Crossfit + Obstacles = Combine Love

When you take three of my current obsessions (Crossfit, obstacles, and hills) and roll them up into one race, I may start foaming at the mouth out of excitement. And as we surveyed the PIT early last Saturday morning at Civilian Military Combine up in Camelbak Mountain, PA, I could feel the buzz in the air.

Ironically enough, when I signed up for CMC at the behest of a friend this past winter, I did not feel the same way. A Crossfit WOD followed by an obstacle race up a mountain? I knew I could hold my own on the obstacle part, but I had never stepped foot into a Crossfit box, let alone even know what “WOD” and “AMRAP” stood for. Thruster, huh?

[Side note: As many people know, I resisted Crossfit for over a year, hemming and hawing at the perceived cult-like nature and exorbitant membership fees. I finally caved about two and a half months ago, and haven’t looked back since. The Kool-Aid is excellent and mighty tasty.]

So I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical with the race format. 6 mins, and then only a 5 and a half mile course? How hard can that really be? (says the “too big for my britches Death Racer”) A workout followed by…a workout? With your score being weighted evenly between your number of reps in the pit and your time on the course? Intriguing format, though quite unknown. The concept, when you think of it, is ingenious: it’s a way to even out the field, and find the best of both the strength and the endurance worlds. To win, you have to dominate both.

“The PIT”

The first time I looked at the 4 90-second AMRAP’s that made up the PIT — kb swings, box jumps, burpees, and thrusters — I was less than enthused. I mean, how hard can 6 minutes of work really be?

Fucking hard. Seriously.

Many of the hardcore Crossfitters I told about the PIT in the weeks leading up to the event scoffed at the weights and the exercises. Too easy. Too weenie. Meh. And I’ll admit, I happened to agree with them. I mean, I had done 3000 burpees a few months ago, what’s 90 seconds of them?

Many of my friends competing at CMC ran through the pit dozens and dozens of times leading up to the event, trying to increase their reps each time. I did not. I had no idea the number of reps I would get going in, and no idea how those 9 minutes (30 seconds rest and transition bewteen each of the AMRAPs) would feel.

Smart move. Because I definitely wouldn’t have wanted that feeling again. I was a bit intimidated before the PIT watching the other racers–there were some serious hardcore Crossfitters here. Super strong women, ripped men, and tons of boxes that all came out as teams. So it made me feel mildly less like a weenie when they were all wrecked post PIT as well.

Lesson: the PIT’s no joke. As Crossfitters know, some of the most brutal WOD’s are the shortest (e.g., Fran, Grace). And while the PIT was all body weight exercises, 6 minutes will smoke you when you are under the gun. But if it was just a WOD, life wouldn’t have been too bad.

Oh wait–I have to go run up a mountain now? Shit.

The Course

Post PIT, you have 3 minutes of recovery and transition time to the starting line for the course. I frantically threw off my F-lites and threw on my Speedcross, grabbed a drink of water, and headed for the start. All I knew was that my calves and quads were burning. And that double-black diamond ahead of me didn’t look so awesome.

But I’m a runner and endurance athlete by nature, and the one advantage I have is quick recovery time (well, and also that most Crossfitters can’t run worth shit). So I shook it off, and set out at a clip ahead of the pack. The course was sprinkled with military style obstacles. These aren’t your Tough Mudder or Spartan gimmicky obstacles: you won’t find electric wires, spear throws, or ice baths. What you will find are walls, ladders, ropes, sandbags, and low crawls. Nothing “hard,” but taxing, especially when you consider the terrain.

The terrain. I’ve blogged before about how I love hills. I LOVE RUNNING HILLS. It’s the biggest thing I miss about the Northwest, and the thing about Chicago that kills me slowly inside. But I train creativity, and was pretty confident I’d be able to run them all. And I did mostly…until we met “The Asp.”

The course had us running up two double black diamonds, the first of which was steep, but still manageable at a slow jog. The Asp, or the second, was manageable at…a crawl. Yup, people crawling up on their hands and knees. I broke down and bear crawled for a few, and then actually walked up sideways for a bit as well. Apparently I do need to work on my hills still…

I was told post-race that the official mileage was 5.4 miles and close to 2000 feet of elevation change. Alright, CMC course, I’m sorry I prejudged you. For 5.4 miles, you destroyed me. As I mentioned to others post-race, I ran a Tough Mudder in PA a few weeks earlier that measured 13 miles, and that was a BREEZE compared to this course.*

The Booze

Booze was not *technically* part of the race, but I ran out of heading ideas. So when the dust settled, I came away victorious. That’s obviously a great feeling, but it’s not why I do these races. And whether I had won or came in last place, the fact doesn’t change that the point of these races for me is to go balls to the wall on every race, dominate the day, but most importantly–have a blast doing it.** In sports we always talked about “leaving everything on the field.” CMC definitely brought that out, not only in me, but in my fellow racers: the amazing energy in the PIT, the looks of pain and determination up on the mountain, and the camaraderie and buzz post-race.

CMC, you made a believer out of me. I never knew a race that lasted less than 2 hours could prove to be one of the hardest I’ve run in recent memory. And just ridiculously fun.

The People

But of course, I don’t race with strangers. In the past year, these people have become my friends and my surrogate family. Many of you know that I have a mild love affair with the amazing Carrie Adams (as you all should). But what you probably don’t know is that CMC was the first time Carrie and I actually ever met in person. Odd for two friends that talk on the phone almost daily, sometimes for hours. CMC also introduced me to team Hybrid Athlete, who so graciously took me on as a teammate at the last minute (nice 2nd place team finish, guys!) And of course, Simple Fuel brings us all together.

