World’s Toughest Mudder 2018

Prologue

As a World’s Toughest Mudder novice, I was not sure what to expect, going into the race. I read the rules, I listened to pre-race podcasts, asked advice from past participants, followed the social media frenzy leading up to the event, and I scoured through articles and information provided from prior years. Planning for World’s Toughest Mudder was quite an ordeal in itself! While I had previously competed in other Ultra distance obstacle and trail races, preparing for a 24 hour event was a marathon of research, prepping, packing, and list-checking. At the advice of others, I purchased a full body wetsuit, neoprene gloves, neoprene hats, and a waterproof headlamp. I organized my nutrition, made a plan with my pit crew, and teed up at the start line with my heart on my sleeve. I knew it would be difficult and cold; I knew that I was embarking on the longest, most challenging athletic event of my amateur career to date. I was a little nervous and scared, but I was more excited than anything: excited to test my gear, test my legs, and test my strength against 24 hours of OCR. I knew that this competition would (obviously) be about the mileage and the ability to complete obstacles, but I had no idea this race would end up as more of a contest of grit than any other physical skill or athletic proficiency.

Course Design

The 5 mile loop was relatively flat with only about 600 feet of gain per lap. There was not a lot of single track or technical trail running, and most of the course was gravel roads and dirt paths. Leading up to the race, there had been heavy rain in the area. Most of the course was extremely slick and muddy, with Georgia clay turning into slimy, shoe-sucking smush. The slickness of the running paths resulted in poor shoe traction, excess mud on obstacles like Everest and Mudderhorn, and the slowing of cadence. There were a few steep downhills in the woods that required the use of branches and tree trunks as stabilizers, but the course was still relatively “runnable,” despite conditions. The rain caused traditionally “muddy” obstacles like Mud Mile, Happy Ending, and Kiss of Mud to become swamps of thick mud that engulfed competitors like quicksand. TMHQ maintained the standard rules of allowing (and encouraging) competitors to assist each other through the obstacles and penalty laps were offered in lieu of obstacle completion; across several obstacle failures, participants would max out at an additional 1.6 miles in penalties per loop.

Stoking the fire a bit, TMHQ had some special rules and variations in place that allowed runners to make strategic choices about their race and to earn a “Golden Carabiner,” which worked as a “get out of jail free” pass to either skip obstacles or take alternate routes on course. Runners could earn a Golden Carabiner once hitting the 25 mile (5 lap threshold), as well as by completing more difficult lanes of specified obstacles on course. In the late hours of the night, both Funky Monkey and Leap of Faith included Golden Carabiner lanes that made the regular obstacle even more complex; completion of one of these lanes earned the competitor a Golden Carabiner. Runners could redeem their Golden Carabiner at any other point during the race, either skipping a specific obstacle or being allowed to take an alternate route on course that bypassed a stretch of obstacles. Another spark of ambiguity was a fork in the road halfway through the loop that opened at 8:00 PM; TMHQ had devised two unique routes that competitors could choose between, one having standard obstacles (Quagmire, The Bloc Ness Monster, Leap of Faith, and The Guantlet) and the other having electrocution obstacles (Eletroshock Therapy, Entrapment, and Operation). This “pick your poison” and Golden Carabiner approach to course design maintained the integrity of the 5 mile loop distance, regardless of the route taken.

The Race

The race started at noon on Saturday, and the sun was shining! With a little bit of a wind chill, the temperatures were still warm enough for the short sleeves and smiles. Our first lap was a 5 mile tour and preview of the course-no obstacles; competitors took a Golden Carabiner route through the first lap, bypassing a view of some of the obstacles. For the first hour of the race, none of the obstacles were opened; beginning at 1:00 PM, obstacles were methodically opened via a rolling start through the course. By 3:00 PM, all of the 26 obstacles were opened (except for The Stacks, which opened at midnight). Most competitors started their first lap with a strong pace, full of excitement and energy about the day that lay ahead of us. I saw and felt that speed and enthusiasm on course, as runners continued into laps two and three.

