XX Race – Indoor OCR near Philadelphia

A-look-at-XX-Race-obstacles

What’s great about OCR is that everyone is there for a different reason. Some want to improve, while others just want to finish their first race. Either way, you train so you can conquer the biggest and baddest races out there. You do hundreds of pull-ups, hours of dead hang, maybe even throw in some rock climbing. But, come race day, the obstacles catch you off guard and you find yourself doing burpees. Why?

Sometimes, the best way to practice for obstacles is to do obstacles. Novel thought, right? The problem: Not many people can afford to spend hundreds of dollars and drive hours away weekend after weekend in an attempt to get better. The solution: XX Race.

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THE RACE

The XX Race is (mostly) an indoor obstacle race located at iMETTLE in King of Prussia, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. While most races take place at a specific venue once or twice each year, iMETTLE is an OCR gym. So, they hold an XX Race as much as twice each month. Registration gets you in the race. No fancy shirt or free beer, but at just $30.00 per adult, it’s well worth it. Each racer runs a lap outside, which is just shy of a quarter mile. Once done, they come inside and complete an obstacle. Then, it’s back outside for another lap before hitting the next obstacle. There are a few outdoor obstacles as well (tire flip and sandbag carry, for example). A water station is located inside, allowing you to grab a drink after pretty much any obstacle.

Waves begin at 8:00 am and go off as quickly as every five minutes from then on. About 1-4 racers can begin during each wave. The race does not currently have a competitive heat, though there are plans to add one in the fall or winter. Racers can still write their name and time up on the whiteboard to see who posted the fastest race. There are also plans to add a competitive team competition with mixed indoor endurance.

Because it’s more of a friendly competition, iMETTLE allows you to do their penalty (Captain Americas), or the penalty of a race you’re training for (burpees, penalty lap, mandatory completion, etc.). If you’re unsure what a Captain America is, they’ll give you a visual explanation on race day, but essentially you walk your hands out, do a pushup, walk them back and stand up with your hands over your head. Ten of these is the penalty for a missed obstacle.

After all the adults are done, the course is altered and a kid’s race is held at noon.

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THE OBSTACLES

The obstacles were one of my favorite parts of the XX Race. It was a nice, even mix of what you normally see at many outdoor races. There were also a few cardio killers, such as the assault bike, row machine and SkiErg, to get your heart rate up. For those who enjoy spear throw practice, there wasn’t one set up at this race, though I heard it has been at past races. But, part of the difficulty of the spear throw is concentrating on form with an accelerated heart rate. Enter a basketball free throw shot.

For grip, they had monkey bars set up along with three (yes three) possible rigs. One of the rigs gave you the option of ascending a peg board instead, in case you thought that would be easier. There was even a rock wall traverse with the middle section extending out to make it that much harder. A few rope obstacles included iMETTLE’s version of the Hercules Hoist, Tyrolean Traverse, and, a gym class favorite, rope climb.

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No buckets were involved at this particular race, but plenty of sandbags were, the sandbag carry being the easier of them. Others were a bit more diabolical, the first of which included a roll of the dice and some math. Racers roll two dice, multiply the numbers together, and have to do that many sandbag burpees. I lucked out and only had to do five (5×1). Others were not so lucky. One of the last few obstacles was essentially a sandbag sled push. I’m not sure on the exact yardage, but it was long enough that my legs felt like Jell-O when running the lap after.

The final obstacle was a warped wall. Though you may not see it at a lot of races (yet), it’s still a fun one to try. There were four different heights to choose from and no mandatory lane, so racers were able to try whichever one they felt comfortable with. Once finished, athletes were free to go back and practice on any obstacles they wanted, as long as they weren’t impeding current racers.

Most obstacles only allowed one person at a time, though there were a few that had several pieces of equipment set up to allow for multiple racers. Despite this, there were only a couple times I had to wait for someone to finish. One big benefit of having most of the obstacles in close proximity to each other is that, if you want, you can always skip an obstacle if you don’t feel like waiting. Then, on the next lap, go back to the obstacle you skipped.

