What if I told you there’s a top secret organization of podium finishers across the nation? And that the recent Spartan Super at Fort Carson, had its podium swept by this group? Well, part of that is true. There is a group of athletes training together and hitting podiums left and right. The fib was that it’s not a secret at all!
If you’ve read the Train Like a Pro series, you know Robert Killian is a coach over at a training website called LeaderBoard. If you haven’t read the series, what are you waiting for? Anyway, the great people at LeaderBoard were generous enough to let me get the real-deal experience for myself. In addition to Robert, LeaderBoard has his fellow Spartan Pro Team member, Brakken Kraker, as their other coach. Over the last month, I’ve been working directly with Brakken.
Though Brakken and Robert may be the faces that bring in athletes, there are other members of the team you’ll work with. Taylor McClenny, LeaderBoard’s Founder, ensures that the program maintains course towards its long-term mission. Zac Allen takes on the role of Assistant Coach. He, along with your head coach (Brakken or Robert), are your main points of contact for the program. He’s there to answer any questions you have, keep your race schedule up-to-date, and ensure you’re getting the best training experience possible. Behind the scenes, Lindsey Watts is the Head of Software Development. She takes care of website development and ensures that the fitness programming is always improving.
Taylor and Zac were old MMA training partners, who reconnected after Zac finished filming NBC’s Spartan Race: The Ultimate Team Challenge. After discussing the sport of Obstacle Course Racing and the culture it brings, they knew it was the best entry point for LeaderBoard. The next step was finding a pro Head Coach. The list was short and, after meeting with Brakken, he was clearly the right fit. They officially launched the June 6, 2016 with 15 total athletes. Robert joined the team later that August. Today, LeaderBoard trains 65 athletes and growing.
HOW IT WORKS
LeaderBoard gives athletes a place to work directly with coaches, and other athletes, to better their own fitness. Taylor saw the need for their type of program. “I found it odd that programming, to date, is largely a one-way system,” he said. “It’s rare that these same systems are used as a two-way communication, where the coaches use feedback from their athletes to improve the programming and overall experience. That’s our goal.” I really think this is part of why LeaderBoard has been so successful. They’re able to adjust your program on the fly and provide the right feedback for each athlete.
The program is set up so that athletes can train up to 7 days per week, if needed. After the first few days of training, you’ll have a one-on-one session with your coach. Though it was scheduled for about 20 minutes, my chat with Brakken lasted closer to an hour. I was quickly able to see the amount of detail the coaches get to know about each person. They make it a priority to know the athlete, their PRs (Personal Records), training history and what programming works best for them.
Each day, you’ll log in at www.leaderboardfit.com, check that day’s workout(s), perform the workout, then log your results. The rest is done for you; the workouts, the distances, the paces, everything. As you log each result, your coaches will update future workouts to reflect the best possible training program for you. There have been times when my prescribed distance, or pace for a run has been altered just based on a workout I did that week. Your coaches can also change workouts based on upcoming races, depending on how important that race is to you. The schedule is set up so that you can race pretty much any weekend. But, if there’s a race that you really want to PR, the coaches will make a few tweaks so that you’re fresh come race day.
One of the areas LeaderBoard excels in is communication. In addition to the one-on-one every athlete has with their coach, they also get an invite into a group chat on a messaging program called Slack. This has been one of my favorite parts of LeaderBoard. There are several areas in Slack that I have at my disposal. The first is a group chat with all athletes and coaches on LeaderBoard. The second is a group chat just for Brakken’s athletes, with the third being a private chat set up between myself and my two coaches (Zac and Brakken). Slack allows athletes to discuss that day’s workout, ask questions about workouts, gear, races, etc., get together at common races, and even share lodging for races that are far from home.
Brakken’s athletes also have a Facebook Live event with him every two weeks. He broadcasts from whatever his location happens to be that week, discusses recent races, workouts and benchmarks. We’ll get into benchmarks later!
Each week consists of two full quality workouts, a semi-quality workout, a couple recovery days and a full rest day. Just a heads up, there’s a lot of running! I know this may seem obvious, being an OCR program, but not all of them account for it. One of the first things Brakken and I discussed was how much running I had been doing to that point. We then decided that I should try to run about four days a week, adding in a fifth if I felt good. The rest would be low or non-impact days.
Because I don’t have a lot of soft trails nearby, a few of my longer runs and interval runs were on pavement or a treadmill. About three weeks in, I could feel a slight onset of shin splints. I’ve had issues with them in the past and wanted to avoid them creeping in at all costs. I hopped on Slack, sent a message to Brakken and Zac, and we quickly figured out a plan of attack. They had me back off a day of running, and do what I could to run on soft terrain. The fourth day, when I would normally run, would be a non-impact cardio activity instead. I did this for the next two weeks, as I had a (small) race coming up. Sure enough, it worked. My legs felt fine and I had a great race.
The quality workouts are designed to push you to your limits, but not be too difficult for you to complete. If you can’t complete it, you won’t improve. Some of the quality runs have included Fartlek, 60/60 intervals, progressive tempo, and 5/5 hard/easy intervals, among others. Not all quality workouts are just runs, either. Many include tasks that would simulate something you might see in a race, such as carries, bear walks, burpees or pull ups. On recovery and easy run days, you’ll also have a supplemental workout, which is usually based on your specialization during that time. After you log your workout, your coaches will review it and update your program as needed. Sometimes they’ll even send you an email will feedback about a given workout you logged.
BENCHMARKS AND SPECIALIZATIONS
This is really LeaderBoard’s bread and butter and why I think their athletes see great results. The Benchmarks are specific physical tests that you’ll retake throughout your training. There’s a 5k BM, a Carry BM and a Rig BM. The Carry and Rig are tested each month and generally help you decide your specialization. The specialization pretty much determines what type of supplemental workouts you’ll be doing for the next four weeks. If you just can’t decide, there’s a “Coach’s Suggestion” to help you out!
For the first four weeks, I selected the Carry Specialization, as I didn’t have past BM tests to help me choose. This meant that many of my supplemental workouts involved either a bucket, sandbag or farmer’s carry, sometimes with an exercise circuit thrown in. After the four weeks were up, and it was time to do the Carry BM, I could tell how much I would’ve struggled if I didn’t have those four weeks under my belt. Those who picked the Carry Specialization achieved 15% more improvement on their latest Carry BM than the average. What’s even more impressive is that they also achieved 81% more improvement on their Rig BM than the average.
Next round, I’ll be training with the Rig Specialization. Athletes who had just done this specialization achieved a whopping 114% more improvement on the Rig BM than the average.
I am now the fastest racer alive! Okay, maybe not, but it’s only been a month. There’s only so much I can tell you about my improvement so far, and don’t worry, I’m getting to that. As for athletes who have been using the program for a while, there’s a great deal of standing on podiums going on. At this year’s Spartan Race it Atlanta, GA, LeaderBoard had an athlete win both the Saturday and Sunday race, two who took first and second in Masters both days, plus another that finished fourth. That’s not including the other athletes who finished top 20. Another athlete went from top 90% in his age group to top 10% basically just by having an off-season of LeaderBoard training. As I mentioned before, LB athletes also swept the men’s podium of this past weekend’s Spartan Super at Fort Carson.
As far as my results go, I can sit here and tell you how much faster and stronger I feel (which I do), but you’d have to take me at my word. I appreciate it that some of you probably do, but others may want proof. Luckily, I brought some. First off, I ran my 5k BM about 30-seconds slower than my PR, which I hit in a race at the end of last year. Why is that proof? Over the winter, I was lucky to run twice a week. Some weeks I didn’t run at all. I used it to take some time off from running and build strength. To be this close early in the season means I should have myself a new PR pretty soon.
Not enough proof? Well, when I first spoke with the team at LeaderBoard about taking this little journey, we added in another Benchmark test just for me. There’s a great trail surrounding a nearby ski resort that totals 5.1 miles and about 775 feet of total ascent. A couple weeks before beginning the program, I ran it. A few days ago, I ran it again. Below is the total time, plus splits for each mile. Total ascent during each mile is in parenthesis to account for the variation in splits. The numbers from 7 weeks ago are on the left, with the latest numbers on the right.
Total Time – 1:02:52 vs. 59:09
Mile 1 (256 ft) – 11:32 vs. 11:41
Mile 2 (244 ft) – 13:49 vs. 12:54
Mile 3 (84 ft) – 11:14 vs. 10:42
Mile 4 (89 ft) – 12:23 vs. 11:21
Mile 5 (77 ft) – 12:25 vs. 11:05
There’s still much work and testing to be done, but I’ve learned so much already this past month. I’m very excited to see what the upcoming weeks have in store. Next month, I’ll be posting another update. There will be another month of specialization and another round of Benchmarks. I’ll also be competing in a Savage Race, which I’ll compare to my experience running one last October, before training under LeaderBoard.
For more information and to book a free 7-day trial, visit www.leaderboardfit.com.
Photo Credit: LeaderBoard, Spartan Race
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