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!

Tough Mudder CEO Will Dean writes “It Takes a Tribe”

In the tradition of CEOs penning their memoirs while their companies are still growing, the founder of Tough Mudder has written “It Takes a Tribe: Building the Tough Mudder Movement”  which outlines where the company came from, explains why it is such a success and hints at where it might go in the future.

These books can be a branding exercise – I know that I got handed more than one free copy of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness”, which combined the up-from-nothing story of his company with a manifesto about how and why his company was so great. It has never been clear to me who exactly is the intended audience of this genre: MBA students? Potential investors? Prospective mid-level employees? They tend to be an easy read and provide a polished PR version of the company and its origins, but the format can be predictable.

There is one clear audience for these books: superfans. If you love Tough Mudder, you will love reading about how it came to be. “It Takes a Tribe” provides the inside scoop on how Will Dean turned his idea into a successful brand, how he helped create an industry that had not existed before, and how he has changed the lives of many who have joined Mudder Nation.

Happily, I may be something of a Tough Mudder fanboy, so I thoroughly enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at TM’s origin story. And since I am a fanboy, I had heard many of the stories before, but it was entertaining to hear them again, and it was good to get Dean’s spin on many of the company legends.

In particular, it was fascinating to get Dean’s version what I think of as OCR’s Original Sin, the controversy over Dean’s using the concepts developed at the Tough Guy race by its creator “Mr. Mouse” and applying them to the Harvard Business School project that later became Tough Mudder. For those not familiar with the story, you may wish to watch Rise of the Sufferfests by Scott Keneally (which you should watch regardless, as it is a great documentary). The outline of the story is that Dean observed the Tough Guy event, consulted with Mr. Mouse and then built on those ideas to create Tough Mudder. Mr. Mouse sued and Harvard took Dean to task for violating the “Harvard Business School Community Values of ‘honesty and integrity’ and ‘accountability’”(and yes, if you find the concept of Harvard Business School trying to shame one of its graduates over ethics to be comical, you are not alone).

I had heard this narrative in Keneally’s film and in other sources, but for the first time in “It Takes a Tribe,” I got to see Dean’s side of the story. His version is convincing, but more than that the reader learns about the personal toll the litigation took on Dean and his colleagues. Dean also gets the opportunity to snipe about Harvard Business School days and his shabby treatment by the school after he graduated.

Dean is the tall Englishman on the right.

On the one hand, Dean does not hold back about his opinions about Harvard and his fellow HBS students. Similarly, he is not silent about his opinions of his former employers at the British Foreign Office, where he had a brief career before moving to the US. On the other hand, he frequently cites his experiences at both institutions in this book and uses them to demonstrate lesson after lesson about how he has used those experiences to make Tough Mudder the company it has become.

Like all MBAs who become CEOs, he compares himself with other entrepreneurs he admires, mostly ones he has worked with over the years. Of course, every entrepreneur wants to be compared to Steve Jobs, who gets name checked in the book more than once. In reality, Dean’s counterpart is, instead, Bill Gates: driven by numbers, looking years down the road, but not as obviously a genius. Dean has worked hard and kept focus, and his company has made steady, relentless growth by careful analysis and cautious progress. The bright orange obstacles with the cheeky names are thoroughly tested, tweaked, and re-launched to maximize the challenge they offer and to keep the customers returning. A very MBA approach to numbers guides everything the company does, and its success might be a tribute to that Harvard Business School education that keeps Dean so conflicted.

There is an obvious companion to “It Takes a Tribe,” namely Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena’s book “Spartan Up!” In fact, a recent search on Amazon has the two books listed under “Frequently Bought Together.” The two books are good representations of both CEOs and both brands. Dean’s book involves less derring-do, fewer personal exploits, and less lecturing. “Spartan Up!” also glosses over Spartan’s own Original Sin, its treatment of early Spartan superstar Hobie Call.  Both books include profiles of people whose lives have been changed by taking part in these events, and those who love transformation stories will get their fill in either book.

As the two dominant brands in OCR grow, they appear to be coming closer together. Tough Mudder was founded as a challenge-not-a-race, but the past few years have seen the introduction of competitive events from Tough Mudder ready for TV broadcast. Likewise, the fiercely individual Spartan Races have been emphasizing the role of teamwork in their summer reality series Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge. Both brands have launched exercise classes, Tough Mudder Bootcamp and Spartan Strong. Both have major clothing sponsors and both are expanding overseas. While their offerings start to converge, having a book like “It Takes a Tribe” will be a useful way to remember how the two companies and their founders are profoundly different.

