I sat on the steep hillside with a 5-gallon bucket of gravel between my legs, protecting it from spilling. This was just a temporary stop to collect my strength as I climbed up the Killington ski run. It was a brutal reminder that ski slopes are for skiing down and that is it! This same obstacle was my biggest challenge at my first Spartan Beast several months ago in Utah. The sight of a bucket now makes me cringe and gives me flashbacks. Descending the hillside, with my bucket in my arms, I thought I might actually cry. As I dumped my gravel into the bin at the end, successfully completing the obstacle, I said to myself, “Pull yourself together, you still have a long way to go.”

I had no idea this race would be so hard! Standing at the start line, I felt welcomed amongst my new Spartan family. I appreciated the cheers and well wishes from my fellow racers as my name was called to the start line of the Spartan World Championships. I found myself standing amongst some of the world’s greatest athletes. There were Olympians from around the globe as well as Xterra, USTAF and Trail World Champions, Professional Obstacle Course Racers, Adventure Racers, triathletes, and marathon winners. This talented group of athletes, including the Spartan Pro Team, will be featured in the NBC Sports Network TV special about the World Championships on October 19th. Given Spartan’s history and the presence of NBC TV, most of us assumed we were about to embark on the toughest, most grueling 13-mile course ever designed by Spartan. Little did we know how humbling the day would be. The steep climbs, cold water and grueling course would sideline even some of the world’s most fit athletes.

The first part of the course was mainly a steep never-ending trail climb up the hills of Killington Ski Resort. There were a few walls and round hay bails to climb on our way up, which is always fun. Living and training at 7,000 feet in Park City, UT, as well as only carrying 98# on my small frame, was a great advantage on the first part of the course. I was surprised to find myself hanging with many of the elite females for the first six to seven miles. It was only when we encountered the heavy obstacles, that their more adult bodies became a huge advantage for them.

Upon reaching one of the few black diamond ski runs at Killington, I peered up the steep slope.  As far up the mountain as I could see, it was just a stream of racers carrying something. As I approached a pile of sandbags, I quickly realized there was only one size. Many of the weighted obstacles at Spartan Races have female and male sized weights. This was the World Championships, though, what was I thinking. There was no time to stop and think. This was a race!

As a competitive athlete, you learn to improvise as you go. I wasn’t sure how I would handle this heavy obstacle but knew I just had to get moving with it. I grabbed my sandbag, tossed it up onto my back and began the long trek. I would alternate carrying the weight on one shoulder, then the other. When both shoulders got fatigued, I would place it evenly across my upper back and neck.  The one thought I had the entire time was, “Why is a 14 y/o girl carrying what a grown man is carrying?” At the time, I had no idea I was carrying 60#, literally two-thirds my body weight. All I knew was, “It was heavy”.  It was only after the race, that I had learned the actual weight we were all carrying.

The Hercules Hoist gave me my first set of burpees. A cement bucket is hooked to a pulley system.  You must use a rope to pull the bucket up to the top. As I started to hoist the bucket up, I would quickly find myself being pulled up in the air as the bucket returned to the ground. “You got to be kidding me! I’ve done this before. This cement bucket must be heavier than my last race.” After being lifted off the ground several times and only getting the weight half way up, I realized Hercules would win today. I immediately started doing my thirty burpees.

During the entire race I was reminded, “I had it easy”. I was not carrying a tumor, like my new friend, Iram Leon. He is 32 years old and living with an inoperable brain tumor, yet not letting it slow him down. I had two healthy legs unlike the amputee that crawled up the entire Killington ski slope on his hands and knees or like the female amputee who stood at the start line with me. I was able to just be at the event, unlike my dad and many others that left this world too soon. It wasn’t hard to put my pain aside and persevere.

Having previewed the course the day before, I knew the water obstacles would come at miles seven and ten. Unlike many Spartans, I was not intimidated by the water, but rather excited. As a two-time triathlon national champion, I had been battling it out in the water since I was five years old. I didn’t take into account, however, how much wearing shoes affected your ability to swim. I was especially glad I didn’t wear a hydration pack like so many did. It would have been yet another thing to weigh me down as I swam across the frigid water and climbed up the rope climbs.

