Slippery In Chicago Spartan Super U.S Championship Series

“You’ll know at the finish line” is the famous motto of the Spartan Race. But, if you ran the Chicago Super you probably knew by the time you reached the parking lot at The Richmond Hunt Club.  The rain had hammered the area the previous week and since this race was part of the US Championship Series most racers were super curious about the course conditions.

Well, thanks in part to my 4×4 Jeep I could park on site and from the moment I stepped out of my vehicle and sank into 4 inches of mud I knew this was going to be a long day. Grabbing my ID and picking my way through the slop to the festival area I made my usual pit stop at the restrooms. Upon opening the door, I found that I really couldn’t distinguish where the muck stopped, and the actual toilet started due to the high levels of mud. Although after finding the seat I realized this may have been the only dry spot to sit on the entire property. I’ve raced from coast to coast for many years and this may have been the worst slop that I had ever encountered. If ankle-deep muck was the only thing to walk through from my Jeep clear to the start line what was the rest of the course going to be like? One word, Nasty.

Spartan started the 8.1-mile Super at the far end of the festival area and immediately threw athletes along a trail on the edge of a cornfield which made racers shoes feel more like concrete blocks. The small streams along the trail were swollen with water due to the storms but provided a small opportunity to rinse off some of the built-up muck.

A series of low walls were placed in this location to thin out the crowd a bit before testing racers grip strength on the Monkey Bars. A short distance away the inverted wall was set-up leading to the Herc Hoist. The ropes on the hoist had already become slick with mud by the time I got there making this obstacle much tougher than usual. Hands still slick from the constant slop made Twister an adventure as the burpee zones were so packed with people that racers just started doing burpees wherever they could find a spot. The bucket brigade, which was next up, was relatively short thankfully but the Atlas Stone carry a bit further down the line was brutal as each stone had a coating of thick mud around it making even the strongest competitor dig deep.

The Rolling mud and dunk wall were next up combined with the first of two barbed wire crawls. My initial thought upon seeing this was “Why do we need more water with a dunk wall”? You really noticed the stench of the standing water as you made your way under the barbed wire. And just to be cruel, after getting finished with the crawl which left you caked with mud Spartan threw the Z wall at you.

There is nothing worse than a slick Z wall, all obstacles were made much worse as you never really had a chance to get your hands dry during the race. Now approaching the halfway point of the race, the effects of the sloppy conditions could clearly be felt as athletes were struggling with obstacles that normally didn’t slow down most competitive racers.

I noticed that at the 8-foot wall, which was the next obstacle on the course, there were way more people doing burpees than I’ve ever seen. The bender followed up the wall climb, and this obstacle was a new one to me. This new obstacle consisted of a series of ascending vertical pipes starting about 7 feet off the ground with bars placed about every 2 feet apart. The structure curved back towards an athlete and reminded me a bit of the Battlefrog delta ladder.

The race was now at its furthest point from the festival area and the trail meandered through a section of the property used for paintball games. Along this stretch, Spartan placed their second barbed wire crawl along with their vertical cargo net climb before sending racers back to running alongside the rows of corn.

The Stairway to Sparta and a series of hurdles were the next obstacles athletes encountered on the trail leading to a hay bale wall. Just let me say right now that mud and hay stick to you like nothing else! I mean, don’t some sections of the world use mud and hay to built houses? And what better obstacle to try to traverse while carrying a house on you than Olympus right? As an added bonus, if you failed on Olympus the burpee pit was in a solid foot of muck. These were the worst burpees I’ve ever done in my life as you brought up 15 pounds of mud with each repetition.

The plate drag and rope climb? These two tasks were next up and close to impossible to complete. Dragging that sled through the thick mud? Yeah right. Climbing a rope slick with mud? Welcome to the burpee train. Now the sandbag carry only consisted of a single bag, and the distance of the carry wasn’t that far, but it kind of felt like trying to ice skate with a small child on your back.

