Tough(er) Mudder Seattle 2017 Race Review

Initial Impression

Tough Mudder has returned to the Palmer Coking Coal Company venue just south of Seattle for the 6th year in a row, but this time they brought their new competitive wave: Tougher Mudder.  For an extra $20 on top of a regular registration, you could join the very first wave of the day which includes a nice yellow race bib, official timing of the 10-mile loop, and a chance at a small prize pool if you finish top 3 in your respective gender.

While I’m no stranger to Tough Mudder and other obstacle course races, this event was both my first attempt at a Tougher wave and my first time running at the Seattle venue.  While this particular race had its share of quirks (and a brutal, awful, no-good Mud Mile…), the overall experience was awesome and I would be excited to sign up for the event again in the future!

Tough-Mudder-Seattle-2017-Start-Line

The Start Line

Let’s start with one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had at an OCR start line.

It was the first wave of the first day of the event, so something like the generator tripping out causing the music to stop, and the large start line inflatable arch to deflate into the crowd can be expected, twice.  Even starting a few minutes late wasn’t a big deal, but the start line MC definitely left something to be desired for this first wave of the day.

For a competitive heat with prize money, you would at least expect a brief overview of the rules right?  Maybe a clarification on whether or not you were required to complete every obstacle, if there were penalty loops of any kind, or if any of the obstacles didn’t apply for the Tougher Heat?  Well, we got nothing like that.  This was particularly concerning when we arrived at the Everest obstacle in the middle of the lap where a volunteer was telling everyone that they weren’t allowed to help each other.  What?  That doesn’t sound like a Tough Mudder event at all, especially when some of the other obstacles required assistance from your fellow competitors to complete.

Anyway, we did get a few minutes trying to hype us up which went pretty well, but there was no national anthem and we didn’t even recite a Tough Mudder pledge.  The MC brought us into the middle of the start area to put our hands in and counted down for us all to chant “Tougher Mudder”.  And… surprise!  It turns out that same countdown was the one to start the race, so after we all looked around confused for a few seconds, the start of the pack took off and the rest of us followed.

Not far away from the start line, a fellow racer commented, “That was the weirdest start line experience ever,” and I would have to agree.

Tough-Mudder-Seattle-2017-Map

The Terrain and Obstacles

This venue has a wide variety of different terrain and Tough Mudder did a great job of sending us up, over, and around just about all of it.  The start line opened up into a large field which is great when everybody is bunched up at the start but eventually led into some fairly technical single-track through the woods after the first obstacle, Kiss of Mud 2.0.  A theme on this course appeared to be that “mud” actually meant “rocky wet asphalt” and this barb wire crawl was one of the lowest I’ve done.  Rolling wasn’t even an option (and I think is against the rules anyway?) and almost everybody going through it was catching their clothing or bib on at least one barb.

After that we headed into a wooded trail where the single track opened up at a few different points to provide enough room for Skidmarked (inverted wall), Devil’s Beard (crawl under a cargo net with a sandbag!), and Berlin Walls (~10 ft walls with a kicker) before narrowing back up and eventually crossing over itself before we were able to head back out into open ground near the 2 mile mark.

After the course opened up, we approached a crowd-favorite obstacle, The Block Ness Monster, which involves two giant rotating rectangular prisms in a pool of water about 4 feet deep.  This obstacle requires a little bit of organized teamwork and despite this being a competitive race, everyone was super eager to help each other out.  We were able to alternate moving different people over the blocks and pulling down on the opposite side to help the next person over before moving onto the next block and eventually out of the obstacle.

Next up was Hero Carry which seemed odd for a competitive event, but we paired off and carried each other anyway.  Soon after was the obstacle I will probably have nightmares about: Mud Mile 2.0

Normally, Mud Mile 2.0 is a series of muddy trenches with water in them that you have to pull yourself over, step your way to the top of, or get some assistance from others to make your way through, but this was no normal mud mile.  As I alluded to earlier, this wasn’t “Mud” that we were navigating over, but rather a ground down and compacted asphalt-type material that would scratch your skin if you even looked at it the wrong way.

Tough-Mudder-Seattle-2017-Mud-Mile

Add in the fact that they dug the trenches to be about 7-8 feet deep and only included a token amount of water at the bottom of each one and this made for one tough obstacle.  Not to mention they made us go down and back for a total of 16 trenches!  Luckily I arrived at the same time as a couple fellow mudders and we were able to team up to get through it.  We quickly worked out a system where two people would boost the first to the top, then one would boost while the person on top helped pulled the second person out, then both people on top pulled the third person out, then repeat, and repeat and repeat and repeat…

While it felt like we were pretty efficient by the end of it, Mud Mile took a lot of time and managed to scrape up any part of your body that was exposed while tiring out your arms a bit.  It was an interesting obstacle for a competitive race, but certainly, one that embodied the Tough Mudder spirit of encouraging teamwork.  For the waves beyond the initial Tougher wave, they modified the obstacle to only require going through each trench once which cut it in half, but it was still one of the toughest obstacles on the course.

Up until this point was relatively flat, but the course turned towards the larger hills of the venue which made for some interesting terrain based obstacles.  First was an Absail down a steep hill of very loose dirt with a help of a set of ropes.  Next, we came to Everest 2.0 which had the ropes down for the Tougher wave.  Even with the ropes, it’s tricky to navigate yourself over the rounded lip of the halfpipe, especially with a volunteer telling everyone they weren’t allowed to help each other.  I’m not sure if this was a miscommunication with Tough Mudder or a special rule for this obstacle on this course, but it seemed odd.

Tough-Mudder-Seattle-2017-Elevation

Next, we navigated up the largest hill on the course right around the 4-mile mark.  The front half was very steep and required the help of a cargo net to reach flatter ground, but that “flatter” ground still kept going upwards until we eventually reached the back side of the hill for the second Absail obstacle of the course.  This one was even steeper than the first but wasn’t more difficult if you kept your hands on the rope and controlled your speed during the descent.

I also want to note that there was an awesome guy playing bagpipes throughout the course and he somehow managed to get on top of this huge hill with the bagpipes!  I certainly didn’t see any easy way to get up that hill, on course or not, so he’s a champ to have made the climb with bagpipes in tow.

Quagmire was the next obstacle but just ended up being a short trek through a shallow swampy area that was a couple feet deep, but not very muddy.  Finally to finish the first half of the course (or the entire course for anyone running the Tough Mudder Half that day) was Pyramid Scheme.  This slippery wall was made easy for the Tougher wave thanks to a set of ropes coming from the top.

The back half of the course wound its way through varying terrain including more wooded single-track, a portion through a wide open quarry-like area between huge piles of rocks, and some minor hills before eventually returning to the wide-open terrain that led back into Mudder Village and the finish line.  Obstacles seemed more spread out an in the second half and included:

  • Snot Rocket – A modified Augustus Gloop where you submerge your body before coming up to the bottom of a tall tube that you climbed a wooden ladder in while water was sprayed down on top of you.
  • Lumberjacked – Two elevated logs you had to navigate over
  • Black Hole – A very dusty crawl underneath large sheets of water that weighed down on you
  • Balls to the Wall – A tall wall climb assisted by a rope and wooden beams
  • Bale Bonds – Climb over bales of hay (Note: this obstacle was totally destroyed by the time the afternoon waves arrived)
  • Stage 5 Clinger – A tricky climb up an inverted wooden ladder before you have to pull yourself over and around to get on top of the obstacle and climb down the other side
  • Killa Gorilla – Simply navigated up and down the side of a steep hill 3 times, not much of an “obstacle”.
  • Mineshafted – This one was new to me and involved navigating down a long tube with the help of a rope.  This led to a mini-cavern that we then climbed out of using a large wooden ladder of sorts

The final three obstacles were some of the most fun that Tough Mudder offers starting with Funky Monkey The Revolution, a set of uphill monkey bars leading to a series of three wheels that must be held on to while they spin you to the next.  A good test of upper body strength over a green pool of water waiting to greet you if you fail.

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Next, we sprinted across a large field where we picked up a large bag of ice and carried it ~100 meters to Arctic Enema The Rebirth where we dumped the ice into the obstacle before following it down into the frigid water.  Not only was the water freezing, but they forced you to submerge your whole body to navigate under a small fence portion and a set of tires before finally being able to pull yourself out of the end of the obstacle.  If you weren’t awake up until this point in the race, you certainly are now!

Finally was a short jog over to Kong, a set of 5 rings suspended over a large airbag waiting to catch you like a movie stunt performer if you fall.  For the Tougher wave and any Tough Mudder Legionnaires, there was no electricity on the course as we were able to skip Electroshock Therapy while attempting Kong, which backed right up to the finish and Mudder Village.

Mudder Village

The Mudder Village at this venue was a little smaller than some others I’ve attended but still had its share of vendors selling products and handing out free samples.  There were plenty of restrooms off to the side with a large rinsing area and changing area behind.

My only complaint was the minimal selection of food options, especially as the village got crowded in the afternoon.  There were only two food trucks selling food and both had sizable lines.  I think I managed to choose the longer one in my attempt to get a burger, but it took an unacceptably long time to actually get my food.  About an hour and a half from getting in line to actually eating by my count which made for some grumpy people hovering around the food truck waiting on their orders.

While the food was slow, the beer garden was fast and there was no wait for the free beer once you made our way over there.

Verdict

Overall, this was a great Tough Mudder event and the small quirks here and there wouldn’t stop me from signing up again.  Doing the Tougher wave was a great experience and a chance to meet some awesome mudders both before and during the race, some of which have run dozens of events.  Plus, not having to wait at any obstacles was a nice change of pace from doing a wave in the middle of the day where lines begin to form.  In addition, knowing that we’re being timed is a great incentive to push myself even harder on the course, even if I don’t expect to find myself on the podium anytime soon.  If you have a chance to run a Tough Mudder in Seattle in the future, I recommend it.

 

Photo Credit:

  • Tough Mudder
  • My wife, Becky Bouillon

Barber Beast on the Bay 2017

When I decided on my race schedule for 2017, the Barber Beast on the Bay race was one of those races at the very top of my list to make sure that I finally ran the course and wrote about it!

Registration and Festival

The Barber team did an amazing job the entire week prior sending out updates via email with information on how to pick-up the race packets ahead of the event and from the looks of what I personally saw on race day, it appeared most racers took advantage of early packet pick-up because registration moved fast and smoothly.

The festival area was set up nicely from what I could tell, I wasn’t able to stay long and enjoy the post-race festival area and fun, but I made it a point to survey the entire area and everyone was having a good time.

The Course

The course started with a bus trip to the far end of Presque Isle State Park, a beautiful stretch of beaches on Lake Erie, and then racers ran back to a finish line that was at the festival/parking area. The course started with a sprint and I remember thinking, based on my research of the course map, we would have several long-distance sprints spanned out over the entire course, but that wasn’t the case at all.

It didn’t take long to make it to the first obstacle, “One Bell of a Start” which was a scale across a wall with hand and leg notches to assist racers making it to the other side and ringing the bell. Up next was over, under, out, which most experienced racers would refer to as the weaver and this version of the obstacle was difficult and a great challenge! Just up ahead was the next obstacle which had racers enter the lake for a short dip. The bay lake water wasn’t cold at all which made for an enjoyable obstacle.

The course turned away from the bay and up next were a bunch of bungee cords crisscrossed like spider webs for racers to fight their way through. Just a very short sprint ahead came “Marsh Madness” which was a long and challenging marsh crossing.

The next obstacle was suspended/swinging tires attached to chains to cross without hitting the ground. The course was in a wooded section of the course and the next few obstacles included one called “Bicep Buster” where racers had to spider/shimmy across with their legs on one section and hands on the other. After a brief sprint through a wooded section of the course and several obstacles, the course made its way to the bay/beach and it was time to run on the sand.

The next obstacle was “Down N’ Out” which was a crawl under a wooden structure on the sand. Just up ahead was “Triangles of Terror” which was a series of angled walls to jump/run/hop across without hitting the sand. The course was now on the sand and right next to the bay and up next was a short bucket carry with water filled in them from the bay.

Just ahead was “Teeter Totter Trial” which was a crawl into and up a black plastic draining pipe that eventually once the racers weight shifted, the drainage pipes teetered to the ground.  Up next was “Walk the plank” which was a balance beam type crossing across logs attached to chains and suspend over the sand. The next few obstacles were: “Angled Wrangle” a slightly angled wall with a rope for assistance to climb up and back down. Then came “Crawl Wall” an ever so slightly angled wall with foot notches to traverse up the side of the wall and back down the wall like a spider.

I really enjoyed how they set up the bay portions of the course; we never really ran long distances without having an obstacle or two to complete. Up next was an 8-foot wall with hand and foot notches to assist with getting up and over it. The course continued on the beach/bay for a while longer and I remember just praying to never see sand again!

