New Year, New Race Classes, New Medals – Spartan Race SoCAL shows us what’s in store for 2018

January ushered in a brand new start to the Obstacle Racing season and 2018 is shaping up to be very exciting! The first Spartan Race of the year was held on January 27-28 in Chino, CA. The Spartan SoCal Super/Sprint weekend brought new racing classes, finisher shirts, and medals.

The first big change this year is a revamped racing class called “age group,” which replaces last year’s competitive category. There are six categories for men and women that break down as follows:

14-17
18-24
25-29
30-39
40-49
50+

I like this idea as it feels like apples to apples. Age group also works similarly to the former competitive category for requirements (completing obstacles without assistance, etc.) and qualification into the World Championships. This link provides detailed information:  https://spartanrace.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/115013084888

One more race change is in regards to the Ultra Beast. It will now be a stand-alone event and will not count towards your trifecta count.

Next up are the 2018 finisher shirts and medals. They rock! The shirts run pretty true to size and are made of tech material. The medals look great. I was really impressed with both.

Now, for the obstacles. Surprisingly, there were no new obstacles at the SoCal Spartan. There were some good old standbys that are staples in the Spartan races such as the Herc Hoist, Dunk Wall, Rope Climb, etc. There were also some of the newer ones such as Olympus, Twister (with the terrible foam pads on the bars….no one likes those!), and Bender. The one missing obstacle was the monkey bars. I was a little sad as I really like that one. I asked around and a couple people mentioned they may be phasing it out this year. This is just second-hand information though, so time will tell.

Spartan hosted an open house on Friday night so I decided to go. It was the first one I’ve attended. It was a good opportunity to work on obstacles and talk with SGX Coaches. I’ve been trying to get past the rig but haven’t been able to yet, so that is where I headed. The rope climb was on the way and I saw a couple of gals staring at the rope. I stopped and one of them asked if I could show her how to climb it. I taught her the J Hook and she went right up. She was impressive. I showed another gal and she got part of the way up and was getting the hang of it pretty well. It was fun to see the excitement on their faces! I was really curious if they got it the next day in the race. I bet they did!

I practiced the rig and did pretty well. I felt excited to try the next day and see how far I could go. The sun started setting, so I knew it was time to head out and rest up for the main event the next day.

Saturday arrived and it was time to start the SoCal Super! The start line had the standard wall you climb over to get to the corral.  I got into position. Aroo, Aroo, Aroo…and we were off!

The first few obstacles were the over walls, O-U-T (over, under, through), the hurdles, and the 6′ and 7′ walls. It was nice to get some of the walls done and see what else awaited. The first barbed wire crawl was next. There were two in this race and the second one was a doozie. I like to roll and I came away with tons of barbs in my clothes. They were an obstacle all their own for the rest of the race.

We had the Yokohama tire flip and Olympus, but the Herc Hoist was the obstacle where I noticed the biggest difference…biggest meaning, weighing a LOT! They were definitely heavier. There were six other women around me at the time and none were able to hoist it on their own. I helped a couple and then continued on. The bucket brigade had pre-filled buckets with lids, which made it nice. No filling or dumping at the end. They didn’t feel too heavy and it made it efficient. Plus, you could tip them a bit and don’t have to worry about the gravel falling out. I got to the Spear Man and it stuck…YES!

The Z wall looked different as it didn’t have a middle, but it felt the same for the most part. It did seem a little trickier getting around the corner before the bell, but not too bad.

When the race was over I decided to walk around the venue and cheer some of the racers on. When I got back to the dunk wall I spotted two movie cameras and a small group of people. I realized it was Joe De Sena! This was the first time I’ve seen him at the races so it was very exciting…the man who started it all!

I talked with a man who was with the group and he said they were doing a documentary on a 60’ish-year-old man who was trying to get into better shape for health reasons and Spartan was his inspiration.

