Why My Wetsuit Played A Huge Role At World’s Toughest Mudder

There is something about a 24-hour race that you can never fully be prepared for. I could train harder, run faster, complete more pull-ups, and carry heavier things, but that doesn’t guarantee anything at World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). Training is imperative to success, but there is a limit to what your physical prowess can provide. There are moments when you have to rely on our emotional and psychological strength to push you through, but even that gets tapped out at a certain point. Just like any race, there is utmost importance to prepare physically and psychologically, but unlike other races, gear plays an essential role in this 24-hour grind.

 

Coming into WTM for the fourth time, I knew what to expect, but there is only so much that prepares you for 24 hours of the unknown. Unlike previous years, I was competing in the Team Relay competition instead of the individual category. This would throw in a whole new dynamic to the once familiar race. Instead of slowly grinding my way throughout the race, I was tasked with racing hard for a short time and then stopping.

Here was the plan, start the race as a four-man team and then alternate two people every lap, minimizing pit time, until the wheels fell off. I was hoping that faster laps would allow me to wear a thinner wetsuit than previous years, knowing full well that things can go downhill quickly. I prepared my usual gauntlet of wetsuits and layers just in case. The plan was to start off in shorts and a t-shirt.
Once the sun went down, I switched into long compression gear. Then the Blegg Mitts and a windbreaker came on for a little more warmth. I knew that temperatures would quickly drop and more water obstacles at night meant that we would be cold and wet for the duration of the race. During previous years I wore full wetsuits ranging from 3/2mm to 5/3mm, often making it difficult to move. The relay calls for quicker laps, so I needed something that was warm enough, but less constricting than a full wetsuit. The plan was to use the Hyperflex VYRL 2.5mm Shorty Springsuit with a front chest zip and the 2.5mm Neosport Wetsuit Cap with an adjustable chinstrap from Wetsuit Wearhouse.

I wish I had more to tell you, but the truth is, this combination worked like a charm. Every lap, my teammate and I would start our lap in cold, wet gear. Putting those cold clothes on every lap added a whole new dimension of suck to WTM. Less than a mile into the lap, my body would warm up and it was off to the races. While the water temperature threw a wrench into many people’s plans, my layered outfit was perfect for staying warm on-course. When we finished a lap, we would quickly strip out of our wet clothes, throw on something warm, and try to recover for the next lap. While it would have been nice to have two wetsuits that I could alternate, this was a small wrinkle in the scheme of things. Plus, this is WORLD”S TOUGHEST MUDDER. It isn’t easy. While it was hard putting on wet clothes as we prepared for another lap, it didn’t rival the psychological ups and downs of the relay format.

All in all, it was a tough race. Starting and stopping throughout the night was a whole new challenge that I have never experienced. I was forced to stay loose while trying to recover in time for my next effort. My laps felt like an all-out sprint at times and it gave me a whole new experience at WTM. Our team managed to finish 2nd overall in the Team Relay category and I am so proud of my teammates and pit crew for helping us along the way. While Atlanta will bring a whole new challenge to WTM, I can only speculate that people will underestimate the conditions and forgo bringing a wetsuit. Don’t be one of those people. World’s Toughest Mudder is a race of unknowns, so always be prepared. I can’t wait to see all you crazies out there!

Tough Mudder Allowing Votes for Favorite Obstacles To Appear in 2018

 

TOUGH MUDDER OPENS OBSTACLE “VAULT” FOR 2018 SEASON

Tough Mudder will be releasing an obstacle archive known as “The Vault” for the 2018 season. Does this make anyone else think of Disney? Will these obstacles only come around once every 50 years?? What is this vault, you ask?! The Tough Mudder vault will include “blueprints, design renderings, whiteboard drawings, retired challenges and more of the 200+ obstacles designed by Tough Mudder’s industry-leading innovation obstacle lab today. Mudder Nation will be able to find info on such classics as Ballshrinker and Dingleberries as well as unique obstacles such as Hot Shots and Massive Turd that only appeared on the course one time.”

