SPARTAN PERFORMANCE                                      CROSSFIT SUFFOLK

Overhead Squat 3-3-3-3-3 reps






By George Demetriou

We survived the Spartan Beast in Vermont last Saturday!

The event was a 12 Mile "race".  Reading the words "12 miles" doesn't do this event justice.  This was 12 miles of running on the Killington Mountain Ski Resort which included running on "trails" that weren't really trails at all.  Not before the race started anyway.  The event also included obstacles:  jumping over fire, jumping walls of various heights, crawling under walls, through nets and under barbed wire, rope climb, rope/wall climbs, balance beams, monkey bars, spear throw, cargo net climb,sandbag carry, sled pull, a lake swim, and lots of mud negotiating.

If you've run uphill you can appreciate how an incline dramatically changes the feel of the run.  If you haven't run up a mountain with a 4,235 foot peak you don't know what you're missing!  I don't know if we actually got to the 4,235 foot point, but it sure felt like we did. It doesn't take long for fatigue to begin to set in.  As we ran/walked up the mountain you couldn't help but wonder when you'd reach the point of not having to climb further.  At times it seemed as if that point would never arrive.  When we'd hit a plateau we were shocked to look up and find we still had more to go vertically.  The climb was physically challenging, but unlike running on the street or on a track the view was breathtakingly spectacular.  Stopping to take in the beauty of the mountain and looking down at the resort definitely made the run better.  Not easier, just more visually appealing.  For those who claim running is boring I respectfully submit for your consideration that running on the second highest ski resort mountain in the Eastern United States is the antidote.  (If you can name the first highest East Coast ski resort mountain, right now,  without the help of the internet, you win a prize!)

It's difficult to say which is worse, the ascent or the descent.  The challenge of the ascent is obvious–you're running up frickin mountain.  The descent, one would figure has to be easier, but that isn't the case–not when most of the descent was on treacherous terrain.  It was virtually impossible to think of anything other than where your next step was going to be placed.  You couldn't lose focus and you couldn't daydream.  There was no thought of a moment ago or the moments that would come.  There was only where should I step right now.  As gravity tugged, Mother Nature provided her own obstacle course in the form of small slippery rocks, big slippery rocks, trees, tree branches, Wait-A-Minute vines….that would get wrapped around your feet as if to say, "wait a minute" as you tried to step, mud puddles, thick mud puddles and really thick mud puddles.  The regular mud puddles were slippery, the really thick mud puddles tried to pull your foot wear off.  There was no friendly mud.  There were times you weren't really sure where your feet would wind up as you stepped down.  Time during traveling down the mountain seemed to be divided between getting a good groove and keeping your body upright and mobile.  Controlled slipping was the often the best we could manage.  During the times that Janie ran behind me my every slip, no matter how slight, was accompanied by an "ooh", "whoa" and my personal favorite, "Doh", as coined by Homer Simpson.  It was as if Janie were giving a sound effect play by play.  Funny thing was when Janie wasn't behind me and I slipped the world was eerily silent.

Let's talk obstacles.  Some of the obstacles were obviously devised by a person with a twisted personality.  I realized there was a section of crawling under barbed wire.  I thought it was in nice soft mud and I thought it was for a few feet.  Wrong!  The "mud" was really a bed of wet stones of varying size and sharpness.  The distance for crawling underneath the barbed wire had to be 50 feet.  For some bizarre reason some of the racers decided to "rest" under the wire instead of making forward progress.  This just made the trip a bit more agonizing.  Luckily some Little, Tattooed, Muscled, Latina Chick commanded the stuck crowd to un-stick themselves and MOVE!  And they listened! Then, of course, one of the friendly Spartan Race staffers felt it necessary to hose every one down with cold water aimed lovingly at our faces.  Thanks guy!

I didn't think it was possible for a pond or lake in Vermont to be that cold in August.  But it was.  When the water level got to running-shorts height the other side of the lake looked like it was not 100 yards, but a mile away.  It felt good to swim again though.  I didn't realize how much I missed the water.

