Saturday, April 11, 2015

F.I.T. Challenge 2015

Today, I took part in the third race in the NE Spahten's #racelocalF.I.T. Challenge, an approximately 5K obstacle course race that took place today in Cumberland, Rhode Island at Diamond Hill State Park. It was a fantastically fun day with a great event and course, perfect weather, and cool people to spent time with.

The day started at 8:00 a.m. when fellow Spahten, Matthew, met up with me in Amherst, so that we could head to F.I.T. together for the 10:45 a.m. team wave. Something like over 200 Spahtens were signed-up for this local race! The ride to Cumberland was surprisingly easy, taking just over 90 minutes; plus, I had good company. When we arrived at Diamond Hill, we were greeted by follow Spahten and my Ragnar team member from last year, Marc. Parking was $10 -- pretty standard -- and onsite, which was fantastic. People were having to park in the overflow lot, which was a little bit of a walk away, but fortunately, I was able to parallel park the Beetle into a nearby spot about a three minute walk from the start line.

There was a small registration / event area right near the start line. Matthew and I both had our bib numbers written down, and registration took a second. We got our bibs for our chip time, a t-shirt, and a F.I.T. headband. The event area was pretty small. In addition to the registration area, there as a table for Wreck Bag and OCR World Championships (which was also selling Icebugs -- I didn't check that out since I get mine at Shale Hill. Note: I entirely recommend Icebugs for OCR and Shale Hill is the place to get them. [Incidentally, if you click through to the link, the picture is one that was taken by Paul of my foot in an Icebug doing The Loom obstacle at Shale Hill!). The F.I.T. Challenge race was a qualifying race for OCR World Championships -- a neat bonus.

After registration, we headed over to the other side of the park to meet up with the rest of the Spahtens and drop off our gear before the 10:45 a.m. team heat. The weather was really nice. It was the first sunny day we'd had in a long time and the temperatures were in the low to mid-50s, though it was windy. I wind kept things a bit cool, so I opted for a long sleeved tech t-shirt underneath my team drill shirt. I was a bit warm with this combo, but I'd rather be hot than cold. At the team area, I also met up with Kerri, with whom I had run Polar Bear back in February. It was great to see her and the couple of friends she'd brought along, and we kind of made plans to run the race together.

At 10:30 a.m., we took a quick team picture and then it was off to the start line. I had talked with Aaron, fellow Ragnarian, Spahten, and another sort of race director for F.I.T. who told me that the course clocked in somewhere between three and four miles. I was looking forward to it!

There were some brief announcements at the start line. The race was a great one for beginners because it was penalty free. You just tried your best at an obstacle as many times as you wanted and took it from there (at least for the open waves). With a, "Go!" we were off.

The race started with a bit of trail running along a river that winds through that section of the park. Our wave was a bit large, and there was some bottlenecking here preventing me from jogging along as I might have. Things spread out a bit as we hit the first climb. The course took nice advantage of the terrain at Diamond Hill. We did a bunch of trail running and some climbing up and down the hill. It was at least somewhat technical trail, but everything was well-marked and none of the trails were too demanding. We did enough hiking that I felt my legs were getting a great workout but not so much that it felt like a day hiking. There were sections where you might hike uphill for five minutes or so, but nothing more than that and obstacles were fairly well places, though, of course, clustered to some degree at the bottom of the hill and towards the end of the race.

After some up and down on the trails, we hit the first obstacle, a wall of probably around seven or eight feet. It had some nice kickboards, so you could climb up. Using those. I was about to get over the wall without difficulty.

There was a bit of a bottleneck at this first wall, but nothing beyond a couple of minute wait. After climbing the wall, we exited the woods where we did a set of over-through-under walls before heading back up the hill. Part of this was a crawl underneath some rope (instead of barbed wire). It was of moderate length, considering it was uphill, and my knees took a bit of a beating. Coming back down, I believe the next obstacle we tackled a wall climb of maybe nine or so feet with a rope. This wall also had kickboards to help you up if needed, plus the rope.

I don't exactly remember the order of the course at this point, but I do recall that soon we came to what I would consider the hardest part of the course: peg boards and a rope climb. I had seen peg boards at Blizzard Blast back in January and been foiled by this obstacle. When I saw a picture online indicating that the peg board would be back at F.I.T., I knew I had to nail it. This determination, plus warmer fingers, must have worked because I made it all the way up the peg board. It was definitely a challenge to do this obstacle without a board to practice on. I think that technique with the pegs would save a lot of effort. Fortunately, I was able to wrap my legs around the tree, which was key.

Immediately following the peg boards was a rope climb. Diabolical! My arms and legs were already a bit tired from the peg board, so the rope climb was a tough one. I used the s-hook, which allowed me to take a couple of breaks for my arms and, thus, enabled me to make it to the top.

Following the rope climb, was the Wreck Bag carry. I dread carries. I am not very good at them, and as a small person, I have a lot of trouble. However, the Wreck Bag carry was great. They had 25 pound bags, which were a perfect challenge for someone my size without feeling debilitating. Also, the Wreck Bag had amazing handles and a soft exterior. I was able to carry it on my shoulders without chaffing of any sort -- amazing! We did a walk up and down a stretch of hill with the bag. I left my tired arms rest in the straps and supported the weight of the bag with my back, shoulders, and legs.

We dropped off our bags and got some water before heading off again. There was an inverted wall. Like most, the inverted wall featured rungs on the underside that you could use to pull yourself up and over the wall. From there, it was over some teeter totters and back up the hill and through some more trails before coming back to the last set of obstacles that were set up near where the Spahtens had made camp. We had to weave our way through a set of picnic tables before making it to a very obstacle-dense part of the course.

The final and most prominent set of obstacles featured two rigs with some small walls, overs-and-unders, and an up-and-over. While the rigs were some of the best obstacles on the course, they presented a real problem. The lines in this section of the course were very lengthy. I think, all said and done, I probably spent around 25 minutes of the race held up because of bottlenecking -- most of that time was spent on this section of the course.

