LeaderBoard Training – Coached by the Pros (Part 1)

LeaderBoard-Logo

What if I told you there’s a top secret organization of podium finishers across the nation? And that the recent Spartan Super at Fort Carson, had its podium swept by this group? Well, part of that is true. There is a group of athletes training together and hitting podiums left and right. The fib was that it’s not a secret at all!

If you’ve read the Train Like a Pro series, you know Robert Killian is a coach over at a training website called LeaderBoard. If you haven’t read the series, what are you waiting for? Anyway, the great people at LeaderBoard were generous enough to let me get the real-deal experience for myself. In addition to Robert, LeaderBoard has his fellow Spartan Pro Team member, Brakken Kraker, as their other coach. Over the last month, I’ve been working directly with Brakken.

LeaderBoard-Peak-Podium-Sweep

THE PEOPLE

Though Brakken and Robert may be the faces that bring in athletes, there are other members of the team you’ll work with. Taylor McClenny, LeaderBoard’s Founder, ensures that the program maintains course towards its long-term mission. Zac Allen takes on the role of Assistant Coach. He, along with your head coach (Brakken or Robert), are your main points of contact for the program. He’s there to answer any questions you have, keep your race schedule up-to-date, and ensure you’re getting the best training experience possible. Behind the scenes, Lindsey Watts is the Head of Software Development. She takes care of website development and ensures that the fitness programming is always improving.

Taylor and Zac were old MMA training partners, who reconnected after Zac finished filming NBC’s Spartan Race: The Ultimate Team Challenge. After discussing the sport of Obstacle Course Racing and the culture it brings, they knew it was the best entry point for LeaderBoard. The next step was finding a pro Head Coach. The list was short and, after meeting with Brakken, he was clearly the right fit. They officially launched the June 6, 2016 with 15 total athletes. Robert joined the team later that August. Today, LeaderBoard trains 65 athletes and growing.

Robert-Killian-Sandbag-Carry-Seattle-2017

HOW IT WORKS

LeaderBoard gives athletes a place to work directly with coaches, and other athletes, to better their own fitness. Taylor saw the need for their type of program. “I found it odd that programming, to date, is largely a one-way system,” he said. “It’s rare that these same systems are used as a two-way communication, where the coaches use feedback from their athletes to improve the programming and overall experience. That’s our goal.” I really think this is part of why LeaderBoard has been so successful. They’re able to adjust your program on the fly and provide the right feedback for each athlete.

The program is set up so that athletes can train up to 7 days per week, if needed. After the first few days of training, you’ll have a one-on-one session with your coach. Though it was scheduled for about 20 minutes, my chat with Brakken lasted closer to an hour. I was quickly able to see the amount of detail the coaches get to know about each person. They make it a priority to know the athlete, their PRs (Personal Records), training history and what programming works best for them.

Each day, you’ll log in at www.leaderboardfit.com, check that day’s workout(s), perform the workout, then log your results. The rest is done for you; the workouts, the distances, the paces, everything. As you log each result, your coaches will update future workouts to reflect the best possible training program for you. There have been times when my prescribed distance, or pace for a run has been altered just based on a workout I did that week. Your coaches can also change workouts based on upcoming races, depending on how important that race is to you. The schedule is set up so that you can race pretty much any weekend. But, if there’s a race that you really want to PR, the coaches will make a few tweaks so that you’re fresh come race day.

Brakken-Kraker-Monkey-Bars-at-Citi-Stadium-Sprint

COMMUNICATION

One of the areas LeaderBoard excels in is communication. In addition to the one-on-one every athlete has with their coach, they also get an invite into a group chat on a messaging program called Slack. This has been one of my favorite parts of LeaderBoard. There are several areas in Slack that I have at my disposal. The first is a group chat with all athletes and coaches on LeaderBoard. The second is a group chat just for Brakken’s athletes, with the third being a private chat set up between myself and my two coaches (Zac and Brakken). Slack allows athletes to discuss that day’s workout, ask questions about workouts, gear, races, etc., get together at common races, and even share lodging for races that are far from home.

Brakken’s athletes also have a Facebook Live event with him every two weeks. He broadcasts from whatever his location happens to be that week, discusses recent races, workouts and benchmarks. We’ll get into benchmarks later!

LeaderBoard-Dashboard

THE WORKOUTS

Each week consists of two full quality workouts, a semi-quality workout, a couple recovery days and a full rest day. Just a heads up, there’s a lot of running! I know this may seem obvious, being an OCR program, but not all of them account for it. One of the first things Brakken and I discussed was how much running I had been doing to that point. We then decided that I should try to run about four days a week, adding in a fifth if I felt good. The rest would be low or non-impact days.

Because I don’t have a lot of soft trails nearby, a few of my longer runs and interval runs were on pavement or a treadmill. About three weeks in, I could feel a slight onset of shin splints. I’ve had issues with them in the past and wanted to avoid them creeping in at all costs. I hopped on Slack, sent a message to Brakken and Zac, and we quickly figured out a plan of attack. They had me back off a day of running, and do what I could to run on soft terrain. The fourth day, when I would normally run, would be a non-impact cardio activity instead. I did this for the next two weeks, as I had a (small) race coming up. Sure enough, it worked. My legs felt fine and I had a great race.

The quality workouts are designed to push you to your limits, but not be too difficult for you to complete. If you can’t complete it, you won’t improve. Some of the quality runs have included Fartlek, 60/60 intervals, progressive tempo,  and 5/5 hard/easy intervals, among others. Not all quality workouts are just runs, either. Many include tasks that would simulate something you might see in a race, such as carries, bear walks, burpees or pull ups. On recovery and easy run days, you’ll also have a supplemental workout, which is usually based on your specialization during that time. After you log your workout, your coaches will review it and update your program as needed. Sometimes they’ll even send you an email will feedback about a given workout you logged.

LeaderBoard-Female-podium-finish

BENCHMARKS AND SPECIALIZATIONS

This is really LeaderBoard’s bread and butter and why I think their athletes see great results. The Benchmarks are specific physical tests that you’ll retake throughout your training. There’s a 5k BM, a Carry BM and a Rig BM. The Carry and Rig are tested each month and generally help you decide your specialization. The specialization pretty much determines what type of supplemental workouts you’ll be doing for the next four weeks. If you just can’t decide, there’s a “Coach’s Suggestion” to help you out!

For the first four weeks, I selected the Carry Specialization, as I didn’t have past BM tests to help me choose. This meant that many of my supplemental workouts involved either a bucket, sandbag or farmer’s carry, sometimes with an exercise circuit thrown in. After the four weeks were up, and it was time to do the Carry BM, I could tell how much I would’ve struggled if I didn’t have those four weeks under my belt. Those who picked the Carry Specialization achieved 15% more improvement on their latest Carry BM than the average. What’s even more impressive is that they also achieved 81% more improvement on their Rig BM than the average.

Next round, I’ll be training with the Rig Specialization. Athletes who had just done this specialization achieved a whopping 114% more improvement on the Rig BM than the average.  

LeaderBoard-Podium-Finishes-in-March

RESULTS

I am now the fastest racer alive! Okay, maybe not, but it’s only been a month. There’s only so much I can tell you about my improvement so far, and don’t worry, I’m getting to that. As for athletes who have been using the program for a while, there’s a great deal of standing on podiums going on. At this year’s Spartan Race it Atlanta, GA, LeaderBoard had an athlete win both the Saturday and Sunday race, two who took first and second in Masters both days, plus another that finished fourth. That’s not including the other athletes who finished top 20. Another athlete went from top 90% in his age group to top 10% basically just by having an off-season of LeaderBoard training. As I mentioned before, LB athletes also swept the men’s podium of this past weekend’s Spartan Super at Fort Carson.

As far as my results go, I can sit here and tell you how much faster and stronger I feel (which I do), but you’d have to take me at my word. I appreciate it that some of you probably do, but others may want proof. Luckily, I brought some. First off, I ran my 5k BM about 30-seconds slower than my PR, which I hit in a race at the end of last year. Why is that proof? Over the winter, I was lucky to run twice a week. Some weeks I didn’t run at all. I used it to take some time off from running and build strength. To be this close early in the season means I should have myself a new PR pretty soon.

Not enough proof? Well, when I first spoke with the team at LeaderBoard about taking this little journey, we added in another Benchmark test just for me. There’s a great trail surrounding a nearby ski resort that totals 5.1 miles and about 775 feet of total ascent. A couple weeks before beginning the program, I ran it. A few days ago, I ran it again. Below is the total time, plus splits for each mile. Total ascent during each mile is in parenthesis to account for the variation in splits. The numbers from 7 weeks ago are on the left, with the latest numbers on the right.

Total Time – 1:02:52 vs. 59:09

Mile 1 (256 ft) – 11:32 vs. 11:41

Mile 2 (244 ft) – 13:49 vs. 12:54

Mile 3 (84 ft) – 11:14 vs. 10:42

Mile 4 (89 ft) – 12:23 vs. 11:21

Mile 5 (77 ft) – 12:25 vs. 11:05

There’s still much work and testing to be done, but I’ve learned so much already this past month. I’m very excited to see what the upcoming weeks have in store. Next month, I’ll be posting another update. There will be another month of specialization and another round of Benchmarks. I’ll also be competing in a Savage Race, which I’ll compare to my experience running one last October, before training under LeaderBoard.

For more information and to book a free 7-day trial, visit www.leaderboardfit.com.

Photo Credit: LeaderBoard, Spartan Race

Roots 4th Birthday Bash – Peak District, England

Roots Adventure Training turned 4. So to celebrate, they held the 12-hour Roots Birthday Bash endurance event.  Now for those who don’t know, Roots is an adventure training company based in the Peak District in England. They specialize in team building events, survival skills & endurance races.

I’d been looking forward to this event for the past month for several reasons. The main one being that I had never actually done an endurance event before.

I was curious to see how I would manage. Having already signed up for the Spartan Race 4hour & 12hr Hurricane Heat, I figured that this would be an excellent starting point to see where my training needed to go.

I was right.

Roots-River-Crossing

Now I feel that I should note that some of my memories from the day are slightly hazy. I’m not sure if I can put that down to the lack of sleep before/after the event or perhaps it’s just down to the fact that we did so much throughout the day.

After a long drive from Edinburgh to the venue, we had a brief sleep before awaking before dawn to begin.

With a 6am start and two hours of map reading skills, we gathered outside the camping cabin to begin. Mustered in a circle, we had 60 seconds to empty the contents of our bags. This proved slightly more difficult than we’d realised. Personally, I’d prepacked everything tightly so emptying the bag was interesting. More so was repacking it in the same time. We quickly accrued some punishment points before we even began.

Our pre-event kit list had included the standard items but, within these items we also had to include a party hat and a balloon.

The balloon & party hat gave the list a sense of amusement which I think made the preparation somewhat less daunting. Now, standing together having reassembled my kit at least three times, I was starting to understand the time hacks that we’d be facing.

Onward to some warm up drills – counts of 8. It’s during these that we started to gel as a team. Position one was a low squat with palms to the floor. Two had us jumping back into plank position. On three our feet jumped out to shoulder width apart. Four, back to plank. Five saw us do a downward push-up and six saw us return to plank. Seven had us back in the low squat and eight rounded us off with a jump up to the start position. Under the watchful eye of the staff we had to get it right, an error had us sent back to the start position.

Eventually, we set off from the base camp. Our first major task of the day was to solve a riddle. Some may have heard of the river crossing riddle where the farmer has to take items across the river but can only take one at a time. This was our riddle. We had the farmer, a crocodile, a mouse & some cheese. Each team member represented an item within the riddle. This exercise was made more enjoyable as the four characters ‘costumes’.

Roots-Birthday-Bags

We completed the task and moved on to our next way point. One of our jobs as a team was to find out way points via the map coordinates given to us by our guides. All the time we marched along while passing the ammo-box between one another.

At any point throughout the day, if we failed to answer a question, the team were given punishment points. We reduced these by successfully completing more 8 counts. As we got colder throughout the day the more I welcomed these. One of my favourite moments of the day came when we got to explore an abandoned mine. It was actually Ecton mine. Climbing inside the small entry hall and into the water filled cave was fun. Getting to spend time there looking for some malachite stones which the Roots team had hidden was a good challenge. We were told the history of the mine & how it had once belonged to the Duke of Devonshire and had been mined for copper, but perhaps more interesting was that it had been mined since the Bronze Age about 3500 years ago.

However, it was also at this point in the event that I started to notice a sharp pain in my shoulder. I’ve had some minor problems with my rotator cuff in the past but I had thought that it had healed. I was silently hoping it wouldn’t affect my process through the rest of the event.

As we progressed further to locate more grid points on our maps, the sun was getting lower in the sky as we entered a small valley. Ahead of us lay supplies needed to build a stretcher and carry a new addition to the group (a dummy called The General –  or as I liked to call him, Steve). Another learning experience, this time in creating knots; the clove knot and the square knot. Binding together the beams, we lifted The General onto the stretcher while supporting his neck and limbs. Suddenly behind enemy lines, our event took a covert turn. We had to safely carry The General to a safe location.

Roots-Stretcher

The sun had set, the temperature had dropped and The General was getting heavy on our makeshift stretcher. We waded through the river Manifold, under a bridge to avoid detection, up along the bank and we reached our destination, an old animal shelter where we were given a rest, time to eat, drink & told to change our shoes and socks. We could all feel that the end was coming, be it in the next hour or several hours. I think the group had a slight surge of energy with this knowledge. Our next task was to locate and retrieve. Three new locations given in succession. With only our head-torches we trekked along to discover some wonderful caves. The items we sought were illuminated by glow sticks. One of these caves is known locally as Thor’s cave, my mind suddenly perked up from the sleepy haze. The entry to this limestone cave was up a set of stairs moulded into the hillside. The entrance to the cave was slick and certainly made for an interesting climb in and out.

For me, this was actually the toughest part of the day. Throughout the day’s events, the pain in my shoulder had been getting stronger. I had informed the Roots staff and they were nice enough to alter some of the punishment workouts for me. But to gain access to some of the caves involved a bit of clambering & climbing over walls, not something I would usually have problems with but suddenly I found tears in my eyes due to damn pain. I’m not someone who likes to cry in front of others. I know there is absolutely nothing wrong with showing your emotions but it’s just a personal preference me for. With my raw team buff pulled up as far as it would go, I gritted my teeth and got on with it.

Finally, we had gathered all the objects, four lengths of wood, a jerry can, two white bottles and two lengths of rope.

OUR FINAL OBJECTIVE

We had to fill the jerry can using the two smaller bottles. All three had to be filled and attached to a rig made up of the wooden planks. The catch – at no point should the jerry can touch the ground and none of the bottles were allowed to touch the wooden support. Using what we learned earlier we rigged up a frame, attached the ropes to the cans and secured them onto the rig. With a steady march onward we made our way back to the basecamp.
We were mostly lucky on our trek back up the hill, which suddenly seemed twice as long as it had that morning. The bottles swung a few times and tapped the wood which resulted in some more punishment exercises.

Soon enough though, we reached base camp, asking for permission to put down the rig without punishment (we’d learned from experience not to trust everything our mentors had said) we created a circle around the fire to receive our finisher medals & pins and a well-earned beer.

Roots-Ammo-Can

This experience meant a lot to me. Not only was it my first endurance event but also because I now have a starting point for what I need to work on for future events. I’m not sure I would have managed to complete the event without my fellow seeds & event staff and I’m grateful to each and every one of them for the experience. I honestly can’t recommend the Roots event enough and if you ever have a chance to take part you should.

www.rootsadventuretraining.com

Photo Credits: Turner Videos & Matt Talbot

WTM 2016 – Drop it Like it’s Hot!

