First, a shout out to the Corn Fed Spartan team whom I have a privilege of being a part of: You guys are everything a team should be. Just a week before I was scheduled to drive down to the South Carolina Spartan Race Beast, I lost my job and wasn’t going to be able to make it down. CFS pulled together and before I knew it I was in a car with Rick and Adam Bosley, on my way to the CFS campsite. This course was literally in the middle of nowhere South Carolina at a rugged ATV/dirt bike-riding park: Carolina Adventure World. One of the last Beasts of the 2013 season, we were bound to have a wild weekend with racers chasing down their last chances at a Trifecta medal.
The organization of the venue itself and the location of the race were the two biggest complaints I had with this race. We arrived at a reasonable time on Friday night, somewhere around 6 pm, to find a backed up entrance to the park with only one single man holding a radio to communicate with the campsite. He was individually verifying each car’s campsite before allowing us into the park, and it seemed that no one at the front desk knew who was set to arrive. They were clearly unprepared for such an onslaught of racers despite the months of planning. When we did finally gain entrance and get settled at our sites, we went to hunt down dinner. You know you’ve reached the middle of nowhere when even the nearest McDonald’s is 18 miles away. We drove for 35 minutes the first night and 30 the second to find a restaurant. Not ideal when you’re camping, but then I suppose the Spartan response would be STFU. Finding food was going to be simple compared to the below-freezing camping night ahead of us.
Overall the Carolina Spartan Beast was like most Spartan races: a complete success. The weather made for a miserable race insome points. After a sub-29 degree Friday night, surrounded by coyotes that woke up the entire camp after romping and screaming through the middle, we arrived to see off the Elites in the morning. They hit the first water obstacle about 100-yards into the course and disappointingly, many skipped around the rolling mud hills. One of my teammates remembered seeing steam roll off the wet racers’ backs after being submerged in the devilishly cold water.
Layered up, we headed for the start line. Never expecting less than our best, Spartan didn’t even let us start without a first passing over a 7′ wall. The sun finally came out and as we started, I saw the first dreaded obstacle. I decided not to think too much about it and toss myself into the first ditch in the rolling mud hills. I was happy to find myself only shin deep in water. But, that made my next ditch twice as bad. I was soon gasping from the sheer cold up to my shoulders in muddy water, scrambling to get out up a very steep hill. Before we even warmed up, we were cold.
Each time we hit a water obstacle throughout the course, we had just enough time to dry off before being tossed back into some sort of arctic hell. Spartan took good care of us. With a mandatory hydration pack rule, I expected water stops to be few and far between, but they seemed to be every few steps. They became so frequent I didn’t drink at many of them. Unlike the Super at Virginia, the obstacles at this race were very evenly spaced out. There was only one occurrence where we ran a mile full mile without any kind of obstacle. The terrain was tough, but not dangerous like that of the Wintergreen mountain riverbeds. It was a course for the trail-running fanatic. With manageable hills and descents that didn’t dislocate any knees, Kevin Jones, my pace buddy, and I were able to keep a very steady pace throughout the course.
Unlike Virginia, however, where the most challenging aspect for most racers was the terrain itself, the obstacles in SC were very difficult. Due of the amount of time we spent in mud up to our knees, sloshing through chest-deep streams, every obstacle was slathered in slimy goop by the time we reached them in the 10am heat. I missed more obstacles in this race alone than in my other 2 Spartans combined. The rope climb (above 4.5′ of water), traverse wall, and monkey bars were covered in thick mud. I watched one racer fly off the monkey bars and land flat on his back from the momentum he had before he caught a slippery bar.
While the obstacles themselves were great as always, with the added challenge of a back to back sand bag carry and bucket carry, the volunteers manning the obstacles were much less observant than usual. I came up to the tire pull and watched a girl ask the volunteer twice what the guidelines were without any response. He was a little busy hitting on a muddy, blonde racer to hear. I finally yelled and was given instructions that I later found out were incorrect. When we reached the Tyrolean Traverse in the last 2 miles of the 12-mile course, we had (no joke) a 45-minute wait to cross the river. I watched innumerable racers skip the obstacle in favor of burpees simply to skip the wait. Course marshals were completely absent and many racers spent 5 minutes or more crossing slowly, one person at a time across each rope. The disorganization was frustrating and caused many racers around me, including myself, to cramp up and be nearly immovable by the time we got to the other side. After falling in halfway across, I’d been beaten by an obstacle for the fourth time and felt like I could just collapse. Kevin pushed me on through 30 more burpees, the sandbag carry and the bucket carry… and we saw the final sign: 1 mile until your free beer.
We laughed as we reached the barbed wire and thought that the small 30-foot stretch was a nice gift from Spartan considering the frozen hell we’d endured in the previous 11 miles. We were wrong. We turned a corner and saw an uphill stretch of sunken, rolling barbed wire. As we started up, a man with a fire hose began to spray us all, and the ground, making sure we were in as much pain as possible. Unlike previous barbed wire crawls, under the mud was not more mud, but gravel. Many racers around me were bleeding from their knees and elbows from the sharp rocks hiding beneath 4 inches of muddy water. We could hear the music of the festival, but being so close and with such a climb was one of the most mentally challenging parts of the race.
After finally reaching the end of the hideous barbed wire crawl, we arrived at the festival area and the cargo net crossing. It stretched across the entrance to the festival like some sort of torture bridge and rained mud down on visitors entering below. As an absolute chicken with heights, I found myself shaking all the way up the 20-foot ladder, across the moving bridge, and back down the other side. A sizable gap between the platform and the descending ladder was causing another delay as racers tried not to slip and fall ungracefully to the bottom. Unfortunately for me, and my fear of heights, the next obstacle was the inverse wall. Topping it, we could finally see the slippery wall and the fire jump.
I’ve never been so happy to see someone ready to pummel me with a gladiator stick. I descended the slippery wall and Kevin, who stuck by my side the whole time (patiently through 120 burpees), looked at me. “Are you ready?” We’d nearly finished Virginia together before he had an incredibly painful injury stall and slow him. This was redemption. We were going to make it in the time we wanted, and we were going to Trifecta – together. We jumped the fire side-by-side and blasted through the gladiators.
Not even bothering to rinse off, I skipped the ponchos they were handing out to frozen racers, and limped, shivering to the campsite for the second most glorious hot shower I’ve ever had in my entire life (The best was my first hot shower in 6 months after living in El Salvador for a stretch). I’ve got to thank the women who stayed at the campsite for being incredible. While the men suffered through lines out the door waiting for showers, the women never had a line. I watched them move efficiently and considerately in and out of the showers to make room for new racers coming in. After putting on dry clothes and layering up I went up to the festival to find out that yet again, Trifecta medals had run out. Honestly, I didn’t really care. I heard racers angry and disappointed, wonder how Spartan could do this again, knowing that so many racers would be here to claim Trifectas. I agree: that was a disorganized mistake and a very simple fix for them. Hopefully next time? As for me, I couldn’t care less. I finished. I had my Trifecta and I knew it. I clutched my consolidation prize, a patch from each Spartan, and gulped down my beer with a fellow Corn Fed.
The weekend was overall amazing. However, it did convince me that my poor little desert-weather-loving-body is not interested in obstacle races after November 1st. So, with that, I enter my off-season. See you all next February… you got it, at the sprint in the desert mountains of my home: Arizona.