Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Vacation

For the fourth summer in a row, Seth and I staycationed in the lovely Pioneer Valley. I am not against a traveling vacation by any means, and would actually love to get away. However, we've been instead allocating our funds towards improving our home (pellet stove, new windows and slider) and for school for me (Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science -- classes start a week from Saturday).

What with our money going towards our home and my education, there isn't room for travel. Instead, we have stayed locally during our week off and done some day trips. This year we started off our vacation week with the trip to the Boston Spartan Sprint, which I've already blogged about. That day also took us over to Hampton Beach, a fifteen minute drive away from where the Spartan Race was. Hampton Beach is a popular tourist destination. The weather was lovely, and Seth and I enjoyed walking the crowded boardwalk, which was lined with shops selling novelty gifts, arcades, and restaurants.


We also wet our feet in the ocean and got to see the famous seashell stage where they have free concerts. 


Later during our vacation week, we headed over to Mount Warner Vineyards. Seth and I very much enjoy checking out the local wineries in western Massachusetts and had yet to visit Mount Warner, in nearby Hadley, a ten minute drive from our house.

When we arrived, we found that the winery and farm was located at the growers' home. They grew all their grapes there and did the harvesting and wine-making all on-site. We got to walk around the vineyard and see all the grapes on the vine.


We then headed into the tasting room where we were able to try all the varieties that Mount Warner had to offer. 


White Wines

 

The Cayuga White was a lovely dry Riesling style wine. It was completely pleasing and perfect for the summer.


The Chardonel was Chardonnay-inspired and quite dry. I think it would be perfect for pairing with a variety of foods and for when I want a more robust white wine.


I recall this wine being a bit fruitier and totally pleasing. 


A nice blend, and I do like a good white blend. This included three local grapes and was definitely the most fruity of the white wines.

Red Wines


The Corot Noir was sadly the one wine that we didn't get to try. They were out of it! I'm hoping to find a bottle once they produce it this season and give it a try.



The secret was made with such a new variety of grape, Petite Pearl, that they weren't even able to list it on the bottle. However, it was totally delicious and had a great full mouth feel. 



The Sunset Red was a red blend. The vineyard owner, Bobbie, said that it was a perfect accompaniment for any casual dinner. A good pasta and pizza wine. I think that it would be perfect for that because it had a very mild unassuming taste.

Rosè



I am not always a fan of rosés, but I was delighted to find this wine amazing! It was wonderfully dry, flavorful, and complex. We brought home a bottle!

Dessert Wines



Wow! Very unique. The fini! certainly had a higher alcohol content than the other wines. The warmth of the alcohol really hit you and the aftertaste was lovely and tropical. One of the most interesting wines I have ever had.



Our last wine was the Raspberry Rhapsody. The raspberry flavor on this one was not to be believed. I have had a number of raspberry wines, and I would have to say that this is the most flavorful. Bobbie served it to us with a piece of dark chocolate. The combination was amazing!

We had a fantastic time trying all the Mount Warner Vineyards has to offer. They sell their wine locally in some local market, like Atkins, so it will be convenient to get more of their wine whenever we want. During our trip to the winery, we purchased three bottles, the Neither and the two dessert wines, fini! and Raspberry Rhapsody.

Tasting and tours at Mount Warner are by appointment. I completely recommend that anyone in the area give them a call. The owner, Bobbie, was wonderfully welcoming and great about sharing all sort of cool information about the wine-making process.



My last adventure of the week, at the end of our staycation, was another trip up to Shale Hill, a fixed obstacle course in Vermont with almost sixty obstacles over a 10K course. I am officially obsessed with the place. Ever since my weekend there with the Spahtens, I have wished I was up there pretty much every second. I am not a bit one for time in the car. The fact that I am willing to spend almost three hours driving to Vermont and then another three coming back is a testament to how outstanding it is. 

I was hoping to go up there again and volunteer at the race they are having Saturday in early September, but I forgot grad school starts that weekend. I'm super excited to start graduate school at Simmons School of Library and Information Science, but it's definitely having an impact on my ability to race. I still plan to head up to Shale Hill once more before the Spartan Beast on September 21. I'm also hoping to be able to get up there again for either (or both) the Halloween Run and the Benson Polar Bear 8-hour Challenge, which would be as many loops of the course as one can do during the cold of February in Vermont. We'll see -- I am kind of cold-averse. 

It was great to have a week off to relax around the house and get in some fun day trips. Things are starting to get busy as the fall rolls around. Orientation for graduate school is next week and then things intensify at work when the students return. I have to get in as much summer fun while I still can!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

PiYo: Sculpt Review

This week, I finally got to the last of the PiYo workouts, Sculpt. For those of you that follow my blog closely, you'll notice that I have had a race every weekend the last three weeks. For that reason, I took a brief PiYo hiatus. Now that I am not racing again until the Spartan Beast in September, I have picked up PiYo again.

Month two of PiYo introduces the last of the new workouts, the approximately 28 minute, Sculpt workout.


Overall, I found Sculpt to be not that challenging of a PiYo workout. I also saw a lot of repetition from prior workouts (so much so that my husband, who was watching me, asked, "Didn't you do this one already?").

The workout started in a way that was very familiar. The warm-up, this time, was a bit more lower body focused, which led into the Lunges, Bowlers, & Squats section quite well. The Lunges, Bowlers, & Squats section was very very similar to what we've done in other workouts for the leg sections. Lunges are definitely good to do, but I wish we could see more variety here; it would have been great to have the Sculpt workout have a more unique section for legs.

