Rugged Maniac NorCal 2017

In 2017, Rugged Maniac came back to the East Bay of San Francisco for their NorCal event. Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Terrain Race have races in the area shortly before and after Rugged Maniac, but Rugged Maniac has a special appeal since it has something for everyone:

A competitive heat at the very comfortable time of 9:45am, muddy trenches and crawls, barbed wire, seesaws, climbing and swinging obstacles, water jumps, cargo nets, a warped wall, and an inflatable water slide to the finish!

Really the only people who would be disappointed are those who prefer long distances or mountain goat running. This mud run was a quick 5k (well, kinda… more on that later) on completely flat terrain.

The combination of fun obstacles, easy terrain, and having a competitive option makes Rugged Maniac a great first recommendation to people who are interested in OCR.

All obstacles can be found on Rugged Maniac’s website and most of them can be viewed in this YouTube playlist.

Event Venue

The Alameda County Fairgrounds have a big enough festival area to host food, drink, and several gear vendors. A DJ stage in the center is used for the awards ceremony, as well as contests like max pull ups or holding up a beer stein as long as possible.

Changing tents and a few weak water hoses hooked up to a metal frame provided something similar to a shower. For the size of crowd, this worked fine; for larger masses of people, it would not be enough. Having Dirty Bird soap next to the showers was nice and made cleaning up easy enough.

Rugged Maniac NorCal Start Finish

Competition and Timing

Similar to Tougher Mudder, only the first wave of the day is competitive, and it costs a little bit more. However, timing is not done via the timing chip we all have learned to love to mess with before races.

Earlier this year, Rugged Maniac announced they would stop timing their events completely. Shortly after, they quickly reacted to feedback and reintroduced manual timing for the Top 10 male and female finishers (=Qualifier for OCR World Championship). Additionally, participants can read their finishing time off of a clock at the finish line and later enter it on Rugged Maniacs website.

Awards go to the Top 3 male and female finishers in the form of Top Finisher medals, a free race entry, and some swag.

Rugged Maniac Results

Course

Flat and fast with a bit of gravel but mostly grass describes it best. The obstacles were spaced out nicely and provided a nice mix of mud, water, jumping, climbing, and crawling, with only a few stretches of uninterrupted running.

The only little hiccup was, this 5k wasn’t a 5k… 5 km equals 3.106 miles and this race was closer to 2.5 miles. It’s hard to imagine that anyone cared too much about getting a bit less distance than they expected though, which is exactly the kind of thing that makes Rugged Maniac a fun obstacle race!

All pictures and videos owned by the author unless otherwise noted.

Spartan Race Las Vegazona 2017

Picture by Taylor Mullin (@taylor_mullin_)

Spartan Race came back to the Mesquite, Arizona Motocross Track for their “Las Vegas” race this year. The Las Vegas event has been a fast and furious race course over the last three years. The long stretches of running on sand, as well as a pretty decent amount of river running took many by surprise in 2016.

Course designer supreme, Steve Hammond, had shared some hints in the week leading up to the race that we would get treated to a repeat of last year’s course style:

Course Map

The course map supported the flat and fast statements as well.

Spartan Race - Las Vegas Course Map

Race Venue

Parking at this venue is fortunately close to the festival area. As usual, there was a lack of shade (pavilions, vendor booths, etc.) so people started to huddle in every little bit of protection from the desert sun they could find, and many did receive their first sunburn of the year.

The SGX area received some improvements and now features climbing holds added to a pull up bar, Gormax flips, as well as the usual rope climb and over wall.

Everyone who paid attention did not encounter any surprises as Steve delivered on his promise. The terrain was flat, however, the start gave a great indication of what racers are going to see a lot of: death by a dozen little bumps on the trail.

Spartan Race Las Vegas Startline

After this rough start, one mile of fine, loose sand was waiting. Fortunately, there was an opportunity to cool down during a bit of river running (~0.1 mi), which was followed by another mile of loose sand, and finally the last half of the course finished out on the motocross track. The treacherous part of those motocross venues is that the little hills and bumps don’t look intimidating at all.

