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Featured Review: Civilian Military Combine – Brooklyn 2016

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CMC is back. Not quite from the dead, despite my prior eulogy. Unfortunately, circumstances meant I couldn’t attend, despite looking forward to it for many many months, so Eric Pharo offered to write his first Featured Review for us, as he was not only attending and racing, but volunteering too. Check their website for 2017 dates!

 

http://cmcrace.com/

11222162_984326351640520_4269058241087746257_oSeeing as how this is my first featured review of any race, I ask you gentle reader for your patience and indulgence if it gets wordy or is otherwise not what you expected. I write it partly as a volunteer, but also as a racer as well. I shall endeavor to be fair but honest, and as detailed as my cooked brain will allow. Which brings me to my first comment about the race.

The 2016 Civilian Military Combine held at Ft Hamilton in Brooklyn NY was hot and sunny. Temps were upwards of 90F and the humidity was fairly soupy. But it didn’t keep the crowds of racers away at all. I was on one of the first few busses from the parking lot to the event, and after we got detoured from going to the wrong gate, we arrived in plenty of time for my volunteer shift. The parking lot was a short 20 min bus ride, and is located next to MCU Park, the home of Nathan’s Hot Dogs, and Coney Island (perfect for post race festivities! Thanks to Sandy for talking me in to at least walking to the boardwalk before heading home!)

20160910_084209Once on the base, signage pointing to the venue was obvious and the first thing you come upon when walking up to the venue was the huge registration tent. It was an all in one sort of deal where you register first in one of the several lanes to do so, and as far as I could tell, there was never much of a backup. Once inside the tent, there were tables and chairs where you could put on your bib, your timing chip, attach your bag check bands to your wrist and bag, and then walk a couple of feet to the bag check in the tent. They also had the merch tables with a good selection of shirts, etc in there as well, and even an engraving table where the vendor would engrave your finisher medal on the spot with your name and time for $20. Exiting the ten brought you in to the main festival area with the armed forces tables for recruitment, a large CMC inflatable tent with more tables and chairs for relaxing/preparing. There were 4-5 food trucks there along with a Sam Adams table where they had about 3 different beers on tap and were also holding an ongoing stein hoisting competition. This was where the finisher beer was located, though as a volunteer, it wasn’t obvious because our generic bib packet didn’t include the free beer ticket. There was a compression sock vendor and maybe a couple of others.

20160910_084427After all of those vendors, at the far side of the festival area, there was a main stage with Coach Pain motivating racers in the Pit. The Pit was a part of the race that is unique to CMC, and has you competing AMRAP of 3 cross fit style exercises (depending on which level of those exercises you chose; Alpha, Bravo, or Charlie) in 5 minutes as you can do. Alpha was basic with only bodyweight exercises, Bravo used kettlebells and box jump boxes, and Charlie used barbells for the deadlifts and lunges. The Pit is not mandatory, but it seemed like the majority of racers chose to do it anyway. From the Pit, the Start corral was a few steps away and you had to get over a 4’ metal wall to get in. Then the Start line DJ got you going and off on your way. There was always loud music to keep the adrenaline pumping and add to the fun. On to the course.

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20160910_084445As the race director, Garfield Griffiths advised us, even if you don’t see marking tape everywhere, you’d see little yellow flags marking the course, so keep them on your right at all times and you won’t get off course and lost. For the most part that held true except in the few points where I almost missed a turn or two because of the lack of flags, tape, or directional arrows. Here’s where things get a little fuzzy for me. Due to volunteering all morning in the bright sun with only the water I brought with me in my Nalgene bottle (they never did bring us the water or food we were promised. Maybe I somehow missed that the in the briefing meeting at the beginning of the day?), I was already a little overheated and slightly dehydrated.

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I will try to remember as many of the obstacles as possible, but will at least hit the highlights though they won’t be in any particular order. There were the traditional walls of varying height to go over, a rope climb, 12 ft rope wall, A frame cargo net climb, and of course a slip wall or two. One of those “slip” walls was actually an angled rock wall, and yes it did have multiple sections all connected together but some sections were harder than others. Many obstacles had this option, but not all due to the very nature of them. You could choose which section you wanted to try based you’re your ability and comfort level. And that’s another point to bring up.