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BEYOND THE RACE

Because iMETTLE is an OCR gym, the XX Race is just a small sample of what they have to offer. As you know, the sport of Obstacle Racing requires training unlike any other. Competitors are very much considered hybrid athletes, which can be difficult to train for. That’s why they offer both OCR Training and Hybrid Training classes, which focus on both strength and conditioning, as well as obstacle-specific training. iMETTLE has also hosted a Spartan SGX workout, with more planned for the future.

Outside of the current offering of classes, a Bootcamp will soon be introduced. It will be a four-week challenge that will not only train an athlete’s function fitness, but also their mental toughness. Additionally, there are OCR workshops on the horizon, which will discuss race preparation, nutrition, hydration, and hands-on obstacle training. iMETTLE is even in the early stages of OCR Performance Testing, which will serve as a measuring point for athletes in order to track their progress.

For more information on upcoming classes and to register for the next XX Race, visit www.imettle.co.

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Photo Credit: iMETTLE/Vincent Naftal and the author

Spartan Race Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast 2017 – Too Easy?

As it got closer to the 2016 Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast at Mountain Creek Resort, participants found out that the course had been rerouted from the previous year to include an additional 1,000 ft climb. Although this year, complaints filled the air that the course included less elevation gain and was too easy. In 2016, Francis DiSomma finished the Beast course in 2 hours 55 minutes with a whopping 21 minute lead on second place. However, this year the first 16 finishers of the Beast course beat his time. Could this have something to do with Norm Koch leaving Spartan Race? Possibly, but it does seem indicative of an easier course. It was a true Ultra Beast nevertheless: 2 laps of the Beast course covering over 26 miles with 60 obstacles on rugged New Jersey terrain. For those who had been attempting an Ultra Beast for the first time, it was plenty challenging; but for Ultra Beast veterans, there was no comparison… except for the brutal bucket carry right at the finish.

The first heat of the day was delayed 30 minutes and immediately I was having flashbacks to Killington. As soon as we were given the go, racers took off, running up the mountain for the first of many times that day. I jogged for about a minute and dialed it back to a power hike knowing it wasn’t worth wasting the energy. Throughout the entirety of the first lap, I was jockeying back and forth with a few people who insisted on running the climbs, but I wasn’t worried. I kept telling myself that the first lap was the warm-up and that the race didn’t begin until the second lap. I spent a lot of miles distracting myself by meeting other racers, talking about our past experiences and how the obstacles were going that day. Since it rained briefly before the start of the race, the monkey bars were pretty wet when we got to them, causing many racers to slip and start the race off with 30 burpees. For many, it was also the first time we encountered Olympus and Bender.

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All of this made for good conversation and I soon realized that I was actually enjoying my time spent on the mountain, rather than just grinding it out and psyching myself out. On the steep climbs, I took it slow and steady and began passing a lot of people, apparently more than I realized. I was having a fantastic race. The tyrolean traverse and herc hoist, amongst others, had never felt easier. I even made it over the 8 ft wall on my first try with no assistance – a new best for me!

By the time I came down the mountain to the final 3 obstacles – the bucket carry, twister and rope climb – I was one of the first 20 females. The bucket carry was the longest and steepest one I’ve ever done and in my opinion, it was the most challenging obstacle on the course. Completing it was quite the task in of itself, but I had also developed a splitting headache over the previous hour.

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By the time I finally got to the twister, my headache had grown to the point where it hurt to look up into the sun to see the handles. I quickly fell and that’s when it really hit me. I was in so much pain that it took me about 20 minutes to do my 30 burpees, occasionally laying on the ground for a few minutes. Needless to say, I was no longer in the top 20, but by some miracle, I completed the rope climb and still finished my first lap in under 4 hours.

