Monday, October 22, 2012

Marketing, dignity and all things EPIC

A few weeks ago I decided to throw my hat in the ring for another ridiculously fun racing adventure called EPIC Racing Arena. Epic is an event that will take place in December 2013 that will put competitors in a large stadium and have them face off in front of a large audience. The obstacles will be huge and will require strength, agility, speed and problem solving and the winner’s purse will be enormous. There will be bands. There will be festivities. The competition will no doubt include the best obstacle racers in the world rendering the event unlike any other that has yet to be organized. I have met many of the founders and coordinators of this event and I genuinely believe it will be EPIC like no other.

After submitting my application, I received notice that applicants were encouraged to have a facebook athlete page as well as a blog to help market themselves for sponsorship. Working with Simple Brandz already, I understood how important it is for sponsors to gain visibility through their athletes’ blogs and athlete pages. They are, after all, businesses willing to give us athletes product and funding in exchange for some additional exposure. I enjoy sharing my racing experiences with fellow racers post-mortem as well as giving my family and non-racing friends a glimpse into my motivation for being part of a culture that they might otherwise think is crazy. This made creating the blog easy. I might even go so far as to say that the blog has given me an outlet I have been looking for.

The facebook “athlete” page, on the other hand, has been a little more painful for me. Promoting myself as an “athlete” hardly seems right. I am not a professional athlete: I am a mom and high school teacher. I do not ooze talent, strength or other athleticism that can justify such a title. I am determined, a little stubborn, OK at lots of different things, and I have found a niche out there for people who just simply aren’t good at quitting. Hardly worthy of a facebook “athlete” page, if you ask me. I did, however, set one up last week with the idea that this would be a way that I could separate my regular life from my obstacle/adventure running life. I hate blog-spamming my friends and family trying to determine who is genuinely interested in this crap and who isn’t. So I set up the page, invited my friends and from here on out I will phase out the inundation of all things muddy on my regular facebook page (unless it is really awesome, that is).

So this leads me back to EPIC. Shortly after starting my blog, I received my first challenge. The challenge was in the form of a short workout which was to be posted and shared on the EPIC website. The winner of this challenge will be the first athlete selected for the EPIC racing area event. The catch: you have to promote your own video to gain votes to win the challenge through shameless self-promotion.

Since the challenge was released, my inbox, notifications and facebook newsfeed have been slammed with “vote for me” pleas from my friends also aiming to be part of EPIC history. From a marketing perspective, this is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Aspiring competitors are providing free advertising for an event that they haven’t even been selected for. I get it. Business is business and these guys have found their way into the obstacle racing private groups, onto the personal pages of well-decorated athletes, and in places they have never imagined. Unfortunately, for me, this is where I have to draw the line. Self-promotion is something I have never been fond of and allowing a marketing plan to dominate my personal facebook page, my “athlete” page, or even a casual conversation with a friend for a vote is unimaginable. I want to gain entry to an elite event based on my abilities, my race resume and my accomplishments, not my ability to promote and plead for votes. To me, applying for entry to a race should not make me feel like I am running for prom queen.

So, I sit this one out. Don’t get me wrong, I really want to do this event. I know I can be a fierce competitor, and I have no doubts that this will be EPIC. However, I don’t feel that it should be up to me to convince anyone of that. If you see me at this event, it is because I am qualified to participate. Period. If I don’t make it, then I never deserved to be there in the first place.

I mean no disrespect to the founders of this new event. In truth, your marketing plan is genius. I also want my friends who are going head to head in this challenge (and future ones) the best of luck. You are all brave to put yourselves out there and I respect every one of you for taking the risks that you have. Please understand that I couldn’t choose between you, as I have never met another athlete at one of these races who wasn’t EPIC in their own way.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why people think they can't train for an obstacle course race

Howdy folks, I have heard this question many times, how do you train for an obstacle course race?  Many people say you can't, but I'm saying you can.

First of all, an obstacle course race takes many physical attributes, from balance, agility, power, and endurance, as well as mental attributes in confidence and sheer will and determination.  So how do you train for the mental aspect?  That is simple, train the body and the confidence will follow.

But most people want that magic workout which will give them success on the course.  But there is no 'magic workout.'  Confused?  I think many people are, but here are a couple of observations I have made about people's training habits.

You can get fit to look good, or you can get fit to be good.  An obstacle course race is a true test of how good your fitness program is working if you want to 'be good.'   The problem I see with most training programs is that the endurance athlete does not lift weights and the weight lifting crowd doesn't do any endurance training.   I know, I know, I've heard it.  The gym rat says they run on the treadmill for a mile three times a week, or even does a little interval work on the elliptical.  Or, the runner, cyclist, or even triathlete talks about going to the local boot camp.  This may seem like an oversimplification, but it's true, in order to do well at an obstacle course race, you have to train just as hard at both.  This means lifting real weights AND doing real endurance work such as running, biking, swimming, and hiking.

