OCR Transformations- Azhar Razak

ORM presents the series of stories on OCR Transformations. Runners and athletes whose mind body, and spirit have been altered through obstacle racing.

Being overweight, suffering from asthma and then surgery on a herniated disk is a lot for your body to handle. But then being told you may have a problem walking and lose feeling in one of your legs, was the breaking point to make Azhar Razak finally take serious action about his health and fitness and lose 57kg.

azhar-3

Seeing the first ever Singapore Spartan Race advertised (Sprint distance) Azhar decided maybe this would be the thing to get him moving.  He started training by simply running, but due to his weight, he could only run 400m around a track in his first session.  Not one to give up, he perserved and managed to finish the course, and his first race, in 1hour 15mins, making the fire jump one of many to come.

Finding like-minded people was key to helping him achieve his goals, which wasn’t easy given the infancy of OCR in Asia.  Luckily for him, Azhar met the “Lion City Spartans” group founder, Shrek, and joined what is now Singapore’s, if not Asia’s largest OCR community group with over 1,900 members.  The group meets weekly for outdoor training sessions where people of all abilities are welcomed.

azhar-4

Soon realising that he may have found his niche’ in life, Azhar pushed himself even further by registering for overseas races.  This dedication and passion got the attention of Spartan Race Asia organisers and Reebok, who decided his story was one that many people could relate to, and they decided to support him with his goals.  Having now raced across Asia, Australia, the Emirates and the USA, his most memorable event is the 2016 Spartan 12 hour Hurricaine Heat in Chicago, at the Richmond Hunt Club.  Interestingly it was one he didn’t finish but it has had the most impact from a mental point of view and has changed the way he perceives things in life, as well as people. It made him stronger and more motivated.

azhar-5

Azhar’s current training schedule consists of:

  • A morning session which is a 5km run followed by some statics exercises – burpees/pushups/leg raises/squats/lunges or a 10km run every day
  • And then evening are dedicated to weight training 8pm

At 175cm dropping from 135kg to 78kg is not an easy task, and he still admits that he is constantly working on improving his nutrition.  With the aim of encouraging anyone on the couch to get moving and try obstacle racing, Azhar hopes to inspire people via his instagram account @ Azhar.snippets.

 

 

Train Like A Pro: Ryan Atkins

Podium-At-Palmerton-2016

Few athletes dominate their sports the way Ryan Atkins has dominated OCR in recent years. He has emerged victorious at World’s Toughest Mudder four years running, most recently completing 105 miles with partner Jon Albon, and Atkins also finished on top in the first ever Spartan U.S. Championship Series.

At the Spartan World Championships, he has finished in second place three years in a row, missing first place by just 00:27 in 2016. The fourth main event in the sport, OCR World Championships, hasn’t slowed him down either. He won the 3k short course this year and finished second in the 15k Classic.

Ryan-Atkins-and-Suunto-in-the-snow

If you follow him on social media, you may not be surprised at all of the accolades. Atkins is an avid climber, runner, mountain biker and skier, not to mention proud Alaskan Malamute owner. A typical winter day for him includes a morning ski, fatbike ride and even a snowshoe hike or run for up to three hours. That’s usually followed by an afternoon climb or workout.

Below is one of those afternoon workouts, with climbing included. Atkins will generally warm up with four or five easy bouldering routes. 

Ryan-Atkins-in-Yosemite

Do part one followed by part two and repeat four times.

PART ONE

BOULDERING 

Boulder near your limit for approximately 20 minutes. If you are unable to find a place to climb, perform the following six exercises as a circuit, doing 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest. Repeat four times:

Dead hang – Plank – Pinch-plate carries – Kettlebell swings – Pull-ups – Wall sit

Pro Tip: Try to avoid using chalk to make previously easy routes seem harder, or to simulate wet hands in a race. After you have warmed up, go hard for the bouldering session. You’ll want to rest about one minute between difficult routes.

