Conquer The Gauntlet – Continuum

Brand new this year Conquer The Gauntlet has added a multi-lap competitive race format to their events that they call the CONTINUUM.  Being a fan of the difficulty of CTG courses and always looking to push myself further I decided to sign up for this Suffer-Fest when CTG came through my home state of Iowa.  If you’ve never done CTG before they are known for their tough obstacles consisting of a lot of hanging grip obstacles, including their 98% failure rated Pegatron.  One lap of this 4-mile 25 obstacle course is hard enough so I knew doing multiple laps was going to be intense.

What is the Continuum?

CTG has always been a “Bands Not Burpees” race series, requiring 100% obstacle completion to be considered for a podium or ranking for OCRWC.  The Continuum, however, is what I will call a “Bands AND Burpees” race, requiring competitors to complete all but the 4 hardest obstacles to be considered for the podium.  The 4 obstacles you could fail are all major hanging grip obstacles; Pegatron, Stairway to Heaven, Tarzan Swing and Cliffhanger.  If you failed any of these you could do 15 Atlas burpees AND 15 Thrusters (12 for Women), each using a 20lb medicine ball for the weight.

CTG_Continuum_Penalty

The Race

As a continuum competitor, we started with the Elite wave first thing in the morning (you are running the Elite race as well as Continuum). The morning had brought a small amount of rain to the course softening up the ground and slicking down some of the obstacles.  There was a good half-mile run up to the first obstacle giving people time to space out a bit, though there were some bottlenecks at the 2 creek crossings.  Feelings were riding high through the first obstacles as everyone was flying through the pole traverse, slip wall and A-frame cargo.  At a mile and a half, the first Burpeeable obstacle came up, The Tarzan swing. A rig of alternating handholds (including vertical pipes, ropes, rings, and a steering wheel?!) attached to ropes.  Most were quickly through this. The real struggles didn’t begin until after mile 3, the last mile, “The Gauntlet”.  It started with Stairway to heaven which had been made slick by the morning rain, then a short run to Z-beam which gave your arms a break while making sure your core was nice and “warmed up” for the punishing, soul-crushing Pegatron which is a total upper body killer whether it takes you 1 try or 10.

CTG_Continuum_Walls

A quick run through a tube and crawl under some wire brought you to the Walls of Furry usually 5 Eight-foot walls back to back but it was only 3 walls this year, at first I was upset that the number was reduced but by my final lap I was just fine with it.  Then straight to the Cliffhanger monkey bars and a splash through Torpedo and lap 1 was over.

Lap 2

This is where the real race began. I shouted my Bib number to the volunteer at the finish line to record my lap time (there were no timing chips) and a quick stop at the pit area for continuum racers to change out my water bottle and I was off on lap 2.  The pit area was just a 6×6 canopy where racers could put coolers or bags, etc with gear for their multiple laps.

After completing lap 1 my spirits were high though I knew I had spent too much time at Pegatron and was behind where I wanted to be.  I knew that speed was necessary but endurance was going to be the key factor and I was confident in my endurance.  Lap 2 went amazing up until just before the final brutal Mile.  At Smooth Criminal on lap 1, I had smashed my shin on the corner of the platform on the final jump opening up a nice cut and giant goose egg bruise.  So on lap 2, I chose a different lane only to do the same thing to the same spot on my shin opening another big scrape and swelling my entire lower shin. Thankfully I was able to hold on with one arm and make it to the bell.

CTG_Continuum_Criminal

This was the first time I walked; I didn’t want to walk at all coming into the race but this was not fun.  The heavy carry was shortly after this which gave me a good excuse to slow down and let the Tylenol I took pre-race ease the pain.  I was then able to pick it up and run to Stairway to Heaven which was still slick and I fell on the last step twice.  It was time to set pride aside and do some burpees and thrusters.  (I have to say I’ll take 30 normal burpees over 15 atlas burpees and 15 med ball thrusters any day.  The added 20 lbs aren’t much at first but it starts to drag you down and works both your legs and your upper body far more than the normal spartan penalty.)  Pegatron only got 1 good effort out of me before I turned to the burpees to save time and precious grip strength.  Thankfully Cliffhanger was still a quick 1 try go for me and lap 2 was in the books a bit faster than lap 1.

