Spartan World Championship Beast: Tahoe CA, 2019
35 Obstacles (listed)
13.2 Miles (according to Course Map)
10.75* Miles (according to my Garmin)
Shoes: Reebok All Terrain Super 3.0 Stealth
Additional Gear: Garmin 920XT, MudGear Compression Socks, Cold Gear Compression tops and bottoms, Windbreaker, Gloves, Knit pullover hat
Time to Finish: 05:48:10* (official)
After much anticipation (and dread), running the Spartan World Championship Beast course was just as epic as I had hoped!
In the days leading up to the event, I must have checked (and re-checked) the weather forecast hourly. Each time I looked it seemed to change, but never in the direction of Warm and Dry! From everything I could see, it was going to be COLD and WET! Now, I don’t know what I had been expecting, really. I’d watched the FaceBook and YouTube broadcasts Spartan had done the past few years from the same location and every time it looked cold and miserable. Why would this be any different? Yet, honestly, that’s part of what pulled me in. Could I push thru the discomfort of being cold and wet and still finish the course? I’d soon find out!
Friday morning my 17-Year-Old-Son and I drove the 7+ hours from our house in Southern California to Truckee where we would stay the night. There we met up with my Brother-In-Law who had flown out from Indiana. Sharing the cost of a room made it possible to stay close enough to the venue that it would only take us 18 minutes to get there in the morning. Very nice!
Shortly before arriving at our hotel we stopped at a rest stop. I discovered that I had received a couple of encouraging emails from some of my readers, wishing me well! Thanks you guys! Your words meant a lot!
Knowing that the weather forecast was for cold temps, high winds, and a 60% chance of rain mixed with snow, I had decided to change up my gear. I wore a similar setup that I had used last year when I ran the Beast in Spartanburg, SC: Cold Gear Leggings overtop of knee high Mud Gear compression socks for the lower half; short sleeve compression top over a long sleeve compression top on the upper half. I also put on a pair of glove liners to keep the wind off my hands while I ran between obstacles. I took out the bladder in my hydration pack and replaced it with a thicker runners top in a zip-lock bag as a 3rd layer option in case I needed it. Adding a windbreaker that I planned on using after the swim to help warm back up, a pair of heavy snow gloves just in case, and a knit-cap, I felt I was as prepared for the cold as I was ever going to be!
Saturday morning we arrived early enough to get registered, use the bathroom, visit the Merch Tent, use the bathroom, bag check, bathroom, bathroom, then off to the starting line after a quick trip to the bathroom. I had obviously hydrated well the week leading up to the race, but hadn’t accounted for the cold temperatures shrinking my bladder! Oh well,
"AROO! AROO! AROO! Let's go!
(to the bathroom again!)"
The initial 3.5 to 4 miles was spent climbing the mountain, but it’s worth noting that this climb was NOTHING like Big Bear! The climb at Tahoe was a series of switchbacks with just enough of a slope that kept me at a hiking pace, but not steep enough to feel overly taxing. It was OBVIOUS we were definitely going up hill, but it was gradual enough that it was never overwhelming. The weather on the way up was pretty ideal. There was the occasional wind gust that would make me feel cold, but the sun was out and the temperature was in the high 40’s to low 50’s. Seemed like we might have had a good turn of weather after all! During this climb we conquered the OverWalls (2 walls around 5′ tall) and the 6′ Wall on our way up to the Monkey Bars.
With the high chance of rain/snow
I had been concerned that all the obstacles would be wet and hard to grip, so I was happy to reach the Monkey Bars while things were still dry! These Monkey Bars were a bit more technical than other setups I’ve seen. There were 3 or 4 bars that were set higher then the rest, causing you to have to manage your momentum in order to reach them. Not too bad but definitely harder than normal. All three of us made it thru without penalty, climbed quickly over the Inverted Wall, and continued our ascent.
A short distance later we crossed over a short wooden bridge that we would have to crawl under in another 5-ish miles, as this was one of a couple different sections where the trail crossed over itself. Not long after that we came to a clearing where we found the Z-Walls. Nothing too out of the ordinary here, but I did notice that quite a few of the lanes had walls with a slight backward lean to them. Normally I like to take the ‘blind-corner’ first since it’s the hardest part, but the lane that looked the best to me started off with the ‘inside-corner’ first. Things were still dry at this point, so we didn’t have any issues.
