Monday, June 30, 2014

Spartan Beast Training Plan

It's official: Beast training starts today! Those of you who read my post from Saturday know that I was debating doing another half marathon (likely Newburyport) this fall or the Spartan Beast, a 10 - 13 mile obstacle course race. While I haven't signed up for for anything, I am leaning strongly towards the Beast. So much so that I decided it was time to sort out a training plan. 

A quick search of the Internet seemed to indicate that there aren't really any training plans out there, so I decided to make one of my own. I haven't done a Spartan Beast before, but I have participated in a number of other obstacle course races. I've taken my experiences from those races and information about the Spartan Beast from friends and put together a training plan. (Click to make bigger.)

Spartan Beast Training Plan

  • Circuit weight and body weight exercises: I recommend working all the major muscle groups and doing body weight activities when possible. Feel free to make up your own routine. I like to mix it up regularly. One of my favorite circuits goes like this. Repeat the entire circuit three times.
    • Run 5 minutes
    • 25 push-ups
    • 8 - 12 lat rows with heavy weight
    • 1 minute of weighted squats
    • 8 - 12 weighted side crunches (both sides)
    • 8 - 12 shoulder presses with heavy weights
    • 8 - 12 bicep curls with heavy weights
    • 1 minute of triceps dips
    • 30 burpees
    • 5 pull-ups
  • 40 minutes aerobics: Do an aerobic exercise of your choice. I do a traditional floor aerobics class for these days of the week. You could also do some work on a bike, in the pool, or on the elliptical. Try to keep it semi-low impact on these days to give your muscles a rest from the pounding of running.
  • 40 minutes weight class: I take a class this day. We do low weights with lots of reps. You can try doing something similar or do the circuit.
  • P90X3: The Challenge: Don't own P90X3? No worries. The Challenge is a 30 minute workout of push-ups and pull-ups. Read the moves list on my blog here, and do the workout without the DVD.
  • Shale Hill: I'm lucky enough to get to do a training weekend at this obstacle course training facility, so I've added it to the calendar. If you can't do something this exciting, I have included alternative exercises. 
  • Rest: You can also use these days for light stretching and mobility exercises. I like P90X3: Dynamix or Focus T25: Stretch.
Questions about the training plan? Leave a comment, and I'll post back.

We'll see how successful the plan is if (or when!) I do the Beast, which is scheduled for September 21. I know that I'll have to do more research about what to bring as the date gets closer. My understanding is that for mere mortals the race can take around 8 - 10 hours, so bringing proper fuel and hydration is key. More on that later if I end up committing to the race. For now, it's day one of training, and I'm off for a run!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bucket List Update and Jonno Gray 5K

I while back, I posted about the running club I had joined, the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club, and how I was going to be taking part in their race series. The series includes fourteen races from April through November. I ran the first race in the series, the Ron Hebert 8 Miler, back in April. At this point, I had been having calf problems, and had to take it easy.

My calf continued to bother me through the spring, so much so that I sat the second race of the series out. (I wanted to make sure I would be in okay shape for Ragnar.) The third and fourth races fell on days that I was working. The fifth race, was the Lake Wyola Road Race; the first race I ever ran over two years ago now. It has a brutal hill, and at this point I was sick and my calf was just starting to get better, so I volunteered at the event.

Flash forward to today and the sixth race of the SMAC series, the Jonno Gray 5K. My calf was finally heeled due to a lot of work with stretching, foam rolling, massage, and a couple pair of new sneakers. Finally, I was going to get to run.

I'll be honest, at this point, and let you know that unfortunately, I will not end up being a SMAC race series finisher and will probably not re-join the club next year. Let me explain both reasons, since I make quite the big deal about the joining the club and was very excited to do so. After attending a few of the SMAC events, I feel like I haven't really been connecting with the club members. They are an older group than me, not very active on social media, and don't seem to do a lot of meet-ups for runs (one of my main interests in joining a running club). While everyone certainly seems nice, they just aren't a group that I feel is for me.

Also, over time, I have been connecting much more with the NE Spahtens, the OCR group I'm involved with. This is a younger crowd that I seem to have more in common with. They are easy to keep in touch with as they have a huge presence on Facebook. Also, I have to admit it; I love obstacle course racing better than just running. Training for OCRs lets me use so many more areas of fitness and allows me to do all the cross training I love. The races are a blast. I like how the obstacles break up the running. I love climbing things and crawling through things and swinging from things. Obstacle course racing as emerged as my main love, and there is no one better to do it with that the Spahtens.

