I remember like it was yesterday. Killington Mountain. The Beast. September 2014. I started my journey at 8am and finished right around 7pm. This journey of 17 miles included climbing up and down the sides of the mountain through rough terrain, trails, mud, rocks and grass. It included carrying or dragging 50+pound stones, logs, buckets of stone, bags of sand and one heavy rock. It included spear throws into hay bales. It included about 150 burpees (if you don’t know what they are, Google “what is a burpee”). There were barbed wire crawls, wall climbs, going under water and a fire jump at the end. There was also mud. There was a lot of mud. This journey was the longest and toughest Obstacle Course Race (OCR) that I had ever started. I finished in the dark with a headlamp and glow sticks brightening my path. I did not finish alone. I had two “battle” buddies with me the entire day. When the day started, it was cloudy and a chilly 47 degrees. I was told at the mountain summit, it was only 35 degrees through the misty rain. At the end, it was cold. I was dirty. I was tired. I swore to myself that I would never, ever do that again.
“Why would you do that to yourself?”
“I do not understand how that is fun.”
“You are a parent now. You need to stop doing these crazy things and take care of yourself.”
“You are going to get hurt.”
You either understand Obstacle Course Racing (OCR), or you don’t. You either understand why people will subject themselves to extreme temperatures, mud, water, heavy weights, barbed wire, mountains, valleys and everything in between…or you don’t. You either understand why someone would challenge oneself to be outside of a comfortable environment and push past points that you once felt were unattainable, or you don’t. You either understand that finishing a race is not as important as starting it, or you don’t. You understand that to the millions of people who participate in OCRs have fun doing it and look forward to the next race, or you don’t.
You may have heard the names; Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Rugged Maniac, Insane Inflatable, Wipeout Run, Bone Frog, Battlefrog and so many more. But, what exactly are they and who are the people that actually pay to be subjected to them.
Through “Playing in the Mud”, I hope to help those who do not understand the OCR World with a little understanding of the sport while reminding everyone else how awesome it can be.
I consider myself an OCR enthusiast. I am not an elite racer who races for time and money prizes. I am not even a good racer that can complete every obstacle. I fail. I do whatever penalties are required, if any and I go forward without shame or embarrassment (usually). Sometimes, I do not even attempt obstacles because I know I will fail and I just incur the penalty. That is me. That is my race. But since my first race two and a half years ago; I can now get over an eight foot wall on my own, I have learned to climb a rope (which I never did as a fat kid growing up), I have learned to climb inverted walls with a 45 degree angle and I have completed obstacles that scared me and I have completed obstacles that when I first started, I never believed was possible.
Again, that is me. That is who I am. People that know me who do not get it, tell me I am crazy. They look at the photos that I post online and ask me where my brains are and if I have “lost it”. They say that it looks like I am not having fun. Where is the fun in carrying a bucket of rocks up and down a hill for a quarter of a mile and where is the fun in crawling under barbed wire? Is it fun doing it or is it fun finishing it? You tell me. Am I crazy?
Let’s be blunt. You have to be a little bit crazy to run in some of these races. It takes a little bit of an off-kiltered mind to want to do these races. You want to get muddy? You want to crawl through barbed wire? You want to jump off a ledge? You want to be exhausted? You want to be cut up? Scraped? Bruised? Hurt? Any of those can happen when you sign up for a race. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I sign up and I always finish. I never expect a different result than success so I must not be insane. I have been bruised and scraped on the course. I even broke two ribs on a course (because of another person). I will accept that I am crazy. But, I have a whole lot of fun in my craziness.
When is it fun? Crossing a finish line and getting a medal placed around your neck is fun. Watching your friends accomplish things that they couldn’t previously do is fun. Hearing people cheer for you, knowing that you are struggling is fun. It is fun on the journey. I rarely race alone, so I have fun with my friends on the courses. It is fun preparing for a race. It is fun before a race where you gather with your friends and catch up since the last race together. Although I made it seem above that the races are horrible experiences, every race is fun. I have had a smile on my face and laughed through every race I have been in. I have a group of “battle” buddies who I typically race with that makes each race an amazing time. I have fun meeting new people and showing them how amazing this sport can be. It is fun after a race when people tell you that you are inspiring them to do more. It is fun when someone messages you and says “what you did for me on the course is something I will never forget”. All of that is fun and all of that is what you remember about a race.
I may have broken a rib on a course, but I also got a group of people to sing Don’t Stop Believin’ while descending through the trails of Killington Mountain. I may have gotten a few cuts while crawling under a barbed wire, but I also had someone come up to me with her friends after a race and say “that’s the guy that helped me over that wall and because of him I knew I could finish”. I may have raced and dehydrated myself (my own stupidity) on a course, but I also watched friends of mine cross the finish line of a race that they once through were unattainable. I may have raced to exhaustion once or twice, but I also stayed in a house for a weekend with 25 other people and laughing from the moment I got there until the moment I left.
The pros greatly outweigh the cons.
As I write “Playing in the Mud”, I will introduce you to this world of Obstacle Course Racing and what it means to those that run it and some of the mentalities it takes to sign up for them. I will describe what the races are like and tell you about some of them so that you can sign up and complete one yourself. I will do my best to teach you and educate you into one of the word’s fastest growing sports and some of the people behind it.
In case you are wondering, when I completed Killington in 2014, I earned my first Spartan Trifecta, which means that I completed a Sprint, Super and a Beast in one calendar year. I said I would never do it again. My 2015 race season has ended. I didn’t earn a Trifecta this year. I earned a Double. I did Killington again. Insane? No. Crazy? Yes. Regrettable? Never.
Until next time, you cannot finish what you do not start.
Russ Blatt is the author of “Playing in the Mud”, a little piece of the world to introduce you to Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). While not being an elite or having the opportunity to race as often as he has liked, he has completed approximately 25 races in 30 months. He is a member of the New England Spahtens racing community and is the owner of OCR Buddy, the world’s first calendar app for OCR enthusiasts. For comments, questions and article ideas, contact him here.