To say that I pushed myself to the limit this weekend would be an understatement! This past weekend was the final race in the Spartan Race U.S. Championship series. It was the only Beast race in the series and it took place at The Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean, WV. This sprawling and beautiful venue, as it’s name suggests , sits atop the majestic appalachian mountains and offers a wide variety of terrain and wildlife. It is the perfect place to host a Spartan Race, especially a race worthy of being in the Championship Series.
The race itself was aptly named: The Ascent. This race had a total of over 3600 feet of elevation change throughout the 14.6 mile course. In fact, almost the first half of the race was completely uphill. And maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but the ‘turn around’ point in the race where you start coming back down, was at the very summit itself. They put the Stairway to Sparta obstacle up there so when you climbed to the top of the obstacle you were high above everything else, looking out for miles in every direction at the breaktaking mountainscape. It was pretty awe-inspiring. It made you forget, even if for a brief moment, all of the suffering you had just endured. It was well worth the climb.
The race itself started on a cool, foggy mountain morning. They pushed the elite heats back a half an hour to let the fog clear some. I assume this had to do more with them wanting to be able to capture the event on camera and less to do with the race itself. Still, it was a very pleasant morning and it was a great weekend to race. The first few miles had some very steep ascents and descents on some very technical terrain. There were a few signature Spartan obstacles thrown in like a hurdle , the O-U-T walls, slip wall, barbed wire crawl and dunk wall. The barbed wire crawl was interesting this time as it was completely dry, no mud at all. It was all earth and rock. Also, it wasn’t flat at all, there were mounds and craters all over so you were crawling up and down over rocks while trying to not get snagged by the wire. Luckily it was a short crawl, but there was definitely no rolling through this one!
Then there was the bucket carry! More on this later, but I did this carry on Friday, the day before the Beast. When I got to it for the Beast race I saw that they had changed it some, cutting off part of the ascent and had cleared the vegetation from the climb down. Both of these elements made it easier than it had been the day before. That being said, it was still a heck of a carry! It was a good climb up and the climb down felt even worse. It was very steep and it was hard to get good footing. In all my races I haven’t seen as many people fall down or spill their rocks as I did on this course.
Once you made it through the bucket carry it was time to head up the mountain. From here it was up, up, up. With the exception of the occasional gravel road this was all technical trail running. Once you got to the top you were faced with the Z-Wall and the aforementioned Stairway to Sparta. Shortly after there was the Bender and then the course took it easy on you for a little bit. It was a lot more gradual down hill and more gravel roads or cleared paths. It was nice to have a break from all of the briars/thorns and bees! A few hidden obstacles that they didn’t tell you about before you started! This was a good time to regroup and maybe make up some lost time if those climbs had slowed you down at all.
Gradually you made your way back to the festival area where you had a few obstacles, like the swim, tire flip, rope climb, sandbag carry and spear throw. After the spear the Beast exclusive part of the course took over and sent you far out into the wilderness. There were a few good climbs and some technical terrain, but it was a lot more manageable than the first half of the race. There were only a few obstacles thrown in on this portion and most of them were pretty standard except for that log carry. Normally lifting heavy things is my wheelhouse. I’ve been a heavy guy for a long time now and I’m used to dealing with extra weight; it doesn’t phase me much. But this log carry was a little painful. It started with a gradual downhill, but it was on gravel, then it sent you up a pretty steep incline, part of which you had to walk over large loose stones. It was this area, or half-way up the hill, that most people had to stop to take breaks. Once you made it up the hill it was pretty flat, but you still had a good bit of distance before the carry was over. From eavesdropping on other racers this obstacle was a pretty defining element of the race.
Not too long after the log carry you come back toward the festival area for the final gauntlet. They did a beautiful job of lining up a whole bunch of grip strength obstacle right at the end. Back to back you had to complete the Twister, Herc Hoist, Olympus, and the Multi-Rig. If you had any energy left when you got the the end it was sure to be depleted here at the end. Twister has a reputation for destroying your grip strength. To put that before all of the other obstacles really made it hard for a lot of people, myself included, to complete them all. The Herc Hoist seemed heavier this race than it has in other races this year. And maybe it’s just in my head but the rope also seemed harder to grip. I am not sure if it was the nylon or if the rope was actually thinner but it was more of an obstacle for me than it typically is. After doing Twister and the Herc Hoist, Olympus was a real challenge. If your grip strength (or technique!) is good enough, you might have been one of the lucky few to make it through, but it was sending a lot of people to the gravel burpee pit. The Multi-Rig took a little pity on the racers and was (for the Beast) just rings with one horizontal bar. This did take out a fair share of racers, but I think more people had success with this than they did Twister and Olympus. Then you wrap it all up with a classic fire jump!
This was an amazing race! I really feel like they did such a good job planning this event. The venue was fantastic, the terrain was challenging, and the obstacles were top notch. This race had a little bit of everything: Steep climbs, water, mud, technical terrain, flat ground, you name it. It was a really fun race, but also very challenging, which is what you want in race. I really hope that they continue to have races in this venue as it was a great time and has the potential to have new and exciting races year after year.
As I eluded to earlier, this wasn’t just a Championship Race, it was actually a Trifecta weekend! That’s right, All three races were available for racing this week. The Beast was held on Saturday, which was the championship race. The Super was held Sunday morning followed in the afternoon by the Sprint. When I first heard about this weekend I was excited and terrified. Obviously, it’s something I wanted to do, but I had a lot of concerns about whether I actually could. First of all, was I in good enough shape to be able to complete all of these races? And secondly, with my history of injuries, was it a safe decision to push myself that hard?
I figured this was going to be year to really push myself and see what I was made of, so I went ahead and signed up! And I am happy to report that I made it all the way through all three races!! Looking back, I honestly can’t believe that I really did that. This would be a huge accomplishment for me, even if it were an easier course, but this was a Championship Race course, a course that Spartan refers to as “The Ascent”. I never would have imagined last year at this time that I would have been able to pull this off. It’s easy to get caught up in you shortcomings and to focus on the things that aren’t going great. This weekend was really a great boost to my confidence. While it made me realize I have so much to do to get to where I want to be, it also made me realize how far I’ve come. And I think it’s important to look back sometimes and celebrate the progress you’ve made.
But I’m not done with the good news yet! I know that saying I completed a Trifecta in one weekend is big enough announcement, but I have one more surprise! I completed not three races, but four!! That’s right, there was actually a Sprint Race that was held on the Friday before the Championship Race. This race was actually a charity event that was hosted by NFL great Randy Moss. He was in attendance and actually ran the entire race. And while it was a charity event, it was a genuine Spartan Race complete with all obstacles and burpees. I signed up for this one last minute and was honestly terrified that it would set me over the edge and put me into injury territory. When I was out on the Beast course I was definitely feeling it from the day before, but also, I was a little bit grateful for it as I had a good handle on what a third of the course was going to be so I was able to pace myself a little better and it made it easier to know what to expect. I was a little disappointed with the medal though. I have seen in previous charity races that the racers got unique yellow charity medals. This race only provided a regular Sprint medal. I don’t know if that it wasn’t planned well enough ahead of time or the fact that there weren’t that many racers (maybe around 45). Whatever the reason, it was a bummer, but at the end of the day, it was good for me to push myself and the money went to charity to others, so it was a good day!
I still can’t believe what I was able to accomplish this weekend. This time last year I wouldn’t have imagined signing up for this weekend and I wouldn’t have believed you if you said I could finish it. But I did! It just goes to show that hard work and dedication will pay off. While I’m still riding the high of going home with all those medals, it just makes me wonder where I will be next year if I keep it up. The future is exciting!