By Pete Williams
DADE CITY – Had Mud Crusade debuted a year ago, before Florida became saturated with obstacle mud races, athletes probably would have been quite impressed with how the Dade City Motocross and Pasco County Fairgrounds was converted into a short, muddy course over the weekend.
Now it’s tough for any mud run or obstacle race to stand out in a crowded field. Considering many of the 5,600 or so athletes who participated over the two days paid $25 or less via various early-bird promotions, it would be tough to say they didn’t get their money’s worth. Nobody seemed too bent out of shape about getting an insulated tumbler instead of a T-shirt. If the course fell short of the advertised 5K mark by a few tenths of a mile, well, that was okay too.
But given the fierce competition in the obstacle race category, led by national series such as Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash, along with Florida-based tours that have put on at least two successful races (Savage Race, Highlander), it might be a challenge for Mud Crusade to establish a foothold, especially if it doesn’t plan to offer $25 discounted entries the next time.
Race director Marshall Chmura says he’ll continue the aggressive early-bird marketing efforts that in January caused him and his partners to revise their projected attendance from 1,800 to more than 5,000. With so many getting in for under $25, T-shirts became cost prohibitive and Chmura erred on the side of caution with the course layout, not wanting to take out too much parking. That turned out to be unnecessary, he said, but it accounted for a course that likely fell shy of 5K.
“Our whole philosophy was to keep it affordable,” Chmura said. “When you’re new to the game, you’d be naïve to think you could challenge Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash. We wanted to build a reputation and build for the long term. There’s a niche group of people who do these events willing to give you a shot, but you’ve got to make the most of that first opportunity.”
We liked the flow of the course. Traffic moved well and there were few backups. It’s difficult at this point to come up with new obstacles, but navigating a lengthy fishnet was a different wrinkle. All of the obstacle race staples were there: balance beam, monkey bars, cargo net, mud/barbwire crawl, water slide, walls of various heights.
There wasn’t a signature obstacle nor anything involving ice or claustrophobia. If this was your first obstacle race, and it was for about half of the 50 crazies I ran with, it was perfect. For those coming off Savage Race in Clermont last month or the Spartan Race in Miami in February looking for a greater challenge, however, it might have seemed a bit of a letdown.
Given the escalation in entry fees for obstacle races and how the category – unlike triathlons and most road racing events – charges $10 for parking and does not provide free refreshments beyond the first beer, we think there’s a place for a race like Mud Crusade — if it keeps its rates at $59 or less. None of its obstacles were so big they couldn’t be easily moved around the state by the event’s Jacksonville-based owners. In that sense, it could fill the first-timer obstacle race void left when Muddy Buddy left the Sunshine State after last year.
Chmura says he plans to launch registration next week for the Sept. 15 Mud Crusade at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Registration is $49 through June 30 and Chmura says he might provide discounts comparable to those given in January for those who signed up early for the Dade City event.
We’ve seen a lot of one-and-done mud runs in Florida in the last year including Iron Crusader, Champions Mud Bash, and Ragin’ Warrior. All had visions of moving beyond the state, though we’ve yet to see a Florida-based promoter pull it off. Savage Race has a number of out-of-state locations planned, though no dates announced. Mud Crusade would be the first to open registration for an out-of-state event. The Miami event listed on the Mud Crusade website for Dec. 1-2 will change, Chmura says, since he does not want to go up against Tough Mudder, which takes place in Fort Meade the same weekend.
Will Mud Crusade ever be as challenging as Tough Mudder or Spartan Race? Probably not. But it could fill a niche staging compact, lower-cost events in central locations within striking distance of its Jacksonville headquarters.
“I simply think that we can deliver as good or better a race at an affordable price,” Chmura said. “I don’t determine what these races cost. Ultimately, the consumer does. Based on what we did here working, we’re going to build better, bigger obstacles, and refine our technique. We did this with not a lot of experience, but a lot of determination and hard work. We’re looking forward to taking it to Atlanta.”