Spartan Beast: Lebec CA, 2019
The Autopsy of a DNF.
Tejon Ranch in Lebec, CA was hosting its second annual Spartan Beast / Sprint weekend and I was excited. I had run the Beast there with my then 16-Year-Old-Son the previous year and it had proven to be a great experience. Now, we were returning along with my 15-Year-Old-Son for round two. Since my memory of the previous year was that it was more FUN than it was challenging, I wasn’t overly concerned about the course. I was more concerned about making sure my 15-Year-Old-Son would be able to finish his first Beast! He hadn’t been doing much (read: nothing-at-all) in the way of training for long distances, so I wasn’t sure how well his endurance was going to hold up. Also, he had stated in no-uncertain terms that he did NOT want to wear a hydro-pack of any kind. I guess they just don’t look cool? Knowing that Spartan is pretty good about having PLENTY of water stations along the course, I decided that I too would ditch my hydration pack for this one. After all, requiring myself to rely on the water stations provided would help me stay in sync with how well my son was staying hydrated, right? Put me in the same boat he was in so I could better understand what he might be needing on course, right?
it’s NOT a good idea to change up what you normally do because someone who is LESS experienced than you is doing it.
I have dealt with leg cramps for a long time now and am always looking for different / better ways to deal with them. I think I’ve gotten better as time has gone by, but every once in a while I get some bad ones in an event and it sends me back to the drawing-board, so to speak. I hadn’t been getting any bad ones recently, but for some reason I was getting flashbacks of Big Bear earlier this year (2019) when my legs kept locking up solid. (Anyone who has run Big Bear knows about flashbacks). I’d recently started using SaltStick Fastchews and they seemed to be helping, however I was waiting to use them until I started feeling my legs cramping. What if I started using them BEFORE I was cramping? (I thought) The bottle states you should take 2 tablets for every 15-30 minutes of intensive workout, no more than 50 tablets in a day. 2 every 15-30 minutes seemed like a LOT to me, so I decided I’d cut that in half and take only 1 tablet. I was going to be taking my Clif Energy Gels every 45 minutes, so it just seemed to make sense if I took my Salt Tab then too.
it’s NOT a good idea to try a brand new nutrient plan DURING YOUR RACE.
As you can probably tell from the first sentence of this review. . .
. . .my plan didn’t exactly work out well.
Yes, I DNF'd this one!
If you don’t know what DNF means, they are the 3 most feared letters for anyone who has trained a lot for an event, spent a large amount on an entry fee, or is simply attempting to do something outside their comfort zone. Did Not Finish is NOT the timing result one is looking for. It means, that for whatever reason, you came up short and did not achieve the standard that was set in front of you. Too be absolutely transparent, Spartan Race did NOT DNF me. I was running in the OPEN HEAT category which is notorious for people skipping obstacles they don’t want to do (too tough looking, muddy, or cold) and NOT doing their 30 burpee penalties, yet still proudly displaying their Finisher Medal as if they had just crushed the course. My DNF was self-imposed, but I’ll get to that. I just wanted to be up-front about it. Also, just to make sure I’m not stringing anyone along. . .I’m not physically injured. I may have come close to some real damage, but I’ll get to all that. Just know that something happened that made me pull myself from the course. I’m convinced I did the right thing, I still love the course, and I have a massive chip on my shoulder for next year!
Now, let’s get back to it, shall we?
The day started off really well. Tejon Ranch is only about a 50 minute drive from my house, so getting to the venue was not a problem at all. There had been a series of wildfires close by in the days leading up, but all the roads were open again by Saturday morning, so all was good. Shortly after arriving we entered the Merch Tent to pick up our Venue Shirts and met up with Fareed, one of my blogs readers I’d met earlier in the year at Big Bear.
(ok, being completely honest here. . .Fareed remembers talking to me at Big Bear out on the course, but I don't! I TOTALLY believe him though, and I'm convinced he didn't identify himself as a reader at that time. I also believe I was so deep in my pain-cave that I could have talked with the Pope and not remembered it. Ok, I would probably have remembered talking with the Pope, but you get the idea! )
It is always great to meet people who CLAIM to get something out of my posts! If nothing else, it shows that they are nice people. 🙂 After talking with Fareed for a bit my sons and I bought our shirts and left the tent. My sons asked if I knew Fareed and I told them he was one of the guys who subscribed to my blog, to which they both looked at each other and started snickering. Against my better judgement, I asked what was so funny, to which my 15-Year-Old-Son remarked that it was nice that I had met half of my readers. They both went back to snickering. Har har har. It was just about that time that I got a tap on my shoulder.
