THE DAY BEFORE
- Flew into Reno. When I had reserved a car, an SUV was actually the cheapest option, and when I got there, all they had left was a 2017 Chevy Equinox with a little over 5,000 miles on it, so I got an upgrade – score! I stopped by Trader Joe’s and Total Wine for some groceries and local craft beers.
- I briefly considered just staying in Reno, rather than driving 2 hours total to do early packet pickup in Squaw Valley, CA, even though that was my original plan. I had come all that way already, though, so I might as well soak in the full experience.
Packet Pickup and World’s:
- The decision ended up being great. Squaw Valley was full of cars, so I was glad to get the lay of the land with this scouting trip. I got my packet and went into the festival, where I soon got to meet Rose, Ryan Kent, and David Magida.
(David Magida was awesome to talk to and really nice)
- I picked up an event coin and patch at merch, and carried around my drop bucket while visiting vendors like Clif, which was doing 180 degree pictures, Ascent, and Fit Aid. It probably wasn’t great for me to carry around the bucket so much, but oh well. It brought back memories of staying on my feet to much at expos before marathons. Maybe not the best for the race, but it’s part of getting the full experience.
(Clif Bar 180 Cam)
- I also got to see some of the new obstacles in-person. I had been following Youtube how-tos and the new obstacle rulebook. The Thigh Master and a modified rig were out there. Nobody was coming through the Thigh Master at the time, but it’s like the floating door obstacle in American Ninja Warrior. It’s also like the knotted rope portion of the rig because you get to use the chains, but with the added benefit of being able to wrap your legs around the giant punching bags to provide some relief to your arms.
(Thigh Master. The setting of the race and festival was gorgeous)
- The drop bags for the ultra beast were at the ski resort’s members’ locker room building, on the porch. I found a good spot in the corner, easy to remember. The temps were supposed to go into the upper 20s, so leaving my hydration sources in there didn’t seem like a good idea. Fortunately, we would be able to re-visit the bags the next morning, between 5-6am. It was good to go early to get a good spot, but the bags were close enough to the starting line that you could also put in or take out whatever you decided that you needed to do on the morning of.
- After saying goodbye to my drop bag, I started going back. A few miles into my drive, though, I decided to turn around and head into Lake Tahoe. I remembered that after the race, it would probably be too dark to do anything, and I likely had other plans for the rest of the week, so this would be my chance to go. It would’ve been a shame to do the Lake Tahoe UB without actually seeing and touching the lake. It was only about 5 miles away. There was free parking close to the shore, and I hung out there for a little while, taking in the view. The water was cold.
- That night, I had some boxed soup with lots of sodium. I ate PB sandwiches, too, along with carrots, oranges, and maybe some string cheese.
- Woke at 3-something am, showered, dressed, and headed out. People at the hotel were coming in from their nights out. I must’ve looked strange going out in my wetsuit at that time of night. Drove into Squaw Valley. Not many cars were there at the time. Hung out in the parking lot for a while, gearing up and visiting the porta potty (successful trip there). When it got to be about 30 minutes before the race, I headed out and visited my drop bag. Saw Special K there, who as always, was thinking about others and making sure they had everything they needed.
- The walk to the start ended up being longer than expected. You had to go all the way through the festival, even though the start line was right next to the bag drop. Made it with a few minutes to spare. Lots of UBers with their glow sticks and head lamps were in the corral. It was really exciting, like an ultra-marathon might be. We all had this monumental task ahead of us, too. Epic music, perhaps from Gladiator, starting streaming through speakers on the sides of our lanes. Squaw Valley, host of one of the Winter Olympic Games, has it all. Up on the Spartan bridge, which was also the starting line frame, I saw Hunter! He seemed like he had been up all night partying. He was yelling up there like a mixture between an Emperor and Saprtan General for whom we’d soon be battling. It was pretty amazing, and he pumped us up. It was inspiring to see him up there. Soon, he made his way down the bridge and was going through the corral, hugging people and wishing everyone well. Crazy guy.
