Strong Viking: Hills Edition- Amsterdam- Race Review

Strong Viking claims to be the best obstacle run in the world! They were chosen as the best obstacle run in 2013, 2014 & 2015 from over 100 obstacle run events. Unique beyond any races in the States, they have many editions of their race which define the terrain and obstacles a participant can expect: Mud Edition, Hills Edition, Water Edition, and Family Obstacle Run among others. Beyond having different editions, they also offer a variety of distances at each event, 7km Lightning, 11km Warrior, 19 km Beast, and the 42km Iron Viking. If you conquer the Lightning, Warrior and Beast series in one season, racers can earn a Viking Torque bracelet. After each run, you’ll receive one distance specific bracelet and can trade the three bracelets for the Torque at one of the events.Strong-Viking-Hills-Edition-Course-Map

It was with great trepidation that I registered for a race that was called Hills Edition. I selected the 19km – Odin- which was the competitive wave. Obstacle number one was reading the confirmation emails that were in Dutch. On May 21st I was able to attend my first Strong Viking event to see if it was as great as it appeared to be online.Strong-Viking-Festival-Area-Start-and-Finish

Strong-Viking- Monkey-BarsThe race location was at a park and recreation area which backs up to Snow Planet, an indoor ski facility. Parking and registration were very organized. The festival area was energetic and packed with racers and spectators. Unlike races in the States, there were gender specific porta johns (to include urinals for men) and enclosed shower areas allowing racers to strip down and hose off before entering his/her respective changing tent. The starting line and finish line were in the same respective area and provided a focused backdrop for the entire festival area.

Upon entering the starting corral, attendants were checked for the time identifying wristband, an “Elite band” (elastic and Velcro arm band- which only fit on my leg) and filtered into a two entranced enclosure flanked by large 10-ft walls. For the Odin- competitive wave 19km and Iron Viking 42km – the number of men far exceeded the number of women (if I had to guess, I would say at least 80/20). The wave was large, as expected for a sold out event. The emcee explained the obstacles that could be averted such as a hammer throw, joust, and buddy carry- due to the dependence of another racer at the same obstacle. When the gun sounded, athletes scaled the start wall and disbursed among the course. Participants became spread out over a long uphill rock climb, descending stairs and up a second rugged ascent.Strong-Viking-Warped-Wall

Comparatively, there were many obstacles that one would expect to see at a race in the United States however some of the similar obstacles were met with a new twist. The barbed wire crawl was comparable to a Spartan Race- long and uphill, balance beams were advanced with moving levers and cylindrical steps, overs were prevalent with so many in a row they felt never ending, contrast to a typical tire pull they used a series of connected logs, there were bag carries that lead through hilly terrain which were reminiscent to a BattleFrog Series Wreck Bag carry. There was a warped wall which could be completed with or without a rope assist. A highlight was seeing a familiar friend, the Platinum Rig! (from what I could tell, the rig configuration was not so difficult that it would set Elite racers back and the lanes were the same for all participants).Snow-Planet-Tunnel-Crawl

There were many obstacles worth highlighting individually due to uniqueness. The first was the shield and hammer carry. Both pieces were made of wood, while not heavy, they had an awkwardness that made running with them a challenge, but provided a fun photo op! Using a similar but larger and much heavier hammer, there was an obstacle that required athletes to hit a log (picture a 6ft telephone pole on its side) down the length of a stand. This was quite challenging for someone of small stature and I spent a long time there to get the job done. One of my favorite obstacles was a combination of four obstacles, starting with a leap reminiscent of the dragons back at OCR World Championships, 2015. Then climbing off the dragon’s back into monkey bars. At the end of the bars there was a transition beam where you could stand to gather rings to lead to the next portion. There was a board with pegs to traverse across while holding rings in your hands. After that, you transition to a standard peg board which could be mastered in a few quick moves. A fall at any point in the duration of the obstacle would require the racer to restart. The Flying Ragnar was a leap to a hinged bar which would fling the runner out over the water, in hopes of hitting a bell at the end of a string. This was nearly impossible for anyone lightweight and short due to the counterbalance weight and distance from the bell. Toward the end of the race was a pipe slider, which was wooded parallel bars overhead, and a pipe the athlete holds perpendicular to brace over the parallel bars. Movement was achieved by pullups accompanied by kipping, while it took some time to get a feeling for the obstacle, once a rhythm was developed, it proved to be quite fun. The most miserable obstacle was the run through Snow Planet, which involved a snow crawl, incline wall, and a freezing trudge up the ski slope.Strong-Viking- Multi-Obstacle

Strong Viking exceeded my expectations for obstacle course racing in Europe. I had a great time talking with locals post-race who were very interested in how it compared to races in the States. I met many athletes who had qualified and were looking forward to attending the OCR World Championships in October. In my opinion, the course was better than most in the United States and so well marked there was no way to get off course. I would absolutely love to do another one and it would be awesome if they could bring one race a year to North America. I would gladly clear my schedule to attend. If I had to leave a critique it would be to make the Flying Ragnar more accessible for athletes of all sizes (similar critiques were on their Facebook reviews). An additional ask would be for more defined rules for mandatory obstacle completion. If you plan to travel for vacation in Europe, I would suggest putting a Strong Viking event into your schedule.

