Now that I’ve had a few weeks to recover and reflect… Here’s how the Beast went down (And up. Mostly up).
I stayed in Centennial, so it was an hour and a half drive to Breckenridge. Hello, 4 am wake-up call. I anticipated warmer temps when I packed (LOL ROOKIE), so I had to run to Target to get a long sleeve, dry-wicking shirt (clutch). Race temps were forecasted at 43*, and because water and mud are key components, I was concerned about hypothermia. Cue freaking the fuck out; no squad or support system and now potential death by plummeting body temps in high altitudes? SOS SEND HALP.
I arrived to discover parking was free! SCORE! Off to a good start. Nerves hadn’t kicked in, though I’d mentally prepared to walk into metaphorical Mordor, so anything less seemed feasible. I headed to the start corral to scope out the terrain and discovered that naturally, we were going to run up a gradual incline to an unforeseeable distance. And that was only the beginning.
With Spartan Race, the course is largely obscured (which sucks from a spectator standpoint), so you can’t see what’s coming until you’re there. An hour to race time, my digestive system decided to channel my nerves into absolute GI disaster. I felt terrible. Racing under these conditions (and by “conditions” I mean poo. Lots of literal poo) is never ideal, especially when you’re uncertain how altitude will impact your performance. I drank some water, dropped off my pack, and hoofed it to the start, hoping my intestines would be able to hold it together for the next few hours (cue praying to the race gods – please don’t let me poo myself).
Hopping the 6-foot wall (required to start every race), I double checked that my race chip was secured and concealed so as not to lose it (like I did for the Chicago Super, which I finished, but have no official record for). Before I knew it, we were off. I took a leisurely pace, knowing the prior two months of training were riddled with setbacks (read: devastating personal losses that I allowed to throw me off) leaving me largely underprepared for race day.
A mile in, we met our first obstacle: Sawed-off baby tree stumps to hop across. I made it to the last one, lost my balance, and earned my first penalty: 30 burpees.
Shortly after, we met a 100 yard stretch of freezing pond. I made it all the way to the rope climb, two good pulls away from ringing the bell… when I lost my grip, earning myself 30 more burpees.
On 30, I stood up, dusted myself off, and looked up… to see the inclines I’d been waiting for. I could see strings of racers all the way up the mountain. From here out, we would be going up, up, up, and my quads were already on fire.
The spear throw added another 30 burpees to my penalty pile. By this point, we’d gone up and down and up again, so my plan to pace cautiously proved correct.
Gravity was a blessing and a curse on downhill stretches. Funny: The things you worry about most are rarely the problem. I was so concerned about altitude, but it only accelerated my runner’s high (kicked in at mile 2), resulting in elevated mood the entire race. The real problem was my lack of ankle stability. Trails were tight, V-shaped, and littered with rocks. Downhill meant letting gravity set pace. The harder I tried to slow down, the more my knees cried out; with 8 miles to go, blowing a knee was not ideal. So I let go and let gravity, internally freaking out, hoping I could hold myself together enough to avoid destroying an ankle.
I kept concentrating above, watching specks get bigger, and then we were there. Sandbags stacked up, introducing us to an incline from Hell leading straight to the Black Flag Summit (11,550 ft). To my left, racers in the Burpee Zone opted to do 30 instead of climbing Mount Doom. For a split second, I considered, but pride kicked in (and in both Elite and Competitive some obstacles must be completed or DQ), so I grabbed a sandbag, took a deep breath, and began the long, slow ascent.
The path was littered with fallen Spartans. Grown men sat butt down in the dirt, gasping for breath, completely gassed by the severity of the incline (still searching for specifics on the grade). In training, I set the treadmill incline to max, carried 60 lb sandbags up and down the steepest hills I could find, ran hill sprints to exhaustion, and none of that came close. The nearer I got to the summit, the harder it became to pick up my feet. One foot in front of the other shifted from internal chant to imperative.
15 yards from the top, a spectator stood encouraging every one of us to make it to the flag without quitting. He remains my favorite Spartan Spectator, and someone needs to get that man a goddamn badge.
There are moments in a race where your body and your brain conspire to get you to quit. It’s these moments where encouraging words from a stranger can rejuvenate you more than a cold beer on the hottest day. My legs ceased being body parts, morphing into burning logs. For all I knew, they could have been aflame; I was so locked in on the summit that nothing else existed, but still: The burn was real.
I reached the summit, dropped my sandbag, and took a second to appreciate the view. This race was different; in Chicago, I was pushing to place I was in peak condition. Colorado was meant to be a challenge. Can I do it? Can I push myself through terrain I’ve never encountered? Can I withstand the one-two punch of altitude and distance? I had no expectations of competing well. I’m an Iowa-trained racer trying to keep up with racers on their home court. Iowa’s hills in the world of bra sizes are A-cups to Colorado’s double-F’s. (Or Z’s. I don’t even know if they make bras that big, but probably.) I came to see if I had the chops to persevere. The goal was to compete and complete; placement didn’t matter.
I knew after my decent performance in Chicago, others’ expectations for me were unrealistic. We’re a “Woo Number One!” society. So when I was happy with my mediocre placement, I received awkward feedback.
No one gives a shit if you’re happy with how you did when you place 12th of 23rd in your age group, when two months ago, you came in 1st. (There were only 5 racers in my age group that race, so it’s really not that impressive.) I had a mediocre season with tons of room for improvement. As a new competitive racer, it’s not terrible, but it’s far from impressive.
After the sandbag, it was all downhill. I crushed the Z-walls. My grip was spent, but I clung on until the bell was within reach. I spiked it, hopped down, and in true bro-victory fashion, screamed, “Motherfucking YEAH!” The course official laughed, high-fived me, and I explained it was the first time I conquered the obstacle. I raced off, laughing and smiling, energy boosted.
Shortly after, I met my first race buddy, 50 something-year-old Jon. We passed back and forth, encouraging each other. Upon reaching the bottom of a particularly treacherous, windy downhill stretch, Jon remarked, “You set a nice pace, Iowa.”
We ran together until we came to the tall walls. I got up and over and told him I’d catch him at the finish line.
I took off into the woods, knowing I’d have 4 obstacles in a row before the Fire Jump: Slip Wall, Multi-Rig, Dunk Wall, Barbed Wire. Slip Wall: Easy. Multi-Rig: Progress, but failure, earning me 30 humiliating burpees before the finish. Dunk Wall: Freezing, Barbwire: 50-yard roll downhill to the finish. Try jumping over fire after that. Level of Difficulty: Dizzy.
After hosing off, I found my stomach, devoured a cheeseburger, called my dad, and made a Snapstory. I headed for the car and began the trek back to Denver, reflecting and making a checklist:
Completed the Beast. Didn’t have altitude training, but felt good. Ankles need work. So does core. Improved on obstacles. Withstood serious inclines. Survived, and did it all by myself.
I’m pretty sure I flew back to Denver on some new, endorphin-fueled wings.
The course I ran airs the Elite Heat on NBC Oct. 11 at 10pm. Tune in to catch it!