Bonefrog Buffalo – the Endurance Unicorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Elevation Profile for the 8 Mile Challenge Course

HESCO BoneFrog Challenge Sprint Course – Atlanta Race Review

It’s quite an experience arriving at an OCR venue alone. This is the first race I’ve run without a buddy or two along for the ride and while that always makes for a great time, running solo did help me focus not only on my performance on the course but also the purpose of this particular event. This past Saturday, I took part in my first HESCO BoneFrog Challenge at Highland Park Resort in Cedartown, Georgia west of Atlanta. Proceeds from BoneFrog benefit the Navy SEAL Foundation which, in their own words, “provides immediate and ongoing support and assistance to the Naval Special Warfare Community and its families”. Their goal was on my mind from the moment I woke that day and proved to be all the motivation I needed to finish strong.

My latest OCR adventure began with parking at the venue. I paid and was directed through a fairly wooded area already pretty thick with makeshift rows of parked cars. I got the impression this was unplanned overflow because the attendant to whom I spoke told me, “Just find a spot where you won’t block anybody in. It’s going to be tight today.” I was certain I would end up being the one blocked in when I returned to my car after the race. After pushing that fear out of my head, I headed toward the starting area. Because I wasn’t in the designated parking area, there wasn’t any signage pointing the way, so I just followed the sound of the music and P.A. announcements and ended up crossing part of the course to get there. Whoops.

BoneFrog Atlanta Festival Area

The starting area for BoneFrog was excellent; one of the best setups I’ve seen. There were large signs everywhere indicating the ever present stops at any OCR event: registration tent, bag check, beer taps, etc. I didn’t have to wait in line for anything (with the exception of the hoses for washing off afterward.) Everything was in close proximity to everything else and well laid out overall. Probably the coolest aspect though was there was a fantastic view of most of the sprint course.

BoneFrog Atlanta Sprint Course

The venue itself is primarily used for motorsports like racing dirt bikes and ATVs. Because of this, the majority of the entire sprint route could be viewed from the starting area. Running it was unique in comparison to other obstacle courses because of the constant switchbacks and hairpin turns. Despite all the running, it never felt like I was making progress from a distance standpoint. Even the shorter sections of the course that did go through the surrounding woods off the track remained in earshot of the music, which was strange because I think most people who run OCR associate hearing the D.J. with being near the end of the run. Additionally, it was dry, hard-packed dirt so running it felt more like a road race than a trail run. Finally, this place must have had other designated trails still open for motocross because the high-pitched growl of motorcycle engines was constant along the wood line and I saw more than a few riders fly by on trails adjacent to ours. It was all a bit disorienting and outside the lines of what I’d describe as the typical OCR experience, but those elements did bring some uniqueness and even what I’d consider new challenges to BoneFrog which I appreciated.

As far as the obstacles go, they were solid. Every structure was well-built and challenging though I didn’t see much I hadn’t seen before at other races in some form or another which a few exceptions. (Please note, I ran the shorter sprint course which was about four miles. The nine-mile challenge course ventured much further from the starting area, went deeper into the surrounding forest, and certainly offered more obstacles I didn’t even see. I’m looking forward to checking out the event photos to see what else was there and more importantly what to train for next time BoneFrog comes to Georgia.)

BoneFrog Atlanta Dirty Name

One of those exceptions was a beast referred to as the “Dirty Name”. I have no doubt it got this name due to all the cursing and swearing it generates from those who attempt it. I made it up to the second tier and thought long and hard about going for the third one before jumping to the ground instead. Without mincing words, I’m a short man and that top log was incredibly muddy and slick by the time I got there. I saw a good number of racers hang on for dear life, exhaust themselves, and ultimately fall before I made the decision to abandon it. I’m no elite competitor, just a weekend warrior out for fun, so no obstacle is worth injury to me. It was a good one and I truly hope I have the opportunity to attempt it again sooner than later.

