Monthly Archives: July 2015

OCR Insults

I was going to start this post with a scathing—scathing!—commentary about how much hostility I’ve seen related to OCR lately and how it’s better to be positive, but I started writing it up and it was stupid.* And since it was just a tortured framing device to get into the actual topic of today’s post, let’s just skip it and go straight to this collection of insults to use against the obstacle course racer in your life who annoys you. Some are image-based, but don’t just skip over the text-only ones at the end.

Enjoy the hostility!

The Great List of OCR Insults!

You run like you learned about this race from an article in O Magazine

Public domain image from the US Navy via Wikipedia; my apologies to photographer Ryan Steinhour and especially the people who appear in the image.

5,000 people climbed the cargo net this weekend, so we named it after you

Public domain image by ryse5 via Pixabay.

Races give you the misspelled ones.

Photo by me; typo by unknown Spartan vendor.

I like my medals more than I like you.

You’re worth less than the post-race beer.

You’re slimier than a 4pm heat after a rainstorm.

You’re less epic than my diarrhea after marching though a dodgy mud pit.

If I saw you skipping your burpees, I wouldn’t bother caring.

I’ve found bigger things than you on my Q-tip after a race.

I wouldn’t give you my used shower water.

You throw like a girl… is sitting on the rope that’s tied to the spear.

You are a waste of spandex.

You’re the only person I know who looks more civilized after a race.

*In fact, online complaints are a bugaboo of mine—not that I’m opposed to criticizing things that are wrong, but so much of what people do is so anti-constructive. So in the real world, you know, try not to suck.

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How Not to Do the Monkey Bars

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 Monkey Bars

  1. At this point in the race, your hands are probably wet and muddy, which is terrible for impersonating a monkey. Dry them off as best you can by rubbing them on your shirt, or the grass, or a volunteer, or a passing goose.
  2. Grab the bars firmly, and hold the rest of your body up off the ground.
  3. There are several approaches from here on out:
    • Arm-over-arm. This is the “standard” playground-style monkey-barring approach. When one arm is on a bar, the other arm swings to the next one. Much harder than it looks; the gene that permits children or orangutans from accomplishing this task easily gets surgically removed from all humans when they turn 18. Then the gene is ripped up into tiny pieces, burned, urinated upon, fed to a hippopotamus, and shot into space.

      Kid on monkey bars.

      This kid is way more Spartan than you will ever be. Deal with it. Creative Commons image by The Rev. Jay Sapaen Watan.

    • Catch-up: Your first arm goes to a bar, then your other arm joins it. The bartender says, “We don’t serve arms here.” Then he said, “farewell.” The bartender was Hemingway, by the way. I don’t know if I mentioned that. Oh, wait, got distracted. Anyhow, this method is a bit easier, but a bit slower, and you will get tired just as quick.
    • Skip: If you’ve got the arm length and the swinging momentum, skip a bar here and there. You’ll look a bit pretentious, but you’ll make good progress, unless you miss, in which case your fall should make highlight reels.
    • Edges: Screw the rungs and travel along the bar holding the edges, like Donkey Kong Jr. It may seem a bit twatty to do it that way, and it probably is. It can feel a bit easier if your arms are long and wide-set like mine are. I’m weird, though.
    • On top: Just do it like this guy. Physically easy, but balance is important. Plus, if you’ve got issues with heights, you should note that your face will be the height of the monkey bars plus the height of yourself above the ground, which is almost 800 feet, so it will scare the dookie out of you, which isn’t pleasant for anyone on the course. Also, it’s probably against the rules.
    • Inchworm: This is easy: just weave your body between the bars. You may need more back flexibility than you’ve got, and you might get stuck, but hey! Cool photos!
    • Upside down: Just hook your toes over the bars, and walk across. Not necessarily possible, but if you pull it off, you’ll be a meme for, like, twelve whole seconds.

      Stick figure doing monkey bars upside down

      And I thought my last race photos made me look a bit wonky… Creative Commons photo by David K, badly modified by me

    • Teleportation. How hard could that be?
  4. Midway through the bars, when you are really tired, remember that you’ve still got a bomb from playing Candy Crush. So use it, and blow the frickin’ rig up.
  5. Rejoice.

Previous entries in the “How Not To” series:

Wall Climb
Spear Throw
Bucket Brigade

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Blinding OCR with Science!

Something that has been happening this year has been the Spartan Combine. I remember a podcast (my apologies for not remembering precisely which one—if anyone can point me to it I’ll gladly link) in which Joe De Sena said that it’s both a competition but he was also interested in comparing various athlete’s attributes with their performance in obstacle course racing to see what physical characteristics make an ideal racer.

