Steeplechase Challenge 2017

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Another weekend, another excellent locally-run OCR in the books for the great state of Minnesota!  This time, my adventures took me to the hilly Zumbro River valleys of Mazeppa at an event called the Steeplechase Challenge.

This is a new-comer to the local OCR scene, as this is only their second year of holding this weekend-long event.  The event focuses on the charity Toys For Tots and brings in donations for the local chapter.  There’s a 5K or 10K distance to choose from, with plenty of families and weekend warriors alike tackling the course either Saturday or Sunday.  Registration and festival area are within walking distance of the parking area, as everything is on-site.  Everything was clearly marked and easy to get through.

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Course / Venue:

The venue is hands-down one of the best in MN.  The family that runs this event owns about 170 acres of pristine Zumbro River Valley beauty at the Steeplechase Event Center (hence the race name), hills and all.  The site used to be an old ski resort and chair lifts are still standing to this day but not functional anymore.  This paves the way to some truly fantastic trails, mud, hills, single-track (even through what was dubbed ‘Rock Canyon’ where rock boulders had to be climbed over uphill) and… more mud & more hills.  Anytime you can do an OCR in Minnesota and get over 1200+ ft of elevation change in a 10K (watches varied, so I’m going with that number as an average) is a huge plus.  I’ll let some of the photos do the talking:

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Obstacles:

One of the standout obstacles was the addition of a 300-foot water slide, which everyone young to old enjoyed (some of them multiple times, I ran the 10K on Sunday and was told a woman on Saturday went up/down the slide 11 times!).  Some fun random ones: hitting a tractor tire 10x, hitting a junked car with a sledgehammer (seriously more fun than you’d think!), and a spear throw that was longer than a standard Spartan Race distance.  There were some challenging ones as well, with the signature challenge (other than the terrain) was the log carry up to a shorter but very steep climb towards the end of the 10K distance.  Talk about a quad burner!

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The obstacles themselves may not be as technically challenging as other races, but the terrain/venue/heavy carries back up the ‘Challenge’ claim in full.  It’s a great feeling to see both young and old, newcomers to veteran racers enjoying some of the best that MN has to offer when it comes to OCR racing.  See you again in 2018!

 

Photo Credit: Author

Spartan Race Minnesota Sprint 2017 – The Hills Are Alive!

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When someone says “Minnesota”, what’s the first thought that comes to mind?  Snow?  Ice?  Mall of America?  Well, we have all those things, but we also have one more thing: Spartan Race.

Spartan Race came back to Welch Village for the 3rd year in a row, about 45 minutes south of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  Welch Village holds some of the steepest ski hills you can find in MN, and Spartan uses those their advantage (and to other’s dismay).  Registration was a standard setup, with the bar-code scanning making the process easy and quick to deal with.  The festival area was stocked with the normal Spartan merch stands and the venue’s concessions filling up everyone with good food and beverages.    The festival area was spread out across the entire field, with the main stage being on the opposite end of where the start line / biggest team tent area was located.  This proved to be a drawback later on, with the messages being relayed by the DJ at the main stage not being heard at the other end of the festival area.  Minor issue, but I digress…

In past years, the course has hovered right around the 5-mile mark in length.  Between the longer distance, hills totaling over 1200 ft in elevation gain, temperatures hitting 90+ degrees, and high humidity… to say that this was a challenging Sprint course would be an understatement.  That was not the case this year.  Temps hitting the sweet spot and Spartan shaving over a mile off past year’s setups (clocking in around 3.5 miles), it was a noticeable difference for those that had been there before.  Opinions were mixed on this, as having a shorter course was deemed either welcomed fully or seen as a slight disappointment.  Different strokes, different folks.  In my view, if the race seems shorter (reading between the lines: easier) then push harder.

Obstacles were standard for Spartan.  One difficult stretch was the spear throw and rings. These were located right after the dunk wall, making for a difficult time of completion and many burpees were enjoyed.

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Otherwise, enduring the hills was a main focus of everyone.  The start line started uphill, after the rings — hill, after doing some other stuff – hill.  The bucket carry at the Minnesota Sprint carries a certain ill-tasting flavor in my mouth, as it’s straight uphill.

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Please note: She moved the bucket off her shoulder right after this picture was taken.

This part of the course had many people questioning their life choices up to that point, but all was forgiven it seemed when they got to the top and saw the camera guy (funny how that works, huh?).

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Overall, it was a fantastic event at a venue that can really bring the pain for a Sprint distance.  Hills, green everywhere (both with the trees and the local North Star Spartans team that was 150+ strong!) and a bunch of Minnesota nice made for an excellent time at one of the premier events on the Minnesota OCR calendar.  Next time you think Minnesota, don’t think cold.  Think AROOO!

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

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Spartan Race Chicago Super – 2017

Once again, Spartan Race descended upon the Chicago area and pulled up shop at the Richmond Hunt Club for a weekend of Super and Sprint racing.  I had opted for racing on Saturday, which meant I have only seen the course through the eyes of a Super racer.

Arriving at the race venue was a breeze, as I paid a bit extra for the VIP parking.  The VIP part lived up to its name, as I was only a couple of rows away & a very short walk to the registration tents.  The bar code scanning at the tents was painless, and I was in the festival area without issue.  I did notice an abnormally long line of people waiting at the spectator gate, so I’m not sure what was going on there.  Festival area had the normal collection of third-party vendors and merchandise areas, nothing that stuck out to me.

partan-Race-Chicago-Registation-Dan-StoweThis was the first time I’ve been to this venue, so I was excited and curious to see what it had to offer.  The last time I ran a Chicago Spartan Race was back when it was held at the superb Dirt Runner venue in Marseilles, IL.  It’s a tall order to live up to that venue, as it’s one of the best places I’ve ever ran at in the Midwest region.

The course itself was a little bit below the normal distance I’ve experienced at other Spartan Supers, clocking in around the 7.5 mile mark.  Chatting with some of the elite guys that finished before I took off, I was told there was little to no elevation at all.  Boy, were they right!  It was a very flat, fast course, with little in the way of elevation.  Part of the terrain consisted of mud that was knee-deep in some areas (although I was told last year it was incredibly more difficult, so the potential is there with the right amount of rain beforehand to make a muddy course next to impossible to navigate), but overall it was running through open dirt fields and a little bit of single-track.

Spartan-Race-Chicago-Dunk-Wall-FacebookObstacles were the standard fare I’ve come to expect from Spartan Race.  I will give kudos though to the finishing gauntlet of obstacles in the final ¼ mile or so of the course.  The Twister, spear throw, rope climb and rings along with the A-frame cargo net and slip wall were all in plain view of the festival area.  This made for some excellent spectating, and some great cheering sections to finish off the race!  My favorites would have to be Olympus and the Twister.  Both were popular spots for burpees and created a difficult finish if those obstacles were missed.

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Spartan-Race-Chicago-Twister-FacebookOverall, the race and event went off without a hitch for where the race was located.  Going back to what I said earlier, the Dirt Runner venue was by far a much better location in my view than the Richmond Hunt Club.  Spartan did well with what the venue had to offer, but they’d do much better with a re-visit to Marseilles.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author

Hammer Race 2017 – Spring – Hammers Up!

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Have you ever wondered to yourself:  “Man, it would be a blast to run through the forests, hitting things with a sledgehammer, run through nasty brush and climb over moss-covered rocks!  But where?”

Well my friend, I’d suggest you keep reading.

The Hammer Race is a locally run obstacle course race outside of Rochester, MN (approx. 1 ½ hour drive south from the Twin Cities area). While you don’t need much obstacle technique to get through the 10K course, you do have some very technical trail running filled with twists, turns and hills, along with some walls and tires.  By the way, while navigating all this, you’re carrying a sledgehammer (we’ll get to that later).

The race is run by a group of dedicated people from a local CrossFit gym.  The venue is at a local campground that runs alongside the beautiful Zumbro River area.  As far as the festival area goes, that’s not the main focal point of this race.  Aside from the local chapter of the Spartan Race street team having a tent set up, it has the grassroots feel that I want at a locally-run race. Within the main clubhouse, there was registration/waivers to sign.  I got there about an hour early and breezed through check-in.

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There was an elite wave, couple of teams that ran together and then a couple of open waves to start the race.  They went through a race briefing (which side are the flags on? THE RIGHT! Be aware of your hammer, don’t hit anybody. This was said many times.) and after a few battle cries of “Hammers Up!” we were off!

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Remember when I said you’re carrying a sledgehammer through this entire race?   The main prerequisite for running this event is BYOH -Bring Your Own Hammer-.  Most runners bring a 8-10lb sledgehammer, but some run with larger weights because they’re animals! That one thing sets this race apart from your normal obstacle course races.  One thing to remember:  You’re holding an awkward 8 pounds while running through dense, thick brush that’s barely cleared, rock beds covered in slick moss & climbing up hills that are surprisingly steeper than you’d expect for southern Minnesota.   This race is challenging.

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One of the other perks of carrying the hammer (other than feeling like a total bad-ass doing it!)  is hitting the logs down the chutes.  These are sprinkled throughout the course, with a gauntlet of logs and tires to hit at the final stretch.  Hearing the THWACK-THWACK-THWACK of hammer hitting wood can bring a smile to your face as it echos through the forests. When you hear that, you know what’s coming next!

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Another obstacle that stands out is the “Black Door”.  The Black Door is a large section of the course that’s roped off with caution tape on either side. Inside this section, there’s a black door hidden which, when found, will put you back onto the race course.  You can’t go outside the tape, there’s no other way out, you just have to find the Black Door.  This is a great way to break up the course & most of the time forces you to partner with other racers to find it.  I won’t give away too much in details, but I heard from others it took them upwards of 8-10 minutes to find that door.

Overall, this is an excellent, challenging locally-run race that brings to the forefront some of the best that Minnesota has to offer with the local OCR scene. It’s one I personally look forward to each year, and is a staple on many local racers calendars.  I was told by the race director that some exciting new changes will be coming for the Hammer Race in October… can’t wait to see what they have in store!

Stay tuned this year, as I’ll be at more locally-run jewels that make up the crown of Minnesota OCR.  Until then, hammers up!

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