Writer’s Note: I don’t normally have easy access to a rock wall or mountain, so I opted to do the 30/30 circuit. I also used my homemade hang board, at times, to feel a little more like I was actually climbing. To mimic bouldering, I placed a chair a bit behind the board so that my toes were the only part of my feet touching. I then worked back and forth on the board, sometimes moving my feet from the left side to right side of the chair. Because I added this in, I did the circuit three times as not to over-exhaust my muscles and increase injury risk. 

Ryan-Atkins-Palmerton-Crawl

PART TWO

WEIGHT ROOM CIRCUIT

  • Wall Balls (20 reps): Stand in front of a wall and assume a squat position. When you come up, throw a medicine ball up in the air towards a target above you on the wall. As you catch the ball, return to the squat position. Atkins uses a 35-lb medicine ball.
  • Mountain Climbers (40 reps): Get into a pushup position. Bring one knee towards your chest and tap your toe on the ground. As that foot returns to its original position, bring the opposite foot up and tap that toe. That is one rep. Be sure your butt does not stick up. Your body should form a straight line from head to toe.
  • Side Planks (2 minutes per side): Lay on the ground facing sideways, with your hand, forearm and elbow on the ground. Your elbow should be under your shoulder. The only other part of your body touching the ground will be your bottom foot. Raise your body up so that you form a straight line and hold that position. Your free hand can either be on your hip or in the air. Focus on not allowing your hip to dip down toward the ground. 
    • Writer’s Tip: Use a yoga mat to make it more comfortable for your supporting arm.
  • Toes To Bar (8 reps): Grab a bar with an overhand grip, your hands shoulder-width apart. Engage your core and bring your toes to the bar. Be sure to perform each rep slow and controlled. Your body shouldn’t swing at all when you come into the lower position.
  • Weighted BOSU Ball Lunge Squat (20 reps per leg): With a BOSU ball under each leg, stand in a lunge position. Hold weights at each side or at your shoulders. Lower until your back knee almost touches the ground, making sure your front knee doesn’t pass over the toes. Return to the starting position. Atkins uses 20 lbs. 
    • Writer’s Tip: If you struggle too much to have a BOSU under each foot, start off with one and work your way up. 
  • Weighted Goblet Squat (20 reps): Hold a kettlebell or one end of a dumbbell at your chest, with your palms facing in. Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Squat down, retaining a straight back, and return up to the start position. Atkins uses 30 lbs.
  • Calf Raises (30 reps per leg): Stand on one leg, either flat on the ground or on a step with only the toes and ball of the foot touching. Raise your heel up, then lower it back into the starting position. 

Pro Purpose: Part two is a great way to allow your arms to recover from climbing. It also gives you some good leg and core strength training.

Pro Tip: Pace yourself during the strength section. The main purpose is to rest your arms and build functional, injury-free fitness.

Ryan-Atkins-Log-Hop

Writer’s Note: Thank you to Ryan for sharing this workout. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. For more workouts from Ryan, check out his Obstacle Course Training (a joint venture with Jon Albon and Matt Murphy): they are offering 20% off for the holidays.

Photo Credit: Ryan Atkins, Spartan Race, the author

Check out past Train Like A Pro articles:

Jacksonville Spartan Weekend 2016

Jacksonville Super/Sprint weekend finished off the 2016 Spartan season this year in Bunnell, Florida outside of Jacksonville.  A vast and remarkably lively crowd of racers showed up, including loaded elite heats with several familiar faces.  

jacksonville-super-high-five

Saturday and Sunday races both kicked off with a flag ceremony followed by our national anthem performed by yours truly, and the energetic Robert Lyday with his infamous pre-race speech!   

jacksonville-super-robert-lyday 

Both the Super and Sprint started with the elite men, chased down by the elite women, then the competitive heat, followed by the open heats for the day.  Elite athletes battled for the top 3 podium places.

jacksonville-spartan-podium-finishers

This course was designed by Norm Koch and he was present at both races. This flat, fast course allowed for no mistakes if athletes wanted to finish on top.  Race designer, Norm Koch, made great use of this flat land and undoubtedly challenged athletes.  Signs of Norm Koch could be seen everywhere!  

