Mccauley Kraker Tried Out Nike’s Ground-Breaking Shoes

Today I’d like to discuss Nike’s¹ interesting new (ish) line of racers, which include the Zoom Fly, Alphafly, and Vaporfly, among others. Running fan or not, you’re likely familiar with the basics of the controversial shoes: big heels and cushioning, air bags, and advanced carbon fiber plates, all wrapped in a gaudy, lightweight package. Similar to clap-skates in the 90’s and Speedo’s LZR swimsuit in 2012, the shoes have coincided with an influx of records both on the road and track, leading to the dubbing of the shoes as the ‘Cheaterflys,’ a monikor we imagine Nike’s marketing department are positively beaming over. Now, the readers of this website being the pure, capitalistically un-sullied adventure sports fans that they are, for us to discuss any Nike-related product –and to do so in a potentially glowing manner– is akin, perhaps, to something like Outside Magazine dedicating a section to reviewing the wonderfully rich taste of Nestle’s new line of rainforest-sourced chocolates. And yet, this being the future of running, and running (or at least walking) being the backbone of most adventure sports, the shoes and their technology cannot be ignored indefinitely.

History being cyclical, the running community has for 50 years flip-flopped between a love of minimalism and over-protection in shoe choice. These days –and like everything else in popular culture, it seems– the topic has become one of political fervency.

Nike, interestingly enough, has occupied both sides of the shoe spectrum: first with the wildly successful Nike Free line, which focused on mimicking, to various degrees, barefoot running, and in doing so strengthening the ligaments and tendons of the foot, and then, after witnessing Hoka’s skyrocketing sales figures, with their current line of towering, bulky racers.

We’ll leave the debate of which version of running is best –as well as the legality of said methods– to the message boards and professional governing bodies. It’s easy to get caught up in the mechanical doping conversation, after all. But honestly, as spicy a topic as elites potentially gaining unfair advantages is, it is unlikely to have any effect on spectators such as you or I.

Nike’s new line of shoes includes track, soccer, road racing, and basketball, all of which use some form of a carbon plate. Photo courtesy of Nike

Let’s instead have a discussion as to what the technology means, not for professional athletes, but for the rest of us average human beings: the aging, oft-injured population who trains not for world records or the potential of meaty contracts with sporting behemoths, but rather, simply for the love of the activity itself. Our main goal is to stay healthy in order to continue to enjoy this thing we love. So with that lens as our guide, how does Nike fit into this idea, and where does it differentiate itself (and excel) from those such as Hoka that came before it?

A quick background

Hoka’s max-cushion-yet-lightweight shoe design arose a decade ago as a result of a couple of former Soloman employees attempting to develop a shoe that would excel during downhill running, but the design soon spread to the roads. Older runners in particular were drawn to the shoes, which reduced fatigue and cushioned tired knees and ligaments. Yet the design –in particular the high heel or ‘stack’ height, drew the ire of competitive runners, who avoided it in favor of lower profile racers. It also didn’t help that the shoes were (and still are) anything but good-looking.

While living in Colorado Springs I sometimes crossed paths with some of the world’s top distance runners, as they used the track behind our apartment for their weekly interval sessions. One day I was talking with a former Olympian, and me being a massive fan of shoe technology, I asked him what he thought of the future of running shoes. Was Hoka onto something? He sneered at the idea and told me the shoes were to be avoided, as they were bound to injure anyone wearing them.

I’d love to hear his thoughts on Nike today, who of course decided to follow Hoka’s general idea, while improving upon the shoe in every way: lighter, stiffer, more aggressive, a carbon fiber plate to improve footstrike, and space-age ‘zoom x’ foam technology. The result was a shoe that stood nearly 40 mm off the ground, yet weighed in at just 7 ounces, while still delivering 10% more energy return than what was known as the world’s best running shoes at the time, the Adidas Boost series. The wide platform reportedly decreased muscular fatigue. Athletes could do more hard workouts, recover faster, and potentially even race faster, given they were ‘responders’ to the shoes. Marathon times plummeted, and eventually the 2 hr marathon – the last of what many had dubbed the ‘great 4’ of human achievement (sub 4 mile, Everest, Land on the moon) fell. I drove to Vienna in 2018 to watch Kipchoge break the 2 hour barrier, and the crowd around me (and subsequently, the newspapers reporting upon the accomplishment) seemed less focused on the achievement and more upon the hot pink, unreleased shoes Kipchoge and his racers were sporting–  these would later be released as the ‘Alphaflys’.

