If you’ve done an event with BattleFrog before, you know what to expect: moderate to easy terrain, tough obstacles that challenge upper body strength, grueling jerry can and wreck bag carries…
…if that was the assumption for OCR veterans for BF San Francisco, they were in for a surprise.
90 minutes north of San Francisco at Lake Sonoma, something else entirely was waiting.
Even the course map was misleading. Rain had forced the course designer to leave out their signature “HOOYAH” obstacle and the “Balance Beam” obstacle. It wasn’t clear to me if they couldn’t set up the obstacles due to the weather or if they were concerned about people slipping. Either way, considering the very muddy course, it seemed like a good call. Additionally, instead of having two Platinum Rigs back to back, they combined both of them into one very long rig.
Instead, they gave athletes the gift of extra mileage and extra elevation gain. GPS data puts the course around 7mi distance with about 1700ft of elevation gain; the thick vegetation in the green hills appeared to mess with the GPS signal more than usual. For an advertised 8k/5mi distance, and people expecting mostly flat terrain, it’s a pretty significant difference to put those extra 2 miles on your feet.
The course layout took full advantage of the trails, hills, creeks, and even briefly had athletes get their feet wet on the lake shore. Other than a few wet spots in the “Mud Mounds” obstacle, there was no water beneath or around the obstacles. Instead, hay was used to cushion potential falls, which worked well even at the monkey bars.
Parking & Venue
BattleFrog continues to show rooms for improvement in this area, as the parking signage could have been more prominent which led some people to miss the turn off to the parking area.
Plus, the email sent out to athletes ahead claimed that parking would be “on site”. To me, this means there won’t be a shuttle that I need to take. This is especially relevant for everyone with a very early starting time (typically Elite and BFX competitors). Turns out, there was a – very short – shuttle ride from parking to the venue. The shuttle service itself worked very well, so that helped minimize the inconvenience.
The venue was compact and the short walk from the shuttle gave a little preview for the course: wet, muddy, slippery, uphill. Early arrivals were shivering with temperatures hovering around the low 40, which fortunately quickly warmed up to sunny 60s with a blue sky, providing a stunning view over Lake Sonoma.
BattleFrog Xtreme: BFX
Almost every race offers Elite and Open waves. BattleFrog however also offers an endurance option. This allows athletes to run as many laps of the course as possible after the 8:15am start time. For each competitor in the BFX, the last lap of the day has to begin before 2:45pm, which is the cut off time. For every lap, a gold star will be awarded after the last lap is completed. If five laps are completed, the fifth star is silver.
During the mandatory pre-race briefing, every BFX competitor receives a black wrist brand and Christopher “Beard” Acord lays down the law: the jerry can and wreck bag carries are always mandatory for BFX and every obstacle has to be valiantly attempted before the penalty exercise of 10 8-count body builders can be done. Merely touching an obstacle isn’t enough and integrity matters.
With a delay of 15minutes, the BFX competitors toe the start line. A few late comers get their punishment for missing the briefing before they receive their wristband and then Coach Pain DeWayne and Beard send us out on the course. He had said earlier that he expects 4 laps out of the male winner and 3 laps out of the female winner.
After having done BFX LA just two weeks before and cruising to five laps, this statement still rang in my ears as I took off down the first bend and soon after found myself completely off-trail but still on-course. This highly technical and slippery terrain would continue throughout the course and serious trail shoes made all the difference. Since mine ripped apart during BFX LA, I was sliding all over the place with my hybrid race shoes which required extra stabilizing work.
The steep descent soon hit the inevitable “Hill scramble”. About half a mile of nonstop steep incline was waiting and made sure to tax the quads of every runner to the max. Soon after, an easier version of the “Weaver” (easier compared to LA) and the “Wedge Wall” were waiting. This was followed by the famous “Tip of the Spear”. Now, all these obstacles require upper body strength and technique, which makes them a bit painful and challenging. However, since they were placed so early on the course (before the rigs, monkey bars, and carries), they were not as bad as they could have been. Also, dry weather and no muddy obstacles before meant that it was easier to grip the ropes etc.
The wreck bags, which offer 50lbs of fun for all genders and ages when dry, had taken on easily between 5 and 15lbs of extra water weight due to the rain and dew overnight. The quarter mile carry was exciting thanks to a steep downhill followed by a steep uphill carry – both off-trail on grass. A ton of people chose to slide down the hill sitting down, not trusting their shoes to hold them in place.
An obstacle dreaded by many is the “Jerry Can Carry”. Usually 40lbs per can for the men and 25lbs per can for the women, this very short carry changed as the day went on. The volunteer on site unfortunately didn’t make sure everyone carried their cans back to the pickup point.
The result: Everybody dropped off the cans as close as possible to the end of the carry and after a few hundred people, all cans are suddenly on a slope of the hill instead of on top of it. Even worse, a lot of the cans were dropped and not set down upright. When this happens, the cans leak and become lighter as the water drains out of them. Certainly great for some, but not so great when you are competing and strength is your, well, strength.
At several points – after obstacles or during creek crossings – the little course marking flags got trampled down or were a bit hidden away. At almost every lap I had to point out to others or ask volunteers myself where to go. The course was very well marked, I believe this was simply a result of the “off the beaten path” course design which gave this race a bit of an adventure feeling at times. The route took advantage of the natural obstacles and the various surfaces (creek, trail, off-trail, lake, mud) challenged every racer. Even in my fourth lap, it never got old or repetitive.
Coming back up from Lake Sonoma, a 1.3 mile steep incline that finally led to the “Platinum Rig”. This incarnation offered several long ropes, two low gym rings to step in, two sets of round and square monkey bars, and several high gym rings. On my first two laps I finished the rig without any issues, on my third lap my arms wouldn’t cooperate at the very last ring which I just had to touch, and on the fourth lap I was happy with taking the penalty after going out on the first monkey bars.
After another incline, the 12ft “Rope Walls” marked the difference between Elite/BFX and Open runners. Elite/BFX would turn to the right and continue for their additional lap(s), everyone else who wanted to get to the finish line turned to the left. The “Delta Cargo” net was waiting right in front of the finish line and after a last little bit of muddy trail, the finisher medals were waiting.
Julie Fults got 1st place for the Xtreme Females with a time of 6:52:21 and three laps while I finished in 1st places for the Xtreme Males, getting in four laps in the same amount of time.
Fun Fact: The 2nd place male finisher had lost his timing chip and came in less than 2 minutes behind me. Since the person handling the results also had to give out the stars for the BFX medals, he was very busy. Somehow none of us realized that the 2nd place finisher asked for a manually entered finish time that suddenly put him in 1st place for BFX! I was sitting right next to him, we chatted for a while since he caught up to me extremely well, and then he took off.
When Beard confirmed the 1st place ranks, I was surprised not to be in 1st since I was 100% certain nobody had passed me. After some emails back and forth on Monday, Beard and the timing team very quickly analyzed the finish line video and confirmed that I indeed arrived before the 2nd place finisher and the results were corrected.
I was very impressed with their professional response and attention to detail, something I have noticed in every conversation with BattleFrog officials. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make it to the Las Vegas BattleFrog but I would highly recommend this OCR for everyone who is looking for a serious challenge or just wants to mix it up. Show BattleFrog that the West Coast is happy to have them so we can enjoy their races next year again!
He can be found at endurance events like the Spartan Race HH12HR, WTM, GORUCK, SEALFIT and other starting lines on the West Coast.
A blog about his journey is at https://www.flownotforce.com/
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