You couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather for the Central Florida Spartan Beast. Mid 70’s and a moderate breeze by midday. I was atypically early to the venue and, although some delays were reported later on, I had no problem with traffic or parking, which was well staffed as expected.
This race was not just the last US Spartan Race (SR) of 2018, it was the last Spartan Beast. All those needing the Beast to complete their Spartan Trifecta for 2018 were here. People from all over the country had come in, and you could feel the anticipation building all morning.
I was fortunate to get off in one of the first open waves. And I was a surprised to see that they had a hay bale wall right out of the gate. Instead of the usual separation from a long stretch of running, they accomplished this with the Hay Wall and Hurdles (does anyone actually hurdle these??!!).
From then on, until we hit the home stretch, there weren’t any significant obstacle backups. In fact, the only real bottlenecks tended to be at the water crossings. If only we had channeled our inner wildebeest, things would have gone much faster there too.
At this particular race, the course took us away from Festival a half mile in and unlike many others, never looped back until we came home for good, many miles later. In addition to the 8’ wall, a handful of short walls and the Z-wall, those first few miles also treated us to some Spartan classics that I hadn’t seen in some time. An updated, and more difficult, version of the bender was out there along with the Stairway to Sparta. And by the way, who decided to put a flat board at the top of the 8’ wall? It’s hard enough grabbing the top as it was…many people literally seemed surprised that they weren’t just up and over, not realizing that little twist thrown in by SR.
Obstacles in the North Country (which is how I thought of the miles we spent on the Beast trail away from Festival) were thinly spread. It was well into mile 5 when we hit a short barbed wire section and then the Tyrolean Traverse. I’d only seen the Traverse twice before, once at Killington in 2013 and in Virginia 2015, when I was racing with one arm in a sling. Thankfully, even though I had never really faced this obstacle, I managed to find a technique to complete it that didn’t end in some kind of 4th degree burns. Others weren’t as fortunate. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a small victory.
The next four miles were designed to keep me from making it back to festival again. They threw in the old style log carry along with a sandbag carry (literally just a bag of sand) and plate drag (another new SR obstacle to me). And for those who haven’t raced in Florida, you’re virtually dragging through pure sand! At least part of our drag in the early waves was over flat ground. I can only imagine the sinkholes people were pulling through in the later waves.
In addition to the Cliff Climb, which was a cargo net draped down one side of the only pile of dirt for twenty miles, there were a couple of carries I hadn’t seen before. One was the Armer, which was an Atlas ball on a short chain with a handle, and a Farmers Log Carry, another short chain and handle, only this time with a pair of logs on the ends.
Eventually, after all but disappearing into the North Country for 9 miles and a few hours, we were finally making it back towards festival again. For those of us not gifted with running skills, this was grueling and where some slightly more mild temps would have been very welcome. The numerous water stations on the course were also very welcome (thank you Garfield and SR!). Despite the plentiful water though, once we got to the Irish Table and 6’ wall, I was feeling the calves cramping a bit. Knowing it was 14 miles and almost half the obstacles left was definitely damaging my calm by now.
I already knew the onslaught of obstacles waiting at festival for us. What I hadn’t known was that we’d be led into it through the monkey bars, the rig and inverted wall. Not to mention the Atlas carry and another sandbag carry (same sand, different style bag).
The reason I didn’t know what to expect? Because I don’t look at the maps beforehand! Odd, because in my other life, I’m all about planning and knowing what’s coming. In obstacle course racing (OCR) though, I want to experience the course as it unfolds. I miss the times before we even had maps. I remember the shock the first time I realized I was looking at a course map…before the race…horrifying! Admittedly, now I love them…but after the race. My memory is not great, so maps let me keep things in the right order.
Anyway, by the time I hit those last obstacle packed miles I was pretty much toast. What saved me in part, ironically, was already knowing that we would be sent back out into the woods twice after that stretch of obstacles. I noticed that fact while at Festival in the morning. Otherwise that SR trick may have done me in mentally. The spear throw (which I made this time!), Rolling Mud, a good stretch of barbed wire and Slip Wall were just a warm-up to a half mile or so loop back out in the woods.
What I didn’t realize was that after we hit the Herc Hoist and Twister, we weren’t heading out for another quick half mile, but more like a mile and a half. And it wasn’t the bucket carry that was so bad, but the fact that after it, we headed endlessly away from Festival, knowing we’d have to cover at least the same amount of ground to get back.
At this point I felt like a dead man walking. But this was the last 2018 race for me and very likely my last Beast (distance running isn’t really my thing…can you tell?). So failure was not an option…at least I hoped it wasn’t! Even when they threw in the rope climb and Olympus in the last turn home, in typical SR fashion, I knew I had to push past the feeling that I was out of gas. Then finally…finally…we came back through that last section of woods to a glimpse of the home stretch. No more tricks. Just a couple of cargo net climbs and a fire jump to the finish line…and that feeling again that you can only get by doing something you weren’t quite sure you could. I admit though, initially it felt more like survival than an accomplishment.
Another thing that didn’t quite work out was my timing chip band. It broke! Flashbacks to my only other Beast, Killington, when my chip stopped working and I almost lost my race time. Luckily, it broke in a way that made it hang on my wrist just long enough to notice. Initially I tied it to my vest so I wouldn’t lose my tracking. But then, worried about it falling off at an obstacle, I stuffed it in my pocket. Now worried about whether it would be read through my clothes…literally pulling it out of my pocket to carry over the finish line. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it did register throughout the race, no matter where it was. Never underestimate the power of technology!
I was very impressed with the design of the combined Sprint and Beast course mix (kudos to Garfield Griffiths). And running the races on separate days is really the only way that works out well for everyone (not to mention the race breakdown for SR). Personally, I prefer greater obstacle density on the outer section of the Beast (more obstacles per mile). Face it, I’m not a runner by any stretch. I do OCR for the obstacles…not the running. So the Sprint and Super race distances are likely where I’ll focus my attention in the future. After all, at my age, I’m definitely getting older faster than I’m getting better. But there were attractive obstacles in the North Country that I would prefer not to miss doing just the Sprint. Unless that changes, it will be a tough decision in the future. And I have to give credit for the surprising number of people who said in the starting corral that this Beast was their first Spartan. I do wonder how that worked out. I know it was very nearly a bridge too far for me. Yet, somehow, that urge may take me once again and I find myself 12 miles into a race asking…again…“what made me think this was a good idea?”
Tell us what you think. Did you do the Central Florida Beast? Will you do others? Do you want more obstacle density…or at least a more even distribution?
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