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.

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.

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.

On coming second at the World’s Toughest Mudder

WELCOME TO LAS VEGAS

vegas

The course was beautiful. It was staged in a hilly patch of desert bordering a high-end golf resort.

On one side you have this pristine green turf with palm trees and man-made waterfalls. On the other, just a whole lot of sand. Gorgeous in it’s own right but barren and without comforts.

People on one side drive around in golf carts and wear pressed pants. People on the other…  well, let’s just say you probably don’t want to know what they do in their pants.

Humans are a funny creature funny: some driven to the limits of pain and discomfort… some to pleasure and security.

Anyway, I liked looking over at the extravagence on the other side of the hill when I could see it. It was like a mirage.

THE WORLD’S TOUGHEST MUDDER

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Tough Mudder is all about camaraderie and team work. And I could not have done this without my team. Everyone was so impressed by John taking such amazing care of the kids and I throughout the 26 hours… totally selflessly. What they didn’t see are the days leading up to and after of packing and setting up and down camp, cleaning equipment, fetching me food, giving me massages, taking photos, etc.

At a low point, 8 hours in when the night came upon us and I realized that I still had 16+ hours to keep running and Seren was crying, John said exactly what I needed him to. “We are going to finish this. I don’t care if you slow down or break, but we are not stopping.”

Those words resonated with me for a long time. This was just as much his race as mine. I needed to hear that.

And how good are my girls? Wow. We are very lucky parents to have kids that will cheer for mommy in the desert for 26 hours. Seren only cried twice when she saw me and quickly settled – and Ama spent most of the time patiently waiting in the stroller.

Not to even mention all the people who put their own goals aside to help me over obstacles on the course… and all the volunteers who freezed their butts off to cheer for us and keep us safe. The people in the med tent felt like family by the end of the night.

I also had huge support from friends, family and the OCR community (like the Canadian Mudd Queens) which really got me through.

Truly a team effort.

THE COURSE

course

I loved the terrain. It was just hilly enough to give you some hike breaks but not so much as to really put the hurt on your legs. It was also just technical enough to keep your brain running.

THE START

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Sean Corvelle started things off with his usual rousing speech asking when the first time you’ve done something for the first time. Turns out there were a lot of first times coming up.

He went into his stories of bigger things, tougher times, stronger people. Cancer survivors and people that struggled but didn’t make it. I was glad to be wearing the promotional spare sunglasses I found in my car. All I could do was keep it together enough not to start sobbing. A good friend of mine was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer and those words drove right through me.

SOGGY BOTTOM

The first obstacle was your basic mud pit… no soggy bottoms – just soggy feet.

TIGHT FIT

Tight Fit is essentially a cargo net with big holes in it strung tightly over rows of tractor tires. It’s not hard but it does suck and it’s exhausting trying to untangle your way through.

MUD MILE, RUN, HIT THE WALLS

There was a mud mile (where you run through mud pits and up over mounds) to a nice little run section into the walls. The first wall was probably 8 feet and the next 10. The last wall was probably 12′ with a rope. Like Everest, the first laps were a breeze but they got hard in a hurry as they got coated with mud and I got tired. My grip felt OK the whole way through… my arms weren’t crampy… I was just pooped.

I also put a pair of Hokas a size too big on (to accommodate both swollen feet and neoprene socks), which made the walls a big challenge.

On my last lap, I made the first wall solo and then was having trouble mustering up the oomph to make the second. Here I met a group of guys from Wisconsin who pulled me (literally and metaphorically) through the rest of the course.

THE WEIGH IN

bucket

You get a 5 gallon bucket and fill it with sand, gravel or water to a prescribed weight. You walk it around the track and they weigh it. Depending on how much you had to carry, you can be off by 3, 4 or lbs. If you’re wrong, you go again until you’re right.

I failed a total of twice in my 14 laps. On the first one… and then again from splashing too much water out as I walked later on.

It was neat because nearing the end of the event, people would weigh their buckets and show the people filling theirs what the correct amount should look like. Camaraderie sure feels good. It’s what humans are meant for: that and movement.

