OCR Transformations-Bill Pollackov

ORM presents the series of stories on OCR Transformations. Runners and athletes whose mind body, and spirit have been altered through obstacle racing.

When Bill was young, really for as long as he can remember, he was always a competitive athlete. From swimming to football and wrestling, Bill seemed to always be either practicing or competing. When he got to college, he joined the fire service and served as a firefighter/EMT for 9 years. Food was his escape. Anytime something was stressful, going wrong, or even good, eating helped him get through it. Sweets and ice cream were his go to. For many years this didn’t manifest as he was burning many of those calories.

Bill and his wife Tracy 2013

When Bill got married to his wife in 1995 they moved to Syracuse, NY. They moved so his wife could go through graduate school. It was there that his activity levels began to decrease, and his food intake didn’t change. By the time they moved to North Carolina in 1998, Bill had added about 50 lbs to his frame. “I was never a small guy, so even 50 lbs was manageable”. When he left the fire service is when the weight really began to hit him.

By 2013, Bill’s weight was over 450 lbs and it consumed his life. At that time he says fast food was about, 45-50 percent of his diet he was drinking between 2 and 2 ½ gallons of diet coke a day. One of the biggest shockers for Bill was when he went clothes shopping.  He was trying on shorts and surpassed the size 60 mark.

When Bills’ father passed away at age 59 in 2001 of a weight related disease, he was wearing a size 64 pants. “I remember cleaning out his closet and promising myself, I would never get to that size.” Bill describes that the feeling that came over him walking out of that store with a size 60 pair of shorts was overwhelming. He knew something had to change but was paralyzed with fear. He had tried with family to work out and exercise, but was constantly getting injured. He could not run or jog, and all movements caused him pain.

The motivation to change came from two really good friends that asked to meet with him one day. That morning was the day that reshaped his outlook on a lot of things. These men spoke to some of the areas that he was neglecting in his life including his; ministry, work, and family. It was not until then he realized that he was in a complete depression and was in the process of eating himself to death. He stepped on the scale that day and weighed right at 460 lbs. Something finally clicked for Bill. He had no idea what to do or how to do it, but something had to change.

Bill decided to meet with a surgeon to speak about bariatric surgery as an aid. This is what he now determines to be a turning point in his life. The doctor told Bill that this surgery, if he had it, was only a tool. Surgery would not solve his problems unless he dedicated himself to changing his diet and started exercising more. He was sold on this idea.

Bill’s surgery was on April 27, 2015. By surgery date he had already lost 55 lbs. He had completely abandoned fast food and his last diet coke was on January 3, 2015. There were some complications with his surgery as they had to remove his gallbladder as well, because it was basically one huge stone. In his follow up appointment is where the OCR seed was planted. Dr. Rao told him … “Here is your plan. In 2017 I want you to run the Gate River Run (15k) and in 2018 I want you to do a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, deal?” He said he was definitely up for the challenge!

About 2 months after Bill’s surgery, he stepped back into the Gym. He walked in that morning very hesitant, not sure what to expect. In December 2015, he went to another gym to welcome a friend who was trying it out. He was very excited till he saw the workout….There in the middle of it was running….a full mile.

“I remember feeling my heart sink and I immediately accepted failure as my Goliath stood looming over me”. But he did his best, completed a full mile and was able to complete the rest of the workout as well. He shared that day with the group this was the first mile he had run since 1997.

The next morning, he went for a run on his own and completed a whole 5k. Over the next few weeks he pushed himself as far as 5 miles and felt good about it. He realized that something had really changed in himself. He was over 150 lbs down, and he felt great. Bill decided that he wanted to finish every distance of a running race that year. 5k, 10k, 15k and half marathon. Done, done, and done. On Thanksgiving day, with his friend Jim running by his side and his family cheering like crazy, he completed a half marathon. Bill ran the entire 13.1 miles with an 11 min pace….but his focus was 2 weeks away….SPARTAN.

When Bill decided to do the Spartan Race, he had about 5 months to train. Completing the Spartan however, has really kept him going! That was his first and only OCR. (That will drastically change this year) He says, “I can remember approaching the inverted wall and being terrified. I almost just went around and did the burpees. But my team was there, I jumped on, and zipped straight over. I was on top of the world…..I truly felt like a Spartan”.

Bill killing the obstacles at his first Spartan

Bill gives thanks first and foremost to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for guiding him through this gauntlet. Without his salvation, he says he would not have been able to endure this test.

Family 5k

His amazing wife, Tracey of 21 years and his kids Luke (16) and Chloe (13) are his greatest fans and partners.  They completed a 5k as a family this year, and he can see his influence in all of their training as Luke aspires to play college football one day and Chloe cheerleads and enjoys basketball and volleyball.

First Spartan finish with friends Anthony and Denea

Anthony and Denea Widener will always be credited with being the largest catalyst in showing Bill his true value and assisting him in achieving his goals and dreams. Jason Palmisano and his family for bravely following their dream of Trinity Fitness and spreading the gospel and wellness to all.

Bill trains 3 times a week in the morning at TF. Those workouts are all metabolic conditioning so they change up daily. No matter what the workout at the very end he adds in an extra ½ mile run. He also adds other runs usually once or twice a week. Sometimes it will be 3-5 miles running, other times it will be about 3 miles with breaks every ¼ mile for some type of bodyweight exercise (burpees, push ups, sit ups, ect…).

December 2014 – resting heart rate 97. BP 135/90. Weight 460 lbs
January 2017 – resting heart rate 61. BP 118/78. Weight 225 lbs.

OCR Transformations- Frannie Steele

ORM presents the series of stories on OCR Transformations. Runners and athletes whose mind body, and spirit have been altered through obstacle racing.
“I have grown so much not only physically and athletically, but mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.”

Frannie Steele grew up in Holland, Michigan up until her college years moving to the east side of the state in metro Detroit and Ann Arbor. She spent her childhood running around on a farm and taking care of horses up until her parents divorced. She believes that was the turning point for her unhealthy lifestyle. Between puberty, peer pressure, bullies, and depression she had gained enough weight to launch her over 200lbs by the age of 15. It wasn’t until she got a puppy that really started her long journey to health. That puppy needed to be walked, and walking turned into running, and she hasn’t stopped accomplishing the goals she set for herself.

Frannie’s first OCR was the 2013 Indianapolis Sprint. At that race she slipped on the Slip Wall (ironically, she admits) and upon impact her knee hit one of the knots in the rope. She limped across the finish and after letting medical do what they could. She rode 4.5 hours back home straight to the hospital. After medical staff found no cartilage to be in her knee with the IT Band under the patella, they told her she would “probably never be able to run again.” But giving up running wasn’t really a choice for Frannie. After about a year in physical therapy she had started to train and condition the IT Band. So re-injury to her knee would be less likely to happen again. It was a hard time for her and there was plenty of pain. But, she says that first mile back running “never felt so good.” Every day she has to deal with her knee injury and some pain but the stronger she has gotten the easier it’s gotten.

Then in late 2015, Frannie saw an ad for Spartan Race again and thought, “you know what, I’m going to do this again and finish the way I should have finished.” Only this time she ran a Spartan Super instead of the Spartan Sprint. It was very difficult for her, but Frannie ended up doing much better than she expected. A few weeks after completing the Spartan Super she thought, “you know what, I’m going to go for the trifecta.” And that’s exactly what she did, which fueled the start of her 2016 racing.

There’s one event that Frannie states has greatly impacted her OCR and running lifestyle, which  was the overnight 2016 Chicago HH12HR. She doesn’t believe her mindset really changed until after completing her first endurance event.  Frannie didn’t even know what it was that she signed up for, she was just participating because a friend talked her into it. There she was introduced to something she didn’t even know what to expect. What they say about the hurricane heats, and the endurance events that Spartan puts on is that you can’t train for them. You can never know what to expect and she admits that it is 100% true.

Frannie believes she was better off not knowing a single thing about it starting out for her first one. She was forced to pull things from nowhere, from deep inside herself, and use knowledge she didn’t know she had. She pushed herself past the physical limits she had previously known that she was capable of and found something within herself that sparked a fire. From that day on it she says “it has been a nonstop grind to see what I’m capable of and the dedication and passion to push myself to accomplish my goals. I have grown so much not only physically and athletically, but mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.”

These are the things that pushed her to participate in the China Agoge. Frannie was medically removed from this race resulting in DNF. Even though she didn’t finish the race…she still left the Great Wall with things no material possession can replace. The things she learned and experienced she says she will have for a lifetime. The people she was with are people she will forever share a bond with. She believes by testing her mental fortitude with endurance events, she is able to physically push herself to the limits.

Endurance events teach you most importantly that you must work together as well as individually in order to complete a task, or reach a goal. The same is true for all things in life.”

Those who contribute to success are her family. Her family shows a huge support for her and her active lifestyle, knowing how much she has struggled with her weight. She is also thankful to Team Warrior State of Mind and Mark Petersen who supported her and had faith in her. Without Team WSOM she wouldn’t have been able to attend the AGOGE 003 in China. But more importantly she wouldn’t have met Mark, whom she says is a role model to her in every possible way.

