Why My Wetsuit Played A Huge Role At World’s Toughest Mudder

There is something about a 24-hour race that you can never fully be prepared for. I could train harder, run faster, complete more pull-ups, and carry heavier things, but that doesn’t guarantee anything at World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). Training is imperative to success, but there is a limit to what your physical prowess can provide. There are moments when you have to rely on our emotional and psychological strength to push you through, but even that gets tapped out at a certain point. Just like any race, there is utmost importance to prepare physically and psychologically, but unlike other races, gear plays an essential role in this 24-hour grind.

 

Coming into WTM for the fourth time, I knew what to expect, but there is only so much that prepares you for 24 hours of the unknown. Unlike previous years, I was competing in the Team Relay competition instead of the individual category. This would throw in a whole new dynamic to the once familiar race. Instead of slowly grinding my way throughout the race, I was tasked with racing hard for a short time and then stopping.

Here was the plan, start the race as a four-man team and then alternate two people every lap, minimizing pit time, until the wheels fell off. I was hoping that faster laps would allow me to wear a thinner wetsuit than previous years, knowing full well that things can go downhill quickly. I prepared my usual gauntlet of wetsuits and layers just in case. The plan was to start off in shorts and a t-shirt.
Once the sun went down, I switched into long compression gear. Then the Blegg Mitts and a windbreaker came on for a little more warmth. I knew that temperatures would quickly drop and more water obstacles at night meant that we would be cold and wet for the duration of the race. During previous years I wore full wetsuits ranging from 3/2mm to 5/3mm, often making it difficult to move. The relay calls for quicker laps, so I needed something that was warm enough, but less constricting than a full wetsuit. The plan was to use the Hyperflex VYRL 2.5mm Shorty Springsuit with a front chest zip and the 2.5mm Neosport Wetsuit Cap with an adjustable chinstrap from Wetsuit Wearhouse.

I wish I had more to tell you, but the truth is, this combination worked like a charm. Every lap, my teammate and I would start our lap in cold, wet gear. Putting those cold clothes on every lap added a whole new dimension of suck to WTM. Less than a mile into the lap, my body would warm up and it was off to the races. While the water temperature threw a wrench into many people’s plans, my layered outfit was perfect for staying warm on-course. When we finished a lap, we would quickly strip out of our wet clothes, throw on something warm, and try to recover for the next lap. While it would have been nice to have two wetsuits that I could alternate, this was a small wrinkle in the scheme of things. Plus, this is WORLD”S TOUGHEST MUDDER. It isn’t easy. While it was hard putting on wet clothes as we prepared for another lap, it didn’t rival the psychological ups and downs of the relay format.

All in all, it was a tough race. Starting and stopping throughout the night was a whole new challenge that I have never experienced. I was forced to stay loose while trying to recover in time for my next effort. My laps felt like an all-out sprint at times and it gave me a whole new experience at WTM. Our team managed to finish 2nd overall in the Team Relay category and I am so proud of my teammates and pit crew for helping us along the way. While Atlanta will bring a whole new challenge to WTM, I can only speculate that people will underestimate the conditions and forgo bringing a wetsuit. Don’t be one of those people. World’s Toughest Mudder is a race of unknowns, so always be prepared. I can’t wait to see all you crazies out there!

Planning and Training for World’s Toughest Mudder Success

World’s Toughest Mudder is a BIG THING. You can’t just show up and wing it. Success at WTM demands both careful planning and intelligent training, which is what this series will be about. Before submitting these articles, I thought I’d ask a guy I know what he considers to be the optimal way of approaching WTM. The good news is that his approach and mine were essentially the same. The bad news is that he was super concise, so I’m here to expand on it and flesh it out into usable tools and guidelines. Oh yeah, here’s what he said:

Think through every possible detail/angle carefully, practice it, then systematically kick ass. – Ryan Atkins


PLANNING


I am not one for clichés, but I can’t put it any better than these, so here is a short list of planning clichés :

  • If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” – a bunch of memes
  • No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” – Helmut von Moltke
  • “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
  • Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

When your plans meet the real WTM, the real WTM wins. Few things go exactly as planned. Mistaken assumptions chow down on your asses. The most brilliant plan loses touch with reality, and if you’re not careful you’ll follow it down the crapper.

World's-Toughest-Mudder-Planning-Invaders

OK, what’s the deal, Dobos? To paraphrase Hamlet: “to plan or not to plan, that is the question.” Well, the answer is a qualified “yes.” DO absolutely definitely plan thoroughly, but DO NOT place absolute reliance on your plan. Accept that your beautiful plan will start falling apart at some point during the event, likely much sooner and in more and shittier ways than you had anticipated. Make sure you are mentally and physically prepared for “plan B”, “plan C”, or just going into survival mode. Reality will not yield to your plans, so you must adapt to the actual circumstances at hand.

World's-Toughest-Mudder-Plan

The first step to planning is to understand as much as possible of what will go down in Atlanta next year at WTM. Do all the obvious things: watch videos of past WTMs, read race reports, go to WTM groups and pages online, look over maps of past WTM courses, etc. That will give you a good idea of what challenges will be presented to you. The other big thing you need to understand is exactly what you will be bringing to the show. Where is your fitness now? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How much improvement can you realistically expect in those by the time Atlanta rolls around? (That last refers to TRAINING, which I’ll come to later in this series)

World's-Toughest-Mudder-2016-course-map

As you can see, it’s very, VERY easy to get hopelessly buried in details, so you need to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Try to group things together into categories of challenges that you need to overcome for success.

The challenges presented by WTM can be boiled down to 3 big ones:
1. dealing with the cold and wet conditions

2. being on your feet and moving for 24 hours

3. completing as many obstacles as efficiently as possible

I have cleverly triaged those challenges in order of importance: 1 is to survive, 2 is to complete, and 3 is to perform. Number 1 can end your race prematurely. It has done so time and again, to rookies and veterans and elite racers. It is the first thing you need to figure out how to deal with because without it the rest of your grand plans are just so much fantasy.

World's-Toughest-Mudder-Cold-Wet-Tired

WTM Challenge #1: The Horrible Laws of Thermodynamics

Regardless of where and when WTM is held, it’s always cold. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check and monitor the weather forecast as race-day approaches, but don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security. Every single person at WTM this year – racers AND crew – knew that the single biggest challenge, the #1 reason for DNFs, was going to be cold. Just like it was last year and the year before, and so onto into the mists of prehistory. However, knowing the problem is only half the problem. You need a solution or, preferably, several solutions.

Problem: you’re cold
Solution: dress warmly, with layers and stuff. No problem, right?

Well…not exactly. The other thing every single person knew was that you would be wet for pretty much the last 22 hours or so. Therefore that bitchin’ fleece hoodie you got yourself, far from keeping you warm, will be worse than useless once it’s soaked. That’s why you see almost everyone wearing wet-suits from late afternoon through to well after sunrise.

Problems: you’re cold and wet
Solution: get a wet-suit. Problem solved, right?

Nope. We need to understand the basics of heat transfer, and exactly what clothing can and cannot do for you. Time for a thought experiment…

World's-Toughest-Mudder-Campfire

 

Take 4 identical water bottles. Fill 2 of them with cold water, and 2 of them with hot water. Now go dig up the toastiest sleeping bag you have. Bring out that 800 fill -40C rated monster, the one that has you sweating inside of 12 seconds if you dare crawl into it in anything warmer than -20 conditions. If you don’t have one, borrow from a friend.

Place one cold water bottle inside the sleeping bag way down at the foot end of the bag. Place a hot bottle up near the head end of the bag. Place the other 2 bottles a fair distance apart on the floor outside the sleeping bag. BTW, this is happening in your living room, so the ambient temp is around 22C. Go re-watch 2 hours of your fave WTM coverage, then come back and check the temperatures of the water in the bottles. What do you think you’ll find?

<Spoiler Alert>Let’s start with the easy ones: outside the sleeping bag. Both of those should be pretty close to room temperature. Heat always travels from warmer to colder, so the hot bottle will have lost heat to the room, while the cold one will have absorbed heat from the room. Both bottles will be around 22C. Easy peasy. Now, what about the sleeping bag?

At first blush, it’s tempting to assume that the ones that were in the insanely warm sleeping bag would be warmed up. Sadly, first blush is dead wrong in this case. What you’d actually find is that the cold one stayed quite cold – much colder than room temperature – and the hot one stayed quite hot – much warmer than room temperature. This is because a sleeping bag is simply a thermal insulator. It neither heats nor cools, it simply insulates whatever is inside it from whatever is outside.

World's-Toughest-Mudder-Thermodynamics-Batman

Clothing, including wet-suits, are the same: they generate exactly 0 heat. None. Zilch. Bupkus. SFA. If you’re freezing and throw on a 20mm wet-suit with a dryrobe over top, it will NOT warm you up. At least, not quickly enough.

At this point, you may be asking “why wear anything at all?” Well, the reason wearing insulating clothing works is because your body is constantly generating heat. Even if you’re curled up in the fetal position in your crew tent, your body is still generating heat because it needs to keep things at around body temperature in order to function properly. In the above scenario, you will slowly warm up as the heat generated by your basal metabolic rate gets trapped inside the dryrobe/wet-suit combo until you eventually get toasty warm. You need to know how to speed this process up, so keep reading.

There are several ways to warm yourself up much faster. The most enjoyable one is called “shared body warmth”, and all I’ll say about it is that you had better know your crew very, very well. The most effective strategy when you are in your pit is to ingest something hot, like a bowl of hot oatmeal or steaming cups of coffee or soup. The next pit tactic is to pour hot (not scalding – be careful) liquid into your wetsuit. The most important way may be less obvious, but it is the most critical because you can do it throughout the event: MOVE.

