Muscle Up OCR

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

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

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

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

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

The Course

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

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

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

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

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

The Obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Obstacles

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

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

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

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

The Festival Area

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

Conclusion

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

 

Conquer The Gauntlet Iowa: The Good, The Bad, and the Awesomely Difficult

This was my first Conquer the Gauntlet and I’d heard a lot about it, especially the difficulty of the obstacles, which made me put this race on my must-do list for this year’s race season.

The Good

This is a family owned, family run, race series and feels that way.  The festival area had plenty of room and plenty of places to sit, but not a whole lot of things other than people cheering on runners, warming up or getting a beer, and talking about the brutal race they just conquered. All of the staff I met were the friendliest people you could imagine, and they all genuinely cared about making this race awesome.

The starting line speech kept with the “local” family feel.  Conquer the Gauntlet didn’t hire Coach Payne or some other hype man for some ridiculous sum.  One of the staff in the bed of a truck yelled out the rules for certain obstacles, told us it was “complete it or lose your belt, no burpees, no body-builders.  “We do obstacles, not exercises!” We walked up to the start line, got a count down, and then we were off.  No hype man needed.Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Slackline

The course was mostly flat with some small hills at the end and one short steep climb out of the creek.  The obstacles were no joke, they were the hardest set of obstacles I’ve faced at any OCR.  Most obstacles were grip strength/body weight oriented and some rather challenging balance obstacles including a slackline.  Only three obstacles relied on brute strength, one of which was an interesting take on the sled pull.  A crank pulling a 150-pound sled towards you then you had to drag the sled by hand back to its starting position.   Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Crank-It-Up

 

The Bad

While the obstacles were amazing, there were a few problems, the Z-beam (which was made of 3 ten foot 2x6s set up on the narrow side at right angles to each other) had 4 lanes but were not secured properly when I went through. Only two lanes were open due to the 2×6’s having fallen over on the other two lanes.  The volunteer said that someone was coming to fix it asap.

I was in the first elite heat in the middle of the pack at that time, so there was a minimal build-up of people waiting.  The only other negative about the race would be that the Conquer The Gauntlet website said that all competitors would get a “too-fit shaker bottle” but Too-Fit didn’t show up to the event. I’ve seen this happen at other events and I can’t blame Conquer The Gauntlet for a sponsor not showing up.

 

The Awesomely Difficult

One word – Pegatron – A beastly horizontal peg board.  The first section has foot holds then the foot holds disappear and you have to rely on grip and shoulders and core to carry you across the gap.  I have a horizontal peg board in my basement at home which I can do pretty well.  This board was much different.

The holes are spaced wide enough that you have to go up and down rows making you use more of your muscles than if you could move across a single row.  The pegs were an eighth inch smaller than the holes making the pegs fit into the holes easily but also making it easy for the pegs to slip right out and put you in the dirt if you didn’t put enough weight on them.

Coming into Pegatron I was toward the front of the pack of elites but fell behind as it took 5 tries to finally get it.  I saw more people throw down their elite belts than I saw beat the obstacle.  Conquer The Gauntlet says it only has a 19% success rate.  It is an amazing obstacle and I loved that CTG has the guts to put in obstacles most people won’t beat and will give even the elite athletes a run for their money.


Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Pegatron

More of the Awesomely Difficult

Conquer The Gauntlet had three other extremely challenging obstacles. Stairway to heaven, a set of stairs your climb from underneath much like the devil steps in American Ninja Warrior. This is another obstacle I have at home which turned out quite different on the race course, but these steps are steep with gaps of over a foot between each step.  Placed not too far after Pegatron and a brute strength obstacle, forearms were still burning but the sight of the nasty green water below gave me the strength to conquer it.  They followed this with a rope climb just a few feet away.Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Stairway-To-Heaven

At the end of the race, you were greeted by an 8-foot wall. This would be no problem, except after that 8-foot wall was another, and another and another and one more for good measure. Then it was time for some monkey bars. These aren’t your typical monkey bars.  Yes, they are setup in an ascending/descending formation like so many other race series.  The tricky bit though is that every other bar was not fixed and spun when you grabbed it and transferred your weight. The monkey bars are usually a very easy obstacle for me, but going up these was certainly challenging.  Volunteering after my race I got to witness countless people hit the water after grabbing those spinning bars.Conquer-The-Gauntlet-Iowa-Monkey-Bars

Conclusion

All in all, this was an amazing race that I will absolutely do again (in a heartbeat) and would recommend to every OCR enthusiast out there.  If you live within the touring range of Conquer The Gauntlet this should be a must-do race.  If you don’t live in the area that CTG goes, I suggest you sign up early and make some travel plans.  They may not have huge endorsement deals or fancy multi-race marketing schemes but Conquer The Gauntlet has challenging, innovative obstacles and they put on one hell of a brutal race.

 

 

All photos courtesy of Conquer The Gauntlet and Run and Shoot Freelance Collective