Atlanta Ragnar Trail 2019

“The road to the top is a lonely one,” is some of the absolute worst running advice I have ever received. If you look at some of the top performers, you can see that they surround themselves with some equally passionate, loving, and crazy people. These people believe in the TEAM, and with that love, the team is able to travel farther than most. Many of you most likely run alone, and surrounding yourself with passionate people can be hard (because to be honest, most of your friends probably think you’re crazy). If only there was an easy way to find an opportunity to find people who understand your crazy… That opportunity is Ragnar Trail.

What is Ragnar Trail?

Imagine this: you have a campsite, it’s three o’clock in the morning, and you’re surrounded by 7 of your friends who all collectively smell like a rotting shoe. You’re totally sticky, who knows why, and you look around at your friends and just smile. This is Ragnar.

Okay, maybe that’s not entirely what Ragnar is. But, pretty close.

When you come to Ragnar Trail, there are 8 people on a team total. You can arrive either on Thursday or Friday morning to set up your campsite. Brace yourself and prepare to get cozy– you may rest up there a bit.

With Ragnar Trail, there are three trails that you are going to run. There is a green loop, a yellow loop, and a red loop. All of the loops are assigned a color based on relative difficulty–surely, you can guess which one is the easiest, and which is the more challenging.

When you get started, your first runner is going to run the green loop. Then, your second runner runs the yellow loop, third runs red, fourth runs green, and you keep going until every single runner has run each of the three loops.

Easy right?

Sure, if you don’t like to sleep much!

The thing is, total, the Ragnar is well over 100 miles. That means, in order to complete the entire course as a team, you guys will be running for at least 17:00:00 straight. In other words, not only are you running but at some point during this glorious adventure, you are going to be running trails in the middle of the night.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and that’s probably that there is no way in Hell your friends are not going to be into it. If you haven’t met enough people through OCR who will love being crazy with you, you’re in luck. There are many teams who go onto Facebook who BEG for more runners. So, if you don’t know anyone, buckle up, and prepare to get friendly!

Atmosphere

Part of the reason that I love Ragnar so much is the atmosphere. Here, you are ENCOURAGED to go bananas. In addition to looking at team times, Ragnar staff is also looking for the best team theme. Our team theme was the Hot TaMILES, and we decked out in chilli pepper temporary tattoos and hats. My personal favorite theme that I saw was a team called “The Knights of the Buffet Table.” Walking around the campsites, there were tons of campsites that were decorated. So, although it’s a tough challenge, you definitely do not have to worry about people taking themselves too seriously here.

 

If camping isn’t quite your thing, Ragnar offers a “glamping” package. I have no idea how much extra it costs, and what all it entails (I think you have access to trailer bathrooms as opposed to port-o-Johns; fancy!). Glamping is for the runner who is there for the sport, but doesn’t exactly feel like pitching a tent. The Atlanta site is also right across the street from a hotel, so you better believe we saw people walking on in that direction at the end of the event.

(Since I don’t know much about glamping, you can click here for more information)

 

Village

 

To be out there for a full day and night would be pretty boring if there was nothing to do. Luckily, Ragnar has thought of this ahead of time!

Aside from the campsite is the village. In the village, there are several different activities for you to do while you are not running. You can partake in mid-day yoga classes, enjoy a soothing massage, sit in some of those inflatable leg things, watch movies, make s’mores, and so much more! Each team will also have a dinner meal ticket (I’ve gone the last two years, and the last two years the meal has been lasagna), and access to a few food trucks.

They post the schedule of events ahead of time for you to be able to take advantage of all of the shenanigans. Coffee, hot chocolate, and hot water are also provided. Just make sure that you bring cash, your own mug, and your own yoga mat!

The Race Itself

When you register for Ragnar, you have to put in an approximate pace for yourself so that Ragnar staff can provide you a start time based off of your projected abilities. My team was given the 3:00 start time.

Green Loop

At about 2:45, I started making my way toward the start line. It is advised that you head that way about 15 minutes before your team’s start.

