Michigan Spartan Sprint

Michigan Sprint

The Michigan International Speedway played host to the Spartan Race over the weekend of September 9th and 10th, offering a Super distance on Saturday and a Sprint on Sunday. I participated in the Sunday Sprint, which is the distance that will be covered in this race review. Spartan seamlessly used the flat terrain around the stadium as well as integrating the stadium itself into the 5.6 mile Sprint, bridging the gap between a stadium race and a mud run.

Parking Problems

40-degree temperatures greeted the first groups of racers to arrive at the speedway as volunteers dressed in winter coats directed traffic to the lots surrounding the event. The standard $10 was the universal price for parking as no upgraded VIP parking was offered. There was a 10-minute walk to the registration area. This provided racers time to get moving, build up a little body heat and shake out some last minute nerves.

Post-race was a different story. You’re tired and wet and just want to find your car and get out of there! That walk was longer than desired. For some, it was a good chance to catch their breath and walk out some sore muscles. Once registration was complete, there was another short hike required as racers were led under the stadium and track via an underground tunnel to the festival area and start/finish line. Spartan added no surprises during this event, making the course map accurate.

Obstacles

Racers on the infield of the track and additional athletes were then led immediately outside of the stadium. They were greeted with a series of walls to hop over on the way out which started the process of thinning out the crowd. A tunnel under the track provided our opportunity to explore the surrounding racetrack grounds as athletes were led over a series of hurdles set along the grass path. This grass trail continued around to the back side of the track where the O-U-T and vertical cargo net were located. This further thinned out the crowd.

A short distance away we re-entered the stadium through an open gate where a series of obstacles were set up in the infield. This obstacle position provided excellent viewing for family and friends. It was here that Twister, the A frame cargo climb, tire flip, and spear throw were located. If you wanted a bad ass picture of yourself on the Twister or flipping the 200-400 pound tire, this was the race to be at. Spectators were only a few feet away, watching your epic triumph or failure.

Quarter-Mile Challenge

After proceeding past this gauntlet of obstacles, Spartan led racers to a flat section of pavement where each runner was timed passing through two timing mats for their ¼ mile challenge. The top 3 male and female athletes received awards for the fastest times. It was a fun addition to the race.

Spartan began their bucket brigade on the grass trail leading around the back of the stadium. After that, there were a few rolling hills of sand/mud mixture, finished with a cold dip under the dunk wall. Being that Spartan is excellent at combining complicated obstacles with natural obstacles, this was a perfect area to place the slip wall for all soaked runners to climb.

This same sand/mud mixture was also where a long ass barbed wire crawl was situated. This wasn’t your standard crawl as tires and large cones were placed inside the barbed wire to make the transition through much more difficult. Mud and sand-covered racers were then led into a loop around the far side of the grounds where the 7-foot wall and the multi-rig (rings only) were located.

Strength Required

The plate drag and pull was the last obstacle in this loop. After which each athlete reentered the stadium for the hardest obstacle of the day. Welcome to the sandbag carry. Starting on the ground floor, Spartan placed their long and narrow sandbags near a set of steps for a fun trip to the top of the stadium. Every flight was a challenge and an accomplishment.

The decline down the steps was difficult as your legs were taxed and the weight of the sandbag could easily throw a runner off balance. In true Spartan form, after the intense climb up the tower and bleachers, the race had each athlete drop off their sandbag and climb again without the additional weight. If you didn’t hate running stairs before this race, you were bound to after!

The Herc hoist was the last obstacle before Spartan led us back to the racetrack infield through another tunnel. Spartan set up its grand finale of obstacles in front of the crowds for everyone to see. This truly was a spectator’s course. The rope climb tested everyone’s grip strength, after being taxed from the previous hoist.

I laugh as I emphasize grip strength because the evil (or genius) minds of the Spartan team gave us Olympus as the next challenge. The back to back grip and arm strength obstacles gave the crowd a good perspective into the requirements for a strong Spartan finish and a well-earned fire jump.

Aftermath

If you had any juice left in the tank, this was the time to utilize it. Otherwise, you faced the 30 burpee penalty while staring at the finish line, which was only an inverted wall climb and fire jump away.

Upon completion of this grueling course, Spartan offered their normal post-race treats and drinks. Showers and bathroom accommodations were located in the racetrack infield for racers to clean up before their long trek back to their cars.

Outside of the sandbag carry from hell, this course was filled with the standard Spartan familiarity. Z wall and Atlas Stone were not used during the Sprint but were used the previous day on the Super. The distance was slightly longer than most sprints, but Spartan used the stadium and terrain incredibly well and their obstacle setup was specifically and thoughtfully designed to test you and provide great viewing for spectators.

