emPowered OCR – Lancaster’s First Stadium-Style Obstacle Race

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A well-run local obstacle race is a great find. A well-run local obstacle race that’s for a good cause is a gem

 

emPower Training Systems and The Mighty Mehal Foundation teamed up to bring Lancaster, PA its first ever stadium-style obstacle race. The 3.25-mile course took place in and around Clipper Magazine Stadium, home to the Lancaster Barnstormers. 

 

A lot of local “obstacle” races I’ve experienced tend to be more of a glorified mud run than obstacle race. emPowered OCR was a true obstacle race that challenged competitive athletes while ensuring new racers would have a blast. There were even family waves so parents could run the course with their kids instead of watching them run a smaller course from the sidelines.

 

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For A Cause

A lot of people use obstacle racing as an escape from the ordinary day to day. But some people use it to get through their own personal obstacles. emPowered OCR was created to help those people, with all proceeds benefiting The Mighty Mehal Foundation.

 

The foundation was created in honor of Shaun “Mighty” Mehal and provides scholarships to qualified applicants who are entering a recovery house in Lancaster County. 

 

Free Free Free

We all know how most of the larger races go. Need to park? That’ll be $10.00. Might even have to take a shuttle. Want to bring your grandma so she can cheer you on? Open up that wallet. 

 

Pretty much the only thing you needed to pay for at emPowered OCR was your registration and bag check, if you needed it. Parking was provided in the stadium lot and spectators were free of charge. There were even plenty of free samples from local and national vendors. 

 

As with the larger events, each registration included a tech shirt, finisher medal and a free beer for anyone over 21 years old. 

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Course Design

The course was designed by the co-owner of emPower Training Systems and personal trainer, Josh March. The distance came in right around 3.25 miles and featured 23 obstacles. Clipper Magazine isn’t as big as a major league stadium so, unlike those, it wasn’t all stairs. Most of the course took place just outside the stadium, with the last quarter-mile or so being inside. 

 

In the competitive waves, the majority of the obstacles were mandatory completion. Racers were given an extra band at registration and had to take it off if they were unable to complete an obstacle. Two obstacles did have a penalty loop, in addition to mandatory completion and one had a burpee penalty. 

 

For the “Strike Zone Challenge,” If you missed the strike zone net, you were required to do 15 burpees. Unfortunately for competitive racers who missed, the burpee obstacle was shortly after, which added another 15 reps in the hot sun (I speak from experience).

 

There were two carries out on the course, bucket and sandbag, which surprisingly had the same weight for men and women. It felt like the weight would be a little light compared to other men’s carries and a little heavy for women. The bucket carry was about a quarter-mile, while the sandbag weaved up and down the stadium steps. 

 

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No Easy Task

For anyone looking to challenge their grip and coordination, that was well taken care of. Several obstacles required bell ringing. “Because I Was Inverted” required traversing upside down across a steel beam from one end to the other. The “Y-Wall” was a fun mix of relatively easy rock holds out to a pair of hanging metal tubes. 

 

“emPowered Peak” almost seemed similar to Spartan’s Olympus due to the requirement to go from side to side on an angle. Unlike Olympus, though, there wasn’t much to grab. The obstacle was made up of vertical 2x4s that required careful transitions and shoes with some grip. 

 

Perhaps the toughest obstacle of the day, though, was the Barnstormers Rig. According to March, it turned out to be a band killer among competitive racers. It required transitioning between rings, baseballs and even a baseball bat in order to ring the bell at the end. And because it was late in the race, many of the athletes already had fatigued grip. 

 

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What’s Next?

According to March, the race was a great success and they’re already in the works for a 2020 race and potentially a second event. With around 450 total participants, emPowered OCR definitely has the potential to become an annual event, with some expansion.

They do plan to keep the competitive waves mainly mandatory completion, which personally I love. There were a few hiccups with the registration process, but plans are already underway to improve the process for next year. They’re also looking into a more OCR-equipped timing system as this year’s timing was not set up to show 100% completion and non-completion among competitive racers. Instead bands had to be manually checked among the top finishers. 

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emPowered OCR was a fantastic race and the team did a really great job running the event. At no point did I feel like this was a first-year race. It’s definitely one that will be on my calendar for 2020 and beyond!

 

Photo Credit: emPower Training Systems, Jesse Keim, Kevin Peragine Photography, Lindsey Makuvek

Savage Race Pennsylvania 2017 – What A Skirmish!

