Thursday, July 3, 2014

Going down is optional, coming back up is mandatory

June 12 ~ 17, 2014
As many of you know, I like adventure.  I like to experience what very few others get a chance to and I'm not talking about extravagance.  This may be placing myself on the top of a mountain to obtain a view that few others have ever seen or going camping with friends.  I've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon up close and in person ever since the first time I flew over it 24 years ago.   This year, for my vacation with my two sons Kendall (18) and Kameron (15), I decided we would venture out to the Grand Canyon and it was such a great experience that I deemed it blog worthy.For many trips, getting there is half the adventure.   I wanted to camp in the Grand Canyon, which included hiking down to the bottom and backcountry camping.  This desire made flying there cost-prohibitive so I decided we would drive.  We put in long days going out and made it in 2-1/2 days.  Arriving in the national park just after lunch on Saturday and setting up camp in the South Rim Mather's campground, we figured out our itinerary and determined that we would venture around the tourist areas of the South Rim for 2 days and then hike down the Canyon for one night.  These 2 days were filled the awe and wonderment the Canyon views have to offer as well as lots of seemingly tame wildlife.  The weather was surprisingly cool in the low 80's with very low humidity during the day and cool 40 degrees at night with a constant breeze.   We had to remember that we were at an elevation of 7500'.
Panoramic looking down from South Rim on Bright Angel Trail and Indian Garden

After spending days in a car, I needed exercise and decided to get up Father's Day morning and go for a run. It was sunrise and I ran from our campsite up to the pathway along the rim of the Canyon.  I ran for some time along the rim heading east into the sunrise.   I came out on a point of the Canyon perfectly facing into the rising sun, did some jumping jacks and pushups and decided to have a seat on the edge and dangle my feet over.  It was an incredibly spiritual and meditative moment and I knew that my Father was there with me enjoying all of God's incredible creations.  I could have sat there for hours in that moment.

Sunday night we packed up most of the camp and got our gear and supplies straightened out for our Trek into the Canyon.  Monday morning I woke the boys up at dawn and we packed up camp.   We parked our car at the Back Country Ranger's office and caught the shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead.  On the bus we met others with same idea.   I remember a kind elderly gentlemen in his 70's was there with his 2 sons and their sons, who looked to be around 8, were heading out on the same adventure to spend 2 nights at the Phantom Ranch. 

I was totally prepared for this adventure and I knew the boys would be able to hang in there with me.  Since this was my big idea, I made sure my pack carried the most gear and was the heaviest.  At 8:15 a.m. we set off down the South Kaibab trail which is about 7.2 miles down to the Bright Angel camping area along the Colorado River.  I had heard this trail was more treacherous but I had no idea what it was truly like.  The descent was steep with incredible views and sheer cliffs off the sides of the trail.  The wind was a constant 40 to 50 mph and you had to hold yourself on the trail the entire time.   At one time we came around the point of a canyon on a switchback trail with a steep dropoff on both sides of the trail. The wind was blowing so hard that it nearly picked us up.  We all 3 dropped and crawled around the trail back into the protection of the canyon.   It was a scary moment.  We took several breaks along the way to enjoy the scenery.   The further we went, I imagined the topography and environment we were in would be much like if we were to hike and explore the surface of Mars.
At the South Kaibab trailhead starting our trek down

There were a few others we would meet along the trail, enjoy a conversation and take turns taking each others pictures.  I remember another couple of old-timers that we ran across a little past the halfway point.  We ended up at the same pull off waiting for a mule train to pass.  These guys were easily in their 70's and looked like they had done this before.  I admired them.  A little farther down the trail we met a lady in her 60's that had stopped to rest.  We got to the last established stopping point before the last major descent down to the river.  This station was a repeater station with an emergency phone.   Here we met a man who was hiking with his father who must've been in his 60's.   They asked if we had seen the older guys and the lady and how far back they were.  They were together but had gotten tired of waiting on them.  I thought that was a pretty shitty move and they set out again, not waiting on the rest of their group.  We took a good long rest hanging out with a squirrel that Kendall named Repeater after the station purpose.

Once we got back on trail we started to see the river and camp getting closer and closer.  The heat was climbing higher and the wind was relentless blowing us and the desert sand.  We looked forward to the opportunity to swim in the frigid river.

We eventually made it to the bottom.  The last half mile into camp includes crossing the river on a footbridge.  The bridge was of substantial steel construction but the wind was so strong that about halfway across the bridge started to twist and move making it hard to even walk straight.   Finally in Camp Bright Angel at The Phantom Ranch, we picked our spot and changed into swimming shorts.  We went straight for the Bright Angel creek that is spring fed out of the side of the North Rim and the water was about 65 degrees but it felt great compared to the 106 air temperature in the bottom of the Canyon, but it's a dry heat.   We then went to the mighty Colorado River.  On the east end of the Canyon, the river is dammed to form Lake Powell.  The river is fed off the bottom of this lake back into the Canyon at about 45 degrees.  By the time it reached our location it might have been a brisk 47.   We all jumped and ran back out.  All you could do is go in enough to cool off but it felt great.  

The point of telling you earlier about the 3 generations we met on the bus in the morning and the elderly people we met on the trail down, was to tell you that the 3 generations we met on the bus never even made it down the Canyon and into camp.  Not sure what happened to them and I told the Rangers about them.  The 2 elderly gentlemen and the older lady that were with the impatient ones finally showed up just before sunset.  My guess is it took them 12 hours to get down the Canyon.  I have no idea how they think they will get out.

One thing about living at one with nature is your body quickly becomes adapted to the day when it is not exposed to artificial light.  When this happens, you go to bed when it gets dark and you get up with the sun.  We experienced this in Costa Rica and it's amazing how good you feel when this happens.  With that, we were asleep around 9:00 that night.  I woke up the next morning just before sunrise and started taking down camp and packing our gear.  I waited til the last minute to wake the boys so we could pack away their tents.  With our water packs filled, we set out the Bright Angel trail to make our ascent to the South Rim.  This trail was to be a little over 9 miles with an elevation change of 5000'.  I originally estimated it would take us around 6 hours, I could not have been more wrong. 