As a racing fan, it was really cool to see some of the stadiums that you don’t typically get to see, and it was thrilling to actually be on the Speedway track. There were plenty of hotels and places to eat near the event.

My final word on this race is that it’s a great one to get to if you live in the Midwest, but I don’t think I’d travel very far to run it. Aroo!

Photos courtesy of Spartan Race

Muscle Up OCR

This year’s Muscle Up OCR took place on August 26th in Spragueville, Iowa. Held on the grounds of a working family farm this 3.75-mile race boasted some outstanding scenery with about 1,100 feet of elevation change. Now, that elevation change doesn’t sound so bad until you show up and see the grade of the hills.

The farm is also used as an ATV course, the trails are torn up with steep banks and water runoff grooves down the center making the terrain difficult and physically draining.

Muscle Up provided chip timing for both the open and competitive heats with cash prizes being awarded to the top 2 male and female competitive finishers in 3 different age groups 14-24 25-40 and 41 and over. Obstacle completion is mandatory in the competitive waves while open class runners are offered a “muscle out” option at many of the stations. This provides an easier version of the same obstacle for those new to the sport that maybe can’t complete all the tougher obstacles.

I consider this the best family run OCR in the Midwest for a number of reasons.

  1. The farm friendly atmosphere. Chances are if you have raced here before they probably remember you and know your name.
  2. Some of the handmade unique obstacles you will not find anywhere else.
  3. For a short course, it’s very demanding. Most racers will be gassed at the end.
  4. Plenty of great views to see while racing.
  5. Competition level. While not huge in numbers there are always a few awesome athletes who show up to race here.

The Course

The course starts off in a fitting location considering it’s held at a working farm.  Racers are released every half an hour behind a barn where a herd of goats are penned up and continues along a dirt track for about half a mile before turning racers into the woods.

This is the point where racers face their first obstacle. The path leads through a series of ravines where downed logs were thrown across the path making for a challenging climb. After racers picked their way through the logs and rocks the trail led back out onto the initial dirt track where we first started.

Racers encountered a few sloppy mud pits as the dirt track turned into marsh before being led up a hill and along a game trail. Along this trail, racers were required to pick up a log to make the climb just that tougher.

At the top of the trail was a series of wooden walls which needed to be traversed with your log then further down the path was a mowed out section of prairie grass cut into a circle. Once completed a racer could now drop off their log and proceed along the prairie trail.

Muscle Up used every ditch, ravine, and section of woods to their advantage and just as racers thought the trail was getting easier Muscle Up set up an Atlas Stone throw over a wall with a cargo net climb a short distance away. This led to what I like to call “the endless hay maze.” Now, this wasn’t the actual name of the obstacle but after getting stuck in this pitch-black zig zag maze I thought it was very fitting.

The Obstacles

After brushing off the hay and finally getting some oxygen into your lungs racers were now led down a hill towards the festival area, but not before having to cross a rope bridge made up of swinging 4×4 posts and climbing down a ladder.

A sled pull and a tire ladder were waiting for athletes at the bottom before being sent back out on the trail.  Steep terrain came into play again as the trail led racers up and down the ATV path in a route design to tire the legs out before being presented a long list of obstacles situated in the flat open field.

First up in this obstacle armageddon was rope swing across a small creek followed up by a rope traverse over that same section of the creek. A monkey bar setup provided your way back across the creek.

A short jog away Muscle Up placed a rope ladder followed up by a long Atlas Stone carry. The last three obstacles set up in this series included a dual bucket carry over a well-constructed set of A frame type ramps with a rope climb immediately after.

The last and perhaps most tricky obstacle was a tire ladder climb. Muscle Up was able to link together a series of tires vertically that swayed and bucked like crazy when you tried to climb up them!

The Final Obstacles

Thoroughly gassed from the energy expenditure on all those obstacles racers were led up a climb that cut through some awesome scenery. Tunnels through weather cut stone was where the trail now went and I really couldn’t help but to look around and take some of it in as I made my way up the path.

The dirt track flattened out once a racer made their way to the top and continued until the trail opened to a section of hurdles made up of 55-gallon drums that were lined up in a row to test one’s leaping ability.

One final climb down a hill was now all that stood in a racers way to the final section of obstacles and the finish line.

A 7-foot wall climb was first up on this last section followed by a series of wooden hurdles. A metal tube provided a low crawl opportunity but not before an American Ninja Warrior style wall lift. I’ve not seen this obstacle anywhere else. A wooden wall was set into a narrow door frame with wheels on the side requiring an athlete to pull the section of wall up in order to scamper to the other side before letting go and having the wall crash back down! Three of these were included in the final section of the course all leading up to a fun water slide which dumped racers into a freezing creek before climbing out and crossing the finish line.

The Festival Area

Since this event is out in the middle of the country Muscle Up did provide a beer/drink tent and had a mobile food truck on site. A shower area was provided, as long as you didn’t mind showering in a barn. A tractor trailer was converted into a sectioned off changing area for athletes needing a change of clothes.

Conclusion

Muscle Up could have used a few more volunteers in key locations such as the log carry and the barrel hurdles during the competitive waves just to keep people honest. The photography for the event was pretty much just people taking shots with their phone which was kind of a shame because of all the neat obstacles. I personally come to this event every year and it’s never failed to meet my expectations.

 

Epic Series Orange County

About Epic Series OCR

The Huntington Beach Sports Complex played host to the latest Epic Series OCR event on August 12th in Huntington Beach, California. This unique OCR based on functional fitness currently hosts events in Southern California only, but after reading this review you may want to schedule a trip or vacation around one of these magnificent events.

What is Epic Series you ask? My best description is that it’s an awesome blend of functional fitness movements with OCR obstacles set around a circular course with a total distance of about 1.5 miles. It’s almost like an extended CrossFit competition without the complicated movements with the weight used at each obstacle station scaled into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced difficulty levels.

For the Competitive waves, obstacle completion is mandatory and the obstacle standards are strict (men must do Advanced-level obstacles and women must do at least Intermediate-level obstacles). In the open class, it’s more about fun with no mandatory obstacle completion, no penalties, and the ability to choose which difficulty level to complete. This makes the event challenging but doable for any athletic ability level. Although if you were to choose to run a Competitive class there was a little bonus competition after the race that I’ll get into later.

Course Design

Epic Series designs their courses in a large circle similar to a track with rows of obstacle stations located in the middle, which requires way less space than a normal OCR and makes viewing perfect because all the obstacles are right in front of the spectators the whole time. Epic could even hold one of their events indoors at a stadium or convention center if they desired, but the course for this event was set in the parking lot of a sports complex.

Waves started at 8 a.m. with each wave thereafter starting about 5 minutes after the previous wave. I personally thought this might lead to log jams on the course but it didn’t really appear to be too much of an issue as athletes moved swiftly from station to station. The only time athletes from different waves merged together was during the runs around the perimeter circle during different segments of the race, some requiring carrying of different objects that I’ll get into later.

The start of Epic always consists of a flag lap. Large Epic Series flags are used and require racers to run around the perimeter circle then dropped back off near the start. Now, this is when the real fun begins. Starting through the first row of obstacle stations racers immediately encountered a ladder wall. Once up and over the wall was the Atlas Stone station. A ten-repetition requirement was required here with athletes hoisting the stones over their shoulders and dropping them onto a mat. Larger mats really could have been used here, as many stones missed the mats and ended up being turned into rubble on the parking lot floor. I personally broke two of them and hope I don’t get a bill in the mail!

Moving onto the next station Epic set up rows of boxes for burpee box jumps that left most gasping for air. Again, the heights of the boxes and rep count varied depending on the difficulty level. The last station in the first row of obstacles was the balance pegs. This unique obstacle was set up in three sections of curved beams linked together with pegs installed every two feet apart. Another lap around the perimeter, this time with a weight scaled slosh pipe, ended the first section of obstacles once the lap was completed.

 

Row two started off with a series of banded bunny hops. Twice down and back facing frontwards and another two times down and back shuffling side to side. After taking off the band it was onto the Russian Twists. A weight scaled medicine ball was used for this 20-repetition side to side abdominal buster.

The Triwall climb, a wall with three different heights for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced levels, was set up to climb over next leading right into the overhead squat station. Light weight pipes were used in this 30-repetition movement and most athletes knocked these out very quickly.

A rope climb for two repetitions was the last obstacle in this section leading to another sprint lap around the perimeter. Now the rope climb was a tad short. In fact, a taller athlete could just jump and hit the bell. In my opinion, Epic should find a way to make this setup a bit taller for future events. A rope with knots and a cargo net were provided for those who could not complete a rope climb.

After the sprint lap, row three started off with a keg hoist up to the top of the pulley for three repetitions then it was onto the dreaded squat wall. This was a time scaled wall sit with legs at 90 degrees while holding an hour glass with straight arms out in front of you until your time was finished and was a total bitch to do!

With quads on fire, another series of 15 burpee box jumps was next on the list and was seriously punishing after those damn wall sits! An inverted wall climb was the last obstacle in this row and was finished off by picking up two jerry cans for the farmer carry run around the perimeter of the course. This was a total grip strength, lower back, and trap buster!

(photos by: JamieHinesphoto.com)

The hourglass was used once again starting off the next row of obstacles. This time you had to watch the sand slowly moving while holding a plank position. This was almost like mental torture, come on sand, move!

