Tough Mudder London North: New Venue, New Obstacles

Considering the venue had a last-minute attack of the English disease that is NIMBY’ism (not in my backyard).  The local council decided to pull the plug on the traffic management arrangements, 48hrs before the event was due to start.  Add all this to the fact England was playing in the World Cup quarter-final, it is fair to say Tough Mudder HQ really had the odds stacked against them.

Believe me, the knives were already being sharpened by a few, as we rocked up and faced a 15-minute walk to the Tough Mudder village in temperatures already 77 at 7 am.

Podium PlacesCredit Tough Mudder

Once arriving at the village, the atmosphere was surprisingly light, there was a buzz of anticipation that only a new venue can create.  Rumours had already been circulating that the venue had laid down the law.  No holes to be dug, no mud brought in and no fun to be had at all (that last one is me being petulant but accurate nonetheless).

This led to a bunch of unheard obstacles listed on the course map, Hydrophobia, Kinky Tunnels, Next Level and hanging out.  Oh and the return of the dreaded Electric eel.  Not forgetting the return of electroshock therapy at the finish.  Tongues were most definitely wagging all the way to check in.

So, checked in by the usual awesome Volunteer crew and of to the warm-up and start line.  Where we were warned against the heat and told to hydrate at the water stations regardless of thirst.  Truly good advice, in fact, I was wearing my marathon vest with 2x 500 ml bottles and iso gels just in case.

We were off and on our way to my 16th and Julie’s 3rd TM full.  The first half Kilometer sprint was a nice warm up to kiss of mud followed a similar distance to skid marked.  The usual suspects followed bail bonds, water station, hero carry, Water station and Everest.

 TMHQ really had not left anything to chance with the water stations.

Water station Number one was sensibly giving out 500 ml bottles, not a cup full.  I was beginning to realise I was dragging my vest and water round for no actual reason.  Still, none else had one so I must be the cool one, right?  Right?

Yours Truly Focused on EverestCredit: Tough Mudder

Before we knew it mile 2 and Boa constrictor.   Which if you’re knocking on the door or in my case over 6 feet and built like a Greek god (so I’m told by my ego anyway), is a real struggle to get up the other end of the two angled pipes. Added to the deeper than normal water this was a real test and was welcomed.

A real treat was to follow though,

I honestly think I skipped like a kid would with excitement the last few feet (Greek god for real).  Face to face with the new hydrophobia, which is a 40-50 feet pool 15 feet across.  With three half submerged plastic sewer pipes which you had to duck down and swim under.  Now I’m a real water baby (Poseidon clearly), so this was a breeze, in fact, a lot of fun.  I was surprised however how many had a real fear of going under the pipes.   I found myself stopping at each pipe reaching under and joining hands, with more than a few nervous mudders and pulling them through.

Cooled and buzzing from hydrophobia, we plodded on through miles 3 and 4 passing 5-6 other usual obstacles and at least 3 more water stations.  On to Next Level which is Giant A hole parachuted in from the 5k events.  Love this obstacle. Who doesn’t love a 25 feet high cargo net with a 15 feet cargo net roof to traverse I know I do and again the fear factor was introduced to a lot of my fellow mudders.

Blue lap done we were into the Orange loop and fired over Cage craw and Arctic enema we hit the dreaded electric eel.

Which I am sad to say courtesy of the metal holding me together, following a motorcycle accident I am medically exempt from.  Electric eel back with a BangCredit Tough Mudder

Stood watching mudders being stung from the audible cracks, each time a wire bit them.

Sounded like a really pissed off wasp, followed by at best a yelp.  Or at worst, language your grandmother still doesn’t know you use.  I can promise you just watching was making the fillings in my teeth on edge.  Aside from hanging out, which is a longer lower version of Kong the last 4 miles flew by with Funky monkey, Kong infinity amongst the highlights.

Stunning Location For London NorthCredit John Donnelly

So, what am I reporting back to you?

First and foremost. I was magnificent obviously! even completing the head shoulders, knees, and toes challenge, before touching down on Funky Monkey and Kong infinity.  The course you say? Apologies, well it was it must be said it was short, 8.5 miles.  The ground was rutted and a real ankle twister  Plus the weather was punishing.  All of that is an aside if I’m being brutally honest.

TMHQ really knocked this out of the park.  Great new improvised obstacles, the return of a dreaded classic.   All nicely buried deep into 24 great obstacles.

