* From: Erick Coleman
* Event Details
This race is set in the beautiful Catskills in upstate, New York. A bit outside of general NES territory, however, as you will see from my words to follow ~ this race should become a staple in our community for years to come. This is an easy drive from most parts of Massachusetts, an easier drive for our Connecticut brothers and sisters, and my wife and I had no issues coming in from Maine.
The race is on the grounds of an amazing golf course and lodge. They offer an amazing deal which includes two nights lodging, all meals (I’ll expand on this in a bit), the race itself, day care for your children (this will also be touched upon in a bit), entertainment at night, and more. As my family traveled a little over four hours, we wanted to make a weekend out of it ~ so we stayed the weekend. A smidge over $500 for the weekend. For this cost, here is what I received:
1: Lodging for three for two nights in a room with a deck overlooking mountains and a lake.
2: ALL meals, including dinner on Friday night when we checked in. Meals are served family style, with several choices for adults (steak or chicken, example) and then choices for the children. In total we were received six meals (plus a BBQ). We did not go hungry!
3: Racing for two.
4: Racing “after activities” for all. This includes a free BBQ of unlimited food. You read this correctly. Want to chow down six burgers, four hot dogs, six helpings of pulled pork, salad, other fixings…no coupons to “cash in.” You were there, they wanted to feed you. They had a huge, comfortable tent set up with tons of seating, or plunk down in front of a beautiful scenic lake. A DJ played music (not too loud) while you eat (and had the one free beer, cash bar after one). Two play grounds at the finish line for your children to keep them busy.
5: Family activities at night in the “main hall.” This included bingo, “horse racing” (you need to see this for yourself). Oh, and they ordered pizza…just in case anyone was hungry.
In the event you signed up for the race, but were not staying on site – you were still treated like a king. Great shower system nearby, plenty of portable toilets for all, changing area for men and women. Comfortable for everyone.
Free parking. No charge for spectators. And I just down loaded about 17 free professional pictures from the race!
All finishers received a cool finishers shirt and a very unique wooded “medal.” Hey, it is a VIKING challenge! They had other items for sale, at reasonable cost, such as shirts and hoodies.
During the day, if you had children, the place was a child’s dream. I counted eight separate play grounds to keep the little ones busy. These ranged from play grounds for the little-little ones, right up to very cool slides which would occupy even the “I’m too cool for that” nine or 10 year old who would rather be playing Angry Birds! They even had an in-door mini golf course, which was opened up for the little ones to explore.
While not open yet, the grounds also has two pools, one of which has it’s own mini water park! We are hoping the warm weather holds out and this is still open in the fall!
There is all the glowing “good.” Here is a bit of reality, and where the race fell a bit short and needs to improve. The “day care” aspect of the race:
Coming into the race, it’s billed as “all inclusive,” including day care while you run the event. We came to the event with our daughter and our friend’s daughter in tow. The “day care” area was not well organized, and folks didn’t really seem to have a grasp on what was going on. There was not a formal “check in” system for the children, nor any way to account for any child. We had one adult with us who was not running in the race. His initial plans were to not stick around this area for the whole race, however when he saw the day care aspect of the day he changed his mind and stayed and watched our kids. Had our friend not been with us, my wife would have flat out not gone out on the course. This would have been very unfortunate, coming all this way for a race and not participating due to not feeling comfortable leaving our child. There was water somewhat close by and woods next to the play ground. Without wanting to sound like an alarmist, it would not take much f
or a child to slip into the woods. A great day could turn into a tragedy quickly.
I refuse to provide critique without suggestions for improvement. The mini golf area of the building is enclosed, it appears this is a “day care” area when the golf course is fully operational during the season. If a parent is entrusting you with their child, they are entrusting you with their lives. Therefore there should be a check in process, and no where for the children to go until one of the parents comes to retrieve the child(ren). This mini golf area is perfect. There are wrist straps made up currently for the beer. Simply make up ones for the kids and parent. My last name is Coleman. I get a red wrist band, as does my daughter. Our last name is on both. They are checked in downstairs into this mini golf area. Plan activities while the children are there. Have someone at the door. The wrist band has the child’s name written on it. The child is not allowed to leave the doorway until a parent comes to claim them, after the race.
I run in an event at Sunday River in Bethel, Maine (Tough Mountain Challenge). They operate a licensed day care on site during the event, this is pretty much how it’s done. The person at the door’s job is to be hyper-diligent.
I LOVED this event. I would like to know the day care issue would be tightened up before I brought my daughter back. Luckily, it’s an easy “fix” and they have the resources on site to do it (and amazing volunteers to get it done, whether they take my suggestion or go another route).
* Race Details
The course was brilliant, brutal and amazing. Rob Butler and crew out did themselves. The only way to explain the course in simplistic terms is this: It’s build to break you down in increments, and it happens fast. You will quickly have to “dig deep” to see what you’re made of on this one. I won’t recap obstacle to obstacle, but I would like to give highlights:
The course itself is 5.5 miles of rugged terrain. While not high in elevation, it’s tough ground. You literally trudge through swamp land and, at one point, up a stream. The stream is not forgiving as the footing underneath is mud. Rocky, boulders, areas which can’t be run on combined with wide open space where you are able to get your footing and really fly. I’ll use the word again: Brilliant.
The use of the Berlin Walls is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. There must have been 4,321 of them. Seriously. Or, at least 231. A five foot Berlin Wall is not a problem, correct? Until you put it in a swamp where your feet sink a foot and a half while you’re trying to get a grip on the top of the wall. You’re over that wall. Your reward? A five foot wall, in the same swamp. And then a seven footer. This is an example of the “breaking down.” You’re not just marching through a swamp (a really gnarly one, by the way), you’re using all you have to get over a series of walls while you’re in it.
The obstacles are unlike any you will experience in any other race. I firmly believe this, and I mentioned this to my team: Spartan, Tough Mudder, etc, would ultimately be afraid to use obstacles such as these. They put you out of your comfort zone, they push you to your limit. I would estimate a large majority of Spartan obstacles are ones folks can do, maybe minus the rope climb and traverse wall. They are hard, it pushes you, but they can be done. These obstacles play on every emotion you have. Do I have the strength to do this? Do I have the ability? I am able to face my fear, being that high?
The rope climb is 21 feet. 21 feet! The monkey bars are unlike any other you’ve ever seen. They literally have to be experienced. Think “Funky Monkey” from Tough Mudder, put them on steroids, and make them harder. “Dragon’s Tooth.” This is an inverted wall to climb up, and then in. Then you scale a scaffold-type structure about 20 feet up, cross over and come down, slight inverted (so you’re dangling a little and gravity is working against you). Rope ladders 20 feet in the air. Traverse Walls! Think Spartan, x 3. Once you’ve completed the second panel, you have to find a way to the third panel…without touching the ground. Two beams connect the two. Some managed to climb up and shimmy across, or perhaps “monkey bar” style your way over…only to have one more traverse wall panel to do. A wall so tall, I’m not sure how high it was…with only a rope to get you up. A forest of balance beams, which seemingly never ended. When it did, a traverse wire to more bala
nce beams. 33 obstacles stuffed into 5.5 miles.
I spoke to two Beast veterans who said the same thing: This course was easily harder than Beast, obstacle wise. The only equalizer was Killington. One told me if this exact course of 33 obstacles, with a burpee penalty was set up at a Beast course, the DNF rate would be higher than it’s ever been.
…and if you failed anything? 25 burpees. Called out.
The volunteers on the course were amazing. AMAZING. I came up on the first obstacle, the rope ladder. It’s 20 feet, but with my fear of heights it might as well been 100. He saw the look in my eyes and immediately called me over and said “do this one next to me, you’ll be great. Four strides up, hit the bell, come down. No one has fallen today, no one will. Don’t think, just go.” I did and bam, I did it. Every volunteer was kind, quick to offer advice or just encouragement.
My one “change” for Rob and company on this race would be “Odin’s Tables.” These are semi slanted walls. You climb up, with the assist of a rope. Once up, you dangle yourself over…and then climb down with a rope. I would guess from the top of the obstacle to the ground is a 12 to 15 foot drop, straight to the ground. If you’re unclear of your transfer while dangling yourself over the top, or your upper body strength, or your grip, this one could be really tricky…and there are two, back to back. I personally would have felt more comfortable knowing there was perhaps a six foot culvert dug under me, filled with water. Room for error, as it were, if I fell. I was running the event injured and, due to this, burped out of these two walls. I don’t mind plunging into something which may break my fall a bit, but 12 feet to the ground was a bit more of a risk I was willing to take with almost no strength in my left hand and arm to rely on.
I love OCRs. When I first started, I found myself intimated by anything “hard.” I was happy to run up and find the obstacle “easy.” As I am progressing in my fitness journey, and my love of the sport, I am finding I need something more than walking up a hill with a sandbag. I love Spartan races, don’t get me wrong. But God bless races which dare to be different, races which say “this is hard AND fun” and do not apologize for it. Races that don’t have the ultimate goal of making a shoe, or being on TV, but are in it for the love of the sport.
Thank God for races like the Viking Challenge. This is exactly what our sport needs. Every single one of you NEEDS to do this race. Strip away the lodging, the meals, the cool view, the awesome wooden medal and the BBQ after. The spirit of THIS race, Viking, is WHY I do these races. I believe it’s why most of you do them as well.
The fall running is this September. Up your training. Begin your planning. And we will see you at the start line.