The Spectacular Spider-Squirrel

Bushido Challenge — New OCR Review!

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To a real warrior, power perceived may be power achieved.

This weekend, in the little town of Mineral, Virginia, I had the absolute pleasure to run both days in the inaugural Bushido Challenge¬†obstacle course race (OCR). I say “pleasure” because it was an absolute breath of fresh air, and I truly hope that this OCR has long-term success. I’m going to take a stab at explaining the concept to you, and provide a somewhat thorough review, but I need to say this up front: I have *no* direct interest or affiliation with this OCR or its owners and creators (although, I’m friends with everyone on Facebook, now…). So, this is a completely unbiased review, as much as any review can be (seriously, reviews are all biased, in truth; let’s not lie to ourselves, here. ūüôā ).

The Concept

Most OCRs out there mimic the epic Greco-Roman cultures of Sparta or Athens, or something similar, in their motif and obstacle design. That’s fine — heck, I love Spartan Race, for example — but, it’s a tired theme, and one I’m glad to see not being duplicated here. Spartan Race is “300” or “Sparta” themed, as it should be and should remain so, but Bushido, as you’ve no doubt guessed by now, is Japanese/Samurai themed. Ronin, if you will. It’s great.

So, how does this play out? Well, in all honesty, all it really does is give you another theme by which to run, a different name to similar obstacles, and, hopefully, some new obstacles specifically derived from said theme. In the case of Spartan Race, for example, you have the Spear Throw. You get a makeshift “pig-sticker” and a slightly-larger-than-man-sized target of hay to hit. You get one throw. If you miss, your penalty is extra PT in the form of burpees. For Bushido, there are no PT-style penalties, but you only get three chances at completing an obstacle, then you’re DQ’d from any prizes (obviously, this only applies to Elite/Competitive Solo & Team Waves). I like this format — it’s challenging for the elite athletes, and presents some form of penalty (in this case, re-dos, which slow you down; or a DQ, which eliminates you from competition, even if you can still finish to receive your medal), but it opens things up for non-competitive athletes, too, making this a fun, challenging, and accessible OCR.

The theme of Bushido/Samurai is, as I said earlier, very welcomed. First of all, it’s just a great theme, but it’s also a refreshing change. It also adds an element of mystery since they also rename any of the similar and familiar obstacles for Spartan Racers (barbed wire crawl, fire jump, traverse wall, log hop, Tyrolean traverse, et al.) to match the theme — Masamune’s Forge, Fire & Ice, Samurai Strafe, Wind Walker, and Samurai Siege, to name a few. What was really cool was, at most of the obstacles there was a custom music track created by musician/producer Mikey Rukus¬†that created an atmosphere for the moment. IT WAS COOL! (There may’ve been music at every obstacle, but sometimes you’re so busy figuring out your approach that it is heard, but not listened to — if you don’t know the difference, I suggest you go watch White Men Can’t Jump…)

The Obstacles

So, I’ve already touched on the obstacles already, but I figure I’ll get into a little more detail here. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Masamune’s Forge — This is an awesome variation on the traditional barbed wire mud crawl! Horizontal bamboo shoots are strung up about 18″ (less?) from the ground, and foot-long bamboo shoots are attached perpendicular to the longer ones, going toward the ground. Just imagine dozens of bamboo “blades” jutting down from the bamboo crossbeams, and eagerly awaiting your entry. These are lower than most barbed wire crawls, and much more challenging! The bamboo does not have a lot of give, so you’re forced to push through. Rolling through this one is tough; possible, but definitely tough.

Fire & Ice — This is a fire jump with a little extra at the end. Unlike Spartan Race fire jumps, which are glorified photo opps at the finish of a race, this one is positioned randomly on¬†the course (not the end) and is an actual obstacle. You have to clear the flames and land safely in a splashdown of cold, muddy water. This one is a challenge primarily because of the landing — you cannot see the bottom of the pool of murk, so you have to actually think about your landing. It’s terrific.

