I took a few years off then a high school buddy convinced me to try a Spartan Race “before we turn 40”. I was hooked and have loved OCR ever since.
When I started in OCR 7 years ago, I wasn’t much of a runner. Two, maybe three miles at a time was my typical run. I was going to the gym regularly for about 8 months but, weight training was my focus. In my younger days I was a competitive cyclist and mountain biker. I was sponsored by a local bike shop and did pretty well. I took a few years off then a high school buddy convinced me to try a Spartan Race “before we turn 40”. I was hooked and have loved OCR ever since. For training, I first focused on my obstacle weaknesses. After a year of getting better and completing obstacles, I started to focus on hill climbing. I would die on the long death marches and I wanted to be better. After I got better at that, I started to work on speed. I began to run…a lot. I soon settled on a nice balance of weight training and running that I pretty much stick to 3 years later.
Fast forward to 2017; I’m running elite for the second year and I just qualified for Pro division at the OCRWC. I wanted to test myself with something different. I decided, after the Worlds that I would run a local trail race. This was a timed race, you run as far, for however long you wanted. 400 minutes was the cut-off and only completed approximate 2-mile loops counted. My goal was to beat a marathon in the woods. I had never run more than 19 miles. My longest race was the Spartan World Championship at Killington, VT in 2014. Well, 6 hrs. into the 6:40 (400 min) cutoff, I completed lap 13 and 26.6 miles. That was a very different experience. I did everything wrong. I suffered way too much and it was great. Running real endurance is very different from what I’m used to. Food is very important and pacing yourself is much more important than ever before.
In the spring of 2018, I tried the very muddy sister race of the 400 min race I had tried in the fall. This time it was 600 minutes, that’s 10 hours of hell, I mean, “fun”. For this my goal was for a true Ultra distance of 50k. I made enough laps to make 30.91 of the 31.07 miles. Close enough for my first try. This time I tried to use what I learned the first race, eat better and rest smarter. I ended up taking 5 minutes every 2-3 laps to eat, drink and rest for a bit. I took one big break around mile 19 where I sat, ate for about 15 minutes, and changed my shoes and socks. I ended up averaging 14 min miles for 7:14. That put me at 34th out of 129 overall and 25th out of 69 for Men.
So much of the sport of OCR is a balance of skills. You can be a great runner and not be able to complete all the obstacles. You can be a strong, powerful athlete that can’t hold his pace. The best people in this sport are good at all the facets. Very few of them look like body builders or 100 mile ultra-runners. We are seeing now, specialist in the various race disciplines. There are very fast people that dominate the sprint courses that barely show for Beasts for example. I feel that the best OCR athletes are well balanced, however. I, myself, have worked for the last two years to increase my speed. With that, I had 4 top 10 finishes in Rugged Maniacs last year, including a 2nd place. I admit that the Rugged Maniac isn’t the most difficult race but, it suits a sprinter great. I also enjoy the 15k format race. This tends to be very challenging as you cannot go out too hard. The longer, 12+ mile races tend to be a whole different breed. I’ve done many a Beast and I’ve broken the top 20 a few times but, it’s always been at the edge of my abilities.
Dipping my toe into ultra-running has given me insight into truly pacing myself and metering my energy. Having just returned from the OCRWC in the UK, I’m switching gears into my off-season mode. I start my base training and add longer, slower runs.
I spoke with Michael Lo Presti, Founder and President of The Connecticut Trailmixers (http://www.cttrailmixers.com/). Michael’s background is that of a runner. He started jogging after getting married to keep off the weight. He decided to run a marathon after his dad completed his. That was 20+ years ago with the VT City marathon. 83 marathons (and longer) later, he’s still going strong. His favorite distance is the 50 mile. He started CT Traillmixers in 2015 after he and a group of friends were having trouble keeping up with organizing all of the group runs. “Text and email were getting too hard to control.” This quickly turned in something that “could grow the trail running community”. He now sees the club as a “great vehicle to learn and experience the CT trails.” The Trailmixers now host two local trail races a year. Michael is the race director for both the 400 minute Fall Fling and the 600 minute Spring Fling. These are both great events if you find yourself in mid-state Connecticut. I asked him why he thinks OCR athletes would like ultra-running and he quickly stated; “Well, first I had to Google OCR.” People might like it “as people move out of more competitive/aggressive type races into slower paced, differently demanding events.” “I also see it as pretty good cross training. If I were going to do a 24hr Tough Mudder, I would do a few 50Ks first.”
Another non-OCR athlete, Jim McCusker, 41 of Berlington, CT spoke about what he believes OCR athletes could gain from some Ultra-running events. “I think that they (OCR) could benefit from seeing what they are capable of. You can surprise yourself.” He believes the difference is the ultra-courses are “natural built” as opposed to “military inspired” obstacles. With his experience in such races as the Jay Peak 22 miler and Dummer Hill 50k, his thinks that OCR athletes could benefit from “more technical trails that I don’t think you see in OCR”.
One interesting thought that came up in my interview with Jim is the perception that many OCR athletes are willing to keep going during an exceptionally wet or muddy race even if it means having an impact on the trails, where he sees the ultra-community as being more conscious of the environmental impact of being on the trails. Right or wrong, this is something the OCR community should keep in mind. We should all ensure that the trails remain intact for everyone to enjoy.
Vin Framularo of Trumbull CT is a 37 year old marketing consultant and coach at Epic Hybrid Training (https://epichybridtraining.com/). After running since the age of 12 he started OCR in the 2012 season. He loved the challenge and it “reignited his fitness motivation”. He believes that OCR athletes can benefit from Ultra running because “It teaches you to push through your comfort zone. You can really surprise yourself with what you are capable of.” He also added, “You don’t need to go fast, you just need to keep going. Both sports show depth of perseverance and they bring out the weaknesses as well as strengths.”
A well-seasoned veteran of both OCR and Endurance events, Jeffrey Chokran, 49 of Charlotte NC said of OCR and Ultra-running “They are both mental. If your mental game is not on, you won’t do well.” Jeffrey started OCR in 2013 which eventually led to longer runs and endurance events like Hellblazer Carolinas (in which he was the only participant to record a perfect 66.6 miles) and the Knock on Wood 100 mile. “I’m constantly trying to find new, more challenging things.” After finishing his 100 miler he said “Where do I go now?” He is currently training for an endurance Trifecta to be completed in one weekend which consists of a 12 Hr. Hurricane Heat, a Spartan Ultra, Hurricane Heat, and a Spartan Beast. The Beast is extra, “Just because I’m going to be there.” Jeffrey also has multiple Goruck events under his belt.
So it looks like there is a good cross-over between the two sports. Both of them get you muddy, push
your limits and expose your strengths… and weaknesses. Jeffrey commented that he believes it might be a more natural transition from OCR to Ultra-running as opposed to the other way around. I think he might be right on that. An OCR athlete can learn to run further but, a runner might have more skills to learn. Regardless, the sports seem to complement each other and help build character.
So, maybe you should give ultra-running a try. Trust me. We did not invent hills or suffering, we could learn a lot from pushing ourselves further. Also, there are usually baked goods at the aid stations.
"Go give it a shot, and if you fail - you'll have probably learned something valuable. Next time fail better, until you figure it out. " –Brian Roccapriore
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Dubey is an Masters racer in his 6 th year of racing. He lives in CT with his wife and 3 boys. He is an ambassador for Medal Addict, Honey Stinger, Swiftwick socks, ATP Nutritionals and GCI Outdoor. He competed in the OCR World Championships in 2017 (Ontario Canada, Pro division) and 2018(London UK, age group).