Tag Archives: Obstacle Course Racing

OCR Report: Royal Mudman: Race (semi-)Local

Yesterday was my second OCR of the year, and it kind of snuck up on me. I did the Royal Mudman 5K in Charlottesville, Indiana, about an hour and a half from where I now live.

You almost undoubtedly haven’t heard of it. It’s not part of a race series; it’s put on as a fundraiser for the Eastern Hancock Education Foundation, which provides grants to teachers in Hancock County. I don’t have any personal connection to said county, but I’m fundamentally glad that that happens.

Home of the Royals sign.

OK, one connection. The OCR took place at a high school, whose mascot is the Royals, which was also my high school’s mascot, even though I never felt like Queen Elizabeth II was particularly fierce or good at football.

I honestly haven’t been hunting for races, what with the move and such. (That excuse, still!) But I found out about the race because of the move. When I was driving to Ohio before moving to arrange housing, I saw a billboard for the race. It remains the only thing (with the possible exception of Wall Drug) that I’ve ever chosen to take part in because I saw a billboard for it.

About the race itself: I really enjoyed it. As you might expect, the scale of the race was fairly small. That means that there were only a handful of waves—start times spread over only maybe an hour and a half or two hours. Getting in and out was easy, with parking on-site at the high school and no lines at check-in or the bag check. Plus, no lines at obstacles.

Obviously, a local race isn’t going to compete on “epic” obstacles. (A concept that OCR people give way too much play to—but that’s another subject.) There were three up-and-over vertical climbs: One cargo net, one bank of tires (stacked vertically on top of each other so it looks like a bunch of big 8s), and one wooden ladder thing. Also notable was a rope swing over a mud pit and a water-and-soap slip-and-slide (curiously placed as the first obstacle, in case you aren’t fresh and clean before running). The course also made excellent use of a local creek, with one fairly long trip wading through it for some distance and several other times crossing it. (As we’ve had a lot of rain lately, the creek was often about waist-high—probably higher than anticipated.)

The other obstacles had a lot of what you could call clambering. Things like crawling over a series of large logs, through the crotch of a large tree, under a set of giant tires embedded in the ground, or through a mud pit under some wire. Also, due to the rain, the running path was muddy and uneven—though certainly not to the extent of a typical Spartan with miles of single-track muck that is impossible to run through.

Fire jump being constructed.

And a fire jump, because it’s an OCR.

None of the obstacles were extraordinarily difficult. And yet (to get back to the whole “epicness” flaw) I was still pretty exhausted after it. That’s because I was able to run the whole thing, and at a decent clip, even. The race wasn’t officially timed outside of the competitive heats, but there was a clock with a running event time at the start/finish line. If I remembered the start time correctly, and I did the math right, I did the course in about 44 minutes. Physically I was quite pleased with how I ran it.

To sum up: It was a really lovely day—or half-day, really, since I was home by about 1 p.m. It’s not going to compete on having obstacles on a grand scale or that require extraordinary strength. But it’s a great option if you’re in the region and looking for a casual OCR experience or an OCR where you can push the running pace.

Plus, the race had what I’m calling an official cow.

cow

The official cow of the Royal Mudman OCR?

 

Race shirt and medal

One more photo, for the swag hags.

 

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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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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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OCR Report: 2016 Battlegrounds St. Louis

This was a lot of fun.

But let’s start negative. The timing of this race was absolute shit. That’s not the race’s fault, but this is a personal blog, so I’m claiming the right to whine about it. The timing was bad because there turned out to be an event I had to do in the couple days after the race that required a lot of preparation, and a lot of stress, and a lot of travel in a direction that works against sleep patterns rather than in favor of them, but as I can’t blame the organization that put on that event, I’ll complain here.

Whew.

Also, reaction to the fez was a bit surprising. A fair number of people commented on it, generally positively, so that’s always nice. Many thought it was a Doctor Who reference, since fezzes are cool. I have to say, while I was aware of that reference, it wasn’t the reason the fez happened. (I’m generally happy that Doctor Who exists, and on paper I should be a raging fan, but I never got past casual fandom. I’ve seen all of the Eccleston and Tennant years on Netflix, but not much more, even though the man who performed my brother’s wedding did so in an outfit intentionally reminiscent of Tennant’s doctor. I’m also not cool enough to do something simply because it’s cool. Doing so would immediately render such thing uncool. I’m the entire reason why swing dancing went out of fashion on that particular Tuesday in 1996.)

