Conquer the Gauntlet: Dallas/Fort Worth
On the hottest day of the summer thus far at the time of this writing, Conquer the Gauntlet kicked off their series with a big bang. While the Texas heat beamed down, competitors filed in to take on one of the most brutal Obstacle Courses known in America. Don’t allow the down-home, local feel of the race series to fool you. Conquer the Gauntlet is as serious (if not more so) than any other OCR series out there. I’ve run several areas of Texas. I’ve faced tons of treacherous terrain. However, I’ve never experienced the type of challenge that Conquer the Gauntlet presented me with. This review will focus primarily on those obstacles as I feel they deserve the most limelight. I left physically broken so to speak, but spiritually energized. I loved every minute of it.
As far as terrain goes, the Village Creek Motocross Park track didn’t offer any daunting ascents or downhills. However, Conquer the Gauntlet utilized it to its utmost potential. Within the first mile or two competitors made many up and down runs on the tracks biggest jumps. The sandbag carry finished with one of the steeper ascents making it extra draining with the Texas heat already sapping racers’ strength away. Racers later cooled down in a few water crossings including a beautiful creek offering some great scenery.
The last stretch of obstacles brought competitors back around to the festival area allowing spectators a superb view of Pegatron, Tarzan, Stairway to Heaven and other favorites. CTG knows what obstacles are fun to watch and they made sure they were front and center.
CTG’s major strength in its own right as well as against all other series is its obstacles. Three words that should consistently be used when describing this course are challenge, innovation, and fun. Strategic placement of these challenging beasts made sure that they took everything they could out of competitors. This made those well-earned podium spots that much more special. All of the favorites went off without a hitch and were well manned by volunteers.
As someone who has run many obstacle course races, walls are rarely more than an annoyance in most courses. This was not so at Conquer the Gauntlet Fort Worth. Not one.. not two… not three… but FIVE 8 foot walls in a ROW drained more out of me than I expected. I do not mean in the same vicinity. I mean immediately after one another. Stamina killers may have been lacking in hills, but Conquer the Gauntlet knows how to utilize their tools to break you even more efficiently than most terrain can.
Cliffhanger brought the next somewhat daunting challenge as they were probably the most challenging set of monkey bars I’ve faced. Though the bars aren’t fat or necessarily slick, some aren’t welded in and they WILL spin on you. On top of that, they ascend and descend adding a bit of extra kick of difficulty. Technique and grip are key in monkeying your way across these bad boys and they should not be taken lightly.
The Z beam brought forth an unusual challenge as well. Four very long, very narrow boards are lined up edgewise in a Z pattern. Competitors had to make their way across without falling off. A simple concept proved to be very difficult and requires a lot of focus especially when placed after a long running portion. This required racers to lower their heart rate and focus on foot placement and center of gravity at a time when their mind is just screaming “GO!”
Later on came the daunting challenge that has taken the belt and pride of many, and it claimed mine as well. Pegatron was a large approximately 20-foot long horizontal pegboard that loomed over competitors much like the large evil robots from its namesake. With a few footholds in the first and last five feet, the most difficult portion was the ten-foot portion in the middle with no footholds.
Never having practiced on a pegboard, I tried my best to develop a nice technique again… again.. and again.. to no avail. Pegatron offered many different choices of peg sizes. Offset holes added difficulty. Some holes were fake. This allows pegs to go all the way through forcing competitors to use strategy. If that wasn’t enough, the occasional fake hole could turn a great attempt into failure.
I stayed at Pegatron for an hour. I made it halfway across and even further, but never fully reached the other footholds. A handful of racers made it through, but even more threw down their belts to continue on. I tried until my hands, torn and bleeding, gave out. I walked away knowing I had given it my all.
What immediately followed was a super fun new “mystery obstacle.” Much like other CTG staples, this new obstacle brought in some of the best elements of Ninja Warrior like obstacles to the OCR series. The obstacle began with a quick set of widely spaced quintuple steps. A series of walls with bars lining the top followed. Competitors had to jump from wall to wall grasping to the bar to keep them up. However, the next to the last wall brought a surprise.
Instead of a bar, this wall had a nun-chuck, a ball grip, and a rope hanging from the top. This made shimmying and leaping to the last bar wall extra difficult. Not only was this a great challenge, it was a lot of fun and I hope to see it in future races.
More Grip and Upper Body Destruction
As if Pegatron and the “mystery” obstacle didn’t kill our grip enough, later competitors faced Tarzan. It was not a particularly long rig, but that did not matter. With bloody and battered hands I attempted it, but of course to no avail. The rig began with a nunchuck. There is no grip on this nunchuck. These nunchucks were metal and SLICK. Competitors must get a big swing going. That sweet little ring on the next hold appears to be 15 feet away. IF you even make it to that ring you are forced to grab hold of some little bungee cords. Hold on for dear life and attempting to keep your swing going until you can reach the final hold. Needless to say, even for those who made it through Pegatron, their elite journey ended here.
IF THAT WASN’T ENOUGH for your grip and upper body to be screaming, next came stairway to heaven. Don’t let the heavenly counterpart of a name to Ninja Warrior’s devil steps fool you. These wooden bad boys are steeper and higher than almost any set of devil steps I’ve encountered. Bloody and battered I clawed my way to the top and even made the transition only to have my screaming, throbbing hands give out on me as I plummeted into the water below. A nice little tube slide ended my journey to one of the most difficultly obtained medals and shirts I’ve ever earned.
A Fun Learning Experience with Truly Elite Athletes
Many have often described OCR as a mixture of Ninja Warrior and trail running. In fact, I often use it to describe OCR to those who have never heard of it as it makes the concept easier to grasp. Conquer the Gauntlet is the truest example of that definition. To every Ninja who reads this: sign up. To every OCR racer ready to test themselves in a new way and ready to push limits they may not have known they had: sign up. Even to those who love to run with friends and just take it easy: sign up! This challenge will bring you either closer to those you run with, closer to yourself, or closer to the OCR community as a whole.
As someone who became addicted to OCR because I kept learning that I could achieve feats I never thought possible, Conquer the Gauntlet awakened that feeling in me once again. I was beaten, badly by a greater obstacle challenge than I’ve ever experienced, but I walked out with my head held high. I hadn’t only had a lot of fun, I was inspired. In my heart… that’s what the number one goal of all OCR companies and racers is… to inspire. Thank you Conquer the Gauntlet for a wonderful experience. I will be back.
I give it 5 torn callouses out of 5.