Tougher Mudder KY: Laps and Live Music

Let me start by saying this: Great job, Tough Mudder!  That feedback email that you get after a race? Tough Mudder really seems to have paid attention.  Year after year, they have consistently gotten better.  If you read my review for the Tougher Mudder TN last September, then you understand why I made a point to start with some praise for the improvements!

With Tough Mudder starting their competitive series just last year, they were playing the sort of catch up game that any runner who has ever fallen off an obstacle or come from behind should understand (I know I do!).  They realized that Mudder Nation needed improvements, and they did what many OCR brands do not do well: They listened to constructive criticism and made changes.

VENUE and PARKING: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, KY

One of the aspects that I most love about racing, other than the amazing and supportive OCR family, is getting to see so many different parts of the world that I would not see otherwise.  Although we didn’t race in or just around the Kentucky Speedway, getting to drive by it on the way in to the venue was exciting (I do NOT excite easily).

 Parking was in three different sections, and I went with the “General Parking” option.  It was a half-mile away, but it wasn’t a half-mile of wondering where the entrance was, as for the entire walk to registration, I could see part of the course, several obstacles, and a portion of the festival area.  Parking was quick and easy.

View-from-Parking-Area

 

REGISTRATION/CHECK-IN:

There is some room for improvement here, although it is better than the last Tougher I competed in (Thank you, TM!).  With plenty of lines for the non-competitive heats (makes sense, since there are far more participants in these areas), there were only two lines and two tables for Tougher Mudders.  While it was a smooth check-in with zero issues, maybe adding a table or two would help, as the check-in volunteers were three to a table, so there was congestion.  Overall, though, it took me maybe three minutes to show my ID, get my bib and timing chip, and move on.  I also come prepared, though, so that always helps those volunteers, as well as speeds up the process for other participants.

Registration-and-Check-in

Registration-tents

There were also tables set up with plenty of markers and zip ties for timers, as well as scissors to cut the loose ends off of the zip ties.  Convenience at its finest!

STARTING LINE, GOOD TIMES, and THE COURSE (of course)

After being told that there were some starting line issues this year already, I was a little nervous about being sure I was at the gate early.  I must say, it was hard to hear any announcements and I was constantly checking my watch and looking toward the starting line.  Thankfully, it seemed like volunteers were deployed to find anyone wearing a Tougher Mudder bib and to be sure we were headed to the starting line on time.

The way people were organized into corrals by time, then sent to the starting line, was a pretty cool change from the norm of people just heading to the start and getting a wristband or something else checked.  I spoke to a few of the runners from each type of race (5k, Tough Mudder half, Tough Mudder full), and how they felt about being able to start all in the same wave.  Everyone I spoke to loved the idea of being mixed with others with different, yet the same, goal-to finish stronger and together! No one felt left out or “called out” for running a shorter race.

After I finished my race, I met up at the starting line to visit with DJ Will Gill, who is always, always a superstar at the starting line and gets everyone motivated.  He announced me when I walked up as the Tougher female winner, and that was pretty sweet.  Not a lot of starting line people really get me going, and he is one of the few. Unlike other race venues, DJ Will Gill even let me sing the National Anthem for one of the heats!  Tough Mudder allows a moment of silence and the National Anthem before each and every wave of runners.

National-Anthem

Once runners lined up, they had a flat start that went to the top of a small hill, and then it was ON!  Tougher Mudders had to follow course markings like everyone else, but we had Lap 1 and Lap 2 challenges.  We pretty much had the course to ourselves for Lap 1, but once we hit Lap 2, we were intermingled with non-Tougher Mudder runners, and while it caused some congestion, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  My husband, who ran his first OCR, was part of the 5k crew, and he felt just as part of everything and every obstacle as everyone else.  For this being his first OCR, and with him not being a runner at all, I worried he would not know where to go on the course, but he says the course was marked so well, there was no chance for any confused at all.  (He also is planning on running another Tough Mudder, “at least a half”, he says!).

Runners also crossed over where others were just getting to the race and having the cheers and encouragement as I ran by was pretty nice. I also think Tough Mudder did a great job with changing up a little how the Tougher Mudders had to compete, such as we had to complete the King Kong Infinity, and we had to swim across a pond (I couldn’t even touch the bottom!).  Towards the end, Toughers had an ice bag carry, and we carried it to the Arctic Enema, broke it open, and poured it into the water before getting in and swimming to the other side.  As one who doesn’t like any weather below 70 degrees, this wasn’t my favorite part, but I do appreciate it being towards the end of the race!

