Bear Gryll’s Survival Challenge. Without a ton of specific information, this new OCR event was shrouded in a little mystery, and their social media content manager did a fantastic job promoting the event with a blend of sneak peeks and “classified” information. Coming into the event, the “unknown” components outweighed the information available, and it was a nice change to face something that you did not know everything about.
I know Bear Grylls from Man v. Wild, and in my mind, he’s someone who found fame in the survival arena. His military background is often glossed over by his survival shows, so when I boarded their shuttle to get to the venue from offsite parking, I was expecting a survival-themed obstacle course.
I was wrong.
It was military themed, military color, with military-inspired staffed as Air Force JROTC were staff and volunteers. Some of the process was efficient. Some not. So instead of taking you on a winding journey, let me list the Pros, Cons, and everything in between.
Let’s start with the Cons.
- You’re instructed to arrive at check in two hours before your start time. I did and spent 90 minutes doing nothing as the vendors and festival area was not set up nor ready for business. It was unnecessary to have to be at the venue that early, seeing as heats were capped and the participant numbers weren’t large enough to warrant a TSA style arrival time.
- The event had one of the most annoying and off-putting event briefings that I have ever had the displeasure to sit through. Before you are released on to the course, you sit through a briefing that is led by an Army Sergeant, who stands at his podium and gives you course information, much like an OCR Race Director does at the start of the Elite waves. However, the annoying part comes in form of another Sergeant, who wandered around the seated group, giving out “menacing” glares, and proceeded to talk down to participants and attempted to verbally intimidate them while the briefing is going on. Unnecessary, pointless, and it distracted us from the briefing. Besides, no one wants to be condescended by race staff and it set people off in the wrong mood before the race even began.
- No post-race cold wash/showers. There were changing tents but there were no wash stations to rinse the mud off. There is a station on the course that requires you to fully submerge yourself in mud so that you are completely covered. Not having a station to rinse off at the end was, in my opinion, a bad move and something that can be easily fixed, especially if the company does not want people rinsing themselves off at the drinking water station in the festival area, which is what was happening.
- No finisher shirt. And I know this is a petty “con” but a finisher shirt really is the best free advertising that a company can invest in.
And the Pros.
- Check in process was easy, organized, and well run.
- Volunteers were friendly and knowledgeable. My family came as spectators and were impressed by the friendly and positive attitudes of the volunteers.
- Festival area had varied and different food trucks that offered fare that went beyond the standard burgers, hot dogs, and bbq. A refreshing change.
- Coffee and bagels were provided in briefing area for participants free of charge.
- The “pack” that contained the gear required for the course is a hydration pack that would fit a 70oz bladder and was provided to each participant with the necessary “gear” enclosed: emergency whistle, chem light, 1 qt ziplock bag with cotton ball, course map, eye protection, condom. These items were to be used along the course at specific stations. It was kind of nice to get something other than just a t shirt and medal.
- Post race food that consisted of a variety of fruits, energy bars, water, kombucha, red bull, chicken or beef wraps, and desserts. Having this “lounge” was a solid stroke of good service for the participants and appreciated by everyone that I had interacted with.
- Scoring results and overall team results were provided quickly and with very little fuss, most results generated within two days after the event concluded.
- Photos were free and readily available within three days after the event concluded.
Everything In Between
- The premise of the event was to accrue as many survival points as possible throughout the course. In the end, your points would be tallied, and if you were on a team then your points would all be added up to determine your team’s score. 35% of your score would be determined by how fast you completed the course. The other 65% would be determined by your ability to complete obstacles successfully. Failure to complete an obstacle successfully would result in zero points or point deductions from your final score.
- At each obstacle would be two lanes. One for “Success” and one for “Failure.” Each lane had a timing mat which would be activated by the timing chip that was secured to your ankle. This was to keep track of your wins and losses.
- The course was advertised as 4 miles but the distance was stated at 5 miles during the briefing. After the briefing, everyone in the heat was hustled into a shed to await the start cannon. Once the cannon fired, the door opened and everyone scrambled to start their first run.
- We were told there were only two water stations, but we were happy to see five stations on course, as the day was hot and the venue was dusty. A good move to include more stations in response to the heat.
- Fun obstacles with a military inspired feel to them. Once I got on course, it was all business, and the terrain was a solid mixture of hills, inclines, and flat-out sprints. The event used the terrain well and there were areas that reminded me of some of the smaller inclines of Vail Lake, Temecula. The obstacles that really stood out were War-Torn Village, where you were given a set amount of covering fire from friendly forces that would suppress the insurgents so that you could scramble your way through an urban warfare setting. The trick was to utilize your speed to sprint as fast as possible before losing covering fire and getting “shot” by insurgents. Getting shot took away points. Activating an IED would also take away points. This was the most fun and having military personnel on the team made for a quick and easy victory for us as they took charge and led us through.
- Integrity Test: Hang on to a vertical rope for 30 seconds. The premise was good: Grab on to the rope and hang there for what you believe is 30 seconds. Drop and continue. The obstacle was videoed, so anyone who dropped before 30 seconds would have points deducted at the end. The problem with this obstacle is that there was a huge clock sitting there for the participants to read, so there was no silent counts or guessing the duration. You’d just use a J hook or S Hook and hang out until the second hand read 30 seconds and then you were done. If the clock had not been there, then the obstacle would have made more sense.
- Run inside a maze until you get to the center. From there was a table with compasses on them. Determine what direction is South West, choose that door, and escape. A maze is a fun thing to have because no one really uses one for OCRs.
- Three attempts to hit a pie tin downrange 30 yds with a pellet rifle. We’ve seen these types of challenges before at other races, but it’s always a fun one.
This was a fun course that used the terrain well, particularly the hills and continual inclines. The obstacles were fun, even the one where you ate three dried crickets (tastes like burnt popcorn). The obstacles themselves are different, the scoring system is unique, the post-race is quality service, and the finisher gear that included the hydration pack, a bandana, a carabiner attached to a lanyard, and a pvc tac patch is new and different as well. For those who have participated in OCRs for a few years and want something that is vastly different than what you’ve been experiencing, Bear Grylls Survival Challenge will give you a good time.
Personally, I’d have focused more on the “Survival” aspect than the military aspect, but I understand the attraction to military-inspired events, and the event directors did a good job with it. Using JROTC in their BDUs lent to the entire theme quite well, and all the cadets were respectful, helpful and friendly. I would absolutely do away with the guy trying to intimidate and verbally assault people during the briefing, though. It left most of the participants in the starting shed muttering about his attitude and gave a negative vibe to the experience.
Not having a rinse/shower station when you have three mud/water obstacles and you finish off with a slip and slide water/mud obstacles was not a good choice. That final experience that racers leave your venue with shouldn’t be still muddy and unable to clean themselves while being shuttled to offsite parking. Speaking of off-site parking: no issues and shuttling went along very smoothly. With a lower turn out rate for this event, organizational control is easy. I’m interested to see what happens if their numbers increase and how their system will manage it.
I’m looking forward to next year and seeing how this company does, and I hope they stay around a while. It’s nice to have an event that’s this new and different, and it could definitely carve out a niche if done right.
photos courtesy of Bear Grylls Survival Challenge, Amy Saldana (pack, patch, carabiner combination)(team photo).
He can be found on the weekends exercising and exorcising his demons on the OCR course and in endurance events.