Check out Will Dean on our Obstacle Racing Media podcast here

Rea Kolbl – Second Chance Athlete

Rea-Kolbl-warming-up-before-Palmerton-superI was lucky to be featured on the Palmerton Spartan Race episode the other day, and I got a chance to share my story of how I got to where I am now. In case you missed it, here’s the short version.

I grew up doing sports, and I was on the Slovenian National Gymnastics Team for almost 10 years. Gymnastics was my life, and I didn’t quite realize just how dangerous having just one big dream could be until I lost it; and with it, losing all of my dreams of being an athlete.

It took me a while, but I did find a new life; one where sports were a side thing, a hobby I did on most days, but taking a day off was perfectly fine, too, if there were other things that got in the way. I lost my fitness, and if someone invited me to climb a mountain I’d have to first consider if I was physically capable of the challenge.

Rea-Kolbl-Double-sandbag-at-Palmerton-Super

And then one day, I signed up for a Spartan Race. There are so many commercials and ads out there, advertising how Spartan changes lives. And really, if you pick any sport or activity, chances are there’s someone saying the same thing. But what I think makes Spartan different, is that it really does change lives (and here I’m mostly talking about Spartan and not obstacle racing, in general, because in my short career so far I haven’t had much chance to branch out and try other events).

After Palmerton episode aired, so many people reached out to me, sharing their stories which were so similar to my own. It’s a beautiful thing, realizing you’re not alone and that your experience is not so different from so many others out there. They shared their stories of injuries that ended their athletic careers when they were young; stories of being forced out of the sports, for one reason or another, thinking that that was the end of the road. But then they found Spartan. And a chance to be athletes again.

Rea-Kolbl-fire-jump-at-Palmerton-Super

So what I realized is that Spartan Races are giving so many people their second chance at what they loved when they were younger. It’s like a second chance sport, and it’s beautiful and amazing how much happiness this can bring. What makes OCR unique is the broad skill set it requires. You need to be fast to run the course; you need to be agile to cross the obstacles; you need to be strong to complete the heavy carries.

And I bet that no matter the sport you did as a child (or young adult), it probably covered at least some aspect that is very important for obstacle racing. It equipped you with a part of a skill set that makes you good at this, and that makes you want to try again, train harder, finish faster, and do it better. And it ultimately makes you stick with it.

There’s also this element of learning on the go that’s unlike any other sport. You don’t know the obstacles on the course ahead of time, and even if you do they might change a little, and you have to figure out how to tackle them. And this need to overcome the unknown fosters the community. There were so many races where I’ve made long-lasting friends from discussing obstacle strategies or trying to develop one together. I did a lot of trail running races before falling in love with Spartan and, while there were definitely chats at the finish line, these were more of a polite small talk. Because everyone there knows how to run, there is no point in discussing with fellow runners how to tackle the trail, how to put one foot in front of another.

Matching-tops-at-Palmerton-Super-Start

In gymnastics, the routines were so polished by the time you performed them and so individual, there was no need to chat about strategies with your competitors. But that’s different in obstacle course racing. There’s always something new to learn, and every race is a chance to improve. More importantly, it’s also a chance to make more friends.

So, people stick with it. The first time I came for the race, but then I kept coming back for the people. Spartan gave me and so many others a chance to find another passion, another focus, a sport to stick with both for the sport and the people in it.

The other day I was thinking that Spartan races are a lot like kindergarten. You play in the mud, swing on monkey bars, and you make friends. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why obstacle course racing can bring back the childhood dreams, and make you an athlete again.

Lindsay-Webster-embraces-Rea-Kolbl-at-the-Palmerton-Super-finish

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

Want to train like Rea? Check out one of her favorite workouts on ORM’s Train Like a Pro series.

Rea Kolbl – The Ascent (Pro Recap)

WEST VIRGINIA RACE (AND A SHORT US CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES) RECAP

By Rea Kolbl

Rea-Kolbl-crosses-first-in-West-Virginia

For many racers, the season started in Seattle. But for me, due to excitement from joining the Pro Team and not being able to wait for the Championship series to begin, it started a few months before in December where I went to all the west coast Spartan Races I could get to by car.

I managed to win most of them which gave me a false sense of confidence that I could win them all; it gave my fans the confidence that I could beat them all. And with that came the expectation that the Seattle race was mine to win. But this couldn’t be further from what actually happened; I barely caught the top five, more of a disappointment to me than I was willing to admit. And although I’m known to race with a smile, I spent a good chunk of that weekend in tears, and Bun barely managed to convince me that it’s okay not to win all the races. That it’s okay just to be happy for others, and that this is not the end of my racing career.

