The Ultra Beast is still something I have trouble putting in to words. It really isn’t something that you can describe and actually have the power of the words have much effect. I will more so take you with me on the race: describe what I saw, what I felt, how I was able to keep going, and the sights of others who couldn’t.
First let me describe the Area in Vermont. It is absolutely beautiful A more pristine piece of small America, you will not find. We arrived on Friday. Everything was amazing. The weather was crisp in the high sixties/low seventies and sunny. It remained that way through Saturday as well. The race information packet informed us we had to do our packet pickup by 7pm on Saturday, so we went to visit some family my girlfriend has up there. On the way, we drove past Mt. Killington. Seeing it rise in the near distance was surreal. All I we were joking about was that I’m going to be running up that mountain. If you thought that hill on the Super in Texas was hard/high, it was a small bump compared to this beast. After good times hanging out and great food (YAY CARBS!) we headed out to Killington to get my race packet and drop off my drop bag.
We got to the venue with 45 minutes to spare, not knowing the first curve ball they would throw at us. For our drop bag (the thing you hit 2-3 times during the race to refuel/change and whatever) we had to also have it dropped off by 7pm. No biggie, right? Until they hand me a sheet of paper that has a zoomed in satellite printout with a sentence saying something to the effect of “Drop your bags by 7pm at Bear Line Lodge. Directions: Figure it out.” We frantically asked staff where this place was and arrived to it with about five minutes left. We dropped out bag and were told there were a group of Ultra breast racers already disqualified because they were doing practice throws on the Spear Throw that was next to the drop bag point. After that, we headed back to the hotel.
Remember what I was saying about the weather being absolutely amazing and perfect in every way? Saturday night the weather turned to hell. It was a crazy rainstorm High winds, cold front, and major temperature drop. It was 35 degree when we woke up. The 3am wakeup call was amazing. I had all the energy and nerves ready to get on that mountain, not knowing at all what the hell waited for me. I ate what food I could with my stomach not ready for anything and we were on our way. Black sky, cloud covered, wind pushing our car around the road… hindsight says that was some great foreshadowing.
We arrive at the venue and we wait for the spectator booth to get open for my girlfriend. We get in to the Showshed lodge and there is everyone. I saw Death racers trying desperately trying to get warm. Fatigue and pain was the only thing you could see in their eyes. Around again were the other Ultra Beast racers. Everyone else was alive with excitement and positivity. “It can’t be that bad if everyone is like this”, I thought. Geared up, I go out to warm-up with the group and hear the pre-race announcements.
Saturday night, part of the course was washed out and was too dangerous for us to go through. So they added two miles to get around it. Note, none of the cutoff times were adjusted. Those were just two more miles we had to go, even faster. They call us in to the starting gate, Elite 6am on the right, 6:15 on the left. On the right, our wall to climb over for the start was a 6 foot instead of the normal 4 (which the left lane had) just to drive home the point. There we were, standing at the starting line, 40 degrees, pitch black other than out headlamps, the wind doing everything it can to sap our muscles and undo anything from our warm-up before we started. The mountain knew. It was letting us know how hard it would fight to break us. The race announcer did his speech, threw the smoke grenade, we were off.
The starting pace of this race was slow. It was more of a jog than anything. We started going right up the mountain from that point. Out lights were beaming everywhere giving us only glimpses of what we were about to hit. The first sets of obstacles were the standard affair. Hay bales, four foot walls, O-U-T. Then we saw the sandbags, they were for later. We split to the right and went up one of the ski slopes. This is when I first sort of realized how this race was going to be. Each time I was getting to the top, it was a false peak that hid the next part of the mountain to climb. The pace slowed to a walking trudge up the mountain face. My quads and calves were already burning and yelling at me. This was climb one, out of thirteen or so.
We didn’t reach the top before turning left, running through some flats, then right back down the mountain again. Instead of it being down a ski slope, it was through the wooded section. Rocks, roots, and uneven surfaces greeted us. It was your ankles worst nightmare times a thousand. These were the sections in which I exceled. If I may quote Toy Story, it was just “Falling, with style” down the wooded mountain face. You constantly have to move your feet and change your body’s momentum to not break an ankle, or get caught in a root or hole in the ground. There were also felled trees with their stumps jutting up just waiting to impale you if you fell.
