True Triumph: Mike Collins (Podcast Ep. 30)

True Triumph Mike Collins

There are more ways to triumph than weight loss.

There’s a concept in the fitness world, which I have talked about many times… called “non-scale victories”. Often times the scale might not move as much as we’d like and we get discouraged. Times like those it’s important to celebrate the non-scale victories, like “hey, that shirt fits great now!” or “I finished a 5K!” or “wow, I just finished the Spartan Ultra Beast at Mt. Killington!”

Ok… some people are more extreme than others.

My guest for Episode 30 of the podcast is a True Triumph in all senses of the word. This guy took charge, picked himself up out of a situation that was hazardous to his health, and got it together. First… for his kids… then… for himself… and after that? Well… now he’s shepherding his crew towards THEIR big non-scale victories.

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#18 – The New England Spahtens, OCR, & A New Year

(Apologies for the double-publish…technical difficulties earlier)

There’s just not enough time in the day (or in the podcast) sometimes. So many things to talk about… Well, today I cover three BIG things! Two of them I cover REALLY well! One is…well…just tough to talk about with saying the same thing everyone else has already said.


The spotlight here is…The New England Spahtens.


Who, what, why, and how. And more, of course 🙂 And I’ve got Paul Jones to tell me allllll about it.

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Back In The Saddle – F.I.T. Challenge IV Recap

It was a long road from the 2014 Killington Beast back to OCR for me. The 6 months prior to this event had been a constant battle to regain strength, speed, and motivation. This race reminded me why I love running races, why I put myself through these things, and why I bother with “health & fitness” at all.

On Saturday, 4/11/15, I ran F.I.T. Challenge IV – Epic F.I.T. and I have to say…it was exactly what I needed. It challenged me, it tested me, it pushed me, and it renewed my drive for all things health & fitness!
So what was so great about Epic F.I.T.? How does it rank? Why was I so sore the next day…and so happy about it? 

This event was just done right. Robb McCoy, the man behind F.I.T. Challenge, knows how to put on a top notch event, and he has struck again with the 4th installment of his series. 
The Score:

Pre-Race: 8
Race Day: 9
The Course: 10

Support / Swag: 9 
Post-Race: 8

Just an all-around well-executed event. Things promised were followed-through on, the course was outstanding, and everyone seemed to have a great time. Would I run this race again? Heck yes I would.

Pre-Race – 8

There were a fair number of promotional emails/Facebook posts and I certainly didn’t forget the race was coming. The “pre-race email” came out the week before the race – I was impressed that it came to me as I wasn’t actually officially registered for the race…I was signed on as a volunteer! Good on ya, F.I.T. Challenge! I DID check with some friends who pre-registered well in advance, and there were PLENTY of emails sent to participants.

Race Day – 9

I must say, I had a pretty good race day experience. Checking in as a volunteer was super-easy – this can normally be a pretty tedious or confusing process. I watched a number of regularly registered runners checking in as well, and it looked to be a pretty quick and painless process. Near registration there was a small festival area with some vendors and a rep from OCR World Championships (yes, this is an OCRWC Qualifier…wow!). There was also ample room to hang out, stretch, and prepare.

Our Team – Photo Credit: Mary Donohue

As part of the New England Spahtens, I was a member of the day’s largest team, which meant I got to hang out pre/post race at our largest team tent. Took a minute to figure out where it was – and once I did I discovered the restroom situation was INDOORS! Huzzah!

Already ran your race? Want to run another lap? Go for it! $15 gets you a new timing chip and you’re off to the races (again). Manage 5 laps and you get a special plaque for doing 25K of OCR.

All in all…everything leading up to crossing the starting mat was pretty darn smooth.

The Course – 10

Photo Credit: Mary Donohue

The course was excellent. There’s no two ways about it. F.I.T. Challenge really nailed it all – use-of-venue, variety, quality, and quantity of obstacles…it was just really well-done. Top-freaking-notch. I’m genuinely impressed here, in case you couldn’t tell. The course was also INCREDIBLY well-marked – trust me…while volunteering post-race I pulled hundreds of flags, a ton of caution tape, and MANY arrow signs…so I can personally attest to that.

I want to point out that part of what helped this race have such an excellent course was the #OCRUnited element – they played well with others. ABF Mud Run, ORTC at Shale Hill, Grit ‘n’ Wit, Blizzard Blast and more – Robb McCoy and his crew aren’t afraid to work with others to put on a successful event. This is something that helped him in planning, execution, race-day experience, the course itself…all areas got a boost. Other, bigger races could learn something from F.I.T. Challenge in this regard. Take notes, big 3.