Currently, Frannie Steele is training for a few things. For 2017, she has decided to switch gears from mainly running OCR to mainly running Ultras and endurance events. She is also gearing up to accomplish the Spartan AGOGE 006 UK at the Isle of Skye. Not far behind that goal is a 100 mile race, a handful of HH12HR, Ironman 70.3, and the Killington Ultrabeast.

For training she currently bikes 3 times a week, runs 5-7 times a week, and swims 1-2 times a week. Weight training is 2-3 times a week following a run usually to build endurance in strength. She also recently started yoga and meditation to satisfy the mind as well in a different way studying doesn’t quite cover.

From 219lbs at her heaviest to 141lbs now, Frannie Steele has changed herself not only physically, but mentally and hopes to inspire others to challenge themselves and to change their lives by being active. You can follow her on Instagram www.instagram.com/fmsteele1

New Spartan Rules : Yancy Culp Speaks Out

Editor’s note : Yancy Culp is arguably the most prolific trainer in OCR these days. Through Yancy Camp, his training programs and stable of trainers (which includes Matt Novakovich, Ryan Kent, Rose Wetzel, and April Dee), have become one the leading resources for hundreds of athletes in our sport. The following are his views regarding the recent Spartan Rule announcement. This announcement includes changes which state Spartan Gear must be worn on the podium at all Spartan Races. We’ll include a link to his website at the bottom of his article.

Since the rules changes were shared around on Facebook I’ve been able to talk to a lot of people through phone calls, text messages, social messaging, and email. I have great appreciation for both sides of this discussion. I fully support a company’s right to outline rules and conduct as they see fit. I also understand the top level athletes showing concern when levels of control are put in place. It’s a great discussion to have early on in a sports infancy. Spartan has performed far beyond and accomplished more than most of us could have ever thought possible for our sport of OCR in a short period of time. I’m one of the biggest supporters of Spartan and the entire OCR racing community. The racing experiences they have provided for us over the past 5+ years has been nothing short of amazing. Many like to say, “the sport is so young”, “we’re not there yet”, “we’ll never be big like other sports”, etc. Try and find another sport that had as much success as OCR during the first few years of existence. I’m willing to bet you can’t find one. Basketball started out with a group shooting homemade balls in to a bushel basket. They weren’t as far along as OCR was five years in. I think it’s safe to say Basketball has made it to the big time. I could go on for days providing other examples.

We’ve moved very fast and Spartan has done an exceptional job keeping their foot on the gas. Because of great organizations/leagues, employees, sponsors, television networks, fans, and high performance athletes, there are sports that aren’t on the excitement scale of OCR who have had a crazy level of success while generating billions of dollars.

One problem that comes up when topics like this surface is the fact that some get extreme with their rhetoric vs trying to understand the topic from both sides. People will lash out with rhetoric that serves little to no purpose while a graciously direct conversation can go on in the middle and things can get accomplished.

Spartan has to operate under a budget watching P&L’s, EBITDA numbers, etc. and at the end of quarters and annually, they have to show success and profit. The television networks have to do the same thing. The high level athletes who have brought a lot to the sport and have been a big part of the success also have to operate under a budget. Most organizations in the sport of OCR have aligned their races in a way to create high level competition and OCR is a sport. Without the top level athletes you have a televised event. With the top level athletes you have an edge of your seat viewing experience that’s a full blown race! If you watched the NBC and CBS televised races on Christmas Day 2016 you saw how the networks spent a lot of time showing the audience top level athletes going toe to toe out on course. The viewers start following the top level athletes and all successful sports have top level athletes creating edge of your seat excitement. We love it and we always will!

The sport has top level athletes grooming their work schedules and teaming with sponsors in a way that allows them as much time at possible to train and race. There are also athletes who are earning enough money with the sport to train and race full time. Some of the athletes in both categories are accomplishing this because of support from the race organizations they align with and they receive additional sources of revenue from other sponsors. Because of the high level athletes who dedicate a huge amount of time annually training, the sport has worked its way in to a situation where the athletes are arguably being considered some of it not the best athletes on the planet. We are also a sport now where top level athletes from other sports can’t waltz in and knock off our top level athletes.

