The SISU Iron 2016 aka: The Best DNF Ever

I have a list of DNFs going. I’m the one that survived all the time hacks and went 51 hours in 2014 Death Race Year of the Explorer and just kind of…drifted away. I’m the one that didn’t take the time hacks seriously enough at 2015 SISU Iron and missed Victoria’s Challenge by 7 minutes. I was so depressed and disappointed with myself that my vest got flung into the closet where it remains today.

This year I was NOT GOING TO MISS A TIME HACK, DAMMIT. Marion Powell and I even bought scooters in an attempt to garner every possible advantage. But, unfortunately several critical mistakes were made.
SISU Iron Secret Weapon

Mistake #1:
I didn’t check my watch battery. I missed a time hack last year because of forgetting my watch. This time, I had my watch, but the damn thing started beeping and annoying everyone during the bottom sample challenge and that was the end of that.

Mistake #2:
I assumed the weather would be hot as hell because that’s how it was last year, and that’s what the weather channel predicted. Did I bring any cold gear? No, I did not. To that volunteer who asked me if I had any cold weather gear and received hella snark in return: I’M SORRY. I was really cold most of the time. I’m pretty sure I was hypothermic at the end because I was no longer even shivering.

Mistake #3:
Being disorganized and missing my flight. Despite getting a ton of shit done that day after missing my plane, I needed that time to get my pack organized. Instead, I raced from the airport to Dave & Buster’s, threw shit out of my suitcase and into the pack and ran upstairs to be LAST to the party. Ouch!. Then, they took our packs and I never got a chance to reconfigure. I spent the entire event disorganized, barely aware of where necessary items were located. This lack of preparation led to overall chaos from which I would never emerge.

SISU Iron - Gear

Mistake #4:
Inadequate nutrition and hydration intake plagued my entire event. This is the first time this has ever happened to me.  I estimate I took in no more than 2000 calories during my entire 34.5 hours. This probably stems from mistake #3.

Mistake #5:
After last year’s run with Janice Ferguson and our subsequent failure, I read her blog and I was too emotional to really take in the lesson she was trying to share. She said, “YOU CAN’T DO THE IRON ALONE.” Because I’d been with her, I didn’t really get the message. Plus, I was never alone last year.

This year, I did substantial parts of both night hikes alone. I was with Kayla and Amber for a little while during the Waterfall hike but ended up doing the bulk of it by myself. Then, I was one of the last people to head out for the Commitment/Burden hike to the top, and I was shivering, wrapped up in a space blanket. We had to get to the top by 4:30 or we’d be cut. I was alone. Countless times I stopped and stood, staring at the ground, fantasizing about wrapping myself up like a burrito and just falling asleep right there. “They’ll find me,” I’d think to myself. And then somehow, I’d get my feet moving again. If I’d been with a buddy, I probably wouldn’t have been doing that. Having someone else to encourage and receive encouragement from is CRUCIAL. During the particularly savage inclines, I was literally yelling at myself, “GIRD YOUR LOINS!” I’d holler and then tighten everything and will my poor glutes to shove my feet up that hill. I ran into Daniel Brown and together we made the top by 4:25 a.m. I’ve never been prouder of myself because it took everything I had to make it on time.

Heading back down, I shared some of these insights with my new friend Le Roux, who saved me from sleepwalking off a cliff many times. We agreed to be battle buddies for 2017 SISU Iron. Unlike last year, I’m not ashamed of this DNF. My vest is already up on my wall of accomplishments, and I’ve decided to use last year’s vest for next year’s race.

Redemption will be mine!SISU Iron - Leah's Vest
SISU Iron - Challenges

A Day in the Life of…Miguel Medina

Follow along as we examine the daily routine of elite obstacle course racer Miguel Medina to get a feel for how he mixes training and racing into his already busy life.  With over 10 podium finishes spanning stadium races to ultra-distance events, including a 1st place team finish at WTM in 2014 and a 2nd place finish at the 2015 Spartan Race Ultra Beast Championships, there is no question that this Spartan Pro Team and SISU Pro Team member fits into the class of elite obstacle course racers.  However, there’s more to Miguel than OCR.

Miguel Medina Spartan Ultra Beast

Miguel Medina (left) on the Spartan Race Ultra Beast Podium

5:30 am:  Alarm goes off.  The sun may not be up yet, but Miguel Medina is.  The 27-year-old Torrance, California, native doesn’t even give the snooze button a second look.  After answering nature’s call for himself, he lets his three dogs outside…nature is calling them as well.  Back inside, he starts a pot of coffee while stretching and getting warmed up for the day.  Then Miguel heads out the door for what Coach Yancy Culp calls his ‘daily necessity run’.  Miguel uses this three miles of relaxed aerobic running to clear his mind so he can concentrate on the day ahead.

