Bear Grylls Survival Challenge

Bear Gryll’s Survival Challenge. Without a ton of specific information, this new OCR event was shrouded in a little mystery, and their social media content manager did a fantastic job promoting the event with a blend of sneak peeks and “classified” information. Coming into the event, the “unknown” components outweighed the information available, and it was a nice change to face something that you did not know everything about.

I know Bear Grylls from Man v. Wild, and in my mind, he’s someone who found fame in the survival arena. His military background is often glossed over by his survival shows, so when I boarded their shuttle to get to the venue from offsite parking, I was expecting a survival-themed obstacle course.

I was wrong.

It was military themed, military color, with military-inspired staffed as Air Force JROTC were staff and volunteers. Some of the process was efficient. Some not. So instead of taking you on a winding journey, let me list the Pros, Cons, and everything in between.

Let’s start with the Cons.

  1. You’re instructed to arrive at check in two hours before your start time. I did and spent 90 minutes doing nothing as the vendors and festival area was not set up nor ready for business. It was unnecessary to have to be at the venue that early, seeing as heats were capped and the participant numbers weren’t large enough to warrant a TSA style arrival time.
  2. The event had one of the most annoying and off-putting event briefings that I have ever had the displeasure to sit through. Before you are released on to the course, you sit through a briefing that is led by an Army Sergeant, who stands at his podium and gives you course information, much like an OCR Race Director does at the start of the Elite waves. However, the annoying part comes in form of another Sergeant, who wandered around the seated group, giving out “menacing” glares, and proceeded to talk down to participants and attempted to verbally intimidate them while the briefing is going on. Unnecessary, pointless, and it distracted us from the briefing. Besides, no one wants to be condescended by race staff and it set people off in the wrong mood before the race even began.
  3. No post-race cold wash/showers. There were changing tents but there were no wash stations to rinse the mud off. There is a station on the course that requires you to fully submerge yourself in mud so that you are completely covered. Not having a station to rinse off at the end was, in my opinion, a bad move and something that can be easily fixed, especially if the company does not want people rinsing themselves off at the drinking water station in the festival area, which is what was happening.
  4. No finisher shirt. And I know this is a petty “con” but a finisher shirt really is the best free advertising that a company can invest in.

And the Pros.

  1. Check in process was easy, organized, and well run.

    Processing/Check In alphabetical order

  2. Volunteers were friendly and knowledgeable. My family came as spectators and were impressed by the friendly and positive attitudes of the volunteers.
  3. Festival area had varied and different food trucks that offered fare that went beyond the standard burgers, hot dogs, and bbq. A refreshing change.
  4. Coffee and bagels were provided in briefing area for participants free of charge.
  5. The “pack” that contained the gear required for the course is a hydration pack that would fit a 70oz bladder and was provided to each participant with the necessary “gear” enclosed: emergency whistle, chem light, 1 qt ziplock bag with cotton ball, course map, eye protection, condom. These items were to be used along the course at specific stations. It was kind of nice to get something other than just a t shirt and medal.
  6. Post race food that consisted of a variety of fruits, energy bars, water, kombucha, red bull, chicken or beef wraps, and desserts. Having this “lounge” was a solid stroke of good service for the participants and appreciated by everyone that I had interacted with.
  7. Scoring results and overall team results were provided quickly and with very little fuss, most results generated within two days after the event concluded.
  8. Photos were free and readily available within three days after the event concluded.

 

