Kimberley Spartan Race Trifecta Weekend Review

Spartan Race Kimberely (13)

Spartan Race returns to the Canadian Rockies.

KIMBERLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA

6 months ago (or thereabouts) Race Director Johnny Waite was scouting the location for this race on a snowmobile. Back then, temperatures could have been as low as -31ºF. Now, it’s mid-July and in this part of Canada, it can be almost as hot as Southern California.

Kimberely mountain

This a place of uncompromising toughness; a landscape in which only nature’s toughest endure – the grizzly bear, the moose, even the goddamn wolverine. It’s under those conditions that Spartan Race Canada delivered one of the toughest events ever.

The Sprint, for example, was an intense 9 kilometer trip up and straight back down the mountain in scorching temperatures. The Spartan Super, at 16 kilometers, had more elevation gain than most of the mountains in the Canadian Rockies. The Beast and Ultrabeast were among the hardest courses based on distance and climbing ever devised for a Spartan Race. I have stats to prove that claim but forget all that. Instead, let’s just say that 4 hours into the race I used a volunteer’s phone to send this text to my wife.

Text Kimberley

Let me break it down for you in terms you might appreciate. This was Spartan Beast that was so steep that I will unashamedly admit to finding and using someone’s lost ski poles to help me climb the hill. This was a race weekend where I watched a fellow elite heat racer give up on racing and begin desperately foraging for berries on the hillside for energy mid-race. “Oh boy, that was hard” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Spartan Race Kimberely (18)

The standard set of obstacles were in play on each day of the event and if you’re interested you will find maps and lists here. If you are familiar with Spartan Races, you will instantly know what to expect – obstacles like the Tyrolean traverse, the sandbag carry, and the bucket carry etc. Spartan Race Canada tried something new this year, and attempted to include an innovative wreck bag push obstacle. That idea was unfortunately reduced to 5 wreck bag clean and jerks by Spartan Race Corporate. It was still cool, but it is a real shame that Spartan Race Canada doesn’t have full autonomy over what to include.

One of my favorite obstacles on the Beast was the sled pull, and this one was set up on a slight incline making it extra difficult (still got it though). The Platinum rig was all decked out with various levels of rings that required careful planning and that 90 degree single arm lock to complete (yup, failed that one). I also succumbed to the Z wall, as a foothold block was really out of reach for my stubby legs and a leg cramp made it ugly (you know one of those ones around the corner?) It’s a frustrating one to fail but such is life.

Spartan Race Kimberely (14)

The climbing was brutal.

For the Beast, we ascended ski run after ski run before heading back down to the main fire road to connect to the next climb. One final climb put us up onto the top of Vimy Ridge, and apparently, the views of the valley were spectacular, but my legs were so beaten down that sightseeing was the last thing on my mind. The course eventually began to drop into the resort area with the final quad busting descent through the desert-like dust of the North Star ski run. Apart from a thrilling mountain bike switchback trail (which was probably the highlight of the race for me), there were few sections of the race where it was possible to actually run – instead, it was mainly hiking. Obstacles were spaced pretty evenly and there were 9 well-stocked water stations along the way. Despite that fact scuffles and misunderstandings over water allowances marred the day for some on Saturday’s Beast and Ultrabeast.

Mud and water were conspicuous by their absence – a technical challenge posed by the limitations of the location was given as the reason for this. On that subject, (not that we often drink water on course) if you intend to run the Spartan weekend at Kimberley, a hydration pack should be strongly considered.

It is possible you should also take fuel with you unless you are really good at picking saskatoon berries quickly! You should expect high temperatures, and you should definitely expect to run low on water or to need some hydration between stations. Many people I saw out there were very unprepared for fuel and water.  You can see more about the effect of temperature and exercise here with additional guidance here and here to determine how much water you will need. Google it and ask someone who knows what they are talking about. Test and repeat before race day.

Spartan Race Kimberely (2)

Back to my race… As I crested the top of the ridge, I took a reading from my watch. I had gained 1980 meters or 6496 feet over the 15 kilometers I had covered so far. Yeah, it was steep. Eventually, I saw myself slip back further and further into the middle and then the back of the elite pack, slowing to a hobble and finally a walk. This didn’t suit me well, and my pride was dented pretty hard when my legs couldn’t keep up with my ego. I was failing at something I usually did OK at. The finale of the race was a downhill barbed wire crawl, the spear throw, bucket carry, slip wall and finally the fire jump.