All shoehorned into some stunning English countryside.  The course truly felt like OCR not a run with a few obstacles thrown in.  [Read more…]

Aston Down Spartan Super 2018

Aston Down Spartan Super

The 2018 South West Super was the first race of the season (for me). When was the first chance for me to back out? A long time ago. If I could say I was not prepared for this race, that would be an understatement. Two weeks previous to this race I was bungee jumping off the Auckland Harbour Bridge, hardly Spartan Race preparation. In any case, it’s been quite some time since I did any sort of race, and I felt it on this Super. At least this time, I wasn’t on my own. Joined by two of my three brothers and our friend, we stuck together as a team for over 3 hours in a blistering 23 degrees (Yes. This is hot in Britain).

The first 30 minutes are always tough for me. Many thoughts go through my head including and not limited to “I’m going to die.” or “Why am I doing this?” and more importantly “Can I stop now and still get a medal?”.  Maybe it was something to do with the fact that the first five obstacles were all walls. My arms are puny.

The next couple of obstacles were well varied and consisted of two Barbed Wire Crawls, Twister (why?), the A-Cargo frame and Block Wall. This last obstacle was a personal triumph for me. I have NEVER completed this before and was beyond ecstatic that the Super 2018 was the moment that I defeated it. Dramatic I know. In any case, it was short lived because the other Z Wall I failed epically on. Small victories.

This race gave me a new appreciation for hills, although I’m sure I thought the same last year. My chat with Karl Allsop, Race Director of Spartan UK, had already given me some idea of how the course had been created. I’m not sure I was quite prepared for this though. This year, Aston Down sported a long hill switchback section which unfortunately spelt out a longer word than ‘Aroo’ that was used the year before.  Amongst the moans and groans (some from me) of those first seeing the hill, there were plenty of grunts and shouts of those already taking it on. I know what you’re thinking, come on its just a hill. No. Not just a hill. It was a good 10 – 15 minutes of ascent, descent, hidden holes and twisted ankles. After that, the sandbag carry was a walk in the park. A really big park where there was no discernible need for us to carry sandbags.

The 6′ wall came next. At this point, we were hot, sweaty and seriously tired. This is where the famous Spartan spirit came in to play. Struggling on the second wall, a group of fellow Spartans lent a hand (a shoulder and a head) to get our entire group over all three walls. It was a brilliant moment of the race and by far my fondest memory. We caught up with these lads in the T-shirt line at the end of the race. It’s such a good feeling to know that there are those who race that just want everyone to cross that finish line. It’s also nice that it feels like a rite of passage to shout other Spartans on and make sure that everyone is OK when they’ve just stopped to catch their breath.

Rolling Mud wasn’t really all that muddy (great) but it was a welcome cool down in the scorching heat. It was also just enough to make the Slip Wall a little more slippery. It was the water station on the other side that saw me almost run up the wall. Cue the foot cramp coming down the other side.

Once we had eaten copious amounts of bananas, drunk and poured water over us, we entered a gentle jog along the unusually flat ground. We all reflected on the race so far and how we were so glad that we had managed with no major injuries and no dropouts. It was such a great feeling to know that our bodies were capable of so much.

As we reared around the corner, I spied the familiar abandoned building nestled in amongst some trees and bushes. Bucket Brigade. Those running with me could tell my distress, we could see the last few obstacles to our right but first, we had to endure. Last year, we filled our own buckets with pebbles. This year, Spartan Race graciously filled our buckets for us and tightly secured the lid. I was grateful/ungrateful for this. Whilst re-arranging the position of the bucket last year, some pebbles may have fallen out on the way. Oh, how unfortunate. Along with the suspicious piles of pebbles that were found as we heaved the buckets around the course, I think Spartan Race cottoned on. This year, no such luck. I held it in front, to the side and finally settled on the ‘half on the back half on the shoulder’ method. The heat at this point was almost unbearable and I felt for the men and women who had chosen the heavier buckets. Several people along the route were either stopped or stopping with their buckets falling to the floor. It was tough. But we all knew that it would be this, a small jog, four or five more obstacles and we would have the sweet victory of the Spartan medal. 

We endured it well and all welcomed the short (light) jog to the next set of obstacles. The atmosphere approaching the finish line was electric. It makes such a big difference when you can hear the music blaring and the cheering of the spectators when you are trying to pull the last few particles of energy together. It’s also comforting to note that everyone else looks just as dead as you.