Turning around I was greeted by a very nice young man who wanted to let me know he liked my blog. I was startled, but very flattered! I took a quick picture with him (I believe his name was Omar) and felt my spirits rise, only to get grounded by the sound of more snickering behind me.
“Now you’ve met 100% of your readers” my 17-Year-Old-Son snickered.
Ah, the joys of being a Father!
We checked our bags, visited the Port-a-Potties, and reported to the Starting Line. Fareed met us there and was nice enough to video our start and send it to me! We all loudly stated our profession to be: “Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!”, and we were off and running!
True to the pattern I’ve been observing
with return visits to venues, this year the course seemed to run more or less in the reverse direction it had the year before. Unlike the pattern of other races, however, we faced almost half of the obstacles in the first 2.5 miles, including all the heavy carries! After a short initial climb to clue us into the hills we would be facing later, we encountered the Over Walls. Without any problems, we passed them and made our way up and over another short hill to the Hurdles. Our first minor hill done we descended back toward the festival area and passed over the Inverted Wall. I think this was the earliest I’ve ever encountered this obstacle. Normally it’s not a very difficult wall to climb but does take a bit of effort when it’s late in the course. Today, however, we breezed right over.
An obstacles difficulty can depend completely on when and where it is on a course!
Back on flat land, we cruised into the festival area and completed the Z-Wall and Atlas Carry before making our way into a barn-like structure to face the Monkey Bars.
So far we had covered 1.1 miles of the trail with only about 141 feet of total elevation gain and loss. Not too strenuous. The Monkey Bars proved to be a bit more of a mental challenge than normal. Not sure why, but something about them being inside a structure where the far wall had horizontal slats and the light was a little darker created a bit of an optical illusion for me. The individual bars seemed to be further apart than they really were. Couple that with the fact that they felt just a little bit oiled up and it took me a little longer than normal to finish. But finish them I did, as did my 15-Year-Old-Son. My 17-Year-Old-Son, however, wasn’t so fortunate. He went back to try again and ended up dropping at the same point, a little more than half-way. Discouraged, he took his first set of burpees. Once he was done, we all hit the Tube Crawl (covered tubing about 3′ diameter that runs about 20 yards) and exited the barn.
Once again we were heading out of the Festival Area and out into the trails.
My 17-Year-Old-Son was hanging back just a bit, which was understandable since he just did burpees and we hadn’t. He waved me over and said he’d rather I go ahead with his 15-Year-Old-Brother. He was frustrated with himself for failing the Monkey Bars so early and needed some space to get his head right. I nodded my understanding and left him to it. I had a hunch he would catch up before too long anyway, so my 15-Year-Old-Son and I ran on ahead.
Just under a quarter of a mile later and only 36 feet of gain we arrived at the Bucket Carry. It was definitely on the longer side of things. I think now that the restrictions on how you can carry the bucket have been lifted, Spartan Race is thumbing their noses at the runners by making the carry that much longer.
"If you want to carry it on your shoulder so bad, you must want to carry it for a long time!"
Regardless, I only put it down once during the quarter mile loop, just past the halfway mark, after I had reached the peak of the 69 feet total gain. It wasn’t a steep carry at all, but it was a long one to be sure.
A short jog later we were climbing up and over the A-Frame Cargo Net which led directly into the Dunk Wall and Barbed Wire Crawl. It was a bit unusual to see the Dunk Wall without the Slip Wall or Rolling Mud anywhere near it, but putting a Barbed Wire Crawl thru lose dirt and brush afterwards makes sure you’re coated with all kinds of grime for the rest of the race!
A couple of minutes and about 43 feet of elevation loss later, we arrived at the Rope Climb. I was happy to find that the water and dirt I had caked on my shoes didn’t impair their ability in the slightest to grip the rope while I J-Hooked my way up and back down. My 15-Year-Old-Son also made short work of it and we continued our way around a short loop that lead to the Spear Throw.
