Conquer The Gauntlet – Continuum

Brand new this year Conquer The Gauntlet has added a multi-lap competitive race format to their events that they call the CONTINUUM.  Being a fan of the difficulty of CTG courses and always looking to push myself further I decided to sign up for this Suffer-Fest when CTG came through my home state of Iowa.  If you’ve never done CTG before they are known for their tough obstacles consisting of a lot of hanging grip obstacles, including their 98% failure rated Pegatron.  One lap of this 4-mile 25 obstacle course is hard enough so I knew doing multiple laps was going to be intense.

What is the Continuum?

CTG has always been a “Bands Not Burpees” race series, requiring 100% obstacle completion to be considered for a podium or ranking for OCRWC.  The Continuum, however, is what I will call a “Bands AND Burpees” race, requiring competitors to complete all but the 4 hardest obstacles to be considered for the podium.  The 4 obstacles you could fail are all major hanging grip obstacles; Pegatron, Stairway to Heaven, Tarzan Swing and Cliffhanger.  If you failed any of these you could do 15 Atlas burpees AND 15 Thrusters (12 for Women), each using a 20lb medicine ball for the weight.

CTG_Continuum_Penalty

The Race

As a continuum competitor, we started with the Elite wave first thing in the morning (you are running the Elite race as well as Continuum). The morning had brought a small amount of rain to the course softening up the ground and slicking down some of the obstacles.  There was a good half-mile run up to the first obstacle giving people time to space out a bit, though there were some bottlenecks at the 2 creek crossings.  Feelings were riding high through the first obstacles as everyone was flying through the pole traverse, slip wall and A-frame cargo.  At a mile and a half, the first Burpeeable obstacle came up, The Tarzan swing. A rig of alternating handholds (including vertical pipes, ropes, rings, and a steering wheel?!) attached to ropes.  Most were quickly through this. The real struggles didn’t begin until after mile 3, the last mile, “The Gauntlet”.  It started with Stairway to heaven which had been made slick by the morning rain, then a short run to Z-beam which gave your arms a break while making sure your core was nice and “warmed up” for the punishing, soul-crushing Pegatron which is a total upper body killer whether it takes you 1 try or 10.

CTG_Continuum_Walls

A quick run through a tube and crawl under some wire brought you to the Walls of Furry usually 5 Eight-foot walls back to back but it was only 3 walls this year, at first I was upset that the number was reduced but by my final lap I was just fine with it.  Then straight to the Cliffhanger monkey bars and a splash through Torpedo and lap 1 was over.

Lap 2

This is where the real race began. I shouted my Bib number to the volunteer at the finish line to record my lap time (there were no timing chips) and a quick stop at the pit area for continuum racers to change out my water bottle and I was off on lap 2.  The pit area was just a 6×6 canopy where racers could put coolers or bags, etc with gear for their multiple laps.

After completing lap 1 my spirits were high though I knew I had spent too much time at Pegatron and was behind where I wanted to be.  I knew that speed was necessary but endurance was going to be the key factor and I was confident in my endurance.  Lap 2 went amazing up until just before the final brutal Mile.  At Smooth Criminal on lap 1, I had smashed my shin on the corner of the platform on the final jump opening up a nice cut and giant goose egg bruise.  So on lap 2, I chose a different lane only to do the same thing to the same spot on my shin opening another big scrape and swelling my entire lower shin. Thankfully I was able to hold on with one arm and make it to the bell.

CTG_Continuum_Criminal

This was the first time I walked; I didn’t want to walk at all coming into the race but this was not fun.  The heavy carry was shortly after this which gave me a good excuse to slow down and let the Tylenol I took pre-race ease the pain.  I was then able to pick it up and run to Stairway to Heaven which was still slick and I fell on the last step twice.  It was time to set pride aside and do some burpees and thrusters.  (I have to say I’ll take 30 normal burpees over 15 atlas burpees and 15 med ball thrusters any day.  The added 20 lbs aren’t much at first but it starts to drag you down and works both your legs and your upper body far more than the normal spartan penalty.)  Pegatron only got 1 good effort out of me before I turned to the burpees to save time and precious grip strength.  Thankfully Cliffhanger was still a quick 1 try go for me and lap 2 was in the books a bit faster than lap 1.

