Toughest Mudder Midwest… It’s Colder Than You Think!

Rockford, IL is the location for the Toughest Midwest. Being that it’s summer in the Midwest… It’s going to be hot, right? Not so fast there, Speed Racer! Actually, Northern Illinois can get a bit chilly this time of year.

The current forecast notwithstanding, you are looking at a much colder feel for Toughest Midwest than we felt in Atlanta for Toughest South even though the current AccuWeather forecast shows pretty much identical weather for this upcoming race. Now before everyone gets their panties in a bunch let me explain why this will be the case.

Me @ Toughest South

Training for the Cold

Many of the participants at this event have been training in the dead of Summer. In the US, the average temperature for most places is likely in the low to mid-80s during the day with low temperatures in the low 70s at night. As I prepared for toughest South I was doing most of my running and training in the cold of winter in the Midwest. This means colder running temperatures as well as colder water during my submersion training.

Basically, my body was getting used to an event in the cold even though I was racing and Atlanta where it would prove to be much warmer. It’s going to be the opposite case at Toughest Midwest. For this event, participants have acclimated to warm-weather training and racing during the summer months. Now racers will most likely face a much colder environment than they’ve acclimated too and there will be no opportunity for the sun to help keep stave off hypothermia.

Prevent Hypothermia

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone will have issues with the temperatures. People who live in the northern US will be much more used to the weather. Hopefully, those who have been in a much warmer climate throughout the summer will have planned a way to train in cold water.

My Battle Corps teammate, Kelly Dzierzynski, scheduled a trip to Southern Wisconsin this week that is actually part of her training for what will be her initial go at a Toughest event. “I’ve had issues with hypothermia at OCRs in the past so I’m not taking anything for granted. I’ve been subjecting myself to progressively longer early morning submersions in Lake Michigan when the air temps are in the 60’s like they are supposed to be on the night of the race. Then, in between submersions while I’m still soaking wet, I have been throwing in some bear crawls, and running in the sand while dealing with that wind coming off the lake. Since this is all new to me I want to be ready for anything!”

Kelly Dzierzynski in Lake Michigan

A lot of you Mudders out there aren’t as fortunate as Kelly, so you will have to be more creative with you preparation. Now my World’s Toughest Mudder brethren out there can see what’s coming… The following are some tried and true recommendations that many of us use in preparation for the granddaddy of all obstacle course races so I suggest putting these into play for this “baby brother” version of that event.

Training

– Start taking cold showers or ice baths ASAP!

– Run cold/wet. If the weather isn’t that cold then get wet and run in the early morning to ensure you are facing the lowest temperature possible.

– When you do your “wet runs” do so in clothing that will not dry quickly (cotton, etc).

– Turn the air down in your house or at the office and wear minimal clothing. Get comfortable being uncomfortable!

– Find a largest/deepest body of water near you in which to swim (deeper water will be cooler).

 

Race Prep

– Bring your wetsuit/shorty.

– Pack your Neptune Thermoregulation System or Frog Skins, or Hyperflex Vest, shorty wetsuit or whatever you have to use as transition gear.

– Don’t forget your windbreaker. This should almost be a required item!

– Bring your Dry Robe (just in case).

Evan Perperis @ Toughest NE

Wetsuit Optional (Or Is It?)

As a veteran of five World’s Toughest Mudders and one Toughest Mudder, I have learned through my experience that you need to come to a race like this prepared for anything. You need to bring most, if not all, of your gear and have a plan in place to deal with pretty much whatever mother nature throws your way whether that be a sand storm in Vegas or a rain storm in Rockford.

WTMer, Evan Perperis finished 7th at the Toughest Northeast race has a similar philosophy, “I always bring a lot of options to the Pit and then make a game-time decision. My choices range from just shorts with no shirt and then adding various accessories like a hat or hood or maybe my Neptune shirt all the way to a full wetsuit.”

Funny thing…There is an ongoing joke in the World’s Toughest Community, “no wetsuit necessary.” This refers to the poor souls who show up to WTM without a wetsuit. While a wetsuit isn’t necessarily required for this event I definitely wouldn’t underestimate the variability of MidWestern weather patterns. However, if you do come unprepared and need some help come find me in the Pit. I’ll be crewing for a few people but I’m happy to lend a hand!