The Tarzan Swing was nearly impossible! I heard of only one female who made it successfully across. This obstacle consisted of ladders and ropes suspended from a bridge in the middle of a lake. After swimming out and climbing up to the top of the bridge, there were about five or six little ropes. One had to swing across these ropes to get to the bell. I made it across two ropes then fell about ten feet into the lake.  As I swam to shore, my only thought was, “I think I’m turning into an ice cube.” As I crawled onto shore, it was burpee time again.

Next up, the Tyrolean Traverse. Imagine a rope suspended across water; a kids dream, an adult’s nightmare! I may have moved slower than Sid, the two-toed slothe, but I made it! I hung below the rope with just my knees and elbows draped over the long rope that spanned the freezing cold, irrigation pond for the ski resort. There was no way I was going to fall off that rope, swim to shore, do 30 burpees and then have to reattempt it again. It was pretty intimidating seeing Elite men wrapped in a foil blanket at the edge of the water, hypothermic and unable to continue on. Today, the Tyrolean Rope would separate the winners from the losers. All I could think was, “Just hang on!” I have some great rope burns on my arms to show for my effort.

The Spartan World Championships pushed me farther, mentally and physically, than I have ever been pushed before. However, with this being said, I know I have not reached my limit. There is always a take home lesson I learn from every race; whether it is a triathlon, a marathon, an aerial skiing competition or a Spartan Race. Spartan reminded me how crucial the mental component of a sport can be. Even if your body wants to give up, you can usually mentally keep pushing on and many times your body will recover. If you give up mentally though, it is over immediately.

For many, crossing the finish line on Saturday was the end of their race weekend. Placing first in the world in the 19 & under open division and 28th amongst the elites females was perhaps my greatest accomplishment ever. However, the most important race to me was actually the next day. For the first time, Spartan offered a charity race. Beat up and exhausted but willing to do it all again, my team of five, Team Winter, set out Sunday morning to try to capture the Spartan Charity Race Title. Our team would be racing for the 1 in 6 men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer, the cancer that took my 40 y/o dad from me when I was only 9 y/o. We would navigate a two to three mile course, with the fastest three times from each team counting. Seeing some of Spartan’s best obstacle course racers smiling at the start line Sunday and getting their “Spartan On” for something bigger than themselves was a great sight. These guys and gals went out with revenge and were ready to give everything they had left for their cause. Only a few seconds would separate 1st and 2nd place. One might of thought Spartan Elites, Alexander Nicholas and Chris Rutz, were racing for the World Championship title. Although Team Winter took 2nd place by only a few seconds, we were proud to stand on the podium with the top five teams, who each took prize money home for their charities. You can bet the yellow Spartan medal is the talk of the Spartan world. Spartan diehards are already asking how they can get one. Maybe Spartan’s will be racing for the quadfecta next season!

Never Give In!

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by Matt “Bear” Novakovich

Why call me the bear? I like to think that a bear can adapt to its environment and not only survive, but excel, and perhaps dominate. I’d like to think that a grizzly bear in Alaska has become respected and feared because of the sum of that bear’s accomplishments, not simply because it is a “bear.” To survive in Alaska, a bear has endured the harshest weather from 90 degrees F to 50 degrees F below zero. No one feeds a bear- a bear finds its food or dies.  A bear is large and therefore strong, yet must stay lean and powerful to chase down and find its food. A bear will travel for 50 miles in a day to find food, only to burn those calories returning to its home. What does this have to do with Spartan?

Spartan racing has accomplished what no other sport in the world has accomplished to date, the same way the harsh environment in Alaska has made a bear the most vicious, most powerful, and most respected animal in the world. Spartan racing does not apologize for being difficult, even impossible. Spartan racing does not cater to any athlete, yet attracts all of us. Spartan racing is the first sport to demand speed, agility, strength, balance, endurance, fearlessness and to do all these things while being out of one’s comfort zone. Every other sport that I know accommodates only a couple of these attributes and typically leans towards specificity.

