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

Spartan Race – Lambeau Larceny?

How would you like to race at the stadium where the Ice Bowl was played? Or where Brett Favre and Reggie White terrorized the NFL? Well, on June 24th Spartan Race made that happen by bringing their stadium series to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Being raised in the Midwest, I jumped at the opportunity to sign my whole family up and spend the entire day racing and taking in the sights at the historic stadium. While I left feeling like Spartan could have done way more in terms of bringing better, more challenging obstacles to the venue, I still feel the trip was good family fun.

With light rain and cool temps starting off the day, athletes and spectators were happy to find plenty of free parking around the stadium upon arrival. Usually Spartan tries to squeeze every cent out of racers by charging outrageous parking fees or bussing racers in from a distance away for a normally charged 10-dollar fee, but I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to donate a kidney for parking at Lambeau. A quick trip through registration led you right up the steps and into the legendary stadium where the start and finish were located. Plenty of stadium access allowed for spectators and fans to take pictures of the iconic venue or of their favorite racer. Overpriced food and drinks were being sold inside the stadium, but if you go to a game this is what you expect anyway right? Ok, enough about me being in awe of my surroundings and onto the race.

Athletes were led up one of the pedestrian ramps where we waited in line to be in the next group of 15 that got to stand on our Spartan mats until being told to go. Spartan had strung bungee cords across the ramps making everyone going up the ramps immediately drop down or get on all fours on their way to the top. A series of 4-foot walls were the first set of obstacles in our path before being led outside for what was our first of numerous stair runs. After a set of 20 hands clear pushups, we were led back out to the stadium steps where we picked up our lovely sandbags for even more stairs! Now with quads thoroughly gassed, Spartan had athletes make their way down to the ground floor where after a 6-foot wall climb, were a quick series of obstacles in a row including the rope climb, rolling thunder, and the box jump station. These three obstacles were on the main concourse, which made it easy for family and friends to spot their favorite racers.

Another dose of stair running was up next and Spartan felt that made racers just winded enough for them to throw the rig at them. The Spartan rig used at Lambeau consisted of all rings until the last two grip stations where baseballs were used instead of rings. Once an athlete negotiated the Spartan rig, it was on to… you guessed it! More stairs! These stairs led down which made racers happy and continued leading racers outside of the stadium for a brief time with a series of obstacles starting with the Z wall. A short jog away, Spartan placed the A frame cargo net, spear throw and the concrete block carry/burpee challenge. Now running back into the stadium for yet another round of stairs, racers encountered the 7 and 8-foot wall climbs back to back leading around the corner and onto the main concourse once again. The Herc Hoist and ball slams were in this easy to view area and provided yet another great opportunity for people to see their favorite racers up close. Both the hoist and the slam balls seemed to most racers to be noticeably lighter than usual.

The last leg of Lambeau started with racers crawling up bungee banded stairs on all fours to the top of the stadium where a thick, weighted jump rope with a nice large knot in the middle was waiting and requiring 20 hops before proceeding back down the stairs and through the Gladiator Gauntlet made up of large punching bags. As always, fruit, snack bars, and drinks were located at the finish line along with the unique stadium series medal.

After taking a bit to reflect on the race, a few thoughts came to mind. I felt Spartan could have done way more with this event. Now, it may have been a perfect starter race for someone, and I’m sure the regular racer really would have enjoyed the event. But for those who have been to a few Spartan Races, or for those who train hard and really expected a challenge, this was not your race. The winning male Elite time of Robert Killian was 22:06. This is faster than most people’s 5k time and had to set the record for the fastest Sprint ever. Reported distance ranged from 2.4 to 2.6 miles and I left the race feeling a bit ripped off. I can’t imagine those elite/competitive racers who put down a couple hundred bucks for this race were happy about its length.

A few of the new, and old obstacles were missing even though I thought the venue provided plenty of room. The obstacles missing were:

  1. Monkey Bars
  2. Atlas Stone
  3. Twister
  4. Olympus
  5. Jug Carry
  6. Vertical Cargo Net
  7. Rowing Machine

Also, at no time during the race were athletes led through locker rooms or onto the field. This would have certainly added to the experience of racing Lambeau and who knows? Maybe Lambeau wouldn’t let Spartan into these areas. Also, Spartan held their Minnesota Sprint on the same day. Having two races on the same day in the same geographic area was very poor planning. Local athletes in the upper Midwest basically had to choose between the two. Mike Ferguson, last year’s Minnesota Sprint champ, told me he would have liked to defend his title but the lure of racing at Lambeau was too strong to pass up for the Packer fan. So, my final say on the Lambeau Sprint was that Spartan just laid out a basic event and counted on the location to draw in racers.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

The Battlegrounds

The first of two events held at the permanent OCR location called The Battlegrounds near Cedar Lake Missouri was held on May 20th in what could best be called monsoon rains. The OCRWC qualifying course was originally designed to be a 5-mile loop, but due to the heavy rain, race director Robert Holm was forced to scramble and reroute the course before the 8 am start. This made the course longer, as racers were now required to complete two 3.15 mile loops. So, while racers missed out on some of the fantastic obstacles on the back end of the course, they got to hit some of the signature obstacles that the Battlegrounds featured such as The Gauntlet and The Drop Zone twice. This also caused some course crowding due to racers coming across other racers from the next wave on their second lap. With the extremely sloppy terrain and loads of racers lined up at each obstacle, times were slowed. But with over 2,500 athletes racing, there really was nothing much more race management could do, and I applaud their efforts.

