DekaStrong Hosted by Underlying Strength (PA)

Sometimes, a competition is more than just an event. 

More than just a time on a stopwatch. 

More than just a challenge of fitness. 

After almost a full year of cancelled races and virtual challenges, being able to compete in-person is a gift. It’s that void you’ve been feeling ever since the last time you went head-to-head with someone who wasn’t on a computer. DekaStrong offered a chance to fill that void this March with a gym-hosted event in Yardley, Pennsylvania.

DekaStrong-Yardley-Row

Deka What? 

Underlying Strength, which opened at the end of 2016, had the opportunity to host one of DekaStrong’s first ever events. DekaStrong consists of ten fitness stations with no running in between. Deka, an affiliate of Spartan Race, also offers the DekaFit and DekaMile, both of which include a specified running distance between stations. DekaMile and DekaStrong share the same stations. DekaFit has mostly the same, with a couple that are slightly different.

 

DekaStrong Stations (Men’s Weight/Women’s Weight):

  1. 30 x Spartan RAM Alternating Reverse Lunges (55/33)
  2. 500m Row
  3. 20 x Box Jump Over/Step Over (24” for both)
  4. 25 x Medicine Ball Sit-Up (20/14)
  5. 500m SkiErg
  6. 100m Farmer’s Carry (60/40)
  7. 25-Calorie Assault Bike
  8. 20 x Dead Ball Shoulder Overs (60/40)
  9. 100m Tank Push/Pull
  10. 20 x Spartan RAM Burpees (44/22)

DekaStrong-Yardley-Farmer-Carry

Just How Tough Is It? 

If you want the short answer, DekaStrong is a kick in the ass. If you don’t at least have some familiarity with the stations, you’ll probably struggle. Unless, of course, you’re already a really well-rounded athlete. 

 

The best way to help you prepare is with a lot of metabolic conditioning and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). Even with those, however, you’ll still want to at least have a few runs with each exercise required. 

 

Obviously, some of the stations are harder to train for than others. Not everyone has access to the necessary equipment to specifically train for DekaStrong. That’s what makes Deka-Affiliated gyms, like Underlying Strength, an extremely useful training tool. You can get somewhat ready with a lot of equipment that a normal gym has. But to really prepare, and ultimately succeed, finding an affiliate would be a tremendous advantage. 

DekaStrong-Yardley-Assault-Bike

What To Expect

If you’re familiar with Spartan Races, you might be expecting a lot of the same at a Deka event. Gym-hosted DekaStrong events, however, are different from what you’d find at a Spartan Race in many ways. 

 

First, there is no chip-timing. Not really a huge deal since you have a volunteer that stays with you throughout each station to count your reps and keep your overall time. It doesn’t exactly make you a CrossFit Games athlete, but you may feel like one. Although, since all heats are open at the gym-hosted events, there aren’t any awards. 

 

Next up, the swag. The DekaStrong shirts are 100% cotton, unlike most Spartan finisher shirts, which are polyester or at least a combination of the two. There’s also no finisher medal, but you do receive a wedge piece. 

DekaStrong-Yardley-Medicine-Ball

One of the bigger differences from a normal Spartan event is really the photos. This may not be the case at every single Deka event, but at least the gym-hosted events don’t include free photos. Luckily, Underlying Strength organized and funded photos and videos for the event. Photos became available for purchase a few days after the event. 

 

DekaStrong is really a photo-friendly type of event because of the stations, so hopefully Deka makes the decision to fund them in the future. It’s worth noting that the local companies Underlying Strength used for photography (Wanderlove/Yardley) and videography (5Cents Media/Philadelphia) did an absolutely fantastic job. 

 

One of the biggest benefits to a DekaStrong gym-hosted event is the price tag. Most Spartan races are at least $100, if not more. DekaStrong is a very financially friendly option at $39.99. Which more than likely explains some of the areas where you’re not getting the same type of take home swag with each registration. Overall, for the amount of money spent, it’s completely worth pushing yourself to see just how fast you can complete the event. 

DekaStrong-Yardley-RAM-Burpee

How’d They Do?

