Since January 1st, 2014, I have participated in one 5 km race, four 10 km races, three half marathons, one full marathon, one 50 km ultra-marathon. In addition to these traditional races, I also did two Spartan Sprints (5 km each), 2 Spartan Supers (14 km each) and 1 Spartan Beast (21 km). I was in the shape of my life when I ran the Vancouver Marathon in May and qualified for Boston. I placed in my 50 km race in Calgary in my age group and won a trophy! I won other races, made personal bests in all the standard race distances: a 20:42 for a 5km, 41:30 for a 10km, 1:35.41 for a half marathon, 3:24.56 for a full marathon. So I naturally thought signing up for the Spartan Ultra Beast in Sun Peaks, to be held on September 26th, 2015, would be a logical next challenge.
I just did not know that this challenge would be my first ever DNF.
DNF is a running term for “Did Not Finish.” No one plans to run a DNF. No one wants to run a DNF. Many people have, and for those people that race will always hold a sour note in their mind. Sure, it will be a learning experience, and everyone’s reasons for DNF’ing will vary, but it’ll still hurt. Even if it was the right thing to do.
My husband Dan and I drove out to this race on Friday, September 25th. It is a 10 hour drive from Lethbridge. We left early, made good time, and I felt excited at packet pickup. I had been feeling a bit sick earlier in the week, so I have been going to bed quite early. Like 8:00 pm early. But I felt ready. It was very exciting to be back at Sun Peaks-I not only ran the Sun Peaks Beast in 2013, but Dan and I celebrated our honeymoon here in January 2011 while attending the Winter Wine Festival. I got my bags set for the morning and headed to bed.The morning weather was a lot better than the “Snow Fest” that was 2013. It was cool and overcast at 7:15 am when I headed to festival grounds. My heat of the Ultra Beast began at 7:45 am. All 175 of us crazy enough to register for this event that would be double the length of the Beast (two loops) began at once. I was geared up with supplies and ready to go. The first hour of the race was a lot of switch back climbing through single track trails, which eventually brought us up to where the chairlift let spectators off at. There were a few obstacles during this time: a wall, Hercules hoist, log carry. Once hitting the chairlift (an important spot for me) you did the monkey bars. Nailed it! A few more obstacles later and we kept climbing. And climbing. To a section I never was at before. “The Top of the World” was closed to us in 2013 due to the blizzard. But I made it here this year! It was after this section that I really started to have fun. There was a lot of downhill running in open areas and on single track trails. The main thing was I actually could run. I was staying hydrated with my water that had Nuun, fueling myself with carbs in the form of HoneyStingers…Feeling great. I got to obstacle 16, the Wall of Sparta, and still felt like a million bucks. I was the 2nd place Ultra Beast female at this point in the race, and I even asked a volunteer what kilometer we were approximately at. She said 17km….alright, if this is a double Beast (21 km) I am getting really close to my first loop! Podium dreams danced through my brain.
But then a close to 1.5 km hill climb came. Wow, that burned. Straight on up. Forever and ever it seemed. Eventually we got to a tire flip at the way top and then there was a split off point-The Ultra Beast Runners had to go to the left and the regular Beast runners went right. Apparently the regular Beast runners had the rest downhill. We had a teaser of downhill for about 4 minutes and then hit our extra obstacle: a burlap sack carry. This in itself was not too hard, but we had to go up a stretch of ski hill and back down. And then had to run (or barely walk) back up another stretch of hill (MOUNTAIN) to get on back with the main course.
While I was still feeling positive, as I still held 2nd position, I was getting weak. I failed the parallel bar obstacle, I fell off the stupid balance beam (which I NEVER fall off of), missed my one-chance spear throw and then just didn’t even attempt the rope climb. 120 burpees total.
I came in after loop 1 under the cut off time, with the 3rd place woman coming right in with me. No 4th place female in sight at all. We got in to the transition area somewhere between 4 hour 30 minutes and 4 hour 40 minutes. Dan was waiting with some now luke-warm soup for me. He was almost laughing in disbelief at how long it was taking me, considering I guessed a first loop of 3-3:30, based on how it was 2 years prior and the better shape I was in. Holy shit this was a hard course. I ate my soup, had a fruit bar, refilled my water, and checked out of transition.
