Spartan North American Championships – West Virginia Beast 2019

Obstacle-Gauntlet-in-West-Virginia

If there’s anything Spartan Race does well, it’s finding one of a kind locations for their races. Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia proved to be the perfect place to not only put on a Trifecta weekend, but host the 2019 North American Championship race. 

The Venue

Summit Bechtel Reserve is absolutely perfect to host an event like this. Those unfamiliar with West Virginia’s terrain were greeted with numerous climbs that ended with gorgeous views. Elite and Age Group racers had to qualify to take part in Saturday’s Beast, while everyone else could run in the Open waves. In total, the Beast ran about 14.4 miles with close to 2,900 feet of ascent. Anyone unfamiliar with West Virginia’s terrain were greeted with numerous climbs that ended with gorgeous views. 

Climbing-the-Mountain-in-West-Virginia

This was only my second Beast ever and happened to be the last piece to complete my second Trifecta ever. My first Beast was the 2018 Ohio Beast held at the Southington Off-Road Park. That venue was very flat with altering terrains, while West Virginia is mostly trail but a good variation of climbs and descents. 

 

The West Virginia race was definitely more difficult, but if I was left with a choice between the two, it’s an absolute no brainer. No matter what distance you want to do, West Virginia is a must race. 

Spartan-Trifecta-Weekend-in-West-Virginia

Why A Beast?

Maybe you’ve only ever run Sprints because 5 miles seems like enough. Or you’ve done a Super and are wondering if you should take the next step up. So, before we get into the specifics of the course and the obstacles, let’s talk about why a Spartan Beast at all.

 

I would recommend everyone set out for a Trifecta at least one time. If you would rather stick to shorter races, great! But there’s something special about running over a half-marathon with obstacles. 

 

On top of that, the open waves are more spread out than the shorter races. This is great for people who want to get in some running between obstacles. Granted, the climbs and some obstacles do still get jammed up some in open heats. Despite that, even some of the more narrow trails had space between runners. 

The-Views-at-the-North-American-Championship

Oh, The Obstacles!

Outside of what I needed to get a Trifecta in 2018 and 2019, I usually stick Sprints and the occasional Stadion (Stadium). But the way Spartan has moved over the last year or two, you see a lot of the same obstacles. So at that point, the more Sprints you run, the more you’re just looking at the venue itself and the course design. Don’t get me wrong, I love the short distance of a Sprint, but I also love obstacles!

 

If you really want to be exposed to Spartan’s full gauntlet of obstacles, you absolutely positively must run a Beast. This year’s West Virginia Beast had 38 obstacles, many of them I haven’t seen since last year’s Beast in Ohio. Though I didn’t run the Sprint and Super on Sunday, they each had 20 and 31 respectively. 

 

There’s really no room to complain about what obstacles Spartan had because, well, they pretty much had them all (Though I wish they included that Twister/Monkey Bar combo this year). The Beast threw at you everything from the Yokohama Tire Flip to Helix to Tyrolean Traverse and even a Spartan helmet-shaped Bucket Brigade course. The Beast even included a nice little swim late in the race. 

Ryan-Woods-finishing-Helix

Quite A Warm-up

If I had one complaint about the race, it’s that parking was incredibly far away from the festival. Our heat wasn’t until around noon, so 10:30 am seemed like a good time to arrive. But we still ended up on the outskirts of parking. I’m not sure exactly how far of a walk it was to the festival from our car, but I would guess it took around 10-15 minutes. That’s a great way to warm-up for the race, but made the walk back pretty daunting. 

 

Spartan could add a few shuttle stations throughout the parking area. This would allow small shuttles to take racers to the festival entrance. Though parking and bag check were both free this year, so the there would probably be some trade off. 

North-American-Championship-Spartan-Medal

Ya’ll Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

The venue is great. The area around the venue is gorgeous. Southern hospitality is a real thing. Biscuits and gravy are everywhere. There’s a lot to love about going to West Virginia for a couple days. Not to mention the North American Championship Beast medal all Saturday finishers walk away with. 

 

I told myself after this year I would stick to short races and not need more Trifectas in the future. But as long as Spartan keeps coming back to Summit Bechtel Reserve, I have a feeling that so will I.

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

emPowered OCR – Lancaster’s First Stadium-Style Obstacle Race

emPowered-OCR-at-Clipper-Magazine-Stadium

 

A well-run local obstacle race is a great find. A well-run local obstacle race that’s for a good cause is a gem

 

emPower Training Systems and The Mighty Mehal Foundation teamed up to bring Lancaster, PA its first ever stadium-style obstacle race. The 3.25-mile course took place in and around Clipper Magazine Stadium, home to the Lancaster Barnstormers. 

 

A lot of local “obstacle” races I’ve experienced tend to be more of a glorified mud run than obstacle race. emPowered OCR was a true obstacle race that challenged competitive athletes while ensuring new racers would have a blast. There were even family waves so parents could run the course with their kids instead of watching them run a smaller course from the sidelines.