Support/Swag – 9

Swag and Support was good – above average, even! Swag included a cotton t-shirt, a logo’d headband (similar to what you get at a Spartan Race, but no bib number), and finisher’s medal. I love the medal – shaped like a Wreck Bag (added to the #OCRUnited feel – lots of local races are embracing Wreck Bag). NE Spahtens also got some “cheap sunglasses” (you know, the plastic Wayfarer knock-offs?) with Spahten F.I.T. printed on them. I’m a sucker for “cheap sunglasses”, and I think everyone else is too, let’s be honest. Thanks F.I.T.!

Age group awards were provided (nice), and as an added bonus (I mentioned this before) for those who managed 5 (timed) laps there was a special plaque involved. Nice touch. Not to mention that whole “OCRWC Qualifier” thing.

Support was good – especially when you got to the #OCRUnited parts of the course, especially the big cluster with “rigs” by the big Shale Hill truck. There was a volunteer at every obstacle, as there should be, (some more engaged than others) and I was aware of medical support that was available.

Post-Race – 8

Post-race was pretty good too. Once you cross the finish there was water, Hint Water (review coming) and though I didn’t stop to look, I think there was food of some sort (bananas maybe?). The little festival area was there, so First Aid Shot Therapy was there with their “shots” (think 5 hour energy…but aspirin) in case you were hurtin’. There was a cool little podium/backdrop area for photo ops and awards, but aside from that…if you’re not running another lap (which you could for $10 or $15)…when you finish the race that’s kinda it. Pack it up and go home. You could certainly hang out, though…it IS a state park (and very pretty, I thought).

I personally would’ve gone back over to the NE Spahtens tent to hang out if I hadn’t immediately gone over to volunteer (he was grossly under-supported for PM volunteers. Shame on people for bailing). That’s how I wrapped MY day up, and it was kinda fun to break it all down 🙂

Overall, I had a great time and would certainly go back.

At the end of the day – this was a great race. What you’ve got in F.I.T. Challenge is a great, very well-constructed, very well-thought-out, and very well-executed Obstacle Course Race. You can tell the owner/race director and the team that works with him (i.e. family and friends) really cares about the event and making it great. That’s why I love local OCR’s and why I will always seek them out. The big-name races are really turning me off lately, and “the little guy” keeps impressing.

F.I.T. Challenge V is this fall on 11/14/15, and you can register via this link. If you’re not already committed to something…I heartily recommend you register. Whether you’re a rookie or a rockstar, you’ll have fun at this event.

Struggle, Teamwork, & Success – Spartan Beast VT 2015

I thought I was looking for redemption.

I came to the mountain on a mission. The Beast broke me last year…and though I got my finish…it didn’t feel like a true victory. At the end there was no celebration. No camaraderie. No reveling in our success with hugs, beers, laughter and high fives. I came back looking for what I thought was taken from me. To correct my mistake. I thought I wanted…no…NEEDEDredemption.

As it turns out…I was wrong.

What I found and what I learned was much more valuable and worthwhile than that. Too bad it took me a year to figure it out.

As far as a rating goesLet’s knock this out now.

Pre-Race: 7.5
Race-Day: 8

The Course: 7.5 
Support/Swag: 7
Post-Race: 8
Overall: 38/50

Overall…average to above average. You’ll get why by the end.

The theme of the day was “struggle”.

What can I say about the Killington Beast that I (or someone else) haven’t said before? Those who have done it…know. And those who haven’t yet…can’t possibly REALLY know until you’re there. Suffering and struggling through it. There are insane ascents, vicious descents, technical trails that eat ankles for lunch and top it off with obstacles strategically placed to push you to your limits.

This year was a bit different from the past, though. This year Killington was a Founder’s Race.

What does “Founder’s Race” really mean?

Some would say it means Spartan Race is getting cheap and taking the easy way out on a course build. Spartan calls it “going back to their roots” when things were simpler. Honestly…I think it’s a little bit of both.

The “Founder’s Race” idea results in a less complicated, less grandiose build-out. No massive banners. No 5,000 foot high rope climb rigs with a water ditch below large enough to build a house in. To be perfectly honest…the build-out reminded me of some smaller, local OCR’s I’ve run lately. I kind of liked that.

Each year is different.

