So... It's been a little while since I last ran more than a mile or two. Sure, I've taken the dog for a jog occasionally, but actual training runs have been almost non-existent since mid-July when I last participated in a race event. And while I've been spending plenty of time on fitness, I'm definitely not in distance shape anymore! But since it's been months since my last event, I've definitely been feeling the itch to get back out there, and turned to obstacle course races (OCRs) once again as a fun, low-pressure way to get back into the racing world.
A friend asked me about a race called the Insane Inflatable 5k, which happened to be stopping in Erie PA, about an hour and a half from my current home. I'd never heard of it, but did some research and was excited to find a growing company with a slew of successful events already under their belt. I'm always cautious of OCRs, especially if they haven't been on my radar previously, because the OCR industry is becoming notorious for scams, disappointments, and even injuries - general warning, do your research on any adventure race or OCR company before you get swept up in their hype! But the Insane Inflatable passed check, and I eagerly signed up to give it a go.
Disclaimer: I was provided a comped entry for the event in exchange for my review. I have not received any additional compensation for this post, and all views and opinions herein are my own.
I headed out to Erie early, with my mom along for the ride (she hopped over to the casino while I ran, it was a win-win). The drive went quickly and I arrived more than an hour early for my start time, as advised in the pre-race email. For the first few waves, though, this was probably an unnecessary precaution! I waltzed right up to the row of registration tables, picked up my bib and wristband, and was done in less than a minute. Leaving me a LOT of down time before my scheduled wave (the first of the day). This meant I had time to poke around the festival area without having to fight through crowds!
As promised, the little midway offered some inflatable playthings such as games and bouncy houses. The venue provided food booths, and a couple local sponsors had set up tents. Erie is not one of the race's primary markets and receives relatively low registration (compared to the metropolis races, which obviously have a larger pool of participants), so the festival area was properly scaled to the size of the event. The main feature was the Air National Guard station, which offered mini fitness competitions throughout the day. Race participants and spectators were all welcome to pick a fitness challenge such as planks, wall sits, sit ups, push ups, chin ups, and more, then do their best to set the day's record. A couple girls had stepped up to set the first few numbers, and when I saw the current record was only three chin ups, I knew I could beat it. I managed seven chin ups before my start wave was called and I had to head to the start line - but after the race I came back to see how my number had held up. I'd been beaten! Someone had done 10 chin ups, so I hopped back up on the bar and gutted out another 10 of my own, but couldn't quite get that last one for the record!
Anyway, I was there for the run, so let's talk about that! I was in the first wave at 8:45am, and it was chilly and damp when we started. This made the inflatables pretty slippery, which was an immediate concern since even the starting line itself is an obstacle! I was impressed right off the bat, though, when volunteers and race staff cautioned participants to use ropes and handholds when climbing to prevent slipping. This same focus on safety lasted for the entire course, and was probably the most noteworthy aspect of the whole race! Every worker along the course was vocal and clear, including letting racers know which side of the slide would have puddles at the bottom!
My shoes got damp quickly from the dew, but the middle third of the course was on pavement and they dried out without much fuss. Obstacles were kept on the grass, which meant they were grouped at the beginning and end of the course since the that paved mile was actually partially ON the Lake Erie Speedway racetrack! My dad has autocrossed on the same track a few times but I got to tackle it on foot! I of course had to stop for a quick selfie.
The early wave had a surprisingly good turnout for a place like Erie, which is a little out of the way for big city runners, but we still spread out quickly and I was rarely running near anyone else, which meant the obstacles were quick and easy to tackle. Later waves didn't look so crowded as to cause line issues at the inflatables, either, which has been a chronic problem in other OCRs. In a larger city, this might still be an issue but Erie was the perfect size to keep things moving. Or perhaps it only seemed that way because Insane Inflatable does a great job metering out wave registration to ensure there's no overcrowding...
I made it through the 5k course in about 30 minutes, which surprised me because I thought I was taking it pretty easy and there were obstacles... I didn't track the distance but it's possible the course was a little short - it's also possible I ran a little harder than I realized. One thing is for sure - I was WIPED for the rest of the day! Between running and participating in several of the fitness challenges, I was tired and sore in that exquisite way that proves you're getting stronger. I received my medal and t-shirt at the end of the race, mingled with the crowd for a while (and met some fun people), then picked up my gear and headed home, exhausted but exceptionally pleased with my experience!
Organization: As I mentioned, I was there very early, and that affected my check in times, but even later I noticed that registration was moving efficiently. There were ample volunteers and staff in place to handle the size of crowd I was seeing, and everyone was willing to be helpful. The course was well marked and laid out creatively to maximize the space available at a tight venue, and crowd control was actually pretty well done. This is the first race I've done with wristbands designating wave time, and I was surprised to see they not only checked wristbands but were strict about people entering at the right time. Having witnessed the problems overcrowding and wave switching can cause, I'm grateful for the level of control that was exercised in the interest of keeping the event consistently fun and safe for everyone.
The Course: Lots of obstacles! Another chronic problem in the OCR world is overpromising and underdelivering on things like number of obstacles, but the Insane Inflatable had plenty of fun things to try along the course! Some of the inflatables were relatively similar, but there's only so much that can be done with bouncy technology at this time, I suppose. Every one of them was fun, which is the most important thing - there were no lame components that looked cool but then ended up being a total bore. My favorite part was probably running on the Speedway, though, which has a lot to do with dad's history on the track, but can also be attributed to being a very unique feature of the venue. Not every race gets to run on an automotive racetrack!
The Swag: Every runner gets a t-shirt and a medal as they cross the finish line. I thought this was interesting, as you usually receive your event shirt at registration so you can wear it while you run, and therefore show up in your event photos with the race shirt. Receiving the shirt at the end is logistically easier on the race organization: it allows check-in to move more quickly, and uses the finish line as a way to space out participants so the t-shirt line does not get overcrowded. As I never wear the event shirt on the same day, this certainly didn't bother me! I love the medal, which actually features one of the obstacles instead of just the event logo. I was also very appreciative of the full size Kind bar I received with my medal, as I had yet to eat any breakfast! Boy did I scarf that thing down... Post-race, the Insane Inflatable offer FREE race photos, which is a huge value for any event. They had several photographers out on the course, even early, and took some great shots!
The Bottom Line: This was a great OCR for the family! It's not hardcore like Spartan or Tough Mudder events are, which is totally fine for me right now. The draw of these races would be the emphasis on having fun while moving a little more than usual, and I think that's one of the best things happening in the world today. Anyone can get through a course like this and get a positive fitness experience out of it, and the obstacles and festival make for great stories to tell later! If you're thinking of spending more time moving, but you're intimidated by timed races or intense OCRs, the Insane Inflatable is the perfect introductory race to get you started. If you're a regular runner and you're just looking for a change of pace, this is the event to keep yourself training but with an added element of silliness that'll make your workout seem like a party!
Did I get you thoroughly juiced about the Insane Inflatable 5k? Go try it yourself and get 15% off your entry fee with promo code FITNYX15! And be sure to have a BLAST!