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Featured Review: FIT Challenge

12244650_1123057557706127_2760361562348383632_oAnother FIT Challenge. Another trip to Diamond Hill State Park in Rhode Island. Another glowing review.

We could be bored of this event – yet, somehow FIT Challenge manages to setup and deliver a shining example of what a locally operated OCR should be.

Here’s the deal – FIT isn’t perfect. There have been issues, and this event also saw issues, mostly around timing and results (Racewire were prompt about fixing them) – but it’s the way the FIT team operate, despite the issues that make it.

We’ll get to that.

The venue – Diamond Hill State Park is, according to Wikipedia, “a large hill”, that until the 80’s saw small ski operations operate on two slopes – all of that is gone, but FIT still manage to eek out every single possible foot of elevation gain, on every gnarly slope and climb they can, to put on what turned out to be a 3.5 mile, 1250′ of gain event that was easily the toughest FIT Challenge yet. GPS log below.

Parking is *right there*. Doesn’t get closer. Biggest team perks saw a space set aside, right next to the festival, for us to do with as we will, and FIT continues to be one of the few races in a year that I’ll bring the whole family to, because I know they will have a great time. The festival was small, but laid out in a much more cozy format – we never felt crowded, or excluded. Bathrooms were the onsite buildings as usual, which were a little out of the way, and while it’s nice to have a real building, the owners of the venue *really* need to consider cleaning them, you know, sometimes. Porta potties would have been an improvement.

12238487_940674506020896_8977436610960732724_oA very few vendors – including our friends at Wreck Bag, and a healthy eats truck. Weather was cold, and a bit gusty, but dry. A few popup tents went tumbling, but once you were moving it wasn’t so bad.

Start line and finish line were right alongside each other, easy to find, timing provided by Racewire. Several spots were available for spectator viewing and photography too. Seriously, it couldn’t be simpler or smoother.

The race – I’m not going to bother doing an obstacle break down – just my own thoughts. The course was excellent. Miles and miles of tape and flags marked 3.5 miles off well, with every hill, climb, trail and slope used to maximize the suck. I won’t go as far as saying we saw the worst this place has to offer, because the FIT crew will likely find more for April, but they have consistently improved and increased the difficulty of the event, and it easily ranks as one of the tougher 5k distance races on the market.

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It’s worth noting – pretty much anyone can find something at FIT. If you are competitive, they have an elite division with mandatory obstacle completion and band cutting, if you run lots of miles, you can do laps – over and over for a reasonable cost – with prizes for that too. Open wavers can go out for a “fun” lap and not worry about completion or penalties – and my son loved the 1m kids wave, that covers portions of the adults course later in the day when the crowds are less.

11057470_1123050217706861_71730954603207967_oAs mentioned, the course was hilly – and this did reduce the open space available for running (good, or bad – depending on how much you like running) and it did reduce the space available to put obstacles, but with careful grouping, and a relatively short distance, it didn’t feel like endless miles upon miles of gaps between obstacles, fortunately. The only real bottleneck I encountered was at a simple cargo net strung between trees, where several new runners from the previous wave were being careful about getting over. Considering it was strung between trees, it’s not possible to widen this up for better course flow, so it may need to be moved or built out as a stand alone option for future events. I heard of an abandoned attempts at a herc hoist, but never saw it, and I loved the local Crossfit gym that had setup two stations – one with 45lb bars for 30 shoulder to over-head presses, another with an atlas stone for five lift to shoulders.

The Destroyer, that I’d seen most recently at OCRWC was here, and the setup was tougher than the one used at OCRWC, and despite getting up on the single block a few times, I decided I wasn’t going to risk my ankle with a bad fall, and walked it. The peg boards on the tree’s were another obstacle I tried, but failed – and an ill timed cramp caused me to drop down on the floating wall. I also bailed on the monkey bars, making all the traditional bars, but unable to make it on the straight pipe. I truly hate the trend towards rig based obstacles in the sport right now, seeing as you asked.

12244792_1123044591040757_3268427754572812649_oThe Wreck Bag carry was neat – I took a 70lb bag and hit the slope, and using some of the recent haunted house / halloween installations was a smart move, putting more fun on the course, and removing the need to build it out.

All in? FIT nailed it – some tough obstacles, some easy. Some rigs, some climbing. Heavy carries and strength based, and agility based. For a little local event, they manage to show some big box shows up.

Where can they improve? You have to get down to niggly details to find answers to this. There was an issue with medals, so “buy more medals” is an easy fix. The swag overall was good though – I think this is my favorite T Shirt from any FIT event I’ve done – both comfortable, and tasteful enough to wear regularly. Course, obstacles and flow were near ideal for an event of this type.

But, what makes FIT so special in a competitive market in possibly the most competitive region?

12238398_1123037281041488_1830024545318107247_oBecause Robb cares, and shows it. He’s in our community and running with us, working with the individuals who can help, and doing everything he can to listen. There’s no secret sauce. People want to support their friends, and Robb and the FIT Challenge crew go to great lengths to be friends, not vendors. It’s the difference between a good event being received well, and a good event being picked to death by details.

I’ll see you at FIT Challenge in 2016 – one of our #racelocal staples.

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Medals into fridge magnets

medalsmagnetI posted this to the New England Spahtens group some time ago, but wanted to put it out more publicly, where it’s easier to find – it’s a cool, fun little home project that turns some of your medals into a useful item you can still display in the home!

 

 

 

 

What you need:

  • Rare earth magnets with adhesive backing
  • Spare medals
  • Fridge

The magnets I use are these guys from Amazon.magnetprocess

A pack costs under $10 and will do a few medals.

WARNING – Don’t lose these. They are tiny. Don’t let kids play with them. They are strong.

  • Take the lanyard off your medal (recycle that as a cool key lanyard).
  • Wipe the back down to remove mud and gunk, and dry it off.
  • Take four magnets, one per corner, and stick them on with the adhesive side.
  • Let them sit for a while for the adhesive to take.
  • Slap them on your fridge!

Keep collecting!

Medals into magnets! @f.i.t.challenge #nespahtens

A photo posted by Paul Jones (@nespahtenspaul) on

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Featured Review: FIT Challenge IV #doepicfit

fitchallengelogoepicWhat makes a race *good*?

A solid course is a good start. Obstacles need to be good, providing a challenge for the people who race often, and letting your new racers achieve something they feel good about.

It helps, to be good, if you have a festival area that keeps people hanging around, and keeps the entertainment going.

Something to take home too – if people are proud of what they did, they take it to social media and they talk about it on Sunday, and Monday – and for weeks to come.

But, to be epic?

You need to nail all of the above. You need to bring it home in style – and provide that little bit extra – that thing that no one can really identify, or describe – but it makes your event – your already good event – stand out a little.

IMG_8700For members of the New England Spahtens – FIT Challenge provided that this weekend, and lived up to the #doepicfit hashtag our race shirts had on the back.

This was the fourth FIT Challenge, the second to be held at Diamond State Park in Cumberland RI – an easy to find, 373 acre location with good space available for both a 5k course, and a large festival area. An old ski resort, it has some significantly steep hills and lots of rocky trails to take advantage of, and FIT did. $10 to park, and the amazing weather meant people hung around and the parking lot got full quick – a good problem to have!

11073993_831901773564837_2627680150545396605_oAs a member of the best OCR community in the world, we enjoy a few things that your average participant wouldn’t – Robb McCoy, the owner, organizer, RD and chief mohawk of FIT Challenge goes out of his way to encourage, attract and retain fans in the New England Spahten community – from unique pieces of swag for the team (a pair of promo sunglasses my son LOVES), to as much space as we can handle to pitch our own tents, bring coolers and bring lawn chairs.

11149757_832745536813794_983259000228373584_oIt’s a huge part of why FIT is so loved in the NES community – when you can do a race, then are actively encouraged to hang out, get comfortable, let your kids run free and bring a cold drink or three – it’s why ~270 people came, and most of them were still there long after they ran their wave. I know I didn’t leave until things were being broken down, and even then, with the amazing weather we were enjoying, I’d have hung out longer if my little one was holding it together better.

But – even thats not enough to #doepicfit.

You need the course to be top notch too – and this was one of the best FIT has put on.

1962088_831898470231834_1037370964775967771_oThe trails, the hills and the layout were challenging – from steep climbs and descents to being a dead accurate 5k in distance. Being a huge team wave, we had some backups for the first 1/2 mile or so of single track trails – but if you were going for time, you start at the front or run elites – nothing to complain about there. Obstacle layout was denser than previous events, with more walls, a long uphill crawl, and the infamous teeter totters (don’t even bother if you don’t have studded Icebug’s on!).

There needed to be more Wreck Bags – when I arrived, I had a short wait for a 40lb bag to come back down the hill, but at least it was right by a water stop, so I could re-hydrate. Later in the day the call was made to cut this portion short, due to the lack of bags available.

11154966_832746716813676_3118174022631545764_oAlso a little uncharacteristic was the backlog towards the end of the course as we came into the complex with the two rigs, and two high “over” obstacles – the ABF Mud Run guys from NJ were working this spot, and had supplied one of the rigs (the others being FIT supplied) – they’ve both heard the feedback and know that they need to prepare for more through put in this area, or separate such complex obstacles. Still – the zone created a really nice spectator spot, and was very easily accessible!

10551535_831897333565281_5408680948421752773_oKudos also go to the Crossfit 508 guys! after last races spot left us wanting more, they put out a good three series zone – with a long stretch of burpee broad jumps, followed by an atlas stone carry – then a series of push presses with a 45lb bar – it was REALLY nice to come across, and a great, last gasp to burn your energy before you ran to the final wall and finish line.

On top of the obstacles, Robb also had representation – both in the form of banners, monster trucks, RD presence and vending from our friends at Shale Hill, Grit n Wit, Samurai Sprint, Blizzard Blast’s peg boards, OCR Gear / OCR World Championship (FIT was a qualifier) – and having that much presence from that many race events is a testament to the #racelocal Grand Prix and the #ocrunited movement FIT is part of.

For those who consider 5k a quick training run, FIT also offered multiple laps – for free if you didn’t want to be timed, or a $10 cost if you wanted to go back out with a timing chip (essential for the #racelocal Grand Prix Mileage Challenge) – reports of 3, 4 and even 5 laps were coming in and prizes given out. 25k on this past weekends FIT course was no joke.

