Category Archives: Commentary

Splinters

Gather round, my obstacle course racing brothers and sisters, because there is a scourge that we all face, and most of us probably don’t even realize it.

Obstacle course racers pride ourselves on our toughness and our resilience, but I think we need to talk about how soft and cushy our collective asses have become. And I mean that literally.

Toilet paper is making us weak.

A brief history lesson: The first recorded toilet paper dates back to 1391. Since then, millions of innovations in toilet paper technology have been developed—rolls, quilting, two-ply and three-ply and four-ply and five-ply, to name just a few—but the one that led to the patheticization of human society developed in 1930.

That was the year Northern Toilet Paper became the first splinter-free toilet paper.

While that may have been a boon for backside comfort, I think we can all agree that in the 87 years since then, we as a species have become as soft as the stuff we clean the outside of our rectums with.

I’m willing to take a stand and say no more.

splinters

Splinters brand obstacle course racing toilet paper, with extra shards of wood for extra toughness. Image by Brandon Blinkenberg via Wikipedia, used and modified under CC BY 2.5.

That’s why I’ve started production of Splinters OCR toilet paper.

Splinters is a brand-new brand of toilet paper, tough enough for the toughest OCR racer. It’s made of 98% wood pulp and 2% wood shards ready to dig into your glutes every time you poo. This discomfort is key to building the emotional strength, physical resilience, and spiritual spirituality that humanity has lost in the past 0.87 of a century.

We can get out of the mess we’re in, and it starts with how we get out of the mess we’re in.

Splinters. Because if you’re tough enough to trudge through mud pits, you’re tough enough to dig shards of wood out of your ass.

Available at finer shops everywhere.

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Semi-Back

“Mourning” is a melodramatic way to describe the reason for my recent blogging absence, but it’s not entirely incorrect.

There’s good news that I’ve been pursuing for a long time. Periodically, it comes closer, which both builds hope (Yay!) and requires extra investment of time and often money (Boo!). None of these periodical closer-comings have resulted in the good news actually happening, which is a bit soul-eating. My absences was prompted by a pair of closer-comings, one of which required a spectacular time investment and the other of which was the closest of all the closer-comings, and the duo—combined with the net effect of years of close-comings-but-not-arrivings—broke me.

This isn’t, of course, related to obstacle course racing. But, well, the OCR world can be awful when you’re down. I don’t need other people to tell me how epic they are, and I don’t to be told how I need to work just a little bit more in order to be a real person—I need the work that I’ve done to actually pay off.

Inspiration is useless when what you actually need is for someone to get the fucking boot off your throat.

So I got out. And now, I’ve sort of put myself back together, and I’m sort of functioning again, and I’m sort of back.

I have a feeling I’m going to be focusing more on the intersection between generalized fitness and comedy than OCR—not that I’m abandoning the OCR world, but there are a lot of ways in which it’s not healthy for me.

We shall see.

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How To Get Cast On American Ninja Warrior*

*or Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge, or any other OCR- or OCR-adjacent reality show

We’ve all seen the shows, and loved them, and dreamed about being on them, so as to launch us into superstardom and validate our otherwise tiny lives.

So we figure out what we need to apply, and craft our audition videos, and submit them, and hear… nothing.

It’s not our fault. Skill’s not enough to get on a reality TV show. You also need a compelling backstory. And that’s a tricky thing. Most of us are too busy living and stuff to get one.

But now, there’s a solution. If you don’t have a compelling backstory, buy one.

Polydactyl hand

I’ve got polydactyly… but it doesn’t have me! Creative Commons image by Drgnu23 via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polydactyly_01_Lhand_AP.jpg

I’ve got several economical and thoroughly non-guaranteed packages. For example, everyone loves the Disease Package. For just $2,500, I’ll give you complete research on a disease that’s obscure but serious-sounding. It’ll be everything you need to pass yourself off as suffering from it, or, if you prefer, to have a loved one who has or died from it that you can dedicate your performance to.

If that’s not enough, a pair of extremely reasonable add-ons are available. For just $1,000, I can give you an authentic-looking document signed in ink by an Official Doctor Substitute formally diagnosing your serious but inspirational condition, in the event that the show demands proof. Or, for a completely separate thousand bucks, I can contract an actor of appropriate age, ethnic background, and ability to cry on cue to portray your loved one.

Of course, diseases can be icky, and you may have ethical concerns about claiming a disease you don’t actually have. No problem! We’ve got plenty of other inspirational backgrounds to choose from.

The Rehabilitated Felon Package is a steal at just $2,200! It includes a custom-created criminal background—one-time or recurring—that you’ve served your time for and which you’re now using to try to inspire others to keep out of trouble. We’ll tell you exactly what you did (including details like the type of property stolen, the specific drugs taken, or the precise breed of rare dog rare dognapped), the situation that you really shouldn’t be blamed for that led you into a life of crime, details about your incarceration, and an inspirational mantra from either the judge who sentenced you, a gruff but caring warden, or the prison roommate who’s uneducated but wise that inspired you to turn your life around. Available add-ons include a professional mugshot package (with hair, makeup, and whimsical greeting cards suitable for giving your relatives a real scare at the holidays) for just $349.99, or an actor to portray the victim of your crime who has recognized that you have fully repented and with whom you now share an unlikely but inspiring friendship ($2,500; only two available per calendar year).

Finding Nemo screenshot

Or, if you prefer, you can be the fish-torturing dentist from Finding Nemo.

Maybe you want something a bit lighter and more fun. Just $1,499 will get you the Wacky Job package. You’ll get all of the information you’ll need to impersonate a circus lion tamer, a parachute instructor, an erectile dysfunction doctor, a racehorse inseminator, or any of dozens of other cool professions. The package includes three portable, career-appropriate props you can bring with you to final auditions or filming days. Plus, for just an extra $500 we’ll give you a wacky career like balloon salesman that lines up with a popular movie, so you’ll be able to say, “It’s like a real-life Up!”

Disadvantaged Backgrounds come in lots of shapes and sizes—poverty and violence are ever-popular, but there’s also religious cults, kidnapping, overcoming a stutter, or parents who kept voting for Lyndon LaRouche. And any of these are available for just $1,999. All disadvantaged background packages come with the free, award-winning guide, 12 Ways to Seamlessly Draw Parallels between the Obstacles You’ve Faced in Your Life with the Obstacles You Face on the Course!

The Unique Living Situation is a great starter package—easy to implement but surprisingly effective. For just $1,200, I’ll give you a trigonomous relationship, a family of ghosts in your house, or a close personal friendship with Carrot Top. (Seriously, he’s desperate!)

Maybe you don’t even want to commit to all of that. For just $599, I can give you a Memorable Personal Style: Rainbow hair, trademark body paint, an obscure superhero you impersonate, a fez, or any of a thousand other options. I’ll provide a general outline but you’ll have final say on colors and design.

All packages come with a customized, easily repeatable hashtag no more than twenty characters long.

Finally, I offer Discount Stories. My full-price backstories are first-rate and guaranteed unique, and extraordinarily likely to get you cast on a reality show of your choice. However, not everyone cast will go far. If you prefer a cheaper option, for half price you can purchase a gently used (No more than one episode) certified pre-owned backstory from our catalog. (A nominal fee may apply for adjusting details to your current situation; actor rental and certain other add-ons are always full price.)

Here’s to your brand-new reality!

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I Watched the Spartan TV Show and Wasn’t That Pissed Off By It

So, the Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge premiered this week. It was actually a few days ago, but I only got around to watching it yesterday. I don’t have a TV, which makes me sound really pretentious—I actually watch more than I should, it’s just all online because I don’t really care about time-shifting.

Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge courseI also wasn’t in a rush. The show is paired with American Ninja Warrior, which is cool but also really obnoxious. (I’ll be full-on pretentious here and declare the original Japanese one was way better.) The format is awesome, but the dressing-up with REALLY SHOUTY HOSTS WHAT SHOUT ABOUT EVERYTHING! and the increased focus on Backstory bug me. I fully expected that the Spartan show would take the same approach.

It does, to some extent. It dwells soundly within the reality show paradigm, and expecting it to avoid those trappings completely isn’t realistic. (The presence of Evan Dollard, Who I still affiliate with the American Gladiators reboot, one of the most egregious examples of taking a great show format and turning it into an absolute pile of shit*, which is completely unfair to blame him for and I don’t but it’s still something that happened, concerned me.) But, while I’ve got plenty of unsolicited recommendations to improve the Spartan show, I’d say it’s got a lot of potential.

The show started horrifyingly, I’ll say, with about 7 minutes of Backstory Glurge. And then, the first few obstacles were either skipped or shown in a fog of confusion. What exactly are the rules for that log jump thing? Is there any penalty for not making the jump other than having to climb out of the lake?

After the commercial break it got even worse: A tiny update on the “previous heat.” So, basically, in order to get enough time for Backstory Glurge, they turned the race into the Technical Oscars. Then, more obstacle confusion: The Log Traverse (I think? – the thingy where the teams had to hold on to a log while it swung somewhere) was massively unclear. What was the penalty for dropping off of it? And, more importantly: the show told us that one of the teams did succeed at it, but they didn’t bother to show how. I mean, “show don’t tell” is only the first piece of advice any aspiring storyteller gets, but when you’re a Spartan, why bother paying attention to that? It’s a problem that happened several times during the show.

The thing is, once they started focusing on the race itself, it got a lot better. Much to my surprise, by this point, I really got into watching the teams racing each other. There were plenty of points where teams could make up or lose time and pass each other, and the tension built nicely—it was fun and exciting to watch. I was also often impressed by how the obstacles were adapted into team challenges rather than individual ones.

I was especially surprised by this because of how hard the show pushed the “New York vs. Boston” “rivalry” that two “teams” in the second heat supposedly “had.” It’s unfair to have this reaction, but I was so happy when neither team was fast enough to qualify for the final. Even though that meant that we just got more special-needs-baby emotional porn as a replacement.

So, yeah, I’d love to ditch that kind of thing. I suppose I’m not qualified to declare whether or not the competitive aspects of the show are sufficient to support a show on their own, and I’m obviously a bit biased, but I think they are. You know, the way real sports do.

A few other criticisms that I hope are constructive:

Insight about the teams would be a great replacement for “story” about the teams. The hosts noted how important strategy is, to take advantage of team members’ strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. But I don’t think the show ever mentioned any details. I’d love to have some idea of who’s fricking awesome at raw strength but so bulky they can’t climb, and how teams deal with that, or whatnot.

Insight about the obstacles would also be awesome. As I mentioned, the program often told us that teams completed a really hard obstacle without showing it. It also told us how epic a challenge some obstacles were, without giving any kind of insight about how it could or should be completed, particularly if there are options that each might have advantages or disadvantages.

At times, the show felt overly performative. A lot of things seemed to be played up way beyond what was real: I can’t say for certain, but I suspect the woman’s hyperventilating at the dunk wall was a bit less serious than the program tried to make it appear. (Also, it was pretty poor form of the show to immediately follow that with a segment about how the women on that team are redefining feminine strength.)

This may also be unfair, but it also seemed like some of the encouragement provided by the coaches were playing to the cameras—like the producers might have told them to be sure to keep up a running commentary. And equally unfairly, I suspect that some of the post-race celebrations with families were only captured on the third or fourth take.

Not every ad break needs to be a cliffhanger. Especially not when the cliffhangers were as stupid as this show had. “Will the guy who managed to jump into the lake before manage to jump into the lake this time? Gosh, I don’t know!”