Everything In Between

  1. The premise of the event was to accrue as many survival points as possible throughout the course. In the end, your points would be tallied, and if you were on a team then your points would all be added up to determine your team’s score. 35% of your score would be determined by how fast you completed the course. The other 65% would be determined by your ability to complete obstacles successfully. Failure to complete an obstacle successfully would result in zero points or point deductions from your final score.
  2. At each obstacle would be two lanes. One for “Success” and one for “Failure.” Each lane had a timing mat which would be activated by the timing chip that was secured to your ankle. This was to keep track of your wins and losses.
  3. The course was advertised as 4 miles but the distance was stated at 5 miles during the briefing. After the briefing, everyone in the heat was hustled into a shed to await the start cannon. Once the cannon fired, the door opened and everyone scrambled to start their first run.
  4. We were told there were only two water stations, but we were happy to see five stations on course, as the day was hot and the venue was dusty. A good move to include more stations in response to the heat.
  5. Fun obstacles with a military inspired feel to them. Once I got on course, it was all business, and the terrain was a solid mixture of hills, inclines, and flat-out sprints. The event used the terrain well and there were areas that reminded me of some of the smaller inclines of Vail Lake, Temecula. The obstacles that really stood out were War-Torn Village, where you were given a set amount of covering fire from friendly forces that would suppress the insurgents so that you could scramble your way through an urban warfare setting. The trick was to utilize your speed to sprint as fast as possible before losing covering fire and getting “shot” by insurgents. Getting shot took away points. Activating an IED would also take away points. This was the most fun and having military personnel on the team made for a quick and easy victory for us as they took charge and led us through.
  6. Integrity Test: Hang on to a vertical rope for 30 seconds. The premise was good: Grab on to the rope and hang there for what you believe is 30 seconds. Drop and continue. The obstacle was videoed, so anyone who dropped before 30 seconds would have points deducted at the end. The problem with this obstacle is that there was a huge clock sitting there for the participants to read, so there was no silent counts or guessing the duration. You’d just use a J hook or S Hook and hang out until the second hand read 30 seconds and then you were done. If the clock had not been there, then the obstacle would have made more sense.
  7. Run inside a maze until you get to the center. From there was a table with compasses on them. Determine what direction is South West, choose that door, and escape. A maze is a fun thing to have because no one really uses one for OCRs.
  8. Three attempts to hit a pie tin downrange 30 yds with a pellet rifle. We’ve seen these types of challenges before at other races, but it’s always a fun one.

Conclusion

This was a fun course that used the terrain well, particularly the hills and continual inclines. The obstacles were fun, even the one where you ate three dried crickets (tastes like burnt popcorn). The obstacles themselves are different, the scoring system is unique, the post-race is quality service, and the finisher gear that included the hydration pack, a bandana, a carabiner attached to a lanyard, and a pvc tac patch is new and different as well. For those who have participated in OCRs for a few years and want something that is vastly different than what you’ve been experiencing, Bear Grylls Survival Challenge will give you a good time.

Personally, I’d have focused more on the “Survival” aspect than the military aspect, but I understand the attraction to military-inspired events, and the event directors did a good job with it. Using JROTC in their BDUs lent to the entire theme quite well, and all the cadets were respectful, helpful and friendly. I would absolutely do away with the guy trying to intimidate and verbally assault people during the briefing, though. It left most of the participants in the starting shed muttering about his attitude and gave a negative vibe to the experience.

Not having a rinse/shower station when you have three mud/water obstacles and you finish off with a slip and slide water/mud obstacles was not a good choice. That final experience that racers leave your venue with shouldn’t be still muddy and unable to clean themselves while being shuttled to offsite parking. Speaking of off-site parking: no issues and shuttling went along very smoothly. With a lower turn out rate for this event, organizational control is easy. I’m interested to see what happens if their numbers increase and how their system will manage it.

I’m looking forward to next year and seeing how this company does, and I hope they stay around a while. It’s nice to have an event that’s this new and different, and it could definitely carve out a niche if done right.

http://www.beargryllssurvivalchallenge.com/

photos courtesy of Bear Grylls Survival Challenge, Amy Saldana (pack, patch, carabiner combination)(team photo).

Spartan Endurance Seattle HH12HR-018 Recap

Spartan Endurance‘s 12 Hour Hurricane Heat, or HH12HR, is a 12-hour endurance event that combines team exercises and challenges with individual competition and time hacks to push physical limits and test participant’s True North.

One of the draws of the HH12HR is the originality of each event. This is due, in part, to Spartan’s Director of Endurance, Tony Matesi, allowing his Spartan Krypteia (“krypteia” is “teacher/leader” or “advisor”) to determine his/her event’s theme and gear list that has one or two specialty items included. These items range from three peanuts attached to a green stick to a bath towel to a sandbag.

For Seattle, the gear list included two polypropylene sandbags and one dodge ball. Planning doesn’t mean that it’s going to go exactly as you envision; it just means that out of the ether, you have managed to take your creative vision and apply a structure to it so that it can exist. The greatest gift is when others take your structure and build upon it, to have it grow organically and to create something unique and awe-inspiring that you may not have ever dreamed of. Seattle HH12HR-018 was one of those events.

