Another day, another challenge.
Thanks to the fact that I had officially entered my summer break, I could actually begin to travel once again for my races (something I had tried to prevent from doing the majority of the school year), so Wednesday evening my dad and I embarked on the sixteen-hour car drive from Taylor Lake Village, TX to Ottawa, Illinois, turning the trip into a mini-vacation, only driving five or six hours each day and stopping at various places and taking mini-detours to just sightsee and make the best of our cross-country road trip. One night we stayed in Texarkana, the next in St. Louis, and then at last, Friday afternoon we pulled arrived at the Battlefrog Chicagoland race site in Marseille, Illinois. After checking out the course a little bit and meeting some pretty cool volunteers working on the construction, we headed back to the Holiday Inn in Ottawa, getting a quick bite to eat at the Cracker Barrel before checking into our room. My Uncle Manuel would be driving in from Indiana to stay with us, and he ended up arriving around 8:30pm. After a little bit of chit-chatting and a late-night dinner at the ever-delicious Taco Bell, I forced myself to go to sleep at a mind-numbing 10:00pm (compared to my typical 3:00am), ready to race the next day.
After getting a full night’s sleep for the first time in a while (a full seven hours!), I woke up at 5:03am (yes, I’m that weird guy who sets oddly specific times for my alarms) and began to get ready, taking a shower and throwing on my race clothes and warm ups. All in all, the three of us managed to leave the hotel twenty minutes ahead of schedule, which resulted in us arriving to the race site around 6:10am, over an hour before race time. I jogged around, stretched a lot, said a prayer, and chilled out for a while, but in no time the group of Elites and Master Elites were being called to enter the starting corral, where Coach Pain provided us with our motivational speech and sent us off into the course.
Right away, I was feeling good. As of late I’ve been trying to get my running back to where it once was (in the glory days of high school track and cross country), and today I was beginning to see the results of those efforts. I still wasn’t where I used to be, but better than I had been as of late. For the first half mile or so, I found myself going back and forth between first and second, but fell back a little bit after the ramp wall, where I accidentally messed up my kick-flip and made a poor landing on the other side. Still feeling good with where my cardio and strength was at, I began to settle into a pace. Still feeling good.
Next came some obstacles that were there purely to help spread the group out to prepare us for the thin, rolling trails that were to come. We passed through the Spider Web (which was tricky due to the thick pack we were running in, which caused the suspended strings to shake as we tried to weave through them) and then some Mud Mounds, which were far deeper than expected and a good way to get muddy really early on in the race. We then proceeded to scale the 12’ Ladder Wall back in the festival area, then continued on into the woods for an extremely short period of time before spilling out into a clearing that contained the first difficult obstacle of the day: the Tip of the Spear.
Now, I say “difficult” because, if you’ve read my past blog posts, you’ll know that the Tip of the Spear is typically one of the game-changing obstacles, causing many people to fall back as they continually attempt the obstacle over and over and over again. However, accounting for the heavily possible chance of rain and also attempting to prevent bottlenecks, the race directors decided to add a foot-wedge halfway through what is typically the most difficult part of the obstacle; as a result, the Tip of the Spear became a quicker obstacle of the day, especially since the Lord had decided to provide us with an extremely beautiful day rather than the rainy one predicted by the weather forecasts. I passed it quickly and continued along the very technical trail that led deep into the woods, where many obstacles awaited.
First came some an extremely muddy crawl through the Normandy Jacks, which then spilled us out into a whole lot more running. The trail grew continually more technical and, as we progressed, progressively got steeper, so that eventually we were scaling extremely steep—albeit not too tall—hills, some of which were steep enough to require rope in order to climb. Then came the rope climb, the 12’ Rope Wall, the Confidence Climb, and 60 Degrees, all of which mainly served the purpose of continuing to spread the distance between us racers. At this point I was safely in probably third or fourth, and still feeling alright. I might have started off a bit fast, but I was still feeling good.
Next came the Strong Man—where we pick up cinder blocks and carry them a fairly short distance, which didn’t prove to be as difficult as I was expecting—which was shortly followed by the Jerry Can Carry, which provided us with a flat, long loop that was definitely taxing on the forearms towards the end. Then came some Over-Under-Throughs and quite a bit of running, which eventually poured us out into an open, graveled area, where we picked up some wreck bags and took them for a quick loop. Around here, a group of four or so guys passed me, which made me to realize that I had begun to slow down. Throwing my wreck bag back in the pile, I decided I needed to speed up a bit.
Then came the obstacles known as Frog Creek and Heartbreak Trail—both of which were composed purely of running, but nevertheless earned their title as obstacles. Frog Creek was basically a three-quarter mile run through ankle-deep creeks, soft sand, and loose stones, while Heartbreak Trail was a very technical, winding trail over some fairly bumpy terrain that appeared to have once been a river. During this mile-plus long period, my hips began to feel a toll of all the running.
After these obstacles, we opened up into that same clearing where the Tip of the Spear was located, meaning it was time to swim. Having worked a bit on my swimming form over the past week and a half, I tried to push my pace as I crossed the water, the cold water giving me a fresh dose of energy so that, upon emerging, I could pick up my running pace as I passed into the woods after scaling an inverted wall that came next. After a bit more trail running, I bear-crawled through the Cargo Low Crawl and weaved my way through the Second Spider Web, which emptied out into yet another series of rolling hills and technical terrain.
Halfway through the fourth mile, I emerged back into the clearing and approached the HOOYAH, which I climbed and then proceed to slide down, subsequently deposited into another cold pool of water. I crossed the water and pushed my way out, moving onto the next obstacle: the Pallet Carry.
Now, the Pallet Carry wasn’t listed on the course map and seemed more like an afterthought (as if, on the morning of race day, the directors were like, “Hey, a stack of pallets! We should do something with that!”), but it was a pretty awesome afterthought, if I may say so myself. Essentially, Elites were required to pick up the wooden pallets and hold it above our heads while walking along a short loop, without letting the pallet touch any part of our body other than our hands (a.k.a. don’t set it on your heads). While this wasn’t necessarily a difficult feat to accomplish, it was definitely an awkward obstacle, which can sometimes be the best because, in all honesty, they’re kind of fun. I’m used to carrying sand bags, wreck bags, and jerry cans, so changing it up was kind of cool. But who knows, maybe I’m crazy.
Then came the Delta Cargo (an A-frame cargo net), which then led us the final tenth of a mile to the Platinum Rig, which would be the final obstacle of our first lap. Once again, the race directors wanted to prevent bottlenecks and had also been nervous about the possible rain, so they had made the rig a bit easier than what is typical for Battlefrog. No nunchuks and no, as people have begun to refer to them, “stripper poles” (really long metal poles—like super-long nunchuks—that hang from a chain). There were some rings, some monkey bars, and a swiveled, elevated pole to cross, but the race directors had also added ropes, which made the platinum rig pretty quick to cross. After drying my hands with the hay, I crossed the rig with no problem, continuing on to my second lap.
As is typical, the second lap went by far quicker than the first (which is always strange due to the whole fatigue factor). In all honesty, the only things worth noting are that the rope climb was especially muddy and difficult (LIFE HACK: if there’s hay, stick it to your hands and use it to help you grip the muddy rope) and that the jerry cans definitely took a greater toll the second time through. I managed to finish the second lap just a tad bit slower than the first, crossing the finish line and accepting my medal.
One of the coolest things about the race was that, in the end, I had thought I was in roughly fourth or fifth place, and I was satisfied with my performance. However, as I received my medal and accepted a water bottle from a volunteer, I was informed that, apparently, a few people had been disqualified thanks to getting lost on the course and therefore running a shorter length (to this, I will admit that there were several spots on the course that were very poorly marked, especially when another obstacle race, Dirt Runner, had their own course markings out on the same course, sending runners in other directions), and thanks to their disqualification, I had actually come in second place! For the first time ever, I had managed to podium in a Battlefrog.
But like I said, that was one of the coolest things. The coolest part of the day, in fact, was what happened afterwards, when I went out and ran a third lap of the course with my uncle, who would be taking on his very first ever obstacle course. We took off with the twelve o’clock heat, and within a half-mile I had gained a whole new respect for those who run in the open races. The course was muddier, the terrain a whole lot slicker and thicker, and it was crazy to experience. When we run Elite, we get the obstacles fresh and clean, but this was a whole new deal. If I had thought the rope climb was muddy on my second lap, it was caked with mud during my third. When it comes to the steep hills, the descents became harder to control and the ascents became difficult to make. It was crazy to see the transformation a course can make in just a few hours.
But the best part of it all was that, for the first time, I actually got to go out and enjoy a course. When I race courses, I’m usually pushing myself to the point that I can’t really stop and appreciate all of it, but this was a whole new deal! Running it with my uncle, being able to joke around and just enjoy each other’s company, and just passing from obstacle to obstacle in a fun, non-race pace, it truly was awesome. We took our time, we had fun, and we got muddy, and that’s what obstacle racing is all about. It was really cool.
And shoot, my uncle may very well have to start running the Elite heat soon, because he D-O-M-I-N-A-T-E-D me on those inclines. He’d sprint up them like a bat out of hell while I chugged behind him, hoping that he’d start walking sometime soon. So yeah, that was fun.
All in all, it was a great day. Sure, the obstacles were a bit easier than what is typically expected at Battlefrog, but that didn’t really detract too much from the course (instead of being obstacle-heavy, it felt closer to a Spartan Race/Battlefrog intermediary, relying more on the technical running and the rolling hills than the difficulty when it came to the upper body stuff). It was still an awesome course, and it was great to just be there the entire day, enjoying the sun and enjoying the community. Sure, that third lap may have beat the snot out of me and those extra five miles and twenty-four obstacles will leave me sore tomorrow, but it was definitely worth it. Awesome job, Battlefrog; can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next.