I Miss The Good Ole Days Of Obstacle Racing

The 2019 Obstacle Racing season is well underway, and from what we’ve seen so far, both participation rates and TV viewing numbers are at record highs. Well, that’s just peachy, I guess.

I should congratulate Spartan. They’ve done the unthinkable: taken a cheesy fad and made it mainstream, leaving opposing companies face-down along the road in their wake like Battlefrog competitors during a double sandbag carry. Joe and company have even persuaded huge mainstream sponsors to buy in and Olympic dreams to swell…but listen, I can’t do this. I’ve made my name as a straight shooter, so I need to be honest with you: not everyone is happy with the progress the major obstacle racing series is making, yours truly included. I’m sure many of you loyal ORM readers feel similar. Progress has occurred at the expense of the community. Do you also remember (and miss) the good old days? Let’s get into it.


Obstacle Racing Media was given an exclusive look at early injury numbers (measured via medic reports submitted at venue) during 2018. These usually cover anything from cramps and IV’s to serious injuries and on-course fatalities. And guess what? They’ve dropped massively in every category this past year, continuing a three-year downward trend.

Roots-Stretcher

Back when racing was hardcore

But to be clear, this isn’t just about injuries. I hope you don’t think we’re that obtuse. What this IS about is how soft, how white-washed this sport has become. This is what happens when companies sell out. I know I’m not alone in thinking that by fixating on moonshot Olympic dreams and Yelp reviews, Spartan has left many of its core members in the dust, and in doing so has lost some of the draws it once had. Some industry experts I’ve spoken with agree and worry that Spartan Race is losing its edge. This can be attributed at least partly to recent changes focusing on safety that has sullied the race experience and proven divisive at best.

Many of us miss the good old days before Spartan sold its soul in exchange for TV money and hastened to rid itself of everything that made it great in the first place. First to appear was Reebok- the soulless, trend-hopping, neglected cousin of Nike. Desperate to capitalize on the sport of functional fitness, the brand peppered overpriced gear with our hallowed logo and treated OCR shoes like iPhones, releasing a new, mildly disappointing update each year, with grip one can only assume was directly inspired by a banana peel that had been soaked in warm coconut oil.

Then the gladiators disappeared- which, as many of you remember, led to a nation-wide boycott of races by the cosplayer community. But it’s not just people who like to play dress-up who have been hurt by policy changes.

To have a sweat-soaked, muscular, cape-wearing hunk take you down and dominate you at your most vulnerable…I still get chills just thinking about it. In fact, that rush alone was excuse enough for a season pass for many of us. But sadly, those days are gone.

Chuck Whipley, head of Kermit the Flog, a BDSM club based out of Atlanta, echoed this sentiment during a recent FB messenger conversation.Part of the allure of Spartan used to be the idea that you were paying not just to race, but to be publicly humiliated, both physically and emotionally, and if lucky, sometimes in front of large crowds.” Whipley continued, “I know [fellow club member and OCR industry insider] Matt Davis feels similar, and he’s the guy you should get in touch with.” Through a spokesman, Matt declined to discuss the matter but did deny ever meeting or communicating with Chuck.

And the courses? They used to be TOUGH. In the past, racers were guaranteed at minimum several ravine tumbles, a rolled ankle, and maybe even a few deep slashes across the back, courtesy of barb wire. These days you’re lucky to experience one of the aforementioned if at all, and rumor has it barbed wire is next to go.