Herc Hoist is usually trouble free, but at this point in the race, it was horrendous. It felt like all the muscles in my legs were cramping. I’m glad there were no photographers here. I then hobbled over to the Spearman throw; failed as usual and attempted some burpees. Next up was Monkey Bars to which my calves decided enough was enough. I know, who uses their legs for monkey bars? Me apparently.

These last obstacles were sort of a blur mainly because we could see the finish line and desperately wanted the end to come. I didn’t care if I threw myself or was thrown over the 8′ Walls that separated us from the glorious finish line. The lads heroically completed them without help whilst I called upon some more shoulders and heads. I’m just too short. And that was it. Our Fire Jump picture was possibly the best one I’ve had yet and it perfectly embodied the joy we felt after finishing the race.

On our way to our Brazilian BBQ, post-race treat, we discussed the day at length. We laughed and groaned at the best and hardest parts then quite deservedly stuffed our faces.

The course was well balanced but we did agree that the significant amount of hills was almost demoralizing. This didn’t, however, take away from the fact that once completed, there was a greater sense of achievement. A few more water stops on such a hot day would have also been beneficial. But the layout was definitely challenging enough but not impossible to complete. We all came away knowing exactly what our weak points were. The volunteers were there to offer support and encouragement (and sometimes an inaccurate portrayal of how long we had left).

Overall, the race was a great day. The atmosphere was amazing and you really felt like you were taking part in something epic and that everyone else thought you were epic too for simply being there. The pre-race warm-up always makes me feel a little silly, but it was nice that everyone else was willing to make a bit of a fool out of themselves. Please, just don’t ask us to do more burpees.

A big thanks to Karl and the team for putting on such an eventful day at Aston Down and shout out to the incredible volunteers at the end who let four thirsty finishers raid their water bottle stash.

Aston,  we will be back.

All images are credited to Epic Action Imagery, Alec Lom, and Paul Pratt.

2018 Spartan Sprint D.C. – Fast and Furious

Spartan-DC-A-Frame-and-Carving

Maryland International Raceway, just south of our nation’s capital, is usually filled with revving engines, screeching tires and roaring cheers. This weekend, the cheers were still there, but the tires were replaced with the sound of feet running through the woods. The engines were replaced by splashing water, ringing bells and spears hitting hay. Spartan Race had returned for its popular Sprint distance.

Parking and Registration

Personally, the two biggest things that make a race great, other than the course itself, is parking and registration. Parking at D.C. was on-site, which is always great. Generally, if I see there’s a shuttle, I’m less likely to add that race to my list. Parking at Maryland International Raceway was extremely easy, and the lot was only about a 3-4-minute walk to the registration tent. Check in was smooth and quick early in the morning and I didn’t notice any long lines in the afternoon.

Spartan-DC-Registration-Lines

I know a lot of Spartan diehards were down in Dallas for one of their bigger stadium races of the year, but turnout still seemed relatively strong. There weren’t a ton of vendors, but this made the festival area seem less congested and easy to navigate. Regardless of festival vendors, there were still plenty of free goodies to be had both at the finish line and around the festival area.

The spectator area didn’t extend far into the course, but after watching racers start, they were able to view Hercules Hoist, Multi-Rig and Rope Climb all within about a quarter mile of the course. There was also an area outside of the festival to watch Monkey Bars and Vertical Cargo. At the finish, spectators watched racers emerge from the woods to take on the A-Frame and finish with a Fire Jump.

Spartan-DC-Spear

The Course

Out of the handful of Sprints I’ve done in the past, DC was by far the flattest. Though there were plenty of short hills with varying inclines, the total ascent was low for your typical Spartan. Though 300 feet over a little over 4 miles is nothing to scoff at, many other venues easily hit 1,000 feet or more in the same distance. This led to quick times for the Elite racers, with the male winner, Tyler McCredie finishing in 39:48 and the female winner, Tiffany Palmer, coming across in 50:42.

Most Spartan Races and obstacle races, in general, only include a few obstacles in the first mile. Mostly, this is to keep the field spread out so there isn’t a lot of backup. The D.C. Sprint, however, included seven obstacles in the first mile. And not just hurdles or barbed wire, either. Those were included, but so were the Spearman, Bucket Brigade and Olympus. Initially, I expected this to cause some unusual backups. But, to my surprise, I didn’t face any significant obstacle lines. That went for both heats I ran, once in Age Group at 8:00 am and the second being Open at 11:30 am.

Spartan-DC-Sprint-Finish

In all, the course tallied up about 4.25 miles and racers faced 22 obstacles. That early run of obstacles meant no crazy gauntlet at the end of the race. The last half mile only included Monkey Bars, Vertical Cargo, A-Frame and Fire Jump. So, if you had enough juice in your legs, you could make a solid finish with the lack of strength or grip obstacles. Personally, I like having a string of obstacles right before the finish, but each design has its strengths and weaknesses.

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author

Tougher Mudder KY: Laps and Live Music

Let me start by saying this: Great job, Tough Mudder!  That feedback email that you get after a race? Tough Mudder really seems to have paid attention.  Year after year, they have consistently gotten better.  If you read my review for the Tougher Mudder TN last September, then you understand why I made a point to start with some praise for the improvements!

With Tough Mudder starting their competitive series just last year, they were playing the sort of catch up game that any runner who has ever fallen off an obstacle or come from behind should understand (I know I do!).  They realized that Mudder Nation needed improvements, and they did what many OCR brands do not do well: They listened to constructive criticism and made changes.

VENUE and PARKING: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, KY

One of the aspects that I most love about racing, other than the amazing and supportive OCR family, is getting to see so many different parts of the world that I would not see otherwise.  Although we didn’t race in or just around the Kentucky Speedway, getting to drive by it on the way in to the venue was exciting (I do NOT excite easily).

 Parking was in three different sections, and I went with the “General Parking” option.  It was a half-mile away, but it wasn’t a half-mile of wondering where the entrance was, as for the entire walk to registration, I could see part of the course, several obstacles, and a portion of the festival area.  Parking was quick and easy.

View-from-Parking-Area

 

REGISTRATION/CHECK-IN:

There is some room for improvement here, although it is better than the last Tougher I competed in (Thank you, TM!).  With plenty of lines for the non-competitive heats (makes sense, since there are far more participants in these areas), there were only two lines and two tables for Tougher Mudders.  While it was a smooth check-in with zero issues, maybe adding a table or two would help, as the check-in volunteers were three to a table, so there was congestion.  Overall, though, it took me maybe three minutes to show my ID, get my bib and timing chip, and move on.  I also come prepared, though, so that always helps those volunteers, as well as speeds up the process for other participants.

Registration-and-Check-in

Registration-tents

There were also tables set up with plenty of markers and zip ties for timers, as well as scissors to cut the loose ends off of the zip ties.  Convenience at its finest!

STARTING LINE, GOOD TIMES, and THE COURSE (of course)

After being told that there were some starting line issues this year already, I was a little nervous about being sure I was at the gate early.  I must say, it was hard to hear any announcements and I was constantly checking my watch and looking toward the starting line.  Thankfully, it seemed like volunteers were deployed to find anyone wearing a Tougher Mudder bib and to be sure we were headed to the starting line on time.

The way people were organized into corrals by time, then sent to the starting line, was a pretty cool change from the norm of people just heading to the start and getting a wristband or something else checked.  I spoke to a few of the runners from each type of race (5k, Tough Mudder half, Tough Mudder full), and how they felt about being able to start all in the same wave.  Everyone I spoke to loved the idea of being mixed with others with different, yet the same, goal-to finish stronger and together! No one felt left out or “called out” for running a shorter race.

After I finished my race, I met up at the starting line to visit with DJ Will Gill, who is always, always a superstar at the starting line and gets everyone motivated.  He announced me when I walked up as the Tougher female winner, and that was pretty sweet.  Not a lot of starting line people really get me going, and he is one of the few. Unlike other race venues, DJ Will Gill even let me sing the National Anthem for one of the heats!  Tough Mudder allows a moment of silence and the National Anthem before each and every wave of runners.

National-Anthem

Once runners lined up, they had a flat start that went to the top of a small hill, and then it was ON!  Tougher Mudders had to follow course markings like everyone else, but we had Lap 1 and Lap 2 challenges.  We pretty much had the course to ourselves for Lap 1, but once we hit Lap 2, we were intermingled with non-Tougher Mudder runners, and while it caused some congestion, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  My husband, who ran his first OCR, was part of the 5k crew, and he felt just as part of everything and every obstacle as everyone else.  For this being his first OCR, and with him not being a runner at all, I worried he would not know where to go on the course, but he says the course was marked so well, there was no chance for any confused at all.  (He also is planning on running another Tough Mudder, “at least a half”, he says!).