Hitting obstacles as they started to open, I finished my second lap wet. The heat of my running pace and the sunshine kept me comfortable, and the blue skies created a beautiful backdrop to the event. Coming back around Mudderhorn and into the pit area at the completion of my third lap, the sun was moving towards the horizon. The Georgia autumn wind started to pick up and I began to realize just how cold this race was going to be. I was able to complete three laps fairly quickly and hit my pit crew before sunset. My wetsuit and headlamp went on for lap four, and the wetsuit never came off until I crossed the finish line. Watching the sunset from Ladder to Hell around 1.5 miles into my fourth lap was a special memory from that day; this tall obstacle was placed at the top of a hill, giving a panoramic view of the streaked paintbrush of dusk settling over the race. By the time I came into my pit for my fifth lap, the sun had settled over the edge of the woods.

As soon as darkness hit, the temperatures began to drop. Many competitors decided to opt out of active participation and camp out in their tents, avoiding the course in the cold. Throughout the night (my laps six to nine, approximately 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM) the course was relatively empty. I experienced long stretches of running alone, occasionally being passed my elite men and spotting other headlamps through the woods in the distance. With the temperatures in the low thirties, many obstacles began to ice over – even the grass and trees surrounding the course began to freeze. Around midnight, the TMHQ team began to methodically shut down certain obstacles, specifically those that resulted in total head submersion, as well as some of the obstacles that had dangerously slick frost. As a precautionary measure to ensure runners’ safety, obstacles such as Under Water Tunnels, Lumber Jacked, Skidmarked, Berlin Walls, Cage Crawl, and The Gauntlet were closed until sunrise. Many of the other water obstacles did remain open throughout the night, including Augustus Loop, Mud Mile, Twin Peaks, Funky Monkey, Happy Ending, and The Stacks (once opened at midnight).

Even with the improvised TMHQ safety modifications to the course, competitors that continued to fight overnight for mileage remained wet, muddy, and cold. The vibe on the course had shifted from energy and excitement to quiet perseverance and steady focus. Runners fought the conditions and their own demons to sustain a pace quick enough to stay warm, but slow enough to maintain shoe traction amidst slick running paths and icy obstacles. Once the sun began to rise on Sunday morning, the dawn brought warmer temperatures, many obstacles re-opened for completion, and the hibernating competitors came back out on course to continue their quest for mileage goals and the desired “24 Hour” finisher headband. The course began to refill with participants, pit crew began to awaken with a renewed sense of vigor, and the festival area began buzzing with excitement again.  By late morning, I was embarking on my final two laps, eleven and twelve; my pace had slowed to intermittent periods of jogging and walking, but I was determined to finish what I had started and reach my 60-mile goal. My last two loops were surreal and dreamlike, with the warmth of the sun back on my shoulders and the realization of the mortality of the event: my 24 hours was almost over. Despite the pain in my legs and the fatigue in my body, I felt so alive running across the finish line. This was my first World’s Toughest Mudder, and certainly not my last.

Epilogue

As I mentioned before, World’s Toughest Mudder became less of a competition of obstacle proficiency and running speed, and more of a test of mental fortitude and determination. Less than 25% of competitors reached 50 miles and less than 2% completed 75 or more miles, which were lower than most of the previous years’ result statistics. There was a clear division amongst competitors (and ultimately, finishers): those that succumbed and submit to the cold, and those that found comfort and resolve in the rawness of the adversity of their circumstances. Only a small group of competitors remained actively on course through the cold, ice, and solitude of the night; less than one-third of the twelve hundred participants maintained a continuous progression of laps through the dark. These are the racers that were able to put their heads down, remain determined, and march onward towards coveted mileage bibs (50 and 75 Mile threshold bibs). World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 was just as I expected it to be; it was an obstacle course race designed to challenge your speed, obstacle technique, physical endurance, and athletic performance.  But World’s Toughest Mudder 2018 was also something that many (including myself) did not expect it to be; it was a trial of overall tenacity, perseverance of will, and the mental grit that it takes to move forward in spite of cold, doubt, fear, and difficulty.

