How to Compete (as an ultra-trail runner) in the Spartan Ultra Beast
A few weeks ago I traveled up to Killington, VT on my own to compete in a different style of race than I normally run. After 16 years of ultra-distance trail running I wanted an athletic experience where there were no expectations. Years ago Scott and I competed in adventure racing and found some success in it, so I figured obstacle course racing wouldn’t be much different. It was the Spartan Beast. A half-marathon course that went up Killington Mountain more times than I can remember and had over 30 obstacles to complete. I signed up for the elite woman’s start knowing that I would be very mad if I had to wait in line for any of the obstacles. The elite woman started 15 minutes after the elite men at 7:45am. The day was chilly and the mountain fogged in. I had more clothes on than most of the woman there. This is what I learned from the race.
1. Run hard on all the running sections because this is the only place where you can get ahead.
2. Strengthen your hand grip. Just half-way through I could barely use my hands which obviously gave me a huge disadvantage on all the rest of the obstacles.
3. Grow a few inches. Not like anyone can but if there was a way…. Short people are at a disadvantage from the get-go with most of the obstacles.
4. Practice burpees. I must have had to perform over 300 of them!
5. Carry more food and water than you think. There is little drinking water and no food out there and you will most likely be on course longer than you planned.
6. Practice swimming fully clothes with hydration pack on. It feels really weird and slows you down, but if you know how it feels before the race you’ll be more comfortable with it in the middle of the race.
7. Get really good at running, stepping on, and then jumping up walls. The big wall almost brought me to tears, as dozens of people whizzed over. I have no up. That’s why I don’t play basketball!
8. Practice monkey bars, but not just regular monkey bars; ones that go up and down, ones that are square (yes square!), ones that have wide pipe on them. Practice on wet, muddy bars too. Practice for grip strength and also to harden your hands.
9. Gain some weight. I could not budge the tire pull even with all my weight leveraged behind the stake! The sandbags were also half my weight!
10. Learn how to throw a spear (or javelin). There is a lot of technique to it, not just strength and it can save you 30 burpees without a lot of effort!
11. Carry a 50 lb. sand bag(or two if your male) and buckets full of rocks everywhere. Learn the best technique for you.
12. Be ready to laugh at yourself. There were so many times where the frustration level was high but instead I just smiled and laughed at the absurdity of it all.
After running the 1st half of the race in the top 20 I dropped back to 45th in the elite group which was quite decent considering this was my first obstacle course race and I did not train specifically for it. Also, it was the “World Championships” for the Spartan races and brought in top OCR athletes from all over the world. Will I do it again? Maybe, but I would have a better experience if I grew a few inches and gained a few pounds. There is a distinct advantage on most of the obstacles if you have more height and weight. Obviously, I will not be growing taller anytime soon so I would need to be stronger and faster than those that are taller just to be at the same level. I could gain some weight (with muscle) though. I am not afraid of training hard. But on another note, I am also not a fan of how they asked for money in every way possible. Entry, insurance, spectator viewing, parking, bag check…. aye, yai, yai. That is the one thing that may keep me away.