The other problem that is coming to the fore with the SMAC race series is the fall race dates. They are all on Saturdays. I am starting at Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science in the fall. This is a program that I have been wanting to do for years, and will definitely be my main focus over the three years of the program. I like my job in fund-raising, but I am eager to learn new skills at Simmons and transition into a job in the information science field -- I'm strongly considering focusing my time at Simmons in Systems and Information Technology. I've talked with a few systems librarians, and feel this is the sort of field that would really interest me. I am hoping that with education and internship opportunities, I can develop the skills to move my career in that direction.

As exciting as all this is (and believe me, I could not be more thrilled than I am about starting at Simmons), it looks like I will be in class Saturday morning. That means the Saturday SMAC races are out because school will take 100% precedence over my other activities. So it seems being a SMAC race series finisher is not in my future.

I am also making adjustments to the bucket list for 2014 races. When I had last checked in, I had plans to do the Hogsback Half Marathon, and wanted to train to PR at that event. I had even signed up. Turns out that race is on a Saturday. I ended up transferring my registration and am now trying to figure out what my big fall event will be. The Newburyport Half Marathon, which was a bucket list contender, is a possibility because it's on a Sunday.

I also made some adjustments to the obstacle course races on my bucket list. Of course, Tough Mudder is done. Unfortunately, I couldn't do Bone Frog Challenge because of work. I am still dying to do this race and have my eye out for the 2015 dates. I was also waiting on dates for the Spartan Super in Boston, but this race is not happening this year.

Knowing all this, and feeling like I wanted to do more races with the Spahtens, I've signed up for a couple of things. The first is a weekend in July at Shale Hill, a very highly regarded obstacle training facility up in Vermont. I'll be going up there at the end of the month for a special Spahten training weekend. We'll do a training day on the course on Saturday and then a 5K or 10K race (I signed up for the 10K for now) on Sunday. I am the most excited about this event and seriously can't wait, since I've heard so many amazing things about Shale Hill. Apparently if you can do these obstacles then you're set for Tough Mudder and Spartan. I'll also be doing a Spartan Sprint (usually around 3 - 5 miles) in August in Amesbury with the Spahtens. Despite doing many OCRs at this point, this will be my first Spartan race.

Since I've gotten so into obstacle course racing I have two contenders for my big fall goal: Newburyport Half Marathon or the Spartan Beast (a 13+ mile course on a mountain in Vermont). Both of these are events on a Sunday, so both would be possible. I will wait and see. In the meantime, I am doing lots of pull-ups, running, and burpees to prepare for Shale Hill and the Spartan Sprint. Hopefully keeping up with this sort of training will leave my options open as I consider the half versus the Beast.

For now, I am still trying to take advantage of some of the SMAC events, especially since I get to see my friends, Maddy and (super running buddy) Dave, at the events.

The Jonno Gray 5K was being held at the non-traditional time of 4:00 p.m., not ideal for the month of June, as it was 86 degrees and sunny today (thought no humidity, which was amazing). The timing is probably my only complaint about the race, which was really a fantastically fun local event. Also, the race directors were super smart and added an extra water station to account for the warm weather.

The race check in was at the Elks Club in Holyoke, which sponsors the race. The course, was a loop that took us around a reservoir. It was flat and lovely! The start of the race was around a quarter mile or so from the registration, but the course finished right in front of the club. The race was clock timed only, which ended up adding a bit of time to my course time since I started far from the front, I'm sure. (Note: As of posting, race results are not yet online, so I don't know my official time.) Because it was warm, and I am rather slow as a runner, I started out towards the middle to back of the pack. This ended up being a good location because I didn't have to pass too many people and didn't have lots of people passing me either.

After some brief announcements, we were off, following the official race timer on the truck. The course was on gravel paths, which were nice and soft underfoot. The course was very flat and the area around was completely lovely!

I will admit, I got a little caught up in the scenery and started out a bit fast and had to pull myself back a little. Either way, the first mile went quickly. At this point I wasn't too hot yet, and was feeling good. I make a quick stop to get some water at the water stop because of the heat, took a quick gulp, and kept going.

