LeaderBoard Training – Coached by the Pros (Part 1)

LeaderBoard-Logo

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

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

LeaderBoard-Peak-Podium-Sweep

THE PEOPLE

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

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

Robert-Killian-Sandbag-Carry-Seattle-2017

HOW IT WORKS

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

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

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

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

COMMUNICATION

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

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

LeaderBoard-Dashboard

THE WORKOUTS

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

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

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

LeaderBoard-Female-podium-finish

BENCHMARKS AND SPECIALIZATIONS

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

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

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

LeaderBoard-Podium-Finishes-in-March

RESULTS

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

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

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

Total Time – 1:02:52 vs. 59:09

Mile 1 (256 ft) – 11:32 vs. 11:41

Mile 2 (244 ft) – 13:49 vs. 12:54

Mile 3 (84 ft) – 11:14 vs. 10:42

Mile 4 (89 ft) – 12:23 vs. 11:21

Mile 5 (77 ft) – 12:25 vs. 11:05

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

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

Photo Credit: LeaderBoard, Spartan Race

Spartan Race Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast 2017 – Too Easy?

As it got closer to the 2016 Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast at Mountain Creek Resort, participants found out that the course had been rerouted from the previous year to include an additional 1,000 ft climb. Although this year, complaints filled the air that the course included less elevation gain and was too easy. In 2016, Francis DiSomma finished the Beast course in 2 hours 55 minutes with a whopping 21 minute lead on second place. However, this year the first 16 finishers of the Beast course beat his time. Could this have something to do with Norm Koch leaving Spartan Race? Possibly, but it does seem indicative of an easier course. It was a true Ultra Beast nevertheless: 2 laps of the Beast course covering over 26 miles with 60 obstacles on rugged New Jersey terrain. For those who had been attempting an Ultra Beast for the first time, it was plenty challenging; but for Ultra Beast veterans, there was no comparison… except for the brutal bucket carry right at the finish.

The first heat of the day was delayed 30 minutes and immediately I was having flashbacks to Killington. As soon as we were given the go, racers took off, running up the mountain for the first of many times that day. I jogged for about a minute and dialed it back to a power hike knowing it wasn’t worth wasting the energy. Throughout the entirety of the first lap, I was jockeying back and forth with a few people who insisted on running the climbs, but I wasn’t worried. I kept telling myself that the first lap was the warm-up and that the race didn’t begin until the second lap. I spent a lot of miles distracting myself by meeting other racers, talking about our past experiences and how the obstacles were going that day. Since it rained briefly before the start of the race, the monkey bars were pretty wet when we got to them, causing many racers to slip and start the race off with 30 burpees. For many, it was also the first time we encountered Olympus and Bender.

NJ-UB-2017-Olympus

All of this made for good conversation and I soon realized that I was actually enjoying my time spent on the mountain, rather than just grinding it out and psyching myself out. On the steep climbs, I took it slow and steady and began passing a lot of people, apparently more than I realized. I was having a fantastic race. The tyrolean traverse and herc hoist, amongst others, had never felt easier. I even made it over the 8 ft wall on my first try with no assistance – a new best for me!

By the time I came down the mountain to the final 3 obstacles – the bucket carry, twister and rope climb – I was one of the first 20 females. The bucket carry was the longest and steepest one I’ve ever done and in my opinion, it was the most challenging obstacle on the course. Completing it was quite the task in of itself, but I had also developed a splitting headache over the previous hour.

Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Bucket-Carry-1 Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Bucket-Carry-2

By the time I finally got to the twister, my headache had grown to the point where it hurt to look up into the sun to see the handles. I quickly fell and that’s when it really hit me. I was in so much pain that it took me about 20 minutes to do my 30 burpees, occasionally laying on the ground for a few minutes. Needless to say, I was no longer in the top 20, but by some miracle, I completed the rope climb and still finished my first lap in under 4 hours.

Once I got to the drop bin area, I just wanted to lay down and close my eyes for a moment. This quickly attracted the attention of the medics and I thought it was all over… again. I was about to be med-dropped. They brought me to the medical tent and gave me water and medicine, but nothing helped. They determined I wasn’t dehydrated and that it was just a migraine. All I could do was wait it out, but they urged me to pull myself from the race. I was beyond frustrated that this had happened. I’ve never felt so fresh coming off of a Spartan course as I did that day. My body felt amazing but I could barely open my eyes. TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER, it finally started to ease up a little. In a rage that a mere headache was holding me back from completing this race, I decided to just go back out and see what happened. I ate some chips, filled my hydration pack, grabbed my headlamp, and went back out on course for lap two.

