I can’t recall a time when every muscle in my body has been this sore.
Yesterday morning I (willingly) participated in what had probably been the most mentally and physically challenging events of my life thus far: Fit Factory’s O Course. Tony Austin, a former U.S. marine drill instructor, and Ivan Ho are co-founders of this military-style obstacle course which is based on marine corps fitness training.
I first heard of Fit Factory Fitness last year from a friend who takes their boot-camp classes. A few months ago I saw a Groupon for The O Course so I decided that since I was on track for my new fitness regimen I purchased one. I don’t think I would’ve gotten the motivation to actually go if another friend hadn’t have told me that they were planning on going this summer. After some schedule adjustments we were set for August 10th.
Usuallly, The O Course takes place at The Docks in Toronto. This past Saturday organizers debuted with their new location: Wild Water Kingdom. I was actually kind of excited when I heard of this location change. I haven’t been to Wild Water Kingdom since I was living in Rexdale as a kid (although I knew I wasn’t going to be sliding down water-slides again until I checked off that Learn-How-To-Swim box on my bucket list) .
We got there just after 9am, plenty of time before the scheduled 10am start. New to the O Course this time around was the Kids O Course where a couple dozens children aged 5 to 14 jumped, climbed, ran and crawled through a similarly-designed obstacle course. The kids went first and the rest of us adults cheered them on as they completed different challenges, so we didn’t get our start until closer to 11am.
Whoever calls what we did a warm-up, has got to be some sort of cyborg. Apparently we lucked out: Tony A cut down our warm up to 20 mintutes instead of the usual 40-ish, because our post-warm-up run was longer than norm (10.2K) and we started a bit late (I’m not complaining).
We started off with warm up along the shore of Clairville Reservoire. After getting over the initial shock of how muddy the area was and how long it took me to do my pre-vacation hair earlier this week, I filled in lines with the rest of the “troops”. Megaphone in hand, Tony A led us through our warm-up, drill seargeant-style, with volunteers walking through the lines shouting words of “encouragement”. If people were slacking we were told to go “into the mud” to continue (I almost lost my shoe, because it was so thick and deep). We went though various sets of push-ups, sit-ups, chest-presses and squats, the marjority of which were done with a 4lb block of wood (called a “rifle”) in our hands.The Course (So it begins…)
Did I mention we also had to run 10K with this rifle? Well, we did. It actually wasn’t that bad. I managed to carry the rifle through the entire run without having to switch hands or rest it on my shoulders (must be all that practice I do carrying shopping bags on a daily basis). I did notice this one girl running the course rifle-less. When I glanced beside her a guy (most likely her boyfriend) carrying hers as well as his as they were jogging up the trail (talk about a princess… he carried both of them on the way back as well).
My friend was out of my view half-way though the run (even though she thought I’d finish before she did), so I was technically on my own the majority of the course. As long as I wasn’t last, I was okay (though at one point I almost got lost at a fork in the road and waited a few minutes for the runner behind me to ask for directions). The run was challenging, but doable. I did speed-walk instead of jog the majority of the way on the return trip, but I knew I could’ve moved at a faster pace if I put my mind to it.After the run, we were instructed to do 50 sit-ups with the rifles on our chest and feet in the water. I did these pretty quickly (compared with most exercises, sit ups are actually somewhat enjoable for me to do). Once complete we had to head back to the reservoir where we started our warm-up. The mud was so thick, getting back there was a struggle. I was tempted to take off my shoes as some participants did, but was afraid of what was lurking under there.
But wait! There’s more!
When we got back, we had to do four separate strength training exercises: carrying a pail of mud/water across the reservoire, a heavy ammo box with a partner, drag a cement cinder-block, and finally crawl through the water with a backpack filled with mud. The last one kind of freaked me out, so I double checked with the volunteer that I would’n't be submerged above my neck while doing that activity (yes, I made it through with every hair in place). I wasn’t impressed with the fact that the water was filled with creepy, crawly things (I even saw a frog).
