In Defense of the Dirty Name

Dirty Name.jpg

Mud Run Guide recently posted an article titled “The Sternum Checker Needs to be Chucked,” laying out the case that this particular obstacle is too dangerous and needs to be eliminated from all races. The author made some valid arguments, but also made some that are so far wrong that I felt the need to respond. Each race handles obstacles a bit differently, and I admit that some are pushing the limits of safety, but this would be a call for adjusting the design of the obstacle, not eliminating it entirely.

I am only giving excerpts below, full article can be found here. Here is a list of points that need addressed.

The challenge is to get yourself over the second and higher of the two logs. This is usually done by running at it, stepping up onto the lower “launch-pad” log, and jumping at the upper log.

It is this way of attacking the obstacle that is causing the injuries. It is supposed to be a controlled jump from one log to the next. Note the instructions from the military field manual:


A brief exposé of the origin of this obstacle is in order. It was developed by some forgotten sadistic genius as part of the world of military boot camps. Note that this is not “bootcamp-style” group training, but actual, real, brutal military bootcamps. The goal here is not to get you all into shape and to have fun while getting fit. Nay-nay. The goal here is to break people before rebuilding them into perfect fighting men and women.

The author is misunderstanding so much here. Let me just say that the field manual lists a purpose for this obstacle that does not include breaking things. It is the rare soldier who can continue training with a broken clavicle or spine.

Sternum Checker is the only regularly used obstacle that I have come across that is designed to hurt you even if you do it right. The initial and obvious challenge is to absorb the impact against the log (failure = bruised or broken sternum, xiphoid, ribs, ruptured spleen, bruised liver, broken wrist, broken clavicle, broken jaw, lost teeth).

If you do it correctly, you might get a bruise. I get bruises from any wall taller than 6 feet, it’s part of the race. The injuries you are describing come from doing it wrong, going at it way too hard, or the obstacle being set up improperly. More on that last one a bit later.

Let’s compare and contrast likely fails on the Sternum Checker with the most likely fails on other common obstacles.

  • Fail the rope climb, and you slide down the rope. Maybe some rope burn, maybe a twisted ankle.
  • Fail a warped wall, and you slide back down. No likely issues.
  • Fail a Rig, and you tumble a couple of feet to the ground. No likely issues.
  • Fail the Irish Table and you swing back down to the ground, or maybe fall a foot. No likely issues.
  • Fail Dragon’s Back, and you slide or fall the steeply pitched ramp. Maybe you injure an ankle or wrist or knee if you miss your grip and tumble down.
  • Fail the Sternum Checker, and you could easily wind up out of the race or in the hospital or a wheelchair or in the ground.

If the racer fails correctly, most of these are true, but not everyone fails correctly. I have seen a few racers (including myself) lose grip and fall from the top of the rope. If your feet make the jump on the Dragon’s Back but your hands fail to find a grip, you are likely to hit the ground head-first (feet have support off the wall but the rest of the body does not.) If you fail the sternum checker correctly, you do a back breakfall, maybe have a bruise on your butt, and go about your day.

I will throw out here that there are several safety concerns with the way that particular races arrange this obstacle, most notably lack of padding underneath to help break the fall, and unpadded lower logs where you could fall back and hit your head on them. The solutions for this are either a) add padding as noted in the military instructions above, or b) make the first log high enough that racers will safely fall underneath it, as the photo at the top of this post has done. Some races have also tried to make it harder by making the dimensions of it much wider, which causes safety problems as well.

Now to the sexism argument:

The 1st sternum checker was far and away the biggest gender gap obstacle at the 2015 OCRWC. It is not unreasonable to extrapolate from this that failure rates among women at non-championship races with a lower average caliber of athlete would be even higher…65%, 75%, 80%+. The gender gap on SC1 sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. There was much post-race discussion after OCRWC 2015 about SC1 being unfairly hard for shorter racers, which demographic stats will tell you are mostly women. Looking at these numbers, you can make the case that they had a case. Historically, the Platinum Rig is the big band-breaker at mandatory completion races. However, these women handled both Rigs significantly better than they did SC1. 

This is an upper-body strength obstacle that requires reach and thus favors taller competitors. There are always going to be obstacles that favor one body type over another. Many tall guys who rock the sternum checker have a devil of a time getting through spider-web type obstacles. You are never going to build an obstacle that is equally tough for everyone. There are men’s and women’s lanes at some obstacles already, why not this one?

There are many safer alternatives that offer similar physical challenges such as the Irish Table and its variants, without risk of serious injury If you want a mind-f&*k confidence obstacle, then something like Toughest’s Dragon’s Back fits the bill perfectly, again without the high risk of serious injury. Heck, even something as simple and harmless as a 10-15 foot jump into water would stop and balk many racers, with almost no risk of any remotely serious injury.

All of those offer pieces of the challenge but do not duplicate all of it, sort of like pushups, squats and jumping jacks are great, but they still are not quite burpees. The hardest part is the controlled jump off of a balancing position (rather than a stable surface like Irish Table or Dragon’s Back). This is what people are often trying to avoid when they try to hulk-smash their way through it (see “launch-pad log” method above), and if you try to hulk-smash anything you are going to get hurt (unless you are, in fact, the Hulk).

I call for all races that use this obstacle to make adjustments for safety that they should have been doing all along (that safety section of the field manual above has been there a LONG time), but it is a unique and challenging obstacle that deserves to be kept. More importantly, the most common comment I saw about this topic was “Never had a chance to do that obstacle, but would love to give it a shot.” There are a lot of racers out there that deserve to have this on their course.