Terrain Race New Orleans 2018 – A Lackluster Event

Terrain Race New Orleans

On November 17th, 2018 Terrain Race held their first event in New Orleans, Louisiana at the NOLA Motor Sports Park. The weather was an optimal chilly but not cold temperature. The venue had received some rain making the flat terrain muddy and more challenging. Nature’s conditions were optimal for OCR. Sadly, the race crew themselves didn’t seem to be in the same condition. The obstacles were fun. The course was designed decently. However, poor volunteer direction, attitude, and organization issues drug down what could have been an ideal event considering that Louisiana doesn’t have many these days.

Registration

The volunteers and staff at registration were helpful and nice. They kindly explained that they were having issues with their system so there would be no timing chips. They would simply write down our time by bib number. I understand timing costs money. However, here’s the issue with timing the old fashioned way at an OCR. I nearly lost my flopping paper bib several times and had to take focus off of my race to make sure I didn’t. I suppose had I marked myself this may have helped, but timing chips are just better for all of us.

After registration stepping into the venue itself was not bad. Everything was set up in clear view. They actually had music playing, but morale seemed to be a bit low from the crew. I understand that OCR events are really hard work. However, the main reason people participate is to get excited and pumped. They want to accomplish something and feel great about it. Again, I’ve seen worse morale, but for a company that was once beginning to step into the upper echelon of OCR events, Terrain has got to step up the morale and direction of volunteers.

You Have to Make them Want it

This leads us to our next issue. I know not everyone can afford Coach Payne, but it would be nice to have something more at the take off than “3….2… 1… go…” exactly like that. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by other races, but I feel like getting everyone pumped to go at the starting line is one of the most important aspects of the race. This announcement for the elite men’s wave take off seemed to mirror the attitude of the majority of volunteers. I felt like he should have said “It’s November, can we just get this over with… go.” This is not a commentary on this individual so much as the entire morale of the crew.


Confusion

On that note, the morale of volunteers on the course was a bit lackluster as well. Not only were all of the elites sent down the course backward, but many volunteers seemed unaware of what exactly participants were to do at certain obstacles. They seemed to feel standing at the obstacle sufficed. However, I will say kudos to the guy at the tire drag. He did a very good job instructing participants as well as encouraging them.

This confusion of sending racers the wrong way caused big issues for the women’s elite heat which should not have happened. After the issue was discovered, the staff decided to send the open waves the correct way. Well, if you are an elite female and you see backwards arrows and start to run INTO open wave competitors what would you do? You obviously assume you are lost and end up doubling back unnecessarily.

For som,e this may not seem like a big issue, but when you have trained hard and want to test yourself it is. Even if you don’t plan on making top ten, showing yourself how far you’ve come is VERY important to people who have worked hard day in and day out for this chance. To have it scrapped because of simple poor direction by a misinformed volunteer is quite tragic. I’ve seen worse, but this severely detracted from the race experience for many competitors.

Monkey See, Monkey Swing, Monkey Climb

One of the highlights of this race was the obstacles themselves. I have to say the crew did a great job keeping with the monkey theme of the race which I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed. The obstacles made a step up from last year in difficulty and in fun. Terrain did not create anything wholly original. What they did though was take OCR staples and mold them to fit their brand and theme. The course featured a nice big cargo. Competitors tackled a decent, short force 5 rig that only had two detrimental features. The second half of the rig had foot rings. I believe these were added to decrease difficulty and allow open runners more stability. They just caused more chaos.

Lanes were so close that stepping in these rings would just cause you to swing into the competitor next to you. This just made things awkward. Starting the rig with the ball grip was an interesting choice that threw off many. My main issue again with this obstacle though was volunteer direction. After many of the lead elites came through, others racers were being allowed to grab the top rail and shimmy across rather than utilizing the awkward foot rings. Plain and simple: this just isn’t fair.

Other Monkey swinging obstacles included a well put together Tarzan swing rig with large ropes and rings and very well done monkey bars over water. Monkey strength obstacles included a tire flip, tire drag, a concrete block drag, and a short, light sandbag carry. The most interesting addition to the strength aspect of the race was a sledgehammer obstacle where competitors had to hit a tire to a specified point and back. This was fun, but pretty awkward with piles of grass in certain lanes and wet sledges. I feel like a certain race company does this obstacle far better, but I won’t name any names. You know who you are.

