2018 Abominable Snow Race

Adaptation.

The ability to overcome on the fly using the skills you have developed. Some would argue this is the single biggest quality that successful obstacle course racers possess. Maybe you have mastered the ability to adapt to obstacles presented to you during the warm weather races, or maybe you’re still fine-tuning them.

Well, let me throw a monkey wrench into your comfy regime. How about we add freezing temps into the mix, maybe some ice or snow, or maybe even a mixture of them all with some mud thrown in. You love mud right? The kind where you rinse off from a hose at the end of an event while sipping your finishers beer in 80-degree sunshine? Well, this isn’t the same shit.

Winter OCR is here to stay and it’s getting bigger and tougher than ever before. Winter is no longer the offseason for OCR with events popping up all over the country. I had a chance to race in the third annual Abominable Snow Race held last weekend with a few thousand other racers from all over the country at the majestic Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva Wisconsin and I can tell you Winter OCR is here to stay. Held on the grounds of a ski resort you kind of had an idea of what to expect, but ASR chief Bill Wolfe went out of his way to make this race one people would talk about for a while.

Yeti Nation

With morning temps hovering just above freezing my family and I pulled into the Grand Geneva bright and early for packet pickup and were directed to a parking space in a lot right next to the registration tent. Thank you once again, Bill Wolfe for the VIP treatment!

I found most racers were parked in a lot a short distance away and could either walk or take a quick shuttle bus to the registration tents. Now, there were only two stations were athletes could check in making the process somewhat slow, but ASR did provide warm trailers nearby as a changing area which more than made up for the cold wait.

After getting yourself geared up and ready you entered the resort lodge, bathrooms were to your right and food and drink were upstairs. This was your final chance to warm up before leaving the lodge and entering Yeti Nation. The iconic voice of Coach Pain was the first thing you heard upon leaving the lodge, and as you stepped foot on the snow the cold smacked you right in the face as your gaze fell upon the tallest ski slope Grand Geneva had to offer. Food, merchandise, and drink tents surrounded you along with info tents from local races including Frontline, Dirt Runner, and Highlander Assault.

An Epic Adventure

ASR offered 3 different heat choices along with a little Yeti course for the younger racers. The regular Elite and Open classes were offered along with a special Hero Heat for military and first responders. The Open class course offered 22 obstacles along a 4.5-mile course while the Elite class/Hero Heat offered 25 obstacles over a 5.8-mile distance. The little Yeti course was not timed and wasn’t very difficult, but the kids really seemed to enjoy it and they got the same huge medal as the adults did! The main course itself started and ended right out in front of the main lodge offering great views for those brave enough to stay outside or watch from the warmth of the two-story lodge. ASR started off Elites first with the Hero Heat and Open class following. With Coach Pain pumping up athletes for the start I think we all had a feeling that this was going to be an epic adventure!

 

A Tale of Two Shoes

The very first thing I noticed upon starting was that all racers fell into one of two categories. It was basically the have or have nots and it came down to shoe selection. As we climbed up our first hill made of ice those with metal studded shoes moved right along while those without struggled mightily.

The course conditions remained this way throughout the race and served to thin out the crowd right away as we came to our first obstacle, a wooden wall climb named the Ice Breaker. The trail was wide enough for a vehicle during this short stretch of the race and offered the only real chance to pass as the path narrowed to one lane shortly thereafter, but not before an over/under/through obstacle.

An Inverted wall, which ASR called Cold Snap, was the last obstacle before the trail veered into the woods where the terrain turned into a single lane of muddy slush which was chock-full of rocks and tree roots making footing unbelievably slippery. This section of trail was appropriately named The Abominable Forest and lasted well over a mile. Nestled along one of the few clearings along the way ASR set up their Alaskan Oil Rigs, which ended being a type of ladder climb with the rungs set far apart and at a 45-degree angle made slick with all the tracked mud. After tapping the bell on top of the rig it was again off along the slick path and over more of the rocky hills leading to The Winter Weaver.  It was also during this section of the race where ASR threw in a triple set of hurdles and their slip wall.  These hurdles were cut into a diamond shape with a sharp point at the top making athletes regret stopping on top for very long.

 

Sled-Pull

There were a couple different ways ASR made some of their old obstacles tougher and the sled pull was one of these obstacles. In the past, the sleds were filled with snow or a sandbag and pulled along in a snow-covered circle. Now, the only real difficulty doing that was guiding the sled.

This year, ASR filled the men’s sleds with 3 sandbags and the women’s with 2 and the path this year was solid mud making the pull long and gut-wrenching. This also created a bit of a bottleneck due to racers stopping for breaks along the way. After finally getting rid of that damn sled it was back into the forest for more of the sloppy trail run leading to an uphill low crawl.

This wasn’t your normal low crawl either as the ground was made slick with ice, frozen mud, and decomposing leaves. There was no getting around becoming wet and cold after that crawl! Back on the trail now the switchbacks increased making many racers wonder just what direction they were really going. It was along this route ASR placed a 9-foot wall and their Cliff Hanger.

This was a Z type traverse wall with 2×4 pegs along with one section made up of 3 rope loops suspended from the top. The addition of the ropes was another example of ASR making their old obstacles tougher. This marked the halfway point of the course with more fun to come in the form of the Himalayan Climb up one of the snow covered hills with a cargo net climb on top.

Separating Open From Elite

The ride back down might have left you a bruise or two on your rear end as the snow was packed tight and the descent was steep causing many racers to use their backside as a sled. Athletes now followed the trail back out into the woods in a route designed to make racers loop back up one of the higher ski jump hills. ASR had used a giant Earthmover to make snow mounds to cross as a replacement for the normal mud mounds used during the summer.

