Spartan Iceland Ultra Beast Gear Prep

I have been tapped by Obstacle Racing Media to give you my ultimate gear prep list for The Spartan UltraBeast World Championship. It will be taking place this year in Iceland, I was there last year and am excited to be making my 2nd trip. I also just finished the World’s Toughest Mudder which took place in near freezing temps in Atlanta. I also have raced all 4 years of WTM in Vegas, along with several other Spartan Ultra Beasts.
Here’s a summary of what I wore last year in Iceland, and what changes I’m making for 2018.  At the start of the race the wind was whipping, it was quite cold, but not terrible, and the sun was out.  I started with the following gear:
Zensah compression socks in Altra MT King 1.5 shoes.  I wore compression leggings underneath windbreaker pants on bottom.  On top, I wore short sleeve Tesla fleece lined compression top under a Zensah long sleeve compression top and a Patagonia Windbreaker jacket with reinforced seams.  On my head, I wore a fleece lined winter hat and a buff around my neck and the hood of my jacket up.  On my hands, I wore 1mm Blegg Mitts.  It was mandatory to run with a foot care kit and a mylar blanket. I also wanted to carry fuel and hydration so I wore a low profile backpack with that in and I also threw in extra gloves.
Lap 1 was a 5k road run through the city of Hvergerdi and then right into the 6 mile-ish actual obstacle course part of the race.  During that first lap, we got hit with a heavy rain that lasted maybe 6 hours! During this time the sun went down and we were starting out 20 hours of darkness.  Everything we had on that was able to absorb water got saturated.  After each lap we were able to pit inside a turf soccer dome which was heated so our extra gear was in a lighted area, dry, and warm.  I carried too much out on lap one and ended up needing to change everything from head to toe at a certain point.  The rain washed away any light snow that was on the ground and made the little thermal rivers we had to cross many times wider.  For example the first couple laps the rivers may have been a foot or two wide and we were able to hop skip and jump on rocks and only get minimally muddy, but as the rain kept falling we were trudging across mid-shin deep water and mud as we approached and crossed these thermal rivers that were now more than 20 feet wide.  The air temperatures were well over 30 degrees and maybe even low 40s, but due to being wet it was tough to keep our body temps up.  After the rain stopped the temperature began to drop.  All that water began to freeze and it literally became Ice-Land.  Because studded shoes, yak traks, and anything else to improve traction was outlawed for the event the new icy conditions became super challenging.  As the hours ticked away the temperature continued to drop and in the wee hours, snow began to fall and cover the ice.  It looked very pretty, but this made the ice even more slippery as now you lost visibility on where to step to avoid slipping and falling down.  As the sun rose the temps didn’t rise significantly enough to decrease the difficulty of the course.

Feet:

Looking back I have a much better idea of what to pack this year.  Studs are still outlawed so I’m just going to go with Altra Mt Kings and Altra Superiors. I had neoprene waterproof socks last year and wore them for a couple laps, but didn’t feel like they helped as water got into them from the tops and couldn’t drain.  So I ended up running in bags of water and my feet stayed wet.  I’m packing them again, but I’ll decide on putting them on after I do a lap or two. Otherwise, I’ll wear my Darn Tough crew length socks and also pack some knee high Zensah compressions too. I didn’t use gaiters last year.  I never thought during the race that I should have packed some, but this year I’ll bring some in case I decide that I want them.

Lower Body

On my legs, I will start in full-length leggings with windbreaker pants over them, but plan to wear my 3mm XCEL Long John wetsuit as the temperature drops I snagged this last minute from Wetsuitwearhouse.com.  I wore this suit at WTM 2018 and it was the most flexible wetsuit I’ve ever worn.  This suit was super flexible and was able to run for 12 hours in it with very little restriction.  I really liked the protection factor on this suit as well.  A huge overlooked challenge by all in 2017 was the fact that you were constantly falling down.  I would describe it as a boxing match and every time you fall your whole body contracts to attempt to catch your balance and brace for impact and then as you hit the ground it’s like a body blow.  The first time you might giggle and then after a few more you might feel a little tipsy, but after hours of falling down each time you hit the ground, you won’t be able to just pop up as you just want to lay there and stare up at the sky.  I’m also going to pack some McDavid Knee and Elbow pads to throw on as the night progresses so that my joints are just a little more protected.