I was feeling pretty good going into this one since I’d been hitting my targets on the last few courses. However, I under threw this target and dug it into the dirt. 30 very un-necessary burpees for me! You’d think having a spear throw setup in your back yard would mean you’d never fail this obstacle again, but you’d be wrong! My 15-Year-Old-Son also missed and found me in the penalty area as I was finishing up my set. I was happy to find that I could see my 17-Year-Old-Son just completing the Rope Climb and jogged over to congratulate him. He’d been about 50-50 with the Rope Climb, so seeing him complete it when he had failed the Monkey Bars was like seeing your favorite team score after having been down!
After taking my first Nutrient Gel and Salt Tab it was time to start our first real climb of the day. At 135 feet of total gain in 0.33 miles, it wasn’t a lot, but we were definitely starting to get into the hills. Up next was the Sand Bag Carry and I was a bit surprised to see that it looked like Spartan had gotten a new kind of Sand Bag!
Unlike the normal bags that are around 4′ long, empty in the middle and filled at the ends, these looked to be about 2′ long and filled solid. Maybe it was the way the weight was distributed, but they actually felt a little lighter than the normal bags. However, I wasn’t about to complain about it and quickly hoisted one up onto my shoulder to start my loop. This Sand Bag Carry started you off down hill for a loss of about 72 feet before turning you around to climb back up for a round trip of 0.21 miles. Again, not a bad carry, but maybe a bit on the longer side of things. No complaints though!
My 15-Year-Old-Son and I finished up and moved on. At this point, we traveled 2.72 miles, climbed a total of 470 feet, and finished 14 out of 30 obstacles, including all our heavy carries. We still had 16 more obstacles to complete, but they were going to be spread out over the next 10.5 miles, so it seemed like smooth sailing ahead. (I know how weird it sounds to say that after admitting we still had 10.5 miles to go, but that’s just how it seemed to me).
Over the next mile we climbed another 295 feet and descended 417 until we arrived at the Bender. I’m pleased to say that this obstacle is a lot easier for me now than it used to be. I used to have to hang onto the bottom rung and swing my legs up, hooking them onto the bottom rung also before I could start to work my way up and over. Now that I’ve been working pull-ups and dead-hangs into my regular gym workouts I’m able to climb the first few rungs with my upper body before engaging it with my legs. I’m by no means FAST over the obstacle, but I’m a lot more efficient than I used to be!
Just a short rolling hill later and we were at The Box. At 8′ tall with knotted ropes hanging down it’s face, The Box is trickier than it looks. The front lip is smoothed out so it’s hard to grasp, but there’s a horizontal metal bar about 1 foot back that the ropes are connected to that you can grab to pull yourself up. I noticed that a few of the ropes had 3 knots in them whereas most only had 2. I don’t know if these were reserved for the girls, but no one had said anything about it and there’s no mention of any distinction in the rule book, so I picked a rope with 3 knots and began my climb. By trapping the bottom knot between my feet I could gingerly stand up, moving my arms to the pipe on the top of The Box. However, I found that since the pipe is about a foot back, it put my armpits at the smooth edge of the top face, cutting any leverage I might have. Trying to pull myself up resulted in simply pulling my body weight INTO the wall instead of UP. On a whim, I found I could use the middle knot in the rope as a step by trapping it against the wall with the instep of my right foot, gaining the leverage I needed to get on top. Success! Climbing down the ladder on the back side, I cheered my 15-Year-Old-Son on as he successfully completed the obstacle also.
Remember how I said I DNF’d this course? Are you wondering what happened? Well, at this point everything was still going really well, so I guess you’ll just need to keep reading!
After taking my second Gel Pack and Salt Tab, it was time for the longest climb of the day. Over the next 2.12 miles we would climb a total of 1,020 feet and descend 394. It was during the course of this section that you could hear some colorful phrases from the people around you. It got fairly steep and seemed to go on forever. This section reminded me a bit of Big Bear, except for I knew this section would end. Big Bear never ends. A part of me is still climbing Big Bear. It was also during this section that I lost track of my 15-Year-Old-Son. Like a good, responsible father, I no longer knew if he was ahead of, or behind me. Figuring it would work itself out eventually, I continued my climb.