The next station in this row were the lumberjacks. These consisted of metal 4×4 tubes connected to the ground by a pivot anchor. An athlete had to pick up the pipe and walk it up till it landed on the ground on the other side for a total of 16 repetitions. This Epic unique obstacle is one of my favorites combining a deadlift and military press type movement in one and really gets your heart pumping. Another ladder wall and inverted wall completed this row of obstacles and the following lap around the perimeter was completed while carrying a medicine ball.

The last section of obstacles started off with Barnaby’s beast. This was a wall traverse up and over using rock climbing holds as anchors. After completion was another Epic only obstacle. A bow and arrow were used to hit a metal target set up a few yards away. A rubber stopper was used on the end of the arrow and a net was setup behind the targets making this a fun and safe obstacle.

After playing Robin Hood a low cargo crawl was next up leading to an over and under obstacle. Plastic tubing was set up a couple feet off the ground and an athlete had to jump over and then crawl under to the other side before repeating this suckfest for division scaled reps. One last triwall was now the only thing between you and your keg.

No not beer, this last run around the perimeter required an athlete to hoist a keg onto their shoulders for the entire lap. Once the lap was completed and the keg dropped off it was a 20-yard sprint to the finish!

(photos by: JamieHinesphoto.com)

Now had you run the open class your day was now complete. But, if you ran Competitive you had a choice to compete in a grueling separate course for more bling. Epic separated this into strength and endurance courses with the same obstacles but different weights. Actual judges followed you around counting reps and checking to make sure lifts were completed properly.

Action started off with a truck pull for a short distance followed immediately by a push press station with added chains just for fun. Once complete a deadlift station was setup just a few feet away. An Atlas Stone was set up next and required an athlete to hoist the stone over a wall then required the athlete to follow the stone over by jumping over the wall.

A heavy farmer carry was next up followed right away by tire flips. Step-ups with kettlebells in each hand followed up the tire flips then it was on to a sandbag lunge. A final sprint to the finish completed this brutal short set up. This truly separated the men from the boys and I can see why Epic only offered this to the elite athletes. It was not for the faint of heart.

The set up on this was a tad sketchy, as the pavement was not flat here causing Atlas stones and weights to roll down the lot and the bars with weights for the push press and deadlift used old twist collars which came loose after each rep. But the challenge was still awesome, kind of an old-school let’s see who can get it done while everyone is watching type event with friends screaming at each other for encouragement.

Trophies were given out to the top 3 Male and Female athletes in two classes, Under 39 and over 40, on the competitive course along with the top 3 Male and female athletes on the Elite Strength and Endurance course. As an added bonus an Epic Series WWE style belt was given to the top Male and Female on the Strength and Endurance course! With the rapid growth of Epic continuing I’d personally like to see top 3 age group medals awarded in 5 year age increments for future Competitive events. Medals are cheap and everyone likes a chance to score some extra bling.

(photos by: JamieHinesphoto.com)

Festival Area

A kid’s course made the event a truly family event. Geared more towards just getting kids active the obstacles were not hard but the kids could run the course as many times as they wanted. Lots of vendors were located around the festival area and parking was right next to the event for a cost of only a dollar. Photographers were all over the event capturing “Epic” shots as you competed and were free to all.

The bathroom set up was just awful. Two bathrooms on each end for a grand total of four were just not enough as long lines were seen the entire day. Race bling and shirts were awesome as always and results were posted quickly.

So, although Epic has a few things to iron out it’s my opinion that any OCR or CrossFit junkie really should make their way to Southern California to try one of their events. This is my personal favorite race series due to the great blend of functional obstacles. So, if you don’t like the mud, don’t like to run much, or just want to try a different kind of OCR give Epic Series OCR a try!

(photos by: JamieHinesphoto.com)

Savage Race Chicago 2017

Savage Race is known for coming up with new and innovative obstacles year after year and the 2017 edition of their Chicago race was no exception. With many race series turning down the difficulty level Savage constantly brings up their game and it’s refreshing to experience firsthand. I can easily see why attendance at their events continues to grow event after event as word of their commitment to putting on a great event spreads after each race. Pulling up to their event at Richardson Adventure Farms on the Wisconsin/Illinois border with my family I found parking to be a breeze with costs ranging from 10 dollars to 25 for the up-close VIP lot. Lines for the pro/elite check in were extremely long with only two lanes open while the open class had many more lanes open with next to nobody in line. With the popularity of their pro/elite class soaring it might be wise to shift some of their volunteer help during early check in from the empty lines to the full lines. Bathrooms in the festival area were also grossly underestimated. Athletes were lined up 6 deep before the start to take care of their pre-race evacuation further cutting down on some athletes warm up time. The festival area itself was well planned and spacious with a decent number of vendors along with plenty of tables and chairs for athletes to hang out post-race with friends and family.

