When I started obstacle course racing (OCR) in 2011 (at 53), I really had no idea where that would lead me. One of the most important lessons was that "There Is No Box". Our limitations are largely self imposed. Now I would like to share with others the latest in OCR, fitness, health and nutrition. We can't all be elite athletes...but we can all be healthier and better fit!
Enjoy...and stay tuned!
Hard to believe it's been a year since the BattleFrog race in Pittsburgh. In a way it seems like it couldn't possibly be that long ago. In another way, so much has changed since then, that it feels like an era has passed for me. That race not only introduced me to some incredible people...both BattleFrog staff and racers alike...it forever changed how I look at Obstacle Course Racing (OCR).
And when I look back on that day, I can't help but think about all the seemingly insignificant events that lead up to this experience...and how any one of them not happening would have caused me to miss out on this life changing event. If the bag check hadn't been backed up and build director Peter Hering had not offered to store my race bag in his trailer...if my shoulder wasn't in a sling from the dislocation the previous Saturday...if Spiro hadn't intervened with Coach to find out when I could go out on the course...if I hadn't been my usual smart-ass self to Coach Pain (Dewayne Montgomery)...if Coach hadn't reacted in the way he did with an awe inspiring impromptu speech. Then of course, if Nick and Dana and Dayton hadn't been the people they are. If any one of these things hadn't happened in the order they did, I would have missed out on the greatest OCR day of my life.
The thing is though, as unlikely as it was for that race experience to happen, once I got to know Dana and Dayton better that day, as well as when we met several months ago in Miami, I realized that their story was even more remarkable. (of course Nick and I got to talk a bit more after the race as I ummmm....re-opened the prematurely closed beer taps....and a good time was had by all!) Well...back to Dana and Dayton. Apparently, they had met not too long before this race, through the Facebook group - Trail and Ultra Running (TAUR), that helps people meet up with like-minded individuals who....coincidentally....like to run. The only problem, they lived in different states!
While that did put a minor obstacle (pun very much intended) in the way, it didn't stop them. Interestingly, their first contact was over a casual comment on a photo he posted on that site. Something must have clicked though, as he woke her later that same day to chat online. 24 hours later he got her number and they talked again that night. We all know though that online relationships can be a complicated thing, so caution is understandable.
However, caution to them apparently meant talking every night for hours. Caution to Dana also meant signing him up for two local races before they even met. So a month or so after this first photo comment, she was picking him up at the airport for their first race...and a month after that she would be doing it again. Later that Spring she was flying into Memphis to meet his family! And by the way, I checked, and to paraphrase one of my favorite Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy lines, "This is obviously a definition of caution that I wasn't previously aware of".
Once again, in the spirit of taking-it-slow, by mid-year they were making plans for his move to Pittsburgh. Thoughts of marriage were already brewing in his head. The idea of marriage grew for both of them until he formally proposed to her...of course...on the anniversary of their first race. So when I eventually met them at the BattleFrog race in Pittsburgh that August, it's understandable why I first thought these two had been together for much longer.
Now they're out every weekend it seems, running trails and races or just enjoying the outdoors with her daughter. On the weekends that her daughter goes to her grandparents, they tend to go on longer trips or do longer races. In between, Dayton is continuing to train dogs in his new business, which is fast becoming a family affair. Oh...and this past week of course, they got married! In the end then, the truly remarkable story from that fateful day in Pittsburgh, is the fact that OCR brought two very special people together, who likely would never have met otherwise. A year ago, OCR allowed our paths to cross as well. It is a privilege to tell their story and to know them...and an even greater privilege to call them friends.
When I helped cover the BattleFrog BFX24 for Mud Run Guide (MRG) last month in Miami I knew it would be a great new experience. Every race seems to bring out some new perspective on Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) for me. I certainly expected this to be no different. What I couldn't predict though was how surprising that insight would be for me personally.
I know we've all read the stories that begin with "Hello, my name is (fill in the blank) and I'm addicted to OCR". Almost did that myself....several times. And for years now I have suffered under the illusion that I was slightly obsessed with (OCR). I mean, that's all I seemed to be talking about most of the time. Certainly most of my free time revolved around finding...training for...planning for...traveling to...running...OCR races. Not to mention writing and posting photos afterward! That weekend though, I learned the real meaning of the word for me.
