Accidental Battle Buddies: Gladiator Assault Challenge Wisconsin 2014

I was excited to go back to one of my favorite races from last year. I met a nervous young lady at the start line who said that her friends had agreed to run with her but had backed out, so she was unsure if she could do it, or if she should do the shorter course. I volunteered to battle-buddy her through the course, and she could decide what distance she was doing when we got there.

Contrary to most races that start you on low ground, at this one you have to climb a ski hill just to get to the start line. Safety briefing, countdown, and we were off.

Rocky downhills, mud pits, and hit the first real obstacle, a steep incline wall with ropes. We both got over with no trouble.

GAC

Next were some unbelievably slimey nasty mud pits to go through, chest deep in slop clinging to a guide rope. Single track trails through the woods then through a hip-deep bog. Many of us had to assist others and be assisted just to stay upright getting through it.

Next was a water obstacle that I had not seen before, a chain-link fence laid flat over a trench of water. Lie on your back and pull yourself through the water by the fence that is an inch from your face.

There were several vertical cargo nets along the course, old hat to me but scary to some of the newer racers. I made it a point to hold the net for others and give what advice I could to help the newbies along.

More slick bog mud pits with guide ropes. I saw several people unable to get out of the muck (It really is like quicksand.) and moved ahead to help push/pull people out. Several of us were able to get it organized and get everyone through. I love seeing the magic of teamless teamwork take hold in new racers.

Next the balance beam logs that I happily butt-scooted across, and the fork that divided the 5k course from the full 7.2 mile course.

“Moment of truth.”

“I can do the full course.”

“Hell yeah!!”

Next was a covered low crawl through water. As I approached another racer who had stopped there gave a “How ya doin'” and I smiled and replied, “Cold, wet and nasty, it’s a good day.” and jumped into the water. It was an interesting crawl, water very close to the supports overhead, in places I had to turn my head sideways to keep my nose above water and blind turns that almost caused me to panic.

As we regrouped after this obstacle, the man who had greeted me at the entrance told me that he had been near a panic attack over this obstacle, just too far outside his experience to deal with cold, wet, and claustrophobic all at once. Seeing us attack it with a smile was what helped him break through and beat it. You never know who you might be having an impact on.

Monkey bars next. I knew my grip was not strong enough, so I just jumped in the water below and walked across. Next time, but not there yet.

Triangular cargo nets, more mud pits, hills steep enough that they had ropes to help us climb them. One hill with a hose and a slip-n-slide to make climbing it more fun. Down a rocky, technical slope that a firehose had made into a small waterfall.

The walk-the-plank obstacle is one that I have always skipped before. I can swim when I control how I enter the water, but have less confidence when jumping in. This time I decided to do it. While my mind did have a serious moment of “WTF ARE YOU DOING?” I went over the edge without hesitation. I was hacking a bit when the diver in the water checked on me, but I was able to make it back to shore without assistance.

Next some black plastic tubes to crawl through with uncomfortably high water at the low end (go feet first) and two walls to go over. A spectator noticed me helping the two ladies in front of me over, and called out “Let’s see you do it now!”

I backed up, took a running start, cleared it, gave him an AROO, and was on my way. Barbed wire crawl, one more cargo net…

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Regroup and charge the finish line.

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Course officials congratulated us on winning a medal, a banana, and a beer, and pointed us toward the fire pits that all the finishers were huddled around, steam rising from our clothes, trying to get warm.

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It was a great race, awesome to help bring new racers into the sport, and this race will see me again.

Note: I found a gopro of the course that gives a better feel for the course than my command of the English language can do, so I have linked to it here:

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Fear, Hope, and an OCR Hipster: Thoughts on the future of obstacle racing

I will never forget my first race. The butterflies in the stomach, the rush at the starting gun. The cold, wet, nasty grueling experience that caused total strangers to work together, and even to help those who we knew could not help us in return. The joy at crossing the finish line, and the limp that I went home with. And that plain pewter medal, still with mud on it, that still hangs on my wall. It was the start of an incredible journey, and I loved every second of it.

Since then, there has been a continuous debate on what needed to change to make this into a “real” sport. I never knew how many of the poorer qualities of a traditional sport we would pick up along the way. We now have big-money purses, professional sponsored athletes. We also have new racers that now think they don’t deserve to be on the same course as the elites, and an emerging elitist jock mentality that looks down on newer racers. We also have voices becoming more common demanding that the harder events be made easier, because, “OCR shouldn’t be an endurance event.” Arguments over what event determines “The Best in the World” as if such a thing exists.

