Have you ever wanted a break from the normal OCR thing of monkey bars and fire jumping? If so maybe the Hammer Race located in Zumbro Falls Minnesota, might be for you! The one catch, you must carry and use an 8 pound sledgehammer throughout the race. Offering both a 5k and 10k course with plenty of elevation (1,100 feet for the 10k course) and an Elite, Open, and 5 person Team challenge, there was an option for every level. Parking was located on the campground site near the start line for 10 dollars with warm shower facilities on site. The race start time was at noon, which was a blessing on a chilly Minnesota day. Flags were placed in the ground marking some very technical terrain. Maybe they should have had us carry a machete instead of a sledgehammer!
Now on to the race! Starting at noon and staggered 10 minutes apart the Elite, Team challenge, and Open class took off along the road that wound around the campground and led to the first set of walls to climb over. At these walls, you were able to drop your sledge at the bottom of the wall until you made your way over where you picked up your sledge again and made your way into the forest and along a path that can best be described as a game trail. Large tractor tires were the next obstacle we encountered and once again an athlete was able to drop their sledge until the required number of tire flips was performed before picking up the sledge and heading back into the forest. Now the “trails” along the course were maybe the most demanding part of the race. Everything was either up or down a tree choked hill, often times there was maybe a foot of flat surface to run on, rocks and mud and tall prairie grass were the norm, and all the while carrying that damn sledgehammer which got caught on everything!
The trail led us back near the campgrounds where a series of low crawls were set up. These were set very low to the ground and an athlete was required to carry the sledge with through the low tunnels with them. Once through, we were led right across the road to another low crawl. This one was a bit tougher though. They used a large cargo style net and it was placed over a mix of sand and gravel. If your knees were not covered up here you were going to leave with some cuts! Now back on the trail we were led towards the adjoining river to a series of dirt mounds and walls which led to our first chance to use our hammers. Placed on “bucks” were large sectioned off hunks of wood. The goal of the obstacle was to use your sledgehammer to knock the wood from one side to the other. These “bucks” were located all along the course and certainly made the course physically demanding. Back into the wooded hills, we circled around the campground on the game trail. Coming back up behind the campground was a series of two tires tied together with a small notch cut into the lead tire. An athlete had to insert the handle of their sledge and drag the tires around circle turnaround of pavement before smashing more logs on a buck and then back into the woods leading away from the camp.
It was during this portion of the race that I noticed the trail becoming way more technical and the hills way higher. Now back along the edge of the river we were led over another series of walls to climb and over to a series of large mats which athletes had to drag, along with their hammers, up and down a paved path. Now let me tell you, that was a total suckfest! The race trail now took us back towards the river getting us wet briefly with a short march through the ankle deep water before the hardest climb of the race. Up we went, cold and wet. Under trees and over rocks we ending up by cornfield which of course was not harvested yet. Along the tall grass of the cornfield trail were another series of walls to scale leading to a deep ravine. On top of which was another “buck” to hammer. After smashing the wood we were finally starting to be led back towards the campgrounds and the finish, but not before more hills and climbing.
It was along this final section of the course where we found one of the signature obstacles of the Hammer Race the “black door”. This was a sectioned off area of the ravine where the drop and climb was almost totally straight down and up. Once down you had to find a rope which you had to climb with your sledge leading up to the top where an actual black door was located for you to go through. It was also along this section of the trail where the ground became nothing but large boulders to navigate through. Probably lucky nobody broke an ankle here as the footing was awful at best, all while carrying that damn sledgehammer! Now curling around back towards the campgrounds and the finish we were met by one last tire challenge. Athletes had to run around a large circle path with a car tire and their hammer before moving on towards the last set of obstacles and the finish. This last series of obstacles was set back to back in the festival area. Two different “bucks” were set up, one smashing wood, another a car tire. Then on to a low crawl before having to finish with two rope climbs over a wooden A frame structure.
I found the Hammer Race to be very challenging and fun. If you like something a little different in OCR this might be a race you would enjoy. With participant numbers around 200 you will not get lost in the crowd and the volunteers were friendly. The tee shirts and medals were nice and the photos were free. Possibly adding a Masters division and a kid’s race might help their numbers. Also possibly giving teams color coded wrist bands might help with some of the confusion regarding team obstacle completion. But otherwise I consider this a must do event if you live in the Midwest.
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