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!
Seeing 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!)
Once 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.
After 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.
As 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.
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.
There 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.
Diamondback 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.
Speaking 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.
The 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.
Another 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.
Overall, 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!