Podium Shot

Up to this point, Spartan and other OCR organizations have allowed athletes to use their bodies and garments to market their sponsors, which as Spartan recently said, has played a key role in the development of the sport. In my opinion, this has been a very smart move on their part and I hope rules and conduct continue to allow this to take place in a way where the athletes can continue using their body and garments to support their sponsors. A very large majority of the top level athletes are in agreement. There are great examples where this has been very successful and there are examples where athletes have been overly controlled. Golf is an example many don’t think about. When you watch golf on television you’ll see almost every golfer wearing different hats, visors, shirts, using different clubs, balls, golf bags, etc. There is definitely a level of control in place with golf but the athletes have the freedom to promote their sponsors. Golf is performance based. Prize winnings can be very high if you perform well and sponsorships can be huge. Like most other sports, when you watch golf on television, the top golfers get the majority of the air time. They get to show off their sponsors and a healthy amount of money is earned. There are other sports models that have had similar success where the athletes make a very nice living. In other successful sports there are strong league minimums where the lowest paid athletes are paid very well and the highest performing athletes earn huge annual salaries. In most if not all the cases listed above, all the people involved in making the sport great are making a good living off the sport. Both models can work very well. The Track and Field/Athletics comparison is brought up a lot in the world of OCR conversations. This is in large part because the majority of top level athletes in the sport make very little money and the athletes consider the model unfair. Their bodies and garments they wear are also heavily controlled which doesn’t create a situation where outside sponsors want to give them any attention and create partnerships. I personally know that a vast majority of top level athletes in the sport of OCR do not want a model that would ever look like track and field.

My next point may ruffle some feathers but I think it’s important to bring up. Imagine if you were a top level athlete in your sport and the organization/league/federation was involved in very large sponsorship deals and you were paid very little to no income. Imagine being controlled to the point to where outside sponsors weren’t interested in teaming with you because you had very little ability to market their brand during competitions, on podiums, etc. Imagine being that high level athlete and being the lowest paid individual in the ranks of all involved in making the sport what it is. In the world of Track & Field, this is the case.

We are knee deep in an awesome time in our sports history where Spartan Race along with NBC and a lot of top level athletes are creating amazing viewing experiences. We’re moving in to the 5th year of NBC televised Spartan events. It has been successful! Without a level of success, there’s no way NBC could continue putting together a budget to come back each year. Private business just doesn’t work that way. Now we have Tough Mudder partnering with CBS and they will have seven televised races in 2017 which follow up the successful World’s Toughest Mudder race that aired on Christmas Day. The top level athletes have been a huge part of the success. Many top level athletes rely on outside sponsors to help supplement their ability to train and race full time or as much as possible. When Spartan launched the latest rule changes, it was presented in a way that the majority of top level athletes didn’t know about the changes until after they were already posted. Most can probably understand why the top level athletes would be alarmed when they saw the new rules being posted around social media by individuals who found them on the website. The rules stated you are required to wear the Spartan issued headband for the entire race and purposely discarding headband during the course of the event will be subject to DQ & In order to be eligible for awards racers agree to wear a Spartan branded finisher shirt or other shirt of Spartan’s choosing for any award ceremony and promotional photos. It also discussed consent to WADA drug testing which is a rule I’m confident the majority of the top level athletes are excited about.

I think most, including myself, understand why Spartan and other organizations need to have some level of control in place to ensure corporate sponsors are happy and for other reasons. I also think it’s important for people to understand why most top level athletes don’t want their bodies and garments controlled at a level that would inhibit their ability to promote their sponsors. There is common ground here for sure.

Yancy and Morgan

I’ll close with something that I feel can be a game changer in a world where there seems to be a lack of civility often times when processes, issues, challenges, and decisions are being made. No matter if you’re knee deep in the middle of what’s happening, or on the outside looking in, avoiding snap extreme decisions with your actions and words can go a long way in helping promote graciously direct dialogue and actions which is where great things get accomplished. Avoiding the extremes on both side will almost always put you and everyone involved in a better situation.

Much love to everyone involved in making the past 5-6 years an amazing experience for us all. From Austin Texas, here’s to an awesome year of training and racing.

2.3.17 Update to this article – A conversation with Joe Di from Spartan Race.

 

Learn more about Yancy Camp here:

Yancy Camp

Sorry OCR, We’re Breaking Up

Kiss My Ass Goodbye, JK I love you all!

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.

This Isn’t My First Rodeowarrior-dash-postrace-mud

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.

Being Inspired

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!

Matt B Davis RunsSimultaneously, 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.

Humble Beginnings

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.

Facebook Familydsc01756

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.

Growing Pains

VT 2014 FinishThrough 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

Hobie's Extreme NationMy 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).

Name Dropping

Interviewing Ryan AtkinsOne 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.