jacksonville-spartan-race-trail-run

Elite masters athlete, Kevin Donoghue who placed 3rd in the Super masters and 1st in the Sprint masters, stated,

Well, it was the flattest/ fastest Spartan I’ve ever done.  I set a PR for a Super by 3 minutes due to the incredibly low 22 feet of elevation gain!  Having such a unique course gave it the feel of a stadium race. That in regards to importance of not having a penalty.  One mistake and you would fall hopelessly behind!  It was a step on the gas and go as fast as possible for the entirety of both the Super and Sprint.  But it was by no means easy terrain.  Constant changes from loose sand, to hard baked sand, to thick mud, broken up by dense vegetation kept you on your toes enough to keep it interesting.”

The Super course was definitely a course for the seasoned runner, lots of running through ATV trails, creeks, and woods, mixed up with obstacles for the most part a couple at a time.  The race started off with 2 hurdles in an attempt to slow down some of the runners.  Next, racers climbed over a 6’ wall and a 7’ wall, followed by a very early spear throw, leaving many racers completing burpees while the lucky ones continued on.  

The rugged terrain and lush vegetation made it difficult for footing and Spartan Race, mapped out a challenging course on the flat terrain.  

jacksonville-spartan-race-mud

Ryan Kent, first place elite finisher at both the Super and the Sprint said this about the course:

“When you think Florida, you think flat. But the Palm Coast venue was anything but easy. Flat running becomes quite challenging when you add sand, mud, and Florida jungle to it. I was really impressed with what Spartan was able to do with that place. The terrain was always changing, and they did a phenomenal job using natural obstacles. The last mile was super fun, too. They packed a ton of my favorite obstacles in the final 2 kilometers, such as the Bucket Brigade, Herc Hoist, and Multi Rig. That Barbed Wire Crawl on Sunday sucked, though. I came out of that thing covered from head to toe in dirt and mud. Thank the lord for that Dunk Wall just before the finish. I’ve raced all over the country, and this was definitely one of the more unique venues I’ve been to.”

After the spear throw racers tackled a sandbag carry, the 8 foot wall, Z wall, atlas carry, and finally the Tyrolean Traverse.  These obstacles were the ones removed from the Sprint on Sunday.  The course continued through the mangled brush and large tropical roots, where racer’s had to be very careful where they stepped.  As racer’s turned the corner, the much loved, Bucket Brigade was in sight!  By Bucket Brigade standards, this was a remarkably mild one.  Racers walked through sand and some thin mud and climbed a few small mounds at a short distance of maybe 200 meters.  

jacksonville-spartan-race-bucket-carry

Next on the list was the Hercules Hoist, followed by an extremely long and low barbed wire crawl, and an immediate Stairway to Sparta.  Runner’s once again, entered narrow trails with complicated footing.  As runner’s emerged from the woods,  the infamous Multi-Rig appeared.  This obstacle was in view of spectators, ninja skills were tested to the max,  and the burpee zone was full of racers!  

jacksonville-spartan-race-rig

Upper body muscles were getting taxed at this point and the next two obstacles, the rope climb and cargo net, pushed racers close to muscle exhaustion.

jacksonville-spartan-race-rope-climb

 Racer’s once again, entered back into the brush of the Florida woods on a trail run, before winding up in another spectator friendly series of final obstacles.  These included the monkey bars, muddy trenches, slip wall, and the final fire jump to the finish.   

jacksonville-spartan-race-trenches

Athletes were awarded with the 2016 Spartan medals by a very friendly volunteer crew.

jacksonville-spartan-race-finish

Aside the actual course, Spartan Race impressed me with a larger than normal festival area.  They also had local food trucks selling food, rather than having their own.  This was a great marketing move, focus on what you do best Spartan Race, and contract out the other stuff.  

jacksonville-spartan-race-food-truck

Spartan also included a kids race of various shorter distances and had a nice turnout of kid athletes in attendance, making this experience a nice family atmosphere for athletes of all ages.

