Hello fellow purveyor of the endurance arts. If you’re reading this, then you are wanting to challenge yourself with what can be argued as one of the most difficult Obstacle Course Races in the industry. For the Vermont race the past couple years, the average finish rate is about 25% of actual participants. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in that low percentage for 2013/2014.
Be very aware, the stories you have heard about this race are not exaggerated. It is a race where you can train hard and still not finish. People are strewn around the course with debilitating cramps, pure exhaustion and early onset hypothermia. The sandbags litter the mountainside where men and women could go no further and walked off the course, leaving their sandbag(s) at the only proof they even attempted.
I’m writing this in my office on the 30th of March, 2015. This year, I’ll be attempting the “Spartan Double” again, which is the completion of the Spartan World Championship Course and the Ultra Beast the following day. I never said I was a smart man. I will be competing in Tahoe, but the insight I bring here will hopefully help in any Ultra Beast you are going to compete in this or any year following. I’m going to break this down in to two sections, Training and Race Day.
It is approximately six months until the Ultra Beast in Tahoe. If this is your first foray, you should have already started to train for it. If you have not, you better start now.
Now the question is how does one train for an Ultra Beast? The only correct answer: incessantly. You’re going to find more training recommendations than you’ll have time to go through. How you train for these and how often are up to you. I’m not going to tell you what to do with your body. Just know, these are what I feel to be extremely important. The most basic things you will need to train for are:
- Long hill climbs
- Freezing water/swims
- Grip Strength/Upper Body Pull Strength
- Foot form
- Overall Endurance
Long Hill Climbs
According to our average GPS data this past year, there was about 16,000ft of elevation change. I live in south central Texas. We don’t have hills, let alone mountains to train on since, you know, the races are all over ski mountains. If you happen to live in a mountainous area, you’re in luck. Find a steep mountain (15%-30%) and climb it, over and over again. Find logs or bring Wreck Bags as weight since several times we had to carry buckets and multiple sandbags up those steep slopes. For those of you like me who don’t live near hills or mountains, the Stairmaster and Treadmill are your new best friends. You should be doing a LOT of inclined running on your treadmill and doing 100, 80, 60, 40 floors in a single workout. Sometimes you’ll need to be carrying a medicine ball or other weight to simulate the carries.
This one seems like it would be simple, but it doesn’t make it suck any less. I’ve never considered myself a strong swimmer, nor am I a weak one. I can hold my own. When you jump in to that lake water in Vermont, it seizes you. You have only two options, let it wait and get cold while barely moving, or go hard and don’t let your muscles cramp up. That’s what you need to get used to.
Swimming in any pool will help. Swimming in a pool while wearing your hydration pack and race gear is even better. That stuff drags like hell is the water. So, swim, get used to swimming in less than optimal conditions. As for the freezing water, when you have on outdoor workout, have a trash can or large cooler/bucket will with water and ice you can jump in to and completely submerge yourself/dump all over you. You need to be used to going from feeling nice and lose, to everything freezing, tight and having to work it all back out again.
Grip Strength/Upper Body Pull Strength
This seems simple enough. As you know we are always climbing ropes, dragging tires, traversing walls, rigs and such. Grip and upper body strength are paramount to completing an Ultra Beast. Why is that? BURPEES! If you can avoid burpees in an Ultra Beast, you’re already doing great. They drain your energy faster than almost any other section of the race. Chin ups and pull ups are your best friend at the gym/at home. I don’t mean just three sets of ten. I mean four unbroken pull ups, drop wait 20 seconds, do four more unbroken, and wait 20 seconds. Continue this until you can’t anymore or until you hit 40 total sets (160). This is after you have already done your running and cardio.
What does that even mean? Well, even for those of us who do a ridiculous amount of upper body endurance training, at mile 29, we are all just fighting to get ourselves up anything. Proper foot form on a rope climb will be the difference between a bell and 30 burpees. It’s the same on the eight foot walls and anything else where your whole body/balance comes in to play. Learn how to properly use your feet in obstacles where you could potentially benefit from them. They will keep you out of the burpee pit.
Running up and down these trails, you’re going to have many sections where there are rocks, tree roots and other various nature sundries that might keep you from running. Or, it could just be downhill. Find technical terrain. You need to practice running at speed where you have small and large rocks, tree roots and other things so you know how to transfer your weight from foot to foot and how to identify, on the fly, “YES, that rock CAN support me at this angle” or “Nope, that’s going to roll and hurt me”. Learn how to judge the trail. You can’t walk, you have to run. Also, just because there is a downhill section that’s steep, doesn’t mean you can’t run it. Learn how to dig your heels in to the ground to control your descent to make it down those sections swiftly, but in control.
Run long distances, run at inclines, run at declines. Run when your legs are tired, run when your legs hurt, run when fatigue sets in. Your runs should be mimicking that of a person training for a marathon. Only you get to do those runs, hopefully on trails.
Part 2 of the series will be published next Tuesday. See what Techniques Willis uses on race day to make it through the infamous Ultra Beast.