The rest of the course was full of mud which taxed the running of many competitors. This was nice considering there is absolutely zero elevation in New Orleans. The finishing obstacle was well placed and well put together. Competitors first had to work their way up an angled balance board onto a horizontal cargo net. They then got to twirl elegantly (or plop down not so gracefully) from a fireman’s pole and cross the finish line to be greeted and congratulated by fellow competitors. All in all, I would give the obstacle portion of the race the highest point in this review.

 

Post Race

I would love to say the awards ceremony went perfectly. I would love to say the crew’s morale pepped up. I would love to say there was so much to do in the festival area afterwards. However: it didn’t, they weren’t, and there wasn’t.  There was an issue of who actually came in as the third female. The woman listed as third admitted she did NOT complete an obstacle, This contributed to the bad organization and direction issue. I would like to congratulate those top finishers pictured below.

The kids race was the highlight after the other heats. The kids had a great time. I will admit it was one of the better kids races I have seen. However, afterwards, there were no vendors, no activities, no food trucks. There was simply nothing to do. It honestly felt like Terrain was sort of like, “Ok, you came and raced now leave so we can too.”

Granted some could argue the festival isn’t important, but for those who drive a good distance the least you could do is have actual hoses. Racers were using the valve of a water truck to clean up.

There is Potential

I feel that if Terrain comes under better management next year they can be a competing race company again. The theme, the obstacles, and the venues they have accessed all have potential. The main issue they seem to have is organization.  I would hate to see such good obstacles and a good brand go down the drain because of a lack of organization and direction. So here’s to hoping Terrain can work out the kinks in their company and come back for 2019 stronger and more fun than ever!

Spartan Race does Long Island- 19th Century Style

“If onlys and justs were candies and nuts, then everyday would be Erntedankfest.”

-Dwight Schrute

There were plenty of reasons that I could think of to NOT run the Spartan Long Island Sprint last weekend:

  1. It snowed on Thursday and there was still snow on the ground in places.
  2. It was in the 30s when I woke up for the race.
  3. There was a shuttle and Matt B Davis didn’t send me a media parking pass.
  4. I had a lot of leaves that I still needed to rake and bag in my yard

There were also plenty of reasons that I could think of TO run the Spartan Long Island Sprint last weekend:

  1. It was really cold out and if Kelly decided to run a Toughest or World’s Toughest Mudder then it would be good training.
  2. We already had a babysitter lined up and no matter how many things I listed above, a respite from the children is not the sort of thing you can turn down.
  3. From a review standpoint I had the opportunity to compare how Spartan utilized the venue versus how Tough Mudder utilized the venue.
  4. I like racing and I have done less of it this year.

Ok, so we did the race and we had fun. Spartan Race is a well oiled machine and things like registration, bag check, parking, and shuttles (even though I hate shuttles) went smooth as usual. Oh, and the pictures came out like 4 days later. This isn’t their 400th rodeo, they have that ish on LOCK. If you found this review and were looking for in depth coverage of the check in process then you may want to keep searching, otherwise Solo will never talk to me again and my streak of never being nominated as the best OCR writer will continue.

Where was I? Right, the race! I haven’t run a true Spartan Race since 2016 when Kelly and I completed our Trifecta at Palmerton, New Jersey and Wintergreen (RIP). We did the Citi Field Stadium sprint earlier this year, but that doesn’t count as they do not roll out all of the normal obstacles. This means that we have never had the chance to try Twister or Olympus and this race would provide us with that opportunity! We were in the first open heat of the day and it was roughly 42 degrees. We were each wearing Under Armour compression cold gear and I was looking fly in my new New Zealand Akuma Jersey. The course was well marked, there were no lines and other than a slew of Dude Bros dropping the Herc Hoist from the top and the bags almost exploding upon impact with the ground everything ran perfectly (Dude Bros not pictured above). For all the hating people do on Spartan for their lack of innovation there is something to be said about their consistency and they are clearly doing something right as large numbers of people continue to frequent their events. I enjoy running Spartan Races and will look at it as a way to test myself against something relatively predictable in the landscape of OCR. Anyway, I digress! Here are my highlights of the event:

Utilization of Venue

I mentioned in my reasons TO run the Spartan Long Island Sprint that I was interested in how Spartan used the venue compared to Tough Mudder. Spartan did a few things differently that were really cool. They utilized a large indoor hall for registration. This kept people warm as well as provided a cool aesthetic as it was very rustic and cool to be inside. In fact, I believe that it is often booked as a wedding reception hall, so needless to say it beat standing in line in the cold. Other than that, the trails that Spartan used were the same as Tough Mudder, only shorter since it was a 4 mile Sprint course.