“Tough Mudder will begin to disclose on “Mudder Leaks” at https://toughmudder.com/tough-mudder-obstacles-2018 from now through December 31st, iconic obstacles, and files from “The Vault.” The remaining roster of possible “Vault” obstacles will be revealed on January. 11, 2018 when, for the first time in Tough Mudder history, Mudders will then be able to vote online that day on which obstacles they would like to see back on course in 2018. In addition these classic “Vault” obstacles, Tough Mudder will be debuting brand new obstacles for the new 2018 season on January 11th as well.”

We know that Tough Mudder loves to innovate with new obstacles that test us more than we can imagine while we silently chuckle at the cheeky names Will and his crew like to bestow upon these ball-busters.

“The first historic Tough Mudder obstacle from “The Vault” announced today on MudderLeaks at https://toughmudder.com/tough-mudder-obstacles-2018 is Human Gecko. This classic obstacle tested participants upper body strength while navigating across two walls decorated with rock climbing hand grips – all while dangling over a water pit.

While the information released from “The Vault” is unpredictable, key dates to visit the website for information include Nov. 23, Dec. 7 and Dec. 21. Follow @ToughMudder on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and follow hashtag #MudderLeaks for additional “Vault” secrets. And check out this video on Youtube: https://youtu.be/QTMXsHQq8mM.

In addition to hints from the Vault, Mudders looking to get the inside track on more obstacle secrets should tune-in live to ToughMudder.com and the Tough Mudder Live Show Page on Facebook (Editor’s Note: where our own, Matt B. Davis will be commentating) on Nov. 11th and 12th. The 24 Hour race is considered one of the most extreme endurance events in the world and, with an unprecedented 1,600+ competitors from 21 countries participating this year, is the ultimate Tough Mudder obstacle testing ground. World’s Toughest Mudder features a five-mile loop course, containing diverse desert terrain, steep hills, mud pits and more than 20 obstacles – some might even be “Vault” leaks – which can only be found in this 24-hour, timed event.

The complete World’s Toughest Mudder Livestream schedule with more than 14 hours of programming is as follows:

  • World’s Toughest Mudder Day 1 Kick Off:
    • Saturday, Nov. 11th, 11 am PST to 5 pm PST (2 pm EST to 8 pm EST)
  • World’s Toughest Mudder Midnight Special:
    • Sunday, Nov. 12th, 12 am PST to 1 am PST (3 am to 4 am EST)
  • World’s Toughest Mudder Day 2 Finish:
    • Sunday, Nov. 12th: 7 am PST to 2 pm PST (10 am to 5 pm EST)

 

If one misses the Facebook Live Show, Mudders are encouraged to watch The World’s Toughest Mudder one-hour special on CBS on Dec. 23 at 12 p.m. ET.

To experience the industry’s best obstacles, purchase 2018 tickets by visiting toughmudder.com now through Nov. 10 for 50 percent off event day prices.

 

About Tough Mudder:

Founded in 2010 with the launch of the Tough Mudder obstacle course event series, Tough Mudder Inc. has become a leading global sports, active lifestyle and media brand. With more than 3 million participants, the company hosts more than 130 non-competitive (Mini Mudder; Tough Mudder 5K, Tough Mudder Half, and Tough Mudder Full) and competitive (Tougher, Toughest, Tough Mudder X and World’s Toughest Mudder) events annually in 11 countries including China, Dubai, Indonesia, and Australia through its partnerships with IMG, Seroja and Sports Media and Entertainment 360 (SME360). The company’s content arm provides the more than millions of engaged online brand enthusiasts with fitness, nutrition and wellness content delivered daily across social and digital platforms. Tough Mudder broadcast, OTT and Live Stream programming can be seen worldwide through partnerships with CBS Sports, Facebook, Sky Sports, The CW Network and ESPN Media Distribution. Other sponsorship and distribution partners include Merrell, Amazon, KILL CLIFF, Jeep, Aflac, Guinness, Vega, Samsung, Olympus, Lucozade Sport, Nexcare, For Goodness Shakes, Bosch, TREK, Head & Shoulders, L’Oreal Men Expert, Käserei Loose, Snapchat and Live Stream.”