Photo Credits: Strong Viking Obstacle Run official participant photos and Dustin Radney

Give Us Our BattleFrog Back!

Elites who travel for the BattleFrog series do it for a number of reasons, a challenge, training for the OCR World Championship, and opportunity to collect the once rare and coveted Elite band. After experiencing an excellent course in Charlotte just two weeks ago, I was longing to feel that BF rush all over again. With an 80% fail rate, epic PVC monkey bars and 2 rigs per lap, it was everything I expected a Regional race to be! I kept my band, and I added it to my pile of hard earned rubber treasures. This was a stark contrast to the vast nothingness that awaited competitors in DC.

Participants of the DC BattleFrog are wondering what happened to the BattleFrog race they know and loved, and what was the trail run that showed up in its place? After each race, BattleFrog poses the question “What was your favorite obstacle?” When the most common answer was “mud”, you’re doing it wrong. 12ft Rope Wall

The race venue was beautiful: gorgeous bike trails with rolling hills and more mud than you can imagine. The Elite wave took off running, we ran, and ran some more. Finally someone said what we were all thinking, “It would be cool if this obstacle course race had obstacles.” Standard to any race, athletes were instructed to keep the flags to the right, however through the main trail there were not many flags as though the path was implied, but there were a number of off-shoot trails with arrows- for bikers- that lead people off course. Everyone I spoke with post-race had a story of confusion, as did the timing tent with sorting out who actually placed among the top of their respective fields.

The biggest issue with this race was the lack of volunteers (most likely due to Savage Race taking place in MD on the same day). All water stations but one was unmanned. Many stations had large water jugs and no cups. One sip of water on a 10-mile course was brutal; the only saving grace was that the weather was cool and the course mostly shaded. An additional obstacle was trying to shower off because the water wasn’t running, leaving some athletes standing there shivering and others wandering away in search of someone who could assist.

For a “mandatory obstacle completion” race to have no volunteers at obstacles brought out the worst in dishonest racers. I personally witnessed men leaving the rig after failure and running away with bands on, diminishing the value of the band, and having zero respect for the sport. The band has to mean something, otherwise, let me throw my spear and do some burpees.  There are too many people who are training extremely hard so that they can keep their band for the FIRST time.  Don’t insult their efforts by lowering the standard or allowing the band to be given freely to anyone who shows up and “tries”. When elites register as elites, they know exactly what they signed up for. Every time they approach that starting line, they wonder, today, will my best be good enough. Often times, it’s not, and THAT’S what keeps the Elites coming back. My band from this weekend won’t get to join the “collection” because this band has no value, despite a first place finish on the women’s podium. The completion rate had to be 90+ percent. I saw only ONE elite band left at the rig, and as far as I’m concerned, that band was the only one of value in DC, the one that wasn’t earned.  That athlete understands what an Elite band means. I am willing to bet that the respectable athlete who left it behind will be back for redemption when the BattleFrog they know and love returns.

Confidence Climb
While BattleFrog is undertaking a huge task of building a brand and working to attract a larger consumer market, they are making the returning racers wonder where this series is headed. Obviously to stay in business they need to increase their attendance numbers. One way to do this is to be consistent. After talking with Elites, first timers looking to become Elites, and open wave runners looking for a good time, there was a common consensus in DC- that race wasn’t what anyone expected it to be. Having an “elite”,”intermediate”, and “novice” lane is a great way to incorporate all levels of racers, but keep the elite field difficult. One jerry can is fine for open wave but believe me when I say all elites can handle two, regardless of course conditions. Most elites would rather shed blood, sweat, and tears on the course even to leave without a band than to be coddled in an “everyone is a winner” environment.Jerry Can CarryA returning elite who participated in BattleFrog Cincinnati last year had talked up the series to his friends about how it had been the most challenging thing he had ever done. His friends all came to DC to accept the challenge and laughed at the simplicity of it. That stops people from promoting the series, when they themselves no longer know what to expect.

