Running!! As far back as I recall, I have been a runner in some capacity or other. From the time I have been able to walk, I have been running. As a kid, I’d run all around the country side, just because I could. I’d run up and down our drive way to check the mail while my mother would time me. I run laps around our cow field, because it was exactly a mile in length and I enjoyed it.
Later on, I’d realize that, though I was good at other sports, running was my speciality and go to sport. With running, it was just me and my legs…if I wanted to excel at it, it was only up to me. I was too small for football, not tall enough for basketball and, too wound up for baseball. I was too puny to be strong and couldn’t bench press the 45 pound bar off my chest until I was a freshmen in high school. So, what else was there? Turns out, that something “else” became RUNNING!
Granted, being a 125 pound runner was no way to pick up girls or, a way to be popular or, to appear tough or cool or, anything else that one would desire as a high schooler. To all my friends (mostly football, baseball and basketball players), I was just the kid who could run forever. Though I did play the other ball sports, my notoriety usually came when we were punished by the coach for losing the game and had to run wind sprints. While the rest of the team was on the gym floor puking, I was just getting warmed up.
Around the time I really started finding myself as a runner, was about the time that Forrest Gump came out on the big screen. So, as you can guess, and thanks in part to my father, I was constantly mocked with the quote from the movie “Run Forrest, Run!!”
Over the next couple years, I would become one of the top ranked mid-distance runners in the state of Oklahoma and would eventually go and run a spell at MSSC.
So, as you can read, running has been in my blood for many years and at times, it has been the only thing I have lived and breathed for. No matter what, I will always be a runner and even more so, a running history nerd. I can spout off times, years and PR’s of all the great milers and distance runners. I am about as ate up with running as anyone can or should be. I coach multiple runners that compete from the mile all the way to 100 milers. I have read about every piece of literature on running and then some. Chances are, my future children will be runners, whether they know it or not 🙂
As much as I always have and always will love running, recently something has changed. Enter SPARTAN RACE
My first Spartan race was exactly a year ago and, I instantly fell in love! I am not sure what it was but, there was something about that death defying first mile, running on a single track trail at a blazing pace, knowing that one slip up or stumble and you could be toast. Maybe it was jumping into bone chilling water or, not being able to feel my fingers as I fell off of the rope climb at the end of the race, sending me from 5th place to 17th within a matter of seconds.
After that first one, I was hooked, I just didn’t know it yet. So, after my first Spartan in March of 2013, I went back to being a “runner”. I went right back into my normal routine of weekly runs and mileage, paying little to no attention to strength and conditioning (just like most runners). As the year rolled on, I did a few more Spartan races here and there, doing well and finishing in the top 10 but, never really getting serious about it.
With Spartan races and other similar OCR events, particularly the “sprints”, the intensity is at the level of a hard mile or all out 5k but, spread out across your entire body. When racing a sprint type OCR, the body never really has any time to recover. You are running hard has hell, then you hit an obstacle and the heart rate escalates more, then you run hard as hell again. Oddly, and being something I wasn’t use to, running is actually the “recovery” (or at least for me).
Picture telling a 4:20 miler that he has to go out fast, around 67 second 400m pace, then jump over a wall, then go under a wall, then get up, run another 75 second 400m, then climb a rope, navigate a traverse wall…..repeating this type of process from 3-5 miles (more miles for the longer distance OCR’s). It just doesn’t make sense to the traditional runner type….this being precisely why I am loving it more and more with each one that I compete in.
Though I have always been a runner, I have also been one who loves seeing how far they can push their own limits. I have always enjoyed seeing the BEST in their respective sport/discipline. I like seeing a guy who can bench press 800 pounds, or some girl who can jump rope for 12 hours straight, or climb Mt. Everest, or swim the English channel, etc.
To me, the human body is capable of things that are beyond belief sometimes. I get a thrill out of seeing such pure athletic ability among the wide range of talent that makes up Spartan races.
Currently within the Spartan ranks, we have it all!! There is a 40 year old by the name of Matt Novakavich, who was a D1 runner at BYU, who went on to be a top ranked cyclist, who then went on to be a world ranked mountain runner, who is now a SPARTAN! There is a pretty boy from Malibu by the name of Hunter McIntyre who looks like a linebacker, who is a day time spin instructor, who is flat out crushing the Spartan world and leaving athletes of all kinds in his wake. There is the Bear Jew, David Magida, who is a “pretty boy” corporate man from D.C, who is currently in the process of opening his own gym. There is the Army officer, Elliot Megquier, who lives pretty much off of pizza and shit talking. You have Hobie Call, who was at one time a 2:16 marathoner, Isiah Vidal, who rode his bike from Austin, Texas to Vermont, just so that he could race in the Spartan World Championships.There is Alec Blenis, a young kid who is studying physics at Georgia Tech, who is competitive in anything from the mile to 100 miler and anything in between. You have Amelia Boone, who by day is a corporate lawyer. You have Ella Kociuba a young girl who has rebounded from a broken back and numerous spinal surgeries, to become a force in both Spartan and bodybuilding. There is Jeff Bent, the Yogi master, who at 40+ years of age, regularly finishes in the top 20, primarily based off of his yoga training (he rarely runs or does other typical aerobic training…outside of racing every weekend)
In Spartan, there are all walks of life. You have pure, blue blooded athletes, doctors, lawyers, military personnel, firefighters, etc.
Though there are so many varying backgrounds and personalities amongst the Spartan ranks, we are all one big family. Unlike the running world, you don’t have to be local to your area code to know many other athletes who are competing that day. In the Spartan world, it’s not uncommon to travel all over the country to race, week in and week out. When doing so, you will without question, know several other athletes that are there. So far, I have raced in SC, NC, VA, NY, PA and VT. At every single one of those races, I have known at a minimum, 20 other athletes.
What I love most about the OCR world is that, each course favors a certain type of athlete more than others. For instance, in a shorter distance sprint, a pure runner type might have the edge. Then, you can go to a stadium style race where, a strength/crossfit guy might have the edge. You have your speciality type courses where a mountain runner will dominate vs. a long drawn out race, where your ultra runner type is likely to prevail.
As a runner, you always know where you stack up in a typical road or track race. If you are a 2:50 marathoner, it doesn’t matter what kind of fitness you have, you won’t be able to touch a 2:14 marathoner on ANY day or any race! Same goes with a 5:30 miler vs. a 4:30 miler. But, in OCR, a 2:15 marathoner can be beaten by a 3:14 marathoner. A guy who can bench press 300 pounds, can be beaten by a guy who can only bench press 120.
In Spartan, it comes down to all around strength and conditioning. It takes a hybrid athlete who can hold and maintain in any type of environment and over any type of terrain and obstacle.
Having raced last weekend, 1 year out from my very first Spartan race, I finally made a podium spot, by getting 3rd place in the Sunday Elite heat (got 6th on Saturday but, had fell off the traverse wall….so goes OCR). Leading up to that race, my training had really taken a turn, from primarily running, to finally focusing on all around strength and conditioning. These days, rather than trying to focus on getting faster and faster for a 5k, 10k, marathon, etc., I now focus on getting stronger and stronger in not only running but, in also getting stronger in other areas of strength and all around conditioning.
Though my love for running will always be my anchor and strength, I will continue to build upon that, in hopes to work my way up the Spartan ranks. I will continue to work on all around strength and conditioning, to become a better all around athlete….the type it takes to become one of the best in the OCR world.
If there is room for a mountain man from Alaska, a pretty boy from Malibu, an Army officer, physics major or, a silver spoon kid from D.C….then surely, there is a place for a tattooed, bearded, country boy from Oklahoma 😉