World's Toughest Mudder 2016 - Start

The 2016 World’s Toughest Mudder at Lake Las Vegas was epic! By showcasing to the world many new obstacles along with improving a few from the past, Tough Mudder was able to utilize the same Lake Las Vegas track while making the course feel new and even more exciting and challenging than 2015. The weather cooperated in 2016: minimal wind and this year’s mean temperature was almost 10 degrees warmer, with the lowest temp during the night 50 vs. 39 in 2015, a huge difference for WTM 2016!

Winners

OCR popularity continues to climb, and thanks to world class events like WTM continuing to push the obstacle limits, more and more competitors are getting into the races.  This year was no exception and the competition was fierce.   While everyone who tackled this event should be proud of stepping up to the plate, the winners really busted tail.  The winners of the team competition were “Team Goat Tough”, Ryan Atkins and Jonathon Albon, who logged 105 miles with “Team America”, 2015’s individual male winner Chad Trammell and Robert Killian, Jr.,  just behind logging 100 miles.  Trevor Cichosz won the individual male competition with 105 miles, while Austin Azar (2nd) and Kristopher Mendoza (3rd) each logged 100 miles.  Stephanie Bishop won the individual female competition with 85 miles followed by Susanne Kraus with 80 and Morgan McKay with 80, a mere 6 minutes behind Susanne!  There were some all female teams, although the team competition doesn’t differentiate, and “Lions, Tigers, Bears, Oh My!” logged 50 miles and “Bounce Squad 55” logged 50 miles a mere 10 minutes behind!

2016 saw 6 racers achieve the magic 100 mile mark…an honor that, until now, was held solely by Ryan Atkins.

Obstacles

World's Toughest Mudder 2016-Double Rainbow

Compared to only a year ago, this year’s WTM had a slew of new and absolutely E.P.I.C obstacles including Stage 5 Clinger, Funky Monkey Revolution, Double Rainbow (the new rendition of King of Swingers), and Kong. You can listen to Matt B. Davis’ podcast with Eli Hutchison of TMHQ here: Obstacle Podcast

World's Toughest Mudder 2016-Kong

If you completed those on every lap you should have come away with some uber extra satisfaction.  Those afraid of falling or heights had a hard time with these and all required solid grip strength and mental fortitude.  The Cliff was again the final obstacle, opening at Midnight.  Roughly the same height as last year, about a 1.5 second free fall, water just as soft for the landing (or hard depending on your technique).  Change this year was if you didn’t have a 50-mile bib on the final lap you were not allowed to make the final jump (which alleviated the back-up seen last year).

World's Toughest Mudder 2016-Funky Monkey Revolution

Only a few obstacle snafu’s that this author heard about while on the course.  Twinkle Toes was shut down in the early AM due to low water levels for safety reasons, so when you fell (and this author did a few times) you felt it where you didn’t need to.  Second, during nighttime ops, they changed Kong to overhead pipes and a slack line.  Apparently, someone jettisoned themselves off the slack line a bit too close to the edge of the crash pad so they took the slack lines away (which made the obstacle challenging again).  And third, grips.  Difficult to keep the bars dry but TM make a good attempt to do so on Double Rainbow by adding sticky tape – unfortunately, the tape came off of most of the bars throughout the event.  Not a big deal and to be expected.

WTM Experience 2016 vs. 2015

As a second year participant in WTM, this year was quite a different experience than last.  For one, last year I had no idea what to expect and was able to “just get out to Vegas and get it done”. This year, knowing what I went through last year, I was able to think about what I was about to undergo.  This “thinking” started shortly after Labor Day and occupied more and more of my thoughts up until Saturday.  Thoughts like “will I land wrong on The Cliff”, “will I be able to suck it up through the cold”, and “will my tent be in a good place” began to take up more and more of my thoughts.

