Born Primitive: X-Factor Sports Bra

Born Primitive is an athlete favorite brand for most gym workouts. They typically make gear for CrossFit gyms, but, their clothes are generally sturdy enough for tough OCR-based workouts. I’ve noticed that their clothes don’t stretch, and colors stay nice and vibrant, even through most washes. Not only that, but BP fans can get a kick out of a multitude of variety in their selection, which is arguably some of the sexiest apparel that is also completely functional.

One thing that I appreciate about the brand is that they keep us pretty in-the-know when it comes to releasing new products. One of their more recent products is listed in the title: the x-factor sports bra.

As soon as I saw it, I thought that it looked perfect for what I needed. It almost has a similar build to the new Human Octane “superhero” series bra. The Born Primitive sports bra itself focuses on a more supportive build, with a longer band and thicker straps. The backing also has many straps so you can ensure that everything is going to stay in place. When I noticed that the website advertised it as something that also can be doubled as swimwear, I thought it would be fantastic for staying in place in the dunk wall.

Product Features

 

The X-Factor sports bra is 87% nylon and 13% lycra for a lightweight and comfortable feel. The edges of the back (not where the “x” is formed) is made out of a mesh material; between that and the open back look, the sports bra is really breathable, even given it’s thicker material. The length is longer and the straps are thicker to provide more coverage.

This Sportsbra also features a slight v-neck, and there are removable pads for those who prefer to have even more support in the sports bra. Because this sports bra provides an emphasis on support, if you are not expecting it, it may feel a little tight around the waistband. I like to save this sports bra for wearing to a race or during intense workouts, but maybe less for lazing around in big t-shirts.

I was a little concerned with my original thought of it being doubled as a swimsuit, I was thinking it was going to be more of a dry-fit material (never-mind that the website clearly has the other material listed, I just wasn’t paying attention!). This sports bra held up very well in the dunk wall, mud, and whatever else I threw at it in the Spartan Race.

Product Usage

I first wore this sports bra to a few workouts. I like to use Yancy Camp to train, which can combine many vigorous exercises into one beautiful, terrible, monstrosity. A lot of times with cheaper, or less specialized sports bras, when you hit a certain level of sweatiness, you feel like your sweat is bleeding through. I did not feel this way about the Born Primitive X-Factor; I felt dry and supported throughout the entire workout.

This was purchased the for race day specifically. I don’t know about you, but once I establish some kind of “race day” outfit, it gets me in the zone. The black X-factor sports bra looks pretty intense, so I got my hands on that one. I put it on and instantly felt ready to take on the day. The first race to which I wore this was the Spartan race in Virginia. First of all, the way it makes me feel is awesome. It looks really cool being paired with even more black.. but that’s just me.

One of the first obstacles that we encountered was the dunk wall. This was the one that I was the most nervous about. I jumped in and, other than the fact that the water was seriously cold, I felt great. Actually, the thicker band made me feel a little bit warmer than I could have otherwise.

Another obstacle that I noticed a difference on throughout this obstacle was surprisingly the bucket brigade. I’m one of those women who usually wear sports bras as my top if the weather allows. On the bucket brigade, I like to hold the bucket close to my torso. This is usually helpful for my grip, but it pulls at my sports bra. Maybe that’s just me. Because the X-Factor has a slight v-neck to it, the bucket did not pull on it at all! I thought that was really awesome.

Lastly, the X-Factor just looks cool. I got several compliments on it, especially for the way that the back of the sports bra looks. If Born Primitive knows how to do anything, it’s making cool-looking sports bras.

Pros

  • Cool looking back design that features a big cross and meshing
  • Longer band for more coverage
  • Small v-cut in the front that prevents slipping on that dang bucket carry
  • Very supportive design
  • Durable; can maintain shape and structure throughout long races and difficult workouts
  • Comes in multiple colors.

Cons

  • Not necessarily dry-fit material
  • Thicker; although great for colder races, may not be the best if you are looking for something lightweight
  • Can’t buy in stores; if you’re interested, you have to buy online. So, you would not be able to try it on before you buy it.

Conclusion

Born Primitive’s X-Factor Sportsbra is fantastic for high-intensity workouts. It has really high support with a longer band for durability, and an open back that includes a mesh detail for breathability. I would not wear this if you were doing something more relaxed, or just around the house. I wouldn’t want to wear this with a lot of layers, because the long line would be uncomfortable. But, for wearing this as a top for an OCR, the X-Factor has shown what it takes to compete in an Obstacle Course Race.

Buy one here

 

F.I.T. Challenge-July 2019

Introduction

Often times when we look at races, we are too busy looking to make judgments about the race rather than appreciating all of the work and effort that goes into each event. We see names for race directors, and there are many names that can be recognized immediately like Trail Master Hammond or Mark Ballas, but more often than not, the name is just a name, or even, not noticed at all. Being a race director is a lot of work, and to be honest, like many of you reading this article, I don’t really know how much works goes into being a race director. When Robb McCoy of F.I.T. Challenge asked me to come up and see part of the action, I did not think twice before accepting the invitation.

Background Information

Robb McCoy-Race Director and Owner

Before I had the opportunity to meet Robb and the gang, I had reached out to him with questions. F.I.T. Challenge is known for winning the title of “Best Small Race Series” by MudRun Guide, but unlike many other races, F.I.T. Challenge does not plan to travel in the near future.

When I originally started talking to Robb, I asked him if he would ever consider expanding his series to some of the southern states. His answer was clear-not anytime soon, because when balancing being a father, and a full-time teacher, it would simply be too much to have the race travel.

As a teacher myself, I immediately became intrigued by the process of this race. I honestly couldn’t imagine balancing creating this race as well as managing a classroom and a family. Not only hosting a race but one that continues to win awards and have its own following that is more passionate than the following of larger series.

Robb informed me that he started his athletic career with football many years ago after his dad had bought season tickets to watch the Patriots, whose stadium was very close to where he grew up. After watching many games, he had been inspired to take on the sport himself, and that’s when a life-long passion ignited. He played through high school and in college, and he continues to pursue that passion through coaching varsity football at the school he teaches at. While he was teaching, he got his first-hand look at OCRs with Spartan and Tough Mudder and decided that he would attempt to create his own race in the area.

Additionally to teaching, coaching, and parenting, Robb works many other jobs as well. McCoy F.I.T. is the name of his company, which is the technical owner of F.I.T. Challenge, and they serve as business consultants to other brands that are popularly known in the OCR Community. Have you ever heard of Wreck Bag or Fierce Gear? Both of those companies are partners with McCoy F.I.T and have worked closely with him to gain success.

Robb claims to have never only worked exclusively as a teacher. He has also coached kickboxing at gyms, taught Wreck Bag exclusive classes at gyms, and been the general manager of an Olympic Weightlifting Gym. So, after teaching a full day each day, he would go over to the gym and work in a management position. He credits much of his success as a small business owner to the experience of managing this gym, as he claims that his boss gave him as much control as he wanted, and he was able to get a feel for which systems work for him, and which ones are flops.

Now when he is not teaching, coaching, or fathering his two children, he is seen around the community doing regular, everyday things. Mostly he is working to benefit others and his community, and of course, I doubt he will ever be able to live down modeling Wreck Bags for the local YMCA.

Aaron Farb-The Everything Guy

Farb, who is almost exclusively referred to by his last name, is known for having many different titles around the F.I.T. Community. When I asked him what his official title was, he laughed. The other members of the crew made other references, such as “The Everything Guy,” and “The One Who Does Everything.” Robb refers to Farb as his right-hand man. Regardless of what his title is or isn’t, Farb plays an extremely important role in F.I.T.

Farb completed the first F.I.T. Challenge back in 2013, and once it was over, he offered to volunteer. After that Farb attended just about every F.I.T Challenge and has offered to volunteer extensively for each one. Eventually, he just became a hard-working part of the team. Now his roles vary, but he is extremely hands-on with the experience. He is part of the building team, will mark the course, check on obstacles, and run whatever other errands he needs to in order to get things done.

When he is not working on things for F.I.T, he is a pharmacist. Additionally, he is in school for nursing, and engaged and busy with wedding planning.

Larry and Ginger Cooper-Full Potential Obstacles

Larry and Ginger Cooper own their own brand, called Full Potential Obstacles. If you’ve raced in the northern part of the country, you have probably seen them traveling at races like City Challenge, Indian Mud Run, and they have previously made appearances at OCRWC. They are most known for their obstacles like the “Destroyer,” a staple for F.I.T Challenge since 2015. Larry and Ginger are from New Jersey and drive with their truck and supplies to come build for races. In this instance, Larry and Ginger drove 6 hours to come build for F.I.T., and they came immediately to the race location to build for several more hours.