Set Backs

Battlefrog Mines & MeadowsShortly 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 The Nuts ChallengeOcutrack.  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

2015-08-07-09-54-08When 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?

Lightning in a BottleOCRWC Media Elite

Ultimate TriumphOCR 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.

Don’t Stop the PartySuper Slide

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.

Still Addicted

OCR Family CitiField 2016As 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.

ocrwc16-team-ninja-kick-logo

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.

Cold Turkey

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.

Getting Real

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.



What Will Happen to Obstacle News?Inside Obstacle News

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.

Basic White Girl Races (An Introduction)

 

basic-white-girl races

“There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do.” – Amy Poehler

My name is Hannah Thompson and I’m one of the race directors for Cupid’s Undie Run in Atlanta – a 1 mile-ish fun-run in your bedroom best to raise money for Neurofibromatosis research. I love it. It’s one of the most fun runs that I’ve ever done, and I will recommend it to everyone and anyone who will take their pants off for charity.

Due to the fact that I’m one of the directors in a national Undie Run, I have a confession: I love all sorts of kitschy & themed runs. I envy all those people who do Spartans and Tough Mudders, but thanks to years of abusing my joints and my slight obsession with Crossfit, trail runs and obstacle course runs always tend to be a struggle on these ole’ bones.
With that being said, ORM and I paired up and figured out where I could put my running to use. Knowing the types of runs I love, you have probably guessed that these fun pavement and/or themed, crazy runs are what I’m going to write about for your semi-regular consumption: as I so lovingly call them – “Basic White Girl Runs”.
My first post was supposed to be this lovely review of the Romp and Stomp 5k, a lovely & slightly hilly October 5K through Cabbagetown before Chomp and Stomp, which is easily tied for my favorite Atlanta festival. Unfortunately, my body had a different idea and decided that it was time for me to have an upper respiratory infection. That morning, the idea of running made my lungs feel like they were going to explode. Don’t you worry though, I still got my epic long sleeve shirt (which is super soft and an awesome design) and my spoon to eat as much chili as this belly could hold (seriously, I think I had at least 15 cups and it was AMAZING!). Dear Cabbagetown – please accept my dearest apologies, but know that I will be there in 2017 as long as my body decides to co-operate. Let’s be serious for a second – Combining Running and Eating – how could you keep me away?!

The awesome shirt from Romp and Stomp

The awesome shirt from Romp and Stomp that I ended up not earning.
 So with that being said, I will be at the Ugly Christmas Sweater Run this Saturday, December 3rd. I am planning on rocking out a snowman sweater vest and blaring Christmas music from my jammy pack! Think about *Nsync, Britney Spears, and Beyonce Christmas Jams BLARING while running through the streets of Atlanta – it’s going to be EPIC!
If you think of any runs that you think would fit into this genre of fun paved runs and/or costumed and hilarious runs, let me know – I will try my best to run it and write about it! I’m super excited to dress up in whatever ridiculous outfit I can find and run through Atlanta and tell you all about it. The nerdier the better.
Peace, Love, and Undies-
Hannah

Spartan Race World Champs: Get Out of Tahoe

Apparently the Spartan Race World Championships will be in Squaw Valley next year. Again. That would make 3 years in a row in Tahoe. For a race that has “World” in its name it certainly seems to be attached to the state of California to the exclusion of the rest of the world. However, this isn’t about that.

You can't argue about the views: awesome! (Credit: Spartan Race)

As awesome outdoor places go, you could do a lot worse than Squaw Valley Resort. I mean, it epitomizes the perfect made-for-tv combination of scenic and brutal. But this isn’t about that either.

This is about Spartan’s attitude towards altitude. Squaw Valley starts at 1890 meters and climbs to 2790 meters (that’s 6200 feet up to 9153 feet for the one or two countries that still use them). Yeah…so what?

The official elevation profile for SRWC 2015 (Credit: Spartan Race)

The official elevation profile for SRWC 2015 (Credit: Spartan Race)

This what: human performance gets worse and worse in every way the higher up you go unless you are lucky enough to live and train at altitude. This is a very real performance hit and a significant handicap to all those racers coming in from the “lowlands”. But don’t take my word for it…

The National Football League

Mile High Stadium in Denver, home of the at-times-mighty Broncos of the NFL, sits at a piddling 5280 feet above sea level. This is anywhere from 1000 to almost 4000 feet LOWER than Squaw Valley, and yet it is plenty high enough to mess with NFL caliber athletes.

spartanwc-tahoe-mile-high-stadium

The Visitors’ Perspective

From the Baltimore Ravens’ website:

“The Denver Broncos may have the most tangible homefield advantage in the NFL.

