Savage Race Dallas

Getting Savage Again

Every Savage is a unique experience.  On a hot day in October at the Beaumont Guest Ranch in Grandview, Savage Race Dallas began in great weather. Everyone was having a great time with a smile on their face.  Savage brings a unique feeling to the OCR community which allows serious athletes to compete and test one another, but to joke and share a hug at the same time.

Savage Race Venue

The Beaumont Ranch is a quintessential Texas venue.  I enjoyed the “Texas” feeling this venue offered more than anything.  Savage did a great job utilizing what little elevation and technical terrain they had access to on the ranch to provide some challenge.  Occasional hills, dried creek beds, and patches of brambly grass provided a technical challenge in a state not known for running elevation.

The scenery in the creek beds and the occasional tight spot through some trees was a sight to behold.  These routes gave me the feeling of fleeing outlaws in the old west. The winding path of the race course was well thought out and utilized every natural obstacle around.  Despite its lack of extreme elevation, the scenic Texas venue made up the difficulty with a good bit of heat.   The lack of any foliage to block the sun can take its toll on runners and hydration was a must.  Savage did a great job providing a total of three water stations spaced out quite well and before key obstacles.

Beaumont Ranch Savage Race Dallas 2017 venue

Beaumont Ranch Facebook

Volunteer Performance

Well-informed volunteers did a great job of being sure the pros were aware of all the rules.  They were also quick to call out any pro who did not follow them.  The volunteers also did a superb job of being sure to repeat safety concerns to competitors at each obstacle such as Davy Jones Locker and Sawtooth.

Obstacles

Designers placed “warm-up” obstacles over the first mile of the course quite well.  A good mix of crawls, under overs, and climbing walls lead you into the second mile which also upped the ante in the terrain.

In the extreme heat Shriveled Richard (Savage’s always super cold ice bath) was almost a welcome sight.  Shriveled Richard immediately led into Squeeze Play which wasn’t under water this time around.  After a bit more running and a water break, we moved through Back Scratcher, Big Cheese, and Big Ass Cargo before hitting the third mile-marker.

Savage did a superb job at keeping rhythm with the obstacles. There were about three obstacles per mile.  All of the difficult obstacles were not placed at the end of the course.  Savages “spectators are allowed anywhere on the course” stance can benefit in the course design in this way.

Savage

Savage Dallas Anthem

Summon your Inner Savage

Next came the upper-body grinder with three obstacles in succession: Tree Hugger, Wheel World, and Kiss My Walls.  These well thought out designs can annoy, challenge, and push competitors to the brink.  We train even harder to be ready for the challenge the next time around.

Each bit of terrain traversal leading to well-placed obstacles felt like a pleasant progression in difficulty to the finish line rather than a slog.  Nearing the end of the 6.5 miles, competitors encountered the new obstacle: Hang-a-rang.  This balance obstacle consisting of two logs suspended from chains is a welcome break up to the usual OCR fare.  Competitors were not allowed to touch the chains but only the tiny rope midway through each log.

Savage Hang-a-rang Savage Facebook

Savage Hang-a-rang

The adventure ended with Davy Jone’s Locker, the time consuming Mad Ladders, the infamous Twirly Bird, and Blazed.  Many competitors speed through until the end: shoulders worn out, forearms burning only to see Twirly Bird standing between them and the finish.  Nothing compares to seeing the smile on racers’ faces as they conquer a well-designed, just difficult enough obstacle like Twirly Bird.  They then jump over the flames with gusto to the cheers of a crowd able to comfortably witness it all from the festival area.

Final Thoughts

Other than one skimmed-over piece of stray barbed wire in a creek bed that could have caused an injury, Savage Race Dallas had no other detriments.  Designers utilized the venue to their utmost and created a hella good experience for racers and spectators alike.  Savage Race Dallas succeeded in cementing my love for the race series and showing me that they continue to improve as a company in providing both challenge and experience for the money.  I would also like to note that upgrading to Pro from Open on-site was quick and simple.  I have never had such an easy time with a company in modifying a registration.

Bling

I will say the new syndicate medals and state pins are a welcome adage to my collection.  These medals are high quality.  You don’t have to buy something extra to put them on OR pay extra money to get one.  Savage seems to have continued to grow and excel while still maintaining that care for their customers and appreciating what they do. Just like the words from amazingly talented Emcee Matty T, “Savages are a family.”  We are all there for one another, and that sense of family is something that is truly felt from the festival area to the course, to the finish.

