The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: OCRWC 2015

I struggled with how to write this post, as I absolutely loved this race, but there are some points surrounding it that dearly need adjustment, that no one else seems to be mentioning. So I have divided this post into three sections: The good for the race itself, the bad for some customer service failures that need fixed in future years, and the ugly for the actions of some proponents of the race.

The Good: Race day!

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Much time on site with friends new and old, seeing off friends in the age group starts, and finally stepping into the starting corral. Motivational pep talk from Coach Pain, and we were off. Wooded trails, steep hills, up a wooden ramp, over some short walls and log barriers, to the first “real” obstacle at the monkey bars.

Monkey bars have always been tough for me, and I surprised myself here. I didn’t just complete it, I annihilated it. Stopping at all the playgrounds along my runs is paying off.

More hilly trails to the Wreck Bag carry. Carry the bag up hills, over, under and through obstacles, if it touches the ground you have to do it again. Wreck bags carry nicely, completed without problems.

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Drop off the bag and go on to Pipe dream, a hand-over-hand single-pipe monkey bar obstacle. I again surprised myself by powering through it.

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Back on the trails, across the river, cargo net, back across the river, up and over Castle:

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And came to the Destroyer.

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I had my doubts about being able to get over this one, but it was not nearly as hard as I feared to get up and over. Finding a nice way to get down is another story…

Next was the much-anticipated Dragon’s Back.

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It looks much taller from the top. Several guys were stalled, working up their nerve to go, and suggested I go first.

red light, Yellow Light, GREEN LIGHT, GO!

I nailed the landing, caught the bar and was able to shimmy under it to the platform, then do it all again for the next jump.

I lost my band at the Irish table, simply a bar that was a few inches too tall for me to get over unassisted. I then looked at the height of the down-and-up monkeybars and my remaining grip strength and decided to skip the obstacle.

Over-unders through the water:

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Crawling under a monster truck (where else do you get to do that?) and back to the trails. Over a cargo net, nailed the balance beams and failed the first sternum checker. Stopped with a teammate to help look after a hypothermic competitor, penguin-huddled to try to keep her warm, and eventually just sat her down and wrapped as many space blankets around her as we could find.

Trails lead us back to the festival area for the Platinum rig, which I failed. Over-unders in deeper water, which I could do up until the last one which was just a bit too high over water that was just a touch too deep.

Failed the Weaver and second rig, made myself into a human ladder to get some fellow competitors up a steep series of hills, easily knocked out the bucket carry, and crawled under the longest set of nets that I have ever thought about (again situated on steep hills).

The volunteers gave me some advice and assistance getting over the tall (8-12′) walls. Knocked out the hoist without too much difficulty, although the ropes were of a particularly nasty material that tore my hands. More water under-overs, crawl through a tent (?), more steep hills to a long 2-rope traverse. Seemed like it took forever to get across that thing, but I made it. (Slow and steady, I guess.)

Polish Traverse was a long horizontal pole that most of us chose to butt-scoot across. About this time, someone pointed out a view of Pinnacle Hill, which we would have to go up in a few miles.

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That was weighing on my mind as the sun got lower and my grip strength started to wear out. I made an attempt at the rope traverse, but decided to drop and save energy for the hill. When I finally got there, I was happy to see it didn’t look quite as steep up close, and while I was not fast getting up it, I made it without incident.

Next the water slide back into the festival area:

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“Okay, this doesn’t seem too bad…

Crap, its getting fast…

Engaging warp 7, sire, giving it all she’s got!

Oh, hell, brace for impact…”

Hit the water, somehow found where up was, and was greeted by cheers from some friends on the platform overlooking the splash pool.

Next obstacle was a ramp wall with ropes at the top:

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First try, no dice. Second try, just touched the rope. Third try pulled the rope a little lower, and fourth try gave me a good enough grip on it to make it over.

The last stretch of obstacles, with advice and encouragement from friends and teammates at the sidelines, I pushed like hell and made multiple attempts, but I just didn’t have enough left. Gathered what I had left and charged the finish line, to be welcomed with, “This is YOUR World Championship. You have earned it!”

I got my medal and went back on the course to check on a teammate and encourage him through the last few obstacles. Worn out, joints failing, hypothermic, and he just kept pushing.

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We helped him across the finish line, then the entire team came together to get him warmed up. The brotherhood formed on the course is a real thing.

The Bad: Learning Curve

This is a new race, and there are some logistical and customer service problems cropping up. I was not given everything I should have been at check in, when I got that fixed some of what I was given was wrong, some friends arrived to check in 10 minutes before closing to find that it was already closed, and we were required at a 30-minute briefing that should have been an email. A lot of this sounds petty, but it does make things more difficult for racers from distant locations to make it to the start line.

