OCR World Championships Training

I’ve stated on here before that I’ll be running in the OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) World Championships in Ontario, Canada in exactly 50 days. Well, I’ve stated I’ll be running it, but not necessarily that it would be in 50 days. In fact, being that this is the first, and only post I’ve done today, had I stated before that I’d be running the OCRWC in 50 days, I’d have been lying and that’s something I’m not all about.

An-y-way… I saw an Instagram post of a guy who will also be competing in the same race, same age division as me, and who didn’t look like he was one of those “elite, all-world” athletes that I know will be there and whom I don’t anticipate seeing beyond the starting line. Anway, this guy I follow looks, in a lot of ways, like I do, which is encouraging since I really don’t know what to expect. What isn’t encouraging is that in the picture, he and a buddy were flashing their medals from some super-beast 13 hour marathon they’d just completed, and in the caption he talked about how he was planning on running 200 km (125 miles) in September and doing 30 burpees every day in preparation for the World Championships.

OCR-World-Championships-2016
OCRWC in Northern Ontario at Blue Mountains

 

I’ve done two races, and I know when my wife reads this, she’ll remind me that this race is more of a learning experience than it is a race I go in to with the expectation of finishing in a certain time or in a certain place. While I agree with her, reading how some guys who look like me are preparing for this kind of race has me thinking it’s time to amp up my training a little bit.

Come with me, won’t you, while I talk through what I think I’ll need to do between now and 50 days from now.

Spartan Run Woods

The good thing I have going for me is I have solid, not great, but pretty good endurance. I’m probably 5-7 pounds heavier than I’d like to be for when race day gets here, but I think if I just amp up my running a bit and be mindful of my diet, it shouldn’t be hard to get down to where I want to be. I just think that over the course of 15 km, I’ll be glad I took off those 5-7 pounds and I think that will allow me to get past some obstacles that might otherwise be more difficult.

RaR

Kelly and I are currently going to Crossfit two or three times per week (I’ve only been once in a week and a half due to travel and a Warrior Dash I ran/prepped for, so I have to make sure I keep up on that between now and, you guessed it, 50 days from now). After running my first Spartan Race, I learned that my biggest weakness was upper body strength and grip strength, so I’m really trying to get stronger leading up to this race.

While I don’t think 125 miles of running is realistic for my lifestyle, especially given my work schedule, some other personal endeavors my wife and I have (Sweat Local Columbus Sweat Sesh!), and my training schedule for Crossfit, not to mention a week-long trip we have planned to Ireland at the beginning of the month, I do think that I can set a goal of 75 miles and try to hit that between Sept. 1 and Sept. 30. I’ll try to keep myself accountable by posting weekly updates on this blog with how far I’ve gone and what all I have left to run.

Hopefully these last 50 days will get me ready for one of the most exciting races I’ll probably ever get to do. I’m the kind of person that trains best when there is an end goal in sight and I’m not just running or working out to “lose weight” or “build muscle.”  I’m both excited and nervous for the race, but I’m confident that if I can keep some positive momentum heading into the race, I’ll be fine.

Death_to_stock_photography_wild_1

Cheers to the next 50 days!

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I Survived my First Spartan Race

Spartan Hero

So my first obstacle race is in the books. I am now allowed to officially use terms like “OCR,” “AROO,” “fellow Spartans” and a few other phrases I probably shouldn’t say online for fear of the Spartan Mafia will come after you and I with their shields and spears and we’ll end up in some never-ending pit (or whatever it is they would do with bodies). Point is, I accomplished my fitness goal for this year and it feels great!

I always get really nervous before any event (5K, 1/2 marathon, and now, Spartan Race). I think all of the excitement of the day just makes my stomach uneasy. We left our house around 6:00 a.m. and headed out to the Wilds where the event was taking place. For those who aren’t familiar, the Wilds is (general terms) a private zoo that has African animals people can come out to see. While the race was held in a different area, I’ve committed to the story that I saw three lions, two giraffes, a few volunteers battling a giant gorilla, and I was chased by a rhino for most of the middle of the race.

Check out this hard-to-stomach shot of that scene.

Spartan Run-1

It’s a good thing I’m so fast.

