Saturday, July 25, 2015

BattleFrog New England 2015

"This is different from New Jersey," was the first thing Paul said to me when he saw me at the NE Spahtens tent at today's BattleFrog race. I couldn't agree more; it's what I had been thinking all morning.

Last year, I had won an entry to the Tri-State BattleFrog race, one of the first three or four races BattleFrog had put on. It was epic. I wrote a glowing review. The race was 15K and dense with challenging obstacles. When the registration for the 2015 New England event opened, I jumped at the chance to sign-up. Here was a great race at Carter & Stevens Farm in Barre, Massachusetts, within 45 minutes of my house. It was one of my favorite events -- a surprise hit -- in 2014. 

In the time between the Tri-State race in 2014 and the New England race, things have changed for BattleFrog. The company has faced serious financial difficulties. Things were on a downward trend. The race, which had originally been said to be a 15K was downgraded to an 8K. I won't go into all the details about the industry gossip but suffice it to say I'm not sure BattleFrog is going to be around next year. All of this talk got me concerned about what this would mean for the 2015 New England event. As the date approached, I was curious more than excited. How will this race compare with last year? The answer. Not even close. 

I arrived in Barre about an hour and fifteen minutes before our scheduled 9:45 a.m. team wave to find that parking was going to be a bit inconvenient. I thought I had gotten away from parking off-site after the closing of Amesbury Sports Park, but apparently OCR remains the only sport I can think of where off-site parking is routine. The parking was around 10 minutes from the venue and cost $10. When I arrived the wait to get into the parking lot wasn't bad -- maybe 5 minutes -- and the wait for the bus was similarly short. Unfortunately, I heard that shortly after I got on the bus, things got extremely backed-up, and the parking and waits for the bus turned into a very lengthy wait. Suffice it to say, that is not cool. I know that a lot of races have been taking place in Barre, for example the Spartan Super a few weeks ago, and parking was less of a problem then (per reports). 

When I arrived at the venue, I saw that things were very much scaled down from what we saw at the 2014 Tri-State race. There were a few vendors, but the tents were smaller. There were less bonus activities in the festival area. 

Check-in is still an area where I think BattleFrog has every other company beat. It's always a snap. There are tons of lanes, you don't need to sign a waver, and they assign you a number the day-of, so you don't need to bring anything. 

After registration, I headed over to the Spahtens team tent. BattleFrog offers more swag than any other race I know (perhaps part of their financial woes?). Our team had around 340 people registered for BattleFrog, the largest team in the company's history. We were provided with free parking (limited number), a spectator pass, additional beer/cider tickets, buffs, free bag check, and sleeves and t-shirts (which will be coming in the mail). The team perks, minus the sleeves and t-shirts, were all provided to our team captain, Paul, who had fellow Spahtens helping him pass out materials at the tent. I snagged my free back check, buff, and beer ticket, and sat down to change my footwear, while chatting with teammates. I quickly checked my bag before the line got to long and then headed back to the tent for the team picture before heading to the starting line.  

Like many OCR races, once we all got into the coral (after climbing a short ladder wall, of course), it was time for a motivational speech. I'm pretty sure that every speaker at every OCR is trying to be Sean from Tough Mudder. I'll give it to Sean from Tough Mudder -- seriously no one is nearly like that guy. I am not a fan of motivational speaking, but Sean can get me ready to go. Needless to say, BattleFrog announcer, while giving it 100%, didn't really do it for me. I was happy when we were off and running!

The course was an 8K, 5 miles for those of us who cannot get the metric system. Carter & Stevens Farm in Barre is pretty much dead flat, which meant that you could run the entire course. I know that we are New Englanders and are supposed to be rugged and like climbing steep mountains. I'll be honest and say that I personally love a flat course. I like running the entire thing and getting from obstacle to obstacle as quickly as possible. Climbing up mountains is not a huge strength for me, and it's also not something I'm that interested in doing a lot of training to get better at. Some things are just not things I like, and that's okay with me. What it means, is that a course, like BattleFrog, where I can do a lot of running has a lot of appeal. (Note: Variety is good too. For example, Shale Hill cannot be beat! The course has enough flat parts that I can "speed" along, but also has some ups and downs.)

Compared with Tri-State 2014, the New England course had fewer obstacles and more running. The obstacles had also been scaled way back from last year. In Tri-State there were two 12' walls back to back. Here there was one and it had kick boards. Tsunami last year had a warped wall you had to run up and grab a rope (my biggest fail of the day and biggest regret). This year there was just a cargo net. Some of the bigger and more complex obstacles were gone. The swims, which I really enjoyed from last year -- this is a Navy SEALS affiliated event after wall -- were gone. No declined rotating monkey bars. No balance obstacles. They were replaces with walls. Lots and lots of walls. This is not to say that the race wasn't fun and didn't have it's share of great obstacles -- the Rig stands out as a hugely fantastic obstacle -- but the comparison with last year is lacking. 