What did I do to become a Spartan and receive the title “The Bear” after winning the Virginia Super? I had no idea I was competing in this race until three weeks prior to it. In the months proceeding my first Spartan, I played basketball, football, rode motocross, roofed buildings, climbed mountains, jumped off cliffs, white-water rafted and did the occasional CrossFit WOD.

So how did I win? I won because I am an adapted athlete. I am ready and willing to go long, hard and fast. I willing to jump, sprint, fall and grind. I am willing to do all this while being tired, hungry and uncomfortable. I am willing to come back for more.

So how did I implode at the Reebok World Championships in Vermont? I respected myself and not the race. Norm informed us all, that this race would expose all of our weaknesses. He told us to bring water and nutrients or we would starve. He said it would be cold. I laughed in my head at the thought of “cold.” I’m from Alaska and swim in glacier water. Bring a hydration source? Not me, I go light and fast and I will survive. Weaknesses? Please, I’ll be the last to crack.

I wasn’t willing to sit in 3rd or 10th. I chased and hammered from the start and wasn’t willing to let any of my foes lead. As early as the monkey bars (5 miles) my first cramps were arriving. As early as the barbed wire (6 miles) I begged for a hydration source. As early as the water obstacle (7 miles) I felt like I’ve never been colder. As early as the memorization obstacle I knew I would quit.

I sat in a dilapidated, humbled, hypothermic state with cramps I’ve never faced at the entrance of the forest at only the halfway point. My lead of 9 minutes over the eventual winner, had now been replaced with a burpee penalty that took me over 30 minutes to complete. With my pride at an all-time low, with no reason to continue and with excuses mounting in my head, I decided to quit. The medic witnessing my plight suggested it was a good plan.

I did not quit. Somehow, all of the reasons that make Spartan the greatest sporting event on the planet came together and carried me to the finish line. From “The Bear” to “The Mouse” I sat on the ground and became a quitter. Then the mantras of being a Spartan rang in my newbie Spartan ears and I became “The Bear” again. I crossed the finish line.

Just as a bear adapts to his environment I will adapt to my new Spartan World. In the short week since the world championships, I’ve climbed over 40,000 vertical feet, completed four CrossFitWODS, thrown spears, played basketball and have run with my cross-country running team.

I will become “The Bear” again and will adapt and respect being a Spartan.

What will you become? Register today.

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by Steffen “Cookie” Cook
James Appleton’s accent cut through the press conference room like a shaft of bright light. “My background is in the UK Tough Guy competition.” He paused and smiled wryly, “I’m here because it’s tougher than Spartan Race.” With his last comment, he glanced at Spartan Race founder, Joe De Sena who chuckled.  The comment reflects his his deadpan British humor, rushing to the surface, and catching the pre-Vermont Beast press conference unaware. James Appleton lets a fleeting, impish grin dance across his lips before it’s lost again. Blink, and you would have missed it.

Appleton continues, “Spartan was kind enough to fly me out here on the Wednesday prior to the race, about 16 hours of travelling, to allow some time to adjust to the different time zones, so I’d feel right on the day. It was a great chance to get a feel for what was in store beforehand too. I’ve never raced a Spartan Race, let alone the Killington Beast, so it was good to put the landscape in my mind and prepare for what was in store.”

Ever the polite English gentleman, James deliberately makes no mention of his finish (placing 7th) ahead of many recognized and veteran names within the Spartan Race series. “It’s been a real honor to come and race against the guys here as a competitor from a totally separate race, and I’d like to personally thank the guys that helped make that happen – Scott, Robert, Carrie and obviously Joe. I hope that my involvement helped add to the race, in however small a way, and I’d love the chance to come back stronger, wiser, and faster. I’d like a podium finish next time around.”

Appleton has an incredible back story. Born in Manchester, England, but now living in London, he was the only elite competitor from the UK at the Vermont World Championships, but of many from across the world to have taken on the Beast. Something he was very excited about as the sport continues to grow.

