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.

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!

Savage Race Georgia 2019

I always get excited for the new season of OCR to start, and one of the reasons is that I know Savage Race is going to break out a few new obstacles to challenge the masses and 2019 didn’t disappoint.  Three brand new obstacles were added to this year’s Georgia race that would test even the best competitor. Held on March 30-31 in Dallas, Georgia the gently rolling red clay hills played host to the 6.3 mile course with around 900 feet of elevation change. Morning temps in the mid 50’s made the water obstacles nuts up inside you cold and the ice cubes inside the Shriveled Richard left you almost hypothermic. The grounds supported a few large horse stables, so you really needed to watch your step, both on and off the course. But the scenic views more than make up for the excrement piles laying around. So much so that my wife made the comment that she would be happy to move to the area. But enough with the basics, time to get down and dirty.

 

After the seemingly endless hoopla in the Savage starting corral athletes were released into a section of the pasture which zig zagged back and forth serving to thin out the heard. The first obstacle faced was a barbed wire low crawl, I actually heard a first-time racer next to me ask “Is this shit real barbed wire”? Yes, oh yes, it is! The trail then circled around leading to the Barn Doors wall climb. Racers then came upon the Shriveled Richard, which basically came down to a choice of freezing to death or not if you ran Open class, and I saw quite a few participants just pass on this one. The Big Cheese, which looks like a large hunk of Swiss, needed to be traversed before climbing over The Great Wall. One last obstacle, a log over and under, ended the tasks that the public could view in the festival area as the trail now led into the wooded countryside. The course picked up an ATV trail from this point as the hills became more pronounced, finally ending at the creek than ran through the property. I know water freezes at 32 degrees, but this water couldn’t have been much warmer than that as Savage plunged racers in knee deep for a few hundred yards of shivering shuffling. The elevated shoreline, along with frozen feet, made the line to climb out long causing some racers to attempt to climb out wherever they could find a foothold.

Shaking off the cold, racers continued making their way through the woods finally ending up at Thor’s Grundle. This low crawl required racers to once again submerge themselves into frigid water while ducking under two wooden planks. Finally breaking free of the woods, the course wound towards the back edge of the festival area, which made a perfect viewing area for the fan favorite obstacle Wheel World. Twin Peaks, a set of double inverted walls, was also set along the back edge of the festival area before sending racers on a long loop through woods and pasture land towards the back end of the property, another barbed wire low crawl and a set of hurdles along this stretch did just enough to break up the running monotony before another long section of trail running leading back to the festival area. If all that trail running made you tired you were in trouble, as my personal nemesis Twirly Bird was next up. This combination of rings and bungee cords always makes for one of the more difficult suspended grip traverses in all of OCR. If you managed to swing your way through Twirly then Savage had a bonus for you as situated right after it was the new for 2019 Piece of Queso. This grip killer also tested your body control as the setup consisted of floating walls separated by tennis balls hanging from above nestled inside of sheets. These two obstacles placed back to back, in clear view of the festival area really made a statement as to how serious Savage is about their OCR.

The race director was somewhat kind after that as Savage allowed the racers upper bodies to recover by inserting another long stretch of trail running here before sending racers on a brief loop carrying a wooden 4×4. After dropping your wood, it was time for a hike up a steep hill where the Savage version of a slip wall was located with another barbed wire low crawl immediately following. What would cool you down after a long hike? Yeah, jumping off a high dive in the form of Davy Jones Locker! Thank you once again Savage Race team for pumping cold lake water into all your obstacles! Once you got out of the water pit you needed to get your hands dried quickly as grip strength again came into play with Battering Ram, a type of slide suspended over the ground, and Sawtooth, the best set of Monkey Bars in the racing industry.

If you did happen to fall from Sawtooth into the water below Savage again took racers well-being into consideration by placing their fire jump a short distance away. All that remained now was one last loop leading away from festival central. Savage’s Big Ass Cargo Net climb was tucked into this loop along with Pedal for the Medal. This unique obstacle required athletes to lay down and drag a tire on a chord to them, all by using their legs to peddle a wooden wheel to which the chord was attached. The balance beam was thrown in between here and two more new for 2019 obstacles. Inversion Therapy, which broke down to be a horizontal pole of varying thickness suspended over yet another water pit. The goal being to shimmy across the pole while hanging upside down. A bell tap on the far side signaled obstacle completion and Chop Sticks, which consisted of a row of 2 X 12’s hanging vertically. Each of the sections was on a swivel with only small foot hold nailed into each side of the bottom of the planks. Savage added to the difficulty hanging some of the planks long ways while hanging others short ways. Again, a bell tap on the far side singled completion and I applaud Savage for their ingenuity designing it. The massive wall climb and water slide, appropriately named Colossus, was the last obstacle presented on the course as the finish line was situated directly behind the massive beast.

 

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

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?

Abominable Snow Race 2019

Can you imagine building an OCR event where the temperatures rarely reached -10 degrees and the windchill touched -55? Most of us don’t even leave the house under those conditions but this is just what Bill Wolfe and his badass crew had to deal with in the week leading up to the fourth annual Abominable Snow Race.

