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Ultra Beast

Spartan Race World Championships – Beast

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.

Joe Desena, Hobie Call, Hunter McIntyreFirstly, 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.

Photo Credit: Mohammed Iqbal

Photo Credit: Mohammed Iqbal

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.

Photo Credit: The Painted Warrior

Photo Credit: The Painted Warrior

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.

Vermont Beast World Championships Spartan RaceThe 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.

Spartan Race Vermont World Championship BestWith 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

Rob Barger Ultra Beast Vermont Spartan Race ABB PerformanceI 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.

Barbwire for Breakfast Corinne Kohlen Obstacle SpecialistI 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.

Isaiah Vidal Ultra Beast and Beast FinisherIt 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

 

Super Ultra Beast – Part 3: It’s Not All About the Finish

Setting out for that second lap was extremely difficult.  Within minutes I found myself alone, which generally I am quite used to.  During this long of a race, being alone can turn into the beginning of the end.  As I ascended that mountainside once again I could just barely hear the sound of voices not too far ahead.  What ever happened to Matt B. Davis, I wondered?  I pushed to catch up.  I caught up to the two voices I heard.  I am unable to tell you the names of the man and woman I met, they were also on their second lap, what I can tell you is they were very kind and made great company.  We hung out for a while, shared stories about our lives, what we did outside of this insanity, and discussed how challenging ourselves to go above and beyond enthralled us.  Somewhere out there exists a picture of the three of us near the top of the first climb.

second lap at spartan ultra beast obstacle race

UPDATE: And here they are. The previously unknown Man and Woman are Andrew and Tanya. Bonus! This is the photo we took out there.

Jonathan Nolan Chad Weberg Jason Reed Ultra Beast

Team Corn Fed Spartans. Photo Credit: Jessy Ogden

We continued the race together finding out more about each other while we worked our way through the course.  Much of the second lap has completely escaped me.  I broke off from them when I met up with my friends from the Corn Fed Spartans: Jon, Chad, and Jason.  I ran with them for a little while, climbed some, crawled under a barbwire section, and crossed the monkey bars.  As we began to descend toward the festival area I said farewell and took off like I always do on the downhill.

When I arrived at the festival area I breezed through all the obstacles with ease.  At the rope climb I even got a little cocky and climbed without my feet.  Then I took a tip I had received from Andi Hardy, and I attempted the bell kick as I approached the top.  Normally I wouldn’t try something new like that at a race, but sometimes when you feel it you just have to go with it.  Thankfully I succeeded, no burpees, my only burpees so far resulted from that blasted spear throw.  To my surprise, the next obstacle was shut down, no Tarzan swinging or freezing water this lap.  Apparently there was a wedding and that section of course had to be closed off.  Part of me was delighted, no more swimming in cold water, and the other saddened, the best obstacle couldn’t be attempted again.  Instead we were directed to do 30 burpees and carry on.  When I finished the burpees, I met Melissa and Colleen and to my extreme surprise this was their first Spartan Race!  How about that for an epic way to start out in the Spartan Race series…participating in the first ever marathon distance obstacle course.  The Ultra Beast as your first Spartan, now that’s something!  We ran together for a bit and shared some stories about racing and such.  I caught up and lost them every now and then I was having difficulty keeping my nourishment under control.

At the time I was feeling a bit nauseous, I grabbed a Cliff bar and tried to take it down.  The mint chocolate chip flavor was not doing it for me.  After finishing half of it, I spit some out I gave in and tossed the other half.  I was not feeling it. Though the ladies and I had separated, soon enough I ran into fellow Death Racer, Pete Coleman.  To my surprise he was sporting a GoRuck pack.  Initially, I was concerned he’d gone insane and decided to carry bricks for the Ultra, but it was one of the smaller rucks and he only had his gear. “No bricks this time,” he told me.

Ultra Beast Barbed wire obstacle race

Making my way through one of the barb wire crawls. Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

When we made it to the concrete lift challenge, followed by the uphill barbwire crawl we reconnected with Melissa and Colleen.   I took a very short stop at the water station and set off.  When I finished the crawl I met two other Death Racers, of course their names escape me now.  As Pete caught up we all began reminiscing.  The group of us stuck together for a bit but as always we eventually dispersed. I remember lying down for a short while and just looking up at the sky.  I closed my eyes for a short two minutes and immediately snapped back to my feet.  Time to finish this race already, I remember saying.  When the rain finally came, I finally got back to running, you know opposed to the fast walking I had been doing up all the hills.  The rain, as unwelcome as it was, it was exactly what I needed to get me moving.

My dreams of finishing were nearly shattered with less than 4 miles to go, and already having completed more than the full distance I was not ready to let that happen. Honestly, I never expected to be pulled from the course, there was just no way I’d get pulled.  When I spoke to Joe earlier on the course he assured me I could continue on regardless of how long these extra miles would take to finish.  Approaching Norm’s Spartan Race truck I knew this couldn’t be good news.  He wouldn’t let me continue, not on this part of the trail, based on what he told me this part of the course had to be shut down.  It was too dangerous with the rain to let racers continue from this point.

My heart sank.  I came this far.  I ran more than was expected of me.  How could I go home without finishing a race I ran extra miles in? Could this really be happening? My head hung low as I approached the yellow school bus.  I remember hearing the sound of the wipers as I boarded the bus, feeling absolutely defeated.  When I looked up fellow Team SISU mates, Daren de Heras and Matt Trinca, welcomed me, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see them.  We were all a little bitter about being pulled from the course.  Shortly after, fellow Death Racer, Pete, boarded the bus and it was a mini reunion.  When no one else showed for a few minutes the bus closed its doors and drove through the pouring rain back to the lodge entrance.

During the ride I told my friends I couldn’t be done, this was not over with.  I had a plan.  Upon our return I would run a mile or two back to where the Hobie Hop was, then I’d turn around and run back on the course.  I’m not sure they believed I would go to that extent to get my finish, but in my eyes I’d already gone above and beyond the expectation.  When we got back to the lodge, I jumped off the bus and instantly it hit me, the last salt pill. It was tearing my stomach apart.  Blarrrghhh.  Yup, that’s right.  A bunch of water came up, nothing else.  I took my sleeve, wiped my mouth and took off up the road.

