Intro to OCR
In 2013 obstacle racing was starting to get really popular and one of the trainers at my gym said I should look into a particular one called Civilian Military Combine. It appealed to me because in addition to the actual running of the course, there was a high intensity ‘WOD’ before the race even started. You score (the amount of repetitions completed) in the WOD was combined with your race finish to create a total score and winner of the event.
Although I weighed more than I should, I was still keeping myself in good athletic condition. The race was only 4 miles, but was up and down ski slopes (It was Spring time). The race destroyed me. I finished in the top third, but was not happy at all with how I felt at the end of the race. But I was hooked.
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Around the same time, my good friend Luke had started to run obstacle races independent of me. We talked about it and decided to try to run the Spartan Trifecta in 2015. A Spartan Trifecta is running all 3 of Spartan’s main races (Sprint, Super, and Beast) in the same calendar year. We looked at a calendar, picked our races based on proximity, and first up was the Beast at the end of April. The Beast is scheduled to be 12+ miles and was located at Mountain Creek Ski Resort in NJ. The race ended up being 13.1 miles which is nice because I could now say I ran a half marathon. While discussing this point in the middle of “embracing the suck” Luke informed me that a couple place have races called Spartan UltraBeasts that were two laps of the Beast for a total of 26+ miles (a marathon). We both concluded definitively that a Spartan UltraBeast would be a physical impossibility and struck the idea from our minds.
ENTER THE STUPID
After the Fall I had completed the Trifecta and stupid thoughts started creeping into my head. Maybe I could do this. The excuse-maker in my head was already working overtime. That’s the part of your brain that predetermines excuses when confronted with a possible big task or uncomfortable situation. I was telling myself things like, “Even if I wanted to run an UltraBeast, the closest one is in Vermont, so it’s just not logistically possible.” Or “I weigh too much. I would have to lose so much fat if I wanted to even hope to complete it.” Some of these excuses were self-fulfilling prophecies like the latter example. By this time I had already started a different diet and it was actually working pretty well (Ketogenic). Then in December, Spartan had posted that there would be a Spartan UltraBeast held at the same New Jersey site I had previously run at twice. With both of my main pre-determined excuses dashed in the same month, I took a big swig of “F*ck-It” and signed up….
….and herniated a disk in my lower lumbar spine. I went through 6 weeks of physical therapy, but with less than 5 months to train from the time I signed up I had to get creative. The best thing I could do was read, analyze what would work best for me, and then apply it. I found this post BenGreenfieldFitness which ended up being my best source. I hated running and the pounding on the pavement would probably have derailed my back recovery. So I didn’t. The entire time I was training I ran over a mile only once. As counter-intuitive as this may seem, on a mountainous course, there just wasn’t that much straight running. Here is what I did do:
- A lot. I was limited in the amount of time I could spend training. I did have a full-time job and husbandly/fatherly duties. I’d try to turn walking the dog into training by wearing a 65lb weighted vest. In many ways this simulated walking up hill and stressed my whole body (in a good way) without aggravating my back.
- Whenever I was home, I was wearing a weighted vest too. Around the house after work I would wear it and periodically do 5x ab wheel roll outs, 10x pushups, and 15x squats; building up to around 20 rounds of that a night while doing chores and such. What’s an ab wheel rollout?
- Ab wheel rollouts. Best bang-for-buck piece of equipment out there. I didn’t have a way of doing pullups in my house so this movement replicated it very well. It made it so that climb over walls and such were fairly simple.
- Nutrition was really important. My diet (Ketogenic) had been originally used for patients with seizures, but popularized by endurance runners. Essentially you are training your body to use fat as its preferred fuel rather than carbohydrates. The idea is that your body only holds a few thousand calories of carbohydrates, but tens of thousands of calories of fat that you can tap into on an arduous race. In my training this also got me from 245 down to 195. Running with 50lbs less is a lot less work.
- The vast majority of my “cardio” work was either sprinting or Tabatas on a stationary bike. Tabatas are a specific type of interval training that has you perform :20 of work at 95% effort with :10 of rest for 8 rounds or 4 minutes total.
- I performed 1 long distance run. I simulated race day about a month out. I set up a 13 mile run with my weighted vest from my house to a nearby park to my gym back to the park and then to home. At the parks I was did 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and traversed the monkey bars. At my gym I did a few miles on a stairmill and 100 burpee-pullups. Doing this kind of awful workout on my own volition was for the purpose of toughening up mentally and testing my race day nutrition.
- I made myself a standing desk at work. I was still fairly new at my work and didn’t want to request one of the fancy standing desk ($600). I was price conscious in my own affairs by this point and didn’t think it ethical to be frivolous with my company’s money (HR eventually got me one anyway). I used this plan Ikea Standing Desk Hack and made the desk for about $30. I figured not only could it help with my back, but if I had to be running for 8+ hours I better get used to standing for at least 8+ hours. I would also do lunges and calf raises. All. Day. Long. At first coworkers would stare incredulously. Then they accepted it. Then they started asking advice.
My race heat began at 6:30am about 2 ½ hours from where I live in Suburban Philadelphia. I was cost conscious so a hotel room was out of the question. I wanted to arrive around an hour early to get ready and check my bags so I ended up waking at 2:30am grabbed my double of Bulletproof Coffee and headed out. I don’t need to give a mundane race report since that isn’t the point of this article. I will; however, offer a few interesting bullets:
- Everyone was incredibly supportive of those running the UltraBeast race. We had specific armbands that distinguished us from the other racers and people would give us the right of way.
- The race was 2 laps as envisioned. The 2nd lap began at the very beginning of the race by the festival. After you have already done half the race this becomes very, very tempting. I don’t have the exact statistics, but about 800 started and only 544 finished. My guess is that 75% dropped at this point unable to face the second half. To get around this I just turned my brain off. I grabbed my gear, had my shake and started walking without thinking.
- I didn’t bring nearly enough calories in the race gels I had. Toward the end of the race I had to borrow some from other racers.
- The absolute last obstacle was going under a wall, under water. This typically isn’t a very challenging obstacle. At this point though it was past 8pm in the mountains so it was cold. I was also completely fatigued having been on the course for 13 hours. So when I emerged from the water on the other sideand the wind hit me I immediately went into shock. It took my
approximately an hour to just get my stuff and get to my car where I slept for 45 minutes before making an ill-advised drive home.
- The race ended up being just over 31 miles, which translates to 50km making it count as an ultramarathon.
- My beautiful wife who is always supportive of these type of shenanigans helped me with an Epson salt bath, beer, and ibuprofen.
I’ve learned over the past two years specifically that getting comfortable with being uncomfortable yields great results. It works in business, self-evaluation, relationships and any other sort of difficult endeavor. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone opens up a new world to you. It allows you to shed bad habits that you have grown accustomed to. It also showed me that reading, planning, and execution will work.
Author: David Matthews
I started this site as a way of discussing what I’ve learned about the relationship between personal finances and physical fitness. What I have learned allowed me to lose 50lbs and improve my credit score 150 points in the same year and become a happier person.
Husband. Father. West Virginia University Grad. Licensed Insurance and Financial Professional. Sports fan (Philadelphia, WVU, and Manchester City). I’m also a huge nerd (like Magic: The Gathering huge)