“This sport is clearly growing, which is fantastic, and it’s not going to be a passing phase – there’s clearly huge interest, enjoyment and challenge from these races and the adventure that comes from having to really develop all-body strength, agility and endurance. That, and that I hope I did them proud in my first ever chance to represent my country in this new race – I learned a lot on the course, sometimes through making mistakes, and I’d love to come back with greater experience and understanding and apply that, see if I can’t do better than I managed this first time round.”

The three-time winner of the UK Tough Guy competition was keen to see the parallels and to test what he’s learned in England against what is now the biggest obstacle race championship in the world. Comparing the two, he sees parallels.

Photo courtesy of Scott Keneally

“They’re similar in so many ways, but ultimately it’s quite a different experience, at least to the Winter Tough Guy, which is my background in the UK. In terms of calories burned and elevation gained, the Spartan Beast is further and higher. That said, the site in the UK is a permanent one, so the obstacles there have been built over years and years and they’re pretty epic. But most of all it’s a temperature thing – the first year I won the UK Tough Guy I collapsed on the finish with severe hypothermia and spent four hours being slowly warmed back to life by medics. It takes you to such a level of physical destruction in such a short amount of time, and the electrocution side really kicks you in the teeth, that even for the best runners it’s a case of surviving to the finish, let alone racing. But the sense of comradeship, of sharing the experience with the other contenders, is very similar, and it’s a real family of people there, and it was awesome to see that same sense of loyalty and family with the Spartans at this series. That, and the journey each person goes through – you learn about yourself and your abilities, and always come away a stronger and better person for it – that’s a universal thing with obstacle racing and it’s such a huge part of why people come back time and time again.”

With Spartan Race experience under his belt, James will come back armed with better training next time. Pondering his plan of action, he says, “I’ll definitely be adding a lot more rope work to my training, both traverse type and climbing – both for the upper body development and also the grip strength, along with the technique of moving quickly across this challenge. I want to come back next year and nail that particular obstacle.”

Beyond the physical, Appleton remarked on the mental challenges he faced on the course. “I think the most mentally difficult obstacle was the gravel carry. That felt more like a Death Race task rather than a racing obstacle since there was a fair amount of luck involved – one small slip and your race was ruined, having to restart, refill the bucket and carry on, as opposed to just re-picking up something like a sandbag.”

The race involved suffering for all the competitors, for James, it was the newness of an obstacle he’d never faced. “On a personal level, the obstacle I suffered with the most was probably the Tyrolean Traverse, purely because I’d not come across something like that and the strength/technique/speed required to get across underneath was new to me. I didn’t get it right first time, and that was frustrating to deal with and the subsequent loss of time.”

With so many aspects of the race still fresh in his memory, he thinks back and that wry smile plays on his face again when he tries to pick his favorite moment. “It’s hard to pick a highlight for the whole weekend, there were so many different moments, people, and performances that I saw that were just incredible. But personally for me, on a slightly selfish note, it was being called up to the start line on behalf of my country right before the race – as the names of some of the best obstacle racers from all around the world were called. I took great pride in stepping up for the UK. In my opinion, that list of names and countries really showed how far this sport has come and will hopefully continue to go, and was a real benchmark for taking this sport forwards to new and exciting levels.”

But it’s his closing statements which prove that despite his only having done one race so far that prove that he quickly learned what Spartan Race is all about.

Congratulations to James and his 7th place finish.  We look forward to seeing him on more of our Spartan Race courses.  His parting thoughts are with those who he watched cross the finish line hours after his impressive 4 hour finish time.  “Switching from all the talk that comes in about who’s going to make top ten, I always feel that some of the truly hardcore people are those that are at the other end of the scale – the guys and girls out there for way longer than everyone else who take a much higher dose of pain and suffering.  I always have great respect for them and their mental determination to plug on despite the long hours out in the elements taking a beating – they take way more punishment than we do at the front.”

Now it’s your turn.  Sign up today.

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It has been a week since the Vermont Championship Beast. Arguably the hardest Spartan Race this side of the Ultra Beast. We had a chance to catch up with some of the Pro Team to get their feedback on the race. Despite their toughness, training and experience, they suffer the same mental and physical challenges along the course. Here is some of what they shared with us.

