OCR World Championships 2015

Embrace the not knowing, trust yourself, and go” was a mantra I found myself repeating time and again, before, during and after the race, at the OCRWC this weekend in Oregonia, Ohio.  I missed last year’s inaugural OCRWC race, so all I really knew about it was the glowing reviews and the hints and sometimes ominous pictures of obstacles published on facebook in the weeks leading up to the event.  I’ve never raced at this venue, which has also hosted BattleFrog and is a permanent home to the Mud Guts and Glory Race (MGG), and have never even been in this particular corner of the country before.

OCRWC cannon
The OCRWC started as a dream by visionary Adrian Bijanada to unite an industry that was splintered into a few big organizations who wanted nothing to do with each other, and create a world class event with qualifying races all around the globe. While there are a few notable holdouts among the largest players in the US, many of the smaller race series have embraced the concept to create #OCRunited.   The contribution of different races was immediately evident at the venue, which featured several of their signature obstacles; Tip of the Spear from BattleFrog, Pipe Dreams from Savage Race, Dragon’s Back from Toughest, Skull Valley from OCRWarrior / Terrain Mud Run, and a rig called Band Cutter from Shale Hill (which was not used during the race, but was available to play on in the festival area).  These combined with the MGG obstacles and a few other additions including two different Platinum Rigs leading to an impressive 53 obstacles over a 10 mile course.

 

OCR World Championships platinum rig

OCRWC Pipe Dreams

Packet pickup for the race was Friday afternoon, and the venue filled with an assortment of athletes from all over the world, with huge representation from England, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada.  In all, 26 countries were represented by over 1600 athletes.  Also Friday, we were treated to a competition of OCRWarrior’s Best of the Best, where athletes from previous OCRWarrior episodes were invited to compete head to head with each other as well as qualifying walk-on athletes on a short course featuring several of the OCRWC obstacles.  This was followed by a sold-out charity dinner where we were the audience for the premiere showing of the trailer for Scott Keneally’s long-awaited documentary “Rise of the Sufferfests“, which delves into the obstacle racing industry and examines the “why” behind the sport’s rapid growth and popularity.

Saturday

Saturday dawned crisp and cold with below freezing temperatures and never really warmed up, with temperatures hovering in the 40’s because of winds and cloud cover. This played a big role in the race, with several athletes suffering from hypothermia, and others having trouble keeping their hands warm for the many obstacles that required grip strength. The top elite racers in the world crushed the course in just over an hour and a half, with familiar faces Jon Albon, Ryan Atkins and Cody Moat taking the first, second and third spots for the men, and Lindsay Webster, Claude Godbout, and K.K. Stewart-Paul doing likewise for the women.  

After the elite divisions, age group divisions began; all athletes in a particular age group would start together and race directly against one another. OCRWC has eschewed penalties like burpees in favor of mandatory obstacle completion, and particularly in the age groupers, this played a huge role in the race. You could attempt an obstacle as many times as you wanted, but if you gave up on it your wristband was cut and you no longer qualified for the monetary prizes. Additionally, for each bypassed obstacle, a 4 minute penalty was added to your finishing time. Race officials at each obstacle diligently wrote down the bib numbers of racers skipping obstacles so all time penalties would be assessed and times adjusted accordingly after the race.

On the Course

OCR World Championships Ready

Finally, at 12:30pm it was my turn, time for the 45-49 year old men to test themselves on the course. Having no illusions about my own athletic prowess and knowing that I still have a couple of nagging injuries that need to be babied, I boldly predicted that I’d be sweeping the division to make sure no-one was left behind.  I didn’t care at all about my time on the course.  My goal was to keep my wristband; a goal that, having not faced so many of these obstacles before, I honestly had no idea whether or not was attainable for me. A brief inspirational speech by Coachpain Dewayne, the best in the business at motivating athletes, and the firing of the cannon got us started.  

A fairly quick loop up and around lead to the first few obstacles, which included monkey bars, a fairly long 50 lb Wreck Bag carry, and Pipe Dreams, then we went back into the woods for a long, relatively flat loop that included multiple river crossings before returning to the starting meadow.  

