Frontline OCR: The Special Forces Elite Wave

Frontline OCR was back in action for their second event on May 19 but in a totally new location. This highly anticipated event took place at the Byron Motorsports Park right next to the nuclear power plant in Byron, Illinois.

As a matter of fact, the 5.85-mile course may have required some nuclear strength to get through it as this race wasn’t for the faint of heart. Frontline based the theme of their event on tasks or obstacles that military or first responders might encounter mixed in with some of the normal tasks you may encounter on an OCR course, except they jacked up the intensity factor of each.

This badass race series offered a multi-lap endurance wave, open waves, a Hero Heat dedicated to former military or first responders, and their Special Forces elite wave. This is the heat I picked for some crazy reason as those who dared to try this heat were issued a 20-pound weight vest for their journey through the course. This vest was required wearing for the duration of this mandatory obstacle completion wave until a time where an athlete could no longer complete an obstacle wearing it. At that point, they gave up their vest and continued but were bumped down in the final standings to all those who finished with the pesky garment. Although, even without the weight vest this was certainly one of the tougher upper body races I’ve ever done, and I applaud Frontline for really making you get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself.

 

On to the course. There is no better way to start off a race than with the iconic voice of Coach Pain. Coach was in his element, dressed in fatigues, and ready to rumble as he sent waves of racers out on the course. Athletes took off from the festival area over one of the motorcycle jump hills on their way into the surrounding wooded acres.

Now the total elevation change was only around 800 feet on the course, but nothing seemed flat and the rains from the previous week made the course, and the obstacles, slippery and difficult. A series of low walls were situated along the trail and served as the first obstacle athletes came upon with a bucket carry placed a short distance further down the path. An inverted wall followed that up along the game trail which led back to the edge of the festival area where racers encountered concrete blocks with tethers tied to them which were waiting to be dragged through a marsh where an occasional bungee cord was strung across the path making for a challenging low crawl.

Once complete Frontline again sent racers back out into the forest for a slackline crossing made of wire and placed over a dry ravine. After hopping off the slack line and climbing up out of the ravine the trail once again led into the motorsports arena where another inverted wall waited to be traversed before running through the middle of the arena where the semi tire drags awaited on the other side.

Frontline then made great use of a flooded drainage ditch by having athletes wade chest deep through it before crawling a short distance through a concrete culvert. It was through this infield area where the course markings became a bit confusing to some as one set of trail tape ended up running into another, but since they were both going to the same general direction I just followed them out. From there athletes were led to a series of carries consisting of dual ammo cans and a wooden log before being sent on to the first stumbling block for racers, the Irish Table. This platform was set to close to 7 feet in the air and nothing was provided to aid you in your climb.

From this point on I noticed that the majority of the obstacles became much more difficult starting out with the next obstacle racers faced called Pitfall. This obstacle was divided up into 3 sections and kept an athlete completely suspended off the ground.

Section one was separated by a dual rope traverse leading to a long jump onto an angled piece of plywood. An athlete had to land on the plank and pull themselves up before crossing another dual rope traverse to get to the other side. The trail now turned to grass as athletes made their way back towards the festival area once again for the toughest obstacle of the day in the form of a 12-foot wall climb. This wall started athletes out in a dugout pit of mud and required racers to scale the wall using a rope without knots. There were two lanes provided but only one for elites and as the mud made the rope slick the retry line grew huge.

Eventually, the race director ended up putting knots in the rope and then used a chainsaw to cut out a section of the wall for footing, but I personally spent 35 minutes there before my second attempt and by that time my mojo was gone. Once an athlete made it past the wall from hell things didn’t get any easier as racers climbed a hill and encountered an American Ninja Warrior type grip traverse. Here several 2×4’s were placed onto a suspended beam at different angles with the goal being to get from one side to the other. If your grip wasn’t cashed out from the previous wall climb it surely was now.