- During the race announcements, they made it known that the swim would be cancelled for the day, due to concerns about hypothermia. Soon enough, it was time to go.
- We started by going through the Squaw Valley resort, which felt just like a European alpine village, which also added to the ultra-marathon feel of it. We went through the parking lot for a bit, where the first “obstacle” was a concrete barrier, followed by Mounds of Grounds that got us waist-deep in cold water. That made me glad that I had the OCR-friendly Reebok Beast All-terrains on. If we were going to get our shoes wet periodically, anyway, it would’ve been a pain to have to take off your shoes just to avoid wearing wet shoes. They would’ve gotten wet after you put them back on with wet feet, anyway. Then, Over-under-through, a nice warm-up obstacle. Then, some short walls. Then, the first climb started.
- The UB would be two laps of the Beast course. One Beast course consisted of a 4-mile climb and descent, followed by a higher 9-mile climb and descent, with an extra 1.7 mi between the two. Throughout the race, I had to force myself to remember to run on anything flat or downhill. I think I remembered the vast majority of the time. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget, though, when you’ve finished walking up a hill and go right on walking on flat ground.
- We trekked through with our headlamps on. There were rocks and ruts, but nothing too bad. As we ascended, the sun started to rise. There was a steady line of UBers making their way up the mountain. There was a taller wall, which I made it up just fine. Then, at the top of the hill, after a very steep and long climb, monkey bars. I couldn’t even grasp the first bar. I don’t know what’s up with my hanging ability, but it seems to have gotten worse in the past couple of races, even as other skills have improved. My first set of burpees. There was one “floating beam” hurdle, which I made it over, right before the descent started, followed by a second farther downhill. More downhill, some parts of it steep. Braking was involved.
- We made it back into the festival area, where I got to give the Thigh Master a try. It ended up being very reasonable, as expected. The hardest part was that the bell was pretty high, so I had to pull myself up higher on the last punching bag to get it. It was fun. Obstacles that look hard but that are doable are my favorite. This was followed by the inverted wall. Then, the Beasts and UBers were directed uphill, while sprinters were directed to the right.
- Up dirt service roads. As we started up, I admired the views around me. It was gorgeous. “A nice day for a hike,” I thought. The terrain and views on the West Coast are so varied and wild. Rock juts out of the ground in all kinds of amazing and beautiful patterns and formations. I always love it when I visit, and wouldn’t mind living here. Encountered a cargo A-frame, an 8-foot wall, 7-foot wall, the stairway to Sparta, vertical Cargo net. Also on the way up was the Spear Throw, which I’ve never made before. I had a strategy this time… I’d give it a bit of a running start, figuring that that velocity would be added to my usual weak throw. If I remember correctly, the spear actually grazed the hay bale this time! Progress! It was at a completely wrong angle, so it had no chance of sticking, but at least I’m one step closer! The benefit of the UB is getting to do the course twice, so maybe the second time around, I’d get to improve on that.
- About every hour, I took in some food. I didn’t want to bonk, and in a 12-15 hour day, even without racing, I’d have 3 meals, if not more mini-meals, anyway. I had gels, dark chocolate chunks, and mini Clif Builders’ bars. On the way up the mountain, I decided to also stay on top of electrolytes, by emptying a packet of fizzy electrolytes into a cup of water at one of the aid stations. Normally, one packet goes with 1 L of water. I drank it while it was still fizzing. I would later regret this…
- There was an aid station a little bit before the top of the mountain, and one of the volunteers said that I was the 15th place woman at the time, which was pretty cool. I’d later drop to 19th place, although the two people before me didn’t end up doing the second log carry (more on this later). Another new obstacle showed up – Olympus. It’s similar to ones from Battlefrog, where you have a slanted wall that you try to traverse. The difference was that you had a variety of holds that you could use to help make it through, which was interesting. There were short chains, holds, and rock wall grabs. I think I ended up using all kinds, depending on what was most convenient in that particular spot, although the holes in the wall were probably the most useful, because they were stable and offered 360 degrees of gripping options. This was a fun obstacle, because it was challenging yet doable.