jacksonville-spartan-race-kids-race

The parking was a bit of an organized frustration.  Racers that paid extra to park in the VIP lot, found themselves walking near a mile to the festival area, meanwhile being passed by shuttle buses from the economy lot.  The rest of the racers parked in an offsite lot where they were shuttled to the festival area.  Talking with Spartan staff, venues are all unique  in terms of size and capacity and fitting that many racers into a small area is a complicated art.  Spartan Race did the best they could with the venue they had.  

jacksonville-spartan-race-racers

All in all, Jacksonville Spartan weekend was a hit for racers.  Norm Koch made great use of the flat land to provide racers with an excellent, yet challenging obstacle race.  The Spartan season in Florida ended on a high note and racers were satisfied with their experience.  People from all over flew or drove to Florida to experience the last race of the year.  

Spartan Race World Champs: Get Out of Tahoe

Apparently the Spartan Race World Championships will be in Squaw Valley next year. Again. That would make 3 years in a row in Tahoe. For a race that has “World” in its name it certainly seems to be attached to the state of California to the exclusion of the rest of the world. However, this isn’t about that.

You can't argue about the views: awesome! (Credit: Spartan Race)

As awesome outdoor places go, you could do a lot worse than Squaw Valley Resort. I mean, it epitomizes the perfect made-for-tv combination of scenic and brutal. But this isn’t about that either.

This is about Spartan’s attitude towards altitude. Squaw Valley starts at 1890 meters and climbs to 2790 meters (that’s 6200 feet up to 9153 feet for the one or two countries that still use them). Yeah…so what?

The official elevation profile for SRWC 2015 (Credit: Spartan Race)

The official elevation profile for SRWC 2015 (Credit: Spartan Race)

This what: human performance gets worse and worse in every way the higher up you go unless you are lucky enough to live and train at altitude. This is a very real performance hit and a significant handicap to all those racers coming in from the “lowlands”. But don’t take my word for it…

The National Football League

Mile High Stadium in Denver, home of the at-times-mighty Broncos of the NFL, sits at a piddling 5280 feet above sea level. This is anywhere from 1000 to almost 4000 feet LOWER than Squaw Valley, and yet it is plenty high enough to mess with NFL caliber athletes.

spartanwc-tahoe-mile-high-stadium

The Visitors’ Perspective

From the Baltimore Ravens’ website:

“The Denver Broncos may have the most tangible homefield advantage in the NFL.

It’s not that their fans are louder or that their stadium traps crowd noise, it’s the fact that the city of Denver sits about 5,200 feet above sea level (Baltimore is about 480 feet above sea level). That’s why the Broncos’ former stadium was famously called Mile High Stadium for 41 years.

The higher altitude creates a challenge for opponents, who quickly have to adapt to exerting themselves in that atmosphere.

“The altitude is going to be a problem,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “Unless we’re going to drive there and practice there for the next week, we can’t really prepare for it.”

“We know and understand that it’s going to be an issue,” Pollard said. “That’s for us as pros to step into that thing. If that means going out at pregame, running as much as we can, trying to get gassed as much as we can, that’s what we need to do.”

The Home Team’s Perspective

Lest the Ravens, or any other team complaining about the home field advantage the Broncos enjoy, be accused of unwarranted whining, I now present some material from the Denver Broncos’ website:

“I’m telling you — it’s not a myth. It really isn’t,” rookie running back Montee Ball said. “Speaking of when I first got here and was running around, it was very difficult the first two weeks to catch my breath. For now, us as Broncos players, we love the altitude because it’s an advantage for us.”

The main issue, Colorado native Mitch Unrein explained, is that less oxygen reaches the body at higher elevations. So not only is it harder to breathe, muscles get fatigued faster and players tire out quicker.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and I don’t think you ever really get used to trying to play in this altitude,” the defensive tackle said. “Obviously, we’re more accustomed to it just because we practice in it every day. But for teams that come up here, I know it’s a struggle for them just to try to catch their breath after a long drive and just trying to keep fresh after every play.”

