Spartan Ultra Beast, Sun Peaks British Columbia 2015: Lap 1

Now this was it! The big one, the granddaddy of all the Spartan Races…the Ultra Beast. Two laps of the regular Beast course, plus an Ultra Beast exclusive loop and obstacle for extra fun. Guaranteeing to be a minimum 42.2 km with at least 50 obstacles, the Ultra Beast would truly be the hardest challenge I have ever attempted.

Going into the Ultra Beast I was well aware of the possibility that I might not finish. Not only were there strict time cut offs, but the shear thought of running up and down a mountain for 8-10 hours was truly unsettling. I had trained for 7 months for this race and I still felt underprepared and overwhelmed. What was I getting myself into? I have never been so nervous for anything else in my life. The night before I hardly slept as the ideas of not finishing flashed across my mind, as well as the thought of sleeping through my alarm and missing my start time. The morning of the race was no different, from the moment I woke up to when I entered the starting coral there was unease in my stomach and I felt like I was going to be sick. I was absolutely terrified of the challenge that lay before me.

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Pat and I before the race, nervous as hell!

Once in the starting coral there was no turning back, it was go time. All Spartan Race’s start the same with a little “I am Spartan” motivational speech, usually this speech doesn’t do anything for me, it’s just a nice little gimmick. However this time after hearing “I am Spartan” again and again, my mind went from unsettled nervousness to Beast Mode. I was here at the Sun Peaks Ultra Beast after 7 months of hard dedicated training, and there was no way I wasn’t going to finish this race. I’ve trained too hard and dedicated too much time to fall short of my goal. Failure was not an option, and as soon as I crossed the starting line I knew that I was going to finish this race one way or another.

Immediately out of the starting gate we began the first and biggest ascent of the course. The top athletes including last year’s winner Ben Kwiatkowski took off right away leaving the rest of the field in their dust. Following single track switch backs all the way up from the base of the mountain to its summit we climbed ~730 m over 8 km, encountering a number of obstacles on the ascent. On the first half of the climb, we encountered the Over Under Through walls (O-U-T), 8 foot wall, log carry, and Hercules hoist. About halfway up the mountain we came to a plateau with a number of obstacles: monkey bars, 7 ft wall, mud pits (the water was very cold), and a second log carry. After this round of obstacles it wasn’t much further to the summit where we had a long atlas carry before heading back down the mountain.

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Feeling good at the summit on lap 1, Pat’s hot on my tail.

At this point in the race I was feeling really good. I had situated myself it about 10th place and was in a good rhythm, everything was clicking. As we ascended from the summit we ran through a mix of forests, meadows, dirt roads, and mountain bike tracks. This was a long downhill section of the course which enabled good downhill runners to put some space between themselves and the rest of the field. I’m not particularly talented with running downhill but I like to think being a relatively heavy guy (~195 lbs) that the extra weight helps carry me down the mountain. Given that I was able to put some space between myself and some of my friends that were close behind. That is until I came across the log balance beam. Now this is an incredibly simple obstacle (walk along a 15 ft tree trunk), yet I somehow slipped off. I was quite upset with myself because I wasn’t particularly tired at this point. That’s just the way it goes, so I stepped off to the side to do my 30 burpees. By the time I was done with my burpees a few people had past me and my friends had caught back up to me. This also just happened to be before a very steep uphill climb. Legs burning I pushed on up the steep slope and then continued my way down the mountain. After running downhill for a while the burning in my legs subsided and I was back into my grove.

Finally reaching the base of the mountain I encountered a new obstacle to Spartan Race Western Canada, the Stairway to Sparta. The obstacle was a large A-Frame, where the lower half was a 7 ft wall and the upper half was essentially a big ladder. The obstacle wasn’t hard but it was a lot fun, because who doesn’t like climbing over big structures?

Upon reaching the base of the mountain the course immediately pointed straight up another mountain for a long death march that was spotted with obstacles. There was no relief during the second ascent which was ~400 m over 3 km. So quiet the challenge this far into the race. It was during this ascent that the #1 Women’s Elite Female passed me (Faye Stenning). I know that she is a beast out there on the course, so I got a little mental boost knowing that it took her this long to catch me (Ultra Beast racers started 15 min before the Beast elite heat), I must be doing pretty good I thought to myself.

(In case you were wondering the #1 Elite Male passed me after the second log carry on the first ascent, and he was ripping! I’ve never seen anyone run up a mountain like that. The rest of the Elite Men didn’t begin to pass me till the first descent.)

Situated halfway through the death march was by far the hardest obstacle on the course, the double sand bag carry. Not only are these bags heavy, it is extremely hard to handle two pancake shaped sandbags. The sandbag carry was placed right in the middle of the ascent so not only are you tired from grinding up a steep slope now you’re tired from carrying two 50lb sand bags, and you’re only halfway up the mountain and have to keep on trucking. At the top of the second ascent was the tire flip which I’ve never had a problem with and then it was back on down the mountain. However this is where the Ultra Beast racers and the Beast racers separated.

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Double Sandbag Carry on Lap 1

Ultra Beast contestants headed down another ski slope to a dirt road, where we had to perform the Ultra Beast only obstacle, the Burlap Sack carry. This was basically another sand bag carry, but you could string it over your shoulder and handle it a lot easier than the sand bags. The big challenge with this obstacle was the very steep slope you had scale up and down carrying the sack. This was by far the steepest slope on the course and was very fatiguing. After completing the obstacle it was back up the same steep slope where we carried the burlap sack, and after a short while the Ultra Beast course reconnected with the regular Beast course.  All in this extra loop added about 3 km to the Ultra Beast course (per lap).

Now it was time to cruise again back down hill to complete the first lap. This ascent was much slower than the first as it was jam packed with a bunch more obstacles. Some of the obstacles encountered on the second descent included the double tire carry, barbed wire, hobbie hop, z-wall traverse, and bucket brigade.  The bucket brigade was short and sweet, so no complaints there. After completing the bucket brigade you could see glimpses of the festival area as you came to final sections of the course/first lap. At this point I was feeling really excited knowing that I was still feeling good and have had no major issues. I was staying positive and had even been able to pass a number of people and move up to about 7th place with 6th place right ahead of me as we entered the festival area. This is where the dreaded Spear Throw would take place. The spear throw is by far the most frustrating obstacle, it is something that should be so easy but isn’t. I took my time, aimed and hurled my spear and missed horribly. Off I went to do 30 more burpees. Finally it was on to the rope climb, vertical cargo net and off to the bag drop area.

As I completed my first lap, I checked my watch and it showed 25.5 km (16 miles) and a time of 4 hours and 3 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. The Ultra Beast race had started at 7:45 am and I completed my first lap just before noon. The time cut-off for the first lap was 12:10 PM, and I was in the top 10 at this point, I was doing very well, and I only made the cut off by 20 minutes (this may sound like a lot of time but at that particular moment it did not!). I could only think how many people will be unable to make this cut off and be denied the opportunity to continue the race.

At the bag drop, I changed all of my clothes. There was nothing better than the feeling of putting on clean dry socks and a fresh pair of shoes. I refilled my water, grabbed some more Gu Energy gels, a Clif protein bar and my peanut butter, jelly and bacon wrap, and stuffed them into my Salomon pack. Had a quick chat with some of the other Ultra Beast racers and I was out of there. Back up the mountain I went.

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