We then went on to the Full Body Fusion. I liked this section -- it reminded me of a slightly less interesting version of the Flow section from Drench. I have very tight hips, so any time Warrior 1 comes up I am glad to be doing what I'm doing. This section was not too challenging but was a good stretch component to the workout.

We then moved to the Arms & Core section. As usual, tricep push-ups ruled the day. We did get some side planks in there, which was a nice way to mix things up. We finished up with triangle push-ups. I was familiar with these from P90X3 where they are called diamond push-ups and done with the hands even closer together. This is a tough move, and it definitely added an element of challenge to have this at the end of the arms section.

The final section of the fairly short Sculpt workout was Triceps, Buns, & Cool down. Here we did tricep dips instead of push-ups. At this point, my triceps were starting to get a little tired, so I was glad when we moved to the glutes and legs and did some bridges.

To get a more in depth view, here is the moves list.

WARM-UP
Squat
Circle arms
Lunge right and left
Fan arms overhead
Fold in half
Lunge right and left
Repeat entire series
Squat hold for 3 > knee lift
Squat > right knee > left knee
Sumo plié
Add lat pull
Sumo squat > alternate shoulder drops
Flat back > round up > round down > round up
Fan arms up
Calf stretches
Fold in half > relax
Round up > shoulder rolls

LUNGES, BOWLERS, & SQUATS
Squat
Lunge lower and lift
Lunge lower and tap
4-count lunge and tap
Lunge pulse
Bowler lower and lift
Bowler lower and tap
4-count bowler and tap
Bowler pulse
Repeat lunge and bowler series (alt. lead)
Squat
Skater
Squat
3-count squat pulse > knee lift
4-count squat
Squat and hand tap
Fan arms, hold over, bend knees

FULL BODY FUSION
Sun salutation
Forward fold
Plank
Chaturanga
Down dog
Warrior 1
Warrior 1 > raise and lower arms
Warrior 1 > lat pull pulse
Warrior 1 > 4-count down
Runner's Lunge
Plank
Down dog
Open leg split
Crouching push-up x4
Down dog
Repeat series (alt. lead)
Down dog
Lower to knees
Child's pose

ARMS & CORE
Plank
Slow Tricep push-ups
Standard Push-ups
Side plank
Side plank crunch
Tricep push-ups on one knee
Standard push-ups on one knee
Side plank (alt. lead)
Side plank crunch
Tricep push-ups on both knees
Standard push-ups on both knees
Down dog / child's pose
All-fours
Triangle push-ups
Triangle push-ups on one knee
Child's pose
Down dog
Walk hands back
Roll up

TRICEPS, BUNS, & COOL DOWN
Tricep dips
Tricep dips with alternating knee lifts
Tricep dips with one leg up (and alt. lead)
Bridge
Bridge with one leg up (and alt. lead)
Bridge pulse with half-dip
Hip stretch
Knees to chest circle
Sit up tall, legs straight
Seated hamstring stretch
Repeat sit and hamstring stretch
Hand behind knees, round back and up


To sum it up, Sculpt is not going to go down as one of my favorite PiYo workouts. I don't feel that it really adds anything super unique to the program. A lot of the sequences felt similar to what was done in the past, so the addition of this workout doesn't seem to add anything to the PiYo experience. I didn't feel like I was "sculpting" anymore in this workout than in any of the others.

Sculpt is average all around. It isn't too difficult. It isn't too original. It's okay. Is it a nice workout to do? Sure. Will it add anything for you? I'm not sure. 

Having done all of the PiYo workouts now, I would highlight Drench as my favorite. It did a great job bringing all of the elements I was hoping for -- stretching, strengthening, balance -- when I got PiYo. It's also the one that I feel is most challenging, likely because of length, as it clocks in at almost 50 minutes. 

PiYo will never be a favorite program for me. I like my high impact cardio and circuit training too much for that. I do think that including PiYo in my workout library is beneficial. Because it balances body-weight resistance training, non-impact activity, and stretching, PiYo offers me something that my other workouts don't. It's certainly easier than what I normally do, but I like having the option of popping PiYo into the DVD player on days when I want to be a little more gentle on my body. For that reason, PiYo has staying power.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

2014 Boston Spartan Sprint

I had a great time hanging out with the NE Spahtens yesterday at the Boston Spartan Sprint at Amesbury Sports Park in Amesbury, Massachusetts. Seth and I left the house bright and early to get to the inconveniently located town of Amesbury.

Honestly, you can find an OCR at Amesbury most weekends in the warmer months. The venue is a favorite of race directors and for good reason. As a racer, I have mixed feelings about racing at Amesbury. For starters, the drive there is almost always a hassle as 495 is a very congested road on weekends in the summer. Second, the parking for Amesbury is off-site at a casino in nearby New Hampshire. This means you have to get bussed about ten minutes from the parking lot to the venue. Buses are always plentiful, however, and there is never a wait, so this is well handled even though it's kind of a drag to not have on-site parking. Also, they don't allow in outside food or drink, which is a hassle for days like yesterday when it's 80 degrees and you want to stay hydrated while you wait to race.

Amesbury has some nice hills. Nothing too killer, but your legs will definitely feel the burn traipsing through the woods there. Spartan Race did a great job using the terrain and nicely mixed-up the sections your run on flats, downhill, and uphill. The trails were well-marked and easy to navigate. The woods of Amesbury are poison ivy central -- with all the races they hold there you think they might want to take care of that -- so you have to proceed with caution. We will see how well at avoiding a rash I did in a few days time.


