The Killington Ultra Beast, the beast of the east, and the home of Spartan. It’s the infamously tough course that’s punished people and served up DNF’s for years. It’s drawn my attention since I first heard about it in 2014 and I finally made the pilgrimage. The “hard ones” attract me naturally, that’s why I got into the sport in the first place, to challenge myself. I’m good at suffering and enjoy it.
Let me also add that this race was insane. I underestimated it. I believed that this 30 mile race would be a breeze because I am a 2x podium finisher of WTM. It wasn’t……. With 13,000 ft. of elevation gain in 30 miles the elevation plot looks like that of a skyrace. A skyrace with 400m of swimming and 60 obstacles. It deserves every speck of notoriety it gets. Many started (700 people) and very few made the 15 hour cutoff. In 2016 that coveted belt buckle was earned.
I did most of my training on the treadmill due to living circumstances. I lived in a flat area and needed to train hills. In order to develop a training program I researched the hell out of the Killington Ultra Beast. I figured the race would be around 30 miles with 12,000 feet of elevation gain and most of that gain would come from steep climbs up the black diamond runs on the ski resort. To prepare for this I did several long runs on the treadmill trying to duplicate what the course was like in 2015. I simulated the “death march” as best I could by climbing 2,000 feet as fast as possible at 15% incline (I really need to invest in one of the incline trainers that steepens to 40% incline). In hindsight, the terrain of at Killington is very trechnical and the treadmill cannot prepare you properly for this race. I came undertrained. That aside, I think the most beneficial training run I did was a 10 mile hike/run at 15% incline on the treadmill. It took me around 2:20 but the mental aspect of a going through a grueling climbing slog was good training for what Killington dished out this year.
If I was to do it all over again, I wouldn’t even log my miles for the week. I’d just go for max vert. 3 weeks out from the race (the peak training week- in my opinion) I ran a 100 mile week with a measly 11,000 feet vertical and it wasn’t enough. I should have halved the miles and tripled the vertical gain! I now know what to work on next time.
Alisha and I flew to Boston and drove up the Friday before the race. Spartan advertised a mandatory Friday check in for Ultra Beast participants between 2pm-6pm, this wasn’t mandatory from what I later heard. Killington has a max elevation of 4,000 ft. with a base around 1,600 and having just spent the previous week in Colorado air wasn’t an issue.
Friday afternoon we walked the mile from the hotel to the event check-in to drop off my transition box. Inside, I had 2 gatorade bottles filled with my new nutrition mix and a headlamp with 2 glow sticks. I will never use tailwind again, Josh Fiore used it and had success with it, but it’s not for me. I used a combo of CarboPro and electrolyte mix. I didn’t bring any food.
The morning of the race I got up at 0400 to eat bagels and Peanut Butter then went back to sleep. At 0500 I walked from the hotel to the venue. It was dark but warm, and looking to be a sunny day. I wore a merino wool T-shirt, CWX tights, and Injinji compression socks. This was too much gear but I think of it as padding (like motocross gear) and the more I wear, the harder I throw myself into the course. It’s mental, like padding for NFL players.
The elite Ultra Beast sold out and the starting corral showed it. It looked like the start to WTM. I had no idea how fast these races started but I knew I wanted to get out front early to avoid congestion. I always get to the starting corral about 15 minutes early, I never barge my way to the front. I’m just there. The race start was delayed from 0600 to 0630 and that gave the sun a chance to rise so we could ditch our headlamps.
The gun went off and everyone went out fast, I was surprised. I looked at my watch going a 5:00/mile pace and I was being passed. I realized the futility in it, and relaxed to a jog. After less than a mile of downhill the course turned left and began it’s first big climb of 1,000 ft. in a mile, one of many. Josh and I worked our way to 2nd and 3rd during the climb and passed 1st place at the top of the hill when he failed the wet monkey bars. Josh and I traded the lead for the next 2 miles through the Bucket carry and 2 nasty 100m barb wire crawls, one of them uphill. Josh was a stronger climber but I was taking the downhills faster. We couldn’t shake each other but it wasn’t a nasty competition. We were talking and joking with each other the whole time.
At the top of the second climb we began our descent towards the 200m swim to the Tarzan swing under the bridge at mile 6. Coming down the hill I passed Josh for the lead and he settled in behind me for the long 1,200 ft. descent. We were enjoying the winding descent down the MTB trails so much we never stopped to assess if we should even be running down the MTB trails. When we came out of the woods we saw the first hill climb again and we knew we had made a mistake. Turned out we had followed the GoPro competition signs from the week before (they were green and white like the beast). When we turned around to retrace our steps (uphill!) we saw that 3rd place had followed too. 15 minutes later we where back on course and in 20th and 19th place. We were both upset but it was a long race and we could make it up, but now we had work to do.
Josh was on a mission and so was I. We never agreed to run together but were attacking the course at the same pace. At the edge of the pond we both bypassed the life jackets. I didn’t know where the swim ended but I knew the jacket make the Tarzan swing under the bridge harder to complete. We were the only ones in the water without jackets and I don’t blame people for using them. It was a long swim and my shoulders were sore when I got to the tarzan swing. There was a 30 burpee penalty for not climbing the rope ladder and a 30 burpee penalty for not transversing the 5 rope swings and ringing the bell. Skipping the swim was not an option. The water temperature was perfect and I side-stroked the whole swim occasionally submerging my head to cool off. Climbing the ladder was no problem and the swing was easy using the bent arm traverse approach. I didn’t see a single person complete this obstacle on my second lap, great obstacle Spartan!
