Inside Look at Spartan Race Big Bear Winner Johnny Luna-Lima

Courtesy of Johnny Luna-Lima

Johnny Luna-Lima finished up the barbed-wire crawl, jogged toward the finish line, leaped up in the air and let out a ferocious double fist pump in celebration. He had just won the fourth race in the Spartan US National Series at Big Bear Lake, California, on a rugged and unrelenting mountain with steep climbs and blazing descents. He gave a few aw-shucks interviews and soaked in the adoration from those close by, but it was clear to everyone watching that this guy was making a statement. This win was no fluke, and he’s arguably one of the favorites to win the World Championship in Lake Tahoe this September.

If you were shocked by the results of the Big Bear Beast, then you haven’t been following the sport closely enough. Lima has been putting in quality work for a few years now and has a truly balanced and holistic approach to endurance athletics. (This season he has finished 7th, 14th, 4th, and 1st in the National Series races.)

Johnny grew up playing competitive soccer at the age of four – and didn’t stop until he was 19. He had aspirations of becoming a professional soccer player and worked tirelessly at the pursuit of his dream. (This is a thread that runs through all of his pursuits.) A younger Lima trained two hours a day, honing skills and building a strong fitness engine. It’s easy to get burned out on one particular sport, though, and after high school, it was time to try something new. His dad is a marathoner, so he watched closely as his mentor pursued long-distance races over many years. Johnny eventually took a crack at a half marathon his senior year of high school and ran a very impressive 1:20!

The talent was there, but he had developed many overuse injuries – everything from stress fractures to muscle strains – and kept getting hurt during his early 20s. Here was a young kid who ate clean, kept his running volume low, and looked after himself – and he still couldn’t avoid the injury bug.

Instead of being stubborn and banging his head against the wall– like many talented athletes tend to do– Johnny decided to pivot a bit.  He went to visit with Dr. Justin Brink at Premier Spine and Sport in San Jose, California on numerous occasions, and slowly learned that in order for the human body to work well and sustain high stress over a long period of time, he had to have all the bases covered. That might sound a tad generalized, but for him, this meant seeking out the expertise of a few coaches.

Enter elite OCR athlete Ian Hosek and multi-faceted specialist Taylor Kruse. To have Johnny tell it, each coach serves a specific purpose for him. “Think of Ian as being the engineer who tunes an engine to be able to move quickly and efficiently,” he told me in a recent interview. “Taylor is the mechanic that makes sure the car’s wheels are rolling smoothly; the brakes are working and that the engine can cool off well.”

Hosek has an insatiable work ethic and a desire to learn more about running, so he was a great fit for Lima’s lifestyle. He has taught Johnny how to train smart to attain his desired level of fitness. “[Ian] programs his run training according to heart rate zones, which for me is important since I do not come from a running background; this is helping me bridge the learning curve that comes with running.”

Then, Lima realized he wanted to find someone who shared a similar mindset with him regarding the movement of the human body and keeping it healthy and balanced long term—or as he put it much more succinctly, “the diversification of stress and movement the body needs in order to function well.”

Kruse comes with a breadth of knowledge in this area, and although he’s hiding out in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and not a household name, he’s a smart guy who brings a lot to the table for any elite or standard athlete. Hearing Lima talk about this crucial piece of the puzzle was very illuminating. He really cares about this shit and it shows.

“The body is meant to move constantly in a wide variety of directions with different loads,” Lima went on. “Embody that and integrate that into your training and I promise you will be a healthier and happier human being.”

Kruse has helped him take care of the body in many different ways, including mobility and strength exercises that keep his feet, ankles, knees, and hips happy. Durability, as he’s learned at a very young age, is not a given. He will balance out his training with running on varied terrains in addition to climbing and scrambling adventures. This is a life-long pursuit, so he’s doing great at making it an enjoyable process.

He told me he meditates daily as well, which is a practice many elite athletes adhere to. (I can just picture him sitting in the mountains, Headspace or Calm playing in his ears, setting the stage for a busy day to come.)

Lima currently resides in Boulder, Colorado, which he described as a “mecca for training.” Whether he wants to run steep technical trails, flat sections, or just climb easily in the beautiful Colorado Mountains, he has it all at his disposal.  His two favorite cross-training methods are Skimo in the winter and mountain biking in the summer.