I was done.

It was a strange feeling for me to walk into the finishing area feeling like I hadn’t enjoyed myself. I almost feel ashamed of myself for thinking that, but most of the time was spent wanting the whole thing to be over. My own pride and lack of preparation were my own problems for sure and I can’t blame everything on “problems with the course.” Many people came more prepared than I was and had a far better experience out there, however, I felt a little better about it when I realized that it wasn’t just me who had a rough day on the mountain. It was steep. Very steep. So steep in fact that it became difficult to enjoy for quite a few people. The scale of the task ahead of people was massive. Racers who finished all three events for the weekend had covered a total distance of 46 kilometers and accumulated a total elevation gain of 4200 m or 13780 feet! A massive congratulations to everyone who made it!

Kimberely Spartan Glenn

But there were enough people who had problems that Spartan Race Canada took note.

Spartan Race Kimberely (6)

“This is why I’ll never run Spartan again” – Some random

“This is why people say, “never again” and actually mean it”.

– another anon

Or even simply, “Eff Johnny”

– quite a few people actually.

Spartan Race Kimberely (17)

Spartan Race Kimberely (19)

Despite this vocal group of people, 94% of people who started the beast course actually finished, while 45% of those who started the Ultrabeast finished. This is just about right for the difficulty level Spartan are aiming for, but the question for me remains on will be how many finishers and non finishers will return for more next year?

How many will feel like they don’t want to go through this again? How do we ensure volunteers don’t end up making up their own rules about water allowance and obstacle safety? For the open heat and first time racers, do the memories of the suffering fade and get replaced with the desire to conquer the event next year? If things do change, do we then feel more shortchanged if the event isn’t as hard next year? And what was that log drag obstacle about exactly?

Spartan Race Kimberely (15)

Johnny reached out to me to discuss these things, so we went Live on the Facebook feed for Obstacle Racing Media.

Spartan Race Kimberely (8)

As it turns out Johnny approached the issues people had with the race in a very contrite and considered way, answering questions for almost an hour. He took full responsibility for the problems with the course design, and promising changes – but at the same time took steps towards reshaping expectations about what a championship weekend would look like.

What’s clear is that Spartan Race Canada (and Johnny Waite himself) has things to learn in this new venue and he seems eager to go about applying the feedback provided by the participants to form a better race for everyone. I don’t think we as consumers should form a committee to decide how a race should set up.

In fact, we need to apply a little bit of the STFU principle and find ourselves in all the suffering, etc. We (I myself) HAVE to be more prepared in order to enjoy these tougher ones. A Beast at an alpine ski resort should be difficult for everyone – both professional athlete and first-time participant should expect to be tested and we should be prepared to leave it all out there on the course – otherwise what accomplishment is there?

Spartan Race Kimberely (20)

Despite that Spartan Race Canada can improve with constructive feedback, I’m full of ideas (mainly ideas I have stolen from other smarter people). My recommendations for Spartan Race Canada and participants in the event are detailed below.

Spartan Race Kimberely (16)

Glenn’s ideas on how to make a truly incredible OCR experience:

(and stolen ideas that I have claimed full credit for).

  1. We’re getting better at obstacles and some of these are getting stale. Focus on making more unique and novel experiences – push Spartan Race Corporate to get those innovative new obstacles approved. I still have a blueprint for a pegboard traverse… that would make a sick obstacle.
  2. Bring back some mud – look to the past races for elements that gave joy and entertainment to participants and spectators – as we discussed, mud and dirt is still part of the experience.
  3. Water obstacles add dynamic elements to an otherwise ordinary race. Water obstacles (even without mud) add that much needed cooling element for summer races. We need a dunk wall. A wade pool. A water slip wall. I found myself almost wishing for an arctic enema ice pool on Saturday.
  4. Photography. Part of our identity as Spartan Racers is tied up in that image of us, muddied but determined. Quality, timely photography makes us feel awesome about ourselves and proves our accomplishments. This was much improved at Kimberley over Red Deer!
  5. Create sections that are exhilarating to complete – obstacle couplets, multiple walls, balance beams, narrow singletrack, weaving through tight tree sections, creating simple level changes, swinging obstacles, direction changes, climbing, rope descents and natural obstacles all stand up well in any race.
  6. Continue to support volunteers with things they need to perform the tasks set for them. Specifically offer shelter from the elements, written instructions and explicit rules regarding water provision and obstacle safety.
  7. You probably don’t need to film burpees for anyone outside of the top 15 runners.