OCRWC Destroyer

The best view on the course was from the top of the 30′ high log castle, and then we tackled the Destroyer (a rock-climbing based obstacle designed and built by Larry Cooper), and Dragon’s Back. For Dragon’s back, athletes had to jump from a platform and grab a bar with a steep angled wall as their fate if they missed. While this wasn’t a huge physical challenge, it was a great mental one, and several athletes hesitated or over-thought it and got stuck here for some time. Once past, the next obstacles were several of MGG’s permanent obstacles, including their epic declining and inclining monkey bars over a pool of water.  Slippery bars from the splash of other athletes made this tricky, but I made it safely through with a steady approach and using my legs extensively.  After the monkey bars, it was into the water for an over-under logs obstacle, then we went back into the woods and up the hills.

OCR World Championships Monkey Bars

OCRWC Climbing the Bars

The hills on the course weren’t huge, but they were steep and the trails very technical, often along rocky creek beds (with or without water in them) or under, over or through multiple dead-falls. Race director Garfield Griffiths made relentless use of them, looping the course up and down these hills again and again until we were begging for flat stretches.

The next major obstacle was the first that had a significant backlog of athletes who were trying desperately to keep their bands; the sternum checker. The jump to the log was high and far, and shorter athletes were definitely at a disadvantage on this one. It took me a couple of tries, but I was able to fling my body high enough to lever it over the log, and then it was down the hill to the first Platinum Rig. This obstacle decimated the competition at last year’s OCRWC, and the race directors wanted to avoid this, so it was set to a relatively easy configuration (which nevertheless caused many to lose their bands).  Having never faced it before, this was definitely an obstacle that worried me, but I managed to navigate it successfully on the first try and this definitely helped with my confidence level.

A few hills, the devilish Weaver, and a couple other obstacles lead to the second platinum rig at the top of the hill. This one was shorter and easier than the first, and the only concern was that it was also considerably lower to the ground, making an inadvertent touch more likely for taller folks.  A fairly short and flat bucket carry (buckets pre-loaded with 50 lbs of gravel) followed.

The remainder of the course consisted of hills, hills, and more hills, interspersed with obstacles including a heavy hoist (2x50lb Wreck Bags for the men, 1x 50lbs for the women), a rope climb out of another pit of cold water, and a tyrolean traverse before the steep climb up Pinnacle hill (using three different ropes) and finally to the water slide; a super fast 300′ ride down the hillside to land in a deep pool of water.

OCR World Championships Slide

Now we were on the final stretch. Up and over a 12′ incline wall (with short ropes to grab near the top), a second, smaller Sternum Checker, and then Tip of the Spear – another obstacle that I’ve heard horror stories about. For those who haven’t encountered it at a BattleFrog race, this obstacle consists of two inclined walls that you have to traverse using ropes, with a balance beam in the middle. A definite test of grip strength, and a steady, methodical approach is recommended. Next up was another inclined wall (with no ropes this time) that we had to go up and over, and then came Skull Valley, and another long line of shivering wet and cold athletes trying to work their way through it.

Skull Valley was configured as a short climb and hands-only traverse across several rock climbing holds in the shape of the skulls that gave it its name to a cargo net. You then had to maneuver under the cargo net without touching the ground and come up on the other side, swing across a pair of ropes to a platform, and cross a short cargo net monkey bar section to the other side. Failure at any point meant you needed to restart the obstacle.

OCR World Championships Skull Valley

As it happens, I felt confident about this one; they’d opened it up for practice on Friday afternoon following the OCRWarrior competition, and it was relatively easy. At the end of a 10 mile race that had taken me about 5h to this point, soaking wet following the slide, and rapidly cooling in the 40 degree temps, it was anything but. My first attempt went well until the rope, where I missed getting my foot on the platform. Many others were struggling here as well, and this part seemed to be the hardest bit. After waiting my turn and huddling under a space blanket for awhile, I tried again, and failed at the exact same point. Are you kidding me?  I was starting to shiver badly, and despite encouragement from my friends and teammates on the sidelines, really began doubting whether I’d be able to get past it.

OCRWC Skull Valley

An inner battle began; I knew I’d be really upset with myself if I gave up the band this close to the finish line – at the second to last obstacle. I also knew that I really, really wanted to be done and get warm again. This debate went on for some time, not willing to give up, but not ready to take what I felt would surely be my last attempt. I talked to Brett Stewart, who was tirelessly coaching as many athletes as he could through this hell of his own creation. I even spoke to the person cutting people’s bands on the other side of the obstacle, and he collected several while I was there.  I made excuses to myself, and asked him to give me the band after he cut it; he said he couldn’t do that. I let him know I was a friend of Brett’s, and that Brett would surely let me have it. Brett told me no way. And strangely, that was just enough to spark my stubbornness again, and send me back for one more try. Maybe the time I spent undecided had brought some of my grip strength back; maybe my hands had warmed up more than I thought, or maybe I was just pissed off enough, but I made it that third time.  Up and over the warped wall (2 tries, but I knew I could do that one), and down the cargo net and across the finish line.

