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Superhero Scramble Race Review #Miami January 12, 2013

The Superhero Scramble set up camp at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah, FL, which I consider to be the Amesbury of Miami.  It has become the venue of choice for the 3-6 mile obstacle course events.  There’s onsite parking ($10) just off the entrance, which provides a very short walk to the festival area with car access if you need it.  The various lakes, open fields, and extensive mountain bike trails provide the necessary terrain for quality runs.

Registration and bag check ($5) appeared smooth for those who used them.  I took advantage of offsite packet pickup, which always speeds up race day.

The festival area included sponsor tents, merchandise, a live band, and access to the final handful of obstacles.  I did not take advantage of the bevy of local food trucks, but was impressed with their menus.  Grass-fed beef & bison burgers and other gourmet fare were available.  The large shade tents provided for spectators were both smart and effective.

The Superhero Scramble did not disappoint those who came to see costumes.  They were ample.  My kids liked Gumby most and everyone from the Hall of Justice was represented.  There were also a few villains and many teams in non-hero themed matching outfits.

The race kicked off a midst a green smoke grenade.  Here were the obstacles I conquered:

  • Barbed wire crawl
  • Pile of tires to traverse
  • Water crossing via tunnel
  • Leap of Faith jump into lake
  • Water crossing via wire balance
  • Rock climbing walls 10′ or 5′
  • Net climb up a trail hill
  • Pair of 8′ walls
  • Over under through walls
  • 5 gallon bucket of water carry
  • Rope climb with thick rope and generous knots between a pair of double stacked shipping containers
  • US Marines section with 10 burpees, low crawl, baby crawl & 15 reps of ammo box press
  • Cargo net suspended by a pair of double stacked shipping containers
  • “Hell Freezes Over” small fire jump immediately followed by a low crawl through freezing water
  • Steep angled wall climb with knotted and unknotted rope (your choice)
  • Water slide into green slime with questionable viscosity
  • Mud crawl under very low barbed wire
  • Run into a US Marine holding kickboxing pad

I had a wonderful time running with an unofficial team of veteran runners and first timers.  The Superhero Scramble course was not outside the box, but was loads of fun.  I strongly recommend you add the Superhero Scramble to calendar in 2013.  They look like they are gaining traction in the OCR world.  Go experience the scramble for yourself June 8th in Amesbury.

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Featured Review: Warrior Dash, South Florida

The Warrior Dash recently roared into South Florida with tremendous success.  Thousands of Warriors lined up to conquer bad-ass obstacles during an “insane” day.  The atmosphere was festive as evidenced by the costumes, team shirts, thumpin’ music and ample eye candy.   Loads of friendly staff were available to get warriors checked in and off to the starting gate.

The Warrior Dash is an extremely well run and fairly priced event, but the obstacles are reasonably easy and rather tame.  This company has ample experience in the obstacle course race business and executed over 40 events during the 2012 calendar year.  From an organizational and event planning point of view, they are far superior to most local mud runs.  The Warrior Dash is a terrific opportunity to introduce new people to the sport who can participate in an entry-level obstacle course race.  One of their strengths is they know exactly who they are, which is a 5K event with approximately a dozen diversified obstacles.  To date, the Warrior Dash has not attempted to clone other OCR companies.  They have stuck to their formula and they do it rather well.

I arrived at Amelia Earhart Park outside of Miami an hour prior to the first wave.  Parking was a stiff $20, but check in was easy and bag check was complimentary.  I ran the 10:00AM wave as well as the 11:00AM wave.  During my second wave, I was approached by many fellow warriors commenting on my insanity.  I explained to them that I joined a team on Facebook called the New England Spahtens, who welcomed me in and accepted me as one of their own despite my home zip code.  I further explained that New England Spahtens are a pack of challenge junkies who share a passion for obstacle course racing.  The obstacles I encountered were:

  • Junk Car Traverse
  • Two Water Crossings (one with logs, one with a capsized catamaran)
  • Incline Wall
  • Wall Traverse (giant hand holds and a ledge for feet)
  • Three Crawls  (two with mud and barbed wire, one with sand)
  • Mud Mound
  • Giant Trench
  • Cargo Net
  • Two Rows of Fire Jumps

Although it was not the “craziest freakin’ day of my life”, I had a fantastic time simply having fun, while burning calories and getting filthy fit.  The Warrior Dash has a partial 2013 schedule that can be found here:  http://www.warriordash.com/locations.php  Expect a full 2013 schedule to released soon.  When the Warrior Dash comes to your town, be sure to sign up, take a few friends and indulge with reckless abandon.

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Featured Review – Renegade Run

One of the founding goals of the New England Spahtens was to promote, grow and support local races as much as we do the big national series – if not more so. This runs risks of course – a small event isn’t going to have the big production values of a Spartan Race, and the course and obstacles won’t always be as challenging, as grueling or as epic. Regardless, we’d always give them a chance, work with the race director, provide our input and suggestions where welcome – and always provide our feedback.


Type One LLC on Facebook
Type One LLC Renegade Run website

So, when Type One LLCs inaugural event – Renegade Run – hit the radars, I reached out to the race director Tyson, and asked him if he’d be open to a large group of Spahtens showing up, running his race, and showing our OCR love.

Not only was he all about it – he got us a great deal on race entry, and was super flexible when the 10:30 heat sold out, getting several NE Spahtens in anyway. This was what made me really excited to work with Type One – they were super responsive, engaged in a pre-race interview, helped us out with registration costs, and seemed to be genuinely interested in what we were doing. Oh, and we raised money for an excellent cause too.

