Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Spartan Beast - Texas 2013

Last week was the final Spartan Beast race for the 2013 season, and my first attempt at a Spartan race of any sort. Over the past 10 months I've participated in 5 Tough Mudders and a host of other trail runs and road races, but this was my first Spartan. While there are quite a few similarities between the Spartan Beast and a Tough Mudder, I feel the biggest difference between the two is that the Beast is a race and the Tough Mudder is an event.

The atmosphere at a Tough Mudder is energized but somewhat relaxed...not to say that people aren't nervous or excited, because they most definitely are, but there is more of an atmosphere of camaraderie and teamwork and less pressure. On the other hand, the Beast is a race, it is timed and there is a feeling of every-man-for-himself. Definite competition here.

The Beast is also harder than the average Tough Mudder. The 15.2 miles we covered bested my longest Tough Mudder by almost 3 miles and the obstacles, while there were fewer, required more strength and brawn as opposed to the Tough Mudder obstacles which often play with your mind more than your muscles. Some of the Spartan obstacles that really stood out were the Herculean Hoist, Spear Throw, Object Carry and the Barbed Wire Crawls.

The Herculean Hoist has you lifting a five gallon bucket filled with concrete, off the ground and up to around 30 feet, using a simple pulley system. The rope is muddy and slippery and depending on where this obstacle is along the route
your arms may already be spent from one of the other obstacles. The trick to the hoist is to get some momentum in the pulls and keep inching the weight up. Just getting it started might require you to throw your whole body into it. Once you get the weight moving the obstacle seems do-able, but at first pull it is a daunting task.

The Spear Throw is simple in concept but far more difficult in execution. All I can say here is that if you have never thrown a spear before your chances of success are slim...practice this one before the event or be prepared for 30 burpees (the penalty for not completing an obstacle).

There were two Object Carry obstacles for this event. The first early in the race and the second near the end. Both were difficult to say the least. The first involved carrying a
Sandbell (aka glorified sand bag) weighing in at around 50 pounds up and down a steep hill and covering roughly a quarter of a mile. The saving grace here is that the Sandbell is soft and conforming, making it easier to carry on your shoulders or back. Conversely, the second carry is a 5 gallon bucket fillet with pea gravel, again in the 40 to 50 lbs. range, that must be carried up and down another hill again covering roughly another quarter mile. The bucket is much less conforming and the hard plastic edges really dig into your body, making this the tougher of the two carries.

The last notable obstacles were the barbed wire crawls. There were two in this event. While most obstacle races have these, the ones in the Beast were far longer and had the wire strung much closer to the ground than in other races. Not necessarily making them a lot harder, but definitely making you slow down and focus a little more than others.

The 2013 Texas Beast took place in Glen Rose, Texas, a little ways south of Ft. Worth -
basically the middle of nowhere. And, as is often the case in Texas in the winter, the weather was far from predictable. We had been seeing rain on and off for few days, so sure enough the day and the night before the race it rained. The wet course in and of itself wasn't too bad until you consider that the temperature at race time was in the low 40's with a 25-35 mph wind that brought the wind chill into the high 20's-low 30's. This meant for a cold, muddy day. In fact some of the water obstacles were modified or eliminated by the race directors in order to maintain a safe race.

As I reflect upon the conditions, I've decided that I was very comfortable for 80% of the race. I was plenty warm and mostly dry. For 10% of the race I was less than comfortable, meaning I was wet or that the wind was really biting in. For the other 10% I was a sketch above miserable. Freezing cold, soaking wet, tired and hungry.

Really, when I look back on it, The Beast was a perfect race...well organized, extremely challenging and fun - in a demented sort of way. Not your typical fun run or mud run. I highly recommend the Spartan Beast for anyone looking to push themselves deeper into the realm of obstacle racing.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lost in the Beauty of Reveille Peak Ranch

Spent a few hours yesterday morning mountain biking with a couple of friends at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, Texas. Reveille seems to be all the buzz lately so we decided to make the hour-long trip to check it out. Here's what we found...

The drive from Austin is easy, hop on 183 to 29 in Liberty Hill and head west to Burnet. From Burnet it's a quick 15 minute drive. Be aware, the turn onto CR 114 from FM2341 is a little tough to see and then your next left into the ranch is almost immediate.  There aren't any signs for the ranch until you are at the driveway. Google Maps directions work well.

Once in the ranch proceed down the dirt road to you come to a large parking area just behind the pavilion. Check in at the small, shed style building that sits between the parking area and the pavilion. You need to sign in, fill out a waiver (print the waiver ahead of time here) and pay a $10 entry fee per rider. I assume the $10.00 is cash only, but i am not positive.

We met Andrea at the check in. Super friendly and very informative. She provided us with a 5 minute overview of the trails as well as some maps and her cell phone number in case we needed assistance on the trails. 

The trails start on the south side of the lake and head south of the lake. We spent a little
Riding up Epic
over 3 hours on the trails and covered about 14 miles. I'm guessing that there is somewhere between 25-30 miles of trails currently cut on the property. 
They are well maintained, but we were surprised at how grown in some of them were. The trails we rode definitely don't get a lot of use. When I say grown in, I am talking about the height of the weeds and grasses, as far as trees or branches go they are wide open. The terrain is varied. Read the trail descriptions ahead of time, if you don't like riding on granite or like to stay away from rocks all-together you are going to want to plot your course carefully. The trail ratings per the map seem to be pretty accurate as well.

The views, especially from the Decision Point and Reveille Peak are stunning. Depending on the trails you are on, there is descent cover from the sun. The furthermost trails to the southwest have the least amount of shade, so they are best done in the cooler hours. The trails along the creek have nice cover and are a good place to be when the sun is beating down.

Our only gripe...the trail markings out on the course are close to non-existent! At most of the major intersections there are signs, but the signs are cut into rusted metal, and while
Epic Trail
they look cool, they are hard to read and hard to spot. But the real problem is that the trails criss-cross each other all over the place. It is at these junctions that it is close to impossible to discern where you are. I consider my self a descent map reader and I think the map we were provided is accurate, and we got lost multiple times. Additionally we had to stop regularly to consult the map and this took some of the fun out of the ride. But the kicker is that as we were on our way in from Decision Point - basically the furthest point from the trail start, we got lost...instead of a 3 or mile mile trek back, we ended up on Reveille Peak Loop which added 2-3 miles of difficult terrain to the ride. 
What is really needed out here is a some colored trail markers and arrows that help the rider navigate the trails - it would make all the difference.