So let's start with the definitions. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the two terms:
A state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently, especially in a way that is not normal. [editor's note: for the purpose of this story, we will overlook the fact that the writer frequently thinks about things in a way that would be considered particularly abnormal]
A strong and harmful need to regularly have something or do something. [editor's note: Ibid. "Obsession"]
Interestingly, this was a race I never expected to be running in the first place. One, because I hadn't
even known there was a regular race Saturday. If I had, it's likely I wouldn't have been covering the BFX24! Second, because when I did find out
there was a Saturday race, it was in the middle of the night....while out on the course about as far away from the pit area and my car as you could get. And I was alright with that....disappointed, but alright. I was enjoying the whole experience so I chalked it up as a missed opportunity...nothing to be done about it.
What happened at daybreak the next day though really put this all into a new perspective for me. After a short nap in the back of the car...surprisingly, more to rest my back than from being tired...I was up again around 6am. After heading to the beach to see the sunrise and watch a few racers still chugging along, I headed over towards the festival area. And that's where it happened!!
As I approached the festival area, long before I could see it I heard the familiar blaring music....by the way, AC/DC seems to be a staple on all the Pump-You-Up play lists. Then I could see the people. Racers milling about, making last minute adjustments...stretching...heading over towards the start corral. A palpable buzz in the air. Hearing Coach Pain delivering another motivational sendoff. Suddenly, I was no longer thinking about the BFX24 still going on all around me. I was watching the first wave go off and then....well, then it all gets a bit fuzzy.
When you're obsessed about OCR, you do strange things. Like getting at the venue seven hours before your start time. Spending four hours the night
before a race; planning, sorting, packing, repacking......going over every detail. One day you realize after a meeting that you just
told your boss your goals for next year were to increase your squat weight, work on your downhill running technique and improve your grip strength. But it seems to me that when you're obsessed, you still have some control....I think....maybe....
Not so much though when you have a true addiction. Now don't get me wrong, I'm fine at home...or at work. I have no compulsion to check on the latest news or sign up for any race I can find within a days drive. I don't wear racing shorts under my street clothes. But hearing that music and Coach Pain and standing under the starting arch taking photos of the first wave. Next thing I knew....there I was, a race packet in my hand, heading back to change into what little race gear I had with me. And explaining to Margaret (my MRG editor, OCR friend and on-site boss for this event) that I would be ummm, off-duty, for a little bit. Without the sense to even take off my MRG shirt! I had to do this course.....hadto.....had to.....
In my OCR career, I've only been at one event that I didn't race...the 2015 OCRWC. But that was only after fifty-ish hours working on the build, right up until 9pm the night before. And race day was going to be near freezing, on a course that would be wasted on my injured shoulder and knees. Yet, even then...even then....when I showed up race day to do some photography on my own, the urge was so strong to get out there...just to see what I had in me that day. I should have realized at that point....I should seek help....immediately!!
And just a few weeks before the OCRWC, I'd run six weekends in a row, the last four after dislocating my shoulder at a race (and believe me, I am way too old for that to make any sense at all). I won't even talk about the shape my leg was in from Wintergreen when I did the race at Asheville the following week. There was always some excuse though...it's the last race in the series...I've waited years to race at this venue...you're already here...you're already dirty...I can't just skip it because parts of me are falling off. Don't be a wimp!!
And that's the way it's been for years now. It was inevitable though that I had to face up to it sometime. But you know.....I feel a whole lot better now.....free-er.....that feeling of being cleansed.....of finally getting something out in the open. Of understanding and accepting myself.
I suppose now it is time to say:
Hello, my name is John......and I'm an OCR addict....
It is with great hope that my friends, my family, MRG and the OCR community will respect this life choice and also accept me for who and what I am. Is that asking too much??!! So, until the music starts at the next race......
In November of this year, not long after meeting the Mud Run Guide team at the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship (OCRWC), I started writing articles for them. This has been a very rewarding experience for me and I wanted to share with you some of my favorite articles from 2015. Hopefully you will enjoy reading them as much as I've enjoyed writing them.
This past year was my most active in obstacle course racing (OCR). In addition to running a number of races in the local Miami area, I was on the road twice for a series of races on the east coast and Atlanta areas with a final short trip to Orlando for the BattleFrog Championship. Somewhere in there I found time to work as part of the build crew at the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship (OCRWC) in Ohio as well.
This is a list of my favorite articles from my blog for 2015....hope you enjoy them as much as I did sharing them with you!
