Monthly Archives: August 2015

Water Bottles are Hard

It has become necessary for me to purchase a new water bottle.

My water bottle. It's nice.My old one has performed admirably over quite a long time, and it’s got that handy sporty nipple thing that makes drinking during a workout so convenient, but in its old age (much like it would were it human) it has begun leaking small amounts at inopportune times. Less amusingly, it’s also become somewhat ornery to fill at my gym, which has a neat water cooler system that is somewhat stymied by my bottle’s opaqueness. Sometimes I hit the level right, but usually I leave with the bottle half full, or I keep filling well past the upper edge of the bottle and spilling onto the floor, which isn’t an ideal situation

So today I found myself shopping for a new water bottle, which I would not have expected to be complicated. It was.

I went to that infamous den of athletic-adjacent iniquity, my old nemesis, Sports Authority. The first thing I discovered is that water bottles no longer exist.

Now they’re “hydration bottles,” because hydration is way more high-tech. (It’s also what turns concrete from a goopy pile of slop into a sidewalk, so it must be good to shove down your gullet.)

Hydration Bottles sign at Sports Authority

It’s horrifying just how complicated water bottles have become. You’d think the bottle would be a mature technology that wouldn’t require much in the way of advancement… But you’d be wrong.

Just look at all of the lid styles. There are sippy-cup style lids, lids with cages, lids with other styles of cages, lids with push buttons to open them, and lids that are just giant chutes to dump as much hydration as possible into your face.

There are lids with straws attached so you can drink the good water at the bottom first, as God intended. Water bottle with attached straw

And if you’re temperature-sensitive, there are bottles with enough insulation that you could comfortably trek to the North Pole inside them. Underwater.

Insulated water bottleThere are bottles with a dodecahedron inside that will help you shake protein shakes, because a normal traditional bottle is too bottle-like for that, and shaking bottles is hard for people who spend a lot of time working out.

 

Bottle with embedded protein-shaking thingAnd best of all, there are strange water bottle/mister hybrids that you can both drink from and use to make yourself moist, which was desperately needed by… I haven’t a clue who. Probably middle-aged, wealthy housewives who go to the gym in full makeup and don’t exercise but still “feel the burn.”

Water bottle/mister hybridDespite all of these options, the store didn’t have any bottles with the feature that I actually wanted, that sport nipple thingy that actually helps you to drink from it while working out but minimizing the amount that will spill if you accidentally knock it over.

The result is that I’m at an aquatic impasse: I didn’t buy any of those craptacular bottles, but I still need to replace my old one. What to do? Perhaps I’ll move to Canada—I think you can get handy water bags up there.

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OCR Report: 2015 Chicagoland Badass Dash #2: A Most Suburban Race

Today I ran the Badass Dash in Rosemont, Illinois, a near suburb of Chicago and one that’s accessible via public transit, more or less. It’s the first OCR I’ve done outside of the big 3, but I’m really glad I did, because I enjoyed it a lot.

There is no mistaking Rosemont for anything other than a suburb. This is the sight you get when you’re coming off the train:

Suburban RosemontThe Race

The suburban Chicago nature of the race definitely showed through in the course. It started and finished inside the Ballpark at Rosemont. Stadium races have plenty of precedent, but this was a bit of a different animal.

The Ballpark at Rosemont is home to the Chicago Bandits, a professional fast-pitch softball team. So the park is not anything resembling the scale of Citi Field or Miller Park. That meant that most of the race was in the environs of the stadium rather than within it. (In fact, only three obstacles were actually within the stadium itself, although we did start and end on the field. The field, incidentally, was entirely turf—not just the outfield, but also the infield and the warning track.)

The environs aren’t terribly stadium-specific. I’m not sure exactly what was around it, but it had that standard suburban office park feel to it.

As a result, the terrain was quite flat—though not entirely, as the course designers did use some of the banks that led to roadways to add a bit of climbing and descending. Still, if your primary interest in OCR is rough terrain, this isn’t the race for you.

