On September 8th I asked my readers to host picnics and to send me the results. The following is one of 27 amazing submissions, the best of which will win an entire cow, courtesy of US Wellness. Vote for your favorite on October 8.
Whenever my family gets together, we always end up in some kind of spontaneous physical competition. Whether it’s an epic game of Ultimate Frisbee in the field next to my parents’ house, a pushup competition after Thankgiving dinner, backbends and flips across my sister’s living room, or a pull-up contest on someone’s monkey bars, we are a physical and competitive bunch. This past Labor day, a family friend commented, “It must be a Thompson family get-together,” when he saw my sister and me arm wrestling.
So for my husband’s 44th birthday the last week of September, we decided to corral all this competitive energy into a truly primal activity: the “Grok-stacle” Course. This quarter mile route over hilly, mostly wooded terrain boasts around twenty five obstacles – incorporating pushing, pulling, climbing, jumping, balancing, carrying, crawling and sprinting. The result is challenging enough to leave you shaking and gasping for air, and fun enough that you’ll want to do it over and over again.
As the Groksters arrived, they were given tours of the course and allowed to play on it to familiarize themselves and get warmed up for the challenge. Grok-jr. and Grokette loved Pallet Point and the tunnel in particular.
We snacked on bell pepper strips, carrots, celery, melon, grapes, berries and pineapple, then dug into the main course of grilled chicken slathered in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and onion. Some people opted for hamburgers and/ or salmon burgers as well – sans bun, of course! We also had garden-fresh eggplants and tomatoes coming out our ears, so we cooked those up into an incredibly tasty (but unfortunately not very photogenic) side dish.
Once everyone was fueled up, the competition began.
We realized pretty quickly that you get out of this course what you put into it. None of the obstacles is absurdly challenging on its own or at a slow pace, but at full speed, it’s another story, and there’s nothing like competition to make you push yourself. It seemed like each person to run it upped the ante for those who went after. After watching the boys fly through it the way they did, I (Grauk-dry) ran the whole thing much faster than I’d thought possible. I think the first couple people to run it were at a slight disadvantage as to time, because they just didn’t realize how hard everyone else was going to push.
Unfortunately, it got dark before everyone had completed the course, to the point where Ffej-grok had to hook a halogen worklight up to several extension cords and carry it around the yard, shining it into the woods as the last few people made their way through the course. My camera just stopped focusing once it got too dark, so we weren’t able to get photos of everyone, and even the photos of some of the earlier runners came out pretty blurry.
By the time everyone had done their official run, we were all feeling a little peckish again, so we lit a bonfire and re-fueled in true primal fashion with skewers of fresh roasted meat.
Finally, we sang the birthday song, and served slivers of 92% primal, flourless chocolate cake.
Veggie Tray: carrots; celery; red, orange, and yellow bell peppers
Fruit Bowl: cantaloupe, pineapple, mango, kiwi, grapes, strawberries
Eggplant and Tomato fry-up (recipe below)
Grilled Chicken marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, onion, garlic, sea salt and pepper
Atlantic salmon burgers
Hamburgers (no buns!)
London broil roasted over the bonfire
Finally, since this was a birthday party, we had to have cake, but we determined this flourless chocolate cake is at least 92% primal.
Recipe: Eggplant and Tomato Fry-Up
This dish is heavily influenced by personal taste and what the garden is producing, so amounts are approximate
2 lbs tomatoes, chopped
1-2 onions, chopped
1-2 eggplants, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Peel tomatoes and eggplants if desired (not necessary); chop tomatoes, and place in a glass bowl. Add just enough extra virgin olive oil to coat, along with chopped basil and ground pepper to taste. Let marinate while chopping eggplant and onion.
Melt a tablespoon or so of butter in a frying pan large enough to hold all the vegetables and saute onions until they start to soften. Add eggplant, and cook until just tender. Add marinated tomatoes, and cook until tomatoes are heated through.
Add salt and more pepper to taste, serve while warm.
Recipe: 92% Primal Chocolate Cake
10 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 stick butter, cut into pieces
1 Tbsp freshly brewed espresso
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/4 c. + 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 c. heavy cream, whipped
Preheat oven to 350.
Butter bottom and sides of a 9” springform pan and dust w/ cocoa powder.
Melt chocolate and butter with the espresso in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. Stir in the vanilla and cool to room temperature.
Use a stand mixer or electric hand mixer to whisk the egg yolks with 1/4 cup granulated sugar until the mixture is light and creamy, about 1 minute.
With a clean whisk attachment and in a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until they begin to hold their shape. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp granulated sugar and continue to beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks.
Fold the beaten egg yolks into the chocolate mixture, and then fold in half the egg whites. Fold in the other half of the egg whites just till there are no white streaks. Scrape the batter into the prepared springform pan.
Bake for 23-25 minutes, until the center is just set. Let cool completely before removing from pan.
Top with unsweetened whipped cream.
Play: The “Grok-stacle Course”
Start out quick-stepping through the Coiled Python – one foot in each space. Then, leap over the Roaring Waterfall (lawn sprinkler)
Sprint to Grok-adile Gulch and run across the rickety bridge – careful, if you fall off, you might get eaten!
Grab onto a couple small tree trunks to help swing yourself around them in a figure – 8 pattern, then leap over a bent tree and onto the Log Run. Race 50 ft down this fallen tree without losing your balance, down one branch and back up onto the main trunk, then off the side and through a bunch of dead limbs.