Once I got to the drop bin area, I just wanted to lay down and close my eyes for a moment. This quickly attracted the attention of the medics and I thought it was all over… again. I was about to be med-dropped. They brought me to the medical tent and gave me water and medicine, but nothing helped. They determined I wasn’t dehydrated and that it was just a migraine. All I could do was wait it out, but they urged me to pull myself from the race. I was beyond frustrated that this had happened. I’ve never felt so fresh coming off of a Spartan course as I did that day. My body felt amazing but I could barely open my eyes. TWO AND A HALF HOURS LATER, it finally started to ease up a little. In a rage that a mere headache was holding me back from completing this race, I decided to just go back out and see what happened. I ate some chips, filled my hydration pack, grabbed my headlamp, and went back out on course for lap two.

Within minutes, I felt amazing again. The fact that I was back out on the course re-energized me. I was quickly passing other Ultra Beast racers who said that their legs felt dead. I even began passing Beast racers who had just begun their first lap. Not long after, I had even caught up to some people I was running with in my first lap. I was cruising! The obstacles went exactly the same as they did in the first lap, although I probably did the bucket carry faster the second time. I failed the Multi-Rig, Olympus, & the Spear, which were all in a row, as well as the Twister, both laps for a grand total of 240 penalty burpees. All in all, I still finished the second lap in about 5 hours.

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I could have actually put up a decent time if it weren’t for the amount of time in between laps, and that bothers me, but in comparison to what happened in Killington, I was just glad to finish. Although I am now the proud owner of a Spartan Ultra Beast belt buckle, and many have congratulated me on earning my redemption, I’m still planning on getting back out to Vermont to give it another shot. In all honesty, the courses do not compare; and in my mind, the medals do not bear the same value. The 2017 Tri-State New Jersey Ultra Beast had 1,046 finishers whereas the 2016 Killington Ultra Beast only had 204. Which medal would you rather own?

The Future Of OCR : Acre Breaker Adventure Race

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. I stumbled across this event on a random email I received from a newsletter that generally lists road and trail races, not OCRs. I usually quickly browse the emails prior to deleting on the off chance an event piques my interest. To my surprise I found an OCR listed in the email. First thing I checked was distance to my house…1 hour 17 minutes. For anyone that does OCRs regularly that’s like a drive to the grocery store for many of us as opposed to the standard 2 hour drive. I got excited and decided to dig deeper into the event.

What I found out was that this was the first event by this brand. It advertised 12 obstacles in a 4K. They offered several varying options such as 4K individual, 4K team of 2, 8k(2 laps of 4K course) and 8k team of 2. Included in the marketing was the fact that you will get muddy – I was sold.

Upon arrival, there was a2-minutee shuttle ride to an open corn field where registration was held. Quick and easy check in and packet pick up, organized, FREE bag check and off to line up for my heat. I was registered in the 9am wave but got there just after my heat went off, giving me a 30 minute stroll around the start area until the next heat(9:30). The event was untimed but had a running clock at the finish line so you could gauge your total time with a little math.

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After a quick rundown by the emcee, my heat was off and running. First obstacle we came to was a small drop into an ankle deep water/mud pit. If you’ve read my reviews, you know I’m all about getting muddy and wet. Never been a fan of stadium races for this reason but hey.. variety, spice of life and all that. This was a good start for what I hoped for not having any expectations going into it.

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Next came the super fun(sarcasm font) sandbag carry. I was pleased to find something like this in a new race, telling me they had a decent idea about what to include in an OCR. This carry was on minimal elevation but involved, what seemed like, unlimited down and back paths with the “back” section going slightly uphill. Later in the course, I also came up on a bucket carry. All racers, male and female, filled the bucket 3/4 full and walked a loop.

The course included some standard crawls, one between hay bails(pictured above) positioned to allow a very narrow space to crawl through. With my slender frame it wasn’t as easy as I’d expected, causing me to wonder how a person with a stature larger than mine would navigate it, along with a barbed wire crawl (which I love seeing a new race use barbed wire). There were also several unique obstacles, which were a very pleasant surprise for a first-time event.

Acre-Breaker-Drumroll

One unique obstacle was a plastic drum filled and sealed with liquid inside. The objective was to roll the drum uphill to a designated row of hay bails. With the shifting liquid and uphill trajectory, this was no easy feat, especially once you got further uphill. The most interesting part was the trek back down with the drum. The weight of the liquid and downhill path provided a challenge in itself to keep the drum under control while not speeding downhill without you. This was definitely fun as it’s a change of pace, but I could certainly see this (or the path at least) being altered for future events to avoid injury risks of speeding barrels.

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We’re beginning to see some companies use metal caging or fencing in their obstacle setups now (think Savages “On The Fence”) so it was definitely exciting to see this utilized at a new race. Even more interesting was the type of fencing. This obstacle featured a thin wire fencing and a decent distance required to traverse sideways without touching the top of the fence or feet to the ground. The thickness(or lack thereof) in the fencing definitely could shred some hands up… I loved it.

Acre-Breaker-Ladder

Another interesting obstacle was labeled a “fence climb”, which proved difficult for many new racers (who comprised the majority of the event) as the transition from the second to last to the top board was a distance apart, making the “over the top” transition quite steep… Again.. Loved it. There was a metal, box-shaped frame towards the end which was odd in setup, and seemed like a random add in obstacle as opposed to a planned one. It required a climb to the top and traversing along a thin metal pole to the other side where you drop down…(picture a random enclosed bus stop along the side of the road and climbing on top and across it).

Acre-Breaker-Metal-Climb

My favorite obstacle of all which was towards the beginning of the event was a water crossing. Chest high depending on height, on a morning that I woke to see 37 degrees out. It was mid 40’s by race time but this was COLD…. LOVED IT! I was admittedly a little confused by the direction to cross as I was redirected by the volunteer, causing a much further walk through the water, which I was certainly ok with.

Acre-Breaker-Water-Crossing

The race wrapped up with a fire jump, then being told I came in first overall in my heat and directed to collect my award. A very pleasant surprise as it seemed the first overall male and female of each individual heat and each team wave was awarded a very…. Unique…. Award.

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Yes, if you can’t tell that’s a raccoon skull mounted to a plaque. Certainly the most interesting award next to the cement brick received from the “Down & Dirty”(RIP) Brick division races. But instantly a favorite to be displayed(my wife told me areas of the house I can NOT display it) 😂. The medal was a standard gold circle with brand logo on a red/white/blue striped ribbon. Early registrations received a T-shirt and beer stein.

Back to my original proclamation that this could be the future of OCR. The event was filled with, what seemed to be, a largely local gathering of participants from the area and community. The Race Director informed me they expected around 100 participants, they closed at around 250.. That’s awesome.. They now plan on future events. One for super bowl Sunday(not sure that’s the best date for optimal attendance) and looking at possibly 4+ in the next year. From a first impression and attendance, they easily could succeed with some adjustments and possible tweaks for future events and here’s my suggestions.

Emcee – as opposed to standard course briefing everyone loves some pre-race hype to head on course all pumped up.

Elite heat- I’m all for the current awards per heat. They may want to look at condensing that to one competitive wave for cost purposes but if they choose to do each heat with awards, that’s an EXCELLENT promotional point to increase attendance of medalwhores(which encompasses 80% of this sport)

Additional obstacles- The RD expressed expanding to additional and more challenging obstacles. The easy recommendations are of course rope climb, rope traverse(over the water crossing maybe?) rig, and of course, monkey bars

All about the volunteers- the volunteers were good, but we all know volunteers are the heart and soul of any event, and equally capable of making or breaking an event.

Possible chip timing?(first heat?)*see elite heat, but again, 110% for keeping awards per each heat

Photos- this is a big one for 98% of participants. I know it may not be cheap but someway of establishing photographers at the most unique obstacles. There were pictures taken by a local photogrpaher(all pics featured in review) but pics were minimal. I didn’t see any from my heat and was in the second wave of the day.

Marketing- I’m not sure what type of local advertising was done, obviously enough to pull 200+ people and myself through a local email blast, but it was clear the normal OCR junkie contingent of racers you’d normally find at an event were not present. Marketing through OCR focused outlets(Obstacle Racing Media….for example 😉) would certainly increase the exposure of the brand to the right demographic.