During the second mile, I really started to feel the heat. My body was warmed up completely at this point, and we were running in the sun. I kept myself focused and motivated and sang tunes in my head. I knew I only had a mile to go until the next water stop. "You can run for just a mile. Easy." I told myself. This strategy worked, and soon the second water stop was in sight. I stopped for a quick swig of water and then poured the rest over my head as I jogged off.

I was hot and getting tired, but I only had one mile to go. I kept thinking about how nice the course would be on a perfect day -- it's an excellent PR course. I admit that at this point I started to speed up again. I was in a brief wooded area, and the shade felt great. However, next thing I knew, only a half mile out, I was back in the hot sun and feeling terrible. I pushed on. I did not want to walk at all on this easy course. I kept trying to think positive. "This will not kill you. Did anyone ever die from working hard?"

I had about three minutes to go, when I felt really dizzy. I gave in. I slowed to a walk. This may have lasted for a few second before I started up again, but it certainly felt like a failure. This was what I had not wanted to do and my body has overridden what I knew in my mind I could do. I reasserted my focus and turned the corner. I was feeling rough and the course had taken a slight incline, but I could see the purple balloons on the finish line.

I began to count down the seconds until the end of the run. I went as hard as I could towards the finish.

I crossed the line with my watch reading 31:20 (and 3.15 miles) with an average pace of 9:55. Definitely a weak 5K time for me (compared to, say, the last 5K I really raced with a good calf, Gives a Hoot back in October where I did 29:27). This was a good lesson in how having good pacing is so important. Really my pace was all over the place. I started too fast, then went too slow, then too fast again. It's was also a good reminder about how the heat can really have any impact on your time. I don't think that is 100% of the problem -- like I said, my pacing was an issue -- but the weather certainly made things difficult. This also reminded me about how I do a bit better at OCRs than at road racing. The last OCR I did, Merrill, I finished in the top half of my age group without really racing. At today's 5K, I am sure, like in past races, that I will be more towards the bottom. This is fine; I am not a fast runner. But I am pretty good at pulling myself up and over things!

At the finish line, I took a few moments to collect myself and reorient. I grabbed an ice pop and got some fluid and sugars in me. The Elks Club had a standing sprinkler where Dave and I refreshed ourselves.

The club offered an impressive post-race buffet of hamburgers, salads, and snacks. I couldn't stomach a burger at that point, so I opted for a glass of lemonade, a slice of watermelon, and a chocolate and peanut bar. Perfect!

I definitely want to go back to re-run this course in cooler weather. I would love to do a time trail for myself on this course and see how I do. I've been trying to do more speed training, and if I focus more on my pacing, I would love to see if I could really improve and run a good time when weather is not a factor. That might be a fun challenge for a cool morning later this summer. Either way, it's always nice to get out an run. My next event is the training weekend at Shale Hill. I can't wait! Time to keep training.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Merrell Down & Dirty

Today I was up at the bright and early hour of 5:30 a.m. to go run in the 7:00 a.m. 10K wave of Merrell Down & Dirty obstacle race at Riverside Park in Hartford. I had gotten a great deal on this race through LivingSocial, the course was a 10 minute drive from my father and step-mom's house, and I was going to get to connect with some of my friends in the NE Spahtens. For these reasons alone I signed up. The race was also a great chance to decompress from a very busy time at work. I knew that Down & Dirty is kind of an introductory obstacle course race, so I wouldn't have to do much training. I could just go out and have a fun day. And that is exactly what happened.

My dad very nicely drove me over to the race. Parking was about a five or ten minute walk from the venue site. It was a bit of a haul, and you had to cross the highway, but I didn't find it to be a problem. I was just glad that we didn't have to take a shuttle from the parking lot to the venue (i.e. like at Amesbury). Also, parking was a great deal at only $5 versus the $10 to $15 prices you can see at other obstacle course races. For example, parking at Tough Mudder this year was $10 if you got it in advance or $15 if you got it day-of. 

Merrell Down & Dirty really won points all around for being very affordable. Spectators were free (versus $30 or so at other events like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race) and there was no charge for checking a bag (versus $10 at other races). This meant that Down & Dirty attracted a lot of family and guests, and had more of a family-friendly vibe than a lot of other races I've been to. I know that some of the Spahtens brought their kids along for the kids races later in the day. You could have Down & Dirty be an event for the entire family.