Derek Wolfe sucking O2 at Mile High (Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

I will be the first to admit that anecdotal evidence from the NFL is pretty low on the totem pole of credible scientific stuff. However, what it lacks in terms of double-blind control group-ey rigor it makes up for by being outside the artificially controlled world of the laboratory i.e. it’s real-world stuff from the real world athletes. That having been said, a bit of hard science is never a bad thing, so buckle up.

(a tiny bit of) The Science

A common misconception with what happens to the air we breathe at altitude is that there is less oxygen. In fact, the composition of the air does not change, it just becomes thinner: air is less dense the higher up you go in Earth’s atmosphere. The oxygen concentration remains the same at about 21%, but there’s just less air in a given lungful the higher up you go. As anyone who has tried on an “altitude” Training Mask can attest, not being able to get enough oxygen into your body definitely impairs your performance.

There are heaps of scientific studies on the effects of altitude on the human body. Every single study indicates that there is a very real degradation of many aspects of human performance with increasing altitude: cognitive performance, endurance performance, appetite, ability to sleep, ability to not die, etc.  In terms most endurance athletes will be able to relate to: going up reduces your VO2 Max and decreases your Time to Exhaustion at a given work rate. These are real things that have been measured tens of thousands of times with tens of thousands of people.

Both VO2 Max and Time to Exhaustion take a hit at Tahoe elevations (1900 - 2800 m)

Notice from the graph on the left that fitter athletes (those with a higher initial VO2 Max) take a bigger hit than their less fit competitors, going from 75 down to 60 compared to going from 65 to 55. The practical upshot of this is that it is the top-notch elite athletes that you WANT to have at your race who have the biggest incentive to not show up if it’s at altitude.

Waitaminute! What was that about dying? You said “dying”, right?

Yup. Thought that might grab your attention. This is as real as altitude effects get, and they’re not pretty. Go too high too fast and you are on a timer: if you don’t get back down in time, then you die. Simple as that. Nobody knows this better than mountaineers going after the ultimate summit.

Everest and the Death Zone

I have adventure raced with a family who all summited Mount Everest. I was mildly freaked out during their expedition, as I feared for their lives. Base Camp is at a ridiculous 17,500 feet. The summit is over 29,000 feet, which is well into what climbers refer to as “the Death Zone”. This refers to any climbing done above about 8000m (26,000ft). If you were picked up from home and dropped off at this elevation you would be dead inside of 15 minutes. The majority of deaths on Everest are due at least in part to altitude, not falls or the cold or avalanches.

Source: Richard Salisbury and Elizabeth Hawley, Himalaya Database. Note: In some cases, multiple deaths in one location eg in 2015 an earthquake killed 18 (Credit: Nigel Hawtin)

 

An Aussie bloke I know ran the first ever high altitude rescue service last year on Mount Everest with a team of 5 Sherpas. They were finally able to pluck climbers off the mountain from above Base Camp, as there was now a dedicated team of altitude-adapted Sherpas combined with a special high altitude helicopter. There is no better illustration of the fact that air density is way lower at altitude than watching a regular chopper try and fail to even get off the ground in the Himalayas. Even with the B3 chopper, they would need to sometimes leave the medic on the mountain in order to be able to take off with the victim, as both together would be too heavy.

Is Spartan Trying to Kill Me?

Don’t freak out that Spartan is trying to kill you! People can live for prolonged periods of time at elevations up to about 6000 metres (19,685 feet), so there is nothing life-threatening about Squaw Valley.

Individuals have lived for as long as 2 yr at an altitude of 5950 m, and there was a miner’s camp at 5300 m for several years. The highest permanently inhabited town in the world at the present time appears to be La Rinconada, a mining village of over 7000 people in southern Peru at an altitude of up to 5100 m, which has been in existence for over 40 yr.” – High Alt Med Biol. 2002 Winter;3(4):401-7.

The examples from Everest are at the extreme end of the altitude spectrum, at the edge of survival. I used them because it makes things like the altitude performance hit glaringly obvious.

Okay, we get it: altitude bad. But since we are all breathing the same air, isn’t it the same for everyone?

