Carolina Ultra: Twisted Trails and Bundles of Burpees

Introduction/Pre-Race

Ah, South Carolina. Known for its super warm temperatures, surely this is the race to do if you are hoping to complete the ultra in shorts and a sports bra. It will be a beautiful day, filled with lots of sunshine, love, and rainbows.

Or, maybe not.

Now, I’m from South Carolina, so I confess that my knowledge of all things cold isn’t exactly there. But, I overheard several people say they were coming from the north because they were looking forward to a warm race. Although this wasn’t exactly freezing temperatures all day, when it was time to start the race, it was roughly 36 degrees when we got started. All of the people who were anticipating and planning to wear shorts and look cute were a little disappointed.

On the race website, we were told that we had to pick up packets the night before. Problem is, packet pick up was from 2:00-5:30 in the afternoon. A friend of mine asked if I could pick his up, which of course, I was told no (which, makes sense). I didn’t think this was fair to people who…you know, have jobs… but what do I know. Luckily, even though they said packet pick up the day before was mandatory, people were allowed to grab their stuff the morning of the race.

I was lucky enough to get to grab my stuff ahead of time. So, the morning of the race, I got myself situated, grabbed my bucket, and went on my way.

When I got to the start line, everyone was huddled and shivering. You could hear people make comments related to “what the heck, I thought this was supposed to be warm!” And we waited to get started.

And we waited.

And waited.

Now, I did the Ultra Beast in New Jersey last year, and we didn’t start on time either. They at least TOLD us that we weren’t going to start on time. Here, we were repeatedly told that we would get started soon. We ended up waiting for over 20 minutes to get started. Finally, Mr. Kobl came up. I was so thankful when he let us know that we only had to do the dunk one time, and it wasn’t until the very end of the day for us. After some jokes and words of wisdom, we were off.

Spartan’s Course

Carolina Ultra Map

Once we got started, it seemed like we took a solid 3 steps before encountering the first obstacle. Almost immediately were some hay walls; following that was a creek crossing. We pretty much spent the rest of the day in the water. Our toes got really cold, really fast. Closely after was the 4-ft wall and some trail running, and some more creeks. Then it was the 6-foot wall. I saw a lot of women struggling with the 6-foot wall, which was really strange…that is until I realized that there was a layer of ice completely covering the top of the wall. After I went over the wall, SQUISH. We hopped off of the wall and into a big ol’ puddle of mud. Gross.

So…in short…the first mile was pretty much just mud and walls. Sigh.

A little bit of running later, and we get to the rope. To make things interesting, because it was extremely cold, the rope was COMPLETELY covered in ice. Even though I was in the elite division, I have never seen so many people doing burpees at a rope.

After a short run, the next few obstacles were pretty close together. It actually hurt a lot, and the burpee areas were so close that it was easy to get them confused between obstacles. In the second mile, there was the Olympus, Herc hoist, spearman, barbed wire crawl, sandbag, AND bucket within that little space. Out of those obstacles, Olympus, rope, and many other obstacles were covered in ice. Sooo many people were doing burpees. Lots of unhappy faces, and people worried about their fate for the rest of the afternoon.

After we kept running, we ran into Bender. Bender is scary when it’s covered in ice. Lots of people were worried about falling, and several of us little people had a hard time jumping and grabbing the first bar because it was so slick. After some more trail running came the Tyrolean Traverse and a vertical cargo climb. On the first lap, this cargo climb was one of the scariest cargo climbs that I have experienced. It was one that was so loose that while you were climbing, the rope would shift. I did not love it.

One piece that was interesting about this course came up closely afterward. There was an 8-foot wall on course, but it only had one step as opposed to two steps. Some of the shorter women struggled.

Then, the hard part was pretty much over. There was a portion of the race that split from an ultra course to the regular Beast so that the ultra course was a little longer and more challenging. There was not a volunteer standing here, so there were some moments where standard Beasters ran a portion of the ultra by mistake…and I’m sure some ultra runners “accidentally” took the wrong course.