The man’s 80+-year-old father was there too. I wanted to get a picture but didn’t want to interrupt. The man said I should go ahead and get closer and take a shot. I told him, “only if Joe doesn’t make me carry a big rock if he spots me!” We both laughed. I wish I had more detail on the interview but I’m sure it will be available soon so keep an eye out on the Spartan page.

Sunday brought warm temperatures for the Sprint. It was 70 degrees at the start line at 8:30 am. It was a nice change of pace from the cold and wet that has been dominating Seattle for the past several weeks.

I got about a quarter into the race and ran into the gal I raced with last year at Lake Elsinore…Karen! Out of all of the people racing that day, what were the odds of running into each other? We raced the rest of it together and caught up. We had so much fun. I love that about Spartan races, it’s such an amazing community and you almost always see someone you know while you are there.

Two days of fun in the sun, seeing old and new friends, and getting just a little further on the Multi-Rig, which I am going to conquer this year gosh darn it!! It was a terrific weekend and a great start to an exciting racing season!

Spartan fun facts:

  1. Serena Williams opted for a Spartan Race instead of tennis this weekend. Check out this clip of her having fun on the hurdles:  https://www.instagram.com/p/BeiesAvhWn4/
  2. The SoCal Super was approximately 8 miles and had 27 obstacles
  3. You WILL find mud in your ears after a Spartan Race!

Photo credit: Kim Collings

 

 

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.

One Woman Overcomes Anxiety Through OCR Thanks to Instagram Contest

My story doesn’t have any shocking before and after pictures, but my transformation is just as real.

In 2016, out of nowhere, my sister asked me to do the Sun Peaks Spartan Sprint with her, without even considering it I told her “I can’t.” I had a long list of seemingly reasonable excuses; it’s too expensive, it’s too far to travel, I can’t run, etc., but the truth was, I was too scared and lacked all confidence to even sign up.

A month later at Thanksgiving she tells me that 2017 is going to be her “big year” she wants to be the healthiest she’s ever been, this happened to also be the year she turned 40, and instead of a loud girls weekend in Vegas like I was hoping for she tells me she’s doing Tough Mudder and getting her Spartan Trifecta … Shit! She’s my closest friend and we do everything together, no one else is going to do this alongside her and I sure as hell won’t be letting her celebrate “40 and fit” on her own, so now I had to put my own insecurities aside and support her … maybe she’ll forget?

Fast forward to Christmas, we both get Tough Mudder tickets, no big deal, right? Tough Mudder is just a long muddy fun run, no timing chips no pressure, I can do this!

"Tough-Mudder-Whistler-Tickets-Christmas-Morning"

Here’s where my entire life changes – my cousin sends me a link for her friend’s Facebook/Instagram challenge group the “OCRGUYCHALLENGE.” (Editor’s Note: OCRGuyChallenge is done by one of ORM’s favorite contributors, Glenn Hole). January 1 is the start of the “10-day Ultra” Challenge, each participant is required to run 5km per day for 10 days. I get all psyched up and tell myself I hate running, therefore, I must run… I miss the first day! Alright, day 2 here we go, I get to the gym, I hop on the treadmill which I haven’t done in years and get going before I knew it, I had run 5K! It was awful and I tried to talk myself out of it more than once, but I finished. Day 3 – I had to make up for missing Day 1 still so I ended up doing 5K in the morning then another 5K on my lunch break, the thrill from these runs and the sense of accomplishment I felt still motivate me over a year later, I went from “I can’t run/I’m not a runner” to running 5K every day for 10 days. I was hooked, I followed everything the OCRGUY posted and all the members of the group, they were so incredibly inspiring and motivating and FIT. I felt silly posting my times, I was too embarrassed because it seemed like they were all elite athletes, but then I mustered up the courage and posted, and all I got was an outpouring of support and congrats, I felt like I was truly part of a community that cared.

