We arrived to the Vail lake park to the ominous sight of a massive cloud gathering in the valley. As the sun rose above the hillside, it was hard to make out what the cloud actually consisted of. The air was too dry and we were to far east for it to be fog. It turns out is was a dust cloud generated from all of the cars driving in the extremely dry dust bowl parking lot. Water trucks drove around to dampen the earth to no avail. I knew seeing this, it was going to be a difficult morning.
Toeing the Line in Temecula
Our plan was to arrive to the concourse at least 1 hour early to allow adequate time to warm up and shake off the cob webs from the hour drive. We miscalculated and left ourselves about 20 minutes to check in and get to the starting line. I felt somewhat unprepared as all of the members of the elite heat clamored at the start line. This is my first long race for many years and my first long obstacle race. Even at 7:30 am was abrasive. Of course, I forgot to bring sunscreen. Luckily I was able to grab some from a spectator near the start line. It was a little surreal at the starting line. There I stood among 500 of the best Spartan racers. As the announcer gave his obligatory hoorah speech and the national anthem played, I felt a rush of adrenaline coursing through my body. Ahead of me, the unknown. I was ready as I could be. Some interesting characters towed the line but missing were the tu-tu adorned jokesters and sorority girls. This was clearly a serious race. Imminent battle against the course and mutual respect between the competitors kept a hush over the field. Then they sent us off.
Nutrition I had covered. In my running pack were the following items: one liter of water, three 100 calorie Gu packs, two bottles of an amino acid and 15 gram glucose mixture with water, a back up fat pack that consisted of peanut butter, honey, MCT, coconut oil, ghee and a few chocolate chunks, a back up of about 60 grams of glucose.
Unfortunately, I left my SOS electrolyte powder in my bag in the car. That would come back to bite me in the end. I would venture out into this course trusting my nutrition practice. All of my theories would be put to the test on this course. We expected to be on the course for about 3 hours and the temperature at the beginning of the race must have approached 90 degrees. Pre race I ate about 50 grams of the fat pack described above. That’s it. The science says I should be fine but there was some apprehension there.
And We’re Off
The field went off in a sort of slow frenzy. The course started with a climb. Some barriers with nets on them spread the field out before the narrow tracks. At mile 1, I looked down at my watch. It read thirteen minutes.
I said to myself, “shit this is going to be tough.” In training on the flats I carry no slower than an 8 minute mile. On shorter runs I carry 6:30 and 7:30 min/mile pace. This race is a different beast altogether compared to just completing a running course. I went out too fast the first few miles. That would come back to haunt me in the end. My pacing was off and the heat got to me a bit too. By mile three, fatigue already began to set in. That is when the obstacles were introduced.
The first one was some moguls with water filled ditches in the middle. In that heat the water feature was a welcome treat. The downside now my feet felt like bricks. I sauntered up to the next obstacle: the atlas stone. Here we carry an atlas stone about fifteen yards, complete five burpees and bring it back. The penalty for failing an obstacle is thirty burpees. Those five felt like five hundred. I decided there that no matter what, penalties were not an option. The cargo net followed the atlas stone.
Nothing Can Truly Prepare You For the Beast
This race is an interesting balance of sugar demand and fatty acid oxidation demand. Also, it calls for both strength and endurance. A wide range of energy systems and strength spectrum is required to be proficient on the course. The beast taught me I need to adjust my training. The standout obstacles included the barb wire crawl, the bucket brigade and traveling though a nasty marsh.
Beyond the oppressive heat and the endless onslaught of steep hills, the bucket brigade was the hardest part. After the buckets and the sandbag carry we had to climb the steepest hill I have ever seen. Everyone was forced to walk up that hill. You could pretty much crawl up it. After that the end was in sight. With the concourse in view and the flat ground under my feet, I knew it was going to be smooth sailing from there. Then my cramps started.
I made it about 11.5 miles with no cramping. Luckily I had my Gu. I walked for a bit and recovered. I progressed slowly after that but avoided becoming a cramping puddle on the side of the track. The end was near. Only a few more barriers stood between me and the finish line.
The spear throw would be my last opportunity to have to do burpees. I prayed for the first time in a while for spear stick into the hay bail. I grabbed my spear and started my approach. In high school I was a standout sprinter but I asked my coach to let me try javelin. I knew one day that would come in handy. As I approached the yellow boundary rope and drew back to throw, I suddenly stopped. This spear was a little splintered. Like Tiger Woods I halted my backswing and started over with a new spear. I found a smooth one, started my approach again and nailed it! It felt so good to see that spear in the hay bail. No burpees! That certainly would have broken my spirit. At that point I had truly made it to the home stretch.
In the distance I could see what looked like a wounded soldier crawling in the marsh. I couldn’t make out any chords or wires and I wondered why they were crawling. Turns out the mud was so thick if you didn’t crawl, you would pretty much get stuck. Cramping was imminent. I passed through that I couldn’t believe my eyes. We had one more up hill barb wire crawl to do. It was an unpleasant sight to say the least. I got through it. Only a few small obstacles were between me and my first Spartan Beast finish. I climbed a rope, turned the corner and jumped over a flaming pile of wood to cross the finish line. I’ve never been happier to see a finish line.
To sum it up I had an amazing experience. I believe I ended up in 87th place in the field finishing in 2 hours 56 minutes. My nutrition and my body did not fail me. My primary limitation was my fitness level. That’s a great feeling. Now I know I can go back to the drawing board, adjust my training and I will do better next time.