It was at this point in the race that Frontline led athletes back to the arena and loaded up on the obstacles with very little running in between. This stretch of brutality started off with a new twist on the stairway to heaven as Frontline made racers climb up at an angle but then flattened the climb out at the top with the slats spaced about every 2 feet till the end.

Racers then moved on to the second weaver of the day, this one made up of suspended fire hoses before moving on to Broch’s Slide.  Racers picked up a 12-pound sledgehammer and used it to slam a log down one stretch of a wooden buck and back. Moving down one hill and up the other side Frontline then placed their version of a rig consisting of a monkey bar set at various heights for a down one side and back the other with the transition between the two sides separated by rings and Gripsling holds making for one of the most unique rig crossings in OCR. This was another racer retry area that caused quite the backup.

The brutal assault on grip strength continued with another suspended transition, this one requiring athletes to maneuver themselves from one vertical 12-inch tube to another without touching the ground and proved to be tricky to master. Two climbs were set up next in the form of a suspended rope and separate suspended ladder. Frontline then turned Spartan’s Olympus upside down, literally, as the top of the obstacle was now jutting farther out than the bottom! Quite the reversal on this grip killer! One final test remained along this gauntlet of doom, the much-feared 20-foot warped wall, and although Frontline was kind enough to attach a rope it was still a long way up.

This concluded the toughest section of the event as the course focused now on technical running. Tucked into these trails were a series of 12-inch tubes suspended by wire through them in the air horizontally. I’m only guessing that athletes had to make their way over these as there were no volunteers or signage to explain what was to be done.

If you loved running in the woods then this was the part of the race for you as the majority of the running took place here. Springtime in Illinois made for some beautiful viewing along the way to the next obstacle called Hosed. Here fire hoses were cut into sections and filled with what I guess to be sand as there was a loop provided to run around, but again here there was no signage or volunteer to explain the task requirements.

Hamburger Hill was the last real test racers faced as this uphill low crawl was set on a muddy hill jam-packed with sharp rocks which made me glad I wore knee protection! From there a simple scaffolding cross was all that stood between you and that badass sheriffs shaped medal.

I found Frontline to be worth the price of admission based on the obstacles presented. If you were a fan of innovative new ways to test yourself this was your race. There were things you have never seen and had to master on the fly along with more difficult versions of the things you already expected to be at an OCR event. I applaud Frontline for making necessary changes on the fly but doing this changed what each racer faced.

That being said, there were a few things that also needed a bit more attention including the trail marking and a better explanation/enforcement of the Special Forces wave. Volunteers appeared to be a bit unclear as to when or if a vest needed to be given up or a penalty enforced for a failed obstacle. My suggestion would be to have the Elite wave keep their vest the entire race and enforce penalties from there for failed tasks. I think this would eliminate some of the confusion, and with a rumored 1/3 of elite racers losing their vests this may be a better way to proceed and not scare off those worried about failing. I understand that Frontline likes their policy of letting racers who keep their vests throughout the race to then keep their vest after, but this policy may be too expensive for a starting OCR.

Multiple lanes on the tougher obstacles and more supervision along some of the course would also make for a better race experience but I’ll be back October 27th when the third version of Frontline comes back to Byron!

 

Frontline OCR – The 2nd Wave Review

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Frontline OCR – The 2nd Wave

The 2nd iteration of Frontline OCR took place on the damp hills of the Byron Motorsports Park, in Byron Illinois.  The night before had brought rain and there were a few small showers which cleared just before the first wave started, making for some excellent muddy racing conditions.

A different kind of race

Frontline_OCR_Irish_Table

Frontline OCR is a unique event with two competitive race types, an open class, and a special wave just for first responders and military personnel.  The first competitive wave of athletes vying for a spot on the podium and prize money all had to wear a 15 pound weighted vest, in simulation of the body armor and gear that first responders and military personnel must wear and carry when performing their duties.  In addition the obstacles were mandatory completion, you could try as many times as you wanted but if you give up you give up your vest and must complete Twenty Two 9-1-1’s (the Frontline’s version of a burpee) for each obstacle failure.  If you managed to complete the course with your vest you got to keep it, an amazing value.  Not many people were able to complete the entire course with the vest though.  Only 3 of the 13 women who started the race were able to keep their vest. I’m not sure on the men but I would guess only half completed the race with their vest.

 

Frontline_OCR_Blitzkrieg

The top two male and female special forces finishers had to put on a firefighter’s suit and compete head to head in “The Blitzkrieg” a series of timed challenges to determine the overall winner.

The 2nd competitive wave was the endurance class – this is the wave I ran in.  This wave was unlimited laps of the 6 mile, 33 obstacle, course with mandatory obstacle completion. (Thank god we didn’t have to wear a weight vest.) There was a strict time limit though.  You had to FINISH your final lap by 2 PM or you would be disqualified.  That’s right, there wasn’t a cut off for when you could start your final lap just for when you had to finish which means you needed to be fast and be able to know if you could make one more lap in time without being DQ’d.

 

Frontline_OCR_Bagpipes

 

The course was set up at a small motorsports park meaning lots of dirt hills up and down.  It also meant there was a lot packed into a small space.  The small space allowed you to be able to hear all of Coach Pain’s starting line speeches and the music of the bagpipe color guard band which was playing at the festival area.  Running through the damp and slightly misty woods with the sounds of bagpipes in the background brought an ethereal warrior sense into my blood and helped to propel me over the obstacles.

 

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Obstacles

The obstacles were a wonderful mix of OCR classics. Multiple heavy carries from a bucket carry, tire drag, dragging an Atlas stone through mud and water, an ammo can carry over moguls, and finally, a sandbag carry made from old fire hoses.  There was plenty of mud, with mucky watery trenches, crossing through water which was neck deep at times and running through creek beds, some dry and some not so dry.

The best obstacles though were the big ones, and there were a few. What really made this possible and made this event unique and special was that multiple local OCR teams donated obstacles to the race.  Strong as Oak brought out a hang board setup called “A Bridge too far” which for the Special Forces lane consisted of traversing across ascending and descending ledges with gaps in-between using only your hands.  FlatLiners brought an obstacle called Thermopylae- which was an inverted version of Spartan’s Olympus obstacle.  There was a Monkey Bar rig with two parallel lanes, you had to go down one lane, transfer to a set of rings then swing yourself over and up to the parallel set of bars where you had to descend and keep from touching the ground before ascending back up to ring the bell. And of course, there was the Frontline signature 20 ft warped wall.

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Improvise Adapt Overcome

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Some of the obstacles proved to be too hard and caused some large backups, so in true military style, the course workers adapted the obstacles.  The first major change happened at the mud pit wall, a 10 ft wall set up in a mud pit.  On my first lap, the rope was straight (and covered in mud) and few people in vests made it over so they knotted the rope.  On my second lap, they had removed 2 boards from the wall so you could get a foothold.  When I had made it back to the monkey bar rig on my 2nd lap there was still a line of Special Forces competitors not willing to give up their vests, trying their best to make it across the setup which had been reduced to one lane and a transfer to the 2nd set to ring the bell.

Frontline_OCR_Teamwork

After completing my 2nd lap my heart wanted to continue but my Achilles tendon did not.  There were other athletes who came in behind me who wanted to try for a third lap but knew they wouldn’t make the 2 pm cut off so they called it a day and kept their band.  From talking with my fellow competitors it seemed that they would have liked a last lap start time cut off more than finish time cut off.  One runner who shall remain nameless had already lost his band (on his first lap) and was already disqualified but told not to start a 3rd lap, which he was not happy about, even though the final wave hadn’t left yet and he was already DQ’d.

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A mix of “Local” feel with “Big Time” quality

Frontline is a small company bolstered by Ed Leon’s love of OCR and the Midwest OCR community.  Being that this is only the 2nd race they were hit by some of the pitfalls of a small local race.  There were very few volunteers but this didn’t bother me as I know how to pour water into a cup and most of the unmanned obstacles were very self-explanatory.  The problems came with only having one or two lanes at obstacles.  Some of the harder obstacles had backups from the Special Forces wave with nobody wanting to give up their vest or band.

