Back In The Saddle – F.I.T. Challenge IV Recap

It was a long road from the 2014 Killington Beast back to OCR for me. The 6 months prior to this event had been a constant battle to regain strength, speed, and motivation. This race reminded me why I love running races, why I put myself through these things, and why I bother with “health & fitness” at all.

On Saturday, 4/11/15, I ran F.I.T. Challenge IV – Epic F.I.T. and I have to say…it was exactly what I needed. It challenged me, it tested me, it pushed me, and it renewed my drive for all things health & fitness!
So what was so great about Epic F.I.T.? How does it rank? Why was I so sore the next day…and so happy about it? 

This event was just done right. Robb McCoy, the man behind F.I.T. Challenge, knows how to put on a top notch event, and he has struck again with the 4th installment of his series. 
The Score:

Pre-Race: 8
Race Day: 9
The Course: 10

Support / Swag: 9 
Post-Race: 8

Just an all-around well-executed event. Things promised were followed-through on, the course was outstanding, and everyone seemed to have a great time. Would I run this race again? Heck yes I would.

Pre-Race – 8

There were a fair number of promotional emails/Facebook posts and I certainly didn’t forget the race was coming. The “pre-race email” came out the week before the race – I was impressed that it came to me as I wasn’t actually officially registered for the race…I was signed on as a volunteer! Good on ya, F.I.T. Challenge! I DID check with some friends who pre-registered well in advance, and there were PLENTY of emails sent to participants.

Race Day – 9

I must say, I had a pretty good race day experience. Checking in as a volunteer was super-easy – this can normally be a pretty tedious or confusing process. I watched a number of regularly registered runners checking in as well, and it looked to be a pretty quick and painless process. Near registration there was a small festival area with some vendors and a rep from OCR World Championships (yes, this is an OCRWC Qualifier…wow!). There was also ample room to hang out, stretch, and prepare.

Our Team – Photo Credit: Mary Donohue

As part of the New England Spahtens, I was a member of the day’s largest team, which meant I got to hang out pre/post race at our largest team tent. Took a minute to figure out where it was – and once I did I discovered the restroom situation was INDOORS! Huzzah!

Already ran your race? Want to run another lap? Go for it! $15 gets you a new timing chip and you’re off to the races (again). Manage 5 laps and you get a special plaque for doing 25K of OCR.

All in all…everything leading up to crossing the starting mat was pretty darn smooth.

The Course – 10

Photo Credit: Mary Donohue

The course was excellent. There’s no two ways about it. F.I.T. Challenge really nailed it all – use-of-venue, variety, quality, and quantity of obstacles…it was just really well-done. Top-freaking-notch. I’m genuinely impressed here, in case you couldn’t tell. The course was also INCREDIBLY well-marked – trust me…while volunteering post-race I pulled hundreds of flags, a ton of caution tape, and MANY arrow signs…so I can personally attest to that.

I want to point out that part of what helped this race have such an excellent course was the #OCRUnited element – they played well with others. ABF Mud Run, ORTC at Shale Hill, Grit ‘n’ Wit, Blizzard Blast and more – Robb McCoy and his crew aren’t afraid to work with others to put on a successful event. This is something that helped him in planning, execution, race-day experience, the course itself…all areas got a boost. Other, bigger races could learn something from F.I.T. Challenge in this regard. Take notes, big 3.

Support/Swag – 9

Swag and Support was good – above average, even! Swag included a cotton t-shirt, a logo’d headband (similar to what you get at a Spartan Race, but no bib number), and finisher’s medal. I love the medal – shaped like a Wreck Bag (added to the #OCRUnited feel – lots of local races are embracing Wreck Bag). NE Spahtens also got some “cheap sunglasses” (you know, the plastic Wayfarer knock-offs?) with Spahten F.I.T. printed on them. I’m a sucker for “cheap sunglasses”, and I think everyone else is too, let’s be honest. Thanks F.I.T.!

Age group awards were provided (nice), and as an added bonus (I mentioned this before) for those who managed 5 (timed) laps there was a special plaque involved. Nice touch. Not to mention that whole “OCRWC Qualifier” thing.

Support was good – especially when you got to the #OCRUnited parts of the course, especially the big cluster with “rigs” by the big Shale Hill truck. There was a volunteer at every obstacle, as there should be, (some more engaged than others) and I was aware of medical support that was available.