That’s when it started to crumble.
In retrospect, I should have spent more time fueling and getting mentally prepared while in the transition area. Maybe finding someone else leaving transition who seemed to be in a good place mentally and physically and sticking with them. I ran off and before I knew it I was on these ski and mountain bike trails alone. No other runners around me. Just the forest. And bear poop.
Other runners would catch up and fall back, but we all looked worse for wear. Looked like we were part of a zombie apocalypse. My foot was burning with pain where my bone spur is. Any time I went downhill and landed on even the smallest of rock, if it was on the ball of my right foot it felt like it would shoot through the top of my foot. I was soaking wet and cold with mud encrusted on me. I neglected to change my clothes in the transition area because I knew getting my compression socks off would be hard enough. I was starting to cough and sneeze. While the weather at the start of the race was pleasant, we had ran into rain, sleet, snow flurries, sun, and repeat during that first lap.
I started thinking more about if completing this race was worth the potential risks. At this rate, I would be alone in the dark with no headlamp at some point. My body was hurting, my mind wasn’t in the right place, and for the most part I wasn’t enjoying myself any longer. Yes, I had ran a ton of different races this year with grueling distances and circumstances, but I was always having fun…even if I was in pain. This race, the pain wasn’t quite maxed out, but if I had kept going on I was worried what could happen to my body and effect my upcoming events. Boston kept going through my head. One wrong land on my foot could have immense damage and possibly nix my ability to compete in the marathon I have always dreamed of. When I registered for this Spartan Ultra in December 2014, I registered for it because I knew I would have been training for other events that could help me out with it. I was not training specifically for it, so my weight training/cross training was lacking to non-existent. But my training I had done did pay off and help me make my goal of qualifying for Boston. I didn’t want to ruin Boston.
At that chairlift, round 2, I borrowed a volunteer’s cell phone and phoned my husband at the bottom. This was an hour after I had left the transition area. I asked for him to come up on the chairlift and get me. I sat in the chairlift lodge and Spartan Race workers came over to check on me. I wasn’t wincing in pain, I wasn’t hurt, and I wasn’t breathing ridiculously hard. I was just done. A lady gave me her tea, and when I talked to these workers the tears started flowing. I just felt defeated at that moment, and while the course was literally steps away and I could have gotten back up, I just knew the right decision was to pull.
Dan got up there about 15 minutes later. We got on the chairlift down (which he said I would hate since I hate heights) and I just put my head on his shoulder.
“I feel like such a fucking loser.”
“Losers don’t qualify for Boston”
After making it to the bottom, retrieving my bag, taking a shower and a nap, I knew we had to make the most of the night. It wasn’t worth staying in the room sobbing about it. We went out that evening and had a hell of a time (probably spent a bit too much money). During that time I ran into a few people who had similar, yet different, fates on the course. Two girls didn’t even make it to the transition area in the cut off time (over an hour late) so they weren’t allowed to continue on. They own a gym in Red Deer, so they were definitely in excellent physical shape. Another guy we sat by at the bar had his hand all taped up. During the Beast, he fell during an obstacle about 2 km out of the finish. His hand gashed open, blood everywhere. He had to pull from the race and go to the hospital to get it stitched.
I found out yesterday of the 175 that started, only 55 finished. Only 3 of those 55 were women. The fastest time for a male was 7:02:04 while the fastest female was 9:59:59. It also said in the email the course for the Ultra Beast, including the extra loop with obstacle, was 52.87 kilometers….that is over 10.5 km more than I thought we would have! I know Spartan Race wanted to make something challenging, and I by no means am trying to say that I would have completed it if it was without that extra loop, but that extra loop really wasn’t necessary to make it that “Ultra.” Hell, I may have even bailed if that loop hadn’t been there but the extra loop just must have taken more out of me. And I am sure a lot of others.
Will I be going back again in the future? Not really sure. I always did Spartan Races as my ‘fun-filler’ around my other races that I put my training focus on. I think my husband and I will continue to head down to Montana each May for the race weekend, as it is a close enough getaway for us and an awesome time. But other than that, I may be putting Spartan Races on the shelf and focus on my recovery from all the other races I did this year and then my training for the 120th Boston Marathon.