Savage started out their 6.3-mile course by running athletes around the back side of the farm for four tenths of a mile, thinning out the crowd some before throwing racers down on the ground for a barbed wire low crawl. The course was very backloaded with obstacles and the terrain at Richardson Farm was extremely flat with only 100 feet of elevation change throughout the entire course. The Barn Doors came up quickly and afterward, this obstacle consisted of an 8-foot wall climb and was the second obstacle Savage threw at racers before a cool dip in a container of ice water Savage appropriately called Shriveled Richard. Unlike some events that just use cold hose water this quick bath included perhaps more ice than actual water leaving most gasping for air upon completion. With our bodies now stiff from the ice bath Savage led racers away from the farm and into the crops and country side for some trail running while throwing racers under a few barrels {Squeeze Play} and testing our agility with a series of 5-foot walls with barbed wire low crawls set in-between. One more barbed wire low crawl through a pit of mud started athletes on a path around a lake and across a busy road that was thankfully blocked off by local law enforcement and on to an inverted wall set up on the adjoining property. Tree Hugger, a pole to log to pole traverse, was the first test of an athlete’s grip and body control. Luckily plenty of dried cut grass was laying around for anyone to use to wipe off the remaining mud from the previous low crawl.

After hitting the bell at the end of Tree Hugger it was back on the trail leading up to a series of climbs. The Great Wall {9 foot} and The Big Cheese, a semi-circle with triangular slots cut into it, were set along a path of twists and turns through the pine trees which led racers up to the Savage slip wall. Scared of heights or swimming? Davey Jones Locker was the next obstacle Savage set up along the trail. The high dive type jump into a water pit always looks higher when you’re on top looking down at the water and always causes a few racers to turn around and climb off the apparatus. After climbing out of the water pit Lumberjack Lane was a short jog away. This wooden beam carry consisted of an incredibly short trip in a circle around a few pine trees and really should have been made longer, especially since Savage used this location as one of their photo zones. Kiss My Walls was the first Savage obstacle that had long lines of racers waiting for their turn as this wall traverse used rock climbing hand and feet holds causing for many slips and falls. The inverted wall design with the top sticking out farther than the bottom really added to the grip strength test with some of the pro wave giving up their bands on this pesky obstacle. Shaking out our hands to help dissipate the lactic acid build up racers now made their way through the pines to the Pole Cat. This Savage unique obstacle consisted of parallel poles placed horizontally at different heights and required an athlete to place one’s feet on one section while placing hands on the section directly across. A sideways crawl got an athlete across this obstacle while a slip meant getting wet in the water pit placed below.

One of my favorite obstacles was next up for racers. Wheel World is a set of spinning wheels suspended over a water pit requiring an athlete to traverse from one spinning wheel to the other and makes for a great test of grip strength and body control! Now making our way back towards the lake and festival area Savage stacked the Block Party, a cement block on a rope pull towards and carry back, and the first of the Savage rigs. This new rig for 2017 was about average difficulty wise and consisted of a few rings, three low monkey bars onto a dual rope and ring finish. A slap or kick of the bell signaled completion of all Savage rigs and you could hear bells ringing all throughout the course. Another new obstacle for this year, Hangarang, was next in line for racers. This balance obstacle was truly unlike any other in the world of OCR. Two logs were set in line and suspended off the ground by chains at either end. The goal here was to cross the logs without falling off which would require a restart. The last obstacle before racers were led back across the road to Richardson Farms was the Big Ass cargo net, this A frame climb was on par with every other cargo climb in the industry but was still taxing nevertheless. After a stretch of running on a dirt path Savage set up their second new rig, Rig Over Water was precisely that. Rings and ropes suspended over a water pit was a nice addition to the race for 2017 and provided another chance for racers to test their body control.

Making our way back to the festival area now Savage set up their Colossus obstacle. A slip wall climb up to a giant water slide usually makes for great fun, but the water wasn’t working during the pro/elite wave so a simple climb up and then right back down was the work around Savage came up with. The popular Sawtooth monkey bar traverse was next up on our way along the course and is a favorite photo location for athletes of all levels. For those thinking this race was close to done and in the bag, Savage set up the toughest rig yet. Whirly Bird proved to be a pro/elite band stealer and general pain in the ass for all racers. This handle to cluster of small ropes repeated traverse was a brutal test of grip strength and coordination. The lines were huge here as the pro/elite class racers had to repeat until completion and were made even longer by the open class racers following them. This was another new obstacle for 2017 and I tipped my cap to Savage for coming up with it as I handed over my band to the volunteer after failing repeated tries at this beast. This was the make or break obstacle for the pro/elite wave and separated the haves from the have nots. After either crushing or being crushed by Whirly Bird Savage set up another fan favorite. Teeter Tuber, an obstacle placing an athlete into a claustrophobic tube requiring a racer to climb up in the small tube to a point where the Teeter Tuber over causing one to slide down to the ground on the other side. One last new horizontal traverse was now all that separated a racer from the fire jump finish. Mad Ladders was an innovative obstacle consisting of a wooden ladder on each side of a suspended cargo net in the middle. Lots of spinning around on this one till you figured it out, most likely using up the last of your grip strength in the process.