 

What obstacles are you hoping will appear on Tough Mudder courses in 2018? Any particular obstacles that you miss, or even ones that you hope never show up on a course again? Let us know in the comments here or on Facebook!

 

Spartan Race Dallas – A Cold Day in Hell AKA Glen Rose, TX

Texas is apparently about as indecisive with its weather, as I am come dinner time. Labor Day weekend for the US OCR Championships had us succumbing to 95+ degree heat, while this past weekend in Glen Rose (a city outside of Dallas), participants struggled to stay warm, as temperatures dipped under 30 degrees when the first Ultra Beast wave kicked off. Anyone looking for an easy race to finally get their belt buckle was in for a frosty eye-opening.

Ultra Beast numbers continue to surge, as competitors continuously push themselves to achieve new heights – a perfect opportunity for Spartan Race to inflict creative new punishment on a fresh group of willing participants. While certain aspects of this course were punishing, we’re also starting to see a softer side of Spartan emerge as well – A “burpee free” penalty? We saw it in Atlanta, and it popped up again in Texas this weekend.

Something Old, Something New

The irony of asking if you remember the Memory Test, is not lost on me – but do you remember your first time? Echo 430-6620, Killington 2013. It’s seared into my brain, it’s not going anywhere. While the Memory Test obstacle has mostly disappeared at events the last few years, Ultra Beast runners saw it utilized in a whole new way – on an added 1-mile loop, they were told to memorize a token Spartan code: [Army Alphabet Letter] + [7-digit number]. Except for this time, they were required to recite their number to enter the transition area, before starting lap two. A nice touch, as opposed to planting arbitrary volunteers in a dead space on the course.

During the start line speech, participants were told that if they were to fail Olympus, no burpees were to be rendered. In fact, you were unable to even opt-in to burpees if you wanted to! There was a penalty loop added, where failures meant you were adding a half-mile to your Beast distance. A significant addition for the Ultra Beasters, should they miss the obstacle twice. After being dunked in water 3 times before Olympus, failure was a very real possibility for some.

Something Borrowed, Something Blue

The local Dallas Wal-Mart had no idea what hit them. Based on the number of discarded articles of clothing I saw on the course, I can only guess that racers stopped at their nearest big box retailer and grabbed the cheapest throwaway clothing they could find, to help ward off icy-cold temperatures in, what is supposed to be, a warm Texas! Added clothing may have helped for a short period of time, but once racers were dipped into a wading pond, followed by Rolling Mud & a Dunk Wall that required racers to push aside chunks of ice in order to complete, there were more than a few blue lips in the crowd of green-pinny adorned racers.

Out With The Old

There are only a handful of races left on the Spartan calendar for 2017, and with next weekend packed with a Beast, Super, and Sprint happening simultaneously up and down the east coast, racers are stretching their travel and wallets thin for a chance to podium in what is seemingly the last breath for Spartan’s Competitive Wave. Also unknown is what will truly become of the Spartan Ultra Beast belt buckle, with the announcement of the new Spartan Ultra events. 2018 looks to bring a new look Spartan Race, and hopefully, some warmer weather to Glen Rose in 2018! I know I am looking forward to seeing new obstacles from Spartan Race – more than just an Atlas Ball with a handle on it (womp womp).

Warrior Dash Gulf Coast 2017

Warriors are Willing to Work for It

Warrior Dash holds a special place in my heart despite its lack of EXTREME CHALLENGE.  The lack of difficulty is not a good reason to pass on the “beginners race.”  If Savage, Spartan, and Conquer the Gauntlet are super healthy foods like organically raised salmon, fresh farm raised avocados and naturally grown kale then Warrior Dash is a spinach/chicken wrap.  While it may not be on the “superior” level of the other races, it takes on an extremely important role in being the bridge for many into OCR or even into a healthy lifestyle.

