This is the story of my love affair with obstacle racing, and how it all has to come to an end.
It’s pretty obvious that I haven’t posted on obstaclenews.com in a while, nor on YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter. I’ve published a few videos to my personal Facebook page, but all-in-all, ION has taken a big back seat in my life. To be honest, it’s always been a side-hobby, never the full-time job I had envisioned when I started. So what’s the big deal? Why not just keep doing it for fun, on occasion, and not quit all-together? The truth is that I’ve tried that. For the last two years, I’ve cut back on my obstacle races, going from a paltry 6 or so events in 2014, to four last year, and only three in 2016. It’s impossible to report on OCR from the sidelines, and so not showing up to events has caused me to miss out on a lot of what happens in the community. New stars rising, old legends coming back, and countless stories of triumph, pain, losses, and gains, have fueled my FOMO (fear of losing out).
It’s Not You, It’s Me
So, what’s wrong with OCR? Why quit? Actually, there’s nothing wrong with OCR, just me and my relationship to it. In fact, it’s OCR’s addictive nature, and it’s ability to take over every aspect of a person’s life that has caused problems in mine. My Facebook feed is filled with OCR friends, my calendar is filled with OCR events, and my thoughts are constantly drawn to OCR. As a husband and father of three, I can’t be spending hours of my life training, and traveling away to races, when I’m already giving a weekend a month (plus two weeks a year training) to the Air National Guard. Even though many families do OCR together, and my kids have enjoyed the races we’ve done, my family has no real interest in OCR. I’m not about to leave them for OCR, and the constant friction it creates, makes even the slightest hint of it in my life unnecessary.
Once upon a time, I was a triathlete. I had a few age-group podiums in my time, and just like OCR, I was obsessed. Once I started racing, I couldn’t stop. I spent money on gadgets I couldn’t afford, I traveled to far away places, and my wife supported me, but I could always tell it was hurting our relationship. I was being selfish. That was from 2000 to 2004, so when we started having kids, and moved across the country several times, I stopped doing triathlon completely. I got fat next, and in an attempt to get in shape I raced one or two more triathlons in 2007 and 2008. Those went ok, but as a former track sprinter, I decided the problem was endurance sports, not me. Definitely not me and my selfishness. I tried my hand back out on the track, but there are very limited opportunities to race where I live and so when OCR came along in 2010, I followed it from a safe distance, until I finally did my first Warrior Dash in May 2012. I hated it.
For whatever reason that I don’t remember, two things inspired me to start running obstacle races and launch the Inside Obstacle News channel on YouTube. First, was Hobie Call. I’d never heard much about Spartan Race at the time, and I’d been following the rise of Tough Mudder when I met Paul Buijs of MudandAdventure.com, along with the TM Co-Founders in NYC at a talk they were giving about growth marketing for events back in March of 2012. I was focused on my own brand of race called Triple Sprint (a triathlon for sprinters), so I never cared much about TM or Spartan, until I watched a video featuring Hobie’s attempt to win every Spartan Race that year. (This might be the video, but I feel like the one I watched was longer, with interviews of Hobie and Joe DeSena). After watching Hobie dominate, I started paying attention to Spartan more closely; the top athletes, locations, and the Spartan World Championship.
Good Day, EVERYONE!
Simultaneously, I stumbled upon the original Matt B. Davis Runs podcast (Before he created ORM). I don’t remember listening to podcasts prior to 2012, but I drive a lot, and occasional do a long run, so podcasts became my new thing and now I listen to Tim Ferris, Nerdist, Startup, This Week in Startups, and more. At the time, Matt podcasted live on Monday nights and you could write-in questions, while he talked to athletes about that weekend’s race. The other listeners chatted in the side-bar and this is how I became part of the early community of OCR. I’m not an OG, by any stretch, but I soon began friending everyone I could find on Facebook, from Hobie and Matt, to Amelia, Margaret, and the legendary, back tattooed Ray Upshaw. Matt’s podcast gave us play-by-play action from the front lines of races across the country including WTM and the Death Race. At the time, it was one of the only ways to know what was happening on race weekend.
One day, I said to Matt, “You should do your show with video and make it like a real sportscast.” Fortunately for me, he felt like video production would be too work intensive (it was) and he wanted to focus on the podcast because free-form audio interviews suit him better (they do). Since he wasn’t going to do it, I decided there was nothing stopping me from starting a show of my own and Inside Obstacle News (ION) was soon launched in December 2012. At first I focused on Skype interviews with popular athletes and race directors during the “off-season” winter months. The production required little effort, but editing 60 minutes of talking heads, by adding pictures and graphics, down to a 30 minute show became time-consuming. With no races anywhere near me for another four months, it was all I could do, and I cranked out about 10 episodes along with a few training tips I called the “WOD Hacker.” Even back then the show disrupted my family time and soon I was missing bedtimes to interview or edit.
Just a Taste
Remember when I said I hated the Warrior Dash? Well, there’s a real backstory for that and maybe that’s an exaggeration. I was still in my “Prima Donna Triathlete” phase where getting a single pebble in your shoe could ruin an entire race. In May of 2012 I was 230 lbs, under-trained, and just coming off antibiotics for a bronchial infection. The 5k WD course took place on a relatively flat motocross park in Maryland, but it felt like Killington to me at the time. It was miserable. I was dirty, tired, and annoyed by the raucous behavior of some of the other attendees. Triathlons are high-brow events with elitists, wetsuits, fancy bikes, and no medals unless you won your age-group. Warrior Dash volunteers were handing out medals to everyone! Here’s my original review of that race and to be fair I did have fun with my friend, but overall, I was harsh. So, how did I get from hating on Warrior Dash to starting my show about OCR? The community.
As I listened more and more to Matt’s podcasts, read articles on Mud and Adventure, Dirt in Your Skirt, and Mud Run Fun, I started building my connections on Facebook. I joined Facebook groups like All Things Obstacle Racing, Spartan Racers World Wide, and Obstacle Racer. Hearing about everyone’s amazing transformations, and wanting to replicate their successes, I signed up for more races in 2013. I couldn’t wait to meet everyone in real life and so in April 2013 I did the first ever CitiField Spartan Stadium Sprint, where I got to interview and meet OCR legends like Joe DeSena, Joe DiSteffano, Hunter McIntyre, Miguel Medina, Laura Messner, Alex Nicholas, Olaf Dallner, Bob Mulholland, and many more. Getting my face and name out there, people started to recognize me. I published my first race report on YouTube, which is still one of my most viewed videos. Most importantly, I met tons more people to add to my growing OCR Facebook Family, and my love of the sport blossomed.
Through the rest of 2013 I started training more, built an 8ft wall in my yard, raced a local Mud Run called R3-Ops, participated in the ill-fated Superhero Scramble, and traveled to Vermont to report on the Spartan Race World Championship. During each race, I ditched my family for entire weekends, took selfies with all my new family, and never realized that while I was away having fun, my family was suffering. I justified it by saying I was working on changing careers, and I was, but I just didn’t understand the damage that my new obsession was inflicting on them. The Spartan World Championship in 2013 was my best video yet, received my highest views to date, and more importantly, cemented my status as player in the OCR media. While there, I met more legends like Matt “the Bear”, Amelia Boone, and Scott Keneally. I showed up to Killington to report on the Press Conference, the one and only Beast Feast, and the Saturday Pro Race, but also ended up scoring a media pass to run the Sunday Beast. I was totally undertrained and it nearly killed me; Eight hours and twenty some odd minutes later, my body was toast, but I finished. And that’s where a lot of the problems started. After a big race weekend, because of my lack of training, or just the all-out effort, I would come home destroyed and unable to do anything. This would leave my wife alone in keeping the family running, not just for the weekend, but sometimes the entire week after. Where was the sympathy? I was in pain! Didn’t they understand how hard the race was and what an amazing accomplishment finishing had been? I didn’t get it at the time, but it was all selfishness.
Further Up and Further In
My season ended in October that year, since I was unable to attend World’s Toughest Mudder, but my presence at the Vermont race and my resulting video were well received, so I starting planning on making ION even bigger. In 2014, I returned to CitiField, finished Wintergreen, and completed the Killington Beast again to get my Spartan Trifecta. My friend Brad Fredricks encouraged and inspired me to make ION great, and become the media face of OCR. One of the coolest things I got to do that year was Hobie’s Extreme Nation Race in Florida. I spent money I didn’t have to fly down and report on the race. Besides the spectator-friendly format allowing me to record the race from start to finish, I got to run the short course with Matty B. in the first and only ever “Media Heat” (for the record I won, but Matt is a better runner than me).
One of the best parts of the weekend was hanging out with a little known racer who had just won WTM and the Winter Death race. Matt B. told me these two Canadian dudes needed a ride to the Airport in Tampa, tomorrow. Since I was staying in Orlando and my flight wasn’t for two more days, I agreed. I got to spend an entire day, just driving around Tampa with Ryan Atkins and his friend Kelsey. He’s the real deal; super humble, and very polite. We ate pizza, watched Kevin Hart in The Ride Along, and got Starbucks. Afterward, they asked me to drop them off on a random street corner in Tampa. They were going to hike around all night, and then walk to the Airport for their 5am flight. Makes perfect sense if you don’t want to get a hotel room and you’re pretty used to hiking miles on end in the dark. Any Death Racer could agree. Normal mortals? Not so much.
Shortly after that expensive trip to Florida I lost my job. I was working two part-time jobs, so I still had one job at least, right? Two months later I lost the second job. I immediately started scrambling to land something in the OCR industry, but I could only pull in some freelance work. Luckily, I found a new part-time job soon, and the freelance work was keeping my family afloat. I worked with Mike Nusbaum (J-Chip) at the CMC Race in Amesbury doing interviews and videos. I did marketing for Spartan Race and one of the freelance jobs I landed was shooting finish-line interviews for a new company called BattleFrog. The only race I worked for them was the Mines and Meadows event in Pittsburgh. We swam in a subterranean lake and shot glow-in-the-dark paintballs! It was epic. They never used any of my footage, but maybe I’ll show it someday for posterity. I became friends with awesome people like Coach Pain, Corinna Coffin, and Chris Accord. Even though I lost a lot of income that year, I was happy. Unfortunately I didn’t notice that my family was suffering even more as the traveling intensified.
A Big Year
In 2015 I spent a month in Germany at a Startup Accelerator working on my app called Ocutrack. I focused everything into that app, and tried desperately to forget about OCR completely. Ocutrack never got off the ground, but in the last week we traveled to London, where I pitched for investors, and coincidentally got invited to run one of the most harrowed races in all of the UK: The Winter Nuts Challenge (100 obstacles in just 4 miles of the muddiest terrain I’ve ever experienced). While in London I spent time with the Mudstacle crew (Pete Rees, Tom Nash, David Hellard, and more) and stayed with famous obstacle racer and globe-trotting photographer James Appleton. I’ll never forget that experience, but again, it was more time away from my family…. more selfishness. While I quandaried my existential search for purpose in a foreign land, my wife was back home, making lunches, cleaning up barf, and shoveling snow. When I returned, things were even more stressed, and I hadn’t gotten anywhere further in my career. After that, I promised I would race less, be home more, and try to be more present. My promises turned out to be empty.
2015: The Year of High Performance
When I first got the pictures back from the Nuts Challenge, it destroyed me. Over the last five years I had let myself go and now it was obvious: I was fat again. Not just dad-bod chubby, but seriously fat. I had to make a change and despite my promises not to race, I used the idea of getting in shape/losing weight, as an excuse to race again. This time though, I would get fit and race fast, but race less. I promised my family that if I could just qualify for the OCR World Championship, I would be done racing after that. No WTM. No Spartan World Championship. Just one or two races to qualify, then OCR Worlds. And for a time, it worked. At least I met my own selfish goals. Lose 25 pounds? Check. Qualify for OCR Worlds? Check. Start a Sports Agency with Brad finding sponsorships for OCR athletes? Check. Spend more time with my family? (Crickets). I might have put less time into ION, but I ended up spending more time on myself doing long runs, and hitting the gym. Hell Yeah! I looked and felt great! What could go wrong?
