Let me start with some disclosure that’s going to be difficult for me to discuss. I used to be a negative, toxic person. My old, frustrated self would revel in the failures of my competition as I schemed over my next unaided and self-serving victories. Anger used to be a pivital aspect of my life that even warranted counseling when I was a child. After all, what feeling was more vindicating than the most primal of instincts that, for instance, a parent would feel upon confronting their child’s killer? Or a farmer defending his land and family against encroaching marauders? When my anger peaked, that brief and intoxicating feeling of serenity would sweep over, but there was only serenity – never relief. It was like a never ending mosquito bite that always needed an itch. There was seemingly no escape from this vicious and self-destructive cycle. Being a former professional gamer (don’t laugh), I was used to this environment of negativity and knee jerk emotional reactions. I was used to being up on a stage while a sea of onlookers impatiently waited for my next play mistake to be broadcasted to the masses to laugh at. Back then, the only support you could garner for yourself had to be from within. This attitude stuck with me throughout my high school years and into my early college years (even worse, I was an engineering graduate). Fast forward a decade and the one lesson I will never forget is that there is no weakness in seeking the encouragement and support of others, but instead there lies unlimited strength. I am living a completely opposite life now, and I feel more like a champion right now than I did holding up those big, hokey checks or trophies for destroying my enemies’ base with my army of Night Elves.
So why the silly back story? Because I’ve never ‘failed’ an event so tragically and still felt so refined and victorious. I am talking, of course, about my adventures at the Spartan Ultra Beast.
I heard the horror stories. I heard the cliché “slow down or you’re gonna blow it” rhetoric from the negative coworkers, relatives and other acquaintances almost immediately after I clicked the ‘confirm registration’ button. No matter, it was settled. I was going to do the UltraBeast. 37 days remained and I was terrified. In fact, I was so scared that about every 20 minutes of the day I would think about the event and my heart would begin thumping in my chest from the sheer apprehension. During the height of nervousness I would remind myself why I trained so hard, and what it will feel like when I hold that medal that so many doubters and naysayers said I couldn’t hold. As noble as it is, those thoughts didn’t help. I knew that my old self would come back out there on the mountain. I knew that in the 11th hour those demons would emerge from their hiding places to play on my psyche. “You’re not good enough”, “You don’t have to prove this”, “You’re an embarrassment to your team” they would probably say. I was already over it, and to be honest it was okay because only by being out there for so long can you successfully lure those demons out of hiding for you to properly slay. I wanted to feel that insect of negativity picking at the meat of my skull and I wanted to power through it all with an undefeated smile on my face. I wanted to silence who I once was and return home a changed man with a new vision in life. If you don’t understand why or what I mean, I’m sorry. The rest of this article will probably not make any sense to you.
A little reminder for me to see every time I came in to work
With a fatigued heart thumping in my chest, I counted down the days. The unknown in this race was a large part of my anxiety. (If you’re one of my friends reading this – I’m sorry for bombarding you with daily repeat questions about what other event or exercise best compares to the Ultra Beast). Slowly but surely, it was time to face this challenge. My nerves stirred endlessly as I kissed my wife goodbye at the airport terminal and proceeded to eagerly await my 6am flight from Orlando. After hours of failed nap attempts and sporadic anxiety attacks, I landed in Burlington, VT. As soon as I walked outside to wait for my ride, it happened. All of the nervousness, fear, doubt and apprehension suddenly vanished as my teammate Heidi showed up to drive me to the Killington Grand Lodge. Being a native Floridian, the elevation and changing leaves were about as foreign to me as foreign could get. I was captivated by the landscape and its calming beauty so much that the only feeling I was capable of feeling at the time was gleeful excitement. Those good vibes would only amplify as I gradually met all of my other friends as they arrived at the venue. I would spend hours just sitting out on the balcony of my hotel room just looking at the mountain and its temporary landscape of obstacles.
The view from the hotel balcony
Others sharing the same hotel room were nervous and reciting the same internal dialogue I had with myself just days prior. Having familiarity with these feelings, I was able to encourage and calm them down which in turn gave me even more strength. This was my trump card. The only way I was going to get through this was to be a source of strength for others. After all, the only way to successfully inspire strength in others is to display strength from within. Being the founder of Team Regiment, I had to lead by example.
The starting line
The next day had arrived, and the Beast runners were called to action. I had that entire Saturday to just sit around and cheer everybody on. This was therapy for me. I saw people with missing limbs, crutches and every kind of disability you could imagine walk, run and roll through that finish line. They didn’t care how long it took, they weren’t going to quit even if it meant going through the wee hours of the night.
The balcony view on Saturday night. See those dots of light? Those are people.
Despite what awaited me the next day, I slept like a rock that night. The alarm went off at 5:05am, and I sprung out of bed. “See you all in 14 hours” were my last words to my roommates as I grabbed all of the gear and clothes I had meticulously laid out the night before and quietly set out to the starting line. I was baffled by the strange, serene calm that still presided over me. With a quiet composure I stepped outside and began my way to the starting line.
A cold front came though during the night. I could feel it already biting at my nose while a slight drizzle loomed in the air. I knew that if I were to maintain control over my body, I had to keep it moving no matter what. If I saw others stopping to rest, I knew that I would draw strength from encouraging them to keep moving. That was my strategy and I was going to stick to it with a nice big smile on my face. At 6:15am, I began what I knew was going to be a life changing experience.
After a quick five minutes of actual running, the steep elevation climbs began. This was a real eye-opener for many. Almost immediately the people next to me were starting to express their doubts in doing this race (read: hike) for 13+ hours. After reaching the first mountain peak our quads were already on fire. I knew this dull but ever increasing ache would continue to amplify and buzz through my legs throughout the day, so I accepted this fate and continued on to the tune of my heartbeat throbbing in my ears. All I kept telling myself is to keep smiling, and do not complain. Negativity is a cancer. It will spread uncontrollably until it consumes you entirely. To combat this urge, I would take a moment to look up at the beautiful mountains and soak in the serene calm of the evergreen forests and the convenient lack of car engines or airplanes I was used to hearing.
We continued to follow the beast course for a good five miles until we reached the peak of another mountain. There were two 6’ walls, one for the Ultrabeast, and the other for the beast. Once we scaled our designated ultrabeast wall, our course markings turned to the bright green tape that would become a familiar and dreadful sight for the next 15-18 miles. Shortly after the course diverted we had our first consistent downhill running area that lasted for about 3-5 miles. Having rocketed down this slope at a sub 7 minute pace, this was my opportunity to guarantee my place as an Ultrabeast finisher! I passed countless amounts of people, so much so that I even caught up to the elite wave of runners. After another series of inclines and steep declines we approached the 12.5 mile mark at the Bear Mountain ski slope. I came out of a clearing to a cheering crowd into an area comprised of a spear throw, a freezing lake swim, a log flip, a log carry and a burpee area for those wanting early access to their bin at mile 13 (we could access it 6 miles later again if we needed). Everything was going smoothly until I took a moment to wave to the crowd. Then I felt it. Not looking at the rocky and muddy ground, I felt a sudden hollow snap in my left ankle. The crowd flinched with me as I fell to the ground. Barely able to hobble onward, I thought I could slowly walk it off to avoid having to take a medical DNF. The pain roared in my body after every feeble step I took, but I forced a panicked smile on my face and continued to stagger towards the spear throw. After landing the spear throw and swimming in the freezing water my entire body was numb to any pain. This, coupled with adrenaline and Advil, masked the pain alarms that my ankle was desperately sending to my body. Moving forwards, we were given the option to do 30 burpees to have immediate access to our bins, which I gladly accepted since my camelback was bone dry by this point. After making a quick pit stop to my bucket to restock I continued my journey but with a forced limping motion. Also, remember how I said to always keep moving? Those who did not adhere to that advice and took a moment to sit down at their drop bins learned this lesson the hard way. With their bodies clawing to enter recovery mode, I saw multiple people screaming in pain as cramps and hypothermia began to wrack and ruin their bodies. I saw at least two people drop out at this point. I had to keep moving, no matter what…
What made me smile at this was the inspirational pictures and quotes people would put on their bins.
The course continued on towards another slight downhill run. This was another opportunity to solidify my time advantage and eliminate any doubts about making the very last cutoff point of mile 23 (actually 27) by 7pm. With a big grin I started my downhill sprint at what I thought was going to be another stretch of sub 7 minute miles. That grin turned into a wincing grimace of pain after about 100 yards when I felt the same ankle that I injured just a mile before twist and sprain in the exact same spot. The next 3-4 miles were not going to be spent running. Instead, they were to be spent limping as others rocketed past me. Confident that my previous run gained enough of an advantage and in my ignorance of the course actually being around 30 miles instead of 26.2, I limped onwards to the next series of obstacles. After a long ‘hobie hop’, swaying monkey bars, low crawl and 20 foot wall climb the uphill grind continued. It was at this point where my body thought me another lesson. If you don’t eat 100-200 calories per hour, you will crash. Ignoring this advice for the last three hours, I started to notice hallucinatory colors starting to swim into my peripheral vision. After quickly wolfing down some clif bars, crackers and gel, my vision slowly returned to normal and I trudged onwards to the drop box station once more.
