O2X Summit Challenge: Course Preview

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O2X course designers Paul McCullough and Adam La Reau at the summit of South Peak.

We’re truly psyched to be hosting the O2X Summit Challenge here at Loon on October 18. If you’re unfamiliar with this new event, it’s a totally unique mix of off-trail bushwhacking, stream crossings, and more than 2,000 feet of ascent in little more than five miles. A souped-up hybrid of trail running and obstacle course racing, you can think of O2X as the Minotaur of the running world.

For an inside look at the beastly O2X course, read our interview below with Adam LeRoux and Paul McCullough, the former Navy SEALs who designed the Single Diamond and Double Diamond O2X courses here at Loon. They’re also the guys who, along with partners Gabriel Gomez and Craig Coffey, founded the O2X Summit Challenges races series.

Read on, and get ready to race.

How are the O2X Summit Challenges different from a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race?

Paul – One, there’s no manmade obstacles, so it’s not an obstacle course. We like to say that O2X takes trail running off trail, and it’s a unique experience. What we do is we look at a mountain and we try to expose racers to all the natural terrain that exists. So what we don’t do is we don’t just run up the ski slopes or stick to manmade trails, or even old logging trails. We put a lot of time and effort into developing these routes with mountain operations guys and then a lot of the experience we have in our backgrounds, and using Google Earth and other technology we’re up and down these mountains as much as possible. We try to find as many terrain features as we possibly can – from glades to rock faces to stream crossings. We try to make the most challenging way to the top.

Adam takes a break while course scouting on South Peak.
Adam takes a break while course scouting on South Peak.

Tell us about Loon’s course. How is it different from the O2X courses at Sugarbush, or Sunday River?

Paul – I think one of the things that differentiates O2X in general is that every course we have is going to be extremely different. We based them on the diamond system for a few reasons. One, so that it’s obtainable for some people that maybe want to start off with a Single Diamond – maybe a little less mileage, a little less vertical. It [the courses] also have the ability to go Double Diamond and Triple Diamond, because it lets a more advanced athlete train for it. One of the really unique features at Loon, specifically, is that fact that we’re going to hit all three peaks on the Double-Diamond course. So we’ll hit South Peak, then we’ll hit Loon Peak, then we’ll end on North Peak. It’s almost entirely off trail, a lot of glades.

The Double Diamond course, with 2,089' of elevation gain over 5.27 miles.
The Double Diamond course, with 2,089′ of elevation gain over 5.27 miles.

And then the Single Diamond will hit two of those peaks [South Peak and Loon Peak]. We start on one side, and we’ll work our way all the way across the landscape, hitting South Peak and working our way across. I think in general it’s going to be tons of off trail, and the ability to get exposure to all three peaks – it’s pretty rare.

The Single Diamond course, with 1,510' of elevation gain over 4.85 miles.
The Single Diamond course, with 1,510′ of elevation gain over 4.85 miles.

How should I train for this?

Adam – It’s definitely going to challenge you more aerobically than everything else. So you stick to increasing your running distances. The single diamond course is three to five miles, but running-wise, it feels more like five to seven. I would say incorporate a lot of body weight strength in there as well, a lot of hip flexor strength, a lot of hamstrings. It will definitely help along the race. Any time you can get out and run trails or hills, that’s going to help with ankle stability, foot stability, and calf stability as well. Any time you can get off the pavement will probably be extremely beneficial.

We heard there’s going to be a ‘Base Camp’ at the race as well. What’s that going to be like?

Adam – Base Camp is all sorts of local food and beverages from local vendors. Basically we’re trying to bring the local community in, we’re trying to have an economic impact in the local area. Also what’s really unique is we’ll have an eco village within our Base Camp. We’re striving to be a no-waste event. We have an awesome partner – Reverb. We call them our Eco SWAT Team. Reverb was started by Adam Gardner from Guster, and his wife. It’s a nonprofit to help green events. We’re their first partner as far as races, and what we’re doing is we’re trying to limit the amount of waste. We’re trying to educate and give back to some local nonprofits that support the environment. We’ll also have a live band, DJ, we’ll have local beer and wine and hopefully a distillery in there too.

And there’s camping, too?

Adam – Our Base Camp starts on Friday, so we welcome everybody to come out for a day-and-a-half O2X experience. You come in [Friday] and registration starts at 4 p.m., you check in, and then camp out. You’re going to be camping out right next to the river, which is probably one of the best Base Camp locations that we’ve seen in any of our races, any of the mountains that we’ve worked with.

It’s real beautiful down there. It just gives racers an opportunity to camp out the night before, spend the night, and then wake up and have some breakfast and get on for a challenging course, a challenging race.

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