San Diego Reader

MCRD BootCamp Challenge 2016
The three-mile run is part obstacle course, featuring the very same physical challenges that Marine Corps Recruits encounter during their training. In addition, more than . . . Read More

Pacific Magazine

MCRD Announces 15th Annual BootCamp Challenge
The Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) has set Saturday, Oct. 1 for its 2016 BootCamp Challenge, a popular and competitive athletic event taking place annually. The three mile run . . . Read More

Discover SD

Race Like a Marine at the BootCamp Challenge
Oorah! It’s time to see how tough you are compared to the few, the proud, the Marines. The BootCamp Challenge held on Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD), is a 5K race with over 50 obstacles that give civilians a taste of Marine Corps boot camp. Read More

news-000009Oct 07, 2015

2015 MCRD San Diego Bootcamp Challenge race photos available for purchase at endurancesportsphoto.com

news-000008Sep 29, 2014

Race photos available for purchase at PhilCollumPhotography.com

[SAN DIEGO, CA - September 29, 2012: Drill Instructor James Barnhill motivates a participant of the 11th Annual Marine Corps Recruit Depot Boot Camp Challenge. More than 60 drill instructors were stationed along the three mile course to push competitors along. Nearly 2,000 people signed up to compete. (Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times)] *** []

[SAN DIEGO, CA – September 29, 2012: Drill Instructor James Barnhill motivates a participant of the 11th Annual Marine Corps Recruit Depot Boot Camp Challenge. More than 60 drill instructors were stationed along the three mile course to push competitors along. Nearly 2,000 people signed up to compete. (Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times)] *** []

Sep 30, 2012

SAN DIEGO — Marine Gunnery Sgt. Douglas King, lean as a whippet and possessed of a commanding, rapid-fire voice, set the tone quickly and without equivocation as he addressed the Saturday morning assemblage of civilian runners.

“You’re going to get motivated, the Marine Corps way!” he bellowed. “You’re going to get it whether you like it or not.”

And with that, the 11th annual Boot Camp Challenge was underway — 2,000 civilians vying for the bragging rights that come with completing a three-mile obstacle course designed for recruits at the boot camp here.

For the weekend fitness crowd, three miles may not seem like much of a challenge.

But this is a three-mile course with tunnels, trenches, logs to jump over, logs to crawl under, walls to climb, hay bales to jump, push-ups to perform and more — much more.

All along the way, drill instructors with those demanding, otherworldly voices were pushing the runners to keep moving, quitting is not an option, etc. Instruction was done close up and at high decibels.


Sometimes sarcasm was in play.


There is method to the apparent madness, the Marines explained. Since 1923, young men have been coming here to see if they are tough enough to be Marines. To many civilians, the insular Marine culture remains a mystery.

The Boot Camp Challenge allows civilians to glimpse a portion of the grueling 13-week process of turning young men into Marines, said Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo, commanding officer at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

“You get to see some of the physical and mental stress they go through,” he said.

Matt Pederson, 44, a high school biology teacher from Phoenix, wore a T-shirt (“Proud Dad. Erik Pederson. Platoon 2123”) honoring his son, a recent boot camp graduate now receiving infantry training at Camp Pendleton. “I want to see what he went through,” Pederson said.

Walt Smith, 64, the oldest runner in the “elite” group (those who can run a mile in under eight minutes), wanted to make sure he still has the right stuff. He’s a retired colonel in the Marine Reserve.

Glenda Smithson, 32, a software designer in Los Angeles, was just plain curious.

“You hear about the Marines, but you don’t really know what they do or how they do,” she said. “I’m going to find out even if it means getting sore feet and legs.”

Part of being a Marine, of course, is learning how to respond — affirmatively, quickly and loudly — when given an order. King explained the secret.

“There’s a vein in your neck, ” he told the group. “You scream loud enough, it pops out.”

At the end of the race, the exhausted, sweat-drenched runners returned to the grassy area near the start.

Rock music was blaring, T-shirts were selling briskly and some adventuresome souls were getting Marine high-and-tight haircuts for free. Others were getting pull-up training from the drill instructors. Beer, water and energy drinks were available.

The DIs were a common topic of conversation.

“In the beginning, they’re in your face,” said Herbie Greene, 29, of San Diego. “But by the end, you don’t hear them; you just keep moving.”