Miguel Medina Necessity Run

Miguel during his morning necessity run

6:45 am:  Back from his run, Miguel feeds the pups and preps his breakfast shake.  After downing breakfast (a shake made from flax milk, kale, banana, oatmeal, flax, and chia seeds), Miguel hits the showers, puts on a polo or a shirt and tie, pulls back that famous long hair, and heads to work.

Miguel Medina Breakfast Shake

Typical ingredients for a Miguel Medina breakfast

7:30 am:  The commute is not arduous.  Since moving to Ft. Collins, Colorado, this year, Miguel has started working from home as a Medical Interpreter and Translator.  If you’ve been following OCR for several years, you probably already know this, having seen a hypoxic Miguel on 60 Minutes Sports, tearing off his training mask and testifying, “I’m a medical interpreter”.  What the heck is a Medical Interpreter and Translator?  Picture sitting at your desk in your office when a Skype call comes in.  On the other end of the call are a Doctor and Patient, one of which speaks Spanish, the other English.  Miguel’s job is to bridge the cultural and linguistic gaps in communication between the two.  It requires effective communication skills with an understanding of both cultures.  In any given conversation, he could be communicating the topics of neurology, nephrology, gastroenterology, psychiatry, nutritional science, etc. in two languages with two people from vastly different backgrounds.  He says every day is a little different.  Although the job can be very challenging, it is also very rewarding because Miguel gets to help people who may have some very serious health problems.  Without Miguel, they would have difficulty getting treatment.  Miguel fields calls from around the U.S. off-and-on all day long.

Miguel Medina Medical Interpreter

The Medical Interpreter in Action

In between calls, Miguel is squeezing in some basic movements, like the stationary bike, pull-ups, Turkish get-ups, or stretching.  Anything to get his heart rate up in the 135-145 range.  He also squeezes in snacks all day, such as carrots, celery, and cherry tomatoes, as well as peanut butter and some awesome and healthy cookies made by his girlfriend Meredith.  Lunch is eaten on-the-fly as well, and today includes a vegetable curry with cauliflower, carrots, sweet potatoes, garlic, onion, kale, and some legumes.

Miguel Medina Typical Lunch

A typical Miguel Medina working lunch

He also uses the time in between calls to catch up on questions from his Yancy Camp athletes and have his almost daily conversations with Coaches Yancy Culp and Richard Diaz, his BFF Hunter McIntyre, and his family.

4:00 pm:  The medical interpreter clocks out, and the obstacle course racer clocks in.  After work you’ll find Miguel on the trails, at the track, or at the gym.  For roughly three hours a day, he’s running, bouldering, rock climbing, swimming, doing crossfit, or lifting heavy things.  You will also find Miguel knocking out one of his Yancy Camp prescribed workouts, a sadistic mix of aerobic run, tempo run, speed run, burpee, pull up, burpee pull up, farmer’s carry, sandbell snatch, sandbell step up, sandbell squat, lunge, weighted lunge, or some other form of body torture.  Once the season picks up, those three-hour training sessions will be extended to almost six hours.  Miguel is especially psyched today because he is going to his new favorite gym in Ft. Collins, Maniac’s, where the highlight of the workout will be tire drags in the parking lot.  Miguel says he listens to a variety of music while he works out, including classic rock and metal, but his playlist lately has shifted into a lot of electronic music.  Maniac’s is totally cool with that.

Miguel Medina Tire Drag

Miguel (right) drags a tire at Maniac’s

7:00 pm:  Just getting out of the gym, Miguel and his girlfriend will typically pick up something for dinner to save a little time.  Not tonight, though, for tonight there’s a big roast in the oven with some sprouted bread and a ton of vegetables.  We’re talking 4-6 services of vegetables, which Miguel insists is a requirement for the OCR lifestyle.  He tends to avoid alcohol so it doesn’t distract from his goals this season.  The remainder of the evening is spent discussing plans for the upcoming weekend with his girlfriend, playing with the dogs, and catching up on questions from Yancy Camp athletes.

10:00 pm: In bed, after a long day of working and training there will be no problem going to sleep tonight.