20160910_084619There were NO penalties or ANY requirement to do ANY obstacle you could not complete or were not comfortable with. I availed myself of that option on a couple of the obstacles such as the ones that had rings like Spin Class (the last obstacle), and I believe the Ranger Ropes both of which were essentially “rigs” as we all know them. Ranger Ropes had you climb up a rope then transition to a horizontal bar, then transition to 3 rings, then to another horizontal bar, then hit the cowbell. I suck at rings for some reason. I can do ropes, monkey bars, and horizontal bars, but rings and other things that dangle (get your mind out of the gutter people!) stymie me. Spin Class had you climb a swinging metal pole, transition to the first of three rings, each one hanging from a spinning overhead horizontal wheel, to a set of descending swinging monkey bars. I had no problem on the pipe, but slipped off the second ring, and then I stepped over to the monkey bars and jumped up to grab them to finish the obstacle.

14231768_1167097480030072_2519850617352216419_oDiamondback was a cargo net stretched over a metal frame which when viewed from the end looked like a diamond shape. But you crawl on the net on the diamond’s sides, so you go up the reversed angle on the bottom of one side over to the angle away from you to the top, down the angle away from you on the top of the other side, and then down the reversed angle on the bottom of the other side. It’s a unique obstacle I’ve never seen before, but a great challenge!

Irish Tables was simple in design and construction but not too easy in execution. It was two appx 8’ vertical posts about 8’ apart with a 6”x2” beam nailed flat across the top of them spanning the distance between. Since there was no wall, you had to jump up and muscle up yourself to the top and swing over to the other side and drop down. Again, doable, but quite challenging for the upper body!

The wreck bag carry made full use of the slide of a short but steep berm on the base facing the highway where you had to follow the path up and down the hill appx 6 times and then take the bag back to the start of the obstacle along the flat road. While there was negligible elevation gain throughout the whole race, Garfield made full use of these short but steep hills to burn out any energy you might have had.

20160910_084636Speaking of hills, after the wreck bag, there was the Comrade In Arms where you had to carry a 70+ lb dummy around a loop that was NOT as short as I thought. I was pretty spent at that point and had trouble just getting the dummy in a fireman’s carry position on my shoulders and the 50’ I thought was the carry turned to at least 3 times that length. I so wanted to put my friend down, but was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get it back on my shoulders if I did.

The mud crawl was short in length, appx 50 to 75 feet, but had two options. On the left was the knee deep squishy mud many of us have experienced at Barre, and on the right was the muddy slurry also experienced at Barre. There was non barbed wire over the top to help keep the front of the body firmly in the mud which was actually refreshing given the heat of the day.

Immediately after that crawl was the next obstacle which I believe was called Take The Plunge, a dumpster lined with tarp and filled ¾ with water and plywood covering the top of the container. That left about 12-18 inches of space for you to cock your head to the side and walk through the refreshing muddy water, and I do mean it was refreshing.
Another obstacle had you climbing up two shipping containers stacked pyramid style. Then from the top you traverse a small diameter pipe while holding on to an overhead cable. It wasn’t as wobbly as I expected, and I don’t’ have too much of a fear of heights, so while skill was involved, the challenge for some people as I noticed was the heights issue.

20160910_114135The Rigid Ladder had you climb up the side of a narrow ladder built in to the typical metal tube framing you see for many obstacles and rock concerts. From the Facebook posts Garfield had posted, I was afraid we’d be climbing up the smooth tubes rungs of this “ladder”, but the ones he had us climb had ridges cut in to them like a regular ladder, so I felt much safer. The Ladder had safety in mind with cargo netting stretched across the bottom a few feet off the ground in case anyone fell. As a firefighter, I kept my slight fear of heights at bay on the way up and down by focusing right in front of me and using a slow steady pace. Being a petite male, my challenge at the top was making a smooth transition to the other side of the ladder with my short legs, but I managed that successfully.