The last few miles of the course continued the trend of obstacles often and many of the remaining obstacles were all challenging and built well. Several worth mentioning are: “Don’t Monkey Around” which was a suspended beam that racers had to hold on with both their hands and feet to traverse across and what made this one really challenging is it changed height a little more than half-way across the beams. I also must mention the “Mighty Moguls” obstacle, it was a series of very deep mounds and mountains to climb through and I seriously was very impressed with how challenging of an obstacle this one was. I have seen this type of obstacle many times, but this version was brutal and taxing on my cardio.

The course ended with a brief sprint away from the bay/beach and back to the festival area and the last obstacle on the course was “Wave Goodbye” which was a swim through a large wave pool with large and strong waves. I was so excited when I saw this obstacle and enjoyed it more than words can describe. I wish all obstacle course races included a wave pool swim and placing it at the end of the course really helped clean racers gear!

The Bling:

The bling included a very sexy and heavy finisher medal that has a can opener on the back! A stylish Dri-Fit type shirt, and a nice little carry bag. The finisher medal is as nice as any of the ones I have received at the more well-known OCR races.

Giving Back

This race/event has been going strong now for five years and raises money, awareness, and support for the Barber National Institute who works with children and adults with disabilities and behavioral health challenges. They are a non-profit organization serving more than 5,200 individuals annually with a wide range of educational, vocational, residential and behavioral health programs.

Over the past four years (2013 – 2016) through general registration and sponsorships, Barber Beast on the Bay has raised $175,000 to support the Barber National Institute. They are still finalizing numbers for this year, but it looks like they raised about $75,000 to add to that total!

Adaptive Course:

In addition to the amazing course I recapped above, they also had an adaptive course for both intellectually and physically disabled racers/athletes. The course was one-mile in distance and included fourteen obstacles, featuring nine obstacles that involved pulling, pushing, carrying and navigating ramps. A total of 128 adapted racers ran that course this year!

Overall Feelings and Event Rating:

This was an amazing event, with an amazing course, run by even more amazing people to raise money, awareness, support for a great organization and finally, bring smiles to the faces of 128 amazing special adapted racers!

The course rocked, the obstacles were all well-built and very safe, the staff & volunteers were simply amazing. The bling is as good, if not better than you get at one of the bigger races. One of the obstacles was a freaking wave pool (that is worth the price of admission alone), the festival area was set up well and most of all, they raised a lot of money for an amazing non-profit organization. I am rating this 5 out of 5 stars! I look forward to being invited back next year.

Registration for 2018 is already live!! I suggest registering ASAP! The cost is currently $50 and will increase to $75 on November 1st, 2017 and even with the discount codes that will be available after November 1st, this is the lowest price and best opportunity to register for a race that is worth a lot more than $50 when you consider the quality of race, medal, shirt and chance to give back to an amazing origination!

Article Written by Walter F Hendrick (OCRSandy)

Michigan Spartan Sprint

Michigan Sprint

The Michigan International Speedway played host to the Spartan Race over the weekend of September 9th and 10th, offering a Super distance on Saturday and a Sprint on Sunday. I participated in the Sunday Sprint, which is the distance that will be covered in this race review. Spartan seamlessly used the flat terrain around the stadium as well as integrating the stadium itself into the 5.6 mile Sprint, bridging the gap between a stadium race and a mud run.

Parking Problems

40-degree temperatures greeted the first groups of racers to arrive at the speedway as volunteers dressed in winter coats directed traffic to the lots surrounding the event. The standard $10 was the universal price for parking as no upgraded VIP parking was offered. There was a 10-minute walk to the registration area. This provided racers time to get moving, build up a little body heat and shake out some last minute nerves.

Post-race was a different story. You’re tired and wet and just want to find your car and get out of there! That walk was longer than desired. For some, it was a good chance to catch their breath and walk out some sore muscles. Once registration was complete, there was another short hike required as racers were led under the stadium and track via an underground tunnel to the festival area and start/finish line. Spartan added no surprises during this event, making the course map accurate.

Obstacles

Racers on the infield of the track and additional athletes were then led immediately outside of the stadium. They were greeted with a series of walls to hop over on the way out which started the process of thinning out the crowd. A tunnel under the track provided our opportunity to explore the surrounding racetrack grounds as athletes were led over a series of hurdles set along the grass path. This grass trail continued around to the back side of the track where the O-U-T and vertical cargo net were located. This further thinned out the crowd.

A short distance away we re-entered the stadium through an open gate where a series of obstacles were set up in the infield. This obstacle position provided excellent viewing for family and friends. It was here that Twister, the A frame cargo climb, tire flip, and spear throw were located. If you wanted a bad ass picture of yourself on the Twister or flipping the 200-400 pound tire, this was the race to be at. Spectators were only a few feet away, watching your epic triumph or failure.

Quarter-Mile Challenge

After proceeding past this gauntlet of obstacles, Spartan led racers to a flat section of pavement where each runner was timed passing through two timing mats for their ¼ mile challenge. The top 3 male and female athletes received awards for the fastest times. It was a fun addition to the race.

Spartan began their bucket brigade on the grass trail leading around the back of the stadium. After that, there were a few rolling hills of sand/mud mixture, finished with a cold dip under the dunk wall. Being that Spartan is excellent at combining complicated obstacles with natural obstacles, this was a perfect area to place the slip wall for all soaked runners to climb.

This same sand/mud mixture was also where a long ass barbed wire crawl was situated. This wasn’t your standard crawl as tires and large cones were placed inside the barbed wire to make the transition through much more difficult. Mud and sand-covered racers were then led into a loop around the far side of the grounds where the 7-foot wall and the multi-rig (rings only) were located.

Strength Required

The plate drag and pull was the last obstacle in this loop. After which each athlete reentered the stadium for the hardest obstacle of the day. Welcome to the sandbag carry. Starting on the ground floor, Spartan placed their long and narrow sandbags near a set of steps for a fun trip to the top of the stadium. Every flight was a challenge and an accomplishment.

The decline down the steps was difficult as your legs were taxed and the weight of the sandbag could easily throw a runner off balance. In true Spartan form, after the intense climb up the tower and bleachers, the race had each athlete drop off their sandbag and climb again without the additional weight. If you didn’t hate running stairs before this race, you were bound to after!

The Herc hoist was the last obstacle before Spartan led us back to the racetrack infield through another tunnel. Spartan set up its grand finale of obstacles in front of the crowds for everyone to see. This truly was a spectator’s course. The rope climb tested everyone’s grip strength, after being taxed from the previous hoist.

I laugh as I emphasize grip strength because the evil (or genius) minds of the Spartan team gave us Olympus as the next challenge. The back to back grip and arm strength obstacles gave the crowd a good perspective into the requirements for a strong Spartan finish and a well-earned fire jump.

Aftermath

If you had any juice left in the tank, this was the time to utilize it. Otherwise, you faced the 30 burpee penalty while staring at the finish line, which was only an inverted wall climb and fire jump away.

Upon completion of this grueling course, Spartan offered their normal post-race treats and drinks. Showers and bathroom accommodations were located in the racetrack infield for racers to clean up before their long trek back to their cars.

Outside of the sandbag carry from hell, this course was filled with the standard Spartan familiarity. Z wall and Atlas Stone were not used during the Sprint but were used the previous day on the Super. The distance was slightly longer than most sprints, but Spartan used the stadium and terrain incredibly well and their obstacle setup was specifically and thoughtfully designed to test you and provide great viewing for spectators.

As a racing fan, it was really cool to see some of the stadiums that you don’t typically get to see, and it was thrilling to actually be on the Speedway track. There were plenty of hotels and places to eat near the event.

My final word on this race is that it’s a great one to get to if you live in the Midwest, but I don’t think I’d travel very far to run it. Aroo!

Photos courtesy of Spartan Race

Tough Mudder CEO Will Dean writes “It Takes a Tribe”

In the tradition of CEOs penning their memoirs while their companies are still growing, the founder of Tough Mudder has written “It Takes a Tribe: Building the Tough Mudder Movement”  which outlines where the company came from, explains why it is such a success and hints at where it might go in the future.

These books can be a branding exercise – I know that I got handed more than one free copy of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness”, which combined the up-from-nothing story of his company with a manifesto about how and why his company was so great. It has never been clear to me who exactly is the intended audience of this genre: MBA students? Potential investors? Prospective mid-level employees? They tend to be an easy read and provide a polished PR version of the company and its origins, but the format can be predictable.

There is one clear audience for these books: superfans. If you love Tough Mudder, you will love reading about how it came to be. “It Takes a Tribe” provides the inside scoop on how Will Dean turned his idea into a successful brand, how he helped create an industry that had not existed before, and how he has changed the lives of many who have joined Mudder Nation.