Type One was founded with the sole purpose and objective to increase public awareness and to find a cure through research for Type One Diabetes.

Race day came around, and it looked like we would have a good showing of Spahtens in the 10:30 wave. I was bringing my wife and father along with me, and Google Maps claimed it would be close to a two hour drive, so we hit the road early. Google lied, and it took us more like an hour and 20, and Wompatuck State Park was super easy to find. Being so early, we had no trouble finding a parking spot either, and we could literally spit on the start line from our parking spot. Oh, and parking was free, which is increasingly rare at bigger events.

Type One LLC had scheduled this event over thanksgiving weekend. In New England. That means it was going to be cold at the very least, and of course, it was cold. Like, really cold. Happily, registration was indoors – broken into alphabetical lines by last name, they flowed really quickly – we were in and out in minutes, clutching a baggy with our race bib, pins, voucher sheet and a really nice tech blend T with the event logo on the front and some sponsors on the back. In my usual tradition, I’m wearing it on the following Monday back at the office, and it’s a nice shirt – it’ll go into my “regular wear” rotation (which is more than I can say for some much much bigger events shirts …)

10:30 rolled around, and we headed out from our warm corner in the building to the start line in the parking lot. It was clear, quickly, that the New England Spahtens had almost locked out the 10:30 wave – we had Spahtens on the start line ready to run for time, and Spahtens at the back jumping up and down trying to stay warm. Type One had a team of cheerleaders doing their thing for us (and looking very cold doing it!), music, an MC – a shout out to our own Shannon Lynne who was running on her birthday – a quick countdown, and we were out.

I made the mistake of trying to keep up with the front runners! I’m still recovering from a bad sprain I picked up at Fenway, and was running in my trail shoes (Inov-8 x-talon 190s) – and the first half of the course was all nicely paved path – one comment from another Spahten was that I sounded like a horse, clomping along in my cleats! We already knew that the obstacles weren’t there to break us, just to slow us down – so when we hit the collection of normandy walls, we hopped over the middle and were through. Next up, a nice series of wooden horses to duck under, and crash barriers to climb over – this was where I aggravated my ankle for the first time, and lost the front runners.

We then had a series of smaller obstacles – some balance beams with ropes across them (really liked this one!) and a series of webbing ropes to navigate – also an unofficial obstacle of some dog walkers, who hadn’t realized they were walkin head on into a pack of crazed Spahtens, before we turned off the pavement and into some trails – cue rolled ankle #2! I really backed off the throttle now – no race is worth aggravating an injury for.

The trails turned out to be a ton of fun – some steep hills, some tunnels to pull yourselves through, some pretty technical terrain – then we were crossing a road – throwing yourself over a big pile of soft hay bails (are you reading this, Rebel Race? SOFT hay!), then the finish line, where I met a bunch of the guys I’d been tailing for the first part of the race.

My finish time was quick, and a check with the GPS watches showed that the total race length was more like 2.8 miles – maybe a generous 5k, rather than the 4 miles advertised, and if I had one piece of criticism, this would be it. We had expectations of fun obstacles coming in, but certainly front runners were expecting to pace for and hit 4 miles, so to be finished so quickly was a bit of a disappointing moment for them.

I turned around and started walking back up the course to find my dad and wife – and run in with them – my dad passed pretty quickly, then my wife came in with another Spahten – she lost a contact at the second obstacle, and basically ran the whole race 1/2 blind, and with no depth perception – hard core! Of course, I immediately rolled my ankle AGAIN and had to hobble back in 🙂

The post race party was the spot that Type One showed they mean business. They had some excellent caterers bring in brats, burgers, mac and cheese, ribs, more cookies than the entire event could eat and some good hydration choices. They also had this served in a heated tent, and opened up a large meeting room for folks to hang out and stay warm – hugely appreciated, and the reasons so many folks hung out.

Tyson read out the awards, and top 5 men and women won pretty good prizes – the Spahtens represented well here too 🙂

In conclusion – Renegade Run isn’t going to test your limits, nor is it going to bust your balls – but it has the pleasure of being the last race of the season, run in the cold weather (and maybe worse conditions in the future?) and is the perfect price to bring out the large groups. Extremely well run, and apart from the hiccup of the distance being under delivered – something I strongly suspect won’t happen in the future – this is going to end up being a permanent fixture on the New England Spahten calendar, simply for the fun factor. Good job, Tyson, and the crew at Type One! See you in 2013, and thank you for hosting the Spahtens!

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Featured Review: Spartan Race Fenway Park 2012

The Spartans are coming! The Spartans are coming!

To Fenway Park?

Spartan Race have been promoting and talking up the Fenway Park stadium event for some time – this was a two day “Time Trial” event, entirely contained in the confines of the oldest baseball stadium, on the year of their 100th birthday, and I’ll admit, right up until I saw the feedback coming in from the Saturday runners, I was skeptical. See, I’m an expat, and have zero relationship or history or interest in baseball, the Red Sox or Fenway – to me, it sounded cramped, busy and gimmicky.

I am happy to say, I was wrong. Spartan did this one right. I ran Sunday, and brought my wife and my dad along, and met up with a good group of New England Spahtens, both before, after and on the course. I ran 1 and three quarter laps – with my first 11:30am heat finishing with a 54min finish time, and my second 1:30pm wave ending when I rolled an ankle on the jump ropes – sending me on my first ride to the medics. Ice pack, ibuprofin, and I can walk on it today – seems to be just a sprain.

