Updated: May 21, 2020
There are a lot of you who are tackling your first Ultras and Beasts this year in NJ, because you're awesome! This article goes over the training needed for the Beast specifically, but doubling the work volume listed for the Beast should get you pretty set for the Ultra.
All of the training I'll be listing below will be based off of the course data from my race at last year's NJ Beast. Be aware that Spartan changes the course up every year. It will not be the same in 2020 as it was in 2019. That being said, the distance will be roughly the same and the mountain is only so tall, so the overall numbers listed should be pretty close and allow for solid training that, if completed, will get you through the Beast.
In 2019 the distance I recorded on my Suunto 9 for the Beast was 14.06 miles. Spartan had listed a little over 13 miles for the course. There is always a discrepancy when using GPS devices to track the distances, so don't worry too much about that. In 2020, Spartan has said that they'll be standardizing distances as much as possible, so a Beast race should get you right around the 13.1 mile mark. It's always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, so I'd personally recommend aiming for 14 miles as a max training effort distance in your program.
For a race of this length, with the elevation that this course offers (we'll get to the elevation shortly), you'd be wise to put in a minimum of 200 miles worth of hiking and running training; ideally on trails. If your goal isn't speed, then don't worry about your pacing. Just put in the time/miles. If you want to ensure success (which is what everyone wants...right? ;), then I'd suggest hitting closer to the 250-275 mile mark in your training. Your longest effort should come several weeks before your race, and it should be a minimum of 14 miles.
If the course didn't have the slopes that it does, putting in the miles would be a breeze and you'd finish NOOO PROBLEM. However, this course has some very steep uphills and downhills. I recorded 3,487ft of elevation gain for the Beast course in 2019. You should expect, and prepare for, at least that much elevation gain in 2020. (The elevation chart below shows how the race was laid out last year in regards to the changes in elevation - again, 2020 will be different)
For your training leading up to the race you should put in a minimum of 15,000ft of elevation gain. Sound like a lot? It is...and isn't. If you spread it out over the course of 2 or 3 months, it's not bad at all. For the athlete who wants to ENSURE that they are prepared, hit 20,000ft of elevation gain in your training. Uphills are exhausting. They require your heart and lower body muscles to work extremely hard. If you haven't done the time in training, it's going to be a very rough race for you.
Bonus things you can do to prepare for the elevation gain:
*Lots of walking lunges (body weight or weighted) for increased lower body strength.
*Lots of single leg calf raises to build up calf strength (very important for uphill work).
*Train outdoors on hills as much as possible and on treadmills only as needed.
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The weather conditions (something my watch doesn't track) weren't too bad in 2019 at this venue. Accuweather says that there was a low of 39 degrees and a high of 53 degrees on the day of the race last year. It was definitely cool for a while, but it wasn't cold. However, there were numerous (MANY) cases of Hypothermia that occurred due to the water-submersion obstacle (Dunk Wall) and other wet obstacles that were accompanied by a pretty good wind. You don't want to get Hypothermia. Firstly, I hear it isn't fun. Secondly, it'll end your race. Training to prepare for weather is a part of training to prepare for a race. I won't go into all the things you can do right now to train for cold and hot weather conditions, so go check out the following article for that information:
Spartan Beast races in 2020 have the "full gauntlet" of obstacles. This means you'll be doing the most difficult obstacles, and 10+ more obstacles than you would if you were running a Sprint. The increased difficulty, along with elevation, and distance will cause significant fatigue. This is why your training is so important. The thing you don't want to happen is for you to get half-way through and obstacle and then fail it. You'll have used a lot of energy on the obstacle, and the 30 burpee penalty that follows will be exhausting and lead to slower times through the rest of the course and potentially more failed obstacles; especially if you have to do multiple sets of burpees.
Train your ability to hold your body weight in a hanging position. Do monkey bars and dead hangs and pullups and chinups and hanging grip switches and hanging hand releases and rope climbs and anything else you possibly can to prepare yourself for obstacle completion. If you've struggled on obstacles at races in the past, spend at least two days every week doing the exercises I listed above.
In the midst of all of your racing and training, don't forget to enjoy the process!
I hope to see you all out on course! Lord willing, I'll be at the event running the Ultra!
Until then, happy training!
At Trio Fitness OCR we offer training programming for Beast and Ultra-distance OCR's. We customize the programs to fit the current fitness level of each athlete and the specific goals that athlete has. We've raced the Vernon, NJ course and we've placed in the Top 10 in the Elite wave there. We can guide you through all of the training you need to conquer any OCR at that venue, and any other venue. Visit our Training Programs page and choose the program that fits you.
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Joel Hayes (Coach & Article Author)
Luke Hayes (Coach)