Next came the “OCRApocalypse” challenge and the lovely 4 horsemen, this challenge had prizes! Second place was compression socks and I knew I was going to need those for Tough Mudder so I thought I would give it a go.  I did the challenge, the workouts were intense and completely foreign to me but I had a bunch of personal bests and ventured far out of my comfort zone which got me a  lot of weird looks at the gym. On the day of the prize draw I woke up and checked my phone, I was really excited about those compression socks! Sure enough, OCRGUYCHALLENGE had tagged me in the post! Then before I even read it panic sets in, my heart starts racing, I had completely forgotten about the first place prize, a ticket to X Warrior Challenge, what had I done?! I told myself, “there’s no way I could have won that prize, that prize would surely go to someone in better shape, an actual athlete!” I clicked the link and there it was “First place prize, Candice Llewellyn-McKnight!”

I put my phone down and tried not to throw up, now I’m thrown into one of the biggest panic attacks I have ever had, “I can’t do this. I’m not good enough. I’m too out of shape. What the heck is X Warrior Challenge?!” I put on a brave face and leave my obligatory “thanks so much” message on the Facebook feed and spend the next few hours trying to calm down.

Here’s where I tell you a bit about my past: I have spent the last 15 years battling a crippling anxiety disorder, I’ve tried different medications, read all the books and seen my fair share of counselors/therapists/psychiatrists. Over the years of re-training my way of thinking I discovered that exercise truly is the #1 medication for anxiety. I developed a pretty good routine. I would wake up at 4:30 am, head to the gym for my standard “3 reps of 12” workout and the occasional spin class then off to work. I loved this routine, it kept me “sane,” until now…

The thing with chronic anxiety is you live in a constant state of self-doubt, everyone is better than you at everything so there’s no point even trying. Why would I ever enter a race, I’m just going to embarrass myself! Well, now I had a race, and my sister wasn’t going to be there holding my hand and saying “it’s ok if we take it slow.” I had a ticket with my name on it, what was I going to do? I spent that day drafting my “thanks, but no thanks” email to the OCRGUY.

After some time I calmed my brain and thought rationally. Overcoming anxiety is about testing your limits, getting out of your comfort zone, and persevering. What better way to do that then to do this race? I told myself there are specialized gyms in the area, I had been to cor.fit with my sister before to check it out, I will just have to start going there more. I went online and registered for Sunday Bootcamp. I was so nervous that morning, I sat in my car in the parking lot convincing myself to get out and go to the class. I walked in the door and everywhere I looked were people completely shredded and climbing walls with holes in them using only sticks (pegboard).

Here comes the panic again, I note the nearest garbage can and check out the exit “I can’t do this, they’re all machines, this was a mistake” then it was time for class to begin, it was hard, one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever had, but in the end I couldn’t believe I had done it. I showed up to a class by myself, where we had to work as a team and I had to interact with these “people,” and as the class went on I realized that they were actually normal people and incredibly supportive at that! I kept apologizing for slowing my team down. I remember thinking “I thought I was in shape!” but I learned that day that yes, I was healthy but I was not in OCR shape! I went to a couple more classes and I remember getting to the top of the 12 foot inverted wall for the first time and having a full-blown panic attack. I was shaking and on the verge of crying; I took a deep breath and the coach talked me through how to swing my body around and lower myself to the ground. It was the most incredible feeling to overcome not only the attack but also the wall! This may sound cliché but it was this moment that I knew that by simply trying, I could do anything! That’s when I dropped “I can’t.”

In one of my first couple of boot camps, I remember standing, waiting for class to start and this girl walked in, it was obviously her first day, she looked like I did on my first day! I walked up and introduced myself to her and we’ve been workout buddies since. That day she signed up to run X Warrior with me! I had never met someone so spontaneous, she’s completely inspired me to take on new challenges with confidence. She’s encouraged, pushed, and supported me through every race this year. If I hadn’t shown up to those boot camps I would have missed out on this amazing friendship.