The 2017 Savage Race series is certainly worth doing as anyone from a pro to a novice would enjoy the new challenges. Savage provides a great combination of running along with ever evolving fun obstacles that will test you. This also continues to be one of my favorite race series because of their awards setup. 66 different medals are given out to age group, overall, masters, and team top finishers down to third place giving athletes a great chance to score some extra bling. And speaking of extra bling if you race more than Savage Race you also qualify for the huge Savage Syndicate medal. This monster of bling really looks great around your neck or hanging on your wall. Race photos and bruises were free as always along with the great memories!

Photo Credit: Savage Race


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Frontline OCR

It’s rare to see a startup OCR that thoroughly impresses, but the Frontline OCR held July 8th at Dellwood Park in Lockport, Illinois did pretty much that. Put on by four obstacle racers with ties to the first responder community, this inaugural 5-mile event featured innovative new obstacles along with new twists on some of the standard obstacles. The Frontline theme of the event tied its obstacles into dealing with physical obstructions that first responders or military might encounter doing their job and adapted that into construction of their course to bring a new feel to an OCR. Frontline offered three different levels of competition for athletes. Open class, endurance class which was a multi lap option, and their Special Forces class. This was Frontlines elite wave and came with a unique twist. Each elite racer was given a 15-pound weight vest at registration to be worn during the race. Failure to complete an obstacle meant giving up your vest, however if an athlete completed all obstacles on the course they could keep their vest! The top 3 finishers then competed head to head in the Blitzkrieg round consisting of a new section of the course to determine the champ. This was the division the great guys at Frontline picked for me to do while covering their race and I’m still cussing them for it! Parking for the event was right on location at the park grounds, and a short walk away was registration along with a good dose of vendor booths and bathrooms.

At 8 am the Special Forces elite wave started off with Coach Pain giving the opening pep talk with all elites taking a knee in a dumpster. Yes, a more unusual starting location I’ve never seen but the large dumpster held us all tight.  When the wooden barrier was removed athletes, all took off over the timing strip laid on the ground and made our way into the woods and dry creek bed of the park. The uneven terrain and extra weight of the vest made footing iffy as racers came up to the first set of obstacles which consisted of cables strung horizontally across the trail which Frontline appropriately called Clothesline. After ducking low to keep our head attached we continued along the trail where a set of 4 foot walls stood in our path. Frontline now led racers out of the woods and into an open field area where an inverted wall was placed along with a dug out military crawl with a section of barbed wire right next to it. After rolling our way out of the wire racers were led back into the woods along a trail which led to a single six foot high wall and onto and a section of the park where a trio of softball fields was located with one giant hill in the middle. Frontline chose this location for a grip strength testing carry obstacle using authentic ammo cans. Now these cans were not large but they were full, and you could really start to feel the strain on your traps during the return trip over the hill. After racers placed their cans back onto the pallet it was back into the woods for another jaunt along the creek bed. It was at this point of the race, about a third of the way through, that you could start feeling the effects of that extra 15 pounds of weight.

Now being led away from the softball fields and back into the park, Frontline set up their version of a slack line which was strung between trees with a rope stung across the top for help with the balance aspect of the tough obstacle.  Once completed racers again made their way through the woods where a brand-new obstacle awaited. The Fugitive was a series of one foot in diameter pipes that were suspended vertically between sections of trees and required racers to navigate from one cylinder to the other without touching the ground. I found this unique obstacle to be a great test of grip strength and body control! The last obstacle set up in the woods was a ladder climb with another great Frontline twist. The bottom rung of the rope ladder was removed requiring athletes to pull themselves up to the second rung to start their climb. Once the ladder climb was completed racers were once again led back into the open field area where a series of trenches had to be negotiated on our way to the unique Frontline rig. This innovative rig configuration consisted of a 2X6 suspended high and held by chains for a hands only traverse which then dropped down to a section of a balance beam to cross, then a repeat of the suspended 2×6 and balance beam which was all situated in a roofed pavilion. The next section of the course caused the greatest race controversy. A multi path series of tubes either sent racers on to the next obstacle which was a multi rope traverse, or sent racers along a longer path which contained a weaver. This was purely a luck obstacle and Frontline’s thinking on this was you never know what to expect as a first responder and I totally get that. But when money and sponsorships are on the line for elite racers the majority of them wanted a level playing field. Thanks to my wife screaming at me to take the shortcut tube I avoided the weaver but in all honesty I would have liked to try it in race conditions.