The Venue

Fenway Park – clearly very easy to find. Less easy to park. We took the Riverside green line into town – and in both directions it was easy, reliable and got us where we wanted to be with far less fuss than I expected. Once you arrived at Fenway – they had the check-in booths and merchandise stand in a parking lot across from Gate D, which helped keep one of the big bottle necks of the weekend away from the event itself. For us, it was a simple process – running very smoothly. They did have the wrong names on our packets, but the bib numbers were all that mattered. Right here we also found the innov-8 stand, merch stand and race day info tent.

Once we were bibbed up, we headed over the street to Gate A – they did a bag search, tagged us, and let us into Fenway. This was my first experience in the ballpark, and my first thought was how cold it was – the concrete surrounding us had kept the ambient temperature lower than it was outside, in November, in New England. We got walking to warm up, checked out the start line, finish shoot, and a few spectator viewing spots, before heading up into the stands. It was clear immediately – Spartan had made great use of the venue. Every inch of stairs, seats, viewing platforms, warm up tracks … all working well as an OCR. They had a very professional setup with multiple wireless cameras broadcasting to the jumbotron, so they were able to cut around the different obstacles and show you plenty of live footage.

My one big “huh?!” was that they didn’t (most likely *couldn’t*) use the grass itself. This huge patch of field, the iconic “baseball stadium” landmark was half covered, fenced off and unused. I’m sure this isn’t Spartans fault – they could have easily put some low impact stuff out there that wouldn’t have torn the precious grass up badly.

Given the obvious limitations of being in a cramped venue – Spartan did a great job of utilizing the space they had and marking the course well.

The Course

We all knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a typical Spartan Race. Information in the weeks prior had been confusing / limited – likely by design. Was it going to be a one mile race, or a full 5k sprint? How would they provide mud and water obstacles? How was the time trial start going to happen?

Lining up for the start, it was already clear this would be unusual. They were pulling folks out, ten at a time and lining them up. Some burpees or jumping jacks or other PT while they got the previous wave up the ramp – then you were off. This worked fairly well, and I definitely didn’t see a single bottle neck during two laps – but one complaint would be that the first obstacle – a ramp up with some low ropes to go under – the starting MC had folks at different times of day doing different things .. sometimes he let them run up, other times I saw two person “wheel barrows” – others, bear crawls. This needs to be consistent, especially considering the competitive nature of the Spartan series.

As usual, I won’t attempt an obstacle by obstacle review here – you can watch Jeff’s GoPro footage if you need reminding.

If I had to describe the obstacles though – it was like  Crossfit met Spartan. We went from PT style stations – row 500m’s in 2mins, do 20 hand release push ups, atlas stone carries with 15 burpees in the middle, ball slams – all the way through to very recognizable Spartan obstacles, the spear throw (missed both times), traverse wall (nailed it both times! first time ever!), cargo nets, big walls, the longest herculean hoist I’ve ever seen and the shortest rope climb I’ve ever seen.

Mostly, these PT stations went really well – the volunteers did a great job explaining them to folks who didn’t know what a hand release push up is, or how the ball slams worked – but there were some sticky points. The rowers were set to all kinds of different difficulties – I don’t know how someone was expected to hit 500m in 2mins when the resistance was set to 1 or 2 – and no one was moving down the line resetting them all to a much more sensible 5 or 6 (I did that myself the second time through, and got it with TONS of spare time). The ball throw – there simply to incorporate baseballs – was a carnival game, but you didn’t win a fluffy animal. I personally got taken out by the jump ropes – and heard from the medics that a lot of other folks had joined me that day – it was probably the most casualty causing obstacle all day, purely because it was such an easy obstacle to be injured by – one mis-step and you were rolling your ankle in ways it shouldn’t go, and game over.

Of course, Spartan put on great obstacles and place them well – for those who made it through the ropes you immediately faced the most epic Hobie Hop ever – up 5 or 6 flights of stairs … there were many folks walking this one in the end! The over / under / throughs that bracketed the rope climb and hoist were really well placed, and another Spartan staple.

Of course, the obstacle I loved to hate for the day – the damned sandbag carry. These were true sandbags, not the pancakes we’ve gotten used too. The route you had to carry them was long, winding, and went through the stairs, chairs, up and down – I had to rest more than a few times when I went through. Oh, and it was placed right at the end. Nice call, Spartan. nice call.

The Schwag

Of course – for many folks the race is as much about what you earn at the finish line and take home. Bragging rights.

There was an awesome medal – right up there with the quality of the trifecta medals, and above the quality of the usual finishers medal – it looks great on my medal holder 🙂

The finishers T shirt – finally, Spartan have learned from feedback and provided a race specific shirt, and it looks awesome. Quality feels nice, but my XL is a bit of a frankensize – fits great in the shoulders, fits loose everywhere else. Still, I’m wearing it to the office – my “monday after a race” tradition 🙂

One real oddity – the race bibs included a beer ticket. Usual Spartan Race stuff … except the folks at the beer counter wouldn’t honor it – saying it was illegal to give away alchohol in the state … um, it’s not being given away – Spartan are buying. Of course, I’m sure the $8:50 per beer price tag had something to do with this …

Special mention to the Race Menu team – they had booths setup with touch screens to look up your times, then print them off immediately. This was awesome. So much better than the “piece of paper on the side of a tent” method! I really hope we see more of this.

