Fresh on the heels of successfully conquering my successful attempt at completing a Marathon Distance Obstacle Course Race (Review pending… I know I know…I am writing it soon…), an obstacle racing buddy of mine- who just so happens to be known by many as King Leonidas (Due to a STRONG RESEMBLANCE) persuaded me to pursue active recovery options and come out and play at a little known facility called Power Park Fitness in Spring Branch Texas… something like a 30 minute drive from my house…. it takes a lot these days to truly impress me…
…Color me impressed…VERY IMPRESSED…
I can’t really dive into the details of the 1.25 mile obstacle course, which is affectionately referred to as “The Green Mile”, and the 25+ obstacles (and growing) on it without first discussing the owner, a mild mannered bad ass:
At first impression, David seems like a mild mannered and respectful young man, presentable in every way, quick with a smile and a compliment, and helpful with training advice. He is also wise beyond his years…and he is apparently made of springy rubber bands and connected to a special effects wire at all times… either that or he just chooses to ignore that pesky “Law of Gravity” thing like it isn’t supposed to apply to him…
After my first guided trip around “The Green Mile” – everyone gets a guided tour their first time out- I was so impressed by him and his course that I simply had to get to know him better… after all, we should all surround ourselves with people we like, right? Right. It turns out that fitness to him is a family affair, evidenced in full by the fact his 54 year old father runs the course several times a week, if not daily… don’t believe me? here’s his Dad, Vance, in a picture I took on June 14th, 2014:
So, fitness is a family thing, that I get, but how do you get in Obstacles… that’s kind of extreme? The way Vance tells it, he wanted to do a Tough Mudder, with his sons, and they needed to train for it. So a pre-cursor to the now infamous “Green Mile” was born. After the TM, the family set their sights a little higher, aiming for American Ninja Warrior, and building a few training obstacles again for that… but hey.. everybody needs a salmon ladder and their own warped wall right?
David enjoyed the “obstacle” part of it so much he decided to make a career out of it, and spent some time with a once large Obstacle Racing Company as a safety engineer…his job then was basically to figure out ways to get hurt on an obstacle, and then fix it to make extreme obstacles safe enough for the general public to attempt them without suffering grevious injury…fast forward to now, and David is a self made businessman with a supportive family backing, a solid plan, and the real-world know-how to build challenging but safe training obstacles.
…and before you go getting all excited, thinking that this is going to break your piggy bank, you should also note that it’s incredibly affordable to try: 1 visit, guided by a PPF Trainer, will cost a mere $15 per person, with a 5 visit package costing $65 (less than a single entry to most Mud Runs) and a 10 visit package available at a mere $110… 10 seperate runs for less than the cost of late entry to a certain Beast of an OCR… and that isn’t a “per lap” rate or hourly… that’s pay your entry, take the tour and get cut loose to run until the course beats you into submission….which really doesn’t take very long….
So now that you know about the man behind the course, here’s the course… (Spoiler: Power Park Fitness is constantly improving and changing for the better…check back often)
Upon first arriving at PPF, you are greeted by two enormous and intimidating features- A 16 foot warped wall, and a condensed version of American Ninja Warrior’s Stage One course, complete with Quad Steps, a Mini Tramp, a 16 foot tall Salmon Ladder, rings, ropes—simply put… if you have ever looked at Ninja Warrior and thought “Hey, that’s easy” I dare you to go try this thing out… it’s a rather humbling experience- especially the damned mini-tramp….and these two features alone are worth the cost of admission.
…but not THAT humbling….
The Green Mile follows a well maintained trail along a fence line,which David is constantly grooming. If you get lost along this trail, it would have to be chalked up as a point in favor of natural selection, because you would have to be really trying hard. From the starting area, you head out on the trail and immediately encounter the first obstacle, and with 24+ more to go, they’re really packed in tight…of course, if you don’t want to read, you can skip to the end of the post to watch a video tour of the course with David and his father Vance.
Translation: You don’t get a breather-EVER….here’s Leapathon
Then you get to turn around and play on:Take either route: the Slack line, or the Tyrolean Traverse, or both… but don’t make the mistake of thinking either is easy…the ways to #POWERUP on this obstacle are too numerous to count… do the Slack Line sans hands on the traverse… or do the Tyrolean using no legs…any way you look at it.. you are gonna get some.
