Spartan Beast, Part 1

“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!


Catamount 5K 9/18/12


This Tuesday the team ran at the last of Catamount 5k trail run races. The course was different as usual, it was a new black arrows on yellow, which meant it was way faster, flatter, and wider trails than usual. The new course, and less than 5k distance made for a seemingly very quick race. everyone ran well, with some great performances on the trails. There was a nice sprint finish amongst Ethan and Everett, and everyone enjoyed running fast on the trails. Despite forecasted rain, the real heavy weather held off until after the finish, with only light rain and winds to contend with during the race.

Results (distance ❤ miles ish)

Div Place    Name           Overall place     Time                        
3 Brian Culmo 5 16:39.2 7 Spencer Cray 13 17:52.5 8 Jacob Mott 18 18:42.2 9 Ethan Farmer 21 18:48.7 10 Everett Ackerman 22 18:49.5 13 Elias Connolly 36 19:55.5 16 Eric Heiman 75 23:12.0

4 Katherine Ramsey 51 21:04.9

Archie Post 5-Miler

Seven students raced last Sunday morning at the Archie Post 5-Miler, Vermont’s oldest road race of 44 years.  The five mile course sweeps through back neighborhoods of South Burlington and winds into UVM’s bike trail back to Gutterson for the finish.  In one of the fastest and most competitive races Archie Post has seen, with both male and female records shattered, Champlain XC held their own among the competitors.

Female Results:

Katherine R. (37:47), Alicia T. (40:35), Ellen V. (41:30)

Male Results:

Brian C. (30:18), Jacob M. (35:59), Elias C. (38:19), Eric H. (45:15)

Brian C. led the team coming in 22nd overall out of the pool of 115 runners.  Solid times for a first race of our XC season with plenty of opportunity to lower these times drastically over the next two months.


Oh, and Elias won a pie.  First XC Runner in Champlain’s history to win a pie by winning his age group.


My Take on Jay Peak 25K

I will continuously give Brian a hard time for this race for taking the “scenic route” around and around the mountain with cute little uphills and downhills, but to give credit where it’s due, Brian destroyed this beast of a race. 

While students were all snuggled up on a brisk Sunday morning, one that required the first sweatshirt of the season, my team captains arrived at my place with breakfast sandwiches in hand, and maybe a bit too much energy.  4:45am is tough on students, and it’s still tough on me, although after a cup of Caribou Coffee and a bite of a Tour de Shiner (bacon, ham, sausage, cheese, hashbrown, roll) we had enough to make our 90 minute drive to Jay Peak.  The drive was nice, despite nearly murdering a family of turkeys about 70 minutes in.

Arriving at Jay Peak during the sunrise is something everyone should experience.  Rocking a Champlain hoodie, and Spencer wearing a hoodie with a pillow in it (no joke) we were ready to check in at registration and figure out our responsibilities.  We knew we were going to hoof it to the top of the mountain, and were prepared to do so, but I somehow dragged this poor woman, Anya into our volunteer group accidentally, and she was forced to hike to the peak with us.

With Brian registered for the race with bib in tow, and Spencer falling asleep at the “Introduction Meeting” – which for the record is sign that the racing staff probably doesn’t know exactly what they’re doing, Spencer, Anya and I began to hoof it to the top.  The first mile was pretty easy… access roads and sloped trails until we got about 1/2 way to the peak.  From there, it was a grueling mile STRAIGHT up the mountain, no turns, through waist-high brush and slippery rock facades.  Basically, bushwhacking.

At the top, our aid station was set up and we were presented with 360 degree view of Vermont and Canada and without question, had the best location for an aid station.  We had an EMT there named Steve, or George, or Chris, or something; neither of us can remember.  We had water, Gatorade, candy, chips and peanut butter sandwiches, and about 45 minutes in the runners started.  I made a comment about how if Brian was in the top 3 at this point I was going to throw him off the mountain, because we both agreed he’d take it easy for at least the first half UP, and when he came through in 5th place, I was happy. 

The 25k’ers went and passed and it was an uncomfortable 3.5 hour wait for the next runner to show up, a sign of the first 50k’er.  Race Directors gave us two different numbers of runners, so in an uncomfortable exchange of text messages to the RD, I decided to just take charge with Spencer.  We rocked it, we had the best EMT to work with, and no one was seriously injured at our station.  Reports of bloody feet and maybe a missing arm, but that’s not too bad, right?

In isolation, at the top of the mountain surrounded by Canadians, candy and cowbells, Spencer and I’s conversation turned to food; given it has been 8 hours since we have had any.  We took turns shouting out food we were craving.  Bacon.  Chili.  Hot Dogs.  Chili Bacon Hot Dogs.  Mozzerella Sticks.  Mozz Sticks dipped in Chili.  Tacos.  Anything and everything.  This may have been our breaking point of being nice to anyone anymore.

The race went well, and Spencer and I took the tram down to stuff our faces of anything since we hadn’t had any food since 7:00am and it was close to 3:00pm.  They messed up Spencer’s pizza, as he called it, and I wouldn’t recommend the pub to anyone who demands average to fast-paced service, but it was a good meal.

