The Mighty Ultra Beast
The morning had arrived all too quickly! It was 4:30 AM and as I rolled over to silence my alarm I realized that every part of my body ached! No matter, it was going to be an epic day! I had been training for this for months, even though I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to make it to the race until 20 days before. I had said since August, that if I could make it to Vermont I could only see myself running both the Beast and the Ultra Beast. Now it was a reality and I was starring the Ultra Beast in the face. They say that every Spartan Race is a baptism, but the Ultra Beast is an exorcism! Today was the day to battle demons!
I knew the weather was supposed to be much worse than the previous day and I had made the decision to wear my wetsuit. I had a lot of experience in this wetsuit from World’s Toughest Mudder and knew that it would not only help me battle the elements, but also offer a lot of protection from bumps and bruises. As I arrived at the festival area it was still very dark and very quiet. I spotted a few of my friends as I made my way toward the starting line. There were only a handful of us that had raced the day before and were still brave enough to toe the line. We had been told we should not be able to finish this race if we had run the day before. This course was designed to be failed, and the course designer even pledged 100 burpees for anyone that managed to successfully complete both days.
I lined up with Tonya Stogsdill. I knew she was doing both days because she had been running to raise money for a young boy battling cancer. She didn’t have a head lamp so I told her we could travel together and share my light. I was so glad to have her with me because we not only shared a light, but we both shared a lot of fear! As we talked I told her that we just need to get moving “throw a little grease on the chain” and we would be fine. I told her to focus on her motivation and I reminded myself that I have done mileage like this before. Not terrain like this, but mileage. I participated in World’s Toughest Mudder 2012 and managed to do 5 laps for a total mileage of just over 50 miles. There weren’t giant mountains on that course though.
They finally yelled go and we were off! Nothing like the previous day with all of the crowd cheering, cameras and smoke bombs. Just a bunch of headlamps bobbing along into the dark. Tonya and I started off at a nice little trot and tons of people hurried past us. As soon as we hit a slight incline I slowed us to a power walk. I knew we were going to be out here all day and that we would need to find a comfortable pace that we could keep ALL DAY! I mentioned to Tonya that it was hard to let all of those people run off and not try and keep up with them like I usually do. I was not concerned about all of those other people though, I was only concerned with me making time cut offs and crossing that finish line.
As we rounded the corner and came upon the same giant incline as the day before, I looked up and saw all of the tiny head lamps way up on the mountain. One step at a time was all I could focus on. My legs were cranky at me from the previous day’s race. As I climbed it finally started getting light outside and I turned my head lamp off, best to save it for later. I had calculated from the previous day’s race that it would probably take me around 13 hours to complete the Ultra Beast, that would have me finishing in the dark. As I continued to climb on my burning, aching legs Tonya said that she just didn’t want to finish last. I generally never look back during a race, but for whatever reason I looked back and there were only 3 or 4 people behind us. It kind of freaked me out. For the first time doubt entered my head. What if I couldn’t make time cutoffs or my legs cramped up like they did during the Beast. After awhile Tonya told me that I was just going to have to go on ahead of her. I really didn’t like the idea of leaving her. I was so proud of her and what she was doing for Easton! However, I just started pulling away from her. I am not sure if I told her I would see her at the finish line, but I was sure I would! Still climbing and legs still burning, I heard one of my favorite laughs. One of the other Dirt In Your Skirt Ambassadors, Heather, was just ahead. I told her I was so glad to hear her laugh and we climbed on together!
After just over a mile of climbing straight up we reached the top and the memorization test. We had to memorize a series of numbers that we would have to recite much later in the race. After I felt comfortable about not forgetting Quebec 319-5877 I started off again. I ate my first chew for the day as I began a descent down incredibly technical terrain. I had tried to imagine, the day before, what this would look like after thousands of people trudged this course. It was way worse than I had imagined! It had rained overnight and it was one big muddy slip and slide of death 🙂 I made my way very carefully and slowly knowing that a fall could cause an injury severe enough to make finishing impossible. When we finally reached the bottom of the steep decline I began to dread the sandbag carry. Could we seriously be on the same course as the previous day and have to face that monster of an obstacle. Yep! Oh well, I told myself. As I grabbed my sandbag Irene and Hobie Call were at the bottom and it felt so strange having them cheer for us. I loved it and it made me feel pretty cool, but it still seemed strange. That doggone sandbag was just as heavy and awkward as the day before, but to make things worse the ridiculous incline we had to carry it up was now a slippery muddy mess! One step forward and slide two steps back is what it felt like. I went onto auto pilot mode at that point. I vaguely remember passing Margaret, Dirt In Your Skirt, Schlachter and thinking that I may be pushing too hard if I am passing her. Regardless, I pushed on and finally made it to the top after what seemed like forever! Going down with the sandbag was as bad as I had remembered it as well, and yes, much more slippery!
I am amazed after a race how much of it I cannot recall. I say that during a race I am just on “go” mode. That has steered my wrong on a few occasions and I have fallen off course before. On this day I was focusing incredibly hard on not going off course, I just cannot recall much of it now.
