The Killington Ultra-Beast DNF That Changed Me

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Written by:

Bryan Senn

@thx4thefalcon

b.senn21@gmail.com

It all came down to the point where we were rechecking our transition buckets and our race morning packs. One last check and we were ready to go to bed…

Let’s go back a few months to the day that Christine (@stubbornRoot) said that I should sign up for the ultra in Killington and I said that it was a great idea.  Now, being from North Carolina and never been to Vermont, I had to google what the venue could look like…. I should have never signed up. I live 6 feet below sea level in North Carolina, the venue was situated 1900 feet above sea level.  I knew I was in trouble.  None the less, we trained until we couldn’t train anymore.  We hiked mountains, we ran, we sprinted, we did long runs, we bucket carried and ran with my wreck bag.  We did everything we could to best prepare ourselves for the sheer distance and climbing.  We also worked on pullups, dragging, rope climbing and everything else we could possibly think of.

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Friday afternoon we finally arrived at Killington to drop our buckets and pick up our packets. We got out of the car and started walking around looking for the packet registration and transition area.  I started to not feel well due to the elevation and I wasn’t exactly getting any better.  None the less, we got our packets and dropped our buckets after one last check and we kissed our buckets goodbye as we walked back to the car, we did everything we could and if we weren’t ready, we couldn’t do much about it now.  Just a few short hours we would be dressed and ready to go.  We went back to where we were staying and relaxed, watched TV, talked about the good times and what we were going to expect to see the next day. The BIG day.  My first ultra, my first marathon and my longest race I have run to date.  I knew from the second we arrived in Killington, this would be a challenge for anyone that wished to complete it.  From the first elite finisher to the last open ultra racer that crossed the line, this would be a fight.

We arrived Saturday morning about 5:40 with a start time of 6:30, the first open heat.  We talked with a few people at the starting corral, we stretched, ate a banana, drank Gatorade looked at the mountain and rethought my decision about being here at least one time.  We knew that we were going to give it our all and if we could finish we would.  We had trained and we were nourished properly, we were hydrated and we were ready to go…. Until it was 6:29 and the elite racers hadn’t stepped off yet.  At any point, the time came for us to get to the line. We toed the line with some of the best people I had never met at that point in my life.  We stood at the very front of the corral and listened to Rob Lyday (@davinvi3533) talk about what this race should mean to us.  What it would mean if we could finish and that we should all give our best effort.  It was 7:01 and “GOOOOOOOOOO.”

The first few steps had cleared every bit of prerace jitters go away then Christine and I chatted a little bit between the first few obstacles, made a few jokes and we were in the zone of “we are going to conquer this mountain.”  The hills were brutal, they were long and they were steep.  End of story.  All things considered, the obstacles were basic Spartan obstacles, the rig, monkey bars, barbed wire, everything that everyone was used too.  Then came the swim…the infamous Tarzan swing under the bridge at the resort building.  It was about a 50-meter swim from the shore to the ladder, the water looked cold and I was not looking forward to it.  Christine and I grabbed a life vest and jumped right in.  It literally took our breath away.  It was a slow swim to the ladder but once we finally got acclimated to the cold water, it was quite refreshing because it took pressure off our feet and it helped reduce swelling our legs.  We made it to the ladder. We both climbed it and we both cleared the obstacle the first time.  We dropped to the water, and we slowly made our way shore where the Spartan volunteers were waiting for the life vests.  (Sidenote: I was very impressed with Spartan and the safety aspect that they provided on this obstacle because there is a very real hazard here.  There were safety swimmers, life guards and folks on little boats, they did a great job, in my opinion.) We finally turned in our vests and we had to make our way along the shoreline to the edge of the pond to end the obstacle. In total we were looking about 175 meters of swimming and it was relief that it was quickly coming to an end.

The next few miles were a blur, a slow, uphill blur.  The obstacles were pretty normal.  Rope climb, plate drag, farmers carry, sand bag and log carry.  Up hills and down hills and a very long uphill of the K2.  FINALLY we made it to the spear throw which I missed.  I did penalty burpees and we moved on.  Inverted wall, atlas carry and the rig.  The stupid rig; it gets me every time.  Christine and I both failed the rig.  We did our penalty and the volunteer asked us if we were an Ultra runner and we shook our head and he ushered us toward the transitions area.  We had about 100 meters to go until we got to our buckets and the lane was lined with people we didn’t know cheering us on, telling us that we were doing great and we ONLY had one lap to go.  We made it into the transition area and I looked down at my watch at it showed 6:20:08!  We were 40 ahead of the cutoff time for the transition, I truly couldn’t believe it!  Christine immediately removed her shoes and socks and replaced them with clean socks and a second pair of dry shoes.   I did the same, thank goodness we decided to bring a second set of shoes and socks (if you don’t do bring a second pair of socks and shoes, you should) it truly made all the difference in my mood at that time.  We ate what we could from what we had in our first lap pack, drank all we could, took Advil tied up our shoes, grabbed our second lap packs that we had in our buckets and we were off.  In and out of transition in 13 minutes, I would say we were doing pretty good.

