Last weekend saw the third annual Grit OCR event at East Walker Ranch in Santa Clarita, CA. Unlike the two previous events, however, this year's was a two-day event, with the longer, 8-mile Claw course on Saturday, followed by Sunday's shorter, 5-mile Fang course. In addition, Sunday's Fang course was run in reverse, making it a little more exciting for those running both days. Having participated the two previous years, I was excited by the idea of the race expanding to a two-day event and was eager to see what improvements the Grit team had made on both the course and obstacles since last year.
The Festival Area
This was, hands down, the best festival area yet. The placement of the start and finish lines right next to each other meant you didn't have to miss your buddy crossing the finish line, just because you were watching another take off with their heat. Smart. And the vendor and food tents set up in a row along the last stretch of the race before the finish line meant those in attendance could get a glimpse of the last few obstacles, and cheer the competitors on as they conquered each one.
Although there was no kids' race at this year's event, there was a ‘kids' area', where the young ones could play on miniature versions of several full-size Grit obstacles. Though, as someone with young children, I would love to see the return of the Grit Kids' Course, this kid-friendly play area seemed to do a decent job of bridging the gap between those who just wanted to leave the kids at home, and those who don't go anywhere without them. There was also plenty of space alongside the last few meters of the course for people to set up folding chairs or spread out blankets, where they seemed perfectly content cheering on one finisher after another. One of my favorite additions to the festival area this year was the inclusion of a local Mexican eatery. Sure, I'll take my banana and hydration at the finish line, but nothing beats a steak quesadilla or a couple of tacos to go along with your finisher beer. I, for one, hope they stick around.
If you enjoy running trails, this is a tough race to beat. The hills of Santa Clarita are naturally beautiful, and the Grit team knows how to plot a challenging course. Saturday's 8-mile Claw course basically consisted of the same 5 miles as Sunday's Fang course (though, as I mentioned earlier, it was run in reverse), plus an additional three miles, or so, on an adjacent piece of land. As luck would have it, due to a conflict the City of Santa Clarita was having with a neighboring landowner, Grit was forced to remove all obstacles (already in place) from this additional three-mile segment of the course just days before the weekend.
A tough break, for sure, but the team didn't blink an eye. Instead, they got right to work moving those obstacles to the initial five-mile segment, and, with a little creative thinking, came up with an idea: Those in the competitive heats would have to run those extra three miles with a provided ruck. Open heat athletes would have the option to do so if they chose to accept the challenge. It turned out to be such a popular segment of the race, that I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a ‘ruck mile' as part of all future Grit OCR courses. Also on the plus side, moving virtually all obstacles to the five-mile segment of the course meant that those running Sunday's version would get more obstacles for their money, which made Sunday's event both more challenging and more enjoyable.
As far as the specific obstacles were concerned, this weekend saw the return of some of our favorite Grit obstacles from past years, including Boo's Closet, Hammer Time, Yolk'd, Potassium, and Out of Gas, to name a few, plus some new and innovative obstacles, like High Striker, Hell on Wheels, and the combination of the Hardkour Carry and Flaming Legs, which, together, made for one of the more taxing obstacles of the day. And equally as impressive as the new obstacles, was the fact that many returning obstacles had seen noticeable improvements, including structural upgrades and more lanes, so as to accommodate Grit OCR's increasing number of participants. Overall, I thought the course was a perfect blend of scenic, yet challenging trail running, and a well-thought-out and innovative obstacle course. In my experience, it's fairly easy to find one or the other, more difficult to encounter them together.
This weekend's event demonstrated to me why Grit OCR is not just surviving in a tough business…they're growing. Why? Because they're always looking to improve. Because they believe in attention to detail. Because they're willing to learn from their mistakes. Because they listen to the people running the course. And because they never stop working. Period.
Sure, it helps that they have the unwavering support of family, the local OCR community, and a small army of volunteers, but we all know those things alone do not make a great OCR event. This year's race was the best yet, but more exciting than running the course was watching what this event has become, and what it has the potential to be in the future.
On a final note, I want to mention two things that often go unnoticed at larger OCR events: The volunteers and the vibe. In short, if there were awards given out to the race with the best volunteers and the most positive vibe, my money would be on Grit OCR winning both. If you're local and you haven't run this race, you're missing out. And if you're not local…well, it might be worth a little road trip next year. Like this year's first-place competitive male finisher Georgis Tzortzakis put it, ‘This race is the best-kept secret in OCR'. Folks, I think he might be on to something.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Have you done an Grit OCR?
Leave your own Grit OCR review and feedback...
This author is part of the Mud Run Crew and received a free race entry in return for an independent review. All opinions are those of the author and were not influenced by the race sponsor or Mud Run Guide.