Now, when they gave us a different piece of the course, I was anticipating something a little difficult. It wasn’t anything really unique. The course map claimed to be an obstacle called “Irish Tables” which I had not seen before. My friends told me that this was a high platform and one that was spooky. It wasn’t. I didn’t even realize what it was until the second lap. It was just another hurdle, with a flatter top. This obstacle is also seen in Bonefrog, but Spartan paints theirs a different color. But, it’s basically another hurdle. I was a little shocked, considering they have different heights for men and women. By the time I got to this obstacle, there was a line for men and it was completely clear for me!

Behind that was more trail running, log farmers carries, the armor, a plate drag, a barbed wire crawl, and another sandbag. After some more running, we were greeted with the Stairway to Sparta.

Now, the Stairway to Sparta has become one of my favorite obstacles. Not because it is one of the most exciting obstacles, but Spartan always manages to squeeze this obstacle into the most spectacular places. This was not. This Stairway was placed conveniently in front of a single-track trail, so there wasn’t anything to see. I would like to say that as a resident of Spartanburg I can vouch and say there weren’t many stunning options…but I would at least suggest on top of a hill or something.

The Stairway to Sparta was actually replaced with the Great Wall. Now, I know there are a lot of thoughts on the Great Wall. It’s basically just Stairway 2.0. It is slightly more difficult than the regular stairway..but not by much. During the first lap, there was not a step provided for the women. So, there were more women doing burpees, simply because we couldn’t reach the grips! But, I suppose if it isn’t challenging, nobody would do it!

After this obstacle, it was on to the transition.

Transition

My friend Erika at the transition!

Now, if you’ve done an ultra or an ultra beast, you’ve seen the transition. It’s a square marked off for people to leave drop buckets. Usually, for buckets, people will go to Lowe’s and get a bucket for $5 and decorate it with stickers. I have my bucket very decorated with things, but I also tied a balloon to my bucket in order to make it easier to find. It’s a good idea for people to put their buckets in a safe place with their friends. In the elite division, you can’t take stuff from people outside of the transition area, so if you’re with your friends, you can divide and conquer!

One thing I found unusual about the transition was that there were volunteers and timers there, but nobody really did anything. Another strange thing about the transition was that my friend Crystal and I were 9th and 10th. We were not given lap leader jerseys. Instead, number 11 was. Number 11 is also someone who has a large presence in the Spartan world. Coincidence? I really hope so. It was very disappointing.

After a brief period in the transition area, it was on to the lap again.

Lap 2

The transition area spat us in a VERY muddy area past the hay walls and right in front of the creek. I sunk up halfway between my knee and hip. I’m just thankful I didn’t lose a shoe there also.

When running an ultra beast, the second lap is very different from the first. The first lap starts very early and provides an awesome opportunity for athletes to get a good start. Since it does start so early, it is usually very quiet. It’s almost peaceful until you remember that you have over 25 miles ahead of you. The second lap is at the same time as afternoon open heaters. This can be very exciting–having other people cheer for you, but also, sometimes people don’t always follow the courtesy rules suggested by the race directors. For instance, during the tyrolean traverse this time, I had an open runner come underneath my rope so that she could get a hold on her friend. Really…REALLY?!

The first obstacle we encountered here was the over walls, and then everything else was the same. There were some differences between the course; the main one being the mud! Several areas that we had previously run in were completely swamped. There were several instances where I would go running or trudge, and I would get so stuck in the mud that people would have to pull me out. Again, it is an absolute miracle that I managed to keep my shoes throughout this adventure.

Also during lap two, they had made a few modifications to some of the obstacles. The Great Wall now had a step. It was exciting to complete this in front of the open runners because they all cheered for me! It felt really nice.

On lap two, instead of going to the transition, it was over the very wobbly A-frame, and through the rolling mud. The rolling mud was ORANGE at this point. It was so difficult to wash this orange out of our clothes.

After this was the mud crawl. Basically, a third barbed wire crawl, just you are crawling in really really squishy mud. Normally this is at least a little fun, but there were sooo many large rocks in this mud. I was completely covered in bruises at the end of the day. After this the dunk, and then the slip wall. Now, the dunk wall was nothing really special other than large rocks made it difficult to get out of the water. The slip wall was actually a little different than usual. They covered the slip wall in this black tarp and made the wall more vertical. The tarp made the slip wall more difficult to dry, and although it still wasn’t difficult, for the first time ever, I did not feel safe on a slip wall.

Then was the fire jump, then the end!

Thoughts

Maybe I’m crazy, but I remember Spartan claiming that ultras were not going to be ultra beasts at the beginning of the year. They promised that ultras were not going to be two laps of the beast; rather, it would be one 30-mile loop with its own obstacles and adventure. Wrong.

I was looking forward to a big challenge, but I am glad that I was lucky enough to participate in this event. This was a good ultra beast for people to attend if they were looking to get a good beginner ultra.

Overall, this course was very repetitive. Lots of sandbags, walls, and crawls. There wasn’t much about this race that stood out as unique. However, I will say that I’m very thankful for the race director for allowing us to wait until the second lap to do the dunk wall (we may have completely turned into Spartan-pops)! I am also very thankful that Spartan provided an opportunity for people in the Southeast to participate in an ultra. I am very thankful that I have the opportunity to compete in events like this altogether. I did feel like Spartan made this an ultra at the last moment and did not have their own real plan. I will continue to hope that Spartan works to improve this event in the future!

Bonefrog Charlotte 2018

Introduction

Ah, the Bonefrog. It is unique but very well known through the OCR world as the only OCR that is run and operated by the Navy SEALs. It’s an incredible opportunity for people who are looking for more challenging obstacle races than the typical Spartan or Terrain race.

With Bonefrog, there are 4 different ways to race. There is the endurance race, challenge, Tier 1, and sprint.

  • Sprint: 3 miles with 20-ish obstacles.
  • Challenge: 6 miles with 30-ish obstacles
  • Tier 1: Challenge + Sprint, so 9 miles with 50-ish obstacles.
  • Endurance: See how many laps of the challenge course you can complete.

On the day of the race, participants at each level are given a different color paper wristband. The color of the band is dependent on the race that they are doing. For instance, I was doing the challenge race, so I received a red wristband. Participants in the Tier 1 race received blue. Endurance and sprint were other colors, too. That way the volunteers could help out the people in the easiest, most appropriate way.

Disclaimer: I ran the challenge. My description of this course is going to be focused on the challenge. I am less familiar with the layout of the sprint course, so I will be going off what some of my friends told me.

Pre-Race Preparation

I had never done a Bonefrog before, and I wasn’t really prepared for what was happening. Registering online was easy, and I will say that they did a great job of posting a map online in ample time for athletes to view and prepare themselves. I was being a total wimp and decided just to brace myself and enjoy the ride. Whichever type of athlete you are, Bonefrog will accommodate. The race was on Saturday, but I’m fairly certain that they released the course map by that Tuesday. It made my friends who do prefer to check out the course map very very happy.

This particular Charlotte Bonefrog was hosted at Porter Farms. If you do the Charlotte Spartan races, this venue is all-too-familiar. You can expect a relatively flat course, and some cows to stare at you. You may also want to expect to be on the lookout for cow-pies; the most horrid obstacle of them all!

Arrival/Pre-Race

Now, this race took place on the same day as the World’s Toughest Mudder which was only a few hours south. I wasn’t exactly expecting there to be many people there. I was shocked by how few people were in attendance. My friends and I were competing elite and showed up maybe 40 minutes prior to the first heat, and it maybe took us 4 minutes to wait in line, pay ($10), and park. It was insane.