The Raised Bear had you traverse small diameter telephone poles laid 2’ off the ground perpendicular in front of you spaced about a foot apart, but there was netting maybe 3’ above that to force you to keep in the bear crawl position. It was another good challenge.
For those of you who have done the Weaver at Shale Hill, CMC included its own version on a somewhat smaller scale. This one was only 3’ off the ground, and it used metal pole in an A frame set up. As is with Shale, you go over the first pole and then hang on to the next one with arms and legs as you go underneath it, reaching up for the one after that to go over it, and so on up to the top of the A frame and then back down the other side. Very challenging, but I loved it! I’m so thankful I learned how to do that at Shale Hill! Many people at CMC couldn’t quite figure out how to do it.

20160910_084344Another obstacle that I’ve seen at a couple of Spartan races is a wobbly log walk where you have to walk from end to end across a horizontal log with nothing to hold on to. God I hate that for its simple appearance but deceiving level of difficulty. I have a decent degree of balance, and was able to complete this one but only with slow shifty stutter steps across with a couple of bounding leaps at the end to keep from falling off. Not graceful, but I did it. This is why I don’t’ dance, people! Yet I’m called Billy Goat on course bounding up and down mountains. Go figure.

The last obstacle to mention is the Step and Repeat, the 2nd to last one which was an American Ninja Warrior style challenge where there’s a short 2’ wall on your right and left, each one angled away from you that you have to put your feet on and hop from one side to the other if you you’re short, or for you sequoias, you can just walk on the walls without having to hop. About 8’ later you transition to two monkey bars overhead but that are spaced 3-4 feet apart. So you basically have to leap from one to the other with your arms, or again for the gorillas in our midst, you can just reach for the 2nd one and ring the cowbell, then move on to the Spin Class final obstacle. After that, it’s a short sprint to the finish line where the illustrious Robb McCoy is waiting with microphone in hand cheering you on to get your medal and bananas and water. Then it was just a few short steps to the festival area to get your tshirt. The tshirt was kind of plain. I got a large and it was just loose enough to be comfortable but not like I was swimming in it. The medal was spectacular! It honored the 5 branches of our military with 5 stars, and the colors were lovely. I remember voting for this design earlier this year when they reached out for us to vote on the design.

20160910_153134Overall, it was a GREAT race with an excellent variety of challenges to keep things interesting but not bore you nor make everything too hard. The volunteers where informative, helpful, and had good directions and attitude and sense of humor. I was most thankful for the guy who was literally directing racing traffic on the top of a berm where the course crossed itself and the direction you had to go in was not clear otherwise. There was no other way I could think of to manage that spot, but the guy who did it was great about pointing which way to go depending on the direction you were coming from.

The festival area was laid out and marked very well (though the location of the free tshirt tent didn’t seem logical and the sign wasn’t as obvious to see as I thought it would be). The showers and changing tents were right next to each other on the grass and near a paved path, so no muddy feet between the two. There was plenty of medical staff on hand with a very obvious first aid tent along with roving medics in atv’s. They announced earlier in the day that CMC would be back again at Ft Hamilton next year 2017, so if you didn’t try it this year, DEFINITELY put in on your schedule or OCR Buddy for 2017!

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Featured Review: CMC Urban Assault 2013

There is a good reason why Civilian Military Combine has become one of my favorite obstacle course race series – and despite their being several local options, and a great argument for a rest weekend – I still headed to Brooklyn, NY to take on the CMC Urban Assault Challenge this weekend.

http://www.newenglandspahtens.com http://www.rt2photo.com CMC Brooklyn. Sept 2013

More photos | CMC Website

CMC is a unique event. If you aren’t aware by now, you start your race in The Pit. This is where you complete a 7 minute long AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) of a three movement workout. Full details are in other reviews and on their website – http://www.civilianmilitarycombine.com/overview/

The Pit judges were from Crossfit Revenge - and were awesome!
The Pit judges were from Crossfit Revenge – and were awesome!

