I recently booked into a Master Class with Doug “The Beard” Spence as part of my “suck at OCR less in 2016” drive and when trying to review it, stumbled massively. My normal review is basically “bumbling idiot staggers across the line last, secretly has fun while moaning about it” but that really doesn't do the day justice. I woke up at 4am this morning sore as hell wondering where the nearest inverted wall was and cursing the day between me and the next race because I desperately want to get out there and smash the course. Well, the obstacles. I still suck at running (but I'm working on that too).
I chose to book a class with Doug for two reasons. One is that when people like Jon Albon and Clare Miller are providing the testimonials, you can be pretty sure he knows his stuff. The other is that he’s previously gone out of his way to provide help and advice to a friend of mine that was struggling with his technique. So I knew his knowledge is extensive and also that he caters to all abilities.
I turned up at the site of the famous Backyard Jam to discover a massive adult playground. We didn't get to the majority of the obstacles, focussing instead on getting the moves I chose as my weakest to an acceptable level. I should imagine for most runners these won’t change too much, being.
- Walls (4/6/8/10 ft)
- Inverted Wall
- Balance beam
- Rope Climb
- Monkey bars
However there’s clearly a massive range of equipment that can be used, depending on your problem areas. Doug was very clear that this was a training session, not a play session or a beasting session and the focus was on efficient technique throughout.
Each technique was broken down to individual basic moves and there isn't a single one listed that I didn't walk away with 2-3 solid tips for improvement and a massively improved base. While most of what I was taught on the day is available in his videos (see this video for an example), the key difference was having him there picking apart every single issue and making tiny, seemingly minuscule, changes in positioning or timing that turned something I would ordinarily power through once or twice into something I could do repeatedly over the course of 2-3 hours.
We started with the 4ft wall and, while a couple of these in a race is no problem, Doug had me going over the wall 20-30 times without an issue. My foot placement and landings are embarrassingly better as a result. The 6ft wall is now something I can jump over rather than muscle over and the 8ft wall is an easy climb. The 10ft wall is something I can typically do once in a race with massive effort but on the day, it became very straightforward.
The inverted wall is something I only ever managed because of a video Doug put together with Mudstacle, however while I had remembered the basic technique, how I put the moves together and filled in the gaps with muscle power meant I was expending far more energy than I needed to.
The balance beam was a lot of fun and I apparently have much better balance than I thought, once certain bad habits were stopped.
The rope climb is interesting in that it is something I can do successfully in the gym that just doesn't work on race day. I cannot wait to try the changes Doug suggested under race conditions, some of which were very incremental changes to what I previously did. Rope dismounts without third degree rope burn will take some getting used to but I'm sure I’ll adapt.
Monkey bars are something that I have previously been able to do but again I’d been massively overexerting myself to get the desired results. Between Doug's suggestion to relax more into it and applying what he'd already taught me on the rings, I made it across in about half my usual time
I've saved the rings till last because this is the one I'm most proud of. I have never completed even one full swing on rings in a gym before (never mind a race) and somehow Doug got me to a set of five swings in about 30 minutes. He had to work at it though, as we went through everything that made most people pull it off until we found a technique that worked for me.
Ordinarily when reviewing a race I try to not use the line “I …” too many times but it’s almost impossible not to when reviewing this class as it is incredibly tailored to what I (or you) can and cannot do and what I got out of it. I’m both depressed at the basics I hadn't nailed down previously and exciting that I now get to go out and try these techniques out. I learned an absolute tonne of useful information and had a ball doing so.
I originally thought there wasn't enough time allocated to the class but by the time I got home I was exhausted. In terms of cost, if I equate it to a typical PT or sports specific coach and think about how much OCR specific knowledge I picked up, it is outstanding value for money. I suspect I have more than enough pointers to keep me busy for the next few months and I can’t wait to get over that big wall at the end of Dirty Dozen unaided and claim my Doug hug.