Savage Race Chicago 2018 – Spreading the Gospel of OCR through Grit and Grip

 

 

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This is the third year Savage Race has held an event in the Chicago area and the third year at the Richardson Adventure Farm – the same site as the parking lot of Spartan’s Chicago races the past three years.  The festival area is small and simple and parking is a breeze; paying an extra $10 for the VIP parking will get you right next to the entrance but only 60 feet closer than the regular parking.

 

THE BEST START LINE IN OCR

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While OCRWC may claim to have the best finish line in OCR, Savage Race certainly has the best start line.  At the Savage start line there is no canned speech that you’ve heard a thousand times, or a stern drill sergeant-esque man yelling.  Instead, there is a wildly happy bearded man with the energy of a 5-year-old who just drank espresso.  His name is Matty-T and outside of Flava-Flav, he is by far the best hype man that I’ve ever experienced.  It started with crowd surfing, then some call and response chanting as Matty-T skipped and jumped amongst the crowd whipping us up into a frenzy of laughter and cheering, locking arms with fellow racers and creating comradery, eliminating any anxiety a racer might have by simply having fun.

 

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Flatout

The terrain is flat, like Nebraska flat.  According to my GPS there was a total of 356 feet of elevation gain and I’m going to say most of that was from climbing obstacles like Colossus and Davy Jones Locker.  Just because the terrain was flat did not mean it was easy.  Being on a farm the ground was very rutted and strewn with rocks just waiting to twist an ankle.

 

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This first mile was fairly easy with just 3 obstacles, letting the pack of fresh racers spread out and avoid jams.  The one element that was missing from this race was mud.  Savage made up for this lack of mud by getting you wet early and often with multiple mandatory immersion obstacles.

 

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The next few miles had a few strength obstacles including a cinder block pull followed directly by the new “peddle to the medal,” which is a tire drag powered by spinning a giant spool with your legs.  One thing I liked about Savage Race is none of their strength obstacles are overly heavy, both men and women use the same weights, and there was only one heavy carry.

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A Gauntlet of Grip

The final 2 miles were a gauntlet of grip-destroying obstacles starting with “Kiss my walls,” a wall traverse using small climbing holds, exhausting your finger strength. Not 150 meters away it was right into Wheel World which had me spinning.

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Then came the Rig, then shortly after that Twirly Bird and another traverse–this time across rope ladders and cargo nets and then the behemoth that is Sawtooth. Finishing the gauntlet of grip was the new “Holy Sheet” a rig across a saggy piece of cloth then onto ball grip climbing holds.

 

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For the Pro wave I thought the setup of the obstacles made for a good competition, but for the open waves who make up the majority of racers I wish that the grip obstacles had been spaced out more throughout the course.

 

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I was very fortunate this race to have been able to run in the Pro-Wave at the beginning of the day amongst some of the greats in this sport.  I was even more grateful to run in the open wave midday with my sister who had never run a race of any kind in her life.  After spending the last 3 years running competitively it was refreshing to experience the fun of the open waves first hand and watch someone I love overcome fear, push through pain, and laugh while playing in the mud. After we jumped over the fire, crossed the finish line and hugged, my sister turned to me and asked if I would run with her again next year.  A convert to the gospel of OCR was made. Yes, Marcia, I’ll run with you again, maybe even sooner than next year.

Slippery In Chicago Spartan Super U.S Championship Series

“You’ll know at the finish line” is the famous motto of the Spartan Race. But, if you ran the Chicago Super you probably knew by the time you reached the parking lot at The Richmond Hunt Club.  The rain had hammered the area the previous week and since this race was part of the US Championship Series most racers were super curious about the course conditions.

Well, thanks in part to my 4×4 Jeep I could park on site and from the moment I stepped out of my vehicle and sank into 4 inches of mud I knew this was going to be a long day. Grabbing my ID and picking my way through the slop to the festival area I made my usual pit stop at the restrooms. Upon opening the door, I found that I really couldn’t distinguish where the muck stopped, and the actual toilet started due to the high levels of mud. Although after finding the seat I realized this may have been the only dry spot to sit on the entire property. I’ve raced from coast to coast for many years and this may have been the worst slop that I had ever encountered. If ankle-deep muck was the only thing to walk through from my Jeep clear to the start line what was the rest of the course going to be like? One word, Nasty.

