This is a fairly long blog post. In this paragraph I will share the key highlights if you can’t read the entire thing. I set a goal a year ago to complete a Spartan Race Ultra Beast, which is 30+ Miles, 60+ Obstacles, and in this case close to 10,000 feet of elevation change. To do that before the cutoff time, I set out to finish in 12-14 hours. I did it! Finished in 12 hours, 14 minutes and finished every obstacle clean and without failures! Except for the spear throws (which I fail nearly every event, so it was no surprise). I finished middle of the pack and am encouraged that my goals, plans, milestones and hard work have all paid off. I am sore in several key areas, but I finished injury free which was a huge goal for me. Watch either of these videos to learn more about this event or the intensity of the obstacles: Spartan Live Stream, My Obstacle Compilation Video.
Last year, on October 1st 2017, a friend and I did the Spartan Race Beast in Tahoe, which was 16+ miles and 30+ obstacles with around 5,000 feet of elevation change, at high altitude at Squaw Valley. Not only was this event my first experience with Spartan Races, but it was also the longest distance I had ever gone in a single event, with the added complexity of the obstacles, altitude and elevation change. When we were being briefed at the starting line, the officials informed us that if we saw any athletes with pull-over vests on, that they were Ultra Beasts likely completing their second lap (and to kindly step to the side to let them pass). “TWO LAPS?!”, I thought. That’s insane! Who would do this twice…Spartan Ultra Beasts, that’s who.
While I didn’t say it out loud or put a timeline around it to make it an official goal, a seed had been planted a year ago that I wanted to complete an Ultra Beast and say that I had done it. Later that year, I went on to complete the Super (8-10 miles) and Sprint (3-5 miles), which rounded my “Trifecta” for 2017. At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to complete six Spartan events by the end of the year, and if my training was going well enough, one of them would be an Ultra Beast.
As I started my training, my biggest fear was not quitting, because I’m just not a quitter. My biggest fear was my tempo and speed. Would I be able to complete 30+ miles in 15 hours before the officials would haul me off the mountain due to safety issues (6AM start and 9PM cutoff). In the Spartan world, this is considered a DNF (Did Not Finish). A DNF is different than a DQ (Disqualification) which is generally the result of cheating (or doing obstacles/burpees incorrectly too many times). Either way, DNFs and DQs do not complete and don’t earn the recognition and perks of finishing. Knowing that I needed to be faster than 2 miles per hour, my training this year focused on improving my overall speed, and of course completing all obstacles correctly to minimize burpee penalties (30 burpees for any failed or incomplete obstacles).
The Spartan Beast in Big Bear (SoCal) in May was the final linchpin or milestone that convinced me that doing an Ultra this year was a real possibility.
If I could do 13.1 Miles (a half-marathon distance) in 4 hours and 34 minutes, doing the math meant there was a possibility of completing 30 Miles in 12-14 hours when accounting for physical exhaustion and other elements. Not to mention, this was a huge confidence boost that I was in the top 25% for the competitive age group class, for a very difficult course. Having already completed the Sprint in San Jose in March, I went on to finish the Super in Monterey in early June and earned my first Trifecta for the year (Sprint, Super, and Beast). Then… I took a three month break from Obstacle Course Races (OCR) as Spartan didn’t have any other events in my local area.
With the goal of completing the Ultra Beast in sight, the last three months I have focused on small, tangible goals with CrossFit, started with a Nutritional Coach to tune in my Macro intake, and took on some pretty hefty trail runs in Tahoe. Three weekends prior to the Ultra Beast, I set out on the longest run to date, 23+ miles on the Pacific Rim trail in South Lake Tahoe:
Again, I told myself, if I can do 23+ miles in 6 and a half hours at high elevation, then completing 30 Miles with all the obstacles in 12-14 hours is achievable! The longest distance I had run prior to this was 18 miles on flat surfaces at sea level, which I did in 2 and a half hours, putting me on pace for a decent marathon finish time. Prepping for the event, I did everything I could to learn the course, including watching the Facebook Live Stream of the World Championship Competitors, and pulling up the map they published:
Yesterday morning started early (2:30AM) as I opted to drive up before my heat start time of 6:15AM. Nervous and excited, I had everything I needed for a successful event (including a headlamp that I didn’t end up needing). A couple tips and my complete list of gear for anyone considering this type of endurance event, so you have the full picture of what my preparations looked like:
- Beige skin tape around each toe and tape toes 2/3 and 4/5 together to prevent movement blisters
- Beige skin tape in high friction areas like back of the heel
- Multiple strips of Kinesiology Therapeutic (KT) tape along calves (V shape up the back of the calf)
- Multiple strips of KT tape on thighs right above the knee
- Two pairs of breathable lightweight compression socks
- One pair of breathable compression sleeves (for calf strain)
- Under Armor Heatgear compression thigh length boxer briefs
- Under Armour Men’s Base 2.0 Leggings
- Running shorts (because I’m modest and a guy, so don’t like running in just leggings)
- Under Armour Men’s Cold Gear Long-Sleeve Turtleneck
- Analogue battery powered watch (that I don’t mind getting scratched up on barb wire crawls, etc.)
