ‘there should be cowbells going and names announced’ as those last haggard bodies dragged themselves across the finish line. One girl ran with foot cramps that had started at mile 4. I ran with her from mile 23 to 26.
Another had plantar’s, one guy kept popping his knee back into place. That second lap, I witnessed a ragged bunch of death marchers cheering each other on to finish. Our theme was to not get this far only to have to take home a DNF. I told one person, if they DNF’d they would regret it – that it would plant itself like a cancerous thought in the back their mind and grow into an obsession until they dragged themselves back for redemption. That if they never wanted to endure this misery again, the only solution was to push hard and get done now. And after all that heart and soul on the mountain, they were ignored like vagrant homeless as they passed through, unrecognized for their achievement. But that’s another thought for another day.
I’m ready to work on hills and speed and body weight work and swimming. I got further on that rig than I would have thought, but I want to get through it all the way (why are those damn ropes so hard for me?). I got up those hills, but I have to be faster. I have to be able to run, always. And I have no clue how to train for arctic conditions, but since I know a couple pro racers who have nerve damage from trying, I’m going to hold off ice baths and focus on water training too for my next goal. Which is to be stronger, faster. Stronger. Faster. In 2017. In Nicaragua.[spartanracerate]
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