Spartan Ultra Beast: Hawaii 2016

Of the 4 years that we have attended this race, this would be the only the second time that I was not affected by a stress fracture. It was hard to believe it for a while, that I could run my race without doubt or fear, but once accepted, that reality had me feeling happy and free for my entire stay on the islands. I don’t know that you can truly experience the joy of being healthy until it has been taken away from you. It has been 9 or more months since I last dealt with my injury, and I STILL am deeply grateful for every act of movement on my feet like never before. Perhaps, in a way, I am a happier athlete because of it.

As we touched down on the island of O’ahu, we had just finished putting the finishing touches on our “tiki” themed body art concept. (Yes, we worked on it 30,000 feet up in the air). In all fairness, it was one of our most complex designs to date and took a long while to sketch out. The application itself took a staggering 10.5 hours. Can you believe that?! That’s like… an entire day. Inside. Air-brusher and air-brushee. When there is a tropical paradise just right out your door. What kind of insane people would do that? I suppose that is proof of our dedication and passion for what we do, but it was hard, people. Really hard. I’ve mentioned before that Aeni is always trying to outdo herself with each new body art, but after this difficult session, we are re-thinking our approach and setting some new boundaries for ourselves.

Race morning arrived and we approached the familiar Kualoa Ranch site. It was still dark, but warm enough to have shed my jacket back at the car. Signs indicated “THIS WAY TO GLORY”. That sounded pretty righteous to me. The registration and packet pick-up seemed vastly improved from previous years. I moved through the line and got to the starting corral just in time for the 6:00AM Ultra Beast. To my surprise, there were already a few hundred racers in the chute. If last year’s UB participation was a fountain, the one before me was a raging waterfall. More and more racers are feeling confident enough to take on this longer event and that is a good thing. Part of me hopes that blogging on my experiences with the UB has played a small role in this growing trend. There were people still outside of the 6 foot wall, waiting to get in the chute, but there was no room. I knew I did not belong that far back in the pack so I slipped ahead, maybe halfway into the sea of bodies.

Listening to the starting line announcements, I did not have any nerves whatsoever. There was a time in the past where I would have had butterflies going into an event such as this, but I truly feel like a veteran now, having many far harder and far longer events under my belt. My goal was to race well, but more importantly, to have fun and perhaps make up for what I missed in previous years. Secondly, I knew cheating was bound to happen, but I have grown weary from being consumed by it, so I was resolved to not let it affect me. Quickly downing my shot of Beet Elite, I followed the pack jogging forward on this double lap of the Beast course. I was a hunter and it was time to mount another UB head on my wall.

I should have started further towards the front, but I did not have too much trouble advancing up the ranks as the beginning of the course was plenty wide enough. Steady was the name of the game. I felt at ease through the first wall obstacles, through the deep stream and up the long gradual hill. Normally, I would wear a hydration pack during an Ultra Beast, but this time around I tried something different with a belt, containing two small water bottles. The ultimate goal was to preserve the body paint from being worn off from the pack, but it actually was nice to not be as encumbered by a bouncy pack. The water stations were adequate and I stuffed my nutrition needs into the pant legs of my Athletics8 compression leggings.

Soon I came up to the first Barbed Wire Crawl, except that most of it was bungee cord (I’m okay with that! One ugly barbed wire scar is enough for me). This crawl was obviously very long, but it looked harmless enough, through some tall grass and not a sign of mud. I began rolling my way through, mowing down the grass along the way. About halfway through, I reached behind me to do a gear check and noticed one of my bottles was missing. “Damn it.” I stood up in the middle of the obstacle and looked back for it, but it was somewhere buried in all the grass. I stepped over the wires, looking for it until it finally came into view near the entrance. I rejoined the middle of the obstacle and resumed plowing through the grass, but this time holding both bottles in my hands. Lesson learned. I will remember that next time. Eventually exiting the obstacle, I stood up and wondered why my body was stinging everywhere. Apparently, the blades of grass were sharp on the ends and lacerated me all across the stomach and arms. This grass would continue to make the course challenging for the first wave of racers. It was tall and forced you to high step every move. I also kept the ground beneath it a mystery, so foot placement was a constant concern.

The sound of pouring gravel announced that the Bucket Brigade was just up ahead. Rather than the small pea-gravel that we are used to, this was bigger chunks, which was surprisingly harder to load into the bucket. I could not get a head start by driving the bucket into the pile. Instead I had to toss in handfuls at a time. The bucket carry is one of my strengths, so for fun I decided to see if I could complete the uphill loop without setting it down or stopping. I made my way up the hill, made sure to lock a hand around the other wrist and leaned back so my skeleton supported the weight. Up, up and away I went, passing a lot of guys and then down, down, down I went, passing a few more. I felt good about that and continued down the trail wondering where I currently ranked.

There was a gentlemen who was traveling near me for a while (his name escapes me now), who mentioned that my blog from Hawaii in 2015 really hit home for him because he was dealing with injury at the same time. It was the most emotional race of my life, where I broke down into tears after finishing. He thanked me for writing it and I in turn thanked him for sharing that with me. He is the main reason I am writing this blog now. To know that people actually read these things is motivating, so I thank each of you right now for spending your time with me.

A couple of miles later, the course forked as the Beast section led me up a familiar dark entrance in the trees. I remembered this exact spot from last year’s ultra. “This is the worst part”, I said to the volunteer as I entered the jungle canopy. I vividly remember dreading this section last year. It was not nearly as humid as before, but the mud was just as slick and tacky as ever. The path twisted upwards. It was time to start using my arms to reach and grab roots, tree saplings, branches, anything that I could pull myself up with, because in much of this section there was no way to climb without some help. I was having a better time navigating the jungle this time around. I paused briefly a few times, but otherwise kept a steady pace, save for the occasional loss of a shoe when the mud wouldn’t let go. Much like last year, we followed along a stream for a while. This proved to be my favorite part of the course. It kept my feet cool and I was still able to make good time. Fueling had become a real chore because I needed my hands quite frequently. I slacked on feeding my body and towards the end of Lap 1 I could feel myself slowing down. Against better judgment, I stubbornly decided that I could just push through until I reached my bin at the halfway point.

The Log Carry was a new obstacle to the back-end of the course. It was painful, but it was a welcome addition. As I made my way down the hill with my log, the course designer, Norm hollered up to me “Why are you carrying a women’s log?!” I stared blankly at him for a moment and then responded with a smirk and a middle finger. He chuckled. Must have been the response he was looking for. He asked how the course compared to last year, but I could not give an honest answer just yet. “Ask me when I’m done”, I yelled back.

I finally spilled out of the jungle and rejoined the Super course where I saw Aeni again. “You were in there for 2 hours!” she yelled. “…and you’re currently in 17th place”. Hmmm. I didn’t realize I had caught up that much. Still feeling sluggish, I did what I could to pick up the pace a little. I just needed to reach the bin and I knew I’d be able to refuel properly. I had stuff with me, but it’s not what my body felt like eating. I should have just forced it down. I eventually broke down and nibbled on some gummy bears. When the wind blew just right, it brought with it the sound of live Taiko Drummers beating a rhythm from the festival area. This was a special treat. I remember the race featured this back in 2013 and it made me happy to hear that they brought it back this year. I was miles from the performers, but was still able to enjoy that bit of local island flare. The last several miles were much flatter and more runnable but I felt that I could not take advantage of it because I was bonking pretty hard. Cramps were beginning to threaten my legs, so I’d have to continually back way off.

There was a pretty good gauntlet of obstacles in the last mile or so, consisting of Atlas Carry, Spartan Rig, Tyrolean Traverse, Traverse Wall, Double Sandbag Carry(50#?),Spear Throw, Memorization Station, Rope Climb, Herc Hoist and finally Monkey Bars. I made it through without any penalties and found my bin in the Transition Tent. “THE PAINTED WARRIOR” it said across the top of the lid. I opened it up and immediately started chugging a previously frozen Core Power, followed by a can of Pineapple Orange Guava nectar. “Give me all of the sugar!” I ate most of my sandwich, and began replacing the empty wrappers in my belt and pants with new supplies. I thought about changing my socks, but I knew I’d be back in the river in less than a mile so it was certainly not worth the time it would take. I know I should not have sat down to do all of this, but I did and it didn’t take long before horrible cramps started seizing my quads. I think it happened 3 or 4 times before I could get the heck out of there and on to Lap 2.

