Spartan Beast for 2019 – check. I am now two thirds of the way towards my first trifecta and I’m relieved that the last leg will be the shortest race – the Sprint.
I confess that I totally underestimated how tough it would be. I thought I was prepared, but I was not. I went into the race counting the number of obstacles I could complete and I came out just grateful to have completed it. As far as obstacle pass rate went, I really blew it. From my pre-race assessment, I already knew that it might not go my way.
I’d seen the race elevation charts before the race, but a picture is only a vague idea in your mind. Until you go through it, nothing is real.
The inclines were steep and unrelenting. You think it’s going to end at the next bend but it doesn’t. Every bend reveals another stretch of incline and it seemed never ending. When you finally get to the descent, it was treacherous and unforgiving – the kind that invites a sprained ankle if you’re not careful, especially when your legs are tired.
Don’t know if this photo does it justice, but that hill in the background was the first peak we ascended.
Even without the obstacles, the trail was challenging. Designed to fatigue the body, the trail ensured that we were thoroughly exhausted before we even got to the heavy carries and upper body intense obstacles (bucket carry, herculean hoist, sandbag carry, atlas carry, multi-rig, monkey bars, rope climb).
It was also cramping city when it came to all the leg-pull obstacles (wall climbs and tyrolean traverse). I’ve never suffered such bad cramps that I needed to see the medic. Even my fingers were cramping. I admit I have been arrogant in this department. Until the last Spartan race, I could count on one hand the number of cramps I’ve ever had in my life. Once when I was pregnant, and once a very long time ago. Evidently, every body is susceptible to cramping at some point. If I plan to do another Super or Beast, I need to figure out how to minimise the risk of a recurrence.
Moving on to the obstacles… If nothing, this race did teach me a little more about how to navigate some of the obstacles the next time around.
This was also my first Open race and it was quite a different experience from the previous two where I was in Elite and Age Category. In the Open race, there are no rules. There’s no need to adhere to the burpee penalty – I didn’t see a single person burpeeing. The marshalls encourage you to cheat and help each other. Feels almost as if they’re discouraging us from doing the burpee penalty.
This was my first Spartan race without burpees and it felt strange. Mind you, I am not complaining. By the end, I was thankful not to have to worry about them.
4 foot wall, 5 foot wall, 6 foot wall
These are all easily within my comfort zone. Even for the 6 foot wall, I can swing my leg high enough to hook my right ankle over the wall. From there, I hook the left heel to give me enough purchase to bring the right leg over the wall to the knee. Left leg returns to brace against the wall so I can bring my body up and over.
Okay, I know it looks precarious, because my team mates all but rushed over to catch me in case I fell but I felt pretty secure on the wall. I have a bit of a phobia of falling so I would never have made a move I wasn’t sure of.
Barbed wire crawl
Roll! Roll! Roll! We should really rename this the Barbed Wire Roll. Someone said that the wires are sometimes too low to roll. I did it again this time and I cleared it easily even while hugging my pack to my chest. Unless you’re really wide shoulder to shoulder, I can’t imagine that the wire could ever be too low to roll.
I’m getting better at this, so it was also pretty easy this time.
Did it with shoes this time and it was also okay. Seriously, if I can’t do this, I should be ashamed to call myself a climber – even an ex-climber at that.
I brought out my trusty dish washing gloves for this. They were grippy and it was almost perfect. The nature of the bars and how they rotate meant I need to lead with the left – my non-dominant hand – the hand I usually do not lead with. I also had to share hands on each bar and there is not a lot of space. The dish washing gloves were the smallest I could find but they were not a snug fit. I kept pinching the other glove when I shared hands on the bar.
The rotation of the bar also takes some getting used to – I need more practice on a rotating bar like this. I can practice on monkey bars until the cows come home but it will never be the same as practicing on the twister. It’s like doing dress rehearsals without complete costumes and props. Anything could go wrong on show day.
I didn’t pass the obstacle, but I got further than I did the first time I tried it. So yeah, there was some progress. Not as much as I’d hoped, but progress is progress. I feel confident that this is achievable with more practice. I have the strength for it, I just need more time to figure it out.
- Use the gardening gloves instead of the dish washing gloves to avoid clipping the glove.
- Practice leading with the left arm because you never know when circumstances may make it hard to lead with the dominant hand.
- Practice side ways shuffle on a bar – the closest thing to the real McCoy.
Stairway to Sparta
I had help for this. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I’ve noticed that other racers are so very eager to lend a hand even before you’ve had a chance to try it for yourself. It’s not that I mind having help. I just want a chance to see if I could figure it out myself first.
