The Battle Bunker Flagship Competition was an incredibly unique fitness experience that took place at the Chula Vista elite athlete training center, a training facility for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. New types of competitions for hybrid and obstacle course athletes are often popping up. Some stick around and some quickly fizzle out. I hope the Battle Bunker flagship competition is here to stay.
Who, What, and Why?
This fitness competition was put on by Austen Alexander with the assistance of Hunter McIntyre and was comprised of 3 military-style fitness events that were intended to test the highest level of physical readiness. With a prize purse of $20,000, coming from Austen’s own pocket, athletes from around the country, and world, came to test their limits. While competitions similar in format are often seen in the CrossFit and lifting world, for people like me (who primarily compete in obstacle course racing), this type of competition felt very new and overall Battle Bunker was great.
There were 3 events. The first event included rucking 2 miles (running with a weighted backpack), rowing 2000 meters on a rowing machine, and then immediately running an all-out 800 meters on the track. The second event took place a few hours later and it was a brutal sandbag complex. Competitors had to do 5 sandbag cleans immediately followed by 5 sandbag front squats, into a 100-meter run with the sandbag to the other end of the field. This was completed 4 times and then if you were still within the 6-minute time frame you were expected to run the parameter of the field until time was up. Men used a 100 lb. sandbag and women used a 70 lb. sandbag. The final event was a military style obstacle course consisted of 22 obstacles over a 400-meter distance. The combination of 3 events taking place within about a 10-hour time span was brutal on athletes but something none of us will ever forget.
Day 1 – Arrival
On day one, we were expected to arrive to the Olympic training center and be checked in prior to the 5 PM athlete briefing meeting where Austen and Hunter went over the events and rules.
Arriving at the Training Facility for the Battle Bunker Competition
Arriving at the training facility was sort of unreal and a bit intimidating as well. As I arrived, there was a line of professional athletes near the athlete check-in area waiting to be picked up. I honestly do not know that I have ever felt so small and yet so excited at the same time. At check-in we were given a bag and signed in. Austen and volunteers were super kind and welcoming which helped to shake off the intimidation factor I originally felt. In the welcome bags were snacks from sponsors, socks, a water bottle, 3 competition shirts, a battle bunker can koozie, and our training facility pass which displayed our room number on a sticky note and provided us access to the dining hall and onsite if we left.
Upon arrival to the facility none of us had a clue who we would be rooming with or how the room situation was set up. We later realized that we were roomed based on our athlete numbers which seemed to be randomly determined. Coincidentally enough, I ended up roomed with 3 other athletes that are part of the obstacle course racing or hybrid racing community. One who I am already good friends with, one that I was already well acquainted with, and another that I knew of but had never officially met. This was not too surprising seeming how a large majority of the athletes that competed have a hybrid racing or obstacle course racing background. However, some other athletes were with people they had never met which provided an awesome opportunity for people to share their sport and background with new people. Some ro
oms had only 2 beds and a common area with a living space and kitchenette while others had 3 or 4. Every athlete had a twin bed, some had to share a room but in mine we all had our own rooms. We all got settled into our rooms, met our roommates, and then headed off to our athlete meeting.
Athlete Meeting and Dinner
At the meeting we were welcomed be Austen. He shared his love for this project and a bit of insight about how and why this came to be. Hunter explained the rules of competition, quite briefly, as we had already received some emails about what to expect and be prepared for. The theme of the meeting was, don’t ask questions. Just go fast and win. We were given some insight about some bonus/seeding aspects of the competition. We were told that the 800-meter run would hold some weight for event 2 and to run as fast as we could. We were also informed that after we completed the sandbag complex for event 2, we were to run around the parameter of the field with the bag as fast as we could, with the goal being to get to as many cones as possible. Again, we were told this would hold some weight when it came to seeding for event 3. I think many of us had more questions and really wanted very detailed information about these “bonuses”. We were also very nicely welcomed by one of the training facility employees and introduced to some of the media staff. Once we reviewed the rules and expectations we were sent off to dinner.
Eating at the Chula Vista elite athlete training center was a great experience. They had many options for people of all dietary needs and the food was plentiful and well-rounded to ensure we all were fueled for the upcoming events. It was cool to share the space with some of the athletes who were not there for the flagship competition. Everyone piled together at various tables to share stories and meet new friends. It had such a summer camp feel which I never knew I missed as a 32-year-old. Seeing new faces and hearing new stories as we shared a meal was a highlight of the event for my extroverted self.
Post dinner, my roommates and some other athletes spent our evening cutting our competition shirts to be as breathable and obviously fashionable as possible. Most of the women expected unisex shirts so ordered true to size but come to find out they were women’s cut and most of us wanted to free our armpits from the fitted misery. They were great quality shirts luckily, the material was soft and breathable with hand stenciled athlete numbers on the back, the battle bunker logo on the front, and the sponsor logo on the right sleeve (which is why we were not to cut the sleeves completely off).
Day 2 – Competition Day
Rise and shine athletes! Everyone in my room woke up at 5 AM, ate a light breakfast, downed some caffeine, and heading to the torch for our 6 AM athlete check in. Men were supposed to start at 6:30 AM, which was pushed out to 6:45 AM when everyone realized it was still going to be quite dark. It was a bit chilly out so most of the athletes huddled into the building near the torch where we stretched, sipped coffee, ate more snacks, and ran to the bathroom multiple times. We were provided with snacks at the check in point which consisted of coffee, bananas, rice races, and yogurt. Most athletes started warming up about 30 minutes out from their start time. You saw that majority of people jogging and then followed by some form drills and leg swings. The men took off on their ruck and the women were left continuing trying to shake off nerves, adjusted their ruck bags, and waiting oh so impatiently. Finally, at 7:45 AM, the women were off.
Event 1 – Triple R
Listen we all knew this was going to be hard. For some people this was the most concerning event, for others it was the least. For me honestly this was the event I felt most comfortable with. With an obstacle course racing background, I knew I could run with 35 lbs., though I usually do it for less than a quarter mile, I knew I would be fine. I had absolutely no idea how fast I would be able to run with 35 lbs. on my back though. I did one 2 mile walk with 35 lbs. on my back at a slow 20-minute mile pace and I really did not know what I could do running wise. I surprised myself. On my Garmin watch, I clocked 1.86 miles for the ruck, and I completed it in 15:43:06 with a total of 88 ft of gain and 161 ft of loss on the rolling course. I pushed he ruck hard. I took off more conservatively, attempting to actually pace myself for once and then realized that was not really necessary because I was only going to be able to go so fast anyways. I looked down to see myself holding a pace in the high 7-minute mile range and stuck to it. My quads said no but I kept moving. After about a half mile I seemed to have settled into a pace I could stick with. There were some small rolling hills, I pushed on the ups and let the weight carry me down trying to make passes whenever I could. I envied the large quads of some of the more strength-based athletes as the powered up the hills next to me with the weight on their backs but was thankful for my cardiovascular endurance because I knew that would carry me through. When my eyes were finally on the rowers, and I saw athletes pass me on the out and back portion of the ruck I pushed hard to finish. Once I dropped my ruck and attempted to run to my rower my legs were limp noodles that barely held me up as I stumbled a handful of feet towards my rower.
It took me about 21 seconds to run to and get on the rower. Unfortunately, there was a broken rower situation and I had to go on a different rower than originally designated which had my race brain confused. It took me 8:37 to get seated, row 2000 meters, and get off the rower before starting my 800-meter run. Not an ideal time, I need to work on my rowing form, I will be doing more rowing in the future. Looking back there is a lot I could have done better on the rower. The truth is, I am just not very familiar with it. I slouched a lot, took attention off my own rower, and put it onto others, and switched up rhythm way too much. I stayed fairly consistent for the duration of the row as far as pace but there is A LOT of room for improvement.
My 800-meter run took about 3:31 which honestly, for me and the post ruck and row legs, this was not too shabby. When I first got onto to track adrenaline sent me off. It only took about 200 meters for me to really feel it but I dug deep. I did not look at my watch or pay much attention to what anyone else was doing. I simply laid everything I had left on the table and pushed. With about 200 meters left I told myself to kick. I was close with 2 other girls and made every attempt to kick past them but ultimately only was able to get past one. The last 200 meters I wanted to throw up. My heart rate was so high I begin to feel panicked, and it was as if I did not even breath for the last minute of the run. Once I finished, I collapsed into the grass and wanted to lay there forever. Adrenaline was at an all-time high though and it was almost painful to sit still.
Overall, I loved the triple r event. It took me 28:16 from start to finish and I was not nearly as far behind some of the competitors as I thought I would be. I do not know final standings but based on my seeding for the second event I believe I was 17th.
Event 2 – FUBAR
Fucked up beyond all repair. Yep, yes, and yup. I know we obstacle course racing ladies were quite terrified of this event. Most of us do not lift heavy things. We simply lift enough to stay strong enough for carries in our obstacle course races and to not get injured. Sure, we tote around 30-50 lbs. on a mountain side here and there, but we certainly do NOT consistently throw around 70 lb. sandbags in workouts. I think most of us were worried about even completing the 4 rounds so when we were informed that we could run outside of the grid for bonus points we all looked at each other in shock. It was amazing to see some of the stronger more strength-based men and women throw the sandbag around like it was not big deal. It was their chance to excel for sure. I was honestly worried I would be screwed by round 4. I used to really enjoy lifting heavy but that has not been a thing for me for years. I had practiced with a 70 lb. sand sandbag once and it was not pretty. As it turns out, adrenaline is a beautiful thing. Once the horn sounded, I hammered. I found it to be less challenging and frustrating than expected. Don’t get me wrong, it was still awful. I redlined for 4 or the 6 minutes. My heart and body wanted to explode. I barely remember the event honestly. I do not know that I have ever been so in the zone. I do not remember anyone but myself and my judge during the event. I pushed myself so hard, the last round took a lot of pep talking. I was worried each time that I went to clean the bad that it was not going to leave the ground or that once it left the ground it would not make it to my chest. My legs tremble with every squat. Once into a deep squat my legs begged me to let them collapse and my quads utilized every bit of strength, they had to lift me and the bag back upright. My knees tried to buckle, and my arms begged to drop to my sides as beads of sweat poured into my eyes. I could hear my judge, “One more. Do it just like the last one, you’ve got this! Don’t give up.” When I heard her remind me to keep my elbows up my biceps screamed in agony. But I did it. I finished all 4 rounds and made it outside of the box, I was able to make it halfway around the parameter before the time was out. I surprised myself again. Again, I do not know the final standings, but I believe I finished between 12th-14th based on my seeding for the final event.
Event 3 – Hybricon
My nemesis. Coming off a high from the last two events I became more and more worried as the obstacle course event approached. I knew the hurdles would be an issue for me. I am awful at jumping, but the bigger issue is the mental block I get when having to do so. I am quite uncoordinated for an obstacle course athlete honestly. And while that may be my sport background, this event was my least successful and most embarrassing performance. I was very excited to try the new obstacles but unfortunately a mental block early on turned detrimental. I struggled at the very tall hurdles. I stood around panicked, embarrassed, upset for minutes. Wasting so much time I became more anxious. Finally, I pulled it together and for over the first hurdle after struggling for what seemed like forever. The next two ironically came with ease which made me facepalm so hard. I was able to do one fun new obstacle and then the next wall got me and took a few attempts. It was different than the walls I am used to climbing and I was not able to use the approach I normally do. I ended on hurricane Chris which was a warped wall, and I was able to get a hold of the top, but I was so exhausted at my billion hurdle attempts I ran out of time before I get hoist myself onto the platform. I came nearly in last in event 3 which should not have happened, but it is what it is. I had a mini breakdown after my performance then pulled it together to go cheer on the other awesome ladies who were out their challenging themselves and quite literally overcoming obstacles.
Closing Awards and Farewells
The obstacle course/Hybricon portion of the event took quite a long time to get through so there was a quick turnaround time from the end of this event to awards. Once it was over, most of us went and took a much-needed shower after a long day, packed up our things, and quickly ate whatever we could grab before we made our way up to the torch for awards. At awards the top 3 men and women were announced and given literally a box of money. It was awful to see these athletes awarded for their hard efforts. But honestly, no one had a clue who was going to be on the podium. We had no idea what the standings were throughout the day, how scoring was going to happen, if certain events were weighed, or really anything related to placing. This was frustrating and many of us left the event still confused. However, given it was the very first time putting the event on, I understand there is a learning curve and that improvements will likely be made over time. I know this was a huge project and even though there were some tweaks that needed made, I am beyond thankful this even took place and that I was able to participate.