Overall the trails are great, the staff friendly, the facilities top notch. The lake is a nice place to cool off after a ride and then there are showers to get cleaned up before hitting the road. There is camping here that we didn't take advantage of, but this would seem to be a good place to camp and ride for a couple of days since there are enough trails to keep you busy without having to repeat too many of them. Additionally, many of these trails are good for trail running. I give Reveille Peak Ranch an 8 out 10 with all the deductions coming from the poor trail markings.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Gut Check Challenge Austin - Update

The organizers of the Gut Check Challenge were kind enough shoot me a note concerning my Gut Check Challenge Austin - Recap blog and an email I sent to them after the event. Here is what they had to say:

"Thank you for contacting us. Our message wasn't meant as an apology, so much as an admission that we fell (way) short of our objective.  It was left "generic" because there
were actually people that did enjoy themselves, and we would like to have them maintain their opinions, rather than prompt them to change that by listing out shortcomings reported by others.  That being said...you are completely right; every point you highlight in your e-mail is being addressed by our team.  The course, the food, the venue itself are all being improved.  We honestly did have a goal to have an enjoyable event.  And we do thank you for supporting us, and Make-A-Wish.  As for our Facebook comments...they were deleted because some of the feedback wasn't as constructive as yours.  We do thank you for maintaining a polite communication.  We would prefer to avoid having "back and forth" comments and retorts.  Here is an e-mail we sent to another participant pointing out our actions, going forward:   
        "We could not agree with you more!  This falls directly on our shoulders!  We will make our event better!  What we won't do, is refuse to accept responsibility, or ignore our customers!  Our organization is taking measures to ensure that none of the "snafu's" that occurred in Cedar Creek repeat themselves in San Antonio.  We are wiping our slate clean concerning all vendors and           contractors we dealt with on this event!  There will not be anything advertised that will not be delivered! This was our first event, coordinated by enthusiastic individuals that were frankly, just too "green".  Before you count us         out...let us make it right.  If you are not satisfied with our San Antonio event, then by all means, let your voice be heard...just don't base your entire review of our Organization on a single event.  Everything from the venue, to the food, to the course, to the atmosphere, itself will be improved.  Come out and enjoy an event that you deserve!  Our Zombie Apocalypse will be everything Cedar Creek wasn't."

I really appreciate the response and I am going to really try to attend the SA event to see the changes first hand. Unfortunately this event is the same weekend as the Tough Mudder Dallas which I am doing on Sunday, so doing this one will mean back to back races....

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gut Check Challenge Austin - Recap

Last week was the Gut Check Challenge, a 5k mud and obstacle run - or so they claimed. I'm on a roll recently and I am booking races for whatever free time I have. So, when this one came up and I was free, I was in. The entry fee seemed fair @ $55.00 since it included entry, (1) food item, (1) beer, a finisher medal and runner's bib. Additionally there was an after party with Jack Ingram and The Chris Castaneda Project.

Arrived at 7:30 for an 8 am. start. Ten bucks for parking, cash only, a little steep but expected. My wife was joining me as a spectator - spectator pass another $10. Check in goes smooth. Plenty of volunteers for the meandering crowd. I get my race bib, pin it on, meet some friends at the start area and spot the porta-potties off to the right. If you've read any of my blog's you know I'm making a visit. Plenty of facilities for the event, and it's early, so they are clean. Woo-hoo.

Back to the start line. Disappointment numero uno - this isn't a timed event. Guess I didn't read the registration info close enough. Okay, but then why do I have a race bib. Silly. Oh, well. Looking forward to the 3.1 miles of trails and 14 gut checking obstacles...and obstacle #1 doesn't disappoint - 50 yards into the race, mud galore! A soggy, wet, dirty pit to crawl through. Way to go! Unfortunately this was one of the few highlights of the 'challenge'.

The obstacles are pretty standard if you've done any mud runs. Walls to traverse, pits to crawl through, but to be honest the website descriptions of the obstacles are 10x scarier than the actual obstacles. For example, for the Ice Bath obstacle...the site states "Your ass has to swim through a long pool of ice water OR chicken out." Translation: three-foot
deep pit, twenty feet long that you walk through (btw the FAQs page states no swimming required, "all mud obstacles will be between 2 and 3 feet deep."). Then how about Tires from Hell, "A hellish amount of tires on the ground that you have to run through OH and there will be 6 inches of mud under them." Hellish? Twenty or thirty feet of tires laying on the ground, mud nowhere to be seen...I've seen tougher obstacles on the playground. I won't even get started on the one called 'Conquer the Web" - a few strands of bungee cord stretched between a handful of trees...

On a positive note, the man-made obstacles that you had to climb over or up were solid, as in, built solid. They felt sturdy and strong, which isn't always the case in races like these. This even goes for the 12' wall that you had to climb up using a knotted rope and 1x2's for footing. Truth be told that when I traversed this one I wondered if someone was going to get hurt on it - the diameter of the rope was too small and the 1x2's were a tough foothold. Unfortunately my wonderment was correct and a participant slipped and fell from this one and severely injured here leg, breaking it. Another observation here - while there was first aid on-site, I was surprised to learn that there wasn't an ambulance. I've never really noticed or payed attention at past races, but with the number of participants it would seem prudent to have one there...I think?

The last two obstacles are inflatable ones, things you find at kid's parties. They were
actually fun, but not really obstacles. Finish line straight ahead...is the race over already? Well, isn't that the kicker. This was a 5k...3.1 miles - or it was advertised as such. Someone has a bad ruler. At best I am a 7 or 8-minute-miler, throw obstacles and trails in there and I am a 10 or 11-minute-miler. Somehow I finished this one in 19 minutes. I'm pretty sure I stayed on course and didn't shortcut anything so I'm not sure what happened, but I am sure this course was closer to 2 miles long instead of the 3.1 miles claimed.

So add up the 40-minute drive, lame obstacles, short course, $10 parking, lack of timing, $10 spectator pass (btw - the spectators only had access to the last 100 yards of the course) and I give this event a 4 out of 10. Honestly I feel ripped-off. The saving grace for many might be the after-party, but that wasn't my motivation for the event. Thankfully some of the proceeds went to the Make-A-Wish foundation...

In October these folks are putting on another event in San Antonio, this one claiming mud, 14 obstacles and the addition of ZOMBIES. I hope they are able to get the first two claims ironed-out - not sure what the zombies will bring to the table, but I'm hopeful there will be progress.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Miles of Mud....But No Burgers

Today was the inaugural running of Miles of Mud, a 4-mile obstacle and mud run with about
40 obstacles. This is a two-race series, the second of which takes place in November.  The event was held at Rocky Hill Ranch, a favorite venue of mine for mountain biking. Rocky Hill hosts numerous races throughout the year including the Warrior Dash and the Iron Warrior Dash, which I participated in this past March.

Miles of Mud claims to be different than the others. This from their site:

  • We give prize money to the top two participants in each category, male and female.
  • We have a separate prize for fastest boy and girl between the ages of 14 and 16 years.
  • We randomly hand out money before, during and after the race to participants and spectators.
  • This is a 2 race series – if you enter both races you can win up to $2500.00.
  • We pride ourselves on having a minimum of  30 obstacles for each race, about half of which have mud elements.
Registration calls out their all inclusive price - which covers parking, t-shirt, hamburger and 2 drinks. More about the claims in a bit....

Rocky Hill is an easy 50-minute drive from Austin so I left the house at 6:15 am. I was meeting some friends for an 8:00 start time, but I needed to swap a registration for one of them so I wanted to leave plenty of time in case there were issues with that.

I arrived a few minutes after 7:00, Josh and Lara has just arrived and Jonathon pulled in a few minutes later. Parking was easy as well as close, about 100 yards from check-in. Check-in was relativity easy; one table to fill out the registration form another to pick up the race bib, third to pick up timing chip and a fourth for ID check (for the beer afterward). There was also gear check - always a nice amenity, but not completely necessary at this particular race since parking was so close. The early crowd was minimal so the process was easy, but if it were busier, it could have been confusing since the tables and order that you had to visit them wasn't well marked.

So we checked in and got our numbers and timing chips. The numbers are the generic type, not branded which is a bummer, if you're like me, and you like to collect them. The timing chips are on a velcro ankle strap which are much nicer that the ones that need to be laced into your shoes.

With about 10 minutes to go the organizers made an announcement through a megaphone letting everyone know that the 8:00 am heat should be getting ready to go. I'm guessing that there were about 100 people in the heat. We moved toward the start line. With two minutes to go the MC with the megaphone made a short announcement about the course and the obstacles, although he was a bit hard to understand through the megaphone as it was cutting in and out.

At 8:00 am the cannon boomed and we were off. Yes, a cannon. A small, two foot long cannon was the starting gun. It was pretty cool and thunderous.

If you've been to Rocky Hill, you understand how it got its name. There are rocks everywhere, a lot of them the size of a flattened softball, sometimes larger. There are trails here that are made up entirely of these rocks. Ankles beware. The first mile or so is consists of trails such as these and most of the uphill of the course as well. It's warm and very humid this morning. The humidity coupled with the hills and rocks made for a tough time for the first two miles.

The obstacles were numerous, I didn't count but there were probably the 30 true obstacles. Here is a link to the obstacle list from the Miles of Mud website. I'm not going to describe them all, but I'll touch on a few.

Many of the obstacles are ones I've seen in other races. The over-unders and walls that have to be climbed or hurdled were used multiple times in this event. Although on their own, they are somewhat easy, there were a few sets in the last 1/2-mile that were tougher to traverse after 40 minutes of exertion.

I would say that the shear number of obstacles made them harder than they were. But
each one on its own was a little bush-league. There are also few obstacles on the list that I wouldn't truly count as obstacles; three connected hills, five ravines and/or cliffs, foot hills-gravel mounds to run over. These are just part of the terrain and to claim them as obstacles is a little misleading. Additionally the Ice Filled Dumpster was really a dumpster with a foot of chilly water in it with a cattle gate hanging inside horizontally, assumedly to crawl under, but I'm still not clear on that.

The terrain definitely makes this race a fun one and a tougher than average course. I tackled all of the obstacles with relative ease and came away mostly unscathed. A small hole in my favorite race shirt from some barbed-wire. Thankful it missed the skin.

As I crossed the finish line I didn't hear the familiar beep from the timing pad and I noticed that the timing clock was blank. Fortunately Jonathon's mother was at the finish line and I got an approximate finish time from her. I'm not sure if the timing was working or not and at this point I'm not even sure where or when they will be posted.

So I took off my timing chip and dropped it in the metal bucket just after the finish line. I started looking for water and food. Most races this would be set up in an obvious location, usually lining one or both sides of the finish line, but not here. After I walked over to the check-in area and inquired, I found out that it's in the 'Saloon', a wooden, patio building shelter of sorts between the finish line and the parking lot. I headed over there and noticed freshwater showers - nice touch, especially since a lot of races pump brown pond water through their showers. I rinsed off and I headed into the saloon and asked for some water. I was offered grape or lemon flavored bottled water. What??? How about some plain old water. Nope, not an option. So I chose lemon, which in my opinion, was the lesser of two evils. Unfortunately, not only is it flavored, but it's sweetened. Not really a good choice for the end of the race. By the way FoodFacts.com gives these products a F...

I wandered off to catch Josh and Lara on their last 300 yards of the race. There are are 8 or 9 obstacles in the home stretch so its a great place to spectate. They finished strong and we hung out a bit watching some other racers. There was a band setting up near the saloon so we headed to the cars to change clothes, coming back to enjoy some music and the included burgers and beer.

Foiled again. Burgers aren't on the grill yet. Granted it's early, about 10:00 am at this point
but we started at 8:00 am and there are waves every half hour, so 6 waves are either done or out on the course. The food should have been ready. We decided to scrap the food. We were hungry and the lady near the grill said the burgers wouldn't be ready for another 30-45 minutes. Over to the beer counter. After overhearing the folks in front of us, the choices were Bud Light or Shock Top, but I heard that the Bud Light isn't cold yet...Shock Top it is. Thankfully they allow us to pick up two at once and since they are unopened cans we can take them with us. Two of us are driving so the beers would have to wait until later. It's close to 10:30 and still no burgers or entertainment so off we went. As we were leaving the band started some music over the sound system, poor timing.

As an aside, the organizers claim to "give away random money before, during and after the race to participants and spectators." I'm not sure if this happened or not, if it did during the 2 1/2 hours we were there, it was done with little fanfare.

Overall, we had a good time and that is the most important part but there is definitely room for improvement. I am sure it takes a lot to put on an event like this and overall this was a success, but some simple things would have make a big impact.

I will most likely participate in the fall race, hopeful that it will build and improve over today's event.


  • Great venue
  • Fun course
  • Volunteers at registration very friendly and helpful
  • Bag check
  • Plenty of clean bathrooms
  • Changing rooms
  • Freshwater showers
  • Numerous obstacles

Areas for improvement:

  • National Anthem before the race
  • PA system instead of a megaphone
  • Trash cans near registration
  • Entertainment that starts when the event does (at least music over loud speakers)
  • Water (unflavored) and food (bananas, cookies, oranges) at the finish line
  • Operational timing clock
  • Branded race numbers
  • Burgers on the grill at 8:30 instead of 10:30
  • Beer iced down first thing
  • Beef up the obstacles, make sure they are completed
  • Better signage and flow at registration/check-in

Thursday, May 23, 2013

10 Miles & 20 Bands - Well Let's call it 19...

Last month I ran in the inaugural running of the Austin 10/20. The 10/20 is a 10-mile road race with 20 bands set up every half-mile or so. Sounds like fun...well it was!

The race was scheduled to start at 8:30 am so my wife and I arose around 6:30, prepped and we were out the door at 7:15. Warm morning about 50 degrees, a little mist in the air, but weather man said it will burn off early. For once he was right. The start was only a quick 10 minute drive from the house. Parking was a breeze, plenty of spaces in multiple lots around both the start and finish lines, which were about 1/3-mile apart. We opt for parking closer to the finish, figuring we didn't want to walk any farther than we had to after the race. So a five minute walk and we are entering the start area. Music already pumping through the PA. This is going to be a good day.

I'm not really prepared for the huge crowd of racers. Turns out that there are about 10,000 participants. Wow! I figured the 10-mile distance would limit attendance a bit. Guess I'm wrong. Good news is that the organizers are prepared. Ten corrals for ten groups. Corrals numbered to match bibs, easy-peasy. I'm in corral #2, which is actually the third group, since the elite runners start up front.

I stretch and walk nervously around a bit, tighten the laces on the Merrel Bare Access shoes, then loosen them, just to tighten them again. Then with 3 minutes to the start I enter corral #2, set Runkeeper Live so my wife can follow me and I'm ready.

The start is a coordinated start, meaning everyone starts at once. I'm a little worried that a start like this will mean a lot of crowding, but the groups stay pretty loose until the gun, which means that the crowding is minimal and by the 1/2-mile mark there is plenty of room.

The route is relatively flat, with a total climb of 547' and plenty of turns, which I personally like since it breaks up the monotony a bit. This area of town isn't the prettiest, so the scenery is somewhat limited. Very commercial/industrial, thankfully there is the music.

And the music doesn't disappoint. Although as I approach the first band I am very skeptical. They are awful. I think I am listing to dogs and cats trying to sing and fight simultaneously, in a burlap sack, while being water-boarded. It's not pretty, not setting the stage well for what's to come. Thankfully as I approach mile-1 and the second band, they are much more pleasing to the senses...and this continues throughout the race. All of the bands are good and entertaining. This being my first run with live music along the way, I am surprised how energized I become as I pass each stage. What a great feeling, now I know why so many people travel for the Rock N Roll marathons.

Plenty of water stations along the way, more than usual it seems. As I approach the mile-6 station I am 
treated to a ice-cold, wet towel. WOW. What a treat! every race should offer these nuggets of delight. A quick squeeze on the back of the neck and then I place it on my bald bead for about 30 paces. Lovely.

I'm having fun, chatting up some of the other runners. It's always interesting how you fall into a group for a bit, meet some new people and then at some point that group just dissolves and you find yourself alone for a spell, only to realize a new, different group has formed.

At mile-8.5 I am cruising north along the frontage road of Mopac and I am glad the end in near, I'm starting to tire a bit and the temp is rising.....I realize that the 9 mile marker is just the other side of the highway and I am looking forward to the water station there, but then I realize that the southbound service road is one long hill. The last mile and a half of the course turns out to be about 200 feet of the elevation gain. Tough way to end a race.

I make the final turn and the last 300 yards is packed with spectators, always a nice way to bring it home. My favorite part of the finish though was another ice-cold towel. I might consider bringing a cooler to future events filled with small towels bathed in ice-water.

This was a fun race! Well organized and entertaining. I enjoyed the Austin 10/20 so much that I entered the 2014 event as soon as I got notification that registration had opened, which was about 2 weeks after the race ended. Looking forward to next year!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tough Mudder Austin - Recap

Completed the Tough Mudder in Driftwood, Texas this past weekend. My first TM. I warmed up to it a few weeks ago with the Iron Warrior Dash, a 15 mile mud and obstacle race by the same folks that put on the 5k Warrior Dash. The Tough Mudder was sort of a last minute decision. I had already committed to the Beaver Creek and Tahoe Mudders in June and July with a couple of groups of friends and I didn't actually realize that the TM was here in Austin until three weeks ago. Even then I thought that I was going to be busy and not able to make the time for the race. Once I realized I was free I pondered the TM season pass for a bit. Since I was already doing two Mudders, this would be my third and then in October I can choose between the Dallas and Houston events, or do both. Season Pass - done. Austin Tough Mudder- I'm in.

Four days later, it's event day. Since the season pass allows users to enter as many events as they like and start at any time they want, I slept in a little bit the morning of the race. Waking at 6:30, I made some coffee and took my time getting ready. I had already prepped most everything I needed the night before. My wife Lisa was joining me so when we were both ready around 7:30 we headed out. First stop, the Taco Shack for a couple of Miga Tacos. They are one of my favorite race morning foods.

Taco down, we were on our way to Longhorn River Ranch in Dripping Sprints. Forty-five minutes later...oooops...traffic jam. One mile from our last turn to the event parking and we were backed up with the rest of the participants. The good news was that we could see the parking area from the jam so it really only added about 15 minutes to the drive. Once we made the turn parking was quick and simple and a short walk later we were at the shuttle buses. One note, there were porta-potties out at the parking area, nice touch, but the lines were a little deep, so I opted to wait until we got to the ranch. The shuttles covered the last four miles to the event in just a few minutes.

The check-in area was very organized, plenty of space so there really weren't any massive crowds, unless you had a registration issue or were trying to register same-day or had a season pass. You see I really waited until the last minute and when I decided I was doing the race, online registration had closed. I didn't think much of it, knowing that I could just show up, pay the $15 insurance fee and participate. What I didn't think about or count on was that same-day registration happens in the same line that they send all of the participants that have other registration issues, and while there were at least 50 people
working the booths to check in participants and spectators, there was only one person working the same-day line. Thirty or forty minutes later I was finally registered.
Off to the start line. Well, pit stop first. Figuring on another line, I was pleasantly surprised that there was an abundance of porta-potties near the start. No lines. Woohoo. That out of the way, I was off the the start line for real.

So they queue up each wave, which happen at 20-minute intervals, between a six-foot tall barrier and the start line. To get to the queuing area, you have to climb the barrier. Once over the MC hyping up the crowd reminds you that if you had any issues getting over the barrier, you might want to reconsider crossing the start line. Chuckle, chuckle.

The MC covers the rules, cracks some jokes, gives a few warnings and then passes through the crowd high-five-ing many of us. Then he gets out of the way and race begins with a countdown from 10, 9, 8, 7....we're off, hooting and hollering. The TM begins as any other race or run, people jockeying for position and getting into their rhythm. In just a few minutes the first obstacle is upon us, Kiss of Mud. I've described the obstacles in greater detail below. I didn't want to make this sound too much like a list and I want to mention some more things that I generally observed during the event.

Like I said earlier, check in for registered participants looked smooth and organized. Plenty of stations, broken up by last name, separated by participants and spectators. By the way, spectator admission is NOT free, it is $40 - cash only day of the race, you can save $20 if you buy ahead of time online..be prepared. There were two ATMs near check-in, but only one of them was operational at the time I used them. So if you are pre-registered you pick up your packet, affix one wristband for entry and another for your beer at the finish line, pin your number on and then let the folks with the markers write you bib number on your forehead, arms and legs, wherever you want - although the forehead marking is non-negotiable.

Next step is the Base Area. This houses the port-potties, food & merchandise, showers, changing rooms, gear check. The finish line dumps out here, right in front of the sound stage. This area is large and wide open, plenty of space to move around without it feeling very crowded. This would be a good time to choose a meeting spot for your team after the finish, should you get separated during the race.

Back to the race. The start is smooth, not too crowded. The course is fantastic. Grass, rock, sand, mud, gravel several water crossings and wild animals. Yup, this is a also a game preserve. About 3-miles in, a couple of antelope type animals, I believe they might have been elands, came crashing through the course just behind me, scaring the bejesus out of a couple of women that they crossed in front of. That was good for a quick laugh! Lots of up and down, significant elevation changes which I am not particularly used to. But the harder parts were the downs. Really hard on the knees- a lot of it steeper than anything that would allow a safe run, so a slow jog or walk would be expected here.

There were plenty of water stations. I would estimate 5 to 7 of them and at each one there was a first-aid station. I think all of the water stations had some sort of food- bananas, Clif Bars and Clif Shots. A nice touch. There were also porta-poties at 2 or 3 of the water stations.

Along the trails there was music, well sometimes there was music, other times just generators running, attached to speakers with nothing coming out of them. I didn't expect there to be music all along the trail so the disappointment was minimal, but it was depressing to see the speakers and generators idle along the trails. I assume there were technical difficulties that stopped them from working, a minor snafu.
1. Kiss of Mud - Crawl on the muddy ground, under barbed wire 18-24 inches above you. Easy, except the ground is gritty and full of sharp things, wreaking havoc on the knees and elbows. Might want long sleeves/pants next time.

2. Walk the Plank - Climb about 12-feet up to a platform and jump into deep water. Easy, unless you are afraid of heights...water is less than warm.

3. Glory Blades - Eight foot tall wall, with a twist. The wall is canted toward you. If you can jump up, grab hold of the top of the barrier, you then can throw a leg over the barrier and drag the rest of you with it. The backside is plexi-glass, so once over you slide down. Then you do it again on a second wall. Intermediate difficulty solo, easier with team help.

4. Firewalker - The was one of the lamest obstacles I've seen in any obstacle race. Presumably there was some fire that I jumped over... It was so easy and uneventful that I don't even remember doing it.

5. Arctic Enema - I was dreading Arctic Enema and rightly so. You jump into an open-top dumpster filled with ice water. In the middle there is a barrier that you travel under...Water doesn't get much colder than this unless it is in it's solid form. The initial entry into the water isn't nearly as bad as you would think, probably due to the shock of it. but when you come up on the other side of the barrier, well that's a whole 'nother story. Your whole body is on fire but in a cold way.

6. Boa Constrictor - Crawl down a two and a half foot diameter tube that is slanted
toward a pool of water, traverse the water and then enter another tube that is slanted up.  Seems a little daunting at first, but there is plenty of light and plenty of clearance. The exit from the first tube and entry into the second is a bit of a mind game at best. Easy unless you are afraid of confined spaces, but even then, no more than intermediate difficulty.

7. Funky Monkey - Monkey bars, 20-25 of them, on a structure suspended over water. To add to the difficulty the first half of them are working 'uphill' while the second half move 'downhill'. If that wasn't enough, the bars spin in place, so you have to be sure to have a firm grasp before you traverse to the next bar. This was one of the hardest obstacles on the course.

8. Cage Crawl - Trenches about two to two and half feet deep filled with water. Chain link fence is lying on the the ground above the trench, effectively covering it. You traverse the 20 or 30 yards of the water-filled trench by lying on your back and grabbing hold of the chain link and pulling your floating body along. Pretty easy, other than the cold and a slight feeling of entrapment. It's chain link so you can see, but it could be another mind game.

9. Mud Mile - Mounds of mud, five of them,  followed by trenches of muddy water. This
 one pretty much requires teamwork. You climb over one pile of mud an land in a water filled, muddy trench, then have to climb up and over the next pile. The piles of mud lack hand holds in most places so you get a boost or a pull and you are up and over. Pretty easy with help. Very difficult without.

10. Balls to the Wall - A vertical wall about twelve feet all, with two-by-fours attached horizontally and a knotted rope secured to the top, hanging down to about five feet off the ground. You grab the rope and use the knots to climb up the wall. Relatively easy since there are foot holds on the two-bys. The rope also hangs down the backside for climbing down, but be careful, there may not be as many knots as you were hoping for and the rope is muddy. If you're expecting a knot that isn't there, the rope will slide through your hands and at best your will have a rope burn, at worst you are going to hit the deck, hard.

11. Log Jammin - Logs stationed horizontally, two and three tall. You climb under some and over the others, alternately.  Overall pretty easy, except that the three high logs take some work to get over. Teamwork helps here, but most can get over and through on their own.

12. Hold Your Wood - A basic a log carry. You have option of carrying a small log solo, or larger logs as a group. Difficulty is determined by how big a log you grab.

13. Electric Eel - Crawl through a muddy bog with electrified wires hanging overhead. I can't speak to this one as I did not experience any shocks along the way. Not sure if I just got lucky or if the obstacle was malfunctioning. The mud crawl part was easy enough....the wires were daunting.

14. Island Hopping - Nine floating 4' x 4' 'docks' chained together, crossing a creek. As you jump onto each dock, it immediately begins to sink. I saw plenty of folks skip across these
with ease. It looked like the best strategy was to spend no more than two steps per each dock and to keep moving quickly from one to the next. I had a plan and tried to implement it. I sunk the first dock, the second, the third and almost all of them, but I stayed on. It was tough. I think this was was one of the harder obstacles on the course, I saw a lot more people in the water than ones that made it across unscathed.

15. Berlin Walls - Nine foot tall walls that you go up and over. No foot holds to speak of. A running start, a foot on the wall, using upward momentum and you can grab the top and throw a leg over. Takes upper body strength, otherwise you work as a team giving each other a leg up.

16. Dirty Ballerina - A series of trenches that are 3-4 feet deep running parallel to one another and separated by 3-4 feet. With a running start and some coordination you can jump each trench, taking a couple of steps at the landing and then jumping the next, and the next and the next. If you stop in between them it is hard to get a running start for the next, but do-able.

17. Underwater Tunnels - The name of this one is a little misleading. These are a series of barrels floating in the water that you have to swim under to pass through the obstacle. This is really just a matter of swimming underwater, fully clothed in cold water. I think this more psychological than physical. One note, on the TM site the images show rope holding these together and in place, at this event there was metal strapping instead of the rope and the strapping was sharp, so you want to avoid contact with it for fear of getting cut.

18. Kiss of Mud #2 - Same as the first obstacle although this one was less muddy, making the grit and the sharp objects even more abrasive. Long pants, long shirt???

19. Trench Warfare - Three foot wide by three foot deep trench that runs about 20 yards, covered with plywood so it is essentially a tunnel. The trench zig-zags so once you get a bit of the way in it is dark. Probably not a fun obstacle for the claustrophobic but there is plenty of moving-around room until you get to the very end. The exit is tight. The easiest way through the tunnel for smaller folks in on hands and knees, bigger folks, belly crawl, but for everyone, at the exit scootching out on your back is probably the best bet.

20. Wounded Warrior Carry - Exactly as it sounds. You carry a teammate on your back or shoulders or however you like for about 30 yards, then they carry you. Keep the swap in mind. I did not and got lucky. They guy I teamed up with with about my size. Could have been bad otherwise. 

21. Everest - Everest is a curved ramp, like a skateboarding half pipe that you run up and at some point make a leap for the top. Guessing the top to be at around 15 feet. The TM website describes the ramp as being muddy and greasy, but that wasn't my experience. Maybe they ran out of mud and grease. I was able to run almost to the top and grab hold without assistance from the folks at the top. Would like to see the greasy version...

22. Electroshock Therapy - The Mother of the Mudder. Prior to this event I had watched countless videos of people getting knocked on their butts in this obstacle. Second to the Arctic Enema, I was very concerned about it. It was hard to imagine what the shock would feel like. Well, this one doesn't disappoint. First I will say, that I enjoyed the shock- in a twisted sort of way. It was very interesting. It felt like a sharp pinch, then i fell to the ground. Why? I'm not sure, but I think its because the electricity short circuited my muscles and I collapsed. Got up for more and collapsed again. Not because I was shocked again, but I don't think my left leg was working yet. Up again and a few more feet and I stumbled. Why? Still the effects of the electricity or just truly a stumble. I'm not sure. What I do know is that I am looking forward to this obstacle in June...and I'm not looking forward to the Arctic Enema...

All in all the TM was a great event. A few rough points from the producers standpoint, like
the line at registration and the malfunctioning speaker system, but these were in the shadows of all of the great parts of the event. The course was great, the weather perfect and the people working the course were super friendly. Longhorn River Ranch was a great venue, the views from the top of the bluffs were incredible. I can't wait for the Beaver Creek Colorado event, hoping that there will be some different obstacle than here in Texas...hell there will probably still be snow there. Can't wait!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Share the Sidewalk

Am I the only one that believes that sidewalks are multi-directional? If I'm running one direction and you the other, is it too much to ask that you yield some space as we pass? Maybe give me just a little bit more since I'm moving at 3 or 4 times your lollygag? And if your walking with your girlfriend, buddy or partner, can you maybe shift into single file, so I'm not forced off the sidewalk while you chat into oblivion? Am I asking too much?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Maze - Rogue Running Trail Series 10K

Last Sunday I ran in Rogue Running's Trail Series run, The Maze. The series consists of 3 trail
runs, each occurring at a different location over a 3-month period. The Maze took place at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. Walnut Creek contains over 20 miles of trails and is located 10-minutes north of downtown Austin. A pretty sweet park for both trail riding and  running, although a word of caution-most of the park is an off-leash dog park so watch out for loose pets.

There are two options in the Rogue Trail Series, either 10K or 30K. Entry fees are reasonable. The 10K races are $45 if you hit the early registration and the fees include a great technical tee-shirt and, maybe more importantly, an awesome breakfast buffet after the race. I opted for the 10K version of The Maze, I'm not ready for 30K on the trail yet. The race was scheduled to start at 7:30 am. I arrived at 6:45 to pick up my packet, bib and timing chip. It's pitch black. I start to wonder if I missed some instructions that suggested a headlamp for the start of the race. It's also cold. Surprisingly cold, about 42 degrees. So I check in and return to my car to wait and keep warm, hopeful that the sun will rise soon. Twenty minutes go by and it's still dark. I wonder if I should run home and get a headlamp? Do I have time? Probably, but really, the sun is going to rise before the race right? Google...what time is sunrise? 7:31 am. Why didn't I ask Google sooner. All is good, the sun will be up at the start of the race, but note to self, add headlamp to race bag.

I leave my car at around 7:18 and start my pre-race prep, which if you know me, means some half-hearted attempts at stretching and nervous pacing, then two trips to the port-o's and I'm ready to line up with the 210 other entrants at the start line. The 85 souls in the 30K left at 7:00 (some with headlamps on, by-the way), and the leaders will be turning their first of three laps about 15 minutes after we launch. I am dressed for the weather. Shorts, long-sleeved wicking shirt with a short-sleeved wicking shirt atop it, my yellow one...every race...really? I was smarter than usual and grabbed a wool knit cap on my way out the door. My head is toasty and my ears are warm. I figure if I get too hot during the run I can just take it off and hold it in one of my hands or tuck it in my waistband.

The start line is also the finish line and there is a big timing clock clock there. It is running in countdown mode. One-minute-thirty to go, I set my Runkeeper app to start with a 90 second delay and launch Pandora for some tunes. I always train with music but I have never run a race with it. This will be a first for me.

Timer hits zero and we are off. There is a pretty tight pack at the start. The trail is
narrow and everyone is bunched up. Even so I turn an 8:28 mile, but in retrospect I wish I had started closer to the front of the pack as I found myself hanging back, waiting for the pack to thin out. I believe I gave up at least 30-seconds during the first mile to the traffic. The trails have been well marked by Rogue and they are in good condition, mostly hard-packed clay and rock, except the occasional loose gravel or sandy areas. There are two water crossings along the way, the first just after mile one and the second just before mile five. Both are navigable without too much trouble and with some rock-to-rock hopping, my feet stayed quite dry. Rogue also had a timely aid station set up just after mile three, perfect chance for a quick drink and breath-catcher after one of the more strenuous hill climbs. Unfortunatly, I grabbed a cup with something off-color and possibly bubbly that tasted terrible. Not sure what it was, and while it wet my whistle, it wasn't satisfying and left a bad taste in my mouth. I will be more careful next time and grab the clear stuff...

This is my first full out trail race where the only goal was to run. No obstacles, no multi-sport events, just trails. Walnut Creek Park, like most places in Austin, is relatively flat. Over the course of 6.5 miles there was a total elevation gain of 342 feet, most of which happened in 4 chunks. The course is called The Maze because the design of the trail system here is super tight and compact, leading to lots of zigging and zagging. It's pretty impressive how tightly packed the trails are. It was easy to get into a rhythm and let my mind wander a bit, but as in any off-road run, focus was important else the trail will come up and bite you.

I choose to wear my New Balance Mimimus 10 Trail shoes for this one. The prior week's Iron Warrior Dash was my first race in them and this was my second. Like last week they did not disappoint. I tied the lower laces a bit tighter this week and my toes faired better. I will say that the sharper rocks and larger roots still telegraph through the sole a little more than I would like, but the run was still delightful. I do have a new pair of Merrell Trail Gloves that I have just started to break in, but I haven't raced in them yet, so more to come on those soon. Turns out the rest of my ensemble worked out well. The long-sleeved shirt was a good call, the sleeves, with their elasticity allowed me to pull them over my hands to keep my fingers warm early on and the wool hat was great. I wore it until mile five at which point I just clenched it in one of my hands for the last mile.

One of the best features of this race was the finish. After crossing the line and catching my breath I noticed what looked like a giant food buffet. There was a plate of gummy bears, another of trail mix, one with M & M's, bananas and a few others that I missed. Better yet, the Rogue crew was cooking for us. Fresh off the griddle pancakes, bacon and turkey bacon with strawberries, bananas and syrup to top it all off. Quite possibly the best end to a race ever! I really enjoyed The Maze and now I am looking forward to the next two races. I hope that breakfast is served again. The LOOP at Emma Long is about 3-weeks away. I haven't run at Emma Long, but I think that I biked there about 5 years ago, so I am excited about the new scenery. I finished The Maze in 00:59:21 which equates to a 9:09 pace. Pretty good for a trail run and considering that I had taken the week off from running after the Warrior Dash I feel pretty good about it. I finished 70th out of 211 total racers and 13th out of 38 in my division.

Thanks to Rogue Running for putting on a great event.

Merrell Trail Glove - Review

A few days ago I starting breaking in my Merrell Barefoot Run Trail Gloves. I wore them to work a couple of times, then on Friday, went for a run. Initial impression is that they are not as comfortable as my Merrell Bare Access shoes and the Vibram soles are super hard.

The 2.8-mile shake-out run was on 80% pavement and 20%
trail. The Trail Gloves are definitely grippy and more comfortable off-road than on. I could really feel the density of the Vibram when I was on the pavement and it wasn't really enjoyable, but once on the trail, I enjoyed the grip and the soles were much less noticeable.

