Beaten up by the Beast – Aspen Spartan Race

Some of the best lessons we can learn we learn the hard way.  Don’t you agree?  The Aspen Beast was one of the best challenges I have had. Maybe top 5 hardest physical activities. It was a ton of fun and I learned a lot.  The lessons however were learned the hard way and will not be easily forgotten.  Going to give you the dime tour of the race and some solid lessons if you think something like this is in the cards for you.

This was my first Beast and my first race over 8 miles. It turned out to be over 13 miles, 4,400 feet of total elevation gain, and 33 obstacle’s.  Temperature at race time was near 80 degrees and terrain was Snowmass Mountain near Aspen.  Basically hot and steep hills in the mountains. Mentally I was ready.  I knew it was going to be hard, but thought I had trained enough to make it through.  While I was right and I had enough to make it through, by no means was it pretty or easy.

Within the first quarter mile of the race my water bladder leaked and I had to dump it.  So basically my personal water supply, which had hydration powder in it was gone.  Great start.  The heat came early and stayed all day.  Felt pretty strong for the first 5-6 miles.  Then (dramatic music) the cramps hits.  Not being a seasoned athlete I had never had cramps like this.  Calf cramps got so bad it was hard to jump, run, and sometimes walk. This was not a great feeling knowing I had over half the race left.  This is where the mental game really started. Step up or shut up.

The last 6-7 miles were much harder.  Accents became brutal and obstacles that needs my calf’s and legs got far more challenging.  I remember jumping up to clear a 8 foot wall and cramping.  I just had to lay on the top of the wall for awhile while I got up the guts to just back down the other side.  Coincidently there was a woman who jumped and was laying on the wall for the same reason I was.  Good company. 

On mile 10-11 there was a final accent.  45 degree or high grade easy for at least a quarter mile, if not more.  There were bodies everywhere on the hill.  Battle zone. I was cramping, but so were others.  It was a common suffering.  Many of us were walking around with reduced leg mobility and goose-stepping. One couple was using a pipe vacuum cleaner attachment to roll out their legs. It would have been funnier if I wasn’t in the same boat.

Finished in four hours and 30 minutes.  Top 25%.  It was an amazing feeling to cross that finish line.  Not just because I was done (thankfully), but having the feeling that against all the opposition that race threw me, I still made it.  The race, while hard, was a great time.  As with all the other Spartans I have done, the other competitors were friendly and always up to help.  When you are out there, its like you are one big team, not just a bunch of individuals.  I have mentioned this before, if you haven’t tried one, do it.  I doubt you will regret it.

Once I had regained the ability to walk normal again and was properly hydrated I started to think back on the race and on my prep and training.  Over the next few weeks I considered things and ended up with some lessons learned for next year.  Here they are in no particular order:

  • Don’t Underestimate the Heat:  At the end of day a large part of my cramping I think can be attributed to the heat.  I was not prepared for that amount of heat exposure under tension.  Lesson here is to make sure nutrition, training, and hydration support going into a hot race condition.  In hind sight I would have carried lots more hydration powder and salts and would have loaded on those days ahead of time to have them already in the body.  I would have also planned my nutrition better. Training in the heat is also on my plan.
  • Identify Limits and Weak Points:  I found my weakness in the race when I got those cramps.  Hindsight if my training was more rigorous I may have found my limit earlier and had the opportunity to address it.  Hitting that half was through the race is not a good time to learn. Basically try and make it really hurt before the race, so if you get in that spot during the race you are prepared both physically and mentally.
  • Nutrition:  On race day, my stinger waffles and salt chews were not enough.  Even though I had recently run an 8 mi Spartan without much nutrition that experience made no difference in this environment. Lesson here is to be more diligent in nutrition the week of the race and be able to tailor race day supplies based on needs. Needs on a rainy day in Austin are not the same needs on a hot day in Aspen.  One interesting item here is that mustard really helps cramps.  Don’t ask me the science on it, it just does.  Someone spared me a packet and it gave me a bit of relief for a time.  I dislike mustard, so choking that down was not fun.  Next time I will have a bag of those.  No joke.
  • Hills and Altitude:  The heat hurt and the 4,400 feet of gain didn’t do me any favors.  There is a huge difference between doing 13 miles on flat terrain versus going up and down a ski mountain.  While I did do some hill and altitude training, it was not near enough.  Training plan now includes more hills and operating at higher altitudes.

Don’t let any of this scare you though.  No dancing around the fact this was hard, but it was a great time.  So great that I will be doing it again next year, no question. The main thing I wanted to get across is plan for what you can, but expect the unexpected.  Nothing good is ever achieved easily and this was no exception.  I will be in a better spot next year, but anticipate a curve ball I don’t yet see.  I cant wait.

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