Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour Challenge

OCR season is beginning all over the nation again, and although other races may have been run prior, the Northeast OCR season doesn’t truly begin to me until the 8 hour Polar Bear Challenge at Shale Hill. Shale Hill is consistently ranked as the best permanent obstacle facility in the United States, and it has attracted international OCR attention in years past and with sponsors. Title sponsor IceBug and new sponsor Bleggmitt helped to bring one of the most memorable events of the year back to the frigid town of Benson, Vermont.

On the nearly 6 hour drive to the rolling hills of Shale Hill Adventure, I had a lot of time to consider the rough time leading up to this week. Besides the hours of driving, a 70 hour work week and stress about several personal issues certainly aren’t a perfect lead-up to any event, but I felt confident regardless. I was determined to improve upon my 6th place performance from the year before.IMG_3200

Arriving the night before and grabbing my packet, I was happy to see that Jill and Rob Butler were still just as efficient as ever with their operations. The staff was kind enough to let me grab bib #19 (my number from The Selection) when I saw that the next bib on top was 14, and that made my weekend right there. The bibs were a new type and material, almost plastic with the back made of a tape like adhesive. Also new this year was a system of identifying what type of racer everyone ones by red, blue, and green fabric bands tied around onto the person. Red were for elite, and I am uncertain the rest of the colors. With good vibes and spirits, I drove over an hour back to where I was crashing for the night and headed right to bed.

4:30 a.m. came too soon, but the excitement made it easy to get up and hit the road at 5. Conditions: about 0 degrees Fahrenheit upon departure, and I was wearing flip flops. Delays on the road took away the time that I had planned to change into proper race and footwear before the racer’s meeting at 6:30 a.m., so I ran the quarter mile from parking to the barn in flip flops and a light jacket, drawing a myriad of confused looks. Even more looks came on the way back, and I brought my race box to the designation space indoors and changed into my Newbsanity top, cold gear, and lined up at the start on the hill.

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For those who are unfamiliar with Shale Hill, it is a roughly 6.5 mile loop that packs a whopping 75+ obstacles per lap. The course record in the summertime for this course is still approaching 70 minutes, so for their endurance events like this, it is wise to plan carefully which penalties you can afford to take, and which obstacles you should make sure you complete. Some of the more unique and challenging obstacles on the course, just to give you an idea of what the level of difficulty here is, include rope traverse over a frozen lake, two sternum checkers, Larry Cooper’s full version “Destroyer”, and that’s all within a half mile of each other! Further on in the course is a five stage traverse wall, 45 degree uphill, spinning monkey bars, a rig, a weaver, a warped wall ninja style, and Tarzan ropes. New this year was a take on devil’s stairs/stairway to heaven, with the stairs much steeper and more narrow than I have been used to before (think skipping a stair between layers at the OCRWC), and a heavy carry that was a 45 pound plate and cement block attached to a homemade wheelbarrow like contraption with fat pole handles.

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The first lap started much fast than I remembered, although maybe it was subconscious to try to keep warm in the 8 degree morning. Everything was going to plan, except for breaking my vest and water bottles on the first sternum checker, leaving me a little cold, wet, and dehydrated. I felt confident and pretty good early, taking penalties only at the balance gauntlet (which I will every time), the last few walls of the traverse, the stairs, and the uphill monkey bars. I also failed the Tarzan ropes one too many times for me to feel that retrying was worth it. I could have completed the obstacle, but I didn’t want to waste any more time as I was cutting it awful close to my 1:50 minute goal per lap. I finished the lap in 5th place, with a steady pace and only minutes out of higher places. The second lap however, I finally felt the results of all of the adversity of the past few weeks.

The combination of excessive work hours, lack of sleep, and mental/emotional stress was first noticed on lap two when I got to the first wall obstacle, “pick your poison”. As I went to roll over the wall, I realized that unlike most races where my grip or legs would tire out first, my biceps and back were completely devoid of all strength. It was very abnormal, and as I wound through the woods I realized something else bizarre for myself; I was shivering. The second lap slowed significantly, and my penalties went up dramatically. The lap left me walking to the finish, well off of my goal pace, looking forward to my penalties to get warm again. I finished my penalties and the lap after over 2.5 hours, and in bad shape. I headed into the barn to try to save my day. IMG_2777

Shivering and exhausted, I knew calories and trapping some body heat was a must. I had the old windbreaker I used at WTM 2017, and after I threw it on, I switched my hat to a dry one, and force a blueberry bagel (my race favorite) into my system before packing some caffeinated Clif Bloks for the final lap. Time-wise, my last lap was slower than my second, but I actually took the same number of penalties, and felt much better. My heart rate and body temperature began to return to appropriate levels halfway into the lap, and my body felt nice from the calories of the bagel. At this point however, I had given up on catching anyone in front of me, and without knowing where the 6th place male was, my goal became to not get passed. I managed to do this successfully until the very end of the lap, where male winner Vincent Larochelle finished his fourth lap at essentially the same time I finished my third (and he was the only 4 lap finisher of the event for the second year in a row). 5th place overall for myself this year.

Rounding out the podium for the males were twins Travis and Jared Rawson, and for the females it was Marcia Coelho, followed by Danielle Ryzer and Kristen Mann. The race had some great competition, but one of the best things about this event is that it isn’t just about the race at the front, but the challenge all the way through. Shale Hill draws numerous individuals to all of their events, because the entire thing top to bottom is spectacular. From Rob and Jill, to the location, the obstacles, and the atmosphere, and especially that all day warm food buffet and that amazing local chocolate milk, the day is about as pleasant of an experience as you can have with hundreds of strangers in sub-freezing temperatures. With the conclusion of the 5th annual Polar bear, OCR has now arrived for 2017 in the Northeast, and if the events continue in this fashion it will be a great year! Next year I will give this event more focus, and better prep leading into it for sure. Third time’s the charm! 5/5

All photo credit belongs to VT Grit and Grace as found at https://vtgraceandgrit.smugmug.com/Shale-Hill-Adventure-Farm/PolarBear2017/

Epic Series Race San Diego 2017 – Be Epic.

Epic Series Women's Strength

With an event that coincided with the arrival of Pacific Storm Lucifer, the Epic Series race held in San Diego California lived up to its name and more.  The first Epic Series race of the year was held in the parking lot of the artists formerly known as the San Diego Chargers (too soon Chargers fans?).  This race truly had something for everyone, not only capable of challenging elite athletes, but able to provide a fantastic first race for those new to the world of Obstacle Course Racing.  You may be asking yourself what about this race allows it to appeal to such a wide audience.  Read on to find out.

The race was held on Saturday February 18th, a day which started overcast, but warmed up as the day progressed with a good amount of sunshine for all those attending to appreciate.  Though the course was somewhat wet due to the massive amounts of rain which fell the night before, it dried up throughout the day.  The weather and some technical difficulty with electric generators caused the race to be delayed by about 45 minutes with the first scheduled heat taking off at about 0845 as opposed to 0800.  This didn’t seem to cause any issues as the music was blasting and multiple vendors were set up peddling their wares and enticing the crowds.  Though the race had a cut off time to register on their website, onsite registration was available for those interested.

The Epic Series race is broken up into two separate events.  The first, the Epic race, is open to everyone.  Both Elites and those running the Open waves run the Epic race.  The second part of the race is the Elites course and as you could probably guess, is open only to those in the Elite heats.  The Elite heats are released every five minutes during the first hour of the race.  More on the Elite course later.  Epic Series races bill themselves as being obstacle heavy with short race courses and no mud.  The race states that weather may cause mud at a race depending on the Venue, but the race will never intentionally create mud.  In this case they delivered as promised.  Being that the course was on asphalt, mud was not an issue.  In total the distance run on the course came in at about 1.75 miles, approximately half the distance of a normal Obstacle Course 5K.

What makes the Epic Series race so good for athletes of any ability is the unique design of their obstacles.  The obstacles are color coded, green for beginner, blue for intermediate, and black for advanced and are designed with differing degrees of difficulty.  For the Elites, women must complete at least the intermediate obstacles while men must complete the advanced.  Failure to do so will result in disqualification from competition, though the racer is encouraged to continue the race.

The race starts out with a full lap around the course with an Epic flag in hand.  After the initial lap the racer comes to the first obstacle, a wall jump.  Three walls, all color coded, are available to jump over all based on the level of difficulty you choose.  After the wall jump comes a quick net crawl, and then on to the atlas stones.  The atlas stones are also color coded, with the advanced stones being heaviest.  After 10 Atlas Stone over the shoulders, it’s on too burpee box jumps.  The height of your box is dependent on the level of difficulty you choose.  After burpee box jumps, it’s on to the ladder wall, which is basically a regular wall with cut outs.  You then move on to overunders.  This was one of the few obstacles I took issue with not because of the obstacle itself, but because there were only two ropes set up.  This meant that even if you shared and alternated only four people at a time could use the obstacle.  A few more ropes set up would have been nice.

