The most intense way to check out a new to the west coast obstacle race series is to do as many laps of their course as possible. That's exactly what BattleFrog Xtreme (BFX) is all about: a special category for the crazies that want to be on course all day long and compete to see who can complete the most laps in the allotted time (8:15am-last lap starting before 2:45 pm). This weekend I took first place overall with seven laps (51.3km, 31.8mi). BFX Vegas was my second BFX, so this review/recap is geared towards people considering trying a BattleFrog and people trying to do better at multi lap events like BFX. If you're interested in BattleFrog but aren't interested in the race recap, feel free to stop reading after Lap 1.
BFX Las Vegas Registration/Pre-Event
The event was set at a relatively public park in North Vegas, so parking was abundant, and the venue didn't require a long drive from anywhere. The lot was less than a quarter mile from registration, with small but okay signage to guide you. They do the classic Spartan thing of post your bib number on a wall then you get your registration packet based on bib number. BFX starts right after the elites, so we had zero problems with lines at registration. My wife signed up as a spectator onsite for $20 (credit card accepted), which is a semi-standard for OCRs.
For BFX participants, BattleFrog sets up a special tent to store bags and gather with fellow crazies. BFX is a smaller group (30-60 people), so it's feasible to hang out and meet new people before the event. The elites go off at 730am; then we get a briefing to go over rules and practices at 745am. Be prepared to hold planks and push-up position for a few minutes during that session.
Before starting, I made sure to get all my gear and body prepared for 6-7 hours of running. For me that includes long red tights (my signature piece), calf compression, mid thigh injinji socks, biking gloves, long compression shirt for sun exposure and a Weeple/SISU buff for sun exposure and dust protection. I opted for my Merrell all out terrain shoes that are best for train runs (didn't end out being necessary). My pre-race routines include generous servings of Vaseline on my pinky toes, heels, manly portions, nipples and latissimus dorsi. I didn't plan on carrying a pack, so no need for lube in areas hit by straps. I drank enough water to pee clear, but not enough to need to go constantly. I had a nice, simple balanced breakfast (milk, oatmeal, sweet potato, granola bar) and drank some Tailwind as we were waiting to start. I made the huge mistake of leaving my Tailwind at home, so I used Tailwind from my friend Melissa “Sharkbait” Dugan and mixed it all up right before we started (more on that later).
Lap 1 (Summary of every obstacle and techniques)
Before starting, we learned that it was someone's birthday, so they called out the oldest and youngest male and female to hold a plank and the birthday girl to hold a squat as we sang happy birthday. We had one late comer, who earned his BFX wristband with a few pushups and planks.
Coach pain gave us a great speech about how BFX is an experience chosen by the few. He was great at setting the stage for the intense course and great community that we were about to take part in. I didn't get the feeling that the atmosphere was overly macho or people trying to be the best. I got the sense that we were about to embark on something hard and that we'd have a great time doing it. I wouldn't say that he's as inspiring as Sean Corville of Tough Mudder, but he's more inspiring than the speeches that I've heard at the other OCRs that I've done.
As we went off, I chose what I call a “comfortably moderate” pace. That's slower than “comfortably hard” that I would do for a marathon and faster than my easy runs. For those of you interested in numbers, that's probably a low 7 min per mile pace. As someone who's done a bunch of OCRs in the Southwest, I'm pretty well known as a distance runner, so I wasn't surprised that I was in the top of the pack, but I was surprised that there were around ten people, at least, matching my pace.
We hit the first obstacle quickly (over a 6ft wall, then through walls) about 400m from the start and made short work of that. Walls are bread and butter at these types of events. The second obstacle was slanted wall, another 200m away. It's an 8ft-ish wall that's slanted away from you, so you can partially run up it then grab the top and hoist yourself over. They were clever and placed it at the top of a mini hill, so it was harder to get a running start. With a little bit of energy, I could get a couple of good steps up the slope of the wall and get over the edge without much trouble.