Runners also crossed over where others were just getting to the race and having the cheers and encouragement as I ran by was pretty nice. I also think Tough Mudder did a great job with changing up a little how the Tougher Mudders had to compete, such as we had to complete the King Kong Infinity, and we had to swim across a pond (I couldn’t even touch the bottom!).  Towards the end, Toughers had an ice bag carry, and we carried it to the Arctic Enema, broke it open, and poured it into the water before getting in and swimming to the other side.  As one who doesn’t like any weather below 70 degrees, this wasn’t my favorite part, but I do appreciate it being towards the end of the race!

DJ-Will-Gill

Starting-Line

RECOGNITION and MUDDER VILLAGE

Not only did Tougher Mudder decide to create medals for the top three male and female finishers, they also added a podium ceremony.  I do wish the podium was out in the middle of the venue, rather than being crammed at the end of the finish line.  This allows for people to enjoy watching the announcements, as well as others, getting pictures up on the podium just for fun; HOWEVER, for Tough Mudder to have made the changes with medals and recognition, and in such a short time, was pretty rockstar of them!

Podium-Ceremony

And guess what? There was a LIVE BAND in Mudder Village, as well!  There was other music being played, but the band did a super job covering top songs, and this was a wonderful difference from so many other venues I’ve been to.  The ATM was in a building on the way in and set aside and well-marked.  There were new obstacles and others from the past were brought back, as well.  It was nice to go into a race and not know exactly what to expect.

This is a racing brand that has been around for some time, now, and if you haven’t run one yet, go do it!  If you have, think about doing it again!

I’ll be back, Tough Mudder!

 

Racing, Burpees, and Misogi: a Three Year Update (Part One)

This past fall I traveled to the United Arab Emirates for the Inaugural Middle-Eastern Obstacle Course Championships.

I wasn’t particularly excited to be racing. Granted, there had been a time when I was really passionate about racing, back when I first stumbled upon the sport and subsequently caught the racing bug. Back then my goal was to be the best in the world at what I did, and a good deal of every day was spent either training, recovering from training, or thinking about training.

I thought about the sport constantly in those early days, but the sport did not think about me. I loved speed and trained that way, but the sport of obstacle racing was evolving toward sluggish, multi-hour mountain races. This left me with the occasional short course races and not much else. I had a brief stint with Spartan’s Pro Team and moved on. I would end up working far too much, meeting a Hungarian girl, and eventually following her to Europe.

My racing days were three years ago, ages in a sport spit-balling forward into the public’s eye as quickly as OCR. But I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a certain tickle, an itch in the back of my head. I tried to bury it and move on to new things. Still, it reemerged on an almost weekly basis.

Twice in the last three years I’ve attempted to scratch it.


The Championship took place well outside of Dubai, in the northeastern, mountainous section of the United Arab Emirates that bordered Oman. As we left Dubai behind there was no gradual transition from urban to rural. Instead, one moment we were in the awe-inspiring, meticulous city, and the next we were alone on a sand-strewn two-lane highway. To either side stretched seemingly unending dunes dotted with the occasional camel.

The novelist Wilfred Thesiger spent years wandering through this “Empty Quarter” of the desert in the 1940s. For months at a time the landless Bedouins he traveled with subsisted on nothing more than dried dates and camel milk. Dates, to me at least, seem to be about on par with sandpaper in terms of nourishment while in the throes of dehydration. And why would Thesiger, an affluent aristocrat, willfully spend extended amounts of time trying not to die out in these ever-changing sands?

Eventually British interests began to show interest in meeting with tribes, oil was found, rights were negotiated, and just like that, the massive silver city currently shrinking in our mirrors had sprung upward from the sand.


I drank strong, bitter coffee to stave off the jet lag while Halvord Borsheim, a Swedish racer based out of Dubai, slalomed his BMW SUV though sedentary early-morning traffic. His girlfriend Martha, also a racer, was co-piloting, but she was rehabbing and would be cheering instead of racing today. My brother, Brakken, had flown in from Milwaukee, and currently sat next to me, dozing.

This would be my second time racing here. I had flown out to Dubai in 2015 for the first Middle Eastern Spartan Race. It was a sprint to the finish, and I crossed the line thinking I had won. But my celebration was cut short when I saw Hallvard, medal around neck and banana in hand, waiting for me past the finish line.