 

Savage Race Syndicate Medal

My second Savage Race Syndicate 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.

Spartan Beast Windsor, UK 2017

My Spartan journey began way back when (2014) when my brother persuaded me to run the Spartan Sprint in Calgary, Canada. Since then I have done another Sprint, a Super and now this. The Beast.

I’m excited and scared all at the same time.

First Spartan Experience

My Sprint experience in Calgary was interesting. I had trained to “run” sure, but I wasn’t prepared for the world of hurt that this 5K obstacle course race had in store for me. It took me so much longer than my brother (@theOCRGuy) that he finished the race and walked back along the course looking for me (embarrassing). After that, I vowed to never not train for a race again. It was also the day I experienced post-Spartan Five Guys Burger and Fries. Soon to become a new tradition, one that I took home with me to the UK.

Trifecta Hunt

My next Sprint in Wales, UK was better. Way better. I did it in half the time with a harder course. And as a bonus, I beat some of the lads running with me. Score. There’s something to be said about training well for a race;  you enjoy it far more not only because the world of pain is far less, but also the satisfaction of finishing without wanting to die is great. Post-race Five Guys burger and Fries was also amazing. Yay for recovery food.

The Super was next on the list. I took to this race alone. I was due to take part in another Sprint but it clashed with a friend’s Hen party so I deferred my entry and in a spur of the moment decision, decided to level up. It was a great decision. The race was well laid out and was really tough. That’s a great compliment for Spartan Races. I was exhausted by the end but was so happy to add to my own trifecta display. Sadly, no Five Guys after this race but Nandos would have to do. (Nandos is a chain of Portuguese Chicken restaurants).

I had to complete my trifecta (I know, I haven’t done it in a single season this year). It was a no-brainer. And after the Super, I am glad to be taking part in this race with three guys. Let’s be fair to me, I can handle the race alone, but the lonely trip to Windsor and then Five Guys Burger and Fries on my own after was not appealing. No doubt that this race I will be referred to as ‘one of the lads’. Game on.

The dreaded day came. I had already been assured by my brother that, “You’re going to die Nance, but you’ll be alright.” I was trying to hide the fact that I was actually terrified of what this Spartan Beast would entail. A couple of days earlier, Spartan published their race layout and the amount of Beast Green on the map was enough to realise that it was true and that I might actually die. The death waiver was signed and filed so, at least Spartan Inc. was covered.

Windsor Beast

This will be the 4th Spartan race I have taken part in and up until this point, I have always had nothing but good things to say. Having said that, I was a little disappointed with a few aspects of the day.

I’m not sure how much control Spartan had over this, but it was absolute chaos getting into Rapley Farm. A busy two-lane road already had a lane closure meaning that we were left sitting in traffic for a good 15 -20 minutes before we even got to park. Then there was a decent walk to registration, a little bit of a queue which all accumulated in us missing our 12 o’clock heat.

But, hey ho. We tagged along on the next heat. I knew this was going to challenge me, so I took the slow and steady approach. After waving the lads off I put my head down and began running.  

The obstacle count for this race was intense, so instead of boring you all with a description of each one and how it slowly destroyed my will to live, I’ll just talk about the ones that were mildly aggravating and the ones that I kind of liked (WHAT?).

Beastly Obstacles

Bottlenecks are my least favourite part of an obstacle course race. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but the first pipe crawl (which seems to be missing on the course map) caused lots of people to climb out of the muddy ditch in which it was situated and take the burpee forfeit. Not cool. I was in a queue for at least 15 minutes. Not the best way to start this Beast.

I loved any type of ‘a-wall’ obstacle and there were a few. I particularly enjoyed the climb the rope up one side and cargo net down the other side. Otherwise known as the ‘Slip Wall’. I saw strong men and women slip on this one. I instantly felt better about myself because I nailed it. Amongst these a-wall obstacles were ‘Stairway to Sparta’ and a good old ‘Cargo Net’. I mean, I was allowed to enjoy myself some of the time right?

Every time I reached one of the life draining 4′, 6′, and 8′ walls I was reminded that I hate walls. The first lot I could manage. The last two I decided to look as helpless as possible ’til someone noticed and asked if I needed help. It worked of course.

