O2X quickly established themselves as something very unique in the trail / endurance market – holding base to summit races that were way more than just the race itself. With a unique destination event feel, and a huge draw the evening before the race itself – over the last three years they’ve become a solid favorite for people looking for something a little different. More recently, they’ve been establishing their brand as something more than a simple race experience – holding workshops for physical and mental training workshops, with a focus on first responders.
In this episode we learn more about both the race (with an announcement of the 2017 venue!) and the other aspects of the O2X brand that may not be so apparent.
Take a listen as Paul, Josh and Sandy cover the past couple of weeks of New England OCR – talking about Rugged Maniacs return to Southwick, MA for the *7th* year in a row – why O2X is more than “just a trail race” and a special long segment discussing the upcoming OCR World Championships in Canada!
We also take listener questions from Chris, Greg and Rob – thanks guys!
Don’t forget to subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher, and leave us a review so others can find the show later! We also launched a dedicated Facebook page for the show, to track everything in one place – hit Like!
O2X isn’t a new event, but it’s always been one I’ve let Beth run and I’ve either stayed home with the kid, or spectated.
Circumstances meant that I was transferred in this year, and would get to check O2X out first hand. I was quite excited too 🙂
O2X is different. The only obstacles are the mountain, and the things on the mountain – nothing is built, nothing is brought in. But it’s not “just a trail run”, as some have thought – it’s so much more.
The event really starts the night before. They go to great lengths to make this a destination event. You should devote at least a Friday evening, night and Saturday morning to O2X – and they make it worth while. You can camp too. A full and active festival is open Friday for packet pickup, great food vendors from B Goods and Flat bread pizza, amongst others. ProStairs, a shoe vendor, free wine tasting, beer tent and O2X’s own rather excellent swag tent – then at 9pm, they bring some guests up on the stage, right in front of the fire, and there’s a fireside chat (we do admit we miss the early days of this fireside chat, when it was an actual chat, around the fire – no stage, no PA system … but things grow and change).
We had booked a room at the host hotel, and with our kid in tow, we hit the sack early.
Saturday was race day – I headed down to the festival early to take advantage of the free coffee, bagels and breakfast and meet up with the New England Spahtens crew. Hugs were exchanged and coffee consumed. A fairly casual attitude to the wave times saw the elites go out right before 9am, and the 9am wave go our right behind them.
The course is tough to explain. If you have enjoyed the super technical hills and trails of the VT Beast, you’ve got an inkling of what O2X is able to do. The course starts at the base lodge, and goes to the summit (you come down on the gondola) – but you don’t run up the ski slopes, directly to the top – instead, the course weaves and turns and threads its way across the ski slopes, and into the trails, or into the trees – frequently in places where there simply is no trail.
You won’t find a mile marker at O2X – they measure the course based on elevation gained – and you will see signage for “1000′ of gain” or similar instead. Well supported with at least three water stops I remember, many people didn’t take packs with them at all (but I’m glad I did, even if only for the warm jacket I packed when I got to the summit).
A race within a race – at one water stop, they had music playing loudly, and it was the start of the Scramble. This is a short, but technical portion of the course that is independently timed and ranked – with it’s own timing mats. The male winner did it in around 30 seconds – which I simply can’t imagine.
Closer to the summit, you see the gondolas and see the top – then turn right around and go back down for some significant distance. Bastards.
The race directors were everywhere – from the scramble, to the summit to the basecamp.
So definitely not a simple trail run.
The mountain facilities are excellent, and spectators well catered for – plenty of places to eat, drink and chill out. We typically stay a second night to make a long weekend of it.
One thing I strongly suggest though – don’t run it with bronchitis. That was brutal.
An active participant in the #racelocal series in 2016 – O2X is one of those jewels of an event – provides way more than you expect, and you come home with a lovely shirt and awesome medal (Bottle opener, this year – we miss the quirky medals of past years though!).
O2X offer more than just a race – a Couch to Summit program, and a ton of training programs going on in Boston – check them out.
