Spartan AG Etiquette

Spartan-Flag
I’ve been racing with Spartan for almost three years now. Although I haven’t been around a long time, I’ve seen several changes. Not with their obstacles per se, but with some of the ways that things are run.

One of the more significant changes in the system has been the addition of the Age Group Category. Formerly known as Competitive, the Age Group category provides an opportunity for people to challenge themselves to elite rules, who may not feel entirely confident for the elite competition. Or, they see more of an enticing opportunity for recognition among peers. No matter the reason, the Age Group category has become very popular.

I normally run elite, but wanted to give AG a shot during the Asheville Super. Although a fun course, I can say that I was frustrated with a lot of it. Not necessarily the course, but the attitude of several other runners. Now, this article is not meant to say anything negative about AG runners as a whole. Again, I had a great time, just a few things stood out to me that I felt the need to address. I’m also well aware that most of the people who don’t follow general race etiquette won’t care to read this article, but maybe someday they’ll stumble upon it and feel curious.

So, here are just a few things I’d like to address:

1) Let’s Talk Start Line
The start line can be one of the most nerve-wracking elements of the race. It’s where all of the emotions are pent up and released, all at a single moment. It can also be one of the most crucial places for athletes–how you start may not only determine your overall start place but the attitude that you will carry through the entire race.

Which is exactly why, for many, this portion of the race is the most important. It is also one of the most aggravating portions of a race.
When you race, you have goals in mind. Whatever your goals are, know that they are respected, and they are not any more or less valuable than the goals of the Spartan racing beside you. The goals that you set for that particular race should help you determine where you will line up at the start. I know I don’t have to say it, but if you are aiming for a top finish, you go toward the front of the pack. If you are an athlete who is not concerned with your time or place and intend on doing a lot of walking, please head toward the back.

One thing that is also important to note is that in the Age Group Division, you’ll often see men and women have heats together. Listen fellas, just because you’re big and do CrossFit 6 times a week does not mean that it’s not cool to let a girl line up before you. Some of the girls who race are intense, and, if you know the running isn’t your strong suit, it’s totally okay.

Please pick a start line placement that is appropriate for your current physical capabilities.

2) Passing on the Course
During a race, there is a chance that you will need to pass at least one other athlete. If you do, it’s totally cool, and I promise their feelings aren’t going to be hurt that badly. But, if you’re going to pass someone, be a doll and let them know you’re coming. There’s nothing like being in the zone and then all of the sudden you’re getting knocked over by a sweaty stranger flying down a hill with no heads up. Just give them a heads up! My personal favorite is to alert by letting them know which side I’m going on. Just the phrase: “coming on your left!” lets them know to expect you.

3) Getting Passed on the Course
It happens. It stinks, and nobody enjoys being passed, but it’s a part of racing. My suggestion to you is: we all know you don’t like to get passed, but don’t be a jerk. If someone is running down the trail and shouts “coming on your left!” to you, move to the right.

This does not mean you are expected to completely stop your race so that they can run theirs. Keep your pace up, but move it over to the right. I see a lot of “coming on your left!” which is followed by the passee turning around, assessing the runner, and then sprinting on the left, making it difficult for the other runner to proceed. Don’t be that guy. If you get passed, it’s totally fun. Just run your race!

4) Single Track Trails
As a runner, I love single track trails. During Age Group races, I really don’t like the single track trails. Why? Because if you are in a later heat, they tend to get stopped up really easily.
If you’re running single track trails, please move as quickly as possible. That sounds obvious, but these areas are not great for casual strolls, because there are others who want to move around you. If you’re in an area that you’re struggling in and you know it’s going to take you a while, it’s okay to let other runners pass you. Single track trails are definitely not a place to stop for selfies or snack breaks.

Speaking of breaks…

5) Taking a Break on the Course
You don’t know how you’ll feel at all points during a race, and sometimes, you just need to take a break. Totally cool! But, if you do, please move off to the side. Whether it’s a break for a snack, getting something out of your hydro-pack, pictures, cramps, or just because you’re tired, please move over to the side. I don’t feel like I need to really explain this one much further. Plus, if you’re cramping, I’m sure you will get some offers for mustard packets!