After the rope traverse Frontline had dug out a pit and suspended 2×12 sections of wood across the top connecting them with metal tubes for another grip killing traverse. A rope was thankfully provided for an athlete to pull oneself out of the pit which then led along a trail and over a bridge where tires were laid down for the old football high knee drill. Once a racer got done feeling like Walter Payton Frontline led athletes into VFW Park where a slip wall was located, with a damn sprinkler spraying water onto it! Trying to get your feet under on this was a knee buster for sure. When you finally managed to gut out the slip wall crossing it was back to the bridge where a semi tire flip was set up for a down and back hamstring killer. Now that your hamstrings and lower back were on fire, Frontline guided racers up a flight of stairs for a concrete block carry/drag. It was here that numerous people got off track. With the flags to the right leading one way and the tape on the inside leading back to the start of the carry I noticed some people following the flags further into the park. I personally followed the tape back to the start but those who didn’t follow the tape and instead followed the flags were led off course. I found the blocks not to terribly difficult to carry but the effects of the weight vest were really starting to take its toll here. After dropping off our blocks and heading down a hill Frontline stationed a wall traverse borrowed from The Abominable Snow race. This unique wall traverse consisted of the normal 2×4 sections screwed into the wall but this one had an expansion between the two wall sections where a 2×10 connected the two wall segments for a hand only crossing from one segment to another before finally sending racers up a steep hill where a set of two 8-foot walls needed climbed over.

 

The last section of the Frontline course proved to be perhaps the most difficult. Already thoroughly gassed athletes came upon a cargo net set over a huge concrete dam which led to a series of nasty tunnels located in and around the dam. Making our way out of the stagnate water more steep hills awaited us on way to a standard rope climb which surprisingly had no volunteer on site to make sure the obstacle was completed. Now at the back end of the park with grip strength fading an inverted wall was set up to gas you just a bit more before being send down another steep hill. Frontline was nice enough here to add ropes to aid in our descent to the bottom where a log carry over balance beams and a short wall awaited. A series of semi-trailers was next up for athletes to run through our way to three brutal last obstacles. A 7 foot high Irish Table was an absolute killer for most including yours truly then a 20 foot warped wall with the last four feet being completely vertical! Now Frontline installed a small section of rope hanging down from the top to aid in the climb but it was still super tough! If you managed to make it through those two killers you got the pleasure of trying to negotiate the last obstacle. A Platinum Rig was the last thing now standing between a racer and the finish line. This required hands only crossing and many of those elites who still had their vests on lost them here.

 

I found this event to be more geared towards a seasoned racer. The obstacles presented would have been difficult to overcome even without the elite vest on. Frontline used the terrain very well and came up with some new and tough obstacles. It was fairly easy for spectators to view and the race bling was super. I’d highly recommend anyone with some training to try this event but this might not be your course if you are new to OCR racing. Everything in the festival area was easy to get to and the volunteers were friendly, although not particularly knowledgeable. A kid’s course was also included and offered a multi lap setup to tire out the little ones. The only negative things I heard were about the chance obstacle and a small section of course that could have been marked better. So congrats to Frontline on their first event and I’m looking forward to their next one!

Photo Credit: Frontline OCR

BadAss Dash Chicago

The BadAss Dash made a return to the Chicagoland area on Saturday, July 8, 2017, at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, IL. Adult participants had the opportunity to compete on a challenging, yet attainable, chip-timed 7K (4.4 miles) course, with 42 obstacles to conquer. Racers chose between the Elite and the Recreational Division. The Elite racers were awarded prizes for the fastest finishing time. There was a Kids Dash Division which was divided into two groups, by age. A 400-yard Kids Dash course is designed for ages 4-6 and featured age and size appropriate obstacles. For ages 7-13, kids race on a 2K (1.25 mile) course with an appropriate mix of obstacles. Finally, there was a K-9 Companion Course. Zuke’s K-9 Companion Division is for teams consisting of one runner (14 years of age and up), and one canine (one year of age and up) of any size, shape or breed. The 5K (3.1 miles) course is specifically designed to create a fun and challenging adventure for the runner and his/her canine.

I am a recreational runner, so I chose that division to run. Upon entering the venue area, everything was well marked and easy to find. Parking was a breeze and very close. All volunteers and officials were very friendly and helpful through packet pick-up and bag check-in. Restrooms were easy to find and signs directed us to the start line.

Once the racers were off at the sound of an air-horn, after a brief run over to a grassy area, their first obstacle was doing 15 push-ups.  After that, they had some small hills to run, and ended up at the “Lunges” obstacle. Athletes carried a two-by-four across their shoulders while doing several lunges down and back.  The distance of this was challenge was painfully long! This was the end of the first mile and where a much-needed water station was perfectly located.