From there it was a quick sprint towards the final obstacles, the first of which was a giant pyramid of dirt and mud that looked like something that sick triceratops pooped out in Jurassic Park. When the volunteer that was manning the mound told us we had to sniper crawl up it, I thought “no way”. But I did it, even though I had to cheat a little and use my knees a couple of times (it was slippery). But when he said I had to sniper crawl down I nearly thought I was on some sort of hidden camera game show. That hill was steep, but I took a deep breath and went for it. It was kind of fun actually, and I still didn’t mess up my hair!
I couldn’t climb up the tall, wooden pyramid wall with the rope, it was way too slippery with mud, so I did the penalty of 25 burpees (my least favourite workout). At another challenge, two girls and I (who were at the same pace with me) worked together to give each other approved “boosts” over the wooden beams so we could make it through. As high of a jumper I am, this seemed to be a difficult one for the ladies (I thought I ruptured an ovary on my first solo attempt).
The only other obstacle that I though were a disadvantage to women because of height/build was the third-last trial: approximately 10, one-foot long, suspended pieces of rope that we were instructed to manouver ourselves through. With training I could probably do these a lot easier, but I think because the rope was covered in duct tape, and muddy from the dozens of participants who went through the course minutes earlier, it was really difficult to grip on to. Penalty burpees it was.
The monkey bars were pretty high as well, and assume a lot of women and/or shorter-statured men opted-out of this one. I was encouraged by the volunteer that I “look like” I could do it (damn these Serena Williams-esque arms), so I attempted it, but got to about three bars when my left hand slipped and I fell awkwardly on my right hand. I was really worried about re-injuring my wrist since I sprained it in basketball last year. Luckily I didn’t fall on it too bad, and the volunteer who was supervising that challenge gave me the option of just doing 25 sit ups and bowing out of doing the final obstacle: the rings. I was so close to finishing that I wasn’t about to let a little pain slow me down. With some encouragement from my friend who had finished the course 20 minutes earlier (and snapping photos of me while I silently cursed her), I stretched out my wrist and went for the rings. What do you know I made it through all 10 in one shot (grunting with each one, no doubt)!
My final time was 2:19. Obviously, I didn’t make the top 20 females, but I attempted each and every challenge and completed The O Course from start to finish. I am so proud of myself, and being the type of person to always want to challenge myself and try something new, I know that if I run The O Course again I’ll be a bit more mentally and physically prepared to do it even faster.
Some tips for newbies from a newbie on The O Course:
- Get plenty of sleep the night before: I don’t know why I felt obligated to watch my pre-recorded episode of The Young and the Restless and various Shark Week docks until 3am the night before, but I should’ve hit the hay a lot earlier.
- Eat a decent breakfast: I thought my banana smoothie and a Power Bar would’ve sufficed, but I was feeling hungry and nauseous minutes after the course. Have something filled with good carbs, and make sure you drink your water.
- Make sure you’re at least semi-active: Although their official site says that The O Course is for all fitness levels, if you’re a permanent couch potato I reccommend you build your way up to The O Course by doing some regular form of physical activity leading up to it. I’m pretty active: I participate in team sports such as basketball and volleyball once a week, walk regularly, and do my 20-minutes of DVD cardio workouts at least four times a week. Since I got back from vacation a couple weeks ago, I’ve been a bit lazy though, so I was definitely not prepared as I could’ve been.
- Wear clothes you’ll be willing to part with: You’ll get muddy. Really muddy. And bring a towel and change of clothing. This past Saturday’s O Course was touted as “Toughest and muddiest O Course of all time” by organizers. I’m still wringing out muddy water from the clothes I was wearing.
- Make sure you take the day off: I had a get-together to attend at a friends house at 3pm that same day. By the time I hosed off after the course, got home, properly showered, rinsed out my muddy clothes, made a salad to bring along to the party it was 5pm. Plus I was utterly exhausted. You definitely need the afternoon to rest after this grueling workout.
The O Course definitely gave me some confidence. Even though my muscles are aching and I wish there was extra coconut water for us stragglers at the end of the race, I’m glad I participated in this event (and that my hair was mud-free).
Here’s a video of the latest O Course (I’ll replace when the August 10th version is posted to their channel):