So, was FIT Challenge IV as epic as the hashtag? Yes – with few exceptions this was a fantastic event, well run, everything was well built, and the festival kept us around for hours – great job to the entire FIT Challenge team.

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Interview with Race Director Robb McCoy

11081187_990346607643890_5338078663008530001_nFIT Challenge is on the horizon – the fourth event hosted by Robb McCoy, and this year – along with being a #racelocal Grand Prix event, it’s also a qualifier for OCR World Championships. We reached out to Robb, asked a few questions, and it’s time to get excited!
Your races have historically been to raise money for a particular charity. Is this year any different? What is the charity and why is it important to you? 
Robb: Ma Velez’s Family Reach Foundation! I absolutely love what they do by giving money directly to families battling cancer!
How many laps of the course do you plan on doing? 
Robb: I’ve already run the course 10+ times, just going to watch over things Saturday! Although I’d LOVE to do a few laps!
10009976_728965913858424_2687890805172370304_o
10468215_728910597197289_4216373144031105152_oWhat is your favorite obstacle this year? 
Robb: My favorite obstacle is really just the terrain itself. It’s amazingly diverse. It’s almost the perfect blend of hills, trail running, technical running and down hills. It really has it ALL!
Will there be free ice cream again? 
Robb: No free ice cream 🙁
Do you like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain?
Robb: No I like White Sand, Cold Can, koozie in my hand just a summertime strolling! 🙂
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The Best Of – 2014 New England OCR

A recent Facebook Poll of the New England Spahtens was run to determine the top five favorite OCR events in our region.

As we ALL know, polls are not science, and the wording used was “favorite”, which is subjective. Also, Facebook polls allow you to vote on multiple entries – but only one vote, per entry.

All that being said, I think the list is pretty representative of the New England Spahtens, and with good reasons – so, here’s your top five favorite OCR events in the New England region.

Note – the poll is still active and receiving votes, so the results you see *now* maybe different to the results I saw when I started this article. In fact, I’d bet on it.

bonefroglogo5) Bonefrog Challenge

A relative new comer to the scene, Bonefrog landed with a big splash – putting on a longer distance, obstacle heavy format for the true OCR enthusiast. Bonefrog puts on solid, challenging courses that have very quickly become fan favorites. Attracting Elites and average Joe’s, with a Navy Seal theme and inspiration, this series is also owned and operated entirely by retired Seals.

With a #racelocal Grand Prix event in western MA in May, Bonefrog wants to expand – so keep an eye on their calendar for races as they open up.

Next Race – May 2015 – REGISTER

EURO - Polar Bear4) Polar Bear Challenge at Shale Hill

This was my personal pick – 8 hours to run as many laps of the famed Shale Hill course in the snow, in February. I’ve done this event twice now – and countless other events at Shale Hill, and never managed more than a single lap in that 8 hour window – but with an amazing family welcoming you by name, another challenging course thats perfect for the enthusiast, or the weekend warrior looking to push themselves – Shale Hill is world class, and in our backyard. Every event is going to be on the #racelocal calendar!

Next Race – February 2015 – REGISTER

fitchallengelogo3) FIT Challenge

It’s easy to spot why FIT Challenge is a New England Spahtens favorite, and staple in the #racelocal Grand Prix. Race Director Robb is active in the community, from participating as a fellow athlete at events, to answering any and all questions people bring up prior to his races. A good choice of past venues, all in an active region of New England. On race day, people are treated well, with large amounts of community space, the best pricing and treatment rarely seen anywhere else. The FIT course is usually around 5k, and while a solid course in it’s own right, it’s the family and friends treatment that puts FIT above many other similar races.

Next Race – April 2015 – REGISTER

Fenway sandbag2) Spartan Race – Fenway Park

Despite the frigid cold and packed ball park, Spartan nailed it with Fenway. A fun, but challenging course, a space set aside for the biggest team, and a full street taken over by the festival outside. As a community we saw a huge turnout, which was handled as well as can be expected on race day, and you couldn’t turn anywhere without seeing a Spahten shirt, even if they were supporting other communities. Massive volunteer turnout, both in the days setting up, all day on race day and during tear down showed what this community was all about.

Next Race – November 2015? – Registration not open

beastmedal1) Spartan Race – VT Beast

The Grand Daddy of all Spartan Beast events. This particular rendition was overly long, criticized by many for having almost all of it’s obstacles in the last couple of miles, and having too many “carry heavy things” obstacles – and despite that, it topped the rankings for the most popular event of the calendar year – showing that no matter what the internet experts think, the general OCR population is still in love with the Spartan Race suffer-fests. The VT Beast takes your Average Joe and puts them out of their comfort zone, testing themselves somewhere they never thought they’d be, and Killington holds a dear place in many hearts as a result. Time will tell if removing the World Championship, and adding a Beast in New Jersey will help, or hinder the VT Beast.

Next Race – September 19th – REGISTER

Of course, this isn’t the most comprehensive, scientifically deduced list out there. You may not see yours on it, and you may not agree with it – but, it’s clear that in New England, in 2014, Spartan Race provided the highlights for the most – but with three solid choices right behind them, and many other solid choices in the Grand Prix -New England leads the country in quality and choice for OCR.