OCRWC Celebrating Victory

This race taxed me like no other has ever done, and later that evening my hands, forearms, and biceps began cramping at odd intervals; when I went to change my shoes, while taking a shower, and while trying to eat a burger awhile later.  There is no doubt that I left absolutely everything I had on that course, and I’m ridiculously proud of keeping my band, even with a time that was only minutes away from being disqualified.  

Sunday

Sunday brought a new twist; a fast-paced and exciting team competition. Three person teams competed against one another in a relay race with one person designated the runner, one the strength specialist, and one the obstacle specialist, handing off a single timing chip on a wristband as they went.  Many of the water elements had been removed from the race, and only the strength specialist really got wet as he/she barreled down the waterslide at the end of their section. Once off the slide, the three teammates reunited and had to use teamwork to make their way through the last several obstacles, some of which had been reconfigured specially for this competition.  In the elite competition, Team UK took the top spot for the men, with Team Canada and Team USA taking second and third. In the women’s elite competition, Team BattleFrog took first, followed by Team Sweden and Team South Africa.

OCR World Championship Teams

Although I was signed up to compete in the open competition, my body said loudly that that wasn’t going to happen, and I listened to it for once. The stress of the race and cold temps had many others doing likewise, and there was a bit of a scramble on Sunday morning for teams replacing dropped or injured members.  It was, however, a ton of fun to watch, and Operation Enduring Warrior capped off the day in style and inspiration as they worked their way through the course together.  

OCRWC Operation Enduring Warrior

Everything about this race, from the spectacular venue to the challenging obstacles to the motivators and MC’s announcing incoming racers was spot on. The staff and volunteers were strict but friendly, often offering helpful advice on how to get through their obstacles. No obstacle was unattended, and a few key ones had bonfires going nearby to warm up wet and cold runners, along with plenty of emergency blankets.  Truly, the concept of OCR United has found a voice and a home, and the OCRWC represents the best future of obstacle racing as a serious sport.

OCRWC BONUS COVERAGE

Complete race results from both days can be found here.

An additional review by the one and only Tretsch can be found here.

Last year’s review is here.

 

OCR World Championships moments.

Posted by Obstacle Racing Media on Monday, October 19, 2015

Racing Etiquette and Empathy

Recently, a discussion on Facebook tackled the subject of racing etiquette at a Spartan Race, and when the idea of running for time in an open heat can lead to hazards for other runners.  In this case, several runners were observed bombing down a steep hill off trail to get around a slow moving line, dislodging rocks and debris that put those on the trail at risk of injury.

First off, a few points on trail running etiquette:

  • Slower runners/walkers should yield to faster runners on trails and get out of their way if it is safely possible to do so.
  • Runners should let walkers know they’re coming by saying loudly “On your left” or right, though left is the default passing lane.

This seems pretty simple, right? There are a few factors that make things more complicated at a Spartan Race or similar OCR. The first is that race directors love to make use of single track trails, often on steep hills. This means that it may not be feasible for someone to safely pass. Add in natural hazards like Poison Oak, and it may be very detrimental for them to leave the path and let the runner breeze through. On the other side of things, many walkers often proceed side by side, effectively blocking the path, and are often oblivious of runners or unaware of the etiquette involved.

Single Track

The comment that really rankled on this post was that, in effect, if you’re not trying to get your best time in, or are only walking the course, you don’t belong at the race. To me, this was a remarkably ignorant and self-centered comment. What follows is my (gently edited) response:

What I really hate about some of the responses to this post is the disdain and condescension towards your fellow Spartan. If you have the talent and training to run fast, that’s awesome. I certainly will attempt to get out of your way and let you pass if you’re going faster than me. Not everyone knows trail etiquette, and that’s too bad; as a runner this is something you need to suck up and accept just like you would a line or backup at an obstacle.

If you’re creating unnecessary hazards by passing or being rude to your fellow racers (and they are, regardless of their speed), I will call you out on it. Hard.