A surprising number of people thought I was a Shriner, which is a reference I was aware of but only in the back of my mind; it absolutely never occurred to me that by wearing the fez I might be presenting myself in that way, or that anyone sees a fez these days and thinks “Shriner,” or that anyone thinks “Shriner” at all.

As far as I know, nobody was inspired. Perhaps for the next race I’ll write something on it to clarify, like “THIS IS TO INSPIRE YOU SO BE INSPIRED DAMMIT!”

The fez worked pretty well as a hat. I’d sewn an elastic chinstrap to it on the train ride down (a surprisingly tedious task that I won’t detail, since it’s tedious) that worked OK—I should have made it a bit tighter because the hat had a tendency to sort of suction around my head rather than staying loose. I also held onto the fez at a couple spots, including a long slide where volunteers were warning that anything that’s not glued down was likely to get lost. So I grabbed it, and it didn’t get lost, and all was well.

So, the event itself. This was the first race I’ve done at a permanent course, which was neat. I don’t know how many of the obstacles were permanent or had to be—there seemed to be a lot of wall-style obstacles that non-permanent courses have without much trouble—although some, like the aforementioned slide probably were. Also probably permanent was what I’d consider the course’s centerpiece: The Gauntlet.

The Gauntlet at the BattlegroundsThe Gauntlet was actually five different lines of obstacles over a water pit, although you only got to do one. They were all different; some elements were no harder than a reasonably wide log to walk across, while others required a lot of upper-body strength like hanging from a steel I-beam and crossing it from below.

This was one of the few places where I saw a line, and it was only for the easiest route. I decided to bypass it and go for one of the harder ones, which started with a swing from rope to rope, which I couldn’t do and fell in. I wish I’d had a bit more presence of mind to go back and try one of the other routes, because (in retrospect) there were a few others that I think I could have done that didn’t have the backup. But it was at the end of the race, and I wasn’t thinking so clearly.

Perhaps because I ran fairly late in the day, but there wasn’t much else in the way of backups, apart from a bit of a crowd in the initial running out of the start line. (Having heats half an hour apart seems like it might be too much; heats every 15 minutes that are half the size might fix that.)

I did the 5 mile option, rather than the 5K. The two routes share the course, but there were a couple places where the 5-milers veered off to a side route with extra running and obstacles. It was controlled by honor system (although there were timing chip readers at each of the turn-offs and turn-ons to monitor for the competitive rounds) which made me wonder if people signed up for the (I think less expensive) 5K and did the longer version anyhow. Of course, there wasn’t much in the way of control of who could get into heats, so probably any banditing was minor compared to the cost and effort it would take to fight said banditing.

One of my favorite bits wasn’t an obstacle at all. The Battlegrounds shares its space with an adjacent winery. (I don’t know much about wine, but I’m sure St. Louis wine has an excellent reputation.) Some of the running was through rows of the vineyard. So I can now say that I’ve run through a vineyard. It was a neater sensation than I’m making it out to be.

There were a lot of obstacles—38 in total for the 5 mile version. While some were pretty minor (“Knee High Hell,” as far as I could tell, was where you ran through a small stream for a little while), I didn’t feel like there was any shortage. There were certainly runs, but I thought there was a nice mix—no segment of running was obnoxiously long. (At least not looking back on it. It was obnoxious at the time, but all running is.)

A really nice element was how visible a lot of the course was. About half of the obstacles could be seen from the festival area, and several more could be seen on the way in. The course made about three passes near the festival, plus the start and finish, so the obstacles never came in bunches of more than three or four.

Some obstacles that I haven’t seen before include:

  • The aforementioned slide and gauntlet.
  • A pontoon bridge—not extraordinarily difficult, although the individual segments did move a lot and it was awkward jumping from segment to segment.
  • A teeter-totter obstacle.
  • A horizontal cargo net climb, as well as a monkey-bar approximation with cargo nets instead of bars. The latter was really tough, since it moved and since it was not particularly high (I could reach without jumping.) I attempted to do it sloth-walk style, which proved ludicrous.
  • One of those things where you walk across one rope while holding onto another at chest height. I assume a fair number of OCRs have them, but I haven’t seen one before. I wish my upper rope had more tension—I stayed on without too much trouble, but I got horizontal enough that my back touched the water at one point.
  • The “carry-heavy-shit” obstacle included walls to either climb over or under, although this part wasn’t so successful. It wasn’t really possible to crawl under the walls with the bag on our backs—in my case, the opening was simply smaller than me plus a bag—so for most of these runners just tossed the bag over the wall before doing it themselves.