SCIENCE! from memyselfaneye and the good folks at Pixabay (https://pixabay.com/p-389438/?no_redirect)

SCIENCE! from memyselfaneye and the good folks at Pixabay.

In other words, it’s an Act of Science! (THUNDERCLAP!)

I didn’t take much note of it at the time, because it’s not really of particular interest to me. Not that I’m opposed to increased knowledge, but increased knowledge focused on the top athletes doesn’t particularly affect me.

More recently, however, I’ve been thinking about some research that I would be interested in.

I should preface this: I’m not a scientist, but I work adjacent to science. In other words, I have a really dangerous level of knowledge. All of these projects are ones that I think would be interesting… but I’m not sure if the proposals are feasible or if they would produce valid results or anything like that. But I’ll propose them here; perhaps someone can take them up and conduct them with necessary scientific rigor.* I’d be thrilled to assist if I can, but I probably shouldn’t take the lead.

So here are some research projects that would improve OCRs for schlubs like me:

Traffic Management

Lines at obstacles are one of the things that can really hurt an OCR experience. You know what else sucks? Lines at traffic lights or gridlock on the highway. And there’s quite a lot of work being done there, using sophisticated simulations and real-world tests to evaluate how changes to traffic signal timing, highway ramp meters, lane configurations, or a jillion other things will affect traffic flow. (Or safety, or traffic patterns, or a bunch of other things, but let’s keep it simple.)

So, can this type of modeling/simulation/testing be done to determine schemes that will reduce the number of backups at obstacles? Well, I don’t know. I suspect yes, although I don’t have any good sense of how to set up an experiment, or how much the conditions on a given day would affect it, or even what variables should be tested. Several options include what wave sizes lead to big backups, if there’s a significant difference between the mass wave at outdoor Spartans versus the 15-person mini-waves at stadium races, or if the order or spacing of obstacles has an impact.

I don’t know exactly how it would best be done, but I’d be interested to see the results.

Course conditions over time

This is another tricky one, although I’ve got a bit more in the way of concrete ideas about it. How exactly do course conditions change from the first wave of the day to the last, and how does that impact runners?

For purely selfish reasons—the two outdoor OCRs I’ve run have had extremely slick courses, to the point that “running” them wasn’t actually feasible—the condition I’d be interested in studying is how much less friction the course has at the end of the day than at the start. I’ve got sort of an idea how to do it, even. (Remember my disclaimer: I know enough to be really dangerous.) A couple years ago, there was an attempt to develop a friction measurement system for snowy pavements. The sensor worked, although the physical construction of the device failed. But there’s a chance that some adaptation might be able to be developed to test the friction of the trail.

Again: Would it work? I don’t know; I’m not sure if the same principle for a flat, smooth surface would apply for the bumps of nature, nor if a handheld adaptation would work, nor if simply measuring friction is a good stand-in for measuring runability. Practicality, too, is a topic I haven’t considered. But I’d be interested in it anyhow.

There are certainly other conditions that affect races, like air temperature, precipitation, or obstacle conditions. Ground slickness is my big bugaboo, but finding out the impacts of other things would be interesting as well.

 

Effect of Group Membership

There are a lot of OCR groups/teams, but there are also solo runners. I’m curious whether getting involved in a team—or a small group, or running alone—affects how much a person enjoys the OCR experience, and whether it affects whether they continue participating. Or, perhaps, vice versa—if how much a person enjoys their initial OCR experience affects whether or not they join a team. And whether internet groups who primarily only meet on race day have the same impact as groups of people who live near to each other and see each other regularly.

I suspect this one would be relatively easier than the other two—it could probably be not much more complicated than a survey. It’s not something of burning interest to me (although I am intrigued), but if I were running a race series, it might have practical impact: If, say, 80% of solo runners only do one race but 80% of people who run in a group come back, that would inform a wise race series’ efforts to nurture team development and connect people to teams.

 

Prevalence of Cheating

I don’t care much about this one at all… but there’s been some digital ink spilled recently about cheating in OCR elite waves. (Again, I don’t have the link handy, because I’m a terrible person.) How prevalent is cheating, really?

This could be pretty easily tested, although it might need a bit of gear and a lot of time: Train some video cameras on obstacles that are likely to have failures in the elite waves, as well as the burpee zones of these obstacles, and see what happens.

These would probably need to be hidden and not announced in order to avoid changing behavior by their presence. And it would take a while to go through them all. But it would give pretty solid evidence about how prevalent cheating or cutting corners in a race actually is.

