Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Schmidt/Fat Boy Big Wall Fitness and OCR Pain Index

Pain is tough to quantify. It doesn’t, after all, come in convenient gallons or pounds or seconds or centipawns. Instead, measuring pain relies upon more qualitative pain scales.

The best of these, almost undoubtedly, is the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, developed by entomologist Justin Schmidt to rate the relative pain levels of insect stings.

What sets it apart from other ranking systems isn’t its method (although it does go from 1 to 4, instead of the more standard-number-of-finger-friendly 1 to 10), but its sense of style. In addition to simply rating the pain of various insect stings, he’s described them with the flowery prose of a connoisseur. The yellowjacket (2.0) is “Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W.C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.” The bald-faced hornet—also 2.0—is “Rich, hearty, slightly crunch. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.” They’re all like that, and all delightful; you should go read them. Then come back, because:

We need that for the OCR world.

I mean, after a workout, my friends or the trainer will often ask how I’m feeling. How am I supposed to respond? I’m always in pain, but exactly how much did that race or workout hurt? With this index, I can finally tell you accurately.

In honor of Dr. Schmidt, it goes from 1 to 4, and also in honor of him, the descriptions are what make it worth having. And because I am desperate for fame, I’ve added myself to the title of the pain index.

1.0 Barely noticeable; possibly even pleasant, like the caress of a loved one. Like dropping an Atlas Stone on the foot of a relative you don’t like.

1.2 Trivial and laughable. A stranger at a race has told you that they don’t like your shoes, and you pretend to care, but it doesn’t work out.

1.6 Worthy. As if you’ve spent the day helping move your gym’s weights and equipment to a new location, but as a reward you now get to use the much bigger, brighter gym whenever you want.

Kim Kardashian's ass.

Like this, but completely non-functional. There’s a reason beds aren’t shaped like this.

2.0 Dull but persistent ache. As if you’ve slept for a night on a life-sized model of Kim Kardashian made of Corian.

2.4 Painful. Almost as if you’re in pain of some sort. This hurts, because it’s painful.

2.8 Burny and flesh-melty, as if you slid down a rope you just climbed but discovered on the way down that it had somehow been replaced by barbed wire.

3.0 Sharply intense, with a lingering sting. Imagine you have said something like “Pain is just weakness leaving the body,” while nodding sagaciously as if you’ve just said something wise. This is the level of pain your face will feel after I punch it.

3.3 Aggressively unpleasant. As if you’ve just watched the Adam Sandler movie That’s My Boy with Caligula, and as the end credits roll, he insists upon seeing it again. Sure, he’s not eating your testicles or killing your family with elephants, but it’s still not acceptable.

3.7 Splitting, much like your femur after trying to elegantly slide down a muddy, 1,400-foot hill but tripping over a tree root three steps in and then doing 674 somersaults on the way down and hitting no less than 87 rocks that are at least one foot in diameter.

4.0 Simultaneously crushing and throbbing. Like attempting to hold a coherent conversation about politics with Mike Tyson today while being beaten by Mike Tyson in 1988, after having eaten a breakfast of pancakes with napalm syrup and a side of twelve pounds of bacon.


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How Fitness Has (and Hasn’t) Changed Me

I’ve been pondering for a while What It All Means—Life, the Universe, your Preferred Flavor of Pie, and all sorts of other SEO-friendly terms—before applying that to my OCR experience, and fitness in general. I’m dating this back about four years, when I got serious about working out—or at least, when I started going to my gym, which made working out a thing that I did regularly. (There may well be a difference: While I do genuinely enjoy working out, I often don’t enjoy it while in the midst of a workout, and it’s entirely possible that had I not discovered how well the group fitness approach works for me that I wouldn’t have stuck with it, the way I hadn’t stuck with it for all the rest of my life.)

