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 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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Spartan-Race-MN-rings-Dan-Stowe

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.

Spartan-Race-MN-bucket

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?).

Spartan-Race-MN-bucket-smile

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 – 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

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.

Spartan-Race-Chicago-Sandbag

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

Tough Mudder Virginia – The First of Many

Since my first OCR event last summer, I’ve added a lot more strength training to my routine, which was very influential when I recently participated in my first Tough Mudder in Virginia.

As soon as my 10:45am group was unleashed, I kept a steady pace with a determined group of fellow participants as we made our way to the first obstacle, Devil’s Beard, just beyond mile one. This was a nice obstacle to begin with and I kept as low as possible while moving under the heavy netting.

The next obstacle was the Mud Mile 2.0, and after I slid down the first muddy embankment into the water, I started trying to find small grooves in the next slippery mound. Another mudder reached out his hand for me to climb up, and I returned the favor to two more mudders. After reaching mile two, it was on to the Hero Carry, which involved carrying another person for about fifty yards; the fireman’s carry position worked well. I continued on through the Quagmire, which was a long stretch of muddy water where I carefully placed each next so I wouldn’t slip into the random two-foot drops in the deep mud.

With each stride, sweat began to mix with the dried dirt on my skin. Closing in on mile three, the Kiss of Mud 2.0 included getting as low as possible and staying under the barbed wire, while crawling and sliding throughout the terrain. There was almost a mile until Shawshanked, and taking a plunge into the water felt good as the temperatures continued to rise. Next up was the Berlin Walls, which involved getting a good sprint before strategically placing your feet to help you get up and over a series of high walls. I was glad I did a lot of pull ups and chin ups over the past year because they were essential for this obstacle. Hold Your Wood 2.0 involved carrying a large log for a few hundred yards, and I found it helpful to switch positions from shoulder to shoulder. Everest 2.0 was next on the agenda. I wasn’t able to practice for this obstacle or sure how to approach it, but I just ran as fast as I could up the angle of the halfpipe, jumped and reached for the hands of the other mudders. I then turned around and got in position to help a few more mudders that were making their run up the hill. Then it was through the Birth Canal, which was a tight squeeze under the heavy tarps full of water. The journey continued on, all the way to the Artic Enema where I slid down into an ice cold tank of water that you had to traverse throughout the fenced in area to get to the other side. A few people slid into the frigid water and then hopped out immediately because it was such a shock to the system.

After warming up with some steady hill running, it was on to the Bale Bonds, that involved sprinting up and over a large stack of hay bails. Timing and foot placement were very important. Upon arriving to Funky Monkey: The Revolution, I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it across the series of inclined monkey bars followed by two rotating wheels and a straight bar. The key component to this challenge was momentum and swinging from one grip to the next.

Not long after this, the Stage 5 Clinger involved climbing up, across, and then above a wooden ledge to finish the obstacle.

Upon reaching mile nine, the obstacles were more frequent with minimal recovery. Skidmarked tapped into what upper body strength I had left, followed by going up and down a slope during Pitfall. It felt good to be back in the water facing The Blockness Monster, which was another team effort to get up and over the large blocks in the muddy water. The Pyramid Scheme was a similar approach to Everest 2.0. The ElectroShock Therapy soon followed, which was about keeping your composure while running through the dangling high voltage wires.

After a little over 10 miles, the finish line was finally in my line of sight. As soon as I crossed it, I was motivated to start preparing for the next Tough Mudder adventure – pursuing the Toughest Mudder and World’s Toughest Mudder.

Overall, an event that I strongly recommend to anyone looking for a great challenge!

My bulldog, Daisy, enjoyed it too.

Racer Spotlight: Unmasking CF Bane

Many of you may have seen, “That D-bag in the elevation mask.”, or maybe even rolled your eyes thinking, “Oh look, another guy playing Batman.” if you’ve ever seen him on the course.

Well shame on you if you have ever thought that, and for the record it’s a silicone airtight cosplay mask, not an elevation mask. CF Bane cannot breathe comfortably while he’s wearing the mask, which is almost all of the time since entering the OCR circuit.

Bane-City-Challenge
Why does he do this?

Bane runs for a truly amazing cause that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I’m talking about Cystic Fibrosis (That’s what CF stands for in CF Bane, just in case you weren’t aware.), a debilitating lung disease where most sufferers do not live past the age of 40. Their quality of life is extremely challenging every second of the day due to their inability to breathe comfortably. Breathing, something that you and I might take for granted.

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CF Bane wears the mask in order to simulate the sensation of not being able to breathe in honor of these young people who leave us too soon.

Whether it’s running a road race, a Tri-Athlon or tearing up an OCR course, CF Bane has garnered a lot of positive attention and popularity due to his hard work. Even one of OCR’s favorites Hobie Call was so intrigued, he approached the intimidating looking man in the mask at last year’s Atlantic City BoneFrog to ask what it was all about.

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Photo credit: Jonathon Bivens

This is a snippet directly from the Lucosky Brookman Foundation , a group of philanthropic attorneys who has unleashed CF Bane onto the racing circuit in order to be Cystic Fibrosis’s ultimate Super villain.

“We were inspired to try to see what it felt like to have Cystic Fibrosis. Through the unwavering support of the Lucosky Brookman Foundation, the idea for running with the mask was born. As CF Bane runs, he sometimes struggles to breathe, to finish the race, and take each step. His luxury is one that those with Cystic Fibrosis do not have; he can remove his mask at any time. CF Bane’s struggle is temporary.
CF Bane was born to illustrate to the world through wearing a memorable mask in part what it is like to live with CF. It’s meant to try to provide a tiny glimpse into the struggles of living a life with CF. Sometimes concepts and struggles are hard to imagine. The mask serves as a stark reminder to everyone that the struggle is real. Everyone deserves to just breathe.”

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CF Bane with a brave sufferer of Cystic Fibrosis.

Click here for more information about CF Bane and the LBF.

CF Bane vows that he will fight Cystic Fibrosis until a cure is found, or until he breathes his last breath. I was lucky enough to run the Boomer Esiason 4 miler through beautiful Central Park on April 1st, as a part of his nationwide Army. I asked him what it feels like to be the face of the fight against CF in the OCR community. He replied,”CF Bane doesn’t see himself as the face of Cystic Fibrosis. My army and I, along with the backing of the Luckosky Brookman foundation see ourselves as a way to help spread awareness about the dreaded disease. There are so many amazing people fighting CF that are the faces. CF Bane simply wears a mask with no holes to show the public how it feels to not be able to breathe.”

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CF Bane has been fighting CF on the OCR courses since 2014, running over 30 races and many miles to date in that stifling mask. This year he also runs with a purple flag, the color of Cystic Fibrosis awareness. Those that run with him, have run with him, or have seen him on the course all agree that he struggles mightily to breathe in that mask. It is a task that many of us would not want to take on.

If you want to see CF Bane and his Army in action, they will be running the BoneFrog challenge in New Jersey on June 17, 2017. Say hello if you see him, he doesn’t bite… or he might if you bother him while he’s on an obstacle. I make no promises.

Bane-Bonefrog

As if BoneFrog couldn’t get any more intimidating with Norm “EffNorm” Koch as the new head designer for their courses, CF Bane is now also a BoneFrog race Ambassador. This has earned him the adorable nickname, BaneFrog.

BaneFrog

Yes the code works for all 2017 BoneFrog races!

When Bane isn’t running, He loves spending time with his kids at their sports, taking them to playgrounds, and playing Pokémon GO. Bane really does play Pokémon GO, I didn’t just throw that in there to be cute. Bane also enjoys Hooters, not for the pretty ladies in orange shorts, but because he’s an avid fan of wings and owls.

So keep your eyes on this incredible racer as he kicks Cystic Fibrosis right in the jimmies.

Now let’s take the mask off of this man so that he can just BREATHE.

Bane-Unmasking

Photo credits: Poly Poli, BoneFrog race, City Challenge race, Jermone Gonzalez, Ryan Sorenson, Jonathon Bivens, newhealthguide.org