4 Lessons this OCR Athlete Learned at Gunny’s Boot Camp (CrossFit) Challenge

This post may contain affiliate links.

Gunny Challenge Pin

Back when reading books was still in vogue, my father taught me the art of research and exploration, that magical, unexpected gems existed in the straight line between question and answer: serendipity.

Serendipity paid me a visit this past weekend when my wife and I researched information about one race and discovered another event by accident: Gunny’s Boot Camp Challenge.



The inaugural event was developed and hosted by retired Marine Corps. Gunnery Sergeant Ryan Small, a former drill instructor at Parris Island, S.C. and a certified personal trainer. As one who has personally experienced the special love and attention of drill instructors at Parris Island, I can say that “Gunny” has lost none of the motivational charm (or the distinct voice) of a Marine Drill Instructor.

No one was injured in the making of this post by Gunny's arms.

No one was injured in the making of this post by Gunny’s biceps.

I’ve never stepped into a CrossFit gym because while their training methods are commendable, as an OCR athlete I require more endurance/run training and less of the bulk associated with folks in the CrossFit community. With my nerves popping in anticipation of an important race the following weekend, the discovery of this event promised adventure and fitness fun with no pressure or expectations as I ventured into uncharted exercise territory. Twenty men and women, virtually all current or former U.S. military personnel, participated in the event.

I was the smallest, least “built” participant, and I couldn’t help but chuckle with my wife. “I’m like a sheep among wolves. These people are gonna kill me.”

“Yeah,” she said, “but it’ll be fun.”

The Event

The competition began with a series of four exercises, each of which earned points depending on placement. Those events were:

Ammo Can Lift: Max Reps in One Minute

This first event immediately revealed a weakness. While I lift regularly, I never considered such a lifting regiment as time under pressure. I’m not sure where I placed in the standings, but I believe I fared somewhere in the middle with a total of 81.

30 lbs ammo cans, filled with the sweat and tears of Marine Corps recruits.

Sit-Ups, Marine Style: Max Reps in a Minute

These bastards threw me down a dark tunnel of nostalgia as I remembered the “House of Pain” on Sunday afternoons during my time at Marine Corps Basic Training. Core strength is not a weakness for me, however I seldom perform sit-ups or crunches, so the form of this move (plus the fact that I have a broken tail bone…yeah) had me nervous from the start. I ended this event at 65, again, somewhere in the middle.

"Keep pushing Andrew, the head is crowning! Oh wait..."

“Keep pushing Andrew, the head is crowning! Oh wait…”

Burpees: Max Reps in 30 Seconds

Now we’re talking. Burpees, that feared and respected hound of hell itself, is a required staple of every OCR athlete’s training. My fellow competitors may have been large and strong, but no one can throw their weight around with the savage efficiency of an OCR athlete. I’m not sure if I won this event or came in close second, but I walked away grinning at 15.

Ever wonder why we prostrate during burpees? Burpees are king, that's why.

Ever wonder why we prostrate during burpees? Because effing burpees, that’s why.

8-Count Body Builders: Max Reps in 30 Seconds

Another familiar, twisted beast from the pits of OCR training, I attacked this event with the same gusto as the burpees and it paid off. Another 1st or close 2nd finish with 12 reps.


8-count body builders, a.k.a the “OCR missionary position.”

Main Event: 1/2 Mile Obstacle Run

The main obstacle event carried the most points, and as my native brand of insanity I knew a strong finish here might help me achieve a respectable placing. The course took place on a soccer field and began with a circuit of 100 yard ammo can sled pulls, 70 yard ammo can carry (one in each hand), 70 yard backward sled drag, 50 yard tractor tire flips with in-and-out jumps.

Gunny Collage

As every seasoned OCR athlete knows, pacing is everything. These guys were stronger, but I had endurance. I kept a close tail on another competitor for much of the circuit, and made up time on the tire hops, then finished about two flips behind. I fully expected and all-out sprint battle to the tire run-through 100 yards down course, but something happened.

I bolted from the tire and found myself completely alone.

Gunny Collage2

I’m not sure if the other guy bonked after the tire flip, but I didn’t see another soul for the rest of the race, which included a tire run, wire crawl, monkey bars, and sandbag carries along the half mile track. Months of training and racing which demands high intensity cardio and lifting, followed by period of endurance running perfectly conditioned me for this last leg of the race, and that win helped me achieve a 1st place victory for the whole event.


I never expected to carry the day, but a win amidst some uber-strong and fit service members was a great cap to the day, and I walked away with more than victory.

1) Never Underestimate Yourself or Your Training

If pride comes before the fall, meekness negates our rise. Although I did not arrive to win, a competition is no place for timidity. I made the mistake of discounting months of hard training and primal, competitive instinct, and mistakenly assumed that because I was not CrossFit that I could not hold my own. These guys were twice my size and yet this eventually became a David and Goliath remake. Sure, there are OCR heroes who currently seem untouchable, but remember that today’s gods and goddesses often become tomorrow’s crumbled statues.

2) Cross Training and Variation is Paramount to Fitness Success

Humans like comfortable and familiar. I like my warm and cozy version of training hell and so never considered CrossFit training because of images of guys like Gunny Ryan Small. Bulk is not for me, but my ignorance showed when I assumed these folks processed little endurance and were little more than glorified gym rats. As OCR athletes our training ethos demands variation, to expect and prepare for any and all obstacles, especially our comfort zones, complacency, and hubris.

3) It’s Not All About the Big Races

We know their names: the major players in the OCR world like Spartan, Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, Savage Race, BattleFrog Series, but there are more venues out there which present the same level of challenge, but with another degree of charm. Competing at local events, which often support charities and provide a family-friendly atmosphere is a great way to connect with the community and build relationships we might otherwise overlook in pursuit of coveted placement in national venues. Balance is key.

4) Remember to Have Fun!

I began OCR training because I simply loved the sport, and now I’m training with professional aspirations, but sometimes the performance anxiety I place on myself rubs the shiny varnish off the sport which attracted me in the first place. Gunny’s Boot Camp Challenge was a great release from that pressure. Competing with such a great group for the simple joy restored my energy and love of the sport, that the pursuit of victory should never supplant the joy of the game.

A big thank you to Gunny Ryan Small for a fantastic inaugural event, which raised over $500.00 for the Wounded Warrior Project, and for the slew of prizes from local businesses. Be sure to stop by his gym in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and “like” the Gunny’ Boot Camp Challenge Facebook page for updates on their next event.

Event Rating: 5/5

5 Splats




Speak Your Mind