Shamrock OCR Campground-Spartanburg, SC

What is Shamrock?

There are so many beautiful things about obstacle racing. However, an abundance of training grounds is not one of them. I live in the Upstate of South Carolina, and there are hardly any places to train. The nearest ninja gym is probably four hours away, and how many other places have obstacles? My training typically consists of low elevation (because that’s all we have) trail runs and Yancy Camp in a traditional gym, with some additional runs, rock climbing, and weight lifting here and there. Although I feel like Yancy Camp has made me a lot stronger, one thing that I lack is exposure to the obstacles. Or, at least I was lacking that until I heard from a man named Donovan Brooks about Shamrock.

Who is Donovan?

Donovan Brooks–a high school English teacher in Spartanburg, is also the builder and owner of Shamrock OCR.

Now, if you are a member of various facebook groups in the South Carolina/Georgia area, you may have seen Donovan post on groups offering to come up to play. If you’re not, don’t worry, you’re still invited to play.

Donovan opens his backyard of dreams to the public on Sundays at 9:00 until 12:00, completely free of charge. I REPEAT: YOU COME HERE TO TRAIN COMPLETELY FREE OF CHARGE. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. When he reached out to me, especially once he made it clear to me that it was free, I couldn’t not go. So one Sunday I popped by a little after nine to check it out for myself.

I pulled in to Donovan’s driveway and was greeted immediately by his girlfriend, who ran over to my car with a really big smile on her face. She made sure to make me feel very welcome before I even got out of my car.

 

What do they have at Shamrock?

By the time I finally got out and ready, I got the grand tour. I noticed there were many different hand-built obstacles to choose from, including a Herc Hoist (Spartan), a multi-rig, Olympus (Spartan), the z-wall (Spartan), an 8-foot wall, and of course, a target for everyone’s favorite.. the spear throw.

He also had several pre-made obstacles that you may see including tires for tire flips, sandbags, brute force sandbags, a rope, and some spartan pancakes. All of these things were of course surrounded by a single-track trail and a nice, cool creek to jump into after the workout.

One thing that I’d like to say is that, although Donovan is not a certified SGX coach, he’s been in the OCR game for a hot minute. Basically, what I’d like to say is that Donovan knows how to handle obstacles. He is really good about showing you ways to be successful in obstacle completion, without sounding like he is better. The thing is; the obstacles that Donovan builds are actually way more challenging than they are in races. So, when it comes to race day and you’re really tired, you can man-handle these obstacles like a champ. Shoot, I even had Donovan help show me a different way to throw a spear, and I nailed it easily in my race after that!

However, you haven’t quite made it until you have completed the 300 challenge.

The 300 Challenge

Oh, God, this was one of the toughest things that I have ever done. I’m pretty sure Donovan actually does this so that he can laugh at people.

One part of OCR that is a crucial piece of training is strength training. Which means, carrying around a bunch of heavy shit. For what honestly feels like no good reason sometimes.

And, this situation is absolutely no different.

The 300 Challenge focuses on 3 different heavy carries: farmer’s carry, the bucket carry, and a sandbag. For one mile.

I would write about what it is more, but you may just have to come to find out!

What else can you do at Shamrock?

A typical day at Shamrock starts with a little trot around the property in order to get warmed up. After all, safety is important! Followed by that, we will get together and focus on an obstacle. Donovan is usually pretty good about stopping by and showing us around, or, if we are working toward getting through certain obstacles more efficiently, we will discuss form and technique. We’ll spend some time working on the obstacle together.

Followed by this is a workout. Donovan will use the obstacles that are there and try to incorporate them the best he can. One thing that they like to use is called the Warrior Board Game. We’ll play either as a team or solo, and he will replace come of the commands with completing obstacles. Of course, no OCR preparation would be complete without an obscene amount of burpees, too!

 

 

Once the main set is complete, it’ll be time to revisit that obstacle from before, or, a different obstacle. After all, you’re not going to hit obstacles while you are feeling fresh. You shouldn’t train that way either.

Oh yeah, did I mention that he has a creek behind all of this? You know what that means?