Samurai Strafe — What a CHALLENGING take on the traditional burpee…er, traverse… wall! First off, the handholds are made of rock climbing wall grips. Not the easy ones, no. The hard ones. The REALLY hard ones. They’re tiny, and, once covered in mud, easy to miss or slip off of. Fortunately, you can use the top of the obstacle to help hold on, but that won’t guarantee you a clear crossing. The wall is broken into two halves, separated by a 5’/6′ gap that you have to traverse by managing your way across a 2×6 crossbeam. After that, you have to remount the next wall before you’re done. Oh, and you’re suspended over water the whole time. If you fall off, you’re DECREASING your chances of crossing successfully. MWAHAHAHAHA!

Wind Walker — Imagine the dreaded log hop. You know the one: you’ve fallen off of it at least once, but probably numerous times. Now, imagine that log hop with logs that have a little “bounce” in them because of how they’re mounted AND you’re surrounded by water! Again, fall off, and you’re in worse shape than when you started. Make it across this, and don’t blow it!

Samurai¬†Siege¬†— Ok. You’ve done a Tyrolean Traverse before. You’ve also done a Rope Climb. You’ve also conquered an 8′ wall. But, have you ever completed all of those as ONE OBSTACLE???? Yeah, I’m just going to leave that one to your imagination. (For non-competitive athletes, there is an option to go under the obstacle station, but I hope you’re not terribly claustrophobic…)

Embrace the Void¬†— Speaking of claustrophobia… The Void is a massive, black airbag set opposite another massive, black airbag, that you have to move through. It’s not as simple as just walking: you’re blind once you enter; nothing can be seen, not even your own hands! Watch your step, you can trip easily trying to move too quickly through this one. If you’re in a pile of athletes already, this becomes even more difficult as you run the risk of stepping on each other’s feet and possibly falling down in a cascade of humility. Oh, and did I mention it’s tight quarters that you cannot see in…? Heheheh.

Samurai Swing — If you’ve ever fallen off of the Monkey Bars at a race before, prepare yourself. No, these aren’t monkey bars, they’re worse: monkey ROPES. I fell off on my first attempt. I watched several athletes fall off… repeatedly. The ropes are strung across like monkey bars, but each rope is *not* independently hung, which means it may be slack or it may be taut, depending on if another racer is on it or not. You may grab a rope that is taut when your hand grabs ahold, but then, suddenly & unexpectedly, the rope goes slack! WTH! Oh, yeah. This one’s a great challenge. The “bars” are spaced pretty far apart, too, which only adds to the challenge. I need to build one in the backyard & start practicing for the next race…

Dexterity Net¬†— This is a cargo net variation that can be a challenge, depending on how you approach it. It’s too narrow to just roll, unless you’re alone on the unit, so you’re going to have to crawl/walk/hop however best you can and hope you don’t “split the uprights”, if you catch my drift. ūüėČ

Path of the Warrior¬†— Somewhere in the middle of the field, after you’ve already run through mud, water, and murk, there’s a balance beam obstacle awaiting you. It’s round (think: tree trunk) and not very large around, so don’t approach it all cocky! Slip off & you start over.

Samurai Slide¬†— The classic water-slide splashdown! Watch your step, and make sure you pose for the cameras!

Gaia’s Ribcage¬†— Forget what you think you know about Over-Under Walls. Logs are spaced out in a chasm of knee-to-thigh-deep water and you have to go under the short ones, and over the tall ones. Not as easy as it sounds. It will definitely slow your pace down.

Edge of the Blade¬†— This obstacle is a “V” shaped contraption with rocks laid down at the notch of the “V” shape. You have to simply traverse this using the angled walls of said “V”, without touching the rocks. This could probably be made more difficult, but it’s still a fun obstacle and it will change your pace, to be sure.

Ninjas¬†— OK, so these aren’t “obstacles”, per s√©. More on the ninjas in a little bit. I put them here mostly to tease you, but they are a part of the course, and can decide your fate…!