How dare anyone say who should and shouldn’t be on the course? It’s exactly this kind of trash talk that scares many people away from these races because they don’t want to be made fun of. I take my lead from many of the best of the elite runners, who have stated publicly on many occasions that the people who inspire them are the ones that take 10 or 11 hours to finish a Beast. It is likely the hardest thing they have ever done, and the stamina and will to keep going for that long, especially when you’re being passed by so many on the way, is simply awesome. There’s a reason that Spartan makes a point of celebrating the LAST runner to come in off the course, and it’s not just to make them feel better; it’s because they recognize the achievement involved and the barriers that person had to overcome to get there.

A much better way is to occasionally get out of your own head, turn, and give someone else a hand. It doesn’t take a whole lot of extra time for your race, but IMHO it’ll make you a far better human being.

There are a huge number of reasons why someone or a group might do the race slowly. One of the most inspiring things I’ve seen was a large group of adaptive athletes making their way through last year’s Monterey Beast – athletes missing limbs, with spina bifida or spinal injuries, deaf athletes and more. They took nearly 12h to finish the course, and along the way, they were indeed the subject of irritation by people who were bottle-necked behind them on parts of the course that were “running for time”. Many people at the races are battling their own personal demons on the course – injuries, addiction, PTSD, eating disorders, obesity, and more are all fought, and occasionally slain altogether, step by step out there on the course. Others are afflicted with cramps or blisters or are simply pushing themselves farther and harder than they have ever gone before.

Adaptive Athletes

I know many people who started a race running “for time”, and changed their minds partway through; they ran into a friend or stranger who was injured or spiritually defeated by the course, and decided their new goal was to get that person to the finish line instead, no matter how long it took. As someone that’s done this more than once, it feels far better than when they place the medal around your own neck. Still others see how long they can spend on the course by helping those who need it at every obstacle, often spending hours longer than they need to between the start and finish lines.

I would argue strongly that their race is no less important than yours if you’re an athlete running for time, and indeed is probably far more significant to them as a personal accomplishment than shaving a few minutes off your time, or moving up in the rankings a little.

The bottom line is that if you are THAT concerned about your time, run elite. That’s what those heats are for. If you run in the open heats, YOU shoulder the risk of bottlenecks or of lines on some obstacles. Putting someone else down because you happen to be faster than them (or stronger, or better at some particular obstacle) is simply pathetic. We should be pulling each other up, not putting each other down, and placing any other racer at serious risk of injury because you are in a hurry means you should be disqualified and banned from future races.

Endeavor Team Challenge 2015

Endeavor Team Challenge Banner

Founded in 2013 by Kent Keirsey, Greg Hastings, and Mark Silver, the Endeavor Team Challenge takes place each September in the small village of Bear Valley in the Sierra Nevada mountains of central California. A modern adventure race, the ETC was modeled after the Best Ranger Competition in the Army – an event in which Kent competed. After several of his friends asked about his training and how they could do something like that elite military event, the idea for Endeavor was born.

The Endeavor Team Challenge pits 50 2-person teams against each other and against the unforgiving terrain in a 30h endurance event designed to push physical and mental boundaries and be the ultimate fitness test.

Last weekend, my Challenge partner, Le Roux Konig, and I made the journey up the mountain to compete. On our way, we passed through thick smoke coming off the Butte Fire burning nearby. This proved to be a concern and an issue throughout the race. Although the venue itself was never in danger, many of the race volunteers were in evacuation zones, and the air quality varied greatly, getting well into hazardous levels at times.

Endeavor Team Challenge-Partners

Registration Friday night was quick and painless; competitor T-shirts were given out, along with gloves, a rope and carabiner, a Spot tracker to let both staff and loved ones follow competitor progress in real time, a brick that was added to our gear, and a map for the first part of the race. By 5 AM on Saturday, the racing teams had gathered, and final instructions were issued, along with the admonition to race honorably. As dawn rose, we set off on the first part of the challenge – the Crucible March. This was a hike of unknown distance (~15-20 miles) during which the next stage map was handed out at each of 4 aid stations along the way. The hike lead straight up the nearby ski hill, crested it, and came back down to a surprise – the Battle Drill, about 1/4 of the way into the Crucible March.