For a 15 hour day that featured early mornings, hectic climbing, confusion on the course, poor RD support, awesome EMTs, isolation, Canadians, cowbells, children stealing our candy, and more – it was surprisingly fun.  It had it’s ups and downs, but we have stories to share that wouldn’t have if we weren’t there to support Brian.  4th place overall, 1st in his division… looking forward to his, and our teams next race on September 9th – Archie Post.

Jay Peak Trail Races 25k

Another weekend, another race. This one just as grueling as the last. The Jay Peak Trail 25k was an intense trail running test up the mountain, down the mountain, around the ski area, back up the hill a few more times, and around the trails some more. Most of the race was run on ski trails, but there was some single track involved. There was some epic hills in this one. at about mile 4 the course went up about 1700ft in elevation gain in about 2 mile. For those doing the math, that’s steep. and that was just the second major climb of the day, with many more to come. At the summit it was nice to see my XC teamate Spencer, and coach Bret, which were volunteering manning the water station at the top. Then it was down and up and around for a while. the legs burned every single uphill. It was impossible to run up every slope, as the steepness, distance and multitude of hills just add up in pain. As the race progressed the hills that I needed to walk part of seemed to increase. The last few miles were spent in lonely agony, as the race spread out quite a lot. I finished the race in 4th place overall and in first place for the 20-29 division, which I was quite proud of, considering it was a race I only had goals of finishing honorably. It felt amazing to sit and relax at the base area of Jay and enjoy the beautiful day and the free barbeque, (which was much better than last weeks barbeque). I had some time to kill, as Bret and Spencer were still volunteering up top for the simultaneously run 5oK (2 laps of the course I did), so I chilled at the bottom and met some interesting people as i cheered on the runners who trickled in. The race was very rewarding and quite the challenge, and I feel very accomplished to have conquered the course.


The North Face Race to the Top of Vermont


On Sunday I ran the The North Face Race to the Top of Vermont. This race was quite the experience. the race is 4.3 miles up Mt. Mansfield’s toll road, with a total elevation gain of 2550ft. That’s a lot. The race is one giant hill with steepness averaging about 10% with sections over 20% incline. The goal of many racers is to simply finish this agonizingly difficult course, and mine was no different. I simply wanted to finish without walking at all. This was my first time doing the race, so I had no idea what to expect. The course starts off immediately with a 15%+ hill for the first half mile, so literally a minute into the race is was completely dead. I had to find a way to recover while still climbing uphill. I eventually found my rhythm, and realized it is impossible to think about what other people are doing, and only focus on yourself, and what your body can do.  It was incredibly rewarding to finish this race on the ridgeline of Mt. Mansfield, with incredible views. I accomplished my goal of not walking and finished the race in 46:11. i will never have 11 minute miles hurt so much. After the race i had to walk down the toll road to my car, then i went over to the Stowe baselodge to enjoy a BBQ and the awards/raffle. The raffle at this race was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. They had probably almost 200 prizes worth a total of $16,000. I ended up winning a $50 giftcard to a bike store in South Burlington and some beef sticks! Overall the race was very fun and a great challenge.



Catamount 5k Trail Run

I did my first Catamount trail run 5k this year on Tuesday after arriving in Burlington in the morning. I did the race alone, but the series always has a laid back and familiar feel. The usual faces I see throughout the season were all there, and the competition was tough as expected. They ran the blue course this week, but they alternate between 3 different super fun courses that have really tight turns, technical trail running and single track the majority of the way. These races are not XC races, they are trail runs; there is a difference which I learned last year at my first Catamount. I felt like I was flying through the trails, but either by the technicality of the course or the supposed extra distance, my time was only 22:37 for the 5k. After last year I have expected slower times at Catamount, and I cannot be disappointed with what I ran. It felt really good to get some speed work in, after doing a lot more distance work this summer. now it is time for final meetings to get things organized before everyone else arrives on campus on Friday. Excited to meet the team and start training together.


Vermont City Marathon – May 27th 2012

This weekend, runners from XC2012 at Champlain College hit the pavement for the 24th annual Vermont City Marathon through the streets and paths of Burlington, Vermont.  Rising sophomore Brian Culmo will be competing in his second marathon this year (his first in October 2011) and Rachel Salois & Darin Boutet, recent graduates of Champlain College will be two of the three runners in the 3-5 person relay.  Also in attendance are alumni, Dan Bergeron (’09), Andy Konz (’07) and Adam Tinker (’11) participating in the 1/2 and full-length race.  This weekend marks the hottest marathon-weekend in at least five years with temperatures reaching 85+ degrees by noon.  Full report will be available on race day, and follow us on Facebook or with hashtag #ccxc2012 for up to date race results!

Summer training begins

Sad to leave Burlington today, but excited to be done with finals. now I can continue my training at home in Connecticut. No terrain here will compare to the great views I got everyday running in and Burlington. I will certainly miss seeing the lake and mountains on my daily runs. its crazy that we only have something like 10 days until our Tough Mudder, and then another 3 weeks until the Vermont City marathon. Already excited to run back in Burlington, with the added fun of a race, and crowds! As for the XC team, we have a lot going on as we continue our work on organizing our application for the YSCC (Yankee Small College Conference) and NECA (New England Collegiate Association), details to come in a later post.

(and we have a new facebook group! check out the links tab for the link.)