When I arrived at the registration tent things moved very quickly. I had my waver filled out and was instantly given my bib number, swag bag, and participant t-shirt. The volunteers here, and everyone I dealt with throughout the day, were great. I was able to get my bib and get my bag checked in around ten minutes. I did a quick check of the course map and headed to the starting corral. I lined up with a pair of ladies wearing Spahten drill shirts and introduced myself. I planned to start running with them.

After a bit of short announcements and fan fair the corrals starting being released and we moved towards the starting line. At around 7:10 or so it was our turn. With the sounding of an air horn, we were off.

The 10K (6.2 mile) course began by taking us up a very short hill, more like an embankment. The course overall was very very flat as it went along the Connecticut River. This was one of only a few time we headed up and down the embankment to add some "hills" into the run. The second set of "hills" was at around the half-way point of the race were we went up and down the embankment three times. Either way, it was a very short hill and took around a a minute or less to climb. This was true later in the course as well.

The obstacles were spread fairly evenly throughout the course. There were twenty obstacles in total. The overall difficulty level was not high -- as I said before this is a very approachable beginner-friendly race. The 10K distance was not too long feeling and not too short. I think that the 5K would have felt a little too easy for me. This was overall a fun race. Because the obstacles were fairly quick to do, most of the time was spent trail running through the woods along the Connecticut River. The trails were very well marked and you could run along at a fairly good clip. I ran into one of our Tough Mudder teammates, Ben, at the third obstacle on the course and ran with him for about three miles until which point I could tell his running pace was faster than mine, so I told him I'd meet him at the finish line. It was great to see a friendly face on the course!

Here is a list of all the obstacles with descriptions and my notes about the experience with each. I have them in the order that we see them on the map; not that we encountered them on the course. (The last mile or so had the obstacles in a slightly different order on the course than on the map.) Since I don't have many images, I am including some from the Down & Dirty website.

  • Mud pit: Standard pit filled with muddy water. You have to get low and slide under flags. Most other obstacle course races would have you going under barbed wire, so this was a bit easier. It was around 7:10 a.m., when we did this one, so the water was a bit chilly, but the mud was very smooth and not too rocky. No cuts on the limbs from this obstacle.
  • Low Crawl: Crawl through a pool of water underneath a cargo net. I've actually never seen a net paired with a water obstacle, so this was kind of neat. The traverse was short and the net was not heavy, so it was easy enough to get through.

  • Give Me 20: Drop down and do 20 push-ups. They even had a nice mat for us to do them on. I cranked out 20 push-ups in full plank and continued on my way in a snap. Not very exciting -- I would give this "obstacle" my lowest ranking since I basically do push-ups every other day during my workouts.
  • Marine Hurdles: These were five foot high hurdles. I have not seen hurdles at this height, and they were great for someone my size. I was able to jump and pull myself up and over without too much difficulty.

  • Military Walls: These were your classic OCR walls with a-frame support but shorter. They were probably also five feet, like the hurdles, but in this case you had a wall to support you (instead of just a hurdle). These shorter walls is an example of how Down & Dirty is beginner friendly, as pretty much anyone should be able to get over a wall this height. I was able to jump the three of them without much trouble; the same as the Marine Hurdles.
  • Cargo Climb: Climb up a cargo net, then over a hurdle and then down the net at the other side. The hurdle at the top was open, so this wasn't too bad. As with all the cargo nets, the rope was a bit wet and muddy meaning that things were slippery and you had to be careful.

  • Balance Beams: For this obstacle we had to get up on a beam that must have been around three or four feet in the air. We walked that beam, got on a higher one, and then stepped down to a third lower beam. When I got to the balance beams the volunteer at the obstacle told me that I had picked one with a slightly wobbly high beam in the middle. I decided to stick with it, and he was definitely correct. The middle beam was wobbling a lot, and I almost fell off at one point.
  • Monkey Cross: This was a very interesting obstacle! We had to step from strap to strap grabbing ropes above our head. I was running with Ben at this point, and it was a good thing because I was way to short to reach the ropes overhead. Ben brought them down for me, so I could do the obstacle. Thanks, Ben! I literally could not have done it without you.

  • Tires: Tires on the ground, some stacked two high. The double height ones meant I had to go a bit slowly. I kind of wish they were all short so I could have run through agility style like I did at Fitathlon.
  • Jim's Jungle Gym: This was a new obstacle for Down & Dirty and a lot of fun. We had to climb up on a pipe with foot holds and then climb down a cargo net. Again, we had to remember "slippery when wet." I actually found that my road running sneakers, which are usually terrible for OCRs, where great on this obstacle and I had less trouble than others.

  • Ladder Wall: Climb a giant wall made of rungs like a large ladder. Not too challenging here.
  • Tunnels & Original Hurdles: The tunnels were like those plastic tubes you might have played in as a child. These were followed by a couple of short walls.
  • Sand Bag Haul: For this the women had to carry a 50 pound sand bag up and back a length of the course. The distance we had to go was very short, and I was happy because that is a lot of weight. I think that a photographer took my picture at this point, and I can't imagine it will come out very flattering. I was getting slightly tired at this point. I was congested and just getting over a cold, and I had been running faster to keep up with Ben, whose company I left at the last obstacle so we could go at our own paces. I needed to recover a bit, so walking with a heavy weight was at least not running.
  • Colossus Climb: We climbed net along the back a giant inflatable slide and then slid down the front. This slide was fast, and I flew down. There was nothing at the bottom, so I kind of tumbled off. I wish that there had been more of a flat bit at the bottom so I could have landed on the inflatable bits. I flailed around quite a bit to keep from hitting the ground hard.

  • Heavy Hoist: For this obstacle we had to hoist a 20 pound (for women) bag up on a pulley and then lower it. The weight certainly feels a bit heavier on the pulley, but this was still a snap.

  • Water Crossing: There was a pool of water. We walked in and then out.
  • Monster Climb: This was one of the more exciting obstacles, and I was able to get a nice picture of it on the way out. We had to climb up a cargo net, roll over a net, climb again, roll again, climb down, roll, and climb down again. The structure they built for this obstacle was impressive looking, and it was neat to get up so high.

  • Rock Wall: Let's do some bouldering! For this obstacle we used climbing wall techniques to climb the wall and then got to use stairs on the backside. The hand and foot holds were we, so even through I've done rock wall climbing a few times, this was hard. I actually had a foot slip out and was holding myself just by my arms at one point. Here's a picture that I took to give you an idea.

  • Slippery Mountain: Using just your arms and lying on your belly, you had to pull yourself up and inclined wall. The wall was, as the name of the obstacle suggests, slippery with soap. I was able to get a good grip on the rope, and the wall was mercifully short, so things worked okay for me here.

  • Mud Pit: The final obstacle actually took place after you ran across the line that scored your timing but still before the finish line. It was a giant pit of mud that you had to crawl through keeping low and under the flags.
To reiterate, the obstacles were not terribly difficult, but they were well-executed (by which I mean they had good build quality). There were many volunteers all along the course who were always ready to help on any obstacle were people were having difficulty. Because of my short stature, I was offered help a few times, but was able to manage myself. The obstacles were fun and quickly tackled. All in all, an entertaining time. 

I finished the six mile course in 1:21:12. This time was faster than I was anticipating. I run a 10K road race in around an hour. I anticipated taking a lot longer on this course considering that it was on trails and I would have to stop for all the obstacles. Also, I was doing this as a fun race and wasn't running hard to beat a target time. For example, I walked the water stations and Ben and I walked some of the ups and downs because of an injury he has. Even with all this and stopping for a dozen and a half obstacles my course time wasn't very long. This speaks to the speed at which you can do the obstacles, which are not complex. The top finishers were doing the course in 45 minutes or so.

After finishing, I ran into more of the Spahtens, Ragnar teammates, Wes and Andrew. It was great to see them and to get to run with Ben. We chatted for a bit, and then I went to hose down and change. After that, I wandered the festival area getting some samples and looking for my dad. Down & Dirty provided a food goodie bag with some nice snacks (mini larabar, mini orange, and trail mix) and a bottle of water. I am not much of a beer drinker and it was still before 8:30 a.m., so I was glad for the food and beverage provided instead of the normal beer-fare.

I had finished earlier than anticipated, so I missed my dad and step-mom at the finish line. The festival area was crowded, but I finally ran into them.

I was glad that they had some time to look around because I think I will be able to convince them to try this race next year. Dad and Lisa always think I'm crazy when they hear about the stuff at Tough Mudder, but Down & Dirty is a more friendly experience and one that they seem interested in doing. It could be described as a gateway OCR.

I got some fun swag from the race: a tech t-shirt, a dog tag medal, and a hair wrap. The medal is kind of fun and different looking. 

