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Spartan World Championships - Killington, Vermont

Date:
By  Melissa Robertson

I’d been training for the Spartan World Championship for the past few months with running, sprint work, boot camp, gym training, obstacle training, lots of hill work and swimming. This was mostly done in the early hours of the morning before commuting to Sydney for work. So, 4am – 6am. Luckily I wasn’t the only crazy Spartan training at this time, and I only got really fed up with it once and told off a tyre that I was dragging up a hill.

So with all the training behind me I headed off for Killington, Vermont. I was going solo on this flight (most of the team had already flown out the day before). After getting dropped off at the airport I boarded the Qantas flight to Dallas, Texas. Settling in with my food, and wonderful snackables located at the back of the plane, I watched a heap of movies, didn’t really sleep and then staggered around the Dallas airport while sleep deprived and eventually got on my next plane to Boston. Off at Boston and to the car rental place where I picked up my Prius, and got a tutorial on how to actually drive a Prius. Then I was off, that first night of driving was by far the worst, my brain was tired and I was struggling to remember which side of the road to drive on and where the car was located in relation to me. After a couple of wrong turns I managed to make it to my accommodation about an hours drive north of Boston and crashed out.

The next day I continued on to Killington, the driving was much easier today, now that I was rested and it was also daylight. The drive up into Vermont was very scenic as the busy highways got smaller and more enclosed by pine forests and the deciduous trees that were only just starting to change colour.

My first sight of the Spartan World Championship Beast course was as I drove up the hill and around the corner to Killington. It was horrifying! The hill was enormous! I could see the ski lifts above the grassy race course and the steepness and length of the hills and knew I was going to be in for a lot of pain in the next few days.

I checked into my accommodation, which was very fancy, and spent the next couple of days catching up with the other Australians, having a look around Killington, doing some light training and chilling out at the café which had real (espresso) coffee and reading my book, they made this wonderful blackberry mocha. Killington was very pretty and I would happily go back there, but you can enjoy it only so much when you know what you’re facing in the next couple of days.

The festivities really kicked off the night before the race when we went to dinner at Amee Farm. The dinner totally exceeded my expectations, the food was top notch and there was plenty of it, I got to meet a heap of the other racers and there were free product samples. So Thomas got souvenir protein bars. After the dinner I went to bed early and tried to psych myself up for the next day.

The next morning I was insanely nervous, I got all my stuff organised and headed up to the ski field. For the race numbers they had the usual pin on bibs (which I didn’t wear, because I tend to get impaled by the pins), but they also had these awesome headbands, which I did wear. It was a great idea, it held my hair back and also meant that my number was visible. I really hope more races do that sort of thing. With my modified Camelbak packed with 2 ltrs of water, gels and salt I was ready. I followed the other Australians out onto the course and watched as the elite men took off at 8:15am. Then I joined the elite women at the start line and managed to get in a couple of rows behind Deanna, who I intended to follow for as a long as possible.

The usual arooing and work up speeches and then we were off at 8:30am. The first slope wasn’t particularly steep, but it was hard work going from the stillness of a start line to sprinting up any sort of slope. I was out of breath and could feel my heart racing to catch up. We hit some hay bales and overs and unders, no biggie, then onto the first ski slope of the day, I was quickly reduced to a solid hiking pace as I powered up the hill. I could still see Deanna a few metres in front of me, looking strong. We also hit the tail end of the elite guys and so began the process of overtaking guys that were in the way, which was the theme for the rest of the day. There were a couple of walls on the way up. However, the walls were a lot easier here then they are in Australia. They were either smaller, or the bigger ones had two steps for women rather then one, so I had no worries with any off the walls, I could easily put my foot on the bottom step, push up a bit and either reach the top or balance enough to get to the second step. I was pretty stoked that the walls were so easy as they’re normally something I struggle with.

