It’s almost a week after the Spartan Beast in Montana, I’m finally sitting down to write about it, get comfy and grab a cup of coffee, this could get long. When my best friend and I decided we wanted to do our Trifecta in 2016 we signed up for the Spartan Beast in Montana, the only other Beast offered in Western Canada is Sun Peaks in September which is a 7 hour drive, vs. a 5.5 hour drive to Montana in May. So we decided to get the hardest race done first, and it was definitely hard, our Super and Sprint in Red Deer this summer will be a lot less hilly I’m sure!
I spent 6 months training my mind and body, I thought I had done a pretty good job of my training and I feel that I did a lot better than I would have if I hadn’t trained as hard. The one thing I failed to do was make time to get to the mountains and hike and run the trails…this is key when you’re running a race that has a lot of elevation. I had heard that the terrain was by far the hardest obstacle at last year’s race, they weren’t lying, it was brutal.
We left Calgary on Friday morning under sunny skies and started our journey to Kalispell, Montana. After a small detour with no cell service, a GPS that only instructed us to “make a legal u-turn” and a very windy scenic route we made it to our hotel. After checking in we headed out for dinner at a local pub and hit the hot tub for some relaxation before bed. Spartan had posted a teaser course map on FaceBook with the tag line “things aren’t always what they seem”, the teaser was the course was only 11.5 miles long…and indeed it was not what it seemed. We had an early night and were in bed by 9:30 pm, thankfully we both had a decent night’s sleep with only a few dreams of 10 foot walls and mile long barbed wire crawls.
The next morning we were up early and joined the other nervous Spartans at the free breakfast downstairs, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many nervous people in trail running shoes in my life. By 7:15 am we headed to the race venue in Big Fork. As usual parking was very easy and well organized, shuttles were waiting to take us to the start line and we had an energetic bus driver who helped us all laugh out the nerves.
Registration on site was super quick and easy, we marked our arms with our bib numbers, put on our timing chips, took a few pre-race photos and checked our bags. Just after 9 am we headed to the start line which was behind a 5 foot wall that racers had to get over to enter the starting corral. It’s hard to explain the feeling of nervous excitement that washed over me in front of that start line, the energy was contagious and I was ready to go.
After a quick motivational talk, some AROOs and a chant of “I am a Spartan” we were off..up a big ass hill. I saw one girl go down on the lose rocks, she was okay but I would later find her on the course hobbling down hills on a knee that wouldn’t bend, as far as I know she finished the race determined not to quit, a true Spartan. She wouldn’t be the last one to fall on that course, I lost count of how many guys I would see race past me on the steep downhills just to catch up to them later using a makeshift crutch out of a stick to hobble along. After falling and twisting my knee and wrist at mile 2 I decided listening to my body and slowing it down on the down hills would be the best thing for my clumsy self to do.
Our first obstacle was the log hurdles. At around 5 feet high they weren’t too challenging to get over, just to get down from, for some reason I kept swinging under them and pulling on my shoulder. Yes, I could have jumped off them like other racers but when you’re short and clumsy that’s not always the best choice, I did attempt it once and almost twisted my ankle, so after that it was back to swinging down wildly from them. After more hills we hit the monkey bars. They were not your ordinary park monkey bars, they were uneven and spaced far apart, not an easy thing to get across especially when you have short arms like I do. We helped each other across by sitting on each others shoulders, even then I could hardly reach the higher bars but neither of us fell off so no Burpees for us!
After the monkey bars we hit some serious hills, the kind of hills that make you grateful you’re wearing shoes that have insane grips, the kind of hills that make your calves feel like they’re on fire, the kind of hills that if you climbed them enough would give you a Kim Kardashian booty. It felt like we would climb forever just to reach the top and then start climbing down again, someone would say “we must be at the top, we can’t climb any higher…oh wait we can climb down again and then back up” to which we would all laugh insanely, laughter and a sense of humour will get you a lot further than whining and complaining in a race like this (although we did do our fair share of complaining and cursing too). I lost track of how many times we climbed up and down that mountain, just when you thought you were done climbing up you went again. We were like insane mountain goats with camelbaks climbing in a line. One might think that running down would be fun…but no, it’s not fun, especially when there are rocks, branches, bushes and tree stumps to trip over and when your knees and ankles ache and beg you to stop. As I mentioned earlier were a lot of hobbling Spartan racers with make shift walking sticks by the time we hit mile 10 that must have thought running down would be fun too.
The obstacles start to blur together the further we got into the race, it became about getting up and down the next hill and making it to the next water station. The sandbag carry was up (and down) an insanely steep hill with loose rocks that kept dislodging under racers feet and tumbling down the hill trying to take out racers like bowling pins. I was grateful that I had practiced with a 25 lb sandbag since the ladies sandbags were only 20 lbs, however, it wasn’t the weight of the sandbag that made that obstacle hard, it was the steep hill. I was happy that I only fell flat on my butt once coming down, I expected to fall down more. We heard later that they had to shorten it on Sunday because of long lines for sandbags during the Sprint, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a sense of pride that we did the entire hill on Saturday. I have to send a shout out to the guy in the American Flag shorts and t-shirt who was blasting Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” from his camelbak speakers, that pushed me up that hill and I re-played that song in my head many times that day, he also boosted me over a wall and was a stand up guy.
Between miles 3-4 we had a heavy log farmer’s carry with Burpees (you carry your logs 50 feet and then do 5 Burpees, then carry them back), a log carry (much heavier than I remember the logs being out camping when we went to get firewood) and a new obstacle called the Tyrolean ladder that dug into my heels so bad I ended up letting my feet down and had to do Burpees. I really would like another shot at that one as I think I could make it across if I can bear the ankle biting pain, hopefully they bring it to Western Canada.
Just before mile 5 we hit the rope climb which was not over water for once thankfully. Let’s just say it’s still my nemesis although I was very proud of my best friend who scrambled up it like a pro. In true sadistic Spartan nature the Spear throw was right after the rope climb…more Burpees for me.
Mile 5 was where I had my mental meltdown, I knew it would happen at some point in the race. I was frustrated that I had failed on three obstacles in a row and I was feeling the physical and mental strain of the endless hills. After a few tears, a protein bar and electrolytes and a pep talk from my bestie I was ready to race again. No way was I coming all that way to stop, I would crawl across that finish line if I had to.
Apparently I should have saved my tears for what came next…what seemed a straight up hill that never ended (while it did but it sure didn’t feel like it at the time). That’s when I started to hear the voice of my coach in my head telling me that I could do it and to keep going and keep pushing. Her voice drowned out the one that said “I can’t” and pushed me on up that hill. The other thing that got me up that hill was turning around when I took a break and looking at the breathtaking view, I really wish I could have brought a camera, it was beautiful. On a race like this you have to dig deep, it’s not just pushing through physically but mentally too, you can’t focus on how far you have to go, just one hill at a time, one obstacle and one step at a time. When I felt those feelings of despair and doubt creep in I looked around me at my fellow racers and my best friend ahead of me and drew inspiration from them to keep going. It’s one of the things I love about Spartan races, the people, everywhere I looked racers were encouraging each other and cheering each other on, if someone was stopped on a hill people always asked if they were ok or needed anything. Even though you’re competing as an individual you’re never alone out there.
There were rumours that the 11.5 miles the map had said back at the registration area was just another way to play with our heads so I was pretty sure we were not yet halfway and there were still 8 miles more to go. Turns out I was right, the course ended up being 13.5 miles. Mile markers are both good and bad on a race like that, they remind you of how far you’ve come but also how far you still need to go.
As I was climbing that giant hill I saw a sign lying on the ground, it must have been from the course set up…it said “A-Frame Cargo Net and Stairway to Sparta —>”, fear washed over me as I realized what was waiting for me on the top of the hill. I’m afraid of heights, the high obstacles were what I was most dreading. I started to mentally prepare myself for what was coming…of course there were still a lot of hills to go up and down before we got there….
(to be continued)
Read Part 2 —> Montana Spartan Beast Part 2 – Still Climbing