Fight your way through the Spider’s Lair,
then make up for lost time as you careen along a twisting path through the woods…
to the Tree Hugger, where you must make your way around this giant tree without touching the ground – harder than it looks!
Sprint from there to the Stump Jump, a series of 7 wobbly logs standing on end.
Hit the ground running and launch yourself onto the trampoline, where it takes a good jump to get enough height to ring the windchime.
Then on to the Zig Zag – walk each board or leap from tree to tree – just don’t hit the ground.
At this point, the Ball Bottle Balance gives the lungs a much needed break, as you pick up a bottle with a foam golf ball balanced on its mouth and attempt to walk the length of another fallen tree, without falling off or dropping the ball. Dump the ball into the cup at the end (careful – it bounces out easily)
Hold onto the bottle as you take off at a full sprint yet again to Evade the Predator along a 100’ twisting turning path through the trees.
Deposit the bottle in the birdhouse, then make a beeline for the forked tree. Climb/ leap through the tree, and get a running start toward the Tottering Cart.
Roll The Log 50 ft, then dive into The Tunnel. Crawling on hands and feet rather than knees will make it easier to clear the obstacles on the floor of the tunnel, but stay low, or you’ll hit your head.
Try not to twist an ankle as you make your way toward the creek down the Deadfall – a hill littered with dead limbs and trees.
At the bottom, cross the bridge, then circle around and make your way down the Slippery Bank into the creek bed. Jump over the Quicksand, then scramble up the Root Tangle on the opposite bank of the creek.
Right now, Pallet Point up above you looks like Mount Everest, but it’s up the hill you go and over the summit, then pick up a 25 lb Rock from one stump, carry it downhill and set it back down on another stump.
Continue back down to the edge of the creek and leap across, then bound up over the mossy bank (don’t slip!) and over the second bridge.
So close and yet so far – crawl under the deck, then double back up the steps and test your balance on the skinny edge of a 2×4 spanning about 7 ft between two trees. It’s hard when your whole body is shaking!
Once you’ve made it to the second deck, climb around the outside of the trellis – at the top.
Race across the deck, drop about 4’ to the ground, and run down into the creek bed yet again. High-step over fallen limbs and duck under the bridge.
As you emerge from the creek bed, the five steps back up onto the deck look mighty high, but once you’ve made it up, you’re on the home stretch. Push yourself into an all out sprint for the last 65 ft across the deck, down the stairs (but who has time for stairs, just jump over them) and back to the Finish Line!
Grok-stacle Course Times:
5:10 – Shie-grok-lagh
Age: 25, Shie-grok-lagh started off the competition. Considering she didn’t have the benefit of watching anyone else go through the course, AND her shoes were too big.. her time was pretty respectable.
4:07 – Ffej-grok
Age: 44, As the second one to run the course, Ffej-grok surprised everyone by flying over grok-adile gulch and onto the tree. Halfway through he was feeling the heat and decided to pace himself – after all, having the birthday boy collapse in the middle of the party wouldn’t have been good.
4:30 – Sar-groka
Age: 16, Sar-groka was surprisingly quick, especially considering she was wearing borrowed shoes whose laces came untied during the first 30 seconds of the course….
3:34 – Grok-pat
Age: 24, Grok-pat put all previous contenders to shame. If he hadn’t missed a couple obstacles and had to go back, his time would have been even faster.
3:56 – Ra-grok-chael
Age: 23, Ra-grok-chael’s cross country and trail running experience were apparent as she blew through the woods, closing in on Grok-pat’s time…
2:45 – Cam-grok-eron
Age: 19, The winner by almost a minute, his kid is also his own team in a game of ultimate Frisbee. He leaped right over the trampoline, ringing the bell easily without aid. Instead of rolling the 100lb log, he picked it up and ran 40 ft with it before throwing it the last 10 feet!
Age: 31, Not quite the old lady of the group, she held her own against the younger chicks. People seemed reasonably impressed with her leap onto the log and he trampoline jump.
5:03 – Glor-ok-ia
Age: 13, Poor Glor-ok-ia was the first to run the course in pretty much complete darkness after the sun had gone down, with only a utility lamp to light the way.
7:40 – Grocker-mom
Age: 57, Never one to be outdone by the kids, Grocker-mom held her own. As the last one to navigate the course, she also had to run it in the dark, and this was after moving both the log and rock back into position after everyone else ran the course. Not too shabby at all!
Our Grok-sters were plucky! Several people balked at some of the obstacles – particularly having to crawl under the deck – enough that we said if there were any obstacles you just really didn’t want to do, or didn’t feel safe doing, you could skip them and have 30 seconds added to your time. When it came down to it though, nobody skipped anything :D.
Creating the grok-stacle course was as primal an activity as running it! Two days of moving slowly through the woods, imagining different possibilities, lugging heavy things around the yard, and of course, testing out the finished obstacles.
This was even more FUN than we expected. Grokker-mom called me up the next day to tell me it was the most fun she could remember having in a long time. It’s so much easier to exert yourself when you’re having fun, and while running this obstacle course is hard, you don’t quite notice how hard you’re pushing yourself until you cross the finish line and your legs almost give out… the course is staying up indefinitely and I’ll be running it several times a week trying to improve my time.
I didn’t think roasting meat over the bonfire was going to go over that well. The skewers we had were pretty short, the fire was hot, and it was pretty warm out for a fire in general, but everyone was really into it. The fire-roasted steak was delicious, and after the killer obstacle course, the protein snack seemed to hit the spot.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.