- At the top of the mountain, they had a gauntlet of obstacles. Spectators were supposed to be able to ride up a gondola to come watch it, although with the weather, I’m not sure if it was open at all on the day. The gauntlet started with carries – the sled drag and the Atlas carry. Then, our first taste of the Spartan Ladder, which was an inverted ladder where you hit the bell at the top. Then, you swing to the symmetrical side and make you way down. At the top, my arms were extended with one hand on each side, with my legs on the side I was coming from. It was really high up. I wasn’t sure if my arms would be strong enough to stay on the obstacle once I made the leap to the opposite side. I asked the volunteer if he would catch me if I fell. He didn’t respond and just stayed at the far end of the obstacle. Oh well. Now or never. I leaped, and my body’s momentum carried my legs to the opposite side. I was estatic to not fall. After that, I just had to make it down and hit the lower bell. This was another fun and challenging yet doable obstacle.
- Then, one of the obstacles that has always crushed my dreams… the Tyrollean Traverse. It started on a hay bale. I tried to get on top of the rope, since that would save arm strength (although I could imagine it causing rope burn all down your body). I couldn’t get on top of it, though, so I resorted to doing the usual under-the-rope approach. It’s a debate on certain challenging obstacles to decide how far to push yourself, because if you don’t succeed, you would have just expended energy and used up time. I started going, and after making it half-way, the thought popped into my mind that I didn’t want to have come all this way to fail and have to do burpees, so I kept trying. I have never made it across this obstacle before. With each pull, I made it a bit closer. I couldn’t believe I was doing it. Now, I was only a couple of pulls away. My grip was starting to give out. I had been wearing Max Grip gloves, and my hands were slipping out of those, too. The volunteer was really cheering me on. With whatever I had left, I made the last couple of pulls and grazed the bell. I couldn’t believe that I had finally beaten the Tyrollean Traverse. It did feel shorter than some past ones. I don’t know if it really was shorter, or if it’s like when you’re a little kid, places seem big, and when you grow up and re-visit them, they look so small, haha.
- Next, two rounds of long barbed wire crawls. The wind was strong on the summit, and as racers rolled, through, it kicked up even more dust than the sand that was already getting blown across the summit. It was a rocky roll, with the wire being one of the lowest in memory. At least it was straight and flat, with no real impediments to motion in the way.
- Once we were through with that, the Ape Hanger, another new obstacle. It was a rope climb out of the water, followed by a floating iron chain ladder. Whether you made it to the bell or fell somewhere along the way, you’d be going into the water. I couldn’t even make it up the rope. I had packed all of my gear into a dry bag, and wearing it around my chest, it stayed out of the water, anyway. My second set of burpees.
- Then, it was time to go back down the mountain. They put the long, heavy carries on the way down. A double-sandbag carry for UBers on the first lap. I do pretty well with sandbags. I started with them on my shoulders, but soon had to just hug them. To rest, I pinched them between my chest and my legs by bending over. That way, I didn’t have to dead-lift them back up, and it didn’t add any effort, either. It worked well. Next was water-filled punching bag-like things. They were really heavy… even heavier than the Mens’ tire that I had practiced on at the Fort Bragg festival. I was glad to have gotten in that practice and to have built up confidence, because those flips were hard. We had to do it four times.
- Then, the log carry. Two other women were around at the time that I was getting my log. I focused on getting a small-volume log. As I started going down, with that log on my shoulder, I realized that I should’ve focused on getting a smooth log. This log had bark all over it, and it was scratchy and catching my hair. Lesson learned for next time. It was a long log carry, first downhill, then uphill. Neither was easy. The downhill was rocky and slippery and steep. I’d shift it from one shoulder to the other, throughout, and that bark was very annoying. Made, it, though, and continued down the mountain.