FILE PHOTO: Athletics – Dubai Marathon – Dubai, United Arab Emirates – January 24, 2020 General view of athletes wearing the Nike Vaporfly shoe during the race REUTERS/Christopher Pike

Testing

I had my eyes on Nike’s new line for quite some time, but it was proving impossible to get my hands on any of the top tier shoes, at least without shelling out 250+ dollars. I was, however, able to find a pair of Zoom Flys at a local discount sporting goods store this spring, and after purchasing the only pair they had I rushed home to try them out. Zoom Flys are not terribly dissimilar from their more expensive counterparts. However, their carbon plate is supposedly a bit dumbed down, and the remarkably efficient Zoom X foam (otherwise referred to as pebax) present in the 4% has been replaced with React foam. According to Nike, React offers a substantial performance improvement over the the old Lunar foam (13% better energy return, to be exact) but after three pairs of Nike Reacts I should note I still find the Lunar to be superior performance-wise, although admittedly less durable. Still, I reckoned the Fly’s carbon plate alone was enough of a step up from my beat-up trainers that I could hopefully gain a bit of a feel for how the technology in the new Nikes works.

 

The Flys I purchased had the flyknit upper– this is a stretchy, skin-like material that offers little support, and given the already massive 33mm heel and 10mm drop, I had both the confidence and shakiness of a baby deer as I took my first steps. Right away the plate made itself known to me, thrusting me forward onto my toes in a pronounced manner. When not on my toes, however, I felt as if I would fall right off the back or side of the narrow, tapered heel, and my perpetually weak ankles voiced their concerns to me. And then I stepped out the door and began to jog, and guess what? The shoe still felt terrible. It felt slow; the cushion slushy at best; the support nonexistent. I doubted I could take a turn at any speed above a trot without rolling an ankle. Perhaps I’d been had. Maybe all the performance talk was simply marketing fluff. I thought about calling it quits, but what good would this do for an article? So after a 10 minute warm-up, I picked up the pace (expectations now tempered) and the most extraordinary thing happened, and the best way to describe the shoe’s transformation is to tell a story.

I’ve always loved sports cars, and as a kid I devoured magazines- Car & Driver, Sport Compact Car, Dupont Registry, and any other magazine the local Barnes and Noble might have in hand. I had two posters on my wall: the Ferrari 360 Modena (which I’ll admit has not aged well) and the delightfully absurd Lamborghini Countach. However, my Countach dreams took a hit when I read a reflection upon on it in Car and Driver. The car, the reviewer ventured, was best left as a poster on the wall. In real life the entry, via scissor door, is awkward for a normal-sized human, the air conditioning barely works, and the windows don’t roll down, meaning the cabin gets boiling in no time at all. Moreso, the foot-well is so cramped it doesn’t allow room for a shoe larger than 10.5. The list went on and on. Years later I drove one, and while all of this was in fact true, the journalist had left something important out. Above 30 miles per hour the car took on a life of its own. The steering tightened, the car began to feel agile, and everything came together in a wonderful harmony: the sounds of the road, the feel of the suspension, the shriek of the engine. Simply put, what the reviewer had failed to note was the fact that this car was not meant to be driven slowly.

So I ran at what I believed to be roughly 7:30 pace, and the shoe began to feel really good on my feet. Then my watch beeped at 800 meters and I was surprised to see I was running nearly 45 seconds quicker per mile than I had aimed for. And it just felt so effortless! The shoes were doing the work, it seemed, and I was just along for the ride. Without consciously focusing on it, my stride seemed to change to adapt to the shoe. I now had more of a back-kick and less knee lift than before, while my arm-swing also shifted, with a less-pronounced back-swing or ‘drive’.  My arms stayed high and tucked into my chest in their motion- perhaps I needed less energy to propel myself forward than in the past, I surmised. There are already a few studies on efficiency changes with the shoes–and here I should iron out the first of the misconceptions of the shoes- Nike’s ‘4%’ dubbing does not refer to a time improvement, but rather to efficiency gain, and there is massive difference between the two– but none had covered the changes in arm carriage that would occur. I’d imagine this leads to far less oxygen expansion, especially for someone such as myself whose form normally consists of a nauseating amount of arm flailing and shoulder rolling.

Now we move on to the issue of energy return. I’ve dealt with problems on my left side for many years now: broken feet and toes, stress fractures, hamstring issues, even a hernia, and as a result I’ve begun to favor that side when running. I’ve gone so far as effecting a pronounced limp, dipping my left hip upon impact to lessen the forces on that side in a way not too dissimilar from the triathlete Lionel Sanders. I know I do this, but I couldn’t help it, at least until these shoes came into play. The massive cushioning and energy return meant that (and here I should make note of a second misconception: that energy return is not energy creation, but rather a bit less energy ‘lost’) for the first time in years, I was able to actually push my left foot into the ground with force and then drive off of it, rather than babying it for fear of bone pain. Immediately I was aware of a strength and efficiency I couldn’t remember feeling, at least not in the last 10 years. However, there was a downside to it: long neglected muscle groups immediately began to make themselves known to me, and the entire front or shin area of my left leg cramped.

