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.

(Note: Looking to save? Use the code BFSibley to save anywhere from 5% to 50% on entry, based on location.)

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