Suffice it to say, it was a sufferfest. Of course, four sentences is hardly the sum of the story. Let’s get into it.
Bone Frog Challenge typically takes place at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Massachusetts in May. The 2015 Bone Frog will likely go down as one of my favorite races of all time with over fifty obstacles stretched over a 15K course. The race was meticulously executed. This spring, I took place in the race again and also enjoyed it. As a result, I was quite excited to see they had a fall 10K championship race planned for late October. I signed up right away.
Fast forward a few months. Suddenly the championship was a standard 9 miler. The October race would be another Bone Frog Challenge. I had been excited for the shorter course, but this struck me as fine. They didn’t have enough racers, I presume, to support a championship — it would be too challenging for people to qualify. (I had signed up for the open wave, for which you did not have to qualify.)
The weather in New England is a fickle thing. Thursday I drove home in a swarm of snow. We got around 3″. Bone Frog posted pictures on Facebook of Berkshire East with obstacles covered in snow. Bone Frog’s course features two water crossings. All I could do was shake my head.
The morning of Bone Frog, I left my house at 7:00 a.m. to make it to the venue for my 9:00 a.m. wave. I live fairly close — less than an hour away — and it was an easy drive. Parking ($10 per car) was a breeze. The turn out was a lot less than for the May event, making both parking and registration a snap. Volunteers were plentiful down in the festival area and on the course. The weather was dreadful, and these people are real champions!
I connected with my fellow Spahten and good friend, Matt Puntin. Cool things about Matt include almost everything (i.e. He has obstacles in his backyard!); however, today’s cool thing was that he’d agreed to run Bone Frog with me, despite the fact that I am quite a bit slower. I was seriously off my game during the race, and having Matt with me was key to finishing. Having a good battle buddy makes all the difference.
The weather in Charlemont was unfortunate. It was damp, at times rainy, and in the low to mid 30s. There was snow on the mountain. Everything was slippery and wet. The saving grace, was that there was no wind, but this was still going to be a rough day.
Our 9:00 a.m. wave was pretty small. There were a lot of fellow NE Spahtens. Some others had chosen to do the Tier 1 Challenge, which involves doing the 9 mile Challenge course followed by the 3 mile Sprint course. They had taken off about 15 minutes prior. We had some brief announcements — a good thing in the cold — and then we were off!
The 9 mile course was almost a reversed version of the course in May with stripped down obstacles. Of the Bone Frog Challenges I’ve done, this will not rank as a favorite. I’ll go through the course map and some of the obstacles to give a bit of a breakdown of the course with my feedback.
The course featured around three dozen obstacles; however, this included a lot of repeat obstacles:
Four wire crawls and one net crawl
Two sets of tires to hop through
Two sets of tires on horizontal logs to go over
Two water crossings
There were also a number of walls, but I consider walls an OCR staples, and these walls were all different heights so I’m good with that. The wire crawls were absolutely miserable. They were through snow. I couldn’t feel my fingers at a point, and my elbows and knees got soaked through. I should also add that I elected to not enter any of the water. I was frozen enough from the crawls and would not have been able to make it through the course if I entered the water. The first water crossing was the fifth obstacle and was chest high. The second was at the top of the mountain, where it was around freezing temperatures. I acknowledge two things about my electing to skip the water: I had a slightly different race experience and that experience was less hard. I am less strong for doing this.
I should remark that I was definitely having an “off day.” The course did not engage me, I was very uncomfortable, and my performance was lackluster. I am deeply effected by the cold, and I had a challenging day.
There was a lot of trail running during the course. The trails were great. They were technical. The terrain was slippery and people were sliding all over; however, the paths were interesting. There was a lot of climbing up and down the mountain, but there was equally a lot of cutting across the mountain on single track trails. A problem though was that the trails were not as well marked as they could have been. I have never gotten lost on a course during the day. (And only once gotten ever so slightly off course — missing less than 50 feet — during the night.) During Bone Frog, we got lost twice. The second time, we ended up having to cut across the mountain and underneath the mountain coaster at Berkshire East. Yikes! Also, for the third time, I wished that the course had mile markers.
