2014 Spartan Race World Championship (Vermont Spartan Beast) – analysis of distance, elevation and difficulty

By SOLO

As the smoke is settling down after the championship weekend, hundreds of you are trying to figure out how long the course was, how steep the hills were, and how heavy those sandbags were. Anyone having flashbacks yet?

Well, do I have a present for you… Remember, Alec Blenis and this awesome post he did on top 10 tips for conquering Vermont Beast? Today, he presents a detailed analysis of Vermont Beast’s distance, elevation and difficulty. 

Alec, take it away…

It seems to be a consensus that the 2014 Vermont Beast was the hardest to date, and preliminary GPS data shows that the course was in fact longer and steeper than in previous years. [Check out Alec’s and Solo’s data for 2013 Spartan Race World Championship for reference.] But just how hard was it? Here I’ll take a look at some of the numbers. When reviewing the data, keep in mind that data will vary significantly across devices and among athletes (some people run straight up hills, others may run an “S”, for instance), so I’m sure your data will be a bit different. Also, remember data can also be affected significantly by loss of satellite reception and water submersions, so if your watch says the race was 30 miles but has a random line shooting out to Pittsfield, don’t quote that data as accurate. I’ve done my best here to account for satellite inaccuracies and erroneous elevation spikes.

vermont beast map

A summary of how my data was acquired:

Device: Garmin Fenix2
GPS Mode: Smart Recording
WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System): On
3D distance: On
Elevation Data Source: Altimeter
Automatic Elevation Calibration: On, Continuous.

*These settings were applied in order to record the most accurate data possible. WAAS increases GPS accuracy, 3D distance accounts for elevation changes when computing distance instead of looking at the projection of your position onto a 2D plane, altimeter is much more reliable when computing elevation changes (it is more precise than accurate, however), and automatic elevation calibration prevents elevation “drift” due to changing weather, etc.

*Worth noting in advance is that I did zero penalty burpees and travelled through each obstacle as intended. This is kind of important later.

Solo’s notes:

Device: Suunto Ambit2
You can view a detailed record of my race here. Note that I accidentally paused my watch for about 10 minutes, so the total distance is off.
*Worth noting that I definitely did not do zero penalty burpees. 🙂

Distance = 16.3-16.9 miles

This part is pretty simple. Upon inspection of my data, it doesn’t appear that I ever lost satellite reception and I feel pretty good about quoting my distance as accurate. That said, there are still a few caveats:

  • Almost all of the elite men who carried two sandbags up the mountain did so in shuttle run fashion to the top, then carried both down the mountain together. This resulted in the men doing the first half of the carry three times (twice up, once down…think about it for a while and it will make sense). Given the length of the carry, this resulted in the men’s course being approximately 0.3 miles longer than the women’s course.
  • Unless something unusual happens with satellite reception, GPS will always come up short, not long. As a trail race director myself, I can assure you that if you “wheel” a trail course, it is generally 5-10% longer than GPS would have you believe. The only reason GPS would show a longer distance is if you were stationary for a long period of time (burpees) and GPS drift gradually accumulated distance. You could be looking at an extra .03 miles or so per set of burpees. I did zero burpees and went through every obstacle as intended, so the distance I covered was truly the course, not extra distance back and forth from burpee zones, etc.

Bottom Line: 16.3-16.9 miles.
I got 16.6. If you wheeled it, it may have been longer.
*I ran tangents and took straight line paths through the woods, but did the double bag carry shuttle run style.

Elevation Gain = 8,000-8,500 ft

I see elevation data misquoted all the time, and some people use “elevation gain” and “elevation change” interchangeably, when they are very different! As a simple example, if you climb to the top of a 100’ tall building and then come down, your elevation gain was 100’, your elevation loss was 100’, and your elevation change was 200’ (ascent + descent). If the elevation of the start and finish is the same, then elevation change will always be exactly double the elevation gain (and exactly double the elevation loss).

I also see grade and degrees used interchangeably when they are very different as well. Grade is a unitless measurement of the steepness of a hill, calculated the same way as the mathematical slope of a line; “rise over run”. In general, you can just divide the elevation gain by the distance covered and that’s your grade. However, if you use 3D distance settings or acquired the distance component using a wheel, then you’ll have to do a little more math to ensure you’re using the actual “run” component instead of the hypotenuse of the hill in the calculation. That said, if the hill is less than 30% grade (1,500’ of elevation gain per mile), then the numbers come out about the same either way. As an aside, no one talks about mountain steepness in terms of degrees (or radians for that matter). Just don’t.