In about 100m we got to the next classic obstacle: Wreck Bag Carry. Both men and women carry a 50lb sandbag because men are good at heavy things, and women's hips have the strength to carry extra weight (think babies). About a quarter into the carry, there's a 4ft wall that we had to navigate without letting the bag touch the ground. It's a clever way to make a carry more interesting, but it's not hard. This obstacle is where the pack started separating. As an ultrarunner, I insist upon power walking this obstacle. The others around me started doing a mini-jog and started making good separation on me. I kept telling myself that the event is 6+ hours long, and I should catch up to the people starting too fast in time, but it's always hard as a competitive person to just watch people disappear into the distance.
After a quick jaunt through the park, we made it to a Cargo Net A frame that's pretty standard for BattleFrog and Spartan. The cargo net wasn't taught, so as you made it past the support bars, your foot could get caught as the net moves under your weight, making a little extra challenge. Since you're climbing up and looking down, there's also a fear of heights that you need to overcome.
At this point, there were at least 5-6 men in front of me, and a friendly person named Robin running right on my hip. We cruised at my comfortably moderate pace to the next obstacle (another six ft wall) then BattleFrog's version of inverted wall. Inverted wall is an 8-10ft wall that's slanted towards you. The main differences between the various versions of inverted wall are what the side supports and planks on the underside. At BattleFrog, the side supports aren't helpful to shimmy up as they are at Tough Mudder's Skid Marked. I get over this one by making a little hop to grab the ledge, then using the lower most plank on the wall as a foot hold to hoist myself over. With help from that foot hold, I can get an arm than a leg over the edge and slide down the far side of the wall. Tip: when you hit the ground on the other side make sure to bend your knees. It's a great place to turn an ankle or twist a knee.
Next we made it to a signature BattleFrog obstacle: the jerry can. These are two 20L water jugs (for men) that you need to trek at least a quarter mile. Women have a much lighter option. They're not 100% full, but they've got to be at least 40lbs each (20L is 44lbs). I had so much trouble with these at BattleFrog Los Angeles three weeks ago, so I had been practicing this obstacle using 5-gallon water jugs (cheap and great for grip training). The tip I received was to do short bursts of walking with the jugs. If you go until you can't hold them, then you need to rest more between bursts. If you jog, the bouncing taxes your grip even more.
They made the jerry can carry a tad more interesting by placing a wall in the middle that you had to go under. If you noticed earlier, the “over” and “through” wall usually come with an “under” wall. In this case, the “under” wall was migrated over to the jerry can. In fact, this wall was great because it gave a psychological target to carry towards, and it forced a break to put down the cans. The far side of the wall was shady as well, so you escaped the hot sun for a bit.
At the end of the jerry cans, I noticed that my friendly partner Robin was next to me. I encouraged him that he was keeping a good pace. He replied by saying that he figured that sticking with me meant that he would be at least on the top 3 podium finishers. This confirmed my thinking that the people in front of us were starting fast, and gave me some companionship along the way, which is always welcomed.
Next we made our way under a cargo over-crawl that we'd do later and found ourselves at the first Platinum Rig. BattleFrog is famous for hard and interesting rigs. This rig had a bunch of different rings and ropes and looked totally do-able. Having done a BFX before, I knew that I could do ten man-makers (similar to a burpee) much faster than I could make it through a rig like that, so I attempted the obstacle (aka touched it) and opted for man-makers. I also knew that rigs would fatigue my grip more, and that jerry can only gets harder as the day goes on.
After the man-makers, we made it up and down a shale hill, to try to get at least some elevation gain on this flat course. I opted to walk over the rocks because they were large, loose and I didn't walk to turn an ankle.
Relatively soon, we found ourselves at Wedge Wall. This is a bouldering obstacle, where you've got a set of bouldering hand holds and a wood plank across the bottom (with breaks) on a wall that's slightly slanted towards you. I picked up bouldering with some of my climber friends last year, and try to boulder at least once a month, so this wasn't hard for me. My technique is when I'm reaching for the next hold; I skip a hold. I then bring my trailing hand up to the hold that I skipped and reached further. That way I avoid the awkward practice of trying to get two hands on the same hold. When I do it that way, the breaks in the foot plank weren't a big deal.
Then we came up on the rope climb. At this event, it was a straight rope climb instead of doing fancy stuff before or after the rope climb. Rope climbs are not my strong point because I didn't learn how to climb them when I was little, and I don't have huge upper body strength. I opted to man-maker out of it this lap, and Robin climbed it, to get a little ahead of me. I did about five man-makers in the time it took him to climb it and get on his way.
