Shamrock OCR Campground-Spartanburg, SC

What is Shamrock?

There are so many beautiful things about obstacle racing. However, an abundance of training grounds is not one of them. I live in the Upstate of South Carolina, and there are hardly any places to train. The nearest ninja gym is probably four hours away, and how many other places have obstacles? My training typically consists of low elevation (because that’s all we have) trail runs and Yancy Camp in a traditional gym, with some additional runs, rock climbing, and weight lifting here and there. Although I feel like Yancy Camp has made me a lot stronger, one thing that I lack is exposure to the obstacles. Or, at least I was lacking that until I heard from a man named Donovan Brooks about Shamrock.

Who is Donovan?

Donovan Brooks–a high school English teacher in Spartanburg, is also the builder and owner of Shamrock OCR.

Now, if you are a member of various facebook groups in the South Carolina/Georgia area, you may have seen Donovan post on groups offering to come up to play. If you’re not, don’t worry, you’re still invited to play.

Donovan opens his backyard of dreams to the public on Sundays at 9:00 until 12:00, completely free of charge. I REPEAT: YOU COME HERE TO TRAIN COMPLETELY FREE OF CHARGE. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. When he reached out to me, especially once he made it clear to me that it was free, I couldn’t not go. So one Sunday I popped by a little after nine to check it out for myself.

I pulled in to Donovan’s driveway and was greeted immediately by his girlfriend, who ran over to my car with a really big smile on her face. She made sure to make me feel very welcome before I even got out of my car.

 

What do they have at Shamrock?

By the time I finally got out and ready, I got the grand tour. I noticed there were many different hand-built obstacles to choose from, including a Herc Hoist (Spartan), a multi-rig, Olympus (Spartan), the z-wall (Spartan), an 8-foot wall, and of course, a target for everyone’s favorite.. the spear throw.

He also had several pre-made obstacles that you may see including tires for tire flips, sandbags, brute force sandbags, a rope, and some spartan pancakes. All of these things were of course surrounded by a single-track trail and a nice, cool creek to jump into after the workout.

One thing that I’d like to say is that, although Donovan is not a certified SGX coach, he’s been in the OCR game for a hot minute. Basically, what I’d like to say is that Donovan knows how to handle obstacles. He is really good about showing you ways to be successful in obstacle completion, without sounding like he is better. The thing is; the obstacles that Donovan builds are actually way more challenging than they are in races. So, when it comes to race day and you’re really tired, you can man-handle these obstacles like a champ. Shoot, I even had Donovan help show me a different way to throw a spear, and I nailed it easily in my race after that!

However, you haven’t quite made it until you have completed the 300 challenge.

The 300 Challenge

Oh, God, this was one of the toughest things that I have ever done. I’m pretty sure Donovan actually does this so that he can laugh at people.

One part of OCR that is a crucial piece of training is strength training. Which means, carrying around a bunch of heavy shit. For what honestly feels like no good reason sometimes.

And, this situation is absolutely no different.

The 300 Challenge focuses on 3 different heavy carries: farmer’s carry, the bucket carry, and a sandbag. For one mile.

I would write about what it is more, but you may just have to come to find out!

What else can you do at Shamrock?

A typical day at Shamrock starts with a little trot around the property in order to get warmed up. After all, safety is important! Followed by that, we will get together and focus on an obstacle. Donovan is usually pretty good about stopping by and showing us around, or, if we are working toward getting through certain obstacles more efficiently, we will discuss form and technique. We’ll spend some time working on the obstacle together.

Followed by this is a workout. Donovan will use the obstacles that are there and try to incorporate them the best he can. One thing that they like to use is called the Warrior Board Game. We’ll play either as a team or solo, and he will replace come of the commands with completing obstacles. Of course, no OCR preparation would be complete without an obscene amount of burpees, too!

 

 

Once the main set is complete, it’ll be time to revisit that obstacle from before, or, a different obstacle. After all, you’re not going to hit obstacles while you are feeling fresh. You shouldn’t train that way either.

Oh yeah, did I mention that he has a creek behind all of this? You know what that means?

