The Last 10 Percent

Racing, as in life, is made up of so many different little parts. If you focus too much on one thing, it’s like stepping up too close to a painting. Sure, you can appreciate the brush strokes, but you’ll miss out on the whole picture. The overarching beauty of the masterpiece before you. Or maybe you are missing out on the hastily composed graffiti on the underside of a bridge. Either way.

So, here’s my approach. Do what you will with it. Embrace. Put it in your junk mail. I don’t really care. And in the end, that’s a lesson right there!

The Physical:

At the end of the day, if you want to win, or do really well, there are certain physical laws that govern you. For most endurance sports, once you have the elite “skill set”, we come into the range of aerobic capacity. In a nutshell, that’s how quickly you can move through the expected terrain at a pace that’s maintainable for 1-2 hours. Seems simple. Let’s delve a little deeper.

  • The expected terrain. If you are going to be competing on the side of a mountain, you need to be good at going up and down hills. Really good. You should probably practice that.
  • You’ll rarely find a 400m soft rubber stretch of course, where you can drop sub 60 second laps. So, why are you spending all your time on one?
  • The running portion is going to make up 70-90% of your time. Train accordingly
  • AEROBIC. Meaning with oxygen. People (especially cross-fitters) love going anaerobic. Beyond competitions that last a few minutes, they fall apart. Most OCR races are at least 45 minutes long. To train your aerobic system, you’ll need to spend lots of time at, or below your Aerobic threshold. Sorry, it’s true. This isn’t the sprinting up stairs speed. This isn’t the sexy, high-paced, dubstep ladden training montage. This is the “running through flowers, for hours” pace. Conversational. Heart rate 120-140 for most people. Get it into you!

The Coach:

If you want to self coach yourself… great. If you want to pay for a coach, also great. Make sure whoever you choose, the following always holds true:

  • Consistent progression. You should be increasing the training load by about 5% every week, with every 3rd or 4th week being an “easy” week.
  • Varied intensities. You workouts should be mostly easy, with some “really hard” stuff thrown in.
  • Tests. Every 4-8 weeks, you should have some kind of test, where you can see if you are getting any faster, or if you are just tiring yourself out.
  • Communication. You should have a relationship with whoever makes your training plan, that allows you to say “DUDE, i’m really tired, why is that?”, or lets you say “I don’t think this is working”. Your coach might need to say “suck it up, keep pushing”, or “hmmm, let’s reassess your plan”, or “maybe we need to get some blood work done.” either way, communication is paramount.
  • Your coach should be someone who is smart and who has some sort of a reputation in the industry. Ask 5 of your competitors about your coach. If they all think he’s a twat, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere… This can include you, if you are self coached! Don’t be a twat.


I’ve always believed that the most important facet of competition is the mental and the spiritual, not the physical. I’ve won many races that I shouldn’t have. Where the guy who finished second is a faster runner, or better at obstacles. So, what’s the big secret here? I don’t know. I’m probably wrong. But something here might help.

Your ego will build you up. This will create expectations. So, try best to let go of your ego.
“How do you do that” (Hunter M asks)? Accept that you aren’t special. If you are Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, or a Mud Running champion, at the end of the day, no one is special. We are all just on a rock, hurtling through space and time, doing our best and maybe inspiring 1 or 2 other people to do slightly better too. Sorry if you thought the earth revolved around you, but it doesn’t.

Alright, now that you have no ego, release your expectation of how you might perform relative to others. Just go out there, breathe really hard, make your legs burn and see what happens.
I’m not here to discuss theism, but really? If God exists, i’d hope that he really doesn’t care about the outcome of an athletic pursuit. I really hope….

Now also, stop caring about what other people think about your performance. You may have 10 fans, or 100,000. But most of them would be unaffected if you quit the sport tomorrow. Don’t do it for them, do it for yourself.

Putting it all together

Cool. Now that we’ve squashed all ego and all expectations of how you might do, get back to the “Physical”. Break down the course. Break down your preparation. Break down EVERYTHING that you can. This includes your breakfast. Your running form. Your technique for picking up a sandbag. Look for where you lose time relative to your competitors. Work on those weaknesses, then build it all back up. Become a student of your sport. Learn as much as you can and then apply it.

