Whistler Toughest 2017 – Procrastination

The lead up to Whistler Toughest Mudder had most everyone anxious about the cold, particularly with the crew in Greater Vancouver. There was still about 2 meters of snow at the venue 3 weeks prior to the event. Our wolf pack at Vancity OCR did several wetsuit test runs to ensure all our equipment was appropriate.

Whistler Olympic Park, the venue weeks prior:

Come race day, the snow was all gone but anticipations about cold weather lingered. There were also some new concerns: bear warnings and food restrictions on course.

The low for the day was projected to be about 5 degrees Celsius – with the ice in Arctic Enema and potential wind chill this can be pretty cold.  Many dropped out of Tough Mudder in Whistler over the past 2 years due to hypothermia or simply being too cold to function. Dressing for the start became the dilemma. Dressing too little may mean wasting time by having to stop and put on a wetsuit. But the first lap, being mostly obstacle free with little to no water entry, can be disastrous if you overdress and overheat.

Like many others, I decided to err on the warmer side.  I had on a thermal base layer top and bottom, frog skin hoodie, merino wool, and neoprene socks, a 1 mm neoprene short sleeve and a farmer John with the top pulled down. I was really comfortable in the corral while listening to Sean Corvelle and didn’t quite realize that meant I would be getting far too hot once I started to run. That is exactly what happened. One mile into the course, I was sweeting buckets; I couldn’t wait to get dunked in the water – but there was none.

I bruised my knee badly in January and was not able to use my right leg for 2 months. Getting back to exercise was tough and when I did, progressing slow was even tougher. I have an irregular training schedule, cardio mostly when I commuted, often 3 days midweek. The other four straight days is often of strength conditioning by means of heavy lifting in manual work. Needless to say, I was not very fit going into this event.  I wasn’t expected to run very far but the feeling of being slow and the restrictive layers of neoprene made the experience more torturous. I laboured every step feeling like I was trudging through molasses. The heat also weighed me down. I have chronic neck pain and this was exacerbated by the tight hoodie. The heat, the lack of fitness and the constriction was all making me nauseous.

Around 2.5 miles into the course the elites came stampeding past. They spiked my adrenaline a little. God damn it! I am really that slow? They’re on their second lap already? I kept telling myself they are just very gifted and fit… they do this training thing full time… there is no fun and all pain in what they do… I am… “having fun”?

But really, I wasn’t feeling too badly for myself as I was in good company. I was keeping up with Warren Zamko who latter placed first in his age group with 30 miles. I was maintaining a decent pace with him up until Lumberjack (3 gut checkers, approximately 12” diameter logs suspended at 4’-5’ high). I usually get a big kick out of this obstacle and wish it was at every event, but I got my ass kicked so badly here. I bounced, slipped and slid off these evil logs – totally getting left behind. But thanks to all the Mudders around me I was pushed, pulled and thrown over. For the remainder of the event I resorted to using the braces. Skid Marked (an inverted wall) also sucked. Aside from the braces there was nothing to officially climb on.  They were just over 8ft and 1” out of my reach.  Thanks again to the camaraderie of my fellow Mudders, I was pulled and thrown over.  This night, I would be humbled.

Lumber Jacked with Warren Zamko and David Beaudry:

When I finally got to the pit, I kinda spaced out. The combination of the heat and the neoprene compressing my jugular were making me woozy. I asked myself if I really wanted to do this. I was hot and I wondered if I should remove my layers. I knew I potentially needed them to keep warm once I hit the water obstacles.  I would definitely appreciate them once I got wet.  I don’t like water; I don’t swim well; in fact, I’m extraordinarily good at sinking. What to do… What to do… I have to take a pee.

With an empty bladder and a few bites to eat, I started to feel cold… and that put an end to my procrastination.  I had intended to do some videos of the Vancity OCR crew, so I figured I better get that done before I decided to stop. Moving will get me warm. My fellow Mudders will get me moving.

As I puttered along, my body was starting to feel better and more responsive. Balls to the Wall wasn’t a big deal: it was a nice obstacle to get your body in gear and wrap your head around being up and off the ground. I helped someone out who was stuck there and instantly felt more empowered. I loosened up and started to warm up. I was feeling comfortable.

My chest got tense the moment I approached Funky Monkey. I don’t usually have a problem with this obstacle, why was I feeling so anxious? The bars were damp and I feared I might slip. I approached the ascent facing forward and felt my swing get a little out of control – so I quickly turned to my side and led with my right arm. That was much better. I got to the horizontal wheel and noticed the person in the next lane getting stuck. The wheel wasn’t rotating like it’s supposed to. I grabbed it, and swung back and forth to accelerate myself around to the vertical wheels and until I made it to the platform. I made it and I was still dry.

