Adventure Racing!

With my triathlon season coming to a close at the end of August (thanks to not having a car and living in the middle of Chicago), my focus switched to obstacle racing! As soon as I made the decision to move to Chicago, I immediately signed up for my 4th Men's Health Urbanathlon. I had done this race 3 times previously, here in Chicago, and it's by far one of my favorite races. Plus, it's in downtown Chicago, so I can get there. I mentioned to a friend of mine that I was doing this race and he told me he was doing a Spartan Race two weeks before the Urbanathlon. I desperately wanted to do this Spartan Race, but even though it was in "Chicago", it was over an hour away and I didn't have a way to get there. Luckily, my awesome friend wasn't doing the race with anyone, so we were able to carpool and get a hotel.

The race was a Spartan Super: 8+ miles of trail running and obstacles! Our wave got pushed back to 1:45 pm, which actually turned out perfect for me because I hate morning races. My body doesn't really wake up till 1 pm or so, and therefore I was able to really feel awake and ready to rock.

Within half a mile of starting the race, we were submerged in chest deep mud and water. There was no avoiding it. The keys to this race were being a strong runner, being agile and swift, being strong, and being alright with getting hurt. Also, being able to run in soaked and muddy shoes.

For every obstacle you weren't able to complete, the punishment was 30 burpees.  I ended up doing somewhere between 90-150 burpees, but mostly for avoidable reasons (messed up the spear throw by having the cord wrapped around my leg, falling off a 6-inch high balance beam, and slipping off the monkey bars, to name a few). I was really pleased with ability on a number of the obstacles though, mainly the rope climb. For this obstacle, you started in chest-deep water, then had to grab a rope above you, climb 20 feet into the air and ring a bell at the top, then climb down.  I'm very grateful now that I taught myself to climb a rope back at my old gym in Tampa.

I finished the race in just over 2 hours. I was really happy with this time, but was frustrated because I would have at least 20 minutes faster were it not for a huge jam up where at least 100 people were all trying to get up an impossible mudbank. It's all good, but I'll remember that for next time!

Rock the W!

A while later, I saw my friend making his way toward the finish line, but he was struggling by this point after a long day. I knew how hard the last obstacle were and that he wouldn't be able to (as I wasn't) get over the last couple without someone to help.  So I asked the staff if I could go back in, which they let me do! Together, we pulled him over the last hurdle (which was a slippery, sloped wall, covered in water and mud) and crossed the finish line together! It was such a great finish and amazing race!

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I can't wait for my next race and am already planning a lot of obstacle racing for next year. With my strength being running, plus my willingness to suffer and my love of lifting, this type of race caters much more to me. Here are some tips that I will remember for my next race and hopefully will help you in you in your next race:

  1. Know your strengths! I knew that some of the strength obstacles would take me longer, but that I could make up ground with my running. Therefore, every time I got the chance, I would run hard.
  2. Learn how to run downhill. I've been lucky enough to do a fair amount of trail running and have had some good friends who've taught me to run downhill well.  You basically swing your arms out wide and take big steps and just barrel down the hill. It looks super dangerous, but its safe if you know how to do it right.
  3. Lift! You have to be strong to be competitive in these races. Lifting strengthens your both physically and mentally and those are key factors in this race.
  4. Help other racers and allow yourself to receive help. The only reason I made it up that mudbank I mentioned above was due to working with a few other guys and basically making a ladder out of ourselves to take turns climbing up. When we reached the top, we each instinctively turned around and started pulling other people up who were struggling. While I wanted to do well, the camaraderie is more rewarding than the podium in a race like this.
  5. However, if you do want the podium, like I would like to see in the future, chose the right wave. I'd like to go elite at obstacle racing next year and will be signing up for races to be in the first pack of elite racers who are the first on the course.

Fire Jump

Two weeks after the Spartan was the Men's Health Urbanathlon, which takes place right in downtown Chicago. I had absolutely no expectation going into this race since i had no idea where my fitness level would be. I always train hard, but had been doing less running mileage.

The race, as always, was fantastic. The obstacles weren't nearly as hard as the Spartan, but this race was 10.6 miles, colder, and had the added "fun" of Chicago winds. In fact, I don't know if I've ever felt like I was going "with" the wind since I've moved to this city... The obstacles in this race were more of crawling under obstacles, jumping over obstacles, and some more challenging tasks like 5 foot military hurdles, which aren't difficult if you approach them correctly.

The killer in this race, though, is the 1-mile worth of stairs you climb inside Soldier Field! (The Bears stadium). The portion consisted of running up, over, and down, the top tier of the stadium over and over. Talk about a quad burner.

The race ran North up Lake Shore, around Navy Pier, and back down Lake Shore past the Museum Campus, through Soldier Field, then around the Convention Center, before finishing in the parking lot of Soldier Field (If you've read Divergent, I know you're picturing this...)

