Rea Kolbl – The Ascent (Pro Recap)

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

By Rea Kolbl

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

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

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

New Mindset

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

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

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

West Virginia Beast

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

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

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

Racing Nicole

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

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

Rea-Kolbl-on-the-Rig

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

Words of Gratitude

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

Now bring it on, Tahoe!

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

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

 

LeaderBoard Training – Coached by the Pros (Part 2)

LeaderBoard-Athletes-at-Chicago-Super

A plateau isn’t just a really tall, flat piece of land. It’s also where you, as an athlete, can find yourself if you get too comfortable in your training. Without the proper guidance, your body can become accustomed to the pace, distance, workouts, weight, and so on. Luckily, as I’ve found, LeaderBoard excels at preventing plateaus so that its athletes can continue their climb to the top.

If you’re unsure what LeaderBoard is, there’s an entire first article to explain just that!

ONE OF THE FAMILY

A common theme among LeaderBoard athletes is a sense of family. It may be a little cliche, but it’s true. Ean Caskey, a member of LB since the beginning, was surprised of the familial vibe. “Once you suffer alongside someone for months on end and share your highs and lows, you feel a certain connection and pride to be part of the team,” he said. The programming, along with Slack messaging, really keeps communication open. Not only can you see how fellow athletes are doing by checking out the WOD (Workout of the Day), but there’s always discussion on the workout itself. Everyone is there to support each other, which isn’t a common theme among training programs. Got a PR? Post it in Slack and just watch as everyone gives you a congratulations and various emojis.

Naturally, the LeaderBoard family has members all over the country. So, although you may have had communication with several members, maybe you never met them. But when several members are going to be at the same race, usually dinner plans are made. Everyone gets together to hang out and share their race day stories, or whatever else may come to the table.

LeaderBoard-athletes-meet-for-dinner

 PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT

Remember that whole plateauing thing? Well, that can happen without you even realizing it. Sometimes, you just don’t think to add that one part to your workout that keeps your body guessing. Sure they can be tough. But, LeaderBoard athletes like Eric Aanerud, find that the parts he hates are actually his favorite. He explained that they are “the parts I would skip if they weren’t in there. It makes me feel like I have to do it. So I do. You get to the point where you stop asking questions and just do the work.”

I remember quite a few times thinking about how difficult a workout was, but realizing I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Not only is there a sense of accomplishment with the physical training, but it hones your mental strength as well. Jeff Shoaf, who has completed 27 races since 2014, appreciates this part of the training. “They help train your brain to keep going and not quit just because it gets hard or mentally boring,” Shoaf said.

Forrest-Bouge-Hangarang-Savage-Ohio

Forrest Bouge on his way to first place at Savage, Ohio

THE LATEST BENCHMARK RESULTS

Outside of running a race (which I’ll get to), the Benchmarks are a great way to measure progress. Since article number one, I was able to retest all five Benchmarks: the mile, carry, rig, 5k and personal trail BM. Though I expected to beat a few of my previous numbers, I hadn’t expected to PR all five. But that’s exactly what happened.

I didn’t destroy the old numbers, per se, but any improvement in 4-8 weeks is positive. First, let’s start with the rig benchmark, since I had been on the rig specialization leading up to the test. The first part of the test is a grip-alternating chin up, with the second part being a straight dead hang (without dismounting from the first part). Before, I had done eight reps of part one and 40 seconds of dead hang, which counted as two reps. That totaled 10 reps. This time around, I hammered out 10 reps of part one, but only 20 seconds of dead hang, or one rep. Overall, an improvement of one total rep.

On the bucket carry, the test consists of timed carries for the bucket, double sandbag and dumbbell, or farmer’s carry. I was fairly concerned that my total carry distance would go down, since I hadn’t been specializing in it. I was able to squeeze out an extra 15 meters combined. Again, not a large increase. But, considering it was not my specialization and definitely my weakest obstacle category, it was great to see that number go up.

Eric-Aanerud-Boise-SandbagEric Aanerud at the Boise Sprint

We all know in the sport of OCR, running is pretty much the most important part. So, I was really curious to see how those tests turned out. My previous 5k time, done on 4/22, was 23:50. Just about 2 months later, on 6/21, I ran 23:37. That’s only 22 seconds from my lifetime PR, and certainly a non-race PR. As for the mile, on 5/23 I ran a 6:26. Five weeks later, on 6/27, got that down to a 6:19, a lifetime PR.