The festival area served its purpose. It was small but spread out. There were certain things that you noticed immediately: the finish line, the port-o-Johns, and black ops. There was a bag check provided (just like most races, it is $5), but there was also a tent that had tables. With their being so few people there, most people left their backpacks on these tables. Granted I don’t typically advise that, but if you have a friend who is willing to watch over your belongings, then you have to do what you have to do! The smaller atmosphere made it really easy to find friends and wish everyone else good luck.

They called all of the elites to the start at the same time. That meant all endurance, Tier 1, and Challenge athletes arrived at the start at the same time. There is not an elite division for the sprint, which I thought was interesting. We were not sure how this was going to work with all of us running different divisions. I looked to my left, to my right…I only counted 7 women with wristbands. Wow, there was really nobody there!

They ended up splitting us all up. The endurance athletes were up first. There were maybe, MAYBE 15-20 men in this division, with zero women. This was very unique and interesting. Up next: Tier 1. This was probably the largest group, at a whopping 3o-40 people. A few women went up, but not many. Then it was time for the Challenge. They gave us about 5 minutes between each elite division. We were greeted and motivated by the ever-wonderful Jarian Rich (who was rocking a red, silver, and blue sparkly beard; which I imagine is no coincidence with Veteran’s Day), and then it was showtime.

The Challenge Course

And we’re off! The start was a lot of fun. It started going on a downhill, instantly you could hear people talking about how fun it was and comparing it to the Charlotte Spartan Race. Then the sounds instantly turned to squish squish squish. I failed to remember that it had rained all week. Oh, boy! Listed on the map as the first obstacle was the Rolling Thunder. Rolling Thunder is one of those obstacles that Bonefrog is known for; it’s a simple, yet super obnoxious and frustrating obstacle that I’m pretty sure is only designed to get on people’s nerves. But, before that, there was a slight dip in the trail and an unmarked wire over the dip. Running by you’d just hear people go:

“ACK! ….Wire!”

Which was immediately followed by a

“Huh? ACK!…WIRE!!!!”

Although it was a little frustrating, it was kind of funny. Then it was onto Rolling Thunder. It seemed like there were two of the obstacle; the men ran to the one on the left, while the women were using the one on the right. There was no rhyme or reason to it. I saw a woman use the side, and I asked if we were allowed to. The volunteer said that the women were allowed to, while the men were not. I shrugged and made my way onto the next part of the course.

Bonefrog Rolling Thunder

After a little run, we came across a 6-foot wall. It wiggled a little on the top, but it was easy to get over.

We kept running through some muck (which, at the start line they announced they removed a water obstacle, which I was very thankful for), and up a hill and we were back near the festival area. We ran into most of the men who had left in one of the earlier divisions here. There were three stations: bar dips, burpees, and pull-ups. The first station: do 19 dips, calling your number out loud. I’ve never seen this in a race before, but holy smokes it was not pleasant. Next up: 31 burpees. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to call out names while we did our burpees, but I could not see them so I said the numbers and was not corrected. I don’t know what it was about these 31 burpees… granted, I’ve gotten all too familiar with them during Spartans, but right after dips, these suckers hurt. Next up: 7 pull-ups. Sweet; I love pull-ups. They had us do pull-ups in front of the pictures and names of fallen Navy SEALs. Rather than count the number of accomplished pull-ups out loud, we said their name. This, I thought, was fantastic, unique, and totally appropriate for Veteran’s Day. I also really appreciated that the men and women were expected to complete the same amount.

Next up was a rig. It wasn’t anything particularly scary, just some squishy thing on the bottom. The squishy thing looked like a ball, and the ropes stretched a little when you grabbed it. As long as you had a hand on the rope, you were good to go! Followed by that was a rope swing, which was…interesting. I’ve never seen anything like this. The volunteers were really helpful: they provided lots of tips on how to make it easier.