Happily, I may be something of a Tough Mudder fanboy, so I thoroughly enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at TM’s origin story. And since I am a fanboy, I had heard many of the stories before, but it was entertaining to hear them again, and it was good to get Dean’s spin on many of the company legends.

In particular, it was fascinating to get Dean’s version what I think of as OCR’s Original Sin, the controversy over Dean’s using the concepts developed at the Tough Guy race by its creator “Mr. Mouse” and applying them to the Harvard Business School project that later became Tough Mudder. For those not familiar with the story, you may wish to watch Rise of the Sufferfests by Scott Keneally (which you should watch regardless, as it is a great documentary). The outline of the story is that Dean observed the Tough Guy event, consulted with Mr. Mouse and then built on those ideas to create Tough Mudder. Mr. Mouse sued and Harvard took Dean to task for violating the “Harvard Business School Community Values of ‘honesty and integrity’ and ‘accountability’”(and yes, if you find the concept of Harvard Business School trying to shame one of its graduates over ethics to be comical, you are not alone).

I had heard this narrative in Keneally’s film and in other sources, but for the first time in “It Takes a Tribe,” I got to see Dean’s side of the story. His version is convincing, but more than that the reader learns about the personal toll the litigation took on Dean and his colleagues. Dean also gets the opportunity to snipe about Harvard Business School days and his shabby treatment by the school after he graduated.

Dean is the tall Englishman on the right.

On the one hand, Dean does not hold back about his opinions about Harvard and his fellow HBS students. Similarly, he is not silent about his opinions of his former employers at the British Foreign Office, where he had a brief career before moving to the US. On the other hand, he frequently cites his experiences at both institutions in this book and uses them to demonstrate lesson after lesson about how he has used those experiences to make Tough Mudder the company it has become.

Like all MBAs who become CEOs, he compares himself with other entrepreneurs he admires, mostly ones he has worked with over the years. Of course, every entrepreneur wants to be compared to Steve Jobs, who gets name checked in the book more than once. In reality, Dean’s counterpart is, instead, Bill Gates: driven by numbers, looking years down the road, but not as obviously a genius. Dean has worked hard and kept focus, and his company has made steady, relentless growth by careful analysis and cautious progress. The bright orange obstacles with the cheeky names are thoroughly tested, tweaked, and re-launched to maximize the challenge they offer and to keep the customers returning. A very MBA approach to numbers guides everything the company does, and its success might be a tribute to that Harvard Business School education that keeps Dean so conflicted.

There is an obvious companion to “It Takes a Tribe,” namely Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena’s book “Spartan Up!” In fact, a recent search on Amazon has the two books listed under “Frequently Bought Together.” The two books are good representations of both CEOs and both brands. Dean’s book involves less derring-do, fewer personal exploits, and less lecturing. “Spartan Up!” also glosses over Spartan’s own Original Sin, its treatment of early Spartan superstar Hobie Call.  Both books include profiles of people whose lives have been changed by taking part in these events, and those who love transformation stories will get their fill in either book.

As the two dominant brands in OCR grow, they appear to be coming closer together. Tough Mudder was founded as a challenge-not-a-race, but the past few years have seen the introduction of competitive events from Tough Mudder ready for TV broadcast. Likewise, the fiercely individual Spartan Races have been emphasizing the role of teamwork in their summer reality series Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge. Both brands have launched exercise classes, Tough Mudder Bootcamp and Spartan Strong. Both have major clothing sponsors and both are expanding overseas. While their offerings start to converge, having a book like “It Takes a Tribe” will be a useful way to remember how the two companies and their founders are profoundly different.

Check out Will Dean on our Obstacle Racing Media podcast here

Rea Kolbl – Second Chance Athlete

Rea-Kolbl-warming-up-before-Palmerton-superI was lucky to be featured on the Palmerton Spartan Race episode the other day, and I got a chance to share my story of how I got to where I am now. In case you missed it, here’s the short version.

I grew up doing sports, and I was on the Slovenian National Gymnastics Team for almost 10 years. Gymnastics was my life, and I didn’t quite realize just how dangerous having just one big dream could be until I lost it; and with it, losing all of my dreams of being an athlete.