DJ-Will-Gill

Starting-Line

RECOGNITION and MUDDER VILLAGE

Not only did Tougher Mudder decide to create medals for the top three male and female finishers, they also added a podium ceremony.  I do wish the podium was out in the middle of the venue, rather than being crammed at the end of the finish line.  This allows for people to enjoy watching the announcements, as well as others, getting pictures up on the podium just for fun; HOWEVER, for Tough Mudder to have made the changes with medals and recognition, and in such a short time, was pretty rockstar of them!

Podium-Ceremony

And guess what? There was a LIVE BAND in Mudder Village, as well!  There was other music being played, but the band did a super job covering top songs, and this was a wonderful difference from so many other venues I’ve been to.  The ATM was in a building on the way in and set aside and well-marked.  There were new obstacles and others from the past were brought back, as well.  It was nice to go into a race and not know exactly what to expect.

This is a racing brand that has been around for some time, now, and if you haven’t run one yet, go do it!  If you have, think about doing it again!

I’ll be back, Tough Mudder!

 

Conquer the Gauntlet: Dallas/Forth Worth

Conquer the Gauntlet: Dallas/Fort Worth

On the hottest day of the summer thus far at the time of this writing, Conquer the Gauntlet kicked off their series with a big bang.  While the Texas heat beamed down, competitors filed in to take on one of the most brutal Obstacle Courses known in America.  Don’t allow the down-home, local feel of the race series to fool you.  Conquer the Gauntlet is as serious (if not more so) than any other OCR series out there.  I’ve run several areas of Texas.  I’ve faced tons of treacherous terrain.  However, I’ve never experienced the type of challenge that Conquer the Gauntlet presented me with.  This review will focus primarily on those obstacles as I feel they deserve the most limelight.  I left physically broken so to speak, but spiritually energized.  I loved every minute of it.

Masters victors

 

The Venue

As far as terrain goes, the Village Creek Motocross Park track didn’t offer any daunting ascents or downhills.  However, Conquer the Gauntlet utilized it to its utmost potential.  Within the first mile or two competitors made many up and down runs on the tracks biggest jumps.  The sandbag carry finished with one of the steeper ascents making it extra draining with the Texas heat already sapping racers’ strength away.  Racers later cooled down in a few water crossings including a beautiful creek offering some great scenery.

The last stretch of obstacles brought competitors back around to the festival area allowing spectators a superb view of Pegatron, Tarzan, Stairway to Heaven and other favorites.  CTG knows what obstacles are fun to watch and they made sure they were front and center.

The Obstacles

CTG’s major strength in its own right as well as against all other series is its obstacles.  Three words that should consistently be used when describing this course are challenge, innovation, and fun.  Strategic placement of these challenging beasts made sure that they took everything they could out of competitors.  This made those well-earned podium spots that much more special.  All of the favorites went off without a hitch and were well manned by volunteers.

As someone who has run many obstacle course races, walls are rarely more than an annoyance in most courses.  This was not so at Conquer the Gauntlet Fort Worth.  Not one.. not two… not three… but FIVE 8 foot walls in a ROW drained more out of me than I expected.  I do not mean in the same vicinity.  I mean immediately after one another.  Stamina killers may have been lacking in hills, but Conquer the Gauntlet knows how to utilize their tools to break you even more efficiently than most terrain can.

Challenge

Cliffhanger brought the next somewhat daunting challenge as they were probably the most challenging set of monkey bars I’ve faced.  Though the bars aren’t fat or necessarily slick,  some aren’t welded in and they WILL spin on you.  On top of that, they ascend and descend adding a bit of extra kick of difficulty.  Technique and grip are key in monkeying your way across these bad boys and they should not be taken lightly.

The Z beam brought forth an unusual challenge as well.  Four very long, very narrow boards are lined up edgewise in a Z pattern. Competitors had to make their way across without falling off.  A simple concept proved to be very difficult and requires a lot of focus especially when placed after a long running portion.  This required racers to lower their heart rate and focus on foot placement and center of gravity at a time when their mind is just screaming “GO!”

Later on came the daunting challenge that has taken the belt and pride of many, and it claimed mine as well.  Pegatron was a large approximately 20-foot long horizontal pegboard that loomed over competitors much like the large evil robots from its namesake.  With a few footholds in the first and last five feet, the most difficult portion was the ten-foot portion in the middle with no footholds.

Never having practiced on a pegboard, I tried my best to develop a nice technique again… again.. and again.. to no avail.  Pegatron offered many different choices of peg sizes.  Offset holes added difficulty.  Some holes were fake.  This allows pegs to go all the way through forcing competitors to use strategy.  If that wasn’t enough, the occasional fake hole could turn a great attempt into failure.

The Mystery

I stayed at Pegatron for an hour.  I made it halfway across and even further, but never fully reached the other footholds. A handful of racers made it through, but even more threw down their belts to continue on.   I tried until my hands, torn and bleeding, gave out. I walked away knowing I had given it my all.

What immediately followed was a super fun new “mystery obstacle.”  Much like other CTG staples, this new obstacle brought in some of the best elements of Ninja Warrior like obstacles to the OCR series.  The obstacle began with a quick set of widely spaced quintuple steps.  A series of walls with bars lining the top followed.  Competitors had to jump from wall to wall grasping to the bar to keep them up.  However, the next to the last wall brought a surprise.

Instead of a bar, this wall had a nun-chuck, a ball grip, and a rope hanging from the top.  This made shimmying and leaping to the last bar wall extra difficult.  Not only was this a great challenge, it was a lot of fun and I hope to see it in future races.

More Grip and Upper Body Destruction

As if Pegatron and the “mystery” obstacle didn’t kill our grip enough, later competitors faced Tarzan.  It was not a particularly long rig, but that did not matter.  With bloody and battered hands I attempted it, but of course to no avail.  The rig began with a nunchuck.  There is no grip on this nunchuck.  These nunchucks were metal and SLICK.  Competitors must get a big swing going.  That sweet little ring on the next hold appears to be 15 feet away.  IF you even make it to that ring you are forced to grab hold of some little bungee cords. Hold on for dear life and attempting to keep your swing going until you can reach the final hold.  Needless to say, even for those who made it through Pegatron, their elite journey ended here.

IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH for your grip and upper body to be screaming, next came stairway to heaven.  Don’t let the heavenly counterpart of a name to Ninja Warrior’s devil steps fool you.  These wooden bad boys are steeper and higher than almost any set of devil steps I’ve encountered.  Bloody and battered I clawed my way to the top and even made the transition only to have my screaming, throbbing hands give out on me as I plummeted into the water below.  A nice little tube slide ended my journey to one of the most difficultly obtained medals and shirts I’ve ever earned.

A Fun Learning Experience with Truly Elite Athletes

Many have often described OCR as a mixture of Ninja Warrior and trail running.  In fact, I often use it to describe OCR to those who have never heard of it as it makes the concept easier to grasp.  Conquer the Gauntlet is the truest example of that definition.  To every Ninja who reads this: sign up.  To every OCR racer ready to test themselves in a new way and ready to push limits they may not have known they had: sign up.  Even to those who love to run with friends and just take it easy: sign up!  This challenge will bring you either closer to those you run with, closer to yourself, or closer to the OCR community as a whole.

As someone who became addicted to OCR because I kept learning that I could achieve feats I never thought possible, Conquer the Gauntlet awakened that feeling in me once again.  I was beaten, badly by a greater obstacle challenge than I’ve ever experienced, but I walked out with my head held high.  I hadn’t only had a lot of fun, I was inspired. In my heart… that’s what the number one goal of all OCR companies and racers is… to inspire.  Thank you Conquer the Gauntlet for a wonderful experience.  I will be back.

I give it 5 torn callouses out of 5.

https://conquerthegauntlet.com/

Rugged Maniac Northern California: A Formula For Fun

Rugged Maniac has certainly always stuck to a formula of fun and there was no shortage of that in NorCal on Saturday. Race day, May 26th, started out a little colder than a typical day in the east bay. It had been raining the day before the race and left the grounds slightly damp. This didn’t deter any of the soon to be runners as they filed into the venue from the nearby parking lot. The first waves of the day started off with a drizzle and cool breeze. After a while, the sun broke through the clouds, making for a warm but comfortable afternoon.
Rugged Maniac The Accelerator 3.0
As I entered the festival area I was greeted by music and dancing creating the vibe of walking into a big party. Multiple prime food trucks and vendor tents lead me in towards the main stage where competitions were held throughout the day to entertain the crowd. Guests were encouraged to participate in pie eating, beer holding and pull up competitions. For those not there for the race but to support their friends and family, the event offered free entry to the festivities. This made for a real spectator friendly event with something for everyone.
Rugged Maniac Beer Holding Contest
The festival area was set beside the start and finish line and was overlooked by the grand finale of obstacles, Mount Maniac. This mammoth is actually made up of two back to back obstacles, the Warped Wall and Accelerator. In order to climb this beast, you must first run up a quarter pipe and then reach out for some helpings hands. This is a great opportunity for some teamwork because it is customary to then turn and be the helping hand for others. This obstacle was the pinnacle of the race and it caused many people to pause before trying to complete it. The Accelerator, an enormous inflatable slide, was built off the back of the Warped Wall taking participants even higher before they came barreling down at breathtaking speed for a photo finish.
Rugged Maniac The Warped Wall
I caught up with a couple at the finish line as they were receiving their medals and looking extremely happy. They introduced themselves as Tim and Renee Hennessy and said they had loved the course. They weren’t as cold at the finish line as they expected but that might have had to do with an obstacle malfunction at the Accelerator. For a portion of the day participants were asked to climb off the Warped Wall and go around to the finish line. This left them dry at the end of the race instead of having the traditional dunk in the water at the end.
Rugged Maniac Tim and Renee Hennessy
Overall it was a flat and fast course with terrain over both gravel and grass. The first mile and a half was mostly running but punctuated by some strength based obstacles like Sled Dog and Pull Your Weight. On the second half of the course the obstacles became grander. One such obstacle was the new fan favorite Off the Rails. Here participants were required to use their momentum to swing out over a pool of water while hanging from a small rope on a zip line and ring a bell. No matter how far out they were able to swing everyone ends up in the water which extended far past the bell.
Rugged Maniac Off the Rails
Over the 3-mile, 25 obstacle course, there was a fair share of inflatable obstacles that play up the element of fun. Most runners couldn’t help but stop and enjoy them, just like kids on a playground. I saw many people do exactly that on The Crag, a large inflated staircase with a top of pillars to crawl through. Even with the playfulness, Rugged Manic had options for the more serious participants too. They offered a competitive wave and Rugged Maniac X, multi-lap options.
Rugged Maniac The Crag
Just like my fellow participants- I found myself becoming more childlike as I ran, climbed, crawled, and bounced toward the finish line. It was over too soon and left me ready to sign up for another one.  Except, next time, I’ll be bringing a group to my next Rugged Maniac because it makes for a perfect introduction to the life of OCR.Rugged Maniac Finisher Medals

Spartan Race: Bringing the Pain to Big Bear

Overview
Spartan Race Southern California was the third of five races in the National Championship Series. Hosted in Big Bear, CA it brought an entirely new dynamic to the season. Not only did the race start at an elevation around 6000ft, it was the first Spartan Beast of the series. Being eerily similar to the World Championships this coming September in in Tahoe, CA, it brought many of the elites from the men’s and women’s competition who were trying to make a statement halfway through the North American Series.

San Jose brought rolling hills and smooth terrain.

Seattle brought the muddy and wet conditions.

Big Bear brought the treacherous climbs and unforgiving descents

The Course
Just looking at the course map was intimidating, touting 5000 feet of elevation gain in 12+ miles. In fact, I was a little confused if it was a Skyrunning Race or a Spartan Race knowing that the terrain itself would be the challenge of the day. The start line looked up at the mountain ahead that foreshadowed what was to come. Thankfully, mother nature cooperated with dry and relatively comfortable conditions throughout the day.

The course was laid out perfectly according to the plan of Steve Hammond who wanted to create one of the most difficult courses in recent memory. After about 200 meters of flat running, competitors were doomed with the instant climb that slowed the pace to a hike, a common theme throughout the rest of the race. The beginning of the race was relatively obstacle-free allowing racers to spread out before a collection of obstacles near the top of the mountain. We were sent up slopes simply to run back down again, a seemingly endless oscillation of technical terrain. I envied those taking the chairlift above us and wished for some snow and a pair of skis on the way down. With the Atlas Carry, Herc Hoist, Monkey Bars, and the Sandbag Carry #1 peppered near the top of the mountain, we were greeted with massive descent down to the bottom. Of course, this could only mean one thing, we were going back up. Twister greeted us at the bottom of our descent as we turned the corner to ascend back into the double-black-diamond hell of Big Bear Ski Resort.

After seven miles of punishing terrain, I wanted to believe that it could only get better only to be greeted by the worst of them all…. THE DOUBLE SANDBAG CARRY. I was met with a dizzying feeling and the metallic taste in my mouth. This is where it would all end for me… my Achilles heel. After agonizing up and down a steep slope we didn’t get a reprieve with yet another climb. Up, down, up, down, up, down, it never ended!