Nathan Beisser

Competitor Nathan Beisser after having a great time during his run in the pro wave

 

Helping Start the Addiction

While I may not have encountered obstacles that pushed me to my brink, I did see and meet far more newcomers who were there to make an effort at slowly improving their unhealthy lifestyles than at any other race.  I also encountered more “running for a cause” teams than I have seen recently.  Warrior Dash is that beginning step that is necessary for many.  We can’t all dive head first.  Some of us have to begin with dipping one foot in at a time (not charging for parking or a bag check helps.)  This is where the average working Joe or Jill can see the potential to become greater than they thought possible.

Mud Pit

Venue

The venue of the Harrison County Fairgrounds in Gulfport, Mississippi proved to offer more challenge than most would have anticipated from a mostly flat area.  Though any sort of incline was very rarely found, running three miles in a soggy field that gave way with every step proved to take away some of the speed many competitors would have normally had on a more dry or packed terrain.  Muddy areas were easy to create and find, though they weren’t as large as I have seen before from Warrior Dash.  Even at the finish, each mud pit seemed less like a pit and more like a hole.  The trail was cleared and marked extremely well.  It would have been extremely hard to get lost.

Nets…. Nets Everywhere

The obstacles were a lot of the usual Warrior fare.  There was a lot of crawling under wire and a lot of net usage.  From normal cargo climbs to pipeline to the new (and really fun) Upslide Down I saw more cargo nets during this race than I could shake a stein at. Cargo nets serve as a great introduction to new racers as an obstacle that can burn you out.

Warrior Dash also earned positive points for its new obstacle Upslide Down.  It was a simple, fun obstacle though it could have been longer.  A flat slide lay under a cargo net.  Competitors laid on their backs and proceeded to utilize the cargo net to pull themselves down the slide.  I had a blast with this one and hope to see more like it in the future.

Pallet Jacked

Rather than placing Goliath at the end, Warrior Dash left their new obstacle “Pallet Jacked” front and center for spectators to check out.  I can rightfully say I underestimated this obstacle.   I assumed running across pallets suspended from straps wouldn’t be a problem.  However, the pallets swung and moved vertically depending on weight distribution.  I enjoyed the slight challenge of this obstacle as well as the creativity of Warrior Dash race designers in utilizing simple construction to create a very fun obstacle.  Much like a good hamburger, both of Warrior Dash’s new obstacles offered a lot of satisfaction for something so easily and affordably constructed.

Stein

Stein Holding Competition Trophy

Party Time

Warrior Dash knows what it does well and continues to improve on it year after year by offering more after race competitions and activities than any other race series.  The push-up contests let the macho bros show off for the crowd.  The tug-of-war competition gives families and teams the opportunity to work together and have a good time.  The stein holding competition allows warriors to prove their grip strength and grit and walk away with a free stein.  Even if warriors don’t want to join in on these competitions there are rigs to play on, beer pong setups to play around with, an awesome DJ, and lots of cornholing… I mean the game with the bean bags.

Tug of War

Tug of War Competition

Warrior Dash offers many of the best beer choices and food around as well as the ability to refill your stein for a moderately steep price. A plethora of patrons seemed to be having an amazing time at the festival.  I will be surprised if Warrior Dash doesn’t return to the coast next year given the huge turnout.  Seeing so many newcomers and groups of friends discovering the joys of OCR together filled my heart with glee. I left the festival with a huge smile on my face – not for my own accomplishments, but because I saw something I loved growing and I saw people spreading fitness, love, and no hate all in one place.  That’s one of the better achievements that any of us can achieve in this lifetime.

 

Mr. Incredible

Mr. Incredible receives his newly designed Warrior Dash Medal

I Ran the OCRWC: I Got a Medal. And an Asterisk.