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Given the brutal terrain and conditions, I was ecstatic with the 2nd-place finish. The rest of my week was spent wandering around the city in a sleep-deprived spell, jaw hanging at the sheer wonder of the place. I was new to racing, to traveling, to having giant checks handed to me, and everything felt like a dream.

Something clicked for me that during that trip. This was a thought that, simple as it was, would grow into a philosophy over the coming years. You see, I have good speed endurance (I once took a year and a half off from running, and for my very first day back, walked to a track and ran a half mile in 1:58) but my talent is not linear, and I’m actually quite average when it comes to pure aerobic, or endurance events. Had the Americans shown in 2015 I’d have taken 10th and gone home empty-handed. If the Europeans showed up I would have been lucky to take 20th. But only I had made the choice to show up, to sit on a plane for 16 hours, to race. This was the secret: talent is important in this world, but like it or not, it is finite and can only be improved so much. Circumstance, however, is entirely up to you.

This attitude began to bleed into other parts life. Identify a low-probability event, give yourself the skills to succeed in that situation were it to happen, and then finally, attempt to influence the odds of the said event occurring.

I wasn’t able to make it in 2016, but Brakken did fly out.  He took 2nd as well, but to a Russian this time, Sergei Perelygin.


It was morning, but in name only- the sun had already cleared the jagged mountains skirting the race grounds, and it was 93 degrees, well on its way to triple digits come race-time. I was thirsty by the time my warm-up was over.

Like most championships, this race would be the Beast distance, rumored to be in the 13-mile range. The first hour would consist of open desert running before moving into the mountains for the second hour. I’ve discovered that these races are typically less-obstacle intensive than US races, meaning shorter, lighter carries and crawls, but it was rumored that there were some intense carries and lengthy swimming sections in the 2nd half of the race.

I stood there at the start line, a good 15 pounds heavier than my racing days, minutes slower in the 5k, running a race 5 times longer than my ideal racing distance, wondering if I still had “it.”

But we’ll come back to “it” later. Because this story isn’t about that.

It’s really about the first time I attempted to scratch the itch, and more importantly, how I failed.


In 2016 I was invited to LA for the taping of a new TV show. The History Channel and Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor) were teaming up to expose everyday people to Special Forces training; somehow I had been chosen. Probably, if I’m going to be honest, because I’m the cheaper Kraker. I think Brakken might have been out in Atlanta filming a show with NBC at the time.

Nonetheless, work had become quite stressful and I needed a break, so I put in for vacation and flew out to sunny Valencia, California. I saw a fun week in the sun, some long rucks, probably some pushups and planks, and an easy paycheck ahead of me. As you’re probably aware of by now, the History Channel did not share these sentiments; they had very, very different ideas of what the weeks would be like.


Side-note: There’s a strange moment where everything changes. Where in a split instant a person, a normal, everyday person, goes from “Average Joe” to “PUBLIC FIGURE.” What this means essentially is that people now are allowed to say awful, unfiltered things to you on social media. We’ve seen people end up in this position, so I wasn’t unaware of what was coming.

Fast forward to the Thursday night the show, called “The Selection”, aired, and sure enough, the comments and messages began to stream in. People, especially veterans, seemed peeved – no, legitimately upset by what we had volunteered to do.

We were disrespecting the Special Forces and what they stood for by ‘playing pretend.’ We were embarrassingly weak. We were actually actors – heck, we probably hung out in heated trailers between takes. We were soft.

Soft. Now that’s a critique that stuck with me, and for good reason.


A few days before the show began the 40 or so of us participants were shuttled via 12-passenger vans to a small park outside of the city. It was a beautiful, sun-drenched California day and spirits were high. We’d been cooped up in a hotel room undergoing physical and psychological panels for the past 3 days and were ready to blow off some steam.

There in the parking lot we were split into groups of 20 and sent through the basic army PT tests. The first sign that I may have bitten off more than I could chew? I couldn’t hit the sit-up standard of 60 in 2 minutes. Here I was, surrounded by some massive, impressive human specimens, starting to regret my (non-existent) fitness.

We’d been given maps and orienteering to study, knots to tie, etc, to prep us for what was to come, but I put off going over the materials. There was no point preparing – things would most likely be fine, and if not, I would figure it out as challenges arose.

