Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sometimes Being a Smartass Can Lead to an Extraordinary OCR Experience - BattleFrog at Pittsburgh 2015

To paraphrase an old Jim Croce song:

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Pain

So, I've never been particularly good at NOT doing any of these things.  The Pain here, aka Dewayne Montgomery, is Coach Pain...the exceptional motivator for BattleFrog Series and one of my personal favorites at the OCR (obstacle course racing) start lines. Bear in mind then, if you're messing with the man who's the Voice of BattleFrog, a Navy Seal inspired OCR race, be prepared to pay the price for your insolence.

Let me go back briefly to the beginning.  At the Tough Mudder in Western, NY, I injured my shoulder.  Now the smart thing to do would have been to settle for a couple of great days volunteering, a morning of Elite Marshaling and move on.  But I had heard from one of the volunteers during the week about the mines...and I really wanted/needed to see the course as well.  Well, I did mention my capacity for 'smartness' earlier, didn't I?

After a bit of last minute waffling after the volunteering, I was set on getting out there....arm sling and all...just to do what I could and enjoy a beautiful afternoon.  But when I got to the starting corral, people were just heading out 1, 2 or 3 at a time...apparently the volunteer wave was already gone.  When my volunteer leader asked the Coach and Beard whether I should just go, Coach said basically, sure...just go out whenever you're ready.

That's where it all began [editor's note - start your video recording now].  Naturally, like anyone would, I walked up to Coach and said "What...just go start?  No send motivational speech...just go ahead?"  Not a moment's hesitation, he looked me right in the eye and said "Come with me!"  He flipped his head-mic down and we headed for the starting line. It's all fun and games until you realize you just poked a tiger....and you're on the wrong side of the cage.  It had that feeling of being caught in a rip current at the beach...but no way to swim sideways to relative safety.  This was obviously not going to end well...for me.

Once we got there, he had the music start and proceeded to call "everyone within the sound of my voice" to come to the start line right now.  The starting corral was notoriously empty...except for moi (which is French for 'oh s**t' I think).  But the speech he made, off the cuff, was so great it's a shame that no one did get it on video.  I know it was partly to teach me not to play with he used it as a way to motivate the people that had gathered...just like he does at every starting gate. 

After a few minutes, he gave the go ahead and I was on the course, having the privilege of a personal start speech from one of the best in the business.  But the speech wasn't just a sendoff, it was a challenge to those people around to join me and help me get through the tough parts of this course.  And before I was out of the first mud hole, there was Nick, standing up on the next mound to give me a hand.  So, with my new found course guardian, we took on this grueling venue...and this one was everything I expected from BattleFrog and the terrain here at Mines and Meadows.  

The first sign that I may have chewed off a little too much was an almost vertical rope-assisted climb up a dirt trail.  Fortunately it was actually easier than it had looked from a distance, although one-handed technique was a bit challenging.  After that we settled into a long, slow slog through frequent knee deep mud bogs and long rambling trails and flowing creeks.  Even helping a racer with their wreck bag carry on a particularly sticky section of mud.  Somewhere along the way though, I realized I was finally experiencing what I've read and heard about so often in OCR.  The feeling when you are doing a race as a team.  Staying together...working together...making sure everyone gets through...and enjoying the hell out of an already great race experience.

Then, as we worked our way in and out of one of those creeks, two more people came up on us...traveling back from the finish.  At first I thought they were going the wrong way, but it turned out that Dayton and Dana had decided to come as well.  I guess to give Nick a hand dragging my carcass back to the festival area when the time came.  Now we really had a team going!  Without a doubt, this was the greatest OCR experience I've ever had.  For the rest of the course we walked and talked...mostly about OCR and running, go figure!  And also about each other.  I learned about things like hashing, which is apparently a drinking club with a running problem.  And about trail treasure..which we surprisingly came upon on this course...although we did have to return it to BattleFrog after all.

In the end though, our team traversed the rest of the course.  Including more mud, the mine (spectacular...and cold!), the Normandy jacks and a mud slicked, three tier near vertical climb that I would never have made through (safely) without my course angels.  We ( 'team') even worked with another couple still on the course at that vertical climb and we traveled with them through the Normandy jacks too.  

I also chose to tackle the vertical wall climbs...which I'd been staring out from my tent and plotting against for days.  Not to mention the final delta ladder...which again, I had been contemplating all week on how to mount...not to mention whether I should.  Pretty certain I would have passed on all of those alone.

So now, for the incredible, first-time experience of team OCR racing, I want to offer my heart-felt thanks to my new OCR friends...Nick, Dana and Dayton!!!  And my thanks to Coach Paine...without whom, none of this would have happened!  Like most things, you can know a thing intellectually, but you can't really understand it until you experience it for yourself.  Someday I look forward to another round together and we can share more of our recent conquests!!  

I also want to give a shout-out and a thank you to Tina and Lyle and Noah and his wife.  On my walk back to the campsite after the race, I passed by their campsites next to the venue.  One thing led to another and before I knew it I was enjoying the best meal I'd had on the road for the three weeks I was out.  Not to mention some more OCR and ATV stories.  Not to mention some about Pennsylvania coal mining.  Tina is OCR while Noah is an avid ATV rider. Big, big thank you to all and just another example of the spirit of OCR and the outdoor community!!

Do you race with a team?
Tell me about your experiences in OCR? 

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