Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bone Frog Challenge New England 2016

This weekend, I took place in my second Bone Frog Challenge. Bone Frog is a 9 mile obstacle course race (with a 5K option and Tier-1, the 9 miler, plus the 5K) that takes place annually at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Massachusetts. At around 50 minutes away from my house, it's my home town race and one of my favorite races of the year. This race is owned and run by Navy SEALs. A positive vibe permeates the race, which does an excellent job at paying homage to those in the armed forces and, at the same time, provides the rest of us with an enjoyable challenge.

Last year's race was my favorite individual race of the year. (I say that so as not to compete with the wonderful racing I did at Shale Hill via my season pass last year. Both Bone Frog and Shale Hill are my favorite.) The race featured over 50 obstacles all of amazing build quality, the course was well-marked and well thought-out, the logistics were smooth, and when you crossed the finish line a former Navy SEAL draped a medal over your head. In my mind, those men deserve medals, so it's an honor or get to meet a former SEAL in person and have them rewarding you for something that, for me, is a hobby. Suffice it to say, this year's race was no different than last year's. I had a blast.

Saturday was the prefect day for obstacle course racing. The weather was in the mid to upper 60s, meaning it was comfortable without being hot. The sky was overcast, which while certainly less exciting than a sunny day was helpful for keeping the temperature down and the sunburn at bay. Charlemont is a close drive, about 50 minutes west of my home in Amherst, so I was able to sleep until 7:00 a.m. before heading out for a pleasant drive into the Berkshires. Parking at Berkshire East is a snap. It's the standard $10 you pay for race parking everywhere, and it's onsite. No buses needed. Spectators are free at Bone Frog Challenge, which means that unless you purchase swag, the parking fee is all you need to spend for the day.

Check-in went very smoothly. There was a bit of a line, but that line moved very fast, and the volunteers were ultra organized. There was one volunteer making sure that everyone had their waver and ID out so that by the time you made it to the front of the line you were organized and the volunteer getting your packet could move like lightning. I couldn't have waited in line for even five minutes, which is excellent for a race with a couple thousand people in attendance. The other area where the race was well organized was in having a good number of portable toilets. There was a bit of a wait last year, but they increased the number and, again, I only have to wait in line for a couple of minutes. I cannot image how hard these sorts of logistics are to nail down -- Bone Frog has my respect for their eye-to-detail and high level of organization.

After checking in, I headed over to the NE Spahtens team tent. There was no set team wave time for Bone Frog, so I was hoping to find some friends to run the race with. As is so often the case with the Spahtens, my battle buddy was just a friend I hadn't met yet. I ended up meeting Jennifer Daley who provided an extremely great person to take on Bone Frog's 9 mile course with. We were very evenly paces and had similar skills on obstacles. Plus, she was a lot of fun!

After getting our gear ready (I highly recommend a hydration pack and nutrition if you're doing the full 9 mile race or Tier-1), we headed over for the 9:30 a.m. wave. Announcement were brief and at exactly 9:30 a.m., we were off.



The course was packed with 40 obstacles. This was around a dozen fewer than last year. While I will say that I definitely missed having those extra twelve obstacles -- they definitely added to the fun and difficulty factory -- this is still a top-notch race. Some things that set the course apart from other races are the excellent build and the good obstacle distribution. May races fall prey to having most of their obstacles jumbled at the bottom of the mountain. I get that this is a logistical issue; however, somehow Bone Frog has tackled it, as they have good obstacle distribution along the trails at the top of the mountain too. This is key for a racer's enjoyment. Bone Frog does a great job utilizing every inch of elevation Berkshire East has to offer. Sure this isn't Killington, but some of us don't want to hike uphill all day. The amount of hiking up brutal hills is just enough (actually just a little more than enough) at Bone Frog. This is paired with some really excellent trail running. Miles 7 though 8 are along some especially nice trails. We had a great time running that stretch of the race -- it was beautiful and not so technical that the average trail runner couldn't keep a decent pace. It felt nice to stretch our legs and run along the trails towards the end of the race.

As I mentioned before, the race featured 40 obstacles. Here's my standard obstacle-by-obstacle breakdown. The couple of obstacle I have forgotten, I have left blank -- sorry.


1. Hurdles: Jump across some muddy trenches.
2. Low crawl: Wire crawl. They used normal wire instead of barbed wire and the ground was not too rocky. 
3. 1st phase wall: Lower high wall -- probably around 5'.
4. Walk the plank: Walk across a wobbly balance beam. Meanwhile, exercise balls hang encapsulated in nets right along your path.
5. Hell box
6. Rope climb: Standard rope climb. Probably around 12' to 15'.
7. Ammo carry: Carry an ammo box along an uphill, then downhill loop. The ammo boxes, fortunately, came in two sizes, so the smaller folks, like me, could choose wisely. Also, at the top of the hill was a sign that featured six symbols on it. We had to memorize these six symbols and then recall the at obstacle #14, Mind Games.
8. Night crawler: This obstacle featured three increasingly high "thru" walls. Last year, this entire obstacle was handled a bit differently. The entire thing was covered in a heavy black drape making it dark as night. People had to pass glow sticks along and provide directions so that everyone could make their way through. I was kind of sad to see that gone for this year, since the 2015 obstacle was one of the more inventive I've encountered.
9. Stairway to Valhalla: 800 feet of elevation is less than half a mile. This was far longer of a climb than last year and brutal. There were people camped out all along the climb who basically were not making it. One poor woman was dry heaving, another couple of people were felded by cramps. This climb was no joke. It reminded me of the lengthy uphill march at the Killington Spartan Beast. Midway through the climb, there was a net that you had to crawl under.
10. The Kraken: A cargo net climb, then a roll across a cargo net, followed by a net down.
11. Slide for life: We ended up doing the 25 burpee penalty and bypassing this obstacle based on the long wait. Last year I stuck it in there and waited in line, but I just didn't want to again. This obstacle you have to hoist yourself through a hole in a platform. Once you've pulled yourself up and through, you then descend back to the ground via a rope traverse.
12. Reverse wall: Wall at a 45 degree angle towards you. If I jumped high, I could grab it, which was great. 
13. Solar walls: Two back-to-back tall walls that you had to climb up and down with a rope.I would say these were pretty tall -- definitely 12' or more.
14. Mind games: Here was where you had to recall the six images from the Ammo Carry. We remembered them and were able to go on to the next obstacle.
15. 31 Heroes:This obstacle memorializes 30 fallen Navy SEAL officers and one K-9 officer. We did burpees for each person, saying his name. I think this obstacle is an excellent example of how Bone Frog does an excellent job honoring our men and women in uniform. 
16. 2nd phase wall: Slightly taller than the 1st phase wall. Probably around 7'.
17. Seige wall 
18. The Punisher: This was a tall wall that you climbed with the help of a cargo net. At the top was a bar to grab and pull yourself through before going down the other side.
19. Rolling thunder: Tires suspended horizontally on a pole. You had to jump really high to get over them. There were two sets. I am, in all honesty, not very good at this one. I try to stay to the side where there's a chance of getting to grab the pole that the tires are on. Otherwise, my height tends to be a disadvantage and I roll right off.
20. Mike & Murph: This obstacle seemed new from last year. We climbed up a ladder wall, then down a net. Then we reverse it. 
21. Deck of cards: I didn't recall this obstacle, so I crowdsourced it. Per my NE Spahten friends, this obstacle ended up getting cut from the race.
22. Cargo net: This was a huge cargo net -- very tall -- probably 20'. There was a bit of a wait at this one, but we stuck it out. 
23. Sand bag carry: We had to fill our own sand bag before carrying it on a loop through the woods. Filling a sand bag is kind of a challenge when the dirt you're working with is just soil dug from the ground. I managed to increase my bag-filling speed by shoveling in dirt from a couple of people who had just emptied their sand bags.
24. Water crossing: Brr! We had to wade across a snow pond at the top of the mountain and then wade back across again. By wade I mean that I had to swim in the middle. Okay, we swam. It was cold.
25. Jacobs ladder: Ladder wall.
26. Window walls: A through wall. This stretch was marked by some nice trail running. It was great to have a few obstacles to break up the trails!
27. Tire roll: This was another set of tires on a horizontal pole. Basically, it was the same as the earlier Rolling Thunder obstacle.
28. Spider wall: A traverse wall. I like this one because it has finger grips. Last year, this was down at the bottom of the mountain, so it was nice to have it here up at the top.
29. Tire drag: These tires were heavy. I actually had to have Jennifer help me. She's strong from cross fit.
30. Swingers club: Yikes! My first of three failed obstacles of the day. This obstacle was American Ninja Warrior-style. It featured balls suspended on ropes. You had to swing from small ball to small ball. I had trouble reaching these and even more trouble getting going. I was actually disappointed at the number of obstacles I did fail this year. Last year's Bone Frog was likely more challenging; however, this year I failed three obstacles to last year's one. I have been doing a lot of running lately, but OCR season is upon us, and I think I need to hit the pull-up bar more.
31. Sprint 31 Heroes: This was the 31 Heroes obstacle for those doing the Sprint length distance. For those doing the full 9 mile challenge, we did not end up doing 31 Heroes again.
32. Get a grip: This was the obstacle I failed last year, and I failed it again. Hanging from poles were ropes with plastic handles attached. You had to swing from one to another to get across. The handles moves a lot. This will always be a tough one. If I was more handy and didn't live in a condo, I'd say I should build one of these in my backyard.
33. Traverse: Rope traverse across a snow pond at the bottom of the mountain. Like last year, they had you traverse the rope part way and then drop into the water and swim. I may have slightly "cheated" and gone a bit past the half way point on the rope because I didn't want to get into the cold water.
34. Hell's gate: This was a great obstacle and new from last year. There were a nine closely packed walls of increasing height. You went over the first and then under the next, as the "overs" got taller and taller. This was a lot of fun. People did get bunched up and I was pretty cold waiting after I just got out of the water, but it was a good time.
35. Water crossing: I was not super pleased to get back into the water; however, it was not an option. We had to wade into the water, which came up to chest height. In the middle there was a large ammo box we had to climb over. I was so cold at this point I was basically inept. In my flailing efforts, I knocked my ankle enough to leave a bruise. I get it. Navy SEALS -- water. Still. So. Cold.
36. 3rd phase wall: The tallest basic wall yet. I'm putting it at 9', though with my short person status, perhaps I am over exaggerating. 
37. Dead weight
38. Drunken monkey: Instead of standard monkey bars, this featured a board with staggered pegs on either side. I had a blast on this obstacle last year (once someone lifted me up so I could reach it), yet this year, I failed it. Not pleased. Pull up. That's all I have to say. On it!
39. Dirty name: Similar to gut check at Shale Hill, this obstacle had a lower log from which you had to jump and then pull your self over a higher log. In this case, two were stacked. I am waiting for this obstacle to leave the OCR scene. It's a menace and people are hurting themself and bruising ribs on it all the time. I climbed up the side supports -- hey, I want to live to race another day.
40. Black ops: Very few things scare me. Black Ops scares me. This obstacle had you climb up a rope wall and then traverse a set of monkey bars before landing on a platform and climbing down a ladder. Here's the thing. The monkey bars are really high up and below them is just this net. This obstacle is the last one, and it's smack in front of the spectators. Last year I nailed it -- there is video evidence. Still I was scared. I made it up the wall with the rope no problem. A volunteer was ready to lift me up to the monkey bars. I was seriously ready to just roll across the lower netting, but he encouraged me. I made it across, but I was shaking. Seriously, I never shake. I cannot think of any other obstacles in OCR that scare me, and I cannot say why this one does, but it definitely does. I tried for an early dismount and alarmed some volunteers who though I was going to fall back on the platform. I was super happy to climb down on shaky legs, find my battle buddy and run across the finish line!