The race started a half an hour late due to the quick course redesign with the elite wave of men and women leaving from the festival area with Coach Pain leading the cheers on the microphone. The cut grass trail racers were led down quickly became a muddy mess as athletes raced away from the festival area and onto their first series of mud mounds. All the recent added rain water made every dip into the water a chilling experience! Now cold, wet, and muddy athletes were back onto the trail racing towards the hanging grape vines of the winery across the street. A series of low hurdles was the next set of obstacles for racers to overcome before being led through another freezing pond of water and muck. Back out of the pit the trail became even worse with all the water dripping off athletes making an already sloppy track miserable. Now it was onto a moat crawl with a twist. For open racers, it was just a basic moat crawl, but for elite racers, fencing was added over the top where only a few precious inches separated the water and the fencing testing your lung power and mental toughness. A short jog led us next to the first of two tall cargo net climbs on the course. Another dip into a small pond with a hurdle in the middle and crawl through a mud pit that resembled soup led racers back round to the festival area where the second cargo net climb was located.  A lake crossing on a series of floating pontoon rafts tested one’s balance to the maximum and lifeguards were stationed on both sides of the traverse for safety.

After a brief jaunt back towards the festival area, a low crawl through the drainage tubes under a low bridge awaited racers before being required to climb up a wooden ladder to the top of a platform where a huge water slide was waiting. Once you flew down the slide into the freezing water an athlete had to swim a brief distance and climb out of the water pit area over stacked tractor tires. The trail now circled away from the festival area in a sloppy loop where just keeping your balance in the much was difficult. The nasty trail loop rounded back to the festival area where an inverted wall and a 6-foot-high Irish Table was waiting before climbing up a mud mound to The Drop Zone. Don’t like the high dive at your local pool? Well this very much resembled that feeling because this obstacle required one to jump from a height over 10 feet into a pool and swim out, luckily there were lifeguards stationed all around the pool! At least you got to wash the mud off you right? Hope you were not tired from your swim cause the next task was a wreckbag trail run where the footing was basically nonexistent. The rains had made all trails very difficult to navigate.

After finally making it out of the woods with your wreck bag, a massive mud mound was waiting for you to climb over….with your wreckbag. Talk about a total suckfest! One of the Battlegrounds signature obstacles was next up. The Gauntlet is an obstacle of chance and luck and caused many people, including myself, to get very wet. Suspended over a water pit are a series of lane, that all include a different configuration, on which you must traverse from one side to the other. There may be a fence to cross, or ropes, or a balance beam, or a rock wall. Pick the wrong lane and fall requires one to swim out and start over. Tired after The Gauntlet? Well up next was a pole traverse suspended in the air where an athlete could only use your hands to cross, no leg help here. There was even Air Force personnel there making damn sure you made it all the way to the end before continuing. A lateral rope traverse led athletes towards the finish but not before a slick warped wall climb that would knock the wind out of even the strongest of racers. One last climb over a semi-trailer and one last dip into a small pond were now all that stood between a racer and the finish!

After crossing the finish line, plenty of snacks and drinks were provided and more substantial meals could be purchased in the festival area along with Battlegrounds swag. Plenty of showers were provided to wash all that muck off and they even had two areas where you could get blasted with a fire hose to get that stubborn mud off, plus a few layers of skin. Parking and photos were free and the festival and parking area were easy to navigate. The ability of race management to adjust on the fly really made this a fun event. The conditions sucked, so if you thought ocr was just a “mud run” you wouldn’t have been far off here and although the back half of the course was rerouted there were still plenty of tough obstacles to overcome and I felt thoroughly tested. This event boasted over 2,500 racers and I’ll certainly be back for their next event September 23rd.

