Obstacle Racing, Ultrarunning, Other Thangs…

6.30.12 Firebreather Challenge Recap

June 30, 2012
Rope Mill Mountain Park
Woodstock, Georgia.

If I see an ad on the right side of my facebook page for an obstacle race, odds are I am going to click on it to check it out. If I then find out it is less than an hour from my house, I will investigate even further. If I find a groupon (or in this case a coupsicle) where I can participate for $39.00, I am in.

So that is how I found myself at the first heat for the Firebreather Challenge this past weekend.

I will focus on the positives first before I get to the not so great points.

If you wanted a fun run with some basic obstacles and not a lot of fanfare, than this was the event for you. The staff and volunteers were friendly and helpful. Also, the trails were great. A nice mix of easy and medium difficulty trail with some decent uphills and one brutal down hill towards the end of the race.  If I lived closer to this park, I would run these trails on a regular basis for training runs.

Compared to Spartan, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash, this was certainly a Mom and Pop operation.
I mean the total dollar amount spent on all obstacles would not equal much, but if you don’t care about the build quality or “wow factor” and just want some basic obstacles to go through than this event would be fine. Again, I only paid $40 so I was not expecting much.

However, when at 7:30am (20 minutes prior to starting first heat) I heard a guy yell to another that he needed help building a wall on the course, I was a little concerned. I mean, shouldn’t that be something you finished yesterday, or at worst, last night?

Bag drop consisted of a very small roped off area behind the registration table. No receipt or number for your bag, just a volunteer who placed it in this corral.

I was scheduled for a 1:00pm heat but with record temps predicted (and would later hit) of over 100 degrees, I got there early so that I could run in the first heat of the day. It turns out, there was a 7:50 am heat so I offered to jump in that one. There were only 4 other people in the heat with me-3 girls and a guy-that turned out to be the organizer’s wife and her friends.

So, here I was at the start…No cool music playing, no megaphone, just a dude with a watch saying “3, 2, 1 go”.

In the first 10 minutes of the race, I was actually in the lead.

We had to run up a hill, grab a small piece of wood, run back down, and place it in a bucket at the bottom of the hill. Then move 65 pounds of weight from one side of the sidewalk to the other. From there, we ran off down the trail and shortly thereafter came upon what one would consider the first real obstacle. This was jumping over a 6′ wall, a pile of tires, then another 6′ foot wall. We then moved on to a barbed wire crawl, except that it wasn’t barbed wire, and wasn’t even strings. It was some tarps taped down with something. (again, if you need no fanfare, this is the race for you). I still had a good 30 second lead on the other 3 when I came upon the 2nd obstacle, which were some little wooden “walls” to go over or under.  I had to slow down because from a distance it wasn’t clear which side to start on as there were “walls” on both sides of the road. This allowed the foursome to catch me.

The remainder of the race I would end up about 1 minute behind the foursome and had 3 or 4 other people pass me from later heats. I am waiting to see how I fared against all others and in my age group later this week. This brings up another rinky-dink aspect of this race. No bibs and no timing chips. When I asked about timing chips, a staff member told me “you will be crossing a river twice so we can’t give you timing chips” I have seen Spartan races and UltraMarathons with river crossings and timing chips, so I was a little put off by that. I would appreciate it if she just said “No, I am sorry we don’t have them”, but don’t pass off your cheapness with an excuse that is not true.

The remainder of the obstacles were not necessarily the most inventive or expensive, but they did well with what they had for low budget items.  Along the course, there was a sandbag carry up a small hill and back, a weight drag, the aforementioned river crossings, a short kettle bell pull up a rope, plenty of 6′ walls and a cargo net climb. I would say the cargo net climb was the most treacherous and probably my favorite obstacle.  After certain obstacles, we were handed bracelets which showed that we successfully completed the obstacle.

All of these obstacles were along beautiful trail, so it was enjoyable. There was just enough running between obstacles to keep it interesting for a runner, which I am.

The last two obstacles were a small incline wall and a 12 foot wall. The wall had some blocks to use on one side to climb up and a rope to slide down the backside. We had just come out of the water again so that made these slightly more difficult. I did not navigate the rope so well and more attempted to hang down and fell on my ass.

The finish line brought us to a small corral where someone handed me a piece of paper with the time written down on it, we then proceeded a few feet more where we gave this piece of paper to some volunteers who would compare that with our heat start time to figure out our total time on course. They were also supposed to count our bracelets, but didn’t bother.  Again, low fanfare. No water, no bananas in the finish chute. They didn’t promise any either so I wasn’t expecting it, just want to put out how smallish this race was.

Another low mark for this event would be the distance.  The website promised 6.5 miles. I did the event in 1:07 minutes. There were some that did in 55 minutes. That’s a pretty quick 6.5 miles or the course is closer to 5 miles. (I really need to purchase a Garmin. I use runkeeper on my phone but don’t want to risk water damage by bringing it on a race).

Final low mark goes for post race event and swag. All we were promised was a tshirt, however, you had to walk back to your car and drive 3 miles back to town to get the shirt. They did forewarn of this on their website and in emails but it still was really lame. Lame to have to drive to get your shirt and a lame set up once you got there. There was a local sponsor or two and some of their stuff for sale.  In terms of the finisher shirt, it is made of cotton, but the cotton is ultra thin and a color I like so I would actually wear it again.

Here is a final photo of me after I finished in front of the last wall on the course. Those bracelets I am wearing are what I got for completing each obstacle which made me in fact a “firebreather”. The only way to not be a “firebreather”, and to instead be a “firestarter” was to a) skip any of the obstacles or b) take the “short course” which was 1.5-2 miles shorter than the “long” course.

Additional photos from the actual event can be found on their facebook page.

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