On Sunday, I attended my first Unleashed training class at Tuff Scramblers in Rehoboth, MA. This is a permanent obstacle course that holds races twice a year, in May and October. While I missed out on this year’s races due to other race commitments, I’m hoping to actually run this race next year.
Unleashed recently made a deal with the owners of the property to hold training sessions and classes there every Sunday from 8am-2pm. There are two 3-hour sessions and two 1-hour sessions for more skills work. I opted to take the 11am-2pm training session with my trainer, Kevin Roy. I’ve been training mostly with just him since I started going to Unleashed in January, so I’m very comfortable taking classes with him that make me uncomfortable, like this one. I had nerves in my stomach like I do before a race. Let’s face it though, any time I have to do these things in front of people I get nerves so it’s basically every time I go to Unleashed!
I got up just before 8 to give myself plenty of time to hydrate and have breakfast and planned on leaving by 10 since it said it was about a 45 minute drive. I made sure I packed sunscreen and bug spray since we’d be running in and out of the woods, plus I wore my Camelbak so I could stay hydrated throughout the course. I threw a few Shot Bloks in there to get some calories somewhere since we would be going almost non-stop for 3 hours.
I was going to pack a change of clothes since it said there were outdoor showers, but I wasn’t sure what that consisted of, so I just brought some towels to sit on in the car on the way home and a bag to throw my wet shoes and socks in. They were actually pretty nice enclosed showers (plus hoses on the outside) so next time maybe I’ll bring clothes with me. They also had 1 portapotty on site, but I would imagine there are probably more on a race day.
Once I arrived, I applied the sunscreen and bug spray, hit the portapotty, readied my Camelbak and joined the group gathering over by the picnic table. We only had to wait a few minutes for Kevin to arrive and while we did, we watched another trainer, Rob, go up the salmon ladder they have there. It was so cool to see it done right in front of me. I watch American Ninja Warrior all the time, but it’s really awesome seeing it in person.
Now…hold on to your seats, kids. I’m about to take you on a muddy, wet, AWESOME trip of almost 4 miles in 3 hours. We did the actual race course, however we did loops of certain areas multiple times, so what is normally a 5K distance was extended.
We started our trek into the woods, to some very technical trails, by walking through what I like to refer to as the “NeverEnding Story mud”. If you’re around my age, chances are you’ve seen that movie. I still remember to this day how traumatizing it was to watch Atreyu’s horse, Artax, sink into the Swamp of Sadness. Yeah, so this mud pretty much felt like that. I went along the edge, but the muck still came up to my knees. And when I say this mud was shoe-sucking, I mean that in the most literal way. They almost came off my feet. I felt like I might never move again. OK, so maybe that’s an overstatement, but no – seriously.
After Kevin got us nice and muddy, we went through the trails. They’re really nicely groomed and very well marked. They’re way more technical than I’m used to, with lots of tree roots and rocks poking up, but I kept my eyes on the ground and took my time and was fine. Along the way we climbed some random boulders in the forest, as well as went through a couple of sections of barbed wire that we needed to go through the middle of (that were safe because they were wrapped in some sort of PVC-ish piping).
The first obstacle we would come to was the first of many dirt mounds. Very high dirt mounds. Did I mention I’m afraid of heights? Now, climbing up this first dirt mound I was totally fine. I dug my toes in and used my hands to climb up. What I didn’t know was waiting for me on the other side was a very smooth decline. Because it’s angled so steeply, and used so often, picture this dirt as if it’s snow that has been walked on to the point it’s packed down and icy. Yeah – like that. Kevin had us turn around to go down it backwards just as we had climbed up it, by digging our toes in and using our hands. I hate going down once I’m up because of the whole heights thing, but I was doing OK for a minute. Then I slid. I think I probably went down the remaining 2/3 of that hill on my stomach and scraped my hands up pretty good. This would be the first of two times I would cry like a moron on this course. It wasn’t so much that the wounds hurt (which they still do today, ouch!), but I was terrified and the tears just burst right out of my eyes. Yeah…super embarrassing when you can’t control that.
I pulled my shit together in a minute and carried on to the next dirt mound. At this point, I was super shaken up and what little confidence I had going in to the course went out the window, but I just wanted to try my best. I asked if the other side of this dirt mound looked the same as the one I just went down and opted to take a slightly safer route around the side, which I would proceed to do on almost all of the remaining slippery dirt mounds we would climb.
We went back into the woods for a bit and then back out to another dirt mound. At the bottom of this one, we went through a belly crawl mud pit with netting over us so there was no crawling on hands and knees. This is where I saw my first frog and named him Fernando.
Back onto the trails we went and then back out where we crossed a loose rock pile and a soft sand mound. I like the soft sand mound because once I got up that one I could just run down it, digging my heels in, so I felt more comfortable on that.
All the while, we’ve paused occasionally to regroup and would do burpees, squats or lunges. After this particular section, we did burpees on a pile of pebbles. That was definitely interesting and worked the stabilizers! From the pebble pile, we had sort of a mini break. We didn’t really, but slowed up a bit to tackle a challenging obstacle – the water barrel jump. This was essentially a water pit with what I believe were water barrels spaced (mostly) evenly across it on angles. You had to jump from one side of the pit to the other without falling off and into the water. I was pretty nervous about this one, but luckily the jumping from plyobox to plyobox in the gym had prepared me for this one. I made it almost all the way across. I had one more to go, however I got off balance on the second to last one and ended up jumping into the corner – but I still didn’t get wet so I’ll call that a victory!
