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.

Things I Learned in Sparta Today…

Well I missed the spear AND balance again… just as I did last week.

The good news is that I was actually with the mighty Queen of Sparta, Claude Godbout, until the slack line. Which is crazy awesome. I fell to third, and fought back to second by hauling ass up and down the mountain. After a good fall on some rocks coming into the final cluster of obstacles, third place was hot on my heals.

She was starting her short sandbag carry when I was coming in.

I knew I had enough time to get through everything carefully – but any burpees would cost me. I was sure happy when I got to that fire jump.

A chance to stand beside Claude on the podium is pretty friggin awesome!

AND… I learned some good stuff today.

Be prepared for EVERYTHING. I was dying in the heat last week and wished like crazy I had my hydration vest. This week I needed to run out for some emergency resort-priced arm warmers the night before. Thankfully I packed tights… but I ended up needing to change back to my shorts… so I glad I packed them too. You seriously never know what the weather will do when you race in the mountains. Have everything you might need.

Save your hands. Keep them as dry and clean as possible, but also keep them warm. I knew there wasn’t any water on course so I wore thin cotton gloves between obstacles to block the icy wind. I’d take them off just before rolling into an obstacle and stuff them in my shorts. The side. Stuff them in the side.

Obstacles get harder. The edges were all clean and crisp when I ran in the first wave out last weekend. Not so today… many fell from the traverse wall and wood block traverse. In fact, the finger ledge was totally missing on one of the holds.

Work hard on those hills. I didn’t work nearly as hard as I could have on the hills last weekend. Rest your lungs on the downhill and rest your legs at the finish if you’re going for time.

But never rest your brain. I went to shove my sunglasses into my shorts on the steep rocky bit coming into the rig and the last string of obstacles – and plowed into the ground hard. It stung… and I had to have a good long, curse filled pep talk with myself to get back up.

If you attach your chip to your laces, put in on the foot you don’t step onto for the rope climb. Trying to climb a rope with the hand I just tore the skin off sucked enough but getting the rope caught on my chip extra sucked.

Sacramento Super, Triple Crown Race


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.

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: