Green Beret Challenge: Wicked Trail Race ATL 2019

Wicked Ballas Rope Climb

Introduction

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When it comes to putting on events, Mark Ballas never fails to put on something that is out of the ordinary. So, when GBC announced that they would be doing a trail race, called Wicked Trail, I knew it would be a race not to miss.

The Wicked Trail race offers two different types of races. There is a 5k and a 10k “wicked.” In the description on  Mark’s Website, the 5k appeals to the standard trail runner. The 10k “wicked” option appeals to Obstacle Course Racers, advertising more difficult terrain, which includes hills so steep that you may require a rope to ascend. And of course, Mark is known for making races that are, for lack of better words, painful, so you may have other challenges that cannot be described.

Wicked Map

 

Festival Area

This race was in the same location as the Green Beret Challenge Operators last year and the XII Hour Endurance Event. Knowing this venue, I knew going early on there are hills. I’m also very fortunate that I am familiar with the location of this venue, because it can be a tad bit difficult to locate. The location of this race is actually next to the designated address, which can catch you a little off-guard if you’re not familiar with it. The address provided is actually for a friend of Mark’s house, and the trails follow behind it. So you have to drive through the man’s yard and past the house in order to get to the actual venue.

Parking, as always, is a breeze.  There were a few volunteers who were there to collect money from parking ($5 per car) and direct drivers. No parking issues presented themselves. Everything flowed very smoothly.

Wicked Festival

There was a slight line at the check-in table, but man, those volunteers do not mess around. They greet you kindly, and then give you the wristband that coordinates with the time you start, then send you on your way as quickly as possible. For instance, I ran at 8:10, so my wristband was yellow, while my friends started at 8:20, and their wristbands were green. Those that ran the 5k had pink wristbands. We were provided the start times via e-mail and Facebook groups several days prior to the event. Mark noticed there was a mistake in the original times, and it was all adjusted within about 30 minutes and re-sent.

As always, Jarian Rich, aka Jambo was there to provide entertainment. A week of not feeling well left us with a gliterless beard, but the enthusiasm level remained just as high as ever. He had a DJ stand up right next to the start line, and you were able to hear him from a fair distance away.

Past the DJ stand, if you keep walking, you can find where the GORMR group set up their tent by the lake. The e-mail sent out earlier in the week that the Wicked was going to be a BYOB event. So many people, myself included, brought in lawn chairs and coolers to accompany them.

Wicked Race Lake

Course

Might I start this section by saying, holy cow, this was way tougher than I thought it would be.

The 5k runners took off promptly at 8:00, and then it was time for my age group to hit the start line.

As always, we were greeted by Jambo’s enthusiasm. He was getting people to cheer on the start line, and get amped up to run. Since I was visibly nervous, he asked me if I ran the Operator’s Course last year. When I said yes, he assured me that it was going to be a run of that course, but backwards.

“Awesome,” I thought to myself, “that means that there are going to be two big climbs. I can handle that.”

Boy, was I wrong.

At exactly 8:10, as specified by the e-mail sent off earlier in the week, we were off.

Just as Jambo had suggested, we started by running around the lake, which was backwards to last year’s Operators course. It started off flat, nice, and easy. Once we made it around the corner, I saw a friend of mine, who was running in the 5k division. After I told her good job, I noticed that right there, probably 400 meters into the race, was the first climb of the day. I looked to see if my friend was still there, and recognized that the 5k runners would be making this ascend, too. I realized right there, that I probably would not hit the time goal that I had set for myself.

Once it flattened out, it was on to single track trails, which allowed to make up time as much as possible by opening up stride. However, that didn’t last very long, before another big climb, and then a long descend. This descend had really loose dirt- to the point that I thought if I hadn’t found several trees to hang on to, I probably would have slipped and fallen. Definitely one where you would need to slow down on. It wouldn’t be hard to slide down, as long as you have a decent amount of balance. I probably would have ended up rolling down like Andy Sandburg in Hot Rod.