Which races do you think we missed? Which races are you already registered for?

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Thanksgiving, and giving thanks …

rucksgiving2It started with a phone call. Adrian of OCR World Championship called me one morning to float a crazy idea by me … For the last few years, he and his buddies have ran around New York City handing out festive holiday cheer, and he wondered – would the New England Spahtens do something similar in Boston? Would this be an idea that could take off?

From such a simple phone call – an annual tradition has launched.

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 8.28.46 AM

What is Rucksgiving?

It’s simple – you get together, and ruck around your nearest city. Instead of bricks, you carry food. Blanket. Warm weather gear. Toiletries. You ruck around the homeless hotspots, or the shelters, and you find people who need things.

gooddeedAnd you wish them a happy holidays – because not everyone had a warm fire and turkey dinner this Thanksgiving, and it feels nice to spread some of that.

In Boston, we had over 40 people and kids participating. We spent a bit of time at the common – but the weather had driven the cities homeless population to warmer locations. We regrouped and rucked – hitting up a rehab shelter, and ultimately ending up at Rosies Place, a women’s shelter. Thank you to Amy for putting together the route, and all her work behind the scenes!

And we made a difference. We made an impact. Not on a global, world peace level – but locally, in our own community, we gave someone who needed it a new toothbrush. We gave someone a warm jacket to stay warmer this winter. We left boxes of diapers at the women’s shelter for the homeless children who needed them and we provided home made muffins and candy bars to people who may not have had a tasty treat in sometime. We listened to stories from some people, received hugs from others. We were especially touched when one of the little girls in our group gave her favorite blanket from her stroller to the shelter after hearing there was an 18mo old baby inside – proving that the biggest hearts can be found everywhere.

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We covered five miles in three hours. We were cold, but thankful. This whole experience touched us all differently, but I like to think that when we all came home, we were even more grateful for our warm beds and our loving families.

We finished our ruck by splitting up – either heading home, or to Jillians, the venue for our first annual holiday social.

We picked Jillians for a reason – a centrally located, well known bar and pool hall in Boston – they were used to large groups and corporate style functions, and gave us a section of their floor and a bunch of pool tables. They also gave us awesome food, and I thank each and every person who picked up tickets to help us cover the costs for such a party! A wonderful night of giving thanks for our friends, meeting new friends – so many new faces came out, which was wonderful, and I hope I got to meet you all – we’ll be doing it again 🙂

Thank you to Unleashed, Battlefrog, FIT and Reebok for providing prizes for our raffle!

We had a wonderful day – and it was a fantastic way to spend time with our OCR community and family – from old friends having fun, to meeting new friends. I hope everyone had a good time, whichever activity you participated in, and I thank you – because without this community and the people in it, none of this could have happened.

If you missed this event – you don’t have to wait for the next one. This holidays make a difference to one person you don’t know. Find a soup kitchen and volunteer, or a homeless shelter and hand out blankets – don’t wait.

feed-one-motherteresa-sparrowsoirees

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Featured Review – FIT FORCE Challenge III

fitchallengelogoThis weekend saw the third running of Robb McCoy’s FIT Challenge, and once again, he saw huge support from the NES community, with over 100 members of the team braving the rain and cold and heading out to Diamond Hill Park in Rhode Island – the third venue FIT has used.

Coming into this weekend, even FIT has been hit by a sudden slow down in the participant numbers – it seems every OCR in the region has struggled to pull people in this fall. I don’t know if it’s because people are burning out, or because the Big Three have taken people’s play money, but with around 600 registered athletes, numbers were down on the past couple of events.

Regardless, the show goes on, and FIT always shows people a good time. This was a brand new venue to them, and we were assured it was the most challenging terrain yet (it was), and as a location is shows enough promise that Robb has already committed to them for April, and I can see why!

Come race day, the weather was terrible. Resulting in around 200 people no showing – which is a shame, they missed out.

The venue was super easy to find on the GPS, and there was plenty of parking right at the venue. No shuttles needed, no long walks – $10 to park, as is common these days – but SO CLOSE.

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Vendors were slim pickings – I happen to know that some pulled out because it was raining, which is fairly unprofessional in my opinion, but they had military folks, our buddies at Wreckbag, FITs own merch tent and the usual registration tents. The local ice-cream barn offered a free ice cream, and a great salad truck came along. We had representation from both the Family Reach Foundation and Battlefrog, which was fantastic too!

R1979089_728966060525076_9005445801329743794_oegistration was super smooth for me – including registering my son on race day for the kids race (that he didn’t run – bah!), and the white FIT Challenge T Shirt, while basic, serves my “race shirt Monday selfie” needs quite nicely. Looks like Wreck Bag had a hand there too, as they put their logo on the back with no other sponsors – I like this touch, as it supports two local OCR focused companies in a pretty bold manner 🙂

Being a member of the Spahtens comes with benefits, and thats no truer than at FIT Challenge. Robb is an active member of the community and routinely races with us at events, picks people’s brains and is generally considered a friend to many – this shows in his races, as he dedicated a large space for our use, and we were welcome to bring tents, pets, small grills and our families – and make what is normally a quick visit post race into an entire afternoon hanging out with good friends – and making new friends.