After the swim it was back into the hills. Josh and I continued our push for the lead, taking down runner after runner. After the next big climb and descent to the rope climb we had workout our way into 5th and 6th. With the rope climb finished, we only had one final hill to climb and descend in lap 1, the Death March Hill (a 1,539 ft. climb in 1.2 miles). Josh set the pace up the hill and I did my best to match it, but he took off. He slowly disappeared more and more after each of the 5 false summits. At the top of the climb he was out of sight but it was only lap 1. As Josh said, the race doesn’t start until lap 2.
I bombed the jarring descent of Death March Hill the best I could and came around to the spear throw seeing Josh doing burpees. I was 0 for 7 with the spear coming into this race (I’ve never hit it) but the spear throw is mostly mental. This time I knew I could do it and I sunk that sucker for the first time in my life! I ran off as Josh did his last burpee and we were back at it again. We went caught up to 3rd place and went stride for stride with him through the inverted wall, atlas carry, Spartan rig, and into the transition area.
The three of us entered the area and I saw 2nd place there too. This was my chance to take off. I poured my bottles into my bladder, grabbed my white “top 20 UB” bib, and took off. As I left the transition area I saw one of the racers sitting down changing his socks. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I was glad he was doing it. I could count him out of the race. I was the first one out of the transition area and was starting lap 2 in 2nd place.
Lap 2 was a different experience entirely. Instead of having the feel of a heated race between competitors, it felt more like chasing a guy down on a crowded city sidewalk. After our 0630 wave another 10+ waves had been released and most of them were out there for the day. They had packed bags with stereo’s and beer and were in it for the long haul. It was a day out with the buds, and I respected the hell out of them for choosing this race as a bonding experience.
As a second lap ultra beast runner, your job is to navigate this crowd and look for other UB white bib’s who are hidden in the masses looking to take you down. I’m not complaining though, I loved the crowds and I loved the community. I can’t even count how many times people stopped on the course and stepped aside to cheer me on as I charged on to chase down 1st place. At the top of the first hill climb on lap 2 (Josh had caught me of course), the entire crowd around the monkey bars cleared a lane for us and clapped and cheered as we went stride for stride across the uneven bars. Definitely one of the highlights of my racing career.
Down the hill and approaching the Bucket carry Josh and I saw first place, Mark Jones. He looked pretty tired but he had just raced a 36-hour event 2 weeks prior, the Ultimate Suck. I caught up and passed him at the top of the next hill. I asked him if he was first and he said yes. A mile or so later when I arrived at the pond for the swim and Tarzan traverse I was sure I had 1st place secured. I looked back and saw no white bib’s behind me and once again I was the only guy in the water without a life jacket (so I was sure Josh wasn’t in there). I cruised through the Tarzan swing, had first place secured (so I thought), and was running a burpee free race. Today was a good day.
On the second lap they changed the swim by extending it all the way across the pond. You could still skirt/scramble across the huge rocks on the waters edge but it was much faster to swim. I was a lot colder this time out of the water and even shivering a little, but I shook it off pretty quickly. Not sure if the Merino Wool shirt helped with this but it was a damn comfortable shirt. I’ll wear it again.
Hiking up the long ascent after the swim I kept picking off open racers and no one passed me. I was praying that Josh and Mark met up and decided to run together, which would allow me to pull away. It’s not often that I lead a race and I don’t like the feeling of being “the hunted”. You’re always on edge and it’s easy to push yourself too hard and this is exactly what happened. I began a slow spiral into exhaustion. I wasn’t cramping but was reaching muscle fatigue. I hadn’t trained hard enough. I felt as if my quads were going to fail during the steep descents and felt as if they couldn’t push my body up the ascents.
When I reached the sandbag carry about 3 miles before the finish, I saw Alisha for the first time and I told her I was only a few miles from the finish in first place. As the words left my mouth a voice behind me said “WAS in first place.” I turned around. It was Josh. He was picking up a sandbag and taking off up the hill. Where the hell did he come from? No time to think. I had to pass him back. I grabbed a bag and worked my way up to him. I passed him on the turn around, threw my bag down, and did my fastest shuffle to the rope climb.
I climbed the rope in 2 pulls (I’m 6 foot tall) and took off slogging up Death March Hill for the second time. Josh caught up to me quickly and congratulated me on an awesome race and comeback. We were both exhausted and neither really cared who won. I watched him slowly pull away but couldn’t muster any strength to catch him. I had to push so hard on my knees just to get them to bend and send my body a few inches up the hill, I couldn’t even imagine bursting forward to pass Josh. He was climbing away and with the win. He was the better man for sure. I didn’t put in the training and I’ll never forget that moment. I lost the lead in the final stage of the race because I didn’t train hard enough. I didn’t give the race the respect it deserved. Fuel for the brain come November!
I capped off the hill and everyone began to cheer me on, yelling “he’s only 4 minutes ahead of you, you can catch him”….they didn’t know how smoked I was. I did my best on that long, steep descent to make up what I could. My only save could have been if Josh missed the spear throw again. But he hadn’t. I sunk my throw for the 2nd time in this race and the 2nd time in my life to complete a burpee free race. My first burpee free race! I cruised through the rig, climbed the slip wall, and jogged through the smoke to finish my first UB only 5 minutes behind the leader. A pretty close race in my book.
Top 3 men are military veterans