For the Battle Drill, each team completed five timed stations – lifting a big rock onto a box (they had several to choose from – the heavier the Rock the more points awarded), throwing a medicine ball for distance, pulling a weighted sled a set distance and back, pushing a different sled around a short course, and running with a sandbag. Once these were completed, the March continued, back up around a shoulder of the mountain and down through some forest trails before climbing again to a ridge high above the previous ski hill (set at over 9000′ of elevation). Eventually, this wound back down the slopes to the shores of Alpine Lake before hitting one more shorter but steep hill and eventually making its way back to the starting point. Here, before finishing the Crucible, there was another surprise as racers were taught how to forward rappel (facing directly towards the ground) – first on a very short 10′ descent that we were welcome to practice on until we felt comfortable with the technique, then on a scarier ~40′ rock face.

Endeavor Team Challenge-Forward Rappel

While many competitors made use of the medical professionals at the aid stations to deal with developing blisters or chafing, for the first time in ETC history, all 43 teams that started the Crucible March successfully completed it.

Endeavor Team Challenge-Obstacle 1

Endeavor Team Challenge-obstacle 2

Endeavor Team Challenge-Box Flip

Once the Crucible March was finished, teams went directly into the next portion of the race, the Competitor Field. This consisted of 5 different challenges – a short course obstacle race with some very tricky obstacles that promoted teamwork to successfully maneuver, a heavy objects carry up the gently sloping granite to a specified point and back down again, a fun “teamwork reaction course” that featured building Lego models from your partner’s descriptions alone, a mountaineering section that involved rock climbing (with three different skill levels to choose from), zip lining / tyrolean traverse across a gorge, and rappelling down a 60+’ rock face under expert supervision by safety officers, and an orienteering course in which teams had to find at least one mandatory orienteering point – others were worth bonus points.

Endeavor Team Challenge-Rock Climb

Endeavor Team Challenge-Traverse

All of this had to be accomplished before the “drop-dead” time of 7:00 PM. On the March, my partner and I were in the back half of the field; I had a couple of nagging knee-related injuries that slowed my pace considerably. During the obstacle portion, I initially had both calves seize solid as I jumped up onto a box that was part of an obstacle and later had a stumble while trying to use my partner to reach the top of the 10′ wall that more seriously re-injured my knee – an injury that would continue to send razor sharp pains into my leg for the next few hours. It also slowed us down even more, and coupled with a strategic error (each team need only complete 4 of 5 events in the Competitor Field to advance), we ended up at the check-in point at 7:09. Because we had found our mandatory orienteering point, we would be allowed to continue, but would be ranked as unofficial finishers from this point.

By then, I was in a lot of pain, and my knee was not doing well. I pulled the Race Director Greg aside, filled him in on what was going on, made sure that Le Roux would be allowed to continue without me (they added him to an experimental 3 person team that was debuting this year), and graciously dropped, accepting my first ever DNF.

Once checked in, the teams finally got a break of a couple of hours to rest, deal with foot issues, eat, and so on before setting out for the next part of the race. This was the night orienteering portion, and all teams had to get at least 2 mandatory points set quite far apart to continue and make it to the next check-in area by 4 AM. This portion added anywhere from 10-15 more miles to the already sore and tired racers. An additional challenge was very poor visibility from a late moonrise that was itself obscured by thick smoke from the fire. Most teams bagged their two points and headed to the check-in to get some rest; a few more ambitious ones went after 4 or more points along the way.

Before teams were allowed to rest, they had one more challenge – a mental one. We had been given a poem to memorize at the beginning of the race – Invictus by William Henley.

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid

It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.

For the record, I wrote that from memory; it will forever reside within me.

At 6 AM, the final run began.  Remaining teams were finally able to drop their packs but had to bring hydration and their bricks along the 10-12 mile run back to home base, which included an unexpected water crossing through Lake Alpine around the halfway point. Finally, after ~30h and 40+ miles of unforgiving terrain, racers crossed the finish line triumphant, including my partner Le Roux, now part of the first four-man team to ever finish and a proud member of Team Tengu. An after-party sponsored by Buffalo Trace Bourbon featured an open bar and a catered BBQ, and the awards for fastest female team, fastest mixed team, and fastest male team (which was also fastest overall) were awarded. Dean Pierson and Lee Walker put in a truly impressive performance and were repeat champions for the second year in a row.

Endeavor Team Challenge-2015 Champions

The Endeavor Team Challenge is a true test of grit and athleticism taking place at a spectacular setting high in the mountains of central California. The race was characterized by an air of professionalism – from the race directors to the medics, volunteers and mountaineering experts. It also had a tremendous sense of community; local residents all greeted the racers warmly, many of them volunteered or swept the course or showed up as spectators at the water crossing or the finish line. Because the race is so small (limited to ~50 teams), many of the teams got to know each other quite well on the course and at the rest areas.