The trail loop time trial that I discussed in the first article would be another test. The other Benchmarks I had only done one time previously. This was my third out on the trail loop. As of the last article, my time was 59:09, an improvement of 3:43 (previous 1:02:52). This time around, another time reduction, totalling 57:36. My GPS lost signal briefly, so the splits are inaccurate, but the overall time is correct. That means in just under 3 months (March 25 vs June 24), I’ve dropped over 5 minutes off my time!

EVERYBODY GETS A PR

Right, I get it. You’re thinking, “Well, Adam, anytime someone starts a new program, they see the greatest results early on.” And you’re right. Or are you? I looked at some of LeaderBoard’s longest trained athletes, those that have been there since early on. They surely must have leveled out their Benchmark numbers.

Caskey, who is in his fourth year of OCR, hit a PR in the rig during the most recent test, and both the carry and mile this past May. Shoaf also had bests in his mile and carry at the most recent testing. Aanerud almost had a clean sweep recently, PR-ing in all but his rig (due to an injured hand).

Kirk-DeWindt-wins-Chicago-SuperKirk DeWindt fire-jumping to victory in Chicago

Kirk DeWindt, who joined LeaderBoard July 2016, shortly after his first OCR, has also found recent success. He hit a PR in both the 5k and carry during the last round of testing. It’s worth noting that DeWindt was a collegiate All-American in the mile during his college years, so it may be a bit harder to get a personal best there. Forrest Bouge ran his first OCR two years ago and was in the first group of LeaderBoard athletes. He’s hit a PR in all his Benchmark in the past 6 weeks.

OFF TO THE RACES

Now, that part that really matters to some people. How does training with LeaderBoard improve your racing? Shoaf, who had mentioned the benefit of mental toughness, has seen an increase in his ability to race through fatigue. It’s paid off in races as recently as the AT&T Stadium Sprint. Last year, he finished a respectable top 38% in his age group, top 32% of men and top 29% overall. This year, however, he rocketed up to the top 21% in both his age group and gender, plus top 18% overall.

Bouge has improved from a top 15 finisher to a top 10 finisher, with two podium finishes so far in 2017. Caskey was a top 10 finisher prior to starting LeaderBoard. So, with LB training, he’s now consistently challenging the podium spots. “The last three races I’ve been in 2nd for a large portion of the race,” he said. “ Last year that would have made me nervous and think to myself that I was going too hard. Now I feel like I belong there, and confident that my training will keep me moving forward.”

In 2016, Aanerud ran his first season as an Elite Spartan. His placement ranged anywhere from 15th to the mid-60s, and a 77th place finish at Spartan World’s. This year, his worst finish is 25th, with the majority being between 6th and 15th. Most recently, he finished 8th in Boise. DeWindt has also found success since joining LeaderBoard. He won back to back races, his first wins, at Spartan Race Chicago in June, and finishes top ten in most races he competes in.

 

Ean-Caskey-Chicago-RigEan Caskey making quick work of the rig in Chicago

I don’t get the opportunity to run a lot of races, so my main comparison is between Savage Maryland in the fall of 2016 and Savage Pennsylvania a few weeks ago. Though my overall placement wasn’t quite as good, I put that blame on my own inexperience and not my training. At the 2016 MD race, there were a total of 188 racers in the competitive heat. In 2017, the PA race had 256 racers. Unfortunately, in PA, I waited too long to get in the starting corral, and started the race towards the back. This resulted in more cattle jams and even a five-minute wait in line before a first attempt at an obstacle. That obstacle, however, was Kiss My Walls, which took three attempts in Maryland, but only two in PA.

At both races, I was able to finish the SavagePro wave completing all obstacles. To me, the difference was the new obstacles for 2017. The 2016 race had one rig. Savage PA had two rigs, plus an obstacle called Twirly Bird, which is essentially another, more difficult rig. The upper body demand was much higher at the PA race. Though I obviously can’t say for sure, it would’ve been very difficult for me to finish 100% obstacle completion had the Maryland race been as tough. This year, I even had enough energy to run the course again, in an open heat, a few hours later with some friends. Something I know I wouldn’t have been up for last fall.

