Imagine an intense love making session, you have been looking forward to for months. You’ve been anticipating getting wet (hello, lake!), hot (hello, steep climbs!), and heavy (hello, logs, buckets, and sandbags!). You’ve been dreaming about barbed wire and sandbags.
Start line. You wore your best gear and maybe even deodorant. Butterflies in your stomach.
It’s here. It has begun. It is playful at first, flirtatious, but you know it won’t last. Nor do you want it to. You want to go hard, deep and raw.
Sharp hill. Your breath quickens. You are ready. You have been waiting. You push forward.
Cold lake grips you by the neck. You are dripping wet, and shivering. Yes. Just like you imagined. Still pushing.
Things get a little rowdy.
A little spanking, a little pain.
A little more. A little harder.
Tyrolean traverse leaves you with a rope burn.
You are totally digging it.
But, what’s this?
The spanking gets harder and harder. And you are starting to question whether you are actually enjoying the process any more.
A sharp slap in the face. Wait a minute! But before you can voice your concerns, your bedmate takes out a sledgehammer and starts hitting you over the head. Again. And again. Cue Silence of the Lambs theme music.
The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
[William Shakespeare, Sonnet 129]
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.
The psychopath with a sledgehammer is Norm Koch, the Spartan’s most notorious course designer, and Marquis De Sade of obstacle racing. One of the most brutal obstacles of Vermont Beast, consisting of two sets of extra long monkey bar traverse.
Norm – the four letter word, something you mutter under your breath, and use to scare your children.
“Eat your broccoli, or I’ll ask Norm to design a race for you.”
The irony is that Norm is actually a really nice guy. Tall, broad shouldered – in another life, he could be a dairy farmer. A toothy smile. The smile he often dispenses while watching hundreds of people, rip their knees as they crawl through barbed wire, as he pours ice cold water on them. Silence of the Lambs theme music is still playing in the background.
He likes pissing people off. He and I have that in common. I do that through words, he does that through handing you a log, the size (and the temperament) of a wild boar. He excels at strategic placement of obstacles. Take pole traverse, or “Norm’s shaft” (christened as such by the disgruntled racers). One of the most brutal obstacles of Vermont Beast 2014, this evil concoction consists of two extra long poles, swinging on chains, placed just where most racers have no grip strength left.
He is often described as sadistic. Heck, in 2014, three specific races designed by Norm, come to be known as the Devil’s Trifecta. One, especially brutal, obstacle in the Vermont Beast, consisting of two sets of long monkey bar traverse, is strategically placed where your grip is completely worn out. The racers christen it “Norm’s Shaft”. Sadist is someone who obtains pleasure from inflicting pain on others, so the label seems to fit, at least at first.
In one interview, Norm is asked whether he’d prefer someone called him “a fucking bastard” after stumbling over a finish line in one of his races or told him he’d done a great job. “Bastard!”, he responds.
Of course, the question is whether Norm is, indeed, a true sadist. As one (brilliant) friend points out, genuine sadism should not be confused with “ superficially harmful behaviour that is motivationally congruent” with the other’s well-being or goal satisfaction.
In other words, the pain Norm dispenses, while laughing maniacally I’m sure, is welcome and even sought after. The philosophy seems to be: “I will hurt you, and you will like it”. Racers come not only to conquer his race courses, they come to conquer themselves. During the event and immediately after – he is hated. However, the most common sentiment few days after the race is… “Thank you, Norm! I learned a lot about myself up on that mountain”.
Orlando: Then love me, Rosalind.
Rosalind: Yes, faith, will I, Fridays and Saturdays and all.
Orlando: And wilt thou have me?
Rosalind: Ay, and twenty such.
Orlando: What sayest thou?
Rosalind: Are you not good?
Orlando: I hope so.
Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?
[As You Like It, Act 4, scene 1, 115–124]
Thanks for a great romp in the mountains, Norm.
Let’s agree on a safe word next time, eh?
A little more beat up than usual,