By now, you’ve caught the early rumors published by ORM, and the confirmation published by MRG.
You’ve seen the noise and chatter and disbelief and smug posts in various Facebook outlets.
Of course, everyone wants to know – What happened?
Simple really. The past caught up. 2014, they put on a show so big, so grand – helicopters! Paintball guns! Giant slides! Build it big, and they will come! (They didn’t)
2015 saw massive downsizing and rebranding. They didn’t come.
2016 saw expansion! Big obstacles! Lots of races!! Pro teams!
They still didn’t come. Not really. Not enough.
So they’re going to focus on the TV show. Good luck to them. I feel bad for the people who up rooted their lives to work in Miami for them, and I wish them the best.
What now? You should immediately register for Bonefrog in October. Or fit challenge in November. Or book a trip to shale hill. Or BoldrDash. Or tuff scramblers. Or the other #racelocal events
Because if a large, well funded OCR is off the landscape, the local guys need your support. And they have races that are just as good. Obstacles just as innovative. Bigger teams and better rewards.
Support your local scene – because if you don’t, who will?
Todays episode marks double digit show counts! Yay!
Josh digs into the Montreal Ultra Beast, and why Spartan HQ should seriously reconsider their water situation. Sandy talks about trashing team tents and #racelocal miles Paul brings up a couple of Frogs, and some Civilian Military Combine news.
As usual, we wrap up with questions from the community!
If you’re listening, please leave us a comment, a question or a review in iTunes – we love to hear from you guys – it’s what keeps us going – let us know you’re out there!
This post is contributed by Aaron Farb, who ran the multi-lap BFX.
Battlefrog returned to New England for its second year Saturday once again using Carter and Stevens Farm in Barre. Battlefrog has had a bit of a tumultuous year with spending large amounts of money on a College Bowl Game yet laying off many staff members, so it was not without some slightly lessened expectations that I approached the race. Last year saw Battlefrog bring a ‘fun’ race, but for many, not very challenging obstacles outside of a Platinum Rig with a very high failure rate. As some had experience with Battlefrog 2 years previous in New Jersey where the race had massive builds and amazing obstacles, this was a severe disappointment, and how they bounced back this year was yet to be seen.
Battlefrog has 3 different race options – Elite, with mandatory completion of obstacles, regular racing and Xtreme, which has racers attempting as many laps of the ~ 8k course as they can, having to start a last lap by 2:45pm. I had signed up for Battlefrog Xtreme, so I arrived at the venue by 645, parking in one of the private home lots across from the venue entrance, so I did not have to wait on any buses. I did not hear of any giant lines for the buses and the biggest team perk of some free parking was taken advantage of by multiple members, so a nice perk if arriving early. The check in process was super easy, a big board with bib numbers on it and walk up to the reg desk, showed my ID and that fast was thru. The merch tent was directly behind the registration and to go into the fest area, racers had to go thru merch – a smart idea on the race’s part – make your merch visible to every person coming in, spectator and racer alike. It wasn’t a big interest for me, but liked the idea.
As the biggest team, Spahtens had a team tent in the very center of the festival area – great location and ability to see everyone start and finish. I set up camp in the BFX area, just to the side of the Delta Cargo and finish area, a bit out of the fest area, but a great location for racers as we peeled off to refuel for each lap. While the terrain isn’t always the greatest challenge at Carter and Stevens, the food is a refreshing change from many venues. As usual, the farm had multiple options – wood fired pizza, Boar’s Head deli sandwiches/wraps, pulled pork, burgers and their great ice cream. I did hear they ran out of burgers, but the pizza was still cooking and I enjoyed a spicy turkey sandwich once finished – very tasty.
There were ample porta-potties and amazingly, there was even staff that was routinely visiting them and making sure they were cleanish (it is a OCR after all) and full of toilet paper.
7:45 was the mandatory BFX orientation and Coach Pain lived up to his name. Previously, BFX orientations consisted of a briefing, getting your bands and pumped up; this year Coach Pain led us in almost a half hour of planks, drops, push ups, flutter kicks and leg lifters. A short break, and a great start line speech/motivation by Coach and we were off. (Side note – now that Sean hasn’t been seen at Tough Mudder in awhile, Coach Pain may be the best start line motivator in the biz now.)
And now, the part we all hate at Carter and Stevens – the course and terrain. The good news is, this is the best course that I, and everyone polled, have seen at Carter and Stevens! It still has many portions of cow holes that make ankle turning an every step hazard, but compared to previous courses here, there wasn’t near as much. On a venue that has had now 4 large races at it in the past year, BF even managed to find new terrain – a great stream bed with tons of rock hopping for almost ⅓ of a mile, all the while on a slow climb. Yes, I did say climb at C&S Farm! It’s not huge when compared to Killington or such, but have to like progress. Total length was right under 5.5 miles by my watch (sorry, I kept my watch running for the whole BFX, so total of 22.1, divided by 4 =5.5)
This year, Battlefrog had tiered obstacles – many obstacles had 3 lanes/options for Novice, Intermediate and Elite. These included most walls, traverse wall, rope climb, Platinum Rig and carries with different lengths. The tiers were things like extra steps on walls, lower rope climb bells, Platinum Rig with different difficulties/spacings and lines. This was a great innovation for the race – talked to multiple people who loved the option to push themselves and if they failed, to attempt an easier choice. All obstacles were able to to be attempted multiple times, and some included a penalty loop for failure, which was a short loop having to carry a 50lb wreck back and a jerry can of water. Obstacles were all very well built, even after 4 laps and late in the afternoon I didn’t see anything broken or issues other than paint chips. As a general, many obstacles were very similar to last year: 60 degrees (steel bar open invert wall), 12’ rope walls, Platinum Rig, Hooyah (wall climb up to a water slide that actually was a water slide this year). They did remove the much maligned and not very sturdy sternum check this year. The course did have 4 water stations while running and throughout the day I never saw an issue with water supplies, cups or volunteers to staff the stations or any obstacles, so kudos on getting some very important details right!
Some highlights – Platinum Rig – having multiple difficulties made this normally super difficult obstacle possible for many more people. Having shoulder issues recently, I made use of the novice lane on this one and made it each lap. Monkey bars were great – nice sized pipes with a bit of spin, but not much on a slight pitch up, then back down, all over a deep pool. Hooyah was great fun – a difficult wall climb on the elite side to a slide into a pool – great way to wash off with only half a mile left in the course. I never experienced a back up of more than 2 or 3 people in line at an obstacle, so not sure if the tiered obstacles helped more on this or if racer numbers were a bit down.
For BFX, we finished the Delta Cargo Net and moved to the staging area to recharge – this was done right for sure – easy access to course and restart, giant tent, cooler with water and ice refilled throughout the day, tons of bananas, Kill Cliff (only coffee flavor…) and our own porta-pottie. Before we started, the RD did come over to the area and make sure we knew that we could get water as needed and that the food and beer was to be available until the last person left, not shut down once many had left. For me, this was a great plus – doing multiple laps at many races, often I finish and find that food vendors and beer are either closed up or only selling what has been hanging around for hours.
My negatives on the course – 3 carries in a 5.5 mile course – they all were different things – bucket of gravel, wreck bag and jerry cans – variety is good, but when your course has ‘28’ obstacles with 6 of them being ‘Over, Under, Through’ counted as 3 separate obstacles and the riverbed, hill at the end of it and a gravel ledge with a 2’ drop also counted as obstacles, that leaves 22 obstacles in a over 5 mile course. And 3 of them were simple carries. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but lots of open space in this course, from a national race that has a budget much greater than some local races that manage more obstacles. I know I had hoped that Battlefrog would have more obstacles and last year was an aberration and that the real Battlefrog was going to be more like the 2014 version I had heard so much about. In no way am I saying it wasn’t a great course and I didn’t have a good time with a great challenge, just a hope for a bit more as well. I did love the riverbed, and not sure of a solution, but it was hard to be much more than single track as there isn’t a very defined line, so did have some slow parts here simply from people in front – just a difficult passing area. I can’t say I minded too much as it was such a great addition though.
I had made a goal a few weeks previous to attempt 5 laps in the day, but as the day drew near and I saw the temps predicted, I wisely adjusted my goal to 4 laps knowing that the heat would slow me down. I completed the 4 laps of BFX and finished to a festival area still functioning and selling food and allowing us to enjoy the new brewery at the farm – yes, the farm now has a functioning microbrewery (growlers and to go selections available at the brewhouse next to the bus stop)- the beer selection was limited to their summer ale, which was quite tasty! So happy to not have to worry about showing up for a race to finish with nothing but Coors available – another plus for C&S. When I finished, I did have to go search for a water bottle and the only flavor of Kill Cliff, a Battlefrog sponsor, was coffee – an issue all day from what I heard. Medals were right there, and the medals all look very good in my opinion, with the BFX being huge, along with stars to signify number of laps completed. Also right in the finish area were the t-shirts, a nice blend – quite soft and sizing seems pretty right, typical fare for the races now.
Battlefrog advances in some good ways and makes a great showing at Carter and Stevens. There are still issues with the race that haven’t been solved from last year, but a nice improvement over last year showing they listened to feedback and leaving me hopeful that Battlefrog will solve its internal issues and move even further back to its 2014 showing.