The next observation is fear of the unknown.  You are good at what you do, but don't want to jump in the weight room and look inexperienced, or be the guy who looks fit, but can't jog 5k without walking. You just have to get over it, and JUST DO IT, as the popular slogan says.  As quick as I say that, I want to emphasize jumping into a new training program increases the likelihood you will get hurt tremendously.  Seek professional help with a personal trainer or fitness coach.  Don't just assume they know what they are doing, interview them to make sure they understand human performance.  Many trainers specialize in weight loss and bodybuilding type 'look good' fitness.  It is imperative to find a good trainer or you will waste your time and money.

The next way you can learn to train for an obstacle course race is to continue to read Filthy Clean Living.  Over the winter months I will be posting more specific articles on training, including video of workouts and exercises.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading,

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How to Train for the Death Race

The only thing that can be said for sure is that the Death Race will be tough.
"Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable is the greatest shortcut to uncommon success in life."- a friend of a friend

 The Spartan Death race. Many seasoned endurance athletes have described it as the most challenging event they have ever attempted. On the event website,, the event is described as the ultimate physical and mental challenge with typically only a 10% completion rate. However you may describe it, the Death Race is hard. Really hard. There doesn't seem to be much question about that.

Clean and fresh at the beginning...
It has been several months since the 2012 summer Death Race, yet this is the first time I have written publicly about it. For me, this event was my first true ultra endurance event that has transformed into a personal journey to understand of my own spirituality, motivations, and to gain my own understanding of the human condition itself. The Death Race, unlike many other races, is not about competing against other participants. In most races I have been a part of, competitors rob one another of energy looking to seize an opportunity to surpass their accomplishments and make it to the finish line first.  Death Racers are a different breed of athlete who use their energy to fuel the energy of other Death Racers allowing each to go further than what would otherwise seem possible. It doesn't matter who beats who, who makes it to the end, or who finds their own finish line somewhere along the way. 
In this journey I have made many discoveries about myself, my own spirituality, and have begun to seek meaning in the interconnectedness of many different aspects of my life. I have learned that these connections are still beyond my comprehension but am nontheless blown away by their gravity.  The Death Race provides an opportunity for us to all see ourselves in a different light not easily glimpsed and to be a part of the journeys of others on their own quests. For these reasons, I will be back for another round in 2013 to address unfinished business and lingering questions.

Since my participation in this summer's Death Race, lots of people have asked me how I trained for it or how I plan to train for it in 2013. Many are Death Race hopefuls, either for 2013 or some year beyond. Some are just curious as to how one would prepare themselves for such an event. Either way, generally most people get a deer-in-the-headlights look from me, or if they are lucky they might get a stammer of uh, er, or hmmm...  This isn't an attempt on my part to avoid the question, create mystery, or protect my clandestine training secrets.

The truth is, I didn't.

This is not to say that I didn't do my best to become fit before the Death Race. I did. This isn't to say that I didn't run to the Home Depot to buy an axe and beg my friends to teach me how to swing it without chopping my foot off. I did that too. This isn't to say that I didn't make a gear list, change it, change it again and then start all over on three different occasions. I did that (I should point out, however, that this was a result of an ever changing gear list- not by my own choice). I lifted things, I carried things, I squatted things, and I ran like Forrest Gump.

The realization that everything will NOT fit in your pack is a memorable one.
What I mean to say is that I didn't do any training that is any different than what I would do to prepare for any obstacle race because you CAN'T train FOR it. This is, I believe, what separates the Death Race from other events. All you can do is try to be fit, both mentally and physically, and show up and hope that this is your day to do something really special.

So, if you can't train for it, what CAN you do to increase your chances of being successful? Certainly this is going to vary for each of us, but here are a few suggestions that might help.

1) Get an axe and make it yours. I drew flowers on mine. I thought this might mean the boys wouldn't want to use it. Turns out, that idea was wrong. Swinging it at logs a few times helps too.

2) Workout. Yeah, that sounds obvious. Mix it up- it is useless to be strong without endurance and vise versa. You don't need to be great at anything, but you don't want to have a weakness not tended to.

3) Train to your weaknesses. You know what they are. Don't hide from them, take them head on. Andy and Joe will find them anyway.

4) Have a positive attitude. If you go into the Death Race thinking that you probably won't finish, you won't.

5) Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Period.

 So, that is it. I know it is probably a little too simplistic and doesn't provide the concrete training secrets that you can write down in your workout notebook. Probably the biggest mistake you can make is believing that finishing this one race defines your success or failure as an athlete. What works one year might result in total failure the next.

This is not a Death Race at all. It is a Life Race and it has no finish line.
After 57.5 hours, not so clean and fresh.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Filthy Clean Eating

In the last couple of weeks I have received some great questions, many around the topic of food. Proper nutrition is such an important part of every aspect of our lives: athletics, brain function, mood and even facilitating proper sleep patterns. While I do not claim to be any where near an expert on the topic, I'd love to dedicate this post to addressing some of the questions people have been asking about daily nutrition.

1) I understand what good foods and bad foods are, but I always backslide from my diet. How can I avoid this cheating pattern?

