Robb is no stranger to the team. As far back as February this year he was contacting us and letting us know that he had his first race coming up later in 2013, and he wanted support from the OCR community in making it the best event he could. He was open, honest and genuine – he joined our community, ran races with us, and told us more about his event as the year went on. He didn’t try to convince us it would be the toughest thing we’ve ever done – just a solid, family friendly event, that we would all have fun at.
On Saturday, he delivered everything he had promised during that year – and more.
- Robb promised a challenging course, that would be suitable for first timers, and a fast challenge for the elite and front runners. We got that, and put both of those promises to the test.
- We were promised a party atmosphere, with great vendors – we had that.
- We were promised we would have a good time – and I don’t think I’ve had such a good time at a local event for a while now.
If you can’t tell yet – the first FIT Challenge event, in Wrentham MA, was a big success. Even the weather was glorious.
Crackerbarrel Fairgrounds in Wrentham MA was super easy to find – just a little way off 495, and about an hour and a half drive from my house. I had no problems finding it, and even though I was waved into the VIP parking lot – which was right behind the team tent area – the parking lot for the general public was a $5 charge (which all went to pediatric cancer – FIT Challenges named charity), and was right behind the festival area. Lots of wide open space, with some booths, buildings and paths.
The course terrain was set out through the fields, and while it was almost entirely flat, we had lots of switchback trails mowed into the grass – and made great use of the natural, rolling hills that did exist – even if they weren’t any great elevation change in total, when the only hill you have to climb is while carrying a sandbag, you know you’ve got a course designer that is paying attention!
The expectations were already set. This was going to be a challenge, but he wasn’t trying to compete with a big national event. The obstacles proved to be a great balance that would satisfy the elite runners – like a nice 8′ wall, and some super narrow tunnel crawls, and sandbag carries up the only real hill on the whole venue – to some that were there for fun, and to let the new runners get some real obstacle course racing under their belt, like two dumpsters with water, connected by a cargo net.
Clearly, FIT put their effort into walls. We had three different heights of walls right at the start of the run – with 4′, 5′ and 6′ walls – followed by some crawl under walls – later on, while we were running in the second field, we had a series of over beams, which I loved – some super narrow tunnels that I could barely get my ample butt through, and an awesome 10′ (higher?) ladder wall. We also saw sandbag carries, some strength stations and a rock solid set of monkey bars – with the dumpsters full of water right in front of the finish line.
A huge shout-out to Crossfit 508! They were a title sponsor for the event, with a booth and they also had the chance to place a series of Crossfit style strength obstacles on the course. This could have been a terrible call, with workouts and events that turned people off (doing a number of burpees for no reason at all comes to mind. Spartan Race Fenway, I’m looking at you) – but CF508 did an awesome job with some very unusual challenges – they were setup at a point where the course would pass in two directions. On the way out, they had you do 30 sledge hammer slams into a tire – which for many people was a first. I wasn’t new to these, and found them pretty straight forward, but many people reported struggling. They had a bunch of tires, and 4 hammers per tire meant there were few backups here. On the way back through, you had to get an atlas stone around a marked off square – carrying or rolling it. With weights of 110lbs, 65lbs and 35lbs, there were stones for everyone! I saw more than a few people in the elite wave pushing and rolling one around the cones! Then, they had boxjumps / step overs – again, a station not everyone is comfortable with, and in the middle of a race it was a nice way to tire you out before you were back on the trail. Nice job!
The grand finale was a combo of two dumpsters, lined with plastic and filled with water – joined by a cargo net. The water wasn’t too deep – but plenty of people got stuck in the dumpsters, and needed a boost to get out.
FIT Challenge had a great DJ – while a couple of non kid friendly tracks made it on, most were the friendly version 🙂 He announced every wave with no fuss, did a great job on the prize winnings, and kept the energy up beat, without being overwhelming. The kids course was a huge hit with my son, who went back around the kids walls, kids hay bales, tire and tunnels over and over and over again – he came home with his very own medal – same medals we were given at the finish line – and was incredibly pleased with himself. Food was provided by a local pub, and was the usual burger, hotdog, sausage affair – prices were reasonable, and even though it was nothing much else to write home about. The same pub was putting on shuttle buses to their location – even though it was a very short walk – where the free beer was being dispensed. While I never made it there in the end (having a 4 year old with you makes bars and pubs a bit tougher!), this was an awesome idea when you couldn’t have a finishers beer at the finish!
