Spartan Virginia: Sprint and Super Weekend

Yes, sprint and super, not the other way around. Virginia was the first time I’ve run a Spartan where I had to complete the sprint first, and then the super. Let me tell you- that was significantly more challenging than it was the other way around! There were several differences between the two races, making them equally as exciting regardless.

Saturday Sprint

Check-In/Festival

I knew it was going to be a great day when I pulled into the venue. Why? This venue had something special that not all venues have– PARKING! There was a parking lot rather than pulling up to gravel! It was absolutely amazing. I knew it was going to be a great day.

Going into the festival area was a bit different than usual. When we got to check in, the volunteers did not have us show them our barcode in order to get through. They just grabbed our ID and looked up our names. It was so much faster, and the volunteers were extremely pleasant!

Once we got through, which only took about 45 seconds, we were met by a security officer. He was very friendly, but if you did not have your wristband on, he would not let you through to the festival area. I had not seen this before. It’s a fantastic idea for Spartan in order to ensure that people aren’t sneaking their way in (although I confess, I’ve literally never seen that happen), however, the implementation could have used some improvement. The wall keeping out of the festival area was really close to registration tent, so it started to clutter quickly. People were standing right in front of the security guard putting on their wristbands and headbands, and it got a little clustered. Perhaps if they are going to use this in the future, they will give people more room to get themselves situated.

This festival area was organized very neatly. Everything was packed together really well, with the merchandise tent being the center of it all. The merchandise tent has grown so much since the beginning, and they had a lot of the new Craft items on display. Right next to the merchandise was the timing station, so you can guess where everyone was hiding.

Course

Registering online for this course was a little shocking. In the elite division, there were only 16 females. You read that right…only 16 elite females in the entire race. It was weird. While we were on the start line, the race director informed us that this sprint was going to be flat and fast. With only 4.25 miles and 21 obstacles, I figured as much.

When the gun when off there was a short run before the first obstacle: hay bales. Followed by another short run before going down a hill via barbed wire. The wire was low and sharp, but definitely do-able. There were a lot of people running around with holes in their shorts later from it getting ripped. Followed by that, monkey bars. Then the dunk wall. And then, a run into the woods.

The obstacles were fairly easy. One obstacle to note was the bucket carry. I’ve never seen a bucket like this. The bucket was pretty early on, and one of the next obstacles after the dunk, so we were a little slick. The buckets had lids and were color-coded, so it was easy to grab one and go. This was honestly one of the, if not the, easiest bucket carries ever. It couldn’t have been more than 200 meters, in a dry, relatively flat loop where the grass had been matted down and was easy to get through. The buckets even felt lighter than usual–so I’m not sure if they didn’t fill them as much as usual, but it was an enjoyable bucket carry. Wow, I never thought I’d say that!

The next obstacle after the bucket was the sandbag. They only had us carry one, and it was nothing special. Just another loop (longer than the bucket, of course), down and back through the woods. The only thing really to note was there was a drop-off, and several people fell. Nobody fell enough to get significantly hurt from what I saw, but several people fell. The people who didn’t had the sandbag resting on their shoulders and used the trees for leverage. Again, nothing special. Spartan being Spartan.

There were a few differences in the familiar Spartan obstacles. The biggest and one of my personal least favorite differences was how loose the straps on the A-frame and vertical cargo net were. It had rained all week leading up to the event, and the straps were so loose that I honestly thought I was going to fall through it! But, everyone around me made it through.

Spartan Race Cargo Climb

Another difference that was to be noted was one of the walls. Once you ran out of the woods in one of the final fields, you came across rolling mud hills that were pretty shallow, and a little further of a run for a 6-foot wall. Now, I figured this was a six-foot wall because there were no red steps on the side, but as I ran closer, I realized that it was definitely taller than 6 feet. Spartan had fooled me! It was seven feet with no step. Which, accomplishable (even for my 5-foot-self), but it threw me a little off guard. I wonder if Spartan will continue this trend for elite races in the future.

A little run led to an incredibly dry rope climb on top of a short hill, another little woods run, and then the spear throw. I was really impressed by the spears here because I noticed that the hay bales were really tight. Normally, I try to look for neater and tighter hay before throwing the spear, but this time it was almost all of them! It was awesome. One extremely dry inverted wall and a short hill later, and it was over the fire jump and through to the finish.

