Bonefrog New England Spring 2017 – If hell is easier, I’d rather go there.

Bonefrog-NE-Welcome“Harder than hell.” states Bonefrog’s ads.

On a cold Winter’s day, sometime back in December of 2016, yours truly was making her 2017 OCR list and Bonefrog New England Spring was a definite must. The only obstacle course owned and operated by the NAVY Seals? Count me in again! I ran the Bonefrog Challenge last year at the beautifully scenic Berkshire East venue, and rolled my ankle right after Stairway to Valhalla so I had to finish the next 7 miles injured, but it was still an amazing time, with their well-designed obstacles, enthusiastic racers, and volunteers pushing me through the pain. This injury lasted all throughout 2016, however, so I definitely had a bone to pick with this frog.

As I sat there looking at the Tier options, I must have had a brain fart, because all of a sudden, I was signed up for the Open Tier-1 wave.

Bonefrog has 4 Tier choices: Sprint (3+ miles), Challenge (8+miles), Tier-1 (12+ miles), and Endurance (New this year,) which is Tier-1 and then you run the Sprint course as many times as you can until you drop dead presumably. You get a green frog pin for every lap of the sprint that you finish, a special Endurance medal, and the coveted Golden Frog, if you can do 5 extra sprint laps! Norm was proud to tell us that he didn’t think anyone got the gold frog at this event.

Bonefrog-NE-Endurance-Bling

Tier-1 is Sprint + Challenge, so you get to do all of the obstacles, some of them twice. No going back at this point; so I pulled up my big girl pants and said, “Bring it on Bonefrog, gimme everything you got!”

I must have spoken too soon because shortly after that, Bonefrog announced that the OCR torture master himself, Norm “EffNorm” Koch was now their new head course designer. The word that came out of my mouth when that was announced? It wasn’t fuck… it was, “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!” I’m sure anyone that has run a Norm Koch mountain course knows why.

As Bonefrog New England approached, the pictures and videos of intimidation started lighting up the internet. Norm with his machete and that sardonic grin of his, Bonefrog showing off their new obstacles, pictures of Stairway to Valhalla (which btw no picture that I’ve ever seen has done it justice of showing the actual steepness and distance of this death march), along with the NAVY Seals promising you an ass beating that you’ll enjoy.
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My fellow OCR people let me tell you that I was NOT mentally prepared for what they had in store for us this year. Once the map was released and I saw that long stretch of nothing between obstacles 12 and 13, I pretty much started shaking in my boots. Berkshire East is already known as Bonefrog’s toughest course because it is all mountain. Who loves extreme death marches up mountains? The head course designer of course!

Bonefrog-NE-Course-Map-2017

So on Friday, May 19th I and a car full of other mud running hooligans headed up to Charlemont, Massachusetts to, “GET THAT DAMN MEDAL!” and to “Make that course our bitch! RAWR!” A lot of shit talking from nervous racers, because had we known what we were in for, that car would have been quieter than a funeral. We set out on Friday because Bonefrog offers packet pickup the night before. I personally think that other race brands should also offer this option.

Early packet pickup is picking up your bib and timing chip the night before the race. They also have a cocktail and pasta night social where racers and Bonefrog staff can mingle; you also get to see and try some of the festival area obstacles. Early packet pickup is free, pasta and beverages are not. The pasta dinner last year was around $13 per person and you were offered a plate of pasta with or without meatballs, a mixed green salad, garlic breadsticks and chocolate chip cookie brownies. Unfortunately, we did not make it in time for the food, but we did make it just in the nick of time to get our race packets early, which saved us a lot of time in the AM and allowed us more sleep. You might even get a glimpse of EffNorm!

Bonefrog-NE-EffNorm

The parking situation this year at Berkshire East was such a vast improvement over last year. Not only was it shuttle parking in 2016, but they did not have enough shuttle buses for the racers and spectators so many racers missed their early wave times. This year parking was onsite and they rented some farmland next to the venue so it was all within a short walking distance. Free parking for volunteers and $10 for everyone else.