If you’ve got to have product placement, be more interesting about it. The fitness watch (I won’t give the brand, because no need to encourage that kind of behavior**) could have potentially provided some interesting insight rather than just mentioning one guy’s heart rate at one point in the race.

The hosts were surprisingly good. I was worried that the two of them would impersonate fourteen hosts, the way American Ninja Warrior’s do, but I didn’t mind them.

Yeah, Spartan loves its medals. I had to freeze-frame it, but I can confirm that they’re not identical to the regular medals. But they’re close.

medal

Ultimately, though, I think there’s a really good base here to build from. I hope the show evolves and finds success, particularly if it can find success as a sports show rather than a reality show.

 


* Why did the reboot suck? Sin #1: They crapped all over the gameplay. The events had the potential to make maybe 10 seconds difference in the Eliminator—which could take 10+ minutes. And even the Eliminator was stupid, because almost all of that time was taken up by that reverse treadmill at the end. So the entire show came down to that one thing. Sin #2: They managed to slow the pace down to a crawl by doing really unintersting interviews with every competitor before anything happened, and after anything happened. Sin #3: Hulk Hogan was a spectacularly annoying host.

** Unless they want to pay me, of course.

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Rise of the Sufferfests: A Review of the Reviews

Rise of the Sufferfests posterSo, the big news out of OCRsylvania this week is that there’s now a documentary about OCR.

It’s tricky to say what I want to say about it, because I don’t want to be a dick, but I hope to encourage reaction to it that’s constructive. I probably will fail somewhat at the first part, and probably the second part too, but let’s go.

Point 1: I think it is important to remember here that the person who has created something has done a much more impressive thing than someone who comments on it. So regardless of what the movie is, props to the filmmakers for planning, funding, and executing the project.

Point 2: I haven’t seen the film. So when I talk about the movie, I’m talking about the concept of a documentary about OCR, rather than this movie itself.

Point 3: This movie has parallels to another movie whose paths I’ve traveled in the same general vicinity of but haven’t crossed. Without giving identifying detail, at the time I was working for a professional association, and someone produced a documentary about the profession and how it was portrayed in the media. This subject was catnip to said profession. The membership magazine for which I worked had a monthly department devoted to it, and when people felt like complaining (a constant occurrence), “contributing to negative stereotypes of the profession” was a common and easily retweetable criticism. There were even association presidential campaigns that included fighting the stereotype as central parts of their platforms.

This obsession didn’t increase my respect for the profession one bit.* And while the movie’s premiere (which took place at the association’s annual conference) was a big event within said conference, it didn’t translate into the Oscar nomination the producers expected (I promise I am not making that up) or any kind of distribution deal or anyone that I’m aware of thinking about it once the conference was over.

Well, I guess I think of it periodically, whenever I need an example of how self-obsessed the profession can be. But the desperation for legitimacy embiggened no one, and the same could be said for OCR. It’s legitimate, regardless of whether there’s a movie about it or not.**

Point 4: I’ve seen two reviews, from Mud Run Fun and Obstacle Racing Media.*** Both have been raves, which is great, but I think they do the movie no favors.

Neither gives me much reason to see the movie, apart from their assertion that the movie’s great and that it’s about an activity that I enjoy. Beyond that… it’s about the history of the sport, and it has interviews with prominent figures in the industry, and there’s something about the filmmaker’s journey.

But that doesn’t really tell me much about what the story actually is, let alone whether it’s well told. Is it a straightforward history, or is there some bit of focus or insight that’s noteworthy? The characters are eccentric, one of the reviews promises, but are they eccentric for eccentricity’s sake, or eccentric because that’s their brand and appearing eccentric is good for business, or because they genuinely see the world in a way that most people don’t and have adapted their actions to reflect it?

Is the story uplifting? Funny? A tale of interpersonal conflict? A lesson in how to build an industry? Or is it just a bunch of people shouting about how they matter? By not giving much information about what the story is, the reviews kind of suggest that it’s the last. I hope that’s not true.

