Last fall, I had the unique pleasure of introducing my son to the world of OCR by signing him up for the Savage Jr. It was a smashing success. You can read my account of that awesome experience here. Now, the one criticism he had at the time was that while it was a lot of fun the course was too easy for him. Obviously, on the other end of the spectrum, even if he’d been allowed to run it, the full Savage would’ve been much too difficult for him. Even I still struggle with some of the obstacles at races on that level. At 9 years of age, he’s in that awkward middle ground of being too old for most ‘kid’ stuff, but not quite old enough for those activities geared toward adults, so it was a great surprise to stumble on the Terrain Race and furthermore to read anyone over the age of 7 was allowed to run the full 5k. The race fell on the week of his birthday as well, so the timing was perfect. All he wanted for his birthday was a bib, a shirt, and a medal.
The race was held at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. This has become quite the popular venue for Atlanta area OCR events. I’d been here for Rugged Maniac and Spartan Sprint within the past year and I know a few other races are held here as well. While my son has never caused me any difficulty whatsoever, it was nice to have that familiarity with the area if only to eliminate the potential stress point of getting lost. My first impression of the festival area was that it looked rather sparse in comparison to that of the other races I’d attended which both had their festival set up in the exact same spot. As previously stated, I found Terrain Race almost by accident just by poking around online and had never heard it come up in conversation. Since it’s not nearly as well known among the general population or perhaps even among some OCR athletes, I assume the sponsors and vendors and their corresponding tents, displays, and samples are naturally fewer and far between. We registered a little late in the game for this one as well which resulted in a later wave time. It could be there was a bigger crowd that had already begun to disperse by the time we arrived just before 1:00 p.m. to run.
Let me begin by saying my boy and I had a wonderful time running our first race together. Really, that’s where most of the fun came from for me personally. While we had a great time, overall, the course itself was pretty ‘vanilla’ for lack of a better word. Some obstacles were harder than others but none ridiculously difficult. Additionally, there were there no unique or “signature” obstacles on which some of the most well-known races pride themselves. There wasn’t much here from a skillset standpoint I hadn’t seen before and the actual structures had more of a backyard playset feel about them. It was almost as if the organizers got truckloads of lumber and supplies from the local hardware store and simply emulated obstacles they’d seen at other races. But still, a great time was had by all. As such, I don’t think a play-by-play race review would be terribly useful or interesting. Instead, I’ll highlight some of the highs, lows, and even oddities we encountered that made the Terrain Race experience enjoyable and unique for us.
The first oddity was the starting corral. Each racer climbed into what was essentially an above ground pool and waited for the starter’s signal. When the wave began, we all hopped out and started running. I’m not sure what the specific challenge was here other than to soak us before the race began. I didn’t really understand the purpose, but it wasn’t a big deal. My kid thought it was great.
While he found starting from in a pool amusing, he found the mud absolutely hilarious. Jumping into each one, he couldn’t stop laughing. He’d been talking about the mud for weeks on end leading up to the race. How many mud pits would there be? How deep are they? How many times can I go through them? He told me the more mud pits the better and fortunately for him, Terrain Race had five good ones spaced pretty evenly throughout. Because we began so late in the day the mounds bordering each pit were packed down, smooth, and extra slippery. He needed my help to get out of a couple of them. Despite going down hard on one side of his butt coming off one of the pits too quickly, these were by far his favorite parts of Terrain Race.
The first real lesson I was able to teach my son during the race was how to properly climb up and over a vertical wall. He quickly mastered the technique of pushing down on the top of the wall to lift your body up, locking your arms before throwing a leg over to bring yourself to a seated position, then carefully lowering yourself down the opposite side.