Stats for the Average Day
Sleeping:  7.5 hours
Eating:  1 hour
Working Out:  3 hours
Working:  8 hours
Driving:  0 hours
Rearing Children (well, pets):  1 hour
Other (Yancy Camp, Phone Calls, etc.):  3.5 hours

Miguel Medina Family

Follow Miguel on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Up for a challenge?  Join Team Medina at www.YancyCamp.com

SISU 24-hr Adventure Run 2015

SISU 24 competitors

If only it were a straight forward race that I could let it all burn for 7 to 10 miles & pour on the speed…alas the SISU 24 is not that type of race. This is a knock down, drag out contest of grit & stamina. How far do you run? So far a man on foot can not fathom it. Over stream, trail, hill, mountain to summit & back again. Run until you can’t run anymore then continue hiking… Cramp up, stretch, recover & get back out there again. All routes involved long stretches uphill, any given leg of the race might be considered a full days workout for many people… In our adventure we fetched & returned an egg, stood under a waterfall so cold it took my breath away, solved a math equation that required clues spread miles apart, helped the Park Rangers haul some logs, reached a summit to retrieve a page from a book & memorize the first passage,and ran in the dark w/ dimly lit headlamps with a keen look out for bears. It’s an event that’ll push your mind & body beyond conventional limits. – Louis “Thunder Badger” Rudziewicz

The day before the race, we received a devastating message; the event I’d been looking forward to since this time last year, which I missed because of family commitments, had an issue with the LAFD and could no longer use the chosen venue.  Most events facing this would have no choice but to cancel, or at best postpone to a later date.  A couple of stress-filled hours followed, as many of us started making plans to salvage the weekend, then we received another message; SISU staff had moved the venue to nearby Camp Trask, home of the SISU Iron, and the event was back on. Staff and volunteers spent the afternoon, evening and some of the next morning re-plotting the race and marking the course on a completely different set of trails than originally planned.  That they were able to pull the race off at all with such a dramatic last minute scramble is impressive; that many repeat competitors found it even better than last year’s is a testament to the staff and to Race Director Dave Lokey.

SISU is a Finnish word with no direct translation but loosely corresponds to “ultimate fortitude and persistence, carried to an unfathomable level”. Team SISU, based in SoCal, exemplifies this term, and founders Daren de Heras & Matt Trinca & staff Dave Lokey, Louis Lopez, and Steffen Cook have an impressive resume of both competing and directing racing and endurance events.

SISU 24 briefing

The SISU 24h Adventure Run is one of a handful of events, along with the FORGE and the Iron, put on by team SISU each year. Each of these events is designed to test athletes and push them to their limits, but in very different ways. The SISU 24 is a choose-your-own adventure that started at 9:30 Saturday morning and finished at the same time Sunday. Staff marked out 5 trails of varying lengths totaling over 32 miles, and athletes were encouraged to do as many laps as possible in 24h.

SISU 24 Trail

Each trail was awarded one point per mile, and runners could compete individually or as part of a three-person team. Additionally, bonus points were available for specific tasks. The first 12 people to return from the Overlook trail with an intact egg received three extra points. Memorizing a passage from a book at the end of the 10 mile Tower of Power trail earned two points. Dunking your head in the chilly water at the end of the Waterfall trail earned an extra 4 points, which could be gambled for double or nothing based on the draw of a card back at home base. Finally, three of the trails had variables x, y, and z marked at the end, and these could then be used to solve a mathematical equation that was unique to each participant.

SISU 24 waterfall

The venue at Monrovia Canyon Park is spectacularly beautiful and characterized by steep hills in all directions. The weather on Saturday morning was crisp and cold; it would warm up during the day, then drop drastically again once the sun started going down. With heavy rains on Friday and again late Sunday afternoon, competitors dodged a bullet that would have completely changed the race.

SISU 24 night

With tents set up for camping at the starting point, runners could rest, hang out or sleep at any time. Many took advantage of this, catching a few hours of sleep during the night; others continued to rack up the miles nonstop.

SISU 24 Nick Rai

When the dust settled and all the points were tallied, Marion Schuler-Powell won by a single point over her hiking partner Tera Spencer for the women with 63, Nick Rai literally ran away with the men’s race with a remarkable 97.5 points, and the Trail Bandits team of Louis Lopez, Robert Herrera, and Paulo Aguilar together ground out 207.5 points for the team victory. For the rest of us, we either met or fell a little short of our personal mileage goals as the hills took their toll on feet, hips, and knees.

Like all of Team SISU’s events, this was a quality race with a family atmosphere and inspiring competitors. I can’t wait to do this one again next year, but first I get to take on their signature event again, the SISU Iron: APRIL 29-MAY 1, 2016.