Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BattleFrog Pittsburgh

Props to BattleFrog for putting on an amazing event!  The course was awesome, challenging both physically and technically while still working plenty of good old trail running into the mix.  The mines added an aspect all of their own and was a completely new experience for someone who has been racing since they were a little kid! The course was perfectly marked, no way to go wrong out there, and the volunteers were the best I have encountered even rivaling my favorite aid station with just a few miles to go at The Endurance Challenge in Bear Mountain!  Well done on all fronts!  Now for the Story!
 Often times the best adventures are the ones that fall into your lap last minute.  In this case it started on Thursday afternoon when I found out about the BattleFrog event in Pittsburgh just two days away.  I am new to the sport of obstacle racing but was confidant I could bring home some money, plus the event looked completely epic.  I committed and posted a promo for the race with a 50% off code on my facebook and within minutes my solo adventure had turned into a road trip with my brother Andrew and brother in-law Doug who immediately signed up for the race as well.  For them it would be their first OCR event and only the third for me so we set off for Pittsburgh full of enthusiasm and inexperience.
                We arrived at the venue race morning ready to go after a short night in a cheap motel.  It was chilly but quickly warming up. We grabbed our packets and stood around a fire while we prepared to go.  Drew and I were in the Elite heat of the 15k so the start came quickly.  We got to the front of the line on the left side and I looked up to right to see a few familiar faces from the two other OCR events I had done as well as Ryan Atkins, the obvious favorite fresh off his runner-up finish at the Spartan World Championships.  We had met earlier in the year at a trail event and I was excited to see how I would stack up with some obstacles thrown in.  From what I could tell it was a fast race with BIG obstacles.  Walls, nets, pyramids, monkey bars, lots of climbing and very little carrying and while I had been working on the carrying since my Spartan race in VA this type of course definitely favored my strengths more.  I planned on taking the race out FAST and gaining some great experience from watching Ryan take on the obstacles and hopefully run fast enough that I could hang with him through the tougher obstacles.  That plan went out the window the second the race started. 
Following Ryan through the creek bed early on.

The starter who stood a short distance in front of the racers stepped directly into my path as soon as he set us on our course and I collided with him.  Just like that I was behind 40 or so other runners.  I sprinted through their midst and fought my way through the first mud pit moving halfway through the crowd.  I could now see Ryan clear of the field and flying over and under the first set of walls.  I cruised over the walls and kept on the gas.  As I came up to the next mud pit I could see 10 or so people struggling through it.  I jumped as far as I could and prayed I wouldn’t land on a rock.  I cleared most of the pit and landed running, Coach Jimmer my old steeple coach would have been proud!  I came out of the water in around 10th.  Then we hit the 12 foot ladder wall.  There were several people on it already and I scaled it as fast as I could.  I reached the top to see the competition climbing down the opposite side and I jumped.  I hit the ground hard but now there were only 2 other people besides Ryan ahead of me.  I passed one just before we entered the woods and hit a rocky creek bed.  The next ½ to ¾ of a mile were in the creek bed and it was gnarly!  I got stuck behind one runner for a little bit and Ryan disappeared out of sight.  As soon as I got a clear lane I flew into second and the sounds of pursuit soon faded.  Over the next couple of miles I slowly gained on Ryan who looked to be moving comfortably as we shredded some ATV trails scaled walls.  I gained a little bit on the big cargo and then lost what I gained on a 20 foot tall pyramid shaped obstacle called The Delta Ladder.  My goal was to catch up before the Jerry can carry.  It didn’t look to be too heavy but I knew if it was the Ryan would destroy me on it.  Just as I had caught up enough to be in almost constant visual contact we descended a hill and ran straight into a mine cut into the side of the hill.  A volunteer handed me a headlamp and I entered into blackness.
The Delta Ladder