The last section of the course led back towards the festival area where family and friends could easily see you miss your spear throw and roll around in more soup doing your burpees. If you happened to get lucky and hit the spear, then your hands were still dry! Until you ran around the corner and found the Yokohama tires sitting in the same shit you’ve been battling all day.

Those tires were already tough to get a grip on without trying to flip them in a batch of Montezuma’s Revenge. The burpee pit for that? Yup, more slop.

By this time, you could see the finish line and I’m guessing most people were thinking the same thing I was. Please, don’t let me fail another obstacle and have to burpee in more mud. Luckily the A-frame cargo was next up, no failing this! Then the slip wall. Not a problem, I might finish strong here. Only one last obstacle before the fire jump, the multi-rig. The rig set-up for this event wasn’t the worst ever. Three rings on each side separated by a vertical pipe traverse. But like all the rest of the obstacles on this course, this one too was slippery with farm mud.

So, unless you had the grip strength of Thor or the running ability of Mercury this event was pretty much an unending burpee train.  My final thoughts on this event are as follows. With good weather conditions this course would not have been terrible, maybe not even U.S. Championship Series worthy as the obstacles were what you expected, the track was flat, and the distance wasn’t overwhelming.  But the massive amount of rain turned this race into a brutal suckfest that was worthy of a Championship race.

Kids Obstacle Challenge Chicago

It’s tough to coordinate things when you and your kids head to an OCR event. Bringing extra clothes for everyone and managing start times so everyone can be seen can be a major headache. Here’s an idea though, why not find a Kids Obstacle Challenge race near you? It’s just for the kiddies, although parents can run along within the non-competitive waves and everything is designed just for your little one! I had the great pleasure of attending the June 16 event held in Chicago with my 3 little ones and found it to be a great way to get the kids active and enjoy some family fun. KOC had set-up 14 obstacles along a 1.75-mile course within the Ned Brown Preserve in Rolling Meadows for a thrilling test for the youngsters. There was plenty of space at the park and KOC made great use of it by keeping their course in easy viewing for the multitude of spectators watching their little ones having a blast. Registration was a breeze in the early going as not many parents signed their children up for the opening competitive wave, but the lines became much longer later in the day when the open runners checked in. So, a little hint here mom and dad, if your child is competitive sign them up for the early wave as I found this to be the least attended wave of the day and had virtually no obstacle backups. Your child will get chip timing and could win a Razor product if they finish in the top 3 of their respective age group. Later on in the day when the open waves race I found the course to be really packed up at obstacles with many more athletes as well as their parents on the course at the same time.

 

KOC set up their starting corral next to the festival area where the emcee for the event got the kids pumped up for the start. Using a super soaker water gun only added to the excitement on this 95-degree day. Once we were thoroughly drenched the air horn blew and waves of parents with their children took off. The first obstacle along the way was a series of suspended punching bag type balloons which required racers to weave their way through before continuing to a series of A-frame type walls that needed to be traversed. Next up a shallow pool of ankle-deep water filled with colored floating balls needed to be crossed before dropping down on all fours for a set of low crawls. An A-frame with rock climbing holds sat in a pool of water and required racers to cross from one side to the other. I found this to be perhaps the toughest obstacle of the day and possibly the most fun for the youngsters. KOC followed up with an adult obstacle, the sandbag carry, but scaled it down to 5 and 10-pound bags with the carry distance being around 20 yards total.

The trail became a bit soggier now as the rain the previous night drained into this section of the course. Racers now encountered a spider web of bungee cords on them leading to a fun rope swing across a shallow water pit. I noticed the kids really liked playing Tarzan on this rope! No obstacle course can be complete without a cargo net climb, right? KOC chose this section of the trail to install their A-frame cargo climb with a group of car tires set up a short distance away for the high knees obstacle. The distance between obstacles lengthened a bit now during the last section of the course. Ladder walls, which the racers could either climb or go under was the next obstacle presented. A suspended balance pole with hanging ropes proved a tough task to manage as racers made their way around the last turn of the course where a rock climb with a slide down to the stickiest mud ever waited. I personally had to pull one of my kids out of this mess and I’m sure many a parent went looking for missing shoes in this muck after the race. The last obstacle along the way to the finish became a messy one as a net was suspended over a mud pit which got kids low and dirty before crossing the finish line and picking up their unique medal.

The KOC was an awesome family adventure as I saw smiling faces everywhere. The obstacles here were geared a little more towards younger racers as there wasn’t anything that older racers would fail to complete. KOC offered cool Razor Scooter products to the top 3 winners in each competitive age class and although the competitive waves were small, the competition for those scooters appeared fierce. One thing I noticed is a bit of an obstacle back up during the open waves. As a veteran racer I’d suggest making smaller waves staggered every 10-15 minutes apart instead of the larger waves every half an hour, or by adding another obstacle at each location along the course. Additionally, having a computer or tablet available for competitive racers to view their time would have been a valuable addition. The only people who knew their times were the top 3. The rest of the racers had to wait until Monday to see their results.  Parking and pictures were free at this event which was certainly another plus. So, if you’re an OCR enthusiast, and I’m guessing you are if you’re reading this, grab the kids and hit a KOC event so that generation next can enjoy their own special race!

 

2018 Spartan Sprint D.C. – Fast and Furious

Spartan-DC-A-Frame-and-Carving

Maryland International Raceway, just south of our nation’s capital, is usually filled with revving engines, screeching tires and roaring cheers. This weekend, the cheers were still there, but the tires were replaced with the sound of feet running through the woods. The engines were replaced by splashing water, ringing bells and spears hitting hay. Spartan Race had returned for its popular Sprint distance.

Parking and Registration

Personally, the two biggest things that make a race great, other than the course itself, is parking and registration. Parking at D.C. was on-site, which is always great. Generally, if I see there’s a shuttle, I’m less likely to add that race to my list. Parking at Maryland International Raceway was extremely easy, and the lot was only about a 3-4-minute walk to the registration tent. Check in was smooth and quick early in the morning and I didn’t notice any long lines in the afternoon.

Spartan-DC-Registration-Lines

I know a lot of Spartan diehards were down in Dallas for one of their bigger stadium races of the year, but turnout still seemed relatively strong. There weren’t a ton of vendors, but this made the festival area seem less congested and easy to navigate. Regardless of festival vendors, there were still plenty of free goodies to be had both at the finish line and around the festival area.

The spectator area didn’t extend far into the course, but after watching racers start, they were able to view Hercules Hoist, Multi-Rig and Rope Climb all within about a quarter mile of the course. There was also an area outside of the festival to watch Monkey Bars and Vertical Cargo. At the finish, spectators watched racers emerge from the woods to take on the A-Frame and finish with a Fire Jump.

Spartan-DC-Spear

The Course

Out of the handful of Sprints I’ve done in the past, DC was by far the flattest. Though there were plenty of short hills with varying inclines, the total ascent was low for your typical Spartan. Though 300 feet over a little over 4 miles is nothing to scoff at, many other venues easily hit 1,000 feet or more in the same distance. This led to quick times for the Elite racers, with the male winner, Tyler McCredie finishing in 39:48 and the female winner, Tiffany Palmer, coming across in 50:42.

Most Spartan Races and obstacle races, in general, only include a few obstacles in the first mile. Mostly, this is to keep the field spread out so there isn’t a lot of backup. The D.C. Sprint, however, included seven obstacles in the first mile. And not just hurdles or barbed wire, either. Those were included, but so were the Spearman, Bucket Brigade and Olympus. Initially, I expected this to cause some unusual backups. But, to my surprise, I didn’t face any significant obstacle lines. That went for both heats I ran, once in Age Group at 8:00 am and the second being Open at 11:30 am.

Spartan-DC-Sprint-Finish

In all, the course tallied up about 4.25 miles and racers faced 22 obstacles. That early run of obstacles meant no crazy gauntlet at the end of the race. The last half mile only included Monkey Bars, Vertical Cargo, A-Frame and Fire Jump. So, if you had enough juice in your legs, you could make a solid finish with the lack of strength or grip obstacles. Personally, I like having a string of obstacles right before the finish, but each design has its strengths and weaknesses.