The last obstacle of the race is what has killed me each previous year--the 9 foot wall. In past years, I've been so close to getting over, but having someone grab a leg and help me at the end. Feeling much stronger this year, I took a much more aggressive approach and flung myself up the wall! One of the race staff started to reach for my leg to help me out and I just remember screaming "NOOOOO! Don't touch me!" to make sure I got over all on my own : )

As for results, I finished 37th of 1,500, 8th in my age group of 227, and had the 13th fastest split overall on the Stairs! I was really happy with this!

I'm looking forward to writing again soon about a ton of other fun stuff that's been going on mixed with plenty of personal things I've been working on. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

"Racing Weight"- My take

Being that this will be read by many athletes and especially endurance athletes, I know a lot of you may be familiar with Matt Fitzgerald and books such as Racing Weight as well as his other articles.  The focus of these books and articles are about being at the ideal weight for you to race at where you will your fastest.  However, having been there myself, a number of us, ignoring the principles the Matt clearly lays out in his book, take the wrong approach to getting down to what we define arbitrarily to ourselves to be our “Racing weight”.  We often assume that if we weigh as little as possible, we will automatically be faster, but this is not always the case.  Here are my considerations for your Racing Weight and ways that approaching this in the wrong fashion can actually hurt your performance. First off, weight loss is often assumed to with a caloric decrease, a calories burned increase, of a combination of the two.  I don’t believe that to be the whole story, but that’s for another article.  This being said, we assume that if we eat less and exercise more, then we will lose weight.  This is likely, but if you are not doing it intelligently, your performance will decrease.  If you cut out too many calories, you are not going to have the energy or the stamina to complete the hard workouts you engage in with the hope of getting faster.  To become a better athlete,  you must train smart, and this means pushing yourself through a focused workout which takes fuel.  If you can’t make it through a workout due to a lack of nutrition, you aren’t going to become a faster athlete.

On the flip side, by skipping post-workout nutrition, your body is not going to recover from a tough workout and you’re going to experience the same lack of results described above, not to mention perpetuating the cycle of not having reserves for your next workout.

Your Race Weight is also not the lowest weight you can achieve.  It’s where you are the fastest.  If you are already lean and strong, losing any more weight could be a really harmful idea.  Let’s take the example of a triathlon: if you think losing 5 more pounds will help you be faster for your bike and run, maybe you’re right to an extent.  Let’s say that by losing 5 pounds you decrease your bike by 4 minutes and run by 1 minute.  So you’ve saved 5 minutes from the weight loss.

But let’s think about where that weight is coming from—likely muscles and your fuel stores which you REQUIRE to help get through a race.  Thus, in our example, this loss of muscle costs you 8 extra minutes on the bike due to being underfed and a loss of muscle, making it so you can’t reach the speed you are capable on the bike.  This fatigue carries over to the run and costs you and additional 4 minutes on your run time.  This adds up to a 12 minute disadvantage.

If we add the 12 minute gain to the 5 minute decrease, you’re still 7 minutes slower overall.

You may completely bonk all together.  You are expending way more energy on race day than in your training and, thus, your body may not be able to handle the increased workload if it is not fueled properly.

So instead of focusing on losing weight to get to my “race weight” what should I focus on, you say?

I say, take the time when you would focus on getting to racing weight, and instead focus on eating “race nutrition”.  If you had planned to try to lose a little weight in the last 2 weeks before the race, instead focus on eating a very clean, unprocessed, high-octane diet.  This can mean no processed food, cooking all your own meals, not skipping any meals, and eating appropriately around your workouts.  This becomes extremely important as recovery and “pre-covery” are key.  Making sure you have proper fuel to begin a workout will help you get through it, but also aid in buffering some of the muscle breakdown that the workout will cause.  Along with the solid snack, this is where taking something like an amino acid can help.

After the workout is even more important, so that as your muscles breakdown during exercise, they are immediately built back up with solid nutrition.  Doing this will ensure your muscles and body have the fuel stores they need on race day.

With proper nutrition, you in fact lose a few pounds, who knows.  Your body will find the weight it wants to race at, and to try and manipulate that is not a good idea, especially for a more taxing event.

So the key takeaway I leave you with- focus on race nutrition, not race weight.  Proper fueling is the key to success not being as light as possible!

These are just my thoughts so take it for what you will, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  If you have any questions or opinions, please let me know and I’d love to discuss with you!

Also, thank you to everyone who saw some of my Tweets earlier this week and sent me encouraging messages!  I was going through a rough time and I will be blogging about it later this week, but wanted to say thank you.  I would write that post now, but I really wanted to get this out there first.  Hope everyone is having an amazing week!

  1. Thoughts on “racing weight”?