 Almost right away we scaled a short wall before turning deeper into the mine.  The trail through here was well marked with cones and glo sticks but visibility was still very low.  I slowed a bit keeping Ryan’s light in sight through the switchbacks for the next half mile or so.  This part of the course was definitely the most unique section of race I have ever run!  Then all of a sudden the tunnel was blocked completely by water.  A volunteer gave me the option of swimming or grabbing a tube.  I plunged in and the air was immediately knocked from my lungs by the frigid water. I struggled through the chest deep water running and paddling with my arms, my warm breathe contrasting with the cold water and throwing up a cloud of white in front of my face.  Just as I thought I was reaching the end the tunnel turned 180 degrees and I saw I was only halfway done.  At this point my shins had had enough of the underwater obstacles they had been colliding with and I began to swim.  The swimming actually felt much better and I made it to the exit in no time.  I cambered out of the water and slogged my numb body through an entrance into a dark room with glowing targets.  A volunteer told me to hit the ground and I saw a row of paintball guns at my feet.  I dropped to a prone position and grabbed the gun.  It was too dark to see the sights but the paintballs glowed so I used my first shot to guide my second and hit the target.  I then moved to my left and did the same thing from a kneeling position, then to my left again and the final shots from a standing position.  This gun Jammed and wasn’t shooting paintballs.  The volunteer cleared me anyway and I sprinted off, knowing that I had lost at least 20 seconds on the last gun.  I exited the mine into what now felt like warm air and took off sprinting.  I had been careful to keep a moderate pace early on and not push myself but now I knew that if I was going to see Ryan again, and the chances were slim I had to MOVE. 
The swimming section of the mine.  It was pitch black when we raced through it.
There was a quick climb and descent that I hammered and then we climbed up some trusses and into a barn.  In the barn there was a rope climb and once I rung the bell I dropped and jumped out the opposite side of the barn.  As I exited I caught a glimpse of Ryan dropping off of the monkey bars about 30-45 seconds ahead of me.  Maybe I did still have a shot.  I took off and reached the monkey bars to see that the bars had been mostly replaced by rock climbing holds.  I grabbed the first hold and swung out.  After the first hold which was easy to grab the holds got smaller.  I made it to the first set of bars to see one measly rock hold between me and the next set.  I was not too confidant in my ability to hang onto it so I decided to swing and jump for the platform.  I didn’t fully commit though with the last second fear of smashing into the platform and I missed and landed in the water.  I tried again and almost made it but again failed, then a third time.  As I came out of the water for the fourth time third place showed up at the “bars”.  He failed too.  Soon there were 20 men from the elite trying and falling into the water. A kid with a fit rock climber’s body finally passed and moved into second.   An official announced that after 10 tries you were done and had to surrender your arm band.  I had already tried at least ten times but he gave me one more.  It didn’t matter. After being in and out of the water so many times I was shaking with cold and had lost any of the already insufficient grip strength I had.  Battle Frog has a “must pass” policy to obstacles for elites.  If you can’t complete and obstacle you surrender you arm band.  You can still finish the race and be in the results but you are no longer racing for a cash purse.  I heard a bit of grumbling about this policy at the time and later on in the day. Obviously an alternate punishment would have benefitted me on this day but I support either approach.  Either way the failure is on me.  After almost succeeding the first couple of times I approached the obstacle the same way each time instead of trying to find a different approach to get through.  I spent the rest of the day thinking about this obstacle and have come up with several different techniques that I am sure would have gotten me through, mainly facing sideways and using my feet on the parallel rock grips.  I also enjoy the challenge of the harder obstacles as they expose weaknesses in my training and force me to add different exercises to my routine making me a fitter and more well rounded athlete, and I would like to see more obstacles like this replacing monkey bars and traverse walls.  I will be ready for them next time!
The monkey bars. Don't know how Ryan got through so fast.
  I surrendered my band just as a third guy made it through.  I started off towards the inverted wall disappointed but also ready to take that anger out on the rest of the course.  But then I stopped.  I was no longer in the money and wasn’t sure I wanted to interfere with the racers who were competing for a check.  I also looked back to see my brother on the bars.  He doesn’t run but had still decided to tackle the challenge, and on top of that was killing it!  I realized that this was probably the only chance I would have to race and finish with him so I hung out until he was done with the bars and then we took off together.  Over the next several miles we tackled hills and obstacles together.  Neither one of us running hard just moving steadily and enjoying the adventure.  We moved steadily though and soon popped out of the woods and into the finishing straight.  This finishing straight was epic!  First there was the tsunami!  A 20 foot half pipe with roped to aide in the climb and a slide down the backside, then out of the water and straight into 12 foot wall with a rope aid and another slide straight into the Normandy Jacks and the finish.  Drew and I cruised through side by side passing a few people who couldn’t get up the walls on the first try.  We crossed the line together capping off a day that was far different than what I had come for yet rewarding in other way’s than I had originally intended it to be.  We hosed off, grabbed some fire time and then headed to the tsunami to see Doug finish up his 5k.  By this time people were piling up on the two walls and we had a good time cheering them on.  Doug got over the tsunami on his first try and then hit the last wall.  He had more trouble on this one but once he got over we met him at the finish, grabbed our beers and T-shirts, and watched more people tackle the finishing straight as we told battle stories of our day out on the course.
Sliding down the backside of the tsunami!

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