I was very excited to jump back into the 2015 race season with the Bulldog Challenge at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. In a nutshell, this 10K military-style race is like no other Obstacle course race out there. It gives you a taste of what the Marine cadets go through as a “day in the life” of their training. Another unique facet of this race is that it is a team event – 4 people take on the course together as a unit. You don’t really see that anywhere else.
I arrived in SC with my three teammates (Paul, Kevin, and Dan) on the Thursday before the race. The weather was a balmy 45 degrees (a heat wave by comparison to the -5 degree temps that we were suffering through in Illinois). Our plane was delayed by foul weather, so we were late in getting to our hotel…But not before having a wonderful dinner at a local steakhouse.
On Friday, the four of us headed to the beach for a 4 mile run to shake out the legs and do a little sight-seeing. And, of course, to say we ran on the beach so we could brag to our friends back home that we did, in fact, have our toes in the sand. 😀 Dan, having lived in Charleston for a few years, served as our tour guide for the day, pointing out Fort Sumter and how the tug boats were used to pull freighters through the narrow inlets of the intercoastal waterway. Naturally, on our way back from the run we decided to make things more fun by carrying a 50 pound log we found, as well as practicing dead man drags and buddy carries. We also stopped to collect a few starfish that had washed up with the ebb of the tide.
From the beach, we grabbed a quick bite at a local wing restaurant (epic food AND I managed to stick to my diet while there), and then drove downtown to sight see and visit the open-air market for a bit. Dan explained to us that this market was called the Slave market in the pre-Civil War era – not because slaves were sold there, but because slaves would take their master’s goods to sell at the long stretch of pavillions centered in the city. As we walked I felt like I had stepped into another place in time, seeing women weaving grass baskets before my eyes as horse-drawn carriages clopped along the cobblestone roads. I picked up a few trinkets for myself and some family/friends and before we knew it, it was time to head to the Citadel to pick up our packets for the race.
The Citadel is beautiful – castle-style buildings surround a field about twice the size of a football stadium. But within the beauty lies strength…we arrived to troops of cadets running to cadence songs, and others on the field practicing parts of the standard fitness tests. Part of me wanted to jump in with them to see if I could keep up.
Packet pickup was standard issue – we each got a nice red shirt proudly displaying the 19th Annual Bulldog Challenge across the front, along with a few goodies inside a sandbag casing. Dan talked one of the guys into letting him take extra casings so he could use them at his place – score! It was extra special to talk to some of the Marines that were running packet pickup.
Once we got our packets, we decided to head down to the obstacle course portion of the race for a dry run. The course is the standard practice course that the students use here and include two sets of high bars that must be climbed over, several hurdles, an 8 foot wall, and a 25 foot rope climb. The wall is a bit different than what most OCR folks are used to in that it’s also about 15 inches wide. So, grabbing the top alone doesn’t suffice – you need to get your arms up and over the entire top of the wall to climb up, and that takes more work.
After we were satisfied with scouting out the course, we snapped a few pics of the surrounding campus before heading back to clean up at the hotel.
Dinner was at Red’s, a local bar and grill on the waterfront. We chowed on fresh-caught seafood and rehashed our plan of attack for the race, and simply enjoyed each other’s company. Not letting time slip away from us too much, we were back at the hotel by 9:30 and ready for some sleep.
Up at 6 am, the four of us changed and grabbed some food to eat on the way to the race site. We arrived early enough to get a good parking spot, and headed into the hall where the race briefing was to be held. Staff Sergeant Ben Cohen was the race director for the event and spoke with us about the course and what to expect.
The race is set up in that two teams go head to head every 3 minutes. This allows for some friendly competition but keeps the course from getting clogged. Our team was slotted to go off at 8:54, so the four of us milled around inside to stay out of the cold weather (temps were in the low 40’s).
About 15 minutes before our start, we meandered outside to check in at the start gate and acclimate to the temps. As we shielded ourselves from the wind by hanging out behind a set of bleachers, we caught the eye of a local news station, who asked us if we’d be up for an interview. We agreed, and the four of us took a couple minutes to state why we were there, where we were from, and what our team was about. I’m hoping it gets aired, but I haven’t seen anything as of yet!