I was happy to see that Spartan had filled in the center cut-outs of the walls with an opaque banner that said SPARTAN on it. Not only did it make the obstacle look better, but I’ve never been a fan of the cut-outs in the walls. Since lanes exist on both sides of the obstacle, these cut-outs allow racers on the opposite side to poke their knees or feet thru, possibly crowding your lane. Putting that banner there helped close things off again. I hope they do this more often! If we cannot have solid walls, then put the banners in the gaps!
Just under another mile of climbing and we were getting close to the top.
We still had about a mile to go but the incline was very gradual at this point. Of course, being close to the summit also meant that the winds had picked up and the temperature had dropped. Perfect time to arrive at the longest Bucket Carry I think I’ve ever seen!
At least the view was epic, should you actually look to the side and notice it. Unfortunately, the main view I had was the feet of the person in front of me as I trudged my bucket up the long climb.
This was the first event I had run after a few recent rule changes had been made.
One of those changes now made it possible to carry the bucket on your shoulders if you wanted to. I had never attempted this before (since it was not allowed), but I decided to give it a try. I have to say that there are both pros AND cons to this method for me.
it removes the weight of the bucket from your arms, so if you had issues with arm fatigue before, this method will definitely help you out.
carrying the bucket on your shoulder puts the weight unevenly on your body and could fatigue the shoulder and arm on that side. Depending on what’s coming up next, this could hurt you on future obstacles.
What seemed to work best for me was to switch up my carry method a few times. I carried it on my right shoulder at the start, then switched to having it on the back of my neck for a bit, which centered the load. I continued to experiment with these two holds on the ascent portion of the carry, then on the descent, I switched back to a traditional carry. Switching the hold seemed to keep from overly taxing one part of my body. The traditional hold still feels the most comfortable to me, but I can see value in the shoulder carry as well.
Somewhere during the Bucket Carry I passed my 17-Year-Old-Son, but my Brother-In-Law was already finishing when I got to the half-way point.
That was the last time I would ever see him.
On the course, that is! We had all agreed that we were going to stick together UNTIL it became too cold to wait around for each other. I wanted to make sure that no one ran the risk of getting hypothermia and DNFing because they were waiting for someone. The key to finishing was going to be continuing to move. That being said, I finished my Bucket Carry and decided to wait for my son. I was cold, but not enough that I didn’t feel I couldn’t wait for him. He wasn’t that far back and after a few short moments he had returned his bucket and we were climbing a staircase to find the Bender and the Spear Throw.
Bender was a simple up and over, but the Spear Throw proved to be a much bigger challenge! The winds were blowing across the targets and I saw several spears being pushed wildly mid-flight, causing several good looking throws to miss. My 17-Year-Old-Son had the wind blow his spear enough that it spun in a strange way and missed the target to the right, so he went off to the Burpee Zone with a lot of other racers (at least the HONEST ones. . .once again, several people who missed decided they didn’t need to do burpees). I thought about cheating my throw to the left of the target so the wind would blow it in, but the wind was coming in gusts so there was just as much chance I would miss to the left. Luckily, the wind died down just long enough for me to get my throw off and I stuck it in the middle! I turned and started to run away when a massive gust ripped thru. I looked back to see the wind push my spear out of the target and place it on the ground. I was out of the throwing area but not clear of all the targets yet. I don’t know if that would have caused me to do burpees if I was running competitive or not, but everyone in the line at my target turned as one and yelled to me “IT COUNTED!” I think they were all banking on counting it for themselves should it happen to them. Either way, I accepted the unanimous decision and went to the Burpee Zone to collect my son, who was just finishing up.
Almost to the top now, we worked our way thru the Olympus and the Armer.
It’s worth mentioning that the face of the Olympus was not made from wood like it had been in the past, but rather seemed to be constructed with a compressed plastic-like material. A LOT of people were having a hard time with it. My son went first and his feet slipped out from under him pretty quickly. Since we are allowed to help each other in the Open Heat, I let him sit on my shoulder and helped him avoid another set of burpees. Then it was my turn! I was pleasantly surprised to find that my feet actually seemed to stick better to this version of the Olympus than the previous wooden ones! I don’t know why I wasn’t having the same issues as others seemed to be having, but I’ll take it!
By the time we reached the Multi-Rig we were practically at the top of our climb and completely exposed to the high winds. The Multi-Rig was setup with 3 hanging rings that transitioned to a horizontal pipe, followed by 4 ropes. The ropes were being blown sideways, but that didn’t cause any issue for me. . .mainly because I fell off while trying to grab the pipe and never made it to the ropes! I decided to head to the burpee zone for my first 30 of the day instead of re-trying. My son joined me a few moments later for some burpee fun!
A short distance later we were officially in the gauntlet at the top of the mountain.
This gauntlet consisted of the Tyrolean Traverse, Ape Hanger, Barbed Wire Crawl, Atlas Carry, Dunk Wall, and Slip Wall. On top of being completely exposed to the cold winds I could see storm clouds rolling in. We knew that we had to keep moving so we could start to descend the mountain and start to pick up the few degrees of temperature we had shed on our climb (the top was around 7°F – 11ºF colder than the base).
I don’t know if it was just the cold, or maybe the elevation, or maybe both, but as I raised my right leg and hooked my heel over the rope my calf tried to rip itself in half! At least, that’s what it felt like as I hung there at the start of the Tyrolean Traverse. I didn’t want to drop off since I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get back up, but rather waited a few moments suspended upside-down, until I felt I could start to pull my way across the rope. Luckily, the rope I was on was slack enough that about mid-way across my back was actually on the ground! You bet I took advantage of that! I made it to the bell and completed the obstacle. My calf was very sore as I stood up and walked my way to the Ape Hanger.
The Ape Hanger. Yeah, this one is intimidating!
I’d love to try it when I wasn’t frozen and dealing with a calf cramp! The Ape Hanger requires you to enter into waist deep water and complete a short rope climb before transitioning to a series of metal rungs that look like they are on a rope ladder being stretched horizontally across the water trench. These rungs go up in height to the half-way point where they start to descend again. So many people were falling into the cold water from the highest point of the obstacle! I entered the water and climbed the rope, but I was cold and mentally I just couldn’t see myself reaching the end of the obstacle without falling into the cold water. I slid back down the rope, opting to take my penalty. I now wish I had attempted to get across, but I made my choice and I paid the penalty, so I’m good with it! Instead of a Burpee Zone, the Ape Hanger had a penalty loop that consisted of the longest low crawl under bungee cords I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t help but think that 30 burpees would have been more pleasant! My son was about half way thru his penalty loop by the time I started. When I finished, he was nowhere to be seen. I was a little disappointed to have been left behind, but at the same time I was glad he had wisely opted to keep moving. It was very cold at this point and he needed to get off the mountain top if he was going to finish. I later found out that he thought I had finished the obstacle and had left him! He wasn’t aware of the fact that he was ahead of me! It was cold, did I mention that?
Directly after the penalty loop was the Barbed Wire Crawl. Yea! More crawling! At least the barbed wire was higher up than the bungees on the low crawl, and it was also much shorter. However, the ground on the low crawl was much softer. Not much time to dwell on it, had to keep moving.
Finally done with crawling around,
I stood up and was greeted by another obstacle with a recent rule change; the Atlas Carry. Now, I have mixed feelings about no longer being required to do 5 burpees half way thru this obstacle, but today I wasn’t going to complain about it. I was cold. Cold enough to think I should try a new way of lifting the 100 lb. ball. Normally I simply squat down and work both my hands and forearms under the ball, straighten my back and stand up, carrying the ball in my arms like a sling. Today, however, I decided I would go down on my right knee and roll the ball up my leg and then transfer it to my left leg. My left foot was flat on the ground putting my left leg in a 90° angle, allowing me to rest the ball on my quad. From here, the idea was to grab the ball with both arms and stand up, holding the ball up around my chest level instead of down by my waist like normal. Great theory. I’ve seen other people do it. Made sense. Why not try it for the first time when cold and numb? Everything went as planned as I rolled it up my right leg and transferred it to my left, but as I started to stand up, the 100 lb. ball put me off balance enough that my left knee collapsed outward and I started to fall over, dropping the ball at the same time. In an instant I felt a sharp WHACK on the inside of my left ankle and was sitting back on the ground.
The ball had dropped out of my arms and struck my ankle bone, knocking my leg down.
I was cold enough that I had felt the impact but couldn’t feel any pain, so I sat there for a moment, unsure if I had just DNFed myself. From what I could see, it looked like the ball had landed square on my ankle, pushed it to the ground, then rolled off.
Did I just shatter my ankle?
After a brief moment I found I could still move my foot, so I stood up and found nothing seemed to be broken. I would later discover that I only had a dime shaped red mark where the stone must have hit and glanced off. I’m convinced that I gave my guardian angel a pretty severe limp for a while! I decided to simply pick the ball up like normal and was glad to find I still could.
It was nice to see that the Dunk Wall had been closed due to the dangerously cold temperatures. It was deemed too cold to put your head under without a very high risk of hypothermia. I assumed that meant the swim would be closed too. I had been looking forward to doing the swim since it’s one of the venues iconic obstacles, but at that point I was glad for the thought of not getting any wetter or colder than I already was.
Only the Slip wall stood between me and starting my descent off the cold mountain top.
With the Dunk Wall being shut down, the Slip Wall was anything BUT slick. You could practically run up without the ropes, but I grabbed one about half-way up just in case.
Starting down the mountain felt good. I was still very cold, but the knowledge that I had finished one of the areas I knew was going to be tough helped mentally warm me up a little. The only other part I had been concerned about was the Swim, and that seemed like it was shut down!
When I came to the Sandbag Carry I was glad to know that we only had to carry ONE Sandbag. The people running for prize money the next day would need to carry TWO! Much like the Bucket Carry, this was the longest Sandbag Carry I’ve ever seen! I’d seen it in past years on the Spartan broadcasts, but nothing does it justice like seeing it in person! I’m happy to say that I did it without putting the bag down and resting. I felt like resting, but the need to keep moving helped drive me forward.
After I bit more trail running, which varied between flat sections and some down hill, I got a glimpse of a lake in the distance. I had heard some of the ultra-racers who were on their second lap say that the swim had been open earlier in the day, but I also heard some normal racers say that since the Dunk Wall was closed it probably meant that all water obstacles were closed. Not sure where they got THAT from since the Ape Hanger had been open, but with as cold as it felt I was leaning toward the swim being closed. I couldn’t see anyone out on the part of the lake that was visible, so it seemed like I wasn’t going to get a chance to do the swim. Honestly, I was ok with that. I had talked a pretty good game in the weeks leading up to the event that no matter how cold it was, if the swim was open I was doing it. After all, it WAS part of the challenge of this iconic venue AND one of the main things people talk about later. I’d always heard how COLD the swim at Tahoe is mixed in with horror stories of what sounded like MILLIONS of people being struck with INSTANT HYPOTHERMIA after entering that mystical mountain lake. I also knew that MORE THAN A FEW racers seemed to be able to complete the swim AND go on to live a full life, so I was more than a little curious to see for myself what all the fuss was about. I had even built part of my training for this event around how to survive the cold waters! 30 days before going to Tahoe I had started to take cold showers after my workouts with the sole purpose of trying to train myself to stay calm and NOT turn the water to warm. What I found was that if I could simply will myself to be calm for about 10-15 seconds and endure the cold water, it stopped feeling as cold. The real trick was to mentally force myself to not panic, but to rather wash up in the same relaxed manner that I would do if the water was warm. I didn’t ALWAYS succeed at this, but I did find that when I could relax my mind and behave normally, the water didn’t feel as cold. I had also read that by taking cold showers you can cause your body to develop a subcutaneous layer of fat. Just another amazing example of how our bodies are wonderful machines designed to adapt to our surroundings for survival.
BUT AT THIS POINT I was good with not having to do a cold swim!
What I was ALSO GOOD with was the sight of a port-a-potty that didn’t have any line! BEST-OBSTACLE-EVER! Once again, being hydrated was NOT an issue for me!
I momentarily lost sight of the empty looking lake before rounding a corner to see a yellow canoe floating on it’s surface.
Wait a minute. . .canoes are what the swim safety team use when. . .
THE SWIM WAS OPEN!
A mixture of feelings hit me. Yes, the swim WAS open, but I saw only a few racers actually IN the water. It looked like the majority of runners were simply passing by! As I got closer to the bin of PFDs (personal floatation devices) that are mandatory, I saw my 17-Year-Old-Son down by the lake, getting ready for his turn! I had already determined I was going to take the plunge anyway, but seeing that he was NOT one to back down from the challenge, even when I was not with him, made me proud. I grabbed my PFD and ran down to meet up with him. He was almost ready by the time I caught up, so I encouraged him to go for it instead of waiting for me. We both took off our packs before putting on the PFD, as well as our knit-caps and glove liners. I went ahead and pulled my wind breaker out of my pack and laid it on top of my gear. I wanted everything I needed to be ready so I wouldn’t have to fumble with my pack when my fingers might be numb.
