It started out like a regular race day. Woke up an hour and a half ahead of race time, showered, threw my racing clothes on (CWX compression tights with some compressed socks and some oh-so amazing Icebug obstacle racing shoes), and drove to the venue with my dad in the passenger seat. It was a chilly day ("chilly" in Texas being low-to-mid fifties with a soft wind) which was especially surprising given the warm weather we'd been experiencing, but hey, that's Texas weather for you. Weather aside, I parked, picked up my bib, and started warming up. It was still dark outside and I therefore couldn't see very well at first, but as race time quickly approached, the sun made its first appearance, shining light across the race course and allowing us our first glimpse at what was in store. After taking a few glances at the course map and jogging a bit around to see what extra obstacles they'd left off the map, I was getting pretty pumped. I felt prepared.
Now let's be honest... this is Battlefrog we're talking about, folks. And if I've learned anything from Battlefrog, it's that when you feel that you're prepared,they decide to show you how truly unprepared you really are. And yep, this course did nothing but prove that theory correct.
The Elite heat took off at 7:15 a.m., our bodies shivering from the crisp wind as we charged into the course, passing underneath the A-frame cargo and continuing on to our first obstacle, the Normandy Jacks, which were found placed in calf-deep mud that we all charged into with a ferocity that sent people sprawling on top of one another as they tried to army crawl under the wires and to the other end; in one particular instance, one person literally stepped on top of me as they tried to crawl underneath the wires (yeah, I don't know how that managed to happen either, so don't ask), sending them landing on top of me and submerging me completely into the mud. In other words, after only a quarter-mile of race under my belt, I was covered head-to-toe in sticky, red mud.
And we hadn't even reached the hard stuff.
The next mile or two rolled by fairly quickly, with a few rolling hills and winding trails over some motocross tracks and grassy pastures, allowing racers to set up their pace and spread the gap. Obviously there were plenty of obstacles littered into this as well, but nothing of too much significance: 6' wall, inverted wall, wreck bag carry, O-U-T, Ladder Wall, 60 Degrees, etc. Nothing too major. After having fallen a bit behind at the first mud crawl, I tried to gain some distance during the run; around now, I was probably back in about 15th place or so, but was beginning to pass some people, gaining ground.
We soon reached the jerry can carry, which never fails to disappoint. I picked up my two cans and made my way into the muddy, knee-deep water, which we had to trudge through for about twenty feet before passing under a low cargo net [with the cans], walking a loop over some fairly flat ground, and then returning back to pass under the net, through the water, and back to the start, where we dropped off the cans and went on our way. Feeling pretty confident with my forearm strength at this point, I only set the cans down once, and that was just to adjust my grip. I was feeling good, strong. Ready to pick up the pace a bit.
Next came the monkey bars. I dried my hands off with some grass and made my way across the shaky, rotating polls, narrowly losing my grip at one point but quickly regaining my composure and managing to successfully make it across. I saw my dad there taking some pictures, so made sure to say hi and give him a thumbs up before continuing on, full speed ahead. It was time to play some catch up. I was probably around 10th at this point, and gaining ground.
The 12' rope wall wasn't too muddy given it was the first lap of the first heat of the day, so that wasn't too bad, but it was quickly followed by the first platinum rig of the day, so I tried to preserved some energy. Shaking my arms off as I approached the rig, I nervously grabbed onto the horizontal bar that served as the kick-off to the upper-body-dependent obstacle, but realized my nervousness was all for nothing when my grip felt plenty strong enough to take me across the entire rig without the slightest hesitation. My confidence was building up. I was feeling good. I hit the final ring and dropped to the ground, breaking out into a run once again.
