the Spartan Ultra Beast - Lessons Learned
Over the last few days, I've been looking for words of wisdom on a particular subject: How does to finish the Spartan Ultra Beast. I've completed two in the last year, and in both instances, I came so close to quitting. In my first Ultra Beast (Lake Tahoe 2015), my best guess is that nearly 2 out every 3 competitors do not finish this race. Half of those who did not finish were not pulled because they couldn't complete an obstacle, or run fast enough, or refused to do burpees. Most were pulled that day because they exhibited symptoms of Hypothermia. This probably due to the sub 40 degree weather, combined with the shift in altitude during the race which kept most races in sub 40 degree weather..oh and because we were SWIMMING in a pond of FREEZING WATER. Geez, I did a lot of training for this race, but nothing prepared me for this. The mental exhaustion that followed was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. If there's one thing I've learned: This race is an assault on ALL your senses. The race is designed to push its competitors to their physical and mental limits. It's a race that is less about beating other competitors, and more about conquering the course. Now the question is, "How can you put yourself in the best position to finish the Spartan Ultra Beast?" There are plenty of training guides and plans out there that will give you a good formula and the training necessary to endure most of what this race has in store. But every spartan has a different experience with the Ultra Beast, and while it's important to have a training plan, individual preparation is key. And so, as my buddy Derrick (aka Dallas Model/Chinese Fitness Model/6ft-and-over Asian Model) prepares to battle the Ultra Beast at Lake Tahoe this weekend, I've come up with a few lessons I've learned that may hopefully help him and others to finish this grueling event.
1. Know What Keeps You Going
This is both a mental and physical exercise. Figure out what thoughts you can focus on during in the most extreme circumstances. Maybe its having a Corona on a Beach, or what you would eat as your last meal if you were on death row. My favorite thought: Imagining life if I won the lottery. So many of my long runs and races were made easier once I could focus on a single thought that wasn't suffering. And, if I do win the lottery, I got it all planned out! Two Birds, One Stone. My mind needs these breaks, especially during my Ultra Beast Races. It's also important to take care of your body during the race, which leads me to my next point..
2. Find your Fuel
Beef Jerky, Protein Bars, Trail Mix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, chicken noodle soup. These were all foods that were in my race bin. At the end of the day, I didn't eat a quarter of it. Part of the problem during my first race was not eating enough. I guesstimate I burned at least 4000 calories during the 11 hours it took me to complete my first Ultra Beast. No way did I eat more than 1000 calories during this time. I thought I could get by with electrolyte pills, energy gels, a gulp of soup and a hand full of cinnamon toast crunch. On my second race, I ate way more and felt way better physically. Do not be afraid to fuel early and often. I was downing protein bars, GU's, or Electro Jellies every 30 minutes. And also choose foods that you enjoy eating. I can eat protein bars all day, every day; Cliff and Combat Crunch Bars are my favorite. But bars are not for everyone, and I suggest you practice eating during long runs leading up to the race. But what ever you decide to eat on race day, eat it early, and often. By the time you find yourself hungry during the race, you're already at a disadvantage. This race will drain the freakin' life-force out of you before you know it, so keep the nutrition coming. Also, don't pick cinnamon toast crunch..too hard to swallow while running and it cuts up your mouth. Rice Krispy Treats though, absolute gold right there..
3. Break it Up
When you look at the race as a whole, and they tell you that to finish you will have to run 31 miles, climb 8000 feet or more, complete 70+ obstacles, in mostly imperfect conditions, it can screw with your head. Half way in to my race at Lake Tahoe, I could nearly list 100 reasons not to even start the second loop, save my mind and body the torture of running another 16 miles up a mountain, and call it a day. Really, I had every intention of quitting at once I made it to the refueling area. But, I didn't want to withdrawal in front of so many people (the refueling area is literally across from the finish line where most spectators gather to watch poor souls attempt the last obstacles, it's pretty entertaining..) So, to save myself some grief I thought, "Well, maybe I can go up a few miles, and when I can't see anymore of the spectators, I can stop." After a few miles, I thought, "Well that wasn't so bad, maybe I can go a few more to the next water station. Then ride shotgun in the golf cart back to camp." This cycle repeated itself until the very end. Breaking this race up in to pieces is the only way to make it bearable in my opinion. When you're at the breaking point, you can't dwell on all the miles and obstacles that remain ahead. Focus only on moving forward, on getting to the next obstacle, running another mile. Make it to the next water station , or until you find fellow spartan, and then go for as long as they go. Whether you're going faster or slower than you imagined, EVERY STEP FORWARD IS PROGRESS.
Good Luck to everyone racing this weekend at Lake Tahoe. Derrick, if you don't finish…that's a shot. Aroo!!