Taking on the “Beast of the East” for the 3rd time

10-12-2014 10-04-57 PMI recently completed my 3rd Spartan Race trifecta; all 3 Beasts I have completed took place at “the Beast of the East” in Killington, VT at the World Championship event. My first year, 2012, I had no idea what I was in for. I had done my first Spartan Race in September 2012 in Vernon NJ and tornado warnings shut down the course so although I crossed the finish line, my time was never officially recorded. My timing chip was recovered and it was deemed that I did, in fact, complete the race & earned my Super medal, but I was forced to take a 6 hour time vs. the 4 hours I clocked myself crossing the finish line at. In an effort to make it right, I was offered a free entry into the upcoming Spartan Beast in Killington, VT two weeks later. I had never heard of this race and began to research it and it looked like it would be quite the challenge, but I love a challenge, so I signed up for it with a few others and then a few days later we headed north to see what this race was all about.

As we drove closer to the site of the race, my heart began to pound and I thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into?” The temperature was much cooler than in NJ and the elevation was more than 3x the mountains in Vernon. This race had official rules that stated you must have your own self supported water & fuel source and warned that there would only be 2-3 water stations on the course for us to fill our Camelbaks. It also stated we needed to bring a headlampand 2 glow sticks with us in case we did not finish the course before dark, but I couldn’t imagine starting at 9:30 am and being out there that long to need them, so I decided to lighten up my pack & leave the headlamp & glow sticks with my belongings at bag check. My longest race to date was the Super and it was dubbed the “mini-Beast” coming in around 10-11 miles, but I heard that the Beast course was 13+ so I felt confident that I could do it.

598662_4703215706996_1225484556_nWe began the race and right away we were in mud trenches, scaling ski slopes that were making my quads burn, & climbing over walls and I thought to myself ”how many miles is this again?” We did several obstacles and then were faced with the famous lake that hosts the Vermont Beast signature obstacle, the Tarzan swing. When I went into the water it was like a thousand knives were stabbing me around my body & we had to swim to the bridge, climb a rope ladder, then swing along the bottom of the bridge on hanging ropes like Tarzan, ring a bell, then drop back into freezing water and swim to shore. Fail this obstacle (which I did) and when you swim to shore you do 30 burpees on the bank before you can exit to the top. I did my burpees and waited at the top for my teammates to finish, freezing since it was so cold & windy out, and when my one team mate emerged, his body began to cramp from hypothermia. We tried to warm him and I took him into the warm gym of the hotel nearby until medical personnel could come and care for him. That experience truly changed me and while I felt so bad for him, the rest of us pressed on freezing and wondering if we would make it out. Every year since then, that lake instills the same fear in me!

1233339_10202023006005356_1665312316_nWe continued on for 3-4 treacherous miles and suddenly I felt this pain in my knee and then 2 miles later I could barely walk. Fellow Spartans were very kind and supportive and really helped cheer me along and keep my spirits up because I really was having doubts that I could continue the race. Around mile 9 most of my teammates went ahead and approximately mile 11 I sent my last teammate that stuck with me ahead as the pain was becoming unbearable. Eight hours & 30 minutes later, I finally saw the finish line and while the pain was unbearable, I mustered up what little energy I had left & leaped over that fire and took on those Gladiators like I had no pain at all! My teammates were at the finish line cheering me on and I felt so accomplished and emotional that I had been able to push my body and mind through such a grueling experience and proud of myself for never giving up.

Melissa4A few more mud runs, intensive training, and a healed knee I decided to take on the VT Beast in 2013 once again. I was certain that this time since I knew what to expect I would finish this race in approximately 6 hours. Arriving with a different team than the previous year and feeling confident, once again I felt no need to bring my glow sticksand head lampwith me. After all, I didn’t need it last time and I was injured and not nearly trained as well in 2012.  Many of the same treacherous obstacles where the same as the year before, but this year had a few new means of torture, such as the now famous bucket carry of rocks up a black diamond ski slope for what felt like forever! There were 2 sandbag carries, one was a 60 lb. sandbag that both men AND women had to carry. Some were broken so perhaps lighter, but not the one that I had. Of course we had to carry this up and down a steep mountain!  Then we were faced with another sand bag carry at the very end of the race up a 10-12-2014 10-08-46 PMhill, which felt like it took forever to do since we were exhausted. As I look to the sky, I see the sun starting to set. Having no idea what mile we were at since Spartan likes to keep you guessing, I was so afraid that we were going to be pulled from the course and receive a DNF for not having our glow sticks and headlamps. As we turned the corner after the final sand bag carry, I heard the crowd nearing & crossed the finish line in 9:04, nowhere near my goal that I had set. While somewhat disappointed with this time, I really felt that this race was so much harder than the year previous and so did even the elite racers. Perhaps it was because it was gaining more popularity and was the World Championship race that had coverage by NBC Sports. Whatever the reason, crossing the line gave me such a huge sense of accomplishment as now I had earned my 2nd Spartan trifecta!