Once out, we ran to the right to the first soul crushing obstacle, the sandbag carry. Every single one was 65lbs of sand, plus any of the water they absorbed from the rain the night before. We had to then carry them a half mile UP the mountain, and back down. You read that right; our vertical distance with a 65lb sandbag (including whatever gear you were wearing) was a full mile. This took many people quite a while to finish. The slope was incredibly steep. Your legs would give out toward the top after only a few steps, and then you had to get down. Those of us in the front group on our way down had another great obstacle… falling rocks. The mountain was loosened from the Beast the day before and the rain. We found ourselves remembering Patches O’Houlihan “Dodge, Dick, Dip, Dive and Dodge.” I dropped that sandbag to go run up the mountain again, already feeling like so much was taken out of me; that was mile three.
That was also, when the rain started. It was on and off all day, more on than off. During any race I had done before, exposure was something I had never thought about. I was wearing an Under Armor Heat Gear long sleeve compression shirt, compression shorts under running shorts, and that was about it. Remember, Heat Gear is worn in the heat to keep you cool, not the other way around. The temperature at that time was 43 degrees, raining and windy. Once we were to the top of this climb, there was a banner. We had to use the last two numbers of our bib to then remember a call sign and seven numbers. Foxtrot 827-6129. This was mile four.
As the race progressed, I found myself pacing well. I had a hard time getting up every climb, but as soon as we got to some flats, I was able to run at a pretty good clip. The sun was starting to come up, we got to a zigzag balance beam of 2.4’s going downhill at an angle. I passed about twenty people here since I was able to very slowly get through. Burpees were not an option for me early in the race. I’ll take my time as to skip them and avoid using any unnecessary energy. After this, the clouds come back. We hit more hills, more obstacles; the density of some places was insane. There were a few climbs where the woods were so thick, we were slowed to a slow hiking pace. In one of these spot is where I started to cramp for the first time.
During this race, everyone has their own personal obstacles in which they must overcome. They can be few, or numerous. They can also be minor or debilitating with their effects. Mine were the latter. In any athletic even, ever in my life, I have never had bad cramps. At lease, nothing that would stop me or slow me down. At most, I would get a nagging side stitch from drinking too much water on the sidelines between plays. While on the first of these absurdly dense climbs, I experienced truly painful and body stopping cramps in my legs. I physically could not climb that mountain anymore. My legs would not move or respond. They were just a ball of pain. I had to physically pick my legs up with my arms and push up in order to continue on. I had a few Roctane gels from Gu Energy on me. I would have one every time I started to cramp up. Nutrition. The is going to come in to play very soon. As for that moment, it took only a minute or two for the potassium and electrolytes in that gel to kick in and get me mobile again. We were brought out in to a downhill flat, through a field to a spear throw. Remember that one I mentioned earlier where the people were disqualified? That one!
I was there with another guy and my friend Yancy. I hit my target, Yancy and the other guy missed. Right after that, there was a small water hole we had to swing through. No problem, right? It was like 20 feet across, this is going to be nothing… HOLY CRAP THAT’S COLD!!! The water all over the mountain was just above freezing. As a south Texan jumping in to there, it locked me up hard. After climbing out it was to a long log flip and then to our drop bags. In order to access them, we had to do 30 burpees. This was mile 12.
During this stop, I realized a terrible error. I saw drop bag in the description; so I used a bag, which is great, when it doesn’t rain the night before. I had an entire change of clothes that would have been wonderful at that moment, that were just completely soaked. Well, no dry anything for me. At this moment, I’m shivering for my life. I can barely open my camelback to refill it, so I ask another racer to hold it while I pour. I toss in my mix and grab the rest of my gels. I mentioned nutrition above, I did it wrong. I had no idea what I was getting in to. What I had in my bag… 120oz of water, a few roctane power mixes for the water, six Roctane gels and one Gu Chomp pack. That was it. I literally had a total of only nine gels and two packs of chomps for the entire race for standard calories and fuel. I have no idea how I finished this race, let alone pretty decent placement for it only being my fourth race ever.
From there we head out for another six mile loop. Just more pain, more mountain climbs and run downs. I can’t feel the muscles in my legs anymore unless they cramp. Other than that, they are just swollen and moving me along as I need them to. That’s all I can ask. We get back to the drop bags after that 6 mile loop and I see a LOT of people at the drop bag station. People were sitting down leisurely eating food, joking around and having a pleasant time. Others looked shell shocked. They were absolutely befuddled, I learned afterwards they were waiting for cart pickups for medevac or just “I can’t finish this race.” I filled up my camelback again with, I’m sure, a “Why aren’t you people moving” look on my face and headed out. Here was the next large carry up the mountain. We had to carry a log up the mountain, half way up drop and push it because we went under barbed wire, finish going up, then back down. Then we went on the main loop again. This is where things started to get grim.
