BattleFrog Xtreme San Francisco: A walk in the pain park

If you’ve done an event with BattleFrog before, you know what to expect: moderate to easy terrain, tough obstacles that challenge upper body strength, grueling jerry can and wreck bag carries…

…if that was the assumption for OCR veterans for BF San Francisco, they were in for a surprise.

90 minutes north of San Francisco at Lake Sonoma, something else entirely was waiting.
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Even the course map was misleading. Rain had forced the course designer to leave out their signature “HOOYAH” obstacle and the “Balance Beam” obstacle. It wasn’t clear to me if they couldn’t set up the obstacles due to the weather or if they were concerned about people slipping. Either way, considering the very muddy course, it seemed like a good call. Additionally, instead of having two Platinum Rigs back to back, they combined both of them into one very long rig.

Instead, they gave athletes the gift of extra mileage and extra elevation gain. GPS data puts the course around 7mi distance with about 1700ft of elevation gain; the thick vegetation in the green hills appeared to mess with the GPS signal more than usual. For an advertised 8k/5mi distance, and people expecting mostly flat terrain, it’s a pretty significant difference to put those extra 2 miles on your feet.

The course layout took full advantage of the trails, hills, creeks, and even briefly had athletes get their feet wet on the lake shore. Other than a few wet spots in the “Mud Mounds” obstacle, there was no water beneath or around the obstacles. Instead, hay was used to cushion potential falls, which worked well even at the monkey bars.

Parking & Venue

BattleFrog continues to show rooms for improvement in this area, as the parking signage could have been more prominent which led some people to miss the turn off to the parking area.
Plus, the email sent out to athletes ahead claimed that parking would be “on site”. To me, this means there won’t be a shuttle that I need to take. This is especially relevant for everyone with a very early starting time (typically Elite and BFX competitors). Turns out, there was a – very short – shuttle ride from parking to the venue. The shuttle service itself worked very well, so that helped minimize the inconvenience.

The venue was compact and the short walk from the shuttle gave a little preview for the course: wet, muddy, slippery, uphill. Early arrivals were shivering with temperatures hovering around the low 40, which fortunately quickly warmed up to sunny 60s with a blue sky, providing a stunning view over Lake Sonoma.BattleFrog San Fran - 60 Degrees

BattleFrog Xtreme: BFX

Almost every race offers Elite and Open waves. BattleFrog however also offers an endurance option. This allows athletes to run as many laps of the course as possible after the 8:15am start time. For each competitor in the BFX, the last lap of the day has to begin before 2:45pm, which is the cut off time. For every lap, a gold star will be awarded after the last lap is completed. If five laps are completed, the fifth star is silver.

During the mandatory pre-race briefing, every BFX competitor receives a black wrist brand and Christopher “Beard” Acord lays down the law: the jerry can and wreck bag carries are always mandatory for BFX and every obstacle has to be valiantly attempted before the penalty exercise of 10 8-count body builders can be done. Merely touching an obstacle isn’t enough and integrity matters.

With a delay of 15minutes, the BFX competitors toe the start line. A few late comers get their punishment for missing the briefing before they receive their wristband and then Coach Pain DeWayne and Beard send us out on the course. He had said earlier that he expects 4 laps out of the male winner and 3 laps out of the female winner.

BattleFrog San Fran - BFX StartAfter having done BFX LA just two weeks before and cruising to five laps, this statement still rang in my ears as I took off down the first bend and soon after found myself completely off-trail but still on-course. This highly technical and slippery terrain would continue throughout the course and serious trail shoes made all the difference. Since mine ripped apart during BFX LA,  I was sliding all over the place with my hybrid race shoes which required extra stabilizing work.

The steep descent soon hit the inevitable “Hill scramble”. About half a mile of nonstop steep incline was waiting and made sure to tax the quads of every runner to the max. Soon after, an easier version of the “Weaver” (easier compared to LA) and the “Wedge Wall” were waiting. This was followed by the famous “Tip of the Spear”. Now, all these obstacles require upper body strength and technique, which makes them a bit painful and challenging. However, since they were placed so early on the course (before the rigs, monkey bars, and carries), they were not as bad as they could have been. Also, dry weather and no muddy obstacles before meant that it was easier to grip the ropes etc.