One thing that I appreciate about Ragnar is that they do what they can to spread people out on the courses as much as possible. By the time I hit the line, there were only 16 people who were going to start at the same time as me. The race director started calling to us “WHO’S HYDRATED?!” A bunch of us cheered. Then they called, “WHO IS CARRYING ELECTROLYTES?” and significantly fewer people cheered.

Now, it’s the Georgia Horse Park in the middle of the day in April. It was 85 degrees and 80% humidity, making it extremely difficult to breathe. I can only imagine the fate of those poor souls who didn’t hydrate.

The green loop has a deceptively quick first mile. Most people I talked to said they had a fabulous first-mile time, and, not going to lie, I was pretty happy with mine. The trails start really wide, the yellow loop turns right while the red loop and green loop turn left. Then, the green loop veers right into the woods while the red loop carries on. Like I mentioned earlier, the first mile of the approximately 4.2-mile course is on a really wide trail. There is a lot of space to pass people, and it really is a lot of fun.

A little less than a mile and a half in, you run up a hill and the wider trail narrows into a single-track trail. There are several places where the path widened enough for you to be able to pass someone but to say it was wide would be ambitious. The hills rolled and rolled; which is to be expected, considering the trails were actually part of the Olympic Mountain Biking Trails from 1996. The Green Loop was actually part of the “beginner” mountain bike trail.

Now, considering the green loop was the beginner loop, the hills were rolling, but the terrain was not too technical. As long as you watched your step, it was almost a solid guarantee to leave the green trail with both ankles intact.

The only downside to these trails were some of the bridges that were built. Now, the big, important ones were covered in some sort of cover, so they were fine. For the most part, the little bridges that were provided to aid in difficult spots were fairly bouncy and had quite a bit of space in between boards. If I saw that there was space on the side to run on the ground and not on the bridge, you better believe I took it.

In the last mile and a half of the green loop actually intertwines with the yellow loop, so for a while there, it fares to be pretty twisty. There are several signs throughout the entire run, which I noticed for the Green Loop especially, seemed to be pretty spot-on, according to my GPS watch. The Ragnar team provided “mile-ish left!” signs, and from then on out the course really opens up, so it’s easy to open up your gate as well.

Transition

Transitioning in between runners is a really big question that people have. My team was super prepared, so we were able to guess roughly the amount of time it would take for each runner to complete their leg. Before you can make your way into the transition tent, you have to wait outside of the tent. Race directors do this so there aren’t all 200 teams inside the tent at once. When your runner hits the Quarter Mile to Go marker, your team name will show up on the screen outside of the tent. Once your name is on the screen, you check in with the volunteer standing at the transition, and you make your way in.

Team bibs are tied to a very lightweight belt. The belts have a clip, so when it’s time to swap runners, you just unclip the belt and hand it off.

Yellow Loop

Ah, the yellow loop. The yellow loop is actually the intermediate Olympic mountain biking trail. The yellow loop caused more stress for people than the red loop did. This trail contained the most technical of paths. A challenging aspect of the frequent, inclined, hair-pin turned made it difficult to maintain a consistent pace throughout the run.

One thing that Ragnar does when creating their courses is that they place a lot of signs. I get lost pretty easily, but I find their courses pretty easy to follow; even at night. They have some signs that are there to give you direction (obviously), which is helpful. Those signs are reflective, so if you ever feel like there is a chance you may be lost, just wiggle your flashlight around until something shines back at you. Ragnar has some signs that say funny little nothings (my personal favorite says, “to pee, or not to pee, that is the question”). But, the sign that I am most appreciative for are the “caution” signs. They have small signs that just look like exclamation points that say caution in areas where the roots may be very prevalent, there are dips in the trail, or where there may be an exceptionally bouncy bridge.

The caution signs were the most prevalent on the yellow trail.

In terms of difficulty, when it is not merged with the green loop, I would not say that the yellow trail is especially difficult. Mostly there were dips and turns, uphills, and downhills, that all keep you very occupied. As long as you paid special attention to where the roots were in relation to your feet, you made it out of there a-okay.