Spartan Race Kimberely (3)

In conclusion, it’s fairly obvious that a race doesn’t just have to be harder to be better. A truly incredible and epic race involves a strategy of variety and laying the groundwork for racers to experience adventure, competition and memorable moments in a balance worth coming back for. If Spartan Race Canada can adjust that balance next year, I think it will be a classic.

For this race, in particular, I should add that we should celebrate our volunteers who spent many hours in the heat and sun to ensure we could participate safely in this event.

I also want to congratulate the effort put in by our top athletes who showed tremendous courage, effort and stamina to battle extremely hard on one of the toughest Spartan Race weekends ever. Our Elite racing group sometimes don’t get acknowledged enough for the hours and hours of hard work they put in to compete in places like this. You should all be very proud of yourselves.

Spartan Race Kimberely (1)

Finally, for this one I think we can all celebrate crossing that finish line, or hell, even stepping up towards it. Until next year.

Spartan Race Kimberely (11)

Photo credit: Spartan Race Canada.

Aston Down Spartan Super 2018

Aston Down Spartan Super

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aston,  we will be back.

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

2018 Spartan Sprint D.C. – Fast and Furious

Spartan-DC-A-Frame-and-Carving

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

Parking and Registration

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

Spartan-DC-Registration-Lines

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

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

Spartan-DC-Spear

The Course

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

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

Spartan-DC-Sprint-Finish

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

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author

Conquer the Gauntlet: Dallas/Forth Worth

Conquer the Gauntlet: Dallas/Fort Worth

On the hottest day of the summer thus far at the time of this writing, Conquer the Gauntlet kicked off their series with a big bang.  While the Texas heat beamed down, competitors filed in to take on one of the most brutal Obstacle Courses known in America.  Don’t allow the down-home, local feel of the race series to fool you.  Conquer the Gauntlet is as serious (if not more so) than any other OCR series out there.  I’ve run several areas of Texas.  I’ve faced tons of treacherous terrain.  However, I’ve never experienced the type of challenge that Conquer the Gauntlet presented me with.  This review will focus primarily on those obstacles as I feel they deserve the most limelight.  I left physically broken so to speak, but spiritually energized.  I loved every minute of it.

Masters victors

 

The Venue

As far as terrain goes, the Village Creek Motocross Park track didn’t offer any daunting ascents or downhills.  However, Conquer the Gauntlet utilized it to its utmost potential.  Within the first mile or two competitors made many up and down runs on the tracks biggest jumps.  The sandbag carry finished with one of the steeper ascents making it extra draining with the Texas heat already sapping racers’ strength away.  Racers later cooled down in a few water crossings including a beautiful creek offering some great scenery.

The last stretch of obstacles brought competitors back around to the festival area allowing spectators a superb view of Pegatron, Tarzan, Stairway to Heaven and other favorites.  CTG knows what obstacles are fun to watch and they made sure they were front and center.

The Obstacles

CTG’s major strength in its own right as well as against all other series is its obstacles.  Three words that should consistently be used when describing this course are challenge, innovation, and fun.  Strategic placement of these challenging beasts made sure that they took everything they could out of competitors.  This made those well-earned podium spots that much more special.  All of the favorites went off without a hitch and were well manned by volunteers.

As someone who has run many obstacle course races, walls are rarely more than an annoyance in most courses.  This was not so at Conquer the Gauntlet Fort Worth.  Not one.. not two… not three… but FIVE 8 foot walls in a ROW drained more out of me than I expected.  I do not mean in the same vicinity.  I mean immediately after one another.  Stamina killers may have been lacking in hills, but Conquer the Gauntlet knows how to utilize their tools to break you even more efficiently than most terrain can.