CTG_Continuum_Barrells

Lap 3

Lap 3 began the same as lap 2 screaming “69” (my Bib, and favorite number), grabbing a new water bottle and some more Gu and running off feeling pretty decent.  It was lap 3 that things started getting difficult.  The Tarzan Swing was still a quick 1 try pass, but it was the mandatory obstacles that became the problem.  Penalties on Stairway and Pegatron were foregone conclusions but More Cowbell (rope climb) could not be bypassed.  After so many people had gone through, the ropes were covered in mud and a big jump was required to get high enough to have a decent grip on the rope.  Lap 3 ended with multiple falls on Cliffhanger, an obstacle I thought I would never fail.

CTG_Continuum_Cliffhanger

Lap 4

After my failure on cliffhanger, I didn’t feel great but exchanged my water got more Gu and started Lap 4 alone.  On all the other laps I was either being passed by elites or passing open runners, now the trails were silent save for my thoughts (and random weird songs I’d sing).  The mandatory obstacles became more difficult.  Belly of the Beast an underside cargo net climb was exhausting.  Great Wall of America a 12-foot wall with no ropes and only the support braces and 2x4s at 4 and 8ft was a scary contortion act of sheer will power to get over. Sitting atop the wall I knew this would be my final lap.

CTG_Continuum_Belly

On the last mile, I caught up to the final wave of the day.  It was so nice to be with people again giving and getting encouragement.  Though I knew I would be doing many burpees my spirits were lifted and my resolve strengthened.  I hit the water on Stairway, burpees. I dropped instantly on Pegatron, burpees. Cliffhanger I wanted it so bad but my grip was gone burpees.  I jogged into the pit “69!” looked at my watch 4:48.  The rules for Continuum state that you have 5 hours to start your last lap.  I talked to the volunteer keeping the times and was told I was in 3rd place but there was one other person on their 4th lap.  I exchanged my water one last time got more Gu and waited to see if 4th place was going to make it in the next 12 minutes and challenge me to one more lap.  Thankfully that did not happen.

CTG_Continuum_Podium

All the Extras

In addition to the extra laps you get to run, competitors received a nice big Continuum medal and a wrist band.  You also got a giant bib vest similar to what you get at a Toughest Mudder event except that these were made out of normal paper bib material.  I only saw two people actually wearing them on course, everyone else chose instead to go with the far less cumbersome Sharpie on the skin style.

CTG_Continuum_Stairway_Bib

Room for Improvement

The one issue I found most disappointing, was the lack of professional photographers.  On course I only noticed two people shooting photos.  Both of which were not using SLR cameras and seemed to just be volunteers.  While going through the race days photos the lack of pro photogs was apparent in the quality.  The volunteer at Smooth Criminal while not a professional photographer was one of the most enthusiastic and positive volunteers I’ve ever encountered so kudos to him.  Unfortunately, none of the shots he was taking were uploaded to the race day picture page.  ☹

I think my only critique of the continuum race itself would be a need for better prize money for competitors.  The top male and top female each get a custom wooden plaque (which is nice) and $100, which is less than the cost of entry for the continuum (unless you sign up a year in advance) Though this hasn’t really been a problem yet as every winner in the 3 races so far has been a CTG Pro Team member, and has thus raced for free.  I do think more people would be willing to compete if they at least got a free race out of winning.  It would be nice for 2nd and 3rd place to receive some type of award, a special plaque or medal, or even just some CTG swag.

Final Thoughts

I’m very glad to see another company offering a multi-lap event that is competitive, as there are so few out there, we really need more of this.  Would I do this race again? Hell yes, I’d do it again. Taking the challenge of a regular Conquer the Gauntlet course and multiplying by 4 was a great challenge.  If you like to do Spartan Beasts but want some more damn obstacles, here you go.  One of my favorite parts of this race, which make it unique, was the mandatory obstacles which became harder and harder each time and had the potential to stop your race.  But my favorite thing was being able to run with members of my team.  As a competitive runner, I don’t get to see my team that often on course and doing multiple laps brought the opportunity to give and receive encouragement to/from all my open wave team members.  Thank you.

CTG_Continuum_Smile

Photos Courtesy of: Conquer the Gauntlet and Suzanne Peer

Spartan Race Palmerton Super and Sprint Weekend 2019

Spartan-Super-Palmerton-Course-Section

 

“This is insane!” 

“What the f***?!” 

“You’d think they’d run out of hills!” 

 

These are just a few of the things I heard while out on the course this weekend during Spartan’s Super and Sprint weekend at Blue Mountain Resort in Palmerton, PA. If you’re new to Spartan Race or OCR, you may have even heard how challenging Palmerton is. Year after year, regardless of course design, the slopes at Blue Mountain are sure to remind you just how punishing they are. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Start-Line

Parking and Festival

As you pull into the parking area, you get a good look at just how large of a mountain you’ll have to deal with. Luckily, all parking is on-site, which means no shuttles! This is a big plus for a lot of people as shuttle lines are known to move slowly.

 

This year they did switch up the festival a bit, compared to previous races at Blue. The new setup flowed a lot nicer and even left them room for a large merchandise tent. Usually, the merch is just back behind volunteers and staff who are up in a trailer. They still were, but adding to it was a large open area with more shirts and gear, including shoes and clearance items.

 

Once through the tent, it was your pretty standard Spartan festival area. Changing tents were off to the side with a row of hoses. The food and beer tents were nearby, along with a row of vendors. Something a bit new was that Spartan had a section open for some obstacle lessons and tips. 

Spartan-Palmerton-View-From-The-Top

The Sprint

I know the Sprint was Sunday and the Super was Saturday, but we’re going to work backward. Palmerton’s Sprint hit just about 3.6 miles, which is on the shorter side for a Spartan Sprint. Just because it was under 4 miles, though, doesn’t mean it was easy.  In that 3.6 miles, they managed to add in over 1,400 feet of ascent. Over 1,000 of that was in the first mile alone. 

 

The course was pretty much straight up the hill, down and up a double black diamond for the Sandbag Carry, a few obstacles at the top, then back down for the rest. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Sandbag-Carry

Sprint Obstacles

If you just ran the Sprint on Sunday, unfortunately, you didn’t get to try the new obstacles for 2019. This is only the second Sprint I’ve run this year (March – Greek Peak), but much like the first, they stuck to the classics.

 

During the one-mile climb to the top, the only obstacles were Hurdles and Overwalls, which is pretty standard. After the Sandbag Carry, there was a mini-gauntlet with Z-Walls, Atlas Carry, Rakuten Rope Climb and Monkey Bars all at the peak. During the descent, the only obstacle was the Inverted Wall. Then, toward the bottom, you had standards like the cargo nets, Spear Throw, Bucket Brigade, and Barbed Wire Crawl. 

 

As with past years at Palmerton, there was a Water Crossing, though it was more of an out and back, rather than crossing as they used to do. Apehanger, an obstacle at very few venues, was in the Super but left out of the Sprint.

 

I know Spartan wants to use the Sprint as the gateway to more races, so maybe they are continuing to make them a little more basic as to not scare newcomers away. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Apehanger, a rig with more than just rings, or some brand new obstacles.

The Super

The Super on Saturday was almost 5 miles longer than the Sprint, coming in around 8.25 miles. The total ascent was over three times as much as the Sprint, forcing racers to climb over 3,100 feet. 

 

Usually, the longer races include everything in the shorter race, with one extra area. Not this year at Palmerton. There were three extra parts on the course for the Super versus the Sprint. And Spartan didn’t waste any time. They deviated just over a mile into the race, right after Z-Walls, when runners thought they were in for a nice break back down the hill. 

 

Instead, the downs were followed by several steep ups along the way. Let me put it to you this way, the first steep climb up took almost exactly one mile, and had over 1,000 feet of ascent. By the time racers reached the bottom, they had hit almost 3.5 miles and faced over 2,000 feet of ascent. 

Spartan-Palmerton-Hercules-Hoist

Super Obstacles 

On the Super course, runners got a look at several new obstacles, including Pipe Lair, The Box, and Beater. Olympus and Twister are two other obstacles that had been included in most Sprints but were only in the Super course. 

 

The Rakuten Multi-Rig consisted of several rings, a bar, then more rings before the bell. I’ve seen ropes in the past, but they were left at home for Palmerton. The Luminox Hercules Hoist was in both races and at a heavier weight than if it were just for a Sprint alone. It was super late in the race and sat at the bottom of a muddy hill, making it feel even heavier. 