All in all if a local brand can start up, follow the right path and athlete devoted business practices can succeed. That’s a great sign for the future of our sport. I’ll certainly be rooting for this brand as those behind it truly seemed to want to learn and succeed.

Spartan Race Tri-State New York Sprint 2016 Review

Spartan Race Tuxedo Start

Looking straight up the mountain from the Start line at Tuxedo Ridge

On Sunday, June 19, I returned to Tuxedo Ridge to run the second weekend of the Spartan Race Sprint. Last year I ran with two friends, up and down the mountain (and up and down and up and down). This year I ran in one of the last heats as part of a large group, and the experience was very different; it gave me time to think about what OCR can mean to different audiences.

But first, the obligatory race review highlights:

This was a busy weekend for OCR fans in and around New Jersey. Spartan was at Tuxedo Ridge, just north of the Garden State, while BattleFrog was nearby in Stanhope, Mudderella was at Raceway Park in Englishtown, and Bone Frog Challenge took place in Atlantic City. While it would be interesting to know if the scheduling overlap hurt sales at the other races, there were plenty of people at what was the second weekend of Spartan Sprints. Judging by the pictures on social media, numerous enthusiasts did more than one race this weekend.

Spartan Race knows how to put on a good show, and their performance here was no exception: the check-in process was smooth, as was bag check (now with two options, one more secure and costly than the other, but I have vented about that elsewhere). At the race start, the announcer let us know that the organizers had decided add an extra mile to the course, bringing what was advertised as a 3-5 mile race to over 5.2 miles. I never heard an explanation for extending the course, and the consensus was that they did it simply because they could.

There was plenty of running up and running down, as well as the familiar array of Spartan obstacles. There was also plenty of dust after a few dry weeks, and I have learned the lesson that dusty rocks can be as slippery as wet terrain. I have the bruised elbows and scraped knees to prove it. The cargo net crawl provided one of the few wet patches, but it also smelled remarkably like barnyard effluent, making some doubt the bacterial levels we were exposed to.

As the day got warmer (and as I realized I hadn’t fueled properly), I slowed down, and I found myself closer to the racers at the back of the pack. This gave me the chance (between panting breaths) to chat with some of my fellow racers who, let’s say, were taking the course a bit slower than the hard-charging elites who dominated the earlier waves.

I noticed plenty of large groups racing together, waiting for each other to catch up, and helping each other over the walls, cargo net climbs, etc. That team-building spirit that Tough Mudder (but not Spartan) extolls so much? You couldn’t throw one of the mountain’s plentiful rocks without hitting it that day. OCR events really can bring out the best in people. By mid-day on Sunday, the mood shifted from individual competition to group achievement. Not coincidentally, I didn’t see a whole lot of burpees getting done on the course later in the day either, as volunteers exercised discretion to encourage, rather than scold.

Inspiring stories? There were lots of those, too, like the Special Ed teacher I met whose cancer had recently gone into remission and who attributed her participation in OCR with helping her recovery. If OCR didn’t exist, maybe she would have channeled that energy into running 5Ks, but it’s great that this sport provided her with what she needed.

Was the race hard? Definitely. The CrossFit coaches I rode home with were surprised at how difficult the course was. As with many racers, their introduction to Spartan had been a stadium race, and this was much more challenging. Many of the less fit racers I talked to had also gotten their start at CitiField this spring and had signed up for Tuxedo Ridge as a follow-up. My question is whether a Spartan Sprint is a good introduction to OCR and whether it is a suitable event for someone getting off the couch.

The brains trust at Spartan HQ have done calculations, and they tell me that they’ve figured a minimum level of fitness: athletes need to be able to hold a deep squat for three minutes, a high plank for two minutes, and a dead hang for one minute, or 30 seconds if you weigh more than 200 pounds (one of the fun facts I picked up at Spartan Obstacle Specialist Training). I can do this (and, you know, run marathons), but the heat and the climbing slowed me down. The rest of the racers I saw at the back of the pack might not be able to meet those minimum qualifications. Some were still having fun (monkey bars! Whee!), some were challenging themselves (that cargo net climb is not difficult, but it gets you pretty far off the ground), and some just looked downright miserable.

There is obviously a broad spectrum of fitness, and the trick for Spartan (and for the races that want to be Spartan) is to host an event that can satisfy elite racers but still provide a realistic goal from someone who is trying to get in shape. The stadium races seem to provide that sweet spot, but they’re not available in every market. Spartan founder Joe De Sena is determined to get all of us off the couch and fighting fit. Does setting up the Tuxedo Spartan Sprint as an entry-level event inspire more people to get in shape, or does it discourage those who try it and find it far beyond their abilities?

Christopher jumps over Spartan fire awkwardlyJumping over fire: I still haven’t figured out how to do it gracefully.


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BattleFrog New Jersey: Something for Everyone

BattleFrog returned to the Tri-State New Jersey area this past Saturday with an 8k Obstacle Course Race to brag about. BattleFrog has previously used the overplayed Englishtown, NJ venue but this time opted for the wooded trails and lakes that the Mount Allamuchy Scout Reservation in Stanhope, NJ had to offer, and it did not disappoint.

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The majority of the course was composed of double-track, you read right DOUBLE not single-track, technical trails through the woods. The forest provided dense shade through most of the course, which was a welcome feature on a hot and sunny June day. The major benefit of true wooded trails is that they provide undulating terrain for some elevation gain and tricky footwork in the form of roots, rocks, and uneven dirt. The downside is that technical terrain often comes paired with a trail that is only one person wide, making it hard to offer up open passing lanes for the competitors and first-timers alike. This is an often overlooked feature that allows those gunning for the podium to feel competitive and comfortable while also allowing for self-conscious slower runners to move at their own speed and not be concerned if they are holding others up. What BattleFrog managed to find in this venue was technical terrain combined with room to pass, almost without exception. There were also some gravel roads, and a few lakes and marshes thrown in for good measure. I cannot possibly say enough good things about this venue and BattleFrog’s use of it. But maybe widen the Normandy Jacks mud crawl next time, okay?

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The facilities offered were also top notch to include seamless parking, shuttles, and registration. This course also boasted the world’s cleanest porta potties, water stops every mile on course, friendly and enthusiastic volunteers and staff, plus one of the best pump-up speeches (with some PT to boot for the BFX runners) given by Coach Pain. For the swag and memorabilia lovers: photographers were a plenty, the medals being earned are bad-ass, and the t-shirts were super comfy. However, my only major complaint with the whole day was logistical: the location of the BFX tent. Typically the tent is located just off the cut-through from the Finish line to the Start line and semi-secluded from the buzz of the festival area. This time it had to be accessed by cutting across the festival and often found it was mistaken as a hangout area for spectators. If the tent was moved to the less accessible side of the festival near the cut through, BattleFrog would have earned perfect scores in New Jersey.

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One thing that rang true through the entire event is that BattleFrog is the ultimate race series for just about anyone. The race brand has built-in so many options that no matter your experience or preference, from newbie to elite to endurance OCR athlete, you will find what you are looking for at BattleFrog. The first option comes at race sign-up, and has been a signature of BattleFrog for years in offering 3 race types: open 8k, mandatory obstacle completion elite 16k, or as many laps as possible in BFX. There is a race format for everyone offered.

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Next, within the race itself, most obstacles now offer 3 different level of difficulty. I think this change has opened the appeal to inexperienced and casual racers by offering an unintimidating setup where you can work at your own level, and strive to be better next race. BattleFrog is well known throughout the business as one of the most physically demanding race forms in both elite and BFX, yet still manages to be approachable. Ultimately, with all the options, your build your own race flavor.  It brought me great joy as an Xtreme racer, to chat with 3 generations of women running together on course, with Grandma leading the pack. BattleFrog is keeping the effort going to expand the footprint of Obstacle Course Racing, as exemplified by this.

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