I don’t even know where to start to talk about Vermont Spartan Beast. I guess I will take a page from Lewis Carroll and “Begin at the beginning and go on till [I] come to the end; then stop.” It will be a long post…
It all started after my first Spartan Sprint last year. Though battered, scraped, and tired as all get-out, I went and signed up to complete the Spartan Trifecta. It would be my 2012 New Year’s Resolution to complete a Spartan Sprint, Super, and Beast within the calendar year. After conquering 2 Sprints (PA and NY) and then having a tornado try unsuccessfully to keep from completing the New Jersey Super, my team and I headed for Vermont.
4 Hours of driving through Middle of Nowhere, NY, straight into Middle of Nowhere, VT, brought us to the Killington area. We stopped into Outback Pizza to pick up our race packets, get some drinks, listen to music, eat some pizza (which was surprisingly delicious,) and meet and reunite with other Spartans. Then we headed to the Pico Mountain Resort to share a 2 bedroom condo with a bunch of other racers- all together we were 2 Spartan Chicks and 8(?) Spartan Men- for the weekend. We all prepped our packs and clothes for the morning and tried futilely to get some much needed rest for our long day ahead. Some actually slept in their gear. I slept in Jack Skellington pajamas. I’m not that hard core.
Saturday morning, the team gathered at the foot of Killington Peak. Excitement trumped nervousness as we all prepared to complete our Trifecta. We all knew we could do this. If tornadoes and bears and lightning storms could kick us from the mountain in New Jersey, then nothing would stop us from crossing the finish line here. We heard the music that has signified the beginning of every Spartan Race we have done this year – the Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping up to Boston”– and ran through the smoke and white columns to begin the final one.
We hustled up the first slope to be met with the first set of obstacles- the Moats. 3-4foot wide ditches (filled with cold, watery mud, of course) that we had to leap over. No big deal for most people, but for those short in the leg department, they might have just asked me to leap over the Great Rift Valley. I cleared a few of them but missed the landing on one. Jay grabbed my one arm and a complete stranger grabbed the other and they pulled me up. It was a small thing, but having a stranger helping me so early on felt good. It let me know that this race was going to be the kind where nearly everyone would be helping each other out.
The next few obstacles were typical OCR fare- muddy hills and pools and some short walls to climb over, netting on the ground to crawl under. Then a new twist on an old standby- Cords criss-crossed from tree to tree a few feet off the ground. But instead of para-cord or string, they used barbed wire. Easy. Next up, the vertical cargo net. 3 Races ago, it scared me out of my socks. Now, not so much. This was followed up by the barbed wire crawl we come to expect from Sparta. The wires were low, the mud was rocky, and the hoses sprayed freezing cold water. My only hitch up through this was that I had become used to just crawling and rolling with my slim 50oz Camelbak. For this race, I purchased a 100oz Camelbak with extra room for storing lickies (carbohydrate/electrolyte goo), Luna bars, and other OCR necessities. I could not possible keep this thing on my back. I had to drag it along behind me or chuck it on ahead, under the barbs, to catch up with it a few feet later.
My first set of burpees came from my old nemesis, the Monkey Bars. Though I had improved during the last race, these bars were wider apart and the heights varied just enough that I couldn’t get anywhere no matter how much momentum I tried to pick up. 30 burpees. I scurried through the barbed wire covered trenches to be greeted by more of my arch-enemies: the Traverse Wall and Rope Climb, back to back. 60 more burpees. And this was only 3 miles into the 13+ that we were promised!
Speaking of 3 miles, this was were Sparta gives you the opportunity for a ‘dignified exit.’ A racer can just walk off the course, no questions asked, as if you never started in the first place. As if I came all the way to Vermont to stop now. Right.
The next obstacle, the Tarzan Swing, I am sad to say I didn’t even try. It was a swim to a bridge. From the bridge, dangled a rope ladder. From the rope ladder, you had to swing from knotted rope to knotted rope across the width of the bridge, ring a bell, then drop back into the frigid water to swim to the other side of the lake. I can swim. I can climb a ladder. After the cliff jump in NJ, I was pretty sure I could take that fall. I do not, however, have the hand/forearm strength to hold on to a knotted rope. I’d have to get into muscle-cramping water, exhaust myself, only to have to do burpees on the opposite bank, anyway. I skipped straight to the burpees, bringing me to 120. Only 2 people out of my 5 person team actually attempted this obstacle.