Within minutes, I felt amazing again. The fact that I was back out on the course re-energized me. I was quickly passing other Ultra Beast racers who said that their legs felt dead. I even began passing Beast racers who had just begun their first lap. Not long after, I had even caught up to some people I was running with in my first lap. I was cruising! The obstacles went exactly the same as they did in the first lap, although I probably did the bucket carry faster the second time. I failed the Multi-Rig, Olympus, & the Spear, which were all in a row, as well as the Twister, both laps for a grand total of 240 penalty burpees. All in all, I still finished the second lap in about 5 hours.

Spartan-NJ-UB-2017-Twister

I could have actually put up a decent time if it weren’t for the amount of time in between laps, and that bothers me, but in comparison to what happened in Killington, I was just glad to finish. Although I am now the proud owner of a Spartan Ultra Beast belt buckle, and many have congratulated me on earning my redemption, I’m still planning on getting back out to Vermont to give it another shot. In all honesty, the courses do not compare; and in my mind, the medals do not bear the same value. The 2017 Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast had 1,046 finishers whereas the 2016 Killington Ultra Beast only had 204. Which medal would you rather own?

Tough Mudder Arizona 2017

Tough Mudder Arizona

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit Arizona, so naturally I decided to take part in the 2017 Tough Mudder with friends I’d never met before in person. This is how most of my races go now. What did I learn? I learned that Tough Mudder is changing to rapidly become an even bigger hitter in the OCR world. Read more to learn why.

STATS AND STUFF

Event Location: Mesa, Arizona.

Actual course distance: 10.2 miles for the Full/Tougher Mudder Course

Weather: 26°C/86F, some gusty winds. Hot.

Terrain: Arid desert plateau. Minimal elevation gain/loss. Ground underfoot ranged from hard pack, powdery dust, sand, broken asphalt, desert brush, and some gravel. Oh, and mud… duh.

Events offered: Tougher Mudder (Competitive Full Course), Tough Mudder (Full Course), Tough Mudder Half, MiniMudder.

Getting there: The race takes place on the crumbling ruins of an old Nascar circuit, just on the south side of Mesa. It’s practically walking distance from Mesa Gateway airport, so it’s easily accessible. Cost of parking: $20 US.

Facilities: Porta potties in Mudder village and on course. First aid. Merchandise and food tents. Beer tent. Bag check. Rinsing area. Changing tents. ETC

Equipment needed: I ran in my Merrell All Out Crush OCR shoes, which were idea for the conditions because they drained exceptionally well. I took a hydration pack, and a couple of gels. The course chewed up my running socks and shirt a bit, so don’t go wearing your expensive duds.

Swag: A great quality tech running shirt from Merrell/Tough Mudder, a Tough Mudder headband. Brags.

IN DEPTH

Difficulty

The course for the Arizona Tough Mudder is very flat, which means it’s a suitable race for participants of almost any athletic ability. Obstacles are always optional in Tough Mudder, but some obstacle training and a background in running would make the experience a lot more fun. By entering the original Tough Mudder, you should find that slower pacing and the non-competitive atmosphere means that exhaustion doesn’t play as large a role as it might in other OCR events (shorter and competitive versions of the event are also available if the full isn’t to your liking). The biggest challenge by far in Arizona is the heat, which even in early April, can be considerably more than out of state visitors to Tough Mudder Arizona might be prepared for. 

Water

Multiple water stations were located across the course. Some of the water stations also provided 🍌 halves for participants. I counted at least five water stations. I brought a hydration pack, but didn’t really need it – call me paranoid – but this is the desert. I never felt thirsty.

Obstacles

If you’ve never done a Tough Mudder before, let me give you an introduction. The format of the original Tough Mudder is that of an event rather than a race (the new Tougher Mudder competitive wave with prize money is brand new in 2017), with the most popular iteration being the 10-12 mile distance, or the FULL Tough Mudder.  The obstacles found in a Tough Mudder are among the best in the industry, and while they may not always be the most challenging or punishing, they are always very well designed, very well built and amusingly named (See “stage 5 clinger” and “Snot Rocket”). While some of the obstacles are one person at a time kinda deals, many of them are team based, forcing you to work together. This is a critical part of the Tough Mudder. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

But don’t be fooled, these are not really easy obstacles;  it’s just that some of the obstacles are designed to mess with your amygdala more than your muscles. There’s a fear factor here, and the race designers play with almost all the phobias through a series of elaborate stunts and tasks. We get to experience the fear of heights, water, tight spaces, tight spaces with water, getting dirty, getting cold, being unable to overcome an obstacle, or even getting electrocuted in front of a crowd (not even joking). Welcome to the twisted sense of humor of Tough Mudder.

Yet it’s the simple things that put the ‘Tough” in Tough Mudder. Some of the most difficult sections of the Arizona course involved simple mud traps and pits. Best to be prepared for that. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

“Everest 2.0” requires speed and power to launch high enough to be grabbed by helping hands, but a relatively dry ramp at this event meant that failure was rare on this obstacle. For me, Pyramid scheme is the beating heart of the Tough Mudder experience and remains a stroke of pure genius. Why? The obstacle is designed to deliver muddy mayhem at every turn, and it requires massive amounts of teamwork to complete. Conquering it as a team results in a huge sense of accomplishment and multiple fist bumps. Just make sure you tighten the waistband of your shorts before making yourself part of the pyramid. Someone will pants you. It happens. Block Ness Monster is another highlight. This obstacle is just sheer bliss and entertainment value – note to course designers for next time – It’s much better when you can’t touch the bottom of the pool. But like I said earlier, it’s the simplicity of the setup that becomes the canvas for the adventure.

Tough Mudder Arizona

New or notable obstacles:

SNOT ROCKET/AUGUSTUS GLOOP
A vertical climb inside a tube, while you are being sprayed with water from above. This one looked pretty awful, but like nearly all of the water obstacles, it came as a welcome way of cooling off. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

BIRTH CANAL
A crawl beneath heavy, water filled tarps. This didn’t seem to require any kind of team effort and was not visible enough for any real spectator value. This obstacle should have been twice as long.  

Tough Mudder Arizona

KONG (Legionnaires only-so run another Tough Mudder and come play on this bad boy)
An impressively​ tall ring set. Although it looks cool, this is the far less interesting alternative to Electroshock Therapy. It’s presence is likely there to challenge the Tough Mudder timed event participants since electroshock therapy isn’t a suitable finish for a race I guess.

Tough Mudder Arizona

SHAWSHANKED
Think Andy Dufresne crawling his way to freedom and dropping into the muck of the sewer (this is a very literal interpretation).  A narrow horizontal tube and rope crawl, terminating in a headfirst drop into a pool of muddy water. The intimidation factor of this made it a great addition to the Tough Mudder experience. Make sure you hold your nose next time. 

Tough Mudder Arizona

Notes on the Tougher Mudder Competitive wave:

Those running the competitive wave will have found themselves much more challenged by obstacles that are meant to be completed with a more willing set of team-mates. It’s a pretty exciting addition, but I couldn’t make it to the race in time to run competitively. Plus, I had my awesome team THE ANGRY RACCOONS to run with. 

Safety

Safety on course was great. Tough Mudder has developed a solid protocol for safety and ensuring the obstacles on offer are sturdy and well tested so at the minimum, I would advise you to bring sunscreen, listen to the safety briefings, and read the signage. More than once I saw people entering deep water and needing to be rescued by very experienced looking lifeguards, but everyone was warned multiple times about the risks at Tough Mudder. The heat was probably the thing to be most concerned about at this particular event.

Turnout

HUGE. It wasn’t too hot. It wasn’t too difficult so I saw a lot of people on course clearly enjoying themselves. The staff seemed happy to be there. There were plenty of laughs. If you’re in Arizona, definitely check it out. 

CONCLUSION

Tough Mudder still manages to keep the incandescent appeal of the obstacle course alive and well in Arizona, and it is refreshing to see a company being progressive and thoughtful towards its participants. There’s buzz and movement there. Why? They have lowered the bar of entry to the Tough Mudder by expanding the shorter entry level events, and yet maintained the spirit of the original Tough Mudder. But that’s not all (this is sounding like an infomercial), TM has moved into a new arena of highly engaging competitive races that seems to hold up well against the other major players in the sport.  In short, Tough Mudder is becoming one of the most broadly appealing and interesting series of OCR events worldwide. 