I crossed the finish line in 4:08:34 having had a wonderful time all around. What a great day and a fantastic race!

Beyond what I've said already, here are some pros and some things I wish would get adjusted for next year.

Pros list:
- Amazing volunteers. Two people carried our hydration packs and everyone was super encouraging. Bone Frog has the best volunteers of pretty much anywhere. Hats off to these fine folks!
- Back-ups were much improved over last year. I probably spent an hour or more waiting in line last year. This year the lines were limited. We probably didn't wait for more than 15 minutes total. The only thing that had a line we decided was too long to justify waiting for was Slide for Life. It had a wait last year too. Last year I did make the decision to wait in each and every line, but this year I was less than keen to do that since I had done the obstacles already. Still it's a bummer since the obstacles are what we come here to do.
- Great finishers medal. Plus getting a medal from a retired Navy SEAL is very meaningful. Bone Frog also had great t-shirts in 2015. They had super soft women's fit t-shirts. Alas, this year's shirts were delayed in customs. Bone Frog is going to mail them out to everyone. Since last year's shirt is pretty much one of the only OCR t-shirts I wear, I cannot wait for this year's shirt to arrive.

Wishlist for 2017:
- Please add mile markers. We don't all want to bring a GPS watch, but that doesn't mean we don't have interest in how far along we are in the course.
- Bring back some of the awesome obstacles from 2015 that were missing this year. I loved Operation Red Wings from last year. This was a stretch with around eleven obstacles back-to-back. It was basically the best thing ever, and I missed it this year!
- There are a number of obstacles that are kind of high up. I had to rely on the kindness of some taller gentlemen to help boost me up to reach a few of the hanging obstacles. Just a few more inches down would be a big help. I know of other shorter women competitors who felt the same way.

I am already signed up for the next Bone Frog Challenge in my area, the fall Bone Frog Championships on October 29 at Berkshire East. 6 miles and two dozen obstacles -- I am looking forward to it.


(Note: NE Spahtens photos from Vince Rhee -- thank you!)

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