Each year at any given venue is its own event, and you kind of have to take it for what it is. I heard some people (some, my own teammates) complaining that this year’s VT Beast wasn’t as hard as years prior. I read one blog in particular that I thought was pretty…shall we say…elitist…about it. Complaining that US races are incredibly disorganized. It kind of offended me.

In hindsight…I WAS slightly disappointed.

As hard as it was…ultimately…it DID feel a little…disappointing in the obstacle category. There were innumerable things to climb over, at least 8 carries of some sort and three barbed wire crawls. These made up the VAST majority of obstacles. I felt there was a lot less…creativity…than I expected. Local OCR’s I’ve done…hell, even other SPARTAN races I’ve done…have had more variety than that. Is this what “Founder’s Race” means? If so…I won’t mind if I don’t run another. Lack of variety doesn’t mean it was easy…but still…it felt like something was lacking.

Despite it all…the struggle was real.

That mountain is no joke. This year’s course had all the steepest ascents and descents from last year’s course…plus new ones. The heat was a new challenge…one that got the best of me for a while. You just never know what you’re gonna get on that mountain…

Lack of water didn’t help, either

I’m not gonna sit here and make a Federal project out of it…Spartan Race blew it with water…but at least they owned their mistake. They depleted their water sources way early and lost pressure on (it seems) their one available hose. People (myself included) weren’t allowed to fill Camelbaks. I had to ration my water a lot more than usual. Given the heat…this was a challenge. One I was not prepared for.

Teamwork saved the day.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I would not have made it without my battle buddies. For the uninformed – a Battle Buddy is someone you run/crawl/climb/struggle through the race with. Maureen and Rob were mine.

Happened kind of by accident, too…I lost my original BB very early (it’s ok, we had a deal, not upset) and came across them on the first major ascent. Deciding to stick with them was probably the single smartest thing I did all day.

They had my back at every turn. I was stunned to find them waiting for me at the bottom of the bucket carry. It got the best of me, whipped my ass…and there they were. Waiting. I felt bad because I took so long…this is exactly where I lost my battle buddies last year (except it was later in the race)…but there they were. And they were right there with me until the very end. Salt tabs, conversation, looking out for each other…they covered it all. It was a much different back-half of the Beast this year getting through it with a couple of BB’s like that.

I would not have finished without them. Not this year’s Beast. No way.

Imagine an entire community like that.

That’s the New England Spahtens – over 3,000 people just like that (to varying degrees). A whole community of “care”. That’s what OCR SHOULD be like…not whining about this or that, not complaining that someone didn’t do their burpees, not bellyaching about cheating…just looking out for each other and having fun.

I almost cried at the finish line.

The look on my face at the fire jump was borderline horrified…but I jumped it. I landed. And I screamed out of pure elation. I could finally run across the finish…on my own. And I did. And there was my wife. And my Battle Buddies. And that G-Damn medal I’ve been chasing for months. I did it. The feeling is simply indescribable.

Thanks to the team…I found TRUE success.

And it was a bit different than I thought it would be. 

High fives and hugs. Shared stories of successes. Lamenting opportunities missed on-course. A teammate not-so-subtly offering a victory shot and beer. And also…asking after teammates we hadn’t seen or heard from. Not for the gossip factor…not out of curiosity…but out of genuine care, and to perhaps be ready to help console a teammate feeling like a failure. So much positivity…

Sitting in the lodge, much later, as I’m getting ready to finish my beer and head home…A teammate comes in for hers. It’s late, most others from the team have left. Despite being more sore than ever…of course I practically leap out of my chair to congratulate her.

Back to the house…where other exhausted, beaten teammates rest as well. In the morning – shared stories of success. Breakfast in town surrounded by finishers, spectators…and people who get it. The next night…furiously hitting “refresh” on Chronotrack hoping to see friends finish the UltraBeast…did they make it?

The sense of completion…of victory…of success…didn’t come from the medal, or simply from running across on my own two feet. It was everything else.

Battlefrog’s (Literal) “Make Or Break” Moment

Battlefrog distance changes

“When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

Something interesting is happening in the OCR world right now: BattleFrog (a reportedly fantastic obstacle race series born just a year ago) is now implementing MAJOR changes to the rest of their schedule for 2015 as well as to their format in general.

What will ultimately be the death or rebirth of BattleFrog as an OCR series is unfolding right now before our eyes. So what’s involved? What’s at stake? How will this affect BattleFrog, it’s participants & staff, and the OCR scene as a whole? And why are people so damn mad?

Now that the dust is beginning to settle…let’s take a look.

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