My nerves got more heightened as I neared Hang Time; this was my first time at this obstacle. I don’t like heights – and I dislike falling and having to swim even more. I jumped and caught the bar and cargo comfortably enough, but sliding down the cable felt much more difficult than what I have seen from others. I wasn’t sliding very well and had to push myself down the cable. Other people made the descent look so effortless and fun; Amin Menhadji seemed to just glide down. Perhaps my wetsuit was too sticky

Hang Time with Amin Menhadji:

My sinking sense of anxiety continued towards Snot Rocket.  I was mentally preparing myself for the cold water but it turned out to be relatively warm. The down spray of water was also weaker than I imagined and did not make ascending the sewer pipe difficult.

Snot Rocket with Amin Menhadji:

Next came Black Hole, which is Birth Canal in the race. I was not up for fully challenging myself and crawled along the edges of the tarps. Many people did this and I figure TMHQ should really block the easy way through with barriers of some sort; force everyone into the same challenge

Stage 5 Clinger was pretty straight forward but I have a few hiccups trying to get on top of the platform.  There was a 4×6 block on the vertical support beams that many used for the final ascent. It was very helpful.

Stage 5 Clinger with Amin Menhadji:

Mud Mile 2.0 had a similarly easy option. The flagging tape was so wide around the first 3 trenches most people simply walked that high path around. As I contemplated what to do, Trevor Cichosz came barrelling past running straight through the middle; good on you! The trenches were deep, but the walls were solid and allowed many footprint steps to develop; stepping out was a breeze; it just took longer than skirting.

My first round at Artic Enema was nasty. There was no ice but the water bit into your skin, luckily that took only a minute or so to settle. Later in the night ice was added but it did not feel as cold. Perhaps the air had warmed it.

Clearly, the conditions were much better than expected. By moving at my slower pace, I stayed very comfortable in my layers of neoprene. Running faster would have made things unpleasantly hot. I just didn’t feel the urge of energy to push. My knee was doing well… I guess I was lucky for not having the fitness to hurt myself. As I ran up to various other Vancity folks it was nice to hang out and chat along the route.

Pyramid Scheme was aided by ropes, as was the descent of Shawshanked.

Like at all Toughest events, Everest was combined with the Grappler. Fortunately, they allowed the rope to stay up as long as it was occupied. I have yet to master that Grappler technique.

Kiss of Mud was just a deep trench that you had to run down and out of. This had been the trench for walk the plank in the past.

With the surprisingly warm conditions, Blockness Monster was a joy to be in. Kong followed shortly as you approached the finish. Having your hands still wet from Blockness made Kong challenging for many. And some who fell off Kong later in the night slid into the opposing scaffolding, forcing this obstacle to close mid-way through the race.


Blockness Monster with Kirsten Hijdra, Shanny Shan, John Tai

It’s hard to say whether this was the most challenging of the Toughest courses thus far. But suffice it to say, when the hill up the ski jump opened, it added another element of difficulty. I only had time to do this once when I reached it at 5:30am. Running up the ski jump on all fours was a great way to give your legs a break.

Canada's Toughest Mudder - The Soul CrusherDespite socializing and taking many pictures and videos along the way, I did 20 miles in a pretty good time. There was nearly 90 minutes left when I finished my last lap. Not enough for a fifth, but if I hadn’t procrastinated so much, I probably would have managed. I felt disappointed I didn’t give it my all but I had fun taking it easy and was feeling great post race. When speaking with some of the elites, many said they would appreciate a nice and easy race. I am not so keen to always have the pressure to push but it would be nice to be as fast as they are. If there was anything to be learned this night it’s not to waste time procrastinating and to put your heart into every minute of every race. Don’t set your limits because you never know what it might be; setting it too low would only make yourself your most difficult obstacle.

John Tai

Canada’s Toughest Mudder Eh?

Why We OCR
The idea of running 8.5 hours through the night is simply insane. Now, let’s add some mud, obstacles, and freezing cold water to up the ante. Since Canada’s Mother Nature is a little more badass than most, let’s race on a cold morning filled with overcast skies and some rain. By the way, racers need to carry a whistle for protection against the bears that have been patrolling the venue… #whistlesinwhistler. Sounds like a great event, sign me up!