Conclusion

This was a very *very* well run event. The whole day was slick, the time trial format worked well, the PT stations blended in fairly well with the usual Spartan obstacles. Rumor has it that there will be a specific Stadium Series for Spartan Race in the future, and judging by this, the very first one, it’ll be a huge success. It opens up the world of OCR to a new crowd (I saw many folks only there because of the venue, who loved the OCR itself in the end). Some small changes to the operations of some stations and this will be a huge draw for Spartan, and something their competition isn’t doing (yet) …

I’m going to give this event a four and a half out of 5 Spahten rating 🙂

Also, check out our Team Reviews – and submit your own!

http://nespahtens.com/submit-a-race-review/spartan-race-fenway-time-trial-2012/

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Rebel Race in the Rearview

When I was in the Army I saw a t-shirt that said “Happiness is Fort Bliss in the rearview mirror.”  This statement pretty much covers my thoughts on the Rebel Race.

Rebel Race has a polished website and registration page.  They for all appearances look like a well organized race, worthy of the cost of the race and their place in the OCR community.  Putting an “S” on your chest does not make you Superman however.  Rebel Race registrations start at $50 and top out at $85 and about $20 more respectively if you choose to do the 15k version.  I’m not sure how many people raced this weekend but the only people who got their money’s worth were the folks at Rebel Race.

Every story needs a beginning so I will simply start mine at the parking lot.  Kimble Farm, an actual working farm in Haverhill, MA is located just above the Merrimack River.  Honestly you really couldn’t ask for a more scenic location.  When I arrived at 10am they had staff working the single file queue to get in and were collecting the now standard $10 parking fee.  I feel the parking must have been run by Kimble Farm staff, who host multiple events at this location, because these were the only organized people at the venue.  Parking was ample at this time and multiple staff members on hand were directing cars efficiently.

And then it all fell apart.  Changed and ready to go, this not being my first OCR, I headed to registration.  I had to make a registration transfer and couldn’t do it online so I went looking for an information tent.  I’m still looking for it.  However I met some NE Spahtens and jumped into the chaos which was the registration tents.  Like most things it wasn’t as bad as it appeared; it was about a 20 minute wait but people queued pleasantly.  Arriving at a nice volunteer she seemed to understand what I was needing to do.  However, I feel all she did was take my email print out and hand me the bib, t-shirt and rebel bag (which will become a Spartan training sandbag covered in duct tape).  At no point was I asked for a waiver.  I so should have gotten hurt!

The starting line.  Large start box, tight little timing line to go over.  A choke point and wait right at the beginning?  Not good.  The opening flat stretch is actually billed as 1 of the 26 obstacles: “Sergeants Sprint”.  Really, flat open ground is an obstacle?  So here is a list of other “obstacles”  which were marked with good, professionally done signage.  In no particular order:  Run Backwards, Fire Drill (roll on the ground for no apparent reason), Creepy creek (a muddy portion of a trail), Shuttle Run (run sideways), Drop and give me 10; Push-ups, leg lifts and some other exercise, Military Mud Pit;  Never even saw this one, Mystery???(yep still a mystery to all of us)  None of these had a volunteer directing you or even informing you that this was in fact an obstacle.  Just a small 2 foot by 16 inch sign.  Again a really great looking Kinkos sign.

So, those were the headscratching obstacles.  Next come the frustrating obstacles.  Slip and slide was easily a 20 minute wait to go down a slip and slide.  The cattle just queued up and waited.  NE Spahtens however were not waiting.  We cut across to the next obstacle but we’re Spartans so we burpee’d!  Some other racers joined us, and this is where Spahtens led the way.  The other racers who joined us just started knocking out burpees.  Eventually, one asked a Rebel volunteer how many they had to do.  The Rebel volunteer was clearly still suffering from the shock and awesomeness of NE Spahtens and had no answer.  At the end of mine I looked at the other racer and told her “You don’t have to do any, were just crazy.”  Clearly confused, she laughed but stopped and moved on.  She’s ready for Spartan Race she just doesn’t know it yet.  Another headscratcher was Prison Break, the single, 6 foot wide wall that was supposed to be covered in barbed wire causing you to go under.  Well, most of the very little barbed wire was missing so most people just stepped through the wall. On top of that was the verbiage which alluded to being cautious about the possibility of sodomy while doing the obstacle. Don’t drop the soap when you bend over. Really?  Is that necessary?

Now let’s take a look at the clearly dangerous obstacles.  Monkey bars. Broken crossmembers, missing hand holds, unstable construction.  Tyrolean traverse.  This one was clearly the worst out of them all.  First, there were four ropes of 5/8 inch diameter yellow polypro rope.  This is the cheapest line available.  It’s weak and has little tensile strength for endurance.  The traverse was about 30 feet and the line was raised about 11 feet above the ditch, which was a rocky ravine filled with large hay bales.  Not fluffy decorative hay ride bales but large dense feed bales.  They have about as much give as concrete.  Unfortunately while the NE Spahtens were waiting at this obstacle (which was also an unmanned water station with runners pouring their own water) not one but two people fell from this obstacle.  One was knocked out cold from the fall and the other had the rope catastrophically fail and collapse sending him to the ground and then to the Emergency Room with what appeared to be a fractured wrist.  We like racing and personally, I have an aversion to hospitals, so this ended up being the 2nd “skipped” obstacle.