Post-Race – 8

Post-race was pretty good too. Once you cross the finish there was water, Hint Water (review coming) and though I didn’t stop to look, I think there was food of some sort (bananas maybe?). The little festival area was there, so First Aid Shot Therapy was there with their “shots” (think 5 hour energy…but aspirin) in case you were hurtin’. There was a cool little podium/backdrop area for photo ops and awards, but aside from that…if you’re not running another lap (which you could for $10 or $15)…when you finish the race that’s kinda it. Pack it up and go home. You could certainly hang out, though…it IS a state park (and very pretty, I thought).

I personally would’ve gone back over to the NE Spahtens tent to hang out if I hadn’t immediately gone over to volunteer (he was grossly under-supported for PM volunteers. Shame on people for bailing). That’s how I wrapped MY day up, and it was kinda fun to break it all down 🙂

Overall, I had a great time and would certainly go back.

At the end of the day – this was a great race. What you’ve got in F.I.T. Challenge is a great, very well-constructed, very well-thought-out, and very well-executed Obstacle Course Race. You can tell the owner/race director and the team that works with him (i.e. family and friends) really cares about the event and making it great. That’s why I love local OCR’s and why I will always seek them out. The big-name races are really turning me off lately, and “the little guy” keeps impressing.

F.I.T. Challenge V is this fall on 11/14/15, and you can register via this link. If you’re not already committed to something…I heartily recommend you register. Whether you’re a rookie or a rockstar, you’ll have fun at this event.

Struggle, Teamwork, & Success – Spartan Beast VT 2015

I thought I was looking for redemption.

I came to the mountain on a mission. The Beast broke me last year…and though I got my finish…it didn’t feel like a true victory. At the end there was no celebration. No camaraderie. No reveling in our success with hugs, beers, laughter and high fives. I came back looking for what I thought was taken from me. To correct my mistake. I thought I wanted…no…NEEDEDredemption.

As it turns out…I was wrong.

What I found and what I learned was much more valuable and worthwhile than that. Too bad it took me a year to figure it out.

As far as a rating goesLet’s knock this out now.

Pre-Race: 7.5
Race-Day: 8

The Course: 7.5 
Support/Swag: 7
Post-Race: 8
Overall: 38/50

Overall…average to above average. You’ll get why by the end.

The theme of the day was “struggle”.

What can I say about the Killington Beast that I (or someone else) haven’t said before? Those who have done it…know. And those who haven’t yet…can’t possibly REALLY know until you’re there. Suffering and struggling through it. There are insane ascents, vicious descents, technical trails that eat ankles for lunch and top it off with obstacles strategically placed to push you to your limits.

This year was a bit different from the past, though. This year Killington was a Founder’s Race.

What does “Founder’s Race” really mean?

Some would say it means Spartan Race is getting cheap and taking the easy way out on a course build. Spartan calls it “going back to their roots” when things were simpler. Honestly…I think it’s a little bit of both.

The “Founder’s Race” idea results in a less complicated, less grandiose build-out. No massive banners. No 5,000 foot high rope climb rigs with a water ditch below large enough to build a house in. To be perfectly honest…the build-out reminded me of some smaller, local OCR’s I’ve run lately. I kind of liked that.

Each year is different.

Each year at any given venue is its own event, and you kind of have to take it for what it is. I heard some people (some, my own teammates) complaining that this year’s VT Beast wasn’t as hard as years prior. I read one blog in particular that I thought was pretty…shall we say…elitist…about it. Complaining that US races are incredibly disorganized. It kind of offended me.

In hindsight…I WAS slightly disappointed.

As hard as it was…ultimately…it DID feel a little…disappointing in the obstacle category. There were innumerable things to climb over, at least 8 carries of some sort and three barbed wire crawls. These made up the VAST majority of obstacles. I felt there was a lot less…creativity…than I expected. Local OCR’s I’ve done…hell, even other SPARTAN races I’ve done…have had more variety than that. Is this what “Founder’s Race” means? If so…I won’t mind if I don’t run another. Lack of variety doesn’t mean it was easy…but still…it felt like something was lacking.

Despite it all…the struggle was real.

That mountain is no joke. This year’s course had all the steepest ascents and descents from last year’s course…plus new ones. The heat was a new challenge…one that got the best of me for a while. You just never know what you’re gonna get on that mountain…

Lack of water didn’t help, either

I’m not gonna sit here and make a Federal project out of it…Spartan Race blew it with water…but at least they owned their mistake. They depleted their water sources way early and lost pressure on (it seems) their one available hose. People (myself included) weren’t allowed to fill Camelbaks. I had to ration my water a lot more than usual. Given the heat…this was a challenge. One I was not prepared for.

