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!

Guardian Battle

The Guardian Battle, the second installment of a yearlong three-race series, was held at White Birch Park in Hazlewood, Missouri on May 4th.

This series was designed by veteran racers along with help from the local park district, which gave unique access to facilities that are making this a one of a kind race series. GB used the grounds in and around the city’s water park, which in my opinion, was a stroke of genius. Yes, I did say in the city’s water park as the water slides and lazy river were filled and turned on for the event even though the park opening was still weeks away.

GB boasted the best festivity area for a small race ever as the local, multi-level fitness center on-site was opened up for athletes to use throughout the day. Plenty of bathrooms and gym equipment were available and I took advantage of this unique access by hopping on the recumbent bike to help warm up. Free parking and pictures were included along with your day long pool pass and at no time during the race was a lifeguard going to yell at you for running.
Guardian provided chip timing but sent their racers out in a new way by releasing groups of 3 athletes out at a time, staggered 3 minutes apart. This proved to be an excellent way of keeping logjams at obstacles to a minimum. The race itself began by sending competitors out from the parking lot and into the water park where the stairs provided the first opportunity for that dreaded lactic acid build up.

A low crawl at the top of the stairs forced athletes duck walk before being sent down to the deep end. That would be the deep end of the dry, Olympic sized swimming pool as GB hung ropes down from the diving area making for a very different looking rope climb.

Immediately following your not-very-refreshing dip in the pool an athlete faced the death bag haul. These soul-sucking bags were made by placing a sandbag into each leg of a pair of blue jeans and sewn together. These were made even heavier by being soaking wet from the rain the night before. A racer had to find a way to carry this awkward sack up and down a flight of steps three times, oh did I forget to mention the steps were two feet tall? Yikes! I hope you saved a little grip strength as the floating walls, consisting of two floaters separated by a rope, were right around the corner.
Your pool day fun was not quite over yet as GB sent racers up a few flights of stairs for a chance to fly down one of the two water slides. The cold water fun didn’t end there though as volunteers directed you towards the lazy river where you trekked against the waist deep current set to full power. This was not as easy as it looked, but GB provided lifeguards just in case you got swept away.

After crawling out of the coolness that you had become accustomed to, the course led out of the water park where a short jog ensued through a mowed grass lot, eventually ending up at a wreckbag station. Athletes then hoisted those wreckbags onto their shoulders for another short jog, this one with walls and an A-frame to traverse along the way.

After dropping off the old bag it was on to the GB rig, a low crawl, short wall, and a super fun warped wall were added along the route there. The rig configuration went like this: 3 rings transitioned to a horizontal board with rock climbing holds ending with 3 suspended balls, which proved to be a great grip and body control tester. Once finished, racers were sent back towards the festival area where after a short cement block carry athletes tested their agility with some free running through the skate park. The heavy tractor tire flip was placed right outside the skate park and signaled the end of the obstacles in this location.
Guardian Battle now made use of the local woods by sending racers down a winding path made slick by the recent rains. The sloppy track made for slow going on the bucket and tire carry situated in this section. Luckily this section of the course was short making the time spent picking yourself up from another fall manageable. A series of 4 different carries greeted racers as they made their way back to home base. The Atlas Stone, Anvil drag and carry, along with the yoke carry and tire drag were all placed back to back in this suckfest quartet.

Finally, the end was in site and only a series of 3 wall traverses of varying sizes and a low crawl remained as the previous smackdown took whatever you had left out of you. At just under 3 miles I found the course to be pretty challenging yet extremely fun. The use of the water park was a great idea and added obstacles that haven’t been thrown at you before. You really got to hand it to the course designers for thinking outside the box as they certainly give you plenty of bang for your buck here.

If any of this sounds like something you’d enjoy then you’re in luck as the third race in the Guardian Battle series is set for this fall!

SoCal Spartan: Surprises for 2019

It’s the first Spartan race of the year and there are a lot of exciting new obstacles, as well as the 2019 medals and shirts. Oh yes…..and make sure to read to end because I’ll share a surprise announcement that I love love love!