Sooner than later, we ended up at a dirt biking track. This was the same dirt biking track that we completed with the yoke carry during the 12 hour endurance event. Although climbing through the numerous, steep, short hills seemed much easier by comparison, I swear Mark made them steeper. There were a few of those short hills that were so steep, that I caught myself using my hands to climb these hills. This portion of the race was nice though, because it was still early on enough in the race where you could see others, and be able to compare where you are in terms of placing. And, here, since you could see others, it was much easier to cheer others on.

Then it was time for another long, trucking ascent. This was one that I did not remember from either of the previous events that I had completed at this same course. My legs started to feel heavy, we had already made several climbs within the first two miles, and I knew others felt the same way. At this point, I was running completely alone in the woods. This race wasn’t going to just be about physical capabilities, but mental ones as well. Luckily, I’m sure Mark anticipated this, and I noticed that the number of blue arrows that were pointing became more and more prevalent. There was a slight run in an area that was taped off, but the trail itself was not marked. Basically, we were running on a trail that was still covered in leaves, rather than distinguished by a dirt path. It eventually opened up.

I believe that at about this point, Mark drove by me on his ATV. With a big smile on his face he said, “are you having fun?” and followed me for a little bit down another, less vicious, hill.

At the bottom of the hill, there was a run, with a few fallen trees as hurdles, and after awhile, it seemed as though the trail just completely stopped. I looked to the right, and the path was unmarked, but not with the intention of us running through it, unlike the other unmarked but marked trail that was mentioned earlier. I looked on the left, and I saw a pipe that lead into a creek. Clearly, we’re not running in there.

Then I remembered, wait a second, this is a race from Mark Ballas, we’re definitely going in that creek, and turned left without hesitation.

As soon as you headed through the creek, there were several little red flags indicating that you were headed in the right direction. The creek twisted and turned, no turn without greeting from either a tiny red flag or a blue arrow spray painted in the sand. This creek lasted what felt like 600 meters.

At one point, the creek continued, but a blue arrow indicated a sharp, right turn up a hill. I looked at the hill with wide eyes, seeing that it was so steep, I’d have to crawl up it. Then I noticed that there was a rope supplied for us, so we could use this to help pull us up. You could say it was like a mid-course trail slip wall.

I grabbed the rope, and heard a woman cheering. I looked up and saw GBC Pro Team member Rachel Watters. She sat the race out, and instead volunteered on course, taking pictures and directing runners.

She directed me toward a different hill with a rope, but this time, the rope helped us descend the hill. This was kind of weird, but exciting, especially because at the bottom of this hill was a short drop. After this, it was back to running in the creek.

Rope Hill

Once out of the creek, it was back to running. We ended up with a straighter, flatter run, which allowed to make up some time. About this time, Mark drove by on his ATV again.

“Are you still having fun?” He asked, still smiling.

Laughing, I said “I almost got lost!”

His eyes widened. He asked me where. When I told him it was at the beginning creek, he immediately started heading in that direction. A clear indication that he prioritizes safety of his athletes.

Sooner than later, I could hear Jambo’s music playing in the distance. Because I hadn’t seen any mile markers throughout the race, I assumed that we were getting close to the finish line.

I was wrong…again. We still had about 2 miles left.

However, the brutality of the massive hill climbs had about finished. There were a few left, but none were nearly as bad as the ones that were in the first two miles of the race. Some of the trails were slanted, which made me think of a friend of mine’s comment before the race, stating that she was going to focus on maintaining good running form throughout the run. I laughed, because I knew there was absolutely no way to focus on great form during this. Rather, just focusing on keeping both of your ankles intact.

We looped around a familiar piece of the course; a marshy path of grass near the finish. Although it wasn’t around the lake, the area feels swampy, and, since it is entirely in the sun, it makes the humidity feel like 400%.

After that, was another water station, and then trudging from some of the muckiest mud we’d seen all day. I saw my friend who was running the 5k, and I reminded her that the medal that she was going to receive was definitely one earned, not given.