Next up, Walk The Plank, which may not seem terribly impressive or challenging, unless you try to hop from one to the next:So… remember when I mentioned the trails being well groomed? Don’t confuse “well groomed’ with “easy”. The Green Mile’s trails are nice, but can be incredibly technical in places…ranging in variety from soft dirt and loose gravel (not the really pointy stuff) to ass-kicking technical trails… my vote would be for some of the trail sections to be classified as obstacles themselves-but don’t take my word for it- here’s a few images to help you imagine the fun:
The next obstacle, Trapz, puts you firmly in the middle ground between ” I love this!” and “Why did I pay to torture myself like this”…it’s a simple concept… do a push up every time you move a hand or foot to a new tire… Sound too easy for ya? #POWERUP and face away from the fence…. it’s angled slightly downhill that way…
Stand up from Trapz and and it’s a brief downhill run to catch your breath… and here you will find at the bottom: RHS: REALLY HEAVY STUFF– pick up some and carry it up the hill you just ran down and return…. a true calf and quad killer… and not only is the stuff really heavy, but awkward as well….wanna get some extra loving to yourself… #POWERUP and take two of the giant chain links up the hill and back.
Next Up is Hand Work… I really love to hate this one: Climb up an inclined board, then cross over and hand over hand down…. sound too easy… #POWERUP by pausing in the crossover and doing a few pull-ups or muscle-ups:
So with the lactic acid building in your hands, and a few bruises starting to form on your wrists where you underestimated a grab and swung inward against your inner wrist (this may or may not have happened to me…everytime I have done it) you head off and get a short break…just kidding…
You get to hang with Crawl-Over-Crawl... and there really isn’t a way to #POWERUP this time… unless you drop to your belly on the far side of the wall and shimmy under it and then go right back over it again….oh and be sure to skip the footholds….
So, speaking of hanging around…..next up….well a picture is worth a thousand words:
Nope…none of those sissy-ass knots in the ropes for this climb… you have two choices… natural fiber, or man-made….or both… I prefer both…
Tackle the vine climb and it’s on to an OCR staple, the A-frame style momentum killing ladder (though it’s more of a wall(… this one’s called the Farmer’s Ladder:
Once you’ve made it over the Wall of Sparta, Take your pet log for a walk around the loop of Log Jam before continuing on, and as is the standard for this course there’s three variations of weight: “Heavy”, “Way too Heavy” and the #POWERUP “You are kidding me-aren’t you? You’re Not! No wait… ..seriously you must be kidding…”
Feeling like your legs are punished and could use a break…OK, next up you get to kill your upper body with a good ol’ fashioned Hercules Hoist…
So between the terrain and the obstacles you’ve tackled thus far…you’re winded… your legs are burning and your shoulders are quivering from just completing the Hercules Hoist...
…so how about a nice little Spear Throw? Anyone who’s ever run a Spartan Race loves to hate this one.. make and you’re awesome, miss and it’s burpees…thoughtfully, David has provided a pad to do your burpees so that your hands don’t end up full of cactus needles:
Did you make your toss or do your burpees? Ok good… next up comes my favorite part of the trail.. a nice soft dirt track along the fence line… seriously, after the rocks and trails you’ve been running on, this is sheer joy…. I usually open up and try to sprint this section flat out:
….and since all good things come to an end, this trail does too…taking a left turn to head uphill and introduce you to a new NEW type of pain: The Arm Blaster:
There are two ways you can tackle this one, hand over hand like a monkey, or grab a knotted rope and slide it across the top by kipping forward… and then go backwards… #POWERUP by completing both options, in both directions. The width and smooth surface of the PVC pipes makes either option equally difficult…. there just isn’t an easy way around it.
The next two obstacles are nearly on top of each other, and they’re pretty much self explanatory… Hop & Go and the Cargo Traverse come and go within a short distance before you meet the Core Crawl…and you can’t pass any of these off as “easy” … Hop & Go is all about balance, and the Cargo Traverse is all about technique and coordination…of course you can opt to #POWERUP the Cargo Traverse by using only your hands to cross it…good luck with that.