- On the way down the mountain, I started having pains in my lower chest, where I suppose my stomach is. I didn’t think it was related to anything I ate. I suspected it was that the concentrated fizzy electrolyte drink was continuing to fizz. Over the next perhaps 9 miles, the pain area gradually migrated from where my stomach was, to the middle of my digestive track, to the lower portions of my digestive track. It wasn’t race-stopping pain, but I’d hold my stomach with my hands and sometimes bang my chest with my fist to make it try to feel better. The good news was that I was pretty sure that I knew what caused it, and it wasn’t a huge deal. Eventually, it would make its way through, one way or another. I ran slower for the time being because of it, but once the pain did pass, I’d be able to find a new gear.
- One nice surprise about the course was that part of the trail went along the Western States trail. It was single track, with descents that weren’t technical, but it was still rocky enough so that you had to keep paying attention. I’m not sure that I’ll ever go for a 100 miler… a 50 or 55 or maybe a 100K may be the most I trudge through, and even if I did finish a 100 miler, getting into the Western States 100 takes winning the lottery with tough odds stacked against you. So it was cool to at least have gone on the course. It was nice. Hey, the good thing about trails like that is that you could really run them on your own, any time. As we were going down to lower elevations, it did get warm, so I peeled off the upper half of my wetsuit and tied the arms around my waist.
- Once you were nearly at the bottom, the bucket brigade that you knew was coming finally showed up. The whole time, you were hoping that they somehow forgot about it, or that it disappeared from the course. The bucket actually went pretty well for me in Fort Bragg, but this was much longer. There were going to be lots of stops on this one. Someone on Facebook had taken some pictures, and later noticed that the bucket brigade track had been in the background. I did put the wetsuit back on for this, because having a big puffy folded wetsuit top in the way would’ve made the bucket more difficult.
- After the bucket brigade, we encountered hurdles… not 1, not 2, but SIX. That’s the most I’ve ever seen in a row. Just 2 Spartan races ago in Asheville, I finally made it up a hurdle. Now, I had six in a row. I put the wetsuit back on for this, to not have a big lump in the way. I had to shuffle around my buffs and hat, too, which took time. But in the end, I was ready, and I made it across them all.
- We ran back into the festival, where we met a balance beam. It wasn’t your ordinary balance beam. They cut away the lower corners, so that only a small surface area was flat. It was wobbly. I tested it a bunch with one foot before “committing”, but I fell after stepping halfway. Bummer. Didn’t think I’d have to burpee on the balance beam. Fourth set of burpees (monkey, spear, ape, balance). Then, the herc hoist… another nemesis since the 2015/6 weight increase… jumped onto the rope and tried to pull down, and it barely budged, so I went to burpees. Fifth set. Then, the “dunk” into the water. It was a small body of water, and it was at a lower elevation, so it wasn’t too cold. Everyone was prepping their gear into dry bags prior to going in. There was a wall above the water that forced you to put your whole body including your head under water. Did the slip wall, then the Spartan bridge, then into the transition area.
- Transition areas are fun, because it’s a unique thing that you only get to experience at long races. I love gear, so I like visiting transition areas. The only other time I’ve done it is at BFX, where we got to visit it every 5 miles. I found my bucket and brought it into the sun to stay warm while I traded wrappers for new food supplies. I ditched water containers and a second dry sack, since the aid stations were sufficient, and the larger dry stack was enough. I kept the headlamp, because it was required for anyone still on the course at 2:30. It was a little before noon when I went into the transition area, so I had a 5-hour and something first lap. Since it had been warm running downhill in the latter part of the first lap, I had considered ditching my wetsuit and going in clothes. However, I heard that they shut down the ape hanger at the summit because it was too cold and starting to freeze. In that case, I’d keep my wetsuit on. It wasn’t too bad running in it, anyways. For most of the course, it felt like a magic wetsuit. It felt warm in the cold weather, and it didn’t overheat most of the time. I drank some of my hydration, ate a bit extra, and headed off to my second lap. As I left, a staff member handed me a blue wristband to wear along with my UB green wristband, to indicate that I was on my second lap.