NEW HEADBANDS:
It’s Saturday, January 26. I’m so excited to get to the first race of the year in Southern California. The venue is Prada Regional Park in Chino. It’s sunny but very windy, similar to last year. The course is relatively flat and open, with really beautiful territorial views. I picked up my packet and the first change for 2019 is right inside. Elite and Age group racers will now wear a red headband instead of a wrist band. I love the idea of one less thing to wear on my wrist.

NEW OBSTACLES:
Once we got underway we came across familiar obstacles such as the Overwalls, 6′ and 7′ walls, and Bender. Then we made it to the new obstacles. One of the most challenging for me was Beater. There are three sections before you hit the bell. Each section contains a rotating spindle with four bars attached and a fixed bar in between that is placed quite high. Momentum is extremely helpful in completing this obstacle. I did see one person skip the top fixed bars completely by swinging and catching the next rotating section….very impressive!

Next, was Olympus with a twist! They added balls to the chains (that’s exactly what I thought when I approached it….the ole ball and chain). I thought the balls would make it harder so I didn’t use them and ended up falling off. Burpee time. After the race, I talked with several people who used them and they said it was easier for them. I’m definitely trying them next time.

The 8-foot box may be a replacement for the 8-foot wall, but I haven’t confirmed that. This one is going to take some figuring out for me. I did see a few people get up and over by running and scurrying up to the top, but there were also several people in the burpee pit, including me. One person had success by using two ropes and catching their heel at the top. Something that adds a little more difficulty, is it doesn’t have a hold at the top like a regular wall. There is a metal bar that sits back several inches but you are practically up there by the time you can grab it and it definitely makes it a challenge!

Now this one is for me! I’m a shorty, so I was very excited to see the tubes. I was able to bear crawl through them quickly. These aren’t meant to be difficult, but to slow you down. Finding the quickest way through is key.

Helix has been one of the most talked about new obstacles on social media. I was nervous about this one and didn’t know what to expect but, with patience and careful foot placement, I made it across just fine and really enjoyed it. You can’t touch the top or place your feet on the ground but you can hold the sides or anything in between. There are bars that go across as well as up and down; however, there are plexiglass panes in some of the sections which prevent you from getting a good foothold or handhold.

The last change was the spear throw. Instead of hay bales, they have what appears to be styrofoam bodies. They seemed to be holding up well and the view was spectacular with the lake in the background. The wind had really picked up but it was behind us here which I was very thankful for.

NOT NEW BUT EPIC:
I had to add the mud mounds because they were the tallest ones I’ve seen. They were definitely a challenge, but so much fun. Several of us would get halfway up and slide back down, over and over. Finally made it, but that was one doozie of a mud mound/dunk wall. I will have to say there was a semi-new part to it. The actual dunk wall was inflated instead of wood. It’s wider on the bottom so you have to push through a little more, but nothing too different.

SPECIAL MENTION:
One last bit of obstacle information regards the atlas ball. I wasn’t sure if I was tired or the ball got heavier, but the staff member on site said it is definitely heavier this year. No confirmation of the weight but I could feel the difference. Time to go to the beach and start picking up rocks.

NEW SHIRTS AND MEDALS:
The shirts and medals are similar to last year but have some changes that make them unique to 2019. The medals have color sections which indicate the type of race such as Sprint, Super, or Beast. The shirts are made from the same technical material but the wording is laid out differently and the sponsor, Rakuten, is displayed.

SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT?????:
I mentioned at the beginning there was one super cool new item I would share. I’m so excited about this one ***drum roll***

There are now porta-potties at the water stations! Hallelujah!!! It’s always been a fine line between staying hydrated and being able to burn off the water intake during the race. This is a very very welcome addition. Thank you, Spartan for hearing and delivering!!!

Hope you enjoyed the preview of what the year has in store. Have a great race season everyone and let me know what you think about the new obstacles. 365 new days…..365 new opportunities to shine! Go get it!