Teamwork saved the day.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I would not have made it without my battle buddies. For the uninformed – a Battle Buddy is someone you run/crawl/climb/struggle through the race with. Maureen and Rob were mine.

Happened kind of by accident, too…I lost my original BB very early (it’s ok, we had a deal, not upset) and came across them on the first major ascent. Deciding to stick with them was probably the single smartest thing I did all day.

They had my back at every turn. I was stunned to find them waiting for me at the bottom of the bucket carry. It got the best of me, whipped my ass…and there they were. Waiting. I felt bad because I took so long…this is exactly where I lost my battle buddies last year (except it was later in the race)…but there they were. And they were right there with me until the very end. Salt tabs, conversation, looking out for each other…they covered it all. It was a much different back-half of the Beast this year getting through it with a couple of BB’s like that.

I would not have finished without them. Not this year’s Beast. No way.

Imagine an entire community like that.

That’s the New England Spahtens – over 3,000 people just like that (to varying degrees). A whole community of “care”. That’s what OCR SHOULD be like…not whining about this or that, not complaining that someone didn’t do their burpees, not bellyaching about cheating…just looking out for each other and having fun.

I almost cried at the finish line.

The look on my face at the fire jump was borderline horrified…but I jumped it. I landed. And I screamed out of pure elation. I could finally run across the finish…on my own. And I did. And there was my wife. And my Battle Buddies. And that G-Damn medal I’ve been chasing for months. I did it. The feeling is simply indescribable.

Thanks to the team…I found TRUE success.

And it was a bit different than I thought it would be. 

High fives and hugs. Shared stories of successes. Lamenting opportunities missed on-course. A teammate not-so-subtly offering a victory shot and beer. And also…asking after teammates we hadn’t seen or heard from. Not for the gossip factor…not out of curiosity…but out of genuine care, and to perhaps be ready to help console a teammate feeling like a failure. So much positivity…

Sitting in the lodge, much later, as I’m getting ready to finish my beer and head home…A teammate comes in for hers. It’s late, most others from the team have left. Despite being more sore than ever…of course I practically leap out of my chair to congratulate her.

Back to the house…where other exhausted, beaten teammates rest as well. In the morning – shared stories of success. Breakfast in town surrounded by finishers, spectators…and people who get it. The next night…furiously hitting “refresh” on Chronotrack hoping to see friends finish the UltraBeast…did they make it?

The sense of completion…of victory…of success…didn’t come from the medal, or simply from running across on my own two feet. It was everything else.

Looking Back – BoldrDash on the Beach

So, by now it’s no secret that I overloaded myself this past summer. So many people believed in me and my message that I was inundated with opportunities to get out there and show people you can do it. Now that my wedding, the summer, and my race season is over, it’s time to catch up.  This is the first of many long-overdue race recaps and product reviews from the past year.

TODAY…I’m stoked. TODAY I revisit a GREAT obstacle race. My wife’s very first OCR…


BoldrDash On The Beach was a GREAT OCR! 

Boldrdash was a great example of what a top notch local race can be. Any Joe out there can put on a decent 5K road race, but it takes a special kind of Race Director to organize a great local obstacle race – Lynn Hall of BoldrDash has done just that.

Let me start by saying I’m 10x as happy that this OCR was as good as it was because it was my wife’s first obstacle race. We both had a great time, ever since running she understands the sport and my obsession with it, and she was encouraged to run more! I’m sure she wasn’t the only first-timer out there and I’m sure their experience was similar. That said…my rating (how the rating works):

Pre-Race: 10/10
Race-Day: 10/10
The Course: 9/10
Support/Swag: 9/10
Post-Race: 9/10
Overall: 47/50 – A solid “A” rating!

From sign-up to show-up to climb-up to clean-up, BoldrDash on the Beach just does it right. This is an excellent Obstacle Course Race for the whole family – participants of all ages and skill levels will have fun here, find a challenge, and be able to succeed – even the kids! Is this a back-breaking extreme-endurance challenge like The Beast? No. It’s not trying to be and it doesn’t need to be. It’s everything it’s advertised to be and more, and you certainly won’t regret signing up.

So let’s break that down:

Pre-Race: 10

BoldrDash really just knocks it out of the park in the pre-race department. I mean, damn, look at that! OUTSTANDING! Nevermind giving you a registration confirmation & a pre-race info packet…BoldrDash takes it 10 steps beyond. Lynn really makes sure to keep you up-to-date on everything that’s happening as soon as it happens. 