- Going out again through the parking lot, my stomach was in great pain. There was a big grimace on my face. The volunteers along the course probably thought it was because of the running effort, but no, it was just fizz. Concrete barrier, mounds of grounds, O-U-T, walls. There were far fewer people around this early part of the course, than there were in the morning. As I started going up the first hill (the 4-mi one), I soon started seeing many around me – the Sprint racers. It was nice being able to hang with them, even though this was my second lap. I failed on the higher wall this time. It was with my gloves on. Maybe if I had taken off the gloves, it would’ve been better. I had to use the restroom. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to make it anyway. Regardless, I ended up doing my 6th set of burpees. Failed on Monkey bars again… at least they were all kind enough to let the UBer try first, which I had read about online as a convention. 7th set of burpees. Made it through the two top-of-the-mountain hurdles. Headed back down the mountain. Made it through the Thigh Master and Inverted Wall in the festival area, too.
- I noticed that the backs of my hands were really puffed up – I guess that’s called edema. I don’t know whether I was hyponatremic, or if it was altitude-related, or if I had too much sodium and was retaining water. Odd, but caused no harm. It took a day or two for my hands to go back to normal.
- One piece of gear that I was really glad to have were the buffs. I had three of them. They can all go around my neck, or one can go around my head and the others around my neck, etc. They’re versatile and lightweight. Not only did they offer warmth where it matters most (around the neck/head), but they also offered sun protection and dust protection. The latter was key on the dirt service roads, when staff cars came rolling by, or when the wind kicked up sand.
- Back up the 9-mile hill. I got passed going up the hill, and did some passing. Some were UBers, some were Beasts. A-frame cargo, 7-foot wall, stairway to Sparta (there’s a chance that these are on the way down the mountain, and not up, but it’s hard to remember). At one point, I thought I saw the Spear Throw up ahead. I thought that after running just a bit, I’d get another chance at it. But it didn’t appear. I wondered if it was a mirage. Eventually, I did see it, way farther up the course than I remembered. My chance at finally making it. I gave it the running start, but as the spear started flying, the rope wrapped around my hand and jerked the spear backwards… fail… bother. 8th set of burpees. As I was running up to the Spear Throw, a volunteer said that they closed the gauntlet, because the conditions were deteriorating up there. Just before he said that, it had started snowing.
- We continued going up the mountain, in the snow. Got diverted past the gauntlet. The sandbag and water log flip were closed when I got there. The second log carry was still open. Volunteers and the photographer were still there. I couldn’t believe it, and wondered how much longer they’d be staying. I wonder what it would take for the water log to freeze into a giant ice log. I picked a smooth log this time, and got through it. One of the other racers doing the log carry at the same time was blasting heavy metal from speakers… it was an epic log carry, in the snow.
- Continued down… the Stairway to Sparta must’ve been on the way down, and not up, since I remember this being covered in snow. The volunteers were doing their best to keep the small ledge from accumulating a sheet of ice. They were brave out there, in those cold conditions, without the benefit of being able to run to stay warm. They were super encouraging, too, even though they must’ve been suffering in the cold and wind. The 8-foot wall was closed.
- The snow was increasing. We hit the single-track trail again. I was booking it down, since I had the energy, and since I didn’t want to be out on the course as conditions deteriorated. The trail was getting harder to see, and if it weren’t for other racers keeping the trail’s snow full of footprints, it might’ve been hard to find the right path back. I think my stomach issues had pretty much passed by then.
