Hammer Race Fall 2018 – Hammers and Hills and Tires, Oh My!

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Hammer_Kilt

For those of you who don’t know Hammer Race is a beloved local Minnesota 10k OCR that requires each runner to carry an 8lb or heavier sledge hammer through some of the Midwest’s toughest terrain.  If you know me you know that I’m a rig guy, I love monkey bars and rope climbs.  Bucket carries and Atlas stones are my worst enemies, so it took some convincing to get me to this race where 90% of all the obstacles were strength based but I saw it as an opportunity to work on a weakness and have some fun.  After all according to the Hammer Race finisher shirt “Weakness is a Choice” but not a choice I nor any other Hammer racer would make.

 

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_T-Shirt

 

So you think the Midwest is flat?

Nope!  We may not have mountains but we do have some pretty amazing hills.  Over the 10K course, my GPS recorded 1,400 ft of vertical gain and descent with a maximum grade of 77%, and that crazy steepness was seen climbing, descending and even traversing across for one section.

A Sufferfest

The race started with a short quarter mile run up to a tire flip with various sized tractor tires all filled with water from the previous day’s rain. 10 flips later it was another short quarter mile to another heavy flip.  This time it was 200+ lb railroad ties for two flips.  2 brutal obstacles within the first half mile of the race, this was going to be a sufferfest.  A quarter mile later and we were in the woods facing the first steep hill 150 ft up and then right back down, hammer in hand.

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Tire_Carry

The obstacles became a blur in my mind, each one coming right after I thought I had recovered my strength from the last obstacle or brutal hill.  There were many “Bangers” with a cut piece of railroad tie or sometimes a tire you had to smack with your hammer down and back a certain distance.  Your hammer was used on almost all obstacles either as a smashing tool or handle to drag or carry some heavy object.

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Carry

For the elite “Burden Carry” you had to carry a piece of railroad tie as well as your hammer up and down a hill. The suffering was intense and the last half of the course while not as obstacle dense was loaded with constant ups and downs on steep ravines.  The course ended with the only two non-strength or crawl based obstacles.  A traverse wall with hammer holds and a final wall without your hammer

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Traverse

Having fun through the suffering

Knowing that this race was going to be a test of my physical strength and mental fortitude I knew I needed to do something that would add some fun to the suffering.  I decided to put on my best warrior gear and wear a kilt because what is more fitting to wear while running through the woods with a giant hammer than a badass kilt?  After a bit of research I found a “running kilt” by JWalking Designs that was made of recycled plastic bottles (basically your typical stretchy performance polyester) It was super lightweight and didn’t slow me down in the least, while attracting plenty of compliments and imbuing me with the strength of my Scottish ancestors, which was greatly needed for the tasks at hand.

Hammer_Race_Fall_2018_Yoda

Other people were also having fun with this brutal race like this force-wielding gentleman who decided to carry his Jedi master through the course with him.

Conclusion

This was by far the hardest race I have ever done.  It pushed my physical and mental fortitude to the limit.  If you want to improve your heavy carry skills/strength, or you are just a masochistic glutton for punishment, put this race on your calendar.  If you are looking to have fun or increase your manliness without sacrificing speed or comfort get yourself a kilt.

 

 

Photos courtesy of; Rick Aske, Justin Smith, David Razidlo
Kilt courtesy of JWalking Designs

Savage Race Chicago 2018 – Spreading the Gospel of OCR through Grit and Grip

 

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Fire_Jump

This is the third year Savage Race has held an event in the Chicago area and the third year at the Richardson Adventure Farm – the same site as the parking lot of Spartan’s Chicago races the past three years.  The festival area is small and simple and parking is a breeze; paying an extra $10 for the VIP parking will get you right next to the entrance but only 60 feet closer than the regular parking.

 

THE BEST START LINE IN OCR

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Matty_T

While OCRWC may claim to have the best finish line in OCR, Savage Race certainly has the best start line.  At the Savage start line there is no canned speech that you’ve heard a thousand times, or a stern drill sergeant-esque man yelling.  Instead, there is a wildly happy bearded man with the energy of a 5-year-old who just drank espresso.  His name is Matty-T and outside of Flava-Flav, he is by far the best hype man that I’ve ever experienced.  It started with crowd surfing, then some call and response chanting as Matty-T skipped and jumped amongst the crowd whipping us up into a frenzy of laughter and cheering, locking arms with fellow racers and creating comradery, eliminating any anxiety a racer might have by simply having fun.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Barbwire

