BattleFrog Xtreme: Phoenix 2016
Originally posted by Stephen on February 1, 2016
“Get down into a squat position!” We were instructed to hold form, our arms extended forward while being briefed on the rules. The group of racers signed up for the BF-Xtreme all followed orders, self included. “Uhh, how long is this supposed to go on for?” I secretly wondered. “Beard DOES realize we are going to be running all day long right? We are gonna need these legs later.” Every obstacle must be attempted. Ok, got it! If you fail an obstacle, you may try it again or take a light penalty of 10 “Bodybuilders”. Roger that. Long after everybody’s squat form went to shit, briefing concluded and we were relieved to prepare ourselves for the race. At the starting line, we took a knee as Coach Pain revved us up for the long haul. With our spirits filled with words of empowerment, we were directed across the starting mat to face our demons. After being kept away for so long, I definitely had some demons to bang heads with.
It would be a 6.5 hour time cap to crank out as many laps of the 7-Mile, 26-Obstacle course as we could. For those who were able to start their final lap before the cutoff, they were allowed to finish it out. Five laps was a loose goal of mine, but that was before I realized the course was 7 miles long (not the typical 5 miles). I proceeded with a small amount of optimism. My friend and roommate, Brandon, who you might recall from previous blogs, was racing alongside me today. I knew he was out for redemption after my narrow besting of him at our last race together at the Spartan UltraBeast in Tahoe last October.
The course began down a single track through the desert, narrowly dodging cacti, while the occasional thorn-tipped branches pawed at us from the side. Loose rock and twisting turns made for an entertaining start. Not long into the race, the sun was blessing us with its warmth as it crested the Superstition Mountains to the East. From my vantage point, nobody went out too hot, and most were content to hold their position in the single file until things opened up. Brandon was out of sight from the beginning, but no surprise there. We discussed each other’s strategies during the car ride that morning and I knew he’d be pushing a little harder than me on this first lap.
We were appetized with the standard fare of obstacles: Over-Under-Through Walls as well as other variations of wall climbs and Mud Mounds to slow us down a bit. Interestingly enough, there was a slackline crossing early on in the race. Those who regularly follow my antics know that I have gotten fairly adept at balance on the slackline as of late. I was curious to see how that training would pay off in a race scenario. It was not terribly long, but it was definitely a little trickier to find the balance in my race shoes. Still, I glided across without a hitch. I think it could benefit from another couple of feet of distance, but maybe that’s just my own sense of comfort with it. Anyhow, it was cool to see it there.
Further ahead, I encountered the Jerry Can Carry, where you grab a water-filled container in each hand (50# for men?) and ‘farmer’s carry’ it around a loop. For this particular course, they had us bringing both of the Jerry Cans underneath a wire crawl. My instinct was to push the weight ahead of me as I crawled underneath. I was preparing to do that when a fellow racer suggested going through the wires backwards and dragging the weight, rather than pushing it. It made a ton of sense and was much more efficient! Thanks whoever you were, because I used that method every other lap! The obstacle was pretty clogged up, but I got through and finished out the carry without stopping. I was feeling great and my running was honestly going better than expected after my hiatus. I suppose it is true what I’ve heard, that your endurance sticks with you for a while – slow to develop, slow to leave. Rest assured, my injured friends.
Another several walls later, I was spit out into a wash, or dry creek bed. The sand was deep and chock full of gravel. Running took twice the effort and it went on for about 3.5 miles. Surprisingly, I was able to maintain a run through it all. Next up was an obstacle called “The Weaver” in which you had to traverse over a low-pitch metal A-Frame by alternately going over and under the horizontal crossbars. The bars were square tube, which was most painful when wrapping a leg over them as you dipped and lowered yourself under one of the bars. In another couple of days, I’ll have a nice scary bruise on the backs of my thighs! The technique took some getting used to, but I think I found the most effective way for me to complete it, but boy, did it really take it out of me.
I continued to follow the orange course markers through the snaking wash. Along its sandy path, I encountered Cargo Net Climb, a Rope Climb, a Tunnel Crawl and ultimately a Wreck Bag Carry, which had me carrying a 50 pound sandbag around a generous loop. Trying to jog in the deep sand with the weight didn’t seem to move me considerably faster than power walking, so I figured it was smarter to walk and recover. I took the chance to look and acknowledge my surroundings: the vast expanse of desert valley cradled by surrounding mountains in the distance… it was pretty awesome. Dropping off the bag, I followed the course through a narrower section of wash that eventually brought me to some of the tougher obstacles near the end of the lap.
These final 6 obstacles were all grip-based. There were two separate rigs with some menacing configurations and handles. There were also a couple of new obstacles that I had never experienced before, namely the “Tip of the Spear”, which has become my new favorite obstacle of ALL TIME! This one is hard to describe, so I’ll post a couple photos to help illustrate. It consists of 3 sections of slanted wall, covered with a slick plastic material, slippery as wet ice. You are required to cross the 3 sections using the ropes and the angled finger ledges. Maybe my new love for rock climbing has won this over for me, but damn it’s challenging and fun at the same time. I finished out the first lap with no hiccups and still no sight of Brandon.
In the transition station, I took only a minute or two to throw on my nutrition belt, dump the sand out of my shoes and hit the trail again. Lap 2 was still comfortable, but I found myself having to consider at what point walking would be acceptable to me since I knew there was no way I could run the whole thing. A mile or so in, the Jerry Can Carry had me feeling my first signs of real fatigue. While I didn’t set it down on the first lap, I had to set it down several times on this pass. I would take an energy gel every 45 minutes from there on out.
By the time I reached the sandy creek bed, I was complacent with running in intervals. I would rest for 60 steps and then run as long as I could, and then repeat. I was noticing other competitors start opting out of certain obstacles – doing the 10 bodybuilders, not because they physically couldn’t do the obstacle, but because it was faster and easier than completing or even attempting the obstacle. I’m not gonna lie, it grinded my gears. You all know me by now. I let it fester in me for another lap, but then a message that I’ve known and seemingly understood for a while finally clicked for me in this real life scenario. “Do today what others won’t, so that tomorrow you can do what others can’t.” Never has this had more meaning for me. Maybe nobody will remember the shortcuts you take in race or in life. But your body will remember that stuff that you did or didn’t do and respond accordingly. You either take those opportunities to learn and grow or pass them by.
As I neared the Platinum Rig, I noticed a few of my friends were stuck there since earlier in the morning as Elite Racers trying not to lose their bands (mandatory obstacle completion for Elite Wave). That final rig was a real tough one. I cannot imagine their frustration having been there so long. I did what I could to offer moral support before moving on. They told me Brandon was not far ahead and I picked up the pace, trying to reel him in.
Completing lap 2, I took a bit longer in transition to refuel and stretch. I could feel my muscles starting to rebel a little bit. If I was able to keep a similar pace on the remaining laps, getting out on a 5th lap before the cutoff would be remotely possible. BUT, I didn’t think my body was going to allow it. I started out on lap 3 and as soon as I started hitting the wall climbs, my legs would seize up in a cramp. “Yowwww!” I’d be stuck on the top of the wall waiting until I could move again. This kept happening at each obstacle for a while until things finally calmed down. At the Jerry Can Carry, I caught a glimpse of a familiar figure in a black shirt up ahead, just finishing his carry loop. Brandon was only a few minutes ahead. That sighting was just enough to keep my head in the game.
Over the next few miles, I’d inch closer and closer – run just a little bit longer than he did before walking. I could tell he was hurting, too. I finally reached him in the sand section and we walked together for a bit. I asked “Hey, how do you feel about just finishing out the day together?” He agreed. Neither one of us wanted to duke it out any longer. We would continue running in intervals until one or the other slowed down. Traveling together actually helped our pace for the remainder of the lap.
Reaching the final rig again, we saw our same friends STILL there trying to complete that obstacle. Now, that is some serious determination! I’m talking many hours of attempts. Respect to you gents! Brandon and I advanced and finished out our lap. We knew that our window for a fifth one was closed. There was no reason to rush our fourth and final lap, so we took a little extra time at the station before heading out. Some of our Tough Training classmates were also there, getting ready to head out on their final as well.
It was a long, grueling, final 7 miles. Without a reason to push the pace, we just power hiked the entire thing, tackling all our obstacles, and after each one, we’d name the remaining ones in order since we were so familiar with the course at that point. I had been successful in completing all my obstacles throughout the day and I made it a goal to try and keep it that way. No fails or retries. Our hands were raw and grip was shot. The last 6 obstacles would put it to the test. I would be nervous for each one as we closed in, but one by one, we would crush them. Arriving at the final rig, I nailed it for the last time, but Brandon had yet to successfully complete this one. It was his last chance at it and he wanted to end on a good note. With one last attempt, he made all the right moves and got it done! Freshly energized, we ran the remainder of the course to the finish and after 28 crazy miles, crossed side by side. Our other classmates trickled in shortly after. I was extremely grateful to be racing again and it was even better to be doing it with the family of athletes that I train with. I’m very proud of how far they all pushed themselves.
I want to thank BattleFrog for putting on a great race. Loved the course and obstacles. I really do like the series, now that I have had the chance to try it out. I think the mandatory obstacle completion is a very unique twist that shakes things up a bit. I definitely hope to add some more to my race schedule. Thank you to Brandon for being my competition/teammate. Very special thanks to my brother, Adam, who came to support and document the race in Aeni’s stead. Without him, there would be no photos, and you would not be reading this blog right now. A shout out to my awesome sponsors for their support as well. I use all these products weekly, if not daily. Check them out for your own needs: Core Power, Athletics8, BeetElite, B2R and Reel Creations Ink. Lastly, thank you to all you friends and readers who have uplifted me through a really shitty time in my life. Some good things came from it, but I’m glad it is in the past. Here’s hoping to a healthy year and beyond.