World's-Toughest-Mudder-Sufferfests-Cold-Guy-at-Tough-Guy

The only way you can move is through your muscles doing work. Human physiology is laughably inefficient, and most of the feeble trickle of chemical energy that we manage to generate in order to move gets wasted as heat. This heat builds up until your core temperature starts to get too high, and your body starts dumping it by pumping blood (essentially like radiator fluid in this scenario) out to your skin and limbs. Your clothing traps some of this heat, creating a progressively warmer micro-environment right next to your body surface and voila: you warm up!

Your body knows this even if you don’t, and has come up with a fantastically inefficient pattern of muscle contractions to cope with cold stress. Inefficient at moving, but super-awesome at generating heat. It’s called shivering. Shivering is ok, but it’s exhausting and makes things like Operation hilariously impossible. Your goal is to spend muscular energy moving forward, not jittering madly in place, so work on moving forward as hard as you can. Conversely, if you know that you’ll be forced to go slowly, whether from exhaustion or injury, then dress more warmly.

Even with all of the above dialed in, there is still a big make-or-break challenge related to overcoming the wet coldness: the wetsuit. The next (much shorter) article will delve into the hows and whys and dos and don’ts of WTM wetsuits.

World's-Toughest-Mudder-Wetsuit-Crack-Memecenter.com

Life Insurance for the OCR Athlete by Health IQ

*****SPONSORED CONTENT*****

Article brought to you by Health IQ, Life Insurance for the Health Conscious

For Jeremy Cooper, the Spartan Race™ helped him drive his physical fitness further than he ever imagined was possible. “I have been committed to my health for most of my life, but having a goal helped push me past what I thought my limits were.”  Although fit, Jeremy wasn’t a runner, but at the start line of his first Spartan, he found himself facing 13.4 miles. “I had never thought that I could run more than a few miles, but decided to go for it.” Jeremy pushed himself, running nearly the entire distance while tackling the challenging obstacles of the course.

 

That first Spartan Race hooked Jeremy to all the thrills of obstacle course racing that we love—scaling walls, diving from high platforms, swift problem solving and leading groups to consensus-driven solutions. For an athlete like Jeremy who wasn’t used to running, training for the race course was also an obstacle to conquer. His hard work clearly paid off in physical fitness dividends and also, to his surprise, rewarded him financially as well.  

Like many people, Jeremy had a prior life insurance policy that grew to be too expensive over time and he had canceled it several years ago due to budgetary constraints.  But when his wife pointed out that their family was vulnerable because neither of them had life insurance,  Jeremy experienced an “Aha!” moment and knew he needed to protect his family. But finding affordable coverage turned out to be an obstacle in itself. While researching insurance Jeffery saw an ad for Health IQ on Facebook and decided to see what kind of deal he could get.

 

Health IQ has gathered science and data to convince insurance companies that health-conscious people, including obstacle course racers, deserve lower rates due to lower mortality risk. Regular high-intensity interval training can decrease the risk of early death from heart disease by 39% for men and by 51% for women.

 

Armed with this research, Health IQ licensed agent Kevin Keil helped Jeremy find a 30-year term life insurance policy that was a good choice for his family. The length of term life insurance is flexible, but is usually set for the amount of time the insured feels would protect a financial dependent. 30 years would cover Jeremy’s children from infancy through college.

 

Jeremy also found that the Health IQ team was comprised of health-conscious people, many of whom were athletes themselves. In fact, Health IQ had its own team of Spartan racers!  Jeremy appreciated that the Health IQ team recognized how Spartan Races pushed him to achieve peak physical fitness and celebrated that achievement by helping him find affordable protection for his family.

 

About Health IQ

Health IQ’s mission is to improve the health of the world by celebrating the health conscious through social and financial rewards. Founded in 2013 by a team of health-conscious entrepreneurs, Health IQ gathered research and data to convince top-rated, innovative insurance carriers that health-conscious people had lower mortality and deserve lower rates on life insurance. Health IQ is a licensed life insurance agency in all 50 states and has helped thousands of health-conscious people secure billions in insurance coverage. Learn more at HealthIQ.com

 

*****SPONSORED CONTENT*****

Spartan Goes to the Gym with New Spartan Strong Classes

Spartan Race is adding another product to its lineup: a studio-based fitness class called Spartan Strong, and it is partnering with Life Time Fitness to roll out this experience to athletes around the country.

Spartan is not the first race series to move into the fitness training world; last month Tough Mudder announced that its Tough Mudder Bootcamp gyms would be opening soon. Spartan’s approach is different. Rather than build from the ground up, it has developed a class that can be held at any gym with minimal equipment. The model is similar to, say, Zumba: coaches are trained and certified, and the class can be offered anywhere with adequate space and a sound system. At first these classes will be appearing at about 100 Life Time Fitness gyms around the country, and eventually, they will show up at any gym interested in offering the class.

Spartan pancake. No syrup.

The class lasts about an hour and consists mostly of cardio movements and body-weight strengthening. The only equipment needed is the Spartan “pancake,” which many of you will have met as you hauled one up and down a mountain in the course of a Spartan Race. The class breaks down into five phases: “Readiness” (think warm-up), “Stamina” (cardio), “Accountability,” “Tenacity” (it wasn’t exactly clear to me how those concepts translated into a class setting) and “Resilience” (cool-down).

I got to try the workout last week at the product launch in New York, and I will vouch for the fact that it gets your heart rate up quickly and consistently. I emerged sweaty and out of breath, good signs of an exercise class.

There were burpees (because, Spartan) and bear crawls, and the pancakes were used effectively. The classes are designed to be large, from 20 to 40 participants, and I was reminded of the exercise classes I took in the 90’s (please, don’t call it aerobics), where several dozen adults, led from the front, tried to move a great deal in a confined space without bumping into each other. This is not the same kind of atmosphere you get in your typical high-intensity interval training class or a CrossFit box.

Spartan is dedicated to ripping people off the couch and out of the house onto trails and mountains, so why are they going back inside? Because that’s where the people are, apparently.

Joe De Sena is determined to change the lives of 100 million people, and he has come to the conclusion that changing lives is more important than being a purist about how that gets done. If he can reach people by offering a class format rather than chasing people up a mountain, the outcome can be the same. His flexibility in this regard reflects a sincerity in his mission. A-roo.

While the Spartan Strong classes can exist as a stand-alone product, they are still part of the Spartan universe. Life Time will be integrating the class into participation at Spartan Races, and there will be periodic testing so that participants can track their fitness progress – think monthly tests to see how many burpees you can do in a minute.

How do you get to try Spartan Strong? By the end of 2018, it will be available at almost all Life Time Fitness gyms.

For those unfamiliar with the brand, Life Time is an upscale brand, comparable to, say, Equinox, or if you prefer, it’s part of the category of “gyms that smell nice.” They recently opened up their first New York City branch in a skyscraper on 42nd Street, and the setting is grand. For the launch, they set up a rope climb and a monkey bar rig so that the invited Spartan Pro athletes (Amelia Boone! Kevin Donoghue!) could strut their stuff next to the two rooftop pools.

Going forward, trainers will be able to sign up for the workshop that certifies them as Spartan Strong instructors and offer the class anywhere. The soundtrack and workouts are developed by experts at Spartan and Life Time and are distributed along with guidelines to keep the workouts fresh.

Spartan Strong is not the only way to get fit the Spartan way. In order to build the brand and/or change the lives of 100 million people, Spartan fitness products also include online classes on Daily Burn, the SGX program of certifying instructors, and a brick and mortar Spartan-branded gym at a hotel in Miami. These products are not going away. For those who want to get their fitness in a class setting, this is another option that is available and another gateway into the Spartan way of life.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Spartan and Life Time Transform Gritty Race Experience into New Intense Group Fitness Class—Spartan Strong

Exclusive class, launching at 100 Life Time destinations across the U.S. by 2018, helps participants discover their inner Spartan

 BOSTON, MA (August 9, 2017) –Inspired by Spartan’s world-renown obstacle race events, where competitors face fire, mud, and barbed wire, Spartan Strong, a new, intense group fitness class is debuting exclusively at Life Time destinations. Created by Spartan and Life Time®, Spartan Strong focuses on studio-based exercises that challenge the body and mind, helping individuals conquer life’s everyday challenges. More than 100 of Life Time’s premium athletic resort destinations across the country will offer the class, rolling out now throughout 2018.

“Spartans learn to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals on the race course, often doing more than they believe possible,” says Spartan Vice President of Training John Gauch. “Our goal is to bring that same sense of accomplishment to people off the course through Spartan Strong. Life Time’s shared philosophy and team of dedicated instructors, coupled with their impressive destinations, create a perfect collaboration as we make the world a healthier place and impact how people live healthy balanced lives.”

The high-intensity hour long journey will push participants to their limits and unleash their inner Spartan by increasing strength, endurance, and athleticism through a combination of resistance training, bodyweight moves, dynamic stretching and cardio-focused drills. With the help of the Spartan Pancake, a weight-based circular sandbag, the class will leave participants feeling invigorated, empowered, and better prepared to battle the trying tasks of daily life. Members will also be tested with periodic fitness challenges to measure their progress.

“With the explosive growth of obstacle course races, this first-of-its-kind, race course meets group fitness class brings our members the best of both worlds,” says John Reilly, President, Fitness and Nutrition Division, Life Time. “Whether training for a Spartan race or tackling everyday life, Spartan Strong will push participants’ mind and body to achieve optimal performance on and off the race course.”

Available to Life Time members as part of the Company’s Featured Format classes, Life Time’s Spartan Strong instructors—many of whom compete in Spartan Races—received rigorous training and certification by Spartan’s and Life Time’s team of experts.

ABOUT LIFE TIME® – HEALTHY WAY OF LIFE

Life Time® is a privately held, comprehensive healthy living, healthy aging and healthy entertainment lifestyle company that offers a personalized and scientific approach to long-term health and wellness. Through its portfolio of distinctive resort-like destinations, athletic events and corporate health services, the Healthy Way of Life Company helps members achieve their goals every day with the support of a team of dedicated professionals and an array of proprietary health assessments. As of August 9, 2017, the company operates 127 centers in 27 states and 35 major markets under the LIFE TIME FITNESS® and LIFE TIME ATHLETIC® brands in the United States and Canada.

 ABOUT SPARTAN RACE, INC.

Spartan Race is the world’s largest obstacle race and endurance brand, and the first in-sport to feature timing and global rankings. With more than 200 events across more than 30 countries in 2017, Spartan Race will attract more than one million global participants offering open heats for all fitness levels, along with competitive and elite heats. The Spartan Race lifestyle boasts a community of more than five million passionate social media followers, health and wellness products, training and nutrition programs, and a popular NBC television series, which has made obstacle racing one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Spartan Race events feature races at three distances, 3+Mile/20+ Obstacle “Sprint,” 8+ Mile/25+ Obstacle “Super” and 12+ Mile/30+ Obstacle “Beast,” culminating in the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Visit http://www.spartan.com for more information and registration.

Tough Mudder Rolls Out its Studio Fitness Concept: Tough Mudder Bootcamp

Tough Mudder has rolled out a new extension of its brand, moving beyond the seven different races and challenges-not-races it mounts to include a new concept in gyms: Tough Mudder Bootcamp.

How did Tough Mudder decide to extend its brand in this direction? As you might expect from a company founded by business school graduates, the inspiration came from running the numbers. TMHQ asked the question: why do more than 10% of people who sign up for a Tough Mudder fail to show up on the day of the event? Surveys revealed that the people who failed to show up did so because they believed they had not trained enough; the no-shows were predominantly people who signed up in January and February, prime season for New Years get-in-shape resolutions, and also people who had not signed up with a team.

Teamwork has become the battlecry for Tough Mudder, one that is analyzed at length in CEO Will Dean’s upcoming book It Takes a Tribe, to be published this fall. Research shows that people who work out with a group are seven times as likely to achieve their fitness goals. Teamwork also pervades the Bootcamp concept. TMHQ’s MBAs looked at the fitness industry, and they were not impressed. Dean himself observed what was wrong on a trip to his in-laws in the Midwest; he had signed up for a week of access to a big box gym, and he saw that while 10% of the people there were getting something out of their gym time, the rest were miserable. The big box gyms were failing their customers.

In order to help people get into the shape they needed to complete a Tough Mudder, TMHQ has developed Tough Mudder Bootcamp, a franchise gym that will be coming to a town near you. Tough Mudder Bootcamp uses high intensity interval training classes to get its customers into shape and to keep them fit. Studies show that HIIT is an effective and efficient way to deliver cardiovascular and strength gains. If you are familiar with the Tabata method (a series of exercises done at intervals such as 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off), you get the idea. There is also some overlap with CrossFit, in that the exercises rely on a limited amount of equipment and highlight body weight movement and functional fitness, as well as an emphasis on camaraderie. TM‘s goal is to eliminate the intimidation factor of CrossFit and replace it with teamwork.

Classes are programmed and designed by Tough Mudder fitness guru Eric Botsford, whom you may recognize as TM mascot and MC E-Rock.  After a quick warm up, participants are sent to one of six stations where they partner up and take turns alternating specific complementary movements. For example, one partner would do reps of throwing a medicine ball at a high target (wall ball, to the CrossFitters), while the other holds a superman stretch. After two minutes, pairs move to the next station for a different set of movements, and so on until two rounds of six stations are completed. The entire workout lasts 45 minutes, which is plenty to work up a sweat and get everyone out of breath. Between the exercises, many encouraging high fives are exchanged.

E-Rock watches your form

How does Tough Mudder apply its secret sauce to the world of fitness? Tough Mudder’s brand and corporate attitude emphasize teamwork and, yes, fun. A Tough Mudder is supposed to be fun: not easy, but enjoyable. In the same way, the classes at Tough Mudder Bootcamp emphasize working with other members of the class, and the tone is supportive. No coach is going to chastise you by shouting “drop and give me 20!”

Wall Balls in the front, Supermen on the floor

Tough Mudder also brings some other goodies to the table: data, data and more data. One selling point that potential franchisees should covet is the contact information of everyone who has ever done a Tough Mudder. These are all potential customers, who all have keen brand awareness. Tough Mudder’s marketing juggernaut is putting its weight behind this project, and its resources are at the disposal of franchise owners.

Having described what Tough Mudder Bootcamp is, I should also point out what it is not. It is not an obstacle course gym. There will be no warped walls, no dangling electric wires, and you will not see anything that resembles the world class obstacles that Tough Mudder brings to its events. That said, the exercises will have applicability to success at an obstacle course event as well as to everyday life. Of course, Bootcamp will still keep Tough Mudder events in mind: there will be periodic benchmark testing for members, and the results of those tests will yield results measured in Tough Mudder dimensions, i.e. “you are now fit enough to conquer a Half Mudder/Tough Mudder/ Toughest Mudder, etc.”

Tough Mudder Bootcamp is also not a boutique gym concept. In big cities, there are many smaller spaces that offer specialty classes at $30 or more a class. Tough Mudder Bootcamp aspires to charge roughly half of that. They also do not plan on trying to dominate the big cities, hoping instead to move into second tier markets at first (as Dean puts it, “cities where ClassPass doesn’t work”).  Indeed, it may be some time before you see a Tough Mudder Bootcamp opening up near you. Tough Mudder has a reputation of not rolling out new concepts before they are completely ready; this policy has saved it from making the mistakes other obstacle course racing companies made, to their peril. In 2017 Tough Mudder wants to open ten gyms, and it hopes to get 150 off the ground in 2018 and 350 in 2019.

Tough Mudder is looking for franchise owners. Those who are looking for the prospectus should contact Tough Mudder directly, but the headlines are that they want individuals who can finance the approximately $200,000.00 to $300,000.00 it would take to build out a space ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet. They are also looking for partners in launching their new business line, so they want people that they would like “to have dinner with”, as Dean’s team puts it.

Will Tough Mudder Bootcamp be a success? I had the pleasure of watching the concept develop and took part in several classes. I am also a fan of HIIT workouts, having tried many gyms that offer them thanks to ClassPass (I live in a city where ClassPass does work, I guess), before settling on a gym that specializes in such workouts. While I am not an exercise physiologist, from my perspective I can say that HIIT works: I get my heartrate up quickly and I am stronger because of these classes. I can also vouch for the camaraderie that can be fostered in this environment. An added bonus: these workouts are just as good for people just getting into shape as they are for the already-buff. Tough Mudder is certainly on to something.

Since Tough Mudder tests everything (I mean everything, down to the distance of the rings on the obstacles) they brought in people to a mock-up of the gym concept at their Brooklyn headquarters. They invited people who had tackled World’s Toughest Mudder, regular Legionnaires such as myself, and people who had never participated (“prospects”, in TMHQ-speak). We completed a prototype workout and, sweaty and breathless, then provided feedback. This data all got crunched until the final product emerged. Tough Mudder as a company has mastered the science of mounting mass participation events. I think that in three or four years, we will find that their roll-out has brought a Tough Mudder Bootcamp’s bright orange studio space to a neighborhood near you.

LeaderBoard Training – Coached by the Pros (Part 2)

LeaderBoard-Athletes-at-Chicago-Super

A plateau isn’t just a really tall, flat piece of land. It’s also where you, as an athlete, can find yourself if you get too comfortable in your training. Without the proper guidance, your body can become accustomed to the pace, distance, workouts, weight, and so on. Luckily, as I’ve found, LeaderBoard excels at preventing plateaus so that its athletes can continue their climb to the top.

If you’re unsure what LeaderBoard is, there’s an entire first article to explain just that!

ONE OF THE FAMILY

A common theme among LeaderBoard athletes is a sense of family. It may be a little cliche, but it’s true. Ean Caskey, a member of LB since the beginning, was surprised of the familial vibe. “Once you suffer alongside someone for months on end and share your highs and lows, you feel a certain connection and pride to be part of the team,” he said. The programming, along with Slack messaging, really keeps communication open. Not only can you see how fellow athletes are doing by checking out the WOD (Workout of the Day), but there’s always discussion on the workout itself. Everyone is there to support each other, which isn’t a common theme among training programs. Got a PR? Post it in Slack and just watch as everyone gives you a congratulations and various emojis.

Naturally, the LeaderBoard family has members all over the country. So, although you may have had communication with several members, maybe you never met them. But when several members are going to be at the same race, usually dinner plans are made. Everyone gets together to hang out and share their race day stories, or whatever else may come to the table.

LeaderBoard-athletes-meet-for-dinner

 PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT

Remember that whole plateauing thing? Well, that can happen without you even realizing it. Sometimes, you just don’t think to add that one part to your workout that keeps your body guessing. Sure they can be tough. But, LeaderBoard athletes like Eric Aanerud, find that the parts he hates are actually his favorite. He explained that they are “the parts I would skip if they weren’t in there. It makes me feel like I have to do it. So I do. You get to the point where you stop asking questions and just do the work.”

