Monday, May 18, 2015

Bone Frog Challenge New England 2015

I waited three years to attend the New England Bone Frog Challenge, a 9 mile race with 53 Navy SEAL inspired obstacles that takes place at Berkshire East Ski Resort in Charlemont, Massachusetts. When the race was first announced for 2013, I desperately wanted to go. No luck; I had a scheduling conflict. In 2014? The same thing; I had to work. For 2015, I pledged to make it to the race, and it turns out I almost didn't. I signed up in early registration, but then two days before the race, had a terrible bought of illness that left me so dehydrated I wasn't sure I could make the run. So I chugged down some coconut water, put together a good nutrition and hydration plan for race day, and waited to see how I felt on Saturday morning of race day.

As luck would have it, I woke up feeling mostly okay. I was going to go for it. Turns out, I am so glad I did. Bone Frog is one of the best races I've done, and I killed it on the course failing only one of the 53 very challenge obstacles. I am going to give myself a pat on the back for this one and say that while I was not the fastest, I did a great job on the obstacles. The hard work I put in during training, and all the technique I have practiced at Shale Hill really came into play and made this race a success for me.

I live in Western Massachusetts, so something in Charlemont is really a #racelocal event for me -- it was just around an hour drive from my house. Bone Frog Challenge is run by former and active Navy SEALs, and the race has a legitimate nationalistic and armed services-feel. The course is advertised as having around 6,000 feet of elevation change. To me, that feels like a touch on the high side. The walking up and down the mountain felt like work, but it was never the focus of the day. The star of the show were the 53 top-notched Navy SEAL-inspired obstacles. The obstacles are some of the best around; they are both unique and challenging. These obstacles felt as if they were part of a permanent course instead of obstacles created for a one-day event.

I arrived at Berkshire East a little over an hour before the 10:00 a.m. NE Spahtens team heat. The day had forecast for rain, but it turned out to be sunny and in the mid-seventies; perfect obstacle course racing weather in my mind. Parking was $10 per car. Other than an optional $5 bag check, this was the only cost for the day. Spectators were free. The parking was onsite and a very short walk, like a minute, to registration. I quickly filled out a waver and was directed by a volunteer to the inside of the ski lodge for picking up my packet. It was good that there were volunteers around to direct traffic because the area was lacking in signs, and a couple of us got a bit turned around trying to find where to go at first. There was no waiting at check-in. I showed my ID and was able to pick up my bib and timing chip. (Note: I cannot say that there was no wait at the bathrooms. Only a small number of toilets in the lodge and three portable toilets were not quite up to the task of so many athletes' pre-race needs. This line was a bit longer. Fortunately, I had time.)

From there, I headed over to the Spahtens tent. Bone Frog Challenge was a #racelocal event, so over a hundred members of the team had turned out. I chatted with friends, joined in the team picture, and got ready to head off to the starting line.

I had plans to run with one of my co-Spahtens, John, that I raced with at Tough Mudder 2014. I met up with John, his wife, Linda, and a few of his friends Matt, Linda, and Dan. We walked over to the starting line together. The starting line speech was short and sweet with a few reminders about course markers, a Hooah, and some video snapped by the drone camera above, we were off!

The story of the Bone Frog Challenge course is best told by the obstacles, which I'll list individually in detail. With over 50 of them covering a nine mile course, there was an average of an obstacle every quarter mile or more. To be successful good grip strength and a strong upperbody were mandatory. I am not a great hill climber, but I am good at climbing obstacles and swinging from things. This course played to my strengths. Unlike some other courses, where you spend a lot of time hiking up and down and up and down the mountain, Bone Frog had us do a limited amount of up and back. We basically climbed out way up the mountain during the first half of the race, spent some time doing some switchbacks up there, and then came back down. I loved this! No padding miles into a race with hiking. We were able to focus solely on the obstacles and let them be the main point of the day, which is why we all do obstacle course racing anyway, right? 

