Spartan Ultra Beast - Sydney
This past weekend I had the pleasure and pain of running in Australia’s inaugural Spartan Ultra Beast. The race was held at Picton about an hour South of Sydney, and was in the same location as the Sprint earlier in the year. The race was run as two laps of the Beast course so 42km’s (26 miles) in total.
At 7:15am on Saturday morning I joined the 104 other insane competitors at the start line as we got ready to take off chasing the elite Beast wave that had started 15 minutes before us. There was more caution then normal as we took off and rather then a few lead blokes sprinting off ahead we instead stuck in a fairly tight pack and there was a lot of banter as we ran up the first hill, or in Leah’s case sprinted up briefly taking the lead. A couple of easy walls, then under the cargo nets which are always deceptively hard, I stuck with a group of guys who were lifting the nets up for each other and seemed to know what they were doing. The first real obstacle was the Monkey Bars which I completely failed at, I generally suck at the Australian Spartan Monkey Bars, I find the scaffolding they are made of too think to grip onto with my hands, and when they are also sloped it just wasn’t going to happen. I hit the ground and ran over to do my 30 burpees. Leah soon joined me in doing burpees. They were made extra hard by the bindii in the grass, so I was quite glad that I was wearing gloves and was able to pick them out afterwards. I managed to get the burpees done before Leah and took off for the concrete block drag. For this we had to drag a large concrete block attached by a rope up to the top of the hill, then back down. I was in the lead and took off up the hill, but Leah was pushing hard and quickly overtook me, she was moving when she hit the downhill and managed to put some distance between us. It was still early in the race so I wasn’t too concerned… yet.
Some easy walls, OUT’s, an angled wall, some creek wading in suspiciously dark and smelly mud, then a rope climb up to the top of the creek bank followed by a run around to the dam where the floating cargo nets were waiting. Leah was still in the lead, but I could see her as we hit the nets. These are actually kind of fun, I waded out to the start of the nets then climbed up on the wooden plank and belly flopped out as far as possible landing on a partially submerged net, dragging myself along to the next wooden plank and repeat. With the day heating up, all the water obstacles were actually rather pleasant.
A whole lot of running with some decent sized hills that reduced the racers to a fast hike. Fortunately they weren’t Killington size hills, but Spartan Australia still delivered with its steepness, they just couldn’t match the length. It was about 6km’s (4 miles) into the race, so I made my move and overtook Leah with the plan of staying in front until the end of the race, or at least until I failed an obstacle and Leah caught up.
I was now running with the Ultra Beast guys and the tail end of the Elite wave, so there was a lot of banter going back and forth and a bit of sledging tossed in there. We hit the rolling ditches and fortunately with it being early in the day it wasn’t too hard to get out of them, but I wasn’t looking forward to them on the second lap when everyone else had gone through and made it a whole lot more slippery.
On to the Sandbag carry where I’d guess the women’s bag was around 15kg (33lbs). I heaved it up onto my shoulders and followed the ant like trail of racers up the very steep scrubby hill. There was a lot of scrambling and dropped sandbags as everyone struggled to get footing on the steep rocky slope. Then once at the top it was a slide/careful hike back down, over the toblerones (with the bags) and back to the drop off point. It was hard work and I was worried that it had taken too much out of my legs as I felt my quads and calves really working on that hill with the extra weight on my back. But there was no point in worrying too much, I just had to keep moving.
Some more running and onto the barbed wire crawl. This was a barbed wire crawl from hell. It was about 300m (328 yards) long and very low, there were only a few places where I could actually get on my hands and knees and crawl. The rest of the time I was reduced to rolling, and rolling, and then sitting up, switching the way I was facing and doing some more rolling. This was the obstacle I liked the least, I didn’t fail it (I mean it’s a barbed wire crawl, you can’t really fail it), but it felt like I was stuck with no way of escape but more puke inducing painful rolling along the ground. The only part of it I enjoyed was the last few metres when it sloped downhill and my rolling picked up a bit of speed.
Partway up the next hill I hit a new obstacle, 5m climbing ropes (without knots) suspended in the air from another rope strung between two trees that made the rope bounce as I climbed it. Still no worries, I climbed to the top and rung the bell before lowering myself back to the ground. Continuing up the hill I hit the balance beams at the top. This is one of the obstacles I like it forces me to slow down, catch my breath and concentrate. Also, it’s a fairly easy obstacle. I made my way along the zigzagging balance beam. Back down the hill, then up another hill, I chatted with various other Ultra Beast runners and a few worse for wear Beast runners who had cramped up and were limping their way along the course. The day had really heated up now and it was only meant to get hotter, somewhere in the mid 30’s (around 90 Fahrenheit). Besides the runners chatting, grunting and groaning there was the loud crescendo of cicada’s in the background as we made our ways through the bush parts of the course. A real summer’s day.
Next was the Dead Ball carry, the women’s ball is 35kg (77lbs) and I really struggled with it in Melbourne, so I was very concerned when I got to the balls and saw they were the same weight. I squatted low and picked the ball up, locking my fingers underneath and began the slow trudge out on the ball carry course. I was really surprised to find it easy! I’m not sure if it was because I was sick in Melbourne or the Dead Ball carry came later in the race there, but I found this one to be so much easier.
Dropping off my dead ball I followed the other racers down the hill and around to one of the water crossings, I’d caught up with a guy I used to go to school with, so It was pretty cool being able to catch up with him and also bag him out… (He was slow!). Into the very refreshing water and a short swim across the dam, up and out and onto the Hercules Hoist where you have to pull a rope hoisting 20kg (44lb) kettle bells to the top, this is an obstacle I’ve only ever achieved at the World Championship where the weight was a bit lighter and I could easily hoist the cement block. I chose a rope which was as close to the roped off area as possible and proceeded to jump on it, pulling it to the ground, and it was working! I was totally stoked when I got the kettle bell to the top!