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From the overunders, it was on to a balance beam.  After the balance beam was the first of four laps of the course, not including the initial lap.  Three of these laps involved carrying something.  This first lap was the slosh pipe, which was weighted and sized based on difficulty level.  After the lap you went straight into overhead squats using a weighted PVC pipe.  Next was Russian twists using a weighted ball, then another ladder wall followed by the first inverted wall.  After the inverted wall was the inflatable obstacle, which due to the aforementioned generator issues was not working.  After a quick detour around the inflatable you arrived at the rope climb rig.  What I really liked about this rig was the way they set up the levels of advancement.  2 rope climbs for advanced, one for intermediate, and a cargo net climb for beginner.  Epic Race did a good job at providing obstacles of varying levels so that anyone truly could participate in the course.  After the rope climb came a timed plank using an hour glass.  I don’t know what the time was for the advanced hourglass but I would estimate it at sometime between 2 minutes and eternity.  After the plank it was a quick unweighted sprint around the course to the other side of the rope climb rig which had a keg hoist.

After the keg hoist, came the lumberjack.  For those who haven’t seen the lumberjack before, myself included up till this race, it’s a heavy weighted bar on a pivot which must be lifted up and pushed until it falls down on the other side.  After that came an exercise using strength bands (see giant rubber bands).  After shimmying into a band you were required to do a set distance there and back of side steps, bunny hops, and a run/hobble.  From this it was on to the squat wall.  You placed your back up against the wall, got into the squat position, and keeping your arms extended, held another hourglass to time yourself.  The same 2 minute to eternity hourglass was employed for this exercise.  After the squat, I was more than happy to get moving into the gas can carry lap, which involved carrying a gas can in each hand.  After this lap came a fun obstacle, the bow and arrow, Epic Series spear throw if you will.  A regular re-curve bow was the weapon of choice.  You had 5 chances to hit an approximately 1ft by 1ft metal plate roughly 10 feet away.  Luckily the arrows were tipped with giant balls of foam to avoid any serious injuries.

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After the fun came a tire drag and then another round of atlas stone over the shoulders.  This was followed by the second inverted wall, and then another regular wall.  After the regular wall it was a set of box jump chest to ground.  This was followed by the largest wall on the course.  Depending on the difficulty, the climber was given less or more hand and footholds to ascend the wall.  After this wall was the final lap, carrying a keg.  With the last lap completed and the keg dropped off, it was a short sprint to the finish where your bib number was recorded for your time and you received your medal and a bottle of water.  Quick side note here, shirts are also included as part of the race but are picked up at check in.  With that there is nothing left to do but give yourself a pat on the back and enjoy the good vibes.  That is unless you were running in the elite class, in which case it’s on to the elite’s course.

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This is another thing that sets Epic apart.  The race itself is no longer considered to be enough.  The Elite course truly separated the wheat from the chaff and was a difficult course all its own.  The Elite course itself is further broken down into the strength versus endurance course.  Strength obstacles are higher weight but less reps.  Endurance obstacles are lower weight but more reps.  I opted for the Endurance course and was glad I did, as it was difficult enough as it was.

Epic Series race winners are determined based on the Epic race run time combined with their Elite course time.  Competitors run the course one at a time, with someone going every fifteen minutes.  Each competitor has a judge who goes with them throughout the entire course.  Special shout out to my judge Moe Bautista for motivating me the entire way through.  Each competitor gets 15 minutes to complete the 10 obstacles with mandatory obstacle completion for everything but the first obstacle.  The first obstacle, which is a truck pull, has a time limit of 90 seconds.  Failure to complete the truck pull results in a two minute and thirty second penalty assessment added on to a racers final competitive time.  Any other obstacle not completed also incurs the 2:30 time penalty.  With mandatory obstacle completion for all but the first obstacle, this means failure to complete the second obstacle would add thirty seven minutes and thirty seconds onto a racers final time.

As stated, the first obstacle was a truck pull, a newer year model Chevy Colorado quad cab to be exact.  The racer used an over the shoulder harness to pull the vehicle.  This obstacle was made slightly more difficult because it was on asphalt which remained somewhat slick due to rain from the night before.  The next obstacle was the overhead barbell press.  You were required to get it up from the ground and then press it for reps.  This exercise did quite a few people in and I saw people struggling all day with this particular obstacle.  I believe this was due to the fact you had to lift the bar into position instead of getting it from a racked position.  From the press it was on to deadlifts.  After deadlifts was an atlas stone lift over the wall.  After lifting the stone over the wall you were required to yourself jump over the wall.  Next was a farmer’s carry, followed by a tire flip.  After the tire flip were kettlebell box step ups followed by sandbag lunges.  Then it was a simple sprint to the finish.  Normally the sprint would have instead consisted of a rope climb.  Epic Series announced on its various social media pages the night before the race that the rope climb would be cancelled to due high winds that day, up to 60 mph gusts, which did not allow for safe set up of the obstacle.  Good on Epic Series for watching out for the safety of both its racers and set up personnel on that one.

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Overall, I would say the Epic Series race truly lives up to its name.  With something for everyone, from competitive athletes to those new to the sport of OCR, Epic Series allows you to challenge yourself at whatever level you’re currently at.  I liked that instead of simply not doing an obstacle or taking the penalty, you were given a choice based on your comfort level and ability.  Epic Series is currently only based in the Southern California area but is well worth the trip if you’re considering going.  For those interested, the next race is currently scheduled for April the 23rd, at the LAPD police academy.

Photo Credit: CSDC Photography

Train Like a Pro: Rea Kolbl

Rea-Kolbl-Bucket-Carry-MontereyIf you haven’t heard the name Rea Kolbl before, there’s a good chance that will change soon. One of the newest members of the Spartan Pro team, Kolbl has excelled in the early stages of her career.

Because she mostly ran local Spartan races, Kolbl was a virtual unknown at last year’s Golden State Classic in Monterey, one of the five Spartan U.S. Championship races on NBC. So much so, that one of the race referees had asked her to spell her name while she was finishing burpees. Kolbl went on to finish 4th, under a minute from hitting top three in what was her first ever elite race.

Despite being caught off guard by the cold (like many were) at the 2016 Spartan World Championship in Lake Tahoe and having to complete 150 burpees, she still managed a 7th place finish at the site of the 1960 Olympic Games. That included an untimely fall on the descent, one of her typical strengths. “Usually I’m pretty fast on the downhill because trail running is what I do, but I was so cold that I was shivering and couldn’t see the ground at all,” Kolbl recalls.

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Originally from Slovenia, Kolbl came to the United States almost seven years ago to attend U.C. Berkeley before moving to Stanford, where she is currently a full-time grad student.

Like many other athletes on the team, she’s had to find a healthy balance of work, training and personal time: Working full-time, this means a morning run, a full day of work, then getting in a second training session with her husband, Bunsak. Kolbl attributes him for most of her ability to keep up with training. “He does all the cooking beforehand and all the cleaning and shopping,” she says. “I do dishes to do my part, but I’m definitely lucky from that perspective.”

Having a full schedule is nothing new to her, however. “Being on the gymnastics team when I was younger,” she recounts, “I had like seven hours of practice (every day)…and I still did school full time so there was always a balancing of the two.”

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This year, keep an eye out for this up and comer as she takes on more of the Spartan U.S. Championship Series races and looks to improve on her finish (and burpee count) at Tahoe. She’s already started 2017 with a bang, winning both the Sprint and Super races at the SoCal event in January.

Below is one of Kolbl’s favorite training sessions. She generally performs it the day after a rowing session, and follows it up with a low impact cardio day. As you’ll see below, the Stairmaster is one of Kolbl’s favorite forms of low-impact cardio. “It really pumps my heartbeat, but it doesn’t really work hard on my knees or ankles,” she explains. The rest of her week includes some training on a track, trail/mountain running and another HIIT session.

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MORNING

RUN
This part should always be done in the morning. Go for a nine-mile run at an increasing pace. The second half of the run should be at maximum sustainable effort. For Kolbl, this consists of a sub-7 minute per mile average pace on a loop that has almost 800 feet of elevation gain.

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AFTERNOON

PART ONE
20-MINUTE STAIRMASTER CARDIO
Begin at 96 steps per minute. This is usually level eleven. Incrementally increase each level at the following times:

  • 2 Minutes – Increase to 103 steps per minute
  • 5 Minutes – Increase to 110 steps per minute
  • 8 Minutes – Increase to 117 steps per minute
  • 11 Minutes – Increase to 126 steps per minute
  • 14 Minutes – Increase to 133 steps per minute
  • 17 Minutes – Increase to 140 steps per minute

Pro Tip: If a Stairmaster is unavailable, substitute 20 minutes on a rowing machine or exercise bike. Any form of low impact cardio will work.

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PART TWO

TABATA
Perform each set of two exercises in alternating fashion, executing 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest. Complete each one four total times so that each set ends up being four minutes long. Rest 30 seconds between each set. Kolbl usually does this part with an elevation mask set at 12,000 feet.

