Spartan Race Ultra Beast – Vernon, NJ

Ultra Beast Finishers Belt Buckle

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.

We'll miss you, Dustin!

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?

Finish Line Dunk Wall

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.

Done - In every way possible

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.

Spartan Race – NJ Ultra Beast: MORE than just a race

My First Spartant Ultra BeastThis weekend I embarked on my first Spartan Race Ultra Beast. A 26+ mile, 50+ obstacle course, designed by none other than the infamous Spartan race designer- Norm Koch. One of the best and most life changing decisions I have ever made.

When starting the 2016 season of OCR, I decided I wanted more and ultras were seeming to be my answer. The dilemma was that I had the want but also the fear to go with it. “What if I don’t finish?” “What if I’m not as prepared as I think?” “What if I starve?” and the “What if’s” went on and on, becoming more and more ridiculous, to the point where I held off signing up until only weeks before, even still then considering my “out”. The saving grace that brought me to the start line and my first Ultra Beast finish line was the OCR and endurance world’s fellowship and camaraderie. The exact reason I started this journey. Every time I voiced a fear or reservation, ultra racers barely blinked, before responding with motivation and laughter. A recognition that, maybe we all lost our marbles and sanity to sign up for a race like this, and yes maybe all your fears are true, but you won’t know until you try and if you succeed you get a pretty sweet medal and bragging rights.My First Spartant Ultra BeastWhen race day finally arrived, kickoff was delayed a bit. Nerves would usually plague racers at this point, but I was getting practically “birthday” excited to start. The sense of knowing that not just myself, but we were all crossing something more than a starting line in a race, beat louder than most drums and in an instant we were off. All my fears were suffocated with crazy amounts of excitement.

With each step, the excitement that I was finally stepping into a new level of athleticism grew. With the goal of finishing written on everyone’s face, there also laid determination, a beautiful gift that we all have when we get on that course, later to find that, the main obstacle is not forgetting it as the miles pile up and the muscles tire out.
My First Spartant Ultra BeastBefore I knew it, we had climbed a fair amount, passed the memory test, leapt over quite a few walls and had made it to the log carry. Trying to find the best proportioned log to throw on my shoulder, not thinking of whether they had separated the piles for men and women, and we were off again down to the multi-rig, which, with a miss-grip on transition, landed me in the burpee zone.  A quick climb up the rope and back up the mountain we go. From here on out, the break-down of obstacles to mileage was pretty well proportioned, along with a bear sighting or two, rolling mud straight into a slippery wall, and by mile 8, we reached a nice long farmer carry, that personally, wouldn’t be possible without the heavy rock music blaring, wrapping up the second third of the course. Before I was able to forget, we were back at the steep climbs, and by the 11th mile of my first lap, my quads were screaming on the inclines. This is where the Spartan camaraderie began to speak volumes. A few encouraging words, the reminder to check out the incredible view and a pat on the back kept me smiling throughout not just the first lap but full blown laughing in the second lap of the grueling course.
My First Spartant Ultra BeastThis race became life changing when leaving the halfway point at the drop bin zone. After shoving an everything bagel smothered in chocolate peanut butter and marshmallow fluff down, a few Oral I.V.‘s and some generously given pickle juice, second lap was about to commence. I had done Beasts plenty of times before, but getting going to take on the mountain again was the new playing field. One by one we leave that zone, physically, we were where we were, there was no changing that, but the mental strength was what would make or break us. The strategy was that of teamwork and to just not think about the miles ahead. With fellow racers words on repeat,  “one foot in front of the other” and “it WILL hurt”, there wasn’t much else to do, then accept it all and make the most of every second. Before you know it, that fire jump becomes more and more of a possibility and how could you not get excited for that massive belt buckle!
My First Spartant Ultra BeastBottom line, I didn’t know what to expect from an Ultra Beast, but this course was far from being for the faint of heart, and it did not let you forget it for a second. That being said, Spartan teaches an amazing lesson with a course like this; when your body is shutting down, it really is an amazing thing to realize how truly capable you are. A realization that you will never forget.
My First Spartant Ultra Beast

Spartan Race 2016 Tri-State: Killington, New Jersey??

Spartan Race Tri-State Mountain Creek Scenery(Photo courtesy of Pablo Correa)

Like Hyundai to a Porsche, Taco Bell to Chipotle, and fingers to toes, there are just certain things that are NOT worth the comparison including Killington/VT to Mountain Creek/NJ…unless you found yourself at this Spartan Race Tri-state Ultra Beast and Beast weekend.

With altitude, elevation, and terrain differences between the 2 locations, some might find it blasphemous to liken Mountain Creek to the legendary torture filled mountain of the East that is Killington. However, week-long rains and Spartan Race Director Norm Koch found a way to keep them both in the same conversation while ruining everyone’s hope for a friendly and manageable Spartan Race experience. Several black bears near the inverted wall causing several 10-30 minute delays for the midday racers did not help the cause either. I think official completion time reductions for these racers should be implemented, unless NJ Black Bears are considered to be Spartan Classified Obstacles.

Based on numerous accounts from Elite and Competitive racers, the frigid water march leading up to the Mile 8 Bucket Brigade became the kryptonite to the already embattled field slowing some down to a death march. For others, the green beast wedge cost them the balance of the 2016 Spartan Race Year with injuries that may prevent them from obtaining the new North Region Spartan Trifecta or any Trifecta for that matter. Although no one likes the thought of an active medic tent, the professionals of Event Medics were diligent in meeting the many needs of injured Spartans. I personally witnessed the Medical Project Manager dispatching response teams to and from obstacle locations without delay and in full composure. I salute them all, thanks for the hot cup of coffee 🙂

With that said, the Spartan keys to victory are still mind over madness, reliable cardio, the ability to handle your body weight plus the occasional 25 to 110 additional pounds, and frequent trips up and down your nearest mountain……….then repeat.

One of many inspirational moments was provided by the many racers that sacrificed their course time and bodies to assist paralyzed Lindsey Runkel in reaching the finish line within minutes of final cutoffs allowing her to be one Spartan Super away from becoming the first paralyzed female athlete to earn a Spartan Trifecta!

Another source of motivation came from the handful of teenagers fighting through the Ultra Beast and zombie walking their way into history with bloody knuckles and Finisher Belt Buckles.

13177222_1072451516134594_2458208608345557032_nAll things considered, Spartan Race continues its forward momentum with course improvements, an increased level of difficulty, and creative incentives like the Regional Race Pass that keep us coming back.

Post-Beast Questions:
Q.Why was the course so long?
     A.Because 14+ miles in Sparta equals 15.2 miles for the rest of the civilized world.

Q.Why don’t they change the obstacles?
     A.Because they still kick our hind parts.

Q.If NJ was this brutal, what will the Killington Beast and Ultra Beast be like this year?
     A.You’ll know at the finish line…or somewhere between the starting line and your DNF.

13122856_10153446115811861_8157013230201425469_o

God Bless & Keep Running!

Bone Frog Challenge – New Jersey: Race Review

Stepping up to the plate this past weekend, only three years old, is the relatively new Bone Frog Challenge and boy DID THEY BRING IT!

Bone Frog Challenge - Kevin on the Black OpsAs the OCR season begins to wind down, finding a good race is sometimes a hard thing to do, but Bone Frog was definitely a good find. Built by Navy Seals, this course felt very challenging, especially if you opted to take the Tier 1 Challenge – which is both the 9-mile course and the 5K course, which was pretty much a shortened version of the full course. Filled with obstacles, I encountered both at Spartan World Championship as well as OCR World Championship, Bone Frog tested my resolve to finish the course. As a relatively new company with no big sponsors, Bone Frog is very much making an impact and a course, which I believe is hear to stay.

