The Western Canadian Spartan Beast was at a new venue this year, Kimberly, BC. No one really knew what to expect, we knew there would be hills because it was on a ski hill..little did we know how many hills we were in for. We headed to Kimberly on Friday morning and met the rest of our crew at our Air BNB that was on the hill giving us a peek at the course we were in for. It was 33 degrees celsius when we arrived with a hot, dry wind. We headed out for supper and then headed back to the condo to get some rest because it was going to be an early morning.
We woke up early on Saturday and nervously ate and got ready before driving down the hill to the start line (I was very grateful that we decided not to drive since it would have been a long, hard walk back up after the race). When we arrived we registered and met up with our other race friends, we were starting at 8 am in the first open heat, our goal was to avoid the heat and sun for as long as we could. Once we hopped the wall, we were off.
The race started with a climb up – we slowed to a crawl while we waited for everyone to get up the hill and then precariously get down. We had seen the hill when we arrived and noticed people sliding down it…little did we know this would be considered a “tiny” hill today. Once we got down the hill we hit a couple obstacles including the OUT wall, A Frame cargo net and Hercules Hoist (which I still feel is way lighter in Canada than in the US races).
Next we started climbing again, this first big climb to the top was actually laid out fairly well with obstacles along the way – we hit the vertical cargo, 6 foot wall, inverted wall and platinum rig before we hit the sandbag carry that was about halfway up the hill, and we had the only switchback trail on this climb as well. I was having a lot of fun at this point in the race, we had split up a bit and were a team of 6 and we did a lot of laughing and helping each other over obstacles. Even the sandbag carry wasn’t too bad, although I do wish I had taken my pack off for it but the ground was covered in a fine, red sand. I did not realize how dry and dusty Kimberly was until this race, it’s very desert like and I really wished I had brought a buff for my face.
After the sandbag carry we began our steep ascent to the top of the mountain, while we were climbing the chairlift started up and spectators started coming up to the top. This was exciting for us and it pushed us forward to hear the cheers and words of encouragement (never underestimate how much your cheers mean to racers as a spectator!). When we finally reached the top the rope climb was waiting for us. After catching my breath I put on some of my liquid chalk (love it!) and climbed up with no issues. We took the chance to rest and refuel while we waited for our team member to reach the top, her knees and hamstrings were really bothering her but thankfully one of our team mates was able to stretch her out and get us back on track.
Next we started to head down hill, the descent was steep but then evened out a bit before going back to a steeper descent. Little did I know this would be the “easiest” descent of the day.
The obstacles after that first climb are a bit of a blur, actually that was one of my criticisms about the race, the obstacles were not well spread out. There were a lot in the beginning and a lot at the end but not very many in the middle (with the exception of the occasional log carry or drag). After the rope climb we pretty much climbed up giant hills that started to feel like death marches and then back down steep their declines.
The second climb was one of the worst for me, it started at the bottom of a chair lift with a farmers carry. Then we climbed up a steep black diamond run and just when we thought we were at the top…we turned a corner and another huge hill stood in front of us. People were stopping every few steps and moving into the shade to try to get a bit of a break from the relentless sun and heat. There were lots of people cramping up and asking for water and food, I was shocked by how many people had no packs with them. It ended up being 28 degrees celsius, if I hadn’t have had my pack with water I would not have been able to finish that race. I also soaked my hat in the cold creek every chance I got which helped keep me cool, I was regretting not getting one of those cooling towels I had heard so much about before the race. That hill seemed to take forever but finally I looked up and saw my friend D waving and smiling and saying “it’s the top!!”. I collapsed into the shade to eat my pb&j sandwich and recover a bit before continuing on. Thankfully there was also a water station down the service road from the top where we all drank about 6 glasses of water each.
Next came the steepest descent of the day, my toes were so sore as they bashed into the fronts of my shoes. I tried going sideways for a bit but that only seemed to aggravate my already sore right knee. At some points I had to slide on my bum and crab walk down the hill to avoid log rolling down it. My feet were so sore by the time I reached the bottom I was sure I had a huge blister or two and a couple black toenails.
