Wait for it…
Wait some more…
Just a little longer…
OK, now we can start the race review.
For the handful of participants at the inaugural Jack Axe Games, this is a familiar scenario. The Games, held on August 29 and 30 at the Kane County Fairgrounds in Saint Charles, IL, promised a “one-of-a-kind outdoor inspired obstacle race” containing elements of OCR, Lumberjack, and Highlands Games. Despite a flashy and professional social media presence, the Jack Axe Games were plagued by a lack of organization.
Below is the race schedule as outlined on the Jack Axe Games website:
- 7:00 AM – Gates open
- 8:00 AM – Practice areas open
- 9:00 AM – Elite Axes waves start
- 10:00 AM – Average Jack waves start
- 1:30 PM – Jack Axe finale – women and men individuals
Straightforward enough. However, a more accurate schedule would be amended to:
- 7:00 AM – Gates open without any volunteers to direct participants.
- 8:00 AM – Practice areas open Nothing happens. No practice area opens. People mill about. No music plays. Vendors trickle in.
- 9:00 AM – Elite Axes waves start Volunteers lay out 4×4 beams for caber toss practice.
- 9:20 AM – Pre-race briefing.
- 10:00 AM – Average Jack waves start First pair of Elite Axe racers start the course. Two athletes sent off at 10-minute intervals thereafter.
- 11:00 AM – Elite Axe waves still starting (this is when I finally started, and there were still racers after me).
- 12:00 PM – Soaked through by the spotty (and eventually pouring) rain, tired, a little muddy, but mostly frustrated, leave the event.
- 1:30 PM – Jack Axe Finale (I presume this happened since Jack Axe posted pictures of the women’s and men’s champions on Facebook).
Confusion and uncertainty permeated nearly every aspect of this event. Signage, though clean and professional, was minimal. Off-course volunteers seemingly hadn’t been told the schedule or their assignments. Event registration wasn’t set up by the time athletes arrived. If the Jack Axe founders have previous event management experience, they neglected to draw on it when running this race.
Not all was bad, though. Although event organizers and volunteers were disorganized, everyone on hand was enthusiastic and welcoming. They demonstrated passion for their event. And the actual course went a long way toward redeeming the experience.
Jack Axe stayed true to their inspiration of OCR, Lumberjack and Highlands Games competitions. As such, they packed the 1.8-mile course with 17 obstacles, many of which offered an enjoyable change of pace from a typical OCR experience. Highlights included:
Caber Toss: Flip end over end in the air a modified Caber. This is harder than it looks, and technique is everything.
Axe Throw: Stick the axe on the target. Probably the biggest draw for most competitors.
PHOTO CREDIT: KATIE ZIMMER
Log Smash: With a sledgehammer, smash a railroad tie up and back.
Saw Buck: Cross-cut a section of 8” diameter log. This took a long time for those without experience. A higher volume of racers would have caused a major bottleneck.
The terrain was flat with some slight mogul-type mud hills. Most running was on grass with some of the course on gravel. Three obstacles sat in an open field, giving the section a junior-high-field-day vibe, complete with plastic orange cones. The on-course volunteers exemplified everything the seasoned racer has come to expect: Encouraging, friendly and helpful. Overall, the course was OK, with a bump up because of the unique obstacles.
All things considered, the event was below average. The idea is fresh and seems to have potential. However, being unprepared when participants arrive on event day is, in my opinion, unforgiveable. Then, to follow that up by delaying the race start by an hour (or two, or more) is a huge issue. Racers prepare themselves for the predetermined start time. From a competitor’s perspective, unexpected and unexplained delays are beyond frustrating. Jack Axe has a good concept, but if they want to see growth and success they’ll need to learn from their shortcomings at this inaugural event.