When the yellow loop met up with the green loop, it provides an opportunity to meet up with some runners who you hadn’t seen before. On this portion of the trail, this is where I thought there was the most sportsmanship than I’d seen on the entire course.

Red Loop

The red loop is a favorite for many of the runners. Once you took off from the transition tent, you run a little way, and then turn left along with the green loop. When the green loop turns into the woods, you keep going. Eventually, you end up at tunnels. Once you run through the tunnels, you will eventually come to the rocks.

The rocks get very slippery when they are wet. Even worse, is it can be difficult to navigate if you are stuck running the red loop during the night time. Most of the rock surface has drops and dips, that, if you’re not careful, can really catch you off guard.

This has been my second Ragnar, and through both, I have run the red loop at night. My friends who have run it during the day say that this trail is the most beautiful. About halfway through the rocks, you can look off to the side and see a nice lake off to the side.

Once you finally make your way through the rocks, you end up on a trail. The trail is wider than single track but had many rocks and little inclines that you need to be wary about. Luckily, Ragnar does well with indicating when there are going to be dangerous zones ahead, using the caution signs that were previously mentioned… In the upcoming area, brace yourself for impact!

The red trail loops back around, so you have to run back over the rocks and through the tunnel. But, rather than run back to the transition tent, you have to loop around the village in order to get through to the transition tent. This was fine because it’s flatter terrain, but running right past the port-o-Johns and the campsite was NOT FUN! Especially when it is late and you are trying to finish!

The 8th runner finishes on the red loop, and then it is on to the finish!

Finish

When the last runner of your relay runs their final stretch of the red loop, your entire team jumps in and finishes the relay together.

Ragnar is not necessarily a competitive event. It’s exciting to see how your team ranks against others, but you won’t win anything for doing well. Instead, you just bring your bib and belt over to a tent to collect your medals. And, when you get your medals, you put them all together in order to make a phrase!

Take Aways

Ragnar is a much different type of event than most of the other races that you are probably accustomed to. This event is not about trying to be the best but taking a chance at something that well, seems very dangerous, and using that new experience to learn something new about yourself. It’s about bonding with people around you who understand you and ALL of your craziness. Ragnar is a silly event that people get excited for; making costumes, building exciting campsites, and appreciating one another. It’s an event to make you happy and bond with others.

Tips

  • Sleep when you can! Your runs are going to be several hours apart, and you absolutely will need the rest to make sure that you are safe on the course.
  • Plan ahead: get with your teammates ahead of time and do what you can to plan who is bringing what.
  • Try to only bring what you need. Remember, you’re going to have to clean it all up eventually. When it’s time to clean up, trust me, you aren’t going to want to.
  • Think you’re hydrated? Drink more. And don’t rely on drinking water alone. You are going to need electrolytes, and calories, to power through what lies ahead.
  • Plan to take advantage of some of the activities that are offered in the village. Make the most of your weekend! You just may want to bring cash and a mug.

Spartan Dallas Beast 2018-Muddy Miles and Cramping Calves

Dallas Spartan Beast 2018

On October 27th, 2018 Spartan held the annual Dallas Beast to nearly maxed out waves for all times. The course had to be cut down a few miles due to flooded areas. This didn’t stop Spartan from putting racers calves through mile after mile of foot groping, sloppy goodness. Of about twelve and a half miles nearly sixty percent of those miles were sloppy bogs or slick, muddy rocks. A fun cramp-inducing time was had by all on a well put together course in beautiful Glen Rose, Texas.

Muddy Miles on Muddy Miles

Due to frequent rain in the previous week many of the trails on Rough Creek Lodge’s ranch were a muddy mess. From the beginning even the fastest group of elites were not moving their quickest as we were pulling our feet free from mud constantly. This added an extra endurance element to an already endurance heavy event. Later on in the race, many suffered from severe burnout, muscle fatigue, and debilitating calf cramps.

Spartan ingeniously utilized the hills on the ranch. Competitors proceeded up and down them both with and without sandbags. Steep, rocky descents coupled with mud spelled potential disaster for anyone not closely watching their feet and controlling their body. I personally throttled myself down a bit on these downhills to avoid injury. Slick rocks can come out from under you in a heartbeat.

The venue was beautiful to look at as always. Rough Creek Lodge never disappointing on the views that you get to see at the top of those hills if you take the time to look around. The festival area was also set up very nicely and the starting line was again by the beautiful church on the property. The weather was absolutely optimal with a pretty still 58-degree start for the elite men and a slow warm up to around 70 as the day went on. Compared to last years freezing temperatures the weather was absolutely amazing.

The Obstacles

I would like to preface by saying that there were no mile markers at this race.  Some areas were cut due to flooding. I found this to be a good thing as it kept me focused on the task at hand rather than how far I had to go. However, this also prevents me from stating an approximate location for all of these obstacles. I would like readers to know that between each of these obstacle portions were long, long bouts of running through mud and rough terrain. Spartan did a great job of throwing great combos of obstacles at racers. Each section seemed to have an intended aspect of skill to attack and I really appreciate the thought that went into this design.

As previously stated, Spartan has an optimal venue for such a flat area in Texas and they utilize it well. The first majorly taxing obstacle was after the z- wall in the form of a sandbag carry up a steep hill and back down. This put a decent little burn in the calves especially after running through all of that mud. The spectator route was superb. It allowed spectators to see many of the most entertaining obstacles. Compared to last years Dallas Beast, Spartan did a superb job on the spectating end of things.

Climb

The slick mud made the slew of climbing obstacles far more difficult. These included: stairway to Sparta, Bender, the 8-foot wall, and the inverted wall. The first real grip tests came in the form of the Tyrolean traverse (which was hanging far too low in many lanes people were dragging their backs). The next grip obstacle was Twister following Bender. I do appreciate Spartan placing this obstacle out of the mud for the most part as it is so grip-heavy. However, there were many Spartans plunging face first into the mud for burpees at this notoriously difficult obstacle. If the strength and endurance is not still present in your shoulders and hands, it can be a real killer.

Lift

The next obstacle heavily affected by the mud was the Atlas carry.  I’ve never had trouble with an Atlas carry.   However, the first ball open this time around was a mud-covered concrete lump of fumbling, back-straining hell for me. I was picking it up out of a very large divot caused by the soggy ground and it was slicker than a freshly born calf. Finally, I had the good sense to look up and see a dry ball had became open and moved through no problem.

Spartan knows their obstacle placement game as after the Atlas Carry came the Hercules hoist and the Yokohama tire flip. For those of you who aren’t aware, Spartans tires are heavier than most. Getting under these 400 lb tires when they are sunken deep in mud is no easy feat. Though the requirement was only to flip the tire twice. Many chose burpees instead. I, however, found that once I worked my way around the tire and found a good place to get under it the rest was simple.

Later on, came another short sandbag carry followed by an equally short bucket brigade. Some elites were shouldering the buckets. Volunteers were not correcting them.  This was unfortunate considering that immediately afterward many grip obstacles followed. This allowed them to salvage their grip for later on.

Hang on!

The plate drag was a muddy, sticky mess that added difficulty. The grip gauntlet afterward sapped the last bit of strength left in Spartans as they neared the finish. The multi-rig, Olympus, and the rope climb were nearly back to back to back.

The spear throw, slip wall, and fire jump where spectators could get a great view of finishers coming in as the annoucner did a great job as well. The finishing area and the number of spectators were very impressive.

 

 

Aside from some minor issues, the Dallas Beast was a fun and challenging experience. Many racers suffered horrible cramps. This was due to all of the mud eating away at their endurance mile after mile. It was truly a suffer fest for many. I feel they will all return next year with a new determination.

