Ultra-Running or Endurance OCR? Who are You?

Seems like ultra-running and endurance OCR attract the same athletes.  But who are they really?  What does it take to tackle the Barkley like Amelia Boone or the Vol State like Rob Greer?  I caught up with my friend Kate Sidoli-Crane to find out what makes her tick through races like the Infinitus 88K.

  1. What is your secret to winning races?

I promise you, I have learned everything I know is by making mistakes and learning from them.

The Secret to winning an Ultra is patience, discipline, and self-confidence.  These are long races, often times you might see people start out really fast, be sure to stay in your own discipline. It’s tempting to get caught up in the excitement at the start of the race, but trust in your training, and run your own race. Believe in your strengths and remind yourself every step of the way. Even if you have to drop back and let a few people pass you, IT’S OK! It’s better in the grand scheme than to try and maintain a speed that may hurt you in the end. There is plenty of time to make up ground, rather than risk burning yourself out too early in the race. Your own self-confidence can carry you further than you could ever imagine. know what you’re good at, exploit it, and feed off of it.

Also, an important element is not putting pressure on myself, where I feel like I need to win. I started this journey many years ago for fun and enjoyment, and it’s very important for me to preserve that. I would never want to take the fun out of racing.  These can be the most fun and challenging adventures, and I feel blessed to have these experiences in my life.

  1. What are your training methods and prep for a race like Palmerton?

I would concentrate on weighted runs alternating use of a ruck, #50lb wreck bag, and sometimes even just adding a weighted vest to normal runs is very helpful to acclimate your cardio to some of the climbs.

Besides the regular strength training, I have also incorporated some other methods like a mile of lunges, or if you really want some fun times, 1 mile of burpees (which was approximately 760 burpees).

The strategy behind these methods more revolves around the mental aspect rather than physical. It’s about getting uncomfortable, and getting through these ominous tasks rather than the physical ability to do 760 burpees or lunge for a mile.

  1. What is your race strategy? Do you walk the hills and run in the flats and downhill?

At the beginning of every season, I’ll choose my  ‘A’ races that I would like to do well in, then build my schedule around those races. Using other races for the majority of my training.

I usually set a plan in my mind based either what I know of the course or previous experience. For example, I always look to see how far apart aid stations are placed and use them as a gauge for how long I think I can run before I will need to stop.

For hills, I will try and run the early hills (if possible), then plan on walking as needed further into the race to preserve energy & muscle endurance.

Downhills always depend on the terrain, they can be deceptively tricky. I will go as fast as possible, but if its technical, or slippery I would rather err on the side of caution, and find other ways to make up time.

  1. How do you train differently for endurance races vs. shorter races?

Most of my training for the past few years has revolved around endurance racing. With longer races, I have worked mostly on maintaining a decent pace for long periods of time.

Whereas, shorter races, require you have to practice more speed work.

The key to both is training your body to recovery very quickly.

  1. What are your pre-race meals, hydration plans, and during the race what do you eat and drink? What are your supplements?

Pre-race meals a few days before are the same things I normally eat; like chicken, with vegetables, eggs and brown rice or sweet potatoes. I may just increase the frequency of meals.

On race mornings, I always eat the same breakfast, 2 packets of plain oatmeal, banana, and coconut water with amino acids.

During races, I use mostly Hammer Nutrition products, specifically the gels, and use Heed or Perpetuem in my soft flasks, and plain water in my bladder in my vest.

At aid stations, what works best for me is generally electrolytes, potatoes, bananas, PB&J, and oranges.

Post-race, I immediately drink Hammer Recoverite, to aid in muscle recovery, and use Tissue Rejuvenator for the weeks following, to aid in maintenance and repair as well.

Compare Kate’s nutrition to Ryan Atkins and Rea Kolbl.

  1. Who is your trainer and who else have you used in the past? Compare and contrast their methods relative to your success.