Taking in what I had learned from all of my experiences, I focused not only on my training, but focused on helping others train properly for these races too.  I also realized that with these races, while it is nice to set a goal time, each course is VERY different. I learned that a VT World Championship Beast with a course designed by Norm Koch was going to be a very different experience then if I did a beast in another area designed by someone else. I contemplated doing the SC beast in 2014, but then found myself once again signed up to take on the “Beast of the East” one more time!  When I went into this race, I had a completely different mindset than the previous years. Perhaps because I believe that this will be the last year I do VT for a while, or maybe it was because I was more about the experience this time and really didn’t set any time goals. I knew weeks before the race that they were going to make it even harder than the year before, so I just prepared myself for the worst and this time was sure to pack my head lampand glow sticks, and I am so glad I did!

The day of the 2014 VT Beast, it was a brisk 39 degrees and windy. The course was set up very differently than the previous two years and it took a lot of mental grit to overcome the fear that I was going to spend most of the day wet & freezing, which I did. I knew that about 3-4 miles in I would face that lake, which as you approached it, volunteers were telling you that the water temperature was less than 60 degrees. As I entered the lake, I swam out almost half way and my leg started cramping. The fear of what had happened earlier in 2012 made me turn around & swim back to shore instead of keeping going and I ended up taking my 60 penalty burpees. The entire time, my leg was cramping and I was freezing and I thought to myself, “Do not let this lake break you!” and I didn’t! After my burpees it was back in the water for a walk along the bank of it in waist high water for a distance that felt like eternity. After emerging from the lake, I took a deep breath, fueled up, and began to run in an effort to warm up my frozen body.

10570358_10205154077160178_6660793248746261798_nThis race had two bucket carries and two sandbag carries, both of which the heavier/longer/more difficult one was towards the end of the race, 2 spear throws of which one was at the Summit where it was so cold and windy they were tied to ropes, a new obstacle called “the Rig”, and of course Spartan Races signature obstacles. They had most of the arm obstacles lumped together at the end when your arms were just exhausted and weak. As I started the final barbed wire crawl, the sun began to set and by the time I finished it, it was dark. At first, I felt somewhat defeated, that how was this taking so long? I felt good and while we were taking our time, we were moving at a decent pace and it just didn’t make sense. I stepped to the side and proceeded to put on my head lamp and glow sticks and had others who were not prepared ask if they could stick with us and of course we agreed. We headed into the dark woods and began our last hike and called out potential hazard to the people following behind us. The glow sticks and headlamps looked cool in the dark as people funneled through the trails. While at first I was not exactly thrilled that I had not finished by dark, I realized that this was another awesome experience that I was going to have so just enjoy it and take it all in. After all, that was my goal this year, to enjoy the experience and not focus on time and I did just that.

10374994_10205118049419507_153491335493707470_nAs the finish line approached, I was full of emotions. Once I crossed that line, I completed my 3rd Spartan Race trifecta! While this year took 11 hours to complete, I felt at peace with that time because I really did enjoy the overall experience. Yes, I did swear often on the trails.  Yes I did curse myself out as I was doing burpees for failing an obstacle. Yes I felt angry that I cramped in the lake the first time and made the decision to swim back vs. proceed. And yes it was a very long and exhausting day, but one that no matter what in the end it was another accomplishment and an amazing experience that has impacted me in a positive way.

There are a quite a few things that over the years have changed in Spartan Racing since I have been doing them. The crowds and participants are so much bigger, the gladiators are gone, there are so many more locations so there are so many more opportunities for others to experience these races and earn trifectas (multiple trifectas as well), I see more people slacking on their burpees and they have introduced stadium races and in 2015 will have a cruise destination sprint, just to name a few. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that to date, this is my favorite racing series. Aroo!

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