Yes-you guessed it, you may as well bring flip flops because there is a perfect opportunity to take a little ice bath right there! For free! In nature! WITH FRIENDS! It does not get much better than that.

Of course, Donovan also does not mind if you just want to come and play on obstacles.

My thoughts…

The biggest thing that I have enjoyed about Shamrock has been the community. Most of the people who attend are just people looking to make themselves better. Sure, there is some friendly competition, but most of it is that we cheer each other on, even when we really are not feeling like moving forward. Everyone is very positive, and I know that is the atmosphere that I look to be a part of. Going to Shamrock each week really is one of the highlights of my weekends!

So, if you enjoyed what you read, please keep an eye out for one of our posts on Facebook, so that you may join us one Sunday also!

Ultra-Running or Endurance OCR? Who are You?

Seems like ultra-running and endurance OCR attract the same athletes.  But who are they really?  What does it take to tackle the Barkley like Amelia Boone or the Vol State like Rob Greer?  I caught up with my friend Kate Sidoli-Crane to find out what makes her tick through races like the Infinitus 88K.

  1. What is your secret to winning races?

I promise you, I have learned everything I know is by making mistakes and learning from them.

The Secret to winning an Ultra is patience, discipline, and self-confidence.  These are long races, often times you might see people start out really fast, be sure to stay in your own discipline. It’s tempting to get caught up in the excitement at the start of the race, but trust in your training, and run your own race. Believe in your strengths and remind yourself every step of the way. Even if you have to drop back and let a few people pass you, IT’S OK! It’s better in the grand scheme than to try and maintain a speed that may hurt you in the end. There is plenty of time to make up ground, rather than risk burning yourself out too early in the race. Your own self-confidence can carry you further than you could ever imagine. know what you’re good at, exploit it, and feed off of it.

Also, an important element is not putting pressure on myself, where I feel like I need to win. I started this journey many years ago for fun and enjoyment, and it’s very important for me to preserve that. I would never want to take the fun out of racing.  These can be the most fun and challenging adventures, and I feel blessed to have these experiences in my life.

  1. What are your training methods and prep for a race like Palmerton?

I would concentrate on weighted runs alternating use of a ruck, #50lb wreck bag, and sometimes even just adding a weighted vest to normal runs is very helpful to acclimate your cardio to some of the climbs.

Besides the regular strength training, I have also incorporated some other methods like a mile of lunges, or if you really want some fun times, 1 mile of burpees (which was approximately 760 burpees).

The strategy behind these methods more revolves around the mental aspect rather than physical. It’s about getting uncomfortable, and getting through these ominous tasks rather than the physical ability to do 760 burpees or lunge for a mile.

  1. What is your race strategy? Do you walk the hills and run in the flats and downhill?

At the beginning of every season, I’ll choose my  ‘A’ races that I would like to do well in, then build my schedule around those races. Using other races for the majority of my training.

I usually set a plan in my mind based either what I know of the course or previous experience. For example, I always look to see how far apart aid stations are placed and use them as a gauge for how long I think I can run before I will need to stop.

For hills, I will try and run the early hills (if possible), then plan on walking as needed further into the race to preserve energy & muscle endurance.

Downhills always depend on the terrain, they can be deceptively tricky. I will go as fast as possible, but if its technical, or slippery I would rather err on the side of caution, and find other ways to make up time.

  1. How do you train differently for endurance races vs. shorter races?

Most of my training for the past few years has revolved around endurance racing. With longer races, I have worked mostly on maintaining a decent pace for long periods of time.

Whereas, shorter races, require you have to practice more speed work.

The key to both is training your body to recovery very quickly.

  1. What are your pre-race meals, hydration plans, and during the race what do you eat and drink? What are your supplements?

Pre-race meals a few days before are the same things I normally eat; like chicken, with vegetables, eggs and brown rice or sweet potatoes. I may just increase the frequency of meals.

On race mornings, I always eat the same breakfast, 2 packets of plain oatmeal, banana, and coconut water with amino acids.

During races, I use mostly Hammer Nutrition products, specifically the gels, and use Heed or Perpetuem in my soft flasks, and plain water in my bladder in my vest.

At aid stations, what works best for me is generally electrolytes, potatoes, bananas, PB&J, and oranges.

Post-race, I immediately drink Hammer Recoverite, to aid in muscle recovery, and use Tissue Rejuvenator for the weeks following, to aid in maintenance and repair as well.

Compare Kate’s nutrition to Ryan Atkins and Rea Kolbl.

  1. Who is your trainer and who else have you used in the past? Compare and contrast their methods relative to your success.

In the past, I began participating in training and weekly classes with Chad Mason from ABF Mudrun, which quickly became my home for years.  Unfortunately, ABF no longer offers training, but it will always hold a special place in my heart of gratitude. That was the foundation of the skills & core values of extremely hard work that I needed to embrace to start racing in a more competitive manner. I have always been mainly focused on being a hybrid athlete, I didn’t want to be just good at running or obstacles…..I wanted to be able to hold my own in any race, event, or challenge.

I don’t have one trainer right now, I mostly work out in small group training environments using a few different programs. I prefer to take advantage of different styles and perspectives on training to enhance the benefits for myself.

And interestingly enough, I have never had a run coach, so whatever good or bad habits I have developed are all on me. Everything I have learned about running has come from my own experiences and instinct.

  1. What other training plans and trainers do you consult and what are you looking for?

I don’t use any specific training plans, more often I am looking for people/groups to train with, just to go out and have some fun, run in the mountains, or go enjoy the outdoors.

  1. Who or what is your competition and why?

I am always my biggest competitor, I never stop trying to push my own limits. My success and failures lie solely within myself.

  1. You won first at the Vernon Beast last year then disappeared from OCR and went into ultra-running? Why the change?

I called this my involuntary retirement from OCR. In 2017, I fractured my shoulder, tore my labrum, and separated my collarbone. In order to maintain my sanity, I looked for other events during my healing process. Also, at the same time, one of my friends and fellow mountain goats moved on from OCR and began doing more endurance events…. so it was almost perfect timing. We just continued on and found different events to participate in. I have the same amount of passion for endurance racing as I did for OCR, if not more.

  1. Who do you look up to in OCR and running?

I really don’t have one individual, it’s more about the support system of people around me that that I look to for guidance and appreciate. They have truly helped me more than I could ever express, they have given me an immeasurable amount of love, support, and loyalty. We are all fighting our own internal demons or battles, whether in life, work, school, racing, etc…we have all been there…. we have all wanted to quit, but you just have to keep moving forward. The support system you build around you helps you hang in there during the lows, and remind you that the grind will be worth it in the end.

  1. Any chance you’ll go up against Amelia or Faye?

Probably not in OCR, but it would be super fun to see them on an Ultra course. They are amazing athletes, and I have the utmost respect for them and what they have accomplished.

  1. What do you consider your greatest achievement so far and what is the Holy Grail you are after?

In June 2018, I ran the Infinitus 88K in Vermont, I was nervous going into it because I don’t get a lot of opportunities to train for elevation (living in South Jersey is only good for sand! lol), so I was relying mostly on strength training and very fearful I would come up short.

I placed 1st in Female with a time of 11:10 and 2nd Overall, but I wasn’t done yet…..

The very following weekend, I was signed up for the North Face Massachusetts 50 miler. My goal was to complete back-to-back 50-mile races. Per North Face spokesman Dean Karnazes, it is the most challenging course in the series. I ran North Face MA in 2017, and it was a very difficult and technical course, so I knew, this was going to test me mentally and physically. I ended up exceeding my own expectations and placing in the Top 10 female at #8 with a time of 11:26.

I don’t have a particular holy grail. In reality, I would just want to continue on my own racing adventures and experience new things, beautiful places, push limits and achieve what seems impossible at times.

  1. What are your thoughts on the weekenders who just show up without adequate training, perhaps to do a big race just as a bucket list?

I love the weekenders, I think it’s great for people to get out there and enjoy themselves. Not everyone has the same goals, expectations, or the time to dedicate to training as much as they would like.