In the past, I began participating in training and weekly classes with Chad Mason from ABF Mudrun, which quickly became my home for years.  Unfortunately, ABF no longer offers training, but it will always hold a special place in my heart of gratitude. That was the foundation of the skills & core values of extremely hard work that I needed to embrace to start racing in a more competitive manner. I have always been mainly focused on being a hybrid athlete, I didn’t want to be just good at running or obstacles…..I wanted to be able to hold my own in any race, event, or challenge.

I don’t have one trainer right now, I mostly work out in small group training environments using a few different programs. I prefer to take advantage of different styles and perspectives on training to enhance the benefits for myself.

And interestingly enough, I have never had a run coach, so whatever good or bad habits I have developed are all on me. Everything I have learned about running has come from my own experiences and instinct.

  1. What other training plans and trainers do you consult and what are you looking for?

I don’t use any specific training plans, more often I am looking for people/groups to train with, just to go out and have some fun, run in the mountains, or go enjoy the outdoors.

  1. Who or what is your competition and why?

I am always my biggest competitor, I never stop trying to push my own limits. My success and failures lie solely within myself.

  1. You won first at the Vernon Beast last year then disappeared from OCR and went into ultra-running? Why the change?

I called this my involuntary retirement from OCR. In 2017, I fractured my shoulder, tore my labrum, and separated my collarbone. In order to maintain my sanity, I looked for other events during my healing process. Also, at the same time, one of my friends and fellow mountain goats moved on from OCR and began doing more endurance events…. so it was almost perfect timing. We just continued on and found different events to participate in. I have the same amount of passion for endurance racing as I did for OCR, if not more.

  1. Who do you look up to in OCR and running?

I really don’t have one individual, it’s more about the support system of people around me that that I look to for guidance and appreciate. They have truly helped me more than I could ever express, they have given me an immeasurable amount of love, support, and loyalty. We are all fighting our own internal demons or battles, whether in life, work, school, racing, etc…we have all been there…. we have all wanted to quit, but you just have to keep moving forward. The support system you build around you helps you hang in there during the lows, and remind you that the grind will be worth it in the end.

  1. Any chance you’ll go up against Amelia or Faye?

Probably not in OCR, but it would be super fun to see them on an Ultra course. They are amazing athletes, and I have the utmost respect for them and what they have accomplished.

  1. What do you consider your greatest achievement so far and what is the Holy Grail you are after?

In June 2018, I ran the Infinitus 88K in Vermont, I was nervous going into it because I don’t get a lot of opportunities to train for elevation (living in South Jersey is only good for sand! lol), so I was relying mostly on strength training and very fearful I would come up short.

I placed 1st in Female with a time of 11:10 and 2nd Overall, but I wasn’t done yet…..

The very following weekend, I was signed up for the North Face Massachusetts 50 miler. My goal was to complete back-to-back 50-mile races. Per North Face spokesman Dean Karnazes, it is the most challenging course in the series. I ran North Face MA in 2017, and it was a very difficult and technical course, so I knew, this was going to test me mentally and physically. I ended up exceeding my own expectations and placing in the Top 10 female at #8 with a time of 11:26.

I don’t have a particular holy grail. In reality, I would just want to continue on my own racing adventures and experience new things, beautiful places, push limits and achieve what seems impossible at times.

  1. What are your thoughts on the weekenders who just show up without adequate training, perhaps to do a big race just as a bucket list?

I love the weekenders, I think it’s great for people to get out there and enjoy themselves. Not everyone has the same goals, expectations, or the time to dedicate to training as much as they would like.

I encourage everyone to get out there and experience the joys of racing. It’s exceptional to overcome the challenges with friends and loved ones and build those bonds, even if you’re racing by yourself and meeting new people along the way.

  1. How would your plans and preps change as you age? Any difference between male and female?

I really don’t see a difference between male and female, I think it’s all on an individual basis rather than gender.

