I've struggled to find the words to describe the experience at this past Saturday's Spartan World Championship Beast. I've read several other blogs from people who ran as well, and it seems I'm not the only one. For everything that happened out there on Mount Killington, books could probably be written. In fact, this may not be my only post on this race. No one expected this race to be easy, this was the Spartan World Championship after all, but I don't know that any of us expected it to prove as difficult as it was.

I've been talking about this weekend for quite some time as Run to Remember has evolved - Complete not only the Spartan Beast in Vermont on Saturday, but then the Ultra Beast on Sunday. That was my plan, but ultimately that's not what happened. The Spartan Beast on Saturday proved so physically and mentally taxing for me, that even at Mile 7, I already knew that the Ultra Beast would not be an option. I pulled a groin muscle and gluteus maximus muscle just before Mile 3, so I knew I would not physically make it through what the Ultra Beast would require. My only focus after Mile 7 quickly became getting through the final 6 or 7 miles of the Beast and crossing that finish line...and it would take everything I knew to be inside me, and more, to do so.

I'll write about a few of the obstacles we were met with here, but there's a great video that someone captured of each of the obstacles that I'll place at the end of this post. In addition to some of the standard obstacles typical to a Spartan Race, there were new twists to some that I believe could take even a seasoned Spartan Racer (I still don't consider myself in that category) out of their comfort zone. This included:
  • Aside from the traditional sandbag carry (which we still did as the second to last obstacle - 40lbs for men, 20lbs for women), about mile 3 or 4 we were met with a sandbag carry that could break your spirit, and possibly some backs, as we carried a 60-70lb sandbag (depending on who you talk to) reportedly a half-mile up a steep slope and then a half-mile back down. After most of the elites had passed this point, the staff member started to tell the open racers they could cross at the halfway mark and go back down. I got to this point just as we were given that instruction, disregarded it and continued to make my way all the way to the top, as did many other racers out there. We signed up to do the Beast, not cut parts out because we weren't the Elite racers...even if it hurt. This is also where I stepped into a hole on the way down, slicing my leg and hitting my head on the ground as I fell forward.
  • Swimming out into the cold waters of the lake not once, but twice, for a rope climb, and the second time for a rope or ladder climb to a series ropes called the Tarzan swing to ring the a bell...an obstacle that few would successfully complete. This was about Mile 7 where the shoreline was scattered with racers with looks of pure exhaustion, some wrapped in heating blankets, and doing a plethora of burpee penalties.
  • A bucket carry full of gravel, once again up part of the mountain and down. I've seen this before at other races, but at that point in the race (I'd say somewhere around mile 10...I really don't know because by that point I had lost all sense of distance and time) it was particularly soul crushing and seemed like the most taxing single obstacle I had ever done.

What videos don't show and pictures don't do complete justice is the sheer amount of time we spent climbing up the mountain. I even remember at one point, my dad pointed to the top of one of the mountains where a ski lift ended and he said, "They didn't make you climb that high did they?" Oh yeah, they definitely did...multiple times. Going down the mountain wasn't always easy either, as it often meant navigating through the woods, littered with rocks, fallen trees, and roots just waiting to claim an ankle or knee. I always have known running on mountain courses have been a major weakness for me and this course exploited that weakness to its fullest extent.

Yet as painful, exhausting, and taxing as the race proved to be, and even though it took me 7 hours and 30 minutes to finally cross the finish line, I look back at the race with nothing but exhilaration and a huge sense of accomplishment. No, I didn't meet my goal to complete both the Beast and Ultra Beast, but the Beast had pushed me to limits I've never pushed myself to before. When it pushed me to those limits, I was able to dig deeper inside for strength I didn't know was there. I made the comments earlier that this weekend would be "the time for me to see what I'm made of" and it truly did. There were points where my mind and body told me to quit, just as I'm sure many racers out there experienced and few would have blamed us if we did, but I know I would have looked back with regret. My drop bin for the Ultra Beast still sits unpacked in my living room as a reminder of what I wasn't able to start the following day. While I know it was the right decision not to attempt it on Sunday, as my greater goal of completing the 100 races is far more important than that one race, I will be back next year to take on the Ultra (though this time I'll probably skip the Beast beforehand).

There's something else that can't be seen from the pictures and videos from the course...the camaraderie among each of the racers. While ultimately this is a race, the vast majority of us out there are not the Elite racers with a chance at winning $15,000 (congrats to Amelia Boone and Hobie Call for claiming the championship titles on Saturday). For most of us out there, the mere act of finishing is a true victory. Though I was out on the course on my own, I never felt alone. Throughout the race, racers offered each other encouragement, commiserated together and cursed the diabolical minds that designed the course, and pushed each other to keep going. 

Inspiration and triumph of the human spirit was all around. I watched as member of Operation Enduring Warrior (www.enduringwarrior.org) with a prosthetic leg and a chain wrapped around his torso bear-crawled up a mountain. Just a few yards ahead, another member of Operation Enduring Warrior made her way up the mountain on crutches and prosthetics. Participants in the Biggest Loser Challenge fought to change their lives and battled some of the same mountains we did. Men and women of all ages, each with their own story and their own reason for being out there took on the mountain and obstacles together, whether physically as a team or not. It's one of the things that I love most about the sport of obstacle racing - in the end, we share the experience and support one another each and every moment.

So at the end of the weekend, while I came away with a few minor injuries, a few more scars, and some disappointment that I never made it to the start line of the Ultra Beast as I had planned, I still made it one step closer to reaching 100 races after finishing the Beast. Hopefully, I helped others get through their race, just as they helped me. Hopefully, I spread more awareness of Alzheimer's Disease. Finally, I pushed myself physically and mentally beyond any point I had done in my 29 years of life and feel stronger for the experience.

The World Championship Spartan Beast left me exhausted, bruised, bleeding, and I'm sure scarred, but in the end it did not break me...and I couldn't be happier.

33 races down, 67 to go!

I've taken a brief moment from packing and repacking all of my gear for the upcoming weekend. This weekend will most certainly test me in ways physically and mentally to levels I've never pushed myself. For those who aren't as familiar with Spartan Races, this weekend represents their toughest races (aside from the Death Race that I'll attempt next June). Here's what is ahead, and admittedly, has certainly gotten to my nerves for almost 2 weeks now:

On Saturday, September 21st is the Spartan Beast. The Beast consists of 13+ miles and 25+ obstacles. Adding to those challenges alone is the fact that the venue is Mount Killington in Vermont. The average finish time is estimated to be around 5 hours for the non-elite athletes - to put that in perspective, I just ran a half marathon (13.1 miles) at a slow pace and finished in 1 hour and 44 minutes. I've completed a couple of Spartan Beasts before, but the fact that this race is also their World Championship race means that the difficulty will be unmatched. For Spartan Race athletes, this race weekend is the one you want to be at. Not only that, add $250,000 worth of cash and prizes, plus NBC Sports Network on site filming the action and you've certainly upped the ante.

The true feelings of anxiety for me is Sunday's event - the Spartan Ultra Beast. The Ultra Beast is a 26.2+ mile course through the mountains with 50+ obstacles. Not only that, but the race is self-supported, meaning we take our own hydration and any other items that will assist us in making through the course (i.e. energy gels, clif bars, whatever it is that you think will help you keep your energy up) - accept any outside assistance, even from the medical team, and you're disqualified. The average finish time is estimated to be between 10-12 hours with a 6am start time and course cutoff of 10pm. I'm sure I've overpacked, but I'd rather be over-prepared than under-prepared. The goal is to cross that line with a finisher's medal...a feat that many did not achieve last year.

There is so much left unknown about this weekend...what will the course be like, what will the race directors have in store, and how many of us will be able to claim the coveted Ultra Beast medal? All of these questions are part of what make me enjoy Spartan Races so much; Not only are they extremely physically challenging, but they pose a significant mental challenge as well.

I may be nervous, but I feel I'm ready. I have a greater purpose to complete these races than just for personal pride and when it gets tough out on the course, I'll remember that fact: "Not for me. For them." For everyone who has suffered through Alzheimer's Disease, are currently suffering, and the families who's emotional pain is far more significant than what I'll feel out on that mountain. Let's bring it! AROO!