March 9, 2017
Navy SEAL Launches Obstacle Course Race Series
Serving as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan, Brian Carney started to ponder about life after the military. Conversations with several other SEAL Team members talked about a missing element in obstacle course racing. A topic Carney and his teammates knew very well. I knew a lot about obstacle racing and the big players like Spartan, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash but it dawned on me that there’s no true military aspect to obstacle racing yet. No company had come out with a race reflecting any real military background. “With our SEAL Background, that kind of business seemed like a perfect fit, says Carney, founder of the BoneFrog Challenge race series. “We wanted to bring the Navy SEAL side of obstacle racing to the sport. We offer a little more rugged obstacles with not as much of the slip and slide and fun obstacles but design courses inspired by our Navy SEAL training experiences.The SEAL obstacle course in Coronado, CA is known as one of the hardest obstacle courses in the military.”
Since launching the company in 2012, BoneFrog has managed 13 races. The annual numbers are growing with 6 events and 10 events planned in 2017. The first race attracted just over 300 racers. Early registrations for 2017 races show an increase to 3,000-4,000 registrations.
Every obstacle course race has a unique name and personality. The BoneFrog moniker honors the long, storied history of the Navy SEALS.
Carney explains, “ In the Vietnam era, Navy SEALS were known as frogmen. When the current generation SEALS and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans hear frogmen they think of Viet Nam era and don’t correlate that name with who the SEALS are are today.”
In early 2000’s a new image for the SEAL Teams started to emerge. A skeleton of frog reflected the naked warrior mentality and paid homage to the earlier generation. The graphic called, “bonefrog” is now the inspiration for tattoos on many SEAL Team members. “When I had the idea to start the company the last piece of the puzzle was the name. A Navy SEAL obstacle course didn’t seem appropriate,” recalls Carney. “What if we call it the BoneFrog Challenge. No one will know what that means at first. Once they come to the race, more people will understand the inspiration.”
At the finish line of every BoneFrog Challenge race, a Navy SEAL hangs the finisher’s medal over the racer’s head. Completing the course is physically and mentally challenging. To be rewarded with a medal by one of America’s elite military services often brings a flood of tears. “Those emotions are what makes doing this kind of event worth the effort,” says Carney.
Building a Race Series
The BoneFrog Challenge’s expansion plan is slow, methodical and committed to maintaining a quality image. “We don’t have the big funding like some of the other obstacle races. What we do have is experience in the military experience. We’re growing at a pace that allows us to continue to put on 5 star events,” says Carney. “Every BoneFrog that we’ve hosted has been reviewed extremely well. We don’t want to expand too fast or go into too many new markets and not be able to bring that quality with us.”
In 2017, BoneFrog will host events in cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando and Pittsburgh. Location selection is influenced by requests from local obstacle racing enthusiasts. “We’ve had a lot of requests to bring our races to different areas. We’re expanding where racers want us to come.”
When selecting courses for a BoneFrog Challenge, Carney has specific criteria. “We don’t go out searching for a flat course. Ideally, we’re looking for significant elevation change, different terrain features like rivers, swamps and deep thick woods. We want to throw all of those elements at our races on top of the obstacles we are already providing. That’s what differentiates one BoneFrog from the next. No BoneFrog is the same and the terrain is the differentiator,” says Carney.
Taking the Challenge
BoneFrog offers three race distances to attract athletes from off the couch beginners to hard-core obstacle racing enthusiasts.
Sprint events cover approximately 3 miles and include 20 obstacles.”We don’t throw our hardest obstacles in here. It’s not meant to be the hardest three miles of your life. It’s meant to welcome racers who may be intimidated by obstacle racing or the SEAL name,” says Carney.
The BoneFrog Challenge is the company’s signature event. At 8 miles and 30 obstacles, the Challenge reflects Carney and his team’s definition of a Navy SEAL inspired obstacle course. He says, “We put everything we have into that 8-mile race.”
Combining the Challenge and Sprint formats in a back-to-back event, the TIER 1 is 11 miles long and features 50 obstacles. The TIER 1 is designed to test the mettle of the most hardcore endurance athletes. “It’s a long race and takes a lot out of you. For experienced athletes, the race can take 4-5 hours to complete,” says Carney.
With registration opening up months before the event date, Carney often hears from people asking to upgrade to longer distances. “We see a lot of upgrades. We know we have an active impact on people’s health and getting them into a fitness program.”
Participants can register for solo or team options. Although Carney suggests trying a BoneFrog Challenge both ways, he says the team approach can lead to a deeper experience. “We do have difficult obstacles and the benefit of facing them with a team is amazing. If you see that 8-10 ft wall by yourself it can be very difficult and intimidating. With a team you are helping each other succeed. Supporting each other adds to the experience over running the event individually,” says Carney.
Like most successful obstacle courses, race directors create obstacles that create a signature experience for participants. BoneFrog’s obstacles are inspired by actual course used to train Navy SEALS in Coronado, CA. “Those courses are specifically designed to build NAVY SEALS and get them ready for combat and the physical demands of the job,” says Carney. “Many of our obstacle designs I’ve pulled directly from the obstacles Navy SEALS used for training. They aren’t watered down versions but tailored for obstacle racing. We do have some spot-on obstacles that are exact replicas.”
One of Carney’s favorite obstacles is called “The Dirty Name.” Build to the identical specifications used on the Coronado course, the obstacle requires races to navigate up and over a series of 2’ ft diameter logs. Jumping 4 ft up and 4ft out, challenges the racers strength and balance. “Hitting a log with your chest feels like getting punched in the stomach or chest. When that happens, a dirty name often comes out of your mouth, says Carney.
Carney recalls attempting the “Dirty Name” obstacle the day before his formal SEAL training began. Just 18-years old and with no instruction, mastering the obstacle took more than an hour. “The first time I ever encountered that obstacle it completely destroyed me. After I realized the technique to master the obstacles it took me just seconds to get over in training,” says Carney.
Watching participants work to solve ‘Dirty Name” Carney enjoys seeing the sense of accomplishment on the racer’s face when they compete the task. “Our staff and course marshals can envision ourselves going over the same obstacles. It’s a big motivational boost for the racers. Our obstacles can be physically taxing if you don’t understand the proper technique,” he says. “What I learned with the SEAL Teams is as you get better at the obstacles you can shave off significant time on your races. If you are perfecting the obstacles the running part is easier since you aren’t getting physically taxed with both disciplines.
Putting on an obstacle racing event requires a well-coordinated group of staff and volunteers. As BoneFrog has grown, Carney has a “roll-up your sleeves, get the job done,” approach with a lean staff of 12-15 staff members at each race. “Other race directors we’ve talked to they are bringing 5-10 times the number of staff in comparison to what we bring. With the way we do things, we’ve learned to get things done without throwing money at problems. We’ve become professionals at managing races efficiently.”
Carney recruits volunteers to manage registration and serve as course marshalls through a network of friends, former military members and Navy SEAL chapters.
Giving back is part of BoneFrog’s founding philosophy. To date, Carney has donated more than $75,000 to the Navy SEAL Foundation. “It means a lot to give back to the community we came from and support our brothers who we’ve lost in combat,” says Carney.