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S&S Articles

OCR America: Day 2 Shale Hill

Posted by Strength & Speed on July 1, 2016 at 5:05 PM



I ran Shale Hill before as part of 24 Hours of Shale Hell, the ultra-endurance OCR which takes place in August. In 2015, I finished the event in 2nd place having completed nine laps of what I would describe as the toughest OCR in America. The 6.2 mile course is dense with 50+ obstacles, many of which would be hard to complete for most athletes while completely fresh. Prior to the event I decided we would do four laps of the course giving a total of 25 miles. Based off previous experiences, I knew the first two laps, would go well, I would start to struggle on the third lap and the fourth lap would start to get ugly.

My prediction was spot on. Jordan, who was now on his 3rd day of OCR, joined me for laps 1, 3 and 4. My driver/pit crew/pacer Demetrios “Sty” Karellas, would run with me on lap 2 completing obstacles, then run again on lap 3 but mainly film and take pictures for social media. I decided that lap 3 was a good option to film because I would be tired but not completely exhausted. Plus, the audience effect, a phenomenon where you can perform better when being watched, would allow to pull out some performances that would have been otherwise impossible.



The course winds through the woods and into open fields. With a sunny day and temperatures in the 80s, it was rough on the body. Add in the difficulty of the obstacles and time spent on the course and it was downright brutal.

If you have not been to Shale Hill, it is absolutely worth the trip. Whether you come up here for one of their summer races, the tri-obstaclethalon, their winter/snow race or just come up to train on the course. I would list all their unique, challenging and awesome obstacles, but that would be a several pages by itself. Instead take a look at some of the attached pictures and videos to see for yourself.



In addition, to having an awesome race course, they also have a Pro Shop with merchandise, Icebug shoes and a line of training products from Sinergy Sports. The tagline for Sinergy “When strong isn’t strong enough” is perfect, since they make products that are so challenging, they will challenge even the best OCR competitors. If you have ever had problems on rigs, uphill monkey bars, rope climbs or are just looking for general fitness improvement, their products have the answer you are looking for. Luckily I had trained using rig grips from Sinergy Sports and Fat Gripz for my weight training, so my forearms were able to hold up pretty well to all the stress.



We finished the very long day exhausted from being on our feet climbing. Out of all the days of OCR America, this was the day I felt the worst. At dinner I did not even want to raise my arms to drink my water glass (luckily the waitress gave me a straw).


 

Donation Link for Folds of Honor

DAY 2: Shale Hill Final Stats: 25 Miles, 6,755 feet of elevation gain, 210 obstacles, 2600 calories burned

OCR America Total: 46 Miles, 13491 feet of elevation gain, 260 obstacles, 4950 calories burned

Daily Overcome and Run Podcast Recap Link

This is an abbreviated excerpt taken from a working copy of my OCR America digital book, scheduled for release in 2017.

OCR America: Day 1 Tough Mudder New England

Posted by Strength & Speed on June 30, 2016 at 9:20 PM



    I had planned on writing a quick recap after each event that would go on Mud Run Guide or Strength & Speed. Unfortunately, between running, driving and getting ready for the following day, it quickly became apparent that was not feasible. Instead here is a rundown of each event by day. If you prefer to listen rather than read, I was interviewed by Jay Bode daily after each event on the “Overcome and Run Podcast”. An abbreviated rollup will be on www.MudRunGuide.com/author/ultraevan within the week of this posting and if you want the long version of the story, an OCR America digital book will be available by early 2017. The digital download book will be 75% story of the event including origins, participants, details and 25% training guide, where I will pass off lessons learned from a multi-day Obstacle Course Race (OCR).

     Tough Mudder New England was the first day of my multi-day OCR America charity fundraiser. While I was excited to have Tough Mudder as part of my event, if I was picking the perfect venue this would not have been it. Tough Mudder New England is probably one of the hardest Tough Mudder’s in the US. With 3,400 ft. of elevation gain per lap, it is a mountain course that had terrain that reminded me more of a Spartan Race than a Tough Mudder.

    I was planning on using Sunday as Day 1 of OCR America to ensure I had a seven day unbroken streak of events. Luckily, this allowed my friends Jordan Smith and Brianne Kuchera, to do a recon of the event the day before. Jordan ran both Saturday and Sunday, so he became my pacer for Sunday. This not only took a lot of mental stress off of me, but also ensured I was running at a pace that would let us finish in around two hours without having to redline resulting in a severely reduced ability to perform the following days.



     Tough Mudder brought their standard affair of quality obstacles and although it was a mountain course still managed to put key obstacles in view of spectators. This was my first Tough Mudder of 2016, but they delivered with some great new obstacles and tweaks to last year’s models, which definitely kept things interesting. Block Ness Monster, which I had seen at World’s Toughest Mudder 2015, was up on the side of the mountain out of view but after completing the obstacle, it was obvious why this was voted 2016’s best obstacle. The rotating blocks floating in water require teamwork or a single person who is strong/fast enough to get over the blocks before they rotate.

     My personal favorite obstacle was Pyramid Scheme, a giant slip wall that also requires teamwork. Arriving at the wall with just Jordan and I created a unique challenge. Luckily some volunteers were present to help. Jordan set up a base, I stood on his shoulders… and then Jordan did a shoulder press with my feet so he was at full extension. With the volunteer reaching down I still could not reach. Eventually I went on my tippee toes and my arm muscles warmed up enough to stretch the final couple of inches. The volunteer and I touched finger tips than managed to crawl our way into a full hand hold. He pulled me up and I reached back to help Jordan. Another volunteer was needed to give Jordan a boost from the bottom to complete the obstacle.

     We continued our movement to Everest 2.0, which is fairly hard to complete by yourself. Jordan and I both attacked the obstacle and made it up first try, unassisted on video. Between Everest and our success at Pyramid Scheme, it made it a very satisfying and memorable event.



     Our pace ended up being a little slower than planned, which means we arrived after the last wave had started. When we went to start again, TMHQ said they would have to ATV us to the last placed runner to ensure we had medical support. We told them that we were fast, we would definitely catch the last place runner quickly. They still seemed hesitant so we stated “if we reach an obstacle without medical support, we would bypass it.” Being trusted, known Legionnaires, Tough Mudder granted us this one time exception in support of OCR America and let us back on the course.

     Up the mountain we went and 50 feet before the first obstacle, we passed the last participants. Once we ensured that TMHQ would not be waiting on us, we slowed the pace way down to conserve energy for the next six days. The result was the first lap took about 2 hours and 5 minutes, while the second lap took 2 hours and 55 minutes.



     The day ended with the two of us crossing the finish line having earned another two orange headbands. I immediately slammed down two scoops of Hammer Nutrition’s Recoverite (15% off first order) and headed to the nearest restaurant to eat a meal within an hour. While I normally try to follow a similar practice, this refueling process would become religious ritual over the next week since the ability to perform the following day would be so crucial. Day 1 was in the books and I was still feeling great despite heavy elevation gains.

 


Donation Link for Folds of Honor

DAY 1: Tough Mudder New England Final Stats: 21 Miles, 6736 feet of elevation gain, 50 obstacles, 2350 calories burned

OCR America Total: 21 Miles, 6736 feet of elevation gain, 50 obstacles, 2350 calories burned

Daily Overcome and Run Podcast Recap Link

This is an abbreviated excerpt taken from a working copy of my OCR America digital book, scheduled for release in 2017.

 

Race Review: Spartan Sprint Minnesota

Posted by Strength & Speed on June 30, 2016 at 8:15 AM

On Saturday June 25, 2016, Spartan Race made its return trip to the Welch Village ski resort in Welch, MN. This was set to be my first OCR of 2016 after having to skip the Twin Cities Battlefrog event in May due to an illness. After a somewhat disappointing finish at the San Diego Marathon I was looking forward to using this race as a way to gauge my all-around fitness and see how well my training has paid off.

 

The Venue

 

Welch is about 45 minutes south of the Twin Cities in the Cannon River Valley. This being the second year at the venue, returning racers knew the terrain that Spartan Staff would have to work with. Having the race at a ski hill pushed Minnesota natives that are used to rolling hills out of their comfort zones by subjecting them to quad burning accents and descents.

 

Welch had ample on-site parking that flowed into Spartan’s streamlined registration process. There were the usual vendors, sponsors, and activity challenges in the festival area. I took advantage of the Spartan Rig to do a bit of a warm up and headed over to the Biggest Team Tent to join up with some fellow friends and training partners with the North Star Spartans. One thing I would point out in case anyone on Spartan’s staff reads this is that if you are going to locate the Biggest Team Tent on the far side of the festival grounds, it would be nice to give them a port-a-potty.

 

The only other downside to the layout of the course was that this year spectators were only able to see the first and last few obstacles. In 2015 the course had looped back to the festival area and allowed spectators to see racers at various stages of the race, but 2016 largely used the “back bowl” area of the resort for single track and bushwacking. The change was great from a racing perspective (at least for me personally), but made things less exciting for spectators and made for a long wait between glimpses of racers.

I’m a firm believer in the theory that you only notice what goes wrong at an event like this, and apart from one big snafu that will be discussed below, things operated flawlessly. Walking around after the race there was a healthy mix of exhaustion and smiles from those that had made it across the finish line and looks of dread from the clean people that hadn’t run the course yet.



 

The Race

 

Due to… well, we were never told why… EMTs hadn’t arrived on site for the Elite wave to start at 7:30. We waited impatiently in the starting chute as the race director talked on his phone, visibly displeased. We were eventually allowed to head out to the festival area and told to reconvene at 8:15.

 

One of the biggest problems I have noticed with OCRs is that participants are terrible at self-sorting at the start line (apart from the few who knew they’d be finishing in the top 10). Prior to our false-start I had positioned myself with about 20-30 people ahead of me, knowing that I placed 22 last year; however after the delay I was unable to jostle my way towards the front and ended up probably 50-60 people back from the front.

 

The course started with a steep incline and most of the racers started off fast. At first I was convinced that everyone else was going to blow up halfway up the first hill, but as things started to even out there was still a large group pulling away from me. I started to worry that my hill training hadn’t paid the dividends I was expecting. After a few walls to break up the pack there was a steady descent into the dunk wall, followed immediately by monkey bars. This was the first spot that I made up major ground as it appeared that the monkey bars had decimated the field in front of me, moving me up about 15-20 places.

 

We then headed up another climb and into some single track through the woods. I ended up behind some people that were a little slower than my intended pace, but had promised myself not to allow my heart rate to get too high early on. I decided to sit back and bided my time to find a flat spot to open up. One of my biggest setbacks in 2015 had been ascents; during my training I started to focus on steady sustained climbing at an aerobic or threshold heartrate. In 2015 I made the mistake of jacking up my heartrate by bombing the downhills, and starting ascents with an already elevated heartrate. This year I used downhills to run at a pace that was high enough to pass some people, but slow enough that it allowed my heartrate to get back into an aerobic zone before the next climb.

 

We got to the barbed wire crawl and were welcomed by a rocky field and low barbed wire that made the rolling technique difficult in many areas. I personally preferred the muddy downhill slip-n-slide of 2015, but this was definitely more challenging. Shortly after was the Z-Wall, which I took slow and steady and was able to make it through. By that point I was past the two obstacles I failed in 2015 (monkey bars and Z-Wall) and I felt confident the only burpees I might have to do would be at the spear throw.



 

The remainder of the obstacles were the standard fare of Spartan Races: Atlas Carry, Sandbag Carry, and walls. I was picking people off every once in a while, but finally got another big boost as I breezed through the Herc Hoist. For some reason I have always found that obstacle to be easy; I have no idea if it is a technique or body type issue, but I passed at least 10 people there and bombed down the next hill.

 

At some point (I forget exactly where in the order of things) I was approaching a wall and saw someone grab the top only to see their shoulder pop out of its socket. It wasn’t until after the race that I realized it was fellow Strength and Speed teammate Justin Lund (we didn’t have a chance to meet in person until after the race). I later learned that he popped it in, kept going, and dislocated it again on the rig later on (but still finished like a champ).

