Friday, August 28, 2015

Knowing When NOT To Play With Pain

Every athlete at some point in their playing days has had to make the decision whether to play through through an injury.  Sometimes it's a relatively mild injury and it's really playing through the pain without significant risk of further aggravation or additional injury.  Sometimes the injury is more severe or the severity is unknown for whatever reason.

In professional sports, players are expected to play through an injury.  As fans we think about the money these players make and somehow equate that to a requirement to play hurt.  In reality though, a pro player who injuries themselves further could seriously and even permanently affect their career.  So from the players perspective, the smart move is really to stay out and recover properly.

Then why do the vast majority of pros play anyway?  I'm sure there is a certain amount of peer pressure and the expectation that they should.  But even if those factors were gone, I believe many of them would make the same choice...and for the same reason all athletes will play through an injury.  The drive to compete.

At what point then do we stop doing this?  How do we know when further injury is almost certain to happen or that the risk of more serious injury is too high to ignore?  While is no rock-solid guideline to follow, the first step is to seek medical attention to access the actual injury.  

Many injuries have symptoms that could easily be confused as something completely different.  And not every injury will exhibit every symptom.  Make sure you know what's wrong initially before making any plans to continue training or competing.  Sometimes the smart thing to do is resist that temptation to get out there anyway and play through it.  Taking adequate time to heal will certainly improve your next performance and could even lengthen your athletic career significantly!

Therefore, in summation, despite several nagging start time is 8:15 tomorrow morning.  File this one under "do as I say, not as I do".  Video Saturday at 6pm.

Have you played through an injury?
Share your story here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sometimes Being a Smartass Can Lead to an Extraordinary OCR Experience - BattleFrog at Pittsburgh 2015

To paraphrase an old Jim Croce song:

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Pain

So, I've never been particularly good at NOT doing any of these things.  The Pain here, aka Dewayne Montgomery, is Coach Pain...the exceptional motivator for BattleFrog Series and one of my personal favorites at the OCR (obstacle course racing) start lines. Bear in mind then, if you're messing with the man who's the Voice of BattleFrog, a Navy Seal inspired OCR race, be prepared to pay the price for your insolence.

Let me go back briefly to the beginning.  At the Tough Mudder in Western, NY, I injured my shoulder.  Now the smart thing to do would have been to settle for a couple of great days volunteering, a morning of Elite Marshaling and move on.  But I had heard from one of the volunteers during the week about the mines...and I really wanted/needed to see the course as well.  Well, I did mention my capacity for 'smartness' earlier, didn't I?

After a bit of last minute waffling after the volunteering, I was set on getting out there....arm sling and all...just to do what I could and enjoy a beautiful afternoon.  But when I got to the starting corral, people were just heading out 1, 2 or 3 at a time...apparently the volunteer wave was already gone.  When my volunteer leader asked the Coach and Beard whether I should just go, Coach said basically, sure...just go out whenever you're ready.

That's where it all began [editor's note - start your video recording now].  Naturally, like anyone would, I walked up to Coach and said "What...just go start?  No send motivational speech...just go ahead?"  Not a moment's hesitation, he looked me right in the eye and said "Come with me!"  He flipped his head-mic down and we headed for the starting line. It's all fun and games until you realize you just poked a tiger....and you're on the wrong side of the cage.  It had that feeling of being caught in a rip current at the beach...but no way to swim sideways to relative safety.  This was obviously not going to end well...for me.

Once we got there, he had the music start and proceeded to call "everyone within the sound of my voice" to come to the start line right now.  The starting corral was notoriously empty...except for moi (which is French for 'oh s**t' I think).  But the speech he made, off the cuff, was so great it's a shame that no one did get it on video.  I know it was partly to teach me not to play with he used it as a way to motivate the people that had gathered...just like he does at every starting gate. 

After a few minutes, he gave the go ahead and I was on the course, having the privilege of a personal start speech from one of the best in the business.  But the speech wasn't just a sendoff, it was a challenge to those people around to join me and help me get through the tough parts of this course.  And before I was out of the first mud hole, there was Nick, standing up on the next mound to give me a hand.  So, with my new found course guardian, we took on this grueling venue...and this one was everything I expected from BattleFrog and the terrain here at Mines and Meadows.  