Why would anyone put him or herself through that kind of torture? While the answer is different for every one of us, we found ourselves at the starting line of Canada’s Toughest Mudder, in the land of maple syrup, extremely nice people, and harsh weather conditions. Let’s just say Canada didn’t disappoint.

Canada’s Toughest Mudder gave me some time to reflect on why I started running these races. My previous two races had some people judging my performances as failures. Remarks from people I barely knew began to shape my perception that I wasn’t good enough. While these comments were in the minority, I let then dictate how I thought about my performance. Instead of focusing on why I began to run these events in the first place, I was suddenly focused on external result. That needed to change. While it is nice to do well, it isn’t the reason I began running these events and isn’t the reason I like running them today.

Between Northeast and Canada’s Toughest Mudder, I thought about the joy of running with the Tough Mudder community centered on teamwork and camaraderie. I reflected on the “personal best” that Sean Corvelle so frequently discusses at the start line of a Tough Mudder. Even though I’ve heard his speech multiple times, I needed a reminder. I was out there to be my best and not for anyone else’s definition of success. So that was my focus going into this event, give it my best and enjoy the people that make this community so special. So my main question to you: Why do you run? What motivates you?

Check In and Start
As I pulled up to the venue on Saturday night, I was ready for over 8 hours of fun. I heard Whistler was one of the most beautiful OCR venues but my expectations were tapered once I realized I had to wait until sunrise to appreciate its full beauty.

Check in was noticeably less busy that previous events and I didn’t have to wait for my registration packet and bib. Looking at the numbers, only 250 people would make it to Canada’s Toughest Mudder, much less than the 750 that were at Toughest Mudder Northeast. The pit area was much less crowded however the energy was still high, as everyone anticipated a cold and intense event.

We rallied in the starting area, motivated by Sean Corvelle’s ever-present motivational speech that make any Tough Mudder event truly special. Coach T-Mud (Kyle Railton) continued to add motivation as we began to channel our inner spirit animal for 8 hours in the wild. After a few short minutes, midnight came and we were off.

Off Course
The course started off with some wide trails that quickly narrowed into technical terrain that was difficult to navigate in the dark. Under three kilometers into the race, the top 20 or so competitors were directed down a muddy path. We continued down about 1km until realizing that we had been directed the wrong way. So, we had to go back up that thick and muddy hill we just came down. So there we were, trying to work our way back for the better part of the next few laps. It was definitely a tough (some would say toughest…) blow to take at the beginning of the race, already feeling so far behind. It was hard to mentally get back into the game, but we had to press on. Luckily, Trevor Cichosz and I spent those early laps laps joking around and trying not to get lost. It was fun to see a lot of my friends out on course sooner that I would have without the misdirection, trying to see the positive in the error. Besides, I was there to have fun! After a couple laps, most of us had regained our positions near the front and Tough Mudder Headquarters (TMHQ) gave those affected by the mishap extra time at the end of the race to ensure a fair race for everyone. Although I don’t think the twelve additional minutes that group received fully covered the full effects of the misdirection, I was impressed by their ability to quickly make an adjustment. Kudos to you TMHQ!

On Course
Like the past 2 Toughest Mudders, the course was 8 kilometers, with 17 obstacles that slowly opened throughout the first couple hours. By the second lap, all of the obstacles were open.

The majority of the obstacles felt like they were in the first half of the course however that was probably due to the slower pace during the first few kilometers. After looking at the course map again, I realized the obstacles were well spaced out. The technical terrain and elevation gain in the first half of the course set up a quicker second half. I never felt like I was running for too long without another obstacle and thought the obstacles were well placed. The second half of the race had wider trails that allowed runners to open up a little more and get into a groove.

While the obstacles ran smoothly, one concern  involves the scope of what a volunteer can do at the Grappler on top of Everest. Typically, if you get the knot in the hold, the volunteer can help ensure the ball is in place. Let’s just say that there was no such assurance during this race. I am not sure what the official policy is for this obstacle is, but like the problem with Stage 5 Clinger at Philly, I think this should be clarified. Anyways, onto more important matters.

The obstacles at Canada’s Toughest Mudder did not disappoint. Hangtime (aka King of the Swingers on steroids) continues to be one of Tough Mudder’s signature obstacles. It provides a technical and physical challenge.  The transition from the T-bar to the cargo net, and then traversing down the rope makes this the most epic obstacle I’ve encountered.  Hangtime simultaneously taps into racers fear of heights, potentially ruining racers aspirations. Tracey Roberts, who traveled all the way from New Zealand, did not let Hangtime get the best of her thanks to the support from her Mudder team.