By the time we made it to the next obstacle, 60 degrees, I was back up with him. In my opinion, ten man-makers isn't enough of a penalty to skip obstacles. Sixty degrees is like inverted wall, but there are metal bars that you climb instead of a contiguous wall. That means that you can climb it like a slanted ladder, and use the foot holds as leverage to jump from so that you can hoist yourself over the top bar.
As we finished that obstacle, I got the sense that Robin was thinking we were running too slowly because he sped up a bit and left me behind. Mentally, I reassured myself that my pace was good, and I shouldn't be tempted to follow.
Next we came up to the ladder wall. This is essentially a pair of 12ft walls with large planks that you can climb like a ladder. To do it quickly, you should only put one foot on each level, and jump off the far side whenever you feel safe. If you're not going for speed, this is more a fear of heights obstacle than anything.
After a little jog around, we made it to the 12ft rope wall, which is unique to BattleFrog in my experience, although it is similar to Balls to the Wall from Tough Mudder. This is a 12ft wall with a rope on either side. What I do is use the rope to hoist myself up to the first foot hold. The next foot hold is too high to do the same thing again, so what I do is make a little hop to grab the top of the wall. I pull hard and swing my leg up to the next ledge and use my hamstring/heel to help pull me the rest of the way up. On the far side, I lower myself in a controlled fashion then jump off the wall.
The next obstacle came in about 300m and was balance beam and delta ladder. Instead of balance beam being thin planks that you walk down long-ways and have trouble with balance, they were rotated 90 degrees. It was just a raised walk on your toes. Delta ladder is to ladder wall as 60 degrees is to inverted wall. It's three or four horizontal metal bars that you climb and over.
After another 300m or so, we hit the second Platinum Rig. In true BattleFrog form, this one was much harder, including a bar slanted up and a cargo net that you needed to climb down then up. I took one look at it and decided to man-maker. I attempted (aka touched) the obstacle and took my man-makers.
After a short run out, back then out again, we made it to the Monkey Bars. This is a staple of OCRs and for good reason. The bars were on an A frame, like Funky Monkey from Tough Mudder, so you climbed up first then had to climb down. The unique part of these bars is that they're not fixed to the structure, so they will rotate when you (or anyone else) moves from bar to bar. That's a little bit of a mind trip, but as a veteran OCR participant, you get very comfortable with monkey bars of all types.
Very quickly we came upon the only mud and water on course. There was a water pit that was up to my waist, and then a crawl under wires (not barbed) in mud, then another water pit. The mud wasn't overly messy, and there were not huge rocks hiding to stab your knees (yay!).
Just after that, we came upon BattleFrog's main slide/water obstacle. There's a platform that you need to climb. What I do is grab the taller hold and put my foot side ways on the lower hold. I then pull myself up to grab the top of the wall. I repeat the process to get to the top of the platform. Then it's just a fun slide down a tube (feet first) into a pit of water.
Very quickly we came to the cargo over-crawl that we ran under earlier. This was unexpectedly hard because the cargo net wasn't taught. Once you made it past a strut, your weight would make the cargo net sink where you were, so you needed to readjust your strategy a lot, and figure out transitions over those struts. First we climbed a slant, then across a flat portion, and then down a slant. I did this slowly and carefully, trying to skip at least one hold every time I put my feet down to not take too long. In later laps, I learned to roll sideways across the flat and downhill portion, which made everything go so much faster.
The penultimate obstacle was a classic 8ft wall. It's easier than the 8ft Spartan and Tough Mudder walls because there's a handy foothold about 6ft from the top. What I do is jump to grab the top, then put my feet on the foothold (I'm 5ft 9, so I can reach.). I jump using the foothold and make it the rest of the way over.
After a short little run, we make it to the finish and the Tip of the Spear, which is an epic and crazy slip wall with ropes and holds. Both in LA and here, I look at the three panels of craziness and say that I can do ten man-makers in a fifth of the time it'd take me to even try that. I attempt (aka touch) the obstacle and man-maker out.