I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to find the right words to describe O2X Summit Challenge. When you have such a great experience you simultaneously want to scream it to the world, and then keep it to yourself. I can say this – I imagine all of the fellow runners for that first event feel the same way! I’d been trying to find a way to describe O2X. The only way to describe O2X is to place it in a class of its own. If I were to compare it to a rock band, you’d have Spartan as Kiss (great once but kind of treading water now and commercial), Tough Mudder as Pink Floyd (killer production values, and a great show but again a bit dated), CMC would definitely be System of a Down (eclectic and infectious and HIGH ENERGY) but O2X would be Queen. Queen was always in a class of their own way above everyone else, doing their thing honestly and never able to be categorized as any one thing except amazing.
When I first heard about the race, I had one thought which was “Oh neat, a mountain run. But why should I sign up? I can hike for free.” A common refrain I also heard was “Oh NO!! It’s the weekend before . I could NEVER do that!” Add to that being a brand new series, and with the number of races that met their demise this year, O2X was definitely looking at an uphill challenge (pun intended)
So what makes them different? And why should anyone care?
I liked their concept of “Obstacle Racing goes Au Natural”, meaning no man-made obstacles. However, just running up trails could be a bit boring. Again, I could do that for free. But when O2X revealed they were blazing the trails and not using much of the existing trail system, I grew more excited about it. I started thinking what all could they throw at the racers. I could see water crossings, bouldering, lots of rock climbs, mud, stinging nettle patches, climbing over and under trees, etc. I knew it wouldn’t be for everyone, but having done other OCRs on “hilly terrain” made it sound interesting.
After speaking with the founders, and hearing more about their approach, I knew this event had potential to be something special. The founders – Craig Coffey, Adam LeReau, Paul McCullough, Gabriel Gomez – wanted to put together more than a race. They wanted an experience that focuses on human performance. They wanted an environmentally conscious race. They wanted something that would get every person that ran to push themselves. They also wanted a fun party feel, so the BaseCamp and camping experience came into play.
O2X wanted something that spanned a large group of people: something for the “average joes” looking for a bit of a challenge, something that the ultra-marathoners and trail runners would like because it would be short compared to what they were used to, something mountain runners would like because of the elevation, and something OCR folks would like because of the “natural obstacles”. That’s a tall order, but they definitely pulled it off.
One of the first things that really impressed me was the pre-race communication. Firstly, they were always VERY responsive to me anytime I had a question or a comment to them. But the one thing O2X did that I’ve never seen before is sent out hand addressed and hand signed thank you cards to each participant. That in and of itself created quite the buzz in our NES community. Secondly O2X emailed out something that again was unique which was a detailed training guide. It had gradations for all levels and spanned a 33 week time frame. So while maybe not useful for the Sugarbush event, it would certainly be a great training guide for next year. They also sent out some great pre-race emails such as “How to prepare for O2X”, gear lists, environmental responsibility and greening tips. They also sent out bib assignments that had a repeat of the gear list and what we are getting from them, which leads me to my next part of my review – the race itself!
Race registration was a complete breeze. They were well organized and everything was ready for you. They had some of the best schwag I’ve ever received – a nice drawstring bag (not the cheap disposable ones I normally see), Paleo jerky sticks (I love those things), a really nice T-shirt (very soft cotton shirts) and then the Lululemon running shorts. These were extremely NICE shorts, not cheap!! In the merchandise tent, they had shirts for sale and these cute canteen water bottles. I wish they had sweatshirts given how cold it was – they would have sold out! Personally I’m a fan of hats too, but I get why they didn’t have those.
The festival area was really nicely set up. They had Juti Bars there, a green smoothie vendor, Reverb, Yak Burgers, and a Maple syrup vendor. They had live music, a great fire pit and a treadmill type of climbing wall. Then there was the camping area. They allowed you to camp onsite, so you were steps away from the start line, the base lodge and the festival area. This was really different. To get the full experience I decided to camp out. We weren’t allowed campfires, but being at the base of a ski slope and not a campground I get it. There were plenty of restrooms and a couple of Porta-potties over in the camping area. There were plenty of recycling bins and compost bins for food scraps which I thought was a nice touch!
