My first Spartan Ultra Beast experience

Driving up to Owl’s head and seeing it for the first time in the distance, this always brings butterflies.

I am so excited to say that last weekend I completed my very first Spartan Ultra Beast OCR (Obstacle Course Race) at Owl’s Head Ski Resort.  For those who aren’t familiar with what exactly this entails, I like to describe it as a full marathon on steroids! Spartan races normally take place on a ski hill, and this particular Ultra race consisted of 48+ km and 60+ obstacles which took me 13 hours and 15 minutes to complete.  No typo there…go ahead and say it…that’s just crazy!  Of 356  racers that day, 15 female racers completed this killer course. It is unfortunate that I have no previous Ultra experience to compare this one to, but I think it’s fair to say that it was hands down one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life, both physically and mentally.

 

Several clients and friends have been asking me about my experience, and my answer is that I just can’t sum up 13 hours of insanity that easily.   I have been wanting to get back into blogging lately, so this is the perfect opportunity to sit down and recap my experience of this race for myself as well.  I will try to stay on course with my train of thought as best possible…just remember that day feels like a blur!!  I’ll divide up my thoughts so that you can jump to sections that might interest you more for interest of just for knowledge about how best to complete your own race.  Here goes!!….

An outline of the course.  We ran two loops of what you see in this image.

Pre-Ultra race

I have only been running OCR for a little over a year now but I have been an athlete my whole life.  I am also the owner and personal trainer at C Y Fitness Matters as well as Health Educator on a Family Health Team.  I do have a little more of a fitness background than the average person.  Last year I had completed several Spartan Sprints, one Super and one Beast earning my Trifecta.  I had also taken part in Mud Hero, Dead End, Polar Hero, Course Extreme, Doomsday Dash and a few other road races and a snowshoe race.  Btw the night time 10k snowshoe race at Upper Canada Village is one you must try!  Last year each race kept getting longer and after each race I found that much more appreciation for all of those who have already been through those races.  Finishing the Beast in 2015, I remember crossing that finish line and thinking I could have kept going.  Although I did not have proper training for an Ultra and I knew I would have surely died on any more of that course lol.  Needless to say, this year I set my mind to completing an Ultra!  I wanted to be sure to keep the fun in it, so my goal was just to complete it without being pulled off course.  I did my research and gained much knowledge through many experienced Ultra racers (you all know who you are and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for every conversation and every bit of knowledge you have shared with me!)  I decided to follow a marathon training program, which I discovered quite fast that as a full time working mom of three young boys would be impossible to stick to 100%.  What got me through my training was that I guaranteed my one longer distance run per week and I wasn’t hard on myself when I had to miss a workout or two during the week.  During my long runs I was able to test out different fuels along the way.  My conclusion was that sqeezable apple sauces were amazing for quick calories and hydration!  They go down easily and taste good too (unless you mistakenly take pea/broccoli flavour thinking it’s blueberry…ooops!)  Also, as Fitness Ambassador at this summer’s PH Bootcamps (btw check out our free workouts on Parliament Hill which are held at 12:15PM every Thursday throughout the summer @ www.phbootcamp.com) I was guaranteed a kick butt workout once per week on Parliament Hill, as well as one of my own workout groups in my community that same evening with some AMAZING friends who kept me going strong (HILLS!!!  We love those hills….and burpees!!).  Afterall, two workouts in one day wasn’t anything compared to what was waiting for me at the end of July.  As a mom these evening workouts also helped me stay guilt free since my little ones came with us and I invited all other moms to brings their little ones along as well.  Win win all around!

Drop bin:

For weeks I had been contemplating what I wanted in my drop bin at my half way point.  The dimensions allowed were 14″x24″, my bin was only 12″x18″ which was still plenty of room for everything I needed.  We dropped off our bins the night before the race, unfortunately we weren’t allowed to go back to add my sweater and chicken wrap before the race the day of.  My teammate Tanya allowed me to leave my sweater in her drop bag to have after the race (thank you again Tanya!) and I decided to keep my small chicken wrap in my hydration pack for the first loop since I didn’t have much choice!

drop bin
So here’s a list of what made the final cut inside my drop bin:

-extra pair of trail shoes
-headlamp
-first aid kid, including scissors
-Tylenol
-compression bandage
-2 extra packs of AAA batteries
-2 large glow sticks, 4 glow bracelets
-small hand towel
-extra shorts, extra tank top (Mudd Queens tank! lol), small socks, tall socks
-two water bottles
-small bug spray
-Biosteel
-Nuun tablets
-salted watermelon GU gels
-shot bloks
-sport beans
-pepto pills
-Spartan Sprint and Super medals from this season!-sticky notes inside the lid from my hubby and from my boys with words of encouragement
-secret envelope from Darcie with a beautiful message and yummy Fruit 2 bars.  Since I already had my planned food items in my bin I didn’t eat them on course, but I tried the maple flavored Fruit 2 after the race and I think that could easily be my new kryptonite!  That was some sweet delicious maple goodness…I wonder if it’s the Canadian girl in me talking.
*I normally have sandals in my drop bag or in my car, but I forget them at the cottage that day

We dropped off our bins the evening before the race.

I kept the following items with me on course in my Gregory Pace 3 hydration pack:

-squeezable apple sauce
-fruit 2 bars
-small cliff bars
-shot blocks
-stinger fruit chews
-biosteel individuals packets
-Nuun tablets
-disposable wipes
-a few dry paper towels folded small in a baggy
-small sunscreen stick
-spare contacts
-small contact solution
-Spartan coin and wedding bands for “good luck” in a small baggy in my inner zip compartment
-band aids
-I had also already tied on the caps of my glow sticks so that I could quickly snap them and insert them onto the outside of my bag later on during the race
-my drivers license and bank card were also in a small baggy inside my zip compartment since I didn’t use bag drop for the race

All ready to go after sign in.

Fuel for the day:

My goal for the day was to get in approximately 200 cals per hour.  I had my alarm set for every hour on the hour so that I didn’t forget to get my calories in, I wanted to stay on top of my game.  One of my favorite things to have on course was squeezable apple sauces!  I would also have a few chews in between those times when needed.  I sipped water as needed and filled my pack at every other hydration station adding a Nuun tablet and biosteel to my pack.   Depending on time and water remaining in my pack I would just opt to drop a tablet in a cup at the water station and drink up that electrolyte goodness! Throughout the race I felt nauseous at times, but overall never felt dizzy or lightheaded and no seeing stars.   What’s even better is that I never once felt a muscle cramp in my body, which was one of my biggest fears going into this race!  For those who’ve never experienced constant muscle cramping before, it is NO FUN and completely debilitating.  I reached my drop bin (halfway point) around 2PM, which was 1 hour shy of the 3PM cut off.  I took advantage of this time to eat my wrap.  Next time I will have ground chicken rather than strips since I had to guzzle water to finish it. I also stepped away to use the porta potty again before I started my second lap.   I did use the bush a few times along the way (thank you to those who took cover over me lol) so it was nice to be out of the woods this time.

The race:

Arriving at the race, sign in went smoothly, thumbs up to Spartan!  Seeing familiar faces show up one by one helped calm my nerves a bit.  I then made my way to the porta potty in which line ups were huge!   Thank you to my friends who understood I was running the ultra and let me go up front of everyone.   There really should be a UB only line lol.   At least I made it to the start line with some time to spare and nerves in check!  At the start line there was a little confusion about who was to start in each heat.   I was signed up for UB elite, but the organizer was calling for anyone who would place within top twenty to approach the start line, UB and Beast combined.  I was a little confused since it was my first ultra and obviously had no idea if I would even FINISH lol.  Once that heat took off I asked the coordinator if it mattered that I had a Spartan coin, and he mentioned that I should have already been gone in the previous heat.   All that confusion aside, I think I took off in the second heat of the morning.

I crossed that start line with a positive mindset that stuck with me during the race.  I am always so hard on myself and in this race I promised myself to have fun every step of the way, that this hill would NOT break me and that this day would be a success no matter the outcome.   And that I carried to the end!  Don’t get me wrong, there were many highs and many lows.  But I stubbornly told myself that unless a medic or official pulled me off course, that I was going to cross that finish line!!

Now for the race course itself…

The start of the race was congested in some areas but for the most part I didn’t have to wait long at the obstacles.  During the second lap racers really started to thin out throughout the course which left me running alone often and flying through many obstacles.  I admit it was always quite motivating to pass many of the Beast runners who saw much respect for all of the UB athletes.   The ones I came across anyhow, were always willing to allow us onto the obstacles before them and always stepped aside down the trails when they’d hear me thumping as I came up behind them.  When some would see my UB wrist band they would instantly move out of my way and tell me to go ahead of them!

Never ending carries and hills.

The obstacles were your standard Spartan obstacles, a few more challenging than others, but still doable for many athletes.  My burpees were all done on the slack line, Samurai traverse and the Platinum Rig.  All three failed both laps, which lead to 180 burpees total that day (10 extra burpees if you choose to include Atlas carry, where 5 burpees are mandatory halfway through the carry).  There were many many carries.  I’m surprised they didn’t have us catching sheep and carrying them through a field…lol.  Among the carries; ammo carry, sandbag carry, bucket brigade (a bucket full of gravel to carry uphill and back down, we have Norm to thank for that one), slosh pipes (pvc pipes half filled with water), jerry cans, thick logs….and my mind is probably forgetting others.  The extra UB loop was mostly flat trail for the ammo carry and consisted of some beautiful and moderately technical trails weaving through the woods.  Stairway to heaven and the Irish table were also found down that portion.

The views and the incredible friends I met along the way.