We arrived at the race at around 10:15 a.m., just a little over an hour before the NE Spahtens team heat at 11:30 a.m. That's right; there were so many Spahtens in attendance that the group got it's own heat. Check in was a breeze. I had my wavers all set and went right up and got my packet. Conveniently, everything was pre-organized in an envelope. Spartan doesn't have you wear your bib (because honestly you'll just lose it anyway), so they provide a headband with your bib number that you use for identification along the course. I put on my chip for timing and my headband and headed over to the biggest team tent to find some of my Spahten friends.

From what I heard there were around 300 Spahtens racing that day. I definitely agree. I was happy to get to see several of my Ragnar teammates and some of the other attendees of the Shale Hill weekend and from BattleFrog. I'm starting to know quite a few people and really feel like a member of the team. It's great to have like-minded individuals who share your interests.

At around 11:05 a.m., we headed over to the starting area for Vince Rhee to take our team picture. As you can see, we are a sizable group. I am in the lower right-hand corner somewhere sitting next to fellow ginger and Ragnar companion Mike. Good luck trying to find me!


Following the picture, we headed into the starting area. There was a quick wall to get into the coral and then we were in place. NBC Sports was filming the race for airing on September 23 at 10:00 p.m., so they were shooting footage. They encouraged those of us in team gear to stand towards the front so the cameras would see a wave of blue. I headed semi-towards the front but didn't really make it, which is fine -- I think they had enough people.


There were some brief remarks a few "Aroo!"s, and we were off!

 

We began the course by running straight up the hill. We took a quick left and headed towards the first obstacle, Rolling Mud. There were a set of two or three mud pits that we had to navigate and they were deep. I was wet up to my chest. Rolling Mud also featured a short log balance beam that we had to traverse. 

 


From there, it was immediately on to Over-Under-Through where we went over a wall (probably around six feet), under another, and through the third. No problem so far.


Next we headed off towards a part of the sports park that I was not familiar with. We probably jogged around 1/3 of a mile until we came to a field with two walls. There was a 7' or 8' wall for people that wanted to go over by themselves and a 10' or 12' wall for people to do as teams. There were lots of Spahtens about, but I knew some of them were helping newer people and were busy. I decided to handle the shorter wall myself. I was going over the wall and put my foot on the side support. Behind me I heard, "Burpees!" (Note: For failed obstacles at Spartan Race, you have to complete 30 burpees.) What? Apparently you were not allowed to touch the side of the wall. I apologized, saying I didn't know about the rule, agreed I should have, and said I would definitely do the burpees. The staff person, either out of kindness or my attitude being respectful said that I could do the wall again and if I did it correctly would not have to do the burpees. I can do a wall that size without the side supports no problem (I had just been trying to save energy), so I did and reminded myself to take the walls the proper way going forward.

Next up was the Gamble. There were two signs:
1. Do 15 burpees and run 200 meters flat
2. Run 250 meters with a hill.
I decided to opt for option number two since I was guessing I would have to do burpees later and running an extra 50 meters is nothing even if it is with a hill -- much easier than burpees. This ended up being a good choice because the hill was a downhill. Gamble won!

From there it was back into the woods for more trail running. I think here is a good place to comment on my main complaint about the course. The obstacles were very poorly spaced. They were all concentrated at the beginning and end of the race with only a few scattered in between. I understand that this is likely to make filming easier for NBC and makes for awesome spectating -- Seth said he had the best spectator experience at this race of any to date. This sort of set-up might be the reality for convenience, but it's not great for the participants.


I would estimate there were around nine obstacles in the last mile. There were maybe 2/3 of that in the first almost four miles. This meant that we had long stretches of just running in the woods. At 4.8 miles, the course was fairly long for a Spartan Sprint. I think that's great -- more bang for your buck -- but I would have liked to see the course be laid out in a way that was more participant friendly so that I didn't feel like I was running down the same hill a few times just to pad the mileage and tire you out before the obstacle glut at the end.

The next obstacle was Inverted Walls. I'm a fan of this obstacle and tend to find them fun. The ones at Spartan were actually the easiest that I have come across. Along the back of the wall were two rungs of boards that you could grab onto and step on. This meant that you could almost climb to the top like you would a ladder. You still had to be able to pull yourself up and over the top, but it was a lot easier to get there. The Inverted Walls had similar boards on the back to let you climb down easily.

After the Inverted Walls was the Tractor Pull / Team Log Carry. Individuals could drag a cement block on a chain and teams could go a log carry. I was not in sight of any Spahtens that I knew, so I did the Tractor Pull. This was done over some muddy and uneven ground, but the pull was short and we weren't having to pull uphill or anything crazy like that. As long as you kept moving the Tractor Pull wasn't too bad.

After some brief running, we came to the Tire Drag. The Tire Drag was over a fairly short distance. We had to pull the tire towards us using the rope that was attached and then carry it back out. Seth had been at the Tire Pull waiting for me and had noticed that the volunteer who was running the obstacle often had to bring the tired back out for people. To do this, he was stepping in the tire, lifting the front, and then walking out. Seth recommended I try this tactic. I did, and it worked extremely well. I struggle on the obstacles that require lifting and carrying, but I got this one easily.



Next up was the Sandbag Carry. I knew this was coming and had fears based on my Shale Hill Sandbag Carry pseudo-meltdown. I need not have worried. Spartan had nice soft little sand disks that were probably around 10 pounds for the women and I am guessing around 25 for the men. We walked down a hill and then back up. I rested the sandbag on the top of my back kind of across my shoulders and it was totally fine. I didn't even feel like I was suffering.

From the Sandbag Carry we went back into the woods for quite a bit. This entire stretch was just running with some hiking up and down the hills in the woods of Amesbury. As I mentioned before, these hills were enough to get you breathing and your legs working but they were certainly not killer killer hills. That being said, over time, they definitely started to cause fatigue and when we excited the woods for the last set of obstacles, later in the race, I was feeling it.

