Spartan Dallas Beast 2018-Muddy Miles and Cramping Calves

Dallas Spartan Beast 2018

On October 27th, 2018 Spartan held the annual Dallas Beast to nearly maxed out waves for all times. The course had to be cut down a few miles due to flooded areas. This didn’t stop Spartan from putting racers calves through mile after mile of foot groping, sloppy goodness. Of about twelve and a half miles nearly sixty percent of those miles were sloppy bogs or slick, muddy rocks. A fun cramp-inducing time was had by all on a well put together course in beautiful Glen Rose, Texas.

Muddy Miles on Muddy Miles

Due to frequent rain in the previous week many of the trails on Rough Creek Lodge’s ranch were a muddy mess. From the beginning even the fastest group of elites were not moving their quickest as we were pulling our feet free from mud constantly. This added an extra endurance element to an already endurance heavy event. Later on in the race, many suffered from severe burnout, muscle fatigue, and debilitating calf cramps.

Spartan ingeniously utilized the hills on the ranch. Competitors proceeded up and down them both with and without sandbags. Steep, rocky descents coupled with mud spelled potential disaster for anyone not closely watching their feet and controlling their body. I personally throttled myself down a bit on these downhills to avoid injury. Slick rocks can come out from under you in a heartbeat.

The venue was beautiful to look at as always. Rough Creek Lodge never disappointing on the views that you get to see at the top of those hills if you take the time to look around. The festival area was also set up very nicely and the starting line was again by the beautiful church on the property. The weather was absolutely optimal with a pretty still 58-degree start for the elite men and a slow warm up to around 70 as the day went on. Compared to last years freezing temperatures the weather was absolutely amazing.

The Obstacles

I would like to preface by saying that there were no mile markers at this race.  Some areas were cut due to flooding. I found this to be a good thing as it kept me focused on the task at hand rather than how far I had to go. However, this also prevents me from stating an approximate location for all of these obstacles. I would like readers to know that between each of these obstacle portions were long, long bouts of running through mud and rough terrain. Spartan did a great job of throwing great combos of obstacles at racers. Each section seemed to have an intended aspect of skill to attack and I really appreciate the thought that went into this design.

As previously stated, Spartan has an optimal venue for such a flat area in Texas and they utilize it well. The first majorly taxing obstacle was after the z- wall in the form of a sandbag carry up a steep hill and back down. This put a decent little burn in the calves especially after running through all of that mud. The spectator route was superb. It allowed spectators to see many of the most entertaining obstacles. Compared to last years Dallas Beast, Spartan did a superb job on the spectating end of things.

Climb

The slick mud made the slew of climbing obstacles far more difficult. These included: stairway to Sparta, Bender, the 8-foot wall, and the inverted wall. The first real grip tests came in the form of the Tyrolean traverse (which was hanging far too low in many lanes people were dragging their backs). The next grip obstacle was Twister following Bender. I do appreciate Spartan placing this obstacle out of the mud for the most part as it is so grip-heavy. However, there were many Spartans plunging face first into the mud for burpees at this notoriously difficult obstacle. If the strength and endurance is not still present in your shoulders and hands, it can be a real killer.

Lift

The next obstacle heavily affected by the mud was the Atlas carry.  I’ve never had trouble with an Atlas carry.   However, the first ball open this time around was a mud-covered concrete lump of fumbling, back-straining hell for me. I was picking it up out of a very large divot caused by the soggy ground and it was slicker than a freshly born calf. Finally, I had the good sense to look up and see a dry ball had became open and moved through no problem.

Spartan knows their obstacle placement game as after the Atlas Carry came the Hercules hoist and the Yokohama tire flip. For those of you who aren’t aware, Spartans tires are heavier than most. Getting under these 400 lb tires when they are sunken deep in mud is no easy feat. Though the requirement was only to flip the tire twice. Many chose burpees instead. I, however, found that once I worked my way around the tire and found a good place to get under it the rest was simple.

Later on, came another short sandbag carry followed by an equally short bucket brigade. Some elites were shouldering the buckets. Volunteers were not correcting them.  This was unfortunate considering that immediately afterward many grip obstacles followed. This allowed them to salvage their grip for later on.

Hang on!

The plate drag was a muddy, sticky mess that added difficulty. The grip gauntlet afterward sapped the last bit of strength left in Spartans as they neared the finish. The multi-rig, Olympus, and the rope climb were nearly back to back to back.

The spear throw, slip wall, and fire jump where spectators could get a great view of finishers coming in as the annoucner did a great job as well. The finishing area and the number of spectators were very impressive.