So you might ask was there anything good at Rebel Race?  Yes, the venue.  A rolling farm with lots of hills really good for a cross-country run.  The weather.  The NE Spahtens to run with.  Obstacles?  They had a well done spider web.  Thoughtfully designed and constructed.  Solidly fastened to the trees to endure thousands of runners without collapsing.  Under and Over pipes in a small water filled ditch.  That water was cold and you really did have to get fully submerged.  Drain pipe crawl, simple and not very exciting, but fun.  And last, an uphill tire field to high step.  The last little stretch to the finish line had obstacles no more than 10 feet in length that were designed and constructed by a local Cub Scout troop.  The fire pit to jump over was smaller then the holiday fires I light in my fireplace.  Finally, the finish line was another unstaffed area that had our “dog-tag” survivor key chain.  If it wasn’t for other NE Spahtens who had finished before us (one of whom who took 1st place over all) we wouldn’t have even known they were there.  They were unceremoniously tossed on a table between the bananas and the water and still in their factory shipped plastic bags.

Rebel Race ran 3 races in 2011:  New York, DC and Indiana.  In 2012 they list 10 races, all sold out.  But as of this writing, the last 2 races in 2012 are coming soon.  I see nothing for 2013.  Their races start around $50 and tap out at $85 for the 5k and $70 to $105 for the 15k which is simply 3 laps of the 5k.  Without insight into the company, its organization, or how it’s run, I have to give this race a solid 2 out of 10.  I wouldn’t recommend this as an intro to Obstacle Course Racing because to do so may turn people away from other races of quality.  For return on investment, it’s a 0.  For swag, I give it a 1.  For organization at the festival area, it’s a 5?  Their web presence would lead you to believe they are a large professionally run organization.  Their product does not.  Rebel Race does not belong in the same arena with TM, Spartan Race, or even Warrior Dash.  They charge the same amount as other events and nowhere near deliver.  If they dropped their price point to max out at $35, invested a little more in the quality of the obstacles that they did do well, don’t advertise natural course features as obstacles, and dropped the body weight exercises entirely they might recover and become a worthwhile race.  Not an Obstacle Course Race but an adventure, mud, fun run.

If you’re reading this, this is why NE Spahtens was formed.  Anything, no matter how bad, can be fun as long as you’re with good friends.  I got to meet up with old Spahtens and new Spahtens.  Some I have raced and trained with and some I have only met online.  We will continue to run races and review them as openly and honestly as possible.  We will do this to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to salvage a great time even from a bad race.

-editors note – modifed for spelling/grammer 🙂

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Ruckus Sports – Fearless Fall 5k Race Review

Ruckus Fearless Fall 5k – November 3, 2012

This wasn’t my first Ruckus, but it was my first Fall Ruckus.  Ruckus is what got me into Obstacle Course Racing back in June 2011, so it holds a special place in my heart.  I keep going back because the organizers always do such a great job with this event!

Several Spahtens were in attendance.  I believe we numbered 18 in total.  I bumped into some Spahtens who were running earlier heats as well as the motley crew that was running at 11 – myself included.

If you’ve not run a Ruckus before (first of all, why not?  DO IT! Sign up for the Spring one in Boston like…now!), there isn’t a whole lot of production before your heat takes off.  You are called to the corral about 10 minutes before your heat and then a simple air horn blow sends you on your way.   We were off and it wasn’t long before we were given some obstacles to break up the crowd.  Here’s how it went down (I know a couple of things are missing).

1 – Short Walls.  I literally just had to lift my leg over it and that was about it.  I’m 5’10”- don’t hate.

2 – Normandy Walls.  Nobody does this obstacle correctly.  I wish there was a volunteer here to explain.  The idea is to step in the middle of the cross beam and go over.  Ideally you have your hands behind your head when doing so, but I usually don’t just in case I trip or something and need to break my fall.  You do not just hop over the whole thing folks – remember this for next time J

3 (and 4) – 4 foot Walls.  You have to hop up and swing a leg (at least that’s how I do it!) then over the other side.

5 – Normandy Walls

6 – Short Walls
After this series of obstacles the crowds thinned out.  And we headed towards the woods for a little quality time amongst the leaves, rocks, and roots.  It was mostly flat, but with a few hills to climb and descend.  Then more obstacles:

7 – Down and Outs. Climb a large mound of dirt and go down the other side into some lovely muddy water, repeat 3 times or so.  The water might have been a little chilly too, but my feet warmed up in no time as we hit the trail again for a bit.

8 – Water crossing.  There were some “holes” to avoid but we all made it across unscathed.

9 – Muddy Trail Pits.  I always think of The Princess Bride and the Fire Swamp when I hit this section of any OCR.  Thankfully this one wasn’t as bad as some others I’ve experienced and I didn’t witness anyone lose a shoe or anything.  The trail happened to be lined by thorn adorned plants so staying toward the edges was not the best solution.

10 – Cargo Net Bear Crawl.  We left the woods again and had to bear crawl under a cargo net.  This was a bit of a bottleneck – I’m not really sure why – but I waited my turn and scooted through.

11 – Reverse Slant Walls.  Jump up and climb on top, then slide down the other side.  A plank is conveniently placed high enough so you can utilize it, but you have to jump to get there.  Even with a bum hand, this one wasn’t so bad.  I do like that the plank was upgraded from the lower cross beam support from 2 seasons ago.  It adds to the challenge!

12 – Mini Cargo Climb.  A cargo net hung about 3 feet off the ground by a wire strung between two trees.  Traverse the net and get to the other side.  This was a new obstacle.  It was a little tricky, but not tough, and it was a nice preview to what was in store.

13 – Lobster Traps.  A tunnel of sorts which require crawling through.  You can’t avoid getting on your knees and then always end up at a mud pit!  I like these ones.

14 – Sand Dunes.  Run through a sand pile complete with paths.

15 – Bear Climb.  A wooden structure you essentially bear crawl over the top of and then down the other side.  I haven’t mastered the transition from going over the top to going down the far side.  A lot of people just walk over the top, but the volunteer told us to crawl.

16 – Tire Pile.  Climb over the pile of tires.  It’s about foot placement and balance.  I actually saw someone skip this and internally (ok, and maybe verbally too!)  I was like “WHY!?”

17 – Cargo Net.  This is always my favorite obstacle.  I love the climb, the going over the top, and the decent.  There’s something empowering about getting yourself to the top of a tall place and then back down again.  This net is tighter strung than some other races I have done and I’m totally ok with that.  Also the tower is constructed from big thick wooden posts rather than metal tubing.

18 – Tall Walls.  These walls had rope with knots and foot holds about halfway up the wall.  Waiting on the other side is a platform so you don’t break an ankle or anything hopping down.

19 – Tire Pile (inside a container).  Same idea as before, just you have more to hold on to allowing for more steadying as you make your way through.

20 – Tall Walls.  Same as before.

21 – Ranger Bars.  Scoot up to one platform and then across the end.  I saw this for the first time back in Spring and had to skip it this time as I’m still nursing a broken hand and it wouldn’t have been in my best interest.  Pretty simple idea, not always simple to execute!

22 – Lower Mount Ruckmore.  Jump up on a giant tire and up on the platform, then traverse the horizontal cargo net, and go down the other side.  Nothing tricky about this.  The horizontal cargo net is tricky for some, it is all about technique and I’m not giving out my secrets J

23 – Mount Ruckmore! It starts with a Tall Wall with 2 footholds, so it’s a little taller  than what was previously done.  You arrive at the platform and then are greeted with another cargo net climb.  Once at the top, you have another horizontal cargo net to traverse.  Slide to the hay and book it to the finish line!

There were no Gorilla Bars this time around, or Air Loops.  I was a little sad and yet relieved, since I knew it wouldn’t be smart for me to attempt either of them.  I think a lot of people were glad to see there wasn’t a lot of uncomfortable muddiness at the end as it was a bit chilly and windy for this race.

Bag Check was a little interesting.  It was a leave at your own risk situation.  This was great because you could just get at your stuff if you needed to, but it also was a little worrisome being that I had money, a cell phone, and car keys in my bag.  I really didn’t have another option – as I had nowhere to put my keys otherwise – so I opted to have some trust for the multitude of strangers that were around.

The options for food were limited, but good.  B.Good was there with veggie burgers and all-beef burgers.  I had a burger, and it was delicious!

The festival area is always improving and it is totally spectator friendly.  We were constantly going in and out of being really close to the festival area while on the course.  There were at least 6 obstacles where spectators had an awesome view – Ranger Bars, Cargo Net Climb, Mount Ruckmore!

I’m definitely excited to see what the race in June will throw at us.

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Chicago Super Spartan / Hurricane Heat

In the world of Spartan Race, there are a several different racing distances that you may compete in, each with their own color to represent them on the event schedule. Generally speaking, Sprints (red) are 3-5 miles, Supers (blue) are 6-9 miles, and Beasts (green) are 10-13 miles, but there have been plenty of races that exceed those guidelines. If you finish one race in each distance category within a calendar year, you will have successfully completed what is referred to as the Trifecta, earning you a shiny new medal that encompasses all three colors.

After conquering two sprints (PA and MA) and the Beast (VT), I needed to get a Super in before the end of 2012. Since there is no Super in the New England area as of yet, I had only three options: VA, NJ, or IL. I happened to be away during the weekends of the first two, so if I was going to complete this Trifecta as I was determined to do, I would have to travel to the latter. Flying was not in my budget, which meant that a crazy road trip was the only chance I had. Fortunately, the Spartan community is full of like-minded individuals, so after some asking around, I found eight others who were willing to join in on the journey. I had only met a few of them in person before, but what better way to become friends than to spend more than 48 hours, over 2,200 miles of highway, in cramped quarters? We met up in Boston on Thursday night, hopped in a twelve passenger van, and made the seventeen hour drive toward the Midwest, with a goal of making it there with enough time to participate in the Hurricane Heat (HH-019) at 6pm SHARP.

We arrived in plenty of time to have a real lunch at an establishment where we were the only patrons under the age of forty and to allow some of us to take quick cat naps. I opted to shower the road grease off before heading out for the HH, which probably was not a fabulous idea due to the wet hair plus cold weather combination, but obviously my brain was not functioning properly. It was dark and it was cold, so the five of us made sure to don as many warm layers as possible before making our way to the race location. Cue 87 Hurricane Heaters meeting and exchanging “hellos” and “nice to meet yous” as we awaited our instructions from Tommy Mac. I’m still trying to process everything that happened, but I will try to recall as much as possible.

