Sherpa is good

Sherpa is good

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The "Sport" of OCR: Who Knew? (The Unexpected Part Four)

I confess that when I wrote my three piece series on the sport of OCR back in 2015 I didn't expect I would be writing a Part Four. Especially so soon. And yet, here I am.

Even just three or four weeks ago I didn't know we would be HERE.

And where is here? Well, as it turns out, a lot of work was being done, quietly, to put a bunch of pieces in to place. The first sign that something was moving was in January, when the UIPM (the International Federation for Modern Pentathlon), announced that they would be presenting a Mixed Relay obstacle version of their Laser-Run event at the UIPM World Cup #1 in Los Angeles the last week of February.

The release stated:

First, the UIPM's strategy of having the Mixed Relay included in future Olympic Games programmes starting with Tokyo 2020 was discussed at length. It was unanimously agreed that this innovative format will include Obstacle Course Racing as part of the Laser-Run discipline. This addition, with strong ties to the historical traditions of the Modern Pentathlon, will add additional value to the Modern Pentathlon event, and the Games itself, and UIPM will campaign strongly for its inclusion.

Secondly, it was reported to the board that more than 50 cities have registered for the new UIPM Laser-Run Global City Tour, which begins in Port Louis, Mauritius.

Finally, the UIPM Secretary General, Shiny Fang, briefed the board on the agreement signed with the TV network Eurosports at the beginning of January. In the context of the partnership, Modern Pentathlon will reach a broader audience with the live broadcast of the UIPM 2017 World Cup Final in Lithuania, in June, and the UIPM 2017 World Championships in Egypt, in September.


(I included more than just the mixed relay obstacle portion of the statement above because I think it is important to note that the UIPM is also expanding and promoting the Laser-Run event internationally. The Laser-Run is technically the last combined two events of the modern pentathlon, but they have been promoting it as a stand alone event due to its broad appeal and ease of implementation.)

As you can see, UIPM intends on trying to make the obstacle version of the Laser-Run a medal event in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I don't expect the obstacles at the LA event to be too extreme by OCR standards, but if it is accepted by the IOC as a medal event, it sets the stage for bigger and better things in the future.

At the same time, Ian Adamson and others have been hard at work assembling the pieces to build the Obstacle Sports Federation (the International Federation for Obstacle Sports), along with putting in to the place the framework for the national federations, including USA Obstacle Course Racing.

Per the USA OCR website, the US National Championship will be held in Miami on April **th. The US OCR Team will be chosen from that race, and the US team will likely have the chance to compete at a PanAm competition in the fall.

The website is here:


That escalated quickly, huh?

Rather than spend time writing about the ins and outs of all of this, what I would really like to do is comment on what I think about it all. We already have OCR media organizations out there to cover the nuts and bolts, I'm really here to provide commentary and insight. :) Of course, that's not to say that I don't find all of the ins and outs incredibly interesting (especially the chosen race format), but we can save that topic for another day.

The topic for now is "what does all of this mean?"

There is no conclusive answer, but this is why all of this excites me:

First of all, even though the Obstacle Laser Run is a Pentathlon event, if it becomes an Olympic medal event, it really opens up some possibilities for OCR, just maybe not in the way you have always imagined it.

The imagined acceptance of OCR in to the Olympics is as follows: start an international federation, start fifty national federations, come up with rules and standards and all of that, have a number of congresses and other required governance meetings, have some championships and whatnot, and then ask the IOC if you can be in the Olympics.

And the IOC says "Uuummmm, we recognize you as an official sport now that you've done all of that, but no, you can't be in the Olympics."

Because let's face it, there are a lot of officially recognized sports that aren't in the Olympics. While it is true that a few of them have been "fast tracked" to meet the IOC's interest in new and innovative sports that attract younger audiences (like surfing), in general, the process is extremely long.

But enter Modern Pentathlon, which has been in the Olympics since 1912. They approach the IOC and say "Check out our cool Laser Run event. It's already a part of the Pentathlon, but we have been building support for it all over the world and now we added some obstacles in it to make it even cooler." What will the IOC say? Well, we will have an idea after the Los Angeles event.

If it makes it all of the way through the voting (in July or September) and becomes a medal event in 2020, it puts the obstacle "genre" formally in front of many more people. And perhaps more importantly, it draws a whole new pool of athletes who aspire to make it to the Olympics.

But that by itself isn't the big deal.

We also have the (virtually simultaneous) formation of international and national federations for OCR. We have competition rules and obstacle standards and race formats. We have races and championships that occur outside of any particular OCR brand. We have inclusion. We have, well, an actual sport. (And yes, in many cases, we have spectators.)

Of course, many people won't really care for this. Hell, some of the top racers in OCR today won't care for it. Primarily because (and I've spelled all of this out in my previous articles), as of now, "OCR" has come to mean longer, technical mountain races. If you are a strong mountain/ultra runner, you are loving how things are currently.

And I wouldn't expect this version of OCR to go away. Or, at least I don't think it should go away. As both a "sport" and as a recreational activity, hundreds of thousands of people love the grind of long Spartan Races and Tough Mudders. It is clearly fulfilling a need/desire. But that is just one version of OCR.

There are many other groups of athletes who have been waiting for a version of OCR that matches their interest and skill set. I know a number of track athletes and ninja warriors who have been very hesitant to go do a 2-4 hour Spartan Race, but they might jump right in to an all out 3200 meter track-based sprint obstacle race, or a 3k-5k cross country style obstacle race.

The more interest people show, the more variety we may end up with. And hasn't that always been one of the stated goals of Spartan? To not just serve as a sport but to get people off the couch? To be a lifestyle? Well, to do that you have to meet the needs of many different types of people, not just the ones who can fit in to the mold of what Spartan has created (which is pretty great, by the way, just not totally inclusive).

I see this all as a one-two punch. And one that can inject some new blood and vitality in to OCR. How the punches land, and what effect they will have, remains to be seen. But I am hopeful that we are really just now beginning to see all that "obstacle course racing" entails. The current OCR race formats plus an Olympic Games event plus a cross country "sport" format plus continued growth in shows like America Ninja Warrior begin to paint a broader stroke, both in potential participation and in commercial appeal.

It will be an interesting year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Where Is The Outdoor Industry? Oh...Hello There...

There are many conversations on social media about why there aren't more "big name companies" involved in obstacle course racing, despite the high numbers of participation. The general consensus seems to be that either the numbers aren't big enough for the large companies to get involved, or, those companies still believe that OCR might be a passing fad.

Personally, I have always wondered why more outdoor industry companies, specifically, haven't gotten involved, as most OCRs are held in places that would clearly make them "outdoor events" (parks, forests, mountains) and they don't require equipment beyond what most companies already manufacture.

