The BattleFrog west coast expansion tour travelled north from LA to San Francisco (sort of) this past weekend. While some folks were less than pleased by the distance that the venue was from San Francisco itself (roughly 75 miles), Sonoma County residents such as myself were incredibly excited to finally have a large-scale OCR event in our own backyard.
The event was held in the rolling hills surrounding Lake Sonoma, in the small town of Geyserville. Ultra-runners know this location well, as it annually hosts the Lake Sonoma 50 miler. Saturday morning brought clear skies, and temps in the low 50’s; this was in stark contrast to the three days prior to the event, which saw nothing but rain. As a result, the athletes were in for a very slick and muddy course. Oh yeah….and hills…lots of hills.
BattleFrog spread 29 obstacles across the 8k course (which measured as long as 7.2 miles depending upon whose GPS you believe). This was my first attempt at an OCR event that wasn’t a Tough Mudder, so I was anxious to see how I’d fare on some of the tougher obstacles.
As is the case with most BattleFrog events, the Elite and Masters male and female waves all launched at around 7:30am. The BattleFrog Xtreme folks (those who attempt to complete as many laps as possible during the day) were up next. If you ever attend a BF event, be sure to catch the briefing for the Xtreme heat. Chris Acord (aka The Beard) spells out the rules and dishes out a little pre-race punishment; and for those who miss the briefing – well, some special punishment (and public shaming) awaits them at the start line.
Once the Xtreme athletes were gone, it was time for the first Open wave of the day. This included yours truly. Coach Pain DeWayne lined us up in rows of 10 to 12 and then provided us with his signature motivational speech. He then sent us on our way, launching row after row every 15 seconds or so.
The course started off with a fairly steep downhill section. This would later be looked upon as a luxury, as they managed (or at least it seemed) to make a majority of this course uphill.
One thing was certain from the get go….BattleFrog loves walls. You name it, they’ve got it. We started with an Under/Over/Through set, and then came upon a 12-foot ladder wall shortly after that. Throughout the course, there were many more. There were straight walls of different heights (8 foot, 6 foot, 4 foot). There were walls angled in various directions (Inverted wall, Ramp wall, Wedge wall). They also threw in a challenging rope wall right near the end, just in case you had any grip strength left.
One of my favorite things about the course was the way they used the natural terrain against you. As a local who has run the trails in this area before, I thought I’d have a bit of an advantage. That would have been the case, had we actually stuck to the trails. To loosely paraphrase Doc Brown, “Trails? Where we’re going, we don’t need trails”. Where we did go was straight up the side of the mountain. A lot. The “Hill Scramble” was the 4th obstacle of the course, and it was hardly a scramble at all. It was a very long and very steep climb through some low grass. I don’t know the actual length of the climb, but my calves tell me it was 17 miles. These types of climbs occurred multiple times, this one just happened to have a title.
Since the event was held near a lake, I figured we’d end up in the lake at some point…and we did…although it was just a short trudge through the shallows, no more than thigh deep. Later, there was a really fun technical part of the course called Frog Falls, where we basically hiked and climbed our way through a deep creek bed for a while. The recent rains made climbing out of this area particularly slippery.
There were two “carry” obstacles on this course. The Wreck Bag Carry (50lb sandbag) and the Jerry Can Carry (one for each hand. 44lbs for the men and 22lbs for the women). If you are guessing that most of the carrying was done going uphill, you’d be correct.
As for the “tougher” obstacles that I mentioned earlier? The first to show up was called Weaver. This is a shallow A-frame structure with wide parallel bars across it. As you go through it, you must “weave” over a bar and then under a bar (and so on) until you reach the end. For me, the transition from over to under was particularly painful, and I have the bruises to prove it.
A bit further down the trail (mostly uphill, of course) was Tip of the Spear. This obstacle combines two grip strength sapping elements, both of which take place against steep A-frame walls. The first section had 6 ropes lying side by side, which you had to use to traverse the wall from right to left. This was made more difficult thanks to the wall being covered in a slippery plastic. A 4×4 balance beam lead you to the middle wall. This one had 2×4’s secured toward the top of the walls, angled upward in a chevron shape. There were two of these set-ups on the wall, with a small ledge to rest your feet after you completed the first one. A second balance beam lead you to the final wall, which was a repeat of the rope wall. The only catch here is that at the top of the last rope there is a bell that you must ring.
The Rope Climb was the 22nd obstacle of the day, and one that I had never attempted before. It was not as tall as I had expected, which artificially boosted my confidence. A quick attempt to muscle up the rope using only my arms was quickly met with defeat. As I waited for the feeling to return to my hands, I watched a few other athletes come through. By mimicking their cross footed, thigh squeezing technique, I was able to ring the bell on my second attempt.
Anyone who has heard of BattleFrog, has heard of the Platinum Rig. I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know exactly when. After yet another climb, as you’re approached the apex of the hill…you could hear the commotion. Lots of cheering, lots of grunting, and a few expletives being shouted. There is was, in all its lime green glory. As luck would have it, we were treated to back-to-back rigs. This would be my only failed obstacle of the day, which coincided with my first time ever doing 8-count body builders. Hats off to anyone who was able to complete this bad boy, I look forward to the day that I do.
Following the rig, you were actually able to get a glimpse of the finish line. With the “tough” obstacles behind me, this put a little boost in my gait. But our BattleFrog friends weren’t done messing with us just yet. After a short distance through relatively flat terrain, the Monkey Bars appeared. The big difference with these Monkey Bars is that the bars aren’t fixed. So they roll as you grip them. This added an extra degree of difficulty. It was a nice twist on an otherwise standard obstacle.
With the finish line now in clear site (up one more hill, of course), there was one more wall to conquer (of course there was). This was a 12-foot rope wall. This obstacle is basically a 12-foot wall with a rope hanging off the top, and a horizontal 2×4 about half way up. Because this obstacle was placed so late in the course, and grip strength was exhausted, it was quite challenging. I was fortunate to clear it, but my decsent from the top could best be described as “controlled falling”.
The signature Delta Cargo obstacle was the final of the day. After clearing that, my first BattleFrog was officially in the books. I received my finisher medal and headed to the beer tent.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up for this event. Like any OCR company, there are fans and detractors of them all. Personally, I came away from this event incredibly impressed. Parking at this venue is incredibly sparse, but I feel they did a good job with the shuttle bus system that they employed. Registration was seamless for me, and the staff and volunteers were knowledgeable and friendly. I would definitely consider myself a fan of this series, and look forward to attending the one in San Jose in August.
*Photo credits to David Bird, Joe Forney, Rachelanne Gladden, and Christopher Thomas
Carlo is one half of the not yet world famous YouTube duo known as "The Pis-N-Cox Show".