I wasn’t going to let a seizing muscle stop this fantastic experience, so I kept running, and in doing so dropped the pace further. The shoes felt better and better the quicker I ran, and Strava had my next mile at 6:20. For nearly an additional hour, in a state of blissful, pain-free exuberance, I continued doing one mile loops, floating across the ground with an ease and practiced efficiency that was entirely foreign to me. Eventually I decided to call it a day before something went wrong. I was absolutely euphoric that night. Imagine running pain-free for the first time in 6 years, and being rewarded with a 10-mile PR to boot, but with the legs feeling as fresh as if I’d taken an off day!

Final Thoughts

I’ll admit I am at times prone to hyperbole, but I am also a cynic at heart. Prior to trying the shoes out, a part of me did suspect all the studies and hype were part of a fantastical, exaggerated effort by Nike (remember, this is the company that made people believe that Nike Shocks, possibly the hardest and least forgiving running shoes ever made, were squishy and even ‘bouncy.’)  But what I experienced –and remember, this was with a cheap, watered-down version of the shoes– was nothing short of extraordinary.

It has been noted there are responders and non-responders to these shoes, and there is zero doubt I am a responder. To what % I improve from the shoe I am unsure, but here is what I will say: my heart rate in the Zoom Flys is the same while running 7:30 miles as it is at 8:05/mile pace in my usual daily trainers, the Lunartrainers, and that is truly extraordinary- although it may speak more to the extent my atrocious running economy limits me than anything else.

I reckon the people who will benefit the most from this technology are those in a similar position to me: iffy form, a history of injuries, and heavy. Studies have echoed this, showing a more pronounced benefit for ‘average joe’ runners as opposed to elites.  However, to that point, I will caution that the Zoom fly is so stiff that at any pace slower than perhaps 7:30 per mile the plate will cease to perform its duty and the ride will become sloppy and unresponsive, so perhaps for slower runners the shoe would be best suited for tempo and speed days.

Nike claims its shoes are reducing injuries, and while there is evidence that stride changes from new stack heights may bring with them their own slew problems down the road –particularly Achilles issues, see Galen Rupp or Gwen Jorgenson and their Achilles surgeries– I’d reckon they aren’t too far off with this claim. My takeaway: ban them or don’t on the professional circuit, that’s none of my business. But please leave the technology for the rest of us; the aging, beaten-down hobby-joggers who just want to get out for a glorious, pain-free run from time to time.


¹Yes, we’re aware other brands are creating competitors with similar technology. As of now I have yet to see any come close to Nike in terms of performance, but more importantly, none are available in my market as of this writing. But if you’re avoiding Nike, by all means at least try out a competitor such as Hoka or Saucony

A Caution to Abu Dhabi Racers: Three Years After the Middle East Championships, I Still Haven’t Been Paid.

In 2017 I attempted an ill-fated OCR comeback. My training culminated with the Spartan Middle Eastern Championships in Dubai, which was my first race since leaving the Pro Team in 2015. Just a quarter-mile into the race, as we threaded our way through the over/under/through wall section, and as I hoisted myself through a chest-high square opening in the wall, –a relatively routine movement I must have done 1000 times before– I felt something tear deep down in my stomach. Then the jolt of landing on the other side sent an immediate wave of sharp, crippling pain, so severe it brought me to my knees.

I knew something bad had happened, something worse than a cramp or muscle strain. but I had no time to dwell on it. And besides, dropping out was not an option. I had just spent 700 on the flight from Denver and the overall expenses for the trip were expected to top $1000. I needed to recoup some expenses. Such is life for the unsponsored racer. [Read more…]

2020 OCR Resolutions

With 2019 coming to a close, it’s customary to reflect on the previous year and then look forward to the future. Traditional resolutions involve exercise, diet, saving money, and self-care, in that order. But 80% of resolutions don’t make it past January, so rather than focusing on something like completing x more races or running x more miles, we’re going to discuss something a little different this year: social media use. Or more specifically, the impending death of intrinsic motivation via the rise of social media.

To compare a harmless thing like social media to something as serious as the crack epidemic is of course terribly hyperbolic, and yet… is it? Here we have an easily attainable, cheap device that mimics drugs in almost every way: a simple ‘like’ on Instagram lights our brain up in much the same way as heroin or a slot-machine would, users have real withdrawals, depression and loneliness increase with use, interpersonal relationships are changing, and multiple governments are using it in their attempts to more or less dissolve the moral fabric of our society. We’ve accidentally created our very own real-life version of the infamous ‘rat park’ experiments of the ’70s.