The National Guard were a big sponsor, with a good presence – from a tent on site, to two giant inflatable costumes walking around interacting with the kids and families. They were also the sponsor of the finishers T, which unfortunately they ran out of sometime in the day. FIT had also attracted a Reebok event truck, who had partnered with Robb to make a FIT Challenge high quality tri-blend T for sale – IMO a much better keepsake than the finishers T, and we brought one of those home too. They also had plenty of Reebok sports clothing for sale in the truck itself – including plenty of Crossfit stuff. They did not have any Spartan Race branded gear on there – but did indicate they were working on it.
Robb had also partnered with another local OCR, Zombie Charge – and very smartly, they were helping each other out – Zombie Charge had a themed portion to the course, through the only part that had a chance of being muddy (despite the warm weather causing there to be very little actual mud) – where made up zombies were jumping out at people. They also had a booth in the event area, and were offering discounted signups to their first race in two weeks. I can’t say enough about how much sense this makes – when local events partner, they aren’t competing with each other, they are helping each other *and* the community of racers and fans they want to attract – huge props, and I hope to facilitate and encourage more of this in the future!
With a water stop we passed twice in a loop, volunteers and EMTs out on the course, and fairly good course markings (there were one or two spots I wasn’t sure where to go next, but it didn’t turn into a problem). There were a couple of comments that the dumpsters – the only water obstacle – didn’t have EMTs after a couple of folks turned ankles getting in, or getting out – but they were there later on.
Running in the 9am elite wave meant I saw zero backups or jams during my race, but when the largest wave of the day was out, it was clear that the walls, which were the first series of obstacles you hit, were causing a bottle neck that was unexpected. It seems there was a lack of communication from Living Social to all the discount ticket runners about their heat time, so they all showed up for 10am – once the large crowds moved through, things got considerably better though.
The reason I come to these events, put the efforts into the website, and do what I can to help the regional OCR community is you guys. When Robb told me about his race, I let him know that we would be able to help by supplying OCR experts, and an enthusiastic team. You all delivered on that like never before.
Many Spahtens were able to work with Robb in the weeks up to the event, helping him with the course layout, and mapping it with several GPS systems to be sure it hit the 5k mark right on the nail. During the week of the event, we were able to help out with the build crew, event setup, and several course pre-runs that ensured nothing had gone wrong, nothing was broken – the night before the event, an informal run through the course served as a shake down too.
But race day was the real tell of where our community has come. We brought over 70 people to the event, gaining our own team wave at 11:15 – at some point in the planning it was decided that the team would be running in prom gowns, which far too many people thought was a good idea, and provided quite the spectacle for the other runners, drivers on the roads, course volunteers, and anyone else who saw a herd of stampeding prom queen wannabee’s run by, holding their skirts around their knees.
We placed well in the elite wave, taking a second place Male finish (awesome job, Erin!), we took new people out who would never had tried to do anything like this themselves, or without the team support (amazing job, Mama Mama Hen!).
While we talk about how successful FIT Challenge was, any event organizer or race director who expects their first event to go off without a hitch, is expecting too much – with so many moving parts, something *will* go wrong, and how you respond to that is what will make all the difference.
Race finisher T Shirts – At some point late morning, the race finisher shirts ran got to limited sizes, then ran out entirely. Clearly, people like their finishers shirts, and this caused more than a few people to be a little upset. My understanding is that FIT Challenge will be sending more out in the coming weeks, so make sure they know you’re without one if you find yourself in that situation.
Course backups – there were some, and with it being the biggest heat that caused them, the most people will be affected – having already talked to Robb, I know he’s got ideas and plans about new course layouts to ease this congestion. Course design is an art, more than a science – trial and error!
Mud! – I know Robb put a ton of effort into getting water pumped into the woods to create mud – but even in the 9am wave, it wasn’t any more than a little tacky. Clearly, mother nature had different plans, with mid 70’s weather all week. However, the event was advertised as a mud run, and people (especially newer people) expected to get muddy.
Obstacles – the obstacles were really well done, but the website listed some obstacles that weren’t present. Things change, plans change – but when people expect something that’s not there, they get upset, and it’s an easy thing to avoid.
Food – while the prices were reasonable, with no feeling of being gouged – I’m always interested in seeing what vendors bring in the way of healthier or smarter options for food. Very very few events are able to nail this one.
I’m sure others have their own personal listing of things they would prefer to see done differently, it’s pretty clear – none of these are huge. None of these are deal breakers. There is nothing in this list that would prevent me from running another FIT Challenge, because the entire day – with the biggest team, in our tents, with my family, running a fun course – that, my friends, is why we were there.
Huge thank you to Robb and his entire team of staff, family, friends, volunteers and partners for bringing that to Wrentham for a day. See you at FIT Challenge II!
Update: Course footage, courtesy of Aaron: