Highlander Assault 2018

Upgraded and beefed up is the best way to describe year 2 of the Highlander Assault. Held on October 6th in Holiday Hills, Illinois the Scottish themed event featured 4 different race lengths: Open class 4-mile, Open class 8-mile, Elite class 12 mile, and Elite class 24 mile. A free kids challenge course was offered for the little racers and Coach Pain was brought back for year two, bringing his special motivational voice as the emcee.

General admission parking was 10 dollars, but that’s if you could find a dry spot to park. The weather in the Midwest this year has brought large amounts of rain during certain periods of time and Mother Nature decided that the week leading up to the race was as good as time as any to let loose. This made it difficult for the race directors to set up the course the way they intended, along with making the course itself tough to build up any speed on.

All of the obstacles were wet and muddy, and the trail looked like a herd of horses had trudged through it. The race was even delayed for a short period due to a lingering thunderstorm that was slow to leave the area. The skies never did clear up all the way as intermittent periods of sprinkles caused racers fits throughout the day.

The race started out with athletes climbing over a siege wall, then leaving the coral when a fence, which resembled a medieval gate, was opened releasing participants through the festival area with Coach Pain hot on their heels screaming encouragement for the first hundred yards.

After a brief run, athletes faced a wall climb and then encountered a unique climb over large sections of concrete culverts stacked up in a triangle configuration. This is an obstacle I’ve never seen at a race, and the large circumference of the tubes along with the mud tracked onto them made it a difficult climb. Athletes were now led along a trail on the edge of a cornfield ending up in a gravel pit type area along one of the properties many lakes. A low crawl through some very cold water with sections of chain link fence over the top was the first obstacle presented in this segment along with a series of cargo net climb suspended over a set of shipping containers.

A short distance away a bow and arrow station with target tested ones aim. Failure to hit the target resulted in a short bear crawl through the slop along the lake. Relax, no real arrows were used, instead, they were tipped with a rubber stopper. After you got a chance to play Robin Hood the trail led around the lake where an Atlas Stone carry was placed. Moving further around the pond athletes were led through a waist-deep drainage “moat” with four pipes placed horizontally across the expanse making for an interesting and chilly over and under.

Crawling out of the water, cold and shivering, was when it dawned on you that this section of the course was also used as a motocross track. Yeah, it was time to climb up and over some very steep hills. The previous night’s rain left those without lugged shoes grabbing as weeds and rocks to assist on the super slick climbs. One last obstacle remained in this section of the course in the form of a log balance beam cross over a water pit. Once across, the trail led onto a gravel path leading away from the festival area.

It was along this path that Highlander chose to place their over, under, and through walls followed up a short distance away with the classic Z wall traverse. At this point, the course split into two with the 4-mile racers going one way and the 8-mile racers going another, and even though the signage is clear here it never fails that someone goes the wrong way. I’ll be describing the 8-mile loop from here on out as and the 4-mile loop converged with the 8 again further down the course. A very pristine lake now came into view, and as athletes make their way around the water Highlander placed a weighted drag in the form of an Atlas Stone with an ax handle sticking out for “easy” handling. A set of low parallel bars joined to a set of high parallel bars needed to be traversed next leading to a teeter-totter balance test followed up by a platform climb with a bell tap the top.

The property on which Highlander holds its event boasts a wide range of terrain as the race now transitioned from running on a gravel track to running through a few miles of shin-deep mud. This marshy area proved too difficult to place many obstacles as only a short Wreckbag carry was required here. It was the dense marsh here that proved to be the real obstacle, and I was left wondering if Yoda was going to be raising an X wing fighter out of the sludge at some point.

 

After escaping the marshes of Dogaboh the footing became more solid as racers now faced obstacles once again. The first encountered was Highlander’s version of the Irish table followed up by a series of wall climbs. Also tucked neatly into this section of the course was the wire low crawl. In sticking with the Scottish theme of the race, a caber carry was next up leading back towards the festival area.