Upper Body

I’m planning long sleeve compression and a NorthFace windbreaker with reinforced seems to start in.  I’ll also pack a fleece top to add as a layer as the night goes on in case I need an additional layer.  I’ll have a couple extra long sleeve compression tops to change into something dry if need be.  I’m also going to bring a 1mm neoprene top and a 2mm neoprene vest as an emergency core layer.

Hands:

I learned last year that if you keep your arms warm than you can literally run with no gloves and your hands will still be warm and sweating.  I will have Blegg Mitts and Neoprene gloves to wear under them though.  In Atlanta 2 weeks ago I used the neoprene gloves under the Blegg Mitts and they worked well.  When I was running my hands stayed comfortable, but when you are touching frozen surfaces, or at Iceland where you’ll be doing 100s of Burpees, your hands will get really cold really quick.  Pro Tip: If you have hand warmers you will get a greater benefit from them by putting them in your sleeve against the underside of your wrist as it warms the blood going into your hand than just holding them.  Dry gloves are far warmer than wet ones, so have a strategy to keep your gloves from getting soaked like I did in case of a crazy rain.  Last year I brought these super insulated fleece lined gloves that got soaked at the beginning of the rain and were rendered useless.

Head/Neck:

Find a waterproof or resistant winter hat.  Also, grab a buff to cover your face during the crazy wind so the snow doesn’t hurt your face and can warm the air as you breathe it in.  I also brought snowboarding googles which were great in the windy snow but sucked in the pouring rain.  Bring vaseline to smear on your cheeks, lips, and nostrils to protect against windburn.

Carrying Method:

Athletes either ran with Ultra Vests, or Hydration or SPI belts to carry fuel and hydration.  Because it’s super cold you won’t need to drink a ton of water, but if you overdress you will over sweat and you will need more fluids.  Have a plan to get warm/hot fluids/foods into you between each lap to keep your core temp up, but don’t take too long in the pit!! The soccer dome had plenty of boiling water to make hot chocolate or soup with throughout the night.

Other Gear:

Multiple Headlamps.  I like the Black Diamond Storm and have 2 of them for Iceland as well as multiple other backup lights and a small hand flashlight as an emergency if my headlamp dies while I’m out there.  Also, pack extra batteries!! Rock Tape in case you need a mid-race tape job.  Dry towel to dry off when in to change your clothes.  Bring some big garbage bags to put all your gear in post-race to get it all back to your hotel.  Lastly, you obviously need to pack a clown mask to wear in the deep dark hours to keep the spirits up.
Get to Iceland, enjoy the culture, get some pictures of the Northern Lights and be ready for a whole lotta headlamp running.

There is no DNF in a timed, looped, race.


There is no DNF in a time, looped race.

Here is how it goes.

1. The timed, looped race starts at a specific time.
2. Your job is to run for as long, and as far as you can, until the time runs out.

  • Want to take breaks? Do it!
  • Want to sleep? Do it!
  • Stop 12 hours in and go home, Cool.
  • Want to go balls out, no matter what, all through the night!?

3. The race ends at a certain time.

When the final horn goes off, whoever has the most laps in the fastest time, wins! Next highest laps in fastest time is 2nd place, next highest is 3rd, and so on. (In World’s Toughest Mudder’s case, 1209 racers)

The only way to get a Do Not Finish is to get disqualified by cheating.

Many cry  “But I stayed out all night, and that person didn’t.”

That was your choice and you got as many/more/less miles than that person, and can be happy/sad/thrilled with that result.

Follow along with me in this example:

It appears as though all of these athletes stopped well before 8:00am.

Yet, here they are listed as the 53rd-57th place. If the argument that “I stayed out all night mattered”,  their placement would show up beneath anyone that doesn’t show a finish time of at least 20 hours, or would be DNF altogether.

It means they would score lower than someone who ran one lap, slept for nearly 24 hours, then ran a morning lap. That makes no sense logically or competitively.

Age group awards are being handed out this year. Did TMHQ keep track of all the AG leaders as they come in each lap? Are they on radios, and handing out leader bibs tracking down top 3 in each age group?  I would not expect them to, and I assert, it’s time and resources better served doing other things at this event.

Seems like the official rules need some adjustment, or have a lot of angry people come awards time, or in OCR’s case, probably both.

Evolution of the Series

I’ve been knocked out from electrocution. I’ve been immersed in ice within a breath of hypothermia. I’ve been driven to my knees by a death march up the side of a mountain. In the 4 short years I’ve come to eat, sleep and breathe obstacle course racing I’ve suffered. And along the way I’ve lived life to its boundaries. Every moment has been exhilarating.

OCR seduced me with its unwavering commitment to our collective humanity. What can be more human than running, carrying heavy shit, crawling and jumping? It captivated me with its ability to shake off the chains of modern comforts and tap into my primordial instincts of survival. Most of my friends think I’m crazy or even masochistic. Those other friends who convene every weekend on courses just smile and line up again at the finish line next to me.

This sport could be called a religion if not for the fact that the necessary skills to compete predate any god. There’s been a consensus that OCR’s popularity initially exploded because it tapped into that evolutionary past. Now, as the sport matures, there are those who argue that it needs to evolve to survive. I can’t help but wonder if that thinking could be dangerous and even counter-productive.

Evolution has come with or without that debate. The popularity of American Ninja Warrior has tempted some OCR series to tap into new audiences. More and more, race directors are engineering bigger more complicated obstacles. Some so innovative, even the best in our sport have been dumbfounded at recent championship competitions by the need for a how-to manual before attempting them.

Mr. Mouse would scurry into permanent obscurity at the thought of pleasing the masses who cheer on Captain NBC. When asked to overcome some of the most recent engineering monstrosities, ancient Spartans would take one look and simply burn them down.

Make no mistake. Skill has its place in our sport. But I can’t help but wonder how many successful competitors at today’s elite events would successfully complete or even choose to participate in an original Tough Guy or survive a Death Race. Skill is worthy of praise. But courage and the will to overcome adversity should be the true measurement of an obstacle course racer and obstacle engineers should remember that. Their creations should test every human being’s ability to push past their previously conceived limitations. Circus acts are for big tents.

I confess. I’ve followed the best in our sport to bouldering walls and some of the ninja gyms that have sprung up around my city. I recognize the value of grip-strength if I want to be an all-around successful athlete. More and more though, suffering on today’s courses seems to stem from torn and bloody hands. Where is the psychological test that has us walking away feeling reborn? Pushing our limits at grip strength doesn’t compare to pushing our limits as human beings.

Don’t get me wrong the “Sufferfest” spirit is still out there. But I can’t help but worry about the future of OCR as I see it twist itself into a more marketable sport at the expense of its soul.

This was never meant to be a spectator sport. It was supposed to pull people off of couches and into the mud to reacquaint themselves with the earlier version of themselves. Tapping into the grit that’s within us isn’t just addictive. It’s also contagious and that’s why it exploded in popularity.

Call me an idealist.  But can we not evolve as a movement without abandoning our original genius insight? Our own evolution as a species was what we were trying to shake off in the first place!

 

The Last 10 Percent

Racing, as in life, is made up of so many different little parts. If you focus too much on one thing, it’s like stepping up too close to a painting. Sure, you can appreciate the brush strokes, but you’ll miss out on the whole picture. The overarching beauty of the masterpiece before you. Or maybe you are missing out on the hastily composed graffiti on the underside of a bridge. Either way.

So, here’s my approach. Do what you will with it. Embrace. Put it in your junk mail. I don’t really care. And in the end, that’s a lesson right there!

The Physical:

At the end of the day, if you want to win, or do really well, there are certain physical laws that govern you. For most endurance sports, once you have the elite “skill set”, we come into the range of aerobic capacity. In a nutshell, that’s how quickly you can move through the expected terrain at a pace that’s maintainable for 1-2 hours. Seems simple. Let’s delve a little deeper.