So how have I changed, or not? Well…

  1. I’m in better shape. At least, by any objective measure I am. Unfortunately, by my brain I’m exactly as fat and weak and incapable as I always was. I’m weirdly number obsessed in part because I know how much my brain lies to me.
  2. Don't make me get nonviolent on your ass T-shirt

    Also this T-shirt, although I probably would have bought it anyhow—a friend designed it. (It’s available on Zazzle! –

    I now own stuff. I don’t think it’s crazy excessive—owning gear to me is a means rather than an end—but I am amassing something of a collection. There’s a few different types of shoes (running, cross-training, OCR shoes with traction, and climbing), the compression shirt and shorts for muddy races, the chalk bag for climbing, the boxing gloves and wraps for the once-weekly boxing class, and the foam roller that I really don’t like all that much. That’s only a short paragraph’s worth. And there’s only one piece of each (except for the boxing wraps—I bought two, thinking that each package only had one hand’s worth, rather than two). So it’s not Hoarders-type stuff. Still, it’s not something I would have expected.

  3. I tolerate running’s existence. In fact, I frequently do it intentionally. I like that I’m able do it a bit, although I don’t necessarily enjoy the act. I definitely never would have done so beforehand.
  4. I’m more judgmental. Not in the sense of, “Hey, look at that really slow runner! Look at how pathetic that is!” because that’s really assholish and also (as noted above) I still am that really slow runner. But there are some things that I do judge. Like, a few weeks ago I saw a fellow in the park. There is a pull-up bar set-up, with four different bars at different heights arranged in a box shape. He wasn’t using them for pull-ups, though; instead, he was on top of the bars, doing decline push-ups with his feet on one bar and hands on the bar opposite. So he wasn’t in terrible shape to be able to get up there. But his form was just so terrible—back arched like half a McDonald’s sign, with his navel below the low bar (and that’s while his arms were straight). So I don’t think he was really trying to work out; he’d have done way better just doing decline push-ups on a park bench. He was trying to look cool. And I deem him to have failed. The OCR world has a lot of social media equivalent of this kind of thing, which is why I’m not as active on those kind of groups as I’d like to be.
  5. I periodically get groped. Not by strangers—that would be absurd and creepy—but by friends—which is still absurd and creepy. But I do have some noticeable chest muscle, at least to the touch, and that’s the part that they’re groping, so I guess it’s meant well. Right?
  6. I know, in an informed way, that I’m not going to be a personal trainer. To explain: there are several people who go to my gym who have decided to get certified and become trainers themselves. (That speaks well to the quality of the gym, which is something that I do need to write about at some point.) I’ve considered it myself. The trouble is, I’d never be better than an adequate trainer. After getting the necessary preparation, I’d probably be fine at the the making-up-workouts part, and the anatomy part, and things like that. But I’d be disastrous at the more psychological elements of the job. I mean, I have a hard time even saying things like “Good Job” to people after a hard workout—it always sounds sarcastic to me, even though I mean it in the nice way. Encouraging people professionally? Yikes!
  7. I’m not really happier, although I’m also not unhappier in the way that I should be. How do I explain that? Well… I’ve heard (from no less an authority than Stephen Fry on QI, even) that it’s possible that the best medicine for depression is a workout. My experience is a bit more nuanced than that, though—more like, working out regularly takes a bit of the edge off of some of my problems, making things maybe 10% more manageable. That’s definitely not nothing—when you’re accustomed to having a 100-pound Rottweiler stuck to your shoulders, you will get more done when it’s replaced by a 90-pound Bernese Mountain Dog. But it isn’t a panacea. Meanwhile: several years ago (2009, to be exact), I lost—let’s just say, a lot in my life. Much more than I realized I had, in fact. And much of it has been extremely hard, and demoralizing, to replace or recover. So I’ve not been in a great state. Fitness and OCR hasn’t fully replaced all of that. I’m not complaining—they shouldn’t, and frankly they’ve done way more good than I had any right to expect. But there’s a bigger drag factor holding me down than there was. Enjoying my workouts probably… well, I shudder to think what would happen without them.
  8. To end on a lighter note: sometimes I run without my shirt on. Only around my neighborhood, where I’m pretty much anonymous, and not anywhere where it might get documented, because—see the middle part of point 1 above. But I do enjoy the feeling of not chafing.

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The Urban OCR Racer’s Lament

Let me start out this post by saying that I kind of regret it in advance. It’s a complaint, and complaining is often a way to avoid doing what ought to be done.*

On the other hand, the one thing I’ve learned from my mother’s Christmas/Tea Party recruitment letters (yes, the two are the same thing) is how important it is to always present oneself as a member of the most cruelly victimized group in all of society’s history. So while there are many wonderful things about living in a large city, let me instead offer my OCR-related complaints.