No, and therein lies the problem with having SRWC at significant altitude.

Altitude Acclimatization

If you ever want to see the reality of altitude acclimatization, again we need look no further than Everest. By altitude acclimatization I mean a gradual and progressive exposure to higher and higher elevations over several weeks to allow the body to adapt to the decreased availability of oxygen.

Climbers spend 95% of their Everest summit attempt slowly going up and down the mountain to progressively higher intermediate camps in order to acclimate to the elevation. Most climbers will end up climbing the mountain 3 times from Base Camp. They can’t overdo it, because even Base Camp is too high for long-term habitation. Any more than 40 days and most climbers would be too weak to attempt the summit.

The following is the Everest summit attempt Acclimatization schedule from MountEverest.net.

  • Trek to BC 10 days
  • Arrival BC April 1
  • Climbing C1 April 7
  • Back to BC April 8
  • Climbing C2 April 11
  • Back to BC April 13
  • Climbing C2 April 17
  • Climbing C3 April 19
  • Back to BC April 20
  • Trekking down April 21
  • Back to BC April 26
  • 1st summit attempt May 1-7
  • Trekking down May 7-12
  • Back in BC May 13
  • Last summit attempts May 16-30

As you can see, altitude adaptations take time. If a top racer wanted to try to ensure that they could perform near their best in Tahoe, they’d need to spend at least 3 weeks living and training at a comparable elevation. That’s pretty much of a non-starter for most people.

In NASCAR-speak, it would be like going to a non-restrictor plate race and being forced to use a restrictor plate. It creates a very skewed playing field.

NASCAR Restrictor Plate Racing

Spartan Nation is not far removed from NASCAR Nation, so here is another way of looking at this whole altitude snafu. I’m referring to the restrictor plate, which is the “altitude training” mask equivalent for race cars.
A restrictor plate or air restrictor is a device installed at the intake of an engine to limit its power. This kind of system is occasionally used in road vehicles (e.g., motorcycles) for insurance purposes, but mainly in automobile racing, to limit top speed to provide equal level of competition” – Wikipedia

Bobby Allison's incident at Talladega at 200mph led to restrictor plates. Photo Credit: RacingOne/2012 RacingOne

“The restrictions are in the interest of driver and fan safety because higher speeds are closer to out-of-control than the 190 MPH range used for Daytona and Talladega…” – Wikipedia

With advances in engines and aerodynamics, cars were simply starting to go too fast for the course on the superspeedways. Slowing down the cars seemed like a good idea, except that it slows down the faster cars much more than the slower cars. The result of restrictor plates in NASCAR on superspeedway races is to have almost all cars going at nearly the same speed, in one giant pack. This makes for a super-competitive race and virtually guarantees that every superspeedway race will have “The Big One” – an epic pile-up involving a dozen or more cars. Exciting for the fans and great for TV ratings, but maybe not the best thing from a racer’s perspective.

Now imagine there were a handful of cars – let’s call them the Altitude Adapted Racers – who were given an exemption from NASCAR: they wouldn’t need to use restrictor plates at superspeedway events like Talladega.

Rusty Wallace tested a car at Talladega Superspeedway without a restrictor plate in 2004, reaching a top speed of 228 mph (367 km/h) in the backstretch and a one-lap average of 221 mph (356 km/h).” – Wikipedia

It’d be a colossal blow-out, with the unrestricted cars finishing multiple laps ahead of the pack (barring crashes and the like). Ridiculous, yes, but why am I talking about NASCAR racing?

A restrictor plate: the "altitude training" mask for cars. (www.racecar-engineering.com)

It’s a brilliant analogy. Just like the race cars, the human engine also needs oxygen in order to run. Going to altitude, where the air is less dense, is effectively putting a restrictor plate on the racers. Well…most of the racers. Some people live and train at altitude. Those few athletes are like my hypothetical Altitude Adapted Racers, the ones who don’t have to use a restrictor plates. Makes for a very uneven playing field, doesn’t it?

