The collective conscience of the obstacle racing world is certainly focused on the big national and international race series like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. For most parts of the country and beyond those large series make one stop a year in an area before moving onto the next part of the country. For obstacle racing enthusiasts this leaves another fifty or more weeks to fill with other events.
Those other fifty weeks are the reason that the small independent obstacle race series are critical to the longevity of obstacle racing in North America and beyond. FIT Challenge in Cumberland, Rhode Island is one such event filling the gaps for the obstacle racing enthusiast. The event started in by OCR enthusiast Robb McCoy has continued to be a premier event in New England.
McCoy a history teacher in North Attleborough, Massachusetts spends his weekdays helping mold the minds of the future generation. However, one look into the back room in his top floor apartment in an old Victorian home, it is apparent his other passion is obstacle racing. McCoy has nearly 100 medals neatly placed on hooks next to his desk which display FIT Challenge awards and achievements nestled next to photos of his two children.
On the back wall, are small shadowboxes commemorating each FIT Challenge event with the event medal, participant numbers, and date. Spending just a minute in the room, it is clear that McCoy's passion as a racer rivals that of a race director. McCoy and I first spent time together at a Spartan Race in Hawaii last year. During this period he talked about history and being a high school football coach. It was then he explained his vision of obstacle racing and developing FIT Challenge.
FIT CHALLENGE Founded 2013
FIT Challenge began in August of 2013. McCoy saw a need for a quality event in New England that was more than some hay bails and a few walls. He contacted Diamond Hill State Park in Cumberland, Rhode Island only a few miles from his home and a favorite training location. From there FIT Challenge was born. FIT Challenge is built on three principles – Fortitude, Integrity, and Toughness (FIT) – these have been the driving principles from the beginning for McCoy.
McCoy outside of the history teacher has always been interested in health and fitness and involving the whole community. He has worked as a coach, personal trainer, and tries to instill an active lifestyle into his kid's lives. Upon driving up to McCoy's house, he pointed out the park next to his home and talked about riding bikes with his son there, playing tag, and swimming in the nearby community pool.
Over the last couple of years, McCoy has continued to grow his FIT Challenge event slowly. Unlike many companies in the OCR world, McCoy is not looking to take his brand beyond the one venue. He believes in community and attending his event it is clear that he has developed a small race for the whole family.
Multi-Lap and Unique Awards
Where FIT Challenge stands out from many of the other independent race series is the multi-lap option for participants. McCoy himself has always been a fan of running several laps on the same day, maximizing his obstacles. The marquee heat of his race is not an elite heat but instead the multi-lap heat. The multi-lappers are the first to head out on race day.
Each participant is awarded a handmade wooden block for each lap beyond three that they achieve. McCoy himself makes each of these awards in his father's toolshed a few miles from his house. On Friday, before the race, we stopped at McCoy's parent's house where his dad, a true New Englander, was blowing leaves in the backyard. As we walked to pick up a few more banners and all the awards, I walked by a pile of sawdust left from cutting the blocks of wood. A worn brand was sitting in the toolshed next to a few “off awards.”
Throughout the weekend, I would continue to see the personal touches McCoy infuses into FIT Challenge. In many ways, FIT Challenge is a reflection of who Robb is as both an athlete and person. At the venue, over forty obstacles would be nestled into the woods surrounding the start and finish area. Many of the obstacles were your standard fare for an OCR racer; walls, nets, rigs, pegboard, and double overs.
However, what makes FIT unique are not the obstacles themselves but the placement of them. Many of the obstacles were strapped to the trees, making many of the wall “floating” adding a unique twist on a standard obstacle.
McCoy has created strategic partnerships with Larry Cooper (designer of The Destroyer Obstacle) and Lauren Casavant (PursuEVENTures kids obstacle race series) to create a local event with world class obstacles and a kids experience, unlike any other event. McCoy and Casavant created a first in OCR history this fall, creating a kids course that mirrored the adult course (only shorter) with the last quarter-mile matching kids obstacles next to adult obstacles including mini-destroyer and kids rig attached to the adult lanes. These partnerships are what elevate this small race series into an event that draws many of the best in New England to race.
I woke up on race day in the back room of his apartment. He had given up his bedroom and opted to sleep on the couch opening his home to nearly fifteen racers strewn about. McCoy knows the costs associated with race travel and frequently opens his home to friends and racers packing his two bedroom apartment with race enthusiasts.
When I arrived at the venue, McCoy was everywhere, from greeting athletes, giving race briefs, soliciting feedback from racers, and congratulating athletes as they crossed the finish line. The smile on McCoy's face spoke volumes. He was in his element and all the athletes felt the experience.
As a testament to the quality of the race, Josh Fiore, who finished the 3rd team at World's Toughest Mudder only a week before FIT Challenge. While Fiore, still recovering from his 90-mile race, still made the trip to FIT not to race but to cheer on multi-lap athletes, coach them to reaching new personal records, and became an unofficial pit crew for the day.
As I walked around the race venue, a clever set up with 95% of the obstacles within a 5-minute walk from the start and finish on this 5K course for me; it was like “old home week.” Many of the friends I first gained in obstacle racing dating back to 2010 make the trip to support McCoy's race. Many mentioned that FIT was one of there must do races of the fall and a perennial favorite.
Walking around it became apparent why FIT Challenge is successful. The family-friendly event draws about 1000 – 1500 participants each event. It is a combination of challenging – yet possible obstacles and is accessible to a range of skill levels. As one mother said, “I feel comfortable letting my 10-year old run around the course all day, have fun, and know she is safe.” I felt this during the race. Even an outsider to the OCR Community would feel welcome at FIT Challenge. A testament to the fantastic community of New England obstacle racers which attend McCoy's race.
While there are many obstacle races for participants to choose from in North America and beyond. Races like FIT Challenge hold to the essence of what obstacle racing is all about; community, challenge, and creating better humans. For anyone looking to see what obstacle racing felt like in the early days of the sport, FIT Challenge is a perfect example of what the OCR community is about, except with better obstacles.
I agree that the survival of the smaller, independent ocr races is crucial to the sport. I have completed the FIT Challenge five times, and it is one of the races I really look forward to each spring and fall. Robb is a great guy who really cares about the sport as well as the people who take part in it. And the FIT Challenge is no joke. It will definitely challenge you! I recommend it to any ocr enthusiasts looking for a fun and challenging race.