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Taming the Beast

by Paul Hayward
Thursday 16th October 2014
Tags  Paul Hayward   |   Spartan Beast   |   Obstacle Course Racing   |   Spartan   |   Spartan Race   |   SRUK   |   Dan Tuffnell

Race report: Our obstacle racing columnist Paul Hayward finishes the 2014 Spartan Beast with a smile

The 2014 Spartan Beast © Epic Action Imagery

Photos © Epic Action Imagery

“The Spartan Beast”; every time those words were mentioned to me I was drawn back to a fateful day last year that went down as one of the worst days of my life (If you didn't see the review it is HERE). I was frozen; broken; miserable and the race had been chaos.

Our review struck a chord with former Spartan Race director; Richard Lee and he had asked to speak to us about the measures he was putting in place to address these concerns (HERE).

Fast forward a year, albeit 11 months as the race had moved forward a month to avoid a repeat of the weather, and with a new Spartan Race director in Dan Tufnell (HERE);  I found myself back at Pippingford Park and facing the Beast.

I was nervous; I knew that I was fitter (so could quash any criticism from the hardcore racers that claimed the Beast last year was fine – it was meant to be that tough), but I could not get the thought out of my head that I would be in and out of water for the majority of the race and I was going to be frozen once again.

These feelings, happily, were completely unwarranted. On glancing round the race village, with the sun teasing us, it was clear that Dan Tufnell, Spartan Race director had provided competitors and families with a cracking atmosphere. A once deserted village was now filled with Reebok trucks and stores; Chia Charge tents and a Cools Beer tent amongst others. These were centred in the village, along with some huge obstacles, including the giant rope climbs; monkey bars and Reebok "RightShoes" wall.

The 2014 Spartan Beast © Epic Action Imagery

Photos © Epic Action Imagery

The race village was an exciting place to be and with a rumoured 3,000 competitors facing the Beast this year and waves until 1pm, it was set to be a busy day for Spartan. As I joined the first wave I saw a number of familiar faces. I am not sure what happens at the Beast but it seems to attract a lot of competitors that you never see anywhere else, but everyone is drawn to this race.

There were no gun shot starts this year, but we were quickly unleashed under the emphatic screams of Richard Pringle. The traditional down hill section was removed and we quickly entered a trail route, with rolling hills and bog / water jumps, through Pippingford Park.

The trail was tight and technical, with a number of descents to bogs, and I was thankful of my inov-8 Mudclaws that kept me planted to the ground. Although it was hard to overtake on the narrow trail at times, the field became dispersed on coming to the first real obstacle, an apex climb.

After bolting over the apex climb and finding some rhythm, I made it to the barb wire crawl. Famed on Facebook as the "longest barb wire crawl yet". I thought it did not look too difficult despite it being set across an incline. This was a naive conclusion on my part, as the hill became steeper and I was forced down to crawl on my stomach and the effort required became unbearable. With the sweat dripping off me, I just wanted it to end.

The barb wire crawl was brutal so early on, and by the end of it I had trouble standing back up, let alone composing myself enough to get back into a decent pace.

The 2014 Spartan Beast © Epic Action Imagery

Photos © Epic Action Imagery

Fortunately a decent rhythm was not required for a succession of carries or "energy sapping obstacles". Usually these feature once or twice in an OCR, but the Beast was no normal race and, on notice from other providers of the length of carries, the Spartan team decided to treat us to a log carry, a ammo crate carry, a bucket carry, a sandbag carry, a tyre drag and a mile long tyre carry.

Although all of the carries involved some sort of hill, the mile long tyre carry was nothing short of horrendous. The rolling hills we were expected to surmount would have been hard enough without the tyres, but with this extra weight pushed us further and harder than I thought a tyre carry should or could do.

I would estimate about 60% of the course was running up or down hills. Combined with some walls, a large swim and these carries, the course was living up to its name as the Beast and certainly took a toll on my energy levels.

On looping back to the village and enjoying the monkey bars (or more burpees in my case); the rope climb; the weighted hoist (for which I used my knew found knowledge from the Spartan London training session) I was faced with some form of spinning wheels with bars splitting them. I have seen a lot of obstacles this year but I have never seen something like this. It has been affectionately called a “tombola wheel” by some sections of the OCR community.

The idea behind this was to hang from a bar in the middle of the cylinder and then pull up onto the next bar and repeat this ten times. The bars were covered in mud and coming just after the rope climb, my upper body strength was left wanting. I was proud to manage five bars before hurtling to the floor in a heap, much to the marshal’s enjoyment. It was back to 30 burpees for me, whilst the people I had overtaken previously caught me up.

When I neared the end of the race and the spear throw, Spartan's trademark obstacle, I saw around 12 competitors all doing burpees (due to failure to hit the target). I thought I had to land it, how hard can it be? However my spear sailed past the straw bales into the adjacent wood and I joined my fellow Spartans with their faces in the mud, to do more burpees.

The 2014 Spartan Beast © Epic Action Imagery

Photos © Epic Action Imagery

These burpees took what last energy I had out of me and it was a struggle togo on to the finish line. After two walls and the fire jump, I was ready to collapse if I am honest. Across the finish line I took a moment to recalled how I had felt at this stage last year.

Llast year the Beast had broken me, in a bad way, and made me question why I did this sport. This year, haing completed the course some 45 minutes quicker than last year, I was smiling again - the bad memories were gone. Dan Tufnell and the Spartan Team had made amends for last year and had done so in some style.

This year's Beast has shown that Dan Tufnell is taking the challenge of taking Spartan to the top head on, with an expertly marked out course, marshals everywhere and a simply brutal course that got every once of out of the terrain.

Dan Tufnell and his team (notably Richard Pringle and Steve Hammond) have addressed the simple, but oh so important things, like safety (the medical tent was huge this year and empty) and marshals.

In addition they have provided a course that was finally worthy of the "Spartan Race Beast" name. The Beast was pitched perfectly, providing a tough, challenging course, with a good mixture of obstacles and tough terrain. It addressed the criticism of last year and had left everyone smiling, hugging and soaking up the Spartan atmosphere.

The 2014 Spartan Beast © Epic Action Imagery

Photos © Epic Action Imagery

Check the Spartan Race UK website for more information on their 2015 calendar: uk.spartanrace.com


About The Author

Paul Hayward

I am 33 years old and spend the majority of my life within an office environment. Whilst I played football, I never really took an interest in sport let alone athletics. In 2011 I joined a gym as I was slightly concerned about my weight. However I was, like an awful lot of my colleagues, coasting and I considered spinning three times a week a workout.
This changed when I took up a circuits class and found myself entering Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest London in November 2011. I was assured by my friends that this was a good idea and would be a “challenge”.
I had never entered any form of competitive event before and training for this run changed me. I listened to my personal trainer, who assured me that if I quit drink I could be dangerous, and sorted out my diet, stopped drinking so much and focussed my training. I completed the race in just over an hour and I was instantly bitten by the racing bug, I loved the challenge the event offered. 
Nearly two years on I have completed a half marathon in 1hour 49 minutes, came 6th in the Rat Race Horseplay 5k event and usually come within the top 30% at Obstacle Course races. I am also a part time triathlete and I am lucky to find myself in a running club where we have a great coach and the focus is on members. If I am honest - I came to running through these events and I am not alone.
My aim through Run 247 is to promote, discuss and publicise Obstacle Course racing. It is becoming huge and over the coming months we will cover all of the major races and the new competitors entering the scene. 

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