There have not been many things in my life that have caused me so much anxiety.   Checking the Henderson temps on a daily basis somewhat dissipated my hypothermia fear, but The Cliff kept coming back.  Turns out, the only thing that really bothered me this year was the cold, and if I’m honest with myself that was mostly mental.  The obstacles, and The Cliff, after completing each one each lap, reminded me that people can overcome their fears if they just give themselves the opportunity.  One of the things I really love about OCR is, like life, once you get on the course, you can be amazed at what you can do if you JUST TRY.

Final Perspective

Few things I’ll likely do different next year (yes, I’m already committing to WTM 2017): 1) bring a pit crew, 2) not change my wetsuit/shoes/socks (if it’s working, why did I change? – bad idea), and 3) train a bit for long distance as my body this year didn’t handle it as well as last year.  I’ll also not sweat it as much as the WTM 2017 draws nearer.

This year’s WTM was a huge success and better than last year (although last year was darn good as well).  The camaraderie among the participants was exceptional, the pit crews seemed as awesome as ever, and the bagpipes kept spirits lifted throughout the event!

World's Toughest Mudder 2016-Bagpipes

Overcoming obstacles is something we all have an opportunity to do every day.  Most of the time, overcoming obstacles is easier than we think!

How to Prepare for an Endurance Event

I’m not going to claim to be an expert, however I have participated in plenty of endurance events such as multiple BFX events, Spartan Hurricane Heat, Spartan Agoge Class 002, multiple road races and an ultramarathon. If you are interested in testing the waters or pushing your mind and body to the limits, you want to be as prepared as you possibly can for anything that might happen. Here are a few of my basic tips on how to prepare for an endurance event:

  1. Always follow the gear list. Then double check it. It may sound stupid, and you may think “I don’t need that item,” but you will. For instance, on my most recent Spartan Race HH12HR event, some of my gear list required 3 balls any size, a condom, a sharpie, a bucket with no handle, a headlamp, 1 gallon of water and a bag/ruck sack with 20lbs for females and 30lbs for males. If you don’t have everything you need, you may not finish. You have no idea what the item will be used for. You may or may not use all the required items during the event, but at least you will be prepared. Also always have duct tape, even if it’s not on the list. You can use duct tape to strap on all kinds of things to your bag or body to keep your hands free. Trust me, duct tape is a life saver.
    HH12 gear list
  2. Create a mantra. Ok, I know this sounds corny, but when you are exhausted and think you can’t continue another step it comes in handy. Being mentally strong is a big part of the battle during endurance events. You will be physically exhausted, but more times than not, it’s not the physical exhaustion that causes people to quit or DNF. It is the negativity that creeps into your mind that will make you feel like you can’t continue another step. Just know that whatever pain you are in, it’s only temporary and you can do it. I personally keep it simple. I just keep repeating to myself, “Don’t stop. Don’t quit. Just keep moving.”
  3. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate. If I have an event on Saturday, I start hydrating on Monday or Wednesday at the latest. Cut back on caffeine, because it is a diuretic. My 7 hour drive to Nashville from South Carolina took 9 hours, because I stopped every hour on the hour to pee. Peeing every 10 seconds like a 9 month pregnant chick sucks on a long drive, but, if I hadn’t been hydrated I may have not finished. That wasn’t fun, but I was adequately hydrated for my event the next day. Not drinking enough fluid before a race, can lead to fatigue and muscle cramps. I personally experienced this a few weeks ago at the Asheville Spartan Super, I was so dehydrated that my run turned into a crawl. Fatigue from dehydration is no joke. For reference, if your urine is clear or pale you are well hydrated for race day. For you beer lovers this means, if your urine looks like a pale ale or IPA, you need to drink more water.