We'll see how these feel after I get more miles under them, but so far, I am more comfortable in my New Balance Mimimus 10 Trail shoes.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Iron Warrior Dash: The Recap

So about the Iron Warrior Dash...it’s Saturday morning, Chris picks me up at 6:15 and we arrived at Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville Texas around 7:00 am. We are fortunate that we are probably one of the first 100 cars to arrive and apparently the organizers aren't ready for us- no one collecting parking money. By the time we walk from the car toward the event, which felt like every bit of a mile, they are collecting money. Score one for us (that's 10 bucks for an extra beer after the event). Check-in is well organized and we breeze through it. One feature that you don’t always see at events like these is a bag check. They use a tear-off from our bib number to attach to our bags and we check them during the event, which is great and means that we have towels, snacks, phones, wallets etc. on-site instead of a mile away at the car. So we check our bags and proceed through our pre-race rituals, which varies from person to person. For me this means some fake stretching, aimlessly walking about and at least one if not two trips to the porta-potties (which were plentiful) to try to eliminate the need to stop on the course. Otherwise I might have to tragically give up a pair of socks to the woods- this has never happened to me, but to a close friend of mine, twice.

Pre-race ritual complete, we head to the start line. It's about 7:55 and although we were both scheduled to start in the 8:30 wave, Chris decides to start at 8:00 since he runs a slower pace. I join him at the start, intending to cheer him on and then wait for my 8:30 start, but in a moment of excitement when the gun goes off, I decide to go ahead and start my run as well.

As in all races I seem to start out running faster than I am capable and although I don't have a timer on me (mistake noted) one of the other runners near me does and for the first 3 miles I was working on a 8:30/mile pace which is close to my normal road pace so I'm pretty happy. The course is hard-packed clay for the most part with some sand in a few places and few rocky stretches. There aren't too many elevation changes, overall there is ~320 ft. of climb and 160 feet of that is in the first mile and a half. After the first climb there are three more smaller climbs, all less than 50 feet a piece.

Then of course there are the obstacles, 24 of them on the course. Twelve of them are shared by the 5k'ers and 12 of them are unique to the Iron Warriors. I wish I could remember the order of the obstacles, but I've tried and I really don’t. Worse yet, at the moment I can only recall 17 of them. I’ll describe them and sum them up at the end of this, but right now I want to talk about some lessons I learned during the race and things that I’ll need to remember next time around, things that may be helpful to you for any event like this. If you're bored already, skip on down to the obstacle section....

Race Start: Before the start of the race, it’s a good idea to choose a meeting spot for your team or friends to meet up after the finish. While you may plan on running together, things happen and you might find that the group breaks into multiple groups or someone gets a cramp and the group splits up. Having a place pre-designated to meet will alleviate some of the frustration of trying to get back together afterwards.

Shoes: I talked quite a bit about my shoes in my Training Blog andI am happy to report that my feet fared really well during this race. I enjoyed the New Balance Minimus shoes. They gripped well, drained really well and did a reasonably good job of masking the rocks and sticks on the trail. I did experience some hot spots near the end of the race and I was concerned about multiple blisters, but to my surprise I only have one small blister on the end of my right “index”’ toe and I think it is mostly caused by having my right shoe tied a little too loose. I should warn you though, Chris noticed multiple people on the course wearing barefoot style shoes experiencing severe foot/shoe issues. I am guessing they didn't practice off-road in these shoes first. If you are a ‘barefoot’ style shoe wearer I highly recommend putting them to the test before the race or finding a sturdier pair of shoes that you are comfortable in for races of this type. I will be wearing the New Balance shoes in the Tough Mudder races in June and July. One other foot note (hah-hah), trim your toe nails, otherwise the constant pounding from the top or end of your shoe will push them into the nail bed and you’ll be left with a black toenail that will most likely fall off…some of us wear this as a badge of courage…

Food: I don't typically take food along with me on my runs. Rarely do I use gels or bars, but in retrospect I wish I had brought some along for this race. My biggest reason for not bringing bars or gels was for lack of a way to carry them. I didn't have good pockets and didn't want to carry a pack of any sort. I didn't need to carry water since there were 7 water stations along the course - more than enough to keep me hydrated in the cool temps. But by the 9-mile mark I was hungry. I sucked it up this time, but for the Tough Mudder races I will be bringing some food along. I haven’t yet figured out how. I saw some people wearing CamelBaks as well as waist packs and while they are comfortable and efficient, I’m not sure that I want to wear one for 12-15 miles. I will have to take a training run with a light-weight CamelBak and see.
I did talk to one fellow after the race and he wore knee-high socks, which not only served to protect his lower legs from the abrasive sand, mud and vegetation; they also allowed him to slip a couple of gel packs in them. I really like this idea and will probably steal it.

Clothing: There's a lot of water and mud as well as plenty of sharp things to snag your clothes, so, while it goes without saying, I'll say it anyway, don't wear anything you really care about. I wore a wicking Asics running shirt, one that was bright yellow/orange so that I could be easily spotted in photos. I've been wearing this shirt in races for years and I can't believe that it is still in good shape, but it is. It also seems to shed mud really well after a quick wash. For shorts I wore a pair of polyester Adidas shorts that have a spandex inner-short. I chose these because the close-fitting spandex keeps everything in place and also tends to keep small rocks and gravel out during water and mud excursions. I was pretty disappointed in how long they took to dry. Being polyester I expected them to shed water better, so for future races I will be looking for a much lighter weight pair of shorts and will just add a spandex under-layer if it isn't already incorporated. I already mentioned the importance of quick draining shoes, but wanted to point out that socks are just as important. Even though I wear barefoot style shoes I still couple them with socks. I have been a huge fan of Smartwool socks for years now. So much that 90% of the socks I own are Smartwool, including my dress socks. Look for a non-cotton sock that has good wicking properties to keep the water and sweat away from your feet. Even after 2+ hours of wet shoes and socks, my feet were only slightly wrinkled.

Eyewear/Headwear: I usually forgo headwear while running but I think I am going to change that. I am bald and even though we were in the woods most of the morning, my head still sunburned. I think a hat or a Buff or other head scarf would be helpful. You do run the risk of losing them on a fall in the water or a swim, but you can always tuck it into your waistband, pocket or shirt during the obstacles to prevent that. The Same goes for sunglasses. I watched two people lose their specs into the depths of the water obstacles. If you are going to wear them, get a tight-fitting, floating tether like Chums or something similar. Again, I recommend training with these to make sure they are comfortable enough to wear for the duration of the race; else you run the risk of having to ditch them along the way.

Race Finish: Take a second or two to enjoy the moment, then find your friends or family and celebrate. No matter the race or run, finishing is an accomplishment especially in longer events like the IWD or the Tough Mudder. If you checked a bag at a gear check, get it – there are probably some dry clothes, a towel, some food or drink items that you thought were important before the race that you can now enjoy. I suck at packing my race bag the day before a race and I’m even worse packing it the morning of. I suggest doing this days or even a week before the race. Think about what you crave after a training run. Think about the items you scurry around looking for before a training run and make a list or pack them up as you think of them. I always forget something. I would think by now I would take my own advice. I will next time…sure…

The race was awesome, actually better than awesome! Probably one of the best races I have participated in. Red Frog Events did a fantastic job producing the race and Rocky Hill Ranch was a great venue. The food and beer lines were short, there were plenty of facilities and the smoked turkey legs were steller! Oh yea, I finished the race in 2:46:51 which works out to an 11:07/mile pace. I'm pretty stoked about this. My ultimate goal was three and a half hours and my stretch goal was three, so this finish was almost a minute faster per mile than my stretch. I can't wait to do this again in June at the Tough Mudder in Colorado. I have my sights set on at least three Tough Mudders (Colorado, Tahoe & Dallas) this year, and I'm sure I will fill in the gaps with some other adventures. Just this morning I ran The Maze, the first of three Rogue Trail Series runs, a 10k race series that is all off-road at three different venues around Austin. Hopefully I'll get a race summary up here in the next day or two.

The Obstacles:

So what about the obstacles and training for them? There are three things that I think are really important...

Hills: Hill training is a must. Hills force your body to use different muscles than the flats and even relatively flat locales like Austin have hidden valleys that diabolical race organizers will ultimately funnel you through during the race. Even if it’s just once a week, work them into the training. It will make a difference.

Upper Body: At least 30% of the obstacles in these races rely on some upper body strength. Your upper body will be called upon to use ropes while climbing angled walls, climbing up and over vertical walls or for obstacles that are similar to the monkey bars from the playground of your youth. Practice the monkey bars. Find a park and practice them. Go bar to bar one direction, turn around without letting go and come back, do it again, skipping every other bar. This will prove useful. Your upper body may make the difference between completing all of the obstacles and not.

Swimming: I think you need to know how to swim. Several of the obstacles are in water that is deeper than you can stand up in. Okay, so you can swim...but can you swim in ice cold water? I was surprised at how much the cold water affected my muscles. Not only was it difficult for swimming, but it was truly amazing how hard it was to run after coming out of the water. This may be hard to practice or experience outside of the race, maybe there is a pool or creek that you can experiment with. If you have the opportunity to do so before your first race I would encourage you to try.

Here are some obstacles I experienced with a short synopsis – I have named them myself since I don’t know all the official names. They are used across many different events so the descriptions may be more helpful anyway.

Barbed Wire Sand Pit

Real barbed wire stretched 18-24 inches above a sand covered pit. Requires belly crawling while using your elbows to pull your body forward.
Difficulty: Easy

Monkey Bars

Similar to the playground style with one wrinkle, the bars are attached to a central spine instead of on the sides and alternating bars are attached one below the spine then one above the spine, changing the height by about 4-5 inches either up or down from bar to bar.
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard

Plywood Valleys

Eight Plywood walls set up like hills and valleys; you climb up the first then down the second, up the third, etc.  There are slats or blocks for footing and ropes in the middle valley for balance.
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate

Hill covered in plastic with water streaming down it, real barbed wire overhead with ropes to use to claw your way to the top on your belly most of the way.
Difficulty: Moderate

Vertical Walls
Six to seven foot tall vertical walls made out of 2x6 lumber. You have to grab the top and hoist yourself over. I found that I could get my toe just enough of a purchase on the seams of the boards to help raise myself enough to throw my other leg over the walls. This obstacle takes some upper-body strength.
Difficulty: Moderate

Balance Beam
Just like you see on the Olympics, except 10 feet above a pool of water. Requires balance. I started out slow and the beam got wobbly, I was sure I was going to fall so I just ran forward and cleared it without incident. Buy a 4x4 at Home Depot and practice walking across it – leave it at ground level unless you have a safety net…
Difficulty: Moderate

Floating Dock Blocks
This is essentially a floating structure made of large plastic blocks that you have to swim about 20 yards to get to and then climb up the 3-foot face. There are ropes to grab and separations between the blocks that you use to assist in pulling yourself up on. Once on top, you climb down a stair-step of blocks back into the water. This time there is a cargo net submerged just below you. You can use the net to pull you along while you float above it. At the other side you climb back over a couple of floating blocks, then you are back in the water to swim another 20 yards or so to shore.
Difficulty: Moderate

Tires with Overhead Suspended Cargo Net
A few hundred tires laying flat on the ground, edge to edge, touching one another with a cargo net suspended about 3 feet above them. Most people were inclined to step inside the center of the tires while holding the net above them with their hands. This method works, but I preferred to walk on the sidewalls of the tires while using my head to keep the net out of the way. The risk here is a twisted ankle and net burns on the forehead.
Difficulty: Easy

A three-foot wide by four-foot deep muddy trench with barbed wire above. Basically a mud pit offering the only option of crouch-walking or crawling through the mud to the other end.
Difficulty: Easy

A-Frame with Rain Shower
Climb up the back side of a 12-foot tall A-frame which has horizontal 2x4’s spaced a couple of feet apart. All the while you are being sprayed with pond water. Once you summit the A-frame you climb down the plywood backside with the aid of ropes and horizontal boards that run the width of the obstacle.
Difficulty: Easy

Pegboard Hell
Imaging 3 walls 10 feet off the ground in a u-shape. The walls have holes in them a bit bigger than silver dollars - these holes do not go all the way through. You have two pegs that fit in each hole - sort of, and you are supposed to traverse from one edge of the horse shoe to the other using said pegs, to move from hole to hole while supporting your body weight. This one was near impossible. The pegs only went part way in the hole and the holes diameter was larger than the peg so the peg slanted. I tried twice. Landed on my back...twice. I did see two people complete the obstacle, so it wasn't impossible...but it was really, really tough. Toughest out there and I'm pissed I couldn't complete it. I'm a sore loser...
Difficulty: Almost Impossible

Sewer Pipes with Muddy Water
Plastic black drainage pipes, 3-foot diameter by 15’ long, lying flat on the ground in shallow trenches. Each filled about 12 inches deep with muddy water. You crawl through them. They are relatively smooth on the inside, but still hard on the knees.
Difficulty: Easy

Cargo Net Tube
Cargo Net Tube
Essentially a cargo net shaped into a 15-foot long, three-foot diameter tube suspended a few feet off the ground that you crawl through from one end to the other. I liked to call this the birthing canal.
Difficulty: Easy

Chain Ladder
Similar to an A-frame ladder, but replace the rungs with metal chains. Hold onto the wooden frame supports while you climb up and over the obstacle.
Difficulty: Easy

Trenches with Dirt Mounds
Deep Trenches
Picture a 5-foot tall mound of dirt that once you climb up, over and down, ends in a 4-foot deep trench with vertical walls followed by another hill of dirt. Repeat four times. The hills, once you are on them, are easy. The trenches, once you are in them, not-so-much. Most participants worked as teams to get through this one as it was really hard to find anything to grab to pull yourself out. This requires upper body strength to ‘mantel’ yourself out (mantelling is a climbing move where you push down on a ledge or other feature to hoist yourself up).
Difficulty: Hard

Fire Jump
Intimidating but really pretty easy. You only need to clear a pile of logs about 16 inches high. The worst part about this was the smoke that was blowing right into my face as I approached.
Difficulty: Easy

Barbed Wire Mud Pit
Barbed Wire Mud Pit
Real barbed wire stretched 24 inches above a mud filled pit. This requires a lengthy belly crawl. It seemed like the easiest way to traverse this was to actually use a swimming motion with my arms.  Kicking was dangerous as there are people all around. Walking at the end was possible once the barbed wire was past, but swimming was more efficient.
Difficulty: Easy