After our trail run / hike, we excited to the Monkey Bars. These were not your standard Monkey Bars. The bars were at three levels so you had to bring your self up two bars and then down two. I have to admit that the Monkey Bars are one of my favorite obstacles and this variation was super fun. I think I am lucky enough to have a body-type that is well suited to the Monkey Bars, and I like the feeling of being able to tackle an obstacle that others have trouble with. That's not to say I was always good on the bars -- I definitely failed them at my first Tough Mudder. But I've been working at it, and now this obstacle is one I have come to enjoy.


 

From the Monkey Bars, it was back into the woods for a very long stretch of running and hiking. This was a very long stretch with out obstacles. I think we could have run for even a mile or so with nothing but terrain and woods. It was a bit of luck that I came upon some Spahten friends to chat with and pass the time; otherwise, this bit of course would have been very tedious. When we excited the woods, it was at the top of the hill in Amesbury overlooking the festival area. We had probably around 1.5 miles to go, and they looked to be obstacle heavy. Finally!

First up was the Rope Swing. We had to grab a rope and swing from one side to the other over a pool of water. I usually nail this obstacle on the first try, but didn't get enough momentum the first time and had to do it again. (You got three tried before having to do the burpee penalty.) The second time I did a much better running start and made it across with no problem.

We ran down the hill to the area adjacent to the festival area. It was time for the Hercules Hoist. I hadn't been all that concerned about this obstacle after doing fine with hoists at Down & Dirty and Shale Hill. Perhaps that had been foolish. The Hercules Hoist bested me for sure. I've heard reports of the weight for the women's hoist being between 75 and 85 pounds. I believe it. I could hardly get the bag moving. At Shale Hill I had learned a technique where you pull down once and then walk back using the strength of your legs to do the hoist. However, at Spartan, I could not get the bag more than a couple of feet of the ground. From there, I was unable to move with it at all. Nor could I get my arms to pull it up. The result: my first set of burpees for the day.


The Hercules Hoist (and my burpees) led directly into the next obstacle, Bucket Brigade. This was what I feared the Sandbag Carry would be -- brutal. We had to take a bucket, orange for women and black for me, and fill it with rocks to the top of a taped line. We then had to walk the bucket about half way up the hill and then back down. We were supposed to keep the bucket in front of us at all times and not carry it on our back or shoulders. What a struggle! I made it but not without having to take a few rest stops. Since pretty much everyone else was doing this too, I didn't feel so bad.


I had about a mile left in the race. I had been feeling pretty good, but the hoist + burpees + bucket carry combo was a killer. I was definitely getting tired. It was also a very warm day and I had brought limited fuel. I had thought the race would be a bit quicker than it was. Spartan took good care of us with four water stops on the course. I drank thirstily at each one but wished I had brought some fuel. I ended up being on the course for 2:19, and only had one GU. I definitely will bring more next time and might even consider bringing a hydration pack if I know it's going to be a hot day because I could have used more fluids. This is not to say that I boinked terribly. I had just anticipated having a slightly faster race and should have brought more food so that I could have felt a little more charged at the end.

I was immensely relieved when Bucket Brigade was over. We got to climb the Bridge that we had entered the course by passing through. This wouldn't be a good obstacle for you if you mind heights, otherwise, it was a snap and a nice rest after all that heavy work.


From the Bridge, we headed back up the hill and did the Slip Wall, and inclined wall that you climbed with a rope. I got great traction with the Icebugs and climbed up the wall no problem. The wall wasn't very steeply inclined, so it was a fairly easy climb in my opinion. After the Slip Wall, we finished climbing the hill and took a right back towards the area where we had started our race. We had less than a mile to go!

The obstacles kept coming fast at this point. There was a second set of 7' or 12' Walls (for individuals or teams). Then it was on to the Rope Climb. My arms were a bit tired from earlier but nothing terrible, and I was feeling good about the Rope Climb, especially after making it up the super slippery rope at BattleFrog last weekend. As at most races, we had to get on the rope from a pool of water -- thought I might say that this was was a bit deeper than usual. I was in up to the top of my chest. This made it a little hard to get started, but I was able to pull myself up and get my legs wrapped around the bottom of the rope. Seriously this technique of wrapping the rope around the legs to take weight off the arms has changed the rope climb for me a ton. I am now much more confident when I do it. Yesterday, I nailed it!


 
 
Right after the Rope Climb was the Traverse Walls. These are usually a favorite obstacle of mine. Because they were right after the Rope Climb, they were drenched and very slippery. I actually slipped trying to get on the wall and had to reposition. My arms were a bit tired after the Rope Climb, so I was glad that this was not the longest Traverse Wall I have ever done. Placed elsewhere on the course this might have been easy, but with a slick wet wall and tired arms, it was a nice challenge where it was. Well done, Spartan!



We went right from the Traverse Wall to the Spear Throw. The Spear Throw is an infamous burpee maker since so few people actually hit the throw. For it to count, the spear has to stick in the hay figure. I made a valiant effort and my spear did manage to make it to the figure and sort of hit the side, but I did not sure nearly enough force. Time for my second set of 30 burpees for the day.


The Spear Throw led directly into the longest Barbed Wire Crawl I have ever done. There was actually a bit of a pile-up here, and people were moving a bit slowly as they rolled or crab crawled under the wire. There were four sections of the Barbed Wire Crawl. The first three were dry, the last was wet and muddy. I was getting kind of scratched up on the crawl and was looking forward to the muddy section if only so that I didn't get more bruises and nicks; however, the muddy section was somehow even rockier. I always think the Barbed Wire Crawl is more of a drag than a challenge since the discomfort of it is about getting scrapped up instead of dealing with a physical challenge. I'll take a Barbed Wire Crawl on grass any day but these rocky ones are a pain -- literally.




