Bonefrog Buffalo – the Endurance Unicorn

When I landed in Buffalo, the tallest things I could see were the overpasses and the racing temps were forecast in the low 80s.   Saturday’s Bonefrog Endurance was going to be an easy day. I’d never raced a Bonefrog before, but logging 5 laps around the course to secure the coveted gold frog pin felt inevitable. After all, I’d completed an Ultra Beast, ran a sub-4 marathon, done a SealFit 20X, and all kinds of crazy stuff… how hard could it really be?

I was an overconfident moron about to get exactly what he deserved.

Hard Lesson #1: The course doesn’t care how badass you think your race resume is; neither does the blazing sun, or its evil sidekick “humidity.”

The race was held at Kissing Bridge Snow Sports, about an hour drive from Niagara Falls #racecation. As I drove by all of the upstate NY homes on the way there, I felt really poor. But when I arrived at the festival area, the sea of OCR shirts and GoRuck packs powered a really welcoming feel. Logistically, everything at the race was on point. Parking, bag check, knowing where to go, etc.. Bonefrog is owned and operated by Navy SEALs, and their race execution shows it.

While Buffalo itself may be flat, the hills at this ski spot were legit and the Bonefrog crew used them like tools of evil to make us feel special throughout the day. The race crew set the tone at the 8:30 starting line: No lollygagging or hype, just “get after it” and off we went. There were zero downhill teases at the start, just a shot straight up the hill at inclines ranging from 15%-30%.

Somewhere around the first climb, I started to appreciate how hot a day in the mid-80s can feel when your heart rate’s already jacked. The 90% humidity helped make it feel extra awesome. As a guy from Alaska, it was slightly uncomfortable but I figured courses usually just have a few of those climbs so I’d be okay.

Spoiler Alert: there were still 7 more climbs to go.

At the top of the first climb, we came to an obstacle unique to Bonefrog. It’s like a chest-high hurdle you have to jump over, only its covered in car tires. No problem, I’d seen pictures and had a plan. I’d run towards it and jump to hit it at a 45-degree angle going up… The tire would rotate with the force of my body and carry me over. #Easy day. Wrong! I ran, jumped, then stuck to the tires like I was on flypaper and came to a dead stop. Although I eventually made it over, it wasn’t dignified.

Hard Lesson #2: Being good at other OCRs doesn’t impress the obstacles you’ve never seen.

No worries, there are always hiccups. After a nice downhill running section, I saw a rope climb at the base of the hill. I started to smile as I visualized this obstacle to be owned.  As I was running and picturing my triumph to come, I tripped on the wet grass and did a sliding faceplant down the hill.  I made the rope climb, but with wet hands and a bruised ego.

After the rope, it was back up and down another hill with a few assorted obstacles in between. There were mainstays like walls to climb, tire drags and a carry; but the real fun came when we hit the bottom of the hill again.

Something I came to appreciate throughout the day was how much different this race series was from the other OCRs I’ve done. The Bonefrog obstacles mercilessly beat your grip strength down like your forearms owe the race director money.

I’d seen pictures of the obstacle below. None of them warned me that the bars roll.  The extra movement adds something.

 

I’d done a traverse under bouncy nets using only my hands before, so I thought this would be easy too… Only these grips bounce and roll.  I fell, and it hurt.

Seriously, one of the easier obstacles wound up being an unknotted rope you jumped to like Tarzan so you can swing across a pool of water. At most races, that’s considered a hard one.

No worries, it was bound to get easier right? Wrong. The unshaded climbs continued, and then I ran out of water! I thought my 18 oz bottle was overkill; I should have brought my camelback (and salt for that matter).

Eventually, the festival area reappeared with a gauntlet of clustered obstacles that guarded the finish line like grip strength sucking sentinels.

 

These were tricky, but the one I’d read about the most was “Get to the Choppa.” A few reviews said it was hard, and since it’s so high the fear of falling is quite real. No worries, I had a foolproof plan to get through this one safely: Don’t fall.

Seriously, just suck it up. If falling scares you, do a Color Run. Bonefrog’s run by SEALs, not Disney characters.

Is the Choppa hard? Yes. The plan I had to rotate from blade to blade like a trapeze artist fell apart the second I grabbed hold. That thing turned me around and twisted my arms like pretzels. Thankfully, the fear of falling powered my intense death grip to those blades until I was finally able to kick the bell.

After 2 hours and 57 minutes, I hit the final obstacle at the finish line. Bonefrog’s finish is unique, and it either moves you or it doesn’t. You climb up a rope and then swing across monkey bars with a ginormous American Flag at your side. Personally, this finish was worth the trip by itself and the pic they get of you at the end is better than any medal I have in my case.

 

And that’s why I suppose you love this crew or don’t. They bring you old school OCR, and they do it with heart. On the course, you’ll do 31 burpees, one for each KIA service member listed on a board. Later, you’ll climb a steep hill in the blazing sun and then get to write the name of a loved one on a wall. And after gutting out the obstacles and terrain, your final memory of the course is swinging triumphantly by a huge American flag.

So, did I get the gold frog pin? Not a chance. The challenge course was 8 miles, had 30 obstacles and over 3k feet of gain and loss. There were only 2.5 hours before I wouldn’t be allowed to start another lap. I was so far away from my five lap goal that I called it a day and went out for Gelato with my wife. The remaining sprint laps were 3 miles, 20 obstacles and about 1,700 feet of gain and loss each. I don’t think anyone completed four of those to bag a gold frog pin that day.

Hard Lesson #3: Bonefrog Endurance is not the Battlefrog Xtreme reincarnated. It’s better but harder. If you fail to give this series the respect it deserves like I did, they’ll eat your lunch.

Unless your name’s Ryan Atkins or one of those elite racers, be happy with 3 laps as a respectable goal on a course like that.

About five minutes of edited video from the course, set to Tuba music, is available on Youtube at Click Here

Elevation Profile for the 8 Mile Challenge Course