Training + Community: Pathfinder Ruck Training Program Review


I had been hearing good things about this training program from my fellow adventure racers and GORUCK junkies for some time, but I kept putting off signing up for one (for reasons I will get into later). Shortly before Class 010 was due to start, Kirk Deligiannis (co-founder of Charity Challenges, evil genius behind Mettle Forger, and an all-around awesome member of the rucking community) died suddenly after an event. Class 010 was made a memorial class with proceeds going to help his family. There was no question at that point, I was signing up.


Many of us wore his roster number, made it a point to include some of his signature workouts in our training, and I kept the following quote on the cover of my training journal:


The program turned out to be both a fitting tribute and an awesome training regimen.

What Pathfinder is NOT

The main reason I had shied away from this program even though better athletes had recommended it: I thought that it was something different than what it actually is.

I’m the kind of person who tailors my training around my event schedule as soon as I decide on doing an event. It is not uncommon for me to have training planned out for a year or more into the future, and I thought that I would have to scrap that to follow the Pathfinder workouts.

This turned out not to be the case. Pathfinder is not an every-day-planned-out, do-this-and-only-this training plan. It is much more open-ended and adjustable, so it can be fit around other training. (I successfully got PF requirements completed while continuing my 100M training. If I can fit it around a time-consuming plan like that, it can fit around whatever workout program you are on.) While there is a schedule of workouts that you can follow if you like, as long as the requirements of the program get met, no one cares when or in what order you get them done. One of the advisers completed the 12-week program in a month, just to show that it could be done.

At the other end of the spectrum, it is also not a virtual race where you get the finisher’s insignia regardless of if you actually did the work. While it is on the honor system, you have to complete the required challenges and log them online in order to be listed as a finisher and receive your patch.

The Pathfinder Program

The program is intended to help you perform at a higher level at ruck-based events, or as they say, “Thrive, don’t just survive.” It also puts those of us who are dedicated to this type of training together so that we can motivate each other and help each other out. (Fellow Pathfinders met me on trips to Minnesota and Texas to get workouts in together.)

There are three levels of training, but I am only going to detail out the beginner level, Pathfinder Forward. The others are the same idea, but with more miles, more workouts, heavier weights, and shorter time limits (for individual challenges, all levels are still 12 weeks). You can find more details and sign up here.

To complete the program, you have 12 weeks to:

  • Ruck at least 75 miles
  • Complete at least 20 workouts (10 workouts must involve your ruck)
  • Complete at least 4 Pathfinder Challenges

For the challenges, you must pick four from a list of options:

  • Pass the Army PFT (pushups, situps, and 2-mile timed run)
  • Attempt the above test 4 times, showing improvement
  • Ruck a total of 36 miles immediately before or after workouts
  • Ruck 8 miles on mountain trails (parking garages and sandy beaches have been used as a flat-land alternate)
  • Ruck 15 miles in the dark
  • Carry additional weight 8 miles (intended to be done with a team, 45# for every two teammates)
  • Ruck 12 miles in 3.5 hours or less
  • Ruck an additional 75 miles (150 total)
  • Ruck yet another 75 miles (225 total)
  • Complete a ruck-based challenge like GORUCK Light or Tough

You are provided a sample schedule and list of suggested workouts, but you are free to alter the schedule, use different workouts, and choose different challenges based on your abilities and preferences.

You will be added to a Facebook group for the class and assigned an adviser who has been through the Advanced program. It is a great place to ask questions, make sure that your idea for a workout or challenge will count, share your accomplishments, and encourage your teammates. I didn’t expect it, but the social aspect of it helped me push harder and do more than I would have if it were just me keeping track of the workout log. I’ve also found that I will care more about meeting a time hack when I have to report a success or failure to my team.

Notes and Advice

Having been through it once now, I can look back to see what went right and what I could have done better.

Make sure you have more than one path to victory. You don’t want to find yourself counting on passing the APFT on the last day and miss it by one rep. In my case I had planned on the 15-mile overnight ruck and the 150 miles total. I got sick, missed a couple workouts, and had some crappy weather prevent me from getting in miles that I needed, so I missed those two challenges. I was able to replace them with the mountain ruck and the 12 miles in 3:30. Plan ahead so that you have multiple options.

It is much easier to put in the work at the beginning and start out ahead than to start out behind and try to catch up. While the looming deadline can push you to get more done, it can also make you panic when the task in front of you is so big that you don’t know where to start.

If you are, like me, in a place where weather can severely affect your workout plans, think about that when you decide what challenge you are going to do when. Some of what I did in the January snow would have been so much easier when it was 50 degrees in November.


I think the best way to convey my feelings towards this program is to say that I am already signed up for the next 3 classes. The training is solid, the community is awesome, and having the requirements and time limits helps keep me focused on my training. If I just update my workout journal and put it back in my ruck, its easy to loose track of the big picture and lose motivation. Logging that workout, seeing the progress toward earning your patch, sharing all of this with your team, somehow makes the progress more tangible and more real.


State of the Monk Address 2017

Just after the new year, I’m taking a moment to take stock of where I have been and where I am headed in 2017.

Perhaps the most notable highlight of 2016 is the realization that some of my readers see what I’ve done and realize that they can do it too. People who have tried their first obstacle race or GORUCK event, those who used my logistical notes to plan a trip, a few planning to do the Snowdrop. I love seeing this. It reminds me of what drew me into this realm of crazy physical challenges to begin with:


Its not about you. Its about the person next to you that you can help. I’m overjoyed that what I do has helped some of my readers.