While Down & Dirty won't go down at the most epic race I've done, it was a fun time. I got to enjoy a hobby of mine, on a great day, for a very reasonable price, at a good location, and with people I like. I'm 50/50 if I might do this race again, mostly since the obstacles were a little underwhelming. I would probably do it again if my family wanted to and if I could get a good deal. After all, not everything has to be the hardest challenge in order to be a good day. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Tough Mudder New England 2014

Yesterday, for the second year in a row, I took part in Tough Mudder's New England race at Mount Snow ski resort in Vermont. After watching last year, Seth decided to take part and have this 10 mile trek with almost 3,500 feet of elevation be his first OCR (obstacle course race). As a bonus, I signed us up with the awesome NE Spahtens, the obstacle course racing group that I had joined for Ragnar.

When we arrived at Tough Mudder, I could instantly see that things were just as organized as last year -- maybe even more so. Check-in was a breeze, taking less than five minutes. The lines were short and the volunteers were very organized. This year, for the first time, they allowed you could check-in using a QR code on your iPhone -- so much easier than having to print registration forms. We snagged our bibs and bracelet (for your wrist to ID your number in case you lose your bib during the event.) I even paid for parking ahead of time online and just got my phone scanned. Fantastic.

After check-in we heading into base camp, the main area with sponsor tents, the merch tent, and bag check.

Tough Mudder moved the markers for writing your number on your face and arm/leg from check-in into the base camp area this year. Great idea because it removed some of the bottle necking at registration. I marked Seth's face, we put on sunscreen, and checked our bag. We were ready to go!

Seth and I arrived at Mount Snow slightly late for our 9:20 a.m. heat. Though check-in was a breeze, we missed our wave and ended up with the 9:40 a.m. group. Fortunately, Spahtens abounded, easily identifiable in their team shirts. I found a group and went up to introduce myself. (My Ragnar friends had done Tough Mudder on Saturday, so I missed them.) The group of around a dozen Spahtens that were at the race were instantly welcoming and told us to join them. They were decked out in pirate gear along with their team gear and had plans to take a pirate flag all the way through the course.

Together, we headed to the starting chute. There, we had to climb a medium-height wall to get into the chute. Seth, who was worried about the wall, was happy to nail this one. He arrived at the starting line feeling confident.

As always, there was a pep talk prior to the race. Tough Mudder is all about supporting the military. As a result, the focus of the race is on camaraderie and teamwork -- not course time. The event, which is more of a challenge than a race, is not even timed. Last year, the pep talk seemed very very long, but this year things were a bit quicker. After about ten minutes and some group cheering, we were off! Seth and I tracked after the pirate flag.

As always, the most challenging aspect of Tough Mudder New England is the elevation changes. There are around five significant climbs and descents on the course. Going up is a cardio challenge; coming down is rough on the joints, quads, and feet as they all get a pounding. In either direction, your muscles are working.

The obstacles at Tough Mudder in general, to me, seem to be more about grit and facing your fears. They do have some obstacles that require strength and many that require team work, but lots of the obstacles don't have much of a physical factor. You just have to be fearless. To me, the truly brave people who make the most out of Tough Mudder are those who tackle those obstacles despite their fears. As for me, I just encounter an obstacle and think, "Cool -- let's go!" For some reason, I am really quite fearless -- lucky I guess.

I know some people remark that the obstacles at Tough Mudder are not the hardest. I think that's fine. The race is more about fun and teamwork. You can challenge yourself with obstacles that you fear as much as you want. Sure jumping from a high plank into water isn't hard, but it takes grit. Tough Mudder tests your mental muscle here more than the physical one. Plus, the course is tough enough to get in your hard work.

The course this year featured 16 obstacles or 19 if you were a Legionnaire. This year, Tough Mudder started a program called, the Legionnaires, which rewards repeat attendees. For those Legionnaires who were "multi-Mudders" there was an extra loop with three bonus obstacles. There was also a bonus headband (what you get at Tough Mudder instead of a medal). Legionnaires get headbands with colors that correspond to how many events they've done: 2x = green, 3x = blue, 4 - 6x = yellow, 7 - 9x = pink, 10x or more = black. This was my second Tough Mudder so I got to experience the Legionnaries' Loop and got a bonus green headband.

As always, the obstacles were a mix of physical and mental challenges. There were a few new obstacles at the race this year. Here's a write-up of all the obstacles in order they are on the map above. (The course was slightly different than the map, so they must have reworked the obstacles at the last minute.)