I hear you saying “But Ryan, why would I want to spend all my time doing this?”. Well, this article WAS called “The last 10%”. You can go out and get 90% of the performance right now, without doing any of this stuff. Guess what. If you learn these principles and you apply them to anything else in life, whether it’s basket weaving, organizing your pantry or designing medical implants, you WILL improve. So maybe there is a bigger lesson there. Or maybe not. meh.

The Spear Throw Ate My Homework


You’ve all read it before. By now, its become a formula so basic and ingrained that it could be taught in first grade. The litany of excuses that riddle everyone’s race reports are as ubiquitous as race numbers and running shoes. Most notably, its the excuses that we spew out all over social media to explain why we didn’t win. Even worse is when we DO win and we feel the need to undermine our accomplishments by coming up with a reason why we weren’t in peak form but still managed to win! Thanks alot, says #2. What a jerk! Luckily, he’s had hours to mull it over and come up with excuses of his own. Most of the time, here is how it goes:

Step 1 : Introduce what you were doing, and when.

“I had a great race at (RACE NAME) this weekend.”

Step 2 : Come up with some kind of excuse.

“Everything was going great until (CALAMITY) happened”

Note: acceptable answers include: flu, instant unexplainable head-cold, sudden onset of muscle weakness, spontaneous race-nutrition explosion, wardrobe failure, not enough training, too much training, not enough racing, too much racing, etc.

Step 3 : Something incredible happened.

“I was in dead last place, trying to fix my broken shoelace, when I looked deep inside and visions of my ancestors appeared on the monkey bars. They told me to run harder. I came back from 284th place to finish 6th”

Step 4 : How well would you have done, if you didn’t experience your calamity?

“I would have finished 1st, for sure, if my underarm skin hadden gotten so chaffed.”

Step 5 : Put a positive spin on the whole thing.

“Luckily, my dog buster, won his ‘doggy 5km’ race that day and took us all out for pancakes after the race. This race has inspired me to train harder, push myself daily and really take my racing to the next level!”

So…. sound familiar? I get it, and i’m guilty of doing the same thing, but I think this has to stop. Ask yourself, WHY didn’t you get the result you wanted? Was it the weeks of missed workouts? The inability to execute your race? Most of the time, you don’t have anyone to blame but yourself. So OWN it. Swallow your pride. Celebrate your defeat. We learn more from defeat than victory, so embrace it.

Maybe you got beat? Maybe you didn’t achieve your goal? Short of a few very legitimate excuses (Meteor hit the finish line? Lightning fried my timing chip?) The reason you did, or didn’t achieve your goal was likely your own fault. Here are a few tips to help with that.

Set realistic goals! Maybe you’ve never cracked the top 10. That’s fine. But is it realistic to say that you are going to win world championships? Or jump from 50 miles to 100 miles at WTM?

Set goals that aren’t position dependant… and that aren’t dependant on other competitors. Something like “I want to complete every obstacle without failing” or “I want to run 6 min/mile pace on the flats, between obstacles. Or, (if you know the course well, and have raced there before) I want to finish in under 2 hours.
TRAIN! Analyze the race, break it down into components. Running, lifting, obstacles, grip, transitions, etc. Practice these. Time them. Recover, repeat, try to improve. Systematically training and measuring your performance allows you to become faster, better and more efficient. So do it!

Put it all together. Show up on race day. Control EVERY variable that you can. Don’t lose your bib, or show up with broken shoes or without any nutrition. If you want to do well, don’t leave anything to chance.

Execute! Crush it. Have fun.

After the race, avoid the temptation to blame something.

Take 10 minutes to really mull over your performance and see all the ways you can improve.

What went well? What didn’t? How can I shave 4 seconds off my barb-wire crawls?

If I don’t have a good race, its 100% my fault.

Unless there is a spear throw. You can ALWAYS blame the spear throw.