Taking a page from the 80’s, former American Gladiators star; Dan “NITRO” Clark has created a race series! I can still remember as a kid watching these gladiators taking on the everyday Joe in a series of challenges. Looking back on it, I can now see the clear correlation between what those competitors encountered back then to what we were about to experience in Dan’s vision.
This race (professionally timed) was held at Stony Creek Metropark in the Metro Detroit area of Michigan. Normally a park consisting of trails, picnic areas and a pond for families to enjoy the day. Today, it was to be transformed into Dan’s twisted/sadistic version of an Obstacle Course Race. The night prior to the event presented us with a tremendous rain/lightning storm. Not quite the storm to follow a few months later that left the metro area as a disaster zone of flooding; but still one with enough fury to add some “challenges” to the course.
From the beginning, the race was organized very well; from the layout to the implementation. With the ample/close parking available from the site at the park, located very near to the main event area. A rather small main area for this event, but still met all the needs of a smaller race format. A bag check, merchandise tent (Hylete is one of the main sponsors), and a stage for a band. This IS Gladiator “Rock” N’ Run after all. From the main event area, the majority of the finishing portions of the race could be viewed by spectators. Sometimes I wonder if the obstacle-heavy areas at the end of the events are to just torture the participants, or to provide great views for the spectators!
After gearing up, it was off to the narrow starting area behind the main stage. Starting in the first “elite” wave, we were delayed due to the wrath of mother nature only a few hours prior. Volunteers were clearing the course of downed trees and branches, which kept us chomping at the bit for the order to run. The cleanup delayed our start by about 45 minutes. This allowed us time to talk about the event, and past events with fellow racers. The camaraderie amongst OCR participants is some of the best I have encountered in any sport I have been a part of. Another thing to break up the wait was Dan talking about the course on the mini stage at the starting gate. He was also showing that he had not lost much of his former stature as a Gladiator, as he demonstrated one of the obstacles we would encounter (one handed I might add, as he had a microphone in the other). A sadistic twist on the burpee that we would eventually learn about.
After the course was deemed “safe” (a laugh amongst those of us who have ran events prior rumbled through the starting field), we were off. Funneling out of the narrow starting corral, we had a little space to branch out. A good note to all race designers; open up the course for about 100 yards or more following the start to allow those back in the gates to move ahead if they start faster than those preceding them. We began to weave our way through the park and along one of the interior roads. The looks of passing cyclist and non-event runners was interesting, as this band of “unorthodox” athletes passed them by. At the same time, many sincere nods of admiration/mutual respect were present.
To get everyone with a little dirt on them, a series of over/under walls started the obstacles. Some were cautiously creeping under these walls, while the majority of us were diving to the ground, rolling under them, and continuing down the course. More traversing through the wooded area, and then to the tire jumps. A field of tires made slick by the rain from before slowed the field somewhat; with more than one participant tripping up on them.
The next foe in our way was the “wall of fame”. A 10 foot wall with a few slats missing allowing us to get a small hand/foot hold to conquer this obstacle. More trails awaited, and were met with some trench crawling. For those claustrophobic, this is not the obstacle for you. A decent length of crawling to reach daylight at the other end to move towards Dan’s next challenge. After a few twists and turns through the park, we were met by one of the volunteers barking information about our next encounter. A simple set of monkey bars; easy enough, right? Maybe it was the bellow of “save your strength” offered to me prior to starting my approach that might have tipped me off of “fun” to come. Once I had allowed the racer in front of me to hit the mid-way point; I was off. The first few rungs were simple enough; but that was not to be the twisted vision of Dan’s creation. After the first few stationary rungs, the remainder began to spin! They were incased in another roll of steel that rolled around the stationary rung. I worked my way quickly across these to help eliminate their challenge. The mid-point also forced me to use the top frame of the bars to move to the next span. The final challenge I encountered was the racer ahead of me slowing on the bars as my grip was beginning to fade. Unfortunately, he slipped from the bars, and I was able to complete the obstacle. It’s never good to see a fellow competitor drop from the bars, as you know they were trying just as hard as you to complete them.
The ringing of “save your strength” still haunting me; around the corner I discovered why. The burpees Dan was demonstrating at the starting gate presented themselves. Burpees are challenging enough, but Dan had other ideas to add some gladiator-spirit to the obstacle. The elite heat was required to do these with split cinder blocks. We were required to put our hands on each half of the split cinder block, perform the leg portion of the burpee; and upon standing, push the individual blocks overhead. That was one. Much akin to the Spartan Race penalty for failing an obstacle, we needed to complete 30 of these hellish burpees to continue on our merry way to more challenges. After painstakingly pushing through these, I jogged away tired with my hands hurting from the combination of the monkey bars, and push-ups on cinder blocks. My palms would remained bruised for about a week following these challenges (life of the OCR athlete!).