This, ladies and gents, is why we bring 100’s of people to FIT Challenge. Even with the terrible weather, even with poor turn out, we still brought over 100 members of the New England Spahtens, huddled up under a few pop up tents with our kids and families, and had a great afternoon out.10285489_728965947191754_2216204724206248938_o

We were running at 10:45am, and Fred from Smithfest Events (Panic in the Dark, Blizzard Blast etc) was our MC for the day, which was a fantastic #racelocal touch I don’t know how many appreciated. Being a new venue, we weren’t sure what to expect – but overall, it didn’t disappoint, and I see why there is so much excitement for the April event.

The terrain was challenging. Some pretty serious climbs and descents. Robb has stated that his race will remain a 5k, and his course distance felt spot on for that. We saw several familiar FIT Challenge obstacles from the past events and venues, and every single wall and obstacle structure was well built and solid. Teeter totters were treacherous in the rain, so care needed to be taken on those and I did see a spill (all was ok) The Wreck Bag carry was pretty epic, and an actual rope climb was nice to see – and both a welcome challenge in a market that is increasingly watered down with foam glow night electric bouncy fests. I said this to Robb directly on the day, but the course did feel light on obstacles, despite the challenging trail and some challenges that were there – I have it on good authority that we won’t have that complaint in April, now he knows what the course can handle for throughput and placement. I will also add I was a little disappointed in the Crossfit element this event – perhaps it was simply the weather, but the Crossfit 508 guys killed it at the past two FIT’s, with a section of the course available for them to do any challenge they like – we’ve used sledge hammers on tires, box jumps, atlas stone carries, plate carries and pushes and more – inventive, unique and welcome. This time – maybe due to the weather – we simply bear crawled from cone to cone. I missed the inventiveness and unique challenges they brought previously.

Thanks to Jeff Wohlen for the map!
Thanks to Jeff Wohlen for the map!

10655275_728966053858410_2117133570790741521_oAs with any race – more so because of the weather – I can’t leave this review without giving a huge shout out to the volunteers. From members of the New England Spahtens, to Robbs family and friends, to local folks simply wanting to help – the course was well managed, water stops (two of them!) were manned, registration was well handled and all of this on a very cold and wet day – events live and die by their volunteers, and this was a fantastic showing.

Has FIT finally found it’s home at Diamond Hill? I hope so. The more familiar an event is with it’s venue, the more they can use it well – and I have full confidence FIT will do that next year!

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Featured Review: FIT Challenge II

http://www.fitchallenge.org/

FIT Challenge has a special place in the history of the New England Spahtens.

It’s a local race, put on by one guy in his spare time. Just like so many others across the country.

But, FIT Challenge is special to us – because we consider Robb McCoy – the race director of FIT Challenge to be one of our own. I don’t mean that he joined the group and hands us flyers (although there’s nothing wrong with RDs doing that) – I mean he runs on team NE Spahten at races. He roads trips with us to events. He rocks one of our drill shirts (with FIT on the back, of course) at local, regional and national obstacle course races. He talks smack with the best of them in our Facebook group, and is ready to help anyone – from other RDs to athletes and participants at the drop of a hat.

Robb *is* FIT Challenge.

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Because of this unique approach to interaction with the community, the community supports Robb and his event. This couldn’t be more apparant than this weekend when 191 registered New England Spahtens showed up at World War One Memorial Park in North Attleboro for the second FIT Challenge.

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Wouldn’t you like a team like this at your event?

Thats a lot of people. Our second biggest showing outside of any event that wasn’t a Spartan Race. Having been on the team with us at Spartan, Robb knew exactly how to keep us happy, comfortable – and to ensure that 191 of us came away fans for life. Boy, he did that in spades!

Robb is smart. He knows that companies like Groupon and Living Social get the name out to a wider audience than a local race can afford on it’s own marketing budget – so he made sure to put them to work for him, and also avoided the trap of offering prices lower to these discount sites than you could get direct – a lesson many OCRs learned back in 2012 and 2013, but still goes on today. As a result, he gets a great bang for his marketing buck, and both races have pulled in considerably over 1000 participants (I believe total count for FITII was 1400+, including race day registrations). For an event that doesn’t have to transport it’s gear, or store much – those numbers are fantastic.

1614545_629945173760499_5720425935474168017_oThe venue – WW1 Memorial Park was really easy to get too from 495, and despite being a really early start for me, I got there in good time, and thanks to a team perk, was able to park right at the NES area – essential considering the amount of family and team gear we’d crammed into the little Scion. Robb had set aside a section of the field for the NES team, and we set up camp right next to the finish line – quickly, this turned into tent city, a small open fire was lit, and the team filled it up with hustle and bustle – tons of kids, spectators, custom team headbands and special NE Spahten red bracelets that gave us unlimited laps of the course. Oh, and our course ran right passed Emu’s, as the venue has a zoo onsite. Who the heck else runs through a zoo?

We also had many people from the team out on the course – both volunteering for a free race, or crewing for Robb on gators as aid stations, volunteer co-ordinators and various other jobs, and our own team wave dedicated to NES and Unleashed – again, you want to make fans for life? This is how you do it.

