In a somewhat turbulent week in obstacle racing with two more mid-level races shutting their doors for good another new race entered the arena – Special Ops Race. They had created a little bit of social media buzz early on and in full disclosure offered me an entry into their race a month or so ago. Like many new obstacle races on the scene they promoted a wide variety of obstacles and some truly unique. Before going into the race itself I learned a bit about the race.
Oh Great, Another Obstacle Race Playing off the Military
I heard that sentiment from more than one person when talking about this event. I had the chance to talk to Jack Lawson the owner of Special Ops Race. His background was in the Army and is the son of a Green Beret. While he admits he was never Special Ops he is a veteran and said he worked on a few missions with special ops. Special Ops Race works with the Special Operations Warrior Foundation as their charity partner. Also at the race the top finisher awards were presented by the Air Force and were Air Force medals. The Air Force also had a tent on site during the race.
I asked Lawson about why Special Ops, he told me that he wanted to represent all branches of the armed services and pay homage to them all. Also spoke about the deep respect he has for his father and his service. During the interview his father was helping build obstacles and was definitely a big part of this race.
The concept was cool, take the best obstacles from training from all the different branches and bring them together in a race. The two distances (5K and 10-miler) offered a race for everyone. The race marketed itself as an elite obstacle race military inspired. Below are the list of obstacles they claimed they would have…
The course map was sent out as well prior to the race with an idea of which obstacles would be where.
The Reality & Race Itself
I showed up on Friday afternoon to interview Lawson. I assumed that there would be construction going on and a team working to finish up for the race the next day. I arrived and Lawson took the time to meet with me and talked about the race and what the vision was. One thing I can say is the Special Ops team does not lack passion and are definitely not in it for a money grab. They want to be a smaller race to fill the void after the big name races make their yearly visit. (The website looks like they have different plans) But I take people for their word and know this was a HUGE learning experience for them.
When I arrived only a few obstacles were built and much more work needed to be done still. Lawson told me that many volunteers didn’t show who were suppose to help on the build and they had about 5-10 people building the entire course. Lawson admitted to not realizing how many volunteers are truly needed to make a race come together. He and his small team worked until the start line gun went off in the morning building obstacles all night long.
When I arrived in the morning it was apparent they had worked all night long and lawson said he was operating on about 15 minutes of sleep. Their tent was pitched next to the entrance, the passion was definitely there. But I could see that it was a rushed effort and parts of the race were missing.
I opted to run the 5k version of the race instead of 10-miler. The race itself was on a flat and dry field across from the Miller Motorsports Park in Tooelle, UT. The obstacles were all bunched together near the start and finish and the course clover leafed out and back with long running sections. Lawson told me he designed the course this way to have the obstacles where people could see them, with the unfortunate consequence of long running sections for the racers.
To me, I enjoyed the race for what it was. It was a first attempt and that was apparent. The 5K course was fun and fell short of the marketed obstacles but still the 6′ foot wall (which I think was closer to 7′) didn’t have a kicker so it was harder for us shorties, the traverse wall went up and down instead of straight across adding a different element, and the airsoft shooting was a fun obstacle.
The downside of the course (and seemingly race overall) was lack of volunteers to tell you how to navigate the obstacles. Obstacles such as the parallel bars had no one telling you how you had to do them or at the end what to do on the last obstacle which looked like a balance beam like thing with slats. The racer had to decide how to do the obstacles. As well other than the shooting obstacle there were no penalties for missed obstacles so as I encountered with a man running near me a “touch and go method” was all he did in regards to the rope climb and a few other obstacles. I am fine with people failing obstacles but the touch and go without trying misses the point of an obstacle race especially if you signed up for the competitive heat for prizes.
The true obstacles for the race looked more like this and it was apparent that time was the biggest factor against the Special Ops team. Obstacles were quickly built and many were left still a pile of lumber on race day. I spoke with Lawson before the race and he said some of the obstacles they had to taken out because of insurance issues (barbed wire, fire…), others they were trying to build before the start of the race. Better in the future to under commit and over deliver.
Although the review might be harsh at first I actually really enjoyed myself. The team at Special Ops Race has their heart and intentions in the right place and because it was a new event I give it a little room. It was apparent they learned a lot about events during this race, they already were taking notes for the next one while the race was still going on. I would definitely give this one another go and hope that these issues would be resolved by race two. On the upside the swag was great a wristband, stickers, shirt, cool finisher medal with different bands for each distance. It was a fun race with members of the Call family and they had a festival with food onsite for sale as well as a DJ pumping out music. The layout let families see the best parts of the race, and most people were smiling at the end.
My hope is this series is not like many of the others we have seen come and go quickly joining the growing OCR graveyard. I hope for the future they stay local here in the west and put on another race or two in Utah before expanding out further. This race could be a fun local series for us in the Utah and Western USA as soon as a few kinks are worked out. I look forward to hearing what they plan to do next after taking in the good and bad feedback from participants. Not writing this one off yet and would like to try another one around here again.