THE BIRTH CANAL

This was a long wooden channel, covered in a tarp that was filled with pink water (eww). You have to smush yourself into the side and pull yourself through using the support beams. It’s super tight where all the water collects in the middle. I don’t know how those big dudes made it through! For me, it went down something like this: not so bad, not so bad, not so bad, lodged into the middle, organs are crushed, not so bad, not so bad, not so bad. Wonder if that really is how babies feel in child birth.

UNDERWATER TUNNELS

They had three lines of barrels that you have to swim under. I found it worked best to tuck my chin in (to prevent water from getting in – people tend to want to look up but then they get a nose full of water) – and use both hands on the barrel to pull myself under.

EVEREST

everest

I was loving Everest the first few laps and could easily do it alone. By the end of the night though, it was so hard to sprint like that and then muscle up. On one go, I missed and slid back down so I did the penalty of dragging a boulder on a pallet out and back. The friction and weigh of it was super tough so I was always glad when someone would help me.

It’s just so humbling and makes you so deeply grateful when someone helps haul your tired arse onto a platform. I wish I could better express that… but thanks mudders. I owe you one.

If someone doubts the nature of humankind, send them out on a Tough Mudder course and they will return a changed person. I swear it.

THE GRAPPLER

I should have taken those roping lessons. You had to throw a rope attached to a ball about 20′ up and then repell up to throw the rope back down. I was useless at this and took the penalty after three laps of hitting everything but the target: an over-under-through wall. Not so bad.

ABSEIL

rope

This was cool. It was also just after the 2.5 mile aid station so I was usually still choking down a bar when I got to it and I could finish eating while i descended. Basically you repelled down a cliff with a rope.

TUBES

There were three sets of tubes including the Sewage Pipe that you had to pull yourself through with your arms along the course. That made 42 times I pulled myself through tubes yesterday. Funny, my abs were getting sore from lifting my head off of the ground. At the end, some of the ropes fell off so I would just plow through my forearms.

THE LIBERATOR

I loved this one at first… it was a wall with holes you climb with pegs. At first it wasn’t tough and I just scampered right up. It definitely got tougher with every lap! Plus some of the pegs were too skinny or too fat to get in properly and it got pretty slick.

ISLAND HOPPING

There were two types: one where the floating cargo boxes were attached along the sides, and one where they were all attached by netting. I took little steps to recenter and then leapt from box to box. I think the trick is to go slow enough to stay in control but quick enough to be responsive and stay upright.

STATUE OF LIBERTY

This one was almost relaxing but it was only open at night.

They gave you a torch that you had to carry across a body of water without letting it go out. The first time my torch lit on fire and the canister fell out but I still managed to keep the wicker lit.

I got two laps in before it closed when the wind charged in.


HUMP CHUCK

I enjoyed this one. You swam across a lake and then had to work with fellow mudders to get up and over a slippery wall.

This was one of those that got more tiring. After the sand storm, the course got very very lonely – and cold.  Still only a couple times I ended up alone and swam the penalty route.

It was cold though. At one point, I heard the diver quitting during the coldest part of the night, “Just give them PFDs or something!” Not sure if he actually left…

On that note, I couldn’t believe the volunteers stayed out there in those conditions. The true selfless heroes out there.

THIS COULD HURT

latter

The Latter to Hell is a fairly easy obstacle but one that I realized could hurt A LOT if your grip gave on you at the top. After falling off the incline wall in Dallas with frozen crampy arms, it was definitely on my mind. They had you cut through the middle during the sandstorm so nobody would die I guess.

The volunteer there was amazing. She offered free hugs to cold, soaked people all night. I didn’t take one physically every lap but i always got an emotional hug from her.

THE GAMBLE

You could actually get through the whole course with no shocks or penalty! You went to a table, rolled a dice and then either got a “walk-thru” (in the mud of course) or had to crawl through a pit of water and live wires or do the penalty. The penalty was a crawl uphill through sharp rocks and low hanging barbed wire. I did it twice… and both times it sucked.

SWINGERS

swingers

Not my favourite (and kinda my favourite) obstacle. Basically you leap off of a platform like 15′ above water to a trapeze and swing across it to let go and ring a bell. This requires timing and bravery… two things that I have not got scads of. First off, the trapeze looked just a little too far. I was surprised each time when I made it easily.

Just when I got into the swing of kicking the bell before bombing into the water, they changed the rules to hands only on the bell. I never could get it hands only: my timing was always off.