Tony had a vision and expectation of the event, and it was my job to help him realize that vision. I was also brought on to provide my specialized brand of teamwork and crew cohesion exercises that I routinely implement with some sort of innocuous household item. Typically, it becomes a quiet debate among the participants about how I’m going to use that item, which is good; teamwork starts here.

Wednesday before the event, Tony outlined the event structure to me and we discussed logistics. Much of the first day is on site scouting, and Tony had a grueling event laid out for Seattle. Anytime you bring two sandbags into play, you know that people are going to have to dig incredibly deep, and with the Cliff Climb as the centerpiece of his masterwork, we expected a high fail rate. His format was a checkpoint challenge. Five separate item locations dispersed among the Spartan Seattle Super course: three separate locations had additional sandbags as items and the last two were going to be straight up sprinting to get a punch card stamped at their respective locations. Each item had to be brought back to Home Base to be numbered, valued and counted in the record sheet by Tony or myself, and the punch card had to have the corresponding hole punch for each location on it. Lose your card, you’re DQ’d. Don’t get the right hole punch, you’re DQ’d. Lose any sand from your sandbags or they get destroyed, you’re DQ’d. Paying attention is vital.

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

Friday night arrives and Class 018 is the first class in the history of the HH12HR to have 100% of the registrants show up and participate. After the standard check in process, gear check, and introductions, the class began its warm up with three games of Spartan Dodgeball.

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

With rucks on, participants had to bear crawl to the center line to get the balls and crab walk back to the back line before standing up and beginning to throw. Slow crab walkers were easy targets. Losers did exercises, winners rested. From dodge ball, the class retrieved Tony’s “Caterpillar”: a series of five GoRuck sandbags ranging from 20 pounds to 120 pounds that were connected end to end by carabiners. The class was instructed to take the Caterpillar with them as we continued the warm up. I liked this carry because unlike a log that has no give and allows shorter people to escape the load, connected sandbags have a ton of give and shift and move.

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

A little over a mile later, the Caterpillar was set to rest on the side of the trail and Balls of Fun began. A set of exercises that promotes teamwork using the dodge balls. I learned long ago while training firefighters that the best way to CREATE an atmosphere of teamwork is to provide exercises that REQUIRE teamwork, and it doesn’t have to be soul crushing to get the job done. It can be challenging and fun and still be effective.

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

At this point, Tony brought the class to the quarry and gave the instructions to fill the gear list sandbags up to the 3/4 mark, secure them so no sand escaped, make sure that they remained intact for the rest of the event, and that it would be in their individual team’s best interest to arrive back at Home Base first.

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

Things did not go according to our original plan, and as one, the class decided to tackle the Cliff Climb as a single unit, melding “I will always place the mission first” with “I will never leave a fallen comrade”. This is what it looks like when everyone is invested in the success of everyone and not just everyone out for themselves. The individual truly becomes an integral part of something greater than self. And I was inspired.

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

We have the Warrior’s Ethos for a reason, and it is within those four ethics that an individual may choose what he/she finds to most resonate with himself/herself, and if one implements the entire ethos, one will find success. For those who have done a HH12HR that I have been involved in, you all know that there are a few things that I continuously, sonorously, maddeningly recite over and over again. Maybe you drown it out; maybe you listen, 0r maybe you listen, and as a class, implement everything with an understanding of the end objective and the message that I am trying to convey.SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018
I have never seen an entire class take ownership of their responsibilities as teammates and objectives like I saw Class 018. Their actions were a true representation of 24 individuals on the same mission, same objectives and goals, and with a clear vision as to how they were all going to achieve success: self-sacrifice, individual motivations, partnership, teamwork to ensure personal successes. No one can accurately describe that two sandbag ascent up sheer cliffs by using ropes and creating footing in the hard slick mud, or having run 14 of the 20 total miles of the event under additional weight. The body language of nearly every participant told a story as each came limping, walking, stumbling back to Home Base with first, second, and third sandbags.