However, the steep grade of these dirt mounds, along with the hard packed ground and slippery dirt on top, suck the energy out of everyone’s legs, especially since there are usually three or more of them in a row. The biggest single climb on the course can be seen behind the dunk wall, leading up to the top of the mesa.

Spartan Race Las Vegas Dunkwall

In summary, the Mesquite MX venue may be flat, but it does make up for it with its loose sand and frequent, short, steep hills.

The Twister

In recent races, as well as in Vegas, it appears as if the Twister obstacle becomes more of a menace than the rig, which was completely absent from the Sprint, but part of the previous day’s Super. For those with strong grip, it poses no problem and requires just a bit of practice to figure out which technique suits them best… and then there is Veejay, the youngest Spartan Pro Team member, doing this.

Here is another perspective on the Twister. In the front is the side-by-side grip technique while the racer in the back is going hand-over-hand, which requires more grip strength and technique, but is also much faster.

GPS Data

Everyone interested in the data can find the GPS track below, more details can be found on Strava directly.

All pictures and videos owned by the author unless otherwise noted.

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Spartan Race SoCal: Rocky Pala Raceway

On September 17-18, 2016, Spartans conquered a new venue for the Spartan Race SoCal Sprint and Beast races: Pala Raceway.

For several years, Vail Lake in Temecula has been the go-to location for not only Spartan Race but also Tough Mudder. However, all events got the boot by the new Vail Lake owners and now there is a new stomping ground for SoCal Spartans. After trading Malibu for Castaic Lake as their Los Angeles race venue, they should be used to change by now. So what’s the deal?

pala-coursemap

Photo Credit: Spartan Race Start Line Photo Credit: Spartan Race

The start line might have been up a solid incline but beyond that, not much climbing was required. The Sprint course offered merely 600ft of elevation gain and, from reports, it appears that the Beast only had one bigger hill thrown in for good measure. The race was mostly narrow single trail covered in rocks, gravel, and sand, which made the surface very technical. The rest was the exact opposite: right on the motocross track with all those lovely little steep ups and downs. Where usually bikes fly through the air, Spartans were fighting against their burning quads and calves. It definitely was a very fast course for those who were sure-footed and nimble.

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Vail Lake had much more and steeper climbs and descends, however, the mostly broad trails and roads made it far easier to navigate them safely. By the way, local media was still worried about the heat taking out runners. Two years ago a Sunday race had to be canceled less than 24 hours before the start time.  In turn, the one and only “Hurricane Heatwave” was created.

Water stations were plentiful and other than a dog getting abandoned in the parking lot (who does that?!) on Saturday no unusual heat related mass casualties occurred. If you were wondering why Spartan staff had a dog out on the race course during the Sprint, now you know why.

Sprint racers were surprised to find a trail run instead of an obstacle course race for most of the event with a high obstacle density towards the end. The bucket carry was very tame and a sandbag carry was absent. A last minute emergency forced course designers to get creative and course markers to work long hours. Sadly, the terrain did not give them much to work with and the available space for obstacles on course was very limited. At least the mud mounds before the slip wall right before the finish line gave runners a welcome cool down at the end.

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rig

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When the dust settled, the majority of racers appeared to be happy about the venue change. Not many miss the stinking mud of Vail Lake or the long inclines and steep descents of the hills around it and are just glad about a change of scenery… Not having to walk .75 miles from parking to the race venue along a road might also play a part in the increased satisfaction.

Weights N’ Dates

Something else that popped up at the SoCal Spartan Race was the Weights N’ Dates dating app with cleverly designed stickers for the male beauties and female beasts. While I personally have not  looked at the app, I would imagine it could help OCR addicts to find people to carpool to races with. If you pay for lunch, maybe they will take cool pictures of you for social media!

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SoCal Podium Winners

beast-winners Spartan Race Pala SoCal Beast Winners

sprint-winners Spartan Race Pala SoCal Sprint Winners

(All pictures were taken by the author unless specifically mentioned otherwise)


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OCR Training: King’s Camps and Fitness

King’s Camps and Fitness is a new 4,300 square feet OCR gym is located in San Carlos at the San Francisco Bay Area (Peninsula) in Northern California where they recently moved into brand new facilities, opening the doors just in May 2016. The location and gear might be new but Owner Mike King has been coaching clients and classes for five years now. The equipment offers treadmills, rowers, rope climbs, TRX, plyo boxes, 4- and 8-foot climbing walls, a 24-foot multi-rig, sleds, spears, a traverse wall, and a ton of other equipment aimed to improve functional fitness for OCR athletes.

KingsCamp-facility

Parents with smaller children will be happy to see that there is a play area in the same space as the gym. Depending on demand, an attendant will be present to take care of the kids while their parents can train just a few feet away in line of sight – without anxiety or stress.

KingsCamp-kids

Rig Practice

Everyone who has recently participated in a BattleFrog, Spartan Race, or Terrain Race, has become familiar with the rig setups: Obstacles which must be traversed using almost exclusively your grip and upper body strength and the right technique. Several races have been lost and won because of these rig type obstacles. King’s Camps and Fitness has ropes, rings, bars, and plenty of climbing holds to attach to their rig in order to deliver a training experience that mirrors what you will encounter out on the race course.

KingsCamp-rig

Coaching

The founder, Mike King, is an experienced OCR competitor and coach with several OCR podium finishes and three trips to World’s Toughest Mudder under his belt, as well as several fitness certifications.

For anyone interested in OCR but unsure of how to start or how to take it to the next level, Mike offers a variety of training programs including an Obstacle Course Training Camp and a “Young Warriors” class for kids ages 5 to 12. Even aspiring police officers will find a program tailored to their needs: With a 50% failure rate on the police academy admission test there is clearly a need for intense preparation.

KingsCamp-mike

If you want to build fitness, King’s Camps and Fitness also offers HIIT classes, functional strength training, and running coaching. Mike opened his gym with the purpose to focus on “Warriors”: be it everyday warriors or performance athletes, this is for anyone that wants to feel good and look good or needs help to overcome the intimidation of running their first obstacle race.

KingsCamp-gear
Open Gym

Once per week the Open Gym offers a playground to everyone who is looking to fine tune their obstacle technique or put together a circuit: Run with a sandbell on the treadmill or around the block, do a spear throw, followed by a bucket carry, and then facing the rig is just one example of what you can do here.

Usually there is a group of people across all ages present and the open minded and welcoming atmosphere makes this gym a great stepping stone for everyone aiming to improve their fitness.

KingsCamp-opengym

If you do not feel particularly creative there is always a workout posted on a whiteboard that will make sure to make you sweat. Fortunately there are wide garage doors and fans on the inside of the facility!

KingsCamp-opengym2

Over time you can expect to find ever changing rig configurations and new obstacles like a Delta Ladder or even Balls to the wall. As OCRs evolve, Mike will adapt his facilities and even combine existing obstacles for new challenges to keep all athletes on their toes.

(All pictures have been taken by the author)

BattleFrog Chicagoland 2016 aka Waterworld

Participating in races in the summer months is always a bit of a gamble if you are not familiar with the race venue: Getting fried in the sun is never fun and for people who are having issues regulating their body temperature it can get outright dangerous. The Saturday of BattleFrog‘s Chicagoland event 2 hours outside of the City of Chicago started very cloudy and overcast with forecasts for rain. However, around 10am the sun came out and the temperatures kept rising. That’s May for you.

The course map showed a few interesting changes compared to BF Los Angeles and BF San Francisco: No monkey bars, no weaver, just a single rig and an obstacle called “Strong Man” which turned out to be similar to an atlas stone carry. The course would later turn out to measure aprox. 4.8 miles distance with about 1000 feet of elevation gain.

