I previously posted about how I finished a Spartan Ultra Beast here, but that post was more about how it related to my overall view of how debt and diet interrelate. Although the details about how to finish a Spartan Ultra Beast may not be relevant to that base of people; that post was by far my most popular getting double the visits of all other pages combined. I think the reason for this is that there is a dearth of information for normal people (like me) about how to actually finish the Spartan Ultra Beast.
When I was researching last year, I had a fair amount of trouble. There were plenty of articles about Spartan Races in general including a few helpful ones on the Beast. There were also a couple race reports from prior Ultra Beasts, but I didn’t think a lot of the information was laid out in a digestible format. Another problem I ran into was the fact that I am neither a marathoner nor triathlete. I didn’t run cross country in high school; in fact I f#cking hate running (at least in a straight line and on pavement). This was coupled with the fact that; at the time, I was also a relatively fat guy. I’m also not a personal trainer or even active at my job. I work in a cubicle farm as an insurance broker for certified public accountants, which may in fact sound like the least active job in the world. So for those reasons I decided to write: 101 Tips from a Fat Guy who Hates Running on How to Finish the Spartan Ultra Beast. I hope it is useful for you on your journey to doing the dumbest, most physically and mentally challenging and rewarding things of your life. Bare with me the post is long (approximately 5,000 words).
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.
1.Sign Up. This is kind of a no-brainer, but it can be scary. Signing up makes it real. Alcohol helps. If you don’t sign up, you will never finish.
2. Research. There is probably more information out there now, but at the time there were only a few locations that actually had the Ultra Beast. Most of the information and race reports related to Vermont. Reddit is a decent source. Here are two articles I had read ahead of time (Here & Here). The 2nd is from Breakingmuscle.com and is a site a frequent normally. The key is to find people like you and adapt what they do, for yourself.
3. Run Progressively Longer Obstacle Course Races. Part of your training leading up to this distance should include shorter obstacle course races. The year before I ran the Ultra Beast I completed a Trifecta.
4. Run at the Same Location of The Ultra Beast if Possible. Two of those races (Beast and Super) that I ran the year prior were at the same location as the Ultra Beast was going to be. I knew very well the terrain I would encounter.
5. Tell People. Specifically tell the people that will support you, but also hold you accountable for what you signed up to do. You know which of your friends/family I’m talking about.
6. Join a Facebook Group. This ties in with #2. I joined Philly Spartans and Spartans of the Northeast. They were great sources. There are a lot more regular people posting on Facebook than are writing on websites.
7. Ask Questions. Even stuff that seems like it’s obvious or explicitly stated. Ask. I wanted to find out if I really had to pick up the packet the night before (you didn’t) or if you really needed the headlamp & glowsticks (you did).
8. Ask Spartan. If you get conflicting answers from Facebook, just ask Spartan. They will answer you and I have found that it is in fact the truth.
9. Avoid Pro Advice. Unless you are running in the elite heat and are trying to really compete, don’t take most advice from pros. They aren’t trying to accomplish (winning) what you are trying to accomplish (surviving). They also dedicate a lot more time and probably have a background in running. I talk about the subject in my post, How to Dunk like Lebron or Invest like Buffett!
10. Run as an Individual or a Large Group. Don’t plan on running with one other person or a small group. This may be only an observation on my part, but the people that ran as couples or in small groups had a slightly harder time mentally. There is always a weak link in a small group and they can drag down the whole group and create a mentality of quitting. This is especially true with couples. Have you ever been on a diet with a significant other and through out the idea of eating out someplace you shouldn’t looking for some angle of positive feedback. Then they agree because they were looking for some sort of angle to eat out as well. That will happen in the race. By yourself, you are uninfluenced by anyone else’s suggestions. In a larger group, it’s easier for some people to continue without others eliminating that awkward feeling of going on without a teammate.
11. Lose Weight. Most the time when people say this they mean fat. While fat is preferable, losing weight will help a lot. All those foot strikes; especially down hill, are going to add up on the front 13+. Luckily I had already started to drop weight by the time I signed up. From sign up to race day I went from 220 down to 195.
12. Taper off Caffeine. The closer to race day, the less caffeine I took in. I went from 4-5 cups of coffee down to Tazo Zen Green Tea only. This made a huge difference when I got to my drop box and had a Red Bull. More on that later.
13. Train Low on Carbs. Same idea as above. You will get your body used to a lower glycogen level leading up to the race. Right before the race and during you will load up.
14. No Alcohol. I had no alcohol the entire month of April. I love beer so it made this tough, but alcohol ruins me when it comes to diet self control.
15. Eat the same thing for Breakfast and Lunch each Day. I don’t mean that your breakfast and Lunch have to be the same on the same day, but rather eat the same thing for breakfast each day and also eat the same thing for lunch each day. This is great for losing weight and getting your body completely acclimated to what you want it to feel like on race day.
16. Perfect your Pre-Race Nutrition. Test this out multiple times with similar workouts. You don’t want to have the sh#ts on top of having pre-race nervous-poops. It’s going to be a long day anyway.
17. Creatine. There is no reason not to take it. Keep it simple though. I used plain old GNC Creatine Monohydrate.
19. Try the Ketogenic Diet. This is a type of diet that was adopted by ultramarathoners. The short of is that you can train your body to better utilize fat for energy and thus lose fat, but also to tap into thousands more calories than what would be available in glycogen stores.
We spend a large portions of of day at work. I wanted to monetize this time towards my training.
20. Standing Desk. One of the first things I realized about running the Spartan Ultra Beast is that if I want to run for 8+ hours, I better be able to at least stand for 8+ hours. I also got the standing desk because I had just herniated a disk in my lumbar. I used this guide to make my own (HR made me get rid of it eventually and get a proper standing desk on their dime)
21. Lunges. These were an exercise I had seen recommended a lot to simulate the hills. I used them primarily at work. I got odds looks to start, but I didn’t care. None of them were signed up for ultramarathon obstacle course race. I was.
22. Calf Raises. I brought into work a small wood block. I ended up doing about a thousand calf raises every day. Calves are one of those muscles you can work every single day. I needed to build them up for the beating they would take going up and down the hills in Jersey.
23. Avoid Pitfalls. This mostly has to do with food. I work in a office building in which there is cake or soft pretzels or donuts, every single week. Work is also one of the places that is easiest to start good habits too.
24. Track you Workouts. Same idea as #18. This will ensure that you hit on each skill that you will need as well as make progress and make it easier to…
25. Periodize Intensity. I peaked about two weeks out then tapered down. This principle works for distance ran too, but since I hate running, it’s not highlighted.
26. Exercise 2x Daily. One will be the main traditional workout and the other will just be moving. Having these as caps on both ends of a workday in which you have done #20-#22 makes for a really weak Ultra Beast simulation. This adds up. I would try to make the 2nd workout…
27. Include the Family. Most of us have familial obligations on top of work obligations. After work while my daughter was still awake, we would take her for walks at the playground/park. I made use of this time by…
28. Use a Weighted Vest. I would walk with a weighted vest. I’m walking with my family anyway so it doesn’t disrupt the family time. I’m cost conscious so I don’t necessarily recommend you go out and buy one. I happened to own two different kinds already: a light one by HumanX and a heavy one by MIR. If you don’t have a weighted vest you can still make use of family time in the park with…
29. Monkey Bars. All playgrounds have them and they are exactly the type of obstacle you are going to face. My local playground actually has a setup designed for adults to workout in too. If you are not used to monkey bars, take it very slow; especially if you are heavy. If this applies to you, start with simple…
30. Brachiation. To put this simply, it’s swinging by your arms. The monkey bars may require a larger range of motion than what you can give. This is something that we can adapt to pretty quickly since our bodies are designed to do it. Start by hanging from a pull up bar. Progess to swinging front to back, then side to side. Once you are comfortable with those you can practice releasing your grip and try hip touches.
31. Play a Sport. When I got the chance I would play pick up soccer on Saturday mornings. The multidirectional changes and varying speeds of play are a great for building overall athleticism.
32. Tabatas. Broken down these are :20 of intense exercise (90-95% max effort) followed by :10 of rest for a total of 8 rounds. There are many bastardized versions of this method, but they amount to is interval training. Interval training is great, but it’s not the same as a Tabata. The reason I like Tabatas so much is twofold: I truly believe in their ability to increase VO2 max and they only take 4 minutes. I had no cardiovascular issues the entire Ultra Beast. It was easy to program too. I would just stick it at the end of whatever I was doing. I also had the built in excuse-stopper for when I didn’t feel like it: it’s only 4 minutes. I would only so these using a stationary bike or a heavy duty commercial treadmill that you can hop on and off of easily. Here is a great article on the subject from BreakingMuscle.com.
33. Loaded Carries. You are guaranteed to have multiple loaded carries for the race. Bucket Brigade is almost a certainty. Sandbags (or double sandbags), Log, Atlas Carry, and Sand Bell are some of the others you might run into. Remember that during the Ultra Beast you will have to do each carry that you see twice. If you think the Bucket Brigade sucks on Mile 8, just wait until you have to do it again on Mile 23. You need to practice these weekly and you need to practice them on hills. Just carrying them on a flat surface is not good enough by itself. I made a duffel bag that I filled with rubber mulch and would progressively add more and more each day. I called it my ‘Croton Calf’ in honor of the legend of Milo of Croton.