Challenge

Cliffhanger brought the next somewhat daunting challenge as they were probably the most challenging set of monkey bars I’ve faced.  Though the bars aren’t fat or necessarily slick,  some aren’t welded in and they WILL spin on you.  On top of that, they ascend and descend adding a bit of extra kick of difficulty.  Technique and grip are key in monkeying your way across these bad boys and they should not be taken lightly.

The Z beam brought forth an unusual challenge as well.  Four very long, very narrow boards are lined up edgewise in a Z pattern. Competitors had to make their way across without falling off.  A simple concept proved to be very difficult and requires a lot of focus especially when placed after a long running portion.  This required racers to lower their heart rate and focus on foot placement and center of gravity at a time when their mind is just screaming “GO!”

Later on came the daunting challenge that has taken the belt and pride of many, and it claimed mine as well.  Pegatron was a large approximately 20-foot long horizontal pegboard that loomed over competitors much like the large evil robots from its namesake.  With a few footholds in the first and last five feet, the most difficult portion was the ten-foot portion in the middle with no footholds.

Never having practiced on a pegboard, I tried my best to develop a nice technique again… again.. and again.. to no avail.  Pegatron offered many different choices of peg sizes.  Offset holes added difficulty.  Some holes were fake.  This allows pegs to go all the way through forcing competitors to use strategy.  If that wasn’t enough, the occasional fake hole could turn a great attempt into failure.

The Mystery

I stayed at Pegatron for an hour.  I made it halfway across and even further, but never fully reached the other footholds. A handful of racers made it through, but even more threw down their belts to continue on.   I tried until my hands, torn and bleeding, gave out. I walked away knowing I had given it my all.

What immediately followed was a super fun new “mystery obstacle.”  Much like other CTG staples, this new obstacle brought in some of the best elements of Ninja Warrior like obstacles to the OCR series.  The obstacle began with a quick set of widely spaced quintuple steps.  A series of walls with bars lining the top followed.  Competitors had to jump from wall to wall grasping to the bar to keep them up.  However, the next to the last wall brought a surprise.

Instead of a bar, this wall had a nun-chuck, a ball grip, and a rope hanging from the top.  This made shimmying and leaping to the last bar wall extra difficult.  Not only was this a great challenge, it was a lot of fun and I hope to see it in future races.

More Grip and Upper Body Destruction

As if Pegatron and the “mystery” obstacle didn’t kill our grip enough, later competitors faced Tarzan.  It was not a particularly long rig, but that did not matter.  With bloody and battered hands I attempted it, but of course to no avail.  The rig began with a nunchuck.  There is no grip on this nunchuck.  These nunchucks were metal and SLICK.  Competitors must get a big swing going.  That sweet little ring on the next hold appears to be 15 feet away.  IF you even make it to that ring you are forced to grab hold of some little bungee cords. Hold on for dear life and attempting to keep your swing going until you can reach the final hold.  Needless to say, even for those who made it through Pegatron, their elite journey ended here.

IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH for your grip and upper body to be screaming, next came stairway to heaven.  Don’t let the heavenly counterpart of a name to Ninja Warrior’s devil steps fool you.  These wooden bad boys are steeper and higher than almost any set of devil steps I’ve encountered.  Bloody and battered I clawed my way to the top and even made the transition only to have my screaming, throbbing hands give out on me as I plummeted into the water below.  A nice little tube slide ended my journey to one of the most difficultly obtained medals and shirts I’ve ever earned.

A Fun Learning Experience with Truly Elite Athletes

Many have often described OCR as a mixture of Ninja Warrior and trail running.  In fact, I often use it to describe OCR to those who have never heard of it as it makes the concept easier to grasp.  Conquer the Gauntlet is the truest example of that definition.  To every Ninja who reads this: sign up.  To every OCR racer ready to test themselves in a new way and ready to push limits they may not have known they had: sign up.  Even to those who love to run with friends and just take it easy: sign up!  This challenge will bring you either closer to those you run with, closer to yourself, or closer to the OCR community as a whole.