Nothing has really changed as far as plans or prep on the front end, the biggest change for me is the recovery after races. Years ago, I would return to my normal workout routine the next day, with little or no recovery time.

Currently, I still continue with my workouts the following day after a race, but now I allow more of a grace period before I return to strenuous activity, more specifically strength training.

You learn from your mistakes, and early on this race season, I went right into strength training after a particularly difficult race. Well, my turned out my muscles were too fatigued to lift properly and I ended up causing a minor injury to my lower back, that nagged me and took a while to heal. I considered that a fair warning.

  1. Women’s’ times and performance are pretty much on par with men’s in OCR. What are your thoughts on how the race can or should be modified to make things equal or kept separate?

There is no need to change or modify the current standards. There will always be a disparity between the men and women just based on genetics, and I don’t see anything wrong with it.

  1. What attracted you to ultra-running?

Ultrarunning was a gradual process for me. I began working my way up to longer distances, and more challenging events. From there I felt like I had the potential to accomplish more each time. With an open mind, growing self-confidence, and a few bad ideas from friends, you never know what you will get talked into to.

  1. What is your dream race? What destination races would you like to compete in anywhere in the world and why?

I haven’t decided where I want to go from here in regards to distance. The longest race I have done to date is 62 miles. If I want to continue on, and compete in longer distances, I will need to seek some guidance and advice on training and race strategies. I feel like my current race style right now would need some modification to allow for better time, energy and nutritional management.

In 2019, I would like to venture out west and get the opportunity to experience the beautiful scenery

In 2020, I am hoping to be selected in the lottery for the Georgia Death Race.

  1. Do you train solo, team, partner, other, depends? Why?

I mostly train solo, just based on my own availability and limitations.

Working out and training for me is an important social aspect of my life, I do always look forward to training with my local groups of friends, or getting together with my Ultra friends for some training and debauchery in the mountains.

  1. How many miles and hours per week do you devote to training? How do you taper?  How do you recover after training and after a race?

I train up to 3-4 hours a day 7 days a week. In the morning and after work. I use a wide variety of methods because I think diversity plays a large role in my success, and it keeps me entertained, whether it’s strength training, cardio, running, rucking, spinning, kickboxing, or functional fitness training.

I do long runs once per week, depending on where I am running determines the mileage. If I’m running trails, I could run up to 30 miles, but if I am running roads I max at 16 miles. Not a huge fan of road miles, too much impact on the body.

The week of my races, I begin to taper. My schedule Mon-Weds will normally remain the same, but just modifying workouts with more body weight exercises, and modified lighter weights.

  1. What makes you uncomfortable in training and racing?

I have issues with cold weather racing. I have a rather advanced case of Renault’s Disease in both of my hands. It is a vascular disease that affects the arteries that supply blood to your skin. The blood vessels narrow in cold temperatures, which can be very painful or cause numbness. It can mimic the symptoms of severe frostbite. Once, it sets in, not only is it very painful, I lose the functionality of my hands. For example; I can’t tie my shoes, open a simple gel packet, get a nutrition bar, etc…. it’s a very helpless feeling knowing if I need anything I have to find someone to help me.

  1. How do you defeat the mental demons?

So mental demons are much more powerful than any physical ailment I have ever experienced. The absolute best way to defeat them is to concentrate on the positive things during races. More often than not, people will be consumed with the difficult parts, don’t obsess about it. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to fixate on the positive; like when you get to the top and catch your breath and feel good again, remind yourself about those moments. When you are struggling, take a sip of water, eat something, regroup…get your life together. It won’t last, it will pass and you will be ok.

Those demons are looking for any way to infiltrate your thoughts and convince you to quit…..don’t give them that opportunity. My favorite pastime is also to talk to the volunteers, runners, photographers, spectators, anyone.

Smile, laugh, talk…these simple tactics help keep your mind off of the negative space.