Sunrise through the Canyon was remarkable with all the colors from the different stone formations and types.  The trail was very flat for for the first mile and winded along the River making gradual ascent.  There was a lot of sand on the trail and I remember Kameron saying 'well this is counter-productive' because it felt like you would take a step forward and a half step back.  We finally got around to where the Indian Garden creek meets the Colorado River and the fun began.  This is where we started to climb, and climb, and climb.  A couple miles up there was a great place to take a break and soak our tired hot feet in the cool water.  Something we would die for on the last half of the ascent.

The lower 3 miles of the ascent was canyon covered, blocked from the sun and followed a babbling brook with vegetation.  Even though we were steadily going up, it was enjoyable.  Then around mile 3, the switchbacks started with the major ascent and back up into the desert Canyon.  The heat was building quickly.  I workout constantly and these steep climbs with a 50 lb. pack on my back were getting difficult.  We had to stop often and take breaks in what little shade we could find.  We pushed and pushed and it seemed to be taking forever but we eventually made it to the halfway point, Indian Gardens.  We knew we had come far but I was thinking to myself that 4-1/2 miles today took as much time as it did the day before to go over 7 miles.  We took a long break here, had some lunch and refilled our water.  Our rations were starting to run low and it didn't appear that we would be anywhere near the top for lunch.

So here's where the 'Embrace The Suck' or the 'Spartan The F*** Up' starts.  We were already beat, hot and tired and only halfway to the top.  Kendall was doing great and accepting the fact that we all had a desired end to this adventure and there was only one way to make that happen and we still had around 4-1/2 miles and 3000' of elevation change between us and that desired outcome.  I love this attitude, that's positivity, one form of embracing the suck.  Kameron was a little distressed about the ordeal and having doubts.  He hadn't quite accepted the fact that there was one and only one option out of this.  This wasn't a man-made obstacle that could be maneuvered around.  There was no elevator, we weren't hopping on the back of a mule and there was no 'spawn' point that we could jump to the Rim level from.  These were God's obstacles and those are never trivial.  We were in the middle of the Suck and really wanted out.

We started the second half of the trek up the Canyon.  There are man-made resting areas every 1-1/2 miles from this point forward which meant we had 2 dedicated stops where we could refill water and take a break.  This is a great plan but we were still needing to stop and take breaks a lot more often since we were constantly climbing up.  When we were stuck in switchbacks we would stop a few times and barely cover 1/4 to 1/2 miles at a time.  I was really starting to feel sorry for those pack mules.  We reached what's called the 3-mile House, this is 3 miles down from the top, and we took a long break.  People started asking us where we were coming from because we had these huge packs on.  After they had come down 3 miles, they were amazed at what we were accomplishing.

We set off to the next destination and the last full stop, the 1-1/2 mile house.  Kameron had actually been drinking too much water along the way and with the elevation change and stressed breathing, he had actually started to vomit water.  We were taking breaks more often and I was making sure he wasn't getting dehydrated.  Lots of breaks were had along the way and we finally made it to the 1-1/2 mile house.  The top of the Canyon was looking closer and closer yet still seemed so far away and straight up.  With every stop, we refilled our water reserves and soaked our shirts, hats and shamogs to keep us cool.  

Step after step, break after break, we finally made it to the top, 9 hours later.  There was no finish line, and nobody putting a medal around your neck.  Just the chance to turn around and look at one of the greatest obstacles in the world and know that you just did that.  One of the greatest things that my sons learned on this adventure is the resetting of their threshold.  The rewiring and reconfiguring of their brains with a whole new understanding and appreciation of their own abilities and weaknesses.  We all have a top level of our comfort zone.  Your threshold for pain and discomfort is not as low as you may think it is.  As young men growing up in the 2000's with all the comforts they could ever want for, the worst thing that could have happened to them would be to go without air conditioning or lose their electronics for a week.  Now they truly know what they are capable of and I'm sure they are even more confident now that they could accomplish so much more.  What was once their upper limit of how much they could endure has been reset and raised and we are all better because of it.  We didn't die, our bodies did not fall over or quit on us and even though our minds wanted to trick us into giving up several times, we overcame that and our minds ultimately kept us going.  Live by the creed; Your body will stop when it falls over, until then, the only thing stopping you is your mind.

At the start of every trailhead leading down into the Canyon there is a sign that reads; CAUTION! Down is optional. UP IS MANDATORY.  Heed this and be prepared.

The Grand Canyon gets around 4.5 million visitors per year.  Only 5% of those visitors even attempt to venture below the rim.  2% of the visitors to the Canyon receive backcountry overnight permits.  Many of these only go as far as Indian Garden.  This puts us in the category of between 1% and 2% of the annual visitors to the Grand Canyon ever complete what we just did.  In addition to these statistics, it's important to note that there are on average 300 search and rescue incidents every year in the Grand Canyon, 1200 medical incidents and 10~15 deaths.  This was an incredible, lifetime experience and accomplishment that I am so glad to have achieved with my sons.  I'm so proud of them.

Grand Canyon statistics.

Monday, June 9, 2014

To Pre-Register or Not To Pre-Register? THAT is the question.

So we've all been burned at one time or another with this whole 'pre-register' ploy from events.  What they are doing is using this as a gauge as to whether or not they will lose their ass if they come to your state and put on an event.  Are they really that unsure of themselves?  Is their event really that bad that they aren't even sure if they can break even?  Maybe they should just leave the business all together and leave it to the professionals.  Most of these events don't even give dates or locations as to when the proposed event might happen.

Spartan Race has a requirement that any event obtain approximately 10,000 pre-registrations before they will commit to it.  If you look at the current Spartan Race schedule for 2015, there are no events that you can actually register for.  Every event for 2015 is currently under pre-registration.  Really?  It's halfway through 2014 already!