THE FESTIVAL
The festival was nice and a good place to relax before and after finishing the course. While the race was held at Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, they had a merchandise tent as well as some other vendor areas. Mostly, they used the resources at the venue which in opinion is all a good race really needs. For completing each distance, you received a cool Bone Frog medal as well as a finisher shirt. One cool thing I noticed was that you received a different color shirt for finishing each distance which is not something you see at other races, at least the ones I have been to which include Spartan Race, Rugged Maniac, Battlefrog, and Civilian Military Combine. Another cool aspect they have that I don’t see much of at other races is the Gym Challenge. In the Gym Challenge, you ran a course with a heavy weighted ammo box in which your team/gym had to carry throughout the course in addition to the obstacles on the course. More than that, at certain points along the course, your team would have to do certain challenges such as doing a cumulative set of 100 sit-ups with the ammo box on a few team members chests. Some of the other team challenges included additional push-ups, lunges, and squats.

THE RACEBone Frog Challenge - Billy under the wire
Now for the actual race itself. While I was impressed with the different obstacles they used, the course itself was similar if not exactly the same path as all the other races I have done there this past year. Obstacles were on par with those of the OCR World Championship, if not harder at certain points around the course. Below is my description of a few of my favorite obstacles during the race.

  • Rolling Thunder – 2 Horizontal beams 5’ high that are lined with low profile tires that spin as you jump over. Racers jump over the tires while the tires roll them back. Both tire hurdles are spaced 15’ apart so there is less room to run and jump for the second hurdle.
  • The Dirty Name – This is our version of the “Sternum Checker” that you see at other OCR’s however ours is authentic to the same obstacle that is at the Navy SEAL O’ Course in Coronado California. Racers navigate 3 logs that are at ascending heights and approximately 5’ apart. The lowest log is just above ground level while the top log is 9’ high. Racers jump from log to log and finally go over the last log, hang from their hands and drop safely onto the ground below.
  • Ammo Carry – This is what separates Bone Frog from other OCR’s. While most OCR’s these day’s have some version of a weighted carry, the Bone Frog Challenge has an authentic military style carry. Racers carry a .50 Caliber ammo can filled with dirt that weighs 70 lbs. Racers carry the ammo can a quarter mile while also navigating a low crawl that they must drag the ammo can through.
  • Black OPs – This is Bone Frog’s signature obstacle. This is the last obstacle racers attempt before crossing the finish line and it culminates what Bone FFrog is all about. Racers ascend a 15’ rope climb up to a platform. From there they jump up to monkey bars that are suspended 22’ in the air and angle upwards at a 2’ gradient. From there they cross 26’ of monkey bars before dropping onto another platform and descend down a large ladder to the ground. All of this is done while crossing in front of a 15’ x 15’ American flag. If racers cannot successfully navigate the monkey bars they will fall into the safety net below.

I would like to definitely single out that results were updated from the minute you crossed the finish line. It was great finishing and getting an unofficial result once I reached the timing tent.

Bone Frog Challenge FinishersMoving forward, Bone Frog plans to expand down south to Georgia and possibly a few other areas and then turn west in 2017. Bone Frog is currently looking for top tier athletes to join their family. So if you think you are tough enough, check out their website and sign up for their next race!

All in all, a great race with great obstacles but the festival could use a little bit more to keep racers occupied. I would suggest maybe a chin up competition or a rig to practice on.

Grade B

Spartan Race – New Jersey Super 2015 – Race Review

Welcome to the Spartan Race New Jersey Super 2015!  Welcome to HILLS!  Welcome to TIRED LEGS!  Welcome to SMILES and TEARS at the finish line. For many people in the Tri-State area, this is one of the yearly races that is a true test of determination, courage, and athletic ability. In my experience, it is a bit emotional. A lot of people in the area come from doing the Tuxedo Park Spartan Sprint to the New Jersey Super, since the venue is only about thirty minutes from that race venue, and its very close to the border óf New Jersey and New York. For many beginners, this is the first time they are running a difficult and lengthy distance. On average, the race takes about three hours to complete. This year was no different. Overall, this year was a challenge against the mountain and against self.

