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Ultra Beast Dad

June 3rd, 2017 2 comments

Squaw Valley ultra beast course

Looking down from the top of the mountain.

This post would be “Ultra”, “Ultra” long if I did much more than just focus on the race. It is over 2700 words as it is. I will detail the journey to the Spartan Ultra Beast in a separate post. The Ultra Beast was held at Squaw Valley Ski Resort. It was advertised to be 26+ Miles and 50+ obstacles of torture. My son Bryce decided to run with me.

Bryce and I made it to the starting line on October 2, 2016. We were in the 6:45 AM heat and made a mad dash after not knowing where the starting line was and got in the corral at about 6:40. As with every other Spartan Race we had to climb a wall to enter the corral. Unlike other races there was a bit more elbow room. UB Racers are a just a little bit crazy.

It was a frigid 25 deg F at the start and rain and/or snow was in the forecast for the afternoon. My hope was we could be done with the first loop and maybe have made it back to the top of the mountain before the storm hit. I was 1 for 2.

This was the World Championship weekend so they of course had some extra special goodies in store for us. First the course itself was estimated to be a monstrous 30-miles. We were also told there was a mountain pond swim to look forward to up top. This same pond was featured last year and gave many racers, even elite racers problems. In 2015 my wife, Amberlynn; son, Cameron; and I completed the Beast. We took a 60 burpee penalty to skip it after seeing the condition people were in after they exited. It was even colder this year.

This pond again caused problems on Saturday and with Sunday’s temperatures even colder they made the decision to cancel it. However, there were still 3 other obstacles that featured water. There was the mud pits at the beginning, the pool under the Ape Hanger, and the dunk wall. All water events ended up being cancelled during the second loop (at least for the open heat).

Tip #1: remove shirts before entering water obstacles and/or carry a dry one. We removed ours at the first mud pits. Some people also removed their shoes and socks, but I would be afraid of injuring feet on a rock or something.

Our first obstacle was a parking barrier that acted as a low wall followed by the OUT (Over-Under-Through) and then three quite cold, mud pits. This was followed by an approximate 2.5 mile climb, 1000’ elevation gain. We basically walked all of the hills and did our best to make up time running like the dickens down. During this first climb we met our first 6’ wall.

Ultra Beast Loop Bryce

This was finishing the killer incline on the second loop.

Ultra Beast Loop DadThe end of the first climb featured a ridiculously steep hill that a sane person would not consider going up. It is meant to be skied down. At the top of the climb was our first major obstacle, the monkey bars. This is not a normal set of monkey bars. The bars are not evenly spaced apart and you have to move up and down the rungs. We both crushed it. The fun run down began. We met up with a “hurdle” and another wall. If you do the hurdle wrong, you will drastically reduce your future child bearing prospects. I like to hop up and flip over.

Tip #2: most people find it easier to traverse the monkey bars by moving one hand to the next bar and then placing the remaining hand next to it. Actually swinging like a monkey could tear your hands and you may misjudge the distance between bars and fall.

We made it to the bottom and faced a new obstacle, the Gorilla Bags or Thigh Master. This was 5 large punching bags that you had to traverse from one to the other without touching the ground. It tests your arms, your grip and yeah, your thighs, but we made it. The Inverted Wall was right after this. I have had trouble in the past with this, but not this time. Now we faced our next major climb. This would be about 5-miles and 2000’ of elevation gain. This would take us to the top of the course at over 9000’.

On the way up we had to climb the A-Frame Cargo Net which was placed right near the Bucket Brigade. Just a little bit of a mind game moment. We would face it on our way down the mountain. At the top of the next climb, before the final push to the top, we had to climb over a Vertical Cargo Net. Next was the dreaded Spear Throw which basically gives most people at least one set of burpees. We picked up the spear, tried to make sure nothing would catch the rope, balanced it in our hands and launched. We both missed. Time for our first set of burpees. Next we climbed up and through a boulder field that seemed to never end, especially when about what turned out to be half-way, my calf began seizing. That was basically around Mile 8. It flared up off and on throughout the rest of the course.

Spartan Log Carry Perfection

Just Crushing it!!!