After about a mile of running, I found my way back onto the course. I turned around.  The rain was still coming down, slowing to more of a drizzle.  Swiftly dipping, ducking and dodging through the dark trails all I could think to myself was how mad I was that it had to come to this, just to finish.  I had ran more miles, was pulled from the course with just a short distance to go, and now I’m running back to earn my finish.  Not exactly how I envisioned this race ending.  Again, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches, and a modified finish is where that got me.

As I came into the spear throwing pit I could hear my papa shouting out, “is that my Spartan?!” He was so ecstatic to see me and cheered me on.  I missed my throw, again.  I knocked out some pitiful looking burpees, rolled under the barbed wire, climbed the slippery wall, and blew through the Gladiators.  They were clearly becoming too tired to do battle.  A quick jump over the fire, and yes I totally contemplated the possibility of doing a front flip over it, I decided against it.  As I made my way to the shirt and medal area I saw Pat trying to get my attention.  My heart stopped beating.  Pat exclaimed that they were about to bring Morgan to an ambulance.  Barely finished with the race I took off toward the lodge.  Unaware of what the situation was, I was terrified.  The thought of anything bad happening to Morgan…I didn’t want to even think about it.  She’s too strong, too powerful, and too awesome, for anything to happen.  This is the same Morgan who saved me at the Death Race, the woman who helped me to finish.  She had to be okay.  She just had to be.

Ultra Beast Obstacle Race Finish Line

Crossing the Finish. Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

Morgan was sitting there shivering and shaking on the bottom stair as I entered.  I wrapped my body around her immediately and within a few minutes the EMT’s came in with the stretcher.  As I helped Morgan to her feet she came to and that’s when she realized I was there. “Tony?! You’re here,” she said hugging me.  I told her I had been there for a few minutes and I wasn’t going anywhere.  I helped them to lay her down.  I followed the EMT’s into the ambulance.  We went straight to work getting Morgan out of the wet clothes; they covered her in a blanket and we helped her to change into something warm.  They allowed me to stay with her until she got warm.  I was very thankful for that.  Morgan wasn’t the first person to go through this; the last woman they had to warm took around 45 minutes to get her body temperature up.  The entire time we were in there, Morgan remained full of smiles.  Nothing seems to faze her.

It didn’t take too long to get her back to normal; her temp dropped to about 95 degrees, so nothing horrible to recover from.  Pat and my dad kept coming by the side door to check on how things were coming.  I assured them everything was okay and soon enough we were able to leave.  Morgan no longer had any shoes to wear and there was no way I was letting her walk to the car getting her feet cold and wet again.  I had Pat and my Dad take our storage bin and everything else back to the car while I grabbed Morgan and carried her out of the ambulance.  When we made it back to the car I set her down and made sure she was doing all right.

Spartan Race Ultra Beast Medal

Ultra Beast Glow-in-the-Dark Medal

Once I knew they were all set I ran back into the lodge to change out of my clothes.  When we got back to the house Morgan went straight to sleep, I was really concerned that she needed to get food in her and told her she could rest for now but once we got back I insisted that I would force her to eat if I had to.  Pat, my dad, and I went over to this pizza place, the wait for a pizza was over an hour and a half so we opted to order every appetizer on the menu instead.  My old man and I shared a nice dark local stout and finally it felt like I had finished the race.  Sometimes there are more important things than finishing, I was still concerned about Morgan but as soon as we got back, she was already showered and ready to chow.  What a relief. I felt a lot less stressed once we sat down and started munching out.

The weekend of the Ultra Beast was above and beyond my expectations.  With the exception of going off course and feeling more scared than I ever have when Pat told me Morgan was being taken to an ambulance, I’d say this historic event was just that.  Historic.  This race will forever go down in history as the first ever Marathon Obstacle Race and we were all blessed with the opportunity to be part of it.  I didn’t want to see all my friends go come Sunday morning.  A weekend that felt like it lasted forever also felt like it ended far too quickly.

Ultra Beast Finish Sunday

One last photo at the Ultra Beast on Sunday before heading home.

The End… Until Next Year’s Ultra Beast.

 

Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

Super Ultra Beast – Part 2: Always Finish What You Start

Almost 26 minutes passed before our Race Director arrived on the scene, developed a solution and we were presented our options for how to proceed with the obstacle race of the year.  The Ultra Beast left us with tough decisions to make and little time to evaluate. Our options were as follows: continue the race and loop back to reconnect on the course at the section we missed, take off our timing chips and continue from where we were currently at on the course, surrender now and racers that were going after points could run the one lap Beast for double points on Sunday, or simply quit.  There was a fair amount of people who threw in the towel, some unexpected, among those that threw in the towel most planned to race the following day.  Another group would continue, the majority, from where we were allowed back on track.  From I gathered none of the racers were willing to just take their chip off and continue.  It was a lot of ALL or NOTHING.  Most racers had goals that they wanted to complete, for a lot of us it was finishing the race, and others it was earning points to win the big money prize at the end of the season.

Ultra Beast

Pat, Myself, and Morgan before the race.

I was on a mission. For me it was never about the points, living in the Midwest means you are required to travel often (primarily the east coast) to participate in enough Spartan Races to do the point series. Let’s all request a race, aye? Since that was not my priority my only decision was to continue on. The underlying goal of every race is simply, to finish.  It didn’t please me that the race was in many ways over for me.  Yes, over 20 miles laid ahead, and now even more because we’d be re-running parts of the course, that part wasn’t over.  The parts that were over, chance to see how well I would perform at this first ever Ultra Beast, very little data to compare to, would I have been able to maintain top 10 the rest of the race became a nagging what-if I tried hard to shake. Many opportunities and goals went up in flames as soon as I saw the Spartan Race employee and Alec Blenis stopped. Now, I would continue on with additional miles in order to finish the race.  While it was part awesome that I’d have an even more challenging journey now due to a fault by all parties: the other racers, Spartan Race and myself, by failing to navigate and mark the course well enough for the fog, however it really clouded my mind with a barrage of what-ifs.  The next 20 miles would not only be a battle of epic proportions physically, but more so mentally than ever before. The mental battle that would take place throughout the rest of the race on some levels was more challenging than what the Death Race did to me this past June.

