As the dawn light settled into the hills surrounding the Mines and Meadows ATV park in Wampum, PA on September 27th, the fog began to lift, revealing the most unique obstacle course ever created. Heavy favorites Ryan Atkins and Corinna Coffin came to this BattleFrog Series race fresh off of their respective 2nd place finishes at the Spartan World Championship only one week before, but this course had some surprises that might not make it a sure-win for either racer. Though not racing due to injury, elite OCR athlete Laura Messner sang an inspiring National Anthem following the BattleFrog’s signature Flag Presentation, in which Old Glory is honored while active military members and veterans gather around a memorial for lost comrades. The hushed crowd stood in awe and reverence as they remembered the fallen, then broke into cheers and hooyahs as the competitors approached the starting line.
With CoachPain Dwayne on the mic pumping up the athletes, the last few hooyahs came through the crisp fall air and the race was on. Immediately, Ryan Atkins moved to the front with mountain runner Jordan McDougal right behind. Atkins set a blistering pace even through the opening obstacles and down into a treacherous creek bed for the first mile. After some trail running, Atkins emerged from the woods and turning the corner, faced the mine. A mile of underground running, swimming, and bone chilling cold awaited as he plunged into darkness.
The chase vehicle lost sight of Ryan in the mine, but here’s what the athletes encountered: After receiving a headlamp at the mouth of the mine, their hot breath mixed with the cold air, and obscured the only view they had as the steam floated up through the dim beam of their LED headlamp. Racers splashed through puddles, negotiated obstacles, and eventually came to an underground lake, where they were granted a stars and stripes inflatable tube as their only reprieve from the cold dark water. As lifeguards and volunteers stood watch over the swimmers, they navigated the subterranean waters by following glow sticks around a maze of buoys and jagged rock walls. Finally exciting the frigid lake, racers had one more task to complete that is unique to the BattleFrog Series and even more unique to this course: Glow-in-the-dark Paintballs. Athletes had three shots on each of three targets shooting from prone, kneeling, and standing positions. Upon hitting the paintball targets, the obstacle racers finally hit solid ground again and excited the mine through a series of concrete passageways. Bodies still numb from the 50 degree mine water, athletes emerged into the fresh air as the welcome warmth of the sun lit up their skin and forced them to squint into the bright new world.
Now the chase vehicle caught up to Ryan again with Jordan still in contention. Corinna Coffin kept pace with the chase pack of males through mile two and three then into the mine, but it was the Rock-Grip Monkey bars at mile 4 that blew the race apart. Racers climbed up into a barn, the smell of hay and ancient wood hanging dense in the air, then climbed a 12 foot rope to ring a bell, only to be greeted on the other side with one of the most difficult obstacles seen to date, with an attrition rate similar to the Tarzan Swing in Killington. The Rock-Grip Monkey Bars, were a late addition to the elite course and were required for eligibility of cash and prizes. The obstacle consists of a several wooden beams paralleling each other about 15 feet long and sloping downward over a water pit. On each side of the the beams were rock-climbing hand-holds bolted to the wood, requiring athletes to swing along using mostly fingertips until two monkey bars were reached in the middle, then continuing on with more rock-grips to a platform on the other side. It was a game-changer.
Ryan sized-up the obstacle and muscled through with excellent grip strength and a staggered technique that proved resourceful. Jordan however tried to go in between the beams using outward facing palms and fell about half-way through. As Jordan hit the water, Ryan disappeared up the hill and onto the well-marked ATV trails. Jordan regrouped and this time attempted to swing from the middle bars all the way to the platform. Everyone held their breath as this looked like a total face-breaking technique, but again, Jordan hit the water. Now other racers reached the obstacle and started falling to the muddy depths below. The Rock-Grip bars humbled elite after elite as they tumbled into the water, until finally, local athlete Kevin Drago made a desperate launch for the platform and hung on, now in 2nd place over five minutes behind Ryan.
The remainder of the race went smoothly for Atkins, who nearly managed to beat the chase vehicle to a couple of checkpoints, while overcoming BattleFrog’s signature obastacles like the “Tip of the Spear”, “Tsunami,” and “Hooyah.” The later two obstacles again destroyed the field of elite athletes as the go-or-no-go rules required every competitor to complete the obstacle, try again, or relinquish their elite armband. As the morning wore on, the mud accumulating on the ropes of the Tsunami and Hooyah made them nearly impossible, but in an inspiring show of true grit and resilience, accomplished road runner-turned-obstacle racer MaCharia “Mooch” Yuot refused to give up. After over 40 minutes and 12 attempts, he scaled the last obstacle to a hale of cheers and even a few tears, finishing well back from the winners, but with renewed pride and a deeper determination to win in our sport.
Ryan Atkins finished decisively in a time of 1:08:03, taking home $1000, while Kevin Drago held onto second, and Ben Kinsinger rounded out the top three males. For the Women, Corinna Coffin held onto her lead, despite some confusion and a time penalty, finishing 1st in a total time of 1:36:16. Heather Wheeler came in 2nd, and Melissa Berke held off the remainder of the elite females to claim the 3rd place podium spot. As soon as the video is finished, you can find interviews and race footage updated right here on our site, facebook, and twitter.
After all the morning’s competitive festivities wrapped up, I dropped my cameras and microphones, then changed into my signature tiger-stripe “shorts” to head out onto the 15k course. The mine was amazing and I enjoyed running the course that the elite racers had just taken on. BattleFrog puts on an exceptional race, with huge, unique obstacles, excellent terrain, and overall lots of fun. I finished in 2:11, just under my goal time of 2x Ryan’s time, covering the 9 miles much more comfortably than last week’s gut-check on Killington Mountain in Vermont. I also had a great time meeting new racers, greeting old friends, and sharing stories of the course. The staff at BattleFrog were friendly, while the Navy Seals out on the course encouraged us to battle foward. This was one of the most memorable obstacle courses I’ve ever done and I felt very welcome at my first BattleFrog Series experience.