Great merchandise, attractions, and people filled the festival. Spartan did a superb job of making the awards ceremony very central. There was also a great festival for racers to enjoy afterward. This was a big leap from the lackluster festival area last year. I would certainly recommend running the Dallas beast if you are in the area, or if you would like a Texas-sized challenge.  Spartan created a great race.  They utilized the venue to its utmost potential. Aroo!

Spartan AG Etiquette

Spartan-Flag
I’ve been racing with Spartan for almost three years now. Although I haven’t been around a long time, I’ve seen several changes. Not with their obstacles per se, but with some of the ways that things are run.

One of the more significant changes in the system has been the addition of the Age Group Category. Formerly known as Competitive, the Age Group category provides an opportunity for people to challenge themselves to elite rules, who may not feel entirely confident for the elite competition. Or, they see more of an enticing opportunity for recognition among peers. No matter the reason, the Age Group category has become very popular.

I normally run elite, but wanted to give AG a shot during the Asheville Super. Although a fun course, I can say that I was frustrated with a lot of it. Not necessarily the course, but the attitude of several other runners. Now, this article is not meant to say anything negative about AG runners as a whole. Again, I had a great time, just a few things stood out to me that I felt the need to address. I’m also well aware that most of the people who don’t follow general race etiquette won’t care to read this article, but maybe someday they’ll stumble upon it and feel curious.

So, here are just a few things I’d like to address:

1) Let’s Talk Start Line
The start line can be one of the most nerve-wracking elements of the race. It’s where all of the emotions are pent up and released, all at a single moment. It can also be one of the most crucial places for athletes–how you start may not only determine your overall start place but the attitude that you will carry through the entire race.

Which is exactly why, for many, this portion of the race is the most important. It is also one of the most aggravating portions of a race.
When you race, you have goals in mind. Whatever your goals are, know that they are respected, and they are not any more or less valuable than the goals of the Spartan racing beside you. The goals that you set for that particular race should help you determine where you will line up at the start. I know I don’t have to say it, but if you are aiming for a top finish, you go toward the front of the pack. If you are an athlete who is not concerned with your time or place and intend on doing a lot of walking, please head toward the back.

One thing that is also important to note is that in the Age Group Division, you’ll often see men and women have heats together. Listen fellas, just because you’re big and do CrossFit 6 times a week does not mean that it’s not cool to let a girl line up before you. Some of the girls who race are intense, and, if you know the running isn’t your strong suit, it’s totally okay.

Please pick a start line placement that is appropriate for your current physical capabilities.

2) Passing on the Course
During a race, there is a chance that you will need to pass at least one other athlete. If you do, it’s totally cool, and I promise their feelings aren’t going to be hurt that badly. But, if you’re going to pass someone, be a doll and let them know you’re coming. There’s nothing like being in the zone and then all of the sudden you’re getting knocked over by a sweaty stranger flying down a hill with no heads up. Just give them a heads up! My personal favorite is to alert by letting them know which side I’m going on. Just the phrase: “coming on your left!” lets them know to expect you.

3) Getting Passed on the Course
It happens. It stinks, and nobody enjoys being passed, but it’s a part of racing. My suggestion to you is: we all know you don’t like to get passed, but don’t be a jerk. If someone is running down the trail and shouts “coming on your left!” to you, move to the right.

This does not mean you are expected to completely stop your race so that they can run theirs. Keep your pace up, but move it over to the right. I see a lot of “coming on your left!” which is followed by the passee turning around, assessing the runner, and then sprinting on the left, making it difficult for the other runner to proceed. Don’t be that guy. If you get passed, it’s totally fun. Just run your race!

4) Single Track Trails
As a runner, I love single track trails. During Age Group races, I really don’t like the single track trails. Why? Because if you are in a later heat, they tend to get stopped up really easily.
If you’re running single track trails, please move as quickly as possible. That sounds obvious, but these areas are not great for casual strolls, because there are others who want to move around you. If you’re in an area that you’re struggling in and you know it’s going to take you a while, it’s okay to let other runners pass you. Single track trails are definitely not a place to stop for selfies or snack breaks.

