Participating in races in the summer months is always a bit of a gamble if you are not familiar with the race venue: Getting fried in the sun is never fun and for people who are having issues regulating their body temperature it can get outright dangerous. The Saturday of BattleFrog‘s Chicagoland event 2 hours outside of the City of Chicago started very cloudy and overcast with forecasts for rain. However, around 10am the sun came out and the temperatures kept rising. That’s May for you.
The course map showed a few interesting changes compared to BF Los Angeles and BF San Francisco: No monkey bars, no weaver, just a single rig and an obstacle called “Strong Man” which turned out to be similar to an atlas stone carry. The course would later turn out to measure aprox. 4.8 miles distance with about 1000 feet of elevation gain.
Fortunately, the venue at “The Cliffs Insane Terrain Inc.” had plenty of creeks and woods available and BattleFrog was nice enough to make sure the racers would get plenty of opportunities to cool down, even including a short swim and of course their signature Hooyah water slide obstacle. On top of that, frequently appearing deep mud mounds made sure nobody stayed dry for too long.
The swimming obstacle was manned with divers, an inflatable boat, and people on land on standby. Additionally, a rope in the water provided safety in emergencies but was not to be touched otherwise. Water safety is always very important at OCRs especially in the heat and it was great to see the significant precautions BattleFrog has taken to address this.
If you came to BattleFog to get a mud run then you made the right choice! As soon as it came to obstacles like the rope climb, the 12’ wall, confidence climb, and 60 Degrees, all that mud came back to hound the runners: Very slippery ropes made the short rope climb difficult even for elite racers. Obstacles with metal bars became slippery and increased the challenge even further.
For those not familiar with BattleFrog obstacles, the confidence climb is a series of square metal bars vertically stacked on top of each other and runners have to climb up and over, then climb back down on the other side. 60 Degrees is basically the same thing, but the whole obstacle is tilted to a 60-degree angle facing the runner: Not only do you have to hold on to the slippery bars, you also have to fight gravity – similar to an inverted wall. As the picture shows, deep pools of water and mud mounds right before this obstacle made this especially exciting.
BattleFrog did a great job with the setup of separate lanes for elite, intermediate, and novice runners which ensured a steady flow at the obstacles and prevented frustration. More boards to step on for the novice lane at the 12′ Rope Wall definitely reduced the fear factor. A lower hanging bell at the rope climb or fewer metal bars to climb or a significantly easier Tip of the Spear made a big difference for everyone who does not have competitive aspirations while still offering the option of going for the more difficult elite lanes.
However, it unfortunately provided opportunity for some “Elite” competitors to sneak into an easier lane during their second laps. Every race depends immensely on their volunteers and while the majority are upbeat and encouraging – which is the most important thing for 90% of participants – there is still room for improvement when it comes to their knowledge of the rules. For example, Spartan Race hands out laminated sheets with an explanation of the obstacle and the penalty to the volunteers manning the obstacle. This would be a possible way to ensure a more consistent quality in this regard.
The recent announcement of penalties for BattleFrog Xtreme competitors stirred up a lot of controversy about how this would be handled. In Chicagoland there was only a single penalty loop set up to address the most difficult obstacle: Right behind the Platinum Rig a wreck bag and jerry cans were set up next to a “BFX Penalty Loop” sign. The penalty consisted of carrying a wreck bag plus one jerry can for a tiny loop which was marked by flags. The amount of time required was about equal to a clean pass through the Platinum Rig but less taxing and less time consuming than the usual ten 8 count body builders, the usual penalty for failing to complete an obstacle. This was a bit disappointing to see, especially because nobody was around to inform the BFX combatants about what they were supposed to do. Most carried only the wreck bag or two jerry cans and while integrity is key, nobody would have stopped them from simply walking past the penalty loop either.
The fact that the Platinum Rig was in a fairly easy configuration – probably due to expected rain which would have made it difficult nevertheless – reduced the impact of this. The Rig and the penalty loop were packed very closely together and right next to the finish line and Elite/BFX transition point. This made it impossible for the volunteers to keep everyone in check and at the end of the day everyone knows if they earned their medal or not.
Bottom Line: BattleFrog took advantage of the varying terrain at the venue and provided a challenging OCR with interesting twists to keep the race attractive for all that already have done one or more of their events in the past. While raw strength and obstacle technique could make or break someone’s race in the past, the current setup with lanes of different difficulties offers options to athletes of all backgrounds and skill levels.
(All pictures have been taken by the author)
He can be found at endurance events like the Spartan Race HH12HR, WTM, GORUCK, SEALFIT and other starting lines on the West Coast.
A blog about his journey is at https://www.flownotforce.com/
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