I went to Vernon, New Jersey this past Saturday for the Spartan Beast. My boyfriend, AJ, and I drove up to the race early Saturday morning and then we met up with my friend, Jayme, and two of her friends. While registering, AJ met a guy he knew from high school who was also at the race.
I had completed four previous Spartan races back in 2014, but this was going to be my first one since then, so I was feeling a little nervous. (Previous races: Sprint in Uncasville, CT; Super in Vernon, NJ; Beast in Killington, VT; Stadium Sprint at Fenway in Boston, MA)
I had injured my shoulder about two months ago, so although I had increased my strength training early on this year, I had to cut back tremendously in order to rehab my shoulder.
I knew that I was in good shape in terms of running, but I was curious how I would do with the obstacles.
Our start time was 9:45am, but the race was delayed since there had been thunderstorms that morning.
Once we started, the race went straight uphill. I knew from previous races that hills are meant to be walked. A Spartan beast is over 12 miles. They told us that this one was mapped out to be 13.8 miles (though their mileage doesn’t account for obstacles, so it was probably actually between 14 and 15 miles total). That’s more than a half marathon, plus crazy hills and obstacles. If you try to run up the first hill, I can almost guarantee that you are going to use up too much energy.
The hills seem almost endless at times. Before even getting to mile two, my quads were already burning (despite how often I had been running and climbing stairs before the day of the race). I was actually feeling a little bit nervous at that point, knowing that I still had over 10 miles left, yet my legs were already feeling sore.
I tried to run or at least jog every time the race became flat or downhill. I’m really good at running downhill. Some people step very gingerly when going downhill, but I find that I do better letting my momentum take over. There were many times when my legs felt tired to walk, but once I started running or jogging, they felt less fatigued.
Even going down rocky slopes, I still usually jogged, remaining confident with my footing so that I wouldn’t slip.
There were a total of 32 obstacles. Here is a review of some of them (in no particular order):
In any Spartan race, there are a number of walls to get past. Some are short and I can easily jump, push myself up on my arms, and climb over. For the 10-foot walls, I definitely need someone to help give me a boost. Racing with AJ made these walls a lot easier since he could give me a boost whenever needed.
There was also a wall in the water. For this one, we had to swim under it. I didn’t mind going under the wall, but the water is brown and muddy, so some people don’t prefer submerging themselves. I just felt for the bottom of the wall at first, to make sure that I knew how deep I had to go underwater.
After coming out of the water, there was a slanted wall with ropes on it. We had to hold the rope to pull ourselves up.
For obstacles like this, the type of sneaker you are wearing makes a HUGE difference. Lots of people were slipping all over the place. When I tried, I didn’t slip at all. I just held onto that rope and pulled myself up, one step at a time.
I prefer racing in trail shoes since they have a strong grip on the bottom. Lately there are a lot of running shoes, especially Nike ones, that are very flat on the bottom. They have little grip and although their lightweight nature may be nice when running, they are not the best option when grip is needed.
I have Adidas trail shoes that I have used for the past three or four Spartan races and I swear by them, rarely failing at an obstacle only as a result of my shoes.
There are a few times when you have to walk through water. This time, there was no swimming obstacle, but for one part of the race, you had to walk through water. I’m 5’2′ and eventually the water was up to my chest.
I expected the water to be really cold since it was only April, but surprisingly, it wasn’t bad. It was actually pretty refreshing.
I really like the water, so I enjoy the water obstacles. The hardest part is that you can’t see where you’re walking, so sometimes you trip on stones or branches. In Vermont, I cut up my shin quite a bit because I kicked a rock that I didn’t see.
This time, there were some times when we had to cross a stream. One time, I jumped into the water and tripped as I went to take a step. I fell onto a rock and cut my knee. I saw the blood coming down my sock and soon after, we were walking through deep mud. It’s never ideal to get a bunch of mud into cuts, but that’s what happens during this race.
I had forgotten about this, but there is a memory component to the race. You get to a wall and have to memorize a certain word/number combination, based on whatever the last two digits of your bib number are. My bib number was 12517, so I had to memorize “Romeo 213 1089.”
When looking at some YouTube videos, I can see that some racers did have to tell a Spartan volunteer their number at some point. If they couldn’t remember, they would have to do burpees. But somehow we never had to do that. I don’t know if we somehow ran past the people asking, or if they stopped asking. But after finishing the race, I was so frustrated that I had remembered my number for nothing.
I love this obstacle. It’s a wall with wooden rectangle hand and foot grips. I’m usually pretty good at it; I think it helps that I’m small so I can more easily rest my feet on the rectangles and grab the hand pieces with my whole hand.