I lost Deanna somewhere on the first downhill. I really, really need to work on my downhill running, I lose too much time on it, and I get so worried about breaking my ankle or spraining it again. It’s definitely something I’ll be working on for next year.

The trails downhill varied between running down a roughly mowed, rocky and unpredictable ski slope or running down through a slippery mossy forest. Either way was hard work, the ski slope was difficult to judge where was safe to put your foot without landing awkwardly in a hidden hole and the forest was all about staying upright and not tripping over a root or sliding down one of the slippery rocks. This was also done at extreme angles, it makes running down from Crackneck with it’s loose rocks and hidden roots look like a casual jog. The uphills were the same sort of thing, only I found them much easier as it was all about power. Just start hiking and don’t stop. I quickly learnt that I much preferred the steep uphill’s to the steep downhills and was easily overtaking people on the uphills, only to have them catch me again on the downhill’s. Fortunately there seemed to be more of the extreme uphills.

The first unique challenge for the day was a memory challenge, using the last two numbers of your race number you referred to a table of numbers and codes and had to remember your corresponding code. Mine was ZULU-082-2772. I paused for a few seconds and turned the numbers into words so I instead had a semi-nonsensical sentence to remember and then took off. For the next several hours, I would just repeat the sentence every so often so I wouldn’t forget it and it also worked great as a distraction when the obstacles got hard.

Halfway down the slope from the memory challenge I hit my first failed obstacle. There was a line of giant tractor tyres (slightly smaller tractor tyres for the women) You had to walk your tractor tyre to the end of it’s chain down the slope then pull it back up. My tractor tyre made it fine to the end of the chain but I could not get it to move when I tried to pull it back up. I tried for a minute or two before realising it was beyond me and I joined the other women doing 30 burpees, luckily it wasn’t a mandatory obstacle, also lucky that as the whole obstacle was on a steep slope it made the 30 burpees heaps easier then normal. Still it was burpees, and I don’t like burpees.

Sandbag

Running the rest of the way down the hill we hit the sandbag carry. This was the hardest sandbag carry I’ve ever done. The bags were the same for men and women and were around 27kgs (I’ve read other reports saying they were 30kg’s, either way they were very heavy and more then half my weight). We then had to carry them about 500 metres up a very, very steep ski slope and back down. I picked up my sand bag and set off at a steady trudge, I knew I couldn’t rest or put the bag down or I’d never pick it up again, so I kept going, and going, and going. Surprisingly even though the guys had the same sandbags not many of them overtook me. There were a few other women at around my pace, one was using a slightly different technique were she’d power walk with the bag, overtaking me, then drop the bag, rest, then pick it up and power walk again. We played leapfrog for a while up the hill but she eventually wore out and I didn’t see her again. Another woman was just dragging her bag up the hill having given up on carrying it at all. Reaching the top I turned the corner and started on the slow and slippery trudge down. I dropped the bag rather suddenly as I slipped on a particularly steep part of the hill, then a brilliant idea formed. The bag was sturdy plastic and the sand was packed in as tight as possible making it rigid. The ski slope heading down was muddy, slippery and very steep. Surely I could sandboard down this. I lined the bag up and sat on it holding onto the knot on the front and pushed off with my legs. The bag took off. I had no control and eventually skidded to a sideways stop about 10 metres down when the ground leveled out slightly. Dragging the bag to the edge of the next steep bit this time I laid on it face first so I’d have greater control. I pushed off with my hands and it worked fantastically, I could steer a bit with my hands and push whenever I got stuck on a rock, the rest of the time I just had to hold on tight. I looked behind me at one stage to see several other people copying my technique and tobogganing down on their sandbags. Rather then hating the sandbag carry, this was by far the most fun I’d had all morning. It also gave me a great chance to catch my breath and was way faster then carrying the bag. Reaching the bottom I dragged my bag over to the pile, tossed it on top, stepped on the timing mat and took off running.

