I did the Terrain Race in Cleveland last Saturday. I signed up for this 5K race after the coaxing by my daughter last January. Over the years, I have been to a couple Warrior Dash events, but as a spectator only. This gave me a little insight into the shenanigans of an obstacle race — or at least see what people look like afterwards.
During the time between when I registered and the actual race, I had many thoughts of “what have I got myself into?!?” This post is a long race recap with a play by play of the obstacles and my impressions.
Four reasons I should NOT have enjoyed myself:
1. This race was definitely designed for young people (I maybe saw 6 other people my age) and not someone like me who tends to say things like:
- be careful
- don’t hurt yourself
- watch out
- be safe-not sorry
- don’t try that
- look out
- that’s not gonna happen
2. To really enjoy yourself at a obstacle race like this (think Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, or Spartan race), you should really train for each of the specific obstacles.
3. Overall, the organization of the race was spotty. Few volunteers on the course. No timing chips. Didn’t pull the t-shirt ticket off the bib. If I had to rate the race organization, it would be a 2 star out of five. Very generic bib, medal and shirt.
4. But probably even more importantly, I couldn’t help but think about bumps, bruises, potential strained back, germs, poison ivy, snakes, spiders and ticks.
Of course I thought of all of those, many, many times, during the race. I hadn’t specifically trained for the obstacles, but honestly, I did have a lot of fun doing the course with my daughter and niece. We had a lot of team spirit and cheered each other on during all of the crazy event.
As you read my recap below, I am not sure it comes across how fun it was, but I wanted to provide a detailed account of the race from the perspective of someone over 60, who considers herself somewhat fit and strong.
The Terrain Race for Cleveland was held at the Berea fairgrounds also know as the Cuyahoga County fairgrounds. Rain was predicted for most of the day but that didn’t really matter because we knew we would be wet and dirty from the Cleveland Terrain Race course.
They use the word race very loosely. It wasn’t a timed competition and it was mostly about being with friends doing something slightly odd. My plan was to walk the whole thing with the number one objective “don’t get hurt!” Number two was “have fun!” Both were accomplished.
The Obstacle Course
The first obstacle was a chest high wall, which seemed reasonable until I realized how high it came up on my chest and I hadn’t ever tried to climb over something like that. At first I was getting a boost up over it, but realized I’d probably land on my head. Ha! I decided this would be the first (of many) obstacles that I would walk around.
Next obstacle was “easy” a large stone concrete ball embedded in a chain. The idea was to grab the end of the chain and pull it around the large circle, up a little hill and bring it back to where you picked it up. The ball probably weighed about 30 pounds and you just would drag it around the circle. The trick was not to let anyone else’s stone run over your foot or bump your ankle. Also not to get your hand clunked when you reached down for the end of the chain.
The third obstacle was also “easy” – a tire pull. First you pull it toward you with a muddy rope. Here’s the first one where I wished I was wearing thick gloves. The mud was caked on the rope, somewhat wet but mostly just dirty and didn’t allow for a good grip. The tire was automobile size and you pulled it toward you, then lean over and drag it back to the starting position before heading over the field to the next station.
After heading through the field, my daughter and I cut this small section of the out-and-back course to cheer people on at the hurdles and wait for my niece to come through, so we intentionally missed one obstacle, the tire carry.
The hurdles were heavily-built wooden saw horses about hip high. I could get my hands on the wood and boost myself up, but swinging my leg over was particularly tricky.
I watched one young woman jog up to it, put her hands on it and with just a little bounce, swing both legs up to the left and easily clear the hurdle. She landed softly and moved to the next hurdle. Repeat.
“WOW! You rocked it, Pink Shirt!!” I shouted in amazement.
Another woman looked at me and proudly said – “That’s my daughter! She’s military!!” The military daughter said “This is a result of a lot of practice. I really really couldn’t do it at first!”