The dreaded swim turned out to be only about 50 meters in total.
25 meters from the ‘dock’ to a buoy which you needed to swim around before heading back. As I entered the water my son was rounding the buoy. I was happy to find that the water didn’t really feel cold at all. It wasn’t WARM, mind you, but it actually felt nicer being IN the water than it did standing on the shore. The swim is the first time I think I was actually smiling. I had dreaded this for so long that actually doing it, and feeling like I was doing it WELL, was an amazing feeling. Also, since so many people were NOT doing the swim, it felt like I was the only one in the water! Not only did that allow me to keep a good pace going, but it made me the only racer that the volunteers and safety works had to cheer on!
It might sound like a small thing, but when you are cold and in the middle of a challenge, voices of encouragement will energize you.
The swim, really, was NOT that bad. Just be mentally prepped for it. Try not to concentrate on how cold it will be, but rather, how you will keep moving to stay warm. Plan how you will succeed instead of being sure you will fail. Anyway, both my son and I successfully completed the swim, so I am talking big now! 🙂
We quickly got our PFDs off and put our discarded gear back on. We put on our windbreakers and knit-caps, traded out our glove-liners for full-blown snow-gloves, and began our run down the mountain just as it started to snow!
(I wish I had a picture to show you, but even though both my son and I had cameras with us, I had made the decision pretty early on that we were not going to be stopping for pictures with the weather turning as cold as it was. It was going to make this blog post a bit more challenging, but I didn't want to make things any more complicated than they were already going to be! I figured I would use the official pictures of us in this post, but as it turned out, we ran WAY more stealth than I expected! I was hard pressed to find ANY pictures of us!)
We ran for about a mile downhill over some pretty technical terrain. There were a lot of single-track sections thru trees and brush which acted as a much welcomed wind-break, but the fact that I couldn’t feel my feet made me need to pay very close attention to where I was placing them! The path was very rocky and getting potentially slick with the snow, which at some point had turned to a light hail. I say ‘light’ hail because there were small balls of ice that were visibly bouncing when they hit the ground.
We came back to that small wooden bridge we had crossed earlier and now had to crawl underneath it. This was the Low Crawl obstacle on the map. What should have been an obstacle felt more like a shelter since it acted as a shield from the snow/hail and felt a bit warmer being protected from the winds. Still, we did not linger under it and continued a short way down to the 7′ Wall. Nothing more than your 7′ Wall on any other course, we were able to scramble up and over and continue our wintery descent.
Not long after that we came to the 8′ Wall. I’m still convinced that the 8′ Wall is closer to 9′. Neither of us could scramble over the 8′ Wall on our own, we tried. We opted to give each other a boost so we could keep moving.
I think I had a little bit of the feeling back in my feet by now,
but despite KNOWING I was cold, I felt pretty good! My 17-Year-Old-Son was doing well despite having some visible shakes and teeth chattering. We needed to keep running, so we did. Down the mountain we went! I lead our descent and would periodically ask my son a question, mainly so I could hear his response and make sure he wasn’t slurring his words, which would be a sure sign of hypothermia setting in. I was also evaluating my own speech. I knew that just because I didn’t FEEL like I was too cold didn’t mean I WASN’T too cold, if that makes any sense at all. 🙂
Somewhere in that final 1.5 to 2 miles we started to hear some very loud thunder claps behind us!
Now it was snowing/hailing AND thundering! I couldn’t help but let out a hearty “AROO” whenever a peal of thunder hit. Again, I was grinning. This was epic! When would I ever get the chance to run down a mountain trail in the snow and hail to the soundtrack of a thunderstorm in California? This was definitely going to be a once in a lifetime moment, and I was going to enjoy it!
Nearing the bottom of the mountain, we arrived at the Helix where race officials were waving us to continue down the trail.
It looked like they were shutting down the venue.