BLUE MOUNTAIN CHALLENGE

Palmerton gets its own category for a couple of reasons. First off, it fully reinforced the family aspect of LeaderBoard. A group of members got together Friday night, before the Super. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it. At the Super, I had the chance to meet almost all of the LB athletes that came out to compete, which was around 15. Saturday night, the group got together again and this time I knew I couldn’t miss out. After hanging out for a couple hours to chat about races, honeymoons, training and much more, it felt like Thanksgiving dinner with the family (minus the OCR talk). We all even had a chance to catch up with our fearless leader, Brakken.

Sunday I was running the Sprint and ran into several LB members after my race, including Brakken. Everyone asked how I did, talked about the course, and congratulated me on my result. Speaking of, I went into the race hoping to qualify for the age group bracket of OCR World Championships. Even though I know I most likely won’t make it to the race, to say I qualified would be an accomplishment. To do this, I needed to finish top 20 in my age group in the Competitive heat(s). I researched last year’s top 20 times and set the goal of 2 hours. Well, I blew that out of the water. My final time was just under 1:37, good enough for 28th overall and 3rd in my age group. The 1st and 2nd in my age group were 1st and 3rd overall, so any better than 3rd would’ve been tough.

Tiffany-Palmer-and-Brakken-Kraker-at-Palmerton

Tiffany Palmer and Brakken Kraker at Palmerton

The rest of the LeaderBoard crew had equally impressive performances. Several Saturday racers finished in the top 35, which is especially difficult at a US Championship Series race. Two of LB’s female athletes finished top 25 (Tiffany Palmer 15th, Katie Huber 23rd). Many of those who didn’t run the Elite wave finished as some of the top racers in their age group for the Competitive wave. This was also impressive as the athletes registered for Competitive was larger than usual for Saturday’s race. On Sunday, Palmer and Huber returned for the Sprint, finishing 4th and 7th, respectively. Had Lindsay Webster, Rea Kolbl and Faye Stenning not stuck around from Saturday, LB may have had themselves a 1st and 4th podium showing.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

Since the first article, a few things have changed at LeaderBoard. There is now a Standard and Pro program. The Standard is essentially everything I’ve experienced at half the cost of what it was. The normal cost now provides Pro, which includes a higher level of personalization. What does that mean? Closer contact with your LeaderBoard coaches, including 6 “Pro Chats” per year plus all the communication that comes with Slack. This personalization will help with individual athlete’s goals, such as a faster 5k time or getting better at hill running.

With this, however, Robert Killian is no longer one of the two Pro coaches at LeaderBoard. But, as unfortunate as it is to lose a great athlete like Killian, current coaches Brakken Kraker and Zac Allen have proven that they are more than capable of getting the best out of their athletes.

Does LeaderBoard require a certain level of commitment? Of course. Any training program does. Some days I had to do part of the workout during my lunch break and finish the rest later at home. But, tailor it to your schedule. If you can only fit in a certain amount of time, fit it. The more you can follow the program, however, the better your results will be.

Remember, everyone can start out with a seven-day free trial. LeaderBoard also added a pretty sweet referral system. If you are referred to the program, you receive $30 off your first month. Once on the program, if you refer someone, you receive $15 off your next month. Head to www.leaderboardfit.com to sign up!

Brakken-Kraker-at-Lambeau-Stadium-Sprint
Photo Credit: Spartan Race, Savage Race, LeaderBoard, David Martineau, Tiffany Palmer

Spartan Race – Seattle Beast Review 2016

The Spartan Race Beast Seattle (Snohomish) was held at Meadow Wood Equestrian Center, in Monroe, WA. It rained non-stop for several days before the race, making the mud a “beast” of an obstacle all on its own.  The course is relatively flat, with some rolling hills and a couple of pretty steep ones thrown in for good measure.  I arrived at 6:30am and it was still dark. You entered the festival area under the A-frame cargo net which made me smile and get excited for the adventure that was ahead. when the sun rose it revealed this beautiful fall landscape:

 

Spartan Race Snohomish - Venue

Me and my “mud buddy”, Chris, ran the 9:30am open heat with our team “Beasts OCR”. The team’s battle cry is “HOW DEEP”. We could hear it throughout the course all day long.  Just love it! The requisite battle cry reponse?…….. “BALLS DEEP”, as loud as you can.  It’s fun and it’s great knowing your friends are all around you.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Beasts OCR - Biggest TeamThe course began with a very muddy hill through the forest. A low crawl was the first obstacle we reached. Under and through and we continued until we reached the first sandbag carry. The races always seem to have a “specialty” or theme. I think this one was two of everything! Two sandbag carries, two bucket carries, two+ barbed wire crawls.