Speaking of breaks…

5) Taking a Break on the Course
You don’t know how you’ll feel at all points during a race, and sometimes, you just need to take a break. Totally cool! But, if you do, please move off to the side. Whether it’s a break for a snack, getting something out of your hydro-pack, pictures, cramps, or just because you’re tired, please move over to the side. I don’t feel like I need to really explain this one much further. Plus, if you’re cramping, I’m sure you will get some offers for mustard packets!

6) Taking a Break on Obstacles
WHAT?!
Let me explain this one.
I was running Asheville and had just hit the 8-foot-wall. I am a small person, so I have to use the red blocks to help me get up. I went over to the left side of the wall, and a woman was sitting on top of the wall touching her toes and chatting with a friend who was already off the obstacle. I went to line up to complete, and the volunteer told me I needed to wait…which was fine, except the girl wasn’t moving. The right side started to line up with women. After a couple of paces between sides, I committed to the left side because the girl wasn’t at the top anymore. The volunteer told me I still couldn’t proceed though because the girl was sitting against the wall on the other side due to a cramp in her foot. It wasn’t for another minute or two that I was able to complete the obstacle.

Don’t be this girl. If you can, muster through the obstacle, and when you’re done, head off to the side of the trail for your mustard or pickle juice. Please please please do not stop in the middle of obstacles if you can avoid it. Obstacles only have limited carrying capacities, and by stopping on them for stretch breaks is limiting the number of runners that can pass through.

7) Taking a Break at Water Stations
If you see a line of people, I don’t recommend standing in front of the pitcher if you are refilling your cup. Again, there is only a limited number of people who can go at a time, so please be respectful toward those around you.

8) Thank your volunteers
We see this all of the time, and this will come as no surprise to you. We know that volunteers receive either free or discounted races because they are volunteering. But, by doing so, they may be giving up the start time that they’d prefer to run. And, these volunteers are people, using their time to ensure that you have a good race. Please thank them!

9) Be a Good Sport
At the end of the day, all of us are in this for the fun of it. We all pay lots of money for training, gear, and races. We all come to races with the expectation that we are going to have a positive experience, and part of the positive experience includes the community. Make an effort to smile at someone, to high-five a stranger, or make someone’s first Spartan Race feel like the best thing they’ve ever done.

Did I leave anything out? Add any additional “etiquette” suggestions in the comment box. Happy racing!

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/

OCR Training with Leaderboard: Trading My Bikini Gig For Running and Rigs

My Last Pro Show of 2017

At the beginning of the year, I began to plan out my race season. Typically this would involve the Peachtree Road Race (the only road race I enjoy) and some other trail runs scattered throughout the year. However, as I embarked on a new adventure in obstacle course racing, I quickly found myself lost.

As a former pro bikini competitor, I thought my traditional workouts mixed with some runs throughout the week would suffice. Once I realized the types of skill I would need and began to add that to my plate, I started to notice that my recovery was not what it once was and honestly I began to wonder if it had something to do with my age (yikes!).

During my podcast interview with Matt B. Davis on Obstacle Racing Media Podcast, he mentioned Hunter McIntyre and at the time, I am ashamed to say, I had no idea who he was. Matt told me to reach out to him on IG for pointers and I did. I was blown away by his kindness and willingness to help. If you know Hunter, even through his social media, you know he is quite the character, but under all that craziness is a guy who is super passionate about helping people as much as he is about winning races.

After our chat, I realized that bodybuilding mixed with some running and grip work was not going to cut it. I started researching OCR training and tips, but still felt lost, so I talked to Hunter once again after hearing he and Brakken Kraker on the ORM podcast discussing their online training platform for athletes. Enter Leaderboard.

There are 8 different paths on Leaderboard, each designed to prepare you for your course preference or OCR specific skills. There is everything from a short course path for those athletes who race shorter distances, like TMX, an ultra path for endurance athletes, Hunter’s Biceps Win Races (BWR) line up, and more. I am on the BWR AD program, where I receive daily WODs with personalized RX and pacing AND mobility WODs. Mobility was something I never had much focus on prior to LB.