Another note worth mentioning is that barometric altimeters are much more precise when it comes to summing elevation changes, although the actual altitude reported may be off. By using continuous GPS calibration, this issue can be mitigated significantly. However, altimeters aren’t without problems. Because they are pressure based, things like water submersions can affect their accuracy. Looking at my data, I have subtracted out the elevation gain from two spikes caused by water submersions. My original data showed 9,100 feet of elevation gain, but approximately 800 of that was from two erroneous spikes, so I feel confident about reporting an “official” elevation gain of 8,300 feet (and 16,600 feet of change).

Solo’s notes:
Below is the general idea of the elevation changes over the distance. E.g. you can see three climbs that Alec discusses below. Fun fact – according to my watch, I spent a whopping 9 minutes in “flat time” – that is out of 6 hours and 49 minutes that I spent on that damn mountain. Six hours and 39 minutes were spent either ascending or descending. 
*A gap in the last quarter of the graph is due to me, accidentally pausing my watch.

elevation

Bottom Line: 8000-8500ft of elevation gain.
*Depending on how you completed the sandbag carry. As with the course distance, the differences between men’s and women’s sandbag carries would affect total elevation gain by at most a few hundred feet.

More Notes on Elevation:

  • First ascent: 21% grade for 0.9 miles
  • Climb from lake up K1 to spear throw: 25% for 0.7 miles, then small descent, then 19% for 0.5 miles, then a small descent, then another mile of climbing at varying grades from 10% to 25%.
  • Random steep ascent through the woods, 30% for about .2 miles. This was the steepest continuous section of the race.
  • 3rd “major climb”: 17% grade for 0.7 miles.
  • Sandbag carry was variable grade from 20-30% depending on how direct of an ascent you took. The sandbag descent was minus 25-30% grade.

There were other ups and downs too, but those are the main ones.

There were not any continuous climbs above 40% grade. There were sections where you may have had 100% grade slopes, but it was only that steep for a few steps. The steepest grades encountered for anything more than 100 yards were 25-30%. Yet, we still accumulated lots of elevation change because we were pretty much always climbing or descending.

As an interesting comparison, the Vertical KM at the 2014 Skyrunning World Championship averages 26% grade for 2.25 miles.

Bottom Line: It was hard.

Temperature

The water temperature sure felt like freezing, but it wasn’t nearly 32 degrees (0C). I’ve seen people say 40 (4C), and saw one of the race organizers say 60 (15C). Luckily my watch has a temperature sensor. Typically, it reports a higher than actual temperature due to body heat, but when running with good air flow or when in water, it adjusts to the actual temperature rather quickly. Just before entering the first water element, it said the outdoor air temperature was 64 degrees (18C). The temperature plummeted to a low of 51.8 degrees (11C) after a few minutes in the water. While swimming, body heat isn’t going to have any effect on the temperature of the watch, so this wasn’t skewed. I was also in the water long enough for my watch to fully cool, so I feel somewhat confident in my measurement. But if someone brought a mercury thermometer and let it sit in the lake overnight, by all means share the data!

Solo’s notes:
My watch agrees with Alec’s numbers above (although keep in mind that Alec would be going through obstacles quite a bit earlier in the day than I would). Below is the temperature graph for my race, and you can clearly see the dips in temperature during water submersions, recording a low of 53.6 degrees (12C).  The average temperature was 62 degrees (16.8C).

temperature

Bottom Line: Water temperature of 52 degrees (11C) in the morning, warming slightly during the day.
*Weather was certainly different on the mountain than in Rutland, but as a reference for general conditions, here is a link to weather for 9/20/14 at RUT airport. I can’t find archived data for Killlington Peak.

Course Map

The official course map has the race at 14.9 “Spartan miles”. It’s not too uncommon to see Spartan miles used instead of statute miles or kilometers at obstacle races. For those unfamiliar, the conversion is straightforward:

1 Spartan mile = 1.1 statute miles*
*This is completely made up, by the way. But still keep it in mind when comparing GPS data to the course map.

A Few Major Obstacles (Object Carry Specifics)

Sandbag #1
The first obstacle we encountered after a 1000’ climb and O-U-T was a sandbag carry. It was your typical “pancake” and honestly wasn’t a challenge compared to sandbag carry #2, but it was just long enough to space runners out a bit more before hitting the bucket carry and eventually the tarzan swing at the bottom of the mountain.