New Mindset

So eventually, I came to terms with that too; I realized that my worst mistake was trying to beat the others, and in the process, I lost to myself. So I made a promise to myself that for the rest of the series, I will run my own race, cheer on the others, and be happy on the course and after the race, no matter the outcome. And so the climb began, both literally, and figuratively. Over the next three races, my performance steadily improved, and I did manage to hit the podium twice, being quite happy the first time it happened in Palmerton (I cried there again, but this time they were tears of joy; although the volunteers at the finish line were quite puzzled whether or not they should call a medic for help).

Rea-Kolbl-Carrying-the-sandbag-at-West-Virginia-Beast

So I went from the 5th place in points back in contention for the three podium spots. But the rankings were so close! Alyssa (Hawley), Nicole (Mericle), and I were separated by a point, and I was in the middle. With the West Virginia race being the tiebreaker, this meant that our relative positions at that race would also determine our rankings for the whole series. And that mattered, a lot. I knew just how high the stakes were, and I’d say about 80% of the nights leading to the race consisted of dreams where I was running the race. So by the time I showed up to the venue, I was ready. I don’t think I’ve ever been so determined to give a race everything I’ve got, and I think that made all the difference.

West Virginia Beast

The West Virginia Beast started as usual, with Nicole breaking out of the start line and setting the pace. But I was surprised at how quickly I caught her. Then the hills started, my favorite, and I knew that I would be first to the summit.

By the way, if you raced, I hope you took a moment to look around on top of the Stairway to Sparta; that view was quite unlike any other. We could see for miles!! And with the morning clouds hovering around the surrounding valleys, it was hard not to be taken in by just how beautiful the landscape was that we were racing in. 

But then the down hills began, and the whole time I was waiting for Lindsay (Webster) to catch up. It was such a surprise that I was still in the lead, coming back down to the venue. I lost my lead missing the spear, which gave Nicole about a 30-second lead. Normally, I would be really bummed having to do burpees, but this was the first race where I accounted for that possibility. And when my 30 (32 actually, just to be safe) burpees were over, I was ready to run. To run even harder than I did before, and to do everything I could to catch Nicole. In a sense, chasing is so much easier than leading, at least for me. And once we were on top of that last hill, Nicole and I were neck to neck. Then the descent started.

Racing Nicole

I knew Nicole was faster than me on the obstacles, so I had one chance to take the lead I would need to come out of that final gauntlet in first. So I sprinted faster than I ever sprinted on trails before. And the whole time I was hoping that Lindsay and Nicole were not going to catch me. It felt like one of those nature shows where a gazelle is chased by a pride of lions. Then the Twister. And I still had the lead. Herc hoist; and I was still in first. Olympus and no one had passed me. Then came the multi rig, my arch nemesis, also again right by the finish line.

During the series, I lost a place just yards from the finish line in three out of four races. In Seattle I slipped to 5th doing burpees, in Monterey Alyssa flew by me as I was hanging awkwardly on a rope at the rig, and in Asheville my slow and steady through Twister was a little too slow and too steady, costing me the win as Lindsay took the gauntlet by storm. All of that was going through my head as I was starting the rig. There were no ropes this time, just rings, bar, and back to rings. But that bar was pretty up high, and the first time I reached for it I missed it, and I started spinning instead of swinging, struggling to hold on.

Rea-Kolbl-on-the-Rig

As I was stuck on that ring and Nicole was catching up (I probably had about a 30 second lead coming into the gauntlet), all of the races where I lost places right there, yards before the finish line, replayed in my head. And there was just no way I was going to let that happen again. So I finished. I caught the bar, crossed the rest of the rig, and rang the bell. Still in first. I couldn’t believe it… I was clear of the obstacles, yards from the finish line, and still in first. Which also meant second in the US Championship Series. I made it.

Words of Gratitude

It seems like I lost in Seattle because I won so many races before; and I won in West Virginia because I lost everywhere else. My weaknesses made me strong when it mattered the most. Thanks to all my sponsors who helped me come out of this in one piece. Thanks to Reebok for making sure I was running in OCR shoes this season, with proper gear all around. Thanks to Brave Soldier for their support after each race, and for choosing me to help represent their brand. Thanks to King’s Camps and Fitness for letting me train in their gym – there’s no way I would be able to hold on to that rig if it wasn’t for all of Mike’s workouts at his open gym. He also taught me the J-hook! No more legless rope climbs guys!! Thanks to Dr. Eva Chiu from Bayside Chiropractic for keeping my back in one piece, which is quite a task given how much of a beating it takes on a daily basis. And most importantly, huge thanks to Bunsak, whose support made my dark days brighter and my good days even more amazing.