I have to admit, I'm a bit behind on my posting. I was unexpectedly at the OCR World Championships last week...an absolute eye-opening experience...and now need to get back on schedule. The Spartan Race Atlanta, like the Savage Race two weeks before, was an absolute mud mess! Late in the build week, the rains had stopped and the venue was just starting to drain and dry up some. But of course, Saturday morning came and so did the thunderstorms...again.
Hearing the thunder early Saturday, I decided to sleep in a bit, feeling that the early heats would be postponed and oh....it was raining again, for the second race in a row. I realize that makes no sense, given that I'm going to be wet and muddy anyway. But I do like to arrive and leave relatively dry...if not clean. Sooner than later though, I got my lazy, broken ass up to get to the venue. Having checked the weather, I saw that there might be a break in the rain mid morning, so my plan was to get off by 10am or so...hopefully missing at least some of the rain.
Arriving at the Durhamtown Resort, the race site, it didn't take long to see the impact of the morning's rain. Mud! And where there was no mud, there were puddles...covering more mud. Joy.... After checking my bag...and praying that we built the bag check racks securely as the ground below was nothing but puddles...I headed to the start corral as quickly as possible. In just a few minutes we were off and about 20 yards into the race we hit mud. Slick, red clay that would be the norm for the next 8 or 9 miles. Another day of slip and slide.
Given the conditions, there was not a whole lot of running going on that day. For me, that just evened things up since my injuries really kept me from doing much more than a quick walk. In fact, the only place I can remember not having mud was at the fire jump, where they deliberately put down gravel. A good thing too as they built themselves a nice size fire to hop over at the end. Unfortunately, this was only about 30 feet from the finish line. Surprisingly though, there were a number of places where the mud wasn't slick but was more of a sticky, solid mud.
Most of this sticky mud was on the carries...take pleasure in the little things! One of the two log carries and the sandbag carry were on what looked like dirt bike race tracks. So I suppose they use a different mix of soil on those which made for much better footing than expected, We weren't so fortunate on the long bucket carry though or the first log carry. Slogging and slipping throughout. And the atlas carry? Splashing through puddled grass and mud made me think of pointless punishment in some ancient prison camp....I can't imagine why.
I also did a 'double take' at the second log carry. Deja-vu hit me and because of a small trail marking mishap, I swore I'd done this already...even though the terrain was a bit different. My mind was probably rebelling over having to carry another log! Once again, thanks be given for small gifts. This log carry and later on, the uphill barbed wire crawl were the same sort of sticky mud on the dirt bike tracks. Now I'm not saying it was a joy, but by digging your elbows in slightly you could make pretty good time rolling. And there must have been a lot of newbies on the course that race too. Very few were doing the roll and there was a lot...I mean a lot...of groaning and slow, slow body dragging that day. You know you're doing something wrong when an old man rolls by you on the barbed wire!
There were, of course, many of the usual suspects in terms of obstacles. Various walls to get over, including the 7' and 8' varieties. Along with the over, under, through wall series. And as I approached the 8' wall, Taylor Cuevas, one of the build foreman, gave a shout to the crowd from his cart to "get that guy over the wall". Which I took exception to immediately...mostly because there was no way I could do that wall without help. Then there were the rig and monkey bars. Rain and mud were a factor here too...although I still wasn't ready to test my arm on those.
Then there were the cargo and vertical cargo nets...made more challenging from the mud that was on everything. Including the climbing ropes! I had tried out the rope climb in the festival area before heading out and felt, despite my shoulder being only about 50-60%, I could 'technique' my way up. We'll, in spite of the fact that there was no water pit below, the ropes proved to be the new 'rig' that day. In all the time I watched...before, during and after my race...I don't think I saw more than a handful of people make it up. There was just no way to get a grip on the rope with all the mud on it. Iron grip...gloves...handfuls of straw...nothing seemed to work. Oh well...there's always next time...
All in all, I enjoyed this race and liked the rolling terrain. Mud levels the playing field for me! I also enjoyed running into (no pun intended) several racers I had met at the Asheville Super...Brian, Molly and Shana...still out there doing what they do. Helping others through the course and doing something they never thought they could. Props to you guys!! And also seeing Heather the super-photography. One of the best photographers you'll find out there and certainly the most enthusiastic. And also seeing my former Spartan crew leaders Steve Oh' and Tracy. Steve as always, roaming the course in his ATV. Tracy, in what looked like more than half a hazmat suit...a smart move that day...was doing her thing in the festival area. I did not envy her this day...but enjoyed running into her again.