CTG_Continuum_Barrells

Lap 3

Lap 3 began the same as lap 2 screaming “69” (my Bib, and favorite number), grabbing a new water bottle and some more Gu and running off feeling pretty decent.  It was lap 3 that things started getting difficult.  The Tarzan Swing was still a quick 1 try pass, but it was the mandatory obstacles that became the problem.  Penalties on Stairway and Pegatron were foregone conclusions but More Cowbell (rope climb) could not be bypassed.  After so many people had gone through, the ropes were covered in mud and a big jump was required to get high enough to have a decent grip on the rope.  Lap 3 ended with multiple falls on Cliffhanger, an obstacle I thought I would never fail.

CTG_Continuum_Cliffhanger

Lap 4

After my failure on cliffhanger, I didn’t feel great but exchanged my water got more Gu and started Lap 4 alone.  On all the other laps I was either being passed by elites or passing open runners, now the trails were silent save for my thoughts (and random weird songs I’d sing).  The mandatory obstacles became more difficult.  Belly of the Beast an underside cargo net climb was exhausting.  Great Wall of America a 12-foot wall with no ropes and only the support braces and 2x4s at 4 and 8ft was a scary contortion act of sheer will power to get over. Sitting atop the wall I knew this would be my final lap.

CTG_Continuum_Belly

On the last mile, I caught up to the final wave of the day.  It was so nice to be with people again giving and getting encouragement.  Though I knew I would be doing many burpees my spirits were lifted and my resolve strengthened.  I hit the water on Stairway, burpees. I dropped instantly on Pegatron, burpees. Cliffhanger I wanted it so bad but my grip was gone burpees.  I jogged into the pit “69!” looked at my watch 4:48.  The rules for Continuum state that you have 5 hours to start your last lap.  I talked to the volunteer keeping the times and was told I was in 3rd place but there was one other person on their 4th lap.  I exchanged my water one last time got more Gu and waited to see if 4th place was going to make it in the next 12 minutes and challenge me to one more lap.  Thankfully that did not happen.

CTG_Continuum_Podium

All the Extras

In addition to the extra laps you get to run, competitors received a nice big Continuum medal and a wrist band.  You also got a giant bib vest similar to what you get at a Toughest Mudder event except that these were made out of normal paper bib material.  I only saw two people actually wearing them on course, everyone else chose instead to go with the far less cumbersome Sharpie on the skin style.

CTG_Continuum_Stairway_Bib

Room for Improvement

The one issue I found most disappointing, was the lack of professional photographers.  On course I only noticed two people shooting photos.  Both of which were not using SLR cameras and seemed to just be volunteers.  While going through the race days photos the lack of pro photogs was apparent in the quality.  The volunteer at Smooth Criminal while not a professional photographer was one of the most enthusiastic and positive volunteers I’ve ever encountered so kudos to him.  Unfortunately, none of the shots he was taking were uploaded to the race day picture page.  ☹

I think my only critique of the continuum race itself would be a need for better prize money for competitors.  The top male and top female each get a custom wooden plaque (which is nice) and $100, which is less than the cost of entry for the continuum (unless you sign up a year in advance) Though this hasn’t really been a problem yet as every winner in the 3 races so far has been a CTG Pro Team member, and has thus raced for free.  I do think more people would be willing to compete if they at least got a free race out of winning.  It would be nice for 2nd and 3rd place to receive some type of award, a special plaque or medal, or even just some CTG swag.

Final Thoughts

I’m very glad to see another company offering a multi-lap event that is competitive, as there are so few out there, we really need more of this.  Would I do this race again? Hell yes, I’d do it again. Taking the challenge of a regular Conquer the Gauntlet course and multiplying by 4 was a great challenge.  If you like to do Spartan Beasts but want some more damn obstacles, here you go.  One of my favorite parts of this race, which make it unique, was the mandatory obstacles which became harder and harder each time and had the potential to stop your race.  But my favorite thing was being able to run with members of my team.  As a competitive runner, I don’t get to see my team that often on course and doing multiple laps brought the opportunity to give and receive encouragement to/from all my open wave team members.  Thank you.

CTG_Continuum_Smile

Photos Courtesy of: Conquer the Gauntlet and Suzanne Peer