BoneFrog Atlanta Rolling Thunder

Another cool obstacle I’d never seen before was called “Rolling Thunder”. It consisted of a long horizontal barrier with tires running the length of it. To successfully negotiate it, all I had to do was haul myself over it to the other side just like any other static barrier on any other obstacle course. At first glance, it didn’t look difficult at all. It only looked about six feet high and I knew I’d gone over taller walls without help. However, it didn’t occur to me that once I hit the tires they’d start rolling. Very deceptive…that little motion made the obstacle exponentially more difficult. It took me a couple of attempts but I managed to get over it.

When thinking about most of the other more common obstacles I encountered, I’ve come to the conclusion that my OCR performance is a lot like my golf game. I’ve done this enough times now to know exactly what’s going to give me trouble and cause bouts of frustration before I even get on the course. Further, nothing about that observation is going to change until I find time to practice specific skills more than I already do.

BoneFrog Atlanta Black Ops at Finish Line

I’m a three quarter monkey bar man. It seems no matter how long the set is, I make it about three-quarters of the way across before I slip off. Neither Black Ops nor either of the other hanging obstacles at BoneFrog was an exception.

For some reason, I can’t seem to climb a rope to save my life either. I managed to do it once at BattleFrog (RIP), but that seems to have been an adrenaline-fueled fluke. I guarantee there’s a rope climb going in my backyard very soon as I can no longer handle walking away from a rope climb without hitting a bell.

There are some really tall walls out there on some of these runs. I can get over six and eight-foot walls on my own without too much trouble but these ten and twelve-foot monsters drive me nuts. Like I said, I’m not the tallest guy in the world by a long shot and regardless of the teamwork attitude nearly every participant maintains during a race it always feels a little awkward to ask a stranger if I can step on their thigh or even their shoulder. I might just have to learn to get used to it.

BoneFrog Atlanta Cargo Climb

If I were forced to call out BoneFrog on any shortcomings, it would be a big stretch. There’s very little to criticise at all. Here are the relatively minor things I saw that could be improved for next time:

  • I found that my interactions with volunteers at each obstacle varied wildly. At the first wall, there was a kid chastising racers LOUDLY for using the wall support to get a boost. On the other hand, there were other obstacles where volunteers were very friendly and helpful. And, then there were those volunteers that said little or nothing motivational, critical or otherwise. So, the entire volunteer experience was inconsistent and kind of all over the map.
  • The wooded sections of the sprint course were well marked for the most part but they became extremely narrow in some areas and I don’t think any brush had been cut from the path in preparation for race day. I ran into a lot of tree branches and all sorts of other vegetation consistently.
  • In regards to broken trail marking lines, they really only became an issue at a small section of the course near the parking areas. It was hard to tell, but it seemed like part of the course crossed a dirt road very close to the lot and as a result, there were a couple of cars leaving the venue while runners were on the road at the same time. It was an extremely small section relatively speaking, but it could have been a potential safety issue.
  • While climbing up Black Ops near the finish line, I did hear a participant alert someone with the event staff that Dirty Name was unattended and needed to be for safety reasons. There was a volunteer at that obstacle earlier in the day when I reached it.

It’s my understanding that these last two items were being addressed immediately upon being reported. Nice response BoneFrog!

BoneFrog Memorial Wall

(Memorial Wall Photo Courtesy of BoneFrog’s Facebook Account)

Minor complaints aside, this was an excellent event and one of my best OCR experiences to date. My favorite parts of BoneFrog were the two obstacles included for the sole purpose of memorializing the SEALs and other military members who had lost their lives in battle in service to our country. Roughly half way through the run, every racer ascended a long incline referred to as the “Stairway to Valhalla”. At the peak was a Memorial Wall where anyone was welcome to pay tribute to any fallen member of the military close to them or to whom they held in high regard. The view from here was amazing.

BoneFrog View From Valhalla

As if that weren’t touching enough, near the very end of the course, a large wooden sign was posted listing the names of 31 heroes who died in combat. Before proceeding, every racer was directed to read a name aloud, do a burpee, and then repeat. I completed all thirty-one burpees but frankly those last few likely didn’t meet the Navy’s standards. Still, that obstacle and the entire race was humbling and one I’ll be feeling long after the soreness subsides. I could not be more pleased or feel more honored to participate in such an event.

BoneFrog Atlanta Finish