The uphills…the never ending uphills (what else would you expect from Spartan!?)…were long and daunting.  My goal was to at least keep moving.  It didn’t matter how fast, I just had to place one foot in front of the other to make it closer to that finish line.  Morning/afternoon sun made many of the climbs feel impossible at times, but come evening the cooler ascents were actually much more motivating to get through.  When possible I would position myself in the shade along the side of the path to make it easier to push uphill.   I took advantage of all of the downhills and flat stretches to gain some speed and even had some guys call me crazy when I’d fly by them on some pretty technical downhills lol.  That’s always a compliment that I’ll take!  After the first 10km I had my first scare as my left knee started to throb a bit.  I realized quickly I was favoring my left leg downhill, so my strategy was to switch up my lead foot for the next few downhills to give my knee some relief from the impact. It seemed to have worked its way out after a few more kilometers and thankfully didn’t cause me any issues the rest of the race.  The first loop was much easier on the downhills than the second.  During that second lap I found myself going down some hills backwards to take the pressure off of my toes, which had started to throb from the repeated impact.

Aside from the confusion with the heats at the start line, the second blip of the day was that in the rules Spartan sent out before the race, they had mentioned the cliff climb as an 8:30PM cut off point and monkey bars at 9:30PM.  They do mention time cut offs may change the day of so we had been warned, but it did throw me off since I had 3km to cover in less time than what I had planned once I reached the cliff climb.   I did manage to get to the monkey bars with 30 mins to spare, but I felt more stressed at that point for the rest of my race.

The big finish:

I have to thank all of the athletes and volunteers I met along the way who kept my morals high!!!  If you are reading this and we crossed paths at any point that day…you know who you are and I thank you!!  There were several groups I came across like “cat and mouse” along the way, who allowed me to keep that smile that I brought with me across the start line.  3/4 of the way through the race is where I had some of my lowest of lows.  In the back of my mind I kept reminding myself of all of my reasons why I was doing this crazy race in the first place.  I would think about my friends who’ve been there before and held strong to the finish line.  I would also think about my family, mostly about them…I wonder if it’s maybe the fact that I am a mom that toughened me to make it through.  It was almost like this was my test to prove that I’m unbreakable.  I want to be that example to my boys of being able to set extraordinary goals and see them through.  I know they won’t understand the depth of this now, but they will appreciate my toughness one day! 😉  I want them to undestand the time and effort it requires to acheieve great things.  Preparation and smart training is probably more than 80% of why I got to that finish line (although I do wonder what percentage of stubbornness is required!).  Through blood sweat and yes even a few tears..my rational was always going back to “bones, blood and breathing…check!”…If I had no broken bones, no excess blood and could still breathe, I had no good enough reason to stop.  Many times my mind and body switched into autopilot, or “zombie mode” as me and one other racer I met described it.  Mindlessly my legs would just move and carry me forward!

Thank you Becky for being a breath of fresh air in the middle of the dark!

That last hour of my race running down trails through the dark with my headlamp felt surreal (thank you Barbara, the headlamp worked like a charm!).  Adrenaline and survival mode had kicked into overdrive and all I could think about was how far I had come and whether I would make it to the finish line before 10PM cut off.  I went through mind numbing thoughts of how incredibly disappointed I’d be in myself if they told me I didn’t make it after the 40+k that I had already endured.  But just as quick, I’d switch into the most positive thoughts about how far I’d come and how happy I am that my body allowed me to make it this far and safely at that!  My plan to remember the course during the first loop failed, I know this because I’d come up to yet another obstacle thinking it was the last one before the rig. I think that I was most disappointed when I came around the corner to dip walk the second time, since I had completely forgot that I had even done it that day!  The volunteers were extremely motivating at that point and lifted my spirits by telling me that I was on time to finish!!!   Spear had been closed down and somewhere around there I remember smelling the sweet sweet smell of the signature Spartan fire through the distance and knew that I had surely made it!!   The monstrous Platinum Rig was the last thing that stood in my way to the finish line.   Although I failed it during my first loop I gave it another shot and made it past the first half to the cargo netting.  At that point my body didn’t have much left to hold on so I dropped and embraced my last set of 30 burpees!  Thank you to my teammates who were there beside me at that point and to Nico and Andrey for motivating me through each one of those final burpees by doing them with me by my side!!!   That last five minutes is just one of the many highlights of the whole 13 hours I was out there!!   I am incredibly grateful to have the wonderful teammates that I have, who have believed in me way more than what I have believed in myself, and also to have had so much support from my family and friends throughout the months leading up to this feat.  What I’ve learned is that when you set such extreme goals, you are best to have some extremely incredible support around you because they will give you the super powers you need to achieve your dreams!  And now I can proudly say that I am an Ultra Beast!!

“Surround yourself with positive people who have great dreams, desires and ambitions.  They will push you through and help you realize your own.”

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbara MacInnis says:

    Excellent summary Crystal.

    Like

  2. Valkyrie OCR says:

    Great recap of your journey leading up to the UltraBeast and during the event. What an extraordinary accomplishment to finish the UB. I am so happy for you. It is inspiring to see you train at an elite level and raise a young family. It gives me hope that I can still embrace OCR when and if I have a family once day.

    Like

  3. I read your entire account and you did wonderfully in describing what you did and how you felt. Incredible what you achieved and while I was reading I thought these Spartan races should one day be added as an Olympic sport. Or become like the Tour de France. Your are an amazing athlete in my eyes ,Huge congratulations to you. You deserve the recognition!

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