Spartan Log Carry

Smiling through the Log Carry

I may have the order of the next set of obstacles wrong. But the top of the course featured a number of killer obstacles in a fairly short distance. There was the Log Carry which wasn’t too bad. But we did witness our first race casualty. A guy went hypothermic and had to be taken down. He was running without a shirt, which wasn’t really a good idea for the conditions. We also had the Sand Bag Carry (Elites and Competitive heats had to carry two, we just had to carry one). This was up and down a steep hill and brutally long.

Spartan UB Sandbags

The Beastly Sandbag carry.

We next faced the Pillar Flip. This replaced the usual Tire Flip. They were long and narrow and shaped like Greek columns. My son and I completed it together doing 4 flips each way instead of 2. We came across another new obstacle, the Olympus. This was an A-Frame wood structure that you had to go across horizontally using chains, holes, and/or mountain climbing holds. Your feet couldn’t touch the ground and really were of no help.

Other challenging obstacles were the Atlas Carry, Sled Pull, and a horrendous Barbed Wire crawl because of the 30 – 50mph gusts of wind. This took us to another new, torturous obstacle, the Ape Hanger. You had to climb up a rope and then traverse monkey bars attached to a horizontal rope ladder. Bryce tried first, but we decided it would be better to take the burpees than expend the energy and still likely fall and have to still do burpees. We had to walk through the freezing water. Even if you do make it to the end you have to drop into the water.

During the burpees for the Ape Hanger my calf seized again and I just had to gut it out. I was given a compliment though. A guy noticed how I was holding me leg and the grimace on my face. He said I had real grit. Yeah, I’ll take it.

Next was another new obstacle, the Inverted Monkey Bars. You had to climb an A-frame metal structure from the inside, ring a bell at the top, make a transition to the other side, make your way down, and ring another bell. My calf seized up again after just the second rung. The guy next to me had a similar problem but he was hanging and started flailing like a fish. One of the volunteer staff gave him some support and helped him finish. I just wrapped my other leg around each rung and just pulled myself rung to rung.

Finally, we had the Tyrolean Traverse which I had done before. I find it easiest to grab the rope from underneath, loop your legs over, and basically move yourself with your arms to the bell. I recommend wearing at least compression sleeves to avoid rope burn. It was now around mile 10 and time for the long downhill to complete the first loop.

As we headed down we had to complete the modified Stairway to Sparta. This is built on a wooden frame. You had to use a rope to climb up the first section which was like the slip wall. The second section is a climb to the top of the A-Frame, probably about 20’ high. Your arms and legs are just a wee bit spent and he next obstacle was an 8’ Wall. I just didn’t have much left in the tank after the top section and Bryce helped me get over. He did not need my help. Oh to be young again.

Spartan Bridge to painbridge_to_second_loopAt mile 13, we met everyone’s favorite, the Bucket Brigade. You carry a bucket full of rocks and dirt out in front of you. You cannot put it up on your shoulder. The men’s weighs about 75-lbs. I did a lot of training for this. They made this an unbelievably, diabolical 1/2 mile long. I have no idea how long it took us to complete. After finishing we had about 1.5 miles to the bottom. A series of six hurdles had to be navigated and the final set of obstacles at the bottom were the Balance Beam (I fell off, yes more burpees), the Herc Hoist (Bryce and I did this together and did it twice), the Slip Wall (the dunk tank had been closed so the wall wasn’t too slippery), and finally the Bridge. We completed the First loop in 6-hours which isn’t bad for the open heat. Quitting was not a word in our vocabulary, but it was for others.

We were told that at this point that all water obstacles had been closed for the second loop; a storm was brewing. I put on fresh socks, changed out my water bottles, and ate a fig bar. I added two scoops of my Tailwind to the water. And off we went for round two.

We felt pretty confident about our ability to finish. We had 9 hours to finish the second loop. However, even though we felt good about the time, we knew exactly what lie ahead and that wasn’t necessarily reassuring. The mental game began. Now we had to get past certain obstacles at certain times or we would be pulled from the course. As we headed down from the monkey bars, the snow began to fall.