Ultra Beast Tarzan Swing

The Super Cool Tarzan Swing. Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

Morgan, Pat and I rejoined each other and would continue a large portion of the race from here on out. We restarted the course at the monkey bars obstacle, just before restarting our bib numbers were taken down and to track all the racers who went off course but wanted to continue the race.  We had no troubles at the monkey bars and on to the downhill we went.  When we finally got back toward the festival area it became very evident how much we skipped, first up was the traverse wall, followed by a rope climb, and then one of the coolest new obstacles to hit the series, a Tarzan rope swing.  To get to the Tarzan rope swing you had to enter the water and swim out in that delightfully cold water (seriously who am I kidding), to a ladder that hung from a bridge. There were two types of ladders, one of rope and wood and another that was some sort of cargo ladder.  At the time I did not notice the rope and wood ladder, which I imagine was easier to climb, so I made my way up that cargo ladder and grabbed hold of the first rope. Took a deep breath. Exhaled. One more deep breath, and I began to swing, one rope, then the next, and the next.  As I approached the last rope I felt myself slipping.  I launched my back arm as hard as possible and though I missed the next rope I felt my fingertip just reach the edge of the bell. Ding. Yes! No, burpees.  I was on a role with the obstacles so far.  Zero burpees.  I got out of the water and spent some time talking with the father of his 15-year-old son who was racing in the Beast.  It was so awesome to see such a young individual challenging himself to tackle such a difficult course.  What got me chocked up a bit was how proud you could tell his father was.  I wished him and his son good luck and Morgan and I grabbed hands as she exited the water.  I told her lets go do this race regardless of what happens.  Externally I was doing all right coping with the race, I was constantly trying to distract my mind from how pissed off I was internally. We took off at a light pace and Pat caught up with us.

ultra beast memorization test

Here is the sheet the Volunteers used to test our Memorization. Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

When we got to the Memorization Obstacle we were greeted with a large, Spartan Race branded board that had a list of the last digits of our bib numbers.  I was 47.  We were to memorize our combo, mine was Bravo 056-2484, and yes I still remember it perfectly.  We busted out a marker and took down all our numbers on a piece of paper and stored it in Morgan’s pack.  We continued to go about the course together climbing hill, after hill, after hill. It was endless from mile 4 onward. When we were first found off trail we had already completed around 6 or so miles and we were stopped at what should have been mile 11.  We restarted from mile 3 when re-entering the course, if you’re good at your math that means this really sucked.  We had to go back and do miles 3-7 for the first time, then re-run mile 8-11, then we could go on to finish the last 3.5 miles (based on what I’ve gathered one lap distance was in the 14.xx mile range). After all that, we got to start over for another round, hold the extra miles.

ultra beast wall of logs obstacle

Yay for climbing! No, seriously, these were fun. Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

We overcame all the obstacles that came ahead, the stacked log walls – thanks for the rope, and then there were more hills.  There was another strong man obstacle, lifting a heavy cement block taking it to a post and then you grabbed the other cement block that was there and carried it back. Once you dropped it you turned around and headed toward an uphill barbed wire crawl.  The order of some of the events escapes me especially with all the overlap that came following the conclusion of the miles we missed.  On one of the upward ascents I cramped hard because I was rationing my supplies too much because I would be out longer than I prepared for.  They call this a bonk in the ultra marathon world, and let me tell you it felt that way.  I dropped to the ground and just completely seized up.  My legs felt like concrete blocks that were being compressed by a compactor.  I refused to let the pain get to me. I began chugging water out of my pack while I began to bust out one of my GU packs. I slurped those gooey calories up and sucked down another gulp of water.  I wasn’t properly fueling myself.  There was no way I was letting a cramp stop me.  Wrapping both arms around my legs I pulled each leg one by one off the ground and moved them forward until they unlocked themselves and loosened up.

As this happened I told Morgan and Pat to go ahead and not worry about me, I shouted out as they ran off that I’d catch them on the downhill.  For a long time they stayed insight and I was running with Pat for a while even. We tackled some of the downhill areas but I started to cramp and told him to just go.  Morgan was constantly within eyesight, but eventually faded into the woods. I wouldn’t see her again until later that night.  I tried constantly to catch up.  By time I had reached the sandbag carry and the sled pull area again I realized she was long gone. Pat was too.  It was lonely for a while after that.  When I approached the wicked hike once again I was just not feeling it anymore. Each step made me upset. I was running low on fuel. I had some sport beans and a Stinger Waffle.  On the way up I spotted a guy and a girl who were stopped.  The girl was cramping up and starting to shake, I’m pretty sure her body temp was getting low.  Even though the sun was out now, the water before the hike was freezing cold. I gave her a few of my shot blocks and continued on my way. I was out of food. Only 4 miles left for the first lap.

When I was starting to feel my lowest, as if it were timed perfectly – almost movie like, Matt B. Davis, who I met at the Death Race and now consider a close friend, came up behind and instantly I felt better.  We caught up on each other’s race progress and I explained to him what had happened to all of us.  To even further lift my mood he hooked me up with a stellar PB sandwich that really hit the spot after having run out of food. For the remainder of the first lap I decided I was going to run entirely with Matt, I needed a friendly positive face around to keep me from eating myself alive in my thoughts of what-ifs.  It was just endless climb after endless climb from there on out.  At one point the anger inside me just built up so much I think I might have taken Matt by surprise when it overcame me. ARRRRGGHHHHHH!!!!!! I roared to express my pain and frustration.  My quads kept cramping up on and off and the repeating of this section of the course was just destroying my mental composure. Once again at a race, I was becoming my own worst enemy.

ultra beast hop obstacle

Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

When we finally climbed that cargo net and solidly hopped our way across the log hop it was time to begin our descent.  I told Matt I’d stick with him so what I would do is fly down the side of the mountain and stretch out while I waited for him to make his way down. Then it was back into the woods for some slippery slopes and some crazy terrain.  Lots of slippage happened and I definitely recall helping a few people back to their feet.  When we finished the descent the next thing we had to conquer was the Hobie Hop, your feet are strapped together with a thick band and you have to hop over a couple logs then duck under a rope on the ground, hop a few more logs and back under.  We repeated that series a few times and then the obstacle was over.  It came completely natural to me even though this was the first time I’d ever encountered this one.  Matt finished the hop and together we took off to finally make it to the dreaded spear throw.  I took a deep breath and remembered everything Pak had taught me the night before. As my fingers released the spear I knew I screwed up.  Dammit!  I yelled out, I grabbed another spear and threw it again.  Another miss.  Regardless of how the second throw went I was going to do my burpees, but I just had to try again.  After that it was a quick barbwire crawl and a climb over the slippery wall to end lap one.