I know, enough fear-mongering. I’m posting this on social media after all, and you’re most likely reading it via. Many of us require these tools in order to maintain a career. We’re all hypocrites. In fact, I’m probably speaking to thin air; the majority of social media users don’t even make it this far when reading an article. I even tried this out with my last blog post. Sure enough, a good chunk of people shared it without realizing it was satire.

Regardless, I find this a fascinating topic. Because social media makes everything quantifiable, and this directly influences our choices, whether we admit it or not. That $99 race entry is buying you x amount of likes, isn’t it? And a trifecta or ultra, well, I imagine that might be worth quite a bit more. Same goes for a CR on Strava, vacation destinations, air bnb choices, even something as trivial as a lost toenail. If you are active on social media and cannot acknowledge this phenomenon holding some sway over you, you’re most likely deluding yourself.

Now we’ve found ourselves existing solely for extrinsic validation. This positive echo chamber should –in theory at least– make us feel validated. “You’re great, wonderful, impressive, inspiring, tough, and a great parent!!” It shouts this from our phone via a kaleidoscope of light and sounds, of dings and flashing lights, animated emojis and blue ‘thumbs-ups’. And yet, somehow this affirmation actually makes us feel worse.


How many of the following social-media related resolutions do you think you are capable of, and for how long? And would following one (or all) have any effect, positive or negative, or is this anti-social media movement just hogwash and me deserving of the dreaded ‘boomer’ titling?

I Miss The Good Ole Days Of Obstacle Racing

The 2019 Obstacle Racing season is well underway, and from what we’ve seen so far, both participation rates and TV viewing numbers are at record highs. Well, that’s just peachy, I guess.

I should congratulate Spartan. They’ve done the unthinkable: taken a cheesy fad and made it mainstream, leaving opposing companies face-down along the road in their wake like Battlefrog competitors during a double sandbag carry. Joe and company have even persuaded huge mainstream sponsors to buy in and Olympic dreams to swell…but listen, I can’t do this. I’ve made my name as a straight shooter, so I need to be honest with you: not everyone is happy with the progress the major obstacle racing series is making, yours truly included. I’m sure many of you loyal ORM readers feel similar. Progress has occurred at the expense of the community. Do you also remember (and miss) the good old days? Let’s get into it.


Obstacle Racing Media was given an exclusive look at early injury numbers (measured via medic reports submitted at venue) during 2018. These usually cover anything from cramps and IV’s to serious injuries and on-course fatalities. And guess what? They’ve dropped massively in every category this past year, continuing a three-year downward trend.

Roots-Stretcher

Back when racing was hardcore

But to be clear, this isn’t just about injuries. I hope you don’t think we’re that obtuse. What this IS about is how soft, how white-washed this sport has become. This is what happens when companies sell out. I know I’m not alone in thinking that by fixating on moonshot Olympic dreams and Yelp reviews, Spartan has left many of its core members in the dust, and in doing so has lost some of the draws it once had. Some industry experts I’ve spoken with agree and worry that Spartan Race is losing its edge. This can be attributed at least partly to recent changes focusing on safety that has sullied the race experience and proven divisive at best.

Many of us miss the good old days before Spartan sold its soul in exchange for TV money and hastened to rid itself of everything that made it great in the first place. First to appear was Reebok- the soulless, trend-hopping, neglected cousin of Nike. Desperate to capitalize on the sport of functional fitness, the brand peppered overpriced gear with our hallowed logo and treated OCR shoes like iPhones, releasing a new, mildly disappointing update each year, with grip one can only assume was directly inspired by a banana peel that had been soaked in warm coconut oil.

Then the gladiators disappeared- which, as many of you remember, led to a nation-wide boycott of races by the cosplayer community. But it’s not just people who like to play dress-up who have been hurt by policy changes.

To have a sweat-soaked, muscular, cape-wearing hunk take you down and dominate you at your most vulnerable…I still get chills just thinking about it. In fact, that rush alone was excuse enough for a season pass for many of us. But sadly, those days are gone.

Chuck Whipley, head of Kermit the Flog, a BDSM club based out of Atlanta, echoed this sentiment during a recent FB messenger conversation.Part of the allure of Spartan used to be the idea that you were paying not just to race, but to be publicly humiliated, both physically and emotionally, and if lucky, sometimes in front of large crowds.” Whipley continued, “I know [fellow club member and OCR industry insider] Matt Davis feels similar, and he’s the guy you should get in touch with.” Through a spokesman, Matt declined to discuss the matter but did deny ever meeting or communicating with Chuck.