Volunteers

I wanted to make sure to add a separate section just to talk about the number of volunteers in the race. Okay, so, we all know that Spartan has been lacking on the number of volunteers present at obstacles lately. Actually, the number of volunteers that have been at OCR races, in general, have been depleting–and not just Spartan.

Now, one thing that was a little shocking again, that I’d like to step back and talk about was how hardly anyone registered to run the sprint. Again, there were only 16 elite females in the entire race. That’s insanely low! I was talking with one of my friends about possible theories as to why people weren’t registering. One thing we came up with was that people weren’t racing because they were going to volunteer the sprint, so they can get a free race code, now that Spartan is giving race codes again.

We were probably right on the volunteering for race codes thing. I honestly had never seen so many volunteers in my life.

I am not exaggerating when I say that every single obstacle had at least two volunteers stationed. Even the barbed wire. It was crazy! Because there were so many people out there, the atmosphere was great also. Double the volunteers meant double the encouragement, and all of the Saturday volunteers were awesome. If you volunteered Saturday morning and were on course during the elite women’s race, I personally want to say, thank you!

Other

Honestly, it was one of the quickest and most fun OCRs that I have ever done. I was super impressed with the atmosphere. It was so small, flat and fast, that it was extremely enjoyable and everyone there just seemed so happy. Congratulations to Ryan Kent and Heather Gollnick on their first-place finishes!

One thing that I really enjoyed was that while we were running if you looked around you for a moment, you could see blue mountains in the background. It was amazing.

 

Super Sunday

I was really surprised this day. I wanted my friend and me to leave early because this race sold out in the elite and age group divisions. Whatever didn’t sell out, was really stinking close. We assumed that the glorious parking lot was going to be completely full.

My race started at 7:45, so our goal was to be there super early. You know, because the parking lot was going to be crazy busy.

Well, we were wrong. It had been just as empty and easy to maneuver as the previous day. If anything, it was even easier than the day before because we had gotten there so early.

Registration had been just as easy the second day. The security guy, instead of having us put our bands on first, had us show him our packets and then let us gear up inside the festival area. Which made way more sense than the day before. He was very pleasant to talk to and I think did a great job.

When you got into the festival area it was very similar to the day before: ghost town. You could see a few more elite women and men trotting around but it was mostly people who ran the day before.

Course

Holy smokes was this an amazing race. The race director met us at the start line in order to inform us that there was going to be 8 miles and 26 obstacles. Was this supposed to be a super, or a little bit longer of a sprint? Either way, it was an awesome time.

The beginning of the race started out the same. After the very cold dunk wall, it was off to a run in the woods. Rather than being greeted by a dunk, we were greeted by Twister in the woods. Followed by obstacles. The beginning of the race held the first few “tougher” obstacles. The hay bales, over walls, barbed wires, monkey bars, dunk wall, Twister, A-frame, and Herc hoist were all in the first two miles. I would like to add that Twister had the black grips on the right half of the obstacle, and the left side did not. I appreciate that Spartan kind of gave options, especially since this has been a great controversy. After that, it was smooth sailing, and a whole lot of trail runs.

Mile 3 was very interesting because you ran on single track trails for about .7 miles before hitting the next obstacle. One thing that Spartan does well is to place the Stairway to Sparta obstacle in beautiful places. It was really put in an amazing place in Virginia. When we ran out of the trails, it opened onto this open field. Beyond the fields were these beautiful blue mountains and fresh air. It honestly felt like Julie Andrews was going to pop out of nowhere and start singing beautiful songs.

After another trail run was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. We came out of the woods and were greeted with this huge pumpkin patch. They were legitimate pumpkins too; separated by vines and everything. There were hills of them! It was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen during a race…if not the coolest. With those of you who struggle to make pictures in your head while reading, I really do apologize that I was unable to get a picture.

At the top of the hill with all of the pumpkins, there was the Z-wall. It was one of the open z-walls that, to be honest, I don’t like as much as the ones that were filled. I looked around though and strangely enough, there was no volunteer at this obstacle. Weird.

As we kept running, we eventually came to an obstacle that causes a lot of people some trouble: the bender. Now bender isn’t hard because it is hard, it is just one of those that you look at, and it looks so scary that it honestly trips a lot of people up. I’m sure because of it’s scary-ness, it is one of the more dangerous obstacles in a Spartan Race. I’m very thankful that this obstacle was pretty much completely dry by the time we hit it, but, something has been off with bender. Spartan has sometimes not been putting anything underneath it but hay. This time, there were mats, but the way the mats were placed was a little strange. They are placed in a way that would ensure a safer landing from the top, but there is no coverage at the bottom of the obstacle. Weird.