This week Sandy, Josh and Paul talk about upcoming and recently occuring OCR events on their schedules – including Josh’s NJ Ultra Beast finish and Sandy’s epic 50 miles at Shale Hill’s newest event, Jill’s Folly – with a 6 hour road trip to the always popular Wason Pond Pounder in the middle!
We also discuss Hobie’s recent noise on the elite scene, Zombie Charge going out of business in New England this year, and controversial BFX rule changes.
Listener questions cover everything from how NES was formed to what being a member of NES means for us – it’s a good bunch of questions!
Thanks for listening! Remember to subscribe in iTunes, on Podbean, Stitcher and soon Google Play. Leave us a comment or a review – and if you have questions for next weeks show, leave them below!
What is the Cliff Jumper obstacle Sandy mentions? Check out Shale Hill’s tutorial video – they make it look easy!
Spartan Race have their own TV show on NBC, and it’s no secret they’re testing the waters with team shows and ninja warrior style broadcasts. They showcase their Elite athletes and pro team, with the occasional “feel good” story thrown in there. They want to replicate the success of Ninja Warrior – but for OCR.
Battlefrog are now sponsoring the Fiesta Bowl, and have had their own foray into broadcast television with their college short course show recently.
So – as the news that this Fiesta Bowl sponsorship spreads, over at NBCSports.com, who ran the press release today, a commenter points out one critical problem with all this television ..
“the BattleFrog lifestyle” includes sitting on the couch for several hours watching bowl games? Thats how competitors prep for “the most challenging Elite Points Series events in OCR”?
Television is often touted as the next big step OCR has to crack. If we want our sport to grow, people will need to know OCR exists. But, what if – rather than being inspired to come out to an event, getting cold, wet, muddy (and exhilarated and pushed to limits and beyond in the process) – what if all this television really does is cause people to … tune into the next episode?
OCR is inspirational. It’s motivational. It gets you running, climbing, crawling and conquering. When did you last get that inspired and motivated by a ball game sponsor?
Is OCR on television a good thing? Great thing? Or a bunch of marketing money spent in the wrong place?
We don’t normally published featured reviews for out of region events, unless theres a good reason for it. With the rise, and fall, and hopeful rise again of Battlefrog, one of our veteran community members was making the trip from Boston to Pittsburg to give Battlefrog a second chance, and run in the mines.
This race wasn’t without problems of it’s own, and Josh gives us more detail about what Battlefrog did right, and did wrong.
BattleFrog is arguably one of the most talked about race series in the last 12 months of OCR news, and there’s both good and bad reasons for that. From huge buckets of money to attract racers, to a new CEO, to an amazing leading athlete in Ryan Atkins who conquers not only his home team races, but other companies alike – #ShirtGate!
In 2014 I had heard nothing but good things about BattleFrog from our teammates who ran their New Jersey event and I also heard whispers of this cool race they did in Pittsburgh that had a mine that racers had to swim through?! Now if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s missing out on cool races!
After BattleFrog New England a few weekends ago, I was admittedly disappointed in their first ever northeast showing, but I am easy to pass off a single failure for overall success. When the opportunity to hit up BattleFrog Pittsburgh arose, I jumped all over it. I was not disappointed again, that’s for sure.
BF Pittsburgh was held at an ATV resort called “Mines and Meadows” – a name that gave a hint as to what you were in for but didn’t nearly brace you for what proved to be an amazing course. Parking was held off site and as per usual, we carted some early morning busses and headed off to the festival area.
Battlefrog does a great job with their festival area I think. For spectators they had 10 obstacles that encircled the area so there was always constant action. They have great merch vendors, a free photo-op, equipped with all kinds of military style props, and a large selection of food vendors to pick from. Myself and racing buddy were doing the BFX race – where you do as many laps of the course as you can in a set amount of time – and those racers were given their own tent, food and drink, and bathrooms, a really nice touch for people who were planning on being on course for 6+ hours.
The course itself, was AMAZING. From rolling hills, to ultra-muddy bogs, to river bed creeks that snaked their way through wilderness, this course was what I envision as having all the elements of the perfect OCR venue. It didn’t have the outrageously steep climbs of a Killington, but also wasn’t flat like we saw at the New England location. It was a perfect balance. Stretched to run for speed, hills to slow you down just enough to challenge you but not zap your strength completely, and one half mile section that traversed an abandoned mine, 250 feet below the surface that tested both your physical and mental toughness. More on this in a bit. I really feel like this location is one of the best I have raced.