Before hitting the rigs, we wove our way under a set of three picnic tables. The first rig obstacle was a set of monkey bars and then a cargo net. There were two set of monkey bars -- one easier and one harder. I opted to challenge myself with the harder set. Things were going along great until I reached the second to last bar which was way way high up. My arms could not reach -- they were almost too short. Matthew was telling me to try jumping, and what I didn't realize was that he was saying to swing and jump to the next flat monkey bar rung. I made another valiant effort to reach the higher bar and just couldn't make it. I had to drop down to the ground and then tackle the cargo net. My only failed obstacle of the day.

From there, we did a quick roll under one of the big trucks provided by sponsor ABF Mud Run. The next rig proved to be my favorite obstacle of the day. There was huge bottlenecking at this obstacle, and I had to wait at least fifteen minutes in line to try. It was worth it. The obstacle featured a rope climb to a set of descending monkey bars to a set of rings you had to walk along a poll to a rope ladder you had to climb to another set of descending monkey bars to a poll traverse. Right in my wheelhouse. I loved it. Using the rings to "walk" along the first poll traverse was extra fun! Kerri kindly waited for me as my line for this obstacle took way longer than the line she was in.

We did a quick set of over-unders before heading to the next line to wait to do the up-and-over.

The up-and-over featured to logs one on top of the other. The first log was probably around six and a half feet in the air. The second log was directly parallel and on top of the first with around two feet separating them. For this obstacle, one has to grab the first log, pull your self up and then step over the top obstacle. This was pretty much the same as an obstacle they have with metal rungs instead of logs at Shale Hill. I was able to use the same technique to get over. 

From there we jogged over to a set of strength-based obstacles. We had to do a set up frog jumps with burpees, followed directly by an Atlas stone carry. They had varying weights, and I was able to take a 35 pound stone, which worked perfectly. From there, we went directly to an area where you had to clean a 45 pound barbell and then do twenty shoulder presses. No different weights here for people of varying sizes. I did ten presses straight through, then did five and then another five. Made it!

The finish line was in sight. We ran a short ways to the last obstacle, and inverted ladder wall. This was it. I pulled myself over the wall and crossed the finish line in 1:53:07.

I met back up with Matthew and learned that he had qualified for the OCR World Championships! I was in the presence of a celebrity. He asked if we could hang out for the awards, which of course we could. We took a picture by the Shale Hill truck, and I went to change before the ceremony. 

While waiting for the awards, I got as close the the OCR World Championships as I probably ever will when I helped the race directory tidy up the qualifier t-shirts. In all honestly, even that was pretty exciting.

I didn't go away empty handed though.I got an awesome F.I.T. t-shirt, headband, and cool medal. The medal is in the shape of a Wreck Bag and is already looking pretty cool on my medal rack.

F.I.T. Challenge was a fantastically fun obstacle course race. The atmosphere was fantastic. This, of course, was helped by the fact that there were lots of people I was friendly with there and the amazing turn-out from the local OCR community, such as Shale Hill (#OCRUnited).

I really loved the frequency and quality of the obstacles at F.I.T. The course layout was fantastic. There was just the right amount of running / hiking up and down hills without it seeming tedious. The running was balanced well with the obstacles, and the the placement of the obstacles was well-thought-out, overall.

My one caveat is that for those of us in the middle of the pack for the open heats, bottlenecking was a huge issue. I spent a significant amount of time waiting to try an obstacle, especially in the obstacle-dense section towards the end of the course. I waited at least fifteen minutes for the second rig. (Part of this is because of an injury, and I want to make clear that I am 100% not complaining about having to wait because of this. I would have happily waited to insure that everyone was okay, but the other thirteen or so minutes were just general hold-up.) I would love to see this improved for next year, and I say that because this race was a blast, and I definitely would love to come again in 2015, schedule willing.

Bottom line: Check F.I.T. out! It's a really fun course. mixing the perfect level of challenge and fun. First-timers could do it, and for those who are more experiences, there are some neat and original obstacles you probably haven't seen before. The race has great local support from the NE Spahten and local race directors. This adds to the atmosphere. It's family friendly, at an easy-to-get-to lovely location, and is sure to guarantee a fun day.

(Note: Spahten photo credits: Mary Donohue and Ron Steffero)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour

What do you get when you combine the toughest fixed obstacle course around with the cold temperatures of Vermont in February plus several feet of snow plus eight hours. Shale Hill's Benson Polar Bear 8 Hour Obstacle Challenge. The event ranks right after the 2014 Spartan Vermont Beast as the hardest event that I have ever done. Unlike the Beast where suffering ruled the day, I absolutely had a blast!


Anyone who has read more than a few posts about OCR on my blog knows of my deep and abiding love for Shale Hill. (Note: If you haven't read it, I have a very comprehensive review of Shale Hill, including a complete write up of the course: NE Spahtens do Shale Hill Weekend. Check it out!) At almost three hours northwest from me by car, no one would call Shale Hill conveniently located to my home, yet I go there with a good deal of regularity. For anyone interested in obstacle course racing, Shale Hill is a must. The facility is fixed, meaning that the course is available for training 365 days a year. You find the course on a day-to-day basic just as you would on race day. That means you can come and train the full course or any obstacle over and over again whenever you want. At only $35 for a day of training (or $25/each for four training visits if you get them in quantity), the price cannot be beat. Rob, the owner, is constantly adding to the course. The Polar Bear would find me battling against three new obstacles.

The premise of the Polar Bear Challenge is to come up to Vermont is the coldest part of the winter and do as many laps of the course as you can over the span of eight hours. I was anticipating one lap but hoping for two. In the summer months, I can easily do a lap in three hours, but with the amount of snow that had been falling, it was hard to know what to expect.

