Green Beret Challenge: Behind Enemy Lines

While many OCR competitors, endurance enthusiasts, and ruckers spent the past weekend racing or competing in the more commonly known events of our community, a small group took to the mountains in North Carolina for something different. The Green Beret Challenge endurance event Behind Enemy Lines Class 001 took place just outside of Bakersville, NC for 19 brave individuals.

Green Beret formation

The Green Beret Challenge has developed a reputation over the past few years for owner Mark Ballas’ courses that test competitors with a format typically focused more on push/pull/carry than the standard run/climb/crawl setup. 2016 has been a big year for the Green Beret Challenge brand, as they recently introduced a shorter, faster version of their race series more appealing to the masses (the GBC Operator Course vs Commando Course) and as of this past weekend revealed Behind Enemy Lines.

Behind Enemy Lines: Clandestine Operations Class 001 began Friday evening, September 16th. The event was organized as a simulation of the Army Ranger experience broken down into three phases: Phase One provided a taste of Special Forces Assessment & Selection, starting with a physical fitness assessment. Participants fell into a military formation and lined up in groups of four took turns with the standard 2 minutes of push-ups, followed by 2 minutes of sit ups. Following the calisthenics, candidates had five minutes to warm up for a non-standard run assessment. Being on top of a mountain range, the typical 2-mile assessment wasn’t particularly feasible so a winding trail along gravel roads and wooded ridges was our substitute. Upon completion of the run portion, candidates were given a short break in order to consume some calories, hydrate, and change from workout clothes to pants and boots; we were to be in for a long night. We loaded up our rucks with 40 lb sandbags and whatever nutrition and clothing we wanted, and headed out on our long ruck with only a guess of what to expect. Our first movement had us winding down old service roads and off onto some single track trails until we got to our first task, building a bunker. We were provided shovels, miniature pick axes, full axes, and empty sandbags with a diagram to follow. 24 bags needed to be filled, a hole had to be dug 3 feet deep, and branches needed to be cut in order to cover the top, and we had one hour to successfully complete the task. After a couple of adjustments and with two minutes to spare, objective accomplished. We picked up all tools and materials from the task and kept moving through the dark.

Green Beret BEL ruck prep

Our next task was a site very familiar to anyone who has participated in a Green Beret Challenge. Three casualty sleds loaded with three sandbags each, two carry litters with two sandbags each, a few loaded wooden ammo boxes, and a couple of tires. With one member of the class being designated team leader for each task (who could only guide the team and not help with the load), that left 18 free sets of hands to move everything. Some quick planning for how to move everything was put together before we all shoved off. After many breaks, switches, and struggles we lined up our bundles of fun and were assigned a new task: puzzles. Under the light of headlamps, we had four crossword puzzles and two separate bagillion-piece jigsaw puzzles (mixed together in one box, mind you) and an hour to finish them. After a frantic rush then deep focus on a cold and windy ridge, there was nothing to be done; we experienced our first taste of failure. We continued for another stretch with all of the weight until being allowed to drop it before hiking down a very steep and slippery stretch, leading to what actually would be one of our final (and most trying) tasks of Phase One. The best name I heard it referred to throughout the weekend was “the caterpillar yokes”. Nine wooden landscaping posts were tied together with a sandbag at each end of the post, with two team members to a post. What made it trickiest was coordinating all of the rows to get their “yokes” lifted at the same time before any row began moving. Add in the fact that those landscaping posts couldn’t decide if they wanted to be rounded or flat (depending on the side that found itself attempting to sever the spine at the base of our necks). Around 4 am we finally arrived back to the base camp, with many nearing their breaking point. Backs hurt, ribs were sore, and even an ankle or two had been rolled. “Recover, refuel, and be in fitness clothes with boots formed up by 0600” were our orders.

