The World Championships of Spartan Race arrived more casually than I had anticipated. For such a big event, I suppose I expected the day to arrive more dramatically. This would be my third appearance at the Spartan Race World Championships, my first taking place in Texas December of 2011, last year I was here in Vermont but I actually skipped the World Champs in favor of the Ultra Beast. That leaves me here in Vermont, finally doing the Championship Spartan Race Beast in the backyard of where the Beast became The Beast. All my training this year culminated up to this event. I even skipped the Ultimate Suck two weeks prior so I could zero my focus on training and giving my best performance of the year at this race.
Firstly, let me just say that Race Director, Norm Koch’s pre-cursor to the Beast at the Virginia Super just a few weeks prior gave a very good glimpse of what he put together on Mount Killington. This course would take you up and down the mountain with relentless climbs that at times seemed never-ending, and descents that required I take extra precautions. It’s pretty well known now that I let myself float down the mountain at incredible speeds, it’s what my body is built for – I can handle the feeling of letting gravity take over. My years as a gymnast have left me with an air sense that provides me with an extra sensitive sense of alertness and sensitive knowledge of my surroundings. Like the Watson computer, I can typically calculate my entire path with little thought. On Norm’s course I had to slow my role to make sure I didn’t catch a root, or slide down one of the nearly vertical descents.
The Spartan Race Worlds Championships was an extremely eventful weekend filled with everything from playing a role on the Dark Side of the Spartan Team Death Race to running the Beast, doing some press work for Obstacle Racer Magazine, supporting Ultra Beasters and even playing the role of Ultra Beast photographer. That’s right I did not race in the Ultra Beast, and as a result of my performance in The Beast I could not take any risks leading up to the ultimate test of my ability to survive two weeks later where I’ll compete in the Fuego y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer 100K Race. To say this was an eventful weekend is an understatement. It was filled with fun, laughter, stress, excitement, pain, love, happiness, an extremely unpredictable roller-coaster of emotions. This was a Spartan Race unlike any other.
Spartan Race – Beast Race Day
After waking up completely restless and covered head-to-toe in a cold sweat, I was not excited for the morning to have arrived so soon. The previous night, I awoke in the middle of the night literally punching at my leg, an excruciatingly painful cramp struck my left calf. I wondered if something was off in my nutrition but I couldn’t figure out what it could be. Leading up to the race I did everything by the book: water, check, potassium, check, carbs, check. Overall, my diet had been very healthy I just did my best and prayed that the race would go well. Breakfast was a half bagel and a banana and as I’ve been doing everyday for over a month now I took down my morning wake-up call in the form of an ABB Performance Speed Stack Pumped N.O. Nitric Oxide Energy drink. Since starting on this I have been laser focused, energetic, and feeling pretty powerful. Besides that I had a bagel and a banana (a fairly standard pre-race meal for me). When it came to race days, I was good to go.
When I arrived I was still undecided on what to wear. I forgot all my short sleeve Under Armour compression shirts back in Illinois so I wore a long sleeve one to the race and my UA Compression Shorts. When I approached the starting line I already overheating, so I stripped out of the top and stuffed it in my Camelback. That’s when Joe DeSena had me gather all the top elites to the front of the pack, NBC Sports Network began things with a quick interview of the man who started it all. All I could see out of the corner of my eye was Corinne looking over to me. I ran over and gave her a hug. We wished each other luck and I ran back to my starting spot. The announcement of featured athletes was about to begin and then the rest of us elites would climb the wall to make our way to the starting line. Yes, we had to climb a wall before starting the race. I can’t wait to see what that looks like when the show airs.
After a few special “for TV” announcements concluded everything became familiar to us again, TC on the mic, giving his speech and the race began. A lot of runners took off way too fast. I could see Hobie Call next to me saying what I was thinking, “they are going too fast too soon.” As we approached the first sets of obstacles we were greeted with the longest climb of the entire race.
Only a half mile in and I found myself already bear crawling my way up the mountain trying not to lose my pace. I wanted to make this race the one where I pushed myself to my absolute max. The thought dawned on me that I might have gone too far, something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel strong, my legs…they were aching, and then it hit…my right calf cramped up and felt like a rock. I was stuck. Barely able to lift my foot. What’s happening? I thought to myself. What did I do wrong?
I had forgotten to bring salt tabs even though I knew from last year that I should have had some. Thankfully from behind me, I could hear a familiar voice. It was Pete Coleman, a fellow Death Race companion and friend who has come to my aid before. He asked why I was so far back and when I explained my cramping situation he instantly asked if I had salt tabs. He saved me by providing me with two, one for now, and one I could save in case I needed it again later. Within five minutes I was thanking him and took off as we reached the one mile mark at the summit like a bat out of hell. Instantly I was back in this but I had fallen so far behind I wondered how hard I should really push myself with the Ultra Beast the following morning. Determination set in and onward I pushed. Trying to make up for all the lost time cramping and nearly collapsing within that first mile.
The Vermont Beast pushed me harder than any other Spartan Race ever has. I found this course to be more difficult than the two laps and extra miles I did last year at the Ultra Beast. I welcomed the challenge. It kicked my ass and when I eventually crossed that finish line. I knew.