How exactly are people supposed to plan their personal event schedule when Spartan won't commit to their fans?  Does Tough Mudder do this?  NO!  There is currently only 1 event for Tough Mudder listed as 'pre-register' and it's for Tokyo.  I may not be the biggest fan of Tough Mudder, because of the outrageous cost, but they know how to run a business and run it well.  They know how to take care of their customers and it shows.  They consistently sell out venues with anywhere from 8000 to 15000 participants and almost always run the event for the entire weekend.  They only have one style of event and that's what they deliver to their fans.  Tough Mudder will create their schedule 1 year in advance, and if the event is successful, you can register for the following year the day of the current event.  So why doesn't Spartan do this?  Is this the Reebok influence?  Where's the commitment to the Spartan fan base?  In addition to this poor organization, there are parts of the country starving for attention from Spartan while Tough Mudder spreads the love all over.  Following are maps of Spartan and Tough Mudder locations.  While it may appear that Spartan covers quite a bit of the country, keep in mind that they have 3 level of events and are constantly promoting their trifecta.  If your were to remove the Super (blue) and Beast (green) placemarks on the map, you would see there are areas of the country starving for attention.  Even worse is if you remove the Sprint (red) placemarks.  You run a Sprint and then Spartan is shoving the trifecta carrot out in front of you but the closest Super or Beast could be 8 to 20 hours or more away.

Spartan 2014 event map

2014 Tough Mudder Event Map

I say we take a stand against this tactic from all events and refuse to pre-register.  If you don't get a Spartan, or Superhero, or other national event in your state, it's really no big deal because there are hundreds of local events that tend to be much better than any of the travelling circus acts.  If you need to find one, remember to look under the Event Maps section of our website.!event-map/c20kb

If everyone refuses to pre-register for any 2015 Spartan Race, what will they do?  Will they quit having races?  I seriously doubt that.  Take a stand, unite in one common voice against this practice and don't pre-register.  I guarantee your voice will be heard and Spartan will be forced to change their ways.

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 - a year of accomplishments

WOW!  That pretty much sums it up.  What an incredible year for team Crazy Mudder Muckers, the world of OCR and me personally.

Let's start off with the world of OCR.  2013 saw the demise of many individual events as well as many event companies.  From cancellation after cancellation to the bilking of the registrants for several Superhero events to the folding of Hero Rush and Run For Your Lives.   2013 was a roller coaster ride for the industry that ended with the announcement of the inaugural Obstacle Course Racing World Championships.  You can read about some of these things in my other blogs; My opinion on the current state of the OCR world and My opinion on the current state of the OCR world - Part 2.  Like it or not, I predict 2014 will continue the Wild Ride so keep your legs and arms inside the vehicle at all times.

For the Crazy Mudder Muckers, I don't know the exact number but we started the year with only a couple hundred members and close 2013 with over 600 strong.  The last big event for CMM was the second installment of Mud, Guts & Glory on November 2nd where we cleaned up the podium from all sides, including largest and fastest team.  The event map that I created and maintain had around 2000 hits at the beginning of the year and closes 2013 with over 23,000.  This is clearly being used by many people and I hope it continues to help people get to more events.  I'm very proud of the Crazy Mudder Muckers and all of the other groups of OCR crazies out there and am excited to see what the future holds.  I have met many incredible people through these groups and OCR and have made many great friendships.

For me personally, 2013 was a year of many changes and adventures.  I started 2013 with my cholesterol and triglycerides at an all-time high, and that was with medication.  I completed 6 events in 2012 and certainly exercised on a regular basis but never really changed my eating habits.  Starting the first of February I completely changed my eating habits and within 8 weeks reduced my body fat by 27%, 26 to 19.  Within 12 weeks I had lowered my cholesterol and triglycerides by 30% to levels that I haven't seen since high school and I continue to maintain those levels.  My goal for 2014 is to convince the doctor that I no longer need to be on a Statin.

I have to say that, at the age of 45, I could not be more proud of myself for the personal accomplishments that 2013 brought and not without challenges.  My race goals for 2013 were to do as many different events as I possibly could, to feed the addiction.  That goal eventually turned into achieving the Spartan trifecta.  By running in as many different events as I possibly could, I was conditioning myself to be prepared for anything that any event could dish out.  By the time I had reached my Spartan Super in Virginia, I started to wonder if I could even complete the miles of terrain required for a Beast.  I had to change up my training so I would be better prepared physically for the challenges that lay ahead.  In November, I completed my first half marathon and 6 days later travelled to South Carolina to conquer the Spartan Beast and earn my trifecta.  This was a great end to an incredible year and no better way to sum up this year than having that sexy tri-colored medal hanging from my medal rack.  2013 also brought me the opportunity to help design and organize an OCR event, the Mud Gauntlet.  This was a lot of fun and I think the reviews were decent.  I look forward to what the future brings for this event.  I also started this blog in May of this year and am happy to say that it has been read over 4,760 times from people in 10 different countries.  Thank you everyone for joining me in my journey.