The first bucket carry was a fairly short loop with a bit of a hill but a good obstacle to make some time on.

Spartan Race Snohomish -Bucket Brigade 1

We wound our way down the rest of the trail and came to the rope climb. It was so slick and muddy that it was really difficult to get a grip on the rope. Hardest one I’ve done. I held on like a vice grip and made it to the top!

Spartan Race Snohomish - Rope Climb

Just when you think you have a breather….the Multi Rig shows up! Our very own “Beast Elite”, Steven P. Hammond crossed it fast, making it cleanly to the other side. The Olympus followed (shown in the background). It was the first time I’ve seen this obstacle and it was definitely a challenge that I enjoyed. I watched, as people used different methods to traverse it. The wall was angled and had chains, rock climbing holds, and holes. You weren’t allowed to touch your feet to the ground or put them on the holds. I saw a few people make it by wedging their knees on the wall and making their way across. The mud made it very slippery if you tried to use your feet.

Spartan Race Snohomish - The Rig

The spear throw came and went with a pile of burpees. Next, came the monkey bars. It’s so wet in Seattle that they set it up in a barn. Brilliant! Made it across and continued to the back of the course.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Monkey Bars

The next portion of the course consisted of mud, mud, water bogs, and more mud and continued for about a mile. It felt more like 5 miles as it was very slow going. The mud wanted to take your shoe off with every step and the water bogs had logs, holes, and vegetation, making it quite the challenge. I came out with a tail, AKA blackberry vine attached to my pants!

Spartan Race Snohomish - Water Crossing

Spartan Race Snohomish - Muddy Course

Next, came several obstacles in a row including the 7’ wall, plate drag, stairway, and the second bucket brigade, which was quite forgiving. It was a larger loop than the first, but flat.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Bucket Brigade 2

We crossed the field and reached the Tyro. Love this one!  It was interesting that the bell looked so close when I started but it seemed like it was getting further away as I was making my way towards it. Finally got there and rang the heck out of it!

Made our way back through the mud and water bogs and followed the river for a nice jog to the farmer’s carry. It was really muddy so it was hard to get a foothold while carrying the heavy logs. Made it without incident and continued through the corn fields to the O-U-T.

The inverted wall felt so much harder this time. I was starting to get tired at this point and just couldn’t get my hand up and over the top. Got a little help from my friends and we all moved on to the 6’ wall.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Inverted Wall

Next, we went over the A frame cargo net. Some of my friends have a fear of heights which has to be very difficult as this is no small net. I’m always so impressed when they get up and over and conquer that fear.  That’s a huge part of what Spartan Races are about to me. Putting yourself out there and doing something that you would never do in your regular life. You become stronger because of it and learn that you can do more than you ever imagined you could.

The Herc Hoist was next. Most of the bags were sitting in puddles, making them very heavy. The ropes dripped water as you hoisted them up. It was a struggle, but I got it up there, as did my Beast OCR friends. It would be getting dark soon, so we moved on to the last remaining obstacles.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Herc Hoist

There was a fairly high barbed wire crawl with an over wall in the middle. Then, an Atlas carry which had a twist. Instead of the Atlas stones, we carried beefy logs to the flag, did five burpees, and returned them to their starting position. While this post is about the Beast, I felt I had to mention an amazing man, named Chuck who dominated this obstacle during the Sprint on Sunday. Pretty darn impressive considering he is 83 years young! I wondered if there might be reason for concern. After hearing he was a marathon runner, ran 80 miles on his 80th birthday (in under 25 hours), and performs in Masters track and field events, including pole vaulting, it seemed pretty obvious that the only concern would be keeping up with him! He took on the challenge and completed it like a true Spartan! Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!

