Race Day Advice for your First Spartan

So it’s your first Spartan Race and you’re not sure what to expect? Read on for two top ten lists that will help you get to the start line easy.

Pack a Bag

A well packed bag is worth it’s weight when you’re dealing with the elements. Here’s a few of the items that have earned their way into my nap sack the hard way:

  1. Government issued photo ID and a completed waiver WITH my bib number on it (look it up online so you can save time and headache morning of.)
  2. An extra pen and cash.
  3. Sunscreen (and gloves to apply it), lip chap, deodorant and a comb.
  4. Gloves, compression sleeves, tights, a tank top and shorts (in case the weather changes).
  5. Blister pads, band-aids and body glide.
  6. Soap, a scrub mit, quick dry towel and a water-proof bag to keep dirty clothes.
  7. An outfit that is warm, snugly and easy to get into with wet skin. No tights. Lord no tights.
  8. Slip on shoes. I would advise against flip-flops if you plan to stay at the festival area for any length of time since they are hard to walk in if the ground is uneven or muddy (or more than likely both).
  9. Gloves, toque and winter jacket to stay warm before and after even in June.
  10. A bottle of water and some snacks. They’ll usually have a Clif Bar and some water or FitAid for you but it’s better to be over prepared when it comes to essentials.

Race Day

It can be a scary experience showing up for the first time. I figured I’d condense the experience so that you can fully know what to expect before the gun goes off. After that third AROO, you’re on your own. You’ll know at the finish line as they say.

  1. Be familiar with the route to the race and where to park. Bring cash for parking as there is usually a charge ($10 is common).
  2. Arrive early. You should have time to register, warm-up, go to the bathroom and check your bag. And you should have plenty of padding in case things go sideways.
  3. Hopefully you have your printed waiver (with bib number) and ID ready. If not, sign a waiver at the first table and look up your bib number on the big wall. You absolutely need to have ID to pick up your kit.
  4. Enter the lane that corresponds with your bib number. Hand them your waiver and tell them your bib number. Show them your ID.
  5. They’ll give you an envelope. The headband goes around your head, numbers to the front. The blue chip gets threaded through the yellow band and affixes to your wrist (you want it tight enough it does not come off but not so tight it interferes with the mobility of your wrist). Sometimes they’ll be a little chip that zap straps onto your shoe laces instead. If you’re elite, they’ll possibly give you a sweat band for your arm. Although you’re probably not reading this if you’re elite.
  6. There may be a marking station in case you want to write your number on your arms (or forehead or whatever). It’ll help you better find yourself in photos later… and you’ll have a badass looking momento for days.
  7. Apply sunscreen with gloves so you don’t grease up your hands, do any last minute adjustments to your wardrobe and make sure your shoelaces are triple knotted.
  8. Go for your easy warm-up jog and do some drills and dynamic stretches. This is also a good time to scope the course a bit and find out where the start, port-potties and bag check are.
  9. Use the washroom and check your bag.
  10. Aim to be in the pit at least 10 minutes before your wave ready to go!

Last but not least have fun and relax. If you need help, ask. Spartans are more than happy to help.

We ALL Have Obstacles

Yesterday afternoon we had our first official obstacle course training camp.

John and I have been coaching OCR since 2012 – but in a weekly class format – so we were excited to be able to offer it in a more condensed way. AND in one of the best Crossfit boxes in Canada, Crossfit New West.

spartan training vancouver

We could not have asked for a better group of enthusiastic and determined people… and got everyone from first timers to those who had completed the World’s Toughest Mudder and UltraBeast.

Yet, everyone had something to work on.

We ALL have obstacles that challenge us.

It’s funny. I think of myself as someone who is generally terrible at everything. Especially anything new.

I saw in their eyes what I have felt in mine. At times, insurmountable challenge – at times, staggering accomplishment.

After I had Seren (AKA the baby), I had lost so much grip and arm strength that I couldn’t even hold myself up on the monkey bars, never mind traverse them. I wondered if I should bother trying to get it back.

The other end of the monkey bars was too far literally and metaphorically for someone who couldn’t make it to the next rung.

Fall, fall, fall, fall. Try again, and again, and again. And again.

I had also gained weight, which made running hard. But I kept on picking my feet up and moving forward.

For the first few years in this sport I could not make it two steps across the balance beam. I couldn’t help but wonder how falling repeatedly off the beam was making me any better staying on it.

Walls were always too high to grab and I couldn’t coordinate using the toe kicks.

Things slowly, imperceptibly, started to get easier. And I started doing harder things. In my head, I’m still the same person who can’t hold themselves up on the monkey bars. In fact, more often than not I am surprised by the things consistent training has allowed me to do.

I wanted to put down the top three things I did to get from puttering along and repeatedly falling off a pull-up bar to standing on a podium with super heroes.