Considering everything that continues to go on with the global pandemic, Underlying Strength did a phenomenal job hosting its first event. Because of COVID restrictions, they did have limited wave sizes, but sold out with a total of 64 registrants. Gym owner and certified fitness trainer, Sid Turner, said that was more than they expected when they scheduled the event. 

 

We are still down about 25%. With more people choosing to workout at home, the fitness industry has definitely taken a shift,” he explained. “However, events like Deka create an energy that no at home workout will ever be able to replicate. With that being said, Things will shift back, we just have to keep bringing the noise!”

 

If you missed out on this event, Underlying Strength intends to host many more events to come during the Spring, Summer and Fall seasons. There’s even a DekaMile already on their schedule for this May. 

 

Because it’s a smaller facility, and some of the stations need to be outdoors, there won’t be any competitions in the colder months. But you can still train there to get yourself ready for the next event. 

 

If you’re nowhere near Yardley, just mask up and hop on a plane. Or, you can check out Deka’s website for all event dates and locations. 

Deka-Strong-Yardley-Tank

Photo Credit: Wanderlove (@discoverwanderlove)

 

Video coverage of last year’s DekaFit Jacksonville, Florida

 

SoCal Spartan: Surprises for 2019

It’s the first Spartan race of the year and there are a lot of exciting new obstacles, as well as the 2019 medals and shirts. Oh yes…..and make sure to read to end because I’ll share a surprise announcement that I love love love!

NEW HEADBANDS:
It’s Saturday, January 26. I’m so excited to get to the first race of the year in Southern California. The venue is Prada Regional Park in Chino. It’s sunny but very windy, similar to last year. The course is relatively flat and open, with really beautiful territorial views. I picked up my packet and the first change for 2019 is right inside. Elite and Age group racers will now wear a red headband instead of a wrist band. I love the idea of one less thing to wear on my wrist.

NEW OBSTACLES:
Once we got underway we came across familiar obstacles such as the Overwalls, 6′ and 7′ walls, and Bender. Then we made it to the new obstacles. One of the most challenging for me was Beater. There are three sections before you hit the bell. Each section contains a rotating spindle with four bars attached and a fixed bar in between that is placed quite high. Momentum is extremely helpful in completing this obstacle. I did see one person skip the top fixed bars completely by swinging and catching the next rotating section….very impressive!

Next, was Olympus with a twist! They added balls to the chains (that’s exactly what I thought when I approached it….the ole ball and chain). I thought the balls would make it harder so I didn’t use them and ended up falling off. Burpee time. After the race, I talked with several people who used them and they said it was easier for them. I’m definitely trying them next time.

The 8-foot box may be a replacement for the 8-foot wall, but I haven’t confirmed that. This one is going to take some figuring out for me. I did see a few people get up and over by running and scurrying up to the top, but there were also several people in the burpee pit, including me. One person had success by using two ropes and catching their heel at the top. Something that adds a little more difficulty, is it doesn’t have a hold at the top like a regular wall. There is a metal bar that sits back several inches but you are practically up there by the time you can grab it and it definitely makes it a challenge!

Now this one is for me! I’m a shorty, so I was very excited to see the tubes. I was able to bear crawl through them quickly. These aren’t meant to be difficult, but to slow you down. Finding the quickest way through is key.

Helix has been one of the most talked about new obstacles on social media. I was nervous about this one and didn’t know what to expect but, with patience and careful foot placement, I made it across just fine and really enjoyed it. You can’t touch the top or place your feet on the ground but you can hold the sides or anything in between. There are bars that go across as well as up and down; however, there are plexiglass panes in some of the sections which prevent you from getting a good foothold or handhold.

The last change was the spear throw. Instead of hay bales, they have what appears to be styrofoam bodies. They seemed to be holding up well and the view was spectacular with the lake in the background. The wind had really picked up but it was behind us here which I was very thankful for.

NOT NEW BUT EPIC:
I had to add the mud mounds because they were the tallest ones I’ve seen. They were definitely a challenge, but so much fun. Several of us would get halfway up and slide back down, over and over. Finally made it, but that was one doozie of a mud mound/dunk wall. I will have to say there was a semi-new part to it. The actual dunk wall was inflated instead of wood. It’s wider on the bottom so you have to push through a little more, but nothing too different.