When Kelly and I got there, we parked and had to walk up a hill to get to the main entrance area. From our car, we could see the tops of some of the obstacles, but nothing was very clear. Once we got through registration, we walked over to what appeared to be a spectator-friendly area that let you watch one of the obstacles up close. Just about as soon as we get up to it (kind of a monkey-bars on steroids obstacle), a dude who looked like his chest and biceps weighed about 90 pounds alone was holding his arm and talking to someone in the crowd. While we couldn’t hear everything, the long and short of it was that his arm bone was basically broken and poking into his bicep…this guy who was probably 6’2, 375 threw in the towel because this race made his arm bone break and puncture his bicep…

“OK, babe! Let’s do this! Nothing to worry about with me!”

She handled that whole thing better than I thought she would have. Anyway, we wandered around a bit until is was about my time to start. The racers go off in waves of about 100 people every 15 minutes to prevent too much build up at any one obstacle. There was about a five-foot wall you had to scale in order to get into the starting corral. I was surprised to see a few people struggle (I mean, if you are going to struggle getting over this, good luck with the real obstacles, right?). But I guess the spirit of the Spartan Race is to help everyone and to this point, I haven’t heard of anyone lost on the course. And if they are, well hopefully they find their way back before they let the lions back out.

The race began and I worked my way up toward the front of my heat. We hit a few obstacles (high wood posts we had to get over, a series of three over-under-through walls, etc.). There was more running at the beginning, which is my strength, so I was leading my heat going into the first of three obstacles I would fail at and have to do burpees (you have to do 30 burpees for every obstacle you can’t complete and generally lose a lot of ground to other racers while you’re cursing under your breath… #buckfurpees). The obstacle was another monkey bar obstacle and I recognize that my weakness in this type of race is grip strength… I probably need to join a crossfit gym if I want to improve, but save that for another day.

The weather was perfect for the race, but it had rained a bit the day before and so the ground was muddier than I would have preferred. I know on some obstacles they water to force you to get muddy and lose traction and grip, but it was wet and muddy for most of the course in a lot of the straightaway portions between obstacles. I’m not complaining. I ran a trail race in January during a soggy snowstorm, and yesterday was 1000x better than that was. At least it was warm and I was in a t-shirt!

So anyway, do my burpees, and I am starting to make up ground on some people when we get to one of the obstacles right in front of where all the spectators stand and where I knew I’d see Kelly. This one was an angled wall with little 2×4 blocks you had to traverse. Basically, they wanted you to pancake against this wall and make your way to the end and ring a bell. I made it about two blocks, but the 2×4’s were so muddy I slipped and fell. See yourself to the burpee area. After that, you are immediately at the next obstacle which is where we saw homeboy with the muscle-bone situation going on. Despite my burpees, I was faring better than he was to this point in the race. But still, got up to the monkey bars on steroids obstacle (MBOS obstacle), got about 1/4 the way through, and fell.

As you can imagine, the thought of more burpees wasn’t exactly super high on my to-do list, so I thought, “screw this, I am going back and doing this obstacle again!” Well, I fell sooner than I had the first time and hid my face and ran over to the next burpee station. Glad Kelly got to see me at my best, right?

Spartan Bars

Luckily for me, that was the end of what I’d consider the “grip strength” portion of the race. Unluckily for me, the next obstacle totally submerged the racers in muddy malaria water and then had us go through two 50-yard barbed wire crawls. So before my feet and hands were a little muddy, and now I looked like I just lost a fight with a porta-potty.

Got through that, did a little more running (and to this point, I was pretty thankful that my legs were still feeling good as the burpees have a way of knocking you down a few pegs in terms of muscle fatigue), and came up on one of the two obstacles I really wanted to get right…the spear throw.

So there were about eight targets and maybe five of them were empty. I took a minute to drop my heart rate so I’d give myself the best chance to hit it (and the best chance not to do any more burpees in the immediate future). As I was walking up, a guy to my left was making his attempt. He threw the spear and it kind of brushed off the side of the hay bale. The idea is, the spear has to stick in or else you didn’t “complete” the obstacle. So I hear this guy kind of debating with his buddy whether or not it counted with his buddy.

“Does that count?”

“I don’t know. You’re not in the competitive division, right?”

“No.”

“F*ck it. I’d say you’re good!”