We also chatted with Ben the race director for a few moments before the starting gun went off, and I agreed to talk with him after the race about giving him some input with regards to attracting more people to future events.
And then, it was go time. The four of us lined up alongside the second team. The news crew rolled camera as the gun went off and we yelled “CORN FED!”, digging our shoes into the grass and lurching over the starting line. The course took us onto the road for about 1/2 mile and on to the obstacle course. I launched over the first hurdle and stepped up to the high bar. A lot of experienced guys can do a rolling backflip to complete this obstacle, but I don’t have the skills for that. Instead I chose to grab the bar with my hands and hook a leg over the top, then use my free leg as momentum to help swing me over. Dan was there to help me a bit when my momentum slowed, but I got it. As the guys completed that obstacle I charged ahead to the yells of a cadet urging me forward. I got to the wall and the cadet yelled “Get over my wall!”
I stopped and smiled, responding, “I should probably wait for my team.” He laughed and said that was a great idea. Dan caught up and we did the wall together while Kevin surged ahead. As we got to the double high bar (another “Over the Top” obstacle), I had him give me a boost so I could jump to the higher of the two bars and climb over. Dan, Paul, and Kevin had no issues with any of the course. Kevin and Dan climbed the rope as Paul and I ran ahead to start grabbing sand bags.
Three 25-ish pound sandbags were to be carried by the four of us for the next 4 miles. I picked up a bag and started walking with it until the others caught up, and then we picked up a jog to the next task – ammo can carries. Three ammo cans needed to be carted around a 400 meter track. Kevin grabbed two since the rest of us each had a sandbag, and I took the other one. Dan relieved me for a stretch of the track but I took it back for the rest of the way. I’ve learned that it’s easier to carry weight if you’re balanced, and having the sandbag in one arm and the ammo can in the other worked very well for me.
We dropped the cans after looping the track and headed to the pull-up bars. A total of 60 pull ups needed to be completed between the 4 of us. We were allowed to help each other by holding the feet of our teammates, but good form was imperative. I ended up doing 20 of the total because I felt good (and the help made it easier). As we headed off to the next task, I looked around and the team we started with was nowhere in sight. We passed them early in the footrace and lost them at the obstacle course.
Next task: tire flips. A heavy tractor tire needed to be flipped approximately 30 yards out and back. The four of us made it look easy by moving the 500-ish pound tire to its designated checkpoint and then returning it to its original location. Once that was completed, we took our sandbags back and headed to the field in the center of campus.
House of Pain was the next exercise – three team members needed to assume a high plank position while the fourth member low crawled under them and then assumed the high plank position. This rotating exercise continued for 100 yards and was an arm crusher. When we arrived, another team that started before us had just begun this task. We set our sandbags down at the end point and ran to the start to begin our work. When we finished, we noticed that team took our sandbags instead of their own…so as we headed up to the next task we stole ours back! Rule #1 – stick with what you are given.
The next task was the USMC Combat Fitness Test (CFT) – all four of us needed to sprint to a set of cones, low crawl for 30 meters, then high crawl for 30 meters, and then immediately went into lateral sprints. Then one team member had to buddy drag another member back 30 meters while the second pair of teammates did a fireman carry. I had Kevin carry me while Dan dragged Paul. From there, a fake grenade needed to be tossed into a 10’x10′ square about 50 yards away. We missed which resulted in 20 penalty push-ups each for us.
We took our sandbags back and trotted down to the football stadium about 1/2 mile away. Once there, we headed across the field and over to the visitor’s side bleachers. The football team was practicing while we were racing and it was cool to see them out there. The goal was to run up and down the stairs of the bleachers as we crossed from one end to the other. Kevin was without a sandbag, so he ran ahead of us and waited at the interchange for the three of us with bags to catch up. I passed my bag off to him and I took off ahead of the team in the same fashion. This continued all the way across, each of us getting a break from the weight of the sandbags.
After completing the stairs, we exited the stadium and were instructed to grab a Marine issue ILBE ruck sack, and to place the sand bags in there. Dan carried the ruck about 100 yards to the road, where he traded the pack to me. I carried the weight of the sandbags for 300 meters while Paul was carried Wounded Warrior style for the same distance by Kevin and Dan (they traded off halfway through). We arrived at a 5 story parking garage, and at that checkpoint I passed the ruck to Paul. He started up the ramps to the rooftop of the garage while Dan and Kevin readied a stretcher. My job was to lay on the stretcher for the duration while Kevin and Dan essentially did a “Casevac drill” (aka Casualty Evacuation). They carried my fat butt all the way up to the rooftop of the building! Plus they had to deal with my singing while I laid on the stretcher – such strong, brave souls they are. 🙂
On the rooftop, we needed to lie on the ground and form a square by placing our feet on each other’s backs. In that form, 10 push ups needed to be completed – easier said than done, and timing is important in this task. But we were quick about it and back on our feet in no time. I grabbed the ruck and threw that back on while Paul folded up the stretcher, and the four of us headed back down the ramp. Kevin traded out with me halfway down, and once at the bottom we took two of the sandbags out of the ruck, me keeping one and Kevin taking one. Dan then threw the ruck on and the four of us started back towards the Citadel.
Around mile 5 of the race, we were able to drop the sand bags (relief!). We caught another team that was in front of us at this point, adding a bit if pep to our step. The next task was another low crawl up a hill and under rope, followed by a second set of buddy drags – Dan and I teamed up for this part since we are the two tallest of the team. He dragged me for half the set distance, and then we traded out – I believe the combined distance was around 75 yards.
Then the Coup de Gras of the race stood before us: The Battle of Inchon. Known as “Pluff Mud,” this obstacle involved crawling through some of the thickest mud I’ve ever encountered, out to a flag and then back in. Momentum is key in not getting stuck, but there were a couple of times where I felt like Atreyu in the Neverending Story’s Swamp of Sadness.
Dan, Paul and I managed the pit pretty well but Kevin struggled a bit – his combat fatigue pants were collecting a lot of mud and weighing him down, making it ever harder to maneuver through the mud. Dan and I cheered him on from the exit site and directed him to an easier route when he got stuck. As he exited he yelled “I’m never wearing fatigues again! Tights from now on!” We all laughed and began moving forward again, but not before slapping some muddy handprints on some other racers heading towards the pit.
Another 1/2 mile-ish run followed, this time weighted down by the heaviness of the mud. You could feel the difference and it seemed harder than when we had the sandbags in hand, not to mention the mud was cold. Yet, when the going gets tough, the tough smile and keep moving forward! It’s amazing how a simple smile can change your perspective on everything.
With less than a mile to go, the next challenge was the “Water Resupply” where each team member had to carry a 5 gallon water jug around the 4th Battalion barracks. The four of us grabbed a jug and started around the course – pretty nondescript and simple enough. As we made the final turn to the drop area I noted that a set of jugs were dropped off well before the checkpoint – I pointed that out to the volunteer so he could retrieve the jugs, but muttered to myself, “cheaters.” God, I hate cheaters. No matter though, for we were almost finished with the race!
The final challenge was aptly named the Final Assault – we each grabbed a rubberized M16 assault rifle and made our final charge to the finish line. There’s nothing like the feeling of running with a machine gun in your hands! Tired, covered in mud, but all smiles, the four of us crossed the finish in an hour and 37 minutes. We learned later that the best team of the day ran it in 1 hour, 3 minutes! Of course, many of the teams were young military men – I expected those guys to kick our old butts. Regardless, I’m pretty proud of our finish time. And we had a helluva lot of fun!
The Bulldog Challenge is the best OCR you’ve never heard of…I can’t wait to take on the challenge again next year. And in 2016, I plan to bring an army of Corn Feds with me. AROO!