The Barbed Wire Crawl ended up at a pond of muddy water with a wall. You had to submerge yourself and swim under the wall. For those of you who are water / swimming adverse: don't worry. The wall was only a couple of inches into the water. I was actually eager to get into the water and get some of the mud off from the last section of the Barbed Wire Crawl, plus I was hot. The water felt great!

There was just one obstacle to go before the finish line, Fire Jump. This may sound crazy, but I have been waiting for years to do an obstacle where you jump over fire. Somehow, have never attended a course that had a Fire Jump until now. Was it fun? Yes. Was it as epic as the pictures make it out? Not quite. There wasn't really a lot of fire at the Fire Jump, per say. It was more hazy with smoke. So, no, there aren't any epic pictures of my jumping and emerging through the flames, but am guessing that they can't really do that without fear of danger to the participants anyway. Still, you can be sure I will comb the Spartan pictures for one of me doing Fire Jump soon. I was glad to get to living the dream.


It was just a short run down the hill from Fire Jump to the finish line. I was lucky to race through and get my medal from a fellow Spahten.


I grabbed a banana, protein bar, and some much-needed water. I added my name to the Wall of Valor -- kind of cool. I then picked up my t-shirt, which at size small is almost comically over-sized. I hope that eventually more races do what BattleFrog is doing and get women's t-shirts too. After picking up all my swag, I then headed to the hoses.


I had a lot of fun at the 2014 Boston Spartan Sprint. I have heard that it was one of the most challenging races people have ever done at Amesbury. I found the race a challenge but certainly not killer and definitely not as taxing as BattleFrog (last weekend) or Shale Hill (two weeks ago). Overall, I liked the obstacles but didn't love the obstacle placement or how it felt like we did a bunch of random running to just add miles. I think the mileage would have been fine if the obstacles were evenly spaced across them. Spartan always seems to do a lot of carry / lift obstacles like the Sandbag Carry, Tire Drag, Bucket Brigade, and Hercules Hoist. These are not personally my favorite sorts of obstacles. I tend to prefer obstacles that require climbing and agility over ones that are just tests of muscle. For that reason Spartan Races will probably never be my personal favorite. This is not a statement against the race or a criticism -- it's just me, as a consumer, being honest about what I like. I had a lot of fun at the Spartan Sprint this weekend, but I loved Shale Hill last month. That's the difference.

Probably the best part of the Boston Spartan Sprint was getting to spend time with my fellow Spahtens. I would probably sign up again next year just for the chance to hang out with the team and race with some cool people.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Battlefrog Tri-State 2014

What a whirlwind weekend! I just returned to Amherst after an impromptu trip down to Englishtown, New Jersey for the Tri-State BattleFrog obstacle course race. BattleFrog is new to the obstacle racing scene -- the New Jersey race was just their fourth -- but they have hit the scene with a bang. BattleFrog is backed by a wealthy individual and they are able to deliver a great time. The race is affiliated with the Navy SEALs and has SEALs on-course and doing demonstrations.


I had no plans to travel this weekend. I had visited Shale Hill last weekend and am schedule to do the Boston Spartan Sprint in Amesbury next weekend. This weekend I was going to lay low. However, on a whim, I had entered myself into a contest the NE Spahtens were hosting to win a free entry to the Tri-State BattleFrog. The first place winner was unable to attend, and my name was selected second. I had been hearing a lot of good things about BattleFrog and decided, "Why the hell not?" And that is how I committed myself to a four-hour drive down to New Jersey.

After committing to such a lengthy trip, I was hoping that BattleFrog lived up to the hype. I was not disappointed.

BattleFrog Tri-State was held at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, a location for motocross and race car driving. I think the venue was great for BattleFrog. It was easy in and out and there was tons of parking on site. This was BattleFrog's first year, and I would guess they got around 1,000 or so attendees over the course of the day. If the event gets bigger, it would be possible that traffic could be an issue, but for now it worked great. On site parking is always a big plus in my book.

I arrived, paid my $10 for parking, and easily located a spot. I followed the sound of noise towards the festival grounds, about a five minute walk from where I had parked. Registration was a snap! I show my ID and I was in. BattleFrog had no wavers to fill out and had not per-assigned bib numbers. Also convenient was that my bib, chip for timing, and pins were all in an envelope, pre-arranged. What a simple and wonderful idea! Why has no one done this before.

The NE Spahtens had ended up being the biggest team at BattleFrog Tri-State, which meant that we got a free team tent and some beer tickets. I made the first order of business locating the team tent. This was pretty easy to do as the festival area was not massive. That being said, the festival area was well-appointed. I didn't spend a lot of time wandering around but I saw a merchandise tent, some tents for national sponsors, and lots of areas offering fun for the family -- a paintball range, an inflatable for the kids, and a pull-up challenge. Basically all of the things you'd see at a major event. They also had all the basics that the racers would need like a place to hose down, changing tents, and t-shirt pick-up. As an exciting bonus, there was also a helicopter that you could win a ride in and Navy SEAL demonstrations.


The team tent was located right near the finish line and the clean-up area -- a good location. Instead of paying $5 for the bag check, I was happy to leave my stuff in the team tent. It was pretty quiet when I arrived. The elites were off running or just finishing up and the people running the 15K at 10:30 a.m. were just starting to trickle in. Soon a few fellow Spahtens showed up along with Hobie Call, one of the most famous names in obstacle course racing (OCR). He chatted with the gentleman Spahtens for a while and was nice enough to take a few pictures. He had just won the elite hear for BattleFrog, so I am sure it was an exciting morning for him.

