As with any competitive business, obstacle course companies spend a lot of money on marketing. It is a fact that a newly acquired customer is more likely to return to that company for the same service/product in the future versus another brand(s). Therefore, the companies with bigger investment capital tend to dominate the business landscape while the smaller companies struggle to get their name in the public’s ear. In the OCR industry, one of those smaller companies is Conquer The Gauntlet (CTG) operating predominantly in the Kansas/Oklahoma area. Described as the “most extreme 4 miles on the planet”, positive news has been quickly spreading about this family owned and operated series.
One of the expansion locations for 2016 brought CTG to General Butler State Park 45 minutes northeast of Louisville, Kentucky which also played host to the BattleFrog series just 8 weeks ago (BattleFrog: Inaugural Louisville Race – 2016 Recap). Parking was $10 and located right next to the registration/festival area. Spectators only had to fork out $5 for full course access. Participant bib numbers were supplied at a tent near the front entrance while timing chips were located at another tent location further into the festival area. Volunteers provided clear instructions to that location, but it would have made more sense to have them located adjacent to each other. Another slight concern was the presence of only six portable bathroom units which quickly resulted in moderately long lines.
With 8:00 am approaching, the elites were called to gather in the starting corral for the pre race briefing. Races with mandatory obstacle completion use something athletes wear to signify they are still in the running for elite prizes. For CTG, it was a cloth belt which was distributed at the start line. Keeping that belt would require a lot of skill and mental fortitude with one of their obstacles claiming less than 2% successful completion percentage. Temperatures were already creeping up near 80 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity stood at a palpable 90% so competitors were anxious to get started. There was no extravagant motivational speech or elaborate ceremony, merely a simple gunshot to signify the race was on.
Athletes were quick out of the starting corral as the course path lead directly into a wooded forest only 100 meters away. Soggy conditions lurked behind the tree line thanks to thunderstorms the day before and the high humidity of the morning. Athletes trudged through the mud, climbed up a hill, vaulted over an inverted wall, and then course opened up alongside a beautiful body of water. CTG must have wanted us to get an up close view of this natural beauty because the course turned sharply left leading directly into the water. Being so close to the start, it was similar to a triathlon scene with competitors swimming extremely close to one another. While the swim was only a mere 30 meters in length with a maximum water depth of 8 feet, I was surprised to see no volunteers or emergency personnel stationed at the crossing.
After doing our best Michael Phelps impressions, we exited the water and were immediately greeted with a 10 foot wall comprised of a few widely spaced, extremely small rock climbing holds. This proved rather challenging and resulted in multiple attempts for many athletes to successfully complete. Once over, the course allowed participants to stretch their legs with a running heavy section and a few lesser challenging obstacles such as over walls and a slack line traverse. Especially fun was “Belly of the Beast” which is a cargo net descent using only the underside in which no part of your body can touch the ground until the bell at the end is rung.
The running abruptly came to an end with a 16 foot rope climb and subsequent heavy log carry. These logs were large in diameter and weighed approximately 50-60 pounds (male, female were lighter) with the carry covering a quarter mile in distance. While the majority of the carry was mostly flat and open, the finishing sequence required athletes to ascend/descend a 100 foot hill boasting a calf shredding 30%+ gradient. There was no time to recover from that effort as upper body obstacles continued around every corner. One obstacle in particular was CTG’s signature obstacle, Stairway to Heaven, which will be featured at this year’s OCR World Championships. The giant A Frame peaks at 17 feet high with an incline/decline of 55 degrees and athletes are not allowed to use their feet to aid them.
After breaking a massive sweat during the obstacle dense section, a return to the scenic lake was welcomed. However, this time would require swimming the entire 100 meter width using a much more fatigued body. This time there were spotters at the end of the swim, but none of them appeared to be wearing suits to assist with any emergency situation. While there was a small safety line, a few exhausted participants needed further assistance which was provided by fellow athletes already in the water. A paddle boat was deployed later in the day to allow more timely assistance.
Participants exited the swim only to be greeted by the Tarzan Swing which is CTG’s version of a rig consisting of various hanging pieces. What is normally a difficult obstacle became nearly impossible with wet conditions from the preceding swim. Also, the pieces were hung using eye bolts with no stem attached directly to a quick release and metal chain. The small size of the pieces and large gaps required a two handed approach which resulted in contact with the metal quick release and chain. There were bloodied and jammed fingers as a result. It seems longer eye bolts with an unthreaded stem would make more sense as it would alleviate the safety concern to participant’s hands without reducing the difficulty of the obstacle. If you survived that test, you were rewarded with the infamous Pegatron; a lateral peg board one must traverse.
Podium finishers for the male Elites were PJ Granger, Cody Peyton, and Tyler Barrett while the female Elites were Ashley Samples, Brenna Calvert, and Sally Etherton. CTG certainly delivered very difficult obstacles which will challenge even experienced OCR enthusiasts, but a few improvements could be made to the logistics and safety aspects. The obstacles were probably too much of a challenge for more casual and new fans to OCR as the failure percentage in open waves was very high. However, CTG seems to embrace providing a punishing course and maintaining a more regional series without dreams of massive nationwide expansion. Those who want a new challenge or think that the current mainstream OCR series are becoming too easy should definitely add Conquer the Gauntlet to your schedules.