One last wall, this one the inverted type, guided racers to the last section of the 8-mile loop. The course threaded its way through the heavily wooded area including two difficult climbs along the way. The first was a vertical climb using only small rock-climbing holds, and unless you were the first person through you found those tiny holds to be slick with mud. The second was a two-story vertical rope climb, and I don’t need to tell anyone how tough that rope was to get a grip on due to the conditions. The last obstacle found in the forest is what I’ll call the “fun box’. Highlander constructed this long box with a million bungee chords inside going every which way, then made it tougher by covering it making it pitch black inside.

One last obstacle stood in the way of the 8-mile finish now as Highlander set their rig up right in front of the finish line. Racers were backed up waiting to retry this monster as the failure rate was high. The setup consisted of a vertical knotted rope swing complete with a small wooden platform on the bottom, two plastic rings set at varying heights were next followed by a pole suspended horizontally all leading to a suspended car tire. I’m not sure this rig would have been terrible if the conditions were dry, but of course, they were not, luckily athletes could use their legs as this proved to be the saving grace for me.

If you ran the 4-mile or 8-mile course congrats? Your day was finished, and you could go enjoy your beer and grab a bite to eat from the local vendors. But if you signed up for the 12-mile or 24-mile course more was yet to come, and your rig crossing was put off till you finished another loop. But have no fear, as Highlander set up some of their best obstacles on the section of the course leading back out!

This short gauntlet of three obstacles leading out started out with a unique three-part traverse. The first and third section needed to be crossed by suspended ropes while the second section required a jump across an expanse landing on a wooden plank angled down 45 degrees. The Strong As Oak version of Stairway to Heaven was also thrown in here and consisted up pulling oneself up a set of ascending stairs which evened out at the top and continued horizontally for another few rungs. And lastly, Highlander brought back its torpedo tube type climb requiring racers to shimmy up a plastic tube with only short ropes coming out the sides to hold on to. From here on the trail joined back up with the original start listed above. I was a bit bummed out that by choosing to run the 8-mile course I missed out on the last three obstacles I described as I’ve been on those before and found them to be very challenging.

Highlander Assault, in my opinion, added some very cool obstacles to an event that was already a must do. They pulled off a great race under awful weather conditions. The only real suggestions I would have is to possibly add a volunteer or some signage in a few spots where I saw racers unsure of what to do. Namely, the Wreckbag carry and Scotty’s carry but no race ever has enough volunteers and I still figured out what to do.

Pictures were free and posted within two days of the event, and I must say that they had the best swag tent short of the Spartan Race. Parking was 10 dollars, but it may have cost you more if you needed to be towed out due to all the rain. So, have you heard enough to add this to your race list in 2019? I hope so and I’ll see you there!

 

Highlander Assault Challenge

Inaugural Event

The first ever Highlander Assault Challenge was held October 7th in Holiday Hills, Illinois. The inaugural Scottish themed OCR offered four different distance options for you to choose from. Four, eight, and 12-mile distances were available along with a 24-mile option if you were really a glutton for punishment!

This course offered some unique terrain that included something for everyone from technical trails, to forest, to prairie grass, to mud so thick that I’m sure there that there are still shoes stuck at the bottom of the muck now.

The course was designed by veteran obstacle course racers and police officers Mike Boyce and Chad Riffe and their great team of professional builders. Coach Pain was on hand to meet the crowd and get athletes pumped up before their designated heats.

Vendors including Stark Energy and RX Bar were set up for some pre- and post-race refreshment. Parking was only 5 dollars and was located right next to the festival area. J3Timing was on hand to provide instant chip timed results and a finisher photo of each athlete.

Assault Course

Onto the course, Highlander had an 8-mile course set up with a 4-mile cut through. This was where the 4-mile option went on to their finish and where the 12-mile course cut through on their second lap. I thought the signage at this split was fairly clear, but a few racers got mixed up at this point causing them to run 16 miles instead of 12.

Starting off from the festival area Highlander led athletes out through a recently cut soybean field and over a series of three four-foot-high walls. This served to start thinning out the crowd before coming up to an inverted wall located in the same bean field.

A low crawl net was set up on the trail sending athletes down on all fours towards one of the lakes on the property which led to a custom-made rig. This well-constructed rig started off with 5 rings in a row and finished with a traverse across a suspended 2X6 section of wood. There wasn’t a bell or anything to signify completion, in the future I’d suggest a bell tap or a painted mark at the end of the 2×6 to mark completion.