The guy who threw it apparently felt that was sound enough logic and took off. Whatever, It’s my first Spartan Race and I’m not going to play playground tattle tail, not did I really even care. I was focused on sticking the spear.

It was so perfect. If it were darts, it may have well been a bullseye. I threw that thing cleanly, had a perfect pace and little arc, and it stuck straight in the center. I can’t even explain to you how perfect it was. The spear was pointing right back at me from it’s perch in the hay, as if it were giving me the “you da man” point. As I was rounding the corner, half-glancing at the poor souls doing burpees, the volunteer gave me a “nice throw man,” and said that I was in the ten percent of people who actually got the spear to stick. It definitely felt good and gave me a little extra confidence and energy as I made my way to one of the most challenging parts of the course.

That being….the hills portion.

—INTERLUDE—

I understand that this is a long winded recap of a Spartan Race. If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you enjoy my writing and getting an inside look at how my mind was working during the race. I completely understand if you’re getting bored, are worried your boss might be wandering why you’re doing more scrolling than typing, and just want to wrap things up. If so, scroll to the bottom and see my conclusion for any meaningful dialog.

Otherwise, enjoy Act 2…

So the hills portion. I told it it had rained the day before, so these hills were already pretty wet. But you pretty much climbed up the side of a hill that was at least, google-searching a protractor to get a good angle estimate, 60-70 degrees of incline. You’re basically on your hands and knees and trying to find some tree limbs, roots, basically whatever you can grab on to to pull yourself up. Some areas weren’t as steep as others, but it was equally difficult going up the hills as it was going down. We did this for a good mile or so. Basically every time you thought it might be the last one, you’d see another incline. And at the bottom, you usually had to wade through waist-deep water so your traction was always bad.

While the hills were pretty difficult, the obstacles (mostly high wood walls [9′ high] and net walls) were pretty spaced out and this leg was all about endurance and not upper body strength. This played to my strengths as a racer and I was able to make up a lot of time and pass a lot of people. I was surprised at how well I was able to get over the high walls. There was one in particular that was at the top of a long, more gradual than the norm by this point, hill. As I was getting to the top, this older guy was running up to the wall and jumping into it, trying to get some footing that would allow him to reach the top of the wall with some momentum. Another guy (who will come back into the story later) asked the volunteer if he could use a couple of wood steps on the left side of the wall since he was “in the open heat and not the elite heat (Elite Heat also the name of my Latin pop band).”

Volunteer shrugged; guy took that as “yea no problem.”

I wanted to do it right, so I asked the guy what the best strategy was to get over the wall. He said, “the best way I’ve seen is to just get up close, jump up and grab the top, and chicken-wing your way over.” I loved this explanation and it’s exactly what I did. At this point, I was tired, but my arms and strength was still there since we hadn’t used much upper body since those damn MBOS’. Anyway, first try, chicken-winged over, and I’m off again.

There were a few more hills, trudges through water, a net wall with a hard metal wire strung at the top that almost castrated me when the guy behind me jumped on the wall and I scissor-teetered up there for a second. Wasn’t happy about that one, but pain is part of the game I guess. Few more runs through mud and high water mud pools. I passed a lot of people during this stretch of mostly flat, mostly open runs. The two obstacles that broke up these long runs were the bucket carry and the sandbag carry (I don’t remember which one came first, but they were pretty similar). The bucket carry was on a flatter, BMX dirt track series of up-and-downs. In total, it was only about 50 yards of carry, so no big  deal (I actually jogged a lot of it, which I never saw anyone do on the Spartan Race programs on NBC Sports). The sandbag was more down-a-hill, up-a-hill. On the way up, I caught up to someone who had the sandbag resting on top of his head like an Indian woman getting water from the stream. As I was catching up to him, a course photographer said he looked like he was wearing a sombrero, which made me laugh and I’m hoping to get a good candid shot of me laughing as I’m hoisting 40 pounds of sand up a hill.

Another wall or two, and a few more long straight aways later, I’m coming up on what I am hoping is the end of the race.

–SIDE NOTE– I was led to believe this was going to be a 3-ish mile race. I think mentally, I was looking for the finish line from about mile three until mile five. Luckily, I race well at the end of races so I never lost any steam, even if I was a little miffed that there was still a lot of race left.

On one of the last straightaways, I see a guy ahead of me I recognized from my starting heat. I’m the competitive type where I immediately put a target on his back and made sure I was going to beat him no matter what. As I was passing him (he was a bigger guy, had me on strength but wouldn’t be able to keep up with me on running and speed obstacles), he said to me, “hey when did you start?”

“8:30,” I said as I passed him without giving the answer much thought. A few seconds pass, and I am making some distance between us, and I hear “me too. How old are you?”

Come on, man. I don’t know if this is some mind game or what, but I’m having a good time… I mean, I nailed that spear throw so the rest was gravy, right?

“Thirty,” I yelled back.

“Good job, man!”

Fine. I mean, it made me feel good. I remember hearing him say at the beginning of the race that he had done the longer race the day before, so I can only assume he did this sort of thing a lot and, even if he was tired from that day before, it felt good to pass someone I already decided was a vet Spartan Racer.

I didn’t think about him again. I broke out of the woods and looked up the hill that had a few more obstacles, but the finish line in the deep background. I was almost done.

Spartan Run Woods

The first obstacle was like a giant triangle. You had to jump into muddy water (again) to get your grip and traction slick, then pull yourself up a rope to the top. A lot of people were having trouble with this, but I went slow and kept my balance. Once I got to the apex of the structure, I slipped a little, but managed to grab the top of the pyramid and pull myself over. Down the other side and I was off to the next one.

“The next one” was the second obstacle I really wanted to do right… the rope climb. It’s basically what the cool kids got to do in gym class when they were young, but I never got to try. Kelly and I took a crossfit class one time that had a rope in the gym, and I didn’t have the courage to ask if I could just give it a run once class had ended. Before the Spartan Race, I watched some Youtube videos on rope climbing strategy. I saw the Marine style and the J-Hook strategy. I felt like, although I never tried to do any of these climbs, I was ready to do so.

I should also mention that this was the point where Kelly found me. I saw her before I went to the rope climb, and she got some good snaps of the whole thing. I jump up, grab on, and start to juggle the rope in between my feet.

Looking back, it shouldn’t surprise me that everything I watched online didn’t work in the slightest bit. I hung there for a few seconds trying to get it, but it just wasn’t happening. “OK,” I thought, “just get up there and ring that bell.”

I started pulling myself up, and to my surprise (especially given my failures on the strength and grip obstacles earlier in the race), I was actually moving up the rope. It was as hard as anything else I’d done that day, but I managed my way near the top of the rope. The problem was, I needed both hands to hold on to the rope, and to take a hand off and reach up to the bell might be an issue. I made an attempt at it, and in the same vein as a batter getting hit in the jersey by a pitch, I brushed the bell with my finger tip. I looked down at the volunteers.

“Did you see it? I hit the bell!”

Nothing…just blank stares.

“He hit it,” I heard Kelly yelling.

Still, nothing from the volunteers. Not even a “nope.” At least give me a “nope.”

I look back up, and pull myself a half pull up again toward the bell. By this point, my hands are hurting and I am low on gas. For the first time this whole race, I heard more people than just my wife rooting for me to do it. I was hanging there trying to figure out when the right moment was to make my last attempt at ringing the bell.

I pulled myself up hard and reached for the bell. Keep in mind, I was probably 20 feet off the ground. Still, I hit the bell just hard enough to have it make a faint ring and I slid-fell down the rope and landed in the hay. Luckily, no injuries (my biggest fear was a sprained ankle during this race). Two more obstacles and we’re home.

Spartan Wall

There was another big triangle obstacle that was a shorter wall I had to chicken-wing onto, then make my way over what was essentially a wood plank ladder. Once I got up on the wall, it was more about not slipping and it was pretty easy to get past. The last obstacle (before the trademark fire jump) was a sand bag hoist (basically, a rope and pully system with a sand bag tied to the long end of a rope). I had about 20 feet of hoist and I was home free. I locked my feet into the gate and gave it everything I had. The bag moved about three feet off the ground and I was stuck.

“I’ll help you, you help me?” I heard from over my shoulder. My first thought was this was some volunteer who was taking pity on me this close to the end. In reality, it was that guy who I passed that wanted to know my starting time and age. Despite the fact that he was my target earlier in the race, not an ounce of me had any doubt that I needed the help and I gladly accepted. We both pulled on the rope (him 90%, me 10%) until it got to the top.