Miles 8-11 brought more climbs at a less steep grade. While runnable on fresh legs, I was having trouble opening up any semblance of a stride this late into the race. It wasn’t until the massive descent back into the village that I could taste the finish line. Thankfully, mother nature cooperated leaving the obstacles dry and less of a factor than the massive climbs. The descents were just as difficult on tired legs, as anyone could have easily twisted an ankle or fallen flat on their face on the descent. The final descent meant only one thing, the final gauntlet of obstacles. BUT WAIT! Sneaky Steve strikes again. Just in case our arms and legs weren’t tired before, the bucket brigade gave us the opportunity the feel nice and depleted before an epic gauntlet of obstacles.

The burpee station (Spear Throw), “YOKOHAMA Tire Flip!!” (said in Steve Hammond’s voice), rope climb, and dunk wall made the likes of the slip wall a true obstacle. With the ropes just out of reach for a simple jump, competitors were forced to give every last ounce to run up and grab onto that rope for dear life. I didn’t even know you could burpee out on the slip wall until then, an option some people exercised.

Finally the rig! A nice dry rig was Bear-able (see what I did there) amongst the massive climbs of the ski slope. For anyone who ran this race, we were greeted at the finish line by a sense of accomplishment, knowing what we just endured was a difficult course to finish, regardless of chip time.

 

Men’s Recap

The men’s race continued domination by the Ryans. Ryan Woods in San Jose, Ryan Kent in Seattle, and now Ryan Atkins in Big Bear. The real questions is, will Ryan win the championship? If so, which one?

The pack of Ryan Atkins, Angel Quintero, and Ryan Woods (Woodsy) kept a strong pace the entire race and stayed in the lead pack. With Woodsy’s running ability, Angel’s intense training at altitude, and Atkins’ strength and mountain acumen, none of them could be counted out. Atkins finally pulled ahead at the double sandbag carry with a time of just above 4 minutes for the entire carry. Atkins also rocked a whole new way to carry the bucket… on his back! Atkins continued to run a clean race, leaving Angel and Woodsy to the other podium spots. Robert Killian and Ian Hosek rounded out the top 5 for the men.

 

Women’s Recap

A win by Rea Kolbl in San Jose and Lindsay Webster in Seattle, along with Faye Stenning’s two second place finishes set up a perfect storm coming into Big Bear. These were the three girls to beat. Would they continue to set the Spartan standard, or would someone else break into the win column?

The women’s race was a close fought battle the entire time. Rea Kolbl and Lindsay Webster set the pace throughout, closely shadowed by Faye Stenning.

Rea continued to punish the uphill climbs and Lindsay matched every effort with her technical descents. Faye gained ground during the heavy carries and pushed hard late in the race. By the bucket carry, Faye was in striking distance. Lindsay missed the spear throw, giving Faye the opportunity she needed to move into second place. Rea continued to push hard and was slowed by the slip wall. With its ropes higher than usual and tired legs, it was difficult to reach up to the top. Faye used this opportunity to catch up to Rea as they traded attempts on the slip wall, knowing full well that whoever could complete it first would control their own destiny. Then finally, Rea mustered the strength to run up the wall and went through the rig unscathed, taking first place and claiming her second win of the season. Faye continued with her second place performances, protecting her lead in the National Championship Series while Lindsay finished strong in 3rd place. Spartan Team Pros Alyssa Hawley and Nicole Mericle rounded out the top 5 for the women.

Summary:

The third stop along the Spartan National Championship Series proved to be a memorable one. With similar conditions to Tahoe, this was a good barometer for those looking to do well in the World Championships in late September. Whether you were an elite, age group, or open competitor, everyone who crossed the finish line should walk with their head held high. This race was definitely memorable. I think I speak for everyone when I say, Steve Hammond… YOU SUCK!

 

P.S. Steve Hammond, Seriously THANK YOU and the rest of the Spartan Team for putting on a great race weekend! You did an awesome job!

Bear Grylls Survival Challenge

Bear Gryll’s Survival Challenge. Without a ton of specific information, this new OCR event was shrouded in a little mystery, and their social media content manager did a fantastic job promoting the event with a blend of sneak peeks and “classified” information. Coming into the event, the “unknown” components outweighed the information available, and it was a nice change to face something that you did not know everything about.

I know Bear Grylls from Man v. Wild, and in my mind, he’s someone who found fame in the survival arena. His military background is often glossed over by his survival shows, so when I boarded their shuttle to get to the venue from offsite parking, I was expecting a survival-themed obstacle course.

I was wrong.

It was military themed, military color, with military-inspired staffed as Air Force JROTC were staff and volunteers. Some of the process was efficient. Some not. So instead of taking you on a winding journey, let me list the Pros, Cons, and everything in between.

Let’s start with the Cons.