OK, that would never fly in NASCAR, but come on dude; we’re talking about humans and endurance sports here, not race cars.

Yes, and I’m glad you pointed that out. We have 1 perfect example of what happens when you bring the best athletes in the world to altitude and ask them to compete in a championship.

The 1968 Mexico City Olympics

Mexico City sits at around 7350 feet, so is very comparable to the altitude racers encounter at SRWC in Tahoe. Sprinters, jumpers, and throwers had a field day, as the thinner air allowed a truckload of world records to be set during these Games. The endurance athletes, on the other hand, had their proverbial asses handed to them.

The 1968 Olympic 5000 meters: Gammoudi, Keino, Temu

Below are the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal results from the major endurance events at the Mexico City games: the men’s 5000 meters, 10,000 meters, and marathon races. Beside them for comparison are the medal-winning performances from the previous Olympics, which had been held in Tokyo at an elevation of 131 feet.

In addition to the times, I have included what placing the winners from 1968 would have finished at back in 1964.

Finally, look not only at the times, but also the nationalities of the athletes. This, ladies and gentleman, was the start of the East African domination of distance running which endures to this day. These are runners who lived and trained at altitude.

NOTE: There are no women’s performances, as they were deemed physically incapable of safely racing distances longer than 800 meters. That only changed in 1972 when they were allowed to run the 1500. Then the marathon finally in 1984. But that’s a story for another day.

Event Tokyo 1964 (131 ft) Mexico 1968 (7350 ft)
5000 metres – GOLD Bob Schul
USA
13:48.8
Mohammed Gammoudi
Tunisia
14:05.01  (good for 10th)*
5000 metres – SILVER Harold Norpoth
United Team of Germany
13:49.6
Kipchoge Keino
Kenya
14:05:16  (good for 11th)*
5000 metres – BRONZE Bill Dellinger
USA
13:49.8
Naftali Temu
Kenya
14:06.41  (good for 12th)*
10,000 metres – GOLD Billy Mills
USA
28:24.4
Naftali Temu
Kenya
29:27.40  (good for 11th)
10,000 metres – SILVER Mohammed Gammoudi
Tunisia
28:24.8
Mamo Wolde
Ethiopia
29:27.75  (good for 12th)
10,000 metres – BRONZE Ron Clarke
Australia
28:25.8
Mohammed Gammoudi
Tunisia
29:34.2 (good for 16th)
Marathon – GOLD Abebe Bikila
Ethiopia
2:12:11 (WR)
Mamo Wolde
Ethiopia
2:20:27  (good for 10th)
Marathon – SILVER Basil Heatley
Great Britain
2:16:19
Kenji Kimihara
Japan
2:23:31  (good for 16th)
Marathon – BRONZE Kokichi Tsuburaya
Japan
2:16:22
Mike Ryan
New Zealand
2:23:45  (good for 17th)


* For the 5000, none of the podium times from 1968 would have made it out of 3 of the 4 preliminary heats in Tokyo 1964.

I’d love you to show you more examples of this type of thing but I can’t, since they’ve never held an Olympics at altitude since then. Whaddaya know: a committee that got something right.

STFU?

The performance hit imposed by altitude is due to simple physical and biological facts: lower air density resulting in lower oxygen availability to working muscles. Performance at altitude is trainable to some extent, but significant adaptations take weeks or months. You can “aaarrrooo!” and STFU until the cows come home: it won’t make any difference.

Wrap Up

Given all of the above, why the hell would a top-notch Spartan racer spend thousands of dollars to travel to the self-proclaimed biggest Spartan race in the World, knowing for a certainty that they will not be able to perform at anywhere near their best? The answer is that, for the most part, they won’t. This will continue to be the case until and unless Spartan moves their championship race down to a sensible elevation. Yes, that means Breckenrige is out.

No endurance sport should have a championship race at altitude, and Spartan needs to recognize that, put their athletes first and get the heck out of Tahoe.