I’m VERY excited to see Tough Mudder continue to make inroads into the race calendars of more pro and competitive obstacle course racers.

Your move Spartan…

The Angry Raccoons

Photo Credit: Gameface Media and Tough Mudder

Savage Race Florida Has Serious Beef With Their Racers!

Savage-Race-Mens-Pro-Start

Thanks to the Florida Women’s Cattle Association, Savage Race served up protein packed, amazing post race bites of some of the most well seasoned, succulent rib eye and NY strip steaks. That sure beats the traditional bananas and protein bars for this racer!

I’m getting ahead of myself however, so let me run down the basics before getting to the true meat of Savage Race, the obstacles. The heart-pounding, well-designed, and amazingly fun obstacles that had thousands of Savages from 37 states descend upon Florida to run the very first Savage Race of 2017.

The parking situation: Savage Race Florida did not have VIP parking. It was $10 to park at the venue with a first come, first serve situation in order to get the best spot. The parking area was close enough to the venue with a short walk to the entrance, where a friendly volunteer handed you a course map.

Savage-Race-Course-Map-Volunteer

What about the Port-o-potties? There were portable crappers in the parking area and the festival area as far as the eye can see. So, if you had to do race rule #1 (Take a dump before the race), there was no wait before or after the race. They also had 2 portable crapper stations on the course right around miles 3 and 6. As for the cleanliness? You’ve seen worse. Much much worse, trust me on that. Post race is where you start asking, “Mud or poo?”

Savage-Rage-Venue-Porta-Potties

Registration and packet pickup: Simple and hassle free. Just make sure that you have a valid I.D., your bib number and a signed waiver.

Savage-Race-Registration-Volunteer-Packet-Pickup-Tent

Bag check: $5 (each bag) to check your belongings, and if you needed to get something from your bag after checking it, like a second packet for your Savage Syndicate lap, or if you simply forgot something they will not charge you again. Your belongings were kept behind long tables where very friendly but watchful volunteers and security made sure your things were safe.

Savage-Race-Bag-Check-Tent

Savage Syndicate Program: There seems to be some confusion on how this works. It’s very simple folks: run 2 paid laps in 1 calendar year and you get a big, spinning medal to go with your 2 regular medals. You can run 2 paid laps on the same day like I did and BOOM, you too can walk around like King or Queen shit though the festival area with your neck laden with bling. You also get a state pin, and the best part? All Savage Races that you run after becoming a Savage Syndicate: you get the regular medal and another Syndicate spinner medal with that state’s pin, without having to run double laps at the same venue.

Savage-Race-Syndicate_Kevin-LaPlatney

Savage Race Pro Kevin “MudMan” LaPlatney, Owner of Obstacle Athletics with his Savage Race Syndicate Bling (Gold Medal not included)

Water stations: There were 3 water stations on the course spaced every 2 miles, and Savage Race is still keeping the water on ice. So when you are handed your own personal water bottle, it’s nice and refreshingly cold. They spoil their racers, unlike another race brand (which shall not be named) that tends to run out of the water and is warm enough to make tea with.

The obstacles: Oh my, where do I even begin? Savage Race surprised many of their Florida regulars with the course set up this year. The first mile was a nice long run without any obstacles. You heard that correctly my fellow Savages, a Savage Race where they didn’t bombard you within the first ¼ mile with obstacles. How is this a good thing some may be wondering? It builds up anticipation, and you get a nice warm up mile to get the blood flowing before they start slamming you with obstacle after obstacle.

Savage-Race-Shriveled-Richard-Obstacle

Once you hit their first obstacle named Barn Doors, which is a wooden fence that you climb over the obstacles start coming at you quickly in true Savage Race fashion. Barbed wire crawls, mud pits, cargo nets, high walls, their signature obstacles like Sawtooth, Shriveled Richard, Wheel World, Colossus, Davy Jones and much more are spaced so that once you are done with one obstacle you are just a stone’s throw away from the next one.