Of all the possible endings I had envisioned for my race, riding shotgun in a volunteer’s pickup truck and bypassing obstacles en route to the finish line wasn’t one of them. And of all the adjectives I could use to describe my experience at the 2017 OCR World Championships, I can’t believe the first one that comes to mind is “anticlimactic.”

I Had A Goal

This was my first time at OCRWC. I’m still fairly new to the sport, and I’m certainly on the “enthusiast” end of the spectrum. My 2016 OCR goal had been to complete the Spartan Trifecta, something that seemed crazy when I first seriously considered it. But then, last October, balled up on a South Carolina hotel bed, clutching my new three-piece medal, after eight hours-plus of the hardest thing I’d ever done, I decided out of nowhere to go for Worlds in 2017.

Winning a qualifier or nabbing a podium for an automatic entry wasn’t going to happen. The Journeyman class would be my way in. I picked my qualifying races for the front half of the year. I included one race more than I would need, just in case. I pre-registered for the 15k in December, a full ten months early. I booked accommodations at Blue Mountain in February. I lined up travel to Toronto in April. (Yeah, I like having a big red X to shoot for.) This was going to happen. After I completed my fourth and final qualifier, I badgered the OCRWC office staff via email to make sure I was really in. It all seemed like there must be some catch. I mean, surely they don’t let guys like me run in the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, RIGHT???

And truth be told, I was nervous right up until the moment they handed me a bib number in the Athletes’ Center on Thursday night. Right there in the shadow of the giant slip wall, it felt real. I was in. I would be included among the champions for one magical moment in time.

2017-OCRWC-race-bib

The Atmosphere Was Electric

OCRWC and Blue Mountain Resort put on a spectacular weekend. The atmosphere was electric. The obstacles, all larger than life and scattered around the Village. Coach Pain’s amplified pep talks floating through the nippy air. Huge crowds of people cheering for racers as they crossed the finish line. I felt like a rockstar walking around the grounds with my “Competitor” lanyard. I saw the giants of the sport up close and personal. Ryan Atkins and Lindsay Webster, right there for winners’ photos. Yuri Force floating up a warped wall like it wasn’t even there. I did the ‘sup-bro head-nod thing with Hunter McIntyre, who’s never seen me before in his life. I chatted up Kevin Gillotti in the pita restaurant and got obstacle tips. It was surreal.

Then it was my turn. The Journeymen (and Journeywomen) took off at 2:45 on Saturday afternoon. This had been a detail of no small concern to me from the moment the schedule had been released. That’s late in the day, certainly much later than the 9 am waves I prefer to sign myself up for. It seemed alarmingly late, even, given the 15km distance and the high number of obstacles.

2017-OCRWC-course-map

Even more nerve-wracking was the verbiage I remembered from the rulebook that specified a strict five-hour cutoff. Based on previous races, I knew five hours might not be enough time for a guy like me to make it 9.3 miles and navigate 43 obstacles. When I had looked up what time the sun goes down in Toronto in mid-October, I freaked out even harder. The race officials might give me until 7:45 pm, but Mother Nature would be shutting off the daylight at about 6:30.

In Life, We Are All Journeymen

But despite those sobering numbers, I figured that the OCRWC organizers must know what they’re doing. I couldn’t worry about the details now; I had the race of my life to run. I’ll freely admit I bawled my eyes out as Coach Pain reminded me and my fellow amateurs, the ones who wouldn’t be holding a big cardboard check at the end, the in-it-for-the-love-of-the-sport racers, the men and women who had struggled the most and worked the hardest to even be here, that “In life, we are all Journeymen.” With that, we attacked Blue Mountain.

The course was brutal. That familiar OCR gallows humor came out early on the first of several trips straight up the mountain. Yet spirits were high, encouragement was plentiful, and the weather was cooperating. The rain that had been forecast to have already started… hadn’t. We all forged onward. Up and down the mountain, over walls, under barbed wire, and through the mud. This is what we came for.