6) Taking a Break on Obstacles
WHAT?!
Let me explain this one.
I was running Asheville and had just hit the 8-foot-wall. I am a small person, so I have to use the red blocks to help me get up. I went over to the left side of the wall, and a woman was sitting on top of the wall touching her toes and chatting with a friend who was already off the obstacle. I went to line up to complete, and the volunteer told me I needed to wait…which was fine, except the girl wasn’t moving. The right side started to line up with women. After a couple of paces between sides, I committed to the left side because the girl wasn’t at the top anymore. The volunteer told me I still couldn’t proceed though because the girl was sitting against the wall on the other side due to a cramp in her foot. It wasn’t for another minute or two that I was able to complete the obstacle.

Don’t be this girl. If you can, muster through the obstacle, and when you’re done, head off to the side of the trail for your mustard or pickle juice. Please please please do not stop in the middle of obstacles if you can avoid it. Obstacles only have limited carrying capacities, and by stopping on them for stretch breaks is limiting the number of runners that can pass through.

7) Taking a Break at Water Stations
If you see a line of people, I don’t recommend standing in front of the pitcher if you are refilling your cup. Again, there is only a limited number of people who can go at a time, so please be respectful toward those around you.

8) Thank your volunteers
We see this all of the time, and this will come as no surprise to you. We know that volunteers receive either free or discounted races because they are volunteering. But, by doing so, they may be giving up the start time that they’d prefer to run. And, these volunteers are people, using their time to ensure that you have a good race. Please thank them!

9) Be a Good Sport
At the end of the day, all of us are in this for the fun of it. We all pay lots of money for training, gear, and races. We all come to races with the expectation that we are going to have a positive experience, and part of the positive experience includes the community. Make an effort to smile at someone, to high-five a stranger, or make someone’s first Spartan Race feel like the best thing they’ve ever done.

Did I leave anything out? Add any additional “etiquette” suggestions in the comment box. Happy racing!

Considering your first OCR?

So, you’re thinking about doing your first race, but you’re nervous about hitting the big “register now” button.

First OCR Warrior Dash

 

Guess what – I’m willing to bet that at least 90% of people who are interested in obstacle racing today sat exactly where you are sitting right now, including the pros. Yes, 90%. I’m not over exaggerating.

You’re probably asking yourself questions like, “what if I’m not ready?” or “what if I’m not good enough,” or *gasp* the worst of all, “what if I embarrass myself?”

I’d like to take a moment to address those questions.

What if I’m not ready?

Let me answer this question the hard way: you’re probably not. None of us REALLY are, and that’s part of the fun!

The thing with obstacle racing is that there are so many different components to it. There’s running, hiking, throwing, heavy carries, coordination, crawling, jumping, throwing, balance, sometimes swimming…and well, you get the picture. There’s a LOT.

It doesn’t matter what your athletic background is, at least one of these elements is going to humble you. You are going to look at the person who is standing next to you and think to yourself, what the $*@?. It’s just a part of racing. Truth is, none of us could be considered “perfect racers.” There is always something that you can improve on. If you are telling yourself that you are going to wait to register until you feel physically ready, well, because there are so many pieces, you’re going to be waiting forever.

This multitude of elements is what makes racing so entertaining. It’s fun to take a look at some of the things that you totally suck at and work on them. Then, when you try again, you can take a step back and say “wow, I used to only be able to make 2 rungs of twister, and today I made five!” It becomes an addiction, and almost like a game of How Good Can I Get?  I’d also like to go ahead and add that it is TOTALLY OKAY to be proud of yourself for completing a race. Good vibes are encouraged!

Races can provide an awesome opportunity for you to see what you’re really made of. Not only are there things that you can do in a race that humble you, but there are going to be some opportunities for you to surprise yourself. Yep, there are things that even you, the complete newbie, are good at, you may just not know it yet. Maybe, you can’t run for shit, but you are a lady who can carry the men’s weight sand-bag carries like a champ. You go, girl! Imagine racing as an opportunity to show you where you are awesome–come on, aren’t you a little curious to find out what you’re good at?

What if I’m not good enough?

I promise you; you are good enough. The thing about obstacle racing that I’ve learned is, the value of racing has nothing to do in the race itself. Racing is about the confidence that you learn along the way.