There’s really one reason we come to these races, most of the time at least, and that’s the obstacles. And there was plenty to talk about when it came to BattleFrog’s obstacles. The day started with 34 advertised obstacles, but it probably ended at closer to 28-30. The reason? Obstacles being shut down left and right for a number of reasons. The first being the Delta Cargo Net – placed absurdly early in the race (think 100 yards from the start line) – was shut down during the Men’s Elite wave because apparently one of the A-frames had collapsed under the weight of all the racers scaling it. 8:00am and one obstacle already closed. It was clear that this was not a smart place to put that obstacle where so many people would be jockeying for position to get over it at the same time. There was also some single track climbing paths shortly after that, which immediately made for backup during the open waves. Again.. less than a mile in and people are waiting in lines to scale a hill. People got creative and just started making their own path, myself included.
This race also had one of the most intense carries I have ever done. A Wreck Bag carry down, up, and over a few rolling hills and through some mud that was almost scarily deep. I’m thinking that mud claimed several bags as well as plenty of shoes. A few more rolling hills and steep 50 yard climbs brought you down to the Sternum Checker (or Dirty Name as BF calls it). This one was the source of some controvery in New England as it was immediately after a mud pit which made for slipping, crashing, and the like. While there was no mud before this one, they also didn’t take much care to cover the ground in any protective materials. Now I’m a tall guy so jumping to these and rolling over the second log isn’t usually a problem but there were plenty of people who struggled, and a few who crashed – HARD. One girl flipped over the top and landed right on her head in front of me while being watched by a guy who had just recently bonked his head on the second log, splitting his forehead open, prompting the immediate closure of this obstacle. It barely made it to 10:45am before this was shut down. After navigatinig a Platinum Rig, make that TWO Platinum Rigs, and some serious technical creek terrain, you came to the PREMIER obstacle of BattleFrog Pittsburgh – The underground lake in the mine. I can’t speak enough about how amazingly terrifying this was. Freezing cold air enveloped you immediately as you ran into the mine’s entryway. Think walking into an ice rink on a hot summer day. After a quarter mile run in, you’re turned off into a pitch black section of the mine lit up only by the few headlamps (oh yea – they ran out of headlamps to hand to people by 9:00am – not good) of your fellow racers. There was a race attendent handing out pool noodles (I took 4 of them – I can’t swim, shutup) and in you went. Imagine the coldest water you’ve ever felt – now imagine that quickly rising to your neckline and oh yea, you can barely see. All you can hear is the grunts, groans, and (real) panic from your fellow racers. The swim felt like navigating thousands of needles stabbing my body simultaneously. I had a very real moment of panic when my feet could no longer touch the ground but it was still the most amazing thing I have accomplished in a race to date. I exited the underground lake for the first and last time (this was also shut down shortly after 10am because it really was SO cold that the rescue swimmers were unable to stay in the water to watch over the racers) and then I headed back out into the open. The remainder of the race was the usual walls, carries, and such. One last obstacle that caused some commotion was the simple-enough looking cargo net out of a barn near the finish line. It however was not anchored very well and was met with a few folks tumbling down it face first, one of which suffered what looked to be a very serious knee injury.
I continued on to do the course 2 additional times, myself, with the BFX winner coming in with 5 laps. This course was truly no joke. It was one of those cases where they did a whole lot, with very little. Aside from tthe obstacle drama, which they had plenty of, this event is going to be a staple for me each year if it stays at this location. BattleFrog does certain things very well, but it also needs to focus on runner safety (remember BF, we’re not all Ryan Atkins) and logistics. Things like late start times and closed obstacles are disappointing to people who came for those reasons.
Personal note: When I “teased” this article was coming, several people assumed I would be bashing Battlefrog, or Pro-Bone Frog. I actually felt a teeny, tiny bit of resentment at that insinuation – as much support as I give to local OCRs and local events across New England, I’m quite capable of seeing merit and achievements in national series too. I have no biased against a good event, simply because of where they are located or based.
I made the drive to Battlefrog NJ in 2014 with a little bit of a bee in my bonnet. New England had just had it’s second year of Navy Seal, long format, extremely tough OCR events, and here I was, driving to NJ to see what this new Battlefrog was all about. Too many “frogs”, with too many similarities, and I already liked the local guy.
Except, Battlefrog put on a great event. Despite not being able to run the course that day – every report I heard from my muddy friends was glowing. Course and obstacle design and construction was top notch, festival and all the sundries that make an event up were high quality. It was clear they were spending a large quantity of money to do it – but after just a few races, they were putting on events that rivaled anyone in the OCR scene.
Of course, things have changed. It’s now 2015 and Battlefrog had to downsize and restructure. I’ve finally had the opportunity to run both a Bone Frog Challenge, and most recently a Battlefrog. It’s about time someone compared the two.