I laid out some goals for 2016 at the start of the year. Some of them I smashed, some I didn’t quite meet, but I at least made progress on all of them. I now test out younger than my actual age in body-age assessments, I’m measurably stronger and faster, and I’ve learned a few (often painful) lessons on what I can and can’t let slip in my training.

2016 taught me that having a very few train-for events (events that I need to specifically tailor my training toward in order to complete) and some extra train-through events (things that are just for fun and don’t require a break from normal training) is definitely better than trying to over-pack the year with train-for events. My big events for 2017 are the Bataan Memorial Death March, A GORUCK Heavy, a few other GR events, and the SUCK at the Decker farm in Illinois.

Since this is most certainly a ruck-intensive year, I’ve signed up for Pathfinder training programs that will cover most of the year. I will be finishing my first in the next few days, so look for a review of the program to be posted shortly. I’m also starting some back-to-basics running training, hoping it will help my speed over the ground, which has always been my weak point.

I recently changed to a new gym, and I am finding it a much better fit. The reason for this didn’t really hit me until I suddenly realized that no one at the new location had looked at what I was doing and asked what in the world I was training for. I don’t think I went a week at the old gym without that question. There is much less talking and a lot more grinding, everyone working on their own goals, which suits me perfectly. I think it sums up the general feel of the place to note that, being a 24-hour facility, at one time or another I have been there every hour of the day, from lunchtime workouts to 3 AM wakeups to getting there at 10 PM and leaving sometime in the wee morning hours, and I am yet to be the only one there. There seems to always be at least a few people putting in work, no matter what the rest of the world might be doing.


Snowdrop 55 Hour Logistics

A few friends have expressed interest in doing the Snowdrop next year, so I thought I would throw out my thoughts on what I did right and what I could have done better.

First and foremost, whatever else happens, make sure you get your long training runs in. My training for about a month before the race went sideways, and I paid for it in additional pain. Long runs are time-consuming and tough to fit in the schedule. Find a way.

Get your foot care regimen sorted out well before showing up. The more you prevent, the less you have to fix. The foot medic they have there is awesome, and you should not be shy about going to see her, but the better you do at preventing problems the less you will need patched up.

The tent sites are inside the loop that you will be running. Make certain that where you pitch your tent is at a local high point, as the lower areas flood when it rains. (A few people brought pallets to make a walkway across the low spots and help keep feet dry.) The site can be windy, so when you come to set it up bring enough gear to weight it down. Also be familiar with your tent, as mine would leak if I didn’t position gear to push out the walls. Having a dry place to catch a 20-minute rest can mean the difference between moving on with high spirits and standing there wondering why you thought you could do this.

In addition, a rain shelter outside of the tent (with chair and waterproof gear bin)would have been great. It would have been much easier to be able to tend my feet and grab pain meds without having to crawl into the tent. There was a significant amount of time I refused to stop for gear, worrying that I would stay in the tent and not want to move. Having gear dry outside would have made it easier to grab what I needed without stopping.

Having some piece of gear that you can put your feet up on when you lie down helps enormously. I used the rucksack that had all my extra clothes.

The food selection is awesome. Eat a lot. Drink a lot. Do not allow yourself to feel hungry or thirsty. You know that calories and water in are going to be an issue, so head it off before it becomes a problem.

Bring all the socks you own with you. Bring several pairs of broken-in shoes. If you have different styles for different trail conditions, bring them and change as conditions change. Bring extra clothing in more than one style (i.e. if you usually wear compression, bring some loose-fitting stuff). The compression shorts that served me well at 50 miles were killing me by 75, and my jersey seemed to be strangling me by mile 60. If all I had brought was multiple sets of the same clothes, I would have been in trouble. Changing into boxer-briefs and a loose T shirt fixed the problem. Also, bring rain gear. You may be able to take a break when it rains, you may need to keep moving through it.

Plan for as many things to go wrong as you can think of. You are less limited in the gear you can bring here than in any race I have ever done, so take advantage of that fact.


“I Still Function”: Snowdrop Ultra 55 Hour 2016

I instantly latched on to the idea of this race when I heard about it. Raising money for a childhood cancer charity,  3/4 mile track, as many laps as you can manage in 55 hours, which means aide station with access to drop bags every 3/4 mile. The short loop format (at least in theory) would eliminate most of the problems that have kept me from reaching the 100 mile mark thus far.

The physical exertion and lack of sleep caused my memories from this event to be a bit random and scattered, but I will do my best to convey the experience

My drop bag/ rest area was a tent along the edge of the running loop, close enough that I could jump off whenever needed to take care of my feet, rest a few minutes, change clothes, whatever I needed. Speaking of clothes, the two outfits I spent most of the race in got rave reviews from my fellow racers:


The first unusual thing that I noted about this race format is the lack of separation by ability level. On a point-to-point or even a 10-mile loop course, the people string out over the course and the only people you see are the ones at roughly your level. Here, everyone is seeing everyone constantly, which helps develop the one-big-family feel of it. It also amazed me to see the variety of athletes that showed up, from national record holders to people who had never run more than a 5K. Some people had a plan for miles to cover each day and then went back to the hotel, some did all 55 hours in one go.

In addition to the snacks constantly available at the aide station, we were called in for full meals three times each day (and pizza tended to show up in the hours between dinner and breakfast). I can honestly say that eating enough and keeping my energy levels up was not a problem. The foot medic that was on site was awesome, and I learned a few new tricks from watching her patch up my feet.