The obstacles were ordered in a very methodical way that made the entire course difficult yet enjoyable. Unlike Toughest Philly, Funky Monkey Revolution wasn’t placed 30 meters after Arctic Enema, making it much more manageable as the night progressed. Arctic Enema was very cold and shocked my body, even with Frogskins. This freezing cold obstacle was immediately followed by Operation. Personally, I thought this was a great combination. Shock the body with cold and then taunt it with the opportunity to be shocked by electricity, a well-played mind game by TMHQ.

For the most part, the obstacles ran smoothly throughout the race. Alisha Miller, first lady of the World’s Toughest Mudder and Ground Pounder PNW, decided that she would single-handedly shut down Kong once and for all. I don’t think even the World’s Toughest Mudder has done that yet, not too shabby for a first timer (take notes Carlo Piscitello). Kong was closed for the remainder of the race, however, we had a bonus obstacle quietly taunting us throughout the night (more on that later).

As the race progressed, sunrise came much sooner than any race to date. Unlike the other Toughest events where darkness consumed ¾ of the race, light began to illuminate the cloudy skies just after 0430. I guess that’s what happens having a race so far North close to the summer solstice. We were met with weird mating calls from grouse birds (a deep and haunting noise), bears, and many other animals. I could feel the forest come to life and enjoyed a boost from the natural wildlife.

Austin Azar Crushing the Soul-Crusher.

Shortly after the sun came the most EPIC change to the course, the SOUL-CRUSHER, the hill to destroy all hills, and apparently third place Shaun Stephens-Whale’s b!t+h (https://www.redbull.com/us-en/red-bull-400-has-record-breaking-debut-in-whistler). This wasn’t just any hill; it was the one you see for the Red Bull Race 400 meters, up a 37-degree incline. While Soul-Crusher sucked, it was also an incredible experience that I actually enjoyed (apparently I don’t have a soul for it to crush, muahaha). How many times in your life do you have the opportunity to run, or bear crawl, up something like that?

Overall, I thought that it was one of the most beautiful courses I have been to. Set on the location of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Olympic Rings provided a perfect source of inspiration and motivation. Jon Copper’s bagpipes rang throughout the night, making the event even more special. Even though the weather was cold and overcast, you could make out the surrounding mountains covered in snow. It was quite the spectacle. The only thing that would have given me more motivation is Matty Gregg and Keith Allen rapping to me throughout the race, but I guess I have to wait for another time.

Summary
This was an incredible race with great energy from everyone who attended. I highly recommend this race to anyone who is interested in running a Toughest, just make sure to bring a wetsuit. There are also a ton of activities to do here before and after the race, making it a great destination for a race. Additionally, the Canadian’s are always so friendly, that it’s impossible to leave that race with a sour taste in your mouth. Overall this was my favorite course in my years of racing and I hope that they come back in 2018 for Canada’s Toughest Mudder again!

Thank you everyone who made this an incredible experience. I had a great time spending time with people on and off the course. Thank you Team Goat Tough for your support! Thank you Jeff Locke for crewing. Thank you Phoebe Brimer for covering the race (and cutting off my shorts mid-race… probably TMI). I hate you Keith Allen for continually haunting me throughout the race via people singing to me. Thank you Allison Tai for being an amazing hostess and reinforcing my belief that all Canadians are extremely nice and love maple syrup. Check out her OCR Gym, VANCITY OCR, opening soon in Vancouver, BC.

How Much Tough Could a Tougher Mudder Tough if a
Toughest Mudder Could World’s Toughest?

Photo Credit: Jim Campbell, Gameface Media (Tough Mudder)

Tough Mudder Takes on Michigan

Tough Mudder arrived at a new Michigan venue last weekend, and they showed the Mitten this year’s crop of new obstacles. Mudders were impressed on both counts.

I visit Michigan every June to take part in a bacon festival and to visit my college roommate Adam and his family. When I saw that Tough Mudder Michigan was going to be on the same weekend, I knew I had to make take advantage of the scheduling. Until now I have only done Tough Mudders in the northeast (Englishtown, Jersey City and Coatesville) and in cold to very cold weather. A summer Tough Mudder in the midwest? Sign me up! Plus, I decided to see if Adam would be interested, and sure enough, he expressed enthusiasm about joining me.