“I train so that I can move through the mountains and explore,” he told me. “The fitter I am the quicker I can move through the mountains. I’d say that’s what really motivates me to train. Racing is a great way to test you and keep yourself honest and learn more about yourself… plus I enjoy it and am super competitive!”

The refreshing aspect is that, like his running coach Hosek, he wants to continue to learn more and more about endurance sports and his body within that arena. He currently lives with Andy Wackers, a pro-Nike Trail runner, who just finished eighth in the US 25k road running championships and has a 63-min half marathon PR. Running with a guy like that twice a week only enhances his ability to train smart and learn more about the sport.  He looks up to and admires Atkins, Jon Albon, and Kilian Jornet and Ryan Woods, all mountain-running legends that dominate in their respective sports and also have balanced training regimens that they’ve turned into a way of life. Woods, in particular, has been very helpful to Lima over the years, selflessly lending him advice and hard-earned wisdom.

The win at Big Bear was no temporary blip on the radar, and it’s exciting to see where Lima goes from here. Whether it’s taking down the beast at Tahoe, or toeing the line with the best Sky Runners in the world this year across seas, he’s built an amazingly coherent and studied approach. “My career as an athlete is a work in progress and is just beginning, what is working for me now may change in the future. I by no means have everything figured out and I am still learning a lot about how to train, my body, running and racing. I am excited to see what else is in store for me!”

Green Beret Challenge: Wicked Trail Race ATL 2019

Wicked Ballas Rope Climb

Introduction

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When it comes to putting on events, Mark Ballas never fails to put on something that is out of the ordinary. So, when GBC announced that they would be doing a trail race, called Wicked Trail, I knew it would be a race not to miss.

The Wicked Trail race offers two different types of races. There is a 5k and a 10k “wicked.” In the description on  Mark’s Website, the 5k appeals to the standard trail runner. The 10k “wicked” option appeals to Obstacle Course Racers, advertising more difficult terrain, which includes hills so steep that you may require a rope to ascend. And of course, Mark is known for making races that are, for lack of better words, painful, so you may have other challenges that cannot be described.

Wicked Map

 

Festival Area

This race was in the same location as the Green Beret Challenge Operators last year and the XII Hour Endurance Event. Knowing this venue, I knew going early on there are hills. I’m also very fortunate that I am familiar with the location of this venue, because it can be a tad bit difficult to locate. The location of this race is actually next to the designated address, which can catch you a little off-guard if you’re not familiar with it. The address provided is actually for a friend of Mark’s house, and the trails follow behind it. So you have to drive through the man’s yard and past the house in order to get to the actual venue.

Parking, as always, is a breeze.  There were a few volunteers who were there to collect money from parking ($5 per car) and direct drivers. No parking issues presented themselves. Everything flowed very smoothly.

Wicked Festival

There was a slight line at the check-in table, but man, those volunteers do not mess around. They greet you kindly, and then give you the wristband that coordinates with the time you start, then send you on your way as quickly as possible. For instance, I ran at 8:10, so my wristband was yellow, while my friends started at 8:20, and their wristbands were green. Those that ran the 5k had pink wristbands. We were provided the start times via e-mail and Facebook groups several days prior to the event. Mark noticed there was a mistake in the original times, and it was all adjusted within about 30 minutes and re-sent.

As always, Jarian Rich, aka Jambo was there to provide entertainment. A week of not feeling well left us with a gliterless beard, but the enthusiasm level remained just as high as ever. He had a DJ stand up right next to the start line, and you were able to hear him from a fair distance away.

Past the DJ stand, if you keep walking, you can find where the GORMR group set up their tent by the lake. The e-mail sent out earlier in the week that the Wicked was going to be a BYOB event. So many people, myself included, brought in lawn chairs and coolers to accompany them.

Wicked Race Lake

Course

Might I start this section by saying, holy cow, this was way tougher than I thought it would be.

The 5k runners took off promptly at 8:00, and then it was time for my age group to hit the start line.

As always, we were greeted by Jambo’s enthusiasm. He was getting people to cheer on the start line, and get amped up to run. Since I was visibly nervous, he asked me if I ran the Operator’s Course last year. When I said yes, he assured me that it was going to be a run of that course, but backwards.

