Killington Vermont is one of those places that you have to visit if you are an OCR enthusiast. Vermont is the birthplace of the Spartan Race and many consider it a pilgrimage. Last year’s Vermont course may have been a let down for some, but this course, this year, would end up being one of the most memorable races to date.
Last year, Spartan caught a bit of flack over the race they put on in the mountains of Vermont. The race, titled a founder’s race, wasn’t one of the more memorable experiences. I had no issue with the course itself, but many of the other aspects of the race were a bit on the disappointing side. For example, I didn’t need to climb the rope, I jumped and hit the bell. This year, Spartan has been working incredibly hard to turn the tables. It seems like each race is a “one up” from the last. Personally, I thought the bar was set high after tackling the course in Owl’s Creek in Canada… boy was I wrong.
For me, I took on my first Ultra Beast in the great garden state, NJ, back in April 2016. The UB was an awakening of sorts. I was able to finish the course, but it was definitely a challenging experience.
However, I guess you could say that I didn’t completely scratch the itch and when Killington presented itself, I had to feed the beast, the Ultra Beast that is. My training had taken me through a long and strenuous race season. As an older racer (39 this November), my body decided to tell me that perhaps an Ultra Beast wasn’t exactly the best idea.
Having experienced some knee pain after pushing hard in Asheville, I decided it was time to take it easy and get someone, aside from Dr. Google, to tell me what was going on. While I am not going to spend much time on the woe-is-me, I will tell you that my Doctor thought it would be a bad idea to take on Killington in the form of an Ultra Beast. They found a Lesion on my femur which seems to be caused by some extreme trauma to the knee. Whether this was a result of OCR or years of martial arts competition is up for debate. Either way, it is there.
I was faced with 3 basic choices:
- Not run at all
- Run a beast
- Run the Ultra Beast and give my thanks and farewell to the Ultra Beast forever
As a mature and cerebral adult, I signed up for the Ultra Beast. Not running was not an option and running a Beast would still make be proud of my accomplishments, but having heard how hard the Ultra Beast of 2014 was and that NJ UB pales in comparison to this one, I had to have my last hurrah on this mountain, on this day; it is all or nothing this time. If I fail on the mountain, I am defeated. I mean truly defeated, there is no tomorrow… there is no “next Ultra Beast.”
From the day the Doctor told me not to run, I didn’t. I stopped all running. Don’t get me wrong, there was still Taekwondo and the weights, but I didn’t step foot on a mountain or take any stride faster than a quick jog to the coffee maker in the office; the type of stride you can do without people looking at you funny or yelling at you to not run in the hallways at school when you were a kid.
With Killington quickly arriving, I had to stay firm in my decision to run the Ultra Beast. Although many had been advising me against the race, I had to go through with it. I would never be happy knowing that I didn’t Ultra Beast. My hotel was booked and paid for, my gear has been packed since Asheville, my mind was made up. To make things harder, a close friend of mine decided that Killington would be his first attempt at a Beast, so now I had to put on a show.
The trip to the mountain itself wasn’t much to talk about. My friend and I had a pair of walkie talkies to chat over during the drive, and the history of Killington as well as our race season made up most of the conversation. We amped ourselves up as much as we could while loading up on Gummy Bears, Sour Patch Kids, and various flavors of beef jerky.
When we finally arrived mid-day Friday, sleep and Pizza were our two primary objectives. We found ourselves cohorting with a group of racers that I consider family at a local pizza place, Outback Pizza. The Gaiter, a pie with red sauce, sausage, meatballs, prosciutto, pepperoni, bacon, and mozzarella ended up in front of me and disappeared just as fast as it had arrived. We knew what we were up against the next day, we knew that Spartan was out for blood this year and that the next day would be one of the toughest we had seen yet, we knew we needed lots of comfort food.
For me, the nerves hadn’t really settled. I still wasn’t comfortable with my decision and leaned on my Spartan family for reassurance. Basically, they all told me I was nuts and that I should run the beast… but reassurance comes in many ways I guess. I took what they meant instead of what they said… they meant “run the Ultra Beast, don’t worry about it so much.” With their support, I was now set. Days’ end, I hit the ZzzQuil and hit the hay.
My race day routine doesn’t change much from race to race. I wake up, brush my Bucky’s, drink some coffee and water, then try to hit the bathroom. Creeping around the room in the dark is a feat in itself and my pinky toe paid the price a few times. Having picked a hotel that is 20 minutes from the venue makes the morning routine a bit easy. Hydration vest, shoes, drop bin, butt wipes, Focker… Out.
Arriving at 5:30, parking isn’t an issue. There were a lot of cars in the lot for an Ultra Beast, but finding a spot is easy. The lot is close to the starting line and the slow death march back to the car after the race with my drop bin shouldn’t be bad at all. The weather is chilly. I had to be careful with warmups, I wanted to keep as much pressure off the knee for as long as I could: no jumping, no running, only stretching.
Having moved quickly around the venue from the drop-bin, to the porta-potty, and finally to start line, I started to seek out my friends and my fellow OCRAddicts, those that I do battle with on the course, the ones that will pick me up when I am down. We collected at the start line waiting for our heat to start. As with my other UB experiences, our start times are pushed back, and subsequently so are our cutoffs.
It is explained that if we don’t leave the drop-bin after our first lap by 2PM we are done, if we don’t hit the rope climb by 6:30PM we are done, if we are asked for our headlamp by 4PM and don’t have it we are done. If my knee holds out, cutoffs will not be an issue. My legs and cardio are far better than what they were in NJ, which resulted in a 37th place finish for me, not bad.
With the announcements and opening speech complete, we are set off on the course with reckless abandon. Trying to maintain a manageable pace and balance a forecast of pain is difficult, I rested into what I thought would be sustainable for a majority of the race. As a runner, I am not a runner, I am not that fast. However, I do fly through obstacles and I do not need to stop and rest while climbing or tackling the carry obstacles; so as these kids fly by me… I know I will soon be passing them on the first climb. As this isn’t my first rodeo, I know that the obstacles are not the obstacle, the mountain and the will to commit to finishing are.
Again, the primary obstacle at Killington aren’t the ones you find littered about the course. Instead, it is the climbs. According to the Race Director, Jason, Killington would feature three climbs, with the next being more challenging than the previous.
I had been making really good time through the trails and obstacles and I eventually found myself catching up to, and passing, some of the racers that had taken off in the elite heat just before me. I had been feeling pretty good about where I was on the course and my confidence was beginning to grow. I had made my way through a majority of the first lap and had been closing in on some of the leaders from the competitive and elite heats.
Mile 11 of the first lap ended up being the spot where my knee would decide that it would have no more. I couldn’t run. I had to walk… “crap… I have to finish this race.” From this point on, the only thing I could do was push the pace going uphill and literally hop on one leg going downhill and on flat ground. I had to complete this race, essentially, on one leg. The racers I had caught up to and passed were now passing me.
Luckily for me, I was able to make up a TON of time on the swim to and from the Tarzan swing and the final death march.
I had hooked up with some of my NJ brethren and sistren for a short time while navigating one of the death marches, they kept my spirit alive. However, I found myself alone as soon as we summited and began any sort of run or engage in a decent, DNF started racing through my mind.
With the first lap in the bag, I hit the drop bin, downed some Advil, chowed down on sour patch kids and a PB&J, and called my wife. She knew something was wrong, she was not expecting a phone call for hours. She is conservative but supportive and always worries about tomorrow instead of the “pride” of today. I spent 15 minutes there wondering if I should call it quits or not. She let me know that she would support any decision I made and that she was proud of me for making it this far, given the circumstances.
The RD came through to let us know that we were closing in on the drop-bin cutoff time and if we didn’t hit the course soon, there would be little hope of us completing the course. At that moment, I decided that I would not let my final attempt at an Ultra Beast die at the drop-bin. I grabbed my extra bladder, cleaned off my feet and took off for what would be the truest test of my willpower in OCR to date.
The second lap of this course was brutal. The pain in my knee was unbearable for anything but climbing. I am not completely sure why, but going uphill hurt far less than anything else. Having made my way through the first lap, I knew what I was in store for. To be honest, the cold swim that I was dreading on the first lap ended up being the one thing, other than finishing, I couldn’t wait for on the second lap.
I ran into my travel buddy, Luis, on his beast run at the top of one of the climbs at a water station. The time was getting late and I pulled him from his water break and kept it moving. I couldn’t move quickly, but I explained that he would have to stay with me if he wanted to finish the race. We started another climb, and I lost him. I lost my friend. I had no time to go back for him if I had any hopes of finishing. I could only go on, hoping that his pace would find him at the finish line for his first beast.
I slowly found my way back to the cold water of the Killington lake and the Tarzan swing. This was a point of hope once again, not only would I be able to begin passing elites again, but the cold water would provide some much-needed relief to my knee, albeit short. The swim allowed me to once again gain some of the ground that I had lost. I was able to pass many that struggled on the swing or paddled through the water. As a strong swimmer, I started to gain ground quickly once again only to have my momentum stop when my feet were once again planted on the ground. As a strong swimmer, I had gained a lot more than just seconds, I had gained minutes, tens of minutes…
With an incredibly slow pace on land, the minutes and hours were just melting away, like The Persistence of Memory by Salvatore Dali. I finally found myself at the sled pull and the announcement was made; I had fifteen minutes left to make it to the rope climb for the 6:30PM cutoff. There was one mile and a sandbag carry between me and a DNF. This was it. I had to somehow hop my way through this last mile as fast as I could to get through the rope climb in time to continue. If I don’t, I am done, enduring miles of excruciating pain for nothing.
Rope climb done… minutes to spare. I had made it one mile and conquered the sandbag carry in less than 15 minutes with a bum leg.
I limped my way to the finish line. One foot in front of the other.
OCRAddict came to Killington with three entries for the Ultra Beast and one entry for the beast. With a <25% completion rate on the Ultra Beast, we were 3/3 on the Ultra Beast and 0/1 on the beast. My friend is looking to next year for redemption… he was pulled at the rope climb from the course.
Chris “War Paint Waldo” Wheeler
I walk into the pitch black from a dimly lit parking lot at a ski resort that has become Holy Ground of Spartan Legends. Waivers and ID in hand ready to get to the transition area. I find my lucky corner to stage my pack for my post lap 1 refueling and then begin to get into my zone. An Ultra Beast is no normal animal no matter the venue but the slopes of Killington were primed to break the spirits of Beasters and obliterate the Ultra Beast participants with a finisher rate goal of under 1in 4 (25%). My earbuds go in and a break into a slow jog up the hill, stretch, return down and stretch again. A quarter mile of sprints and power jogs mixed with dynamic stretching and I work my way towards the starting corral. I see some old friends, including a West Point Instructor, Spartan’s favorite 4ft tall Pro Team Girlfriend and the usual Love the Suck suspects. Norm and Jason greet us with a devilish grin because they know what is ahead for those brave enough to begin. The sun breaks the Vermont Horizon as obstacle rules are explained to the Elite wave and the National Anthem is played. Soon the mind goes back to the course and the mountain it resides upon will it repeat its 2015 version or will 2014 show its head again? Only one way to know and I was going to find out.
Off we go, rather fast start to a race of such length and an almost unfair tease as we start at a decline but that was short lived as we started what felt like a 12 dozen mountain climbs with no end. Last year as I ran the course head games definitely came into play. I remember thinking to myself I only ‘had a lap in me’, ‘what was I thinking?’ and ‘this is insanity’. This year the way the course looped and even with a GPS watch on, it felt like a never-ending assault on the body. I remember few times thinking, ‘that this all I’ve moved?’, ‘there is how much left?’, etc. Whenever you are shooting for an Ultra length OCR these types of thoughts are only natural but you STFU and keep going.
Spartan did a fantastic job drawing up the trails. From a pure running and hiking perspective, it was an absolute blast. Tack on imaginative obstacle spacing and location this may have been the hardest OCR I ever tried to complete. Each peak had a glorious view with terror accompanying it with a step drop down or an obstacle with an intensity that made you dig deep when you thought you had a chance for recovery. I’m thinking the Herc Hoist pushing against the sky lift that was “fun”. I had my first crack at the famous Tarzan swing and I have to admit the swim and swing was fun, once you got over the cold. I even was able to give my legs a much-needed breather and refresher. The sand band carry was on a cleverly cut path with my only complaint being it was too narrow once the second lap hit because now you had 1st lappers and beast runners out there wanting to use the same space. This is an issue that would also happen on the trails, probably added at least an hour to my time because it simply became tiring to constantly yell “UBer coming through”. If there was a way to do it at minimal cost increase the chance to run the UB on an empty course (I.e. on Friday) would awesome. I also simply need to get faster to mitigate those other racers impact.
The real final push came when I could see the sun setting and I wanted to finish before needing my headlamp. It included a brutal downhill and a gauntlet of obstacles to conquer. The Spear Throw, Log Carry, Inverted Wall, Atlas, Rig, Wall, Delta Net then you finish. One obstacle on top of another doing their best to squeeze out some taunting burpees before you cross the finish line. Once you do, though, the feeling of exhilaration is something you cannot describe, you have to live. One thing is for sure, Spartan has me wanting to fight with the mountain again.
Killington wasn’t any great sort of variation for Spartan. The festival area was standard fare. Nothing out of the ordinary to report. I wasn’t around for much of the shenanigans as my start and end times were well before or after many of the OCR enthusiasts had left.
As for the obstacles, the inclusion of the Tarzan Swing switched things up just enough to make the course a little more interesting. I wish they had incorporated the Ape Hanger from Palmerton towards the end of the swim. That would have been far more challenging. The rest of the obstacles were standard. The bucket carry and log carry were very manageable. Thankfully, sandbag obstacle wasn’t a double carry up a double black diamond, like we found in the mountains of PA.
If you are a stats junky, the Ultra Beast ended up being a chart topper. The course would wind us through 32.52 Miles and a massive 21,884 FT of elevation climb.
There were 36 obstacles detailed on race map and 15 of them are marked classified.
- 3 – Barbed Wire
- 6 – Monkey Bars
- 8 – Memory Wall – Ultra Beast was exempt
- 11 – Stairway to Sparta
- B – Verticle Cargo net
- C – Z-Wall
- F – Tyrolean Traverse
- G – Barbed Wire Crawl
- J – Spartan Sled
- L – Sled Pull
- M – Sandbag Carry
- O – Farmer’s Carry
- 12 – ? I couldn’t figure this one out. Perhaps it was the memory recall
- 13 – Spear Throw
- 16 – Atlas Carry