The Marine Corps Half-Marathon has been around for about 30 years. To keep up with the latest sports trends, Marine Corps Community Services Lejeune-New River started organizing local obstacle course races. Now they offer an east coast season-opening trifecta of races in what they call the USAA Grand Prix Series. Beginning each February, they offer a 12K Endurance Challenge, followed by a March 5-mile Engineer Challenge, ending with a 5-mile Mud, Sweat, & Tears mud run in April. If you signed up for all three early enough this year, you paid just $100, period. No insurance, parking, or spectator costs. Not to mention a-rockin' festival area, two free post-race beers, and lots of vendor food.
So how did we not hear about this great deal before now? Beats me. I stumbled upon it while working at Marine Corps Camp Lejeune. I found out that civilians could work out in the new Wallace Creek Fitness Center. Located just behind the MCX, this state-of-the-art, 120,000 square-foot facilities beckoned to me with its allure of real, solid, Marine Corps training. It is a LEED certified Platinum facility, opened in 2013. Built mostly from locally sourced materials, solar powered, and water reclamation highlight the reasons for that esteemed designation.
The gym is open to Marines, their families, and CAC-carrying civilians. So yeah, they train there. But the real combat training, of course, is outside. And that’s not easy to forget. Every day there was plenty of automatic gunfire and artillery rounds booming. But inside the gym, it’s a world loaded with everything you need to train for the Grand Prix series and more. This place packs a ton into that massive square footage and most of it is free. Here it is:
Salt water lap pool. A huge weight room. Cardio machines everywhere including treadmills, stairmasters, ellipticals, and arm machines. One row of treadmills included the awesome -3 to +30 degree inclines. That row lined the inside of an upstairs five-lane track. Each lap is 200 meters measured from the inside lane. At turns one and four there are some pull-up barracks. Looking over the rail of the track, there are two beautiful basketball courts. One of them also has four 30-foot rope climbs and a bunch of pegboards on the sideline. Rooms along the corridors offer things like yoga, TRX, cardio classes, and other functional fitness opportunities. In the middle of the gym is a 30-foot climbing wall with 10 routes of varying difficulty. The stairs to the upper level go through the middle of the climbing wall. The locker rooms are loaded with oversized lockers (bring your own lock), showers, saunas, and lavatories.
All of that is free. In addition, they offer other services like a really good smoothie bar, physical therapy, massage therapy headed up by the U. S. Olympic Bobsled Team trainer, and wellness and nutrition counseling. Most of these are just a few bucks each and again offered to everybody. All instructors are certified.
The gym is adults only throughout the week. But Saturday mornings it opens up for families to bring children in for family climbing adventures.
Now if you want to get dirty and sweaty and work out with the Marines who wouldn’t be caught dead in such a pristine facility, there is another, older gym up the road. Here you’ll find the HITT, the High-Intensity Tactical Training gym. Emphasis on Tactical. It’s free too, open to all, but frequented more by warfighters and people like me who think mud is cool. They’ve got bars and rigs everywhere. Big ass tires scattered all around the grounds. That is more like it.
Take your pick. The Marine Corps has what you need to get the job done. Their job, when they’re not busy protecting us out in the field, is to put on a tremendous mud run race series. Each one is a little different, designed for a different purpose. The February 12K is a brutal terrain race. Not a lot of obstacles other than the terrain. Think Palmerton with lots of mud, scree, berms, water, and swamp. When it warms up a bit in March, the Engineer Challenge comes along with a boatload of Marine engineer designed and built obstacles. These are the same engineers and same obstacles the Marines use in their tactical training courses. So you are in for a butt-whooping. The trifecta finale comes in April with Mud, Sweat, & Tears. Again it’s back to terrain, just more terrible than before. Mud so thick it steals hundreds of shoes every year. It will try to take your body too but so far, only broken souls have been left behind.
The races are held this time every year for one reason – the weather. Once spring hits, these swamps turn hot, buggy, and snaky. The venomous kind. Winter cold keeps all those nasties at bay. The course is already tough enough without mosquitoes and water moccasins. And the occasional shard of concertina wire. While that does happen by accident (the Marines are very careful to clean up the course after their tactical training) sometimes they miss something in the thick mass. Otherwise, for insurance purposes, there is no barbed wire, fires, electroshocks, ice baths, or other risks. The terrain and the obstacles are enough to test your mettle.
I rate the Wallace Creek Fitness Center a 5 for 5. Hopefully, next year Mud Run Guide will get some racers on the courses and let you know just how tough it is to train like a Marine. A big thanks to Everett Vaughn and Laura Koene of MCCS for sharing their time and facility with me.