 

By the time I got to the bucket carry a spectator told me that maybe 20 people had passed by already. I tried to make up some time at the bucket, but the hill was so steep I had to stop and rest it on my knees a few times on the way up and once again on the way down. My legs were gassed but at that point there was less than half a mile left. Directly after the bucket carry was a grueling uphill climb that had slowed everyone around me to a slow hike. We made it to the top and hit the rig. A guy I had been going back and forth with on the hill dropped next to me and a few ahead of me were doing their burpees. I figured at that time that I was in about 15th place and from the research I had done before the race figured I needed to move up one or two places in order to earn a coin and a chance to enter the Spartan World Championships at Lake Tahoe. All that was left was a downhill, the spear throw, and rope climb.

 

I made good time on the downhill and caught a pack of three people. I sprinted past them right before the spear throw and looked at the burpee area: another 2 or 3 people there. At the time I figured if I hit the spear I would make it into the top 10 (I later checked my watch and confirmed I would have placed 8th if I cut off the time I took to do 30 burpees). Up to that point my only missed spear throw was in pitch dark during the 2014 Ultrabeast and I felt good going into it. I had the right line, but put a bit too much on it and it sailed over the target by about two inches. I did my burpees (the referee even commented about how nice my form was), then slowly got to the rope climb, dinged the bell, and crossed the finish line in 15th.



 

Overall it was a huge improvement over last year. I didn’t fail any “real” obstacles (which is a subject for an entirely different post), and from looking at the results of people I finished near in 2015 I can see that I have made huge strides in my training. In the end, the spear cost me a few places, which ended up being the difference in earning a coin. But knowing how close I was, I now know what sort of work I need to put in to get it next time. It was a great learning experience and I ended up doing much better than I expected before the race and even halfway through. It was a huge confidence builder and has put my mindset in the right place for my next challenge: Conquer the Gauntlet in Des Moines.

 

The general consensus after the event was that 2016 was more difficult than 2015. Most people cited the incredibly hot (for Minnesota) weather, the steep uphill start, and the layout of the obstacles as what made this year so much more difficult. I tend to agree with that assessment. As more resources have emerged to help prepare people for these sorts of races the race companies have begun to be more purposeful in structuring their courses to make them more challenging to both competitive and open class participants. The design of the Minnesota Sprint was a prime example on how properly using a mix of terrain and thoughtful placement of obstacles can make for a challenging and rewarding experience for people of all fitness levels.

 

Final Stats:

Distance: 4.98 miles

Burpees: 35 (Spear Throw and Atlas Carry)

Elevation Gain: 1,529

Time: 1:08:52

Place: 15th


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Kevin is a member of Team Strength and Speed's OCR Development Team. He is a running and OCR enthusiast in the pre-dawn hours and weekends, but spends most days as a criminal prosecutor in Carver County Minnesota.

 

Suja San Diego Rock n Roll Marathon Recap & Review

Posted by Strength & Speed on June 7, 2016 at 3:40 PM

This past weekend I had the opportunity to race the Rock’n’Roll San Diego Marathon. My sister-in-law moved to San Diego last fall to go to PT school and my wife and I decided to plan a trip to visit her around the marathon (I did the full and my wife and her cousin did the half). I learned early in the trip that I won’t plan on running any big races at the end of a weeklong vacation, as tapering and trying to eat healthy are not the best ways to spend time that is supposed to be relaxing.


 

The Training Cycle

 

I started my official training cycle back in February and loosely based most of my training off the Nike Running App’s Coach feature. We had signed up for the race months before, but due to resting a foot with plantar’s fasciitis, a work commute that wasn’t great for training, and a relatively new edition to the family I had let my training slip to a fairly nonexistent level. I found that my running snapped back relatively quickly, and I was shaving minutes off my 5k time weekly as I approached where I had been last summer.

 

During my training cycle I took a leap of faith and left my job, which left me with a lot of time to train while looking for work (which I eventually became employed at my dream job, so it all worked out). I was also selected to participate in the Strength & Speed OCR Development Team, which allowed me to get great access to training and nutrition information and gave me a great group of peers to inspire me to aim high with my goals. For New Years I set a number of goals for myself, one of which was to qualify for the Boston Marathon and the other was to run a sub 3:00:00 marathon.

 

While I had set goals based around marathons, my true passion is OCR and I use my marathon training as a means of improving my aerobic base and running speed. As a result my training was a healthy mix of trail and road running with some weight training and bodyweight WODs mixed in to keep the strength necessary for my OCR events that will start a few weeks after the marathon.

 

Rock’n’Roll San Diego was set to be my first chance to achieve those goals and I felt 100% confident until May when I got a two-week cold that ended in me losing my voice for a couple days and waking up several nights in cold sweats. After feeling better for a weekend and cranking out a solid 22 mile training run I got hit with a viral infection that left my throat swelled nearly shut and looking like Freddy Krueger’s skin. I had to take an entire week off training at what I felt like was a very important phase of my training, missed out on running the Battlefrog Xtreme event in Minnesota that I had been looking forward to since last fall, and caused me to overcompensate in the last two weeks of my taper to regain some of the fitness I had just lost.

 


The Race (The First 13.1)

 

Rock’n’Roll started off on a good foot. Their logistics game is on point; they were in contact early and often with pertinent information and the race expo was easily the best of the now four marathons I have completed. There were a ton of booths giving out samples of different gels, gummies, sports drinks, bars, and various health foods. The higher prices of clothing and gear were in line with other race expos I’ve attended as well.

 

The morning of the race I had a usual breakfast of oatmeal and coffee about an hour and a half before the race and tried using BeetElite for the first time at a race (I had experimented with it in some time trials during my training with positive results and did a three day load leading up to the race which had been recommended by a few regular users). We walked just under a mile to the start line and dropped off our bags with ease. I looked around and despite the rows and rows of port-a-potties the lines were still incredibly long (note to races with 37 corrals… you can NEVER have too many bathrooms at the start of a race). I was set to start in corral 2, but due to mistiming I ended up starting with corral MEB, in between 3 & 4 by the time I was able to squeeze through the security barrier.

 

The beginning of the race was extremely crowded due to marathoners and half marathoners being released together and it was hard to get into a good rhythm while dodging around people. I was taken aback by the amount of people that had started to walk within the first two miles given that they had started in early corrals; I would have thought that having prior races times to justify being in an earlier corral they would know enough about race etiquette to know to voluntarily move to a later corral or at the very least to move to the right side of the road, but apparently that’s too much to ask. My first few miles ended up higher than what I was realizing was an ambitious sub 3-hour goal, but not so high above that the negative split I had hoped to run wouldn’t be able to make up for them.

 

My late start turned out to be a bit of a blessing because it gave me the chance to shake hands with Meb Keflezighi (2004 Olympic Silver Medalist, 2014 Boston Marathon winner and 2016 USA Olympic Men’s Marathon Representative, among other things) who was pacing a group for the half marathon. It was crazy to see how effortless he was maintaining his pace.

 

 

I noticed around mile 6 that the course forced us to run on the left side of many of the roads. This worried me because my PT-in-training sister-in-law had recently confirmed that my right leg was longer than my left and I had planned on trying to run on the right side of the road as much as possible to alleviate some of the knee and IT band pain that has started in on later miles in the past. The roads were also cambered more than normal, so I started getting in my own head (a recurring theme of the day) worrying about how I was going to feel later instead of focusing on the present. All the worrying turned out to be for nothing because I had the most pain free marathon I’ve ever ran.

 

After the half marathon broke off between mile 7 and 8 the road opened up and I was only able to see a pack of five or six people in front of me. With some room to breathe I set my sights on slowly picking them off one by one and using that as a way to keep myself engaged in monitoring my pace. There were a lot of rolling hills through the first half of the race that I managed well due to my training on trails and was usually gaining ground on those in front of me on the uphills. My pace was getting better and better, and just short of the halfway point we came to a long downhill that I decided to use to my advantage to try to make up some of my slower early miles. I came across the 13.1 mat at 1:31:55, a few minutes off my goal, but within what I thought I would be able to make up on the back half.

 


The Race Continued (The Second 13.1, where the wheels fell off)

 

Miles 13-16 went fairly well, I maintained a steady pace and was abled to see some of the race leaders on an out and back portion that I had predicted the night before would be exactly where I would see them. At mile 16 we were down near Sea World and had the flattest second of the course to deal with, which I was excited about because I thought I’d be able to get a nice steady pace going. Unfortunately for me my pace was about 10 seconds per mile slower than my goal pace.

 

This part of the course is where the angel on my right shoulder and the devil on my right shoulder started to get into an argument. The angel was telling me not to worry, just push a little bit and focus on getting to your BQ pace and you can always push hard for the last 10k if you are feeling good and want to try to get to the sub 3 hour mark. Meanwhile, the devil was telling me that if I couldn’t maintain my pace on the flats that I wasn’t going to make up that time on the climb up Highway 163 later in the race. Unfortunately for me there was no fan support on this section of the course, so I got to listen to this internal battle for several miles. Even more unfortunate was that the devil seemed to be getting in more punches with each step.

 

I was doing a lot of mental math leading up to each mile to determine what pace I would need for the rest of the race in order to meet my goals. By mile 20 I was at 2:22:12, and thought that if I had a great final 10k and final kick I could just scrape by with a BQ time under 3:05:00.

 

By mile 22 things were looking bleak. My legs weren’t responding the way I wanted them to. I kept telling myself if I could make the next mile split that my body would maintain its pace, but the devil on my should had landed an uppercut, the angel was on the ground, and the 10-count was starting.

 


Then came the hill…

 

I had seen it on the course map and the video preview of the course: an approximately 230ft ascent over the course of a little over a mile from up Highway 163 to get to downtown San Diego. I had been doing hill training for the past three months up much steeper hills to prepare for the Spartan Sprint at Welch Village Ski Resort in Minnesota at the end of June. Spaced out over a few miles that should be no problem. My training should have prepared me for this hill; had it been in the first half of the race it probably would have. But I made a rookie mistake in my preparation by thinking running steep hills on fresh legs would translate to a sustained climb at the end of a marathon after over two hours of pushing myself. I broke the cardinal rule of specificity of training and quickly realized I was going to pay the price. I kept making demoralizing glances at my watch as the numbers for my pace and heart rate kept creeping higher and higher. The hill seemed to be going on a lot longer than I had remembered on the map and there was no end in sight. For the first time I walked through an aid station to try to clear the fog from my brain and realized I would have to run a 5k PR to get a BQ time and I still couldn’t see the top of the hill.

 

The 10 count was over and the little devil on my shoulder was dancing around with his new championship belt. I had never felt so demoralized during a race before; I barely kept my pace above a shuffle for the remainder of the hill while I kept thinking about all the things that had gone wrong leading up to the race and what I could have done to get my time. Once things flattened out I picked up my pace slightly in an effort to pass some runners that I can only assume from the dejected look on their face had also been humbled by the hill. After the course joined back up with the half marathoners there were a lot of fans and I was able to draw enough energy from them to step up my pace before finishing in an official time of 3:12:15. Playing head games again, I was unable to find any glee in setting a new PR by five minutes, and instead focused on all the things I didn’t do.

 


I crankily made my way through the throngs of people at the finishing line to get my medal and jacket so I could sit and digest what happened. It took me a while to realize that while I could have been better prepared for that hill and things would have been better if I hadn’t gotten sick leading up to the race, I beat myself. I am usually very strong mentally. Last year at the St. Louis Marathon I was able to will myself to shattering my old PR by fifteen minutes and beating my goal for the race by five minutes. But upon reflecting I had beaten myself before the race started. I’m not the firmest believer in positive thinking, but I know I had overanalyzed and put enough doubt into my head about what had gone wrong that I would have had to have woken up feeling like a million bucks to overcome what I had put in my head. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

 

On the positive side, there is nothing like a missed goal to light a fire within you. I found the chinks in my armor and know how to train smarter for my next race (and select a more friendly race for my next try). More importantly, after having a day to think about it I am happier with my results. I was able to get a new PR despite some setbacks and feel out what my fitness base is so that when I start my next training cycle I will have to improve less to meet my goals next time I take a stab at them.