The obstacles were pretty well spaced, something I always consider very important. There was more running and fewer obstacles than I would have preferred, but the running was fun and well divided between fields and woods. The trails had some muddy patches where you had to watch your footing, but you could pretty much jog the entire thing if you wanted to. There was a little bit of bottlenecking at some of the earlier obstacles but nothing more than a minute or two wait, which I consider fine. I got to run with a bunch of different Spahtens as I traded places with people throughout the team wave. One Spahten said that he was looking forward to reading my review. (Thank you! I felt famous.) I also got to talk with another Spahten who did the winter Death Race, making him, in my mind, an epic hero of the same sort as the Avengers. All-in-all, it was a fun time hanging out with some good people, which made tackling the average course more fun. 

Here's a run-through of all the obstacles on the course. I'm following the order listed on the map, which is not exactly the same as what we saw on the course. For example, the Over/Under/Thru was much later. There were three well-stocked water stations on the course, meaning you could do this race without hydration.

1. The Dirty Name: Honestly, I don't remember this being first. I'm guessing this was just a muddy section of trail.
2. Rope Climb: Very standard rope climb or probably around 15' or less. This was early on in the course and no problem. I powered up and down the rope quickly.
3. Over/Under/Thru: Standard go over a wall, through another, and then under the last one. (Yes, they were in a different order than the name suggests. Also, this obstacle was swapped with the Tire Flip.)
4. Mud Trudge: I believe this was just a muddy section of trail. We had to go through a muddy stream around this point in the race. I wouldn't necessarily call it an obstacle.
5. 8' Wall: There was a small back-up at this obstacle, though nothing terrible. A pretty standard wall. I was able to get up by myself without too much difficulty. 
6. 60 Degrees: This obstacle was cool. It was a metal ladder with around a half-dozen rungs inverted at 60 degrees towards you. We had to climb up the underside, then over the top, and down the back. I liked this one. 
7. Jerry Can Carry: I remembered this obstacle from Tri-State. We had to carry a jerry can of water. At Tri-State we had to do the carry up and down muddy, slick motocross mounds. Here, it was a somewhat lengthy walk around the field. The can was a bit heavy, but no so heavy I had to put it down. We were required to hold the handle in our hands instead of doing a bear-hug around the can or putting it on our shoulder, so it was work for the grip.

8. Natural Ledge: This obstacle was an analog of Gut Check from Shale Hill. You had to stand on one log and then reach for another, jump and pull yourself around. Ideally, the logs are spaced so you hands can at least reach the top one. No dice. Someone was actually hurt when I reached this obstacle, since it was very wet and slippery. This obstacle is dangerous in most circumstances -- I've heard stories of broken ribs -- and I was in no way going to be able to make the leap from the bottom log to the top. While the volunteers said people could help you, participants were not allowed to use the side supports to help themselves. I got up on the obstacle, assessed, decided I liked my teeth in my head, and did the penalty.
9. Mounds of Grounds: Climb a hill of mud, go through muddy water. Times four.
10. Normandy Jacks: This obstacle features wooden jacks with wire (not barbed) between them. The wire is low, similar to last year, so it's good that it's not barbed. There are some divots that you have to navigate as you do this crawl. Similar to other barbed wire crawls but a bit more fun because the jacks are kind of fun looking.

11. 12' Rope Walls: Climb a 12' wall using a rope. There were also a couple of kicks. Last year, at Tri-State, there were two of these back-to-back after a number of upper body obstacles and no kicks. This year, there was one wall. Definitely an example of how BattleFrog had scaled back. I tackled this wall no problem. (Last year, I was exhausted and made one wall but failed the second. Though, I think this year my upper body fitness is better and I could have made two.)
12. Wreck Bag Carry: Uuuuggggg! This carry actually almost killed my shoulders. Both men and women had to carry 50 lb Wreck Bags along a long loop. Mid-way, we stopped, did a wall, and then continued with the carry. 50 lb is a lot, and I was sorely wishing that they had varied the weight for men versus women. After doing the wall, I wrenched my left shoulder pretty badly getting the Wreck Bag back up. I'm now pounding cherry juice and resting my shoulder to get it ready for the Shale Hill 8 Hour race (part of 24 Hours of Shale Hell) next weekend.
13. 4' Wall: This 4' Wall was the one I referred to that we had to climb during the Wreck Bag Carry.
14. Slant Wall: Standard inverted wall. This was a bit of a shorter one but with no kicks underneath, so you had to jump, grab the top, and pull yourself over. 
15. Platinum Rig: The Rig wins obstacle of the course for me for sure! It was a huge challenge and fantastic. I always love the Rig and the many different configurations offered. For BattleFrog, they had one option for women and a different one for men. For women it was a rope climb, then walking through two suspended rings and grabbing a vertical pipe. From there, you had to take another rope and swing to a large square monkey bar. Next were to normal monkey bars, one of which was spaced super far away. I had to get a really good swing for my arms to make it. Next up was a pipe and then a ring to step in. I opted to get a swing from the monkey bar and grab the ring and bring it to me. This was very hard and took me a while to get. I imaged the American Ninja Warriors commentating and saying, "She's been up there a really long time. I think her grip is going to give out." However, my grip did not give out, and I eventually got the ring. From there, I had to grab a ring with my hands, swing to at least touch the last ring, and then I was done. Standing in the last ring, my legs where shaking with fatigue. This was a very challenging and rewarding obstacle.
16. Delta Ladder: This was a big ladder climb of around 20' with widely spaced rungs.

17. Tire Flip: This was actually switched with the Over/Under/Thru. We had to flip a large tire up three times and back three times. They were heavy, but I was able to tackle a pretty large one, so I'm sure others found this to not be a big hassle. 
18. 6' Wall: I ran at this wall and was able to get over without any problem. Good technique definitely helps on these medium height walls.
19. Tsunami: I mentioned before how this obstacle was definitely trimmed down from last year. Gone was the warped wall with the rope, which is too bad because I wanted to nail that jerk after my failure last year. Instead it was a cargo climb to the slide on the other side. Slides make me nervous after all the carnage at the slide at Superhero Scramble back in 2013, but BattleFrog does slides pretty well. This wasn't as good as the slide at Tri-State, since it ended in the grass instead of a small pool, but it was fine. The slide down was almost vertical and fast. I went flying into the muddy grass and got a face full of mud.
20. Inverted Wall: Unlike most inverted walls, These walls were inverted away from us. If you didn't get a good run up and jump to grab the top, there was no way to do anything other than slide down. I found this out when I neglected to get a good run and jump the first time. I nailed in on a quick try #2 though.
21. 12' Ladder Wall: Two back to back ladder walls. The finish line was in sight, and there was just one obstacle to go!
22. Tip of the Spear: This was my runner-up for favorite obstacle of the day and an improvement on the still very good obstacle Bangers & Mash from last year. The obstacle featured three transverse walls with a balance beam connecting them. The first had around a half dozen ropes and the second had ledges that you had to grab with your fingertips. The third had ropes again. The rope sections were no problem. The ledge part was okay too, though my feet slipped a little on this one, and I had to grip hard. 

I made it across Tip of the Spear and raced my way across the finish line for a finish in 1:38. Done!

In 2014 BattleFrog was one of the best courses I'd run. This year it was just another Spartan-style race. BatteFrog's future is certain, and they are going through a period of transition. I'm not sure what the future holds for them, but I can say that I am very glad I was able to go to the Tri-State race in 2014. I feel like that was the pinnacle of what BattleFrog had to offer. Today's race was fine, but it wasn't anything special. I'm not sure I'll be doing BattleFrog again in 2016. (Honestly, Shale Hill may have spoiled me for all other racing with the combined challenge and interest of their course and the perks like onsite parking and a race director that knows your name.) Did I have a fun day? Sure. Was it stand-out and stellar? Not really. It was average. If I didn't know how much potential BattleFrog had from their event last year, I might have been more satisfied. This year is going to be an interesting one for the company. We'll see how BattleFrog fairs for 2016.


Peter Sutherland said...

Good write up on the race, Thanks. I did the 8:30am heat, 8K-one lap. I have a question: you wrote regarding Obsticle# 3. "Over/Under/Thru: Standard go over a wall, through another, and then under the last one. (Yes, they were in a different order than the name suggests. Also, this obstacle was swapped with the Tire Flip.)" I did not come across/do a tire flip, and was with others on the marked course, but did do the Over/Under/Thru. Are you saying the obstacles were swapped in the middle of the race? I'm confused...

Nicole Sibley said...

Peter, I did the 9:45 a.m. heat. The Tire Flip was the second obstacle. However, the map I posted shows Over/Under/Thru as the second obstacle. Instead, the Over/Under/Thrus were later in the course. Basically the placement on the map of the two obstacles was the reverse of what we saw on race day.