After you kept running, you came back to the 7-foot wall which, this time, was sided with those little steps. The carries were toward the end of the race rather than the beginning like the previous day, and they were not any more difficult. The rig was in the last mile also and it had rings and ropes. That was it. One of the ropes I grabbed was a little more slick than usual, but it was nothing to write about. The end of the super was the same as the sprint. Spear, inverted wall, hill, then fire jump, then a sweet sweet finish line.

Just like the day before, it was another fast and overall flat run.

Volunteers

The volunteer situation was completely different on Super day than it was during the Sprint. During the Sprint, as previously mentioned, there were SO many volunteers. Two at every obstacle. It was amazing.

During the Super, there was only one volunteer per obstacle. There were some obstacles that did not have anybody.

Now, I am not someone to judge. I have never had to be a volunteer coordinator, and I can’t imagine that it is easy. For some obstacles, I do think it’s okay to not have a person there. I feel that the obstacles that are more in isolation (kind of like how that beautiful Stairway to Sparta is) should maybe have two people. That way, if something goes wrong then they aren’t left all alone to survive.

Overview/ Other thoughts

I really enjoyed this race. This race was very flat, fast, and more than that, fun. Personally, I like courses where you can run through the race rather than have to do a lot of hiking. I think that if anyone wanted to do a race where they like to run as opposed to the hike and wasn’t in Virginia, well, then you missed out.

If you were one of the volunteers who came out and supported everybody, I want to sincerely say thank you. I know that it is difficult to give up your time, and I hope that you know you are greatly appreciated! Special thank you to Saturday’s 7-foot wall guy, Saturday’s inverted wall girl, Sunday’s Olympus guy, Sunday’s water by Olympus guy, and Sunday’s Bender guy for being especially awesome. If I can remember who you are, you should know that means something!

The group of elite women on Saturday were some of the best people I have raced against. Often in Spartan, people tend to get a little more competitive than in other races, and sometimes this doesn’t mean being the best toward no-name athletes like myself. I really felt like the women on Saturday did a great job cheering for each other and being supportive, even during an elite race. So ladies, thank you for being awesome, and it was an absolute pleasure to race against you.

Aroo!

Highlander Assault 2018

Upgraded and beefed up is the best way to describe year 2 of the Highlander Assault. Held on October 6th in Holiday Hills, Illinois the Scottish themed event featured 4 different race lengths: Open class 4-mile, Open class 8-mile, Elite class 12 mile, and Elite class 24 mile. A free kids challenge course was offered for the little racers and Coach Pain was brought back for year two, bringing his special motivational voice as the emcee.

General admission parking was 10 dollars, but that’s if you could find a dry spot to park. The weather in the Midwest this year has brought large amounts of rain during certain periods of time and Mother Nature decided that the week leading up to the race was as good as time as any to let loose. This made it difficult for the race directors to set up the course the way they intended, along with making the course itself tough to build up any speed on.

All of the obstacles were wet and muddy, and the trail looked like a herd of horses had trudged through it. The race was even delayed for a short period due to a lingering thunderstorm that was slow to leave the area. The skies never did clear up all the way as intermittent periods of sprinkles caused racers fits throughout the day.

The race started out with athletes climbing over a siege wall, then leaving the coral when a fence, which resembled a medieval gate, was opened releasing participants through the festival area with Coach Pain hot on their heels screaming encouragement for the first hundred yards.

After a brief run, athletes faced a wall climb and then encountered a unique climb over large sections of concrete culverts stacked up in a triangle configuration. This is an obstacle I’ve never seen at a race, and the large circumference of the tubes along with the mud tracked onto them made it a difficult climb. Athletes were now led along a trail on the edge of a cornfield ending up in a gravel pit type area along one of the properties many lakes. A low crawl through some very cold water with sections of chain link fence over the top was the first obstacle presented in this segment along with a series of cargo net climb suspended over a set of shipping containers.

A short distance away a bow and arrow station with target tested ones aim. Failure to hit the target resulted in a short bear crawl through the slop along the lake. Relax, no real arrows were used, instead, they were tipped with a rubber stopper. After you got a chance to play Robin Hood the trail led around the lake where an Atlas Stone carry was placed. Moving further around the pond athletes were led through a waist-deep drainage “moat” with four pipes placed horizontally across the expanse making for an interesting and chilly over and under.