Point 5: “OCR enthusiast” isn’t a victim class. The reviews claim that the movie will help OCR enthusiasts explain why they enjoy the activity to people who think they’re nuts. But I’ve never had any trouble with that. “Because I enjoy being outside, and in nature, doing obstacles that are unusual and challenging” has always been enough for me. And if it’s not, one of the really nice bits about being a grown up is that I have the wherewithal to not care.

In any event, it’s no more difficult than explaining why you enjoy, say, spending huge amounts of money to hit a little white ball with a variety of different sticks for three minutes over four and a half hours, or smearing pigmented ink on a piece of stretched canvas or using cards to try to win other cards by comparing the values on the cards, only sometimes some of the cards are worth more or less than the value they have based on arbitrary rules, but golfers, painters, and card-players don’t tend to feel the need to have a documentary to explain their hobbies. So I guess this might be point 3A.

Point 6: My rampant cynicism has shown throughout this piece, hasn’t it. So let’s pull that back a bit. It is cool that there’s a movie about OCR, and it’s okay to be excited, and I do genuinely wish the producers all the best with it. But the reviews I’ve seen seem to take enjoying the movie as a duty, rather than a natural reaction to it. If liking the movie is a duty, well, I get that. (My magazine from point 3 certainly pimped the movie plenty.****) But if it’s a movie that genuinely warrants wide viewing on its own merits, make that case.


* Which is a shame, because I think it’s fundamentally a force for good, even though it gets a lot of the details wrong.

** Although if you really want legitimacy from a movie, you need to get a porn movie take on it. That’s why everyone loves Star Trek so much.

*** Full disclosure: I’ve contributed two posts to ORM. I am not on their staff, however, and I’m writing this post without their approval or awareness.

**** Admittedly, less than the producers wanted. They believed it warranted a monthly column. Again, I’m not making that up.

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Obstacle Course Racing and the Olympics, or “Why?”

If I wanted to troll OCR Facebook groups, which they certainly deserve but on the other hand, how is it possible not to be better than that, I would post the following article to them:

Climbing Passes Major Hurdle on Road to 2020 Olympics,” Climbing, June 2, 2016.

I don’t think it’s hard to predict the types of responses such a post would get: a chorus of cries of injustice at OCR’s continued overlookedness, probably pointing at the current batch of top OCR athletes as exemplars of what Olympic athletes ought to be, as well as a (probably significantly smaller) chorus of vows to renew efforts to get OCR into the Olympics (without a lot of detail of how one does that, particularly if one isn’t working for a sport’s governing body. Does that exist for OCR, by the way, apart from the individual companies that put on races? I’ve kind of lost track). Also there would probably be a lot of words in ALL CAPS and a LOT of EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!! because OCR Facebook groups tend to be populated by people who do that. (I lurk on several, and finally decided to drop out of Spartan 4-0 when I realized that their claim to be a group for mature Spartan racers meant that it was a group of people who are mature in the sense of a racist grandma who just got an email account.)

But I wonder if asking “why?” wouldn’t be useful. Specifically, why does anyone want OCR in the Olympics?

Okay, well, we could start at its most prominent advocate. Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena wants it in. I don’t know that he’s ever officially said why (the best I found in a very quick and decidedly non-comprehensive Google search was that there aren’t other sports that “capture the true spirit of the Olympic games the same way Obstacle Racing Does“). I assume that he thinks it would be good for business, and it would be good for ego as well. (And despite the bluntness with which I say both of those things, I don’t think either is wrong: we’re all in this life for ourselves, and that can often lead to creating good for others as well. And, as Community put it: Astronauts don’t go to the moon because they hate oxygen, they go to impress the girls who rejected them in high school.)

And I get that the Olympics traditionally have a cachet. I mean, the first Olympics of my memory was 1984, that patriotic smorgasbord when the USA was clearly the best, because none of the other countries that were any good at anything came in retaliation for our boycott in 1980. But everyone sure got a lot of free crap from McDonald’s!