I remember quite a few times thinking about how difficult a workout was, but realizing I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Not only is there a sense of accomplishment with the physical training, but it hones your mental strength as well. Jeff Shoaf, who has completed 27 races since 2014, appreciates this part of the training. “They help train your brain to keep going and not quit just because it gets hard or mentally boring,” Shoaf said.

Forrest-Bouge-Hangarang-Savage-Ohio

Forrest Bouge on his way to first place at Savage, Ohio

THE LATEST BENCHMARK RESULTS

Outside of running a race (which I’ll get to), the Benchmarks are a great way to measure progress. Since article number one, I was able to retest all five Benchmarks: the mile, carry, rig, 5k and personal trail BM. Though I expected to beat a few of my previous numbers, I hadn’t expected to PR all five. But that’s exactly what happened.

I didn’t destroy the old numbers, per se, but any improvement in 4-8 weeks is positive. First, let’s start with the rig benchmark, since I had been on the rig specialization leading up to the test. The first part of the test is a grip-alternating chin up, with the second part being a straight dead hang (without dismounting from the first part). Before, I had done eight reps of part one and 40 seconds of dead hang, which counted as two reps. That totaled 10 reps. This time around, I hammered out 10 reps of part one, but only 20 seconds of dead hang, or one rep. Overall, an improvement of one total rep.

On the bucket carry, the test consists of timed carries for the bucket, double sandbag and dumbbell, or farmer’s carry. I was fairly concerned that my total carry distance would go down, since I hadn’t been specializing in it. I was able to squeeze out an extra 15 meters combined. Again, not a large increase. But, considering it was not my specialization and definitely my weakest obstacle category, it was great to see that number go up.

Eric-Aanerud-Boise-SandbagEric Aanerud at the Boise Sprint

We all know in the sport of OCR, running is pretty much the most important part. So, I was really curious to see how those tests turned out. My previous 5k time, done on 4/22, was 23:50. Just about 2 months later, on 6/21, I ran 23:37. That’s only 22 seconds from my lifetime PR, and certainly a non-race PR. As for the mile, on 5/23 I ran a 6:26. Five weeks later, on 6/27, got that down to a 6:19, a lifetime PR.

The trail loop time trial that I discussed in the first article would be another test. The other Benchmarks I had only done one time previously. This was my third out on the trail loop. As of the last article, my time was 59:09, an improvement of 3:43 (previous 1:02:52). This time around, another time reduction, totalling 57:36. My GPS lost signal briefly, so the splits are inaccurate, but the overall time is correct. That means in just under 3 months (March 25 vs June 24), I’ve dropped over 5 minutes off my time!

EVERYBODY GETS A PR

Right, I get it. You’re thinking, “Well, Adam, anytime someone starts a new program, they see the greatest results early on.” And you’re right. Or are you? I looked at some of LeaderBoard’s longest trained athletes, those that have been there since early on. They surely must have leveled out their Benchmark numbers.

Caskey, who is in his fourth year of OCR, hit a PR in the rig during the most recent test, and both the carry and mile this past May. Shoaf also had bests in his mile and carry at the most recent testing. Aanerud almost had a clean sweep recently, PR-ing in all but his rig (due to an injured hand).

Kirk-DeWindt-wins-Chicago-SuperKirk DeWindt fire-jumping to victory in Chicago

Kirk DeWindt, who joined LeaderBoard July 2016, shortly after his first OCR, has also found recent success. He hit a PR in both the 5k and carry during the last round of testing. It’s worth noting that DeWindt was a collegiate All-American in the mile during his college years, so it may be a bit harder to get a personal best there. Forrest Bouge ran his first OCR two years ago and was in the first group of LeaderBoard athletes. He’s hit a PR in all his Benchmark in the past 6 weeks.

OFF TO THE RACES

Now, that part that really matters to some people. How does training with LeaderBoard improve your racing? Shoaf, who had mentioned the benefit of mental toughness, has seen an increase in his ability to race through fatigue. It’s paid off in races as recently as the AT&T Stadium Sprint. Last year, he finished a respectable top 38% in his age group, top 32% of men and top 29% overall. This year, however, he rocketed up to the top 21% in both his age group and gender, plus top 18% overall.

Bouge has improved from a top 15 finisher to a top 10 finisher, with two podium finishes so far in 2017. Caskey was a top 10 finisher prior to starting LeaderBoard. So, with LB training, he’s now consistently challenging the podium spots. “The last three races I’ve been in 2nd for a large portion of the race,” he said. “ Last year that would have made me nervous and think to myself that I was going too hard. Now I feel like I belong there, and confident that my training will keep me moving forward.”