For quite some time, I have looked at every “improvement” being made in the course of making my beloved sport “real” and thought the old way was better. I heard the following jokes and had a sudden realization.

Both jokes start with “How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb?”

Answer one: Only one, but the rest will instantly start debating how the old lightbulb was better.

Answer two: Some odd obscure number that you probably have never heard of.

I have somehow become the hipster of the OCR world. It was better how it was done “before it was cool” and the events that I love the best will almost always be the ones that are farthest from mainstream, things that I have to explain what it is.

The OCR world will get what it asked for, but not necessarily what they wanted. OCR will become a mainstream sport, not by shifting the masses out of the mainstream, but by shifting themselves into the mainstream. They will lose the soul of the event that brought us in, but they will be standard, uniform, official.

This could easily turn into me muttering into my drink over what could have been, if it were not for one thing that the birth of OCR has given me and all the other crazy mud warriors who think along similar lines: We know now that we are not alone. And in that is hope that the crazy, tough, knock-you-to-your-knees events that we love so much will continue.

We started with Spartan, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, but we found that edge of tougher, more grueling events, and we knew that was where we needed to go. As the mainstream events are standardized and sanitized, those of us that want more will keep finding more, and building it when we can’t find it.

OCR  may not be going where I had hoped it would. But I am still going there.

Ruck, Race, Shoot: Limit of Advance 2014

When I heard of a new obstacle race that involved rucking and shooting, I was on board immediately. It also helped that they used a photo of me in one of their ads:

LOA used my photo

Long story short, the race was under-received and only a few hundred people attended. Which is a shame, because it really was an awesome event.

Get to the venue, ran into a few friends that I didn’t know were also running, check in and have the rucksack weighed. Note for next time, it is worth it to buy a luggage scale. I weighed mine on a bathroom scale and came out about 15 pounds heavier than I needed to be. With our bibs and T shirts, we received a dog tag marked with a single word, “Quit.”

When we heard the call for last chalk (what in other races would be the open wave) we rucked up and followed the course marshal to the start point. We got there just as the elites were finishing the ruck portion, having to carry an 8′ timber post in addition to their ruck. (I need to run elite next time.) We were given the normal pre-race safety briefing, and we were off, down a gravel road, into the fog.

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I stayed with the middle of the pack for most of the 7.62K ruck over back roads and through roadside ditches, but was toward the back by the start of the obstacle course. Elites would have to take the ruck through the course, but being an open runner I was allowed to drop mine.

Obstacles started with an 800 meter wire crawl. Putting simulated gunfire over this was a nice touch.

At the end of the crawl, we received another dog tag: “I”.

The next obstacle was appropriately enough called “The Dirty Name”:

Dirty Name

Basically you have to climb onto a 6×6 beam, jump to the next, and repeat the process. I made it onto the middle beam without a problem, but lost my balance before I could attempt the second jump.

Onward over trails, through a swamp, over a log set at about shoulder height (I was happy to make that one, as I have always sucked at this obstacle before), and came to the reverse ladder. I had some trouble getting over the top rung, and when I finally made it I kept going, head down rather than stopping to turn around. Someone behind me commented that we really NEEDED a picture of this:

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Next serious obstacles were the tall walls:

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There were four of varying heights, and they had to have been somewhere from 11 to 13 feet. We teamed up got each other over, two people acting as stepping stones and a third pushing from behind.

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The course marshal at this point told us that he was impressed at the teamwork we showed, and I simply replied, “We’re Cornfed, this is what we do.”

The next obstacle that sticks out in my mind is the confidence climb. It sticks out in my mind because it is one of the obstacles that frightens me, and that I gave up on halfway though at GR Nasty. This time, I made it through. Although I did discover that the very top is not a fun place to have a calf cramp.

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The rest of the obstacles I do not have pictures for, but there were over-unders, monkey bars (which I failed), and sloped walls that you had to run up, grab the top, and then climb over.

The final obstacle was a barbed wire crawl through ice.

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Across the finish line, with an added touch that I have never seen before: The race director asking each and every racer what could be done to make it better. THAT was something that I appreciated.

We went on to the shooting portion, 10 rounds at 25 yards with the 1911, and 10 rounds at 100 yards with the AR15. Horrible would be a polite way of describing my shooting, a total of 5 hits for all 20 rounds. Need to get more range time in.

After leaving the rifle range, we received our final dog tag:

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I can’t wait to see what is in store for the next one. And yes, I will run it elite, just to see what they have in store.