One thing that stuck out to me about the obstacles, overall, was the amount of grip needed. A lot of times, they leave a couple grip heavy obstacles out, but they all made an appearance in Palmerton. 

Spartan-Mountain-Series-Super-Medal

The Medals

Since Palmerton is part of the Spartan Mountain Series, both Sprint and Super finishers received a Mountain Series Medal. It’s probably one of the best looking medals I’ve seen Spartan dish out. The mountains on this year’s Mountain Series medals stand out and really make the 2019 medal blow away the 2018 medal. 

 

Honestly, I don’t think it’d be a bad idea for Spartan to include some homage to the Mountain Series on the Trifecta medals as well. If you finish the Palmerton Super and Sprint, plus the Killington Beast, that is one tough Trifecta. Compare that to running some of the more flat courses to get your Trifecta and it feels like the mountain courses should get some extra love. 

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, The Author

Muddy Princess – Atlanta – June 2, 2019


The Muddy Princess is a relatively new race in the OCR world. This race could fill the void for a female-centric race since Dirty Girl closed for business.

The lead up to the race was filled with workout suggestions, vendor promos, and race day info. The pre-race communication was second to none. There were also two different ways that you could sign up. There was a regular entry, which included a goody bag and a medal. VIP allowed you to get entry into a VIP area, multiple laps, and a t-shirt.

The race was held at the tried and true Georgia International Horse Park on June 2nd. This is the location for many an OCR (Spartan, Rugged Maniac, etc.). The festival area was about average with several food trucks, face painting,


The chute was standard fare, but also had an emcee who went through exercises so the corral could warm up. My group left in the 9 am corral and it was pretty crowded. This was an issue throughout the race. More on that later.

The actual race was a 5k with 18 obstacles. The premise is that a newbie and an experienced woman could participate and also have a good time. The Horse Park does allow for some flat land as well as some fun hills. There is a lot of tree cover, so it was mostly cool. I raced with my normal OCR crew. We all have at least 10 races under our belts and brought along two little girls who have also raced before. We all felt comfortable with completing this race.

 


The first obstacle was two mud pits. This was the first area of backup. People were jumping in and a lot of people were pushed over or down into the mud. The volunteer didn’t do much for crowd control.

 

After that, there were some standard obstacles: a balance beam, seesaw, net and crawls, a few wall climbs, a tire climb, and more mud! If you want mud, this is the race for you. There were a lot of familiar obstacles from other races. One was the rolling hills that Spartan uses. It was the same with the exception of the actual dunk wall. Fenced In (with netting over the mud pit versus bars) and Grey Rug from Rugged also made an appearance. The spacing between the obstacles was pretty good. There was an opportunity for there to be a few more before the finish line. There was a crossing with chain links that was difficult but fun. There were lots of encouraging signs also dotted throughout the course.


The volunteers really kept you going with a lot of encouragement and help. One interesting fact was that the reality show, “The 7 Little Johnstons” was shooting an episode. Elizabeth is a fast runner! She did a phenomenal job. The filming did make it a bit awkward at times as they had to film as well as participate. The participants largely ran around them or waited as they filmed. The film crew was never in the way. It did get a bit frustrating when a Muddy Princess volunteer coordinator body blocked me from using an obstacle and told me I had to wait five minutes so they could film. Needless to say, there were a few words back and forth.

It was nice to have friends and family at the last obstacle before you made it to the finish. The medal was standard and the goodie bag had some interesting items that varied from protein shakes to feminine products. The latter was new to me, lol!

I think that this race could have a bright future. From what I heard, this race is relatively new to the U.S. and they are testing the waters. I would do this race again given a few things:

  • Clear signs for the obstacles – either name the obstacle or obstacle number. There was a lot of confusion among the participants as to how many obstacles were on the course.
  • Clear mile markers.
  •  A more organized registration in the festival area. The VIP line was just as crowded as general. I actually finished my registration before the VIPs did.
  • The rinse off station was actually nice and had tall walls to change clothes, however, the water pressure was slow.
  • The price point was a bit high. I think offering both VIP and general entries by $10 would allow more people to possibly sign up.
  • Some of the staff had issues with interacting with the participants. I had two run-ins with one and I also heard of a few other people having a similar interaction with the same person. I hope this was just a one-off and not indicative of how the race is managed.