On the other hand, the lack of rough terrain had the happy side-effect that a lot of the course was visible. Here’s an artsy little shot that I took of my first sighting of the course:

Badass Dash Course from across highway

Look at that framing!

And yes, that’s an interstate I had to cross to get to the race. (There was a bridge; I didn’t play Frogger with the semis or anything.)

The race was advertised at 7K with 33 obstacles. Some of those obstacles were actually activities—push-ups or sit-ups or pull-ups or the like. The obstacles were not, on the whole, extremely difficult: if you’re looking for really hard obstacles with high failure rates, this also isn’t your race. I did have to do penalties on two obstacles. There was a tall and steep A-frame that you can sort of see in the above photo that was a problem—there were ropes to help pull yourself up, but the rain made both the ropes and the ramps slick; the second time I fell down, in a not-terribly-controlled way, I was thinking better of it. The other I failed was a set of monkey bars, which was the last or second-to-last obstacle (depending on if you count a run through bleachers as an obstacle or not). I actually got about halfway across, but the wet conditions hurt. I also managed to hurt my hand on the previous obstacle, which didn’t help much.

That said, there were several notably interesting and fun obstacles. The Australian Back Crawl was a plastic sheet positioned on a hill, with a cargo net above it. We laid on our backs and used the net to pull us up, all while a guy with a hose sprayed the sheet and us down with water.

Australian Back Crawl

Australian Back Crawl

(Unfortunately, after the Australian Back Crawl was one of the biggest backlogs on the course. There was a single mudslide to get down the hill, and I don’t know why it took so long, but I wound up bypassing it and just walking down the hill. I don’t feel like that was a bad decision in the slightest.)

This run on floating bins across a pond was also pretty cool—I made it about three steps before falling in spectacularly and having to swim the rest of the way across.

Feared Float

Because most of the obstacles needed to be alliterative, this was called the “Feared Float.”

A climb over stacked pallets wasn’t terribly physically difficult, although some people had some minor panic about the height and weirdness of having to climb over them. Meanwhile, the Claustrophobic Crawl—a narrow tube to travel through—was surprisingly difficult. There wasn’t nearly enough room to actually crawl, and there wasn’t a lot to grab onto, so I kind of had to pull myself forward with my forearms and then push myself with my toes. Surprisingly taxing. And there was a dodge ball section—really not terribly difficult, and the ball-huckers weren’t throwing terribly hard, but it was kind of a fun thing. (Except that this is where I jammed my thumb, trying to be fancy and catch a ball so I could send the thrower to prison.)

Dodge Ball

Dodge!

The Organization

The race was pretty well organized—but you could also see a few rough edges that might not show up in a bigger race series. On the good side, racers were released in fairly small sub-heats, which mostly kept backups down. Getting in, packet pick-up, and bag check were all pretty easy, although I’m not sure the bag check system was ideal. We got a numbered tag for the bag, and the attendants wrote the number on our hands, which they checked after we had picked the bag up after the race—but my ink came almost entirely off during the race. I got my bag back no problem, but it’s not hard to imagine that the system could have broken down in a bad way without truly permanent markers.

The race did cross some roads with traffic on them, but they all had attendants to ensure safety, and there was no point at which I felt any concern on that front. The volunteers at obstacles weren’t quite as good, though. There were a few points where it wasn’t entirely clear what the rules were. At one obstacle, for example, we had to potato-sack-jump down a path and back. Everyone seemed to be jumping backwards on the way back, but I’m not sure if that was the obstacle or just something that people were doing. A couple obstacles later, we had to either roll or carry a tire down and back a similar path—I’m still not sure which. And the cargo net also had a bit of confusion: It was divided in two sides by a flag on the top, and I think we were supposed to climb over it once on the left side, and then turn around and climb back over it on the right, but no one was shouting instructions so some people were coming down the up side.

The floating bins obstacle was one of the points where there was a backup, and it probably didn’t have to be. When I arrived at the obstacle, people were generally waiting for the person in front to finish—a polite thing to do, since the bins were all connected to one another—but also a time-consuming one. A more aggressive volunteer telling people when to go to give the person in front space but keep the line moving might have made it go faster.