Elliott Megquier, who has completed more Spartan Races this year than any other Pro Team athlete, shared his thoughts.

“It was about of mental and physical toughness. It was not about who was the fastest runner (a two time NYC Marathon Champion quit), not about hype. It was about determination and plugging away. I was discourage after doing 30 burpees for the spear and then for the Tarzan swing. But I brushed it aside and ran through cramping.”

Jenny Tobin, finished in 4th place and was the ProTeam’s top placing women.

“I had three goals: goal C was to finish, goal B be in the top 10 and goal A be in the top 5. I felt like I could at least accomplish my C goal but I had thought that in Vegas too and did not finish…Anyway, I lined up a few rows back and started very slowly not knowing how I would feel and knew it would be a long day so no sense in going anaerobic from the get go.” She went on to say, “The obstacles were tough but the mountain seemed like the biggest obstacle. I also felt like there were as not as many obstacles as the year before other than the mountain this year, however, the killer obstacle was the 60 lb sand bag carry straight up hill and down that seemed to go on forever!!! I would have liked to have seen Morgan Arritola carry that thing being that she probably doesn’t even weigh a 100 lbs.”

Ang Reynolds, one of the most experienced Spartan Pro Team women on the course had her own finishing doubts along the way.

“Coming back down that mountain I rolled my ankle on a rock under some grass. I went down, picked myself back up, and made the decision to walk off the course. At this point, I realized my will to finish could not supersede my lack of training. I was completely spent. I limped down the mountain and finally caught sight of my fiancé. I told him I
was going to quit. I told him that it was the smartest thing I could do at that time to avoid further injury. He looked at me and said, “Well, let’s make sure. Why don’t you pick up that sandbag and start climbing while you think?” I grabbed the sandbag and headed back up the mountain. I have since heard that those sandbags were between 65-75 pounds, more than my 7-year-old son, and well over half of my body weight. That wasn’t very fun.

Miguel Medina, who has seen the podium many times this year, most recently at the NorCal Beast had his own personal triumph on the race course.

“Dealing with an injury less than halfway through the race hampered my efforts and shattered any hopes of achieving a top finish, at this point the race was completely mental; finish…adapt or die. I refused to be beaten by this beast, regardless of my placement I was going to finish this race, and I reject the idea of quitting so almost 6 hours later, it was all over…beat up, tired, weak and weary…but not defeated.” and “Adversity tests our will and asks us to do more, so I’m answering the call…next year The Beast won’t know what hit it.

Cody Moat, last years winner and this years 4th place man almost DNF’d. Here is what went through his head at that point and how he came back to finish strong. After a failed attempt at the Tarzan swim

“Half way through my burpees my legs began to cramp. Instead of the burpees taking 2 minutes they took around 3 minutes. I knew at this point that it would be hard to regain the lead but I thought perhaps there was still a chance. So I took off again and only made it 200 meters and my leg really cramped. I sat there on the ground while Matt Murphy ran by. I didn’t know what to do, I’d never had a cramp that bad. So I began hobbling back to a DNF when I decided that I was going to find a way to make my cramped quad bend. So I pushed down on the ground as hard as I could to make my knee bend and it finally bent and released the cramp. By this time Matt had probably gained 5 minutes on me so I knew that it would be tough to catch up with anyone ahead of me. So off I went through the woods but I couldn’t really get going again because I knew any minute my cramp may return. After about 2 more miles of running I had worked out my cramped muscles but there was no catching anyone up ahead so I finished the race in 4th place.”

Christopher Rutz, the Tough Training guy and the oldest man on the Pro Team hit a huge obstacle at the Tyrolean Traverse.

“Coming into the Tyrolean Traverse I was in a good position in the course. So I aggressively decided to traverse under the rope. In hindsight, this was a big mistake for me at this point in the race. I should have been more conservative and used the ‘on the top’ approach. I attempt the traverse 3 times, and each time I failed. Once trying on the top, but without a shirt the impact of rope burn on my chest was unpalatable. Pumping out thirty burpees after each attempt really zapped my strength, but not my spirit. I was determined to finish the race despite the impact this would have on my time and placement. You can be sure I will have revenge on the Traverse and The Beast next year.”