  • The expected terrain. If you are going to be competing on the side of a mountain, you need to be good at going up and down hills. Really good. You should probably practice that.
  • You’ll rarely find a 400m soft rubber stretch of course, where you can drop sub 60 second laps. So, why are you spending all your time on one?
  • The running portion is going to make up 70-90% of your time. Train accordingly
  • AEROBIC. Meaning with oxygen. People (especially cross-fitters) love going anaerobic. Beyond competitions that last a few minutes, they fall apart. Most OCR races are at least 45 minutes long. To train your aerobic system, you’ll need to spend lots of time at, or below your Aerobic threshold. Sorry, it’s true. This isn’t the sprinting up stairs speed. This isn’t the sexy, high-paced, dubstep ladden training montage. This is the “running through flowers, for hours” pace. Conversational. Heart rate 120-140 for most people. Get it into you!

The Coach:

If you want to self coach yourself… great. If you want to pay for a coach, also great. Make sure whoever you choose, the following always holds true:

  • Consistent progression. You should be increasing the training load by about 5% every week, with every 3rd or 4th week being an “easy” week.
  • Varied intensities. You workouts should be mostly easy, with some “really hard” stuff thrown in.
  • Tests. Every 4-8 weeks, you should have some kind of test, where you can see if you are getting any faster, or if you are just tiring yourself out.
  • Communication. You should have a relationship with whoever makes your training plan, that allows you to say “DUDE, i’m really tired, why is that?”, or lets you say “I don’t think this is working”. Your coach might need to say “suck it up, keep pushing”, or “hmmm, let’s reassess your plan”, or “maybe we need to get some blood work done.” either way, communication is paramount.
  • Your coach should be someone who is smart and who has some sort of a reputation in the industry. Ask 5 of your competitors about your coach. If they all think he’s a twat, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere… This can include you, if you are self coached! Don’t be a twat.

Spiritual

I’ve always believed that the most important facet of competition is the mental and the spiritual, not the physical. I’ve won many races that I shouldn’t have. Where the guy who finished second is a faster runner, or better at obstacles. So, what’s the big secret here? I don’t know. I’m probably wrong. But something here might help.

Your ego will build you up. This will create expectations. So, try best to let go of your ego.
“How do you do that” (Hunter M asks)? Accept that you aren’t special. If you are Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, or a Mud Running champion, at the end of the day, no one is special. We are all just on a rock, hurtling through space and time, doing our best and maybe inspiring 1 or 2 other people to do slightly better too. Sorry if you thought the earth revolved around you, but it doesn’t.

Alright, now that you have no ego, release your expectation of how you might perform relative to others. Just go out there, breathe really hard, make your legs burn and see what happens.
I’m not here to discuss theism, but really? If God exists, i’d hope that he really doesn’t care about the outcome of an athletic pursuit. I really hope….

Now also, stop caring about what other people think about your performance. You may have 10 fans, or 100,000. But most of them would be unaffected if you quit the sport tomorrow. Don’t do it for them, do it for yourself.

Putting it all together

Cool. Now that we’ve squashed all ego and all expectations of how you might do, get back to the “Physical”. Break down the course. Break down your preparation. Break down EVERYTHING that you can. This includes your breakfast. Your running form. Your technique for picking up a sandbag. Look for where you lose time relative to your competitors. Work on those weaknesses, then build it all back up. Become a student of your sport. Learn as much as you can and then apply it.

I hear you saying “But Ryan, why would I want to spend all my time doing this?”. Well, this article WAS called “The last 10%”. You can go out and get 90% of the performance right now, without doing any of this stuff. Guess what. If you learn these principles and you apply them to anything else in life, whether it’s basket weaving, organizing your pantry or designing medical implants, you WILL improve. So maybe there is a bigger lesson there. Or maybe not. meh.

Lose Weight Or Die In Vermont, An AI Story

In recent years an AI program wrote a novel that made it past the first round of a Japanese literary competition, and a new Harry Potter novel, created with the Botnik learning machine made waves in literary circles. While predictive text generators struggle with plot, dialogue, and overall sensibility, they do possess a remarkable ability to understand the underlying themes or ‘feel’ of the text they are fed.

Following is a short story about Spartan Race, courtesy of botnik and Hay Kranen text generators, and using available text from Joe De Sena’s “Spartan Up” along with Outside Magazine’s fantastic look at Joe and the farm.