Not only that, there’s plenty offered to participants free of charge before race-day. How do you find out? All those pre-race emails are full-fledged newsletters complete with events, news, and community updates. Packet pick-up? Child’s play. BoldrDash kicks it into overdrive working with their sponsors/vendors/partners offering injury prevention clinics, free workouts, and community outreach events. BoldrDash has your pre-race needs covered. You’ll feel like part of the family by the time race day hits.

Race-Day: 10

SPEAKING OF RACE DAY…they’ve got that on lock-down too. There was ample parking (which was FREE, by the way), and we were easily able to find a comfy spot and finish getting our gear on in the parking lot. Parking was pretty darn close to the festival/registration area, and it wasn’t very challenging to see where we needed to go. Waiting in line for packets, t-shirt, port-o-john and marking station were all a breeze, and there was more than plenty of room to hang out, stretch, and prepare. From there, starting corral was super easy to spot – with an L.E.D. timing clock right there it was pretty darn hard to miss your start time, too.

The Course: 9

The course was AWESOME. I have to say, a beach OCR sounds pretty daunting…sand is awful to run on, but man…that view! Also, the sand wasn’t as bad as I had expected – it was more of a 3 mile long obstacle! The actual obstacles were great; very well-constructed and challenging, but not impossible. There was certainly your typical OCR fare – wall climbs, over-unders, etc, but BoldrDash had plenty of unique offerings! Water carries straight from the ocean, a quarter-mile walk/run/climb/crawl along the jetty (tricky!) a couple of surprisingly-challenging balance obstacles and an inverted wall harder than Spartan Race’s really made this OCR stand out to me.

There were two reasons this category didn’t get full marks, and they’re relatively minor. 1.) There were a couple of points where we were confused on where to go and there either wasn’t clear marking or a volunteer readily available to point you in the right direction. A simple sign with an arrow would’ve sufficed. 2.) There was some back-up at the water carry – a temporary shortage of men’s buckets (women had smaller buckets) left my wife waiting a bit for me to finish the obstacle. Overall, though – the course was very well thought out, well-built, not impossible (read: discouraging) and most of all…FUN!

Support/Swag: 9

I sometimes feel like a spoiled brat rating this category, but the fact of the matter is…swag can be a deciding (or at least major) factor in race choice for many people, and that’s totally their right. Can you blame someone for wanting something memorable to take home to celebrate their accomplishment? I’ll admit, I’ve picked one half-marathon over another before because it had a better medal/shirt. That said: The BoldrDash t-shirt is kickass, and (*spoiled brat*) the medal is kind of average. Know what, though? That’s ok.

As far as “support” goes – BoldrDash did pretty darn good. There were a TON of volunteers on-course and in the festival area. Many of them were JROTC, and I love that Lynn / BoldrDash gave them the opportunity to help out (and probably get some service hours in?). There were also plenty of spectators and “other” volunteers throughout to cheer you on and help with morale! The volunteers were, overall, very knowledgeable, very helpful, and very friendly (except the “tough guys” at some obstacles, but they were just playing their role). There were maybe a couple of volunteers throughout our experience who seemed a little lost/confused…but that’ll happen.

There was a whole med trailer on-site, ATV’s rolling along the course (including Lynn herself!), plenty of water and, of course, ample port-o-johns available. They just plain had it covered across the board!

Post-Race: 9

Nailed it. Seriously…a veritable mountain of KIND bars of every flavor plus Hint water and plain water available literally steps away from the finish chute. From there, the festival began. I don’t know that it really felt like a festival, but that could just be because all the little pop-up canopies were spaced so far apart. The free foam-rolling/KT Taping was available, Zico coconut water was there, etc. It was a decent little festival.

Bummer of the day – no alcohol allowed as Scarborough Beach is RI State property. However, this didn’t stop BoldrDash – they worked out a deal with a place about 5 minutes away to offer all participants a free beer! AWESOME! Downer that we couldn’t have it right there at the finish, but I certainly appreciate that they still made it happen.

Overall Impression – 

What a great experience. Megan and I really had a blast – it was a great experience for her and I loved seeing her “get it” as we went along the course. We loved it so much and talked it up so much that my mom’s gonna go for it this year and is even recruiting a friend! It’ll be her first OCR too! Great for the whole family, too – There’s the 5K course (with elite heats available for those seeking a challenge), and a kids race too. Make a day out of it!

Important Note:

This year’s BoldrDash on the Beach is Saturday/Sunday May 2nd/3rd – THERE’S STILL TIME TO REGISTER!!! Which, by the way, I highly recommend you do! As with most OCR’s, the longer you wait, the more expensive it is. Tomorrow (March 6th) at midnight the price will jump up!