Robb had promised us a bigger and better course than his first FIT Challenge, and thats another thing that can be checked off as accomplished. Spanning almost exactly 3.2 miles, the course had plenty of trail running sections – including a full mile to get going with no obstacles at all, and plenty of challenging obstacles. We saw more than a few 8′ and 9′ walls, over/unders, a badass teeter-totter that was scaring more than a few people.

1077186_629945037093846_8603211804180430283_oMaking full use of the terrain – Wreck Back was there to give us 25lb and 50lb “sandbag” alternatives to hike up a 1/4 mile ski slope – but the real killer was the small ski lift hill after that – talk about a glute workout! That hill was short, but effective at slowing you down and making you ache in places you didn’t think you could ache.

Incorporating his local Crossfit box, Crossfit 508 was give an entire field to make a strength challenge – and these guys know their stuff. You immediately had to grab an Atlas stone – a big concrete ball. Pick your weight for the open devision, 35lb, 65lb and 115lb – then lug the thing around a field. I went with 65lb and did it unbroken, but my shoulders felt it the next day! They then took you to a section with 45lb barbells … 15 push presses, before picking up a 45lb plate and running to a cone and back.

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Then, the most fun obstacle I’ve seen – a tire push in a field that could only be described as “a mudbath” … my Icebugs prevented me from taking a faceplant in the mud, but many people around me were not so fortunate! This was brutal – I finished this gasping for breath and walked to the final finish of two 15′ ladder walls and a tire/hay filled dumpster.

0007812_2d3184e8-4fb9-4efe-a65e-8fac84c69907Of course, like any event, you will come away with feedback and issues you’d hope to see addressed for the next event – a full mile of trail running really thinned the pack out (which was a major issue at FIT 1), but the first obstacle being an 8′ wall caused backups in the team wave. The Wreck Bags (more on them shortly) were fantastic for this application – I am hopeful we’ll see way more of them in future local and national events.

Back at the festival area, Fred Smith of Smithfest Events (Blizzard Blast, Panic in the Dark, Music Chairs WC and more) was on the mic all day, announcing the waves and keeping the party going (and giving me crap in the starting choral – THANKS Fred). Vendors were plentiful, there were changing tents (mens *and* womens!), hose off area’s, plentiful supply of checkin desks (although there were lines for waivers when the shuttle busses came in). It was fantastic to see the Shale Hill crew vending Icebugs, and even more fantastic to see they’d managed to get a supply of factory seconds they were shifting for 1/2 the price a normal set of Icebugs would go for. I saw lots of new Icebug boxes leaving that venue!

While there were plenty of free drink samples to be had, food was lacking, as the venue wanted to provide their own – they need to actually move down to the vendor area if FIT visits again, no one knew they were there and there were a lot of hungry people. Fortunately, having our team tents and cars close by meant we had coolers, with lots of variety, and an open fire meant there were plenty of toasty hot sausages to be eaten.10153790_733758260975_1728797495_n

Lets talk about Wreck Bag. This is a brand new product from Lindon Fitness. They approached Robb a few weeks ago purely by change, and seeing the potential Robb immediately asked for a ton of them to use for his race. The Lindon guys have also donated a 25lb and 50lb bag to the New England Spahtens, and a review will be coming soon. They were also vending and selling the bags in the festival area, and from what I can see they pretty much sold out! I bought a 25lb bag for personal use too, and have sent it off to my local Crossfit box, Crossfit 696 to beat up on for a while, with great feedback. The bag is a proprietary woven material, with industrial stitched handles – filled with a propiatory rubber blend – this makes them heavy, and unbelievably comfortable on shoulders. They barely shift their weight around, and while they’ll get heavier in the wet, they won’t absorb water like a sandbag would. Throw that in with the price point being less than half what a sandbag from Rogue or GoRuck will run, and I think they’re onto a winning product. I saw a couple of local race directors having conversations with them … expect to see these at more OCRs and training days 🙂

FIT Challenge II provided pretty much everything you could ask for in an obstacle course race … a 5k distance course that kicked ass, at a venue that had Emu’s, with a ton of mud, great vendors and massive love for the biggest team. Family friendly, biggest team friendly, elite friendly (cash prizes – like, actual cash), fun run friendly.

Many races try to be all things to all people – FIT Challenge II delivered. Good job, Robb and team. Can’t recommend FIT Challenge enough.

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FIT Challenge – a first timers point of view

FIT Challenge was a huge success (review), not just because it was such a fun course and such a community and team friendly race, but because it saw so many people’s first time race – most especially, two moms were brought along, and promised that no matter what, the community would get them to the finish line.

Rosa Da Silva (Mario’s Mom!) was one of those first time runners – I asked her if she could give us a bit of a recap of how the race was for her – whats it like for a 61 year old to come out to her first obstacle course race, with the New England Spahtens?

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I was very worried when I decided to do the F.I.T. Challenge because it would be my very first OCR. Last Summer I had knee surgery which was a contributing factor for why I became completely out of shape due in part to prolonged periods of inactivity for recuperation.