Overall, in spite of my own disappointing finish, it was a grand adventure and a fantastic event. I will be back next year for redemption and to earn my finisher’s coin.

Ruck Cancer – AAR (After-Action Report)

Ruck Cancer Patch

Over the last couple of years, I have gotten more involved with endurance events. I’ve done some GoRuck events, the SISU Forge and Iron, a Spartan  HH12hr event, and multiple other fun rucks and Spartan hurricane heats. But this was going to be very different. As part of a group pledge to raise $10,000 for cancer research, it was time for me to take a step to the “dark side” and actually plan and lead my own event.

With considerable help from my partner in crime, the winner of this year’s SISU Ironman award and master motivator Kenneth Herzog, I was able to recruit over 20 people to this event, which was to start at the awkward time of 4 am at a local park in San Diego. After going through a number of possible locations, we picked this one because it was convenient, had some fantastic natural features and we knew the area very well. In designing the event, we borrowed heavily from others, but also wanted to add in our own twists and make it different and memorable for all involved. The litmus test was whether or not it was something we’d want to do if we were participating.

Once everyone had signed in and turned in their waivers, we quickly separated the group into two teams and had a challenge to pick the initial team leaders – a water balloon toss in very poor lighting. The two teams then competed against each other in a simple relay: bear crawls out and crab crawls back. It pays to be a winner; the losers got to carry both teams’ rucks to the next challenge. Before we left the park, we reminded them why they were here – each and every one of them had been touched by cancer during their lives so far; they had lost someone to this scourge, or knew people who were fighting it or who considered themselves survivors. Using a sharpie, they wrote the names of people in their lives touched by cancer. When things got tough, and they were sore, tired, or felt like giving up, I wanted them to look at the names on their arms and use that as a source of strength to keep fighting.

We gave them three team weights that had to be carried throughout the ruck and were not permitted to touch the ground or the water – a 50 lb wreckbag, a 40 lb wreckbag, and a ~20 lb battlerope.

Ruck Cancer Flutter Kicks

Part of this event we wanted to be a “choose your own adventure”, and at a few points during the ruck we asked the leaders to decide “rucks on or rucks off” without knowing what was coming. The first of these took place right before the first water element, a shallow creek. Leaders chose rucks on, so into the stream they went, then linked arms, sat down, and did a minute of flutter kicks. After this, we soon came upon some hay bales used by a local church group for archery. Here we had another team competition; everyone lined up on one line, and similar to the popular youtube video, we determined their throwing distance based on their “privilege”; in this case, we started light with some questions relating to the Spartan spear throw, then switched to more serious questions involving cancer risk and how much it had impacted their lives (eg. For each friend/family member they had lost to cancer, they took one step back).

The team that scored the most hits chose the path (A or B); A went steeply up the hill to the nearby ridge, while B went further and involved a long switchback. Both teams made the sunrise time hack we’d set, even though the day dawned overcast so we didn’t really get to see the sunrise. It would have been spectacular though.

At the top of the hill, we did a short little ab burner group workout, then had another relay race; this one a sprint partway down the hill and back up. Winners got to choose the punishment for the losers; they chose a paltry 5 pushups, which they decided to all do together. When asked to pick a punishment, make sure you pick something reasonable, or it’s our job to make it “better”. Instead of regular pushups, they got to do them in zigzag fashion, with each person’s legs resting on someone else’s shoulders. 5 pushups felt like a whole lot more when done in this fashion.

image7

On the way down the hill to the next feature, Ken tagged 4 people as casualties who were not allowed to touch the ground until we got there. The next stop was a small local pond, surrounded by reeds and home to a number of ducks. After working some partner squats using a piece of rope to help support their weight and get into a good squat position, it was time. We had planned a trek across the pond, with them holding each other’s ropes for safety. Luckily for them, the team leaders had chosen “rucks off” for this part, or it would have been much tougher. As the line began wading into the pond, the thought crossed my mind that we probably should have checked the depth first, but it was too late now. Lead by one of the tallest of the group, they carefully picked their way around the perimeter, and it never quite got over people’s heads, although a few people were bouncing on their tiptoes or getting help from their team-mates on this one. As they went, they also inevitably stirred up the bottom, releasing trapped gases from rotting vegetation, and imparting a lovely scent over the entire group. Many described this as the worst and most disgusting part of the entire event, and there was some grumbling and complaining during a break until one of the participants spoke up about watching her mom die of cancer and having to clean up after her. In comparison, this pond was nothing.