Running up along the hill above the spectator area I knew I was close to the end of lap 1, The guys that I was running with got briefly lost when we missed a marker, fortunately we only added an extra 50m or so to the course, then it was down the hill as we followed a creek up to the spectator area and the traverse walls. I chose a wall and clambered up onto it, making my way along slowly. I’m not sure what happened, if it was my hand or leg that slipped, but I was off and not happy… Another 30 burpees! Burpees done I ran around to the spear throw. I’ve never missed a spear throw at a Spartan Race so I pretty confident, I lined up my spear and threw, the throw was straight but just too low, It hit the ground under the target, another 30 burpees! Being near the finish line I was in a tight cluster of obstacles, so straight onto the 5m rope climb, easily climbing up and ringing the bell before climbing the shipping containers and making my way along the cargo net and down the other side. Rather then having the usual net to climb down on the other side, Spartan had us dropping the full height of a shipping container onto another shipping container, then again onto hay. The hay didn’t worry me too much, but the first drop from shipping container to shipping container had me worried. I was very lucky that another racer stopped and helped me get down from that first container. Off the containers we hit one final mud pit, which would normally be a fire jump, but with a total fire ban changes have to be made.
Out of the mud I ran into the Ultra drop off area and refueled for lap 2. A few Chomps, a swig of Coke (I know!) , and a whole lot more sunscreen I was ready for my second lap. The first lap had taken me 2:50 something, so I was well under my 8 hour planned finishing time.
The second lap there were a lot less runners around me for the first few k’s so I enjoyed running along. The monkey bars were yet again another failure, but I’d accepted that this time… 30 burpees. I got lucky with the concrete block drag and the inner core of my block had broken free from it’s outer concrete layer, so I ended up with a mini concrete block attached to my rope. It did look a little funny as I dragged it up and down the hill, but it was still a concrete block. There was one guy I saw halfway up dragging 2 blocks… I told him he was crazy!
Back on the course, and after some creek running I was back hiking up the side of the concrete block hill when I heard a guy shouting from over at the drag. He’d lost his block on the downhill and it was now rolling out of control down the hill, the block was stopped near the bottom when it crashed into the side of a rather shiny looking organisers 4wd. I would love to know how that one ended. But this was a race, so I continued my hiking up the hill.
As the course looped back around near the spectators I got a report that Leah was about 15 minutes behind me at halfway. So I just had to keep maintaining my pace and it would by alright. I joined up with a few different groups of Ultra guys as we were all moving at a similar pace and it was interesting to see what level of cramping the guys were in. So far I’d only had some minor twinges, but no serious cramping. The later in the day Beast runners were splattered around the course, particularly on the hills. There was one group I saw actually having a picnic on some rocks halfway up the hill, they’d packed lunch which I thought was a great idea. The others were just kind of laying in small groups exhausted, cramped or dehydrated. There were only a few water stations on course, I was carrying my Camelbak with a full bladder, so wasn’t worried. But some of the Beast runners had come out without any water at all. Crazy!
The rolling ditches this time around were a mess, the mud was slippery and thick and it took me twice as long to get through them, very hard work on my legs. Next we hit the sandbag carry which I’d been somewhat dreading, but I didn’t really have to worry, some ladies who were waiting very nicely let me go in front of them when the next sandbag came available. Off and up the steep rocky slope with the sandbag on my back I made it to the top and enjoyed the slide/careful walk back down. We were all dreading the next part, the barbed wire crawl. It was worse the second time around, with my legs threatening to cramp and the rolling making me feel sick in the heat. I closed my eyes for a long while and just kept rolling until it was over.
Reaching the Hercules Hoist the second time I went for the same rope and with Deanna encouraging me I hoisted with all my strength, I got the kettle bell to about halfway up and just blew up. My arms cramped, my legs were sore and all my strength was gone. This was essentially the end of my race and the beginning of surviving until I reached the finish line. Very upset I admitted defeat and did the 30 burpees. Fortunately I could still run, for whatever reason, the cramping didn’t kick in while I was running so I took off, back towards the spectator area and the traverse walls. There was no chance this time, I twisted to reach one of the wooden steps and both my arms and legs cramped, I fell off and headed for the fence where I did my 30 burpees, these burpees were sad. I did the required parts, chest to the ground, jump and clap at the top, but in the middle, it was a collapsing and pushing off with one leg as the other one was too cramped. They were not pretty burpees. Around to the spear throw, this time I was on target, but it failed to stick, so another 30 burpees, bringing the total to 210. By now my abs were even cramping from all the burpees, I could not do anymore burpees! I hit the rope climb and managed to get myself to the top, I went to hit the bell and missed. Both my legs cramped up, and my arms were exhausted. I had to hit this bell. I reached up as far as I could and only just managed to hit the bell before sliding down the rope. The rope burnt my legs while sliding, and I could feel the skin being ripped away, but I would deal with that later. Up over the shipping containers and through the final mud pit. I jumped the final wall between me and the gladiators and my calf cramped. I limped towards the gladiators and then picked it up to a run, fortunately they went very easy on me and I made it across the line and into 1st place in 6hrs 13 mins. Leah came in about 20 minutes later, looking a lot better then I did. I can’t wait until next year! I also have some terrible rope burns to deal with between now and then.