Ryan and Lindsay get VO2 Max Tests


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HumanN (makers of Beet Elite), sent Ryan and Lindsay Atkins to have their VO2 Max tested. Lindsay took questions from the OCR community about those tests, and we attempted to answer them here.  Spoiler Alert: We also learn about the law of diminishing returns!

Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

 

Ragnar Relay and Ragnar Trail Series

runragnar.com Enter code ORM18ALL for $60 OFF any 2018 Ragnar Relay

Show Notes:

Law of Diminishing Returns

Listen using the player below or the iTunes/Stitcher links at the top of this page. 

Spartan goes to Iceland and brings back a new race format

What Was that Spartan in Iceland All About?

While this is a challenge for all of us who write about OCR, my biggest concern in writing about the Spartan Iceland Ultra World Championship was avoiding overuse of the words “epic” and “grueling.” My solution here is substituting the words “saga-worthy” and “difficult,” because Iceland is a land of difficult terrain that inspired centuries of sagas. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This summer, Spartan announced that it was launching a new race in a new location: Iceland. I’ve been before, but I wanted to go back, and this seemed like a great excuse. Spartan also announced a new format:  a 24-hour UltraBeast consisting of 5-mile loops. My first reaction was “So, this is going to be World’s Toughest Spartan?” The staff at Tough Mudder must have been pleased, as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. My next reaction was to note the date: December 16, a month after World’s Toughest Mudder and, more important, a time of year when the sun barely shines in one of the world’s northernmost countries. The flip side of this was that it would make viewing of the northern lights while racing a real possibility.

The Great Unknowns

Racers were stymied at first, as Spartan’s website was ambiguous about what exactly the race would consist of, where it would take place, and who could participate. Many were reluctant to fork over $750 for a race without more details – Spartan promised it would be “epic” and “grueling”, but not much more. Eventually, enough people signed up that Spartan committed to the event and provided a travel agent to arrange hotels and transportation. The exact location was kept secret until close the date of the event, though it was easy enough to guess from Spartan’s description (a quick web search of the term “thermal streams,” one of the course features, pinpointed the site as Hveragerdi).

Adding to this uncertainty was one of the first data points provided by Spartan: a mandatory gear list. While Spartan has made some gear requirements for races in the past, particularly to make sure that racers would have enough water on the Beast and UltraBeast courses, the gear list provided was more reminiscent of what was required for the Death Race or an Agoge. In addition to a pack for water, racers were required to have on their person rain gear, warm clothes, lights, backup lights, and a very specific foot care kit. While I could imagine hikers needing an Ace bandage out in the wilderness, the need for one on a five-mile loop was less clear to me, and an informal survey after the race turned up no one who used it out on the course. The list caused considerable online puzzlement: would we be disqualified before the start if our rain jackets didn’t have the correct type of waterproof taped seams? Would there be pack inspections along the course?

What’s Icelandic for “Athlete Briefing”?

Racers met the day before the race for a mandatory briefing at Reykjavik’s Harpa, a concert hall and conference center, something like Iceland’s Carnegie Hall, but sleek and modern. Before we got to the important race details, we were treated to what might be the Icelandic equivalent of a motivational speaker. Bjartur led us all in a chant, having us cry “Wiking! Yes!” and jump in the air. Yes, Scandinavians have trouble with word-initial v’s, and it’s funny. The next few days included plenty of cheers of “Wiking!”

Next, Spartan Founder Joe De Sena took the stage and explained that staging the race had cost over a million dollars, and he expressed gratitude for some last-minute sponsors who had made the event possible. Given how expensive Iceland is, this was certainly credible. Finally, we were given the details of how the race would work: the loops would be six miles, not five unless bad weather forced the closing of part of the course. We were shown the bling, and we received a lengthy explanation of how that bling would be allocated. The format of the race would have different levels of finishers, one for those who completed over thirty miles, and another for those who completed over thirty miles and did so over twenty-four hours. Calculating the twenty-four hours involved crossing the finish line just after 9:00 am on Sunday, but not after 12:00 noon, which would result in not completing the race at all.

Iceland Ultra medal and belt buckle

At The Start

We picked up our timing chips and race bibs: purple for the elite competitors, black for us civilians, with reflective areas to make us visible in the dark, and so to bed. In the morning (still in the dark – remember, Iceland gets about four hours of sunlight a day this time of year) we were picked up from designated hotels in Reykjavik by bus and taken to Hveragerdi, about 45 minutes away. Iceland is powered by geothermal energy, and Hveragerdi is one of the locations where the steam pours out of the earth. We had been warned to stay on the course during the race because cutting corners could land us in the middle of a scalding thermal pool. Not a good reason to be disqualified.

In addition to pervasive eerie steam, Hveragerdi has an inflatable dome that provides an indoor rec center for the locals – basketball court, putting green, soccer field. This served as the Transition Area, and we were provided tables to store our gear, mandatory and otherwise. Cheerily, it was announced that in the wee hours, there would be cots and inflatable hammocks available for napping or for more comfortable viewing of Christmas movies which were to be projected on the walls.

We geared up, but before we could go outside there were two more groups to take the stage. First was a cohort from the concurrent Agoge that had started the day before. I don’t know what they had been up to on their spiritual and physical journey, but they looked miserable. A crowd of hundreds was cheering their efforts, but they all appeared too exhausted and demoralized to crack a smile. I did not envy them. Next were two Vikings (Wikings?), or the modern reenactor equivalents, who led us in a Viking prayer, which consisted of calling out the names of gods in each direction (Thor! etc.) and pouring out mead.

Genuine Wikings

Icy Start

We filed out of the dome into what little daylight there was. The weather called for rain, freezing rain, snow, some clearing, and then more precipitation. In short, a miserable day to be outdoors. Still, there was a race to complete, and twenty-four hours had to start eventually. At noon we took off for a 5K “prologue” through the town. This was a clever way to stretch out the field, and it gave us a taste of what the conditions were like: icy. Even before we started on the trails, we had to figure out how to keep upright on slick surfaces. Running up even a slight incline on ice is tricky.

After the prologue, we headed to the hills and the obstacles. One of the first obstacles was a pipe that was part of the landscape and replaced the usual hurdles that can be found on Spartan courses. Some of the obstacles (Monkey Bars, Twister) were closed on the first lap to avoid backups, and we soon came across another nod to the local conditions: the “farmer carry” obstacle had racers carrying… ice. Handles had been frozen into large blocks of ice. Nice touch, Spartan, and I always appreciate it when races that somehow acknowledge the course settings (think tire carries that used to be part of the Tough Mudder course at Raceway Park in New Jersey).

Why they call it Iceland

Soon we were directed up the side of the mountain. Spartan has steep climbs in its races, but this was among the steepest and most difficult I could remember. This wasn’t running, but rather climbing up the side of the mountain, pulling yourself up on whatever you could grab and hope that your footing wouldn’t slip. Also, hoping that you weren’t inadvertently kicking loose rocks into the faces of those below you. Video of that climb here

At the top of the mountain, it became clear exactly how treacherous conditions were: winds of more than 40mph pummeled racers on the exposed summit. The combination of the slick ice underneath your feet and the strong winds made it tough to stand even on a flat surface, and the wind was powerful enough to blow the snot out of you. Apologies to anyone who might have been downwind from me.

Going down the mountain was not easier: there was simply not much stable footing. Between the ice and the freezing rain on top of the ice and the wet terrain below the layers of grass, my feet were wet, cold, and unstable. The obstacles were spaced out fairly well as a distraction, but when your hands are cold and wet and the surfaces are icy, even simple obstacles like a rope climb are challenging. A complaint I heard from several people was that the sandbag carry was the most difficult obstacle; the sandbags were 60 pound Spartan “pancakes” (who knew they came in this size?), but these bags had been left out in the freezing rain, where they absorbed water and froze into awkward shapes. One noteworthy innovation: Spartan had replaced the typical round of thirty burpees with other penalties for some failed obstacles. Instead, some obstacles had short penalty loops, bucket carries or barbed wire crawls. In another twist, the elites had to carry a “passport” with them where volunteers recorded how many obstacles the racer failed. At the end of each loop, the elites did all of their burpees in one session.

All that steam eventually turns to ice

The obstacles were all familiar, which was a relief given the unknowns of the terrain. As it got darker and as the rain started fogging my glasses, it was tougher and tougher to see the course markings, though I was brought back on course by helpful fellow racers. As I trudged up yet another hill, I had one of the highlights of my OCR career: I got passed by Robert Killian. As he danced up the hill past me, he said “Good job!” What a mensch! [Editor’s Note: Mensch is a person with honor] It says a great deal about our sport that one of the top elite athletes would spare the breath and brain power in the middle of a race to offer some encouragement to someone at the back of the pack. Thanks, Killian.