- Wool beanie
- Mechanics gloves (make sure they are grippy in case you use them on obstacles)
- 2 liter pressurized hydration bladder in military tactical hydration pack (with space for other gear)
- Nutrition support, my personal favorites for high-carb options are listed below
- CLIF Builder’s Protein Bar peanut chocolate and mint chocolate (reasonably priced at Costco)
- CLIF BLOKS Energy Chews
Due to the amount of prep that’s involved, it took me about 30 minutes to get ready yesterday morning before leaving my house. I had a couple bars for breakfast on the road with lots of water. For the Ultra Beast, Spartan allows athletes to take a break at the Transition Area, which is the half-way point between the two laps. Being a first-time Ultra, I really didn’t know what to expect, or what kind of supplies to bring for the transition, so I simply bagged up half of the Builder’s bars, leaving them for the second half. Next time, I may opt for a proper lunch with heavy carbs, so I can eat more than bars all day.
My goal going into the event, to hit a 12-14 hour finish and be within the 15 hour cutoff, was to make it to the transition station for lap two within 6-7 hours, leaving 7-8 hours for the more grueling lap two. Since the Beast distance was 13.5 miles this weekend, they added an additional 3 mile loop just for the Ultras on the first lap, which included a couple additional obstacles. So, the first lap was 16.5 miles, and the second lap was 13.5. There was a little delay in starting, but my heat took off at 6:24AM, giving me 14 and a half hours before the cutoff at 9PM. Due to the cold weather and water temperature measuring at 33 degrees with wind gusts up to 50-60 MPH, the officials decided not to run the Swim obstacle or the Dunk Wall obstacle, which were the two full submersion water obstacles. After a long first lap, I rolled into the transition station at 12:15PM, completing my first in under 6 hours! Leaving the transition and starting lap two, I knew it would take longer due to exhaustion, but overall I felt pretty good going into the final 13.5 miles. Here’s a picture of me with my parents who came out to support me, at the transition…
As I came back into Squaw Village around 4:30PM for the final set of obstacles before the last incline and 2 hour / 5 mile section, my parents were able to take a couple pictures and videos of me, which you can watch below. These were around 25-26 miles into the event, so I was pretty beat but getting near the end. This is just a sample of the 60+ obstacles found throughout the 30+ Mile course.
With a goal to complete in 12-14 hours, and staying on pace the entire event, coming into the final two obstacles I was energized to finish without any additional obstacle failures, and the 30 burpees that go along with it. Just before the finish line was a beast of a multi-rig with Olympic rings, a metal bar, and more rings. Taking my time to dry and warm my hands to recover, I prep’d for the last obstacle and NAILED IT! I’ve failed this obstacle in the past, and had to do 30 burpees just before the finish line, which is really defeating, but this event I got it! With that, I am happy to share my results for my first ever Spartan Ultra Beast…
A goal to finish in 12-14 hours and I did it in 12 hours, 14 minutes with a pace of 24 minutes per mile! This had me finishing almost dead middle of the pack, when you include Elite, Age Group, and Open classes. Here’s where my 12:14 would have landed for each respective class:
Elite – 68 out of 85
Age Group – 93 out of 160
Open – 116 out of 254
Total – 277 out of 499
But that doesn’t tell the whole story…For whatever reason, Spartan officials have decided not to publish statistics for number of athletes who start but never finish the event (for a variety of reasons, either DNF or DQ). Talking with other Ultras about their past failures and successes, I don’t have concrete evidence, but I am led to believe the drop-out rate for Ultra is somewhere near 50%. That means that there were probably 1,000 athletes that set out Sunday morning to finish the Ultra Beast. Not only did I finish, but I was squarely in the center of the pack who finished, which makes me completely elated.
One last thing about my race…I have historically had a hard time with the Spear Throw obstacle (not something I practice regularly at home or at my CrossFit box). As such, I routinely expect that I’ll fail Spear Throw and plan to do my 30 burpees. This event was no exception, and I did 30 burpees on each lap for failing Spear Throw. However, aside from Spear Throw, all 60+ additional obstacles were completely clean and without failure! Saving me from any additional burpees…
Having this goal for the past year, there have been several key takeaways I want to share about my experience:
– No accomplishment is insignificant
– Set goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound
– Set milestones that help track to your longer-term goal
– Keep at it, even on days when the progress doesn’t seem significant relative to the work effort
– Wherever you are, whatever your goal, START.
– JUST DO IT.
– Comparison is a distraction that will keep you from achieving your goals. Ignore the noise and what others are doing. You do you.
– As Simon Sinek would inspire you, define your WHY.
– As Gary Keller (of Keller Williams Realty) would ask, “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
– What are your key pillars of your life that lead to happiness and fulfillment? Spiritual Life, Physical Health, Personal Life, Key Relationships, Job, Business, Finances
– What are your habits that are leading you to achieve tremendous results?
– We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. – Greek poet, Archilochus
As I chase after my goals and dreams, I hope I can encourage others to do the same. After all, I’m just your average IT Professional working hard to break the overweight and out of shape stereotype that comes with sitting behind a computer all day. If this blog post has inspired you or you want to learn more, I would absolutely be honored to connect with you. Below you will find a couple other pictures that highlight this experience for me (click to enlarge)…
Thanks and be blessed! -Dane
At the transition (half-way point between laps)
At the finish line
Registration desk with Squaw tram in the background
My race vest, wristband (specific to competitors in either Elite or Age Group classes) and headband
The ultimate in achievements, the killer Ultra belt buckle with purple strap
Close-up of the belt buckle
My results with timing information and ranking for each checkpoint
Ultra finisher shirt (front):
Ultra finisher shirt (back):
Ultra finisher shirt (sleeve):
Thanks again for reading!