We joined up with the regular beast course at a mountain peak. After seeing all the regular beast racers, something ticked in me, and I flew down that mountain. It was just packed with obstacles as well. I found myself yelling “ULTRA, COMING DOWN” and people would jump to the side while I flew through the obstacles and past them on the trails. I was like a wild man. With every passing moment, I could hear the festival area. The roar and cheers of the crowd were growing, my pace quickening with every step. I had a huge grin coming across my face, that finish line… I’m so close! I dive under the dunk wall in the freezing water then yank myself up the rope climb like a man possessed. I see a tunnel and duck through it, “Man, where is the line” I thought to myself. We go under barbed wire, up the crates to the cargo cross, and nothing. We go up the mountain again. My mood tumbles.
After even more running, we get to mile 22. The temperature dropped from its high if 48 degrees down what I would classify as debilitating cold with high winds. This was the point that made the last seven miles turn in to its own race. We had to swim about 80-100 feet, in water that was just above freezing temperature, to a bridge where there were ropes hanging down. Climb the rope to the bell, drop back in the deep water. We had the same distance to swim out. As you get out, you had to do a traverse wall, and then back in the water, to the other side of the bridge to a slack-line ladder, to a tarzan swing in order to hit the bell. Once you got out you have to recite your memory item or do burpees. That water put me in the beginning stages of hypothermia. I stopped shivering and started to feel warm. That’s bad! I happened to have a reflective thermal blanket in my hydration pack. I threw it on and armed up for a couple minutes. Once I got back to just shivering violently, I packed it away and ran on. We had another 3 miles or so of more hill climbs and obstacles. There was an 8 foot wall going uphill that seemed so much higher than it normally is.
After that three mile loop, we were back to the water, but this time it was the rope traverse. I found the most taught line and went across as fast as I could. So fast that I even heard people commenting “Man, that guy is flying down there.” I hit the bell and dropped in the water as controlled as I could. I swam back to shore and headed out for the last leg of the race Still battling hypothermia, I soldiered on. My camelback was empty, I had no more gels. I had nothing left. My body started to cramp in every possible manner. I see a clearing ahead and it is the dreaded bucket brigade. I have no idea how I found the energy and strength for this. I somehow grabbed that bucket, filled it and powered up that quarter mile hill climb and back down. I managed to only set my bucket down three times. After that, we run some more. We get to an open clearing, running up and down it. We were climbing over containers, rolling hills… the works.
Then, the final obstacle approaches. It was the sandbag carry up a half mile and back down. At this point, the only thing I’m trying to do is not collapse. I have to keep stopping with my sandbag every 20- 30 paces. It just keeps getting harder. The entire time, everyone around me who was one of the beast runners was rooting for me. We had green armbands on to signify “Ultra Beast”. Behind me, ahead of be, beside me, all I could hear was “Come on ultra”, “You can do this”. I carried that bag and soldiered on. When I finally dropped that bag, I knew the race was finally over. I turned the uphill corner and came to the finish line. I went under the barbed wire and up the slip wall faster than I ever had before. I jumped down and sprinted (at least that’s what I tell myself) across that line, yelling “ULTRA” as I cross.
They present me with my giant medal. I remember grabbing a lot of bananas. My girlfriend comes up to me and gives me what I still consider the best hug and embrace I have ever gotten. I was in shock. I had no idea what I had accomplished. I didn’t know so many people failed to make the cut offs, or were pulled from their own volition/injuries. All I knew was, I crossed that line. I beat back every ounce of pain with sheer determination. We went over to collect my finisher’s shirt. I ran in to Joe Desena for the first time. I thanked him for the race, got a couple pictures and went down to change in the nice, heated, lodge.
We left the venue and stopped to get some pizza, because, why not? We got a couple pictures in the hotel and I ate what my stomach would allow me to. It ended up only being two slices. I don’t even remember thinking to myself “It’s time to sleep”. I just remember pizza, and then the next morning.
That is where my Ultra beast journey ends for 2013. I have my medal; I now know what it’s like to face true adversity. I am thankful for this piece of brutality in my life. Even after typing this, I still don’t feel I really was able to portray what we went through up there. I only hope, it gives you a little window of what to expect.