As someone who became addicted to OCR because I kept learning that I could achieve feats I never thought possible, Conquer the Gauntlet awakened that feeling in me once again.  I was beaten, badly by a greater obstacle challenge than I’ve ever experienced, but I walked out with my head held high.  I hadn’t only had a lot of fun, I was inspired. In my heart… that’s what the number one goal of all OCR companies and racers is… to inspire.  Thank you Conquer the Gauntlet for a wonderful experience.  I will be back.

I give it 5 torn callouses out of 5.

https://conquerthegauntlet.com/

Considering your first OCR?

So, you’re thinking about doing your first race, but you’re nervous about hitting the big “register now” button.

Spartan-Seattle-Beast-Trifecta-Group

Guess what – I’m willing to bet that at least 90% of people who are interested in obstacle racing today sat exactly where you are sitting right now, including the pros. Yes, 90%. I’m not over exaggerating.

You’re probably asking yourself questions like, “what if I’m not ready?” or “what if I’m not good enough,” or *gasp* the worst of all, “what if I embarrass myself?”

I’d like to take a moment to address those questions.

What if I’m not ready?

Let me answer this question the hard way: you’re probably not. None of us REALLY are, and that’s part of the fun!

The thing with obstacle racing is that there are so many different components to it. There’s running, hiking, throwing, heavy carries, coordination, crawling, jumping, throwing, balance, sometimes swimming…and well, you get the picture. There’s a LOT.

It doesn’t matter what your athletic background is, at least one of these elements is going to humble you. You are going to look at the person who is standing next to you and think to yourself, what the $*@?. It’s just a part of racing. Truth is, none of us could be considered “perfect racers.” There is always something that you can improve on. If you are telling yourself that you are going to wait to register until you feel physically ready, well, because there are so many pieces, you’re going to be waiting forever.

This multitude of elements is what makes racing so entertaining. It’s fun to take a look at some of the things that you totally suck at and work on them. Then, when you try again, you can take a step back and say “wow, I used to only be able to make 2 rungs of twister, and today I made five!” It becomes an addiction, and almost like a game of How Good Can I Get?  I’d also like to go ahead and add that it is TOTALLY OKAY to be proud of yourself for completing a race. Good vibes are encouraged!

Races can provide an awesome opportunity for you to see what you’re really made of. Not only are there things that you can do in a race that humble you, but there are going to be some opportunities for you to surprise yourself. Yep, there are things that even you, the complete newbie, are good at, you may just not know it yet. Maybe, you can’t run for shit, but you are a lady who can carry the men’s weight sand-bag carries like a champ. You go, girl! Imagine racing as an opportunity to show you where you are awesome–come on, aren’t you a little curious to find out what you’re good at?

What if I’m not good enough?

I promise you; you are good enough. The thing about obstacle racing that I’ve learned is, the value of racing has nothing to do in the race itself. Racing is about the confidence that you learn along the way.

One thing I’ve learned about obstacle racing is that, for most people, tackling the challenge often deals with overcoming obstacles that are off the course. More often than not, you can listen to people tell you stories of how racing has helped them accomplish things that they have never imagined. I’ve talked to several people about how racing has helped them understand that they are better than their depression. I’ve heard how people say it’s made them feel strong enough to get out of abusive relationships. For some, they may have less serious things, like running OCR has made them feel “less bored with fitness.” Some people want a challenge, and you better believe they get that. Personally, running obstacle races has helped me have a better understanding of myself. It’s helped me come to terms with who I am as a person, it’s helped me gain the confidence I needed to say when I made a mistake, and it’s helped me gain the confidence of acknowledging when I am good at something.

Because of this trend of people-overcoming-personal-obstacle-racers, I’ve also noticed that everyone at races is SUPER friendly. Just like everything, there are exceptions, but people show up to support each other. People may offer you tips and tricks, or hey, even let you join their group. Racing often means traveling, and traveling can become opportunities to spend time with other people similar to yourself. I’ve met some of my best friends racing. It’s very exciting to listen to everyone’s stories–there are some pretty interesting people out there!

