I wrestled hard with the altitude at last years Spartan World Championship Beast and got knocked down for the count.
This year, I decided to skip Saturdays Beast and focus my energy on my favourite race distance, the UltraBeast. My flight didn’t even land until after the race. Best not to keep cookies in the cupboard right?
And I’m glad I did. Although the altitude was still just as pummelling as in the Beast last year, the pace of an UltraBeast is much more relaxed – and I found I could just keep bumping up against that angry red line, without plunging over it.
At the start line, racers stood huddled together in the pitch of night. A bone-chilling breeze was already ripping through windbreakers and racers were eager to launch off into the night. The organizers announced that they cancelled the infamous swim through the freezing lake and cut off the bonus UltraBeast loop due to a severe impending storm. People booed. I booed. But really, this was in everyone’s best interest – and you have to applaud Spartan for doing something unpopular to keep people safe. I guess I wouldn’t need the full wetsuit I had in my drop bag. There was one guy in a full wetsuit suit, I suspect that didn’t take long to be one of the biggest regrets of his life.
The course this year was awesome. Last years was a horseshoe design: go up, go down. I liked it for its novelty – but this year was more typical: you climb halfway up, drop back down to the village, and then go all the way to the top.
The start was also much improved: they set the race off through the village and parking lot, and then into over-under-through walls to break up the pack. And of course the same rolling mud pits as last year to give you soggy feet and soaked clothes right off the gun. The new start meant way less congestion on the single track, which was a big problem last year.
There were a bunch of walls and vaults as a warm-up but the first real obstacle was a set of fat monkey bars followed by hurdles and a low wall. My feet, still frozen from the Rolling Mud, protested the jarring landings so I eased myself down carefully.
An regular ol’ incline wall and back to work climbing. It was at this point that I realized the biggest obstacle would be eating. A shocker for anyone who knows me. When racing the Sun Peaks UltraBeast last week, I stuffed Oreo cookies like it was my job. Today was different. I felt nauseous… and it was difficult to swallow. Food had – gasp – lost its appeal.
So we climbed… until the Spearmen appeared on a windy ridge like a row of straw-bale gargoyles overlooking the valley below. And man was it windy. Both times I waited until the gusts stopped. Both times I rushed it. Both times I missed. Both times I did 30 airless, sand in the face, rocks in the hands burpees.
At high camp they had the next new obstacle: Olympus, which I’m certain was inspired by BattleFrogs Tip of the Spear. You traverse a leaning wall with rock climbing holds, chains and holes. Keep your feet high, keep moving steadily and it’s a blast.
Onto a plate drag and Atlas Carry – made infinitely more challenging by the fact that the air at this point was getting a little thin. At least the tracks for the plate drag were well worn from the Beasts on Saturday. Thanks guys!
We had well crossed my altitude threshold and my head now felt like a pressure cooker. I was dizzying and my legs felt heavy.
Just get over the top and back down where the air has more oxygen.
One. Step. At. A. Time.
The next new obstacle was the Spartan Ladder. You climb up from the inside and ring a bell at the top with your hand and then come down the other side, ringing a bell at the bottom with your foot. I can see this one being a cramp inducer as you pull with your hamstrings to hold the bars and it was chilly up there.
The ladder was followed quickly by a Tyrolean Traverse and a fairly long but not wet or uncomfortable crawl you could easily roll right through.
At the end of the crawl was the new Ape Hanger. The ladder bounced but didn’t rotate so I just moved down it using a little extra momentum pretty straight on. It’s easier to go sideways on the way up and then just monkey down but you can do either. There was a fairly significant drop after you hit the bell at the end. Robert Cobble was there yelling at me to land straight. Which I did. But I immediately proceeded into the star fish position in the water. Not recommended!
On lap two they closed the high camp and diverted racers to the log carry directly due to the storm. I was super impressed with Spartan for making the call early and ensuring that everyone ran the same course safely. I was, however, intentionally overheating myself for the climb in preparation for getting wet on the Ape Hanger. I spent the entire descent removing one piece of clothing at a time and stuffing it into my pack, wasting a lot of time diddling about. I was worried about removing too much and then freezing up, as it took a long time for me to reheat after I got cold on the far side of the mountain.
The log carry was really just a warm up for the long double sandbag carry. And it was World Championship long. I tried some different carrying configurations but settled on one on the shoulder, other in my hand on the way up and then hugging them both like a bucket on the way down. I find the looser bags way easier to manage but could only find one… so that one went onto my shoulder – and the tight one went in my arm. On the second lap, we “only” had a single bag. When I set it down, I realized I had done something to my wrist well holding the bag. Thankfully it worked itself out after the bucket carry.
The sandbags were followed by the new Cornmax Flip. It’s a long water filled tube and I actually found it surprisingly challenging to get over: it’s long, skinny and wobbly. A tire just submits and goes where it’s supposed to. The Cormax does what it wants. It’s its own thing.
An 8′ wall lead down to the 1k long bucket carry. Yeah, 1k. Every plateau I was all, ok, there’s the turnaround flag. Nope just more flagging. I did all manner of grips and walking styles to keep that sucker moving. This is also where I noticed second place was moving up on lap two. 5k left. Go time. Leave it on the course time.
I was baking in my black windproof pants and wanted them off but I clearly couldn’t spare anymore time.
Next up: Stairway to Sparta. But not just any Stairway to Sparta. When I saw the video they first posted, I was terrified. The wall leading up to the ladder is but high. Thankfully they added a rope and a kicker board halfway to help you walk up.
The last obstacle before the rocky decent into the festival area was an exhausting and weird-bruise-inducing set of hurdles. The ones where you need to thrust your tummy into the bar and then swing your legs over. I won’t be wearing a two piece to the pool this week for sure. Although I haven’t checked yet… it may just have been the sting of internal bruising.
When I came up to the balance beams I was surprised. Really Spartan? These things are like double wide. Oh, but they spin. When I do short and weird balance obstacles I find it best to just run for whatever it is you’re suppose to hit on the other side, so run I did. Not pretty, but burpees are far less pretty.
Next, the Herc Hoist. It was heavy and the rope was rough. On the second lap, still fearing second was hot on my heels, I came into the obstacle with every lane occupied by open beast runners working in teams to get the bag up – yelling rope! rope! I finally found an open spot hiding since I had to retrieve the rope from the other side of the fence to use it. I was so relieved to have a lane (and so full of adrenaline from the backup) that, although the bag seemed extra heavy, I was pumped to get it up.
After the hoist came the dunk wall I was so looking forward to on lap two, but we were being rerouted. I looked over to see that it was now lying face down in the pond: the wind was so strong it blew the wall over.
After the dunk came a slip wall and ginormous bridge. From there you’re either going to the drop bag area for round two or the finish area for the final obstacles.
After my first lap, I did my typical transition: grab fuel and go. I wasn’t eating well, so I swapped my bars for gels and set back off for another go.
I often find the second lap to be more fun than the first in UltraBeasts. Today was not the case. Lap two was harder. SO much harder.
But that’s what makes it SO much more fulfilling.
After passing the ladder again on my second round, it was onto the finish.
The rope for the climb was tacky and rough and I was having trouble running my feet up it. I swear I must have looked like a worm slowly inching my way up. That and I was out of steam from charging in the last 5k.
I gave myself a few minutes before getting on the rig. Afterall, I was not eager to knock out 30 burpees. The top pros all struggled with it yesterday, mostly because their hands were frozen and cramping, but still, I approached it with respect. Thankfully Jesse Bruce and Stephanie Couturier were at the finish line watching and they cheered me right through.
I collapsed for a few minutes across the line, soaking up the effort I had put out to keep the title in the last three miles – and well – trying to breathe.
What really made THIS RACE was the people there. Not just being immersed in all things Sparta, and repping Canada. The many languages heard when not a single word was needed to express the most complex of emotions, the coming together of people all over the world to battle the mountain and the obstacles. The lives changed, no matter how diverse.
I finally got chilled after the race when the snow hit (and did it ever hit) and was struggling to untie laces that had over-tightened in the mud and by my own pre-race jitters. A man came over and knelt beside me, explaining he didn’t speak much english… then he proceeded to claw his way through the knot. This is SPARTA.