Spartan started the 8.1-mile Super at the far end of the festival area and immediately threw athletes along a trail on the edge of a cornfield which made racers shoes feel more like concrete blocks. The small streams along the trail were swollen with water due to the storms but provided a small opportunity to rinse off some of the built-up muck.

A series of low walls were placed in this location to thin out the crowd a bit before testing racers grip strength on the Monkey Bars. A short distance away the inverted wall was set-up leading to the Herc Hoist. The ropes on the hoist had already become slick with mud by the time I got there making this obstacle much tougher than usual. Hands still slick from the constant slop made Twister an adventure as the burpee zones were so packed with people that racers just started doing burpees wherever they could find a spot. The bucket brigade, which was next up, was relatively short thankfully but the Atlas Stone carry a bit further down the line was brutal as each stone had a coating of thick mud around it making even the strongest competitor dig deep.

The Rolling mud and dunk wall were next up combined with the first of two barbed wire crawls. My initial thought upon seeing this was “Why do we need more water with a dunk wall”? You really noticed the stench of the standing water as you made your way under the barbed wire. And just to be cruel, after getting finished with the crawl which left you caked with mud Spartan threw the Z wall at you.

There is nothing worse than a slick Z wall, all obstacles were made much worse as you never really had a chance to get your hands dry during the race. Now approaching the halfway point of the race, the effects of the sloppy conditions could clearly be felt as athletes were struggling with obstacles that normally didn’t slow down most competitive racers.

I noticed that at the 8-foot wall, which was the next obstacle on the course, there were way more people doing burpees than I’ve ever seen. The bender followed up the wall climb, and this obstacle was a new one to me. This new obstacle consisted of a series of ascending vertical pipes starting about 7 feet off the ground with bars placed about every 2 feet apart. The structure curved back towards an athlete and reminded me a bit of the Battlefrog delta ladder.

The race was now at its furthest point from the festival area and the trail meandered through a section of the property used for paintball games. Along this stretch, Spartan placed their second barbed wire crawl along with their vertical cargo net climb before sending racers back to running alongside the rows of corn.

The Stairway to Sparta and a series of hurdles were the next obstacles athletes encountered on the trail leading to a hay bale wall. Just let me say right now that mud and hay stick to you like nothing else! I mean, don’t some sections of the world use mud and hay to built houses? And what better obstacle to try to traverse while carrying a house on you than Olympus right? As an added bonus, if you failed on Olympus the burpee pit was in a solid foot of muck. These were the worst burpees I’ve ever done in my life as you brought up 15 pounds of mud with each repetition.

The plate drag and rope climb? These two tasks were next up and close to impossible to complete. Dragging that sled through the thick mud? Yeah right. Climbing a rope slick with mud? Welcome to the burpee train. Now the sandbag carry only consisted of a single bag, and the distance of the carry wasn’t that far, but it kind of felt like trying to ice skate with a small child on your back.

The last section of the course led back towards the festival area where family and friends could easily see you miss your spear throw and roll around in more soup doing your burpees. If you happened to get lucky and hit the spear, then your hands were still dry! Until you ran around the corner and found the Yokohama tires sitting in the same shit you’ve been battling all day.

Those tires were already tough to get a grip on without trying to flip them in a batch of Montezuma’s Revenge. The burpee pit for that? Yup, more slop.

By this time, you could see the finish line and I’m guessing most people were thinking the same thing I was. Please, don’t let me fail another obstacle and have to burpee in more mud. Luckily the A-frame cargo was next up, no failing this! Then the slip wall. Not a problem, I might finish strong here. Only one last obstacle before the fire jump, the multi-rig. The rig set-up for this event wasn’t the worst ever. Three rings on each side separated by a vertical pipe traverse. But like all the rest of the obstacles on this course, this one too was slippery with farm mud.