The morning festivities at Berkshire East started beautifully with the singing of the national anthem as a member of the Navy Seal skydiving team soared his way across the mountains and over the festival area with a huge flag and colored smoke. It was a truly amazing and awe inspiring sight.

Bonefrog-NE-Parachute

Then it was off to the races as the Tier-1 elites thundered their way through the starting line and veered off left into the mountains. This is where it kind of gets funny at the starting line, btw where was Coach Pain? I don’t know if Norm wanted to see the fear on our faces for himself or what but he was the starting line, “Pump up” man. I am laughing as I write this because while Norm Koch is a brilliant Course Designer, he doesn’t make a great starting line emcee. Sorry Norm but I think you know it too. He is unintentionally funny however. The vollie wave was the next to go out and Norm was like, “Ok, have fun. All 5 of you.”

Bonefrog New England could really use some volunteers everyone. If you’re looking for a solid race with great people please consider volunteering for this brand. You do have the option of running and volunteering on the same day. Click on this link for more info on volunteering for Bonefrog at www.bonefrogchallenge.com/volunteer.

Then it was my turn as Tier-1 Open wave. After Norm showed us a grenade for a new grenade toss obstacle and told us he’d see us sometime in the afternoon, it was off into the mountains we went. The course has been changed, for the harder and better in my humble opinion. Everyone’s favorite obstacles are still there. Like their fun-tastic spider traverse wall, drunken monkey, river rope traverse, tree rope traverse, walls, cargo nets, Black Ops etc…

Bonefrog-NE-Starting-Line

Let’s start with the short list of things that I was not impressed with this year.

Where’d the rope climb go? How can you have a military obstacle course without a proper rope climb? Bonefrog also had the good climbing rope too, that nice sturdy climbing rope with knotted and unknotted options, bring it back, please!

The barbed wire crawl didn’t have real barbed wire. It wasn’t even metal. Come on now.

The grenade toss. Toss a grenade into a hula hoop. Really? A hula hoop? Maybe it would be more interesting if the target was better like a doorway structure, or better yet get rid of it all together. It was a dud in my humble opinion.

Bring back the memory test because that was one of the signature things Bonefrog was known for, their hard memory test. If you failed, you had to go back and re-read a sign until you got it right.

The line was too damn long for the new green monkey bars called, “Seat bars.” Many racers, including myself, opted out of this one due to the bottleneck with a 25 pushup penalty for some and 25 squat penalties for others. Yes, Bonefrog has penalties ranging from 25 pushups, squats, burpees and jumping jacks.

The new rotor obstacle, “Twirly Bird” was too damn high and it had a huge failure rate, I personally did not see 1 person complete it. I think that it was high enough where it should have been placed over a water pit or something. Norm, however, did explain after the race that it was due to the wrong length of beams being sent and that it was meant to be lower. I saw one guy land flat on his back from that height and it was not pretty.

Bonefrog-NE-Twirlybird

Porto-potties for the racers on the course would be nice, it’s not easy going long stretches especially as a female, or if you have to take a dump mid-race to just drop trow in the middle of the course since there are not any good places on the course to do so. In the festival area, you have indoor and outdoor potties so no complaints there.

Now on to the good stuff!

Speaking of not pretty, that long stretch of nothing I mentioned earlier between obstacles 12 and 13? It was definitely a long stretch, but it wasn’t nothing. It’s called the Punisher. This is where Norm’s talents and skills really shine through and why every OCR racer has a love/hate relationship with his courses. He bushwhacked a death march with his machete that is more than twice the distance of Stairway to Valhalla up one of the most tree and rock dense areas of the mountain that he could find. Stairway to Valhalla makes you question life, The Punisher makes you question your sanity. I think the name of it should be changed to Tree Hugger (Sorry Savage race) because that is how you will be getting up and down this crazy death march, by hugging onto trees for dear life.

I don’t know how many reading this have seen the Barkley Marathon documentary (I highly recommend it if you haven’t, it’s on Netflix) but there’s a scene where you see people throwing their whole bodies up and onto a plateau while clinging onto trees. That’s Bonefrog’s Punisher in a nutshell and you get 3 long soul crushing peaks of it. What are we being punished for anyways? Someone take away Norm’s Netflix account so that he can’t watch the Barkley anymore.