Larry does not consider his business a job, but a hobby that he does for enjoyment. When he is not traveling for races, he works in Commercial HVAC. He told me that he loves the job because ever since he has been a kid, he has found much pleasure in taking things apart and fixing them to be better. Larry says he was once offered an office job in his position but turned in down because he did not like the idea of being inside.

Ginger also keeps busy with work when she is not pairing with Larry on building obstacles. She works as a dental hygienist and a personal trainer. She loves both of her jobs, stating that she has some of the best bosses she could ask for. Ginger is almost always smiling, and when she comes to F.I.T. Challenge, she takes on many different roles such as registration, check-in, and selling merchandise, just to name a few.

Out of curiosity, I asked the couple how they got into OCR. Ginger used to play soccer in school, and then afterward began training for half marathons and full ones as well. She fell in love with running. When she met Larry, he absolutely hated running. Because of his love of rock climbing, being hands-on, and being outside, the two agreed that OCR would be a hobby to collaborate their passions, and they have not looked back since.

Jen Lee-Everything Else

In addition to asking Farb what his title was, I asked Jen as well. She also laughed when I asked her, and said: “I pretty much do whatever needs to be done.” Jen has been with F.I.T. for many races now, but mostly takes on roles such as registration, selling merchandise, among others. Also, Jen is part of the build team, and very proud of the fact that F.I.T. presents a female build team along with Full Potential Obstacles. Jen is often the one who puts her foot down in the group to people who are trying to take advantage of Robb’s generosity.

In addition to working with the F.I.T. franchise, Jen is a personal trainer and a single mom of three daughters. Each morning before school, after she drops her oldest daughter off at the high school, she takes her younger daughters to run at a local park. Now, her daughters have built a love for running, and even her 11-year-old daughter has completed 8 laps at the F.I.T. Ultra for the last two years. When she’s not working as a mom, she is caught working twelve-hour workdays every day as a personal trainer/physical therapist at a nearby facility.

Scott-Volunteer Coordinator

I did not have the opportunity to meet Scott during the span of this race. I don’t know much about him other than he is the manager of volunteers, he helps in the building process, and is a member of the team at Bonefrog.

Challenge Preparations

Although I had the opportunity to work with the F.I.T. crew for many days, I had not seen all that went into building this course. I arrived on Wednesday, which was 3 days before the race was to be held.

3 days before the race (Wednesday)

Upon my arrival, after meeting with Mr. McCoy at the airport, we went straight to meet with Robb’s supplier for medals, obstacle mats, shirts, and other gear. His name is Mark, pronounced “Maaaahk” with GO EAST. Mark seemed to have a very “open door” policy with his clients, especially Robb. The two have been a pair since 2014, working on many races together. Maahk walked us around his office, which contained a warehouse with everything that he makes in it as well. Many people don’t know that the F.I.T Challenge uses the same supplier as Spartan Race. Not only that, but this pair works really well together. Robb will just walk in, pitch an idea, and they go from there. There is a laid-back relationship there that is still very professional, but because it is friendly, things end up getting done more quickly.

In this instance, Maahk walked us around his facility and showed us several of the products used to design what is used in F.I.T. and other races. Because Maahk and Robb have such a close relationship, Maahk is willing to work with Robb on providing additional gear that may be unused from other events. Rather than throw it out, it is recycled and used at F.I.T. For instance, the tape that is used to mark the course is a printed green that Spartan Race decided not to use.

FIT Challenge

Another supplier that works with F.I.T. Challenge is Wreck Bag. As previously mentioned, Robb had been a business advisor to them in the past. We originally went in to grab a truckload of wreck bags to use for Saturday’s race, but we stopped in to talk with the owners as well. They laughed and joked very casually, and told me stories of how they have been working with Robb for a long time, which led to both bad and good, but all very funny, stories of their past. The team mentioned that they are very thankful for Robb and how he has helped jump-start their business, and they are proud supporters of F.I.T. They mentioned that they are working on a new product, which may be released later this year, and if it is, the next F.I.T. Challenges may be one of the first, if not the first, OCR to get their hands on this new product. They wanted to speak with Robb and show Robb designs of their new product, and while they did so, I had to step out of the room (sorry guys!).

After loading an F150 truck bed entirely of wreck bags, weighing 25 lbs each, we were off to the racecourse. We emptied the pile of wreck bags onto the course, where they would be used that weekend. Then, it was time for the first adventure of marking the course.

We loaded up backpacks with arrow signs, and a few rolls of green tape to tag the trees with. Then, it was time to trudge on. We got into the field at Diamond Hill Park, and then we trudged up the hill. “Oh, so the first climb is right away?” I asked.

“Yep!” He said, excitedly.

We made our way over and up the hill, and as soon as we made it to the hill, it started storming. We pressed on anyway because regardless of Wednesday’s weather, the race would still be on for Saturday.

He assured me not to be shy about using packing tape because he does not like to worry about people getting lost on the course. He assured me no matter how much you mark a course, we could pretty much count that someone would manage to get lost. By the time we had gotten there, only a few obstacles of the course had been up. They had set up the Gibbons Experience much earlier in the week with the intention to allow people to attempt (see photo below). The first obstacle of the day was going to be the low crawl, which had already been set up with a bungee-type cord strung around trees going down a hill.

Gibbons at FIT

When we made our way down the hill, we talked about the layout of the course. The first climb had been pretty rough, the descend down the backside equally as difficult, and he informed me that there would be at least two more big climbs in the 3-mile course. He said he enjoyed having the layout set up that way because it makes the run more interesting.

Roughly an hour later, and 2/3 of the course had been marked. It was time to call it a day.

We went back to Robb’s house and attempted to eat dinner. It was difficult to hold a conversation with Robb, not because of his mannerisms, but his phone was buzzing constantly with e-mails and social media messages related to Saturday’s challenge. Most of the messages made the same comments: “Are you sure you want to have the race go on even though it’s going to be hot?” and “I can’t make the race now because it’s going to be hot, can I defer my race entry to April?”

F.I.T. has a transfer policy of transferring your race entry to another as long as it is at least ten days out, so to cancel 3 days out did not go over well. Many people asked if the day was going to be transferred to a different date–sadly, what can be difficult to recognize is that having a race costs money, the venue costs, to build obstacle costs, so it is not so easily pushed to another date. So although many of us look at upcoming races and think that it’s easy to transfer, we have to remember that it is not always so easy, and they may not be able to book the same venue.

In addition to receiving numerous calls from race day participants regarding their registration, Robb was also busy answering calls from companies for the race. He had received calls from the city government asking him to renew his entertainment license, which he completed earlier in the month. He had worked out arrangements with companies to deliver ice, as well as an ice bathtub for the athletes. He had arranged for Emergency Medical Treatment certified staff would be on-site to assist in injured athletes. These were just a few of the accommodations that were provided for his athletes. He had spent days prior working endlessly to build relationships from these companies, and have more than enough ice and water supply to last even the 12-hour runners. They also provided lots of baby pools, completely filled with ice, on multiple areas of the course and festival throughout.

Water at FIT

Earlier in the day, he had posted a message on Facebook informing participants of all of the measures that F.I.T. was taking to arrange for help regarding heat earlier in the day. Many of the people who responded to that message were very thankful that those accommodations had been made.

2 days before the race (Thursday)

We began our day by visiting Rev’d, a local spin class that Robb visits prior to work in the day, and it served as another reminder of how at the end of the day, Robb is just another normal person. The gym is located near the Patriots Stadium, where he reminisced on old football-related memories.

By 6:30, it was already back to work. His kids were dropped off, and even though the kids were there, he still had to review the names and bib numbers and get ready to send out the race day informational e-mail. Then, it was back to the race day location to build more obstacles.

FIT McCoy

When we arrived, Larry, Ginger, Jen, Farb, and a few volunteers were there to help build the obstacles. Larry and Ginger keep the same building equipment for the Destroyers and Devil’s Playground each time, so all there was was to be patient and listen to Larry’s instructions. Others went off to build some of the obstacles that are not completed by Full Potential, such as the floating walls. Once all of the obstacles were just about complete, it was time to go back out and complete the final portions of the course marking.

Destroyer Build 1Destroyer Build 2

One thing that I appreciate about Robb is that whenever a group of people gets together to work with him, he is very accommodating. He let everyone who stayed to work on the course stay with him, and he feeds his volunteers who work on build days. Additionally, volunteers who work on build days are provided with race-day vouchers to compete.

By the end of this day, the course had been pretty much set up with the exception of last-minute course markings. On this day, many more people were sending e-mails and messages regarding having their race entry deferred. I asked Robb if he was unsure whether or not people would drop from Saturday, and he said that he felt confident that the usual no-show rate would remain the same.

