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The NE Spahtens Show – Episode 5

This week Sandy, Josh and Paul talk about upcoming and recently occuring OCR events on their schedules – including Josh’s NJ Ultra Beast finish and Sandy’s epic 50 miles at Shale Hill’s newest event, Jill’s Folly – with a 6 hour road trip to the always popular Wason Pond Pounder in the middle!

We also discuss Hobie’s recent noise on the elite scene, Zombie Charge going out of business in New England this year, and controversial BFX rule changes.

Listener questions cover everything from how NES was formed to what being a member of NES means for us – it’s a good bunch of questions!

Thanks for listening! Remember to subscribe in iTunes, on Podbean, Stitcher and soon Google Play. Leave us a comment or a review – and if you have questions for next weeks show, leave them below!

What is the Cliff Jumper obstacle Sandy mentions? Check out Shale Hill’s tutorial video – they make it look easy!

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Ultra Beast and other Demon speak

Note from the editor: Horgan has been here since day dot. He has a reputation for being something of a Yoda, always around to say the right thing, to the right people, at the right time. I’ve been struggling to write my own recap of this race – and while my experience and sentiments were very different to Horgan’s, I thought this was well worth sharing, and showing a very different side of the weekends experience. Buckle up.

10702007_10152463378549811_1509408334021861424_nThe Spartan Ultra Beast.

Disclaimer: This blog was written under the duress of exhaustion and pain.
Disclaimer 2: If you have become accustomed to my blogs which attempt to find a positive aspect to my experiences you probably are not going to find one here.
Disclaimer 3: If you are looking for an inspirational story of willpower and grit with a triumphant ending or even a tongue in cheek best face forward resolution; stop now.

Warning: If you have not directly experienced my duress induced humor; which starts with philosophical Zen like koans and illogical quips on standard inspirational clichés. If you have not heard me speak in sharply sarcastic remarks, until I’m fully engrossed in darkly sardonic metaphors. If you have not been present when I have reached the frayed ends of sanity, where the voices in my head, spring forth spewing anger and filth through the open doors of my mouth. IF this will be your first experience with that side of me; then I might suggest that you stop reading now. I simply ask this because if this is will be new to you; there is nothing in this blog that you’ll want to read. The following article is not going to be pretty. It is going to be convoluted, rife with inconsistencies, contradictions, apathy, self-indulgent tangents, possible profanity and a heaping helping of self-loathing and pity.

IF YOU’RE STILL READING YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Seriously if you’re looking for some motivating inspirational shit STOP right now. I don’t want to change any image you may have of me. I put on an excellent Jungian mask most times but this time you’re going to get the shadow and right now he’s not fucking pleased.

Still here? All right, strap in. This is going to be a bumpy fucking ride. Sit down, hold on, and shut up because I’m driving. These are my opinions and yours have not been solicited.

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Before I begin let me get a little god in here first. Just in case at the end someone should strike me down they’ll know I looked higher at some point.

Proverbs 24:27-29
Prepare your work outside. Get everything ready for you in the field and after that build your house.
-Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, and do not deceive with your lips.
-Do not say, ‘I will do to others as they have done to me. I will pay them back for what they have done.’

With that Norm Koch deserves all the credit in the world. He put together the most difficult Spartan Race ever created. He did his job and let no man be held under scrutiny for doing his job well and as asked. Now that I’ve said that I feel I have license to go on and say exactly how I feel, how I want to.

10178098_10152460126834811_6280330827670188269_nI didn’t come to the Ultra Beast to crush it or kill it or any other non-productive, completely ridiculous, pseudo-inspirational, two words on a gym wall motivationals. I came to face a Demon of my own. I came to look it in its eye. I came to break the bones of some skeletons that have been taking up space, collecting cobwebs. But I came to the Ultra Beast defeated. I was probably defeated the day I clicked the “check out” button on the registration page a year ago. I came to try and settle a score, but I didn’t bring any chips to the table. Maybe I thought I could gamble on an outstanding marker and expected that I could bluff far enough through the game to get some good cards later. That didn’t happen.

I don’t remember a lot of the race in any order. Lets just start with the swim. I actually thought I was doing pretty well until then. I remember looking at my watch and guessing I was on a pretty solid pace. A good friend reminded me that I could in fact swim. So with out PFD I swam out. It was cold but not miserable. I got up the ladder without difficulty, but it was at that point that I realized, no upper body strength. Bell tap, and then I was only able to get both hands on the first knot. I decided to drop.  So grabbing my hat I let go. Down, down, down deep. And I puked, underwater, through my nose. Talented I know, right? It made the swim to shore lovely. So I went and did my burpees…most of them. And no I don’t care what you think, so fuck off. Which led us back into the water. This became a swim for the full length of the pond because the FUCKS in front of me didn’t want to go in over shin deep and clung like turds on a bowl to the edges. In all honesty I was already cramping at this point so swimming was a relief to my legs. When I exited I met up with a most excellent friend and Spahten who looked at me with all honesty and said, “This isn’t fun.” No. No this was most certainly not fun. Even in the most sarcastic, sadistic sense of fun that I keep tucked away in the deeper recesses of my mind. None of this was fun, and it was only about 8am.