I encourage everyone to get out there and experience the joys of racing. It’s exceptional to overcome the challenges with friends and loved ones and build those bonds, even if you’re racing by yourself and meeting new people along the way.

  1. How would your plans and preps change as you age? Any difference between male and female?

I really don’t see a difference between male and female, I think it’s all on an individual basis rather than gender.

Nothing has really changed as far as plans or prep on the front end, the biggest change for me is the recovery after races. Years ago, I would return to my normal workout routine the next day, with little or no recovery time.

Currently, I still continue with my workouts the following day after a race, but now I allow more of a grace period before I return to strenuous activity, more specifically strength training.

You learn from your mistakes, and early on this race season, I went right into strength training after a particularly difficult race. Well, my turned out my muscles were too fatigued to lift properly and I ended up causing a minor injury to my lower back, that nagged me and took a while to heal. I considered that a fair warning.

  1. Women’s’ times and performance are pretty much on par with men’s in OCR. What are your thoughts on how the race can or should be modified to make things equal or kept separate?

There is no need to change or modify the current standards. There will always be a disparity between the men and women just based on genetics, and I don’t see anything wrong with it.

  1. What attracted you to ultra-running?

Ultrarunning was a gradual process for me. I began working my way up to longer distances, and more challenging events. From there I felt like I had the potential to accomplish more each time. With an open mind, growing self-confidence, and a few bad ideas from friends, you never know what you will get talked into to.

  1. What is your dream race? What destination races would you like to compete in anywhere in the world and why?

I haven’t decided where I want to go from here in regards to distance. The longest race I have done to date is 62 miles. If I want to continue on, and compete in longer distances, I will need to seek some guidance and advice on training and race strategies. I feel like my current race style right now would need some modification to allow for better time, energy and nutritional management.

In 2019, I would like to venture out west and get the opportunity to experience the beautiful scenery

In 2020, I am hoping to be selected in the lottery for the Georgia Death Race.

  1. Do you train solo, team, partner, other, depends? Why?

I mostly train solo, just based on my own availability and limitations.

Working out and training for me is an important social aspect of my life, I do always look forward to training with my local groups of friends, or getting together with my Ultra friends for some training and debauchery in the mountains.

  1. How many miles and hours per week do you devote to training? How do you taper?  How do you recover after training and after a race?

I train up to 3-4 hours a day 7 days a week. In the morning and after work. I use a wide variety of methods because I think diversity plays a large role in my success, and it keeps me entertained, whether it’s strength training, cardio, running, rucking, spinning, kickboxing, or functional fitness training.

I do long runs once per week, depending on where I am running determines the mileage. If I’m running trails, I could run up to 30 miles, but if I am running roads I max at 16 miles. Not a huge fan of road miles, too much impact on the body.

The week of my races, I begin to taper. My schedule Mon-Weds will normally remain the same, but just modifying workouts with more body weight exercises, and modified lighter weights.

  1. What makes you uncomfortable in training and racing?

I have issues with cold weather racing. I have a rather advanced case of Renault’s Disease in both of my hands. It is a vascular disease that affects the arteries that supply blood to your skin. The blood vessels narrow in cold temperatures, which can be very painful or cause numbness. It can mimic the symptoms of severe frostbite. Once, it sets in, not only is it very painful, I lose the functionality of my hands. For example; I can’t tie my shoes, open a simple gel packet, get a nutrition bar, etc…. it’s a very helpless feeling knowing if I need anything I have to find someone to help me.

  1. How do you defeat the mental demons?

So mental demons are much more powerful than any physical ailment I have ever experienced. The absolute best way to defeat them is to concentrate on the positive things during races. More often than not, people will be consumed with the difficult parts, don’t obsess about it. I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to fixate on the positive; like when you get to the top and catch your breath and feel good again, remind yourself about those moments. When you are struggling, take a sip of water, eat something, regroup…get your life together. It won’t last, it will pass and you will be ok.

Those demons are looking for any way to infiltrate your thoughts and convince you to quit…..don’t give them that opportunity. My favorite pastime is also to talk to the volunteers, runners, photographers, spectators, anyone.