Spartan Race Snohomish - Chuck at 83 years old

There was one last mud/water bog and then, instead of a dunk wall, we had a floating barbed wire crawl. It had a couple of feet of water with some holes to throw you off. Once you got to the wire it was too low to crawl so you had to get in the freezing cold water and float. The easiest way was to pull yourself along with your hands on the bottom. There were a couple of times I couldn’t touch the bottom so I used my momentum to float through, channeling my inner alligator, until I could reach the bottom again. There was a lot of grass and it felt very swampy. At the end, I came up looking like a lagoon creature with vegetation hanging from my clothes and hair.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Bog and Slog

The slip wall was the only thing standing between us and the finish! We didn’t know if we were too tired to make it, but soon we were up, over, and on the other side. We were running for the fire jump when we saw the big patch of mud in front of it.  I had visions of slipping and going face first into the ashes… ”Do not fall in the fire…do not fall in the fire”. We reached the flames, jumped high and made it without incident.

Spartan Race Snohomish - Fire Jump

They put the medals around our necks and it was time to celebrate! We conquered the Beast!!

Spartan Race Snohomish - Finishers

I’m really excited that Spartan has provided all three races in Washington state and it looks as though it’s on track for next year as well. Look out Beast 2017!

Photo Credit: Adam Birgenheier, Gretchen Jaeger, Spartan Race, and the author

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Spartan Race World Championships: Elite/Pro Tips for the Mental Obstacles

Spartan Race World Championships - Start Line

When one chooses to compete in a Spartan Race, one never knows, 100%, what to expect.  Having designers, directors, and build crews acting as evil scientists in a lab, concocting what they feel would not just be a physically challenging course, but one that is filled with mental tests in which the winner and the quitter battle and tuning out the noise is a necessity. The 2016 Spartan Race World Championships delivered just such a course – one that required both physical and mental preparation and stamina.

So how does one mentally prepare to reach the finish? Here are a few tips from elite and pro racers on how they overcame the common mental obstacles faced before crossing the finish line.

Mental Obstacle #1: Extreme Temperatures

Spartan Race World Championships - Cold Water

The 2016 Spartan World Championships were held in Tahoe so athletes had somewhat of a preconceived notion of what to expect, or heard the horror stories of temperature from the previous year.

It’s northern California in October and the chance of cold weather is high. Not to mention swimming obstacles would be a guarantee. This didn’t stop athletes from across the world  making the pilgrimage to compete. How you might ask? Well aside from preparing physically and knowing how to work temps to your advantage, Male Elite Competitor, Kevin Seaman reminds himself that “… you didn’t make it there by accident. You’ve proven you’re strong enough to handle it.”

Mental Obstacle #2: Seemingly Endless Elevation Gain

Spartan Race World Championships - Elevation Gain

As the start line corral filled up, nerves and excitement set in. Athletes soared through the festival area, to the first set of walls and rolling mud before the first, of two, ascents up the mountain. Although, this first lap was obstacle light, the continuous uphill, paired with the mountain winds and dropping temperatures, make for a sure fire set up for becoming weary. Female Elite racer Alex Sawicki says the best route is to keep it positive. Don’t let any self-pity in. Especially when fighting injuries, she refuses to waste energy on negative thinking.

“Move with purpose, move forward.” -Alex Sawicki

Mental Obstacle #3: Facing New Obstacles

Spartan Race World Championships - New Obstacles (Thigh Master)

Upon reaching the bottom of the first climb, racers hit the first of quite a few new Spartan obstacles. First was The Thigh-Master. A fun addition, in my opinion, involving a solid amount of thigh strength rather than anything else. Other new creations unveiled were – Olympus (a slanted wall fitted with rock climbing holds, chains, and cut outs, testing your grip strength), the Spartan Ladder, and the new multi-rig style, filled with old favorite rings and adding in rope hangs to the finishing bell. Along with the Apehanger, making its first appearance at the Blue Mountain Championship, fitted with a rope climb to angled hanging monkey bars over 4-ft of water.

Spartan Race World Championships - New Obstacles (Apehanger)

How does one racing to the finish not get held up by so many new twists? Well, Spartan Pro Kevin Donoghue doesn’t waste a second  saying that speed is the best approach, “Quickly assess, dissect, and execute.”