I’m inclined to pin volunteer-related issues on the organizers: a volunteer, after all, is there for the day, and won’t know what issues there are unless the organizer explains them. Fortunately, the issues that there were were pretty minor and really didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the day.

One other area where the scale of the race really showed was in the free stuff. We got a backpackish thing, a medal, and a headband (not shown, since I wore it during the race and when I finished it was gone). Swag Hags, this is not the race for you. (Fortunately, I’m not one, but I include this information out of interest of completion.)

Badass Dash swag

The Badass Dash Medal and backpack.

(By the way, did I just coin the term “Swag Hag?” I feel like someone must have used it before, but I don’t remember seeing it elsewhere.)

Overall

I feel like there’s been a lot of negative in this report, which is too bad because my overall impression of the race is really positive. I really had a lot of fun. It was definitely less difficult than an outdoor Spartan, and even a notch lower in difficulty than the stadium sprints, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It is really nice to be able to race an entire race, rather than have to slog the majority of it. Both have their place (I do believe there’s value in doing something grueling and completing it) but as I’ve done a lot of slogging this year, I’m pleased to get through a course running the whole thing.

Even the small amount of hills in this course demonstrated that that’s something I need to work on. That’s a problem, since the nearest hill that’s taller than I am is about 5 miles away. It will probably entail lots of stair-climbing at the gym. Ugh.

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Giving the News about the New OCR TV Show an Arctic Enema

The OCR world, or at least the very small segment of it that dwells largely and enthusiastically on Facebook, is abuzz at Obstacle Racing Media’s report of a brand-new OCR TV show.

And why not? It’s always cool to see something you do on the teevee.

On the other hand, unbridled and irrational enthusiasm isn’t always valuable, and it can be fun to mock, so let’s take a step back: There is a very good chance that this show will be terrible. 

That, in and of itself, isn’t a condemnation of the subject or the show’s creators. Creating things is hard, and creating things that aren’t terrible much harder. Lightning doesn’t get trapped in bottles all that often.

But just for shits and giggles, let’s march down to the boilerplate of the press release at the bottom that you’re not actually supposed to read. The producers of this show will be A. Smith & Co., which creates “some of the most innovative, highly rated, and high-quality programming for the domestic and international television marketplace.” Thank goodness!

This incredible programming includes titles such as:

  • American Ninja Warrior—well, at least they’ve got experience with obstacles. Sure, they saw the original Japanese version and how it was incredibly cool and unique, and decided to strip a lot of that appeal out and replace it with American reality TV tropes like rivalries between competitors even though the competition is just a person against the course, or a pair of hosts who shout enough for eight, or how they devoted a lot of extra time to telling the stories of the competitors but somehow managed to give us less information, but still, it’s not terrible.
  • Gordon Ramsay shouting.

    One of 233,000 hits Google provided for “Gordon Ramsay shouting.” Copyright 20th Century Fox. Photo by c.20thC.Fox/Everett / Rex Features ( 1018249a )
    HELL’S KITCHEN, Chef Gordon Ramsay, ‘Day 6’, (Season 6, ep. 606, aired Aug. 18, 2009)
    Hell’s Kitchen – 2009

    Hell’s Kitchen—a cooking reality competition and part of the weirdly popular subgenre in which angry British people yell at American people, but far from the genre’s inventor. (I wonder what its popularity says about our culture.)

  • Kitchen Nightmares—the same, only the British guy yells at business owners rather than reality show contestants, and all of their problems are solved at the end, and six months later they go out of business.
  • I Survived a Japanese Game Show—which despite being completely bonkers and scoring only 28 on Metacritic defeated Zulu Love Camp and The Undercover Princes for the 2009 Rose d’Or.
  • The Swan—which took a lot of women, gave them massive amounts of plastic surgery so they could compete in a beauty pageant, and then told half of them that they still weren’t pretty enough to compete in the beauty pageant, and
  • Skating with Celebrities

    Also a thing that happened, involving Todd Bridges.

