We were off heading up the first of many ascents. Most looked up the mountain thinking that the first climb would be up to the top of Superstar as we did last year. Before the race one of the guys at Spartan Race told me not to expect the same course as the previous year. So I threw aside my preconceptions and let the day unfold as it would.
LAP 1 – RACING FOR THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
I knew I was in for a long day and settled quickly into my pace. I ran part of the first lap with Death Race winner Grace Cuomo Durfee, for me it was like time to catch up with a friend. We chatted about live and my upcoming move as we weaved past competitors and made our way in and out of mud. We parted ways quickly and I found myself ahead of her and chatted with other races as the first lap went by. Yes, I did burpees and more than usual. Spartan threw in some harder obstacles for this race and definitely upped the game.
Some of the new obstacles highlighted were the Atlas Carry – otherwise known as picking up a block of cement carrying it putting it down and carrying another one back to the beginning. All I could think of while doing the obstacle was I pick stuff up I put stuff down. Another obstacle was the Tarzan Swing at which I pretty quickly failed and fell into the cold water of the snowmaking pond. The monkey bars yet again got me- more burpees. However the obstacle that did NOT get me this year was the Tyrolean Traverse. I nailed that one!
Much of the first lap was a blur, I spent part of the time running with INOV-8 athlete Amy Lane whom I had met at the Vermont 50 the year before. It was her first obstacle race and said how much fun it was and harder than just a trail run. I ran, I skipped, I crawled and the funny thing was never really thinking about where I was in comparison to my competition. This is the first race in a long time that the idea of where I was against my competition faded away. It was about me and the mountain, not those around me. However, my outward appearance I have been told spoke a much different story- but that’s for another post!
As I approached the end of the first lap I wrestled briefly with the thought of stopping. I had before the race said if I felt injured I would pull after one lap and be happy. I had rolled my ankle again during the first lap, the same one I did in NJ weeks earlier but pushed the swelling and pain out of my mind. It was early enough I had tons of time to make the time cut-offs so less than a quarter mile from the pit area had decided to do the second lap. I saw Jason Rita of Spartan Race and asked where I stood for women in the championship race. He said he thought I was top ten (which had been my goal) in reality I was about 13th still not bad. Finishing my first lap in under four hours and thirty minutes which had been my other goal.
I sat in the pit, changed socks, changed shoes, changed into my Death Race bib aka another black compression shirt, drank down two Ensures (my endurance race favorites), picked up my headlamp, and several pre-measured bags of race fuel in the form of powder to mix into my water along the way along with endurolytes and salt pills I would pop along the course. Finally filled up my water bottles, lastly on a whim before the race I had added my iPod nano into a waterproof case to my bin. Knowing the second race would be 1. painful and 2. all about me versus me I grabbed the iPod (I do not recommend racing like this, somehow this race was different). Just over ten minutes had elapsed and I was back on course, charging forward.
LAP 2 – ABOUT SOMETHING MORE THAN A RACE
I left the pit in 5th place for women heading out to accomplish what had yet to be done in obstacle course racing, the Ultra Beast. I let the sound in my ears carry me on the trail, when I got into single track or around people I would pull one earbud out to hear those around me. Otherwise it was me, myself and I along with the Tron Legacy soundtrack over and over.
It was during my second lap that I spent much time alone on the trail. Much of the race was spent reflecting back on the last three years of living in Killington. As I weaved through the familiar mountain bike trails, I was transported to all the evenings spent on the mountain alone with nothing but my thoughts. I learned to become a runner on these trails. As I ran down some of the ski trails I was transported to my days of racing on those vary curves of earth. I felt the ground underneath me and felt the days I spent climbing up and down them with ski boots on a wrench, drill and gates in hand. I learned quickly this lap wasn’t about a race. It was a farewell tour to a place that had given me so much.