For this version, though, the wall isn’t just flat across. It is in the shape of a Z. I had made it 2/3 of the way across and AJ was standing behind me. I told him to just spot me in case I needed help. I got to one of the corners and I couldn’t see the other side of the wall. I tried to reach out my foot to feel for the next wooden rectangle, but I couldn’t reach it even with my leg fully extended. The same was true with my arm.
So AJ put a hand out for me to step across since I couldn’t reach and I got my foot on the rectangle, but I still couldn’t reach with my hand, so I suddenly slipped and hit the ground. I was so frustrated since I was so close to the bell.
I forgot that I could have tried again, but instead I went and did the 30 burpee penalty while AJ crossed the wall.
Men get a larger log and females get a smaller one. You must carry it up and down a hill. The logs are pretty heavy, so although they don’t feel too bad in the beginning, it gets tiring by the time you carry it up.
I like to carry the log on my head because I find that to be the easiest option while walking uphill. Not too many people do it this way, but it works for me. Most people carry it on one of their shoulders.
On the downhill, I carried it horizontally across my stomach and that wasn’t too bad.
I hate this obstacle. It’s so hard to get the spear to actually stick into the hay. So many people have to do burpees at this obstacle. AJ was able to complete every obstacle without assistance except for this one since he missed the hay.
The females and males have different weights to carry. Just like the log carry, you walk up and down hills, over some branches, and through a little bit of water. Some people carry it on their shoulder or behind their heads.
I carried mine on my head and later kind of hugging it in front of me.
These are my major weakness. I just can’t do the monkey bars. But one day I will be able to. They have normal monkey bars…well, as normal as the Spartan race will have it. They’re still wider than normal monkey bars, so they’re really difficult to grip with my small hands.
They have monkey bars that have a long metal piece that you must get across, followed by different chains, baseballs on rope, and grips that you have to cross.
They also had ones that spin around while you’re trying to reach the next one. AJ completed each of these obstacles with ease…me, not so much.
They have these big cement stones on the ground. You must pick it up, walk a few yards, drop it, do 5 burpees, pick it up, walk back, and then drop it.
Picking it up is the hardest part. Looking online, I can’t find a definite answer about the weight, but it seems that most people agree that it is somewhere between 40 and 60 lbs for women and 80 and 100 lbs for men.
40-60 lbs doesn’t sound terrible, but the size of the stone makes it difficult to get off of the ground.
I squat as low as I can to the ground and try to push it against my stomach to get it up. Looking at tutorials online, some people roll the stone up one of their legs while the other leg is in the squatting position. That way they can get it up against their stomach/chest more easily.
Once it’s up, it isn’t too difficult to walk with the stone, but picking it up is the tricky part.
Gravel Bucket Carry
This is an obstacle that most people hate. It’s brutal. It always comes towards the end of the race. In the Spartan Beast in Vermont, this obstacle occurred twice. You have to fill a bucket with gravel. It has to be filled up to the line, which is a little bit lower for women than men.
Then, there is an extremely steep hill that you must climb while holding the bucket. If you drop it, spilling gravel, you have to start all over again. This is an obstacle that anyone can finish, but not quickly.
This was at the end of the race. My legs were so tired from all of the previous running and obstacles. Every step was difficult. I hugged the bucket in front of me, slowly putting one foot in front of the other.
Going up the hill, every time I needed a break, I put my right leg in front of me, up the hill. I would rest the bucket on my thigh. That gave me the break that I needed so that I could catch my breath. Many people rest by putting the gravel all the way back down on the ground, but that seems to waste a lot of unnecessary energy since you have to bend all the way over to drop the bucket and then lifting it off of the ground is much more difficult than lifting it off of your thigh.
At the top of the hill, it was flat, so I was sure to rest before the top and then after the flat part. I knew that if I rested at the flat part, I wouldn’t have a hill to position my right leg on in order to rest the bucket on my thigh.
I expected the downhill to be more difficult, but that was not the case. The downhill was definitely easier, but I was still very careful with my steps. Parts of the hill were very steep and had quite a bit of spilled gravel. I didn’t want to risk falling and dumping out my gravel since I would then have to start from the beginning.
I’ve still never been able to climb the rope in the race. Usually, the ropes are over water. This time, the ropes were over foam mats. And for the first time, I am able to climb a rope at the gym. However, this obstacle was the last one in the entire race. My body was entirely drained, especially from the gravel bucket carry which I had just completed. I hopped onto the rope and although I thought that I might be able to get up partway, I could tell that my arms just didn’t have the strength to get me all the way up and back down without just falling. I opted for the burpees. Again.