The fireside chat was such a nice touch. It made the evening a very intimate event. You got to hear from the founders, who were so humble and so excited to see all of us that came out, and Frank Fumich, who is a Death Racer, extreme endurance athlete, but also very inspirational being “an average joe” doing all this. There was plenty of decent beer and cider for those of us who don’t drink beer – so a very nice touch there. While I liked the idea of the all you can eat dinner and then breakfast, I kind of wish the cost was wrapped up in the admission rather than paying separately. Not a deal breaker by any means, just a random thought, as I don’t normally carry my wallet around at a race, so needing cash stopped me in my tracks a bit. They did try to feed most of the racers as they did have gluten-free and vegan option for the chili. I’m hoping they are able to do something similar at their future events – a nice all you can eat healthy dinner (maybe not chili but something).
Parking was free as was bag check which was also very nice! There was a free morning yoga session and a dynamic warm-up before each wave.
The course was fantastic. They seemed to really look for difficult sections of terrain to send us through. There were boulders to climb over, steep rocky inclines to get up, mud, water, and the moss. Moss was definitely a new terrain for me personally so I was immensely happy I wore my Icebugs. Other folks mentioned the moss and the wet grass was slick but I had no trouble at all. The rocks were also pretty rough so no Icebug problems on them either. The course marking was phenomenal – probably among the best I’ve seen. I told the guys there’s no such thing as over-doing course markings. Flags get trampled and tape can tear, so it’s always better to do more than less. I had zero problems on course with figuring out where I needed to be. There were plenty of friendly volunteers around. I was pleased at the number of water stops – there was never a major worry of running out of water as they were well stocked. They had inspirational music playing as you went up the mountain (I found out later it was the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans). One part of the course markings that was unique was O2X didn’t do mile markers, they did elevation markers: every 250 feet they posted a sign. In a way that was more frustrating – I was chugging along with my Garmin watch and saw that I was at about a mile and a half or so and saw that we were only at the 500 ft elevation mark. I knew there was 2400+ feet of elevation gain. Oh boy! That last stretch on this course gave me flashbacks to Mt Killington! They were well prepared for the summit and had a fire up there for volunteers and space blankets for all the finishers. With the temp+windchill at 18 degrees, you better believe I appreciated that blanket!
I know there were a few hiccups – the timing company backed out at the 11th hour so they had to scramble to get people out on course for timing checkpoints. So timing may not have been as accurate as they would’ve liked but that was completely out of their control. This was especially critical as they had special awards for the Rock Scramble – male and female fastest times through the scramble. Kudos for how they handled the timing glitch – you didn’t really notice the lack of mats as they really tried to make it totally seamless for the racers.
Speaking of awards, they had AWESOME awards. They had hand crafted awards for the top finishers (male and female) of each age group and also a really neat award called the RiseHigher award. This was given to someone who has fought against some great odds. One of our own got that award for her challenge, which I thought was great. The finishers “medal” was a military grade, fully functional canteen. Now I have tons of medals, both on a rack and under my bed, but you can bet I’ll display this one proudly!! It’s also one you can actually do something with!
One other neat perk was we got to come down off the mountain on the chair lift! It was my first ever experience on a chair lift so that was actually a lot of fun. You had the option to run down the ski slope to base, but most people opted for the ride.
I appreciate the course will be different every single time on every venue, but I know the guys will always find the most challenging routes for the racers to go.
Overall, this race was not just excellent, it was Epic. Epic not just because of a tough course, but in the entire experience. The founders went out of their way to talk to people and make them feel welcome and not just “hey, thanks for your money” like a couple of the national series do. They wanted to form a community – especially with those of us who dared to brave an inaugural event. The guys said something very interesting. As SEALs, they explained that a first time mission was called “owning the plank” – a term used for original crew personnel assigned to ships company during commissioning. Those of us that showed up can now be said to be Plank Owners of O2X. And that, for me, is definitely a point of pride. Not so much my race performance, but to be among the first, one of the ones who had faith and certainly was not disappointed. I look forward to seeing them again for Loon Mountain and to my race calendar next year!
What the heck is it? Isn’t that just running up a mountain? Can’t I do that on my own?
After talking to the race directors, it’s pretty clear. O2X Summit Challenge is to “running up a ski slope”, as running 26.2 from your door step is to running the Boston Marathon – meaning, two very different experiences for very different people. They don’t have any plans to use trails, or ski slopes – this will be a unique take on every location that you’ll be hard pressed to duplicate.