A fast summary, to get everyone up to speed:
Bone Frog Challenge is a Navy Seal owned and operated company based in New England. 2015 was their third year in business, and they have a signature 15k race on the Berkshire East slopes, MA. They also offer a 5k option, and a Tier One challenge (15k + 5k). They have held events in NY state, and have one scheduled for the tri-state region later this year.
Battlefrog Series is Navy Seal inspired, but not owned or operated to any extensive capacity. Florida based, they have had a series of well publicized downsizing and focus shifts in recent months, that are impossible to ignore. The current format is an 8k course, with a Battlefrog Xtreme option (multi-laps). They travel the east coast and have stated very ambitious plans to be in many more locations in 2016.
Which is better? And how do you rank “better”? Lets dig in.
You can’t compare venues. They both travel, to some extent – and comparing a ski slope to a cow field is poor comparison. Apples to Oranges – so lets steer clear of worrying about which specific *race* was hardest, covered most elevation, was more of a runners course – and deal with the rest.
This is Obstacle Course Racing – and the obstacles at a Bone Frog are a huge focus and point of pride. Even at the top of Battlefrogs budget, Bone Frog would get the edge from me. Not by much, on 2014 standards, mind. Battlefrog had some epic obstacles. Since the refocus, and certainly in New England, the Battlefrog obstacles – while fun, and in some cases *really* cool (I’m looking at you, Tip of the Spear) – can’t compare to the three tier Dirty Name, or Black Ops. Both had heavy carries – ammo cans vs jerry cans – both had Wreck Bags (a carry at Battlefrog vs 31 Hero Tribute at Bone Frog). Bone Frog spends considerable time and energy building the venue out – with 54 obstacles in 15k for 2015, and Battlefrog, being a more mobile roadshow, doesn’t have that luxury. Boasting the fastest build crew in the industry, with a three day build schedule – Battlefrog simply didn’t have the volume, “epicness” or scale of obstacle that Bone Frog had.
This is still Obstacle Course Racing – and the *racing* is also a huge piece for many. Battlefrog have a heavy focus on elite racing, with Elites being expected to do two laps (16k total). Their own pro-team are super competitive, and while Bone Frog Challenge does have big names (Pak has yet to be beat), and both have mandatory obstacle completion and policing of such, and both will qualify you for OCR World Championships – if elite racing is your bag – Battlefrog has an edge here. They simply have a bigger stage, and more eyes.
Despite being a one and done man myself – there are a large group of enthusiastic obstacle racers who like nothing more than to go around in circles all day. Bone Frog offers it’s Tier One Challenge, giving you a lap of both the 15k course and the 5k course (and the flexibility to mix and match, afforded thanks to it’s more local and communal feel). Battlefrog has BFX – Battlefrog Xtreme – where they provision you with as many laps as you can handle, a unique (and cool) medal, and stars on your lanyard indicating how far you reached. This is something I heard nothing but praise for, and a really good way for them to encourage the enthusiasts, especially those who were looking for the longer format of 2014. BFX is going to be extremely popular for them.
Seal’ness. This one is difficult for me to personally comment on – so feel free to disagree and tell me I’m full of it. I’m not an American Patriot (not even being an American citizen), and while I certainly appreciate the fine folks in the military and what they do and what they give up – it’s not a driving force in my life, or my choices when I pick a race to run. I know, for some people, it is.
It has to be considered, though – Battlefrog and Bone Frog are heavily Seal inspired. Battlefrog used to have the very famous Seal Don Mann leading the show as CEO, but thats recently changed. Bone Frog is owned and operated by a former Seal of less fame – but no less badassness. When you get on course at Bone Frog – the Seal influence is huge. From obstacle names, to memorials, to retired and former Seals and vet’s volunteering and marshalling. Having your medal put over your neck by a war veteran was a very special moment for many people. Battlefrog does still have Seal influences and staff – but when you compare “Seal Apples to Seal Apples” – Bone Frog is hands down more military and Vet focussed on race day.
I have to stop here and make something clear. This comparison comes because of the similarities in the two races name, theme and in 2014, their style. This comparison makes less sense in 2015 (and going forward), because – despite their similar names and themes – they are now two very different races, with two slightly different audiences.
I don’t dislike one race over another. Despite my initial frustration with “the other Frog” and their aggressive promotion – I’ve come to get to know the race staff behind both events, without fail all good people. I’ve now run both events, and have every intention of running them both again. They scratch different itches, in the OCR space.