The low turnout, while bad for Bone Frog, meant that there were no hold-ups at the obstacles. The course moved smoothly. While there weren’t any new obstacles I can name, there were a lot of fun ones from the past. I’m a fan of the Solar Walls, which are two huge walls of at least 15′ with a rope to climb them. My hands were frozen from the crawl right before, so I had to use my legs around the rope to make sure I didn’t slip down. I also like Slide for Life. Here, you climb through a hole in a platform and then go down a traverse rope. This is unique obstacle and fun. I have to get a boost to reach the hole in the platform, but then I’m good to go.
I should mention that many Bone Frog obstacles are not short-person friendly. I cannot reach on Slide for Life, Swingers Club, Get a Grip, Drunken Monkey, or Black Ops. I also have yet to complete Swingers Club and Get a Grip, both of which are obstacles where you swing from hanging grip to hanging grip. Drunken Monkey, peg monkey bars at varying heights, I have made. Today, I was able to climb up and grab a bar, but this left me unable to get to another. Also, they were super wet, and I kind of fell half off. Matt seemed quite alarmed, and I did not elect to try again. I have made Black Ops at my first two races but did not complete it today. I made it up the rope climb but did not attempt the monkey bars, which were dripping wet. I couldn’t feel my fingers at this point, and was doing my best to just keep moving and make it to the end. Like I said, I did not have a fantastic race and did not make a number of obstacles I normally would have.
There were a few carries — the Ammo Carry for the first obstacle and the Wreck Bag Carry. Both were very short and manageable. I even found them easy. This was a great relief! I enjoyed a number of the cargo climbs and, as always, had fun on the walls. They have a number of thru walls, which are a nice way of mixing it up.
I ended up finishing this race in just over three hours. It was my fastest Bone Frog yet, due entirely to the reduced number of obstacles and zero wait time due to low turnout.
All and all, I would give this race a 3.5 out of 5 stars. (Though I would give having Matt as my battle buddy five stars for sure.) The course was less diverse than I might have hoped, with lots of repetition, and the obstacles were less interesting than in the past. I have never gone off course before and found the markings to be a bit lacking. That being said, the volunteers were great and we got an awesome medal and t-shirt. (Though I still miss the shirts from 2015, which were the best finisher shirts ever and even came in curvy fit!) The weather, which is no one’s fault, definitely put a damper on the day and made the race a whole lot less fun. Still, no matter what, Bone Frog has some really great obstacles. I’ve seen them several times now, and might be a bit jaded, but I don’t take for granted the good work that they do.
I won’t be able to make the May race since I’m running the Vermont City Marathon the following weekend. However, I look forward to doing Bone Frog again soon. It’s a #racelocal favorite, and while this fall’s race was not their strongest showing, I’ll be back.
Brian is the Seal behind Bonefrog Challenge – his brain child and labor of love since 2012, Bone Frog provides something thats a bit tougher than your average OCR.
In this episode of nespahtens.tv, we talk about their humble beginnings, the roots of some of their signature obstacles, their breakout 2016 year and up and coming Georgia event and what the future holds for them.
We also tell you how to handle the Dirty Name obstacle without breaking your head 🙂
We recently published a review of Callan Grant’s 33 mile experience at Infinitus. Callan is just 8 years old, but wiser and more inspiring than many 8 year olds will ever be.
So we asked him to be on the show. For 30 minutes Josh, Sandy and Paul talk to Callan and Josh Grant about their Infinitus experience – what goes through an 8 year olds mind? Will he do it again? What was his favorite treat at the finish line? and we ask his Dad – Why? How does an 8 year old end up on a serious endurance event like Infinitus?
Next up, we recap Bone Frog Challenge, recently held in the mountains of Western MA, and cover the up coming Spartan Sprint event a little. Some listener questions, and we round things out with reminders of the cool stuff we’ve got going on.
This weekend, I took place in my second Bone Frog Challenge. Bone Frog is a 9 mile obstacle course race (with a 5K option and Tier-1, the 9 miler, plus the 5K) that takes place annually at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Massachusetts. At around 50 minutes away from my house, it’s my home town race and one of my favorite races of the year. This race is owned and run by Navy SEALs. A positive vibe permeates the race, which does an excellent job at paying homage to those in the armed forces and, at the same time, provides the rest of us with an enjoyable challenge.