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On fields where the combat normally involves paintballs, athletes from all over the country came to rise above the morning fog and win a different kind of battle. The threat of rain couldn’t prevent thousands of competitors from facing a difficult Savage course, head on. The terrain at Skirmish, located in Albrightsville, PA, was flat but technical, featuring rocks and tree roots on the majority of the race route.

Many attendees were returning Savages, ready for another challenge. Some came to earn their Syndicate medal, which Savage gives out for running multiple races in a calendar year. Others, like myself, hitting their first Savage of 2017. Those who had come to run their first Savage hopefully came prepared with upper body and grip strength.
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PRE-RACE AND ARRIVAL

Savage’s site is very easy to navigate and, though races can get expensive, there are usually plenty of promotions. Many of them include BOGO half-off deals. Once registered, email communications keep you updated on wave times, bib numbers, course map, parking and more. This way, you’re check in is quick and there’s little concern come race day. In this case, the course map was available about five or six days ahead of the actual event.

Parking was pretty simple and cost $10 for standard and $20 for VIP. As with other Savage races, standard parking was within walking distance from the festival entrance, making it easily accessible. For me, this saved me the $5 for bag check. I was able to keep my bag in the car and carry my valet key in the zipper pocket of my running shorts.

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I arrived at about 8:10 am, 50 minutes before the SavagePRO wave, which is their competitive heat.  The line orter line was a bit longer than the last race I had been to (Maryland Fall 2016). But, as I later found out, there were 100 more athletes in the competitive wave this time around. Overall, it took about 10 minutes to check in and get my bib, still allowing me time to walk back to the car to throw on my trail shoes and bib, so I could warm up.

Whereas Maryland really only had one or two obstacles near the start line and festival area, Pennsylvania had about ten, including a “mystery” obstacle that I’ll get into later. Many racers took advantage of this layout and got in some practice before the race. About ten minutes before the start of each wave, runners were allowed into the starting corral.

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THE COURSE

I’ll start this part by mentioning that Matty T, Savage’s normal master of the starting line, couldn’t make this particular event due to a scheduling conflict. Luckily, Savage was able to secure Coach Pain to fill in his place. Though they have two very different styles of beginning a race, both are extremely good at what they do. I had also run an open wave later in the day and heard a completely different, but equally motivating, speech from Coach Pain.

The overall distance was just under 6 miles, which included 30 obstacles. Runners were greeted with an obstacle-free run of almost 1.5 miles to begin the race. By mile 3, only 9 obstacles had been attempted. This meant that the last half of the course smacked you with 21 obstacles!

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Though I’ve only done a handful of races, this was definitely the toughest collection of obstacles I’ve faced. By the end of it, my biceps were drained of life. Savage found a way to take, what I thought was already a tough 2016 obstacle list, and make it even tougher. New obstacles like Twirly Bird compounded with two rigs at this venue ensured this would not be a cake walk. Not to mention that mystery obstacle, which was dubbed Half and Half by the end of the day. The front half was an inclined monkey bars, like you see in Sawtooth, with the back part a declined pole, as you see in Pipe Dreams. Did this mean there was no Sawtooth, then? Of course not! At the PA location, some of the obstacles are permanent and stay at Skirmish year-round. So, although racers didn’t get a chance to see the new Sawtooth setup, they were still climbing on it!

The only complaint I had about the course was that Kiss My Walls, during the Pro wave, had an extremely long line. It took roughly 5-7 minutes to even get one attempt. And, because Pro racers have mandatory obstacle completion and KMW is one of the tougher obstacles, it cost many competitors lots of time. Oddly enough, in the open heat I ran later on, there was hardly a line at any obstacle.

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THE FINISH

After racers complete the grueling course, they’re greeted with volunteers handing out medals, shirts and water. If you’re a “swag” kind of OCR junkie, Savage’s shirts are super comfortable and the medals are solid. Within 10-15 minutes, most times and rankings were available at the results tent. Though there were no actual showers (very common), Savage had several hoses and two changing tents set up a short walk away from the start line.

Each registration included a free beer, so that was available in the festival area after (and I guess technically before) the race. There were also beef jerky samples, a life insurance company, and food vendors set up in case you wanted to hang out afterwards. Savage also had two waves of their 0.5 mile kids race, called Savage Jr.

Results were posted the following day (Sunday). Runners also had the option of signing up for a program, called Pic2Go, that will automatically post pictures to your Facebook as they become available. Or, you could wait until Thursday when all the pictures would be posted on Savage’s site. Pic2Go could only post pictures where your bib was clearly visible, so some racers may have seen a few, while others would see upwards of 20.