For whatever reason it started off open during the night time rules but they closed it when the sand storm started. A girl and I high-fived when we heard the words “closed indefinitely”.

In the morning it reopened as Walk The Plank, where you just jump off  into the water. I hadn’t nursed Seren since I started getting hypothermic so that was an uncomfortable fall. That and the rolling over the top of walls was pretty ouchy.

Here’s a litte video of one of the TMHQ staffers trying it…

PENALTY LAPS

brick

I guess last year they didn’t have penalties for all the obstacles so people were just skipping things like the monkey bars in which it’s faster or more efficient to swim across. This year they had penalties for everything you failed outside of the “must-do” obstacles. Usually the penalties were an extra swim/run, a run lap, or cinderblock carry. The worst by far was The Cliff penalty – which probably nailed on a good ten minutes, and I would know too, since I did it so many times. More on that later…

GRABBIN’ SHAFT

monkeybars

This one was super hard but super redeeming when I finally got it. You had to go across a set of monkey bars then grab a trapeze, swing across and traverse down a single hanging pole. My initial plan was to side traverse the pole but I was having trouble getting far enough via trapeze to grab the pole. I finally figured out that I could grab the side pole with my feet and traverse across that way. This got exhausting quick through and after a few laps I started just taking the penalty.

This is also the point where people started recognizing me (I guess from my name on the leader board) and a group of ladies really pumped me up as I jogged past.

Some time in the night, Ryan Atkins (who’s won WTM two years in a row and is now a legend) was coming up behind me. He asked if I was “Allison Tai”. I asked if he was “Ryan Atkins” on the sound of his voice alone (I’ve seen too many interviews I guess). That was pretty cool and kept me going strong for a couple laps.

SEWAGE OUTLET

tubes

This was the next combination obstacle: a barb wire crawl to tubes that dropped out into the water. When I got to the top, I rolled into a ball and flipped around to drop out feet first. I guess this was not how most people do it. Those poor guys who kept peeping out of their tunnels to see me sitting there feet first. Sometimes it pays to be small!

Here’s what it looks like during the sandstorm…

THE OLD SWITCHEROO

tube

THE SUN WILL COME OUT, TOMORROW… TOMORROW

dark

The night was really long: from 5pm to 6am. 13 hours of darkness, cold and sandstorms. I humoured myself by singing this song to myself for a couple hours. John wetsuited me up and tried to encourage me to keep as warm as possible, but they replaced the cliff jump with a big hill at beginning so I didn’t want to overheat. Apparently that would not be a problem.

Ama got cold so they headed back to the hotel and me for another lap.

I was fine in the beginning but after a few dunks in the lake and the wind exposure out of the water, I was frozen.

Halfway through the lap a volunteer gave me her emergency blanket. What an angel.

Even with the blanket, I was seriously considering calling it. I realized though that I just had to make it another mile or so (with a few more dunks in the way) to the med tent, where I could warm up and keep my 65 miles.

It was tough but I soldiered on.

By the time I got there I was an absolute mess. I could barely communicate and was convulsing. I guess the 3/4mm wetsuit top wasn’t such a good idea. I spent 29 minutes in the med tent by the heater (which didn’t feel hot) with the amazing med tent people. They kicked me out at 30 minutes or I would have DNF’d as per the rules.

i wandered around tent city, tried to find my jacket and then collapsed under two winter sleeping bags. The fly was down and the inside of the tent was coated with sand. Outside lay the wreckage that was tent city at 5am… like a tornado had been through it. I just layer there shivering using Ama’s etch-a-sketch as a pillow until the sun came up.

It took everything I had but I figured that the sun had to warm me up… and given my still convulsing violently state, the tent was not clearly not helping.

Onwards.

I walked the next lap clutching the now very torn tin foil blanket … swimming with it around my neck, dragging it behind me as I crawled, and climbing with it in my mouth. I felt like little Lionel from the Peanuts meets Gladiator.

I was ecstatic when I saw John pull up as you can clearly see in the following picture.

I spent another long time with John in the med tent before deciding on another lap (if you head out before 9:45am you can officially do another lap if it takes less than 2 hours). John was worried about sending me out in my current state and was adamant that I didn’t go back out. I was more adamant though… and off I went

This is where I met those lovely fellows from Wisconsin who were happy to death march it with me.