Outside of Reebok's All-Terrain shoe series, most people wear shoes that are made for trail running. Some brands, like Inov8 and Icebug, have made some design changes and applied some marketing initiatives towards the OCR crowd, but most companies don't. Basically, they have a whole potential consumer group in OCR that they give little time and energy to, even though they can do it with an existing product.

The best example is Salomon. Despite the fact that many people wear Salomons for races and to train in, Salomon doesn't care one bit about OCR. They say OCR doesn't fit "the mountain athlete image," even though the top Spartan races are all in the mountains.

I understand the idea of maintaining a particular brand image, I just don't think their rationale applies very well. Even when people aren't racing, many of them are out in the mountains running and hiking and climbing. You know, mountain activities. On Facebook I see people in shorts and tights and technical clothing, like base layers and fleece and puffys. Clearly, this falls within the domain of the outdoor industry. (I understand that there is a large part of the OCR population that focuses more on gym-based, CrossFit style training, but the large numbers of people who spend time training outside is obvious.)

Who knows, maybe the outdoor companies don't feel like they have to market or cater to the OCR crowd because people will by their stuff anyway.

By partnering with Spartan and designing OCR-specific shoes and gear, Reebok has made the biggest commitment to the industry. And they should be commended for their investment. Reebok isn't anywhere close to an "outdoor company" (their bread and butter these days seems to be in CrossFit, Les Miles, and UFC), but they have done a decent job of creating products more in line with OCR needs.

But if an outdoor company had just one shoe that worked well for OCR, that company would also inherently already have a number of other pieces of appropriate training gear. They wouldn't have to design and manufacture anything new or different.

Two weeks ago my friend Joe Gray (6 time USA Mountain Runner of the Year) called me and told me that he had ended his contract with SCOTT Sports and was pursuing another shoe company. I found out last week that he signed with Merrell.

I went to the Merrell website to look around at their current shoe models and found this:

You can find the link here. Hello there, Merrell. Welcome to the OCR industry!

I am curious to see whether Merrell designs a shoe with a few more OCR features or just sticks with their current trail shoe line.

Will other outdoor companies start to take a look at OCR? Will Reebok expand their OCR line and start creating more outdoor oriented gear? Or, are the 4 million people doing OCRs still too small of a crowd to make anyone care?

Joe DeSena has talked about his mission of getting people off the couch, and I applaud his success at fostering the growing OCR population. But it doesn't stop there, does it? Doesn't it also mean just getting people outside? Maybe even going in to the forest or the mountains on the weekend? Surely we can't just rely upon occasional races to fulfill that "get off the couch" obligation, can we? Is the goal just participants on race day? Or is it a lifestyle change?

In my mind, OCRs could be the transitional phase between "off the couch" to a lifetime of hiking and climbing and cycling and kayaking and exploring. To me, OCR is about empowerment and confidence; learning to find happiness and contentment through activity rather than objects. You don't need OCR to do that, but for many, OCR has become the pathway. This is the gap that I think outdoor companies can fill.

So what is your preferred racing and training gear? And why do you choose what you choose?

Monday, December 7, 2015

The "Sport" of OCR: Final Thoughts (Part Three of a Three Part Series)

A funny thing happened on the way to cancer surgery; the cohesion of this series slipped away. :)

On the upside, 90% of the points I had to make were in Parts 1 and 2. Part 3 just contains some final thoughts to consider as we all move this “sport” forward.


A few people have asked why we are so concerned about OCR being an Olympic sport in the first place, and wondered if it was a way of trying to seek out validation. I confess that I may have muddied the waters by switching back and forth between “sport” and “Olympic sport” in Part 2.

I think most people understand that the “Olympic sport” ideal is a long shot, and certainly not one that will be achieved any time soon. But the reason why the pursuit of the Olympic ideal is so exciting to some people is because many of the mechanisms that need to be put in to place to make it happen are the same things that OCR needs to become a sport.

Besides, there are plenty of legitimate sports that aren’t in the Olympics. People talk about the Olympic Games goal, but most of those individuals that are interested in OCR becoming a sport just want the standard sport criteria to apply. You don’t need the Olympics to validate that.

Joe DeSena is the one who suggested getting OCR in to the Olympics in the first place, but as it is now, Spartan seems to be acting mostly alone. So at this point, the pursuit of “OCR as sport” and “OCR as Olympic sport” might have different factions, which is unfortunate, because it would behoove the movement to have unified support and action.

Before I leave the subject of the Olympics, one more thing…

There has been talk this year about trying to get surfing in to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. If you search the web, you will find a number of articles discussing the pros and cons. Just recently in the New York Times, William Finnegan wrote an article called “Surf For Love, Not For Gold.” In it, he brings up a number of issues that strongly resemble what OCR will have to confront on its path to the Olympics.

But here’s the thing: surfing is already a sport. As is running, and cycling, and snowboarding, and skiing, and climbing. The fact that these activities have a sport aspect (and in some cases, an Olympic sport aspect ) to them doesn’t prevent millions of people, all over the world, from enjoying those activities every single day.

If you love the activity of surfing, why do you care that professional surfing has ambiguous and obtuse judging? How does that affect your own personal experience out there on the wave?

I’m not addressing this to Mr. Finnegan, specifically, but there is the strange human tendency to want to get other people to believe that we are in sole possession of all that is good and right. Even his phrase “surf for love” would seem to imply that there is one definition of what “love” is; or at the very least that his definition is the one that counts. What if someone loves sport climbing but doesn’t care so much about being out there on the rock? Would their love for what they do be less valid because it isn’t “real” climbing to the purist?

Different people like different things. OCR is big and diverse enough to hold many different variations. I would understand the loud push back if people thought their version would disappear if another version was developed, but that is not what I foresee here. (And it sounds like many people were relieved reading in Part 2 that the “OCR sport group” was not implying we change the current race formats.) Just like it doesn’t currently happen in surfing and snowboarding and climbing.

As it is now, the “masses” are out there participating in the current versions of OCR. They are generating revenue through participation. I don’t really see that going away any time soon.


Ahhhhh….MOC. Mandatory obstacle completion. Another hot topic.

Advocates say that you have to have MOC to provide legitimacy. They say, “How can you stand on the podium for an obstacle race if you can’t do the obstacles?”

Most critics of MOC point to races where they have it, like BattleFrog, and bring up examples where there is 20-60 minutes between podium finishers. That doesn’t make for a very exciting race, they argue.

And, of course, underlying it all, is Spartan’s relationship with the burpee, which doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

I am intrigued by what races like Toughest do; easy lane, hard lane, varying penalties. It allows for some flexibility, and even Jon Albon takes the “easy lane” some times. (If you don’t know how their races work, you should look in to it.)

In the end, I think there will have to be MOC of some type. I just don’t see something like a burpee penalty being a valid path to sport legitimacy.