It also strikes me as odd that, on a race with awesome obstacles that most of us have never seen before, they would not station a photographer anywhere near those obstacles? (Most of the photos used here were taken by friends and teammates, a few taken from the OCRWC Facebook page.)

The Ugly: Be Polite, People

While I want to make it clear that everyone on the course was absolutely awesome, the behavior of some people promoting this race needs to be addressed. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen discussions of legitimate gripes (from pricing structures, to qualification cutoffs, to how the Journeyman waves are handled, to on-site procedures) met with “Its the World Championships. If you don’t like (whatever your problem is), then this is not the place for you.” While this is mostly coming from random commenters, I have also seen it from those who should know better. This is how you drive away the common racers who could and should be your biggest promoters.

There have also been way too many comments from the peanut gallery that the Journeyman wave does not deserve to be there. To those saying this, I would politely remind you that the people in the journeyman wave are the reason you have a sport. Now let’s all be nice, get along, and make this sport the pinnacle of awesomeness that we all know it can be.

Post script:

After seeing some responses to this post, I feel the need to reiterate that this was a great event. This is only its second year, and I would expect a few issues to crop up. I included these points in the review for two reasons, to spark a conversation about what can be done to make it better, and to help those who may attend in the future know what issues may be at hand.

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Some requests from the common racers: An open letter to race organizers

“For those of us in later waves, how long before our wave do we need to show up?”

My question seemed to stun the race director. He replied, “Well, we thought you would all want to be here first thing in the morning to watch the elites. There are going to be some very close, exciting finishes…”

I smiled and nodded and let it go at that. Here is what I did not say:

“Of course I want to see the elites dominate the course. But I have been in a car for 14 hours straight, after only getting 4 hours of sleep. Everything I have gotten to eat today was selected primarily because I could eat it behind the wheel. It is 9:30 at night and I still need to locate my hotel and scrounge up dinner. While I want to watch the elites, I also want to enter the starting corral properly rested and fed. At this point, logistics dictate that I need to choose between the two.”

Many of us common racers have many races similar to this. We put in extra hours to get everything that needs done before Monday done, drive as far as we have to to get to the start line, and do our best to grab a bite to eat and a little sleep when and wherever we can. Work and family responsibilities take priority, and we are often able to get to the starting line by the slimmest of margins.

In this light, we ask a few things to make our lives easier:

Only have night-before mandatory packet pick up if absolutely necessary.

If the race starts at 5 in the morning, we get it, we need to get packets the night before. But if we are racing in the afternoon, there is no reason for that. Giving us another 12 hours to get there can mean the difference between dragging ourselves through the course and being well-rested enough to crush it.

Make sure all mandatory meetings are useful and needed.

If your athlete briefing can be replaced by an email or facebook post, do it electronically. The people that wouldn’t have read the email were not paying attention at the meeting either.

Make sure your volunteers can keep time.

When you tell us that packet pick up is open until 8, it is demoralizing to show up at 7:45 to find that the volunteers have already packed up and left.

Give benefit of the doubt as far as what it took to get us here.

When you look at a racer, they may have just driven across town to be there, or they may have driven halfway across the continent. Think of what you would want to help you compete on your worst possible day, and give us as close to that as you can.

Return to the Mountain: Vermont Spartan Beast 2015

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This was my third year taking on Mount Killington. I was placed in a later wave than I had been in previous years, so I knew from the start that I had to PR or be pulled from the course, no other option.

Assemble at the start line, receive a rousing pep talk from the MC (including a Mighty Ducks speech- how often do you get THAT?), and we were off. First obstacle was a log gut checker. I saw people struggling and I positioned myself in front of the log to provide them with a step. Four or five people went over, then I got up to go over myself.

The moment clearing that first obstacle sticks in my head. I was stunned at how easily I had cleared it, at how much stronger I was from last year. New training programs appear to be working.

Breezed through a few familiar obstacles, short walls, over-under-through walls, hay bale barricades, Caught up with people I had helped over the gut checker and helped them over the reverse wall.

The next obstacle to kick in was the mountain itself, the endless steep inclines and declines. At one point, a first-time racer asked if I had done this before and what to expect from the rest of the course. I replied, “That brutal, crappy soul-sucking uphill we just did? We will do that four more times, maybe five.” And if memory serves, I was pretty close to correct.

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The first spear throw had hay bales that were so damaged that no one could ever stick a spear in it, so the volunteers told us we only had to make contact. Bounce the spear off the hay, and I’m on my way.

