Purple mountains

Last year around this time I had watched many of my friends and teammates complete the NJ Ultra Beast. Basically it was 2 laps of a regular Beast course, a real grueling experience. I had only run the Beast there, my fastest time being 5 hours and 20 minutes.

So when Spartan changed the name, calling it just Ultra, and also added an extra 3 plus miles and more obstacles to the course, I wasn’t sure it was doable for me. Earliest Age Group start time was 6:15 so I would have less than 15 hours to complete the race or be pulled. Seemed like a huge task, I’m not a fast racer, but I thought as long as I kept moving and didn’t stop I could get through the 30 plus miles.

So I signed up and committed to completing the race. I usually train at several of the local trails but the weather has been always cold and rainy lately, so I didn’t get in nearly enough training like I wanted to. Think my longest trail run was just over 16 miles, nowhere near what I wanted to do. Running in the cold has just always been my enemy. I hate it. No excuses, I could’ve got it done and I didn’t. Something I have to work on.

Friday I spent the day preparing my drop bin and my camelbak. Got extra batteries for my headlamps and plenty of snacks to eat on the mountain. My goal was to drink 4 oz of water 15-20 minutes and eat something every hour. I kept my Apple Watch so I knew the time. That helped me judge my pace and avoid any time hacks.

Headed up to New Jersey Friday so I could drop off my bin and get my packet. Was almost halfway there and it started to rain. Not a lot but consistent. Bad enough that this was going to be an extremely difficult race, but if it became a mud fest that was going to really slow me down.

Dropped off my bin and hung out for a little then headed to the house we rented. Got some food and I was in bed around 9, wanted to make sure I got enough sleep.

Got up at 4 am, had breakfast, grabbed my pack, and headed to the course with the rest of the team. It was pretty easy to spot the Ultra racers, we all had to wear purple netted shirts the entire race. It’s a small thing but wearing that annoyed me. It covered up any logos or team designs we were wearing, and it didn’t even say Spartan or Ultra on it. It was just a plain purple shirt. Makes no sense why Spartan decided to go so cheap on those things. Especially since we had the purple Spartan symbol on our headbands and wristbands for the competitive groups.

6:15 comes, we go through the rules. We shake hands and acknowledge the craziness we are all about to do. Then we start! Up the hill we go. Most of the group isn’t running just moving steadily up the hill. Over hay bales. Over walls.

Get to the Atlas carry. I pick up the first rock I see on my right and it didn’t feel heavy at all. Thought wow my strength training is really working. Carry it several steps and a volunteer yells Hey that’s a woman’s Atlas Stone! To which I respond, then why is it on the men’s side?? So I carry it back to the women’s side and then carry a men’s stone. Finish with that and move on.

Tyro traverse then Bender. I hate Bender. Not because it’s hard, I’ve never failed it. But it’s super awkward and it always feels like I’m going to fall backwards off of it. Hasn’t happened luckily. Never enough mats there either.

Next was Olympus. My technique is always flawless for this. I haven’t failed it in over a year of racing. Not sure it was overconfidence and I wasn’t concentrating, or just the mud, but I got about halfway through and all of a sudden my legs slid out from under me. Tried to regroup but I couldn’t. Feet touched the ground. Looked at the official in disbelief then went and did my burpees.

More walls then Rolling Mud and Dunk Wall. That water was cold! Up the slip wall that was really slick then to an uphill barbed wire crawl. It wasn’t a long crawl but because it was uphill it seemed to take forever!

Armer was next. Heavy metal ball attacked to a chain. Very very awkward to walk with. But it was basically a one armed farmers carry to the pole and back.

Z Walls were next. The volunteers warned us the blocks were very far apart on the turn around. They weren’t kidding! I had two feet on the same block and still couldn’t reach far enough to touch the block. 30 more burpees.

Got to Twister. This obstacle I’m usually 50/50 on. Some days I make it some days I don’t. Today wasn’t that day. Slipped off the 3rd rung. No burpees though, just a short penalty lap. Sucked failing it but I was ok with the lap.