How did I lose track of him, you ask? Well, he wasn’t located in the dirt at my feet, and that’s primarily where I had been staring for the past 30-45 minutes. When I finally looked up, he was gone.
Near the top of this climb I thought I heard my 17-Year-Old-Son’s voice, and sure enough, he was catching up to me, talking to someone beside him.
Huebert was running the Beast with his son and was nice enough to say that reading my write-up had encouraged them to try it. Very nice thing to have said. Last year I actually ran WITH my son, now it seems like I’m running somewhere NEAR my sons, but that’s alright. It’s a good thing to see them get faster and stronger. Someone has to be the rear-guard, right? RIGHT?
Losing one son and finding another, my 17-Year-Old-Son and I finished the climb and found the longest line I’ve ever seen at a mid-course water station! We were almost 5.5 miles in and the line was about 20-30 people deep! It seemed like everyone was filling their hydro-packs at each water jug, so nothing was moving quickly. There was only one volunteer at this station and I felt bad for him, but he wasn’t being vocal AT ALL. He really should have been instructed to only allow hydro-packs to be filled at 2 of the 3 jugs, leaving the 3rd jug for cups only. That would have sped things up tremendously! Oh well, not having brought my own hydro-pack and having just done a long climb, I felt like I needed to wait the 20 minutes it took to get water! Waiting in line was also the perfect opportunity to take my third Gel Pack and Salt Tab. I limited myself to only two cups of water even though I still felt like I hadn’t drank anything. I didn’t want to get side cramps.
A short while later we found ourselves at the Twister. Since this was a Beast setup, it was a three section Twister. I’ve conquered the two section Twister on a few different courses, but never a three section one. Today was no different. Luckily there was no burpee zone for this obstacle, rather you had to run a penalty loop. No worries, both my 17-Year-Old-Son and I ran our loop which climbed and descended 56 feet over 0.20 miles and continued on down the course, feeling great!
What's with all this 'Feeling Great' stuff? Get to the point where you DNF!
It’s coming, it’s coming! I promise! Let me feel good for a bit!
I remember the next 0.46 miles being a fairly enjoyable jog. There’s usually a section of each course where I feel truly happy, and this was that section. The trail crossed a few gentle rolling hills, but was mainly a prolonged descent that was not so steep that it wasn’t runnable. We gained a total of 30 feet elevation and descended for 112. Maybe I was happy since we were fast approaching our midway point and didn’t have that many failable obstacles left. Not quite sure. Whatever the reason was, I remember this section as being my favorite.
Having traveled a total of 6.73 miles, climbed 1,910 feet and descended 1,314. . .we had reached the Beater. Last time I had faced this obstacle was at Tahoe when it was slick from snow and hail. I had failed it then and was determined to regain my victory. Comprised of a series of horizontal pipes, some stationary and others connected to a wheel that allows them to rotate, the trick with this obstacle is to maintain your momentum. Getting stuck between two of the rollers can cause a failure pretty quickly. Today, this obstacle was dry and easy to grip, so I was able to make short work of it. Nothing sounds better to me than a cowbell! (ok, that sounds a bit strange if you don’t know that there’s a cowbell at the end of each failable obstacle you must ring to show you completed it).
My 17-Year-Old-Son wasn’t quite so fortunate. The Beater has been a bit tricky for him. He completed it in Asheville this year, but so far, that’s the only time. He’s got the ability, he just needs a bit more work on the timing. Another penalty loop for this obstacle, so away he went as I continued down the trail, knowing he would more than likely catch up to me before too long.
Sure enough, my son caught up to me sometime during the half mile leading up to the Stairway To Sparta. And by ‘up to’ I mean we climbed another 207 feet. Stairway To Sparta has a few different configurations. Both versions are a tall (probably about 15-18′) A-frame type structure. In the original configuration, the first 7′ is made up of a solid wall and the rest of it is made up of wooden boards with gaps between them. So you hop up to grab the top of the 7′ section, then pull yourself up to grab the wood board above. Once you can get your feet on the top of that first 7′ section, it’s a simple climb up the wood boards, which make a sort of ladder to the top. Up and over, the backside is just a wooden ladder. What we had today was configuration number two, also known as The Great Wall. This setup first showed up on the Asheville Super in 2018 and replaces the 7′ wall section with what looks to be about a 10-11′ wall section. About 7′ up there are a series of rock-climber style grips that continue to the top of this solid section. You need to be able to jump high enough to grab the bottom most grips with your fingertips and then pull your way up to the next set of grips. If you can get high enough to get your feet on the bottom set of grips, you are golden. This obstacle definitely rewards those who are 6′ and taller! Being only 5’8″ myself, I feel a bit at a disadvantage. Although I used to be able to jump pretty high when I was younger, my legs aren’t as young as they used to be! However, I can get my fingertips on the lower set of grips, but I have a hard time holding my 160lb frame with my fingertips! After a few failed attempts at this, I humbly accepted a boost from a fellow Spartan to close this one out. (I had already given a boost to my 17-Year-Old-Son).
During the next 3.1 miles we climbed 360 feet and descended 1,110.
We completed the Armer, Pipe Lair, and had just arrived at the Olympus. I had taken my fourth Gel Pack and Salt Tab and stopped at two more water stations. I hadn’t had any sign of cramps and took that to mean my nutrient plan was working. However, I also noticed that drinking water at the water stations didn’t seem to be doing anything for my thirst. I would leave feeling just as parched as when I had arrived. A slight headache had started to form. We were getting close to the end though, so I just chalked it up to heat and exhaustion.
The Olympus is an A-Frame style wall that is at a VERY steep angle. You must traverse sideways along the wall using various rock-climbing hand grips, short chains, and small holes. While keeping your feet from slipping and touching the ground, you must reach the far side of the wall and ring the cowbell. The face of the Olympus used to be made of compressed wood, but recently it’s been changed to some kind of compressed plastic-like surface that is much more slick. This was only the second time I’d seen this type of material being used on this obstacle, but I was able to successfully complete it, then helped support my 17-Year-Old-Son as he made it across.
Things were starting to get a bit fuzzy for me.
I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but I was starting to feel a bit hollow and a little spacey. I was very thirsty at this point and was glad to see a water station was only a few steps away. After drinking a couple cups of water I was still very thirsty and my headache was more noticeable. We made our way over to the 7′ Wall and climbed. I felt very zapped. It didn’t help that directly on the other side of the wall was a steep hill we needed to climb up. My 17-Year-Old-Son easily outpaced me up the 180 foot climb and by the time I had reached the top he was nowhere to be seen. I felt like I was going to pass out, so I sat down for a bit. Normally I’ll have a bit of internal dialogue telling me to get back up and keep moving, and while I still did have that at this point, it was very quite and didn’t seem to want to talk all that much. It was time to take my fifth Gel Pack, but I was feeling nauseous so I didn’t take it. I did, however, take a fifth Salt Tab. Not sure why I was so drained, I picked myself up and started the steep 184 foot descent to the 8′ Wall. It had only been 0.31 miles between the two obstacles but had taken me over 16 minutes to do. On the way down the hill, I saw my son complete the obstacle and look around for me. He waited for a bit before continuing down the trail and starting yet another climb. It was the last time I saw either of my sons during this event.
At the 8′ Wall I took a few meager attempts to jump and grab the top.
I failed. If I can grab the top I can pull myself up, but I just didn’t have any jump left in my legs. Accepting a boost from a fellow racer, I made my way over to the next climb. I tried to tell myself that I was near the end of this course and to keep moving, but there just didn’t seem to be any real conviction behind my words. I started my climb, but needed to sit down for a bit on a fallen log about a quarter of the way up. I wasn’t the only one resting, but something felt way off inside. Normally I have a drive to keep going, but not this time.
I had a headache, I was thirsty, and I just wanted to sleep.
After sitting down for a few moments I stood back up and completed the 157 foot climb to see the Tyrolean Traverse waiting for me at the bottom of a 141 foot descent. Consisting of a rope strung between two points that you must traverse by either hanging underneath or laying on top, the Tyrolean Traverse doesn’t normally pose too much of a problem for me. It can be physically draining, but very doable. Today, however, the mere thought of attempting this obstacle filled me with dread. My hands didn’t feel like they had any grip left in them and I’d never tried to lay across the top. I sat down in front of the obstacle and stared off into space for a good couple of minutes, hoping that my head would clear up.