BattleFrog San Fran - TerrainThe wreck bags, which offer 50lbs of fun for all genders and ages when dry, had taken on easily between 5 and 15lbs of extra water weight due to the rain and dew overnight. The quarter mile carry was exciting thanks to a steep downhill followed by a steep uphill carry – both off-trail on grass. A ton of people chose to slide down the hill sitting down, not trusting their shoes to hold them in place.

An obstacle dreaded by many is the “Jerry Can Carry”. Usually 40lbs per can for the men and 25lbs per can for the women, this very short carry changed as the day went on. The volunteer on site unfortunately didn’t make sure everyone carried their cans back to the pickup point.

The result: Everybody dropped off the cans as close as possible to the end of the carry and after a few hundred people, all cans are suddenly on a slope of the hill instead of on top of it. Even worse, a lot of the cans were dropped and not set down upright. When this happens, the cans leak and become lighter as the water drains out of them. Certainly great for some, but not so great when you are competing and strength is your, well, strength.

At several points – after obstacles or during creek crossings – the little course marking flags got trampled down or were a bit hidden away. At almost every lap I had to point out to others or ask volunteers myself where to go. The course was very well marked, I believe this was simply a result of the “off the beaten path” course design which gave this race a bit of an adventure feeling at times. The route took advantage of the natural obstacles and the various surfaces (creek, trail, off-trail, lake, mud) challenged every racer. Even in my fourth lap, it never got old or repetitive.

Coming back up from Lake Sonoma, a 1.3 mile steep incline that finally led to the “Platinum Rig”. This incarnation offered several long ropes, two low gym rings to step in, two sets of round and square monkey bars, and several high gym rings. On my first two laps I finished the rig without any issues, on my third lap my arms wouldn’t cooperate at the very last ring which I just had to touch, and on the fourth lap I was happy with taking the penalty after going out on the first monkey bars.

After another incline, the 12ft “Rope Walls” marked the difference between Elite/BFX and Open runners. Elite/BFX would turn to the right and continue for their additional lap(s), everyone else who wanted to get to the finish line turned to the left. The “Delta Cargo” net was waiting right in front of the finish line and after a last little bit of muddy trail, the finisher medals were waiting.

Results

Julie Fults got 1st place for the Xtreme Females with a time of 6:52:21 and three laps while I finished in 1st places for the Xtreme Males, getting in four laps in the same amount of time.

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Fun Fact: The 2nd place male finisher had lost his timing chip and came in less than 2 minutes behind me. Since the person handling the results also had to give out the stars for the BFX medals, he was very busy. Somehow none of us realized that the 2nd place finisher asked for a manually entered finish time that suddenly put him in 1st place for BFX! I was sitting right next to him, we chatted for a while since he caught up to me extremely well, and then he took off.

When Beard confirmed the 1st place ranks, I was surprised not to be in 1st since I was 100% certain nobody had passed me. After some emails back and forth on Monday, Beard and the timing team very quickly analyzed the finish line video and confirmed that I indeed arrived before the 2nd place finisher and the results were corrected.

I was very impressed with their professional response and attention to detail, something I have noticed in every conversation with BattleFrog officials. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to the Las Vegas BattleFrog but I would highly recommend this OCR for everyone who is looking for a serious challenge or just wants to mix it up. Show BattleFrog that the West Coast is happy to have them so we can enjoy their races next year again!

Elevation Profile

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BattleFrog BFX Miami Review 11/21/2015

BattleFrog Miami Start - Courtesy of BFBefore competitors would take on the wrath of “The Beard” at the BattleFrog Miami race, the first and most painful obstacle at OCR events would have to be defeated. Parking and Packet Pick-Up!  How organized an event will be can usually be determined once you pull into the gate. At this event, both parking and registration were run with efficiency and among the quickest I’ve experienced. Staff had packets ready with minimal delays and were funneling participants into the festival area in no time.

Within the festival area, there were the typical merchandise and food vendors. One thing that stood out was the “Largest Team” Tent.  By the size of the crowds, it seems that BattleFrog Series has been able to keep people coming back for more by promoting group participation yet still keeping competition at the forefront. There Largest Team competition motivates groups of people to take on the course with their friends and families.  With such perks as free bag check and parking, a VIP team tent and a bunch of sexy BF swag, there are plenty of incentives to compete for the title. Team FIT4LYFE walked away with two consecutive wins by rallying over 280 participants.BattleFrog Miami Biggest Team FIT4LYFE - Sandy Tocci

As usual, BattleFrog would bring out some of the big names in OCR for their Elite Waves. For this showing, the female competition would be the one to watch with returning BF winners Corinna Coffin, Claude Godbout and K.K. Stewart. All of who would finish among the Top 3 in that division.

