I’m not going to claim to be an expert on obstacle course races. I’ve done a handful of events: some big name, some local. Every event has room for improvement, but some races have more room than others.
The Firebreather Challenge is one such event.
My group and I set off on the trails at 11, when the heat and humidity were making their presence known. I was glad to see the course made great use of the mountain trails, but it seemed like torture climbing those slopes in the 90 degree heat. Eventually, we approached the first obstacle, a sandbag carry up and down the hillside. Deemed the “wussy” and the “beastly” sandbags by a volunteer, you choose which to carry back up the mountain, where you did 50 air squats and headed back down. It was a nice first obstacle, although I would have liked to have seen it (or any other obstacle) earlier in the course. There was a little confusion after this obstacle as the course passed through the middle of the event, and I had witnessed several people get off course earlier in the day. Taking the welcome swim across the cool river, you reached the first set of over-unders. The overs were built offsite and simply set out on the course, and even my tiny 5’2” frame would knock them loose. Perhaps this was an added challenge, but it would have been nice if they had been less rickety.
Next was a cargo net climb, strung up between two narrow trees – too narrow. The cargo net was only wide enough for one person to safely climb over at a time and by the time we reached it, there was a sizeable backup.
Once we got past the cargo net, it was back to running. More river crossings, a rope-climb down a steep riverbank, and we got to the next obstacle. This one was actually pretty cool, and the one I had been looking forward to most: a dead lift challenge. A series of five deadlifts each for men and women with the women’s deadlifts starting at 95 pounds, up to 157 pounds – but for a bonus wristband and a special medal, you could do the 195 pound deadlift. I was pumped to be able to crush this challenge and earn my wristband and medal, although a little disappointed that the wristband said 2013. The men’s deadlifts proved equally challenging for my teammates, ranging from 135 pounds to 275 and 315 pounds for the bonus medal.
After the deadlift, it was back to the torturous trail running in the blazing heat. A few more walls to climb over and we reached the next challenge. Pull a weighted sled, complete 50 burpees, and then pull the sled back to its starting position. I liked the sled pull and while I love burpees as much as the next person (which is to say, not at all), 50 seemed like an excessive number and significantly slowed my group down. It was frustrating to watch as many individuals simply gave up and stopped. But that’s a different debate for a different time.
A barbed wire crawl and more walls followed and led up to the final obstacle, a slip wall with a cargo net climb back down. Over all, the course was a skosh over 5 miles, a reasonable distance, but the obstacles or challenges seemed few and far between. I enjoy trail running, I really do, but when I run an OCR, I want it chock full of obstacles and this was just wasn’t.
I could overlook some of the other issues (parking was FOREVER far away, no food or drink vendors on site, no official race photographers, the 2013 wristbands or the kinda cheap looking medals) if the course had been amazing, but it just simply wasn’t. I don’t like to dog on events, I know most of them have the best intention of putting on a good run, I don’t think I would be making the trip down for this one again next year unless they promise some pretty significant improvement. A great concept, combining elements of crossfit and trail running, but definitely needs some tweaks in order to make this an outstanding event. The good news is that in the days since the event, the race directors have responded to comments from competitors and realized they need to step up their game. Hopefully next year will be better.
*Photos By: Jessica Brinks