It’s not that their fans are louder or that their stadium traps crowd noise, it’s the fact that the city of Denver sits about 5,200 feet above sea level (Baltimore is about 480 feet above sea level). That’s why the Broncos’ former stadium was famously called Mile High Stadium for 41 years.

The higher altitude creates a challenge for opponents, who quickly have to adapt to exerting themselves in that atmosphere.

“The altitude is going to be a problem,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “Unless we’re going to drive there and practice there for the next week, we can’t really prepare for it.”

“We know and understand that it’s going to be an issue,” Pollard said. “That’s for us as pros to step into that thing. If that means going out at pregame, running as much as we can, trying to get gassed as much as we can, that’s what we need to do.”

The Home Team’s Perspective

Lest the Ravens, or any other team complaining about the home field advantage the Broncos enjoy, be accused of unwarranted whining, I now present some material from the Denver Broncos’ website:

“I’m telling you — it’s not a myth. It really isn’t,” rookie running back Montee Ball said. “Speaking of when I first got here and was running around, it was very difficult the first two weeks to catch my breath. For now, us as Broncos players, we love the altitude because it’s an advantage for us.”

The main issue, Colorado native Mitch Unrein explained, is that less oxygen reaches the body at higher elevations. So not only is it harder to breathe, muscles get fatigued faster and players tire out quicker.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I don’t think you ever really get used to trying to play in this altitude,” the defensive tackle said. “Obviously, we’re more accustomed to it just because we practice in it every day. But for teams that come up here, I know it’s a struggle for them just to try to catch their breath after a long drive and just trying to keep fresh after every play.”

Derek Wolfe sucking O2 at Mile High (Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

I will be the first to admit that anecdotal evidence from the NFL is pretty low on the totem pole of credible scientific stuff. However, what it lacks in terms of double-blind control group-ey rigor it makes up for by being outside the artificially controlled world of the laboratory i.e. it’s real-world stuff from the real world athletes. That having been said, a bit of hard science is never a bad thing, so buckle up.

(a tiny bit of) The Science

A common misconception with what happens to the air we breathe at altitude is that there is less oxygen. In fact, the composition of the air does not change, it just becomes thinner: air is less dense the higher up you go in Earth’s atmosphere. The oxygen concentration remains the same at about 21%, but there’s just less air in a given lungful the higher up you go. As anyone who has tried on an “altitude” Training Mask can attest, not being able to get enough oxygen into your body definitely impairs your performance.

There are heaps of scientific studies on the effects of altitude on the human body. Every single study indicates that there is a very real degradation of many aspects of human performance with increasing altitude: cognitive performance, endurance performance, appetite, ability to sleep, ability to not die, etc.  In terms most endurance athletes will be able to relate to: going up reduces your VO2 Max and decreases your Time to Exhaustion at a given work rate. These are real things that have been measured tens of thousands of times with tens of thousands of people.

Both VO2 Max and Time to Exhaustion take a hit at Tahoe elevations (1900 - 2800 m)

Notice from the graph on the left that fitter athletes (those with a higher initial VO2 Max) take a bigger hit than their less fit competitors, going from 75 down to 60 compared to going from 65 to 55. The practical upshot of this is that it is the top-notch elite athletes that you WANT to have at your race who have the biggest incentive to not show up if it’s at altitude.

Waitaminute! What was that about dying? You said “dying”, right?

Yup. Thought that might grab your attention. This is as real as altitude effects get, and they’re not pretty. Go too high too fast and you are on a timer: if you don’t get back down in time, then you die. Simple as that. Nobody knows this better than mountaineers going after the ultimate summit.

Everest and the Death Zone

I have adventure raced with a family who all summited Mount Everest. I was mildly freaked out during their expedition, as I feared for their lives. Base Camp is at a ridiculous 17,500 feet. The summit is over 29,000 feet, which is well into what climbers refer to as “the Death Zone”. This refers to any climbing done above about 8000m (26,000ft). If you were picked up from home and dropped off at this elevation you would be dead inside of 15 minutes. The majority of deaths on Everest are due at least in part to altitude, not falls or the cold or avalanches.