    Skating with Celebrities—in which “celebrities,” including Dave Coulier in his final television appearance, joined professional-skater partners to impersonate Dancing with the Stars only with sharpened blades and a slick surface and absolutely no wit.

So, what can we expect from the new OCR show? Loud hosts! Insightless but omnipresent sideline reporters! Verbal abuse! Glitter! Lots of confessionals about How Meaningful It All Is and how the competitors Want to Push Themselves As Much As They Can! Mandatory facelifts! Dressing up like a carp! And, if he can be found, Dave Coulier!

Dave Coulier

You oughta know.

Well, who really knows. It might be well done. But don’t pin too many hopes on it.

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The Missing Badass Dash Obstacle

The Badass Dash has released its obstacle list for its Chicagoland race on Saturday, which I just happen to be running. Being someone who works with the English language—you could arguably even call me a professional grammarian—something jumped out at me right away.

Badass Dash Chicago obstacle list

Badass Dash Chicago obstacle list

I mean, besides the typo. I noticed that too, but really, who the fuck cares? It’s worthwhile to try to spell words right, but if you use enough words, you will eventually spell some not right. Whinging about it is just boring. Plus, I’m drafting this post on my phone, so there’s at least a 99% chance I’ve got a typo or two. Like, the phone just tried to change “two” to “tow.” It may very well have tried to change “Badass Dash” to “Betty White” and I wouldn’t have noticed. (Or minded.) So let’s ski right past that.

More interesting is the propensity—let’s have some fun and call it a fetish, even—for starting both words in an obstacle’s name with the same letter. Some 25 out of the 33 obstacles follow this naming convention.

But I think they missed one. So, fur future consideration, let me propose:

14.5. The Alliterative Assault.

What would this be? Simple. Racers would simply hold a plank, while Parker Posey plunks them with Ping-Pong balls in their posterior.

Badass Dash, you’re welcome. Royalties will be graciously accepted.

(I’m pretty sure Parker Posey is still around somewhere. Right?)

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Fingers after Climbing

I joined Tahnee today for a nice climbing session.

In addition to being fun and all, it was productive—I completed one of the two cave routes that is part of my goals for this month, and I made genuine progress on the other, successfully grabbing a hold that requires a tricky swing to get to, and keeping a hold of it while swing-reaching up to a hold much higher on the wall when my legs are far enough to the side that they don’t really provide much support.

(That’s an interesting sentence, in that it really doesn’t describe the route terribly well, but it also manages to make it sound a lot more epic than it really is. Like, there were plenty of people there—including a maybe 10-year-old girl—who did it as easily as walking down the street. They probably could have done it with only one finger on each hand, and while they were turned facing away from the wall. But comparing yourself to other people is a path to madness.)

None of that is really the point, though. Today was a pretty long climbing session, and afterwards, my fingers felt wacky.

They were rough. They were cracked. They were bumpy. They were calloused. They were tingly.

Seriously. “Fingers after Climbing” will be the new “David after Dentist.”

It was like there were fingers on top of my fingers, and outside of my fingers, and through my fingers. They may or may not have been real. Or they may have been projections of the earth, the human personification of Mother Gaia, with each crack one of the mighty faults that riddle its surface, and when I rubbed my hands together, I created the massive earthquake that California labors under the threat of every day. I’d say I’m sorry, but I enjoyed the power and did it a second and third time.

When I stretched my climbing fingers, they extended to the ocean. When I squeezed them into my fist again, they became a superdense singularity in space-time from which neither light nor General Zod could escape.

Screencap from Man of Steel

I clapped when I saw this scene in the theater. It was a slow, sarcastic clap, but I did clap.

My fingers could tap-dance through a mine field. They tripped a lot of the mines, but that just added some style.

My fingers were like that duet that Dolly Parton did with Milli Vanilli. They came from not one, not two, but three other dimensions, traveling through enough wormholes and anomalies and tachyon beams to make Gene Roddenberry feel like he bedded more aliens than Captain Kirk.

I could feel through time.

Sadly, the feeling only lasted a couple hours. Now my hands just feel really badly chapped. But for a little while, I may have been a superhero.