The next six miles consisted of sparse obstacles on slippery, rocky terrain. In fact, one of the mountains was so slippery that Spartan HQ decided at the last minute to divert from that mountain and on to an alternate 2+ mile route. Hours trickled by as constant inclines and declines dotted the course which eventually led to the top of a foggy mountaintop. The end of the ultra route was marked with the same wall climb that brought us on to the ultra course a good 8 hours prior. Only nine miles of the remaining beast course remain! As soon as this point was reached, I got smoked with more obstacles. It was by this point where the cold air and all-out body fatigue started to reach the edge of tolerance. What pushed me even closer to the edge was another sprain to the exact same ankle while going down a muddy slope. If you’re keeping track – that’s three sprains on the same foot. All through this time, I had a slowly progressing pain in my knee that made bending the knee while moving an agonizing challenge. Suffice to say, my left leg was in pretty poor condition. The only relief I had for my leg was the occasional branch that I would pick up and use as an impromptu cane. However there was one thing I kept repeating in my head during these times. With the same smile glued to my face, I would repeat the motto of my team, “feel the pain of discipline, or feel the pain of regret”. In hindsight, a better phrase of running on an injury this severe would be “if you’re gonna’ be dumb, you’ve gotta’ be tough”. By this point, I knew that those demons were ready to come out, and I was ready for them. Or so I thought.
The miles were endless, and the obstacles never failed to bring a smile to my face. In fact I had succeeded in every single obstacle up to the second spear throw. The spear lodged into the hay target perfectly, but due to a half-day of constant abuse the hay was too loose and the spear slipped right back out and on to the ground. The 30 penalty burpees were a blessing in disguise. Everybody was cold and wet from a day of constant light rain and dropping temperatures, so these burpees had the bonus of warming you up in the 39 degree weather. The next miles were a blur up until the point where I arrived at the finish line area to do a submerge obstacle, rope climb and low crawl. Shivering and hobbling on a makeshift walking stick, the crowd’s recognition of my green wristband (given to the ultra racers during the ultra course) and subsequent cheers brought even more good vibes to me. You see, despite all of the pain pumping through my left leg I never once felt sorry for myself or had the slightest urge to complain. The death racers were out on the same course I was in and if they can keep a smile on their face after hour 50, what cause would I have to not do the same? All I felt was positive energy and a willingness to persevere. While rolling through the barbed wire, a lady recognized my condition and ran alongside the spectator area to cheer me on. She even gave me a high five, and I LOVE high fives! Whoever you are – thank you for being awesome.
With the end in sight, the next set of obstacles involved plunging into the freezing water. As soon as I jumped into that water, I immediately felt the icy numbing grip of the cold take over. I frantically swam over to the first rope climb and started to pull myself up. The reason why I elaborate on this obstacle is that I typically dominate the rope climbs with ease. This was definitely not one of those times. Halfway up the rope, my arm muscles froze. Violently shivering and holding on to the rope for dear life, I attempted to pull myself up while ‘biting’ the rope with my legs. This didn’t work either. Despite the deadened, frozen nerves of my left leg, a sharp jab of pain disabled my leg. With both arms and one leg completely trashed, I shamefully plunged back down to crank out my 30 burpees. Oh, and all of my burpees after this point had to be done on one leg. My left leg was that ruined.
Next was the traverse wall, which was another obstacle I typically dominate. However, being in the partially functioning state I was in I was a mere 4 feet from the bell when my arms couldn’t hold on any longer. Trembling from the cold, I warmed up with the 30 penalty burpees. It was at this point when my friends that I saw earlier in the course caught up to me since they had to do the burpees as well. Our ragtag team of ‘burpee buddies’ had the option of opting out of the second swim and Tarzan swing by doing 60 burpees. With everybody violently shivering we unanimously agreed to do the 60 burpees. Let it be known that it was in this area that my hotel was located. In fact, I could see my hotel balcony a mere 50 feet from where I was doing my burpees. I knew I was going to see this. I knew that the day before, one of the people in our hotel actually quit right then and there with the temptation of a warm room and a shower just yards away from them. Knowing this temptation was in front of me; I merely grinned and pointed at that balcony saying “see you later tonight; I’ve just got to finish something real quick”.
The burpee station right outside the hotel
On the topic of hotels, there is a specific code I had to remember at 7am that morning, Hotel-143-5526. The time was now 6pm and the next obstacle was to recite that same code. As soon as I got it right, I heard shouting from the tyrolean traverse area just yards away. “Hurry up! You have one hour to make it here!” The final cutoff was right in front of me, and I had an hour to run through the next 3 miles of course and back to the area. The sun began to set and the adrenaline thumped through my body with every labored heartbeat. Having been forced to limp through the course beforehand my cutoff time was a very real and foreboding threat. With the pain in my body masked, I sprinted through the wooded area as fast as I possibly could. I thought it would be a simple sprint without any obstacles, but I was sorely mistaken. A massive rocky low crawl, an uphill bucket carry, a Hercules hoist and a few other smaller obstacles riddled the landscape. Strapped for time, the volunteers told us that we can burpee out of the bucket carry and the low crawl. I gladly accepted this offer and proceeded to do the fastest one-legged burpees I’ve ever thought possible. At each stop the volunteers asked me if I was going to be alright, to which I replied “never been better!” I had to keep this attitude, no matter what. Those demons were surely around the corner and I would surely succumb to their attacks, right?
