BattleFrog burst onto the OCR scene in the last year, a company fueled with passion and deep pockets. From their first event buzz around the industry even from those jaded in the last couple years was all glowing. Digging around finding a bad word about the company was hard to come by. In the last few months they have recruited some of the best minds in the sport of OCR, many of which have been working in the industry behind the scenes since 2010. I was interested, how could a new race series live up to all the hype, having money to put on an event is great, but would they really “get it” and really be as good as everyone said.
A couple months ago I was offered the opportunity to travel to the Pittsburgh BattleFrog Race to cap off my recent east coast trip. I jumped on the opportunity to try out this event everyone was talking about. My interest was even more piqued when I found out that course takes you through an actual former mine, and also a swimming section in the mine. But more about the race itself before my experience. BattleFrog offers three distances a 15K, 5K and 1 mile courses. The 15k is the one for those looking to win prize money and the others are for fun. One of the biggest differences for those use to racing in the elite field, there are no penalties, you either complete the obstacle or you give up your elite armband and are out of the money. This adds another element of pressure on the racer as these obstacles are no joke. If you give up your armband you still can finish the race but you are out of the money and failure to complete an obstacle results in a penalty.
With multiple flight mishaps I arrived in Pittsburgh after 8:30pm the night before the race, and quickly met up with much of the race staff and crew. It is evident that not only do they work hard at BattleFrog but they also love their jobs. The crew was at the pub/bar across from the hotel and all were hanging out together. After a quick hello I settled into my hotel room for the night and a few hours later it was time to head to the race. Meadows and Mines was the site for the BattleFrog Pittsburgh Race a unique place mostly for UTVs and ATVs. But this weekend it was for the runners.
Check-in was easy in the morning and I had some time to mill around the festival area which included food vendors, ample bathrooms, a covered seating area to get ready and eat later in the day, and activities for kids. Prior to the start of the race BattleFrog honored a fallen soldier in a flag ceremony. The company has deep roots to the Navy SEALS, is run by former Navy SEALS and also employs many other former military people. The crowd watched respectfully as Proud to Be an American played as the flag was passed former service member to service member with members of the local VFW baring flags. Then was followed by Laura Messner singing the National Anthem. Then it was time to race!
The men’s and women’s elite fields toed the line together and after a few words from Coach Pain everyone was on their way. The course itself was a mixture of rolling hills, shale rock, streams and rock beds. Much of the running was on the UTV trails and many of the obstacles are similar to those most veteran OCR’s are use to; walls, rope climbs, pyramid cargo nets, more cargo nets, up and overs, as well as a carry. Some of the unique obstacles include the Tip of the Spear obstacle which is an interesting traverse with ropes on a slanted wall onto rock holds. One of the obstacles that turned into carnage for the men’s elite field was the monkey bars, but instead of monkey bars the men had to use rock climbing holds on both sides of a beam and work their way down the monkey bar section. On the women’s side the final obstacles Tsunami and Hooyah took out many of the top female competitors. Forcing both seasoned men and women to give up armbands.
This giving up the armband is a unique twist on the race that ensures not just a fast runner wins, but also someone who can actually do the obstacles. You have the opportunity to do an obstacle as many times as you want but if you can’t get it you hand over the band and proceed. For me, Tsunami proved to be too slick and too muddy for me to pull my body up and over and I was forced to give up my armband after several attempts on the elite ropes, then making it over on the open heat ropes. This is the brilliance of BattleFrog even the seasoned racer might miss something one day and it gives you something to shoot for at a future race.
But it wasn’t the obstacles that became the focal point of all conversations after the race and whether racers made it or not, it was the mine. The mine, an old mine now converted into part of the UTV trails offered something truly unique in OCR, not only were we running in the dark (with headlamps) but also going over a wall in the mine as well as a swim (which felt like forever). A bit about the mine, when you first enter into the mine like any cave you feel the cool humid air surround you, light from headlamps even with 100 lumens is swallowed by the darkness, voices echo, and you must find your way along green glow sticks and bright green cones. The air cools the further you go into the mine, mist surrounds your face, then you hit the water. The water is cold around 53-55 degrees year round and for the first part you can walk, then after over 50 meters in you turn a corner and it drops off and you are swimming, your limbs want to go numb, but you push forward, panic wants to take over you, but you squash it and keep swimming forward. Then a light appears at the end of the swim and you are back on land and time to shoot at targets under black light, then a run along a work tunnel and you reemerge into daylight with your eyes needing a moment to adjust, then the race continues as you warm your body as you run.
This was hands down one of the most unique obstacle racing experiences I have had in the last 5 years. The mine, the obstacles, the people, and the overall experience was class act and it’s safe to say all the hype is right. Obstacle Racing has a new player in the powerhouse race series, BattleFrog has entered the arena and they are here to play.