We were told early that rain was expected in the wee hours of the second day, and that it would behoove us to get as many laps in as possible before then. I managed to make it to 63 laps (47-ish miles) before lying down for a power nap, and much of the rain passed while I was sleeping.

Alarm goes off, prep feet, back at it. I was almost completely walking by this point, legs just didn’t want to run, but I kept moving and was keeping a solid pace. The trails had been changed by the rain and the passage of many feet, becoming something like lumpy concrete that was very tough on my feet. They were taped well enough to prevent serious blisters, but over time the pounding took its toll, and they just started to ache.


Keep going. Silly jokes and sharing encouragements with fellow racers and volunteers.

At one point the volunteers were having an impromptu dace party as I came by, and I stopped to join in. Another racer yelled out, “If you can do that, you need to be running faster!” I replied, “But I can only do this about 40 seconds before my body says no…”

The signs posted around the loop were great motivation, ranging from the joking “You could have chosen chess as your sport” and “Chuck Norris never ran an ultra” to photos of the cancer patients that we were running to help. Also reminding us of the greater purpose of the race were the crosses, being erected every hour to represent the number of children who lose their fight with cancer within that hour. This photo represents the 55 hours we were out there:15825776_1205454899562607_3942594064538766006_n.jpg

During the second night, I had a realization that I found quite empowering. I was thinking that I would need to stop, and was not sure that I could get enough laps in the next day to come home with a buckle (minimum is 100 miles or 134 laps). Then I analyzed exactly what I was feeling: It was not blisters that would get worse with more miles. It was not the stress of a tendon that could tear if pushed too far. It was simple pain, nothing more. Just what feet feel like when you have been on them for 40 out of the past 44 hours.


Push the pain to the back of my mind, and keep going. The base level of pain sort of faded into the background and I could forget about it if I didn’t think too hard.

A few hours later, pushing through the dark, I hit a serious low point. I have a high pain tolerance, and this was beyond it. Everything hurt, and everything seemed to make it hurt worse. Some people passing asked how I was feeling, and while I really wanted to say something more positive, all I could come up with was, “I still function.”

I leaned into the pain and force-marched it, march two laps, eat, march two more. Breaking down sobbing then muttering profanities, but keeping moving. I wanted to stop, but knew that it carried a risk of either not starting again or falling asleep and not having enough time to finish, so I kept pushing. I have no words to describe how hard this was, or how badly I wanted to quit in that moment.

At lap 123, I finally couldn’t push any more and decided to take 20 minutes to lie down, take some pain meds, and put my feet up. As feared, I fell asleep and missed my alarm. Luck smiled on me though, as I woke 15 minutes later to rain pattering on the tent.

Get through the sudden panic, realize I still have time to grunt out 11 more laps. I won’t say my legs felt brand new after the rest, but they felt much better. Not new, but still under warranty?

Pain levels increased with each lap, but that was balanced by the knowledge that the distance to go was short and I was going to make it. The way this race handled each runner hitting 100 miles was awesome. When you come in on the next-to-last lap, they will confirm that this is your “bell lap”.


You then ring a bell and head off on your last lap.


I can’t say I ran that whole last lap, but I force-marched it hard, then pushed into the fastest run I could manage for the last 100 yards. When they saw me coming in, the MC announced my name over the loudspeakers and told everyone I was coming in for my first 100 mile finish. Two volunteers held a finish-line ribbon for me to run through.


And the photographer caught the exact moment where the pain caught up with me:


Lots of hugs, lots of congratulations, receiving my buckle, and learning that the finish ribbon is also a memento that each finisher gets to keep (a really nice touch).



I am writing this about a week after the event, and my emotions have still not quite settled down. This is a goal I have been chasing for a long time. Without a doubt, this is the most I have ever wanted to quit (including events where I did) but I pushed through.


Remembering The Fallen: Mogadishu Mile GRC 2094

I was excited to try this event, as it had a reputation for being a notch above the standard GORUCK Tough level of difficulty, and because I love the historical/memorial nature of the event. It absolutely did not disappoint.

Reviewing everyone’s gear found two people who did not have everything on the packing list. To pay for this, the team had to do two laps up and down the stairs of a parking structure next to our start point.


We came down from the second lap and crammed everyone into the space at the bottom of the stairs, to find that we had missed our time hack. We were given a second chance, 2 laps, no breaks in formation, 10 minutes, with the understanding that if we failed we would spend several hours doing nothing but stairs.

We made it in 8:30.

We were then given our first movement instructions and time hack and moved out.


We got to the park that was our destination, found that we missed the time hack, and someone had left behind a piece of gear, both of which we would be punished for.

Into the nearby duck pond for 50 squats in chest-deep water…


And 30 overhead levers with our waterlogged rucks.


Out of the water, form up, and have a talk with the Cadre explaining the background of the situation in Somalia that lead to the US going in. Civil war, famine, UN food shipments. What do food shipments mean at a GORUCK event? That’s right, supply carry. Only people with something else to carry get to wear their rucks, everyone else must carry them with their hands or forearms (ruck cannot go higher than your elbows). Destination, time hack, move out.

That carry sucked. Crossing both arms helped a bit, and at some point I got one of the water jugs to carry so I could wear my ruck again. We reached our destination, missed our time hack, and were punished with 60 four-count flutter kicks. Cadre made it clear to us that time hacks would be enforced, and the pattern we were noticing of penalties getting worse would continue.


We then formed a half-circle around Cadre as he told us the next segment of the Mogadishu story, the UN involvement, the US coming in, communication failures, the start of the raid that would lead to the battle.

New team leads, new destination, move out. There is a point in every event where memories start to get fuzzy, and that happened about here on this one. The following is absolutely incomplete and may be out of order.

We had a navigation failure and went past one of our objectives, and did bounding rushing drills to get back to it. Alternately yelling out “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down” when moving and “Die m—–f—er die!” when not. (Apparently the second phrase is used to track the length of a machine gun burst.)

We filled the water jugs to add to our weight to carry, and topped off the water we were drinking from them throughout the night. Lightening the jugs was an additional motivation to stay hydrated.

We stopped at several points for Cadre to tell us more of the story and what we could learn from it. Shortly after the story of the firefight, we formed up for a PT test that would determine how many casualties we would have on the next movement. Why do a PT test several hours in? Because no one cares what you can do when you are fresh and at your best. Those soldiers 11 hours into the fight were not fresh, and still had to deliver.


I surprised myself by completing the 42 required pushups. 7 people were unable to, and Cadre offered to erase that if 7 of us could do it again. My first thought was to let the fitter members of the team do it, but when I saw only 4 step forward I stepped up. It was not as fast and not as pretty the second time around, but I made 42 again.

Situp test didn’t go as well. 14 failed (including me) and of the 14 that retested, 11 made it. A debt of 3 failures remained, so 3 casualties. We went off, swapping out as needed with 3 people under each casualty. This turned out to be too slow, and we got 70 eight-count body builders as a result.

We were given a memory test, to memorize all of this:


I happened to be the one called to recite all that was there, and I nailed it.

On one of our later movements, I tripped and fell and bloodied my chin. (It would later require 7 stitches.) One of the team broke out some tape and gauze, patched it up as well as he could, and we were back moving. Even with my fall, we made that time hack.


Distraction drill- Everyone on the team waiting in an uncomfortable position, while two volunteers must follow simple instructions. While we were working as a team enough to never have to wait for a volunteer, we forgot stupid, basic things in the rush to get everyone into a more comfortable condition. It took us a few go-rounds, but we finally got it. Cadre explained to us how this was minor compared to the confusion and pressure on the ground in Mogadishu, and that we should learn from this. This bit is what probably sticks in my head the most from a learning perspective.

We moved back to our start point and stood at attention for the reading of the Medal of Honor citations of Shughart and Gordon (which nearly brought me to tears, these two exemplify so much that should be emulated). It intentionally looked like the endex… and then two new team leads were called for.

New mission: a blackhawk has crashed in a park half a mile from here. There are wounded, we need to go get them. Move out.

We made our time hack getting there, and Cadre explained our final movement. Start with 5 casualties. The cadre will follow behind, moving at a set pace, looking a bit like this:


If they catch up to the last person, we take another casualty. If you keep it together and stay moving, 5 casualties are all you will have. If someone steps on their shoelaces, things can go to crap quickly.

At first we had a set group of people on each casualty, and because I was injured they put me carrying one of the rucks taken from the casualties. We had some slow changes and gained a couple more casualties, and the system started to break down, so I handed off the ruck and started grabbing people whenever I could. (Even arguing with a few who didn’t want me to carry because I was hurt or because they thought I would trip again.) It is funny that when someone tells you that you are hurt so you don’t have to do the heavy lifting, you usually say thank you and go about your day. In a movement like this, when someone told me I couldn’t carry, my brain’s first response was, “Listen, f—er, I got this.”

We made our way to our endex, appropriately enough at a stadium, and formed up. Cadre gave us a short talk and read off the names of the 18 men who died that day. In their honor, we did 18 pushups. I’m pretty sure we all made them as close to perfect as we possibly could.


I think the bloody Santa Clause may be the best patching photo I have ever gotten:


Then I headed off to get a quick shower and find a doctor to stitch up my chin.

This was an awesome event. I learned a lot about the historical events of Mogadishu, and even more about how to push to be a better teammate. Can’t wait to do it again.

3 Races in 4 weeks: Muddy Vike, Rugged Maniac, and Step Up For Heroes

I got a little behind on my blog posts, so I wanted to do a quick recap of the last month. All of the events were the smaller races that are more fun than brutal, and thus much tougher for me to write about, so descriptions will be much more brief than usual.

Muddy Vike

This is the local mud run in Sioux Falls. My son came along and ran it with me. Good use of terrain and permanent obstacles, fun and not overly difficult, great race for bringing in new racers.

Rugged Maniac MN

I had heard this race brand had stepped up their game, so I was curious to see what they would bring. I found that they massively stepped things up from the last time I ran one, but they stepped it up less in the way of a brutal military obstacle course, and more in the way of an epic playground. Some basic obstacles, wire crawl, walls, A frame:race_2257_photo_43883367.jpg

And some more playful ideas, like the trampolines that bounce you onto a cargo net wall and a warped wall that brings you to an awesome water slide:race_2257_photo_43889704.jpg

While the obstacles were mostly fun, the ski hills were all business. This was a tough race from a terrain perspective.

Step Up for Heroes

Sioux Falls has an annual 9/11 memorial stair climb, and this year I saw they had added a challenge course. No information on what this course would entail, but my son and I signed up and showed up. It can’t be that hard, can it?

As it turned out, the idea behind the challenge course was simple, but much tougher than expected.

14372282_1053770758076060_5392962524391020513_o.jpgCarry a 50# sandbag up and down the bleacher stairs three times, complete a challenge on the football field, carry the sandbag up and down the stairs 3 more times, repeat for each of the 6 challenges on the field, and finish with 3 more stair laps with the sandbag. Field challenges were all across the football field (160 feet). Weighted challenges you had to bring the weight back, unweighted challenges you did 160′ and then just ran back.

Challenges were:

Bucket carry

Farmer carry with two sandbags


Burpee frog hops


Bear crawls


Walking lunges


By the second set of stair climbs, by quads were vibrating. Nothing to do but keep moving. Encouragement from the crowd and the volunteers was great.

I was proud of Josh. He pushed hard, picking up the sandbag when he was told he could continue unweighted, keeping correct exercise form when most people would fudge it to save time and effort. The emcee noticed him and announced his name over the loudspeakers, and for awhile the entire stadium was cheering for him.

We finished in roughly an hour. As the youngest finisher, Josh got an honorable mention at the awards ceremony. I joked that he won his age group, and we asked a fellow racer to take a picture showing how we both felt:



Through the Glass: Ultimate Suck Volunteer 2016

So while you’re outside looking in
Describing what you see
Remember what you’re staring at is me~ Stone Sour

After I DNFed at this event last year, I made it a point to come back as a volunteer this year. I gave the excuse that I wanted to take notes and get a clearer picture of what I was training for to be better able to train for it, and it was indeed useful for that. The bigger reason was that I feared this would become one of those “maybe some day” events, the ones that you keep pushing off because you don’t quite feel ready yet. Making it a point to be there, even if I am not competing, makes it harder to push off. (And true to form I am signed up to give the 12 hour a go next year.)

What I didn’t expect was exactly how odd it felt to be there, watching, directing, encouraging, taking notes, but not pushing through the pain with everyone else.

The rest of this post will be random observances and notes. As I went 48 hours with maybe 4 hours of sleep (between the drive and the event itself), random is about all I can do.

The people you meet there are incredible. I have never met more caring, encouraging people, pushing you far enough to get stronger without pushing you to breaking.

There are times that you can physically see someone’s emotional state. The uncertainty when someone realizes they are back of the pack and wonder if they really belong here (perhaps I picked up on that one because I’ve been there so often myself). The stoic determination to keep going when you are hallucinating from cold and lack of sleep. The caring tenderness when looking after an injured competitor. The pure joy when the athlete that you weren’t quite sure would make it through, does.

Lots of feats of strength and endurance that you are unlikely to see anywhere else. Ruck an unknown distance through a creek bed, stopping at several checkpoints to do sets of 100 of various calisthenics, do rope climbs and log flips, ruck back to throw weighted kegs and ball-and-chain over a 9′ bar, burpees, caber toss, get 15 minutes to look after yourself and your gear, then head out to do more. In one case continuing on for 30 hours after breaking a finger and fixing it with duct tape.


After seeing the river movement toward the end, I understand why the official description of this event includes a reference to Deliverance. Swimming down a swift-flowing river in the dark for 2 hours, to immediately run 10 miles back to your start point, over a lot of ground not intended for human travel.

Reminder to make sure your pack is up to the rigors of this type of use. I saw a few athletes with light-duty packs getting absolutely destroyed by their gear.

Notes to self for volunteering:

Bring a small rucksack, dry bags, headlamp, and hydration bladder next time. You may end up manning a checkpoint for 4 hours at a time, and it is really easy to lose your water bottle while accompanying athletes through chest-high water. Also bring bug spray, as this area has some breed of giant mutant mosquito.

Breakfast after (for both athletes and volunteers) is beyond awesome.


This is one of the events that I think truly forces you to find the edge of your abilities and find out who you really are. And I will be back next year to dig a little deeper and see what else I can find.


Fill, Flow and Go: GRC 2041 and GRL 1264


I was a little apprehensive starting this event, as I hadn’t done as well as I had hoped on my last event. Found the start point, checked in with my new teammates, said hello to the Cadre, and waited for the fun to start. The start point was on a small beach, so predictably within a few minutes we were doing bottom samples in the water:


And sugar cookies on the beach.


As an aside, I have to wonder what people looking on think when they see a group of adults lying at the water’s edge, pelting each other with handfuls of sand and yelling “Sand storm!”

We were then given a 5 minute time hack to fill the 120#, 80#, and two 60# sandbags.


Team leaders assigned, given a destination and a time hack, we formed up and moved out. When someone on the weights needed assistance, they called out for support and one of the rest of us would step up to take it for however long we could (although it took a little while to get everyone in step and working together.)

We fell behind pace on our first movement, and got some PT while Cadre reinforced the importance of teamwork and initiative.


The same points would be reinforced a lot that night. Take initiative, if you see something that needs done, step up and do it. Take care of your teammates when they need help. Fill in wherever you are needed. Be like water, fill, flow, and go.

We got our act together for the rest of that movement and made our time hack. New team leads, new destination, move out… and almost immediately screw up and end up stopped in the middle of a road. 5 casualties were assigned, most of them big guys who we had to team carry. Between casualties and sandbags, we didn’t have anyone to change out.

After awhile of this, Cadre had us put the casualties down and brought in several of the team who worked in medical jobs to perform triage. This person has this injury, how do you fix it, can they be moved, etc. Our medics performed well enough on this to get two or three of the casualties healed, which gave us enough people to switch out carriers and keep us moving on pace.

From this point forward in this post, I am not going to make any attempt to keep events in order. We were all pushing hard, and it tends to make my memory go a little fuzzy.

We started on paved bike trails, spent some time on railroad tracks, crossed some really cool railroad trestle bridges, covered a lot of very muddy trails through the woods, and ended up back on concrete for the end of the challenge.

Three rucks broke down during the night. One we were able to jerry-rig and get back in action, one we distributed the bricks between several people, and one ended up replaced with a handbag. More on that later.

I was continually frustrated that I seemed not to be able to carry the sandbags or casualties as far as the other members of the team, but I stepped up and helped as much as I could.

As we came to an open field Cadre told us about a time in Afghanistan when he and his unit were under heavy fire with no cover, and used team buddy rushes to get to cover. He then told us to use the same technique to get our team across the field, and how well we did this would decide how many casualties we would leave with. People with sandbags were designated “machine gun teams,” meaning yes, you have to carry that with you through the rushing drills.

Alpha team, Set! Alpha team, GO! I’m up, he sees me, I’m down.

Bravo team, Set! Bravo team, go! I’m up, he sees me, I’m down.

About the third time through, the team on the 120 called for support, so I and another teammate went to them and took it over rather than bounding ahead. Rushing drills hauling that thing with you are a bitch. After about 2 rushes we called out for support, but no one heard us, so we did our best and carried it through to the end.

We did well enough to be given no casualties and to get a few minutes rest. At rest breaks throughout the night, Cadre would tell us stories from his deployments that brought home what he wanted to teach us. Two in particular deserve mention here:

Somewhere in Afghanistan, a US base was preparing for a coming attack. The enemy was coming with nearly every Soviet-made weapons system in use, RPKs, DShK heavy machine guns, recoilless rifles, all of it. The Battalion Commander, a Lt Colonel, was down with his men, using his bare hands to fill sandbags so that they would have enough to reinforce all the fighting positions against whatever the Taliban could throw at them. He could have simply ordered it done by his subordinates, but he chose to lead by example, doing everything he expected the men under him to do. Because no one is above teamwork.

The second story is about Cadre Cleave’s squadmate, the virgin who proved zombies are real. You can’t get that story from this post, you need to talk to Cadre at about 3 in the morning.

Several miles later, we ended up assembled in another dark open field. Cadre said that we hadn’t gotten much of a welcome party, so we were doing the deck of cards workout now.

Go through an entire deck of 54 cards, doing the number shown on the card of the exercise assigned to the suit. Spades are thrusters, hearts are 4-count flutter kicks, clubs are overhead lunges, diamonds are 8-count bodybuilders, aces are 15, face cards are 10, and jokers are a sprint with the ruck. We were given 50 minutes to make this happen.

It sucked, it sucked a lot, but we got through it. We decided to shuffle the deck, losing a little time in transitions between exercises and a little time by arguing over how to do this. Our final time was 52:30. We would not find out the significance of missing the time hack until a few hours later.

More miles rucked, stopped at a gas station to refill on water, and did the name game, where one person has to be able to name all the rest of the class. Our contender was able to name us all, we got no PT. A few minutes later, we are given new team leads, new time hack, new destination, and quickly made our way to a grassy hill next to the river.13895425_126247927820628_4901148327856221910_n.jpg

We then repeated the deck of cards, trying to beat the previous time. We went about it in a more organized manner this time, but it still sucked. We went from the top down, cycling through the exercises in order. When we got under 10, we did two cards of each at a time (i.e. do 17 reps, knock out 9 and 8 together).


The guy whose ruck had to be replaced with a handbag probably had the worst of it, but kept going without the slightest complaint.


We saved the two joker sprints to the end. I did my best, but I ended up next to last, well behind the group. As I turned around on the second lap, I saw two guys coming back. They took the rucksacks from the two of us at the rear so that we could finish faster.

Back in formation. Finish time: 43:30.

Cadre then called on us to step up and talk to the class about what the flag meant to each of us. I lack the command of the language to fully convey what was said, but several of them were very touching.

This (intentionally) looked very much like the prelude to getting our patches and being done, but we still had one movement left, back to the start point. We were given a tight time hack and told to treat it like a movement to contact, no lollygagging, no screwing around.

By this time we were working well as a team and we made great time. Crossing guards appeared whenever we needed to cross a street, sandbag handoffs were quick and on the move. I went under one of the heavy sandbags near the end, hoping to push through to finish with it. I couldn’t quite make it, called out for support and teammates came up to take it. The woman next to me in formation saw me wavering, grabbed my arm, and pulled me along until we hit the end point.


Time hack made, patched, time for a shower and a quick nap before the hotel wants their room back.


Showed up for the light feeling that all in all I was as ready as could be expected, fed, hydrated, got a little rest and my feet were in okay condition. Down side was we were not told to empty the sandbags after the Tough, so they would likely still be with us.

Formed up, met the new team, got instructions from Cadre, and moved out.


We stopped at a park and did  human tank tracks, basically doing front rolls while holding hands elephant-walk-style. It took us awhile to get the hang of, and I accidentally kicked the guy behind me in the head before I figured it out.

Next movement with all the sandbags and one casualty, heading to a lake with a boat ramp. I wonder what could be coming next…


Dialog for the hydrologic survey of the duck pond:

“How deep is it?”

“About two feet!”

“What is the bottom composed of?”

“Mud and duck dookie!”

Roll to the left, do it again.

Movement back to the start point. I was starting to drag a bit, hesitating more than I like to admit when the call went up to take the heavy bags. Cadre critiqued us on making sure that we changed everything out at once so that we wouldn’t stop so often. We were a little behind pace, and jogged/shuffled the last half mile or so to the end point, making it right on time.