Rachel Paul, 20, of Escondido heard the DIs every step of the way. “They were insane,” she said — adding that she’ll probably come back for next year’s race.

The question to runners at the finish line was direct: How was the race?

“Awesome,” said Cory McAllister, 22, of Rancho Cucamonga.

“Brutal,” said Frank Esqueda, 46, his uncle.

What was the best part?

“Finishing,” uncle and nephew said in unison.

By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, tony.perry@latimes.com

Image: Marine drill instructor James Barnhill, left, loudly and affirmatively motivates a participant in the 11th annual Boot Camp Challenge in San Diego. Two thousand civilians vied for the bragging rights that come with completing a three-mile obstacle course designed for recruits at the boot camp here. (Bethany Mollenkof, Los Angeles Times)

news-000005Sep 30, 2011

Three miles. Easy. Jump over a few walls, crawl under some wire. Can’t be too hard? I was feeling good, maybe even a little cocky, going into the Boot Camp Challenge at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Saturday. Part of Fleet Week festivities, the open-to-the-public challenge puts civilians like me through the same obstacle course that shaved-head recruits brave over the 13-week odyssey that makes them Marines. Then, the woman next to me face-planted. She jumped over the first set of waist-high logs like Marines probably do — all flying feet and momentum — and, boom. Lucky for her, the pit underneath the logs was full of rubber chips. She seemed fine and kept running, possibly with a roughed-up ego. But it scared me. I was already predisposed to crawling gingerly over the logs. I’m not tall, and my 38-year-old knees aren’t that happy about high-impact landings. But the depot’s drill instructors didn’t seem to care about my height, my old knees or my concern for keeping my front teeth. About 60 guys with campaign hats and loud voices were stationed along the course, offering “encouragement.” The chief of the drill instructor school, Gunnery Sgt. Tim Fairfield, told us before we left: “I guarantee you they will motivate you back into the course.” The “hats” had some good lines along the way: “Who told you you can walk? I didn’t say you can walk!” “Get over my logs!” “Get up off my deck!” “Nobody cares! Run!” (For the record, I never walked.) If anyone really wanted to do this to become a Marine, they’d better imagine wearing combat boots and carrying umpteen pounds of gear. Before dawn. And they’ll need some luck. It’s not as easy as it used to be to get into the Marine Corps. Call it patriotism or the poor economy or good marketing. The Marines have more than met their recruitment goals every year of the past five. Since 2005, enlistment has gotten more competitive. The Pentagon requires that 90 percent of recruits hold high school diplomas. In 2005, about 95.7 percent of new Marines had diplomas. This year, 99.7 percent. Plus, in 2007 and 2008, Marine leaders decided they needed more than 40,000 new recruits a year to fill their needs, based in part on the number of troops who re-enlist. In 2010, the Corps was only looking for 33,000 new shaved heads. Back to the course. I’ll admit it: I was flagging toward the end. I ran the Phoenix half-marathon in under two hours in January. But you add in jumping over hay bales, a six-foot plunge off a wall and dropping down for 10 push-ups (twice) — it makes three miles seem much tougher. I chugged up to the finish line with a brick-red face, dirt on my chin, hands and knees, and a little extra humility in my heart. My unofficial time (by my watch): 26 minutes, 3 seconds. That’s about 10 minutes slower than the course record. Still, I passed up a handful of 30-something guys along the way who were walking. The smart aleck in me wanted to ask: Navy? But I kept running without comment. Hard to be cocky while panting.

Copyright 2010 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

news-000004Jul 21, 2011

And how was the run, you ask? The one organized by — gulp — Marines. The setting was nothing if not sweet, what with the course winding through the historic and perfectly tailored grounds of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

However, it was the middle part of the Boot Camp Challenge held yesterday that, well, sucked the very life out of you. Made you want to crawl off somewhere and cry. Made you want to toss your morning Grape Nuts. You had to jump knee-high and then chest-high obstacles. You had to crawl and scamper in the dirt — and never mind the very fashionable and expensive Nike tank top you were sporting. You had to drop and give them perfect push-ups. You got sprayed with a hose — twice. You got to feel what’s it’s like to be a young, fresh-faced Marine recruit who faces these very obstacles. All the while, of course, helpful drill instructors shouted things at you such as, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! and: “Walking? Why are you walking? This, for your information, is called a race!” The drill instructors — and there were 60 of them throughout the course — would offer such thoughtful encouragement right in your ear and at considerable decibel levels. This three-mile obstacle run helped kick off Fleet Week, the annual celebration of the military presence in the area. And, speaking for the 1,800 or so participants in this particular event, this reporter can only say: “Gee, thanks. It was really swell of you guys.” There also was a scheduled parade of Navy ships on San Diego Bay. (I should have gone to the parade.) Frank Tan, 44, might agree. “It kicked my (rear end),” he said of the course. “I thought they made you jump over some bales of hay and that was about it. It was brutal.” But it was also — and Tan would agree — a blast. Marines from years ago came, to reminisce about the place where they learned to become one of the few, the proud … Dennis Montoya, 68, went through recruit training at MCRD 50 years ago, and he itched for the chance to come back and check it out. Training was tougher back in his day, he said. But this race, now in only its second year, was a great way to turn back the pages. “It brought back memories,” Montoya said. “A lot of tough memories, but fun ones, too.” Mario Ayala, who went to boot camp at MCRD 20 years ago, came back with his wife and three children. He ran the race and survived — somehow. “Boot camp was easier,” he said. “I was in better shape.” Most of the participants were civilians who were lured to the race for a number of reasons, one of them being the chance to see where the famed Marine basic training actually takes place. You eat the dirt the recruits eat. You sweat where they sweat. You get your knees skinned where they get theirs. And then, thankfully, you get to go home. The recruits don’t have it that easy. The race drew both men and women. It drew young and old. It drew clean-cut former military types and biker-looking folks. It was a true melting pot of runners looking to be tested. And oh, they were. Marines fired people up, asking them before the start of the run to give a “war yell.” Who knew they were serious? They urged everyone to finish, noting that the course was a “mere three miles.” And it appeared that every one did, even sailors. Runners hit the finish line dirt-stained and sweaty. They were smiling and aching. One had a bloody nose. “I’m too old for this,” said Mark Johnson, 52, who ran the race with his daughter, Shea. “But it was fun, challenging.” Shea loved every minute of it. She’s 16, though — bless her.

By: Michael Stetz: (619) 542-4570; michael.stetz@uniontrib.com

news-000002Sep 26, 2010

LOCAL Mike Szuch, a 51-year-old engineer who keeps in shape by running on his lunch hour, always admired the Marine Corps’ reputation for physical discipline.

Yesterday, Szuch got to see how Marines are made, tackling the same obstacle course used by new recruits to one of the world’s most elite fighting forces.

He was among an estimated 4,000 people yesterday who braved the eighth annual Boot Camp Challenge. The event is part of Fleet Week San Diego, which pays tribute to San Diego’s military.

“A bunch of guys at work egged me on,” said Szuch, who lives in Oceanside. His team of mostly middle-aged men hurdled over logs, struggled through push-ups, crawled under rope nets and ran a three-mile loop around the Marine Corps Recruit Depot — all in the hot sun — as 50 menacing drill sergeants barked orders.

Szuch finally made it to the finish line, his gray T-shirt soaked and his knees caked with sand. “I feel great,” he said, dabbing his face with a towel. “I’m ready for a shower and a cold beer.” The event is comparable to the 6.2-mile World Famous Mud Run at Camp Pendleton. It gives civilians a taste of the 13-week boot camp that 19,000 Marines complete at the depot each year. It attracts triathletes, people from other military branches, yoga moms and desk-bound office workers. Part of the appeal is the intense atmosphere, with the drill instructors terrorizing participants into completing the course.

San Diego resident Tiffani Nielsen said she signed up because she needed a motivational boost. The 29-year-old graphic designer said she misses the coaching she got on her college track and soccer teams.

At the obstacle course, Nielsen scrambled over log barricades as Staff Sgt. Lance Weier stood over her and barked: “Run! Run! Run! Run! Get over the log! Get! Get!” “I feed off of that,” Nielsen said afterward. “I need to be pushed.”

Nielsen ended up winning her women’s division. “I really liked it!” she said. But she was also thinking about post-challenge refreshments. “I’m going to go have a steak sandwich and some orange juice.”

MCRD recreation director Brent Poser, who organizes the event, said it builds community ties in a town important to the Corps. San Diego is one of just two U.S. facilities where recruits are trained to be Marines. The other is Parris Island, S.C.

