Tiffanie Novakovich raced in the inaugural Atlas Race. They delivered on everything they promised which included a great course, elite competition, and massive (day of) payouts.
It was still dark when we left our hotel, headed to Atlas’s first obstacle race. Lauren Ho, the soon-to-be winner of the race sat by me in the backseat. We talked about trying to fall asleep at night when you’re adjusting from Alaskan and Hawaiian time zones. Then we sat quietly, taking in the beautiful Southern Oregon scenery as the sun rose.
In the front seat, there was chatter that Max King, the Southern Oregon-grown King of trail running, might be coming to try his first obstacle race. Good news for the sport, unnerving if you were hoping to win. The women’s and men’s fields were both stacked with Olympic Trials qualifiers and hopefuls, National and World Champions, and professional obstacle racers. Despite this being Atlas’s first race, the elite race was going to be a real race!
The venue for was a vast ranch, complete with horse stables, alfalfa fields, hay bales and moo-ing cows. The spectator area was very organized and registration was easy. You know that ridiculously long line for the port-a-potties at every athletic event that makes you seriously consider peeing the bushes? It didn’t exist because there were actually enough toilets available. Bravo Atlas! Athletes like toilets.
The pre-race atmosphere was exciting and inviting. Music played as morning race participants arrived and elite racers warmed up. The race organizers walked around graciously welcoming racers. The course was prepped and ready to go.
The men’s race line-up started with the rules of the course: One try for each obstacle and 20 burpees for each failure. Following the rules were some motivating words, loud music and a countdown from 10 to GO! The elite men were off and the elite women nailed down their final preparations.
The elite men’s heat had one obstacle malfunction in the first five minutes, which delayed the women’s start by just a few minutes. I heard it was one of Atlas’s unique obstacles – a parallel bar traverse. The organizers made the safe decision to remove the obstacle so we were, unfortunately, not able to try it. Even with the slight hang-up, not much time passed before the elite women were off!
The course wound through scenic woods, gullies, and up and down river beds. The first mile involved a considerable amount of running and elevation gain, giving the fastest runners an early lead. After the first mile, however, the obstacles increased in frequency and difficulty. There were three balance obstacles placed strategically where my legs were a little wobbly: a fairly long log hop, a cable crossing with overhead tires for balance, and beautifully unique balance beams. The balance beams zig-zagged for about 50 feet and were challenging, but attainable. The beauty in the obstacle however, was that it was made of hand-smoothed logs salvaged from the ranch property. Atlas continued this ranch theme throughout the race, which I thought was fantastic.
Obstacles throughout the course included over/under walls, slick rolling mud, barbed wire crawls, 6ft walls in a mud pit, a slip ‘n’ slide, a short uphill sandbag carry and a traverse wall. Near mile three we were at the peak elevation of the course and there was a cluster of obstacles in a space clear of trees. This section reignited competition because racers could see each other ahead and behind, gaining or losing ground. Positions changed as some racers struggled with or failed obstacles while others didn’t. After the traverse wall was a several-minute downhill sprint back to the spectator area . . . and the final gauntlet of obstacles.
As I neared the arena, I could see the finish and hear the announcer, but I wasn’t even close. We climbed seven horse corrals to get to the hay bale carry. Next, we went up and over cargo nets spanning double-stacked conex boxes Just 30 meters away was the rope climb.
After the rope climb was the penultimate obstacle, which proved to be the most popular and also the most feared of the day.
Climb an angled platform and plunge into a pit of murky water that’s supposedly 12 feet deep. As elite racers approached, the official informed us that we had two seconds to jump or we’d be doing 20 burpees. Two seconds isn’t a long time. In fact, it’s just enough time to look down and freak yourself out. So as I was climbing I told myself, “Don’t look, just jump.” My feet didn’t touch the bottom and it turns out that two seconds IS a long time . . . when you’re underwater.
I swam to the edge, climbed the cargo ladder out and found myself two steps behind a competitor who didn’t jump within two seconds. We were just 10 meters from the 8ft wall. There was only one women’s step nailed in about a foot off the ground, and she got first crack at it. She slipped off and it was my turn. Knowing I had only one shot at this, I took a deep breath, jumped, and climbed. It was a battle. I think I actually used my face to help get up and over that mammoth wall. When I landed, I was in fifth place and I had about 15 seconds to run, leap over the fire, and finish.
Volunteers snipped my chip off of my shoe and directed me straight to the finisher shirt tent. I felt spent, but proud to have completed a very physically and mentally challenging course.
To continue the ranch theme, we stood on the bed of a camouflage tractor trailer for the awards ceremony. The awards were made from reclaimed wood from the ranch, which they had planned to brand on the spot with an Atlas logo. Unfortunately the fire wasn’t hot enough yet so we didn’t get to brand our own plaques. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful plaque that represents the venue and course perfectly.
In addition to t-shirts, plaques and pride, the top five individuals and winning teams were awarded prize money on the spot. Thank you Atlas!!
After my race I spent several hours at the race venue enjoying all Atlas had to offer. I watched kids doing pull-ups and flipping a tire at the Army tent. I ate some delicious soup and I may or may not have eaten a cupcake also. The food/beer tent was conveniently located by the platform water obstacle. For the non-elite waves, they did away with the two-second rule, so I sat there with a cheering crowd watching friends, relatives, fellow racers and Hobie Call talk freaked-out competitors into jumping.
Yes, Hobie Call was there. He didn’t race but spent the entire day taking pictures with fans, signing autographs and leading the kids’ race. Dozens of kids ran the 1 mile course with smiles glued to their faces because that’s what obstacle racing does. It makes you smile like a kid.
With about 1,000 competitors and many spectators vowing to sign up next year, this race was a fantastic initial showing for Atlas. If they can do this well their first time, I can only imagine that they have SO much more in store for us!
Tiffanie Novakovich lives and trains in Anchorage, Alaska. Also, she is married to that other Novakovich you have been hearing so much about lately.