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!

 

Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas


Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas

I would like to preface this review by saying that, due to unforeseen flooding the Savage Race in Dallas was canceled. This led to a unique hybrid type event the following Sunday. Rather than a Blitz– Sunday’s Race was a hybrid form of both the Savage Race and the Blitz resulting in a 4 and ¼ mile course packed with a lot of mud and obstacles. It was certainly the toughest and muddiest Savage that I personally have ever run. It was far different than the usual fare.

Savage did what they could to ensure as many people as possible got to enjoy a race even if it wasn’t what was originally planned. Therefore this review will be quite unique in that I will not only take note of the course with consideration to the events leading up to it. I saw a dedicated act of care for not only Savage participants, but for OCR as a whole.

The Race that Almost Wasn’t

As I was about to head out of the door Saturday morning, I knew that it had rained a lot the night before. I was prepared for a muddy course. However, I did not expect to receive the message from a fellow athlete saying “Race is canceled, whole festival area and course are flooded.” I sat on my hotel bed contemplating what this meant. I received a link to the video of a very disappointed and very apologetic Sam Abbitt.

Sam explained what had happened and noted that the river on the venue had risen far greater than they had thought it would. Much of their equipment was floating or submerged. They were attempting to salvage what they could, and Sam said “I am sorry” several times noting that Savage Race would do everything they could to make it up to competitors.

Around lunch, Sam released another update video. The river had receded and the Savage Crew and volunteers were working hard and non-stop on putting together a “hybrid course” for anyone who didn’t race on Saturday or who had originally planned to race on Sunday. It would certainly be unique, but they were doing what they could. I personally found this extremely respectable considering the amount of devastation that had befallen the course. The crew could have scrapped the entire weekend.  Instead, they harnessed the spirit of what it means to be an obstacle course racer. When presented with an obstacle, even from nature, we think quickly and do all we can to overcome it. I find this extremely respectable and heartening.

Race Day

Pre-Race

I didn’t expect anything out of the coming course. I don’t mean that in the sense of that I thought it would be bad.  I was happy to be able to race. Showing up to an extremely soggy and muddy venue wasn’t promising either. After a slightly late registration, the venue seemed somewhat empty.   The final turnout was nowhere near a normal Savage event, but far more participants showed up than I expected.

The pre-race rules were easily understandable. The pre-race speech given by the one and only Coach Pain. It was a great way to get us all pumped up and remind us how hard the crew had worked to put this course together after the weather had taken out the course on the previous day. He inspired racers as well as spectators.

Everything felt more “mom and pop” for a Savage Race, but it wasn’t a detriment. The competitors were just as fired up as usual if not more so, and we had one heck of a course in front of us to face down. The river flooded the entire course the day before.

The Course

As we charged out of the starting corral through a mostly flat course it didn’t take long to find plenty of mud and water. Even the pros had to be careful not to slip and slide. The first obstacle was one of the muddiest barbed wire crawls in my recent memory. Next came Shriveled Richard which is always a good start to wake everyone up. As we pressed on through a few 4 foot walls, on to “The Great Wall” and over an A-Frame, we came up to one of the new obstacles for the year “Pedal for the Medal.”  I’ll have to admit, this took a bit for other competitors and I to figure out. A rope connects a giant wooden spool and a tire.

The object of the obstacle is to use ONLY your feet to roll the spool thereby wrapping the rope around it and pulling the tire to you. This becomes hardest at the initial point at which the spool begins to pull the tire towards you. The key is to keep momentum on the wheel. Otherwise, you could lose some of the rope you worked so hard for. This really is a quad and hamstring burner. It presented far more difficulty than I originally imagined.

One of the only problems is that you almost have to rely on a volunteer to let you know when your tire hits the designated pole. Once it does, you must then carry your tire back out to the starting portion which is clearly marked by a mat. I found it inventive, yet I feel a couple of kinks could be worked out especially for competitive waves.

Upper Body Savagery

Next was a combo of 6 foot walls and barbed wire crawls. I found these  both fun and brilliantly placed as a taxation on the cardio system before “Big Cheese” and “Sawtooth.”  The wet obstacles proved very challenging. We barreled through a lot of mud to a mud-covered “Kiss the Walls.”

I do not remember “Kiss the Walls” having such small rock climbing grips on it or footholds. I also don’t remember it being as slanted. The mud and rain made it nearly impossible for most competitors. It was here that in spite of being in the lead pack after MANY tries for over an hour I finally gave up my elite band. All of the caked on slick Texas mud made this the hardest rock wall obstacle I’ve ever encountered.

Competitors were bombarded with a series of wet grip and upper body killers. Wheel world was lots of fun as always. After a  very muddy Colossus came “Twirly Bird,” “Holy Sheet,” and “Battering Ram.” I find “Holy Sheet” to be a nice new addition that provides a lot of technical challenge and forces competitors to utilize technique and body control. Most of my commentary is on “Battering Ram.” Unlike what you see on Savage Race’s website, the sliders had heavy iron with a type of handle that hung down for competitors to grab, a transition to a trust, and then grab hold of another handle and scoot along to a bell.

While doable, the rams did not slide as well as they should have and the handles allowed for less usage of momentum in sliding. Essentially, the only way to move the ram was to sling it forward using pure muscular shoulder and arm strength. I am not sure if it is intentional. I feel the more traditional larger pipe on a smaller pipe would  be a smoother obstacle.  It would also allow more fun for open competitors.

The End of a Tumultuous Journey

The festival area didn’t have much going on afterwards.  However, high hopes and good spirits filled the festival area. Top finishers received their awards, but far fewer finishers came out with bands than normal. Some of this could have been due to the placement of obstacles because of the weather. The highlight of the festival was seeing off the volunteer wave with Coach Pain. He commended them on their hard work.

 

What OCR is All About

I am proud of that volunteer crew. I am proud of Savage Race’s crew. I am proud of the understanding and concern from all competitors. Yes, many were disappointed, but at the end of it all, we are a family. This past weekend showed me again why I enjoy Savage Race so much. Most everyone acted like a big family who wanted to help one another and do all they could to help.

Everyone came together with love, logic, and understanding and overcame a problem the best way they could. This embodies the spirit of OCR. In spite of all these adversities, Savage put on a great, well organized, well manned by volunteers event. I’ve seen races in perfect weather with months to prepare that couldn’t hold a candle to this “thrown together” event.  I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Rain, Rain Stayed Away: Seattle Spartan Weekend

When you think of the city of Seattle, Washington you usually think of rain, but Seattle Spartan Beast and Sprint weekend had different plans.  What Seattle actually got was incredible weather with some of the most breathtaking views you can find.

First off let me talk about something that can be an absolute pain for obstacle course racers: Parking!  Parking for both days went extremely fast and smooth.  Plenty of volunteers were out there guiding you both in and out of the area, and the payment lines split into four, so there was no traffic getting backed up.  All of the volunteers for this event were very helpful with questions and the ones on the course were very enthusiastic and encouraging to all the racers.  This is always a positive, especially when you feel the struggles after a bucket carry and need to keep pressing forward, it’s nice to get that sound of encouragement.

As I get to registration it was also pain-free.  For the Beast, I arrived just about noon and there was a 2-minute wait to get in, and on Sunday I ran the age group race and there was no wait for registration.  Again all the people working the registration area were very helpful in answering all my questions.

As always, Spartan knows how to put on a race.  From the minute you walked into the festival to the minute you walked out, there was something for you to do.  The Army was there with a mini obstacle course which included a heavy sled push, pull-ups, an army crawl, and a that sled you just pushed you now need to pull it back.  Food, clothing, and more were on hand during the entire weekend and did not disappoint.