 

 

Aside from some minor issues, the Dallas Beast was a fun and challenging experience. Many racers suffered horrible cramps. This was due to all of the mud eating away at their endurance mile after mile. It was truly a suffer fest for many. I feel they will all return next year with a new determination.

Great merchandise, attractions, and people filled the festival. Spartan did a superb job of making the awards ceremony very central. There was also a great festival for racers to enjoy afterward. This was a big leap from the lackluster festival area last year. I would certainly recommend running the Dallas beast if you are in the area, or if you would like a Texas-sized challenge.  Spartan created a great race.  They utilized the venue to its utmost potential. Aroo!

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.

Train Like a Pro: Beni Gifford

Beni-Gifford-NBC-Spartan-Ultimate-Team-Challenge

If the name Beni Gifford sounds familiar, it should. Gifford led his team (The Comeback Kids) to victory on NBC’s premiere season of Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge. He was also the captain of Team Dallas on Battlefrog’s League Championship, which aired on ESPN. And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll now be able to watch him on CMT as he competes on Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge.

Beni-Gifford-Terrain-Racing-Finish-in-Flagstaff

Off the small screen, Gifford has won fourteen races, with twenty-one podium finishes overall in just two years. That includes an undefeated record when competing in the Terrain Racing series.

Below you’ll find a workout that Gifford uses to train his body and mind to continue to perform, even after fatigue sets in and his muscles become tired. It helps with situations where your heart rate is high or your legs become heavy.

Beni-Gifford-Running

PART ONE
2-MINUTE RUN / 1-MINUTE SLED DRAG INTERVALS

Run for two minutes at an aerobic base effort. You should be able to carry on a conversation at this pace. Once the two minutes is up, do a one-minute sled drag at the same effort level. Alternate between the two until you reach thirty minutes. Once complete, perform an aerobic pace run for up to thirty minutes. You can adjust the time based on your level of fitness, but aim to hit at least ten minutes.

Pro Note: Part one is about getting your legs pumped and strained (sled pull) and going right back into a run. This teaches you to run with heavy legs.

Writer’s Tip: If you don’t have a sled to drag, go to your local hardware store and buy several feet of rope that is at least ¾”-1” thick (usually about $1-2 per foot). Then punch holes in a flattened cardboard box and thread the rope through. Stack as much weight as you can handle onto the cardboard box for your own homemade sled. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look pretty. It’s more about function over aesthetics, here.

Beni-Gifford-Savage-Rig-Dallas

PART TWO
BURPEES – 10/100 SUPERSET

Do a set of ten burpees at 90% effort, followed by 10/100 pull up/dead hang. Complete six total rounds. To perform the 10/100, start a timer and, with palms facing forward, immediately do one pull up. Then lower yourself into a dead hang. After ten seconds of dead hang, do another pull up. Repeat this until you hit 10 pull ups and 100 seconds or failure, whichever comes first. You must remain on the bar the entire time. The 10/100 is considered by OCR coach, Yancy Culp, as the Gold Standard for grip endurance and strength.

Pro Tip: Keep your transitions as short as possible from the burpees into the 10/100. This will help with your ability to tackle obstacles successfully without having to spend valuable seconds slowing your heart rate down before attacking.  If you can’t meet the Gold Standard at first, don’t worry. You now have an easy goal to track so you can match the best in OCR.

Writer’s Tip: For the 10/100, use an interval timer app so you don’t have to keep your eyes on a stopwatch. These apps allow you to customize so that an alarm sounds every ten seconds, giving you the signal to do apull-upp.

Writer’s Note: Thanks to Beni for providing this workout. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram.

Photo Credit: NBC, Terrain Racing, Beni Gifford and Savage Race

Check out past Train Like a Pro articles:

Train Like a Pro: Faye Stenning & Josh Stryde

Faye Stenning ran her first Spartan Race in 2013. Two years later, she placed ninth at the 2015 Spartan World Championships. This year, Stenning joined the Reebok Spartan Pro Team and continued her success by finishing second or better in each of the five Spartan U.S. Championship Series races. Her 1197 points in the inaugural series was good enough for second and only three points behind winner, Lindsay Webster.

Faye-Stenning-Medal-Picture

Though Stenning does have a background in track and cross country, success like this comes from a number of areas, including a great training regimen. The following workout is one that she designed with boyfriend Josh Stryde. Stryde, himself, is part of the Western Canadian Spartan Elite Team. He’s also the Calgary Place World Health Regional Nutrition Director.