 

Could this be the next Dirty Girl? Yes, it could if some of the recommendations were implemented. The best part about female races is the comradery. You get the same in other OCRs but with women only it’s different. The volunteers and participants were amazing in how they supported each other with words, hugs, high fives, and a shoulder or leg if necessary. I would most certainly do this race again in a different location just to see if there are any differences.

Photo Credit:

Sean White

Spartan Winter is Here – Greek Peak 2019

Greek-Peak-2019-looking-at-the-finish

Playing in the snow is in our blood. As adults, we dislike the snow because it makes driving to work inconvenient. But growing up, snow days were the best. Spartan Race lets you relive that childhood excitement with its now third annual Winter Sprint event at Greek Peak Mountain Resort.

What makes this a Winter Sprint? Every single inch of the course is covered in fluffy white snow. The temperature at this year’s race was in the high 30s, but it was mostly sunny so it felt even warmer. That was basically a heatwave if you consider the first year Spartan was at Greek Peak, they dealt with single-digit temperatures and below zero-degree wind chills.

Greek-Peak-2019-Bridge-Crossing

Parking and Registration

General parking this year was off-site, with two options. One of which was in Cortland, for racers coming from north of the venue. The other was about 15 minutes west of the venue, in Dryden. There was a VIP option for $30 which got you right on-site in Greek Peak’s parking lot.

As with last year, registration was inside, which made sense after the first year’s temperatures caused equipment malfunction at the outdoor registration tents. Spartan does registration really well. The earlier you arrive, the shorter the lines. But even later in the day, it didn’t seem like the lines were too long. As far as I could tell, everything was moving smoothly.

Greek-Peak-2019-part-of-the-course

Early or Late?

I ran my first lap in the Elite wave, mainly to get done in time for my second lap. At most races, running Elite or Age Group is an advantage. You’re one of the first groups on the course, which means no obstacle lines, a less sloppy course, cleaner obstacles and, in the summer, more favorable temps. At a Winter Sprint, it’s almost the complete opposite, with the exception of obstacle lines.

During the Elite wave, which started at 9:00 am compared to 7:30 am that you see at most Spartan races, the air temperature still remained under 20-degrees. Most of the running was through several untouched inches of snow. The only footprints came from racers ahead of me and volunteers/staff who helped put the course together.

Greek-Peak-2019-A-frame-Cargo

Later in the day, I ran in the 10:45 wave. The sun was out a bit longer and temperatures made their way into the 30s. It did help a bit that I was already warmed up from the first lap, but there was a definitive difference in the air temperature before and after the Elite wave. On the course, lots of the previously untouched snow was now packed down, which made running a bit easier. There were still plenty of areas that made it difficult because, well, snow is still snow.

I didn’t notice the obstacles being anymore wet or slippery between the two waves. One thing that remained true of later heats was the lines. I’ve definitely seen worse, but there was at least a little waiting at obstacles like the Spearman, Monkey Bars, and Multi Rig.

Greek-Peak-2019-women's-bucket-carry

The Classics

Speaking of obstacles, I was a bit disappointed to see that none of 2019’s new obstacles made the trip to New York. Seeing recent posts of Helix, 8’ Box and Beater made me anxious to give them a try. Other newer obstacles like Olympus and Twister also missed the trip.

I do understand that the snow and cold weather probably makes it pretty difficult to set some of the obstacles up, so it’s easier to stick to ones that have stood the test of time. Hopefully, in the future, maybe one or two newer ones will be brought out. I will say though, there is something special about trekking up and down the slopes with all the classics.

Greek-Peak-2019-Winter-Medal

Not Your Average Spartan

Greek Peak Winter Sprint is truly a unique experience. And a unique experience deserves unique swag. Last year’s finisher shirts added long sleeves to the standard sprint finisher shirt. This year, Spartan added a nice twist. The shirts have a similar design to the usual 2019 Sprint finisher shirt but, in addition to having long sleeves, had a nice light blue color, really making it look like a winter race shirt. The Spartan Winter medal was distinct as well, with the same light blue coloring and a few frozen pieces “missing” from it.