We could hear a muffled announcement being made in the festival area but couldn’t make out what was being said. Sure enough, another group of race officials waved us past the Rope Climb and Monkey In The Middle obstacles and off the course into one of the ski-lodge buildings. Not a Race Closure, but a Race Delay due to dangerous weather. I found out that the thunder we were hearing was accompanied by lightning that was only 3 miles away. It must have been behind us and on the other side of the mountain because I never saw it. Regardless, Spartan had shut the course down to wait out the storm. They would allow us to continue if it was safe to do so, otherwise we would be done for the day.
Regardless of how the day ended, I had faced colder temperatures than I ever had before on a course, completed the much talked about ‘dreaded swim’, and continued to run thru snow, hail, and thunder!
It had been an awesome day that I wouldn't soon forget!
We entered the ski-lodge 4 hours and 5 minutes into our run. We shared the space with hundreds of other runners and it was a chance to talk with fellow spartans and share war-stories. You’d think it was a chance to warm up also, but being in an air-conditioned building while wet and cold and NOT being able to run only seemed to make my son and I MORE cold. We went downstairs to the locker rooms and found a bathroom, hoping that they had one of those hot-air hand dryers we could warm up with. SCORE! They DID have one, but it didn’t seem to work very well! It would turn on for a second only to turn back off and refuse to work. It had probably already been overused by other spartans.
After an hour had gone by a large cheer rippled thru the building as the course was being re-opened.
My son and I had decided that we would re-join the course after the 3 obstacles we had been waved past. In my mind, technically we had been told to NOT do those ones, but my bigger reasoning was the majority of people in the ski-lodge were going to funnel right into those obstacles and create long lines. Waiting 15-20 minutes in a line for an obstacle wasn’t going to help us warm up and I could tell that my son was very cold already. Now, I know the argument could be made that we skipped obstacles and DIDN’T complete the full course. . .but I’m ok with my decision. We DID do the swim, after all, and we would have done those obstacles had we not been forced to stop for an hour. Moving is the key to staying warm, and being forced to stop wasn’t something I had planned for!
We re-joined the course where we had exited and met up with a mass of humanity trying to get over the 1st of 2 A-Frame Cargo nets.
The only challenge to this obstacle was the sheer volume of runners all being released at the same time, creating a massive bottle-neck on the obstacle. Once we were finally up and over, we found that there were more race officials at The Box waving us past. Not only was The Box closed down, but the entire second climb was closed off due to weather and we were being routed to the final gauntlet instead. Unsure if that meant we were not going to get any medals, I simply thanked the volunteers and course officials and we made our way down the road as directed. Getting upset wouldn’t accomplish anything, besides, I had witnessed something very similar while volunteering at Big Bear earlier in the year. I knew from that experience that the Spartan Race company had been doing everything in its power to keep the course open to whatever degree they could or would be allowed to by the venue.
I had already had an awesome race experience and would enjoy whatever else I would be allowed to enjoy.
After a short jog we found The Beater. Since everything was now drenched and it was still lightly raining, I was fully expecting to do burpees on this grip based obstacle. I actually surprised myself and ALMOST made it thru, but I lost my grip on the 2nd to last bar. Being in the Open Heat, I decided to give it another go. I chose a different lane and once again made it 1 bar shy of completion. Burpee Zone for me. After finishing our penalty, my 17-Year-Old-Son and I continued on to the Tire Flip. With a desire to keep moving, we grouped up and did our 2 flips of the 400 lb. tire together.
With only a few obstacles left, we joined yet another mass of humanity and climbed the 2nd A-Frame Cargo net. This one was about 2x the size of the first one! My son wondered aloud if the obstacle was designed for that many people at one time! It must have been, because it thankfully held up!
At the Hercules Hoist, I looked for a rope with a well-oiled pulley. Having a good pulley is always important, but it is especially important when the sandbags are extra heavy from being wet! By the time we had both finished our turn at the rope, a short line had formed behind us since people seemed to agree that the rope we had chosen was worth waiting for!
Feeling cold and happy, we crossed the finish line and were warmed to find that we DID receive medals and shirts after all!
There may be good reason for some to put a pretty hefty ‘asterisk’ after my statement that I’ve run the World Championship Beast course at Tahoe. I may even put an ‘asterisk’ there myself! But I feel good that I ran the course that was put in-front of me. I finished the course I was officially presented with. Would I have rather been able to do the second climb and final 3-4 miles? Of course I would have, but that wasn’t a choice I was given. It may very well have been the shortest Beast course Spartan has ever done (I’m not sure about that, but seems likely), but it was definitely the coldest and wettest course I’ve ever run. It was also the only course I’ve done that included a swim. There’s rumors that this was the last year Spartan will take the World Championships to Tahoe, at least for a while. If that turns out to be true, then I’m glad I got the chance to go in its last year. Would I go back to Tahoe? You bet I would. I want the chance to get deeper in to the Ape Hanger and possibly even complete it. I’d like the chance to complete the full course!