Here’s a nice video that someone took of all of the obstacles:
I finished in 5 hours and 3 minutes, which placed me 9th in my age group (out of 280 females ages 24-29).
I was 27th out of all 1374 females.
AJ and I both finished at the same time, so we were 299th out of 4,200 total competitors in the open division. Not too bad!
Tops: I like to wear a sports bra with an athletic tank top. I avoid cotton, t-shirts, and loose-fitting tank tops since they become heavy when wet. Some girls just wear a sports bra, but I don’t want my stomach and back to get cut while crawling over walls and under barbed wire.
Bottoms: I wear spandex shorts, or capris with long socks. If it’s around 55 degrees or warmer, I’ll go for shorts because I don’t like to feel too hot while racing. If it’s chillier, I’ll wear the capris. I opt to just wear the spandex without underwear so that there are fewer layers of fabric, but that’s a personal preference.
I used to wear shorter socks for my first few races, but then at the Beast in Vermont, I cut up my heels pretty badly since my socks were too low. That was pretty painful. I was running at last 10/17 miles with bleeding ankles. They especially hurt when I had to do the rope traverse obstacle, dragging my bleeding heels across the rope.
Those were my bleeding ankles in Vermont. Ever since then, I remember to wear tall socks to avoid that unnecessary pain.
I tend to get blisters on my toes when I run, especially if my feet are wet, so I wear Injinji toe socks:
Shoes: I always use trail shoes because of the grip. These are similar to the ones I have:
I noticed that there were a lot of people slipping on the wall that we had to climb holding onto a rope. We went from water straight to this wall, so it was pretty wet. Thanks to the grip on my sneakers, I didn’t slip at all. Most of the people who slipped had sneakers with flat soles that might work for running, but not obstacle racing.
Hydration pack: I prefer to race without a hydration pack, but I learned that it is almost essential on the beast. In Vermont, there were times when I was so thirsty that I considered asking a complete stranger for a sip of their straw.
I have a small Camelbak. It’s called a mini-mule and it’s actually a child’s size, but I found that the adult ones were larger than I wanted when I went to buy one a few years ago. This is mine:
Even better than the fact that it held water was the pockets in the Camelbak. I brought 8 GU gels to the race: 4 for AJ and 4 for me. We ended up having 3 each. In the past, I have stored my GU gels in my sports bra, but sometimes I end up with cuts between my breasts as a result. It was nice to just keep them in the pocket of the Camelbak.
I also kept our headlamps in another pocket. We didn’t need the headlamps in the end, but we had them as a precaution because you get kicked off of the race if you don’t have a headlamp after the sun begins setting.
After the Race:
Upon finishing, they give you your medal, a banana, and a protein bar. Then you can grab your T-shirt. I was happy that the T-shirts were specifically for the Spartan Beast this year. In 2014, all of the shirts were exactly the same, regardless of whether you ran the Sprint, Super, Beast, or Ultra. I have 4 of the exact same T-shirt since I ran 4 races that year.
I tried to walk around a little bit after the race because I knew that my legs would tighten up once I sat down. I was pretty dirty, so I rinsed off some of the dirt before getting on the shuttle back to our parking lot.
After the two-hour car ride home, my legs were super stiff. AJ and I were both super tired and sore, so we just went out to get dinner and then had a lazy evening. Sunday was another lazy day. They suggest running a slow, short jog the day after the race, but my legs were already so sore that I don’t think that I could have gone for a jog.
If I had, maybe that would have helped my sore legs. I’m not really too sure. I can’t even describe the pain I felt with each step. It felt as though my quads and calves had been torn apart and were unable to support my legs.
Stairs were my absolute enemy. I have had sore legs after running full marathons, but I think that I was more sore from this race than from the marathons. My right knee was locking up every time I stepped because my muscles just weren’t firing accurately.
We were finished with the race around 3pm on Saturday. Sunday and Monday were the most painful days in terms of my sore legs. Tuesday was still pretty rough. Wednesday I was almost walking normally. Thursday was normal other than steps. Finally on Friday I could walk up and down steps normally (though there was still some soreness).
After the race, I had rolled out AJ’s legs, but mine were already so sore that I told him that I didn’t want it. Maybe it would have helped.
I was also really sore in my inner arm. I had bruised it when getting up and over one of the 10-foot walls. I had an immediate bruise during the race, which just kept getting darker after the race.
Anyway, I’m really happy about the race overall. I wish I could have avoided my shoulder injury so that I could have performed better at some of the obstacles that require mainly upper body strength, but I guess that is what next year is for.
Here’s another medal to add to my race rack:
Until next time, AROO!