The first sign that I may have chewed off a little too much was an almost vertical rope-assisted climb up a dirt trail.  Fortunately it was actually easier than it had looked from a distance, although one-handed technique was a bit challenging.  After that we settled into a long, slow slog through frequent knee deep mud bogs and long rambling trails and flowing creeks.  Even helping a racer with their wreck bag carry on a particularly sticky section of mud.  Somewhere along the way though, I realized I was finally experiencing what I've read and heard about so often in OCR.  The feeling when you are doing a race as a team.  Staying together...working together...making sure everyone gets through...and enjoying the hell out of an already great race experience.

Then, as we worked our way in and out of one of those creeks, two more people came up on us...traveling back from the finish.  At first I thought they were going the wrong way, but it turned out that Dayton and Dana had decided to come as well.  I guess to give Nick a hand dragging my carcass back to the festival area when the time came.  Now we really had a team going!  Without a doubt, this was the greatest OCR experience I've ever had.  For the rest of the course we walked and talked...mostly about OCR and running, go figure!  And also about each other.  I learned about things like hashing, which is apparently a drinking club with a running problem.  And about trail treasure..which we surprisingly came upon on this course...although we did have to return it to BattleFrog after all.

In the end though, our team traversed the rest of the course.  Including more mud, the mine (spectacular...and cold!), the Normandy jacks and a mud slicked, three tier near vertical climb that I would never have made through (safely) without my course angels.  We ( 'team') even worked with another couple still on the course at that vertical climb and we traveled with them through the Normandy jacks too.  

I also chose to tackle the vertical wall climbs...which I'd been staring out from my tent and plotting against for days.  Not to mention the final delta ladder...which again, I had been contemplating all week on how to mount...not to mention whether I should.  Pretty certain I would have passed on all of those alone.

So now, for the incredible, first-time experience of team OCR racing, I want to offer my heart-felt thanks to my new OCR friends...Nick, Dana and Dayton!!!  And my thanks to Coach Paine...without whom, none of this would have happened!  Like most things, you can know a thing intellectually, but you can't really understand it until you experience it for yourself.  Someday I look forward to another round together and we can share more of our recent conquests!!  

I also want to give a shout-out and a thank you to Tina and Lyle and Noah and his wife.  On my walk back to the campsite after the race, I passed by their campsites next to the venue.  One thing led to another and before I knew it I was enjoying the best meal I'd had on the road for the three weeks I was out.  Not to mention some more OCR and ATV stories.  Not to mention some about Pennsylvania coal mining.  Tina is OCR while Noah is an avid ATV rider. Big, big thank you to all and just another example of the spirit of OCR and the outdoor community!!

Do you race with a team?
Tell me about your experiences in OCR? 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Volunteering at BattleFrog - Pittsburgh, PA

People sure do love their race!  That seems to be the theme that runs through the different venues and races I've volunteered at so far.  Sometimes it's because that's the race you started with.  Sometimes it's a unique aspect of a particular venue.  That was the case with BattleFrog in Pittsburgh for one of the couples I worked with on Wednesday...and led to a possibly not so brilliant decision on my part to do the course, even with my bad shoulder from volunteering at the Tough Mudder at Andover, NY.

More on that later.  I've always been someone that can't help being impressed by little things.  No matter that I see them over and over.  So it comes as no surprise that I can't get over how an empty field can be transformed in just a few days into a Renaissance-worthy festival grounds.  I really have to give credit too to the people who can see the potential in these areas when they're apparently nothing more than an undersized and odd shaped spit of open land.

There are two things that have struck me at the first two venues.  One is the enthusiasm of the crews.  Not just the volunteers...they generally don't know enough yet to be anything but a ball of let's-do-this.  No, the build and festival crews themselves obviously enjoy what they do and enjoy working with the volunteers as well.

The second thing I've seen, surprised me only by the way it appears to be so ingrained and heartfelt across the board.  At every turn, the volunteers were thanked for their service.  Now I know, these races simply couldn't happen without the least not in the current method of operation.  Not so much on the build but certainly on race day.  Something all the races must deal with...successfully...on a weekly basis to find the right balance for what they give vs what they get.  Obviously both BattleFrog and Tough Mudder understand this inherently and take any opportunity to thank them. [One aspect I have become aware of doing these, is that BattleFrog doesn't offer timing chips to volunteers when they run.  I'm not sure if this affects their ability to recruit, but without a chip and the legitimacy of a recognized race time, what you get is not a free race, but a free 'challenge'...more like the Tough Mudder]

As always too, there were the new friends I met during the course of the volunteer days.  Race day as well.....but that's a whole 'nother story to tell.  It's also amazing how much mischief new OCR (obstacle course racing) buddies can get each other into without even trying.  But that's a whole 'nother story...not to tell!  Isn't that right Matt?

So, back to that aspect of the venue that I was told about earlier.  I'm always curious what people's favorite races are.  In this case, the couple I was with said this particular course was their favorite.  The reason being that it went through an actual mine and you could even swim part of it during the race.  Well...that pretty much sealed it for me right there.  An engineer that can resist his first trip into a mine...for any reason...has yet to be born.  Bad shoulder or not!  That decision would lead to my first true experience with what I've been hearing about for years now but hadn't experienced first hand.  And that will be my next post....until then!!

Have you volunteered for a race or pre-race build?
Tell me about your experience!


Monday, August 10, 2015

My First Tough Mudder - Western, NY 2015 - Race/Challenge Review

This was my first Tough Mudder (TM).  One of the main reasons for this Summer of OCR in fact.  When I first started OCR (obstacle course racing) the length of the TM course was intimidating for me...not being in particularly great shape and a bit on the aged side.  After running 11 races though, I felt that it was time to see what all the fuss was I did!

Tough Mudder - Western NY certainly delivered on it's name.  It was tough!   And it was muddy!  I mean, with the weather as dry as it was, they must have shipped in mud from somewhere...but that stuff was everywhere.  Right from the first mud crawl (where I immediately, and unknowingly, lost my bib).  From that point on it seemed we were in mud every few minutes (later on I heard that this venue is known as the muddiest course on the TM circuit).

As expected, on any long course, there's going to be a lot of running...or in my case, a lot of jogging and as-fast-as-I-can walking.  But the obstacles were spaced out pretty well so you didn't feel like you'd gone off course somewhere on a 5-mile trail run.  They even found some ways on this rolling, but not hilly, terrain to get in a few real mind-numbing climbs towards the end.  One of the surprises for me were the types of obstacles as well.  

When I first wrote about Tough Mudder vs Spartan Race I knew a major difference between the two was the fact that TM was not a timed event.  A challenge...not a race. Even though I also knew that TM stressed teamwork and cooperation, it wasn't until I was out on the course that I saw how they encouraged it through the obstacles themselves.  

Some of the obstacles are obviously for the individual, but others were all but impossible without the aid of your team.  The log carry...the wounded warrior carry...and especially the iconic Everest.  You really had no choice but to work together.  What was a little unexpected though, was the challenging and entertaining individual obstacles,  The Funky Monkey and whatever that leap to the swinging T-bar bell-ringing thing was called.  That was deceivingly difficult...and a lot of fun!

Not surprisingly, whenever you have tougher obstacles, you have lines!  The bane of OCR.  Even though I don't even remotely challenge for time, I'm always conscious of how I do vs other races and venues.  So when the lines started I was concerned about how it would affect my time.  Then realized...there was no time!  Then the real revelation...did it really matter?!

I started thinking (and there was plenty of time at these bottlenecks for thinking and talking) that the official times weren't all that important.  Don't get me wrong, I still prefer the idea of a race when it comes to the elite and even for the rest of us to compare our progress in the sport.  But the fact is, I know more or less how long I took and I know roughly how long I was in lines.  So, do the math, in essence I knew how well I performed.  I also knew where I still needed work.  TM has also come up with their own way of encouraging repeat runners.  Just like earning belts in karate, you earn different level/color headbands as you do more TM's.  You also become a member of the Mudder Legion.  And if you think that's no big haven't been at a Tough Mudder.