Robert Killian, OCR mensch

Throwing In The Towel After Throwing In The Spear

I was cold, wet and not sure how I was going to finish one loop, let alone keep going for twenty-four hours. As I tried to figure out the best way to get to the next marker, I found myself asking “What would Bear Grylls do?” I also remembered that Bear had once taken on Iceland.  But I’m not Bear Grylls, I’m definitely not Robert Killian, and the appeal of warm air and dry clothes back at the dome was overwhelming. I also realized that I should have signed up for the Sprint, not the Ultra, and one loop was going to be enough for me. Trying to hit the spear throw is difficult enough, but doing it in heavy winds, in the dark, and then having to do burpees in an inch of freezing water? I know when to say when, and I opted to avoid the risk of a broken wrist, or worse, from slipping on icy paths.

After admitting defeat, I settled into the world of the Transition Area, the dome where racers warmed up, changed clothes, recovered from each lap and refueled. There were cots and water jugs supplied, and the overall appearance was that of a refugee camp, albeit for especially buff refugees fleeing a repressive Gore-tex based regime. The dome was a veritable festival of DryRobes. There was food for sale, the camaraderie of fellow racers, a festival atmosphere for the few spectators and crew, and loud top-40 hits to keep the mood high. Myself, I took a nap in one of the Spartan-branded inflatable hammocks (pro-tip, Spartan: if you are going to note how expensive the race was to mount, maybe hold back on putting your logo on the hammocks next time).

It was warm and dry in here.

Deflated by De Sena

As I recovered, wedged happily in one of the hammocks, who should stroll by but Joe De Sena. Knowing his goal to yank the world up off the couch, I asked him if he was going to revise his pledge to rip 100 million people out of their inflatable hammocks instead? “They also deflate, you know” he replied.

All through the night, racers trickled in and out. At about 1:30 in the morning, an announcement was made: the skies had cleared and the northern lights were visible. This was enough to get me out of the warmth of the dome, and it was enough to justify the entire adventure. Photographs do not do the phenomenon justice, but this natural wonder was augmented by the tiny lights from the headlamps of the racers out on the course. Saga-worthy.

Spartan’s professional photographers capture the northern lights.

Northern lights plus racers in the night, as taken by my phone.

International Attendance

While this may happen more often at Spartan races in Europe, one notable aspect of this race for me was how international the field was. Joe De Sena has worked hard to build the race series around the world, and the athletes that traveled to Iceland had come from over thirty-five countries. According to Spartan, 48% of the racers came from the US, with 40% from Europe and the rest from even farther away. It was an eye-opener to see how global OCR has become. Also, it afforded a few entertaining cross-cultural opportunities:

Me: “So, where are you from?”

Another American Spartan: “I live in Scranton.”

Genuinely bemused Spanish Spartan: “Wait, that’s a real place? Not just on ‘The Office’?”

American Spartan: “Yes, it’s real. But they made some stuff up for the show. We don’t actually have a Chili’s in Scranton.”

Shortly after 9, Morgan McKay crossed the finish line to win the race for the women, and not long afterward, Josh Fiore claimed the title for the men. He did so in romantic style, having carried an engagement ring in his pack for the entire race and popping the question at the finish line.

ORM’s Matt B. Davis MC’s the proposal from the warmth of his DryRobe and my borrowed warm socks.

You can read more about Josh’s race experience here: Not to be left out, Morgan got engaged soon after.

Iceland Recap

Apart from diamonds, what are the takeaways from Spartan Iceland Ultra? To be sure, there were some rough spots. I try to keep in mind that this was a debut of a new product at a new venue. As an organization, Spartan does not shy away from a challenge, and I respect them for their daring. Still, I’ll point out some mistakes, some of them that were probably avoidable. Too many details were kept under wraps for too long. It’s one thing to tease, but if racers are going to commit to training for an endurance event, they need to know what the event is going to require of them. I was unsure if Spartan HQ was being coy for much of the run-up to the event or they were just not sure what they wanted to produce.

My biggest criticism of the event was one that struck me as soon it was announced: December is the wrong month for the race. I appreciate that the weather and the darkness were part of what made the event so difficult, but bringing an event to a place of spectacular natural beauty only to schedule it for a time when participants can’t see the scenery seemed like a waste. My suggestion: try March instead. You still get 12 hours of darkness, the weather is just as unpredictable, the northern lights could come out, and dates that are not so close to Christmas and coincide with school vacations would all bring out more racers. It also avoids the end of season conflicts with Spartan’s other championship event, with OCRWC, and World’s Toughest Mudder.

Downsides

Iceland is remote. This is part of what makes it appealing, but it also means that it is an expensive trip for everybody (well, almost everybody). There will never be one place that is convenient for everyone, but no one was going to be piling into a car for an affordable road trip for this race. And on the topic of accessibility, the initial price point of $750.00 was off-putting, especially given the additional costs of travel to the venue. Discounts were offered, and hotels turned out not to be too expensive in Iceland at this time of year, but sticker shock was enough to keep many away.

There were other problems that might have been avoided: the timing software was not yielding updated results throughout the race, which is particularly crucial in a twenty-four-hour race, where elite racers’ strategies can be built on how many laps competitors have completed. Even for regular racers, the results were not finalized for weeks after the event, which made the medal vs. belt buckle element confused at the end of the race. Speaking of which, apparently many of the medals that made it to Iceland for the Ultra had ribbons denoting Hawaii as the location. While both are remote volcanic hotspots, the contrast could not be greater. Another gear-related snafu was that there was supposed to be unique Spartan Iceland-themed swag on offer, but only samples were available at the race, to the disappointment of many. I understand that the setting made everything more difficult (absolutely everything: I heard that Spartan lost not one but two drones to the heavy winds, resulting in a lack of aerial footage that definitely would have been described as “epic”), but shipping race merchandise should be a no-brainer.

Final Complaints

Of all the obstacles not to bring to Iceland, there was no fire jump. Normally I think of this as a silly photo-op rather than an obstacle, but when you are in the Land of Fire and Ice, you bring the fire. That’s just what you do, especially when the race is mostly in the dark. I’m hoping a risk-averse landowner was to blame for that. More seriously, Spartan once again has problems measuring its courses. The original plan was five-mile loops, and the day before the race we were told loops would be closer to six miles. In reality, the loops were closer to 6.8. I raise this because it is a flaw I have seen at almost every Spartan course. This isn’t a matter of under-promising and over-delivering. Getting the distance right at an endurance event is Race Management 101. Spartan has enough experience by now that even at a new venue they should get this right.

In the end, the event was a success. It was difficult: 600 racers started the Ultra, and only 322 finished (208 finished the two sprint waves out of 250 who registered). This is not an event for everyone.  While the race could not have been a financial success, it was a way to launch a new product, the Ultra, which appears to be getting its own series separate from the Beast. Exactly how this is going to happen is still murky. The only clear message we received about the new product is that its colorway is going to be purple. However, in the same way that Tough Mudder has used the Tough Mudder distance to generate the multi-loop Toughest Mudder event at its regular venues, it appears that Spartan is using this format to create a much longer event without having to wrangle a longer race course. Very clever.

The Ultra Appeal

Who will sign up for this new product? Plenty of people, apparently. One refrain I heard from several racers was that the race was not challenging enough. At first, I thought this was bravado, but when I talked to these racers, many were coming from an ultrarunner background; their events can be longer and more difficult than what they encountered in Iceland. There is a market for very difficult events, and remember that Joe De Sena has a background in adventure races. Those events are frequently multi-day challenges that test not just athletic endurance levels but also raw survival skills. The question remains whether the Spartan brand can pull together enough new racers into a product with this level of difficulty, either from those who regularly do more difficult events or from those who are attempting their first twenty-four-hour race.

Spartan is definitely going to try: after the race, it sent out a survey asking where racers would be interested in having next year’s Ultra Championship. Iceland was an option, and after the money and research expended to find this unique spot, it seems a shame not to go back. However, other Scandinavian countries were on the list, as were some closer to home. Wherever the Ultra Championship lands next year, one thing is for sure: it will be both epic and grueling.

North American OCR Championship Reveals 2018 Venue

North American Obstacle Course Racing Championships to Debut at Stratton Mountain, Vermont

Adventurey LLC, organizers of the independent Obstacle Course Racing World Championships, announced today the launch of the first North American Obstacle Course Racing Championships (#NorAmChamps) to be held August 10-12, 2018, at Stratton Mountain, in Stratton, Vermont.