Smile, laugh, talk…these simple tactics help keep your mind off of the negative space.

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)

 

OCR Training with Leaderboard: Trading My Bikini Gig For Running and Rigs

My Last Pro Show of 2017

At the beginning of the year, I began to plan out my race season. Typically this would involve the Peachtree Road Race (the only road race I enjoy) and some other trail runs scattered throughout the year. However, as I embarked on a new adventure in obstacle course racing, I quickly found myself lost.

As a former pro bikini competitor, I thought my traditional workouts mixed with some runs throughout the week would suffice. Once I realized the types of skill I would need and began to add that to my plate, I started to notice that my recovery was not what it once was and honestly I began to wonder if it had something to do with my age (yikes!).

During my podcast interview with Matt B. Davis on Obstacle Racing Media Podcast, he mentioned Hunter McIntyre and at the time, I am ashamed to say, I had no idea who he was. Matt told me to reach out to him on IG for pointers and I did. I was blown away by his kindness and willingness to help. If you know Hunter, even through his social media, you know he is quite the character, but under all that craziness is a guy who is super passionate about helping people as much as he is about winning races.

After our chat, I realized that bodybuilding mixed with some running and grip work was not going to cut it. I started researching OCR training and tips, but still felt lost, so I talked to Hunter once again after hearing he and Brakken Kraker on the ORM podcast discussing their online training platform for athletes. Enter Leaderboard.

There are 8 different paths on Leaderboard, each designed to prepare you for your course preference or OCR specific skills. There is everything from a short course path for those athletes who race shorter distances, like TMX, an ultra path for endurance athletes, Hunter’s Biceps Win Races (BWR) line up, and more. I am on the BWR AD program, where I receive daily WODs with personalized RX and pacing AND mobility WODs. Mobility was something I never had much focus on prior to LB.

Heavy Carry Practice

Heavy Carry Practice

After each WOD I complete, I record my results and can see how I stack up compared to the rest of the community that is on the same path, hence the name Leaderboard. I was super intimidated at first by these scores, but the entire community of athletes on LB is so supportive that it really pushed me even harder. When I would feel discouraged by my scores because let’s face it, I am a total newb, and didn’t exactly light up the leaderboard, I would receive comments congratulating me or telling me how quickly I would improve. Take a guess at how many bikini competitors make it a point to genuinely encourage one another – not many.

The coaches have also been super encouraging and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to get tips and tricks from coaches that are pros in the sport! As a fitness coach and former bikini competition coach, I know how valuable this is. The best part of LB is the communication forum curated by the LB Coaches.

As a new OCR athlete, I had tons of questions and really just dove into the training and pushed through even when fatigued. The coaches guided me through some of the rough spots and even had me back off a bit instead of pushing through like you do in bodybuilding. Don’t get me wrong, they never told me to be lazy, but they wanted me fully recovered and getting in quality workouts even if that meant scaling down for efficiency.

I ended up tweaking something in my hip due to my poor running mechanics (I’ll save this one for another post) and ALL of the LB coaches checked on my issues and made sure that I had particular mobility WODs to perform aside from the ones already assigned in LB. In addition, they routinely checked in to ensure that it was I was getting better and was in a healthy place to be able to run my first race. This is something that I had never experienced before. Former coaches that I have had would make me feel like I needed to work harder or grind more and give the “how bad do you want it” speech over and over when something happened. My experience with LB coaches can be boiled down to if you want it bad enough, you have to be able to distinguish between quality and quantity.

The community I have found in LB is truly inspiring. Not only do I have accountability, I have support from people all over the world who are going through the same thing with me at their own pace and skill level. Did I mention that I have that without having to leave my home gym? I was worried I would need a fancy (aka expensive) membership to have access to the equipment I needed, but aside from buying a super affordable sandbag, I had everything I needed in my garage gym. If something came up on the WOD that I didn’t have, there was always a substitute exercise with common equipment to perform and trying to figure that on my own with other OCR workouts was frustrating. As a mom, I really appreciate that I can workout on my own time, in my own gym, with my own equipment, so that I can still train like a badass without missing precious family time. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

As I am writing this, I am 3 days away from my first OCR race of the season. I wasn’t supposed to race until the Georgia Spring Savage, but I had the opportunity to race in the Talladega Bonefrog and didn’t want to pass it up. The coaches reached out to meet to make sure I was feeling up to it with my hip issues and tailored my race week taper to ensure that I was well rested and ready to go for Saturday.

