If not for the fact this event was 30 minutes from my house and filled a void in my summer racing schedule, I would have let the Great American Fitness Challenge in Lexington, KY slip on by without a second thought. I didn’t though, so here is an abbreviated version of my thoughts.
They had an interesting concept of combining four different events: a 5k and 15k run, along with a 3 mile obstacle race and a 3 mile “Seal Select” elite obstacle race all into one day. It is a good strategy that appeals to a broad segment and ensures better numbers. To OCR enthusiasts however, this event is better described as an “exercise” race than an obstacle race. The obstacles were essentially fixed elements of the Kentucky Horse Park’s Steeplechase course (very cool nonetheless) consisting of lots and lots of vaults over short walls/logs/etc. The rest of the obstacles in the elite race were actually just exercise stations (a short 25 pound double jerry can carry, 25 pull-ups, 50 sit-ups, 50 push-ups, a couple of really short net crawls, 50 air squats, and 50 burpees before the final 1 mile sprint to the finish. The regular obstacle course was similar except some of the more difficult exercises were eliminated or halved. Although I had a general idea of what it consisted of when I registered, I think the exercise portions of this event have clouded my judgment. More than anything it just confirmed that this is not my “thing”. For people who like to compete at exercises then I suggest you give one of these a try. For those who like obstacle races, then the GAFC may (or may not) disappoint.
One interesting aspect of this event is they sent runners off 1 at a time, which helped prevent backups on the course. There was no single elite or regular heat as athletes of all types were just mixed in together. The downside of this was it was nearly impossible to gauge how you were doing on the course. I had no idea of my ranking until after I got home and searched the online for the times. They were unavailable onsite, apparently due to some technical issues.
More good and more bad. The good is that there was free parking, pre-race packet pickup, and a free bag check. The exercise expo added to the event and there was plenty of entertainment throughout the day. The volunteers were really good and I never had to worry about going off course or not knowing what to do at the stations. Now for the bad. Although their website stated there was a kids obstacle course, we were unable to find one, which was a big disappointment to me and my daughter. Her participation in the sport of obstacle racing is important to me and a consideration when I choose events.
Let me finish with a positive. My perception of obstacle racing is more hardcore than the mainstream population, so I look at it through a different lens. Mine is not the only lens though, and although it was a far cry from the obstacle races I like and compete in, I think the Great American Fitness Challenge is a really good event that promotes fitness across a wide swath of people. More events like this are needed and I hope they hang around for a long while.