On the way home, Robb pointed out his first venue to me. The first F.I.T. Challenge took place on a smaller, flat field. Participants circled and winded through a flat field, ran through trees, and in the back, many of the original obstacles were provided by a local CrossFit gym. The original F.I.T. Challenge had roughly 1,300 participants, due to advertising on Groupon.

One day before the race (Friday)

By the time I had arrived on Friday, the festival area had been mostly set up. Robb and Jen both brought their children to help fold the finisher t-shirts and help out where they can.

FIT Festival

All that was left to do was organize merchandise, hang up signs and flags, and get ready for race day registration. Calls were still coming in regarding trading out registrations, and the answer was still no. Some fitness groups came to sign their teams up, and a few more came to register and collect their gear. Every single runner received a mug, a head buff, a tech shirt, and each runner was supposed to receive a collapsible cup that was going to take the place of having cups at water stations. The problem was, although the cups had been ordered three months in advance, they had not been shipped on time. Robb received an email at roughly 2:30 in the afternoon saying that they were finally shipped in, but they could not be sent out for delivery, and someone needed to go pick them up. We were able to go get them and they were ready on time, but it was a close call!

At registration, a few people showed up to get their gear ready for the next day. Most of the runners who came were ultra runners, who were starting early in the morning. If ultra runners completed the ultra in both April and in this race, they received a plaque for being an “ultra-ultra” runner.

Ultra Ultra FIT

Another unique piece of F.I.T. that i have not previously mentioned is that anyone is able to run. There are no kids races at F.I.T. In hte past they offered kids races, but there were not enough participants to justify continuing to offer the,. Instead, there is not an age requirement to run. That’s right–that means if you’re a parent of a kid who wants to run adult courses, F.I.T. is a good option for you.

The day of F.I.T. Challenge

On the day of the race, Robb was difficult to locate because he had been trying to meet as many of his participants as he could. He found me, I asked him if he was nervous, and he said “Nope. If you do things right, there’s nothing to worry about on race day. It’s just a waiting game.”

One thing that is interesting about Robb as opposed to things I’ve seen in other races. I have seen many people hang out with race directors after races, drink, and be friendly, but not quite like the way that people try to be friendly with Robb. Robb is very nice, and unfortunately, many of his participants try to squeeze out opportunities to take advantage of him, without recognizing the difference between that and being taken care of. The first example is from the people who stayed at his house and dipped as soon as they completed their lap. It’s not fair to him, and I don’t think that is going to stop until he puts down and tells people no.

The second case of people trying to take advantage of Robb was, and Jen, who worked parking in the morning, knew ahead of time that people would do this, was with parking. Parking at the venue was $10. However, people would pull up to Jen, and say “I know Robb,” expecting to get out of paying. Jen’s response back was hysterical and simple: “I know Robb, too. That will be $10!” It is frustrating that people at this race feel like simply saying that is going to provide them with a discount, or something for free. Additionally, it is good that Jen was working parking, because someone from another OCR media organization came without alerting F.I.T. ahead of time, with a homemade name badge declaring he needed to be allowed in for free due to his position. He paid the $10.

The main F.I.T. crew had gone to their stations. The startline announcer “Blaze,” was ready to go. Jen and their friend Adam were at parking, Robb was circulating, Larry was at his obstacle “The Devil’s Playground,” , Ginger was working merchandise, and Farb was circulating, checking for safety and to help the runners. The volunteer coordinators were nowhere to be seen. Somehow, the volunteers made it to their stations. I actually think it was Farb who told them where to go.

The beginning of the race meant Robb was explaining rules to the ultra runners himself. At one point there were some technical difficulties with the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, and Robb immediately came up with the solution of a moment of silence, but the team was able to get the problem fixed right away. When the elite runners were up in the minutes following, Robb made the announcements for them, and then went immediately to the Gibbons obstacle.

The Course

FIT Start

The start line was placed on the bottom of a discrete hill, that led right away into a sharp curve on a flatter surface. Some volunteers were sitting at a picnic table,  giving words of encouragement before the first climb was coming. After you made your second turn, roughly 300 meters into the race (by my calculation, which is not an exact measurement in the slightest), it was alright time to ascend the first climb of the day.

The first ascend, although rocky, isn’t a terribly long one. As long as you can keep your feet moving, you’ll be up in no time. At the top of the hill, the course veers to the left, to reach a rockier peak. While Robb and I marked the course several days prior, he showed me part of the mountain that was not on the course. Although the course veers left, to the right, there is quite a view. F.I.T Challenge is held at Diamond Hill Park, and the first climb is, well, Diamond Hill. The top of the hill contains a marvelous view. This section of the park had previously been a part of the course, but after receiving some feedback on the descent, that portion had been removed.

After you continue going up the hill and through some rocky areas, you eventually hit a downhill. The downhill is also home to the first obstacle: the low crawl.

Low crawls can be interesting because there are a lot of different ways that crawls can be established in a course. The F.I.T. Challenge team chose to take a bungee-like material and wrap it around the surrounding trees. Although the bungee material was strapped on fairly low to the ground, the give of the cord made the obstacle doable for athletes of all sizes.

FIT Low Crawl

Following the downhill was a nice, flat run. Initially, the terrain was slightly rocky, with a two to three-person width. Then there was a simple cargo net climb that was fairly sturdy. Greeting runners afterward was an overgrown single person track. The ground here split in certain areas, adding some tricky footing on a trail that otherwise would have been relatively simple. Coming up soon were the first looks at the major obstacles.

Once you came out of the woods, there was an inverted ladder-type wall. There was a volunteer when I ran through, and I imagine she was there the majority of the run as well. Following that was the opportunity to run through a circle of trees, right into the rope climb. It was a short rope with several knots in it, making it a less than difficult rope. Underneath the rope was squishy, F.I.T. branded safety pads. Once you turned around, it was right to the pegboards. The pegboards slightly varied in height, and athletes were allowed to choose whichever one fit their comfort accordingly. Robb informed me a few days prior that athletes are allowed to wrap their legs around the tree for support.

FIT Pegs

A few more steps in the woods led athletes to the monkey cargo net. I had never seen one of these before coming to F.I.T. Many athletes began their attempt through this obstacle using an inverted-crawl-type method, while others attempted to monkey through. However, to monkey through was slow and taxing on grip, so many who began using that method did not follow through for the duration of the obstacle. Next up was the Gibbons Rig.

FIT Monkey Cargo

 

FIT Monkey Cargo 2

The Gibbons Rig contained a few different elements. The first one obviously, the Gibbons’ brackets. On the far right lanes, there were 6 brackets, separated by 3 feet each. The middle lanes contained 9 gibbons brackets, each 2 feet apart. The final lane on the left was just monkey bars. Following the gibbons (or monkey bars, depending on what you chose), there was another monkey bar, and then a cargo net to go up and over.

FIT Gibbons

Originally, when the rules were set, the elites were required to complete the side on the far right. Then, the rules changed so that the elite women could choose which lane they wanted to complete. And then the rules changed again, saying that both male and females could choose whichever Gibbons lane they wanted to complete. Robb was mandating the obstacle and made those calls based on feedback he received from athletes. The issue with this was that the volunteer coordinators failed to relay the message to their volunteers as well, so when the volunteers who were present were asked what to do, the information was not consistent.

Following the Gibbons Rig was an extremely dry slip wall. I wore my VJ shoes and was able to run all the way up easily. The slip wall originally had crooked steps on the back, but the day before the race, it drove the build team so crazy that they re-did it. (F.I.T. crew please forgive me for using this picture…I did not take another one after it was adjusted! ) Immediately after that was a tunnel crawl.

FIT Slip

Twisted tape made you think that the Destroyer  2.0 was coming up next, but it was actually a series of over/under/through walls. Following was another shorter ascend into the woods.

Running through some rocky terrain led athletes into their next obstacle: the first ladder wall. It was built very sturdily into the trees and did not seem to cause athletes many issues. Follow the downhill and you will reach the second ladder wall as well as a two-sided vertical cargo net. A series of volunteers waited at this area to greet athletes. Following that and you met face to face with a relatively tall Irish table.

After working through several more areas where you could actually run, you finally winded your way back to the Destroyer 2.0. Many of the elite runners had a difficult time, not with the “destroyer” portion of the obstacle, but the tires at the end. The tires were still a little slick from the morning dew. Following the destroyer was a run up a hill, with wreck bags at the bottom. Both men and women were expected to carry the 25 lb bag. People could grab a second bag if they didn’t feel like 25 lbs was heavy enough.

