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!

 

Scott Brackemyer

44 year old Scott Brackemyer is a self described "Eliteish" racer from Dekalb Illinois. The father of four loves to travel with his family to races to spread the good word of OCR and living a healthy lifestyle.

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