Source: Richard Salisbury and Elizabeth Hawley, Himalaya Database. Note: In some cases, multiple deaths in one location eg in 2015 an earthquake killed 18 (Credit: Nigel Hawtin)

 

An Aussie bloke I know ran the first ever high altitude rescue service last year on Mount Everest with a team of 5 Sherpas. They were finally able to pluck climbers off the mountain from above Base Camp, as there was now a dedicated team of altitude-adapted Sherpas combined with a special high altitude helicopter. There is no better illustration of the fact that air density is way lower at altitude than watching a regular chopper try and fail to even get off the ground in the Himalayas. Even with the B3 chopper, they would need to sometimes leave the medic on the mountain in order to be able to take off with the victim, as both together would be too heavy.

Is Spartan Trying to Kill Me?

Don’t freak out that Spartan is trying to kill you! People can live for prolonged periods of time at elevations up to about 6000 metres (19,685 feet), so there is nothing life-threatening about Squaw Valley.

Individuals have lived for as long as 2 yr at an altitude of 5950 m, and there was a miner’s camp at 5300 m for several years. The highest permanently inhabited town in the world at the present time appears to be La Rinconada, a mining village of over 7000 people in southern Peru at an altitude of up to 5100 m, which has been in existence for over 40 yr.” – High Alt Med Biol. 2002 Winter;3(4):401-7.

The examples from Everest are at the extreme end of the altitude spectrum, at the edge of survival. I used them because it makes things like the altitude performance hit glaringly obvious.

Okay, we get it: altitude bad. But since we are all breathing the same air, isn’t it the same for everyone?

No, and therein lies the problem with having SRWC at significant altitude.

Altitude Acclimatization

If you ever want to see the reality of altitude acclimatization, again we need look no further than Everest. By altitude acclimatization I mean a gradual and progressive exposure to higher and higher elevations over several weeks to allow the body to adapt to the decreased availability of oxygen.

Climbers spend 95% of their Everest summit attempt slowly going up and down the mountain to progressively higher intermediate camps in order to acclimate to the elevation. Most climbers will end up climbing the mountain 3 times from Base Camp. They can’t overdo it, because even Base Camp is too high for long-term habitation. Any more than 40 days and most climbers would be too weak to attempt the summit.

The following is the Everest summit attempt Acclimatization schedule from MountEverest.net.

  • Trek to BC 10 days
  • Arrival BC April 1
  • Climbing C1 April 7
  • Back to BC April 8
  • Climbing C2 April 11
  • Back to BC April 13
  • Climbing C2 April 17
  • Climbing C3 April 19
  • Back to BC April 20
  • Trekking down April 21
  • Back to BC April 26
  • 1st summit attempt May 1-7
  • Trekking down May 7-12
  • Back in BC May 13
  • Last summit attempts May 16-30

As you can see, altitude adaptations take time. If a top racer wanted to try to ensure that they could perform near their best in Tahoe, they’d need to spend at least 3 weeks living and training at a comparable elevation. That’s pretty much of a non-starter for most people.

In NASCAR-speak, it would be like going to a non-restrictor plate race and being forced to use a restrictor plate. It creates a very skewed playing field.

NASCAR Restrictor Plate Racing

Spartan Nation is not far removed from NASCAR Nation, so here is another way of looking at this whole altitude snafu. I’m referring to the restrictor plate, which is the “altitude training” mask equivalent for race cars.
A restrictor plate or air restrictor is a device installed at the intake of an engine to limit its power. This kind of system is occasionally used in road vehicles (e.g., motorcycles) for insurance purposes, but mainly in automobile racing, to limit top speed to provide equal level of competition” – Wikipedia

Bobby Allison's incident at Talladega at 200mph led to restrictor plates. Photo Credit: RacingOne/2012 RacingOne

“The restrictions are in the interest of driver and fan safety because higher speeds are closer to out-of-control than the 190 MPH range used for Daytona and Talladega…” – Wikipedia

With advances in engines and aerodynamics, cars were simply starting to go too fast for the course on the superspeedways. Slowing down the cars seemed like a good idea, except that it slows down the faster cars much more than the slower cars. The result of restrictor plates in NASCAR on superspeedway races is to have almost all cars going at nearly the same speed, in one giant pack. This makes for a super-competitive race and virtually guarantees that every superspeedway race will have “The Big One” – an epic pile-up involving a dozen or more cars. Exciting for the fans and great for TV ratings, but maybe not the best thing from a racer’s perspective.

Now imagine there were a handful of cars – let’s call them the Altitude Adapted Racers – who were given an exemption from NASCAR: they wouldn’t need to use restrictor plates at superspeedway events like Talladega.

Rusty Wallace tested a car at Talladega Superspeedway without a restrictor plate in 2004, reaching a top speed of 228 mph (367 km/h) in the backstretch and a one-lap average of 221 mph (356 km/h).” – Wikipedia

It’d be a colossal blow-out, with the unrestricted cars finishing multiple laps ahead of the pack (barring crashes and the like). Ridiculous, yes, but why am I talking about NASCAR racing?