The interesting piece of the wreck bag carry was that, not only did you have to carry it up a hill (because let’s face it, usually when we see wreck bags, we can expect to see hills), but you had to carry it over F.I.T.’s teeter-totter obstacle as well. Elite athletes had to carry it with them over the obstacle. Open wavers, Ultras, and Multi-lappers did not. Then, it was up the hill, down the hill, a turn to the right, and already time to put the bag back in the pile.

Then, it was time to go over two tire hurdles (also seen in other races as Rolling Thunder) and on to the floating walls. The floating walls that were in the woods here were the shorter walls, with the back facing toward the runners. People could climb the ladder on the back of the wall to scale the obstacle. But, when athletes made it to the top and were turning their way down the other side, the wall turned horizontally with them. Very scary, but a unique and exciting take on a standard wall.

FIT Rolling Thunder

Then it was time for more running in the woods. This new trail looped you to the backside of where the herd of volunteers was located earlier, and runners were greeted with another tilting floating wall. This time, the wall was taller (I’m short and my perception of height isn’t always perfect,) and if I had to guess, I would assume it was 7 feet. Unlike the other floating wall, this one had the wall side facing you, so unless you were confident in your jump, it was more difficult to get to the other side.

More running later, and there was a cargo net climb. The net on this cargo shifted with movement, so competitors going through this obstacle had to slow it down to ensure safety. Luckily, the camaraderie of this race is outstanding, and many of the contestants were willing to hold it still for the next person.

Many more rocks later, and you came across the “OS” hill. Unlike the other climbs of the day, this hill was going down. The dirt on this hill, with the mixture of its trees and rocks descending down, will make you realize why people call it the “OS hill” really quickly! There was a sharp turn at the bottom and a little bit more running until the trail opened up and you could see the last two obstacles.

Next up: the Devil’s Playground. Man, this is one that I had been thrilled to try for ages. Although it looks like a shorter version of the Stairway to Heaven from Conquer the Gauntlet, this Full Potential Obstacles creation certainly is not. What makes this obstacle difficult is one, you have to start from almost sitting, and also, in between using the planks to grab, you have to alternate your hands onto the bar that is holding the plank as well. It is an extremely difficult obstacle, but one that will certainly keep your training on your toes…and completely humble you if you haven’t.

FIT Devil

The Devil’s Playground was the appetizer for Full Potential’s first award-winning obstacle, the Destroyer, and then it was on to the finish.

FIT Destroyer

Breakdown/Other Race Day Shenanigans

Afterward, I noticed how everyone on the crew was kind of scattered. I didn’t see many of anyone else until it was time to come to other obstacles. The only person I had seen during that time was Larry posted at Devil’s Playground, eagerly waiting to tell people that they could not use their feet while climbing up. Once the top finishers came, Robb and Farb were waiting at the finish line to distribute medals.

At the end of the day, there were several different media sources who were there looking to get attention. Unfortunately, some of the people who were there were looking to cause some trouble. At one point I saw Robb being interviewed by someone and the interviewer said while recording Robb’s response, “a lot of people didn’t like the layout of the course, because they said the trees made it feel like heat was being trapped, what do you have to say to that?” Let me tell you, I was on that course. I was on site all day, and I spoke with many participants and volunteers. Not a single person actually said that. It was just an instance of someone trying to cause problems.

The breakdown began that afternoon, and ultra lapping competitors were told that they were then having to do obstacle-free laps at 2:30. But, there was another problem. Originally, the ultras were told they were not going to have to start obstacle-free laps until 3:00. During the race, some people went around told athletes obstacle-free laps started at 2:00. Someone else said that the obstacle-free laps started at 2:30. Regardless of who said what, nobody said anything to the volunteers about what time the obstacle-free laps started. So, when runners came through and started asking whether or not they needed to complete obstacles, they weren’t sure.

I notified Robb right away, and he let the substitute volunteer coordinator know so the message could be passed on. But then, another problem came. Some of the volunteers were told to take down some of the course markings. They started taking down ALL of the course markings…even though there were runners still on course. Luckily, at this point, the runners who were on course had been on course for 8 hours and were relatively familiar with where they needed to go. Some were not. A few runners claimed to have gone off course. Some used that in order to cut the course significantly.

The breakdown of many of the other obstacles was fantastic. A group of recruits from a local army base came and were incredibly willing to help. Many of the volunteers who had signed up to help with breakdown left early on in the day, and never came to work their volunteer shift. After Jen’s suggestions, the volunteers who did not show up for their volunteer shift were sent a bill for their race.

The breakdown of obstacles with Larry was excellent. If I could recommend to a race company to use Full Potential Obstacles, I would not just on the fact that his obstacles are great, but the breakdown of those obstacles is quick and painless as well. He and Ginger have a system that is unbeatable.

Lessons Learned

From working with Robb for the last several days, I learned a lot about putting on a race.

One, I learned how important it is to have built connections in your area. Robb had made connections with local printing companies, the parks, and rec department, and gyms in the area, just to name a few. I don’t think that Robb would have the success that did if he had not built connections. The connections he built are important also because they are a reflection of the job that he has put in. I know that those connections would not be as strong if he was not a strong leader.

Two, I learned it is important to have a strong team. I know that F.I.T. is often identified as Robb’s creation, and although it is primarily Robb’s, Farb, Jen, and the Coopers are phenomenal at filling in the pieces and putting it all together. Not only that, but there are people there who celebrate the victories with you, and can help bring you back up when you feel like things aren’t going the way you imagined they would. Also, I know that the un-successes could have been prevented with a stronger volunteer coordinator, and I am looking forward to more F.I.T. adventures where the entire team will be together.

Three, I learned just how important it is to build a community involving your event. 100s of people were asked during this event what their favorite part about the race is, and the first thing that all of them said was that it was because the community was so kind and loving. You are not going to have the same feel at large races. Even though the course is exceedingly challenging, people find a way to bond over this event time after time… to the point where they feel as though they all have very personal relationships with Robb.

I learned how important it is to have good volunteers. Because a community like this is so in love with the event, there were several good volunteers who were excited to be a part of the event. Seeing how helpful the Army Recruits were was really encouraging. Additionally, because they were so thrilled to bring such a large group and get to be helpful. The participants in that event are going to have really strong leadership skills from continuing to come and give up their time to be a part of a community event so willingly.

Lastly, I confirmed my belief that directing a race, while working full-time is really challenging. All of the people who put on F.I.T. are those who give up so much of their time so that they can build something that unites a group of people while giving them an experience they’ll never forget. The fact that these people can do so much and still be able to unite a group the way that they do is pretty damn inspiring.

So, if you have heard about F.I.T. Challenge and you’re not sure if it lives up to the hype, take my word for it, it does. It pairs unique obstacles with interesting terrain, and to add a cherry on top, a supportive community. It is definitely one to mark off on your bucket list!

FIT Podium

Top finishers of single-lap elite wave:

Men:

1st-Jarrett Newby

2nd-Jeremy Goncalves

3rd- Javier Gutierrez

Women:

1st-Cassandra Ohman

2nd-Jennifer Dowd

3rd-Kristen Cincotti

 

Atlanta Ragnar Trail 2019

“The road to the top is a lonely one,” is some of the absolute worst running advice I have ever received. If you look at some of the top performers, you can see that they surround themselves with some equally passionate, loving, and crazy people. These people believe in the TEAM, and with that love, the team is able to travel farther than most. Many of you most likely run alone, and surrounding yourself with passionate people can be hard (because to be honest, most of your friends probably think you’re crazy). If only there was an easy way to find an opportunity to find people who understand your crazy… That opportunity is Ragnar Trail.

What is Ragnar Trail?

Imagine this: you have a campsite, it’s three o’clock in the morning, and you’re surrounded by 7 of your friends who all collectively smell like a rotting shoe. You’re totally sticky, who knows why, and you look around at your friends and just smile. This is Ragnar.

Okay, maybe that’s not entirely what Ragnar is. But, pretty close.

When you come to Ragnar Trail, there are 8 people on a team total. You can arrive either on Thursday or Friday morning to set up your campsite. Brace yourself and prepare to get cozy– you may rest up there a bit.

With Ragnar Trail, there are three trails that you are going to run. There is a green loop, a yellow loop, and a red loop. All of the loops are assigned a color based on relative difficulty–surely, you can guess which one is the easiest, and which is the more challenging.

When you get started, your first runner is going to run the green loop. Then, your second runner runs the yellow loop, third runs red, fourth runs green, and you keep going until every single runner has run each of the three loops.

Easy right?

Sure, if you don’t like to sleep much!