Festival Area

This was probably my favorite part of the event. After Kelly and I had gotten our bags and scoped out the always swaggy merch area I spotted a Salmon Ladder just behind the Spartan Festival Challenge set up. At my old house in Virginia I built one in my backyard and since moving to New York I have only been on the Salmon Ladder at Obstacle Athletics once over a year and a half ago, so I was excited to try it. It turned out that this was not a Spartan set up Salmon Ladder but that Danny Adair and Jovanny Hernandez of The Warrior Factory brought it down from Rochester, NY for the participants of Spartan Race to play on. All you needed to do was sign a waiver and you were able to give it a try. There was a good amount of people attempting it and I thought it greatly improved the festival area for participants as well as spectators as anyone could try it. Unfortunately, this is not the sort of thing that you can expect at every Spartan Race across the country. That being said, it is not a huge leap to say that Spartan has the best festival area in the game. The Spartan Festival Challenges alone make Spartan unique and provide something for people to do/watch in the festival area.

Spear Throw

I hit my first spear throw. I HIT my FIRST spear throw. I HIT MY FIRST SPEAR THROW!!!!! I think I’ve done something like 8 or 9 Spartan Races and this was my first hit. I was pretty stoked.

Conclusion

I enjoyed this race very much. I thought that Twister and Olympus were both challenging (even though I am a year late trying them) and fun additions to the Spartan obstacle vault. You know what you are going to get with Spartan and that is a well run, consistent product with very little deviation from their blueprint. As long as you are aware of this and set your expectation accordingly there is no reason why you shouldn’t attend and enjoy yourself a Spartan Race. Y’all come back now, ya hear!

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Bonefrog Charlotte 2018

Introduction

Ah, the Bonefrog. It is unique but very well known through the OCR world as the only OCR that is run and operated by the Navy SEALs. It’s an incredible opportunity for people who are looking for more challenging obstacle races than the typical Spartan or Terrain race.

With Bonefrog, there are 4 different ways to race. There is the endurance race, challenge, Tier 1, and sprint.

  • Sprint: 3 miles with 20-ish obstacles.
  • Challenge: 6 miles with 30-ish obstacles
  • Tier 1: Challenge + Sprint, so 9 miles with 50-ish obstacles.
  • Endurance: See how many laps of the challenge course you can complete.

On the day of the race, participants at each level are given a different color paper wristband. The color of the band is dependent on the race that they are doing. For instance, I was doing the challenge race, so I received a red wristband. Participants in the Tier 1 race received blue. Endurance and sprint were other colors, too. That way the volunteers could help out the people in the easiest, most appropriate way.

Disclaimer: I ran the challenge. My description of this course is going to be focused on the challenge. I am less familiar with the layout of the sprint course, so I will be going off what some of my friends told me.

Pre-Race Preparation

I had never done a Bonefrog before, and I wasn’t really prepared for what was happening. Registering online was easy, and I will say that they did a great job of posting a map online in ample time for athletes to view and prepare themselves. I was being a total wimp and decided just to brace myself and enjoy the ride. Whichever type of athlete you are, Bonefrog will accommodate. The race was on Saturday, but I’m fairly certain that they released the course map by that Tuesday. It made my friends who do prefer to check out the course map very very happy.

This particular Charlotte Bonefrog was hosted at Porter Farms. If you do the Charlotte Spartan races, this venue is all-too-familiar. You can expect a relatively flat course, and some cows to stare at you. You may also want to expect to be on the lookout for cow-pies; the most horrid obstacle of them all!