Yes-you guessed it, you may as well bring flip flops because there is a perfect opportunity to take a little ice bath right there! For free! In nature! WITH FRIENDS! It does not get much better than that.

Of course, Donovan also does not mind if you just want to come and play on obstacles.

My thoughts…

The biggest thing that I have enjoyed about Shamrock has been the community. Most of the people who attend are just people looking to make themselves better. Sure, there is some friendly competition, but most of it is that we cheer each other on, even when we really are not feeling like moving forward. Everyone is very positive, and I know that is the atmosphere that I look to be a part of. Going to Shamrock each week really is one of the highlights of my weekends!

So, if you enjoyed what you read, please keep an eye out for one of our posts on Facebook, so that you may join us one Sunday also!

Reaching the End of Your Rope is the Whole Damn Point

I was stuck. Hopelessly, impossibly stuck. Clinging to a wet rope with everything I had – which, at that point, admittedly wasn’t  much- unwilling to let go, unable to pull myself any higher. I just dangled there, suspended above a pit of muddy water, trying to somehow balance myself on an uncomfortable knot in a last-gasp attempt to buy myself a little more time. But as I looked around in desperation- at the runners wading in to grab a rope, at the racers coming down off theirs, at the spectators shouting encouragement to those still climbing, at the dejected and exhausted group grinding out their burpees, and more than once up at the bell that now seemed miles above me – reality set in.

Rope Climb End of My Rope

Completing my first Spartan Sprint in March of 2015 was, without question, the hardest and most physically demanding thing I had ever tried up to that point. But in the hours and days that followed, as I nursed my scrapes and rested my muscles and posted my photos and replayed my race in my head, it was the rope climb that haunted me.

It wasn’t that I failed the obstacle. I failed three others, too. But those I could dismiss: I mean, how many times in my life have I ever thrown a spear? Or even seen it done? Who would expect to master that the first time? No, I couldn’t get the rope climb out of my head because it seemed like I should have been able to do it. It wasn’t wet hands and bad grip (like what got me on the monkey bars) or simple physics and bad luck (like what made my foot hit the water on the rope swing), it was bad strategy. I had had the strength to climb that rope; I didn’t know the technique. There had to be a trick. I saw dozens of people do it while I burpeed myself dizzy, every clang of that bell a deafening reminder that someone else knew the trick… and I didn’t.

Thank God for YouTube. With a few mouse clicks, I had access to clip after clip of people (some of whom looked no fitter than me) flying up their ropes like they were being hoisted from a crane. Before long, my vocabulary included spiffy new phrases like “rope management” and I could spot a “J-hook” from an “S-wrap” with just a casual glance. But understanding how to climb a rope in theory and actually climbing a rope in the real world are very two different things. It was clearly a skill that would require practice to make perfect. And watching every single video on the Internet wasn’t going to get me up my next rope if the only time I ever touched one was on raceday.

Spartan Super Atlanta 2015 Rope Climb

Purchasing a 25-foot climbing rope was simple. Hanging it safely in my backyard took some effort. I found two tall trees roughly ten feet apart, easily accessible and with no low branches. From the lumber yard, I bought a 2-by-6 that I would use as a crosspiece to span distance between the tree trunks. The trees are about 10 feet apart; I bought a board that’s 16 feet long. That extra length is crucial.

I fastened one end of the board to the trunk of one tree. I used big, beefy lag screws that penetrated the trunk by several inches; wimpy nails or easy-to-drive deck screws wouldn’t cut it for a job like this. Since I’d be hanging over 20 feet in the air off this contraption, skimping on the hardware seemed downright suicidal. I drilled a pair of holes- the same diameter as the lag screws- all the way through the 2×6, and then drilled smaller pilot holes into the tree trunk. Then with a hex-head socket wrench, I cranked those suckers in until they had drawn that board tight to the bark.