….but the Core Crawl is a new one to me… the obstacle itself consists of a low balance beam that is just a tad wibbly-wobbly (but not timey-wimey) with a dome covering the length of it which forces you to move across it as a quadraped…it’s no where near as easy as I make it sound….
Stand up and stretch tall after the core crawl, cause next you get to conquer BYOB, and here you have the priviledge of taking liquid filled heavy bags around an uphill and downhill looping course…#POWERUP by taking two bags and running it… and again there are differing weights and sizes ranging from Heavy to OHMYFREAKINGGOD….
Drop your luggage off, and charge up this grinder of a hill:
…make it to the top and turn the corner to run smack dab into Summit... a vertical cargo net climb…and yes it’s loose in all the right places to make it tough:
You’ve made it up and over Summit, and the next obstacle, The Slider, is like something straight out of the American Ninja Warrior handbook… climb hand over hand UP a 2 in thick board to the top, then swing around the wooden pole it’s anchored to using three smooth 6″ long hand grips, which each have a diameter of about 3/4″…and thoughtfully they’ve been made of smooth metal and they spin a little….complete that and go back down the other side…...and while you’re at the top, trying to make your way around the pole-you get a great view of the parking lot, where your car is waiting to take you away from this horror-show…. so down a gnarly hill you go:
..and you are thinking about how Flat Tired you really are from the course when you realize that “Flat Tired” isn’t just how you’re feeling…. it’s the next obstacle…my advice… the lightest tire is the one that’s closest to the fence….(Not Really)
The Final obstacle, Tarzan, is just a whole lot of fun… scale the tree, find your balance and do squats…30 of ’em… or #POWERUP and do one legged squats, 15 each leg… and if you happen to lose your balance, a crash pad has been provided tuck your arms and accept the fact that your falling, it’s ok, you’ll get it next time:
….and just like that, you’re done…and no, you don’t get a Finisher’s Medal or Participation Ribbon today. However, you have earned a sense of accomplishment that is best summed up by Joe DeSena in “Spartan UP!”
An inverse correlation links how miserable you feel in the race, and how great you feel after it, so you can bet I felt like a million bucks afterward. When you break through the other side of hell and finish an event that did not seem possible, that stopped you in your tracks over and over, something happens. You feel accomplished, incredibly proud of yourself and, in some ways, a different person.
…You survived, and instead of looking at your car and headed home for a warm shower… you’re ready to do it again…so grab some water to re-hydrate, and off towards Leapathon you go!
That’s the best I can do for you to describe the experience in text, but there’s a few more things that bear mention about David, Power Park Fitness and his course:
- Exquisite attention to detail: No nail heads sticking out, no splinters poking out, nothing on the course is hobbled together from scavenged materials…(well, maybe the tires, but really- that’s recycling) ..and David runs his course constantly on the lookout for what might need fixing
- Constant Improvement: The course isn’t done, and I honestly don’t think it ever will be.. it’s evolving and changing from week to week and day to day
- Standards of Construction: are the highest I have seen on this type of course. Top-notch materials have been used in the construction of each obstacle… don’t come to visit expecting to see the same obstacles you’d see at a weekend event..you’re going to see what the permanent version of an obstacle is supposed to look like..
- Safety: Obstacle Racing is an extreme sport and holds inherent risks. Power Park Fitness has taken every conceivable precaution to prevent injury. However, sometimes shit happens, and in the event that an injury occurs and no one’s nearby, air horns have been painted bright orange and hung at key points along the course… sprain an ankle and you need help to hobble back to the parking area, sound it twice every 30 seconds or so and help will come running… suffer a more serious injury-the kind that requires EMS- and you should be sounding it in three’s … 911 will be called and EMS dispatched immediately before someone comes running, which will be pretty much instantaneous…in other words, while you couldn’t be on a safer course with obstacles of this caliber…the unthinkable has been thought of and planned for…what more could you ask for?
I myself plan to be training out there a lot in the foreseeable future…so plan on seeing me out there as well… remember to be on the lookout for animal tracks:
and of course….above all…Stay Muddy, My Friends…