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 sheer 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 to,” 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 sure 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

Spartan Race Kimberely (13)

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.

Spartan Race Kimberely (18)

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.

Spartan Race Kimberely (2)

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.

Spartan Race Kimberely (6)

“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.

Spartan Race Kimberely (17)

Spartan Race Kimberely (19)

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.

Spartan Race Kimberely (8)

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.

Spartan Race Kimberely (16)

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.

Spartan Race Kimberely (3)

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.

Spartan Race Kimberely (1)

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

Spartan Race Kimberely (11)

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

 

Slippery In Chicago Spartan Super U.S Championship Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kids Obstacle Challenge Chicago

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

 

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

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

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

 

2018 Spartan Sprint D.C. – Fast and Furious

Spartan-DC-A-Frame-and-Carving

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

Parking and Registration

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

Spartan-DC-Registration-Lines

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

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

Spartan-DC-Spear

The Course

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

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

Spartan-DC-Sprint-Finish

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

 

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race and the author