From here on it’s going to get a lot fuzzy. We went up the mountain. I had some mustard. You know what? Fuck this bullshit about mustard! I poured that shit down my throat all day and all it did was irritate my soft pallet and upper esophagus. If you want to argue with me about mustard I’ve got some left. You can slather it on a certain area of mine and suck it!

Moving on. Up the mountain! You know straight up just slogging up the mountain. Oh was there an obstacle? I didn’t see it. Wait I remember it was the phoned in, half forgotten, Fedex cargo net they inherited from Tom Hanks after he got off the island.

And then there was just more walking up. At some point I ran into some Cornfeds.  I managed to stay with them for a good bit. I stayed with them till just about to where we dragged a rock. It wasn’t particularly taxing until you get to end and your legs lock with 7 out of 10 pain. I know it was a 7 because I couldn’t breath to scream. I stood standing stiff as a board becoming, myself, an obstacle to other racers. And then I fell over. I managed to drag myself out of the way, by my hands. If you have ever tried to cry through the lump in your throat where a half strangled scream had been only recently stifled; you may begin to understand my agony. Then through tears:  one hand, one knee, one foot, one push and I was on my feet again.  In no longer than five minutes.

On to the memory: India 202-2871, and then a spear throw. Don Devaney gets all the credit. I learned the technique from his, via telephone, spear throwing lesson on Friday: “Hold it like a dart and push it at the target.” Perfect.  That would be the first, the last, and the only happy moment for me on the mountain that day.

If you haven’t stopped reading yet now would be a good time. It’s not going to get better and it’s going to get a lot darker and self-indulgent. Thankfully at this point, as I write, the anger is ebbing.

So we went down the mountain. I don’t know how long we were headed down but when we got down it was at the inverted wall. My Cornfriends (in fairness for background I’ve know both of them for a long time and they are friends) were ahead of me due to my leg cramps that just continued to shift from one leg to the other from one muscle to the other. But at the inverted wall they were sitting. Rick was hurting from an earlier injury and at this point we were not aware of another very serious injury he had. But this isn’t about him. I helped him over the wall. Then it was over to the bucket carry. I think it was number 2. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. For the purposes of  this it is the one where I saw another Spahten spectating. This Spahten is an animal and is always there with honest encouragement. During the carry I had to stop too many times and I sat down. That’s the race killer there. Once I finally completed the carry I asked if he could work some magic on one of the cramps that was locking. He did, but said the best thing is to walk it out even if its Frankenstien walking, His last piece of advice was “but if it is really that bad, stop your race.” Death knell. He certainly didn’t mean it to be a coffin nail.  He was only truly looking out for my safety.

I’m not entirely sure but I believe this next part was the direct climb up, under the gondola. Again for purposes of my story timeline and not giving a damn about facts, this is where I started to stare at my demon. He’s only man size and not much bigger than me. He has a pronounced dragon like head with a torso covered in tight shiny green scales like a snake. His wings project backwards and would look only like a decoration. His red tongue dances and darts from his mouth through crocodile arranged teeth. He speaks telepathically in a soothing condescending voice. He never told me to quit. He made me convince myself that the race was over. That I couldn’t finish.  That I was a fraud. That I should just walk down the mountain. I wanted to. But I was too high at that point. And now I was with another set of forlorn souls, Golan and Bill. Golan from Wisconsin and Bill from NH. But this is not their story. So I walked. And I sat. And I stood and walked and sat. I stared blankly down over the parking lot. I looked over the valley at a perfectly cut timberline and thought “Oh there’s a utility line over there.” And I began to break old skeleton bones. Feeling them crack in my hands.

The thing about dragging skeletons out of closets is, they don’t want to come willingly. You gotta start with small bones. “You never thought you would actually finish this year anyway: Snap!” Then the Demon speaks and he says, “but did they have to make this so fucking hard?” And you pull out a bigger bone and think, “well you were pretty nonchalant about the whole thing, you were just trying to act cool: Snap!” And then the Demon says, “If you do go to the top you can take the gondola down.”  You reach in and grab a hand full of ribs and say “I didn’t put a damn bit of effort into this race and I fucked myself right into this shitty mountain and I have no other fucking person to blame but myself! Snap! Cackle! Pop!” The Demon speaks again, he’s so cunning, He says “oh but you had so much on your plate. You don’t sleep. You have a crazy schedule. Your wife, your kids, the dog.” Now you dig in and you grab that skull. That grinning, gape mouthed fucker and you hold him up to the light for the last time and you say, “I’m a quitter that’s what I do. I quit. I quit. I quit. IFQ!” And you take that skull and you crush it under your heel and you stand up and you look at the absurdity of your situation which is: Go ahead fucking quit. But what the hell are you going to do? Go down the way you came, or go down by going forward? Forward. Up and forward.

And then down. Down, down and more down. There was no trail left. I felt like George of the jungle swinging from tree to tree. Legs cramped so fucking bad and then a horrifying collapse. My water bladder collapsed not me. It collapsed because I was out. Out of water. Great. At some point this was bound to happen but really, now? Now I went to pull a tire. Great obstacle. I’d have rather been pulling a noose around my neck at this point. Cop out obstacle. Up side, I was able to get Golan a walking stick to brace himself. Kid has the guts of a martyr but he was toast and I don’t blame him. His knee wasn’t getting any better. It was the last pitch down to safety. A stick was my parting gift to him. I left him with a crossfitter named Susan from ME. She’s pretty badass, completing a Goruck heavy. We knew some of the same people.