Photo Credits: Tough Mudder, Battle Corps, Subjects’ Own

Asheville Spartan Super-Southeast Showdown


Spartan-Race-Logo

Southeast Showdown

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it”
-Moliere

Never fear, ORM is here
In case you missed the NBC Sports and Spartan Live coverage of the Spartan Super in Asheville, North Carolina, I am here to save the day. Below is the good, the bad, and the muddy of what you missed at the Spartan Super in Asheville.

        First off, I was unaware this was a U.S. Championship Series Race when signing away my life… I mean registration. I just saw, “Asheville, North Carolina” and thought, hell yeah, good beer. After doing a tad of research before this event I found out that last year’s event was nothing shy of absolute torture. So, since I’m a sucker for a good craft beer, I thought “better get to work” and laced up my sneakers and hit the pavement.

Mountain_Top_Super_Spartan_Asheville

Time Trials

Spartan Race introduces a new way to spend your Pre-race Friday night by attending the open house and time trials. The time trials will run you about $49 if you chose to compete, or free to spectate. The course is a mile dash through 10 of the most popular obstacles, including Twister, Slip Wall, and the Hercules Hoist. Athletes were sent out in small waves to battle each other to be the top 20. After the top 20 were chosen, one final heat remained in order to award the top three male and female winners.

If you don’t wish to compete, you can still practice on the obstacles to get a feel for the madness. Certified SGX Spartan Coaches are on site to help with any tricks and tips to aid you in conquering the obstacles before race day. As usual, Spartan had its swag for purchase along with light refreshments and water. I was disappointed that there was not a pre-race discount on shop items for time trial competitors and spectators. Maybe next time ! 😉

 

Start_Line_Asheville_Super

The Elites

       Hobie Call, had an astounding time of 1:18:02, just fast enough to beat out Ryan Atkins with his time of 1:18:48. Brian Gowiski and Robert Killian fell just shy of the top two with insane speeds of 1:24:37 and 1:26:48. Obstacle Racing Media spoke with Robert at the time trials and he let us in on a secret of his. Robert is able to keep up his endurance at these races with the added help of Tailwinds nutrition. Robert pre-mixes the electrolyte and hydration fuel in a collapsible bottle to have on hand during longer events. Thank you for the tips Robert! Going to have to give it a try!

As for the females, Lindsey Webster delivered amazing times of 1:34:01 for the race, with Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning right on her tail with their times of 1:34:30 and 1:34:50. Close finish for these top three females! Lindsey states that she really had to push to come out with the win at this year’s Asheville. “I caught second place with Faye on the log carry and we bombed down the final hill together. So fun to race side by side again with this girl, just like last year!” She adds, “It took me a little while to internalize that I had won!” Congrats Lindsey!

Entrance_Asheville_Spartan

Top athlete, Brakken Kraker and NBC sports host, David Magida state that this year’s Asheville Super was quite “easier” than last year. Although I did not race the course last year, it has been the topic of discussion for some time now how difficult last year was. The last 1.7 miles of straight mountain climb were excluded from this year’s race. I do like to Go Big Or Go Home, but I was ecstatic to hear the deletion of the last mile, (and so were my calves).

The Obstacles

“The moment when you want to quit is the moment when you need to keep pushing”

        Black Mountain without a doubt caused some damage that day. In typical Spartan fashion, the challenging venue just wasn’t enough. Spartan made every obstacle “championship” hard, meaning, heavier, taller, and slipperier. The noted tire flip increased in weight to a total of 400 pounds for the men and 200 pounds for the females! It took three females to get the men’s tire to flip just once! Another, incredibly difficult obstacle was the already dreaded Spartan Bucket Carry. Imagine carrying a full bucket of heavy stones and rocks up the side of a mountain when you’re already 4 miles in and about 2,000 feet in elevation. Talk about murder for this Florida girl.

Tire_Flip_Asheville_Spartan

Spartan Race course designer, Steve Hammond states that the “signature” moment for this race was the water crossing. I would personally agree with Steve on his statement!! The scenery was absolutely breath taking!! The only problem was, at that elevation, I didn’t have enough breath to give! There was even a shark sighting out there! That’s definitely memorable! Haha!

 

Spartan_Super_Bucket_Carry_Asheville
Bucket_Carry_Asheville_Spartan
Sandbag_Asheville_Super

“It is then when your heart takes over and takes the lead.”

Based on the terrain and elevation alone, I would not recommend this particular course for a beginner OCR athlete. I have done many races in my short two year career and THIS one right here made me question myself and my athleticism. I had to push myself past a mental barrier that I have never felt before. The race was designed to make or break athletes and I can say I felt broken up until I actually crossed that finish line. I genuinely cried at how proud of myself I was to have finished the race and that I didn’t quit even though my mind and my body both told me I should.

My heart proved stronger that day and carried me to finish! I rewarded myself with a complimentary Zombie White Ale from Catawba Brewing Co., a North Carolina craft brew. I also scored this sweet Asheville Southeast Showdown dri-fit t-shirt for $30.

Medal_Spartan_Super

 

If you have decided to make this Super a MUST DO on your race schedule for 2018, I suggest these breweries and restaurants to visit when in town!

Asheville Brewing
Hole Doughnuts
Tupelo Honey Cafe
Wicked Weed
Sunny Point Cafe

Thank you to ORM and Spartan Race ! Stay Dirty and Stay Fit 💪🏻😊

Jessika_Poppe_signature

 

Photos by: Myself and Spartan Race

Spartan Palmerton Sprint #2 – Enjoy the View

Spartan-downhill-sand-bag-carry-at-Palmerton

The hills are alive with the sound of Spartans!

Okay, maybe “alive” is a bit of an exaggeration. For the second weekend in a row, Spartan Race invited all those willing to climb the mountains in Palmerton, PA and challenge themselves on one of its most difficult courses.

The course, itself, was mostly unchanged from Sprint #1, so for more information on that, you can read my review. The only difference was a slight change in route coming down the mountain. This was due to a heavy dose of rain received the days leading up to the race. The previous route was too slippery, and almost certainly would have ended in numerous injuries. I was slightly disappointed that the obstacles weren’t switched up a little, to add something fresh for those returning from week 1. But, logistics for that may not have been possible.

Palmerton-Atlas-Carry

MAKING AN ENTRANCE

Since the course was pretty much the same, that leaves time to discuss a few other aspects of what to expect at a Spartan Race. Parking at Blue Mountain didn’t require a shuttle. Some lucky race-goers were parked just outside the entrance, while others had to take a brisk walk to check in. Volunteers and Staff were parked just on the other side of the lodge from the entrance.

Plenty of waivers were accessible for both the mountain and Spartan. Rather than forcing you to look up your bib number on a giant board of papers, Spartan allows you to either bring a predetermined barcode, or have the volunteer look up your name. Either are quick and makes check in even easier.

Ski-lift-view-at-Palmerton

ENJOY THE VIEW

Spectators had several opportunities to watch competitors, right from the festival area. Just before mile 3, on the far side of the festival area, they could watch Olympus and the Spear Throw. Back on the nearside, in the last mile of the course, the Bucket Carry and Barbed Wire / Slip Wall were in perfect view. Spectators could also walk up the hill near the finish line to watch the final few obstacles: Twister, Dunk Wall, and Fire Jump, then the finish.

One of the coolest parts about spectating at Palmerton is the ski lift. I’m not an avid skier, so I was a bit surprised at how long it takes to get to the top, despite making the trek on foot a couple times already. It’s a nice reminder of just how tall the mountain is. Once at the top, you can take a short walk over to watch the Atlas Carry and Cargo Net. Fair warning, if you don’t like heights, the ride down may be a bit unnerving.

View-from-the-top-of-Blue-Mountain

PALMERTON PHOTO FINISH

Once done on the course, again a plethora of post-race snacks were available. No organic milk this time, though! After receiving your medal and picking up your shirt, a nearby tent had several tablets where you could easily search for your time and rankings. Some of them seemed to have issues connecting to the server, but I only ever waited a few seconds until one freed up.