One thing that I wish I had worked on a little more during the past couple of months as I trained for these two upcoming races is my grip. The majority of work in the WODs do include lifts and exercises that require grip strength, but as a total new OCR athlete starting from ground zero, I probably needed a little more.

I did reach out to the coaches at LB and told them I think I could use more and low and behold, they gave me some tailored Grip work to do. Moral of the story is communication! I wish I had communicated my weakness in grip before, but I had been working on it a bit aside from LB but should have used the professional resources at my disposal (insert facepalm here). Lesson learned.

The great thing is that I have plenty of races this season to see how much I improve so I will be able to really see how I do this weekend with only a couple of months of training under LB and see how that translates on race day as compared to when I first started. To me, there is nothing more important than seeing the training translate to performance but the goal is just to have fun. So let’s see how I feel after my first OCR!

 

Whether you are new to OCR or a seasoned OCR athlete who has hit a plateau, head over to leaderboardfit.com to push your training to the next level.

Why My Wetsuit Played A Huge Role At World’s Toughest Mudder

There is something about a 24-hour race that you can never fully be prepared for. I could train harder, run faster, complete more pull-ups, and carry heavier things, but that doesn’t guarantee anything at World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). Training is imperative to success, but there is a limit to what your physical prowess can provide. There are moments when you have to rely on our emotional and psychological strength to push you through, but even that gets tapped out at a certain point. Just like any race, there is utmost importance to prepare physically and psychologically, but unlike other races, gear plays an essential role in this 24-hour grind.

 

Coming into WTM for the fourth time, I knew what to expect, but there is only so much that prepares you for 24 hours of the unknown. Unlike previous years, I was competing in the Team Relay competition instead of the individual category. This would throw in a whole new dynamic to the once familiar race. Instead of slowly grinding my way throughout the race, I was tasked with racing hard for a short time and then stopping.

Here was the plan, start the race as a four-man team and then alternate two people every lap, minimizing pit time, until the wheels fell off. I was hoping that faster laps would allow me to wear a thinner wetsuit than previous years, knowing full well that things can go downhill quickly. I prepared my usual gauntlet of wetsuits and layers just in case. The plan was to start off in shorts and a t-shirt.
Once the sun went down, I switched into long compression gear. Then the Blegg Mitts and a windbreaker came on for a little more warmth. I knew that temperatures would quickly drop and more water obstacles at night meant that we would be cold and wet for the duration of the race. During previous years I wore full wetsuits ranging from 3/2mm to 5/3mm, often making it difficult to move. The relay calls for quicker laps, so I needed something that was warm enough, but less constricting than a full wetsuit. The plan was to use the Hyperflex VYRL 2.5mm Shorty Springsuit with a front chest zip and the 2.5mm Neosport Wetsuit Cap with an adjustable chinstrap from Wetsuit Wearhouse.

I wish I had more to tell you, but the truth is, this combination worked like a charm. Every lap, my teammate and I would start our lap in cold, wet gear. Putting those cold clothes on every lap added a whole new dimension of suck to WTM. Less than a mile into the lap, my body would warm up and it was off to the races. While the water temperature threw a wrench into many people’s plans, my layered outfit was perfect for staying warm on-course. When we finished a lap, we would quickly strip out of our wet clothes, throw on something warm, and try to recover for the next lap. While it would have been nice to have two wetsuits that I could alternate, this was a small wrinkle in the scheme of things. Plus, this is WORLD”S TOUGHEST MUDDER. It isn’t easy. While it was hard putting on wet clothes as we prepared for another lap, it didn’t rival the psychological ups and downs of the relay format.