The three-day event will consist of a 3K short course championship on Friday, August 10, followed by a 15K standard course championship on Saturday, August 11, and conclude on Sunday, August 12 with the Team Relay event. All distances will feature Pro Division and Age Group Divisions for qualified competitors. Limited Journeymen entries are available for which there are no results criteria (athletes need only participate in any three obstacle course races to qualify).

Additionally, qualifying spots for the OCR World Championships will be awarded for top Pro and Age Group division finishers with the winner of each division receiving free entry into the 2018 event.

“The sport of obstacle course racing continues to grow at an amazing pace with the support of many like-minded companies and individuals looking to bring it to the next level through the creation of the first independent North American Championships,” said Adventurey CEO Adrian Bijanada. “With enthusiastic community support, strong partnerships with fellow race organizations, and a deep bench of professionals willing to work together for the betterment of the sport, the #NorAmChamps is poised to be another incredible experience for obstacle course racers from all over North America.”

In an effort to serve the growing community, the previous 2017 US OCR Championships has been transformed into the North American OCR Championships for 2018 featuring obstacles from many North American-based partners, including Green Beret Challenge, City Challenge Race, BoneFrog Challenge, Terrain Racing, Conquer the Gauntlet, Northman Race, Wreck Bag, Indian Mud Run and more.

About Adventurey, LLC

Founded in 2013, Adventurey, LLC is a New York City-based company whose focus is on creating and producing life-enhancing endurance events and experiences. Media inquiries may be sent to Margaret Schlachter, Media Director – Margaret@ocrwc.com.

 

Photo Credits: USOCR Facebook Page

Rea Kolbl – Second Chance Athlete

Rea-Kolbl-warming-up-before-Palmerton-superI was lucky to be featured on the Palmerton Spartan Race episode the other day, and I got a chance to share my story of how I got to where I am now. In case you missed it, here’s the short version.

I grew up doing sports, and I was on the Slovenian National Gymnastics Team for almost 10 years. Gymnastics was my life, and I didn’t quite realize just how dangerous having just one big dream could be until I lost it; and with it, losing all of my dreams of being an athlete.

It took me a while, but I did find a new life; one where sports were a side thing, a hobby I did on most days, but taking a day off was perfectly fine, too, if there were other things that got in the way. I lost my fitness, and if someone invited me to climb a mountain I’d have to first consider if I was physically capable of the challenge.

Rea-Kolbl-Double-sandbag-at-Palmerton-Super

And then one day, I signed up for a Spartan Race. There are so many commercials and ads out there, advertising how Spartan changes lives. And really, if you pick any sport or activity, chances are there’s someone saying the same thing. But what I think makes Spartan different, is that it really does change lives (and here I’m mostly talking about Spartan and not obstacle racing, in general, because in my short career so far I haven’t had much chance to branch out and try other events).

After Palmerton episode aired, so many people reached out to me, sharing their stories which were so similar to my own. It’s a beautiful thing, realizing you’re not alone and that your experience is not so different from so many others out there. They shared their stories of injuries that ended their athletic careers when they were young; stories of being forced out of the sports, for one reason or another, thinking that that was the end of the road. But then they found Spartan. And a chance to be athletes again.

Rea-Kolbl-fire-jump-at-Palmerton-Super

So what I realized is that Spartan Races are giving so many people their second chance at what they loved when they were younger. It’s like a second chance sport, and it’s beautiful and amazing how much happiness this can bring. What makes OCR unique is the broad skill set it requires. You need to be fast to run the course; you need to be agile to cross the obstacles; you need to be strong to complete the heavy carries.

And I bet that no matter the sport you did as a child (or young adult), it probably covered at least some aspect that is very important for obstacle racing. It equipped you with a part of a skill set that makes you good at this, and that makes you want to try again, train harder, finish faster, and do it better. And it ultimately makes you stick with it.

There’s also this element of learning on the go that’s unlike any other sport. You don’t know the obstacles on the course ahead of time, and even if you do they might change a little, and you have to figure out how to tackle them. And this need to overcome the unknown fosters the community. There were so many races where I’ve made long-lasting friends from discussing obstacle strategies or trying to develop one together. I did a lot of trail running races before falling in love with Spartan and, while there were definitely chats at the finish line, these were more of a polite small talk. Because everyone there knows how to run, there is no point in discussing with fellow runners how to tackle the trail, how to put one foot in front of another.

Matching-tops-at-Palmerton-Super-Start

In gymnastics, the routines were so polished by the time you performed them and so individual, there was no need to chat about strategies with your competitors. But that’s different in obstacle course racing. There’s always something new to learn, and every race is a chance to improve. More importantly, it’s also a chance to make more friends.

So, people stick with it. The first time I came for the race, but then I kept coming back for the people. Spartan gave me and so many others a chance to find another passion, another focus, a sport to stick with both for the sport and the people in it.

The other day I was thinking that Spartan races are a lot like kindergarten. You play in the mud, swing on monkey bars, and you make friends. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why obstacle course racing can bring back the childhood dreams, and make you an athlete again.

Lindsay-Webster-embraces-Rea-Kolbl-at-the-Palmerton-Super-finish

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

Want to train like Rea? Check out one of her favorite workouts on ORM’s Train Like a Pro series.

Montreal Sprint/Super Weekend Canada

After having my ass handed to me last year, I returned to Mont Owl’s Head this past weekend looking to take a far more cautious approach to a mountain that defeated over 90% of Ultra Beasters in 2016. Thankfully, Spartan Race Canada took mercy on us as well, moving this weekend to a Sprint/Super combination – opting to push their Ultra Beast event further north to Quebec City, in August – want to join me there? Register with Code: ORM15 for 15% off!

If you’ve avoided travelling outside of the US for a Spartan Race – The “Montreal” event is a great way to dip your toes into the Great White North. It really could be called the Northern Vermont Sprint/Super because by the time you’ve put your passport away after passing through customs, you’re arriving at Mont Owl’s Head. Also, if you’re familiar with the peaks of Vermont, or New Hampshire’s White Mountains, then you’ll be right at home here. Owl’s Head has a small base but steep climbs comparable to mountains twice its size.

“Though she be but little, she is fierce”

Owl’s Head totes one of the steepest climbs I’ve experienced in my OCR days and we couldn’t escape that climb, even on the Sprint course. About two miles in, after hitting a brutal combination of Olympus, Monkey Bars, a Platinum Rig, and a grueling Bucket Carry where racers were filling their buckets with dirt and rocks, we were tortured with a slow climb to the top of the mountain – about a 1,700 foot climb all in. The reward for climbing the mountain, and subsequent descent, is a view like no other – A gorgeous lake spanning for miles and the Appalachian’s in all their glory. You had plenty of time to drink it in, as you navigated the Tractor Pull through a slick and muddy path atop the mountain. You also had some time to really open up your legs on the back half of the Sprint – something that was severely missing in last year’s event. Long winding downhills made for some nice speed before bringing you into a finishing gauntlet made up of the Spear Throw, Rope Climb, Hoist, Barbed Wire Crawl, Rolling Mud, Dunk Wall, and A-Frame Cargo Net – all within 100m of the finish line.

Combined, the Sprint and Super had approximately 5,000 competitors and the venue handled them well. Small lines at registration were quickly moved through and Spartan made it a point to bring in far more bathrooms than last year, a common gripe among attendees. Finisher shirts seem to have gone universal in North America as there’s no Canadian flag or indicator that you’ve done a Canada Spartan.

All in all, I really enjoyed this weekend, especially getting back to short course racing where you can really test your lungs and legs. It’s been some time for me since I’ve started running longer distance events, and it was refreshing to cross the finish line while it was still light out.

Were you back at Montreal for redemption after last year? I’d love to hear about it – leave us a comment below!

LeaderBoard Training – Coached by the Pros (Part 1)

LeaderBoard-Logo

What if I told you there’s a top secret organization of podium finishers across the nation? And that the recent Spartan Super at Fort Carson, had its podium swept by this group? Well, part of that is true. There is a group of athletes training together and hitting podiums left and right. The fib was that it’s not a secret at all!

If you’ve read the Train Like a Pro series, you know Robert Killian is a coach over at a training website called LeaderBoard. If you haven’t read the series, what are you waiting for? Anyway, the great people at LeaderBoard were generous enough to let me get the real-deal experience for myself. In addition to Robert, LeaderBoard has his fellow Spartan Pro Team member, Brakken Kraker, as their other coach. Over the last month, I’ve been working directly with Brakken.