"X-Warrior-Challenge-Stadium-Sprint""X-Warrior-Challenge-Stadium-Sprint-start-line-with-Coach-Pain"

 

Since getting involved with obstacle course racing I have learned so many things about myself and my capabilities that I would never have experienced had I have not won that challenge. At the starting line for X Warrior Challenge, squatting and listening to Coach Pain basically wash my anxiety away and replace it with sheer adrenaline and excitement literally brought me to tears. Not only was this happening but I was going to crush it! I ran the race, nailed the rope climb (which was another panic-inducing obstacle for me in training), then was faced with the X Dragon. That’s when I had my first face to face with my grit, I ran up and fell, I kept running up that first incline and sliding down on my forearms over and over, the volunteers tried to direct me to the burpee zone, but I was relentless. I ran at it again and made it up, once up there the panic set in, I was going to have to literally take a leap of faith and trust my body to grab the bar on the other side, and guess what? I did it!

The 2017 race season has completely transformed my way of thinking, to anyone who suffers from anxiety I can’t recommend Obstacle Course Racing enough, the sense of accomplishment once you overcome physical obstacles makes the mental obstacles that much more manageable. My anxiety is all but gone, I slew Tough Mudder and finished my Trifecta, and cannot wait to see how much stronger I am in the 2018 race season.

This is my thank you to the sport of obstacle course racing and the Alberta OCR community. OCRGUYCHALLENGE was the first to push me out of my comfort zone, X Warrior Challenge forced me to face my fears, and the amazing coaches at cor.fit have taught me my true strength by throwing me at obstacles with no time to over think about what I’m actually doing.

"Calgary-Spartan-Fire-Jump"

Tough Mudder Unveils New 2018 Obstacles

TOUGH MUDDER UNVEILS 2018 NEW OBSTACLES

 

3+ Million Participants to Receive a ‘Happy Ending’ on Biggest Challenge in Obstacle Course Racing History

 

BROOKLYN, NY (January 11, 2018) – Famous for the company’s epic Innovation Lab, Tough Mudder Inc., the leading sports, active lifestyle and media brand, announced today its revolutionary twist on obstacles for the 2018 event season by unveiling the biggest structure to ever hit the obstacle course racing industry, Happy Ending, presented by Merrell, and Kong Infinity, the first obstacle in company history to be designed by members of the global tribe of more than 3 million Mudders. The company also revealed the iconic “Vault” obstacles (previously retired) coming back to course in 2018.

 

A physical embodiment of the organization’s 2018 yearlong “Tougher Together” campaign, Happy Ending is the new Tough Mudder Finisher Obstacle requiring teamwork by participants of all levels. Sitting at nearly 25 feet tall and over 80 feet wide and 100 feet long, it marks the biggest structure ever featured on course. To complete Happy Ending, participants must climb and push their way up an angled structure (40 degrees) creating human pyramids as they ladder over one another up multiple slippery inclines. At the summit, participants then dive feet-first down a 30 foot slide into a water pit.

Dedicated to the development of new products and entry points that enable millions of people to be part of Mudder Nation, Happy Ending brings participants together no matter the person’s athletic ability, the number of events run or event (Tough Mudder Full 10 miles; or Tough Mudder Half 5 miles). Teamwork and camaraderie – the Tough Mudder spirit – will be felt as participants cross the Finish line together.

 

Tough Mudder is an inclusive brand committed to connecting people. As a global tribe, we break down social barriers such as race, religion and politics. By using our sport as a vehicle for change, our events highlight the everyday heroes and elite athletes who together bring positive transformation worldwide,” said Will Dean, Tough Mudder, Inc. CEO and Co-Founder. “We look forward to welcoming thousands of new and returning participants to Mudder Nation in 2018 to face these challenges together – from completing the best-in-class obstacles on course to overcoming issues off. We remain dedicated to engineering ways to challenge our participants, both physically and mentally, all while giving millions of people a ‘Happy Ending’ and creating an exciting environment that showcases how we are stronger when we are united.

 

Happy Ending replaces the infamous Electroshock Therapy (EST) obstacle in which participants ran through dangling electrified wires. Although EST is “retiring” as a finisher challenge, it will transition to the Tough Mudder Full (10-mile) course and will be optional for all participants via bypass lanes – as not all are ready to get shocked with 10,000 volts.

 

Participants who are looking for a new shocking challenge may choose to exit Happy Ending by sliding down Third Rail – the bonus electricity challenge featuring more than 10,000 volts hanging from wires on a 30-foot slide into a pit of water. This optional challenge is for the bravest of all participants. Those not wishing to give it a shock – shot – may slide down the regular Happy Ending exit.

 

Tough Mudder is making a concerted effort to invest in Tough Mudder Half to provide accessible, yet rewarding experiences, to so many runners and outdoor enthusiasts who are not being challenged or excited by ordinary runs or half marathons,” said Dean. “From people who have never tried a mud run to seasoned Legionnaires who would like to bring friends, the Tough Mudder Half events serve as unique entry points to the world of obstacle course races and exclude the more extreme elements like fire and ice, in addition to making electricity completely optional. Tough Mudder’s commitment to innovation and dedication to enhance short distance challenges further positions the company as a global leader in the active lifestyle and sports categories.

Kong-Infinity – Obstacle Design Challenge Winning Obstacle

2018 marks the first year a Tough Mudder Obstacle Design Challenge winning innovation will be featured on course globally. A literal “spin” off of the iconic Kong obstacle, Kong Infinity is engineered to test even the most experienced Tough Mudders by being one of the most technically challenging obstacles on course. Requiring upper body strength and agility, participants start by climbing a 15-foot structure to reach a barrel which has handles fixed around its circumference on a set of tracks suspended more than 20 feet off the ground. By using momentum, participants rotate the barrel along the tracks to the other side. Kong-Infinity was designed by Ross Munro and Jonny McDonald of Glasgow, U.K.

For the first time since its inception in 2016, Kong, the giant, 30-foot obstacle in which participants swing like Tarzan, traversing from one floating ring to another, will be featured on the Tough Mudder Full course where everyone will have the opportunity to conquer this massive challenge.

 

Tough Mudder Vault

To celebrate Tough Mudder’s long and epic history of obstacle innovation, the company wants Mudder Nation to select which obstacles will return to course in 2018. The company unveiled the 25 historic obstacles Mudder Nation may vote on today through Friday, Jan. 26 at ToughMudder.com/obstacles. The winning “Vault” obstacles will be unveiled Feb. 5 with two-to-three historic challenges featured on every course in 2018 giving participants the chance to relive their favorite classics or for new Mudders, the chance to experience the best obstacles Tough Mudder has had to offer. A full list of the 25 obstacles is available online at ToughMudder.com/obstacles.

As an upgrade to the Vault obstacles for Legionnaires, participants who have completed multiple events, every course will have mystery vault features designed specifically for the Mudder Legion that include unique, never-before-seen modifications and design elements. Another Legionnaire-only obstacle coming to course is T-Boned – an added challenge to the classic Skidmarked, a slanted 10-foot wall. Participant’s upper body strength will be put to the test with an added twist of a 90-degree horizontal ledge to overcome 9 feet off the ground.

 

3 Million Mudders

With more than 3 million participants to date across five continents, Tough Mudder has offerings ranging from accessible yet rewarding challenges, such as Tough Mudder Half (five-mile event excluding fire, ice, and electricity), to competitive events, such as Tough Mudder X (the toughest mile on the planet), and World’s Toughest Mudder (24-hour endurance event).

This year, Tough Mudder, Inc. and its licensees will host an unprecedented 150+ events across nearly a dozen countries, such as the United States, The United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, United Arab Emirates, Canada and two new countries, South Africa, Philippines, welcoming participants worldwide into a global community that lives courage, personal accomplishment, teamwork and fun.

For more information on the 2018 Tough Mudder obstacles, or to purchase tickets to 2018 Tough Mudder events, visit ToughMudder.com.