After a while in this area, Jambo’s music got louder, and we made it back to the parking lot.

Hooray!!

…Except again, this is a race from Mark Ballas, and was definitely a cop-out. There was a slight sign with an arrow pointing us to the right, even though the final stretch was to the left. We had to circle around the field. It was just a flat patch of grass, with tread through to make it easier to navigate. The hard part was over. Now, it was just to pick up leg speed, and not let the sun beating on you change your attitude. Once you hit the final stretch, it was on to the finish line, where Jambo was waiting, to congratulate every single runner who finished.

Wicked Finish

Awards

Awards were done after the race, once it was assured that most of the runners had finished the race. The awards were presented near the finish line, with Jambo leading the command. The 5k awards were presented as top 3 overall in gender. The 10k “wicked” awards were presented as age group awards, with no separate awards for overall winners. Winners of these categories were given a separate medal. There were no differences between the 5k or 10k medals.

Wicked Winners

Thoughts

One thing I’d like to specify about the Wicked Trail race is that although it is run by Green Beret Challenge, it is not an obstacle race. It is a somewhat sadistic trail race that incorporates obstacles that are already there through nature. Also, those dang hills are the biggest obstacle out there. Mark used a lot of difficult terrain which included many trees that were knocked over, and other things in order to make things interesting. So, although you can expect it to be difficult, you cannot expect to see some of the hand-built obstacles that Green Beret Challenge is known for (thank God for no yoke!). This also means that it is not going to be as costly to run, so it does not cost nearly as much to participate in the Wicked Trail than most OCR races. So, if you’re looking to challenge yourself, but can’t pull off the $100+ per race fee, you may  want to consider running in the Wicked.

Another thing I would like to mention is that Mark Ballas puts these on with not much help. That being said, I am always appreciative for the dedication that he demonstrates in all of his events. It rained quite a bit leading up to this race. Unfortunately, several of the blue arrows that Mark had spray painted the day before the race were washed away, so, to ensure safety, he went out and completely re-marked the course. Every runner returned from this course safely. The only injury I saw out there was a scrape that got some dirt in it, which was immediately tended to when the athlete returned. It was also noted that there were several changes made to the course, that Mark decided would be more interesting, while he was out making adjustments. So although the course map had been released prior to the race, it ended up being a bit more windy than we anticipated. See how my Garmin captured the race by looking at the picture below!

Wicked Strava

I would say the only thing that I would have improved from this course would be the lack of mile markers. Considering I know I like to know where I am on course, and although I think that having a marker on every mile would take away from some of the excitement, it would be nice to see one or two on the course.

I am very thankful that Mark added in the 5k option for this race. Although it was more difficult than I was imagining it would be, I am glad he added it. This allowed for a good friend of mine, who is trying to get a start into fitness and running, to participate and see what I do. It was the first time that one of my non-race friends was able to meet with my race friends, and I’m really encouraged, and looking forward to letting more of my friends know about these in the future.

Wicked Friends

Although this race was difficult, and I’m sure that I confused some of the order of events in my recap, I would definitely plan on doing it again. I would recommend this event to anyone who is willing to get a little bit out of their comfort zone. I am hoping that with future races, Mark brings this series to interesting places, so that we can have some beautiful views at the top of these extensive climbs. My advice to you is this; if you plan on completing a Wicked Trail event, do not neglect your hill training, or you can expect to have your butt handed to you. If you are on this course, and you keep your head up, and stay motivated throughout, I know that you will have a successful adventure!

Green Beret Challenge: Atlanta XII

Background

The Green Beret Challenge is a unique OCR experience because it offers three main types: The Operator, The Commando, and the XII. While most race series offer multiple race distances, which may also include additional obstacles and miles on the trails, each GBC experience is completely different. The operator is a standard OCR, which includes trail running, heavy carries, and other type of obstacles. The Commando is a four-manned team race, where your team will be assigned certain challenges to accomplish together. Lastly, the XII is a twelve hour, multi-phase endurance challenge which combines both the Operator and Commando challenges, plus whatever craziness Mark Ballas feels like adding.

