By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Strictly for the fittest

Submitted photo
A tower accessed by ladder and exited by rope is one of the Race the Reaper obstacles. The event, scheduled Saturday at the Flying M Ranch, is in its fourth year.
Submitted photo
A tower accessed by ladder and exited by rope is one of the Race the Reaper obstacles. The event, scheduled Saturday at the Flying M Ranch, is in its fourth year.

Only those whose physical fitness is at its peak would consider taking on such demanding competitive challenges as Iron Man or Ninja Warrior. It takes the mightiest of mortals to tackle the Herculean tasks presented by the Strongman Contest.

For lesser humans, few would welcome repeating the daunting obstacle course imposed on military recruits during boot camp, either. Even fewer would look forward to a 20-mile forced march with fully loaded packs.

But on Saturday, some 700 individuals boasting impressive levels of strength, stamina and fitness will be congregating at the Flying M Ranch, in the Coast Range foothills west of Yamhill, for just such an endeavor. It’s called Race the Reaper, and they will be paying for the privilege of competing.

Now in its fourth year, Race the Reaper was created by close friends Jennifer Chesney and Heidi Buehler of Southwest Portland’s All Terrain Events.

Chesney and Buehler met in high school, where they played varsity basketball against each other. Chesney was a forward at Newberg High and Buehler a point guard at Tualatin High.

Both were not only starters, but standouts. After their graduation with the class of 2000, their shared passion for competitive sports led them initially into a friendship and eventually into a business relationship.

As entrepreneurial partners, the former star athletes have created an elite event designed for the seriously committed competitor and pretenders to that status. 

Those already there thrive on the opportunity to push themselves to the limit. Race the Reaper provides that opportunity, no holds barred.

In essence, it is an obstacle race. But as Reiter warned, “Here at All Terrain, we are committed to bringing you obstacles that aren’t the norm, coupled with elements of Strongman, Ninja Warrior and the traditional obstacle event.”

Reaper is run over a six-mile course. Along the way, competitors encounter 20 obstacles.

They include a hill climb, rope climb, tire wall, tire pulley, tire jump, strongman carry, reverse cargo net and 100-foot slip-and-slide, along with military hurdles, water pits and climbing towers.

Races are run in heats of 150 participants, except for the one reserved for the elite of elites. The top 100 men and women, including international level athletes and prior Reaper runners, will kick off the competition at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Actual completion of the course by racers among the first to cross must be validated by judges stationed at each obstacle. A position is awarded only after successful completion has been verified.

Two attempts to complete each obstacle are allowed before disqualification.

Buehler said the fastest elapsed time she could recall was 1 hour 12 minutes, which means averaging 12 minutes a mile over a six-mile course featuring 20 challenging obstacles.

She and Chesney have both run the course, but have not been able to clock times in that range. “It’s tough,” she said.

All Terrain conducts intensive, two-hour fitness camps to train prospective runners. April and May camps were held at McMinnville’s Excell Fitness, an event sponsor. A June camp was held at the Flying M.

This year, the partners estimate 800 to 850 spectators will show up, joining more than 1,500 contestants. And they think that represents only a fraction of the race’s potential.

To build participation and attendance, they plan to incorporate a three-mile or 5K run into next year’s schedule.

“Reaper racers and supporters have been requesting this,” Buehler said. “Early response leads us to believe that two to three times as many people will compete in the three-mile, compared to the six-mile. We also have a mile-long course for kids.

“Our goal is to make Race the Reaper as big as Hood to Coast. It wouldn’t be a problem, since we can accommodate up to 10,000 people here at the Flying M.”

And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT – attempting to avoid being mowed down by flying bodies and fleet feet at the well-known mountain retreat.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or phone at 503-687-1227.

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS