The Battlegrounds

The first of two events held at the permanent OCR location called The Battlegrounds near Cedar Lake Missouri was held on May 20th in what could best be called monsoon rains. The OCRWC qualifying course was originally designed to be a 5-mile loop, but due to the heavy rain, race director Robert Holm was forced to scramble and reroute the course before the 8 am start. This made the course longer, as racers were now required to complete two 3.15 mile loops. So, while racers missed out on some of the fantastic obstacles on the back end of the course, they got to hit some of the signature obstacles that the Battlegrounds featured such as The Gauntlet and The Drop Zone twice. This also caused some course crowding due to racers coming across other racers from the next wave on their second lap. With the extremely sloppy terrain and loads of racers lined up at each obstacle, times were slowed. But with over 2,500 athletes racing, there really was nothing much more race management could do, and I applaud their efforts.

The race started a half an hour late due to the quick course redesign with the elite wave of men and women leaving from the festival area with Coach Pain leading the cheers on the microphone. The cut grass trail racers were led down quickly became a muddy mess as athletes raced away from the festival area and onto their first series of mud mounds. All the recent added rain water made every dip into the water a chilling experience! Now cold, wet, and muddy athletes were back onto the trail racing towards the hanging grape vines of the winery across the street. A series of low hurdles was the next set of obstacles for racers to overcome before being led through another freezing pond of water and muck. Back out of the pit the trail became even worse with all the water dripping off athletes making an already sloppy track miserable. Now it was onto a moat crawl with a twist. For open racers, it was just a basic moat crawl, but for elite racers, fencing was added over the top where only a few precious inches separated the water and the fencing testing your lung power and mental toughness. A short jog led us next to the first of two tall cargo net climbs on the course. Another dip into a small pond with a hurdle in the middle and crawl through a mud pit that resembled soup led racers back round to the festival area where the second cargo net climb was located.  A lake crossing on a series of floating pontoon rafts tested one’s balance to the maximum and lifeguards were stationed on both sides of the traverse for safety.

After a brief jaunt back towards the festival area, a low crawl through the drainage tubes under a low bridge awaited racers before being required to climb up a wooden ladder to the top of a platform where a huge water slide was waiting. Once you flew down the slide into the freezing water an athlete had to swim a brief distance and climb out of the water pit area over stacked tractor tires. The trail now circled away from the festival area in a sloppy loop where just keeping your balance in the much was difficult. The nasty trail loop rounded back to the festival area where an inverted wall and a 6-foot-high Irish Table was waiting before climbing up a mud mound to The Drop Zone. Don’t like the high dive at your local pool? Well this very much resembled that feeling because this obstacle required one to jump from a height over 10 feet into a pool and swim out, luckily there were lifeguards stationed all around the pool! At least you got to wash the mud off you right? Hope you were not tired from your swim cause the next task was a wreckbag trail run where the footing was basically nonexistent. The rains had made all trails very difficult to navigate.

After finally making it out of the woods with your wreck bag, a massive mud mound was waiting for you to climb over….with your wreckbag. Talk about a total suckfest! One of the Battlegrounds signature obstacles was next up. The Gauntlet is an obstacle of chance and luck and caused many people, including myself, to get very wet. Suspended over a water pit are a series of lane, that all include a different configuration, on which you must traverse from one side to the other. There may be a fence to cross, or ropes, or a balance beam, or a rock wall. Pick the wrong lane and fall requires one to swim out and start over. Tired after The Gauntlet? Well up next was a pole traverse suspended in the air where an athlete could only use your hands to cross, no leg help here. There was even Air Force personnel there making damn sure you made it all the way to the end before continuing. A lateral rope traverse led athletes towards the finish but not before a slick warped wall climb that would knock the wind out of even the strongest of racers. One last climb over a semi-trailer and one last dip into a small pond were now all that stood between a racer and the finish!

After crossing the finish line, plenty of snacks and drinks were provided and more substantial meals could be purchased in the festival area along with Battlegrounds swag. Plenty of showers were provided to wash all that muck off and they even had two areas where you could get blasted with a fire hose to get that stubborn mud off, plus a few layers of skin. Parking and photos were free and the festival and parking area were easy to navigate. The ability of race management to adjust on the fly really made this a fun event. The conditions sucked, so if you thought ocr was just a “mud run” you wouldn’t have been far off here and although the back half of the course was rerouted there were still plenty of tough obstacles to overcome and I felt thoroughly tested. This event boasted over 2,500 racers and I’ll certainly be back for their next event September 23rd.

Photo Credit: Battlegrounds

The American Ninja Warrior Experience – Fans and Competitors: Come One, Come All

If you are a fan of American Ninja Warrior…
If you have a favorite Ninja…
If you train at a “Ninja Gym”…
If you love being challenged by new obstacles…
If you like racing against the best of the best, American Ninja Warrior Experience is for you. Fans and athletes of all ages and ability levels – spectator to pro – are welcome.  This is an immersive event with something for everyone.  Pssst…your kids (and you) can meet your Ninja heroes.  With the backing of NBC and Universal Brand Development, American Ninja Warrior Experience is sure to be high quality, challenging, and fun.

Here are the down and dirty details:

I know. I know.  Those aren’t a lot of details.  How much will it cost?  Which Ninjas will be there?  Is there swag and bling for competitors?  Obstacle Racing Media is in contact with Tom McCormack, Senior Vice President of Live Events at The ATS Team, and we will bring you the answers to these questions and more as they become available.  For now, you might want to revisit your Fall 2017 OCR calendar, especially if you live in/near Atlanta or Houston. This new brand in the OCR market is sure to be an event worth attending and fun for the entire family.

Read the full Press Release below.


NEWS RELEASE

NBC AND UNIVERSAL BRAND DEVELOPMENT COLLABORATE WITH
THE ATS TEAM TO LAUNCH

AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR EXPERIENCE

Touring Obstacle Courses From the Emmy®- Nominated Hit NBC Series Challenge
 Fans of All Ages to Test Their Own Ninja Skills

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif, MAY 22, 2017 – NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” (ANW), the premiere obstacle course competition series that is revolutionizing sports entertainment, is coming directly to fans through an immersive live event experience geared for the whole family, it was announced today. Created in close collaboration with NBC, Universal Brand Development and The ATS Team, the specialists who design and build the obstacles and courses for the show, the American Ninja Warrior Experience will give fans of all ages an opportunity to test their “ninja skills.” Tickets for the American Ninja Warrior Experience will go on sale in June, with the first event scheduled for the fall of 2017.

Bringing together the show’s fan-favorite obstacles including, the Warped Wall, Quintuple Steps, Salmon Ladder and many more, the American Ninja Warrior Experience allows participants of all fitness levels to compete against friends and other athletes on a multi-stage adult open course. The best adult open course competitors can even earn a chance to run in the Pro Course Competition against the best Ninja Warrior athletes in the world. Pro-athletes also will be offering tips and tricks during adult workshops. Event attendees also will have the unique opportunity to be spectators and watch the best-of-the-best compete in pro-competitions.

Youth competitors will have a chance to get up-close and personal with professional athletes while they learn proper obstacle techniques during one of the many workshops held throughout the day. Kids also will revel in the fun of competing on two youth open courses, which will feature smaller versions of the obstacles seen on TV with varying degrees of difficulties.

“We’re incredibly proud to announce our partnership with NBC and Universal Brand Development. Together, with a groundbreaking show, we will bring the American Ninja Warrior Experience to cities around the country and give people of all ages the chance to compete on the official obstacles from the show,” said Tom McCormack, Senior Vice President of Live Events at The ATS Team. “This is set to be the authentic and fun, family friendly ‘American Ninja Warrior’ fan festival that audiences have been asking for.”