Green Beret BEL Ruck

Many chose to grab a quick nap; myself and a few others decided not to fall for the trap and snacked around the campfire, staying warm and awake. When the time came, we were all formed up and waited for further instruction. Names were called out, slowly. Eventually, there was a group of 10 formed off to the side from the remaining 9; these would be the separate teams for the remainder of the event. We each received dog tags verifying that we had passed the “Selection” stage, and prepared for Phase Two – Training. In our separate teams, we proceeded to go through short training sessions covering various elements to include team movements in the field, basic first aid lessons, knot tying, and room clearing strategies. Throughout all aspects of training, end even during the initial assessment stage, we were given the opportunity to really think about scenarios and present solutions. As owner Mark Ballas stated, “Developing and testing the mind, body and spirit are the core of it all.” We were constantly prompted about principles that are important in leadership and teamwork, whether or not in a combat/military setting. The final step of the training phase included how Ranger units do their extensive planning (which they admit other units sometimes make fun of, being so in-depth). What I really appreciated about this endurance event is that it wasn’t designed just to push people past their breaking points like most of the multi-hour or day events; rather it made sure to bend all participants, but then focus on teaching them applicable skills for life.

Around noon on Saturday, we took another break to refuel and dress to prepare for Phase Three, which was the performance segment of our weekend. It was time to put all that we had learned and apply it to a simulated scenario that a Ranger team would encounter. We received an Op Order briefing by Mark, providing us with the mission objective and all details available at the time to begin preparations. Then the two teams broke off for their specific tasks in the mission and went through mission prep, planning, and rehearsal.

“It’s about developing organic leadership through unique team building events,” as Mark put it.

Eventually, it was time to follow the plan and schedule we agreed upon. The first team headed out for their part of the mission, led by Cadre Matt and John. Shortly after my team hit the trail, led by Mark and Cadre Dino.

Green Beret BEL Planning

The first team’s mission involved reconnaissance and eventually a room-clearing operation of a secluded cabin in the woods, and for a nice add-on encountered a civilian U.S. “casualty” requiring first aid and evacuation. My team had a mission to act based upon the intel from the recon and perform a roadside ambush to capture/kill a cartel terrorist with WMD components. Upon securing the target, we assessed the components and how to evacuate with said payload, then met up with the other team for a hike out of “hostile territory.” As Mark and the Cadre reiterated, “the scenarios are such that one’s leadership traits are exposed and refined.”

Green Beret Challenge Flag with moon

Upon arrival back within site of base camp, as the sun was beginning to set over the western mountaintops, we were finally told to set down everything. “Mission accomplished” were such sweet words to hear! We were all invited to come to the beautiful cabin at one of the highest points, where the property owners were gracious enough to host our smelly, dirty, tired bodies as we celebrated with a good old fashioned burger burn and some delicious Bird Dog Whiskey, who sponsored the after party.  Many only had the energy to eat, have a few drinks, then head straight to their tents due to the 24+ hours with almost no sleep; a few others took advantage of the time to share a few laughs with Mark and the Cadre.
This event not only tested participants mentally, physically, and spiritually; it allowed all parties involved to truly pay tribute to the Rangers and other Special Forces members whom have given their life fighting for our country. “This is only the beginning” Mark was sure to point out, as he is at this moment preparing for their next event in the Behind Enemy Lines series. Behind Enemy Lines: Survival & Evasion takes place in Texas the first weekend of December. If you want to go through a little pain and suffering, but walk away with some uncommon skills, I recommend checking out the event. Classes do have a small cap, so don’t delay!