Come Monday I used to show up to work an absolute wreck. Mornings were spent limping around the office, regaling anyone within the distance of the tribulations I had undergone while they had spent a lazy Saturday sipping breve lattes or comparing paint finishes at Home Depot. I know they were impressed with me, maybe even a little jealous, even if they didn’t show it. How could they not be? My body was hardened by burpees, my confidence sky-high. Cracked scabs oozed puss through my dress shirt as I bent to fill a mug with my signature brew (bulletproof coffee mixed with one-and-a-half sticks of butter). It was clear I had returned from the edge, from something extreme, having stepped beyond what was normal or expected of a man and emerged better for it. Chafed nipples leaked tiny droplets of blood onto my pastel-striped Brooks Brothers shirt, like Rorshach tests that served to inform my coworkers of their own daintiness. I imagined David Goggins looking proudly down from Heaven, a single tear rolling down his stern face. Editors note: David Goggins is alive and well. I was Ed Norton in Fight Club; bruised and battered, but free, and completely numb to the corporate BS. The opposite of present-day Spartan.

Gone are the threats of sepsis and paralysis, replaced by participation medals and special interest stories on NBC. We ran to honor the flag; now people run for Instagram likes. Which makes me wonder what will happen to participation rates if Instagram actually deletes ‘like’ tallies from photos.

Roots-Stretcher                                Why race when you can purchase the experience from your couch?

I’m sure I sound bitter, but this is just the truth.

Google trends confirmed my suspicions. As of this writing, searches for “How to get feces out of barb wire cut” were at a 4-month low, while queries for “Frostbite on wiener, how to tell?” had grown flaccid at best.

Also gone these days, the ability to utilize the spear throw area to literally gun down competitors. For several years now the spear has been tied via rope to the fence, eliminating the once-fan favorite game of Frogger that would occur while volunteers rushed into the line of fire to retrieve spears from the target.


A higher-up with Spartan who wished to remain unnamed acknowledged my concerns. “We’ve seen some of these early 2018 figures, and yes, we’re a little concerned over the perceived sell-out status of our brand. But in the long run, we believe fans will understand the changes we have made,” he said.

In Spartan’s defense, there are signs it has turned from its foolhardy ways and has even begun to show some common sense by returning back to its roots and core community.

As many of you know, back in 2016 Spartan was forced to indefinitely postpone their second annual cruise after the ship was quarantined following a post-trip coast guard inspection of its pool and hot tub. However –and this will probably be news to most of  ORM’s readers– this August the arduous two-year disinfection of the Royal Princess is slated for completion. Finally!  The official Spartan release stated as much: “We can announce with pride that the hot tubs will officially open again. Spartan and hedonism will once again be synonymous as Spartan and the (recently-unstickied) Royal Princess will return to Stirrup Cay, Bahamas in 2020. Bring your swimsuits…or don’t- anything goes.”

Our sources within the industry echoed that all is not lost, adding that they’ve seen a solid uptick in ACL tears, compound fractures, and rolled ankles over the past 18 months, most of which the industry can thank the Tough Mudder X series for.

Finally, while Warrior Dash’s recent demise has certainly shocked the industry, grassroots races are quickly popping up in its wake and just might sway hoards of disinterested racers into getting back on the course. The front-runners to fill Warrior Dash’s hole include Florida’s Co-ed-Croc race, in which competitors are teamed up with an alligator over a 6+ mile course, and the Black-and-Blue race, a 24 hr enduro event during which racers are tasked with completing as many laps as possible around the Roswell, Georgia police station while donning Collin Kaepernick jerseys.

Do you also miss the good old days of the sport? Let us know in the comments below.

 

World’s Toughest Mudder – An Ode to Pissing in My Wetsuit

When I think about the world’s toughest race
A mudder that put me in my place
The memory that I cannot replace
Is pissing in my wetsuit

I registered in the previous year
My training plan became more clear
A piece of training I never went near
Was pissing in my wetsuit

The forecast was cold for our race day
The five-mile course ahead of us lay
Nolan and Eli never bothered to say
We’d be pissing in our wetsuits

Worlds Toughest Mudder GirlThis competitor probably pissed in her wetsuit

The first couple laps were warm and free
The sun was out, everyone could see
I figured no other runner would be
Pissing in their wetsuit

