Green Beret Challenge, an Obstacle Course Race (OCR) series that includes a normal OCR style race (Operator), a four person team challenge/race (Commando) and even endurance challenges that are 12 hours (XII) and 24 hours long (Behind Enemy Lines). However, they only run one event per weekend, and recently I got to experience the Operator near St. Louis, MO.
The venue, Asymmetric Solutions, provided a great mix of terrain including flat fields, stream crossings, steep uphill sections, some technical terrain and two long stream movements during the race. The venue had everything you could ask for to make the course harder or easier as desired for the five-mile distance of the race allowing the race director to customize the course as needed. Not surprisingly, former Green Beret, race director, and owner Mark Ballas decided to go with a challenging route. The multiple sandy stream crossings set a personal record for me as my shoes filled up more sand than any other OCR I have ever done (including Ultra-OCR).
The owner/race director, Mark Ballas, brought the pain that GBC is known for. The race felt like this: (run, heavy carry/drag, 2-3 obstacles)x5. The extended heavy carries played to the advantage of larger athletes with some of the bigger competitors taking an early lead, but the running meant you needed running speed and grip strength obstacles ensured you had a good strength to weight ratio.
My personal favorite obstacles was a rig and happy ending (the low rig). The rig is unique because instead of the traditional metal holds, it has ropes (some long, some short, some thick, some thin and some arranged in loops like a ring). The rope holds are nice because even when wet, which often happens in later waves, they don’t get overly slippery, creating a more even playing field for those involved. The low rig was also unique since it required scaling/descending a cargo net before crossing the low rig without touching the ground.
The heavy carries included sled drag (that crossed a stream), sandbag carry, double farmers carry using fabric bags, rucksack carry and the “fan favorite” yoke carry (a crossbeam and two hanging weighted bags). While all had varying types of terrain, the yoke carry required what felt like a ¼ mile movement out along a sandy road followed by a ¼ mile stream movement with the water above waist level at points. Going back to watch other athletes after the race you could see the thought bubbles above their heads that screamed “F**k Ballas!!!” as they rested, looking broken from the crushing weight of the yoke.
What was also nice was several of the obstacles were visible from the spectator/festival area. This allowed my family to see around 3-4 different parts of the course at different times. To get to the finish line athletes ran through a bus, jumped out and crossed the line, another unique touch for this venue.
The festival area was good with music to entertain everyone, BBQ for post-race food and a loudspeaker to announce awards as well as pertinent race information.
Parts I loved:
Everything about the race was great. The atmosphere, the festival, the other athletes, the obstacles, it was all fantastic. If you read through this article, just pick a paragraph and you can see what I loved about GBC.
Parts I Disliked:
The only thing I disliked was for this venue he did two competitive heats (a requirement based on the number of people and number of heavy carry objects). While I understand the decision, I’m just not a fan of it. Having two heats means athletes have to push themselves regardless of their position on the course to ensure they get the highest placement possible, which does fit into the GBC motto of #BuildingBetterHumans. However, I think most of us that race OCR frequently are used to one wave and we often forget there is another chance for a follow-on wave to make it to the age group or overall podium. Having one wave could have changed the outcome as athletes push to catch up to people or blow up as they try to outrun others. I understand the decision and the logic behind it, I just prefer to do one competitive wave when possible.
Not many races give out age group awards on the day of the race. In addition to overall awards, GBC gave out awards three deep in each age group. I personally love this because it rewards people who are pushing themselves against other athletes around their age. He also didn’t allow for double dipping (i.e. winning an overall award and an age group award), which I’m also a fan of.
You don’t have to go through a year and a half of training and deployments to get a taste of what it’s like to be a member of the US Army Special Forces often referred to as the Green Berets. Mark has brought you a taste of some of the challenges our servicemen face during their selection and training. I have done the Commando (four-person team event) before back in 2015 but this was my first individual race with GBC. My only regret is that I didn't sign up for an Operator course earlier.
If you consider yourself a well-rounded OCR athlete and haven’t signed up for GBC you need to do so right now. After all, Mark Ballas is also the race director for North American OCR Championships, so if you want to know what’s running through his head before the big race, you should experience it first hand. They create an OCR that will test your grit and you’ll walk away a better human. #GBC #BuildingBetterHumans
*Not a guarantee
Pictures provided by Amy Perperis of Strength & Speed unless otherwise noted
Kevin picture provided by LuAnn Wierzycki
John Wayne picture from GBC Facebook page
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