I started off the lap walking, popping salt tablets and still eating something. I was also waiting for the nutrients to kick in and the cramping to settle down. Entering the stream, I waded through it again. The cool water seemed to help. Not far ahead was a 6 foot wall. I came up to it and jumped up into a muscle up, right when both of my calves went into full on cramp mode. “Ahhhh!” I was stuck at the top of the wall, legs convulsing. I could not move them, so I had to just ride it out, gritting my teeth and groaning the whole time. Needless to say it was totally embarrassing while I held there, arms locked, as tons of fresh racers began climbing over the wall on either side of me. The volunteer lady kept asking me if I was okay, but I could not reply. I just kept groaning through clenched teeth. It seemed like 3 minutes later when I could finally slip a leg over and gently let myself down to continue. I guess I still needed to tread lightly with this situation. I was really eager to resume running but there was no way. I walked for the next several miles. It began to rain and it felt amazing. I was still enjoying my time, whether I was going fast or not, faithfully remembering that I was here to enjoy the race.

The second time through, the long barbed wire crawl pretty much removed all the paint off my back and arms. However, it was much easier this time with the grass all flattened out. In fact, the whole course seemed easier the second time through, contrary to what I was expecting (aside from dodging all the extra racers). The grass was knocked down along the way and the mud was more watered down and soupy vs. tacky. I breezed through the bucket carry again and soon found myself back in the depths of the jungle. The threat of cramps was still lingering. I could feel it just waiting to fire. The jungle climbs were jammed up like crazy with bottlenecks and after all the walking I had already done, I could not afford to sit by and wait. When I could, I called out “Ultra passing through”. Everyone was pretty accommodating. During the parts where it became dangerous for people to step aside, I found other ways around. I made a special effort to encourage almost everybody as I passed. “You’re doing great!”, “Keep it up!” I may have gotten a little too comfortable talking to strangers. At one point, while trudging through knee deep mud, I blurted out “Man, you could hide a body in here.” Everyone around me went silent. “That was random,” I said as I quickly sped on ahead.

My cramps were settling down and I was finally able to move more quickly. I was also eating regularly, unlike before. I definitely was finishing Lap 2 much stronger than I started it. It’s amazing how important nutrition is in an endurance race. I already knew this, so I’m not sure why I let myself get into that situation in the first place. This time coming out of the jungle, I took better advantage of the rolling terrain and powered through the long stretches of running. My feet felt very strong and I felt like I was maintaining good run form. Coming up to the obstacle gauntlet, I knew I was close. There were some lines forming at these obstacles, but the other participants were gracious enough to let me ahead in line. Across the Tyrolean Traverse, I was a monkey on speed. Across the rig, I was an orangutan with massive wingspan and an iron grip. Across the traverse wall, I was as comfortable as a dude sipping on his cappuccino at Starbucks. Carrying the double sandbags, I was an ox on a mission. I nailed my spear, climbed the rope, hoisted the weight and jumped the fire to victory, with my arms outstretched. It was not the emotional finish that I had before, but it was still sweet. I finished in 9:14:49 and placed 14th overall.

I collected my finisher’s buckle and brought my UB count up to 6. I have to say it was probably the best race they’ve put on there in Hawaii. I know there were some issues in the past, but I feel like they have addressed them all. Thanks to JJ and Spartan Race Hawaii for stepping things up and making this year’s event extremely fun and memorable. My desire to return next year is greater than ever and after experiencing the lava flow on the Big Island firsthand during this trip, I think we have a clear theme for next year’s body art. Now, I turn my attention to my next race which will be the Tahoe Ultra Beast in October. I have plenty of time to continue my training and am looking to once again make myself proud with a strong performance. I hope to see many of you out there and thanks for following along in my painted journey.

TPK Endurance 2016: Part 2