  • Kiss of Mud: Your standard crawl through mud under barbed wire. As a bonus, the crawl was uphill this year. This obstacle is found at every OCR I can think of, and its never my favorite. I always get scratched up on the rocks. (Seth got scratched up terribly.) For me, this isn't too challenging. One of the advantages to being small is that I'm easily able to get under the wire and shimmy along.
  • Glory Blades: Walls pitched forward at a 45-degree angle towards you. Climb up the front and slide down the back. I like Glory Blades. They were the first obstacle I tackled at Tough Mudder 2013, and they are a fun one. Like with most of my wall climbs, I hoist myself up using the a-frame that supports the wall, then push myself up with my hands and vault over. The Glory Blades have a bonus, which is that you can slide down the back like a slide. Teamwork can help here too. The Spahtens were boosting up anyone who needed it and helping them over the wall.
  • Funky Monkey: Two set of monkey bars; one on an incline and one on a decline. These are over water. If you slip, you go into the water. Here was an obstacle where I wanted redemption! This was midway through the course in 2013, and my wet hands could not get purchase on the slick bars. Fortunately, this year, I got to Funky Monkey before I was wet. I was determined to get over. This is one of the obstacles that requires grip strength and some technique. You really have to have momentum to swing yourself upwards on the first set. You have to be able to not let momentum overtake you and fling you off the bars on the downwards set. I was very satisfied with I made it all the way across the two set of bars -- success! My teammates were very nice and congratulated me warmly.
  • Balls to the Wall: A rope climb up a tall wall and down the other side. There were foot hold on the wall and knots in the rope, which is a big help if you are not someone who is able to practice rope climbs regularly. Some strength was required, but in general, this was easier than I anticipated. The hardest part was getting up high enough to get my shorts legs over the wall.
  • Muddersection: Honestly, I cannot keep all the mud obstacles straight. I would definitely say that there were too many in this course. I would not be able to even pick the mud obstacles out, and they weren't very memorable. I am sure this was what the rest were: getting into some deep mud and wadding your way through. The course, overall, was very muddy due to a lot of rain over the past week. This made the mud obstacles not seem like obstacles at all.
  • Arctic Enema: Jump into a dumpster filled with ice water -- 34 degrees on average. Completely submerge yourself under a plank before coming out the other side and getting out of that water as fast as possible! I would have to say that this is probably the one obstacle that I am legitimately afraid of. I dread it. I truly fear the cold. Jumping into water floating with ice is a painful experience for me, and it takes me ages to warm up after. When I get into the water, my entire body locks up, and I truly almost panic. After diving under the board, I can feel myself go into survival mode. I hate this obstacle, but I am always glad that I had the grit to get myself through.
  • Walk the Plank: Jump from a platform 15 feet in the air into the water below. This is one of those obstacles that falls under the category of grit versus strength / ability. After all, all you need to be able to do this obstacle is fall and swim. Last year they had this obstacle at one of the ponds at the top of the mountain, which was wonderful -- the water felt so refreshing and almost clean. This year, likely in order to have increased safety, this obstacle as a the bottom of the mountain and you jumped into a large pit of water they created. This obstacle always seems fine to me; however, in the moments when I am falling before I hit the water it suddenly seems like a long fall. You certainly go deep into the water. I've done an obstacle like this at most of the OCRs I've done and always think, "Geez. Why am I still swimming to the surface."
  • Quagmire: Um, another mud obstacle. Seriously, let's quit it with the big pits of mud and get some other types of obstacles here. There was mud all along the mountain as we hiked up and down -- it was often slick and I was slipping around in my shoes. I use old New Balance Minimus road running sneakers for my OCRs, and they are terrible OCR shoes. No tread. Still they are old and beat-up. It almost seems crazy to invest in shoes for OCR that I am going to destroy the first time I use them, and yet at some point I'm sure I'll give in because the going is tough when you're on the mountain in road shoes.
  • Devil's Beard: Navigate your way under a gigantic cargo net. Team work saved the day with this obstacle. Our team of a dozen all created a row and lifted the net. The person in the back then worked his way front while the rest of the team held the net and took the net at the front. We did this sort of pass all the way through the obstacle. No problem.