Onward (and upward) we went until we came across a giant board with numbers and codes written all over it. We had to find the last 2 digits of our bib numbers on the board and memorize the corresponding code. Jay had a Sharpie in his pocket, so we all wrote our codes on our arms. I was pretty sure that whatever we were about to go through had a high likelihood of obliterating our scribbles, so I tried my hardest to memorized CHARLIE-521-5409. After singing a couple rounds of “Jenny 867-5309,” I had it down.
The Hercules Hoist was easy-peasy. The team worked together to get us all over the 6′ walls. Then we were on to a brand new obstacle. It was called the Atlas lift. Pick up a big stone, carry it about 40feet to a flag marking another big stone, bring that stone back to where the first one was. 85lb Stone for the ladies and 120-140lb stone for the men. I surprised myself with how easily I was able to accomplish this. It’s a good thing the volunteer only told me the weight afterwards or I would have probably never even picked that rock up.
After this we were greeted with another Barbed Wire crawl, this time uphill. This one was less rocky but the barbs were so incredibly low at some points that there was no option but to have people hold the wires up for you. I think Sparta was really trying to push teamwork at this event. Further up the mountain we found some 7′ walls. Further still, were some log walls that we had to use ropes to climb because they actually leaned toward you a little bit. By the time we got here, my hands were so swollen from all the hiking that I could barely hold on to the rope at all. It hurt just to form a loose fist. Embrace the suck, right? Right. A little more traipsing through the woods and we were at the Tractor Pull- cinderblock on a chain to be dragged (not carried, because that would be easier) up and down a slope. Imagine trying to walk a very stubborn Cerberus into the vet’s office for neutering.
Here is where things went downhill both literally and figuratively. We finally got to be on a downhill after what felt like an eternity of quad- and calf-killing up-slopes. Yay! The pain and mental fortitude needed to keep moving and avoid ditches in the ground lifted. All of our brains yelled “Freedom!” and hightailed it back to the ski lodge for some hot cocoa while the rest of our bodies kept going. We went insane. We spoke to zebras. We started singing. We began with a little bit of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” We continued with Billy Joel and other classics heard routinely at weddings and bar mitzvahs until we completely snapped and entered into a perfectly harmonized “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Freddy Mercury was somewhere in Rock n’ Roll Heaven, cringing at the sounds of us scaramouche-ing at the top of our lungs and the sight of us air-guitaring down the mountain.
All the blissful insanity dropped away all too quickly when our next obstacle appeared. The sandbag carry back up the mountain. And it was loooong. But it was entirely doable, so we did it. From the top of the carry, we could see our next 2 obstacles- the Chariots of Fire, which is dragging a box on skis filled with bags of gravel across rocky (but thankfully flat) terrain, and the Tyrolean Traverse (rope traverse across a pond.) After ditching are sandbags to go claim a box of rocks, we were all stopped by volunteers with clipboards asking us for our codes that we had received so long ago. I glanced at my arm to see that the barbed wire crawl had, in fact, scratched away my digits. No worries. My brain had caught back up with me and I practically sang CHARLIE-521-5409 to the gray-haired man. I grabbed my chariot and pulled it around the rock track and then skipped the rope traverse. I had a couple reasons for this: 1. I didn’t want the rope to scrape my legs/ankles and ruin the tattoos I have there; and 2. I was 90% sure that I would not be able to do it and that, like in the earlier water event, I’d just have to do burpees while freezing cold and cramped to all hell. 120 plus 30 more = 150 burpees. 10 Miles in and still the same number of burpees that I would have for a race half that distance. I call it a win.
A few more muddy mounds and cold mud puddles and we were led by the trail markers up into the woods. And when I say “up,” I mean “UP!” We were going at angles that mountain goats would be watching their step on. The path was all rocks and tree roots and gnarly, twisted up grasses. Nature didn’t think it was hard enough so it threw an angry yellow jacket nest at us. At least 2 of us were bitten/stung- neither of which knew if they were allergic or not, so it was a pretty tense few minutes as we waited to see if anaphylaxis was going to set in. It didn’t, but with 2 people in pain from the bees and 1 person developing a pretty bad knee situation from some injuries along the way, we weren’t exactly hauling ass. This climb kept on going and did quite a number on our psyches. Every time we thought the end was in sight, we’d turn a corner to find that it still went up. People passed us who were on their second lap of the day, saying that we still had sooo much longer to go. I think we may have all felt like giving up, but knew that there was really no way down, so we kept moving up.
When we finally made it, I had 30 more burpees to do because Sparta decided that instead of just enjoying the view and our accomplishment, we should all do another rope climb. Thanks Sparta.
180 Burpees, now. With at least another 2 miles to go, according to the volunteer at the ropes, we headed down the mountain only to be pointed back up the mountain. Somewhere along the way we found the log hop. I had failed at this one 3 times in the past, but had nailed it in NJ. At the start of this race I thought I’d be able to do it again, but now, with my legs feeling like they were made of Twizzlers Pull n’ Peels, I was pessimistic. I took it slow and steady, and with just one small falter that I was able to recover from, I hit the last log and did a little happy dance with the tiny molecule of adrenaline that I had left.
At almost the top of the mountain, we climbed a cargo net over a gigantic flat-faced rock. At the top of the rock, we were stopped by event staff that said that we had to have glow sticks and headlamps to continue. We had 2 fully functional headlamps, one not working, one fainter than a brown dwarf star over Los Angeles, and one that as sitting in a bin at the base of the mountain because we didn’t think we’d still be out there after dark. 4 Lamps for 5 people meant one of us was being disqualified! NO FARKING WAY! A little bit of begging and the officials said that if our unlamped person stayed with the rest of us at all times, he could continue. Hallelujah. We did not come this far to be yanked off the mountain.
In an instant, the sun went down and the light disappeared. We climbed the 8′ walls in the dark. Another instant, and the skies opened up and it began to rain. We froze our asses off as a volunteer strapped rubber bands around our ankles again so we could hop over a bunch of logs. Wet, cold, and exhausted, we still had to make our way back down the mountain side. Remember the unending climb up? Reverse it, put it in the dark, and dump a bunch of cold water on it. For more than a half mile, we banded with other teams to get each other through the treacherous paths covered in slippery tree roots and large holes dug by animals (or sadistic race designers.) Sometimes we could see the lights from the festival below and we felt like we were almost there, then the lights would disappear and all hope would be lost again. This trek was the closest I’ve ever come to giving up on a OCR. I was so cold and so exhausted. I wanted desperately for a fairy godmother to appear with some warm clothes and a blanket. I wanted to curl up on a pile of soft mud and go to sleep. Never the less, I didn’t bitch or complain because I knew other people were having a harder time. My husband and the guy ahead of us had each injured both of their knees and the slippery rocks were not making it easy for them. We all pushed on together because even if we wanted to give up, what were we going to do? Sit there in the cold rain waiting for someone to get word to the medics over a mile a way, and then wait while they figured out how to get help to us? The only way to get out of there was to drag our own asses out.
The woods finally cleared and we could see the finish line. 5 Obstacles between us, the finish line, and our Trifecta. First up, the Spear Toss. I couldn’t hold my arm up. My hands were even more swollen so I could barely grasp the spear. I held it as tight as I could, tried to balance it as best I could, took a couple steps, squared my hips, and let go. It flew straight but not for long enough. 30 Burpees. Grand total of 210 Burpees for the Beast. We climbed a slippery wall, now being lubricated by rain and mud rather than the dish detergent that probably did the job earlier in the day. To add insult to injury, they through another barbed wire crawl. It was short, maybe 10ft, but with busted knees and exhaustion it was not exactly easy-peasy.
Before us now was the fire jump. Our leap to victory. Emily went first. And tripped, twisting her ankle on the landing. The rest of us jumped right after her and lifted her up, Jay on one side and myself on the other. With arms around each other, the 5 of us walked up to the Gladiator blocking the path to the Finish. He only gently tapped us and stepped out of our way where our medals were placed around our necks. 14.8 Miles of Hell and 5000+ feet of elevation gain, completed. We got the twisted ankle to a medic, found out that we couldn’t get our Trifecta medals because they had run out (they’ll mail them,) and left to find food and warm clothes.
We got clean and warm at the condo and shared stories with our roommates. We found out from them that a lot of people didn’t finish at all. Actually, one of the roommates got pulled off when his legs cramped up to the point that he could no longer walk! Later I found out that of the over 4200 people that started the race, only 2500 finished! I may not have set any speed records, in fact, it took us over 12 hours to finish this thing with the average time being around 6 hours, but we still finished it! Could I have done it faster? Absolutely, but it would have meant leaving behind a teammate and I don’t do that kind of thing. Any victory without doing the honorable thing would have just been empty.
The next day we drove back home, thrilled to pieces that we had finally taken on the Beast, yet slightly sad that it was over. What we have all been working towards all year, was over. The feeling of ‘now what’ is overwhelming. I’ve got the Tough Mudder coming up in 3 weeks, but after what we just went through, is that even going to be a challenge? 12.5 Miles on fairly flat land? Sigh.
To cap off the weekend, the movie 300 was being aired on the TV. It took everything Jay and I had not to scream “Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!” with the Spartans on screen. Our son was asleep upstairs, though, and we didn’t want to wake him.
Back to normal life.