I will tell you, this article is related to a twelve hour endurance event, so, I have a lot to say. If you aren’t particularly excited about reading a lot of information, go ahead and skip to the “overview” portion at the bottom.

Pre-Event

One thing that I greatly appreciated was the communication. It started with a gear list, which was sent out about a week ahead of time, which allowed us all ample time to supply ourselves for the feat ahead. In addition he sent us the address, which was the same location as the Atlanta Operator, so most of us felt as least a little comfortable with location. We also were assigned a team leader, Lara Baker, who was in charge of making sure that everyone was good to go. Additionally, we were given lines from the Ranger Code, and split into groups where we had to memorize portions of the code. We were not told what we were going to be doing ahead of time, we just knew that it was going to last from 7 pm until 7 am the following morning.

Arrival

The only GBC that I had completed before this time was the Atlanta Operators back in May. The arrival for the operators was a little intimidating; the event took place on someone’s land, but the area itself didn’t have it’s own address, and we had to use the large GBC signs for navigation. Since there were only 13 people registered for this event, the signs and posters were not there. I actually ended up calling Mark Ballas to ask him if I could come in since I was three hours early). He made an effort to stop what he was doing to personally greet me and talk to me about the event. This event felt much different from the Operators. There was no DJ. No port-o-Johns. No swarms of people. Just silence. You could listen to the bugs chirping and relax by the water, but, it was silent and almost eerie. I suppose it was meant to be a foreshadow of what was coming.

Phase One

Before we got started, our team leader, Lara Baker (if you race in the South East you probably know her, she is a tough cookie who always wears her hair in blonde pigtail braids), gave us our roster numbers and lined us up with our Rucks. We were lined up by a post that had on it a “missile,” an Army uniform, and an American Flag. We knew right away that these three things were going to be carried with us throughout the night.

A few minutes later, Mark comes out. He gives us our introductory speech, talks about his extensive experience with Green Berets, and informs us that there is going to be some swimming throughout the event. So, to get started, we have to get started with a water confidence test. Weaker swimmers were instructed to grab life vests.

We head over to the dock, one by one we climb the stairs to the second level.  He tells us that we are going to stand at the edge, and he’s going to push us in one by one. Granted, the fall wasn’t huge: probably less than ten feet. He only pushed each person a little bit, so it would be more of a jump. Every person was able to land feet first, and again, the weaker swimmers were allowed to wear life vests. But, the scary thing was standing so close to Mark, paying attention to what he was saying, and knowing that the fall was coming. Luckily the water was warm, and Mark provided a rope to guide us back to the shore.

When we get out of the water, we all line up by our rucks again. Mark explains to us that phase one is going to be similar to the Operators course, only it is not a race. Rather, we have a period of time where we are going to complete this two-mile course, and we will try to complete multiple laps. He has us split into three different groups so that we can be more spread out, as some of the obstacles were built for only one at a time.

Before we were off, he informs us that many volunteers backed out last minute, which was not ideal for some night obstacles, specifically, the cargo net. He was more concerned about safety than difficulty, and let us know that if we were not comfortable completing the obstacle, he would rather skip it than risk falling.

We get going, at a reasonable pace because again, we were informed that it was not a race and we were going to be running for a certain period of time. It wasn’t until I hit the first obstacle where I realized that Mark definitely did not tell us how long that period of time would be. Sigh.

The first obstacle was one that we had seen before: the sled pull. The only difference this time is that the sled either felt heavier, or I have gotten a lot weaker. The grass was longer. But overall, not difficult, I was just slow.

(Photo from GreenBeret Challenge: Atlanta Operators)

The next portion included a short run to a creek where we had to crawl underneath some wire. In between the two, there was some wire out that could have (and did) trip some people in transit. By the second round, all of the wire had been covered. The next piece was a trail run up a pretty rocky hill, and then, the worst f***king yoke carry I’ve ever seen. That yoke was absolutely terrible. The beam of the yoke was a bar rather than the standard wood beam. The bags were really far apart and low to the ground. You may laugh at this, but I’d be lying if I told you that my bags didn’t drag on the ground. Not only that, but it was around a dirt biking course. Which can only mean one thing: lots of little hills. Man, it was tough. I turn around and I see Lara Baker again, and she is just FLYING by on the obstacle, and she confesses that she was able to move her bags in a little bit closer, which helps a TON.

Almost immediately after was the cargo net. During the day, the volunteer moved in between the yoke and the cargo net. At night, he stationed himself and a few lights on the obstacle. I don’t think anyone opted out of completing it. It was very sturdy.

The next obstacle was a rig that was extremely well lit and attached to some trees on the side of the course. It was a little difficult to see initially, but it was very fun. I actually ran right by it the first time.

Following the obstacle was a short trail run, and then back into the water where we were initially pushed. The followed the rope back to the dock. Once we got to the dock, we were greeted by Mark Ballas.

And then, we had to turn around and do it all again.

After about three laps, it was time to be done. Some of us were sitting down, when Mark informed us that we weren’t done. It was time to go back to the dock.

Remember how earlier I said that we had to remember lines from the Ranger Code? Now was time to show our stuff. We got back onto the dock, and stood on the edge like we had when Mark pushed us in. He asked us which portion we had to memorize, and if you got it wrong, well, you can guess what happened.

Once that was done, it was time for phase 2.

Phase Two

It was time to move on to the next portion. Now that we had completed the Operators portion, it was time to move on to the Commando.

 (Photo from Green Beret Challenge Instagram)

 

We started with the rucks, and we gathered the flag, the uniform, and the Maverick Missile. First task: follow Mark. Easy enough, right? Wrong. That man can move. Some of us had to jog in order to keep up with him. Our friends with the maverick missile fell back quickly. Then it was on to our next task, where we met back up at the same bags.

One of our group members was assigned a team lead. Our next team lead was given instruction to lead a task. After Mark was done talking with him, he turned around, so that the new group lead could take command. We were instructed to take the sandbags from the sled carry earlier, put three in a bag, and put the bag on a different sled that we had to tie up. Here was where we had to use the first tool in our rucks: rope. Most of us used rope to keep the sled tied together. Then, it was time to carry the sled underneath the wire that we had to crawl under in the creek, and up the hills. This took maybe two hours, and was very challenging.

The next event was a lot of fun. Mark picked a new team lead (surprise: it was me), to lead the next event: the Bunker Build-Off. This may have been my favorite part of the entire event. I had to split up the entire group into two different teams. The task was simple: use the resources around you to build a better bunker than the opposing team. Mark Ballas and I then judged each of the bunkers. It was awesome.

Following immediately after this was another task that you may have been somewhat familiar with if you follow @greenberetchallenge on instagram. Mark had chosen another person to be the team lead, and we met by the edge of the pond where we were greeted with barrels of “goo” and logs. The mission? Create a raft that can transport your barrel. Then get in the water with the raft and move it on down to the other end

.

 (Photo from Green Beret Challenge on Instagram)

Now, I will say, Mark puts a lot of emphasis on safety. I feel like several endurance challenges are just like “whoa, look at how tough I am, I’m going to see how many people quit muahahaha” while Mark actually puts thought into what he does and makes it fun and safe at the same time. Yes, we were swimming in the dark. Yes, we were swimming with this big old raft. But every single person had to rock a life-vest with a fat glow stick attached to make sure all of our heads were above water. Mark was also in the water, making sure to swim around in order to maintain a visual on all athletes. I wasn’t worried for my safety for one second.

Granted, our raft fell apart, and we were stuck in that damn pond for what felt like forever. But. I’m here to tell the tale.

Once we were done we had time to reflect, and then it was time for the next challenge.

If you did the Alabama Commando, you’re probably familiar with this one. Create an apparatus to move said barrel using your rope and the bars from the yoke carry. Easy enough right? Except you’re wearing your rucks the entire time.

