In true Race the Reaper form, Saturday’s event did not disappoint. Oregon’s best obstacle course race kept us guessing, with changes to some of the old obstacles and the introduction of a number of new challenges, as well. This marked my 4th year running Race the Reaper, and every year I improve on some skills and find others I need to work on. This year was no exception. My team and I arrived at the Flying M Ranch with plenty of time to check in and “gear up.” Gearing up for us involves getting our race numbers and timing chips on, wrapping our lower legs – and sometimes wrists – with colorful “horse wrap” (A product meant for horses, but very effective for protecting human legs from getting too beat up from rope burn, etc. on an obstacle course,) finding the best way to carry gloves because they will be needed, and making sure all clothing is properly secured. Once geared up we made a trip to the port-a-potties and headed to the starting line. We all had our own goals and expectations for this year’s race and were ready to embark on the challenge. At 10:30 our wave headed out towards the first of many hills. About a 1/4 of a mile into the race we were met with our first surprise. A new station requiring 20 push-ups, 20 burpees, and 40 lateral hops over a beam out in the warm sunshine. I was dripping with sweat by the time we finished that challenge. Then we were on to more hills and multiple slant boards to climb up and over. I was gassed by the time we made it to the first big obstacle and was not at all disappointed that there was a bit of a backup. I was able to catch my breath while waiting to climb up to a big platform and then climb down an unruly rope ladder. Once we moved on and into the forested area, the temperatures were much more comfortable, but it was definitely a warm day. Thankfully, race organizers made sure there were plenty of water stops along the route – a much appreciated improvement to this year’s event.
One of my goals this year was to make it up at least one of the giant stair-step walls without any help. After 3-4 attempts, I finally made my way onto the first platform successfully! After a brief moment of celebration, I attempted the 2nd step, but finally had to request a little boost as I just couldn’t manage to eek out the last few inches I needed for leverage. This year one step, next year two! We continued our way through varied terrain and to the first creek crossing. The cool water was refreshing and much appreciated, even though it did make my feet a bit heavier for awhile. But, I was about to get much cooler at the highly challenging knotted rope crossing. Despite my best intentions, I and many others, ended up in the pool of water below instead of safely swinging to the other side of the A-frame structure. There were many volunteers overseeing this and all of the other obstacles. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the volunteers did an awesome job of encouraging the racers, making sure we stayed hydrated, and helping participants as needed. (More on that last point later.)
Another one of my goals was to conquer the tire wall. My two previous years involved bad luck the first time and poor planning the second, so I was determined to get past my Achilles heel this year. I will admit the wall challenged me, but I am happy to report that I beat that wall this year! Another check mark on my Reaper goal sheet for 2014.
We encountered many more obstacles including the terrain, which is made up of some killer hills. These hills can suck the life out of you and can make even the strongest runner resort to walking or even crawling up. The course also rewards you at times with shady forested areas and cool creek crossings. With both new and familiar obstacles interspersed along the way, we made our 6+ mile trek towards the finish where the final 3 of the 20+ obstacles awaited. First, we climbed up a chain-link “cargo net” onto a high platform and made our way down a rope. Second, was a giant slip and slide into a large pool of water and mud. Our last obstacle of the day was a cargo net jump and climb (see photo below.) I made it through the first 2 of those obstacles without any problem. I had just one more to go and I was done. Extremely tired from the many hills and the 19+ obstacles we had already encountered, I was still determined to conquer this final obstacle. I jumped onto the cargo net (without falling into the water) and began my climb. What I had expected to be a fairly routine climb quickly became extremely challenging. My forearms were ridiculously tired and it was getting harder to grip the ropes. I tried a variety of grip angles, but finally had to stop and let my hands/forearms rest with my arms linked through the holes in the net. I climbed a little farther and had to rest again – my hands were feeling so weak. Again I moved higher and was within reach of the beam on top. I tried to grab it and realized again that my forearms were so fatigued and I needed another break. Climbing a bit higher with the encouragement of one of my teammates and the helpful volunteer, I grabbed the rope on the other side of the beam determined to pull myself up and over. At that point I realized I no longer had the ability to do that safely. All of the previous obstacles had sapped my strength and I knew I needed my feet to be on the ground as soon as possible. My focus on conquering the obstacle changed to that of self-preservation, and I began climbing back down the cargo net. Initially, I felt extremely disappointed that I would even consider that option, but my body was screaming that it was done. I took a few steps down the cargo net feeling my grip getting ever weaker. Without warning, my grip was gone and before I even realized it, I was submerged in the water below. Talk about a shock! The volunteer was immediately beside me offering help as I pulled myself out of the water. He was so concerned and I tried to indicate to him and my teammates that I was OK as I lay on the ground trying to catch my breath. The volunteer continued to talk to me and ask me questions, which I’m sure I didn’t answer because I couldn’t focus on anything he was saying. I was too busy focusing on getting myself back up on my feet to finish. In retrospect, I should have thanked him for his help, but I wasn’t my usual self at that point. Once I knew I was fine, I headed over toward my waiting teammate and made my way – completely drenched and covered in mud – to the finish line. Exhausted but uninjured, I was happy to have had a good run – despite my dramatic fall on the final obstacle.
As I mentioned earlier, many of the obstacles at Race the Reaper change each year, so you can’t truly plan for what you will be encountering. But, that’s the beauty of this race. It keeps me working hard, trying new things, and it motivates me to improve. Number one on my list of things to work on for next year: my grip strength and endurance!