Monthly Archives: March 2015

Monthly Goals: Didn’t Stick the Landing

You can see my March goals here. It was a relatively good month, which is kind of surprising—I don’t feel like I’ve been 100% in a long time. I was sick for a while, then had back pain, then forearm pain, and now shoulder pain. And as is my way, I’d like to report how I did here:

Weight: Goal was a 7-day average of 252.36 pounds, and this month fell short—the 7-day average is 258.214. This was skewed a bit, though. I had one of my little breakdowns at the end of the month, so the scale reading is currently probably a bit bloated.

Running: My goal was simply to build endurance up to where I could do a 5K, which I did do. In fact, my last run was 6 kilometers, and the 5K was done in 27:25, which was roughly the fastest pace I would have done a training run at the end of last year. So that’s a good sign.

Climbing: There were two cave routes that I wanted to complete, and I didn’t achieve either of them—but I don’t think I can claim that as my fault. See, I now know that the climbing gym re-sets routes pretty regularly, and while I made progress on both of them, the two routes that I wanted to complete were re-set about halfway through the month and no longer exist. Wah-wah.

Sloth walk: My goal was to go 10 rungs, and given that I wasn’t able to work on it as regularly as I would have liked, I was pretty surprised when I made it. Video proof is hopefully to come.

Job applications: I only did 4 this month, and this goal isn’t quite working overall—I’m being a bit more selective in what I’m applying for, since each application is time-consuming and soul-destroying. I did get a job interview this month, however, which is what triggered the mini-breakdown at the end of the month. Overall, though, I’m also going to stop talking about job-hunting here, as there’s some indications that the blog is being more read and I’d like my current job to not stumble across it and sack me before I have something else in place.

My next set of goals is going to be a bit different, since I’m working toward Spartan Races in early May. So these goals will cover 2 months, more or less.

Weight: The goal will be 248.214 as a 7-day average for the first race on May 9.

Running: I want to continue building endurance, both for the immediate sprints and hopefully a Super and Beast later this year. By the first race, I want to up the long training run to 10K. (Which I’ve done precisely once before.)

Obstacles: My goal has been a burpee-free run with unassisted wall climbs at the Citi Field stadium sprint. I’m not sure how feasible that is given my current status. At the stadium sprint I did last year, I needed help to get over the three walls and failed the traverse wall, rope climb, and spear throw. Based on where I am now, I think the walls and the traverse wall are likely successes, I’m not sure I’ll be able to climb the rope, and the spear throw is a crapshoot. (Is there anywhere in Chicago where you can learn to throw a spear?)

I’m also doing the Indiana (yeah, I know) sprint the week after. I don’t have specific goals for that one, since it’s my first outdoor Spartan and I don’t know how the elements will affect things. Basically, I’d like to feel good about what I did, but I can’t really define it better.

Long ride: In the couple of post-race weeks of May, there’s a long bike ride I’d like to do. It’s from my place to the south end of the Lakefront Path in Chicago, then up north to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, and then home. It’s about 50-60 miles, and it would be a nice little goal to have as an interlude between the sprints and gearing up to train for the rest of the year’s races.

Edited because I forgot two goals for this monthish period:

Climbing: There are a pair of problems that I’ve made progress on that I’m hoping to complete before they get reset. Both are graded at V2 (difficulty starts at V0 and goes up), although grading is more art than science—my last goals were a V0 and V1 respectively, and I thought those were probably both harder than these two. The routes—which won’t mean much to you, but I can hopefully describe them in an amusing way—are the one that starts with a swing and that has a tricky brain-shaped grip near the end that always trips me up, and the one that goes around the corner of the cave but never actually goes in.

Handstand: I’ve been working on a handstand, on and off, for at least a year. I can hold one pretty well against the wall when I climb my legs up, but kicking into it has been a sticking point. So I’d like to get unstuck on that this period.


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Filed under Metapost, Training

OCR Innovations—Possibly Bad Ones

The news about Red Bull’s aquatic obstacle course race got me thinking: What other new wrinkles could obstacle course racing incorporate? And so, I offer some possibilities here. I haven’t actually thought through these possibilities, so no guarantee that they’re “good” or “feasible” or “not offensive to the human spirit.” But if they can inspire an OCR designer to create something cool, then my work is a success.

The idea: OCR Pursuit

I know certain parties in OCR are quite keen to make races televised galas. The problem is that obstacle course races are fundamentally long-distance races, which aren’t generally terribly telegenic. OCR pursuit adapts the pursuit races from track cycling: Competitors begin on opposite sides of a track, each traveling the same direction, and the race ends when one person catches up to the other.

Benefits: It’s all in one place, so spectators can see everything that’s happening throughout the race. This format would play up the head-to-head aspect.

Drawbacks: First off, pursuit races generally don’t end with one competitor catching the other—they go to a predetermined distance instead. Keeping an entire OCR on an arena floor or stadium field would limit the number and variety of obstacles. It would fundamentally shift the obstacle-to-running balance that obstacle course races currently have—making it much closer to Ninja Warrior. There would be a severe limit to the number of runners who could participate.

The idea: Weight gamble

Some intrepid OCR runners like to run the course with weighted vests or other forms of weight. Why not make that a formal thing? Runners could, if they choose, run completely unencumbered, or they could add any of several amounts of weight in exchange for a time bonus. Add 10 pounds? Take 2:30 off your time. 50 pounds? Cut a cool 10 minutes. Fastest adjusted time wins.

Benefits: It offers a new challenge to train for, and rewards an accurate assessment of one’s own abilities. It may provide a path to victory for athletes whose strengths are power rather than speed.

Drawbacks: The whole system would be a bit fiddly. How exactly could race directors determine a fair time value for an extra 10 pounds on your back? There’s the possibility runners would abandon their weights mid-run.

The idea: Medley relays

Basically, an OCR that’s divided into sections—maybe Speed, Power, and Balance & Agility. Instead of a solo runner completing the course, runners form teams and each runner completes one section.

Benefits: Provides opportunities for success for more specialized athletes. Runners will be able to meet new people. New obstacle course runners may be able to have a less-intimidating entry point by being able to participate on a course that focuses on their strengths.

Drawbacks: This type of specialization goes against much of the current ethic in OCR that runners should (and for the most part want to) prepare for anything. For competitive racers, is it possible to keep the sections truly even in importance?

The idea: Weight penalties

You run a course. Fail an obstacle? Add a couple pounds to your pack (or ankle weights, or whatever). Keep it on for the whole course. Fail another obstacle? Add a couple more pounds. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Benefits: It’s a new approach to penalties, with probably a more variable impact. It would increase the amount of on-course swearing by, like, 1,200 percent.

Drawbacks: It would require a lot of equipment. Enforcement would be a challenge. Probably terrible for beginning obstacle course racers, who would probably suffer the worst effects of accumulating penalties—which could turn what should be a joyous experience into a miserable one. It would increase the amount of on-course swearing by, like, 1,200 percent.

The idea: Advancement opportunities

Many sports offer some sort of grading system that participants can advance through, even if they’re not at the elite level. For example, the age group swimming model I grew up with had A, B, and C times for each event for each sex and age group. Swim an A time, and you can go to A-level meets, B times go to B-level meets, and so on.

Benefits: It provides an institutionalized goal to reach for that is achievable for racers who aren’t going to be competing for the podium. Time ratings would provide a way to compare times at different races.

Drawbacks: Developing comparable time standards for different races would be more or less impossible. Maintaining and publicizing standards would be a burden for whoever takes it on. Probably unnecessary for grown-ups, as we should have the ability to form our own goals.

Do you have other ideas? No matter how far-fetched, they’re welcome in the comments.


Filed under Obstacle Course Racing, OCR Ideas

How Not To Do the Wall Climb

There are plenty of places online that will give you advice on how to complete various popular obstacle course race obstacles. This is not one of those places. This series of posts will teach you how to fail those popular obstacles. More specifically, this series will teach you how to fail obstacles—with style and panache. If you’re going to earn burpees, you might as well earn those burpees.

Today’s obstacle: The Wall Climb. Yep, this straightforward classic.