I was hoping that doing a Tough Mudder with someone who had never done an obstacle course race before would help me see the event through fresh eyes. In some ways, Adam and I are very similar: we are both finishing up our fifth decade, we both exercise enough to keep the doctors at bay, and neither of us will be on a podium any time soon. We also share a certain approach to the world. He is a professor, but he nearly blew his job interview at Michigan State by explaining that it would be much more appropriate for the Athenians to be the school mascot rather than the Spartans, what with it being an institution of higher learning and all. He got the job anyway. So what would the professor make of Tough Mudder?

At first I was worried he had not done his research about the race. As we approached Kiss of Mud, the barbed wire crawl, he grimaced: “They sanitize this mud, right?” Yes, of course, that’s a thing, sure. I made it clear at the start that the obstacles weren’t mandatory, there would be no burpee punishments for failing, and we were here to have fun. When we approached Hero Carry, I offered to take him on my back the entire way rather than have us switch after half of the distance, as is the design of the obstacle (I’m a good deal larger than Adam). All the same he insisted on carrying me.  Skidmarked (the slanted wall) was a challenge for him (“You’re taller than me, so it’s easier for you.”), and as I tried to give him a boost over the wall in Tough Mudder teamwork-style, he managed to kick me in the head and knock a lens out of my sunglasses (no permanent damage done to either).

I explained the psychology behind the obstacle design, and I think he appreciated the concept. Still, when we approached Everest (the slippery quarter-pipe ramp), he declared that it was another obstacle that discriminated against short people. All the same, when he was able to get to the top on his first try, he conceded that there was a certain satisfaction in facing something that seemed impossible and overcoming it.

He didn’t enjoy Block Ness Monster nearly as much as I did. I still see it as the pinnacle of Tough Mudder’s obstacle innovation program, the perfect combination of challenging technique, strength, teamwork and plain old fun. I think Adam was put off by the muddy water, which was relatively deeper for him than for me.

I recently spoke to Tough Mudder’s course designers, asking them about how they calibrate the difficulty of the obstacles, and they explained that they shoot for a level that allows a certain percentage to conquer the obstacles on the first try and encourages those who fail to want to come back again to complete what feels like unfinished business. We got to Funky Monkey, with its monkey bars and spinning wheels, and I had low expectations for myself. I have lousy grip strength, and I only made it a few bars across before falling in. As I paddled across to the exit, I watched Adam swing his way across from the bars to the wheels, only to slip on the last bar before reaching the other side. I praised him for his performance, and I told him that he could try again if he wanted. No, he said he would come back next year and get the entire way across. It seems that the evil geniuses at TMHQ know exactly how to manipulate our emotions. Well played, TMHQ. Well played.

Despite this being his first obstacle course race, Adam had no trouble getting through any of the remaining obstacles. He griped at Ladder to Hell (“again, what about us short people?”) but it did not slow him down, except that we both have issues with the theological misconception of the obstacle’s name. I worried that he might balk at Arctic Enema’s ice bath, but it turned out that the operation had run out of ice – the only operational hiccup I noticed on the course that day, and since we were in the last heat on a warm Sunday, not altogether surprising. What was meant to be a shock to the system turned out to be a refreshing dip on a hot day.

I got the feeling that, in general, he did not really approve of the level of dirt we were getting exposed to, and he actually said out loud that it would be great to get a shower, and sure enough the next obstacle was Augustus Gloop/Snot Rocket, this year’s biggest new blockbuster obstacle. Participants have to climb up a tube while a strong shower of water pours down from above. The net effect is that the hand holds/foot holds on the side of the tube are slippery and you end up having to keep your eyes closed, so you can’t see the holds and you aren’t sure how far from the top you are. It was challenging and disorienting, a little scary and highly successful as a new obstacle.

Having given him the option of skipping obstacles, I was surprised that the only time he took me up on this was Pyramid Scheme, where participants have to form a human pyramid to scale a slippery wall. Perhaps this was just too much close contact with too many wet and dirty strangers? I also told him that I was willing to go along with any medical history he wished to concoct in order to skip Electroshock Therapy. At our age, friends don’t pressure friends into subjecting themselves to 10,000 volts. All the same, he ran through and was more frustrated than pained that he got shocked.

An audience waits for the next electrified face-plant

Will Adam start searching out other obstacle course races to try in the future? Probably not. However, he will definitely be bringing his son next year, when the boy turns sixteen and will be eligible to run with the grown-ups. And he will definitely conquer Funky Monkey next time.