Because there are many unique challenges that urban OCR racers face that our rural brothers and sisters never do:

  1. Obstacle training. Based on what the internet tells me, everyone who lives outside of major cities has replicas of OCR obstacles in their backyards, and parks, and schools, and street corners, and local libraries. But Chicago doesn’t do that. And I can’t build obstacles in my backyard, since I live in an apartment and don’t have one. How do you train on obstacles you can’t touch? You can’t just go up to Evanston and try to scale the concrete fences surrounding all of the rich people’s estates—they have large, nasty dogs. The spear throw is particularly vexing. Have you ever tried practicing throwing a spear in a crowded Chicago park? That’s especially frowned upon, unless it’s frequented by families where the parents don’t particularly like their kids.
  2. Trail running. How do you practice running on muddy, irregular forest paths in a world of perpetual pavement?
    Ice skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park

    It’s so ribbony… and yet with a smack of ice.

    Every place that I could possibly run has friction of some sort, which hasn’t yet happened in one of the outdoor OCRs I’ve done. I suppose maybe I could break into a skating rink and try running there. And there is a new outdoor one downtown, but it’s primarily open in the winter.

  3. Hill running. I live about 18 miles from the nearest hill, so it’s pretty tough to practice my hill sprints. (Okay, so maybe this isn’t strictly an urban vs. rural issue, but self-centeredness is awesome for the internet, so I’m going to go with it and say that every city is pancake-flat.)
  4. Race access. Nearly all OCRs are in rural areas, at least an hour outside of a major city. While all rural areas are within twelve feet of each other (right? I think that’s how geography works) it takes a hugely long time for people to drive from the city to the rural. Moreover: while it may be surprising to many folks, I don’t own a car. For many situations in Chicago, a car is a stupid and unnecessary expense—but that means that I need to rent one to get to most races. And while you shouldn’t get the supplemental insurance normally, when you don’t have car insurance already, how are you supposed to handle that? I’m pretty sure I’m getting screwed.

And despite all of this, I keep on working… because I’m amazing, and a hero, and the single force holding back evil in the world.

* While many memes like to say that complaining is always a waste of time, I think those are downright evil—and I’m not using that term lightly. In my own life, there have been a surprising number of times in my life when people have justified doing really crappy things to me by my lack of complaining. And obviously, there are far more serious things—assault-like crimes or abuse or such—where complaining really really loudly to anyone who will listen is a thoroughly justified response (perhaps supplemented by a rather hard punch or stab to the perpetrator’s genitals, although that gets complicated as well). While it’s not internet-friendly, I believe in appropriate complaining.

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The American Ninja Warrior/RuPaul’s Drag Race Crossover You Didn’t Know You Needed

(What the what? Well, I like American Ninja Warrior [though the Japanese was better] and I like RuPaul’s Drag Race [though it peaked at season 4], and while there may not be a huge overlap in their fandoms, since they overlap in me I figured I would mash them up, in as much as my Photoshop* skills allow.)

From the land of the rising sun, 100 determined drag queens have accepted the challenge to become… Ninja Warrior. Competitors face the ultimate test of shade and will in their quest to become champion. Many are called, few are chosen. Now, let’s find out who’s tough enough to become the next: Ninja Warrior.

Several queens from the past have returned to take on Mt. Midoriyama. In the last episode, 30 queens took on the challenge of the brutal first stage obstacles, but every one was eliminated. The next 30 challengers are lining up at the starting gate.

Up first:

AkashiaBreaking the dawn since Two thousand and ermahmm… it’s Akashia! But as she starts her run, she needs to apply the Stage 1 filter.

Akashia with Stage 1 FilterMuch better! And with that done she tackles the Sextuple Step, and…

Akashia falling on Sextuple StepTragedy! She trips on some shady work by the captioner. Akashia’s gown may be gorgeous—but let’s hope it’s waterproof as well.

Up next: if she’s not your favorite queen, then you have no soul. It’s only LATRICE “MOTHERFUCKING” ROYALE!

Latrice RoyaleShe’s running well up to the Cannonball Incline, when she mistakes the cannonballs for a certain type of legume…

Latrice on Cannonball InclineGet those nuts away from her face! Unfortunately, one thing she won’t be able to keep away from her face… is the water below.

From everyone’s favorite queen to another person who was on the show, it’s Laganja Estranja!

Laganja EstranjaWe’re not sure how thoroughly medicated she is, but she shouted “Ninja Warrior! Let’s get sickening! OKURRRRR!” and the first several obstacles simply scampered away. But on the Floating Tiles:

Laganja Estranja death drop on floating tilesDid she death drop or drop dead? Is that even legal? We could look it up, but frankly, we stopped caring. Moving on to:

MilanLondon… Paris… New York… Chicago… Shreveport… Akron… Des Moines… Albuquerque…

Despite the fact that we can’t remember her name, she’s doing quite well, all the way to the jumping spider, where:

Milan on the Jumping SpiderSHE JUST SWIFFERED THE JUMPING SPIDER WITH HER TAINT! And with that amazing display of flexibility, power, and ill-conceived wig removal, Milan is on to stage 2!

And our final competitor. From such films as Screech of the Decapitated, Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives, and The Lego Movie (as one of those weird three-prong Lego blocks that nobody uses), it’s Willam!

WillamShe’s coming up to the Metal Spin, which… it looks like the Metal Spin has been replaced by Alaska! But she leaps up, and…

Willam on the Alaska spinGrabs it with her mouth and swings to safety! I don’t know why I’m using an exclamation point there; I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet who’s surprised that she was able to do that with her mouth and beard. But anyhow, she completes the course and moves on.

Today, 30 more challengers battled the difficult first stage, but 28 met heartbreaking defeat. Only two queens achieved the near-impossible, crossing the finish line in time. Will anyone else join them in stage two? Stay with us for more smudged mascara… more sickening fashion… and more… Ninja Warrior!

* Not really Photoshop. Since I don’t have Photoshop, I use the free Gimp software and my decidedly limited abilities to do a sad approximation of the same thing. I don’t want to know what Willam would say about that.

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OCR Unreport: 2015 Illinois Warrior Dash

The weekend was odd.

I had plans to run the Illinois Warrior Dash on Sunday, thanks to Maggie. She assembled a team, sponsored by Delta Faucet, and invited the Chicago Running Bloggers to participate—with a complementary entry.

Saturday, and the week before the race, and the month before the race, and the whole frickin’ year was rainy, and I spent a fair amount of Saturday watching reports from the race about the aparkalyptic* conditions in the parking lot. Apparently everything got flooded, and bunches of cars got stuck, and more of the kind of thing that happens when an already-saturated wooded area gets more rain and lots of traffic.

I also spent a lot of Saturday at a friend’s birthday party, but had to cut it a bit early so I could wake up good and early. Not for the race itself, but for a volunteer shift. Again, not for the race itself—I take care of birds at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum every other Sunday. That’s not exactly critical to the story, but it is an interesting bit of color, and it will pay off in a surprising way later on.

Anyhow, as I left for the museum, I found this in the lobby of my building:

Passive-aggressive signWhile I’m fundamentally opposed to the passive-aggressive nature of this sign, it also confused and still does confuse me for a couple reasons. First off: spilled pasta? Really? On the scale of urban irritants (of which there are many, no matter how much you like the city) how does spilled pasta even rate as something that gets noticed?

And second: I don’t know what the back walkway is. The building has an alley, but there are far worse things than spilled pasta there. Or there are back stairwells that can be used as an exit, but nobody really does use them.

Speaking of mysteries, I also saw this in my neighbor’s yard:

Sprinkler on a rainy dayDidn’t Alanis Morrisette once do a song about running the sprinkler on a rainy day?

Anyhow, there’s not much more to report about the Warrior Dash, since about 7:30 I got word that due to the weather and conditions (apparently conditions were bad enough that the course was inaccessible to medical personnel) it had been cancelled. In fact, I got that word immediately after getting a call from the car rental agency saying that my car reservation wouldn’t be ready at 9 am as I had made it and did I still need the car after all?

While last year’s experience wasn’t great, and I think that it was due mostly to an unforced error on Warrior Dash’s part (and a cascade of issues that stemmed from it), I’m a lot more sympathetic this year. Obviously I didn’t go there, and I don’t know precisely what the conditions were, but I know that kind of decision is a lousy one for an event organizer to have to make. I am inclined to appreciate their willingness to make that decidedly ungood decision.

