Sixteen months ago I ran my first big name obstacle race/mud run event at the Ohio Spartan Sprint. You know- one of those mud race things where you wade through mud pits and climb over walls and crawl under barbed wire. They have the mini fire jumps at the end.
I enjoyed that one so much that thirteen months ago I decided to up the ante and do the Ohio Spartan Beast – a course nearly three times as long.
Four months ago I completed (slowly and painfully, but surely) the terrible Spartan Beast.
Three and half months ago I learned about OCRWC – Obstacle Course Racing World Championships.
Then three months ago I signed up for and ran another obstacle mud run at Savage Race. I finished – miraculously – eleventh in my age group out of 200 plus others. Top fifteen qualify for The Worlds in October up in Canada.
Two months ago I registered to run in Canada for OCRWC.
One month to go…
Sixteen months ago at my first Spartan Sprint Race I had no idea what I was doing. The group of friends I got together to form a team didn’t really know a whole lot either. We ‘trained’ for it – sort of. Occasionally some of us would go running, on our own, and once in a while got together to play on the mini obstacles at a local park. But I wanted to be a Spartan. I loved Ancient Greek history and the Battle of Thermopylae. 300 me, baby!
I knew I’d need to do at least one other one – maybe shoot for a slightly more challenging one now that I was familiar with how it worked. Mildly familiar. Being so far down the line – I went ahead and registered for the 13-14 mile Spartan Beast!
By January I’d started to get a mini team together to run with me. The Beast was in May. February I couldn’t do a single body weight pull up – but I remembered the vertical rope climb from the first race and I wanted it. So I approached my coincidentally Greek trainer. I told him I wanted to conquer the rope. Thus I began actually training for the Beast.
My team started training too. We ran some days – to prep the non runners (me) for the distance. Other days we did circuit and strength training. I did pull ups. Lots, and lots, of pull ups. They started out as assisted, decreasing the amount of assistance each week, until I could struggle out one body-weight pull up. Then two, then four. Eventually I managed to eke out eight!
I spent three months dedicated to pull ups, farmer carries, sled pulls, and other weight and circuit training. I needed to get my grip from zero to anything higher ASAP. I tried (somewhat) to be as dedicated to the running (which I hated).
I did everything I could think of to stay hydrated beforehand. And that plan got shot to hell when the parking issues resulted in a two hour wait to inch two miles into the actual parking areas. My preparedness was gone, and so was my bladder.
I started eyeing trees on the other side of the No Trespassing signs. Were they big enough for me to squat behind? Could I get over the fencing and back again before the line moved? What were the odds of an angry farmer jumping out of the weeds to yell at me for peeing on his property?
The Porta Johns at the event may have been full and thoroughly used – but I was glad to finally find them. And to find my teammates. At least the parking was free after that fiasco. Overall, it seemed much less organized than I remembered my first race.
Largely due to the parking delays, they let you start the course whenever. The start times were all messed up anyway. So we entered the course some time after noon and hoped for the best
My running sucked. Shocker. My upper body endurance felt great! I completed obstacles I didn’t even know I’d have to face. I helped my teammate with her sled pulls and tire flips. I was so proud of myself for not falling off the Tyrolean Traverse – the horizontal rope you pull/shimmy your way across basically upside down. While on that rope traverse we came upon a large group of young army recruits in tiny green shorts and sassy president t-shirts.
“Don’t let that girl beat you!” – Teenage looking boy in tiny shorts.
“Sorry, I’m just a Beast!” – Me, jumping off successful traverse first.
Later, at a water station:
“Excuse me, Ladies….” – Me.
And then the cramping started.
We were at the vertical cargo net on an uphill section in the woods. The one that is just one net straight up and down. I was at the top of that net, getting ready to throw my right leg over when – CRAMP. My whole calf seized up in an agonizing ball of angry muscle…
“I’m just….gonna be up here for minute…” I called down to my teammates.
For the remaining six or so miles that leg continued to seize. At first it would come and go. By the time we’d finished the two mile series of straight up and down hills it was permanently spasmed. There was no undoing it. It was almost a relief to slide down those steep embankments on my butt.
By this time the teammates were starting to curse the trail as well, pleading for just one damn quarter mile of flat running ground. I just wanted my leg to un-cramp. No luck for anyone on those fronts. So the only thing to do was to press on. We ended up walking a lot on the course for a variety of reasons; terrain, mud, other people, the terrible pain crawling higher and higher up the back of my leg.
We asked ‘how much further?’ at every water station – which wasn’t enough, by the way. There was no number of water stations that would have been enough. Everyone seemed to have the same answer: Just two more. All lies.
The sandbag carry obstacle had us go down a steep hill, around a corner with enough thick mud to trap a dinosaur, and then back up the hill. I only succeeded by refusing to pause. Other people were stopped along the way to rest. I knew that to stop would be death. The leg would never get going again if I let it stop. There was also a bucket full of gravel to carry, and a couple of logs along the way. These things felt like cake. The walking or running was infinitely more painful for me.
When we emerged from the woods and quagmires back to the festival area where the last few obstacles lay ahead, the anticipation of relief started to sneak into the mind. So close….the end is near! I can see it!
The rope climb, however, was maddeningly not what I expected. First, it was not over a pit of water in case you fell. And there were NO knots for your feet! I had not prepared for this! I didn’t know how to wrap my feet around a rope, and they were so caked in mud that it was impossible to grab a good hold of anyway. I had to do the penalty burpees. I was….furious. This was the one I had wanted most, trained for most, and it was quickly and immediately thwarted. Damnit.