 


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Kevin is a member of Team Strength and Speed's OCR Development Team. He is a running and OCR enthusiast in the pre-dawn hours and weekends, but spends most days as a criminal prosecutor in Carver County Minnesota.

 

 

The Best OCRs You Are Not Tracking

Posted by Strength & Speed on May 13, 2016 at 6:05 AM

Most Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) athletes are familiar with the big races and the quality they provide. However, there are a bunch of smaller races that are not nationwide that provide a great race venue, great atmosphere and at a reasonable cost. Focusing on the middle of the country these are three of the best obstacle races may not be tracking:

Conquer the Gauntlet: You want mandatory obstacle completion with super hard obstacles? If the answer is yes, Conquer the Gauntlet (CTG) is for you. However, if you are just out there to have a good time and experience new and interesting obstacles CTG also has a place for you in the open waves.

CTG is an expanding race series taking over the middle of the country. They provide some of the hardest obstacles I have seen outside of the World Championship. Stairway to Heaven, an obstacle where you use your hands to go up and down the bottom side of two sets of stairs, has an attrition rate that is on par with the Platinum Rig. Although it may not look as hard, the wooden planks become extremely slippery when they are covered with mud and water. Some of their other hard obstacles include a series of five 8-foot walls. While that does not sound that hard, they are so close together, it removes the running start typically associated with clearing a wall obstacle. They also do the same thing with slanted walls, keeping them so close together that it takes away any momentum one might use. Even at a leisurely running pace, the course will challenge your upper body. Whether you are racing for the podium or just looking for fun atmosphere, CTG will not let you down. Finally, the addition of Pegatron, the only pegboard obstacle in OCR that is not angled, may be one of the most challenging obstacles yet.

 

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Mud, Guts and Glory: Okay, so by now most have heard of Mud, Guts and Glory (MGG). However, prior to the establishment of the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship (OCRWC) on their site, they were not as well known. If you are reading this article chances are you are familiar with their course, so I am not going to go into great depth. The big take away is that MGG is a permanent obstacle course, which means the obstacles can be bigger, tougher and more challenging. Used as the site of 2015 OCR World Championships and Battlefrog Cincinnati this course is going to get consistent attention along with upgrades year round. As long as OCR is making good money, I expect to see MGG continuing to improve their race site.

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The Battlegrounds: Just like MGG, The Battlegrounds is a permanent obstacle course located in the Wright City, MO (just west of St. Louis). Since the course never moves they can include obstacles like a weaver, a pond you literally run across using what looks like thick, floating yoga mats, a 50 feet freestanding slide and the gauntlet (a choose your own adventure six lanes of obstacles with varying degrees of difficulty). They have a 5 mile along with a 5k version, in case you do not like running. To make things better, the course is built about a 100 feet from a winery, which means for once your spouse might not mind be dragged to another race. They even added a 100m sprint course at the end of 2015. Finally, they throw in something I have never seen at any other race, hot showers for cleaning off mud. Definitely look for Battlegrounds to become a Midwest hot spot for racing over the next couple of years. Besides hosting two races a year, in 2015, they also held Mud Run Guide’s Summer Splash, which was half race, half summer party with activities including an obstacle only race through The Gauntlet, a raffle where Icebug Shoes were given away for free and a children’s course. Sign up today for the May 21st race using code “chris15” for $15 off their race.

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World's Toughest Mudder 2015 Race Report

Posted by Strength & Speed on November 19, 2015 at 10:45 AM

If you have not seen my other articles written for World’s Toughest Mudder 2015, make sure you check them out. They will be posted on Mud Run Guide over the next couple of weeks. Here is a race recap for my 2015 WTM experience. The weather was nicer is 2015 and although it was still cold, it was not horrific like 2014. The winds in 2014 made just being on the course almost unbearable as demonstrated by such a large Did Not Finish (DNF) rate. 2015 started off with a 2pm start, which I was not a fan of due to eating up two days of my “vacation”, but that is the way they ran things this year.


The first hour of the event had no obstacles, which means you could put some distance down prior to the obstacles opening. This was a change from previous years where the obstacles begin immediately on lap 2. I went out at a good pace with my goal of getting past the Gut Buster on Lap 2 by the time the obstacles opening, which is just shy of halfway through the lap. This would allow me to skip a hard obstacle and reach King of Swingers where I would hopefully get a golden carabineer allowing me to skip a future obstacle. I made it to within sight of the Gut Buster but was required to complete the obstacle on Lap 2. Overall, the beginning of the race was going as planned.


The desire to get to King of Swingers for Lap 2 was a waste as I proved throughout the day by going 0 for 14 on King of Swingers. Not my best performance but the bell seemed much further away than any other Tough Mudder or World’s Toughest Mudder I have done. The lack of grip tape on the bar was also a surprise as I went flying off of it on one lap when I decided to try it with gloves on.

Based off weather I decided to put long pants on for Lap 3 with a neoprene top tied around my waste. It was a good decision because halfway through Lap 3 I put on my top to stay warm. However, with the sun setting I knew that would not be enough to keep me warm so I put on my wetsuit before Lap 4.


I continued logging miles and laps feeling pretty good. Some obstacles got easier like Tramp Stamp (mini-trampoline to a mini-zip line) and Operation (retrieving a ring from an electrified hole) as I figured out my technique. While others became harder as my body fatigued The Gamble (climbing over a wall size determined by a roll of the dice), Grease Monkey (monkey bars) and Liberator (slanted peg board). Gut Buster, an obstacle requiring you to be in a Superman position traversing sideways above water become easier as I learned the technique but then drastically harder as I became more tired. Doing some simple math, I figured 75 miles was attainable if I maintained my pace. I continued to plod along making it through most obstacles.