The show began and I was anything but fine. I struggled with the lack of sleep, the never-ending upper-body exercises; the planks, push-ups, log-carries, and of course the constant, wet, bone-chilling cold. An hour in I made up my mind to leave the set. Luckily, my ego wouldn’t allow that, but I’d already accepted my departure as inevitable.  But it wasn’t the physical pain, the tear gas, or the running that did me in.

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I began to feel myself losing my mental edge. We were given a very specific set of instructions summing up, among other things, communication with the instructors running the exercise. Before long I’d forgotten even the most basic one: the word “Instructor.” All I could think of, for hours on end, was the word “Inspector.” I kept my head down and tried to avoid any communication with the cadres, whose names were lost to me. I began to feel vulnerable. I didn’t trust myself, were I to be blindfolded, thrown in a box, tortured, or any other number of things. Would I have a rational reaction on camera, on national TV?

I’m externally motivated. This is great for showing up and overachieving come race day, but not so good for putting in work when the competition is gone and its time for a solo training session.

So what do you do when your external motivation decides to do the opposite, and blasts your face with a hose while telling you, rather explicitly, to quit? 
In my case, I listened.

Physically I was fine, but as I tried to find motivation it became clear I was lacking a “why” for being there.

One of the participants had cancer. He’d put off undergoing brain surgery to be here. Another had only ever wanted to serve his country, and he couldn’t imagine doing anything else in life. This was his moment to shine. But why was I here?

I never figured it out, so I stuck it out for 30 hours and then was gone, just like that, whisked off the set and to the airport for a return flight to Denver.

‘You’re Soft’ I had written, matter-of-factly, in a notebook while the plane took me east toward Denver. “Oh, it’s just an aftermath of being tear-gassed,” I fibbed to the flight attendant, who had seen my red eyes and inquired if everything was alright.

I touched down late that Sunday night, Ubered home from Denver, and slept for 12 hours. That next morning I opened Reddit to catch up on the last two weeks of news.  While browsing, I stumbled across an article from Outside magazine about Kyle Korver, one of the greatest NBA’s shooters ever, and his “Misogi”- inspired training.

Misogi is a Japanese term that refers to the Shinto ritual of full body washing, or cleansing. Korver’s training group referred to it in the physical sense: A difficult, borderline impossible task that served to strip one to the core, both physically and mentally. For their first Misogi, Korver and his training buddies paddle-boarded 27-miles across open water. The next year they upped the stakes, with an underwater, boulder-weighted, 5k relay.

Grantland explains:

“Each participant would dive down, find the rock, run with it as long as he could, and drop it for the next guy to find. Those waiting their turn wore weight belts and tread in water between five and 10 feet deep.

“It took five hours. ‘We were honestly worried about blacking out,’ Korver says. They were also worried about sharks.”

What about the aforementioned wanderer, Thiseger? A quote of his comes to mind, upon leaving a desert journey behind, one in which he’d been imprisoned by the Sultan of Saudi Arabia:

“No man can live this life and emerge unchanged. He will carry, however faint, the imprint of the desert, the brand which marks the nomad; and he will have within him the yearning to return, weak or insistent according to his nature. For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.”

It hit me. Like Korver and Thesiger, l had been gifted an incredible opportunity: a chance to participate in my own Misogi. But I had walked away, no – I had quit, before allowing things to get bad. In doing so, I failed to capitalize on the experience.

This wasn’t my first time walking away from something. I dropped out of college with one semester remaining. I walked away from racing as I was just beginning to win the short distance races. Maybe there was a theme here.

Sports (and this type of experience) possess a fantastic ability to simulate the highs and lows of life while in a protected environment. How do you react when things go poorly? Who are you when you forget to wear your mask? Its why we stress athletics in children – this is not just playing, but high-stress character-building in a controlled environment.

This Misogi put me to a simulated rock bottom. It was time to fix myself.


Fix Yourself: A Two-Step Process to Physical Enlightenment

Step 1: Remember, explicitly, your thought process during and immediately after the event.

I know you’ve had lows; you’re a human, after all.  What did you think at that rock-bottom point?  “I hate myself when I overeat.” “I gossip too much.”

I used to watch the open heats at Spartan Races. You’re bound to spot someone having a really, really bad time out there. You’ve seen them. Wallowing in the mud, baggy t-shirt and basketball shorts being sucked off, or sitting off to the side on their own, taking deep, ragged breaths, eyes averted from passerby. What would happen when their race was over, once they had taken a hot shower and changed into fresh clothes, I wondered.  Did they take an Instagram photo, accompanied by a big smile and flexed biceps, throw a caption on the photo like “Crushed it” or #Beastmode, and move on with their life? Or did they, from time to time, remember what had really happened out there, the vulnerability they had felt? In my case, I pretended like it didn’t exist for far too long.