 

 

About Tough Mudder, Inc.:

Founded in 2010 with the launch of the Tough Mudder obstacle course event series, Tough Mudder Inc. has become a leading global sports, active lifestyle and media brand. With more than 3 million participants, the company hosts more than 130 non-competitive (Mini Mudder; Tough Mudder 5K, Tough Mudder Half, and Tough Mudder Full) and competitive (Tougher, Toughest, Tough Mudder X and World’s Toughest Mudder) events annually in 11 countries including China, Dubai, Indonesia, and Australia through its partnerships with IMG, Seroja and Sports Media and Entertainment 360 (SME360). The company’s content arm provides the more than millions of engaged online brand enthusiasts with fitness, nutrition, and wellness content delivered daily across social and digital platforms. Tough Mudder broadcast, OTT and Live Stream programming can be seen worldwide through partnerships with CBS Sports, Facebook, Sky Sports, The CW Network and ESPN Media Distribution. Other sponsorship and distribution partners include Merrell, Amazon, KILL CLIFF, Jeep, Aflac, Guinness, Vega, Samsung, Olympus, Lucozade Sport, Nexcare, For Goodness Shakes, Bosch, TREK, Head & Shoulders, L’Oreal Men Expert, Käserei Loose, Snapchat and Live Stream.

 

Central Florida Beast and Sprint 2017

The End To A KICKASS 2017 Season

     Mulberry, Florida hosts Spartan Race for one last day in the mud. As the 2017 season comes to a close, athletes are looking to wrap up trifectas and qualify for next years OCRWC and have one last kickass race. Spartan delivered a grueling 13.5 mile Beast and a 5.5 mile Sprint to Central Florida. Spartan has tried in the past to bring Floridians a Beast but sadly was unsuccessful, until NOW. The response of racers for the beast was astounding as first time trifecta chasers entered the start corral.

Brian-Mahon-First-Trifecta                                          First time Trifecta Tribe member- Brian Mahon

       Brian Mahon of Davenport, Florida states that “the course was well designed using every bit of the terrain between obstacles…and a few cows on the course. I’m very happy with the fact that I earned my first ever Trifecta here in Florida and I do hope the beast makes a return to our state. Maybe even see a trifecta weekend here one day.” The weather made for an additional obstacle. Brian says that the Beast was his longest and coldest race to date. At a brisk high of 52 degrees Fahrenheit Floridians had no idea how to prepare for such chilly conditions.

Central-Florida-Spartan-Map                                Beast and Sprint Map 2017- Photo Credit: Spartan Race

Venue:

Mims Ranch in Mulberry, Florida is located about 70 miles southwest of Orlando with swamp-like, flat terrain. Being that the venue was completely new for 2017, athletes had to expect the unexpected. Thick and deep mud crossings made for the perfect shoe sucker scenario. Although Florida is known to be quite flat, the venue did offer a few foothills around the course. While running the Beast I did happen to spot a few unused bigger hills in the distance that would have been a nice addition as well. The course overall was laid out beautifully and even had a few racers stopping mid-race to check out the woodsy scenery.
Noticeable changes once again to the beloved Twister obstacle. Traditionally, Twister is known to have three sections of the spinning monkey bars, but in Mulberry, only two sections were offered. Additionally, the grips last saw in Spartanburg were non-existent. Perhaps Spartan is removing one section and the grips to avoid hand injuries. Either way, I was able to conquer this obstacle, no problem.

Elites

Palmer-Killian-Beast-Podium-2017Tiffany Palmer and Coach Robert Killian
Photo Credit- 
Killian’s Instagram 

      Impressive back to back podiums by Tiffany Palmer and her coach, Robert Killian who finished the 13.5-mile beast in ONE HOUR AND THIRTY-TWO MINUTES !! The double wins for the two elites help to secure top spots in the US Elite Point Series. While other elites are now in their offseason, these two did not waste any time to showcase their skills in Florida to get a few extra wins before next season. Killian states “Déjà Vu. A perfect way to end my last US race of the season, clinching a win in both the World and US Elite Points Series. I’m feeling even better today than yesterday and ready to take on the Iceland Ultra World Champs.” He adds “Big congrats to Tiffany for locking down 3rd overall in the US Elite Points Series after another dominating weekend”

Santa-Spear-Sprint

Santa’s like Spear Throws too.