Crawling out of the water, cold and shivering, was when it dawned on you that this section of the course was also used as a motocross track. Yeah, it was time to climb up and over some very steep hills. The previous night’s rain left those without lugged shoes grabbing as weeds and rocks to assist on the super slick climbs. One last obstacle remained in this section of the course in the form of a log balance beam cross over a water pit. Once across, the trail led onto a gravel path leading away from the festival area.

It was along this path that Highlander chose to place their over, under, and through walls followed up a short distance away with the classic Z wall traverse. At this point, the course split into two with the 4-mile racers going one way and the 8-mile racers going another, and even though the signage is clear here it never fails that someone goes the wrong way. I’ll be describing the 8-mile loop from here on out as and the 4-mile loop converged with the 8 again further down the course. A very pristine lake now came into view, and as athletes make their way around the water Highlander placed a weighted drag in the form of an Atlas Stone with an ax handle sticking out for “easy” handling. A set of low parallel bars joined to a set of high parallel bars needed to be traversed next leading to a teeter-totter balance test followed up by a platform climb with a bell tap the top.

The property on which Highlander holds its event boasts a wide range of terrain as the race now transitioned from running on a gravel track to running through a few miles of shin-deep mud. This marshy area proved too difficult to place many obstacles as only a short Wreckbag carry was required here. It was the dense marsh here that proved to be the real obstacle, and I was left wondering if Yoda was going to be raising an X wing fighter out of the sludge at some point.

 

After escaping the marshes of Dogaboh the footing became more solid as racers now faced obstacles once again. The first encountered was Highlander’s version of the Irish table followed up by a series of wall climbs. Also tucked neatly into this section of the course was the wire low crawl. In sticking with the Scottish theme of the race, a caber carry was next up leading back towards the festival area.

One last wall, this one the inverted type, guided racers to the last section of the 8-mile loop. The course threaded its way through the heavily wooded area including two difficult climbs along the way. The first was a vertical climb using only small rock-climbing holds, and unless you were the first person through you found those tiny holds to be slick with mud. The second was a two-story vertical rope climb, and I don’t need to tell anyone how tough that rope was to get a grip on due to the conditions. The last obstacle found in the forest is what I’ll call the “fun box’. Highlander constructed this long box with a million bungee chords inside going every which way, then made it tougher by covering it making it pitch black inside.

One last obstacle stood in the way of the 8-mile finish now as Highlander set their rig up right in front of the finish line. Racers were backed up waiting to retry this monster as the failure rate was high. The setup consisted of a vertical knotted rope swing complete with a small wooden platform on the bottom, two plastic rings set at varying heights were next followed by a pole suspended horizontally all leading to a suspended car tire. I’m not sure this rig would have been terrible if the conditions were dry, but of course, they were not, luckily athletes could use their legs as this proved to be the saving grace for me.

If you ran the 4-mile or 8-mile course congrats? Your day was finished, and you could go enjoy your beer and grab a bite to eat from the local vendors. But if you signed up for the 12-mile or 24-mile course more was yet to come, and your rig crossing was put off till you finished another loop. But have no fear, as Highlander set up some of their best obstacles on the section of the course leading back out!

This short gauntlet of three obstacles leading out started out with a unique three-part traverse. The first and third section needed to be crossed by suspended ropes while the second section required a jump across an expanse landing on a wooden plank angled down 45 degrees. The Strong As Oak version of Stairway to Heaven was also thrown in here and consisted up pulling oneself up a set of ascending stairs which evened out at the top and continued horizontally for another few rungs. And lastly, Highlander brought back its torpedo tube type climb requiring racers to shimmy up a plastic tube with only short ropes coming out the sides to hold on to. From here on the trail joined back up with the original start listed above. I was a bit bummed out that by choosing to run the 8-mile course I missed out on the last three obstacles I described as I’ve been on those before and found them to be very challenging.

Highlander Assault, in my opinion, added some very cool obstacles to an event that was already a must do. They pulled off a great race under awful weather conditions. The only real suggestions I would have is to possibly add a volunteer or some signage in a few spots where I saw racers unsure of what to do. Namely, the Wreckbag carry and Scotty’s carry but no race ever has enough volunteers and I still figured out what to do.

Pictures were free and posted within two days of the event, and I must say that they had the best swag tent short of the Spartan Race. Parking was 10 dollars, but it may have cost you more if you needed to be towed out due to all the rain. So, have you heard enough to add this to your race list in 2019? I hope so and I’ll see you there!