SPECIAL MENTION:
One last bit of obstacle information regards the atlas ball. I wasn’t sure if I was tired or the ball got heavier, but the staff member on site said it is definitely heavier this year. No confirmation of the weight but I could feel the difference. Time to go to the beach and start picking up rocks.

NEW SHIRTS AND MEDALS:
The shirts and medals are similar to last year but have some changes that make them unique to 2019. The medals have color sections which indicate the type of race such as Sprint, Super, or Beast. The shirts are made from the same technical material but the wording is laid out differently and the sponsor, Rakuten, is displayed.

SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT?????:
I mentioned at the beginning there was one super cool new item I would share. I’m so excited about this one ***drum roll***

There are now porta-potties at the water stations! Hallelujah!!! It’s always been a fine line between staying hydrated and being able to burn off the water intake during the race. This is a very very welcome addition. Thank you, Spartan for hearing and delivering!!!

Hope you enjoyed the preview of what the year has in store. Have a great race season everyone and let me know what you think about the new obstacles. 365 new days…..365 new opportunities to shine! Go get it!

Photo Credit: Rage Strader, Kim Collings

Slippery In Chicago Spartan Super U.S Championship Series

“You’ll know at the finish line” is the famous motto of the Spartan Race. But, if you ran the Chicago Super you probably knew by the time you reached the parking lot at The Richmond Hunt Club.  The rain had hammered the area the previous week and since this race was part of the US Championship Series most racers were super curious about the course conditions.

Well, thanks in part to my 4×4 Jeep I could park on site and from the moment I stepped out of my vehicle and sank into 4 inches of mud I knew this was going to be a long day. Grabbing my ID and picking my way through the slop to the festival area I made my usual pit stop at the restrooms. Upon opening the door, I found that I really couldn’t distinguish where the muck stopped, and the actual toilet started due to the high levels of mud. Although after finding the seat I realized this may have been the only dry spot to sit on the entire property. I’ve raced from coast to coast for many years and this may have been the worst slop that I had ever encountered. If ankle-deep muck was the only thing to walk through from my Jeep clear to the start line what was the rest of the course going to be like? One word, Nasty.

Spartan started the 8.1-mile Super at the far end of the festival area and immediately threw athletes along a trail on the edge of a cornfield which made racers shoes feel more like concrete blocks. The small streams along the trail were swollen with water due to the storms but provided a small opportunity to rinse off some of the built-up muck.

A series of low walls were placed in this location to thin out the crowd a bit before testing racers grip strength on the Monkey Bars. A short distance away the inverted wall was set-up leading to the Herc Hoist. The ropes on the hoist had already become slick with mud by the time I got there making this obstacle much tougher than usual. Hands still slick from the constant slop made Twister an adventure as the burpee zones were so packed with people that racers just started doing burpees wherever they could find a spot. The bucket brigade, which was next up, was relatively short thankfully but the Atlas Stone carry a bit further down the line was brutal as each stone had a coating of thick mud around it making even the strongest competitor dig deep.

The Rolling mud and dunk wall were next up combined with the first of two barbed wire crawls. My initial thought upon seeing this was “Why do we need more water with a dunk wall”? You really noticed the stench of the standing water as you made your way under the barbed wire. And just to be cruel, after getting finished with the crawl which left you caked with mud Spartan threw the Z wall at you.

There is nothing worse than a slick Z wall, all obstacles were made much worse as you never really had a chance to get your hands dry during the race. Now approaching the halfway point of the race, the effects of the sloppy conditions could clearly be felt as athletes were struggling with obstacles that normally didn’t slow down most competitive racers.

I noticed that at the 8-foot wall, which was the next obstacle on the course, there were way more people doing burpees than I’ve ever seen. The bender followed up the wall climb, and this obstacle was a new one to me. This new obstacle consisted of a series of ascending vertical pipes starting about 7 feet off the ground with bars placed about every 2 feet apart. The structure curved back towards an athlete and reminded me a bit of the Battlefrog delta ladder.