Pond Crossing
About another mile lead to the biggest challenge of the day; something that Ken and I thought would likely not be possible. Embedded in the ground of a nearby empty lot was the grand-daddy of all tires. It had been there for decades, and a previous attempt by 8-10 friends had been completely unsuccessful. Nonetheless, this was their task. They surrounded the massive (over 7’ diameter) tire, with all the big guys and most of the ladies getting hold of it. One, two, three… heave. And nothing. Not even an inch. Ok, try again. One, two, three… no movement whatsoever. One of the moms with young kids even tried the Hulk Smash first, but it didn’t really help.

Ruck Cancer Tire Leverage

Then the group started looking around. They started digging out a little under the tire. A group found a 12’ long, 4” wide steel i-beam that was also abandoned and partially buried nearby, and others got rocks from the stream to use as a fulcrum, then to wedge underneath the tire as the lever was able to raise it a little. Soon they had one side elevated at about 20-30 degrees and switched tactics, with several lifting directly while the rest now pushed up on the lever. And they did it; they got the tire vertical and stabilized it, then were able to roll it a hundred yards or so to a new location.

The impossible task had met the unstoppable team, and using brawn, brains, and bit of luck, the team triumphed. One of our shadows googled the tire stats later and came up with an astonishing weight of 1970 lbs.

Ruck Cancer Tire Success
Rucks back on, time to move out. The next part was a hike across the street and up a long hill for about a mile. Here we paused at a lookout rock, and had what was the most important and the most meaningful part of the event; story-time. We encouraged everyone to tell the stories of the people written on their arms, with Ken and I starting. The timing was important on this; if we’d tried it earlier, I suspect that far fewer would have opened themselves to the kind of vulnerability that we saw on that rock, but these people had already forged strong bonds; through team activities, traversing the stinky pond, and moving the monster tire. So we had the privilege of hearing their stories of inspiration, of valiant fights and of devastating loss. I won’t share them here because they aren’t mine to share, but many tears were shed. Not everyone shared their stories, and that’s ok too; sometimes things are just too raw or personal.

Ruck Cancer Storytime
We continued up the hill to an old foundation at the top. Things had gotten a little dark on the rock, and we didn’t want to leave them there, so it was time to lighten the mood again. What better way than another team competition? This time, it was a yoga challenge. Each person on each team had to demonstrate a recognizable yoga pose and hold it for ~10s, with no talking or coaching from the rest of the team. Once someone was stumped or repeated a pose, they were done.

The rest of the hike went by pretty quickly, and soon we were back at the starting point. One last task before they could receive the custom patches; they added up all the names on their arms to get the magic number of 63. So we ended with 63 synchronized burpees to remember those who would much rather be doing this than battling (or losing the battle to) cancer; this was one part of the event in which both leaders gladly participated.
It was an honor and a privilege to lead this group of fantastic people through this event, which lasted 8h and covered a little over 10 miles. Our goal was to make it fun, challenging, and meaningful, and I think we succeeded at all of these criteria. In doing so, we raised nearly $1100 for cancer research. This was the first event of this type that I’ve lead; based on my experience with it, it definitely won’t be the last.

Ruck Cancer Group

Terrain Mud Run Review

Last weekend (July 25th) I attended the Terrain Mud Run in Flagstaff, AZ for the second year in a row. Terrain Racing is a local OCR series owned by Jerry Foreman, that currently puts on 4 events per year; in Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff and Las Vegas, NV. In Flagstaff, they offered both 5k and 10k options with racers in each heat starting and finishing together and splitting mid-course.

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This year, they had an interesting twist on the traditional start line; runners began standing nearly waist deep in cool water in a pair of large dumpsters, and when the wave started to the firing of a miniature cannon, they had to climb out of the dumpster before crossing the timing mat and starting their chip time. The course was laid out at Fort Tuthill, a gorgeous venue with multiple trail options under the pines at ~7000′ of altitude. The race designers made great use of these trails and occasionally had us bush whacking new ones as well. Along with multiple mud pits, carries (both a WreckBag carry and a long tire carry on the 10k course), walls, and waterslides, Terrain had a few multi-use obstacles where the course crossed; one of these consisted of a mud pit that went under a cargo net (keep your head down), then the course looped about and eventually came upon it again – the second time we had to climb an inclined balance beam, crawl or roll across the cargo net, and descend on a fireman’s pole.