And the courses? They used to be TOUGH. In the past, racers were guaranteed at minimum several ravine tumbles, a rolled ankle, and maybe even a few deep slashes across the back, courtesy of barb wire. These days you’re lucky to experience one of the aforementioned if at all, and rumor has it barbed wire is next to go.

Come Monday I used to show up to work an absolute wreck. Mornings were spent limping around the office, regaling anyone within the distance of the tribulations I had undergone while they had spent a lazy Saturday sipping breve lattes or comparing paint finishes at Home Depot. I know they were impressed with me, maybe even a little jealous, even if they didn’t show it. How could they not be? My body was hardened by burpees, my confidence sky-high. Cracked scabs oozed puss through my dress shirt as I bent to fill a mug with my signature brew (bulletproof coffee mixed with one-and-a-half sticks of butter). It was clear I had returned from the edge, from something extreme, having stepped beyond what was normal or expected of a man and emerged better for it. Chafed nipples leaked tiny droplets of blood onto my pastel-striped Brooks Brothers shirt, like Rorshach tests that served to inform my coworkers of their own daintiness. I imagined David Goggins looking proudly down from Heaven, a single tear rolling down his stern face. Editors note: David Goggins is alive and well. I was Ed Norton in Fight Club; bruised and battered, but free, and completely numb to the corporate BS. The opposite of present-day Spartan.

Gone are the threats of sepsis and paralysis, replaced by participation medals and special interest stories on NBC. We ran to honor the flag; now people run for Instagram likes. Which makes me wonder what will happen to participation rates if Instagram actually deletes ‘like’ tallies from photos.

Roots-Stretcher                                Why race when you can purchase the experience from your couch?

I’m sure I sound bitter, but this is just the truth.

Google trends confirmed my suspicions. As of this writing, searches for “How to get feces out of barb wire cut” were at a 4-month low, while queries for “Frostbite on wiener, how to tell?” had grown flaccid at best.

Also gone these days, the ability to utilize the spear throw area to literally gun down competitors. For several years now the spear has been tied via rope to the fence, eliminating the once-fan favorite game of Frogger that would occur while volunteers rushed into the line of fire to retrieve spears from the target.


A higher-up with Spartan who wished to remain unnamed acknowledged my concerns. “We’ve seen some of these early 2018 figures, and yes, we’re a little concerned over the perceived sell-out status of our brand. But in the long run, we believe fans will understand the changes we have made,” he said.

In Spartan’s defense, there are signs it has turned from its foolhardy ways and has even begun to show some common sense by returning back to its roots and core community.

As many of you know, back in 2016 Spartan was forced to indefinitely postpone their second annual cruise after the ship was quarantined following a post-trip coast guard inspection of its pool and hot tub. However –and this will probably be news to most of  ORM’s readers– this August the arduous two-year disinfection of the Royal Princess is slated for completion. Finally!  The official Spartan release stated as much: “We can announce with pride that the hot tubs will officially open again. Spartan and hedonism will once again be synonymous as Spartan and the (recently-unstickied) Royal Princess will return to Stirrup Cay, Bahamas in 2020. Bring your swimsuits…or don’t- anything goes.”

Our sources within the industry echoed that all is not lost, adding that they’ve seen a solid uptick in ACL tears, compound fractures, and rolled ankles over the past 18 months, most of which the industry can thank the Tough Mudder X series for.

Finally, while Warrior Dash’s recent demise has certainly shocked the industry, grassroots races are quickly popping up in its wake and just might sway hoards of disinterested racers into getting back on the course. The front-runners to fill Warrior Dash’s hole include Florida’s Co-ed-Croc race, in which competitors are teamed up with an alligator over a 6+ mile course, and the Black-and-Blue race, a 24 hr enduro event during which racers are tasked with completing as many laps as possible around the Roswell, Georgia police station while donning Collin Kaepernick jerseys.

Do you also miss the good old days of the sport? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Why aren’t you faster?

“If more information were the answer we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs” -Derek Sivers

Back when I was racing, there was a conversation that would come up almost every weekend. It was always the same conversation, and it usually went the same way. “Listen,” a ‘green’ racer would say, “I want to improve, I think I have talent, and I was wondering what the next step would be for me?”

It’s incredibly exciting to hear this, because I remember being in a similar position. At age fourteen my mile time dropped from 4:56 to 4:41 in a single race, and it dawned on me that I might actually have a future in running, this thing that until that moment had felt less like ‘sport’ and more like punishment. This is bittersweet, of course, because acknowledging it means choosing a path that is lonely, painful, and rarely rewarding, and for a 14 year-old, anything but cool. Think about it, you’re basically saying “I am committing to having a body that will repel the opposite sex (or the same sex, whatever your thing is) for the foreseeable future.”