Lap statistics: 50 minutes for 4.56mi (7.38km). My thought: on pace for at least seven laps in 6.5 hours, so I could start my 8th lap before the cut off time. Those guys in front of me are surely going way too fast.
Lap 2 & 3
I take the elite and BFX transition to find myself in the BFX tent. I sit down in a chair quickly and try to down an 8oz bottle of Tailwind; only I learn that I stacked two packets of Tailwind into 8oz, so it is way too strong. I had some other bottles with pure water or less-strong mixture, so I tried to dilute it from there, but it didn't work out too well. I took a salt pill and went on my way. Total pit time: 2 minutes.
Over this lap, I kept my comfortably moderate pace going, and learned to optimize my technique on obstacles. I started doing the rope climb to save a little time. I started taking off my gloves for the jerry can and the monkey bars, but keeping them on for everything else. Gloves save my skin on the many walls and rocks, but compromise grip strength on some things, so I tuck them in my red tights before I hit true grip obstacles.
I don't think I passed anyone on lap two until I hit the pit stop. Lap 2 split: 50 minutes. I saw two of the people in front of me eating and talking to others. I did my thing of trying to drink my over-strong Tailwind, then chasing it with whatever I could find. Capped it off with a salt pill. Pit time: 2 minutes, for a total of 1:44 elapsed since the start.
I didn't catch anyone else on the third lap till I hit the pit stop again. Lap 3 split: 50 minutes. I saw two people in front of me pitting, so I did my quick thing. I was told that there were two people in front of me, and they were about 4 minutes ahead. I thought: striking distance. I said that the people in front of me were “either superhuman or they're going to slow down.” There was 2:34 elapsed, so I knew I needed real calories and substance in me, so I drank a tad more Tailwind and took a bite of a granola bar. I asked my wonderful wife to find some free water and fill up the bottles I had finished. Pit time: 2.5 minutes.
Lap 4, the horrible lap.
This is where my poor Tailwind planning caught up with me. I had been taking in enough salt and calories, but not enough free water. I was getting nauseous. I ended up spitting up the granola bar that I took a big bite of and felt horrible. I took extra water at the water stations to try to get my salt/water balance in gear. My pace took a hit due to nausea. I felt rough during the lap, but it slowly got into balance by the end. I looked pretty rough. Lap 4 split: 70 minutes.
When I was in the pit, my wonderful wife had filled my bottles with free water, so I was able to figure out the correct balance. I skipped the salt pill and had a couple swallows of my strong Tailwind concoction. I saw one of the people in front of me, Chris, at the pit stop and learned that the guy in front of me, who we affectionately called “Tattoo guy,” was again 2 minutes ahead of me. (Tattoo guy's real name is Michael Bell, which I learned later. Michael was racing shirtless, and he has some body tattoos. He's newer to OCRs, so people didn't know his name.) I realized that he had slowed down almost as much as I did. The people were watching told me that he looked rested and good, and I knew that I looked rough. As people updated me, I commented that “it's now a war of attrition.” Both of us were tiring out, so it was going to be a long hard slog. Either way, I got out of the pit, set to try to stay consistent. Pit time: 2 minutes.
Lap 5 & 6
As I went out, I didn't see anyone in front of me other than people that I was lapping. I made sure to encourage my fellow BFX'ers and ask what lap they were on. We were all out there struggle in the sun, so it's fun to see people and give a few words of encouragement. That's what makes the community so supportive.
I ended out seeing “Tattoo guy” on the switch back of the Wreck Bag Carry and marked the time he finished. I waited till finished the same, and saw that I wasn't 2 minutes behind. I was 4.5 minutes behind. He had slowed down precisely as much as I did, which meant if I sped up or stayed consistent, I had a chance. Unfortunately, I didn't see him at all throughout the rest of the lap. I didn't even see him at the end of the jerry can. I was convinced that he had sped up and left me behind. Lap 5 split: 65 minutes.
To my surprise, when I got into lap 5, I was told that he had just left. That meant that I had closed at least some distance to him. I felt like my electrolyte balance was much better, and I was doing well. My face showed that I was getting tired, and my legs were feeling it. The miles were starting to rack up, and I knew that at some point during lap six we'd hit the marathon point. Either way, I drank free water, some strong Tailwind and downed a salt pill. I had just gotten nauseous from too much salt, but I was careful not to swing to the other extreme of too little salt. Pit time: 60s.