Battlefrog is still the big budget Seal event, sitting firmly in the mid-market space. It’s the one you’ll find in Florida, Georgia, Tri-State, Texas and on the road in betweem. It has the brand recognition and the pro-team. They showed us that they can put on a FUN 8k course, that will give you a challenge, but not be too hard. I’d bring a first timer to a Battlefrog event, and not be too concerned about their ability to do pretty much everything, with a small amount of assistance. On the Spartan Race scale that so many are familiar with, they are a 5 mile Sprint. Easy to digest, easy to access, a ton of fun when you’re done.
Bone Frog is the original, and most authentic Seal event. With a smaller geographic footprint, they’re also growing organically, based on money made and not outside investment. They put on a challenging event, and while I would be wary of bringing an absolute new comer, if you’ve done a few 5k distance races and are looking for the next challenge, I’d encourage you to make any length trip to one. On the Spartan Race scale – they rank somewhere around a tough Super, if not a Beast, but with more obstacles. You’re going to feel beat up for a couple of days after a Bone Frog Challenge.
Both offer great value. Both offer flexible distance and difficulty options.
If anything, the recent changes at Battlefrog made this comparison easier. I can heartily recommend BOTH events, to different audiences. If both Frog’s survive this cut throat market place, they offer incredible alternatives to the Big Box, Big Name, Big Three OCR events, and should be supported.
The Battlefrog saga continues! By now, if you’ve been around, the Battlefrog story is part of OCR folk lore. In the past year, they’ve gone from disruptors – putting on events of huge proportions, with epic obstacles, helicopter and Seal shows – to becoming a much smaller operation – shedding staff, obstacles, distance and more in the process.
New England finally got to see what the hoopla was all about this weekend – and the results? Well, keep reading.
2014 was their launch year. If you look up the word “aggressive” in the dictionary, there’s Battlefrog. They had huge budget, huge ambitions – and didn’t get the attendance at their races to support it. Why would they? They were new, and hadn’t built up credibility yet.
The first half of 2015 saw them try to address all that. Sundays were cancelled, the course distance dropped from 15k and 5k – to simply 8k, with an “Xtreme” option to do multiple laps. Staffing levels dropped too – including the very poorly timed firing of the sales team, just weeks before our race – meaning our local race manager, who many of us know and love, who’d been pushing for this race for many months now – was out of work. I won’t dwell on it, I know “it’s business” – but the timing couldn’t have been worse for a very important region, and customers noticed.
As the 2015 season started, reports from other regions were confusing. Signature obstacles were missing, or extremely dialed back. Some, like Tsunami, turned into downsized versions of their former selves. Reports of injuries, the medical team that works with many of the top OCRs pulling out – the writing appeared to be on the wall for Battlefrog. They were done. I fielded many questions about wether the New England event would even happen.
The message from HQ was clear though – Battlefrog was making all these unpleasant changes because they wanted to be around for the long haul. Someone, somewhere realized that “build it and they will come” doesn’t apply when you’re throwing around millions of dollars in a highly competitive and volatile market place. Downsizing, scaling back, becoming smaller and leaner simply had to happen. I applaud them, even if it wasn’t pretty.
But they are still struggling with a perception problem. There were people who had registered in 2014 – who had registered for a 15k event – who had registered for a brutal beat down of an obstacle course – who stood in the starting coral bemused that this wouldn’t be that race. Even as late as race day, there were people who hadn’t realized the course was not 15k any longer. The marketing of the elites, of super hard and brutally difficult obstacles, or RD’s who lay awake at night stroking their Beard thinking of ways to make runners cry – they lost average joes. The people who will make them successful – the “just off the couch” audience – the “I’m running with my gym buddies for fun” audience – they will be at the Spartan Sprint in a few weeks, because the perception is that Battlefrog is for the elites only.
Confusion on the price doesn’t help – the Field Team feels discouraged, discount codes for huge 40% discounts became normal, and groupon’s started showing up. That doesn’t inspire confidence, or make nice with the early bird registrations who now feel they paid too much.
HQ seems to get this. Talking to several staff on race day (who were all, without fail, incredibly attentive and friendly) they understood that while there is an extreme audience, and an elite audience, they can’t build an empire on them.
But – enough about what Battlefrog is, was, and wants to be – we, quite simply, were here for an obstacle course race, a day out with friends, and a fun time on a Saturday.
Carter and Stevens farm, our host for the second time this summer, was the venue. Barre, MA is a bit of a drive for many – but really no worse than Amesbury Sports Park – just in a different direction. It’s terrain is a nice change from the constant climbing of hills we get when we go to the mountains, and is relatively flat – technical trails can be uneven, and being a working cow farm, there are sometimes some interesting smells coming from the mud piles. Parking is off-site and someone cheaped out a bit on the buses, as they got horribly backed up later in the morning causing many people to miss the team wave. The Spartan Super didn’t have this problem – so there is a precedent set here.