  • Set 1
    • Burpees: If you’re an avid OCR fan, chances are you know what a burpee is. Just in case: Begin in a standing position with your feet together. Touch your hands to the floor and kick your legs back so that you are in a push-up position. Perform a push-up, then bring your feet back up in between your hands and jump straight into the air.
    • Star Jumps: Stand with your feet slightly spread apart and arms at your sides. Bend at the knees and explode up, spreading your arms and legs out. Your body will create a star shape. As you land, bring your arms and legs back in. It’s similar to a jumping jack, except you aren’t landing on the jump out.
  • Set 2 
    • Squat Jumps: Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Squat down and jump up in the air. Land softly.
    • Lunge Jumps/Split-Squat Jumps: Get into a lunge position. Jump up into the air while simultaneously switching legs. You should land so that your front leg is now your back, and back is now front.
      • Writer’s Tip: This one is not fun. If you run out of gas, rather than stopping, modify if you need to. Instead of jumping straight up in the air, bring your back foot up with your front, sending the previously front foot back almost instantly. If you can, still try to ensure each foot is off the ground at the same time (at least a little) during the switch.
  • Set 3 
    • High Knees: Run in place, but make sure you are bringing your knees to at least a 90-degree angle when it leaves the ground.
    • Mountain Climbers: Get into a push-up position. Bring one knee towards your chest and tap your toe on the ground. As that foot returns to its original position, bring the opposite foot up and tap that toe. Be sure your butt does not stick up. Your body should form a straight line from head to toe.
  • Set 4 
    • Back and Forth Frog Jumps: Squat down and bring your hands to the ground in front of you. Jump forward, briefly bringing your hands above your head. Then do the same, but backward.
    • Kettlebell Swings: With a 25-pound dumbbell or kettlebell, stand with your feet at least shoulder width apart. With a slight bend in the knees, hinge at your waist so that your back is parallel to the ground and the weight is between your legs. As you transition into the standing position, thrust your hips forward so your body forms a straight line. Simultaneously swing the weight in front of your chest, while keeping your arms straight.
  • Set 5 
    • Push-ups: Your hands should be at least a little wider than shoulder width and your back should remain straight through the each repetition.
      • Writer’s Tip: If doing a push-up normally hurts your wrists, grab a pair of dumbbells that won’t roll (hex-shaped or adjustable normally).
    • Elbow Plank with Knee to Elbow: Get in a plank position with your elbows touching the ground. Your first set, bring your left leg up to your elbow and back. Alternate to your right on the second set, so that you are doing two total sets per leg
  • Set 6 
    • Russian Twists: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet touching the ground in front of you. Lean your torso back, while keeping your back straight. It should be roughly 45-degrees off the ground. Straighten your arms and clasp your hands together. Rotate your arms to the right, pause, then back in front of you and to the left.
    • Sit-ups: Lay on the ground with your knees bent and feet touching the ground in front of you. With either your hands across your chest, or touching the side of your head, use your core to lift your torso up to your knees. Return to the starting position.

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PART THREE

GRIP STRENGTH
Perform one minute of jump rope. Once finished, immediately dead hang from a bar for one minute. Repeat this five times with no rest, totaling ten minutes of work.

Writer’s Tip: As odd as it sounds, jumping rope may be a bit difficult if you aren’t used to it. If you can’t quite get the hang of it, just keep going. You’ll find that you’re rope jumping will improve each round!

Writer’s Note: Thank you to Rea for sharing her favorite workout. You can follow her on Instagram and catch her training at King’s Camps and Fitness.

Photo Credit: Rea Kolbl, Spartan Race

Check out past Train Like a Pro articles:

Abominable Snow Race 2017

Abominable Snow Race - And They're Off!So, you think you’re tough right? You can fly up a rope or smoke a 5k on the treadmill? Indoors, in your climate controlled gym, with your water bottle next to you, and your music pumping in your headphones? Well the winter OCR season is here and gaining popularity. You can crush a course when it’s 80 degrees but how about when the wind chill is barely in the teens? The Abominable Snow Race held at the Grand Geneva Ski Resort in Wisconsin on January 28th  offered just this challenge. Nearly 2,500 athletes ventured to the snow-covered resort to test themselves against the hills, well-placed obstacles, and the climate.

Abominable Snow Race - Traversing

With the temperature’s in the low 20’s and the wind chill around 12 degrees ASR started off their second annual race at 8 am with Coach Pain behind the microphone doing his best to keep a lively, but cold crowd pumped up. The lone elite wave was packed with athletes from all over wanting to test their mental and physical toughness!

Starting off with a snow packed run up and around one of the ski slopes, ASR led athletes through a series of low crawls and over-under-throughs to thin out racers before setting off along the 4.4 miles of wooded trails of the Grand Geneva Resort. The constant elevation change along the very technical trails certainly was a test of an athlete’s trail running ability. The first of ASR’s signature obstacles was up next: The Alaskan Oil Rigs.  This consists of a vertical climb up a man-made rig to a bell ring at the top, providing a unique climbing challenge. Back on the frozen trails racers came up to a tractor tire flip, 3 times down and back. This proved to be a slight bottleneck with racers waiting 3 deep for an opportunity to complete this challenge. An extra tire or two will easily solve this problem in the future, but it did provide racers with a small breather. Now back on the trail, we circled around back in the direction of the resort where the ASR version of the Bucket Brigade waited. ASR chose to use packed snow as the filler in their buckets. If you carried the bucket on your shoulder and spilled some you got a chilly wake up call.

Now back on the trail, we circled around back in the direction of the resort where the ASR version of the Bucket Brigade waited. ASR chose to use packed snow as the filler in their buckets. If you carried the bucket on your shoulder and spilled some you got a chilly wake-up call.  A series of climbing barricades was the next obstacle up for racers as ASR brought us up to another one of their signature obstacles; The Cliffhanger. The Cliffhanger is a traverse wall separated by a 12-foot suspended section of wood that an athlete had to cross to get to the rest of the traverse wall. It was a great way to change up the normal wall traverse!

Abominable Snow Race - Slant WallNow back to the ski slope, ASR challenged racers with a slippery log carry around the hill, and then it was on to a bit of fun. Racers had to grab an innertube and climb up to the top of the ski hill for a thrilling high-speed slide down. After dropping off our tubes we were back into the woods and trails which again led us away from the resort. Three sets of 5-foot-high hurdles were placed in our path leading up to a balance beam walk with log in hand. A 20-burpee penalty was in effect for any elite racer who failed any obstacle, and there were plenty of burpees being done here. A 9-foot inverted wall traverse tested your grip and climbing skills before heading for a run through the winding forest trails. Another one of ASR’s unique challenges now put before us was a sling shot type event. Targets were placed a short distance away and racers had to grab a sponge ball, load in into a large sling shot and fire away. It was a “luck” obstacle, almost like the Spartan spear throw.

Abominable Snow Race - Cargo Climb

Now curling back on our final trip back to the ski lodge, ASR placed the Rocky Sled Pull. Sleds needed to be loaded with sandbags and dragged along a course around the forest and back to the start where the next racer could use them. After another series of trails, we came back to the largest ski slope where ASR really tested racers. Enjoy a climb up snow-packed, steep hills? Great! Two sets of steep climbs, the second leading up to an additional A-frame cargo climb on top, exhausted your legs and back. Once complete, a racer had to navigate back down the steep slope and up to the final ASR obstacle. A slip wall was all that was left between a racer and the finish. But the steep incline of the wall, along with the constant blowing snow on the wall made this wall a brutal climb!Abominable Snow Race - Low in the snow

A location change to this year’s event to the Grand Geneva Resort was an awesome idea from race CEO Bill Wolfe. The elevation changes really made the event tougher and more exciting. Parking and pics were free at the event and their race swag was on point.  At the merchandise tent, ASR sold flex fit hats, custom ASR compression gear, and many more awesome items. The festival area was loaded with vendors and was packed with racers and their families. A kids Yeti course was offered and warm locker rooms provided. I found the ASR to be a must-do race in the Midwest. It is super challenging with some fun things thrown in. I would even recommend traveling in from far away for this OCR. For those who really want to test themselves in the winter elements, this is the one to do.

Photo Credit: Scott Brackemeyer

Spartan Race SoCal Super 2017 – New Venue, New Obstacles, New Medals!

The first Spartan Race of the year is in the book, in a “SUPER” big way.

The race was held at Lake Elsinore, about 20 miles north of last year’s venue in Temecula.  It rained extensively the week before and everything was green and fresh. The rain also made for some wet, muddy conditions, which is the way I like it, but the weather on race day was perfect, bringing sun and comfortable temperatures.

The festival area was electric. It was the first race of the year and you could feel the energy and excitement in the air. For many, it was the first race after the off season. It had been three months since my last race, and I know I had been waiting for this day like it was Christmas, and it was finally here!

I watched the Elites line up and take off. They are so fast and it just amazes me every time I see them.