Something I had always hoped for since starting this crazy journey in 2012 was to inspire my sons, young men now, to exercise and try to live a healthier lifestyle.  2 things happened this year that I could not have been more proud.  In July at the Mud Ninja, my sons let me sacrifice them to the Ninja as volunteers in the pouring down rain all morning.  They were miserable but made the best of it.  When their shift was over, my youngest (14) came to me and said "I want one of those medals" to which I responded "there's only one way to get it".  He said OK and I went around with him for a second lap of the Mud Ninja.  For those of you that have been fortunate enough to experience the Mud Ninja, you know that this is one of the most difficult courses in the industry.  He completed it, after working all morning, and when he got the medal at the end the look of pride on his face was priceless.  In September at the Mud Gauntlet, my oldest son (17) had agreed to be the DJ for the event all day.  He had a lot of fun with this but when I went to look for him after the last wave had gone, he was nowhere to be found.  His friend said he went to run the course.  I later learned that he didn't even go with the last wave, he went on his own, after all waves had gone, just because he wanted to run this great course.  No words, just changed his shoes and went.  THAT's what I'm talking about!  This was a tie to his completing the Indiana Spartan Sprint with me and seeing the huge sense of accomplishment on his face afterward.  These moments are priceless and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Following is the complete list of my racing statistics for 2013:
  • completed a total of 37 events
    • 22 Obstacle Course Races (a few were covered multiple times)
    • 11 'other' events including trail runs and my first half marathon
    • 4 virtual 5k's
    • Actually won money as part of the 2nd place team at the TQL Urban OCR
  • over 193 miles ran in all of the events (not including training runs)
  • over 3,350 miles driven to events
  • 10 states travelled
  • Following is the list of 2013 events that I completed
    • 2/17 Fight For Air Climb - Cincinnati
    • 2/23 Sand Mine Challenge - Missouri
    • 3/2 Survival Race - Columbus
    • 3/9 Gladiator Mud Run - Missouri
    • 4/27 Spartan Sprint - Indiana
    • 5/5 Amazing Race
    • 5/11 Mud-Stash 5k - competitive
    • 5/11 Mud-Stash 5k - group
    • 5/12 Morgan's Extreme Trail Run
    • 6/1 Warrior Dash - Ohio 1
    • 6/9 Military Fitness Challenge
    • 6/15 T.A.C. Force Challenge
    • 6/15 T.A.C. Force round 2
    • 6/22 Waterfront Challenge - Louisville
    • 6/29 Mud-Stash
    • 7/20 Color Me Rad
    • 7/27 Mud Ninja
    • 7/27 Mud Ninja round 2
    • 8/3 Cincy Nation Mud Run
    • 8/3 Cincy Nation Mud Run round 2
    • 8/3 Cincy Nation Mud Run round 3
    • 8/3 Cincy Nation Mud Run round 4
    • 8/10 Mudathlon - Ohio
    • 8/10 Mudathlon round 2
    • 8/10 Mudathlon round 3
    • 8/11 The Great Mason Chase
    • 8/24 Spartan Mid - Atlantic Super - Virginia
    • 8/31 Mud Guts & Glory
    • 9/7 Mud-Stash - 5k
    • 9/7 Mud-Stash - 10k
    • 9/15 Mud Gauntlet
    • 9/21 Harvest Dash
    • 9/28 Mudocalypse
    • 10/5 Springboro Rock N Run
    • 10/12 TQL Urban Obstacle Race
    • 10/26 Great Pumpkin Run - 10k with Tough Pumpkin
    • 11/2 Mud Guts & Glory
    • 11/3 Mason Half Marathon
    • 11/9 Spartan Beast - Carolina
    • 11/28 Lifetime Turkey Day Race
    • 12/7 Artic Dash
    • 12/28 Topo Trail Series #2

2014 promises to be another exciting year.  I don't plan on running as many events in 2014 but will focus on getting to specific events and maybe even a multiple trifecta.  With the announcement of the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships to be held at the home course of the Crazy Mudder Muckers, Mud, Guts & Glory, my main goal for 2014 is to qualify for and ultimately run in the first ever ORCWC.  2014 is going to be a glorious year.
Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spartan Beast - South Carolina 2013

Carolina Adventure World, Winnsboro, South Carolina - Saturday, November 9, 2013

When I registered for my first Spartan last winter, the Indiana Sprint to be held at the end of April, I remember saying 'There's no way I can do the distance of a Super and certainly no way I could do a Beast and get my trifecta.'  I don't exactly remember where I changed my mind but somewhere I decided that this would be my major goal for 2013.  I chose the Virginia Super when it was still located at a 'flatter' location and the Illinois Super was in October.  Then Spartan relocated the Virginia Super to a ski mountain and changed the Illinois Super to July.  If you haven't read my blog on the Virginia Super, you can read it here, but I'm not sure what would have been worse, the incredible slopes of the course or the Spartan Herpes of Illinois.  I somehow survived the Super but came away wondering if I was just not physically capable of handling the extremes of a Beast.  I immediately started researching what the problem was with my knees and learned that it was more IT Band related.  I set a routine to work and stretch my IT Bands and strengthen my knees for the next 2 months.  A couple weeks before the Beast I met with the running coach at my gym.  His knowledge was invaluable.  He interviewed me and analyzed my gate and told me several things that I was doing wrong.  Using his advice, I hit the Mud, Guts & Glory course for training 2 weekends prior to the November 2 Mud, Guts & Glory event.  Constantly paying attention to my running, particularly with the ascents and descents, and using the advice from the running coach, my knee pain was gone.  I was incredibly happy.  As I mentioned, the week before the Carolina Beast was the fall Mud, Guts & Glory event.  Five miles with 2,200 feet of elevation change and incredible obstacles.  The week before this, I decided to run my first half marathon on Sunday, November 3 with fellow Crazy Dewaynne Tackett.  Yes!  A 5 mile extreme OCR on Saturday and a half marathon the next day, all one week before the Beast.  This was the only way I would feel confident that I could slay the Beast.  The longest distance I had ever continuously ran before was a 10k.  At MGG I concentrated on my off-road skills and keeping my knees and IT Bands in one piece.  At the half marathon I concentrated on pace.  We made it through both without stopping, except for the 5 second water stations and one potty break.  

Coming out of the half marathon I have never felt so confident and ready.  I knew I was going to slay this Beast and the only unknown was the elevation changes and how long my knees would last.

For a few weeks before the Beast I asked questions and paid attention to the posts of the veterans of the Corn Fed Spartans with regards to hydration and fuel.  Our wave time was to be 10:00 so a big breakfast was out of the question and it went through lunch time.  I have a couple hydration packs but they have little storage in them for things like fuel so I started leaning towards my CamelBak Mil Tac H.A.W.G. with lots of storage space.  I decided to remove the hydration bladder and just take a couple of bottles but I had all kinds of room for fuel.  I looked into 'fuel' and everything out there is nothing but simple carb based sugar boosters and my body does not deal with sugar overload well.  In a book I recently purchased called Superfood Smoothies, there was mention of Chia Gel.  I did some investigation into this and the calories in Chia are incredible.  Basically you place Chia seeds in a liquid and they absorb the liquid.  I chose to use 100% Apple Cider so that I did get some carbs.  I found a squeeze bottle at the Eddie Bauer booth at MGG the weekend before and it was perfect.  The substance tasted like applesauce and had about the same consistency.  Total calories in the squeeze bottle was about 1000.  It was incredible and kept me going much longer and better than any carb-only substance would.  For additional carbs I had some Island Boost given to me from Jascia Redwine to test.  It was good but again just straight simple carbs.  Here is a quick and dirty calorie breakdown on the substance.  

I registered for the Carolina Beast because because I had NO intention of going to Vermont or Texas, so this was my only option to complete the trifecta.  Up to 4 weeks prior I still wasn't sure how I was getting to South Carolina or where I would be staying.  Devon Brown hit me up and we decided to drive down together.  I heard there was onsite camping available so I called Carolina Adventure World and all they had left was RV sites.  $63 for the whole weekend was a great deal and it was ONSITE.  There was room for 4 or 5 tents on the site so I let it out that I had room and was able to sublet space to Mark McKennett from Maryland and Jeff Hoskins of South Carolina.  You've heard me mention before how much I love the camaraderie of this sport.  I love it!  Devon and I left early Friday morning.  I set my GPS, not paying enough attention, to the last place in the Carolina's that I searched for, which happened to be the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte where they have held past Spartan's.  We were almost there before I realized we were going to the wrong place.  The good news is we were only an hour off course.  We arrived around 4:30, quickly setup camp and then we were off to dinner with all of the Corn Fed clan.

The forecast for that night was to be cold and we were sleeping in a tent.  When I camp, I do it in style with cots and all.  I stopped and bought a space heater for $25 because I knew we were on an RV site with electricity.  Plugged it in before we left for dinner and it was like sleeping in the tropics all night.  There really was no better way to prepare for this race than to be in a comfy cot at 10:00 p.m. the night before and so warm that you kick the covers off.  We slept a solid 8 hours that night.  We dreaded leaving the tent in the morning because it was 28 degrees but the view of the sunrise over the venue was incredible and required some contemplation.

We walked over to the festival area about 7:00 a.m. and started to gather at the venue.  We got checked in and I watched Devon and others take off in the Elite Heat.  I was extremely disappointed and saddened by the actions of the so-called 'Elite' runners as half of them actually skipped and ran past the first set of obstacles.  They should all have their points taken away from this race.  At 8:30 I watched the ever-inspiring Operation Enduring Warrior group with their grand entrance.  Before you knew it, it was 9:45 and time to make our way to the Start Line so I found my Spartan running partner and pace-setter Kaitlin Stein (who almost didn't make it to the event) and we headed to the Start.  If it weren't for the accomplishments of the weekend before, I would have been extremely nervous.

We weren't 100 yards into the course and there was the first obstacles, a series of ditches at least 6' wide, 4' deep and full of cold water.  Remember, it was 28 degrees at 6:00 a.m. so it may have been 45 by now.  From there it was the standard Over/Under/Through and Walls but for the most part the course was a lot of trail running and the elevation changes and slopes were relatively easy.  I concentrated constantly on my running form to prevent any knee issues.  I have to say that the Spartan obstacles on this course were the most difficult I have encountered yet for a Spartan.  The obstacles at Virginia were lame compared to most of these, but it was the Beast so you have to expect that.  As we approached the half way point, 6 miles, and back to the festival area, there was a small pond that is used by the off-road vehicles for mud-bogging.  The water was nearly waste deep and super cold so we were trying to get through it as quickly as possible when all of the sudden my legs ran into a boulder under the surface of the water that was the size of a small car.  I had been trying to protect my knees up to this point, just to smash them on a boulder that couldn't be seen.  I limped out of the pond with my left knee starting to swell and right shin with an abrasion.  Damn it!  I was feeling great up to this point because I was not having any knee issues and by mile 4 at the Virginia Super I was shot.
Come along little doggy !
Next up, the dreaded Traverse Wall.  I have never been able to complete this and was looking for redemption after Virginia.  I carefully studied every wall and every little board to determine which was the least muddy.  My hands were still wet and muddy from the climb up a small hill to the festival area so I found the only clean spot I could to clean them off, the back of Kaitlin's shirt.  I started my trek across the wall, hold by hold, feeling good and steady.  DING !!!  That bitch was mine and I felt great about it.  Immediately after was the standard burpee station with an option-out if you throw a spear and make it stick in a hay bale.  I nailed this one for the first time in Virginia but missed it this time.  I was ok with this since I was burpee penalty free up to this point in the race.  Next, the rope climb.  The Indiana Sprint rope climb started on muddy ground.  The Virginia Super was over a water pit that was about waste deep.  This one was over water but when I got in, it was chest deep.  WOW!  I had been practicing this one on other courses and made my way up and rang that little bell like I owned it.  We took some time to hydrate and fuel up and then it was time to move on to the back half of the course.  Immediately after the festival area was a series of mud moguls and pits that were just a sloppy mess and then you were off into the woods to run.  We were freezing at this point after having been in so much mud and water and really needed to keep moving.

The second half of the course entailed a lot of trail running with obstacles strewn throughout until just past mile 11 where we came upon the Tyrolean Traverse.  We were just a little past 3-1/2 hours into the race and feeling good about our time as our goal was to finish around 4 hours.  The Tyrolean Traverse had about 10 ropes going across a pond that you had to cross the rope about 40' and ring the bell.  At every rope there was a line of at least 20 people waiting and the people 'attempting' the crossing were taking forever.  I really like these obstacles and find them easy but after watching everyone else, I'm the minority.  After 20 or 30 minutes of waiting in line, it was finally my turn.  I went first so Kaitlin and the others could watch and learn, up and over in about 15 seconds to ring the bell.  To keep the line moving I dropped into the water instead of going all the way across and that was a mistake as I sank in muck up to my knees.  We had considered just doing burpees instead of waiting on this one because of the line and the lack of desire to get wet again but chose to STFU.  Kaitlin started her crossing and made it about half way before she fell in.  Now she was wet, cold and having to do burpees anyway and really hating life.  The good news is we're very close to the finish line.  Just before the Traverse is when I started to feel that familiar pain in my knees bringing back terrible memories of Virginia.  It was funny how throughout the entire course, all we heard was "this is nothing like Virginia" or "Virginia sucked way worse than this".  After the Traverse was the sandbag carry which I'm fine with but had to start going backwards on the downhill or I wasn't going to make it.  After the sandbag carry was an uphill climb to the Log Jump.  The lame part about this was they were allowing you to help each other across this by holding hands.  At this point, we had no intention of doing burpees and were glad to take this opportunity so we helped several people and then went ourselves.  Back into the woods on some gnarly uphill and downhill terrain until we came back out of the woods to the bucket carry.  I've not experienced this one yet but you basically take a 10 gallon bucket, fill it with gravel and carry it up and down a hill.  I carried it on one shoulder going up the hill and switched to the other shoulder on the way down as i gingerly went backwards.  After this was a standard 8' which I can usually handle easily on my own but we were so exhausted that we all worked the buddy system this time.  Then we we see a small little hill with some barbed-wire.  I was thinking "this doesn't look bad", I had heard bad things about last years crawl.  We started up the hill and as you crest this 'little' hill under the barbed-wire then you can see the next 40 yards of the nastiest looking barbed-wire crawl you have ever seen.  It looked like a war zone and the only thing missing was bullets flying over your head.  What looked like mud and muck was really sharp little shards of jagged gravel covered with mud and muck.  This is where all the planking, yoga and mountain climbers pay off but nothing can prepare you for the absolute shredding that my legs got from all the rock in the mud.  Glad to be out of that, but now there was a muddy water pit with a wall across it that you had to go under.

I'm not sure what they call the next obstacle but it's basically a high ladder climb and then you cross a horizontal cargo net that's about 20' up and then back down the other side.  Not good for those with a fear of heights.  I could almost see the Finish Line.  The Fire Jump and Gladiators were the only things standing between me, that pretty green medal and that even prettier tri-colored trifecta medal.


Aside from being near hypothermic, I felt great.  This marked the end of a very long year with enormous strides in my physical health and endurance and I have never felt better.  Now to set next years goals.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mud, Guts & Glory #2 - 2013

King's Domain, Oregonia, Ohio - November 2, 2013

The great folks at King's Domain held their second ever Mud, Guts & Glory event at their location in Oregonia, Ohio on November 2 and they managed to outdo themselves from the incredible first event.  They listened to the elites and experts from the first event and made several changes in just 2 short months.  

First, they moved the start line to be closer to the finish line and the crowd.  One of the really nice things about this was that you didn't have to start running up that first hill.  It was only 30 seconds before you got to it, and it was still a tough first hill but it was nice to not start off staring up it.  

For the large Monkey Bars, the last event people started going over the top of the bars because they are just so intense.  To prevent that from happening this time, they simply put sheets of plastic over the top.  It was great to see more people attempting and completing the Monkey Bars.  This is one of my favorite obstacles.  As I started to climb the tires to the top platform of the Monkey Bars, a little boy came scampering up my left side.  Somebody asked him his age and he said "10".  With that, he reached out to one of the 20" sections of Monkey Bars and started making his way down, across the bottom and all the way up.  This little guy was a beast with his father doing everything he could to keep up behind him.  With it being the first weekend in November and not know what the weather would be like, they opted to not fill the pool under the bars with water and filled it with hay for a 'not-so-hard' landing if you fell off the bars.  Just after the Monkey Bars in the Gauntlet area, they didn't add any water but it rained all week and the mud in the Over/Under section was so thick it would suck off your shoes.  Good stuff!

There were two new obstacles added in the last 2 months and they were thoughtfully placed out on the course in the woods.  The first is a set of three menacing walls.  The first wall is about 6' tall but then you are immediately hit with a wall that is every bit of ten to eleven feet tall and absolutely no way to 'cheat' over it.  I have seen two people scale this wall by themselves and they were able to use the rocks placed at the bottom of the wall to 'spring' off and grab the top.  A short 'old' guy like myself has a little difficulty with this and needed to find a tall buddy to give me a boost.  Even with a boost, reaching the top was very difficult but I did finally make it.  The third wall is between six and seven feet but still quite a challenge.  Be careful off the backsides of these walls and make sure you land well.

The second new obstacle is a traverse very similar to the Tyrolean Traverse but there was no body of water to run ropes across so they placed this on the top of a hill and call it the Polish Traverse.  They took 4 long 'utility-like' poles, laid them horizontal and elevated them about five feet off the ground.  These poles are tapered so one end may have a diameter of eight inches while the other may have a diameter of twelve inches and they are about twenty-five feet long.  The goal is to 'mount' the pole on one end, traverse the pole and dismount the other end without touching the ground underneath.  The difficulty is that you don't have anything to hold on to, you have to wrap your arms and legs around the pole and traverse while holding on.  I found the dismount without touching the ground to be the most difficult part.

Another great change to this event was the addition of physical penalties to certain obstacles.  The Elite wave was given 30 burpees upon failure of the Monkey Bars, Walls, Polish Traverse and others.

The course this time was very different from the first in the fact that the first event had super dry weather leading up to it and it was in the summer.  This time, it had rained the week leading up to the event and the trails were covered with leaves from the trees.  This made the trails very slippery and covered every little stump, root and rock along the way making it very treacherous.

The weather on event day started off chilly but it was sunny and it warmed up nicely.  They had a huge bonfire going in the middle of the festival area that everyone congregated around making for a great social atmosphere.  

They had an ancillary contest going on in the festival area that was sponsored by the great folks at OCR Gear, a Tug-Of-War.  I hesitated on this but then went and signed up myself and another 'oldey' teammate, Dewaynne Tackett.  Together we had a combined age of almost 100 at 96.  I'm fairly certain the other two-man teams could barely hit 60.  I had already changed out of my muddy OCR shoes before we started off our first battle and that was a mistake.  I slipped and slipped and we quickly lost.  With the contest being double-elimination, and me not being able to accept defeat, I quickly put my Inov8 212's back on and readied for battle again.  This time we handled the opposition quickly and continued to advance ourselves back into the ranks.  We were 2 rounds out from the top and our opponents were two young muscle-bound guys.  We dug in started to pull.  Back and forth, back and forth, at one point we were within a foot of winning when Dewaynne started to slip.  I had already expended so much energy, I just couldn't hold it any longer and we lost.  What a great time this was for a post race activity.

The day went well for Team Crazy Mudder Muckers.  MGG added a 'team' category this time around.  We won first place for the largest team and first place for the fastest team.  They took the top 4 fastest runners of each team and averaged the times for this.  For individual teammates; Nicki Green took second place overall women's and Ulrike Rosser took first place overall women's.  Sam Mincey took third place overall men's.  Crazy Mudder Muckers teammates also took first place men's and first place women's Tug-Of-War.  As a result of all of this awesomeness, the challenge has been thrown out there for any team to come and steal our thunder at the next Mud, Gut's & Glory event, sometime in 2014.  We will be back and we will be even stronger.

There's a local photographer, David Long, that has been popping up at some local events and his work is incredible.  Check out his video of pictures from the event.  There are some really great people in this.  Both course photographers that day have some great shots, please check them out. - 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Mudocalypse - Indiana 2013

Blue River Farm, Greenfield, Indiana - September 28, 2013

When the guys at Mudocalypse announced another new OCR event, I was hoping that this would not be just some other group trying to jump on the bandwagon.  I also was very lucky and won a contest on Twitter for a free entry.  I was excited that it would be at Haspin Acres where the Indiana Spartan Sprint has been held for the last 2 years and then 1 month before the event they announced a venue change.  It was now going to be another hour away on the same land that Rebel Race was held last year.  We won't talk about the quality of Rebel Race.  As the concepts of the event were released, I was intrigued.  At obstacle points along the way, you would be required to make decisions to go left or right.  One way may be shorter and the other may be longer.  One direction may have less obstacles while the other may have more.  This concept is very unique and I was excited to see what it would be like.  

Parking was pretty standard, in a corn field and had to pay the farmer $10.  Check in was very organized and quick and the amount of swag in the goodie bag was great.

Before the race, we were told that the longest possible route was around 8 miles and the shortest around 3.  We watched the competitive wave leave and it was exactly 16 minutes and 31 seconds later that the first competitor crossed the finish line.  This guy obviously chose the shortest route possible and it was not 3 miles.  We decided that we would do everything we could to take the longest route possible.  The very first obstacle was this incredibly tight, low-crawl.  There was little to no room to move on this one as it was covered with solid wood, not wire or anything like that.  This made all that core work necessary.  At the end, there was 2 exit spots, depending on which exit you took, you were going to the right or to the left, and the game was on.  We all chose left since it was towards the outside of the course, assuming to the right and inside of the course would be shorter.  For most of the run the terrain was well used and thank goodness finally for a flat event.  The many creeks around this property made for some great water running.  The construction of the obstacles was high quality.  For the many 7' walls, and there were many, instead of a true 'wall' with a top that you could jump and grab, these were made of huge, heavy duty crates stacked on top of each other.  The top was a flat 3' deep surface making it very difficult to run and jump.  They had 2 reverse walls, one shorter than the other, several hurdles and a few regular climbing walls.  Overall, the obstacles were plentiful and of sound quality.  Every time we came to a decision making point, we would ask the volunteer working there if they knew which path was the longer one and would always take that.  One thing I really enjoyed was when we emerged from woods and one of the creek runs, we came out into an open field that was maybe 50 acres.  The volunteer there told us that the longer route was to the left.  As we made our way around the perimeter of field, we could see several other people at different points throughout the field, taking different routes and going over different obstacles.  This would be the coolest site ever if there were 1000 participants in that field.

I have to give these guys BIG props.  In an industry that is struggling to find it's happy medium, especially in this part of the country, these guys pressed on to get this event off the ground.  With only a little over 100 registrants, any other event organizer would have cancelled, It's been happening all too much lately, but these guys are committed enough to put this event on for the people that did register and get the first event under their belt.  I'm very interested in what the next event has to offer and would recommend everyone give it a try.

The event organizers are all ex-military and the events serve the charity Wish For Our Heroes.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

My opinion on the current state of the OCR world - Part 2

Hopefully you have read Part 1 of my opinion on the current state of the OCR world.  If not, please do; My opinion on the current state of the OCR world.

I wrote my first editorial opinion on this subject not even 2 months ago.  Since then, much has happened on this roller coaster ride that continues to prove my opinion that the market is still trying to figure itself out.  The laws of supply and demand have not yet settled into a smooth running market.  Greedy wanna-be's continue to plague the market and stiff the consumer.  In addition to the prerequisite reading of Part 1, I also suggest you read the following related articles from the great thinkers at Obstacle Racing Media: Superhero Scramble UnmaskedNo Refund For You! and Great American Mud Run Cancels All Future Events.

Events and organizations like Hero Rush, Great American Mud Run and Superhero Scramble are destroying all of the good that this great industry has accomplished and making it increasingly more difficult for the remaining events, especially the great ones, to be successful.  Whether these organizations are collapsing due to greed or because of mismanagement, the end effect is the same.  Events in the midwest are being cancelled and people are being left without refunds and bad opinions of the OCR industry.  I hate to say it but as much as I dislike the 'Groupon' approach, it seems to be the best recourse for these folks to be getting refunds.  The result is leaving the greatest percentage of the population, which is the 80% of the people that go to these events, with such a distrust that they will never attempt to do one of these events again.  If you are reading this, you are most likely one of the serious enthusiasts, like me, of the OCR world and either have a personal story of the positive impact this sport has had on your life and health or you know many people that have a great story to tell.  There are many people in this country that truly need the inspiration of completing one of these events to turn their lives around and with these events folding, they will never get that chance.  Following are 2 local media stories regarding the cancellation of the Great American Mud Run and the impact it had on 2 completely different women;  Mud run canceled, local woman wants refund and Mud Run participants left with nowhere to run This has been happening for some time now and not just in the Midwest; Mud run cancellation leaves many without promised refunds.  As mentioned in all of these, regular people take these events on as part of their 'bucket list' and train for months.  These are life impacting and life changing events in peoples lives and they are being taken advantage of by greedy people that have no idea what they are doing.  