On my second loop, yes Tier-1 not only got to do Stairway twice but the Punisher twice as well. So that’s 4 death marches total if you are going Tier-1, and 6 death marches minimum if you go Endurance. The Sprint people were shocked that they had to do this mother of all death marches along with Challenge and Tier-1 because in the past Sprint was much easier than the other tiers simply put.

Bonefrog is known for a lot of mindfuckery with fake maps, intentionally leaked false course information and the Punisher was NOT marked on the map for the Sprint course. Surprise!

Bonefrog-NE-Punisher

As for the Tier-1 experience, it was VICIOUS; when I heard at the starting line that Tier-1 would be doing Stairway to Valhalla twice, which I was afraid would happen, but I trekked on starting with the Challenge portion where most of everyone’s favorite and fun obstacles are like the Swinger’s club. It’s a Tarzan rope over water. Lots of fun if you make it, and into the drink if you don’t. It was much improved this year with a longer distance to swing over and a deeper water pit.

Bonefrog-NE-Swingers-Club2

The balance beams aka Walk the Plank this year was really tough, not only were they set over a rocky stream, it was on a fairly steep incline. Elites were only allowed to use their feet, open wave was allowed to use hands and feet to make it across. I personally saw 2 people lose their elite bands on this obstacle. I am usually really good with balance obstacles but I used my hands and feet for this one. The idea of dropping into a stream full of rocks was not appealing to me. Otherwise, it’s a solid obstacle that showed me that my balance can always be improved upon.

Hell’s Gate, which was introduced last year, has had a bit of a makeover, instead of over and then under the walls, it’s now all over the walls. It’s still a lot of fun however and it does prevent potential trampling in such an enclosed space.

The Challenge side of Bonefrog had a good mix of terrain and obstacles. You had a little bit of everything from flat RUN FREE trails, to the arduous death marches, wonderful woodland scenery, and through an area with dead trees that was hauntingly beautiful. Last year it was just up Stairway and across long stretches of flat trails with one long downhill. So much about this course has changed and for the better IMO. Much more challenging and the scenery alone just feels enchanting.

After a merciful stop at a porta potty before taking on the Sprint side of Tier-1, and I 100% admit that it took a lot for me to get back out on that course while smelling BBQ cooking, hearing the cheerful laughter of people who had just received their medals, the music pumping away. The temptation of Black Ops which is the finisher obstacle staring me in the face, seductively whispering for me to settle for a Challenge medal or a DNF. I ignored all of that and got back on that course to get that Tier-1 medal and to show the course and myself who is the boss of me.

Bonefrog-NE-Festival

Now the Sprint side of the course had some of the fun obstacles like the river rope traverse that everybody loves getting their pictures on, where you have the option of doing a full rope traverse, dropping into the frigid water and then swimming a few yards to shore, or you had the express lane option of a lower rope which you used to just drag yourself through the water.

Bonefrog-NE-RiverRopeTraverse

The Sprint side had to do the hardest obstacles like the death marches that the Challenge side did but they had no flat portions. NONE, ZIP, ZILCH, NADA unless you consider slight grassy inclines that are few and far between flat. You were either going up at all times or down muddy, rocky, leafy declines. After my 2nd trip or should I say crawl up Stairway my hip flexors really started feeling it. Every step was torturous and when a kind vollie (that’s short for volunteer) gently let me know that the Sprint had to do the Punisher as well, I took a moment to lay down on a sparse patch of grass somewhere between that water station and the Punisher, and a lone tear just rolled gently out of my right eye like that old Native American Chief in the no littering ads of the past.

Bonefrog-NE-Stairway

Bonefrog made me cry, there I said it.

At this point in the race, the only ones that were on the mountain were a few other Tier-1 and Endurance racers. I saw maybe 2 racers wearing Challenge bracelets but it was mostly Tier-1 and Endurance out there. This is at the point of the race where you start seeing some shit while racing against the clock so that you don’t DNF. The point in the race where you have gone so far, yet that finish line seems as far away as it was at the starting line. You go past the racers that have had enough and quit halfway up the Stairway or the Punisher and they tend to say, “I tried guys.” and all you can do is smile back and say, “Good job.”