1.) Hang every day. EVERY day. Just hanging for as long as you can is a good start. But it’s boring as hell. I have always been a big fan of mixing things up: holding onto one or two towels, changing grip, bending my arms, hanging for different durations. I started back just hanging as much as a could every time I passed by my pull-up bar with no baby in my arms and I tried to make my forearms numb 5 days a week.

2.) Run, hike, walk and loco-mote. Here it is: running sucks when you start out. But it gets SO much better. Just keep doing it and one day you’ll get it. If you lost it, good for you, you’ll have way more faith because you know it’s still there inside you. If you ask me, you cannot spend too much time moving – just switch up the mode so as to not overtrain. Every little bit, like taking the stairs or walking your groceries home, helps.

sandbag training

All aboard…

3.) Play. Go try a new fitness class, take aerial gymnastics, buy a pass to a bouldering gym, chase your kids around the park. Just get moving and get out of your comfort zone. You’ll be ready for anything life throws at you… or obstacle course racing.

Most of all, be patient and trust in the process. It’s cliche but it’s true. Believe.

For April and May I’m going to be launching different challenges on my Yo Mama So Fit Facebook Page to get you ready for anything this summer throws at you.

They won’t take much out of your day but hopefully they’ll make all the difference in terms of what you can do with it,

How to carry a sandbag

You might think this post is akin to a “Learn to Walk” program. As in: obvious.

Step 1: Pick it up
Step 2: Carry it

As those of us who raced in the 2014 Vermont Spartan World Championship Beast realized, there’s a little more to it. If you are in the OCR community, you probably saw your Facebook feed blow up with horror stories about just how terrible this obstacle was. Indeed, it really “made” the race. Elite women had to carry one 60 or so pound sandbag up, elite men had to carry TWO. Yeah. That crazy course designer Norm, and his crazy ideas.

Number one, I suggest you carry big old sandbags up and down mountains in training. But here are a few tips to help you make carrying the least effort (and back ache possible).

1. Practice proper sandbag clean form. If you only have one to carry, you’ll want to balance it on one or both shoulders. Of course, to carry it on your shoulders, you’ll need to get to your shoulders from the ground. Often easier said than done. In the video below, you’ll notice that I “lap” it or put it on my lap before throwing it up and getting under it on my shoulder. You’ll also notice that I throw it too far back and almost over my shoulder. You want it to land balanced so you don’t need to readjust. Good bad example hey?

2. Once it’s up there, do not set it down unless you have to. The hardest part (and biggest risk) comes from setting it down and cleaning it back up. On that note, before you pick it up or set it down, get as tight in your core and keep your spine neutral (do not hunch your back to lift or drop it). That being said, there are no penalties (outside of extra time) from setting the bag down. You are also permitted to drag it or carry it in your arms (which has been done successfully). You are not, however, allowed to let it roll downhill.

3. Keep your back flat as you walk with your abs in and try not to side bend excessively. You’re hoping someone could see you from far away and not see that your carrying a frick load of sand in a giant bag.

4. Step carefully if the bag is heavy. You might get away running downhill with the pancake sandbags but you’re not doing that with a big bad heavy-weight on your neck. On that note, keep a brisk steady pace… the sooner you’re done, the sooner you’re done!

5. Balance the bag but move it a bit. Little adjustments go a long way. I put it on one shoulder, then both (you have to look down to make this position comfortable), then a little more on the other. You get the picture. Just don’t make big adjustments that are likely to throw you off or ones that require you to grip the bag. You want it to rest on your shoulders. Even if your grip doesn’t feel tired at the time, you’ll want to save it for the obstacles to come (like rope climbs and monkey bars.)

6. When you’re racing, pick a good bag… even if it takes an extra second. The ones at the top of the pile will be easier to get but if it’s been raining out, they will probably have picked up some water weight. And if you’re wondering why there are two styles of bags, there will probably be ladies bags and mens bags so ask the volunteers if you’re unsure. Some times they’re pink… which makes things easy.

7. In Spartan Races, you cannot choose penalty burpees. You must complete this obstacle to finish. So get it done and get a move on.

Sandbag carry training:

Some more tips from a heaving sweaty person on a mountain:

Paula Radcliffe – World Record Holder in the Marathon – and Super Mom

Paula Radcliffe - World Record Holder in the Marathon - and mom

Paula Radcliffe is not your typical mother. She is the fastest female marathon runner in world history. She is also mother to Isla and Raphael. Paula managed to make comebacks after both births with the help of a team of professionals. How does she manage to care for her children? Luckily, she has a team for that too. Headed by a stay-at-home-dad, they often call on nannies and extended family to pitch in. What advice does this superstar mom have for us regular moms? Just that. Build a team of support. Many of us juggle fitness, careers and family. You can’t do that on your own. “Take the support from the people around you, from your husband, from your partner, from your family so that you can get your time for your training. You talk about the sacrifices athletes make, I never really felt like I made a sacrifice for my career until I came away for a month without my kids. That was really hard, but at the same time, it was a huge motivation to make every second of the training count and make it worthwhile, being away.”