Registration for Battlefrog is easily the slickest, quickest registration of any OCR. No waivers, no bib numbers – you talk to a nice volunteer with a laptop – they pull a packet out of a bin – put that packet number by your name and you’re done. I don’t know of anyway this could be simpler, easier or more of an example to the laborious process many others go through.
The festival was small – intimate is probably what they were going for, and for the most part, this worked just fine. Some odd placement of the tents in the vendor village meant you had to step over guide ropes to get through – and our good friends from Wreck Bag were there, with a couple of others. A well stocked merch tent, a good beer tent, Carter and Stevens handled the food, which was excellent again (try the pulled pork!), and our biggest team tent was slap bang in the middle of everything. A large – if very disorganized bag check, plenty of potties, a shower area with plenty of water trucks staged and changing tents.
We were the biggest team – with 335 registered NE Spahtens at close. Battlefrog had worked out a series of biggest team perks with us back in 2014 – and as we got closer, we worked with them to get these fulfilled as well as possible. “VIP” parking ended up being around 100 free passes to the remote lot, despite their being plenty of space on site in the end. A box of bracelets, buffs, free beer tickets, free bag check and 30% off merch codes found their way to me prior to the event, and I can’t extend a big enough thanks to Dennis and Louise for taking on the job of ensuring everyone who checked in with them got their stuff. Other perks, like a shirt and sleeves are going to be mailed out in the coming days / weeks for people who got their addresses logged. I assume as they grow, this process will be streamlined to be less work on everyone involved – and hopefully, less expensive for Battlefrog! The team tent was huge, and appreciated – and central – something many events fail to do, relegating their biggest fans and supporters to a distant corner. They also had a nice awards ceremony, where the elites, masters elites (go Team Synergy!) and biggest team awards were handed out. I had to speak in a mic, and hopefully didn’t sound too terrible, or say anything too dumb. The award, a nice normandy jack and plaque is pretty sweet too!
One very odd dropped ball in this process was a biggest team wave – for whatever reason, our team was scheduled to go out all over the place – which defeats much of the communal feel large communities cherish on a course – fortunately, BFHQ were flexible and found us a team wave time (thanks Ben!). Oddly, at the start line, they announced the coral was closing before much of the team had made it in – but again, BFHQ realized what was going on and intervened, ensuring we got to run together (thank Chris!).
Coach Payne was the motivator – and while I didn’t used to be a big fan of his style, his work at OCRWC changed my opinion, and he was on form this morning. Nicely done.
Can’t thank the New England Spahtens enough for joining us this weekend. They rocked our course and our festival area. We hope you all had a great time and overcame every obstacle in your way!
No blow by blow of the course for me – Nicole writes fantastically detailed reviews, and you can read hers here. For me – I *really* enjoyed 90% of this course. The walls were interesting, the jerry cans way more challenging than I had expected (thankfully, we only had to take one). I will note that the rope climb was tightly crowded together, suspended from a chain between two trees with little underneath to pad a bad fall – it wasn’t a particularly high one though, and posed little problem for me. The inverted wall was good – but the inverted ladder wall was better. The tall wall with a rope up it was a fun challenge, as the rope kept swinging to one side, sending me into the next “lane”. I really enjoyed some of the huge climbs – the massive “A” ladder was incredibly steep, and even my 6’ tall frame had a hard time coming down that one.
Wreck Bag carry with a small wall in the middle was fun – not too bad, as I’m fairly used to these kinds of carries by now, and the rolling mud “mounds of grounds” I’m now hearing smelled of coffee and included 500lbs of ground coffee beans in it. Totally missed that one on the day, and no clue what the goal of that would be.
Overall, a challenging, fun, achievable course I’d feel comfortable bringing a new runner to. Comparable to a regular Spartan Sprint in quality and design.
I’ll note four specifics though – the obstacle I know as gut check or sternum check. When I arrived, there was a lady on the ground, waiting on medics to carry her out. The entire frame was shifting every time someone jumped to the top bar, and there was nothing underneath to catch or pad you when you fell. Having successfully done this obstacle at a number of other events – and had one bad fall from this obstacle in the past (which was a no harm, no foul situation due to padding) – I decided discretion was the better part of valor and walked right on by it. If any obstacle that day could be described as dangerous, this was it.
Next up – the water slide known as Tsunami. Kill it. The old Tsunami was a signature obstacle. Epic in scale and size and difficultly. The quarter pipe to rope climb is now a fairly short ladder, and the huge slide to splash down pool is now a very narrow transition ledge, to slide to a mud bath. Instead of sheets of water to speed you down, a trickle from a hose was all you got. At least it was relegated to a back trail, and not on display. This needs to go away.