Photo Credit: Spartan Race, The Author

SoCal Spartan: Surprises for 2019

It’s the first Spartan race of the year and there are a lot of exciting new obstacles, as well as the 2019 medals and shirts. Oh yes…..and make sure to read to end because I’ll share a surprise announcement that I love love love!

NEW HEADBANDS:
It’s Saturday, January 26. I’m so excited to get to the first race of the year in Southern California. The venue is Prada Regional Park in Chino. It’s sunny but very windy, similar to last year. The course is relatively flat and open, with really beautiful territorial views. I picked up my packet and the first change for 2019 is right inside. Elite and Age group racers will now wear a red headband instead of a wrist band. I love the idea of one less thing to wear on my wrist.

NEW OBSTACLES:
Once we got underway we came across familiar obstacles such as the Overwalls, 6′ and 7′ walls, and Bender. Then we made it to the new obstacles. One of the most challenging for me was Beater. There are three sections before you hit the bell. Each section contains a rotating spindle with four bars attached and a fixed bar in between that is placed quite high. Momentum is extremely helpful in completing this obstacle. I did see one person skip the top fixed bars completely by swinging and catching the next rotating section….very impressive!

Next, was Olympus with a twist! They added balls to the chains (that’s exactly what I thought when I approached it….the ole ball and chain). I thought the balls would make it harder so I didn’t use them and ended up falling off. Burpee time. After the race, I talked with several people who used them and they said it was easier for them. I’m definitely trying them next time.

The 8-foot box may be a replacement for the 8-foot wall, but I haven’t confirmed that. This one is going to take some figuring out for me. I did see a few people get up and over by running and scurrying up to the top, but there were also several people in the burpee pit, including me. One person had success by using two ropes and catching their heel at the top. Something that adds a little more difficulty, is it doesn’t have a hold at the top like a regular wall. There is a metal bar that sits back several inches but you are practically up there by the time you can grab it and it definitely makes it a challenge!

Now this one is for me! I’m a shorty, so I was very excited to see the tubes. I was able to bear crawl through them quickly. These aren’t meant to be difficult, but to slow you down. Finding the quickest way through is key.

Helix has been one of the most talked about new obstacles on social media. I was nervous about this one and didn’t know what to expect but, with patience and careful foot placement, I made it across just fine and really enjoyed it. You can’t touch the top or place your feet on the ground but you can hold the sides or anything in between. There are bars that go across as well as up and down; however, there are plexiglass panes in some of the sections which prevent you from getting a good foothold or handhold.

The last change was the spear throw. Instead of hay bales, they have what appears to be styrofoam bodies. They seemed to be holding up well and the view was spectacular with the lake in the background. The wind had really picked up but it was behind us here which I was very thankful for.

NOT NEW BUT EPIC:
I had to add the mud mounds because they were the tallest ones I’ve seen. They were definitely a challenge, but so much fun. Several of us would get halfway up and slide back down, over and over. Finally made it, but that was one doozie of a mud mound/dunk wall. I will have to say there was a semi-new part to it. The actual dunk wall was inflated instead of wood. It’s wider on the bottom so you have to push through a little more, but nothing too different.

SPECIAL MENTION:
One last bit of obstacle information regards the atlas ball. I wasn’t sure if I was tired or the ball got heavier, but the staff member on site said it is definitely heavier this year. No confirmation of the weight but I could feel the difference. Time to go to the beach and start picking up rocks.

NEW SHIRTS AND MEDALS:
The shirts and medals are similar to last year but have some changes that make them unique to 2019. The medals have color sections which indicate the type of race such as Sprint, Super, or Beast. The shirts are made from the same technical material but the wording is laid out differently and the sponsor, Rakuten, is displayed.

SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT?????:
I mentioned at the beginning there was one super cool new item I would share. I’m so excited about this one ***drum roll***

There are now porta-potties at the water stations! Hallelujah!!! It’s always been a fine line between staying hydrated and being able to burn off the water intake during the race. This is a very very welcome addition. Thank you, Spartan for hearing and delivering!!!

Hope you enjoyed the preview of what the year has in store. Have a great race season everyone and let me know what you think about the new obstacles. 365 new days…..365 new opportunities to shine! Go get it!