KILL ME NOW

kill me now

OK, maybe I don’t look ecstatic.

IT WAS A WET ONE

water

There was a lot of water… which was super nice in the daytime. But as soon as it got cold (and it got really cold), the frequent and interspersed water dunks combined with the chilling wind were a fierce combination. To recap, I learned that…

REPEATEDLY SUBMERGING IN WATER + FREEZING WIND = HYPOTHERMIA

WORLD’S SOFTEST MUDDER

cliff

Nobody asks, “How was the race?”

No… they want to know how The Cliff was. And I couldn’t tell you. I got up there, after nights of lost sleep over this bad boy and wussed out. I tried all the tapping and breathing and singing techniques. Nothing. I walk back and forth on the plank for about ten minutes and then decided that I wasn’t likely going to be conscious when I hit the water which would make the rest of the race difficult at best.

I’ve had the PTSD attacks under control for years now and I didn’t want them to come back. I took the penalty each lap… which was a run to two fairly long swims and then another run back up. I tried to enjoy them as much as possible and made peace with them being my “rest zone” to replace any extra pit rest.

I’m glad they made the penalty big for this one. I’m sure it drove more people to reach outside their comfort zone and take it on.

THE PODIUM

world's toughest mudder

I met Amelia Boone again! She’s so much larger than life for all us OCR fans. Plus, she’s a really amazing and humble person. I also had the pleasure to meet the killer 100 miler, Freyah Bartuska, who was probably my biggest competition but also one of my biggest cheer leaders.

Thanks Tough Mudder for an awesome event… and congratulations to everyone who took this crazy event on at my side. I love you all.

That crazy cliff Jump at World’s Toughest Mudder

wrong

It appears that this year at WTM, the biggest obstacle of fear and concern may be a 38′ cliff jump. This isn’t a tube that plays on fear of confinement or a slide that plays on fear of loss of control. The fear cliff jumping generates is rational. There is indeed real danger in throwing yourself off of such a high cliff.

You get a sense for that on Tough Mudder’s Walk the Plank – and it stands only 12-15′ high.

I thought I’d share with you the mental checklist that I put together for myself when approaching and executing the jump…

Stand tall, feet together, knees flexed and soft. Visualize the jump going perfectly and hitting the water absolutely perpendicular without over-thinking things.

Pull arms down and back – then up and overhead as you jump forward as in a standing broad jump.

Make sure you commit once you commit. Hesitation is bad news bears. On that note, even if you have a less than perfect take off, stay the course, there is absolutely no bailing and you’ll probably have enough time to readjust.

Leap out and make yourself as straight as possible from toes to head (like a sword into the water)… point your toes hard. Arms overhead, grasp one fist in the opposite hand or nail arms to sides and point fingers.

Do not fudge it up. A 20′ jump means hitting the water at 25 MPH / 40 KPH.

And the cliff at World’s Toughest looks significantly bigger than that.

Stay tight when you hit the water, but body is fully submerged: arch back and stretch arms and legs out like a parachute to prevent rocketing to the bottom. Blow air out of nose continuously. Do not try to plug nose, as your arm will only get ripped away from your face and probably hurt a lot.

Any there pointers or disputes on technique? Please feel free to leave them below. I am certainly no expert on this and would love any feedback.

Sacramento Super, Triple Crown Race

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The Sacramento Super is the first Spartan age group championship and part of what they call “The Triple Crown”. The crown is made up of the Spartan World Championship Beast in Vernont, the Super in either South Carolina or in Sacramento, and the team championship in Texas.

One of the things I love about racing in the states is meeting the larger than life “OCR celebrities”. The best part of today was definitely keeping up with them.

The race started fast and uphill into a couple sets of over-unders and over-under-throughs, as per usual. Also as per usual, I was trying my darnedest to keep up with the fast off the gun pace.

Over the next mile, I somehow caught up and found myself in the “Rose chase pack” with Chikorita and TyAnn Clarke. Both hugely talented pro OCR racers.

Just to give you an idea of how tough these ladies are, TyAnn once gave herself a staph infection trying to aggressively massage out rhabdo. She’s also got two young kids and balances a career as an elite athlete with being an awesome mother.

I “raced” Rose in Washington in August and lost her after the first big climb, so I was happy to see her bouncy little pony tail and picture perfect stride just ahead.