BattleFrog Atlanta 2016 – Beaches and Hills Blend to Competitors’ Delight

BattleFrog Series brought its action back to Georgia for the fourth time since their start in 2014, with Lake Lanier Islands Resort hosting both their standard Saturday event along with the return of their now annual ESPN sponsored College/League Series event kicking off earlier in the week. Taking their festivities to the beach immediately set a different tone from most Georgia races, leaving the typical horse and “mud” parks in the wake.
BF ATL Elite Female Fun
Let’s talk about the course: with the start and finish lines right in the sand, competitors immediately took off for a short jaunt through waist deep water then skirted the rocky and somewhat treacherous opposite side of the cove before starting  the first of many climbs. This was the primary theme of the course, splashing along the shore or climbing the many hills through the woods between obstacles. Although there was no extreme test of will compared to the peaks of Tahoe, Wintergreen, or even Pennsylvania, I challenge any series to find a venue with as many transitions between the sand/water to hill climbs. I didn’t even realize I was running on a golf course until my second lap! The overall natural beauty of this venue was absolutely stunning, with a wild deer sprinting out in front of me in the middle of the race. I have to admit, this venue might be my new favorite for the Southeast.
BF ATL Jerry Cans
Because it is BattleFrog, the obstacles themselves deserve their own section. The series has faced two reputations in the past: being extremely difficult, and occasionally of questionable safety. BattleFrog officially squashed these problems at this race! What many racers running in the open waves appreciated was that some of the typically spirit-crushing obstacles, such as the platinum rig and tip of the spear, had several ability levels to try-elite, intermediate, and novice. Adding the extra lane allows a challenge for those desiring a true test, without discouraging participants who are still developing their skills or are new to fitness. Also, the physical construction for many of the obstacles was upgraded, using more structurally sound materials and design (many obstacles switched from wood to metal frames). The added rings made an interesting twist for the common rope climb, and the elite lane rig completely changed up the expected race results for many, including myself unfortunately. The only obstacle that many of us didn’t appreciate was the squared metal weaver, with surprisingly wide spacing even for a taller racer such as myself. Switching to round pipes and closing the gaps by ~6 inches won’t make the obstacle too easy, it will simply leave less unnecessary bruising on the legs and arms. Overall, the obstacle set-up and spacing was expertly done.
BF ATL Tip of Spear
After the event, I was able to get in touch with new race director and course designer Adam Washburn, himself a veteran competitive obstacle racer. Some late changes ensured that the course used more of the lake and “took it off the fairways of the (golf) course.” Putting Hooyah out into the water was a late decision that paid off, and he had nothing but praise for his build team for getting it done; “They do a lot in such a short time and don’t get much credit for their work. Most of them are coming off of 6 events back to back.” The only true venue regret was that they were unable to use some of the amusement park water slides which required re-surfacing and essentially the only true off-limits area for their build, added Adam.
BattleFrog continues to grow and develop as a race series, just like it’s participants that keep coming back for more. Bravo for a job well done this weekend BattleFrog, and I truly hope to see more events at Lake Lanier!Battlefrog ATL Biggest Team

Extreme Intimidator 13.1: Too Tough of a Race?

When I woke up Saturday morning, I never had a single thought go through my mind that I wouldn’t be an official finisher. I had no expectations of winning by any means, but being at risk from being pulled from the course? Not a chance. But then again, I didn’t expect to be handed a ~10 lb tire as my “bib” for a half-marathon distance OCR either…

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Located just outside of Disney World in Winter Garden, Florida, Rock On Adventures Ranch (ROAR) has grown to be one of the go-to locations for obstacle racing, hosting an impressive collection of permanent obstacles while still having plenty of space on the enormous ranch to accommodate big name race series events. This particular event, the Extreme Intimidator 13.1, is hosted only by ROAR, and was billed as an event only for elites to even consider trying. It was repeatedly explained with event descriptions on their FB and registration pages as well as emphasized during the pre-race briefing that in order to officially finish and be eligible for prizes that all racers maintain a 19:00/mile pace, as well as be able to safely swim ½ mile and climb a ¾” rope without knots. The 180ish obstacles to be completed on the course sounded tough yet doable with those stipulations, but then the tire was added. By the end of the day, only two competitors out of 73 completed the course by the official cutoff time: OCR power couple Ken Corigliano and Rachel Corvington, earning monstrous trophies for top (and only) male and female competitors.

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A little more about the event worth mentioning is in order. Registration was quick and simple, signing the waiver and getting an assigned number and “bib”. Race Director Johnny Simpkins was very clear and thorough during the pre-race brief to make sure everyone knew how to stay on course and what it would take to not be disqualified. The course was smartly mapped out to re-use several sections of the course and keep water stations within reach. The course used just as many natural obstacles (e.g. tree branch climbs and navigation through thick brush) as it did man-made obstacles. There were many balance beam crossings, a variety of walls, a multitude of rope climbs and traverses, a big water slide with faint images of an extinct caped crusader logo on it, and other creatively fun obstacles to break up the difficulty. One obstacle that really stuck out to me (and we got to do twice on the course) was a golf chipping obstacle, where you had to get a golf ball into a ground-level five gallon bucket using a pitching wedge from a few yards out.

tires

The course did have some bottlenecks that caused time-killing waits though, such as having only a dozen sets of cinder blocks for a double tractor pull. I personally had to wait over 7 minutes to get my hands on a set once I got in line. Another issue came from what wound up being some confusion from the directors to the volunteers and racers: everyone understood that a certain time must be met for “official” finishers and that at certain check points in the event racers would not be allowed to continue on after a set time; however, after passing through the bag drop/aid station approximately 8.5 miles into the race it wasn’t believed by racers that they could be sent in from the course and be a DNF. We all understood and acknowledged that we might not get any overall or age group prizes, but not getting to do the final stretch of obstacles that included a zip line and final pass-through of their infamous “Battle Dash” to the finish line was very upsetting to competitors.