We headed over to our next dirt mound from here, where we were met with a large iron repel wall and mud pit at the bottom. I did the dirt mound no problem but once my feet went through the mud pit, I couldn’t get any purchase with them on the iron wall. It felt like trying to ice skate. I also still don’t have the upper body strength, so even if my feet had been clean and dry, I probably couldn’t have done this one. We did a few loops of this as well as tried to convince one of the girls not to catch all the frogs. I call her The Frog Whisperer now.
We moved on to crawl over a large section of big boulders, then back into the woods. When we came back out again, we climbed another dirt mound, but this time we climbed carrying rocks up and down. We did a few loops of this one, then headed over to another mound that we climbed up with ropes and back into the trails again.
Here is where we went on to some manmade obstacles. When we came off the trail this time, we were face to face with a wall made up of PVC pipes, with some strapping hanging down from it to help you climb it. Everyone else was jamming their toes in between the pipes to get up it, but for some reason I couldn’t get my toe in the bottom row and the next one up was too high. I went around this after a couple of attempts and then climbed and hopped over the cement poles that I believe they call “The Ruins”. This was very similar to the water barrel hop, but a little scarier because it was higher and there was no water below us. The next part of this circuit was some piles of tree trunks that we had to hop over and on to a balance beam (aka PVC pipes in the dirt).
Back into the trails we went after a couple of cycles and when we came out we had our next circuit before us. This consisted of some “bleachers” and a low crawl. The bleachers weren’t just to climb up and jump off of, that’s too easy. We had to go under the 2nd step down low, come up between the 2nd and 3rd bleacher, hop up onto the 2nd bleacher and then jump off the top (3rd) bleacher. This is where we then crawled under a frame with netting draped over it. There were 2 sets of each of these so we went through both and then took off running through the woods again.
Out into the open again, our next circuit awaited us. This one consisted of a pipe wall (shorter than the other, so no straps to help climb it), cement pylons we had to hop over, crawl through a tube into a mud pit and then over another pipe wall. Rinse, repeat.
It was after this one that we moved on to the granddaddy of all the obstacle circuits for the day. We needed to climb the 30’ cargo net and then back down, crawl up a vertical tube with a rope that had water pouring down it, climb over an A-frame made up of PVC tubes that had water flowing on them, through a mud pit, up and over the “marshmallow mountain” as it is affectionately referred to (wrapped up hay bales), through another mud pit and over the swinging monkey bars (there were stable ones as well) that had water flowing on them.
This circuit was the hardest for me personally. This would be where I cried the second time. That cargo net was hiiiiiiigh! I was OK until about halfway up. It had started out fairly angled, so I was comfortable because I had the ability to lean into the net climbing up. However, once we got up to top, it straightened out where it met the platform at the top. I sort of froze and didn’t know if my arms would handle holding me up or get me to the top. I hyperventilated myself into tears and just stood there. Bobby, one of the trainers, climbed back down and was awesome about keeping me calm and helping me maneuver my way up the couple of feet I had left to climb. Helene also helped me out a great deal from the top and grabbed my hand to help me reach the grab bar at the top. Once I got up there I couldn’t catch my breath for the life of me so I sat there for a few minutes trying to calm the hell down and stop being a baby.
Eventually, I was able to climb back down the other side. This side was much more angled for some reason, so I didn’t have the same fear I did on the way up. When I got down, I tried to do the vertical pipes, but I just couldn’t pull myself up more than a few feet. I don’t even think the water pouring down was the issue, it was just my weak upper body. I tried a couple of times but eventually gave up and moved on to the A frame. I didn’t seem to have any trouble with this one because they were nice thick, sturdy pipes. Even though they were wet, I was never that scared to go over that one.
On to the marshmallows of doom. I really tried – from different angles, using different methods. They were just high enough that I couldn’t muscle up to get on to them. My body was toasted at this point and I didn’t have any more tries in me, so I stomped through the mud, under the fence and back around to the vertical pipes. I wasn’t going to attempt the monkey bars because of my shoulder impingement (which might slightly be improving, I think) so I figured I’d go give that stupid pipe another try since we were supposed to be doing multiple rounds of this circuit. It just wasn’t happening, but Kevin was pretty much done in this area, so he gathered us up and had us go back to the main gate of the farm.
We lined up and he told us to sprint as fast as we could all the way down to the pebble pile and back. Now, you may not know this, but I really only have one speed. Once I’m warmed up at the end of the race, I can usually sprint across the finish line for maybe 100 feet. He was asking us to run a decent distance. I did start out running as fast as I could, but there was no way that was happening the whole way so I eventually just turned it into a jog down and back, where we then did a few burpees.
Before “sprinting” down and back, he told us he’d have a surprise for us when we got back. Of course, when Kevin says he has a surprise and he has an impish grin on his face, you know you’re in trouble. Right next to our assembly area was a spring-fed pond. He had us line up and proceeded to tell us to sprint across as fast as we could from one side to the other, then back again – that’s 1 loop. He had us do four loops. The water wasn’t super deep, up to my neck at its deepest point that we ran across, but it was still challenging. It felt great though! I could have stayed in that pond the rest of the day. Once we all completed 4 loops, we treaded water without using our hands for 2-3 minutes and then we were done.
A little light stretching, lots of chugging of water and a couple of group pictures and then everybody rinsed off and went their separates ways. I got a little bonus lesson from Kevin on cleaning my Salomons while we were all rinsing off our shoes, so the learning just never stops!
All that being said, I would highly recommend this class. It is HARD, no doubt, but it’s fantastic practice for the actual OCRs that you could be running. As frustrating as it is for me to not be able to complete an obstacle, I will never quit a race – and I didn’t quit the class. I’m all about the finish for now, but someday, maybe, I’ll be able to finish all the obstacles.