As it turns out, those demons never came. Not once did I hear that negative voice inside of me even begin to surface. Not once did I put myself down or feel sorry for myself. As it turns out, those demons had surrendered as soon as they knew what they were up against! No matter what, I had already won. With that realization in my back pocket, I ran even faster as the sun began to set. Without the time to unzip my camelback and put my headlamp on I sprinted through the rocky and muddy downhill trail that snaked through the woods with reckless abandon. With tears beginning to well in my eyes and with an unbreakable resolve I passed about a dozen people until I sprained my ankle again. This time it hurt really bad. In case you’re keeping track, that’s four times I sprained the same ankle. Four. Freaking. Times. Knowing that my cutoff time was a mere minutes away, I had to keep moving. Limping onward I finally saw a clearing with a man standing before me with a headlamp shining in my numb face. Words spoken to me before this point were a befuddled cloud of confusion, but I will never forget the next sentence I was about to hear.
“The time is 7:04pm. I am sorry you have missed your cut-off. Please give me your timing chip.”
It took me a minute to let those stabbing words sink in. 13 hours of rigorous, painful yet blissful abuse had come to an abrupt end on a mere 240 second discrepancy. With my limbs violently shaking from exhaustion, I wasn’t even able to reach into my back pocket to give him my chip. As the volunteer took my chip from my pocket a couple of people came by to give me a hug and some words of consolation. I couldn’t just walk back to the hotel from there (I couldn’t even walk). I had to wait for the others behind me that I crossed paths with for the last 13 hours. One by one, I saw them approach the same volunteer to give up their timing chips in disbelief. Michael Jacob, having come back from DNF’ing last year’s event came in a minute after me. The handshake and hug I gave that man was one of the most painful, bonding and respectful moments of my life. The most badass athletes that I constantly crossed paths with during that day came to the checkpoint one by one. Seeing these rugged and tough looking people break down was the last and final jab to my resolve. The lump in my throat couldn’t hold any longer. With tears comprising of hundreds of emotions streaming down my face, I gave Mike a hug and said “we tried so hard man, I’m so proud of you”. This was the first time in 14 years that anybody outside of my family has seen me shed tears, let alone show any semblance of emotion.
With my body quickly breaking down, I recognized Doug Sahr, Norma and Stephen Pacheco. They put a sweater around both Mike and I to alleviate the cold we were obviously succumbing to as I apologized for being an emotional wreck, seeing that I never worked so hard for something and to come so close. I don’t remember much after that, except that they insisted that we go to the cafeteria nearby to get some warm food. They sat us down, put warm clothes on us and gave us a badly-needed warm meal. I cannot put my true appreciation into mere words for the compassion and care that they had for us. Even inside the heated cafeteria we were violently shivering and barely capable of moving. Amazingly, I wolfed down the best tasting pizza and burger imaginable without tossing it back up. A dull, fuzzy ache clouded my entire body as simple feeling and thoughts became a near impossibility. As my wet clothes were being replaced by new warm ones (that they provided by the way), Doug told me that I needed to see a medic ASAP. As soon as my compression socks were removed my left ankle was revealed to be a swollen mess. I still remember the dumbfounded look of the 20-year hardened USAF medic gave me when I told him that I sprained the foot 14 miles back while continuing to sprain it three more times along the way!
My ankle right after the sock was removed My ankle one day later
After eating as much as my shriveled stomach could handle, I vaguely recall Stephen helping me hobble back to the hotel. The next thing I remember I was sitting on that balcony of the hotel watching the remainder of the headlamp lights trickle down the mountain. I was expecting to be sad and defeated, but I recalled the last 13 hours of my day and smiled once more. Maybe it was the fact that my old self never even bothered to rear its hideous face or that I had true friends ready to wait for me and give me a warm meal, or the camaraderie that was exchanged by complete strangers all throughout the day. No matter the reason, what I felt was a bigger victory than I could have ever imagined. To me, it was not about the medal that night – I’ll try for that medal next year when I don’t injure myself. Injuries aside, I didn’t even feel sore in the days afterwards! I left everything out on that mountain, including an old persona that surrendered the fight before it could even begin. By leaving so much behind I was able to gain the most substantial thing I could have ever wished for; a new perspective on life. As I write this, 49 weeks, 3 days, 15 hours and 4 minutes remain until I set foot at the starting line again with the same smile glued to my face.
EDIT: Some of you were interested in a map of the course, so I added it here. The beast course is in red, and the ultrabeast section is in green.