HESCO Bonefrog Carolinas 2016 – Southern Exposure

The Dirty Name obstacle – A gut check or a sternum breaker

Over the past few years, the HESCO Bonefrog Challenge has put on events to rave reviews in the Northeast. On July 23, 2016, they brought their brand of obstacle course racing below the Mason-Dixon line for the first time.

Early morning race day and it's already hot Early morning race day and it’s already hot and humid

But, much like what Federal armies experienced in the early days of the civil war, this initial incursion south was not with out its hitches.

The Format
Bonefrog events offer three distances:

  • The Challenge – nine miles, 36 obstacles
  • The Sprint – four miles with a bunch of obstacles, and
  • Tier-1 – both courses back-to-back

There is an option for elite racers to compete for awards at each of the distances. Elite racers get a wristband and must complete all obstacles. If unable to complete an obstacle, the wristband is cutoff. Racers must keep their wristband to be eligible for prize consideration.

Thirty-six obstacles over nine miles is a lot of obstacles. It suggests that you’ll encounter an obstacle every quarter mile. However (at least in South Carolina) several obstacles are grouped close together so you end up running some longer distances before reaching an obstacle.

Now, go read the ORM reviews of Bonefrog Challenge from events in New England and New Jersey, then come back here. No seriously, go read them. But don’t forget to come back because I’ll be waiting …..

Okay. Cool. See what I mean? The reviews are stellar. People love Bonefrog Challenge. You probably saw Josh Chace’s review of the New England race. He wrote, “If you haven’t run a Bonefrog Challenge before, you’re doing OCR wrong.”

I don’t want to do OCR wrong, so I was very excited to experience Bonefrog for myself. But, I came away from the event in Winnsboro, SC (just north of Columbia), with mixed feelings.

The Race
I want to stress that I enjoyed the race, but at the same time Bonefrog definitely had issues in South Carolina. It also had a slew of fun obstacles on a grinding, dirty, rocky, extremely challenging, and at times treacherous (I say this as a good thing) running course that wound in and out of wooded areas which provided some merciful shade on a hot, steamy, southern day.

The Dirty Name obstacle - A gut check or a sternum breaker The Dirty Name obstacle – A gut check or a sternum breaker

The obstacles were interesting, sturdy, well-built variations on your usual monkey bars, rope swings, climbs, cargo nets, carries, walls, rig-like contraptions, and water crossings. A great mix, and lots of fun.

The most difficult obstacle for me was the most significant – it’s called 31 Heroes.

It was difficult because it involved burpees and it came at me for the second time on my last loop of the Tier-1 challenge. As I said, it was HOT. This obstacle was totally exposed to the sun, which was beating down on the course with a vengeful molten lava 2×4.

It was significant because “31 Heroes” refers to 31 fallen Navy SEAL officers. Their names are listed on a banner and you must say a name and complete a burpee — one burpee for every name on the list. Thank you to our service men and women.

31 Heroes - The names live on 31 Heroes – The names live on

The Problems
Races have growing pains and they sometimes make mistakes. When Spartan Race first came to Georgia in 2011, they had bibs for everyone on race morning, but when they started handing them out, they realized there were no safety pins to attach them. I think someone eventually made a Walmart run to buy some. Even recently, Spartan Race has had horrific parking issues at events in Texas. Tough Mudder obstacles have fallen down. Just because a series has some issues, does not necessarily mean that you have to completely write it off. The good series learn from mistakes and comeback with stronger, better events.

Race Directors often say that volunteers make or break a race, and that may have been the key issue with the 2016 Carolina Bonefrog Challenge. There were not enough volunteers. I suspect that they went into race day with fewer volunteers than they wanted, so when 15 registered volunteers didn’t report for duty, Bonefrog staff was left scrambling.

To their credit, they did make sure that all of the well-stocked water stations remained open with 100% volunteer coverage throughout the day. This was incredibly important on a day where temperatures soared to 110 degrees. They weren’t skimping on life support systems – something we’ve previously seen, even at big name races.

But the lack of volunteers was felt elsewhere. A group of elite athletes running the Tier-1 distance veered off in the wrong direction and started on the Sprint course instead of the Challenge course. This spilt in the course would be an obvious post for a volunteer, had been available, pointing out the right way to go.

As the day progressed, some obstacles were left unattended with nobody to direct or watch over them. Even with obstacles being mandatory completion for elites there were no volunteers on hand to monitor and penalize for non-compliance, greatly depreciating the value of keeping your wristband.

Another issue a lack of volunteers may or may not have influenced, was that some obstacles didn’t seem to be completely set up and/or were abandoned with many racers still on the course. None of the really cool ones, but still obstacles that counted towards the “36 obstacles over 9 miles.”

For example, any obstacle that called for crawling was indicated by metal wiring strung across the route. You were supposed to crawl under the wire (you know what I mean, almost all races have you crawling under wire). The wire, however, was not pulled tight. It loosely lay on the ground, spooling up on itself in some places. To crawl under, you had to get down, lift the wire off the ground, and go under it. The wire seemed to be just thrown out there, rather than fully laid out. If this was the intended concept, nobody on the course got it – and there were no volunteers around to give direction. Later, many of these wire crawls were trampled over or just pulled off to the side, no longer an obstacle.

There may have been reasons for this, but based on the information I had (as just a guy out running the course) it just looked like they scrapped the obstacle on the fly.

The Promise
But Bonefrog Challenge shows heart and a lot of promise. It has a history of putting on quality events. They have a great logo, great medals, great race shirts, and great merchandise.

Bonefrog's merch tent - stocked with quality offerings Bonefrog’s merch tent – stocked with quality offerings

I want them to succeed for the selfish reason of “I want to race”. I want them to stick around because I want more dates with QUALITY races on my calendar. I am willing to give them another try and I look forward to them impressing me.

They are coming to Georgia next week and I’ll be there.

Photo credit: HESCO Bonefrog Challenge

J.D. Allen

Originally from Detroit, he has spent time in Chicago and Boston and now lives just outside Atlanta. He has raced in many events across North America, including Ironman Wisconsin. J.D. is a director on the Georgia Obstacle Racers and Mud Runners (GORMR) leadership committee and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.
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