For me, this is pretty simple: I never diet. Dieting is temporary and when the diet is over old habits always return. Restricting calories or certain foods always seems to lead to injury from training without proper nutritional support. Bacon? Sure. Chocolate? Absolutely. What works for me is to eat foods in moderation- and this can be more sustainable over the long run. Total deprivation of anything is always temporary and good health should be long term. With that said, the less processed your food is, the better off you are. If it comes in a package, it probably isn't all that great for you and will do little to help you perform your best. If it doesn't look like it did when it grew in the garden, it has been processed. Choose whole raw foods including grains, fruits and veggies as well as local meats and dairy raised without hormones, steroids and antibiotics whenever possible.
Hand picking and freezing fruits and veggies is the way to go.

I also subscribe to the idea that even sweets can be part of a good diet- some are better for you than others. For me, no artificial sweeteners.  Ice cream with real sugar and cream, real butter, quality dark chocolate (sorry milk chocolate, no offense) and homemade desserts (made with a little less sugar than called for in the recipe) are all in the diet. Maybe I am just rationalizing my sweet tooth?
Homemade blueberry pie with hand picked berries. OK, so maybe not healthy, but it sure tastes good.


2) I also have young kids and can't get them to eat the healthy foods that I like. I just don't have time to make two meals so I end up eating kid food that I know is not great for me. How can I make time to eat healthy foods with kids and a job?

The kids love having choices when it comes to their salad
I used to try to make two meals- one for my husband and me and one for the kids. Inevitably, I would run out of time and just make mac-and-cheese for everyone or wind up "momposting" whatever scraps the kids didn't eat. A couple of years ago I decided that it was time that the kids started eating OUR food instead of us eating kid food. At first, the kids did protest but they are resilient creatures and they adjust.
The kids love beets, grapes, peppers and cukes, pomegranite, nuts, and carrots.
 One thing seems to work well is creating a salad plate that offers the kids a choice. Try assembling veggies, nuts, fruits, cheese, and whatever we have in the fridge into small piles and let everyone choose from each pile what to put in their "salad". The kids each have to choose a minimum of 3 options- although they usually choose more than 3 now. I get a little of everything for myself and everyone is happy! Sometimes kids just want to be empowered with choices.
Voila, yummy salad with all of my favorite things.
The same can be done with sauces and other toppings for other dishes. For example, marinate or  grill chicken plain for everyone and then make a sauce that can be added separately for adults or adventurous children.
Once in a while, there is always a place for a little Annie's mac-n-cheese... with a little sweet potato hidden in it of course.

3) What nutritional supplements should I use?
Ideally, it is best to try to get nutrients from real food rather than relying on vitamins or supplements. There are a few exceptions, however. The first is vitamin D. Several studies have indicated that in northern latitudes (ie. north of Atlanta) it is impossible for the body to make sufficient vitamin D from sunlight during the winter. If you have ever wondered about the importance of Vit D, check out this article- it is pretty compelling.

For most of us, 1,500 IU per day is appropriate but it is best to ask your doctor what amount is best for you.

Aside from that, I don't have a regular supplement regime. This summer, I began working with an amazing company that makes Simple Fuel and started using their products, which I have really enjoyed. If you are interested in an all natural real food-based supplement, I absolutely recommend trying this stuff. It has Omega's, fibers and antioxidants to help keep you naturally energized all day. On days when time is short and you are not able to eat all the healthy foods that you'd like, try the following shake using Simple Fuel:

 2 Tbsp Simple Fuel
1 small banana
1Tbsp natural peanut butter
a handful of frozen blueberries
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
handful ice cubes

Put everything in a blender and it is ready!

4) I am really good about making healthy choices for meals, but in the middle of the afternoon I get really hungry and I have trouble eating healthy. Life can be so busy, I get caught off guard and make last minute bad choices.

As someone who eats constantly, I can relate. Sometimes when the hunger button lights up and there is no decent food in sight, we resort to desperate measures. Whole, fresh food isn't always available. Let's face it, sometimes an apple doesn't do the trick anyway. I used to fill this void with bars. Clif Bars, Luna Bars, Powerbars, Builder Bars, etc. which are okay, but a little more processed than I'd like.

Here are a few quick pre-packaged options that are a little less processed and provide great mid-day energy. All are great alternatives to junky snacks.

1) Garuka bars (formerly Gorilla Bars). Garuka Bars are all natural and made with only 8 ingredients: Vermont raw honey, peanut butter, 7 whole-grain flakes, dried cranberries, brown rice puffs, light brown sugar, whole peanuts, and a teeny tiny bit of Vermont’s own Cabot butter.

2) Simple granola. I may be a little biased but this stuff is really great. Gluten free, all natural and raw granola. When you can't make you own, this is the next best stuff. I keep a bag of this in my backpack most days for emergency snacking. The snickerdoodle, original and crunchy are all great, I have yet to try the mocha chip and chocolate chip so those are next on my list.

3) Hammer Bars- In my opinion, Hammer nutrition makes the best of the prepackaged energy bars. Guten free, no refined sugars, and free of soy. The taste is good and it provides good clean energy.