Race Recap: F.I.T. Challenge in Cumberland, RI
By: Joe Crupi, SGX
Race: F.I.T. Challenge
Location: Diamond Hill State Park, Cumberland Rhode Island
F.I.T. CHALLENGE: OCR’S FITNESS TEST
“Oh my God, I am sore, like start of the-season sore, perhaps even first-race-ever sore.”
These were my first thoughts as I woke up Sunday morning in our hotel room, about 15 minutes outside of Cumberland, RI.
The day before, November 19, 2016, Team Panda Fit Camp members, Adam and Sarah Kelly and I drove to Diamond Hill Park to take on F.I.T. Challenge along with over 700 eager racers. F.I.T. Challenge is an outstanding local short course put on by race director Robb McCoy. Its inaugural race was held in August of 2013 when Robb set out to start his own OCR series to test people’s fortitude, integrity, and toughness, dubbing the event F.I.T. Challenge. This race has a reputation of packing quite a punch and is known as being one of the more challenging obstacle course races among the race community, specifically in the Northeast.
I took on this course for the first time back in April of this year; It was my 2016 season opener and marked my transition into the Elite division. Whether it was due to an offseason of sporadically training around injuries, the level of talent in the Elite corral, or simply the nature of this course (perhaps a combination of all three), this race destroyed me. Without a doubt, F.I.T. lived up to its name. It was no wonder why this race was Mud Run Guide’s Best Small Race Series Runner-up in 2015. Not long after the April race, McCoy announced there would be a second F.I.T. Challenge event in the fall of this year. This would be the seventh installment of the race series. I knew I had a long season ahead of me. Clearly, from the results of the April past race, it would be a challenging season. However, as I lay in bed looking at the three-lap block that I earned at this race hanging on my wall, and remembering what I went through to get that block, there was really not much to debate.
I had to get redemption and close off my season where it had began. How else could I appropriately gauge my progress?
OCR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP QUALIFIER
We arrived at the venue just as the multi-lap heat was being sent off. Here’s the thing with F.I.T. Challenge: not only is it a physically challenging course that pushes athletes to complete it as fast as possible, but it also encourages athletes to run the course as many times as they can. Multi-lappers were sent off at 7AM, a full hour before the Elite waves set foot on the course, and they had until noon to get back out for their last lap. McCoy's vision for the multi-lap format is inspiring and could cause a shift in how other franchises approach course design. We’ve seen it at various races such Battlefrog’s BFX and World’s Toughest Mudder. However, there’s something about how McCoy does it that causes a bit of frenzy, even among the timider racers. It could be how he personally is calling out the athletes to take on his course; setting the bar high and upping the ante, as he states in a post leading up to the race:
“FREAKING BRING IT!!! I'll throw it down also, first person to break 40 minutes or complete 7 laps I'll give you $1,000 cash,” read one of Robb’s social media posts prior to the OCR event.
This approach has been such a huge success, that just a few days prior to Saturday’s event, McCoy blasted social media with this amazing announcement that F.I.T. Challenge multi-lap racers would qualify for the 2017 OCR World Championships.
“We asked the amazing folks at OCR Worlds [OCR World Championships] to consider adding a multi-lap threshold as a qualifier based on our incredible numbers and last night it was confirmed that 5 lap finishers will be OCRWC qualifiers!!!What. An. Honor. I believe aside from World’s Toughest Mudder we are the only US event that has an additional qualifying option for multis! Yeah, I'm freaking pumped!!!! We still have the elite and open wave qualifiers as well!!!”
RACE DAY: INNOVATIVE OBSTACLES
There we were, we just saw off the 200+ multi-lappers and were making our way through registration. Though we planned on starting the day with the Elite heat, we were still planning on tacking on a few fun laps as well, running as a team like the good ol’ days. It wouldn’t be a complete Saturday without racing through a course for six or so hours, side-by-side with some of the greatest people you’ll ever meet. So we dropped off our gear at the multi-lap tent, greeted our friends and fellow racers, and began to stretch and prep for our heat.
In addition to the impressive number of multi-lap and Elite racers, the event also saw over 400 Open heat racers and more than 200 children running the kid’s race--one of the most amazing kid’s course I’ve seen so far. Partnering up with Pursue Adventures, a fair amount of the obstacles these children faced along this 1-mile course were simply smaller versions of those found on the adult course, including a mini-Destroyer, which, obviously, just makes the race that much more exciting for them. On top of that, they were also allowed to run as many laps as they wished and had their own medals to collect once they finished.
Just before 8AM, the Elite males began to gather and prepare to start the race. The Elite heat was stacked with some of the best racers in the Northeast, including athlete’s representing teams such as FITELITE, of which McCoy is the Captain, Nor’Easter OCR, The Crew OCR, and The New England Spahtens, all of who were ready to battle it out on the course. Once released, there were a few small obstacles to start things off, but it didn’t take long to reach the first series of inclines, and the pack began to spread out. For a park that contains a not so noteworthy 270 feet of elevation, McCoy has managed to design a course with, when all is said and done, 1100 feet of gain. That is pretty impressive for a 3.5-mile course in Rhode Island, which is generally flat.