They won’t be building walls – they won’t have barbed wire, but if you’re the kind of person who finds races like the 7 Sisters trail race, or the Peak Ultra’s attractive, this is going to be right up your alley.
With some great charity partners, a commitment to “leave no trace” and races measured by their elevation gain instead of their actual distance covered (single, double and triple black diamond events) – fresh off a trip to the GoPro Games, we got on the phone for a chat, and exchanged some emails. These guys are in it for the long haul and the base camp sounds like a mix of a fitness expo and a fantastic camping experience with your buddies – followed by a great, well supported race up amazing mountains. Check them out at their opening race, held at Sugar Bush, VT on Sept 13th and 14th, where both a single and double black diamond event will be happening. You can volunteer too.
Explain the O2X concept?
As Outside Magazine put it, “Obstacle Racing Goes au Naturel.” O2X Summit Challenges are a new and different evolution of obstacle racing – base to peak races with all of the obstacles Mother Nature can provide. The constructed obstacles you’ll find in the current OCRs – high walls, cargo nets, monkey bars – are popular, but our race gives Spahtens a completely natural way to test themselves. Our company has a strong commitment to the environment as well, and promises to leave our host mountains better than we found them. Signing on with 1% For The Planet, we are willingly committed to these stewardship principles.
How did the idea for the race series come about? Who is behind it?
The founders are three former Navy SEALs, and an attorney thrown in for good measure. Two of the SEALs spent 11+ years deployed together and spent most of their time in the mountains of Afghanistan. For them, summiting peaks was one of the most exhilarating part of their experience there. The four of us are: Gabriel Gomez, former Navy SEAL and air-craft carrier pilot, 2013 United States Senate candidate, and husband & father; Paul McCullough, former Navy SEAL, and a husband & father; Adam La Reau, former Navy SEAL and recent Harvard Kennedy School graduate; and Craig Coffey, a recovering attorney, and husband & father.
The first decision the four of us made was that we want to work together. We then realized that because we are marathoners, SEALs, and fitness enthusiasts – like your members – we are all passionate about outdoor challenges and human performance. When we looked at the OCR market, we realized there was an opportunity to create a interesting new format – an all natural, authentic race.
Whats included in the price?
Almost everything – the race, insurance, registration, bag check, high quality schwag like our soft race T’s and parking are ALL included in the price. The only thing you’d get charged for is food, and camping.
How is it different than just going up the mountain for a hike on a weekend?
Way different, for a few reasons. First, our off-trail courses are carefully designed to take advantage of the mountains’ awesome terrain challenges. Combining extensive worldwide experience planning mountain routes, local mountain ops experience and US Forest Service guidelines, our eco-friendly course takes racers to challenging routes and terrain they may not have experienced before. Secondly, an important part of O2X is BaseCamp, a festival-like experience including environmental, organic we offer racers and their guests an opportunity to camp out the night before.
Explain the course layout – what should we expect, how long/high, how technical?
The course layout is designed around mother nature’s obstacles. The course has three different levels with net elevation gain in mind. A single diamond is over 1000 feet in elevation gain over a distance of 4-6 miles, double diamond with over 2000 feet in elevation gain over a distance of 6-8 miles and triple diamonds with over 3000 feet in elevation gain over a distance of 9-12 miles. All courses are eco friendly taking into account vegetation plans, environmental principles, and combining expert local knowledge with worldwide experience planning mountain routes. These routes will take you over natural occurring obstacles challenging you in stamina, core strength, balance, and will. No technical expertise needed, just keep focused and push through the leg and lung burn.
Do we need specialist gear for any of it?
Nope. Trail or running shoes, that’s it. Running/hiking/trekking – and a bunch of sweat – will get you through!
What will be going on at base camp?
Overnight pre-race camping, fun, music and a friendly, communal atmosphere. There will be farmer’s market-like food vendors, locally sourced environmental groups, human performance vendors, apparel makers and a speaker discussing a topic related to our corporate ethos: human performance, environmental sustainability and social responsibility. Did I mention fun? We want people to gather, relax, enjoy the mountains and experience Mother Nature.