After the Elite Females blazed the start of the course, it was time for BattleFrog Xtreme competitors to head to the start line. For those not familiar with this division, this is where obstacle course racing meets ultra-marathon running. BFX competitors would have to complete as many laps of the 8k (5 mile) course between 8:30AM and 4:00PM (No additional laps could be started after 3:00PM). After each lap, competitors had access to a Pit/Transition Area where refueling and gear adjustments could be done.
Battlefrog Miami Tunnel Rat - Scotty JackmoreFrom the start, the BFX course would mirror that of the Elite’s. A mandatory swim was thrown at us seemingly right out of the gate. This would be a mandatory obstacle for the first lap only. A bypass route was offered for BFX competitors. Out of the six laps that I was able to complete, I opted for this route only on my last lap, mostly because the path wasn’t clearly marked and I didn’t want to waste time finding a volunteer to point me in the right direction. This was the only portion of the course where I thought the path could have been marked better.

The course would have a total of three water crossings. None as long as the first. These obstacles usually had a few people pausing due to fear of swimming. I welcomed the water. For those familiar with running in the scorching Miami heat, multiple water obstacles and the forecasted thunderstorms would be a much-appreciated reprieve from the sun.

A good portion of the course would take place on the rock and coral trails through the park. Walls varying in height seemed to be the theme on the course. For the first two miles of the loop, six different wall obstacles would have to be completed.  For me, the Inverted Wall seemed to increase in difficulty as the day went on.

The Wreck Bag Carry was the halfway point of the 8K loop and also a mandatory obstacle for Xtreme runners. During my first two laps I wasn’t too happy about this obstacle because it was a time killer. Later in the race I didn’t mind it so much because it gave me a reason to hit the brakes and take a leisurely stroll through the trails.

The last quarter of the loop brought you the Jersey Cans. For those that don’t know about these dreaded green gas cans, the best way to describe them is “they suck”.  Each weighing 40-50 lbs., competitors had to carry a pair of them through a winding trail obstructed by logs and branches. After six laps of carrying them, they really suck.

BattleFrog Miami Platinum Rig - Scotty Jackmore

The tail end of the 8K course is where the real action began. What I thought to be the three toughest obstacles were all in close proximity to each other. The 12′ Rope Wall, Tip of the Spear and Platinum Rig. I’m sure that the spike in difficulty was by design. While on the course I caught up with Trevor Hoadley, a BFX veteran who had a similar opinion, “The last few obstacles are really challenging. I like the Rig, it’s extremely hard”.

With mud from repeated climbers and the addition of the falling rain, the 12′ Rope Wall was getting more dangerous as they day went on. With grip strength fading, the transition from the slippery rope to the top metal support beam became extremely challenging. Tip of the Spear, a collection of grip strength obstacles appeared to be uncrossable for most but could be defeated with proper technique rather than strength. This was the same for Platinum Rig, a frame consisting of multiple ropes and grips that has grown in popularity due to its difficulty.Battlefrog Miami 12 Foot Wall - Scotty Jackmore

The only major flaw that I saw with BF Xtreme was that competitors are not required to complete all of the obstacles. While on my last lap, I was talking to a couple of fellow BFXers and was told that most of the competitors were opting for the 8 Count Bodybuilder Penalty instead of completing the Jerry Can obstacle as a strategy to increase lap count. I later found out that this was the case with multiple obstacles, especially Tip of the Spear and Platinum Rig. Although BFX doesn’t have a cash prize, a BattleFrog Paddle is presented to the competitor with the most laps completed, making it a title that many strive for. With that, I think the event needs to take on a format that is similar to their Elite waves.
BattleFrog Miami Finish - ROGUE USA

Overall, BattleFrog Miami was a great event, especially due to the BFXtreme course.  For those who are “WTM Addicts” like myself, BFX is a welcomed addition to the OCR race catalog.  With new OCR companies still popping up like weeds, none have focused on ultra-endurance competition like the World’s Toughest Mudder.  BFX is relatively new but seems to be building steam in this department. Can it be that another one of the big boys on the block is inching towards a 24-hour OCR event?? If anyone has the capability and strong following to make it happen, BattleFrog Series is the one.

Erick Hernandez (AKA Leeroy Jenkins)
ROGUE USA