This was painful. So so painful. Probably my least favorite part of the entire night. The worst piece of it, was that I am so small, that it was extremely difficult for my team to transport it. I felt weak, and a little embarrassed. But everyone else killed it. I was so proud of how willing people were to work with people who they have not met before. It honestly felt like our group became a family. We walked them over to base camp, and at this point, we knew the sun was going to rise soon.

Phase Three

This phase was supposed to be super short and fun, but this honestly felt like it was the longest event that we did. With one hour remaining and sunrise on its way, knowing the end is near, makes it feel so much further.

Mark called my friend Jennie and I to let us know we were selected to be team captains for a relay race. The task: farmers carry down a portion of a dirt bike course and back. Each person goes. This was then followed by bringing down one of the longer sleds with two sandbags in it. Easy enough right? Well, for added difficulty, he turned the sprinklers on.

 

 (Photo taken of relay race terrain during daytime)

 

Now I know what you’re thinking: so what? Didn’t you spend a fair portion of the night swimming? The answer to that is yes, but the way this dirt was made it so slick. Almost everyone fell, and people were coming off looking like they just completed a GoodWill MudRun.

This was a lot more difficult than anticipated. The hardest part of this, in my opinion, was waiting for your turn. Now the sun was really coming up, and we all just realized we’ve been awake for freaking ever. The realization for me was difficult, and I caught myself closing my eyes in between sets. Both teams finished, with only a few minutes to spare. Everyone cheered for each other, whether they were on their team or not, and then Mark lined us up. He came around and individually shook each of our hands, placing a coin in them. And just like that, it was over.

Overview/Final Thoughts

Going into this event, I was terrified. Not because of the event itself, but because I am not a creature of the night. I was worried that the sheer thought of being out so late was going to completely destroy my spirits, and make it difficult to function for several days afterwards. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the fact that it was at night. Sure, there were times that I fell on my face when maybe I shouldn’t have, and I freaked out because I assumed that every stick in the creek was a snake about to eat my brains. The thing about it being at night rather than in the day, yes it’s not as hot, but you don’t have to watch the day proceed without you. Because the sky didn’t change once it got dark, you didn’t think about time. It made it easier just to focus on the task at hand. It was enjoyable. Another really great thing about being at night, and in the middle of nowhere, was that if you were in pain, you could just look up at the stars. I live in a city, and so this is something that I don’t get to see very often. It really makes you think about how lucky each of us are to be on this planet.

One of the lessons that OCR and endurance events have taught me is that the things that scare the total shit out of you tend to be the ones that leave the biggest impression. Mark Ballas has grown really great at this. I will probably end every GBC review I do with some kind of blurb of my appreciate for Mark. He has created an event that, well, is scary. Twelve hours is an extremely long time. But, in those twelve hours, he does a good job of making everyone there feel like someone. So much of his heart and passion are being shown right in front of your very own eyes, and you get to experience his world first-hand. He puts so much thought and effort into every single event that he hosts, that you can’t help but feel a little giddy when you know one is coming up. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in this event. Through his leadership and passion, twelve hours isn’t much time at all, even if it’s at night and carrying big rucks. He smiles (sometimes maniacally) and makes an effort to get to know people’s names. You definitely won’t see this from every OCR CEO.

I recommend this event for people who are looking to challenge themselves, but want to do endurance events that have a purpose. Through this event I had an opportunity to learn more about the Green Beret and Army Rangers. Mark Ballas explains how what you are doing is relevant to those special forces. Some of the other endurance events I have done have come off as very “do this because I told you to,” but that isn’t the case for this event at all. Every movement has a purpose. People don’t get cut for the sake of getting cut. Again, everyone who is there is seen as someone, and that’s extremely important. Just make sure that you are fueling properly and stay confident.

I know I wasn’t the strongest person out there, but I definitely plan on completing more events with the Green Beret Challenge. I hope to see you there too.

RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!