It just goes to show that McCoy knows how to take advantage of the terrain and provide racers with a course design that should not be underestimated. We spent a fair amount of time getting beat up by those inclines. Chants could be heard under people’s breath, just keep pushing don’t stop almost there. Returning to the base after each climb, the technical terrain forced even the most skilled downhill runners precede with caution. Throughout the course, we were hit with a gauntlet of obstacles, many familiar, such as over-under-through, various walls of assorted heights, crawls, and a log carry. As we continued to make our way through the course, though, it was quickly realized that there is nothing ordinary about this race and the obstacles it has to offer, like pegboards and the floating wall.
In fact, Wreck Bag, Mud Run Guide’s Best Overall OCR Training Tools or Products 2015 Winner, made its debut at F.I.T. Challenge in 2014. Typically used as weight for a hoist or part of an uphill carry, McCoy managed to come up with a new use for the bag which allowed him to put his slogan #BicepsWinRaces into action on his course. Expanding on the weighted hoist idea, McCoy had Wreck Bags set up on a pulley system where the athlete’s then had to raise the bag by performing a number of preacher curls. The last few hundred yards of the race are dense with obstacles. Racers must scale a second floating wall, a series of over-under hurdles followed closely by Destroyer 2.0.
DESTROYER 2.0: THE ONE OF A KIND OBSTACLE
Created by Larry Cooper of Full Potential Obstacles, the Destroyer is a large wall obstacle named Mud Run Guide's Best New Obstacle 2015 Runner-Up. Not only did this F.I.T. Challenge have the Destroyer, it had the Destroyer 2.0. When asked about what inspired the Destroyer concept and its evolution into version two, Cooper told me the original idea came from his love of the kip/flounder technique and was heavily inspired by this move and rock climbing. There’s nothing like it out there in the OCR world, Cooper says. He has seen countless racers sacrifice their rank in a race, determined to overcome the Destroyer. However, it doesn’t just break people. It exposes heart and grit. Two essential traits needed to survive this sport, and overcome this obstacle.
As for the 2.0 upgrade, Cooper loves the 8-foot incline set at 35° at the start of the Destroyer and the momentum involved in springing over it and wanted to do more with it. Extending the angle forward wasn't realistic as it would cause too much commotion with racers on top of racers. So, naturally, he mirrored the angle by pushing it back. From there, he wanted to open up the potential that Destroyer offered, adding in the bar which could, and did, present new challenges. Now he can add, really, whatever he can dream up. This obstacle can evolve as the racers facing it continue to evolve. What’s not to love about that?
After the Destroyer 2.0, racers were hit with a set of low hurdles, crawls, another wall, and a grip-murdering rig. Atlas stone tosses were set up just a few paces away, followed by an inverted ladder and a slip wall, completing the course’s onslaught of 40 obstacles before finally crossing the finish.
At the end of the day, Ben Kinsinger took first place for the Male Elite with a time of 42:17, breaking his own course record, followed by Michael Miraglia (47:31), Michael Day (49:46) and Kevin Seaman (51:48). For the women, Kristen Mullen lead the Female Elites, finishing in 57:30, with a close finish by Erin Colleran (1:03:08) and Michelle Aitken (1:03:30). The top 3 male multi-lap finishers, Lee Jarvis, Austin Thiele, and Peter Korade, all finished with an outstanding six laps while the top 3 females, Nicole Aleles, Corrine Girodani, and Brittany Corbett, each finished with a solid four.
There are far too many names to list here for the age group winners, but you can click HERE for a complete list of who ranked in the top 5 of each group, qualifying them for the 2017 OCR World Championships.
Congratulations to all of the weekend’s winners, including the 18 multi-lap athletes who destroyed 5+ laps, which also qualified them for the OCR Championship race. As for myself, I saw a huge improvement in my performance since I first raced F.I.T. in April. I matched my three laps and walked away feeling more proud and victorious than I did at the start of the season. It was an amazing day, competing with friends, and finishing within the top 20 of my age group against all who participated. Bob Mulholland, Mud Run Guide’s Best OCR Photographer winner of 2015, captured the race. To see a collection of his amazing photos from this event click HERE (album two can be found HERE).
All in all, F.I.T. Challenge VII could be seen as the most successful of this race series thus far, and promises to only get better with future installments Unanimously, all those who have participated in this event, myself included, are on the edge of our seats waiting to see what McCoy comes up with next for Spring 2017 and the impact it could have on the world of OCR.
To learn more about F.I.T. Challenge and the other races they offer, including their 5k trail race series, visit fitchallenge.org.