    IMG_0893 (1) My 7th pee stop on a 7 hour drive :/

  4. Switch up your training. I’m guilty of gravitating towards the weight section of the gym way too much. I’m not claiming to be a great endurance athlete, but I do know plenty of them. They alternate weights, with trail/hill running, HIIT (high intensity interval training), plyometrics and more. They don’t focus on one type of training, because in endurance events you can be doing anything from heavy carries up hills, sprints to regular PT (i.e. burpees, bear crawls and squats). Endurance athletes must be well rounded. And if it’s a Spartan endurance event, absolutely be prepared to go for long distances under heavy loads.
  5. Eat healthy for you. Now, I’m not going to say carbs are bad or good, or that you should only do a certain type of diet. We all can’t be amazing #wafflehouseelite athletes. Different diets work for different people, but you should try to eat foods in moderation. A well balanced diet that includes protein and carbohydrates to replace the glucose that is burned during  activity is important. Try to eat more natural foods versus processed foods. You can’t out train a bad diet. So eating pizzas, cake, and cheeseburgers aren’t going to make you feel that  amazing while running 10 miles. Common sense people.

    mind over matter

  6. Train your brain. This may go hand in hand with mantras, but honestly endurance events are just as mentally challenging as they are physical. Train your mind to avoid the negative. When you start to think negative thoughts like, “I can’t do this anymore” or “I’m too tired to go on” you need to change your thoughts. Focus on one thing at a time. Focus on that one task or obstacle, not how much more you have to do because it will overwhelm you. Think about how much you have already completed versus how much time you have left. Why quit when you have finished 10 out of 12 hours? 2 hours is nothing compared to all the hard things you already put yourself through! When times are really rough, vision yourself at the finish line getting your finishers medal or patch. Visualization is one of the best techniques that even Olympians have used to help them focus. Finally, just believe in yourself. If you had the guts to sign up for an endurance event in the first place, you must have had some faith in yourself that you could finish. So take that faith, work hard and make it happen.

Good luck and I hope to see you at a future endurance event! Next stop for me is the Spartan Agoge in China!!

HH12 Nashville

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest – Wembley, London

This month’s race was the Rat Race Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest. Based around Wembley, UK, the 10k obstacle course was 100% man-made and 100% tough. Rat Race is known in the UK for their incredible atmosphere, base areas, and impressive obstacles… and that’s exactly what we got.

Men's Health Survival of the Fittest Keg Bars

The first thing you saw as you approached the start zone was a tower of shipping containers, three stories high with people climbing up and down them. There were also some enormous obstacles around the finish line, but we’ll get to that later. The registration process was simple and there were no queues. The bag drop was secure, as well as having a separate valuables drop-off point which was free of charge and could only be accessed using your password.

Now for the fun stuff.

Men’s Health really stepped their game up again this year. I’ve done the past 3 years in a row and every time the obstacles have somehow managed to beat the previous year.

Once in the starting area, there was a warm-up video before setting off around London. Obstacles began quickly, with hay bales and hurdles before being soaked by a fireman’s hose, which was much appreciated in 29c heat, as we went on to tackle the stairs of Wembley Way repeatedly while carrying cones and sandbags.

The route back down Wembley way was a lot faster, as we slid down a water slide. Obstacle after obstacle, there were new challenges as we climbed scaffolding, did tightrope walks and leapt in and out of water before the real fun began.

Men's Health Survival of the Fittest - Slide

The course took us down into a knee-depth river where we found a tunnel. The tunnel was enormous and seemed to go on for a good few minutes, but participants eventually made it to the end and found the light again after stumbling around in the pitch black for a while.

The next area was called the ‘playground zone’ and it was exactly as you’d imagine. It began with a space-hopper race, which may have seemed easy as a child but it turns out they are exhausting when you are of adult size. We leaped over pommel horses, went head-first over spinning barrels and made our way through a giant net full of exercise balls.

Men's Health Survival of the Fittest - Spool Over

With obstacles to test upper body as well as core strength, this 10k was a proper workout, and left you feeling it afterwards, but had small foam mats at the bottom of some obstacles. I can’t imagine they would have helped much if you did fall, but they made it feel a lot safer at the time.  Having run through shipping containers filled with dry ice, and crawled through tunnels made from scaffolding, the course was almost over as we approached the main obstacle zone.

Leaping from a platform onto a stunt mattress, we set off up the three-storey shipping container pile, crossing a cargo net and making our way back down again, before arriving at the final obstacle.