Weight: 40# men, 25# women.
Distance: ~0.12 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: ~50 feet

Bucket #1
This first bucket carry was definitely easier than it has been in prior years, but the reason is that it was also part of the sprint course along with sandbag #1, so these obstacles were intended to be of lesser difficulty. “Beast” difficulty carries would come later in the race.

bucket carry 1

Weight: 80# men, 50# women.
Distance: ~0.14 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: negligible (~30 feet)

Tractor Pull
Surprisingly easy, although pretty much everything was compared to the never ending climbs and the second sandbag carry. However, making elite males drag two blocks may have been enough to weaken grip strength right before the first spear throw that was just up the hill.

Weight: 2 cinderblocks for elite men, 1 cinderblock for everyone else.
Distance: ~0.07 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: ~25 feet

Bucket Carry #2
If the first bucket carry didn’t cause you any difficulty, this one may have. It was 50% longer and almost twice as steep.

Weight: 80# men, 50# women
Distance: 0.20 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 80 feet (15% grade average for ascent)

Sandbag Carry #2
This was an obstacle to be remembered, especially if you were one of the elite men that got to carry two bags.
Weight: 45-50# bag for men and women. Elite men had two bags, 90-100# total.

Distance:
0.4 miles minimum (the distance of the loop).
0.8 miles if you did the ascent one bag at a time but the descent in one trip.
1.2 miles if you did the entire carry one bag at a time.

Elevation Gain: 270 feet for a straight up climb. 540 feet if you were a man that did the ascent one bag at a time but the descent in one trip. 810 feet if you did the entire carry one bag at a time.

Other:

Herculean Hoist weight was 45# for the women and 90# for the men (plus however much the rope, carabiner, etc., weighed. Added difficulty here comes from a thin rope and lots of friction in the pulley system. Lighter than in the past, but not easy for everyone.

Atlas Stone – unofficial weights for men and women were 120# and 80#, respectively. You had to lift your stone, carry it 10 yards, do 5 burpees, then take your stone back to the starting position.

All of the others were standard Spartan obstacles like barbed wire crawls, tall walls, spear throws (two of them), monkey bars, tyrolean traverse, traverse wall, etc. Nothing crazy or new for the world championships besides the horizontal pole traverse and platinum rig. The tarzan swing has been seen before but it is exclusive to the Vermont Beast.

DNF (Did Not Finish)

There’s no official data out on the DNF rate at the time of this post, but based on the number of bib assignments for Saturday’s race, there was a combined DNS/DNF rate of 26%, but I’d like to hear what the race director has to say on this one. For those who attempted two laps for the Ultra Beast on Sunday, the finishing rate was much, much lower. The numbers don’t lie, the 2014 Spartan World Championship was brutal.

And there you have it. Thank you so much, Alec, for the hard cold facts.

Hugs,
Solo

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Posted September 23, 2014

41 responses to “2014 Spartan Race World Championship (Vermont Spartan Beast) – analysis of distance, elevation and difficulty”

  1. SHINARD WOODY says:

    Bib #6628
    Wow great write up thank you very much for sharing. I have a question not sure if you have an answer for. For those of us that ran in the evening on Saturday (my start time was 12PM the water obstacles were shut down because of an incident. We were rerouted and were told that our race was made a few miles longer to make up for it. Are you able to dig up any truth to this?

    • SOLO says:

      The water obstacles were indeed closed at some point on Saturday, because there was a false alarm – they thought they lost a racer in the water. They closed it down until it was confirmed that the racer was ok. Better safe, than sorry. As for the reroute – I highly highly doubt you guys ended up making up the miles. First of all, you would only be cutting out perhaps 0.5 miles. Then, where would they reroute you to? No markers. No alternative route. I can pretty much guarantee that you simply kept moving – minus the water.

      • Ann Marie says:

        Yea, we were just getting out of the second water part of that (walk around the shore on the hidden rocks) when they shut it down. Then, like a couple hundred people ran past us into the narrow trail. Was quite the log jam for most of the rest of the race. Which there had been a way to space it out again. Kind of a shame, though, of course I’m glad the guy was ok.

  2. Spartin The French Spartan says:

    For the Ultra Beast, the finisher rate was just above 10%, and just under 10% if we consider only people with integrity who did the whole race with all its obstacles and/or burpees…
    Nice job to the two of you for this recap straight to the point!

    • SOLO says:

      Actually – I disagree. The finisher rate was 10% only if you count as if every single person who registered ran. While over 1,200 registered, only 800 picked up their bibs. And even less actually started on Sunday.

    • SOLO says:

      Hey, Martin. 🙂 I think the finisher rate was actually much higher. The 10% finisher rate is based on how many registered – not nearly as many started.

  3. kman says:

    Hi, could you publish a link to Alec Blenis’ GPS data from the garmin connect website? This way we can see the pace, elevation and timing. Thanks! Awesome article!