Photo Credit: Rage Strader, Kim Collings

Valentines Day Massacre

I love when new OCRs invite me to cover their inaugural event as I get to see first hand the innovative ideas that new race directors come up with. The Valentines Day Massacre, held February 16th in St. Louis, didn’t disappoint. This area of the country was lacking an event since The Battlegrounds sold out to Tough Mudder the previous year and tapping into the expanding winter OCR scene was a great way to bring back the fun! Now, VDM didn’t just throw a fire jump and low crawl into a trail race and call it an OCR, and while those two fan favorites were included VDM added some functional fitness elements that included tasks that tested a racers overall strength and fitness level along a course that lasted just 2 miles. Held outdoors at the Hazlewood Sports Complex, VDM tucked all their obstacles along and through the athletic fields on site in an action-packed, and fan friendly way. The weather actually added to the difficulty as 2 inches of fresh snow had fallen the night before and the race time wind chill was around 10 degrees making the grip-related obstacles just that much tougher.

VDM started out with the day with their elite waves beginning at 9 in the morning, but in a unique way as groups of three were released every three minutes. I found this to be a great way to stagger heats as I saw no lines at any obstacle anywhere on the course. The race itself started off much the way any other race would but sending athletes on a bit of a run to separate the participants. From there things got hot and heavy, well, actually just heavy as racers were required to squat down and pick up a snow-covered Atlas Stone for a short carry. Do you like heavy carries? Great cause VDM loaded up this section of the race with them as an ice bucket carry was also situated here along with the most unique carry test I’ve ever experienced.  VDM stuck sandbags into each leg of a pair of pants, then left them outside overnight to freeze.

If you thought taking a Wreckbag up and over walls during the summer was tough you hadn’t seen anything yet as this proved to be the most exhausting task of the day. An A-frame needed to be traversed with this “death bag” along with several walls topped with large plastic barrels that spun making this a supreme test of overall strength and left athletes winded to the max.

I was wondering if Wile E. Coyote would be joining me on the next obstacle as VDM used an anvil for drag and carry, no Road Runner or Acme rocket was seen though. You really got into the swing of things on the last obstacle in this section of the course as a dual Tarzan swing was next up. High jump landing pads were spaced a good 20 feet apart for each of these swings making it the longest swing on an OCR course that I’ve ever witnessed. That was followed up with a rope climb before sending racers through the dugouts on the baseball fields which had caution tape strung through them acting as a type of low crawl.

After a brief foray between the baseball diamonds, VDM set two 9-foot walls in a racers path. This led to a 14-foot rope aided warped wall climb with an interesting twist as a rig was set up underneath, and this rig was a killer. Monkey bars suspended by chains led to a series of 3 vertical ropes. Tough but doable right? That was only the halfway point though as a set of horizontal rock climbing holds led to a series of rings for the finish.

Now, VDM was nice during this event because it was cold out and placed a hay bale to stand on between each section, but I was told once it warms up for their next event the hay would be removed. Hope you saved some grip strength as a four section floating wall was next up with the handholds consisting of various rock climbing holds along with chains and balls. 4-foot hurdles were set along the trail leading to a cargo net low crawl set so low to the ground it pulled my stocking hat off. Lifting heavy shit again came into play with a 10 rep tire flip, and I have it on good authority that the men’s tractor tire weighed north of 350 pounds. Trying to get a grip on the snow-covered ground was next to impossible. Not quite as heavy, but way more awkward VDM set out a yoke carry made with a wooden beam balancing a frozen sandbag on each side. Let me tell you that when those sandbags got swinging back and forth it took all you had to right them.

After dumping that impossible load off your shoulders, a racer faced a series of three hoists which again utilized sandbags and got progressively heavier as you went down the line. One last 5-foot wall led athletes back towards the festival area, but not before climbing over a series of tractor tires stacked up on the ground and the obligatory fire jump. This race was perfect for those of us who are tired of races consisting of endless miles of running. OCR has expanded recently into events containing heavy movements to draw in the Crossfit crowd and I’m glad they brought this to the Midwest. Although lightly attended racers that did brave the weather felt like they got their money’s worth. Parking and pic were free, and VDM posted shots from the race on their Facebook page as the race was going on. What a revolutionary idea! No more waiting around to see your epic adventure! Everyone was extremely friendly, and the volunteers were all well drilled on the requirements of the obstacle they were marshaling. So, in a nutshell, short course packed with very challenging obstacles. I’ll be back, will I see you for their next event in May?