Heavy Carry Practice

Heavy Carry Practice

After each WOD I complete, I record my results and can see how I stack up compared to the rest of the community that is on the same path, hence the name Leaderboard. I was super intimidated at first by these scores, but the entire community of athletes on LB is so supportive that it really pushed me even harder. When I would feel discouraged by my scores because let’s face it, I am a total newb, and didn’t exactly light up the leaderboard, I would receive comments congratulating me or telling me how quickly I would improve. Take a guess at how many bikini competitors make it a point to genuinely encourage one another – not many.

The coaches have also been super encouraging and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to get tips and tricks from coaches that are pros in the sport! As a fitness coach and former bikini competition coach, I know how valuable this is. The best part of LB is the communication forum curated by the LB Coaches.

As a new OCR athlete, I had tons of questions and really just dove into the training and pushed through even when fatigued. The coaches guided me through some of the rough spots and even had me back off a bit instead of pushing through like you do in bodybuilding. Don’t get me wrong, they never told me to be lazy, but they wanted me fully recovered and getting in quality workouts even if that meant scaling down for efficiency.

I ended up tweaking something in my hip due to my poor running mechanics (I’ll save this one for another post) and ALL of the LB coaches checked on my issues and made sure that I had particular mobility WODs to perform aside from the ones already assigned in LB. In addition, they routinely checked in to ensure that it was I was getting better and was in a healthy place to be able to run my first race. This is something that I had never experienced before. Former coaches that I have had would make me feel like I needed to work harder or grind more and give the “how bad do you want it” speech over and over when something happened. My experience with LB coaches can be boiled down to if you want it bad enough, you have to be able to distinguish between quality and quantity.

The community I have found in LB is truly inspiring. Not only do I have accountability, I have support from people all over the world who are going through the same thing with me at their own pace and skill level. Did I mention that I have that without having to leave my home gym? I was worried I would need a fancy (aka expensive) membership to have access to the equipment I needed, but aside from buying a super affordable sandbag, I had everything I needed in my garage gym. If something came up on the WOD that I didn’t have, there was always a substitute exercise with common equipment to perform and trying to figure that on my own with other OCR workouts was frustrating. As a mom, I really appreciate that I can workout on my own time, in my own gym, with my own equipment, so that I can still train like a badass without missing precious family time. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

As I am writing this, I am 3 days away from my first OCR race of the season. I wasn’t supposed to race until the Georgia Spring Savage, but I had the opportunity to race in the Talladega Bonefrog and didn’t want to pass it up. The coaches reached out to meet to make sure I was feeling up to it with my hip issues and tailored my race week taper to ensure that I was well rested and ready to go for Saturday.

One thing that I wish I had worked on a little more during the past couple of months as I trained for these two upcoming races is my grip. The majority of work in the WODs do include lifts and exercises that require grip strength, but as a total new OCR athlete starting from ground zero, I probably needed a little more.

I did reach out to the coaches at LB and told them I think I could use more and low and behold, they gave me some tailored Grip work to do. Moral of the story is communication! I wish I had communicated my weakness in grip before, but I had been working on it a bit aside from LB but should have used the professional resources at my disposal (insert facepalm here). Lesson learned.

The great thing is that I have plenty of races this season to see how much I improve so I will be able to really see how I do this weekend with only a couple of months of training under LB and see how that translates on race day as compared to when I first started. To me, there is nothing more important than seeing the training translate to performance but the goal is just to have fun. So let’s see how I feel after my first OCR!

 

Whether you are new to OCR or a seasoned OCR athlete who has hit a plateau, head over to leaderboardfit.com to push your training to the next level.