With a couple rounds of snow sandwiched between the historic lows, these hearty troopers built obstacles and marked trails for a 4-mile race with an option for an extra 2.6-mile loop for the really demented racer, during conditions that caused school for my children to be closed the entire week. Not to mention the fact that the race moved from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to Devil’s Head Ski Resort, Wisconsin, meaning that prep would take that much longer on the virgin location. This marked the third venue change in the four years of the event as ASR constantly looks to upgrade the location to bring out the best of the winter racing experience. Devil’s Head boasted some awesome scenery including a frozen waterfall along a course with over 3,000 feet of elevation change. Now, you might not have noticed all the majestic views as 6 inches of fresh powder made racers to pay close attention to their footing, and the snow covered up all the tree roots and rocks underneath and fog added an extra layer of mystery as race time temps rose up to the balmy high 20’s. But all things considered, how could you miss the best winter OCR in the nation?

 

The start of the ASR caused a lump to form in the throat of most racers. After Coach Pain gave his iconic pep talk the race began with racers running straight up the ski slope into the fog, which caused you not to be able to see where the climb actually ended. Foreboding, ominous, and lurking right there in front of you. The initial ascent was going to be draining and you knew you were going to be in for a long day. As you made your way up and the top finally came into view you felt a wave of relief, but that was short lived as the trail flattened out for all of 20 yards and then continued going up at a less steep angle through what became a one-lane track through the wooded landscape. Along this trail transition, I noticed my first set of racers sitting off to the side as the initial climb had just taken too much out of them.

The footing here, and all throughout the course, was treacherous, making the sledding tough. Pardon the pun, I simply had to work that in. The obstacles started coming into play near the top of the initial climb, the first being an inverted wall climb followed up by a set of high hurdles. Also tucked into this section of the race was the ASR Apex obstacle. This was the toughest challenge on the course judging by the number of elite bands sitting on the ground. Apex required an athlete to traverse across three steep sections of A-frames separated by about a foot. An athlete had to cross using only the thin ropes suspended from the top and whatever stability their feet on the severely angled wood provided. This was a grip strength killer and I found trying to keep your snow packed shoes on the boards almost impossible.

 

Racers now faced a tough section of trail running as the course made its way slightly down the mountain and through the forest. The over, under, and through walls were tucked in along this section of the course that managed to be wider than 2 feet. A low crawl through the fresh powder froze racers to the core and I personally never felt warm again that day until I changed clothes afterward in my Jeep.

More seemingly endless trekking through deep snow followed that up as the constant climbs and descents started taking a toll on a racer’s legs. This led to a 9-foot wall which also marked the point where the short and long course separated. I picked the longer section as I promised ASR bossman Bill Wolfe a comprehensive race recap and immediately regretted it as I started running along another long stretch of deep ass snow. This section of the trail turned out to be a little flatter than before which was most welcome, but you still couldn’t open up and run do to the deep snow pack. A short Wreckbag carry was situated here along with a bucket carry filled with ice. This bucket carry was much shorter than the previous years carry which seemed to last forever. One last 4-foot wall led into the last low crawl of the race on our way down to the festival area. I looked at my watch watching the distance go by slowly as I entered basecamp. If you had picked the short course then your race was almost over, and I seriously considered just ending it right there as my legs were toast. But I summoned up some internal strength and hit the Z wall which led athletes back out onto the final loop. There I found myself on another steep climb almost immediately. Cursing myself about the choice I just made I found myself trekking up and down steep ravines, as the pace became little more than a walk. Luckily this was the section of the course that held the best views, the frozen waterfall being the sight most racers talked about after the race. This was also perhaps, the most physically draining as the climbs were steep and the footholds small. ASR was nice enough to throw a cargo net down for the last climb up though, that is if you wanted to stick your already frozen hands down into the snow to grab the net.

 

The festival area itself presented some interesting new challenges, as after athletes climbed over a slip wall ASR had built a cargo crossing over the starting corral. This led to my favorite obstacle of the day. The ASR build crew constructed a long wooden traverse suspended about 7-feet off the ground and covered it with long sections of cargo net. The object being an athlete had to traverse this expanse by crawling upside down using only the net to hold on to. Athletes finally got to get up to speed during the last obstacle of the day. After picking up an inflated inner tube, racers made one final climb up a hill, hopped on their tube and flew back down the hill to the finish line! Now, there were things missing from the race that were either included on the race map or had been included in previous races. The sled pull, tire drag, monkey bars, and winter weaver to name a few but considering the unprecedented weather leading up to the race, I think a round of applause are in order.

Never before in OCR has a crew had to set up a race in these conditions. Personally, I felt the terrain alone made this race extremely tough, so missing a few obstacles didn’t bother me at all. The only concern I heard from people completing the race was the lack of water along the route, I sucked down 3 bottles of water myself upon completion of the race. I don’t feel it would have been possible to add water stations to the course due to the temperatures as almost every water delivery system would have been frozen solid. Besides, veteran racers should have already known to bring hydration… cough… cough… I forgot.

The mountain ski patrol was situated around the course at various locations to ensure the safety of racers along with a few members of the ASR staff who zipped around on snowmobiles. I offer a question to you as my final thought on the race. You’ve become pretty good at climbing over walls and carrying heavy things around when the temperature is 80 degrees, but have you tested yourself when the thermometer dips below freezing? If not, what’s keeping you from joining Yeti Nation?