Bucket-Brigade-Sprint-2017

Thank you to ORM for making this season possible and for all the amazing people I’ve met along the way.

 

 

Donut-Weight-JpopJessika Signature
Check me out on Instagram !! 🙂

Photo Credit- Myself unless otherwise stated.

Why My Wetsuit Played A Huge Role At World’s Toughest Mudder

There is something about a 24-hour race that you can never fully be prepared for. I could train harder, run faster, complete more pull-ups, and carry heavier things, but that doesn’t guarantee anything at World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). Training is imperative to success, but there is a limit to what your physical prowess can provide. There are moments when you have to rely on our emotional and psychological strength to push you through, but even that gets tapped out at a certain point. Just like any race, there is utmost importance to prepare physically and psychologically, but unlike other races, gear plays an essential role in this 24-hour grind.

 

Coming into WTM for the fourth time, I knew what to expect, but there is only so much that prepares you for 24 hours of the unknown. Unlike previous years, I was competing in the Team Relay competition instead of the individual category. This would throw in a whole new dynamic to the once familiar race. Instead of slowly grinding my way throughout the race, I was tasked with racing hard for a short time and then stopping.

Here was the plan, start the race as a four-man team and then alternate two people every lap, minimizing pit time, until the wheels fell off. I was hoping that faster laps would allow me to wear a thinner wetsuit than previous years, knowing full well that things can go downhill quickly. I prepared my usual gauntlet of wetsuits and layers just in case. The plan was to start off in shorts and a t-shirt.
Once the sun went down, I switched into long compression gear. Then the Blegg Mitts and a windbreaker came on for a little more warmth. I knew that temperatures would quickly drop and more water obstacles at night meant that we would be cold and wet for the duration of the race. During previous years I wore full wetsuits ranging from 3/2mm to 5/3mm, often making it difficult to move. The relay calls for quicker laps, so I needed something that was warm enough, but less constricting than a full wetsuit. The plan was to use the Hyperflex VYRL 2.5mm Shorty Springsuit with a front chest zip and the 2.5mm Neosport Wetsuit Cap with an adjustable chinstrap from Wetsuit Wearhouse.

I wish I had more to tell you, but the truth is, this combination worked like a charm. Every lap, my teammate and I would start our lap in cold, wet gear. Putting those cold clothes on every lap added a whole new dimension of suck to WTM. Less than a mile into the lap, my body would warm up and it was off to the races. While the water temperature threw a wrench into many people’s plans, my layered outfit was perfect for staying warm on-course. When we finished a lap, we would quickly strip out of our wet clothes, throw on something warm, and try to recover for the next lap. While it would have been nice to have two wetsuits that I could alternate, this was a small wrinkle in the scheme of things. Plus, this is WORLD”S TOUGHEST MUDDER. It isn’t easy. While it was hard putting on wet clothes as we prepared for another lap, it didn’t rival the psychological ups and downs of the relay format.

All in all, it was a tough race. Starting and stopping throughout the night was a whole new challenge that I have never experienced. I was forced to stay loose while trying to recover in time for my next effort. My laps felt like an all-out sprint at times and it gave me a whole new experience at WTM. Our team managed to finish 2nd overall in the Team Relay category and I am so proud of my teammates and pit crew for helping us along the way. While Atlanta will bring a whole new challenge to WTM, I can only speculate that people will underestimate the conditions and forgo bringing a wetsuit. Don’t be one of those people. World’s Toughest Mudder is a race of unknowns, so always be prepared. I can’t wait to see all you crazies out there!