Almost last was one known as the Hercules Hoist – where you have to pull a heavy sandbag on a pulley up to a certain height, and then lower it back down. They have two sides on the set – up, one with weights for women and one for men. I plopped my butt down on the ground and yanked my bag up and back down no problem. I then went to help my other teammate with hers. Easy peasy. So I wondered if I could do the heavier ‘men’s’ version. I walked over the other side and grabbed a free rope. The guy at the station next to me stopped to inform me – that while I was welcome to do the men’s weight, the women’s was on the other side. I looked at him. “I know.” Like I was confused here? “I did it already.” And I hauled that thing up like I hadn’t just dragged my ass through 13 miles of torture. Mic. Drop.
Then Fire Jump, Finish Line, Sweet relief! They drape you with a shiny medal, the finisher t-shirt, a ridiculously tiny water bottle, and a banana. Yeah, I’m gonna need about fifty of those water bottles, please. But oh – the glorious relief of the hell finally being over! I thought the moment would never come.
The sense of accomplishment after that race was akin to few things I’d experienced in recent memory. The physical and mental exhaustion. I’d played various sports in high school and rugby in college, but this was something new. This was the hardest earned freakin’ t-shirt ever. I proceeded to wear it for the next two or three days.
I got a massage for the cramped leg that would not get better. The massage on the actual calf was probably ten times more painful than the actual cramp but lasted a fraction of the time, and it helped a great deal. It still took a few weeks for it to feel back to normal.
I took the medal to work with me to show off. Yes, yes I did.
With my newfound confidence after the Beast accomplishment, other possible races looked less intimidating. I just survived fourteen miles of this shit! These others are five? Six? Child’s Play! Suddenly, I wanted all the medals.
I found out about a gym not too far from where I live that did specifically obstacle course training practices and work outs on Sunday afternoons. I joined some friends on their visit, and then kept going. They had an actual vertical rope to practice on! I would learn how to wrap my feet and I would get up that damned rope! After a couple sessions at those classes and open gym times – with a lot of coaching from the trainers, I got my feet anchored just enough to haul myself fifteen feet up to ring the bell! Success! Well, almost success. I have yet to get one in an actual race, when the rope is wet and covered and mud.
I quickly signed up for a totally new race for me, at a new daunting location: a local ski resort. Hills. Long, arduous hills. Savage Race. I’d heard from new ‘OCR’ buddies that Savage was a lot of fun. I couldn’t stop myself from hearing “Savages! Savages!” from Pocahontas every time someone said the name.
There wasn’t a lot of time to prep for this one – but I figured I’d been training already, just without the hill climbing. That first hill was a doozy. We went up (and up) and down and up those ski hills all six miles. The long drawn out hills were worse than the numerous steep climbs from Spartan. They just wouldn’t end! There was little to no tree or foliage cover either, which added additional stress in the high summer heat. The down hills could be just as treacherous. My ankle turned just a bit at the very beginning – and while attempting to run the down hills it rolled over again. I tried to walk it off…let it re-adjust, but the down hills were total ankle breakers and I had to scale myself back or I would take myself out totally. So I ended up walking a lot, again. Always something! Luckily I started early enough in the day that the obstacles still were fairly free and not backed up with lines.
The obstacles, though, I was pretty happy about. I conquered the ‘Sawtooth’ set of incline and decline money bars. I got very close to a couple others, and only fell off them at the end or because technique was not quite there yet.
Yas. I got through the course is just over two hours. Looking back at my time I chastised myself. I could have shaved off two minutes to get under two hours. I could have jumped quicker off that one obstacle, pushed my wobbly ankle to jog a little more. Even with that slightly less than exciting time – I ended up being eleventh out of over 200 people in my age group. This was pretty cool! I was excited to be a top twenty! Then I heard all these other people and new racing friends talking about who qualified for OCRWC. Out of curiosity I asked what the parameters were. I received a link to the OCRWC website and qualification guidelines. Each race has specific qualifying guidelines. Turned out top fifteen at the Savage Race in the different age groups qualify for their age group race at Worlds So, so does this mean, I qualify??
Sixteen months from my first real obstacle course race, and five months into training specifically for them, I managed to qualify for the (non – elite) World Championships. Say whaaaaat.
Out of obstacle course fever I signed up for a Battlefrog race after Savage. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the last Battlefrog race as well as the company decided to discontinue their lives races after the one I ran in August.
I have one more short 5k mud run left before Worlds. I feel grossly under-prepared for the Canadian ski hills that await me in a month from now. I will have my butt thoroughly kicked. It will be long, and it will be arduous, and potentially quite cold. I have to remind myself though, that a short eight months ago I couldn’t even do one pull up, let alone climb a rope, complete multiple sets of monkey bars, or carry buckets full of gravel or giant stones around and around. This is an experience. An exhausting, exhilarating, inspiring experience. I have already met a boatload of new people, all ages and backgrounds, through obstacle course racing. Each race, even if you are running individually, there is a tremendous sense of camaraderie. Maybe it’s different if you’re running in the competitive or elite groups, but in the open waves with us ‘regular’ people – everyone is always encouraging and willing to lend a hand! If you get stuck trying to go over a wall that’s a little too high, someone is there to ask if you need a boost. I had a total stranger offer me a dry patch on his sleeve when I got mud in an eye and couldn’t see.
This Canadian endeavor may be a whole other monster, but that’s the fun part. I’ve very little idea what to expect, other than pain and fatigue, and hopefully the tremendous accomplishment of just finishing the challenge. I am not going for time or a podium finish. I am just going, and we’ll see what happens.
One month and counting.