2017-OCRWC-warp-wall

As the race wore on, though, things changed. The rain started – first as a drizzle, then in earnest. Now, obstacles became more slippery. Footing became more challenging. The trips up the mountain got significantly slower and harder. The sky got progressively darker as afternoon turned to evening.

Urban Sky was the first obstacle where volunteers started shouting out time announcements. “You’re behind the 8-ball! You have got to pick up the pace! You are not going to make five hours!” Very soon after, we heard a whole new race strategy: “Forget the retry lane! Start skipping obstacles! Go around if you can! Just get to the finish line in five hours or you won’t get a medal!”

I May Have Nothing To Show For It

And for the first time, it occurred to me that I might not make it, that this whole trip – no, this whole year of racing and training – might leave me with nothing to show for it but a big fat DNF.

Just after the Low Rig, there was a very narrow passageway in the woods that we had to traverse. I can only describe it as a waterfall without the water. It was a sheer rock ravine no more than four feet wide. Enough for one person at a time. With one rope for assistance. And it was pitch black. The only sound was the occasional noise of a rock skittering away and sliding downhill under someone’s misplaced foot. This sound was always accompanied by one person’s sudden – and often NSFW – exclamation… and the concerned words of coaching from the dozen or so of us trying to navigate this patch of very technical mountain terrain. My overriding thought? “This had better be the last bit of this kind of trailwork or someone is going to break something. Or worse.”

A few minutes later, I was out of the ravine and on the Log Hop. I strained to see the vertical stumps, even though they were right in front of me. It was so foggy. It was so wet. It was so cold. It was so dark. And then, a voice from the volunteer tent in front of us. “Get off the obstacle! We’re shutting it down!”

Shutting it down?!? I knew it wasn’t 7:45 yet. What did they mean? Shutting what down? Just this obstacle?

No. Organizers had just halted the race, we were informed. It was too dark and too wet. The course had become unsafe. Volunteers held us at the tent and told us no one could proceed. Trucks were on the way to take us back. Several racers burst into tears that their day was over. Some were openly relieved at the same realization. One started swearing at the volunteers, demanding to be allowed to continue.

Would We Still Get Medals

But it was over. We stood shivering, swapping stories, laughing, all nervously wondering to ourselves to some degree what would happen next. My brother and another racer realized that they still had their wristbands, 33 obstacles in. They wouldn’t get the chance to go for a perfect 43. Would we still even get medals?

After that truck ride, we were allowed to climb the final slip wall and cross the finish line. Medals were draped over our necks, to the smattering of polite golf claps from the handful of spectators who had stayed, as crews and vendors hurriedly packed up their tents in the darkness. I don’t even think the emcees were still welcoming runners in over the microphone anymore. I was sore and exhausted, to be sure, but I knew I hadn’t run the full race. There were ten obstacles out there I never even got to see. It all felt empty. Hollow. Anticlimactic.

I don’t begrudge the OCRWC organizers for calling the race when they did. Conditions on top of the mountain were no longer safe for racing. That was obvious, even to the angry guy screaming that he’d promise not to hold anyone liable if he hurt himself by continuing on. There’s nothing anyone can do about the weather; that’s an inherent roll of the dice with any outdoor event.

It Feels Like A Hollow Victory

I guess my frustration/anger/bewilderment comes when I think about that schedule. That 2:45 pm start time. For the Journeymen wave, of all people, the runners that need the most time of anyone competing the entire weekend. Why wait until 2:45 to send the amateurs off on a 15k mountain run with 43 obstacles when the sun goes down at 6:45? A five-hour time limit for “the enthusiasts” seems awfully hardcore, but it adds to the challenge, fine. It’s Worlds; it should be tough. And if you have to call it at four hours because of weather, well, them’s the breaks.