Photo Credit: Battlegrounds

Epic Series Los Angeles

So, you like your OCR’s with a little less running and a few more obstacles huh? Does less run, more fun sound right up your alley? Then the Epic Series might be your future event of choice. With obstacles often lined up back to back and total running distances typically less than 2 total miles, Epic offers the ultimate OCR test of functional fitness. The Southern California based company held one of their outstanding events on April 23 at the Los Angeles Police Academy across the street from Dodger Stadium, and I was lucky enough to get the assignment to cover the event. This marked my second time covering an Epic event and the blend of functional fitness and OCR immediately made this my favorite race series. Epic offers three different levels of intensity on each obstacle. For Elite men and women, and for Open runners the difficulty will vary accordingly. For example, a keg carry meant a full keg for men’s elite, half full for women’s elite and empty for open class runners. As a bonus, elite division racers also got to participate in an extra CrossFit style event after the race for more trophies, which I’ll explain later in this article.


Waves started off at 8 a.m. with the elite division leading the way with upcoming waves following every 5 minutes. The Epic flag lap started off the course with a jog around the track carrying a large Epic Series flag on a pole. As a matter of fact, all obstacles were placed inside the track area making the course very compact and offering a great view for spectators along with offering a great opportunity for photos. After finishing the lap and dropping off your flag racers immediately transitioned into a low crawl followed up by a wall traverse. Now things started to get tougher. Atlas Stones over the shoulder for 15 repetitions was waiting next and really started to tax your cardio ability. When finished tossing the stones Epic transitioned into their unique balance obstacle. This consisted of a C shaped beam with small raised platforms placed about two feet apart that required racers to basically hop from one peg to the other. Once finished an athlete had to pick up a slosh pipe for another lap around the track.

After the slosh pipe sprint came the dreaded wall sit. Racers were required to hold an hour glass out in front of them while stuck in the 90-degree wall sit position for three agonizing minutes. Lumberjacks were the next bad ass obstacle on the list. You may have seen something similar on World’s Strongest Man on ESPN. This obstacle consisted on flipping over a long section of square metal tubing over and back. Heave it up, walk it to vertical and push it over before going to the other side and repeating the movement. 15 flips were required here and the task really took it out of you! The rope climb was the next obstacle in line with a twice up and down requirement for obstacle completion and then it was on to the timed plank. Once again, a three-minute hold was required after one flipped over the hour glass to start. I’m almost positive that was the longest three minutes ever. Once complete, athletes were required to run another lap, this one with nothing extra to carry which was a great relief to those of us who were already winded.

Upon completion of the sprint lap, the keg hoist was ready and waiting for you. Three repetitions to the top and back down once again tested that grip strength. A ladder wall followed up the keg hoist before moving on to the toughest obstacle I found at Epic. 15 reps of burpee box jump with a 36-inch-high box. Most of the elite competitors I saw were thoroughly gassed on this obstacle including yours truly. Things got slightly easier for the next two obstacles in line. An inverted wall climb and side to side ab twists with a 30-pound medicine ball. That small break was much needed because next up was another lap to run, with two full jerry cans! Traps and grip screaming towards the end of that lap I guarantee you!

After finally dropping off those damn cans, athletes were finally on the home stretch of the race. This started off with a unique obstacle called The Archer. Targets were lined up which required two hits with a bow and arrow. Yes, OCR with a bow and arrow! I bet you never thought you would see that in a race huh?  After racers got their fun playing Robin Hood a series of three walls were next in line. The Tri Wall, Ladder Wall, and another inverted wall all needed traversed before being led to Barnaby’s Wall which was kind of like a rock climb wall up and over. It was gut check time for the very last obstacle. One placed in this position to see who wanted it more. Athletes were required to run just one more lap, but with a full keg across their backs! Man, I couldn’t wait to ditch that damn can after that final lap. Once complete plenty of vendors were handing out various drinks and some cool bling was put around your neck.

Trophies were given out to the top 3 men and women overall and top 3 men and women masters. Little Epic kiddies had their own race to provide total family fun. Mix that with free parking and free EPIC pictures and you have quite an event! Sponsor tents were all over including The Vitamin Shoppe, BodyArmour Super Drink, Rush 10-8 Gear, and Live Sore with finishers shirts made by Clinch Gear. Now, this was a great event. But if you ran elite there was a little something extra waiting for you……

Set up in an adjoining parking lot was the Epic Strength and Endurance course – only for elite competitors. Elite athletes could choose one of the two with weights and reps being the only difference. First off was a police SUV pull for distance: jump into a harness, get low and go. Right after that was a push press: 10 reps with 135 for Endurance and 5 reps with 185 for strength. Immediately following that was the deadlift: 225 for 10 reps Endurance and 315 for 5 for the big boys. Right after that was an Atlas Stone you needed to throw over a wall and then proceed to jump over the wall for 5 repetitions. An unknown weight tire flip for 5 reps was next up followed by 15 step ups with heavy ass kettlebells. Finally, a sandbag lunge for distance was the last test before a sprint, or crawl to the finish line. Knowledgeable judges were provided for each competitor and a 15-minute time cap was used to keep things rolling. This separate event also gave out trophies for the top 3 male and female in each division. So, if you want a unique OCR race, or an awesome test of functional fitness you must try an Epic Series race in the future!