LeaderBoard-Peak-Podium-Sweep

THE PEOPLE

Though Brakken and Robert may be the faces that bring in athletes, there are other members of the team you’ll work with. Taylor McClenny, LeaderBoard’s Founder, ensures that the program maintains course towards its long-term mission. Zac Allen takes on the role of Assistant Coach. He, along with your head coach (Brakken or Robert), are your main points of contact for the program. He’s there to answer any questions you have, keep your race schedule up-to-date, and ensure you’re getting the best training experience possible. Behind the scenes, Lindsey Watts is the Head of Software Development. She takes care of website development and ensures that the fitness programming is always improving.

Taylor and Zac were old MMA training partners, who reconnected after Zac finished filming NBC’s Spartan Race: The Ultimate Team Challenge. After discussing the sport of Obstacle Course Racing and the culture it brings, they knew it was the best entry point for LeaderBoard. The next step was finding a pro Head Coach. The list was short and, after meeting with Brakken, he was clearly the right fit. They officially launched the June 6, 2016 with 15 total athletes. Robert joined the team later that August. Today, LeaderBoard trains 65 athletes and growing.

Robert-Killian-Sandbag-Carry-Seattle-2017

HOW IT WORKS

LeaderBoard gives athletes a place to work directly with coaches, and other athletes, to better their own fitness. Taylor saw the need for their type of program. “I found it odd that programming, to date, is largely a one-way system,” he said. “It’s rare that these same systems are used as a two-way communication, where the coaches use feedback from their athletes to improve the programming and overall experience. That’s our goal.” I really think this is part of why LeaderBoard has been so successful. They’re able to adjust your program on the fly and provide the right feedback for each athlete.

The program is set up so that athletes can train up to 7 days per week, if needed. After the first few days of training, you’ll have a one-on-one session with your coach. Though it was scheduled for about 20 minutes, my chat with Brakken lasted closer to an hour. I was quickly able to see the amount of detail the coaches get to know about each person. They make it a priority to know the athlete, their PRs (Personal Records), training history and what programming works best for them.

Each day, you’ll log in at www.leaderboardfit.com, check that day’s workout(s), perform the workout, then log your results. The rest is done for you; the workouts, the distances, the paces, everything. As you log each result, your coaches will update future workouts to reflect the best possible training program for you. There have been times when my prescribed distance, or pace for a run has been altered just based on a workout I did that week. Your coaches can also change workouts based on upcoming races, depending on how important that race is to you. The schedule is set up so that you can race pretty much any weekend. But, if there’s a race that you really want to PR, the coaches will make a few tweaks so that you’re fresh come race day.

Brakken-Kraker-Monkey-Bars-at-Citi-Stadium-Sprint

COMMUNICATION

One of the areas LeaderBoard excels in is communication. In addition to the one-on-one every athlete has with their coach, they also get an invite into a group chat on a messaging program called Slack. This has been one of my favorite parts of LeaderBoard. There are several areas in Slack that I have at my disposal. The first is a group chat with all athletes and coaches on LeaderBoard. The second is a group chat just for Brakken’s athletes, with the third being a private chat set up between myself and my two coaches (Zac and Brakken). Slack allows athletes to discuss that day’s workout, ask questions about workouts, gear, races, etc., get together at common races, and even share lodging for races that are far from home.

Brakken’s athletes also have a Facebook Live event with him every two weeks. He broadcasts from whatever his location happens to be that week, discusses recent races, workouts and benchmarks. We’ll get into benchmarks later!

LeaderBoard-Dashboard

THE WORKOUTS

Each week consists of two full quality workouts, a semi-quality workout, a couple recovery days and a full rest day. Just a heads up, there’s a lot of running! I know this may seem obvious, being an OCR program, but not all of them account for it. One of the first things Brakken and I discussed was how much running I had been doing to that point. We then decided that I should try to run about four days a week, adding in a fifth if I felt good. The rest would be low or non-impact days.

Because I don’t have a lot of soft trails nearby, a few of my longer runs and interval runs were on pavement or a treadmill. About three weeks in, I could feel a slight onset of shin splints. I’ve had issues with them in the past and wanted to avoid them creeping in at all costs. I hopped on Slack, sent a message to Brakken and Zac, and we quickly figured out a plan of attack. They had me back off a day of running, and do what I could to run on soft terrain. The fourth day, when I would normally run, would be a non-impact cardio activity instead. I did this for the next two weeks, as I had a (small) race coming up. Sure enough, it worked. My legs felt fine and I had a great race.

The quality workouts are designed to push you to your limits, but not be too difficult for you to complete. If you can’t complete it, you won’t improve. Some of the quality runs have included Fartlek, 60/60 intervals, progressive tempo,  and 5/5 hard/easy intervals, among others. Not all quality workouts are just runs, either. Many include tasks that would simulate something you might see in a race, such as carries, bear walks, burpees or pull ups. On recovery and easy run days, you’ll also have a supplemental workout, which is usually based on your specialization during that time. After you log your workout, your coaches will review it and update your program as needed. Sometimes they’ll even send you an email will feedback about a given workout you logged.

LeaderBoard-Female-podium-finish

BENCHMARKS AND SPECIALIZATIONS

This is really LeaderBoard’s bread and butter and why I think their athletes see great results. The Benchmarks are specific physical tests that you’ll retake throughout your training. There’s a 5k BM, a Carry BM and a Rig BM. The Carry and Rig are tested each month and generally help you decide your specialization. The specialization pretty much determines what type of supplemental workouts you’ll be doing for the next four weeks. If you just can’t decide, there’s a “Coach’s Suggestion” to help you out!

For the first four weeks, I selected the Carry Specialization, as I didn’t have past BM tests to help me choose. This meant that many of my supplemental workouts involved either a bucket, sandbag or farmer’s carry, sometimes with an exercise circuit thrown in. After the four weeks were up, and it was time to do the Carry BM, I could tell how much I would’ve struggled if I didn’t have those four weeks under my belt. Those who picked the Carry Specialization achieved 15% more improvement on their latest Carry BM than the average. What’s even more impressive is that they also achieved 81% more improvement on their Rig BM than the average.

Next round, I’ll be training with the Rig Specialization. Athletes who had just done this specialization achieved a whopping 114% more improvement on the Rig BM than the average.  

LeaderBoard-Podium-Finishes-in-March

RESULTS

I am now the fastest racer alive! Okay, maybe not, but it’s only been a month. There’s only so much I can tell you about my improvement so far, and don’t worry, I’m getting to that. As for athletes who have been using the program for a while, there’s a great deal of standing on podiums going on. At this year’s Spartan Race it Atlanta, GA, LeaderBoard had an athlete win both the Saturday and Sunday race, two who took first and second in Masters both days, plus another that finished fourth. That’s not including the other athletes who finished top 20. Another athlete went from top 90% in his age group to top 10% basically just by having an off-season of LeaderBoard training. As I mentioned before, LB athletes also swept the men’s podium of this past weekend’s Spartan Super at Fort Carson.

As far as my results go, I can sit here and tell you how much faster and stronger I feel (which I do), but you’d have to take me at my word. I appreciate it that some of you probably do, but others may want proof. Luckily, I brought some. First off, I ran my 5k BM about 30-seconds slower than my PR, which I hit in a race at the end of last year. Why is that proof? Over the winter, I was lucky to run twice a week. Some weeks I didn’t run at all. I used it to take some time off from running and build strength. To be this close early in the season means I should have myself a new PR pretty soon.

Not enough proof? Well, when I first spoke with the team at LeaderBoard about taking this little journey, we added in another Benchmark test just for me. There’s a great trail surrounding a nearby ski resort that totals 5.1 miles and about 775 feet of total ascent. A couple weeks before beginning the program, I ran it. A few days ago, I ran it again. Below is the total time, plus splits for each mile. Total ascent during each mile is in parenthesis to account for the variation in splits. The numbers from 7 weeks ago are on the left, with the latest numbers on the right.

Total Time – 1:02:52 vs. 59:09

Mile 1 (256 ft) – 11:32 vs. 11:41

Mile 2 (244 ft) – 13:49 vs. 12:54

Mile 3 (84 ft) – 11:14 vs. 10:42

Mile 4 (89 ft) – 12:23 vs. 11:21

Mile 5 (77 ft) – 12:25 vs. 11:05

There’s still much work and testing to be done, but I’ve learned so much already this past month. I’m very excited to see what the upcoming weeks have in store. Next month, I’ll be posting another update. There will be another month of specialization and another round of Benchmarks. I’ll also be competing in a Savage Race, which I’ll compare to my experience running one last October, before training under LeaderBoard.

For more information and to book a free 7-day trial, visit www.leaderboardfit.com.

Photo Credit: LeaderBoard, Spartan Race