“Awesome,” I thought to myself, “that means that there are going to be two big climbs. I can handle that.”

Boy, was I wrong.

At exactly 8:10, as specified by the e-mail sent off earlier in the week, we were off.

Just as Jambo had suggested, we started by running around the lake, which was backwards to last year’s Operators course. It started off flat, nice, and easy. Once we made it around the corner, I saw a friend of mine, who was running in the 5k division. After I told her good job, I noticed that right there, probably 400 meters into the race, was the first climb of the day. I looked to see if my friend was still there, and recognized that the 5k runners would be making this ascend, too. I realized right there, that I probably would not hit the time goal that I had set for myself.

Once it flattened out, it was on to single track trails, which allowed to make up time as much as possible by opening up stride. However, that didn’t last very long, before another big climb, and then a long descend. This descend had really loose dirt- to the point that I thought if I hadn’t found several trees to hang on to, I probably would have slipped and fallen. Definitely one where you would need to slow down on. It wouldn’t be hard to slide down, as long as you have a decent amount of balance. I probably would have ended up rolling down like Andy Sandburg in Hot Rod.

Sooner than later, we ended up at a dirt biking track. This was the same dirt biking track that we completed with the yoke carry during the 12 hour endurance event. Although climbing through the numerous, steep, short hills seemed much easier by comparison, I swear Mark made them steeper. There were a few of those short hills that were so steep, that I caught myself using my hands to climb these hills. This portion of the race was nice though, because it was still early on enough in the race where you could see others, and be able to compare where you are in terms of placing. And, here, since you could see others, it was much easier to cheer others on.

Then it was time for another long, trucking ascent. This was one that I did not remember from either of the previous events that I had completed at this same course. My legs started to feel heavy, we had already made several climbs within the first two miles, and I knew others felt the same way. At this point, I was running completely alone in the woods. This race wasn’t going to just be about physical capabilities, but mental ones as well. Luckily, I’m sure Mark anticipated this, and I noticed that the number of blue arrows that were pointing became more and more prevalent. There was a slight run in an area that was taped off, but the trail itself was not marked. Basically, we were running on a trail that was still covered in leaves, rather than distinguished by a dirt path. It eventually opened up.

I believe that at about this point, Mark drove by me on his ATV. With a big smile on his face he said, “are you having fun?” and followed me for a little bit down another, less vicious, hill.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a run, with a few fallen trees as hurdles, and after awhile, it seemed as though the trail just completely stopped. I looked to the right, and the path was unmarked, but not with the intention of us running through it, unlike the other unmarked but marked trail that was mentioned earlier. I looked on the left, and I saw a pipe that lead into a creek. Clearly, we’re not running in there.

Then I remembered, wait a second, this is a race from Mark Ballas, we’re definitely going in that creek, and turned left without hesitation.

As soon as you headed through the creek, there were several little red flags indicating that you were headed in the right direction. The creek twisted and turned, no turn without greeting from either a tiny red flag or a blue arrow spray painted in the sand. This creek lasted what felt like 600 meters.

At one point, the creek continued, but a blue arrow indicated a sharp, right turn up a hill. I looked at the hill with wide eyes, seeing that it was so steep, I’d have to crawl up it. Then I noticed that there was a rope supplied for us, so we could use this to help pull us up. You could say it was like a mid-course trail slip wall.

I grabbed the rope, and heard a woman cheering. I looked up and saw GBC Pro Team member Rachel Watters. She sat the race out, and instead volunteered on course, taking pictures and directing runners.

She directed me toward a different hill with a rope, but this time, the rope helped us descend the hill. This was kind of weird, but exciting, especially because at the bottom of this hill was a short drop. After this, it was back to running in the creek.

Rope Hill

Once out of the creek, it was back to running. We ended up with a straighter, flatter run, which allowed to make up some time. About this time, Mark drove by on his ATV again.

“Are you still having fun?” He asked, still smiling.

Laughing, I said “I almost got lost!”

His eyes widened. He asked me where. When I told him it was at the beginning creek, he immediately started heading in that direction. A clear indication that he prioritizes safety of his athletes.