This was a tough course with challenging obstacles to tackle. The penalties for a fail obstacle ranged from 20 to 50 push-ups. To do Bone Frog Challenge you should be able to hike briskly for four hours and at least be able to do some pull-ups (assisted is fine) and push-ups. This race is no joke. The only more challenging course I've done in terms of obstacles is Shale Hill. The only harder race I've done is the Vermont Spartan Beast, which I won't categorize as a obstacle course race as much of as an endurance challenge. Plus it wasn't fun at all. Bone Frog Challenge on the other hand, was a blast!

Here is my write-up of all 53 obstacles. I'm using the course map as a guide but in some cases my memory slightly differs. I have left blank any obstacles that I cannot quite recall. (Note: If I can find someone's GoPro footage later, I'll make updates.)

1. Low Crawl: All the crawls at Bone Frog Challenge were very "civilized." By that I mean, they were over soft mud -- no rocks -- and with flat wire overhead instead of barbed wire. Nice all around.
2. Train Station: Throw your body over a large pipe on the ground. I rolled off and had to re-attached. Assistance was rendered by others.
3. Pot Holes
4. Drag Race: Take a tire attached to a rope to a stake and drag it up the hill. Then walk the tire back. 
5. Low Crawl
6. Re-Supply: This was, I believe the first of many carries of the day. We had to grab a sandbag (probably less than fifty pounds) and bring it up and down a short climb. The length wasn't bad, and I was able make this without too much trouble.
7. Tarzan Swing: Different from the Tarzan Swing at Shale Hill or Spartan, this swing had you grab just one rope and swing across a small divide. Think a rope swing from your youth.

8. Assault Craft: This obstacle provided our first back-up of the day. Back-ups were definitely a big problem on the Bone Frog course. (All said and told, I probably lost between an hour and an hour and a half waiting in lines.) This was fun and worth it though. The obstacle featured five or six inflatable boats tied together. You had to jump from boat to boat, making your way across the pond without getting wet. 

9. Log Carry: Choose a log of any size and complete a short carry. To make this one a bit interesting, a small part of the carry went through a brief section of woods. 
10. Drunken Monkey: Monkey bars with a twist! I love monkey bars, so this was a blast! Instead of traditional bars, this obstacle featured a board with staggered pegs on either side. Like with monkey bars, you grabbed one in one hand and another in another and swung away. A kind volunteer helped me to reach since my short lady self couldn't make it. 

This actually highlights two trends of the day. 1. Amazing volunteers. 2. Stuff that was too high. The volunteers at this event were the most top-notch of any I've had the privilege to encounter. They gave me physical help with reach high places. They offered verbal encouragement. They gave high fives. These ladies and gentleman worked hard. At some obstacles the volunteers were offering a lot of physical assistant to races to make sure everyone was safe and having a good time. This is an amazing thing and Bone Frog is very lucky. Also inspiring was the number of service men and women around the course taking part and volunteering. It was great to get to race and have them as spectators. It really made me bring my A-game. 

To my other point about things being "too" high; I had to get a boost a number of times to reach monkey bars and the like. Everyone was awesome, from racers to volunteers, to help get me where I needed to be so I could do each obstacle. Those who taller than my five foot stature were able to reach from the stand provided, but I couldn't quite make it. Fortunately, this was no problem because of the awesome help I received.

11. USS Miami Traverse: This was a water rope traverse, often called the tyrolean traverse. After we reached the 2/3 mark, we had to drop back down into the water and then swim the rest of the way. I used my normal method of doing half the traverse above the rope and half below. As usual, this proves a good technique for me. I was the only one in the group I was running with to make it. 

12. Cliff Hanger: This was a traverse wall with a bit of a twist. The walls were of differing heights. While this make it harder, the wall itself was, overall, probably easier than most traverse walls because there were slight ledges at the top for your fingers and the boards were large. I made it without any problems.

13. Get a Grip: This obstacle proved to be my only failed obstacle of the day. Hanging from poles were ropes with plastic handles attached. You had to swing from one to the other to get across. That would have been fine -- I am good at rings -- however, the ropes were looped through the handles meaning that they were not fixed and rotated. I took one swing and the handle rotated right under me sending me down to the ground. 

14. Grandma's Attic: This obstacle was set up like a small A-frame. However, instead of climbing on top, there were two sets of parallel rungs that you climbed between. Nice way to mix it up. 
15. Normandy: This was a two part obstacle symbolic of the invasion of Normandy. The obstacle began with a crawl underneath tarps in the pitch black. We then had to navigate trenches (see picture below).

16. Tire Carry: Traditional tire carry. I got a modest sized one, draped it across me messenger bag style and headed out for the carry.
17. Black Out: Very unique! This was another obstacle done entirely in the pitch back underneath a blackout tarp. We had to feel our way along with only a few glow sticks as markers. There were some low and then high "throughs" to tackle as we made our way along. People were great about passing around the glow sticks to offer a little bit of illumination and providing cues about where to go and who was going next.
18. Wall Nut
19. Stairway to Valhalla: A brutally steep climb up a section of mountain. At the top, there was a memorial wall for participants to sign before heading back down. This was probably the most mentally challenging thing I did all day. Some points of the hike up were so steep I was almost on all fours.
20. Snake Pit
21. Spider Wall: The Spider Wall was the second traverse wall of the day. It was pretty basic and marked the start of a section of the course that meandered through the woods on beautifully marked trails. For many races, this would mean that there would be no obstacles. Bone Frog, on the other hand, had great obstacle distribution and kept up the obstacles throughout the wooded section. The more complex obstacles were not, in general, in this section; however, you never ran for more than a few minutes without hitting an obstacle. This kept things very interesting, and should be a source of pride for the course designers, who I think must have made a huge effort to make this possible.
22. Reverse Wall: This was a classic inverse wall, where you have to climb a wall that's leaning towards you at an angle.
23. Camel Spider
24. Pontoon Playground: This obstacle had to getting over a row of tires hung along a pole at chest height. There were two back to back, and both proved... interesting. Of course, tires on a pole rotate under you, so you had to jump, hang on, and get over these fast!
25. Breaking & Entering: A "through" wall.
26. Solar Walls: Two back to back tall walls that had to be climbed with a rope. Most tall wall climbs with a rope let you take a ladder down the reverse side, but for this one, you had to take the rope down too. As per usual, the Icebugs proved a huge advantage here. I powered up both walls without any difficulty. 
27. I'm Up & I'm Down: Two pairs of over and under walls. 
28. Filler Up: Take a bag and fill it with sand. Then do a carry. Fortunately, all of the carries -- of which there were many -- were fairly short. I am not a huge fan of the carry, so I was glad to see that if the race was going to feature a lot of them, they would at least be quick to get through. 
29. The Widow Maker: Traditional rope climb. This one wasn't too tall, and the rope wasn't too slick. I was able to do the s-hook and get right up there.
30 - 41. Operation Red Wings: As the numbering system here and on the map indicates, this was a multi-part obstacle bonanza! It started with a climb up a leaning wall with a rope. There was then an amazing obstacle where you had to do a climb up a straight wall with a rope, then transition to a set of monkey bars and finally go from the monkey bars directly to a rope climb down. Everyone was failing this obstacle on the part where you had to transition from the monkey bars to the rope (even a member of the US Air Force!), but by using the s-hook technique that I learned at Shale Hill, I was able to hang from the bars, hook my feet, and then descend without incident. From there, it was over a set of logs and then to a tall cargo net climb. There was a bit of a back-up at the cargo net, so we had to wait before continuing onward to a set of hurdles and then a crawl underneath wire. The final obstacle was a very tall wooden ladder.
42. 31 Heroes: This obstacle memorialized 30 fallen Navy SEALs and one K-9. We did burpees and then shoulder presses with a Wreck Bag for each SEAL and said his name.
43. Mind Games: This was a two part memory obstacle in which we had to give the names of one of the three charities that the Bone Frog Challenge supports (One Team One Fight, 31 Heroes, Navy SEAL Foundation) and then answer a question about information we saw on a sign about the M4 gun. I thought that raising awareness and including this component of the race was very meaningful and a wonderful, well thought out addition to the day that dovetailed nicely with the races mission and the previous obstacle.
44. Slide for Life: The Slide for Life obstacle was another one with a pretty descent wait. People were just doing the penalties so they could bypass and move on. It was getting late in the day and we'd spent probably 60 to 90 minutes total waiting on obstacles, so I could appreciate the frustration. At the same time, we wanted to try everything out, so we hung in there. For this one, you had to hoist yourself (or get boosted) through a hole in a platform. Once you pulled yourself up and through, you then did a traverse rope back down to the ground.
45. Mud Slide: For this obstacle, we had to crawl downhill underneath a tarp. I tried sitting and going feet-first, but this proved kind of slow, so I just hunched over and walked down.
46. Trail Crossing
47. Brick House: We emerge from the last set of jogging through the woods along switchbacks to another carry obstacle. The finish line was in sight, but we still had a bunch to do. This carry was the hardest of the day. You had to carry either a munitions box or a large crate up and down the hill one last time. The box was smaller but heavier. I opted for the large crate, still very heavy. I trudged through counting my steps. I didn't stop or put the large crate down because I knew I would never pick it back up again. Brutal.
48. It's Go Time: One last wall to end the day. Of course, it was a nice tall one!

49. Rolling Thunder: This aptly named obstacle featured balance logs that rolled back and forth. My unfortunate teammate took a digger on this one. The log really rolled, and it required a lot of focus to stay on. The volunteer at this obstacle was super amazing and offered lots of support and kind words. He definitely helped keep me focused on getting across.
50. Dirty Name: Similar to Gut Check at Shale Hill, this obstacle features a lower log from which you must jump to a higher one. In this case, there are two stacked.
51. Black Ops: After Black Ops I knew I would be home-free. But this was a challenge. You had to climb straight up a wall using a rope, do a set of monkey bars -- some of which were moving -- and then climb back down. The bars were high and the only thing they were over was a net. That would be a fall to remember. I climbed the rope. 

At the top, I was completely too short to reach the monkey bars, plus, I was kind of nervous. I considered taking the easy way out and just walking across on the net. A volunteer (perhaps a SEAL?) came over and asked if I wanted a boost to get to the bars. I must have looked a bit dubious because he gave me encouragement. "You can do this. I'll get you up there and then just go." I remembered back to Battlefrog last year and how I had not given as much as in retrospect I could have on the second to last obstacle, Tsunami. I had been so disappointed in myself and letting my emotions get the best of me. Okay, I was going to do this. The gentleman got me to the bars and I started moving along on my very tired hands. About 2/3 of the way though the bar began to rotate beneath my grip almost sending me falling. I hung on so hard, adjusted my technique, and, at last, made it to the other side. Yes!

52. Get Wet: We rolled through a quick tub of water so that we could move on to part 2.
53. Sugar Cookie: And roll around in some sand. Sugar Cookie -- get it?

After Sugar Cookie, it was a quick jump up and then a run across the finish line. 

A retired Navy SEAL handed me my metal, and a kind volunteer handed me a women's fit size small finishers t-shirt. Job done -- pictures and high-fives all around.

I am so glad that I finally made it to Bone Frog Challenge. Frustration aside about the interminable waiting at obstacles, this was a fantastic race. The course was interesting, well-marked, well designed, and featured some of the best quality obstacles I've seen around. This is a local race with a big race feel. The volunteers cannot be beat. The race stays true to its Navy SEAL roots in a wonderful way. It's in my backyard. What more can be said. Hopefully, I'll be able to make this race an annual tradition going forward.

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