Spartan Race returned again this year to a very familiar venue, Killington Resort, nestled high in the mountains of Vermont. What was once home to the Spartan World Championship race is now a more obtainable opportunity for many OCR athletes in the Northeast to complete their coveted Spartan trifecta. The course in years past was 16+ miles with many thousands of feet elevation gain. Due to these grueling conditions of the course the DNF (did not finish) rate in the past was very high. This could be very intimidating for the average OCR participant and this venue is certainly not for the faint of heart. This year however, the course was just over 14 miles and still with several thousand feet of elevation gain. Some people were even calling this year’s Killington Beast a “Beast Light” compared to other longer distances in the past, but I think the course designer delivered a very challenging race that was humbling to even the most experienced OCR athlete.
The course was intense with steep inclines, treacherous downhills and many challenging obstacles along the way. Many of the typical favorite Spartan obstacles were there: monkey bars, barb wire, herc hoist, inverted wall, plate drag, z wall, sandbag carry, Tyrolean, atlas carry, twister, rope climb, cargo nets, spear throw, olympus and of course the fire jump. But to make things more challenging the course designer included two barb-wire crawls and two sandbag carries. Both of which included uphill climbs in the mud (both ways…j/k). After about mile 5 there was also a long couple hundred yard swim through frigid mountain pond water to a suspended rope ladder under a bridge. Several Tarzan rope swings under the bridge, ring the bell, fall into the water, and then swim another hundred yards or so to the shore. This was not easy, and required a 90 burpee penalty if you chose to skip the obstacle entirely.
Another tradition for the Killington, VT ski mountain venue is the famous “death march” which is a one mile + hike straight up the mountain with over 2k feet of elevation gain at one shot. Several times along the way up there are deceiving plateaus that make you think you’re nearing the summit, only to reach the beloved temporary “flat spot” and then look up at what seems like an eternity to get to the top. After reaching the peak, stopping for a brief moment to enjoy the stunning views of Vermont, we begin the treacherous downhill descent to the base of the mountain. Just when you think you might be nearing the end of the course, after 13 grueling miles, the course designer throws a long bucket carry at you, uphill, with mud. Thoroughly exhausted, this was a killer for many racers. But after persevering through the bucket carry and completing several more obstacles in the last mile of the race, the finish line never felt so good.
The festival area at Killington is one of the best at a Spartan Race, in my opinion. The layout at the base of the ski mountain is setup well with numerous vendors demonstrating products and giving away free samples. The announcer and DJ were on-point keeping the crowd hyped-up and engaged, while Long Trail brewing (a local VT brewer) provided the delicious free beer at the end of the race.
The full weekend-long event offered the traditional Beast course on Saturday (if you consider running up and down Killington Ski Mountain traditional) as well as the Ultra Beast (running two laps of the Beast in the same day). I was humbled as “Ultras” passed me as they completed their second lap, while I was running my one and only. The open wave participants recognized the Ultra runners on the course by their bright yellow vests and consistently, very politely moved to the side to let them pass. I appreciated the comradely amongst Spartan racers on the course and respect for the Ultra Beast athletes. On Sunday the event also offered a Sprint distance for those not wanting to tackle the 14+ miles of the Beast. Still a very challenging course no doubt, this shorter distance offered a much more doable race for many participants.
Another very cool aspect of this event was the time that athletes were allowed to run the race. The final cutoff and sweep of the course was 9pm…well after the sun went down. Runners were wearing headlamps and completing their final obstacles in the dark. If you thought running a Spartan race during the day was difficult, try running at night. My hat’s off to all those competitors that looked like glow worms off in the distance as they traversed up and down the mountain.
The festival party went well into the evening as racers finished the course, received their well-deserved coveted green Beast medals and thoroughly enjoyed their delicious Long Trail Ale. The course was beautiful with stunning views of the Vermont mountains. The trail markings were extensive and ensured that there was absolutely no chance of getting lost or veering off course. There were plenty of aid/water stations along the way with several of them providing an opportunity to refill your hydration pack, however I highly recommend bringing your own hydration and don’t rely solely on Spartan to provide you water. Also make sure you pack plenty of nutrition to keep you sustained during the long grueling adventure that is a Spartan Beast. We packed a pile of GU’s and Honey Stingers for our journey, but along the way we found many other generous Spartan racers that offered us candy, protein bars, goldfish crackers and beef jerky. Even though I like to call myself an experienced Spartan warrior, we were on that mountain for a lot longer than I anticipated, and we thoroughly enjoyed the extra snacks we were offered.
The Killington Beast is like no other. It will break you down to your core, completely exhaust you and bring you to the edge of giving up, but still somehow keep you motivated and push you to keep going and finish the race. I was completely exhausted, cursing the race director and course designer as the miles kept going and going and we kept climbing and climbing. Battered and bruised at the finish line I was absolutely overjoyed to complete the course and get off that damn mountain! And then, while enjoying my cold refreshing beverage, walking through the festival area, high-fiving fellow Spartan athletes that triumphed over the mountain alongside us, to my utter surprise I found myself saying “I can’t wait until next year to do this again.” Even now as I write those words and finish this article I cringe, did I really just say that? You bet! That’s why we do these events. They push us to our boundaries and make us stronger better human beings. I will most definitely be back here next year.
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