One thing I’ve learned about obstacle racing is that, for most people, tackling the challenge often deals with overcoming obstacles that are off the course. More often than not, you can listen to people tell you stories of how racing has helped them accomplish things that they have never imagined. I’ve talked to several people about how racing has helped them understand that they are better than their depression. I’ve heard how people say it’s made them feel strong enough to get out of abusive relationships. For some, they may have less serious things, like running OCR has made them feel “less bored with fitness.” Some people want a challenge, and you better believe they get that. Personally, running obstacle races has helped me have a better understanding of myself. It’s helped me come to terms with who I am as a person, it’s helped me gain the confidence I needed to say when I made a mistake, and it’s helped me gain the confidence of acknowledging when I am good at something.

Because of this trend of people-overcoming-personal-obstacle-racers, I’ve also noticed that everyone at races is SUPER friendly. Just like everything, there are exceptions, but people show up to support each other. People may offer you tips and tricks, or hey, even let you join their group. Racing often means traveling, and traveling can become opportunities to spend time with other people similar to yourself. I’ve met some of my best friends racing. It’s very exciting to listen to everyone’s stories–there are some pretty interesting people out there!

First OCR Warrior Dash 2

 

I know what you’re thinking, and sure, there’s the physical piece of it, too. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been watching a lot of SPARTAN: Ultimate Team Challenge or other shows that just feature the elites. You know what, sure, there are several people that appear to be god-tier athletes. But most people aren’t like that. I would never try to sit here and tell you that those people don’t exist, because they most certainly do, but that should not be your determining fear factor. Most of the people who come out to races are those who are looking for a challenge, or they are looking for a unique experience. But, OCR is meant to be more mentally challenging than physical. It’s meant to make you feel good, not make you feel like you can’t accomplish something. Not to mention, most bigger OCRs have some sort of “opt out” option–whether it’s burpees, a penalty loop, a lost wristband, whatever. Some race series (I’m looking at you, Terrain) don’t even care if you walk past an obstacle, as long as you are not in a more competitive wave!

 

What if I embarrass myself?

Ready for another blunt, disappointing answer?

Nobody. Gives. A. Fuck.

Really, they don’t.

 

The thing is, OCR is about building confidence. With an event that attempts to build up your confidence and character, the people try to build you up, too. With that being said, as long as you try, you really shouldn’t be embarrassed. People you’ve never met before will sit there and cheer for you when you accomplish things. If you show fear, they’ll cheer you on. If you show excitement, they will cheer louder. Volunteers will dance with you and even help you get over certain obstacles, if allowed. You will see smiles all throughout. You will be encouraged. You will be pushed and held to high standards. Why? Because the people who are out there will believe in you. It doesn’t matter if they’re your friend, someone you’ve never seen before, or someone you will never see again. Everyone believes in you. If you’re surrounded by people who believe in you and want to help you, could you really be embarrassed?

 

So, Sarah, what do YOU think it takes to be ready?

I guess I’ve told you that you’re both ready and not ready for your first race. I stand by both of those comments. Physically, there is a challenge and truthfully, there is not benchmark you must hit before you get started. You’ll have areas you’ll excel, and you’ll have areas where you are weak. Everyone does, and quite frankly, if you wait until you’re ready, you’re probably going to be waiting forever. So don’t wait, go ahead and register; use your first race as a benchmark! Mentally, if you are willing to take on the challenge, then you are absolutely ready. There isn’t as much pressure to be a total beast as you may think; especially not if you are a first-timer.

Truth is, your first race is going to be uncomfortable. It’s probably going to humble you in at least one area, but, it will also give you a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t compare to anything else. If you’re willing to take on the challenge, you are going to be great. You’re going to meet some amazing people who believe in you. You won’t find a more uplifting community. So, please join us. On behalf of the OCR community, know that you are welcome to join us, and we are cheering for you!

What Lindsay Webster Taught Me About Racing

Lindsay Webster. In the OCR world, her name is as common as Kim Kardashian. She’s an absolutely outstanding athlete. Although I personally have never met her, I’ve heard incredible things about her character, too.

The most exciting thing about obstacle racing is watching others. There are so many people that we can learn a lot from, and Lindsay certainly is a person to watch from. Most people admire her confidence on the obstacles and trails, but she has taught me something that is so much more than that.

The lesson that she taught me is just how great racing can be when you embrace how much fun it is.