Next was the lighter of the two sandbag carries. One thing is constant with the heavy carry obstacles in Vermont: Downhill no problem, uphill sucks with an unending suck. Keep pushing, get through it.

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Next was the tire drag obstacle. Somehow, in pulling and regripping the rope, I wrapped it around the post, and it tangled when I tried to pull the tire back down the hill. I ran back up to untangle it, just as a volunteer was coming up to assist. I stammered something like, “I screwed it up, I’ll fix it.” The volunteer smiled and replied, “Your the first one all day to own it. Good on you.”

Next were a series of steep downhills that slowed down the pace considerably. Wile Tarzan-swinging from trees to slow our descent, various conversations started up among racers. Where are you from? First race? First Beast? What do you want to eat when we are done with this? Cheeseburgers, pancakes, a deep-fried Shetland pony…

Second sandbag carry was a ball-breaker. I still have not determined if it is the heavier bag or the stupidly steep slope that does it, but this is the nastiest, grittiest carry I have ever come across. I have no idea how many times I had to stop and put down the bag on the way up, but I managed to make the trip down in one go.

Tall walls that I had needed help over in past years, I made it over unassisted this time. Got to the first rig obstacle, and made it 2 ropes in before failing.

More hilly trails, Hercules hoist, more walls, barbed wire crawl.

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I came to the balance beam and randomly chose what I learned shortly after was among the most wobbly beams. I was able to jump to the end just as I was losing my balance and complete the obstacle.

Next was the bucket carry, which is still one of the most evil things ever invented. I had carried all my gear except my water bladder in a fanny pack this year, both so I can keep moving while accessing it and so I can turn it around to set the bucket on. It kinda worked. Having it set on the pack reduced the load on my hands, but carrying the weight up the hill still sucks.

The farmer carry was unique, replacing the normal buckets or ammo cans with logs fitted with log-chain handles. I surprised myself by completing it without needing to stop midway (although I noticed here that I swear during exertion much more than I used to).

The highlight of my race came at the first rope climb. The racer in front of me had fallen and banged up his ribs, and pulling himself up the rope was exacerbating the pain. Several of us gathered around him and pushed up on whatever we could, he rang the bell, and we all helped him down.

Next was an oddly long series of walls. I have never seen that many strung in a row like that. Timing worked out such that I would help a group over the wall, go over myself, and catch up with them just in time to help them over the next wall.

Gut checkers, log carry, another rig/rope swing obstacle that I failed, Atlas carry that I dominated, and the chance to be called “wicked smaht” for carrying a bigger camelback than most racers.

About this time, people started saying that we had “about 2 more miles.” A few miles later, around the water crossing, we got actual info from race staff that there was a little over 2 miles left. I could tell that some of those around me were rattled by this. Don’t think about it, just go till you’re done.

The sun went down about the time I got to the second log carry. I don’t know what it is, but something about this race after dark, the loss of depth perception, the lines of headlamps moving up and down the mountain, just seems absolutely surreal to me.

Second barbed wire crawl, uphill in the dark, with my legs starting to cramp up. I cannot express how badly I wanted to slip out the side and walk past (as a good many people appeared to be doing), but I kept pushing through.

I’m not sure if obstacles here were actually closer together or if the dark messed with my perception of distance, but they seemed to be coming rapidly. Second rope climb, traverse wall, Atlas carry with logs instead of stones. When we came to the last and longest barbed wire crawl, there were more than a few comments of “What the crap, Norm? Did you run out of ideas and just keep doing this one?”

Finish the crawl, two or three more gut checkers, the second spear throw, and over the fire to the finish line.

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It is hard to gauge overall improvement on a course that constantly changes. I seemed a little faster and steadier on the course and much stronger on the obstacles, and my overall time was a PR by more than an hour. Not nearly where I want to be yet, but much, much closer than I was last year.

Farewell for now, Killington. We will meet again. Count on it.

Hometown Mud Run: The Muddy Vike 2015

When I moved to Sioux Falls, several friends pointed out that there is a local 5k mud run. While I usually don’t write up the smaller events I attend, this one was fun enough to warrant at least a brief report.

They passed my first test: making sure that you get wet within the first quarter mile:

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Obstacles were fun, if a little basic. Incline wall:

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Tarzan swing that I ended up in the water on:

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The basic short walls and balance beams:

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Whatever the tire mud pit is called:

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A few obstacles that I did not find photos for (2-rope traverse, monkey bars, several water obstacles) and ending with a water slide:

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I finished with a PR for a 5K with obstacles, somewhere under 42 minutes. While not a terribly demanding course, it was difficult enough to be fun, and would be a great course for anyone new to OCR.