Our first task from Tommy was to run from the festival area down to the street and back. Total distance was maybe a half mile, if that. When we returned, we were asked to gather into five groups and complete thirty burpees. Then, we began “Operation Keep Spartans Warm.” This consisted of constructing five separate fire pits, which needed several different supplies to create: gravel, firewood, and concrete blocks. The gravel, which was retrieved via plastic buckets, was hauled from the registration area and placed in the center of the fire pit. The concrete blocks came from a huge pile of debris that we had to sift through. A circle of concrete surrounded the gravel in the middle with a square of concrete around that, a slight distance away to be used as seats. Enough firewood to start a fire was placed on top of the gravel and the rest had to be stacked neatly next to the fire pit. The crew crowned the best fire pit of the bunch then asked us to deconstruct one that was too close to another and reconstruct it in another location. After that, we assembled into a large circle where James (one of NE Spahten’s own) was asked to recite the Warrior Ethos. We then counted off before heading into the woods.

A good chunk of our group struggled to keep up with our walking pace, which resulted in lots of angry comments between members and lots of penalty burpees for being last. The trails were very wet with thick mud and the strewn leaves made traction a little tricky in some areas. The first mission we encountered was a grueling one! We were asked to go through a section of deep trenches, with two (or three, I forget) of our men not touching the ground. The trenches seemed endless and it took a decent amount of time to finish. Once we were allowed to have everyone on the ground, a hundred penalty burpees were issued, which equated to our team of eighteen doing six each. From there, it’s a blur of trail running madness, but we did complete a couple parts of the course during the few hours we were out there. There were some bunny hops and jump lunges mixed in there as well, but the best stuff came towards the end of the event.

Two of the founding members of the Storm Chasers, Jennifer and Danny, eloped over the summer. Recently, at the Carolina Beast, they were able to tell their families the news. We had a mock wedding for them in the middle of the Hurricane Heat! We were asked to assemble into rows of five on either side of the “aisle” and even had someone to officiate. Jennifer’s Dad was participating in the HH and he was finally able to walk his daughter down the aisle! To congratulate them, we each did fifteen burpees for the happy couple. More trail running ensued before we finally came back toward the festival area, with the Storm Chasers team somehow in the lead. We scaled the horizontal cargo net and were rewarded for being the first team back by getting to do frog jumps for what seemed like an eternity. Following that, they instructed us to do bear crawls to the port-a-potties with each group to line up in front of one. Once all the groups had arrived, they asked for the lightest person on each of the first three teams to come forward. I was about to offer myself before Chris, one of my road mates who is a Spartan employee, looked at me and shook his head, but it was too late for one of my other road mates, Shaun. We had to carry the port-a-potties, which were as clean as they would ever be, over to another spot in the festival area with poor Shaun inside of it. Then, each team needed to set up two picnic tables. Sounds easy enough, but the catch was that our two heaviest men had to be atop them. Twenty-five burpees were issued and then we were free to warm up by the fire and collect our HH gear! My hands were numb and my back/thighs were frozen due to a leaking Camelbak, so we took our t-shirt and dog tags before making our way to the van as soon as possible. Fortunately, our roommates that had stayed behind were nice enough to order pizza and wings for us, so we were able to satiate our hunger once we returned to the room.

The next morning, a few of our group were running in the elite heat, so we all hauled ourselves out of bed early to get ready to head over to the site. It was a very chilly morning and lots of layers were needed again. I could not get myself warm, no matter what I did, so after we got our bibs, I attempted to roast myself in front of one of the fires we had so kindly built the night before. At one point, I looked over and my favorite elite racer, Ella Kociuba, was standing right next to me, trying to warm up before the first heat of the day. I was kind of star struck, but I somehow mustered enough courage to say “hello” to her, to which she responded with an “Are you Kay?” and a giant bear hug. Totally made my day that she recognized me, even though it may possibly mean I stalk her too much! I have yet to meet an elite racer that didn’t seem completely down-to-earth. We wished our elite racing road mates well and watched them head out on the course.

I will start by saying that Clifs Insane Terrain Park, where the race was held, has its own obstacles already set up, which Spartan definitely utilized. The course wasn’t very hilly, but you had to trudge through streams and basins that were loaded with mud and leaves, so it was slow going for me. I can’t remember the order of these obstacles and I’m sure I’m missing some, but I will present them in true Kay fashion with bullets and my accompanying notes.

  • Rappel – Use a rope to descend a steep hill and then use a rope on the other bank to get up the next hill. There was a long line for this and it ate up a good amount of time.
  • Monkey bars – One side rotated and the other side was fixed. I chose the stable side and made it across.
  • Pair of eight foot walls – ‘Nuff said
  • Two barbed wire sections – One was in the beginning of the race, not too rocky. I lost my gloves during this and didn’t it realize it until after, so I was a little bummed. The other one was at the very tail end of the race. It was longer and full of soupy, thick clay mud. Definitely the muddiest Spartan I’ve been to.
  • Over-under-throughs
  • Log over-unders – The overs were really high. Didn’t see many people making it over these without some kind of assistance.
  • Rope climb – First time I’ve failed this one, but it was at the end of the course and suspended over water that was freezing and up to my neck, which zapped all of my energy.
  • Traverse wall – First time failing this one since my first race. I was two blocks away from the end.
  • Spear throw – Still have yet to stick a spear!
  • Log ascent – Right after the wicked muddy barbed wire section. Looked a little too precarious for me and there was a super long line, so I took the burpee penalty.
  • Tractor pull – Longest line I’ve seen other than at the sled pull in Vermont, so I did burpees instead of waiting.
  • Balance beam – I scooted on my butt, which tore a nice hole in my pants, but it was suspended over water and I did not want to take a dip.
  • Sandbag carry- Wicked long, but not straight uphill. The route was more along the lines of a motocross track with small hills.
  • Log cross over – Water obstacle with logs suspended horizontally, varying distances apart. You had to move from each log without touching the water. I opted out.
  • Triple balance beam – Three balance beams, which were not fixed in place, of varying heights. I scooted again, but made it through.
  • Water filled trenches – They made you go through these and the water was very, very cold!
  • Log jump – Preexisting obstacle where the logs were in water. I made it to the third to last and couldn’t reach so burpees for me.
  • Fire jump – Easy, peasy.
  • Gladiators – One pushed me into the hay bales, but they’re always gentle with me.
  • Trench jumps – Kind of self explanatory. Jump across the trench to the next bank.
  • Rope traverse – One rope overhead, one under your feet and you cross the water. I really had to overreach on this one as I’m not the tallest chick on the planet, but I made it across.