Last year’s race was my favorite individual race of the year. (I say that so as not to compete with the wonderful racing I did at Shale Hill via my season pass last year. Both Bone Frog and Shale Hill are my favorite.) The race featured over 50 obstacles all of amazing build quality, the course was well-marked and well thought-out, the logistics were smooth, and when you crossed the finish line a former Navy SEAL draped a medal over your head. In my mind, those men deserve medals, so it’s an honor or get to meet a former SEAL in person and have them rewarding you for something that, for me, is a hobby. Suffice it to say, this year’s race was no different than last year’s. I had a blast.
Saturday was the prefect day for obstacle course racing. The weather was in the mid to upper 60s, meaning it was comfortable without being hot. The sky was overcast, which while certainly less exciting than a sunny day was helpful for keeping the temperature down and the sunburn at bay. Charlemont is a close drive, about 50 minutes west of my home in Amherst, so I was able to sleep until 7:00 a.m. before heading out for a pleasant drive into the Berkshires. Parking at Berkshire East is a snap. It’s the standard $10 you pay for race parking everywhere, and it’s onsite. No buses needed. Spectators are free at Bone Frog Challenge, which means that unless you purchase swag, the parking fee is all you need to spend for the day.
Check-in went very smoothly. There was a bit of a line, but that line moved very fast, and the volunteers were ultra organized. There was one volunteer making sure that everyone had their waver and ID out so that by the time you made it to the front of the line you were organized and the volunteer getting your packet could move like lightning. I couldn’t have waited in line for even five minutes, which is excellent for a race with a couple thousand people in attendance. The other area where the race was well organized was in having a good number of portable toilets. There was a bit of a wait last year, but they increased the number and, again, I only have to wait in line for a couple of minutes. I cannot image how hard these sorts of logistics are to nail down — Bone Frog has my respect for their eye-to-detail and high level of organization.
After checking in, I headed over to the NE Spahtens team tent. There was no set team wave time for Bone Frog, so I was hoping to find some friends to run the race with. As is so often the case with the Spahtens, my battle buddy was just a friend I hadn’t met yet. I ended up meeting Jennifer Daley who provided an extremely great person to take on Bone Frog’s 9 mile course with. We were very evenly paces and had similar skills on obstacles. Plus, she was a lot of fun!
After getting our gear ready (I highly recommend a hydration pack and nutrition if you’re doing the full 9 mile race or Tier-1), we headed over for the 9:30 a.m. wave. Announcement were brief and at exactly 9:30 a.m., we were off.
The course was packed with 40 obstacles. This was around a dozen fewer than last year. While I will say that I definitely missed having those extra twelve obstacles — they definitely added to the fun and difficulty factory — this is still a top-notch race. Some things that set the course apart from other races are the excellent build and the good obstacle distribution. May races fall prey to having most of their obstacles jumbled at the bottom of the mountain. I get that this is a logistical issue; however, somehow Bone Frog has tackled it, as they have good obstacle distribution along the trails at the top of the mountain too. This is key for a racer’s enjoyment. Bone Frog does a great job utilizing every inch of elevation Berkshire East has to offer. Sure this isn’t Killington, but some of us don’t want to hike uphill all day. The amount of hiking up brutal hills is just enough (actually just a little more than enough) at Bone Frog. This is paired with some really excellent trail running. Miles 7 though 8 are along some especially nice trails. We had a great time running that stretch of the race — it was beautiful and not so technical that the average trail runner couldn’t keep a decent pace. It felt nice to stretch our legs and run along the trails towards the end of the race.
As I mentioned before, the race featured 40 obstacles. Here’s my standard obstacle-by-obstacle breakdown. The couple of obstacle I have forgotten, I have left blank — sorry.
1. Hurdles: Jump across some muddy trenches.
2. Low crawl: Wire crawl. They used normal wire instead of barbed wire and the ground was not too rocky.
3. 1st phase wall: Lower high wall — probably around 5′.
4. Walk the plank: Walk across a wobbly balance beam. Meanwhile, exercise balls hang encapsulated in nets right along your path.
5. Hell box
6. Rope climb: Standard rope climb. Probably around 12′ to 15′.
7. Ammo carry: Carry an ammo box along an uphill, then downhill loop. The ammo boxes, fortunately, came in two sizes, so the smaller folks, like me, could choose wisely. Also, at the top of the hill was a sign that featured six symbols on it. We had to memorize these six symbols and then recall the at obstacle #14, Mind Games.