 

GoRuck Mogadishu Mile – Salt Lake City

Last weekend, GoRuck hosted Mog Mile events throughout the US to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Operation Gothic Serpent (aka Blackhawk Down).  The event we did in SLC also involved drinking beer.  But not before learning about the operation and paying homage to the men who served in it through rucking and teamwork.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Cadre-Cody-G

Cadre Cody G looking the part

Early in the night, someone dropped one of the team weights we’d been tasked to carry.  When it landed, it was loud.  At a GoRuck event, letting any assigned weight (aka Coupon for ‘good living’) touch the ground is a punishable offense.  Defying the Cadre is worse.  So when our Cadre yelled out “who the F%$# dropped the weight?” I was equal parts proud and scared when nobody on the team said a word, even after he repeated the question.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Formation

Cody eventually punished us for dropping the weight, but we took it together as a team and nobody snitched. This brand of instant cohesion among strangers is why I love GoRuck.  Nobody succeeds or fails alone, everything’s done as a team.  Nothing is ever about you as an individual, just about where you’re going and the people beside you.  It’s a fitting way to honor the spirit of what happened 25 years ago in Somalia.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Penaltydespite appearances to the contrary, the ground is actually wetGoRuck-Salt-Lake-Funishment

If you want a list of exercises and an inventory of weights we carried, sorry.  The linear version of these stories has been done before.  It’s a GoRuck Tough: we had #40 in our packs at all times, and most of the night we carried much more.  We did a lot of exercises, and rucked close to 20 miles against time hacks.  Some of the experiences that made the highlight reel for yours truly were:

  • Learning how to stop an arterial bleed using four types of tourniquets;

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Medic-Training

  • Watching two guys’ light-hearted banter/bickering over the right way to build a litter;

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Litter-Build

  • Appreciating how dangerous sliding down playground equipment at night can be during a race with other adults (think loud sounds and pain that a helmet could have prevented);
  • Learning how to play Cadre Baseball – i.e. several trips around a diamond where each base (or trip thereto) is associated with exercises that suck;
  • Realizing how much fun doing sprint intervals can be while wearing a #40 pack during crossing guard duty through SLC’s urban grid;
  • Seeing an older lady hardcore crush on our muscular Cadre around midnight;
  • Watching Cody’s magnanimity when a group of a-holes driving by in a truck at midnight shouted obscenities to our group. Seriously, who yells f-you to a crowd led by a special forces vet that’s carrying an American flag?
  • The contorted faces on everyone in the hotel lobby and elevator as I walked by after the GoRuck event.

Our experience started shortly after sunset and went through until early morning.  In the process, we’d gone from a dingy park on the classy side of town (visualize needles in the grass type class), traveled to a major park on the good side of town, continued up to the hillside University of Utah, then headed back down to the capital dome where we were summarily punished on the State grounds for missing a time-hack.  It was an unseasonably hot night, and the team’s copious pee-stops were a testament to how seriously everyone took our Cadre’s instruction to “hydrate or die.”

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Classy-Part-of-Town GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Capitol-Dome

Shortly after the sun came up, it started:  Kent got shot in the leg, “you have 2 minutes to stop the bleeding.”  Out came the straps to stop the bleeding and up Kent went into the air. In addition to the rucks, weights, and beer (we’d made an early morning pit-stop), Kent made his way back to the park we’d started from carried by the team.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Man-Down

The emotional climax came once we arrived back at the park where the event began.  Throughout the evening, Cody would tell us stories from the mission and two people at a time would share bios they’d brought of service members they’d researched ahead of the event.  Now it was time for the final two bios, purposely saved for the end: Delta Force Snipers Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Heros

Master Sergeant Gary Gordon (left), Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart (right)

I’m conflicted about describing these two here, mainly because they deserve better.  What I’ll say is that the movie shortchanges them and the crew they were trying to protect.  They saw wounded Americans in a crashed helicopter with an angry city mobilizing towards them.  After three tries, they were given permission to hit the ground (all two of them) and do what they could – which ended up being a lot.  Both posthumously received the Medal of Honor – the first issued since the end of the Vietnam War.