Mental Obstacle #4: Added Sanded Bags and Extended Bucket Brigades

We all can agree that the carry obstacles can be some of the most mentally torturous. So when told that the Spartan World Championship Beast was going to have a double Sand Bag carry and half mile Bucket Brigade jaws dropped and eyes rolled. All the grip training and back strengthening efforts are great reminders to get you through. In addition, Pro racer and 2nd Place Elite Female Championship Finisher, Lindsay Webster’s advice might just make you dig a bit deeper than you thought you could and keep pushing.

The thing about obstacle racing that really and truly sets it apart from any other sport is the amount of mental grit it requires. You just have to set aside thoughts of your aching muscles and screaming lungs and focus on forward progress. I came to Tahoe to race a World Championship, and even though my body was cramping and exhausted, I did my darnedest not to let it stop me. – Lindsay Webster

Spartan Race World Championships - Log Carry

Throughout all the courses and especially one as intense as the Spartan World Championship course, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you ARE capable. Get out and race, and as Spartan Race says “You’ll know at the Finish Line.”

Spartan Race World Championships - Medal


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Spartan Race: Beauty and the (Montana) Beast – 2016

As I sit here pondering what to write for my review of the Spartan Race Montana Beast, what repeatedly pops into my head is this…

TANGO 521-5409, over and over and OVER again!  Forever etched in my memory and likely the only thing that kept me from full on delirium, at least for a few miles while trudging, cursing, and sweating up those brutally relentless hills.  Plus, who wants to do more burpees if they can avoid it so the memory challenge was one that no one wanted to fail!

Speaking of that elevation, THAT ELEVATION!  Anyone that was at the Spartan Race Montana Beast knows exactly what I’m talking about and the starring role it played.  For those that chose not to lose a piece of their soul that weekend, let me paint you a picture of the cruel mistress known as Bigfork!  A battle royale between you and your mind is the best way to describe it.  Saturday’s Beast entertained us with a cool 13.05-ish miles (21-ish kilometres) and over 4,000 feet of climbing!  (Stats provided by Canadian Elite racer Stefan Wieclawek…follow him and his bro at @yycbrosocr on Instagram to check out their OCR journey)  For a gal from The Pas, Manitoba where we have zero, I mean ZERO elevation change (search it on the internet and you’ll know what I mean), this was a test of not only my physical grit but mental as well (and undoubtedly why I thought at several points that breaking my own ankle to get off course was a viable option)!

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(Photo Credit: Gene Quisisem)

Mile 2 was likely the one that crushed everyone’s soul.  The sandbag carry to end all sandbag carries!  And see where the picture was taken?  That wasn’t the full length of it.  We were about halfway up at this point!

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One of two of the barbwire crawls…but look at that view?  How could you not stop and take in the scenery?  I talk plenty about the suckage that occurred that day but really, in hindsight, would have been utterly disappointed if Spartan race had lightened up to appease the masses.  Isn’t this what we all sign up for anyway?  The view was breathtaking (although that may very well have just been the lack of oxygen).

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Along with the usual obstacles (more to come on those) and wicked elevation (I know, I sound redundant but for real, THAT ELEVATION!), we had to contend with THIS for most of the race!  Bushwhacking at its finest!  The buzz through the festival the next day was that the elites blazed most of the non-existent trail for the rest of us that went in the later heats, so thank you for that!  With that being said, there were still plenty of nature’s obstacles to avoid while clipping along downhill.  One wrong step and one would have ended up with quite the tale to tell (and probably losing a good chunk of your tail from landing on your butt)!