On Lap 11 I realized I was going to be cutting a goal of 75 miles close so I decided to put in a “hard” lap with a lot of running. After going at a pace I thought was hard, I crossed the line only 1 min faster than my previous lap. At that point I knew it was a pace I would not be able to sustain for laps 12+. The next lap was a walking lap to recover from my “hard” Lap 11.


It was during Lap 12 when I first heard my position, which was 21st place. I continued to mostly walk laps 12 through 14 with the occasional jog/shuffle. My last three laps were slow but consistent. In the last half mile of the course I did get passed dropping me down one more place, but he was moving significantly faster than me. Even if I knew what had just happened, I did not have the speed left to keep up at that point.

I finished up the race with a total of 70 miles, not my best performance but still respectable. I had set my expectations a little high because of my great result from 2014 (75 miles and 13th place), so while pleased with my result I was not ecstatic. In 2014, I definitely gained some placement positions because the weather was so bad it caused a lot of my competitors to drop out early. So I’ll probably be the only person wishing for bad weather and high winds in 2016 because while it makes the race more miserable, it tends to make my competitors quit while I just continue to endure the pain.


Why did my mileage go down? I am not too sure because I was in better shape this year than last year. Possible reasons could be the 27 hour flight/travel time it took me to get to the race site or that fact that my body was still operating in a different time zone. While I do not think that affected me, it may have played a part. Other than that I think the obstacles were harder in general and tended to favor taller people more than usual. In the end, not sure what caused the drop in mileage, I just know I’ll work on it next year and come back with a vengeance.

As someone who is very competitive it can easy to get caught up in placing and mileage goals. But the bottom line is I love this race and it was a fantastic weekend. Spending time with the WTM community and hanging out with my family in Vegas was a blast. As always the comradery on the course is excellent. I love running into other athletes I know on the course whether they are two laps ahead of me or five laps behind me. Regardless, they still bring a smile to my face in the middle of that long grueling event.

Strength & Speed athletes Evan Perperis and Jordan Smith post race.

 

Mud Run Guide

Posted by Strength & Speed on June 19, 2015 at 4:30 PM

Starting today, we are starting to publish some of our Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) focused articles through www.MudRunGuide.com/author/ultraevan 

Recently, we many of our weekly articles have had an OCR focus, which was pushing out some of the lifting and endurance content.  In an effort to bring back the focus to some of our strength and speed focused articles, we will be posting the majority of our OCR related content directly to Mud Run Guide.  Make sure you check out their website and like their Facebook page.   We will still post some OCR articles directly to the Strength & Speed website so be sure to check back weekly for new updates.  

Finally, if you have not registered for the lollapalooza of obstacle racing, Summer Splash, make sure sign up today using the code SPLASHVIP for $5 off.  The race/party/event will be on 19 July in Wright City, MO on the grounds of The Battlegrounds obstacle course, which is co-located with a winery.  

Will the Real OCR Championship Please Stand Up

Posted by Strength & Speed on December 17, 2014 at 12:10 AM

The rise of Obstacle Course Racing has caused dozens of companies to develop their own race series. Depending on how early you sign up and what type of race it is, prices can be as high as $100 for a three mile race. That is $33 a mile, hardly a deal when you consider most 5k road races are around $20 total. As companies identified the cash cow that is obstacle racing, each one is trying to claim its spot as the most legitimate competition. Each company created its own world championship to further claim their right as top of the obstacle racing world. So which one is the true world championship?

The major world championships in obstacle racing are, in order from shortest to longest, Warrior Dash World Championship, Obstacle Course Racing World Championship, Spartan World Championship and World’s Toughest Mudder. Before discussing the true champion, let us learn a little about each event.


Warrior Dash World Championship view of the Terrain


Warrior Dash World Championship: Warrior Dash first held its championship in 2014 offering an insane cash prize of $30,000 for first place. At $10,000 per mile for a first place victory, this is the largest cash prize for a 5k race period. This is just a fraction of the $100,000 total the company gave away for the top five men and women. The race, held in mid-October, about 30 minutes east of San Fransisco, California is around 5k in length with twelve obstacles over mountainous terrain. The course has such steep gradients that at points I was required to crawl on all fours to make it up the mountainside. Although the terrain proved extremely difficult, the obstacles were the opposite. The majority of obstacles barely cause a break in stride. Climbing over old cars, crawling under barb wire, walking a balance beam with guide ropes over water and a slide leave much to be desired when it comes to obstacles. The only obstacle that significantly slowed competitors was the final mud put, which was like traversing a pool of peanut butter.


Starting Line At the OCRWC Team Competition


Obstacle Course Racing World Championships: The Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (OCRWC) was first held in 2014 and is considered by many to be the true championship of obstacle racing. The 8.9 mile course held on the grounds of the obstacle course for the Mud, Guts and Glory race just east of Cincinnati, Ohio challenges you on every level. The race draws an international crowd.  In 2014, a Swedish female and a British male were the winners. The most unique aspect of this race is its lack of affiliation. In order to enter the OCR World Championships it requires qualification from another race series usually involving placing in the top twenty. Which races feed into the OCRWC?  Every one that I know of. This makes it a strong contender to be the true championship. Add in the requirement to complete every obstacle the course suddenly becomes much more difficult. Fail to complete an obstacle and there is no penalty, instead your wristband is cut off making you ineligible for prizes and automatically below every competitor that finished all the obstacles. The terrain does not make things any easier with a cramp inducing 4,000+ feet of elevation gain and ground so rocky that it is hard to ever get into a strong running stride. The obstacles truly test upper body and grip strength including monkey bars, large V shaped monkey bars, tyrolean traverse, pipe traverse, the weaver and the dreaded Platinum Rig. The rig is a series of rings, rotating bars, extra wide monkey bars and vertical beams that can be configured in an infinite number of combinations. The Platinum Rig was so difficult it decimated 46% of the male field and 86% of the women’s field. OCRWC effectively tests cardiovascular fitness, obstacle proficiency, strength, endurance and mental fortitude. Is this the real championship?