Because of Kraker and Diaz, Caldwell Runs

Sometimes the world of OCR can touch the lives of those who are not part of that world.  This is the continuing story of my son Aaron and his journey towards a better world for himself and others.  You may recall that Aaron is autistic.  He has a dream to be a part of something big.  Just like us.  That’s what I love about OCR.  Everyone is welcome.  Everyone gets a shot.

Last year I started training Aaron in OCR.  I invited him up on the mountain at Palmerton where he saw it all with his own eyes and heart.  This year he is halfway to OCR.  He runs cross country on his high school team.  His progress is nothing short of phenomenal given the obstacles of autism he has to overcome.

He learned a lot from me on how to endure, overcome pain, and work hard.  He can still do all his pullups and pushups.  Now he is learning to run.  Thanks to Natural Running coach Richard Diaz, I take everything I learn from him and apply it not only to myself, but especially to my son.  Since he is a new runner without bad habits, I get to see him grasp and quickly apply critical running techniques like posture, lean, and foot strike.  I watch him, correct him, video tape him, and critique him.  He’s a sponge.  Thank you Richard.  One day Aaron will attend your clinic and I know you will not only be pleased, you’ll also help him shave another minute off his time.  Aaron might not know it, but because of you, he is a runner.  He has a big dream to compete in the 2020 Olympics.

Yesterday I met up with Brakken Kraker.  He just tore up the Citizen’s Bank Park Spartan Stadium Sprint with a blistering pace just over 24 minutes.  After talking for a few minutes, it became easily apparent why he didn’t even break a sweat.

Besides being a super nice guy and super fast, we have a few things in common.  I was curious why he ran CBP instead of Wintergreen.  He told me he was an 800m runner in college, so he loves the speed.  He said he would take a sprint like this over a mountain any time.  I told him my son Aaron also runs the 800 in winter and spring track and currently runs cross country at high school.  Then I mentioned that Aaron is autistic.  That really made Brakken’s eyes light up.  Turns out he is a special ed teacher.  So he kindly offered to help Aaron in any way he could.  That just made my day.

Aaron - 2nd from Left

Aaron – 2nd from Left

What I also did not know is that while I was having this conversation, my buddy behind me snapped a photo of me and Brakken.  He IM’d it to me and I immediately forwarded it to my son.  That was a real treat.

Brakken Kraker meets the OCRMudmaster

Brakken Kraker meets the OCRMudmaster

Perhaps one day Aaron will join me on the course.  Right now he is not allowed.  Coach’s rule.  But he is getting plenty of run time on the open course, single track, hills, and flats.  He’s learning his technique from the best OCR running coach Richard Diaz.  He’s learning his body weight training skills from the OCRMudmaster.  And soon, he’ll put it all together from the top elite OCR athlete, Brakken Kraker.  This grateful dad thanks you all.

Shoe Lost – Determination Gained

Abebe Bikila of Mendida, Ethiopia was added to his country’s Olympic team at the last minute just before they boarded a plane to the 1960 Rome games.  Bikila was the replacement for the team’s star marathoner.  The team sponsor, Adidas, gave Bikila a pair of shoes, but they were uncomfortable.  So Abebe Bikila ran shoeless.  This was no problem for he trained his whole life running barefoot.  He won the marathon in a record time and took home the gold medal.  During an interview, he explained why he ran barefoot.  “I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.”

Yesterday afternoon my autistic son, running for the JV team in the 400m sprint, took his mark for the race.  The gun fired and immediately Aaron’s left foot came entirely out of his shoe.  He ran a few steps, stopped, and turned back around in dismay to see his empty sneaker.  The hearts of the spectators, teammates, and officials just sank.  No one felt it more than his mother and I and his grandfather as we stood by helpless.  I stopped the video recorder.  Deep down we expected to see our boy have a meltdown like he did so often when he was younger.  Many Aspies deal with emotional overload in this way.

Nearly ten seconds had elapsed since the start with the rest of the racers now nearly 100 meters ahead.  Aaron jammed his foot in and took off.  I re-started the video.  The voices of the crowd rose as Aaron miraculously started to catch up.  By the third turn he was in close contention.  He finished the race a mere fraction of a second behind third place.

Emboldened by this performance, the coach decided to have Aaron run again in the 200m coming up an hour later.  He’d never run that distance before. It was a bitter cold and wet afternoon.  But everyone stuck around to see what the kid would do with a second chance.  He won the heat.

Later that evening as we reflected on the meet, I was afraid to bring up the shoe thing.  I still did not know how he would react and I certainly did not want to cause my son to melt down.  But the conversation was as natural and positive as could be.  He was engaged and excited about what he had done.  So I asked him what was going through his head at this precise moment as I handed him the short blip of video showing him losing the shoe.  The video burst repeated over and over.  Aaron laughed but said nothing.

“I didn’t know what to think.  I thought I would have been disqualified.  But when nothing happened, I got my shoe and ran.  I knew it took me like nine seconds to get going since the gun so I had a lot to make up,” he said.

That number meant all the difference to Aaron.  He knew what his regular 400m time was and he had every intention of hitting it despite the circumstances.  He typically finishes between 0:59 and 1:00.  He finished yesterday in 1:09.  He knew in his heart he could have beaten the field had he not lost his shoe.  He proved it an hour later in the 200m.

Aaron 400

We talked about it again as I drove him to his youth group meeting that night.  “This has been such a good year for me in high school,” he said.  “I determined to do these things and they have all happened for me and I am so glad.”  He mentioned his many activities, clubs, and teams that he has engaged in this year, things we thought impossible a few years ago.  But yesterday, Aaron’s determination made him the hero of the meet.  As parents, my wife and I have to keep reminding ourselves and determine to put into practice that our Aspie son can do whatever he puts his mind to.  He is not locked in a world of his own.  There is no stereotype autistic person.  So we must always forget the past and realize that right now, despite the unknown, Aaron simply…can.

Fast Sets Up ‘n Coming Track and OCR Star

Delayed or diminished development is common among people on the autistic spectrum.  In Aaron’s case, his affected areas are physical and social.  Although in many ways he is physically like any other typical teenage boy, there are differences.  For instance, he is extremely aware of his body.  Each visit to the doctor requires more time than we expected because Aaron needs to dig in to all the details by exchanging volumes of information with the doctors.  This actually pleases the doctors because they appreciate the depth of his self-awareness as well as his ability to articulate his symptoms and responses to treatment.  This is in stark contrast to my other autistic son who says absolutely nothing to the doctors, usually requiring an advocate to assist in expressing his medical needs.

About two months ago, Aaron emerged as the top-seeded varsity chess player at his high school.  Like with his physical issues above, chess is another area where he really dug in.  He quickly out-learned, out-studied, out-paced, and ultimately out-played everyone else both at school and within the league.  For the first time in his life, Aaron expressed his ego when I asked him how a particular match went.  “Dad, I am the best player at school.  How do you think it went?” he replied.  He said it as if there was any other possible outcome.  I was delighted.  Aaron felt good about himself and his accomplishment.

A few weeks later he came home and announced another startling revelation.  “I knew I was fast.  But I didn’t know how fast.  But my gym teacher wants me to join track right away.”  This from a kid who does not run except maybe once or twice a year with his parents in a 5K just because it’s fun.  Now all of a sudden he’s a track star?

Well, some Aspies can be like that.  Aaron gets armed with knowledge, encouragement, and ego and he believes he is, by foregone conclusion, the greatest.  We (his mother and I) brought him slightly back down to earth and explained the steps to go through to back up his boast.

He joined the team and started doing trials for the coach.  Sure enough.  He is fast.  How fast is he?  Not as fast as he will be once he starts getting coached, trained, and strengthened.  By next season, if he sticks it out, he could be a star athlete in  mid-distance running (400m and 800m).

