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More Than a Ninja Warrior Gym


Introduction by Sarah Schoback:

Often when people think of obstacle training gyms they think of the show American Ninja Warrior. But there is a whole other group of athletes that spend hours pushing their bodies to their physical limits on an entirely different course. These athletes are Obstacle Course Racers (OCR) and they make up a large portion of Obstacle Academy’s adult athletes. These athletes endure anywhere from 3 to 24 miles of running with 10-50 obstacles spread throughout the course. Depending on the race each athlete either has a mandatory obstacle completion (can make multiple attempts) requirement or endure a 30 burpee penalty upon obstacle fails. It takes not only physical endurance but mental endurance to take on these courses. Anything and everything is a factor on the course. No such thing as a rain delay or cleaning off the course, you run it how it stands in the cold, in the hot, in the rain and if you’re lucky the mud. To give you an idea of the type of athletes we are training at Obstacle Academy we asked John and Carie Kretschmer, two of our OCR Pro Team athletes and an inspirational couple, to share with us their experiences at the Chicago Savage Race in July. They talk about what obstacles they faced before the race and how they not only took on the courses obstacles but how they overcame the obstacles with mental tenacity and determination.

Carie Kretschmer:

I competed in my first Savage Race last year in Chicago. It was such an amazing experience that I knew I wanted to come back this year to improve my placement and time. Last year I was at the top of the podium for the Masters but 9th overall for women. Savage is a fast, flat course, and I knew I needed to train for speed to do well. Unfortunately, this season I have been plagued with piriformis/hamstring issues. I have been battling it since last October, and every time I tried to train for speed, the injury would get worse. Then, about a month before Savage I started to develop an achilleas tendon issue in the same leg. The month leading up to Savage I only put in 50 miles of running -- that is how much I used to do in a week! Needless to say, I did not feel very confident in my running game going into the race, but I did feel pretty confident in my ability to get through the obstacles, thanks to my training with Coach Sarah Schoback at Obstacle Academy. Sarah replicates the obstacles from the race in the gym and makes sure that we have technique down, putting in repetitions, and doing them while fatigued to simulate race conditions. In addition, she puts us through some intensive grip burnout sequences at the end of each workout – training which is often a differentiating factor for my performance.

The day before the race, I woke up with a terrible headache. I know that when I wake up with one of these headaches, they are going to be bad. But, we got ready to go and loaded up the car and headed out with our racing buddies, Ryan Anderson and Lacey Bourgois, to our first stop in Winona to drop our dogs off at my Mom’s house. When we got there, I was contemplating staying and letting the rest of the crew go on and race without me. I was just dreading the long


ride to Illinois. But, I decided to suck it up and make the trip. It was a very long car ride and when we arrived we were ready to fuel up with our pre-race dinner. I couldn’t stand the noise in the restaurant and had no appetite, so I stayed in the car and tried to sleep some more. Next, we arrived at the hotel and after nearly 10 hours in the car I was just praying to get a good night sleep and see if the pain was gone in the morning. When I woke up, I was feeling much better, but still felt wiped from the long drive. I wasn’t sure how this race was going to shake out, but, off we went! By the start of the race I had started to feel much better. As the race got underway, one by one I began picking off each obstacle. I became more confident with each one and then began

approaching Davey Jones locker, which is one that one still makes me pause for what I think is waaaay too long in the middle of a race, but I remembered how Sarah told me to jump like a crazy person with arms and legs out to psych myself up, and I didn’t wait quite as long as I did last year. Then, I arrived at Twirly Bird, one obstacle that gives a lot of people trouble and last year took me about 5 tries to get through it. I got in line and was watching everyone around me drop like flies. My turn. I stepped up and envisioned myself at Obstacle Academy, once again remembering all of Sarah’s advice, took a deep breath and flew right through! Boy, did that put the wind in my sail! I finished the race only having to retry the rig over water once because of a silly mistake. 100% obstacle completion. 1st place Master Female and 6th place female overall! I felt amazing!