Then she jogged back to help her mom over the hurdle. The mom slowly straddled it, much like I did, to get over. When I climbed over it, I kinda scraped the inside of my thighs and I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s gonna leave a big bruise!”
Then we entered what I call “the land of mud.” I swear that this is where the pigs/cows/horse’s manure had been spread over the years from prior 4H fairs. The smell was thick. It traveled past your nose to hit you in the back of the throat.
Here’s where it got kinda weird. I believe that the organizers had brought in water, maybe a fire hose, to make this super-duper mucky-muddy wet mess. This wasn’t a natural wetlands or even a creek. You could tell by the dry vegetation all around. I did my best to veer a bit off course and walk on the dry vegetation as much as possible. I did not see a tick or a snake, but they were both on my mind.
Then we went into the woods area with trees and green vegetation. Here was where it actually was naturally wet and gross. Again I veered off the path, walking though some poison ivy, to choose from potential future itchy skin over the choice of the disgusting quicksand-type wading in muck that had claimed at least 15 shoes (that I counted) during this quarter mile soggy, sloggy, muck and mire hike.
I tried to keep the idea of snakes out of my mind. I heard the f word uttered from the group several times. And I was surprised how many people actually had their young children going thru this. I remember seeing some Dad’s helping their kids put their shoes back on after the mud had sucked the shoes right off their feet.
Walking through this section was a strange visual and sensory experience for me. Weirdly, I had a flash image of the people in South America leaving their homes with just backpacks and migrating up through the jungle areas. I thought to myself “what a first world I live in, where we all sign up for this experience and pay money* to do this.”
*While this is billed as a free race, there were $17 worth of fees plus a $20/car parking fee, a $5 gear check fee and various other ways to part with your money.
There were several sections where people were wading in muck up to their knees. My daughter fell in it when her foot caught a hidden tree branch. Most of the 15 or 20 people around us reacted, in unison, with a giant groan — “Eeewwwww“.
The mud was a brownish, blackish color. No one was smiling through this section.
Coming out of it, we came to a big pile of sand set up as a hill climb. The placement of the sand right after all this water really seemed designed to stick to legs and shoes. Luckily, people were helping each other in this section and we climbed quickly through this area.
The next obstacle was several tunnels, basically crawling through the inside a large 48” plastic sewer pipe. It was set up so that you had to go through the pipe on your hands and knees. I heard people say that there was gravel in the pipe. Again, I chose to go out of bounds and took my chances in the mud puddles. I knew if I crawled through the pipes, my knees would never forgive me. (Another flash back memory image of chasing my kids some 20 years ago through those Discovery Zone pipes and how my knees hurt then. I know this wouldn’t have felt good! But stones? Really?!? Why?)
Finally got out of this area into a more “normal” course and found the water stop. Of course, there were no volunteers handing out water and all the water jug containers were empty. Just… very dirty piles of cups.
I found some packaged clean cups and put them on the table. Then saw the very large water containers sitting on a wooden pallet with their water spigot almost on the ground. Bad planning! I filled a couple of water containers and then got a cup for myself. At this point I think I’m too much of a mom for this race.
Walked over to the next obstacle which had a line about 10 people deep… with about 8 lines for the station. Rope swings with a big knot in the bottom of the rope. I think the point was to grab the rope, cross your feet at the knot on the bottom, swing about 3 feet to the next rope, grab with hands and then feet, continuing for all six ropes. I waited my turn but never even managed to get my feet crossed on the first knot… tapped each rope while walking thru the obstacle.
I really didn’t feel bad about missing this one, as I didn’t see any of the 20- or 30-something year-olds making either. This one was definitely a skill to practice in order to get good at it. We walked and jogged to zig zag around the fair grounds, following the red tape of the course. (There was also a course with blue tape marked for the one mile fun run.)
Went behind the grandstands to see the big giant tire flips. Looked like a Caterpillar type machinery tire, bigger than any I have seen at a boot camp. It took all 3 of us working together to flip it three times. Luckily I had done tire flips at boot camp before and I knew the best form for this by doing a low squat, grabbing the huge tire at the chunk of the tread and lift using my muscles in my thighs… not back!