Warrior Dash Gulf Coast 2017

Warriors are Willing to Work for It

Warrior Dash holds a special place in my heart despite its lack of EXTREME CHALLENGE.  The lack of difficulty is not a good reason to pass on the “beginners race.”  If Savage, Spartan, and Conquer the Gauntlet are super healthy foods like organically raised salmon, fresh farm raised avocados and naturally grown kale then Warrior Dash is a spinach/chicken wrap.  While it may not be on the “superior” level of the other races, it takes on an extremely important role in being the bridge for many into OCR or even into a healthy lifestyle.

Nathan Beisser

Competitor Nathan Beisser after having a great time during his run in the pro wave

 

Helping Start the Addiction

While I may not have encountered obstacles that pushed me to my brink, I did see and meet far more newcomers who were there to make an effort at slowly improving their unhealthy lifestyles than at any other race.  I also encountered more “running for a cause” teams than I have seen recently.  Warrior Dash is that beginning step that is necessary for many.  We can’t all dive head first.  Some of us have to begin with dipping one foot in at a time (not charging for parking or a bag check helps.)  This is where the average working Joe or Jill can see the potential to become greater than they thought possible.

Mud Pit

Venue

The venue of the Harrison County Fairgrounds in Gulfport, Mississippi proved to offer more challenge than most would have anticipated from a mostly flat area.  Though any sort of incline was very rarely found, running three miles in a soggy field that gave way with every step proved to take away some of the speed many competitors would have normally had on a more dry or packed terrain.  Muddy areas were easy to create and find, though they weren’t as large as I have seen before from Warrior Dash.  Even at the finish, each mud pit seemed less like a pit and more like a hole.  The trail was cleared and marked extremely well.  It would have been extremely hard to get lost.

Nets…. Nets Everywhere

The obstacles were a lot of the usual Warrior fare.  There was a lot of crawling under wire and a lot of net usage.  From normal cargo climbs to pipeline to the new (and really fun) Upslide Down I saw more cargo nets during this race than I could shake a stein at. Cargo nets serve as a great introduction to new racers as an obstacle that can burn you out.

Warrior Dash also earned positive points for its new obstacle Upslide Down.  It was a simple, fun obstacle though it could have been longer.  A flat slide lay under a cargo net.  Competitors laid on their backs and proceeded to utilize the cargo net to pull themselves down the slide.  I had a blast with this one and hope to see more like it in the future.

Pallet Jacked

Rather than placing Goliath at the end, Warrior Dash left their new obstacle “Pallet Jacked” front and center for spectators to check out.  I can rightfully say I underestimated this obstacle.   I assumed running across pallets suspended from straps wouldn’t be a problem.  However, the pallets swung and moved vertically depending on weight distribution.  I enjoyed the slight challenge of this obstacle as well as the creativity of Warrior Dash race designers in utilizing simple construction to create a very fun obstacle.  Much like a good hamburger, both of Warrior Dash’s new obstacles offered a lot of satisfaction for something so easily and affordably constructed.

Stein

Stein Holding Competition Trophy

Party Time

Warrior Dash knows what it does well and continues to improve on it year after year by offering more after race competitions and activities than any other race series.  The push-up contests let the macho bros show off for the crowd.  The tug-of-war competition gives families and teams the opportunity to work together and have a good time.  The stein holding competition allows warriors to prove their grip strength and grit and walk away with a free stein.  Even if warriors don’t want to join in on these competitions there are rigs to play on, beer pong setups to play around with, an awesome DJ, and lots of cornholing… I mean the game with the bean bags.

Tug of War

Tug of War Competition

Warrior Dash offers many of the best beer choices and food around as well as the ability to refill your stein for a moderately steep price. A plethora of patrons seemed to be having an amazing time at the festival.  I will be surprised if Warrior Dash doesn’t return to the coast next year given the huge turnout.  Seeing so many newcomers and groups of friends discovering the joys of OCR together filled my heart with glee. I left the festival with a huge smile on my face – not for my own accomplishments, but because I saw something I loved growing and I saw people spreading fitness, love, and no hate all in one place.  That’s one of the better achievements that any of us can achieve in this lifetime.

 

Mr. Incredible

Mr. Incredible receives his newly designed Warrior Dash Medal