Anyhow, due to the eventfulness of the past week, I’m posting this late and official race photos have already been released. Here are some of mine. (As usual, they’re not good. I don’t photograph well.)

race_3041_photo_35763805

Here’s one where I at least look vaguely human. (Although you can see the gap between the elastic and my face; I need to see to that.) As opposed to…

race_3041_photo_35763801

This is especially tragic, because I posed for this one, thinking that this would be a good look for me. Moreover, I posed for this one twice, because the photographer didn’t catch me the first time. Sheesh.

race_3041_photo_35773377

Hey. This timing chip? Do I put it in the bin with all of the other timing chips, or is there something special that I should do with mine since it’s mine? Also, how did my shorts get so asymetric?

 

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Filed under Funny, Obstacle Course Racing, OCR Report, Photos, The Battlegrounds

The Linguistic Variations of “Aroo”

The big exciting news of the day is dictionary-related, as it so often is. Joe De Sena has released a video promoting a change.org petition to have “aroo” added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Now, I could pass for a grammarian; I’ve worked in publishing for too long and been in far too many style book meetings (in which a group of editors sit around debating how a given publication will handle potentially tricky words or phrases that don’t necessarily have a “correct” way to be handled. Style books are Good Things, but the meetings to create them are an interminable series of discussions that each begin with “this will probably never come up” and end in “well, I just think it looks better that way.”) and, despite the appearances engendered by the perpetuality of this sentence, I know my way around a clause. So I’ve decided to give the “aroo” endeavor a hand.

Not by signing the petition, obviously, because, yeargh. But I figured that, if “aroo” does enter the dictionary*, it would be handy to have a list of its linguistic variants handy. And who better to produce that than me?

OK, maybe a few people. But they aren’t available right now, and I am. If you don’t want it, well, go find what you do want. Here’s the list:

Arod: To be disqualified from a Spartan Race for using performance enhancing drugs. “He podiumed, but it was no surprise that he got aroded because his urine sample was orange with green polka dots.”

Aroid: The performance enhancing drugs that will get you aroded.

Arooed: Past tense of “aroo.”

Arooey-ooey: Alexander Graham Bell’s preferred greeting when an obstacle course racer answers the telephone. Largely archaic, except among hipsters.

Arooga: The sound made by an alarm on a British spaceship when something gets Spartanly fucked up.

Arooing: The act of shouting “aroo.”

Aroink: a portmanteau of aroo and boink; the act of engaging in sexual activities with an obstacle course racer. Typically vulgar and used to describe activities that will not lead to the exchange of phone numbers or actual names.

Aroom: The form of “aroo” used when the aroo has a direct object; e.g., “To whom are we arooming?” Often used incorrectly when the user is a pretentious git.

Aroomba: An automated spartan vacuum cleaning robot popular in the mid-2000s. No one seems to have one any more.

Arooooo: A variant of “aroo” used for emphasis. Certain writers will add a number of additional “o”s to the end of “aroo” proportionally to the amount they wish to intensify the phrase. These are generally the same people who believe that adding twelve exclamation points to the end of a sentence is the only possible way to show a reader that something is exciting; they should generally be avoided at all costs.

Aroos: Plural of “aroo.”

Aroot: Common proper name derived from the sentient tree that ran a Spartan Race one time, or that Reno stripper so inspired by his tale that she adopted his name, dance moves, and subterranean root structure.

Arootch: The act of vomiting from exhaustion while shouting “aroo.” Some variant of Rule 34 demands that there are probably people out there who will make arootching their goal.

Arooth: An archaic form of “aroo” popularized in Shakespeare’s Atlasball and Cleopatra.

Lilly Von Schtupp

Awoow-oo-oo-oo-oow.

Awoow: Variant of “aroo” as pronounced by Barbara Walters or Lilly von Schtupp.

I’m an individual, dammit!: A perfectly acceptable response to a shout of “Aroo.” As OCR Drinking Game Rules state, doing so will require all listeners to take two drinks. Therefore, it is highly recommended that you open a beer tent before shouting this phrase.


*Well, a dictionary. I mean, Merriam-Webster ain’t the OED. It ain’t even Random House.


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