  1. You’re instructed to arrive at check in two hours before your start time. I did and spent 90 minutes doing nothing as the vendors and festival area was not set up nor ready for business. It was unnecessary to have to be at the venue that early, seeing as heats were capped and the participant numbers weren’t large enough to warrant a TSA style arrival time.
  2. The event had one of the most annoying and off-putting event briefings that I have ever had the displeasure to sit through. Before you are released on to the course, you sit through a briefing that is led by an Army Sergeant, who stands at his podium and gives you course information, much like an OCR Race Director does at the start of the Elite waves. However, the annoying part comes in form of another Sergeant, who wandered around the seated group, giving out “menacing” glares, and proceeded to talk down to participants and attempted to verbally intimidate them while the briefing is going on. Unnecessary, pointless, and it distracted us from the briefing. Besides, no one wants to be condescended by race staff and it set people off in the wrong mood before the race even began.
  3. No post-race cold wash/showers. There were changing tents but there were no wash stations to rinse the mud off. There is a station on the course that requires you to fully submerge yourself in mud so that you are completely covered. Not having a station to rinse off at the end was, in my opinion, a bad move and something that can be easily fixed, especially if the company does not want people rinsing themselves off at the drinking water station in the festival area, which is what was happening.
  4. No finisher shirt. And I know this is a petty “con” but a finisher shirt really is the best free advertising that a company can invest in.

And the Pros.

  1. Check in process was easy, organized, and well run.

    Processing/Check In alphabetical order

  2. Volunteers were friendly and knowledgeable. My family came as spectators and were impressed by the friendly and positive attitudes of the volunteers.
  3. Festival area had varied and different food trucks that offered fare that went beyond the standard burgers, hot dogs, and bbq. A refreshing change.
  4. Coffee and bagels were provided in briefing area for participants free of charge.
  5. The “pack” that contained the gear required for the course is a hydration pack that would fit a 70oz bladder and was provided to each participant with the necessary “gear” enclosed: emergency whistle, chem light, 1 qt ziplock bag with cotton ball, course map, eye protection, condom. These items were to be used along the course at specific stations. It was kind of nice to get something other than just a t shirt and medal.
  6. Post race food that consisted of a variety of fruits, energy bars, water, kombucha, red bull, chicken or beef wraps, and desserts. Having this “lounge” was a solid stroke of good service for the participants and appreciated by everyone that I had interacted with.
  7. Scoring results and overall team results were provided quickly and with very little fuss, most results generated within two days after the event concluded.
  8. Photos were free and readily available within three days after the event concluded.

 

Everything In Between

  1. The premise of the event was to accrue as many survival points as possible throughout the course. In the end, your points would be tallied, and if you were on a team then your points would all be added up to determine your team’s score. 35% of your score would be determined by how fast you completed the course. The other 65% would be determined by your ability to complete obstacles successfully. Failure to complete an obstacle successfully would result in zero points or point deductions from your final score.
  2. At each obstacle would be two lanes. One for “Success” and one for “Failure.” Each lane had a timing mat which would be activated by the timing chip that was secured to your ankle. This was to keep track of your wins and losses.
  3. The course was advertised as 4 miles but the distance was stated at 5 miles during the briefing. After the briefing, everyone in the heat was hustled into a shed to await the start cannon. Once the cannon fired, the door opened and everyone scrambled to start their first run.
  4. We were told there were only two water stations, but we were happy to see five stations on course, as the day was hot and the venue was dusty. A good move to include more stations in response to the heat.
  5. Fun obstacles with a military inspired feel to them. Once I got on course, it was all business, and the terrain was a solid mixture of hills, inclines, and flat-out sprints. The event used the terrain well and there were areas that reminded me of some of the smaller inclines of Vail Lake, Temecula. The obstacles that really stood out were War-Torn Village, where you were given a set amount of covering fire from friendly forces that would suppress the insurgents so that you could scramble your way through an urban warfare setting. The trick was to utilize your speed to sprint as fast as possible before losing covering fire and getting “shot” by insurgents. Getting shot took away points. Activating an IED would also take away points. This was the most fun and having military personnel on the team made for a quick and easy victory for us as they took charge and led us through.
  6. Integrity Test: Hang on to a vertical rope for 30 seconds. The premise was good: Grab on to the rope and hang there for what you believe is 30 seconds. Drop and continue. The obstacle was videoed, so anyone who dropped before 30 seconds would have points deducted at the end. The problem with this obstacle is that there was a huge clock sitting there for the participants to read, so there was no silent counts or guessing the duration. You’d just use a J hook or S Hook and hang out until the second hand read 30 seconds and then you were done. If the clock had not been there, then the obstacle would have made more sense.
  7. Run inside a maze until you get to the center. From there was a table with compasses on them. Determine what direction is South West, choose that door, and escape. A maze is a fun thing to have because no one really uses one for OCRs.
  8. Three attempts to hit a pie tin downrange 30 yds with a pellet rifle. We’ve seen these types of challenges before at other races, but it’s always a fun one.