And that leads us in to the next thing….

The Y Axis of Obstacles

Thus far, we have discussed the X axis of obstacle course racing, which is the distance of the race, and we have shown the biases that are inherent in the existing structures. Along with terrain, distance is the measuring stick by which we currently determine “difficulty.”

But what about the Y axis; the difficulty of the obstacles themselves? If you refer to Part One of this series, this difficulty can be applied to both relative and absolute strength based obstacles.

As we have seen thus far, while heavy obstacles can drop a fast race pace to a slow grind, a particularly difficult relative strength obstacle can bring the whole thing to an abrupt halt. This is what happened at the BattleFrog races mentioned above. Very difficult monkey bars and rigs kept many racers from even finishing, and it contributed to the large gaps between the top finishers.

So if you institute mandatory obstacle completion, how far can you push the edge on the obstacles? How heavy can you make the absolute strength obstacles and how hard can you make the relative strength obstacles?

If open heats are using the same course right after the elite wave goes, it would seem to constrain your Y variables even more, as you don’t want a high percentage of your race population to DNF or feel totally defeated.

Remember, we are talking about the “sport” here. In the case of OCRs, it is a race. This isn’t a bouldering problem that someone works on for hours, alone or with friends. This is something that is timed and very likely has an audience.

What does the audience want to see? They probably don’t want to see the top ten people all doing burpees 20 yards from the finish line, but they probably also don’t want to see half of the athletes not finish the course. What makes races exciting is the head to head aspect.

So where is the line? How far can you push obstacle difficulty without bringing the race to a standstill? And regardless of how heavy or hard things get, isn’t the point of a race to get through it faster than someone else? Speed will always be the most important element of racing; far more than strength will ever be.


If OCR wants to be a legitimate sport, at some point, they have to address performance enhancing drugs and therapeutic use exemptions. OCRWC has already instituted a policy of testing the podium finishers, and at this year’s SRWC there was an unexpected drug test of “random” finishers.

Every athlete in a sport that has PED testing will tell you that to truly accomplish the objective you have to put athletes in a testing pool and test randomly, not just after a race. Critics will say that not even that method works. They argue that testing doesn’t catch cheaters, because it is too easy to get around it all.

Testing might not catch all of the cheaters, but it does catch some of them. Many top athletes, in every sport, have been caught and suspended.

Additionally, just since I started writing this piece there have been shocking stories coming out in track and field about systematic, institutional cheating (Russian athletes) as well as governing body cover-ups (Kenyan athletes).

None of this is possible without having the rules in place to begin with.

But in a sport like OCR, maybe we shouldn’t be comparing to these other sports quite yet. Maybe it is better to not use examples of Olympians and highly paid professional athletes, but instead focus on examples that fit the current OCR paradigm; examples like Christian Hesch.

If you don’t know the story of Christian Hesch, you should look it up. Christian was a road racer who started taking EPO in 2010. Entering local road races and international competitions, he won $40,000 in prize money in a two-year period, primarily composed of races with prizes of $1500 or less. He knew those races would not have testing.

He didn’t need sophistication to beat the testing system, because there wasn’t a testing system. And he took full advantage of it.

Someone eventually found an empty EPO vial in his bag and reported him. Had that vial not been found, how much longer would he have done it?

This example is more in line with the current OCR situation. Without any testing, even just post-race testing, you aren’t discouraging anyone. In fact, by not having a PED policy in place, you aren’t even deeming PEDs illegal.

At least create the policies. If you want to argue about testing and enforcement after that, by all means, go for it.

N-B-C, EASY AS 1-2-3

Every time NBC Sports airs a Spartan Race episode, the following day there ensues the same argument over how good/bad the show was.

From what I can tell, there are four main camps, and people might be in more than one camp at the same time:

1) Good episode. Inspired. Enjoyed the format and breakdown of elites and open heats.
2) Bad episode. Tired of seeing the elites and listening to them say the same thing.
3) Bad episode. Don’t care to see anything other than the top racers; and would really like to see the whole race with all of the obstacles.
4) Bad episode. Complaints about filming, editing, production, etc…

Having spent a lot of time talking to Transition Productions, who films and produces the show for NBC, I can tell you that they are going for the largest appeal. How do you capture and entertain the largest television viewing audience possible?

There are those who would like to view the races they same way we view other sports; all of the action, none of the personal interest/backstory. The problem is, given the current race formats, I think that would only be interesting to a very, very small percentage of people. When I started writing this article way back when, I was going to encourage everyone to go to this link: to watch Sweden’s Toughest episodes to get a feel for what that format is like. The problem is, I don’t think the races are on there any more. Perhaps some Swedish speaking/reading people can chime in and let us know. :)

Toughest does show most of the entire race, from the vantage point of stationary cameras, cameras on moving vehicles, and drones. I found the episodes to be pretty interesting, but do I think they would have mass appeal? Absolutely not.

NBC is creating a product that, while watched primarily by the Spartan population, is aimed at those who have yet to be inspired to do one. It is meant to satisfy the faithful, and capture the uninitiated.

The fact is, the backstory serves a commercial purpose. There is a large group of people who are inspired by those stories, whether they are about an athlete in the elite/pro heat or a participant in an open heat. I know this because I have been standing next to Rose when people come up to her and tell her that they are doing their first Spartan Race because they saw it on TV and got motivated to do one. It happens way more often than people might think.

Of course, you might agree with NBC’s mission and still not find the episodes to be a good product in line with that mission, but that subject is way outside of my expertise level.


I sometimes feel like ANW is the cute, flashy kid of OCR; lots of production, compelling backstories, and a “made for prime time” pacing. Whether you love or hate the format, it is difficult to argue with its success.

I will use Rose again as an example. After Rose’s Houston region run aired, every single week, and usually numerous times a week, complete strangers (and sometimes very young children) recognized her and approached her; in parking lots, in airplanes, in restaurants, on playgrounds, everywhere.

Even after Spartan races, people would come up to her and not say “Great race today. Can I have a picture with you?” but “I saw you on American Ninja Warrior. Can I have a picture with you?”

Like it or not, ANW is a lead block for OCR; paving a path of familiarity in to the viewing public’s hearts and minds. And in my opinion, the more that OCR embraces this idea, the quicker some of these “sport” pieces can fall in to place.

Even ninja warriors want this to happen. ANW happens once a year, and unless you win it all, you get paid nothing. Like OCR athletes, most of the ninjas train year around, and while some work other jobs, others have left their jobs to give themselves the best shot at winning the one million dollar prize.

OCR must look like a shining gem to them; cash prizes, sponsorships, hundreds of races a year. Ah, if only they liked to run. There’s the rub. The current race formats aren’t very appealing to strength/power athletes who probably don’t run more than 100 meters at a time.

