I signed up for the 2012 Vermont Ultra Beast because I wanted to. It was the most exciting thing to happen in OCR at the time. A challenge like no other. A 26 + mile course, on a mountain, with obstacles. So much excitement. So many questions. Can I do just the Beast? Can I decide to do both after Lap 1? How big can my drop bin be? What do I wear? What will I eat? Can I use trekking poles? Can I use a stick if I find one? How will I not freeze to death after getting out of the water?!?!
I was pulled from the course for a time cutoff after a few miles on the 2nd lap for my first official DNF. I swore I would be back the next year to redeem myself. I came back in 2013 and promptly did not redeem myself. Pulled off the course at mile 22 or 23. Different year, same result.
Now I had to go back and make it on my 3rd attempt. I HAD to go back. HAD to get redemption. HAD to finish. HAD to get that medal (which turned out to be the biggest belt buckle any human has ever seen). HAD to not be a 3-time loser. HAD to be in the UB finisher’s club. Had to go back.
Did I want to? Fuck That? I. HAD. TO. GO. BACK.
I trained better, I trained harder, I ate better. I was also given the following advice by many UB finishers:
“No idle chit chat. Keep moving. Make the cutoffs. Eat and walk. “On your left!” The bin drop is NOT a break, it’s a water station. Walk only when you have to. Run the downhills. Run the flats. Just keep moving. DFQ!, etc. etc. etc.”
I did all of the above.
Final 2014 Ultra Beast Result: DNF. Pulled from the course at mile 23-24.
I did not get a medal. Or the biggest belt buckle any human has ever seen.
However, I got something much better.
Somewhere in that 14 hour day on course, I was running by myself in what must have been some relatively flat part of the course. I was really enjoying it too. The weather was good. My water and nutrition were on point. All was right in the world. I remembered how much I love to run. I love to run on trails. I love to run in my neighborhood. I love to run races with obstacles. I love to run races without obstacles. I love to run alone. I love to run with people. I love the feeling I get when I’m pushing myself. I love when the wind hits me when I’m sweating and reminds me I’m alive. I also love my wife. I really love my wife. I really love my kids. Why am I away from my family this weekend? Why am I missing my son’s first soccer game? I don’t care if I finish this race anymore…
Wait! What? What just happened?
That just happened. I stopped caring if I finished the race. Or got the biggest buckle any human being has ever seen. I was going to keep running until the race was over, or until they pulled me off (again), but I didn’t have to finish anymore. I didn’t have to do anything.
It occurred to me how much time I spent away from my family at races because I HAVE to. Because it is a really hard race so I have to go. Because it is in a really cool location so I have to go. Because all of my friends are going to be there so I have to go. Because they invited me so I have to. Because, trust me, this one is just really special, and will never happen again, and I have to go. Because, well, I am Matt B. Davis after all, and so I have to go.
Just as I was coming to all of this realization, someone informed me that I had 5 minutes to get back down the mountain to make the next cutoff. I was at the very top, at the spear throw. The spear throw with a rope tied to it, so it wouldn’t go over the edge of the cliff, because we were at the top of the mountain.
No athlete could get down the mountain in 5 minutes. So I decided to take my time and enjoy a slow walk down. I came across a couple of racers and decided to get to know them.
Kara is a young woman just getting into obstacle racing. This was her 3rd or 4th race. She had no idea about all of the OCR communities she could join to get more connected. Tyler is my age and from Utah. He runs street races and some Spartans and does really well in his age group. Neither of them had heard of me, or Obstacle Racing Media. I could not have cared less and was a little embarrassed to talk about it actually. I didn’t want it to matter. We were just three people who shared a common bond of wanting to get down after going for 12 plus hours. We laughed, we commiserated, we shared racing stories. It was a great way to end the day. The cherry on top to my recent revelation.
I have done almost 70 races since 2012. I will be signing up for less races in the coming months. The reasons I will want to attend will vary. Some will be simply for fun. Some will be because they are in cool locations. Some will be because I was invited. Some will be because of the challenge. Some will be because I can take my kids. Some will be because all of my friends are doing it.
Whatever the circumstance, it will be for the same reason I chose to do the Vermont Ultra Beast in 2012.
Because I want to.
Post Script: If you want an actual Ultra Beast obstacle and mileage recap, you can find several on Facebook and on blog pots in the coming days. In the meantime, I wrote a brief description on FB, that I will repost here:Vermont Beast/Ultra Beast obstacle list that I remember: A giant ridiculous climb, then some more of that. Then the traverse wall. Then freezing cold water, then a tarzan swing that only people who won American Ninja Warrior could do. Then a walk on the banks of the water and froze some more. Then another ridiculous climb that lasted like an hour. Then some fucking lunatic thought it would be cool to ask the men to carry TWO heavy and awkward sandbags up a fucking hill. Parts of it were so steep and awkward and there where people and carnage and fucking sandbags everywhere. Before that, there were two or three or five bucket carries. Then the blerch chased me for like 45 minutes. Then I climbed some more. Then they had us get on top of a fucking A frame at the TOP of a mountain. What could go wrong there? Then we had to throw a spear into clouds and 47,000 mph winds. Then, that orange thing. Then a long giant pipe that again could only be done by Ninjas. Then we climbed some more. Order might not be correct.