34. Ab Wheel Rollouts. One of my favorite pieces of equipment due to its versatility and actual cost. These replicate the movement of a pullup or climbing over a wall. They build great core strength, shoulder stability, and lat tension I used them as a substitute for pullups in my…
35. 5-10-15. One of my go-to 2nd workouts that I did while watching TV was 5-10-15 reps of rollouts, pushups, and squats while wearing my light weighted vest.
36. Jump Rope. Traditional jumping rope or with a weighted vest will help temper your calves and feet. Same idea as #22. I would do them in between sets of my strength movements at the gym.
37. Single Leg Balance. I don’t believe in most of the “functional fitness” balance training, but it was something that my physical therapist had me do while rehabbing my back. You will need all the small muscles in your feet and ankles to be strong.
38. Stairmill. This is one of the cardio machines at my gym that I took advantage of to prepare for the hills. I would usually go about a mile vertically each time I used it.
39. Incline Treadmill. I own this, but didn’t get to use it as much as I would have liked. We had it in our bedroom, but the wall that it was next to was shared by our daughter’s room. Sleeping baby means no running. When I did use it, it was for the steep incline walking.
40. Practice Downhills. I followed this based upon the advice of Ben Greenfield. Going down hill and trying to make up time while doing so is savage on your knees. By the end of the race this is truly debilitating. I would have rather gone uphill than down for the last 10 miles. Temper those knees by practicing downhills. Beat the sh#t out of them in training so that you have one less mental hurdle.
41. Hip Mobility. Make sure you can move your hips over objects. Make stepping over a hurdle part of your warm up. In a fatigued state, the more muscle you have to elicit to lift your leg over a log or hurdle, the more likely you are to breakdown into a spasm.
42. Breathing. Regardless of what exercise you are doing, you will have to learn how to breath properly follow this plan and try to actively use it until it is autonomic. This article is a good source.
43. Sprinting. Sprinting does great things for your body. It takes less time and is less monotonous than it’s hideous cousin jogging. It got me outside and on grass, and helped me lose weight. I followed this outline also by Breakingmuscle.com.
44. Tireflips. This doesn’t have any specific carry over but the field I would sprint at also had a 500lb tire used by the high school football team. I couldn’t help, but flip it in between sets.
45. Don’t get injured. If you tweak something be smart. End your routine or move onto something that won’t aggravate whatever you hurt. Since I had just injured my back this would come up quite often. More often than not I would end the session, go home, take 6 ibuprofen (I am not endorsing you do this) and hope it clears up for the next day’s session.
If you have read my other posts, you will know that I was (and currently still are) actively trying to get out of debt and stay out. Costs were a big consideration for most of my decisions. Either I had it already or I had to make a cost-benefit analysis and make a decision.
46. Shoes. Shoes are the most important piece. I had gotten these prior to the Ultra Beast. It’s hard to figure out what shoes to get beyond recommendations. It’s not as though you can try them out before buying. I went with the industry standard; Salomon Speedcross 3. I’m very happy with my decision. the only thing I had to tweak was that I used shoe glue to keep the insoles from sliding and bunching up during the violent downhills.
47. Socks. These need to be compression and cover your calf to protect it from the Tyrolean Traverse. I was really annoyed by the cost of the socks. I went with Blitzu. They worked for the Ultra Beast, but did not have the durability to last another race and I had to throw them out.
48. Shorts. This was one of the items I saved money on. I used regular old Nike Dri Fit (the kind without pockets) they are my favorite shorts and I used them for everything.
49. Leggings. Compression leggings help with stamina, but I didn’t want to spend much. I found a great deal on Nike Pro HyperCompression Vapor Power 3 Men’s Tights and was very happy with the results. Trying to get these off after the race was extremely difficult.
50. Base Layer. Stuck with what I had: Nike Pro Cool Compression Shorts and Nike Pro Combat Base Layer training Shirt. The shirt was compressed in a way that pulled my shoulders back and gave me really good posture.
51. Gloves. Mechanix M-Pact. I like these a lot, but didn’t try to use them on all the obstacles. I think the rope climb and anything that involves metal piping is best to use a b
are hand. Loaded carries and sled drags are when they shine. When not using them, the velcro wrist strap can attach the glove to your…
52. Spi Belt. Less obtrusive than a fanny pack, this belt is great. I shoved everything I took with me into it. It was a little taxing for the plastic snap on the front of it. I had lost one during the Super I raced the year before so I used a small metal carabiner to attach it.
