Spartan Race Tri-State Beast — Sunday Mud Day


I have been training for obstacle racing all my life without even knowing it.  Obstacles are omnipresent in our lives.  As a regular ultra runner and first time OCR competitor, I can really see the benefits of this type of racing; the ability to see the cold, hard obstacle staring back at us.  Overcoming obstacles gives us the feeling that we can overcome anything.  At the Spartan Race Tri-State Beast on Sunday, it wasn’t even the manmade obstacles that were the real problem, it was the mountain and mother nature’s decision to rain on our parade.

There were clearly two mountains for me to conquer on this day. There was the one perched 50 miles east of my Astoria apartment in Vernon, NJ called Mountain Creek Resort, and there was the one I had to climb just to get there. I registered for this race months ago with the hope of competing for a podium in the elite field. I had been training hard since January. I had already PR’d in both the 50k and the marathon in the same race (3:34, 2:54 respectively) in the late winter. I took up bouldering at the gym 3 days a week to improve my grip strength. My fitness was reaching new heights all the while packing on some extra upper body muscle, and then disaster struck.

Two weeks ago while running my last long run for this race I rolled my ankle with a half mile to go in the Breakneck Point Trail Half-Marathon. I gingerly finished that race in a respectable 6th place and proceeded to the obvious: RICE. I did everything I could to heal this ankle. I tried one run of 4 miles, which only put the healing process further back. I thought I would have to pull the plug on the Spartan Beast for sure. Then I remembered an old story of Scott Jurek winning (and setting the course record) at the Hardrock 100 on a severely sprained ankle. I googled it and found out exactly what he did for his ankle. He wrapped it tightly in ACE bandages and then applied a very stable boot over that. I did exactly that and decided to just get out there and see what happens.


We manage to arrive at a rainy Mountain Creek just before the elite wave starts, but still have to be shuttled over to the registration, which is an effective and seamless process. I am trying to still make the elite wave just in case the ankle miraculously feels good (hey, I’m an optimist). As a first-time Spartan, I am thrilled by the fact that there is no race bib. I race a lot of ultramarathons, some just as hairy and muddy as this Spartan Beast, and I always have to contend with having a visible bib on my outermost layer at all times. This makes peeling layers off as the day gets warm an obstacle in itself, especially when you can be out there for 7 or 8 hours for a 50 miler! The Spartan headband is genius and it cheers me up for a moment—one less obstacle. I head over to the start to find out what is going on exactly, only to learn that the elites have already gone off. No one can give me an answer if my chip time will count against their times. Most say they think so, but I tend to have my doubts.

I end up running with the competitive wave and I’m not too upset about that. I mean I do have my ankle wrapped in a pound of tight materials that are going to fill with water and mud and act as a ball-and-chain all day. And my ankle doesn’t really work, which doesn’t lend well to all the chatter I’m hearing about the “muddy footing” along this course. We do the signature “a-roo” and we’re off running up the first of many climbs, and just like that all my anxiety subsides, I’ve conquered the first mountain of the day. Then I realize, I’m running. After 2 weeks off I am actually running; my smile couldn’t be any bigger.

Spartan Race NJ Beast - Barbed Wire
The second mountain’s reality sets in quick, and I’m walking. With the familiar hands-on-quads death march I make my big jab steps, each one deliberate so as not to aggravate the ankle. There are so many rocks that each step has to be absolutely perfect. I accept that this is going to be a long, cold, rainy day and get my mind ready to push through the infamous pain cave. I won’t bore you with a play-by-play of all the various obstacles—there’s a lot—and which was the hardest—bucket brigade hands down—but I will tell you that this course is brutally disturbing. It’s covered in mud every step of the way. There’s just as much rock scrambling as the Breakneck Point race I did 2 weeks prior. At least Breakneck had jaw-dropping views of the hudson from 1400 feet. This course was just mean. This course had me traipsing through chest deep muddy water, and waist deep quicksand. This course had me sliding on my butt down long stretches of muddy, rocky mountain. This course had me grabbing every single tree on the way down steep pitches to save myself from disaster. On this rainy Sunday, this course was dark and devilish.

Spartan Race NJ Beast - Rig
But I live for this shit. Nothing gets me going more than conquering my fears and overcoming obstacles. It is my first formal OCR, but like I said I’ve been training for this all my life. Slowly, relentlessly I begin picking people off from the earlier elite waves. Any stretch that is flat I open up my stride a bit and mow them down. The thrill of competing floods my veins once more and despite two weeks of inactivity and an immobile ankle, I am somehow near the front of this competitive wave. I continue to push hard to the end, slipping off many of the obstacles I would have been able to do had it not been so wet, doing the dreaded burpees with cramping quads. I can’t even do the hercules hoist at the end, because my hands are so numb. More burpees. These ones seem to take 5 minutes or more. Then a cargo net climb, dunk underwater beneath a wall, and the signature fire leap to the finish line. I get handed all sorts of delicious nutrition (I ran out of gels hours ago), a medal, a t-shirt. I check the results. 4:19 and I got 3rd place in the competitive heat. I couldn’t believe it. The course checked out to be 14.8 miles with nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gained!

My girlfriend is waiting for me with open arms, and this is my biggest complaint on the day: she is shivering and wet. Apparently she and all the other spectators were forced to leave the heated lodge and had to sit outside in the cold all day while waiting for their loved ones. We all spent $20 or $25 on a spectator pass for them, and for what? The course only loops back through one time at mile 2. So for over 3 hours in my case (5 or 6 hours in many others) our spectators had to just wait. There was very little spectating. Come on Spartan Race, spartan up and take care of my people!

Cold and happy to have my first Spartan Beast completed. With my girl, Kerri Driscoll, who braved it out waiting for me in the cold, mud and rain.

Two days later as I type this up before I head off to my crappy day job, I can’t help but let my mind meander along the course, remembering stream crossings, huge mud pits I traversed without thinking twice, or a hellish muddy rock scramble down a steep pitch. Then I think, what if I had just done this here. What if I did this obstacle this way and not done the burpees. What if I didn’t have to stop to get the rocks out of my shoes. What if I had two good ankles. And just like that I realize I am hooked. I will be back when my ankle heals, and I’m gonna get after it for real.


Joe Murphy

The Human Animal at Eat
You can find Murph (The Human Animal) running through NYC parks (or down the middle of Broadway battling it out with cabbies) doing handstands and climbing things at opportune times.

On weekends he will be in his natural habitat running up and over the mountain of the day, eating turkey sandwiches and Jujyfruits to fuel his wild adventures.
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