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Lift and Drag

Every person is an airplane. He or she exists to soar, but must simultaneously face the forces of gravity that seek to tether him or her to the ground. It is the interplay between these forces, the ones that lift up and drag down, that define a person. Except that it’s weight that pulls an airplane down; drag is a form of air resistance that pushes it backward. I really shouldn’t try for metaphor on this blog.

I’m in kind of a weird situation. I’m a lot more enthused after the Super this weekend than before it.

That’s actually a good thing. I mean, it sucked being sucky the way I was sucking before hand, but that’s a sunck cost. (Too far?) So anything better than that is better.

I wish I’d been enthused leading up to the race—the results might have been a bit better. My motivation flagged a lot in the three months between events. The forces of drag (okay, weight) have been accumulating (mostly the quantity of time I spend glaring at a computer screen in the service of a cause that, while useful, is frustratingly inefficient and one that I have no passion for, as well as the continuing failure of my attempts to rectify that problem), and there hasn’t been much in the way of lift to counter it.

But the race, bizarrely, did provide a nice jolt of lift. That’s despite or maybe because I didn’t run the way I wanted to. It gave me a bit of motivation to do better next time.

However, it also showed that there’s a good chance my approach was wrong. One of my overall goals for this year was to do a limited number of races—just to do a Trifecta, plus the one Sprint with my brother. That resulted in the long period between races—which also helped to result in the long period of minimal lift and lots of weightdrag.

Meanwhile, a trifecta probably isn’t a worthwhile goal for me to do right now. I think I could complete a beast, but I don’t think I could complete it in a way that I would like to. So, instead, I’m going to try to do more races from different companies. (That was, in fact, my original thought for next year, but I’m gonna speed it up.) I’ve got three events planned in the next two months, and hopefully they will help to keep my motivation up. Admittedly, only one is an OCR—one’s a 5K that’s also a fundraiser for the museum where I volunteer, while the third is a 200-mile relay through Kentucky. But nevertheless…

Hopefully the results will be less repulsing than the mud apparently was for me in this photo from the weekend.

Me being really grossed out by mud at the 2015 Chicago Super

I apparently didn’t expect there to be mud.

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OCR Report: 2015 Spartan Super Chicago (aka HOTEL 1991845)

I ran/walked/slogged/crawled/probably survived the Chicago Spartan Super yesterday. Here’s some thinkings about it.

The Race
The race started ominously. We entered a lengthy, narrow wooded path with deep, cement-like muck. So in addition to the fact that every step brought the real possibility of losing your shoes (it happened to me thrice), since it was right at the start, it was super-congested—and since it was super narrow, every time anyone had to stop to get their shoes back on, the whole crowd had to stop. The starter intended to split our heat into two groups to try to mitigate this, and in fact he did split the heat into two groups. But he split the heat vertically (down the middle from front to back) and didn’t say which group should go first, so both groups went at the same time.

Fortunately, despite some rain the night before, the rest of the course condition wasn’t nearly as wretched as Indianapolis. There was a pretty wide range of terrain—some open ground, which was generally perfectly solid, and some forest path which ranged from dry to slick.

The weather was very hot, which helped to make the race a lot harder. As a result, my favorite obstacle was the second half of the barbed wire crawl. It was through a fairly deep stream—not deep enough to swim but deep enough so it could support my entire body and just pull myself along the stream bed with my arms.

I’m not sure there were any particularly new obstacles, apart from possibly the Cliff Climb. (I won’t use the product-placement name on general principle). This looked nigh-impossible but turned out not to be particularly difficult—it was a climb up a near-vertical cliff face, but there were good ruts that served as sturdy footholds and a couple of sturdy roots to hold onto. There was a fair bit of backup at it, but it overall was a pretty neat use of the terrain. Some that I hadn’t done before were a couple of hurdles, which were just some square wooden logs maybe 4 or 5 feet off the ground, the log carry (which, aggravatingly, went through the second-worst muck of the course), and a haybale climb. (That last one wasn’t much of an obstacle—the hay bale was pretty worn down by the time I got there, so it didn’t pose much of a challenge at all.)