The sun went down and it turned cold
The time had come for me to be bold
And deliver a liquid colored gold
By pissing in my wetsuit

The first couple times were totally weird
Being seen by others is what I feared
But eventually I became less skeered
Of pissing in my wetsuit

Worlds Toughest Mudder PondThe pond was the perfect place for pissing in your wetsuit

Turning laps, my heart would pound
My friends and family I couldn’t let down
I mastered the art of walking around
Just pissing in my wetsuit

As grass and obstacles turned to ice
The liquid warmth was really nice
Some laps I would even go twice
By pissing in my wetsuit

When the race was over my body was toast
My pit crew wouldn’t even come close
The smell of ammonia was super gross
From pissing in my wetsuit

Worlds Toughest Mudder WoodsTwo Ryans – Possibly Pissed in their Wetsuits

When I got home and cleaned my stuff
A simple scrub was not enough
Removing the smell was really tough
From pissing in my wetsuit

I watched the special on TV
They didn’t mention, I didn’t see
That Rea and Kris, I guarantee
Were pissing in their wetsuits

The moral of this story is
If during the race you have to wizz
The only acceptable answer is
Pissing in your wetsuit

Worlds Toughest Mudder Mendoza

I guarantee these guys pissed in their wetsuits

All Photo Credit Goes to OCR Nation

 

World’s Toughest Mudder 2018

Prologue

As a World’s Toughest Mudder novice, I was not sure what to expect, going into the race. I read the rules, I listened to pre-race podcasts, asked advice from past participants, followed the social media frenzy leading up to the event, and I scoured through articles and information provided from prior years. Planning for World’s Toughest Mudder was quite an ordeal in itself! While I had previously competed in other Ultra distance obstacle and trail races, preparing for a 24 hour event was a marathon of research, prepping, packing, and list-checking. At the advice of others, I purchased a full body wetsuit, neoprene gloves, neoprene hats, and a waterproof headlamp. I organized my nutrition, made a plan with my pit crew, and teed up at the start line with my heart on my sleeve. I knew it would be difficult and cold; I knew that I was embarking on the longest, most challenging athletic event of my amateur career to date. I was a little nervous and scared, but I was more excited than anything: excited to test my gear, test my legs, and test my strength against 24 hours of OCR. I knew that this competition would (obviously) be about the mileage and the ability to complete obstacles, but I had no idea this race would end up as more of a contest of grit than any other physical skill or athletic proficiency.

Course Design

The 5 mile loop was relatively flat with only about 600 feet of gain per lap. There was not a lot of single track or technical trail running, and most of the course was gravel roads and dirt paths. Leading up to the race, there had been heavy rain in the area. Most of the course was extremely slick and muddy, with Georgia clay turning into slimy, shoe-sucking smush. The slickness of the running paths resulted in poor shoe traction, excess mud on obstacles like Everest and Mudderhorn, and the slowing of cadence. There were a few steep downhills in the woods that required the use of branches and tree trunks as stabilizers, but the course was still relatively “runnable,” despite conditions. The rain caused traditionally “muddy” obstacles like Mud Mile, Happy Ending, and Kiss of Mud to become swamps of thick mud that engulfed competitors like quicksand. TMHQ maintained the standard rules of allowing (and encouraging) competitors to assist each other through the obstacles and penalty laps were offered in lieu of obstacle completion; across several obstacle failures, participants would max out at an additional 1.6 miles in penalties per loop.