OCR World Championships 2015 was like nothing I had ever experienced before. All my best OCR friends were there. I made new friends and met one of my reality heroes Evan “the Rocket” Dollard. I worked with Mud Run Guide as part of a media team that covered everything! The brutal course nearly destroyed me, but I kept my band! Everything about the event was magic; from covering it as a reporter, to experiencing it as an age-group racer, and the feeling of belonging to a bigger, international community of racers. The pièce de résistance came unexpectedly on Sunday afternoon. The team race was over, most everyone had gone home, and the weather was perfect. About 20 of us sat around the tables and campfires, drinking the last of the Yuengling, and philosophising about the future of OCR. Margaret Schlachter mentioned her beer mile time. Some chaps from the UK said they could beat it. I said, “We are definitely doing a beer mile right now.” Garfield Griffiths and Chris Accord put on their RD caps and marked out 400 meters. Sandra Pelletier Sawyer started pouring beers. After working out the rules and organizing all the runners in the corral, the First Annual Unofficial OCRWC Beer Mile was underway and it was glorious! Despite my legs being completely thrashed from Saturday’s 10 mile course, I finished strong, not in last place, and held down all my beer.
Not to let the fun die out, UK racer Ross McDonald stripped to his underwear and marched up the hill next to the 300 ft. slip and slide. The dry slide quickly thwarted his efforts, but when Garfield tripped into the pump that sends the water up the hill, it surprisingly and by total accident, turned on and started sending water down the slide again. I followed shortly thereafter, and then it was on! Soon the Canadians and Aussies were also launching themselves, mostly naked, down the slide into the splash pool below. The most fun I’ve had at any race, ever, period. The fun didn’t stop there. We snagged a DD and jumped into a rented SUV, grabbed dinner, then went on a mission to find more drinks to take back to the UK hotel for some fun by the pool. I crashed with the UK guys that night and when they finally dropped me off at my car at the race venue early Monday morning, we were bros for life. I went to a very conservative Christian college with a dry campus, so at 37, I felt like I was re-living my youth, and even besting it with alcohol fueled fun that I had never experienced in my twenties. The problem was, I’m not 21 anymore, and I have a family at home who needs me. Time to grow up.
Facing the Music
I made the seven hour drive home, and arrived to a ticker tape parade, balloons, everyone gawking at my Finisher T-shirt, and drooling over my kept band. Can you sense the sarcasm? In fact, I got the same old cold shoulder I got after every long weekend away, and no one really cared about my accomplishment. Why should they? They weren’t sharing in my fun, only being abandoned, during the very busy school/soccer/ballet season. Not to mention that I was so wrecked that I could barely walk for a week. Why can’t they just support me in my endeavors to bring myself more fun and pleasure? Why could something so awesome, be bringing my family to the brink of collapse? I vowed to quit.
Still Lying to Myself
I didn’t quit. In December that year, I spent a week in Austin, TX at the The Running Event which featured a Spartan Indoor Short Course and Joe DeSena even gave a talk to the road running community on the unprecedented growth of OCR. Every big name running retail/footwear/apparel company in the world was there and so I went with a media pass, a free place to stay (Thanks Jenn and Adam!), and a goal to try finding sponsors for some of my OCR friends (remember that Sports Agency?). I made great connections, had great conversations, and returned with enough free swag to almost cover my airport parking fee. Still, my family needed me and I was gone.
As the 2016 season approached and the OCRWC moved to Toronto, the OCR temptress sucked me back in. My family would just have to deal with the consequences, because I wasn’t missing out on all the fun I had in 2015. I had scored free tickets to a few Spartan races and new shoes in Austin, so I planned out my season. To score points with my family, I brought the whole clan to CitiField and the kids even ran in the kid’s race. They had a blast, but it was just a cover. My true intention was to qualify for OCRWC and maybe see some of my big important OCR family. I missed qualifying by just two places, so I had to race at least one more race, plus OCRWC at the end of the year. Even though I hadn’t posted anything to obstaclenews.com in months I used my media influence to get a last-minute entry to a Savage Race in May. With a determination to qualify in my Age Group and beat Mike Natale, I left my family in PA and set off to Maryland to get Savage. I placed fifth, and started planning my trip to Canada.