I know what you’re thinking, and sure, there’s the physical piece of it, too. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been watching a lot of SPARTAN: Ultimate Team Challenge or other shows that just feature the elites. You know what, sure, there are several people that appear to be god-tier athletes. But most people aren’t like that. I would never try to sit here and tell you that those people don’t exist, because they most certainly do, but that should not be your determining fear factor. Most of the people who come out to races are those who are looking for a challenge, or they are looking for a unique experience. But, OCR is meant to be more mentally challenging than physical. It’s meant to make you feel good, not make you feel like you can’t accomplish something. Not to mention, most bigger OCRs have some sort of “opt out” option–whether it’s burpees, a penalty loop, a lost wristband, whatever. Some race series (I’m looking at you, Terrain) don’t even care if you walk past an obstacle, as long as you are not in a more competitive wave!

 

What if I embarrass myself?

Ready for another blunt, disappointing answer?

Nobody. Gives. A. Fuck.

Really, they don’t.

 

The thing is, OCR is about building confidence. With an event that attempts to build up your confidence and character, the people try to build you up, too. With that being said, as long as you try, you really shouldn’t be embarrassed. People you’ve never met before will sit there and cheer for you when you accomplish things. If you show fear, they’ll cheer you on. If you show excitement, they will cheer louder. Volunteers will dance with you and even help you get over certain obstacles, if allowed. You will see smiles all throughout. You will be encouraged. You will be pushed and held to high standards. Why? Because the people who are out there will believe in you. It doesn’t matter if they’re your friend, someone you’ve never seen before, or someone you will never see again. Everyone believes in you. If you’re surrounded by people who believe in you and want to help you, could you really be embarrassed?

 

So, Sarah, what do YOU think it takes to be ready?

I guess I’ve told you that you’re both ready and not ready for your first race. I stand by both of those comments. Physically, there is a challenge and truthfully, there is not benchmark you must hit before you get started. You’ll have areas you’ll excel, and you’ll have areas where you are weak. Everyone does, and quite frankly, if you wait until you’re ready, you’re probably going to be waiting forever. So don’t wait, go ahead and register; use your first race as a benchmark! Mentally, if you are willing to take on the challenge, then you are absolutely ready. There isn’t as much pressure to be a total beast as you may think; especially not if you are a first-timer.

Truth is, your first race is going to be uncomfortable. It’s probably going to humble you in at least one area, but, it will also give you a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t compare to anything else. If you’re willing to take on the challenge, you are going to be great. You’re going to meet some amazing people who believe in you. You won’t find a more uplifting community. So, please join us. On behalf of the OCR community, know that you are welcome to join us, and we are cheering for you!

 

Epic Series LA

Epic Series OCR made their way back to Los Angeles, California on May 6 for their second event at the Los Angeles Police Academy. For those of you not familiar with Epic Series let me give you a little background.

Epic is a Southern California based race series that’s focused primarily on functional movements with a few OCR type obstacles thrown in. They currently don’t venture outside of the SoCal area very often due to the high cost of transporting all their heavy equipment, so you may not have yet heard about them but listen up!

The formula for Epic’s success is pretty simple, but highly addictive. They pack as many obstacles as they can inside a course about the size of a standard 400-meter track. No miles upon miles of endless running here as most of their events have a total distance of between a mile to a mile and a half. The use of the track format breaks up the lines of functional exercises located inside of the track area and allows Epic to put on their events at venues with limited space quite well.

The Epic race format breaks down like this. Run a lap, usually with something awkward and heavy, then perform a series of functional movements with a few OCR type obstacles thrown in before running another lap. There are three different levels of difficulty at most of these stations throughout the race. Competitive men, competitive women, and open with weights and reps adjusted accordingly. I’ll break down the race in a lap by lap format, so it’ll be easy to follow.

Lap 1. All athletes start out the race by running their first lap carrying an Epic Series flag. Epic appropriately calls this the “flag lap” and once the lap is completed flags are dropped off at the starting line and its then time to get physical with the first series of functional movements starting off with the overhead squat for reps.

Athletes are required to pick up a weighted bar for touch and go squats while standing over a bucket. Volunteers are located at every station giving instructions, directions and occasionally calling out athletes for improper form or to repeat a rep. After completing the overhead squats Epic lined up their ladder wall and tri-wall, which each need to be traversed before continuing.