The worst, by far, of the obstacles, was the sandbag carry.  I mean the 50 lbs. sand bag carry.  That's a sandbag with a poor gripping surface and no handles.  Now carrying this bag for a short distance or carrying it on level ground would have been acceptable.  We were to have neither short distance or level ground.  It was about a mile, at least half of that up the mountain.  Did I mention the "trail" we had to negotiate wasn't much of a trail just more uneven, muddy ground.  It was at this point I contemplated leaving my sandbag as, apparently, many others did.  Lisa must have saw the look I had and said, "we have to keep going with the sandbags or we won't feel right about it later."  A young fella came up the trail behind us without a sandbag.  "I dropped my bag…I just couldn't do it", he said as he passed us.  Then another competitor climbed up with a bag and echoed Lisa's remarks, "I couldn't face myself later if I continued without the sandbag."  That was it.  We pressed on.  It was absolutely miserable.  I vowed to stab every sandbag I ever saw for the rest of my life.  Just kidding.  I thought of the 1977 film, Rolling Thunder, starring William Devane.  Devane's character, Major Charles Rane, was a Vietnam Prisoner of War.  After arriving back to his hometown Rane was asked about his torture. He described how he had his shoulders dislocated with rope.  When asked how he endured, Rane replied, "I learned to love the rope."  I learned to love that sandbag.

There were plenty of other obstacles.  My editor won't allow me the space to describe them all, but they were all challenging.  The most fun "obstacle" was the spear throw.  Why?  Because you got to throw a spear!  Who doesn't, at least once in their life, want to throw something sharp at an enemy—in this case a large figure made of wood and hay?  It's in our DNA.  Everyone wants to throw an edged weapon.  If you don't you're not being honest, c'mon!

Of all the things that impressed me none were as impressive as Lisa( the aforementioned Little, Tattoed, Muscled, Latina Chick).  It was Lisa's idea to do this race.  I wanted no part of it in the beginning.  Lisa signed me up for the event and then asked me if I wanted to do it.  Smart move on her part.  Lisa suffered two stress fractures, recently, before the race, in her right foot.  That's the foot that has been operated on several times and has no muscle pad at the bottom of it.  The foot is awfully thin.  It is also nerve damaged, which is why there's no muscle pad at the bottom.  On top of that Lisa rolled her good foot a week before the race and it swelled.  The swelling never went down despite icing it.  Lisa also has asthma and a reduced lung capacity from taking part in the recovery effort at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11/01.  The friction of her right foot from all the day's activities combined with her foot being wet caused the skin to scrape off the inside of her foot.  She began the event in pain and the pain only got worse.  At about the 6 mile mark Lisa required the foot to be bandaged and wrapped.  When I asked her if she was throwing in the towel she looked at me like I was crazy and said, "NO, I came here to finish this race and that's what I'm going to do."  Onward we traveled.  She actually seemed to get stronger as the course went on, but I know the pain only got worse.  Lisa never complained and not finishing was never an option for her.  Tough chick and a good race partner!

I'm proud of the Spartan Performance team.  Janie got separated from us during the toughest part of the course–the sandbag carry, and pushed through by her lonesome.  Not the best part of the course to do alone!  Barbara, Sean and Troy not only finished well, but they made us laugh in the short time we were together and they carried, for a while, an unidentified racer who was in need of medical help. 

By Saturday night I had no desire to do this race ever again.  By Monday morning I found myself looking forward to next year's Beast.  Leaving your zone of comfort and conquering something you're not really sure you can conquer elevates you as a person.  It strengthens every fiber of your being.  It enhances your soul.  For some strange reason I cannot explain I felt stronger, more energetic amd more flexible on Monday morning than I have in a while.  I felt rejuvenated.  The five of us have already discussed doing the race again and others similar to it.  Hopefully the team grows as well.  That was a not so subtle hint.


I cannot think of a training regiment more fitting than CrossFit.  Of course I'm biased, but I'm also intellectually honest.  I tried to come up with a better alternative, but they are all lacking.  That said, we will throw in more trail runs, purely to force our feet and hips to adjust to various terrain.  We may experiment with soft sand running as well…in small doses.  I did one, 1-hour trail run prior to this race.  All my other training was the CrossFit workout of the day.

Having the ability to do a pistol–a one-legged squat came in handy as on two occasions I slipped and found myself in the bottom of the pistol position.  I was able to pop right back up.

Having a strong core removes some of the responsibility from your joints during slips and sudden shifts in balance. A strong core will save you from potential injuries.

Pull-ups, dips, muscle-ups and rope climbs come into play when negotiating many of the obstacles.  Getting over a wall at a greater height than yourself is easier when you practice the elements of gymnastics found in CrossFit workouts.

The mental toughness aspect of the CrossFit workout shines during events such as the Spartan Beast.  75 competitors could not finish the race.  Most of them were physically uninjured.  The race was mentally daunting.  Finishing the Spartan Beast requires that you have the ability to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  If your workouts are not pushing you…if your workouts are "easy" then you're not properly preparing yourself for an event such as this.

It is imperative to be hydrated in the days leading up to the race and in the moments before the race.  In the same respect eating for maximum performance and getting proper sleep are also, hopefully obviously, important.  There are water stations along the course, but you may also need to replace electrolytes.  Research the products that are made specifically for this and make sure you have them during the race.  Cramping and 12 mile mountain races don't mix well.

Choose carefully.  You are stuck with whatever you decide to bring and whatever you decide NOT to bring.  Research clothing, footwear and water carrying systems.  What seems like a good idea may be a hindrance during obstacle negotiating.  What seems like a waste of time might be something necessary to have, like the aforementioned electrolyte replacement supplements.  We observed some Camelbak water carriers getting caught on the barbed wire during the crawl.  In fact, Jane had to free one of the racers who was literally stuck on the barbed wire.  {Camelbak products are outstanding, by the way}  We saw many discarded clothing items along the course.  Most of them were cotton–t-shirts and such.  Cotton is known as "death cloth" by the men and women who perform rescue work.  It gets heavy when wet and takes forever to dry.  It leaves you cold when you need warmth and hot when you need to cool down. 

I wore Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves.  That's a minimalist shoe.  They were exceptionally comfortable and I could feel my feet gripping the ground.  I also felt light on my feet.  I never noticed that I had minimal protection during any of the drops or jumps.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I don't think I had the lateral support of a regular trail shoe or boot, but I'll trade that to have my feet closer to the ground.  The rocks didn't bother my feet at all.  Oddly enough, I have horrible feet and usually wear orthotics.  Wearing orthotics in a minimalist shoe makes no sense so my orthotics stay in my other footwear.  My feet felt fine during the entire race.  My toes were a bit mashed, but not enough to be a bother.

That's all I have for now. As always, we welcome your questions and comments!









11 Responses

  1. Lauren

    That was a great story! Congratulations to you and the rest of the team for this accomplishment. I hope that I can be determined and strong enough, as all of you are, to complete something as challenging as this. Maybe next year! 🙂

  2. George

    Matt–Thanks! It was awesome. You should do it next year!
    Lauren–Thanks for the kind words! You and Andrew ARE doing it next year. Start planning right now!!

  3. Ana A.

    Great article George! I enjoyed reading this very much!! You are all very inspiring and yes, I too am hoping to join in on the fun with you guys next year!!

  4. Ana A.

    What is the highest ski resort in the East Coast? I do know that the highest mountain here is Mt Washington in New Hampshire and next is Mt Katahdin in Maine.

  5. George

    Thanks Ana!
    Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks!
    I believe the tallest peak is Mt. Marcy–also in NY, but apparently NOT a ski resort!

  6. Barbara

    Great story!!! I was having flashbacks and you described everything we went through……I have also been thinking about more ways to train for it next year, however I am still not yet on board yet lol. My legs and glutes still are that sore, along with my feet and ankles. I was thinking of bleacher climbs and maybe running the Rocky Point moutain bike trails (if we are allowed to). Even then, who knows what we will be in store for next year. Winters probably change everything. As long as the lake doens’t get any bigger I will be happy. The sandbags, definately the most challenging part of the entire day. As I am finishing up my comments you know I am in for next year!!!!!See you all there!!!

  7. Barbara

    Oh yeah……….just when you thought you were doing ok……..you were making it then they threw in the “mental challenge”. Memorize some word and number that they will ask you to remember at some point later. What?!?!?! Were they kidding.!?!?!? That was at the top right after a rope climb (easy)……….of course Sean, Troy and I all had diff things to remember. Then it was the downhill…………Sean and Troy were way ahead of me……..they are a little more fearless then I am when trying to navigate down the freaking mountain………the whole way I am trying not to wipe out while repeating my code outloud……..I was not going to do the burpee punishment………..After the sand bag torture and the sled pull they then had these ladies asking us what the code was……I still remember “yankee 322-7038” I was never so proud to recite back my numbers. No burpee punishement on that one but I had 90 others I had to do throughout……..must work on my balance lol and spear throwing accuracy 🙂

  8. Great race report. Reminds me of my adventure racing days with the Sloppy Hogs! I always did well at the paddling, obstacles, and biking, but got my ass kicked on the running. I used to take great pleasure in watching all the skinny enduro junkies struggle on the obstacles and skill-based events. Especially when they were lost on the orienteering or land navigation courses!! You can be an Olympic distance runner, but if you’re lost — you’re screwed. hahaha

  9. George

    Thanks Barbara–Yes, more trail running and more sandbag training..Lisa and I have ideas…!
    I would have killed you if I was in ear shot of you reciting your number out loud! LOL!

  10. George

    Thanks Lou!
    Yeah, well you know the secret….you have to get good at EVERYTHING!!
    We’ll keep training…that’s all we can do!

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