Today I ran the Badass Dash in Rosemont, Illinois, a near suburb of Chicago and one that’s accessible via public transit, more or less. It’s the first OCR I’ve done outside of the big 3, but I’m really glad I did, because I enjoyed it a lot.
There is no mistaking Rosemont for anything other than a suburb. This is the sight you get when you’re coming off the train:
The suburban Chicago nature of the race definitely showed through in the course. It started and finished inside the Ballpark at Rosemont. Stadium races have plenty of precedent, but this was a bit of a different animal.
The Ballpark at Rosemont is home to the Chicago Bandits, a professional fast-pitch softball team. So the park is not anything resembling the scale of Citi Field or Miller Park. That meant that most of the race was in the environs of the stadium rather than within it. (In fact, only three obstacles were actually within the stadium itself, although we did start and end on the field. The field, incidentally, was entirely turf—not just the outfield, but also the infield and the warning track.)
The environs aren’t terribly stadium-specific. I’m not sure exactly what was around it, but it had that standard suburban office park feel to it.
As a result, the terrain was quite flat—though not entirely, as the course designers did use some of the banks that led to roadways to add a bit of climbing and descending. Still, if your primary interest in OCR is rough terrain, this isn’t the race for you.
On the other hand, the lack of rough terrain had the happy side-effect that a lot of the course was visible. Here’s an artsy little shot that I took of my first sighting of the course:
And yes, that’s an interstate I had to cross to get to the race. (There was a bridge; I didn’t play Frogger with the semis or anything.)
The race was advertised at 7K with 33 obstacles. Some of those obstacles were actually activities—push-ups or sit-ups or pull-ups or the like. The obstacles were not, on the whole, extremely difficult: if you’re looking for really hard obstacles with high failure rates, this also isn’t your race. I did have to do penalties on two obstacles. There was a tall and steep A-frame that you can sort of see in the above photo that was a problem—there were ropes to help pull yourself up, but the rain made both the ropes and the ramps slick; the second time I fell down, in a not-terribly-controlled way, I was thinking better of it. The other I failed was a set of monkey bars, which was the last or second-to-last obstacle (depending on if you count a run through bleachers as an obstacle or not). I actually got about halfway across, but the wet conditions hurt. I also managed to hurt my hand on the previous obstacle, which didn’t help much.
That said, there were several notably interesting and fun obstacles. The Australian Back Crawl was a plastic sheet positioned on a hill, with a cargo net above it. We laid on our backs and used the net to pull us up, all while a guy with a hose sprayed the sheet and us down with water.
(Unfortunately, after the Australian Back Crawl was one of the biggest backlogs on the course. There was a single mudslide to get down the hill, and I don’t know why it took so long, but I wound up bypassing it and just walking down the hill. I don’t feel like that was a bad decision in the slightest.)
This run on floating bins across a pond was also pretty cool—I made it about three steps before falling in spectacularly and having to swim the rest of the way across.
A climb over stacked pallets wasn’t terribly physically difficult, although some people had some minor panic about the height and weirdness of having to climb over them. Meanwhile, the Claustrophobic Crawl—a narrow tube to travel through—was surprisingly difficult. There wasn’t nearly enough room to actually crawl, and there wasn’t a lot to grab onto, so I kind of had to pull myself forward with my forearms and then push myself with my toes. Surprisingly taxing. And there was a dodge ball section—really not terribly difficult, and the ball-huckers weren’t throwing terribly hard, but it was kind of a fun thing. (Except that this is where I jammed my thumb, trying to be fancy and catch a ball so I could send the thrower to prison.)
The race was pretty well organized—but you could also see a few rough edges that might not show up in a bigger race series. On the good side, racers were released in fairly small sub-heats, which mostly kept backups down. Getting in, packet pick-up, and bag check were all pretty easy, although I’m not sure the bag check system was ideal. We got a numbered tag for the bag, and the attendants wrote the number on our hands, which they checked after we had picked the bag up after the race—but my ink came almost entirely off during the race. I got my bag back no problem, but it’s not hard to imagine that the system could have broken down in a bad way without truly permanent markers.
The race did cross some roads with traffic on them, but they all had attendants to ensure safety, and there was no point at which I felt any concern on that front. The volunteers at obstacles weren’t quite as good, though. There were a few points where it wasn’t entirely clear what the rules were. At one obstacle, for example, we had to potato-sack-jump down a path and back. Everyone seemed to be jumping backwards on the way back, but I’m not sure if that was the obstacle or just something that people were doing. A couple obstacles later, we had to either roll or carry a tire down and back a similar path—I’m still not sure which. And the cargo net also had a bit of confusion: It was divided in two sides by a flag on the top, and I think we were supposed to climb over it once on the left side, and then turn around and climb back over it on the right, but no one was shouting instructions so some people were coming down the up side.
The floating bins obstacle was one of the points where there was a backup, and it probably didn’t have to be. When I arrived at the obstacle, people were generally waiting for the person in front to finish—a polite thing to do, since the bins were all connected to one another—but also a time-consuming one. A more aggressive volunteer telling people when to go to give the person in front space but keep the line moving might have made it go faster.
I’m inclined to pin volunteer-related issues on the organizers: a volunteer, after all, is there for the day, and won’t know what issues there are unless the organizer explains them. Fortunately, the issues that there were were pretty minor and really didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the day.
One other area where the scale of the race really showed was in the free stuff. We got a backpackish thing, a medal, and a headband (not shown, since I wore it during the race and when I finished it was gone). Swag Hags, this is not the race for you. (Fortunately, I’m not one, but I include this information out of interest of completion.)
(By the way, did I just coin the term “Swag Hag?” I feel like someone must have used it before, but I don’t remember seeing it elsewhere.)
I feel like there’s been a lot of negative in this report, which is too bad because my overall impression of the race is really positive. I really had a lot of fun. It was definitely less difficult than an outdoor Spartan, and even a notch lower in difficulty than the stadium sprints, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It is really nice to be able to race an entire race, rather than have to slog the majority of it. Both have their place (I do believe there’s value in doing something grueling and completing it) but as I’ve done a lot of slogging this year, I’m pleased to get through a course running the whole thing.
Even the small amount of hills in this course demonstrated that that’s something I need to work on. That’s a problem, since the nearest hill that’s taller than I am is about 5 miles away. It will probably entail lots of stair-climbing at the gym. Ugh.