BF-Chi-Coursemap

Fortunately, the venue at “The Cliffs Insane Terrain Inc.” had plenty of creeks and woods available and BattleFrog was nice enough to make sure the racers would get plenty of opportunities to cool down, even including a short swim and of course their signature Hooyah water slide obstacle. On top of that, frequently appearing deep mud mounds made sure nobody stayed dry for too long.

BF-Chi-mudmoun

The swimming obstacle was manned with divers, an inflatable boat, and people on land on standby. Additionally, a rope in the water provided safety in emergencies but was not to be touched otherwise. Water safety is always very important at OCRs especially in the heat and it was great to see the significant precautions BattleFrog has taken to address this.

BF-Chi-swimming

If you came to BattleFog to get a mud run then you made the right choice! As soon as it came to obstacles like the rope climb, the 12’ wall, confidence climb, and 60 Degrees, all that mud came back to hound the runners: Very slippery ropes made the short rope climb difficult even for elite racers. Obstacles with metal bars became slippery and increased the challenge even further.

BF-Chi-creek

For those not familiar with BattleFrog obstacles, the confidence climb is a series of square metal bars vertically stacked on top of each other and runners have to climb up and over, then climb back down on the other side. 60 Degrees is basically the same thing, but the whole obstacle is tilted to a 60-degree angle facing the runner: Not only do you have to hold on to the slippery bars, you also have to fight gravity – similar to an inverted wall. As the picture shows, deep pools of water and mud mounds right before this obstacle made this especially exciting.IMG_20160528_102913

BattleFrog did a great job with the setup of separate lanes for elite, intermediate, and novice runners which ensured a steady flow at the obstacles and prevented frustration. More boards to step on for the novice lane at the 12′ Rope Wall definitely reduced the fear factor. A lower hanging bell at the rope climb or fewer metal bars to climb or a significantly easier Tip of the Spear made a big difference for everyone who does not have competitive aspirations while still offering the option of going for the more difficult elite lanes.

BF-Chi-rope

However, it unfortunately provided opportunity for some “Elite” competitors to sneak into an easier lane during their second laps. Every race depends immensely on their volunteers and while the majority are upbeat and encouraging – which is the most important thing for 90% of participants – there is still room for improvement when it comes to their knowledge of the rules. For example, Spartan Race hands out laminated sheets with an explanation of the obstacle and the penalty to the volunteers manning the obstacle. This would be a possible way to ensure a more consistent quality in this regard.

BF-Chi-wall

The recent announcement of penalties for BattleFrog Xtreme competitors stirred up a lot of controversy about how this would be handled. In Chicagoland there was only a single penalty loop set up to address the most difficult obstacle: Right behind the Platinum Rig a wreck bag and jerry cans were set up next to a “BFX Penalty Loop” sign. The penalty consisted of carrying a wreck bag plus one jerry can for a tiny loop which was marked by flags. The amount of time required was about equal to a clean pass through the Platinum Rig but less taxing and less time consuming than the usual ten 8 count body builders, the usual penalty for failing to complete an obstacle. This was a bit disappointing to see, especially because nobody was around to inform the BFX combatants about what they were supposed to do. Most carried only the wreck bag or two jerry cans and while integrity is key, nobody would have stopped them from simply walking past the penalty loop either.

BF-Chi-bfxpenalty

The fact that the Platinum Rig was in a fairly easy configuration – probably due to expected rain which would have made it difficult nevertheless – reduced the impact of this. The Rig and the penalty loop were packed very closely together and right next to the finish line and Elite/BFX transition point. This made it impossible for the volunteers to keep everyone in check and at the end of the day everyone knows if they earned their medal or not.

BF-Chi-rig

Bottom Line: BattleFrog took advantage of the varying terrain at the venue and provided a challenging OCR with interesting twists to keep the race attractive for all that already have done one or more of their events in the past. While raw strength and obstacle technique could make or break someone’s race in the past, the current setup with lanes of different difficulties offers options to athletes of all backgrounds and skill levels.

