After a good return of two podium finishes from my two Spartan races in 2016 things had been very different in my two races so far this year. Back in May I went into the South West Sprint fatigued from completing nearly 40 miles at Europe’s Toughest Mudder the week before so finished a disappointing 11th place. Right at the start of September I did the Maston Lodge Super and never recovered from slipping off an obstacle at the mid way point and my 14th place finish that day showed me a lot of work was needed to get back to full fitness.
From that point I’ve put three really positive weeks of training in followed by an easier week to make sure I went into this double header fresh. Even though I’d stayed in nearby accommodation though due to a big wait to get into the car park I still managed to arrive late and have no time at all to warm up. Luckily the first race of the weekend was the longer one so I could ease my way into it.
It’s a good job I went into it with the strategy of starting steadily as within 200 meters we were on a single track trail and I found myself way back on the early leaders. I stayed calm knowing there was a long way to go (the Beast is typically well over half marathon distance) and I knew plenty of those ahead of me would have started too fast and fade. Soon enough the course opened up and I started picking people off.
I must have been around 20th position after four or so KM but soon moved into the top ten overtaking quite a few going up a long gravel tracked hill. Then, without meaning to, much like I did at my last Spartan race, I managed to get a few meters on the group around me on the concrete block drag.
I was now in 4th spot but the top three had a good gap on me. I needed to run hard, not make any mistakes on obstacles and hope that they did. The UK champ, Tristan Steed was gone and away in first but I was catching glimpses of the other two on the various cutbacks. I gained some ground on third place but the guy in second looked very strong as I saw him power up a hill.
Then my chance to move into the podium positions came from nowhere. As I approached a traverse wall that same guy who had been looking so good was struggling to make it past the first rope. In fact I saw him try and fail twice on my approach (Spartan rules state you only get one attempt at an obstacle then it’s a 30 burpee penalty) but rather than complaining I just concentrated on making sure I got across it which I did.
Now in third all eyes were on second place. We were in a hilly wooded section and I was closing the gap on every up hill stretch but then he would fly down the hills and get it back again. I knew he had gone out hard so I told myself that if I kept piling on the pressure then he would tier and eventually he did and I made my move.
I ran hard and got through all the obstacles in my way. I had shaken off the two runners that had been in front of me for so long but now Nick Day, who I know pretty well from racing over the last few years, was doing his best to hang on to me and the last remaining podium place.
As I came back into the event village area I faced the Twister. This was an obstacle I’d only ever done once before and I had failed it. I knew I had to nail it this time and I did! I was now just 20 meters from the finish line and still in 2nd place but five obstacles still remained. The infamous spear throw, a balance beam, Olympus and two eight foot walls.
The spear throw can be a game changer and so often is. Unfortunately for me this time was no acceptation. I picked up the spear, aimed it at the hay bale, let fly and missed. That meant 30 burpees. As I counted out my burpees I watched Nick arrive and also miss. Maybe a podium place was still a possibility. Two more athletes then caught up and both hit their efforts on the target. Top three placing gone.
I finished up and ran it in to place 4th. Another runner had hit the spear in the meantime meaning Nick ended up in 6th. I then found out that Tristan had also missed but his lead was big enough for it not to have affected his position. I wouldn’t like to see the spear throw at any other races but I do like Spartan having it as their unique thing. I just wish they wouldn’t place it so close to the finish as they always do so that it doesn’t define the race especially after over 12 miles of hard effort. I left feeling gutted to have lost a podium place at the death but encourage at how I’d performed overall and really motivated for the Sprint the following day.
Sunday soon arrived and this time I made it to the venue in time for my normal pre race preparations before the same 8AM start time. The sprint course would take in a shortened version of the same route as the Beast roughly being the first and last 3KM. Having the advantage of knowing the course my aim was to get close to the front from the start ready for the single file trail. I got through the gate that lead into the woods first then settled into 3rd.
Although I’d been through the same trails the day before the terrain had changed dramatically. Ankle deep mud had become knee deep bogs. We were over a kilometre in before yesterday’s dominant winner Tristan came past and again took the lead. I fancied my chances more over the shorter distance so didn’t want to let him get away. I went past the two early leaders and gave chase.
I reached the rope climb, fly up, hit the bell at the top and slid down before running back into the woods. I listened out for the next ringing of the bell to find out how much ground I had gained over those behind me and it turned out to be quite significant in quite a short space of time.
When I arrived at the Z walls Tristan was still there which only made me grew in confidence. After a little more running he was just coming off the slip wall as I was going up it. Just up the path was the plate drag. We were both there at the same time but my plate got stuck half way so I had to move to the next one along and start over. This gave Tristan some breathing space and he flew off to take full advantage of it. Again I gave chase and from there the gap remained a similar distance of around 30 seconds. My hope now was that he’d again miss the spear throw but this time I’d hit it.
Before that though I had to make sure I got through the rest of the obstacles and kept my running to a speed that nobody else could make any ground on me. As I ran through the woods nearing the last KM I thought about what had happened the day before and wanted to put in as much time as possible on everyone behind me in case I got burpees again.
Then, much like the early running, the terrain took a significant change. This time what had been knee deep mud became waste deep. It was really hard going to wade through but I didn’t want to lose any unnecessary time so where I would have normally been slightly more cautious I ploughed on.
Covered in mud I ran back into the event village and saw Tristan finishing the Twister as I was approaching it. I managed to get across it again but my technique wasn’t quite as affective as the previous day so I was a little slower. Running to the spear throw there was no sign of Tristan so he’d obviously hit his effort meaning second place was now the best I could hope for. I steadied myself and took aim. It had the distance and the power but lacked the hight and hit the wood just below the hay preventing it from sticking.
I started my 30 burpees banging them out as quickly as I possibly could reaching roughly the half way point before anyone else arrived and to my relief the next two competitors both missed their throws as well. Next to arrive was Nick who had lost his podium place along with me the day before. This time he stuck his shot and ran on to take 2nd spot. I was determined to get that last remaining place in the top three and as I finished my burpees I sprinted off over the balance beam, across Olympus and over the two remaining walls to claim it. I was slightly annoyed that I’d put myself in 2nd place with 20 meters to go in both races only to finish 4th and 3rd but happy that I had managed to at least go one better on day two and get a podium finish in what was the final Spartan race of the year.