I do know that we reached the top of yet another mountain, around mile 6, and rather than climbing over the same 8 foot wall as the day before they had us go over a different 8 foot wall that had a giant green Spartan mask painted on it. This is where the course veered from the Beast course from the day before and now we were on the Ultra Beast course! We had been instructed to follow green flags and sure enough, there they were. I had lost Heather at the sand bag carry and had been traveling solo, but making conversation with other racers. We started down a rough trail that had not had thousands of participants over it. We came to a clearing and found the zig-zag balance beams. I nailed it! After that we were on what appeared to be a mountain bike trail that just continued to go down and down the backside of the mountain. I knew that all those miles of going down meant that eventually we were going to have to go back up! It was a beautiful stretch of the course and I finally hit my groove. I was jogging at a very comfortable pace and it made me feel far more confident about making time cut offs! I chatted with other racers as we continued what seemed like a lovely trail run. We did finally come upon a barb wire crawl that barely slowed me down. The wire was higher than usual and there was nothing but nice soft grass underneath. I knew it was eventually inevitable, we hit the bottom and had to start back up the huge mountain we had just come down. I was in high spirits since I knew I had made up a lot of time on the last several miles. I was passing people as we climbed up the very technical step terrain. As we got closer to the top of the mountain a very cold wind kicked up and I was glad that I had decided to wear my wetsuit. When we reached the summit there was a rope climb with no knots in the rope. Not a problem for me since that is the kind of rope I practice on.
I knew we had to be nearing the 13 mile point as we came down a very step, bare ski slope that I was bum-sliding down (thankful for the wetsuit yet again!). People don’t realize that down hilling tears up your quads and mine were shot from the day before. I had just finished off all of the fluids in my camelbak as I reached the bottom of the slope. Suddenly there was a crowd of cheering people and several of them were cheering for me by name!
One was my very dear training partner Sue Luck and seeing her ignited a fire in me. There was also Amy from the Dirt In Your Skirt Camp and it boosted my morale until I just couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! I threw the spear and missed.
While doing burpees Sue was giving me updates on some of our other friends. A quick water crossing, a very cold one even with the wetsuit, and then a log flip. I knew we were at mile 13 since I had spotted our gear bins. I was incredibly hungry (for anything other than chews!) and needed to refill my camelbak. Sue told me that they would try and entice me to get in my bin but it would cost me 30 burpees. She told me to just go on and that we would come back and be able to get into our bins later. As I headed off, my mind not quite functioning right because of hunger, I wondered when we would ever turn back toward the bins. We kept getting farther and farther away and I really started to panic. I
needed food and fluids. I had one more thing of chomps but couldn’t stand the thought of eating them when the bins seemed right at my finger tips. After coming upon another racer I found out we had another 6 miles to go until we returned to our bins. He offered me some dried pineapple that he had just got from his bin and I remember loving it more than a Christmas desert! At least it wasn’t a chew!
We came upon the Hobie Hop from hell! It was up some stairs, across a bridge, down more stairs, around to the other side of the bridge up the stairs, across the bridge and down the stairs again. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t have a pounding headache! As I hopped across the bridge one volunteer told me I was probably in the top 10 women! Then there were some crazy monkey bars made of 3″ pipes hanging from chains. I was so proud of myself when I made it across this new obstacle that I had never seen before or trained for. A couple more climbs up the mountain, some so steep they added a rope for us to hold onto. Then finally a downhill that I knew had my gear bin at the bottom! I heard my Husband cheering for me and I once again had a smile on my face that just wouldn’t wipe off!
I chugged a coke in one giant chug and never has a coke ever tasted so good! It made me burp loudly and I didn’t care! At the bins I was happy, but my heart also sank. There was my friend Brenda who had raced the day before and started with me this morning. She was cleaned up and now a spectator. I was so upset for her because I knew how badly she wanted this race! Also, now, in my cheering and support crew was Margaret. I knew that she had chosen to stop because of an injury that she had before the race. I was still very sad to know that she had to pull herself out of the race as well. I crammed a peanut butter jelly sandwich in my mouth while talking with my mouth full. Same with a banana. I quickly refilled my camelbak and adjusted the timing chip that had been digging into my ankle for approximately 18 miles. I attached a waterproof bag, with more chews and and a spare headlamp, to my camelbak. I crammed a few last bites of sandwich in my mouth and headed for a log carry.
The log carry was of course up a hill, but it also had a barbed wire crawl that you had to go under with your log. I slowed for a moment to help a friend, the Painted Warrior, untangle from some of the barbed wire. I may be racing, but there is always time to help a friend tangled in barbed wire! Karma!
As I was coming down the hill from the log carry I remember my cheering crew saying how I had never stopped smiling. I remember hollering as I headed up yet another mountain, “Of course I am smiling! I am out here doing what I love!”