But there is an opportunity there. You don’t need to create a whole new list of characters, because the public already knows them all. If OCR can find a way to bridge some of these ninjas in to the current race brands, it could be a win-win for everyone involved.


I think the most important thing to consider when looking at making OCR a sport is how to create a sense of legitimacy, both for the athlete and for the spectator.

My own personal answers are spelled out in detail in parts one and two of this series. First and foremost, you have to recognize and identify the current biases. A race brand does not need to change their format to accommodate these biases if they don’t want to, but then they have to accept the built in limitations of those biases.

If I could pick one thing that could be changed today that would at least start to move things in the right direction, something that would take almost no extra work or time, it would be to eliminate the distance bias.

OCRWC has taken the first step by creating championship races at different distances. Spartan needs to change its point system so that Sprints, Supers, and Beasts are all worth the same number of points. They might also consider revisiting the idea that they started in 2013 of having a Sprint Championship, a Super Championship, and a Beast Championship.

And, of course, Spartan should bring back the short course that they experimented with in Vermont, even if just for fun. Everyone loved it, where did it go?

I also think a series or circuit championship should be instituted, preferably across brands (but Spartan could have one of their own; like an NBC points series champion), that would identify the most well-rounded athletes in all of the categories previously mentioned. As things are now, I think Amelia Boone and Cody Moat have proven themselves to be the best across all distances, but other good racers enter the sport every year, and as we start to account for all of the different race distances and formats, it would be fun to see how everyone measures out, both within their “specialties” and across all possible variables.

Ok, that is more than one thing. But you get the idea. You don’t need to make drastic changes to the race formats, you just need to adjust how you account for and score success within those formats.


There is one last story I am saving for 2016, primarily because I want to get it from a first person perspective. If you don’t know already, Spartan Pro Team member Kate Cramer’s mother, Jan Ripple, was a world-class triathlete back in the 80s and 90s. At OCRWC this year, Jan told me the whole story about how the sport of triathlon created the legitimacy it needed to become an Olympic sport. She was there for the whole thing and experienced it first-hand. It is a very interesting story.

Whether OCR ever becomes an Olympic sport or not is not really the issue. The issue is OCR does not need to reinvent the wheel, as countless other activities have made the jump to sport status, and there are lessons that OCR can take away from them all.

Until then…

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The "Sport" of OCR: Moving Forward (Part Two of a Three Part Series)

Part One of my three part series on "the sport of OCR" got a lot of attention. So much attention, in fact, that my three part series almost became a two part series.

After all of the conversations that started up related to Part One, Adrian Bijananda released an earlier than planned statement regarding the three course length options at next year's OCR World Championships, and lots of thoughts and ideas have kicked up on social media since then.

So instead of slowly building up and developing concepts that were started in Part One, let's just have a "speed round" of issues that we can all collectively chew on and discuss (ie argue about on Facebook).


I covered the ideas of inherent race bias and "distance drift" in Part One, but the bias goes beyond individual races. For instance, consider the Spartan Race point system.

Spartan has three designated race distances; Sprint, Super and Beast. You get points based on your place in the race (and your time relative to first place). However, Beasts are worth more points than Supers, and Supers are worth more points than Sprints. So again, there is a built-in idea that longer is better, or harder, or somehow more "worthy." And to relate it back to our track example, this is like telling Usain Bolt that his wins are not worth as much as Stephen Kiprotich's wins (Kiprotich won the gold medal in the marathon in the 2012 Olympics).

Unlike the races themselves, which are bound to have inherent biases, this one involves personal prejudice. The ultimate revenge of people who aren't fast is to reward the slow grind. We have all seen the language before. It used to show up as the now infamous "runner's course," and lately I have seen people complain about how "fast" people are, or how "fast" the race was. Really? It's a RACE. The point is to be as fast as possible!

But again, I get it. Everyone tends to want races that are in line with their strengths and/or interests, and most open heat racers spend a lot of time and money to go out there and grind away.

I am not suggesting that the answer is to only have short and fast races. That would just be biased in the direction of the speedy people. I’m suggesting that if you want the sport of OCR to measure the entire athletic skill spectrum, you have to include pure speed.


Many people use OCRs as their own personal Fight Club. Some are in it for the pure joy, some for the intense competition. Some come to shake off the numbness of the daily ennui to feel the rush and glory of sweat, suffering, and adrenaline. They train for it, and they love it. They want to show the world what they are a part of. Facebook is full of people posting about the beast mode and the suffering. For many, it is a personal badge of honor.

Unlike Fight Club, the first and second rules are not only ignored, but are violently discarded.

This is not a shot at people who use OCRs to fill the empty void, by the way. We all do it with something, whether it's OCRs or running or triathlons or sky diving or shopping or scrap booking.

In fact, there is actually a beauty in it. I would much rather people seek out their personal salvation doing OCRs than getting involved in drugs, alcohol, or a number of other destructive behaviors. And as a trainer and a coach, I love the health, fitness, and performance paradigm that comes with being involved with obstacle course racing. Self-empowerment, in whatever form, should be encouraged.

But the point is, many of these people are drawn to the flavors of the original OCR kool-aid; the ones that were largely about dealing with the unknown and the unexpected. The ones that were more like the Hunger Games than the Olympic Games.

The people who fall in to these categories are going to put up a strong, loud resistance, and present strong counter arguments against the "sport" aspect of OCR, because that version doesn't fit what they love about it. They don't care about standardization, spectators, and fairness (unless they see people in the open heats not doing their burpees, in which case they sometimes get bent out of shape and post scathing Facebook posts about “cheaters”).

Life isn't fair, they would say, so STFU and get it done.

You can’t really blame them. That is what they love, and there is nothing wrong with it. The "problem" is when weight is given to their opinions in regards to the sport of OCR. We need to be cautious about the validity of these arguments as they relate to the sport because they aren't thinking about the sport, they are thinking about preserving an activity that is very meaningful to them.

We don't need to fundamentally change OCRs to serve a small group of athletes looking for a sport. Instead, OCR needs to create different races that serve the sport aspect better. I don't know anyone who is an advocate for the sport who believes we should get rid of the existing formats.

Why would we? Look at the (growing) numbers of participants, both new and existing. That is a lot of potential positive affect in the world due to the OCR phenomenon.

Even Hobie Call, a vocal advocate for the sport aspect, has said repeatedly that we need to keep the current versions of OCR in tact. In fact, Hobie takes it one step further and suggests that the sport of OCR could be a way of introducing OCR to the masses. The fact is, in any town or city, 8 out of 10 people still don’t know what obstacle course racing is, despite the enormous fan base that exists inside the OCR bubble.