(All pictures have been taken by the author)

BattleFrog Xtreme San Francisco: A walk in the pain park

If you’ve done an event with BattleFrog before, you know what to expect: moderate to easy terrain, tough obstacles that challenge upper body strength, grueling jerry can and wreck bag carries…

…if that was the assumption for OCR veterans for BF San Francisco, they were in for a surprise.

90 minutes north of San Francisco at Lake Sonoma, something else entirely was waiting.
bf-sf_coursemap

Even the course map was misleading. Rain had forced the course designer to leave out their signature “HOOYAH” obstacle and the “Balance Beam” obstacle. It wasn’t clear to me if they couldn’t set up the obstacles due to the weather or if they were concerned about people slipping. Either way, considering the very muddy course, it seemed like a good call. Additionally, instead of having two Platinum Rigs back to back, they combined both of them into one very long rig.

Instead, they gave athletes the gift of extra mileage and extra elevation gain. GPS data puts the course around 7mi distance with about 1700ft of elevation gain; the thick vegetation in the green hills appeared to mess with the GPS signal more than usual. For an advertised 8k/5mi distance, and people expecting mostly flat terrain, it’s a pretty significant difference to put those extra 2 miles on your feet.

The course layout took full advantage of the trails, hills, creeks, and even briefly had athletes get their feet wet on the lake shore. Other than a few wet spots in the “Mud Mounds” obstacle, there was no water beneath or around the obstacles. Instead, hay was used to cushion potential falls, which worked well even at the monkey bars.

Parking & Venue

BattleFrog continues to show rooms for improvement in this area, as the parking signage could have been more prominent which led some people to miss the turn off to the parking area.
Plus, the email sent out to athletes ahead claimed that parking would be “on site”. To me, this means there won’t be a shuttle that I need to take. This is especially relevant for everyone with a very early starting time (typically Elite and BFX competitors). Turns out, there was a – very short – shuttle ride from parking to the venue. The shuttle service itself worked very well, so that helped minimize the inconvenience.

The venue was compact and the short walk from the shuttle gave a little preview for the course: wet, muddy, slippery, uphill. Early arrivals were shivering with temperatures hovering around the low 40, which fortunately quickly warmed up to sunny 60s with a blue sky, providing a stunning view over Lake Sonoma.BattleFrog San Fran - 60 Degrees

BattleFrog Xtreme: BFX

Almost every race offers Elite and Open waves. BattleFrog however also offers an endurance option. This allows athletes to run as many laps of the course as possible after the 8:15am start time. For each competitor in the BFX, the last lap of the day has to begin before 2:45pm, which is the cut off time. For every lap, a gold star will be awarded after the last lap is completed. If five laps are completed, the fifth star is silver.

During the mandatory pre-race briefing, every BFX competitor receives a black wrist brand and Christopher “Beard” Acord lays down the law: the jerry can and wreck bag carries are always mandatory for BFX and every obstacle has to be valiantly attempted before the penalty exercise of 10 8-count body builders can be done. Merely touching an obstacle isn’t enough and integrity matters.

With a delay of 15minutes, the BFX competitors toe the start line. A few late comers get their punishment for missing the briefing before they receive their wristband and then Coach Pain DeWayne and Beard send us out on the course. He had said earlier that he expects 4 laps out of the male winner and 3 laps out of the female winner.

BattleFrog San Fran - BFX StartAfter having done BFX LA just two weeks before and cruising to five laps, this statement still rang in my ears as I took off down the first bend and soon after found myself completely off-trail but still on-course. This highly technical and slippery terrain would continue throughout the course and serious trail shoes made all the difference. Since mine ripped apart during BFX LA,  I was sliding all over the place with my hybrid race shoes which required extra stabilizing work.

The steep descent soon hit the inevitable “Hill scramble”. About half a mile of nonstop steep incline was waiting and made sure to tax the quads of every runner to the max. Soon after, an easier version of the “Weaver” (easier compared to LA) and the “Wedge Wall” were waiting. This was followed by the famous “Tip of the Spear”. Now, all these obstacles require upper body strength and technique, which makes them a bit painful and challenging. However, since they were placed so early on the course (before the rigs, monkey bars, and carries), they were not as bad as they could have been. Also, dry weather and no muddy obstacles before meant that it was easier to grip the ropes etc.

BattleFrog San Fran - TerrainThe wreck bags, which offer 50lbs of fun for all genders and ages when dry, had taken on easily between 5 and 15lbs of extra water weight due to the rain and dew overnight. The quarter mile carry was exciting thanks to a steep downhill followed by a steep uphill carry – both off-trail on grass. A ton of people chose to slide down the hill sitting down, not trusting their shoes to hold them in place.

An obstacle dreaded by many is the “Jerry Can Carry”. Usually 40lbs per can for the men and 25lbs per can for the women, this very short carry changed as the day went on. The volunteer on site unfortunately didn’t make sure everyone carried their cans back to the pickup point.

The result: Everybody dropped off the cans as close as possible to the end of the carry and after a few hundred people, all cans are suddenly on a slope of the hill instead of on top of it. Even worse, a lot of the cans were dropped and not set down upright. When this happens, the cans leak and become lighter as the water drains out of them. Certainly great for some, but not so great when you are competing and strength is your, well, strength.

At several points – after obstacles or during creek crossings – the little course marking flags got trampled down or were a bit hidden away. At almost every lap I had to point out to others or ask volunteers myself where to go. The course was very well marked, I believe this was simply a result of the “off the beaten path” course design which gave this race a bit of an adventure feeling at times. The route took advantage of the natural obstacles and the various surfaces (creek, trail, off-trail, lake, mud) challenged every racer. Even in my fourth lap, it never got old or repetitive.

Coming back up from Lake Sonoma, a 1.3 mile steep incline that finally led to the “Platinum Rig”. This incarnation offered several long ropes, two low gym rings to step in, two sets of round and square monkey bars, and several high gym rings. On my first two laps I finished the rig without any issues, on my third lap my arms wouldn’t cooperate at the very last ring which I just had to touch, and on the fourth lap I was happy with taking the penalty after going out on the first monkey bars.

After another incline, the 12ft “Rope Walls” marked the difference between Elite/BFX and Open runners. Elite/BFX would turn to the right and continue for their additional lap(s), everyone else who wanted to get to the finish line turned to the left. The “Delta Cargo” net was waiting right in front of the finish line and after a last little bit of muddy trail, the finisher medals were waiting.

Results

Julie Fults got 1st place for the Xtreme Females with a time of 6:52:21 and three laps while I finished in 1st places for the Xtreme Males, getting in four laps in the same amount of time.

bf-sf_bfx-winners

Fun Fact: The 2nd place male finisher had lost his timing chip and came in less than 2 minutes behind me. Since the person handling the results also had to give out the stars for the BFX medals, he was very busy. Somehow none of us realized that the 2nd place finisher asked for a manually entered finish time that suddenly put him in 1st place for BFX! I was sitting right next to him, we chatted for a while since he caught up to me extremely well, and then he took off.

When Beard confirmed the 1st place ranks, I was surprised not to be in 1st since I was 100% certain nobody had passed me. After some emails back and forth on Monday, Beard and the timing team very quickly analyzed the finish line video and confirmed that I indeed arrived before the 2nd place finisher and the results were corrected.

I was very impressed with their professional response and attention to detail, something I have noticed in every conversation with BattleFrog officials. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to the Las Vegas BattleFrog but I would highly recommend this OCR for everyone who is looking for a serious challenge or just wants to mix it up. Show BattleFrog that the West Coast is happy to have them so we can enjoy their races next year again!

Elevation Profile

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