2016 Spartan US Champ Lindsay Webster

2016 Spartan US Champ Lindsay Webster

Let’s face it–all we see are these super bad-ass pictures of people. You know, the massive guys with six-packs covered with mud and battle scars, and of course, we could never forget the infamous picture of Amelia Boone, straight-faced and covered with mud. All of Lindsay’s pictures are so much different from that. In all of her pictures, she is smiling.

Not only that, but she is the best in the business. She has several world championships under her belt, and never ceases to disappoint. Obviously, if she is taking a more positive approach to racing–it’s working. Having “good race vibes” are not only better for your mind, but they seem to be better for your results, too.

 

(photo from OCRM archive…)

Now, of course, there are some hot shots out there, who are literally being paid to race. But the rest of us, even though we all have dreams of being successful and becoming better versions of ourselves, we’re here for fun. It’s so easy to get caught up on times and worry about failing obstacles, but in the end, the goal should always be to enjoy the ride. So, let’s stop allowing ourselves to stress about racing–instead, let’s join Lindsay Webster and smile.

(Photo from OCRM Archive)

 

Green Beret Challenge Operator’s Course Atlanta 2018

I usually stick with Spartan, simply because the obstacles have the  “burpee-if-incomplete” option. I’ve noticed I have been becoming too reliant on it, so I have decided to start looking at more race options. More specifically, trying to work on completing events that scare the absolute shit out of me. So, naturally, when my friend suggested I join her for the Green Beret Challenge in Atlanta, I registered immediately. What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger, right?

For reference, I am five feet tall, weighing in at a pretty gnarly 105 pounds. I’m not great at heavy carries; not because I’m not strong enough, but some of the carries…well, they’re pretty much the same size as I am. Knowing that the GBC is comprised of primarily heavy carries, I went in thinking that I wouldn’t do well. It didn’t matter though. I was still proud of myself for registering in the first place.

One of the first things that caught my attention was the address of the venue. Or, rather, the lack thereof. There was no address. In fact, the address that they provided, was actually the address to the building NEXT DOOR. This venue was literally in the middle of nowhere.

When my friends and I pulled up, what we saw was the most gorgeous house. Which was…well, very different from any venue I’ve seen. The venue was actually BEHIND this house. Parking was easy, check-in was easy…actually, everything was easy. There was no long walk to the venue, pretty much you parked and it was on course. And of course, the very first thing you could see, was Mark f***ing Ballas, standing up, proud, riding on his four-wheeler. I was intimidated but very excited.

I had jumped into the 8:00 heat; the first wave of the competitive division. Standing next to me at the line was none other than Rachel Watters. She was awesome to talk to, and I was very impressed by her modesty. The men and women ran the competitive wave at the same time, which personally, I am a fan of. For me, it seems much more fun with mixed gender seems more fun and laid-back.

Also at the start line, was none other than Mr. Ballas himself. Accompanying him was a man, whose name is currently escaping me (editor’s note: it is none other than Jarian Rich, Mr. Inspiration), covered in glitter. He had an immense amount of glitter in his beard, and gold glitter covering his arms. He wore a shirt that said “no frown zone,” and with that, he wore one of the biggest smiles I’d ever seen. Even though this event is known as being one of the toughest obstacle races in the series, it’s very evident that every person there is excited about it.

When it was time to run, we started running in a flat field. We had been running for maybe two minutes before we hit the first obstacle–that darn yoke carry. I’ve never completed a yoke carry before this, and boy was it humbling. I’m a runner by nature and was one of the first women to the yokes.

Granted, after this obstacle started, I never saw Rachel Watters again. I grabbed one of the first in the line, as the volunteer manning the obstacle suggested. Once I put that thing on my back, I knew that it absolutely could not touch the ground until I was done, no matter how much it hurt. Immediately I was wobbling side to side from the weight. I was getting passed left and right, by men and women alike.

Many people grabbed the string that held their sandbags to keep them from moving, and I wanted to, but I was afraid to let go of my grip from the log. A minute went by and I had already been drenched in sweat. I was starting to get nervous about how my grip would maintain throughout this new adventure but remembered–you know what, Sarah, be proud of yourself for being here, this will make for a cool picture later, and trudged on.