The course threw a lot of surprises at us: a half mile climb with a 70-80lb sandbag (no male or female specific weights this time). In addition there were obstacles that rarely show up at the Spartan Races including the Tyrolean Traverse and so far exclusive only to Vermont, the Tarzan Swing. Those two obstacles took place back-to-back essentially with some swimming, running, and climbing the Traverse Wall thrown in between. Talk about a perfect algorithm for making your arms completely weak by time you reached the Tarzan Swing. Try as I might have, I didn’t experience the same luck as last year. I fell off on the fourth rope and met my first set of penalty burpees in what seemed like forever. Immediately following that challenge was the reciting of our memorization challenge. Mike 025-5877. I still can’t get it out of my head.
With approximately 7 miles completed, essentially half the race was over. It was around this point that a whole new world of crampfest set in. This time it was on the inner part of my right thigh. It felt like the muscle was pulsating, I found myself lying on the trail not too far after entering the wooded area. I slammed my fist furiously into my thigh hoping to make the pain go away. I searched frantically for the extra salt tab that Pete hooked me up with earlier. It was gone. With no other choice I started eating what I could, Clif Bar….one bite, yuck. Clif Shot Blocks….mmm love the taste of grit and dirt that came from the package being partially opened earlier in the race, yum. The pain never fully dispersed but I was able to pick myself back up and carry-on.
This race would test my limits the entire time. Throughout the course I was challenged time and time again. I still don’t know why the cramping started so soon. Norm sufficiently kicked my ass with the Vermont Beast course, so much so that I didn’t want to risk ruining myself for the upcoming Fuego y Agua Survival Run: Hunter Gatherer. I decided to withdraw myself from the Ultra Beast the following day and decided to play reporter instead.
Spartan Race – Ultra Beast
I knew I was not going to run this race when the next morning arrived, I wanted to see my friends off and figured I could spend the day taking photos and cheering everyone on that taking on this monster of a race. We’re talking about more than a marathon worth of obstacle racing on one of the toughest mountains Spartan Race has come to. I soaked in the experience even by not racing. Mad props to those who attempted to do both the Beast and Ultra Beast back-to-back.
I found it was very enjoyable to just hang out for once. I stationed myself at the drop box area and spent time shooting photos of the Spear Throw, Water Crossing, Log Flip, and later in the day the Log Carry up the hill and under the barbwire. ABB Performance drinks and ZICO coconut water magically found their way into the drop bin area. I have no clue how that happened ;-). It was very warming to see my friends coming down the mountain and seeing them still in very high spirits. This was the type of race that can really put an athlete through a roller-coaster of emotions. You’ll have your highs and lows both physically and emotionally on the mountain. It’s crazy what these extreme endurance events will do to you.
I did find myself on the course running later in the day. It was probably mile 17 or so. Corinne Kohlen (Barbwire4Breakfast) came through the cargo climb area. The Ultra Beast course went out on its own and came back to the Beast course eventually, and I started running with her to see how she was doing, take her photos and cheer her on. When she came out of the water from the Tarzan Swing I helped her recoup and continued to run with her. By this time I decided there was no turning back so I decided I would pace her much like you would an Ultra Runner toward the end of their race. At the Bucket Brigade we were both annoyed and surprised to see that people were being allowed by the volunteer to Burpee out of this mandatory obstacle. It was very disappointing to see happen. I was proud of Corinne for taking on this challenge instead of following the pack. Integrity is far better than a finish that is not earned. We went through probably six or seven miles together all the way to the Tyrolean Traverse where Norm cut her chip and pulled her from the course. Just twelve minutes after the cut-off. One of the hardest moments of the weekend was seeing that happen. She was so close to finishing and there is no reason she wouldn’t have finished there was only a few more miles to go. But…that’s how it goes, Norm said, “This is the hardest part of my job.” I could see that. It was defeating to be pulled when you have so much energy and strength to finish. It’s extremely impressive how far Corinne went both days even though she’s been battling an injury most of the summer. There wasn’t much else to do after so we shared a beer for her extraordinary effort at taking on the Beast and Ultra Beast back-to-back, anyone who tried this is at a whole other caliber. Next year I intend to walk away with both medals.
It was an incredible event and really put me in a place where I’ve started making more rational race decisions. I could have completed the Ultra Beast but something was off and I listened to the signs and enjoyed sharing all the energy and opportunities I had to help all those who took on the Ultra Beast, a race attempted by a small population of the Obstacle Racing world and finished by very few. A very select few went on to finish both the Beast and the Ultra Beast back to back. Isaiah Vidal finished and told me that he could go do another lap no problem, and this is after riding his bike from Texas to Vermont because of a bet with Joe Desena that he couldn’t do it. He finished in 16 days and had about a week to rest up before conquering both Beast and Ultra Beast. Still speechless on that one. Joe Kauder was another racer who succeeded in crushing the two deadly courses set up by Norm Koch and Todd Sedlak. I’m not certain how many Burpees Norm earned from the bet that no one could achieve this feat but I know he’ll finish each and every one of them. We would love to see the entire list of people who completed both the Beast and the Ultra Beast if anyone has access to it. 😉
I learned a lot from this weekend and I am looking forward to watching this special air on NBC Sports Network December 7th.
More photos from the Ultra Beast can be found on my Facebook Photography page