  4. Tim says:

    Great write up, thank you for putting this together. That was the toughest Beast I’ve done to date. I wasn’t wearing a GPS, but another racer who finished at the same time had the course at just over 17 miles. Pretty close to what you had. Thanks again, great job!

  5. Great breakdown of the event. Thanks! How did you come upon the weights of the bucket and sandbag? I would have guessed about 80# on the sandbag. Do you know at what time the tarzan swing was shut down?

    • Bib6260 says:

      Unless I was waaaay more burnt out than I realize, I agree the 2nd sandbag was closer to 80lb than 50lb. I trained with a 65lb bag and really struggled with that 2nd sandbag carry. Lots of people had ripped and spilling bags (no such luck for me), but the undamaged ones were brutal – hardest obstacle on the race for me.

      That aside, fantastic write-up. Thanks for all the data! The race was pretty much eluding me for words to describe to those who didn’t run it.

    • SOLO says:

      From what I understand the tarzan swing was shut down in the late morning of Saturday for at least an hour. The weights – some are from previous knowledge, some from experience racing with these before.

    • Chris says:

      When I walked by it looking for the shuttle at about 11:30 it was running and when I actually got to it at around 1 it was closed.

      It was a great race. My biggest gripe was all the logjams around the thin trails in the 9-11 mile area. It’s just a huge buzzkill when you’re doing well and shooting for a time and suddenly you’re at a practical standstill for 30 minutes because there’s one six foot dropoff that slower racers are nervous about jumping down. On the thinner parts of the trails only about one in three slower racers actually makes an effort to let the faster racers pass.

      • SOLO says:

        Hey, Chris! Ah, that sounds frustrating! Thankfully, I never got stuck at that log, but the thinner trails did start to get jammed with people. Can be somewhat annoying if you are better on the downhills like myself. Are you coming back to Vermont in 2015?

  6. Robert Heitkamp says:

    BIB # 12737

    Thanks for the recap! I ran the Ultra on Sunday (finished, yeah!), and I have been having a hard time describing the course to friends/family (details starting to get a bit hazy, you know). Again, thanks for the great post!

    Rob

    P.S. I agree with the comments about some of the questionable race obstacle/burpee integrity.

  7. Kevin A. Spartan says:

    Thanks so much for this post. Its very well written and a great presentation of the data. As you stated it was brutal and this data sums up the most physically changing day of my life. I’m glad I was able to finish and look I’m looking forward to my next Spartan/OCR challenge.

  8. […] **want to see all the stats for this race.  Ekaterina has a fabulous blog for all the stat geeks out there. […]

  9. Mac says:

    Thanks for the write up, great to have the info. Did the beast on 9/20, just under 7 hours. Failed 5 obstacles, did 150 burpies.
    Minor gripes with the race, lots of people doing 5 or 10 burpies if any at all after failing an obstacle.

  10. Brian Baker says:

    Sad! as an Ultra Beast Runner to watch Ultra Beast competitors run past the second sandbag carry to beat the cut off time and get their Buckle. The cut was made as I was assending from my second Sandbag carry and went home empty handed but with my dignity. I was upset I was cut but also felt bad fo the kid taking the chips. I pat him on the shoulder and said you have the toughest job here thank you. Then started my return of shame back to R.I. Thank you Spartans and volunteers for a great race see you all next year. 12433 Bib

  11. […] 4) Don’t care about the emotions, and want the down and dirty details, such as how many miles did we REALLY cover, and how heavy was that *&$% sandbag anyway?  Check out this great, detailed rundown of the course details from SOLO- The Obstacle Racer Next Door:  2013 Spartan Race World Championship (Vermont Spartan Beast) – anaylsis of distance, elevation… […]

  12. […] race, Vermont is apparently the hardest Beast, and the 2014 VT Spartan Beast was reportedly the hardest yet. So, yeah, other than a longer Spartan Race (the Ultra or Death Race) or maybe the Tour de […]

  13. iTune says:

    According to your data, it seems that the actual distance of the race could have been at least 2 miles longer, then the so-called Spartan Miles; where the race is listed at 14.9 miles.

    This means that me, along with many other people were stopped at 14+mile mark. We were stopped a little before 10pm and told that we could not finish, since there were shutting down the course at 10pm. We were stopped less then two miles away from the finish line.

    A ‘child within me’ doesn’t think it was fair. A ‘child within me’ feels that I, along with many others, got an unfair deal. Am i making any sense?

