Two days after the Spartan Beast Race, a 13-mile trail and obstacle course challenge in Killington, Vt., I think I have the brainpower to reflect on the 6 hours and 15 minutes my younger brother, Will, and I spent out on the mountain.
Before the start, we watched a couple hundred in the elite crew head out at 9 a.m. We were in the 10 a.m. wave and happy to have them go first, break the trail and show us what we were in for. Just before 10, the leaders were back near the base after scaling 1.5 miles up a ski trail and 1.5 down to what we thought was their first obstacle. In all, I think there were 26 out there, and the rock-climbing-like wall and barricade near the bottom ended up being No. 4 or 5 on the list.
As Will and I planned to run up to and over the raging fire at the start, we did a little fist pump. No idea how this is going to go, but we’re going to do it, we thought.
The first 3 miles were tough, as expected. Up and down one of Killington’s steeper trails (Superstar, I think), we caught a whiff of the beating sun and the high humidity. When we weren’t on the ski trail hiking amid chest-high grass (the first guys packed it down), we were in the woods ascending steeper routes with rocks and trees to aid us.
The numbers we had been told to write on our heads (for photography purposes) had by now sweat off, and later in the day, our paper bibs would tear off and be lost in the abyss. (Will’s fell off earlier, I think after the mud mounds — think big hills of dirt and hay with waist-high puddles of muddy/hay water between. Mine came off in the final swim — yeah, there were two.)
Either way, we were anonymous out there, like everyone else. We soon found that no matter how fast we completed an obstacle (Will and I were champions at not failing the tasks, the punishment for each was 30 burpees) or how slow we moved up each seemingly endless trail, we were usually with the same people. There was comradery among the suffering and friends that had no names, just funny outbursts or mantras. One guy said it best with each step: “Hard work, dedication. Hard work, dedication.”
There were points of soreness, acid reflux, nausea, cramping (some for me, others for Will), but we moved forward. Will hit a breaking point around mile 8 (we only knew the distance because someone asked an official). He had a severe quad cramp, but kept on keeping on. You couldn’t sit down to work it out; you’d never get back up.
He helped me over 15-foot walls, which he muscled over, and we each carried a 50-pound sandbag for a 1/2-mile hike up annoyingly technical terrain. My neck hurt with the weight bearing down on it, but I pretended the bag was something too valuable to drop: Charlie, my 50-pound bulldog. At that point, some kid looked at me and told me I was a champion. Not exactly, but at mile 9, I took the compliment.
Not knowing when the race would end was a little grueling. We were told it would be 10-12 miles, but in the end, it was longer. Why wouldn’t it be? As we neared what I thought was the finish, Will and I picked up the pace. We could hear the announcer and taste the end of the self-inflicted pain.
We emerged from the woods, and I saw my mom. She looked relieved, and we were too, for a moment, until she said, “Throw me your packs!” We had another swim.
This one was longer than the previous pond and in about as murky water as I could stomach, but we jumped in.
About 10 minutes later we were still in the water, treading below a bridge and dreading the cable obstacle some 25 feet above. We had to get upside down on a rope strung across the water and inch ourselves across.
Will and I both tried (he had much more success in getting halfway there before the rope burn and cramping got the best of him), and we both dropped like boulders to the water below. We backstroked to the far side to complete our punishment on a rocky beach, a sad display of pushup-jumps that are burpees, and we walked on.
With three obstacles to go, Will almost completely ceased. The volunteers at the javelin throw told him not to throw it — they could see his muscle spasming. I knew I’d be terrible at tossing the makeshift spear into a hay bale, so I chucked it and got on with the penalty.
Finally, Will threw it. His broomstick hit the bale but didn’t stick, and he moved to the side for his 30 jumps. There was no one counting but yourself at this point, but after everything else we put ourselves through — including a low-lying barbed wire crawl over rocks and muddy water — we weren’t going to cheat ourselves.
Will finished his burpees, we hightailed it over the final wall and darted through the gladiator pit (the two stick-wielding men went after Will and accidentally hit me on the follow-through).
Will waited for me before the finish, and we crossed the line together. A storybook ending to one hell of a day.
As we reflected on the strangeness of the race, the highs and lows, and the accomplishment of it all, we left proud of ourselves and each other. If you can do one of these things (and I recommend nothing longer than the 10-12 mile race), do it with somebody else. Not only can they help you, physically and emotionally out there, but you’ll have the memory to share. No one is going to be able to picture what you went through, no matter how good the photos or videos are.
Will, a 21-year-old rugby player at UNH, called me up yesterday.
“Want to go for a hike sometime this week?” he asked.
With scraped and bruised legs and soreness just about everywhere, I didn’t think twice.
“Sure, whenever you want,” I said.
It’s pretty neat when something like that makes you want to keep going.