The race was now at its furthest point from the festival area and the trail meandered through a section of the property used for paintball games. Along this stretch, Spartan placed their second barbed wire crawl along with their vertical cargo net climb before sending racers back to running alongside the rows of corn.

The Stairway to Sparta and a series of hurdles were the next obstacles athletes encountered on the trail leading to a hay bale wall. Just let me say right now that mud and hay stick to you like nothing else! I mean, don’t some sections of the world use mud and hay to built houses? And what better obstacle to try to traverse while carrying a house on you than Olympus right? As an added bonus, if you failed on Olympus the burpee pit was in a solid foot of muck. These were the worst burpees I’ve ever done in my life as you brought up 15 pounds of mud with each repetition.

The plate drag and rope climb? These two tasks were next up and close to impossible to complete. Dragging that sled through the thick mud? Yeah right. Climbing a rope slick with mud? Welcome to the burpee train. Now the sandbag carry only consisted of a single bag, and the distance of the carry wasn’t that far, but it kind of felt like trying to ice skate with a small child on your back.

The last section of the course led back towards the festival area where family and friends could easily see you miss your spear throw and roll around in more soup doing your burpees. If you happened to get lucky and hit the spear, then your hands were still dry! Until you ran around the corner and found the Yokohama tires sitting in the same shit you’ve been battling all day.

Those tires were already tough to get a grip on without trying to flip them in a batch of Montezuma’s Revenge. The burpee pit for that? Yup, more slop.

By this time, you could see the finish line and I’m guessing most people were thinking the same thing I was. Please, don’t let me fail another obstacle and have to burpee in more mud. Luckily the A-frame cargo was next up, no failing this! Then the slip wall. Not a problem, I might finish strong here. Only one last obstacle before the fire jump, the multi-rig. The rig set-up for this event wasn’t the worst ever. Three rings on each side separated by a vertical pipe traverse. But like all the rest of the obstacles on this course, this one too was slippery with farm mud.

So, unless you had the grip strength of Thor or the running ability of Mercury this event was pretty much an unending burpee train.  My final thoughts on this event are as follows. With good weather conditions this course would not have been terrible, maybe not even U.S. Championship Series worthy as the obstacles were what you expected, the track was flat, and the distance wasn’t overwhelming.  But the massive amount of rain turned this race into a brutal suckfest that was worthy of a Championship race.

Spartan Super Austin: A Sticker filled Rocky Good Time

 Super Good Time

The Spartan Super Austin took place on May 19th, 2018.  While Sprint competitors would sadly be forced to experience a literal storm on the following Sunday, participants for the Super were able to experience a perfect storm of a much different type.  From time to time venues are not utilized to their utmost potential.  Spartan did not disappoint this year by creating a near perfect blend of sights, obstacles, and terrain.

Super Venue:

On Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, Texas much more than the expected elevation can be found.  With beautiful Rocky hills scattered all about the ranch offered up nearly 1,300 feet of elevation gain throughout the race.  All the while beautiful views were a sight to behold both on and off course.  Terrain for this quintessential Texas venue ranged from sand to rocks to the occasional push through scrubby barb covered bushes.

Every step didn’t feel like “well this is a neat little trail” but more like “wow what a unique adventure.”  This is exactly what a racer should feel at such a destination venue.  Spartan showed that they knew how to utilize the beauty, size, and challenge of the Ranch to their utmost advantage.  Allowing their racers to truly soak in where they were will ensure return competitors next year.

Reveille Ranch

The Super Course:

Spartan had a lot of land to utilize to their advantage for this course and boy did they make the most of it.  Starting the course with a few walls as a warm-up we moved into one prickly barbed wire crawl. The elite males went over batches of thorns, stickers, and fire ants.  It wasn’t a long barbed wire crawl, but man was it tough.  I heard later that for elite women it wasn’t bad, and experienced a smooth ride during my second run of an open wave. All I can say is you are welcome for the elite men being so gracious as to use their bodies as pin cushions.  Check the arms and back of anyone who got there first and what they went through was pretty clear.

Bucket Brigade, Bender, Stairway to Sparta, the sandbag carry and many other favorites were spread out over the next few miles.  The expanses of running and climbing over rocky terrain and dirt trails between obstacles were nearly perfect.  Hitting these few simpler obstacles and wearing racers down with hills led to the first big challenge: Twister.  By this point, the dry Texas heat had begun to get to many.  Spartan did a superb job ensuring no one became dehydrated (unless by choice) offering up eight water stations (one for each mile.)  After twister came a great downhill portion that allowed runners to open up.

This then led into a nice little pick your poison culvert crawl in which competitors could choose a route, but it was hard to tell which was easiest.  After we made the culvert crawls we completed some actual climbing using both arms and legs.  This was a welcome challenge.

More obstacles and water crossings were spread out perfectly over more wicked, fun terrain.  Spartan had a great finishing portion for both racers and spectators.  After mud mounds, a dunk wall, slip wall, A-frame and cargo net competitors had one more good climb to the spectator area.  With the finish line in sight, success seemed so close, but at the same time could be so far away.  After jumping a trio of four-foot walls, competitors still stared down a wicked grip gauntlet that could cost them lots of burpees.  No one wants to wuss out on burpees in front of thousands of spectators and fellow competitors.

The first monster ready to take out your grip and shoulder strength was the Herc Hoist.  The multi-rig and Olympus followed.  This created not only one of the more challenging final portions I’ve personally experienced at the end of a Spartan (or any) race but created a great atmosphere for the festival.  Sometimes, finish lines can feel like a place where we are all just waiting for people to come in.  This felt less like a waiting area and more like a sporting event.  The goal of making OCR a legitimate respected sport needs finishes like this.  They rile the spectators.  You can only see someone go through a rig so many times.  However, the announcer and DJ did a GREAT job of keeping both the racers and crowd involved and fired up.

The festival:

The announcer and DJ did a great job of keeping a good vibe going throughout each wave.  Everyone seemed to be having fun and had a few reasons to stick around even after completing their run.  With conveniently located booths, Amstel light, and festival contests to compete in it wasn’t just a race but was an experience. I’ve personally seen Spartan drop the ball here before, so it was nice to see them creating the experience I know they are capable of.

Final Words

All in all, this was probably THE BEST Spartan race I have ever run.  With beautiful sights aplenty, great challenge, superb course design, and a great experience this event reminded me why Spartan was one of my first OCRs.  I will definitely be back. I would certainly recommend this to any Spartan to add to their race calendar next year.

The obstacle variety was great and everything seemed to click for Spartan Super in Austin.  I hope they continue to put this much effort into venues and bring a great experience to Texas for Dallas as well.  When you take it for what it is.  You accept Spartan for what they are and what they are about.  There isn’t much improvement they could have made.  Directors could innovate obstacles a bit more.  However, I think that fine-tuning of obstacles like Twister and Olympus have helped improve the experience.  Grading it for what it is and at what Spartan does (rather than in comparison to other events) I give this race 5 AROOS out of 5.

Spartan Race Announces 2018 Global Championship Series

While the eyes of the OCR world were focused on the Blue Mountains in Ontario this past weekend for the OCR World Championships, Spartan quietly teased us with details of a possible global competition on their Instagram account.

History will be made. Will you be a part of it? ? #spartanrace

A post shared by Spartan Race (@spartanrace) on

This morning, Spartan Race revealed the 2018 Spartan Race Global Championship. A worldwide competition, leading up to the Spartan Race World Championship in October of 2018. The Championship field will need to battle through one of 15 different National Series events in countries such as the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Northeast Asia, and more. The top finishers in the National Series will be invited to compete in one of five (5) Regional Championships –  North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, South America, and the Middle East. The best of the best will then go on to compete in Spartan Race’s World Championship in October, next year.

Qualifications:

  • Regional Championships: Men and women must finish top 10 in any regular season or National Championship Series event in their respective category
  • World Championship: Men and Women must finish top 10 in a National Championship Series event or a Regional Championship in their respective category

Race formats, dates, and locations will be announced at a later date.