Conclusion

This was a fun course that used the terrain well, particularly the hills and continual inclines. The obstacles were fun, even the one where you ate three dried crickets (tastes like burnt popcorn). The obstacles themselves are different, the scoring system is unique, the post-race is quality service, and the finisher gear that included the hydration pack, a bandana, a carabiner attached to a lanyard, and a pvc tac patch is new and different as well. For those who have participated in OCRs for a few years and want something that is vastly different than what you’ve been experiencing, Bear Grylls Survival Challenge will give you a good time.

Personally, I’d have focused more on the “Survival” aspect than the military aspect, but I understand the attraction to military-inspired events, and the event directors did a good job with it. Using JROTC in their BDUs lent to the entire theme quite well, and all the cadets were respectful, helpful and friendly. I would absolutely do away with the guy trying to intimidate and verbally assault people during the briefing, though. It left most of the participants in the starting shed muttering about his attitude and gave a negative vibe to the experience.

Not having a rinse/shower station when you have three mud/water obstacles and you finish off with a slip and slide water/mud obstacles was not a good choice. That final experience that racers leave your venue with shouldn’t be still muddy and unable to clean themselves while being shuttled to offsite parking. Speaking of off-site parking: no issues and shuttling went along very smoothly. With a lower turn out rate for this event, organizational control is easy. I’m interested to see what happens if their numbers increase and how their system will manage it.

I’m looking forward to next year and seeing how this company does, and I hope they stay around a while. It’s nice to have an event that’s this new and different, and it could definitely carve out a niche if done right.

http://www.beargryllssurvivalchallenge.com/

photos courtesy of Bear Grylls Survival Challenge, Amy Saldana (pack, patch, carabiner combination)(team photo).

Frontline OCR: The Special Forces Elite Wave

Frontline OCR was back in action for their second event on May 19 but in a totally new location. This highly anticipated event took place at the Byron Motorsports Park right next to the nuclear power plant in Byron, Illinois.

As a matter of fact, the 5.85-mile course may have required some nuclear strength to get through it as this race wasn’t for the faint of heart. Frontline based the theme of their event on tasks or obstacles that military or first responders might encounter mixed in with some of the normal tasks you may encounter on an OCR course, except they jacked up the intensity factor of each.

This badass race series offered a multi-lap endurance wave, open waves, a Hero Heat dedicated to former military or first responders, and their Special Forces elite wave. This is the heat I picked for some crazy reason as those who dared to try this heat were issued a 20-pound weight vest for their journey through the course. This vest was required wearing for the duration of this mandatory obstacle completion wave until a time where an athlete could no longer complete an obstacle wearing it. At that point, they gave up their vest and continued but were bumped down in the final standings to all those who finished with the pesky garment. Although, even without the weight vest this was certainly one of the tougher upper body races I’ve ever done, and I applaud Frontline for really making you get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.

 

On to the course. There is no better way to start off a race than with the iconic voice of Coach Pain. Coach was in his element, dressed in fatigues, and ready to rumble as he sent waves of racers out on the course. Athletes took off from the festival area over one of the motorcycle jump hills on their way into the surrounding wooded acres.

Now the total elevation change was only around 800 feet on the course, but nothing seemed flat and the rains from the previous week made the course, and the obstacles, slippery and difficult. A series of low walls were situated along the trail and served as the first obstacle athletes came upon with a bucket carry placed a short distance further down the path. An inverted wall followed that up along the game trail which led back to the edge of the festival area where racers encountered concrete blocks with tethers tied to them which were waiting to be dragged through a marsh where an occasional bungee cord was strung across the path making for a challenging low crawl.

Once complete Frontline again sent racers back out into the forest for a slackline crossing made of wire and placed over a dry ravine. After hopping off the slack line and climbing up out of the ravine the trail once again led into the motorsports arena where another inverted wall waited to be traversed before running through the middle of the arena where the semi tire drags awaited on the other side.

Frontline then made great use of a flooded drainage ditch by having athletes wade chest deep through it before crawling a short distance through a concrete culvert. It was through this infield area where the course markings became a bit confusing to some as one set of trail tape ended up running into another, but since they were both going to the same general direction I just followed them out. From there athletes were led to a series of carries consisting of dual ammo cans and a wooden log before being sent on to the first stumbling block for racers, the Irish Table. This platform was set to close to 7 feet in the air and nothing was provided to aid you in your climb.

