I’m delighted to present the first ever guest post on this blog written by Alec Blenis.
This 19 year-old ultra runner, obstacle racer, and vegan athlete abandoned school athletics in favor of independent racing after discovering distance running few years ago. Since then, he has competed in nearly 100 road and obstacle races ranging in distance from 5k to 50 miles.
Alec and I run a lot of the same races. Of course, I never see him finish. Mostly because by the time I finish, Alec has already showered and changed. In fact the very first time I saw Alec on course was this past weekend at the New Jersey Spartan Super and the only reason that happened was because I missed my wave by an hour. He was doing what he does best – ripping through the last few obstacles on his way to the podium.
Without further adieu…
Top 10 Tips for Conquering the Vermont Beast
[by Alec Blenis]
1. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about running the Vermont Beast, or any event, is uncertainty; uncertainty is the root of all fear. The best thing you can do to put yourself at ease is to talk to people who have “been there, done that”. Specifically, find someone as similar to you as possible (age, gender, ability level) and learn about their experience. Remember, someone in the 6+ hour finishing range is going to have a much different experience and race strategy than someone finishing in 3 hours. Talk to your peers – they can help!
2. I know, it’s cliche, but finishing a race like this really is 90% mental. I’m not going to tell you that gear’s not important, but at the end of the day, it’s really not going to matter whether you raced in cotton or dri-fit; it’s not going to matter whether you wore compression socks or tights; it’s not going to matter whether you used Clif bars or Power bars. Definitely do spend some time figuring out what gear is best for you, but don’t fret over it. You’ve trained hard and you are ready to conquer the Beast, with or without the latest and greatest equipment!
3. While gear may not make or break your race, still make an effort to dress appropriately. Weather can be unpredictable in Vermont at this time of year, so be prepared for a wide range of temperatures.
I highly recommend compression gear – loose fitting clothing will hold extra water and mud weight that you don’t want to carry around. Compression reduces this issue and prevents unwanted chafing. High socks are great for keeping your legs safe from thorns, poison ivy, and rope burn. Personally, I think full length tights are overkill for this race unless it’s unusually cold on race day. Pack arm sleeves or a long sleeve compression shirt in case it’s very cold, but plan on racing in short sleeves (or shirtless for some guys). Shirtless is common at most Spartan Races, but this time everyone will be carrying hydration of some sort, and packs are much more comfortable with a shirt underneath.
Invest in some good shoes. If you don’t own trail shoes, you’re in trouble.
4. Be prepared to be on the course for a long time. Bring plenty of water and calories for the long haul.
How much water is enough? Ideally, you should drink enough water so that you finish the race barely dehydrated. If you gain weight during the race from drinking water, you’re at increased risk for hyponatremia and bloating. If you lose more than 2% of your body weight in water, you’re too dehydrated. Staying within the 0-2% hydration window will keep you feeling fresh and prevent cramps. I don’t personally use their products, but I think Hammer Nutrition has a great nutrition/hydration guide on their website that I recommend you look over. On average, this is about 16-24 ounces of fluid per hour.
Plan on finishing in 6 hours? You’ll probably drink over a gallon of water, so make sure that you’re hydration pack holds at least 2 liters. You can fill it up during the race when it runs low. If you plan on finish in the 3-4 hour range, you can get away with a smaller capacity pack. Bottles, belts, and waist packs are not recommended for this race. If you think you can survive on aid stations alone, you’re wrong. Bring a hydration pack.
5. The Vermont Beast is tough, yes, but it’s not like we’re running across the Sahara or climbing Mt. Everest. You will need food, but not thousands of calories. In general, 100-250 calories per hour (depending on weight, pace, and other factors) is sufficient. If you think you can finish under 5 hours, sticking with carbohydrates like gels and chews is probably your best bet. Runners finishing beyond 5 hours may need more sustenance, but should still consume mostly carbohydrates. I personally fall on the low end of the spectrum. I’ll probably have a gel at the 1:00, 1:45, and 2:30 hour marks…and carry an extra just in case. That’s it.
6. You may run a 15 minute 5k, but you will walk most of the race. The uphills anyway, and that’s perfectly okay. Knowing that from the beginning and pacing yourself accordingly will help your performance tremendously. Don’t even try to run a 30% grade ski slope – you’ll exhaust yourself too soon. Walk the steep slopes and you’ll have more energy for the “flat” sections and difficult obstacles later in the race. Learn to power hike; walking doesn’t have to be slow. Most importantly, don’t stop moving. Walking non-stop is much faster than running half the time and resting half the time. One foot in front of the other.
Keep. Moving. Forward.
7. If you’re running the Vermont Beast, chances are you’ve done a Spartan Race before. Whether you have or not, sometimes we all need a refresher on how to approach obstacles…especially since proper form deteriorates when we’re tired.
Spear throw – practice at home until you get it. It’s hard to put into words the proper form, but once you figure it out, you’ll rarely miss.
Traverse wall – grip the rough cut sides of the wooden blocks, keep your hips against the wall, and always keep at least three points (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) on the wall.
Slippery wall – unless you like falling on your face, stay perpendicular to the wall all the way to the top and don’t reach to the end until you’re really there.
Sandbag carry – avoid setting the bag down to rest unless you absolutely must. Picking the bag up off the ground takes a lot more energy that holding it on your shoulder. As always, just keep moving forward.
Tyrolean traverse – “on top” takes a lot less energy, but it can be difficult to get started; unless confident with this method, go “under” and pull with your arms. Avoid using your legs to traverse, since this may trigger hamstring cramps.
Monkey bars – you have better grip strength with bent arms. Skipping bars is a horrible idea.
Burpees – if you do fail an obstacle, burpee with a steady pace. Rush through them too quickly and you might hurt your running pace later. Avoid burpees at all costs.
8. Have fun. We all race for different reasons, but having fun is something we can all agree on. Even when your legs are cramping and your blood sugar is low, a good attitude can carry you for miles. Laugh and joke with fellow racers about how much the race sucks. It will take your mind off the pain.
9. Even with a good attitude, the best gear, perfect nutrition and hydration, and hours of training under your belt… There will be times when you want to quit. Don’t.
In 2011, the finish rate was approximately 30%. Don’t be a statistic. Don’t quit. Find your second wind, your third wind, your fourth wind… Half of the race is downhill. Piece of cake, right?
10. The race is just around the corner – it’s too late to get in shape. Now is not the time for “beast mode” workouts or punishing intervals. Trust that the fitness is there. You don’t want to show up to the starting line tired. If you’re reading this in preparation for a future Spartan Beast, don’t wait until the last minute to start training; it takes a long time to build fitness.
For training: put on a weight vest and hike to the highest point in your state. Lunge a mile (yes, a mile). Run hills.
Some of these are worth repeating.
Don’t quit. Never give up. Don’t stop moving forward. Put one foot in front of the other. You will finish.
The race is days away… Prepare for glory! In closing, I’ll leave you with the wise words of William James.
“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.”
I’ll be waiting for you at the finish line, Alec
YOUR TURN: Do you have another tip for conquering the Vermont Beast? Leave your tip in the comments section, and you can win a free registration for the Spartan Race of your choice (in United States only).