It was, of course, the travellator. Being the second travellator I’ve encountered in UK OCR’s, this was definitely at a faster speed than the previous one, but it was one last push to the top of the obstacle and a leap down to the finish.  After collecting your medal, there was a free photo with your finishing time above your head, and a load of merchandise to look at, as well as being given a free rubber bracelet, headband and t-shirt.

Men's Health Survival of the Fittest - Car

The only negative aspects of the race were the fact that photos had to be bought (unless you were happy with the watermarked ones) and the water stations were a little too far apart for the temperature. But if those are the only two faults, you’re not doing too badly.

For a race with innovative, fun obstacles and the perfect mixture of challenges and achievable obstacles, I’d recommend Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest to anybody, from first-time runners to the experience.

Go get yourself signed up!

Spartan Race Beast – Krynica Zdroj, Poland

Spartan Race Poland StartOn July 23 and 24 was the Spartan Race Poland weekend near Krynica Zdroj, Poland  on the ski hill Jaworzyna Krynicka. I raced the Beast on July 23. It was a tough course with many hills and technical terrain. My Suunto watch recorded 22.5km and 1850m in elevation gain. This was comparable to the steep inclines of Montana race (Beast 2015) and Sun Peaks race (Beast 2015).

Spartan Race Poland Hurricane Heat

To begin, the Hurricane Heat started early morning at 5am on Saturday. A group of SGX coaches lead the hurricane heat. It was very early so I can’t recall all the details. There was about 50 participants. It looked really fun! Burpees was an essential part of this.

Obstacles that I believe are different from America and Europe: precision log hopping. There was a total of 8 short vertical logs/stumps in the ground that measured about 4 inches in diameter (~10 centimeters) and about a meter apart from one another.  With a decent pace, you lightly jump from log to log without falling to complete this obstacle.

Poland_bucket_carryThey also had 2 bucket carries. One of the buckets were already pre-filled with a sandbag. The other longer bucket carry was an uphill carry where you had to fill your bucket to the top and start climbing up a hill. If you didn’t think this was enough they also had a sandbag carry right before you cross the finish line!

 

 

The infamous memorization Sandbag carrytest. Each racer received a bib number. Somewhere in the first half of the course there was a board from #00 to #99 with 6 numerical/alphabetical figures that followed. You had to take the last 2 numbers of your bib and memorize the 6 figures that followed your bib number. While climbing the mountain I was repeatedly saying the figures to myself for approximately 1km. Much later in the race (8km later) there was volunteers asking for those 6 figures. If someone forgot their code it resulted in a 30 burpee penalty.

Spartan Race Poland Terrain

Furthermore, the part I enjoyed most about this Beast Race was the technical terrain. There was a long 2km run down the stream with rocks and current. The competitive racers were running through this but it was easy to twist an ankle on the uneven terrain. There was a long tunnel in the water we ran through as well. Let’s just say hydration was not a problem in this race! During the entire race I believe there was 5 hydration stations. Aside from the water trails, there was multiple steep inclines and single track trails. I remember climbing up the hill and every time we reached the top there was another hill to climb, classic!

Other than the terrain, Spartan Races in Europe use the same obstacles from venue to venue. They have a multi-rig but I found it to be the same set-up in comparison from the race in Slovakia and Poland. They have around 30 different obstacles. I found that the volunteers at each obstacle clearly directed you in the correct direction and explained what to do on each obstacle. Can’t thank enough for those volunteers!

Spartan Race Poland Festival

The Festival Area in the venue was in a great open location on the bottom of the ski hill. It had a gondola that went up all the way to the top of the hill for the spectators to watch all the racers as they hike up and down the mountain. It was a great venue. They were selling food, ice cream, and beer. It even had a Garmin tent as its sponsors. In the afternoon, Spartan Race was giving away prizes for top 3 male, top 3 female, and top 3 fastest teams. They were also giving away a couple of Garmin watches, and some goodie bags with protein and shakers.  All in all, it was a great event!


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