Til next time (meaning: CMC, get your ass to Chicago! I’ve got teams lined up!)

*In fact, the TM bored the hell out of me. Are they making them easier to appeal to the masses? Do I really want to subject myself to another WTM when it’s going to be a snooze fest? More on that in another post.
**Let’s be honest: if it’s not fun, why are you doing it?

S.E.R.E. Urban: Chicago is a Dangerous Place

I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out practical uses for my shiny new KA-Bar,* spoils of being crowned “Top Team” at S.E.R.E. Chicago this past weekend. I typically display my race schwag on my desk at work, but somehow I think that a 7-inch knife wouldn’t go over too well and may result in losing my job even more quickly than I’m probably on track to lose it. So far, I’ve discovered that the KA-Bar is excellent for eating apples and opening the numerous Amazon boxes I get every week (GEARWHORE), and is just so-so serving as a steak knife. It does make for a great rendition of Psycho in the shower, though I wouldn’t recommend it for getting out splinters. But enough about knife uses.

This past Friday at 2200hours, we set out S.E.R.E. Urban Challenge Class 006 in Chicago: the first of its kind. But wait wait wait, you say. Didn’t you complete a S.E.R.E. Challenge back in January in DC and almost die of a cashew allergy at the same time? Why yes, yes I did. I was part of S.E.R.E. Beta: once again, the first and only of its class. But the challenge has morphed over the past few months, so I came into Class 006 not having the foggiest idea of what to expect, except that we would be divided into teams within our class and one team would come out victorious as “Top Team.”

Any challenge that starts out with (1) low crawling along the pavement in front of Buckingham Fountain; and (2) “neck drags” around a baseball field, is certain to be a good time. At least in my book. But while we started with some standard PT and physical challenges, we quickly learned that S.E.R.E Urban is a different ballgame altogether. For it’s not about carrying heavy rucks** and stopping to do push-ups and monkey fuckers every few miles. It’s about leadership, building a strong team, learning survival skills, and completing missions in a quick and efficient manner.

Class 006 had three S.E.R.E veterans: myself, Todd, and Kimmie from the Beta class. As such, we were assigned to be team leaders. Teams were semi-randomly selected through the scientific art of sugar cookie-ing T-shirts and then duking it out against the other leaders in a low crawl, lunge, and push-up challenge. Needless to say, I lucked out with a rock star team, which set the tone for the rest of the challenge.

Throughout the night, we (as team leaders) were given intel and missions with information and objectives to relay to our teams, all centering around a potential terrorist attack on Chicago. Hmm…playing war games, you say? Perhaps, but fucking AWESOME games. For example, after a nice dip in Lake Michigan followed by a recon mission at Northerly Island, team leaders were told to call a specific number and relay a message to await further intel. The only catch was that all cell towers were destroyed so we had to use a landline.

3am. Chicago. No cell phones. And who the hell has payphones anymore? To make things even more fun, I, as team leader, suffered chemical burns to the eyes and needed to be blindfolded.

If you have never run 6+ miles at a decent clip (8min mile pace?) completely blindfolded, it’s an exercise I highly recommend. Especially if you have 4 dudes leading you blindfolded through downtown Chicago in the middle of the night. NOTHING TO SEE HERE OFFICER, MOVE ALONG.

And so the night continued. Missions interlaced with dips in Lake Michigan (death to rockingchairs!!), covering considerable distance (from Northerly Island up to Wrigley Field and back, and various zig zags between), and, perhaps most unique and important, survival and skills lessons. Let’s recap. I learned, among other things:

how to safely carry a person with a gaping stomach wounded. It’s called a neck drag and I highly do NOT recommend it.
that while it may be fun to kick boys in the nuts and poke them in the eyes, the art of muay thai is way more practical if you are ever going to get in a street fight. Watch out, boys.
that flailing your arms frantically at a helicopter isn’t the best means of communication. And that a large “LL” will prevent an awkward “no, I’m fine but thanks for stopping.”
that sand tables are NOT just big kid sandcastles, though they are certainly fun to build like one.
that if someone throws a black tag on me, I’m fucked.
Points were awarded to teams for winning certain missions throughout the 13+ hours, right down to the final, frantic buddy carry run from Millenium Park to the big black anchor at Navy Pier. And while it was an accomplishment to be crowned Top Team, it was an incredibly tight race. Each team overcame adversity and potential drops, and we worked together as a class at several points during the night. While Team “Random Tom Cruise Movie” (at certain points it was more “Vanilla Sky” than “Cocktail,” but it was always “Risky Business”) was light and fast on our feet (we may have ran from North Ave Beach to Wrigley in record time), other teams were perhaps more cunning and wise in their execution of missions.

With NATO coming up this weekend in Chicago, I’m crossing my fingers I’ll be able to pull some muay thai moves out on a few protestors as I head into the office. Let’s just hope I don’t have to neck drag any of their asses.

*A few months ago, I had no idea what a KA-Bar was. It’s a knife. A big, fatty, 7-inch knife with a sheath. Technically, its a combat knife used by the Marines (hat tip to Wikipedia for my minimal knowledge).
**because, really, in an urban environment, no one is going to be carrying a 40+lb pack