It was not my best performance, by far. I ended with 180 burpees, 90 due to failure and 90 due to opting out of long lines or potential injuries. It took me just over three and a half hours to complete, which was under my goal of four hours, but a bit shy of where I truly hoped I would be. I had to do a lot of walking as my shins are still not back to 100% from killing them at the Beast last month, but I was probably better off that way since the course was so muddy. Since its Breast Cancer Awareness month, the ribbon on the blue Super medal was pink. Although pink is my least favorite color, it’s unique and I like that! Also, I’m pretty sure I was borderline hypothermic at the finish, so I made it a point to try to get warm…just as soon I had my Trifecta medal around my neck! Off to the Merch booth I went to get it before heading in the direction of the showers, which thankfully were equipped with warm water. Some of my road mates had gone back to the hotel to shower and change, so I was stranded without my change of clothes until they returned, but luckily, the changing rooms are heated so I hung out there until Gaby found me and we could leave. We all showered and changed before shipping back up to Boston, but not without first stopping at Buffalo Wild Wings! All in all, it was a great weekend with great friends and I look forward to the next time I can join them for a Spartan trip!

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Savage Race Review

Central Florida based Savage Race ran their flagship event at a gorgeous ranch in Dade City, FL on October 20, 2012.  It appears to be their third event since inception.  I arrived at the Little Steeplechase ranch after a four hour drive from my home in Boca Raton.  One of the many aspects of obstacle course racing I enjoy is traveling to new places to see the local terrain, flora and fauna.  I was pleased to see sprawling green grounds dotted with live oaks and cypress trees draped in moss.  The sky was blue and my respiratory system welcomed the arrival of fall in Florida with warm dry air.   After five oppressive months, humidity was nowhere to be found.  Onsite parking was $10 and very smooth, however there was no re-entry into the festival area, which limited the convenience of vehicle access.

Check in was fast and simple.  The festival area was rather typical for obstacle course races, gear check ($5), food & beverages, merchandise, sponsor tents, and a bank of vile porta potties scented with human waste were all represented.  I completed my final pre-race prep of hydration, trademark eye black and stretching routine, then headed to the starting line.

The Savage Rave claims that they need no more than 5-6 miles to kick your ass as well as more obstacles per mile with less jogging than comparable events.  Approximately two dozen obstacles were peppered throughout the very fun and occasionally challenging six mile course.  Three water stations were on the course and finishers were greeted with a medal, t-shirt and a bottle of water.   Here are some of the obstacle highlights:

The ice bath plunge called “Shriveled Richard” was very early in the course and literally took my breath away, but required no special skills.   Significant shrinkage was unavoidable.  The monkey bars were terrific.  In a saw tooth profile, Savages climbed up, then down, then back up, and finally down again to complete the bars.  Grip and concentration were critical for success.

In addition, there was plenty of crawling, lots  mud, diversified terrain, various walls to conquer, giant mud hills to navigate, a balance beam, several water crossings, log carry, “shocking” wire crawl, giant hay mountain, and a floppy cargo net.  I’ve never run a Tough Mudder (registered 12/1/2012 Sarasota FL), but having researched TM, the Savage Race felt like a half of a TM.  The obstacles were not only similar, they were nearly identical.  However, I could care less.  I’m there to challenge myself with a fun and dirty adventure.  The companies can duke it out in the legal system.

There was only one negative aspect of my experience, which was a rather lengthy wait at two obstacles.  A ten minute wait preceded the balance beam and a 30 minute wait was experienced prior to the “Colossus Wall”.   The wall was a large 1/4 pipe in which you had to run up the pipe, grab a dangling rope and pull yourself to the top.  Savage staff assisted participants when necessary.  It took me 2:05 to finish the course including the 40 minutes of idle time.

In conclusion, the event was well run with ample and friendly staff.  Savages were clearly having a rad time throughout the course.   The obstacles were plentiful and some required impressive construction.  Furthermore, spectators were allowed to walk the course, which was very cool in my opinion.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Savage Race and would recommend fellow obstacle course race enthusiasts to indulge in the Savage Race experience.  Your ass may not be kicked as promised,  but you’ll have a great time doing what we love in a burpree-free filthy fit environment.  In 2013 the Savage Race will be coming to Dallas, Atlanta, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina.  The official schedule can be found at www.savagerace.com