My dad saw me and as expected gave me shit for taking so long. He had already seen Morgan come through and Pat, they were already on their second lap.  At least 45 minutes ahead of me, I guessed.  The two of them relayed the information that I had been cramping to my father and Todd.  The two of them quickly found me some salt tabs, which I’ve always feared ever since Morgan’s vomiting incident early on at the Death Race.  I took them, chugged a bunch of water, changed clothes, gulped a Gatorade down and ate a banana.  I was so worried about cramping I may have gone a little overboard on the potassium.  Todd hooked me up with a headlamp and I couldn’t find Matt or see him by time I was ready to go.  I was in such a hurry to try, just try, to catch up to the others that I almost went off onto the course without a glow stick.  Apparently that was a big no-no and it was an absolute necessity. I just want to say a huge thanks to the ladies who provided me with one since mine fell off my pack during the first lap.  As I headed out I spotted Morgan coming in toward the 3-mile mark. Damn, I had thought, I’m now three miles behind her.  We shared a huge hug and Andi was right along side Morgan.  It was a great way to start my lap seeing two of my favorite ladies and just being able to share the love of the suck together one last moment.  That was the last time I’d see Morgan until the end of the race. Pat was somewhere far behind Morgan but still in front of me.  I took off into the woods and began everything all over again.

To be concluded…Part 3

 

Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

Super Ultra Beast – Part 1: Going Above and Beyond

After months of anticipating this race, it was finally here, The Spartan Race Ultra Beast.  My father tagged along with me for this trip so we woke up at 4am on Friday morning, Sept 21st. We arrived in Boston around 10am and wasted an hour trying to get our rental car situation sorted out, and then it was a nice 3 hour drive up to the wonderful land of Sparta, I mean Vermont. We took a detour and stopped off in Pittsfield, VT before heading to our final destination, Killington, VT.  I felt it was necessary to give my pops a tour of where it all went down this summer when I participated in the Spartan Death Race.  Both of us were starving so our first stop was of course the Original General Store.  After filling up we headed out, I pointed out a few key spots and we continued down Route 100 until we reached Killington.

Olof was the first to arrive at the house and we met him at a grocery store we stocked up on supplies at before we went to the house. When we arrived it was only us, so we toured the house, scouted out the rooms and settled down in the basement.  Soon after Junyong Pak, Shelly, and countless others began to arrive. Right away Pak got out the spears and started teaching us the proper technique for spear throwing.  Within a few tries we were all throwing far better than before Pak’s quick lesson.  He also set up a tyrolean traverse between the trees and a post on the house and taught all the methods to getting across this obstacle.  I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome it was to receive lessons from the World’s Toughest Mudder.

Homemade Tyrolean Traverse practice area

Pak and I set up this awesome practice traverse at the house.

Then I heard another car pull up while I was in the kitchen and I went outside to see who it was. Finally, the one person I was waiting for more than anyone else, Morgan.  My Death Race savior, had finally, arrived.  As usual, she was in extremely high spirits, and had more energy than a five year old all jacked up on Mountain Dew. We exchanged bear hugging each other off the ground and I was introduced to her client she trains, Pat.  We all went inside and they got settled in.  We were going to be having a pasta party in a few hours so between setting up for that, playing with the spear throws and saying our hellos to everyone that arrived we all had a lot of catching up to do.  It’s amazing how a year ago most of these people were strangers, and even until that moment I still had only known many of the people via the social internetz (mainly Facebook), and yet somehow it felt like a family reunion. One big, Spartan Family reunion.  Later we went over to the race site to pick up our registration packets and even there you couldn’t avoid running into a bunch of people you were unexplainably happy to see.

spartan race ultra beast car flip

Not a good way to start the race. Thankfully everyone was okay and still able to race.

It was difficult to sleep that night, but eventually we all made our way off to bed, it felt as though I only slept a few minutes. We had to wake up around 6am to get ready so we could be at the race site by 7:05am. The race was scheduled to begin at 8am…it didn’t actually start until almost 8:15am however.  When we arrived at the race site you could feel the energy in the air. The mountain was covered in a dense fog, we would be running through the clouds if it stayed around long enough.  As we pulled up I spotted some friends from Chicago Spartans, Candie, Stefanie, Paul, and Maureen.  I also spotted another familiar face, Brakken, he won the Indiana Spartan Sprint and I was rooting for him to place high at the Beast. Walking up to the race site put a stunned face on all of us, just moments before we arrived a SUV flipped turning into the site.  We later found out they couldn’t see the ditch when they turned causing the vehicle to roll, thankfully everyone within was okay, they still went and did their race.

Obstacle Race Starting Line

Spartans! Are you ready for battle?! Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

At the starting line you could just feel all the excitement building, we all were ready to tackle the Ultra Beast. We staked our place at the front of the heat, Morgan, Pat, and myself were there, along with Matt B. Davis, host of my favorite podcast, and Margaret from Dirt in Your Skirt.  There was Junyong Pak, Hobie Call and Olof.  I remember spotting Andi Hardy, Ella Anne Kociuba, and I even had a chance to introduce Andy Weinberg, one of the founders of Spartan Race, to my father just before the race. With so many top athletes here for this race you knew it was going to be an incredibly competitive race.  Not only was this the first ever marathon distance obstacle race, but it was also the Spartan Race World Championships.  Just under a year ago I competed at the 2011 Spartan Race World Championships in Texas, since then they have relocated the end-all be-all event to the homeland, where Spartan first began, in Vermont.  It was after that race last year that I decided to compete at the Spartan Death Race a year earlier than originally planned.  So many excited feelings were brewing.  Before the rules were sounded off by race director, Michael Morris, I gave Morgan one last HUGE hug for good luck. Then it was time to listen to all the rules: stay on trail, watch for markings, if you miss an obstacle you must do 30 burpees with push-ups, and so-on.  Ultra Beast racers were provided green armbands, these would signal other racers doing the beast to move to the side for us on obstacles; free season passes were on the line after all. To get the pass you had to finish by the 7pm cut-off time.  For me that was my primary goal, my secondary goal was to see how well I would rank in my first BIG distance race.

Cameras were in our faces, the sound of the shutters going off, my heart was beating, and then they dropped the sport-safe smoke grenades. I blew past the ancient pillars, keeping my standard start pace, not balls to the wall but enough to get out in front a bit. Within seconds we were at the first set of mud pits.  They were the perfect size to clear with a leap, and then it was time to begin multiple ascents up the mountain. I looked back and didn’t see anyone I started with in sight.  Part of me wanted to hang back, the other said push forward.  After turning into the woods I met up with Margaret for a bit, we shared some words about the race, strategy, what our expectations were, and how some people were turning the juice on too soon.  Every few minutes I looked back.  As we moved up the mountain, zigging and zagging, and climbing, and running, it was so serene and fitting to see all the fog rolling off the mountain tops. This was the Ultra Beast, everything about it felt perfect. Almost too perfect.

ultra beast barb wired

There was a high barb wire section before exiting a wooded section of one of the early ascents. Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

Just before one of the downhills came up I reconnected with Morgan and Pat.  Once that downward descent began I took off like a rocket. When it comes to the downhills, that’s where I have a natural advantage. For whatever reason, I’ve always found that my legs can handle the downhill, more than most.  The way I have described it is that I basically let my body go numb, essentially letting gravity take over control; I only turn my control on to keep myself from tumbling over or losing it and biting the ground, hard. I did roll my ankle a few times out there but this specific time I just glided down that mountain side.  As much as I was wanting to go fast I didn’t want to leave them behind. I kept moving forward.  At some point we came out of a wooded section of the course and the fog was extremely dense. It seemed like we should just keep going straight but I remember seeing an arrow to my left in the distance pointing downhill.  It seemed like the trail going straight made sense, but I couldn’t shake the notion that it didn’t make sense for them to have the course intersect itself.  Just a few strides away though I remember seeing more Spartan Race markings, I figured, along with a few others, that we must be on the right path. It has to be, it’s marked, I thought.

sand bag pull skis ultra beast

I want to know how much these sandbags weighed. Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

Morgan, Pat and I kept breaking off from each other, but I slowed down a few times and we’d catch back up for a bit. I remember I had taken off for a while and that’s when some of the strongman obstacles came into play, dragging the stone block with a chain is the first I remember. We were probably about 3 or so miles into the course and we still didn’t seem to be anywhere near the festival section of the race. Wasn’t there supposed to be a 3 or 4 mile drop out point, I questioned myself.  I shook off the doubt and trudged on.  That tractor pull was one of the easiest I had ever done I remember proclaiming to another racer, he agreed.  When I got to the bottom of this twisting and turning descent we were told to turn and I could see the tyrolean traverse in the distance, but before that we had to drag a sandbag that was in a small pallet-like box attached to a set of wooden skis.

rope traverse over water at spartan obstacle race

Ring the bell…then drop in the water. Yay. Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

We had to drag those wonderful things across gravel, it was fairly heavy and I was in awe at the women around me who were keeping pace with the same weight in theirs as I had in mine.  Once I dropped the sled it was off to the traverse. Luckily, I had practiced a few times the night before thanks to Pak’s nifty little rig that I assisted him with setting up.  It paid off, even though I could feel my sternum was already bruising up from this and the practice.  Just before ringing the bell I swung underneath after losing my balance from performing the on-top technique. I only had two arm lengths to travel before it let out the wonderful, ding.  The sick and twisted part of this all, there was no reward for successfully finishing the traverse, you still had to swim across the 38 degree water for a long enough distance that my body began to cramp almost instantaneously. When I emerged I had to crawl under a semi truck trailer and took off toward another set off rolling hills and mud pits, and then it was back into the forest for one of the most gnarly ascents I’ve ever faced.

rope climb at top of ski mountain

The ropes are attached to the ski lift carousel. Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

About halfway up this section of the mountain, which was a full out hike at this point and if you didn’t know how to hike efficiently this couse was going to destroy you, I was passed by none other than Alec Blenis, a top contender at every Spartan Race.  This took me by surprise, I knew I was hauling ass, but I had no idea I was doing that well.  We had to be at least five miles into the course at this point. When we emerged from the dense, bushwhacking, mountain climbing, hiking section of the course we were greeted by a pleasant surprise, a rope climb.  The rope hung there from the  top of a Ski-lift carousel with a bunch of hay bails circling the bottom.  A quick climb to the top and a ring of the bell and I was back on the course.  I took off quickly but was stopped almost immediately just a few hundred feet away from the rope climbing obstacle. What the hell is going on, I thought? There were 4 or 5 other guys stopped, including Alec and a Spartan Race employee.  We were informed that we went way off course. We would have to hold here and wait until the race director, Michael Morris, arrived to tell us our options for how to proceed from here.  This was terrible news, there was so much on the line for some of the racers. For Alec, his points rankings was just shattered, for others the race would be over entirely, for myself my shot at placing top 10 or even 20 was completely out the door.  I still had a larger goal that I held onto, and that was simply finishing what I started.  After the Death Race this year, it’s become increasingly important to me to finish anything and everything I sign up for. This race included. While we waited for Michael, more and more people who clearly took the same wrong path as us joined the party.  Even Morgan and Pat joined us not to long after we initially stopped.  What a disaster, you had easily 20-30 people here by time Michael showed up in the pickup truck.

There was only one question that we mattered to us more than anything, now what?

To be continued…Part 2

 

Photo Credit: Nuvision Action Image

Thoughts Before the First Marathon Distance Obstacle Race

A mountain out in the beautiful land of Vermont awaits. It’s exact location is at the Killington Ski Resort. This isn’t just any mountain, it’s known locally as the Beast.  That’s where Spartan Race came up with the name for their half marathon obstacle race.  This week marks a first for the sport of obstacle racing, and for Spartan Race as well, the Ultra Beast has emerged.  This will be the first ever marathon distance obstacle race in history.  Select racers from all ends of the country, as well as Canada and beyond are making their way to this mountain in Vermont to become a part of that history.

Topics ranging from gear, to nourishment, and estimated course completions have been flooding the Ultra Beast Facebook Group.  Just as I stayed away from those pages as the Death Race came closer and closer I too have strayed from this page more and more while others flood it with questions and clarifications.  I prefer a different approach.  Zen’ing out.  I coined the term during one of my initial Death Race interviews.  It’s my way of disconnecting my mind from the obstacles that lay ahead.  I prefer to be unaware of what is coming my way.  The less I know, the more I can rely on my mind to make on the spot decisions.  I “zen out” not only leading up to a race, but often times during the race as well. Clear thoughts, clear head.  Ready for anything. Expecting nothing.  Accepting everything, that crosses my path.  That’s how I like to go into my races.

This past weekend at the Ultimate Suck was extremely motivating and inspiring. I witnessed some of the most virtuous acts and strongest determination yet.  Being surrounded by all of that just a week before this event will help me keep my focus when it is needed.  Always remember you can make your dreams reality, if you want them to be.  I realized that when I was searching for a quote that embodied the 2012 Season. It’s been quite the ride, a ride that has brought much happiness to my life.  Make your dreams come true. It’s up to you. 🙂

Motivation Dreams Dream Inspiration

Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true. – Leon J Suenes

News Update: Getting Back to the Obstacle Races

See you in Killington, VT.

Since the Death Race I have been on a bit of an adventure/obstacle race hiatus with the exception of that pitiful excuse for a race in Downtown Chicago, Mud Wars, and a few visits to Dirt Runner to help them build and test run Illinois’ first permanent obstacle course training park.  That all changes for the next three months. First up, this weekend I will be heading down to Cuba, IL outside of Peoria, IL for Joe Decker’s The Ultimate Suck.  I’ll be crewing for my friend, Tim.  One week after the Suck, I’ll venture out to Vermont for a race that has gotten me very excited about being back at the races.  It’s the first ever 26.2 mile, marathon distance, Obstacle Race. The Spartan Ultra Beast.  It is an honor to be part of this historic moment. To be part of a first ever event of this magnitude, I just want to perform my best when I hit that mountain.

The weekend after that will be my first weekend of working hands-on at Marxville Farm, home of another first, the Legend of the Death Race Training Camp. You’ll notice on the right sider bar, right over there ==> is a green button that says Register Now. Go ahead, hit it. Sign up for our training camp, hosted by myself and Chad Weberg. I’ll be here when you finish committing to our 20 hour training event.

Training Camp Endurance Event Adventure Race

Are you ready to push beyond your limits?

Alright, how good do you feel now that you did that?  Now you have not only an event to train towards, but one that will help prepare you for endurance events such as the Spartan Death Race. Sweet!  So, after I finish working on the course, I’ll be heading down to Lake Geneva, WI to race at my second Gladiator Assault Challenge.  I’m told that they’ve made some improvements, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store.

Trail Shoes Road Shoes Inov-8 Inov8run

I swear it’s not an addiction and they all serve their purpose 😉

A week after GAC I will be heading to Downtown Chicago for my first ever road marathon. That’s right, another first! I just picked up a pair of Inov-8 Road X 233‘s from Zappos.com.  After taking a look at my running shoe collection I realized I have only trail running and barefoot running shoes. I don’t like concrete or asphalt very much, I run on it maybe 20-30% of the time. I just received these shoes in the mail today and look forward to testing them out, and giving a few report after the Chicago Marathon.

A few weeks after that I’ll be returning to Marseilles, IL for the Midwest Super Spartan, and my one year anniversary of my first Hurricane Heat. I am very excited to return to where I began to realize how much I love this new sport I have found.

There will be many new product reviews, race stories, and a few more installments of Death Race Reflections. I just want to say thank you for to everyone who reads this blog. We’ll be having more guest posts, interviews, and more in the coming months. It’s going to be an exciting end to the 2012 Season wrapping up for me with the Legend of the Death Race Training Camp.  I’ll be going in for surgery sometime in November.  It’s a necessity at this point. Then it’ll be time for the 2013 Obstacle Race Season. This has been an incredible year, and I am very happy I have been able to share it with all of you.

Keep training and racing; we’ll see you out there on the battlefield.

Cheers,

Anthony

More Obstacle Race Training in the ATL

Obstacle Race Training for Death Race and Ultra Beast

Everyone got in on some wood chopping action!

When you are staying with other Obstacle Racers, the obstacle race training never ends.  Sunday morning we, Maureen, Andi and myself, headed over to Matt’s house to have breakfast together. After we all ate we were put to work. We helped Matt gather firewood from a neighbor’s house who was moving away.   Even his lil’ ones, Jackson and Emma, helped out.  I gave everyone a lesson in how to properly swing an axe and we all took turns chopping away at some very waterlogged stumps and such.  Matt also had some fun busting a couple old doors up with a sledgehammer.  They also played around with Andi’s homemade tractor pull, even Emma got in on the fun.

Push Up Challenge Obstacle Race Training

Got antsy waiting for our food.

After all that we began to get hungry again so we walked down the street to a local restaurant.  Though the options were limited, because it was brunch, we had some real good food.  I absolutely devoured my burger.  Before our food came out however, Andi and I decided why not knock out some of our pushups for the Push Up Challenge that is happening for the month of September.  We went outside the restaurant and both cranked out a hundred.  It’s funny how many people stop to ask why we’re doing what we do.  Always turns into a great opportunity to promote the Spartan Races, and other obstacle races that we are training for.

Obstacle Racers Train Anywhere

Our Training Pit Stop with Kerwin

Later in the day when Maureen, Andi and I were driving to Jason’s Deli for dinner, delicious by the way, I spotted a guy flipping a tire outside on the sidewalk at an apartment/townhouse type complex.  Of course we just had to stop.  It turned out he was training for a bodybuilding show in New York.  Andi asked Kerwin if we could flip his tire.  Only crazy obstacle racers would do such a thing. Ha.  So we all took turns flipping this big tire.  Then he brought out the sledgehammer and we all got our turn striking the big tire.  I think we convinced him to consider doing a Spartan Race, hopefully we’ll see him out on the course in the near future. He was a BEAST.

Post dinner we decided to do some sightseeing in downtown Atlanta.  We made a stop by the Olympic park area and of course what did we do? More pushups.  We got the attention of some guys walking by. The one asked if we really just knocked out 100 pushups, which Andi and I had.  He claimed he could prolly only do twelve, we said well join us! He dropped down and him and I went head to head at first, and then Maureen and Andi joined in.  I think he did some 38 pushups or so and he said he was going to join in on the Push Up Challenge for the rest of the month because we inspired him to start doing them everyday.  I love it; being able to motivate people to start doing something as simple as some push-ups is so invigorating.  That’s what it’s all about for us, ripping one person off the couch at a time.

Fun in the Park Doing Pushups and Obstacle Race Stuff

We had so much fun exploring the city, OCR style.

Next we made our way over to the Olympic Gymnast statue near the convention center where I remember competing in a National Cheerleading Competition a few years back; we placed 3rd in the International Open Division that year.  When we got to the statue I was in awe.  It was so, so cool to see this massive gymnast doing flares on a ring.  I jumped in there and held the best V-hold I could. It’s been a long time but I’ve been starting to practice these more and more recently.  Andi ended up climbing up on to the statue and grabbed the guys butt. Too funny.  It was getting late so we started to head back. On the walk back we noticed all these concrete pillars.  The obstacle-racing mind right away thought, oh look it’s just like the log hop.  I got up there and right away started hopping from one to the next ALL the way down the street.  Maureen took a little bit to get over the fear of doing it but she got into a nice rhythm; Andi rocked it out as well.

Road Trip Obstacle Race Training

Knocking out some burpees at every state line

When we got back to Andi’s we realized it was probably best if we left right then and there instead of trying to just catch a couple hours of sleep and then drive.  If we had to stop along the way we would.  It was hard saying goodbye.  It was such an incredible weekend with some of the best people.  During our journey home Maureen and I decided to take a picture at every state boarder welcome sign.  We knocked out a few burpees at each as well.  All in all this spur of the moment trip was priceless.  I couldn’t have asked for a better training weekend. Thank you Matt and Andi for being such wonderful hosts and thank you Maureen for coming with! See you all in Vermont later this month.

Ultra Beast Obstacle Race Training

At the spur of the moment, less than a week to prepare, fellow racer, Maureen, and myself, committed to driving out to Matt B. Davis’s Ultra Beast/Mudder training weekend in Atlanta, GA. The event was co-hosted by Andi Hardy, who frequents the podium at Spartan Races. Why would we drive from the Midwest, Chicago and Fort Wayne, just for a training weekend you might ask?  Mountains.  One thing the Midwest is known for is its flat lands, unfortunately that means there is almost nowhere that can properly prepare us for what lies ahead at the Ultra Beast in Vermont this September 22nd.  We know Killington will be brutal; we’ll be doing two 13ish mile laps of the Beast obstacle race, which will amount to being the first ever marathon distance obstacle race.

Friday evening after work I hopped in my car and drove to Indianapolis to meet Maureen.  Some awful traffic caused by a vehicle fire delayed my arrival by almost two hours.  We wouldn’t arrive in Atlanta until 6 AM after driving for 14 hours and some 750 miles.  Our training was scheduled to start between 7:30 AM and 8:00 AM.  I was able to get about 45 minutes of “rest” during the last leg of the trip and another hour of “sleep” at the house.  Andi, was just waking up when we arrived.

Training on a Mountain for Spartan Ultra Beast and Tough Mudder

We started out as a large group for training.

After the short catnap we made our way over to the mountain.  To my surprise, almost 20 people showed up for the training fun.  Even more surprising was seeing fellow Death Race Finisher, Pete, here for the event.  Just before we started the first 4-5 mile trail loop, which included a quick dip in the lake, Pete asked me if I wanted to run with his weight vest.

Mountain Training with Sandbags made by Matt B Davis

Thanks for the awesome sandbags Matt!

Even though we were going to be doing mountain climbs with our awesome sandbags that Matt made, with zero hesitation I obliged.  With our little crew together we set out for the first run.  The weight vest was a bit big but whatever, no time for comfort.  The trails were root infested, and ended up giving Maureen a nice split knee for a souvenir.  We didn’t find out until after we finished the loop as we were leading the pack.  I quickly dropped the weight vest and took off to see where her and the others stopped.  I met up with Andi and found out that a ranger had already picked Maureen up.  When we got back to the car site it turned out that Maureen wasn’t letting a little (deep) cut be the end of her fun.

Sandbag Carry Up Mountain

Check out that group of Sandbaggers

Andi handed out sandbags to all who wanted one, and we set out to climb Stone Mountain.  What a climb that was.  My custom made sandbag, complete with Legend of the Death Race logo, was somewhere around 35 lbs.  Matt decided I needed the heavier one, and they all had approx. 25 lb. sandbags. Andi’s green “watermelon” one was also about 35 lbs.  Along the way we were encouraged by many of the other people on the mountain and of course many were curious why we would do this to ourselves.  Spartan Race got a lot of free advertising from us today.  One guy even asked if he could carry my sandbag for a little to see what it was like and ended up meeting us back at Andi’s car to get one of his own.

Obstacle Race Sand Bag Mountain Training

The first climb to the top of Stone Mountain with sandbags

Once back at Andi’s car we all refueled, rehydrated and prepared for the next run.  With each return to the car more and more of our crew peeled off and said their farewells.  We set off on another run and made a stop at the bridge where the lake was.  We had some fun jumping from the bridge into the water; Andi checked the depth for us.  Maureen had fell back quite a bit because of her knee so Andi went back and the two of them went up the mountain while four of us guys set out on a longer trail run.   Other than some groin cramping this was another great run.  By the end of it we had completed a solid half marathon in total running.

We arrived back at the car and said farewell to two more.  Then there were four, Matt, Maureen, Andi, and myself.  We set out for another mountain climb.  This time I could really feel the sleep deprivation setting in.  The sun was beaming down on us; sweat just pouring out of my body.  Matt and I switched sandbags, and within a few minutes he understood how much that extra ten pounds affected you.  Toward the top we took a breather and I began to struggle even with the smaller sandbag.  My body was just exhausted; fuel was running low, and all I wanted was sleep.

Ultra Beast Obstacle Race Training

And then there were four.

The last stretch of the climb is extremely steep and though beyond exhausted, I did my best to push for a sprint up.  I made it about 3/4ths up this part before having to grab on the handrails. Making it to the top this second time felt like a true accomplishment.  We gathered ourselves, had a few more photos taken and set back down for the descent.

It was an amazing day of training with some incredible people.  The entire time it was all smiles.  That’s what it’s all about. If you have a smile on your face, no matter how hard the task, it becomes that much easier with a smile.  It’s all in the mind, after all. I am beyond satisfied with the turn out of the training event.  Now it’s time to enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend. Happy Labor Day and happy training to all!

Obstacle Race Mountain Training

Now THAT is a mountain 🙂

Utilizing a Business Trip for Ultra Beast Training

Tuesday, August 14th 2012, it’s almost 4 o’clock and I’ve just checked into my hotel in Hickory, NC after driving 45 minutes from Charlotte Douglas International Airport .  It’s another short in and out trip for work. As soon as I got to my room I connected the iPad to the wifi and looked up the nearest trail.  There was nothing worthwhile showing up within a reasonable distance.  With this realization I decided to change what I was searching for. Where’s the nearest mountain?  It turned out that the nearest mountain was about the same distance as the only good looking trails I was finding previously.  That’ll have to do.

Single Track Trails

An hour later I found myself pulling up to this amazing looking mountainous area, South Mountains State Park.  Upon arrival I saw a couple coming back to their car, they both had small hiking packs so I figured I’d ask them about the trails.  They said they weren’t too bad, but I soon realized we weren’t on the same page.  They only took the nature trails, I was curious about the mountain trails.  Since it was fairly late, and I had not ate yet I knew I was taking some risks.  My hopes of finding a gas station to grab water from shattered when I realized how far out from civilization I really was.  Awesome, this was perfect timing.  At the time I didn’t realize it, but I was actually doing something very important for my training.  It’s always better to workout having fuel in you, but sometimes it helps to know how far you can go on an empty stomach. Sometimes, it helps to know your limits after you’ve already depleted your energy reserves.

Root infested trails.

The mountain itself was ruthless.  Now it wasn’t as large or demanding as the mountains I had climbed in Vermont at the Death Race but it still had some extremely gnarly terrain.  Single track trails, infested by roots, stairs, and many other natural obstacles that would assist in making this a memorable run.  I was going for speed so I tried not to stop.  During the ascent I stopped off at a few different lookouts.  Typically the lookout spots were dead-ends so I would stop snap some photos, and continue moving as quick as possible.  After realizing the sun was setting I decided I should make my way back down. I had already gone two miles, awesome just over four miles total. The descent was interesting.  The only way to build the muscles needed for going downhill is to run down…hill.  Period.  I’ve naturally been able to develop in this area rather quickly.  It’s exhilarating how fast you can get yourself moving on the descent of a mountain.  Most important is knowing when to turn your body control on and off.  I tend to let myself relax, I let the decline and momentum guide me down.  Swiftly engaging full control when I realize I’m just about to lose control.  During one of the sets of make shift stairs that were built into the mountain I didn’t engage control soon enough.  Shit! I lost my footing, fell forward and just barely caught myself.  With my iPhone in my hand, I was only slightly worried about the screen.  It was fine.  I sat for a brief second, dusted my self off and picked my ass back up off the ground.  I finished getting back to the parking lot.  Clocking my RunKeeper in at 46 minutes and 36 seconds, only 4.02 miles.  Damn, I really need to train more mountains.

Stairs…Yuck.

Finishing that climb made be feel a little better about my training as my next trip to Vermont approaches.  This time I’ll be tackling the first ever marathon distance obstacle race.  The Spartan Race Ultra Beast.  It came together thanks to a group of us crazies suggesting it multiple times in various Spartan Race Facebook groups.  Knowing that I only had tonight to enjoy this rare opportunity I decided I wanted to practice some photography.  I went back out onto the trails with my fancy DSLR camera strapped around my neck.  This time I took the Hemlock Nature Trail which would lead to High Shoals Falls.  I’ve always wanted to photograph a waterfall.  It was another mile out, it took a little longer than I anticipated.  Once I got there though it was completely worth it.  With just enough light still available I went to work taking shots. I climbed off the designated walking areas and started hoping from boulder to boulder. Slowly descending down the ravine.  Memories of climbing up and down the ravine with Morgan at the Death Race came back in an instant.  This was much different but in so many ways it brought back great memories. During the descent I snapped off a few more shots and then I took off trying to get back before the park closed.  Jumping from rock to rock, being as careful as possible not to do anything that may result in damaging my expensive camera.  I made it back to my rental Jeep Liberty by 8:24pm.  The park closes at 9:00pm. Perfect.

My favorite shot I took of the falls.

After another hour drive home and an olympic speed shower, I finally was able to go eat.  I was the last person and only person in the restaurant.  Now, that is how you make a workout happen when you are traveling on business.  Small sacrifices lead to greater gains. I trained on a depleted reserves, learning that this is actually a beneficial occasional training technique.  I discovered this fact while reading through the recently released book You’ll Know at the Finish Line: A Spartan Guide to the Sport of Obstacle Racing.  I highly recommend this book.  If you’re on the fence about doing a race, this is for you, if you want to race better, this if for you. On top of it all I got to practice my photography and clocked another two miles while doing so.  My first ever trip to North Carolina was an incredible success. I hope to return for a longer visit to tackle more of that mountain.  It was beautiful.