This is where you also start making promises to yourself that you won’t give up. You limp helplessly by the poor guy that a volunteer is taking care of because his ankle is broken. You share your energy snacks and chocolates with those out there suffering with you, yet not tasting a thing except the anticipation of the finish line. You ignore the pain, the voices of self-doubt, your screaming joints, you ignore everything except those that are still sticking the course out with you motivating each other with chants of, “Big gold medal, big gold medal, big gold medal.”

Finally, after another round of obstacles in the festival area, you are brought back around to Black Ops and it was such a beautiful sight to see, but it’s one more obstacle to finish and a big one at that. With my hips pretty much dead at this point, I needed help from the wonderful vollies to get up the rope wall, but once I was on the bars, I flew past it’s spinning rungs and got that Big Gold Medal! That’s what makes Black Ops challenging, it might look like an innocent slightly inclining set of monkey bars, but the rungs in the middle spin so if you don’t move fast you will fall off right into the net.

Bonefrog-NE-BlackOps-View

Bonefrog ran out of Finisher shirts at The New England race and rumor has it, it’s because there were a lot of same day registrations that they weren’t prepared for, so I hope you wrote your bib # down on the T-shirt list if you didn’t get one. Bonefrog says they will be in the mail.

Speaking of shirts, Bonefrog offered a nice selection of shirts ranging between $15 – $20 at their merchandise booth. I wasn’t leaving without some kind of Bonefrog t-shirt.

Bonefrog-NE-Merchandise

As we were leaving Norm Koch was there looking very pleased with himself and relaxed knowing that he took an already tough as nails event and made it even more challenging.  He did ask my husband if he thought that the Punisher should be longer to which my husband said, “Yes.” So EffNorm and Eff you my dear hubby for that. You don’t tell that man a death march should be longer.

As for who won the race between me and Bonefrog New England, let’s just call it a draw since we both got what we wanted from each other. I got my medal and the mountain got my tears.

Bonefrog-NE-Tier-1-medal

Thank you Bonefrog for putting on another great event. Here’s a standing ovation to the racers, spectators, staff and volunteers (All 5 of you guys lol). I’ll be seeing you again at Bonefrog New Jersey!

Photo credits: Bonefrog Challenge, Phil Poli, Poly Poli

Spartan Race Hawai’i 2016 – Mud, Turtles, and Norm

REVIEW: A formal assessment or examination of something with the possibility or intention of instituting change if necessary

This is supposed to be a “review” of the Hawai’i Spartan Beast, but since I clearly cannot institute change, any intention to do so is irrelevant so I will instead share my experience with the Hawai’i Spartan Beast.

Firstly, however, let me provide some backstory. In 2013, I was in good enough physical condition to run elite heats of Spartan races. Back in those days, there were no age group trophies, and I never hit the podium but I did well enough to earn a season pass for 2014. Life circumstances changed yada yada, elite physical condition went away yada yada, Joe and Andy broke up yada yada, and I stopped doing Spartan races, for a variety of reasons. Since then, I’ve discovered that I’m not an OCR addict but rather an accomplishment addict. I’ve gone on to do well in longer events like Death Race, World’s Toughest Mudder, and SISU Iron. (full disclosure: I only technically “finished” one of those events, but the long slog was accomplishment enough)

I thought I had some unfinished business with Spartan races, however, and that business looks suspiciously like a block of wood. It irks me even now that I don’t have one and there are people with multiple blocks out there that I HAVE BEATEN IN RACES. I can’t believe I don’t have a block of wood.

So…my oldest son had graduated high school and was readying to launch into the world and I thought a nice little trip to Hawai’i would be just the thing and oh hey, grab a block of wood while I’m there.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHLSDFJLASDFALSHFDLASHDFLKHASDFHOMGLOLHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

But I digress, aka collapse on the floor in fits of laughter at my pre-trip delusions of grandeur.