On my first lap I did notice that the Squeeze Play obstacle which was placed over a mud pit was closed. Of course, the first thought that came to mind was, “GATOR IN THE MUD PIT!” but that thought quickly went away as I ran towards the always intimidating Sawtooth. On my second lap Squeeze play was placed over dry ground a few feet away from the mud pit which had red lettered caution tape, so it kind of confirmed to me that there was a “GATOR IN THE MUD PIT!” There is no official confirmation on that however, and it could just be all in my head.

Savage-Race-Mad-Ladders-Obstacle

Savage Race threw many racers for a loop when they placed Colossus a few obstacles before the finish line. I heard quite a few Savages wondering, “Colossus isn’t last?” Oh no my friends, they placed it right before Teeter Tuber making crawling up the rubber pipes extra challenging and fun because the insides were SAF (Slippery As F*ck).

Savage-Race-Colossus-Obstacle

Speaking of challenging, the hardest traverse wall in OCR, “Kiss My Walls” just got even more challenging. Savage Race upped it up a notch by adding fencing in between the tiny rock climbing pegs. Still no step stool for us shorties, sorry my fellow vertically challenged pals.

I’ll touch briefly on their 2 new obstacles that many were wondering about, Mad Ladders and Twirly Bird, since nobody had even seen a picture of these two before the race. Mad Ladders consists of rope ladders and loose cargo nets which you traverse across. Sounds easy? Far from it as you’ll be spun around and tangled up.

Twirly Bird? No propellers involved, but it’s the rig to end all rigs. Oh you thought trying to hang onto tennis balls was hard? Try hanging onto shredded ropes with tiny individual knots. You better have the grip strength of a silverback gorilla to get through this one.

Savage-Race-Twirly-Bird-Obstacle

All in all it was 28 great obstacles (no heavy carries allowed) packed into a 6 mile course.

Savage-Race-Runners

Festival area: After jumping over the fire and getting your precious medal and finisher shirt, Florida Savages were treated to what seems to be every OCR racer’s favorite post race beer Shock Top. For those that do not drink, your beer ticket was treated like you just handed off a $100 bill.

The food stalls worked much like a carnival where you bought tickets at a booth and various food and drink items cost x amount of tickets. $10 for a sheet of 10 tickets was how it was sold. The fare was burgers, chicken gyros, chicken on a stick, roasted corn on the cob and other carry around friendly foods.

Savage-Race-Food-Stalls

There was a nice large main tent where people were enjoying food and drinks giving it a very cool Oktoberfest vibe. There were plenty of canopied tables scattered throughout the festival area as well giving people a nice view of the stage where they held pushup contests. Hats off to the Savages that participated because this Savage could barely hold her burger up after the race.

Changing room and showers: You mean garden hoses and changing tents. The garden hoses should have a sign next to them saying, “Obstacle #29” so cold! The changing tents were secure, clean and roomy.

Savage-Race-Changing-Tents-Venue

Exit through the gift shop: Savage race has the best prices for gear and still continues to do so. Good selection of shirts, compression sleeves, headbands and if you buy 2 shirts you get a venue specific shirt for FREE!

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The best next race deal around: For $75 you can buy a voucher for upcoming Savage races at any venue. That price includes processing fees and the mandatory insurance, but wait there’s MORE! You also get a Savage race wristband, a “Train Savage” t-shirt and decals.

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Thank you Savage race for putting on an amazing event yet again, the first race of the year was incredible and this Savage is looking forward to even more fun at Maryland Spring on April 29th.

If you’re still on the fence about trying a Savage Race, it’s time to get off of that fence, grab some friends and jump into the mud or water pit because it’s time to get SAVAGE AF!

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Photo Credit: Kevin “MudMan” LaPlatney, Poly Poli, Savage Race 

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Rise of the Sufferfests – What I Loved & What I Didn’t

Let me start off by saying if you love OCR then you need to see this movie.

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It’s a ‘must see’ for those of us who would describe ourselves as being part of a ‘community’ rather than ‘oh yeah, I did a Warrior Dash once’…

If you google ‘running documentaries’ you will have a myriad of selections to choose from. There are several documentaries that are purely about specific races, there are even trail running film festivals, but there are no documentaries on OCR…until now.sufferfests-viewing-party

If for nothing else, you need to see this movie because it’s the first. And I don’t mean download it or wait for it on Netflix. You need to attend one of the showings, pay the $7 and shake Scott Keneally’s hand for being a pioneer in this community or have a viewing party with your local OCR group. Just like everyone reminisces about the first Spartan or Tough Mudder and how different things were, going to a Rise of the Sufferfests party/showing will be something you will realize later on (if not immediately) that it’s a significant milestone for OCR. And I’m confident this will be the beginning of many more things to come from Scott Keneally.