So, if you think this is a race you want to do, register ASAP, preferably before midnight 3/6/15! Use this link to register. Hopefully I’ll see you there 🙂


5 Keys To A Great Race

So here I am playing at being some sort of “expert” with all these race recaps I do…and after seeing a friend redoing all of HER race recaps I came to the realization…

I’m doing it wrong.

I tend to talk. A lot. My blog posts have been long and drawn out…and in order to TRULY see what I think of a race you have to read the whole damn thing in its entirety. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled when people do that…but some people want the quick facts.

Frankly, I should’ve been providing that all along.

But HOW do you judge a race? What really makes it great, and how do you MEASURE that consistently from race to race?

Well, I figured it out. 5 key areas that make a great (or not-so-great) race.

What Makes A Race Great?

Five categories each on a 1 – 10 scale:
1. Pre-Race
2. Race-Day
3. The Course
4. Support/Swag
5. Post-Race

Those five categories are it, and you average them to get an overall score. What falls into those categories will vary from race to race, but when you want to qualify and quantify how a race is doing and you want to compare it to other races, this works. This will allow you to fairly compare, I think, most races. Let’s break down what kinds of things can fall into each category.

1. Pre-Race

I’m not talking changing rooms and water bottles, this category is all about your experience BEFORE you even show up to the venue to lace up your shoes. In order to have a good race-day experience, it’s important to be provided with all the important information ahead of time. The Pre-Race category considers (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Availability/accuracy of information about the race before signing up
  • Ease of sign-up process / confirmation email
  • Ability to contact race company / race director if necessary
  • Availability of pre-race bib pick-up
  • Quality / execution of pre-race expo (if applicable)
  • Any and all pre-race communication including website updates, email / email newsletters and week-of-race reminders/updates
2. Race-Day

From parking to registration to the starting line & the word “go”, race-day organization and execution is crucial to a fun and successful race. This category is all about whether they’ve “got their stuff together” when it comes time to put on the race itself. This category considers (but is not limited to):

  • Availability, ease, and organization of parking
  • Ease/availability/frequency of shuttles, if parking is off-site
  • Adequate volunteer/staff presence (not under-staffed/unable to handle crowd)
  • Volunteers / staff are knowledgeable on things they should…well…KNOW
  • Ease of registration/bib pickup (if on race-day)
  • Adequate communication (start time, delays, important information, etc)

3. The Course

It doesn’t matter how well-organized, easy & smooth everything goes if the course is garbage. Some races’ claim to fame is their course itself, and many people consider difficulty level and scenery when choosing a race.This category is ALL about the course itself, and considers (but is not limited to) the following:

  • The course is as described (maps, elevation charts, & distance are accurate/as-described)
  • Visual appeal of race course
  • Difficulty level of race course (i.e. a “family fun run” doesn’t have 32% grade hills)
  • Course is easy to follow / well-marked
  • Traffic management (if applicable)
4. Support/Swag

Success or failure, and the rewards therein, are important, This is where things like water stops, finishers/podium medals, t-shirts & more come into play. These are the things that help you finish & help you remember your finish. This is also where that “special something extra” comes into play. “Support/Swag” considers (but is not limited to):

  • Availability of water/aid stations on-course (if applicable)
  • First-aid/medical on-course & at festival (if applicable)
  • Restrooms/port-o-johns at festival & on-course (if applicable)
  • “Other” volunteers on-course (morale, obstacles, etc – if applicable)
  • Finisher’s medal (if applicable)
  • Awards for top finishers (if applicable)
  • Availability of (free) T-shirt, including correct size (if applicable)
  • “Extras”
5. Post-Race

You’ve crossed the finish, it’s all over…where’s my banana! What happens after you cross that finish and cool down is important – it is, after all, your last impression of the race! This category is all about what SHOULD be offered, what SHOULD happen, and follow-through on things they SAID would be offered & happen…including (but not limited to):

  • Availability of water post-race
  • Availability of food (i.e. bananas, etc) post-race
  • Quality of post-race festival (if applicable)
  • Are they just trying to sell me something?
  • Results posting
  • Awards ceremony (if applicable)
  • Availability/quality/accuracy of beer / post-race libations (if applicable)
If each of these categories are done well, the overall race experience should be excellent. Now and forever more, this system is how I will rate a race and decide if I’ll ever run it again – I hope you find it useful. Now to go through all my previous race recaps and retrofit this in…
How does YOUR most recent race stack up against this?