In 2016, Aanerud ran his first season as an Elite Spartan. His placement ranged anywhere from 15th to the mid-60s, and a 77th place finish at Spartan World’s. This year, his worst finish is 25th, with the majority being between 6th and 15th. Most recently, he finished 8th in Boise. DeWindt has also found success since joining LeaderBoard. He won back to back races, his first wins, at Spartan Race Chicago in June, and finishes top ten in most races he competes in.

 

Ean-Caskey-Chicago-RigEan Caskey making quick work of the rig in Chicago

I don’t get the opportunity to run a lot of races, so my main comparison is between Savage Maryland in the fall of 2016 and Savage Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. Though my overall placement wasn’t quite as good, I put that blame on my own inexperience and not my training. At the 2016 MD race, there were a total of 188 racers in the competitive heat. In 2017, the PA race had 256 racers. Unfortunately, in PA, I waited too long to get in the starting corral, and started the race towards the back. This resulted in more cattle jams and even a five-minute wait in line before a first attempt at an obstacle. That obstacle, however, was Kiss My Walls, which took three attempts in Maryland, but only two in PA.

At both races, I was able to finish the SavagePro wave completing all obstacles. To me, the difference was the new obstacles for 2017. The 2016 race had one rig. Savage PA had two rigs, plus an obstacle called Twirly Bird, which is essentially another, more difficult rig. The upper body demand was much higher at the PA race. Though I obviously can’t say for sure, it would’ve been very difficult for me to finish 100% obstacle completion had the Maryland race been as tough. This year, I even had enough energy to run the course again, in an open heat, a few hours later with some friends. Something I know I wouldn’t have been up for last fall.

BLUE MOUNTAIN CHALLENGE

Palmerton gets its own category for a couple of reasons. First off, it fully reinforced the family aspect of LeaderBoard. A group of members got together Friday night, before the Super. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it. At the Super, I had the chance to meet almost all of the LB athletes that came out to compete, which was around 15. Saturday night, the group got together again and this time I knew I couldn’t miss out. After hanging out for a couple hours to chat about races, honeymoons, training and much more, it felt like Thanksgiving dinner with the family (minus the OCR talk). We all even had a chance to catch up with our fearless leader, Brakken.

Sunday I was running the Sprint and ran into several LB members after my race, including Brakken. Everyone asked how I did, talked about the course, and congratulated me on my result. Speaking of, I went into the race hoping to qualify for the age group bracket of OCR World Championships. Even though I know I most likely won’t make it to the race, to say I qualified would be an accomplishment. To do this, I needed to finish top 20 in my age group in the Competitive heat(s). I researched last year’s top 20 times and set the goal of 2 hours. Well, I blew that out of the water. My final time was just under 1:37, good enough for 28th overall and 3rd in my age group. The 1st and 2nd in my age group were 1st and 3rd overall, so any better than 3rd would’ve been tough.

Tiffany-Palmer-and-Brakken-Kraker-at-Palmerton

Tiffany Palmer and Brakken Kraker at Palmerton

The rest of the LeaderBoard crew had equally impressive performances. Several Saturday racers finished in the top 35, which is especially difficult at a US Championship Series race. Two of LB’s female athletes finished top 25 (Tiffany Palmer 15th, Katie Huber 23rd). Many of those who didn’t run the Elite wave finished as some of the top racers in their age group for the Competitive wave. This was also impressive as the athletes registered for Competitive was larger than usual for Saturday’s race. On Sunday, Palmer and Huber returned for the Sprint, finishing 4th and 7th, respectively. Had Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning not stuck around from Saturday, LB may have had themselves a 1st and 4th podium showing.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Since the first article, a few things have changed at LeaderBoard. There is now a Standard and Pro program. The Standard is essentially everything I’ve experienced at half the cost of what it was. The normal cost now provides Pro, which includes a higher level of personalization. What does that mean? Closer contact with your LeaderBoard coaches, including 6 “Pro Chats” per year plus all the communication that comes with Slack. This personalization will help with individual athlete’s goals, such as a faster 5k time or getting better at hill running.

With this, however, Robert Killian is no longer one of the two Pro coaches at LeaderBoard. But, as unfortunate as it is to lose a great athlete like Killian, current coaches Brakken Kraker and Zac Allen have proven that they are more than capable of getting the best out of their athletes.

Does LeaderBoard require a certain level of commitment? Of course. Any training program does. Some days I had to do part of the workout during my lunch break and finish the rest later at home. But, tailor it to your schedule. If you can only fit in a certain amount of time, fit it. The more you can follow the program, however, the better your results will be.

Remember, everyone can start out with a seven-day free trial. LeaderBoard also added a pretty sweet referral system. If you are referred to the program, you receive $30 off your first month. Once on the program, if you refer someone, you receive $15 off your next month. Head to www.leaderboardfit.com to sign up!

Brakken-Kraker-at-Lambeau-Stadium-Sprint
Photo Credit: Spartan Race, Savage Race, LeaderBoard, David Martineau, Tiffany Palmer