Today, my friends, was the first time ever for me to take the DQ in an obstacle race – or in any race, for that matter.
Consider me humbled.
Before I get into my recap, let me start by saying this: I am in no way beating myself up over my decision to give in my belt today, nor do I have any regrets about doing so. Likewise, the result of this hasn’t left me unmotivated or downcast in anyway; if anything, I’m more motivated and enthusiastic and optimistic than before. Lessons were learned today, and where lessons can be learned there is always profit to be made, so I am just as enthusiastic as ever. It might feel weird, yes, but I still feel great.
Let’s just start with this: Conquer the Gauntlet was the race I’d been waiting for. Ever since Battlefrog shut down last year, I’ve been longing for a race to push my limits in the same way as those 10-mile courses used to. Spartan Races are good, sure, but the lack of mandatory completion of obstacles make it hard for anybody to feel as brutally taxed as they did when facing the intensive obstacles of Battlefrog. Savage Race is a sold middle-man – mandatory completion, but with obstacles not crazy difficult – but still not at BF levels. But Conquer the Gauntlet…it’s definitely got potential.
After a solid four hours of sleep, I woke up this morning and made the hour-and-a-half drive from College Station to Conroe, where I met up with my dad and headed into the race venue (the same location as the Terrain Race a few weeks ago), excited as ever to try my first ever CTG, which had been rumored to be the toughest OCR in business nowadays. I love myself a good challenge, and I was ready to go for it. I wanted a race that would make me consider handing in my band; that’s what Battlefrog used to do, and though I always managed to successfully complete the BF courses, I longed for that intensity again. My cardio and my strength weren’t as 100% — I had a few tests this past week and didn’t get time to train at all – but I was excited. I love trying new races.
After a shorter-than-normal warm-up, I hopped the wall into the starting corral and lined up next to various buddies from all over. Matt Willis, Van Tran, Mikhail Llauder, Jay Flores, Rich Smith, Greg Sexton, Kenneth Stanford, and those are but a few – they were all there, each of them excited to race. Matt Campione was there too, but unfortunately wouldn’t be joining us due to an injured elbow (or perhaps he was scared; I kid, I kid). We were given our elite belts, with promise that to cross the line with that belt signified disqualification. I smiled, knowing that there was no way I would cross the finish with that belt.
And we were off. Within a hundred meters we were trudging hip-deep through a lake, then coming back up to go over to inverted walls and blast out onto the course. Next came a mud trench (“Pit of Despair”) followed by three back-to-back slanted walls (“Rockies”), followed by Rubber Roadblock (a vertical cargo net-like set up made of tires instead of netting) and Hammer Time (where you use a sledge hammer to hit a large concrete block down and back a short wooden track). From the very beginning the course was obstacle-heavy, pushing me a little further back given my usual reliance on running to gain ground. There was some small, steep hills we had to go up and down, but they weren’t too taxing. I was in about 4th or 5th place.
Next came the sandbag carry (“Conquerous Carry”) and the barbed wire crawl (“Razor’s Edge”), followed pretty quickly by an 8’ fall (“Wall Scale”), a horizontal barrel thing that you had to step over (“Barrels of Risky”) and an A-frame cargo net (“Net Scrambler”). Today was the first day I ever tried the flip over the cargo net (rather than carefully transitioning and climbing down), and I have to say, it was quite a bit faster. I was still in about the same positioning as we made our way to the next obstacle. We were a bit over a mile in.
“Up from the Grave” came next, a weird obstacle that has you sliding down a short black tube into some murky water only to climb out on the other wise and up a mound of mud. My slight claustrophobia made that one a bit interesting, but it wasn’t too difficult to get in and out pretty quick.
Next came the “Stairway to Heaven,” an extra-steep version of Ninja Warrior’s Devil Steps. Trying to gain some ground, I rushed too quickly and hopped on the obstacle, not realizing how slick both my hands and the wooden planks were. I had barely gotten my hands on the boards before I was plummeting into the water, scrambling out to dry my hands off enough so I could try again. I was feeling good, but that slip-up had made me lose some major ground. My buddy Matt Willis was caught up here too, apparently having made the same mistake. On the second try I successfully made it across, then took a full-out sprint as I tried to regain ground. I was probably back in 20th or so, but I managed to pass a solid ten people in the next quarter mile. Next came “Torpedo” (a tube you slide down into some water), “Walk the Plank” (an A-frame balance beam), and some trail running with a lot of twists and turns. Me and some other guys got lost a few times during this portion, but ended up making it back to the course. I noted that my Icebugs didn’t seem to be having the same amount of grip as usual, because I was sliding all through the mud like I was walking in socks across an ice-skating rink (I’ve never done so, but I’m assuming it’s pretty slippery). After this came “Belly of the Beast,” a balance obstacle that transitioned to a horizontal/inverted cargo net that you had to climb the underside of.
At last – oh, at last – came Pegatron, the nightmare I had been dreading all morning. I’d heard stories of the beast, myths of the many casualties it had taken, but never had I assumed that I myself could be considered a prey under its vicious claws. Pegatron is a 19’ long pegboard, 12’ of which is suspended openly with no footholds whatsoever. I had heard that this was the obstacle of all obstacles, and had hoped that perhaps I myself could conquer it (pun most definitely intended). I shook my hands out, mounted the first foothold, grasped the pegs, and…
Well, I made it pretty far the first time, but long story short, I fell. More people had come behind me so I had to wait in line, but then I tried and failed again. My arms were not tired in the least, but my technique was nonexistent. I was trying to get across, but I had never really trained on a pegboard before and hadn’t the slightest clue how to do it. My grip strength was feeling great, but alas I fell and fell and fell again. The line grew longer and longer, and soon I had stood there for an entire hour. I watched as few made it and exponentially more waited alongside me, then saw with dismay as people handed in their belts and continued along the course, disqualified from the elite race. Never did I consider handing mine in. I had never considered such a thing.
Seven times I must have tried, and while my forearms did begin to get slightly tired, I realized at last that technique was my main issue, not strength. It was not a matter of could I do it but a matter of did I know how, and I realized that the only thing putting me back in that line time and time again was my own pride. I could stay stubborn and get back and line again and again until sundown and I would probably eventually get it, but wouldn’t it make more sense to take the L for today, finish the race with a smile on my face, and use that obstacle as motivation going forward?
For the first time ever, I handed in my belt (and with it, my Elite status) and took off. It was a bittersweet moment, yes, but I tried to tell myself that it was the right thing to do. It wasn’t quitting, but merely accepting the fact that the wise choice would be to use it as a lesson for future training purposes. “I will persist until I succeed,” as I so often quote.
Thankfully, handing in that belt gave me an adrenaline rush, because the rest of the race went by quite easily. I ran at a nearly full-out sprint for the rest of the course, going over the 12’ wall not once but twice (once for myself, another time to show someone else how to go about it), crossing the Z-beam twice (once because I tried to rush it, and then a second time pretty quickly), going pretty quickly across the “Boardwalk” (an elevated balance beam) and through some rolling mud (“The Bog”), across the “Cliffhanger” (an A-frame set of monkey bars), then up the “Continental Divide” (a large slanted wall with a rope hanging from it, like a Slip Wall from Spartan). Shortly after came the “Tarzan Swing” (a rig), which I made it across pretty easily on the first try before heading over to this obstacle where you had to crank this handle to bring a wheelbarrow filled with sandbags your direction before going back to the opposite end and pulling the wheelbarrow back via a rope (I’m not sure the name of this obstacle). Then came five back-to-back 8.5’ walls (“Walls of Fury”), each of which I flipped over pretty quickly before climbing the final rope and crossing the finish.
So yeah, not my best race, but I still absolutely loved it! To me, races like that are the ones that make me love obstacle racing. I love OCR because of the challenge it presents, and to me CTG did a great job in presenting a challenge. I judge a race not by how I perform – I think that is the worst thing an athlete can do – but on how much you felt challenged during the course, and today’s course definitely takes the win in regards to that, hence why I handed in my Elite belt for the first time ever. If we can have more and more races like this, we can start getting back to the amazing phenomenon that Battlefrog once presented us with in their grueling courses. I love standing at a starting line not knowing whether or not I will finish with my band, and today just happened to be the first day I did not. (In saying this, I should probably make the claim that it will hopefully be my last as well.)
I’ve gotta say, I really enjoyed Conquer the Gauntlet. The course marking got a bit iffy around three-quarters of the way through, but other than that it was a fantastic course with some killer obstacles brimming with imagination. If they can keep it up, I definitely see it becoming one of my favorite obstacle series around, purely because the challenge presented in the mandatory completion of such arduous obstacles really makes for an entertaining race. Things might not have gone how I preferred, but that’s the beautiful thing about racing: they rarely do. God is still good, I am still healthy, and I have found plenty of room for improvement, so I’m just as optimistic going forward and excited for what’s to come.
Thanks to Conquer the Gauntlet for presenting us with such an awesome course, and awesome job to everybody out there who absolutely killed it. See you next time!