BattleFrog Tri-State: Mandatory Obstacle Completion … And Getting Lost

BattleFrog has a unique approach to Elite racing–you must complete the obstacle, or you DNF.  I love this concept as well as the two lap set up they use.  This allows a racer to get familiar with the course and really race the second lap.  BattleFrog also offers a nice prize purse to the top 3 finishers of each regional regular season race: $500, $250, $150 for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respectively.  I had no idea what type of competition would be at a smaller regular season race like this, so I quietly had my eye on a top-3 finish.

Getting to the race from NYC is a breeze and parking is painless, although for a $10 fee.  We shuttle over to the start and work our way through an efficient registration process where we proceed to attach a total of 4 bracelets (one that was never used for anything).   One of the bracelets is for a free beer that we later find out is redeemable at a “local bar” that is actually a 20 minute drive from the race (most people are not fans of this!).  Once registered we have plenty of time and space to get a brief warmup in on some nearby trails.  I even find an old camp pavilion to get some pull ups and climbs in on the wood beams.  There is no line whatsoever for the port-a-potties, which also stay immaculate with a clean up crew going through them every hour on the hour.  All in all, I would say the organization for this “event” appears flawless, but as far as organizing a race, there’s some work to be done.  My overall feeling is that the money is spent on organizing the event for the masses and not making sure there’s a clear and standardized race for the competitors at the front.

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After a whole lot of hoopla from Coach Pain, we are off and I stick with the lead pack up a pretty steady climb (my Strava indicates about 250 feet in the first mile).  There were very few obstacles for the first mile or two, which allows for a good race to develop at the front.  I realize that 10 miles is not the shortest of courses and settle into a comfortably hard pace which has me running smoothly in 6th place.  I am hoping that a few of the guys in front got a bit carried away and will come back to me as the race takes its toll.  Most of the first 2-3 miles is on technical trail.  For those of you familiar with typical “east coast trail” it’s not so bad (I’d say a 3 out of 5), but still rocky and twisty enough to slow you down some.  I bought some new Inov8 X-Talon 212’s specifically for this race, but quickly found out I could’ve worn some road shoes.  I’m sure if there were more rain in the days leading up to the race it would’ve gotten really muddy out there, though.

Coming out of the trail, we reach the Platinum Rig that I’d heard so much about.  Fortunately one of the guys from the lead pack was struggling with this and I fly past him by completing the rig smoothly on my first attempt.  After some quick running I pull up to the 50 pound sandbag carry.  I looked forward to this obstacle as I routinely train with heavy backpacks on my back during my run commute.  I thought I might be able to actually run through this obstacle.  I quickly realize the trail is a bit too gnarly to run well, but I’m still sort of run/hiking through the woods at a nice clip.

And then disaster strikes.  I haven’t seen any flags for a few minutes.  Is this normal?  Perhaps they don’t mark all their trails as well as I’d seen so far.  I push on with the 50 pound bag on my shoulders.  Eventually I come across a flagged trail, and although I can feel that I am probably off course, I’m just relieved to be on the course.  Eventually I come to an obstacle where the attendant has no damn clue why I have a sandbag on my back.  He shows me where I am and I quickly realize that there will be no placing for me today.  I traipse back through the woods aimlessly, but heading in the right general direction.  Fortunately I run into a few others and get back to the start of the sandbag and I’m off and running.  I figure I should at least have fun and finish.  Strava tells me I ran an additional 1.1 miles, most of that with a heavy sandbag on my back.  I later learn that there were others who missed that turn as well.  On the next loop BattleFrog would have an arrow at the fork in question.  Thanks BattleFrog, good thinking.

After some typical rope climbs, a jerry carry, and more trails I find myself sliding down a slide into a lake and swimming.  Yes, swimming, like in water over my head.  I am no triathlete and have never trained to swim, so in a way I’m fortunate I wasn’t still “racing” any longer.  I roll over and float on my back and just kinda cruise doing some version of a back stroke (mostly I’m just floating on my back and treading water in the general direction of the other side).  Apparently most others can’t swim, because I’m not passed and I cover the 70 meters in what seems to be a reasonable amount of time.

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We immediately approach what appears to be the signature BattleFrog obstacle–Tip of the Spear.  I’ve never done this before and my first try is an epic fail as I’m unfamiliar with the technique used to swing from rope to rope.  I blast my shin on the bottom of the wall and it swells immediately.  I wait in a line.  This was new to me and I didn’t like it one bit (“I am obstacle course ‘racing’ here, people!”).  On my second try I make it through after learning the swing technique.  I would later learn that the side I went through had upside down hand holds, so instead of the grooved side with good grip being on top, that was on the bottom.  We had only a flat inch to grip, and I thought this was a bit weird, but assumed it was to make it harder.  This bothered me, because BattleFrog must have learned about this, realized it was too much work to fix now and simply let their well paying racers go through anyways, providing an unfair advantage to anyone who went on the other side.  All things considered, this was a difficult obstacle for me.  I expended a ton of my grip strength messing around with this and dealing with their upside down handholds wasn’t helping!

kerritipofspear

With lap 1 complete I tear off on the trail running section, only to learn that there are hundreds of open athletes on these single track trails.  For the most part I am able to sneak past them all while incessantly calling out “on your left, on your right” and people probably wondering why in bloody hell was I going so fast.  Sure I was way out of contention for a podium spot, but I was still moving along and having found my rhythm I wanted to finish as fast as I could.  I love to run trails more than any other thing, the more serpentine and technical the better.  To just continue to push forward despite all sorts of natural obstacles brings me my greatest joy and this was no different.  I run through the remainder of the course and although it was much harder on my grip strength the second time around (I had to set the jerry cans down every 10 feet this time), I was able to finish reasonably unscathed and in 12th place with a time of 2:17.

Post race I quickly learn that there is no beer.  Boo.  I only get a banana and a water at the finish, so I have to buy a burger from the grill for $12.  I linger at the finish for a while, waiting for my girlfriend to finish.  I talk with a bunch of others from the elite race and quickly realize that I wasn’t winning this race even if I didn’t get lost–Matt Kempson and Ryan Kempson (yes, brothers) went 1-2 and they weren’t just going to “come back to me” like I thought might happen.  I quickly learn they are quite good at this OCR thing, absolutely tearing things up this year and winning many other events.  Third place was a nice guy I met from Binghamton who just happens to have in his backyard, a 150-acre obstacle course training compound (I wonder how much that would run me in Astoria, Queens).  Jarret Newby, founder of Newbsanity, is a great guy and an insanely fast runner (former collegiate 800 runner), so I find myself feeling better about getting lost.  If you’re in the Binghamton vicinity, check out Newbsanity; I’m sure Jarret would be glad to have you.

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I am waiting much longer than I anticipated for Kerri to come through and start to get legitimately worried.  I run out on the course a bit to see if I can find her.  Eventually I run into her and learn that she was held up at the rig for about an hour.  Sounds about right, I think to myself.  She was racing elite as well and absolutely would not give up without completing it.  And this is what I love BattleFrog (and her!), the mandatory completion of obstacles.  She finished hours after the 1st place woman and still got 5th overall!  Apparently not many people can finish this race, so just for her to complete all the obstacles is a significant victory and I’m so proud of her for her determination to get that rig.  I am sure you will see more of her at the finish lines and possibly podiums of these events.  She likes the mandatory completion element of BattleFrog as well–obviously.

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After grabbing our bags at bag check and getting our finisher’s photo, we shuttle back to our car and head over to the bar for our free drink.  Place is understaffed, service took forever, food is great, though.  We catch up with some new friends we met on the course, share stories about how we could have done things differently, better.  Most of us are sure we can do better.  And just like that, the grip of obstacle course racing sinks deeper into us all.  Driving home I can already tell we will be back for more.  Both Kerri and I are overall pleased with how BattleFrog does things, despite their poorly marked section that sabotaged my race and drilling in handholds upside down.  I am confident they can get that straight for my next one.  Oh, and hopefully a post-race bash at the actual finish line!