Spartan Race - SoCal Women's Start

As 8:15 approached, I knew it was time to head to the starting corral. This was my first race running in the competitive heat. I was nervous, excited, and ready to take it on. Aroo, Aroo, Aroo…and we were off!

The course was flat and fast! We got the walls out of the way right off the start.

Spartan SoCal - Walls

We ran through the trails and dry shrubs. I did a terrific superman impression when my foot caught a root and propelled me into a flying crash. I’m sure there should have been points for style! All was good. I dusted myself off and rounded the corner and came to the first of many water crossings.

Spartan SoCal - Mud

The water was so cold! My feet would become numb during each crossing. There was usually a break between waterways with an obstacle or two. It was just long enough for my feet to thaw out and feel the dirt and rocks in my shoes. Then, back in the water and numb feet again.

Spartan SoCal - Water Crossing

We came up to the Z-Wall. One of my favorites. My buddy did great and I was able to get across too.

Spartan SoCal - Z Wall

Next, came one of the new obstacles. TWISTER!!! The bars have rungs that are offset. As you grab one, the entire bar twists, and so it goes, all the way to the end, until you hit the bell. I watched a couple of people to study their technique. Some went across sideways, but the ones who went hand over hand seemed to have the most success. I made it five or six rungs before falling. I can’t wait to try this again.

Spartan SoCal - NEW OBSTACLE - Twister

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one trying to get the hang of it. There were a lot of burpees going on! 30 burpees complete and I was off to the next obstacle. Oh yes….more water along the way.

Tyrolean Traverse is one of my other favorites. I’m glad they kept this one. I keep trying different ways of traversing but still find that the hand over hand and leg over leg works best for me.

Another new obstacle came along called Bender. It’s arched back, a little like an inverted wall, and the first bar is maybe 6 feet from the ground. This one looked so intimidating when I was standing under it, but once I got going it wasn’t bad at all. It was a little awkward on the transition at the top, but it was a fun new challenge and one I’m looking forward to again.

Spartan SoCal - NEW OBSTACLE - BenderThe gal on the right cruised right up and over. She rocked this obstacle!!

Spartan SoCal - Breezing over Bender

The standard Multi-Rig didn’t make an appearance, but this one did. Rings, rings, rings!! I really liked it. They are grippier than the standard metal rings. It definitely tested your grip strength, but I liked having a more secure hold while going across.

Spartan SoCal - Rig of Rings

The bucket brigade made a very flat loop, which is unusual for this obstacle. I made it around the loop without stopping and moved on to the monkey bars. Next was the spear throw. I’ve only made it one other time in a race. I threw it and was so happy that it stuck! No burpees! Then, came the rope climb. That’s usually one of my best obstacles, but the rope was very different. Instead of feeling fibrous, it was slick like blond hair and much thinner. I got half ways up and wasn’t confident about my grip. I didn’t want wounded palms, so I jumped down. Time for my second set of burpees.

One more semi-new obstacle was the tire flip. Spartan has had several races with tire flips, but these were special. The women’s tires weighed 200 lbs. and the men’s were 400 lbs. Much heavier and flat on the bottom so very hard to get a hold of. You flipped it one way and then back a second time.

Spartan SoCal - Tire Flip

We wound our way around the course and came to the Herc Hoist. I like this obstacle. The bags felt good and went up fairly easy. Next were the rolling mud hills and the dunk wall. I’m a cold wimp and must have had a certain look on my face. One fella came over and said he was going to go under with me at the same time. He counted to three and we submerged. The water wasn’t actually as cold as the earlier water crossings, which I was very grateful for.

Spartan SoCal - Dunkwall

The slip wall and fire jump were next! My buddy and I stopped and high-fived and then remembered we still needed to cross the finish line. We high tailed it the last few feet and completed our first race of the year, the SoCal Spartan Super!

I had to go to the chalk wall and scribble my name and that was it. First race of the year in the books!

I like the new shirts. The neck seemed a little tight last year but this one is comfortable and fits true to size. I thought I had it on backwards at first as the circle is in the back instead of the front. Once I saw others with it the same way I was reassured.

Spartan Race - 2017 Super Finisher T Front

Spartan Race - 2017 Super Finisher T Back
The medals are great. They remind me of an old Incan coin. They are heavy and rugged. Definitely a winner in my opinion.