As this race grows, which I’m sure it will, I expect more lanes on obstacles will be added.  The only other negative small-time race problem that happened was a lack of showers/hoses, there were only 2 which made for super long wait times (I ended up just opting to stay dirty). What it lacked with “local” race problems it made up for with local race charm.  After you were done racing you could get a toasted coconut porter or any number of other local craft beers from Hairy Cow Brewery. They were also serving up real BBQ and sampling locally roasted coffee.  They even had some tasty vegetarian options for food.

In conclusion, I had a great time.  Tons of variety in obstacles, great atmosphere, great terrain.  The people who put on this event are passionate about OCR and continuing to improve.  I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again or recommend it to anyone.  Totally awesome race!

 

All Photos courtesy of Conquest Photos

 

Frontline OCR

It’s rare to see a startup OCR that thoroughly impresses, but the Frontline OCR held July 8th at Dellwood Park in Lockport, Illinois did pretty much that. Put on by four obstacle racers with ties to the first responder community, this inaugural 5-mile event featured innovative new obstacles along with new twists on some of the standard obstacles. The Frontline theme of the event tied its obstacles into dealing with physical obstructions that first responders or military might encounter doing their job and adapted that into construction of their course to bring a new feel to an OCR. Frontline offered three different levels of competition for athletes. Open class, endurance class which was a multi lap option, and their Special Forces class. This was Frontlines elite wave and came with a unique twist. Each elite racer was given a 15-pound weight vest at registration to be worn during the race. Failure to complete an obstacle meant giving up your vest, however if an athlete completed all obstacles on the course they could keep their vest! The top 3 finishers then competed head to head in the Blitzkrieg round consisting of a new section of the course to determine the champ. This was the division the great guys at Frontline picked for me to do while covering their race and I’m still cussing them for it! Parking for the event was right on location at the park grounds, and a short walk away was registration along with a good dose of vendor booths and bathrooms.

At 8 am the Special Forces elite wave started off with Coach Pain giving the opening pep talk with all elites taking a knee in a dumpster. Yes, a more unusual starting location I’ve never seen but the large dumpster held us all tight.  When the wooden barrier was removed athletes, all took off over the timing strip laid on the ground and made our way into the woods and dry creek bed of the park. The uneven terrain and extra weight of the vest made footing iffy as racers came up to the first set of obstacles which consisted of cables strung horizontally across the trail which Frontline appropriately called Clothesline. After ducking low to keep our head attached we continued along the trail where a set of 4 foot walls stood in our path. Frontline now led racers out of the woods and into an open field area where an inverted wall was placed along with a dug out military crawl with a section of barbed wire right next to it. After rolling our way out of the wire racers were led back into the woods along a trail which led to a single six foot high wall and onto and a section of the park where a trio of softball fields was located with one giant hill in the middle. Frontline chose this location for a grip strength testing carry obstacle using authentic ammo cans. Now these cans were not large but they were full, and you could really start to feel the strain on your traps during the return trip over the hill. After racers placed their cans back onto the pallet it was back into the woods for another jaunt along the creek bed. It was at this point of the race, about a third of the way through, that you could start feeling the effects of that extra 15 pounds of weight.