Monkey bars followed. I love the monkey bars. Always one of my best obstacles. But they were drenched. I started swinging and slipped right off the second bar. Never happened before. Another 30 burpees. I’ve now failed more obstacles this race than I ever have before and I wasn’t even at mile 8!

Bucket Brigade was next and we all know I HATE this obstacle. Always takes a lot out of me. They had the lids again since that’s the new standard so that definitely helped. No real elevation change just basically taking the bucket for a walk in the woods. Had to put it down like 5 times but I got through it.

After this we went into the Ultra loop. It was basically an Ultra only loop and it lasted almost 4 miles. Was pretty tough terrain as well. About a mile in a group of 20 of us stopped and realized we could no longer see any Spartan trail markings. We ended up totally lost! We traveled back to where we had previously last seen markings and we had gone probably almost a quarter of a mile off course! Think most of us were so busy looking at our feet to avoid tripping that we hadn’t been looking for trail markers. Eventually we got back on the right track.

Next obstacle was the Spartan sled. Basically a plate drag but u had to pull the sled both ways. Was easy on the downhill, but when you had to pull it uphill it was much tougher. Then we had to run down the hill and back up a really long climb. The terrain in the woods was very technical and hard to run so it felt like forever. Got to the 8 foot wall and didn’t struggle with it at all. Got up it right away quite easily. Got a cheer from the volunteers, they seemed pretty impressed that a small guy could make it over like that. Felt really good, since sometimes I struggle with that obstacle.

Finally finished with the Ultra only loop. About 13 miles into the race. Feeling pretty good despite all my obstacle failures. Got over some more hurdles and then came to the Spear throw. Haven’t been able to practice the spear throw lately cause my gym doesn’t have one. But I have a pretty good technique with a high success rate. Plus the penalty for this wasn’t burpees, it was a walk up and down a very steep hill! So I didn’t want to miss! Threw my spear and it stuck almost dead center! Was pretty pumped after that.

The good times would not last however. Up next was the most brutal sandbag carry I’ve ever had to do. It was a heavy wreck bag that was probably heavier due to all the rain the day before. Plus it was a long quarter mile walk down and then back up the hill! Was awful. I didn’t stop at all on the downhill, but coming back up I must’ve stopped like 6 times. I didn’t put the bag on the ground because that would’ve made it hard to lift up again. Instead I just got down on all 4 and laid the bag across my back to give my neck and legs a break. Was absolutely brutal.

After the sandbags was a long, long uphill climb. It wasn’t very steep but it just kept going for what seemed like forever. Several times I thought I was at the top, only to turn a corner and see more uphill. When we finally started going downhill and back into the woods, I was relieved. But it didn’t last. I rolled my right foot pretty bad on the trail. Stopped for a second to regroup then kept walking. Was able to walk on it with very little pain, but running was a no go. It was hurting a lot when I ran. I didn’t think I broke it or anything, but I didn’t have any pain medication on me, it was in my drop bin that was still about 3-4 miles away.

So it now became a battle of will. I had to get to my drop bin and get some pain medication. I knew if I did that I should still have enough time to get through the course again even if I had to walk most of it. Got over the Vertical Cargo and finished the Plate drag that followed. Herc Hoist I made sure to really lean back when I pulled to get that sandbag up to the top. Almost dropped it when it came back down, the rope slipped through my hands, but I was able to save it.

Walked down the hill and I was in the festival area. Got a lot of cheers from spectators and fellow teammates that were watching. Started on the Multi rig. Had a good motion but got stuck near the end. Started spinning around, lost my momentum on the last rope and fell off. More burpees.

Got to the rope climb and told myself let’s do this. Transition was afterwards and I really wanted to be in and out. Got up the rope, slipped a little cause it was slick, but made it up and rang that bell. Dropped back down and headed into transition.