* I hope you like the term “aparkalyptic.” It took me an hour to think of it; I wasted a lot of time trying to make “parkopocalypse” or variations of it work. Admittedly, this hour was just idle musing that I did while simultaneously cleaning up bird shit at the museum (payoff!), so it wasn’t like I was spending an hour racking my brains, but it did take longer than I expected.

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The Scourge of RBF

I have to admit a bit of trepidation about this post. I’m confessing something personal, and embarrassing, but I’m hoping that by telling my story I can raise awareness and understanding and make the OCR world a slightly kinder, friendlier place.

Ridiculously Photogenic Guy

I hate every day I’m not this guy.

You see, there are many people who are ridiculously photogenic, even in the midst of a tormentous physical task that mere mortals would cower in the face of. These people are celebrated, and rightfully so: their broad, welcoming grins spread joy and inspiration and make everything feel okay, even that time you got pantsed in second grade. By the teacher.

But unfortunately, some people simply can’t be ridiculously photogenic. Some people have mouths that contort into vicious snarls, eyes that become slits that medieval knights shot crossbows out of, and noses that just sit there on their face, being all nosy. And I’m one of those people.

I have Racing Bitch Face.

Racing Bitch Face

It’s not my fault this is my face.

It’s a face that makes brave children run in terror, brave women question their life choices, and brave men wee themselves. When I offer a boost at the wall, the typical response is, “You know, I think I’ll take the burpees instead. In fact, I’ll do a few extra just to give you a bit of time to clear out.” I understand that. It’s not a good face.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Racing Bitch Face, or RBF, is purely a surface condition. Those of us who suffer from it are, frankly, the nicest humans who have ever lived. We make Mother Theresa look like Mommie Dearest.

Mommie Dearest

Yeah, post-wire hangers.

So when you are on the course and see someone with Racing Bitch Face, don’t run or cower or demand that a course volunteer beat us up. Recognize that our hearts burn with friendship, even though our faces burn with the pure hate of a billion suns. Show the same courage to our fearsome features that you show at the start of a multi-mile march through the mucky unknown. Accept our outstretched wrist, rather than sliding down a slick muddy hill on your face. Let us share your Atlas Stone load, rather than trying to throw it at our chest in horror but actually just dropping it on our feet, because those things are really fucking heavy. And please, please, please don’t punch us in terror when we let you brace yourself against our feet on the slip wall.

Together, we can overcome the scourge of Racing Bitch Face. Because all faces are OCR faces.


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Anatomy of a Breakdown

Well, one of my goals for the month is out the window.

I had the idea that I’d be able to avoid any kind of mental breakdown this month, where the glumness gets to me and everything fitness-and-otherwise-wise goes to crap. Well, it already happened, right on schedule, since last week I was feeling pretty good about things. Feeling good about things is dangerous; fate always seems to send sadness to counter it.

I’m trying to figure out why, and this time it’s pretty simple. I went to a party on Saturday and met up with a bunch of friends I hadn’t seen in a while. Several of them had really good things happening. And while I’m thrilled for them, I’m ashamed to admit it also made me think of the good things that I’ve been working for for several years that are not happening for me. Fitness is going the best, but career definitely isn’t. Sometimes I’m able to ignore several years of evidence that it won’t get better, but other times…

It’s useless to feel sorry for myself, but it often feels equally useless not to. It’s time like this when inspiration pisses me off most. If any barriers can be overcome, then why not these ones? The sabotages that are still hurting me weren’t all that clever—and in fact, only a couple of them were even intentional. The real issue that is doing the most damage to my career now is the result of a fairly bizarre combination of quirks that could only exist at my former employer.

Gah, this is stupid to be writing—it’s not really helping anything and I can’t even reveal any details for fear that someone sees it and connects it to me and decides to hold it against me in some way. Again, completely irrational except for the fact that it’s happened in the past. I guess I’m just hoping to exorcise it so I can move on.

Especially since: I got a run this weekend. I wasn’t expecting to do the Warrior Dash this year after last year’s less-than-superb experience. But I’ve gotten a free entry through Chicago Running Bloggers, so I’m certainly not turning it down. (I do have a volunteer shift—at a museum, not the race—on Sunday morning, so I’ll have to do that super-early to get out to the race by noon—or actually 11, to be there in time for a noon run.) Hopefully my brain can get right before then.

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