Wall obstacle

Well, not exactly this straightforward classic. This is from an Afghan National Army training course, but it’s the only Creative Commons wall picture I found (by russavia, via I think it’s okay, though. I’m pretty sure you know what a wall is.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to how to not do the wall climb, in style:

  1. Paint yourself bright red.
  2. Inflate yourself until you appear bulbous and friendly. You may need to relocate certain facial features, perhaps even moving your smile all the way to your groin.
  3. Position yourself to approach the wall. It would behoove you to start at least twenty feet from the wall’s base, but the specific distance is between you and your god.
  4. Run toward the wall. Surprisingly, you don’t need to run at maximum speed; a lazy shuffle should be adequate.
  5. As you come close to the wall, raise your arms.Kool-Aid Man
  6. Make impact with the wall.
  7. Break through the wall
  8. Shout, “Oh yeah!”
  9. The next step will vary somewhat with your surroundings: You may need to thwart a bank robbery, or rescue skateboarders from dehydration, or perhaps even provide an excuse for a band at a school dance to stop playing in the middle of a song. Use your best judgment; adjusting to each race’s unique conditions is the hallmark of a great obstacle course racer.
  10. Serve everyone present a “beverage” that comes from your head.

You will have to do burpees after this, and the shards of wall that you produce might impale your fellow racers’ feet, and you’ll probably needlessly contribute to backups at the obstacle, but I think we can all agree: It’s worth it.


Filed under Funny, How Not To, Obstacle Course Racing

Marketing Mockery: Twitter Superlative Edition

Today’s Marketing Mockery comes not from individual tweets, but from Twitter pages. Such as:

WreckBag is a revolutionary fitness product designed to be as tough as its users.Revolutionary? Really? I mean, it’s a sand bag. It may well be an extremely good sand bag (I seem to have seen some nice comments about it through the ether, although I haven’t used one in person), but at heart it’s a bag with some weight in it. For it to be truly revolutionary, I would set the bar around “invented gravity.”

SportSafe BodyMarker: Identify, Express & Inspire with No-Tox, Water-Proof, Body Markers for Swim Meets, Tri's, Obstacle Races, Roller DerbyAgain, quite possibly a fine product. The word “inspire” here is what gets me. I’m rarely inspired by what a competitor writes on his or her body, particularly when what he or she writes is “Eat My Bubbles.” I really hope that’s not a new fetish I need to keep up with.

Marathon to Mud Run. Changing the way athletes secure their bibs!Again, really? Potentially a good product, but I don’t feel like my bib has been secured any differently. (It also loses points for making it hard to figure out what exactly they’re selling—it turns out it’s clothes with a pocket for the number to go into, but I feel like I met them more than halfway to figure that out.)

Plus, a bonus:

What is your favorite race? With answer: I like blacks.Yeah, they probably could have predicted where that was going. Although, perhaps to Spartan’s credit, it seems like minor Twitter kerfuffles aren’t really the type of thing that bother them, and to their fans’ credit, the question hasn’t turned into an internet cesspool of internettyness. I’m a bit surprised nobody has said something like “BattleFrog.” My response (the 400 I.M.) was probably the closest, and that was a lie—the 400 I.M. is an evil swimming race devised by evil people for evil.

Previous Marketing Mockeries:
Welcome to the Dungeon
Passive Aggressive edition
Let’s Math
The First One


Filed under Funny, Spartan Race, Sunday Mockery

J’Accuse, iPhone!

Evil iPhone

iPhone image by Rayukk available under Creative Commons from Public Domain Dracula image by Nemo available from Artless combination of the two by me.

“iPhone, you are charged with knowingly and willfully misrepresenting in a fraudulent manner the distance traveled by a runner training for a race in a given period of time, thereby misleading him about his pace and inducing him to feel pride he does not deserve. How do you plead?”

“Blame Google Maps. Also, iOS 8.2 is now available for your phone. Please download it now so that you’ll be able to be constantly offered the opportunity to sync your iPhone with the Apple Watch that you don’t have but really should get for no reason other than the fact that I’m going to annoy you a lot until you do so give us your money NOOOOOWWWWWW!”

I ran today. And my phone lied to me.

The horror! What will happen next? Are you going to tell me that I shouldn’t trust Donald Trump? Please don’t; I couldn’t live if I had to recognize that everything he says is an absolute pile of crap.

Anyhow… the run went well, but according to the phone, the run went very well. 5K in 27:15, which isn’t technically impossible, but it’s not likely. I have an official 5K race time of 26:24, but that took place as the culmination of a training period, on a day with more-or-less perfect conditions and even a fellow who seemed to be a much faster runner than me using the race as an easy fun run and therefore serving as a perfect pace man for me to run at the fastest feasible rate for me.

Today’s run happened at 39 degrees, with a 17 mile-per-hour wind that was in my face for about 2/3 of it. (It wasn’t some magical wind that shifted to always be in my face; it’s just that I ran for about 30 minutes, which was long enough to go to a convenient turnaround point, with the wind in my face the whole way, but only partway home with the wind at my back, after which I walked, which I’m not including in this record.) I’ve also been running only for about three weeks this year, and this was only my second run that hit 5K this year, and the previous one was nearly 2 minutes slower. Moreover, the phone’s alert after the first kilometer gave me what seemed to be an unrealistically fast pace. Not enough to be absolutely certain, but enough that I don’t feel comfortable saying that I’m currently doing my 5Ks in 27 and change.

That’s okay, of course. I’ve documented my obsession for numbers here before, as well as my recognition that individual data points can be irrelevant outliers, and this is probably one of those cases. But even so, I can say that I had a good run, and even though the numbers are probably not completely correct, the run was still fundamentally sound from a training standpoint.

“And anyhow, what are you going to do? Switch to Android just because my GPS receiver is occasionally a bit wonky?”

“Good point. Case dismissed!”

Pound! Pound! Pound!

“Well now my screen’s cracked. Thanks, judge.”

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Filed under Funny, Running, Training

My Aspirational Driver’s License

Tomorrow is my birthday.

I’m reasonably pleased about that; there’s a small celebration with friends planned for tonight and tomorrow I’m taking the day more-or-less off, with some climbing planned in a gym that I should have mostly to myself and some pizza at my favorite place (which I haven’t had in a couple years) and other good stuff that isn’t good for the diet but is okay for the one day.

39 and holding mug

I’ll be 39 tomorrow. But actually 39, not 39 in the sense that I’m 40 but claim to be “39 and holding” because I’m horrified by round numbers. I’ll be 39 in the born-in-1976 sense. Mug available at

Tomorrow will also include a trip to the DMV. Yep, my license is expiring, and while I could technically just send off for a sticker to renew it (I’m a good boy who hasn’t had any accidents or violations in the past 4 years, because I’m awesome and maybe also because I don’t have a car), but I don’t want to.

First off, the license picture looks nothing like me. Not (just) because it’s a bad DMV picture, but because I had a scraggly long beard and scraggly long hair. (At least, scraggly for me; I normally just buzz it with clippers.) In my defense, I was growing it out for a play—I was portraying a bitter priest who had lost his faith when he died, and that was the look the writer/director wanted. But it is not a good look in general and on me in particular.

Second, the weight is, happily, grossly inaccurate.

The weight has always been grossly inaccurate. When I got the license, it was, shall we say, aspirational. Now, four years later, it’s quite a few pounds above my actual weight.

I don’t think I’m a particularly vain person, but I’d like my license to reflect who I am now, rather than who I was then.

Only that’s a lie, because I’m not going to put my actual current weight on the license. Once again, it will be aspirational. I’m just trying to figure out how aspirational. I don’t, of course, want it to be completely ludicrous (I’m not going to pass for 160), but I am also expecting to succeed at losing more weight, and I’d rather not have a weight on my license that’s much too high for most of the next 4 years.

‘Tis a quandary. I’m not certain how it shall turn out.

Hopefully the climbing will be easier.

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Filed under Climbing, Funny

Enjoying What You Do

Why am I doing this?

And by that, I mean the blog—not any of the deeper philosophical/existential questions one might want to ask.

There are a few reasons, which I’ll get to, but despite the last sentence I’d like to start with the most existentially important.

Julia Child

This is not Meryl Streep.

I recently finished the book Julie & Julia, which is about a woman (Juile’s) quest to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and along the way find meaning in her life, become famous, learn important life lessons, blah blah blah. As you may be able to tell, I didn’t love it.*

But the book did end really well. And that’s not a sarcastic, “the best part of the book was the ending because it meant that I could stop reading the damn thing” statement. I genuinely did like one of her final passages, about how joy is the foundation that nice things like confidence and good luck are built on.**

I’m in the early phases of working on a series of posts about science, information, and inspiration, the primary thrust of which is that just about everything that anyone says is utter bullshit. And even I have to admit that’s a fairly bleak sentiment. (In my defense, I will also ruminate on the remarkable coping mechanisms we humans have, so it’s not all a death march through a woodworking trade show in Atlanta in August.***) But well before I get to that, I want to make clear: I’m writing about obstacle course racing because I like it.

I mean, I’m also a writer—both professionally and in the sense that writing about things is sometimes how I process them—and I would be pretty stoked if this blog turned into a book or something else that I could earn some cash off of****, but if that doesn’t happen I won’t be too bothered. I’m a writer who doesn’t enjoy writing, mostly, but I have enjoyed writing the blog. It’s a subject I’m interested in, and there’s nobody who’s going to yell at me over some detail that ticks off some high mucky-muck, and I can write to amuse myself (and hopefully others) with absurdist flights of fancy or perpetual footnoting***** or piles of clauses that nevertheless still parse.

That first point, liking the subject, is the most important.

Jack Dee

Famous dour person Jack Dee. Twitter thinks I’m British, but I’m not. I just watch a lot of British television.

When I get dour here—and I assume I will, since it’s kind of a default setting for me in 3DNonCyberSpace—I hope that you’ll remember that I am writing the blog to celebrate obstacle course racing, not denigrate it.

It’s a joyous place, the OCR world. At least for me, so far. It’s early days, but it may even turn out that I’ve done found my tribe.******* Even if not, I’m really happy with the obstacle course races I’ve done, and I’m really excited about the ones that are coming up. And that, more than the prospect of riches that I’m sure the inspirational book I spotted that led me to start this blog******** would generate, is why I keep doing it.

So, thanks. Is that really the conclusion to the post? I guess so. But do read through the footnotes. I’m pleased with them.


* Admittedly, I wasn’t coming into the book with a clean slate. A former boss interviewed the author after her second book came out, which he described roughly as the story of how now that she was famous she decided to cheat on her husband and he decided to be okay with it since she was famous now, all while she was learning to be a butcher. He also said that the speech she made at the event prior to said interview was as self-absorbed and dull as I, erm, think I found her book to be. I’ll stop beating up on this woman’s work now, since creating things is always a far superior act to spewing forth about how terrible those things are (unless you’re Adam Sandler), but a nice complaint session does feel good once in a while.

** I don’t completely buy that Julia Child taught her that. I think we all sense something like that innately, and we also find it nigh-on impossible to keep in mind when life treats you like shit, and I think she felt the revelation more because she needed an inspiring revelation to end the book with than because of anything that she actually felt, but it’s still a nice passage.

*** Yes, I do have personal experience. Although technically, the “death march” took place before the show, rather than during it.

**** Not at all unlike Julie & Julia, which—in addition to the fact that I had placed the maximum number of ebook holds at my library and it was available for immediate checkout—was the reason I read it.

***** R.I.P. Terry Prachett******

Terry Pratchett's sword with meteorite in it

Terry Pratchett’s meteorite-infused sword, via Discworld News (

****** Hey, WordPress: How about a “Pratchett” theme that incorporates handy built-in footnoting, and is also made out of a meteorite?

******* Is “find your tribe” played out yet? I kind of hope so, but I’m not sure what phrasing will replace it.

******** I haven’t found it again, which is a bit of a bummer—I’d like to at least give the author credit.

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Filed under Funny, Metapost, Obstacle Course Racing