Lap 2:  In all reality it was much of the same, the course was the same, the exact same. Nothing changed except for the fact that the course was now very well marked from all of the morning runners that had run before us.  Most of the areas that I could recall that were dry from our first lap were now sopping wet and it was a nice change to the heat of the day.  Christine and I completed all of the obstacles we did the first lap without fail.  We completed the Tarzan swing without a hiccup.  The swim felt like it was 4 miles long and it seemed to take forever.  We finally got out of the water, we upended our packs and did what we could to dry off and move on.  We needed to get warm.  The sun was finally setting behind the tree line and the temperature was dropping quickly.  We had to get warm, we needed to move.  We heard through the racers grape vine that they had pushed the transition time at the rope climb from 6:00pm to 6:30pm, but we had no concrete information.  We knew where we had to be at what time and we knew we had to go through to get there. We had miles to go and only several hours to get there.  We knew it would be close once we got there, we didn’t know it would be as close as it was.  We were coming down the hill to the sandbag carry and then the log carry.  We had the rope climb in sight we were less than 100 yards to the rope climb.  I looked down at my watch and it said 6:32pm, we were 2 minutes late. It was over. It was all over. We were done.  They cut our timing chip off just 20 feet before the rope climb.  Just under 12 hours of hard work we were done.  Nothing.  We got a “good try, maybe next time…” and that was it, we sat down on the bench in the venue.  Instantly, Christine started shivering and got very light headed and nearly passed out.  We had to get her something to eat and get her warm.  At that point I knew that even if we made the transition we would have been in the same situation just 2 miles away from the venue and we would have had to still get down from the mountain and get back there.  We felt it was for the best that it happened that way.

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We finally got back to where we were staying, got warm, cleaned up and got something to eat.  We talked about the event for a very long time.  We knew we gave the mountain all we had, at one point every step was a challenge. Every bit of food that we had was a struggle to get down and it was getting hard to drink anything.  It was a miserable feeling knowing we worked so hard to get to a point where they cut our band and said “thanks” and we didn’t get anything (I am not talking a medal or T shirt, at this point).  We didn’t get the satisfaction of completing something very remarkable that day. It ended with a quick squeeze of the scissors and a light thud onto the dirt and our day was over.

We ran this event with our heart and souls.  There was no even ratio between physical and mental training and preparedness, Christine said that “it was more 65% physical to 35% mental, if you were prepared physically, you wouldn’t go insane, if you weren’t, no amount of fortitude will keep your legs from buckling.” I agree, it was physically demanding, it was the hardest event I have ever put myself in, willingly.  My body was taxed, I was tired, hungry, cold and wet.  I wanted to be done.  I think my body gave up before my mind did. My mind didn’t give up, if we could have slid past the transition area we could have continued.  Hell, had we ran faster the entire race, it wouldn’t have come down to 120 seconds. It would have been 15 minutes or more that we could have spared.  But it wasn’t.  This DNF was a hard pill to swallow.  We pushed ourselves to the absolute limit.  We found our breaking point.  Christine and I found our breaking point together.  We pushed ourselves until we couldn’t anymore.  This event changed my life.  We ran the course with some of the greatest people I have ever met.  Amazing people, military veterans, bankers, servers, professional workers and even one that signed up for the ultra as his first Spartan race.  Before we left Vermont, we had both signed up for the Tri-State Ultra Breast in April 2017.  This race left us hungry for the satisfaction knowing that we can complete it.   We KNOW we can go the distance.   We know we can go for that length of time.  We know we are both very capable of doing all of these things.  We just need to bring them together all on the same day.

To those who were able to complete the ultra, I salute you.  That course was a killer and it was no laughing matter. That big ass belt buckle, you earned it, you deserve that any more. Everyone that walked the line and crossed the finishing pad, you did one hell of a job.   There are only a few words to describe the course to someone who wasn’t there.  At this point in time, there only words that can really sum what how I feel about the course is “that course was a mother fucker” and “I can’t wait to go back.”  Would I do it again? Hell yeah, I would. In a second.

We only have to train harder, run faster and carry heavier logs from now until April.  Tri-State Ultra, we are coming for you.  Be ready, we will conquer you.