Flatout

The terrain is flat, like Nebraska flat.  According to my GPS there was a total of 356 feet of elevation gain and I’m going to say most of that was from climbing obstacles like Colossus and Davy Jones Locker.  Just because the terrain was flat did not mean it was easy.  Being on a farm the ground was very rutted and strewn with rocks just waiting to twist an ankle.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Colosus

 

This first mile was fairly easy with just 3 obstacles, letting the pack of fresh racers spread out and avoid jams.  The one element that was missing from this race was mud.  Savage made up for this lack of mud by getting you wet early and often with multiple mandatory immersion obstacles.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Barbwire_Justin

 

The next few miles had a few strength obstacles including a cinder block pull followed directly by the new “peddle to the medal,” which is a tire drag powered by spinning a giant spool with your legs.  One thing I liked about Savage Race is none of their strength obstacles are overly heavy, both men and women use the same weights, and there was only one heavy carry.

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Block_Party

 

A Gauntlet of Grip

The final 2 miles were a gauntlet of grip-destroying obstacles starting with “Kiss my walls,” a wall traverse using small climbing holds, exhausting your finger strength. Not 150 meters away it was right into Wheel World which had me spinning.

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Wheel_World

 

Then came the Rig, then shortly after that Twirly Bird and another traverse–this time across rope ladders and cargo nets and then the behemoth that is Sawtooth. Finishing the gauntlet of grip was the new “Holy Sheet” a rig across a saggy piece of cloth then onto ball grip climbing holds.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Sawtooth

 

For the Pro wave I thought the setup of the obstacles made for a good competition, but for the open waves who make up the majority of racers I wish that the grip obstacles had been spaced out more throughout the course.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Marcia

 

I was very fortunate this race to have been able to run in the Pro-Wave at the beginning of the day amongst some of the greats in this sport.  I was even more grateful to run in the open wave midday with my sister who had never run a race of any kind in her life.  After spending the last 3 years running competitively it was refreshing to experience the fun of the open waves first hand and watch someone I love overcome fear, push through pain, and laugh while playing in the mud. After we jumped over the fire, crossed the finish line and hugged, my sister turned to me and asked if I would run with her again next year.  A convert to the gospel of OCR was made. Yes, Marcia, I’ll run with you again, maybe even sooner than next year.

Frontline OCR – The 2nd Wave Review

Frontline_OCR_Weaver2

Frontline OCR – The 2nd Wave

The 2nd iteration of Frontline OCR took place on the damp hills of the Byron Motorsports Park, in Byron Illinois.  The night before had brought rain and there were a few small showers which cleared just before the first wave started, making for some excellent muddy racing conditions.

A different kind of race

Frontline_OCR_Irish_Table

Frontline OCR is a unique event with two competitive race types, an open class, and a special wave just for first responders and military personnel.  The first competitive wave of athletes vying for a spot on the podium and prize money all had to wear a 15 pound weighted vest, in simulation of the body armor and gear that first responders and military personnel must wear and carry when performing their duties.  In addition the obstacles were mandatory completion, you could try as many times as you wanted but if you give up you give up your vest and must complete Twenty Two 9-1-1’s (the Frontline’s version of a burpee) for each obstacle failure.  If you managed to complete the course with your vest you got to keep it, an amazing value.  Not many people were able to complete the entire course with the vest though.  Only 3 of the 13 women who started the race were able to keep their vest. I’m not sure on the men but I would guess only half completed the race with their vest.

 

Frontline_OCR_Blitzkrieg

The top two male and female special forces finishers had to put on a firefighter’s suit and compete head to head in “The Blitzkrieg” a series of timed challenges to determine the overall winner.

The 2nd competitive wave was the endurance class – this is the wave I ran in.  This wave was unlimited laps of the 6 mile, 33 obstacle, course with mandatory obstacle completion. (Thank god we didn’t have to wear a weight vest.) There was a strict time limit though.  You had to FINISH your final lap by 2 PM or you would be disqualified.  That’s right, there wasn’t a cut off for when you could start your final lap just for when you had to finish which means you needed to be fast and be able to know if you could make one more lap in time without being DQ’d.

 

Frontline_OCR_Bagpipes

 

The course was set up at a small motorsports park meaning lots of dirt hills up and down.  It also meant there was a lot packed into a small space.  The small space allowed you to be able to hear all of Coach Pain’s starting line speeches and the music of the bagpipe color guard band which was playing at the festival area.  Running through the damp and slightly misty woods with the sounds of bagpipes in the background brought an ethereal warrior sense into my blood and helped to propel me over the obstacles.