The courses for the weekend were fast with not a lot of major climbs.  The Beast course ended up being just over 13 miles while the Sprint was just over 4.5 miles.  The course was a perfect mixture of water, mud, sand, and dirt and was both challenging and fun.  Steve Hammond does an incredible job and designing these courses, but more importantly, he and his team do an incredible job at marking the courses.  There is nothing worse than being on a course and getting lost, but with Spartan races that won’t ever be a problem as the entire course was marked for both days, and this is something I am very thankful for.

After I finished my race I was greeted by volunteers handing out the finisher medals and then by a photographer who snapped a couple pictures of me in front of the Spartan wall while I held my shield.  As I walked down the finish shoot I was offered a variety of post-race food and drinks including of course the infamous race banana.  Fit Aid was also offered, as well as water and Cliff chewy blocks.  Finally, I came to another volunteer who cut off my timing chip and made small talk while doing so, which was a nice little touch.

After I left the finishing shoot I went over and sprayed myself off with the Spartan “showers” that were surprisingly refreshing and then into the changing tent to get the dirt out of places it shouldn’t be.  Lastly, I went over to bag check to retrieve my bag, which was super convenient and no hassle at all.

Spartan is the leader of the OCR sport for a reason.  It has changed the lives of a lot of people, and they know how to put on a race.  I hear negativity now and then about it, but at the end of the day as I said above, Spartan knows how to put on a race and I can’t wait for the next one.

Green Beret Challenge: Atlanta XII

Background

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

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

Pre-Event

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

Arrival

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

Phase One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo from GreenBeret Challenge: Atlanta Operators)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase Two

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

 (Photo from Green Beret Challenge Instagram)

 

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

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

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

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

.

 (Photo from Green Beret Challenge on Instagram)

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

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

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

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

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

Phase Three

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

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

 

 (Photo taken of relay race terrain during daytime)

 

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

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

Overview/Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!

Kimberley Spartan Race Trifecta Weekend Review

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Spartan Race returns to the Canadian Rockies.

KIMBERLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA

6 months ago (or thereabouts) Race Director Johnny Waite was scouting the location for this race on a snowmobile. Back then, temperatures could have been as low as -31ºF. Now, it’s mid-July and in this part of Canada, it can be almost as hot as Southern California.

Kimberely mountain

This a place of uncompromising toughness; a landscape in which only nature’s toughest endure – the grizzly bear, the moose, even the goddamn wolverine. It’s under those conditions that Spartan Race Canada delivered one of the toughest events ever.

The Sprint, for example, was an intense 9 kilometer trip up and straight back down the mountain in scorching temperatures. The Spartan Super, at 16 kilometers, had more elevation gain than most of the mountains in the Canadian Rockies. The Beast and Ultrabeast were among the hardest courses based on distance and climbing ever devised for a Spartan Race. I have stats to prove that claim but forget all that. Instead, let’s just say that 4 hours into the race I used a volunteer’s phone to send this text to my wife.

Text Kimberley

Let me break it down for you in terms you might appreciate. This was Spartan Beast that was so steep that I will unashamedly admit to finding and using someone’s lost ski poles to help me climb the hill. This was a race weekend where I watched a fellow elite heat racer give up on racing and begin desperately foraging for berries on the hillside for energy mid-race. “Oh boy, that was hard” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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The standard set of obstacles were in play on each day of the event and if you’re interested you will find maps and lists here. If you are familiar with Spartan Races, you will instantly know what to expect – obstacles like the Tyrolean traverse, the sandbag carry, and the bucket carry etc. Spartan Race Canada tried something new this year, and attempted to include an innovative wreck bag push obstacle. That idea was unfortunately reduced to 5 wreck bag clean and jerks by Spartan Race Corporate. It was still cool, but it is a real shame that Spartan Race Canada doesn’t have full autonomy over what to include.