One of the reasons I wanted to go to Tahoe was to compare it to Big Bear.
These two venues get compared to each other all the time by spartans trying to determine which one is harder than the other. Kind of like soldiers comparing battle scars. I have run the full Big Bear Beast course 3 years now, but due to the bad weather, I was not allowed to run the full Tahoe Beast course. That being said, I believe I got a good enough look at Tahoe to see how it stacks up.
In my opinion, there is NO COMPARISON to Big Bear’s constant, soul-crushing climbs. The switch-back climbs of Tahoe are much easier. Plus, Tahoes single-track switchbacks on the descents were fun to run. The descents at Big Bear this past year were just as steep as the ascents. It wasn’t until mile 6 that things leveled out for a brief reprieve, after which you were right back into steep terrain for the final few miles. Granted, I didn’t get the final few miles of Tahoe, but from what I saw it was more switchback climbs and descents. I’m not trying to say that the terrain at Tahoe is NOT difficult, but when compared to Big Bear, it isn’t!
Tahoe wins HANDS DOWN here. Granted, Big Bear is on a mountain with similar elevation to Tahoe, and could have just as cold of weather. But since Big Bear is run in May and Tahoe is run in September, the weather at Big Bear has been MUCH warmer than what I experienced at Tahoe. The Beast on Sunday DID GET shut down this year at Big Bear, and it DID SNOW and HAIL that day. If the Beast had been run in that weather I’m convinced it would have been worse than Tahoe, but the venue did not allow it to be run since they couldn’t get their medical teams to the top of the mountain. The reason I give this one to Tahoe is simply that TRADITIONALLY the Big Bear Beast course is run in warm weather and the Tahoe Beast course is run in cold.
Maybe it’s because it’s the World Championship Course, but there are a few obstacles at Tahoe that are hard to find anywhere else. Besides the much talked about COLD SWIM, there is the Ape Hanger. Ape Hanger is only at 2 courses that I know of in the US. Tahoe is one of those courses. Tahoe also has the Monkey In The Middle obstacle, again, that may be only because it’s been a World Championship Course. However, even though Big Bear is part of the US Championship Series (and the only Beast on it), there are no specialty obstacles that you cannot find on any other beast course. There isn’t even a swim. The main unique obstacles at Big Bear are those never ending, soul-crushing, steep climbs. I love Big Bear and will return in 2020 for my 4th run at it, but Tahoe wins when it comes to unique and challenging obstacles.
When it comes right down to it. . .Tahoe vs. Big Bear will come down to individual experience.
Despite the obstacles being more challenging at Tahoe, I find the terrain to be much harder at Big Bear. My 17-Year-Old-Son would say that the cold weather we faced at Tahoe was way worse than any climb he faced at Big Bear. The weather puts Tahoe as the harder course for him, where the steep climbs put Big Bear as the harder course for me. I guess in order to truly know which is the harder venue, you would need to run both courses in the same year and find out for yourself! I know I’m going back to Big Bear in 2020, and I just might make a return trip to Tahoe as well. I love BOTH venues, and both have things I want to try to do better at.
For finishing this World Championship Beast course
we got a uniquely designed World Championship Beast Finisher’s Medal, a Beast TriFecta Wedge piece, and a World Championship Beast Finisher’s Shirt. For an extra $35 we also bought the official Venue Shirts.
Finisher Shirt, Front
Finisher Shirt, Front, Close Up
Finisher Medal Close Up
Sprint TriFecta Wedge Piece
Venue Shirt, Front
Venue Shirt, Front
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Great article. Other than running alone and not dropping a stone on my ankle, our experiences sound almost identical!
Glad you liked it, and congrats on NOT dropping a stone on YOUR ankle! 🙂
You’re setting the bar pretty high. The initial ascent almost killed me in 2018. Standing around for 75 minutes in a hot crowded room in 2019 was no picnic either.
You were in a hot room? Lucky! 😎 Standing around in the ski lodge was when I felt coldest! I think Spartan did that to us on purpose.