I had zero desire to even attempt this obstacle.
Finally, I stood up and walked to the rope. Maybe I could lay across the top and complete it that way. I climbed the structure so I could get to the top of the rope. I stood there for a long time just staring at it, knowing how to get on it, but only envisioning myself falling thru the rope and hitting the ground. Not sure how that would happen, but that’s all I could picture. After picturing myself hitting the ground many times, I climbed back down and walked slowly over to the burpee zone. If I couldn’t do the obstacle, I would do the required 30 burpees.
5 pathetic attempts at burpees later, I found myself sitting in the penalty zone, once again staring off into space.
My body hollow and I couldn’t muster the desire to continue. My head was buzzing so I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. If I couldn’t do the obstacle and I couldn’t finish my burpees, I would be done. I wasn’t going to be ‘that guy’ who didn’t do his penalty burpees and collected a Finisher Medal. That’s not who I wanted to be. Why couldn’t I do the burpees? I was feeling less and less motivated to do anything at all when I noticed a water station about 25 yards down the trail. I was still very thirsty. I could use some water. However, I knew that if I left that burpee zone with 25 more burpees to do, I would have to admit to myself that I had failed. I stood up to try and complete my burpees and felt very light-headed. I was getting a bit of tunnel vision. It was time to call it. I walked over to the water station and took a few cups of water. It did nothing for my thirst.
I wasn’t sure why I felt the way I did and I considered asking the volunteers to call for medical,
but I knew I was only a couple miles from the Finish Line and wanted to walk out on my own power. I felt bad about it, but I had made up my mind that I was pulling myself from the course. Only two miles left and five obstacles I can normally complete, but no willpower to do anything but move toward the end. I walked right past the Multi-Rig, Rolling Mud, Slip Wall, Vertical Cargo, and Hercules Hoist. I half expected a volunteer or fellow racer to say something about needing to do the obstacle or do burpees, but no one said anything. At least, I didn’t hear them if they did.
I was disappointed with myself, but oddly enough I was at peace with my decision.
I’d completed the Beast at Big Bear the past 3 years, Lebec and Spartanburg the year before, and Tahoe a month previously. I’d run my first two marathons earlier in the year and was no stranger to digging deep, getting comfortable in my pain-cave, and pressing on. But this was something I hadn’t encountered before.
I crossed the Finish Line and politely refused a Finishers Medal from the volunteers.
They looked at me confused and I told them I had DNF’d as I passed them by. No medal or Finisher Shirt for me, it just wouldn’t feel right. I want all the Medals I receive to mean I successfully accomplished something, not that I just showed up. I hadn’t met the requirements of the event, so I hadn’t earned the Medal. I don’t know how else to explain it other than I would have felt worse for taking the Medal than I would have for DNF’ing in the first place.
What went wrong? How can I keep from this happening again?
After my Mom (a nurse) heard what had happened and how I was feeling, she made the observation that it sounded like I had given myself Sodium Poisoning. Honestly, I was very doubtful at first (I’m always doing things that will lead to my death according to her. . .at least that’s my take), but after reading a link she sent me that describes Sodium Poisoning and the symptoms that come with it, I had to admit that everything lined up. Short of seizures and a coma, I had most of the symptoms. Since I didn’t get any medical treatment, I cannot say for sure that’s what happened, but I also cannot deny it.
What I CAN say is that trying a new game plan ON RACE DAY is NOT a great idea!
Also, if you are going to continue to enter races that will push your limits, you need to accept the fact that EVENTUALLY you are going to DNF. Unless you cut corners, you’re going to find your limits at some point, whether you enter an event you aren’t prepared for or you simply make a bad call with your nutrient plan. Failure is going to be an eventuality, but it doesn’t have to be the end. Despite my DNF, I feel really good about the Beast in Lebec this year. I had a great time on the course, met some great people, and have a lot of good memories from it. I also learned a valuable lesson and will not take Salt Tabs so liberally in the future! I’m already looking forward to my next event and am determined to learn from this and not stop because of it.
Both my sons successfully completed this race, and earned a Finisher Medal, Beast TriFecta Wedge Piece, and a Finish Shirt. We all bought the Venue Shirt for an additional $30.
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