After Shughart and Gordon’s stories were told, Cadre Cody named our casualties and sent us off to complete the final part of the Mogadishu Mile.  Everyone was being carried or carrying multiple things as we followed the flag back to the Endex.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-MogMile1 GoRuck-Salt-Lake-MogMile2

But instead of finishing the event when we reached the Cadre (and beer), we were told to form the tunnel of love.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Tunnel-of-Love

As each of us made our way through, Cody was there on the other side to hand us the patches we’d spent all night trying to earn. Once the final person cleared the tunnel, class #2817 graduated and finally got to crack open the beer we’d been carrying.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Graduation

This was my first event since DNF’ing the Ultimate Suck in August.  The night before, I’d been nervous about being too weak to pull my weight and was clamoring for an excuse to stay home.  I hadn’t done a GoRuck since 2016, and the last time I tried I couldn’t find the start line.  Happily, all of that nonsense went away the second the event began and I got to hang with an amazingly fit group of Americans and a kick-ass Cadre.

When my wife and I made our way through the airport the next day, she saw me wince and make poopy faces every time I’d try to sit or stand.  Over breakfast, she caught me smiling at the new patch on the front of my ruck and said: “it’s an awful lot of work for such a little patch.”  She may be right, but it’s an awfully cool patch… and earning it was one of the more special emotional journeys I’ve experienced as an athlete.

GoRuck-Salt-Lake-Patch

Photo Credit for everything but the Popeye’s Shot: Nicole Sugihara

Evolution of the Series

I’ve been knocked out from electrocution. I’ve been immersed in ice within a breath of hypothermia. I’ve been driven to my knees by a death march up the side of a mountain. In the 4 short years I’ve come to eat, sleep and breathe obstacle course racing I’ve suffered. And along the way I’ve lived life to its boundaries. Every moment has been exhilarating.

OCR seduced me with its unwavering commitment to our collective humanity. What can be more human than running, carrying heavy shit, crawling and jumping? It captivated me with its ability to shake off the chains of modern comforts and tap into my primordial instincts of survival. Most of my friends think I’m crazy or even masochistic. Those other friends who convene every weekend on courses just smile and line up again at the finish line next to me.

This sport could be called a religion if not for the fact that the necessary skills to compete predate any god. There’s been a consensus that OCR’s popularity initially exploded because it tapped into that evolutionary past. Now, as the sport matures, there are those who argue that it needs to evolve to survive. I can’t help but wonder if that thinking could be dangerous and even counter-productive.

Evolution has come with or without that debate. The popularity of American Ninja Warrior has tempted some OCR series to tap into new audiences. More and more, race directors are engineering bigger more complicated obstacles. Some so innovative, even the best in our sport have been dumbfounded at recent championship competitions by the need for a how-to manual before attempting them.

Mr. Mouse would scurry into permanent obscurity at the thought of pleasing the masses who cheer on Captain NBC. When asked to overcome some of the most recent engineering monstrosities, ancient Spartans would take one look and simply burn them down.

Make no mistake. Skill has its place in our sport. But I can’t help but wonder how many successful competitors at today’s elite events would successfully complete or even choose to participate in an original Tough Guy or survive a Death Race. Skill is worthy of praise. But courage and the will to overcome adversity should be the true measurement of an obstacle course racer and obstacle engineers should remember that. Their creations should test every human being’s ability to push past their previously conceived limitations. Circus acts are for big tents.

I confess. I’ve followed the best in our sport to bouldering walls and some of the ninja gyms that have sprung up around my city. I recognize the value of grip-strength if I want to be an all-around successful athlete. More and more though, suffering on today’s courses seems to stem from torn and bloody hands. Where is the psychological test that has us walking away feeling reborn? Pushing our limits at grip strength doesn’t compare to pushing our limits as human beings.

Don’t get me wrong the “Sufferfest” spirit is still out there. But I can’t help but worry about the future of OCR as I see it twist itself into a more marketable sport at the expense of its soul.

This was never meant to be a spectator sport. It was supposed to pull people off of couches and into the mud to reacquaint themselves with the earlier version of themselves. Tapping into the grit that’s within us isn’t just addictive. It’s also contagious and that’s why it exploded in popularity.

Call me an idealist.  But can we not evolve as a movement without abandoning our original genius insight? Our own evolution as a species was what we were trying to shake off in the first place!

 

Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas


Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas

I would like to preface this review by saying that, due to unforeseen flooding the Savage Race in Dallas was canceled. This led to a unique hybrid type event the following Sunday. Rather than a Blitz– Sunday’s Race was a hybrid form of both the Savage Race and the Blitz resulting in a 4 and ¼ mile course packed with a lot of mud and obstacles. It was certainly the toughest and muddiest Savage that I personally have ever run. It was far different than the usual fare.