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Nothing too out of the ordinary for obstacles.  The course map stated there were 40 of them and the newest of the bunch, the Tyrolean ladder traverse was included in that.  It wasn’t difficult per se, but it took till the Sprint the next day for me to figure out a flow for it.  I think the biggest hurdle for this was the backlog of people waiting for it on the second day.  This seems to be an ongoing issue for races so hopefully it’s something addressed in the future because it definitely kills your vibe when you’re stuck in line for 15 minutes.  Chastise me for my opinion but I am not of the belief to skip obstacles simply because of a line up.  Other honourable mentions in the obstacle line up were the second barbwire crawl that was I believe was approximately 500’ long.  And yes, the dust was insane, but I have to say it was one of my absolute favourite ones.  I also wasn’t as unfortunate as my friend, Glenn (check out his review of the Sprint here and check him out on Instagram at @thespartanupguy) that almost lost an eye the second day.  The dunk wall washed off whatever dust remained into a nicely smelling mix of mud and manure.  A quick little trek up and down a small hill brought us to what everyone was likely dreading from before they were even corralled into the starting line…the BUCKET BRIGADE!  It was long, it was steep, and I legitimately saw people pulled to the side in tears.  For those of you not in the know of this obstacle, the gist of it is to grab a five gallon bucket (red for women and black for men) that have holes strategically drilled in it near the top.  Fill the bucket up from the gravel pile to cover the holes and get on with the ascending climb, holding on for dear life so you don’t lose any of those rocks that were more precious than all the gems in the world at that point of the race.  If they didn’t cover the holes upon return (and yes, they were checking EVERYONE when I went through), you had to repeat the obstacle.  A friend of mine saw a girl trip right at the bottom and literally just lie there, sobbing uncontrollably on the ground.  As the popular term goes, embrace the suck.  We signed up for this!

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(I have never been so happy to see this wall in my life!)  It also marked that the end was near, but not before the a-frame cargo net and multi-rig that included an ascending bar and rings mixed with more rings and ropes.

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The Hercules Hoist that was perched atop the action was an amazing view as well and of course, didn’t disappoint.  It wasn’t so heavy that it made me take flight but it was definitely enough to make me earn completing it!

Other noteworthy bonuses from the course that day were the water stations.  Most had a hydration pack on for the race but if you didn’t, rest assured you would have stayed hydrated adequately and one of them even provided Shotbloks.  It definitely made for a no-brainer decision to toss the pack for the Sprint the next day.

Overall, my first attendance at the Montana venue was a memorable one and I think everyone that attended can attest to the anticipation already building for next year.  For the ones that didn’t, it’s safe to say that we will all be recruiting newbies to get dragged into the awesome suckfest of this particular course!  Till next time Montana!  It’s been a slice.

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(My crew and I looking naively optimistic and excited in the corral before the send off…9.5 weeks cannot come SOON enough for the next one!)

Spartan Race 2016 Ohio Beast and Sprint Review

For the third time in as many years, Spartan Race invaded The Wilds near Chandlersville, OH for another multi-race weekend.  This year was a Beast/Sprint combo, with the Beast on Saturday and the Sprint on Sunday.  Given that this was the third time Spartan has hosted an event at The Wilds, and compounded by the fact that their U.S. Championship Series was being kicked off with the Big Sky Sprint in Montana, a lot of folks came into Saturday’s race anticipating the same old boring ass courses they’d seen twice before.   Were they ever in for a rude awakening.  I’m happy to report that Spartan took that fairly nondescript Beast/Sprint course from last year and turned it completely on its head.

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A copy of the course map (Photo Courtesy of Matt Roenker)

The Boring Stuff
Parking was $10 a car, and located right off Chandlersville Road within walking distance of the registration tent.  I heard rumors and saw pictures of long lines getting into the parking lot later in the day, but if you show up to an OCR at 11:00 am you should expect to wait in line anyway.  Some people did have to park across the road, which made the trek to the registration tent quite a bit longer.  The festival area was very spread out, something Spartan has been doing more of this year.  I am personally a big fan of this because there’s only so much Skrillex a guy can take at seven in the morning, and a spread out festival area provides room to get away from the loudspeakers.  The biggest team tent was perched atop a knoll to the far left, and afforded a panoramic view of the entire festival area.  From that vantage, you could watch people coming in through the registration tent, looking through the merchandise trailers, checking bags, and finishing up the race.  The OCR community is pretty tight-knit in the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Region, and as such, the biggest team tent was shared by the Corn Fed Spartans and Crazy Mudder Muckers on both days.

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The biggest team tent and festival area (Photo Credit: Mitch Mazaher)

The Beast
Spartan made their best use of the terrain so far to give racers a surprisingly difficult, roughly 14-mile Beast course, with over 2,300 feet of elevation gain.  The long treks down two-lane service roads from previous years were replaced with miles and miles of single-track or nearly bushwhacking trails that looked like they’d been cut only the week before, including a two-mile section of steep, ass-sliding downhills and all-fours crawling uphills from miles 9 to 11 that a certain relentless BRO I know christened ‘the butthurt obstacle’.  Compared to last year’s Beast course, there was at least an additional 1,300 feet of elevation gain, not bad for a place that has maybe 200 feet of overall relief to work with.  There was even a mini version of pinnacle hill that was so steep they had ropes hanging from tree trunks for assistance.  Spartan found some extra mud holes as well, including a solid stretch of mud in the first two miles that made the Z-Walls one of the most difficult obstacles of the day.

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The muddiest Z-Wall I’ve ever seen (Photo Credit: Eric Mielke)

Speaking of obstacles, Beast racers got all the familiar Spartan Race obstacles they’ve come to love (or loathe), including log hurdles, short walls, tall walls, inverted walls, monkey bars, vertical cargo net, A-frame cargo net, log farmer’s carry, two sequential barb wire crawls, atlas carry, spear throw, slip wall, stairway to Sparta, herc hoist, and fire jump.  The bucket brigade was a little less rugged than it had been at this location in the past with no dangerous downhill steps, and the classic 30-foot rope climb from the bottom of a mud pit was replaced with the new shorter rope with straw bales below that they’ve been using this year.  The addition of the tyrolean traverse over bare ground was a nice surprise.  The dreaded multi-rig was very early on in the race (get ready Adam Kwitko, here it comes), and featured a tarzan rope-ring-rope-ring combo, followed by a horizontal bar shimmy to two rings and a final tarzan rope.

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Michael Conner dominates the Multi-Rig (Photo Credit: Mitch Mazaher)

The Sprint
The Sprint course was a nicely condensed version of the Beast, measuring roughly 6 miles in distance with just short of 600 feet of elevation gain, and mirrored the Beast course until just after the barb wire crawl, where instead of turning left for a 9-mile run through the woods, racers kept going straight to the spear throw, followed immediately by a climb into the woods and the aforementioned ‘butthurt obstacle’.  By Sunday morning, the course had seen so many racers that the path through the woods was well-worn and extremely muddy, but still single-track, causing numerous backups and complaints of slow course times.  The most challenging part of the course, in my opinion, had to be the mud pit / slip wall combo.  After two days of being lacquered with mud from the pit, the wall was slicker than greased goose shit and trying to use the rope without knots was a hilarious joke.

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Greg Hess climbing the slip wall (Photo Credit: Amber Marie Dixon at Broad Spectrum Photography)

The Kids’ Race
If you read my BattleFrog Nashville review, you know that I gave them big props on how they handled the kids’ race.  It seems like Spartan is making improvements too, and although I didn’t have any kids at this race, I heard nothing but positive reviews from the kids’ course.  The kids’ courses came in one-half, one, and two-mile distances that were very easy to follow with obstacles perfect for any age.  A friend told me that the volunteers were very helpful.  They got the kids all amped up at the starting corral and were willing to get muddy and dirty to help the kids get through the obstacles.  Fun for the entire family.

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Owen Edwards, the next Ryan Atkins (Photo Credit: Cari Edwards)

The Personal Stuff
I typically don’t write about how I ran during these races so if you don’t care just stop now, but this was a weekend of personal redemption for me.  Although I’m from Nashville, Ohio is the home state for my team, the Crazy Mudder Muckers, so races in Ohio always make my ‘A’ list.  After my catastrophic crash-and-burn performance at last year’s Spartan Ohio Beast, I had vowed to redeem myself this year.  I am happy to report that I put together one of my best races to date and completed the Beast in 3:13.  If Spartan would have actually put me in the correct age group, that would have been good enough for 8th place (competitive wave), which is a success in my book.  I have a lot of people to thank for this result, the first and most important of which is my wife, who tolerates my absence during long training hours and race weekends in various exotic locations, as well as the endless stream of OCR bullcrap that comes out of my mouth while I’m at home.  I also have to thank Miguel Medina and Yancy Culp, who have been coaching me through the last six months of training.  I’ll stop there.

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Your author in his happy place (Photo Credit: Mitch Mazaher)