Spartan Race - 2017 Super Medal FrontSpartan Race - 2017 Super Medal Back

Photo credit: Kim Collings

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Rise of the social fitness challenge and OCR

Rise of the challenge

As the 2017 OCR season gradually opens up, you may find yourself looking for something to challenge you. You need to train, but that’s boring on its own. You crave that social world that OCR offers, but it’s months before you can actually participate. Sometimes you need something to engage you between races during the season. If you’ve been anywhere near the social media groups that have formed around our sport, you will have noticed the appearance of fitness challenges.If you are like me, you are not really surrounded by a lot of fellow OCR enthusiasts that share your particular brand of workout crazy, a social fitness challenge group may be for you. I’ll highlight some of the main fitness challenge groups related to OCR that are available:

OCRbeast.co

OCR Beast Co. offer a range of excellent paid Obstacle Course Racing specific coaching programs – available for monthly subscription from their website. They also run regular free challenges throughout the year on instagram. Most recently the dead hang challenge had , and the May Murph challenge they ran earlier this year. They have a great deal of community support and participation with over 6000 followers. Their challenges tend to last 30 days or so and have scaling options for all participants. Stay tuned for what they have coming next and definitely check into the coaching programs they offer.

Charity Challenges

Charity Challenges grew out of a twitter conversation between some friends in October, 2013. Since then they have steadily branched into a wide range of different fitness challenges and virtual events, many of which are applicable and support the sport of OCR. The primary goal of Charity Challenges is to raise money for charity, while allowing participants to enjoy fitness challenges. To participate, you donate to join that challenge, and log your reps for that challenge using your account on the charity challenges website. Team challenges are available and encouraged. Charity Challenges are extremely well attended with thousands of participants. Charity challenges produces patches and badges for completion of challenges. They are currently running a 1000 mile challenge which will last the entire year of 2017. You can sign up for that here

Machete 30

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A branch of Machete Madness, Machete 30 was founded by Victor Carrillo. Victor underwent an incredible transformation of his own to become a well recognized face in the world of obstacle course racing and now, among other things, he runs a Facebook challenge group that boasts 1200+ members. A new free fitness challenge is created and delivered to the group each month. Participants are encouraged to complete the movements each day of the month and to post a video or photograph of themselves doing so. Challenges are usually quite accessible for beginners and highly conditioned athletes alike, often involving minimal equipment. Victor is really great at engaging and encouraging participants, and community support is strong. If you’re looking for some real Machete Madness, check out Machete Madness events.

Captain Kaufmann

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Jeremy Kaufmann has produced a years worth of OCR based fitness challenges and workouts in the form of a book. Detailing dozens of innovative and tough fitness challenges, the Captain’s playbook is available both in print and in eBook form. Jeremy’s work spans a wide variety of movements essential to becoming elite at obstacle racing. I also think it is a great strength that Jeremy’s challenges are often body-weight based or may involve just basic equipment – that means it’s usually pretty easy to jump in without the need of a gym or weights. It might help to have wreck-bag or weighted vest for some challenges.  Watch out for posts with #captainschallenge on his instagram feed.

OCR Guy Challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

@ocrguychallenge is run by myself (Glenn Hole). Currently in it’s 4th volume, ocrguychallenge is a co-operative challenge group, bringing trainers, athletes and participants together under one free community. Most of the challenges are tough, but we usually offer some scaling options for novices. I like to limit challenges to just one week, which allows prominent members of the OCR community (like team HEXT, Anna Solomon, Austin Azar, Josh Stryde and Lindsay Webster) to help out without too much of a time commitment. Previous challenges have included a bucket carry for distance, pull-ups, distance running, sleep and recovery, nutrition, yoga and OCR fitness bench-marking weeks. For finishers, I produce virtual badges for the completion of each challenge, and occasionally prizes are available. To join the next challenge follow @ocrguychallenge on instagram or join the ocrguychallenge facebook group.

Other notable players to watch:

We’ve also seen notable one off challenges from the Wieclawek Brothers @YYCbrosOCR, Hunter McIntyre @huntthesheriff, @southjersey_ocr, and @teamsocialmisfits. Watch these accounts for challenges in the future!

Conclusion

The social fitness challenge is an exciting new phenomenon that seems to have grown in some part at least from the broad appeal of OCR as a sport and a lifestyle. Love them or hate them, fitness challenges are growing all the time. For me, the challenges allow me to connect with friends I’ve made on the OCR circuit in a meaningful way. We get to compete with each other and endure difficult things together each time we get together for a challenge because that’s part of why we race in the first place. It’s also a great way to hold myself and others accountable to a high standard of fitness during the off season and between races. It’s a way of developing new friendships, teams and alliances. If you feel like you need something to keep you accountable and motivated until your next race, jump in on a fitness challenge!

Which fitness challenges have you enjoyed? Are there any I have missed? Leave a comment below.