We arrived in Honolulu, went straight to Snorkel Bob’s to rent gear and proceeded to snorkel for ten hours, sans sunblock. [Btw, I’ve never been sunburnt like this before. I have new compassion for white people because now I get it. I’m sorry melanin-deficient folk for what you have to go through every summer. I’ll never scoff again.]

It was amazing!! I saw beautiful angelfish and needlefish and shrimp. I SWAM WITH SEA TURTLES. We had four days of this:

Spartan Race Hawaii Sand

IT REALLY LOOKS LIKE THAT. It really is paradise on earth. Save up, sell an organ, do whatever you have to do, but get yourself to Hawai’i before you die.
So I get to the race late. No one that knows me is surprised by this. I register for open heat Beast Sunday morning. I head out, back and legs all crispy and warm. I’m wearing long-sleeve heat gear, brand new CW-X tights, compression socks over Injinjis with properly lubed toes, Inov-8 Mudclaws, a cooling neckband and my lucky white visor that I always wear. I’m ready for unfinished business, or at least, I look ready.

I’m not doing a blow-by-blow because no, but here’s a pic of the course:

Spartan Race Hawaii Course

Now, I have done a lot of damn races. I have NEVER seen mud like that. Even in my Mudclaws, the only way to get up those hills during those mud climbs was by hanging onto the trees for dear life. Did you hear about this? IT WAS REAL. Because I had Mudclaws; I was able to pass hella people on the way up but I still slipped and struggled a lot. I have no idea how long those mud climbs were but that shit seemed like HOURS.  Dave Huckle, founder of Weeple Army, captured the slog on his GoPro when he wasn’t using both hands to not wipeout in the mud.

Spartan Race Hawaii Beast Mud

Then I saw Norm Koch. I pointed at him. He pointed at me. Suddenly it all made sense. What I thought was gonna be a run through the woods leading to a nice block of wood for me to enjoy looking at was, in fact, A NORM COURSE. Those of you unfamiliar with Norm courses need to realize that this is not your regular Spartan race. This is some next level shit.

Norm was the 9,347,509,234 person to tell me my pants were ripped. I had ripped at ~mile 4. We laughed.

Here is some really important info to take away from this article. If you see someone on course with ripped pants:

1. They know about it. Or
2. They don’t really need to know about it, because
3. What the fuck can they do about it, really?

Eventually, a few people were spared looking at my ass because I ran into a friend who graciously let me borrow his shorts. I ran into said friend ~2 miles from the end however, so basically this is how I did the Hawai’i Spartan Beast.

Majestic, isn’t it? What started out as a tiny hole was enhanced by burpees, squatting to pick up the atlas rock and so on. I have close friends that don’t know me as well as the strangers behind me during the barbed wire crawls.

So…did I enjoy the Hawai’i Beast? I’m still not sure. A few weeks earlier I had been telling another friend that I’m considering stopping OCR altogether after this year. Every morning my ankles hurt when I get out of bed. I don’t get the thrill anymore. When the Beast was all over and done with, I was all “meh”, even though it was REALLY. FUCKING. HARD.

It’s become predictable. You’re gonna go far, carry heavy things, do a bunch of burpees, climb some ropes blah blah blah. When I know I can do something, there’s not a real accomplishment there. I don’t have to be in “elite” physical condition to be able to do the crazy long stuff that provides more outlet for me. I just need to be able to do for a couple of days straight. When the Beast was over, I COULD HAVE KEPT GOING, and would have preferred to do so, especially if I didn’t know what was still coming. That’s really what my jam is now.

I still feel like I have that unfinished business, though, so I don’t know. I could burn all this fat off and go for it again. We’ll just have to see what happens. Love and respect to all of you and major apologies to those who received a face full of my butt.

Spartan Race Hawaii Flaunt It

Photo Credits: Leah Erickson and A.J. Jaeger Photography

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Spartan Race New Jersey Beast 2016

Spartan Beast Medal

Welcome to my 2016 Obstacle Course Race diary! I plan on running every race with my lovely wife this year and will be taking a different approach than my previous race reviews. Up first is Spartan Race‘s New Jersey Beast, which took place at the Mountain Creek Ski resort.