It was a light snow at first. We weren’t that worried about it as we had extra layers in our backpacks. So on we went. We got to the bottom and made it through the Gorilla Bags and faced the inverted wall and first checkpoint. My calf seized up as I was going over, but I made it. At this point, I faced a different kind of obstacle. I had to make a bee-line for a bathroom as a BM would not wait any longer.

Squaw Valley UB with Snow

As if it wasn’t beastly enough, we got snow!!!

Now for round two of the second long climb. It started to snow even harder. We hiked past the Bucket Brigade which we would face a second time when we came back down. Some serious snow had begun to accumulate and I imagined that obstacle would not be much fun with the added snow. Really a little bit of energy was sucked out of me. I was not looking forward to facing that a second time. We climbed over the A-Frame cargo net and continued our push upwards. And it began to snow harder. So we donned our jacket and gloves we were carrying.

This part of the race was mostly a zig-zagging trail up until the vertical cargo net. The snow came down harder and had become near white-out conditions. I wondered if they would actually close the course down which would really suck as we had already completed one loop and were on our way up and had the time to finish the second. When we got to the top we were met by Squaw Valley personnel and the decision to close the course had been made. Not only were many racers just not equipped, but neither were the staff and volunteers. I really believe Squaw Valley didn’t want anyone dying on their mountain.

About 3-inches of snow had accumulated on the ground. All obstacles were now closed or so we thought. We had done 23-miles and had 4-miles to get back down. This is important for the end of the story.

They didn’t actually just turn us around though. We basically followed the path down as if we were finishing the course. After going about 2.5 miles we came to the Bucket Brigade and now there were 4-inches of snow on the ground. And here comes fun twist #1. As we approached, they saw we were Ultra Beast participants and basically indicated they wouldn’t make us do it, but what self-respecting UBer wouldn’t?!? Now I am all for toughness and grittiness, but this bordered on being dangerous. My son and I had the proper gear for the weather, but many didn’t. A delay like that for some could cause some real issues. Nevertheless, my son and I grabbed our buckets and off we went to complete our 2nd loop Bucket Brigade. And yes, it was incredibly brutal, bordering on stupid.

Spartan Slip WallSpartan Slip WallSo it is still snowing and we have about 1.5 miles to go. All of the obstacles at the bottom were also still open except for the dunk tank. My son helped me on the balance beam so I avoided a 2nd set of burpees on that. We did the Herculean Hoist again twice, together and even helped another racer. Then over the slip wall and instead of the bridge we had the rope climb and Multi-rig to complete before finishing. We were so close. I will admit that my feet were frozen. It was good that the end was near.

Tip #3: Master the J-Hook for the rope climb. Whether you face it at the end, middle, or beginning of a race, it saves your arms and precious energy.

Spartan Ultra Beast finish line

The scene at the Finish

We both made it up the rope. Bryce started the Multi-rig but didn’t have the energy to finish so dropped to do burpees. I was just going to do burpees, but the rules are you actually have to attempt the obstacle so I touched the first pole and dropped down. And I started my burpees. With my calf seizing again and frozen toes, this was painful. Bryce finished his before me, but waited. We ran across the finish line together, but I somehow beat him by 1 second. Yeah!!! That’s right. This 46-year old just beat the 18-year old.

And now twist #2. Since the course was closed early there were a large number of people finishing at the same time. Because the race is an Ultra Beast you have to complete more than 26.2 miles for it to qualify. By my count we had done 27. People were freezing, tired, and just a bit cranky and now you had to stand in line to see if you had done enough. That naturally didn’t sit well with many people as they didn’t make the decision to close the race. But on the other hand you don’t want to carry around a medal you didn’t earn.

After standing in line for about 20-25 minutes they closed the lines down. One of the staff got up and said they had to start closing the systems down as another storm was rolling in. We would be notified by mail whether or not we had done enough. You can imagine the frustration of those still there, but we gathered our stuff and went home. At that point, we just had to trust in the process. Finally after 3-weeks we got an email that we had indeed done the distance needed to qualify as a finisher. And about a week later, we got our medals (buckles) and shirts in the mail. Bryce and I were official Ultra Beast finishers. By the way, only 30 – 40% of those that start, finish an Ultra Beast. Yeah, it felt pretty good.

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