The carry itself felt like at least 300-400 meters, but I confess that my depth perception is not great, and I may be mistaken. Either way, you get the point. It was long. It looped into a square back to the yoke drop-off point. I saw it from a distance and had to keep my eyes on it for the remainder of the carry. My arms were shaking, but eventually, I made it.

After I put the yoke down, there was a short run until the next obstacle, which was a wall. Walls don’t scare me much anymore, but this one made me a little nervous. I jumped to get a grip on the top and struggled to pull myself up. I hardly ever struggle with pull-ups. The yoke had taken its toll; hopefully, some of the runs later could relax my upper body. I will say, even though this wall was hand-made, it did not budge one bit. Mark Ballas does a great job building obstacles.

Following almost immediately was a balance obstacle. Walk up a plank of wood to the top of a hay bale. Next: another carry, but, it was a sled drag. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but it was long. From there, we saw a couple of standard obstacles: inverted wall, barbed wire crawl into a questionable substance, and trail run on a single-track trail.

I was really surprised by the next obstacle. I’m fairly certain it doesn’t have a name, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw it again. Two wooden beams, where, you have to climb over the top one, anyway how. There was a rope there to aid in the transition, and being the short person that I am, was very thankful for the rope.

Although this obstacle wasn’t too intimidating, the number of failures that came with it was a little terrifying. The ropes were completely covered in that questionable substance that we just trudged through, which was leading to many people slipping and swearing. When I approached the obstacle, I was really proud of the support from both the competitors and volunteers. The people who had failed moved over to allow others the opportunity to attempt. Finally, it was my turn…I was slow, EXTREMELY slow on the obstacle. Nobody cared. Everyone who was there cheered. I thought to myself, this, right here, is EXACTLY what OCR is all about.

(sandbag and questionable “mud.” Image by Green Beret Challenge)

After a few more carries and some walls, we were approaching the finish line. I approached a creek, which we were instructed to jump into. I was NOT expecting a swim at all, but it made for such a nice touch. The water was nice and cool, plus, the unexpectedness of the swim made for a fun and unique challenge. The end was approaching. I picked up the pace, and then one of the volunteers shouted at me: “HEY! YOU’RE SECOND PLACE FEMALE RIGHT NOW.” I freaked out. I ran as fast as I could with my final sandbag on my shoulder, not going to adjust it once. I’ve never placed that high before..and I was excited.

I was so excited that it caused me to make some really poor choices. I hit the most intense obstacle of the day: the Happy Ending. It was most certainly not a happy ending. Happy Ending consisted of a low rig, a cargo net, and some ropes to Tarzan your way through before hitting a bell. Easy. Or, it should have been.

I normally take a breather before rigs to let my heart rate calm down. I didn’t this time, so naturally, I failed. Then I failed again. Then I failed again. And then you know what happened? I failed again. And with all of those failures, I became frustrated. I lost my joyful, cool composure that I had carried with me the entire way, and I couldn’t picture myself finishing the obstacle. I made a stupid, stupid choice to give up my band. Again, stupid. But, I managed to complete it and was greeted instantly by friends and the man who was covered in glitter (he called me nick-names the entire time; fun ones like “Tiny Trap Master” and “Mighty Mouse”).

(“Happy Ending” picture by Green Beret Challenge)

After races, I typically grab my stuff from gear drop-offs and then leave. This race was different. In the end, everyone jumped back into the water to wash off, and then everyone just sat in lawn chairs, drinking and having a great time. Nobody there was a stranger. Even Mark Ballas and his lady joined in. I was amazed at how well this event brought people together, even though it was considered individual.

My overall thoughts on this race? It was an amazing experience. It pushed me past my comfort zone, but, it made me realize why I love racing. Although it’s individual, I have never seen so much love and teamwork on a course–not even during endurance events. The volunteers were extremely excited to be there…I feel like very often, people only volunteer in order to get free race codes, but this certainly was not the case.

This event was intended to push your mind, and although I was frustrated at the last obstacle, I smiled the entire time. It made me realize that when you get your mind right, you really can accomplish anything. Mark Ballas is an incredible race director. I loved the small, intimate feel and of course, the obstacles were sturdy and challenging. The “fuck Ballas” attire was a nice little touch as well!

I will definitely be doing this event again, and I hope to see you there with me.

(Mr. Inspiration, Jarian Rich, and me)