Besides the rain, there was another water related issue that day however...the showers stopped!! Unfortunately, so had the rain and we were covered in mud...and slogging through mud everywhere. Not sure what the problem was exactly, but there was certainly grumbling and the feeling of "Woodstock" got much stronger looking around at mud covered people sitting in every relatively dry spot within sight. When the water did come back on...and I'm sure it wasn't off as long as it felt to us...they went to rationing. Sounds like that would suck, but as I thought about it, they really should institute that as a regular process for the showers. We all have our plastic bags to carry the wet clothes in and there really is no need (guilty as charged) to clean them off at the showers. So bringing in groups of racers for 2-3 minutes of rinsing is more than enough time to get respectable...if not actually clean. Just saying....
One more thing...which happened after the race. In fact it happened at the campsite later that day. Something that seems to happen more and more in my personal experience. When I got back to my site, there were a few young guys next door. When I asked if they minded me rinsing off my race clothes...they were within the potential splash zone...I found out that they had run the race as well. Three college students from AL...Travis, Jacob and Kyle...two of whom had run this race for the first time. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was treated to steak, beer, a roaring (think: thank god the woods were still wet) fire and some great company and conversation. Mostly about obstacle course racing (OCR), different races and college football (very quietly about college football as we were surrounded by GA Bulldog flags and they had just lost!). Just another example of the impact OCR has...both on and off the course. A pleasure meeting them and a big thank you for sharing their dinner with me!!
I've never been to an Olympics, but this had all the feel I would expect of an Olympic event. From the very first minute I showed up at Kings Domain in Oregonia, OH (permanent site for Mud, Guts and Glory) for the OCR World Championships (OCRWC) build, I knew something was different from any other obstacle course venue I had been on. That difference would become more and more pronounced as the week went on, culminating in an incredible event and a personal journey of international discovery.
Within minutes of arriving on site Monday, after driving 7 hours up from NC, I was already at work. Just lending a hand moving around a few partially built obstacles for finishing and painting. There still seemed quite a lot to do but I figured, hey...we have four more days and that should be plenty of time for a build crew to finish...right? Shortly after this I got some good news, there would be room to put me up on site. This fact would make a huge difference for the rest of the week as we'd be putting in very long days!! I was also a bit surprised when the race founder, Adrian Bijanada, and Mud Run Guide founder Brett Stewart invited me to tag along with many of the staff for dinner that night. We'd never met before and this was just another indication that "I wasn't in Kansas" anymore.
Tuesday morning was my introduction to the realities of the OCRWC build. I would say that we had a skeleton build crew but that would be an insult to skeletons everywhere. What we lacked in the core crew though, we more than made up for in volunteers. Not the volunteers you normally expect to see on builds either (which I do regularly myself). These were some of the racers who had arrived early in the week...many of which were international racers. And by no means new to OCR builds. They were as comfortable with tools and on the machines as they were on the course. In some cases I was actually working next to international race directors and even founders of international races.
And I was learning more every day about who was who at the OCRWC. A bit of a humbling experience when you follow the sport as closely I do and find out how much there is still to know. A feeling that started at my very first race this summer in Barre. This sport is exploding...the big-bang of OCR...expanding so fast that there are few people that really know what's going on in every aspect. But that's a whole 'nother topic.
One thing I was learning very quickly is that there was a very passionate and very intense group of international athletes here. I was also getting an impromptu introduction to the "politics" of a world championship. This year was the second OCRWC and many of the international racers feel that the 2016 race should be held outside the US...I assume somewhere in Europe would be the preference. Something the organizers I'm sure have been keenly aware of. A reasonable opinion too it seems, as some of these teams were traveling here with 20-30 racers or more...quite impressive for such a young sport. Some countries can't even manage that many athletes at the Olympics!!
So the build continued...inching forward every hour towards completion. Each hour, expanding my knowledge of this new world of OCR. Learning not only about the design and building techniques the European course builders were using, but also about how they handled some of the race day operations. Some very interesting aspects that we could learn from as an industry here about race coverage and fan promotion (this also made me wonder if they had peaked at my posts from a couple of years back on these very same suggestions!)
I also had the unique opportunity to help design asome adjustments for a few of these iconic obstacles, as the construction methods here were so much different. Looking back, I'm glad I didn't know who some of these people were until later. I mean, how do you suggest changes to the da Vinci's of OCR?! In time, the course was coming together through an intricate dance of build crew, fabricators, racers, volunteers and staff...orchestrated somehow by Garfield Griffiths, race director extraordinaire. An effort I was fortunate to witness up close from the fact that we were 'cabin-mates' for that week.
By Friday, things were getting interesting! Since I hadn't really looked at the schedule, I was a bit surprised to see SO MANY racers and spectators in the festival/lower course that morning. I was amazed so many racers had come in so early to check out the course. What I didn't realize is that the OCR Warrior "Best of the Best" series was happening that afternoon! Say what??!! And imagine trying to keep them off the obstacles...really!!??!
The OCR Warrior event lead to one of the more amusing moments of the week for me though. The event director came over to ask if I could get the obstacle I was working on...Tip of the Spear...ready for the event. At least the front portion. "Sure, when do you need it?" I said. He said, straight faced, "In a few minutes." ......momentary silence...... As I got out my "I'll do my best", I suppose my face had answered more quickly. They rerouted the initial heats. Nothing like the (pleasant) distraction of live OCR races going on right next to you, as you try desperately to finish obstacles on the eve of the Championship.
So for me, the build week finally ended Friday night around 9:30 with the completion of the winner's podium and a "painting by head light" of same...after testing it of course! Another lesson learned here too! Since I wanted the best finish to be on the front I asked which way the podium faced...you know, which side the second and third place stood, since they were different heights? Trust but verify! Needless to say, I forget who told me the answer but the next day I was mortified when they placed the podium with the 'back' facing forward!! Certain that the imperfections would be the scandal of the event. Fortunately, nobody but me noticed...
Another first for me at this event was that I wasn't racing! Although I had qualified, I never registered. And, while at the beginning of the week I'd hoped I might be allowed to race, the anticipated freezing temperatures and nagging injuries said otherwise. After seeing much of the course all week, I realized that in my condition, there just wasn't anyway to make a legitimate attempt. It was a difficult thing to admit that...this course was spectacular and a sort of pilgrimage venue to me. So many iconic Mud, Guts and Glory obstacles that I never expected to see in real life. And so it goes...
Race day I did the next best thing though...after a godsend, Pete Durment of DryWear, allowed me to crash at his room...I went to the race as a spectator. Armed with warm clothes and my trusty camera pack. The OCR World Championship did not disappoint! I witnessed an incredible Olympics worthy event...truly. Inspiring athletes everywhere! Team coaches running along the course for the final distance shouting encouragement. Racers doing the same for each other. Brett Stewart yelling advice to racers on Skull Valley. Everyone in an OCR frenzy cheering on any racer within range. Awesome is a vastly overused word these days. Awesome though, is the only word that can do justice to this day in OCR...this World Championship day.
All that day I simply soaked in the atmosphere, recorded the memories and witnessed the latest stage in the ongoing development of this infant sport we have come to love...OCR. And now, after this week, I have also come to know so many people from around the world. Understand better what this sport means to them as well. Not to mention becoming Facebook friends with people whose posts I can't understand...even with the translations. But knowing that the bond of OCR transcends our differences in language. And when I consider what I thought I knew about OCR before, it reminds me of a line from Men in Black and I think...Imagine what I'll know tomorrow. Can't wait!!!
This past week at the OCR World Championship build and race could not have been more unexpected...in just being there...or more eye opening in terms of it's scope and impact across the world of OCR. More on this later (much more!), but I just felt I wanted to say a very public and very big thank you to a number of people. Not just for the opportunity to be there in Ohio, but for their generosity in making the week so much better!!
Garfield Griffiths for the opportunity to come and work on the OCRWC build. Brutal hours and conditions...but a great experience!
Brett Stewart and Adrian Bijanada for their generosity all week in arranging some on site rooming and the late night, build site pizzas...a real life saver those nights!
Kings Domain for all their cooperation in making my tasks go as smooth as possible.
All the OCRWC and Mud Run Guide staff for the countless things that go on in support of every build (like charged radios...something I never seemed to remember to do!!) that again, made build life better.
Pete Durment of DryWear Apparel for stepping up and letting me crash at the La Quinta when my own room arrangements fell through. Huge because otherwise I would not have been able to see the race Saturday...and that would have been tragic.
Bob of Battlegrounds Mud Run for helping out on some of my build work and who apparently doesn't actually know what "I really have to get going now" means. If I had a dollar for every time he said that, then continued working with me I'd have...well, I'd have a lot more dollars than I started with!
I know that there are many others I would like to thank...Ian and Hubie come to mind immediately. And Christine from Kings Domain. So if you did anything to help me this past week...please know that I appreciate it all!! And......