Grabbed the pain medication, took a couple pills, then filled my pack with water. Refilled all my Gu and energy blocks. Grabbed a pb & j sandwich then started to head out. Ran into a friend who is much faster than me. He was in a world of pain and wasn’t sure he could finish. Asked if he could stay with me. I was like sure let’s go we’ll finish together!

So we went up the hill and back onto the course. Moving slowly but steadily. At this point it was about 1pm and we had till 9pm to finish. 13 miles in 8 hours felt extremely doable, despite both of us being in a lot of pain. Talking with other racers definitely helped distract us and by this point in the race we were surrounded by a lot of Open Wave Beast racers. Most of them seemed in awe of what we were doing when we told them the distance. It was a lot of fun and they were very understanding about giving us priority at obstacles.

The sun had finally come out by this time and a lot of the obstacles were drying off. Made it through Olympus with no problem this time, but I fell off twister halfway through it. Not sure what I was doing wrong or if it was a concentration issue. Feel like that obstacle is in my head. Monkey bars were nice and dry so I made it through them without an issue.

We were moving along at a decent clip. Down to only a couple miles left. But then disaster! Right after the sandbag carry the temperature dropped and it started to get real windy. We got an alert that thunder and lightning was headed into the area! We both knew that those two things could shut down a race and we would all get a dnf. (Did not finish)

So we started to hustle. Made it to the vertical cargo and the volunteers were like don’t stop keep going. They wanted us to get off the mountain. So now everyone is starting to panic. We all start running, bad feet, ankles, and all. The clouds open up and it starts pouring buckets of water. We can hear the rumbling and the sky is super dark. Now no one is running, we are sprinting through the mountain. My feet are screaming at me but I just keep running. Probably about a mile and a half we sprinted down to the lodge, it was probably a PR for me. The rain was so heavy that I was really concerned with slipping and hurting myself, but I didn’t want to slow down.

Lightning starts flashing in the sky. I’m not even thinking about the race. I’m just bolting down the hill as fast as I could. I lost my running buddy. All I could do was hope that he had kept going as well. Finally made it down to the lodge and Spartan Staff are directing everyone to get into the lodge or as close as we could get. More lightning and thunder. We were all huddled up tight trying to keep some body heat going. The temperature was really cold and we were all soaked. Once I stopped moving I started to get really cold.

The Spartan Staff advised us what was going to happen. We had to wait till the lightning hit far enough away, then they were going to let us out onto the last few obstacles to finish the race. Since we had all sprinted down the mountain we had still covered over 30 miles of terrain. So once the lightning was out of the area we all kinda went out as a group. My legs were so cold and cramped up from standing still that it was a slow walk. No fire jump pictures obviously since there was probably a couple hundred people all “finishing” at the same time. Got our shirts and medals and then we left the course.

This race had a ton of highs and lows for me.

The high was being able to complete this difficult and long of an OCR. This race was way outside my comfort zone.

The lows were many. Failing so many obstacles really was disappointing. Plus being hurt and not competing at a higher level. Lastly, losing out on the gratification of finishing the race the way I earned it, was a huge bummer. Can’t blame anyone for that though just Mother Nature. I feel like the Spartan Staff handled that situation the best they could for something that was out of their control.

So I was asked afterwards would I do an Ultra again. Right now my answer is no. It was a great experience both physically and mentally, but it was also probably the least amount of fun I’ve had at an OCR. It was a total sufferfest. Had I not gotten hurt and finished before all the storming, maybe I would say different. Maybe I’ll change my mind, maybe I won’t.

Thanks again everyone for reading this. Your support means so much to me! Any comments or questions, please leave them below or shoot me a message!! 🤡👍🏽👍🏽

4 comments

  1. All I can say is your amazing. The way you handle yourself was remarkable due to the great feat you undertook. This is your first and of course it wasn’t what you expected in finishing this race. You did it and that is an accomplishment in itself. Now you know what an ultra race is and can now prepare for the next. You should at least do it again and see what happens. You will have fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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