All in all, it was a tough race. Starting and stopping throughout the night was a whole new challenge that I have never experienced. I was forced to stay loose while trying to recover in time for my next effort. My laps felt like an all-out sprint at times and it gave me a whole new experience at WTM. Our team managed to finish 2nd overall in the Team Relay category and I am so proud of my teammates and pit crew for helping us along the way. While Atlanta will bring a whole new challenge to WTM, I can only speculate that people will underestimate the conditions and forgo bringing a wetsuit. Don’t be one of those people. World’s Toughest Mudder is a race of unknowns, so always be prepared. I can’t wait to see all you crazies out there!

Planning and Training for World’s Toughest Mudder Success

World’s Toughest Mudder is a BIG THING. You can’t just show up and wing it. Success at WTM demands both careful planning and intelligent training, which is what this series will be about. Before submitting these articles, I thought I’d ask a guy I know what he considers to be the optimal way of approaching WTM. The good news is that his approach and mine were essentially the same. The bad news is that he was super concise, so I’m here to expand on it and flesh it out into usable tools and guidelines. Oh yeah, here’s what he said:

Think through every possible detail/angle carefully, practice it, then systematically kick ass. – Ryan Atkins


PLANNING


I am not one for clichés, but I can’t put it any better than these, so here is a short list of planning clichés :

  • If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” – a bunch of memes
  • No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” – Helmut von Moltke
  • “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson
  • Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

When your plans meet the real WTM, the real WTM wins. Few things go exactly as planned. Mistaken assumptions chow down on your asses. The most brilliant plan loses touch with reality, and if you’re not careful you’ll follow it down the crapper.

World's-Toughest-Mudder-Planning-Invaders

OK, what’s the deal, Dobos? To paraphrase Hamlet: “to plan or not to plan, that is the question.” Well, the answer is a qualified “yes.” DO absolutely definitely plan thoroughly, but DO NOT place absolute reliance on your plan. Accept that your beautiful plan will start falling apart at some point during the event, likely much sooner and in more and shittier ways than you had anticipated. Make sure you are mentally and physically prepared for “plan B”, “plan C”, or just going into survival mode. Reality will not yield to your plans, so you must adapt to the actual circumstances at hand.

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The first step to planning is to understand as much as possible of what will go down in Atlanta next year at WTM. Do all the obvious things: watch videos of past WTMs, read race reports, go to WTM groups and pages online, look over maps of past WTM courses, etc. That will give you a good idea of what challenges will be presented to you. The other big thing you need to understand is exactly what you will be bringing to the show. Where is your fitness now? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How much improvement can you realistically expect in those by the time Atlanta rolls around? (That last refers to TRAINING, which I’ll come to later in this series)

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As you can see, it’s very, VERY easy to get hopelessly buried in details, so you need to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Try to group things together into categories of challenges that you need to overcome for success.

The challenges presented by WTM can be boiled down to 3 big ones:
1. dealing with the cold and wet conditions

2. being on your feet and moving for 24 hours

3. completing as many obstacles as efficiently as possible

I have cleverly triaged those challenges in order of importance: 1 is to survive, 2 is to complete, and 3 is to perform. Number 1 can end your race prematurely. It has done so time and again, to rookies and veterans and elite racers. It is the first thing you need to figure out how to deal with because without it the rest of your grand plans are just so much fantasy.

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WTM Challenge #1: The Horrible Laws of Thermodynamics

Regardless of where and when WTM is held, it’s always cold. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check and monitor the weather forecast as race-day approaches, but don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security. Every single person at WTM this year – racers AND crew – knew that the single biggest challenge, the #1 reason for DNFs, was going to be cold. Just like it was last year and the year before, and so onto into the mists of prehistory. However, knowing the problem is only half the problem. You need a solution or, preferably, several solutions.

Problem: you’re cold
Solution: dress warmly, with layers and stuff. No problem, right?

Well…not exactly. The other thing every single person knew was that you would be wet for pretty much the last 22 hours or so. Therefore that bitchin’ fleece hoodie you got yourself, far from keeping you warm, will be worse than useless once it’s soaked. That’s why you see almost everyone wearing wet-suits from late afternoon through to well after sunrise.