It took me a while, but I did find a new life; one where sports were a side thing, a hobby I did on most days, but taking a day off was perfectly fine, too, if there were other things that got in the way. I lost my fitness, and if someone invited me to climb a mountain I’d have to first consider if I was physically capable of the challenge.

Rea-Kolbl-Double-sandbag-at-Palmerton-Super

And then one day, I signed up for a Spartan Race. There are so many commercials and ads out there, advertising how Spartan changes lives. And really, if you pick any sport or activity, chances are there’s someone saying the same thing. But what I think makes Spartan different, is that it really does change lives (and here I’m mostly talking about Spartan and not obstacle racing, in general, because in my short career so far I haven’t had much chance to branch out and try other events).

After Palmerton episode aired, so many people reached out to me, sharing their stories which were so similar to my own. It’s a beautiful thing, realizing you’re not alone and that your experience is not so different from so many others out there. They shared their stories of injuries that ended their athletic careers when they were young; stories of being forced out of the sports, for one reason or another, thinking that that was the end of the road. But then they found Spartan. And a chance to be athletes again.

Rea-Kolbl-fire-jump-at-Palmerton-Super

So what I realized is that Spartan Races are giving so many people their second chance at what they loved when they were younger. It’s like a second chance sport, and it’s beautiful and amazing how much happiness this can bring. What makes OCR unique is the broad skill set it requires. You need to be fast to run the course; you need to be agile to cross the obstacles; you need to be strong to complete the heavy carries.

And I bet that no matter the sport you did as a child (or young adult), it probably covered at least some aspect that is very important for obstacle racing. It equipped you with a part of a skill set that makes you good at this, and that makes you want to try again, train harder, finish faster, and do it better. And it ultimately makes you stick with it.

There’s also this element of learning on the go that’s unlike any other sport. You don’t know the obstacles on the course ahead of time, and even if you do they might change a little, and you have to figure out how to tackle them. And this need to overcome the unknown fosters the community. There were so many races where I’ve made long-lasting friends from discussing obstacle strategies or trying to develop one together. I did a lot of trail running races before falling in love with Spartan and, while there were definitely chats at the finish line, these were more of a polite small talk. Because everyone there knows how to run, there is no point in discussing with fellow runners how to tackle the trail, how to put one foot in front of another.

Matching-tops-at-Palmerton-Super-Start

In gymnastics, the routines were so polished by the time you performed them and so individual, there was no need to chat about strategies with your competitors. But that’s different in obstacle course racing. There’s always something new to learn, and every race is a chance to improve. More importantly, it’s also a chance to make more friends.

So, people stick with it. The first time I came for the race, but then I kept coming back for the people. Spartan gave me and so many others a chance to find another passion, another focus, a sport to stick with both for the sport and the people in it.

The other day I was thinking that Spartan races are a lot like kindergarten. You play in the mud, swing on monkey bars, and you make friends. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why obstacle course racing can bring back the childhood dreams, and make you an athlete again.

Lindsay-Webster-embraces-Rea-Kolbl-at-the-Palmerton-Super-finish

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

Want to train like Rea? Check out one of her favorite workouts on ORM’s Train Like a Pro series.

Rea Kolbl – The Ascent (Pro Recap)

WEST VIRGINIA RACE (AND A SHORT US CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES) RECAP

By Rea Kolbl

Rea-Kolbl-crosses-first-in-West-Virginia

For many racers, the season started in Seattle. But for me, due to excitement from joining the Pro Team and not being able to wait for the Championship series to begin, it started a few months before in December where I went to all the west coast Spartan Races I could get to by car.

I managed to win most of them which gave me a false sense of confidence that I could win them all; it gave my fans the confidence that I could beat them all. And with that came the expectation that the Seattle race was mine to win. But this couldn’t be further from what actually happened; I barely caught the top five, more of a disappointment to me than I was willing to admit. And although I’m known to race with a smile, I spent a good chunk of that weekend in tears, and Bun barely managed to convince me that it’s okay not to win all the races. That it’s okay just to be happy for others, and that this is not the end of my racing career.

New Mindset

So eventually, I came to terms with that too; I realized that my worst mistake was trying to beat the others, and in the process, I lost to myself. So I made a promise to myself that for the rest of the series, I will run my own race, cheer on the others, and be happy on the course and after the race, no matter the outcome. And so the climb began, both literally, and figuratively. Over the next three races, my performance steadily improved, and I did manage to hit the podium twice, being quite happy the first time it happened in Palmerton (I cried there again, but this time they were tears of joy; although the volunteers at the finish line were quite puzzled whether or not they should call a medic for help).

Rea-Kolbl-Carrying-the-sandbag-at-West-Virginia-Beast

So I went from the 5th place in points back in contention for the three podium spots. But the rankings were so close! Alyssa (Hawley), Nicole (Mericle), and I were separated by a point, and I was in the middle. With the West Virginia race being the tiebreaker, this meant that our relative positions at that race would also determine our rankings for the whole series. And that mattered, a lot. I knew just how high the stakes were, and I’d say about 80% of the nights leading to the race consisted of dreams where I was running the race. So by the time I showed up to the venue, I was ready. I don’t think I’ve ever been so determined to give a race everything I’ve got, and I think that made all the difference.

West Virginia Beast

The West Virginia Beast started as usual, with Nicole breaking out of the start line and setting the pace. But I was surprised at how quickly I caught her. Then the hills started, my favorite, and I knew that I would be first to the summit.

By the way, if you raced, I hope you took a moment to look around on top of the Stairway to Sparta; that view was quite unlike any other. We could see for miles!! And with the morning clouds hovering around the surrounding valleys, it was hard not to be taken in by just how beautiful the landscape was that we were racing in. 

But then the down hills began, and the whole time I was waiting for Lindsay (Webster) to catch up. It was such a surprise that I was still in the lead, coming back down to the venue. I lost my lead missing the spear, which gave Nicole about a 30-second lead. Normally, I would be really bummed having to do burpees, but this was the first race where I accounted for that possibility. And when my 30 (32 actually, just to be safe) burpees were over, I was ready to run. To run even harder than I did before, and to do everything I could to catch Nicole. In a sense, chasing is so much easier than leading, at least for me. And once we were on top of that last hill, Nicole and I were neck to neck. Then the descent started.

Racing Nicole

I knew Nicole was faster than me on the obstacles, so I had one chance to take the lead I would need to come out of that final gauntlet in first. So I sprinted faster than I ever sprinted on trails before. And the whole time I was hoping that Lindsay and Nicole were not going to catch me. It felt like one of those nature shows where a gazelle is chased by a pride of lions. Then the Twister. And I still had the lead. Herc hoist; and I was still in first. Olympus and no one had passed me. Then came the multi rig, my arch nemesis, also again right by the finish line.

During the series, I lost a place just yards from the finish line in three out of four races. In Seattle I slipped to 5th doing burpees, in Monterey Alyssa flew by me as I was hanging awkwardly on a rope at the rig, and in Asheville my slow and steady through Twister was a little too slow and too steady, costing me the win as Lindsay took the gauntlet by storm. All of that was going through my head as I was starting the rig. There were no ropes this time, just rings, bar, and back to rings. But that bar was pretty up high, and the first time I reached for it I missed it, and I started spinning instead of swinging, struggling to hold on.

Rea-Kolbl-on-the-Rig

As I was stuck on that ring and Nicole was catching up (I probably had about a 30 second lead coming into the gauntlet), all of the races where I lost places right there, yards before the finish line, replayed in my head. And there was just no way I was going to let that happen again. So I finished. I caught the bar, crossed the rest of the rig, and rang the bell. Still in first. I couldn’t believe it… I was clear of the obstacles, yards from the finish line, and still in first. Which also meant second in the US Championship Series. I made it.

Words of Gratitude

It seems like I lost in Seattle because I won so many races before; and I won in West Virginia because I lost everywhere else. My weaknesses made me strong when it mattered the most. Thanks to all my sponsors who helped me come out of this in one piece. Thanks to Reebok for making sure I was running in OCR shoes this season, with proper gear all around. Thanks to Brave Soldier for their support after each race, and for choosing me to help represent their brand. Thanks to King’s Camps and Fitness for letting me train in their gym – there’s no way I would be able to hold on to that rig if it wasn’t for all of Mike’s workouts at his open gym. He also taught me the J-hook! No more legless rope climbs guys!! Thanks to Dr. Eva Chiu from Bayside Chiropractic for keeping my back in one piece, which is quite a task given how much of a beating it takes on a daily basis. And most importantly, huge thanks to Bunsak, whose support made my dark days brighter and my good days even more amazing.

Now bring it on, Tahoe!

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

Want to train like Rea? Check out one of her favorite workouts on ORM’s Train Like a Pro series.