Like a Phoenix from the ashes, Atlas Race is back!
In 2014, Atlas Race had huge plans for expansion following rave reviews of their inaugural race in Medford, Oregon. Founders Scott Gephardt and Lance Landers set a large cash purse for their follow-up race in SoCal in February, attracting the attention of elite racers around the country and stacking up one of the deepest fields of elite athletes the sport had seen to date. Like many ambitious plans, unforeseen circumstances including the departure of key financial backers led to the cancellation of the remaining races that were planned for 2014.
In the late fall, Atlas Race returned to social media to let people know that they had new financial backers including Dwight Freeney of the San Diego Chargers, and more recently, partnerships with OCR Warrior and 24h Fitness. Thanks to this and the newly formed “Atlas Army” promoting the races, many of us decided to give them another chance, and tried out their comeback race at the same SoCal venue where they’d last held a race a year before.
Located in the hills surrounding Vail Lake in Temecula, CA, where many other races including Spartan Race and Tough Mudder frequently hold events, Atlas Race managed to give their own flavor to the race. They ran two race distances simultaneously; the Boss course at just under 5 miles, and the longer Ranger course which clocked in closer to 9 miles. Elite runners battled for prize money on the Boss course in the first heat of the day Saturday, then did the Ranger course for a smaller purse on Sunday. As well as payouts and a huge cut-metal trophy for the top 5 male and female finishers, Atlas Race also had a team competition where the top three teams were also eligible for prize money.
Something new this year, and to OCR in general, was the “Hole Shot” – at the start of each wave of runners through the day, there was a quarter mile loop that went back past the starting line. The first male and first female runners to return to this point were given a special bracelet that they could reclaim for prizes at the end of the race. This led to some very quick starts and added excitement to each heat.
Atlas Race had solidly constructed and well branded obstacles, and managed to capitalize on the terrain, utilizing some lesser used and single-track trails for some brutal uphill climbs (especially on the longer Ranger course). Some of the more memorable obstacles included a long Tyrolean traverse (about twice as long as a similar obstacle at the SoCal Spartan Beast in January), a long cargo net traverse, multiple Wreck Bag obstacles including one where you had to throw the weighted bag until you got to a certain point, and a couple of warped walls made easier by the addition of ropes runners could grab on their way to the top, along with more standard fair like walls, over-under obstacles, and mud pits. There was also a very simple but diabolical “hill repeat” obstacle which included multiple short climbs up and down a very steep, sandy hill (although I dreaded facing it again, I was a little disappointed that this was cut from the race sometime on Sunday because of the weather).
There were a few minor complaints from die-hard obstacle racers, including a request for more obstacles on the backside of the course and that the water was only about knee deep in the mud pits. The latter complaint was a deliberate choice made by the race directors in recognition that weather forecasts called for cold, rainy conditions on both days. The race on Saturday ended up being cool and windy with only a few sprinkles but Sunday sported temperatures in the low 40’s, high winds, and a steady rain throughout. No-one complained about the depth of the mudpits on Sunday, and the hill climbs that were merely difficult on Saturday became an absolute slip-fest up and down on Sunday.
In terms of numbers, Atlas Race registered ~2000 runners across both days (~1400 or so on Saturday racers with a much lighter turnout on Sunday), meeting their goals for their first race back after their difficulties of 2014, and about doubling the total number of racers from their event at the same venue last year.
Following the missteps of 2014, in many ways this race was a “make or break” moment for Atlas Race, and while there were a few minor issues (eg. obstacles that need to be tweaked to make them harder or easier), overall the race was very professionally run, well-designed, and a very good time. The medals and finisher shirts were race-distance specific (Boss and Ranger) and were high quality and gorgeous. Scott and Lance have ambitious goals to make Atlas Race into a national brand on par with Battlefrog and Spartan Races. Only time will tell if they can reach those goals, but they’re starting off 2015 with a bang, and people should take notice.
*Photos By: Chris Cow and Atlas Race.
Chris is a research scientist for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, but on weekends he is an avid runner, endurance athlete and OCR junkie. He runs mostly with his wife, Anne. He is a 44 year old father of two gorgeous teenage daughters, and wants to help them adopt a healthy outdoor lifestyle.
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