There were also plenty of ‘Pick this up, carry it round there and bring it back please’ obstacles. Tyre Carry, Log Carry, Sandbag Carry, Atlas Carry, Bucket Carry, Farmers Walk, and yet another Sandbag Carry. So many carries. My only negative opinion about these challenges was that they really weren’t that challenging. I figured that the sheer amount of obstacles they needed to cram in meant that we didn’t have to carry anything for all that long. Why am I complaining you ask? I’m not sure. I think I just felt like these obstacles were a bit of a break from the rest and I’m not sure how I felt about that.

Three barbed wire crawls meant that my forearms are significantly battered. I can see the bruises as I type and my colleagues at work are a bit concerned. They think I’m crazy and they are probably right.

Bender, I have a bone to pick with you. I hated you in the Super until I beat you. Then I loved you, then you hurt me. Taking a friction burn on my upper inner arm was a gift I could have done without. The pain was real. I beat you, but I’m sorry. Our friendship is over.

On a similar note, Rope Traverse – You are just as bad as Bender. I like the skin on the back of my ankles where it is because it serves a purpose. And after taking that away from me, you also dropped me and gave me burpees. Cheers.

Next up were Twister, The Multi Rig and the Rope climb. No, no, and Just no. I hate you all. Sensing a theme here? My arms were out of energy now and I failed all of them. My legs were getting heavy now, and the race was becoming a blur. Not because it wasn’t good, I was fatigued and probably high on a combo of Clif Shot Bloks and bananas.

The last 10 – 15 minutes of the race were packed with obstacles. What a way to lull you into a false sense of security! I could see the finish line, but was still not there. My personal favourite was the ‘Balance Walls’. I am so glad I practised hard in gymnastics on the balance beam. Come at me jelly legs. Olympus just earned me more burpees. A left calf cramp on 8′ wall number 1 made it interesting and the 8′ wall number 2 was scary at the top, but when I turned to jump down, I was greeted by cheers from the rest of my team (who had probably been waiting for hours). Fire jump, medal and done. 

The Windsor Spartan Beast certainly lived up to its name. Aside from a few hiccups in parking and getting into the race, I am so glad I did it.

I have come to realize that my motto for these races really has become, ‘You can tell a race is good when it makes you never want to do it again.’

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!

Chicago Terrain Race

 

Terrain Race Chicago

The Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois played host to the second annual Terrain Race on September 30th. After the collapse of a rig the previous year at this same location I was curious to check out the event again and was pleased to see the craftsmanship of the obstacles was significantly upgraded. All the obstacles felt solid and safe which allowed athletes to really push themselves without worry on the flat and fast course.

The choice of 5k or 10k was offered during registration with a higher fee charged for the 10k, but only the 5k was timed slightly upsetting those who signed up for the competitive 10k. Racers who paid for the 10k could run a second untimed lap if they chose to do so and an unlimited lay option was offered.

Registration took a little time as only two lines check-in lanes were open, one for elite and one for open class. Terrain positioned a volunteer at each obstacle but the knowledge of the rules at some of the more difficult obstacles left some elite racers shaking their heads in frustration. Personally, I feel that all races should identify where their tougher or more confusing obstacles are located and spend extra time making sure that the volunteer at that location knows exactly what’s required for obstacle completion as this would make for a much smoother race.

Plenty of restrooms were available in the lots surrounding the speedway and in the festival area. Parking in those lots set you back 10 dollars and was an easy walking distance of the registration tent.

The Course

Terrain starts their race in a unique and chilly way. Three swimming pools were filled up waist deep with freezing water. This served as the starting corral and proved to be a great way to start off a race as athletes were already subjected to the mental and physical punishment of the cold before the race even started!

After emcee Lashay Marks released us from the Pit of Despair athletes were led through the speedway grounds and over a 4 and 6-foot wall to thin out the herd some before hitting a tall wall with a rope to assist you up and over. This was the first location I noticed a racer backup as athletes had to wait their turn for an opportunity to grab a rope to conquer the wall.

Back now on the mowed grass field, Terrain led racers to a rope climb with a bell tap at the top provided the first grip strength test. This led to the lone muddy area along the course as terrain used a series of tubes, water pits, and mud mounds to get racers dirty.