The Review

I had been anticipating this OCR for more than six months — I was one of the earliest registrants. As soon as I had heard there was a local VA-based OCR, I got excited, but when I saw the theme, “Bushido Challenge”, I got all geeked out!¬†I’ve always been fascinated by Asian mythology (I even have a comic book & gaming character made after the Chinese god of war, Kuan Ti), and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the comic book relaunch of Rai from Valiant Comics, so the timing couldn’t be more perfect for me. I was in at “Bushido”. That said, there’s an inherent danger to anticipating something so much and not knowing anything about it. Will I be let down? Will it suck? Will it even happen?? So many small OCRs pop up and never actually happen, or close their doors so quickly that they may as well have been a crappy sitcom on Fox that lasted 5 episodes.

So…?

Wow. I was blown away. Now, mind you, there was definitely some hiccups early on at the inaugural race¬†weekend — especially Day One — but, even after mulling it over for a couple days, post-race, I think it was terrific! More detail below.

The Course

This was an absolute blast to run. Hiccups aside (see below), it was just plain fun! 6+ miles of trail running, with a few hills and such, great obstacles (see above), and perfect running weather (OK, this was out of their control, but still!), and the event was to be close to perfect, most especially for a first-time race!

We took off out the gates and right into some trees to a single path, which forced the racers to assume lead or get behind. Out into an open field, back into the woods, over a small creek, and back out into an open area and up into our first obstacle, the Dexterity Net. This, again, forced us to either get out in front or be slowed down. I watched a few “nutcrackers” as some racers tried to run across too fast, and then back down and off into the muddy field to the next obstacle, the Wind Walker. And so on it goes. You don’t need a complete rundown of the course, the next one will be setup differently, anyway, but you get the idea. It was highly technical running, enough elevation gains to alter your pace, and fun, challenging obstacles that sometimes made a difference in finishing positions.

As this was more of a runner’s course, if you fell behind early at an obstacle, you had a chance to recover if you are a good runner. All in all, this was a solid,¬†challenging event with plenty of running, technicality, and awesome obstacles.

The ninjas were a fun addition to this competitive event. When racers first register, they are given flag football belts with three (3) flags. I’m comfortable with this — I used to play competitive flag football on a couple of championship teams. ūüôā

Why? Well, sprinkled randomly throughout the course were volunteers dressed as ninjas! They were there to “take your life”, as the vaunted arch nemesis of all Bushido! With each ninja ambush, you run the risk of losing a flag, and are one step closer to becoming a Fallen Warrior. What does this mean? Well, if you lose all of your flags during your run, you do not receive the Bushido Warrior medal, but the Fallen Warrior one. Both look bad@$$, to be sure, but pride dictates you go for the Bushido Warrior medal!!!!

Elite/Competitive racers do not have to wear the flags if they choose not to — this *does not* affect prize money. It only determines which medal you will receive when you cross the finish line. I LOVE THIS IDEA! It made for some excitement out on the course, with each ambush, to be sure!

I lost one flag. Stinkin’ ninja ambushed me right outside of the Void obstacle. I barely saw him before I lost that flag… dangit. Stupid ninjas… LOL.

Hiccups

First of all, let me state something outright: experienced racers know that even the best events can have hiccups or even major issues, so, this being the very first one of these, most of us expected something to get messed up. The key would be how the event owners & coordinators responded.

We arrived at the venue early that first morning, unsure what to expect. Only, getting there was as much a challenge as any of the obstacles! The instructions were fairly clear in the email, admittedly, but there was no road signage to indicate “This Way!” or “Turn Here!” as with many of the other OCRs (Spartan Race, specifically). Still, if you carpooled and didn’t read the email well enough to understand when to turn, that’s on you. Some of my friends got lost, so I’m talking to them ūüôā HOWEVER, it is incumbent upon the event coordinators to make sure that there is ample signage to help travelers unfamiliar with the area (or, who don’t read emails — BAZINGA!) find their way.

