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The Red Deer Hurricane Heat, Super and Sprint

Who knew that packing for one weekend could be so involved?

Three events, two kiddos, one kid’s race and a special Hurricane Heat pack list will certainly do that.

mud pit strapped

The Hurricane Heat

For those of you who don’t know, the addition of the Hurricane Heat started in 2011 when Hurricane Irene threatened the cancellation of the race so Spartan founder, Joe Desena, decided to bring the group out for a military inspired workout complete with team challenges and exercises. Failure meant burpees. As per usual.

Each Hurricane Heat is different and usually lasts 3-4 hours, although they do have 12 and 24 hour ones for sadists who are interested in extended the torture to an inconceivable duration.

Our theme was hockey. We had to bring a toque with our favourite team logo (I fashioned mine out of a toque, a poorly hand drawn logo on the back of a business card and a couple safety pins) and a “regulation length hockey stick.”

A friend-of-a-friend actually lent me his stick despite my failure to promise it’s safe return.

We broke up into teams and started into the challenges. Our team was led by an adorable teenager named Max who is a natural born leader. He kept us all in-line and in good spirits.

The challenges varied between everyone working together to fashion a raft out of hockey sticks and zap straps to float the cadre across the lake (which did not work); to our small seven person team getting one of our own upside down up a slip wall; to working in partners with our hands zap strapped together to get over an eight foot wall. There was even the solo challenge of going through the mud pit with our hands cinched behind our backs.

The big challenge for me as the night went on became the cold. I was ill prepared for night fall and the soggy arm warmers I had to warm myself just weren’t doing the trick.

At the end of the night we huddled in a circle, trying to absorb the heat radiating off the still-warm concrete as three people read the essays they had written about why they race.

All three were phenomenal but I know the third one struck a cord with so many. You can read it here.

The Super

I made the mistake of starting too far back and getting caught behind on the first few miles of single track – which was fun in that it meant I had some work to do to catch up. Like I need to feel any more like a cougar.

They had some interesting twists on the old favourites, like a lighter bucket carry that wove it’s way through mud pits. Mother nature also put her own twist on things. The monkey bars and balance beams were slick. By the last rung I was holding on by my pinkies.

The course was flat and fast and I was happy to get a burpee free round for the win.

The Sprint

The course was even flatter and faster than the day before – and perhaps even more slick. The penalty box was full of elite men doing burpees when Faye and I arrived lockstep at the balance beam. I ended up doing the splits at each junction but both Faye and I made it over unscathed and got to battle it out for the remainder of the race. It all came down to the spear throw at the top of a set of stairs just three short obstacles to the finish. And thankfully mine stuck.

Two burpee free races in one weekend.

The Kid’s Race

Ama, my oldest decided to do her first kid’s race since her cousins were doing theirs. Not one for mud, she chose to wear a pink tutu and was absolutely horrified when it got splashed. That and she wouldn’t touch the obstacles after they became dirty. Not exactly the perfect first mud run but… she finished. As did my two nieces and my nephew in the adult race. It’s beyond describable to see your family enjoy the sport you love. Or at least, make it through with most of a clean tutu.

red deer

Recovering between Races

If you’re looking for some double race weekend strategies for recovering, I have the blog post for you here.

How to Recover Fast Between Races

On the last two Spartan Race weekends I managed back-to-back wins (Ottawa Super and UltraBeast and Red Deer Super and Sprint). And I have been getting a lot of questions as to how I recover.

couch

Here’s my Top Five List:

  1. Training – I train hard and long days back to back so my body is pretty used to getting a beat down a couple days in a row. Usually I try to vary the stress if my body feels off like a long run followed by day of power hiking in the mountains or pulling the kids around in a bike carrier on a hilly route.
  2. Nutrition Window – Almost the first thing I try to do is get something into me. You have about thirty minutes to get some fuel in. Basically your muscles are like sponges during that time and primed to soak it up. You also want some protein to start muscle repair. Experts say 3 or 4 grams of carb to each gram of protein but really, just get a little protein in there and you’re good. You also need water to break those carbs down so drink up. Depending on the race I usually head straight to the Thirsty Buddha or chocolate milk tent. I also have a handful of bars and a bottle of water in my drop bag just in case.
  3. Active Recovery – Honestly, I’m too lazy for cool-down jogs but I do try to walk it out a bit before I hose down. I also spend a much longer time warming up and start off way slower on day two to give my body more time to get race ready. Plus, my kids love pools and we’re usually travelling race weekends so I end up spending the afternoon floating around in water shaking things out.
  4. Body Work – I a huge believer in doing your own mobility work. I have a pre-race and post-race routine. I’m also fortunate to pack around a registered massage therapist with me (my husband) who understands the sport. But if you didn’t marry into mobility, that’s fine. Just carry a portable foam roller and some balls with you.
  5. Relax – It’s not only your body that just took a huge hit, racing is also mentally and emotionally taxing. With two little bitty kids we don’t get to watch movies as often as I’d like so between races I look forever to curling up and watching one. It’s also important to remember not to take it too seriously if you have a double race weekend. Have fun out there and take the pressure down a notch. It may be normal in our sport, but being able to finish two races back-to-back is pretty darn amazing!

That Which her Body and Mind is Capable


We were huddling on the still warm pavement, shivering and sopping wet, at the end of the Red Deer Hurricane Heat. We were cold, tired and hungry.

Three people pulled out the 500 word essay on “why we race” as we were asked to bring.

The first two essays were amazing.

The third warmed me the goose bumps right off of me.

It was written by a determined girl who struggled a bit but fought through with a smile and got it done.

And here’s what it said.

Why I Race by Olivia Greenham

My son Noah suffered a severe brain injury at birth. When he was 4 days old we found out that he was essentially “brain dead”. On Christmas Eve 2010, at 5 days old, we took him off life support and prepared to say goodbye.

He ended up pulling through and we took him home 5 days later.

He is now 4.5 years old, has severe cerebral palsy, and is wheelchair-bound and non-verbal.

After Noah was born I suffered from PPD and PTSD. I gained back all of the weight that I had lost from giving birth, plus 20 more pounds. I was a total of 60lbs over my pre-pregnancy weight by Noah’s second birthday. I was severely depressed and actively planning my suicide when I finally got the help that I needed. In 2013 I got a hold of my mental health and grew to accept myself and my body.

In January 2014 I weighed 250lbs. I decided that I was finally ready to do something about it, and Noah was my inspiration and motivation. He will never be able to walk, run, or do anything that a typical child would be able to do. I already have to be his voice… I have to be his arms and legs too. He is only going to get bigger and heavier, so I needed to get smaller and stronger.

I found Crossfit and that ignited a fire in me that led me to signing up for my first Spartan on a complete whim… the 2014 Edmonton Sprint. By all accounts I didn’t do very well, but I did something for ME, and the sense of accomplishment I felt jumping over that fire led me to setting a goal of doing 25 races by the time I turn 25.

Finding a love for fitness and racing has allowed me to deal with my depression in a positive and healthy way.

Throughout the last year and a half I’ve learned that I need to be “selfish” and do things that don’t revolve around being a mom. Noah helps me push harder when I want to give up, and he gives me the strength and purpose to even be alive today. When I struggle I think about seeing my baby in the NICU and all of the emotional pain I went through when we were told we would lose him. I know that I’ve already been through the absolute worst and most painful experience that I could go through…. Any physical pain is nothing in comparison. Noah has taught me to be thankful for the fact that I have a fully functioning body and mind.

The biggest reason why I race is because I deserve to treat myself and my health as the number one priority. I race for the sense of pride I have in myself when I cross that finish line, knowing that I can push my body to limits that I never thought possible.

“It’s a shame for a woman to grow old without ever seeing the strength and beauty of which her body is capable”

The Ottawa Super and UltraBeast

  

I was really hoping to get a double win this weekend in Ottawa: the Super and the UltraBeast. 

The Super started out up the side of the mountain on single track. Jostling for position was tricky and it ended up being a nice warm up. The obstacles and course were awesome with some fun combos like a herc hoist to rope climb. This is where I finally caught up to the lead, Judith, who runs like a gazelle.

After the rope, there was a series of switchbacks up the mountain at my favourite grade. Back at the bottom of the mountain was a heavy jerry can carry followed by a tractor pull (cement on a chain). 

The jerry can was unpleasant. It was the kind of weight you usually see in the states. 

I missed my spear but I had enough of a lead that it didn’t factor in. 

One down.

I had a lot more confidence going into the UltraBeast with my endurance background and felt almost no nerves Sunday. Plus, we had no kids. What a relaxed race morning that makes for.
When we showed up the registration line spanned across the parking lot and was not moving.

A few staffers informed us that there was a problem with the system and that no one would start until we were all through.

Well we waited, the announcer started, the tape was cut and the racers took off.

Crackerjacks.

No problem, the race was based on chip time today. We started in the next wave, 15 minutes back.

I reframed the late start as a bonus: if I caught anyone, I’d have them, unless they dropped me by more than 15 minutes. 

It made things confusing until I caught the last lady on the bonus “carry section” of the UB course. I checked my watch when she passed and again when I passed that same point. I was eight minutes “ahead.” 