But I was never going to get that five full hours. Even on a bone-dry course, I doubt I could have done that race in four. The full five would have still forced me to make decisions about skipping obstacles or bailing out on retries, both of which would seem to contradict the “for-the-love-of-the-sport” ethos that had inspired us, Journeymen, to be there in the first place. Coach Pain had pointed out at the start that our group was not the fastest, nor the strongest. True enough. But we were given the hardest obstacle of all, the one that couldn’t be overcome, the one I worried about when I saw the race-day schedule, the one that anyone with a free app on their phone could have foreseen simply by looking up sunset times.

There’s Too Much At Stake

How could OCRWC organizers not have seen that coming??? How do you justify starting the amateurs so late in the day? I understand that we can’t go first. That course has to be clean for the elite runners. There’s too much at stake for the sponsored racers to make them navigate a course full of obstacles AND a bunch of couch warriors getting in the way. I get it. Truly.

So give the Journeymen their own day. The 3k seemed to go off for all waves without a hitch on Friday, or at least I haven’t heard of any similar issues with darkness. Saturday is the right day for the elites, the semi-pros, the podium runners, the athletes who have a legitimate shot at prize money. And Sunday rightfully needs to be reserved for the team relay and charity runs. Totally agree. So extend the event one more day and let the Journeymen have the torn-up course all to themselves starting at 8 am Monday for as long as it takes them. I wouldn’t have minded. And I’m not the only one. But to allow the Journeymen to come from 67 countries to compete at the World Championships… only to yank them 75% of the way through the course because it’s too dark?!? That’s just terrible planning.

2017-OCRWC-finisher-medal

I See An Asterisk

I’ll always have the story of this weekend to tell. And I hope that one day when I tell it, it won’t include the words “empty” or “hollow” or “anticlimactic.” But right now, it sure as hell does. I competed in the OCR World Championships. For one magical weekend, I was included with the best on Earth. I played on some insane obstacles I’d never even seen before. I climbed a mountain… multiple times. I crossed the finish line. I got the T-shirt. I ran three-quarters of the hardest race of my life. Yes, I now have a World Championship medal. But honestly, when I look at it, I don’t see a neon green maple leaf in the middle of it. I see an asterisk.

Maybe someday I won’t.

Highlander Assault Challenge

Inaugural Event

The first ever Highlander Assault Challenge was held October 7th in Holiday Hills, Illinois. The inaugural Scottish themed OCR offered four different distance options for you to choose from. Four, eight, and 12-mile distances were available along with a 24-mile option if you were really a glutton for punishment!

This course offered some unique terrain that included something for everyone from technical trails, to forest, to prairie grass, to mud so thick that I’m sure there that there are still shoes stuck at the bottom of the muck now.

The course was designed by veteran obstacle course racers and police officers Mike Boyce and Chad Riffe and their great team of professional builders. Coach Pain was on hand to meet the crowd and get athletes pumped up before their designated heats.

Vendors including Stark Energy and RX Bar were set up for some pre- and post-race refreshment. Parking was only 5 dollars and was located right next to the festival area. J3Timing was on hand to provide instant chip timed results and a finisher photo of each athlete.

Assault Course

Onto the course, Highlander had an 8-mile course set up with a 4-mile cut through. This was where the 4-mile option went on to their finish and where the 12-mile course cut through on their second lap. I thought the signage at this split was fairly clear, but a few racers got mixed up at this point causing them to run 16 miles instead of 12.

Starting off from the festival area Highlander led athletes out through a recently cut soybean field and over a series of three four-foot-high walls. This served to start thinning out the crowd before coming up to an inverted wall located in the same bean field.

A low crawl net was set up on the trail sending athletes down on all fours towards one of the lakes on the property which led to a custom-made rig. This well-constructed rig started off with 5 rings in a row and finished with a traverse across a suspended 2X6 section of wood. There wasn’t a bell or anything to signify completion, in the future I’d suggest a bell tap or a painted mark at the end of the 2×6 to mark completion.

Signature Obstacle

After rig completion, Highlander set up one of their signature obstacles that you will not find anywhere else. The Highlander was set up with a cargo net climb onto a shipping container leading to another large cargo net was suspended between the first shipping container and another one set up on the other side. This led to a climb up to a wooden staging area where a waterslide was set up to send racers back down, rather quickly into a water pit.