I went out strong, with the thought that if I was going to catch “Tattoo guy,” I needed to put the work in this lap. I couldn't rely on going fast the last lap because my closing speed is not good. I'm an ultrarunner, so if you stay with me till the ending sprint, you've got an advantage on me. That's why I break people with consistent but unrelenting paces.
I saw him again at the switchback of the Wreck Bag Carry, but this time, he wasn't quite as far ahead of me. I still walked, but I make sure to keep a pep in my step. When I made it around to the jerry can, I saw that he wasn't too far ahead. I marked on my watch when he finished, then checked again when I finished. 2:30 behind. I needed to run 30 seconds per mile faster for the rest of the lap to catch him. That was going to be hard, but I was going to try. I kept on seeing him in the distance as I got to the first Platinum Rig, then again at the Wedge wall and the rope climb. I noticed that I was catching him slowly. After each obstacle, I could see him in the distance getting closer and closer.
Finally, we got to just before the balance beam. My watch beeped that we had just hit the marathon point as I came up on him. Marathon split: 5:26:00.
I told him awesome job and asked his name, Michael Bell. I told him that we had just passed the marathon point and kept on going at my pace. He looked tired and weary from all the miles. In the meantime, I got the mental boon of passing the first place person, and he got the mental challenge of getting passed late in the race after leading for so long. That helped me keep up my steady pace and made it hard for him to keep up. I noticed that he dropped off a bit at that point, but I always assume that people can catch up, especially on strength obstacles where I am weaker.
I finished the lap and got to my regular tactic of downing fluids and a salt pill. Lap 6 split: 60 min. I looked at my watch and saw that I had 50 minutes left till the time cutoff. There wasn't any way that I could speed up and do a 50-minute lap to get the record of 8 laps in this format of BFX. Knowing that I only had one more lap, I knew that nutrition wasn't going to matter much, so I didn't spend much time in the pit. I thought Michael was going to be close behind me, so I went off without much ado. Pit time: 60s.
Lap 7: Coasting
Mentally, my goal for this lap was to keep up my competitive pace at least until the jerry can. Once I was past the jerry can, I knew that I had limited strength obstacles in front of me, so I would be in the clear from a competition standpoint. When I finished the jerry can, I didn't even see Michael starting the jerry can, so I knew I was in the clear. At that point, I just coasted till the finish. As I got past the cargo over pass, I sped up just for fun to finish strong.
Lap 7 split: 60 min. Total time: 6:45. Total distance: 51.3km (31.8mi).
When I came to the finish, I joked to ask if I could go on to an 8th lap even though I was 15 minutes past the cutoff of 2:45 pm. They said no, so I went through the finish, feeling good. There were lots of people there to congratulate me and have fun.
I stuck around the finish to root on my fellow BFX'ers and congratulate them on their good work. At the end of the day, there were four guys that completed seven laps on the weekend. That's awesome that so many people stepped up to match that record of most laps completed in the 8k multilap format of BFX. The top female, Natalia Guzman, got six laps in, which has to at least be a tie of a record, if not a new record. The short, flat course helped that to happen, but it also shows that the west coast has great ultra-athletes.
BattleFrog does some special photo ops for the male and female winners of BFX. Those were fun, but it felt funny not to recognize the second and third place finishers. I would have enjoyed at least a podium photo op of finishers, even if the second and third place finishers don't receive anything special.
Summary and TL;DR
I really enjoyed BattleFrog and how they are different from the other OCR brands out there. I think they challenge us in new and different ways. Their atmosphere is very supportive and is a good balance between competition and community. The multi lap lessons that I learned from this experience are:
– Don't start too fast. Six to seven hours is a long time. Choose a reasonable pace and stay consistent or speed up if that pace was too slow.
– Plan out your nutrition and don't forget to mix your Tailwind well. Nausea tells you that you've got too many electrolytes, and cramps tell you don't have enough. Nausea is easier to recover from than cramping. Keeping pit times low are critical to doing well at multi lap events.
– Save your grip. Gloves will help keep the skin on your hands, and you can remove them for obstacles that aren't appropriate for them.
Strava Tracking Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/505106178
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