At the bottom of the hill was a log carry which was thankfully not too heavy and short. And at least there was some shade too for us to rest in. On we continued down the service road a bit and of course down another hill until we reached the Tyrolean Traverse. I attempted to complete it on my own but my calves did not like being pressed into the rope so thankfully my friend helped me get across without touching the ground.
By this point we started to see some of the Ultra runners (those that were doing 2 laps of the Beast course) on their second lap. We asked them how many more hills were left and how many more km. Most of them said we were about halfway, although people’s watches had been saying we were 16km into a 23 km course when we were only 12 km in. One Ultra said we only had 1 steep climb left and then a not so bad one (this was as we started climbing up the third hill…and when I say hill I mean 3rd time climbing to the top of the ski hill), then another showed me the last hill and told me to prepare myself because it was the hardest one (thank you again whoever you were for being honest and blunt with me when I needed it).
We came to the bottom of the third climb to the top and it was steep, so steep I could only take about 10-20 steps before I had to rest for a few seconds. It was so steep I couldn’t look backwards for fear I would get dizzy, I stood in the shade as much as I could but tried to avoid sitting down as I was worried about getting my legs to agree to move again. This was the hill that started to break us all and started to take the fun out of the race for most of us. At one point my friend Derek looked at me and said “this isn’t fun anymore” to which I said “it’s not but get your ass up so we can finish this”…or something along those lines…it’s really all a blur. It was a long, slow climb and I was shocked to hear it was already almost 3 pm by the time we got to the top…we had been on the mountain for 7 hours. I had initially thought we would be between 8-8.5 hours but we were much longer…everyone was longer than they thought they would be.
There was a log drag at the top and then we started our descent. My feet were screaming at me to stop and telling me they hated me for what I was doing to them. I tried to ignore them and chatted with my fellow racers instead. At the bottom two of our team mates had to go ahead because they were out of water, I sent the other two ahead and waited for my friend Tera who needed help with her knee. We managed to get tiger balm on it and then before the last climb we found a creek to cool off in and another racer found her a walking stick to help with the declines. Before we started the last climb we both agreed that we had come too far to quit now, we were going to finish the race no matter what. The volunteer at the bottom of the hill (which was also the cut off for the Beast course, you had to reach it by a certain time) told us it would take 45 min to get to the top and that there was a water station at the top. What we didn’t know was that it would take almost 2 hours to get to the top of the 2 km hill and that the water station was at the top of not one but four ridges and up a road.
That last climb almost broke me, it took everything I had to keep moving forward and not lie down and quit. We were all in rough shape, running low or out of water, low on food and everyone’s spirits were low. It was hot and the shady spots and cool breeze kept me motivated to move. When we came to the top of the first ridge I ran into one of my friends and realized that it wasn’t the top and there was no water station. The volunteer said we had three more ridges and then a 3/4 km walk up the road to get to the water station. I waited for Tera for a bit before continuing up. The climb to the second ridge was much steeper and when I got to the top I couldn’t see anyone below me, the view was stunning though and I wished that I had brought my phone with me. It was a lonely climb up the next two ridges, it was very steep like a double black diamond ski run and the course wasn’t marked well and we had to carefully pick our way up the mountain, I was leap frogging with two of the girls from the HH in Red Deer which kept me moving. At the top I waited for awhile before heading up the road to find the water station.
At the water station the volunteers offered to fill our packs and told us to sit in the shade and cool off before continuing on. At this point I was feeling very broken and exhausted. I was worried about Tera so I waited but when I asked the guy beside me what time it was and he said 5:45 I said to him with tears in my eyes: “I’ve been on this f**king mountain for 10 hours??…I need to get off it”. The girls behind me had also started at 8 am and were feeling as done as I was. My friend Robyn walked by then and I asked her if she had seen or heard Tera (she had a speaker with music playing…that music kept us all moving), she said no and told me I should keep going so I didn’t miss the 8:30 pm cut off. I waited for a few more minutes but then decided to keep moving in case my legs decided they wouldn’t anymore. There was an 8 foot wall waiting for me and for the first time ever I went around it…I knew I didn’t have the strength even with a boost to get over it at that point.