Sandbag Carry at a Spartan Race


The Vermont Beast- Spartan Race World Championship: The Spartan championship started in 2011 and is held in Killington, Vermont.  How is the terrain in Killington? Well, it is home to the steepest and longest mogul trail in the east called the Outer Limits. The course is 13+ miles in length with elevation gain of 5,000+ feet. Spartan races typically have more strength based obstacles than some of its competitor courses. With obstacles like heavy tire flips, rope climbs, bucket carry, sandbag carry and pulling a weight up a rope using a pulley, it can favor those with a better balance of strength than the pure runner. It also includes a spear throw, which I am not a fan of. To me this is not an obstacle and belongs in racing as much as a tomahawk throw or rifle-shooting portion. Regardless, the 13+ mile length make it one of the longer world championships.   As of December 2014, Spartan has announced that in order to enter the 2015 World Championship, qualification is now mandatory by placing in the top 5 of an elite wave at any Spartan Race.  The other big news is that the championship will be moved to Lake Tahoe, CA and not at its usual Vermont location.  Spartan also has the best media campaign due to its partnership with NBC Sports that televises the championship along with major events. As one of the oldest and best publicized world championships this is definitely a contender.  (Spartan has announced for 2015, they will move the race to California.)


Cliff Jump at World's Toughest Mudder 2014


World’s Toughest Mudder: World’s Toughest Mudder started in 2011 in Englishtown, New Jersey. It was held there for three years and in 2014 it moved to just east of Las Vegas, Nevada. By far the most extreme of the obstacle racing world championships, it is 24 hours in length and requires multiple laps of the 20+ obstacles per lap. The winner historically reaches 90+ miles and completes a total of 400 obstacles. The conditions are so extreme the race requires a wetsuit to deal with the freezing temperatures. World’s Toughest Mudder also draws a large international crowd especially from countries like Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia.   Out of all the competitions it is the most difficult based off length and environmental conditions.  Tied as the oldest competition with the Spartan World Championships, it presents a strong case for the true championship.

Other nominations: Some may argue that other races should be in contention for the obstacle racing world championship such as The Death Race or Primal Quest. Death Race is multi-day event that involves obstacles and random tasks designed to break you physically and mentally. Primal Quest is a multi-day adventure race that is making a comeback after a six year hiatus. Primal Quest involves extreme distances with a variety of tasks and modes of transportation. I would argue that these two races and others like them are adventure races and not obstacle races. By not having a fixed course or specific obstacles, they fall into a different world and are thus ineligible to be picked as world championships.

So which is the real championships? If I had to pick one, the winner is clear, it is the OCRWC. Due to its non-affiliation, the international crowd it draws, the difficulty of the obstacles and the length which is about average for obstacle races.

However, I would argue that there is not just one winner there are multiple winners. In running the 10k world championships is not the championship for all of running. Having just one race for every distance does not make much sense.  Each distance has its own championship. Thus I would say that:


Warrior Dash World Championship: Short course world championship (5k)

Obstacle Course Racing World Championship: Middle distance world championship (9 miles)

Vermont Beast- Spartan World Championship: Long distance world championship (13+)

World’s Toughest Mudder: Ultra distance world championship


I would even add that the Spartan Ultra-Beast (26+ miles) as the marathon length world championship for obstacle racing.  Typically, ultras are foot races 26.2 miles in length or longer, so I would barely consider the Spartan Ultra-Beast a true ultra (althought some racers stated the actual course was 30+ miles, the official website states 26+). It should be called the Spartan Marathon Beast.  If I was king for the day, I would make this the marathon length world championship of racing to add one more level to the list of world championships.

Obstacle racing is a growing sport with numerous world championships for a variety of distances. The establishment of OCRWC has set the sport on the path to being legitimized worldwide. Will OCR be an Olympic sport one day? I would place money on it. Just like triathlon, the sport starts on the fringes of society with people trying to do things that seem impossible and unfathomable to many. Keep training and I will see you at the world championships.


 Team Strength & Speed at the OCRWC

-Evan Perperis

World's Toughest Mudder Race Review

Posted by Strength & Speed on December 3, 2014 at 6:45 PM

With a catch phrase of “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet”, many people view the Tough Mudder obstacle races as the physical highlight of their year. The average Tough Mudder is 12 miles in length and has approximately twenty obstacles. The obstacles vary in difficulty from relatively easy, such as crawling over mounds of mud, to more difficult like traversing monkey bars and rings. They also prey on your fears by including obstacles that contain live electric wires, underwater swimming and jumping from heights of twenty feet. This is the average Tough Mudder though, not the hardest event on their calendar.

The hardest event is the 24 hour long World’s Toughest Mudder that consists of five mile loops with twenty obstacles. The event is both a challenge and a race as competitors try to complete as many laps in the 24-hour period as possible. The obstacles are harder, the competition is higher and the company offers $10,000 to the winner of the event.


Author running past the 24 Hours of Pain Sign


Being a glutton for punishment, I signed up for the event this past summer. As an experienced endurance athlete (17 marathons, 3 ultra-marathons and 2 iron distance triathlons) and a competitive lightweight bodybuilder I am always interested in challenging myself. This would not only be my first World’s Toughest Mudder but also my first Tough Mudder. Although I am an elite obstacle racer who has placed in the top 60 competitors in events like the Warrior Dash World Championship and Obstacle Course Racing World Championship, I have never attempted a Tough Mudder nor an obstacle race over 9 miles in length.

World’s Toughest Mudder started in 2011 and traditionally occurs in Englishtown, New Jersey in mid-November. With temperatures that drop below freezing wetsuits are not only encouraged but also necessary if you are looking to race the full 24 hours. This year to change things up the race organizers decided to move the venue to sunny Las Vegas, Nevada. With the race scheduled for mid-November, the weather appeared to be much more moderate with daytime highs in the low 70s and nighttime temperatures expected to drop to low 40s.

Prior to the event, the message boards were alive with racers talking about the nicer race conditions. Racers were excited marking their posts with #NoWetsuitsNeeded as race day drew near. People who raced previously were also excited on improving their mileage goals from last year. To encourage participation all night long the race offers a variety of prizes including different colored bibs for mileage completion of 50, 75, 100 and 125 miles. Although only one man has earned the 100-mile bib, Ryan Atkins in 2013, and no one has earned the 125-mile bib.

