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  • Writer's pictureChris Toepker

Test: Terrain Race 2019

Updated: May 15, 2020

The Terrain Race has become an important annual event for me, presenting a great chance to throw my friends and I into some pretty unusual challenges, and making it impossible to ignore weaker areas of training!

The 2019 race was my third annual one: first in San Jose (2017), the second here in Seattle and this year again in Seattle. The San Jose challenge was held at a fairgrounds, and so was this year's Seattle event. I have to mention it because for both, the first major difficulty was the sun!

We started in the 8:45AM wave, and it was already pretty warm.The shade was comfortable at the starting line, but as soon as we headed out to the three-mile course, spread over the uncovered motor speedway, it was roasting!

Seattle Terrain Race, 2019 (Evergreen Speedway)

As you can see from the gallery below, and their website, the Terrain Race has a lot of quasi-military, semi-parkour obstacles to climb over, maneuver through or carry out. Initially, there are simple barriers to be traversed. Waist and shoulder high logs to be hopped, walls to be scaled, nets to be climbed. These give way to more variety and switching of modes. At one station you might flip tires. (Easier this year!) Another might be balancing across beams or Jersey barriers. Still others might have you pick up a sand bag or rock and carry it around. So, yes..."obstacles to carry out" was literal!

Ring around the rosie, with buckets of gravel

From time to time, things happen out on the course. Things that remind you that people are generally pretty helpful and willing to pitch in. On the course this year, one of the under-net mud crawls got saggy. It was pretty impossible to go under it without a snorkel. Spontaneously people grabbed the ends and pulled it taught, tagging each other in and out. It was really refreshing to see total strangers coming in, taking turns, crawling through the mud and waiting to be relieved. Need a reminder that humanity isn't all bad? See how often we actually work in teams, even...or especially...when there is no direct benefit for ourselves.

Spontaneous helping at a sagging station

Most of these ground pounding stations were easy for me. Certainly the running from station to station wasn't tough. However, my next challenge in training is very clearly the "overhead" category. Put simply, if my life depended on monkey bars, rope climbs or Tarzan swings...? I'd be dead.

This is why I love doing these events with friends. They are usually better at some things, and me at others. It's a great reminder to mix up the training and that it's our practice that defines us, and therefore we can define ourselves through practice. This year, my co-runner was really good at exactly the things I was terrible at. It was amazing to see him shimmy up a rope, or swing through the rings. "I want to do that!" I kept telling myself, watching from below.

Lines, Trapezes and Bars - oh my!

Of course, the race is also a test of determination and discipline. Simply put, this year we had a group of five sign up and pay, but only two of us showed up and ran the course! As for me, I welcome the test. It's a necessary measure of my progress, keeping me honest and focused, constantly presenting rough edges that I can either accept, or polish.

Funny enough, it was also time to polish off a couple good training buddies. I had to trash my faithful pair of shoes after figuring they'd taken around 500 miles of pounding. So, one last time into breach for them. Then, the dustbin. Ignominious? Perhaps. What are you gonna' do? A fiery pier seemed over the top.

How did this annual race get to be a such a big deal for me? Happenstance! And in a big, way too. You see, in 2017 I was just looking to meet people at a new job. There a bunch of folks participating in a Tabata class, and I was doing cross fit, so why not join in? Pretty quickly I found that many of them had joined it to get ready for the Terrain Race. Why not join in? It was a great several months of training and a very comradely run. Right after that though, most of them dropped out. Stopped coming to Tabata. "Ohhhh, I thought. Of course - you need that Big Goal to keep you going." So, what was I going to set as my next goal?

While wondering about that, the movie Breaking 60 came out, featuring the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge. Such beautiful cinematography of my home away from home. Such drama in the athletic challenge! Half jokingly, I prodded Michael, saying "We should do this." Totally seriously, he said: "Yeah, we should."

  • Michael's edit: this is not how I remember this at all--what actually happened is that Chris told me about the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge after Breaking 60 came out and I said, "We should do that," and Chris said, "Okay," and I said, "Oh shit." That's how I remember it--and I've been telling that version of the story for almost two years now--so, um, it must be true.

As for me, the next phase is to up the overhead game - in addition to running. I've scoped out some schoolyard equipment that, with summer vacation going on, will do just fine. Join me in upping your game!

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