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.

Hammer Race Fall 2018 – Hammers and Hills and Tires, Oh My!

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Hammer_Kilt

For those of you who don’t know Hammer Race is a beloved local Minnesota 10k OCR that requires each runner to carry an 8lb or heavier sledge hammer through some of the Midwest’s toughest terrain.  If you know me you know that I’m a rig guy, I love monkey bars and rope climbs.  Bucket carries and Atlas stones are my worst enemies, so it took some convincing to get me to this race where 90% of all the obstacles were strength based but I saw it as an opportunity to work on a weakness and have some fun.  After all according to the Hammer Race finisher shirt “Weakness is a Choice” but not a choice I nor any other Hammer racer would make.

 

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_T-Shirt

 

So you think the Midwest is flat?

Nope!  We may not have mountains but we do have some pretty amazing hills.  Over the 10K course, my GPS recorded 1,400 ft of vertical gain and descent with a maximum grade of 77%, and that crazy steepness was seen climbing, descending and even traversing across for one section.

A Sufferfest

The race started with a short quarter mile run up to a tire flip with various sized tractor tires all filled with water from the previous day’s rain. 10 flips later it was another short quarter mile to another heavy flip.  This time it was 200+ lb railroad ties for two flips.  2 brutal obstacles within the first half mile of the race, this was going to be a sufferfest.  A quarter mile later and we were in the woods facing the first steep hill 150 ft up and then right back down, hammer in hand.

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Tire_Carry

The obstacles became a blur in my mind, each one coming right after I thought I had recovered my strength from the last obstacle or brutal hill.  There were many “Bangers” with a cut piece of railroad tie or sometimes a tire you had to smack with your hammer down and back a certain distance.  Your hammer was used on almost all obstacles either as a smashing tool or handle to drag or carry some heavy object.

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Carry

For the elite “Burden Carry” you had to carry a piece of railroad tie as well as your hammer up and down a hill. The suffering was intense and the last half of the course while not as obstacle dense was loaded with constant ups and downs on steep ravines.  The course ended with the only two non-strength or crawl based obstacles.  A traverse wall with hammer holds and a final wall without your hammer

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Traverse

Having fun through the suffering

Knowing that this race was going to be a test of my physical strength and mental fortitude I knew I needed to do something that would add some fun to the suffering.  I decided to put on my best warrior gear and wear a kilt because what is more fitting to wear while running through the woods with a giant hammer than a badass kilt?  After a bit of research I found a “running kilt” by JWalking Designs that was made of recycled plastic bottles (basically your typical stretchy performance polyester) It was super lightweight and didn’t slow me down in the least, while attracting plenty of compliments and imbuing me with the strength of my Scottish ancestors, which was greatly needed for the tasks at hand.

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Yoda

Other people were also having fun with this brutal race like this force-wielding gentleman who decided to carry his Jedi master through the course with him.

Conclusion

This was by far the hardest race I have ever done.  It pushed my physical and mental fortitude to the limit.  If you want to improve your heavy carry skills/strength, or you are just a masochistic glutton for punishment, put this race on your calendar.  If you are looking to have fun or increase your manliness without sacrificing speed or comfort get yourself a kilt.

 

 

Photos courtesy of; Rick Aske, Justin Smith, David Razidlo
Kilt courtesy of JWalking Designs

Spartan Beast Windsor 2018

This review may be my last. Spartan Beast Windsor has potentially sent me into early retirement.

On a rainy, miserable Saturday morning, me and my brother Dai, made the lengthy journey to Windsor. Before I had even set foot on the Spartan site, I was wet. I’d had a headache and so decided to take some tablets but as I tried to swallow a big gulp of water, Dai made me laugh and I spat it out all over the steering wheel and myself. Much to his amusement, but to my distress.

On our arrival, the entrance to the site was a little problematic. The road was still more congested than desired but was a shorter wait than last year. Parking was good as there was plenty of space in the field. I do, however, still think that parking should be in the cost of the race entry. An extra £5 doesn’t seem much, but on top of travel, entry and any other onsite expenditures, I think it’s a bit steep.

Registration was very simple and easy and the volunteers were very helpful. There was no queue which meant as little time in the rain as possible (she says knowing that it would have made no difference. The whole race was out in the rain.)