Now bring it on, Tahoe!

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

Want to train like Rea? Check out one of her favorite workouts on ORM’s Train Like a Pro series.

 

Toughest Mudder Midwest… It’s Colder Than You Think!

Rockford, IL is the location for the Toughest Midwest. Being that it’s summer in the Midwest… It’s going to be hot, right? Not so fast there, Speed Racer! Actually, Northern Illinois can get a bit chilly this time of year.

The current forecast notwithstanding, you are looking at a much colder feel for Toughest Midwest than we felt in Atlanta for Toughest South even though the current AccuWeather forecast shows pretty much identical weather for this upcoming race. Now before everyone gets their panties in a bunch let me explain why this will be the case.

Me @ Toughest South

Training for the Cold

Many of the participants at this event have been training in the dead of Summer. In the US, the average temperature for most places is likely in the low to mid-80s during the day with low temperatures in the low 70s at night. As I prepared for toughest South I was doing most of my running and training in the cold of winter in the Midwest. This means colder running temperatures as well as colder water during my submersion training.

Basically, my body was getting used to an event in the cold even though I was racing and Atlanta where it would prove to be much warmer. It’s going to be the opposite case at Toughest Midwest. For this event, participants have acclimated to warm-weather training and racing during the summer months. Now racers will most likely face a much colder environment than they’ve acclimated too and there will be no opportunity for the sun to help keep stave off hypothermia.

Prevent Hypothermia

Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone will have issues with the temperatures. People who live in the northern US will be much more used to the weather. Hopefully, those who have been in a much warmer climate throughout the summer will have planned a way to train in cold water.

My Battle Corps teammate, Kelly Dzierzynski, scheduled a trip to Southern Wisconsin this week that is actually part of her training for what will be her initial go at a Toughest event. “I’ve had issues with hypothermia at OCRs in the past so I’m not taking anything for granted. I’ve been subjecting myself to progressively longer early morning submersions in Lake Michigan when the air temps are in the 60’s like they are supposed to be on the night of the race. Then, in between submersions while I’m still soaking wet, I have been throwing in some bear crawls, and running in the sand while dealing with that wind coming off the lake. Since this is all new to me I want to be ready for anything!”

Kelly Dzierzynski in Lake Michigan

A lot of you Mudders out there aren’t as fortunate as Kelly, so you will have to be more creative with you preparation. Now my World’s Toughest Mudder brethren out there can see what’s coming… The following are some tried and true recommendations that many of us use in preparation for the granddaddy of all obstacle course races so I suggest putting these into play for this “baby brother” version of that event.

Training

– Start taking cold showers or ice baths ASAP!

– Run cold/wet. If the weather isn’t that cold then get wet and run in the early morning to ensure you are facing the lowest temperature possible.

– When you do your “wet runs” do so in clothing that will not dry quickly (cotton, etc).

– Turn the air down in your house or at the office and wear minimal clothing. Get comfortable being uncomfortable!

– Find a largest/deepest body of water near you in which to swim (deeper water will be cooler).

 

Race Prep

– Bring your wetsuit/shorty.

– Pack your Neptune Thermoregulation System or Frog Skins, or Hyperflex Vest, shorty wetsuit or whatever you have to use as transition gear.

– Don’t forget your windbreaker. This should almost be a required item!

– Bring your Dry Robe (just in case).

Evan Perperis @ Toughest NE

Wetsuit Optional (Or Is It?)

As a veteran of five World’s Toughest Mudders and one Toughest Mudder, I have learned through my experience that you need to come to a race like this prepared for anything. You need to bring most, if not all, of your gear and have a plan in place to deal with pretty much whatever mother nature throws your way whether that be a sand storm in Vegas or a rain storm in Rockford.

WTMer, Evan Perperis finished 7th at the Toughest Northeast race has a similar philosophy, “I always bring a lot of options to the Pit and then make a game-time decision. My choices range from just shorts with no shirt and then adding various accessories like a hat or hood or maybe my Neptune shirt all the way to a full wetsuit.”

Funny thing…There is an ongoing joke in the World’s Toughest Community, “no wetsuit necessary.” This refers to the poor souls who show up to WTM without a wetsuit. While a wetsuit isn’t necessarily required for this event I definitely wouldn’t underestimate the variability of MidWestern weather patterns. However, if you do come unprepared and need some help come find me in the Pit. I’ll be crewing for a few people but I’m happy to lend a hand!

Photo Credits: Tough Mudder, Battle Corps, Subjects’ Own

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