After awards most of us made a quick trip back to the dining hall for more food. A long day of competing and sitting in the sun had most of us feeling depleted despite all our efforts to eat plenty throughout the day. At the dining hall we said our goodbyes to new and old friends, exchanged social media handles, and there was a lot of encouraging athletes to try sports that hadn’t yet.
My Takeaways from the Event
Overall, I am thrilled with the way this event went down. Of course, there are some things that could be done differently but this is common and to be expected of new events. I met so many new friends, discovered new things about myself, and experienced some growth as an athlete that was much needed and will play a big part in my decisions for the 2023 competition season.
Highlights of the Event
Summer camp vibes! Maybe the men did not agree with this but honestly sharing a room and meals with new friends was a blast. I wish we would have had another night to hang out. From cutting shirts and sharing stories in our rooms to meeting new people and eating great food in the dining hall, the overall experience of being at the Olympic training center really made this event unique and special.
I will also say that the actual events were organized pretty well as far as timing. All the events started within about 15 minutes of the planned start times and in general each event ran smoothly with the exception of some confused judges here and there and the rowers getting wet causing a weird skipping situation. There was a lot of waiting around but that honestly just could not be helped, it was part of the experience. It was great to see athletes sharing snacks and reminding each other to hydrate and fuel between events.
Downfalls of the Event
My only real complaint is the lack of information up front we had regarding scoring and placement. In the future I know the athletes and viewers would love to have access to a leader board at the end of each event. We have been told we will be provided with our detailed scoring information soon so that is great but having that available on site would really change the competition and motivation of athletes. I personally am a rule person, I want to know exactly what is expected of me and exactly what I need to do to get from point A to point B. This helps to ease competition anxiety.
Another thing for me personally is that while I love competing and would love to be in a place eventually where I thought I could win something like this, this was about stepping outside of my comfort zone. It was about that for MANY athletes. Most of us did not even know if we could finish some of the events but we were ready to give it all we had. I once weighed 100 lbs. more than I do now. While I try to leave that behind and just identify as an athlete, it is part of me and I enjoy being a part of a competition that promotes winning of course, but also encourages people to give their all and see where they stand at the end of the day. While most of the people involved in this event truly promoted that, I know me and some of the other athletes felt a little disappointed to not know exactly how we stacked up in each event, or more so to feel like we were told we did not win so it did not matter. It did matter. It mattered that we showed up and put all we had out there. The volunteers and judges absolutely pushed that vibe out there which was great. I know it was supposed to be about elite athletes coming out, and it was, but elite athletes care about improving and to improve you have to know where you fall short.
The coverage was excellent. I was shocked at the quantity and quality of media at the event. There were tons of photographers on site. Each event was live streamed on YouTube with great remote commentary brought to you by Obstacle Course Media, Rich Ryan, Jason Clark, and Ian Hosek. There was also an onsite announcer completing interviews. There were both static cameras and drones recording and streaming the events as well as people running alongside competitors gathering footage that I am sure will be used in a later production. Having such a great and plentiful media situation was a huge bonus of the event. Family and friends at home were excited to be able to watch the action and I know that having the media present made the experience feel special for me.
A big thanks to the sponsors of this event. Not only did Austen Alexander use his own production team from the Battle Bunker show he has already built on social media, but he was also able to bring us sponsors like MudGear who provided us with ruck socks, Til Valhalla Project (apparel that saves veteran lives through donations) who provided our competition tees, as well as Lenny & Larry, Fatty Beef Sticks who provided us with snacks!
I am feeling pumped up for my 2023 competition season. While the final event had me feeling defeated and deflated and doubting myself in the obstacle course racing scene, I was able to turn that into excitement for new things and motivation to improve myself. My enjoyment of the first two events got me excited about doing more hybrid racing like Spartan DekaFit and Hyrox. I also think I might really enjoy an event like the GoRuck games, but I know there are some serious strength-based improvements I need to make to be able to do something like that. I will be applying to compete in the Battle Bunker flagship competition again next year as well. And of course, I will still be doing some Spartan racing and maybe even trying out their new 3k format that is set to premier in elite heats this upcoming season. I think that carrying and tossing around heavy things might be a good fit for me and I want to make sure I explore my abilities in those areas. Don’t get wild though, I am not planning to get into Olympic lifting of CrossFit or anything like that but functional fitness with a strength component I am into.
Watch the live streams from the event here: