Return to the Mountain: Vermont Spartan Beast 2015

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This was my third year taking on Mount Killington. I was placed in a later wave than I had been in previous years, so I knew from the start that I had to PR or be pulled from the course, no other option.

Assemble at the start line, receive a rousing pep talk from the MC (including a Mighty Ducks speech- how often do you get THAT?), and we were off. First obstacle was a log gut checker. I saw people struggling and I positioned myself in front of the log to provide them with a step. Four or five people went over, then I got up to go over myself.

The moment clearing that first obstacle sticks in my head. I was stunned at how easily I had cleared it, at how much stronger I was from last year. New training programs appear to be working.

Breezed through a few familiar obstacles, short walls, over-under-through walls, hay bale barricades, Caught up with people I had helped over the gut checker and helped them over the reverse wall.

The next obstacle to kick in was the mountain itself, the endless steep inclines and declines. At one point, a first-time racer asked if I had done this before and what to expect from the rest of the course. I replied, “That brutal, crappy soul-sucking uphill we just did? We will do that four more times, maybe five.” And if memory serves, I was pretty close to correct.

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The first spear throw had hay bales that were so damaged that no one could ever stick a spear in it, so the volunteers told us we only had to make contact. Bounce the spear off the hay, and I’m on my way.

Next was the lighter of the two sandbag carries. One thing is constant with the heavy carry obstacles in Vermont: Downhill no problem, uphill sucks with an unending suck. Keep pushing, get through it.

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Next was the tire drag obstacle. Somehow, in pulling and regripping the rope, I wrapped it around the post, and it tangled when I tried to pull the tire back down the hill. I ran back up to untangle it, just as a volunteer was coming up to assist. I stammered something like, “I screwed it up, I’ll fix it.” The volunteer smiled and replied, “Your the first one all day to own it. Good on you.”

Next were a series of steep downhills that slowed down the pace considerably. Wile Tarzan-swinging from trees to slow our descent, various conversations started up among racers. Where are you from? First race? First Beast? What do you want to eat when we are done with this? Cheeseburgers, pancakes, a deep-fried Shetland pony…

Second sandbag carry was a ball-breaker. I still have not determined if it is the heavier bag or the stupidly steep slope that does it, but this is the nastiest, grittiest carry I have ever come across. I have no idea how many times I had to stop and put down the bag on the way up, but I managed to make the trip down in one go.

Tall walls that I had needed help over in past years, I made it over unassisted this time. Got to the first rig obstacle, and made it 2 ropes in before failing.

More hilly trails, Hercules hoist, more walls, barbed wire crawl.

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I came to the balance beam and randomly chose what I learned shortly after was among the most wobbly beams. I was able to jump to the end just as I was losing my balance and complete the obstacle.

Next was the bucket carry, which is still one of the most evil things ever invented. I had carried all my gear except my water bladder in a fanny pack this year, both so I can keep moving while accessing it and so I can turn it around to set the bucket on. It kinda worked. Having it set on the pack reduced the load on my hands, but carrying the weight up the hill still sucks.

The farmer carry was unique, replacing the normal buckets or ammo cans with logs fitted with log-chain handles. I surprised myself by completing it without needing to stop midway (although I noticed here that I swear during exertion much more than I used to).

The highlight of my race came at the first rope climb. The racer in front of me had fallen and banged up his ribs, and pulling himself up the rope was exacerbating the pain. Several of us gathered around him and pushed up on whatever we could, he rang the bell, and we all helped him down.

Next was an oddly long series of walls. I have never seen that many strung in a row like that. Timing worked out such that I would help a group over the wall, go over myself, and catch up with them just in time to help them over the next wall.

Gut checkers, log carry, another rig/rope swing obstacle that I failed, Atlas carry that I dominated, and the chance to be called “wicked smaht” for carrying a bigger camelback than most racers.

About this time, people started saying that we had “about 2 more miles.” A few miles later, around the water crossing, we got actual info from race staff that there was a little over 2 miles left. I could tell that some of those around me were rattled by this. Don’t think about it, just go till you’re done.

The sun went down about the time I got to the second log carry. I don’t know what it is, but something about this race after dark, the loss of depth perception, the lines of headlamps moving up and down the mountain, just seems absolutely surreal to me.

Second barbed wire crawl, uphill in the dark, with my legs starting to cramp up. I cannot express how badly I wanted to slip out the side and walk past (as a good many people appeared to be doing), but I kept pushing through.

I’m not sure if obstacles here were actually closer together or if the dark messed with my perception of distance, but they seemed to be coming rapidly. Second rope climb, traverse wall, Atlas carry with logs instead of stones. When we came to the last and longest barbed wire crawl, there were more than a few comments of “What the crap, Norm? Did you run out of ideas and just keep doing this one?”

Finish the crawl, two or three more gut checkers, the second spear throw, and over the fire to the finish line.

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It is hard to gauge overall improvement on a course that constantly changes. I seemed a little faster and steadier on the course and much stronger on the obstacles, and my overall time was a PR by more than an hour. Not nearly where I want to be yet, but much, much closer than I was last year.

Farewell for now, Killington. We will meet again. Count on it.

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