After the carries and drags, and once I start to love life again (boy were they tough in the heat), someone yelled that I was two minutes behind the leader. 

Two minutes gun time or chip time? He was looking at a phone so I wasn’t sure.

We were running up a stream for the next obstacle (which was cold and devine) and I asked the cameraman how far she was. 30-45 seconds.

Gotcha.

She came off the monkey bars and was doing burpees when I passed her.

I loved the course. It was fun, had a lot of challenge and variety and was well marked. At the Super there was a fuzzy area but they rectified that 100% by the next morning. I love that about Spartan Eastern Canada. Problems solved. The one area I found confusing was the tire carry. We followed it just fine but weren’t certain we were hiking the right way until the end.

My favourite obstacle was the infinity bar combo. It was basically a swingy turning monkey bar spool to pipe alternating. Fun. 

They also had little change ups like a weaver pole and a double and then single sand bag carry from lap to lap. And only one carry lap. Thank heavens.

Just kept it fresh…

Part of distance racing is knowing yourself, and I know that I don’t like stopping. So my drop kit was a sandwich bag filled with various forms of sugar. 

I grabbed it and headed back out of the drop bag tent. A friend who is faster but has less experience at these crazy long races, finished his stop and hiked along side me for a bit. 

He had a long pit and saw no other females so it was nice to hear it confirmed that I moved into first. I was well hydrated and well fed.
I saw the girl who was originally in the lead coming up the mountain as I was coming down and was relieved to see that I had opened such a gap. We exchanged cheers and I picked up the pace.

From here it was a lot more easy running. I felt so good on the switchbacks… I was certain I was running sub 5 minute kilometers… although my GPS didn’t last the 8 hours until this point. 

At every obstacle I did they confirmed I was in the lead. Most people I passed said the same.

Not one person said I was in anything but first – until the finish line. 

I missed my spear and one of the media guys congratulated me on second. 

No first. 

No second. 

As it went…

Sorry to tell you but first place just passed through the finish line.

Most somber looking fire jump ever. I’m sure I looked like Eyore after watching Bambi’s mother die.

I thought I was having a stroke until person after person came up to either congratulate me on the win or tell me they saw me in the lead the whole final lap.

The next few ladies stumbled over the line with the same confusion and disbelief.

As it turned out, the girl who was originally in the lead on the first lap went off course and Rosie Ruiz’d it.

It was a bit of a crazy blow on an otherwise amazing race. I did more burpees than I should have. But the last lap particularly was so much fun. 

Thanks in no small part to the Mudd Queens and all the support and encouragement from various east coasters along the route. 
You guys are awesome and I’m going to miss you something fierce.

Who will yell, “Allison Tai, you f**king suck at running downhill!” as they blow past me… as the guy who once carried my arm warmers for an entire race when I dropped them does… every time. 

Who will make me love this sport for the sport itself and for the people drawn to it?

I have absolutely loved racing Nancy and Judith – and number one OCR athlete in the universe Claude. It’s like racing family.
And I will miss Milligan and the CMQ group dearly. Thanks for making me feel at home. 

I’m one lucky girl.

BattleFrog New England

 

 
It’s been a while since I’ve been afraid to not finish a race.

But when you’re racing as an elite at BattleFrog, it’s entirely plausible. And it’s kind of exciting.

At the start, they give you an elite band, which is taken away should you fail to complete any obstacle. And the obstacles are designed by navy seals to collect those bands.

What’s great about BattleFrog is that even though the obstacles are challenging for elites when completed solo, recreational athletes can still complete them with the help of others. Or they can take the 8-count-bodybuilder penalty.

On that note, sorry I yelled at you for touching my butt nice-guy-who-was-just-trying-to-help-me-over-the-wall. I’m fine with you touching my butt if I don’t get disqualified for it. Seriously.

Most of the obstacles were typical outside of being very well made and having little twists… like a slippery wall without the customary rope. They had walls of all heights and inclines, ropes, nets, latters, a crawl, a sternum checker, and a sandbag carry.

What really set the race off was a double jerry can early on that was long enough to blow your forearms just the right amount. On the second lap I was pleasantly surprised to find out we only had to carry one, so you could switch it back and forth.

For some, the second lap was surprising, in that elites had to do a second lap. 

On that note, sorry guy-who-thought-we-were-at-the-finish-when-we-were-only-halfway. Seriously. Damn. That is not a good kind of surprise. 

The rig (cage with stuff you had to swing across) was the real deal breaker for a good chunk of the elites.

