In the only obstacle course race training facility in Oregon, Andrea Bowden encourages members to take their fitness to new heights.
Story by Jennifer Grafiada, Photos by Thomas Boyd
It feels amazing after you sit all day,” says the woman on the mat as she rolls back and forth on a foam cylinder. Shoulder Mobility Work is the leg raises or reverse crunches, another run, 10 burpees and one final run. The trainees joke around a bit then get cracking. It’s training like this that brought Carter to technical term for what we are doing, and it’s an important exercise to perform in advance of deadlifting weights.
Angela Carter works at Umpqua Bank, and a few evenings a week she trains at Next Level Fitness Training, an indoor/outdoor gym that uses obstacle course race training, or OCR, to “motivate you to move toward better.”
The gym’s founder is Andrea Bowden, a coach and competitive athlete with three decades’ experience in fitness training. She says she’s seen it all, “from low-fat to high-fat eating, records to Spotify, machine equipment to functional fitness.”
Functional fitness means training for the life you want to live. It’s an alternative to sitting at a desk during the workday, then going to the gym and sitting on a weight machine. Instead, functional fitness means moving, lifting, climbing and jumping — activities to help build stamina for chasing after grandchildren or getting more work done in the garden.
Bowden has always been a fan of this approach but didn’t become a full-on OCR acolyte until she unexpectedly won the Eugene Terrain Race in 2015.
“That win turned me on to the sport in such a way that I thought everyone should know what it feels like to compete in an obstacle course race,” she says.
Bowden founded Next Level in June 2017, inside a space on Roseburg’s Northeast Diamond Lake Boulevard. It is one of just a few OCR training gyms in the U.S., and the only one in Oregon.
On a pleasant Monday evening, the gym’s doors are open to let in sunlight and fresh air. Music plays in the background and disco balls flash, lending some extra energy to the crunches and squats and stretches going on.
Bowden issues the night’s program: a bear crawl, a run outside with a sandbag, 12 pull-ups, another run, sideways monkey bars, hanging leg raises or reverse crunches, another run, 10 burpees and one final run. The trainees joke around a bit then get cracking.
It’s training like this that brought Carter to Next Level more than a year ago. “Andrea had a whole course set up,” Carter says. “Sled push on pavement, tire flip, sandbag carry and then some.”
Carter says it was “terrifying” at first, “but after that I was hooked.” OCR training, she adds, has increased her energy and confidence.
The training group has a friendly, supportive vibe. Its makeup ranges from fitness devotees to people in their 50s and 60s wanting to become more active. Bowden tailors the workouts to the trainees’ fitness level, then gradually increases the intensity over time to steadily build both fitness and confidence and minimize setbacks.
“Everyone in this room can get over an eight-foot wall in one jump, flip a tire a ton of times, do the monkey bars, climb a rope,” Bowden says, watching her charges as they continue their workouts, chiming in with a subtle correction or encouraging praise here and there. “They didn’t start that way, but they can do it now.”
What keeps them coming back?
“There are a few people in here that inspired me early on and they’re the only reason I’m going to be able to do what I’m going to do,” says 50-something David Gilbert, who plans to enter a Spartan Super obstacle race event and ultimately complete a “Trifecta,” three rigorous obstacle course races that must be completed in a single calendar year.
Nearly everyone in the gym is signed up to compete in half-marathons, 10ks and other competitive athletic events around Oregon.
“We’re holding each other accountable in that way,” says Bowden. “We’re here for training, not for exercise. You can go anywhere for exercise.”
Bowden hopes to add more programs for adults and kids in the future. OCR, she believes, is for everyone.
“I have never been focused on weight loss. My focus is on improving your health and wellness, every day,” she says. “And I think I do a pretty good job of that.”
THE TRAINING GROUP RANGES FROM FITNESS DEVOTEES TO PEOPLE IN THEIR 50s AND 60s WANTING TO BECOME MORE ACTIVE.
UCC OFFERS COURSE RACING
Every Monday through Friday, a team of 15 ambitious Umpqua Community College students gathers for its “movement preparation exercises.”
It could be at the UCC track, the Next Level Fitness Training gym or elsewhere in Douglas County. The constant in their training is coach Andrea Bowden, who leads them off on a long run or has them do sprints.
That’s when the real work begins.
The surrounding hills are peppered with obstacles for the runner. A cargo net must be crawled under, and walls traversed. There are balance beams and a large structure with monkey bars called “the rig” plus tires (called “crab pots”) to be pulled up a steep hill or repeatedly flipped over. Four miles later, the crew returns, another tough workout in the books for the only college obstacle course racing team in the U.S.
The team was created in fall 2017 and is open to all UCC students. While it has no rivals, don’t think Bowden wouldn’t like some competition for her group. Under the college’s auspices, she has invited several other schools to form teams and race against her UCC crew.
Members of the team are ready for an outside challenge.
“Andrea motivated the heck out of me,” says Robbie Yard, 34, who studies computer information systems at UCC. “And I love to compete.”
“Everyone just strives to build each other up,” says Boone Pearson, 20, a forestry management major. “No matter how bad we do, we always encourage each other. That pushed me to want to stay. We are like a family.”
Ross Pinard, 28, joined up because he missed the team spirit and camaraderie of high school sports.
“I like being a part of something bigger, helping others become better while having them help me,” Pinard says.
Having a motivated group to start with makes the coaching easier, Bowden says.
“They are so much fun to work with,” she says. “They give 100 percent every time. They are a team in the true sense. They adore each other, they encourage each other, they want to be faster than each other. They are driven to be better every day.”
LEARN MORE: Uccriverhawks.com/sports