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Battle of the Frogs …

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.

Tsunami was the center piece in 2014
Tsunami was the center piece in 2014

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:

bonefroglogoBone 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.

battlefroglogoBattlefrog 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.

Black Ops makes a huge statement

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.

Ryan Atkins has dominated the very competitive Battlefrog circuit

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.

Jeff hit four laps
Jeff hit four laps

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.

At the top of a steep climb, the memorial wall made everyone stop
At the top of a steep climb, the memorial wall made everyone stop

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.

IMG_9379I 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.IMG_9410

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.

So, which Frog wins, in the Battle of the Frogs?

Run both, and make your own judgement.

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Featured Review: Bone Frog Challenge 2015

bonefroglogoBone 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.

Tent city!
Tent city!

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 🙂

Biggest team!
Biggest team!

IMG_8938They 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.

Happy Hannah going for a swing
Happy Hannah going for a swing

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.

11056543_866637203409963_6423555499708227821_oThere 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!

11227061_812396058849897_8654916921495939823_oVolunteers 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 11255761_10206662982839777_4751867967688766635_nobstacle 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.

bonefrogpadelOn 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.

11233786_10153371669193338_7579052151279158367_nBecause 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.