 

Frontline_OCR_Hammer

Obstacles

The obstacles were a wonderful mix of OCR classics. Multiple heavy carries from a bucket carry, tire drag, dragging an Atlas stone through mud and water, an ammo can carry over moguls, and finally, a sandbag carry made from old fire hoses.  There was plenty of mud, with mucky watery trenches, crossing through water which was neck deep at times and running through creek beds, some dry and some not so dry.

The best obstacles though were the big ones, and there were a few. What really made this possible and made this event unique and special was that multiple local OCR teams donated obstacles to the race.  Strong as Oak brought out a hang board setup called “A Bridge too far” which for the Special Forces lane consisted of traversing across ascending and descending ledges with gaps in-between using only your hands.  FlatLiners brought an obstacle called Thermopylae- which was an inverted version of Spartan’s Olympus obstacle.  There was a Monkey Bar rig with two parallel lanes, you had to go down one lane, transfer to a set of rings then swing yourself over and up to the parallel set of bars where you had to descend and keep from touching the ground before ascending back up to ring the bell. And of course, there was the Frontline signature 20 ft warped wall.

Frontline_OCR_Warped_Wall2

 

Improvise Adapt Overcome

Frontline_OCR_Wall

Some of the obstacles proved to be too hard and caused some large backups, so in true military style, the course workers adapted the obstacles.  The first major change happened at the mud pit wall, a 10 ft wall set up in a mud pit.  On my first lap, the rope was straight (and covered in mud) and few people in vests made it over so they knotted the rope.  On my second lap, they had removed 2 boards from the wall so you could get a foothold.  When I had made it back to the monkey bar rig on my 2nd lap there was still a line of Special Forces competitors not willing to give up their vests, trying their best to make it across the setup which had been reduced to one lane and a transfer to the 2nd set to ring the bell.

Frontline_OCR_Teamwork

After completing my 2nd lap my heart wanted to continue but my Achilles tendon did not.  There were other athletes who came in behind me who wanted to try for a third lap but knew they wouldn’t make the 2 pm cut off so they called it a day and kept their band.  From talking with my fellow competitors it seemed that they would have liked a last lap start time cut off more than finish time cut off.  One runner who shall remain nameless had already lost his band (on his first lap) and was already disqualified but told not to start a 3rd lap, which he was not happy about, even though the final wave hadn’t left yet and he was already DQ’d.

Frontline_OCR_Bucket

A mix of “Local” feel with “Big Time” quality

Frontline is a small company bolstered by Ed Leon’s love of OCR and the Midwest OCR community.  Being that this is only the 2nd race they were hit by some of the pitfalls of a small local race.  There were very few volunteers but this didn’t bother me as I know how to pour water into a cup and most of the unmanned obstacles were very self-explanatory.  The problems came with only having one or two lanes at obstacles.  Some of the harder obstacles had backups from the Special Forces wave with nobody wanting to give up their vest or band.

As this race grows, which I’m sure it will, I expect more lanes on obstacles will be added.  The only other negative small-time race problem that happened was a lack of showers/hoses, there were only 2 which made for super long wait times (I ended up just opting to stay dirty). What it lacked with “local” race problems it made up for with local race charm.  After you were done racing you could get a toasted coconut porter or any number of other local craft beers from Hairy Cow Brewery. They were also serving up real BBQ and sampling locally roasted coffee.  They even had some tasty vegetarian options for food.

In conclusion, I had a great time.  Tons of variety in obstacles, great atmosphere, great terrain.  The people who put on this event are passionate about OCR and continuing to improve.  I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again or recommend it to anyone.  Totally awesome race!

 

All Photos courtesy of Conquest Photos

 

Frozen Fun on The Local Level: Beat The Bitter 5K

A Frozen Festival

North Liberty’s 3rd annual Beat the Bitter 5k-ish Obstacle Run took place on the frozen tundra of Penn Meadows Park.  200 people gathered to take on the course which was put together by the North Liberty Betterment Group as part of a week-long winter games festival, which included curling, outdoor ice skating, snowmen building contests, ice carving and more.  Free coffee and hot chocolate were provided to keep runners and spectators warm before and after the race.Beat_The_Bitter_Winners

The Course

The temperature was right around 30 degrees at the start of the race providing some freezing cold air in the lungs without too much bitter cold on the face.  The course was set up with racers running around the perimeter of the city park, doing 3 laps.  Obstacles were to be run on the first and third laps and no obstacles on the second lap, so as to avoid any bottlenecks at obstacles for competitive runners.  With 9 obstacles on each of the first and third laps, the race felt obstacle dense.  When you finished one obstacle you could see the next one coming up in front of you.  With a total of 18 obstacles, you got more than you would on a tough mudder 5k.  The obstacles weren’t as hard or as big as a tough mudder but for the $20 entry fee, you definitely got your money’s worth.Beat_The_Bitter_Tires

The course started with the polar potholes, a grid of shin-high 2x4s that you had to high step through, then moved onto a set of 3-foot walls, and quickly into a short crawl through a rather large irrigation tube.  The obstacles became more difficult at this point with a climb over a six-foot hay bale and under a low crawl then a series of strength obstacles.

Beat_The_Bitter_Heavy_Carry

The heavy carry I thought showed a lot of creativity on the part of the organizers, utilizing the resources they had.  You had to pick up a 40 lb large rubber parking stop and carry it down and back 100 meters.  They were decently heavy and slightly awkward to carry with them bouncing around in your arms or over your shoulder. Almost immediately after the carry was a tire flip followed by the “Everest Death Zone” a plywood A-frame you needed to climb over. Beat_The_Bitter_Everest

 

Not far off was the third strength obstacle in only 0.3 miles, the Iditarod pull.  A sled-pull made from kids snow sleds laden with sandbags that we had to pull like dogs.  After this gauntlet of muscle burners, my legs were on fire.  The final obstacle was a balance run on old light posts before running a 1-mile lap with no obstacles and then doing it all over again before finishing.

 

The Bling

Every Finisher received a customized Beat the Bitter medal and the top three men and women got winter headbands as well.Beat_The_Bitter_Bling

Race Local

For being a small event of 200 runners put on by a local community enrichment group in a small town in eastern Iowa, this race went beyond my expectations.  I am extremely happy to see small local events embracing obstacle course racing.  There are always a million and three different 5ks that this or that local charity put on but there is a growing number adding some obstacles and by doing so, adding more fun to the “fun run.”  I will definitely be coming back to do this race next year (and maybe learn how to curl).

 

Photos courtesy of Justin Smith and Beat the Bitter

The Battlegrounds Sells Venue Rights to Tough Mudder

The Battlegrounds – Missouri’s premiere permanent obstacle course race venue will host one last race on May 19th  2018 before handing over the keys to their course to Tough Mudder.  The St. Louis area OCR venue has contracted with Tough Mudder to give the OCR giant exclusive rights to the venue for the next 5 years.   I recently caught up with race director Bob Holm to get more info.

 

It is my understanding that “The Battlegrounds” will host one final race in May before being turned over to Tough Mudder. Is that correct? 

Our May 19 race will, in fact, be our last one.  We are proud of all that we have accomplished since our inaugural race in 2012 (we started with just 361 runners and have most recently topped 3,000 participants.)  It’s been an amazing ride!

What will happen to the permanent obstacles that are built on the site such as The Battlegrounds classic, The Gauntlet?

Tough Mudder will have full access to all obstacles (including The Gauntlet), as well as the ability to incorporate all existing trails created by The Battlegrounds.

Will other OCR companies be able to use the venue or will it be exclusively Tough Mudder?  If so, what will happen to the previously scheduled Green Beret Challenge race which was to occur on June 16th 2018?

Our five-year commitment enables Tough Mudder to exclusively utilize the venue.  When this multi-year deal was recently signed, The Battlegrounds did not have a formal contract with the Green Beret Challenge.

Will the Battle Corp still exist and will OCR training events still be held at the venue?

The Battle Corp team is an amazingly tight family of runners that grew to 15 members strong.  We are currently working with Tough Mudder to explore any and all opportunities for our Battle Corp to represent their organization.  There will no longer be training events at the venue.

What were the key factors in the decision to sign a 5 year contract with Tough Mudder?

Throughout the years, The Battlegrounds grew on so many levels in terms of size and reputation.  We believe Tough Mudder was a logical choice because it allows a solid international company to take us to the next level.  The five-year commitment to Cedar Lake Cellars solidifies our location as a must-see destination in terms of newness and excitement.

What do you foresee happening after 5 years?

We anticipate growth…and more growth.  Missouri is positioned to become one of the largest Tough Mudder races in the United States.  We look forward to seeing where Tough Mudder takes us.

Are there any other details you can give me or that you think the OCR community should know?

This industry loves suspense and mystery.  All we can add is that there’s plenty of surprises ahead so stay tuned for an exciting adventure.

 

I also reached out to Battle Corp team captain Christopher Balven who had this to say about the change.

“Everyone on the Battle Corps Team are extremely thankful for the opportunity to represent one of the best permanent OCR venues in the US.  We enjoyed every race, we enjoyed meeting all the people who came out and experienced OCR for the first time there, and most of all we enjoyed becoming a family together.  Saying I am grateful for that is an understatement to the extreme.  It was incredible seeing the race grow from 350 or so racers in the beginning to what it is now.  I for one will be out on that course until the sun goes down on May 19.  I’ll leave a little piece of my heart out there before I move on to what lies ahead.”

 

This action has had some mixed reviews on social media and has filled me with many existential OCR feelings which I hope to address later but these are just the facts.

How To Race On A Budget

Wallet

 

This past season I raced more than I had ever raced before and spent less on racing at the same time and you can too. We all know Obstacle Course Racing can get real expensive real quick but below are a few simple suggestions for lowering the cost of your OCR addiction.

 

Volunteer Volunteering

I volunteered at almost all of my races this past year and it was an amazing experience.  Everyone should volunteer at least once and see how the sausage is made, so to speak.

Most companies will give you a free race for volunteering your time, and if you are stationed at an obstacle you are mostly just a glorified cheerleader.  The only problem with volunteering is that some companies will only give you a free future race, which means you volunteer in the morning and race in the afternoon or possibly a future date.  If you want to race in the first heat of the day that can be a problem.

Most companies, however, are willing to work with you if you reach out to them.  Multiple companies that I contacted had me pay for my race up front and then reimbursed me after I completed my volunteer shift after I finished my race.  Conquer The Gauntlet simply took my Driver’s License and held onto it till the shift was over.  In addition to getting you a “free” or discounted (I’m looking at you Spartan and OCRWC) race, you should volunteer because it’s fun and necessary for any race to run.  (Stay tuned for my article on how to make the most your volunteer experience)

 

Camp/AirBnB

The largest cost of any race tends to be travel, and hotels are expensive.  You can defray your travel costs by camping.  Generally only $10-$15 bucks a night for a tent site at most state parks.  Let’s face it, we are OCR people, we like a challenge, we like mud, we like being outdoors, we should like camping. If you have an RV or a truck with a topper on the back and a mattress just park it at Wal-Mart for free.

If camping is not for you then look to Airbnb.  You can find entire apartments/houses for less than a hotel, or you can just rent a room in someone’s house.  I’ve stayed in rooms for as little as $25/night and gotten a room which was basically a hotel room off Airbnb for $38.00 which was far nicer than the “cheap” $50.00/night hotel rooms I’ve gotten in the past.    My favorite Airbnb which I’ve stayed at multiple times for races was a kid’s tree house in someone’s backyard and it was only $10/night and 20 mins from the venue.  Cheap places are out there my friends, all you have to do is look.
Treehouse

 

Race Local and Sign up early Calendar

If you really can’t or don’t want to volunteer there are probably a lot of great local races that aren’t that expensive and are probably a lot of fun.  Signing up early is always a great way to save some bucks too so plan ahead if you can.

Local and regional races are almost always going to be less expensive than the major brands out there (Spartan knows you want that 12XTrifecta and they’re gonna milk you for it and you’re gonna like it so STFU).

Local races can be hit or miss but the vast majority of local OCRs I’ve been to have been amazing.  If you are unsure about any OCR check out ORM’s race reviews and see what someone else thought about the last race.  A couple of the lower price national OCRs out there are: Terrain Race and Rugged Maniac.

 

Coupon Codes

If you sign up for a race without using a coupon code you are doing something wrong.  Almost every race except super small local races (and OCRWC) have coupon codes floating around out there.  Rarely should you pay full price.  Do some research, ask your OCR friends, search Google or I think there is a website that has race discount codes… I can’t remember but I think it’s called ObstacleRacingMedia.com I’m not sure though.

If all else fails and you still need more dough to fund your OCR addiction you can always be like Matt B Davis and sell your old race medals.

Matt-Davis

 

Photo Credit: Justin Smith, The Battlegrounds, and Matt B Davis