Mario, Debbie, Lisa, and Robb McCoy all told me that with the help of the team I would make it through the course. “NO NE Spahten would be left behind”. That made me decide to do it and I promised myself I would at least try every obstacle although I never thought I would be able to get over the walls and do the monkey bars.

I owe my awesome success to a great team, The NE Spahtens, my son and friends, who gave me the courage to sign up for this great event. With their help I was able to do something that I never thought possible. When Mario said the team would help me get through it, I didn’t know he meant it literally. Thanks to the help of James Mscisz, Mario, Lisa, Sandy, Debbie, Adriane, Michael a few others that I might have forgotten to mention and a special Thanks to Matthew for saving me from drowning in the dumpster, lol.

I’ve been fortunate enough to run and complete a few road races but when I crossed the finish line at the F.I.T. Challenge and received my medal I had such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that I truly felt blessed for doing this race with such an amazing team.

I want to sincerely Thank Robb McCoy for giving me the opportunity to enjoy such unforgettable experience. God willing, I’ll be running in the April 2014 event.

Lisa and Rosa

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Featured Review: F.I.T. Challenge

Robb is no stranger to the team. As far back as February this year he was contacting us and letting us know that he had his first race coming up later in 2013, and he wanted support from the OCR community in making it the best event he could. He was open, honest and genuine – he joined our community, ran races with us, and told us more about his event as the year went on. He didn’t try to convince us it would be the toughest thing we’ve ever done – just a solid, family friendly event, that we would all have fun at.

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On Saturday, he delivered everything he had promised during that year – and more.

  • Robb promised a challenging course, that would be suitable for first timers, and a fast challenge for the elite and front runners. We got that, and put both of those promises to the test.
  • We were promised a party atmosphere, with great vendors – we had that.
  • We were promised we would have a good time – and I don’t think I’ve had such a good time at a local event for a while now.

If you can’t tell yet – the first FIT Challenge event, in Wrentham MA, was a big success. Even the weather was glorious.

The Venue:

Crackerbarrel Fairgrounds in Wrentham MA was super easy to find – just a little way off 495, and about an hour and a half drive from my house. I had no problems finding it, and even though I was waved into the VIP parking lot – which was right behind the team tent area – the parking lot for the general public was a $5 charge (which all went to pediatric cancer – FIT Challenges named charity), and was right behind the festival area. Lots of wide open space, with some booths, buildings and paths.

The course terrain was set out through the fields, and while it was almost entirely flat, we had lots of switchback trails mowed into the grass – and made great use of the natural, rolling hills that did exist – even if they weren’t any great elevation change in total, when the only hill you have to climb is while carrying a sandbag, you know you’ve got a course designer that is paying attention!

 

The obstacles:

The expectations were already set. This was going to be a challenge, but he wasn’t trying to compete with a big national event. The obstacles proved to be a great balance that would satisfy the elite runners – like a nice 8′ wall, and some super narrow tunnel crawls, and sandbag carries up the only real hill on the whole venue – to some that were there for fun, and to let the new runners get some real obstacle course racing under their belt, like two dumpsters with water, connected by a cargo net.

Clearly, FIT put their effort into walls. We had three different heights of walls right at the start of the run – with 4′, 5′ and 6′ walls – followed by some crawl under walls – later on, while we were running in the second field, we had a series of over beams, which I loved – some super narrow tunnels that I could barely get my ample butt through, and an awesome 10′ (higher?) ladder wall. We also saw sandbag carries, some strength stations and a rock solid set of monkey bars – with the dumpsters full of water right in front of the finish line.

A huge shout-out to Crossfit 508! They were a title sponsor for the event, with a booth and they also had the chance to place a series of Crossfit style strength obstacles on the course. This could have been a terrible call, with workouts and events that turned people off (doing a number of burpees for no reason at all comes to mind. Spartan Race Fenway, I’m looking at you) – but CF508 did an awesome job with some very unusual challenges – they were setup at a point where the course would pass in two directions. On the way out, they had you do 30 sledge hammer slams into a tire – which for many people was a first. I wasn’t new to these, and found them pretty straight forward, but many people reported struggling. They had a bunch of tires, and 4 hammers per tire meant there were few backups here. On the way back through, you had to get an atlas stone around a marked off square – carrying or rolling it. With weights of 110lbs, 65lbs and 35lbs, there were stones for everyone! I saw more than a few people in the elite wave pushing and rolling one around the cones! Then, they had boxjumps / step overs – again, a station not everyone is comfortable with, and in the middle of a race it was a nice way to tire you out before you were back on the trail. Nice job!

The grand finale was a combo of two dumpsters, lined with plastic and filled with water – joined by a cargo net. The water wasn’t too deep – but plenty of people got stuck in the dumpsters, and needed a boost to get out.

The event:

FIT Challenge had a great DJ – while a couple of non kid friendly tracks made it on, most were the friendly version 🙂 He announced every wave with no fuss, did a great job on the prize winnings, and kept the energy up beat, without being overwhelming. The kids course was a huge hit with my son, who went back around the kids walls, kids hay bales, tire and tunnels over and over and over again – he came home with his very own medal – same medals we were given at the finish line – and was incredibly pleased with himself. Food was provided by a local pub, and was the usual burger, hotdog, sausage affair – prices were reasonable, and even though it was nothing much else to write home about. The same pub was putting on shuttle buses to their location – even though it was a very short walk – where the free beer was being dispensed. While I never made it there in the end (having a 4 year old with you makes bars and pubs a bit tougher!), this was an awesome idea when you couldn’t have a finishers beer at the finish!

The National Guard were a big sponsor, with a good presence – from a tent on site, to two giant inflatable costumes walking around interacting with the kids and families. They were also the sponsor of the finishers T, which unfortunately they ran out of sometime in the day. FIT had also attracted a Reebok event truck, who had partnered with Robb to make a FIT Challenge high quality tri-blend T for sale – IMO a much better keepsake than the finishers T, and we brought one of those home too. They also had plenty of Reebok sports clothing for sale in the truck itself – including plenty of Crossfit stuff. They did not have any Spartan Race branded gear on there – but did indicate they were working on it.

Robb had also partnered with another local OCR, Zombie Charge – and very smartly, they were helping each other out – Zombie Charge had a themed portion to the course, through the only part that had a chance of being muddy (despite the warm weather causing there to be very little actual mud) – where made up zombies were jumping out at people. They also had a booth in the event area, and were offering discounted signups to their first race in two weeks. I can’t say enough about how much sense this makes – when local events partner, they aren’t competing with each other, they are helping each other *and* the community of racers and fans they want to attract – huge props, and I hope to facilitate and encourage more of this in the future!

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With a water stop we passed twice in a loop, volunteers and EMTs out on the course, and fairly good course markings (there were one or two spots I wasn’t sure where to go next, but it didn’t turn into a problem). There were a couple of comments that the dumpsters – the only water obstacle – didn’t have EMTs after a couple of folks turned ankles getting in, or getting out – but they were there later on.

Running in the 9am elite wave meant I saw zero backups or jams during my race, but when the largest wave of the day was out, it was clear that the walls, which were the first series of obstacles you hit, were causing a bottle neck that was unexpected. It seems there was a lack of communication from Living Social to all the discount ticket runners about their heat time, so they all showed up for 10am – once the large crowds moved through, things got considerably better though.

The team:

The reason I come to these events, put the efforts into the website, and do what I can to help the regional OCR community is you guys. When Robb told me about his race, I let him know that we would be able to help by supplying OCR experts, and an enthusiastic team. You all delivered on that like never before.

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Many Spahtens were able to work with Robb in the weeks up to the event, helping him with the course layout, and mapping it with several GPS systems to be sure it hit the 5k mark right on the nail. During the week of the event, we were able to help out with the build crew, event setup, and several course pre-runs that ensured nothing had gone wrong, nothing was broken – the night before the event, an informal run through the course served as a shake down too.

But race day was the real tell of where our community has come. We brought over 70 people to the event, gaining our own team wave at 11:15 – at some point in the planning it was decided that the team would be running in prom gowns, which far too many people thought was a good idea, and provided quite the spectacle for the other runners, drivers on the roads, course volunteers, and anyone else who saw a herd of stampeding prom queen wannabee’s run by, holding their skirts around their knees.

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We placed well in the elite wave, taking a second place Male finish (awesome job, Erin!), we took new people out who would never had tried to do anything like this themselves, or without the team support (amazing job, Mama Mama Hen!).

Feedback:

While we talk about how successful FIT Challenge was, any event organizer or race director who expects their first event to go off without a hitch, is expecting too much – with so many moving parts, something *will* go wrong, and how you respond to that is what will make all the difference.

Race finisher T Shirts – At some point late morning, the race finisher shirts ran got to limited sizes, then ran out entirely. Clearly, people like their finishers shirts, and this caused more than a few people to be a little upset. My understanding is that FIT Challenge will be sending more out in the coming weeks, so make sure they know you’re without one if you find yourself in that situation.

Course backups – there were some, and with it being the biggest heat that caused them, the most people will be affected – having already talked to Robb, I know he’s got ideas and plans about new course layouts to ease this congestion. Course design is an art, more than a science – trial and error!

Mud! – I know Robb put a ton of effort into getting water pumped into the woods to create mud – but even in the 9am wave, it wasn’t any more than a little tacky. Clearly, mother nature had different plans, with mid 70’s weather all week. However, the event was advertised as a mud run, and people (especially newer people) expected to get muddy.

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Obstacles – the obstacles were really well done, but the website listed some obstacles that weren’t present. Things change, plans change – but when people expect something that’s not there, they get upset, and it’s an easy thing to avoid.

Food – while the prices were reasonable, with no feeling of being gouged – I’m always interested in seeing what vendors bring in the way of healthier or smarter options for food. Very very few events are able to nail this one.

I’m sure others have their own personal listing of things they would prefer to see done differently, it’s pretty clear – none of these are huge. None of these are deal breakers. There is nothing in this list that would prevent me from running another FIT Challenge, because the entire day – with the biggest team, in our tents, with my family, running a fun course – that, my friends, is why we were there.

Huge thank you to Robb and his entire team of staff, family, friends, volunteers and partners for bringing that to Wrentham for a day. See you at FIT Challenge II!

Update: Course footage, courtesy of Aaron: