Not long ago, I ran a Battlefrog Race with several other MudRunFun members at their inaugural championship race in Sorrento, December 2015. It was one of the most challenging races I’ve ever done, combining the usual walls, monkey bars, cargo nets and A-frame’s with jerry can carries and wreck bags. Oh and right in the middle of the carries- a rope we had to climb, a wall to hop over and balance beams too. While some of the more upper body strong athletes seemed to manage this with ease, I- a 5’6″ average size 29 year old with not much in the way of strong arms and who tips the scale at 130 lbs- tend to struggle with such obstacles. The Wreck Bag I can usually manage, but only after someone helps me hoist it over the wall, which conveniently comes in the middle of the carry when you’re already tired and struggling to maintain good form. Add to that a giant rig (one of two on course) right afterwards and by the time I cross the finish line, I’m toast.
Knowing that the carries were a mandatory part of the BFX portion of the race- Battlefrog Extreme, where you run as many laps of the roughly 5 mile course as you can throughout the 8 hour day- I was hesitant to try this next challenge. I have to pick up and carry those damn Jerry Cans HOW many times?? Then they changed the rules to mandatory completion for all obstacles on course and I thought, “Well, forget that. There’s no way I can do EVERY SINGLE OBSTACLE three plus times in a row. I can barely manage some of the obstacles now on one lap, let alone more than one.” This attitude is pretty consistent with what I heard when they first made this announcement; it was met with disbelief, shock, some anger and disappointment from the masses who thought the same as I did…no way they would be able to complete all the obstacles.
After listening to the complaint posts and ranting Facebook comments, I reached out to BattleFrog’s David Moore to get some answers, particularly in light of the first race that rolled out these new rules in D.C. First, I wanted to know who’s idea it was to change the rules and why. David told me he had been thinking along those lines for a while and discussed it with Beard- that is, Christopher Accord. Apparently a lot of people who had run BFX previously had sent multiple messages to both of them complaining about participants using the 8-count penalties that are available for the open waves to get out of completing obstacles. “I kept hearing that participants would run up, touch an obstacle, and then immediately do their 8-counts and move on,” David said. “This isn’t a long trail run, it’s an obstacle race.” He has a point. 8 counts are much easier than many of the obstacles on the BattleFrog courses, so those participants were getting an unfair advantage over their competition.
So what does mandatory completion mean on the course and how does it affect BFX participants, both beginner and veteran? “There are multiple lanes to make sure people can get through the obstacles,” David told me. “We have beginner lanes, intermediate and elite. If people want to challenge themselves, they can pick the lane they feel is at their skill level. Maybe they try the beginner lane of the rig and then the next time decide to try the intermediate. You can also receive help from other participants which differs from the elite rules.” Ah, now we’re getting to the root of most of the complaints. If participants had to do mandatory completion, how could they continue when they were tired and on their third or fourth laps? Fortunately, for those of us who don’t quite manage all the obstacles alone, there are many options. We can attempt the 12 foot wall on our own terms. If we fail, we can seek help from a teammate or fellow racer. If no one is nearby, we can use the two-by-four ‘steps’ on the beginner lane that they provide for those who need it. Some obstacles even have a ‘penalty lap,’ such as carrying a jerry can around a set distance that would take roughly the same amount of time it would take an average participant to complete the obstacle.
David says he thinks this new format will encourage more teamwork. “BFX is already a great community- if you hang out in the tent you hear people saying, ‘Anyone have some fuel?’ or ‘Can I get some tape?’ and people willingly share the supplies they brought with each other.” He also pointed out that, when people saw the new mandatory completion rules, they freaked out and jumped to conclusions (as many of us want to do, even when we know there’s a logical answer to our issues). They compared it to the elites, but there are definitely very different rules for BFX and elites. “We had some feedback about the difficulty of the races- many were saying the rigs were one size fits all. We became known as one of the more difficult races in the OCR community. Everyone wants to be challenged but feel accomplished at the same time. No one wants to leave feeling defeated.” The lanes with different difficulty levels gives athletes just that- the ability to challenge themselves at their own level and walk away feeling that amazing sense of accomplishment that made all of us veteran OCR racers want to keep coming back.
I asked him how the DC race played out- what with the new BFX rules being in play for the first time- and what kind of feedback he received from it. “Several participants enjoyed it and said it didn’t change their experience. 46 out of 52 earned their BFX medals. Of those who didn’t finish the course, they chose to stop. There were no DNF’s over the easy lanes or because participants couldn’t finish an obstacle, even with help.”
The addition of the difficulty lanes was originally for the open waves, but its effect has trickled over into BFX as well, and affects all racers now. Even the women’s elite have the option to use the intermediate difficulty lanes on certain obstacles. It betters the BFX race experience by allowing participants to take advantage of obstacles at their skill level. This is why I say that the men and women who design courses in obstacle racing every week know exactly what they are doing. They know how to create opportunities for people with very different builds to run the exact same race yet be challenged in very different ways. Even more important for the longevity of the sport, those people are sufficiently challenged to want to go home, train their butts off to improve their skills and come back for more.