* Who exactly would that be? It’s tricky… maybe a civil engineering grad student who runs OCRs on the side and who’s looking for a thesis topic. Does such a person exist? If so, feel free to adopt these ideas as your own.

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Why I Love My Gym

This post is overdue, for several reasons. First off, it’s never too early to say nice things when you mean them. Second, I’ve already written about my hate for my former emergency backup gym*. And most directly, I should have written this before writing about my trip to Bodi last week. That write-up was almost undoubtedly shorter than it deserved.

The reason is that my gym—Enrgi Fitness—has done so much to shape my expectations and my understanding of what works for me that it functions as a default vision by which I judge other gyms or situations by. Bodi fits into that vision well—which isn’t surprising, since Nikki used to teach at Enrgi and fit in perfectly well there. So really, the lack of text is a good sign—a signal that “yeah, this is just what I wanted.” But without an explanation of that default vision, the post on Bodi might not come off that way.

So here’s why I love my gym, and why it represents the standard that I compare other things to.

  1. Classes. Enrgi is, essentially, all classes.** It’s a workout model that works really well for me. Being in a group helps me work harder, and longer. And having variety—a different workout each day—is also really valuable. When I’ve tried to workout on my own, my workouts get pretty samey, and then they get boring, and then I stop doing them.
  2. The classes are good. They’re fun and hard, and I’ve had really good results. We’re never expected to shout “Woo!” There’s a lot of variety, but nothing that’s just stupid. Unlike that one class at terrible emergency backup gym—I won’t name it, but it does slant-rhyme with “Fellate Business”—where we did a full song’s worth of just bicep curls, choreographed to the song’s quite high-tempo beat. Why the fuck?
  3. The gym experiments: They periodically try new formats and new equipment. Not everything catches on, but sometimes they do.
  4. The instructors are good. That overlaps with the last point, but it’s worth expanding on. They make their own workouts, within a few broad formats, and they’re consistently challenging and interesting. They have a good sense of when and how to push, when to encourage, when to say “good job,” and when to fix form. They also know more than they need to. I’ve often asked for and gotten good advice on topics tangential to the workout. There’s even a series of “clinic” classes on a variety of topics. They aren’t really workouts, but they go into background information about various things—rowing, pullups, or whatnot—with stuff about proper form and the anatomy involved and practical advice to improve.
  5. The people are good. That includes the instructors, and the staff, and the other people who workout there. I like them—they’re supportive, they’re nice, they make the classes better… if I weren’t so grossed out by the concept of “inspiration”*** I’d say they were inspirational. It makes it pretty easy to look forward to going to work out.
  6. And since we all pretty much like each other, we hang out outside of the gym too. Enrgi plans some of these events, which are generally a lot of fun, but sometimes there are informal things as well. (The team I’ll be running the Bourbon Chase in the sidebar is going to be mainly gym buddies, for example.)

I suppose I ought to provide a disclaimer: What works for me won’t necessarily work for everyone else. But this really worked for me, and for that, I’m really grateful.

* Not to be confused with my climbing gym, which may in the near future become one of my climbing gyms.

** Members can come in during non-class times (basically between lunch and dinnertime) to use the space, and some do—I certainly have—but classes are the thrust of what they offer.

*** But that’s another story, as a pretty mediocre columnist I used to edit used as the last line of all of his columns.

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How Not To Do the Bucket Brigade

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 Bucket Brigade

  1. Prepare. If you’re doing a Spartan race, you know this classic is coming, so there’s no excuse not to make yourself strong in advance. So in the weeks leading up to the race, do at least two squats. And a push-up.
  2. As you approach the Completely Unbranded Large-Scale Refuse Bin filled with Unbranded Congealed Earth Matter, take a moment to prepare yourself mentally. Take a deep cleansing breath, emit a mighty bear-like roar, and throw a massive hissy-cow, complete with stomping, weeping, and flatulence.
  3. Stephen Fry as Jeeves

    He can do anything!

    Racers need to fill their own Unbranded Polymer-Chain Unbranded Congealed Earth Matter Container in a Basically Cylindrical Shape. But you can save time and effort and avoid the crowds if you send your valet to fill it for you. Double points if your valet is Stephen Fry.