What I Loved

If you’ve done OCR to any extent then you know what it means to suffer brutal calf pain, wasted grip strength and throbbing forearms as well as hypothermia and electric shock. Scott does an A+ job at catching some of these moments. In fact, I’ve never seen better examples of hypothermic shock than what you see in Rise of the Sufferfests. You feel it. You remember it, because it happened to you before too.sufferfests-cold-guy-at-tough-guy

Another great thing Rise of the Sufferfests explores is the psychology of why we choose to do such crazy things. The movie features interviews with a variety of sociologists and other authors that give insight into the rising popularity of our cult of insanity…except as Rise of the Sufferfests points out: OCR isn’t a cult…because cults are small…and OCR is not small.

The coverage of the history of the Tough Guy challenge founded by Mr. Mouse is not only interesting, but downright necessary if you’re going to understand the origins of OCR and Mr. Mouse himself, along with his marketing techniques is every bit as noteworthy and interesting as his event. It’s truly where it all began and the Tough Guy challenge is the Torah of OCR.

The profile of Hunter Mcintyre is absolute gold. Not because of his accomplishments, but because the film shows in a brief segment how he has evolved as a person through OCR. Starting out as only a competitor and then taking on the role of a personal trainer has had a great impact on him, and that’s what we love about OCR: how it changes you.

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It made me angry. The film also explores outsiders opinions on why we choose to endure such crazy suffering in our spare time. Some of the theories are silly and some of them such as the ‘white privilege’ argument just made me angry. I have this on the list of things I love about the movie because Scott, being a good journalist, didn’t only choose to include data and experts that would flatter his personal opinions but also included insights that offer a counterpoint. That’s what a good documentary does, it challenges your personal beliefs.

What I wished was different

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, stop reading.

Seriously.

Just stop reading now. I want you see Scott’s vision unfold without any prejudice and it’s worth your time and money to go see it.

Okay..

Only us who’ve seen it are reading still right?

As a videographer and editor I always watch movies and documentaries and have opinions about how I would’ve did it differently. If I was doing a documentary on OCR I certainly would’ve told a different story, but that’s not the type of thing I’m interested in critiquing here. Rather, there’s a few different things that I would’ve done as an editor/videographer to help Scott capture the story HE was trying to tell a little bit better.

Perhaps the biggest thing was the flow of the film felt a bit ‘off’. At first it seemed like it was a documentary about Tough Guy and it’s influence and impact on what we now know as OCR, but then it shifted gears and it felt like it was more about the sociological reasons that drive OCR, then it felt like it was a documentary about Scott and how he evolved as a person through OCR, then it seemed to become a documentary about making a documentary, then it was about a man wanting to be a better role model for his newborn son. As one friend told me “I wasn’t sure what the goal of the movie was”. All of these things certainly had a place in the film, but none of them were held together very well by a single idea and I kept having to adjust my expectations on what the main point was exactly.

Too much narration. Yes, it needed narration, but there was simply too much of Scott explaining how he felt and what he was experiencing rather than showing it, to the point it felt more like an audio book than a film at moments. Scott is a brilliant writer and one of my favorite OCR articles of all time was written by him about his experience of DNFing a Spartan Sprint, but somehow it didn’t translate as well in the movie. In the future I would like to see Scott get better at verbalizing what’s going on in his mind at the moment he’s experiencing it and capturing it on film. I think that as a writer he probably was thinking “I can put all of this into words so much better if I can just have a moment to reflect”, but doing so is much less powerful in film. Just the visual of a few painful burpees, a disjointed sentence filled with expletives and a hangdog expression with the caption “DNF” would’ve said so much more than a clean voiceover after the fact would. And it wasn’t just this one scene, almost the entire film misses these opportunities.sufferfests-matt-and-scott-qa

