New Jersey can now officially be known for it’s Beasts. Whether it be the Spartan Race event this past weekend, or the bears that inhabit Mountain Creek Resort in Vernon, NJ – as both have now gathered quite the following. This event has quickly become an early season favorite for a large number of racers in the Northeast as waiting all year for Killington just wasn’t going to work any longer.
From last years snow-covered barbed wire crawls to this years bear-filled trails, Mountain Creek continues to be a great location for Spartan Race Director Norm Koch to inflict exceptional levels of pain on his racers; for me that pain came in the form of the Ultra Beast, a 2-lap sufferfest spanning almost 32 miles and 11,000 feet of technical elevation change.
As strong as the course was, the event itself wasn’t without logistical issues as our start was delayed by 40 minutes by (depending on which story you believe) “bears on the course”, the “inability to safely get volunteers to their stations in a timely manner” or a potential OCR-saboteur who “replaced Spartan Race marking tape with a competing companies tape”? Scandalous.
Registration and Gear Check were smooth as silk for Ultra Beasters, as we were required to get our bibs the night before – something I think they should adopt for all racers to ease the morning rush of folks getting to the venue. I didn’t have a chance to check out Merch or Festival Food as I was on the course before most of that opened.
Man vs. Mountain
Beast and Ultra Beast events are, first and foremost, endurance events. They are designed to have you on the course from the wee hours of the morning to the waning hours of the night. The actual obstacles are almost a welcome break to the miles and miles of climbing and descending the rugged mountainsides. And they were rugged. Spartan took no liberties with the paths we took around the resort. The first 2 miles were effectively a straight up / straight down route with a log carry at the top and a rig / rope climb. I felt it all over immediately and I was only one-fourteenth of the way through the event. The reward for completing those obstacles was another climb up the mountain to meet an uphill barbed-wire crawl, sans snow.
What I truly loved about this race, was the use of terrain on this mountain. It’s taken my body 2 days to recover to the point where I can actually type this without grimacing but I really enjoyed scaling Mountain Creek, navigating the trails on the backside of the mountain as you traveled along one of it’s many lakes, leading us over a dam in the river and under some drainage tunnels. The overwhelming majority, from my conversations with racers out on the course, is that this year was much harder than last year and a quick look at the winning time this year of 4:04:45 by Cory Sweetman vs. last year’s winning time of 2:50:44 by Drew Jett. Thankfully this year though, we were blessed with much better conditions, at least on Saturday. This mountain is making a name for itself. It’s got everything Spartan loves to showcase in it’s terrain – steep and rolling hills, lakes and ponds, and plenty of mud. For me, creative use of a venue is a huge plus, especially when your obstacle creativity seems to be somewhat… underwhelming.
Breaking Up The Monotony
Spartan Race is known for it’s obstacles: the rope climb, the bucket brigade, and the log carry. That damn spear throw (1 for 2 this weekend – I’ll consider that a success, especially since my successful attempt came on my second lap at hour 13, when it was needed most). While these obstacles are all very well known, they’re also now getting stale. The only “new” obstacle they’ve really added to change up their events is their custom rigs. This weekend it was a ranger bar, to monkey rings, to Tarzan swings. They didn’t even have the decency to raise it more than 6 feet off the ground – sorry, tall guy problems. They’ve also changed their rope climb to an “above ground” version meaning no more pools of water underneath – simply hay bails and mulch underneath you, so you better control your descent once you ring that bell, with your hands of course, definitely not your feet!
For Spartan it’s clear that the push is to TV, whether it be in the form of the upcoming Spartan Race Ultimate Team Challenge, Spartan Race’s NBC coverage, or the lofty goal of landing this sport in the Olympics some day. Spartan needs innovation and not in the form of the Spartan Delta. While on the mountain it’s clear that plenty of people are still psyched to get their Trifecta’s, others were completely unaware of things like the Delta, the Hurricane Heat or the Agoge (man that word irks me and I don’t know why). While Spartan has the largest social media presence of most of the big-named races, they seem to be the worst at providing actual content worth paying attention to. One positive though is it seemed like they had a larger than average number of Ultra Beasters on the course Saturday, an event normally reserved for those who had truly trained (or were truly nuts) for such a task. Perhaps this is the result of people getting bored with the same obstacles over and over again?
Why Do We Fall?
I completed the Ultra Beast in 14 hours 23 minutes. Approximately 13 hours of that was spent in a very dark place. If you’re like me, you spend a great deal of time during these “sufferfests” doubting yourself. We all tell ourselves we don’t belong here, that we’re not strong enough to finish or that we’ll never make it. But then something happens. Each step you take represents a small victory over our mental hurdles, propelling us towards the greater goal of self-realization. The mountain had plenty of ups and downs as did I this Saturday and it’s allowed me to understand why we put ourselves in these uncomfortable situations; It’s so that when we fall, we can learn to pick ourselves back up and get back out there. For me that feat was only achievable through belief in ones self and my friends. Without them, this event would have been very different for me but instead I will hold the Ultra Beast in very high regards. To me, it’s what Spartan Race really should be about. Not just brute physical fortitude, but testing ones self against all odds, and overcoming physical and mental adversity in order to understand what you are truly capable of. This is what the Ultra Beast is and if you have a chance, I would recommend trying it. Fail or succeed, I guarantee you’ll take something positive out of the experience.
On a personal note: I was amazed and disappointed at the lack of respect people had for the course and the event this weekend. Litter is always brought up and continues to be an issue, but for me, the thing that really got to me was people leaving their gear everywhere. Shirts, hoodies, string backpacks (Why did you even bring that?!) and hydration packs were left everywhere on this course – that’s just rude. Stop it. You carried it in, carry it out! Also, if you’re starting a Beast at 2pm, and you don’t have a headlamp, you should be pulled off the course. Saying “They’ll have to drag me out of here if they think I’m coming off the course” is dumb. You were given instructions just like I was. Follow them.