One of my favorite obstacles on the Beast was the sled pull, and this one was set up on a slight incline making it extra difficult (still got it though). The Platinum rig was all decked out with various levels of rings that required careful planning and that 90 degree single arm lock to complete (yup, failed that one). I also succumbed to the Z wall, as a foothold block was really out of reach for my stubby legs and a leg cramp made it ugly (you know one of those ones around the corner?) It’s a frustrating one to fail but such is life.

Spartan Race Kimberely (14)

The climbing was brutal.

For the Beast, we ascended ski run after ski run before heading back down to the main fire road to connect to the next climb. One final climb put us up onto the top of Vimy Ridge, and apparently, the views of the valley were spectacular, but my legs were so beaten down that sightseeing was the last thing on my mind. The course eventually began to drop into the resort area with the final quad busting descent through the desert-like dust of the North Star ski run. Apart from a thrilling mountain bike switchback trail (which was probably the highlight of the race for me), there were few sections of the race where it was possible to actually run – instead, it was mainly hiking. Obstacles were spaced pretty evenly and there were 9 well-stocked water stations along the way. Despite that fact scuffles and misunderstandings over water allowances marred the day for some on Saturday’s Beast and Ultrabeast.

Mud and water were conspicuous by their absence – a technical challenge posed by the limitations of the location was given as the reason for this. On that subject, (not that we often drink water on course) if you intend to run the Spartan weekend at Kimberley, a hydration pack should be strongly considered.

It is possible you should also take fuel with you unless you are really good at picking saskatoon berries quickly! You should expect high temperatures, and you should definitely expect to run low on water or to need some hydration between stations. Many people I saw out there were very unprepared for fuel and water.  You can see more about the effect of temperature and exercise here with additional guidance here and here to determine how much water you will need. Google it and ask someone who knows what they are talking about. Test and repeat before race day.

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Back to my race… As I crested the top of the ridge, I took a reading from my watch. I had gained 1980 meters or 6496 feet over the 15 kilometers I had covered so far. Yeah, it was steep. Eventually, I saw myself slip back further and further into the middle and then the back of the elite pack, slowing to a hobble and finally a walk. This didn’t suit me well, and my pride was dented pretty hard when my legs couldn’t keep up with my ego. I was failing at something I usually did OK at. The finale of the race was a downhill barbed wire crawl, the spear throw, bucket carry, slip wall and finally the fire jump.

I was done.

It was a strange feeling for me to walk into the finishing area feeling like I hadn’t enjoyed myself. I almost feel ashamed of myself for thinking that, but most of the time was spent wanting the whole thing to be over. My own pride and lack of preparation were my own problems for sure and I can’t blame everything on “problems with the course.” Many people came more prepared than I was and had a far better experience out there, however, I felt a little better about it when I realized that it wasn’t just me who had a rough day on the mountain. It was steep. Very steep. So steep in fact that it became difficult to enjoy for quite a few people. The scale of the task ahead of people was massive. Racers who finished all three events for the weekend had covered a total distance of 46 kilometers and accumulated a total elevation gain of 4200 m or 13780 feet! A massive congratulations to everyone who made it!

Kimberely Spartan Glenn

But there were enough people who had problems that Spartan Race Canada took note.

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“This is why I’ll never run Spartan again” – Some random

“This is why people say, “never again” and actually mean it”.

– another anon

Or even simply, “Eff Johnny”

– quite a few people actually.

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Despite this vocal group of people, 94% of people who started the beast course actually finished, while 45% of those who started the Ultrabeast finished. This is just about right for the difficulty level Spartan are aiming for, but the question for me remains on will be how many finishers and non finishers will return for more next year?

How many will feel like they don’t want to go through this again? How do we ensure volunteers don’t end up making up their own rules about water allowance and obstacle safety? For the open heat and first time racers, do the memories of the suffering fade and get replaced with the desire to conquer the event next year? If things do change, do we then feel more shortchanged if the event isn’t as hard next year? And what was that log drag obstacle about exactly?