Bag drop was great and fast and the volunteers were very attentive even whilst I was rushing and fumbling around to get everything in my bag in time to get on the next heat. I must have looked like a mad woman.

For us, this race was bittersweet. It was the last in the season but as of yet, we haven’t been able to complete our trifecta. Part of this is because, for some reason, all the Sprints are on a Sunday! We even went all the way to Amsterdam to take part in the Spartan Sprint as it was on a Saturday but a week or so before the race it was canceled. Hint, hint Spartan.

Anyway, on to the race. AROO, AROO, AROO. We were pumped and ready to take on this literal beast of a race. We both we wore Macmillan green in honour of our Grandfather, Wynford Seymour. We have managed to raise £160 so far and if you would like to donate, please click here.

Within the first 5 minutes, there was a backlog. I don’t think it was a great idea to have made a ‘single track’ route so quickly. Too many people were itching to get past but there simply was not enough room. Once this opened out, we were off and I could really enjoy the trail run through the woods.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of every single obstacle.

1) It would simply take too long.

2) I actually have repressed most of them because they were evil.

In all seriousness, thinking back to the race whilst driving home, I honestly couldn’t remember half of what we had just done. Exhausted body, exhausted mind. And to think, some crazy Spartans had done the Sprint, Super, and Beast that weekend. I just can’t.

But, having said that, there were some really fun obstacles and sections of trail running. I think that the setting of this Spartan compared to Aston Down is what really makes the difference. I LOVE running through the woods. Aston kills you with hills and Windsor kills you with mud but I’ll take mud any day of the week.

Grip was next to impossible on Twister, Monkey Bars, and Tyrolean Traverse. My brother had even decided to purchase some OCR approved gardening gloves but the constant rain and mud were no match for our fake green fingers. Kudos to those that had the grip of a monkey and effortlessly made these obstacles look easy.

 

The bucket carry was far more manageable this time around and I even remember saying to my brother “I actually enjoyed that” I know, I’m crazy. Some ingenious sandbag carries made the difficult race a little funnier and lifted some soggy spirits. Sometimes, balancing the bag on your head is the only way to conserve arm strength and simultaneously look like Toad from Mario.

The middle of the race was sort of a blur of trails and wading through mud. It probably also consisted of me pointing out the obvious fact that it was STILL raining.

Mud. I like mud. On our way home, Dai called my brother Glenn and they discussed the difference in the mud between the Calgary Sprint and the Windsor Beast. Seriously. You’ll only understand the necessity for this sort of conversation if you have ever done a Spartan race. Windsor certainly had its fair share of gloopy ‘shoe sucking’ mud along with the ‘to your waist’ ponds of liquid dirt. Both of which provided some great entertainment on the route. Obviously, Spartan racer etiquette demands that you only laugh once you’re sure they haven’t broken an ankle.

 

I’m not sure whether it was my physical condition at this point of the race, but Herc Hoist and the Atlas Stone Carry was significantly harder than before. I had always managed to complete Herc Hoist on my own but this year, volunteers were requesting that people work in pairs. And I’m so glad that I did.

Water and food stops are a must but I felt that more variation at stops was needed. In previous races, there has been bananas and other snacks. This race was jelly babies and dolly mixture. Personally, I’m not a fan of sweets but each to their own.  I didn’t, however, think that there were enough water stops.

My only real problem with this race was the lack of photographers. In one way, I was glad that I didn’t get many pictures (I looked like death most of the way around), but I did feel like considering the length of the race, there needed to be more points where photos were taken. In total, I had two pictures from the Tyre carry and a very dark fire jump photo. I did, however, have massive respect for those photographers who sat out in the rain all day.

The most frustrating part of this race, for me, was the fact that there were things I knew my body could do, but because of the cold, I just physically and mentally couldn’t. My hands were frozen, and when it came to the Rope Wall, I couldn’t make it to the top. The volunteers at this obstacles were incredible as well as the other racers who helped a shivering, exhausted (crying) girl over the top. A quick walk over to the Spear Throw and knee and leg cramps were rampant. At this point, the finish line was all I wanted and it was still so far away. I am aware, before anyone says, that it wasn’t far away. In fact, I could see it right in front of me. But I was being over dramatic and I’m allowed.