Related to that, another point that always comes up is that it is the open racers who pay the bills. They are the ones who provide the framework on which this "sport" currently lies. As it is now, that is absolutely true. But it doesn't have to remain that way. As long as the two are as intimately linked as they are right now they will always hold each other back. The sport aspect will try to drag things to be more in line with the sport, and the adventure aspect will resist and try to drag things back to OCR's original rawness. What we end up with might be a sub-par, lowest common denominator; something each side lives with but doesn't love.

Free each vision. There is a way of linking the two without having to cram each of them in to the mold of the other.


We were bound to get here. And having just mentioned Hobie, it is time we bring up the idea of spectators.

I don’t 100% agree with the assertion that OCR has to get spectators to become an Olympic sport, soley based on the fact that many current Olympic sports have very small audiences: archery, badminton, trampoline, curling, skeleton, etc…

However, I do admit that in today’s selection of Olympic sports, money probably plays a much larger role than it once did.

One thing is for certain; the fastest way to attract large sponsorship and advertising dollars to the sport is through spectators. Why? Even if you continue to grow the participant base of OCR over the next ten years, providing a media product that the public wants to watch exponentially brings more eyes to the sport. Way more than a participant base ever could.

At the end of the day, most potential sponsors and advertisers are looking to sell stuff, and “audience” is the key to their investment. An audience of 5 million participants has some marketing reach, but an audience of 20 million viewers provides a lot more.

In the process of working to secure sponsorships for some of the current OCR athletes, I have spoken to a number of companies and agents. The answer is usually the same; the audience just isn’t big enough for them to invest in OCR. In fact, as an athlete, your best bet right now is to grow a large social media audience. Having a large number of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram followers has more power than standing on the podium fifteen times a year.

This tells you the power of “audience,” whether it exists in the form of participants, social media followers, or television/on-line viewers.


As I mentioned in Part One, I don't think the answer is to try to make the current races as unbiased as possible. There is a beauty in the bias, and each bias fulfills the needs and desires of its kind, just as in track.

I think the middle ground to be struck, at least within the existing formats, is to reduce systemic bias (like the current Spartan point system) by allowing dissimilar races to be equal in value, and to reward the best all-around athletes on their diverse skill sets. That skill set diversity is what we say we prize anyway, right? We don't want "runners" to come in and just win all of the events. We want people to be fast (on all types of terrain) and to be strong and versatile in a number of different ways (yes, including the long, endurance-based grinding).

So how do you do that? One way is to create a series.

Early in 2014 I had an idea of creating an OCR circuit series using the current OCR brands and races. My idea was loosely based on the US Running Circuit (, but that is just one of many examples. They also have series championships in surfing, snowboarding, triathlons, and NASCAR. Even multi-stage cycling races, like the Tour de France, have stages that are very different from each other. The Tour is not just one very long race.

As an example, one could create a series of, say, six to ten races of various lengths and styles (that is, races that reward different skill set strengths), and assign points based on how one places in the race (and relative to the others in that race). The "series/circuit winner" would be the person who accumulated the most points in the series/circuit.

So, you could have races like the Austin Sprint and the Vermont Beast in the circuit. One rewards those who are fast and speedy on flats, the other rewards those who can grind uphill and bomb downhill. You could also include Spartan races, BattleFrog races, Savage Races, Warrior Dashes, or whatever. Some reward absolute strength more, some reward relative strength more. Some reward speed, some reward endurance. Some reward flat and variable terrain, some reward extreme uphills and downhills.

You get the point. The idea is to see how well athletes can perform over a wide spectrum of skill set demands.

The reason I didn't end up putting the circuit together is because I didn't have the money to reward the top finishers. Having prize money was the only incentive available to encourage people to do those specific races, due to the fact that everyone has their own associated costs of going to the races. For instance, Spartan pro team members get compensated for going to Spartan Races, but the BattleFrog pros (and others) would have to pay out of pocket to get there. Similarly, BattleFrog people would be covered at BattleFrog races, but Spartan athletes (and others) would have to pay their own way. The only way to assure the likelihood of a "real" series champion would be to have all of the top athletes at each race. And the only way to incentivize them to go would be to have the potential for a positive financial outcome.

I suspect that NBC will create something similar to this, but it will only involve Spartan Races. While this might be a better way of finding the most well-rounded “champion,” it will still be subject to the biases that are currently present in all Spartan Races.

In general, I like the spirit behind Adrian's idea of having three course length distances, but there are some potential issues. As Ryan Atkins has mentioned, the course distances are too similar to each other based on the current athlete pool. There might be some variability in the standings, but for the most part, there is a high likelihood that the same group of people will all be in the top 6-8. Even if the distance variability was significant, they still all happen on the same day, forcing athletes to choose between them. And finally, it would seem that the only variability between the three races would be distance, which we now know is just one of a number of possible race biases.

There are so many other points I could bring up, but that is enough to get the pot cooking for now.

In Part 3 we will take a look at drug testing, athlete policies, mandatory obstacle completion, and the current Spartan television productions, which are the only real media examples we have right now (in this country). We will also examine another sport that successfully worked to find its way in to the Olympic Games.

Until then, write down your thoughts, and help create the path forward...

Friday, October 2, 2015

The "Sport" of OCR: What is Obstacle Course Racing? (Part One of a Three Part Series)

Unedited. The edited version of this article was published on MudRunGuide (

Leading up to the Spartan World Championship, and the International Obstacle Racing Federation’s first World Congress, there has been a lot of talk about the “sport” aspect of obstacle course racing. There are so many issues that need to be addressed, and I will address some of them in upcoming articles. In this article I want to ask the question:

What is obstacle course racing?

All of us have our own individual bias when it comes to how we define OCR, but I think it’s helpful to see that “OCR” really encompasses a broad spectrum of styles and events. And thus, it allows for many different types of athletes and skill sets.

To get started, let’s make a comparison to running:

Who would win in a race between Justin Gatlin, Nick Symmonds, Galen Rupp, and Ryan Hall? (Apologies in advance if you don’t follow track and you don’t know who these individuals are.)

I’m not asking who can hit the highest velocity. That would be Justin Gatlin, for sure. I’m asking: in a race against each other, which person would win?

It’s not a question that can be answered unless you know how long the race is, right? All four of these guys are amazing runners with very different skills sets. Justin would easily win the 100m, Nick would clearly win in the 800m, Galen would most likely win the 10k, and Ryan would definitely win the marathon. You can’t really answer which one is the “fastest” or “best” in a race until you determine the length of the race.

OCR requires a much more diverse skill set than just running, but the same principle holds. It’s difficult to determine who is “fastest” or “best” until you determine what skill sets are rewarded in a particular race.