Up/Down super steep hills, we reached the Hercules Hoist, this was one I’d failed in Brisbane where you had to hoist up the kettlebells. Here it was a large cement block instead, but same sort of deal. I’d done some research on this and immediately laid back into it. Laying on the ground and using my body weight and arms to hoist it to the top. Next up was the Monkey Bars, The monkey bars were much easier then in Australia. The bars were not thick scaffolding and were instead normal hand sized and I easily made it across which is the first time I’ve actually made the monkey bars in a Spartan race.

Down a steep hill and onto the spear throw. I consider this one to be my specialty. I chose a straight spear. Paused and took a breath, then lined up with my right arm where I wanted the spear to go. I stepped back and took a run up, throwing the spear dead centre on the target. That now makes it 3 for 3 with spear throws and Spartan races.

Down the hill and out of the forest we were back in the spectator area for the first rope climb. This one involved jumping into a mud pit then climing a 5m rope to the top and ringing the bell. No worries, although I found the knots in the rope to be more annoying then not having knots. Down through a plastic tunnel and into the long barbwire crawl. The wire was low, but not as low as the one at Sydney, the ground was definitely more uneven though. So I was able to mostly stay on the toes and hands and spidercrawl under it, every so often I’d have to drop to a roll or duck under a particularly low length of barbwire. My backback was going great, I’d been worried about it getting caught on the wire, but I had no issues. It got torn a few times, but no getting pinned.

Out of the wire and up and over the signature Spartan cargo netting atop shipping containers. This obstacle is all about looking big and impressive, but isn’t particularly challenging. Although at least here they didn’t make the spectators walk under it and get all mud dripped on them.

Tarzan

Then down into the large dam, there was a bridge spanning the dam and plenty of spectators up top watching the action going on underneath. I swam out into the middle of the dam under the bridge and climbed the rope which dangled down ringing the bell at the top. This looked harder then it actually was, climbing a rope dangling in water was as easy as climbing a rope that’s laying on the ground. Reaching the top of the rope I was able to let go and drop straight back into the dam, but hadn’t factored in that with a backpack and clothing on I weighed a lot more then normal so I immediately sank and had to start swimming back to the surface. Then swimming to shore I ran around the edge of the dam and straight back into the water to swim out to the Tarzan swing and failure number 2 for the day. The tarzan swing consisted of about 6 short ropes dangling in a line under the bridge, you had to swing from rope to rope and hit the bell at the end, I wasn’t particularly hopeful about this obstacle. I swam out into the middle and climbed the rope ladder up to the dangling tarzan ropes, I grabbed hold of the first rope and swung out to get the second rope, completely missed it and somersaulted back down into the water. It was a very short lived obstacle for me, so I swam to shore and joined everyone else who had failed and did my 30 burpees.

From the rope climb I ran to the traverse walls, normally this is not one I struggle with and while I found the American walls slightly harder, I was going fine, I got to the second last handhold and my hand slipped on some mud, unable to regain my balance I fell off. I was very annoyed, while I’d accept failing the tarzan swing, this was not cool. Another 30 burpees. A short run down the path leading away from the walls I was stopped by a row of volunteers and asked for my memory test code. Fortunately I still remembered it, and it really was a brilliant place to ask it, after a series of hard and close together obstacles. Passing the test I headed off into the forest to follow a less steep and by far the most pleasant run of the day.

Following the ribbons and arrows around the forest, I called one guy back who’d missed a turn which led off the obvious path and instead went deeper onto a trail through the forest. Following the trail I eventually went through a pipe and back up onto the main trail where there were a couple of other women who hadn’t taken the turn and instead followed the main path. Clearly there was an issue here, I told them they’d missed a turn, but I wondered how many other people had overtaken me by ignoring the easily missed arrow and instead just went straight. I will admit that stuff like this bugs me more then it probably should.

