BattleFrog Xtreme Los Angeles – 02/06/2016
Prado Regional Park on a sunny and warm Saturday was going to be the location of my first BattleFrog event. The 5.4mi course had 31 obstacles and about 100ft elevation to offer. After the hilly terrain and cold rain storm at Spartan Race Temecula, this was a welcome change of scenery.
My longest run ever before this event was maybe 18 miles distance, the longest non-stop duration around 3hrs 30min, so BFX would be a proving ground of my training and an experiment. I didn’t come here to win, my mission was to test limits and learn lessons.
I was very happy to see familiar faces all around and to learn that some friends would take on the BFX with me. All day I noticed Weeple Army and Team SISU people, I had expected nothing else at a SoCal race. I’ll admit that not running with the other Elite competitors felt a bit weird, especially since some of these guys always give me a head to head battle for every second.
- Registration & Venue
- Event Outline
- Lap 1 & 2: Start to Mile 11
- Lap 3 & 4: Mile 11 to 22
- Lap 5: Mile 22 to 27
- Final Thoughts
Registration & Venue
I’ll make it short since this seems to be a reoccurring thing for BF: Getting from parking to the venue wasn’t well marked, registration was a mess due to some technical issues (can’t really blame BF for that though), finding bag check took a little bit of time, and announcements were rare and hard to hear if you weren’t close to one of the few speakers.
Overall it wasn’t as bad as this might sound, but there is room for improvement.
Maybe it sounds ridiculous to some but seeing that the Dr. Bronner’s Magic Foam shower was set up at the venue was the highlight to me! Getting a medal at the finish is always nice, but getting a warm and effortless shower is just the best. For those outside of California: It’s basically a two-story trailer where athletes enter at the bottom and then get hosed down with warm water and foam from above. It’s magical!
What is BattleFrog Xtreme?
BattleFrog offers Open, Elite, and Xtreme heats for their course. Open racers run one lap, and they can fail obstacles with a penalty of ten 8-count bodybuilders.
Elite racers run two laps, and they have a special bracelet which they only get to keep if they complete all obstacles. They have as many attempts as they want to clear the obstacle until the race day ends. Several people did spend multiple hours at obstacles, mostly at the second platinum rig, refusing to give up their bracelet. If you decide to give up, your bracelet will be cut and you will be listed in the results as “Elite DNF” (DNF = Did not finish).
Xtreme is the “all you can run” version of BattleFrog:
Between the 8:30am start (originally we were supposed to start at 8:15 but the mess at registration pushed that back) and the 3pm cut off time to start a new lap, Xtreme racers could run as many laps as physically possible. To my knowledge there is theoretically no limit on how long your last lap can take, as long as you start it before the cut off time. I’m not sure what time is being used as cut off but I assume you have to cross the BFX timing mat before the cut off in order for your last lap to count towards your total amount of laps.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to carry all our nutrition and hydration with us. At a special BFX tent we had chairs and tables to store all personal gear, nutrition, etc. and BF provided a little bit of water and humongous amounts of bananas. Unfortunately there was no volunteer as tent monitor to be seen, even though the FAQ on the website stated there would be one. From an injured BFX competitor I heard later that a random person went rummaging through multiple peoples gear in the BFX tent – not cool.
During the mandatory pre-race briefing, Chris “Beard” Accord explains that there are only two mandatory obstacles for the BFX competitors: The jerry can carry and the wreck bag carry. Every other obstacle can be bypassed with a penalty of ten 8-count bodybuilders. As the day goes on, integrity becomes more and more important since we might be alone out on the course.
Also, if we only finish one lap, we count as open finishers and only get an open medal. For two laps we get the Elite 15k medal. Only by finishing a minimum of three laps will count as Xtreme and only then will we receive the Xtreme medal with additional star pins (Lap 1, 2, 3, 4 = one gold star per lap. Lap 5 = silver star). In case two or more people achieve the same amount of laps, the person who finishes their final lap first is declared winner.
As a way to identify the Xtreme racers, black bracelets are handed out. This will let volunteers at obstacles know that we are allowed to (respectfully) skip the lines if necessary. If you miss the mandatory pre-race briefing you will be singled out at the start corral and receive a little bit of extra attention in form of physical exercise.