In the meantime, that physical thing has come back to haunt him.  He is six feet tall and weighs about 140.  Last weekend he was playing Knockerball.  Getting knocked around was an understatement for him.  Much larger kids whacked him around like a bowling pin.  Because of his slight frame, he was not snug inside the ball so he suffered double from the initial impact as well as the internal bouncing around (almost like whiplash and limbs crushed against the body).  He came home sore and with an ice pack on his neck.  While his injuries may have been somewhat exaggerated due to his acute body awareness, they were nonetheless real and sustained for a few days.

His conclusion was to start bulking up.  Which brings us full circle to OCR training again.  Now Aaron has motive to add muscle not just for play time, but also for track speed.  With targeted training, he’ll reap the benefits at the meets and on the playground.  His commitment to OCR is still undecided.  His coaches may ask him to defer until the season is over.  Runners gotta be runners without injury.  And with OCR, well, injury can be par for the course.  But I am hopeful, still holding onto some free race passes for him to join me this summer at Palmerton, Tuxedo, and CBP.  One thing is for sure, if he shows up, he will be fast, leaving his old man in the dust.

New gear for track

Fast gear for track speed

The Energy of Austism


In science class, we learn that that there are two kinds of energy – kinetic and potential.  The differences in life and on the course are profound.  For autistics, it’s another obstacle.

My son often sees himself as a budding expert.  Music is his current focus.  “People just have to give me a chance.  I’ll be great,” he says.  We tell him the “secret” is practice, practice, practice.  He says he has all the greatness bottled up inside.  Someone just has to give him a chance.  He does not understand the difference between doing and desiring, kinetic and potential.

I say to him, “People will judge you and remember you for your actions.  Not your words.  Don’t tell me how great you are or want to be.  Show me.  Turn that potential into action.”  At this time, neither of us are on the same page.  We don’t understand each other.  He does not grasp this concept.  I have a better understanding of where he is coming from.

Growing up I kind of had the same problem.  I had a tremendous desire to excel in sports and music.  But I did not like to practice.  I truly believed that the stronger the desire, the greater the chance of success because surely people would recognize that admirable trait in me, give me the big break, and then magic would happen.  But it never did until much later in life – after I learned the hard lessons and got over the self-inflicted hurts of rejection.  Will Aaron ever get there?  I don’t know if his autism will block it or not.

In the meantime, he came to me one night and said he wanted to get back into physical training.  But all the wrong words came out of his mouth, starting with – “But.”  I refrained from the usual lecture of kinetic/potential.  I needed a new approach.  I’m convinced of his potential.  He’s long, lean, and fast.  His body is hungry for growth and that showed during the summer as we trained together.  He got stronger.  He could be explosive.  He overcame a lot of autism-related obstacles.  We still haven’t gotten to the mud part.  Now, cold seems to be a factor.  He is convinced that the cold weather gives him severe headaches.  Now we may have to strike cold water obstacles too.

Kinetic/potential energy issues are not limited to people on the autistic spectrum.  I see people freeze all the time at obstacles.  Fear often induces a dead stop on the course.  That potential energy can either translate into burpees, try, or do.  Misdirected energy is nearly always harmful however.  The best performance is always pure directed energy that overcomes the obstacle.  Mixed energy often results in injury, bruised egos, and latent energy.

That latter is a negative energy that builds up over time.  It creates an electro-chemical reaction in the brain.  Every time it is stimulated, it invokes a memory of the first instance.  Your brain will remember the first time you injured something.  Every emotion, every pain, every circumstance.  Before you ever try again, all of that comes back and activates.  You re-live the entire event.  The latent energy builds up and turns into an opposition to potential.  At this point, you can either give-up or try another way to get to kinetic.

The best way is to let go.  I had to let go of all that negative crap built up over a childhood of failure.  The mean kids and adults.  Hurtful words.  Rejection.  Lost opportunities.  I had to let go of the feelings I had at the time of some injuries.  Like, “How could I have been so stupid?”  I learned this valuable lesson from a yoga master.