Savage did what they could to ensure as many people as possible got to enjoy a race even if it wasn’t what was originally planned. Therefore this review will be quite unique in that I will not only take note of the course with consideration to the events leading up to it. I saw a dedicated act of care for not only Savage participants, but for OCR as a whole.

The Race that Almost Wasn’t

As I was about to head out of the door Saturday morning, I knew that it had rained a lot the night before. I was prepared for a muddy course. However, I did not expect to receive the message from a fellow athlete saying “Race is canceled, whole festival area and course are flooded.” I sat on my hotel bed contemplating what this meant. I received a link to the video of a very disappointed and very apologetic Sam Abbitt.

Sam explained what had happened and noted that the river on the venue had risen far greater than they had thought it would. Much of their equipment was floating or submerged. They were attempting to salvage what they could, and Sam said “I am sorry” several times noting that Savage Race would do everything they could to make it up to competitors.

Around lunch, Sam released another update video. The river had receded and the Savage Crew and volunteers were working hard and non-stop on putting together a “hybrid course” for anyone who didn’t race on Saturday or who had originally planned to race on Sunday. It would certainly be unique, but they were doing what they could. I personally found this extremely respectable considering the amount of devastation that had befallen the course. The crew could have scrapped the entire weekend.  Instead, they harnessed the spirit of what it means to be an obstacle course racer. When presented with an obstacle, even from nature, we think quickly and do all we can to overcome it. I find this extremely respectable and heartening.

Race Day

Pre-Race

I didn’t expect anything out of the coming course. I don’t mean that in the sense of that I thought it would be bad.  I was happy to be able to race. Showing up to an extremely soggy and muddy venue wasn’t promising either. After a slightly late registration, the venue seemed somewhat empty.   The final turnout was nowhere near a normal Savage event, but far more participants showed up than I expected.

The pre-race rules were easily understandable. The pre-race speech given by the one and only Coach Pain. It was a great way to get us all pumped up and remind us how hard the crew had worked to put this course together after the weather had taken out the course on the previous day. He inspired racers as well as spectators.

Everything felt more “mom and pop” for a Savage Race, but it wasn’t a detriment. The competitors were just as fired up as usual if not more so, and we had one heck of a course in front of us to face down. The river flooded the entire course the day before.

The Course

As we charged out of the starting corral through a mostly flat course it didn’t take long to find plenty of mud and water. Even the pros had to be careful not to slip and slide. The first obstacle was one of the muddiest barbed wire crawls in my recent memory. Next came Shriveled Richard which is always a good start to wake everyone up. As we pressed on through a few 4 foot walls, on to “The Great Wall” and over an A-Frame, we came up to one of the new obstacles for the year “Pedal for the Medal.”  I’ll have to admit, this took a bit for other competitors and I to figure out. A rope connects a giant wooden spool and a tire.

The object of the obstacle is to use ONLY your feet to roll the spool thereby wrapping the rope around it and pulling the tire to you. This becomes hardest at the initial point at which the spool begins to pull the tire towards you. The key is to keep momentum on the wheel. Otherwise, you could lose some of the rope you worked so hard for. This really is a quad and hamstring burner. It presented far more difficulty than I originally imagined.

One of the only problems is that you almost have to rely on a volunteer to let you know when your tire hits the designated pole. Once it does, you must then carry your tire back out to the starting portion which is clearly marked by a mat. I found it inventive, yet I feel a couple of kinks could be worked out especially for competitive waves.

Upper Body Savagery

Next was a combo of 6 foot walls and barbed wire crawls. I found these  both fun and brilliantly placed as a taxation on the cardio system before “Big Cheese” and “Sawtooth.”  The wet obstacles proved very challenging. We barreled through a lot of mud to a mud-covered “Kiss the Walls.”

I do not remember “Kiss the Walls” having such small rock climbing grips on it or footholds. I also don’t remember it being as slanted. The mud and rain made it nearly impossible for most competitors. It was here that in spite of being in the lead pack after MANY tries for over an hour I finally gave up my elite band. All of the caked on slick Texas mud made this the hardest rock wall obstacle I’ve ever encountered.