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author

Tougher Mudder KY: Laps and Live Music

Let me start by saying this: Great job, Tough Mudder!  That feedback email that you get after a race? Tough Mudder really seems to have paid attention.  Year after year, they have consistently gotten better.  If you read my review for the Tougher Mudder TN last September, then you understand why I made a point to start with some praise for the improvements!

With Tough Mudder starting their competitive series just last year, they were playing the sort of catch up game that any runner who has ever fallen off an obstacle or come from behind should understand (I know I do!).  They realized that Mudder Nation needed improvements, and they did what many OCR brands do not do well: They listened to constructive criticism and made changes.

VENUE and PARKING: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, KY

One of the aspects that I most love about racing, other than the amazing and supportive OCR family, is getting to see so many different parts of the world that I would not see otherwise.  Although we didn’t race in or just around the Kentucky Speedway, getting to drive by it on the way in to the venue was exciting (I do NOT excite easily).

 Parking was in three different sections, and I went with the “General Parking” option.  It was a half-mile away, but it wasn’t a half-mile of wondering where the entrance was, as for the entire walk to registration, I could see part of the course, several obstacles, and a portion of the festival area.  Parking was quick and easy.

View-from-Parking-Area

 

REGISTRATION/CHECK-IN:

There is some room for improvement here, although it is better than the last Tougher I competed in (Thank you, TM!).  With plenty of lines for the non-competitive heats (makes sense, since there are far more participants in these areas), there were only two lines and two tables for Tougher Mudders.  While it was a smooth check-in with zero issues, maybe adding a table or two would help, as the check-in volunteers were three to a table, so there was congestion.  Overall, though, it took me maybe three minutes to show my ID, get my bib and timing chip, and move on.  I also come prepared, though, so that always helps those volunteers, as well as speeds up the process for other participants.

Registration-and-Check-in

Registration-tents

There were also tables set up with plenty of markers and zip ties for timers, as well as scissors to cut the loose ends off of the zip ties.  Convenience at its finest!

STARTING LINE, GOOD TIMES, and THE COURSE (of course)

After being told that there were some starting line issues this year already, I was a little nervous about being sure I was at the gate early.  I must say, it was hard to hear any announcements and I was constantly checking my watch and looking toward the starting line.  Thankfully, it seemed like volunteers were deployed to find anyone wearing a Tougher Mudder bib and to be sure we were headed to the starting line on time.

The way people were organized into corrals by time, then sent to the starting line, was a pretty cool change from the norm of people just heading to the start and getting a wristband or something else checked.  I spoke to a few of the runners from each type of race (5k, Tough Mudder half, Tough Mudder full), and how they felt about being able to start all in the same wave.  Everyone I spoke to loved the idea of being mixed with others with different, yet the same, goal-to finish stronger and together! No one felt left out or “called out” for running a shorter race.

After I finished my race, I met up at the starting line to visit with DJ Will Gill, who is always, always a superstar at the starting line and gets everyone motivated.  He announced me when I walked up as the Tougher female winner, and that was pretty sweet.  Not a lot of starting line people really get me going, and he is one of the few. Unlike other race venues, DJ Will Gill even let me sing the National Anthem for one of the heats!  Tough Mudder allows a moment of silence and the National Anthem before each and every wave of runners.

National-Anthem

Once runners lined up, they had a flat start that went to the top of a small hill, and then it was ON!  Tougher Mudders had to follow course markings like everyone else, but we had Lap 1 and Lap 2 challenges.  We pretty much had the course to ourselves for Lap 1, but once we hit Lap 2, we were intermingled with non-Tougher Mudder runners, and while it caused some congestion, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  My husband, who ran his first OCR, was part of the 5k crew, and he felt just as part of everything and every obstacle as everyone else.  For this being his first OCR, and with him not being a runner at all, I worried he would not know where to go on the course, but he says the course was marked so well, there was no chance for any confused at all.  (He also is planning on running another Tough Mudder, “at least a half”, he says!).