Spartan Help

“You’ll help me?” he confirmed. “Absolutely,” I said. He stayed on the ground and I grabbed the rope above him. We (again, 90/10) pulled the bag up until it reached the top and we both made our way toward the fire. He ran ahead of me, and I wasn’t even chasing him at this point. I saw the end goal and I was looking around for Kelly (who told me she was Spartan’ing her way through the crowd to try to get to the finish line for a photo-op) but couldn’t see her. I jumped the fire and probably made some stupid “hey guy” wink-snap-point thing everybody does when they don’t know what to do, and made it across the finish line.

I had done it. I finished my first Spartan Race.

A few volunteers handed me some bananas, protein bars, a medal (that is really cool), and maybe a water. I found Kelly and had just about enough energy to talk about the #BuckFurpees she saw me do and maybe my spear throw (it was epic, I’m telling you).

Now that I’ve had two days to digest everything (and recover from just general #bodysore), I can reflect on the things I did well, the things I didn’t, and how I feel about my future as a Spartan Racer. In terms of the race itself, I absolutely loved it. I got dirty, got to play on giant jungle gyms, and got to act like a kid again for an hour an a half. I would say it was the most fun I have ever had in any race. I do think the feeling I had after completing a marathon was more fulfilling since it had been a bucket list thing for me, but I would do 1000 Spartan Races before I ever do another marathon.

I also know what I need to work on before next Spartan Race. While my endurance was fine and my leg strength was great, my upper body strength needs some work, and my grip strength is completely lacking. The three obstacles I failed on were two MBOS’ and one slippery agility wall that most people were failing at so NBD. I also probably would have failed on the sand bag hoist if not for my Spartan foe-turned-teammate at the end.

The Spartan Race was every bit as fulfilling and exciting as I’d hoped it would be. I love that I can compete at a sport like this and compare myself to other athletes. I love that I got to do something I’d never done before and I love that I was pretty good at it. I will be back next year and I will complete the two longer “Super” and “Beast” distances to complete the trifecta.

If there is anyone who is thinking about training and competing in a Spartan Race, I say do it. Make sure you sign up well ahead of time to get the earliest possible starting time so you aren’t log-jammed at obstacles, and make sure your strength and endurance are up to par. Or, make sure you get really comfortable doing burpees.

Next year, I plan on not having to do any burpees and improve on my finish!

Spartan Results

 

Man Up: A Guide to Modern Manliness

If you pick up a Men’s magazine in any given month, you’re likely to come across an article about what it means to “be a man” in today’s society. Now, if you’re reading Muscle and Fitness, you’re probably going to find out about how being a man means staying fit and pushing your physical “manliness” to new heights in the weight room. If you’re reading Esquire, being a man probably has more to do with what’s in your closet than what’s in your head. And I’m sure you could probably even find an article about what a man should be in technology magazines, hunting magazines, and maybe even a Playboy.

The point is, with all this conflicting information out there, men are likely to try and spread themselves too thin (both mentally and physically) by trying to be somebody else’s version of what they think a man should be.

Now I am by no means old enough to write a “this is what I’ve learned in my years” kind of an article. What I can write is a a list of simple truths that can apply to any man’s life no matter what age. Being a man isn’t about being stronger, smarter, more able to survive in the woods or even who has the longer……resume. It is about being comfortable enough with who you are to acknowledge your strengths and showcase them, recognize your weaknesses and work on them, and being able to handle whatever comes your way when life happens around you.

Know your strengths and weaknesses

Are you a computer-whiz? Does your life revolve around sports? In order to build a foundation in life, you have to know what you’re working with. Knowing yourself means you have to be honest with yourself, flaws and all. If you can’t walk into a room and strike up a conversation with every single person there, then you’re probably not going to be a good sports agent. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up your dream of signing the next LeBron James, but it does mean you have to work on some things before you can expect to make it in that industry. Knowing yourself means

Stand up for yourself and your family

There comes a point when being right is less important than standing up for yourself or your loved ones. The only time in life this does not apply is Jeopardy. Life is a playground game of dodgeball and you have to pick your team. Your wife, your kids, your friends and your family are your team. Sometimes your coworkers are on your team, and sometimes they’re on the other team. Sometimes your wife and your mother seem like they’re on different teams, but that’s when it’s your job to remind them you are all on the same side. The point is, if someone you care about is being attacked, or you can tell they are uncomfortable, then stand up for them.