53. Glow Sticks & Headlamp. Yes you will need them. Keep them in your drop box. The last 1 1/2 I raced it was dark. Do you really want to get kicked off for a stupid reason like this? They are extremely cheap on Amazon anyway.
54. S-Caps. I’m very happy I found these in another article. Minimized the amount of electrolytes that I had to drink or eat and took up very little space in my belt.
55. Justin’s Peanut Butter Packets. Being on the ketogenic diet I wanted something with a fair amount of fat since my body was used to it. Trying to eat peanut butter without water was a pain in the ass though.
56. Hammer Gels. I liked the taste and they went down smoothly, but Hammer Gels only had around 80 calories and that simply wasn’t enough as the race went on.
Race Day Simulation
An important component of my training was a race day simulation. Since my training was unorthodox I needed to make sure what I was doing would in fact carry me to finishing the Spartan Ultra Beast. About a month away from race day, I planned my simulation.
57. Outside. You have to face the elements. There is only so much you can do inside. Everything changes a little bit from temperature to breathing.
58. Distance. I ran/hiked about 13 miles. I think this is the right amount of distance for this trial. Most of it was flat land, but I tried to superimpose…
59. Hills. by using a weighted vest the entire time. I ran to my gym from my house and at my gym I got on the stair mill.
60. Time. You want to do this workout extremely early. It will take a lot of time if done right so you want it to interfere with family stuff as little as possible. Also your heat will probably start between 6:00am-6:30am.
61. Clothing. Wear the exact same clothing that you will wear race day.
62. Nutrition. Bring the exact same nutrition that you will use while running.
63. Pseudo Drop Box. I made my gym the halfway point. This allowed me to created a drop box in a locker with the same things that I would take with me race day.
64. Playground. Try to include a playground so that you can recreate some of the obstacles you will face.
65. No headphones. You are not going to have them during the Ultra Beast. No cheating yourself out of having to hear your own thoughts. Mental toughness is probably the most important.
66. Murph. I started off my race-day simulation by running a few miles to the local park. I already had on a weighted vest so planned to complete an entire Murph Wod at the park. There was a 1 mile trail around the park itself. I followed it up with the requisite 100 Pullups, 200 Pushups, and 300 Squats. Capped it with another mile along the trail before heading toward my gym down the road. You can argue the veracity of whether Hero Workouts actually honor the people they are named after. What I think is hard to argue is their effect on those that are completing them.
Night Before and Day of
67. Trim you Nails. Don’t let something stupid like a broken toe nail bug the sh#t out of you for the entire race.
68. Put on Sunscreen. I don’t think I have to explain this one.
69. Wake up Early, Like stupid early. My heat was supposed to start at 6:30am. I lived 2 1/2 hours away. I had to register that morning. I wanted to give myself an hour cushion in case I missed a turn or needed extra time for race-day poops. I woke up at 2:30am. I went to sleep at 6:00pm the night before and tried to black out all the windows as much as possible.
70. Don’t Warm up. What exactly are you warming up for? You are going to be on the course for at least 10+ hours. The warm up is the first 3 miles.
Spartan Ultra Beast Itself
71. Start by Walking. Spartan likes to start these races going uphill. It’s a long race. There isn’t a rush at this point. I probably walked the first 5 miles.
72. Don’t get Discouraged by an Early Missed Obstacle. The first real obstacle was a multi-rig. I failed it. On top of that I aggravated an injury to my ring finger that occurred during my race-day simulation. It was a blow to my confidence and it was back to back with a rope climb. I got over it and completed it successfully the 2nd time around.
73. Carry the Sand Bell on your Head. It’s filled with sand and form fits perfectly around your head. You can even take your hands off it. It’s a little tiring for your neck, but you aren’t going to tax your neck with anything else.
74. Run the Flats. When the race flattens out, run as fast as comfortably possible. Open up your gait and enjoy it. You will have time cut-offs eventually. You need this running to lessen the mental stress that can happen later. Do not walk the flats.
74. Do Not Go Balls Out Downhill. If this were a shorter race I would be giving different advice. You are much better served by zig-zagging down hill.
75-82 Drop Box Gear.
Water, chilled. Shaker Bottle with Post-Workout. Hammers Gels. Justin’s Peanut Butter. S-Caps. Full Sugar Can of Red Bull. Optional Inspirational Message. I did not have an inspirational message in my personal drop-box. I didn’t even know it was a thing until I got to the area at the halfway point. Although I did not have a message I did draw inspiration from watching others read theirs. It was empowering to watch these people that really wanted to quit, read their messages, get up, and keep going. The Red Bull with full sugar was probably the biggest help. Since I weened myself off caffeine, it was a huge jolt.