So, even though I would do another Tough Mudder any time...and should be on Long Island 8/15...I do prefer to have a timed event.  Something BattleFrog might take a lesson from.  Their events are timed, but when you get a free race for volunteering, you don't get a chip (and therefore, not only don't you get a time, you don't even get credit for having run that event).  So in the end, you're actually getting a free BattleFrog 'challenge'....not a free 'race".  This idea of a challenge as opposed to a race also leaves you nowhere to go as a sport.  Getting to that next level is something that the other race promoters are racking their brains about as we speak.

[ps - As a side note, with just the electric shock obstacle to go, I managed to do something not very friendly to my shoulder on the Everest obstacle in this race.  Knowing that Electro Shock is a right-of-passage for the TM (and Arctic Enema I suppose), with some help I managed to get things back in the right place to finish.  After all that, I really wanted my headband...although this will have a serious affect on the following weeks of racing no doubt!]

[pps - Photos?...although I found a couple, I think I had a better chance of finding one with Bigfoot landing his UFO than finding the rest of mine.  An ongoing problem throughout OCR!  Since the first obstacle ripped off my bib and covered my arms (which were marked) with mud I was pretty much out of luck unless I have a spare day or two to weed through them.  I can think of a few things that might help, but whoever solves this one will be well rewarded!]

What have your experiences been with Tough Mudder?
Do you prefer the challenge or the race format?
I'd like to hear what you think!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Volunteering at Tough Mudder

This past week I spent two days volunteering at the Tough Mudder (TM) event in Western NY.  I'm been very curious to see what differences there might be between the various promoters.  Particularly with Tough Mudder.  Partly because I've had no previous experience with them and partly because they are the only major event that isn't actually a race.

The first thing I realized was that during the actual build week, there aren't many volunteers.  In fact, Tuesday there were only two of us...with a third as a no-show.  Wednesday there were several more, but still only around six or seven.  Unlike the massive number of volunteers on the event days, the mid-week numbers are fairly low.

Like the Spartan build I worked on almost exactly two years ago, volunteers generally didn't work on the actual obstacles...they have a special crew for that.  We worked on things like the starting and finishing pens and some other areas in and around the festival location.  I imagine the two or three TM people we worked closest with were those who usually dealt with volunteers.  So they're used to energetic, enthusiastic people who have no idea what they're doing!!

Interestingly, it would also appear that whatever genetic marker is responsible for people that actually enjoy OCR (obstacle course racing) is also the same marker responsible for generating sarcastic, smart-ass remarks...about everything!!

What I also found in common was the unanimous 'love', if you will, for Tough Mudder (TM) and the concept it promotes.  Every volunteer I worked with was a veteran of TM and had run a number of previous events...making them part of the Mudder Legion.  With different color headbands as you progressed you were earning your belts in karate. The interesting part though, was that this love for TM was why so many people are so passionate about other races too, like Spartan Race.

One guy was telling me how he had been around 260 lbs a few years back before trying TM.  Since then he must have easily lost 70-80 lbs and found, like many others (yours truly included), that they couldn't just be satisfied with finishing any more...they wanted to get in better and better shape to improve their performance.  

And once people found out that I follow OCR and write about the different races, most were curious about how they compare.  Many were interested in knowing what these other races were like and whether they were more or less difficult than TM.  Even some TM people were curious.

I think this is yet another indication of the relative infancy of the sport.  Participants have gotten involved with one race or another for all sorts of reasons.  Friends, family, work...casually running across something on the Internet.  And whatever race they start with becomes their go-to race.  Now, people are starting to wonder what else is out there and whether those other races are something they would be interested in doing.  After all, how many times can you really do the same race in the same place?  Something I have asked myself a number of times.

In the end, I suppose that's the purpose of my writing,  To help people see what these races have to offer and provide some info to help them decide what other races might be worthwhile.  And yes, there are definitely differences between races...even between different venues within the same race.  In the end though, what I've found so far is that when you look for the reasons why people are doing OCR, the harder you look, the less difference you really see.