Continuing through the woods, we faced a few “simple” stream crossings. On a normal day, these would have been nothing more than a small splash of ankle deep water to not give a second thought to. Today, these “streams” became small rivers meeting most of us at the knees or above. Along with that was debris washed downstream from the storm, so dodging hidden treasures was anything but rewarding. This is another way OCR athletes look out for each other, as we were offering advice to those behind us as to the hidden “land mines” that awaited them in the murkey water.
You would think that with the burpee challenge not that far behind us, we would have some reprieve on our legs. We were wrong. Dan made this event just as much as a tough workout, as an OCR event. The next challenge was “tired out”. As the ominous name implies, this event entailed placing a large tire over our heads, and performing walking lunges around a turnaround in the park. Thankfully, the area was paved, but that was the only benefit we received to finishing this walk of torture. Another tour though the forest, and into an opening, we were faced with a dumpster conveniently placed in our way. A full-size truck bed dumpster is a tall thing with nothing to gain as a handhold for jumping. We had to relegate to a small edge on the side of the dumpster to reach the top. Once there, we had to shimmy our way along the side of the long end, to the other side. If a competitor was to have fallen into the dumpster, it would have required assistance from a fellow gladiator to escape.
If the small streams were not enough, we then continued through the woods to another larger body of quickly moving water. The swelled river was waist deep, and provided more hidden gems to locate intentionally or unintentionally. As a fellow competitor and I were about to discover. The swiftly flowing water knocked both of us into a submerged log that met us at the knees simultaneously. A great way to near the finish of this river. If that were not enough; reaching for a handhold to escape the river, my hand was met with something sharp that slashed open my finger. Another kiss from the OCR gods.
Wet, tired, and muddy; we continued out of the woods (literally, not figuratively). A long stretch of unassuming grass was met with the sign of the Gladiator Carry. Identical to the Warrior Carry of Tough Mudder events, we needed to carry our fellow competitors to glory. My fellow competitor started our trek, and I finished up the remainder. I will say, I determined that I could add more leg workouts to my training regimen, after encountering Dan’s creation of the Gladiator Rock N’ Run.
Leaving the woods, the water and the main event area came into view. Residing across that body of water was the finish of another great event, but before that could happen; Dan was not finished with us. “Ring My Bell” loomed before us as we made our way out of the stream-laden wooded areas. A standard rope climb to the satisfying ring of the bell at the top. At this point in the event, I will admit that Dan was starting to get the better of me; as my energy reserves were pretty well sapped. Grasping the rope, I began my ascent. With about fifteen feet to pay dirt, I clambered my way up. At about ten feet, I was starting to feel somewhat tired, and realized that I should have utilized the j-hook/S-loop climbing method. Hindsight is 20/20 I suppose. A quick glance down made me realize that there were only hay bales at the bottom to catch those who unfortunately had their grip fail them. Since that is something I did not want to experience; I pushed on. One last heave, and I triumphantly rang that bell. As I descended that rope, the ringing of that bell filled me with a great feeling of accomplishment. It was my first stand-alone rope climb, and I had been successful. Any OCR athlete can tell you they have experienced the same feeling of accomplishment at some point in one of their races.
Rain/higher water levels, how could this possibly impact us after everything previously encountered? Oh, that’s right; the pond that was normally waist deep, met my chest. To reach the promised land of the final stretch of Dan’s creation, we had to cross this body of water. Walking proved somewhat slow, so I called upon some of the final reserves of my energy, and swam a good portion of it. As the sound of music, and the spectators became more prevalent, I knew I was getting close to the reward of the finish.
After coming out of the water wet, but relatively clean; things were doing ok. That was not to last. The next thing was to get back in the mud and crawl under the “widows web”. This forty foot crawl under netting and mud brought back that beautiful muddy sheen I had for the majority of the event. Now that my hands were sufficiently muddy, along with my feet; we were called upon to conquer the “Beast”. A steeply slanted wall and a rope for assistance stood in the way of the ever-nearing finish. Clambering up this wall, and down the other side, we were met with the final 2 angled cargo nets to glory. After releasing from the last wrung on the bottom of the net, I turned my gaze towards the finish line. An explosion of applause from volunteers and spectators met me at the finish. With a triumphant raising of my hands for the photographer, I had conquered Dan’s brutal creation.
Another great event with great participants pushing you to drive forward at every turn, and fantastic volunteers! This event was a great use of the terrain, and the man-made obstacles. The Hylete tech shirt and medal are of great quality, and show the support given for this race series. I would recommend anyone looking for a tough workout, and an OCR; to find time to attend this event.
Overall Rating: 5/5
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