By Pete Williams
FORT MEADE – With obstacle races appearing on the calendar most every weekend in Florida, it’s become next to impossible to stand out in a crowded field.
But the Dirty Foot Adventure Run, which debuted here Saturday at a facility best known for motocross racing, managed to add a number of creative wrinkles to the category.
Geno Stopowenko, the marketing director for Dirty Foot Adventures, vowed to put on a first-class race at his property after leasing it last fall to a one-and-done race promoter that staged a forgettable event.
Stopowenko succeeded with his race, largely by taking advantage of the topography of the property and adding to the degree of difficulty of obstacle race staples. There were the familiar wooden walls, monkey bars, rope climbs, and balance obstacles. But by making them steeper or providing fewer footholds, Dirty Foot was a more technical course than most we’ve undertaken.
The race began with a challenging half-mile slog through a muddy motocross course where athletes were pelted by dozens of face-high sprinklers. From there it was into the woods for a trail run that included muddy ditches, balance beams, and waist-high water obstacles.
The course measured roughly six miles and while there were plenty of obstacles, this was a race suited to distance runners. Unlike the popular Savage Race, which at its Clermont event in March had backups at several obstacles that unintentionally gave athletes a rest, Dirty Foot offered few respites from long stretches of running.
With the exception of the 8.5-mile Super Spartan in Miami in February, which featured 30-Burpee penalties for failed obstacles, we can’t recall feeling as physically challenged at a race of this distance.
I entered the competitive division and came out bruised, bloodied, and scraped up, a product of my reckless racing style rather than any safety shortcomings on the part of the course. Kudos to Dirty Foot’s first-aid team that quickly patched me up while dislodging the jammed finger of one of my kilt-clad Running Commando teammates in the process.
Dirty Foot is the first obstacle race we know of where the property owners have hosted the race. That gave Stopowenko plenty of time to prepare – he even hosted several obstacle racing groups, including Running Commando, to preview the course and provide input two months ago – and it allows him to leave the obstacles up permanently and add to what’s already a strong course. (A second event already is open for registration for Sept. 8).
Stopowenko followed our suggestions and even convinced Mother Nature to deliver the massive rain the course needed for many of the obstacles.
Signature challenges included a Tarzan-style rope swing over water that was impossible to clear without taking a plunge; a technical up-and-under rope obstacle through a cattle gate; a 100-yard belly crawl under wire through crushed watermelons; and a race-ending 15-foot plunge off a platform followed by a 40-yard swim to the finish line. (Life jackets and substitute challenges were available to non-swimmers).
We’ll deduct a few points for long lines for registration and for a starting line that was little more than a touch pad and a guy with a bullhorn. We’d also like to see more races follow the lead of The Highlander (and our own Streak the Cove 5K and Caliente Bare Dare 5K) and go with soft, fitted Tultex T-shirts. Still, the Dirty Foot shirts – aqua Gildan numbers with no sponsor logos cluttering the back – were better than the tired concert calendar look the well-heeled Spartan Race and Tough Mudder have trotted out. (To say nothing of Mud Crusade, which did not give out T-shirts for its debut event in April.)
But we can live with a modest starting line and a non-Tultex T-shirt when a race puts money into four water stops with bottled water in the form of those new shrink-wrap plastic containers. And Dirty Foot also sprung for AltaVista Sports, the gold standard for race timing in Florida. Results were posted quickly both at the finish line and online.
Dirty Foot also provided one of the better post-race setups we’ve seen, converting the race’s last obstacle into a “party on the pond,” providing a zipline over the 40-yard water obstacle.
We’re guessing Dirty Foot may have fallen a little short of its goal of 1,500 to 2,000 athletes, but for a first-time event the numbers were about right. This race has plenty of room to grow and we’re looking forward to getting our feet dirty again.