 

Inside-Clipper-Magazine-Stadium

For A Cause

A lot of people use obstacle racing as an escape from the ordinary day to day. But some people use it to get through their own personal obstacles. emPowered OCR was created to help those people, with all proceeds benefiting The Mighty Mehal Foundation.

 

The foundation was created in honor of Shaun “Mighty” Mehal and provides scholarships to qualified applicants who are entering a recovery house in Lancaster County. 

 

Free Free Free

We all know how most of the larger races go. Need to park? That’ll be $10.00. Might even have to take a shuttle. Want to bring your grandma so she can cheer you on? Open up that wallet. 

 

Pretty much the only thing you needed to pay for at emPowered OCR was your registration and bag check, if you needed it. Parking was provided in the stadium lot and spectators were free of charge. There were even plenty of free samples from local and national vendors. 

 

As with the larger events, each registration included a tech shirt, finisher medal and a free beer for anyone over 21 years old. 

emPowered-OCR-course-map

Course Design

The course was designed by the co-owner of emPower Training Systems and personal trainer, Josh March. The distance came in right around 3.25 miles and featured 23 obstacles. Clipper Magazine isn’t as big as a major league stadium so, unlike those, it wasn’t all stairs. Most of the course took place just outside the stadium, with the last quarter-mile or so being inside. 

 

In the competitive waves, the majority of the obstacles were mandatory completion. Racers were given an extra band at registration and had to take it off if they were unable to complete an obstacle. Two obstacles did have a penalty loop, in addition to mandatory completion and one had a burpee penalty. 

 

For the “Strike Zone Challenge,” If you missed the strike zone net, you were required to do 15 burpees. Unfortunately for competitive racers who missed, the burpee obstacle was shortly after, which added another 15 reps in the hot sun (I speak from experience).

 

There were two carries out on the course, bucket and sandbag, which surprisingly had the same weight for men and women. It felt like the weight would be a little light compared to other men’s carries and a little heavy for women. The bucket carry was about a quarter-mile, while the sandbag weaved up and down the stadium steps. 

 

emPowered-Peak-Obstacle

No Easy Task

For anyone looking to challenge their grip and coordination, that was well taken care of. Several obstacles required bell ringing. “Because I Was Inverted” required traversing upside down across a steel beam from one end to the other. The “Y-Wall” was a fun mix of relatively easy rock holds out to a pair of hanging metal tubes. 

 

“emPowered Peak” almost seemed similar to Spartan’s Olympus due to the requirement to go from side to side on an angle. Unlike Olympus, though, there wasn’t much to grab. The obstacle was made up of vertical 2x4s that required careful transitions and shoes with some grip. 

 

Perhaps the toughest obstacle of the day, though, was the Barnstormers Rig. According to March, it turned out to be a band killer among competitive racers. It required transitioning between rings, baseballs and even a baseball bat in order to ring the bell at the end. And because it was late in the race, many of the athletes already had fatigued grip. 

 

A-look-at-emPowered-OCR-rig

What’s Next?

According to March, the race was a great success and they’re already in the works for a 2020 race and potentially a second event. With around 450 total participants, emPowered OCR definitely has the potential to become an annual event, with some expansion.

They do plan to keep the competitive waves mainly mandatory completion, which personally I love. There were a few hiccups with the registration process, but plans are already underway to improve the process for next year. They’re also looking into a more OCR-equipped timing system as this year’s timing was not set up to show 100% completion and non-completion among competitive racers. Instead bands had to be manually checked among the top finishers. 

emPowered-OCR-top-finishers

emPowered OCR was a fantastic race and the team did a really great job running the event. At no point did I feel like this was a first-year race. It’s definitely one that will be on my calendar for 2020 and beyond!

 

Photo Credit: emPower Training Systems, Jesse Keim, Kevin Peragine Photography, Lindsey Makuvek

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!”

Shamrock OCR Campground-Spartanburg, SC

What is Shamrock?

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

Who is Donovan?

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

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

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

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

 

What do they have at Shamrock?

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

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

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

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

The 300 Challenge

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

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

And, this situation is absolutely no different.

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

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

What else can you do at Shamrock?

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

My thoughts…

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

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

Coach Muscle Nugget


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Coach B., Melissa J., Stacie D.

Brittany came to town for a “girls weekend” with two of her clients. Those 2 women happen to be my wife and her best friend. Both Melissa and Stacie have received life changing benefits after having multiple children, while working with Coach B.

We sat down on my front porch to discuss the what it takes to overcome mental and physical obstacles to get your mind and body right.

Sensitive ears alert!

Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

Wetsuit Wearhouse – It’s getting to be crunch time for World’s Toughest Mudder!
Save 15% using coupon code ORM15 on all purchases.

Show Notes:

Coach’s website

MuscleNugget Instagram

Listen using the player below or the iTunes/Stitcher links at the top of this page. 

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.