For instance, no one competing in OCR right now is going to beat Issac Caldiero in a course like American Ninja Warrior. But Isaac isn’t going to have a chance against a Cody Moat or a Ryan Atkins in a Spartan or BattleFrog race, and he probably couldn’t even come close to a Brakken Kraker or a Hobie Call in something like an OCR Warrior race.

Each of those competitions rewards a different skill set combination.

So, like track, if we are going to try to determine who the best racers in OCR are, we need to examine the different skill set combinations as well as how different races reward those different skill set combinations.

Let’s break it down, to see what we can find. I am going to oversimplify the skill sets a little for brevity, but you should be able to see the point even without a comprehensive in-depth analysis. (One thing in particular I will leave out is the category of “skill” or “technique,” but it should be obvious that this is an important part of OCR).


The most obvious skill to acknowledge is speed. Speed is the primary determinant of success in OCR. But if we were going to assess the skills of an OC racer, what types of speed are needed?

In general, there is the speed of moving between obstacles, and there is the speed to complete an obstacle.

In races outside of American Ninja Warrior and Alpha Warrior, the speed between obstacles is usually accomplished by some form of running. Thus, the elements of speed are a) running on flat surfaces, b) running on rolling hills, c) running on various terrain (technical running), d) ascending (hiking/climbing), e) descending, and f) endurance.

Just like the track example above, where each of the four athletes listed excel at a different distance of running, different OCR athletes excel at different distances and aspects of running in OCR.

The athletes who came to OCR from track might fly on the flats and rolling hills, but they might not be as good on steep ascents and descents. Likewise, there are other athletes who might be really good at climbing and descending, but who aren’t all that fast on the flats. There are some who might do really well at races less than 30-60 minutes long, but not do as well at 3-4 hour races. And there are others who might not excel at the shorter races, but they can go out and grind all day long.

These are all different skill sets. One skill does not necessarily determine “best” more than another, but each person could be “better” than another at different aspects. At this point in the sport, most of the top racers are pretty well rounded and are decent at all of them.

The speed it takes to complete an obstacle is dependent on the category of the obstacle. There are many categories we could mention, but the most obvious one that ties in to different skill sets is strength.


Strength obstacles can generally be broken down in to two categories; absolute strength and relative strength. Absolute strength requires lifting or carrying or pushing or pulling an object of fixed weight; relative strength is based upon a person’s body weight, and would include things like hanging and climbing and traversing.

When an object is a fixed weight, it is easy to see how it can be pushed, pulled, dragged, and carried by someone who weighs more. A strong 135 lb female OCR athlete is typically going to have an easier time carrying a 50 lb bucket than a similarly strong 110 lb female OCR athlete. Each has to carry 50 lbs, which is a very different percentage of their bodyweight.

However, if those same two athletes are on the monkey bars, the 110 lb athlete might be better than the 135 lb athlete. The amount of strength required to get 110 lbs across the monkey bars is the less than the amount of strength required to get 135 lbs across the monkey bars.

None of this should be terribly enlightening. It doesn’t take deep analysis to understand how these different skills sets play out in a race. So now, let’s look at the races themselves.


At one end of the obstacle course racing spectrum are races like American Ninja Warrior and Alpha Warrior. They are composed of mostly upper body, relative strength obstacles, and they require very little speed between obstacles. The speed component required is the speed needed to complete each obstacle.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the World’s Toughest Mudder. Speed on and in between obstacles has some importance, but having the endurance and strength to race for 24 hours is equally (if not more) important.

In between those two end points is where most of us place our definition of “obstacle course racing,” even though OCR really covers the entire spectrum. We could continue to fill in the spectrum as it currently exists; from OCR Warrior and Warrior Dash to Spartan Race, BattleFrog, Savage Race, and others, but the point of this article is to address how each race, wherever it is on the spectrum, has its own skill set bias. Having a skill set bias doesn’t make it “wrong,” it is just a function of the race format, just like a 10k is going to have an inherent biased against someone who excels at the 800m.

Spartan Races, in general, have a bias, but they get magnified even more at the world championship. The SRWC is typically much steeper and much longer than any of the Spartan Races held during the season. People competing in Spartan Races during the year find themselves facing a world championship race that may or may not match the skill set they exhibited during the year. It is akin to telling 1500 meter or 5k runners that they now need to run the marathon.

Historically, the SRWC has had a heavy bias towards endurance runners and strong ascenders/descenders. There is also a strong bias towards those who have good absolute strength. The reason Spartan Races have a bias towards absolute strength is because the obstacles that require that skill set (bucket carry, sand bag carry, log carry, sled pull, etc) are mandatory, meaning you cannot burpee out of them, whereas the obstacles that require relative strength (monkey bars, Rig, etc) you can burpee out of. It could take you 20-40 minutes to do a brutal Norm-infused double sand bag carry (like at last year’s SRWC), but you can fail and burpee out of the monkey bars and be done with the obstacle in 2-3 minutes.

Additionally, due to the length of the world championship race, it is possible that a really good endurance athlete can overcome strength deficiencies by making up time on obstacles with time between obstacles, but only if they can survive the heavy carries (absolute strength obstacles).

Of course, Spartan is entitled to make their championship race anything they want. There is no “right” or “wrong” race configuration. But from a “sport” perspective, if we are to assess athlete versus athlete, we have to account for the different race configurations and distances to understand what biases are present.

The OCRWC smoothes out some of these skill set curves, but also presents some of its own biases (as all races do). With more rolling terrain, there are components of ascending and descending, but no really long, sustained climbs. Mandatory obstacle completion gives equal weight to absolute vs relative strength obstacles, but also creates a potential bias towards relative strength. From our example above, maybe our 110 lb female athlete will take a long time to carry that heavy object, but eventually, she will get it done. However, if the 135 lb female athlete, who has little problems with the heavy carry, can’t get across a difficult Rig, it’s possible that no amount of time is going to increase her chance of completing it.

Of course, no race will be able to accommodate each skill set equally. There will always be inherent biases, based primarily on the combinations of speed, strength, and endurance. A race can try to moderate the differences, but there will always be someone whose skill set isn’t being matched very well.

And to me, that isn’t the issue. In fact, one of the beautiful things about OCR as a sport is the amazingly diverse skill sets of the racers. Athletes from so many other sports descend upon OCR to see how their skill set compares to others.

The issue, in my eyes, is when we start talking about determining the fittest athletes on the planet (sorry, CrossFit) in regards to races that we now know have skill set biases. (To be fair to CrossFit, we could probably list the CrossFit Games somewhere on our OCR spectrum, even though they include highly technical barbell lifts.)

Who is better? Justin, Nick, Galen, or Ryan? It depends….