Stoking the fire a bit, TMHQ had some special rules and variations in place that allowed runners to make strategic choices about their race and to earn a “Golden Carabiner,” which worked as a “get out of jail free” pass to either skip obstacles or take alternate routes on course. Runners could earn a Golden Carabiner once hitting the 25 mile (5 lap threshold), as well as by completing more difficult lanes of specified obstacles on course. In the late hours of the night, both Funky Monkey and Leap of Faith included Golden Carabiner lanes that made the regular obstacle even more complex; completion of one of these lanes earned the competitor a Golden Carabiner. Runners could redeem their Golden Carabiner at any other point during the race, either skipping a specific obstacle or being allowed to take an alternate route on course that bypassed a stretch of obstacles. Another spark of ambiguity was a fork in the road halfway through the loop that opened at 8:00 PM; TMHQ had devised two unique routes that competitors could choose between, one having standard obstacles (Quagmire, The Bloc Ness Monster, Leap of Faith, and The Guantlet) and the other having electrocution obstacles (Eletroshock Therapy, Entrapment, and Operation). This “pick your poison” and Golden Carabiner approach to course design maintained the integrity of the 5 mile loop distance, regardless of the route taken.

The Race

The race started at noon on Saturday, and the sun was shining! With a little bit of a wind chill, the temperatures were still warm enough for the short sleeves and smiles. Our first lap was a 5 mile tour and preview of the course-no obstacles; competitors took a Golden Carabiner route through the first lap, bypassing a view of some of the obstacles. For the first hour of the race, none of the obstacles were opened; beginning at 1:00 PM, obstacles were methodically opened via a rolling start through the course. By 3:00 PM, all of the 26 obstacles were opened (except for The Stacks, which opened at midnight). Most competitors started their first lap with a strong pace, full of excitement and energy about the day that lay ahead of us. I saw and felt that speed and enthusiasm on course, as runners continued into laps two and three.

Hitting obstacles as they started to open, I finished my second lap wet. The heat of my running pace and the sunshine kept me comfortable, and the blue skies created a beautiful backdrop to the event. Coming back around Mudderhorn and into the pit area at the completion of my third lap, the sun was moving towards the horizon. The Georgia autumn wind started to pick up and I began to realize just how cold this race was going to be. I was able to complete three laps fairly quickly and hit my pit crew before sunset. My wetsuit and headlamp went on for lap four, and the wetsuit never came off until I crossed the finish line. Watching the sunset from Ladder to Hell around 1.5 miles into my fourth lap was a special memory from that day; this tall obstacle was placed at the top of a hill, giving a panoramic view of the streaked paintbrush of dusk settling over the race. By the time I came into my pit for my fifth lap, the sun had settled over the edge of the woods.

As soon as darkness hit, the temperatures began to drop. Many competitors decided to opt out of active participation and camp out in their tents, avoiding the course in the cold. Throughout the night (my laps six to nine, approximately 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM) the course was relatively empty. I experienced long stretches of running alone, occasionally being passed my elite men and spotting other headlamps through the woods in the distance. With the temperatures in the low thirties, many obstacles began to ice over – even the grass and trees surrounding the course began to freeze. Around midnight, the TMHQ team began to methodically shut down certain obstacles, specifically those that resulted in total head submersion, as well as some of the obstacles that had dangerously slick frost. As a precautionary measure to ensure runners’ safety, obstacles such as Under Water Tunnels, Lumber Jacked, Skidmarked, Berlin Walls, Cage Crawl, and The Gauntlet were closed until sunrise. Many of the other water obstacles did remain open throughout the night, including Augustus Loop, Mud Mile, Twin Peaks, Funky Monkey, Happy Ending, and The Stacks (once opened at midnight).

Even with the improvised TMHQ safety modifications to the course, competitors that continued to fight overnight for mileage remained wet, muddy, and cold. The vibe on the course had shifted from energy and excitement to quiet perseverance and steady focus. Runners fought the conditions and their own demons to sustain a pace quick enough to stay warm, but slow enough to maintain shoe traction amidst slick running paths and icy obstacles. Once the sun began to rise on Sunday morning, the dawn brought warmer temperatures, many obstacles re-opened for completion, and the hibernating competitors came back out on course to continue their quest for mileage goals and the desired “24 Hour” finisher headband. The course began to refill with participants, pit crew began to awaken with a renewed sense of vigor, and the festival area began buzzing with excitement again.  By late morning, I was embarking on my final two laps, eleven and twelve; my pace had slowed to intermittent periods of jogging and walking, but I was determined to finish what I had started and reach my 60-mile goal. My last two loops were surreal and dreamlike, with the warmth of the sun back on my shoulders and the realization of the mortality of the event: my 24 hours was almost over. Despite the pain in my legs and the fatigue in my body, I felt so alive running across the finish line. This was my first World’s Toughest Mudder, and certainly not my last.