Then was The Krakken. I was really surprised by this obstacle; I was really impressed with how tight the strings were that comprised the obstacle. Bonefrog made it pretty sure that I couldn’t have fallen through the top even if I wanted to. One of the next obstacles was called Get a Grip. No obstacle has scared me as much as Get a Grip ever has. Remember how I said it was really muddy? Well, it was extra muddy underneath this obstacle. If you slipped off the rig, you slid in the mud. I saw a few men hit their heads. I saw one guy slip and fall before even leaving the step to reach the rig. He fell onto metal. The fall was long, too. This obstacle terrified me. Many women struggled. Sooner than later, it got crowded. People got kicked if there were two people on it at a time. It was not super enjoyable. I would like to try it again if it were not so high, or not with such an intimidating, slippery, and dangerous fall.

This was followed by more running, and obviously more obstacles. There were some frustrating moments, like weird course markings which resulted in me going up a 7-foot wall backward, but throughout the course, I still had fun. There was a lot of opportune time for running, and a lot of opportunities for slipping in mud, too!

There were certain things about this course that I enjoyed. I really enjoyed the Brute Force Bag carry. They had us go through walls with openings, and the openings got higher with each wall. Other than this and a hoist-like obstacle, there were no heavy carry races in this race.

When we hit the back area of Porter Farms (which I had never seen before,  so this was fantastic) there was a long stretch where we didn’t see many people. There were so few people that I actually went off-course for several minutes, and accidentally took some other people with me. In another instance was a big tarp laying on the ground. I asked the guy next to me if we were supposed to do anything, and he said no, so we went on. I much later learned that we were supposed to go UNDERNEATH this tarp…there was no volunteer to tell us! We also came across the only balance obstacle, and a few other cool ones in the back.

After a while, we came across some other things in the back also: all of the open sprint runners. It’s honestly like they came out of nowhere! It went from being a calm, race with people who it was easy to become close with to being really crowded. There were lines for obstacles, and it made it more difficult to pass through. Running on certain trails openly and easily turned into weaving. Although I like running around people, the fact it got so crowded so quickly caught me really off-guard.

Other obstacles in the back area included some rope climbs, a log obstacle that made you have to go through a wall once you climbed, and some other unique obstacles.

I came up to one obstacle that I really wanted to attempt all day. I don’t know what it’s called, but I know that you have seen pictures of it, if you’ve seen Bonefrog pictures at all. It’s the green monkey bar thing. A friend of mine had spent the whole week volunteering, and he assured me that there was going to be a rope there to climb before you got to the green grabby part. Except, when I got there, there was no rope. I was greeted at the obstacle by a man similar in height, and he was stressed. Even with the step, he and I couldn’t reach to even attempt the obstacle. Since I had already lost my band, I just had to move on.

Bonefrog-NJ-Seat-bars

The Chopper was a cool obstacle. This one wasn’t long; there were three of the spinny parts, each one separated by a ring. I haven’t seen anything like it.

There was a large A-frame, then Black Ops for the classic Bonefrog finish. I was really impressed again, by how sturdy the A-frame was. I felt very safe. I think it would have been difficult to get hurt. Black Ops made me sad…I couldn’t reach it! I wish they had some kind of step to be able to reach it for us…really really small folks. Either that or ladies, if you’re a tiny titan like me, be prepared to jump.

Volunteers

The volunteers at this race were fabulous. There were so many unique obstacles and the thing with unique obstacles is that they can be difficult to figure out what you have to do. Volunteers were spectacular about providing instruction for newcomers. They were really paying attention to what the athletes were doing. If you volunteered at the Charlotte Bonefrog this year, you did a fantastic job, and we appreciate you!

Overall Thoughts

The Bonefrog is an OCR that requires more strength than your typical, bigger name OCR like Spartan, Terrain, or Rugged. They feature a lot of unique obstacles that require the grip strength of a monkey but the courage of a tiger. I’d say if you are considering Bonefrog as a first OCR, you may want to try something else first. Not because it’s a bad race by any means, but, it is going to be more challenging, and you may want to get your feet wet first. Overall it was a great time; I personally enjoyed the smaller feel because I felt like I got to know the people that I was running against a little better than usual. If you’re looking to challenge yourself and feel a little sore the next day, Bonefrog may be the race for you!