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Top 3 Males

The Ultra Beast began at 6AM in the dark, when there was fog rolling sharply up the mountains. Lined up were Ultra Beast participants as well as Peak Team Death Racers who had been racing all weekend and would be forced to finish their event side-by-side on the unknown miles ahead. All told, it was roughly 27 miles, sharing 14 of those miles with the Beast course itself. It was a wet, cold, and brutal day on the mountain with a finisher rate hovering at 43%. For an ultra marathong Obstacle course race, the only of it’s kind, there is no shock that the numbers fall as they do.

By the numbers:
585 Registered
252 Finishers
- 43% Finisher percentage

First Place Female, Morgan McKay

108 Elite wave finishers
144 Open wave finishers
15 Female finishers (Last year there were 19 female finishers.)
237 Male finishers

Note: Two of those 15 women, Jackie Rust and Heather Knowles Cammarata raced the Beast the day before. Jackie Rust finished in third place female for the Ultra Beast and Heather placed 4th. Less than a dozen Spartans finished both the Beast AND the Ultra Beast last weekend.

Male winners:
1. Junyong Pak 8:36:28
2. Olof Dallner 8:43:03
3. Ben Nephew 8:54:58

Jackie Rust, 3rd place Female

Female Winners:
1. Morgan McKay 11:31:45
2. Nancy Levene 11:46:07
3. Jackie Rust 13:03:45

Are you ready to tame the Ultra Beast?  Pre-register today!

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Under sunny, blue skies in central Vermont, before an international crowd of 15,000, the Reebok Spartan Race World Championships crowned new male and female World Champions. Utah’s Hobie Call, 36, and Amelia Boone, 30, of Chicago, finished first and each earned a $15,000 payout. The hotly anticipated season finale with over $290,000 in cash and prizes, featured some of the world’s most talented professional obstacle course racers, Olympians, professional triathletes, and world champion trail runners. NBC Sports was on hand to capture all the action for a television special airing October 19, 2013.

The men’s competitive heat featured the winner, Hobie Call, emerged from the daunting 14 mile course with a time of 3:35:56. Finishing in second place was Australian Spartan Champion Matt Murphy, 28, in 3:44:15, and Spartan Pro Team member Hunter McIntyre, 24, now residing in Pittsfield, Vt., who finished a close third with a time of 3:44:42.

On the women’s side, Amelia Boone, who came in second last year, took the top spot this year with a time of 4:09:52, nearly 15 minutes ahead of the second place female finisher, Australian Spartan Champion Deanna Blegg, 44, who clocked in at 4:24:10. Rounding out the top three was Canadian National team biathlete, Olympic hopeful and 2012 Spartan Race World Champion Claude Godbout, 27, of Quebec City, with a time of 4:34:52.

At the finish line, still caked in mud, Hobie Call, of Erda, Utah, said, “The course is absolutely crazy. I had to do it carefully and pace myself. I’m still in denial that I won. I’m sure I’ll be crying in a corner in a couple of hours,” he jokes.

Female champion Amelia Boone, an attorney at Skadden Arps, says, “It really could have been anyone’s race. That’s what is great about these events. I went out not knowing what to expect. It was the toughest competition I’ve ever faced in a race.”

The Reebok Spartan Beast race, in Killington, Vt., which will attract over 9,000 competitors and 6,000 spectators this weekend, is infamous for a half marathon worth of steep inclines, technical terrain, and challenging obstacles such as carrying 65 pound sand bags, climbing walls, and crawling through mud under barbed wire.

“We continue to push athletes to new limits with our races,” said Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena of Pittsfield, Vt. “This is the toughest race we’ve designed to date, most definitely. We can’t wait to show the world what we have in store for 2014.”

In addition to the elite heat, the Reebok Spartan Race World Championships featured a charity challenge, an inaugural Vermont Spartan Sprint, and an Ultra Beast that began early Sunday morning on a cold, and windy morning.  More to come on an epic weekend of racing.  Congratulations to all our winners and all our Spartan World Championship weekend finishers!

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