At around 10:15 a.m. I headed over to the starting line with a few other Spahtens. BattleFrog offers a 15K and 5K option, as well as 10K races for high-schoolers and a 5K for youths. I was scheduled to run the 15K, a little over nine miles, and was excited to see the 47 obstacles that were promised. 

We had to ascent a ladder wall to get into the starting coral. This was a nice change up from the normal 6' walls that you do at most races. As always, there was an announcer to get us pumped up and started off. I'm not a huge fan of starting line speeches and always think they go on for way to long (the speeches at Tough Mudder are especially intolerably long). I was relieve to have this speech be very short -- think two or three minutes. There was then a release of green smoke and a loud cannon fire (too loud!) and we were off. 

The BattleFrog course definitely lived up to the hype and was A+ in my book. I ended up running the course by myself which let me go at the pace I wanted to. I jogged most of it with some little bits of walking. Most people were walking at some point along the course. I always made sure to walk through the very muddy sections because I didn't want to twist an ankle. I ran the course it 3:20 and with a smile most of the way. I haven't run by myself in ages and, while I definitely prefer running with teammates, running by yourself now and again is good too. 

The course was very obstacle heavy with 47 obstacles in total. These are all serious obstacle too; not just series of mud pit that you don't notice that all of a sudden counted as five obstacles. You knew when you were doing a BattleFrog obstacle. Also, all of the obstacles had signage that told you of a service person that the obstacle was in honor of; a very nice touch.

Before I go into discussing all the obstacles I want to make a few comments about the course. It had been raining all night and until right about when we started racing. The course was soaked. This ended up being a good thing because the mud-level was to the max. There were lots of extremely muddy pieces to the course, especially along the motocross course and in the woods. I ended up with more mud in my shoes than I ever have, and that mud stuck with me the entire course. My shoes weighted about double for the entire run through. Plus, I had mud wedged between the bottom and insoles of my shoes. Something to consider for next time because running around with so much mud in your shoes is a lumpy and heavy experience.

The course was not hilly -- with the exception of going up and down some very short hills on the motocross course it was entirely flat. After doing a lot of mountain climbing OCRs I found it nice to be able to run/jog most of the course. 

BattleFrog took full advantage of the venue and had us use all of the motocross field and track. We also did a lot of the course through the woods around the venue, crossing rivers and taking advantage of a large pond that is at the track. There was a lot of weaving around to get in the full nine miles, and I found this to be part of the fun. It was great seeing parts of the course that you had already visited and feel how far you'd come. Having the balance of course time out on the track and time in the wood divided things up nicely and kept me very engaged.

The one minus that I have for the course is the odd spacing of water stations. I had planned to bring my hydration pack, but saw that they had five water stations over the course. This ended up being true, but the spacing of the stations ended up being kind of odd. There was a water station at around mile 1.5 but then no water for almost four miles. There were then a cluster of water stops around the end. The first water stop and the fourth had mini larabars as snacks, which was very nice. My complaint though is the spacing of the water stations between miles 1.5 and 5 -- that's a long time to go without water on a course that I bet took most people around three hours. So you're talking over an hour without water. It kind of messed up my nutrition strategy. It was also surprising to find no porta-potties on the course. For a course this long I would tend to expect them and would hope they might add them for next year. 

I also noticed that the course was a little volunteer "lite". There weren't volunteers at all the obstacles and some of the water stations were unmanned. I also didn't see any medics on the course. There were volunteers in a cart that seemed to wander around the course, which is good. I am sure in their inaugural event BattleFrog might have found it a bit challenging to find volunteers. I'm hoping they'll be able to round up a few more for next time. It would be good to have some more for safety sake. The more challenging obstacles were definitely more heavily staffed and there were divers and life guards at all of the water obstacles.

The star of the course were the obstacles. They were top-notch, well-built, and well thought out. Obstacles were placed in a smart way -- kind of like at Shale Hill. For example, you were forced to do a lot of upper body focused obstacles all in a row, adding to the difficulty factor. The penalty for not clearing an obstacle was ten 8-count Man Makers (basically a burpee where you jack your legs in and out after the push-up but while still in plank).


Here are the obstacles, with descriptions as best I remember. I took some pictures, where they existed, from the BattleFrog website to give you an idea. As usual, the course map doesn't 100% match my recollection for the order of the obstacles, but I'll follow the map for simplicity sake.

1. Raceway Hurdles
2. Over/Under/Through: Climb over a wall, under another, and then through an open third wall.
3. Watery Hill Climb: They kept the motocross course wet with continually running sprinklers throughout. Here they had us scale a short but steep hill that was drenched. People were trying to run up and sliding back down. My Icebugs worked great and I was able to jog up the hill no problem. Here is a picture of the elite wave tackling the hill.


4. 12 Foot Ladder Walls: Pretty self-explanatory and easy to tackle. This obstacle actually came towards the end of the motocross section after the Delta Ladder.


5. Slip N' Slide: We slid down a tarp on the other side of a muddy hill climb.
6. Raceway Unders: Shimmy through the mud under a set of low hurdles.
7. Jerry Cans: These were gas cans filled with water, 10 pounds for women and 20 for men. We had to take them through part of the extremely muddy motocross course, up and down a motocross "hill". This was not too challenging for me. My shoes were good on the hills so I could just focus on carrying the can which was fairly light.
8. Delta Ladder: This was a huge A-frame ladder wall with very widely spaced rungs. I could barely get my leg from rung to rung and relied on my arms a lot to keep balanced. All of the obstacles were wet from the rain and drenched in mud so slow and careful was the modus operandi for the day.


