Tag Archives: Beast

(Ultra) Beast Mode

How do you compare something that has no equal? In my short racing career I’ve never attempted more than either a half-marathon on pavement or a Spartan Beast on trail.

Jumping headfirst into race season with an Ultra Beast would have felt like suicide a year ago. Even though my body was in much better shape strength-wise last year I don’t believe I would’ve been able to finish. Changes to my training program (for as light as it has gotten), may have actually been a blessing in disguise. Completing over 26 miles on some of the toughest terrain New Jersey has to offer isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But despite my obvious shortcomings in terms of leg power and raw upper body strength, for the first time in my life I went an entire race without any knee pain. Imagine the possibilities!

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The leaked map during the week leading up to the race was spot on.

Overall, I personally believe the most difficult obstacle during the day was waking up. Either that, or walking to the car afterwards. There’s something special about finishing a race pain free and then your body immediately telling you afterwards it’s going to lock up for a few days so you can’t put it through anything like that again.

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Last years Beast in New Jersey had been my first ever Spartan, short of Citizen’s Bank Park (I will never count that one as my first.) If you had asked if I would have ever done two laps of that course right afterwards I would have asked for you to beat me over the head with an axe-handle. I signed up for this race after conquering the Beast course at Killington last year. I was in much better shape, and despite dealing with a twisted knee at that venue my muscles felt intact afterwards.

Fast-forward to this year and my training took a massive hit over the off-season. Dealing with some massive personal issues, my training took a dump. Not a little one either. I went on a complete break from training for just over a month. I let depression and anxiety creep back into my life after working so hard for years to get rid of it. But I didn’t let any of that stop me. Despite losing nearly all of my muscle between not training and barely eating I told myself I would still do it. Not for placement, not for time, but for me.

So that’s what I did. I ran it, and then power hiked it, and then walked. I nearly crawled my way to the finish line after having to do the most brutal bucket carry yet. Spartan Race should have seriously set up a whole team of photographers just at that bucket carry alone, it was that difficult.

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Even the new obstacles that I had yet to experience made things even more gloriously harder. If Spartan wanted to make people want to keep coming back for tougher races they certainly succeeded. Twister was definitely the most interesting. People keep asking me to explain it and I’m still stuck grasping for words. All I know is that it’s just plain difficult. Olympus was the other new obstacle to give me trouble. Some of you may know I battle through these races with a torn labrum, so oftentimes I need to use alternate movements across obstacles that most people will never do. What works for me on obstacles like the Multi-Rig, Monkey Bars, and Z-walls may not work for everyone. Well, if someone can help me figure out what the hell would work for me on Olympus that would be great.

Oddly enough, one thing that inhibited my ability on countless obstacles was swelling in my hands. I have no idea when it started or how, but both of my hands became completely puffed up and stiff to the point where I couldn’t bend my fingers.

The learning experience was easily the most satisfying part. The things I need to work on stuck out like sore thumbs on swollen hands that normally wouldn’t become apparent during a Super or a Sprint and perhaps even an easier Beast. Diet would be my number one aspect to work on so I’ll be working hard on fixing that and posting more updates on how that’s going. I’m even considering a little YouTube series on healthy cooking for skinny guys like me looking to add muscle and weight the right way.

Spartan Race really outdid themselves this year. It wasn’t the most difficult of courses (Killington) or even the most innovative (Ft. Carson & other Military Series races) but it was a step in the right direction for the sport as a whole. Mixing in tough new obstacles, keeping the terrain as the greatest challenge, and hosting another great day full of awesome faces from all walks of life is why I won’t leave Spartan Racing anytime soon.

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Vermont Beast 2016: #EFFnorm

Words will never do justice for the Spartan Beast held annually in Vermont’s Green Mountains. Pictures don’t come remotely close enough to capturing the sheer depth of those towering peaks in the distance. The scars accrued during the grueling event only tell a fraction of the story behind them.

Killington managed to leave its mark in more ways than one.

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This was the first race in which I ventured to the race site a day early. Due to volunteer training as a Course Marshal for Sunday’s Elite Sprint wave I made my trek up early Friday morning and with time to kill spent a couple hours wandering around Vermont from the nearby town of Rutland to the resort hosting the race. It’s kind of magical how the mountains and trees and streams sort of just come together. Every winding road is hugged by a clear, crisp brook while every mountain is parted by small fields lined with pine. It’s a sense of awe only trumped from my time in Breckenridge, Colorado earlier this year.

That natural beauty was on full display for the first quarter or so of the race. There was a solid first incline that really fired up the calves and quads with runners in the Competitive heat already using alternative methods for climbing up the mountain. Despite a flurry of steep hills the race started off rather quickly. There were a few early obstacles that had racers getting penalized with burpees such as an unusually difficult Hercules Hoist and a set of Monkey Bars that, while dry and easy for most, had its bars much further apart. I think the degree of difficulty with the hoist had more to do with the pulleys getting completely stuck at certain points. Most people were having no issue until a certain point of varying degrees at which no level of effort could budge the sandbag.

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You know it’s early in the race when you’re actually smiling.

The dry summer also allowed for quicker completion of obstacles such as the Z-wall that was also towards the early part of the race. Right after that Z-wall was when I believe the race changed for almost everyone. The lake swim and Tarzan Swing obstacle were right afterwards and while this was my first time in Killington, it was made aware to all racers at the start line that the swim was doubled from years past. The 200-yard swim was split up by a moment of treading water unless you were lucky enough to find an uninhabited ladder to climb up. For us skinny folk, the water was brutally cold which led to severe cramps come time for burpees since yes, I did fail the swing portion. Sadly, with over 10 ladders, there are no pictures from Spartan Race of myself.

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Those cramps from the cold water attacked more than just myself. It seemed as though the jump from hot to cold to hot was killer enough on the muscles. From there, the number of people halted due to pains and cramps was like nothing I had seen before.

Problems arose from the cramps too as my normally fine knee started experience pain and limited my descent speed. This all hit a head right after mile 9 when the ultimate ascent began. Never in my life have I experienced something like that. Just under the ski lift, we climbed the entirety of the mountain. It was at least a full mile with no points of flat land for more than a few steps. No matter what method people used to get up the mountain those who kept moving reached its peak all the same. There were a serious number of racers (all in the Competitive or Elite class still) that came to a standstill or just collapsed on the incline. The #EFFnorm hashtag had never been more appropriate than during that point of the race.

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The Death March- Photo Cred. to Joan Wright

Just near the finish line were a multitude of some of the tougher obstacles. In sequence were the spear throw, log carry, inverted wall, atlas carry, multi-rig, and A-wall cargo net topped off with the signature fire jump for the photo finish. During my Sunday volunteering stint I learned at least half of the ropes tied to the spears were too short. The spear I used was so warped it was no wonder it curved downward so rapidly.

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I’d advise Spartan Race to seriously consider their own integrity as they attempt to hold their Elite and Competitive racers to the same standards. 

While I don’t believe it was done on purpose, greater care should be taken in setup. There’s no excuse for an obstacle right next to the festival area. It’s embarrassing to the racers as well as Spartan Race to see so many people fail an obstacle.

That being said, I’m glad to report after 6 races under my belt I was able to complete my first multi-rig! If I wasn’t so beat down at that point I might have made a little more noise about it. Maybe next time.

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NJ Beast 2016, Sunday May 1st

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This race was everything to me leading up to it. Previously, my only other Spartan Race was at Citizen’s Bank Park in November 2015. That was a Sprint, and likely measured out to close to 3 miles. Flash-forward six months and I’m staring straight at the Beast. Measured by most racers on the previous day at somewhere between 15.5 to 15.8 miles, this would be the longest and farthest race I have ever even attempted. Leading up to race day I monitored the weather closely. Out loud, I would tell myself and those close to me that I welcomed the frigid temperatures and more than likely rain. I would proclaim I wanted it to be as difficult as possible.

Wish received.

Arrival was a breeze. Having stayed less than five minutes down the road, finding the venue, where to park, and where to check-in for registration couldn’t have been more streamlined. That’s when it all begins as you walk up to the venue and see the first ascent staring back at you. This being my first Spartan outside of the confines of a stadium I really didn’t know what to expect. Let me say that going into this Beast with the positive and all-conquering attitude I did made me more prepared for the mental challenge than anything.

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It was only a brief wait before my heat began. I made my way over the first wall and stood towards of the front of the corral with my fellow Spartans. Sociability this early in the morning for me doesn’t come naturally but somehow being with all of these men and women who have the same passion as me opened up a realization that I finally found my calling, my niche. Dustin led us off with a great speech and just like that, we were on our way up the first descent. One of the greatest realizations for me came in learning I really do have a strength when it comes to this sport. I may not be the quickest runner and I certainly lack the upper-body strength for a multitude of obstacles, but fortunately my 8 months of training allowed me to destroy the uphills. Not only did my legs carry me up the steep mountains faster than anyone, it provided the mental boost that even after a failed obstacle followed by the burpee penalty, I could catch up to everyone when it came time for inclines. Slick mud didn’t matter. Nor did loose rocks. Not even coming within 50 feet of Norma Bear and her cubs. I kept moving forward. Not even bashing my shin bone on a rock around mile 11 was enough to stop me for more than a few seconds. Even seeing people running ahead of me early since they skipped about 29 burpees out of the 30 wasn’t enough to bring me down. I know for every one of those that cheats, there’s another like me that would do anything to get their fellow Spartan across the finish line at the end with honor and respect. That’s something no one can take away from me.

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While part of my success may have been from my shoes, Salomon Speedcross 3’s (the grip truly is otherworldly), I know a lot of it had to do with listening to professionals like Matt “The Bear” Novakovich and those in my training group, The Philly Spartans. (A side shout-out to Alex Schwab, Ryan Fleming, Jay Sherman and the rest of the group for pushing me to be the greatest I can be). On a side note, the shoes, while phenomenal on grip and definitely a future staple for me, are terrible at draining out water. That may not be news to most obstacle course racers but you really don’t know how important that is until you’re facing a Beast like the one at Mount Vernon containing as many water obstacles as it did.

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It wouldn’t be a Beast without serious doubts of finishing. Around halfway my knee started to throb with pain after a brutal stretch of downhill in slippery mud, and with the steady flow of rain towards the back half of the race, it’s not all surprising people were dropping like flies from injury and hypothermia. I’ve learned always come prepared, even if it means potentially falling out of your comfort zone. I’m not a fan of carrying a lot of weight on me as my speed and agility are my greatest strength, but I would rather carry and back-mounted hydration pack with room for a thermal blanket or poncho than freeze to death in the middle of nowhere North Jersey. These are the times you really learn about your true self, when there is no mental filter. It was during this race that my motivation and inspiration to succeed really shined through and I learned something I always knew deep down but just needed confirmation on… seeing my loved ones succeed and being the inspiration they need to get out and conquer their own dreams and aspirations.

Getting to meet some great Spartans, crossing the finish line with my unbelievably supportive and amazing girlfriend there to embrace me, hearing from my mother about her getting out and striving for bigger and better goals, this is why I race. I am a Spartan!