Tip of the Spear – the finale obstacle in New England. The entire finishers chute was built around three slanted walls, with rope, a runner board and more rope to traverse sideways. This was difficult, but had a high completion rate, something races need if they want to attract the average joe crowd. It also slowed people down, for a great photo finish – a nice touch.
The Rig. Ah, the rig. This is where Battlefrog’s previous “brutally hard” image shone through. Boasting that The Rig was the biggest square footage Rig anywhere, in the world – and with a very significant failure rate, this was the one obstacle I couldn’t complete that day. I don’t really know how to rate this one – is it a good thing that they have that one significantly tough obstacle that causes lots of failure, and provides room for participants to grow? Or is it a lone hold out from the old days, and needs to go away, to be replaced by something less evil? I’m on the fence. I struggle on these obstacles – even simple monkey bars at a Spartan can cause problems if they’re late in the race – but will removing it make the course “boring” ? I don’t know I can answer that.
Ultimately, I’ll re-iterate what I told the very attentive and interested staff on race day. The course was FUN. Not brutal. Tough enough that I feel it the next day, but not so tough I felt discouraged or frustrated. People genuinely had a good day out, myself included.
Battlefrog needs a reboot. The 2014 Battlefrog was killing itself quickly – under it’s heavy cash expenditure, it’s laser focus on elites and hardcore OCR enthusiasts – it was missing the mark with the average joes and janes. 2015 Battlefrog is moving in that direction, and the New England event showed that.
The big question is – can they do it in time to save itself?
At this point – Battlefrog HQ would LOVE for me to highly recommend you pre-register, or sign up early for the 2016 New England event, at a great price point even. I’ve had personal and sincere assurances of their longevity. 50% codes landed in our inboxes while this article was being written.
I think they’re making the right moves. I think they have a good product, that is on the verge of being a great product. I think they have a good venue, and 2015 established a great ground for them in this highly competitive region.
But OCR is nothing, if not volatile and fast moving. Things can change quickly. Venues can go away. Weather can affect event fortunes and prospects on a dime. Those are all things no race team can predict or control, and factors I consider *any* time I register for an event early. So should you.
Watch their next few events. Read reviews and reports, and remember that an OCR industry without solid, high quality event options and competition would be very dull indeed. Lets hope Battlefrog become part of that landscape for the long term.
We loved Battlefrog, back in 2014. They graciously brought several of our community to the New Jersey event (seemingly shocked that we didn’t consider it local) – and we managed to squeeze together the biggest team of the day. We ran the 15k, enjoyed the Seal demonstrations and some of us even got to go up in a helicopter!
NJ 2014 was only their fourth race. The kind of money and expense that had gone into it was not in line with that young history. An extremely challenging, well done course. An active, well planned venue. Incredible entertainment and the unique helo rides.
Regardless of how well that event went – they had a huge, uphill battle ahead of them. They need more attendance, and they needed it bad. To support a race of that size, that scale – it wasn’t possible with the turn out we saw in NJ – and many of those seemed to be on comp, or heavily discounted entries.
My theory was simple – having a wealthy backer, and a three year plan is one thing (as staff frequently assured us) – but no one will simply hand money out, hand over fist for three years. There will be sales targets, there will be financial goals, there will be accountability.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen that they clearly have not been able to get up that hill.
It started when they let their chief course designer and co-Brit – Garfield go. He landed on his feet with Savage Race and OCR World Championship, proving there is life after Battlefrog.
The Seal demo’s didn’t pick up again in 2015, and the expensive Helo rides didn’t happen either.
Following that, reports of downsizing staff levels continued – before the biggest changes – Sundays were axed all together, then the 15k format was dropped and reduced to an 8k, with elites doing two laps to keep the difficultly happening earlier this year.
Just the other weekend at the 2015 New Jersey event, the signature “Tsunami” obstacle appeared to be a shadow of it’s former self – with reports from participants indicating it wasn’t the only change to the course. 40% discount codes became common place again.
Today though, after more cuts, including their Managing Director – Battlefrog have just let go their last remaining regional race managers – with speculation being that this means they no longer have a sales organization.
With a New England race coming up – and the New England race manager being “one of our own” – what does this mean?
Christine is now looking for work, and being the classy gal she is, she’s encouraging everyone to still go and have fun in the mud, and helping to answer questions about training events, codes, registrations – despite some comments and calls to boycott.
They need people – far more than they’re getting.
The company line is clear – they believe they are making the right choices for their longevity – shorter courses means more venue options. Fewer staff mean fewer expenses. Maybe easier courses mean more attendance?
Ultimately – the litmus test for me is simple.
Would I recommend you register for a 2016 New England event, if it’s significantly discounted Barre later this month?