I was closely following Trail Master Hammond’s Instragam posts the week leading up to the Spartan Montana Beast. With every post came nerves and
excitement as he showed off the beautiful scenery surrounding possible obstacle locations for the first Mountain Series Race of the year.
On race day I arrived at the venue in time to catch the elite men starting. I watched as they sprinted up the first hill and eventually turned to the right and out of sight in to the woods. While standing at the start with the elite women, my race day nerves went away and I felt extremely happy and honored to be surrounded by such incredible ladies. Although these ladies are competitive, they are still able to joke around and lighten the mood including the race announcer, who made a couple cracks about Amelia’s age. Then before I knew it, we were off and running up that steep and grassy first hill!
Almost immediately I started to regret living and training somewhere that is basically at sea level. With Montana starting at 3,000ft elevation, I knew it wasn’t going to be my best race, but I had no idea how much the elevation difference would really effect me. Immediately I felt the lack of oxygen in my legs and arms but not in my lungs.
After a few Over Walls, we reached the Monkey Bars. I was so happy to see this obstacle within the first mile of the race! This meant that my grip was still fresh and I figured I would conquer the obstacle with ease, but instead, I over-thought the obstacle (a rookie mistake that cost me 30 burpees). I ran shamefully over to the burpee pen and watched as people passed me. After my 30 burpee punishment, I got out of my head, and began to push hard to catch up.
Between the Monkey Bars and the first Sandbag carry were the 6’ and 7’ walls accompanied by muddy trails, one steep but short incline, and a lot of
bushwhacking. Next up was some more hill climbing and on the top of the hill was the Z-wall. This was my first race with the “new and improved” cutout Z-wall, where if one wasn’t paying close attention, one could accidentally place a foot on the ledge instead of a foothold and end up with 30 extra burpees. Honestly, I did not see any difference in the way I did the Z-wall other than I could see people’s legs on the other side.
After a short running section, I came across an obstacle I have never done before, The Armer. The Armer is basically the Atlas Carry with a handle on it. I thought it was pretty light – I was able to carry it with one hand, and the woman beside me accidentally did the men’s Armer without breaking a sweat.
The next pair of obstacles was a smart play on Spartan’s part. They combined the 8’ wall with the Tyrolean Traverse right after it. The wall tested a little bit of your calf strength and grip strength and then threw you right into a rather long Traverse. I was happy to see this “grip burning” obstacle toward the beginning of the race.
There was a pretty long running section before arriving at the first barbed wire crawl. The crawl was short in length and was through a slightly rocky patch of grass. Right after the crawl, there was a steep and wide uphill path where I was able to keep moving while getting some nutrition and water without being in anyone’s way. There were plenty of wide running sections in this race; making it easier to pass or be passed.
At this point in the race, right after the water-crossing obstacle, Ball Shrinker, I specifically remember feeling like I had “sea legs”. I was having a hard
time making swift and efficient movements due to the elevation and lack of oxygen. Things I can normally do with ease became extremely difficult… like Bender. On any given day I can go up and over Bender without any problems, this race was different. The protective mats under Bender were further away from the obstacle than they usually are, which made it difficult for anyone who is short to actually reach the first bars on the obstacle. I had to use all my abdominal strength to swing the lower half of my body up to the first bar until I was hanging on to the bottom of Bender like an awkward sloth. From there I was able to get up and over, but it was a challenge!
Immediately after Bender was a downhill and a long and tedious section of gradual uphill dirt road. I soon reached the plate drag, which was perfectly dry and easy to pull. Right after the plate drag was Stairway to Sparta which I was super happy to see because usually, Spartan puts this obstacle at the highest elevation point in the race (or at least I like to think that’s what they do). I was able to enjoy the view of the snowy Montana Mountains for a second before climbing back down Stairway to Sparta and once again feeling my tired, oxygen-lacking leg muscles hit the ground running.
There was a long running section with a gradual downhill double track that turned in to a steep, single-track downhill featuring loose dirt and plenty of rocks and soon after that I saw a single spectator along the course which told me that I probably wasn’t too far from a huge mess of obstacles – I was right. The trail came to a clearing where there were a lot of concerned looking spectators and the log carry. This carry had little elevation change and wasn’t really long. Right after the log carry, the trail opened up into a giant clearing, full of obstacles, Multi Rig being next in line.
The rig was made up of two rings, then an upward tilting bar, another ring, and then several ropes. I gave this obstacle a good shot, but with a lack of swinging momentum, I found myself once again in the burpee pen. A step away from the Multi Rig was the Herc Hoist and after that, the trail veered away from the large pack of obstacles.