This was only my second Savage Race, but there’s no doubt it will not be my last. Though the course presented racers with a legitimate challenge, the casual racer was still able to find a place to enjoy themselves with friends and family.

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Photo Credit: Savage Race

Shadey’s Rugged Run 2017 Review – Lancaster, PA

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For the past several years, a class of senior sport management students at Lancaster Bible College has put on an obstacle race. This race not only ensures you need a clean change of clothes, but gives back to the community. This year’s class was no different. The proceeds from this weekend’s event were split between the school’s athletic department and the Penn State Hershey Children’s Miracle Network. As a part of the latter, each wave was introduced to a brave little girl named Madeline. Hearing her story and the obstacles she’s overcome in the just over two years of her life, helped put into perspective the real reason everyone was there to race.

As for the name, it’s not called Shadey because there are lots of trees providing shade, or because they’re dishonest (quite the opposite). It would have to be spelled shady, anyway, for those keeping score at home. Shadey is short for Ebenshade. J. Martin Ebenshade and his wife were local farmers who eventually donated their land, which is where the school is currently located. So, sticking to the school’s roots, the course navigates through the old and current farm land, and is named Shadey’s Rugged Run.

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Parking for the event was $10 per car, which is pretty standard across obstacle races. What isn’t always standard, however, was that spectators were totally FREE. Registration included the race, a tech shirt (100% polyester), a drawstring bag, and a handful of coupons for local retailers. Additionally, several vendors offering free samples were set up in the small festival area. This included organic tea, milk, nearby OCR training, a bounce house for children and even ice cream. A local Greek food truck was also there for anyone who wanted to grab a meal. Registration was simple and quick, with little to no line throughout the day.

The event had an optional dry bag check. Luckily, the parking area was close. So, as long as you could protect your car keys from the mud and water, this may not have been needed. During online registration, racers had an option to rent a shower for $5.00. If declined, but you changed your mind on race day, you could still purchase it the day of the race for a slightly higher $7.00. Everyone had access to a fire hose that allowed for quick clean off, and both a men’s and women’s changing tent.

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The day began with a timed competitive wave at 8:00 a.m., with non-timed waves running every 20 minutes from there. This helped prevent bottle-necking at obstacles. Speaking of obstacles, there were 17 total obstacles and just over 3 miles of terrain. Like many other well-designed courses, the first few obstacles were well spread out, which also helps with obstacle congestion. Of the 17 obstacles, over a third of them were in the last mile or so.

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The course map had been available on the event’s website (www.shadeysruggedrun.com) weeks in advance of the race and was almost completely accurate. The only two minor differences were the tire carry (listed as a log carry) and the location of the mystery obstacle. The mystery obstacle turned out to be a rope traverse over water. Competitors had to grab a rope above them, stand on another below them, and make their way across. Though some of the low ropes lost a little tension at times, this obstacle proved to be a terrific addition to the course.

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Some obstacles were designed to create a bit of a challenge. This includes the previously mentioned tire carry, plus a steep hill climb, cargo net and a tire wall. Others were designed to get you plain old dirty or wet, like a dumpster dive into water, mud pit crawl, and giant mud holes. There was even a giant downhill tarp slide slicked with water and soap (added slip for extra speed) to give the course an extra element of fun. “Leap of Faith,” a fan favorite, consists of climbing up onto one of two platforms and plunging into a pool of water.

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Overall, the course had been extremely well marked, with a string of ropes on each side running almost the entirety of the race. This should not be understated, as most of the time, events benefit from well-marked trails. As this race took you through fields and farms, marking can be difficult There was a little confusion in the competitive wave with course direction, which is not uncommon at races. Unfortunately, one racer made a slight wrong turn and most of those behind followed. In this case, that wrong turn would have been somewhat difficult to prevent. The only negative would be on some of the volunteers, who did not seem to know the correct direction racers should have been going.

Luckily, this issue was quickly fixed by the crew and the following waves seemed to run smoothly. Additionally, the staff and volunteers were extremely apologetic and offered all those affected to jump in any upcoming wave to run the course again. This is an excellent quality to see in an event. Issues are going to happen, that’s racing. But it’s how an event, and its crew, responds to those issues that determine how well-run it is.

Shadey’s Rugged Run is a great race for the OCR newcomer, or a veteran looking for a weekend race. The competitive wave provides an option for anyone that wants to test their skills against other racers, while the open heats are a great introduction into the world of obstacle racing and mud runs.

Photo Credit: Shadey’s Rugged Run and the author