THE VENUE

Spartan Race - Pig Roast at NJ SuperLike years past, the New Jersey Spartan Super was held at Mountain Creek in Vernon, New Jersey. This has been the site of the New Jersey Super for the last few years and is overall a great venue for an obstacle course race.

THE FESTIVAL
If you came for just the race and left, you definitely missed out on a lot fun attractions in the festival area. There was a new and shiny merchandise store. It’s presentation was a lot nicer than the tent that has the merch just hanging up. It looked a lot more professional and more accessible. Plus, there was a lot of Reebok Spartan merch that I have not seen at previous races. If you are looking for that 2x Trifecta hoodie, you came to the right place. If shopping wasn’t your thing, you could always play on the rig. While waiting for friends and family to finish the course, you could “hang” for a bit or practice your rope climb. I saw a lot of kids playing on it and swinging from bar to bar better than some of the athletes (I kid though)! You had more traditional areas such as the finisher shirt pick up, main stage, podium, and Panasonic area where you could film yourself in a 2 second video slowed to the time of about 15 seconds. And what Spartan Race in New York would not be complete without the epic pig roast (see picture above)! Truly, a Spartan’s appetite was present at this race.

 

Kid on RigTHE OBSTACLES (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)
There were A LOT of obstacles on the course and perhaps many of them you know. Rather than go into each obstacle on the course, I narrowed it down to my top ten picks including challenging obstacles (those of which may have been near other ones to make it harder aka dunk wall), different obstacles (those that may not be on the usual course), and easy obstacles. Before I get to that, I definitely want to give a shout out to the amazing team who decided to make the course more creative and pile burpees upon burpees on many participants. I also want to say that the course was a lot tougher according to a bunch of participants I spoke to, mainly due to the steep incline for the first half of the race and the steep incline of the second half of the race in addition to the line of obstacles set up in their path.

  1. Swim – I have to start with this one because it was a joke of an obstacle. It may have been from the scare of a storm in the area but rather than an actual swim across the lake that they normally do, they just had people walk or run through the shallow, knee-deep portion. It took literally thirty seconds to cross and continue uphill.
  2. Walls featuring Rolling Mud + Dunk Wall – Definitely a pace killer, this combination of obstacles slowed a large group of runners down since they were right next to each other. The runners had wet hands and if you weren’t a 6-foot giant, then you really had to focus on gripping the top of the 6-, 8-, and 10-foot walls to get over.
  3. Monkey Bars – Another killer of Spartans, this was an obstacle that ended with a lot of burpees. Because of the water from previous participants and the weather, there were many slips, falls, and splats on this obstacle.
  4. Bucket Brigade – Everybody’s favorite obstacle made an appearance at this race. If memory serves, it was in the same place as the previous year but made higher.
  5. Rope Climb – A traditional obstacle at Spartan Races, the rope climb looked to be a challenge. You had a choice of knotted or straight climbs. For elite, you had to use the straight rope climb.
  6. Hay Wall – This one was not necessarily tough, but it was set before a steep incline. Once you jumped over the four feet of hay, you better have hoped you stretched your legs well enough.
  7. Sandbag Carry – Another hike up the mountainside with either a 40lb trademark sandbag for men or 20lb bag for women.
  8. Log Carry – Surprisingly short and easy if you ask me.
  9. Downhill Barbed Wire – A bit different than what I am used to; people were forced to crawl downhill toward the finish line under the barbed wire. For me, it was the first time, and I thought it was pretty easy, with the exception of pointed rocks bruising every part of my body that wasn’t already bruised from the rest of the race.
  10. Rig – The last obstacle before the fire jump and finish. If you defeated this monster, you are definitely on your way to being an elite athlete.

Spartan Barbed Wire Crawl.

Spartan T-Wall NJ.

 

Elite FinishersOverall, I liked the race – with the exception of twisting my ankle halfway through. Some words of advice though, WORK ON GRIP! It helps a lot with obstacles that may have slip. And run incline if you have some hills near you. If you don’t, find some stairs.

Grade: A

All pictures by Alexander Sallahian.