Now being led away from the softball fields and back into the park, Frontline set up their version of a slack line which was strung between trees with a rope stung across the top for help with the balance aspect of the tough obstacle.  Once completed racers again made their way through the woods where a brand-new obstacle awaited. The Fugitive was a series of one foot in diameter pipes that were suspended vertically between sections of trees and required racers to navigate from one cylinder to the other without touching the ground. I found this unique obstacle to be a great test of grip strength and body control! The last obstacle set up in the woods was a ladder climb with another great Frontline twist. The bottom rung of the rope ladder was removed requiring athletes to pull themselves up to the second rung to start their climb. Once the ladder climb was completed racers were once again led back into the open field area where a series of trenches had to be negotiated on our way to the unique Frontline rig. This innovative rig configuration consisted of a 2X6 suspended high and held by chains for a hands only traverse which then dropped down to a section of a balance beam to cross, then a repeat of the suspended 2×6 and balance beam which was all situated in a roofed pavilion. The next section of the course caused the greatest race controversy. A multi path series of tubes either sent racers on to the next obstacle which was a multi rope traverse, or sent racers along a longer path which contained a weaver. This was purely a luck obstacle and Frontline’s thinking on this was you never know what to expect as a first responder and I totally get that. But when money and sponsorships are on the line for elite racers the majority of them wanted a level playing field. Thanks to my wife screaming at me to take the shortcut tube I avoided the weaver but in all honesty I would have liked to try it in race conditions.

After the rope traverse Frontline had dug out a pit and suspended 2×12 sections of wood across the top connecting them with metal tubes for another grip killing traverse. A rope was thankfully provided for an athlete to pull oneself out of the pit which then led along a trail and over a bridge where tires were laid down for the old football high knee drill. Once a racer got done feeling like Walter Payton Frontline led athletes into VFW Park where a slip wall was located, with a damn sprinkler spraying water onto it! Trying to get your feet under on this was a knee buster for sure. When you finally managed to gut out the slip wall crossing it was back to the bridge where a semi tire flip was set up for a down and back hamstring killer. Now that your hamstrings and lower back were on fire, Frontline guided racers up a flight of stairs for a concrete block carry/drag. It was here that numerous people got off track. With the flags to the right leading one way and the tape on the inside leading back to the start of the carry I noticed some people following the flags further into the park. I personally followed the tape back to the start but those who didn’t follow the tape and instead followed the flags were led off course. I found the blocks not to terribly difficult to carry but the effects of the weight vest were really starting to take its toll here. After dropping off our blocks and heading down a hill Frontline stationed a wall traverse borrowed from The Abominable Snow race. This unique wall traverse consisted of the normal 2×4 sections screwed into the wall but this one had an expansion between the two wall sections where a 2×10 connected the two wall segments for a hand only crossing from one segment to another before finally sending racers up a steep hill where a set of two 8-foot walls needed climbed over.

 

The last section of the Frontline course proved to be perhaps the most difficult. Already thoroughly gassed athletes came upon a cargo net set over a huge concrete dam which led to a series of nasty tunnels located in and around the dam. Making our way out of the stagnate water more steep hills awaited us on way to a standard rope climb which surprisingly had no volunteer on site to make sure the obstacle was completed. Now at the back end of the park with grip strength fading an inverted wall was set up to gas you just a bit more before being send down another steep hill. Frontline was nice enough here to add ropes to aid in our descent to the bottom where a log carry over balance beams and a short wall awaited. A series of semi-trailers was next up for athletes to run through our way to three brutal last obstacles. A 7 foot high Irish Table was an absolute killer for most including yours truly then a 20 foot warped wall with the last four feet being completely vertical! Now Frontline installed a small section of rope hanging down from the top to aid in the climb but it was still super tough! If you managed to make it through those two killers you got the pleasure of trying to negotiate the last obstacle. A Platinum Rig was the last thing now standing between a racer and the finish line. This required hands only crossing and many of those elites who still had their vests on lost them here.

 

I found this event to be more geared towards a seasoned racer. The obstacles presented would have been difficult to overcome even without the elite vest on. Frontline used the terrain very well and came up with some new and tough obstacles. It was fairly easy for spectators to view and the race bling was super. I’d highly recommend anyone with some training to try this event but this might not be your course if you are new to OCR racing. Everything in the festival area was easy to get to and the volunteers were friendly, although not particularly knowledgeable. A kid’s course was also included and offered a multi lap setup to tire out the little ones. The only negative things I heard were about the chance obstacle and a small section of course that could have been marked better. So congrats to Frontline on their first event and I’m looking forward to their next one!

Photo Credit: Frontline OCR