Spartan Race – Singapore Beast Review 2016

spartan-singapore-start-line

It has been a busy twelve months in Asia for Spartan, with the debut of the Sprint distance being held only a year ago in Malaysia and expanding to see races organized in China, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

This time around the Singapore Beast race saw it go offshore to Bintan, an Indonesian Island which is a ferry ride away from the mainland, with most of the 3,000 participants opting to stay over for a weekend getaway.

The marketing for the race promised a much harder course than previous Asian ones with tougher obstacles, water crossings, a lot of mud, beach runs and varied terrain.  And it certainly delivered that!  Even Joe De Sana, Spartan Race Founder, who completed the race, said it was one of the best courses he had seen.

As the horn sounded to mark the start of the elite race, we were met with an aggressive 2km soft sand run to really get the legs warmed up, with the only break in running being the A-Frame cargo net set up on the beach.  Next it was off the sand and onto giant boulders and into rock pools that seemed never ending with no shoes being able to hold steady against slippery rocks and waves crashing in.  And just as you thought there may be some relief, there was a steep hill climb into the jungle straight out of the water.

spartan-singapore-water-crossing-3

The rolling terrain was certainly varied as you went from beach, to jungle, to what seemed like a clay desert and then through mud and back into water.

Over a few hurdles and walls and before I knew it I was at the memory wall (it seems every race in Asia includes this as an obstacle).  This time I vowed not to forget it repeating it to myself for 21 kilometres… LIMA 383 2898!

The bucket brigade appeared next and after the brutal one in Tahoe uphill I figured this would be easy in comparison, which it was.  Onwards to a series of mud pools and then a short sandbag carry into the jungle and the inverted wall.  It was about this point when the cracks started appearing for everyone.  The first 6km felt like 16km due to the 90 degree 100% humidity weather and no one looked like they were having fun.

spartan-singapore-sand-bag

Heading back into the village, and almost at the half way mark, saw a tough series of obstacles one after the other.  A tractor pull, spear throw, multi-rig, z-wall, atlas ball carry and monkey bars resulted in everyone doing at least one set of burpees.  And if that wasn’t enough, there was a river swim to get to the next part of the course.  The water was a welcomed cool down, but the leg cramps that followed were not.  I passed more than ten guys laying on the ground in pain not being able to walk.

spartan-singapore-multirig

It was back to a long stretch of running on the varying terrain being interspersed with more walls, tyre flips, tyre drags, the Phoenician pass (with buses driving under it), and a lot of water crossings.  The tyrolean traverse was the longest one I have ever seen in a race, I took burpees as I cramped too much, which turns out was a much better option as the guy next to me fell flat on his back and hurt himself.

Thank heavens I was now two thirds down and was hoping the rest of the race would be kinder.  The log hop was next and a new addition which proved to be fun.  Followed by another long hot run and then the million-dollar question was asked… “what is your memory code?”  BOOM!  I answered correctly and off down the beach I ran.

A balance beam set up in the ocean was next and then the vertical cargo, a very long and rocky barbed wire crawl and the stairway to Sparta. I knew it was only about 2 kilometres and I would be done.

spartan-singapore-stairway

A run back towards the village with some rolling mud and a dunk wall thrown in for good measure before hitting the Hercules hoist and a sand barbed wire crawl on the beach.  A sprint down the beach and I knew what was next – the rope climb set up in the ocean.  Not so easily done with waves crashing into your face trying to get a decent grip, but I held on for dear life and rang the bell before letting go to fall into the water (thank heavens it was high tide!)

singapore-spartan-rope-climb

Over the slip wall and a jump across the fire and I was done!  A respectable third place in the elite women and first in the masters.  The coconut handed to us on finishing never tasted so good.

The race was by far the best organised one I have participated in in Asia.  The volunteers were amazing, plenty of water stations and they policed the burpee count toa degree (something that has been sadly lacking before).  But as with any obstacle race I saw a few people stretched off due to broken limbs and heat exhaustion, and sadly there was a death in the race due to a heart attack.  A reminder to always offer help to anyone on the course that may need it, which is the real essence of the obstacle race community.

Photo credits: Sadali Ami & Spartan Race Singapore

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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