A Glimmer of Hope
In June 2016 my wife and I celebrated our 15th Anniversary by taking a second honeymoon in Jamaica and it was amazing. We reconnected in awesome ways. We recharged our batteries. Then in July I shipped out to Kentucky on a humanitarian mission with the Air National Guard for two weeks. It was brutal, but I was serving my country, and my family understood. I didn’t race a single other OCR over the summer or into the early fall, so when OCRWC came around in mid-October, I thought I had a free pass. The event was cool, the venue beautiful, and bringing my best friend Dave to help me run the team event, made the whole experience new. However, it wasn’t a repeat of the 2015 event. The venue was a little more upscale, the athletes were a little more serious, the wrist-bands given away a little too freely, and the lack of freezing water made the whole course a little less epic. The parties were a little less raucous. The big name friends I normally hung out with were pulled in a few too many other directions. I came away from the whole thing a little flat, and my friend reminded me that the experience I had last year was lightning in a bottle: unique and special, never to be duplicated again.
The Hard Truth
That’s when I realized that the unique experiences I was chasing at OCR events were not real. My Facebook OCR friends, even the ones I’ve met in real life, as awesome as they are as people, mostly aren’t real friends. Granted, there are some (and you know who you are) that are real. If I have your real phone number, and you would pick up when I call, then you are a real friend. If we are connected, but we have never talked on PM or IRL, then we are not truly friends. I will be removing you from my Facebook friends list because it no longer works for me to have my fingers in both pies. It might work for lots of people, but I must stop lying to myself about OCR. It is an addiction for me, and a cruel mistress. Every time I go away to race it’s like I’m cheating on my family, and that’s no longer okay with me. It was never okay with them. I’m not judging you or your life. Everyone has a different Work-Life-OCR balance that they must find for themselves. For me, coming home from OCRWC 2016, I finally saw my mistress for who she was, and what it was doing to my family.
That is why I’m breaking up with OCR. I reached a lot of the goals that I wanted to reach, but it’s doing more harm than good in my life, and so I’m quitting today, for good. If you’ve read this far down, then either OCR is probably something important in your life or you are a close friend of mine. You are wondering what the hell I’m doing and why I’m busting on OCR. If you love OCR, I’m not here to judge you. Are you single, with a flexible job that doesn’t require a lot of intense labor on a Monday? Then the OCR life is probably great for you. If you are married and your spouse loves OCR too, that’s even more awesome! I know tons of great OCR couples that get muddy together, stay fit, and even some who get their kids involved too. Unfortunately, I also know families that have been destroyed by OCR, because it wasn’t about the fitness, the community, or the time away. Those things strain any family dynamic, regardless of the situation, but a strong, well prioritized family survives. It comes down to priorities and focus. If you put OCR before your family, you will lose them.
Take a good hard look at your life; who you are and where you want to be. Ask yourself these questions: Is OCR hurting my relationships? Is it hurting other areas of my life (career, finances, time, etc.)? Is there any other way for me to stay fit that will not negatively impact others? If the answer to these question is “Yes”, then OCR may not be for you. The medals, T-shirts, and Facebook photos will all go away and be forgotten. OCR can’t take care of you when you’re alone, old, dying, and sick, but the people in our lives, real people, are the only thing that can last a lifetime. Don’t alienate them. There is meaning and goodness and community in OCR. There is strength, inspiration, and transformation too. My friend Scott Kineally’s documentary Rise of the Sufferfests captured this beautifully (Go watch it, it’s amazing!). It helped answer the question, “Why do we pay for pain?” and everyone has their own answer. When I answered my “Why” it was just no longer enough for me to keep going, and that’s why I’m breaking up with obstacle racing.
There are currently some plans to save select articles and redirect obstaclenews.com here to ORM, but the youtube, twitter, and istagram channels will stay up even if I never post to them again.