  4. When lifting any heavy object, it’s important to protect your back by lifting with your legs. Lay down on the ground with your feet around the bucket, clench, and lift.
  5. Now that the Unbranded Congealed Earth Matter Container in a Basically Cylindrical Shape is airborne, you’ll be expected to traverse a lengthy path while carrying it. You can take inspiration from the nearest snake and how it moves: simply undulate your powerful rhomboids and latissimus dorsi muscles, while using your ventral scales to grip the surface of the earth and propel yourself forward.
  6. Hmmm… as it turns out, that’s pretty hard to do. You’d think snakes would be a much less successful species. Plus, the path is pretty long. And that thingy with the really long generic name (By the way, sorry about that. It’s a gag about Dumpsters and intellectual property that’s gone horribly wrong. See, Dumpster is a brand name, and they’re pretty aggressive about sending nasty notes to publications if they use the word as a generic term, and I’ve gotten them in the past, and so I mock. 3M is the same way with Velcro, which means that I’ve been required to use the term “hook-and-loop fastener” unironically, and I’m still a bit bitter.) is really fucking heavy. So maybe stand up and hoist the bucket onto your shou…
  7. Damn, the volunteers really care about that “don’t carry the bucket on your shoulder” rule. Like, try it again and she’s going to punch you, and then pull down your pants, and then call your mother and tell her that you’re being a meany bo beany face. So let’s not mess with her again. I guess you can just carry it at your waist.
  8. Six steps later and everything hurts. Step off to the side and rest.
  9. Okay, try it again. Huffhuffhuffhuffhuffhuffhuff! Great, four steps this time.
  10. Rock piles in Iceland

    Many people don’t realize that Iceland was originally created by a Spartan race gone wrong. Image by Jeroen (https://www.flickr.com/photos/jerrroen/256320733) licensed under Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/).

    You know, I bet they won’t check to make sure the bucket is still full of rock all the way to the hole when you get back to the bin. So just dump a bit out. Trust me, your pile won’t be the first one there.

  11. Wow! 12 steps! That’s 22 steps total! You’re almost half of a percent of the way there!
  12. Wait, half of a percent finished really isn’t good. So, tip out a bit more rock.
  13. Who are we kidding? This ain’t happening. Just drop the bucket, and scoop up a handful of rock.
  14. Really? A muddy hill to climb with this shit? Goddammit!
  15. Okay, here’s the story: You fell, all the rock came out of the bucket, then the bucket exploded, and you did the burpees, and you’re not sure why nobody saw you.
  16. Yikes, this muddy hill is still pretty flipping long. It might be violating the spirit of the race, but piggyback rides are part of every valet’s job description.
  17. Vomit.

Previous entries in the “How Not To” series:

Wall Climb
Spear Throw

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A Slightly Awkward Special Workout

Yesterday I was in Phoenix, which gave me the opportunity to try a new gym. I went to Bodi for a morning workout.

Me, at Bodi, with boxes in the background.

Me, at Bodi, with boxes in the background.

I should make clear: This wasn’t me stopping in at some random gym one town over from the city where I was staying. Nikki, the owner, was a trainer at my gym before she moved to Scottsdale. So I have known her for a few years, and wanted to be able to see her new place—if under awkward circumstances.

Awkward? A bit. The reason I was in town, sadly, was a funeral. Not a direct connection to me—it was for a very good friend’s mother—so I was there mainly in a support role, and I was able to take time out the morning of the funeral to attend the class. Still, there’s a lot of mood whiplash when people ask you why you’re in town and you explain it and then you both start some jumping jacks as a warm-up. But we were all grown-ups, and we got past that weirdness pretty quickly.

Anyhow, Nikki’s got a nice setup. Nothing too fancy, but the gym is well-appointed with toys like dumbbells, boxes, battle ropes, medicine balls, pull-up bars, and giant tires. And knowing Nikki, I knew that the class would be good. The format was fast-paced, rotating between several stations, and each station had a pair of exercises to switch between. In between stations we either ran or burpeed. And at the end, there was a special challenge—hanging from the pull-up bar, chin above the bar, for as long as possible. The challenges rotate every week, cycling through every couple of months or so.

Nikki and I hanging at Bodi

This was after the chin up hold challenge. We didn’t intentionally dress alike; I brought my extremely blue pants simply on a whim.

There was not really much too surprising, in a good way. A tough, intense, and fun workout. It’s nice to confirm that the gym is as good as I expected, though. And to reconnect with the only Women’s Fitness cover model I know.

Women's Health cover

(Nikki’s on the far left.)

Yes, Nikki is in the running for the Women’s Health Next Fitness Star. So vote for her. Every day.

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A Brief Public Service Announcement

Given all the flesh-eating ebola brain eye fever deathmaking tubelcain that’s been showing up in every single race lately apparently, here’s a quick PSA:

Shart Week(My first OCR was a Warrior Dash, and I did have my mouth open during the final slide into the mud pit. That was a bad idea.)

My deepest apologies to Col. John Keenan, who appears in this photo, and Fort Carson, who posted it to Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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