Rope-Climb-Rig-Lag-Screws

The second tree is where things have to get more involved. Merely repeating the process at the other end of the board may seem instinctive, but it neglects a basic principle: TREES MOVE. It doesn’t take much more than a gentle breeze to get even massive trees swaying back and forth.  Anything you hang between two trees needs to allow for that movement, or you risk putting undue force and pressure on whatever’s connecting them. Near-constant twisting and shifting and pushing and pulling will weaken even tight connections over time, and possibly even snap a piece of lumber in two eventually. So here’s what I came up with:

Rope-Climb-Rig-Floating-End

If you look closely, you’ll notice that the horizontal 2×6 crosspiece isn’t actually attached to anything at all. It’s simply resting in something that is. I used two chunks of 2×8 lumber and a scrap piece of plywood to create a bracket of sorts. One piece of 2×8 is screwed tightly to the tree, with the plywood in between. This is what the crosspiece rests on top of, with the added thickness of the plywood allowing just a little bit of play so the crosspiece isn’t wedged tightly against the trunk. Then the other 2×8 is fastened with screws anchored all the way into the tree trunk, with the top end sticking up quite a bit higher than the 2×6 crosspiece. Now the trees can sway in any direction whatsoever- left, right, forward, backward, completely independent of each other- with the 2×6 crosspiece basically riding out the motion in a channel. The extra feet of 2×6 sticking out beyond the second tree looks a bit goofy perhaps, but I know that even if a severe storm pulls those trees in perfectly opposite directions, that crosspiece has plenty of overhang and won’t slip out. (And if the trees are swaying enough for all of that overhang to slide out of its bracket, I have much bigger things to worry about than my backyard rope climbing rig.)

Rope-Climb-Rig-Overhang

Rope-Climb-Rig-Hanging-Hardware

A heavy-duty eye screw and quick-connect link centered on the crosspiece gave me a way to attach my new rope, and I was ready to put my climbing skills to a real-world test. I’ll freely admit, it took several tries. I played with the different foot hook techniques, I taught myself to use my legs to manage the slack, and I suffered through some nasty burns on my inner thighs and outer calves before I learned that protective clothing would be a must for me. I added a single rope climb to the end of my daily workouts and training runs. And soon- sooner than maybe I expected, even- I was hand-tapping the 2×6 crosspiece (I resisted the urge to install my own bell. You’re welcome, neighbors.) and enjoying a bird’s-eye view of my backyard knowing that I would never fail an OCR rope climb again.

Backyard-Rope-Climb-Rig

Six weeks later, running through the woods at my first BattleFrog, I could hear the distinct clanging of a cowbell up around the next hill, and I knew what was coming. Adrenaline kicked in and I actually sprinted to the sound, eager to exorcise the demons of rope-climb burpees past. The rope that day was thinner than on my backyard rig, and not nearly as tall. For just a moment at the top, I locked my legs and stood tall in the rope so I could punch that bell repeatedly like a speedbag. And laughing out loud, I swear I could feel the eyes of at least a few other racers on me, wondering what in the hell the trick was to mastering this obstacle.

*A few notes about rigging up your own backyard rope climb:
-Ropes come in varying lengths and thicknesses. A diameter of 1-1/2 to 2 inches will approximate what you’ll find on most OCR courses. Choose what works for you and your situation, but buy a “climbing rope” or a “battle rope.” Don’t just ask the guy at the hardware store to cut you off something that looks good from a big spool in Aisle 7; those ropes likely aren’t meant to hold human weight. And steer clear of light-duty “climbing ropes” that are designed for children’s playsets.

-Not all ropes come with hanging hardware on one end. Consider how you plan to securely attach your rope before you pull the trigger on a purchase.

-All lumber should be pressure-treated, and all fasteners and hardware should be heavy-duty and outdoor-rated if your rope climbing rig will live outside, exposed to the elements.

-Consider your floor, especially the higher you make your rope climb. Cushion a large area underneath the rope with lots of landscape mulch, bales of hay, foam padding, protective mats, an old mattress… ANYTHING.

-Despite every precaution, there’s still an inherent danger, same as when you actually participate in an OCR. Don’t take anything for granted- when you build a rope climb, or when you do a rope climb. Know the risks and use good judgment.