Missing key figures/events/places. Yes, we all have our favorite OCR athletes, and having Hunter and Amelia were certainly excellent, if not necessary choices, but it seemed like a few people were missing. What about Hobie Call? He was synonymous with Spartan Race in the early years, Hunter has even referred to him in the past as “the Master”, yet I can’t remember whether he was even mentioned in the entire film. What about Norm Koch? Chris Accord? Certain race directors have become almost like celebrities in this community, but no mention. No mention of Shale Hill or the myriad of other obstacle focused gyms on the rise. Sure, Hunter’s gym is mentioned, but his is kinda small potatoes compared to Shale Hill. No Pak? No Atkins? Noah Galloway? No Albon? And while all of the sociological authors and experts were important to the movie, it seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time on them, especially when you consider the list of people important to defining the OCR community who were left out. Don’t get me wrong, I love A.J. Jacobs and have read a couple of his books, but there was a lot of A.J. Jacobs in this movie.sufferfests-norm-chris-garfield

In the end I want Scott be as powerful as a filmmaker as he is a writer. I think the story Scott was trying to tell was about his experience with OCR and how it evolved him as a person, the intellectual data he gathered along the way and how he used it as a tool to be a better man for his son, I just don’t think he glued all of those elements together as good as he could have to his personal story. I wish he would’ve kept a video journal of his progression. I wish somebody was aggressively pointing a camera in his face throughout some of the more notable races (not just at the end of the race)and he was forcing himself to talk about what he’s thinking and feeling, or at least capturing some of the nervousness in his face as he faced newer challenges and the laughter and joy in his expressions as he reached his goals towards the end. A couple people have anonymously told me they felt the movie was too much about Scott, but I strongly disagree; it just didn’t give us enough reason to root for him and care about how well he did at the end of the movie because we didn’t clearly understand from the beginning what his goals were and didn’t see enough of the ‘visual evidence’ to feel connected to his joys, struggles, hard work and disappointments along the way.sufferfests-scott-and-laura-messner

While it fell short of a few of my expectations, it was still a good movie and I was glad I invested my time to watch it. It was an amazing feat for someone who just did his first film and I hope to see more from him in the future.

Order this movie on Amazon here.

Order on iTunes here.

The Future Of OCR : Acre Breaker Adventure Race

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I stumbled across this event on a random email I received from a newsletter that generally lists road and trail races, not OCRs. I usually quickly browse the emails prior to deleting on the off chance an event piques my interest. To my surprise I found an OCR listed in the email. First thing I checked was distance to my house…1 hour 17 minutes. For anyone that does OCRs regularly that’s like a drive to the grocery store for many of us as opposed to the standard 2 hour drive. I got excited and decided to dig deeper into the event.

What I found out was that this was the first event by this brand. It advertised 12 obstacles in a 4K. They offered several varying options such as 4K individual, 4K team of 2, 8k(2 laps of 4K course) and 8k team of 2. Included in the marketing was the fact that you will get muddy – I was sold.

Upon arrival, there was a2-minutee shuttle ride to an open corn field where registration was held. Quick and easy check in and packet pick up, organized, FREE bag check and off to line up for my heat. I was registered in the 9am wave but got there just after my heat went off, giving me a 30 minute stroll around the start area until the next heat(9:30). The event was untimed but had a running clock at the finish line so you could gauge your total time with a little math.

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After a quick rundown by the emcee, my heat was off and running. First obstacle we came to was a small drop into an ankle deep water/mud pit. If you’ve read my reviews, you know I’m all about getting muddy and wet. Never been a fan of stadium races for this reason but hey.. variety, spice of life and all that. This was a good start for what I hoped for not having any expectations going into it.

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Next came the super fun(sarcasm font) sandbag carry. I was pleased to find something like this in a new race, telling me they had a decent idea about what to include in an OCR. This carry was on minimal elevation but involved, what seemed like, unlimited down and back paths with the “back” section going slightly uphill. Later in the course, I also came up on a bucket carry. All racers, male and female, filled the bucket 3/4 full and walked a loop.

The course included some standard crawls, one between hay bails(pictured above) positioned to allow a very narrow space to crawl through. With my slender frame it wasn’t as easy as I’d expected, causing me to wonder how a person with a stature larger than mine would navigate it, along with a barbed wire crawl (which I love seeing a new race use barbed wire). There were also several unique obstacles, which were a very pleasant surprise for a first-time event.