Photo Credit: Rage Strader, Kim Collings

29029 Everesting Review (Vermont 2018)

29029 Review Mountain

“If it’s easy, go a little faster! If it’s easy, stay out one loop longer!” These words were preached to us by Jesse Itzler as he stood on top of a short ladder at 5:55 am on Friday. 175 additional participants have gathered around as we were about to begin 29029 – Vermont 2018, a bit nervous, a little cold, and very excited.

I remember those words very clearly now as I watch the post-race video and attempt to relive the feelings of that morning. Could I have gone faster? Could I have gone one loop longer?

Jesse

Jesse Itzler has a track record of making things that people really want before they know they want it. In his twenties, he wrote rap songs, then sold them to the NBA. He famously started one of the first jet rental companies. Think Uber for the sky, but before Uber, then sold that to Berkshire Hathaway Next he helped jump-start Zico Water as coconut water became “a thing” before selling that to Coca Cola. Through coaching and speaking gigs, he often talks about “the life resume”. As in, who cares that you’ve worked for “such and such company”, or snagged “this many degrees” from this university. His coaching website asks “What if we could land our dream job or get that promotion we always wanted because of our experiences? What if we felt more alive working and with our family because of HOW we lived our daily lives?”

This is not an uncommon thought. In the last 10 years, there have been countless reports that consumers value “experiences over things”. Events like Burning Man and EDM concerts, 50-100 mile ultra marathons, and 10-12 mile, mud, fire, and barbed wire filled obstacle races have all seen worldwide participation increase.

Jesse and his business partner Marc Hodulich created 29029 to be one of these life resume building experiences. 29029 is the vertical feet of Mount Everest. Mount Everest has been a bucket list item for thousands of people for the last 20-30 years. Cost estimates range from $30-45 thousand dollars to complete the expedition. It will also take you around 60 days to complete the mission.

You may have guessed, once again, people want something Jesse has the vision for.

29029 Tents

So What If We Brought The Mountain To You?

Jesse and his team rent a mountain, provide entrants with glamping style yurts, and all the meals and aid station food they need. Then open, that mountain for 36 hours and invite participants to climb up, take the gondola down, and repeat until they hit 29029 (which is 17 laps).

The price tag, starting at 4 grand to share a 3 person tent is 10 times less than going to the actual Everest. Plus guests don’t have to deal with all of that silly altitude sickness or worry about falling to their death.

The entry fee on face still gives sticker shock to many, but when we take a deep dive into total costs and overall “value”, compared to events like Iron Man it levels the field some.

Other than food and shelter, the add-on assets are of massive value. There’s coaching available through an online trainer, plus a Facebook group, which includes current and past participants happy to help you with questions and advice. The next benefit provided is the Thursday night speakers. The 29029 team brings in top-level presenters who spoke Ted-style for 15 minutes each. For this trip, the speakers included Olympian Joe Malloy, mountain climber/explorer Colin O’Brady, endurance expert Alex Hutchinson, Wim-Hof instructor, Dr. Trish Smith, and of course, Jesse himself.

29029 Everesting Talks

You are not only learning from these people, but you are also getting a chance to complete the event with them. Over the course of the weekend, I was able to chat with all of the speakers at least once while climbing. You aren’t going to leave a TedX talk and go run a marathon with the person you just watched on stage the day before.

On a gondola ride down the mountain after a lap with Colin, he told me why he returned for a 2nd time to this event. “I’ve never seen such a level of camaraderie and grace that happens out here. It brings all sorts of people out. I walked away from the last one with at least 10 friendships”.

Friday Morning

29029 Review Friday Morning

Jesse is ending his speech “we keep going until there’s one left, and we enjoy it cause we earned it! Let’s have a great day”. I turn to the stranger next to me, and as his headlamps shone into my eye, I gave him a fist bump and we were off.

A strong suggestion for this event is to have hiking poles. I am not an experienced climber, but I had convinced myself I would not need the poles until at least the 2nd lap, and maybe the third. I mean we’re just walking up a mountain right? Halfway up the first climb, my heart rate was through the roof, and my legs were burning.

This was lap 1. How in the hell can I do this 16 more times?