The female’s side was a rope, low ring, two more ropes, a high ring, a fat square bar, two monkey bars with a large gap, a pipe, a low ring and two high rings.

The men’s was a fireman pole, two pipes, side traverse, ring, rope, fat square bar, two monkey bars with a wide gap, pipe and three high rings.

I came off the first two times but there wasn’t much of a line and thankfully I hopped back on quickly. The third time I skipped the pipe and grabbed the low ring at the end with my feet and made it through.

Fist pump.

At the rig on my next lap there was a small crowd of elites still on their first lap, determined to make it through. Now that my friends is true grit. Man, to be there when they finally nailed it…

My least favourite obstacle was the Tsunami. From the ground, it looked like a slide. From up top, it looked like a free fall. 

I dropped off the side, hanging from one set of finger tips. At that point I felt my free fall suspicion had been confirmed, but there was only one option outside of a one arm muscle up on my finger tips. I let go and before I knew it I had launched off the end and was skidding across the ground, shorts at once transformed into a thong and yet somehow ballooned up with mud.

The race had top notch obstacles, a great atmosphere and was well marked.

But the most striking part of my experience was the people. 
My dad had to fly home unexpectedly and as such, we had no one to watch the kids. When we got to the race, we were swiftly and happily sorted out. 

The volunteers were also extra amazing. They would instruct you clearly when you came up to an obstacle and then cheer you through. Even the photographers were cheering.

I can’t wait to race another BattleFrog, and to hopefully make it across that finish line with an elite band still strapped to my wrist again… mud wedgie and all.

Toronto Spartan Sprint and Super

  

After a sleepless red eye and several attempts at nighttime sleeping with a baby who is cutting molars (and who is not very good at sleeping in the best of occasions)… we knew this weekend was going to be one of those “pull-up-your-boots” and STFU kinda scenarios.

The Toronto Spartan courses are on a relatively small mountain. It is truly impressive how they deliver such a beat down – the climbing feels relentless at times. 

On Saturday I ran the Sprint event burpee free – after working out a new spear throw technique that has yet to fail me and getting a handle on the slack line (I call it running like hell for the bell). 

I was feeling kinda flat until I saw first place just around the lake… and a flat trail to get there. I opened up my stride and as soon as our shoulders aligned, it was on. 

There was a super mucky barb wire pit, where I failed to keep my hands dry (despite knowing the rig was around the corner). 

As soon as we stood up, we started pulling clumps of thick muck of our hands. The next major obstacle was drying our hands off: grass, shirt, head, bra, anything.

We ran up the final grass hill with our hands on the ground like dogs scooting their bums on the carpet.

April, first onto the final real obstacle – the rig, is a killer fit, talented and a local favourite. Guys from her team were gathering and yelling at her to drop me. Sadly, she rushed the rig and came off.

Hitting the bell at the end of the series of ropes, rings and square bars was awesome. A slippery wall and a fire jump and I had this thing in the bag.

Sometimes it’s just your day.

And other times, it’s not.

The next day was the Super, which is more than double the distance of a Sprint… so far more my thing.

I began the race at the back and started working my way through the pack, as I always hope to do. 

A few kilometers in there was a bottleneck at the super long monkey bar set. 

There was only one lane for ladies, with one racer hanging off the first rung and her feet still on the platform and another almost across but struggling.

“You’re up” – I pointed out.

No go.

She didn’t want to move until the woman in front had cleared them. Which was fair since it sucks hanging there waiting for the person in front to keep moving. But I figured since was most of the way across it would have taken a long enough time to get to her and by that time she would have come off or hit the bell.

So I asked if I could go and promised that I’d be off long before I could be in her way. But that didn’t work since then I’d be on the bars. 

I tried to do the males side but I couldn’t reach the bars. 

It was agony. I’ve never waited in line at a Spartan Race before. 

It was probably only a couple of minutes but it felt like hours. Days. An eternity.

Maybe I could have just touched the bars and taken burpees, maybe I could have jumped in front and side traversed on the pole to get past her. Both seemed like the wrong thing to do.

So I waited. 

And finally I went.

I spent a while trying to close the gap until I got lazy and focused on holding third.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I could have done to make the outcome of that situation better. You just do what you can with what you can control. It’s just how this sport goes.

I let myself have a few minutes of disappointment until I hosed off. And then I decided to let it wash away with the mud.

How to Run Better without Running

As a running and strength and conditioning coach, I often run into problems with poor lateral alignment and the profound effect that has on power, efficiency and injury.

I wanted to do a quick post elaborating on this rampant runner problem.

And I would know, because every photo of me post accident looks like I’m melting under my own body.