After rehydrating, runners were led into a parking lot for several more obstacles. Distances to run between obstacles were minimal. These obstacles consisted of jumping over road blocks, rolling car tires, carrying one or two sandbags around a flagged off area, and carrying 25 or 50-pound medicine balls. A short jog led runners through an “under/over assault” consisting of road blocks to climb under and flag lines to jump over. It was on to another parking lot. This is where the obstacles became more interesting. Runners had to jump into a pool and walk/run/swim to the other side, ducking under bungee cords. It was a nice way to cool off! There were several wall climbs, marine hurdles, and a fun cargo net climb. The “chin-up” obstacle was just that. 5 chin-ups, anyway you can get them. Once again, BadAss Dash placed a much-needed rehydration station at mile 2.

The climbing theme continued with “plank it”. A runner was to place his/her hands on one wooden beam, and extend their body across a 5-ft span to another wooden beam. The runner then traversed their way down the beams, holding themselves up as not to fall in. Volunteers were especially helpful here as many racers found themselves unsure of their abilities to reach the span. They did a terrific job of helping us feel confident and were very encouraging. After some “little ladder walls”, which were not so little, and a “crazy cargo climb”, a cargo net up, over, and down a semi-trailer, runners got to climb over a series of 3 rock walls. Runners were faced with “mount wedge-more” where they used a rope to climb an inclined wall, then rappelled down the other side. A few more obstacles, including a “claustrophobic crawl” through very narrow tunnels, rounded out mile 3. And just as expected, another rehydration station!

Mile four started with an enormous roll under an extremely long net that left many runners too dizzy to stand. BadAss was testing our balance abilities here. They had us hop into potato sacks and hop down and back the length of the parking median. This obstacle was great for the kid’s race, but most adults I heard talking said this was lame. I agree. Next, runners had to “high knee” through a sea of tires. Quite difficult for those of us still dizzy! “Balls to the wall” was a fun take on a traverse wall. Doorknobs were attached to the wall rather than the standard two-by-four pieces. It was time to head inside the Sears Centre after a jog down to the lower level, and a quick stop at hydration station number 4!

Once inside the air-conditioned arena, runners were to climb up two tall inflatable slides and slide down them before heading to the stairs. Approximately 16 flights of stadium stairs were covered before heading back outside. Racers had to navigate a series of bungee cord webs through a “human car wash”, crawl through more tunnels, and head over to the “Australian Back Crawl”. This obstacle was likely much more fun earlier in the day. It consisted of a black tarp spread across a rather steep hill. A cargo net was placed over the tarp. Racers were to lie on their backs and use the net to crawl up the hill. The problem my group had was that there wasn’t enough water on the tarp. The sun was quick to dry the water being sprayed from a hose. And the person spraying wasn’t continuously spraying; only every now and then. I found my skin sticking to the tarp. It felt like my shoulder blades were burning from the heat of the tarp since I was wearing a tank top. We were almost done! The last obstacle was the “mammoth monkey bars”. The bars were spaced far apart, and there was some kind of sandpaper type material glued to the top of each bar. The theory was this would help people so they wouldn’t slip off as easily. I didn’t slip, but without gloves, this was very uncomfortable.

Once crossing the finish line, there was bottled water and half bananas and orange slices for the racers. Volunteers cut off the timing chip and handed those over 21 a drink ticket for a free celebratory beer. There were several vendors advertising their products or services at booths and tents in the festival area.

Overall, this was a terrific race for a novice. There were no extreme distances to run without obstacles breaking it up. And many of the obstacles were easily achievable. For the Recreational Division, there were no penalties for incomplete obstacles, which is perfect for those who feel physically unable to do some of the more difficult ones. The course was clean and very well marked. My biggest compliment goes out to the volunteers. They were very encouraging, helpful, and had a great sense of humor. Elite runners would have been disappointed with the lack of differentiated challenges. Only a few obstacles allowed for this skill level difference. The BadAss Dash at Sears Centre was very spectator friendly. All areas of the course were accessible to family and friends who were there to cheer on their runners. Finally, this was the best kids race that my children have ever run in. The 9-13-year-olds were chip timed and ran a portion of the adult obstacles. Heats of 30 children were released at a time to keep the kids safely spread out on the course. The 2K distance was a well-balanced challenge of running, stairs, and obstacles. Again, volunteers were plentiful and helpful. What a great way to get them prepared for their racing future!

My only concern with this race is with its name. I have young children who love to race and show off their accomplishments but cannot take their medal to school to show off because of the word Ass. Nor can they really talk about it! We call it the “Bad Dash” at our house. I can’t help but wonder if more would be interested if the name did not contain a common swear word.

Photo Credit: Author