“We did what we were trained to do, what we were bred to do, what we were born to do… Hundreds leave, a handful stay. Only one looks back.” – 300 (2006)
3:45am would be the death of us as mortals and the birth of Spartans. A 21-hour adventure from BTV to Killington, VT for six men looking for a challenge of epic proportion, one that none of us could have expected or prepared for. The air was cold and windy, a condition we would get used to throughout the day and there was still 2 ½ hours until daylight as our two cars began the drive to Killington Mountain Resort, about 2 hours away. On arrival, still in darkness, four trailers bearing “Spartan Race – You’ll Know at the Finish Line” stood in front of us in the volunteer parking lot and complete with muddy, cold and emotionless faces completing obstacles we knew we would conquer before the day was over.
To provide some context, Spartan Race is a series of Adventure Races located throughout the United States and six other countries that features 3 different lengths. The Spartan Sprint is a 3.1+ mile race with 15+ obstacles, Spartan Super (8+ miles, 20+ obstacles) and finally the Beast coming in at 13.1+ miles, or half-marathon length plus 25 or more obstacles. People throughout the world compete in multiple Spartan races and lengths throughout the year and earn points based on their standings and places throughout the year. By completing one of each of the three of the races, (Sprint, Super and Beast) one earns the Trifecta Medal (if all three are completed in the same year.)
Killington, VT hosted the 2012 World Championships of Spartan Race and we would have the opportunity to interact (even briefly) with Spartan legends during our volunteer session, as we cheered them through the race. First prize: $5,000.00. Further, anyone interested in completing the Ultra Beast (basically the beast, but run twice) the winner would receive $10,000.00. We found out that morning that the course was more than 13.1 miles, but no one gave us confirmation of the official distance until we finished that evening.
After moving our cars into a lot we probably shouldn’t have parked in, but we were all glad we did, we headed to the registration table to get signed in for our volunteer section. We were Section #1, received our T-shirts, Gatorade, water, sandwiches, chips and granola bars, and after an uncomfortable 75 minutes of standing around, we were led by our Volunteer Coordinator onto the course and would begin a 6-hour volunteer shift. Five students; Brian Culmo, Spencer Cray, Everett Ackerman, Nick Pugs and Devin Carter and I were in two different locations towards Mile 4 and Mile 14 of the course. Mile 4 was a water obstacle called “Tarzan Swing” which featured a 25+ yard swim out to a bridge where a rope ladder would lead up 10 feet above the water to four hanging ropes. These ropes, tied off at the bottom would be handles for competitors to swing from rope to rope to a 5th, white rope with a bell tied on the end. By crossing the obstacle, using brute upper body strength and a little bit of strategic management, one would hit the bell, fall in the water and head over to shore – about a 30-35+ yard swim. The catch: only about 20% or less actually completed this obstacle, leading to the majority of participants heading to what we declared, “Burpee Island.”
Spartan is cruel and more demanding than most adventure races for one reason; if you fail an obstacle, you complete 30 burpees; an exercise that demands stamina, a strong stomach and willpower to get you past your first set of ten. Burpee Island was heavily populated throughout the day, requiring all failing competitors to swim an additional 50+ yards and do burpees; IN the water.
Burpee Island: Population – 2,000+ people.
Leading runners into this cold, grueling swim was Everett at the loud speaker, explaining the obstacle, yelling at a few to go faster. Brian and Spencer greeted the runners coming into the obstacle, Nick stationed originally at Burpee Island and then visiting me on the Island of Success – the beach you’d reach if you hit the bell and completed the obstacle. Devin took one for the team and was stationed at the Javelin Throw – a 30 foot throw into a straw target, or 30 more burpees would be required.
Knowing that we would all be running this course at 1:00pm during the Volunteer heat, we all took notes on how competitors were doing, and tried to get a grasp (literally) of how to complete this obstacle. The whole purpose of volunteering, other than our desire to help out at multiple events throughout the XC season, is that if you volunteer for 6+ hours, you get to race for FREE ($13.14 total cost because of insurance.) 6:45am-12:45pm got us to the race early, warmed up us (the only time we would be warm that day) and got us ready for the exposure to the extreme elements and course that is Spartan.
We were released a bit early, since our Coordinator knew we were running the race, and I’m not sure if he felt sorry for us for the pain we’d endure, or he just had an exceptional memory, but 6 hours after we first met, he wished us good luck and we took off to the parking lot to suit up.
Glow sticks. Head lamps. Camelbaks. Backpacks. Clifbars. Candy. Powerbars. Clifshots. Powergels. Gu. Ten items that would give us our only hope throughout the race, we were required to carry the entire race. Spartan decided that this would be the first race to be mostly self-supported, with only two water stops along the course, neither of which would have any energy or fuel; just water. They also reminded us that we could treat any of the water on the course ponds, if we have the equipment.
We grabbed our bib numbers, pins, tracking chips, timers, wristbands and all required equipment to reach the start line, filled up our backpacks with all nutrition and fuel, and rushed to the starting line; our race starting in 8 minutes. The start line was filled with the last heat of the day, a nervous tension throughout the air, some smiles, but mostly deep breathing and loosening up.
Nearly 12-hours after our day had begun, we were starting what would be the toughest experience of our lives; a race that would bring us closer, reveal our breaking points, and ultimately a test of determination and will-power that would bring six men together for an experience we will never forget.
Part 2: Start to Finish coming soon!