A seemingly unknown athlete out of Canada came out of the woodwork on June 20, 2015 to win the BattleFrog Tri-State Xtreme Men’s Race by completing 7 laps of the 8km course. A feat that has only been done once this year at the Miami race on a different format of course and an impressive accomplishment for the new course format in New Jersey. I sat down with John Bartello from Toronto, Ontario to get some insight into his training and race day to help inspire future Xtreme runners.
ORM: What inspired you to run the Xtreme option instead of elite?
John: I’ve been training hard all year for Ultras [any run over the traditional marathon distance]. I ran my first 80km (50 miles) last month and will be running my next 50 miler on July 18. My goal race that I’m preparing for is The North Face 119km Lavaredo Ultra Trail race in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy in June, 2016. Since I also love OCRs, in my crazy world the Xtreme BattleFrog option just sounded like a fun challenge.
ORM: How did you fuel during the race?
John: I cramped during my first Ultra in 2014. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about fueling. I can’t stress how important it is to truly understand what nutrition your body requires over these distances. Everyone is different so the more experience you have the better you will be able to adjust to your particular needs. This time I decided to pack a variety of gels, bars and gummies. Considering how my stomach felt after the race, I’m now thinking that maybe it’s not a good idea to mix and match brands. About 15 minutes before the race I had a gel and put one in my pocket for the first lap. Each time I came through I had a gel/gummy and put another in my pocket for mid lap. I also paused at every aid station on course to have water and electrolytes and had electrolytes with glutamine and plain chips in my drop bag. I started cramping a bit on my second lap, so when I came in again I took magnesium, calcium and had a handful of chips for sodium and potassium.
ORM: Potato Chips?
John: Sheepish Grin. It’s all about the potato chips! But, only plain chips. Potato, vegetable oil and salt is ok for you if your body needs it. Everything else they put on them is not.
ORM: Describe a typical week of training for you.
John: I usually put in 5 to 6 days of training (never 7). If it’s 6, one day is usually active rest, consisting of hot yoga or maybe some light indoor rowing and core. The one thing I do every day is stretch. When I’m not building up for an ultra, I typically run 40-50km/week consisting of one longer run (20+km) and two shorter runs. During non race weeks I train at Alpha Obstacle Training 3 times a week. All the classes are focused on functional strength, but one tends to incorporate some speed work, another more power and the Saturday class a little of both. I also try to hit the gym for a pure weight workout once or twice a week.
ORM: What was the hardest obstacle for you?
John: I was fearing the rope traverse all week before the race and it was just as hard as I thought. This is something I’ll definitely be practicing on whenever I can.
ORM: What was the obstacle you looked forward to the most each lap?
John: I really enjoyed the Platinum Rig. I’ve had the pleasure of trying this obstacle out at Canadian Spartan races. The setup was challenging, but a lot of fun for this race.
ORM: What was your favourite lap and why?
John: It was definitely my 6th. By this time I had the course down pat. Mid course I was told by a member of Alpha that I was in the lead but needed to complete a 7th lap to clinch the win. I knew I had to really push it to get back around if I was going to make it for 7, but I didn’t have to worry about having the entire day ahead of me. It was go time and everything was feeling good!
ORM: You started your 7th lap with 3 minutes to spare. What made you push to finish your 6th lap with such intensity?
John: In February a group of us from Alpha Obstacle Training went down to compete inShale Hill 8 Hour Polar Bear Obstacle Challenge. With time to run another lap, I miscalculated thinking I was firmly in second and decided to stop. By the end I was in 6th and I felt like I quit. That race taught me that you never know what could happen and that you always have to fight right through to the end.
ORM: Describe the feeling when you found out you were in first place after just completing the wreck bag carry on your 7th lap and that you just had to complete the 7th lap?
John: I was just really happy! I never expected to win, but I always come out expecting to work hard and fight right through to the end. I was running well all day and was so happy that I managed to push hard enough to squeeze through for the 7th lap with less than 3 minutes to spare. When it was confirmed that no one else was able to make it through, I had just caught up with my good friend and training partner, Tomasz, who was on his 6th lap. I couldn’t think of a better way to finish an awesome race than to run the last lap with him!
ORM: How would you train differently for this race than you have been?
John: To be honest, I think the combination of my ultra training and workouts at Alpha Obstacle Training have prepared me well for this event. However, there is always room to improve. I know I need to work on the rope traverse, but that also suggests that I should do more work on grip strength. In addition to building my mileage and focusing more on trails, I’m looking at getting a road bike to do some low-impact cross training for training while recovering from running.
ORM: Why would you recommend Xtreme vs. open?
John: I love seeing people of all fitness levels challenge themselves to do something they haven’t done before and didn’t think they could do. While completing a single open lap is a great achievement, I challenge you to keep going. Even if you are new to the sport, I bet you would surprise yourself. The best part of Xtreme is that you have all day. You don’t have to rush, you can come back in, take a rest, have something to eat and then go back out. It’s all about setting your own personal goals and then achieving them. Having the Xtreme band also let me move to the front of obstacles instead of waiting in line!
ORM: How does it feel to hold the course record now for the Xtreme heat? This is the first time since the switch to the 8km course format that 7 laps have been completed for the BFX race. 7 laps was previously reached on the 15K/5K format at the Saturday Miami February, 2015 race.
John: I think I might be feeling a bit of disbelief. I know I’ve been training hard and I pushed the whole race, but I had no idea what to expect. There were definitely some great athletes out there, so just taking the win was a surprise, let alone setting the course record.
ORM: What are you going to do with the paddle?
John: I’m going to use it with my miniature canoe to go portaging…just kidding, bad joke, I know. I’ll probably give it to Alpha Obstacle Training to put in on the wall with the rest of the groups medals and awards.
*Photos By: BattleFrog Race Series