Write it down, write it all down and set it in stone explicitly while you’re still in the trenches of despair.

“Pain + Reflection = Progress,” says Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio.

Time is an optimist’s best friend, and we need to get these thoughts down before we begin to rationalize our choices, the passing months softening the rough edges of memories.

So I wrote it down. “You’re Soft.”

Step 2: Get Hard

Yes, I was weak mentally. But if I had the physical tools to succeed, would I still have struggled?

And how does someone become stronger? I decided to start with the basics. Take it back to square 1 and acquaint myself with heavy, painful movements that as a life-long distance runner, I had avoided like the plague for a variety of parroted misconceptions, including:

  1. “You’ll become too muscle-bound”
      1. and
  2. “You’ll injure yourself”

Enter the Burpee.

Rugged Maniac Northern California: A Formula For Fun

Rugged Maniac has certainly always stuck to a formula of fun and there was no shortage of that in NorCal on Saturday. Race day, May 26th, started out a little colder than a typical day in the east bay. It had been raining the day before the race and left the grounds slightly damp. This didn’t deter any of the soon to be runners as they filed into the venue from the nearby parking lot. The first waves of the day started off with a drizzle and cool breeze. After a while, the sun broke through the clouds, making for a warm but comfortable afternoon.
Rugged Maniac The Accelerator 3.0
As I entered the festival area I was greeted by music and dancing creating the vibe of walking into a big party. Multiple prime food trucks and vendor tents lead me in towards the main stage where competitions were held throughout the day to entertain the crowd. Guests were encouraged to participate in pie eating, beer holding and pull up competitions. For those not there for the race but to support their friends and family, the event offered free entry to the festivities. This made for a real spectator friendly event with something for everyone.
Rugged Maniac Beer Holding Contest
The festival area was set beside the start and finish line and was overlooked by the grand finale of obstacles, Mount Maniac. This mammoth is actually made up of two back to back obstacles, the Warped Wall and Accelerator. In order to climb this beast, you must first run up a quarter pipe and then reach out for some helpings hands. This is a great opportunity for some teamwork because it is customary to then turn and be the helping hand for others. This obstacle was the pinnacle of the race and it caused many people to pause before trying to complete it. The Accelerator, an enormous inflatable slide, was built off the back of the Warped Wall taking participants even higher before they came barreling down at breathtaking speed for a photo finish.
Rugged Maniac The Warped Wall
I caught up with a couple at the finish line as they were receiving their medals and looking extremely happy. They introduced themselves as Tim and Renee Hennessy and said they had loved the course. They weren’t as cold at the finish line as they expected but that might have had to do with an obstacle malfunction at the Accelerator. For a portion of the day participants were asked to climb off the Warped Wall and go around to the finish line. This left them dry at the end of the race instead of having the traditional dunk in the water at the end.
Rugged Maniac Tim and Renee Hennessy
Overall it was a flat and fast course with terrain over both gravel and grass. The first mile and a half was mostly running but punctuated by some strength based obstacles like Sled Dog and Pull Your Weight. On the second half of the course the obstacles became grander. One such obstacle was the new fan favorite Off the Rails. Here participants were required to use their momentum to swing out over a pool of water while hanging from a small rope on a zip line and ring a bell. No matter how far out they were able to swing everyone ends up in the water which extended far past the bell.
Rugged Maniac Off the Rails
Over the 3-mile, 25 obstacle course, there was a fair share of inflatable obstacles that play up the element of fun. Most runners couldn’t help but stop and enjoy them, just like kids on a playground. I saw many people do exactly that on The Crag, a large inflated staircase with a top of pillars to crawl through. Even with the playfulness, Rugged Manic had options for the more serious participants too. They offered a competitive wave and Rugged Maniac X, multi-lap options.
Rugged Maniac The Crag
Just like my fellow participants- I found myself becoming more childlike as I ran, climbed, crawled, and bounced toward the finish line. It was over too soon and left me ready to sign up for another one.  Except, next time, I’ll be bringing a group to my next Rugged Maniac because it makes for a perfect introduction to the life of OCR.Rugged Maniac Finisher Medals