Case in point are the not-so-super 'actions' of Superhero Scramble.  Superhero Scramble was to hold an event this past summer in Ohio and cancelled only a few weeks before the event.  Their claim was that they had suffered great losses to equipment from storms at their Carolina event.  Fortunately, this time they did offer refunds or you could transfer your registration to the 2014 Ohio event.  Seeing the writing on the wall, I chose the refund.  I'm going to go out on a limb and call 'bullshit' and believe that the cancellation was due to low registration.  Superhero was to also have their first Super Villain event in July at the same location in Illinois as the Spartan Super.  Many of you will remember this location as the start of the infamous Spartan Rash.  Superhero postponed this event with the excuse that the health risks were too great and they wanted to ensure the area or possible infestation was cleaned up before they exposed anyone to it again.  Once again, I call bullshit and believe this was just a convenient excuse to give them more time to increase registration numbers.  Just this past weekend, while everyone was enjoying a good ass-whooping from a quality organization on Mt. Killington, Superhero announced the cancellation of the Illinois Super Villain and that they were not giving full refunds.  This time they made 2 claims, that the local Board Of Health had not yet cleared the site and that their insurance company was not going to underwrite the event due to the potential health hazards of poison ivy.  The announcement can be read here.  Once again I call bullshit, as does the vast majority of the population, and firmly believe this is a result of low registrations.  Quoted from the Lasalle County Public Health Dept. "Individuals from the state health department visited the site on two occasions to investigate possible causes of the rash. During the onsite visit, initial assessment did not reveal evidence of large numbers of chiggers or conditions that support the presence of Cercariae that causes “swimmer’s itch”."   "On August 27, 2013 IDPH sent out two Environmental Health Specialists.  They were focusing on the presence of chiggers. They did not find any chigger activity from their two testing sites."  They went on to state that there were no further reports of new poison ivy outbreaks since the Spartan incident. The area is known to have large areas that are covered with poison ivy, but sprays such as that used by Dirt Runner control the weeds effectively.  In addition, Dirt Runner has held several events since the Spartan Super without incident or report of any further outbreaks.  

An executive of K2 Insurance, not the insurer of Superhero but an insurer of many other OCR's, stated the following "It would not be uncommon for an underwriter to deny coverage for an event knowing that there has been prior issues regarding the venue location.

It is possible the same company that writes Spartan, also writes Super Hero Scramble. Without the specific declination from the underwriter we can only speculate. The potential exposure to poison ivy would be an “expected hazard,” so it generally would not warrant a declination in and of itself. Knowing that the venue has produced a publicized “outbreak” is enough to make some underwriters uncomfortable enough to just issue a declination. Waivers offer a good deterrent; however, people will still have the right to sue for recovery.

I use several carriers for this type of event. If one says “no” we go to another however, the pricing increase may be significant. Mr. O’Conner may have combined this with other factors to determine it was not worth the potential exposure and harm to his brand.

So IF the insurance company that writes SHS did issue a declination, then SHS has a valid argument. However, it seems like there are plenty of other options that could have been available - e.g. using a different insurance carrier or finding a different venue. I discovered myself that the venue used by Tough Mudder (the hunt club in Seneca) is open for use on Oct 5th as no other events are being held there that day. That could have been a viable option. But regardless, this comes down to the cost/benefit of finding an insurance company that would sponsor this event on grounds that had a known outbreak of poison ivy, and whether the cost of the coverage was too exorbitant to make the race profitable (because we all know that the race needs to make money to continue to survive)."

Sean 'Ace' O'Connor (Founder & CEO of Superhero Scramble) claims "we immediately searched for an alternate venue, however we were not able to find anything suitable" yet many people have stated that the location of the Tough Mudder in Seneca is completely open and available.  By the way, never trust anyone that refers to himself as 'Ace'.  On the Chicago Spartans Facebook page, Mr. O'Connor recently posted this:

Mr. O'Connor, every individual that you have screwed out of their hard-earned money knows exactly what is lost to them and they wish you knew that.  My reply to Mr. O'Connor:

He replied with the following:

The only immediate reply that came to mind was:

The fact still remains that this is a very young industry and the dust is still settling however the standard rules of economics and supply and demand are not being adhered to.  The 'suppliers' are clearly destroying things quickly.  These guys are the first ones to bad mouth having to use Groupon and such just to get people to their events.  The clear message from all of these companies is that they do not have the funds or capacity up front to hold these events and that they are using the cash from registrants to front the event.  They are using the public as unwilling investors.  It would be like going to an amusement park, paying to get in and having the park take your money and try to build the rides ahead of you.  If not enough people show up that day, you don't get to ride anything and have nothing to show for your 'investment'.  These organizations just need to come clean with the truth and be properly prepared to take on these ventures without expecting the public to front the cash for their failures.  Things like this will quickly turn this great, life-changing sport into a fad that will be all but gone just as quickly as it came to be.  I hope for the sake of the health and well-being of this great nation that they do not win and the demand will continue with as much force as it has had.

For those of you that are left out on October 5th, Dirt Runner, the location that was to be the Super Villain, will accommodate any and all individuals (for a nominal fee) that were left out by Superhero and have lots of great OCR adventures.  Go here for details.  I predict this will happen without incident or rash.  I also predict Superhero Scramble to be the next failure in the industry.  If they owe you money, do whatever it takes to get it while you can and be very cautious about registering for one of their events.