I found myself walking along a ridge (which I found out later was called Vimy Ridge and was supposed to be our “running” portion but we were all too tired to run by that point). I remember thinking I should try to run but my legs and feet did not agree. An Ultra runner passed me and then I realized that I was walking all alone on a path in the woods with bears on the course, this is when I started to get into my head. I was trying to hold back the tears as I walked alone sniffling and worrying about my friends and if they were ok. I felt like the race would never end, I felt like I would never get off that mountain and I have never felt so alone.
I came to the Stairway to Sparta and there was a guy standing there, he asked if I wanted a boost and I said sure. I somehow made it up and over and got some water at the water station beside it. The volunteer had kept the water in the shade for us and it was cool instead of warm like the others, she was so sweet. Then I continued on, still trying not to let the tears flow for fear they wouldn’t stop. All of a sudden just when I was thinking how lonely the rest of the race was going to be, a girl came out of nowhere behind me and started talking about how sore her feet were. I can’t even say how relieved I was to finally have a friend to commiserate and talk to. We chatted and walked together and helped each other on the next obstacle, the Z Walls. She was from Edmonton and I think her name was Christina, I wish I could have found her after the race to thank her for being my race “angel” and helping me get out of my head.
We started on our descent down the front side of the hill, this is where we started to hit the obstacles. When we got to the Olympus we were told for safety reasons we could not help each other but also that they weren’t enforcing Burpees. I admit, I failed that obstacle and I didn’t do my Burpees. I always do my Burpees, it bothers me that I didn’t at this race but I was so exhausted both physically and mentally by that point after being on the course for 11 hours that I just couldn’t. When we got to the new obstacle Wrecked it was all I could do to clean and press the 50 lb sandbag.
We caught up with some other racers as we continued our descent, my toes were still screaming but I knew we were close to the end. We did our tractor pull but the sled drag was incredibly heavy and it was all I could do to pull it halfway across the track. Finally we hit the monkey bars and I put my liquid chalk on with every intention of trying them but as I tried to jump to grab them my hands felt so weak I was worried I would fall right off. The volunteer told us to do as many Burpees as we could so I told him I would give him 5 good ones and then we continued on. Finally we came down the hill and saw the finish line and festival area. I could hear my friends cheering for me as I started the barbed wire crawl. I debated rolling but opted to butt scoot and lift the wire up like my fellow HH friend was doing. I wish I had smiled when my friend was taking pics but I was so done at that point it was all I could do to keep going.
After the barbed wire was the spear throw which I missed…one day I’ll get it! I did about half my Burpees before continuing onto the bucket carry. Thankfully the buckets weren’t too heavy and although it was on a hill it was a short carry. I think the worst part was the last small hill and then decline to the slip wall, my toes were so sore I almost wanted to roll down the hill to take the pain away. I’ve never struggled with a dry slip wall but it was a struggle to get to the top and safely down. I wasn’t sure if I even smiled when I jumped the fire but looking at pics my friend took I did and I’m glad that subconsciously I was still happy I finished.
I have so many mixed emotions about this race. Usually I cross a finish line and feel elated and so proud to have finished, jumping the fire at a Spartan race is usually the best feeling ever. But after this Beast I didn’t have that feeling, I just felt done. I was so exhausted, my feet hurt and I wanted to eat some real food and wash my hands. Even days later I still didn’t feel the pride I usually feel, in fact it took me days to unpack my medal and t-shirt. I know a part of it was that it was such an emotional race and another part was that I was disappointed in myself for skipping obstacles and Burpees (but really why were most of the obstacles at the end when we were all bagged from climbing up a ski hill 4 times??).
Even though it was a brutally hard race I am so glad we did it as a team, I could not have asked for better people to race with. These guys and gals kept me laughing and pushing on through the pain. And I won’t forget all the new friends I made along the way that laughed and joked and complained with me about the relentless hills. I realized on that mountain that I love running these races not only to push myself but to encourage and motivate others along the way. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no other community like the OCR community, it’s full of amazing people with inspiring stories who truly care about each other both on and off the race course.
Oh and if you’re wondering what happened to my friend Tera, she finished! We waited for her at the finish line and were worried that something had happened when all of a sudden she appeared at the top of the hill with both her sticks, her music still playing and a smile on her face :).
Did you run in Kimberly? What did you think of the course?