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One unique obstacle was a plastic drum filled and sealed with liquid inside. The objective was to roll the drum uphill to a designated row of hay bails. With the shifting liquid and uphill trajectory, this was no easy feat, especially once you got further uphill. The most interesting part was the trek back down with the drum. The weight of the liquid and downhill path provided a challenge in itself to keep the drum under control while not speeding downhill without you. This was definitely fun as it’s a change of pace, but I could certainly see this (or the path at least) being altered for future events to avoid injury risks of speeding barrels.

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We’re beginning to see some companies use metal caging or fencing in their obstacle setups now (think Savages “On The Fence”) so it was definitely exciting to see this utilized at a new race. Even more interesting was the type of fencing. This obstacle featured a thin wire fencing and a decent distance required to traverse sideways without touching the top of the fence or feet to the ground. The thickness(or lack thereof) in the fencing definitely could shred some hands up… I loved it.

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Another interesting obstacle was labeled a “fence climb”, which proved difficult for many new racers (who comprised the majority of the event) as the transition from the second to last to the top board was a distance apart, making the “over the top” transition quite steep… Again.. Loved it. There was a metal, box-shaped frame towards the end which was odd in setup, and seemed like a random add in obstacle as opposed to a planned one. It required a climb to the top and traversing along a thin metal pole to the other side where you drop down…(picture a random enclosed bus stop along the side of the road and climbing on top and across it).

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My favorite obstacle of all which was towards the beginning of the event was a water crossing. Chest high depending on height, on a morning that I woke to see 37 degrees out. It was mid 40’s by race time but this was COLD…. LOVED IT! I was admittedly a little confused by the direction to cross as I was redirected by the volunteer, causing a much further walk through the water, which I was certainly ok with.

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The race wrapped up with a fire jump, then being told I came in first overall in my heat and directed to collect my award. A very pleasant surprise as it seemed the first overall male and female of each individual heat and each team wave was awarded a very…. Unique…. Award.

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Yes, if you can’t tell that’s a raccoon skull mounted to a plaque. Certainly the most interesting award next to the cement brick received from the “Down & Dirty”(RIP) Brick division races. But instantly a favorite to be displayed(my wife told me areas of the house I can NOT display it) 😂. The medal was a standard gold circle with brand logo on a red/white/blue striped ribbon. Early registrations received a T-shirt and beer stein.

Back to my original proclamation that this could be the future of OCR. The event was filled with, what seemed to be, a largely local gathering of participants from the area and community. The Race Director informed me they expected around 100 participants, they closed at around 250.. That’s awesome.. They now plan on future events. One for super bowl Sunday(not sure that’s the best date for optimal attendance) and looking at possibly 4+ in the next year. From a first impression and attendance, they easily could succeed with some adjustments and possible tweaks for future events and here’s my suggestions.

Emcee – as opposed to standard course briefing everyone loves some pre-race hype to head on course all pumped up.

Elite heat- I’m all for the current awards per heat. They may want to look at condensing that to one competitive wave for cost purposes but if they choose to do each heat with awards, that’s an EXCELLENT promotional point to increase attendance of medalwhores(which encompasses 80% of this sport)

Additional obstacles- The RD expressed expanding to additional and more challenging obstacles. The easy recommendations are of course rope climb, rope traverse(over the water crossing maybe?) rig, and of course, monkey bars

All about the volunteers- the volunteers were good, but we all know volunteers are the heart and soul of any event, and equally capable of making or breaking an event.

Possible chip timing?(first heat?)*see elite heat, but again, 110% for keeping awards per each heat

Photos- this is a big one for 98% of participants. I know it may not be cheap but someway of establishing photographers at the most unique obstacles. There were pictures taken by a local photogrpaher(all pics featured in review) but pics were minimal. I didn’t see any from my heat and was in the second wave of the day.

Marketing- I’m not sure what type of local advertising was done, obviously enough to pull 200+ people and myself through a local email blast, but it was clear the normal OCR junkie contingent of racers you’d normally find at an event were not present. Marketing through OCR focused outlets(Obstacle Racing Media….for example 😉) would certainly increase the exposure of the brand to the right demographic.

All in all if a local brand can start up, follow the right path and athlete devoted business practices can succeed. That’s a great sign for the future of our sport. I’ll certainly be rooting for this brand as those behind it truly seemed to want to learn and succeed.