“Now in its ninth season, ‘American Ninja Warrior’ has become a national sensation, with millions of adults and children tuning in every week,” said Carol Nygren, Vice President, Worldwide Live Entertainment, Universal Brand Development. “The show inspires everyday people to test their own athletic abilities at home, and we’re excited to collaborate with NBC and The ATS Team to build the American Ninja Warrior Experience for the fans, bringing some of the show’s most popular obstacles to participants of all ages and all fitness levels.”

For additional information visit www.ANWexperience.com

About American Ninja Warrior
Now in its ninth season, American Ninja Warrior has become a national sensation with over 6 million people tuning in every week to watch incredible athletes and ordinary people alike challenge themselves mentally and physically on the most daunting obstacle courses ever seen on TV. The series has become a fan favorite for families and young adults spurning an entire athletic community to train year round for the show, build their own backyard courses and participate in American Ninja Warrior style competitions. Season 9 will air on June 12 on NBC.

About the ATS Team
The ATS Team is an international entertainment specialty company with offices in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and London. Our work can be seen in 193 countries. With complete entertainment industry solutions we offer development, production services, set construction, challenge and stunt design rigging, underwater and high angle life safety, camera solutions, special effects, and staging/truss rentals for all aspects of live and pre-recorded productions. Current clientele includes Netflix, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, Hulu, Amazon, Disney, and many more.

About Universal Brand Development
Universal Brand Development globally drives expansion of the company’s intellectual properties, franchises, characters and stories through innovative physical and digital products, content, and consumer experiences.  Along with franchise brand management, Universal Brand Development’s core businesses include Consumer Products, Games and Digital Platforms, and Live Entertainment based on the company’s extensive portfolio of intellectual properties created by Universal Pictures, Illumination Entertainment, DreamWorks Animation, and NBCUniversal cable and television.  Universal Brand Development is a business segment of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, and part of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ: CMCSA).

###

CONTACTS:

THE ATS TEAM
Tom McCormack
SVP, Live Events
tom@ANWexperience.com

NBC
Traci Saulsberry
818-777-6649
Traci.saulsberry@nbcuni.com

Leslie Schwartz
818-777-3233
Leslie.schwartz@nbcuni.com

Kevin Castech
818-777-4816
Kevin.castech@nbcuni.com

UNIVERSAL BRAND DEVELOPMENT
Lauren Purnell
818-777-9311
Lauren.purnell@nbcuni.com

 

Spartan CitiField Sprint 2017: There are no rain delays in OCR

Those who have followed my recent race history might notice a common theme: weather on race day has been unusually hotunusually cold or unusually wetThis weekend proved to be no exception, as torrential rains hit New York on the same day that Spartan Race returned to CitiField. If you take away nothing else from this review, please remember that if you want to avoid extreme weather, make sure I’m not at your race. All the same, Spartan and thousands of Spartan racers were up to the challenge. As Spartan advised racers in a pre-race e-mail warning them to be careful on slippery stadium stairs: “rain is just another obstacle”. Aroo.

 

Eight-foot wall climb, in the wet shadow of CitiField

Before I tell you about what Spartan presented, can we talk baseball? Like all right thinking people, I was raised as a Yankee fan. To be sure, I believe in equal justice under the law, even for Mets fans, though I’m not sure I can extend that consideration to Red Sox fans. When Spartan started its first stadium race at Fenway Park in 2012, I was tempted by the concept, but the venue was a deterrent. I’m pretty sure that some kind of supernatural flames would consume me if I tried to cross the threshold at Fenway. When the event proved to be a success and Spartan extended it to other cities, I hoped that it would come to Yankee Stadium. Instead, Spartan opted for CitiField, which I still think of as Shea Stadium, partly out of resentment towards the corporate sponsor, and partly out of general orneriness. While I am reluctant to admit it, when the new stadiums were built for the Yankees and the Mets, it was the Mets that ended up with the better building. There, I said it. And it doesn’t make me less of a Yankee fan.