Once again I zoned out and don’t remember much of this stretch. Then suddenly I climbed a wall and recognized that we were back on the Beast course, mile marker 6! That meant 6 miles to go and I was going to cross the finish line! I remember having the conversation with someone that if they tried to pull me from the course at this point we were going to box! I had made it way too far for that to happen! Luckily I was comfortably ahead of any time cutoffs. I came to the monkey bars that I had rocked the day before. This time they were wet and slippery because it had been raining. I slipped right off them and finally found Heather doing her burpees for failing the wet monkey bars. I joined her. We ran together and we were both a little anxious about the water obstacles that we knew lied ahead. It was getting colder and I knew that the dark was comings. As we came into the festival area we had the most wonderful cheerleader cheering us on and coaching us along. None other than Juliana Sproles! Mud pits, rope climb, dark tunnels, incredibly high cargo net climb, and then the dreaded water obstacles. Many were choosing to burpee out, but I braved the cold water. I barely made the rope climb and smacked the bell ridiculously hard, I was so proud of myself. Then the traverse wall. I had a rare success on this wall the day before, but after that cold water and all the strength I had used up on the rope climb I fell right off it this time. 30 grueling burpees. Back into the water for a ladder climb and then the tarzan swing. Once again most were not even attempting this obstacle. I thought about saving my energy and not going up the ladder, I knew I wouldn’t make the tarzan swing anyhow. However, I am not one to just take the easy way. I was grunting and growling as I slowly made my way up that ladder. Finally I reached the top and failed the tarzan swing miserably. At least I tried! 30 more burpees, they were slow and pretty ugly! I recited my code from the memorization test and then I took off in a run because I was freezing! I was shaking uncontrollably and I thought of the previous day. This stretch of the course went on forever and I remember it being one of the most mentally challenging parts. Eventually I warmed up and quit shaking.
I was sickened as I came upon a barb wire crawl where there were UBers (Ultra Beasters) burpeeing out of the barbed wire crawl! I harassed them as I went by because this was cheating and they knew it as well as I did. Then I caught up to them again as they were burpeeing out of the bucket carry. What!!! I had dreaded this burcket carry for miles because I knew it was coming and I remember how hard it was the day before. It took me forever to complete it and I was disgusted at the people with buckets nearly empty whining as they were going. I passed a couple of women UBers and knew that I had to be somewhere near top 5 female. I saw Heather as I was on my way back down and cheered her on as I went. I told her there were a couple female UBers just ahead of her and to catch them!
I finally came upon the traverse rope. As I jogged up to it the volunteer said, “Good news you can just do 30 burpees, you don’t even have to attempt this one.” (I repeat again WHAT!!!!!)
I ran past him and said something along the lines of, “Why would I not do this obstacle when I am actually pretty good at it.”
I climbed on the rope and I am pretty sure with each pull of my arms I let out a loud scream! I didn’t care, all I cared about was hitting that bell! Success! I was so fired up, I knew I was in the home stretch and that nothing was going to stop me from having that huge glow in the dark medal around my neck. I remember getting a little emotional at the the thought, but I made myself settle down and keep on moving. I was passing people like crazy! Most of them were doing the Beast, but it just added fuel to my flame passing people. I was breathing so hard that people would look back at me, they could hear me coming from yards away! I didn’t care!
Suddenly I passed one more female UBer! I knew I had one more up hill to go, a sand bag carry, the slippery wall and then jump the fire! I was in the spot where I had caught up to Laura Messner the day before and found her struggling so hard. I was exhausted and I hurt, but she had inspired me so much the day before. It motivated me to push harder! At the sand bag carry I finally had to turn my head lamp on. I figured I might as well crack my glow stick since I had brought it and told my Husband to watch for my pink glow sticks when it was dark out. The home stretch! As I climbed the slippery wall my Husband spotted me and started cheering. I jumped the fire blew past the gladiators and yelled with my arms up in the air, “I am an Ultra Beaster, someone please put that medal around my neck immediately!”
I recognized Carrie Adams from her FB pictures and she said, “You just finished the Ultra Beast? You just finished 3rd place.”
I just started screaming and crying as she placed the medal around my neck. My Husband and Sue arrived to give me hugs and see me in complete disbelief. I just planned on finishing, never had I imagined I would stand on the podium! I spent 13 hours on that mountain and covered nearly 30 miles with approximately 12,000 feet of elevation change.
Ironically Laura Messner was at the finish line and we got a few pictures together! My Husband had the most delicious cold burger and fries I have ever eaten in my life waiting for me! They all kept wanting me to go inside and warm up, but I wanted so badly to wait and see Heather finish!
I was still in disbelief until we were inside waiting for the awards ceremony. They brought in the results sheet and I asked who the 3rd place female finisher was. They said my name!!! It all still seems so surreal! I am glad there are pictures because there are times I still can’t believe it. I love the pictures because I could relive that moment over and over again! Hard work and dedication pays off!
I later found out that I was one of only 15 women to finish, 3 of us women ran both days!
While I was very caught up in my success I also had many feelings of sadness for a lot of my friends. There were many who managed to complete most of the course only to be pulled off for not making a time cut off. I cannot imagine their sorrow! I was not able to mention all of the names of people who helped me succeed out on the course, but I am very thankful for them! Even before I arrived in Vermont there were many who assisted me in my sucess. To those who watched my kids and those who sent words of encouragement, you will never know how much it meant to me and I couldn’t have done it without you!