We are currently at a stage where we don’t have to stress about it too much because many of the top athletes are good at all (or most) race configurations and distances. But as the sport grows, that is going to change. There are going to be more and more “specialists,” and there will hopefully be a wider range of race configurations and distances to match different athlete skill sets. OCR Warrior has shown a cool short course format, Spartan tested one out last year in Vermont, BattleFrog presented a team version on ESPN earlier this year, and Extreme Nation had a very successful one race outing.

You might think this is all just mental masturbation (MBD) but it’s not. Before you can move forward in creating a sport - long before you worry about obstacle standardization and spectators and all of that – you have to define what obstacle course racing is. And the fact is, it’s not totally clear, because it encompasses much more than what we are currently seeing. And if it remains undefined, who determines where the races are currently heading?


We have probably all seen the Facebook arguments on how races are getting longer and more brutal, in terms of terrain, heavy carries, etc… This year’s NBC Pennsylvania Super was approaching Beast length in terms of the time it took to complete the course.

I have always been intrigued by this notion that longer somehow means “more epic.” I’ve seen it in the running world as well. One day I was talking to an ultra runner friend about racing and I mentioned something about a 5k race. They looked at me with a smug grin and said “A 5k? Heck, a 5k is just a warm up for me.” To which I responded, “Then you aren’t running fast enough.” (The grin disappeared.)

Many people don’t like the pain of running fast, so they run slower for longer distances and then act like longer is superior; as if “the hurt” only comes from long, grueling races.

To test, try this: go out to a track and run 800 meters (that’s twice around a track) as hard as you can. Seriously, really sprint it. Run like a lion is chasing you. When you get to about 45 seconds, you might start to feel like you are drowning and are about to pass out. Don’t worry, just ignore it and keep going.

Chances are, you won’t even make it one time around before stopping. That inability to catch your breath, that metallic taste in your mouth, that burning in your legs and arms and chest, that is also “the hurt.” You don’t have to run three hours to find it.

Now, if you PREFER to go three hours, if that is your style, then great! Just understand that there are others who prefer speed. Athletes are on both ends of the spectrum. Neither is “better” or “more right” than the other, just like the 100m and the marathon aren’t “better” or “more right” than each other.


One could argue that we should only talk about the existing OCR races, and that all athletes should just be judged using the current formats. I suppose that is fair for the time being. After all, that is what “OCR” is at the moment. But if the goal is to move OCR in to legitimate “sport” status (dare I say, Olympic status), then we need to examine the entire spectrum, because the fact is, the current formats might not be the best formats for the “sport” of OCR.

Just some thoughts. What do you think?

This article is Part One of in a three part series.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Into the Wild: John Yatsko

This article was original published in Mud Run Guide on August 4, 2015.

If you think you know John Yatsko, but you don’t know him personally, there is a good chance that you don’t know really him at all. Perceived as smug, dismissive, and blunt - there is much more to the story...

As it will become clear, I am a John Yatsko apologist. I am not saying that John is perfect, or even that he should be emulated. I am just saying that he is, for the most part, misunderstood and misinterpreted.

Of course, John would have no interest in my explanation. He would most likely discourage it. He is content to just be who he is and he does not worry about what other people think of him.

And yet...

Outside of my wife, Rose Wetzel, few people in the OCR community know John as well as I do, and it is from that position that I frequently feel compelled to explain. Not to defend him, really, because in the end we all need to take responsibility for our words and actions, but rather to fill in the missing pieces; to provide context that might help in the translation.

The first time I ever saw John Yatsko was the first time anyone in OCR saw him; at the starting line of the Spartan Temecula Super in January of 2014. He stood out not only because he was a stranger in the elite OCR crowd, but because he had worked his way up towards the front of the starting line. His long blonde hair had a Hunter-esque quality to it, and his shorts were in the style of Hobie Call. If you go back and watch the video of that race, John held back at the start, accelerating slowly. But it didn’t take long for him to make his presence known.

John finished in third place that day, behind Hobie and Hunter, and he showed up on Sunday with a look of determination. I remember that start very well, because this time our eyes were on the new kid, and with Hobie not racing, everyone was wondering whether he could get the victory over Hunter. What I remember most was his now famous “Yatsko hop,” right before the start, and the speed with which he blew off the starting line. Many people around me were laughing, because we all knew that no one else in that heat was going to be able to run that pace for very long.

But the obstacles slowed John down just enough to let Hunter do what Hunter does. And on that day, Hunter would once again stand atop the podium, with John in second. It was a good weekend for John’s entrance in to the sport, and it was the beginning of what would become a long string of victories.

It is interesting to see how someone who is so short on words can be such a polarizing figure. It’s easy for people to read, and take sides in, the on-line battles between Hunter and Bear, but John had a Facebook page for only a brief moment in time (which he never really posted on), and he eventually got rid of his cell phone. John was mostly quiet; like, Cody Moat kind of quiet.

To some, John came across as being smug or arrogant, especially in the beginning. He didn’t usually say much, and when he did, it was direct and to the point. He is a black and white, tell it like it is, kind of guy, and he doesn’t spend much time dwelling in the nuances. As for racing, he would definitely rather beat you than to talk about beating you.

Whatever lack of social etiquette you might want to attribute to him, he was equally as honest. Sometimes uncomfortably so. For instance, I remember the athlete panel at the Spartan World Championship when John was asked about the Vermont course. His response was basically that Killington was not such a big deal compared to the mountains he trained on right outside of his backyard. While many took the answer to be arrogant and disrespectful, the fact is, it was true, as can be verified by anyone who trained with John in Flagstaff. John was just stating it exactly how he saw it.

Despite his laid-back manner, John was calculating with his workouts. They were frequently long and grueling. While many just viewed John as a fast runner, he worked diligently to get better at the climbs and carries. His casual nature gave the impression that this was all natural and easy to him, but he worked hard behind the scenes.

There was another aspect to John that some people didn’t care for, and that was what appeared to be his borderline contempt for the sport he was dominating. He made it clear to everyone that he was just there to earn money to pay off his school loans. Before I knew John very well, this attitude mystified me a little bit as well, until I learned why he thought the way he did.

John loves running. And he has a great deal of respect for good runners. Rob Krar, the now famous ultra runner, lived across the street from John in Flagstaff, and John used to say that because of Rob, he wasn’t even the fastest guy on his block. If you asked John how he felt about OCR he would tell you that he finished 180th place at the 2011 NCAA Cross Country Nationals, and then he suddenly started winning all of these obstacle course races, so clearly OCR must not really be a serious sport with serious athletes. In his eyes, he couldn’t reconcile how he could be winning in a legitimate sport if he was not even close to being one of the top runners in the country.

Rose was one of the first to explain to John that OCR is not just about running, and that he was successful because he was fast, strong, and had good climbing skills. She convinced him that most of the 179 runners who beat him at cross-country nationals weren’t strong enough to be successful at OCR; that this was an entirely different sport that demanded a much different skill set. She must have made an impression, because around October 2014, I remember John telling me that he was starting to really enjoy the races and the athletes and the OCR environment.