A very short jog away was a yoke with a car tire attached to each side which athletes placed across their shoulders for a short distance. I’m not sure where this obstacle was supposed to start and stop.  There was a flag a short distance away for athletes to go around but there was no apparent start/stop point given. Since there were not enough yokes to go around an athlete had to wait for someone to finish and pass their yoke to the next person in line. This was another obstacle backup which frustrated those worried about their time and was one of the few obstacles with no volunteer guidance.

Obstacles

Making our way now to the speedway stadium Terrain set up a twice up and back tractor tire flip where athletes once again had to wait their turn for a chance to complete the obstacle. A few more tires located here in the future and the issue would be solved.

Terrain next used the speedway stairs to their advantage with two climbs to the top. One with a Wreckbag, and one without separated by a 5-gallon bucket carry with maybe 3 gallons of water inside each bucket. Heading back out from the parking lot to the grass a tire slam with a sledgehammer for ten yards was set up along a path leading to a ladder climb and cargo net crossing.

The trail now led us on an extended looped back around towards the festival area where the obstacle difficulty increased starting with an 8-foot wall climb immediately followed up by a tractor tire drag down and pull back.

Making our way now to the festival grounds Terrain set up the first of their two rigs. This rig proved to be the easier of the two as the first half included 3 suspended ball holds leading to a high handle followed by 4 low rings which required an athlete to use their feet to make the final transitions where a bell tap signaled fulfillment of the task.

Rigs

A short distance away the second rig was set up. This proved to be the more difficult of the two as the configuration was a repeat of ropes to single high rings. The Tarzan Swing was an appropriate name for this rig and this obstacle caused the greatest bottleneck.

The volunteer situated to explain the finish guideline was less than stellar which left some very confused as to what the finish qualifications were. Once the last rig was completed the last grip intensive obstacle was waiting in the form of a unique set of monkey bars. Situated over a pool of water this traverse led racers on a slight incline to the apex where a set of wooden beams needed to be negotiated past before the trip down the bars which was on a slight decline. These bars were tougher than they looked because some of the metal rods spun while others did not which kept athletes guessing the whole way through. The last obstacle before the finish was a combination of a balance beam leading athletes up to a cargo net crossing finally finishing with a slide down a pole where the finish line was located.

These bars were tougher than they looked because some of the metal rods spun while others did not which kept athletes guessing the whole way through. The last obstacle before the finish was a combination of a balance beam leading athletes up to a cargo net crossing finally finishing with a slide down a pole where the finish line was located.

Overall Thoughts

Despite the above-mentioned hiccups in the event, I found the Terrain Race challenging and would race it again in the future. Terrain clearly made an effort to improve the quality of their obstacles over last year and the low cost helps make this a worthwhile race.

The Chicago Speedway is a cool location to visit. Perhaps spreading out some of the obstacles would help with the racer congestion and spending a little more time instructing the volunteers on the rules couldn’t hurt.

I didn’t notice an area where you could check your finish stats and as of the Tuesday after the race, I still can’t find one online. The medals were not as big as in previous years and the finishers tee shirts were very basic but like I mentioned before, the low cost and challenging course make this a race I would run again.

2017 Spartan Race Killington Beast: Out Of Sight But Within Reach!

There is an inherent comfort associated with the knowledge of when suffering, of any kind, will release its hold on you. It’s the water stations in life that provide the moments of reprieve needed for recovery which helps us choose to continue in and prayerfully through a struggle. It’s knowing that the day’s battering at work stops when you punch the clock. But how can you keep going when the Killington Beast finish line is never in sight?

Michael Tubiak of Connecticut and Blind Pete Cossaboon of Georgia took some time to answer a few questions to give us a bit of insight into their unseen world of suffering and victory.

Q. Can you give us some details on your visual challenges?

Michael: It started with Retinitis Pigmentosa which caused me to lose my night vision and then my peripheral. It’s like tunnel vision with blind spots where I may occasionally see the perimeter of something to the point where things appear out of nowhere…including tree branches in Killington.

Pete: I was born with partial sight and had to deal with macular degeneration. In 2005, at 33 years old, the capillaries in my right eye ruptured due to stress and on April 23, 2015, I noticed I couldn’t see any variations of light.

Q. Why do you race?

Michael: I’ve always been athletic even though I was diagnosed at 14 years old. I like showing people that a challenge shouldn’t keep you home. But my biggest reason is to be an example to my 5-year-old son Evan in case he ever experiences similar issues since visual challenges run in my family.