OK, so we’re there now. Parking was a breeze. $10 and a helpful lad telling us where to go. Piece of cake.

Walking over to the festival area, we notice that they’re still in the midst of setting up. Hmmm. No worries. Maybe. We all start our routines — you have yours, I have mine — stretching, running, loosening up, warmup skips, yoga, hitting the crapper, and again…you get the idea. Start time is upon us, but they’re still setting up. That’s when Mikey Rukus, the MC, hops on the mic to let us know that we’re being pushed back an hour. GAH! I just took my pre-workout!!! LOL

This was a little troubling, but it was clear that there weren’t enough volunteers. That’s the first, and probably major,¬†problem with starting out with a new OCR. Not a lot of folks volunteer anyway, even for the bigger ones, unless there’s something in it for them. Being a startup, essentially, there wasn’t much more to offer than maybe free racing. But, if everyone racing volunteered, we’d have a smooth setup, probably, but the race wouldn’t make any money to keep going. It’s a challenge, to be sure, but I think David Martin¬†did an excellent job of mitigating these issues as anyone.

As promised, we started one hour later. No more delays. And, we’re off!!!!

I’ve already given you a rundown of the obstacles — I didn’t tell you that I loved them, did I? They were fun, challenging, and a great new experience. The course was very much a “runner’s course”, meaning we had a LOT of open areas of just straight up running. We were running on gravel roads, through trees, across and through creeks, wooden bridges, up prairie-like hills and grassy knolls — it was quite the run! One of the problems with runner’s courses is course markings. When you have big, open areas, or dense thicket/trees to run through, you need to make sure that racers are properly directed on where to go. Especially if any of that involves a loop or turnaround. It’s too easy to miss, get lost, or accidentally “shortcut”, all of which happened this first day at some point.

Sounds terrible, but wait until you hear the next bit. Before that, let me say this: even the “big” OCRs have this problem. This isn’t new, and it isn’t reserved for the “new guys”. Heck, there was a course marking issue at the Tampa Spartan Stadium Sprint this year! IN A STADIUM!!!! How the crap do you screw that up?? Well, it happened. Nonetheless, as stated earlier, it’s all in how the event people respond…

The Response

From the moment things started feeling wonky and messed up, with regard to the start time/setup issue, owner David Martin made the rounds to ensure racers that things were delayed, but they were committed to starting with no more than an hour’s delay. He held up that promise.

After we finished, we all began providing criticism (constructively) to David and Course Planner Andy Royer, who received the course marking criticisms with absolute professionalism. They didn’t pander to us, and they didn’t ignore us — they were focused on making this the best possible OCR it could be. What did they do with our criticisms? THEY MADE COURSE MARKING CHANGES OVERNIGHT!!!!!

I kid you not. These guys went out there with spray cans and other utilities, and did their absolute best to correct these issues. They didn’t wait for “the next one” or just blow us off, they totally listened and reacted!!! Wow. If only everyone were as responsive as these guys…!

Overall

I can’t say enough good things about this event and its Owner & Operators! Sure, I could probably nit-pick other things that could be done better or changed to enhance the experience, but why? Seriously, this was an excellent event and one that I will proudly promote as much as possible, if I can help it be successful. Again, for a first-time event to have so few issues says a lot about how well these guys are running things. They sincerely apologized for the minor inconveniences, lived up to their promises where possible, honored their commitments, and put on one heck of a great event! I ran this OCR twice (Saturday and Sunday) and I’d have run it a third or fourth time if not for my ankle injury and timing (had to get home Sunday).

If you’re looking for a fun, new, and exciting challenge in the OCR world, then look no further than the next Bushido Challenge that comes up! Sign up now! The prize money is terrific, but the First Place Katana is just plain awesome. Seriously, I’d run just for the sword. I’m glad our team took first place in the Team Elite run on Sunday, so I got to pose with our prize…

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Hai!