The race began with the usual Tough Mudder fanfare with a hype man talking up the event and getting the crowd motivated. As expected, the temperature was about 71 degrees as racers lined up with shorts and no shirts. In order to prevent lines at the obstacles, the first lap is a sprint lap in which racers just run the course bypassing the obstacles. This effectively spread everyone out so the real race could begin on lap two.


Starting Line


As lap two began I already heard others talking about the difficulty of the terrain. Englishtown had been relatively flat, allowing racers to cover more distance. The Las Vegas course has 750 ft. of elevation gain per lap. That does not sound too bad, but when you multiply it by 10 or more it suddenly becomes more daunting. Racers were making comments like “Completing 40 this year is like completing 50 last year”, others made bolder statements like “Completing 30 this year is like completing 50 last year”.

The obstacles did not disappoint either. The race organizers added new obstacles that tested both physical ability, intelligence, common fears and your patience. After climbing the first large hill, I came upon the first obstacle, which consisted of crawling and a loose cargo net but over tires. Easy right? Fast forward 14 hours when you are exhausted and sleep deprived. Trying not to get caught in the cargo net every six inches becomes quite a chore. Mixed throughout the course was the standard array of mud obstacles including a mud put and mounds of mud, which further tested your patience as they tried to swallow your shoes.

The course also stayed true to its Vegas location by including an obstacle called “The Gamble”. The odds are displayed on a sign, which changes every lap. Roll a good number and you bypass the obstacle, roll a bad number and you have to make your way through 20 ft of mud with live electric wires hanging down. Yes, I occasionally lost The Gamble and yes, the electricity hurts.


View of the Terrain with "The Gamble" in the Foreground


Add in inverted walls, a ¼ pipe that competitors run up and pipes to crawl through will add to the physical exhaustion. Probably the hardest obstacle for most competitors was “Grabbin’ Shaft” (apparently the race directors have a sense of humor and must be predominately male), which involved inclined monkey bars transitioning to a metal swing and then to a pipe. This obstacle hung over a vat of neon green liquid making it that much more concerning. Fail the obstacle and a ¼ mile cinderblock carry awaited you on the far side. Pass the obstacle and you bypass the ¼ mile cinderblock carry to continue your five mile lap.


Grabbin Shaft Obstacle


The highlight for spectators though was an obstacle included only at the World’s Toughest Mudder called “The Cliff”. A 38-foot cliff jump into water that is sure to scare even the bravest competitors. You say you are not scared of heights? Do not worry, the impact, which is like being tackled by a linebacker, is sure to make you think twice when jumping. I chose the method of not looking and just stepping off. Although this saved some mental anguish it did not help with the physical pain. My shorts managed to split down the side and a good chunk of them ended up in my ass crack on every jump.


The Dreaded Cliff


The challenge began at nightfall though. With temperatures dropping lower than expected, 31 degrees, combined with getting wet multiple times on every lap the cold took its toll. Add in wind that averaged 22 mph with gusts in the 40-50 mph range and you have a recipe for hypothermia. Not bad enough? The wind also kicked up loose sand requiring many competitors to wear facemasks to avoid swallowing the dust. Reportedly, several hundred competitors dropped out due to cold. Even Junyong Pak, two-time champion, stopped for the day early leaving Ryan Atkins with less competition for 1st overall.

Even in my wetsuit, neoprene gloves, wool hat and neoprene socks I was still cold. Around mile 50, I almost called it a night due to uncontrollable shivering. I decided to do one more lap and luckily heated up enough to continue the race. As I write this race report one-week later, my fingertips and toes are still numb, but the feeling should come back eventually.

The race concluded with Ryan Atkins winning his second title after covering 95 miles. Amelia Boone took the win for the women completing a total of 75 miles. The course proved to be harder than last year with Ryan covering 5 miles less than the previous year. In 2013, 37 racers managed to earn the 75 mile silver bib and in 2014, just 17 achieved the same level. The race directors came through as advertised with harder terrain, harder conditions and harder obstacles to establish who the World’s Toughest Mudder is.

I have completed ultra-distance events before but I think I have found my new favorite event. The ultra-distance format that requires both endurance and upper body strength suits me well. Add to that the friendly atmosphere and it just feels right. The other competitors care about achieving their mileage goals, but how you play the game is just as important. Not once during the 24 hours did I see someone leave another competitor at an obstacle that needed help. Not once did I see competitors yell at each other. Not once was their not positive encouragement from the person in 1st all the way down to the person in 1200th.

If this event sounds awful you can always ease your way into it and sign up for a regular Tough Mudder.  Due to the non-competitive nature of standard Tough Mudder events.  I like to use them as cardio during pre-contest phases of bodybuilding or trial runs and testing equipment for future obstacles races.  

World’s Toughest Mudder, you truly lived up to your name. It is definitely the hardest single day event I have competed in and one of the most positive experiences of my athletic career. If you are looking for a new challenge that tests physical and mental strength, this is a great opportunity. If your goal is to complete 15, 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles, there is a place for you at this event. Just make sure you bring a wetsuit and plenty of warm clothes. When you are packing and you are trying to decide if you need that extra layer of warm clothing or extra layer of neoprene, let me save you some time. Yes, you do. Regardless of the stated temperature, the conditions make it seem 20 degrees colder.


Author with 70 miles Complete, Heading Back Out For One More


How did I do as a first time Mudder? 13th Overall after completing 75 miles….and people say bodybuilders are all show muscles.  I used Hammer Nutrition products, specifically a mix of Gels and Perpetuem to fuel my race performance.  After the first lap I was in 70th but using proper fueling and proper pacing, I gained ground on my competitors every lap.  I will be back next year to race again and I look forward to seeing some of you there.

-Evan Perperis

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Video Showing My Placing by Lap

Fueled by Hammer Nutrition products designed for ultra-endurance, I was able to gain ground on every single lap.