So, unless you had the grip strength of Thor or the running ability of Mercury this event was pretty much an unending burpee train.  My final thoughts on this event are as follows. With good weather conditions this course would not have been terrible, maybe not even U.S. Championship Series worthy as the obstacles were what you expected, the track was flat, and the distance wasn’t overwhelming.  But the massive amount of rain turned this race into a brutal suckfest that was worthy of a Championship race.

Chicago Terrain Race

 

Terrain Race Chicago

The Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois played host to the second annual Terrain Race on September 30th. After the collapse of a rig the previous year at this same location I was curious to check out the event again and was pleased to see the craftsmanship of the obstacles was significantly upgraded. All the obstacles felt solid and safe which allowed athletes to really push themselves without worry on the flat and fast course.

The choice of 5k or 10k was offered during registration with a higher fee charged for the 10k, but only the 5k was timed slightly upsetting those who signed up for the competitive 10k. Racers who paid for the 10k could run a second untimed lap if they chose to do so and an unlimited lay option was offered.

Registration took a little time as only two lines check-in lanes were open, one for elite and one for open class. Terrain positioned a volunteer at each obstacle but the knowledge of the rules at some of the more difficult obstacles left some elite racers shaking their heads in frustration. Personally, I feel that all races should identify where their tougher or more confusing obstacles are located and spend extra time making sure that the volunteer at that location knows exactly what’s required for obstacle completion as this would make for a much smoother race.

Plenty of restrooms were available in the lots surrounding the speedway and in the festival area. Parking in those lots set you back 10 dollars and was an easy walking distance of the registration tent.

The Course

Terrain starts their race in a unique and chilly way. Three swimming pools were filled up waist deep with freezing water. This served as the starting corral and proved to be a great way to start off a race as athletes were already subjected to the mental and physical punishment of the cold before the race even started!

After emcee Lashay Marks released us from the Pit of Despair athletes were led through the speedway grounds and over a 4 and 6-foot wall to thin out the herd some before hitting a tall wall with a rope to assist you up and over. This was the first location I noticed a racer backup as athletes had to wait their turn for an opportunity to grab a rope to conquer the wall.

Back now on the mowed grass field, Terrain led racers to a rope climb with a bell tap at the top provided the first grip strength test. This led to the lone muddy area along the course as terrain used a series of tubes, water pits, and mud mounds to get racers dirty.

A very short jog away was a yoke with a car tire attached to each side which athletes placed across their shoulders for a short distance. I’m not sure where this obstacle was supposed to start and stop.  There was a flag a short distance away for athletes to go around but there was no apparent start/stop point given. Since there were not enough yokes to go around an athlete had to wait for someone to finish and pass their yoke to the next person in line. This was another obstacle backup which frustrated those worried about their time and was one of the few obstacles with no volunteer guidance.

Obstacles

Making our way now to the speedway stadium Terrain set up a twice up and back tractor tire flip where athletes once again had to wait their turn for a chance to complete the obstacle. A few more tires located here in the future and the issue would be solved.

Terrain next used the speedway stairs to their advantage with two climbs to the top. One with a Wreckbag, and one without separated by a 5-gallon bucket carry with maybe 3 gallons of water inside each bucket. Heading back out from the parking lot to the grass a tire slam with a sledgehammer for ten yards was set up along a path leading to a ladder climb and cargo net crossing.

The trail now led us on an extended looped back around towards the festival area where the obstacle difficulty increased starting with an 8-foot wall climb immediately followed up by a tractor tire drag down and pull back.

Making our way now to the festival grounds Terrain set up the first of their two rigs. This rig proved to be the easier of the two as the first half included 3 suspended ball holds leading to a high handle followed by 4 low rings which required an athlete to use their feet to make the final transitions where a bell tap signaled fulfillment of the task.

Rigs

A short distance away the second rig was set up. This proved to be the more difficult of the two as the configuration was a repeat of ropes to single high rings. The Tarzan Swing was an appropriate name for this rig and this obstacle caused the greatest bottleneck.

The volunteer situated to explain the finish guideline was less than stellar which left some very confused as to what the finish qualifications were. Once the last rig was completed the last grip intensive obstacle was waiting in the form of a unique set of monkey bars. Situated over a pool of water this traverse led racers on a slight incline to the apex where a set of wooden beams needed to be negotiated past before the trip down the bars which was on a slight decline. These bars were tougher than they looked because some of the metal rods spun while others did not which kept athletes guessing the whole way through. The last obstacle before the finish was a combination of a balance beam leading athletes up to a cargo net crossing finally finishing with a slide down a pole where the finish line was located.

These bars were tougher than they looked because some of the metal rods spun while others did not which kept athletes guessing the whole way through. The last obstacle before the finish was a combination of a balance beam leading athletes up to a cargo net crossing finally finishing with a slide down a pole where the finish line was located.

Overall Thoughts

Despite the above-mentioned hiccups in the event, I found the Terrain Race challenging and would race it again in the future. Terrain clearly made an effort to improve the quality of their obstacles over last year and the low cost helps make this a worthwhile race.

The Chicago Speedway is a cool location to visit. Perhaps spreading out some of the obstacles would help with the racer congestion and spending a little more time instructing the volunteers on the rules couldn’t hurt.

I didn’t notice an area where you could check your finish stats and as of the Tuesday after the race, I still can’t find one online. The medals were not as big as in previous years and the finishers tee shirts were very basic but like I mentioned before, the low cost and challenging course make this a race I would run again.

Spartan Race Chicago Super – 2017

Once again, Spartan Race descended upon the Chicago area and pulled up shop at the Richmond Hunt Club for a weekend of Super and Sprint racing.  I had opted for racing on Saturday, which meant I have only seen the course through the eyes of a Super racer.

Arriving at the race venue was a breeze, as I paid a bit extra for the VIP parking.  The VIP part lived up to its name, as I was only a couple of rows away & a very short walk to the registration tents.  The bar code scanning at the tents was painless, and I was in the festival area without issue.  I did notice an abnormally long line of people waiting at the spectator gate, so I’m not sure what was going on there.  Festival area had the normal collection of third-party vendors and merchandise areas, nothing that stuck out to me.

partan-Race-Chicago-Registation-Dan-StoweThis was the first time I’ve been to this venue, so I was excited and curious to see what it had to offer.  The last time I ran a Chicago Spartan Race was back when it was held at the superb Dirt Runner venue in Marseilles, IL.  It’s a tall order to live up to that venue, as it’s one of the best places I’ve ever ran at in the Midwest region.

The course itself was a little bit below the normal distance I’ve experienced at other Spartan Supers, clocking in around the 7.5 mile mark.  Chatting with some of the elite guys that finished before I took off, I was told there was little to no elevation at all.  Boy, were they right!  It was a very flat, fast course, with little in the way of elevation.  Part of the terrain consisted of mud that was knee-deep in some areas (although I was told last year it was incredibly more difficult, so the potential is there with the right amount of rain beforehand to make a muddy course next to impossible to navigate), but overall it was running through open dirt fields and a little bit of single-track.

Spartan-Race-Chicago-Dunk-Wall-FacebookObstacles were the standard fare I’ve come to expect from Spartan Race.  I will give kudos though to the finishing gauntlet of obstacles in the final ¼ mile or so of the course.  The Twister, spear throw, rope climb and rings along with the A-frame cargo net and slip wall were all in plain view of the festival area.  This made for some excellent spectating, and some great cheering sections to finish off the race!  My favorites would have to be Olympus and the Twister.  Both were popular spots for burpees and created a difficult finish if those obstacles were missed.