And so it begins. The first of somewhere between 1,000 an 100,000 times, “The Committee” from inside the mind says

“Why are you still walking? Many things are sore or hurt. Doesn’t a warm bed sound nice?” “Let’s stop completely when we finish this next one”

The Committee is quiet at first, but they tend to get angrier and louder the longer you stick in the race.

To complete an event like this, you must out vote, outwit and outlast The Committee. You can do this any number of ways. For me, I just do my best bring myself back to right now. So when They say “16 more”. I say “Just take another step” When the committee says “This is going to take forever!” I say “Look around, take in all this beauty, isn’t this awesome. We are so lucky to be here!”.

It’s a discipline that must be repeated over and over throughout the journey. There will be times The Committee has gone silent and I think I have an event licked, only to have them return again hours later.

Another tool I use is connecting. The Committee wants you to stop and be alone. They can be really really loud when you are by yourself, especially in the darkest hours. So the best thing I have found to do is connect with other people. You can do this directly by seeing a participant and saying “Hey, I am really checking out here, can we talk and walk for a while”. Or, if this is not your style, ask a person how they are doing. Often times, they will come back and tell you that they needed someone to reach out at that moment to get them back in the game.

29029 Recap Day One

To Plan Or Not To Plan

The biggest question asked amongst participants is “What’s your plan?” as in “Do you plan on going straight through the night” or rather “Sleep some and do the rest tomorrow? Jesse implored us not to make a plan until we have done 2-3 loops and get a sense of how long each lap is taking. Information emailed before the event told us that “average person” does a lap in one hour, plus the 15 minute ride down. This, of course, does not account for clothing changes, bathroom breaks, etc.

There is plenty of aid station food along the way plus full meals served inside from Noon to 2 pm and from 6 pm to 8 pm. My goal was not to take a “real break” until at least the 6 pm “dinner break”, then adjust from there. The afternoon break was easy to skip, I was knocking out laps under the 75-minute average, enjoying myself, making friends, and easily digesting various aid station foods of bars, pretzels. and gu packets. Somewhere around 2 or 3 pm, my legs were starting to really hurt. Someone suggested I go inside and get a massage and/or use the Normatec leg stations provided. After telling my ego it did not make me a lesser man to do so, I went inside, had someone help me get inside the legs, and turned them on for 30 minutes. I also drifted off to sleep for a few as I in prone position what I would call a Normatec barc-a-lounger. I got out, put on some pants, changed my drenched buff, and felt like a new man

Nightfall

I was done with Lap 10 shortly after 7 pm and feeling pretty good. It was now dark, the temperatures were dropping and those still on the mountain were now facing that “What’s your plan “question square in the face.

Plan A: Call it quits, get rest and start fresh tomorrow. On its own, this plan sounds great. However, we all felt fortunate not to have any rain and the temps stayed above freezing. Anyone who is from those parts of Vermont can tell you that mountains tend to have their own weather system. Less than 24 hours before, the area had torrential rain and it threatened to return at any time. Reports were showing that Saturday would certainly have rain and cooler temperatures.

Plan B: Staying out all night, which carries its own risks. What if I push too hard, pull or tweak something so badly that it takes me out for the rest of the weekend. Also, certain parts of the climb were very muddy. With only a headlamp guiding my way, what if I took a tumble that did some damage, ending my quest for 17 laps?

I decided that finishing 12 was the magic number of hikes for me for day one. I reached the top of my 12th lap shortly after 10 pm. I had been awake for 17.5 hours and climbing for the better part of 15 hours. On the gondola ride down, I met Ray, a real estate developer from Alabama. We talked about how the event had surprisingly surpassed all his expectations. He said the quality of the production, the camaraderie he was finding, and the challenge itself was giving him way than his money’s worth.

I only found out what Ray did for a living as the ride ended as I questioned him for the purposes of this article. It wasn’t until I politely asked several additional questions, that I found out about his financial status. It turns out Ray is very successful, as in flew to the event in a private plane, successful. Several at the event, did the same.

