Obstacle Racing Addiction

OBSTAHOLICS - Obstacle Racing Addiction

Raw at the Rogue Runner

Georgia Obstacle Runners

“Are you bleeding?” asked the pair of girls running straight at me.

“uh…, I dunno.” I answered as I quickly scanned my body, “but, probably.”

Her and her friend were about 2 miles into a later heat, and I was approaching the finish of the 9:00 a.m. elite heat, so I could have cared less about a little blood – I was just focused on getting my butt to that finish line – cuts and scrapes be damned.

The Rogue Runner Obstacle Race

I fell in love with obstacle racing from the word “go!” at the Spartan Beast Race in South Carolina.

As a functional fitness junkie, obstacle racing really appeals to me and gives me a venue for putting that kind of training to the test; as a runner, the sport adds a whole new dimension to something I already love; and as an adrenaline fiend? Well, all you have to do is hit some waist-deep, cold water in the middle of a race to understand the unwavering attraction.

The Rogue would be my second obstacle race, and although it was 7 miles shorter than the Spartan Beast, it still contained 25 obstacles (31 by some runner counts), over 10K (6.2 miles right on the nose) of gnarly trail running, with some really cool and interesting obstacles.

I met up with a growing group of Georgia obstacle racers that has started as a Facebook group, and is quickly growing into a legit club of athletes. Our group had a great showing with one of our members winning for the ladies, and one of our members winning the entire race outright in 58 minutes and some change. There are athletes who don’t complete a road 10K in under an hour, let alone one with 25+ obstacles thrown in the mix.

Kid is stone sick.

The Rogue Runner Obstacles

When I got to the race, I got to sneak a peak at a couple of the obstacles thrown at us near the finish line. A 7-foot wall, a 40-50 yard barbed wire field of mud, a baseball field backstop fence, and an 8-foot wall with a roof of cargo net – all within 150 yards of the finish line.

Cargo climb at the Rogue Runner Georgia

“Damn, we’re in for a treat today!” I thought to myself.

And we were.

The race was extremely challenging at points and I found myself completely spent at the finish line.

That being said, I’m going to be completely honest in my experience so as to stay true to the integrity of the writing, AND so that others can make educated decisions when choosing what events to run or not to run.

Off the Blocks

After meeting up with the Georgia Obstacle Racers group, shaking hands and meeting people, we lined up for the elite heat to start at 9:00 a.m. using jokes and smart-ass comments to ward off the nervous butterflies.

We hit some tame obstacles immediately from the start, and already people were freezing up on the approach.

I’m not trying to judge, but if you’re freezing up before jumping over creeks and picnic tables, you’re going to have a very, very long morning.

Some people failed the very first obstacle of simply jumping over a giant wooden spindle on its side, and these are people who chose to race in the elite heat. This is something that the sport is going to have to get a handle on because this can really slow the field down right out of the gate. If you are a 5/10K runner, you know a similar frustration when walkers line-up in the front pack.

It’s not about being mean, it’s about clogging up the race.

We jumped a creek, and sprinted uphill where a series of about 8 concrete picnic tables were placed for use to leap on, up and over. I saw many people completely skip the tables either not knowing we had to run them, or purposely doing so, but that was kind of lame either way. It was very clear to me that we were to run them, and I’m a noob at this sport.

At Spartan Race, you would have had some dude chasin’ you down and making you do 30 burpees.

After a pretty easy traverse wall, we hit a really cool balance obstacle over the lake that I struggled with due to some lingering vertigo. It was a balance beam of sorts where runners had to run into the water about chest-deep, jump up onto a dock, scurry across two, 2-inch wide, wobbly planks, to another dock without falling in the water.

Someone else jumped on my plank just as I got to the end and I fell in on my last step.

Next, we ran across a lot of muddy, low-water, lake-muck to some suspended logs to run across, some steel cabling suspended about 6 foot up in the trees, and then climbed some walls by placing pegs in holes along the way up.

Peg wall climb

Technical Trails

One of my favorite things about this race was the running terrain.

Why? Because it sucked …in a good way.

I have always been a fan of the mountain ultramarathons and trail races that have the gnarliest, rocky, root(y) trails with horribly crazy footing. This race had everything nasty – rocks, roots, pine-straw hidden ankle thrashers, cambered slopes, squishy sections, and knee-high debris to run through.

But best of all was the fact that most of the trail was not really “trail” at all. The race designers just decided that a certain direction seemed like a good way to go, and we were to run through “it”, whatever “it” might be.

Love that. Plus one for the Rogue Runner race fo’ sho’.

Gary Cantrell, Barkley RD, would have been proud.

The Water That Took My Breath Away

When we cannonballed off the docks, into the cold water, I was quickly reminded of my paralyzed diaphragm. I panic’d a little  when I couldn’t catch a breath, but collected and swam to the little dock perched on wobbly barrels. As a 205 lb dude, I just about pulled the little dock under water with me, but I eventually scaled it, got back in the water, and bounced to shore.

But, then came the huge construction-site dumpsters filled with cold water and wooden walls to swim under. Creepy, dude.

We wrapped mile 3 with more technical, non-existent “trail” running, some cargo net climbs, small wall climbs/crawls, and tractor tire silliness.

Lake of Mud

The course route ran us along a dried up, rocky lake bed where I immediately felt at home. We ran about mile, circling this tributary, with an easy balance wire rope obstacle thrown in under some bridge. I gained a lot of ground here as you started to see the sprinters start to fade.

Next up. MUD. 200 yards of “sometimes ankle-deep” and “sometimes crotch-deep” mud.

200 yards of mud

This slowed the field down quite a bit, but NO ONE was really any better at it than anyone else, so it was just a conga line of ridiculous looking fools floundering around in the mud like over-eager catfish on the shores of the Bayou.

So far, nothing too tough, and all relatively easy from this runner’s perspective.

Turn It Up

Yes! Barbed wire!

I mean, SH*T! Barbed wire…

Props to the Rogue Runner designers. They did barbed wire really cool, …and long. This muddy, rocky field of barbed wire went from the lake shore, up the bank, into the woods, around a some trees, back down the bank and back into the water. No kidding, you had to actually go underwater to get under the last strands of barbed wire.

Good job designers.

People looked frightened. I smiled a lot and let out a few barbaric yells. I was at home.

It was after this that I saw the two girls that asked me about the blood. Poor girls. They had no idea what was coming.

The Finish Sprint

So, yea, the finish sprint might have been my favorite part of the whole race. It felt the most like what I expect when I think of obstacle racing. Six (6) obstacles, back-to-back, one right after the other, and each pretty challenging and gnarly in their own way:

  • First, jump a standard fence quickly into a baseball field
  • Run 50 yards, and jump up, and over a 7 foot wall (parkour stylee)
  • Next, more barbed wire, about 50 yards, where photographers were hammering the shutter button as we crawled and fought through some very slow and deep mud
  • Then, immediately pop-out, and scale the backstop fence of the baseball field. Up ‘n over
  • Lastly, the 7-8 foot wall, with the roof of cargo net, with another cargo net on the descent

And, done. 1:20:23 – 30th out of 831.

Muddy, spent and smiling.

Post -race Thoughts

This event was cool. I would definitely do it again without question.

Was it as good as the Spartan Beast? No. But it has promise, and I found some of the obstacles a little bit cooler than Spartan because they were more organic. Examples would be jumping fences, gnarly shore terrain running, climbing up ‘n over the baseball field backstop, and jumping over wide creeks in mid-stride. Even the opportunity to choose NOT to use the ropes to descend a steep downhill, opting instead to simply slide on your @ss to the bottom and hope for no splinters or sudden stumps. That’s gnarly trail running {grins}.

Some people had issues with the organization, and especially the front five dudes because no one was telling them where to go, and without discernible trail, I can see this being a challenge.

Me? I was able to just follow people, so I didn’t have any real issues. Plus, I’m used to wonky organization and getting lost and feeling stupid and not knowing where to go. I run ultras. We suffer this all the time. Some of us actually like it, so no complaints from me.

We’re kinda sick like that.

Remember the whole “liking it organic”-thing?

*OPINION: Important Steps for Growth

This is a really interesting time of growth for this sport of obstacle racing.

For one, its exploding and there are a million me-too events popping up left and right, all claiming to be the toughest, or offer the best experience. These are tough claims because unless you have done every single one, how can you really make that claim. Plus, what is tough to some, is a piece of cake to others; and none of this takes trail running experience into consideration.

Lastly, and most importantly to me, this event chose NOT to have any penalties for obstacle failure. I do not like this format as it allows people to simply skip obstacles, and promotes slack attempts. Trust me, if you fear 30 burpees upon failure, you have a stronger incentive to push yourself and dig deep on a challenging obstacle.

In this format, its possible for someone to simply run past every obstacle, doing just a trail 10K, and win the event. That just doesn’t seem right, and creates a big flaw in the integrity of the results.

I get it. There are some people who just want to create a team, and roll around in the mud on a Saturday, drink beer afterwards and post Facebook pics, and that’s cool all by itself; but that should be separate from the athletes who want to a consistent method of performance measurement that applies to all competitors.

By trying to be all things, to all people, organizers can make more money in the short-term, but in the long-term will have to deal with a million negative comments and complaints – and in the era of the social grid, this does not bode well for an event.

It’s going to be fun and exciting to be part of all this growth.