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Spartan-Race-Chicago-Twister-FacebookOverall, the race and event went off without a hitch for where the race was located.  Going back to what I said earlier, the Dirt Runner venue was by far a much better location in my view than the Richmond Hunt Club.  Spartan did well with what the venue had to offer, but they’d do much better with a re-visit to Marseilles.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author

Spartan Race Chicago Sprint 2016: New Venue, New Mud, Crazy Chicago Spring Temps

Spartan Race Chicago Sprint Elite Male StartSpartan Race descended upon a new Chicago area race location in Richmond, Illinois for a Sprint the day after the Super.  This was very much a “runner friendly” course, and those who busted out early benefited from not being stuck behind others in the mud.  Typical crazy Chicago area Spring weather made the Sprint a good 20 degrees cooler than the Super the day before.  Sunshine abounded as the elite heats took off on time.  Robert Killian, who had won the Super the day before and participated in the Saturday night Hurricane Heat and barely made it to the start of the elite Sprint, came in first followed by Brian Gowinski (who came in second at the Super) and Mike Ferguson…all finishing within 75 seconds of each other!  Master Heather Gollnick (we just get better with age) took the overall elite female prize followed by Sarah Pozdol (CrossFit C2L athlete) and Julie Hartges.  Sarah took first at Warrior Dash the previous day!  Rocio Henciek took second in the Masters elite female division and Lisa Nondorf took third.  As for the Masters elite male division, LeEarl Rugland continued his strong performances and finished first, while CrossFit C2L athletes (and first time podiumers) Jeff Wolschlag and Sean Hastings rounded out the field.

Spartan Race Men's Elite PodiumSpartan Race Chicago Sprint Elite Females

The biggest team honor went to Corn Fed!  Other notable teams with good turnout included Midwest Vikings, Gladiator Nation, and CrossFit C2L.

As the open waves entered the course, the temperature dipped and the sun tucked behind the clouds.  Those in the later waves found the mud to be a soupy quagmire, adding to the fun.  As this was definitely a very flat course, the mud made an otherwise easy course more challenging.  It also made for significant backups for the open wave participants, although this writer did not hear any complaining.

There were no new obstacles on this course and the traverse wall was mysteriously missing.  The Rig added a new twist with baseball and softball holds.  While the Rig was placed more in the middle of the course the placement of the initial holds (ring to rope to baseball to vertical pipe) and distance between holds proved too much for many…burpees were plentiful.  I suspect many will focus more training on grip strength and pull-ups.

The layout at the end of the course seemed a bit different. Plenty of ropes available for the Rope Climb, then Hercules Hoist (not the heaviest), Spear Throw, Slip Wall, then the Stairway to Sparta.  For the elites, the Slip Wall was relatively dry but later in the day it became really slippery and while there was quite the backup, true Spartans waited their turn, showed their grit by getting up the wall, and stuck around to help others.  I personally think having the Rope Climb then Rig then Slip Wall at the end is better and more exciting for the fans.

The kids race was very well done much to the delight of hundreds of kids and their parents.

Spartan Race Chicago - Kid's TraverseSpartan Race Chicago - Kid's Mud

All in all, I think from the participant’s point of view, the Chicago Spartan Sprint can be viewed as a success.  Although there were backups on the course due to the mud, that can happen anywhere.  The race directors did what they could to make a very flat course somewhat challenging.  Will they be back to Richmond in 2017?  I’m guessing “no” as there are plenty of other more rugged and Spartan-worthy options around the Chicago area.

Photo Credit: Tina Egizio and Spartan Race

BattleFrog Chicagoland 2016 aka Waterworld

Participating in races in the summer months is always a bit of a gamble if you are not familiar with the race venue: Getting fried in the sun is never fun and for people who are having issues regulating their body temperature it can get outright dangerous. The Saturday of BattleFrog‘s Chicagoland event 2 hours outside of the City of Chicago started very cloudy and overcast with forecasts for rain. However, around 10am the sun came out and the temperatures kept rising. That’s May for you.