Will it work for my son?  I will try.  His brain is wired differently so he may not get it.  But I will try.  I want him on the course.  But my desire and potential for him only goes kinetic when he does.  My battle is to keep the latent, negative energy demons away from us.  Forget the last time and move forward.

Spartan Race Citizen’s Bank Park Philadelphia: Race Review

The Phillies rallied strong after the All-Star break.  Even in last place, they swept the Mets at the end of the season.  That bodes well for the Phils next year as they also picked up a lot of young talent.  It probably spelled doom for the Mets as they got swept again to lose the World Series against the Royals.

There was similar doom and drama at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Citizen’s Bank Park Spartan Race Stadium Sprint on Saturday, November 14, 2015.  This race review comes to you from the perspective of a course volunteer.  I have served at many OCRs, but this was my first stadium event.  It was a real treat for this Phillies fan to spend the day on the right field warning track.

Spartan Race Rope Climb - Last Obstacle!

My wife and I arrived for the afternoon shift and headed towards the center field service tunnel.  The first thing we saw was the outdoor (parking lot) portion of the course.  The spear throw was set up at the left field stadium corner.  Strong winds gusting to 40mph that day accelerated around that corner and the Bernoulli effect tossed the spears like toothpicks.  Before we could see what was happening, we could hear the missed spears clanking on the asphalt.

We entered the tunnel, went through bag check, and registered with Lizzy Dickey, the volunteer leader.  She assigned us to Zone 4, gave us lunch and a t-shirt, and then we waited for our crew chief to bring us out.  We deferred our races for next year.  An email from www.chronotrack.com will come later to confirm it.

Zone 4 was the end of the course and included the cargo net A-frame, four 6-foot military walls, the rope climb, and the gauntlet.  My wife and I took the rope climb for the afternoon.  We noted during assignments that many volunteers with first-timers and also in their first year as OCR athletes.  I think that’s great to see such enthusiasm and support as newcomers go all out for this sport.

But I also noticed that with this newness comes the expected inexperience.  I’ve posted many times before on this subject so on with the review.

Technique. It's all technique!

Each obstacle had a crew chief armed with a walkie-talkie.  So if anything happened like an injury or other incident, help was imminent.  Fortunately, aside from a few inevitable rope burns, our obstacle was incident-free.   About thirty ropes were available so our job was to keep the athletes moving down the line to an open rope.  This is where things got interesting.

I have to say that better than 90% of the afternoon athletes failed this obstacle.  Technique varied all over from those who relied solely on upper body strength to haul themselves up (no legs/feet on rope), to one girl who obviously learned her moves on those silk curtains you see in aerialist performances.  Very few used the S- or J-hook techniques.

My wife said that the number one comment she got all day from athletes was, “Which way is the burpee mat?”  They didn’t even attempt to try to climb.  Well, if the backup wasn’t too bad, I would encourage some of them to take a moment and learn the basics.

Encouraging climbers. You got this!

It started out like this.  “Show me your technique,” I said.  They either said, “I don’t have one,” or they tried to haul themselves up using just their arms.  By the end of a race, I knew they would not get up that way.  The best outcome was a promise to practice and a “thanks for showing me.”  I also lamented that most folks I talked to did not have a rope to practice on.

As the very last athlete finished the course,  he came through with a dedicated SGX trainer by his side.  I went back to the military walls to run it with them and encourage them.  At the finish line gauntlet, the crew of about fifty volunteers lined up to cheer him on.  Cameras clicked and live video projected him right to the Jumbotron.  The latter was a very cool feature to watch the action throughout the day.

Ropes on the Jumbotron

Right after that we started course breakdown.  The crew chief gave us clear instructions and we got right to work on our obstacle, then helping palletize the hundreds of banners, flags, and signs around the stadium.  This all took less than an hour.  Then we checked out out with Lizzy and were on our way home.