I love BattleFrog. I want this series to succeed.  This race series drew me in at their first race ever-a 5k course in Miami 2014. I have attended over a dozen other BF races across the country. The series was what prepared me for OCRWC.  BattleFrog built hybrid athletes; ones who could adapt, grow, evolve, and mentally be strong enough to believe that they could conquer anything put before them.  Long wait times at obstacles were never “bottlenecks” for people making multiple attempts; they were locations where camaraderie was harvested, friendships formed, and OCR competitors were united with common goals. BattleFrog has an amazing pro team of rounded athletes and some of the nicest people you will ever meet, but for how long? If the series is no longer helping to build better athletes by presenting challenging courses, what reason will they have to stay? BattleFrog could do what they tend to do, and throw more money at problems, or they can listen to people in the OCR community and give us back our BattleFrog!

Photo credit: BattleFrog Series Facebook Page

Wadi Adventure Race- Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

Wadi Adventure Race 11

Wadi Adventure Race (W.A.R.) 11 took place on a Saturday morning on the base of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The park is home to the world’s longest man-made whitewater channels – a combined length of 1.2 kilometers- and the world’s largest surf pool. The race had 3 distances to choose from, 5k, 10k, and 15k (10k course with a repeat of the 5k course).  Each distance listed different registration types based on athletic ability with only the 10k offering an “Elite” category. It was not mandatory obstacle completion; however, the rules state a competitor must make three attempts before moving on and select obstacles had a penalty loop for non-completion.

WAR 11 Barbed Wire Crawl

Wadi water crossing

When registering for the race, we had fairly low expectations of the event compared to races in the USA. Event parking was easy, free, and close to the venue.  Registration and packet pickup was a smooth and surprisingly quick transaction. When we headed to the starting area, the earlier race waves were being announced and released every 10 minutes.  As soon as the last 5k wave departed they called for the 10k participants for a “warm up” session.  This consisted of a “coach” on a stage helping us loosen up by doing various exercises and calisthenics. As soon as the coordinated warm-up ended, they called for the elite 10k participants to move into the starting corral. We quickly assessed the competition and discussed the best path forward as they called for the final participants of the elite wave.  There was a person with a bullhorn who greeted us and quickly explained the highlights of the rules (makers, volunteers, etc…).  In a matter of seconds, he was counting down 3….2…. 1 and we were off on the normal fast paced sprint that ensues after flood gates open to every competitive wave in OCR.

Wadi Adventure Race White Water Channel

The course was surprisingly well marked for using mostly arrows to guide runners. There was an abundance of volunteers in vests who were strategically placed along the course and at every obstacle. These high visibility vests were nice because it was easy to identify the volunteers among the spectators and other competitors.  W.A.R. had many different kinds of terrain ranging from sand, cement, rocks, trail, hills and spongy plant life I have never seen before. The 10k course had 25+ obstacles, many of them comparable to what we see in the US: sandbag carry (with over/unders), tire pull, cargo net, incline wall, 8’ vertical wall, rope swing, barbed wire crawl, ladder climb, rope traverse, parallel bars, pipe crawl, ice water bath, and water crossings. Obstacles unique to the course and worth highlighting include the long monkey bars, the plunge into the surf pool – in which many people wore life jackets to assist in the swim back to shore, and the most unconventional – the run against the current through the man made white water channels.  This obstacle was surprisingly more difficult than I imagined with the rushing current being waist high at some points. Runners were cheered to the finish line and high-fived by Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pocahontas, and the Michelin Man.

Wadi Adventure Race Monkey Bars

There was a post-race buffet with at least fifteen different food options. This was real food, both hot and cold, not the standard protein bar and banana. One thing was missing – the free beer, or any beer for that matter (because of UAE regulations). The awards ceremony started on time and had prizes for podium placement in all 3 race distances and a trophy for first. Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, presented the awards and had competed in the 15k race.

Wadi Mens 10k Elite Podium and Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum

Overall, the race was a great experience and worth the hour and forty-five minute drive from Dubai. Of the 600 registered racers, there were 60 different nations represented, including 49 people from the USA.  The 5k category registrants were 46% female and 54% male, 10k was 25% female and 75% male, and the 15k was 15% female and 85% male. Both the male and female podium had international representation. As a competitive racer, the difficulty level was not “high” as touted on the registration site. Although the obstacles weren’t technical, they were strategically placed, well constructed, and able to wear you down as a good race should. I would highly recommend W.A.R. to anyone interested in OCR and who is in or near the region during the next event. The people were very friendly and the overall experience was incredible.

Wadi Womens 10k Elite Podium

Wadi Adventure Race Results 10k Elite

Photo credit: Ami Joyce and  https://www.facebook.com/WadiAdventureRace/