Spartan Race Kimberely (15)

Johnny reached out to me to discuss these things, so we went Live on the Facebook feed for Obstacle Racing Media.

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As it turns out Johnny approached the issues people had with the race in a very contrite and considered way, answering questions for almost an hour. He took full responsibility for the problems with the course design, and promising changes – but at the same time took steps towards reshaping expectations about what a championship weekend would look like.

What’s clear is that Spartan Race Canada (and Johnny Waite himself) has things to learn in this new venue and he seems eager to go about applying the feedback provided by the participants to form a better race for everyone. I don’t think we as consumers should form a committee to decide how a race should set up.

In fact, we need to apply a little bit of the STFU principle and find ourselves in all the suffering, etc. We (I myself) HAVE to be more prepared in order to enjoy these tougher ones. A Beast at an alpine ski resort should be difficult for everyone – both professional athlete and first-time participant should expect to be tested and we should be prepared to leave it all out there on the course – otherwise what accomplishment is there?

Spartan Race Kimberely (20)

Despite that Spartan Race Canada can improve with constructive feedback, I’m full of ideas (mainly ideas I have stolen from other smarter people). My recommendations for Spartan Race Canada and participants in the event are detailed below.

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Glenn’s ideas on how to make a truly incredible OCR experience:

(and stolen ideas that I have claimed full credit for).

  1. We’re getting better at obstacles and some of these are getting stale. Focus on making more unique and novel experiences – push Spartan Race Corporate to get those innovative new obstacles approved. I still have a blueprint for a pegboard traverse… that would make a sick obstacle.
  2. Bring back some mud – look to the past races for elements that gave joy and entertainment to participants and spectators – as we discussed, mud and dirt is still part of the experience.
  3. Water obstacles add dynamic elements to an otherwise ordinary race. Water obstacles (even without mud) add that much needed cooling element for summer races. We need a dunk wall. A wade pool. A water slip wall. I found myself almost wishing for an arctic enema ice pool on Saturday.
  4. Photography. Part of our identity as Spartan Racers is tied up in that image of us, muddied but determined. Quality, timely photography makes us feel awesome about ourselves and proves our accomplishments. This was much improved at Kimberley over Red Deer!
  5. Create sections that are exhilarating to complete – obstacle couplets, multiple walls, balance beams, narrow singletrack, weaving through tight tree sections, creating simple level changes, swinging obstacles, direction changes, climbing, rope descents and natural obstacles all stand up well in any race.
  6. Continue to support volunteers with things they need to perform the tasks set for them. Specifically offer shelter from the elements, written instructions and explicit rules regarding water provision and obstacle safety.
  7. You probably don’t need to film burpees for anyone outside of the top 15 runners.

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In conclusion, it’s fairly obvious that a race doesn’t just have to be harder to be better. A truly incredible and epic race involves a strategy of variety and laying the groundwork for racers to experience adventure, competition and memorable moments in a balance worth coming back for. If Spartan Race Canada can adjust that balance next year, I think it will be a classic.

For this race, in particular, I should add that we should celebrate our volunteers who spent many hours in the heat and sun to ensure we could participate safely in this event.

I also want to congratulate the effort put in by our top athletes who showed tremendous courage, effort and stamina to battle extremely hard on one of the toughest Spartan Race weekends ever. Our Elite racing group sometimes don’t get acknowledged enough for the hours and hours of hard work they put in to compete in places like this. You should all be very proud of yourselves.

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Finally, for this one I think we can all celebrate crossing that finish line, or hell, even stepping up towards it. Until next year.

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Photo credit: Spartan Race Canada.

X Warrior Black Ops 12 Hour in Barrhead Alberta

X-Warrior-Base-Camp

X Warrior is a new obstacle course company that is making a name for itself. It originated on Canadian soil in Calgary. From 2016 X Warrior Challenge has been testing the waters with their own obstacles. They also have an OCRWC qualifying race. On June 23, 2018, The X Warrior Challenge had its first Black Ops race. It consisted of 12 hours of running during nighttime, from 10 pm to 10 am. It was amazing, and some of these obstacles were very unique and fun.

This race consisted of 5.5km laps with more than a dozen skillful obstacles. I very much like this race as it had penalty loops. The Penalty Loop aka Recovery Lap was the place to retrieve your wristbands.

At the start of the race, everyone received 2 bracelets. If someone could not complete the obstacle after multiple attempts, they turned in the bracelet to the obstacle volunteer. After a certain distance at a specified marked location, if you did not have all 2 bracelets you were to do either 1 or 2 penalty loops (depending on the number of bracelets you have). Once completed the penalty loop, you receive your bracelet back and continue finishing the lap. There were 3 penalty checkpoints throughout the lap. The penalty loops consisted of carrying a sandbag down and up a hill, going down and up a further steeper hill, and carrying a propane tank in 200 meters circle before proceeding. In addition to a regular obstacle race, they have added a strongman lap. I will explain this in a different section of the blog.

X-Warrior-Penalty-Loop

The outlook of the beginning of the race was really something special. It looked like a rave with all the tents set up. At the entrance to the event, athletes set up their own tent/materials in a 10×10 square feet grid. The spectator and pit area called the Base Camp was nicely located in the center of everything.

From this area, you can observe multiple obstacles such as the X Dragon, Cargo, X Warp, X Tarzan, Rope-a-Dope, and Monkey Bars. The whole course was marked beautifully. All the stations were marked clearly. The X Warrior Challenge is now one of my favorite obstacle races! A huge congrats to Darcy for putting such a fantastic event! It also has one of the best start lines I’ve ever seen!

X-Warrior-Start

Strongman laps
Additionally, black ops offered a strongman lap. This was a very unique idea which I love. This consists of carrying a sandbag the whole lap. If you were running individually, you would carry a 40-pound sandbag through the whole course. If you were on a team, you would share the 40-pound sandbag through the whole course. Complete 1 lap like this and you received a strongman patch! Each lap racers were to check-in at the sandbag tent to let the organizers know if they are taking the bag out for another run.

 

X-Warrior-Strongman

 

Obstacles worthy of mentioning

Next, there are many obstacles to name that were fun, skillful, and challenging, but three come to mind that were unique and I haven’t seen in any other race!

X Peg Board- The Peg Board! It was shaped into a Z wall with timber construction. The distance was fairly long, contained around 25 peg holes, and 2×4 blocks of wood scattered for your feet. This obstacle took a fair amount of strength and time.

X Axe- The Axe throw! At a distance of 4 meters, we threw a hatchet at a wooden wall stump. After a couple laps, I got the hang of it, it still is a hit or a miss.  This is one of 2 obstacles that has only 1 attempt. If you succeeded you carry on running, if you miss, however, you give one of the bracelets to the volunteer.

X Sniper- We shot pop cans with an Airsoft Gun! This was the other obstacle that also had only 1 attempt. The guns were pre-loaded with pellets. At a fair distance of 15 meters, the organizers placed pop cans.  Again, if you missed, you gave a bracelet to a volunteer.

X-Warrior-Xsniper

 

Medals, Patches, and Podium

Medals were amazing. Each finisher who crossed the finish line between the 11th and 12th hour received a medal.

X-Warrior-Medals

The bibs were fantastic too! These were running bibs that you get to keep. I feel like an ultra runner.  After 12 hours, patches were given out to those who completed a Strongman Lap, and those who’ve reached 25km, 50km, 75km, and 100km. Finally, X Warrior celebrated multiple podiums.

Podium for most laps overall for male and female.

Most laps over the age of 40 in males and females.

Most laps for Teams in all-male, all-female, and coed team.

Most Strongman laps for male and female.

To finish, the male over 40 category had something special. 1st place received a green suit. It is told that this green suit will be up for grabs in the next Black Ops.  X-Warrior-Greensuit