The course map showed a few interesting changes compared to BF Los Angeles and BF San Francisco: No monkey bars, no weaver, just a single rig and an obstacle called “Strong Man” which turned out to be similar to an atlas stone carry. The course would later turn out to measure aprox. 4.8 miles distance with about 1000 feet of elevation gain.

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Fortunately, the venue at “The Cliffs Insane Terrain Inc.” had plenty of creeks and woods available and BattleFrog was nice enough to make sure the racers would get plenty of opportunities to cool down, even including a short swim and of course their signature Hooyah water slide obstacle. On top of that, frequently appearing deep mud mounds made sure nobody stayed dry for too long.

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The swimming obstacle was manned with divers, an inflatable boat, and people on land on standby. Additionally, a rope in the water provided safety in emergencies but was not to be touched otherwise. Water safety is always very important at OCRs especially in the heat and it was great to see the significant precautions BattleFrog has taken to address this.

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If you came to BattleFog to get a mud run then you made the right choice! As soon as it came to obstacles like the rope climb, the 12’ wall, confidence climb, and 60 Degrees, all that mud came back to hound the runners: Very slippery ropes made the short rope climb difficult even for elite racers. Obstacles with metal bars became slippery and increased the challenge even further.

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For those not familiar with BattleFrog obstacles, the confidence climb is a series of square metal bars vertically stacked on top of each other and runners have to climb up and over, then climb back down on the other side. 60 Degrees is basically the same thing, but the whole obstacle is tilted to a 60-degree angle facing the runner: Not only do you have to hold on to the slippery bars, you also have to fight gravity – similar to an inverted wall. As the picture shows, deep pools of water and mud mounds right before this obstacle made this especially exciting.IMG_20160528_102913

BattleFrog did a great job with the setup of separate lanes for elite, intermediate, and novice runners which ensured a steady flow at the obstacles and prevented frustration. More boards to step on for the novice lane at the 12′ Rope Wall definitely reduced the fear factor. A lower hanging bell at the rope climb or fewer metal bars to climb or a significantly easier Tip of the Spear made a big difference for everyone who does not have competitive aspirations while still offering the option of going for the more difficult elite lanes.

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However, it unfortunately provided opportunity for some “Elite” competitors to sneak into an easier lane during their second laps. Every race depends immensely on their volunteers and while the majority are upbeat and encouraging – which is the most important thing for 90% of participants – there is still room for improvement when it comes to their knowledge of the rules. For example, Spartan Race hands out laminated sheets with an explanation of the obstacle and the penalty to the volunteers manning the obstacle. This would be a possible way to ensure a more consistent quality in this regard.

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The recent announcement of penalties for BattleFrog Xtreme competitors stirred up a lot of controversy about how this would be handled. In Chicagoland there was only a single penalty loop set up to address the most difficult obstacle: Right behind the Platinum Rig a wreck bag and jerry cans were set up next to a “BFX Penalty Loop” sign. The penalty consisted of carrying a wreck bag plus one jerry can for a tiny loop which was marked by flags. The amount of time required was about equal to a clean pass through the Platinum Rig but less taxing and less time consuming than the usual ten 8 count body builders, the usual penalty for failing to complete an obstacle. This was a bit disappointing to see, especially because nobody was around to inform the BFX combatants about what they were supposed to do. Most carried only the wreck bag or two jerry cans and while integrity is key, nobody would have stopped them from simply walking past the penalty loop either.

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The fact that the Platinum Rig was in a fairly easy configuration – probably due to expected rain which would have made it difficult nevertheless – reduced the impact of this. The Rig and the penalty loop were packed very closely together and right next to the finish line and Elite/BFX transition point. This made it impossible for the volunteers to keep everyone in check and at the end of the day everyone knows if they earned their medal or not.

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Bottom Line: BattleFrog took advantage of the varying terrain at the venue and provided a challenging OCR with interesting twists to keep the race attractive for all that already have done one or more of their events in the past. While raw strength and obstacle technique could make or break someone’s race in the past, the current setup with lanes of different difficulties offers options to athletes of all backgrounds and skill levels.

(All pictures have been taken by the author)