Spartan has been holding their races in the Tri-State area since I first learned of their series. Through these years, the Super had been the primary focus with a Beast thrown in the mix later. This year, things would be different. This year, New Jersey would host its first Ultra Beast. A Spartan Race unlike any other Spartan Race, held in the Garden State. This year, the Tri-State area would host one of the most grueling and challenging obstacle course races I have ever attempted. The question is, how did it go?
Mountain Creek would be home to the first Tri-State Ultra Beast in 2016. The venue is widely recognized for its scenic wonder and glorious terrain. While the mountain does not compare to the likes of Killington in regards to elevation, it is no slouch. The mountain features an elevation of 1,480 feet with 46 total trails. The average temperature in April can range from 42 degrees Farenheight to 66 degrees Farenheight with around a 50% chance of rainfall, making the temperature and weather conditions a bit unpredictable. Sounds like the perfect broth for a nice Spartan Soup. The Tri-State area is home to a host of animal species, but notably the black bear. More on that later.
I am not going to assume anything here about people’s understanding of all the different events that Spartan holds. There are going to be some of you that do not know what an Ultra Beast is. While this is not going to be a review of the Ultra Beast series itself, I have to cover some of the basics. The Ultra Beast is typically two laps of the Beast series of races. It typically runs 26+ miles with more than 60 obstacles. In simpler terms, you must run two laps of the Beast with an occasional something extra thrown in.
In the days leading up to the event, Norm (#EFFNORM) teased us with plenty of trail and venue photos illustrating the wonders of the Mountain Creek wildlife. For those of you that don’t know what an EFFNORM is, EFFNORM is a creative and sometimes brutal RD that challenges and shapes the terrain in ways that can break an athlete at any level. With a constant photo feed of Yogi and friends, many of us became attached to the course build and the experiences of our RD. In other words, we became part of the experience before we even got there. What you may not realize is that this type of involvement, before we run the race, brings us immediately closer together with the venue, the competitors, and the race itself.
First, for us, the Ultra Beast didn’t start the day of the race. The night before the race, Friday 4/29/2016, was our drop bin drop-off and packet pickup scheduled for 3-7PM. Arriving at the event venue early is almost unavoidable as the excitement of the Ultra Beast is somewhat difficult to control. The staff on hand is always pleasant and inviting; there is no difference here.
We had the option of leaving our bin the night before the event was to kick off, minus the food… bear like food, or returning at 5AM to drop our stuff and prepare for the race. Many of us chose to return in the morning. While being briefed about the drop bin and the natural inhabitants, Norm stopped by to say hello. “Hey Norm, nice machete!”
Afterward, many of us met for a meal at a local restaurant, Smokey’s Tavern. Our 5 PM arrival was in line with many that had the same idea. Our food was delivered, and a nearby table prepped us with an introductory speech followed by a restaurant full of Spartans chanting, “Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!”. I felt sorry for those people that had no idea what was going on, both of them.
Sleep? There is none. I spent a good portion of the night bagging and tagging my drop bin in a fit of anxiousness trying to make sure I got it right. If you didn’t get a chance to read my lessons learned article, I over thought it… just a bit.
5AM arrived and Spartans are arriving. Parking is smooth as silk, Spartan decided that the folks running the Ultra Beast were deserving of VIP parking. Our cars were a short walk from the venue. Car to festival area in a matter of minutes. There is no check in as we already did so the night before, we walked right through.
While I have no Ultra Beast experience prior to the Tri-State UB, I have heard that the drop bin area is typically in an area that is easy to access. In NJ, however, the drop bin zone was at the top of a cliff, overlooking the festival area.
There were two paths for entry, one we didn’t know about before the race, which had us climbing a steep incline, incredibly steep, and the simple one we navigated in the early AM. We climbed the hill, dropped our gear, and made our way over to the festival area to tackle the morning warm up and drop off bag check.
Bag Check is usually something that I don’t spend any time on covering in a race review. There is typically nothing to cover. However, for the Ultra Beast, many of us were required to be ready to leave the starting line at 6:15 AM. Having a season pass and access to the VIP bag check has been relatively uneventful in the past. Unfortunately, many of the volunteers weren’t in place yet leading to some disgruntled athletes and longer lines than usual. While I won’t make a big deal out of this, some of the athletes forget that these folks are volunteers and should always be treated with respect, no matter how long you waited. To you, Mr. and Mrs. Volunteer, thank you… and I apologize for those that forgot that.
The starting times for the Ultra Beast were delayed nearly 45 minutes due to a combination of volunteer staff not being in place and Smokey the bear sighting. Dustin Dorough did his thing quickly and skipped his normal shenanigans to get us out quickly. A few Aroo’s! and we were unleashed.
As soon as the horn sounded, we were immediately thrust into a series of hills that had us climb from 625ft to 1,181ft, this was just an introduction. One lap would eventually lead us through 15.12 miles of muddy, technical terrain and navigating 4090ft of elevation with various hints of open trails to gain some speed.
The course layout was incredible. The trails and terrain we were guided through were the best and most constant obstacle. There was definitely more hiking than running as we were constantly pressed with steep and technical climbs. The design featured more than 60 obstacles (66 for us in the UB) including a bucket brigade that had us navigating our way up the area of Mountain Creek dedicated to the snow tubers.
Granted, much of the terrain was natural; we were guided through some interesting man-made additions. There were concrete dam crossings, and most notably, a section of the course that had us climb down into a drainage wall and through the PVC drainage tubes. Incredible use of the existing conditions brought a little “Wow! That was cool! Aroo!” to an otherwise long and grueling trek through the mountains.
The obstacles we encountered were standard fare. We found all the staples of Spartan with some small and neat variations. The rope climb, without knots, was erected over bales of hay instead of water, the Tyrolean featured a ladder traverse option, and we found a simple new obstacle in the form of PVC drainage tubes.
The PVC tubes didn’t seem like much of an obstacle; that is until you try to leap them in a single jump and smash your knees into them at full speed; leaving you limping down the hill instead of running.
The Herc Hoist was unusually heavy, much like we found at the Citi Field Sprint. Perhaps I am losing it, but I have never failed these until this year. I just didn’t have enough body weight to pull it down; every time I moved it, my body would be lifted from the ground. This and the first spear throw were my only failures on any lap.
The course featured two barbed wire crawls, both were dry, and thankfully, neither of them were a rocky creekbed.
The festival area was filled with life while many of us were attacking obstacles near the starting line. Many folks were rooting us on and a few cheers were heard when I performed the A-Frame flip.
The classified Obstacles were:
3. Memory Chart – Delta 730-2007 – Recite yours in the comments below!
6. Tube Wall
9. Up Hill Barbwire
11. Stairway to Sparta
14. Vertical Cargo
18. Rolling Mud
20. Memory Test
21. Bucket Brigade
23. Plate Drag
25. Barb Wire 2
27. Sandbag Carry
28. Spear Throw
29. Atlas Carry
As we finished and filtered into the drop bin zone, the temperature was perfect for OCR. Our fatigued legs and hunger ridden bodies were forced to navigate our way up the steep incline via ropes and rocks to find nourishment and the willpower to start our second lap.
This race was not host to a special loop for our Ultra Beast Lap. Instead, we faced the same terrain we fought through just hours earlier. The obstacles were similar as well with only a couple of exceptions. For some reason, rolling mud was not so rolling, perhaps someone hurt themselves jumping in, thus we were only able to attack the slip wall. Additionally, I had heard that some time later that the bucket brigade was made shorter. However, I cannot validate this as it had supposedly been altered some time after my second attempt.
The end of our second lap introduced us to the final two obstacles, two we skipped on our first lap, the Dunk Wall and the Fire Jump. At this point, the temperature had dropped significantly and our shivering, shattered selves jumped over the Fire obstacle with enthusiasm. We were on our way to the results tent for our results, medal, and Ultra Beast Shirt.
Our long journey through the croweded festival area was a praise filled experience. Many fellow Spartans were congradulating us, fist bumping us, and asking about the trial we had just endured. The area was booming with life and festivities, unable to enjoy walking, many of us limped our way up to our drop bin to collect our belongings and find our beds.
NJ Ultra Beast had started for many of us as a question mark. We had heard about Killington and Tahoe as Ultra Beast staples and there had been much skepticism about the Ultra Beast coming to NJ. There had been grumbling of a lack of elevation, a lack of technical terrain, and a lack of complexity. Fortunately for us, the New Jersey Ultra Beast was a success. I am not alone in saying that this was one of the best Spartan courses that I have run. Spartan (and EFFNORM) found every opportunity for elevation, ever ounce of technical terrain available, and delivered a course that will be remembered forever.