The course led us back again toward the rope swings where we came to the balance beams. This part seemed particularly cheap. Sloppily constructed two by six lumber were nailed together into a zig zag pattern. I think that they came up with this one at the last minute. Not much of an obstacle. I made it just about halfway thru. Someone told me that the trick is to look out on the horizon, but I found that you have to look down a little bit because the pattern zig zags back and forth.
The next one was the traditional monkey bars with about 8 stationary parallel bars (there were 3 risers, unfortunately we got in the line with the shortest riser and the bars were 4 or 5 inches from my outreached hands. I jumped but didn’t even reach the first bar.)
My niece and the “military daughter” both made it all the way through. We were cheering both of them on! Of the approximately 140 other people I saw, no one else made it. Even the very strong guys. You definitely had an advantage if you’ve practiced. Grip strength or wearing gloves would help.
Walked to the next station where many high hanging ropes were waiting. The idea was to get to the top and ring the bell. Here’s where I thought of Wendy Rivard! I’ve seen her blog posts and photos doing this many times. I tried it a few times, but it wasn’t happening. I just jiggled the rope to hit it against the cowbell for effect.
At this point, I was wondering are we halfway through? Or is there are lot more? Mile markers for the 5K would have been helpful. I think we did a couple more non descript obstacles that I don’t clearly remember.
Then we came to the “laser” beams. Well, they weren’t laser beams, just thin ropes that you had to climb through without touching. The idea if you touched, you got pretend “zapped” like the pink panther in one of those movies.
At this point met up with some women who were my age and cheered them on as they tried the hand over hand pole that was covered in mud. This obstacle reminded me of American Ninja. Even though the sign said “hands only, not feet”, many people put their feet up on the pole as well, getting it super muddy.
My upper body strength, although better than it’s been in many years, was not enough to keep me up on the bar.
The next obstacle was the belly crawl. This was one I had anticipated and thought would be much worse. Why I thought we had to crawl through mud, I don’t know. I guess I saw some other city races where they were crawling through the muddy water. This one was down on the pretty dry ground for a belly crawl/elbow/foot maneuver under a cargo net. While it was dirty, it really wasn’t too bad.
We held one end of the net up to help people get through, then the next group held it for us. The team work and cheering each other with encouragement made this one a fun activity!
One minor thing that did bother me was seeing safety pins that had come open and fallen from people’s bibs. The open pins were laying there in the mud where I was literally crawling over them.
Next there was a long walk to the last obstacle, the cargo net climb up and over. I really wasn’t sure If I could do this one. Climbing the net wasn’t hard exactly, just more scary. I was very nervous at the top climbing over the metal frame about 20 feet in the air and then getting my foot hold secured to come back down.
This obstacle actually had the potential to be a really bad idea. I definitely could have a broken arm or something had I fallen from the top. It’s hard not to have those negative thoughts slip into my mind.
At this point my daughter stopped all traffic from climbing up or down the net when I was on it. Believe it or not she got the whole crowd cheering for me. I felt a little bit embarrassed at this point, and then a whole lot of fear at the top, but when I got my feet back on the ground, I definitely was feeling exhilarated!
This was the last obstacle of the course.
We jogged to the finish line to happily claim the finishers’ medal and race t-shirt.
Funny, they call it a terrain race, but most of the obstacles were trucked in and the race wasn’t timed. You can go as many times as you want!
After getting our medals and shirts, we headed back over to the parking lot to get our phones to take some photos. No way was I bringing my iPhone along in all that mud!
The tire pull photo was after we finished and I reenacted some of the obstacles, hamming it up for the camera. Was it fun? YES in a very crudy, crude way. I felt powerful, but filthy, when I finished.
Have you ever done an obstacle race? Would you do it again, knowing what you know now?