  • Berlin Walls: 12 foot walls to climb. Two back to back. Some how, I now can't imagine how, I made it over one of these walls by myself lasts year. It's so much better with a team. Honestly, the walls are tough for me, since I'm almost too short to reach where I need to to pull myself up. The men on our team did a great job boosting us all over. Awesome job guys, and thank you!
  • Lumberjacked: Three set of log hurdles around six feet off the ground. I love this one. It's fun to grapple your way over the logs. They are well supported with an easy to climb a-frame. If your tall you can run, jump, grab the top, and vault yourself over. If you're short, the climb up the a-frame and over is a breeze and can be done super quickly. I showed Seth my technique for this obstacle, and he was also successful.
  • Pole Dancer: Parallel bars going up and down. These are usually situated over water, but at the New England event they were just over a pile of sawdust. Lame. If you did these like they do at the Olympics with straight arms the entire way, that would be pretty epic. For mere mortals, there is the option to put your legs on the bars to assist you as you go across. I was looking forward to this obstacle and wish that they had made it more exciting with the added element of doing it over water.
  • Pyramid Scheme: A new obstacle for 2014 and likely the most challenging on the course. Team work is a must here. This obstacle requires you to create a human pyramid along a slippery inclined wall and boost your teammates to the top. Some people are the bottom of the pyramid for standing on and others hang out at the top to grab people as they come up. My job was to hold onto one of my teammate's ankles as he grabbed people and brought them up the wall. We had to work together a lot of this one. The Spahtens were organized and nailed it. I was so pleased to be part of such a great group of athletes.
  • Pitfall: Another mud obstacle. Need I say more.
  • Warrior Carry: Carry a team member for a set distance; switch and have them carry you. This is largely a symbolic "obstacle" and ties into the Tough Mudder's charity, the Wounded Warrior Project. We had an odd number of people in our group, so two of the women and I created a group of three and did a two person carry.
  • Legionnaires' Loop: The special obstacles for repeat Mudders. The Legionnaires' Loop featured two obstacles. The first were Over and Unders. You climbed a wall and then did a short barbed wire crawl. There were three walls of increasing height and two crawls. The walls were all fairly short, the tallest maybe being as high as the wall at the starting chute. Fun enough but not very special. Before the next obstacle there was a fake Electroshock Therapy for ha-ha's I guess. Odd. The second Legionnaires obstacle was a log carry with a tube crawl. You had to carry the log down a very short hill and then climb up the hill in a tube with your log. A lot of people have reported they found doing the tube crawl uphill to be a challenge, and certainly the man in front of me was having a hard time of it. Fortunately, I am so small that I can crawl on hands and knees in the tubes instead of just having to pull myself up by my arms. As a result, I did not find this that difficult.
  • Fire In Your Hole: At the end of the Legionnaires' Loop is a special prize obstacle for repeat Mudders. This obstacle is a nearly vertical water slide. At the bottom is some fire (for effect) before you crash into a pool of water. Can you say fun! This obstacle was a blast. There are marker next to the pool at the bottom to indicate how far you fly at the end of the side. Rumor has it I flew far. I certainly hit the water going at a good clip. You don't really notice the fire except maybe to briefly smell it as you fly by, but it sure does look cool.
  • Electroshock Therapy: Run through a field of live wires as you dodge hay bales and sinkholes. Don't get your feet caught in the water and mud. I had actually skipped this obstacle last year (because being shocked seems kind of crazy) and then regretted not doing 100% of the course. So this year I did it. Unpleasant? Sure. Did the shocks hurt? Yes. But honestly it was not as bad as I thought. Things stung badly, but when it was over, in about 15 seconds, it was over. No residual pain like Artic Enema. And then onto the finish line!

While the course was fun, I would definitely say there were some long stretches between obstacles. Lots of the Tough Mudder was hiking, followed by more hiking, followed by more hiking up and down the mountain. I definitely think there could have been a much higher concentration of obstacles.

I would also have loved to see some slightly more complex obstacles on the Legionnaires' Loop. Overs and Unders are find, but not that exciting. True, Fire In Your Hole kind of made up for it. I wouldn't call it an obstacle per say -- it was more of a very fun reward. What a blast! As a bonus, I'm sure it's making for some excellent pictures.

Probably the best part of the day was getting to run with Seth and meet some amazing new Spahtens. I definitely think that running with the team helped Seth on his first OCR experience.

All in all, a great day. The weather couldn't have been better. The event was fun. I met some great new people. I can't wait until my next few events with the Spahtens and more OCR fun!