Hammer Race Minnesota

The sixth edition of The Hammer Race was held April 8th at Bluff Valley Campgrounds near Zumbro, Minnesota. For those of you looking for a different type of OCR challenge this race series might be it. Why? You get to take a buddy with you the entire race! Now it’s not the type of buddy who will talk to you or let you share their gel packs. No, your buddy for the 5.6-mile race is an 8-pound sledgehammer! That’s right, as you could probably have guessed from the race title this event is centered around completing obstacles involving your sledgehammer. Plus, you get the bonus of having to carry your sledgehammer with you up and down the steep back country hills that ended up being around 700 feet of elevation gain, but certainly felt more like twice that!

The Hammer Race starts their events around noon with elite individual and teams starting off first with the open class following up soon after. This noon start time is an excellent idea for smaller race series because it allows racers to make a long-distance drive without having to spend money on a hotel the night before. The start/finish area and festival area is located inside the campground and once the race starts athletes are led for a short distance away from the grounds where a series of walls awaits. One doesn’t have to carry your sledgehammer with you over the walls, simply setting your hammer to the side for retrieval after the wall is negotiated is the rule here. Once the walls are complete racers are led along an easy section of trail to a tire flip. There were decent sized tires of the individual flips and enormous tires for the teams to flip. This obstacle also was to be completed without your sledgehammer, but it was the last time you could complete an obstacle without using it. After the tire flip athletes were led into the wooded hills for our first taste of trying to negotiate the technical trails while trying not to catch the handle of your hammer on everything. Up and down we went till we came to a dug out low crawl which had about enough room to squeeze a small child through and was quite difficult to get through with a sledgehammer. Now racers were led up another hill back to the campground area where a series of low crawl nets installed over stadium seating type benches shaped in a semi-circle. If you thought a standard low crawl was tough try doing it on a curve with a sledgehammer! Now moving across a road towards a sandy section of terrain Hammer placed a series of saw horse type barriers that required being navigated under.

 Now back on the trail athletes were led to a series of tall dirt mounds and along a river where another set of walls were waiting for us to traverse. This led to the first “buck” for athletes which required use of the sledgehammer to knock a log from one side of the “buck” to the other before proceeding on a trail which led to the back side of the grounds. After a nasty climb up a section of hilly terrain made from sand athletes were confronted with a tire drag. Now this wasn’t your normal tire drag, this one was done Hammer Race style. Two car tires were linked together with a hole cut into one end for a racer to slide the handle of their sledge through. Athletes were required to drag this tire setup around a circular section of pavement and back to where they started their drag. One more log on a buck was a short jog away and that led down a steep wooded slope to a section of flat trail. This was one of the very few flat sections of the course but it was the calm before the storm because waiting for racers a short distance away was a unique carry up a paved section of road. Individuals were now required to carry or drag a section of shelves along with their sledge up and back down the road. Now the teams had it much worse here. They were required to push a Prowler-type sled loaded with weighted plates and up and down the road. My team of 5 well-conditioned athletes had to take multiple breaks during this task and we all agreed this was the toughest part of the course.

Hammer Race placed a much-needed water station right after completion of this obstacle and then it was back on the road and over another wall before being led along a grassy trail that ended up with racers getting their feet wet in ankle deep mud along the river. After having our shoes caked in mud Hammer led us up one of the larger and steeper hills thoroughly gassing us as the trail turned into a series of switchbacks up and down some nasty terrain. I lost count of the number of times my sledgehammer handle got caught up on tree branches at this point and my frustration level was mounting. The back third of the Hammer Race was mostly about the terrain and not the obstacles. There were a few walls, another log on a buck, and one tapped off section of forest which required athletes to find their way out through an actual door. But steep hills and valleys mixed with awful footing was the norm here. Add to that the difficulty of negotiating this treacherous terrain with your sledgehammer in tow made this section extremely exhausting.

Hammer-Race-2017-Spring-Start Rounding back on the trail towards the festival area and finish Hammer Race set up a final few obstacles to overcome. Racers started this section by picking up a used car tire and running right back up and around a hill from where they initially came before dropping the tire back off. A short jog on a gravel path led racers to the last 4 obstacles all in a row before crossing the finish line. Those obstacles in order were a log on a buck, a car tire on a buck, low crawl under an A-frame and two last angled walls that needed to be traversed. Refreshments and killer medals were waiting for racers once they crossed the finish line and caught their wind. Post-race warm showers were provided in the campground bathhouse to wash the elements away along with providing a great area for athletes to show each other their battle wounds and talk about the race. Photos for this event were provided free of charge and parking was the standard 10 dollars. So, if you are interested in testing yourself in a unique way, you might want to check out the next Hammer Race this coming October!