The thing is, total, the Ragnar is well over 100 miles. That means, in order to complete the entire course as a team, you guys will be running for at least 17:00:00 straight. In other words, not only are you running but at some point during this glorious adventure, you are going to be running trails in the middle of the night.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and that’s probably that there is no way in Hell your friends are not going to be into it. If you haven’t met enough people through OCR who will love being crazy with you, you’re in luck. There are many teams who go onto Facebook who BEG for more runners. So, if you don’t know anyone, buckle up, and prepare to get friendly!

Atmosphere

Part of the reason that I love Ragnar so much is the atmosphere. Here, you are ENCOURAGED to go bananas. In addition to looking at team times, Ragnar staff is also looking for the best team theme. Our team theme was the Hot TaMILES, and we decked out in chilli pepper temporary tattoos and hats. My personal favorite theme that I saw was a team called “The Knights of the Buffet Table.” Walking around the campsites, there were tons of campsites that were decorated. So, although it’s a tough challenge, you definitely do not have to worry about people taking themselves too seriously here.

 

If camping isn’t quite your thing, Ragnar offers a “glamping” package. I have no idea how much extra it costs, and what all it entails (I think you have access to trailer bathrooms as opposed to port-o-Johns; fancy!). Glamping is for the runner who is there for the sport, but doesn’t exactly feel like pitching a tent. The Atlanta site is also right across the street from a hotel, so you better believe we saw people walking on in that direction at the end of the event.

(Since I don’t know much about glamping, you can click here for more information)

 

Village

 

To be out there for a full day and night would be pretty boring if there was nothing to do. Luckily, Ragnar has thought of this ahead of time!

Aside from the campsite is the village. In the village, there are several different activities for you to do while you are not running. You can partake in mid-day yoga classes, enjoy a soothing massage, sit in some of those inflatable leg things, watch movies, make s’mores, and so much more! Each team will also have a dinner meal ticket (I’ve gone the last two years, and the last two years the meal has been lasagna), and access to a few food trucks.

They post the schedule of events ahead of time for you to be able to take advantage of all of the shenanigans. Coffee, hot chocolate, and hot water are also provided. Just make sure that you bring cash, your own mug, and your own yoga mat!

The Race Itself

When you register for Ragnar, you have to put in an approximate pace for yourself so that Ragnar staff can provide you a start time based off of your projected abilities. My team was given the 3:00 start time.

Green Loop

At about 2:45, I started making my way toward the start line. It is advised that you head that way about 15 minutes before your team’s start.

One thing that I appreciate about Ragnar is that they do what they can to spread people out on the courses as much as possible. By the time I hit the line, there were only 16 people who were going to start at the same time as me. The race director started calling to us “WHO’S HYDRATED?!” A bunch of us cheered. Then they called, “WHO IS CARRYING ELECTROLYTES?” and significantly fewer people cheered.

Now, it’s the Georgia Horse Park in the middle of the day in April. It was 85 degrees and 80% humidity, making it extremely difficult to breathe. I can only imagine the fate of those poor souls who didn’t hydrate.

The green loop has a deceptively quick first mile. Most people I talked to said they had a fabulous first-mile time, and, not going to lie, I was pretty happy with mine. The trails start really wide, the yellow loop turns right while the red loop and green loop turn left. Then, the green loop veers right into the woods while the red loop carries on. Like I mentioned earlier, the first mile of the approximately 4.2-mile course is on a really wide trail. There is a lot of space to pass people, and it really is a lot of fun.

A little less than a mile and a half in, you run up a hill and the wider trail narrows into a single-track trail. There are several places where the path widened enough for you to be able to pass someone but to say it was wide would be ambitious. The hills rolled and rolled; which is to be expected, considering the trails were actually part of the Olympic Mountain Biking Trails from 1996. The Green Loop was actually part of the “beginner” mountain bike trail.

Now, considering the green loop was the beginner loop, the hills were rolling, but the terrain was not too technical. As long as you watched your step, it was almost a solid guarantee to leave the green trail with both ankles intact.

The only downside to these trails were some of the bridges that were built. Now, the big, important ones were covered in some sort of cover, so they were fine. For the most part, the little bridges that were provided to aid in difficult spots were fairly bouncy and had quite a bit of space in between boards. If I saw that there was space on the side to run on the ground and not on the bridge, you better believe I took it.

In the last mile and a half of the green loop actually intertwines with the yellow loop, so for a while there, it fares to be pretty twisty. There are several signs throughout the entire run, which I noticed for the Green Loop especially, seemed to be pretty spot-on, according to my GPS watch. The Ragnar team provided “mile-ish left!” signs, and from then on out the course really opens up, so it’s easy to open up your gate as well.

Transition

Transitioning in between runners is a really big question that people have. My team was super prepared, so we were able to guess roughly the amount of time it would take for each runner to complete their leg. Before you can make your way into the transition tent, you have to wait outside of the tent. Race directors do this so there aren’t all 200 teams inside the tent at once. When your runner hits the Quarter Mile to Go marker, your team name will show up on the screen outside of the tent. Once your name is on the screen, you check in with the volunteer standing at the transition, and you make your way in.

Team bibs are tied to a very lightweight belt. The belts have a clip, so when it’s time to swap runners, you just unclip the belt and hand it off.

Yellow Loop

Ah, the yellow loop. The yellow loop is actually the intermediate Olympic mountain biking trail. The yellow loop caused more stress for people than the red loop did. This trail contained the most technical of paths. A challenging aspect of the frequent, inclined, hair-pin turned made it difficult to maintain a consistent pace throughout the run.

One thing that Ragnar does when creating their courses is that they place a lot of signs. I get lost pretty easily, but I find their courses pretty easy to follow; even at night. They have some signs that are there to give you direction (obviously), which is helpful. Those signs are reflective, so if you ever feel like there is a chance you may be lost, just wiggle your flashlight around until something shines back at you. Ragnar has some signs that say funny little nothings (my personal favorite says, “to pee, or not to pee, that is the question”). But, the sign that I am most appreciative for are the “caution” signs. They have small signs that just look like exclamation points that say caution in areas where the roots may be very prevalent, there are dips in the trail, or where there may be an exceptionally bouncy bridge.

The caution signs were the most prevalent on the yellow trail.

In terms of difficulty, when it is not merged with the green loop, I would not say that the yellow trail is especially difficult. Mostly there were dips and turns, uphills, and downhills, that all keep you very occupied. As long as you paid special attention to where the roots were in relation to your feet, you made it out of there a-okay.

When the yellow loop met up with the green loop, it provides an opportunity to meet up with some runners who you hadn’t seen before. On this portion of the trail, this is where I thought there was the most sportsmanship than I’d seen on the entire course.

Red Loop

The red loop is a favorite for many of the runners. Once you took off from the transition tent, you run a little way, and then turn left along with the green loop. When the green loop turns into the woods, you keep going. Eventually, you end up at tunnels. Once you run through the tunnels, you will eventually come to the rocks.

The rocks get very slippery when they are wet. Even worse, is it can be difficult to navigate if you are stuck running the red loop during the night time. Most of the rock surface has drops and dips, that, if you’re not careful, can really catch you off guard.

This has been my second Ragnar, and through both, I have run the red loop at night. My friends who have run it during the day say that this trail is the most beautiful. About halfway through the rocks, you can look off to the side and see a nice lake off to the side.

Once you finally make your way through the rocks, you end up on a trail. The trail is wider than single track but had many rocks and little inclines that you need to be wary about. Luckily, Ragnar does well with indicating when there are going to be dangerous zones ahead, using the caution signs that were previously mentioned… In the upcoming area, brace yourself for impact!

The red trail loops back around, so you have to run back over the rocks and through the tunnel. But, rather than run back to the transition tent, you have to loop around the village in order to get through to the transition tent. This was fine because it’s flatter terrain, but running right past the port-o-Johns and the campsite was NOT FUN! Especially when it is late and you are trying to finish!

The 8th runner finishes on the red loop, and then it is on to the finish!

Finish

When the last runner of your relay runs their final stretch of the red loop, your entire team jumps in and finishes the relay together.

Ragnar is not necessarily a competitive event. It’s exciting to see how your team ranks against others, but you won’t win anything for doing well. Instead, you just bring your bib and belt over to a tent to collect your medals. And, when you get your medals, you put them all together in order to make a phrase!

Take Aways

Ragnar is a much different type of event than most of the other races that you are probably accustomed to. This event is not about trying to be the best but taking a chance at something that well, seems very dangerous, and using that new experience to learn something new about yourself. It’s about bonding with people around you who understand you and ALL of your craziness. Ragnar is a silly event that people get excited for; making costumes, building exciting campsites, and appreciating one another. It’s an event to make you happy and bond with others.

Tips

  • Sleep when you can! Your runs are going to be several hours apart, and you absolutely will need the rest to make sure that you are safe on the course.
  • Plan ahead: get with your teammates ahead of time and do what you can to plan who is bringing what.
  • Try to only bring what you need. Remember, you’re going to have to clean it all up eventually. When it’s time to clean up, trust me, you aren’t going to want to.
  • Think you’re hydrated? Drink more. And don’t rely on drinking water alone. You are going to need electrolytes, and calories, to power through what lies ahead.
  • Plan to take advantage of some of the activities that are offered in the village. Make the most of your weekend! You just may want to bring cash and a mug.

Green Beret Challenge: Wicked Trail Race ATL 2019

Wicked Ballas Rope Climb

Introduction

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When it comes to putting on events, Mark Ballas never fails to put on something that is out of the ordinary. So, when GBC announced that they would be doing a trail race, called Wicked Trail, I knew it would be a race not to miss.

The Wicked Trail race offers two different types of races. There is a 5k and a 10k “wicked.” In the description on  Mark’s Website, the 5k appeals to the standard trail runner. The 10k “wicked” option appeals to Obstacle Course Racers, advertising more difficult terrain, which includes hills so steep that you may require a rope to ascend. And of course, Mark is known for making races that are, for lack of better words, painful, so you may have other challenges that cannot be described.

Wicked Map

 

Festival Area

This race was in the same location as the Green Beret Challenge Operators last year and the XII Hour Endurance Event. Knowing this venue, I knew going early on there are hills. I’m also very fortunate that I am familiar with the location of this venue, because it can be a tad bit difficult to locate. The location of this race is actually next to the designated address, which can catch you a little off-guard if you’re not familiar with it. The address provided is actually for a friend of Mark’s house, and the trails follow behind it. So you have to drive through the man’s yard and past the house in order to get to the actual venue.

Parking, as always, is a breeze.  There were a few volunteers who were there to collect money from parking ($5 per car) and direct drivers. No parking issues presented themselves. Everything flowed very smoothly.

Wicked Festival

There was a slight line at the check-in table, but man, those volunteers do not mess around. They greet you kindly, and then give you the wristband that coordinates with the time you start, then send you on your way as quickly as possible. For instance, I ran at 8:10, so my wristband was yellow, while my friends started at 8:20, and their wristbands were green. Those that ran the 5k had pink wristbands. We were provided the start times via e-mail and Facebook groups several days prior to the event. Mark noticed there was a mistake in the original times, and it was all adjusted within about 30 minutes and re-sent.

As always, Jarian Rich, aka Jambo was there to provide entertainment. A week of not feeling well left us with a gliterless beard, but the enthusiasm level remained just as high as ever. He had a DJ stand up right next to the start line, and you were able to hear him from a fair distance away.

Past the DJ stand, if you keep walking, you can find where the GORMR group set up their tent by the lake. The e-mail sent out earlier in the week that the Wicked was going to be a BYOB event. So many people, myself included, brought in lawn chairs and coolers to accompany them.

Wicked Race Lake

Course

Might I start this section by saying, holy cow, this was way tougher than I thought it would be.

The 5k runners took off promptly at 8:00, and then it was time for my age group to hit the start line.

As always, we were greeted by Jambo’s enthusiasm. He was getting people to cheer on the start line, and get amped up to run. Since I was visibly nervous, he asked me if I ran the Operator’s Course last year. When I said yes, he assured me that it was going to be a run of that course, but backwards.

“Awesome,” I thought to myself, “that means that there are going to be two big climbs. I can handle that.”

Boy, was I wrong.

At exactly 8:10, as specified by the e-mail sent off earlier in the week, we were off.

Just as Jambo had suggested, we started by running around the lake, which was backwards to last year’s Operators course. It started off flat, nice, and easy. Once we made it around the corner, I saw a friend of mine, who was running in the 5k division. After I told her good job, I noticed that right there, probably 400 meters into the race, was the first climb of the day. I looked to see if my friend was still there, and recognized that the 5k runners would be making this ascend, too. I realized right there, that I probably would not hit the time goal that I had set for myself.

Once it flattened out, it was on to single track trails, which allowed to make up time as much as possible by opening up stride. However, that didn’t last very long, before another big climb, and then a long descend. This descend had really loose dirt- to the point that I thought if I hadn’t found several trees to hang on to, I probably would have slipped and fallen. Definitely one where you would need to slow down on. It wouldn’t be hard to slide down, as long as you have a decent amount of balance. I probably would have ended up rolling down like Andy Sandburg in Hot Rod.

Sooner than later, we ended up at a dirt biking track. This was the same dirt biking track that we completed with the yoke carry during the 12 hour endurance event. Although climbing through the numerous, steep, short hills seemed much easier by comparison, I swear Mark made them steeper. There were a few of those short hills that were so steep, that I caught myself using my hands to climb these hills. This portion of the race was nice though, because it was still early on enough in the race where you could see others, and be able to compare where you are in terms of placing. And, here, since you could see others, it was much easier to cheer others on.

Then it was time for another long, trucking ascent. This was one that I did not remember from either of the previous events that I had completed at this same course. My legs started to feel heavy, we had already made several climbs within the first two miles, and I knew others felt the same way. At this point, I was running completely alone in the woods. This race wasn’t going to just be about physical capabilities, but mental ones as well. Luckily, I’m sure Mark anticipated this, and I noticed that the number of blue arrows that were pointing became more and more prevalent. There was a slight run in an area that was taped off, but the trail itself was not marked. Basically, we were running on a trail that was still covered in leaves, rather than distinguished by a dirt path. It eventually opened up.

I believe that at about this point, Mark drove by me on his ATV. With a big smile on his face he said, “are you having fun?” and followed me for a little bit down another, less vicious, hill.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a run, with a few fallen trees as hurdles, and after awhile, it seemed as though the trail just completely stopped. I looked to the right, and the path was unmarked, but not with the intention of us running through it, unlike the other unmarked but marked trail that was mentioned earlier. I looked on the left, and I saw a pipe that lead into a creek. Clearly, we’re not running in there.

Then I remembered, wait a second, this is a race from Mark Ballas, we’re definitely going in that creek, and turned left without hesitation.

As soon as you headed through the creek, there were several little red flags indicating that you were headed in the right direction. The creek twisted and turned, no turn without greeting from either a tiny red flag or a blue arrow spray painted in the sand. This creek lasted what felt like 600 meters.

At one point, the creek continued, but a blue arrow indicated a sharp, right turn up a hill. I looked at the hill with wide eyes, seeing that it was so steep, I’d have to crawl up it. Then I noticed that there was a rope supplied for us, so we could use this to help pull us up. You could say it was like a mid-course trail slip wall.

I grabbed the rope, and heard a woman cheering. I looked up and saw GBC Pro Team member Rachel Watters. She sat the race out, and instead volunteered on course, taking pictures and directing runners.

She directed me toward a different hill with a rope, but this time, the rope helped us descend the hill. This was kind of weird, but exciting, especially because at the bottom of this hill was a short drop. After this, it was back to running in the creek.

Rope Hill

Once out of the creek, it was back to running. We ended up with a straighter, flatter run, which allowed to make up some time. About this time, Mark drove by on his ATV again.

“Are you still having fun?” He asked, still smiling.

Laughing, I said “I almost got lost!”

His eyes widened. He asked me where. When I told him it was at the beginning creek, he immediately started heading in that direction. A clear indication that he prioritizes safety of his athletes.

Sooner than later, I could hear Jambo’s music playing in the distance. Because I hadn’t seen any mile markers throughout the race, I assumed that we were getting close to the finish line.

I was wrong…again. We still had about 2 miles left.

However, the brutality of the massive hill climbs had about finished. There were a few left, but none were nearly as bad as the ones that were in the first two miles of the race. Some of the trails were slanted, which made me think of a friend of mine’s comment before the race, stating that she was going to focus on maintaining good running form throughout the run. I laughed, because I knew there was absolutely no way to focus on great form during this. Rather, just focusing on keeping both of your ankles intact.

We looped around a familiar piece of the course; a marshy path of grass near the finish. Although it wasn’t around the lake, the area feels swampy, and, since it is entirely in the sun, it makes the humidity feel like 400%.

After that, was another water station, and then trudging from some of the muckiest mud we’d seen all day. I saw my friend who was running the 5k, and I reminded her that the medal that she was going to receive was definitely one earned, not given.

After a while in this area, Jambo’s music got louder, and we made it back to the parking lot.

Hooray!!

…Except again, this is a race from Mark Ballas, and was definitely a cop-out. There was a slight sign with an arrow pointing us to the right, even though the final stretch was to the left. We had to circle around the field. It was just a flat patch of grass, with tread through to make it easier to navigate. The hard part was over. Now, it was just to pick up leg speed, and not let the sun beating on you change your attitude. Once you hit the final stretch, it was on to the finish line, where Jambo was waiting, to congratulate every single runner who finished.

Wicked Finish

Awards

Awards were done after the race, once it was assured that most of the runners had finished the race. The awards were presented near the finish line, with Jambo leading the command. The 5k awards were presented as top 3 overall in gender. The 10k “wicked” awards were presented as age group awards, with no separate awards for overall winners. Winners of these categories were given a separate medal. There were no differences between the 5k or 10k medals.

Wicked Winners

Thoughts

One thing I’d like to specify about the Wicked Trail race is that although it is run by Green Beret Challenge, it is not an obstacle race. It is a somewhat sadistic trail race that incorporates obstacles that are already there through nature. Also, those dang hills are the biggest obstacle out there. Mark used a lot of difficult terrain which included many trees that were knocked over, and other things in order to make things interesting. So, although you can expect it to be difficult, you cannot expect to see some of the hand-built obstacles that Green Beret Challenge is known for (thank God for no yoke!). This also means that it is not going to be as costly to run, so it does not cost nearly as much to participate in the Wicked Trail than most OCR races. So, if you’re looking to challenge yourself, but can’t pull off the $100+ per race fee, you may  want to consider running in the Wicked.

Another thing I would like to mention is that Mark Ballas puts these on with not much help. That being said, I am always appreciative for the dedication that he demonstrates in all of his events. It rained quite a bit leading up to this race. Unfortunately, several of the blue arrows that Mark had spray painted the day before the race were washed away, so, to ensure safety, he went out and completely re-marked the course. Every runner returned from this course safely. The only injury I saw out there was a scrape that got some dirt in it, which was immediately tended to when the athlete returned. It was also noted that there were several changes made to the course, that Mark decided would be more interesting, while he was out making adjustments. So although the course map had been released prior to the race, it ended up being a bit more windy than we anticipated. See how my Garmin captured the race by looking at the picture below!

Wicked Strava

I would say the only thing that I would have improved from this course would be the lack of mile markers. Considering I know I like to know where I am on course, and although I think that having a marker on every mile would take away from some of the excitement, it would be nice to see one or two on the course.

I am very thankful that Mark added in the 5k option for this race. Although it was more difficult than I was imagining it would be, I am glad he added it. This allowed for a good friend of mine, who is trying to get a start into fitness and running, to participate and see what I do. It was the first time that one of my non-race friends was able to meet with my race friends, and I’m really encouraged, and looking forward to letting more of my friends know about these in the future.

Wicked Friends

Although this race was difficult, and I’m sure that I confused some of the order of events in my recap, I would definitely plan on doing it again. I would recommend this event to anyone who is willing to get a little bit out of their comfort zone. I am hoping that with future races, Mark brings this series to interesting places, so that we can have some beautiful views at the top of these extensive climbs. My advice to you is this; if you plan on completing a Wicked Trail event, do not neglect your hill training, or you can expect to have your butt handed to you. If you are on this course, and you keep your head up, and stay motivated throughout, I know that you will have a successful adventure!

Carolina Ultra: Twisted Trails and Bundles of Burpees

Introduction/Pre-Race

Ah, South Carolina. Known for its super warm temperatures, surely this is the race to do if you are hoping to complete the ultra in shorts and a sports bra. It will be a beautiful day, filled with lots of sunshine, love, and rainbows.

Or, maybe not.

Now, I’m from South Carolina, so I confess that my knowledge of all things cold isn’t exactly there. But, I overheard several people say they were coming from the north because they were looking forward to a warm race. Although this wasn’t exactly freezing temperatures all day, when it was time to start the race, it was roughly 36 degrees when we got started. All of the people who were anticipating and planning to wear shorts and look cute were a little disappointed.

On the race website, we were told that we had to pick up packets the night before. Problem is, packet pick up was from 2:00-5:30 in the afternoon. A friend of mine asked if I could pick his up, which of course, I was told no (which, makes sense). I didn’t think this was fair to people who…you know, have jobs… but what do I know. Luckily, even though they said packet pick up the day before was mandatory, people were allowed to grab their stuff the morning of the race.

I was lucky enough to get to grab my stuff ahead of time. So, the morning of the race, I got myself situated, grabbed my bucket, and went on my way.

When I got to the start line, everyone was huddled and shivering. You could hear people make comments related to “what the heck, I thought this was supposed to be warm!” And we waited to get started.

And we waited.

And waited.

Now, I did the Ultra Beast in New Jersey last year, and we didn’t start on time either. They at least TOLD us that we weren’t going to start on time. Here, we were repeatedly told that we would get started soon. We ended up waiting for over 20 minutes to get started. Finally, Mr. Kobl came up. I was so thankful when he let us know that we only had to do the dunk one time, and it wasn’t until the very end of the day for us. After some jokes and words of wisdom, we were off.

Spartan’s Course

Carolina Ultra Map

Once we got started, it seemed like we took a solid 3 steps before encountering the first obstacle. Almost immediately were some hay walls; following that was a creek crossing. We pretty much spent the rest of the day in the water. Our toes got really cold, really fast. Closely after was the 4-ft wall and some trail running, and some more creeks. Then it was the 6-foot wall. I saw a lot of women struggling with the 6-foot wall, which was really strange…that is until I realized that there was a layer of ice completely covering the top of the wall. After I went over the wall, SQUISH. We hopped off of the wall and into a big ol’ puddle of mud. Gross.

So…in short…the first mile was pretty much just mud and walls. Sigh.

A little bit of running later, and we get to the rope. To make things interesting, because it was extremely cold, the rope was COMPLETELY covered in ice. Even though I was in the elite division, I have never seen so many people doing burpees at a rope.

After a short run, the next few obstacles were pretty close together. It actually hurt a lot, and the burpee areas were so close that it was easy to get them confused between obstacles. In the second mile, there was the Olympus, Herc hoist, spearman, barbed wire crawl, sandbag, AND bucket within that little space. Out of those obstacles, Olympus, rope, and many other obstacles were covered in ice. Sooo many people were doing burpees. Lots of unhappy faces, and people worried about their fate for the rest of the afternoon.

After we kept running, we ran into Bender. Bender is scary when it’s covered in ice. Lots of people were worried about falling, and several of us little people had a hard time jumping and grabbing the first bar because it was so slick. After some more trail running came the Tyrolean Traverse and a vertical cargo climb. On the first lap, this cargo climb was one of the scariest cargo climbs that I have experienced. It was one that was so loose that while you were climbing, the rope would shift. I did not love it.

One piece that was interesting about this course came up closely afterward. There was an 8-foot wall on course, but it only had one step as opposed to two steps. Some of the shorter women struggled.

Then, the hard part was pretty much over. There was a portion of the race that split from an ultra course to the regular Beast so that the ultra course was a little longer and more challenging. There was not a volunteer standing here, so there were some moments where standard Beasters ran a portion of the ultra by mistake…and I’m sure some ultra runners “accidentally” took the wrong course.

Now, when they gave us a different piece of the course, I was anticipating something a little difficult. It wasn’t anything really unique. The course map claimed to be an obstacle called “Irish Tables” which I had not seen before. My friends told me that this was a high platform and one that was spooky. It wasn’t. I didn’t even realize what it was until the second lap. It was just another hurdle, with a flatter top. This obstacle is also seen in Bonefrog, but Spartan paints theirs a different color. But, it’s basically another hurdle. I was a little shocked, considering they have different heights for men and women. By the time I got to this obstacle, there was a line for men and it was completely clear for me!

Behind that was more trail running, log farmers carries, the armor, a plate drag, a barbed wire crawl, and another sandbag. After some more running, we were greeted with the Stairway to Sparta.

Now, the Stairway to Sparta has become one of my favorite obstacles. Not because it is one of the most exciting obstacles, but Spartan always manages to squeeze this obstacle into the most spectacular places. This was not. This Stairway was placed conveniently in front of a single-track trail, so there wasn’t anything to see. I would like to say that as a resident of Spartanburg I can vouch and say there weren’t many stunning options…but I would at least suggest on top of a hill or something.

The Stairway to Sparta was actually replaced with the Great Wall. Now, I know there are a lot of thoughts on the Great Wall. It’s basically just Stairway 2.0. It is slightly more difficult than the regular stairway..but not by much. During the first lap, there was not a step provided for the women. So, there were more women doing burpees, simply because we couldn’t reach the grips! But, I suppose if it isn’t challenging, nobody would do it!

After this obstacle, it was on to the transition.

Transition

My friend Erika at the transition!

Now, if you’ve done an ultra or an ultra beast, you’ve seen the transition. It’s a square marked off for people to leave drop buckets. Usually, for buckets, people will go to Lowe’s and get a bucket for $5 and decorate it with stickers. I have my bucket very decorated with things, but I also tied a balloon to my bucket in order to make it easier to find. It’s a good idea for people to put their buckets in a safe place with their friends. In the elite division, you can’t take stuff from people outside of the transition area, so if you’re with your friends, you can divide and conquer!

One thing I found unusual about the transition was that there were volunteers and timers there, but nobody really did anything. Another strange thing about the transition was that my friend Crystal and I were 9th and 10th. We were not given lap leader jerseys. Instead, number 11 was. Number 11 is also someone who has a large presence in the Spartan world. Coincidence? I really hope so. It was very disappointing.

After a brief period in the transition area, it was on to the lap again.

Lap 2

The transition area spat us in a VERY muddy area past the hay walls and right in front of the creek. I sunk up halfway between my knee and hip. I’m just thankful I didn’t lose a shoe there also.

When running an ultra beast, the second lap is very different from the first. The first lap starts very early and provides an awesome opportunity for athletes to get a good start. Since it does start so early, it is usually very quiet. It’s almost peaceful until you remember that you have over 25 miles ahead of you. The second lap is at the same time as afternoon open heaters. This can be very exciting–having other people cheer for you, but also, sometimes people don’t always follow the courtesy rules suggested by the race directors. For instance, during the tyrolean traverse this time, I had an open runner come underneath my rope so that she could get a hold on her friend. Really…REALLY?!

The first obstacle we encountered here was the over walls, and then everything else was the same. There were some differences between the course; the main one being the mud! Several areas that we had previously run in were completely swamped. There were several instances where I would go running or trudge, and I would get so stuck in the mud that people would have to pull me out. Again, it is an absolute miracle that I managed to keep my shoes throughout this adventure.

Also during lap two, they had made a few modifications to some of the obstacles. The Great Wall now had a step. It was exciting to complete this in front of the open runners because they all cheered for me! It felt really nice.

On lap two, instead of going to the transition, it was over the very wobbly A-frame, and through the rolling mud. The rolling mud was ORANGE at this point. It was so difficult to wash this orange out of our clothes.

After this was the mud crawl. Basically, a third barbed wire crawl, just you are crawling in really really squishy mud. Normally this is at least a little fun, but there were sooo many large rocks in this mud. I was completely covered in bruises at the end of the day. After this the dunk, and then the slip wall. Now, the dunk wall was nothing really special other than large rocks made it difficult to get out of the water. The slip wall was actually a little different than usual. They covered the slip wall in this black tarp and made the wall more vertical. The tarp made the slip wall more difficult to dry, and although it still wasn’t difficult, for the first time ever, I did not feel safe on a slip wall.

Then was the fire jump, then the end!

Thoughts

Maybe I’m crazy, but I remember Spartan claiming that ultras were not going to be ultra beasts at the beginning of the year. They promised that ultras were not going to be two laps of the beast; rather, it would be one 30-mile loop with its own obstacles and adventure. Wrong.

I was looking forward to a big challenge, but I am glad that I was lucky enough to participate in this event. This was a good ultra beast for people to attend if they were looking to get a good beginner ultra.

Overall, this course was very repetitive. Lots of sandbags, walls, and crawls. There wasn’t much about this race that stood out as unique. However, I will say that I’m very thankful for the race director for allowing us to wait until the second lap to do the dunk wall (we may have completely turned into Spartan-pops)! I am also very thankful that Spartan provided an opportunity for people in the Southeast to participate in an ultra. I am very thankful that I have the opportunity to compete in events like this altogether. I did feel like Spartan made this an ultra at the last moment and did not have their own real plan. I will continue to hope that Spartan works to improve this event in the future!

Shamrock OCR Campground-Spartanburg, SC

What is Shamrock?

There are so many beautiful things about obstacle racing. However, an abundance of training grounds is not one of them. I live in the Upstate of South Carolina, and there are hardly any places to train. The nearest ninja gym is probably four hours away, and how many other places have obstacles? My training typically consists of low elevation (because that’s all we have) trail runs and Yancy Camp in a traditional gym, with some additional runs, rock climbing, and weight lifting here and there. Although I feel like Yancy Camp has made me a lot stronger, one thing that I lack is exposure to the obstacles. Or, at least I was lacking that until I heard from a man named Donovan Brooks about Shamrock.

Who is Donovan?

Donovan Brooks–a high school English teacher in Spartanburg, is also the builder and owner of Shamrock OCR.

Now, if you are a member of various facebook groups in the South Carolina/Georgia area, you may have seen Donovan post on groups offering to come up to play. If you’re not, don’t worry, you’re still invited to play.

Donovan opens his backyard of dreams to the public on Sundays at 9:00 until 12:00, completely free of charge. I REPEAT: YOU COME HERE TO TRAIN COMPLETELY FREE OF CHARGE. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. When he reached out to me, especially once he made it clear to me that it was free, I couldn’t not go. So one Sunday I popped by a little after nine to check it out for myself.

I pulled in to Donovan’s driveway and was greeted immediately by his girlfriend, who ran over to my car with a really big smile on her face. She made sure to make me feel very welcome before I even got out of my car.

 

What do they have at Shamrock?

By the time I finally got out and ready, I got the grand tour. I noticed there were many different hand-built obstacles to choose from, including a Herc Hoist (Spartan), a multi-rig, Olympus (Spartan), the z-wall (Spartan), an 8-foot wall, and of course, a target for everyone’s favorite.. the spear throw.

He also had several pre-made obstacles that you may see including tires for tire flips, sandbags, brute force sandbags, a rope, and some spartan pancakes. All of these things were of course surrounded by a single-track trail and a nice, cool creek to jump into after the workout.

One thing that I’d like to say is that, although Donovan is not a certified SGX coach, he’s been in the OCR game for a hot minute. Basically, what I’d like to say is that Donovan knows how to handle obstacles. He is really good about showing you ways to be successful in obstacle completion, without sounding like he is better. The thing is; the obstacles that Donovan builds are actually way more challenging than they are in races. So, when it comes to race day and you’re really tired, you can man-handle these obstacles like a champ. Shoot, I even had Donovan help show me a different way to throw a spear, and I nailed it easily in my race after that!

However, you haven’t quite made it until you have completed the 300 challenge.

The 300 Challenge

Oh, God, this was one of the toughest things that I have ever done. I’m pretty sure Donovan actually does this so that he can laugh at people.

One part of OCR that is a crucial piece of training is strength training. Which means, carrying around a bunch of heavy shit. For what honestly feels like no good reason sometimes.

And, this situation is absolutely no different.

The 300 Challenge focuses on 3 different heavy carries: farmer’s carry, the bucket carry, and a sandbag. For one mile.

I would write about what it is more, but you may just have to come to find out!

What else can you do at Shamrock?

A typical day at Shamrock starts with a little trot around the property in order to get warmed up. After all, safety is important! Followed by that, we will get together and focus on an obstacle. Donovan is usually pretty good about stopping by and showing us around, or, if we are working toward getting through certain obstacles more efficiently, we will discuss form and technique. We’ll spend some time working on the obstacle together.

Followed by this is a workout. Donovan will use the obstacles that are there and try to incorporate them the best he can. One thing that they like to use is called the Warrior Board Game. We’ll play either as a team or solo, and he will replace come of the commands with completing obstacles. Of course, no OCR preparation would be complete without an obscene amount of burpees, too!

 

 

Once the main set is complete, it’ll be time to revisit that obstacle from before, or, a different obstacle. After all, you’re not going to hit obstacles while you are feeling fresh. You shouldn’t train that way either.

Oh yeah, did I mention that he has a creek behind all of this? You know what that means?

Yes-you guessed it, you may as well bring flip flops because there is a perfect opportunity to take a little ice bath right there! For free! In nature! WITH FRIENDS! It does not get much better than that.

Of course, Donovan also does not mind if you just want to come and play on obstacles.

My thoughts…

The biggest thing that I have enjoyed about Shamrock has been the community. Most of the people who attend are just people looking to make themselves better. Sure, there is some friendly competition, but most of it is that we cheer each other on, even when we really are not feeling like moving forward. Everyone is very positive, and I know that is the atmosphere that I look to be a part of. Going to Shamrock each week really is one of the highlights of my weekends!

So, if you enjoyed what you read, please keep an eye out for one of our posts on Facebook, so that you may join us one Sunday also!