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Conquering the Spartan Ultra Beast: A Race Recap

Author and Athlete: Lace Lofranco


Spartan Ultra done, and man, that was BRUTAL!


A Spartan Ultra Beast is comprised of a 50km trail run and 60 obstacles usually done in very hilly terrain. Yesterday, I completed my very first one in the beautiful alpine area of Bright, Victoria.


I managed to just sneak under 10 hours which I'm really stoked about! Crazy enough, I found it harder than my 100km Blackall that took me 17hrs!  How can that be?



Here are three reasons why:


1. Water station mishaps, Dehydration and Cramps


In the race map (which they shared just 2 days before the race), there was to be water stations at 11km and 15km into the Ultra race. I planned accordingly and only started with 1.5L of water, more than enough to get me to the first water station. For whatever reason, there were NO water stations in either of them.  This meant we didn't get water till almost 21km into the race and over 3.5 hours in!


That's after a HUGE climb (more on that later). In training, I typically consume ~1L per hour! I chatted with other racers and they too didn't see any water stations and even joked if we should try to find a garden hose somewhere.  The only saving grace was that the weather at the start of the race was dry and cool, unlike my usually hot and humid conditions in Brisbane.


Despite this, I ran out of water well before the water station and started cramping early due to dehydration. This cramping would just get worse throughout the race despite me using up all my crampfix sachets and attempting to rehydrate.


First time this has happened to me in any race or in my many long hill training sessions and I believe this made the race exponentially more difficult.


2. Different Ultra Race format


Spartan 'aid' stations are very well...spartan. They only serve the bare minimum: water. This is unlike the buffet-like aid stations in Blackall and BTU with a huge array of food items, tents, chairs, music, staffed with several cheery volunteers helping you refuel, and get sorted. I realise how much of a mental boost these are. Nope, none of that here.


Also, there was only one drop-bag 'transition' station (in BTU60 we had 2, and Blackall 100, we had 6) and no support crew is allowed to help you. Music and trekking poles are also not allowed unlike other ultra trail races. Trekking poles were a life saver in my other ultra races!


Of course, it wouldn't be a Spartan races if there weren't any obstacles. In a Spartan Ultra race, there are 60 of them. These obstacles tend to shoot your HR right up. One of the hardest was where we had to carry a heavy sandbag (twice!) up and down this steep hill littered with loose stone. I slipped and fell a number of times.


My HR hit 180+bpm going up this hill! The obstacles were like doing a HIIT workout within your ultra marathon. They really take a toll! I also failed a number of them (mostly the grip ones and the bloody spear throw!) so had to do penalty laps (sometimes while carrying something heavy) adding to my total distance.


3. A MONSTER climb.


Despite being half the distance of my Blackall 100km race, the Spartan Ultra had almost the same elevation. However unlike Blackall100 and BTU were the elevation is more evenly spaced out, the vast majority of elevation gain in the Spartan Ultra is highly compressed in a monster of a climb that we had to do twice!


Almost as high as two Empire State buildings stacked on top of each other, the nightmare 'hill' was so steep and covered in gravel that there were multiple times I had to literally use my hands to crawl to keep me from slipping. The first time up this climb, I ran out of water. The second time around the midday sun was baking the trail. At that point, I had already run at least a marathon, had done almost 50 obstacles, and worse, my legs were really cramping badly.


For a brief moment I doubted I would make it -- first time in any race I've felt that! I quickly pushed that thought away and buckled down for the task ahead. For the next 70mins, my entire world shrunk to the immediate patch of gravel in front of me as I used my full mental and physical willpower to take one step at a time up that slog of a climb. Like in meditative state, my focus was fully in the present moment looking for that next patch of bald stone without any loose rocks I can plant my next step without slipping. I tried to not think about how much further I had to go. Just keeping moving forward. One step at a time I kept telling myself. Eventually, somehow I made it up that second climb.


As terrible as the climb was, it did mean that it was all downhill from here. On the second loop, many folks were walking at this point, but I found a second gear and managed keep running all the way back to the festival area where most of the obstacles were located. I finished the last remaining obstacles, and thankfully crossed the finish line!

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Overall, my training leading up to the race went really well. My troubles started with the dehydration early in the race. Oh well, you live and you learn. Despite this, I managed to finish 7/17 female competitors that finished in the 'competitive' category and topped my age group though there were only 2 of us who finished. Not sure how many DNF'ed, but right now only 187 finishers are listed in the results page and we were told there are around 300 ultra racers. If that's the case, the DNF rate would truly be higher than Blackall.


Thank you to my coach Jamie Hunter . Now I know why he kept getting me to do all that hill training!  And to my physio Shena Dale Running Physio for helping me as usual sort out my run niggles. And of course, to my husband and biggest supporter Michael Frank  who accompanied me to Bright and was cheering me on (more like shouting at me ) right till the end to pick up the pace so I could sneak just under the 10 hour mark.  


What's next? I've got something bigger planned this year, probably my biggest challenge yet.. but first a much needed break.  



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