Signature Obstacle

After rig completion, Highlander set up one of their signature obstacles that you will not find anywhere else. The Highlander was set up with a cargo net climb onto a shipping container leading to another large cargo net was suspended between the first shipping container and another one set up on the other side. This led to a climb up to a wooden staging area where a waterslide was set up to send racers back down, rather quickly into a water pit.

Climbing out of the lake area racers followed the course markers out into the harvested bean field once again in a giant loop designed to add some distance to the course. At this point, a dug-out moat filled with water and covered by chain link fence was waiting to soak racers on their way towards the back side of the lake where a balance test was waiting in the form of a telephone pole crossing over a water pit.

Highlander now took advantage of some of the many hills by sending racers over and between the trees in slalom style back and forth and up and down. The next bit of nastiness came in the form of a march and wire crawl through some extremely thick mud.

Stuck in the Muck

This muck stuck to racers like glue and was still stuck to us as we came up to a dirt-filled bucket carry. The trail now continued along an actual section of road where an over, under, and through series of walls set up leading to a Z shaped traverse wall. No bell tap was set up here and no volunteer was stationed to make sure racers completed the crossing, in the future one or both should be in place to ensure obstacle completion.

At this point racers entered a gravel pit area where the split from the 4-mile and the 8-mile course was located, I’ll continue on with the 8-mile course for the rest of this article. Making way through the gravel pit Highlander now directed athletes into the connected forest following a technical trail through the hills leading us to a sandbag carry. The sandbags were piled up in a way where they looked like they might have been placed there to hold down the wood structure they were sitting on. Some of the athletes were running past the sandbags so in the future having either a sign or a volunteer would be helpful in clearing things up here.

Now the trail led athletes back into the forest where the path followed a game trail along the back side of the property. This eventually opened up when racers made it to the second lake along the course where the cut grass around the lake became the trail. Highlander situated a teeter totter balance beam and a unique ladder climb up to a bell tap along the long loop around the lake.

Game of King’s Thrones

As the obstacles became fewer now the trail became tougher as racers were presented with a mixture of forest, marsh, and creek crossings which made for rather nasty and tiring running.

This eventually led to the King’s Throne which was designed like a huge Irish table with a ladder climb on the back side making this obstacle look very much like a huge chair! The 8-mile trail now joined back up with the 4-mile trail which set racers on a course back towards the festival area. A 12-foot high ladder was the first obstacle racers encountered along the merged trail.

Another harvested bean field jog led to a caber carry before sending athletes into some thick cattails for another murky creek crossing. Climbing out of the creek racers were now presented with an Atlas Stone carry, 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for women. Once your stone was dropped off a short jog away Highlander presented a maze run that required racers to pick up a yoke with car tires dangling from a metal chain off each side for a zig-zag sprint through a field of parked boats testing one’s coordination to the max.

The Final Obstacles

One last forested section of the course was all that remained left to be conquered! Scattered throughout this acreage was the remains of an old paint ball course, including some small houses and castles, which Highlander integrated into the trail. Some of structures were rebuilt and added onto in the form of a two-story rock climbing wall and a two-story wall climb with a rope assist.

After breaking free of the forest racers faced one of the most unique climbs in the OCR industry. Suspended in the air vertically was a set of plastic tubes. Perhaps a foot in diameter these pipes rose approximately 15 feet in the air. The only means to climb this pipe were small ropes which hung out of two sides of each pipe and spaced around 16 inches apart leading up to the top making this the most challenging “rope ladder” ever! One last set of parallel bars provided a good triceps/shoulder burn before the 8 and 4-mile course finished and the 12 and 24-mile racers continued on for further punishment.

Final Thoughts

Other than a few issues that you would normally expect for a first-year event, Highlander really did prove to be very challenging and well-managed. The event benefited from having actual obstacle course racers design the course and its obstacles.  People could complete most of the obstacles and the four distance levels offered provided a test for every fitness level.

The finishers’ bling was cool looking and Highlander also had a merchandise tent with everything from flex fit hats to hoodies to complete the look. I’m really looking forward to the next Highlander Assault on October 6, 2018, to see what those crazy cops come up with next!