I used climb with this guy and we had an understanding. Whenever we face the crux of a climb (the hardest part), we get three goes to make it on our own. Fall three times and the belayer will assist with a tight rope.
I’m not sure how tall the wall is, but I could just reach the top of the board on tip-toes. If I can grab the top of the wall, I should be able to get my leg up for a hook. It’s basically just a wall climb with a ladder on top.
I don’t know why, but the the bender always fills me with some trepidation whenever I face it. I’ve completed it twice without difficulty. I think what scares me is the fall. As you can see, it’s pretty high up. A fall from that height would not be pleasant.
7 foot wall
Like the 6 foot wall but with a foot hold (for women only). By the time you step up on the foot hold, the rest becomes similar to a 6 foot wall.
I managed to get to the end and ring the bell, but I had help. I started on my own, but when I started to slide down, my team mate helped to prop me up so I could get to the end. So really, it’s a fail.
This is the obstacle that has my head running around in circles. It a bouldering problem. I should be able to do this. If I can figure out the moves and remember to keep my legs high, I should be able to make it. It’s another one of those obstacles that I just want more time with. Practice the moves, commit it to muscle memory and it will be in the bag.
This didn’t look like the cliff climb I found on the internet. It was a grade 3/4? scramble up a slope. At some sections, we were on all fours. It was slightly technical and cardio-intense, but doable.
It was similar to the abseil with ropes, except that we had to go up.
I seriously underestimated this obstacle. I thought I could drag myself along but there was a lot more friction than the traverse in the Viper Challenge. These ropes were longer, much longer, and that bell felt like it was miles away. I discovered that sliding was possible if you hook the rope at the ankle. Then I cramped. First the left calf. Then the right calf.
If cramping wasn’t an issue, I would slide from the ankle. That’s definitely easier than the swinging, alternating leg movement. As long as your legs are completely covered, rope burn is less of an issue.
Did I complete this obstacle or was I assisted? Because I was cramping, my team mates had their hands under me to prevent me from falling. Did they exert pressure and support me? I’m pretty sure they did towards the end so this does not count as a pass.
Never found out how heavy these are, but it was pretty straight forward. Carry the ball from one flag pole across to the other side and back.
Jerry Can Carry
This wasn’t as bad as I thought. We only had to carry one Jerry Can, not two. The container is not firm and there is a handle. It is completely filled with water so it is still pretty heavy – about 25kg. Some people carried it on their shoulders, some people hugged it and carried it like the bucket carry. I slid my arm through the handle right up to my elbow, then crossed my arms and carried the Jerry Can hanging off my elbow.
Someone dropped her Jerry Can and it rolled down the hill. I wonder if that counts as cheating if you just walk down to it and continue on. Maybe I should have dropped mine, too.
8 foot wall
This wall had two foot holds. From the second foot hold, I could swing my right leg over, so it wasn’t too bad. Except that I cramped on top of the wall. I made it over.
By the time we got to the Bucket Carry, we had already scaled all three peaks (read: we were thoroughly exhausted). The sun was high in the sky and it was a furnace out there. There was no cover for any of these obstacles. Many people were cheating and skipping obstacles by this point and it was extremely tempting.
We were in the open category, so the marshalls were happy to let us cheat. In the bucket carry, there were people crossing over the rope to skip to the end instead of going around the entire course. I confess that the temptation to cheat was high, but given that I was already skipping the burpees, I felt the need to maintain what little integrity I had left.
I have passed this once before at the Super earlier this year but in that race, the hoist was near the start of the course when I was still fresh. By the time I got to the hoist in this race, I’d just run/hiked some 18 km of pretty intense terrain. To top it off, I’d just come off the bucket carry. In the end, my team mate helped me pull the sandbag to the top.
I tried three times and I failed three times. I can get the spear further when I do a little run up before throwing. Although, I have to say that the ground before the spear throw in this race was not conducive to the run up because it was undulating and I was half worried I would trip. Not that it mattered since my aim is crap when I do the run up.
If I stand and throw, my aim is better, but the spear falls short of the target. I’m not really sure how to progress with this one. Get stronger so I can throw further without running? Or maybe more practice running and throwing?
Carried the bag on my head instead of loading it onto my shoulder. Definitely works much better for me this way. The sun overhead was so hot that the sandbag actually provided some protection against the heat. My head felt cooler after I removed the sandbag.
I managed to do this in the last race because the ground was level and flat. I propped the ball against the top of my thighs and did a shuffle walk to the other side. The ground was undulating this time, making it difficult to shuffle. After nearly dropping the ball on my feet, I decided it would be better to fail than break my toes.