Why focus so much on baseball? Because the venue really made this race special. Even if you are not a baseball fan, there is something special about running on the warning track of a major league stadium. For me, one of the most memorable moments of the race was emerging from the visiting team’s clubhouse (smaller than I imagined) and… into the the visiting team’s dugout. Even without the obstacles and Spartan-ness of the day, that moment would have been enough for me.

And what about the obstacles? Here’s a good video that shows them all. Spartan presents the stadium races as an introduction to the entire series, and the distance, the numbers of obstacles, and the level of difficulty were perfectly calibrated to serve as a gateway to longer events. Many of the signature obstacles were on the course, along with a few that seem to be unique to stadium events. Racers faced six- and eight-foot walls, a rope climb, a spear throw, monkey bars, the Hercules Hoist, a sandbag carry and an A-frame climb. For the stadium races, they added “obstacles” that are really more like exercises from a typical CrossFit workout: box jumps, hand-release push-ups and ball slams. To me, these made the event seem more like an extended workout rather than a race; the sense of achievement you get after twenty-five ball slams is not really the same as the satisfaction you get from ringing the bell at the top of a rope climb. However, if you had never done a Spartan race “outdoors”, you would not notice the difference, nor would you miss the dunk wall or the fire jump.

Not one but two T-rexes appeared on the Jumbotron as they conquered the “obstacle” of box jumps. Not so hard for them, despite their tiny, tiny arms.

Spartan handled the logistics well. Waves were sent out every few minutes to keep the flow of athletes moving through the course without bunching. The only back-up I faced was at the spear throw, which used foam instead of hay bales – perhaps a sign of Spartan’s continuing efforts to standardize their “sport”? Most of the targets were out of commission and two wet – though cheerful! – volunteers did their best to manage the crowd.

Beyond the actual race, this event had the best “festival” atmosphere of any Spartan race I can recall. Racers and spectators mingled along the concourse, where many, many exhibitors plied them with samples (frozen yogurt! Something called “hard seltzer”!). Because of the compact course, spectators got the chance to see their athletes on several occasions, though many opted to do so from locations that kept them out of the rain.

 

There were spectators watching the finish line, but mostly from seats that were sheltered from the rain.

By my unscientific survey after the race, it attracted both Spartan veterans and plenty of racers who had never heard of the brand until recently.  Despite the cold and the rain, everyone I spoke to was eager to sign up for another race. I would consider another stadium race, even if the price point seems a little high for what feels like an extended workout at an extravagantly large CrossFit box. One final gripe: where was Mr. Met? If I’m going to go all the way out to New Shea, I expect to see Mr. Met (“Hey, Mr. Met: do you even lift?”).Despite the round head, this is not a picture of Mr. Met. Mr. Met was not at the race. This is me, showing off my Spartan bling, with the special stadium medal.

Photo Credit: the author and Spartan Race

THE BIG SKY IS FALLING – Montana Spartan Beast and Sprint weekend

 

Linzee Knowles

I’m a sucker for this venue. Last year that mountain put me squarely over its knee and opened a 55 gallon drum of good old ‘rocky mountain whoop ass’ on me. Don’t be surprised if I can’t explain it fully, but for some reason I came back to look it in the eye again. Pride probably. Now, before we start waxing Jungian over my relationship with the Montana Spartan race weekend, I think it’s important to cover a few basic things about the race itself. Maybe then you too will understand why this is an essential part of my OCR story each year.

Fire Jump Glenn

As I said last year, I would put good money on this being one of the most idyllic locations for an OCR race. Accommodations are plentiful, reasonably priced and charming. Kalispell is used to visitors year round, and boasts just about everything an out of town visitor would need. It’s a green meadow community that welcomes visitors with open arms.

Accommodations

The race course itself crosses over miles of almost entirely forested back-country trails. It’s wild and unforgiving. It’s a venue that combines winding, thrilling single-track, punishing climbs and some incredibly steep downhill quad-busters. The view is spectacular in almost every direction. I gushed about it enough last year: it’s a gorgeous course from start to finish, no matter which way you slice it.

Yet this year, there were some who felt shortchanged by the race overall. Some even said it was an easier race than they had hoped. The stats line up with that assessment: It was almost a mile shorter and about 900 feet less elevation gain. It was a faster course for sure. Did we just witness one of the toughest events on the Spartan Race calendar get easier?

As all the snowflakes begin to melt into a boiling torrent of keyboard mashing anger directed at Spartan Inc. for making it all too easy for us… let’s just stop for a moment. Go to the fridge. Grab a Kombucha and let’s get real. Have a seat, chicken little.

Montana vista

Look at these miserable short changed Spartans

Facts from now on:

Spartan Races are as awesome and challenging as they ever were.

This was a fast and technical course. Faster than last year. Running in the reverse direction on both days opened up a different type of race. There was one less hill climb than last year, but there was also more in the way of root laden single-track in its place. The heavy carries, while shorter (as some people pointed out) were also less simple, requiring careful foot placement and guts to complete. We were treated to two sprawling barbed wire crawls. The slip wall was really tough (tiny ropes for the Trump hands era I guess).

Look, I get it. It was different. Some staple Spartan obstacles were missing; there was no tire flip and there was no heavy sled pull like last year. Instead, in their place were a few newer obstacles like the Twister, Olympus and the Bender. Some will always bemoan change. I thought it felt fresh.

Fresh Running

My take? The Big Sky isn’t falling at all.

It was as full and powerful a beast course as any out there, and as challenging a Sprint as you will find anywhere in the world. This venue still offers one of the most engaging experiences available on the OCR circuit in North America. The terrain alone is world class.

Stefan

Sure, there are differences from year to year. Obstacles change. The expectations of the participants change. We get fitter and more experienced. The rules change. It’s progress – so get over it. Here’s the deal. Spartan may just happen to be in the business of making obstacle course racing a thing. To make it a ‘thing’ you have to cater to everyone.

At one end of the OCR experience you have almost superhuman elite racers who have formed a lifestyle around these events and fully expect to be tested to the limits – both by each other and by the course design. There are a lot of people like me who do “ok” but keep coming back for more (again, the full treatment of middle aged psychologies is not the subject of this review) and then we have the noobs. The first timers.

We all have a place on the continuum.

New people have a special place. While us veterans might be thinking the sky is falling, for others, the sky is opening up wider and brighter than ever.

Don’t forget that right now someone is signing up for a race for the first time ever. They ensure that the sport continues to grow. We cannot alienate the very people who come to the sport for the first time by making races too difficult, demoralizing or dangerous for new registrants. That might mean tempering the pace of Spartan’s own internal arms race to produce the toughest races on the planet and thinking laterally rather than vertically  when it comes to developing races. I for one think that it was progressive to see Spartan thinking about all participants rather than stagnating on the same old formula, or just catering to the elites or just making it impossibly hard. Ultimately we all have to move forward if we are going to be a part of the future of this sport together – no matter which division you run in. Ringer

So… Montana may have been a little easier this year. So what?  I’m gonna say it… If you feel that it was too easy, you didn’t run hard enough. Kick it up a notch. Enter the elite or competitive heats next time and give it everything you have. Compete within your age group. Increase the stakes for yourself. Compete against your own pace goal. Try and finish burpee free. Challenge others to do the same. Oh, and by the way Ben O’Rourke is awesome. Just look at that man.

BEN THE LEGEND O'ROURKE

CONCLUSION

I’ll try and make my home run conclusion with a story from the race on Sunday that reminded me of what this 5-year obstacle obsession of mine is all about.

Meet Jason and Michelle Cherry.

Michelle and Jason

It was just by chance that I ran with Michelle and Jason for some of the sprint course. As we chatted, I found out that this was their first ever Spartan Race. After the event I reached out to them to describe the experience as first time Spartans:

“I signed up for the Spartan Race on a whim. I had no idea what to expect. I had heard of the Spartan before from my husband’s friend and thought – yeah that could be fun, but never went out of the way to pursue it.

I have done plenty of races, triathlons, marathons…which I absolutely love, but the Spartan was on a whole different level. When I started the race some sort of crazy adrenaline kicked in and I felt like I could handle anything that came my way. (even though I couldn’t and did a lot of burpees!) I felt like I was a kid again, running through the woods, getting dirty and loving it, experiencing challenges I had never experiences before, being encouraged by complete strangers and encouraging anyone I passed. I got to run with some pretty great people, (esp) my husband – who was my biggest cheerleader! As I approached the end of the race I really wasn’t ready to be done- Though jumping over that fire at the end was such a great feeling, and honestly I have been on a post race high since.

The people I met the race weekend were so great! It is a community I felt welcomed into and one that I am excited to be a part of! And yes, I am definitely running the beast next year when the Spartan comes back to Montana. (or maybe sooner, I’m not sure I can wait that long – we will see!)”

I can’t have said it better myself. I’ve done my fair share of races now, and yet there was something restorative about seeing the course unfold for them for the first time. I guess that I saw in them a little of myself on my first Spartan Sprint in Calgary in 2012. To them it was still crazy and new. The obstacles were difficult and exciting. They were having fun and enjoying the experience itself. No industry politics, no podium scandals, no complaints. Just pure OCR fun.

OCR is for everyone. I’m glad to see Spartan striking a smart balance across two fantastic races this weekend.

Until next year Montana.

AROO!

Glenn

all photos credit Gamefacemedia and spartan race.

X-Warrior Challenge 2017

It’s 9:15 am.

Darcy Chalifoux (Race Creator) and Frankie John Fuchs (course designer) stood chatting together near the start line. They don’t look nervous, but it’s just fascinating to see how they might act on a day like today. In all of the activity going on around me, I’m suddenly more interested in what they are thinking and feeling than anything else. I’m hoping it’s positive for them: people are pouring into Calgary’s Stampede Park. 

Darcy and Coach

Xwarrior Challenge (5) Start line

As an alternative to some of the other players in the Canadian OCR business, X-Warrior feels critically important for the OCR community in Alberta and Western Canada. Other OCR companies have pulled out from entire provinces (states) this year, leaving the OCR communities in entire regions without races. Alberta itself has seen a contraction of sorts, so we are all very excited to have X-Warrior challenge in town. It’s taken an heroic effort to get this event up and running. It felt great to be standing here, ready to support them.

I’m certainly not alone either: some of the most familiar faces in the province have turned out en force to see what this format is all about. Amongst them are serious western Canadian competitors such as Josh Stryde, Jessica Lemon, Austin Azar, Kody O’Brien, Linzee Knowles, Stefan and Kristian Wieclawek, Graham MacDonald and Nancy Loranger to name a few. It seems the word has gotten around. It’s a stacked elite field with all the makings of a very competitive and visceral opening sortie.

Speaking viscerally, where are the facilities?

Real bathrooms.

I could get used to this

Don’t forget the Titans

Deanna and the kids are wondering when and where the free mcflurries are happening. It’s a legitimate thing to ask, and it’s part of the bribe. I stop to talk to Stefan Wieclawek for a moment. He’s wearing a white Titan bib. He’s telling me he is going to take a shot at snagging first place in the multi-lap 6 hour X-Warrior “Titan” event. I didn’t doubt it. True enough he would later finish in first place with a total of 8 laps or 56 kilometers.

Bring on the Pain.

After a brief introduction to the course by Frankie, the start line routine kicks in. None other than Coach Pain himself appears on the grandstand stage to applause and massive cheers. We kneel as he begins his monologue with a stirring, percussive reflection on the nature of our sport.

Coach Pain X

Darcy seems a little bothered by the sound quality. He needn’t be. The message hits unexpectedly and lands perfectly. It’s a call to focus, a rousing war cry that echoes through the stadium and brings with it a collective rush of adrenaline. It’s a wake-up call for everyone involved to take this race seriously. It’s a command to become competitors. An order to conduct your goddamn business!

Having Coach Pain at the start line was the right choice. It elevated the whole experience, allowing X to hit its stride.

Coach called the first 10 runners to the line. People are bouncing on their toes. Pacing foot to foot. 

This was serious stuff.

I did not expect this.

I am not ready for this.

It was about to go down.

The first group is away and I’m up in the second wave, about 45 seconds after the first. Coach Pain bellows one last time and we’re bolting out of the corral at full tilt.

2017-05-13 | 2017 X Warrior Challenge Calgary

Immediately it’s clear that this is a runner’s race. We take in the south loop of the track, jumping a few walls before running into the stadium seating of the Grandstand.

This is brand new stuff for me, but I’m finding plenty of pace and energy tackling the stairs. We cross into the interior of the grandstand, tackling rope covered stairs and multiple vertical walls set up inside the grandstand building.

Note: OCR shoes are very squeaky on polished concrete.

We emerge into the upper levels of the grandstand, snatching a few high fives from volunteers as we pass, only to run back inside to descend (read: jump down) a long stairwell before bursting back out into the sunlight and along the northern edge of the Stampede racecourse itself.

Pace increases as concrete gives way to loose sand and hard pack. The field thins out. My shoes are biting in well and I start to close in on a few racers that stayed ahead of me in the tighter confines of the stadium, which is fast disappearing behind us.

In the distance, I can hear Coach Pain releasing the last of the elite runners with another bellowing shout “GO!”

Pace.

Obstacles come rushing at us in quick succession. We face a horizontal wall walk and a tip of the spear style obstacle before we turn back on ourselves to tackle an inverted wall. My back is starting to ache again (I hurt it a few days earlier – I’ll explain in a bit). Must push on. Gotta catch Ben O’Rourke. My nemesis.

The obstacles seem well designed, with plenty of lanes. We were never held up by bottlenecks on our heat. A decently long barbed wire crawl really lost me some ground, which I regained (at great effort – might I add) by the time we reached the bridge across the elbow river.  

That bridge was covered with a low ceiling of rope and we had to bear crawl the distance at speed. The adrenaline is still flowing; pacing a run like this stresses me out a little. The hard efforts coupled with uncertainty of what was to come added to that internal struggle. Yet, it was at this stage I realized that I this was my first race in years where I wasn’t caked in mud or had wet feet at this point. I could get used to this.

People are getting tired. Heavy lungs all around me. Ben has already taken a face-full of asphalt but he’s not stopping. Xwarrior Challenge (6) Ben and Glenn

With the first sandbag carry out of the way, we moved to a Z wall, and then back towards the main arena, meeting the first of the elite female wave who were battling for the podium as we ran through an underpass. After a heavy tire flip and the jarring visual contrast of running through some very dark stables, we headed back out into the blinding sunlight for a flat bucket carry.

A really fast over/under style hurdle section was in there too. Somewhere. It’s just memorable because as I jumped over the final hurdle I heard coach Pain’s voice booming across the field again. “Remember to compete! Remember to compete!”

Keep that pace up.

Closing in on the final set piece of the event there was a double tire carry, and yet another sandbag carry among the bleachers of a smaller (posher?) grandstand within the arena circle. My lower back was really slowing me down now, but Coach’s voice took over. “I KNOW SOME OF YOU HAVE GOT PROBLEMS! I KNOW SOME OF YOU HAVE GOT PROBLEMS!” He repeated over and over again. I was having problems. In my L4 and L5 specifically. You see – just two days earlier while trail running I had glanced (like a stone) over a rogue tump of grass on my way down a hill, bouncing on an unprepared, completely straight leg. My spine took the shock and punished me for it.   

Just three obstacles were left.

The axe throw… which I couldn’t complete, even with three attempts. Practice required for next year. 20 slow and painful burpees followed, but I’m right next to the start area now and the end is in sight.