I drove up to Benson, Vermont, home of Shale Hill on Friday night and stayed over at nearby Falkenbury Farm Guest House with some other Spahtens. On the way to Falkenbury, I stopped at Shale Hill to register and check my gear bag, which contained a change of shoes and clothing if I wanted to do a second lap and also attire for after I finished. Check-in with Jill, one of the two owners of Shale Hill, was a snap -- I was there for around five minutes and then on my way to Falkenbury to relax and sleep. At check-in I got a nice racers goody bag. It contained my bib (which I never wear at obstacle course races if I can help it) and a timing chip. There were also lots of goodies from the sponsors including a buff from Icebug, a sweatband from X-Racewear, a bracelet from BattleFrog, a sample of Trail Toes, some Supercandy, and a #racelocal bracelet from the NE Spahtens. The race t-shirt was also in the bag, a nice cotton long-sleeved T-shirt, perfect for the colder months.

The race was to start bright an early with a 6:15 a.m. racers meeting and breakfast. The race would start at 7:00 a.m. with the elite heat, followed by two open waves and then the journeyman division (which did not require penalties if you failed an obstacles) heading out last at 7:30 a.m. I turned in early, but 5:30 a.m. still dawned fast. I got up, put on loads of gear and headed over to the pre-race meeting. Parking, like bag check, was 100% free. It was also located on-site in a field right off the race course and a quick two minute walk from the main area.

Rob is always building. For Polar Bear, he had constructed a heated party barn, right next to the bar that houses registration and the indoor Shale Hill training gym. I checked some additional gear on my assigned shelf in the registration barn and then headed over to the party barn.

One of the great things about Shale Hill is the close community that exists among the people who race there. Polar Bear is probably one of the bigger races that Shale Hill puts on, but they cap registration at 200 people so that everyone has a great race experience. I would guess there were around 150 people at Polar Bear this year, making it, what I would consider a big success. The party barn was rocking with fun music. I navigated the buffet and picked up some eggs, french toast, coffee, and a banana. Bacon was available all day for the pork-consuming crowd. All nice standard easily digestible pre-race food.

As I sat down with my plate, Rob came in to lead the pre-race meeting. There was discussion about the proper way to do the obstacles and the rules for penalties. At Shale Hill, if you are racing elite or open divisions, you have to take chips for obstacles that you fail and then perform the penalties at the end, before you can cross the timing mat. You can try an obstacle multiple times to complete it. Because Shale Hill has smaller crowds back-ups at obstacles aren't a worry and people can do multiple attempts. I had elected to race the journeyman division, which meant that there weren't any penalties; you tried the obstacles as many times as you wanted and if you couldn't complete it then you moved on. I race for fun, not for time, and I enjoy trying the obstacles over fighting through penalties, so the journeyman division at Shale Hill is a great fit for me.

Shortly after the pre-race meeting, the elites heading out. I look the time before my heat to coordinate my gear. The weather was a fairly mild 20 or so degrees with light flurries and no wind. I had elected to wear a base layer, fleece layer, and top thin windbreaker jacket. On the bottom I had tights covered with snow pants. On my feet I had Darn Tough socks with feet warmers stuck on the top and my Icebugs. I also wore gloves, a hat, and my Spahtens buff. I brought along my hydration pack with water and some larabars and Sharkie energy chews. I planned to use the blow back method to keep my tube on the hydration bladder from freezing. This worked only mediocrely -- the tube got frozen a couple of times and had to be thawed at the fire at one of the four water stops on the course. The valve got frozen once too, but I was able to thaw that in my palm, so that was less of a problem. I had to go a little ways without water, but was able to snack on some clean snow, so it wasn't much of an issue. Getting an insulator for your hydration pack tube would be a good move if you want to take your pack on and off during this race.

At around 7:20 a.m., I went to line-up for our 7:30 wave start. Many of the fellow Spahtens were doing the journeyman wave, so we snapped a quick team picture before getting the siren that signaled we were off and running!

Currently, the course at Shale Hill measures in at 6.5 miles, just over a 10K. Pretty early on in the day, it became clear that one of the biggest challenges of the day would be traversing the trails between the 60 obstacles that lay scattered across the course. Vermont, like the rest of the Northeast, was blanketed with around three feet of snow. The trails were tamped down, but ever step was like moving through sand. Walking was exhausting!

Usually, when I do a race, write-up I do a detailed listing of all of the obstacles. Because I have been to Shale Hill so many times, I'm not going to do that here. If you want a complete detailed write-up of all the obstacles, you can find one in this blog post. What I will talk about is the new obstacles and the completely new experience one can have racing Shale Hill in the winter.

The summary line is this: The course takes me around three hours in the summer; this time it took me between 5:15 and 5:30. That's over five hours to do one lap! There were four waves: elite, two open waves, and journeyman. I heard reports that only 20% of elites went out to do a second lap. That means almost everyone just did one.

Conditions were treacherous. Icebugs or some other traction shoe were a must. I had on a pair of Icebugs that included carbide tips, which was definitely a help was we marched up and down ice covered hills. Some hills were so slick and steep that ropes had been added to help you get up or down. Running -- or should I say walking -- from obstacle to obstacle was, as I said before, exhausting. Every step had you sinking into snow and having to stabilize. Movement was slow and belabored. The snowy conditions were without a doubt the most challenging part of the day. Otherwise, the weather was quite pleasant with temperatures in the low 20s and no wind. I felt pretty comfortable temperature-wise in my gear and stayed fairly dry. My feet got a bit wet at the end -- water resistant shoes can only stand up to so many hours trudging through snow -- but the feet warmers kept things feeling fine.

Obstacles that are do-able in the summer are much harder in the winter. My fingers definitely got cold and gloves had to be removed in many cases to provide traction and increase grip strength on obstacles. I am usually great on the rope traverse. My technique has me doing the first half on top and the second half underneath. At Shale Hill I had only ever failed this obstacle once. Now I've failed it twice. My fingers were so frozen that when I switched to the underneath technique they couldn't hold my weight.

Overall though, I was pretty happy with my grip strength and success with the climbing-based obstacles. These sorts of obstacles (versus the work obstacles such as carries and hoists) are definitely my strength. I did well on all the rope climbs, all of the climbing obstacles in the area referred to as "the jungle" (Abacus, Linkin' Logs, Swinging Ladders). I nailed Cliff Jumper, the huge Alcatraz Wall, the Loom, and the 11' Wall. My grip held out. I made it through two panels of the giant Traverse Wall, which is not my best showing (as I've made it to the fourth out of five), but it isn't the worst I can do. I did okay on the rotating Monkey Bars and made it half way through. The bars are late on the course, and my strength is always a bit sapped by then. I did have some trouble with the third to last obstacle, the Tarzan Swing. I love that obstacle. I have never made it all the way through, but I can always do a little. My hands were so chapped and sore at that point though that I couldn't get a grip on the rope.

The course also featured a few new obstacles. These totally won the war of me versus obstacle. I plan to come back in warmer months to train on them. I will win the rematch! The first new obstacle was featured early on in the course, and was the forth obstacle. This obstacle, named the Zig Zag of Awesomeness by the owners' eight year old, was sponsored by the NE Spahtens (via a GoFundMe).

When I arrived at the obstacle, there was a group of fellow Spahten gathered around it and kind of just staring and analyzing. I understood why. The obstacle consisted of two metal pipes you had to traverse with your hands and then a rope climb down. This was early in the day and the metal was cold. When my turn came, I could barely wrap my hands around the over 2" diameter pipes. I maybe made it a third of the way along the first pipe before I came down. My numb fingers could not get a good grip around the thick poll and just gave out. This summer, Zig Zag of Awesomeness, I am coming to resolve some unfinished business.

The other new obstacle that presented a problem for me was a carry. I am not very good at the work-style obstacles that require hauling of heavy objects. This list includes such obstacles as sandbags carries, bucket carries, log carries, and hoists. Being 5' tall and weight 115, these obstacles are probably always going to present a problem, but I need to start training harder for them. For Polar Bear, Rob had replaced the sandbag / slosh pipe carry with a log carry. This was no traditional log carry. The carry consisted of two stumps connected with a piece of flat cord. We had to carry this mess along the 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile loop that marked the sandbag / slosh pipe carry. This route is marshy in the summer and, apparently, icy in the winter. It consists of lots of up and down and you go down hills. After almost killing myself with the 60 pound sandbag the first time I was at Shale Hill, I had moved to the less-heavy-but-hard-to-manage slosh pipe. Now there was no option. The logs easily weighed as much as the sandbag. I tried my absolute best, but it was a bit of a mess and a sufferfest. I got lots of encouragement from fellow-Spahen, Mike, who was a huge help. It was a case of one foot in front of the other, until I either collapsed or the strap holding the logs slipped off my shoulders. I have large bruises on both shoulders today and can barely move my arms all courtesy of this obstacle. It left me spent when it came time to the other log carry and the bucket carry. (Note: The bucket carry was re-done from the shale bucket carry to the ice bucket carry for the winter. I did not take a full bucket; I would not have made it.)

The final new obstacle of the day was the second to last, the warped wall. By the time I reached this obstacle I was beyond exhaustion. The past five plus hours spent navigating through the snow had left my legs so tired they were at the point of collapse. The small group of Spahtens I was with just stood looking at the wall. Of course, we had to try. With the minimal power my legs could muster, I ran towards and up the wall. I made it about half way before slamming into the snow slick wall and tumbling back down. Another mission for this summer!

From the warped wall, we could see the finish line. We snaked our way along the Anaconda, a bunch of moguls with some walls for good measure. I slide down the declines on my seat and climbed the inclines counting my steps. 

I crossed the finish line, my one lap completed with a smile on my face. My legs, arms, and lungs were burning, I had a bit of a cough from sucking down so much cold air, but I had spent a very fun day doing something I loved.

Obstacle racing is a predominantly summertime sport. Shale Hill's Polar Bear race is really unique. I've tacked the Shale Hill course over a half dozen times now. This was by far the hardest. Doing an obstacle in the summer and doing it in the cold of the winter are two very different things. The level of challenge is upped immeasurably by icy ropes and freezing fingers that lack grip strength. Trekking through the snow and up and down ice-covered hills is a mental task in an of itself without having to consider over sixty obstacles that test your strength, agility, and fortitude. Every step taken on this course was work. 

Polar Bear was a one-of-a-kind experience. Shale Hill is a fantastic place. If you haven't visited yet, I seriously don't know what you're waiting for. 

(Note: Most pictures in this post are from the NE Spahtens or Shale Hill Facebook pages. Credit goes to them!)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Blizzard Blast 2015 #racelocal

Today, I began my 2015 race season with the first #racelocal event on my calendar, Blizzard Blast. For those of you who didn't read my #racelocal blog post, this is a series put on my the obstacle course racing group I am a part of, the New England Spahtens. The #racelocal website defines the series by saying, "#racelocal is a movement to bring athletes and participants to high quality and proven New England owned and operated obstacle course races." I'm planning to attend around ten #racelocal events in 2015, most of them at Shale Hill. Blizzard Blast, however, was a new event for me.

Blizzard Blast is a 4 - 6 mile obstacle course race that takes place ever January in Dracut, Massachusetts. The venue is Four Oaks Country Club.

The team heat was at 12:40 p.m. I knew that there would be off site parking (cost $10), so I left myself plenty of time to travel. I ended up getting to Eastern Massachusetts in good time. Parking was a snap, and I was able to hop on the bus right away. Immediately, I was surrounded by fellow Spahten. In the spirit of team we all started chatting. I was having fun already. The bus ride from parking to the venue was maybe 10 minutes max, but it flew by. I should say that buses were plentiful, and I never had to wait either coming or going. This was all very well handled.