Climbing out of the lake area racers followed the course markers out into the harvested bean field once again in a giant loop designed to add some distance to the course. At this point, a dug-out moat filled with water and covered by chain link fence was waiting to soak racers on their way towards the back side of the lake where a balance test was waiting in the form of a telephone pole crossing over a water pit.

Highlander now took advantage of some of the many hills by sending racers over and between the trees in slalom style back and forth and up and down. The next bit of nastiness came in the form of a march and wire crawl through some extremely thick mud.

Stuck in the Muck

This muck stuck to racers like glue and was still stuck to us as we came up to a dirt-filled bucket carry. The trail now continued along an actual section of road where an over, under, and through series of walls set up leading to a Z shaped traverse wall. No bell tap was set up here and no volunteer was stationed to make sure racers completed the crossing, in the future one or both should be in place to ensure obstacle completion.

At this point racers entered a gravel pit area where the split from the 4-mile and the 8-mile course was located, I’ll continue on with the 8-mile course for the rest of this article. Making way through the gravel pit Highlander now directed athletes into the connected forest following a technical trail through the hills leading us to a sandbag carry. The sandbags were piled up in a way where they looked like they might have been placed there to hold down the wood structure they were sitting on. Some of the athletes were running past the sandbags so in the future having either a sign or a volunteer would be helpful in clearing things up here.

Now the trail led athletes back into the forest where the path followed a game trail along the back side of the property. This eventually opened up when racers made it to the second lake along the course where the cut grass around the lake became the trail. Highlander situated a teeter totter balance beam and a unique ladder climb up to a bell tap along the long loop around the lake.

Game of King’s Thrones

As the obstacles became fewer now the trail became tougher as racers were presented with a mixture of forest, marsh, and creek crossings which made for rather nasty and tiring running.

This eventually led to the King’s Throne which was designed like a huge Irish table with a ladder climb on the back side making this obstacle look very much like a huge chair! The 8-mile trail now joined back up with the 4-mile trail which set racers on a course back towards the festival area. A 12-foot high ladder was the first obstacle racers encountered along the merged trail.

Another harvested bean field jog led to a caber carry before sending athletes into some thick cattails for another murky creek crossing. Climbing out of the creek racers were now presented with an Atlas Stone carry, 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for women. Once your stone was dropped off a short jog away Highlander presented a maze run that required racers to pick up a yoke with car tires dangling from a metal chain off each side for a zig-zag sprint through a field of parked boats testing one’s coordination to the max.

The Final Obstacles

One last forested section of the course was all that remained left to be conquered! Scattered throughout this acreage was the remains of an old paint ball course, including some small houses and castles, which Highlander integrated into the trail. Some of structures were rebuilt and added onto in the form of a two-story rock climbing wall and a two-story wall climb with a rope assist.

After breaking free of the forest racers faced one of the most unique climbs in the OCR industry. Suspended in the air vertically was a set of plastic tubes. Perhaps a foot in diameter these pipes rose approximately 15 feet in the air. The only means to climb this pipe were small ropes which hung out of two sides of each pipe and spaced around 16 inches apart leading up to the top making this the most challenging “rope ladder” ever! One last set of parallel bars provided a good triceps/shoulder burn before the 8 and 4-mile course finished and the 12 and 24-mile racers continued on for further punishment.

Final Thoughts

Other than a few issues that you would normally expect for a first-year event, Highlander really did prove to be very challenging and well-managed. The event benefited from having actual obstacle course racers design the course and its obstacles.  People could complete most of the obstacles and the four distance levels offered provided a test for every fitness level.

The finishers’ bling was cool looking and Highlander also had a merchandise tent with everything from flex fit hats to hoodies to complete the look. I’m really looking forward to the next Highlander Assault on October 6, 2018, to see what those crazy cops come up with next!