From this point on I noticed that the majority of the obstacles became much more difficult starting out with the next obstacle racers faced called Pitfall. This obstacle was divided up into 3 sections and kept an athlete completely suspended off the ground.

Section one was separated by a dual rope traverse leading to a long jump onto an angled piece of plywood. An athlete had to land on the plank and pull themselves up before crossing another dual rope traverse to get to the other side. The trail now turned to grass as athletes made their way back towards the festival area once again for the toughest obstacle of the day in the form of a 12-foot wall climb. This wall started athletes out in a dugout pit of mud and required racers to scale the wall using a rope without knots. There were two lanes provided but only one for elites and as the mud made the rope slick the retry line grew huge.

Eventually, the race director ended up putting knots in the rope and then used a chainsaw to cut out a section of the wall for footing, but I personally spent 35 minutes there before my second attempt and by that time my mojo was gone. Once an athlete made it past the wall from hell things didn’t get any easier as racers climbed a hill and encountered an American Ninja Warrior type grip traverse. Here several 2×4’s were placed onto a suspended beam at different angles with the goal being to get from one side to the other. If your grip wasn’t cashed out from the previous wall climb it surely was now.

It was at this point in the race that Frontline led athletes back to the arena and loaded up on the obstacles with very little running in between. This stretch of brutality started off with a new twist on the stairway to heaven as Frontline made racers climb up at an angle but then flattened the climb out at the top with the slats spaced about every 2 feet till the end.

Racers then moved on to the second weaver of the day, this one made up of suspended fire hoses before moving on to Broch’s Slide.  Racers picked up a 12-pound sledgehammer and used it to slam a log down one stretch of a wooden buck and back. Moving down one hill and up the other side Frontline then placed their version of a rig consisting of a monkey bar set at various heights for a down one side and back the other with the transition between the two sides separated by rings and Gripsling holds making for one of the most unique rig crossings in OCR. This was another racer retry area that caused quite the backup.

The brutal assault on grip strength continued with another suspended transition, this one requiring athletes to maneuver themselves from one vertical 12-inch tube to another without touching the ground and proved to be tricky to master. Two climbs were set up next in the form of a suspended rope and separate suspended ladder. Frontline then turned Spartan’s Olympus upside down, literally, as the top of the obstacle was now jutting farther out than the bottom! Quite the reversal on this grip killer! One final test remained along this gauntlet of doom, the much-feared 20-foot warped wall, and although Frontline was kind enough to attach a rope it was still a long way up.

This concluded the toughest section of the event as the course focused now on technical running. Tucked into these trails were a series of 12-inch tubes suspended by wire through them in the air horizontally. I’m only guessing that athletes had to make their way over these as there were no volunteers or signage to explain what was to be done.

If you loved running in the woods then this was the part of the race for you as the majority of the running took place here. Springtime in Illinois made for some beautiful viewing along the way to the next obstacle called Hosed. Here fire hoses were cut into sections and filled with what I guess to be sand as there was a loop provided to run around, but again here there was no signage or volunteer to explain the task requirements.

Hamburger Hill was the last real test racers faced as this uphill low crawl was set on a muddy hill jam-packed with sharp rocks which made me glad I wore knee protection! From there a simple scaffolding cross was all that stood between you and that badass sheriffs shaped medal.

I found Frontline to be worth the price of admission based on the obstacles presented. If you were a fan of innovative new ways to test yourself this was your race. There were things you have never seen and had to master on the fly along with more difficult versions of the things you already expected to be at an OCR event. I applaud Frontline for making necessary changes on the fly but doing this changed what each racer faced.

That being said, there were a few things that also needed a bit more attention including the trail marking and a better explanation/enforcement of the Special Forces wave. Volunteers appeared to be a bit unclear as to when or if a vest needed to be given up or a penalty enforced for a failed obstacle. My suggestion would be to have the Elite wave keep their vest the entire race and enforce penalties from there for failed tasks. I think this would eliminate some of the confusion, and with a rumored 1/3 of elite racers losing their vests this may be a better way to proceed and not scare off those worried about failing. I understand that Frontline likes their policy of letting racers who keep their vests throughout the race to then keep their vest after, but this policy may be too expensive for a starting OCR.

Multiple lanes on the tougher obstacles and more supervision along some of the course would also make for a better race experience but I’ll be back October 27th when the third version of Frontline comes back to Byron!