Be Accountable

If you tell somebody you are going to be somewhere, be there. If you tell somebody you’re going to do something, well you know. Sometimes, we fall into this trap of trying to please everyone around us and we end up letting more people down because of it. Don’t be afraid to tell someone you can’t do something if you know you wouldn’t be able to do it. Now, don’t take the easy way out and just refuse everything asked of you to protect yourself from letting people down. Do what you can to help where you can, but know that people will understand if you have to say “no” every now and then.

Be assertive

When you are young, your parents probably told you that you could be anything you wanted to be. Now, you read success stories and you hear people say “if you want something, you have to take it.” I know someone who has a masters degree and assumed that entitled them to a great job. This person is smart, but is not at all ambitious and is consequently working an hourly without much room to grow. Don’t let someone else take something that you want. Whether that is a girl, a job, or anything else in your life you have your eye on.

Be focused

Have you ever watched a TV show and noticed how much “chatter” there is around what is actually happening? “Chatter” is visual busyness. If you’re in front of a TV, turn it to Fox News or CNN. You’ll probably see something like this:

Where to go when you need scores, stocks and infotainment all at one time...
Where to go when you need scores, stocks, weather and infotainment all at one time…

Now that is an exaggeration, but it’s not too far off from reality. Don’t let “chatter” into your mind. If you are doing something, then just do it! Turn off the TV. Turn your phone on silent and let Twitter update without you for a few minutes. You’ll amaze yourself with what you can accomplish if you put your mind to something and see it through.

Think before you Act

For that matter, think before you speak too. For whatever reason, people think that the quicker you answer a question the more believable you sound. This is wrong. Take a minute next time someone asks you something and allow yourself time to process what they are saying. Think about what you want to say, then articulate it. If actions speak louder than words, do yourself a favor and make smart decisions instead of quick decisions.

Believe in Something

I will never say you have to believe in God. I believe that is up to each person to decide for themselves. But even an atheist needs to believe in somethingBelieve in yourself. Believe in the government, or the Yankees or even in the idea that Tupac and Biggie are somewhere on a beach laughing at the rest of us. The point is, you have to believe in something in order to ever get anywhere. Belief begets purpose, and a man without a purpose is a waste of space. Don’t be that guy who moans about how empty life is and how we are all just here and then we aren’t.

But don’t Believe Everything

Being a man means making up your own mind about things. Gone are the days of teachers telling us what is fact from fiction. Likewise, the days of mom and dad telling us right from wrong are over. Your life if full of questionable content. The New York Times released a study where they found the average American is exposed to anywhere from 3,000 to 20,000 ads per day. Conservatively speaking, lets say you sleep 6 hours a night. That means in the 18 hours you are awake every day, you will absorb an ad every 5-10 seconds. Think about that. Every ad is full of “9 out of 10 doctors recommend” or “studies have proven.” Give yourself some perspective when it comes to making decisions and don’t let anyone but you influence what matters to you.

Be Kind

Unless you are a UFC fighter, than there are very few things in life you can’t do while being considerate and thoughtful. And just because a man is kind does not make him weak. Be aware of the differences between being kind and being a pushover. Be kind, but know when you have to take a stand and when you have to say no to someone. Being kind makes you more likable, which makes people want to be around you and get your opinion on things. You will meet more people, and your kindness will give way to a more positive outlook on things.

Have perspective

Having perspective allows you many things, like never over looking people, never underestimating people, and always seeing a situation in more than one way. A lot of men think that being driven means you have to be so focused on the end goal that you lose sight of the people and places along the way. Be driven, but don’t be blinded by the light at the end of the tunnel. Be focused on where you want to go, but remember that there are plenty of ways to get there.

There is no handbook to what being a man is in today’s world. Everybody has to find there own way and there isn’t a self-help book or seminar in the world that will hand you what hard work allows you to earn. Being a man means being comfortable with who you are, and not letting anyone else’s ideas of what you should be or who you should be get in the way of what you want to be.