There were a few short walls he was able to negotiate after a few tries, but he wisely opted out of attempting the taller ones even if they had attached climbing ropes or when offered a boost by yours truly. His mom told him not to try anything he didn’t feel comfortable with that morning. He took that warning to heart and so did I. We were glad we did too because only a couple of minutes after passing the tallest wall on the course, we heard a few people behind us screaming and running for a medic to treat a broken leg. We briefly joined the posse hunting for an EMT but someone else reached a race volunteer with a walkie talkie before we did.
Interestingly enough, after seeing my son decide which walls to attempt and which ones to avoid seemingly based on height alone, he shocked me by scooting right up a steep A-frame cargo net obstacle that had to be 12 – 15 feet high. We climbed up side by side so I would be nearby in the event he got scared or needed any support, be it motivational or physical, while up high on the netting. Other than taking a few extra moments to tentatively go over the summit from one side of the obstacle to the other, he managed this one like an elite competitor in my book. When our feet were back on earth, there were high fives all around.
The next obstacle of note was the wreck bag section of the course. It should be noted that this is the point where I saw an epic fail by Terrain Race. The storage bin for the wreck bags was completely empty and a line was forming. Each racer finishing the section handed off their bag to the next person in line rather than returning it to the bin. I hoisted mine onto my shoulders and told my son he may want to skip this part due to the weight. Nope. He wasn’t having any of that nonsense. With a little assistance, he got a decent grip on his wreck bag (albeit underhanded) and started walking leaving me in the dust. If I was proud after watching my son conquer the A-frame, I was absolutely elated during the wreck bag section. So many adult racers who passed us cheered for him for taking this on. I couldn’t help but smile and do the same.
Prior to encountering one of the mud obstacles, we came upon some 4x4s on the ground and it took me a second or two to identify them as an official obstacle. The Terrain Race folks frankly didn’t try real hard with this one. Anyone with basic carpentry skills could have made one of these in minutes. Every balance-oriented obstacle I’ve encountered since I began participating in this sport was over water, up high, and/or involved some sort of distraction to make it a challenge worthy of an OCR athlete. This was literally lumber lying on the ground. I’m not sure why they even bothered including this on the course at all.
In stark contrast to the balance beam, my favorite obstacle at Terrain Race was well done and familiar but like nothing I’d ever tried before. This one was elevated and had a series of beams running overhead with a pool underneath. Each beam was divided into two sections. The first had rock wall grips mounted on either side of the beam. The second had balls hanging from the bottom of the beam. (If I’m not mistaken, Terrain Race refers to them as monkey balls. Yep, they went there.) The objective was to cross the pool while hanging from the apparatus. I use the term familiar because in my college years I worked at a rock climbing wall inside a theme park. To this day, I still have trouble with hanging obstacles like monkey bars (especially metal ones that are a few hundred degrees and too hot to touch much less hang from, which Terrain Race also offered), so it was exciting for me to encounter the rock wall grips and know I’d do well with them. Unfortunately, my son wasn’t tall enough to reach … He ended up jumping in the pool and swimming to the other side which was just fine. I made it across though in making progress along the beam I developed a bit of a side to side swinging motion and began to worry I’d miss the pool entirely if I were to let go on every swing to my right side. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.
Terrain Race certainly had a few faults. Some could certainly be improved internally in short order while others would require more money, sponsors, name recognition, etc. especially if they want to be compared to the big races. However, the registration fees were very reasonable and aligned with what was offered for the most part. The bottom line is that my kid and I had a blast running together for the first time. I had the opportunity to teach him some things about OCR and more importantly watch him encounter challenges, test himself, overcome fear, problem solve, and revel in his success. He told me mid run about half way through the race it was one of the best birthday presents he’d ever gotten. Imperfect event or not, I have Terrain Race to thank for that. I’ll never forget it.
John works full time as a technical writer for a software company in Atlanta authoring end-user procedures for IT professionals and is now enjoying the challenge of writing articles for ORM. He's still getting the hang of running obstacle races, but loving every minute of it. His other interests include outdoor cooking (grilling, smoking, seafood boils), home improvement projects, model building, and target shooting.
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