When I arrived at the event, fellow Spahten, John and I tried to find check-in. We failed totally due to our own lack of paying attention. Soon we were steered in the right direction. Check-in went well. There was a very short line and the volunteers were great. The check-in was in a tent outside, but the tent was well-closed and didn't feel very chilly.

That being said, I should mention though that I way overdressed for this event. It was probably in the mid-thirties, and I was dressed for cooler weather. I had on:

  • NE Spahtens team buff (wrapped around my ears)
  • My favorite Nike thermal base-layer
  • Another thermal mid-layer
  • An L.L. Bean windbreaker / light jacket top layer
  • Tights
  • Snow pants (like for snowboarding / skiing)
  • Darn Tough wool socks
  • Icebugs sneakers (with carbide tips)
  • UA gloves

Honestly, this was too much clothing. I have been feeling like I was getting a cold, but I would have been fine with out the mid-layer and snow pants. I will say that I didn't get cold or wet at all though. I didn't even get any snow in my shoes, so all the gear did it's job. However, I'm doing Polar Bear at Shale Hill in two weeks, and I will have to decide if I want to wear quite so much clothing. I'll probably bring everything just in case and can adjust as needed. 

After check-in, where I got my bib (which I didn't wear) and chip timer (which I did wear), we headed over to get our t-shirts, buffs, and goody bags. I was very excited to see custom "Largest Team" shirts and buffs for the Spahtens. The t-shirt was a long-sleeved t-shirt with Blizzard Blast on the front and the Spahten logo on the back. The buff had both the Blizzard Blast and Spahten logos. This was a very nice touch. 

The team also had it's own room where everyone was able to change and leave their bags. I headed to the team room, where I coordinated myself and changed my shoes. I then quickly headed out to join everyone for the team picture. From there, it was off to the starting line!

I gathered with a few fellow Spahten friends at the starting line. We were given details about how the course was quite slippery from the previous day's snow fall. I had on my Icebugs, so I wasn't too worried, but did make a note to move cautiously. The race, which had traditionally been a 5K (3.1 miles) was lengthened to 5.8 miles this year. With those few words, we were off. 

The race course, which was on what must be the Four Oaks golf course an nearby trails, had some rolling elevation. There were some sections where we were running along trails in the woods and there was quite a bit of spread between obstacles. Overall, the course didn't have a ton of elevation but any rolling hills and wood where you're trudging through the snow is work. A lot of the snow had been patted down over the course of the day, which was both helpful (less wading through snow) and not (more slippery).

I wasn't able to get a course map listing the obstacles, so my recounting of the course is from my own memory. I am sure I'm missing one or two things and have some obstacles, out of order, but this is how I can best recall the day. 
  • Pine Tree Weave: Weave your way under and through hanging Christmas trees. Climb over two side-ways trees. 
  • Sledding: Grab a sled, climb up the hill and sled down.
  • Keg Kingdom: The best obstacle ever! Okay, I needed assistance from Paul to reach the kegs, but after that it was so much fun. There were four hanging kegs. You had to swing from keg to keg, then do monkey bars and then swing from four more hanging kegs. There were hay bales between the kegs and bars, which helped a lot. This was a tough obstacle but very unique and loads of fun.

  • Under and Over: Go under a wall and then over the next. The second wall was probably around six feet. 
  • High Wall; This wall had kick boards, but I still needed a boost from Steve!
  • Paintball Target: Grab a paintball gun, put on your safety goggles and try to hit a target. Yes, I failed all three tries.
  • Peg Boards: So neat! For this obstacle there were peg boards attached to a tree. You had to take pegs and, using just your arms, climb the pegs up the holes in the boards to get up the tree. Hard! I made it about a third of the way up. I think I need to lobby to have the gym at work add peg boards so I can practice this skill. Very cool. Jess, who I was running with, completely nailed this obstacle. 

  • Sledding: Second bit of sledding for the day. I may have let my feet drag in front of me and gotten a huge face full of snow...
  • Christmas Lights Crawl: Like a barbed wire crawl but with Christmas lights! How festive. I really liked this one too. It's way more enjoyable to crawl through the snow under some dangling holiday lights than to roll across rocks under barbed wire. 
  • Hoist: This was a unique hoist. We had to haul up a small keg, but instead of just hoisting it, we actually had to wrap the string holding the keg on the pulley onto the handle we were using. Forearm strength was required. I actually preferred this to a traditional hoist.
  • Teeter Totters: Climb up and down a see saw. I actually skipped this obstacle. The only OCR related injury I've ever seen was when a teammate fell off a wet teeter totter and busted his ankle. Half of this obstacle was already closed down, and the see saws looked wet. I took my penalty of 10 snow angles instead.
  • Tunnel Crawl: Crawl through a short metal tunnel. 
  • Cinder Block Walk: You got two cinder blocks. While standing on one, you had to move the other forward. Then step to that one. You moved one block while balancing on the other to advance. As I stepped onto the block positioned at the finish I slipped off. Fortunately, the volunteer said I had made it. 
  • Kegs: There were kegs positioned at intervals through the next part of the course. We thought we had to step from keg to keg. Apparently, judging by this photo-evidence, we could have just weaved our way through. I did the first half stepping from keg to keg, with a bit of help from Aaron (thank you!) and then slalomed my way through the second half because the kegs were farther apart than my legs were long.

  • Ankle Biters: We had to make our way across an icy bridge criss-crossed with ropes at ankle height.
  • Football Throw: Take a football and throw it at a tire attached to a tree. While I didn't quite make it to hitting the tire, I did hit the tree right above the tire. Since I haven't thrown a football since high school gym class, I will consider this satisfactory. I throw like an uncoordinated person. 
  • Traverse Wall: This traverse wall was fantastic. We had a three panel wall and then a panel of tires. Everything was slick with snow, but I made it. I am back in my groove with the traverse wall after my awful one-time-only failure at the Spartan Beast.