83. Don’t swap out Shoes nor Socks. I did not want to buy extra shoes or socks just for this race, but that wasn’t the only reason. I knew from prior races just how long it took my to take off compression socks after a race. Not only did it take a long time, but there was a fair amount of effort and cramping involved too. I did not want to add that to my time spent in the drop area because…
84. You want to get in and get out. This is not a rest area. You can rest at any point along the race if you want. By resting at this spot specifically bad thoughts start to creep into your head. You are right at the festival area. You can almost see your car. For these reasons you need to…
85. Shut your F@cking Brain Off! Just stop thinking the entire time you are in the drop area. Don’t sit down if you can help it. I filled my Spi Belt, chugged my post workout, and took my Red Bull with me and started walking. Step by step until I was about 2-3 miles away from the drop area and could turn my brain back on.
86. Mentally Down Hill. I was now at about mile 18 of 31 which is more than halfway through and released some mental strain to make way for the mental strain time cut offs.
87. Time Cut offs. Yes they are real. You will be pulled from the course. Use this knowledge to force yourself to really move during those flats again and to not take any rests. Calf cramps after Bucket Brigade Part Deux? Walk through the pain. The cramps will subside by walking through them. You will learn a lot about yourself by doing this.
88. Use the Green Arm Band. If there is a bottleneck, politely say ‘Excuse me, Ultra Beast coming through’. They get it, you are running a different race than they are. They time cutoffs are very real for you. I did not see anyway give an UBer any flack for this.
89. Ask for Help. Unless you are of course running Elite. If you are running Open ask for help. Need a boost over a wall. Ask. Need some extra calories (as I did) ask politely. Everyone will understand and graciously help. They will see the green armband and be in awe. The alternative is worse…
90. Do all the obstacles. Do all the burpees. There is some debate about this. One camp, “Run your own race” while the other is, “You signed up for this race so run this race as it is designed.” My take is that if you are running a Sprint, Super, or Beast then do whatever you want with the caveat that you don’t brag about it afterward. If you are Elite then obviously you have to stick to the rules. The Ultra Beast is like Elite. Stick to the rules. If you are unable to stick to the rules then DNR. There is no shame in DNRing. Most runners DNR the Ultra Beast. Use that as fuel for the next time.
91. Nutrition. Get sodium and calories into your system as soon as possible. I was in shock at the very end and needed these in order to function. I had more post workout in a shaker waiting for me and stopped at a McDonald’s on the way home.
92. Don’t go Crazy Eating. Don’t shock your system a second time. Also don’t think that you can eat whatever you want the next day. Eat what you need. Don’
t start a bad habit from a great experience.
93. Text. Let people know you aren’t dead. They will be worried.
94. Get Home Safely. You might not be in the right mind when you get to your car. Take your time. Trying to drive home after the Ultra Beast can be just as dangerous as drunk driving. I had to stop three times on my way back. I’m fairly certain there is a Dunkin Donuts manager in New Jersey that thought I was a crack addict in withdrawal.
95. Ibuprofen. 6 please.
96. Epsom Salt. I was lucky that I have an awesome wife that drew me a warm bath with epsom salt to take care of all the small stuff.
97. Write. Write about your experience while it is still fresh in your mind don’t wait 3/4 of a year later to do it after you start a blog.
Survivor Biases and Other thoughts
98. Strength. was never an issue. I was pretty strong before I started training and it never came up once.
99. Cold. We had perfect weather. Cold was never an issue until after I finished the race and got wet at the Dunk Wall. I did no cold training and didn’t encounter any.
100. Hydration Pack. I have never used one. I don’t know if it would have been better with one or not. They had water stations about every 2 miles.
101. Stay in a Hotel. I wish I had allocated toward staying in a hotel the night before and after. Driving home was stupid.
I hope you enjoyed this list. I put a lot of work into it (approximately 4-6 hours). If you find it helpful, please ‘Like’ my page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or share my link liberally. Feel free to comment as well. Thank you for reading.
Author: David Matthews
I started this site as a way of discussing what I’ve learned about the relationship between personal finances and physical fitness. What I have learned allowed me to lose 50lbs and improve my credit score 150 points in the same year and become a happier person.
Husband. Father. West Virginia University Grad. Licensed Insurance and Financial Professional. Sports fan (Philadelphia, WVU, and Manchester City). I’m also a huge nerd (like Magic: The Gathering huge)