The first real obstacle was a water pool to an inverted wall, which was neat cause you lost some jump and needed more muscling up.

Next came the log hop, where I actually pulled ahead just by running across. I used to fall over looking at anything requiring balance, so I guess all that walking around on a pole stuff worked.

At this point, I pulled into second but couldn’t see Rose – or any of the back of the pack elite males. I was on my own for way finding. Never good. Never good.

Coming back through the festival area totally spun me and I ran right past the monkey bars. To make things worse, when I got back around I saw that they were the infamous thick-bar up/down set from Vermont… which I failed. Of course, failure is what makes success sweet – so I was extra stoked to make it this time.

Those bars added some challenge to the rope climb and extra slick traverse wall that followed, but no burpees!

And then I went off track. Again. John was yelling for me to go straight and I was looking up at the hill ahead of me, instead of his straight… my right. Sigh.

The next obstacle was these huge tree trunks that you had to leap from to grab a higher one. I failed it without much glamour. Just slid off and resigned to the burpee mass.

I managed to catch up to the mighty TyAnn some time around the 7′ wall. I used to struggle a bit with the timing to jump and catch… but all that home practice sure paid off.

Then came the cords-tied-to-trees-like-those-lasers-in-Mission-Impossible-obstacle. Not challenging, just weird.

The spear throw was on a string again. I’m thinking they started doing this to prevent volunteers from having to run to retrieve the spears (which indeed seems a wee bit risky) and to give all competitors the opportunity for a clean shot into an empty bale. I noticed TyAnn throw the rope over the barricade so it wouldn’t wrap around anywhere. I did that too, and my rope didn’t tangle… but, it also didn’t go in. This is where I said figuratively said goodbye to Ty and did my 30 burpees.

I like to roll through mud pits – and this one was a roller. A long downhill pit, unimpeded by bumps or straw bales. I’m pretty sure those devils at Spartan planned it that way to laugh at us as we drunkinly try to run after rolling for several minutes. The mucky, lumpy transition into the water obstacle was challenging. I know from salsa dancing that you should “mark” where you’re going and turn your head to keep your eyes focused on the end when you spin. I also find blinking and bouncing on your heels to help regain your sense of up. It helped but boy was I dizzy. Someday they’ll plan a spear throw out of one of those. Or maybe their insurance won’t allow it.

The water obstacle was shallow for wading on the left and deep for swimming on the right. I chose to wade but swimming would probably have been faster… the muck at the bottom must have been a foot deep.

Then came an 8′ wall, pancake sandbag carry, tire flip, tractor pull, and bucket brigade. All relatively tame after the beasts in Vermont and Sun Peaks.

After the big cargo net, came a tractor tire drag uphill. I couldn’t budge the thing even using the peg that held the rope for leverage. Burpees that close to the finish line are the worst type.

The herc hoist was also especially heavy. I was also a bit rattled because I ran up to a rope wrapped with pink tape (which usually means it’s a woman’s rope) but was shuttled around the backend to a “red bag”. The volunteer at the station was awesome though. He pointed out which one to grab and then cheered me through it.

The last obstacles were a dunk wall to a very slippery slippery-wall. I usually just grab the top but I threw a leg over just to be sure today. Watching for John coming in later, I saw countless hyped up dudes try to sprint it and fall right on their faces to an accompanying “eeeeee” of them sliding back down the wall. Ouch on so many accounts.

Man, is it just me or does the fire jump just keeping getting bigger? Pretty soon they’re going to light picnic tables on fire 😉

I feel like there is room for improvement in today’s performance for sure (read as: spear throw and make more muscles) but I can also see the progress. Which is a good feeling. It’s special mix of progress and room for improvement that make hope.

Plus, with the age group championship even though I missed the elite podium, I still won my age group!

That being said, probably only half the people stayed to collect their prizes, which probably means the age group awards could have been better communicated.

Warrior Dash World Championship preview

That was a first. A course walk through at a major OCR event.

If anyone was going to do it, I’m not surprised Warrior Dash did.

They’re like a hip version of your crazy uncle Larry. Complete with wrecking of beer and being all about cheesy hats.

Warrior Dash really seems to go it’s own path… undaunted by the choices of it’s big brothers, Tough Mudder and Spartan Race.

And It was my very first OCR.

To be honest, initially, I didn’t love Warrior Dash. Then again, I don’t love being repeatedly sprayed in the face with cold water. But now that I’ve been dunked in ice, carried impossibly heavy things, and raked my knees and elbows over razor sharp rocks in the cold muck, being sprayed in the face just don’t seem so bad. Go ahead uncle Larry, one more noggie…

In fact, I’ve really started to like what Warrior Dash is doing.

1. Achievable obstacles. Ok, I know. But not only are they beginner friendly… you can crush the course really fast, which is fun.

2, No spectator fees. Spectator fees are greedy and good for no one. Really? People have to pay to get up at some ungodly hour, drive to some ungodly place, pay some ungodly amount to park in a cow field, and stand in some very probably ungodly weather – for the privilege of waiting somewhere between half an hour and 24 hours to clap for me as I charge through the finish line, unable to recognize then or anyone else. Thanks Warrior Dash for making the right choice and charging the racers. Spectators should get hugs and free coffee.

3. They seem to play nice with the others. In fact, I think they were one of the few to embrace the nonpartisan OCRWC.

Back to the walk through.

The course was well marked and a good mix of flat and runnable – and steep and crawlable.

To start things off, there was a flat section leading into a big old never-ending style climb to get you through the first mile.

The elite course charges right up the side of the mountain after descending. It looked like the open course had a flatter track back to rejoin.

I’ll write about the obstacles in more detail in my race post. They are pretty standard fare and even posted with video links on their website.

Looks like it’s going to be a fun event and very well put on. Plus the swag bags had a technical tee, a technical thick long sleeve, a hoodie, a bag and no junk!

Pretty sweet so far and it’s not even race day.

How to carry a sandbag

You might think this post is akin to a “Learn to Walk” program. As in: obvious.

Step 1: Pick it up
Step 2: Carry it

As those of us who raced in the 2014 Vermont Spartan World Championship Beast realized, there’s a little more to it. If you are in the OCR community, you probably saw your Facebook feed blow up with horror stories about just how terrible this obstacle was. Indeed, it really “made” the race. Elite women had to carry one 60 or so pound sandbag up, elite men had to carry TWO. Yeah. That crazy course designer Norm, and his crazy ideas.

Number one, I suggest you carry big old sandbags up and down mountains in training. But here are a few tips to help you make carrying the least effort (and back ache possible).

1. Practice proper sandbag clean form. If you only have one to carry, you’ll want to balance it on one or both shoulders. Of course, to carry it on your shoulders, you’ll need to get to your shoulders from the ground. Often easier said than done. In the video below, you’ll notice that I “lap” it or put it on my lap before throwing it up and getting under it on my shoulder. You’ll also notice that I throw it too far back and almost over my shoulder. You want it to land balanced so you don’t need to readjust. Good bad example hey?

2. Once it’s up there, do not set it down unless you have to. The hardest part (and biggest risk) comes from setting it down and cleaning it back up. On that note, before you pick it up or set it down, get as tight in your core and keep your spine neutral (do not hunch your back to lift or drop it). That being said, there are no penalties (outside of extra time) from setting the bag down. You are also permitted to drag it or carry it in your arms (which has been done successfully). You are not, however, allowed to let it roll downhill.

3. Keep your back flat as you walk with your abs in and try not to side bend excessively. You’re hoping someone could see you from far away and not see that your carrying a frick load of sand in a giant bag.

4. Step carefully if the bag is heavy. You might get away running downhill with the pancake sandbags but you’re not doing that with a big bad heavy-weight on your neck. On that note, keep a brisk steady pace… the sooner you’re done, the sooner you’re done!

5. Balance the bag but move it a bit. Little adjustments go a long way. I put it on one shoulder, then both (you have to look down to make this position comfortable), then a little more on the other. You get the picture. Just don’t make big adjustments that are likely to throw you off or ones that require you to grip the bag. You want it to rest on your shoulders. Even if your grip doesn’t feel tired at the time, you’ll want to save it for the obstacles to come (like rope climbs and monkey bars.)

6. When you’re racing, pick a good bag… even if it takes an extra second. The ones at the top of the pile will be easier to get but if it’s been raining out, they will probably have picked up some water weight. And if you’re wondering why there are two styles of bags, there will probably be ladies bags and mens bags so ask the volunteers if you’re unsure. Some times they’re pink… which makes things easy.

7. In Spartan Races, you cannot choose penalty burpees. You must complete this obstacle to finish. So get it done and get a move on.

Sandbag carry training:

Some more tips from a heaving sweaty person on a mountain:

Pacific NW Spartan Race report – running with wolves

In my last race, the Seattle Warrior Dash, I was so calm it was freaky… but this race just freaked me out.

Climbing into the same starting pen as Amelia Boone and Rose Wetzel-Sinnett is scary. Although I’m not sure why. Both are lovely people.

The men’s elite heat took longer than they imagined and consequently, the ladies elite heat was stalled 7 long 7-minute-plank kind of minutes.

I am glad they announced as such so that I could run to the porta-potty for about 5 extra last minute pees. Copious amounts of pre-race piddles are nothing new to me. So much so, that I incorporate them into my warmup. Jog there, dynamic stretches in the cue, drills back. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

On the way back I hear one of the elite males complaining about a snag on course, to which Joe Desena (yes THE Joe Desena) replies, “you have two legs and are still alive. You were a beast out there. Never mind anything else.”

I plan to test this response in a variety of perhaps otherwise uncomfortable situations. Fender bender? Hey buddy, “you have two legs and are still alive. Plus, you’re a beast behind the wheel. Never mind this.”

Late on a work proposal? Surgery didn’t go quite like you wanted? This might work for you too. I already tried it no less than five times on my husband John.

Anyways…

I was stoked to finally climb into the starting pen with a whole bunch of air-brushed looking lady beasts with unreal looking muscles and perfect skin.

I managed to not have a heart attack and groaned to a start on one of many very long very steep hills that I would be climbing today. I managed to stay within touching distance of Rose and Amelia – which was what dreams are made of.

At the very top of the big hill were some well-placed hurdles. Normally no big thing and more of a warmup obstacle, they hurt a little in my soul since I was currently hunched over and entirely out of air.

I’m pretty sure the same evil genius placed the tire flip – halfway up a steep hill on a plateau. Four tire flips. NBC was there filming and later told me they loved that I made such a hearty tire flipping grunt. Apparently, I will not be on TV for my athletic prowess, but perhaps instead for my embellishment of work effort.

The inverted wall was welcome respite from the battering hills. As was the lattice bridge (a plank latter and bridge across the top of the rope climb).

Having lodged myself in a pit several weeks back at Warrior Dash, I was happy to be chasing people who successful ran through the rolling mud pits. OK, good, we run.

I decided not to fly recklessly across the traverse wall today and did no burpees. I also only hit every second foothold (and only the flat ones). It took longer but not as long as 30 burpees would. It did cause me to fall back from the little pack battling for the last podium spot but top ten was my goal and I thought I’d better not get too ahead of myself.

I was feeling fine until I hit a very large, very limp cargo net. Joe Desena was there with some people he was torturing, along with a bunch of volunteers. It was super hard getting over the top with the looseness. I’m certainly glad there were no NBC guys there…. but I think I saw Joe Desena shake his head. And I’m pretty sure the detainees were laughing inside somewhere behind their teary bewildered eyes.

Awesome Vancouver based OCR star, Michelle Ford, well aware of my inabililty to make tactical obstacle based race decisions, gave me a fantastic bit of advice that stayed with me throughout the race.

”If you come across a choose-your-own-adventure style obstacle, chose the shortest option.”

The 8 foot wall was easier than most… they let the elite ladies use the foot boards… normally I’d have just muscled over it… but today was all about choosing the path of least resistance. Footboards it is.

This was the first time I’ve done the Herculeus Hoist in a race. I knew to throw my hips down and lean back into it, but in the first few pulls I was still using only my back and arms. I soon got into a rhythm of driving my hips up and down to make it easier.

Next came the bucket carry. Coming back down the hill, I peered into my bucket of rocks to see my ID card. Evidentially, it fell out of my top where I shoved it after registration. I found a pocket on my shorts to keep it safe. That was lucky.

I passed the great Tiffanie Novokavich on a flat section and led our two lady pack into the technical trail. I was feeling pretty awesome flying along – even on the rocky cliffy bit. Until, that is, I realized that I had led us off course. Tiffanie and I did some way finding (OK she found the trail and I followed her).

The next obstacle was officially my new least favourite thing ever. You drag a big concrete block attached to a chain up and down a trail with ruts dug out just big enough to grab a hold of the block, forcing you to heave it out in slippery uphill muck.

Tiffanie was just ahead of me on the slip n’ slide. I was hoping this would be mud and not slide when I saw the course map. It was indeed slide. I manned up and threw myself down shortly after she launched off. At some point I realized that I no longer wanted to be on the slide. However, this was on the slide. Probably at the same point when Tiffanie seemed to realize that this was a super-sonic slide and that she was going way too fast. She plummeted into the water on her back, legs and arms up and skidded across like a rock. I made a half ass attempt to pitch myself off the side of the slide and then spent the rest of my terror filled ride trying to slow myself with my feet or dig my nails in. Neither worked but I did peal back two of my nails so it was not for lack of trying.

Flash back to age ten or so when my father finally got fed up of my fear of waterslides and forcefully threw me into a tube slide. When I plunged into the pool below, my mom, waiting at the bottom, waved the lifeguards off, “she’s a great swimmer.”

However, there was no swim in my lifeless body – so my mom let the lifeguards drag me out.

Today, thankfully, I managed to swim across to the shore – only then realizing that I could have walked. I was also making some sort of woofing sound that may have been a panic attack.

Still barking like a Saint Bernard, I jogged off. I was pretty resolve to enjoy the rest of the race at this point and let any illusions of a strong finish slip away in the mud. Tiffanie was heading up the sandbag carry and 8th place was just plunging into the pool of horrors somewhere back. Why not slow down a little and take in the scenes?

I hauled a sandbag onto my shoulder and heaved up the hill, TV camera in my face the whole time. Thankfully by the time the camera caught up, the barking had stopped and I had settled into a reasonable pace.

The barbed wire crawl was the longest I have ever seen. It was also up a very steep hill. I stayed on my knees, digging my fingers and shoes in with each stride until I had to push-pull crawl underneath the wire. My shirt and shorts kept on snagging and I actually thought to myself, “I wish I wasn’t wearing a shirt because skin would not get caught in the wire.” My goodness. The things athletes feel to be reasonable thoughts. Later, I saw the war wounds of my fellow Spartans as they compared patterns at the finish line. Maybe the shirt can stay.

The higher you got up the hill, the more slippery things got. Just as I thought I might slide all the way back down, a rope appeared. I wanted to kiss it but it was really gross.

Onwards.

I was stoked to have no problems with any sliding at the top of the rope climb – and to finally see the finish.

Of course, in between me and the finish was the spear throw, and most probably 30 burpees.

Yep, 30 burpees.

Nothing gets more heated than a discussion about Spartan burpees. And nothing makes me crazier than obsessing over the rules in terms of how they should be done. In the elite heat at bigger races like this, they film you and have a guy just standing there analyzing them. You need to touch your chest to the ground and your feet need to leave the floor. As far as I can tell, you do not need to do full hip extension or bring your arms up. If you watch the Spartan burpee demo video, they talk about hip extension, but the rules in a race are a different story though.

So I asked the guy and he said it was chest down, feet leave. I do feel like we as an OCR community we need clarity that… how much hip extension and how do we measure it?

The slip wall led to a muddy bank and into deep water. There was a high wall placed about half way. I was trying to figure out how one makes it over said wall when the officiator pointed out that I might want to go under it instead. OK, “let’s go with that.”

No wonder I never got into “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I probably always ended up dead in a ditch somewhere in the first 20 pages.

I had a lot more to give at the finish line – I kind of wanted to put it down today. Still, I feel OK with the direction the race took. And I learned a lot.

Oddly the big win of the day for me was at my favourite salad bar post-race. I was in the washroom with my two girls when an older lady came up to me (I was still covered in mud and Seren was wearing a mud stained shirt and no pants). “You’re a good mom”, she said. “You don’t see many moms these days that take the time, are happy and really treat their kids well.”

Now, I’m not always a good mom. My baby was not wearing pants. But I am happy and I try to take time for my girls. I owe that to fitness. We don’t train to make ourselves better athletes necessarily, we train to make ourselves better people. A big part of that inner happiness for me comes from movement and the freedom, health and competence that it brings.

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