Epilogue

As I mentioned before, World’s Toughest Mudder became less of a competition of obstacle proficiency and running speed, and more of a test of mental fortitude and determination. Less than 25% of competitors reached 50 miles and less than 2% completed 75 or more miles, which were lower than most of the previous years’ result statistics. There was a clear division amongst competitors (and ultimately, finishers): those that succumbed and submit to the cold, and those that found comfort and resolve in the rawness of the adversity of their circumstances. Only a small group of competitors remained actively on course through the cold, ice, and solitude of the night; less than one-third of the twelve hundred participants maintained a continuous progression of laps through the dark. These are the racers that were able to put their heads down, remain determined, and march onward towards coveted mileage bibs (50 and 75 Mile threshold bibs). World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 was just as I expected it to be; it was an obstacle course race designed to challenge your speed, obstacle technique, physical endurance, and athletic performance.  But World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 was also something that many (including myself) did not expect it to be; it was a trial of overall tenacity, perseverance of will, and the mental grit that it takes to move forward in spite of cold, doubt, fear, and difficulty.

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

Spartan Race: Bringing the Pain to Big Bear

Overview
Spartan Race Southern California was the third of five races in the National Championship Series. Hosted in Big Bear, CA it brought an entirely new dynamic to the season. Not only did the race start at an elevation around 6000ft, it was the first Spartan Beast of the series. Being eerily similar to the World Championships this coming September in in Tahoe, CA, it brought many of the elites from the men’s and women’s competition who were trying to make a statement halfway through the North American Series.

San Jose brought rolling hills and smooth terrain.

Seattle brought the muddy and wet conditions.

Big Bear brought the treacherous climbs and unforgiving descents

The Course
Just looking at the course map was intimidating, touting 5000 feet of elevation gain in 12+ miles. In fact, I was a little confused if it was a Skyrunning Race or a Spartan Race knowing that the terrain itself would be the challenge of the day. The start line looked up at the mountain ahead that foreshadowed what was to come. Thankfully, mother nature cooperated with dry and relatively comfortable conditions throughout the day.

The course was laid out perfectly according to the plan of Steve Hammond who wanted to create one of the most difficult courses in recent memory. After about 200 meters of flat running, competitors were doomed with the instant climb that slowed the pace to a hike, a common theme throughout the rest of the race. The beginning of the race was relatively obstacle-free allowing racers to spread out before a collection of obstacles near the top of the mountain. We were sent up slopes simply to run back down again, a seemingly endless oscillation of technical terrain. I envied those taking the chairlift above us and wished for some snow and a pair of skis on the way down. With the Atlas Carry, Herc Hoist, Monkey Bars, and the Sandbag Carry #1 peppered near the top of the mountain, we were greeted with massive descent down to the bottom. Of course, this could only mean one thing, we were going back up. Twister greeted us at the bottom of our descent as we turned the corner to ascend back into the double-black-diamond hell of Big Bear Ski Resort.

After seven miles of punishing terrain, I wanted to believe that it could only get better only to be greeted by the worst of them all…. THE DOUBLE SANDBAG CARRY. I was met with a dizzying feeling and the metallic taste in my mouth. This is where it would all end for me… my Achilles heel. After agonizing up and down a steep slope we didn’t get a reprieve with yet another climb. Up, down, up, down, up, down, it never ended!

