This past weekend I flew to Southern CA for my first obstacle race of the year and ended up hanging out with a reality TV star and an Australian, a big bonus for the weekend if you’ve ever had the chance to hang with either one. So before you all start snickering that I did an obstacle race and I’m talking to the runners both pro and recreational who would never consider debasing themselves with such a gimmicky event as a mud run, obstacle race, or any of that, let me tell you a bit about the weekend and the people I met.
This weekend was my first real taste of that other world of obstacle racing where crossfit goliaths meet sinewy track runners and they compete against each other on a level playing field. Is it intimidating for a runner like myself to line up against a guy that weighs 200lbs and could flip over a car and know we’ll be racing together, heck yeah.
This isn’t a crowd that I’m used to being around let alone racing and I suspect that’s a pretty big barrier to get over for many other runners as well. But if you’re a competitor, it’s actually a bit of a wake up call when a hoss comes up to a tire flip or sandbag carry that you’re struggling on, makes it look like he’s flipping pancakes and is off running to the next obstacle. It’s fun. That’s when it becomes a race. You’ve just decided there is no way you’re letting him get away with making it look that easy and you pump a little extra adrenaline out to get that tire over and now you’re on the chase. It doesn’t hurt as much anymore, you just know that you’re going to run with all your strength, be as efficient as you can at the next obstacle and whittle away at the lead of this dude who has no idea what his VO2max is but might be able to execute a clean with perfect technique. Oh, it’s fun.
I came in Thursday evening for the second event that Atlas Race, a Southern Oregon Company, has put on. After a good amount of traffic, I hate driving in SoCal, I met the Atlas crew of Scott and Lance as they finished up dinner. I also met my roommate for the weekend Matt Murphy of Australia. If you’ve never met and Aussie, I’ll tell you they’re some of the nicest, funniest people on the planet. Just a good sense of life and laid back. Matt was no different. A guy I’d never heard of, but an Australian reality TV star from the Search for Hurt, a show he created, and a badass athlete himself. He was second last year at the Spartan World Champs and is a personal trainer with wealth of good knowledge.
As with any good Aussie, he also knows how to drink, and when they drink that socially acceptable do-not-cross line quickly shifts. The progression of photos will give you an idea of how competition and suffering through a common endeavor can make quick friends out of complete strangers in a very short weekend. I’d have to say Matt capped off the weekend.
Friday before the race we took short run out at the race venue, careful not to run on the course. It’s frowned upon to pre-run the course. The course designers like to throw in special challenges that they want to keep a surprise until the race. It tends to make things…more “interesting” that way. So we didn’t see much except what was visible from the start/finish area. Your usual obstacles, cargo nets, walls, a tunnel crawl, tire flip, etc. What we couldn’t see would hurt us.
You can’t help but be nervous before a race with unknowns. I have a hard enough time with nerves before a normal race but to go into a race when I don’t know exactly what’s out there, it’s entirely different.
Saturday was go time. Same as any other race except you don’t know what to expect and there’s a 200lb dude next to you on the start line that can trash talk about as well as Prefontaine. That’s to say, he’s good at it and can back it up. Hunter McIntyre is an other worldly beast, a heck of a nice guy (off the course), and one of the most confident competitors I’ve encountered in years. I knew I had to get out fast and use my running ability if I was going to have any chance at winning this race so I was off in the first 100m like it was a 5mi XC race. Unfortunately, because I’m new at this the first barrier totally took me by surprise. Think of a fly hurrying away from a horde trying to make a meal of it and flying right into a spider web. Yup, the first obstacle was a tunnel of criss-crossing ropes, only they were bungee ropes and I didn’t know that. John Yatsko didn’t know that either and we both dove to crawl under them. He got hung up on the first rope, I ran into him and the horde was upon us. Hunter fell on top of me and kept on going, right through the bungees. Taking his lead I stepped over John (quite possibly ON John, I don’t know, sorry John) and clawed my way through. On Hunter’s heels, our next challenge was a 500ft climb to the top of a small mountain. As we start to climb he turns to me and says “Are you ready for this?” I said “yup” and took off, knowing that while I might get away on these running sections, it wouldn’t last long. I pushed my way up the hill, over a 12ft wall at the top, down the other side to the tire flip. I got first pick of the tires and chose wisely. I held my lead through the next three cargo net climbs, mud pits, and burpee broad jumps and 2 miles of running.
Then came the real work. A challenge neither the racers nor organizers had really planned on being as hard as it should have been. A 65lb sandbag up over a mountain, an 8ft wall and a mile long is enough to destroy anyone…except Hunter. He finally caught me as we descended the back side of said mountain and continued to pull away on the flat part of the run. You’re talking half my body weight but only a third of his. Not to say that it was unfair, it wasn’t. It was just another obstacle and a lot of hard work even if it was longer than planned.
I did my best to cut into his lead as we headed to the finish and I cut it down from over a minute to about 45 seconds but I ran out of room to catch him. Over the last few obstacles and through a lot of mud I was pushing pretty hard to catch Hunter but to keep Cody Moat and Chad Trammell from gaining on me.
I was extremely happy with a second place finish in my second obstacle race and against a field that included every big name in the sport right now including the top 3 from Spartan World Champs, new comers John Riccardi, John Yatsko a 4:05 miler, and a bunch of other guys that have proven themselves in this discipline already. With the prize money being laid on the line this sport is just going to continue to attract elite athletes from various disciplines and since it’s also a lot of fun with a great challenge, everyone is going to be doing this for a while. The sport is here to stay.
From there, we chilled on the grass of SoCal in 75 deg weather. Due in part to National Margarita Day the evening went into a downward spiral but ended on a high note with ice cream and a 11pm bedtime. Hey, I’m old. That’s really late for me these days.
Getting on the plane today I realized how similar OCR is to XC and that I always lament that we have a 1 month cross country season in the US but where there was a hole, a whole new discipline has popped up and I’ll be able to compete in XC all year around the world. It’s really what I’ve been waiting for and looking forward to the next one.
Thanks to Atlas Race for getting me and everyone else down there to go head to head and to Montrail for some prototype trail shoes that work perfectly for this stuff. You wouldn’t think of it but this is still a “mountain” sport so thanks to Mountain Hardwear from some great gear. If you’re looking for a sock that will stay put on your foot while getting sloppy in mud, water, and sweat look no further than the Swiftwick Aspire socks. Wicking, low water retention, and snug they are a perfect sock for OCR.