Beyond the personal story of triumph over adversity, what else did the course hold? One of my favorite innovations was that the final two obstacles, Kong and Electroshock Therapy, were set up next to each other, and TM arranged seating so that an audience could watch as Legionnaires (those who have completed a Tough Mudder) tried to swing dramatically across Kong from ring to ring at a great height, or as first-timers ran through Electroshock Therapy and, not infrequently, face-planted. In the past I have been doubtful about the value of charging spectators at these events, but I think that for $20, I wouldn’t mind sitting for a few hours watching people try to get through these obstacles.

Who wouldn’t want to watch this all day?

I also noticed on the course a group of participants in matching outfits, all wearing spiffy Merrell compression gear and Merrell shoes. It turns out that Merrell, a Tough Mudder sponsor, is headquartered in Michigan, and they brought a large and well-dressed cohort. They also had several promotional tents, including one selling shoes, and, for some reason, a hula-hoop competition. Fun for all ages.

When I spoke to participants during and after the event, one opinion was unanimous: by moving the event to this new location (Koenig Sand and Gravel in Oxford, MI), TM offered a much better experience. The previous location, Michigan International Speedway, offered none of the change in terrain that made for a more interesting run. The logistics worked well; on the Sunday, with a smaller crowd, all parking was on site, but the people I spoke to who ran both days told me that the shuttles to off-site parking worked as promised.

My overall impression is that Tough Mudder continues to provide a challenging and entertaining day out. At the finish, everyone was smiling, and even on the course, people seemed happy. Of course, that could have been Midwestern optimism as the local default attitude, and as a New Yorker I can have trouble seeing through the regional cheeriness and good manners. All the same, I’ll let that Michigander worldview take hold and declare that Tough Mudder is delivering a great product. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Midwestern teamwork at its finest.

Tough Mudder Extreme Obstacle Challenge 2017

Tough Mudder is giving anyone who chooses to, the opportunity to design one of their obstacles. If your design is chosen as a winner, the obstacle will be tested, and potentially be used at a future Tough Mudder event.

This is the 2nd time TMHQ has run this contest. Last year’s contest’s winner was Daniel Hiscoke from the United Kingdom. He designed something called “Ladders Of Success”, which made it all the way to beta testing. Daniel was even flown to New York to see his dream obstacle tested out. Read more about that here.

We never saw the obstacle after that, which I suppose means enough kinks weren’t worked out to make it official course worthy.

Regardless, now is your chance to take a crack at designing the next cool TM obstacle.

Additional details from TMHQ:

  • Launching today, the competition invites people from all over the world to submit an idea for Tough Mudder’s next new obstacle which could be made into a reality for 2018.
  • The winner will receive flights and accommodation to Las Vegas for our alpha testing, which is the third step of our ‘Innovation Team’s’ 5-step process.
    • Winners will get to watch their obstacle come to life, as well as test others that are being considered for our 2018 obstacle menu.
    • The winner will meet the evil geniuses that come up with Tough Mudder’s obstacles and work alongside the team in developing and bringing the next obstacle to life. 
  • We are accepting nominations from 6/15-6/21 and the Mudder community will help vote on the finalists. The TMHQ Innovation Team will choose a winner on June 30.

The new webpage about how you can enter is here.

XX Race – Indoor OCR near Philadelphia

A-look-at-XX-Race-obstacles

What’s great about OCR is that everyone is there for a different reason. Some want to improve, while others just want to finish their first race. Either way, you train so you can conquer the biggest and baddest races out there. You do hundreds of pull-ups, hours of dead hang, maybe even throw in some rock climbing. But, come race day, the obstacles catch you off guard and you find yourself doing burpees. Why?

Sometimes, the best way to practice for obstacles is to do obstacles. Novel thought, right? The problem: Not many people can afford to spend hundreds of dollars and drive hours away weekend after weekend in an attempt to get better. The solution: XX Race.

Runner-training-for-Tough-Mudder-at-XX-Race

THE RACE

The XX Race is (mostly) an indoor obstacle race located at iMETTLE in King of Prussia, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. While most races take place at a specific venue once or twice each year, iMETTLE is an OCR gym. So, they hold an XX Race as much as twice each month. Registration gets you in the race. No fancy shirt or free beer, but at just $30.00 per adult, it’s well worth it. Each racer runs a lap outside, which is just shy of a quarter mile. Once done, they come inside and complete an obstacle. Then, it’s back outside for another lap before hitting the next obstacle. There are a few outdoor obstacles as well (tire flip and sandbag carry, for example). A water station is located inside, allowing you to grab a drink after pretty much any obstacle.

Waves begin at 8:00 am and go off as quickly as every five minutes from then on. About 1-4 racers can begin during each wave. The race does not currently have a competitive heat, though there are plans to add one in the fall or winter. Racers can still write their name and time up on the whiteboard to see who posted the fastest race. There are also plans to add a competitive team competition with mixed indoor endurance.

Because it’s more of a friendly competition, iMETTLE allows you to do their penalty (Captain Americas), or the penalty of a race you’re training for (burpees, penalty lap, mandatory completion, etc.). If you’re unsure what a Captain America is, they’ll give you a visual explanation on race day, but essentially you walk your hands out, do a pushup, walk them back and stand up with your hands over your head. Ten of these is the penalty for a missed obstacle.

After all the adults are done, the course is altered and a kid’s race is held at noon.

Monkey-Bars-at-XX-Race-at-iMETTLE

THE OBSTACLES

The obstacles were one of my favorite parts of the XX Race. It was a nice, even mix of what you normally see at many outdoor races. There were also a few cardio killers, such as the assault bike, row machine and SkiErg, to get your heart rate up. For those who enjoy spear throw practice, there wasn’t one set up at this race, though I heard it has been at past races. But, part of the difficulty of the spear throw is concentrating on form with an accelerated heart rate. Enter a basketball free throw shot.

For grip, they had monkey bars set up along with three (yes three) possible rigs. One of the rigs gave you the option of ascending a peg board instead, in case you thought that would be easier. There was even a rock wall traverse with the middle section extending out to make it that much harder. A few rope obstacles included iMETTLE’s version of the Hercules Hoist, Tyrolean Traverse, and, a gym class favorite, rope climb.

Sandbag-Carry-at-XX-Race-at-iMETTLE

No buckets were involved at this particular race, but plenty of sandbags were, the sandbag carry being the easier of them. Others were a bit more diabolical, the first of which included a roll of the dice and some math. Racers roll two dice, multiply the numbers together, and have to do that many sandbag burpees. I lucked out and only had to do five (5×1). Others were not so lucky. One of the last few obstacles was essentially a sandbag sled push. I’m not sure on the exact yardage, but it was long enough that my legs felt like Jell-O when running the lap after.

The final obstacle was a warped wall. Though you may not see it at a lot of races (yet), it’s still a fun one to try. There were four different heights to choose from and no mandatory lane, so racers were able to try whichever one they felt comfortable with. Once finished, athletes were free to go back and practice on any obstacles they wanted, as long as they weren’t impeding current racers.

Most obstacles only allowed one person at a time, though there were a few that had several pieces of equipment set up to allow for multiple racers. Despite this, there were only a couple times I had to wait for someone to finish. One big benefit of having most of the obstacles in close proximity to each other is that, if you want, you can always skip an obstacle if you don’t feel like waiting. Then, on the next lap, go back to the obstacle you skipped.

Warped-wall-at-XX-Race-at-iMETTLE

BEYOND THE RACE

Because iMETTLE is an OCR gym, the XX Race is just a small sample of what they have to offer. As you know, the sport of Obstacle Racing requires training unlike any other. Competitors are very much considered hybrid athletes, which can be difficult to train for. That’s why they offer both OCR Training and Hybrid Training classes, which focus on both strength and conditioning, as well as obstacle-specific training. iMETTLE has also hosted a Spartan SGX workout, with more planned for the future.

Outside of the current offering of classes, a Bootcamp will soon be introduced. It will be a four-week challenge that will not only train an athlete’s function fitness, but also their mental toughness. Additionally, there are OCR workshops on the horizon, which will discuss race preparation, nutrition, hydration, and hands-on obstacle training. iMETTLE is even in the early stages of OCR Performance Testing, which will serve as a measuring point for athletes in order to track their progress.

For more information on upcoming classes and to register for the next XX Race, visit www.imettle.co.

Row-Machine-at-XX-Race-at-iMETTLE

 

Photo Credit: iMETTLE/Vincent Naftal and the author

Tough Mudder Sacramento

The first OCR that I ever did was Tough Mudder in Lake Tahoe, California back in 2011. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to do many more all over the country (and Canada!!). While each is special in its own way, I always look forward to returning to Lake Tahoe each June.

Well, a funny thing happened in California this past winter. It rained. Like, a lot. Then it kept raining. Then it continued to rain. Record amounts of rain hit the state. As that rain hit the Sierra Nevada mountains, it became incredible amounts of snow. So much snow fell during the winter of 2016/17. That the NorthStar resort had to tell Tough Mudder, “Sorry, we can’t host you this year”.

The good folks at TMHQ did their best to find an alternative location in the Tahoe area, but all of them were also buried in snow.

Enter…. SACRAMENTO!!! For those who don’t know, the city of Sacramento is the Capital of California….and that’s about it. If political corruption and a crappy NBA team is your jam…you’d love this place!

It’s pretty much the anti-Tahoe. It is flat, it is hot, and…. well yeah, it’s the Capital of California.

As you may be able to tell, I was less than enthused by the choice of location for this event. But…if you set up an OCR event within 2 hrs of my house, chances are I’m going to show up. So, I did. And as an added bonus, I convinced my teenage son to run with me (and my daughter to spectate).

The event was held at the Gibson Ranch County Park, which was a surprisingly pretty 30+ acre parcel scattered with green grass, a large lake, and some adorable farm animals (more on them later).

Parking was well managed, and check in was a breeze. Tough Mudder has really streamlined the check in process over the years thanks to those handy barcode scanners.

I avoided the $10 bag check fee by strapping a backpack to my daughter, and reminding her of all those Disneyland trips that I’ve taken her on over the years.

TM Sac Map

The start corral for this event was wedged awkwardly into a pocket of trees, which would end up being the most shade that we would experience for quite a while.

Start line MC extraordinaire Sean Corvelle got our 8am wave all primed and pumped, and sent us on our way right on time.

As for the course itself, here’s a mile by mile break down with highlights and low lights:

Mile 1: Literally nothing. There were zero obstacles within the 1st mile. The only highlight was watching my son take off like a bat out of Hades. He kept looking back for me and smiling, giving me that “Catch up, old man!” kinda look. Tortoise and the hare, son. Tortoise and the hare.

Mile 2 & 3: Three obstacles during this span. The Berlin walls, a climb over some hay bales, and Skidmarked (an inverted wall, whose title made my teenage son giggle like a school girl). The highlight of this portion was my son wanting to stop for a moment because he “got something in his shoe”. Welcome to OCR, son.

TM SAC Skidmarked
Mile 4 & 5: Eight obstacles were packed into these two miles, making it one of the best parts of the course. My son managed to scale Everest 2.0 on his own, something I’ve never done. So that was equal parts exciting…and annoying. Also in this grouping of obstacles was Mud Mile 2.0. I give Tough Mudder credit for their version of this mud run staple. The trenches are dug so deep, that this baby is virtually impossible to navigate without some help from a fellow Mudder. The water was over waist deep, and the walls of the trenches were slick and crumbly.

Remember those farm animals I mentioned earlier? Well we didn’t see any, but the irrigation ditch that we had to slog through as part of Kiss of Mud was a not so gentle reminder that there were some around. Kiss of Mud? Possibly. Kiss of Feces? Most likely. This was also the part of the course where my son developed a blister on the bottom of his foot. Must have been from that blazing start he had. Welcome back to the pack, son.

TM SAC KoM

Mile 6 & 7: The highlight of this stretch, which had four obstacles, was Funky Monkey the Revolution. The 2017 version of this obstacle is very fun and challenging. Easily one of my favorites on the course, and something I’m finally able to complete consistently. My son failed this obstacle, missing the transition from the 2nd ring to the straight bar at the end. HA HA HA HA HA! I mean, good try son. Dad still loves you.

TM SAC Funky Monkey

The final three miles had eight obstacles scattered across them. Arctic Enema: The Rebirth was one of the first we faced. Much like Funky Monkey, I LOVE the 2017 version of this obstacle. The initial slide down sends you under the freezing water, as it did last year. For 2017 they’ve added a short Cage Crawl element to the 2nd half of it, which also requires you to get under a dunk wall. The combo of these two elements has you spending more time under water than you ever had before in this obstacle. My son genuinely hates the cold, so this was easily his biggest challenge of the day. It took lots of patience and encouragement, but he managed to get through it. I was genuinely proud to see him overcome a fear of his. Well done, son.

TM SAC Arctic

The last mile or so was a very pleasant trail through a nice wooded portion of the property. We then got routed down into another irrigation ditch for something called Swamp Stomp. Swamp Stomp + farm animals = Well, you get the idea.

As is always the case with any Tough Mudder, the course ended with the infamous Electroshock Therapy. I originally told my son that I would go through this with him. However, as the day progressed, I remembered how much I utterly hate this obstacle. Fortunately, my lad was a trooper and barged through it solo…only getting two or three shocks along the way.

We crossed the finish line together, and then had the following conversation:

“Did you have fun, son?”

“Yeah.”

“Great! Would you do another one with me sometime?”

“No.”

Fair enough.

Great job, son.

TM SAC Duo