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Spartan Race World Championship 2015 (Tahoe) – Analysis Of Distance, Elevation And Difficulty

I know all you have been talking about is that lake swim. Amirite?

Meanwhile, I am realizing that, perhaps, the one thing that is harder than running the Tahoe Spartan Beast is getting out of the car after running the Tahoe Spartan Beast. Oy.

Here’s what you had to conquer this weekend to earn the green bling…


The race course was a long meandering loop – 45% single track, lots of switchbacks. I definitely appreciated the wide expanse of the race – none of that climbing up – climbing down – climbing up nonsense. We had to move forward (and up).

The terrain was dry and dusty. The fact that it rained earlier in the week was a true blessing, as most of the dust was patted down. Some sections of single track included large sharp rocks – love me some technical terrain! It was an ankle buster.

DISTANCE = 14.5-15.0 miles

I clocked 15.02mi (24.18km). Other distance estimates were 14.92mi (24.02km) and 14.67mi (23.6km).

We were out in the open for most of the race, and it does not seem that I have lost satellite reception at any point. Given the directors’ estimate of 14.75 miles, the distance was pretty spot on.

Note that the official course distance rarely includes the actual obstacle distance (e.g. the length of the log carry, bucket brigade, etc), thus, you can expect to cover a bit more distance.

Also, as Alec Blenis mentioned in last year’s analysis:

[quote] Unless something unusual happens with satellite reception, GPS will always come up short, not long. The only reason GPS would show a longer distance is if you were stationary for a long period of time (burpees) and GPS drift gradually accumulated distance. You could be looking at an extra .03 miles or so per set of burpees. [/quote]

ELEVATION GAIN = 4,400-4,600ft

According to the race directors, the Tahoe Beast course featured 4,467ft (1,361m) elevation gain, and 4,487ft (1,368m) elevation loss, for a total of 8,954ft (2,729m) of elevation change.

One fellow racer’s GPS data confirms this, reporting 4,616ft (1,406m) of elevation gain (thanks, Adam!). [You can read more about the difference between these in my blog post, comparing elevation of Spartan Beasts to Mountain Everest].

Notice that there is only one major climb in the race, and a long meandering downhill.

To compare, 2014 Spartan Race World Championship had 8,300 ft of elevation gain, and 16,600 ft of elevation change. The significant difference in elevation definitely explains much faster finishing times – this was a runner’s course. [Compare this to elevation of four different Beasts and two Ultra Beasts here].

For example, the male winner finished in 2:25:56, and the female winner – in 2:53:03. In contrast, 2014 male winner battled out on the course for 3:23:15, and the female winner – 4:17:20.

The lowest point of the race (race start) was at 6,192ft (1,889m), and the highest point of the race (mountain summit) was at 8,852ft (2,698m). [Source].

Note that water submersions (don’t remind me!) affect the accuracy of elevation change readings, resulting in spikes. Thus, my elevation data was all out of whack, showing some 11,000 ft elevation gain. Just imagine.


It was a chilly morning. For those of you who said it wasn’t that cold… it was.

The temperature dropped to 0C (32F) overnight. Although it warmed up very quickly once the sun was up – reaching a high of 23C (73F) by 1pm. [See full weather forecast for race day here].

I wore my heart rate monitor for the duration of the race, which also measures temperature. You can observe a sharp drop in temperature (from 23C/73F to 12C/53F) in the latter half of the graph – indicating water immersion. [Can I now say that I HAVE done a polar bear swim?].

The drop is followed by a gradual increase in temperature, only to be followed by another drop – an unexpected dunk wall.


Hercules Hoist. This was the first time in a Spartan Race that the Hercules Hoist actually posed any difficulty for me. With 100 pounds of weight for women, and 150 pounds for men, it was not easy. In fact, many (lighter) male racers ended up doing burpees after losing the struggle with a heavy weight. [Compare that with 45 pounds for women, and 90 pounds for men in the last year’s championship].

Log Carry. Probably my favorite obstacle of all. You know those hugging machines used to calm hypersensitive individuals, and those on autistic spectrum disorder? I think that’s what heavy carries do for me – calm down my whole nervous system. Grab a log, throw it on your shoulder, and relax into the hill. I could feel my heart rate go down. Ahhhhh.

Atlas Stone. A round stone that you had to pick up from the ground, carry a short distance, perform five burpees, and bring it back. The main difficulty with this obstacle was actually picking up the stone off the ground in a safe manner. This baby was not light.

Lake Swim. This 70 yard (65m) swim was perhaps the longest swim of my life. Ok, maybe not. But it was definitely the coldest. PFDs were mandatory, and with good reason – the water was 20 feet deep, and so cold, it compressed your chest immediately, making it hard to take a breath.

I cannot even describe the sensations I was experiencing as the cold – it felt like my skin was being peeled off, and like my ovaries were pushing against my tonsils the entire time. I heard male racers describing the experience in similar terms, but you know… with different body parts. This was THE game changer obstacle for many (especially on Sunday, when the temperatures dropped even further) – you either recovered from the cold, or you did not. Many had to withdraw due to hypothermia.

As I got out of the lake shivering, and headed out to the next obstacle, still not able to feel any of my limbs, a fellow racer jogged along. He was dry. For non-elite waves there was an option to do 60 burpees, instead of getting in the water.

“How was it?”, he asked.

“B-b-b-b-rutal”, I responded.

“Yeah”, he shrugged. “I am definitely happy I just did the burpees”.

“You do what you gotta do, brother”, I desperately tried not to sound annoyed. I was slowly starting to feel blood circulating in my legs again. Before I increased my pace, I looked over my shoulder to the dry racer, who was still jogging along.

“You know”, I said, “there IS one downside to NOT going into the lake”. He looked up, puzzled.

“Now you cannot be part of any conversation about that lake”. I took off.

Barbwire Zigzag. Crawl under barbwire, get over the wall. Crawl under barbwire, get over the wall. Rinse, repeat. And when I say “rinse”, I mean it. A dunk wall placed in the middle of this mindfuck of an obstacle constellation was a surprise to most. And for those racers who started warming up after the lake swim, this was the most crushing obstacle of them all. I know it was for me. Oh, and a rope climb right after. Obviously. You’d swear Norm had something to do with this.

Bucket Brigade. If the corresponding bucket weights are the same as they were in the last year’s championship, men had to carry 80 pounds worth of sand and gravel, and women had to carry 50 pounds. No one was allowed to carry the weight on their head or shoulders. Placed almost at the very end (with less than a mile to go), this long carry was more psychological than physical in nature. Many racers had to face their demons, while clutching the bucket and inching up the long hill. The sandbag carry, on the other hand, does not even deserve a mention – standard 20lb/40lb pancakes weren’t much of a challenge – especially, compared to the spirit crushing and soul sucking sandbag carries of the years before.

The Rig. Now this was just plain mean. A long bar, athletic rings and Tarzan ropes. Twice. This was burpee town. I have not seen a single female get across successfully (although I know that the female winner did!). I fell off the first set of Tarzan ropes during the Beast, but was able to complete the rig during the Sprint a day later (on fresh grip). I can’t imagine anyone finishing this on the second lap of the Ultra Beast.

Here are links to full GPS data collected by Suunto Ambit 2, Suunto Ambit 3 Sport, and Suunto Ambit 3 Peak Edition respectively (if you used another device and would like your GPS data to be included here, please let me know).

So, yes. You earned that medal.

Go ahead – brag to your friends. Share this post.

Hugs, SOLO


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