Breaking through the pain barrier in the name of fitness
NOT SO long ago boot camps became all the rage.
Out of nowhere, from fitness junkies to desperate weight-losers, groups popped up in parks all over the country to subject themselves to high-intensity workouts at dawn under the barking orders of personal trainers.
Naturally, military-style events such as Tough Mudder, Spartan and True Grit emerged to give this new generation of motivated souls an outlet to forge their bodies even further into unknown territory.
Now, for those who love scrambling under barbed-wire fences, scaling walls and running on empty, there is a national championship for you.
Grafton's Lucas McLean has just returned from the inaugural Australian Obstacle Course Racing Championship.
As you might expect, the ordeal was not for the faint-hearted nor for those who don't like surprises.
"I was expecting a course between 10 and 12 kilometres, but instead it was about 15," McLean said.
"They threw in a 100m swim early in the race. I can swim, but it's been a thorn in the side for me, I had lactic acid build up, my heart-rate went up and it took about 2km to get over it."
An unforgiving test of endurance, strength, speed and dexterity, obstacle course racing is described as a sport all about exposing weaknesses.
Following an intense, rigid program at Hybrid Gym to prepare, McLean, who turned 35 on Anzac Day, says his strength is on the obstacles, but that's where he nearly came unstuck on Saturday.
"I had a (nutrition) plan but in the hype of the race I only took half my fluids and forgot to take a gel," he said. "I was hunched over, cramping up at a wall, couldn't get rid of it and I didn't think I was going to finish.
"I lost about 15 spots there. My legs were zapped after that so it was one leg over the other.
"It included 5km of soft sand - just insane. I was a bit underprepared as far as running goes.
"This sport is intense, and although anyone can do it and have fun, to be competitive means an incredible amount of hard work and dedication to a training regime."
Competitive obstacle course racing only began in Australia last year and the former Grafton Ghost was quick to jump on the bandwagon.
"I've always been involved in team sport and always given 100%. But in this you're running by yourself, for yourself. I love how competitive it is.
"My background is in league and union. But I got a bit too bashed and bruised every season.
"Hybrid Gym was running a boot camp on Saturday mornings. I got involved and found out about the gym. It was perfect for me and I had a fitness program scheduled out."
Last year Hybrid Gym sent a team up for the Lismore Samson Fitness Challenge and McLean has been hooked ever since.
"It was a team event and had boot camp-style challenges like bag carries, sled push and tyre drag, as well as a pool swim and obstacle course at the end.
"After that I looked up Spartan and did my first 14km obstacle course in Brisbane and saw online that a national league had started."
McLean eventually qualified for the national event, where he finished 53rd out of 70. But he now has his sights firmly set on reaching the top 10.
"I wasn't even nervous because I knew I wasn't competing for top 10 or 20. I just ran my own race.
"But I want to be top 10 and, realistically, it will take three or four years to be at my peak.
"The frustrating thing is I know where I want to be, but there's no shortcut."
So what exactly is the attraction to obstacle course racing?
"I just like being a kid again, rolling around in the mud," he said.