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This wasn’t necessarily the plan by event coordinators, though. Course builder and property manager Chris Rock talked about how they had to improvise due to the fact that they had a significant shortage of volunteers for the event, having nearly 60 back out a month before race day. By keeping it both fair for the volunteers and safe for racers to be on the course, more pulls had to be made essentially. “It’s a real shame and sucked to have to tell people”, stated Rock. As the day progressed and it was realized “the race was too tough”, RD Johnny Simpkins had to improvise and try to help. “I actually pulled a few obstacles to help” added Simpkins.

Ken

Although it isn’t clear whether the Extreme Intimidator 13.1 will make the ROAR schedule in the future, the property will definitely still be a host for various events. This Tuesday the signature “Battle Dash” will be featured on USA Network for the show WWE Tough Enough, sending potential pro wrestling stars through the challenging gauntlet of obstacles.

*Photos By: Kimberley DAngiolillo

OCR King Compound Trials

In a quiet neighborhood in Dallas, GA, one might not expect a chance to get their butt handed to them by an obstacle course. However, dropping by the new permanent course built by a group of racers from the Georgia Obstacle Racers and Mud Runners (GORMR) led by Justin Rose, David Yates, and property owner Cody King, will do just that!

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Over the past six months the group has steadily put together an impressive collection of obstacles which combine the usual suspects of OCR (8 ft wall, rope climb, traverse wall, sternum checker, spear throw, etc.) as well as some unique and/or creatively intensified others (pipe traverse wall, 65 lb jerry cans for men, and cable-hung monkey bars) all squeezed into a limited space of just over 1 acre with a ¼ mile trail run around the perimeter. The creative use of the space available to them along with the quality build of the obstacles has turned this location into the best obstacle training facility in the greater Atlanta area, at a minimum. The organization of the obstacles in the constricted area doesn’t allow a simple path, though.

Jeff

The dilemma of the random order of the obstacles is what led to how they organized the King Compound Trials, otherwise known now by the competitors as “The Toughest Mile in OCR”. The course goes as such: One at a time, racers take a lap around the property (1/4 mile) then enter the pit for 4 obstacles with a timekeeper directing you. After completing the obstacles (or doing 10 8-count bodybuilders for a failure) racers then head back around for another lap then return to the pit for 4 new obstacles. By the time a racer finishes, they complete 4 laps and 16 obstacles. The event was run with three different timekeepers sending runners out individually to make sure there wouldn’t be any waiting for obstacles, due to obstacles only having the capacity to accommodate one competitor at a time.

Obstacles 2

The top male and female times of the day were awarded with a log plaque and $50 cash. Atlanta local Andy Kalber won for the men with a late day run of 20:01 and OCR newcomer Rachel Watters posted a blistering 19:38 for the female and overall fastest time. This course was very humbling to many racers, including myself. I have competed in races ranging from 20+ miles during multiple laps at Battlefrog Xtreme while on the other hand partook in the long forgotten, obstacle heavy 1.5 mile Extreme Nation event, and I can agree with the repeated statement of “The Toughest Mile in OCR”.

TheKingCompound Winners

“The course was just for us to get better at obstacles, and it wasn’t until we had about half a dozen or so obstacles that we thought we could put on some sort of event.” explained Justin Rose. The course still has a primary goal of functioning to train racers rather than hosting official events. This particular event was aimed to get people out to experience the course and elicit interest in joining. Everyone that tried the course absolutely loved it and was raving about how they can’t wait to come back. Although an actual website is currently unavailable, you can learn more about the King Compound and when you can take a shot at the course through their Facebook or Instagram.

Feb 2016 Update – The latest obstacles and course updates are in this review.