“There are times when you reminisce about the things you’ve gone through before, and surely you’ll smile and say How the hell did I get through all that?” [Author unknown]
September 22, 2012. Saturday.
We are at the start about an hour early. Hustle and bustle, as Ultra Beasters were setting up their drop bins, and picking up their bright green armbands. Pre-race jitters. Pre-race bathroom line-ups. Wait… this was the first race I’ve even been to, where the line-up was at the men’s bathroom, and not the women’s. What the…? And then I realize that at this race, women are heavily outnumbered. For the Ultra Beast, the numbers are 1 to 5. “It’s gonna be a sausage fest out there”, a fellow male Ultra Beaster comments with a smirk.
I’m snuggled up into my sweater – the morning is crisp – but Leyla peels off her top layers with steely determination. “Time to get used to the cold!”. I groan! “You are only making it worse, Solo”, she says. FINE! Shivering, I take off the sweater, rubbing my hands together to generate some heat. Bye bye, comfort until much MUCH later today.
We get to hear the welcome speech from the race director as a huge camera snaps shots of elites lined up at the start. This is the championship race – all familiar faces are here. Hobbie Call, Andi Hardy, Angela Reynolds, Amelia Boone – I mentally check off the names.
As we start running, my legs feel more tired than I would like. We get our feet wet exactly five minutes into the race. Despite the cold water, I am glad I stuck to my usual racing outfit (sportsbra + running capris). Many of the obstacles are harder than I grew accustomed to. I spent weeks practicing the monkey bars, and they have not previously posed a problem, but this time around the bars were wet and slippery – burpees for me.
The horizontal wall climb takes me an incredibly long time for some reason, as I am really concentrating, trying not to fall. As a result, my hands and forearms are absolutely exhausted as I finally reach over and ring the bell.
The next obstacle? Rope climb. Another obstacle that never really poses a challenge, but this time around, it is a real struggle. The very last pull that I need to ring the bell takes me two tries. Despite completing both obstacles, the amount of effort it takes really shakes my confidence.
Swimming out into the lake, climbing the ladder and attempting the rope swing is also really difficult. I feel myself getting angry. “What the hell is up with these obstacles?”, I tell myself. “I’d like to see a girl who completes these”. Monkey bars, rope climbs, rope swings… you have to hold/pull your whole body weight.
My favorite obstacle is the sandbag carry up the mountain. The weight of the bag is a joke, and I smile like a moron the whole way up to the mountain, chatting up the photographer.
Shortly after that, the traverse… Ha! Well, I’ve never done this obstacle. Ever. I know the theory, as I try to hoist myself on top of the rope, and try to pull. Bare stomach and a belly button piercing do not help. At all. I sigh. The likelihood of me getting all the way across to the bell in the middle of the rope hanging upside down is very small. I start inching toward the damn bell, instantly wishing for longer running tights as my bare skin starts rubbing against the wet rope. About a quarter of the way in, I make an executive decision and let go. Burpees.
As I leave the traverse, a volunteer calls out to me: “You are almost done!”. It takes all my might to try and ignore the comment (and the rising urge to be violent). Note to volunteers: do not… DO NOT say “you are almost done!” to runners unless you are running the damn course yourself. That phrase is meaningless. And sometimes cruel… As I find out later, I am about two hours away from the finish line. It is the last climb, and it’s brutal. We are weaving our way in the forest, up and up. And then up some more. It’s a steep incline, and the race is now a death march. I stop few times to catch my breath.
A close friend wished me luck shortly before the race. As we talk about my anxiety and (self-imposed) pressure to do well, he says he wishes I could do the race in my own little tunnel. Do MY best. “Athena, goddess of war AND wisdom. Be safe. Do well.” says his text message on Saturday morning. Throughout the day, I remind myself… the tunnel. THE TUNNEL.
There is a rope climb at the top of the hill, which does not pose too much difficulty. As I jog towards two eight foot walls, I see Goss, and tear up. She smiles and takes pictures. I give her a bear hug, and attempt to conquer the wall. No energy. Waiting for a Prince Charming. With some assistance, I drop over the walls with all the grace of a sack of flour. All those dance lessons finally paying off… NOT.
For the first time, the view opens up, and we get to see the mountains around. I pause at the top, open my arms wide and squeal at the top of my lungs. It’s quite a view. A view worth climbing a mountain for. After that, it’s all downhill. And… what a downhill it is.
I catch up with a fellow racer – John – near the end of the first lap. We were introduced the night before, and now running side by side we joke back and forth about having a cigarette and a coffee at the drop bin.
First lap – done. John has a cigarette, and I do have a coffee (hail to the inventor of thermos). John prides himself on being the first (and probably last) person to smoke during the Spartan Death Race. 🙂
I take my time at the drop bin, changing socks, munching on sweet potatoes and chicken, and having a chat with one of the photographers simultaneously.
Angela Reynolds is nearby, already dry and dressed. It is from her that I first hear the tale of the Lost Tribe (a name Matt B. Davis coins for the group of Ultra Beasters who went off course). She opted not to finish the race, and will return on Sunday to race for the same amount of points. I later learn the same fate is dealt to Alec, another elite racer, who was one of the favorites to win the race.
John and I take off for the second lap, and stick together all the way to the finish line. I do glance longingly at the finish line before turning my back to it, and heading in the opposite direction. Objectively, the second lap is easier. I stay MUCH dryer, as the lake swim/rope swing obstacle is closed (burpees!), and I decide not to attempt the rope traverse the second time around. Even though I get really bored with the race few miles into the second lap, the time goes by faster, as we chat. Topics vary from the bucket list (John has one!) to beer preferences. I find myself arguing in favor of ales over lagers, “the amber the better”.
The last hour of the race we spend in the dark. The headlamps come in handy, and with my sense of direction (or lack of thereof) I am thankful for steady stream of racers on the trail. All surfaces are slippery, and we have to watch our footing with every step.
Finally, out in the open! This is it. As I cross the finish line, it starts to pour. I look around, searching for Goss and Captain Craig, the other two members of team Trifecta. Finally heading towards my drop bin, I find them both huddled together near my bin, completely soaked. It’s an adorable sight, indeed.
Dozens of amazing blog posts were published in the weeks after the Ultra Beast 2012, detailing the race course and the exact obstacles we have encountered. I’m happy to leave that to bloggers with better spatial memory than mine. Instead, 7 months after the biggest race of my life, I find myself reminiscing about the Ultra Beast.
With another biggest race looming ahead, here are some of the precious moments of the Spartan Ultra Beast 2012:
pasta dinner the night before the race
beer rant on the second lap
first sip of hot coffee between laps
enjoying the sunrise in Killington (especially on Sunday)
striking a pose for a photographer
seeing Goss on course
real food in my drop bin
exchanging jokes with Andi Hardy under the barb wire
realizing how idiotically happy I am to be on my stomach, crawling through mud (see the header photo of this blog)
nailing the monkey bars on the second lap
seeing the view from the mountain
making the wall just before it was soaped up
wearing a huge glowing in the dark medal to the bar that night