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Other signature obstacles included a very steep cargo net climb, a Tarzan swing consisting of three ropes that you had to swing from rope to rope to rope without touching the ground, and a set of incline monkey bars over a pool that you dropped into once you rang the bell at the end. All of these obstacles were sturdy and well constructed, though in the nature of a “fun” mud run, there was no penalty for not completing the obstacles; it was up to the individual.

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In addition to Terrain’s obstacles, the course designer also made use of a number of equestrian obstacles at the venue, adding ~15 or so knee to waist-high obstacles to scramble over… It should be noted here that this was about half the number of these “found” obstacles the race utilized last year, making it a bit less of a quad-killer. Racers were rewarded after their run with one of the largest and prettiest medals I’ve seen in OCR, featuring Terrain’s signature angry monkey.

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One of the best features of the Terrain Mud Run is that they had a large and energetic festival area with plenty of vendors, competitions, and giveaways, several obstacles including monkey bars and inverted walls to play on, and a beer garden featuring local craft beer from Mother Road Brewing Company, all of which kept racers hanging around well after their race was over. In fact, Terrain Racing engaged a number of local restaurants and other businesses, which in turn offered discounts all weekend long to racers wearing their Terrain shirts (available at pre-race packet pickup).

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It should also be mentioned that the venue of Fort Tuthill has its own campground adjacent to the race where a number of us stayed before and after the race, and also hosts the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course – a treetop obstacle course featuring wires, unstable platforms, moving elements and ziplines that one can play on while securely tied into the safety lines.

A wet race on great trails at a phenomenal venue under the trees in Flagstaff, this was a fantastically fun and challenging race. While I love Spartan Races, Tough Mudders and the like, I have a great appreciation for well constructed, well managed, and well run smaller race series. Of all the ones I’ve done that meet this criteria, Terrain Mud Run is one of the best, and I will do everything in my power to keep coming back year after year.

*Photos By: Chris Cow, Simonne Plourde, and Daniel Villarruel.

Spartan Stadium Sprint- San Francisco

If you take away the mud and barbed wire, the hills and narrow trails, and the finishing fire jump, is it still a Spartan Race? I took my family on a road trip to San Francisco last weekend and joined several thousand athletes at the sold out Stadium Sprint at AT&T Park to find out.

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This being my first Stadium Sprint, I observed that many of the obstacles were similar to what you’d see at any Spartan Race; walls of varying height, a couple of sandbag carries, the iconic spear throw (albeit on a considerably smaller target than usual), rope climb, cargo net, Herc Hoist, Z-walls and monkey bars. There were also a number of other obstacles that are more often seen at a Crossfit gym than on a race course including box jumps, ball slams, battle-rope jump ropes, pushups, and a plank-roll contraption that acted like a miniature skateboard. And there were stairs. Lots of stairs. I suspect we may have touched every single stair in the ballpark at some point or another.

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The start corral was on a ramp inside the stadium, and groups of 15 athletes were unleashed on the course every minute to minimize backups at the obstacles. The race started up these ramps, then hit the first obstacle; bungees across the ramps that you had to bear crawl under before reaching the top of the stadium and a slightly modified Z-wall. Shortly after that, we were in the upper bleachers, zigzagging up and down the stairs high above the field, with the San Francisco Bay spread out before us. In all, the journey took us from the top of the stadium to the street outside and back up to the top again, through the locker room and dugout and finally finished with several obstacles on the infield.

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The stadium itself is gorgeous, and we got to see far more of it during the race than most people get the chance to while watching the Giants play ball. Energy levels were high throughout; most of the race was within earshot of stadium speakers playing a decent mix of music. As always, you could see Spartans helping Spartans throughout the open heats, whether it was a boost over the walls when needed or splitting burpees with a friend to help them along.

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When we finished the race, we settled down in the bleachers for a little while to watch and enjoy our free beer (3 different taps from Gordon Biersch were available here, including a hard cider), and it was fun seeing different obstacle areas up on the jumbotron.

All in all, it was a fun, fast, high energy race, but it definitely felt a little weird not being in desperate need of a shower afterwards. It was a great excuse for a road trip, and I’ll likely do another one, but I personally prefer the outdoor venues with all of the great variability that comes with them.


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*Photos By: Chris Cow