She was afraid of heights but she was much more afraid of never flying. --Atticus
I decided last December that, after the Olympic Marathon Trials, I would be switching my focus from road racing to obstacle course racing, a.k.a. OCR. I had an unshakeable feeling that I needed a new challenge. It turns out that new challenges can scare the crap out of you. For some strange reason, I like that. This decision to focus on OCR has now resulted in a calendar full of races for 2016. And, not one of them is a road race…Competing in OCR is no joke. It hurts. It is tough. And it is fun! I hope to test all aspects of fitness: strength, power, balance, endurance, agility, and most of all - mental grit. To finish one, no matter your level or speed, takes guts and balls (or, better yet, ovaries).
In OCR, you get rocks in your wet shoes. You get muddy. You occasionally get bruised and bloody. You get thrown into unpredictable courses and terrain. In stark contrast, road racing makes you sweaty and occasionally sticky from pouring Gatorade on your head when you thought it was water. A pebble in your shoe can change a road race. In OCR, one little pebble is expected. In OCR, it’s an all-weather sport, an all-terrain sport. There are races in baseball stadiums, on motocross fields, and on double black diamond mountains. You never know what each course will bring, which adds an element of fun and the need to be more perceptive of your footing.
No OCR race is the same, and nor is any course from year to year. Personal time does not matter as much because there are no set distances. It’s all about placement. This difference between OCR and road racing is liberating. There are no expected paces as it’s difficult to get into any running groove while running, stopping for obstacles, and running again. Some athletes argue that OCR can favor the runners, as the running is where you can pass and gain time. But being a good runner isn’t enough to earn a spot on the podium. In addition to speed and endurance, you also need plenty of strength, power, and agility. Coming from a sport where time and pace dictates all, this new focus on gaining obstacle proficiency is a huge relief to my always-over-working brain.
This year, I will only be doing Spartan Races, one of many OCR venues that put on races. Spartan Races tend to be more running focused (with lots of steep hills) rather than purely obstacle heavy. They have varying distances (similar to road racing): Sprints are 3-5 miles, Supers are 8-10 miles, Beasts are 13-15 miles, and Ultra Beasts are 26-30+ miles. I have at least five locations on this year’s calendar, and I will race two days at most locations. Most of these races will be in elite heats competing for prize money, but some will be fun runs.
So how the heck do I prepare for these things? Well, my training has been incredible! For me, it’s all about improving my upper body strength – in particular my pull (back and biceps) muscles and grip strength. At the peak of marathon training I was running around 90 miles per week. Now I run more like 40-50 miles per week. I also take a mandatory rest day each week where I focus on stretching and using my Roll Recovery to get ready for another week of intense training.
Here is an example of a training week. You will see that very few days are just pure running...
Total body power (heavy weights)
Grip Strength Work
2 mile warm up
20 x 200m (rest is 10 burpees)
2 mile cool down
2 mile warm up
1 mile repeats x 6
60 seconds squat thrusts in between each mile
2 mile cool down
3 mile run
Half mile steep hill climb with 50lb Hyperwear Sandbell
Repeat x 3
Long Run (15+ miles)
75 minutes 15% treadmill incline speed hike with HyperPro vest
In training like this, my body is beginning to change. I am gaining muscles in places I never knew existed. I feel stronger. I feel much more confident with my total fitness - beyond what I ever felt as a runner. Training this way helps me to hurl by body over 9 foot walls, power my legs up a mountain while carrying a bucket full of rocks, hoist a heavy weight up in the air with a pulley, and be prepared to run hard after jacking my heart rate up on these strength-based obstacles.
Do I miss road racing? Not really. I may sign up for a road race here and there, but I’m much more excited to utilize my experience from road racing to build a strong foundation in OCR. The women I will be competing against are fit all around, and I am excited to bring my best self to compete alongside them. I still don’t know what this season will bring and I know that I have a lot of improving to do, but I am beyond excited to push my limits and have some fun.