  14. […] Vermont Spartan Beast will under promise and over deliver. An enviable quality in a lover, really. The more virile among those playing will reach climax… urm, I mean finish line. Others, chafed and sore from the effort, will tap out before the big finish, leaving specks of blood, chunks of skin and shreds of dignity up on the mountain. […]

  15. Bill Ellegood says:

    I finished on Saturday. On waking Sunday morning, looking out my condo window directly in front of the water/bridge/rope ladder obstacle, I can’t tell you how many racers (several of them) I witnessed opting out of that of that obstacle, running ACROSS the bridge, then running ON THE GRASS (not in the water on the rocks). That saved those racers so much time! I guess the volunteers manning that station at that time were not paying attention, providing incorrect info to the racers or just plain not enforcing rules. Meanwhile, at same time other hearty soles were doing it right…and those racers running along the grass could easily see other racers running in the water on the rocks. It baffled me. After about 30-40 minutes, they put an end to that. I guess someone who knew what they were doing out there put a stop on that nonsense. All in all, I had a blast! And it was super special considering my DNF on Sunday in 2013, stopping after that same damn water obstacle.

    • SOLO says:

      I hear you, Bill. I was there, walking the course on Sunday, and witnessed much cheating, skipping obstacles and the like. Congrats on your finish, brother. Extra special, indeed! Will you be doing it again next year?

  16. rob goodson says:

    Hey you all, I ran the 8am heat on saturday. Finished in 6 hours 11minutes. Did 230 burpees as i missed both spears, tyrol wall, monkey bars, ring thing, horzontal monkey’s.and just missed the tarzan under bridge swing by one grip..but did all the buckets, sand bags, walls, barb wire, HH,Cargo nets, swam,rock shore run, upside down rope, reg rope climb. Had a blast and ended up finishing First in my age group 55-59. coming back for more next year. I never saw anyone skipping or doing less burpees. although one guy did a reverse burpee? not sure why. I dare any of you old guys to run with me next year…I will be 57 and looking for a challenge…see you at the start and finish lines!

    • SOLO says:

      Heya, Rob! Way to show us all how it’s done. Holy moly batman – that’s an amazing time. Hope to see you next year!! You should defend that title. 😉

    • Mark says:

      I will be 56 this year and have signed up for the Ultra Beast! Finished the Beast in 7:11 in 2014. Got 4th place in my age group! Will you be moving up to the Ultra Beast?

      • SOLO says:

        Hey, Mark. That’s amazing, buddy!!! I have finished the Ultra Beast in 2012 – 9th female. So, not sure I’d do it again – too many other awesome things to do. Next up – Nicaragua! But I will be rooting for you brother! Which Ultra will you be doing?

  17. Hank Layfield says:

    Great write-up, thanks so much for all of this detailed data and analysis. I did the beast on the 20th (with my buddy Bill who posted above and a few others). My first beast, and honestly, I was just glad to finish, and am even more impressed with the knowledge provided here of what we did. Great group of people on the mountain that day. No doubt I was not the only person who went from thoughts of trepidation, enjoyment, desire to survive, and ultimate cathartic release upon receiving the medal. For me, the key was to remember the Little Engine That Could, and just keep plugging away. I think I can, I think I can….

  18. […] So, it looks like the Spartan Race has finally relented to the pressure from events like BattleFrog and OCR World Championship, and changed the format of its main championship of the year. My Monday morning has been rattled by the latest post from Obstacle Racing Media, discussing the changes to the infamous championship race. […]

  19. […] 2014 Spartan Race World Championship (Vermont Spartan Beast) – analysis of distance, elevation… Ekaterina Solovieva & Alec Blenis @ Solo: The Obstacle Racer Next Door […]

  20. Sean says:

    Fantastic write up, thanks so much for sharing! I am planning on running my first Ultra Beast this year and was wondering if you wear your GPS watch on your wrist for the races? Do you do anything to protect it from the rocks and mud?

    • SOLO says:

      Thanks, Sean! Which Ultra are you doing? I do wear my GPS on my wrist, and do not do anything special to protect it – it’s really sturdy! It has a bit of mud around the edges, and few tiny scratches across the screen, but hey! that’s our sport, right? 🙂

      Do you wear a GPS watch currently?

  21. Dennis says:

    Great memories… are you going to run the 2015 NJ Beast next weekend? I would love to see the statistics of that one afterwards!

  22. Larry O. says:

    Great post. Thanks for this. The 2014 Vermont Beast made the 2015 NJ Beast seem like a stroll in the park, well one where you still get the occasional cramping, with scrapes/bruises, and frost bite from the barbed-wire crawl on snow! There some fun tweaks as well to the course. I’ll let a more experienced blogger update y’all!

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