Runners also crossed over where others were just getting to the race and having the cheers and encouragement as I ran by was pretty nice. I also think Tough Mudder did a great job with changing up a little how the Tougher Mudders had to compete, such as we had to complete the King Kong Infinity, and we had to swim across a pond (I couldn’t even touch the bottom!).  Towards the end, Toughers had an ice bag carry, and we carried it to the Arctic Enema, broke it open, and poured it into the water before getting in and swimming to the other side.  As one who doesn’t like any weather below 70 degrees, this wasn’t my favorite part, but I do appreciate it being towards the end of the race!

DJ-Will-Gill

Starting-Line

RECOGNITION and MUDDER VILLAGE

Not only did Tougher Mudder decide to create medals for the top three male and female finishers, they also added a podium ceremony.  I do wish the podium was out in the middle of the venue, rather than being crammed at the end of the finish line.  This allows for people to enjoy watching the announcements, as well as others, getting pictures up on the podium just for fun; HOWEVER, for Tough Mudder to have made the changes with medals and recognition, and in such a short time, was pretty rockstar of them!

Podium-Ceremony

And guess what? There was a LIVE BAND in Mudder Village, as well!  There was other music being played, but the band did a super job covering top songs, and this was a wonderful difference from so many other venues I’ve been to.  The ATM was in a building on the way in and set aside and well-marked.  There were new obstacles and others from the past were brought back, as well.  It was nice to go into a race and not know exactly what to expect.

This is a racing brand that has been around for some time, now, and if you haven’t run one yet, go do it!  If you have, think about doing it again!

I’ll be back, Tough Mudder!

 

Spartan Race: Bringing the Pain to Big Bear

Overview
Spartan Race Southern California was the third of five races in the National Championship Series. Hosted in Big Bear, CA it brought an entirely new dynamic to the season. Not only did the race start at an elevation around 6000ft, it was the first Spartan Beast of the series. Being eerily similar to the World Championships this coming September in in Tahoe, CA, it brought many of the elites from the men’s and women’s competition who were trying to make a statement halfway through the North American Series.

San Jose brought rolling hills and smooth terrain.

Seattle brought the muddy and wet conditions.

Big Bear brought the treacherous climbs and unforgiving descents

The Course
Just looking at the course map was intimidating, touting 5000 feet of elevation gain in 12+ miles. In fact, I was a little confused if it was a Skyrunning Race or a Spartan Race knowing that the terrain itself would be the challenge of the day. The start line looked up at the mountain ahead that foreshadowed what was to come. Thankfully, mother nature cooperated with dry and relatively comfortable conditions throughout the day.

The course was laid out perfectly according to the plan of Steve Hammond who wanted to create one of the most difficult courses in recent memory. After about 200 meters of flat running, competitors were doomed with the instant climb that slowed the pace to a hike, a common theme throughout the rest of the race. The beginning of the race was relatively obstacle-free allowing racers to spread out before a collection of obstacles near the top of the mountain. We were sent up slopes simply to run back down again, a seemingly endless oscillation of technical terrain. I envied those taking the chairlift above us and wished for some snow and a pair of skis on the way down. With the Atlas Carry, Herc Hoist, Monkey Bars, and the Sandbag Carry #1 peppered near the top of the mountain, we were greeted with massive descent down to the bottom. Of course, this could only mean one thing, we were going back up. Twister greeted us at the bottom of our descent as we turned the corner to ascend back into the double-black-diamond hell of Big Bear Ski Resort.

After seven miles of punishing terrain, I wanted to believe that it could only get better only to be greeted by the worst of them all…. THE DOUBLE SANDBAG CARRY. I was met with a dizzying feeling and the metallic taste in my mouth. This is where it would all end for me… my Achilles heel. After agonizing up and down a steep slope we didn’t get a reprieve with yet another climb. Up, down, up, down, up, down, it never ended!