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

Finishing everything off with two separate run challenges with stoking the fire interspersed between everything else. Yes, forgot to mention that. We had a campfire that had to be kept lit throughout the night and it was the class’ responsibility to make that happen. PT, hacks, challenges, whatever. They had to forage for dry wood and run back and forth from wherever they were to Home Base to keep the fire lit. Had that fire gone out, I’m confident that the finish rate would have been very close to zero.SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

And this is not the first time that a finish rate for a class has been higher than 40%. Just as there have been classes that have dropped to nearly single digit percentages. High and low percentages are anomalous, as there is a general 40% finish that is stated quite clearly from the outset. It’s not a secret, but it’s not set in stone, either. Be less concerned with percentages and more concerned with the tasks and challenges that must be endured to finish, and Tony made sure that this event was, pardon my language, fucking miserably difficult. SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

At the 11th hour, we had our finishers, and we were satisfied knowing that we had provided a tough event. We had one final time hack, a volunteer one, and after a brief discussion, we decided to present it to our finishers: as a team, retrieve the Caterpillar and return back to Home Base before time expires.

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

Success would provide their lagging teammates with a precious few minutes. Failure would, quite possibly, mean no one would finish. Two more miles of running and hiking after they had given their all for 11 hours, and they loudly rose up to the task and took off, only to return carrying the Caterpillar and chanting the Warrior’s Ethos with time to spare, thus extending the final time hack, which saw the rest of the participants check in. For one of the grittiest, toughest HH12HRs, the finisher count belies the heavy difficulty of the event, but in the manner of how it all shaped up from the very beginning, it seems only fitting that this class had the finish that they worked so hard to earn.

As one, I am an individual with limitations. As one, we are invincible.

SPARTAN ENDURANCE HH12HR-018

Photo Credits: Ben Greenfield, Jessica Renon

OCR Fatigue? Is there such a thing?

OCR Fatigue.

If you’ve been in the OCR (obstacle course racing) game for more than three years, you probably know what I’m talking about when I say “OCR Fatigue”. If not, or you’ve just started, then I’m going to spell it out for you. You’re tired of obstacle course racing, you find yourself uninspired by the race courses, or you participate in a race and part way through you find yourself looking around and wondering “Why the hell am I even out here doing this? This is pointless.”

OCR Fatigue

And you’re not alone.

When you first started racing, whether it was a neon run or one of the Big Three, (Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash) you were excited. It was new and different and you felt like a kid again. The event was the most fun or challenging or toughest thing you’ve done in a long time. Like a drug, you were hooked and you started searching for your next OCR fix. If you started with the Big Three , you compared the other two and every other event to your first race, and in your opinion, they all lacked.

OCR Fatigue

As humans, our systems are designed to adapt to changing conditions and increasing burdens and workloads. We are built to face adversity, overcome it, and adapt to it so that it is no longer adversity, but mild exertion. Facing your first OCR might have been tough, but expose yourself to it enough and suddenly, the challenge and toughness disappears. Why? Because you’ve grown stronger. You’ve adapted. You’ve become immune. You’ve started training, running, working out. You’ve joined groups of like-minded people on social media, you follow several exercise and fitness pages and trainers, and you’re starting to surround yourself with others on the same mission. And it is working.

But with any drug, your system develops a tolerance. It adapts to it and the only way for you to feel the effects of that drug is to increase the dosage. Or in the case of OCR, increase the distance or challenge.  From the humble beginnings of running and gasping your way to a 5k finish, you’re now pushing yourself to complete an UltraBeast and seriously eyeing Fuego y Agua as an event. Even World’s Toughest Mudder is on your radar.

Why? You’ve run Spartan and Tough Mudder and BattleFrog and every other mid level and light event there is, and you’ve found that each obstacle can be categorized into a few general categories:

1. Jump & Climb (6,8,10 foot walls, cargo nets, slip wall),

2. Hang/Grip Strength (monkey bars, every sort of rig),

3. Rope (climbs, traverse, balance),

4. Over/Under/Through (OUT, Weaver, barb-wire/other crawls),

5. Weight-based obstacles (buckets, Wreck bag, Atlas balls, hoists).

There are no surprises.

You know that Spartan will utilize hills, you know that TM will have team-based obstacles and always around 10-12 miles distance, you know BattleFrog will have their Tip of the Spear and water obstacles. You’ve become immune and that immunity can quickly turn into apathy. There is no challenge, no surprise, no reason for being on the course. How many medals and finisher shirts does a person really need?