Sooner than later, I could hear Jambo’s music playing in the distance. Because I hadn’t seen any mile markers throughout the race, I assumed that we were getting close to the finish line.

I was wrong…again. We still had about 2 miles left.

However, the brutality of the massive hill climbs had about finished. There were a few left, but none were nearly as bad as the ones that were in the first two miles of the race. Some of the trails were slanted, which made me think of a friend of mine’s comment before the race, stating that she was going to focus on maintaining good running form throughout the run. I laughed, because I knew there was absolutely no way to focus on great form during this. Rather, just focusing on keeping both of your ankles intact.

We looped around a familiar piece of the course; a marshy path of grass near the finish. Although it wasn’t around the lake, the area feels swampy, and, since it is entirely in the sun, it makes the humidity feel like 400%.

After that, was another water station, and then trudging from some of the muckiest mud we’d seen all day. I saw my friend who was running the 5k, and I reminded her that the medal that she was going to receive was definitely one earned, not given.

After a while in this area, Jambo’s music got louder, and we made it back to the parking lot.

Hooray!!

…Except again, this is a race from Mark Ballas, and was definitely a cop-out. There was a slight sign with an arrow pointing us to the right, even though the final stretch was to the left. We had to circle around the field. It was just a flat patch of grass, with tread through to make it easier to navigate. The hard part was over. Now, it was just to pick up leg speed, and not let the sun beating on you change your attitude. Once you hit the final stretch, it was on to the finish line, where Jambo was waiting, to congratulate every single runner who finished.

Wicked Finish

Awards

Awards were done after the race, once it was assured that most of the runners had finished the race. The awards were presented near the finish line, with Jambo leading the command. The 5k awards were presented as top 3 overall in gender. The 10k “wicked” awards were presented as age group awards, with no separate awards for overall winners. Winners of these categories were given a separate medal. There were no differences between the 5k or 10k medals.

Wicked Winners

Thoughts

One thing I’d like to specify about the Wicked Trail race is that although it is run by Green Beret Challenge, it is not an obstacle race. It is a somewhat sadistic trail race that incorporates obstacles that are already there through nature. Also, those dang hills are the biggest obstacle out there. Mark used a lot of difficult terrain which included many trees that were knocked over, and other things in order to make things interesting. So, although you can expect it to be difficult, you cannot expect to see some of the hand-built obstacles that Green Beret Challenge is known for (thank God for no yoke!). This also means that it is not going to be as costly to run, so it does not cost nearly as much to participate in the Wicked Trail than most OCR races. So, if you’re looking to challenge yourself, but can’t pull off the $100+ per race fee, you may  want to consider running in the Wicked.

Another thing I would like to mention is that Mark Ballas puts these on with not much help. That being said, I am always appreciative for the dedication that he demonstrates in all of his events. It rained quite a bit leading up to this race. Unfortunately, several of the blue arrows that Mark had spray painted the day before the race were washed away, so, to ensure safety, he went out and completely re-marked the course. Every runner returned from this course safely. The only injury I saw out there was a scrape that got some dirt in it, which was immediately tended to when the athlete returned. It was also noted that there were several changes made to the course, that Mark decided would be more interesting, while he was out making adjustments. So although the course map had been released prior to the race, it ended up being a bit more windy than we anticipated. See how my Garmin captured the race by looking at the picture below!

Wicked Strava

I would say the only thing that I would have improved from this course would be the lack of mile markers. Considering I know I like to know where I am on course, and although I think that having a marker on every mile would take away from some of the excitement, it would be nice to see one or two on the course.

I am very thankful that Mark added in the 5k option for this race. Although it was more difficult than I was imagining it would be, I am glad he added it. This allowed for a good friend of mine, who is trying to get a start into fitness and running, to participate and see what I do. It was the first time that one of my non-race friends was able to meet with my race friends, and I’m really encouraged, and looking forward to letting more of my friends know about these in the future.

Wicked Friends

Although this race was difficult, and I’m sure that I confused some of the order of events in my recap, I would definitely plan on doing it again. I would recommend this event to anyone who is willing to get a little bit out of their comfort zone. I am hoping that with future races, Mark brings this series to interesting places, so that we can have some beautiful views at the top of these extensive climbs. My advice to you is this; if you plan on completing a Wicked Trail event, do not neglect your hill training, or you can expect to have your butt handed to you. If you are on this course, and you keep your head up, and stay motivated throughout, I know that you will have a successful adventure!

Was it as cold as Iceland?

Fun runners take on first time in Spartan World Ultra Championship in Iceland.

There are quite a few holy grails for anyone who does OCR, what first time gets booked as once a lifetime thing? – World Toughest Mudder, World OCR Championships, One of three Spartan World Championships. 

The Hype.

Every year there is massive hype about the WTM and its brutality, how it destroys and pushes everyone involved. But this year it has been overtaken by Spartan World Ultra Championship in Iceland with the possible 1 million dollar payout. It was an insane amount for the insane challenge, but many in the OCR community believed that we had the very man for the job – Jonathan Albon.
 
In short, the Spartan race put down the ultimate Trifecta with a payout of 1 million dollars – paid to any one person winning all 3 its World Championships. Jonathan Albon was two down and only Iceland to go. SO close, just 100 miles. If you haven’t heard about the story, like The Telegraph calling him the unknown runner
 
Most of us laughed calling multiple World Champion unknown? But in the age of Kardashians and breaking internet with selfies, what did you expect? Obstacle racing is still obscure and an unknown sport for the majority of people. Maybe your Facebook consist of thousands of friends and acquaintances you found through OCR but how many people you met in everyday life where they first time heard about it from you? 
 
A lot of people dismissed the 1 million Spartan as just PR stunt, but it isn’t any different from Tough Mudder giving the 100 mile World Toughest Mudder challenge years before. It moved our beloved sport on to TV and more out there!  Its been long going and besides the hype and spotlight on Jonathan Albon, there was the age-old accountability question what still makes OCR not a real sport like triathlon or park runs.

Accountability and OCR.

Spartans have worked hard on accountability and to show the world that OCR is a real sport, adding referees, filming and analysing burpees for the elites and age groups. It gives the sport a real future to be taken seriously, not just be weekend warriors with a very expensive hobby.
 
In Iceland Ultra this accountability was taken a step further by adding age group and giving it the same standards as elites. What did it mean apart from a lot of people dropping out of the age group? 
 
You get a burpee passport – 6 obstacles have burpee penalties (Olympus, Tyro, Multi-rig, Twister, Spear Throw, Herc Hoist) you get a punch for each complete obstacle and at the end of the lap you hand in the passport and do your burpees in front of the camera. You could get up to 180 burpees per lap if you get unlucky enough. Thankfully, they were halved to 15 burpees per obstacle after midnight.
 
Straightforward, but for every missed burpee you get a minute. It also could mean DQ if the added time to the course time took you over the dreaded 24 hours. I’m still not sure if I did 90 burpees first time around, you make mistakes you learn. Tip of the day – use stones to keep a track where you are.
 
The main thing what made it true 24-hour race is you not only needed to do 4 laps but also needed to be out on course for 15 hours to claim your 24-hour medal. 15 hours was average time what racers spent last year on course, what no doubt will change. Also spending more than an hour in the pit would mean you need to go out complete another lap. Simple, accountable and you get an extra medal. The best and worst thing about pit – it was heated dome, what even had beds if you wanted to have a nap.

Black ice and pits of sadness.

The race itself was brutal. Ryan Atkins said it and I won’t disagree on that. When you are there you understand why Iceland has been chosen, it literally will take your breath away. With each lap it feels like the race is growing, the carries feel longer and heavier, the mountain steeper and the black ice slicker. 
 
If you haven’t experienced breathing in such wind and cold, it takes you by surprise and ruins your best laid out plans. You could have the best training, the best gear but after racing in sunshine all year nothing can prepare the airways and lungs. One of the most common problems for most racers that night. Did I mention the being ping-pong ball between trees on black ice? Or black ice and sandbags? Or sandbags and the knee-deep pit of sadness?
 
As every race is different the expectations are different but without experiencing them we can’t learn. Failing to prepare for the unknown is a lesson, not a failure.  I could go on about the black ice and how cold it was but at the end of the day, I am grateful to be part of all this. 
 
The same can be said for any of the big races, you need to be there to understand it as it doesn’t compare to anything else. The only negative side is that the only Northern Light I saw didn’t look like Northern light at all. It would have been the cherry on top of the painful and suffering cake that was the race. Was it colder than Atlanta? I don’t care, we all ran our own races and for different reasons. 

Bonefrog Charlotte 2018

Introduction

Ah, the Bonefrog. It is unique but very well known through the OCR world as the only OCR that is run and operated by the Navy SEALs. It’s an incredible opportunity for people who are looking for more challenging obstacle races than the typical Spartan or Terrain race.

With Bonefrog, there are 4 different ways to race. There is the endurance race, challenge, Tier 1, and sprint.

  • Sprint: 3 miles with 20-ish obstacles.
  • Challenge: 6 miles with 30-ish obstacles
  • Tier 1: Challenge + Sprint, so 9 miles with 50-ish obstacles.
  • Endurance: See how many laps of the challenge course you can complete.

On the day of the race, participants at each level are given a different color paper wristband. The color of the band is dependent on the race that they are doing. For instance, I was doing the challenge race, so I received a red wristband. Participants in the Tier 1 race received blue. Endurance and sprint were other colors, too. That way the volunteers could help out the people in the easiest, most appropriate way.

Disclaimer: I ran the challenge. My description of this course is going to be focused on the challenge. I am less familiar with the layout of the sprint course, so I will be going off what some of my friends told me.

Pre-Race Preparation

I had never done a Bonefrog before, and I wasn’t really prepared for what was happening. Registering online was easy, and I will say that they did a great job of posting a map online in ample time for athletes to view and prepare themselves. I was being a total wimp and decided just to brace myself and enjoy the ride. Whichever type of athlete you are, Bonefrog will accommodate. The race was on Saturday, but I’m fairly certain that they released the course map by that Tuesday. It made my friends who do prefer to check out the course map very very happy.

This particular Charlotte Bonefrog was hosted at Porter Farms. If you do the Charlotte Spartan races, this venue is all-too-familiar. You can expect a relatively flat course, and some cows to stare at you. You may also want to expect to be on the lookout for cow-pies; the most horrid obstacle of them all!

Arrival/Pre-Race

Now, this race took place on the same day as the World’s Toughest Mudder which was only a few hours south. I wasn’t exactly expecting there to be many people there. I was shocked by how few people were in attendance. My friends and I were competing elite and showed up maybe 40 minutes prior to the first heat, and it maybe took us 4 minutes to wait in line, pay ($10), and park. It was insane.

The festival area served its purpose. It was small but spread out. There were certain things that you noticed immediately: the finish line, the port-o-Johns, and black ops. There was a bag check provided (just like most races, it is $5), but there was also a tent that had tables. With their being so few people there, most people left their backpacks on these tables. Granted I don’t typically advise that, but if you have a friend who is willing to watch over your belongings, then you have to do what you have to do! The smaller atmosphere made it really easy to find friends and wish everyone else good luck.

They called all of the elites to the start at the same time. That meant all endurance, Tier 1, and Challenge athletes arrived at the start at the same time. There is not an elite division for the sprint, which I thought was interesting. We were not sure how this was going to work with all of us running different divisions. I looked to my left, to my right…I only counted 7 women with wristbands. Wow, there was really nobody there!

They ended up splitting us all up. The endurance athletes were up first. There were maybe, MAYBE 15-20 men in this division, with zero women. This was very unique and interesting. Up next: Tier 1. This was probably the largest group, at a whopping 3o-40 people. A few women went up, but not many. Then it was time for the Challenge. They gave us about 5 minutes between each elite division. We were greeted and motivated by the ever-wonderful Jarian Rich (who was rocking a red, silver, and blue sparkly beard; which I imagine is no coincidence with Veteran’s Day), and then it was showtime.

The Challenge Course

And we’re off! The start was a lot of fun. It started going on a downhill, instantly you could hear people talking about how fun it was and comparing it to the Charlotte Spartan Race. Then the sounds instantly turned to squish squish squish. I failed to remember that it had rained all week. Oh, boy! Listed on the map as the first obstacle was the Rolling Thunder. Rolling Thunder is one of those obstacles that Bonefrog is known for; it’s a simple, yet super obnoxious and frustrating obstacle that I’m pretty sure is only designed to get on people’s nerves. But, before that, there was a slight dip in the trail and an unmarked wire over the dip. Running by you’d just hear people go:

“ACK! ….Wire!”

