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!

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!

2017-Hammer Race-Medal

Hammer Race Minnesota

14656440_796912923783609_1582696280912859380_nHave you ever wanted a break from the normal OCR thing of monkey bars and fire jumping? If so maybe the Hammer Race located in Zumbro Falls Minnesota, might be for you! The one catch, you must carry and use an 8 pound sledgehammer throughout the race. Offering both a 5k and 10k course with plenty of elevation (1,100 feet for the 10k course) and an Elite, Open, and 5 person Team challenge, there was an option for every level. Parking was located on the campground site near the start line for 10 dollars with warm shower facilities on site. The race start time was at noon, which was a blessing on a chilly Minnesota day. Flags were placed in the ground marking some very technical terrain.  Maybe they should have had us carry a machete instead of a sledgehammer!

14495474_796914810450087_7411192556217270290_nNow on to the race! Starting at noon and staggered 10 minutes apart the Elite, Team challenge, and Open class took off along the road that wound around the campground and led to the first set of walls to climb over. At these walls, you were able to drop your sledge at the bottom of the wall until you made your way over where you picked up your sledge again and made your way into the forest and along a path that can best be described as a game trail. Large tractor tires were the next obstacle we encountered and once again an athlete was able to drop their sledge until the required number of tire flips was performed before picking up the sledge and heading back into the forest. Now the “trails” along the course were maybe the most demanding part of the race. Everything was either up or down a tree choked hill, often times there was maybe a foot of flat surface to run on, rocks and mud and tall prairie grass were the norm, and all the while carrying that damn sledgehammer which got caught on everything!

14572272_796918867116348_5002001778864420645_nThe trail led us back near the campgrounds where a series of low crawls were set up. These were set very low to the ground and an athlete was required to carry the sledge with through the low tunnels with them.  Once through, we were led right across the road to another low crawl. This one was a bit tougher though. They used a large cargo style net and it was placed over a mix of sand and gravel. If your knees were not covered up here you were going to leave with some cuts! Now back on the trail we were led towards the adjoining river to a series of dirt mounds and walls which led to our first chance to use our hammers. Placed on “bucks” were large sectioned off hunks of wood. The goal of the obstacle was to use your sledgehammer to knock the wood from one side to the other. These “bucks” were located all along the course and certainly made the course physically demanding. Back into the wooded hills, we circled around the campground on the game trail.  Coming back up behind the campground was a series of two tires tied together with a small notch cut into the lead tire. An athlete had to insert the handle of their sledge and drag the tires around circle turnaround of pavement before smashing more logs on a buck and then back into the woods leading away from the camp.

14572324_796916043783297_1859031084091312114_nIt was during this portion of the race that I noticed the trail becoming way more technical and the hills way higher. Now back along the edge of the river we were led over another series of walls to climb and over to a series of large mats which athletes had to drag, along with their hammers, up and down a paved path. Now let me tell you, that was a total suckfest!  The race trail now took us back towards the river getting us wet briefly with a short march through the ankle deep water before the hardest climb of the race. Up we went, cold and wet. Under trees and over rocks we ending up by cornfield which of course was not harvested yet. Along the tall grass of the cornfield trail were another series of walls to scale leading to a deep ravine. On top of which was another “buck” to hammer. After smashing the wood we were finally starting to be led back towards the campgrounds and the finish, but not before more hills and climbing.

14633622_796916340449934_615656536426775743_oIt was along this final section of the course where we found one of the signature obstacles of the Hammer Race the “black door”.  This was a sectioned off area of the ravine where the drop and climb was almost totally straight down and up. Once down you had to find a rope which you had to climb with your sledge leading up to the top where an actual black door was located for you to go through.  It was also along this section of the trail where the ground became nothing but large boulders to navigate through. Probably lucky nobody broke an ankle here as the footing was awful at best, all while carrying that damn sledgehammer!  Now curling around back towards the campgrounds and the finish we were met by one last tire challenge. Athletes had to run around a large circle path with a car tire and their hammer before moving on towards the last set of obstacles and the finish. This last series of obstacles was set back to back in the festival area. Two different “bucks” were set up, one smashing wood, another a car tire. Then on to a low crawl before having to finish with two rope climbs over a wooden A frame structure.

14517664_796915220450046_3145517335679945850_nI found the Hammer Race to be very challenging and fun. If you like something a little different in OCR this might be a race you would enjoy. With participant numbers around 200 you will not get lost in the crowd and the volunteers were friendly. The tee shirts and medals were nice and the photos were free. Possibly adding a Masters division and a kid’s race might help their numbers. Also possibly giving teams color coded wrist bands might help with some of the confusion regarding team obstacle completion.  But otherwise I consider this a must do event if you live in the Midwest.

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