He had always hated the muddy field with its smiling, slippery suffering, cold, pain. It was a place where he felt shocked.

He was a dirt drinker with soft arms and sculpted knees. His friends saw him a large leader. Once, he had even made a cup of tea for a fatigued blob. That’s the sort of man he was. I’ll elaborate on the short-circles; the great grease which perfectly proportioned the way life uses principles and builds a suffering!

Joe Desena, Spartan CEO

Joe slid over to the window for 30 days and reflected on his cold surroundings. “Why burpees?” Andy yelled from the survivors. The rain hammered the young children. “Exhaustion has them in the pond.” He laughed.

He saw wet goals in the distance. It was the figure of Spartan Race.  He was not prepared. Too easy.

Spartan stepped and came closer, firmly Joe could see the organic pools in his eye. “There’s a cabin in Vermont, but everything is stone at 4am.”

Spartan stared with the passion of 5686 tight-fisted quitters. He said, in hushed tones, “I love you and I want pain.”

Burpee Joe looked back, even more suffering and still fingering the heavy boulder. “Spartan, lose weight or die in Vermont,” he replied.

They looked at each other with tired feelings, like two concerned, comfortable losing at a very determined Wall Street Party, with Chinese music playing in the background and two smart teachers changing to the core.

Joe studied Spartan. He took an underwater breath. “Too bad,” began Joe, “Are you eating apples for 8 days long? I don’t feel the same way, and I never will.”

Spartan looked pained, his overtired emotions crawling like a substantial, sparkling spear.

Joe could hear Spartan’s emotions shatter into 705 pieces. Then the strong brute hurried away into the distance.

Not even a drink of dirt would calm his nerves tonight.

——

Rea Kolbl – To all of our family and friends: You are amazing.

A while ago my husband and I were working out in a gym, and I was in a particularly bad mood; I was hungry, tired and stressed from work, but still wanted to work out, failing at it, and taking it all out on Bun, who by then was well trained in the hangry athlete management and just patiently nodded at my glares and R-rated language. Not getting upset at me actually just made it worse, and while I felt bad I also couldn’t find a way to stop it. Then someone recognized me.

“Are you Rea?? You are amazing!!” Then, turning over to my husband, “isn’t she amazing?”

I half expected Bun to just walk away at that point, but he smiled and said, “I guess she is.”

Finish-line-hugs

No matter how hard the race is, Bun is always there for me at the finish line.  Photo credit: Bob Mulholland

But the truth is, I wasn’t amazing at that moment, and there are many like this in our daily lives. Being tired can make you moody, and being bad at planning sometimes also means I’ll be hungry, overall a bad situation for me and those around. It’s easy to smile at races, be happy during events where I’m rested, full of adrenaline, with nutrition planned (usually by Bun) to avoid hunger. It’s also easy to be amazing after a race, especially a good one. And even after bad ones, there’s always things to learn and to celebrate, hang out with friends I haven’t seen in a long while, and eat all the bananas and peanuts available at the venue.

 

But this is maybe 10% of our daily lives (fine, this year maybe 20%), but there are so many more days of hard training, involuntary sitting down (taper tantrums tend to be even worse than tired tirades), and Bun puts up with me through all of those. Even kisses me goodnight at the end of the day, no matter how many times I told him that the lack of bananas is obviously his fault, and no I refuse to eat that energy bar because the second ingredient is sugar.

 

Always-there-at-the-finish

I think staying up all night is even harder for our crew – at least we’re occupied with “one foot in front of the other”, while they patiently wait ready for us to come into the pit. Photo credit: Victor Martines

So what’s my point? I don’t know how to fix this. I know when I’m annoying, but in that moment, I can’t stop it. So I guess this is a shout-out to all of the spouses out there, all of the partners, family, and friends who see the worst of us, yet still love us, despite. Who come with us to races, stay up all night with us, or stay at home to take care of the household… and who rarely get greeted with “You are amazing!” by strangers in the gym.

Fed-by-the-crew

Without all of your help we wouldn’t even be able to feed ourselves. Photo credit: Tough Mudder

 

Because you are amazing. And we’re only here because you are here, too.