Leave your judgment at home

When I first came upon the website for 29029, I had looked at the promise of fancy tents, curated food, and a big price tag and that pervasive word “privilege” came to mind. Many who saw my post online announcing my attempt at this event, had shared similar thoughts.

As a society, we are often told not to judge a book by its cover. Most of the time, we take that to mean don’t think less of a person because they may come from poverty or are a different color. I can’t remember the last time someone pointed out to me (or anyone) that those that have attained some wealth deserve the same amount of empathy and compassion.

My own pre-conceived notions of “rich white people” were smashed this weekend. It occurred to me that nothing was “privileged” about them. They aren’t lottery winners nor are they descendants of kings and queens. They’ve worked their asses off for what they have, and want the same health, happiness, and success that any of us “common folk” want for ourselves and our families.

As I looked back up at the mountain one more time before going to bed for the night, I saw the glow from the chain of tiny headlamps slowly going up the 1.3 miles and 1750 vertical feet of Stratton Mountain. I challenge anyone to guess the bank balances connected to those lights.

Saturday Morning

I snoozed the heck out of my phone alarm when it went off and left my tent later than I planned. I did not find myself leaving the breakfast table until about 7:30 am. This gave me a little less than 10 hours to do 5 climbs, but I did not want to be anywhere near the time cutoff. My goal was to knock out the last laps out one after another. No gear changes and no leg compression breaks.

As I began my first climb, I ran across Colin, the real -life mountain climber that I heard on Thursday night and asked if I could hike with him. This meant going slightly faster than my normal pace, but I knew it would be worth it As we passed the halfway point, we were hiking in snowfall. I stopped to take some photos and to enjoy the beauty of where I was. Every lap on day two was a joy.

Every step is a step closer to finishing. The Committee is near silent because I’d pushed through to get ahead of the curve the day before. I even started something I called “reverse ninja math” on The Committee which made the climbs go by even faster. As I started lap 12, I said to myself. “Only 5 to go, which is really only 4 to go”. Next lap up I said to myself “4 more to go, but I’m already on this one, so it’s only 3 more to go!”

The mood on the mountain that day can only be described as awesome. The volunteers and staff, who have been cheering everyone on since the event started, are sharing in the excitement as participants get closer and closer to completing the challenge. The last lap is truly a celebration.

When participants begin the 17th lap, they receive a special red bib. The bib announces that you are going up that one last time. I high fived many wearing their red bib that I passed or that passed me that morning on their way to 17. When they put my red bib on me at around 12:30 pm, I swear to God I felt lighter. The electric warm fuzzies are at an all-time high as I stopped to hug almost every person I came in contact with during that last lap. As I approached the last 250 feet, tears began to well up in my eyes. I was confident when I began that I would reach my goal of 17 laps, but that doesn’t make the finish any less sweet.

After one of the longest, hottest showers of my life, the rest of the day and night are a blur of hugs and war stories. At the final dinner, there’s a nice speech by Jesse and a medal ceremony where each participant gets a medal for the number of laps completed. The medal is nice, but we were already given a giant wooden plaque that we got to brand with a hot iron. The medal will go in a box somewhere, the plaque will hang in my office.

Back at home, I watched that post-race video again. What if I had gone one loop longer? My first reaction is to say yes. I could have gone 18 or even 19 laps, but the longer I look, that is ego looking for “most laps glory”. This event is not about who can do the most laps or who can be the last man standing. It’s about chipping away at a goal that seems insurmountable at first. It’s about commitment, which my dad defines as “doing what you said you would, long after the mood you said it in, has left.”

All Photos Courtesy: 29029. Additional photos located here.

*A video will be posted here soon with day of arrival swag, plus finisher bling.