  • Christmas Tree Carry: I usually am not one for carries, but I really enjoyed hauling this tree around. I was able to find a petite Charlie Brown-style sad tree that was just the right amount of challenge. I am still smelling the pine. I found bonus tree pieces nestled in my sports bra when I went to shower after getting home. 
  • Snow Mounds: After the carry, it was a quick jog over two mounds of snow and on to the finish line!

(Note: All of these images are taken from the NE Spahtens and Blizzard Blast Facebook pages. I was too busy running the event to take an photos. Some day, I'll have to get a GoPro...)

Blizzard Blast was a lot of fun. The course featured unique obstacles that I have not seen anywhere else. For people who have done more than a few races, such as myself, variety in obstacles is the most enjoyable part. There was a good winter-feel to the race; they kept with their theme well. Overall, the spacing of the obstacles was fairly good. My one bit of feedback would be that I think the race would work better as a 5K instead of a 5.8 miler. I would have liked to see greater density of obstacles -- parts of the course felt like a bit of a trail run; there was a section where we definitely went around a mile without any obstacles. I think if the race had been a 5K it would have felt much more obstacle-rich and overall been more enjoyable. The obstacles that were there were great, I just wish that they had been closer together so it didn't, at times, seem like we were just running through the woods without end.

The bottom line: This is a unique local race. I had a great group that I was running with and that really made the day fun. The race director did such a lovely job personalizing the race for the Spahtens. The devil is in the detail, and the details here were spot on. Everything on and off the course went smoothly. The venue was great. Though I didn't stay long to socialize it looked like people were having a blast at the after party. The course, the most important part of the day, was a blast (no pun intended) with a lot of attention paid to the winter theme. This made this race standout from the summer races I normally do. I wold definitely add Blizzard Blast to my 2016 calendar next year.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Insanity Max:30 Review: Friday Fight: Round 2

The last new workout in Insanity Max:30 is Friday Fight: Round 2. Shaun T starts the workout by saying it's the hardest that he's ever created. Furthermore, the Beachbody Max Out Guide says, "The new 'hardest workout ever.' Every move is a minute in this ultimate challenge between your body and your mind. Who's going to win?"

All that combined made me a little bit nervous about this workout. I've found that month two has increased the difficulty quite a bit and Max Out Strength kicked my rear the other day. As it turns out, Friday Fight: Round 2 is not that bad. Sure there are a lot of cardio moves and the intervals, as well as the time spent on each move, are all longer, but it's all moves that you know from earlier in the program. I was able to make it to the Genie Tuck Jumps at 21:53 before Maxing Out -- that's way better than I've done on other workout the first time through.

Friday Fight: Round 2 consists of a warm-up and three rounds. You go right from the warm-up into Round 1 without a break, which means that you're working for 15 minutes straight through. The next round is 11 minutes, leaving you with just four minutes at the end of the workout. As I've said before, each move is done for a full minute. This is similar to Friday Fight: Round 1 but is longer than the time you spend on each move in the other Max:30 workouts. The other cardio workouts, in general, have you move from move to move at 30 second increments. The Tabata strength-based workouts are 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off in month one and 45 second on, 15 seconds off in month two.

Below is the moves list for Friday Fight: Round 2. You'll see that with the exception of maybe one or two moves, these are exercises that were featured in other Max:30 workouts.

Med Ball Twist:  Jack the feet and bring hands (together) up and over the head in an arc to the left and right.
Hop Hop Knee: Hop twice laterally to the right, then raise the outside knee. Return to the left, hopping twice and then raising that knee. Alternate side to side.
Mountain Climber: Run with high knees. As you lift one knee, lift the opposite hand directly overhead like you are grabbing a rock above you. Run legs and alternate arms up.
Hit The Floor: Move laterally side to side quickly and tap the floor with one hand and then the other. Keep in somewhat a low stance.
Plank Walk: In plank, move left then right.
Repeat Series
(Note: There is no break between the warm-up and Round 1. You move continuously for the first 15 minutes of Friday Fight: Round 2.)

Round 1:
Iron Legs: Start in a squat. Jump into a left lunge. From there, jump into a right lunge. Then do a scissor jump. Return to the squat and repeat all four moves, jumping from position to position.
Floor Hops: In plank hop both feet to the side of your body, left and right, back and forth. When you are lifting your feet for the jump, do so quick high almost like you want to kick into a handstand.
Scissor - "X": Do four scissor runs where you ski your feet back and forth on the floor. Then do two "X" jumps, where you jump vertically in to the air from a demi-squat position with the arms extended above and the legs below, making and x-shape.
Plank Jack - Front Raise: In plank, jack the feet out and in. As you jack the feet out, lift on arm straight out, directly in front of you. Bring the arm down as you jack the feet in. Alternate arms side to side for the arm lift as you jack the feet out and in.
Plyo Hook Lunge: Start in a lunge position, jump the front leg to the back and the back leg to the front to switch the lunge. Jump back and forth changing your lunging leg each time. As you do this, do hooks, left and right, with your arms.
Hit The Floor - Tuck Jumps: Move laterally side to side quickly and tap the floor with one hand and then the other. Keep in somewhat a low stance. After each move to the side, do a tuck jump by jumping and bringing you feet under your glutes and your knees towards the chest.
Free Runner - R: Jump up and kick the right leg front and left leg back. Repeat.
Free Runner - L: Jump up and kick the left leg front and right leg back. Repeat.
Power Jump Dive: Do a power jump (where you jump from a squat into the air bringing your knees in towards your chest). When you land in a squat, lean forward and dive forward so you are in a full plank with straight legs. Walk your hands back to your feet and stand up so you are again in a squat position and ready for the next power jump.
Ski Down Abs: Start in a c-sit position and lift your feet off the floor. Alternate your knees left and right. As you are doing that twist your upper body in the direction opposite the knees in a skiing motion.
Lat Push-up - Alt: Starting in plank, move your right arm to the right side. Do a push-up where you engage that right lat and have the right arm stay close to the body. After you push-up, walk your hands back into a center plank. Now move to the left side and repeat the move on the left. Alternate side to side.

Round 2
Low-High Switch Kicks: Start by kicking your legs left and right fairly low to the floor, on cue begin to kick your legs left and right as fast as you can as as high as you can.
Slap Back Jump: Starting in a squat position, jump forward. As you do this take your arms, which are in down straight in front of you and bring them behind, slapping your hands behind your glutes and returning them to the front. Do the same move jumping backward. Repeat, jumping front and back.
Plank Jack Tap: Start in plank position. Jack your feet out and in. As you jack your feet out, take one hand and tap it to your opposite shoulder. Jack your feet in and return your hand to the floor. When you jack your feet out again, tap the other hand to the other shoulder. Continue jacking your feet out and in and tapping right then left hands to the opposite shoulders.
Jab - Speed Bag - R: In guard position, with your right leg forward, do right jabs. Then switch to a speedbag while scissoring the feet. 
Jab - Speed Bag - L: In guard position, with your left leg forward, do left jabs. Then switch to a speedbag while scissoring the feet. 
Plank To Squat: Start in a squat position. Lower your hands to the floor and jump back into plank. Then jump back up into squat. (Kind of like a burpee.) Repeat.
Lunge Punch Kick - L: Start in a lunge with the left leg back. Hop and kick the left leg forward. As you do so, punch with that side. Go back down into a lunge and repeat.
Lunge Punch Kick - R: Start in a lunge with the right leg back. Hop and kick the right leg forward. As you do so, punch with that side. Go back down into a lunge and repeat.
Genie Tuck Jumps: With your arms cross one on top of the other in front of your chest, jump from a squat into the air bringing your knees in towards your chest.
Wide Burpee Jump: Do a wide bupree by squatting, putting your hands on the floor, and jumping your legs back into plank, keeping the legs wide. Jump back into the squat and the stand, jumping vertically at the top of the move. Repeat.
"X" Abs: Lying supine with legs straight out and about four inches above the floor and your shoulder curled up, your arms will start on your stomach and then reach out to make an "x" shape above the head. Legs open as your arms open. Alternate the arms and legs open into "x" position and then closed.
Tricep Push-up Jack: Do tricep push-ups where you elbows go back, scrapping against your sides instead of outward. As you go down, you jack the feet out and then return them in when you push-up.
Dive Push-up > Child's Pose: This is done with arms like they would be for a tricep push-up. When you start in plank, move so you are slightly back on your feet. As you go down into the push-up position, lean forward so you are moving forward and back as you move down and up.

Round 3:
10 & 2 Punch: Do a twisting jump where you jump both feet between 10 and 2 on the clock. As you are doing that, punch the front arm on each side.
8 Jabs - 2 Diamond: In a squat position, do eight jabs to the front, left and right. Then do two Diamond Jumps. To do a diamond jump, start in a squat. Power your self up in the air bringing your feet together under your body with toes touching (to make a diamond with your legs). While doing this, bring your arms all the way overhead.
Burpee Punch - Alt: Fo a burpee by squatting down and then jumping back into plank. However, instead of putting both hands on the floor, only put down the right hand. The left arm punches straight ahead as you go down into the burpee. Jump the feet in, still with the arm punched forward and return to standing. Repeat alternating the hand that's on the floor and the hand that punches on each burpee.
High Knee Abs: Jog with high knees. Have arms in "on guard" position and twist the torso so arms are meeting knees.

 I really enjoyed Friday Fight: Round 2. It was fun to see all the moves from previous workouts come together in a fast-paced cardio workout. This was definitely all cardio all the time, with less of a focus on working the muscles that in some of the other month 2 workouts. I felt like this was classic Insanity -- it reminded me a lot of the original program. 

In terms of difficulty, I would rate it as similar to a lot of what we see in the original Insanity program. I would also say that Friday Fight: Round 2 isn't much harder than Friday Fight: Round 1; the moves are just different. All in all, it has a great "final workout" feel, as it brings together lots of moves from the program and has you going hard the entire workout. This might be my favorite Max:30 program workout. Highly recommended.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Insanity Max:30 Review: Max Out Strength

I am four workouts into month two of Max:30, and I have to tell you that my body is definitely feeling the impact of a string of new challenging workouts. The forth workout on the calendar for month two is Max Out Strength. As the Max Out Guide says, "Max strength and max fat burn are what you'll get from this "45 seconds on, 15 seconds off" Tabata routine. Your arms, shoulders, chest, and core will be toast after this upper-body-focused strength workout."

This workout is the analog of Tabata Strength from month one, a workout that we waited two weeks before introducing. That meant that during week one of month one of Max:30, we got to do the same strength-based workout on Tuesday and Thursday of the first week. No such luck in month two where it's five days with five different workouts.

Max Out Strength pairs nicely with Max Out Power though. The Power workout focuses more on the lower body, while Max Out Strength is all about the arms. With all the push-ups and plank work in this workout, you chest and shoulders get a beating. My upper body was already sore from the rest of the new moves that I did this week, including the plyo push-up section from Max Out Power, and this led to an ugly session, the first time through Max Out Strength.

Below is the moves list for Max Out Strength. This is another Tabata-style workout with 45 second on, 15 seconds off intervals. In general, the rounds were approximately six minutes in length, though they kind of varied a bit. We went right from the warm-up into round one without a water break.

High Knee Pull: Standing, lift one knee and pull it to the chest. Alternate left and right.
Jog It Out
Med Ball Twist: Jack the feet and bring hands (together) up and over the head in an arc to the left and right.
Mummy Kicks: Have your arms out straight in front of you and switch them side to side above and below the other. While doing this, do low kicks with your feet.
Lateral Lunge Kick - R: Lunge to right side by stepping out your right leg and then bending to sink into the right hip. The left leg is straight to the side. Return to standing by powering off your right leg. Then do a front kick with your right leg.
Slap Back Jack: As you jack your feet, take your arms, which are in down straight in front of you and bring them behind, slapping your hands behind your glutes and returning them to the front.
Lateral Lunge Kick - L: Lunge to left side by stepping out your left leg and then bending to sink into the left hip. The right leg is straight to the side. Return to standing by powering off your left leg. Then do a front kick with your left leg.
Heisman: With legs wide, run shifting your body weight left and right without twisting the torso.
High Knee Abs: Jog with high knees. Have arms in "on guard" position and twist the torso so arms are meeting knees.

Round 1
Split Plyo Lunge > Jog It Out:  Start in a lunge position, jump the front leg to the back and the back leg to the front to switch the lunge. Jump back and forth changing your lunging leg each time.
Plié Plyo Squat > Jog It Out: In a plié position, jack the feet in, so that you are in a narrow squat, and then back out into plié. Remain low as you hop in and out.
2 Hop Squats - 2 Lunges > Jog It Out: In squat position, do two hops, then turn to the right and into a lunge position, do two hops. Turn back to the left and do two hop squats. Now turn to the left so you are lunging on the opposite leg as last time and do two hops. Go back into the squat.
Hop Squat - Lunge > Jog It Out: This move is the same as the 2 Hop Squats - 2 Lunges except for you do 1 hop and 1 lunge.
Squat Thrust - Lunge > Jog It Out: Squat down, when you stand up do so and thrust your hips forward. Then turn and do a lunge. Alternate between the squat and the lunges side to side.
Squat Thrust > Jog It Out: Squat down, when you stand up do so and thrust your hips forward.

Round 2:
Push-up Jack Tap > Child's Pose: start in plank position. Jack your feet out and in. As you jack your feet out, take one hand and tap it to your opposite shoulder. Jack your feet in and return your hand to the floor. When you jack your feet out again, tap the other hand to the other shoulder. Continue jacking your feet out and in and tapping right then left hands to the opposite shoulders.
Push-up Jack > Child's Pose: Do push-ups, as you go down, you jack the feet out and then return them in when you push-up.
Plank Jack - Push-up > Child's Pose: In plank, jack the feet out and in. Then do a push-up. Repeat.
Plank Walk - Push-up > Child's Pose: In plank, walk your arm and leg to the right to do a plank walk. Do a push-up. Repeat alternating side to side with the plank walk.
Knee Push-up > Child's Pose: Do push-ups with your knees down instead of in full plank.
8-Count Knee Push-up > Child's Pose: Do push-ups with your knees down instead of in full plank. For each push-up, lower down for 8 counts and then push-up for 8 counts.

Round 3:
Floor Switch Kicks > C-Sit Hold: Start with a reverse tabletop position. Your feet are on the floor, legs bent, and your upper body is supported by your arms under you, like you are going to do tricep dips. In this position, alternate kicking your legs up in the air left and right as fast as you can.
Tricep Reach Kick > C-Sit Hold: In the same position as for Floor Switch Kicks, lift one leg and the opposite arm. Touch hand to foot. Leg should be extended straight. Alternate side to side.
Tricep Knee Taps > C-Sit Hold: This is the same as the Tricep Reach Kick except you lift your leg bent instead of straight. Your hand should touch your bent knee.
Tuck Extension > C-Sit Hold: From tuck position where you're in c-sit with the legs off the floor and hands on knees like during a tuck jump, open up legs and arms lying back completely on the floor. Stretch the arms overhead and the legs out in front. Arms and legs are four inches from the floor. Pop back up into tuck jump position. Repeat move over and over.
Floor Tuck Jumps > C-Sit Hold: Sitting in c-sit position, engage your abs and lift your feet off the ground with bent knees. Tap hands to knees as if doing a seated tuck jump.
Speed Knee Abs > C-Sit Hold: Start lying down on your back. Bicycle your legs back and forth. Touch your hands to the knee that is bent towards you, twisting slightly to engage your abs.

Round 4:
Tricep Push-up Jack > Child's Pose: Do tricep push-ups where you elbows go back, scrapping against your sides instead of outward. As you go down, you jack the feet out and then return them in when you push-up.
Dive Push-up > Child's Pose: This is done with arms like they would be for a tricep push-up. When you start in plank, move so you are slightly back on your feet. As you go down into the push-up position, lean forward so you are moving forward and back as you move down and up.
Lat Push-up - Alt > Child's Pose: Starting in plank, move your right arm to the right side. Do a push-up where you engage that right lat and have the right arm stay close to the body. After you push-up, walk your hands back into a center plank. Now move to the left side and repeat the move on the left. Alternate side to side.
Knee Push-up Pulse > Child's Pose: In plank on your knees, lower down into a push-up position. Maintain that position pulsing up and down slightly.
8-Count Knee > Child's Pose: Do push-ups with your knees down instead of in full plank. For each push-up, lower down for 8 counts and then push-up for 8 counts.
Low Plank Hold: Start in full plank and lower down until your chest is hovering just above the floor and elbows are going back. On cue, alternate between doing this on your knees and in pull plank.

Bottom line: This workout is hard. I Maxed Out early into the upper body intensive round at 12:32 and had to do some modifications the first time through, meaning that I did quite a few of the sections of push-ups on my knees. I am glad that this workout really challenged me. I think that getting a few rest days for the upper body, chest and shoulders especially, combined with going through this workout a second time will definitely result in better performance. In addition to tracking my Max Out time, and hoping to improve it, I also plan to track how far I can go before modifying. This was something that I did with the Tabata Strength workout, and it was great to see how I not only was able to make it all the way through the workout by the end of the month but also about to make it through without switching to modified push-ups (on the knees).

I am looking forward to the next time through this workout. It killed me the first time around. Now I can't wait to have another try at Max Out Strength!