And you only have one head (maybe two if your gender is male) so how many headbands do you really need? Does anyone really wear headbands anymore? Everything looks the same in your dresser and the medals pile up if you don’t display them. But three plus years into the OCR game and it’s starting to become way too boring and way too similar.

OCR Fatigue

So what is there to do? You start branching out, trying other types of races to quench your thirst. Or you run your races with a handicap such as being blindfolded or carrying extra weight. Or you run a Ragnar Trail, or a Death Race, or you start looking at endurance events such as GORUCK, Spartan 12 Hour Hurricane Heat, Agoge, World’s Toughest Mudder, and every other endurance event in between as your higher dosage of the OCR drug. Hey, new medals, patches and shirts for your collection. But most importantly, new challenges. And it is in these new challenges and new ways of forcing you to grow once again that you go from drinking the adrenaline from OCRs to mainlining it from endurance events.

OCR Fatigue

In the end, as you prep your several hundred dollars’ worth of OCR specific gear to run a race that you don’t even know if you even want to run, think about this. You started off bored, out of shape, negativity surrounding your daily life, and drabness defining your routine existence and now you’re fitter, healthier, surrounded by more positive influences, and your current life is better, louder, clearer than it used to be. Your problem isn’t the race course, it’s your approach. What used to be fun and able to keep you on your toes, you now approach with lackadaisical effort. “Been there, done that” is not the right way to tackle anything in your life. If you’re not challenged enough at a race, then challenge YOURSELF. Make the challenge so tough that you have to force yourself to exert the effort to hit that goal. There is always a way to make things more challenging, and it is the challenge where we truly live. Even if it’s “I’m going to go out there and RUN up the hill with that sandbag and pass ten people. If I don’t, I’ll do ten burpees for every person I didn’t pass”, or “I won’t drop the bucket once on the carry” or “I will not use the foot holds for Tip of the Spear”.  I’d also recommend trying events out of your comfort zone and doing things that don’t allow you to give half ass effort to finish. Do something that requires your full ass.

OCR Fatigue

See you out there!!

Photo credits:

Barbed Wire Crawl, Bucket Lunges (HH12HR): Spartan Race

Mt. Everest @ Tough Mudder: Eileen Garrison

Muddy Finish: Warrior Dash

Spartan Race Bucket Brigade: Andrea Trowbridge

Spartan Race Arizona Sprint 2016: Blindfolded Challenge

The goal was simple. Run the Spartan Race Arizona Sprint blindfolded for a good charity organization, BlindStart of America, and not kill myself in the process. It started as an idea and suddenly turned into a serious commitment once Jeff Nelson, Stephen Sinek, and Lauren Marquez decided that they wanted to challenge themselves as well. I was stoked. Three elites coming to play.
Spartan Arizona Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Team

Four obstacles that would hand me burpees came to mind: Monkey Bars, Multi-Rig, Spear Throw and Z Wall. In the past, I used to do blindfolded judo and jiu jitsu grappling practices. I use visualization and spatial relationships techniques, projecting in my head calculated distances and placements, and that practice and training in blindfolded grappling gave me the tools that allowed me to create a mental map in my head by analyzing slope, surface, and tactile shifts identified by my footing, touch, and sounds. Having nearly five years of experience in running OCRs, I’ve encountered nearly every type of obstacle that Spartan can throw at you, and using previous experience and muscle memory, I knew that if I came up to an obstacle that I’ve encountered before, that it would be relatively easy to use visualization to complete it successfully.
Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Wall

My equipment was a pair of ski goggles that I had spray painted the lenses with five coats of blue paint over 20 coats of black paint, attached stickers to the outside of the lens and used black duct tape to cover the vent ports so that there was no light or visibility. My wife, who would be guiding me, started giving me directions and descriptions at the Start. It’s very disorienting having no sight and it took me a couple of minutes to adjust my thinking and realize I had to really, absolutely trust my guide to get me through the course. Giving 100% trust in someone else is not as easy as it might sound, no matter who they are.

The race starts and my hands attach to the carabiners on my wife’s ruck. I would use three fingers to maintain a light grip. The only time I would grab with more than one hand would be during narrow passages where I grabbed both sides of the ruck, maintaining a light grip to avoid getting any assistance by my guide for incline or weighted hiking.

Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Guide
The guiding is good, but I’m lacking critical information for my mental map. Here’s where how I think and how my wife thinks starts to conflict. She’s giving me good information, but also gives me instructions on stride and stepping, or downhill techniques. I need degree of slope, length of incline/decline, and distance from topographical features. I can make a better determination on stride and technique myself. Large steps in unsettled terrain is dangerous because it’s more unbalanced. Smaller steps were more effective at avoiding falls and injury. We have good communication in our marriage, though, so it took less than a mile to get things figured out, and she did a phenomenal job throughout the entire event in guiding me safely and effectively. The new predicament is that my stride and body position changed which places increased demands to different muscles. Fatigue sets in faster and the change in walking posture forced me to stretch my body more often because you pretty much walk with the expectation of falling or running into something, so your body is on “high alert”.

The obstacles in the first half of the course gave me no trouble and I cleared them quickly and easily. Between obstacles, I felt an incredible urge to move faster and was getting impatient. I kept trying to push the pace. We jogged when we could, but it was normally a walk pace for safety concerns. Barbed Wire crawl was a bit of a challenge because of the congestion and being guided by voice only. Lisa kept directing me, and I just wasn’t able to process directions clearly, but we made it with extra assistance from another runner.
Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Bucket
I am not a fan of Bucket Brigade when I have my sight. I am even less of a fan when visually impaired, but it got handled.  Later, when I jumped on the 7ft wall, my toes pointed down and my calf muscles cramped. Lisa was allowed to help with the 8ft wall, and we headed to monkey bars. I attacked the monkey bars sideways, allowing me some stability as I was pulling upwards with one arm and swinging around like a wild man looking for the next bar. The pattern on the uneven monkey bars were different than before and I was a bit lost, especially not being able to process what my guide was telling me and hearing every other person shouting and talking. Two bars away from the bell, I dropped to the ground and screamed out the loudest swear word that frustration would allow. 30 burpees.

Near the finish came the next three obstacles that I dreaded facing sightless: spear throw, multi-rig, Z Wall. Facing Spear Throw with additional guidance from my wife and my friend, Mike Santos, I hit the target. Climbing on the multi-rig, I shimmied on the bar, caught a ring, made the mistake of holding on to the ring with both hands, got spun around, reached and missed the next ring several times and fell to the ground for 30 burpees. I didn’t care. I hit spear throw blindfolded.
Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge MultiRig
I was afforded assistance for slack line, which I gratefully accepted, felt my way to Z Wall and used grip strength and tactile awareness to successfully make my way across. Tunnel, Slippery Wall, Dunk Wall, and a five minute conference on how we four blindfolded runners would do fire jump, which ended in a cluster. But cross the finish line, kiss my wife, grab my medal, and I removed my goggles. For three hours I was deprived of any light, having run the course in pitch blackness and my eyes hurt. The light was hard but the colors were painful, especially green. My sight was affected for the next half hour as my eyes were still adjusting and I couldn’t help but contemplate the thousands of people who are visually impaired and must negotiate through life in the darkness. I could remove the darkness, but they can’t and that really gave me a greater understanding and compassion for my fellow humans. I am still in amazement about the entire experience. If you were ever wondering about whether or not you and your significant other have good communication, place yourself completely in their care and trust them 100%, and it will become very evident if you can communicate clearly or not.
Spartan AZ Sprint Blindfolded Challenge Fire Jump

Photo Credits
Andrea Trowbridge: Team Hike, Wall Jump, Guide hold, Bucket Carry
Brent Forbes: MultiRig, Fire Jump

 

 


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Spartan Race 12 Hour Hurricane Heat – Temecula: The Other Side

Two months before the Spartan Race HH12HR in SoCal was to commence, I received a phone call from Cookie (Steffen Cook) in which he started the conversation with, “Listen to this…,” so I listened intently. As part of the cadre/director pool at Spartan Endurace, we were both studying the Spartan X programming, and he had caught an idea from the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton that he was keen on implementing.

The concept was simple: have four scavenger items strewn across the Temecula hills for participants to find while they dragged sleds behind them that contained all of their supplies.

So we began step two, which was to beta test everything and reconvene to discuss what worked and what didn’t. The reason for the mixing tub was that it was a very cheap alternative to a snow sled. It was structurally sound enough to get the job done, but not so sound that it would not require some form of repair at some point in the event. With the dragging aspect, you had to select the proper strategy on hole and rope placement, and we found that with the bottom of the sled being slowly scraped away, we had to reinforce the bottom with duct tape, make wooden skids from branches, and generally attempt to really strengthen the entire structure to endure 12 hours.