I feel like I have an army behind me preparing me for these races. The support of my family and friends, the coaching from Sarah (and the other coaches) at Obstacle Academy, working out with my personal trainer twice a week, and my secret weapon… I sing “You are My All in All” to myself during every race. I keep repeating the mantra, You are my strength when I am weak. Reminding myself that I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength.

John Kretschmer

In July, I competed in my fourth Savage Race. I had run a Savage race twice last year and again earlier this spring in Florida. Typically, I have done ok at these obstacle races in the past, the obstacles are very challenging and require a mandatory completion to finish in the pro wave for awards. My running is usually what carries me in this race and gives me enough of a bump to allow for multiple attempts on the obstacles. Last fall, one particular obstacle did get the best of me and after several attempts I could not get past the dreaded Twirly Bird obstacle. I ended up losing my band and was motivated to make sure this never happened again.

Over the winter I had spent much of my time at Obstacle Academy working with Coach Sarah Schoback to get better at this obstacle. Sarah created a replica of the obstacle to allow for technique training and build-up repetitions on it. She would even increase the difficult of the obstacle – making it more difficult than the actual race obstacle, so that when I faced it on race day it would be less challenging for me. Fast forward to the Spring Savage race in Florida. After the race begins, I am feeling good – I am knocking out one obstacle after another. Then came Twirly Bird. I settled in and made a pass, I fell three quarters of the way though. I took a moment to think back to how Sarah had instructed me on both my breathing, my technique, and not rushing myself. Second time though, BANG!!! I made it. It was a great feeling. Unfortunately, not long after leg cramps got the best of me and slowed my overall pace – I finished 3rd in my age group and 11th in Men’s Masters. I knew that Chicago was a number of months off and I had plenty of time to train and get better at Twirly Bird and my running.

Then came the injury. I somehow suffered a nerve issue in my neck that sent horrible pain to my left shoulder area and arm. I went to two doctors, a chiropractor, and two PT folks and no one could figure it out. Long story short, this sidelined me from my training from the end of May through the first part of July. Over this time, I had lost over 50% strength in my deltoid, bicep, and scapula muscles. I could no longer do a single push up or a single pull up, and my running had become nonexistent.

I kept going to Obstacle Academy to work with Sarah on ideas of how to get through obstacles with this issue. Week by week, the ideas and guidance she gave me started to work, unfortunately now I had only three weeks until race day. With the advice of Sarah on approaching the obstacles differently, and the help of a few PT guys, day by day I got stronger.

Race day… expectations were high as they always are for me regardless of what had happened over the past few months. Obstacle by obstacle I got by them one at a time. Then came the


dreaded Twirly Bird. I focused, took deep breaths, and was patient and got through that sucker on the first try….FIRST TIME EVER!!!! From there the motivation kicked-in and I proceeded to complete every obstacle in entire race – passing all of them on my first try for the first time. I had never completed every obstacle on my first attempt at a Savage Race! I ended up finishing 7th Masters, 2nd in my age group, and 37th overall in a very stacked men’s field. Considering that my running not very good with all that time off due to injury, I was extremely happy with the results.

I wanted to share this story for several reasons:

  1. Never give up no matter how bad the situation seems.

  2. Trust in your coaches/trainers.They know what they are doing -- take their advice it will help you in the long run.

  3. Be patient. Not only in the healing process but taking on obstacles one at a time, focus only on what is in front of you.

  4. Self-motivate.In times of lengthy injuries, you have to look inside at yourself. How bad do you want it? How are you going to get there? What should I do different?In a world of everyone wanting something for nothing, we have to look inside at ourselves and determine what am “I” going to do to achieve a desired outcome.


I want to give a big thanks to Sarah at Obstacle Academy for being patient with me and showing me new things to knock out those obstacles; and, the support of everyone at OA for helping me believe in myself that I can do this.I have to also thank my PT guys for giving me the exercises to get back in the game, and most of all my wife Carie, who is also going through some very tough injury issues herself since last year.Seeing her fight through her injuries on a daily basis for the past several months has given me hope that I can do anything as long as my mind is in it.

Just remember is life hands you a lemon CRUSH ‘EM!!! and make lemonade


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