I hear that women forget the pain of childbirth once their baby has been born, this is how I felt about the Beast. I remember feeling completely ruined the last time I raced, but for some reason, I signed up again. For myself, I feel like the preparation for each Spartan race is SO different and really, you can race for fun, but these races are HARD. They are meant to test your strength and endurance and, to really not feel like a defeated mess at the end, it’s important to PREPARE.

It is important to also remember that conditions affect everything. I think that I would have done so much better in this race if the weather was not so poor. Well, that’s my excuse anyway.

Highlander Assault 2018

Upgraded and beefed up is the best way to describe year 2 of the Highlander Assault. Held on October 6th in Holiday Hills, Illinois the Scottish themed event featured 4 different race lengths: Open class 4-mile, Open class 8-mile, Elite class 12 mile, and Elite class 24 mile. A free kids challenge course was offered for the little racers and Coach Pain was brought back for year two, bringing his special motivational voice as the emcee.

General admission parking was 10 dollars, but that’s if you could find a dry spot to park. The weather in the Midwest this year has brought large amounts of rain during certain periods of time and Mother Nature decided that the week leading up to the race was as good as time as any to let loose. This made it difficult for the race directors to set up the course the way they intended, along with making the course itself tough to build up any speed on.

All of the obstacles were wet and muddy, and the trail looked like a herd of horses had trudged through it. The race was even delayed for a short period due to a lingering thunderstorm that was slow to leave the area. The skies never did clear up all the way as intermittent periods of sprinkles caused racers fits throughout the day.

The race started out with athletes climbing over a siege wall, then leaving the coral when a fence, which resembled a medieval gate, was opened releasing participants through the festival area with Coach Pain hot on their heels screaming encouragement for the first hundred yards.

After a brief run, athletes faced a wall climb and then encountered a unique climb over large sections of concrete culverts stacked up in a triangle configuration. This is an obstacle I’ve never seen at a race, and the large circumference of the tubes along with the mud tracked onto them made it a difficult climb. Athletes were now led along a trail on the edge of a cornfield ending up in a gravel pit type area along one of the properties many lakes. A low crawl through some very cold water with sections of chain link fence over the top was the first obstacle presented in this segment along with a series of cargo net climb suspended over a set of shipping containers.

A short distance away a bow and arrow station with target tested ones aim. Failure to hit the target resulted in a short bear crawl through the slop along the lake. Relax, no real arrows were used, instead, they were tipped with a rubber stopper. After you got a chance to play Robin Hood the trail led around the lake where an Atlas Stone carry was placed. Moving further around the pond athletes were led through a waist-deep drainage “moat” with four pipes placed horizontally across the expanse making for an interesting and chilly over and under.

Crawling out of the water, cold and shivering, was when it dawned on you that this section of the course was also used as a motocross track. Yeah, it was time to climb up and over some very steep hills. The previous night’s rain left those without lugged shoes grabbing as weeds and rocks to assist on the super slick climbs. One last obstacle remained in this section of the course in the form of a log balance beam cross over a water pit. Once across, the trail led onto a gravel path leading away from the festival area.

It was along this path that Highlander chose to place their over, under, and through walls followed up a short distance away with the classic Z wall traverse. At this point, the course split into two with the 4-mile racers going one way and the 8-mile racers going another, and even though the signage is clear here it never fails that someone goes the wrong way. I’ll be describing the 8-mile loop from here on out as and the 4-mile loop converged with the 8 again further down the course. A very pristine lake now came into view, and as athletes make their way around the water Highlander placed a weighted drag in the form of an Atlas Stone with an ax handle sticking out for “easy” handling. A set of low parallel bars joined to a set of high parallel bars needed to be traversed next leading to a teeter-totter balance test followed up by a platform climb with a bell tap the top.

The property on which Highlander holds its event boasts a wide range of terrain as the race now transitioned from running on a gravel track to running through a few miles of shin-deep mud. This marshy area proved too difficult to place many obstacles as only a short Wreckbag carry was required here. It was the dense marsh here that proved to be the real obstacle, and I was left wondering if Yoda was going to be raising an X wing fighter out of the sludge at some point.

 

After escaping the marshes of Dogaboh the footing became more solid as racers now faced obstacles once again. The first encountered was Highlander’s version of the Irish table followed up by a series of wall climbs. Also tucked neatly into this section of the course was the wire low crawl. In sticking with the Scottish theme of the race, a caber carry was next up leading back towards the festival area.

One last wall, this one the inverted type, guided racers to the last section of the 8-mile loop. The course threaded its way through the heavily wooded area including two difficult climbs along the way. The first was a vertical climb using only small rock-climbing holds, and unless you were the first person through you found those tiny holds to be slick with mud. The second was a two-story vertical rope climb, and I don’t need to tell anyone how tough that rope was to get a grip on due to the conditions. The last obstacle found in the forest is what I’ll call the “fun box’. Highlander constructed this long box with a million bungee chords inside going every which way, then made it tougher by covering it making it pitch black inside.

One last obstacle stood in the way of the 8-mile finish now as Highlander set their rig up right in front of the finish line. Racers were backed up waiting to retry this monster as the failure rate was high. The setup consisted of a vertical knotted rope swing complete with a small wooden platform on the bottom, two plastic rings set at varying heights were next followed by a pole suspended horizontally all leading to a suspended car tire. I’m not sure this rig would have been terrible if the conditions were dry, but of course, they were not, luckily athletes could use their legs as this proved to be the saving grace for me.

If you ran the 4-mile or 8-mile course congrats? Your day was finished, and you could go enjoy your beer and grab a bite to eat from the local vendors. But if you signed up for the 12-mile or 24-mile course more was yet to come, and your rig crossing was put off till you finished another loop. But have no fear, as Highlander set up some of their best obstacles on the section of the course leading back out!

This short gauntlet of three obstacles leading out started out with a unique three-part traverse. The first and third section needed to be crossed by suspended ropes while the second section required a jump across an expanse landing on a wooden plank angled down 45 degrees. The Strong As Oak version of Stairway to Heaven was also thrown in here and consisted up pulling oneself up a set of ascending stairs which evened out at the top and continued horizontally for another few rungs. And lastly, Highlander brought back its torpedo tube type climb requiring racers to shimmy up a plastic tube with only short ropes coming out the sides to hold on to. From here on the trail joined back up with the original start listed above. I was a bit bummed out that by choosing to run the 8-mile course I missed out on the last three obstacles I described as I’ve been on those before and found them to be very challenging.

Highlander Assault, in my opinion, added some very cool obstacles to an event that was already a must do. They pulled off a great race under awful weather conditions. The only real suggestions I would have is to possibly add a volunteer or some signage in a few spots where I saw racers unsure of what to do. Namely, the Wreckbag carry and Scotty’s carry but no race ever has enough volunteers and I still figured out what to do.

Pictures were free and posted within two days of the event, and I must say that they had the best swag tent short of the Spartan Race. Parking was 10 dollars, but it may have cost you more if you needed to be towed out due to all the rain. So, have you heard enough to add this to your race list in 2019? I hope so and I’ll see you there!

 

GoRuck Mogadishu Mile – Salt Lake City

Last weekend, GoRuck hosted Mog Mile events throughout the US to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Operation Gothic Serpent (aka Blackhawk Down).  The event we did in SLC also involved drinking beer.  But not before learning about the operation and paying homage to the men who served in it through rucking and teamwork.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Cadre-Cody-G

Cadre Cody G looking the part

Early in the night, someone dropped one of the team weights we’d been tasked to carry.  When it landed, it was loud.  At a GoRuck event, letting any assigned weight (aka Coupon for ‘good living’) touch the ground is a punishable offense.  Defying the Cadre is worse.  So when our Cadre yelled out “who the F%$# dropped the weight?” I was equal parts proud and scared when nobody on the team said a word, even after he repeated the question.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Formation

Cody eventually punished us for dropping the weight, but we took it together as a team and nobody snitched. This brand of instant cohesion among strangers is why I love GoRuck.  Nobody succeeds or fails alone, everything’s done as a team.  Nothing is ever about you as an individual, just about where you’re going and the people beside you.  It’s a fitting way to honor the spirit of what happened 25 years ago in Somalia.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Penaltydespite appearances to the contrary, the ground is actually wetGoRuck-Salt-Lake-Funishment

If you want a list of exercises and an inventory of weights we carried, sorry.  The linear version of these stories has been done before.  It’s a GoRuck Tough: we had #40 in our packs at all times, and most of the night we carried much more.  We did a lot of exercises, and rucked close to 20 miles against time hacks.  Some of the experiences that made the highlight reel for yours truly were:

  • Learning how to stop an arterial bleed using four types of tourniquets;

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Medic-Training

  • Watching two guys’ light-hearted banter/bickering over the right way to build a litter;

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Litter-Build

  • Appreciating how dangerous sliding down playground equipment at night can be during a race with other adults (think loud sounds and pain that a helmet could have prevented);
  • Learning how to play Cadre Baseball – i.e. several trips around a diamond where each base (or trip thereto) is associated with exercises that suck;
  • Realizing how much fun doing sprint intervals can be while wearing a #40 pack during crossing guard duty through SLC’s urban grid;
  • Seeing an older lady hardcore crush on our muscular Cadre around midnight;
  • Watching Cody’s magnanimity when a group of a-holes driving by in a truck at midnight shouted obscenities to our group. Seriously, who yells f-you to a crowd led by a special forces vet that’s carrying an American flag?
  • The contorted faces on everyone in the hotel lobby and elevator as I walked by after the GoRuck event.

Our experience started shortly after sunset and went through until early morning.  In the process, we’d gone from a dingy park on the classy side of town (visualize needles in the grass type class), traveled to a major park on the good side of town, continued up to the hillside University of Utah, then headed back down to the capital dome where we were summarily punished on the State grounds for missing a time-hack.  It was an unseasonably hot night, and the team’s copious pee-stops were a testament to how seriously everyone took our Cadre’s instruction to “hydrate or die.”

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Classy-Part-of-Town GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Capitol-Dome

Shortly after the sun came up, it started:  Kent got shot in the leg, “you have 2 minutes to stop the bleeding.”  Out came the straps to stop the bleeding and up Kent went into the air. In addition to the rucks, weights, and beer (we’d made an early morning pit-stop), Kent made his way back to the park we’d started from carried by the team.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Man-Down

The emotional climax came once we arrived back at the park where the event began.  Throughout the evening, Cody would tell us stories from the mission and two people at a time would share bios they’d brought of service members they’d researched ahead of the event.  Now it was time for the final two bios, purposely saved for the end: Delta Force Snipers Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Heros

Master Sergeant Gary Gordon (left), Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart (right)

I’m conflicted about describing these two here, mainly because they deserve better.  What I’ll say is that the movie shortchanges them and the crew they were trying to protect.  They saw wounded Americans in a crashed helicopter with an angry city mobilizing towards them.  After three tries, they were given permission to hit the ground (all two of them) and do what they could – which ended up being a lot.  Both posthumously received the Medal of Honor – the first issued since the end of the Vietnam War.

After Shughart and Gordon’s stories were told, Cadre Cody named our casualties and sent us off to complete the final part of the Mogadishu Mile.  Everyone was being carried or carrying multiple things as we followed the flag back to the Endex.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-MogMile1 GoRuck-Salt-Lake-MogMile2

But instead of finishing the event when we reached the Cadre (and beer), we were told to form the tunnel of love.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Tunnel-of-Love

As each of us made our way through, Cody was there on the other side to hand us the patches we’d spent all night trying to earn. Once the final person cleared the tunnel, class #2817 graduated and finally got to crack open the beer we’d been carrying.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Graduation

This was my first event since DNF’ing the Ultimate Suck in August.  The night before, I’d been nervous about being too weak to pull my weight and was clamoring for an excuse to stay home.  I hadn’t done a GoRuck since 2016, and the last time I tried I couldn’t find the start line.  Happily, all of that nonsense went away the second the event began and I got to hang with an amazingly fit group of Americans and a kick-ass Cadre.

When my wife and I made our way through the airport the next day, she saw me wince and make poopy faces every time I’d try to sit or stand.  Over breakfast, she caught me smiling at the new patch on the front of my ruck and said: “it’s an awful lot of work for such a little patch.”  She may be right, but it’s an awfully cool patch… and earning it was one of the more special emotional journeys I’ve experienced as an athlete.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Patch

Photo Credit for everything but the Popeye’s Shot: Nicole Sugihara

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!