Lap 2. Athletes now were required picked up a medicine ball to carry around the track for their second lap leading up to the Atlas Stones. Atlas Stones of varying weights needed to be picked up and dropped over the shoulder onto a mat. Miss the mat and the rep doesn’t count so be precise! This took a lot of energy leaving athletes very winded, which made the next balance obstacle even harder.

The Epic balance beam was next in line and is truly unique as it’s built with pegs attached to a series of 4×4 boards suspended above the ground. This thing wobbles all over and usually causes me to fall at least once per event.

Lap 3. This is where the going starts to get tough as athletes are required to run this lap with a tough to balance slosh pipe. Immediately upon completion of this lap, it’s time for another Epic Series favorite, the squat wall. Pick a spot on the wall and assume the wall sit position while holding an hourglass with your arms straight out in front of you while you beg for the sand to fall faster! This obstacle is made even more fun as a volunteer constantly yells at you to keep your arms straight or they’ll make you start over.

Now normally this is where Epic sets up their lumberjack station which requires athletes to pick up a metal post on a hinge and flip it to the other side, but because this obstacle rips up the grass in a major way Epic had to substitute an inflatable bouncy house type thing as a replacement. Not nearly as much fun, but still a cardio crusher nonetheless.

The rope climb with a bell tap at the top was the next up in this long line of obstacles followed by the plank station. Another hourglass was used here as you sat in the plank position and watched those small grains of sand moving ever so slowly down. Continuing the fun on this lap was a keg hoist for reps followed by another crossing over a ladder wall.

Burpee box jumps for reps followed with an inverted wall immediately after leading to the last obstacle on this lap, the archer. Bow and arrows tipped with a rubber stopper were shot at a tiny target set up on a net and if you have never done this before it could take you forever. Luckily for me, I am a former bow hunter, so I nailed that sucker on the first try!

Lap 4. The carries started getting harder here as athletes now grabbed two jerry cans for the farmers carry lap testing out that grip strength to the max. After setting the jugs down it was time to get low for a cargo net crawl followed up by another tri-wall traverse. The band challenge was the last obstacle on this lap and it required athletes to put a thick rubber band around their ankles and hop for a set distance.

Lap 5. For the next lap Epic kept it simple, just sprint as fast as you can. Finishing up led you to another inverted wall to traverse before climbing up and over Barnaby’s Beast. This was a vertical rock wall where the hand holds became more spaced out the more with the higher difficulty level that you signed up for.

All of this led up to one final lap which proved to be a make or break lap for most people. The final lap required carrying a keg around the course! Now, these were filled to different levels depending on if you ran competitive or open, but I swear mine was filled with lead!

Now, if you ran Open your day was done. Collect your medal and bad ass Clinch Gear shirt and enjoy a Body Armour drink. But if you ran in the Competitive class you could sign up for the Epic Elite short course.

For a few dollars, more men and women could choose from either the Strength or Endurance challenge course for a chance to win even more bling! This course was a great mixture of obstacles, Crossfit, and strength and drew some great crowds to watch the athletes grunt and throw heavy shit around. The list of exercises was the same for both classes with only the weight and reps changing, plus the Endurance class had an added 5 burpees between each station.

  1. Truck pull for distance
  2. Deadlift for reps
  3. Clean and Press for reps.
  4. Atlas Stone up and over a wall for reps
  5. Atlas Stone shrugs for reps
  6. Farmer Carry
  7. Kettlebell step ups
  8. Weighted Lunge
  9. Tire flip for reps
  10. Sprint to the finish.

 

 

Now there were a few obstacles that happened to be missing from this event that are normally present at every Epic Series due to lack of space on the Police Academy grounds.

The Russian twists and the over under a suspended piece of tubing for a million reps each were gone but not missed by me personally! I found Epic to be an excellent test of one’s overall fitness and that the event offered something for everyone from a fitness newbie to a king of CrossFit.

A kid’s race was also located on-site making this a family-friendly event. Parking and photos were free as was the awesome Southern California scenery. I personally love this series and try to make it out West whenever I can, so maybe it’s time for you to do the same? It’ll be worth the trip I guarantee it and with future events in August in Huntington Beach and a September event in San Diego you still have time to test out how fit you are!