But how much Olympic cachet is left, and how much will be left in four or eight years? There’s, apparently, a bunch of medals from the past few Olympics in jeopardy due to better drug testing, which kind of suggests that the whole point of the Olympics these days is to cheat as much as you can without getting caught while making sure that everybody else gets caught for the same cheating. And bribery scandals. Even badminton seems to be a total den of crapulence. And terrorism. And Zika. And so on.

If OCR gets into the Olympics, there would suddenly be a bunch of national federations viewing it as a potential tick in their quest for medal standing supremacy. Would that lead to wackadoodleness? Probably; when goals are set so clearly, means of achieving them are frequently not judged too carefully. Is it worth it to OCR to invite them into the sport?

Hard to say. And that’s a genuine “I don’t know” rather than a passive-aggressive, you’ll-be-sorry “I don’t know.” Lots of sports have had scandals and gone on to do really well, and the added exposure may well be worth the headaches.

I’m into OCR as a participant, rather than a spectator, so I don’t particularly care if it ever makes it into the Olympics. And the Olympics seem to be becoming more of a slog, or maybe an excuse for posturing, than an expression of peace and joy through sport, which only increases my indifference. (To roughly 750 words, if you’re counting!)

But ultimately, I hope that the sport gets what it wants. Or, more accurately, that it wants what it gets.

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An Open Letter to City Museum of St. Louis

Hi.

I should apologize for that headline. Open letters are almost invariably used by cranky a-holes trying to up their own profile by taking a shot at an organization, and its people, in the least productive but most self-aggrandizing and attention-grubbing way. So let me provide a bit of comfort: I’m not a cranky a-hole. And I’m not trying to complain, or make your lives worse in any way. I’m a bit of a kook, I guess, and actually, the idea I’m going to propose could raise all sorts of annoyances, so I guess that could make your lives worse in a way, but it’s in the service of trying to create something cool, which I think you might appreciate.

Here it is: I want City Museum to be an obstacle course race venue.

Let me back up a bit for people who haven’t experienced City Museum. It’s basically an obstacle course in museum form. I mean that well. It occupies a 10-story former shoe factory, and it consists largely of… stuff. Some of it is stuff to look at, weird and wonderful and bizarre things like Sumo Bobby or the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe and Doesn’t Understand Birth Control. (Seriously, it’s not that complicated!)

Sumo Wrestler statue at City Museum

Old Woman who Lives in a Shoe statue at City Museum

The vast majority of the museum, however, is weird and wonderful and bizarre stuff to climb on, crawl through, slide down, and generally get lost in. It’s a bit tough to explain, but the existence of this sign sort of tells you what you’re dealing with.

Access to the enchanted caves sign

Now, City Museum, I can already hear you telling me all the problems with the plan. Racing through a museum, and especially a museum like this, kind of defeats the purpose. The physical spaces aren’t really conducive to a race, being as how a lot of them are about 90% of an adult’s size. Trying to negotiate spaces like that at speed would almost undoubtedly lead to injuries, and lawsuits and injury lawsuits and even a few lawsuit injuries.

And you’re 100% correct.

But the heart wants what the heart wants, and I still want a City Museum race to happen. Cool race venues are cool, and this would be one of the coolest.

No, I don’t know how the logistics would work out. You’d probably have to close the museum while you set the course and run the race, and you’d need to spread out a lot—basically there would be one-person heats, with a surprising amount of time between, since there’s a lot of lengthy sections where absolutely no passing would be remotely possible. Or maybe there wouldn’t be a course but you have to hit checkpoints in order (at distant points within the museum) and however you get to them is OK—though that would give a huge home-field advantage to people who are familiar with the glorious confusion that is the museum.

Happily, this is an open letter, so I don’t need to worry about stuff like practicality or anything like that. Just do it. I demand it!

(And if you haven’t been, and you can: go. It’s really cool in ways you won’t see coming.)

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