Once at the top racers made their way down the back side of the slope stopping at one point to pick up a log for the Lumberjack carry. One final loop back into the woods and returning to the festival area was all that was now required. Sounds easy right?

Well not so much for the Elite and Hero Class as obstacle 18 came into view. A slingshot target was set up and a miss required burpees. However, that was for the Open Class only as Elites and Heroes skipped this obstacle and took off down an extended section of trail.

This extended version started off with a long ass low crawl as bungee cord was stretched across the one lane path for what seemed like miles. Then there was the bucket carry. ASR put their own spin on this by filling the buckets with water during the week and allowing them to freeze making them Ice buckets. An athlete certainly knew after the race if during the bucket carry they happened to bump one into their leg. And the length?? It was a long, long, long ass carry.  Many a strong racer could be seen making multiple stops along the way to regrip. The last extra obstacle along the extended route was a set of rising and descending monkey bars with a bell tap finish.

It was at this point where the extended course and main course joined back up as athletes made one last climb up the ski slope and grabbed an innertube for a fast-paced ride back down to the bottom. Now in the festival area, only two obstacles remained starting off with a set of low walls and ending up with a tip of the spear type wall traverse. Three slanted walls were set up side by side with ropes suspended from the tops of each as your only means of getting from one to the other. From there the finish line and that awesome bling was only a few meters away.

Final Thoughts

I found the 2018 version of the ASR to be not only longer and more challenging, but also much better managed. Things seemed to flow smoother and I left with a feeling of accomplishment. The racers I talked to post-race were in agreement that this year’s event far surpassed the previous year’s race.

The only real complaint I heard was that a few of the course marshals were not specific enough regarding obstacle completion during the Elite heat. But when dealing with volunteers you occasionally get these issues. Our sport is volunteer-dependent so it’s just one of the things you live with. My final thought on this event is if you think OCR is only a summer sport, think again and come on out to ASR next year!

 

Warrior Dash Wisconsin

IMG_8435

I personally specialize in ultra-Obstacle Course Racing (OCR), things like the ~8 hour BattleFrog Xtreme or the 24 hour World’s Toughest Mudder.  When not training for the ultra-OCR, I also like to race shorter races with harder obstacles, like Conquer The Gauntlet.  So you might have a guess as to what I am going to say about the only Warrior Dash I raced in 2016, Warrior Dash Wisconsin….but you would be wrong.  I actually love Warrior Dash, despite it playing to my weaknesses (short, fast and easier obstacles) and here is why…

IMG_8436

TERRAIN:  The event took place in a park with 3.1 miles of pretty well-groomed trails or parts on grass going in and out of the woods.  They even incorporated some decent elevation gain for such a short course taking advantage of the hill in the middle of the park.  In fact, it is the only time during a Warrior Dash I have ever had to walk (actually, power hiked up the hill).

IMG_8434

OBSTACLES:  Warrior Dash continues to make small changes to their obstacles year after year to keep things fresh.  With the usual array of things like over, under walls, low nets that require crawling, a fire jump, trenches and a thick mud pit, it provides a good array of obstacles.  What was new to me was their version of a rig, Fisherman’s Catch.  Unlike other courses, their rig is over water and there is a net underneath.  So if you fall, I guess you are just supposed to cross the net (even in the competitive wave…I think?).  What was surprising was the multiple lanes the rig had including one with all rings, some with a mix of rings, nunchakus and ropes and even one with all nunchakus.  I think there was about 8 different holds total all spaced fairly close together.  Overall, it is a nice addition to their event and for future events, I plan on taking a second lap to play on some of the other lanes.

IMG_8461

FESTIVAL:  Not surprising, Warrior Dash hits a home run with their festival.  With beer, food, several photo areas (giant mug, giant helmet, before/after backdrops, a version of a rig people can play on), a DJ and contests, there is fun for the whole family.  While I personally do not need this awesome festival area for a good race, it is a nice touch that makes Warrior Dash an awesome event for families.  Not even the rain could stop the positive atmosphere.  Shortly after the first couple of racers finished from the competitive wave, a light drizzle started but things continued as normal.

IMG_8437

COMPLAINTS:  My experience was nearly flawless.  With very close parking to the event, the competitive wave going off on time, the course marked well and volunteers present at key points, I had a great time.  As I was leaving, I noticed that cars were backed up pretty far for new racers coming into the festival.  Not sure if this negatively affected their experiences or not, but the parking situation was definitely looking a little rough for those racing later in the afternoon.

I could see people getting upset at the lack of timing chips (they just write down your name as you cross the line), but I did not think that was a big deal.  Although, I kind of wish there was for this specific race because the top three finishers were still in a pack with about three obstacles and about 50m of course left before the end.  Timing chips would have reflected the closeness of the race to those who were not present.

IMG_8492

OVERALL:  Although not my normal OCR, I do love throwing down at a Warrior Dash at least once a year.  The company offers a season pass at a price that is a steal ($125 for the full year of races), which should put it on your list if there is an event in your area.   I am not 100% sure why I still enjoy Warrior Dash events, maybe it is because Warrior Dash KY was my first OCR, maybe it is seeing all the new participants experiencing our sport for the first time, maybe it is the festival or maybe it is because they just do a good job with all aspects of the event.  Either way, I will continue to race Warrior Dash events as long as they keep that competitive heat.

IMG_8463

Photo Credit: Amy Perperis of Strength & Speed