From the standpoint of my personal performance, things are pretty mixed. The good:

  • While it was short for a Super (probably less than 8 miles, officially, although that doesn’t typically include the obstacles with loops), it was the longest race I’ve ever done, and I’m pleased to have survived it in much better shape than Indy.
  • I’m feeling better on the cargo nets, which I’ve had some panic on in the past. The pyramid-shaped cargo net was a bit better for me than the vertical one, but there’s a bit of a caveat to that which I’ll explain below.
  • The inverted wall came easier this time than in Indianapolis. Hercules Hoist was, once again, a wheelhouse obstacle, and the sled drag also went really well. The Atlas Stone went a lot better than Indianapolis, and I was able to do it alone. I think they were a bit lighter than the ones in Indianapolis, though heavier than the ones at Stadium sprints.

The bad:

  • I didn’t complete any of the “marginal” obstacles—the ones that I might be able to do under good circumstances but with the fatigue and poor grip of the course I couldn’t. That resulted in six rounds of burpees: the rope climb, spear throw, rig, monkey bars, Spartan steps, and Z-wall. The rope climb especially hurt, since I have recently learned how to climb the rope in the gym.
  • I didn’t bonk nearly as bad as in Indianapolis, but I did bonk. Time was 4:12.
  • Fundamentally… I guess I’m not really satisfied with just surviving the race, so I was kind of disappointed in my overall performance.

Logistics
I don’t think I have anything more than trivial criticisms of the operation of the event itself. Parking was off-site, unless you wanted to spring for the very expensive VIP parking, but the shuttle buses seemed to be downright incessant—there was a line (well, really a ring) of about 10 buses at the lot when I left, so there was about a minute of time between when I got on the bus and when it left. And I was the second one on the bus. The one parking criticism that I have was at the very end. There were several overflow parking lots, which led to a bit of confusion on the ride home. The bus drivers asked which lot we were in, which perplexed me, since I hadn’t known that there was more than one. It turned out not to be an issue, because the buses went to all of the lots, but there was a moment of panic that I wouldn’t get back to my rental car.

I had the same luck at packet pickup, and at bag check—no lines either dropping my bag off or picking it up again.

There was a line at the end of the race, though: there was a mandatory photo op, like you were entering the Sears Tower or the Space Needle or the Atomium or something. If those photos turn out to be for sale for only $14 I’ll be really pissed. It was definitely a bit of an annoyance to have to wait for it.

There was also a lengthy, demoralizing line for the showers, but it traveled way faster than I expected. It was maybe a 10-minute wait, which isn’t great, but it wasn’t that bad.

Miscellany
This race had a code to memorize, but no place to recite it, which based on what I’ve seen online is now a thing. I have a few theories about it:

  • It could be that it’s an obstacle for the elite heats but not feasible logistically to enforce it for the open ones.
  • It could be something that’s intended to be a joke. If so, it didn’t really land. I’m not bothered by it, I just don’t get it.
  • It could be something to build mystique. I could easily imagine Spartan HQ saying, “You know, if we do something nonsensical and random, people will assume that since they don’t understand it that we must be geniuses.” Spartan sometimes seems to be a bit of a cult of personality—which I don’t mind, but I do think we should all be aware of it when participating.

Anyhow, my code was HOTEL 1991845, so I’m special. Or something.

The trickiness of the vertical cargo net that I alluded to above was due to politeness. Specifically, that brand of politeness that leads to mucking things up, like when someone tries to hold a door for someone but the door opens the wrong way so in order to hold the door they have to stand in front of it and block anyone else from walking through. There’s probably a German word for it.

Anyhow, the cargo net was pretty loose at the bottom, if it was attached at all (I was in the middle so I didn’t notice if there was any bracing at the sides), so well-meaning people who had finished would hold the net down on the other side.

Unfortunately, by holding the net down, they also pulled it. The result was that we had to climb while leaning backwards, which probably added more difficulty than the loose bottom did.

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