Arrival/Pre-Race

Now, this race took place on the same day as the World’s Toughest Mudder which was only a few hours south. I wasn’t exactly expecting there to be many people there. I was shocked by how few people were in attendance. My friends and I were competing elite and showed up maybe 40 minutes prior to the first heat, and it maybe took us 4 minutes to wait in line, pay ($10), and park. It was insane.

The festival area served its purpose. It was small but spread out. There were certain things that you noticed immediately: the finish line, the port-o-Johns, and black ops. There was a bag check provided (just like most races, it is $5), but there was also a tent that had tables. With their being so few people there, most people left their backpacks on these tables. Granted I don’t typically advise that, but if you have a friend who is willing to watch over your belongings, then you have to do what you have to do! The smaller atmosphere made it really easy to find friends and wish everyone else good luck.

They called all of the elites to the start at the same time. That meant all endurance, Tier 1, and Challenge athletes arrived at the start at the same time. There is not an elite division for the sprint, which I thought was interesting. We were not sure how this was going to work with all of us running different divisions. I looked to my left, to my right…I only counted 7 women with wristbands. Wow, there was really nobody there!

They ended up splitting us all up. The endurance athletes were up first. There were maybe, MAYBE 15-20 men in this division, with zero women. This was very unique and interesting. Up next: Tier 1. This was probably the largest group, at a whopping 3o-40 people. A few women went up, but not many. Then it was time for the Challenge. They gave us about 5 minutes between each elite division. We were greeted and motivated by the ever-wonderful Jarian Rich (who was rocking a red, silver, and blue sparkly beard; which I imagine is no coincidence with Veteran’s Day), and then it was showtime.

The Challenge Course

And we’re off! The start was a lot of fun. It started going on a downhill, instantly you could hear people talking about how fun it was and comparing it to the Charlotte Spartan Race. Then the sounds instantly turned to squish squish squish. I failed to remember that it had rained all week. Oh, boy! Listed on the map as the first obstacle was the Rolling Thunder. Rolling Thunder is one of those obstacles that Bonefrog is known for; it’s a simple, yet super obnoxious and frustrating obstacle that I’m pretty sure is only designed to get on people’s nerves. But, before that, there was a slight dip in the trail and an unmarked wire over the dip. Running by you’d just hear people go:

“ACK! ….Wire!”

Which was immediately followed by a

“Huh? ACK!…WIRE!!!!”

Although it was a little frustrating, it was kind of funny. Then it was onto Rolling Thunder. It seemed like there were two of the obstacle; the men ran to the one on the left, while the women were using the one on the right. There was no rhyme or reason to it. I saw a woman use the side, and I asked if we were allowed to. The volunteer said that the women were allowed to, while the men were not. I shrugged and made my way onto the next part of the course.

Bonefrog Rolling Thunder

After a little run, we came across a 6-foot wall. It wiggled a little on the top, but it was easy to get over.

We kept running through some muck (which, at the start line they announced they removed a water obstacle, which I was very thankful for), and up a hill and we were back near the festival area. We ran into most of the men who had left in one of the earlier divisions here. There were three stations: bar dips, burpees, and pull-ups. The first station: do 19 dips, calling your number out loud. I’ve never seen this in a race before, but holy smokes it was not pleasant. Next up: 31 burpees. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to call out names while we did our burpees, but I could not see them so I said the numbers and was not corrected. I don’t know what it was about these 31 burpees… granted, I’ve gotten all too familiar with them during Spartans, but right after dips, these suckers hurt. Next up: 7 pull-ups. Sweet; I love pull-ups. They had us do pull-ups in front of the pictures and names of fallen Navy SEALs. Rather than count the number of accomplished pull-ups out loud, we said their name. This, I thought, was fantastic, unique, and totally appropriate for Veteran’s Day. I also really appreciated that the men and women were expected to complete the same amount.

Next up was a rig. It wasn’t anything particularly scary, just some squishy thing on the bottom. The squishy thing looked like a ball, and the ropes stretched a little when you grabbed it. As long as you had a hand on the rope, you were good to go! Followed by that was a rope swing, which was…interesting. I’ve never seen anything like this. The volunteers were really helpful: they provided lots of tips on how to make it easier.

Then was The Krakken. I was really surprised by this obstacle; I was really impressed with how tight the strings were that comprised the obstacle. Bonefrog made it pretty sure that I couldn’t have fallen through the top even if I wanted to. One of the next obstacles was called Get a Grip. No obstacle has scared me as much as Get a Grip ever has. Remember how I said it was really muddy? Well, it was extra muddy underneath this obstacle. If you slipped off the rig, you slid in the mud. I saw a few men hit their heads. I saw one guy slip and fall before even leaving the step to reach the rig. He fell onto metal. The fall was long, too. This obstacle terrified me. Many women struggled. Sooner than later, it got crowded. People got kicked if there were two people on it at a time. It was not super enjoyable. I would like to try it again if it were not so high, or not with such an intimidating, slippery, and dangerous fall.

This was followed by more running, and obviously more obstacles. There were some frustrating moments, like weird course markings which resulted in me going up a 7-foot wall backward, but throughout the course, I still had fun. There was a lot of opportune time for running, and a lot of opportunities for slipping in mud, too!

There were certain things about this course that I enjoyed. I really enjoyed the Brute Force Bag carry. They had us go through walls with openings, and the openings got higher with each wall. Other than this and a hoist-like obstacle, there were no heavy carry races in this race.

When we hit the back area of Porter Farms (which I had never seen before,  so this was fantastic) there was a long stretch where we didn’t see many people. There were so few people that I actually went off-course for several minutes, and accidentally took some other people with me. In another instance was a big tarp laying on the ground. I asked the guy next to me if we were supposed to do anything, and he said no, so we went on. I much later learned that we were supposed to go UNDERNEATH this tarp…there was no volunteer to tell us! We also came across the only balance obstacle, and a few other cool ones in the back.

After a while, we came across some other things in the back also: all of the open sprint runners. It’s honestly like they came out of nowhere! It went from being a calm, race with people who it was easy to become close with to being really crowded. There were lines for obstacles, and it made it more difficult to pass through. Running on certain trails openly and easily turned into weaving. Although I like running around people, the fact it got so crowded so quickly caught me really off-guard.

Other obstacles in the back area included some rope climbs, a log obstacle that made you have to go through a wall once you climbed, and some other unique obstacles.

I came up to one obstacle that I really wanted to attempt all day. I don’t know what it’s called, but I know that you have seen pictures of it, if you’ve seen Bonefrog pictures at all. It’s the green monkey bar thing. A friend of mine had spent the whole week volunteering, and he assured me that there was going to be a rope there to climb before you got to the green grabby part. Except, when I got there, there was no rope. I was greeted at the obstacle by a man similar in height, and he was stressed. Even with the step, he and I couldn’t reach to even attempt the obstacle. Since I had already lost my band, I just had to move on.

Bonefrog-NJ-Seat-bars

The Chopper was a cool obstacle. This one wasn’t long; there were three of the spinny parts, each one separated by a ring. I haven’t seen anything like it.

There was a large A-frame, then Black Ops for the classic Bonefrog finish. I was really impressed again, by how sturdy the A-frame was. I felt very safe. I think it would have been difficult to get hurt. Black Ops made me sad…I couldn’t reach it! I wish they had some kind of step to be able to reach it for us…really really small folks. Either that or ladies, if you’re a tiny titan like me, be prepared to jump.

Volunteers

The volunteers at this race were fabulous. There were so many unique obstacles and the thing with unique obstacles is that they can be difficult to figure out what you have to do. Volunteers were spectacular about providing instruction for newcomers. They were really paying attention to what the athletes were doing. If you volunteered at the Charlotte Bonefrog this year, you did a fantastic job, and we appreciate you!

Overall Thoughts

The Bonefrog is an OCR that requires more strength than your typical, bigger name OCR like Spartan, Terrain, or Rugged. They feature a lot of unique obstacles that require the grip strength of a monkey but the courage of a tiger. I’d say if you are considering Bonefrog as a first OCR, you may want to try something else first. Not because it’s a bad race by any means, but, it is going to be more challenging, and you may want to get your feet wet first. Overall it was a great time; I personally enjoyed the smaller feel because I felt like I got to know the people that I was running against a little better than usual. If you’re looking to challenge yourself and feel a little sore the next day, Bonefrog may be the race for you!