The next obstacle of notice was the Weaver, a new obstacle that I had never seen before. I'd experienced something very similar in a Spartan Race in Temecula back in 2015, but it hadn't proven to be too difficult. Essentially, there were about 8 horizontal metal bars placed parallel to one another in an A-framed fashion, standing roughly 4 feet off the ground at the lowest and 5 at the highest. We had to -- as the name implies -- weave through the bars, going underneath one, then over the next, all the way from one side of the A-frame to the other. If they had been round bars it would have been no big deal, but instead the Weaver was built from square-based poles, so that each time you tried to "weave" through each pole, you were either having the rigid edges digging into your legs or poking into your back. I'm not complaining, just stating something I noticed as I made my way across the obstacle (you have a lot of time to think about random things when you're doing a 10-mile obstacle race). Anyways, I managed to make my way across and move on to the next obstacle, which was a fun little pipe-slide thing that dumped you out into water, which you would swim through until you reached the surprise obstacle that hadn't been listed on the course map: the Tip of the Spear.
I want to start out by saying that the Tip of the Spear and I are not friends. After a very heated encounter with this particular obstacle in Atlanta last year, the Tip of the Spear and I have become sworn enemies, so I felt my heart drop when I looked up from the water to see the dreaded obstacle there to meet me upon my emergence.
As I stepped out of the water, I saw my good friend and fellow racer Jack Bauer standing there to greet me, informing me that only one lane of the obstacle was open so far, so I would have to take that lane -- the same lane as all the previous runners had been using, meaning it was muddy and a bit wet. Now Jack and I typically go back and forth in races -- or rather, he's a person I'm always trying to keep up with -- so given my rough start, I was pretty surprised to find him on the same obstacle as me, having figured he was way ahead of me at this point and having seen the distance he had gained on me at previous instances along the course. As I talked to him, he told me that the Tip of the Spear had been giving him a tough time, a feeling to which I could totally relate to; you can imagine how shocked I was too look at the obstacle to see that the race directors had managed to find a way to make the obstacle even more difficult, taking the typically horizontal wooden beams we grab onto in the middle portion of the obstacle and deciding to replace the horizontal components with beams turned at angles, which would prove to be very difficult to grab onto, both due to the odd angle of their placement as well as the surprising smoothness of the wood, which made them very slippery. Nevertheless, I made sure to take my time with each of the three components of the obstacle, and surprised myself by making it across on my first time, ringing the bell and moving onward. I was now probably somewhere between 6th and 8th.
After that, we were treated with the Wedge Wall, which was followed by quite a bit of running and some rolling hills, and then a cool little water trudge through a circular moat-type formation. At last, I crested one final hill to reveal the second platinum rig in all of it's bright-green, forty foot glory. My friend and fellow elite racer Matt Willis -- who wasn't running that day, instead going around and cheering people on -- came up to me and informed me that thus far, only the first three men had made it across the rig successfully. This was my chance to jump a few spaces ahead.
Not wanting to rush myself and risk failure, I took my time. Atlanta had managed to leave a bad taste in my mouth in regards to platinum rigs as well, so I wasn't wanting to waste any energy. I attempted it once to get a feel of it, but fell off fairly quickly, taking notice of the huge gap between the first ring and the second, and the arm span required to grasp the second ring, as many other racers were attempting to do. I, after many failed attempts, deduced that I could not reach the second ring, and would instead have to grab onto the metal nunchuk, which was a bit closer. It meant I wouldn't have to reach as far, but I'd have to grip a bit tighter so as to not slip off.
Long story short, I eventually made it across. I transitioned from ring to nunchuk to more rings and then to some monkey bars, and then transitioned to the lower monkey bars, which then emptied out to a vertical pole which you had to climb up in order to grab one more nunchuk before kicking the ring that signified you had completed the rig.
...and I had made it all the way to the final nunchuk -- yes, the final nunchuk at the very end-- when all of a sudden, I hear someone calling to me from the sidelines. The volunteer there informed me that apparently, when I had gone under the lower monkey bars, my foot had accidentally grazed the hay padding, which counted as hitting the ground. Even if I kicked the ring, I would have to do the obstacle over.
At that moment, all my energy drained out of me. I suddenly felt weak, realizing that I had wasted all that energy for nothing. I dropped to the ground and made my way back to the beginning of the rig, where I would wait for about ten more minutes before even attempting it again. As I stood there, the volunteers went out and took out some of the hay padding so that it would be easier for future racers to not hit the hay; the place my foot had grazed -- where the hay had been heaped up -- during my previous attempt was now occupied by nothing but open air. Eh, it happens, nothing you can do. Eventually I did make it across the rig, but I'd fallen back a few placements. Now, I was probably back in 15th place or so, and once again I'd have to play catch up for the rest of the race.
After that second rig, the rest of the first lap wasn't too bad. Some balance beams, a steep downhill, the Confidence Climb, an uphill, a rope climb, and boom, first lap over. I made the transition and began my second lap, but I'm not going to lie, at this point I was trudging. That whole debacle at the second rig had totally drained me and I was wondering how I was going to make it through the second lap with my arms at fatigued as they were.
I passed through each obstacle slowly but surely and stopped occasionally to have some Gu chews to see if I could get my body properly functioning again. I'd speed up in short bursts before slowing back down, but eventually I picked back up to my normal pace. Completing each obstacle one-by-one, I made my way past the monkey bars, through the Weaver, and through all the other obstacles, even managing to struggle through the first rig, which I will admit was a bit tougher the second time through. I slid down the tube and landed in the water, swam across the pond of mud, and, by making sure to take my time and pace myself, successfully made it past the Tip of the Spear for the second time.
In all honesty, despite my growing weariness, the course was a bit easier the second time through, even if that ease came primarily through my familiarity of it. I had finally gotten back into my groove as I ran through the rolling hills, and as I approached the second rig, I was joined by German obstacle racer Jan-Philip Dieckmann. We had gone back and forth throughout the entire race, but we approached the final rig together.
As we rounded the corner and approached the final rig, my dad came over to us and informed both Jan-Philip and I that, as of that point, only two people had been able to successfully make their way across the rig: Nathan Palmer, who took 1st place in Elite, and Yancy Culp, who took 1st place in the Masters division. In other words...we had the potential of jumping from roughly fifteenth place to a possible second place finish!
Whereas I knew I was too fatigued to successfully make it across the rig in a single try, Jan-Philip was of a different mindset. Having heard the news, he wasted no time in traversing across the rig, climbing the final pole and nunchuk, kicking the ring, and running off to claim his 2nd place prize. Just like that, he had gone from roughly 15th place to 2nd place. Boom. In a matter of minutes, maybe even seconds, the game had changed. This is why I love obstacle racing! The unpredictability it endless.
In the end, I probably waited at the rig a solid twenty minutes before finally attacking it. I wandered off by myself to kneel down and pray for some strength, then came back and shook my arms off. I went and stretched my arms on some flag poles, then bounced around a bit, trying to get my energy back and get some blood flowing. I watched as friends successfully traversed across the rig -- first Jacob Kohler, then Van Tran, and then Lee Thompson, whom I had been trying to catch for the majority of the second lap ever since he had passed me on the same rig on the lap before -- but even as I saw friends make it across the rig, I saw three times as many people fail. But at last, I decided the time had come. I felt a bit stronger, and it was time to get this race done with. I lifted my hand, grasped the ring, successfully traversed across the rig, and kicked the final ring. Saying a silent prayer of gratitude to God for giving me the strength, I took off, making my way across the last few obstacles, over the last few hills, and ultimately past the finish line, where I was met by medals, water bottles, and bananas.
I ended up finishing the race in 9th place, and I'd have to say I'm pretty happy with that. I learned lessons out on that course -- there's a lesson to be learned in every single course we run -- and I'll definitely take those lessons with me as I go to train for some of the other OCRs I have coming up. Once again, I'd have to say that Battlefrog did an amazing job at hosting a challenging, mind-numbing race, because I was definitely pushed beyond my limits and that is what OCR is all about. I love the unpredictability that comes in running obstacle races, where a man in 15th place can go to 2nd place all over the course of a few seconds. I love the feeling of being sore for the next few days because you know you worked your butt off trying to pass each obstacle. I love being able to look down at my wrist and seeing that orange wristband still wresting atop it, a wristband which signifies more than any medal possibly could. In all honesty, it is races like this that make me realize the passion I have for obstacle course racing. Thank you, Battlefrog, for once again showing me where I stand, what I need to work on, and where I should go from here. HOOYAH!