And the Demon managed to stick a new skeleton into my closet. A skeleton whose bones where rotting green with mold and mud. I left an injured person clearly in pain on a mountain. Fuck you Green Demon. Fuck you Ultra Beast.

When Dante descended into hell with the poet Virgil he passed through it’s many levels and the inhabitants there of. As I walked down this nasty half excuse of a goat trail I couldn’t help but think of Dante. I knew there were nine rings and that Satan was at the bottom frozen up to his waist eating those denizens of the ninth circle: Betrayers. Was that what I have become a betrayer? Turns out with a little research no I wasn’t destined for the ninth circle quite yet. I’m destined for the eighth. Circle eight that’s where I sit. The fraudulent: liars, deceivers, false prophets, panderers, seducers and thieves! These, these are my vices and those are my people. And sandbags apparently.  Two sandbags because: “Fuck it I’m going to quit anyway but I’m Ultra so I have to carry two.” I want to say it was about 2 pm. I think I had it in my head that I already hadn’t made a cut off but it didn’t matter though because when I was done. I was going to quit. 10 feet. Stop. 10 feet. Stop. 10 feet. Stop. Wow that took like 16 minutes and I’m…fuck im like one one hundredth of the way there! The Demon says, “You said you’re quitting, just put the bags down and walk.” No that just means somebody else has to clean up my mess. 10 feet. “Your going to leave just leave.” No because how could I write about this later if I have to tell 3300 Spahtens not only did I quit; I trashed the course for them to pick up? The Demons is not so subtle any more: “Fuck them he say’s.” NO Demon: FUCK YOU. 10 feet. A wonderful gentleman with a beautiful smile and an ancestry I guessed to be Mexican said to me “You can’t quit now man were headed down.” I said thank you but when I’m done I’m going right through that arch, I quit. Then he, in the most elegant, cheery, Spanish accented English said. “Well I hope you change you mind.” Fuck you feelings: 10 feet!

When I got to the bottom I couldn’t quit. I couldn’t quit because telling someone I quit would be harder than actually doing it. It would have been easier to lie down and die right there than make the effort to quit. And it was so easy. It would never be easier than right there to quit. Strangely enough, you see a lot of things you need to see, only when you need to see them. Yes I’m patriotic but I don’t go busting my zipper every time I see a flag go by. I know what it means to me. That’s what matters to me. But when you see a flag on a Spartan course, it is usually being carried by someone for a reason; and usually by someone I know. If you have ever seen a man who looks like he jumped off of the pages of Robinson Caruso, its Stephen Reid. Bones. That was his flag and that was he. It dawned on me that with his “more faith than fear and more heart than scars” I just needed to keep going, off into the woods. Fill the water first.

The next last bits you know. The anger is subsiding as I write. I can tell you that at the race. at this point, my venom was toxic and it was killing me quickly. I didn’t care any more. I got to try my hand at the new obstacle. Some rings and swing bars. NO problem I nailed it, until the rope. One hand two hands; and faster than you can say fireman on a pole I was in the dirt. Slicker than snot on a doorknob. I tried to burpee. My legs wouldn’t unlock. So in the now rigid, prone position where I lay. I gave three or four more attempts and I had to give up even trying, You can start breaking the bones on that skeleton your holding right now because we’re going to need the space.

Now off to the Tyrolean traverse. It said in the rules if any body part touches the water you failed. So I got on top of the rope and sank. And I went out further and it sank further. How the fuck can I keep my body out of the water when the fucking rope is under the water. So I floated my bloated, cramped, broken ass. Hand over hand down the line. Slapped the bell, rolled off and swam in.  I still did it right.

Rope climb, fail. Limped past the two volunteers who couldn’t even be bothered to look up from their iPhones. Spear throw: Perfect. Perfectly short. It did stick in the ground underneath. I limped to the burpee coral. 5 or 6 until my arms couldn’t move. More broken skeleton bones. Don’t get too angry just yet, I blow off plenty of more burpees.

Texans. Why is it always Texans! They are always big happy and helpful. Hobbling now I approached the wall. My defeated face must have given me away. He asked if I needed help. I could only say yes. And that was it. Knee, shoulders, wall. Crushed my testicles in spectacular fashion and then guided myself down…to barbed wire. At this point any prone position is a lightning storm of fiery pain and agony. I made it all the way through and then through the rolling mud. I could not physically bring myself through the last section. I had indeed; quit. And so I walked.  Past the American Ninja Turtle, this is only here for the elite heat to look epic on TV, 30 yards of pipe BS obstacle. No I didn’t attempt it, or burpees. Why? Fuck you that’s why.  Just staying on my feet at this point was torture.  Up and over and down and then to the Herculean hoist.  The rope was slick but I made it no issue. Monkey bars: I’ve lost count but I think I have done 15 Spartan races, 4 or 5 hurricane heats and sometimes multiple laps of the same course. I have never, ever, ever failed the money bars. I couldn’t hold on for 1 transition. NO I didn’t do burpees. Why? Why are you still reading?

At the long over grown blow down ascent which actually might have been kinda cool I caught up with Haidar Hachem. I’m not sure what intrigued me the most, the hat, the hairiness or the stash. Either way, this is Spartan Race. You come for the race and you stay for the people. Hadir is more than a competent athlete.  He began to tell me his story, a similar one to my own except he was actually on pace to finish his Ultra.  As we all were at one point.  But now to finish, to simply try and finish, we just had to walk up this hill and down. That’s all.

The very last bag of bones I can shove into my closet is this:  I pulled my sleeves over my coveted green armbands and hobbled toward… the finish. Fraud. Coward. Quitter. Liar. Cheater.

At the start line I had given up. At mile 3 I had quit. And I stayed quit until the end of my race, the whole Beast distance. My race. NOT yours. Not yours to measure against mine. Not yours to tell me what I did wrong. Not yours to tell me that you are disappointed in me. Not yours to tell me you have lost respect for me. My race. Yes I took a 2014 Beast Medal. I crossed the start line and the finish line and at no point in between did I cut the course, or not carry the weight. I went as long as I could, as far as I could, as well as I could until I could not. No I did not do all the burpees. NO I could not do all the obstacles. It was medically irresponsible for me to continue. It was also ethically irresponsible for me to destroy myself into irreparable harm for a race. Once I finished and took my medal I went to my truck to leave.  And that should have been the end.

253292_10100600883117453_6769654311866755350_nHowever providence struck again as it always does in Sandy Rhee. She made a bus driver stop and let her off as she went by. Sandy has always been there for me, as she has for so many others but Sandy just seems to be there right when she’s needed the most, for me. I was changing to leave. Angry. Demoralized, Crushed. Belittled. Betrayed. Broken physically and mentally. Friendless in a sea of brothers and sisters; and then a friend. So instead I decided to stay. To watch some of my heroes actually complete their Ultra Beast. I did get a chance to meet teammates I only know online.

So yes I am proof that I can finish a Beast, mostly, without any training. But not an ultra. I may never finish an Ultra race. I’m positive I will never finish an Ultra Beast. Now that it is all said and done. I’m done. I’m done with Beasts and trifectas and Spartan races. I will end my Spartan relationship the same place it started. When I started it was fun. It was hard and brutal but fun. Sunday was not fun. It was not fun and it got worse the further I went. That whole useless awful race catered to the Sprint distance at the end and NBC. That’s my opinion, which you are welcome to disagree with, or not. If I wanted to aimlessly hike straight up and down a mountain I would do it in Colorado for free. The distinct lack of obstacle spacing was bullshit and simply carrying something heavy up a hill is not an obstacle. Shit I would have rather the atlas stone carry 5 more times than just some endless up hill sand bag or bucket. No, Spartan has lost any allure for me. I will gladly encourage my teammates to set and accomplish goals. I would even volunteer at a Spartan Race to see and encourage others, but to give my money to that? Not anymore. Racelocal and have fun.

Like all good things this came to and end. I rattled some bones.  I had open and frank discussions with my demon. He wasn’t crushed, quelled, released or any manner of exorcised. He’s still there and he speaks, a lot. A great deal of what you have just suffered through was written on that mountain in between fits of rage and despair. In the end I thought mostly of my Spahten family. I thought about the people, you people. The people I would have to tell “I quit.” Not because I was physically injured requiring immediate medical attention. No I would have to tell you I quit and then suffer all the “good effort man, you really tried” comments. As well-meaning as those are they don’t break skeleton bones. Instead I chose to finish the only way that I could. And if that means I left burpees on Killington that’s fine with me. They are up there with my ego, my pride, some dignity, a couple of aspirations and a belt buckle.  But when it was really. sincerely, all done. I got in my truck put TOOL radio on Pandora and drove 3 hours straight home, by myself, and was still at work at 7am this morning.

Authors note:  This was originally published without reflection or edit.  It was published in raw form, The media added were not mine and the sole choice of the editor, which I am happy with.  After being able to review this I have not changed anything with the exception of deleting some occasional profanities which were unnecessary.  I write what I feel.  After closer inspection I would simply like to say that anyone choosing to do a Spartan Race should most certainly do one or many.  To have the aspiration to complete an obstacle course race on the caliber of Spartan Race is excellent.  My personal experience is varied, and should not influence anyone not to do a race.  I work with my Demon every day and everyday he wins some battles and I try to push through the losses the best that I can.  I don’t do many things for myself and OCR are my chance to beat on that voice inside my head.  On Sunday the Demon had a lot of time and distance to dance in my head and he did so without restraint.  When I write down what I was experiencing you only get the edited 1% of those thoughts.  So again, if you choose to judge me or my choices remember you are judging less than 1% of one race, on one day in the life that I live 24 hours a day, everyday.  Thank you for reading.

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Of medals and belt buckles …

Personal rant time! I’ve seen many sides to the Ultra Beast belt buckle swag conversation – and wanted to share my own.

Team Rollover were my housemates ...
Team Rollover were my housemates …

In 2012, I ran my first Beast distance Spartan Race. It was in VT (*The Beast*), and it was the biggest physical challenge I’d ever participated in.

I was staying with some folks who were running the Ultra Beast – two laps of the regular Beast course! TWO LAPS! Considering how I felt when I finished, I was in awe of their accomplishments.

Then, they came back to our rented lodge showing off their over sized, amazing looking medals. I wanted one. That night, we accidentally discovered THEY GLOWED IN THE F*CKING DARK!

Credit: Freddy Rodriquez
Credit: Freddy Rodriquez

I wanted one of those bad boys hard.

Within weeks I was registered for the 2013 Ultra Beast.

My training sucked. Injuries, lack of motivation, excuses – all those things got in my way, and as details of the 2013 Ultra were released I realized there was very little chance of me hitting the time cuts. I knew I could go the distance, I also knew I couldn’t go the distance in the speed required. My motivation was earning an amazing medal (and I needed it to complete my trifecta) – a DNF due to missing a time cut would mean I lost both those things. I dropped to the Beast, did the Sprint too, got my Beast medal and trifecta. I was comfortable with that.

A couple of days ago, Spartan HQ put out a photo of the new bling for the 2014 Ultra Beast.

It’s s belt buckle.

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It’s a nice belt buckle, I’m sure. And they showed a photo of it strung on a ribbon, looking like a Flava Flav accessory. But it’s not the glow in the dark, oversized medal I’ve coveted for two years. It’s not the thing thats motivated me to push and drive.

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It’s a freaking belt buckle.

There are people who love belt buckles – and they’ll wear it everywhere. Good on them. I’m not one of them.
There are people who think medals are silly, and they run the races for the pure joy of running races. Good on you, but you’re in the minority.

Much like the “old” trifecta medal – for many of us weekend warrior types (you know, the bulk of the field at any OCR) – the medal is a reminder that we did it. We overcame something. We achieved a thing. We earned a $2 piece of metal on some string. For me, I overcame the 300lb guy I used to be, long before OCR, and keep overcoming him, every time I run. For others, it’s achieving something they didn’t think they could do that day.

I was planning my first double trifecta year until they scrapped that physical reward of my accomplishment – the one I’d been anticipating for three, four years.

Credit: Vince
Credit: Vince

I have my medal collection hung up on the walls of my office, and I’m likely the only person who see’s them, day to day – but each one has a memory. Someone I ran with. A course time I was proud of. I can show you the first medal I received, ever. I can show you the first medal I received alongside my wife. I can show you the tag I got at HH16, and the dog tag at my personal best CMC pit. How about the medal the time my gall bladder attack turned a 10k course into a 6.5 hour slog? Or the one I rolled my ankle in the middle of and had to walk in? I have a medal that shouldn’t have existed, from a race that collapsed shortly after – someone took the time to find it, and get me one. Memories associated with them all.

Now – maybe I would never run the Ultra Beast. Maybe I could never overcome my own excuses and lack of motivation to get to that place. But, the oversized, glow in the dark medal would have been ever sweeter because if I ever did cross that finish line, and someone dropped that medal around my neck, I would have earned it.

A belt buckle?

No thanks. See you on the Beast course.

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Featured Review: Spartan Race Ultra Beast 2013

This weeks Featured Athlete, and super nice guy Josh also competed in and finished the Ultra Beast – and offered to put his experience in words for us. I was hardly going to say no 🙂

I actually ran with Josh briefly – he caught me at the bucket carry, and looked great, and we passed each other a couple of times before I watched him do the tyrolean traverse (while I was burpeeing) – then he was gone until the final sandbag carry – he looked strong and was moving fast!

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The first intelligent question that came to mind as I stood amongst the four or five hundred people ready to attempt the 2013 Spartan Ultra Beast: “What am I doing here?” I still don’t have a good answer. I survived the Ultra Beast last year and earned a season pass, and I suppose that drove me to return. It really is hard to comprehend the forces that drive us to attempt an event that is certain to make us suffer a full day of pain and discomfort for a glow-in-the-dark trinket worth one dollar.

It was pitch black, we were milling about in the festival area. Andy Weinberg of Death Race was on the mic talking ragtime about how overnight flooding had forced them to add two miles to the course, and that our drop bins had been moved to random locations on the mountain. As a past Death Racer, I ignored him. People were jumping up and down and getting themselves amped up. I tried to do the opposite. Going out fast would be disastrous. Last year the course had been around 28 miles and had taken me nearly ten and a half hours. Junyong was beside me. We had both scouted what portions of the course we could on Saturday and had both adjusted our nutrition plans after hearing so many racers complain of cramping. He floated up to the front and I stayed where I was. My experience last year told me that only a few people, perhaps four or five, would be able to actually “run” the whole course. Many others would burn themselves out trying.

After the standard Spartan motivational repetitions, we headed out en masse onto the Beast course. We would do the first 5 miles of it now, head into the woods for an undetermined number of miles and then rejoin the Beast course where we left off and complete the 9+ miles that remained. Thanks to the rain, we all had wet feet within two minutes of the start. A couple standard obstacles went by and we started the first of a seemingly endless number of climbs. I stopped for a moment high above the valley and looked back on the slowly moving line of headlamps creeping up the mountain like a ponderous caterpillar. It was still very dark.

A few weeks back I hiked the Presidential Traverse in the White Mountains. It was a very challenging climb and we stopped at one point on the trail in complete darkness, turned off our headlamps and stood quietly. We were above the alpine line so there were few trees or animals. For a few minutes we were in the most complete silence of my life. It was surreal. Moments like these are indelible.

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The true indicator that this race was going to be different came at the first sandbag carry. To this point I had gone 4 miles in 2 hours and was doing math in my head about the paces needed to beat cutoffs and simply finish. When I put the 60lb bag on my shoulders and headed up again, the math got even less hopeful. In my opinion, that sandbag carry was the way they should all be. It was very, very difficult and twice as long as any other I’d done prior. On the way down, I slipped on a severe decline and the sandbag flew off my shoulders and rolled about 40 feet, nearly taking out a few racers, including Matt Davis, on their way up. It was dangerous. Just like the race.

We climbed back to the top after that. I think we hit another obstacle wall up there. There were a silly number of walls everywhere. Most of them small ones. Reminded me of Ruckus, not in a good way. We then embarked into uncharted territory (and the infamous forest-green course markers) with our first steps onto the Ultra Beast course. We had to navigate a twisty balance board walk across two by sixes, lot of folks fell off this one. There were a series of gnarly up and down bushwhacking trails, one of which ripped off my timing chip and gave me a deep, arrow shaped wound on my palm.

Then came the long grassy slope. It was awesome. It was a three mile winding path, covered almost entirely by soft grass and moss, and gently sloped downhill towards Bear Mountain. I maintained a sub 7 minute pace on that stretch. It was broken up by a barbed wire crawl, but this portion of the race greatly improved my race math. I ran much of it with a two other guys, names unknown, and we passed dozens of folks.

We came out of it to a (surprise) 4 foot wall manned by Alex McCabe. He told us Junyong Pak was leading and an hour ahead. Sounded about right. We headed into the woods for quite some time on “trails” that had been thick bramble and woods before Todd came through and tied green ribbons to random trees. At the end of those, we had the pleasure of reliving the brutal final ascent from last year’s Beast. Yeah, you remember that one, complete with the rope climb at the top. At this point a volunteer incorrectly instructed us to run down the main ski slope to the base of Bear Mountain where our bins had been dropped. Turns out there was a path we were to take off to the right. We were all sad to have missed it because that descent was by far the worst of the day. It was crazy. The slope was covered with low, thorny bushes and burrs, many of which disguised ankle breaking holes and rocks. We all made it down, but SLOWLY.

We ran over to a spear throw, and on the way my wife Amy caught me and kissed me, great photo. (Thanks Anthony Matesi!) I shanked the spear throw (though I later stuck the second one dead center). I blame the kiss. First burpees of the day. Then we had a pond crossing, a set of small walls (Grr) manned by Matt Bollock and a log flip. The log flip was adjacent to our bins and we were at approximately 12.5 miles at that point. One would therefore assume that it was time to access the bins. Wrong. Oh, sure you could get to them by doing a burpee penalty, but most of us decided to keep on going and access them when we could do so without penalty. That turned out to be an error for many.

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I bypassed the bins and headed up a trail, over another stupid short wall, and into the woods. We were in the woods for a couple of miles and there was another really nice decline to run on. We came out to a set of obstacles by the road and a ski lift. If you were up there, you probably saw the 12 foot ladder wall erected there as you drove by. The Hobie Hop over a bridge (I was scolded by Jennifer for lack of hopping at one point), an awesome set of commando monkey bars (pipes hanging from chains and different heights and orientations), and the ladder wall. Great course design at this stop. From there it was another challenging set of ascents and descents. I can’t overstate the impact these continual climbs had. They were intense and relentless. The miles in this race were the hardest I’ve done anywhere. They taxed all of us in ways we are still feeling, believe me. After a while I looked down at my GPS watch and realized we had passed the 16 mile mark and still no bins. Furthermore, we were far away from the base in the woods. The folks I trudged along with at that point were out of liquids. I was very happy I’d opted for my 100oz Camelback.

Unbeknownst to us, there was quite a battle going on at the front of the race. Pak had been running with a 2:25 marathoner who brought no water along and who told his family he expected to finish in 4 hours. He accessed his bin with the penalty burpees and disappeared. Ben Nephew and Olof Dallner exchanged the lead many times in these miles, apparently. Ben is a very well-known trail and ultra runner and was running all the hills. Olof described to me how his sizable lead disappeared as Ben ran past him on a steep ascent. Crazy. My son, Callan, stopped Ben and Pak dead in their tracks demanding high fives at the spear throw. Sorry, lads. We had a climb so steep there were ropes to assist, and after that there was a Hercules Hoist, and then we finally ran down to the bins. 18 MILES IN!!

When I got to the bins there were a few dozen people there. Most of them had burpeed in. I told people that it was a long way back here and that they should get moving. It had taken me a few hours to get back. I was getting a bit of sugar belly at this point from the Gatorade and didn’t eat much at my bin. I refilled my Camelback, drank, snacked a little, kissed my family, and moved on.

Eventual winner, Junyong Pak’s GPS log

 

Just outside the bins we had to select logs and carry them up the mountain, navigating a barbed wire crawl (with the log) along the way. That was challenging. I was feeling a bit tired at that point. We followed that with a very long steep ascent that went on for a couple miles and brought us back to the Beast course. I think we rejoined right at the second (for us) Hercules Hoist and monkey bars. I confirmed with a volunteer that we were to follow the Beast course henceforth and that there just over 9 miles left. By my math, that meant a 30 mile course. The remaining miles were so much easier in terms of elevation and grade that I ran much of it. Not easy, mind you, easier. It was a pretty fun course and it was cool running this part with more people around. I’d been running alone or with just a few people for hours and hours. The Ultra Beasters spread out very quickly. There were a couple barbed wire crawls in here, one of which was the longest ever. Fun.

I got down to the water obstacles looking forward to cooling off. The rope climb out of the water was fine, as was the traverse wall, but the Tarzan Traverse got me. Last year I made this easily, but the ropes were wet and mine were missing knots! In the drink. I came out of the water and saw Sandy (hi Sandy!) and it wasn’t until I got to the memorization challenge that I remembered that I owed burpees for falling off the ropes. I assume there was a designated place to do them, but I missed it. Two things here: one, we had gotten our codes to memorize 20 miles ago (I remembered mine as I turned it into a song), two the burpees I did for Tarzan wrecked me!! I had been taking electrolyte/salt tabs all day and had avoided cramps, but after those very ugly burpees my legs were trashed. They froze up hard and I felt like I was walking on chopsticks. There was a little gulley on the course and I did the Frankenstein walk through there. I must have looked pretty bad.

Thankfully, the cramps passed fairly quickly, though I did have to settle for a fast walk all the way to the Tyrolean Traverse. These were by far the coldest miles of the race for me. Not being able to run really hurt. As for the traverse, practice makes such a difference on that one. It really enables you to survive even when you are burnt! The race actually hinged on this obstacle, as I learned later. Ben Nephew was actually in the lead when he reached it. He fell off all three times, did his 90 burpees AND was assessed the 15 minute penalty. Pak and Olof both completed the traverse. Pak overtook Ben shortly after and kept the lead. The 15 minute penalty moved Ben from 2nd to 3rd at the finish line. The end was in sight now.

A few miles of trail running that felt a lot longer than it was brought me to the last sandbag carry. Honestly this one felt superfluous to me. It was on a very easy grade with the standard pancake sandbags and felt like it was just a way to make the race a bit longer. I ran pretty fast from there over the last few obstacles to the finish, feeling strong. It was awesome having so many friends and family there yelling my name. The gladiators held back the batons and offered me fist bumps instead, an honor they bestowed on all Ultras and Death Racers who finished. I don’t know why, but I thought that was pretty cool. I saw Marcie and Bobby at the finish. They gave me my glow-in-the-dark medal. Thanks! I saw Carrie Adams from Spartan there and she gave me a great hug. She is a very special person who got me into the Ultra last year. From there I walked back to the fire jump and stood with Pak and Yvette, Olof and Caitlin, and my family and warmed up while we all cheered for the amazing people who crossed that finish line. This race was the single hardest course I’ve done. It took me 11 hours and 55 minutes, and only 43% of entrants finished. The Death Race and World’s Toughest Mudder were harder, but only because they are longer. It was a treacherous, difficult, maddeningly long fight through those woods. I’m not sure I’ll feel very compelled to return a third time. When the preregistration link came out today I rolled my eyes and closed it.

A couple of things to chew on before I go. Firstly, I do recommend this race. Highly. But that comes with some caveats. Firstly, this is not a race you can show up and do. I was averaging 50-60 miles a week in the months prior to the event. The leg strength that came with those miles was essential, in my opinion. The local Tough Mudders are fabulous training for this race as they are all on mountains and they don’t care if you run extra laps. Beyond the miles, you have to practice the hard obstacles any way you can. Often. Don’t assume that you’ll even be able to do burpees after 20 miles. They almost got me! You must plan your nutrition and hydration very well.

I had a problem with several aspects of this race. 1. 30 is not 26.2. I’ve been around the block a few times now. I actually guessed it would be 30. That’s what I planned for, and good thing I did. Advertise it as “More Than 26.2.” 2. If you tell us we can access our bins at the approximate half-way point, then we should be able to do that. Without a penalty. Having the bins 5 mountain miles further than we expected is a Death Race style mind game that is not appropriate for a straight race. People like me aren’t going to do burpees to get to our bins. We are going to keep going until we are supposed to get to them. The miles without water cost some racers badly. 3. If your 23 mile cut off actually comes at 27+ miles, then maintaining the cutoff time is unfair. You designed the course. You knew the length would keep people out there much longer this year. I personally have a big problem with people being pulled off the course before the stated course closure time of 9pm. 4. Prize money. The most absurd part of this race was the $1,000 prize. How can this be justified? The course was more than twice as long and difficult than the Beast course, and yet had 1/15th the prize?? I assume this meant to encourage people to enter the championship event, but the distribution of money was announced very late, and the division of the cash minimizes the incredible achievement of winning Spartan’s most difficult race. That’s right, the Ultra Beast is their MOST difficult event. It should get a real prize. Less than the championship race is fine, but why not $10k?

All that aside, the course itself was fantastic and I appreciated how much effort went into the Ultra Beast only portion, especially the cool and unusual obstacles. Norm Koch, Dan Luzzi, and Todd Sedlak really outdid themselves in a big way. Very impressive. I was very thankful for all the Spahtens I saw out on the course. You really helped me push on. As always, huge thanks go to the volunteers and staff as well. Enjoy those season passes!

  •  Many more Ultra Beast photos by Anthony Matesi

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The most important Beast or Ultra Beast blog post you will ever read

The Beast is coming (or the Ultra Beast for many). Next weekend, folks!

dont-panic-thumb

 

And thats it. Thats your advice.

The weather may be hot, or cold. Sunny, or snowing. The mountains will be steep and seemingly endless, and the obstacles will be cruel and punishing.