Competitors were bombarded with a series of wet grip and upper body killers. Wheel world was lots of fun as always. After a  very muddy Colossus came “Twirly Bird,” “Holy Sheet,” and “Battering Ram.” I find “Holy Sheet” to be a nice new addition that provides a lot of technical challenge and forces competitors to utilize technique and body control. Most of my commentary is on “Battering Ram.” Unlike what you see on Savage Race’s website, the sliders had heavy iron with a type of handle that hung down for competitors to grab, a transition to a trust, and then grab hold of another handle and scoot along to a bell.

While doable, the rams did not slide as well as they should have and the handles allowed for less usage of momentum in sliding. Essentially, the only way to move the ram was to sling it forward using pure muscular shoulder and arm strength. I am not sure if it is intentional. I feel the more traditional larger pipe on a smaller pipe would  be a smoother obstacle.  It would also allow more fun for open competitors.

The End of a Tumultuous Journey

The festival area didn’t have much going on afterwards.  However, high hopes and good spirits filled the festival area. Top finishers received their awards, but far fewer finishers came out with bands than normal. Some of this could have been due to the placement of obstacles because of the weather. The highlight of the festival was seeing off the volunteer wave with Coach Pain. He commended them on their hard work.

 

What OCR is All About

I am proud of that volunteer crew. I am proud of Savage Race’s crew. I am proud of the understanding and concern from all competitors. Yes, many were disappointed, but at the end of it all, we are a family. This past weekend showed me again why I enjoy Savage Race so much. Most everyone acted like a big family who wanted to help one another and do all they could to help.

Everyone came together with love, logic, and understanding and overcame a problem the best way they could. This embodies the spirit of OCR. In spite of all these adversities, Savage put on a great, well organized, well manned by volunteers event. I’ve seen races in perfect weather with months to prepare that couldn’t hold a candle to this “thrown together” event.  I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Rain, Rain Stayed Away: Seattle Spartan Weekend

When you think of the city of Seattle, Washington you usually think of rain, but Seattle Spartan Beast and Sprint weekend had different plans.  What Seattle actually got was incredible weather with some of the most breathtaking views you can find.

First off let me talk about something that can be an absolute pain for obstacle course racers: Parking!  Parking for both days went extremely fast and smooth.  Plenty of volunteers were out there guiding you both in and out of the area, and the payment lines split into four, so there was no traffic getting backed up.  All of the volunteers for this event were very helpful with questions and the ones on the course were very enthusiastic and encouraging to all the racers.  This is always a positive, especially when you feel the struggles after a bucket carry and need to keep pressing forward, it’s nice to get that sound of encouragement.

As I get to registration it was also pain-free.  For the Beast, I arrived just about noon and there was a 2-minute wait to get in, and on Sunday I ran the age group race and there was no wait for registration.  Again all the people working the registration area were very helpful in answering all my questions.

As always, Spartan knows how to put on a race.  From the minute you walked into the festival to the minute you walked out, there was something for you to do.  The Army was there with a mini obstacle course which included a heavy sled push, pull-ups, an army crawl, and a that sled you just pushed you now need to pull it back.  Food, clothing, and more were on hand during the entire weekend and did not disappoint.

The courses for the weekend were fast with not a lot of major climbs.  The Beast course ended up being just over 13 miles while the Sprint was just over 4.5 miles.  The course was a perfect mixture of water, mud, sand, and dirt and was both challenging and fun.  Steve Hammond does an incredible job and designing these courses, but more importantly, he and his team do an incredible job at marking the courses.  There is nothing worse than being on a course and getting lost, but with Spartan races that won’t ever be a problem as the entire course was marked for both days, and this is something I am very thankful for.

After I finished my race I was greeted by volunteers handing out the finisher medals and then by a photographer who snapped a couple pictures of me in front of the Spartan wall while I held my shield.  As I walked down the finish shoot I was offered a variety of post-race food and drinks including of course the infamous race banana.  Fit Aid was also offered, as well as water and Cliff chewy blocks.  Finally, I came to another volunteer who cut off my timing chip and made small talk while doing so, which was a nice little touch.

After I left the finishing shoot I went over and sprayed myself off with the Spartan “showers” that were surprisingly refreshing and then into the changing tent to get the dirt out of places it shouldn’t be.  Lastly, I went over to bag check to retrieve my bag, which was super convenient and no hassle at all.

Spartan is the leader of the OCR sport for a reason.  It has changed the lives of a lot of people, and they know how to put on a race.  I hear negativity now and then about it, but at the end of the day as I said above, Spartan knows how to put on a race and I can’t wait for the next one.