We started out at the start line for the first lap with Coach Pain DeWayne and Beard sending us off. After that, at the end of each lap we didn’t cross the finish or start line but took a special transition route that bypassed the both lines. This transition route passed by the previously mentioned BFX tent. Once we refueled and adjusted gear as necessary, we headed back out on the course and this is where we crossed the BFX timing mat to officially start off the next lap.
Going into a legit endurance event like this one with ambitions to max out your potential, you will need to make a plan.
Your body will burn very quickly through whatever you carb-loaded by eating that Pizza/Pasta/Burger the day before. Think about what has worked for you on long runs before, mix something in there that you know you will enjoy eating (soul food), plan out what you take with you on the course and what you will consume in between laps. It’s extremely helpful to know how your muscles and joints respond to several hours of nonstop effort and if you digestive system can handle gels and bars for 8 hours or not. Keep in mind that mixing several different fuels, powders, etc. over time might upset your body as well. It’s better to find that out when you’re training, not competing.
It is conventional wisdom never to try something new on game day but this wasn’t necessarily game day for me: It was a test of how far I can go and how I would feel doing the distance. I tried a few different products and it has worked out very well that day but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to others…
Lap 1 & 2: Start to Mile 11
Starting out for a race like this is obviously very different than running a race with a set distance. Everyone paced themselves and soon settled into whatever pace they felt they could sustain comfortably. The first obstacles were mostly various kinds of walls and a platinum rig completely consisting of gymnastics rings, nothing exceptional.
Then about 2 miles in the jerry can carry came long… 40lbs per can for the men, 25lbs per can for the women. I carry around a bit more muscle then most runners and this is where that paid dividends. Running with small steps for half the distance, taking a short break, then grinding out the rest – done!
Of course this was followed by a set of angled monkey bars over a water ditch. The bars were evenly spaced, but not fixed. Turning monkey bars are always interesting as soon as a lot of people are on them but on this course nobody was ever on them at the same time as me. The water ditch was pretty deep and the monkey bar frame high, so the drop introduced a psychological challenge to more than a few people out there for sure. Fortunately, going sideways with a good hip swing and arms locked at a 90 degree angle carried me across without problems each lap.
After flipping over a very steep cargo net, where I banged my heels against the metal support beam which could easily have been an ugly injury, I arrived at an interesting variation of the rope climb:
Swing from a ring to the rope over water, climb up the rope to ring a bell, descend down the rope and grab a ring on the other side of the water, swing to safety! I really liked the twist and had no issues here whatsoever but smaller people with less reach were at a severe disadvantage.
Now this is where I lost sight of the Mark Jones, who – not surprisingly – would go on to win the whole thing. I also realized that I didn’t see anyone of the BFX people around anymore.
After a few other easy obstacles the course led into a single trail area through some swampy wetlands. The shade was a welcome relief and the first obstacle in there was an almost horizontal rope ladder with a bell at the end. Unfortunately, the bottom end of the ladder was very low and since we were not allowed to use our feet we had to start climbing with our arms halfway into the ladder. So the taller you were, the less ground you had to cover by climbing… Since this was technically not anything else than another set of monkey bars it was easy but an interesting way to mix it up. The unstable character of the ladder made it fun!
After three very heavy tire flips, a mud crawl, and an 8ft wall, the wreck bag carry was waiting.
50lbs for men, 50lbs for women, no discrimination here. It was a decent distance but with barely any elevation at all, however there was a 4ft wall where the bag was not allowed to touch the ground and a tube we had to crawl through with the bag without losing contact to it. I enjoyed this part, the wreck bags are generally extremely comfortable to carry.
Two 12ft walls with ropes made for a bit of excitement, since that height is no joke. Having a tiny bit of background knowledge on insurance for OCR events, I have a lot of respect for races who put on obstacles like this. I loved it since it reminds me of rappelling off of walls.
The Wedge Wall came as a bit of a surprise to me, because from race reviews I’ve read before coming to LA, I did expect two angled walls were you had to lean from one wall to the other and wedge yourself in between. Turns out: This thing is a wall with bouldering holds for your hands and a solid ledge for your feet with only two small-ish gaps in between ledges. Fortunately I started to boulder almost weekly about 2 months ago and that completely took the challenge out of this obstacle for me.
