Every year I set goals and sometimes, like in 2016, they can change from the original plan due to several circumstances. In April 2016 I completed the Spartan NJ Ultra Beast, a race that I never thought I would even attempt which made me contemplate actually attempting the 2016 VT Ultra Beast. Unfortunately due to injury and my decision to focus on competing in the OCRWC, I decided not to and just stick with the regular Beast and I am glad that I did. According to post race reports, only 28% of those attempting the 2016 VT UB would actually complete it. During the race, up until mile 10 (mile 12 according my TomTom GPS and almost everyone else I asked) I felt pretty good and was starting to regret not going for it. That was until that awful “death march”.
This was my 5th year at Killington and definitely the best year yet, but I didn’t feel that way out there on that brutal course. Before I even crossed the start line we had to hop over a wall into the starting corral and I landed on my left foot that I am currently suffering with some pretty painful plantar fasciitis and tendonitis so I limped across the start line. Not the way I wanted to start the race! The first high wall was 6’ and when I swung my leg around to get over it, I hit the wall with my left foot and pain began shooting up my leg immediately. We hadn’t even gone two miles and I was wondering if I was going to be able to make it to the finish.
I took my time going uphill and I ran when I could, but a few areas I would normally run on were uneven or very rocky and would hurt my foot. I just kept going, one mile at a time. When I arrived at the Hercules Hoist, I saw a friend that was attempting the Ultra Beast in the penalty box doing burpees. After I completed the Hoist successfully, we started walking together talking about our race experiences so far. A little while later, I took off running and was starting to feel pretty good about this race and my performance.
A few more obstacles and miles later, I arrived at the swim which basically you had to swim out about 200 or so meters to a ladder hanging off of a bridge, then complete the Tarzan swings then back into the water for about another 100 meters. I fell off the 4th Tarzan rope, which after I climbed the ladder that one was missing a knot, so it was 30 burpees for me. When I got out of the water to do my burpees, I got my first and only cramp for the day. I ate a mustard packet and then we had to go back into the water for who really knows how long and really be careful that you didn’t take your knee or foot out on the huge boulders you couldn’t see in the water.
I was making great time and although I had to walk much more than I would have liked due to the foot issues, I was on target to meet the cut off times that the UB racers would have, 7 hours to complete the first lap so for a brief moment I regretted not doing the UB after all. At the top of the mountain around mile 8-9 (10 according to my GPS), I ran into a few friends that were volunteering at the water station. We chatted a bit, took a picture, and then I was off for what I thought was my last time down. I was sadly mistaken. At the bottom of the hill was the rope climb and then as I turned the corner, there it was…the dreaded “death march”.
I headed up the steep mountain, one foot in front of the other and never stopped even once. When I got to the top of the mountain, there was the log farmers carry and as soon as I completed that, I felt something in my foot that just didn’t feel right. As I began to descend from 4,128 ft. of elevation that I had just climbed, I realized that I could no longer run without unbearable pain. My left knee began to become very sore and my right quadriceps began to shake from overcompensation. My right toe, which no longer has any joint spacing in thanks to jamming it on rocks as I trail run, was becoming extremely sore and blistered.
As I came down the steep mountain, I had no choice but to let so many racers pass me and with each one, I knew I was getting further and further behind. I had my GPS watch set on average pace and I watched it go from 22 minutes per mile slowly to 23, 24, 25… And then it happened. I became completely discouraged and angry with myself for not being able to keep up with the pace I had set. The ironic part is I went into this race knowing I had to take it easy so I didn’t hurt myself more before the OCRWC. So why was I letting this get to me? Why was I about to let this mountain break me???
At the bottom of the hill, there was the dreaded spear throw, which of course I missed! The official came over and said “elite, I need your bib number…ok, now go enjoy your 30 burpees! I am going to enjoy watching you do them”. Those words angered me! As I counted out my burpees one at a time, I felt my energy levels getting zapped. I felt my feet screaming for me to stop already, 15 miles is more than they were able to bear in their condition. After I left the penalty zone, there was the log carry…uphill of course. I grabbed the log and headed up the mountain for what would be the last time and normally I don’t stop, but it happened…I began to break. I put the log down on the side and just sat there on it, feeling so angry with my body. I was angry that I was letting this all get to me. I was angry that I could see the finish line and I would not get there under 7 hours now.
So, I thought about what I would say to someone I was training when they were feeling this way. I gave myself a pep talk and told my quad to stop shaking so much that we have a race to finish. I told my heart not to give up, you are no quitter. I told my body to stop telling my mind that it was too weak to go on because I am so much stronger than that! About 5-6 minutes went by and I stood up, picked up my log and finished the rest of the carry. Then it was on to the inverted wall and immediately following that was the atlas carry. I didn’t even take off my Camelback to do my 5 required burpees so it was hitting me in the back of the head!
Next up was the rig. I knew that if I could get passed those 2 baseballs I could complete it, but as I transitioned from ball #2 I hit the floor, landing on my left foot, which almost immediately brought tears to my eyes from the pain. I headed to the penalty box and after 10 burpees I just stopped and stood there, gathering up whatever I had left in me to finish the next 20. Then I hear a familiar voice “Go Melissa!” from a friend who was spectating and that was exactly what I needed. I quickly banged out 20 more burpees, climbed the slip wall, then the A-frame cargo net, then over the fire and then crossed the finish line with a time of 7 hours and 5 minutes.
What I realized later, after beating myself up out on that course, was this was the first time I had ever done this race for me. All previous years were done as a team or with someone else. I entered this race as an elite athlete, although my injuries had be questioning days before if I should to switch to open heat so I didn’t push myself too much and risk further injury. But I decided to go out there and do what I could that day and while I was nowhere near any top rankings, I still managed to finish 10th in my age, 19th overall masters and basically middle of the pack of all female elite racers who train hard for these events. Not too bad for an injured girl on a course that was very tough and it ended up being my best time at Killington yet! In my opinion, this course was more difficult than 2015 and that took me 7 hours and 30 minutes, so as I step back and reflect I am pretty proud of how well I did, especially since approximately 40% of all of the people that attempted the VT Beast did not finish. I am also pretty happy I didn’t sign up to do that course twice, because I honestly don’t think I would have successfully completed it. This race marked my 2nd Spartan Race Trifecta of 2016, my 7th overall.