29029 Review

Valentines Day Massacre

I love when new OCRs invite me to cover their inaugural event as I get to see first hand the innovative ideas that new race directors come up with. The Valentines Day Massacre, held February 16th in St. Louis, didn’t disappoint. This area of the country was lacking an event since The Battlegrounds sold out to Tough Mudder the previous year and tapping into the expanding winter OCR scene was a great way to bring back the fun! Now, VDM didn’t just throw a fire jump and low crawl into a trail race and call it an OCR, and while those two fan favorites were included VDM added some functional fitness elements that included tasks that tested a racers overall strength and fitness level along a course that lasted just 2 miles. Held outdoors at the Hazlewood Sports Complex, VDM tucked all their obstacles along and through the athletic fields on site in an action-packed, and fan friendly way. The weather actually added to the difficulty as 2 inches of fresh snow had fallen the night before and the race time wind chill was around 10 degrees making the grip-related obstacles just that much tougher.

VDM started out with the day with their elite waves beginning at 9 in the morning, but in a unique way as groups of three were released every three minutes. I found this to be a great way to stagger heats as I saw no lines at any obstacle anywhere on the course. The race itself started off much the way any other race would but sending athletes on a bit of a run to separate the participants. From there things got hot and heavy, well, actually just heavy as racers were required to squat down and pick up a snow-covered Atlas Stone for a short carry. Do you like heavy carries? Great cause VDM loaded up this section of the race with them as an ice bucket carry was also situated here along with the most unique carry test I’ve ever experienced.  VDM stuck sandbags into each leg of a pair of pants, then left them outside overnight to freeze.

If you thought taking a Wreckbag up and over walls during the summer was tough you hadn’t seen anything yet as this proved to be the most exhausting task of the day. An A-frame needed to be traversed with this “death bag” along with several walls topped with large plastic barrels that spun making this a supreme test of overall strength and left athletes winded to the max.

I was wondering if Wile E. Coyote would be joining me on the next obstacle as VDM used an anvil for drag and carry, no Road Runner or Acme rocket was seen though. You really got into the swing of things on the last obstacle in this section of the course as a dual Tarzan swing was next up. High jump landing pads were spaced a good 20 feet apart for each of these swings making it the longest swing on an OCR course that I’ve ever witnessed. That was followed up with a rope climb before sending racers through the dugouts on the baseball fields which had caution tape strung through them acting as a type of low crawl.

After a brief foray between the baseball diamonds, VDM set two 9-foot walls in a racers path. This led to a 14-foot rope aided warped wall climb with an interesting twist as a rig was set up underneath, and this rig was a killer. Monkey bars suspended by chains led to a series of 3 vertical ropes. Tough but doable right? That was only the halfway point though as a set of horizontal rock climbing holds led to a series of rings for the finish.

Now, VDM was nice during this event because it was cold out and placed a hay bale to stand on between each section, but I was told once it warms up for their next event the hay would be removed. Hope you saved some grip strength as a four section floating wall was next up with the handholds consisting of various rock climbing holds along with chains and balls. 4-foot hurdles were set along the trail leading to a cargo net low crawl set so low to the ground it pulled my stocking hat off. Lifting heavy shit again came into play with a 10 rep tire flip, and I have it on good authority that the men’s tractor tire weighed north of 350 pounds. Trying to get a grip on the snow-covered ground was next to impossible. Not quite as heavy, but way more awkward VDM set out a yoke carry made with a wooden beam balancing a frozen sandbag on each side. Let me tell you that when those sandbags got swinging back and forth it took all you had to right them.

After dumping that impossible load off your shoulders, a racer faced a series of three hoists which again utilized sandbags and got progressively heavier as you went down the line. One last 5-foot wall led athletes back towards the festival area, but not before climbing over a series of tractor tires stacked up on the ground and the obligatory fire jump. This race was perfect for those of us who are tired of races consisting of endless miles of running. OCR has expanded recently into events containing heavy movements to draw in the Crossfit crowd and I’m glad they brought this to the Midwest. Although lightly attended racers that did brave the weather felt like they got their money’s worth. Parking and pic were free, and VDM posted shots from the race on their Facebook page as the race was going on. What a revolutionary idea! No more waiting around to see your epic adventure! Everyone was extremely friendly, and the volunteers were all well drilled on the requirements of the obstacle they were marshaling. So, in a nutshell, short course packed with very challenging obstacles. I’ll be back, will I see you for their next event in May?