As we ran away from the large spectator area, we came upon a very steep and long incline (probably the longest single stretch of hill in the course) and some “natural” obstacles including a spongey pine branch section that was surprisingly difficult to run through. We hit another long and steep incline that turned out to be the last big hill of the course and it blessed us with the longest and steepest downhill section of the race.
Spartan then decided to turn up the heat and put in a second sandbag carry. Although this carry might have been a leg crusher for some people, I was so happy to do this carry because I knew it wouldn’t be much longer until the finish line.
After the second sandbag carry, there was a rocky hill section that gave way to great views of Flathead Lake. We reached the A-Frame, which was an easy climb up and down because the cargo net was stretched tight, and then we arrived at the Spear Throw. For the Spear Throw ,I ALWAYS choose a spear that is already stuck in a hay bail, that way I know for sure that that spear is capable of reaching the hay. This time I made the mistake of choosing a spear that wasn’t tied to the same side of the fence as my throwing arm. The spear rope was tied to the left, and I throw with my right arm.
Although the throw was straight and powerful, the spear landed to the left of the bail and stuck in the ground. Maybe it’s all in my head, but next time I’m going to pick a spear that is tied on the right side of the fence. The burpee pen was crowded and dusty so I quickly did my 30 and moved on.
After a few muddy Hurdles, the course popped back in to that huge spectator area that hosted the Multi Rig and Herc Hoist earlier in the course. The first obstacle in the gauntlet was the Atlas Carry, then immediately it was the Rope Climb. A step away from the Rope Climb was the Dunk Wall, and about 50 yards from the Dunk Wall was the Slip Wall. I ran so hard at that Slip Wall that when it was actually slippery, it totally caught me off guard and I came crashing down into the mud without even touching the rope on the wall. It took me a couple tries to reach the rope, but once I had the rope in hand, the wall was no problem.
The next obstacle, which was carefully placed less than a football field away, was Olympus. With still being wet from the Dunk Wall, Olympus proved itself fatal to many. A hop skip and a jump away from Olympus was the last carry obstacle of the day, the Bucket Carry. I was so happy to see that the buckets were prefilled because that meant I could carry the bucket upside down. Carrying the bucket upside down really saves some of your grip strength because the lip of the lid is wide and smooth. This carry obstacle was another carry obstacle that had little to no elevation change and was a short loop.
The volunteer at the end of the Bucket Carry informed us that there were only a few obstacles left; a Barbed Wire crawl, the Twister, and an Inverted Wall. In my mind, I thought, “No biggie! This will be quick” but boy did I under estimate the power of a simple Barbed Wire crawl.
This crawl was the LONGEST Barbed Wire crawl I have ever done. The ground was sandy and dirty so that was not an issue, but my goodness this thing was nnever-ending I was trying to get through it quickly but it was so long that it made even barrel rolling difficult. Everyone, including the spectators, thought this was an intense crawl.
The last 200 yards of this race was one of my favorite finishes to a race ever. After Twister (aka 30 more burpees for me) there was a slight downhill straight in to a swampy section of grass right before the Inverted Wall and the Fire Jump. I really liked the Inverted Wall as the last obstacle because it worked as a final test of upper body strength and because of the swampy grass right before it, the backside of the wall was a little slick.
Before I knew it I was grabbing that FitAid and finding myself a nice cozy spot along the finish line fence right next to the fire. The volunteers were nice enough to build the fire up next to me and a few other recent finishers as we waited for our friends to finish.
Overall I would say that this race was a quick Beast for those that are accustomed to higher elevations. The top finishing times were fast and I believe that is because this course was more of a rolling hill type course in comparison to other events that Spartan has done in the past. The order of obstacles wasn’t too hard on your grip strength with Monkey Bars, Z-Wall, Tyrolean Traverse, and Bender being pretty early on in the race and the rest of the grip heavy obstacles being spread throughout the course.
There were four carries, all of which I thought were pretty easy and not too detrimental to the outcome of your race. This race truly had something for everyone, mud, mountains, steep hills, gradual and wide trails, water crossings, plenty of carries, and some tricky obstacles back-to-back. This course was made for Montana!
She's a professional photographer and enjoys traveling and camping for different running races.
Latest posts by Fontaine Rittelmann (see all)
- Spartan Race Ultra and Trifecta Weekend Kimberley BC - July 30, 2018
- Spartan Montana Beast Race Review - May 20, 2018