It seems unfair to talk about the issues that some people had with John without also talking about all of his supporters. A number of people approached John after every race to chat or grab a photo with him, and I imagine most of the people on the race circuit might describe him as “more personable” as time went on. This was mostly due to John’s reserved and cautious personality, but I believe he also just got more comfortable with the sport and his place in it.

There was a 15 year old girl who was a huge fan of his. She wrote John a letter, and John asked Rose to bring a copy of Mud and Obstacle to a race with her so that they could both sign it and mail it to the girl. I believe he even attended her birthday party, which was held close to Flagstaff.

To most, John was known as the guy who didn’t own a computer or a phone, and who camped out in the hills the night before races. Although NBC didn’t mention it during the Montana Spartan Sprint episode, many of us knew that the Montana race was the last one John planned on doing this year. The rumor was that now that he had graduated, he was heading up to Alaska to get on a fishing boat.

Rose and I spoke to John in the parking lot after the Montana race, knowing that this might be the last time we ever saw him. Even John didn’t seem certain of what he was going to do, and he kind of liked it that way. His life was an open book now, and he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to write too many pages ahead.

I don’t recall now exactly how John found out about my health condition. I may have emailed him an update, along with the latest OCR news and gossip. What I do recall is that John called me on the fourth of July to ask me about it. That’s when I learned that he wasn’t actually on a fishing boat, but that he was having an Into the Wild type adventure in Alaska.

A month after the Montana race, John had flown up to Anchorage and bought a touring bicycle on Craigslist. He pedaled up to Fairbanks, and then eventually over to Whitehorse, and then down to Skagway. From there he took a ferry to Bellingham, Washington, where he kept riding south.

I know all of this because John knocked on our front door, in Seattle, the night of July 26th, after cycling almost 1300 miles. He stayed with us for two days, and we had a chance to catch up.

In that time, I got John to agree to an interview. I wasn’t sure he would go for it, because while he has no problem opening up to his close friends, he’s still not one to open up to the general public. Perhaps I asked nicely. At any rate, here it is:

Hey John

Thank you for taking a moment to sit down and chat. Welcome to Seattle. It’s nice to see you.

JY: Great to be here, Tim. It’s always a pleasure

TS: At the Montana race, you made it known that it might be your last Spartan Race of the season. What was your reason for the break? And what have you been doing since then?

JY: I realize this is an odd time for an obstacle racer to choose for a break, but it is an obvious choice for a student. I finished my master’s degree the day before the Montana Race, got rid of everything I couldn’t carry, and headed north for one last race while I was still in decent shape. I wanted to take this opportunity while I still have no debts and no responsibilities to do what I’ve always wanted to. So I found a bike on Craigslist in Anchorage and started riding.

TS: What was life in Alaska like? How did you enjoy all of that time on a bike? Give us a “day in the life” look. What was a “best day/worst day”?

JY: Alaska was incredible. I loved it. The high point, surprisingly, was Nenana. I had never heard of it before I rode into town and it’s not the place most people write home about, but it drew me in. I stayed there on the river for three weeks in the same squatter’s shack Jerry Riley used to win the 1976 Iditarod. If you think OCR athletes are tough, go hang out with some dog mushers. Those guys take the cake. As far as low points, the whole first week was an absolute junk show. Day 5 stands out in my memory as the worst. Everything hurt and it rained for 200 miles straight. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had had waterproof gear, but I didn’t. That was the only time I remember questioning whether the ride was a good idea.

TS: Would you go back?

JY: After cycling through rush hour in Seattle, I wish I’d never left.

TS: What are you plans for the next few months?

JY: I’m trying not to plan things so much. I’m tired of planning. I don’t have any specific destination or time frame. I’m just going.

TS: So, this is what everyone wants to know; will John Yatsko be at the Spartan World Championships?

JY: At this point, the best I can say is probably not. I expect to be somewhere in Mexico by then.

TS: You are known for being a little bit of an outlier in the Spartan World; no cell phone, camping out in the hills the night before a race, etc… Tell us a little about the philosophy of John Yatsko, as you are currently living/thinking about it.

JY: Some people might wonder why I don’t race more often or get a “real job”, and my answer is this: I don’t need any more money. I own one pair of clothes and a lightly loaded bicycle. That’s all I have and I’m happy with it. I will not toil away my best years to save up for a house or some big retirement plan. I prefer to live modestly and continue investing in myself. That way I can make a living whenever and wherever I need to. In other words, I choose to live a Spartan lifestyle. I think our society has a lot to learn from ancient Sparta. However, that does not include arrogance or militarism. We have those down already. If you look up Spartan in the dictionary, this is what you will find:
“Spartan (adj.) marked by simplicity, frugality, or avoidance of luxury and comfort”.

TS: Speaking of philosophy, you and I had a conversation about the Bhagavad Gita last night, what other books do you find inspirational and/or thought provoking?

JY: I try to read as broadly as possible. If I have to pick a few books that have had an impact on me, I’ll go with the Tao Te Ching, Emerson’s essay on Self-Reliance, and Thoreau’s essay on Life Without Principle.

TS: Do you have any parting thoughts for the OCR world?

JY: Big thanks to Spartan Race for all their support and to everyone who has cheered me on along the way. It still astounds me that there are people who care about what I do, but apparently they’re out there. So I thought I would let them know what I’m up to. That said, they may not hear from me for some time. I don’t have a camera and I don’t do the blog thing. I’m not here to document my existence. If I don’t come back, assume I’m dead, in jail, or married. But whatever happens, I’ll be at peace with the decisions I’ve made.

TS: Final thing: What is your “top five” prediction for Spartan World Championships??

JY: Well, we can expect Cody to make things interesting by rallying to the lead after failing at least six obstacles early on, only to be out-kicked for the win by up-and-coming ultra runner Miguel Medina. I predict Ryan Atkins and Jon Albon to have a close battle for third until a volunteer directs them off course. They’ll be found days later, still neck and neck, racing through Desolation Wilderness. The Bear will pick out the 200 lb sandbag from the pile and put himself out of contention. This will leave Chad, Glenn, Isaiah, and Ryan Kent in a close race for the last podium spot. But at the last minute, David Magida will appear out of a puff of smoke to snatch third. Meanwhile, Hunter will be hard at work resurrecting his modeling career, and the sprint specialists, Brakken and Hobie, sidelined by mysterious injuries, will make a heroic comeback the following weekend to podium at Warrior Dash.

So there you have it, my predictions for the 2015 Spartan Championship:
1. Miguel Medina
2. Cody Moat
3. David Magida
4. Chad Trammel
5. Glenn Racz
You heard it here first!