Another one of those obstacles I need to practice the moves for. I am convinced that I can do it if I can develop the muscle memory for the movement. If it wasn’t so hot and I wasn’t so tired, I might have been willing to stay on and keep trying.
I really, really want to nail this one.
Swim and Dunk wall
Nothing much to say. Get across the water and go under the dunk wall.
Okay, so I chickened out on this one. I got up on the stool and hung off the first bar. The grip was decent with my trusty rubber gloves. I tried to swing my body to help me grab the second bar. Somehow, I didn’t remember it being so far away. The thought of falling made me panic and I lost my nerve. I know… pathetic.
I can climb the rope. I’ve done it three times before. On any other day, I know can definitely do it. These ropes were drenched from the people who climbed it after the swim and I kept slipping down. If I’d persevered, I probably could have made it up. By the time I got here, I’d failed so many obstacles and was so tired that I honestly didn’t care if I failed yet another obstacle. That said, I tried to get up twice. When I slipped the second time, I caved.
Vertical cargo and A-frame cargo
Nothing much to say. Just climb up and over.
I was a little afraid I wouldn’t make it up this one. I think my team mates thought I would struggle, too, because they circled back to help me. I surprised myself when I made it up without much difficulty. Didn’t think I had enough juice left to get over. Maybe it was that second wind that comes when the finish line is within sight.
No pictures yet, but stay tuned. I didn’t even notice the camera man until I reached the finish line so I’m pretty sure it’s not a good one.
DH was not waiting at the end with the boys because he didn’t expect me to finish so early. The original plan was to make it in 6 hours. After I saw the terrain, I thought 7 hours was closer to the mark. Then again, I did skip the burpees, so…
Finish time: 6 hours 7 minutes.
I am very happy with the gloves – both gardening gloves and dish washing gloves. I think they worked well for maintaining grip – even in wet conditions. The dish washing gloves offer a bit more grip, but the fit is not great. It’s easy to clip the glove when sharing hands on a small space, like the Twister bar.
Compression leggings/socks for calf cramps? The evidence is mixed whether this helps or not, but there is no harm trying. It can either help or do nothing, in the worst case, but it won’t hamper performance.
Anti-chaffing underwear – because I had the chaffing from hell. And/or make sure to apply chamois.
I packed 2 liters of water, 4 energy bars, 6 gels, 4 packets of oralite, and 2 packets of himalayan salt sweets. I used all the water and re-filled at the water station, ate 1 energy bar and 4 gels (gave 2 away to someone who needed them more than me), and 1 packet of oralite. I drank water and 100 plus at all water stations.
This is probably the first race that I came back from with stuff still in my pack. For the next race, I will consider adding salts to my water after what I’ve learned about cramps (see below).
Notes on Cramping
I was reviewing my race fueling for cramp prevention when I came across this article on cramping from the Spartan website that suggests these tips for preventing cramps:
- Train specifically for your race
- Lightly stretch the muscle
- Drink something salty
- Stay hydrated
Apparently sports drinks and electrolyte tablets don’t help. So perhaps I should have taken those himalayan salt sweets or just added salt to my water.
What causes cramps? Apparently it’s premature fatigue. It happens when:
- You push yourself harder than you normally do, e.g. in race conditions versus normal training.
- You’re tired towards the end of race.
- You don’t pace yourself – start out too hard (harder than your training experience).
- There is more muscle damage before the race.
Post-Race Review and Moving Forward
My mistake was not preparing enough for the 21 km. I was so focussed on the obstacles and my upper body strength than I neglected to train my stamina sufficiently. What I did was enough for a Sprint, and perhaps even a Super, but it was woefully under for the Beast.
I stopped the back-to-back workouts in an effort to avoid over training but I think doing a few of them from time to time is not a bad idea. As long as there are sufficient rest breaks and I don’t repeat them too often in close succession, it should be okay.
Just so I’m not thrown by terrain like Tambun again, I should include some vertical training. Either hiking steep inclines, stair climbs, and/or hill runs. The extra stamina will also be good to make sure I don’t fail obstacles because of fatigue.
Training for cramp prevention. My calves were cramping whenever I had to hook my leg over a wall, or during the Tyrolean Traverse (which has similar muscle activation). I can’t really think of how to train that sort of move except with rock climbing.
Two down. One more to go. Luckily, it’s just the Sprint left.
Will I do a Beast again? As much as I would like to say, “Never ever again,” a part of me feels this was not a proper Beast race. I got to the end and I collected the medal, but it was not done right. If I count it according to Elite or Age Category rules, I failed 10 obstacles (including the ones I had help with). Actually, maybe only 9 because the Stairway to Sparta does allow women to get assistance. I digress… because of that, I feel a need to go back and do it again. Properly this time.