9. Jerry Barriers: Here the course moved from the mud-filled motocross course onto the race track. This obstacle featured around a half dozen plastic jersey barriers that we had to jump over.
10. Monkey Bars: Rotating monkey bars going downhill. A lot of people fell on this obstacle, so I was very excited to clear it. Rotating monkey bars are a challenge. I think the practice I got on them at Shale Hill last weekend was key. I moved carefully from rung to rung without swinging past each rung and kept thinking, "Relax," until I made it.


11. Tire Mile: Tire agility along the race track.
12. A-Frame Cargo Net: A nice tall cargo net climb. The BattleFrog people were super nice to the Spahtens and one of the volunteers shouted, "Hey, Spahten!" (I was wearing my sleeves) and gave me a high five. I also got my picture taken a lot. I'll add pictures to this blog post when BattleFrog posts them.
13. Tunnel Rats: Crawling through buried plastic tunnels. 


14. SEAL PT: Twenty 8-count Man Makers
15. 8 Foot Wall #1: I wanted to nail these walls using the "run up to the wall technique" but did not. Don't get me wrong; I made it over each wall by myself without help, but the kick board was a bit high, and I had trouble using it with a running start. Still I was happy to be able to drag myself over two 8' walls on my own.
16. 8 Foot Wall #2
17. Balance Beams: My shoes dug into the wood of the balance beams amazingly. Excellent!
18. Culvert Tunnels: This part of the course was around the fenced off edge of the race track. The BattleFrog team had taken wire fencing and created a tunnel about three or so feet in height. I was able to handle it bent over but I bet most people had to do it on hands and knees.
19: Rope Swing: When I saw this set of ropes positioned over a pool of water, I thought it was going to be a climb. Nope. Just take one rope and swing across. Fun!
20: Mounds: Climb over a hill of mud and descend into a muddy water-filled trench. Twice. 
21. Log Carry: From here we went into the woods. There were three logs creating a large ladder like structure between two trees. We climbed up one side and down the other. I used the ropes that were attaching the logs to the tree to get purchase and pull myself up. 
22. Nasty Bear Crawl: Crawling through mud underneath a low-hanging plastic net. At least the mud was soft on the knees. As a bonus, there were some small logs that you had to maneuver over. 
23. Rope Climb: This was probably around a 10' rope climb, 12' max. You had to do the rope climb out of a water pit. Also, the rope was super super slippery and soaking wet. That made it very challenging. I was one of the only people who got up when I was at the rope climb. I actually almost slipped and was saved by the fact that I was using the footing technique we learned for the rope climb at Shale Hill. Thank you again, training weekend with Rob!
24. Mud March: I actually think that this was replaced with a river crossing. There was a stream that ran through the woods. We had to get in, walk up the stream and then climb out. 
25. Tree Cargo Net: Another cargo net climb. However, this one was suspended between two trees and not braced on the sides. This meant the cargo net moved quite a bit more, which upped the difficulty factor. From here we went back out of the woods towards the race track.
26. Mud Trench: If I'm remembering correctly this was similar to the Mounds obstacle and got you nice and wet for the 12' walls.
27. 12 Foot Rope Walls: This was definitely the hardest obstacle of the day. The walls were high and slippery and had to be scaled while holding onto a 2" thick rope. You then pulled yourself over the top of the wall and descended the rope on the other side. There were two of these walls. My story with this obstacle is fairly tragic. I made it all the way up the brutal rope climb and could not manage to get myself over the wall. I wasn't strong enough at that point to pull myself over with my arms, and I couldn't get purchase on the rope with my feet to help myself over. I struggled up there for a brutal amount of time trying super hard until my strength gave out and I slid down the rope. I wanted to try again on wall two but my arms were just sapped, and it would not have been safe. I took the penalty and did my man makers.


28. 6 Foot Angled Walls: For the next set of obstacles we headed away from the race track into another wooded section near a pond. First up were a pair of 6' angled walls. I used the back part of the frame to prop myself up and pulled my body over the walls. The back of the wall was wood (not covered in plastic like at Tough Mudder), so I tried to lower myself carefully and avoid splinters. I'd love to see some plastic on them next year for a fun slide down.
29. Rope Traverse: Killer long rope traverse. Last weekend at Shale Hill I had made one traverse and failed the other. The key to success had been doing half the traverse on the top and half below. I was able to get to the top of the rope by flipping myself using the log that the rope was connected to. For this traverse, they had the logs back farther with a thinner rope connecting to the big rope. Uh oh, I was unable to get on top. I made it about a third of the way across and started to get very tired. I tried to see if I could get myself on top of the rope so that I could try to keep going. No amount of twisting worked and I fell into the water. Swim + man makers.



30. Bonus Walls: A pair of six foot walls back to back.
31. Hump Overs: There were around four log hurdles, about four feet high back to back. From there, we had to climb a hay bale and then over a double rung ladder. 
32. Caving Ladder: This obstacle was a super skinny ladder that you had to climb up around 10' to ring a bell. The ladder was the swinging type attached to a rope between two trees. The volunteer at the obstacle gave me a tip: climb the ladder sideways and use your heels. Because my weight was distributed on either side of the ladder it hardly swung at all. This worked very well, and I gave a big, "Thank you," to the volunteer.
33. Spider Web: Running through the woods, I came across a very cool looking set of ropes crossing my path. The ropes were going at all angles (think of the classic lasers that trigger an alarm that an action hero jumps through). I navigated through, stepping high and bending low. From here, the course exited the woods and entered a field to the side of the main race track. 
34. Red Bridge: Next up was a huge metal bridge to run up over and down. At first glance I thought this was a wood bridge. Nope, metal. Not good with the Icebugs. It was like skating. I almost fell and rolled down the back ramp. I had to grab the railing and slowly manage the decline.
35. Cargo Traverse: This obstacle featured a net between two polls that you had to go across from one side to the other. The most challenging part here was the movement created from all the people on the net. If everyone kept their hips close, we were fine. But if someone leaned out, the net bowed and we all were leaning backwards. The traverse was decently long and my arms were tired of grasping the rope at the end.
36. Mud Culvert: The traverse was immediately followed by a mountain of dirt. I ran up it and had to pull myself over a log like in Hump Over. 
37. Balance Beam #2: Again, like Balance Beam #1, we crossed a log over some water. No problem in the Icebugs.
38. Big Hump: I don't majorly recall this obstacle. I believe it was another mud hill that we had to run up. 
39. Water Crossing #1: I loved this part of the course! We had to cross the pond and then cross back again for Water Crossing #2. This obstacle was heavily monitored. Ropes were stretched across the narrow pond and the volunteers asked that we use the ropes to get across instead of swimming. Fine by me. It was so relaxing to float through the water and get some of the mud off. Plus, between water crossings there was a water and snack station.
40. Water Crossing #2
41. Bangers & Mash: In addition to having a fun name, this was a very cool obstacle. Bangers & Mash featured two transverse walls with a balance beam connecting them. The first had six ropes and the second had the traditional blocks. The walls were slick, and the studs on my shoes came in handy. The rope section of the wall was especially fun because it was so different. The ropes were set up in sets of three, so there was a long and tricky reach from rope three to four. Loved this obstacle!


42. DIY Sandbags: From Bangers & Mash it was a long jog back to the main race track area. The course was very obstacle heavy and, in a way, it was nice to have a half mile to shake out the muscles. The next set of obstacles was outside the racetrack and fairly close to the festival area -- I could hear the music playing. Next up was my arch nemesis, the sandbag carry. We used what I believe were 50 pound sandbags and carried them out and back. It was flat and this was a moderate distance carry, perhaps even a shorty carry. Still I definitely struggled here and had to put the sandbag down once. I tried both an over the shoulder carry and a front carry, but did not excel. This really hammered home that I have to work on this. 
43. Hooyah!: This was an interesting obstacle. We climbed up an inclined wall on a rope and then slid down a tunnel into a pool of water. (The picture doesn't show water at the end, but we had some.) The rope climb wasn't bad. However, I wasn't sure how deep the water was at the end of the tunnel. As a result, I braced my feet along the tunnel to keep a slow descent and lowered myself into the water. It was about waist height, so I might have been okay sliding in. 

 

44. Cargo Net Crawl: I honestly don't remember doing a cargo net crawl at this point in the course. I am sure it was there, but I am totally blanking. 
45. Amphibious Assault: This obstacle is very unique to BattleFrog. We had to take a paintball gun and shoot at a target. We got three tries to make it; otherwise it was man makers. I have shot a gun zero times, so I was not confident for this obstacle. I took the first show way to high. By some miracle I made it on my second try.


46. Tsunami: Crazy! Tsunami was situated right near the festival area and spectators were enjoying the show. The obstacle required you to run up a ramp, grab a rope and pull your self up and then slide down the slide on the other side. Unlike many slides, this one flattens gently instead of emptying you into a pool of water, which wasn't observable from the top of the slide and ended up being a gentle surprise. When I arrived there was a large group just looking at the obstacle and not giving any attempts. I decided to give it a go. The volunteer told me I could run up and grab the shortest rope and pull myself up. I ran and slid down. I tried again, running harder and just missed the rope. At this point in the course, I was super tired, and I wasn't sure I could make it. I didn't want to hold people up, so I ascended to the platform using the ladder on the side of the obstacle. Not making another try at the rope climb is probably my biggest and only regret of the day. I was so close and wish I had tried once more to get the rope and get up there the right way. I hear that BattleFrog is coming to New England next year, so I hope to get a second chance to nail this obstacle.



47. Normandy Jacks: From the Tsunami, we went right into the Normandy Jacks. All of a sudden I realized the race was almost over. The wire between the jacks is very low, which is probably why it's not barbed wire. Seriously, I would have cut myself if it was. I crawled under the wire and through the jacks. Some pictures were snapped and then I was at the finish line!


A volunteer handed me a medal and I was on my way. I headed back to the team tent to drop off my metal and get squared away. We were located right next to the washing station so I went there directly. I was the muddiest I have ever been. Unfortunately, the cleaning station was sub-par. The water pressure was very low and if you raised your hose even a little you only got a trickle. I wasn't able to get my face or hair clean at all. I did my best with everything else. While I always leave a course a little bit dirty, I was still very dirty in this instance. From there I headed to the changing tent, which was located quite far away, on the other side of the festival area. Kind of odd. Fortunately, the festival area was small enough that it didn't matter much. 


While I was doing that awesome captain Spahten, Paul, got my t-shirt for me. I have to give BattleFrog props. They did men and women's t-shirts. Other than Ragnar this has never happened. I absolutely love my t-shirt and will wear it all the time. 


To sum it up, BattleFrog definitely lived up to the hype. It was an obstacle course race in the truest sense focusing on obstacles over running. You could hardly go more than two minutes without hitting an obstacle, and the obstacles were amazing. BattleFrog is planning to have a 2015 New England race, and I plan to be there.