 

This is designed to test your strength in a way no other event I’ve ever participated can. It’s a full body workout, and if you do it right, you do it to exhaustion. Then you line up for the race itself, to test your endurance.

It can’t be overstated – this strength workout is fantastic, and everyone should do it. CMC recently offered a “race only” option that a few walking wounded take – and the Urban Assault was also the first time they offered a scaled option, for folks who struggle with the regular weights and movements.

Lets get into the meat of the review.

The Venue.

Aviator Sports Park was our venue – in Brooklyn, NY. Roughly a 3.5 to 4 hour drive for us, we stayed at a hotel the night before to make the morning a little less chaotic – so we only had a 10 minute drive there. The venue was super easy to find, and good signage brought us to the massive parking lot right next to the event grounds. Free parking is always welcome! The CMC event venue was spacious – easy to get to registration, best vendor village I’ve come across at an OCR, great spectating at the Pit and easy access to walk to major portions of the course if you needed.

The course itself was totally flat. My GPS reads a total of 42′ of elevation change, and much of that was on the obstacles themselves. A flat course meant the winds coming off the water was a bit chilly in places, and anywhere the course was open was totally a runners course – fast times were expected.

The Event.

CMC did fantastic. Firstly, the vendor village was awesome. They had tons of great vendors – very few of them feeling out of place. There were vendors from Crossfit equipment manufacturers, food and drink and supplement vendors, clothing and apparel vendors, energy drink and even chocolate milk vendors.

My favorite piece though – the five biggest Crossfit boxes (the five biggest teams of the day) also had their own space, right there. Some of them used it to sell their box and box t shirts – some used it as nothing more than a place to gather and hang out – and one used it for inflatable jousting tournaments (for charity). Why doesn’t EVERY event out there promote and encourage their biggest teams like this? Such a simple thing – set aside a small piece of space and let your biggest fans and biggest promoters get some fun times in. Great move.http://www.newenglandspahtens.com http://www.rt2photo.com CMC Brooklyn. Sept 2013

The food was fantastic. We’ve become so used to getting junk food after races – burgers, fries, hot dogs, pizza – that when something different is offered, it’s so welcome. CMC partnered with Caveman To Go – a New York based company offering paleo foods delivered. For CMC, we pre-ordered a hot meal, and at any time during the day we could go over and pick it up. Sitting down to warm chimichurri beef steak and parsnip puree after a race was absolutely fantastic. In our New England region, there are options with companies like B-Good who offer fantastic farm raised beef burgers, and more – yet we keep getting the same pizza, soggy burgers and fries. Time to step this game up, New England.

The beer, an equally important part of many people’s races, was not so good, with Bud or Bud Light. Worth the free beer ticket, and not much more. It looked very much like this was venue provided.

Music was pumping, crowds were mingling and it was very much possible to hang out here most of the day without getting too bored. We ultimately left around 2pm to hit the road.

 

The Race.

The reason we’re all here. CMC is broken into two pieces – the Pit and the Race. Strength, then endurance.

http://www.newenglandspahtens.comhttp://www.rt2photo.comCMC Brooklyn. Sept 2013

The Pit is a 7 minute AMRAP. This time, they mixed it up, and started us with the burpee box jump, then the kettle bell swing, then the push press. I did the standard Pit and scored my lowest score yet, with 96 on the record. Beth did the scaled division, due to a shoulder injury – the 45lb push press was subbed with a 26lb KB press, then a Russian KB swing, and box jump, with no burpee – she scored well into the 150’s! Our friend Chris also had an injury, and took the third option – sitting the Pit out entirely and waiting for us by the start line.