Next up was the Weaver, BattleFrog Style. Thin, square, metal beams instead of the thick, round, wooden beams you would find on any other obstacle course. To make it worse: The spacing of the beams was crazy. I couldn’t help but feel bad for shorter people. The challenge here is that you have to go over/under/over/under/etc. from beam to beam. This obstacle alone easily caused more bruises than anything else.
After some mud pits and a small climb over a metal structure, the BattleFrog obstacle I had seen at the OCR World Championship showed up: the Tip of the Spear. Traverse one angled wall sideways using only ropes, balance over a small beam to the next wall, then swing across the next wall using only your arms while holding on to two boards nailed to it. Finally, another wall with ropes and a bell at the end. Once again, muscle and technique helped a lot. I always skipped the middle rope at those walls and made it every time.
Platinum rig no.2 was much more interesting than the first one. A lot of different fun things were mounted to it: high hanging gym rings, nun-chucks, low hanging gym rings, square and round monkey bars, ropes, and a solid vertical pipe. Now, this was my first BattleFrog event but not my first OCR. I am used to volunteers telling me what to do if there is anything to specifically consider at an obstacle. Unless there is a bell, then it’s obvious that you’re supposed to ring that damn thing. However, at this rig, the second to last item was a rope and the last item was a high hanging nun-chuck. On my first attempt I swung through the rig with ease… and the volunteers stop me and tell me I had to touch the nun-chuck, and not doing so meant I had failed the obstacle.
There were about 3 dozen people waiting and failing again & again and three volunteers were gathered at the end of the obstacle, just chatting with each other, instead of telling new arrivals about the rules of the obstacle. I was not amused but chose to do my penalty bodybuilders instead of wasting time.
Cruising down the hill and using the transition lane I bypassed the finish and start lines and went to the BFX tent. I briefly chatted with a guy who unfortunately had twisted his ankle on a wall not far into his first lap. Doesn’t matter how tough you are, with a bit of bad luck a race can be over very quickly.
After forcing down half a sports drink I grabbed a small protein bar and some shot bloks and went back out for the next lap. I checked my GPS watch and was a lot quicker than I thought I would be. Usually I’d be happy about that, but due to the duration of this race I was also a bit concerned about running myself into the ground too soon.
On my second lap I forced myself to keep a slower pace, other than that most things stayed the same. During the jerry can carry I took one more break than before and I paused a second longer to take on the monkey bars afterwards.
The last mile of this lap, tiny cramps started in my quads and calves. I had never before cramped in any race ever so this was an interesting and unpleasant experience. At the second platinum rig, I see people still struggling with it who were already standing there when I came through on my first lap. My arms were giving out at the final rope and I did my penalty. My mind already went through what I had to consume and pick up at the BFX tent to combat the cramps. I was in this for the long haul.
Lap 3 & 4: 11 to 22 Miles
Quickly popping some salt tablets, a supplement drink and packing a gel and a bar was the only thing I could do at the tent since stopping was not an option. When you’re in pain or in trouble but clearly not injured (experience is key here), then there is no point in stopping. It’s not going to get better instantly and you’re not doing yourself any favors by shifting your mental focus on your pain. Charlie Mike, continue mission.
At one of the first walls after the start of my third lap I run into Tipu Khan who hands me a Nuun tablet. Competition is great, but races over so many hours give people time to stop, talk, and help each other out and I’m always humbled by and grateful for people like him. I’ve never had one of those tablets before but sucking on that fizzing thing took my mind of the cramps.
Turns out, my left leg is a bit worse for wear so I opt to only use my right leg to get up and over walls etc. and by the end of this lap, the cramps are completely gone. At this point, I lost interest in the platinum rigs completely. The energy/time investment wasn’t worth it compared to the penalty and I was tired enough that the suck overpowered the fun of playing ninja. Tip of the spear for example took a long time and a lot of strength to complete but I enjoyed that obstacle so much that I always did it regardless.
Lap 4 was pretty much like Lap 3, just a little bit slower, a little bit more painful, and a little bit more exhausting. Strangely enough, the course started to get really empty. Not just participants were absent but also volunteers were gone at several places and obstacles. Were they raptured? Did wild animals take them? Had the heat melted them? I had so many questions…
I also realized in lap 4 that I still haven’t seen any other BFX people catching up. I also knew only Mark was ahead of me, by a pretty big distance. Getting six laps in was definitely a possibility from a timing perspective, but I decided to listen carefully what my body had to say during the next lap.
Lap 5: 22 to 27 miles
During transition I get in another supplement drink, some soul food, grab another gel and another bar and head out again. The festival area started to look empty as well as I run past it.
Shortly after I hop over the first wall, I suddenly hear somebody catching up behind me. That hasn’t happened all day! I look over my shoulder and see an energized and relaxed looking girl. She tells me she was supposed to run with the other volunteers but they didn’t give her enough time to change before they set off the volunteer wave. I feel bad for her because at this point I know exactly what the course looks like and it’s not fun to run your first race completely alone in the SoCal sun.
After I lost the girl at the rock scramble (a short run over rocky cement), I see another person catching up to me. Wesley Kerr, who won the fastest first lap at World’s Toughest Mudder 2015 and went on to complete 75 miles, arrived in his signature red tights. He was on lap no. 5 just like me and for the next few miles we go back and forth: He pulls ahead in the running, I pull ahead at the obstacles, and many times we simply share the trail. We talk race strategy and mutually agree that five laps are solid work. Nobody was remotely close to us and we in turn weren’t even remotely close to Mark.
With Wesley getting started after his off season and me not wanting to push myself even further into the unknown, we stick together until I complete the Tip of the Spear and Wesley does the penalty instead. He is done as I am halfway through the obstacle, we both do the penalty for the second platinum rig, and as we head for the finish line Wesley pulls ahead. While I feel the dirt grinding away at my ankles, he still floats down the trail and finished 1 minute before I do.
End result: 3rd place, 6 hrs 18 minutes, 26.8 miles total distance (possibly a bit more), extremely valuable lessons learned, a little bit of pain, a lot of fun!
Overall, I liked BFX a lot. The different obstacles which required more strength and more confidence made it more challenging and the twist to familiar obstacles made it fun! Making the jerry cans and the wreck back mandatory definitely serves as an equalizer between quick and strong people. I will be back for BFX for sure.
That being said, there are some things that didn’t seem right to me:
Ten 8-count bodybuilders are not enough of a penalty. They don’t cost a lot of energy and they can be knocked out very quickly. Often race strategy demands to go straight to the bodybuilders after touching the obstacle (“attempt”) instead of completing the obstacle. Best examples are the weaver and the tip of the spear.
It was a bit disappointing to see that there was no love for the 2nd or 3rd place finishers. The stars on the BFX medal are cool and all, but is it too much to ask for another tiny pin or something when you put in the effort? I don’t do events for patches or bling, but I do believe that achievement should be recognized.
I’ll say that 50% were good or great! 25% simply vanished in spots of shade and hoped nobody would drop dead because then they would actually have to do something. Another 25% however gave conflicting information or didn’t give important information.
For instance, at the steep cargo net climb the two volunteers didn’t tell anyone not to flip over it which resulted in me escaping injury by mere inches. At the next two laps they didn’t tell anyone not to flip either, at which point I started telling them it might be smart to say something. [The race director already said that starting with the San Francisco race, the support beams will be padded to reduce the risk of injury.]
On the caving horizontal mini ladders some people were allowed to use their feet, others were not allowed to use their feet, depending on which volunteer was present.
On the Weaver there were different rules for Elite and Open racers. At least that’s what I learned after two laps. There was no consensus between volunteers what those rules were though…
On the Platinum Rigs, putting a bell at the end instead of a random item could avoid confusion. In the absence of a bell, I would expect volunteers to repeat the instructions that the last item has to be touched.
The only change to my gear would be wearing over the calf Injinji socks instead of the ankle height ones that I had that day. Lap 4 and 5 would have been much less painful without all that dirt grinding away at my ankle and achilles.
I can’t wait for the SF race and how the changes to my gear, my race supplements, and my training will affect my performance over time. The thing that concerned me the most was that it looked like they didn’t get a ton of attendance. BattleFrog is fresh and different and less well known than Spartan Race or Tough Mudder.
This is why it’s important for us as athletes to spread the word!
Let others know what you achieved on the course, share those images on social media, wear your finisher shirts, use those discount codes. This is not about bragging, this is about showing people that there is more out there than what everybody has already done. I hope BF is here to stay and they get enough time to make the little tweaks they need to do in order to make their races even better.