Frontline Obstacle Course Race (OCR) is one of the most unique OCRs in the country. Their competitive heat has athletes racing in plate carriers (body armor) while doing obstacles in an event that honors first responders. After hearing about it for the last half-decade I finally took the long drive up there to experience it first-hand. Here are some thoughts on the weekend:
The big draw for Frontline is their numerous categories that cover their 6-mile, 30 obstacle course. This includes three competitive categories: Special Forces- mandatory obstacle completion (MOC) with a 20 lbs. vest; Endurance- a 5+ hour multi-lap MOC, no vest; and Heroes- MOC, no vest, and athletes must be a first responder. Open waves did not require a vest and are run for personal pride but are not officially timed.
The course had a mix of terrain, running through fields, single track trail, parts of a motocross track, and some small streams. Included in there were some short uphill/downhill sections. Overall, it was a great use of available terrain that kept things interesting.
Frontline was obstacle dense with a mix that was fun, challenging and inventive. There were five upper body obstacles including Valkyrie (a slightly smaller version from OCR World Championships), The Vest Collector (horizontal fire hose traverse to a low rig with unique grips from Race Ready Obstacles), and finally, 100 feet from the finish, The Kraken (horizontal PVC pipe to a rope to the signature final piece). The Kraken’s final piece kind of looks like a Twister bar from Spartan but with different-sized nunchucks instead of nice handles (see two pictures down).
Add in more upper body obstacles per lap including monkey bars (flat to incline to decline back to flat) and a board traverse (kind of like Stairway to Heaven but smaller with more boards going up and then across, reference bottom picture).
The obstacles kept coming with walls, over/unders, crawls, giant warped wall, Irish table with rope descent, double ammo can carry, double water jug carry, bucket carry, giant hurdles, vertical cargo net, slant walls, and more. The bottom line is the course was dense with obstacles making for a memorable experience.
If you’re unfamiliar with my background, I’m a US Army Special Forces soldier (reference the book Ultra-OCR Man and upcoming documentary in late 2021), so when I hear that a brand is “military” themed I tend to roll my eyes and get braced for a cheesy and over the top characterization of the military. To my surprise though, it was done very well and respectfully. A uniformed color guard presented the American flag. I shouldn’t have been surprised by how well it was done because Ed Leon, race owner, is a retired first responder with 22 years of service.
The festival area was great with vendor booths from brands like Elite Ops Energy and Berserker Coffee to name a few as well as the Frontline merchandise tent. Emcees, known well from BROCR, Jacob Bosecker, and Leah Hensley did a great job sending waves off and keeping the energy levels high.
I’ve had some friends that have attended past events and were critical of some of the obstacles/course markings. From talking to people who went multiple years they all agreed 2021 was the best version of Frontline yet. For a brand that holds one event a year, it’s harder to gain the experience of bigger companies that will hold up to dozens of events in a single year. So if you went to Frontline years ago and haven't given them a second chance, you need to come back. They did an awesome job in 2021, which I'm sure will continue forward now that they've got a good formula down for success.
Frontline is a hidden gem in the Midwest. The obstacles were challenging, fun, and unique. This was my first Frontline, but it won’t be my last. I really enjoyed it and look forward to coming back to race. The multiple categories, course changes, news obstacles, and different themes they use each year provide a lot of options for creating a new experience. I'm not even sure what category to race next year since I want to do them all. I’m honestly a little upset that I’ve known about this race for years and never signed up until 2021. I’ll be putting Frontline on my calendar from now on and building some of my other races around it. It's easy to remember because they hold it memorial day weekend every year. Honor some fallen heroes next year by walking a mile-or more like 6 miles with 30 obstacles- in their shoes.