Problems: you’re cold and wet
Solution: get a wet-suit. Problem solved, right?

Nope. We need to understand the basics of heat transfer, and exactly what clothing can and cannot do for you. Time for a thought experiment…

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Take 4 identical water bottles. Fill 2 of them with cold water, and 2 of them with hot water. Now go dig up the toastiest sleeping bag you have. Bring out that 800 fill -40C rated monster, the one that has you sweating inside of 12 seconds if you dare crawl into it in anything warmer than -20 conditions. If you don’t have one, borrow from a friend.

Place one cold water bottle inside the sleeping bag way down at the foot end of the bag. Place a hot bottle up near the head end of the bag. Place the other 2 bottles a fair distance apart on the floor outside the sleeping bag. BTW, this is happening in your living room, so the ambient temp is around 22C. Go re-watch 2 hours of your fave WTM coverage, then come back and check the temperatures of the water in the bottles. What do you think you’ll find?

<Spoiler Alert>Let’s start with the easy ones: outside the sleeping bag. Both of those should be pretty close to room temperature. Heat always travels from warmer to colder, so the hot bottle will have lost heat to the room, while the cold one will have absorbed heat from the room. Both bottles will be around 22C. Easy peasy. Now, what about the sleeping bag?

At first blush, it’s tempting to assume that the ones that were in the insanely warm sleeping bag would be warmed up. Sadly, first blush is dead wrong in this case. What you’d actually find is that the cold one stayed quite cold – much colder than room temperature – and the hot one stayed quite hot – much warmer than room temperature. This is because a sleeping bag is simply a thermal insulator. It neither heats nor cools, it simply insulates whatever is inside it from whatever is outside.

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Clothing, including wet-suits, are the same: they generate exactly 0 heat. None. Zilch. Bupkus. SFA. If you’re freezing and throw on a 20mm wet-suit with a dryrobe over top, it will NOT warm you up. At least, not quickly enough.

At this point, you may be asking “why wear anything at all?” Well, the reason wearing insulating clothing works is because your body is constantly generating heat. Even if you’re curled up in the fetal position in your crew tent, your body is still generating heat because it needs to keep things at around body temperature in order to function properly. In the above scenario, you will slowly warm up as the heat generated by your basal metabolic rate gets trapped inside the dryrobe/wet-suit combo until you eventually get toasty warm. You need to know how to speed this process up, so keep reading.

There are several ways to warm yourself up much faster. The most enjoyable one is called “shared body warmth”, and all I’ll say about it is that you had better know your crew very, very well. The most effective strategy when you are in your pit is to ingest something hot, like a bowl of hot oatmeal or steaming cups of coffee or soup. The next pit tactic is to pour hot (not scalding – be careful) liquid into your wetsuit. The most important way may be less obvious, but it is the most critical because you can do it throughout the event: MOVE.

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The only way you can move is through your muscles doing work. Human physiology is laughably inefficient, and most of the feeble trickle of chemical energy that we manage to generate in order to move gets wasted as heat. This heat builds up until your core temperature starts to get too high, and your body starts dumping it by pumping blood (essentially like radiator fluid in this scenario) out to your skin and limbs. Your clothing traps some of this heat, creating a progressively warmer micro-environment right next to your body surface and voila: you warm up!

Your body knows this even if you don’t, and has come up with a fantastically inefficient pattern of muscle contractions to cope with cold stress. Inefficient at moving, but super-awesome at generating heat. It’s called shivering. Shivering is ok, but it’s exhausting and makes things like Operation hilariously impossible. Your goal is to spend muscular energy moving forward, not jittering madly in place, so work on moving forward as hard as you can. Conversely, if you know that you’ll be forced to go slowly, whether from exhaustion or injury, then dress more warmly.

Even with all of the above dialed in, there is still a big make-or-break challenge related to overcoming the wet coldness: the wetsuit. The next (much shorter) article will delve into the hows and whys and dos and don’ts of WTM wetsuits.

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