The typical boring but sort of kind of important stuff that we don’t care about until people do it poorly:

  1. Parking was on point; however, I will offer a minor suggestion – if you are holding your event at a ski resort with tons of large parking signs for the ski resort you should make sure your tiny Spartan parking signs aren’t so tiny! Also, the address you gave for parking was wrong, so make sure that’s right! Other than that, no one broke into my car and the attendants directed us efficiently!
  2. Registration was a well-oiled machine as usual.
  3. My genius plan of buying merch before the race worked out well, except I forgot that I get a $5 off coupon for bag check! Silly me! Spartan merch is still top notch and paying with a debit card is seamless. Thanks guys; I’m saving my $5 coupon for next time, though! Spartan Merch
  4. Food and Beer. With the exception of Hobie Bot, I’m fairly certain that we do these races so we can justify eating the $10 pulled pork sandwich and drinking beers. Satiating your need for food and beer because you burned 2,500 calories running up and down a mountain is so much better than falling asleep drunk and full in your bed alone wondering if Jon Snow is coming back (spoiler alert, HE’S ALIVE). The festival set up was on point. I was pretty sure there would be a limbo contest if people could still feel their knees. I think it was the pigs roasting over the fire that made me feel that way. Spartan Festival

The Stuff we AROOOOOO to people at Gas Stations about:

  1. If you roll up to Spartan Race so you can punish your body on ski slopes with wet, muddy and rocky single track then you came to the right place! In typical Norm fashion, you went up the mountain and came down in the middle of the woods. Repeat that process like 10-15 times until you hit 15.5 miles and 5,000+ feet of elevation gain with 34 obstacles and you have your terrain for the New Jersey Beast! If you wanted a Sufferfest then this event certainly “rose” to the occasion! Spartan Mountain
  2. Compared to my first Spartan Race at Wintergreen ,I felt that the camaraderie and helpful nature of the participants was enhanced. I attribute this to the creation of the competitive wave. With the exception of the late night dash to the finish from people who didn’t have headlamps (and were worried about getting pulled), there was very little rude and unsafe passing on the treacherous downhill technical single track sections. Well done on giving the B team their own place to compete Spartan!

The Stuff everyone who has done more than one Race Brand is thinking:

  1. Sooo Spartan, we need to talk…. I really like the Clif Rig, the Rope Climb, the Monkey Bars and the Tyrolean Traverse (the ladder was a nice touch). The Z wall is pretty cool too. I’m not a huge spear throw fan, but I get it, people think they are Leonidas and shit. I totally hate Bucket Brigade, but it’s a necessary evil. My biggest complaint is that when you go from a Super to a Beast and add “obstacles” it’s more than just tossing a few more walls and carries in there. Tough Mudder, Savage Race, OCR World Championships, FIT Challenge, and Battlefrog all have come out with new and innovative obstacles. As one of the leaders in the industry, I would expect that you would come out with something new, fresh and exciting once in awhile. It’s what will keep people coming back (and by people I’m referring to people that like obstacles and not just going up and down a mountain). I legitimately have almost every obstacle you include at your race in my garage and backyard. That shouldn’t be possible. Spartan Traverse

Wifey’s Take: “It always takes me a few days after the event to like a Spartan Race. I was bored for awhile after the Rig and the Rope Climb as it got repetitive. That being said, I still want to train harder and go back to do better next time.”

Final Thoughts:

When I’m running and reviewing a race, I try to ask people that are doing it for their first times if they are enjoying it and if they would come back. I got mixed responses from people at this event and saw mixed responses on the event page a day later. In fairness to Spartan, this was a Beast and is supposed to be brutal, but as the mileage crept to over 15.5 miles on a race advertised as 12-14 I think it began to toe a delicate line. If Spartan would spice things up a little with some fresh obstacles, it would eliminate a lot of the repetitive feelings and replace them with excitement. I enjoyed the race, mountain, terrain and the people, but I really hope Spartan will begin to be the leader that they should be by injecting some more creativity and innovation into their obstacles. Much love, I’m just trying to be constructive.