You haven’t trained enough – no one has, even the elites – and regardless of what you pack, you will forget something you need.

When you get on the mountain, you’ll have over dressed – unless you have under dressed. Regardless, you won’t have enough clothes, or you have too many.

You may not be able to swim, or the walls will be too tall, and your feet will probably cramp at some point.

You may wrench an ankle, or wrench an IT band (or break your hand *Jess*), or get a blister.

A million and one things may go wrong – and a million and two things will be guessed at, speculated upon and simply made up. Facebook is not your friend this week, and don’t believe anything you read when it comes from a Spartan employee – especially that wily, pesky Don fella. Would you believe, they *want* you to panic?

Oh, and there may be bears.

Despite all this – all the things that *might* go wrong and *could* happen there is only one thing that is for certain – you will finish.

You’re crossing that finish line and earning that medal. Only ONE person can take that away from you – and thats you.

So – Don’t Panic. Bring a towel. Towels are important.

 

… a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

— Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

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Thoughts on a Beast.

 Why would I do such a thing to myself.  I have had many rambling thoughts as to why I would do this.  The basic overriding reason is because somewhere in the back of my mind is a voice from the past saying “you can’t do that”.  I don’t like that voice.  It isn’t me, it never was me.  That voice has prevented me from a great many things in my life.  I didn’t put that voice there, someone else did.  I can’t tell you who or when but its there.  At some point, someone told me I wasn’t good enough.  I wasn’t fast enough.  I wasn’t talented enough.  And I believed them.

Last year I heard about the Death Race.  I watched the only video they had at the time, I think it was from 2007.  I thought to myself that has got to be the coolest things ever.  And of course I also immediately thought “I could never do that.”  Again I thought “Man what an awesome concept”.  And again “Well maybe in another life that could have been you too.”

March 2011 I was coerced under duress to sign up for the Spartan Race in Amesbury.  To say I was out of shape at the time would imply that at one point I was in shape.  Have you ever got out of breath bending over to tie your shoes?  That was me.  Not terribly over-weight but completely sedentary.  Not one chin-up, 5 push-ups and I was out of breath and dizzy.  12.5 minute mile and that was it, I couldn’t have gone another step.  Multiple days to recover from that 1 mile.  But as you know when you sign up for a Spartan Race you open your email to the flood gates of Spartan Nation.  It seems that last year 8-10 miles wasn’t hard enough for people, so now they were going to hold the inaugural Spartan Beast! 10-13 miles on Mt Killington.  Well the idea sounds cool and it’s 10 miles (yes I completely blocked out the possibility of 13)  and if you registered with the promo code you got %50 off!  There’s that voice “you can’t do it”  So I bargained, a stage of denial, and I thought its 8 miles further than you have ever run in your life, how hard can it be?  So  I signed up.  My wife thought I was crazy.  My son threw up (reflux he was about 7 months old at the time)

So with no training, 0 experience, and not even a good pair of running shoes I set out to do a half marathon obstacle course on a mountain.  Thankfully my favorite color is green.  Because focusing on that little medal is the only thing that kept me going.  I was not leaving without that medal.  And I didn’t.

So why do I think I can do the Ultra-Beast?

It wasn’t just the Beast.  After Beast I still had to do the Sprint.  Thats would be a great way to wrap up the summer and move back to normal life.  The Sprint came.  It came on the heels of 3 days of rain.  It came in the middle of a Hurricane!  And it was everything the Beast was in a small package.  Epic-ness!  It was about this time that someone whispered trifecta.  Well I did the hard part:  Beast.  I did the fast part:  Sprint.  It didn’t seem right not to at least do one of everything and hang it up.  So off to Staten Island my buddy and I went. It was a very fast course, but when Eric DeAvilla and I crossed the finish line and we put a Blue medal over a Green one and a Red one , there was no turning back I was hooked.   I must say I really  liked hearing the whispers “why do they have 3 medals”  or “what’s the Green one for?” I now officially had “mud” in my veins.  On that day Eric and I had become 2 of the 77 people in the world who held the title trifecta tribe.  Granted its a small world but I belonged to it.  And I belonged to an even smaller club.  No one could say I can’t.

Upon completing that challenge everything became about Spartan Race.  I sought out every fb page, I became a Street Team Member.I began to exercise and run infrequently.    I remembered there were these crazy brothers who supposedly dragged a tire through the Beast, I believed it was a tall tale for sure.  Wrong!  I thought they were crazy when I found out it was true.  Then they said they were holding a training camp in Rhode Island.  For some reason I signed up.  That is when I met people who told me “you can”  They joked and asked us if we wanted to quit.  But they were changing the voice in my head.  They were teaching me how to turn off the “I can’t” voice.  I didn’t have to be better than them.  Shit I didn’t even have to keep up with them (to a point)  All I had to do was not quit.  The same thing I did at the Beast.  Just don’t quit.

So can I do the Ultra-Beast?  Yes I can, yes I will.  Will I hurt?  Immeasurably. Will I cry? Probably.  Will I stop?  At times.  Will I give up and quit?  Not while I have some ability to move forward!  I have no intention of listening to that voice that says “I can’t” any more.  Now I have the tools to hear that voice and punch it in it’s mouth.  And if I can’t there’s a whole Army of Spartan Warriors I call friends that will help me beat that voice to the ground!