Worse that most, as I damaged the nerve that supplies my glute medius muscle (shown below) on the right side of my pelvis (along with snapping the inner thigh muscles off the pelvis on the same side to make things extra flimsy).

It was like kicking a leg out and expecting the table to stand upright when pounding on it with a sack of hammers.

glute med

Thankfully, I am looking a lot straighter now. And I feel like I owe a big debt of gratitude to strength and conditioning.

good hip

I’ve done my fair share of monster walks, clamshells and lateral leg raises – exercises that traditionally target the glute med. But really, I feel the biggest leap forward was made using the humble squat.

A great many people start out squatting with their knees collapsing in. If you look closely you can see her knees crying. You can also see her feet collapsing inward or “over-pronating”. Any of you runners feeling a little “ah-ha”?

suqat

This pattern is even more pronounced in the one-leg squat patterned, AKA running. And with half the unstable support missing, the pelvis drops noticeably on the unsupported side, causing shear forces on the lower back and pelvis. Gross.

If you’re one that suffers from IT band issues, you might have this going on. Just imagine how much pressure gets put on the outside of your leg (including the wee TFL muscle that holds down part of the top of the band on the outside of your hip).

hip drop

I think in order to learn to fire this small but indispensable little muscle, you need to do the isolated exercises.

But then you need to take it into your big movement patterns: squats, stairs, hiking, running. Pelvis straight, knees over toes. It just might make all the difference in your running efficiency and freedom from injury.

Every movement in your day contributes to your movement pattern and how your muscles need to support your structure and activities. Make em count.

The Vancouver Spartan Sprint 

 

There are many good things about a hometown race. 

 First off, you know the terrain… so you can fly on in. Second, people know you and cheer using your name. Some people: some people yell “Go Ellie” but whatever… good enough. Third, you just might have a babysitter and be able to race your significant other for the first time ever.

I had the flu Thursday so ended up spending the day in bed… which may have actually helped. Resting is not easy for me. But I guess I showed up rested care of feeling intensely dizzy every time I stood up.

My husband has also been sleeping with the baby – and I’ve been sleeping with ear plugs. Which is an awesome arrangement for me.

I showed up ready to run the downhills fast and it was perfect having my husband and #1 training partner to chase on the decents. The course was hilly, rocky and a bit technical but nothing like the frightening leg breakers often featured in Spartan races. I’m looking at you Mont Tremblant. 

Perspective right?

I think running the drops quick really helped me out since I ended up doing 60 burpees (balance and spear).

The spear led the final cluster of obstacles and I was just finishing my burpees when the mighty Faye Stenning and Michelle Ford rolled in. Good news for me, they both missed too and I was able to make my way to the finish without being hunted down in the final few hundred meters.

These are not ladies you want chasing you into the finish area.

I was a little worried about my choice of wardrobe: capris. But my outfit was a new line I tried from Virus Athletics that cools your skin. It felt instantly cool when I put it on but I wasn’t sure how it would respond on the side of a mountain in the sun. It was awesome. Like wearing a wet towel and yet nothing at all – and especially cool when it gets wet (hello, mud pit of wet). It also feels seamless and like silk. I’m pretty sure everyone’s going to end up wearing this stuff.

3 Tips for Pre-Race OCR Handcare


As an ultramarathoner, I am totally bound by my PreRace foot care routine. Having suffered from blisters, lost toe nails and dealt with hot spots… I have certainly learned the hardway when it comes to the meticulous pre-race preparation of my feet.

As an obstacle course racer, my hands don’t look much different from my feet. And I’ve found a similar strategy works.

1. About a week out, be extra careful not to wear shoes that will potentially rub or do anything else that might jeopardize the condition of your feet. Do the same with your hands. If they feel hot or sore, wear gloves. Also avoid anything that chews them up like hard ropes or sticky bars.

2. Trim nails and moisturize a few days out. You don’t want soft slickly moisturized feet going into a long race, but you especially don’t want soft slickly moisturized hands going into an obstacle race. If you need to apply moisturizer or oil (or sunscreen!) try to use gloves or wash it off but good. It makes you look like a totally creep-o but that’s better than looking like a total chump-o doing burpees at the monkey bars with suave hands.

3. Shave callases off. After I cut my toenails, I take one a callus razor and carefully shave all the calluses on my feet off. I do the same on my hands… and I haven’t torn a callus off post-shave since.

I like to do this after a hot bath when my skin is soft. I wouldn’t suggest doing this one the first time right before a race though. Try it a few times in training to make sure you’ve got it right.

As with feet you have to find something that works well for you and stick with it. You can probably finish a race with chewed down hands but you don’t have to!

I’d love to hear your tips – please comment below.