Following the trail we hit the cargo nets, these were some tricky cargo nets, they were very high and the rope at the top was very small making them hard to swing over, still I did both of them, only falling off the second one. There were hay bales underneath so I was fine. The next obstacle was carrying a large cement block from one flag to the next, doing 5 burpees and carrying it back. It was in no way difficult, but I did feel ripped off that I was made to do burpees when I didn’t fail an obstacle.

Some more running and then onto the concrete block drag. This was something I’d had a lot of practice with, but I really should of paid more attention to the concrete block that I grabbed as I managed to get one with a really short chain which made it much harder to drag. Still it was fine and completely unexciting. I did however run into Leah at this point who was powering her way through the course.

 

Some uphill running and a barbwire crawl. Then onto the Atlas carry, this involved filling a bucket up to the line with rocks, carrying it up the hill, then back down the hill. The rocks had to hide everything below the line, so if any of the edge of the bucket was visible below the line when you got back to the bottom you had to do it again. The bucket probably weighed around 30kgs when filled and it was very difficult to carry, I could only manage to carry it for a few steps, put it down, rest, then carry it for a few more steps until I eventually got to the top and started dragging it back down the hill. This worked fine until I knocked the bucket over and was left scrabbling in the dirt trying to get all my rocks back in so it wasn’t below the line. This was an unpleasant obstacle. No fun at all. Just unpleasant. I did however see a few of the Australian guys at this stage and to my surprise Jarrad was one of them, he was still a bit ahead of me though and was coming down the hill with his bucket as I was going up.

Some more running through the forest and to the log hop. This was much harder then the balance beams which they have in Australia. It was a row of narrow logs set at different heights sticking out of the ground and you had to hop from one to the other to get across. This would have been easy if I had long legs, instead I got up on the first log and had to commit myself to each step, some of them were more of a jump, where I had to land on one leg on the next log (only one foot fitted on each log). Somehow I managed to get all the way across, really I just think I was lucky, I was very close to losing my balance more then once.

Tyrolean

A whole lot of running after this and back towards the dam and the Tyrolean traverse. This is a single rope placed across the dam where you have to make your way about 15m across, ring the bell and drop into the dam. It’s the same as Hell’s Gate in Tough Bloke, only longer, with a narrower rope and much harder after I’ve been running for hours and my legs and arms are all cramped. This was also one of the required obstacles, women got 3 attempts at it and had to do burpees for each failed attempt. At that point I’d caught up to Jarrad who was in very bad shape. He’d blown up sometime earlier and was really just trying to finish. My first attempt to get across I tried going underneath, I really did not have the strength for this and did not make it very far before dropping into the dam below, having to swim the whole way across, and join Jarrad in doing 30 burpees. Attempt two I went on top, laying across the rope with one foot hanging over and the other left dangling. I then had to drag myself across the rope. I found this by far the most difficult obstacle of the day. It took all my strength to drag myself and maintain my balance and I really did not want to fail again. I would drag myself a metre, then rest, then another metre, then rest. Very slowly I made my way to the bell, this was the only time the whole day that I contemplated giving up. I was completely exhausted, cramped and sick of being on this rope with the added pressure of not being able to fail it. So I went as slow as I needed to, I didn’t push myself anymore then I had to to continue to move forward and really that was taking all the strength that I had. I knew that this was one of the last obstacles and I just had to get across. There were a lot of spectators hanging around this obstacle and I could hear them shouting out advice and encouragement but I tried to ignore them. I also had to ignore Leah who had caught up and was just failing her first attempt on the traverse rope, same with Jarrad who was back doing burpees. It felt like it took me about 10 minutes to get across, but I eventually made it and hit the bell dropping into the dam below. I had no strength left in my cramped arms and could no longer swim, so I rolled onto my back and did back kick to get to shore. The concerned looking lifeguard asked me if I needed assistance, but I assured him I was fine and continued to kick my way to shore. I should probably mention that all of the swimming obstacles did offer life vests for people who couldn’t swim and I wondered how many people who could swim actually took them just to make it easier to get across when their arms and legs were all cramped and refusing to paddle. Still there is no way I would wear a life vest during the race, that is way too embarrassing, I’d never be able to show my face at the beach again!

After the traverse I caught up to Jarrad and ran with him for a while, we both thought we were closer to the finish then we actually were but the path wound away from it and back up another hill, so I left him in his considerable pain and used the last of my strength to power up the hill and onto a couple more walls, some of them slanted (which actually made it easier because there were handholds in them). At this stage of the race there were cramped and dying racers scattered along the course, guys helping each other limp along, others crying or covered in blood, it was pretty intense, they were also in my way. The final larger obstacle was another sandbag carry, only these were lighter pancake shaped sandbags, and not exceptionally hard, I alternated between carrying in on my shoulders and carrying it my arms, the slope was also more forgiving then the earlier one. This obstacle would have been really easy if I’d tackled it 4 hours earlier. Pancake carry done I was onto the final run and then down towards the finish line. Over the sloped wall with ropes, jumped over the fire and ran through the gladiators, who went very easy on me and across the finish line. I was stoked that I’d finished, Wok was there asking questions, and I got my medal, then Matt was there and several of the other Australians, I hung around waiting for Jarrad to finish who came in not too long after me looking absolutely exhausted, he had pushed himself well past his limit. It was pretty impressive.

Overall the race was by far the hardest race I have ever done. Some of the obstacles are easier in Australia, but most are actually a lot harder, I guess Australia has to make up for the less tough terrain which was by far the hardest obstacle of this race. I had no idea it was possible to actually cramp up that much and keep moving. Shout outs go to Deanna and Matt who both came second place, and to Ryan with an impressive 5th place finish, which is pretty crazy. I was especially impressed that he passed the memory test.

Finish

I would totally go back and race it again next year, especially now that I know what I would be facing. I’ll just have to work a heck of a lot harder if I ever have any hope of beating Deanna, or even finishing anywhere near her. She is still my target.

Equipment Used This may or may not be helpful to anyone else who intends to do the Killington Beast, or really any Beast length course.

  • Camelbak Octane LR 2ltr. I chose this one because it had the lumbar water bladder, so most of the weight was on my waist, with the shoulder straps just holding the pack in place. I also modified the pack cutting off the mesh pocket and hook on the back for fear it may get caught in the barbwire, it also wasn’t necessary for the race.
  • Two gel bottles, full with GU gels and salt. These worked great and I easily fitted a bottle in each waist pocket. I also had a couple of emergency gels in the pack, which I would have needed if I’d been out there any longer.
  • Bounce 2XU compression shirt.
  • Puma Running Shorts
  • Injinji toe socks. I’ve found these to be the best socks for obstacle races, regular socks tended to get lost in my shoes when my feet got wet, that or they’d rub, bunch up and be annoying. However, these one’s actually stay in place.
  • Inov8 Trailroc 245. I did my first race in the Inov8 X-Talon 190’s, they lasted exactly one race and ended up with a large tear down the side, I still use them to train in, and unable to get anymore 190’s in my size I had to make the change. I actually like the smaller spikes of the Trailroc’s better as it makes it easier for the balance obstacles. However most racers still seem to prefer the 190’s.
  • Everlast Women’s Weight Lifting Gloves. I love racing in gloves, it makes it much easier for any of the obstacles that require grips. Also, I have delicate hands not used to hard physical work.

What I’d change for next time

  • The cramping was a lot worse then I’d expected. So I’d either add more salt to my gels, or pack some salt tablets.
  • Magnesium in my water.
  • Maybe I’d wear some knee length skins, I’m not sure if this would help with the upper leg cramping or not. I’d have to weight it up against how much they’d annoy me.

Thanks Shout outs go to the following peeps for their training, financial and product support:

 

Race Spartan World Championships
Distance > 21kms
Wave Female Elite
Net Time 5:16:43
Gender Place 15
Overall Place 78
Category Place 7

 

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