Miles 8-11 brought more climbs at a less steep grade. While runnable on fresh legs, I was having trouble opening up any semblance of a stride this late into the race. It wasn’t until the massive descent back into the village that I could taste the finish line. Thankfully, mother nature cooperated leaving the obstacles dry and less of a factor than the massive climbs. The descents were just as difficult on tired legs, as anyone could have easily twisted an ankle or fallen flat on their face on the descent. The final descent meant only one thing, the final gauntlet of obstacles. BUT WAIT! Sneaky Steve strikes again. Just in case our arms and legs weren’t tired before, the bucket brigade gave us the opportunity the feel nice and depleted before an epic gauntlet of obstacles.

The burpee station (Spear Throw), “YOKOHAMA Tire Flip!!” (said in Steve Hammond’s voice), rope climb, and dunk wall made the likes of the slip wall a true obstacle. With the ropes just out of reach for a simple jump, competitors were forced to give every last ounce to run up and grab onto that rope for dear life. I didn’t even know you could burpee out on the slip wall until then, an option some people exercised.

Finally the rig! A nice dry rig was Bear-able (see what I did there) amongst the massive climbs of the ski slope. For anyone who ran this race, we were greeted at the finish line by a sense of accomplishment, knowing what we just endured was a difficult course to finish, regardless of chip time.

 

Men’s Recap

The men’s race continued domination by the Ryans. Ryan Woods in San Jose, Ryan Kent in Seattle, and now Ryan Atkins in Big Bear. The real questions is, will Ryan win the championship? If so, which one?

The pack of Ryan Atkins, Angel Quintero, and Ryan Woods (Woodsy) kept a strong pace the entire race and stayed in the lead pack. With Woodsy’s running ability, Angel’s intense training at altitude, and Atkins’ strength and mountain acumen, none of them could be counted out. Atkins finally pulled ahead at the double sandbag carry with a time of just above 4 minutes for the entire carry. Atkins also rocked a whole new way to carry the bucket… on his back! Atkins continued to run a clean race, leaving Angel and Woodsy to the other podium spots. Robert Killian and Ian Hosek rounded out the top 5 for the men.

 

Women’s Recap

A win by Rea Kolbl in San Jose and Lindsay Webster in Seattle, along with Faye Stenning’s two second place finishes set up a perfect storm coming into Big Bear. These were the three girls to beat. Would they continue to set the Spartan standard, or would someone else break into the win column?

The women’s race was a close fought battle the entire time. Rea Kolbl and Lindsay Webster set the pace throughout, closely shadowed by Faye Stenning.

Rea continued to punish the uphill climbs and Lindsay matched every effort with her technical descents. Faye gained ground during the heavy carries and pushed hard late in the race. By the bucket carry, Faye was in striking distance. Lindsay missed the spear throw, giving Faye the opportunity she needed to move into second place. Rea continued to push hard and was slowed by the slip wall. With its ropes higher than usual and tired legs, it was difficult to reach up to the top. Faye used this opportunity to catch up to Rea as they traded attempts on the slip wall, knowing full well that whoever could complete it first would control their own destiny. Then finally, Rea mustered the strength to run up the wall and went through the rig unscathed, taking first place and claiming her second win of the season. Faye continued with her second place performances, protecting her lead in the National Championship Series while Lindsay finished strong in 3rd place. Spartan Team Pros Alyssa Hawley and Nicole Mericle rounded out the top 5 for the women.

Summary:

The third stop along the Spartan National Championship Series proved to be a memorable one. With similar conditions to Tahoe, this was a good barometer for those looking to do well in the World Championships in late September. Whether you were an elite, age group, or open competitor, everyone who crossed the finish line should walk with their head held high. This race was definitely memorable. I think I speak for everyone when I say, Steve Hammond… YOU SUCK!

 

P.S. Steve Hammond, Seriously THANK YOU and the rest of the Spartan Team for putting on a great race weekend! You did an awesome job!