Is OCR what Marathon running was in the good old days?


Years ago runners were considered masocistic lunatics who put themselves through senseless torture for reasons the mainstream simply could not understand.

Sound familiar?

I think obstacle course racing now occupies that realm… ad well, let’s just call it misunderstood.

In the 70s, all runners were hardcore. They ran through otherwise quiet, normal neighbourhoods in very short shorts doing something most people had never seen: running for the sake of it. It just wasn’t something people did. No one’s boss ran 10k for charity, no kids held signs for their moms tenth marathon finish. Nobody jogged to loose that last ten pounds.

And of course, no one really even knew how to train to run long distances… they were just out there gutting it out day after day. Every run.

Flash forward to the era of OCR. “You what? Electrocute yourself? Dive into icy water? Crawl in the mud and rocks under barb wire?”

Let’s face it. No one would do it for fitness or camaraderie alone. There is something else in us. Something most people don’t understand. The same thing those pioneer runners had in their blood: love of a kick-ass challenge and a unwavering desire to push their minds and body through hell.

Most elite races could easily be likened to a modern day Frank Shorter or Bill Rogers. I’m sure most of our neighbors have said similar things (or at very least given similar looks) about our training-induced behaviour… like running around the block at 5 am dragging a tire in very tight shorts.

And just like running in the 70s, there’s no “one” training plan. Mostly, we’re not even sure what we’re training for. Nowadays you can google a training plan to run 100 miles. You’ll get some variety, but the same guts in terms of periodized well-tested training.

Most OCR training plans involve bear crawls, pull-ups, burpees and other general strength exercises. But we also know strength alone isn’t going to cut it when it comes to making it over Everest alone, crossing Funky Monkey sans ice bath or traversing a balance beam without a burpee chaser. So we end up doing wacky arse stuff. And usually in the streets… in plain site of awestruck onlookers. Just like the good ol’ days of marathoning, eh?

I love being involved in a sport growing so strongly on the fringes of what people assumed humans were capable of. I have to say, when I first heard about this crazy new sport, my initial reaction was typical.

Is that even legal?

Thanks. Really. Thanks.

Thanks. Really. Thanks.

It’s impossible not to notice. Summer is gone. I spent it in a whirlwind of renovations and first trimester pregnancy blah. Hence, my blog writing frequency has been less than stellar.

But I find myself compelled to write with the changing of the seasons and the not-too-distant arrival of 2014 and all the joys it promises.

The first being my daughter turning 3. The second being the arrival of my second child in February.

The third, and they say everything comes in threes, is the return of race season. I live to race. And 2014 looks like it will bring a lot of livin’.

I plan on focusing on my new love – obstacle racing – in the coming year with some supplemental trail and road racing. I am pretty sure I live in the best place on the planet to train: wet, mountainous and beautiful. And that leaves me feeling… thankful.

I wonder how easy breezy it must be for other athletes to decide their race goals. No diapers, no naps, no preschool, no packing the entire family into a plane or car to get to races, no breast feeding mid-run. I wonder how I am going to compete at the level I want to be competing at next year with the constraints I have.

But even my worries leave me feeling thankful. What a predicament to be in to be trying to balance two things that I love so dearly. Honestly, as much as I live to race, if I had to choose between having my family or a career in racing, hands down, my family would win. Thankfully, I don’t have to choose.

Now that’s something to be thankful for.

Race report from the Vancouver Spartan Sprint, 2013

Race Report from the Vancouver Spartan Sprint, 2013

This race was a last minute decision for me. When the race had to be moved to June 1st, I was heart broken. Same day as the Whistler Half. What to do.

I’ve hardly trained this year outside of running in races. My foot has been engaged in a nonstop cramp all the way up to my hip since March… which makes running difficult.

A bunch of friends were going, and I felt like 5k is a whole lot more manageable than 21.1 given my current shape. Plus, a guaranteed super fun time. Or something.

Spartan puts on a great race. You can tell they care more about the experience than the profits. They had shuttle buses to the top despite fairly ample parking, lots of washrooms, and a course that would be very difficult to get lost on. This is a big contrast to the competitor event that went on in the same location last year. I spent the whole time lost and frustrated. Obstacle races must be hard to mark, of course, but Spartan always does a bang up job. And the people who run it seem like a terrific bunch of people who love mud racing. If you do one mud race, I’d say do Spartan.

It’s definitely a little more nerve wracking not knowing what’s going to be out there. You know you’re in for 5k. But 5k of what? Turns out the “what” today was what bad dreams are made of. You know that one where you’re running up a mountain in knee deep snow. That was my morning.

The race director advised that we get out in front to the first obstacle. This is advice I often give. Although “get out front” and “sprint 200m uphill through slush to suffer the rest of the mountain climb gasping with the taste of blood in your mouth” probably wasn’t what he meant in hindsight. This was the only time in the race I lost my lead. And I told myself, “you will not loose the lead.”

The first real obstacle was pulling a “tractor” or cement block. Wow, way harder in snow. First off, you’re slipping. Second, the block isn’t. It plows up a little mound of snow in front of it. About halfway through I realized taking the rope over your shoulder helped immensely.

More uphill. Lots more snow.

I still haven’t decided if running through the deep slush was better or running along the crusty sides with the surprise fall throughs. I’m thinking as the day went on, after the trail had been broken it may have gotten easier. But that depends on the answer to my earlier consideration.

Bombing down the hill on the backside of the mountain was fun… being a kid fun. I didn’t realize until after I hit flat, snowless ground that my feet were in fact, frozen solid. That and I was very tired.

Their were also two girls hot on my heels. The typical runability of the Spartan course was buried under two-feet of snow. I usually can loose runners on the run portion to give myself a little extra time in the final obstacles. Not today. Better keep moving and avoid burpees at all costs.

The monkey bars were slick. I had to wrap my thumb around to stay on, and switch from doubles to singles near the end. I dropped one girl here. She was right on me so at least I could breathe a little now.

The board wall is made a whole lot easier with my New Balance Minimus. And by now my feet had been pounded back into flexing a little.

The last few climbs would have been fairly easy obstacles had I any feeling in my body. Normally I love a final rope climb but this one was tough. The knots in the rope kept on catching my feet (ok maybe my feet kept on catching them.)

The mud pit before the climb was also extra cold, extra long and contained extra sharp bits.

I missed my spear throw. Like always. This is where I did my first and only set of burpees. Good thing I’m a vegetarian, lest I ever need to catch dinner in the woods.

I finished in 44:31. My slowest 10k time ever… and it was only 5k! But I took the win and a nice little cheque home with me. And I have to say, I feel like I earned every cent.