From beta testing, we knew that it would take less than 15 minutes to construct a reinforced sled and that if a person were to drag the sled on concrete that the sled would disintegrate faster. We also knew that weight distribution in the sled itself would determine durability as well.

Spartan Race 12 HR HURRICANE HEAT - Sled Maintenance

From the sled, I was given the PT, or “Welcome Party”, portion of the event. This is where the participants do exercises. Anyone can make someone do hundreds upon hundreds of exercises, but my method is based on wildland fire crews and our attention to crew cohesion and strong culture of teamwork and camaraderie. One of the things that I pride myself in is the attention to beta testing each and every exercise that I present in these events. It allows me to try out my idea, fine tune it, and tweak it for safety and effectiveness so it is a clear, sharp, and properly executed exercise.

Spartan Race 12 HR HURRICANE HEAT - Three Team Partner Bear Crawl
Fast forward six weeks, and when I arrived at the venue the Thursday morning before the event, Cookie and I scouted locations, course markings and material for the HH12HR. We spent the entire day preparing the venue for both the HH and the HH12HR, focusing our first day on logistics and locations. Friday morning saw the two of us back at the venue, this time preparing sandbags, wood planks, and other HH12HR materials and setting them in their proper places for Sunday. Saturday morning, we met at base camp, grabbed our race bibs and timing chips, and headed on course to do a final scouting of locations and testing the course and course markings one final time before Sunday’s event. During the Super, we discussed multiple fail-safe measures and alternate plans and multiple backup plans in case plans had to change and other measures had to be taken. In all, we had the initial plan and eight back up plans in place. We felt ready and prepared for Sunday.

Sunday’s event started with a light rain and low temperature. 56 signed up, 32 started with the 33rd person scrambling to join in about 30 minutes late.

Spartan Race 12 HR HURRICANE HEAT - Team Log Carry and Squats

The highlight of the Welcome Party was the Gladiator Gauntlet; a one on one event during “It pays to be the winner” that pitted two people against each other in a three exercise contest. In the end, Rachael Helms came out victorious and her team was spared having to complete a grueling team task.

Spartan Race 12HR HURRICANE HEAT - The Gladiator Gauntlet's Towel Tension Pull

Spartan Race 12HR HURRICANE HEAT - Gladiator Gauntlet's London Bridge
Time for the Scavenger Hunt. The savvier of participants had already deduced the purpose of the mixing tubs and had come prepared. The others scrambled to fashion their tubs into sleds as fast as possible, and judging by what we saw, we could tell right away who would have issues with breakage. We were not wrong. What surprised me was that right after the Welcome Party, we had three quit immediately with a fourth person quitting a few hours into the event. The rules were simple. Carry everything you own in the sleds. The sleds must be with you at all times. There are four points on the course that you must visit one at a time. Pick up one item at a checkpoint and bring it back to be officially checked in. You are then free to visit the next checkpoint and repeat the procedures. Stay on course at all times, however, you can travel forward, backwards, widdershins, whatever, so long as you stayed on course and off of the concrete roads. You can visit any checkpoint in any order, but you can only visit one at a time, grab only one item at a time and check back in every time you visit a checkpoint.
There were two checkpoints with sandbags and two checkpoints with wood planks. Total weight for men with all of the equipment and items was estimated at 120-140 lbs. Total weight for women was estimated at 80-120 lbs. In the end, 13 people had collected all of their items before the time hack ran out. Everyone one else could now leave to get warm and dry, but their HH12HR was over. And it sucks when you have to hack someone. There is never a time when you want to hack someone, or you feel good about it, but it is a part of the event and to maintain the integrity of the event, you have to hack them.

Spartan Race 12HR HURRICANE HEAT - On Course, dragging their sleds
The final hours found 13 participants scrambling from one time hack and individual challenge to another and another. From having to push your sandbag on the ground in front of you while having your belly keep contact with the ground the entire 600 yards, to a double elimination bracket race that had participants compete in three heats to climb rope, lunge to the multi-rig, and hit the bar on the multi-rig, with the slowest in all three groups having to race an elimination heat where the last person was cut. To the final footrace from the warmth of the finish line to uphill to find Cookie and race back to the finish line to find me, each race was an elimination challenge where the last person could be cut, and we maintained that contest to the very end to push and prod and keep the participants involved and present. But in the end, 12 people finished one of the most grueling, difficult HH12HRs every presented.

Thank you to Tony Matesi, Steffen Cook, Spartan Endurance and the many participants who braved the elements and kicked ass. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to provide a paradigm shifting experience.

Spartan Race 12HR HURRICANE HEAT - Class 16

Photo credits: Stacy Thompson, Le Roux Konig, Kyoul Cha

 


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Arizona Spartan Sprint 2015!

After coming out swinging in Temecula with their Trifecta weekend filled with four races, three distances and a host of new obstacles, Spartan arrived in Arizona prepared to land that sneaky left hook. They delivered a resounding shot. There were 26 obstacles presented this year in comparison to the 15 from the year before and course distance was increased from 3.5 miles to 4.9 miles at the Ft. McDowell Rodeo grounds; the same venue as 2014. This location is right off of a State highway, easy access with a hotel/casino three miles down the road, and had on-site parking.

The first two thirds of the race was your standard, flat-ish type of Spartan Race. There were rolling hills and trail runs but with plenty of room between cactus to get around congestion. Several new obstacles made their way on to the course; however, with a downhill start for Bucket Brigade and Sandbag Carry, those two normally tough obstacles were the easiest to date. The five-foot sheer mud wall at the Rolling Mud forced Spartan employees to include climbing ropes so that racers could climb out and escape the sucking mud. Otherwise, there was no escape and no climbing out of it. Which was awesome.

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Where it really shined was the final mile and the main punch was the “gauntlet” of seven obstacles at the end; MultiBar, Hercules Hoist, Spear Throw, Double Up, Rope Swing, Barbed Wire Crawl, and new Fire Jump. If you look at the first three obstacles in this gauntlet, you can see how this could create a 90-burpee journey in the span of 100 feet, and very few racers escaped without having to do burpees here.

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The MultiBar starts with a horizontal hanging metal pipe that you shimmy across using only your hands, then transfer to a set of three vertical hanging ropes that are spaced about a foot and a half apart, followed by another horizontal handing metal pipe that you transfer to so you can shimmy across it and ring a suspended bell.

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This was followed by a Hercules Hoist. Spartan has increased the difficulty of this obstacle not by increasing the weight, but by removing the ever-present fencing in front of the hoist that racers used to brace their body and feet on. It has been replaced with a string and a long 2×4 secured to the ground, which does not allow you to put your feet under and pull. The men’s hoist is 135lbs dry. However, if there is moisture that hoist weight can and will increase as the bags take on that moisture.

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Hands hurting from the hoist, it was on to the spear throw with the tethers on the back of the spear so that each racer can pull it back and with a successful throw. I was off to the Double Up, a simple looking obstacle that looks like two chin up bars, one on top of another, where you are to climb up and over the top bar and back down. So muscle up, grab the top bar, slide over it and back down to face the Rope Swing. Interestingly enough, when I encountered this contraption in Temecula, I found success before Spartan made some necessary safety changes such as adding a higher third step and increasing trench depth so falling into is safer. Since those changes, I have found failure and 30 burpees every time. By this time, Spartan has done what it could to deplete your grip strength. I pulled on the tether connected to the rope, grabbed the knot, made sure that the rope and tether was not between my legs, made a jump up as I reached higher up the rope to try and ensure that I was high enough to miss the water. My grip strength was gone and I landed face first in the water and found another 30 burpees.

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After that epic fail was a 100yd barbed wire crawl with moguls and hay bales throughout. Crossing under the bridge that was near the end of the crawl, I scurried my way through and stared at the new fire jump. It seems that ever since Spartan discarded their gladiators, they’ve been constantly trying to retool the fire jump area. This time around, the fire jump was a short 12-15 feet away from the end of the barbed wire crawl and the course designers dug out a four-foot deep, seven-foot wide trench and filled it with water. Naturally, I cannonballed into it, backstroked to the other side and crossed the finish line. A very satisfying event this year with combination of the new obstacles, more obstacles and final gauntlet making this event one of the more difficult, but fun Spartan Sprints that I have raced on.


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*Photos by: Kyoul Cha and Spartan Race