I went out and bought Jack Daniel’s Running Formula. I began spending far too much time on Dyestat and Letsrun.com. The walls of my room filled with race bibs and pictures of Alan Webb and Dathan Ritzenhein. I read Once a Runner over and over, until the cover shed and the pages began to fall out. I kept playing basketball, but my heart was not in it. My coach¹, a hard-nosed Bo Ryan disciple, would see this and tee off on me: “Looks like McCauley’s too tired from running to give his all on defense today! EVERYONE ON THE LINE!”

Throw in a Prefontaine poster and milk jug full of water and your runner’s starter pack is complete

 

Soon I was familiar with pacing, mileage progressions, and the necessary strength work to succeed. Now whether my coaches would allow me to train that way was an entirely different question (they didn’t) but regardless, I had acquired an inherent understanding of what it would take, physiologically, to succeed at the next level.

So in response to the question from the fellow racer, I would respond, “How many miles are you running?” Whatever the reply, the answer would be simple: “You need to run more miles.” At this suggestion they would visibly deflate. This was not what they were hoping to hear.

It couldn’t be that simple. There must be a secret, a short-cut, some way to improve NOW.


This sport is at its core running². There is no secret to running. There are no short-cuts, #lifehacks, or tricks to get faster. You must run more, and you must run at different speeds: fast, medium, and slow, and on different terrains: flat, hilly, slight downhills, and finally, at different distances: short, medium, and occasionally long. Sometimes you should run twice a day.

When you are not running, you must recover.

That’s oversimplified, of course, but that’s just about all there is to it, and it is where this article should end. However, that’s not how it goes. Our earlier conversation with the athlete continues.

“Okay, but what are your thoughts on minimalist shoes? What if I transition to forefoot striking or start supplementing with more Crossfit? Speaking of supplements, which should I be taking? What about pre-workouts?”

None of this matters, and while this isn’t a conversation I’m normally interested in having at all, it is definitely not one I will have unless the athlete has already done aforementioned- the 99% to make the 1% worth it. Have they made a choice to fully chase a dream; to embrace what John L. Parker dubbed the “miles of trials,” which consists of building up to a high mileage diet of 60-100 miles per week over time? Have they watched their body change, their sloppy form tidying up, strides shortening and toe-off becoming light and nimble, movement becoming rhythmic and precise, 8:00 minute mile easy runs becoming 7:20’s and eventually, 6:20’s?

If you haven’t done the 99%, there’s little point focusing on the 1%. Think of it as a math teacher writing a formula on the board. “This is the key to solving the problem,” they say to the class. “But,” the student interjects, “What’s the best type of pencil for me to be writing with?” These are nothing more than distractions from the work at hand.

If you’re reading this and you ‘noped out’ at the 60-100 miles part, that’s completely fine. For any number of reasons, you don’t want it; truly, desperately want it, and most people don’t. But don’t blame your lack of trying on schedule constraints, injuries, or family. You simply don’t want it.

This is a significant commitment to embark on, after all. So you ignore the advice and look elsewhere for a source who will tell you differently.


It’s easier for consumers to change their heroes than habits.

And for good reason. It’s uncomfortable for us to step out of our echo chamber. For a vegan or ketogenic to admit that their diet may hamper them in certain endurance events. For a muscle-bound athlete to admit he would fair better in an ultra-marathon if his dead-lift were lower. Or a cross-fitter to acknowledge the negative effects of that IPA or two he loves to sip after a workout (and this one cuts me deep).

Why change your belief when you can simply find a new coach or community who will affirm your beliefs?

Coaches –who are salesmen– flock to the outlier. You will meet running gurus who will tell you high intensity and low miles are the cure to life’s problems. That the stronger you are the faster you will be. That forefoot running is the elixir of life.

To be fair, I did experiment with minimalism and even raced Spartan race barefoot in Temecula. To this day I find the occasional cactus spine in my feet…

We are a society with every bit of knowledge ever gleaned a mere finger swipe away. The path to success is there, clear, concrete, fully-laid out, and yet we are ever-more fixated on ignoring that in favor of expediting, shortcuts, and hacks. Coaches, writers, anyone who can profit from offering some new exciting alternative will attempt to do so. To be fair, some of these alternatives are not bad, at least for hobby joggers. But on the other hand, one could argue that Christopher McDougal’s teachings have subsidized more doctor’s country club memberships over the last 10 years than concrete roads ever have.


To those of you who have already gone down that path and experienced the trials of miles, who have over many years built up an aerobic base, well, you’re free to train however you like. Go experiment with alternatives, you’ve earned it, after all. Our sport is filled with athletes like Hobie Call, who won a world championship off of low mileage. That can work for a guy who spent the prior 10 years training full-time for the marathon, but if you don’t have that aerobic base down, it probably won’t work as well for you.