I let the music carry me and the familiar ground beneath me propel me forward. It was as if I had gone into a trance and at times instead of seeing the course before me I was playing a time travel between the present and memories of life in Vermont. The one thing I can say is that the second lap, obstacles get a lot harder. I found myself failing for the first time every on the rope climb, one I have prided as an easy one. The thing with the Ultra Beast when you think you have something, it finds a way to knock you back to earth, in a good way.
The funny part about the second lap was in many ways it because easier. The terrain seemed to go quicker and quicker the hills shrunk. I was kept moving, never stopping until the Atlas Carry for the second time. This is when the port-johns were the best thing ever. I stepped out saying “That was the greatest poop!” and it was. I think I scared people around me. But it was a great poop and anyone who has done long races will understand that one. (Michelle Roy would be proud I found a way to incorporate poop into a post)
Trucking forward, ever forward, music, memories, and the mountain all consuming every aspect of my being. I ran a little with a fellow competitor Leslie St. Louis for a while and then we parted ways as I ducked into the woods in front of her, I was now in 4th place. The pain in my hips, ankle and knee seemed to fade in and out like a camera trying to focus on a moving child. It never lasted long, I just keep moving and kept taking in nutrition. It was not until I made the last ascent up to the top of Superstar that the emotions hit. I knew I had over a mile and a half left to race and some of the most technical downhill running in the race.
As I looked out into the valley from the top of Superstar the music hitting an epic crescendo at the exact moment, the emotion was too much, I welled up. Letting myself give in only for a moment to the emotion of the race, life and the mountain. Quickly, however I was forced to snap into the present and make my way through masses of people, muddy trails, and technical downhill running. As I finished the Hobie hop ran the last bit in a familiar trail and exited the woods eyeing the finish corral, my eyes teared. An emotion I have never before felt in a race.
I approached the last couple of obstacles, nailing the spear throw, crawling under the last barbed wire, up and over the slippery wall with a last burst of energy. As I ran through the gladiators I knew not only was my Ultra Beast over but the end of an era for me in Vermont one which started the day I decided I wanted to go to a ski academy at 13 years old.
Here I stood sixteen years later having devoted my life to the ski industry and ending this chapter and at the same time finishing the first Ultra Beast touted as the first marathon distance obstacle course race. In reality the race was closer to 30 miles. As I was handed my medals, I walked out of the corral filled with emotion.
Some congratulated me as I exited the finisher area, Ultra Beast medal in hand. I didn’t really know what to do when I finished so I headed back to my bin to get dry and put warm clothing on, as I walked to the area I saw my boyfriend who had left early in the morning to film Chris Davis on his journey, he had just come in from spending over 13 hours on the course with Chris. He was prepping to head back out and find me. As I gave him a hug I felt like I melted into his arms, he understood the gravity of the situation and finally let my emotions go.
Nine hours and forty four minutes after I had left the starting line, my race was over claiming a 4th place finish for women and top 30 with the guys. Over 350 registered for the Ultra Beast and 153 finished and forever I can say I was one of them.
Sometimes a race is just a race and sometimes for whatever reason it’s so much more. This race was just one of those times. I have done countless races this season and sometimes it’s just a race. My highlights of this particular race were in no particular order:
- Never having one moment of negative thought the whole race. Even through dreaded miles 22-24. First time ever.
- I ran my race. I never wavered or gave in. The race was mine alone.
- I never bonked. My nutrition was spot on.
- Seeing the Death Racers, seeing my friends on course boosted moral and loved seeing each one.
- Race chats. I loved all the short chats I had with racers along the course. Sorry to those that only saw me lap two. I had one goal – finish.
- Having an amazing support system around me. Fellow racers, officials, friends, and family that were there or there in thought on race day. I really felt the love on the course.
- Finally, when it got tough I didn’t give in to the pain or noise around me. But that goes back to 2 so I guess I am done.
Thanks to the race officials for an amazing race and I loved having the opportunity to have one last day with my mountain. Can’t wait to head back next year!
If you were wondering this is the full Tron soundtrack that played over and over for five hours in my head. Listen and learn why the race was so epic!