Miles 8-11 brought more climbs at a less steep grade. While runnable on fresh legs, I was having trouble opening up any semblance of a stride this late into the race. It wasn’t until the massive descent back into the village that I could taste the finish line. Thankfully, mother nature cooperated leaving the obstacles dry and less of a factor than the massive climbs. The descents were just as difficult on tired legs, as anyone could have easily twisted an ankle or fallen flat on their face on the descent. The final descent meant only one thing, the final gauntlet of obstacles. BUT WAIT! Sneaky Steve strikes again. Just in case our arms and legs weren’t tired before, the bucket brigade gave us the opportunity the feel nice and depleted before an epic gauntlet of obstacles.

The burpee station (Spear Throw), “YOKOHAMA Tire Flip!!” (said in Steve Hammond’s voice), rope climb, and dunk wall made the likes of the slip wall a true obstacle. With the ropes just out of reach for a simple jump, competitors were forced to give every last ounce to run up and grab onto that rope for dear life. I didn’t even know you could burpee out on the slip wall until then, an option some people exercised.

Finally the rig! A nice dry rig was Bear-able (see what I did there) amongst the massive climbs of the ski slope. For anyone who ran this race, we were greeted at the finish line by a sense of accomplishment, knowing what we just endured was a difficult course to finish, regardless of chip time.

 

Men’s Recap

The men’s race continued domination by the Ryans. Ryan Woods in San Jose, Ryan Kent in Seattle, and now Ryan Atkins in Big Bear. The real questions is, will Ryan win the championship? If so, which one?

The pack of Ryan Atkins, Angel Quintero, and Ryan Woods (Woodsy) kept a strong pace the entire race and stayed in the lead pack. With Woodsy’s running ability, Angel’s intense training at altitude, and Atkins’ strength and mountain acumen, none of them could be counted out. Atkins finally pulled ahead at the double sandbag carry with a time of just above 4 minutes for the entire carry. Atkins also rocked a whole new way to carry the bucket… on his back! Atkins continued to run a clean race, leaving Angel and Woodsy to the other podium spots. Robert Killian and Ian Hosek rounded out the top 5 for the men.

 

Women’s Recap

A win by Rea Kolbl in San Jose and Lindsay Webster in Seattle, along with Faye Stenning’s two second place finishes set up a perfect storm coming into Big Bear. These were the three girls to beat. Would they continue to set the Spartan standard, or would someone else break into the win column?

The women’s race was a close fought battle the entire time. Rea Kolbl and Lindsay Webster set the pace throughout, closely shadowed by Faye Stenning.

Rea continued to punish the uphill climbs and Lindsay matched every effort with her technical descents. Faye gained ground during the heavy carries and pushed hard late in the race. By the bucket carry, Faye was in striking distance. Lindsay missed the spear throw, giving Faye the opportunity she needed to move into second place. Rea continued to push hard and was slowed by the slip wall. With its ropes higher than usual and tired legs, it was difficult to reach up to the top. Faye used this opportunity to catch up to Rea as they traded attempts on the slip wall, knowing full well that whoever could complete it first would control their own destiny. Then finally, Rea mustered the strength to run up the wall and went through the rig unscathed, taking first place and claiming her second win of the season. Faye continued with her second place performances, protecting her lead in the National Championship Series while Lindsay finished strong in 3rd place. Spartan Team Pros Alyssa Hawley and Nicole Mericle rounded out the top 5 for the women.

Summary:

The third stop along the Spartan National Championship Series proved to be a memorable one. With similar conditions to Tahoe, this was a good barometer for those looking to do well in the World Championships in late September. Whether you were an elite, age group, or open competitor, everyone who crossed the finish line should walk with their head held high. This race was definitely memorable. I think I speak for everyone when I say, Steve Hammond… YOU SUCK!

 

P.S. Steve Hammond, Seriously THANK YOU and the rest of the Spartan Team for putting on a great race weekend! You did an awesome job!

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!