Which was immediately followed by a

“Huh? ACK!…WIRE!!!!”

Although it was a little frustrating, it was kind of funny. Then it was onto Rolling Thunder. It seemed like there were two of the obstacle; the men ran to the one on the left, while the women were using the one on the right. There was no rhyme or reason to it. I saw a woman use the side, and I asked if we were allowed to. The volunteer said that the women were allowed to, while the men were not. I shrugged and made my way onto the next part of the course.

Bonefrog Rolling Thunder

After a little run, we came across a 6-foot wall. It wiggled a little on the top, but it was easy to get over.

We kept running through some muck (which, at the start line they announced they removed a water obstacle, which I was very thankful for), and up a hill and we were back near the festival area. We ran into most of the men who had left in one of the earlier divisions here. There were three stations: bar dips, burpees, and pull-ups. The first station: do 19 dips, calling your number out loud. I’ve never seen this in a race before, but holy smokes it was not pleasant. Next up: 31 burpees. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to call out names while we did our burpees, but I could not see them so I said the numbers and was not corrected. I don’t know what it was about these 31 burpees… granted, I’ve gotten all too familiar with them during Spartans, but right after dips, these suckers hurt. Next up: 7 pull-ups. Sweet; I love pull-ups. They had us do pull-ups in front of the pictures and names of fallen Navy SEALs. Rather than count the number of accomplished pull-ups out loud, we said their name. This, I thought, was fantastic, unique, and totally appropriate for Veteran’s Day. I also really appreciated that the men and women were expected to complete the same amount.

Next up was a rig. It wasn’t anything particularly scary, just some squishy thing on the bottom. The squishy thing looked like a ball, and the ropes stretched a little when you grabbed it. As long as you had a hand on the rope, you were good to go! Followed by that was a rope swing, which was…interesting. I’ve never seen anything like this. The volunteers were really helpful: they provided lots of tips on how to make it easier.

Then was The Krakken. I was really surprised by this obstacle; I was really impressed with how tight the strings were that comprised the obstacle. Bonefrog made it pretty sure that I couldn’t have fallen through the top even if I wanted to. One of the next obstacles was called Get a Grip. No obstacle has scared me as much as Get a Grip ever has. Remember how I said it was really muddy? Well, it was extra muddy underneath this obstacle. If you slipped off the rig, you slid in the mud. I saw a few men hit their heads. I saw one guy slip and fall before even leaving the step to reach the rig. He fell onto metal. The fall was long, too. This obstacle terrified me. Many women struggled. Sooner than later, it got crowded. People got kicked if there were two people on it at a time. It was not super enjoyable. I would like to try it again if it were not so high, or not with such an intimidating, slippery, and dangerous fall.

This was followed by more running, and obviously more obstacles. There were some frustrating moments, like weird course markings which resulted in me going up a 7-foot wall backward, but throughout the course, I still had fun. There was a lot of opportune time for running, and a lot of opportunities for slipping in mud, too!

There were certain things about this course that I enjoyed. I really enjoyed the Brute Force Bag carry. They had us go through walls with openings, and the openings got higher with each wall. Other than this and a hoist-like obstacle, there were no heavy carry races in this race.

When we hit the back area of Porter Farms (which I had never seen before,  so this was fantastic) there was a long stretch where we didn’t see many people. There were so few people that I actually went off-course for several minutes, and accidentally took some other people with me. In another instance was a big tarp laying on the ground. I asked the guy next to me if we were supposed to do anything, and he said no, so we went on. I much later learned that we were supposed to go UNDERNEATH this tarp…there was no volunteer to tell us! We also came across the only balance obstacle, and a few other cool ones in the back.

After a while, we came across some other things in the back also: all of the open sprint runners. It’s honestly like they came out of nowhere! It went from being a calm, race with people who it was easy to become close with to being really crowded. There were lines for obstacles, and it made it more difficult to pass through. Running on certain trails openly and easily turned into weaving. Although I like running around people, the fact it got so crowded so quickly caught me really off-guard.

Other obstacles in the back area included some rope climbs, a log obstacle that made you have to go through a wall once you climbed, and some other unique obstacles.

I came up to one obstacle that I really wanted to attempt all day. I don’t know what it’s called, but I know that you have seen pictures of it, if you’ve seen Bonefrog pictures at all. It’s the green monkey bar thing. A friend of mine had spent the whole week volunteering, and he assured me that there was going to be a rope there to climb before you got to the green grabby part. Except, when I got there, there was no rope. I was greeted at the obstacle by a man similar in height, and he was stressed. Even with the step, he and I couldn’t reach to even attempt the obstacle. Since I had already lost my band, I just had to move on.

Bonefrog-NJ-Seat-bars

The Chopper was a cool obstacle. This one wasn’t long; there were three of the spinny parts, each one separated by a ring. I haven’t seen anything like it.

There was a large A-frame, then Black Ops for the classic Bonefrog finish. I was really impressed again, by how sturdy the A-frame was. I felt very safe. I think it would have been difficult to get hurt. Black Ops made me sad…I couldn’t reach it! I wish they had some kind of step to be able to reach it for us…really really small folks. Either that or ladies, if you’re a tiny titan like me, be prepared to jump.

Volunteers

The volunteers at this race were fabulous. There were so many unique obstacles and the thing with unique obstacles is that they can be difficult to figure out what you have to do. Volunteers were spectacular about providing instruction for newcomers. They were really paying attention to what the athletes were doing. If you volunteered at the Charlotte Bonefrog this year, you did a fantastic job, and we appreciate you!

Overall Thoughts

The Bonefrog is an OCR that requires more strength than your typical, bigger name OCR like Spartan, Terrain, or Rugged. They feature a lot of unique obstacles that require the grip strength of a monkey but the courage of a tiger. I’d say if you are considering Bonefrog as a first OCR, you may want to try something else first. Not because it’s a bad race by any means, but, it is going to be more challenging, and you may want to get your feet wet first. Overall it was a great time; I personally enjoyed the smaller feel because I felt like I got to know the people that I was running against a little better than usual. If you’re looking to challenge yourself and feel a little sore the next day, Bonefrog may be the race for you!

 

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.

Time to take the ORM Strava Group up a notch

Ready for some competition?

Summer is almost over, and with the back-to-school spirit in the air, it’s time to start getting some use out of the ORM Strava Group. Fabulous prizes will be forthcoming.

Wait, there’s a group for ORM fans on Strava? Why yes, yes there is. You can find it here, and join up while you’re at it.

Wait, what’s Strava?

Strava is a website and app that uses GPS to track athletic activity, and it shoehorns all that social-media goodness to foster competition. Mostly the healthy kind, and sometimes notIf you use some kind of GPS device to track your workouts, you can link that data to Strava and then feel inadequate about your performance when you compare it with others. Or rather, you can then see who else is running and riding and swimming on the same routes as you and compete with them virtually. Judging from the current members of the group, ORM’s readers come from around the world, and many of you spend a lot of time running, much of it on trails, but a surprising number of people run on tracks, which makes for satisfying oval maps.

How is this competition going to work?

I had hoped that we could get Strava to give us monthly totals, but it turns out that’s not something they do yet, so we’ll have a weekly competition once a month. I’ll post when the competition starts and ends. At the end, I’ll see who is in the lead, and the winner will be awarded a prize. What, exactly? Something out of the ORM swag bag, or perhaps even a free race entry. We’ll work something out. It will be totally worth it.

And how do we determine who is the winner?

You’re all winners in my eyes, of course, but each month I’ll use a different metric. Strava measures distance, speed, average pace and even elevation gain. To keep things fair, I’ll mix it up each time, and sometimes I’ll reward creativity: if you record a run that is particularly epic, or if you spell out “ORM” on your GPS map, that’s the sort of thing that will catch my eye.

When does this start?

September’s challenge will start on Monday, September 11th, and end on Monday, September 18th so you have time to download your grueling weekend endurance workouts. In the meantime, have fun, stay safe and keep posting those results.