- I kept hoping that the bucket brigade was closed, too, but no, it was not. Volunteers were saying that each person could decide if they would do it or continue running, but that you’d have to live with that decision, and look at your medal in light of it. So many people were out there. Bucket brigade in the snow. I was glad to have the wetsuit, because it was cold. There were some people far less dressed than I was, and taking sitting breaks on their buckets, too. That must’ve been really cold. One girl had completely wet hair, too. Got through it, and went on. Hurdles were “optional” as well, but I wanted my UB to be earned. Anything not closed, I’d do or burpee. I wasn’t sure whether I’d have enough jumping and arm strength left. I hoped that maybe they had torn down some of the hurdles in the weather, but no, all six were still there. And surprisingly, I made it through all 6. Going from 0 hurdle ability to 16 in one race – score. Now, in the home stretch. Back to the festival. Wasn’t sure what would be open there. Turns out, everything other than the dunk wall. I thought maybe it was deemed too cold, but I think I read that it had actually blown over from the wind, earlier in the day. I made it through the balance beam this time. The course marshall coached people through it. Adjusting the beam to one side of the groove gave it one-sided stability, at least, which helped. Failed the Herc Hoist, 9th set of burpees. Did the slip wall. Bridge was closed (too icy, too easy to fall from a great height). Failed miserably at the rope climb, 10th set of burpees. Lastly, the rig. Failed that, too. Maybe early in the race, it would’ve been doable, but not at this time. 11th set of burpees.
- After finishing, I eagerly gobbled up the food that was offered. Ultra Beast medals were at a special tent. They started announcing that not everyone who was a UBer who crossed the finish line would get a medal. They had been diverting people at different points in the course, and only those who made it more than 26.2 miles would be able to get a UB belt buckle. Others would get a Beast medal (which they don’t typically do), or maybe nothing, perhaps, depending on how far you got. As you can imagine, this caused much controversy. There had been published time hacks, and the diversions were forced on racers who would’ve otherwise been well under those hacks. It would’ve been tough, too, for those who made it, let’s say, 26 miles, to go home with a Beast medal. The race organizers wanted to keep true to the meaning of the “Ultra” part of Ultra Beast, i.e. 26.2+ miles in the race. Some who didn’t make it offered to make up the difference somehow, but there wasn’t room for negotiation. I know that if I had spent all the money I did to travel to Tahoe, and if I had spent all year (or more) training for this, to not get to finish even though I was making good time, it would’ve been a tough pill to swallow. I was fortunate to have started in the earliest heat and to make it far enough fast enough. For some, it was even more of a blow, because it was the last piece in the Perfect Delta that they had been devoting lots of time, money, and energy towards. Perhaps in the future, if snow or other race-stopping weather is anticipated, like it was on race day, they’d plan out a “backup” route where the needed mileage could be tacked on for however many loops people needed. It could still have obstacles, but it would be on more visible trail and easier to monitor. That way, people still get the chance to earn their medals within the published time hacks. I’m sure Spartan Race wanted as many people to be able to finish as they could safely allow, and it was good that they at least gave Beast medals instead of all-or-nothing because it wasn’t the racers’ fault, and they also had to consider all of the volunteers out there. But perhaps more could’ve been done to plan a back-up option, or at the very least provide earlier warning to racers on the course that quicker hacks were coming, so everyone needed to go as fast as they could.
- I got my belt buckle after waiting in the long lines in the tents, picked up my bucket from the transition area, and started shuffling back to my car. A super-kind volunteer from San Diego suddenly came alongside me and took the bucket from me and carried it all the way to my car. She totally didn’t need to do that, and she was heading to the parking lot to head home, anyway, but the volunteers at the Spartan races are just that awesome.
- I peeled off the wetsuit and put on some dry clothes. Satisfaction. Got my belt buckle and dry clothes. Drove back to Reno. Hot food (the second half of my soup) or hot shower first? I think I ended up showering first.
- It is true, that once you do your first, you want to try the others, like Killington, New Jersey, and Sun Peaks, to see how you do in those. If it was in driving distance, I would, but no plans to for now, even though it is enticing.