In our Prius-driven, Labradoodle-walking, multi-tasking world, the idea of a hybrid of anything has almost become the norm. It’s like we’re constantly on the lookout for a new way to combine two familiar things and create something entirely different and better.
So it comes as no surprise that when the organizers of the Civilian Military Combine wanted to come up with the toughest physical challenge around, they made a Frankenstein monster of a race that mashed together totally disparate physical challenges, each of which would have been tough enough on its own.
The end result delivered exactly what they were looking for; an incredibly physical and taxing challenge that levels the playing field between the strong, the nimble and the fast, leaving all who participate exhausted, and all who complete it victorious.
It would be wrong to say that the people who participate in the Civilian Military Combine are a different breed; if you’re the type who dreams about competing in Crossfit events, or running a triathlon, or participating in one of the myriad mud runs that are popping around the country, then you’re likely to see a bunch of people you’ve competed against before.
That being said, the CMC is designed to be a completely different kind of race.
You’re racing against yourself as you go through a series of as many thrusters, burpees, kettle ball swings or box jumps – whichever you’re assigned – as you can do in a 90 second period. Each rep has to be executed correctly or it’s just wasted effort, and you’re pumping them out along with 299 other competitors at the same time.
Each of you has your own judge who lets you know when a rep doesn’t count due to bad form, and after you’ve completed one and a half minutes of whichever workout you started with, you’re given thirty seconds to rest and transition before you start on to the next until you’ve done as many as you can of all four – in a total of six minutes.
It all almost sounds easy – until you actually try it and realize that even if you’ve been doing Crossfit regularly, there’s something insane about the intensity of this grouping and the way it’s timed, not to mention the added adrenaline of being surrounded by hundreds of others doing it at the same time and having encouragement screamed at you from spectators all around.
Ninety seconds on, thirty seconds off, ninety seconds on, thirty seconds off, four times.
By the time you’re done all the rotations you’ve worked every muscle in your body as hard and as fast as you can and you feel completely depleted, lungs on fire, calves and quads cramping – and you only have a few minutes to recover and get ready to run a seven mile obstacle course that traverses a double black diamond ski mountain, headed straight up and down, over the river and through the woods, then up and down a mountain again.
As Crossfitters know, some of the most brutal WOD’s are the shortest (e.g., Fran, Grace). And while the PIT was all body weight exercises, 6 minutes will smoke you when you are under the gun. But if it was just a WOD, life wouldn’t have been too bad.
Oh wait–I have to go run up a mountain now? Shit. -Amelia at Race Ipsa Loquitur
If putting all the hardcore strength work at the beginning takes the speed advantage away from the hardcore athletes who put on the miles, there’s a good chance that the course that follows is going to lay waste to all the strong men and women who train in boxes, and it’s that lack of advantage that is at the heart of the way this event has been engineered.
The Civilian Military Combine is designed to find the best overall athlete who can put muscle, heart and mind together to conquer a seemingly endless series of depleting challenges – the Pit is just the beginning.
The course is designed in much the same way as the strength challenges; each obstacle you overcome takes a little more out of you and makes the next even more daunting. Many CMC veterans report having considered bailing by the middle of the race as they looked straight up the second, even steeper mountain they were slated to climb.
I think it was around mile 4 of 7 when I found myself standing at the bottom of the seemingly endless slope of the mountain (which was my third time having to go back up to the top), watching the people ahead of me crawling up on their hands and knees, when I was confronted with the reality of what I still had ahead of me. I had already completed 4 maximum effort Crossfit lifts, run 3+ miles up and down the slopes of a ski resort, and completed 3 physically demanding obstacles. For a split second, I thought about quitting. I stood there hanging my head low, hands on my hips, and gasping for the little oxygen available at that altitude, generally feeling sorry for myself. -Athan Schindler at LiveStrong
A total of eighteen military-style obstacles await the runners, and these are no manufactured mud pies or volunteers dressed up as warriors bearing battering rams. Participants in the spring 2012 CMC reported rescuing a fellow runner who came close to drowning before he could drag himself up the cargo net that was the only escape from the wave pool – the six water crossings are soggy bonuses that range from rivers and lakes to fishy-smelling water tunnels, all not counted in the previously mentioned climb-over/crawl-over/clamber-through challenges.
The obstacles are oh-crap-not-another-you-must-be-frickin’-kidding-me challenges, and each is monitored by judges who will take down your bib number to disqualify you if you skip, yet none are as intimidating as the mountains themselves, which are as hard on the knees coming down as they are on the quads and Achilles going up.
Technique on the way up ranges from sprinting to crawling, while the way down is best done in a serpentine fashion to keep yourself from falling ass over teakettle.
The seven mile course covers 2,000 feet vertical, and by the time you reach the finish line, you’re scraped up and bloody, and you can name your bruises after every inch of that elevation, up and back down again.
CMC is a new race – it started in 2011, and so far it’s only been held a few times a year, but its numbers are growing exponentially and it will be interesting to watch them choose new venues as their reputation grows.
So far they’ve made good use of both natural landscape and the add-ons that different venues offer such as lazy rivers and wave pools, but their next event is scheduled in Brooklyn, and it’s hard to imagine what they’ll do to make up for the lack of mountains.
The Civilian Military Combine is definitely designed for elite athletes, though the atmosphere is just as welcoming to weekend warriors who want to see if they have the stuff, and nobody is made to feel that they don’t belong.
The points system here is broken down by reps done in the Pit and time on the course, and contestants are released in waves so you’re really running against yourself and the clock. Participants compete as individuals and as teams – there’s no waiting for each other as in other races, emphasis is on performance rather than accomplishment, and a team’s score is based on combined average so the fleet are encouraged by their teammates to leave them behind.
For those who just want to test themselves against one of the toughest physical challenges around, the reward is in getting it done, and they often stick together and help each other through the roughest spots.
The CMC is billed as civilians competing against (or combining with) military, and though there’s a fair share of vets who participate, the mood is collaborative rather than competitive – at least as far as the country’s warriors are concerned.
The real competition here is man (and woman) against mountain and river, and against their own inner voices telling them to quit as they’re faced with continuous challenges in the face of mounting exhaustion.
Civilian Military Combine provides a test of endurance and strength that’s unlike any mud run, obstacle or adventure course. It takes things to a whole different level.
P.S. CMC benefits Operation Homefront and Heroes of Tomorrow, as well as Livestrong.