“We are a vital part of San Diego, so we want people to come in and see what we do in a friendly environment,” Poser said.

Szuch said he gained a deeper level of respect for the military: “I’m really proud of the Marines, of what they do.”

news-000006Oct 01, 2008

Dennis Melendez (center) of Los Angeles was the center of attention for a couple of enthusiastic drill instructors at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot yesterday as he struggled through the obstacle course. Melendez joined about 1,700 others who took part in the Marines’ third annual Boot Camp Challenge at MCRD, which gives the public a taste of what recruits into the service go through. The event was part of the annual Fleet Week celebration here.

Earnie Grafton / Union-Tribune
Copyright 2004 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.

news-000003Oct 06, 2006

At the Marine Corps Recruit Depot yesterday morning, a man with a long, gray ponytail ran toward the obstacle course, and into a drill instructor’s line of sight.


The ponytailed man ran off, and the screeching abuse rained down on others who followed in the Boot Camp Challenge. The race gives civilians a taste of a Marine recruit’s life, with a three-mile course filled with obstacles and 60 menacing drill instructors to encourage them.

It was the fifth annual running of the event, and the largest crowd yet at 3,000. Runners must pass through trenches, foxholes and tunnels, and crawl under netting. More than a mile into the race, runners pass through a series of log obstacles, some 5 feet high and others 8 feet.

At a row of 5-foot logs, a woman fell backward, but sprang back up, saying to a nearby drill instructor she thought was concerned, “I’m all right.”

“I KNOW YOU’RE ALL RIGHT. I DIDN’T ASK IF YOU WERE ALL RIGHT!” As runners pawed the logs, searching for something to grip so they could swing a leg over, another drill instructor stood over them.


Each drill instructor is red-faced and sweating through his shirt. Their veins swell, their eyes bulge, their voices go scratchy. When Gunnery Sgt. Tracy Reddish yells, his whole body vibrates, and he bounces like he’s on a pogo stick doing double time. “WHAT IS THE HOLD-UP OVER HERE?” he screamed to a group floundering on the logs. “TAKE YOUR TIME! YOU’RE JUST SLOWING EVERYONE DOWN!” The log obstacles behind them, exhausted runners slowed to walk. But not for long. Staff Sgt. Jesse Saltzman was on them. “OH, WE’RE NOT WALKING, 253, WE’RE RUNNING!” Saltzman screamed at a woman wearing that number. She looked up in surprise and got going. All the while, the public-address system blared the classic cadences used by the Marines while marching and running — among them, “Mama, Mama, can’t you see, what the Marine Corps’ done for me?” Bringing up the rear was a group of four women, wives of the drill instructors, and they got extra-special attention. When Judy Hornsby dropped at a push-up station, drill instructors swarmed over her, shouting over each other. Jamie Bowens had never heard her husband yell like that. “His face was red, dripping,” Bowens said. “It was kinda scary.” After the race, Lou Briones, 58, of Los Angeles stretched out on the grass, bare-chested and shoes off. He rested his ankle on a bag of ice. “I landed real hard on my heel,” Briones said. “Everyone got some cuts and bruises. There’s no way to avoid getting scraped up.” With his time of 23 minutes, 13 seconds, Briones was second in his age group, the same place he took last year. The men who came in first and third were the same guys, too. For training, Briones ran and did push-ups. He knew what to expect, since he had been a Marine recruit at MCRD in 1966. “It’s a lot harder now,” Briones said. “I’m about 40 pounds heavier than I was then.”

Amy Crawford, 29, of Murrieta brought her husband and two children to cheer for her at the finish line, which she crossed after about 39 minutes. “It was a lot harder than I expected,” Crawford said. And there were the drill instructors: “They were not nice.” Crawford was yelled at for not saying “Yes, sir” and for going too slow, she said. But then she got used to it. “Definitely towards the end, it got me going,” she said. And that’s just what the drill instructors like to hear — when they’re not busy screaming at someone, of course. All that yelling and carrying on can be tiring. But the payoff is huge. “You dig a little deeper when you know someone is relying on you to accomplish something,” Reddish said.

Yesterday, runners got an authentic taste of boot camp, he said, adding that the only difference with the civilians was that “they don’t have to listen to us.”