The workout comes in four parts. Try to rest as little as possible throughout since you don’t get much, if any, during a race. Stenning and Stryde perform this weekly.

Pro Tip: Stay positive throughout and work your way up each time. Don’t use the workout too close to race day. As you’ll see, if you do it right, you’ll be too drained to perform at your best. Give yourself at least a week if you have an upcoming race.

Faye-Stenning-and-Josh-Stryde
PART ONE
TREADMILL HILL CLIMB WITH MEDICINE BALL (10-15 minutes)

Set a treadmill to an incline that will make you uncomfortable. Try increasing the level each time you do the workout. If you become comfortable with the incline, you know it’s time to bump it up. Every minute, get off the treadmill and do five burpees. Keep the timer running when you do your burpees. Most treadmills shut off after 30 seconds, so try to perform the burpees in that time frame. Hold the medicine ball however you feel comfortable. Stenning loads it onto her shoulder, while Stryde alternates between shoulder and front, to simulate a bucket carry. Stenning normally does 12 minutes at an incline of 15 and speed of 4.0, using a 40-pound medicine ball.

Writer’s Tip: If you don’t have a medicine ball, find something other than dumbbells to carry. Anything that would give you the option to carry it on your shoulder or in front of your body. I used an open bag of grass seed weighing about 35-pounds that I had in my garage. If you do that, just make sure it’s sealed up!

Josh-Stryde-Loaded-Incline

PART TWO
EMOM/Every Minute on the Minute (15-30 minutes)

Alternate between the following three each minute.

  • Hook a TRX strap up to the end of a weight sled. Run forward, dragging the sled behind you. Go as far as you can for one minute. If you don’t have a strap to attach, push the sled instead. Stenning and Stryde use four 45-pound plates on the sled.
  • Hop on a fan/air bike and go as hard as you can (bike or row) for one minute. If you don’t have access to a fan bike, use a stationary bike and pedal as fast as possible on as high of a resistance as you can stand.
  • Do between 5-15 toes to bar, depending on your core and grip strength. Grab a pull up bar with an overhand grip, roughly shoulder width apart. Engage your core and lift your toes up to the bar. If you’re unable to do toes to bar, do knees to elbows or knee raises instead.

Pro Purpose: This part of the workout hits your entire body. The sled drag gives your lower body strength and power, which helps for hill climbs. The bike portion is great for general aerobic conditioning and the toes to bar gives your core and grip both strength and endurance training.

Pro Tip: Try adding a couple minutes to this part each time you do the workout.

Writer’s Tip:If you don’t have access to a sled, you can take a larger weight plate (45-pound should work) and put it on the ground, flat part down, and push the plate. Add a dumbbell for extra weight.  Another option is to put a treadmill on an incline and turn it off. Then, hold onto the sides and run for the minute.

Faye-Stenning-Sled-Drags

PART THREE
MAX HOLD: SINGLE-ARM DEAD HANG

Grab a bar with one arm and hang for as long as you can, then switch arms. Your only rest is doing the opposite arm. Do three sets per arm.

Pro Purpose: This improves grip strength, while also getting you used to being supported on one arm. This will help on obstacles like rigs and monkey bars.

Writer’s Tip: If you aren’t strong enough to do single-arm, throw a towel over one end of the bar and grab it with the opposite hand. Focus on mainly using whichever side is holding the bar, and only use the other to lightly hold the towel, giving yourself some support. This doesn’t give your arms much rest, but will allow you to work your way up to using one arm.

Faye-Stenning-Monterey-Rig

PART FOUR
FOUR SUPER SETS

Do the first exercise, then move right onto the second.

  • Hold a weight plate with a pinch grip in each hand and walk, like you would for a farmer’s carry. Your distance is determined by how long you’re able to hold the plates before putting them down. Aim to hit the same distance each set. Also, try only squeezing with your fingertips. Stenning considers it cheating if you’re using the edge of the plate to hook your fingers around.
  • Do 15 reps of barbell bent-over row.

Pro Purpose: Doing these at the end of your workout will help to burn out your grip.

Writer’s Tip: To avoid cheating, use two plates per hand and press them together so that the flat sides face out. This removes the temptation to hook your fingers around the edges.

Writer’s Note: Thank you to Josh and Faye for sharing this workout. You can follow Faye on both Instagram and Facebook. Follow Josh on Instagram

Photo Credit: Faye Stenning’s Facebook Page, Faye Stenning, Spartan Race