Axe Throw

After a good rope climb (dry and mud-less), I felt somewhat redeemed, just in time for the final obstacle, ‘The Dragon’s Back’. You may have seen a very similar obstacle at OCRWC. It takes courage and technique to complete, leaping from a horizontal platform to an angled platform, grabbing onto a bar to pin the landing. It is a fast and thrilling way to end to the race, and probably the most technical obstacle on the course.

Crossing the line felt great. Well, everywhere except my back. I was reminded that the Titan event would circle this course for a further 5 and a half hours. Ouch.

Xwarrior Challenge (1)

I reached out to the course designer Frankie-John Fuchs for his rationale on the course design for X-Warrior Challenge:

For me, stadium course race design is very challenging and exciting. The main challenge is that the foot-print for the course is very restrictive, but the excitement comes from being able to integrate some of the amazing opportunities offered by this great facility. It doesn’t get much more iconic then Stampede Park, and in some instances, X-warrior is introducing people to this world famous location!

My general principles in designing courses are pretty simple:
1) Nobody finishes my course in under 30 mins. We say it’s going to be a 5K distance race, but it is definitely going to be a little longer than that. I love the training and preparation that people put into the races at all levels and I feel people’s desire to be tested! I also believe people are stronger than they know so they deserve the glory of not only completing a 5km race but being introduced to the deeper waters of longer, unpredictable races. As for the Titans, well… they are pretty much unstoppable, but I selfishly don’t want them to get away with too many laps and not feel it for a week. 


2) Everyone is going to hurt – I’m going to strategically stack or create obstacles that target specific areas of your body at different parts of the race to test you! I also want to minimize bottlenecks while ensuring obstacles are not too far apart.

3) You will inspire others – my favorite part of OCR is the community. I want to have the course enable this by integrating areas where racers pass by each other to allow for cheering and interaction.

My Thoughts

X was a great experience. I enjoyed every moment of that course and I felt that desire to engage with the event and bring others along with me. I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from other participants too and the format works well for anyone who enjoys OCR or running without the threat of a cold outdoor shower afterward. The Titan experience adds another strata of performance to the event, allowing endurance athletes to showcase their skill set also.

Logistically, you’ll find the venue really easy to get to. Registration was a breeze. It was entertaining for spectators and the vendor tents within the race grounds were great. There were free McFlurries. Finishers received a quality medal, a wristband, snacks, and a choice of T-shirts or tank tops. Winners were awarded a pair of Icebug trail running shoes. It’s a really rewarding event which will keep people coming back for more. Registration for 2018 is already underway and the hordes of race hungry Canadians are signing up as we speak.

Xwarrior Challenge (8) podium

Further Thoughts and Balance

There is a fine line between setting a course that will both challenge and entertain competitors and casual racers. X seemed to cater to both the strong and the speedy, but it did favor the runner a little more. I would have liked to have seen a couple of more challenging heavy objects on course – something a little grisly to get stuck into and to struggle with. Maybe a heavy plate or tire drag and push. Maybe an atlas ball maneuver or a double sandbag carry. Either way, I felt that there possibly could have been something to really allow those who are more strength focused to shine as brightly as those with speed and stamina. I think there is room for that in X. Even if it’s just a competitive wave thing.

That’s really all I’ve got, and while there’s always room to develop, X-Warrior challenge did so many things right, it’s hardly a mark down. 

X-Warrior was fast, the stadium was creatively used and featured some really fresh ideas underlying the use of obstacles and the terrain. It’s a smart and very savvy presentation, with a great intention, superb execution and a clear love of the sport underlying the whole thing. 

Conclusion and the BIG question.

I asked myself, if I was coming to this race for the first time, would it have the kind of quality, atmosphere, community, competition, excitement and difficulty curve that I experienced on my first ever OCR event? Would I come back for more? Would I train for X-Warrior challenge? 

Xwarrior Challenge (2) elites

Absolutely. I cannot wait to see what X has in store for us next in Western Canada!

Xwarrior Challenge (7) Medal

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