A restrictor plate: the "altitude training" mask for cars. (www.racecar-engineering.com)

It’s a brilliant analogy. Just like the race cars, the human engine also needs oxygen in order to run. Going to altitude, where the air is less dense, is effectively putting a restrictor plate on the racers. Well…most of the racers. Some people live and train at altitude. Those few athletes are like my hypothetical Altitude Adapted Racers, the ones who don’t have to use a restrictor plates. Makes for a very uneven playing field, doesn’t it?

OK, that would never fly in NASCAR, but come on dude; we’re talking about humans and endurance sports here, not race cars.

Yes, and I’m glad you pointed that out. We have 1 perfect example of what happens when you bring the best athletes in the world to altitude and ask them to compete in a championship.

The 1968 Mexico City Olympics

Mexico City sits at around 7350 feet, so is very comparable to the altitude racers encounter at SRWC in Tahoe. Sprinters, jumpers, and throwers had a field day, as the thinner air allowed a truckload of world records to be set during these Games. The endurance athletes, on the other hand, had their proverbial asses handed to them.

The 1968 Olympic 5000 meters: Gammoudi, Keino, Temu

Below are the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal results from the major endurance events at the Mexico City games: the men’s 5000 meters, 10,000 meters, and marathon races. Beside them for comparison are the medal-winning performances from the previous Olympics, which had been held in Tokyo at an elevation of 131 feet.

In addition to the times, I have included what placing the winners from 1968 would have finished at back in 1964.

Finally, look not only at the times, but also the nationalities of the athletes. This, ladies and gentleman, was the start of the East African domination of distance running which endures to this day. These are runners who lived and trained at altitude.

NOTE: There are no women’s performances, as they were deemed physically incapable of safely racing distances longer than 800 meters. That only changed in 1972 when they were allowed to run the 1500. Then the marathon finally in 1984. But that’s a story for another day.

Event Tokyo 1964 (131 ft) Mexico 1968 (7350 ft)
5000 metres – GOLD Bob Schul
USA
13:48.8
Mohammed Gammoudi
Tunisia
14:05.01  (good for 10th)*
5000 metres – SILVER Harold Norpoth
United Team of Germany
13:49.6
Kipchoge Keino
Kenya
14:05:16  (good for 11th)*
5000 metres – BRONZE Bill Dellinger
USA
13:49.8
Naftali Temu
Kenya
14:06.41  (good for 12th)*
10,000 metres – GOLD Billy Mills
USA
28:24.4
Naftali Temu
Kenya
29:27.40  (good for 11th)
10,000 metres – SILVER Mohammed Gammoudi
Tunisia
28:24.8
Mamo Wolde
Ethiopia
29:27.75  (good for 12th)
10,000 metres – BRONZE Ron Clarke
Australia
28:25.8
Mohammed Gammoudi
Tunisia
29:34.2 (good for 16th)
Marathon – GOLD Abebe Bikila
Ethiopia
2:12:11 (WR)
Mamo Wolde
Ethiopia
2:20:27  (good for 10th)
Marathon – SILVER Basil Heatley
Great Britain
2:16:19
Kenji Kimihara
Japan
2:23:31  (good for 16th)
Marathon – BRONZE Kokichi Tsuburaya
Japan
2:16:22
Mike Ryan
New Zealand
2:23:45  (good for 17th)


* For the 5000, none of the podium times from 1968 would have made it out of 3 of the 4 preliminary heats in Tokyo 1964.

I’d love you to show you more examples of this type of thing but I can’t, since they’ve never held an Olympics at altitude since then. Whaddaya know: a committee that got something right.

STFU?

The performance hit imposed by altitude is due to simple physical and biological facts: lower air density resulting in lower oxygen availability to working muscles. Performance at altitude is trainable to some extent, but significant adaptations take weeks or months. You can “aaarrrooo!” and STFU until the cows come home: it won’t make any difference.

Wrap Up

Given all of the above, why the hell would a top-notch Spartan racer spend thousands of dollars to travel to the self-proclaimed biggest Spartan race in the World, knowing for a certainty that they will not be able to perform at anywhere near their best? The answer is that, for the most part, they won’t. This will continue to be the case until and unless Spartan moves their championship race down to a sensible elevation. Yes, that means Breckenrige is out.

No endurance sport should have a championship race at altitude, and Spartan needs to recognize that, put their athletes first and get the heck out of Tahoe.