8. Night crawler: This obstacle featured three increasingly high “thru” walls. Last year, this entire obstacle was handled a bit differently. The entire thing was covered in a heavy black drape making it dark as night. People had to pass glow sticks along and provide directions so that everyone could make their way through. I was kind of sad to see that gone for this year, since the 2015 obstacle was one of the more inventive I’ve encountered.
9. Stairway to Valhalla: 800 feet of elevation is less than half a mile. This was far longer of a climb than last year and brutal. There were people camped out all along the climb who basically were not making it. One poor woman was dry heaving, another couple of people were felded by cramps. This climb was no joke. It reminded me of the lengthy uphill march at the Killington Spartan Beast. Midway through the climb, there was a net that you had to crawl under.
10. The Kraken: A cargo net climb, then a roll across a cargo net, followed by a net down.
11. Slide for life: We ended up doing the 25 burpee penalty and bypassing this obstacle based on the long wait. Last year I stuck it in there and waited in line, but I just didn’t want to again. This obstacle you have to hoist yourself through a hole in a platform. Once you’ve pulled yourself up and through, you then descend back to the ground via a rope traverse.
12. Reverse wall: Wall at a 45 degree angle towards you. If I jumped high, I could grab it, which was great.
13. Solar walls: Two back-to-back tall walls that you had to climb up and down with a rope.I would say these were pretty tall — definitely 12′ or more.
14. Mind games: Here was where you had to recall the six images from the Ammo Carry. We remembered them and were able to go on to the next obstacle.
15. 31 Heroes:This obstacle memorializes 30 fallen Navy SEAL officers and one K-9 officer. We did burpees for each person, saying his name. I think this obstacle is an excellent example of how Bone Frog does an excellent job honoring our men and women in uniform.
16. 2nd phase wall: Slightly taller than the 1st phase wall. Probably around 7′.
17. Seige wall
18. The Punisher: This was a tall wall that you climbed with the help of a cargo net. At the top was a bar to grab and pull yourself through before going down the other side.
19. Rolling thunder: Tires suspended horizontally on a pole. You had to jump really high to get over them. There were two sets. I am, in all honesty, not very good at this one. I try to stay to the side where there’s a chance of getting to grab the pole that the tires are on. Otherwise, my height tends to be a disadvantage and I roll right off.
20. Mike & Murph: This obstacle seemed new from last year. We climbed up a ladder wall, then down a net. Then we reverse it.
21. Deck of cards: I didn’t recall this obstacle, so I crowdsourced it. Per my NE Spahten friends, this obstacle ended up getting cut from the race.
22. Cargo net: This was a huge cargo net — very tall — probably 20′. There was a bit of a wait at this one, but we stuck it out.
23. Sand bag carry: We had to fill our own sandbag before carrying it on a loop through the woods. Filling a sand bag is kind of a challenge when the dirt you’re working with is just soil dug from the ground. I managed to increase my bag-filling speed by shoveling in dirt from a couple of people who had just emptied their sandbags.
24. Water crossing: Brr! We had to wade across a snow pond at the top of the mountain and then wade back across again. By wade I mean that I had to swim in the middle. Okay, we swam. It was cold.
25. Jacobs ladder: Ladder wall.
26. Window walls: A through wall. This stretch was marked by some nice trail running. It was great to have a few obstacles to break up the trails!
27. Tire roll: This was another set of tires on a horizontal pole. Basically, it was the same as the earlier Rolling Thunder obstacle.
28. Spider wall: A traverse wall. I like this one because it has finger grips. Last year, this was down at the bottom of the mountain, so it was nice to have it here up at the top.
29. Tire drag: These tires were heavy. I actually had to have Jennifer help me. She’s strong from cross fit.
30. Swingers club: Yikes! My first of three failed obstacles of the day. This obstacle was American Ninja Warrior-style. It featured balls suspended on ropes. You had to swing from small ball to small ball. I had trouble reaching these and even more trouble getting going. I was actually disappointed at the number of obstacles I did fail this year. Last year’s Bone Frog was likely more challenging; however, this year I failed three obstacles to last year’s one. I have been doing a lot of running lately, but OCR season is upon us, and I think I need to hit the pull-up bar more.
31. Sprint 31 Heroes: This was the 31 Heroes obstacle for those doing the Sprint length distance. For those doing the full 9 mile challenge, we did not end up doing 31 Heroes again.
32. Get a grip: This was the obstacle I failed last year, and I failed it again. Hanging from poles were ropes with plastic handles attached. You had to swing from one to another to get across. The handles moves a lot. This will always be a tough one. If I was more handy and didn’t live in a condo, I’d say I should build one of these in my backyard.
33. Traverse: Rope traverse across a snow pond at the bottom of the mountain. Like last year, they had you traverse the rope part way and then drop into the water and swim. I may have slightly “cheated” and gone a bit past the half way point on the rope because I didn’t want to get into the cold water.
34. Hell’s gate: This was a great obstacle and new from last year. There were a nine closely packed walls of increasing height. You went over the first and then under the next, as the “overs” got taller and taller. This was a lot of fun. People did get bunched up and I was pretty cold waiting after I just got out of the water, but it was a good time.
35. Water crossing: I was not super pleased to get back into the water; however, it was not an option. We had to wade into the water, which came up to chest height. In the middle there was a large ammo box we had to climb over. I was so cold at this point I was basically inept. In my flailing efforts, I hit my ankle enough to leave a bruise. I get it. Navy SEALS — water. Still. So. Cold.
36. 3rd phase wall: The tallest basic wall yet. I’m putting it at 9′, though with my short person status, perhaps I am over exaggerating.
37. Dead weight
38. Drunken monkey: Instead of standard monkey bars, this featured a board with staggered pegs on either side. I had a blast on this obstacle last year (once someone lifted me up so I could reach it), yet this year, I failed it. Not pleased. Pull up. That’s all I have to say. On it!
39. Dirty name: Similar to gut check at Shale Hill, this obstacle had a lower log from which you had to jump and then pull your self over a higher log. In this case, two were stacked. I am waiting for this obstacle to leave the OCR scene. It’s a menace and people are hurting themselves and bruising ribs on it all the time. I climbed up the side supports — hey, I want to live to race another day.
40. Black ops: Very few things scare me. Black Ops scares me. This obstacle had you climb up a rope wall and then traverse a set of monkey bars before landing on a platform and climbing down a ladder. Here’s the thing. The monkey bars are really high up and below them is just this net. This obstacle is the last one, and it’s smack in front of the spectators. Last year I nailed it — there is video evidence. Still I was scared. I made it up the wall with the rope no problem. A volunteer was ready to lift me up to the monkey bars. I was seriously ready to just roll across the lower netting, but he encouraged me. I made it across, but I was shaking. Seriously, I never shake. I cannot think of any other obstacles in OCR that scare me, and I cannot say why this one does, but it definitely does. I tried for an early dismount and alarmed some volunteers who though I was going to fall back on the platform. I was super happy to climb down on shaky legs, find my battle buddy and run across the finish line!
I crossed the finish line in 4:08:34 having had a wonderful time all around. What a great day and a fantastic race!
Beyond what I’ve said already, here are some pros and some things I wish would get adjusted for next year.
– Amazing volunteers. Two people carried our hydration packs and everyone was super encouraging. Bone Frog has the best volunteers of pretty much anywhere. Hats off to these fine folks!
– Back-ups were much improved over last year. I probably spent an hour or more waiting in line last year. This year the lines were limited. We probably didn’t wait for more than 15 minutes total. The only thing that had a line we decided was too long to justify waiting for was Slide for Life. It had a wait last year too. Last year I did make the decision to wait in each and every line, but this year I was less than keen to do that since I had done the obstacles already. Still it’s a bummer since the obstacles are what we come here to do.
– Great finishers medal. Plus getting a medal from a retired Navy SEAL is very meaningful. Bone Frog also had great t-shirts in 2015. They had super soft women’s fit t-shirts. Alas, this year’s shirts were delayed in customs. Bone Frog is going to mail them out to everyone. Since last year’s shirt is pretty much one of the only OCR t-shirts I wear, I cannot wait for this year’s shirt to arrive.
Wishlist for 2017:
– Please add mile markers. We don’t all want to bring a GPS watch, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have interest in how far along we are in the course.
– Bring back some of the awesome obstacles from 2015 that were missing this year. I loved Operation Red Wings from last year. This was a stretch with around eleven obstacles back-to-back. It was basically the best thing ever, and I missed it this year!
– There are a number of obstacles that are kind of high up. I had to rely on the kindness of some taller gentlemen to help boost me up to reach a few of the hanging obstacles. Just a few more inches down would be a big help. I know of other shorter women competitors who felt the same way.
I am already signed up for the next Bone Frog Challenge in my area, the fall Bone Frog Championships on October 29 at Berkshire East. 6 miles and two dozen obstacles — I am looking forward to it.
#racelocal and the New England OCR scene just got a little bit more awesome.
We’re excited to be the first to announce that Robb McCoy, evil mastermind behind FIT Challenge – is joining the Bone Frog Challenge team as a Race Co-Ordinator for their expanding 2016 season!
What does this mean?
FIT Challenge is going no where!
Robb is still the owner and operator of one of the best short course OCR’s in the region, and it still operates independently – but along side his duties as “Chief Bicep Officer” of FIT, he will now also be working along side the Bone Frog Challenge crew, leading their road crew as they expand down the east coast in 2016.
“The decision to bring Robb onto the Bone Frog team was easy. He is an incredible asset to any OCR and his involvement in Bone Frog’s growth will be instrumental in bringing us to the next level. His first hand knowledge of obstacles as well as OCR operations is where we will be utilizing his skills. We could not be more proud to welcome him into the Bone Frog family” – Brian Carney
With races already announced for Carolina Adventure World, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia – and of course the annual return to the best mountain in Western MA – Berkshire East – and more to be announced – Bone Frog is growing, and doing it the best way this industry knows – organically and with the best people in the sport involved.
“I couldn’t be more excited to join Brian and the Bone Frog team. Aside from the absolute top notch events Bonefrog produces, their values as an organization are second to none. I’m honored to be a part of their expansion as a company and can’t wait to get on that mountain in May!” – Robb McCoy
(oh, and there are some other well known names from our local community joining his team, such as Scott Sweeney, already volunteer co-ordinator at FIT, will be the new Bone Frog Challenge volunteer co-ordinator- another superb choice).
Congratulations to everyone – we think this is an awesome move – and #racelocal is only going to be even better, as a result!
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.
Bone Frog Challenge bills itself as an event you’ll never forget, with a minimum of 40 Seal style’d obstacles. They even warn you, right on the front page, that you must be functionally fit to succeed, and you will get beat up – but, you will finish.
They aren’t lying. Bone Frog Challenge is not your fun 5k foam electric glow fest of an OCR. This will push you, and will challenge even the most veteran OCR enthusiast or participant. You earn your medal here.
I’m lucky in that this was relatively local for me. About an hour from my house, the drive is an easy shoot down Route 2, enjoying the beautiful central MA scenery on the way. This also meant I could be there early, park close by, and figure out the team tent situation before too many others got into town.
Berkshire East Ski Resort was hosting Bone Frog Challenge for the third year in a row, and it’s a fantastic venue for an event of this caliber. I happen to know that other events have been asking after this venue, but they’re close to the Bone Frog crew, and we’ll likely get to enjoy many more Bone Frog’s here in the future. The venue had plenty of parking (and a satellite lot with shuttle buses for people who were late arrivals). The $10 parking fee was pretty standard, and assuming you were in the main lot, got you a parking spot an easy walking distance from the festival.
Facilities were relatively good. Onsite waivers were plentiful and easy to fill out – I would have liked to skip this step and fill it out at home, but when I arrived, this was painless, as was the registration process. Bag check was also pretty straight forward, and they had a large indoor seating and eating area, with a restaurant to one side. They had a fail with the indoor bathrooms early in the day, and they were pretty gross later on – and three porta potties didn’t provide an adequate backup – but there was an ample supply of bushes to duck behind 🙂
They had a nice selection of vendors – our friends from Shale Hill, Viking Challenge and Icebug were present, along with “the crazy pants people” who’s company name I didn’t catch. Bone Frog also had a very nice selection of gear for sale, from cheap stickers and patches to high end hoodies and flags. Beer was a local brew, and four varieties (one free with your finish) – I wasn’t a fan of the super sweet raspberry option though! They had food offered by the venue, and I think a hot dog truck out in the parking lot. I had the best pulled pork sandwich ever once I was done! Prices were event pricing, but not crazy.
None of that tells you about Bone Frog though – and why it was such a challenge.
Bone Frog isn’t a beginner race – and they grow organically, by word of mouth and reputation. From 250 participants in the first year, to over 2,000 this year. The people who come here are coming to be pushed, to be challenged and to leave it on the mountain – don’t underestimate the challenge.
Every single obstacle is significant. There’s no throw away, easy speed bump style obstacles. Big walls, climbs, crawls and carries – they have a fantastic blend of of them, and they’re close together. While there were some single track trail area’s to let the runners open up, this wasn’t a large portion of the course, and didn’t feel superfluous.
Every obstacle was also well built – I saw no obstacle failures, no tarps ripped up, no wood coming to pieces – some of the taller obstacles had some give to them, but nothing to concern me.
There were problems – given that this event had over double the number of participants of last year, there were a couple of choke points that caused backlogs – frustrating backlogs too. The signature lake obstacle of climbing over rafts got backed up early and quickly, and some of the taller cargo net climbs were significantly backed up as I came through. This can break a course, but with the long and challenging nature of Bone Frog, they were able to recover, and while it was a frustrating experience, it didn’t break the event, and we still had a great time.
There were 6 water stops on course – the early ones unmanned and looking pretty short on supplies and messy when I got to them, the later ones being manned and much smoother. My understanding is this was a problem last year also – so I brought my own pack, and was happy for it when the day turned out to be considerably warmer than expected!
Volunteers are another place a race can find themselves failing fast, but not here. All the volunteers were encouraging and supportive. Many were retired Seals, and they added a significant amount of legitimacy to the Seal theme.
In fact, many obstacles were dedicated to fallen Seals – with their names attached, and many obstacles themed after Seal events or history. A very well executed theme throughout.
I’m not going to even try and detail every obstacle – there’s too many, and they will change year on year – but some highlights for me included the huge blacked out cavern, with three walls you had to go through holes of differing heights – this was a hot, sweaty, blind mess and a ton of fun. Totally unique! The “death march” hill was rivaling Killington in steepness, even if it didn’t go as long (and to the people I told “there’s a dunks at the top!”, I apologize.
Many tall walls, inverted walls, rope climb walls (vertical and inclined) were never gratuitous and kept the heavy obstacle flow coming – along with a few crawls and some carries – while the carries were never as heavy as some other series are getting, they were still on some tough terrain. I would recommend replacing the sandbags for something more sturdy (Wreck Bags, for example), as they were splitting – as sandbags do.
One of the most unique, and signature obstacles – and one that hit a lot of people right in the feels – was the mandatory Seal memorial obstacle – 31 fallen Seals are listed on a large banner, and 35lb Wreck Bags – you were required to pick a bag up, strict press it overhead as you read a name, then drop and burpee. Repeat until you had listed everyone. This was a space where no one minded waiting for the bags to be open – and a reminder of how lucky we are to be there, and able to do this stuff. Coupled with a quick quiz from some military folks at the solar farm, one I failed, the other I passed – we were definitely at a military, and Seal themed event, without it ever being over the top.
On a personal level, I was thrilled with how I was able to make up time and push on the trails – catching up to earlier waves – it was overshadows a bit, as I’d let the backups get to me, and done my penalties at a couple of spots (the water obstacles and the large cargo net at the top) – i’d also failed every single grip obstacle, my weight and lack of grip strength working against me on the monkey bars and similar obstacles. An ungraceful dismount on the triple gut check right at the finish took the wind out of me towards the finish too – but it is what it is, and I’ve only got to improve next year.
Because I’ll be back – Bone Frog have, I hope, a great path ahead of them. They do what they do VERY well – by focusing on putting on challenging course, with lots of good obstacles – there’s no gimmicks here – you get a well done, well organized and challenging course that will only improve as they grow and learn. This was a race I *REALLY* wanted to see in the #racelocal series this year, and I’m very happy we have them in New England.