I could tell I was fading at the end, but one of the Light participants noted that he couldn’t look around the group and tell who had done the Tough, as we were putting out on par with the people who came in fresh. Maybe it didn’t show on the outside.



“Send It.”- Tough Mudder Twin Cities 2016

This was my third Tough Mudder. While I was disappointed with the first, they more than made up for it on the second, and I was excited to see what they would put me through this year.

Note: If I felt a particular obstacle needed a picture and I couldn’t find one of me, I stole a photo from TM’s Facebook page that I felt duplicated my experience.

We assembled in the warm-up area, the MC put us through some calisthenics, and we took off, thinking that TM had dropped the usual practice of making you go over a wall to get to the starting line. Nope, they just moved the wall a bit further out.


As usual, we got an awesome pep talk from the MC, followed by a speech from an officer of the local Army Reserve. 13767157_10154307852527790_7631598013526823368_o.jpg

He told us that one of the people that inspires him would be on the course somewhere after the mud crawl, one of his sargents who had lost most of his hand but still found ways to adapt and do his duties. We were encouraged to give him a muddy hug when we found him.

We were then sent off, high-fiving the troops as we went.


First obstacle was the Kiss of Mud, a low crawl under barbed wire through some seriously sloppy mud. Next were the Berlin Walls. I helped others over and made it over the first one unassisted (using the edge of the wall and diagonal supports) and gave and got some assistance over the second.race_1862_photo_39389847.jpg

Shortly after we came across a group of soldiers.

“I hear someone out here needs a hug?”

*Soldier points* “That guy!”


When I got to the Electric Eel, a woman out in the middle was freaking out, screaming, ignoring any calls of encouragement or advice on how to get through it, to the point that the volunteers killed the electricity to get her out. While I will do electrified obstacles without complaint, I’m not waiting around for them, so I went through while the power was off.

I think it is good to face things that scare you, and I accidentally did so on the next obstacle, Shawshanked. I just saw that we had to go through tubes, and did not look ahead to see that the tubes delivered you 6′ above 6′ deep water, turned the opposite way of how I wanted to enter the water. I had a life vest in my pack, but by the time I realized it might be useful I couldn’t maneuver enough to get it on. Okay, no way back, let’s do this:


I left the tube and hit the water desperately trying to turn face-down so I can clear my nostrils and dog-paddle. I felt my hands touch the bottom of the pit, swam out, and was lucky enough to have someone find my headband and get it back to me.

Mud Mile next, teamless teamwork, push the guy in front of you and pull up the one behind, get out of the mud pit then go into the next one. I don’t think I saw anyone accept the help up and then go on, they all turned back to help the rest.

Next obstacle was the peg-board climb, with newbie and Legionnaire options. I tried and failed the hard one, then went back and completed the easier one.


Arctic Enema has changed. You now slide in on a steep slope, under chain-link fence, making it impossible to stand up and steady yourself before you have to go under the water. Seemingly minor change that made it a lot tougher for me.


The log carry was when I could feel my training pay off. It is always a good feeling when you hand off the log you carried (solo) to a team rather than an individual. It seemed light compared to sandbag work that I’ve been doing.

I came to Everest, went to the side to drop my pack, and found a group on top of the wall that were ready to assist. One of them made eye contact and called out, “Send it.”

Sprint for all I’m worth, make it to their hands, and between the three of us we are able to get me over. There was a sign calling for all Legionnaires to help at least three newbies before moving on. I made it a point to make that 4 or 5.


Particular phrases or images often stick in your head from events, that just seem to sum up the experience. “Send it” just seemed to crystallize what we were all doing out here. You know what you need to do, we’ve got your back, let’s do this.

The next was possibly the most fun obstacle I have ever experienced, called the Block Ness Monster, a floating block that would turn toward you if you tried to climb on top of it, and had to be turned by your fellow Mudders on either side while you are rotated over the top.


Hero carry next. I was odd man out when I arrived, so one of the volunteers graciously stepped in.


Pyramid Scheme is one of the most teamwork-reliant obstacles I have ever come across. Take Spartan’s slick wall, make it about a third again taller, out of a slicker sheathing, and take away the ropes. We built human ladders, human chains, pushed, pulled till we found a way to get up and over. I took off my pack to give me a little better reach, and found that having something for both of us to grip on made pulling them up much easier.


Birth Canal is a low crawl under tarps weighted down with water. I took the lane closer to the supports, which made it a little easier.


Next was a tall reverse wall. The easiest way we found to do this was to have two on top each take a hand of the person below, person below does what they can with feet on the wall.


I skipped two obstacles here. Funky Monkey I knew I did not have the grip strength left for. I had talked myself into King of the Swingers, went to get my flotation vest out of the pack, and found the zippers too solidly mudded to get it open. I wasn’t comfortable with the float in the pack, so I said “next year” and went on.

Running on through hay fields, over hay bales, through Rain Man (going through water under a chain-link fence, with a hose pouring on you from above) and we made it to the final obstacle/finish line. I elected not to go the electric shock route, and went for Frequent Flyer’s Club, jumping off a platform, trying to hit the bell with your headband color, and landing on an inflatable below.


I was extremely pleased with the event, but would have liked to do a couple things differently. Promises to myself for next year:

Sort out your swimming/floating situation. You are going off that platform next year.

The Army Reserves were running a fitness challenge at the festival area. I didn’t see it until after I was done and for various reasons didn’t step up for it. If it is there next time, I’m making it a point to do it.