Pete: I found out about OCR by word of mouth and figured it would be fun proving others wrong. I signed up for Warrior Dash with no guide in 2012 needed the help of four guides that I met on the course. For my 2013 Warrior Dash, I had Thomas “Uncle Grumpy” Jones by my side helping me. Matt B. Davis opened the world of OCR for me in 2014 and I am 82 races deep as of the Killington Beast. I race for the challenge of it and for the great people I’ve met along the way.

Q. Which has been your toughest race so far?

Michael: Killington! The elevation plus nutritional issues.

Pete: 2017 Killington Beast!

Q. How do you prepare for your races?

Michael: Spartan type training with bucket, hill, hanging grip exercises in addition to strength training, and preparing for a triathlon the weekend before Killington.

Pete: I work out weekly with my guide Joey and by myself. 3-5 days a week I walk 2.5 miles roundtrip to a local store.

Q. What was the most fun moment at Killington?

Michael: Competing the beast with teammates, hearing my scout yelling “13 more miles to go,” and jumping the walls.

Pete: I really enjoy the Vertical Cargo Net and the A-Frame Cargo Net since I get to show off my 2-flip technique.

Q. Funniest moment at Killington?

Michael: Funniest moments were when my scout ate M&M’s and had to dump in the woods…twice! Also when my scout asked the cameraman at the Bucket Brigade for a pic but the photog refused because he didn’t know I was visually impaired and thought I was being made fun of by my scout. There was also this psycho on the mountain cursing the downhill pretty aggressively which had me laughing.

Pete: Funniest moment for me was when I was asked if I was doing the whole thing blindfolded.

Q. Most difficult moment at Killington?

Michael: Death march! Going up and down.

Pete: Death march! I was cursing every single incline. The 2nd most difficult was the downhill. My 1st show-stopping cramp showed up just after mile 5. I prefer not to be touched but had to come out of the shell for intimate contact from Joey who is a physical therapist and trainer.

Q. Did you experience any sadness on the course?

Michael: Well, I experienced disappointment not being able to complete the Rope Climb but was sad that we didn’t finish with enough time for my scout to continue in his Ultra Beast effort.

Pete: Hearing people having to DNF was sad as well as finishing 20 minutes slower than last year.

Q. Did you ever consider quitting or at least doubt that you’d finish?

Michael: No, but this was the closest I’ve ever come to quitting.

Pete: Once, just before the cramps at mile 5 but thoughts of Joey’s sacrifices to get us there got me through.

Q. What did you learn about yourself through this experience?

Michael: My tolerance for pain was tested and is more than I expected. My toenails will depart shortly.

Pete: This was the truest test of my training and I learned how to adapt to changes.

Q. What do you hope others gained from your experience?

Michael: Inspiration they can apply to their roadblocks.

Pete: Regardless of your situation, it can be done.

Q. What would you tell your guide at this moment?

Michael: I’m sorry that I did this to you, hope we can remain friends. Without people like you Laura, I wouldn’t be able to do these things. Thank you.

Pete: Thank you, Joey! I owe you a great deal for all your efforts, training, patience, sacrifices, and for listening to my complaints…I hate hills!

Q. Would you race Killington again?

Michael: Yes, I feel less visually impaired out there. I feel like a whole person, just like anyone else and out there my son sees that his dad IS like everyone else.

Pete: 2018 Killington is already on the schedule. It’s a staple race of mine. It’s a solitary experience being the only visually impaired guy on any course but I’m joyful now knowing that Michael is out there too.

Blind Pete Cossaboon was guided by Joey McGlamory who has helped navigate Pete through Worlds Toughest Mudder, Spartan Race Agoge, and every other torturous event they can travel to. Joey runs for Ibby, just ask him!

Michael Tubiak was guided by Laura Gail who is a volunteer for https://www.achillesct.org/ as well as a 1st time Spartan. While she does train for Marathons and other traditional endurance runs, she quickly learned that she needed help on the course as well. She writes, “Thank you, Michael, for asking me to be your guide, for putting your trust in me, and for helping me realize that I’m stronger than I thought. And of course, I need to know when we are running the next one! I hope others learn that we are all capable of more than we think. Sometimes we just need to help each other.”

I had the privilege of scouting and pushing the pace for Michael and Laura as well as watching them do every last burpee for every failed obstacle…well, at least when I wasn’t off in the woods rinsing in the creeks. Hey! Don’t judge me!

God Bless and Keep Running…

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and Nelson Diaz