At the end of the Pit you line up, grab some hydration from the table – offering up both water, and some companies products – and 2 minutes later, you go off on your run.

http://www.newenglandspahtens.comhttp://www.rt2photo.comCMC Brooklyn. Sept 2013

The Race was a flat, 5k course. Right from the gate you were running easy trails with some of CMCs signature all steel walls to break things up, before hitting a sandbag carry – just some tube sand, and they appeared to be breaking open just like any other time we get to tube sand carries. Without trying to remember every obstacle in order – and I didn’t run with my GoPro (which I regret) – it’s easy to say that the first mile and a half was fairly open, flat and mostly a runners course – but the obstacles were heavy and thick for the second half of the event.

And what obstacles! At previous CMC events, we’ve seen fantastic quality all steel constructed walls, ladder walls and wobble ladders – along with some great two story high cargo containers with balance ropes and hanging pole descents. All those guys were here – but they had brought out some really nice wooden obstacles too – as well as some new, and innovative challenges.


http://www.newenglandspahtens.com http://www.rt2photo.com CMC Brooklyn. Sept 2013

There were a few wooden high walls, with a step to get up for the ladies. There were several really steep A walls to climb up with a rope – with the same for the descent – these were quite tricky to get down again! There was an incline ladder wall that was super tough – I’ve only seen it’s like at a Spartan (and this was tougher). There were some ladders to the top of double stacked cargo containers, then climbing over some piping that the course ran through – on the top – super fun! Even some monkey bars right out of a cross fit box – which became only my second set of completed monkey bars at an OCR ever (yes, I have problems with monkey bars!).

We had a couple of prowler pushes that caught many people unfamiliar with them out, and a long, muddy wire crawl that looped around in a couple of circles, and through a water jammed pipe. We even had a really neat dumpster dive water obstacle to chill you off. The finale was a cargo net and rope climb, with the awesome horizontal net to finish.

As I said, the final mile and a half was *really* obstacle heavy, with somewhere in the region of 30 obstacles – if you wanted to make up time running, this wasn’t the place for it to happen.

Of course, these reviews aren’t here to blow sunshine up anyone’s ass – and no race is ever pulled off without a hitch. For as amazingly constructed as CMC obstacles are, there were a couple of spots things needed some work.

The wire crawl was WAY too loose, and the wires they used (not barbed) were laying in the mud by the time I got there – it became a bit dull simply lifting them up to put them over your head.

The dumpsters full of water wasn’t really clear if this was a spot to wade through, or a balance beam across – I saw both, had no one telling us which way to go. I ended up jumping in and wading.

Course markings were a little vague in spots. Right at the beginning, after the sandbag carry, we saw a couple back tracking having gone wrong somewhere, and when the wire crawl took a turn left to over a dirt mound, people were turning right and going back on the portion of the course they already did.

I heard some complaints about the A walls being too tough – especially on the way down again – this didn’t really bother me though.

The biggest problem, in my opinion, was with the second to last cargo net. A solid steel structure, with webbed netting to climb up, over the top and transition right into a knotted rope to come back down. The nature of the structure meant lots of people were getting their feet twisted in the structure at the top – and with no platform or place to move onto, getting onto that rope was a serious challenge that could go horrible wrong if you got it wrong. Fortunately, many people were coming down the support beams – using them like ladders – rather than trying for the ropes and falling 15′ or so. While I made the ropes – it was a hairy moment, and I think the entire obstacle should have been reversed (rope climb UP, them onto the cargo net DOWN).

This needed to be turned around ...
This needed to be turned around …

 

Across the finish line, and picking up a pretty awesome race specific T that I’ll actually wear again and again, my Urban Assault CMC dogtags and some hydration.

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I said it before – CMC continues as one of my favorite race series. The challenge of the Pit is unique, and everyone interested in testing themselves and their limits should do it – then the courses themselves are always a great time, with some solid obstacles that continue to impress.This event was CMC’s biggest event yet, and while the Pit area had a constant crowd, the venue didn’t feel cramped, the music was pumping and motivating, but not over powering.

I know CMC is growing – and doing it organically, naturally and slowly – unlike many other OCR series who are running into their own problems. Hopefully, this means they will be around for the long haul, and I know I’ve got no hesitation in recommending them to the entire New England Spahten communtiy – I will certainly be actively seeking them out more and more in 2014.