 

Toyota Park Spartan Sprint

I was all set to bash Spartan, I really was. Pulling up to Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois I was asking myself why Spartan would put on a stadium race in a venue with only a single tier of seating. With so many other huge and historic stadiums around the Chicago area, I was mystified as to why the event was held here. But I like the stadium series, so I signed up and hoped it wasn’t going to be a lame attempt at putting on a race to grab the almighty dollar. But after going through the registration process and waiting in a long line on a chilly day to start, I found that Spartan used the entire property very well and managed to pack in all their usual stadium obstacles into the tiny venue in what turned out to be a pretty decent race.

 

Now, I’m not sure who Spartan hired to emcee the event, but they might as well have played a recording over and over at the start as the guy just kept saying the same thing with little excitement in his voice. I wouldn’t have hired that guy to emcee a kid’s birthday party. It didn’t help that the line for the starting corral ran the entire length of the stadium itself, or that it was located on the main grandstand walkway which was 30 feet off the ground and completely unprotected from the wind. None of us could wait to get started and finally get some blood flowing through our bodies and warm up again! Toyota Park started out like any other stadium race, by sending athletes out down a set of stairs. This quickly led to a set of 4-foot walls followed up by a run through the locker rooms of the MLS team Chicago Fire where 15 hand release push-ups were performed. Once completed, racers finished their run through the bowels of the stadium which then opened into the grandstand seats. This was the point in the race in which Spartan had athletes use stadium stairs the most, weaving back and forth through the rows of seats made passing next to impossible and greatly tested your patience if you got stuck behind someone going slower than you. There were brief pit stops along this stretch for the weighted jump rope and slam ball functional obstacles. Spartan then gave racers a brief break from the stairs as the course ran across the grass field of the stadium where the 6-foot wall was located.

Spartan now had athletes pick and weave their way through the steps on the other side of the stadium as the only obstacle presented here were two sets of the low crawls via bungee chords strapped across the exit rows. The rope climb was the last challenge set in inside the stadium and the 7-foot wall led racers out across the asphalt of the back parking lot where the Herc hoist and spear throw were situated.  The course then looped around the lot where the z wall was placed. I figured, as I’m sure most racers did, that we would be led back into the stadium here, but this proved not to be the case as Spartan made excellent use of the whole property by sending athletes out to an undeveloped portion of the lot where the Atlas stone carry was placed. Spartan then used a long section of excavated dirt, the slope being similar to the buildup leading to a road overpass, for their sandbag carry. Nobody saw this coming and many grumbles could be heard as the asphalt turned to mud, but I thought this was easier than humping up endless stairs with a sandbag strapped to my back.

With the sandbag carry complete, Spartan finally brought the course back towards the stadium. An 8-foot wall being the last obstacle on an athlete’s way to the stairs leading back inside. The cost to reenter the event was high as a jug carry up and down all those steps and ramps were set up here. To add insult to injury your grip was further tested as the Spartan rig waited for you on top of the stairs. The rig design was one of the easier setups used frequently in the stadium series as rings led to two baseballs and a bell tap. From there a racer only had a few more sections of stadium stairs to traverse and a 10-calorie assault bike ride, which is entirely too easy, on their way to the heavy bag crossing and finish line which were only yards away. The 10-calorie bike ride is, in my opinion, a poor substitute for the 500-meter row that used to be required at these events. Maybe Spartan should include them both at some point.

So, what I thought was going to be a waste of money and time turned out to be a fun and challenging event. Spartan used every inch of the property to their advantage for a race that turned out to be a little over 3 miles but felt a shade longer. Security was tight as bags were checked and people were scanned by a metal detecting wand upon entry, but I’m completely cool with that. The concession stands of the stadium were open to snag food and drink. Parking was only 10 bucks and located right next to the festival area and pics were free on the Spartan website. All things considered, I would attend this race again and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the stadium series.