But if you’re sick of being just ‘okay’ or ‘almost there’, and you really, really, want to be good, to be a sponsored athlete, to grace podiums, to PR at every distance from mile to marathon -whatever your goal might be- I challenge you to do the following. Find a copy of 80/20 running or Jack Daniel’s book. Get yourself a good running (not OCR³) coach. Become a student of the sport, and give running one year. One full year. There is no instant gratification here. In fact, you will probably regress, at least at first. But in a year you will be an entirely different person and competitor.


Weldon Johnson is the co-founder of Letsrun, the website I spent countless hours on back in the day. In 2006 he wrote a fantastic article documenting his improvement from 29:49 to 28:06 in the 10km over a 3-year span. Weldon subscribes to the Michael Scott school of KISS (keep it simple, stupid).

  1. Run more
  2. Slow down
  3. Be consistent
  4. Believe in yourself

You’ll notice that nowhere in Johnson’s article is there mention of form, diet, supplements, or cryotherapy (well duh, this was 2006). Weldon doesn’t espouse eating only nuts, or putting hunks of fat into his coffee. Nothing he states is cool or sexy, but it works. It has worked since the 60’s, and it has worked for Ryan Atkins, Chad Trammel, Amelia Boone, and Ryan Kent, along with basically every other top racer. All of them have likely sacrificed double-digit years to lonely work, and in doing so have learned their own version of the secret. Weldon explains:

“Running is a very simple activity. It is largely an aerobic activity (and more so the farther you run in distance). The better aerobic fitness you have, the better you’ll do. The more you can train and the more consistently you train the better you’ll do.”

Letsrun: What a love child of 4chan and Runner’s World would look like

You have two alternatives. You can keep doing your thing; after all, there’s so much information out there, and maybe, if you search long enough, and try enough products, there’s a chance you find it, the REAL secret. Perhaps it’s wearable tech, or protein powder, or minimalist shoes. Maybe it’s weight vests, magical water, cryotherapy or myofascial relief. Or sleep trackers, electrical muscle stimulators, HIIT training. Some have said genetic testing, water-running, trx, and standing desk have worked wonders.

Or you can shut your computer, lace up your shoes, and go outside for a long run.


¹That basketball coach is in prison for life, but that’s a story for a different time
²There is one event this is not true for: the 100 meter race at OCRW this upcoming year
³However, the best OCR coaches: Yancy Camp, DWEP, Albon, Mericle, Atkins, and well,  just about every other top racer who coaches… they all have endurance backgrounds and are fantastic, extremely knowledgeable humans. My caution is against using someone who is unfamiliar with endurance outside of OCR.

2018’s Highest Earning OCR Athletes

How much are the top racers in the obstacle racing world making?

After a hiatus in 2017, we’re back with our highest OCR earner list. As was the case in 2016, this list only covers publicly available, published race winnings. It does not include any sort of pay or sponsorships from Pro Teams, nor any of the other usual sources of supplemental income. This may include television revenue sharing, coaching services, affiliate earnings, or other undisclosed payouts. These latter payouts make up a significant portion of athlete earnings, and for some athletes can dwarf race payouts.

To view our 2016 list, click here.

These USD-converted earnings are rough at best and should be treated as such.


8. Nicole Mericle

 

2018 Race Winnings: $27,000+
Biggest Payday: OCRW Championship 3k, $6,300

2018 saw a fair amount of obstacle racers pulling in mid to upper 20’s in race earnings. While these figures aren’t by any means earth-shattering, they are a positive sign. After all, there was a time when only the very top racers were making these amounts.

Nicole Mericle narrowly edged out a group of racers, including Tough Mudder X champion Emma Chapman ($25,000) for the number 8 spot. Thanks to her strong performances at the several championships. Mericle won two titles at the OCRWC Championships in England, a first and duel 2nds at the OCRW North-American championships, and a second at Spartan’s North-American Championships.* Nicole closed her season in style, racing three times over two days at the Spartan Trifect World Championship in Sparta, where she placed second, and then claimed a title no one else on this list has: The Red-Bull ‘All-In.’

*Our apologies if you’re new and in complete confusion as to the many acronyms and similar sounding championships. Every race series has their own ‘Championship,’ many of them with similar sounding names.

7. Hunter McIntyre

2018 Race Winnings: $30,000+
Biggest Payday: Tough Mudder ‘X’ Final, $25,000

There was a time when Hunter McIntyre seemed next in line to Hobie Call’s throne as king of OCR, but Hunter has never seemed particularly concerned with fulfilling other’s expectations. In the last two years, he has moved away from the OCR scene, racing just 8 times total. Hunter didn’t race a single Spartan Race in 2018, but he did compete in the Tough Mudder X  series, where he went three for three, including a win at Tough Mudder X finals that was worth $25,000. Sure, his winnings have dropped significantly from previous years, but no need to fret. Hunter has recently partnered with Beachbody on a video series, and we suspect sponsorship checks will continue to  hit Hunter’s mailbox for the foreseeable future.

 


6. Ryan Woods

Asheville Spartan Ryan Woods

2018 Race Winnings: $37,200+
Biggest Payday: Spartan National Series, $8,000

With an uncomfortable 2017 finally behind him, the sport’s fastest runner returned to form in 2018, diversifying his race series and winning at Savage Race, Spartan Race, and World’s Toughest Mudder’s team competition. At 39, Woods is among a group of racers including Cody Moat, Hobie Call, and Mark Batres, who are proving elite performance can be maintained well past the traditional peak performance windows in running sports.

 


5. Rea Kolbl

Rea-Kolbl-crosses-first-in-West-Virginia

2018 Race Winnings: $37,700+
Biggest Payday: World’s Toughest Mudder, $10,000

The former Slovenian gymnast has been on more Spartan Race podiums than any other woman in the last 3 years. Despite finishing 5th in Lake Tahoe, Rea has traditionally dominated in the longer race formats. She has not lost a race 8 hours or longer, including World’s Toughest Mudder in 2017 and 2018.  If Lindsay Webster is the best all-around racer right now, Rea certainly has a claim to the best pure endurance racer.

 


4. Robert Killian

Robert-Killian-Sandbag-Carry-Seattle-2017

2018 Race Winnings: $38,000+
Biggest Payday: Spartan North American Championships, $12,000

The former Spartan World Champion claims the number four spot thanks in part to volume, having raced (at minimum) a staggering 27 times in 2018.  Killian has never avoided racing, but even by his standards his August stretch was truly remarkable: in a span of eight days, he won five races, two of them longer ‘beast’ courses, including the North American championship. Bonus awesome feat: In May he came in first at the Montana Beast, then traveled to Colorado where he won the Sprint the next day.


3. Jon Albon

20151214200355

2018 Race Winnings: $63,200+
Biggest Payday: Spartan World Championship, $20,000

While the 2018 triple world champion (Spartan race, OCRW short and long courses) had another great year, it’s the purse Jon didn’t win that had the endurance world talking. Spartan CEO Joe De Sena offered 1 million dollars to the athlete who could win Spartan’s ‘big three’ of championship races, ie the World Championship in Lake Tahoe, Trifecta championship in Greece, and the Enduro 24-hour championship in Iceland. Albon won the first two before coming up short in Iceland, and although most remained dubious to the possibility of the triple, he certainly gave his all in chase of it.

Despite our hesitancy to enter the absurd ‘best athlete’ conversation, Albon might just have a case as to the most well-rounded endurance athlete on the planet. His 2018 resume includes wins in everything from the 3k to two-day orienteering events, Skyrunning series, and even a victory on the roads in the marathon.


2. Ryan Atkins

2018 Race Winnings: $74,200+
Biggest Payday: Spartan Ultra World Championship, $16,000

North America’s top male racer didn’t compete in as many Spartan Races as the others on the list, but that didn’t affect his earnings. Atkins won the 3k, 15k, and the coed team title at the NorAm champs, as well as the 24 hr Championship in Iceland. His efforts in Iceland also netted him an additional 10,000 bonus from Joe De Sena.

While many claimed Hunter would be the first “Million Dollar Athlete” in OCR, it appears it might actually be Ryan who will be the first. If our math is right, Atkins may have already eclipsed $500,000 in career winnings alone.


1. Lindsay Webster

2018 Race Winnings: $87,500+
Biggest Payday: Spartan Championship, Lake Tahoe, $20,000

What more can we say about Lindsay Webster at this point? Webster has won nearly everything available to her over the last three years.  This year she re-asserted her dominance, taking first in 19 of the 21 races she entered. Mind you, she wasn’t cherry-picking Sunday races. She won Spartan’s National Series and World Championships, the 3 km, 15km, and team races at Nor-Am champs, the 15km at OCRW Worlds, the Tougher Mudder crown in Seattle…. there’s too much to list, so do us a favor and just take a look below.

Webster’s current run in OCR is something we haven’t seen since the early days of the sport when Hobie Call and Amelia Boone reigned supreme, if at all. In this sport, athletes continue to excel through their mid-30s, and we don’t see the 29-year-old slowing anytime soon.

 


Many thanks to obstacle racing’s very-own living encyclopedia/stat maniac, Jack Bauer, for helping fact check this article.