The Global Championship Series also offers open-heat competitors the opportunity to race on the same grounds as
some of the best athletes in the world, along with limited edition medals and shirts.

With Spartan Race’s reach rapidly expanding across the globe, this move will put the top athletes from across the world against each other, for OCR enthusiasts to watch live – it’s a Spartan Race fans dream come true.

Rea Kolbl – Second Chance Athlete

Rea-Kolbl-warming-up-before-Palmerton-superI was lucky to be featured on the Palmerton Spartan Race episode the other day, and I got a chance to share my story of how I got to where I am now. In case you missed it, here’s the short version.

I grew up doing sports, and I was on the Slovenian National Gymnastics Team for almost 10 years. Gymnastics was my life, and I didn’t quite realize just how dangerous having just one big dream could be until I lost it; and with it, losing all of my dreams of being an athlete.

It took me a while, but I did find a new life; one where sports were a side thing, a hobby I did on most days, but taking a day off was perfectly fine, too, if there were other things that got in the way. I lost my fitness, and if someone invited me to climb a mountain I’d have to first consider if I was physically capable of the challenge.

Rea-Kolbl-Double-sandbag-at-Palmerton-Super

And then one day, I signed up for a Spartan Race. There are so many commercials and ads out there, advertising how Spartan changes lives. And really, if you pick any sport or activity, chances are there’s someone saying the same thing. But what I think makes Spartan different, is that it really does change lives (and here I’m mostly talking about Spartan and not obstacle racing, in general, because in my short career so far I haven’t had much chance to branch out and try other events).

After Palmerton episode aired, so many people reached out to me, sharing their stories which were so similar to my own. It’s a beautiful thing, realizing you’re not alone and that your experience is not so different from so many others out there. They shared their stories of injuries that ended their athletic careers when they were young; stories of being forced out of the sports, for one reason or another, thinking that that was the end of the road. But then they found Spartan. And a chance to be athletes again.

Rea-Kolbl-fire-jump-at-Palmerton-Super

So what I realized is that Spartan Races are giving so many people their second chance at what they loved when they were younger. It’s like a second chance sport, and it’s beautiful and amazing how much happiness this can bring. What makes OCR unique is the broad skill set it requires. You need to be fast to run the course; you need to be agile to cross the obstacles; you need to be strong to complete the heavy carries.

And I bet that no matter the sport you did as a child (or young adult), it probably covered at least some aspect that is very important for obstacle racing. It equipped you with a part of a skill set that makes you good at this, and that makes you want to try again, train harder, finish faster, and do it better. And it ultimately makes you stick with it.

There’s also this element of learning on the go that’s unlike any other sport. You don’t know the obstacles on the course ahead of time, and even if you do they might change a little, and you have to figure out how to tackle them. And this need to overcome the unknown fosters the community. There were so many races where I’ve made long-lasting friends from discussing obstacle strategies or trying to develop one together. I did a lot of trail running races before falling in love with Spartan and, while there were definitely chats at the finish line, these were more of a polite small talk. Because everyone there knows how to run, there is no point in discussing with fellow runners how to tackle the trail, how to put one foot in front of another.

Matching-tops-at-Palmerton-Super-Start

In gymnastics, the routines were so polished by the time you performed them and so individual, there was no need to chat about strategies with your competitors. But that’s different in obstacle course racing. There’s always something new to learn, and every race is a chance to improve. More importantly, it’s also a chance to make more friends.

So, people stick with it. The first time I came for the race, but then I kept coming back for the people. Spartan gave me and so many others a chance to find another passion, another focus, a sport to stick with both for the sport and the people in it.

The other day I was thinking that Spartan races are a lot like kindergarten. You play in the mud, swing on monkey bars, and you make friends. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why obstacle course racing can bring back the childhood dreams, and make you an athlete again.

Lindsay-Webster-embraces-Rea-Kolbl-at-the-Palmerton-Super-finish

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

Want to train like Rea? Check out one of her favorite workouts on ORM’s Train Like a Pro series.