If race pictures are important to you, Spartan has you covered. Sprint #1 was on a Sunday and preceded by a Super on Saturday, so photos took a few days to get posted. Sprint #2 took place on a Saturday, with no race on Sunday. Photos and official results were posted on Monday. This is definitely one of the quickest photo turnarounds I’ve seen. Searching by bib number returned good results, but if you couldn’t find any, there was a time search option. You may be wondering why that’s helpful. Spartan is smart enough to place the checkpoints from Chronotrack at the same obstacles as their photographers. So, if you go onto Chronotrack or Athlinks, you’re able to see what time you crossed each checkpoint, and narrow your search for photos. Genius!

 

Palmerton-Walk-From-Ski-Lift-To-Atlas
Photo Credit: Adam Gori, Spartan Race

Spartan Race Palmerton Sprint #1 – Going Up?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Twister

Last year, I ran my first ever Spartan Race at the Blue Mountain Sprint in Palmerton, PA. Whenever I told someone that, their response was along the lines of, “Well, you picked a heck of a race to start with.” See, Palmerton has a reputation. The word infamous comes to mind. The climbs are long and steep. And, with an NBC Series Super only the day before, Sprint racers could expect a difficult course on Sunday.

THE FESTIVAL AND PARKING

Out of the handful of OCR races I’ve been to, Spartan has had the largest festival area. Although, it’s worth noting that I have not been to a Tough Mudder yet. And I’m not sure if Palmerton’s festival is larger because of the NBC race on Saturday, but there was plenty of space and plenty of vendors. I have heard that the line to park can grow long as the day goes, but early in the day it took no more than a few minutes to get in. Check in was simple as well and the lines moved quickly.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Men-Start

THE HILLS

Maybe “hill” is an understatement. Palmerton offers a straight up mountain course for anyone willing. The Sprint course only has one climb to the top of Blue Mountain, whereas the Super had two. This may lead you to think that the ascent on the course wouldn’t be too bad then. If you were there, then you know that’s wrong.

First off, my GPS watch thought the course was about half a mile longer than it was. I’m chalking that up to the climbs. Overall, it logged a total of 1,755 ft of ascent. On a course that was roughly 4.5-4.75 miles, that’s almost 400 ft per mile. Checking my splits, not a single mile averaged a descending number. In fact, each mile had over 125 ft of ascent. So, even when coming down the mountain, you were still going up. Mind blowing, right?

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Map

THE COURSE

The layout of the course was pretty similar to 2016. Some thought that was going to be a negative, but with some of the minor route differences and new obstacles, I thought they improved on last year’s design.

Racers start out with a short climb up a snow tubing hill, followed almost immediately by a longer climb up a couple skiing hills. Almost the entire first mile is making your way up the mountain. Total ascent on the first mile is over 750 ft. The extended climb, with minimal obstacles, allowed for a spread out field.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Atlas-Carry

THE OBSTACLES

Spartan included many of its new obstacles, such as Twister and Olympus, plus several classics. One I expected to see, but didn’t, was the monkey bars. They were included in the section of the Super course that veers from the Sprint course, along with Z-Walls and a few others. The layout of the obstacles was pretty spot on. The hurdles and walls were mainly early, with the tougher obstacles coming after the mile-long climb to the top. Once the top was reached, racers almost immediately were faced with the Atlas Carry.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Ape-Hanger

A couple permanent Palmerton obstacles reappeared, of course, as well. First was the swim through Blue Mountain’s pond. A life jacket was optional for the Sprint (the day before it was mandatory for Super racers). Shortly thereafter, competitors had to try their grip strength on Ape Hanger, just shy of 4 miles in.

There were two heavy carries on the course: single sandbag carry and bucket carry. The hill that the sandbag carry was steep enough that many racers were walking. The earlier waves were told that it was a bit slippery from the overnight dew and were advised to be extra cautious. The Multi-Rig was all rings, but no bell. Instead, after swinging to the final ring, racers had to transition onto, then over the ladder wall. It didn’t add much difficulty, but was a nice little curveball to keep Spartans on their toes. Twister was saved for the final 100 yards, so that the only obstacles left on the downhill finish were Dunk Wall and Fire Jump.

Palmerton-Sprint-#1-Elite-Women-Finishers

THE FINISH

A volunteer awards you with a medal and even a hug as soon as you finish. One thing Spartan is great at is post-race snacks. Even though I didn’t plan on having much more than water, I grabbed each of three Clif Bar flavors, a banana, some organic chocolate milk and, of course, a cup of water. Once you’re done stocking up and leave the finisher’s corral, the finisher’s shirt pick-up is right there.

Another worthy note is that many Elite/Pro racers from Saturday stuck around for Sunday’s Sprint. Ryan Atkins, Ian Hosek and Angel Quintero took top 3 for the men, with Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning finishing on top for the women.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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Savage Race Pennsylvania 2017 – What A Skirmish!

Savage-PA-2017-PRO-wave

On fields where the combat normally involves paintballs, athletes from all over the country came to rise above the morning fog and win a different kind of battle. The threat of rain couldn’t prevent thousands of competitors from facing a difficult Savage course, head on. The terrain at Skirmish, located in Albrightsville, PA, was flat but technical, featuring rocks and tree roots on the majority of the race route.

Many attendees were returning Savages, ready for another challenge. Some came to earn their Syndicate medal, which Savage gives out for running multiple races in a calendar year. Others, like myself, hitting their first Savage of 2017. Those who had come to run their first Savage hopefully came prepared with upper body and grip strength.
Savage-PA-2017-Half-and-Half

PRE-RACE AND ARRIVAL

Savage’s site is very easy to navigate and, though races can get expensive, there are usually plenty of promotions. Many of them include BOGO half-off deals. Once registered, email communications keep you updated on wave times, bib numbers, course map, parking and more. This way, you’re check in is quick and there’s little concern come race day. In this case, the course map was available about five or six days ahead of the actual event.

Parking was pretty simple and cost $10 for standard and $20 for VIP. As with other Savage races, standard parking was within walking distance from the festival entrance, making it easily accessible. For me, this saved me the $5 for bag check. I was able to keep my bag in the car and carry my valet key in the zipper pocket of my running shorts.

Savage-Map-PA-2017

I arrived at about 8:10 am, 50 minutes before the SavagePRO wave, which is their competitive heat.  The line orter line was a bit longer than the last race I had been to (Maryland Fall 2016). But, as I later found out, there were 100 more athletes in the competitive wave this time around. Overall, it took about 10 minutes to check in and get my bib, still allowing me time to walk back to the car to throw on my trail shoes and bib, so I could warm up.

Whereas Maryland really only had one or two obstacles near the start line and festival area, Pennsylvania had about ten, including a “mystery” obstacle that I’ll get into later. Many racers took advantage of this layout and got in some practice before the race. About ten minutes before the start of each wave, runners were allowed into the starting corral.

Savage-PA-2017-Twirly-Bird

THE COURSE

I’ll start this part by mentioning that Matty T, Savage’s normal master of the starting line, couldn’t make this particular event due to a scheduling conflict. Luckily, Savage was able to secure Coach Pain to fill in his place. Though they have two very different styles of beginning a race, both are extremely good at what they do. I had also run an open wave later in the day and heard a completely different, but equally motivating, speech from Coach Pain.

The overall distance was just under 6 miles, which included 30 obstacles. Runners were greeted with an obstacle-free run of almost 1.5 miles to begin the race. By mile 3, only 9 obstacles had been attempted. This meant that the last half of the course smacked you with 21 obstacles!

Savage-PA-2017-Rig-Over-Water

Though I’ve only done a handful of races, this was definitely the toughest collection of obstacles I’ve faced. By the end of it, my biceps were drained of life. Savage found a way to take, what I thought was already a tough 2016 obstacle list, and make it even tougher. New obstacles like Twirly Bird compounded with two rigs at this venue ensured this would not be a cake walk. Not to mention that mystery obstacle, which was dubbed Half and Half by the end of the day. The front half was an inclined monkey bars, like you see in Sawtooth, with the back part a declined pole, as you see in Pipe Dreams. Did this mean there was no Sawtooth, then? Of course not! At the PA location, some of the obstacles are permanent and stay at Skirmish year-round. So, although racers didn’t get a chance to see the new Sawtooth setup, they were still climbing on it!

The only complaint I had about the course was that Kiss My Walls, during the Pro wave, had an extremely long line. It took roughly 5-7 minutes to even get one attempt. And, because Pro racers have mandatory obstacle completion and KMW is one of the tougher obstacles, it cost many competitors lots of time. Oddly enough, in the open heat I ran later on, there was hardly a line at any obstacle.

Savage-PA-2017-Kiss-My-Walls

THE FINISH

After racers complete the grueling course, they’re greeted with volunteers handing out medals, shirts and water. If you’re a “swag” kind of OCR junkie, Savage’s shirts are super comfortable and the medals are solid. Within 10-15 minutes, most times and rankings were available at the results tent. Though there were no actual showers (very common), Savage had several hoses and two changing tents set up a short walk away from the start line.

Each registration included a free beer, so that was available in the festival area after (and I guess technically before) the race. There were also beef jerky samples, a life insurance company, and food vendors set up in case you wanted to hang out afterwards. Savage also had two waves of their 0.5 mile kids race, called Savage Jr.

Results were posted the following day (Sunday). Runners also had the option of signing up for a program, called Pic2Go, that will automatically post pictures to your Facebook as they become available. Or, you could wait until Thursday when all the pictures would be posted on Savage’s site. Pic2Go could only post pictures where your bib was clearly visible, so some racers may have seen a few, while others would see upwards of 20.

This was only my second Savage Race, but there’s no doubt it will not be my last. Though the course presented racers with a legitimate challenge, the casual racer was still able to find a place to enjoy themselves with friends and family.

Savage-PA-2017-Finishers-Reflection

Photo Credit: Savage Race

Montreal Sprint/Super Weekend Canada

After having my ass handed to me last year, I returned to Mont Owl’s Head this past weekend looking to take a far more cautious approach to a mountain that defeated over 90% of Ultra Beasters in 2016. Thankfully, Spartan Race Canada took mercy on us as well, moving this weekend to a Sprint/Super combination – opting to push their Ultra Beast event further north to Quebec City, in August – want to join me there? Register with Code: ORM15 for 15% off!

If you’ve avoided travelling outside of the US for a Spartan Race – The “Montreal” event is a great way to dip your toes into the Great White North. It really could be called the Northern Vermont Sprint/Super because by the time you’ve put your passport away after passing through customs, you’re arriving at Mont Owl’s Head. Also, if you’re familiar with the peaks of Vermont, or New Hampshire’s White Mountains, then you’ll be right at home here. Owl’s Head has a small base but steep climbs comparable to mountains twice its size.

“Though she be but little, she is fierce”

Owl’s Head totes one of the steepest climbs I’ve experienced in my OCR days and we couldn’t escape that climb, even on the Sprint course. About two miles in, after hitting a brutal combination of Olympus, Monkey Bars, a Platinum Rig, and a grueling Bucket Carry where racers were filling their buckets with dirt and rocks, we were tortured with a slow climb to the top of the mountain – about a 1,700 foot climb all in. The reward for climbing the mountain, and subsequent descent, is a view like no other – A gorgeous lake spanning for miles and the Appalachian’s in all their glory. You had plenty of time to drink it in, as you navigated the Tractor Pull through a slick and muddy path atop the mountain. You also had some time to really open up your legs on the back half of the Sprint – something that was severely missing in last year’s event. Long winding downhills made for some nice speed before bringing you into a finishing gauntlet made up of the Spear Throw, Rope Climb, Hoist, Barbed Wire Crawl, Rolling Mud, Dunk Wall, and A-Frame Cargo Net – all within 100m of the finish line.

Combined, the Sprint and Super had approximately 5,000 competitors and the venue handled them well. Small lines at registration were quickly moved through and Spartan made it a point to bring in far more bathrooms than last year, a common gripe among attendees. Finisher shirts seem to have gone universal in North America as there’s no Canadian flag or indicator that you’ve done a Canada Spartan.

All in all, I really enjoyed this weekend, especially getting back to short course racing where you can really test your lungs and legs. It’s been some time for me since I’ve started running longer distance events, and it was refreshing to cross the finish line while it was still light out.

Were you back at Montreal for redemption after last year? I’d love to hear about it – leave us a comment below!