By Pete Williams
DOVER – We’ve done interviews with Men’s Health magazine and The Tampa Tribune this week and both wanted to know if we thought this obstacle mud run craze will last.
I’m bullish on the category, but events such as today’s Hog Wild Mud Run here just east of Tampa show that there are growing pains. The Hog Wild’s 5K course was one of my favorites, with some of the filthiest, wettest, most creative obstacles I’ve seen — and I’ve now done nine different races: the three major national tours (Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash) along with five Florida-based races and Muddy Buddy, which downsized this year after owning the category for years.
The finisher’s medal was one of the better ones I’ve seen, the nylon race logo backpack/goody bag was a nice touch, and we hope Hog Wild will start a trend by not charging for parking and spectators.
It’s not easy to come up with new obstacles and, admittedly, nothing Hog Wild did was that out of the ordinary. But like a good chef, it’s all how you mix the ingredients. The race sent athletes into the water numerous times, including one deep creek crossing where they were pelted with tomatoes. The last 200 yards was a relentless up-and-down through some of the nastiest. waist-deep muck we’ve seen at mud races. This course went mostly through cow pasture owned by the Tampa Police Mounted Patrol – at one point a herd of 30 wandered into the spectator/vendor area – and the smell was horrible, in a good way if that’s possible.
Unfortunately, Hog Wild blew some of the goodwill it might have created by under staffing the check-in line. We were among the first to arrive at 7 a.m. and knew they were in trouble with one small tent and three people total to handle both check-in and distribution of timing chips.
That’s not enough for a 200-person 5K race, let alone a 1,500-person obstacle event. It wasn’t long before athletes were waiting up to 90 minutes, missing starting times and beginning the race in a bad mood. Hog Wild sent more volunteers over – maybe about 10 total – but they never caught up.
Given the competition in this field, it’s tough to cut a first-time event much slack, let alone an event like Hog Wild that debuted last November with 800 athletes. David Morejon, the co-organizer of the event, told The Tampa Tribune earlier this month he’s raced in 96 triathlons. He should know what it takes to handle traffic flow. (Yes, like triathlons Hog Wild offered pre-race packet pickup Friday at Tampa’s International Plaza, but that’s asking a lot for mud run participants.)
You know how you can tell a race might have issues? If it offers deals via Groupon or Living Social. Hog Wild advertised heavily via Living Social and it drew the cast of thousands, but it didn’t have the staff, calling for volunteers as late as this week. We saw this earlier in the year with Mud Crusade, another shorter-distance, deep discount race that was forced to cut corners for the thousands they let in for next-to-nothing.
It’s a devil’s bargain. When you offer 2-for-1 deals for as little as $49 via Groupon or Living Social, you’re only taking in $24.50 – or $12.25 an athlete. That makes your race look bigger, but that doesn’t always make it better. And it leads to short-changing everyone. Why not keep your price at market rate – $49 to $79 per athlete – and focus on putting on a great race for a respectable crowd of 800 or so?
Your revenues will be comparable and you’ll have 800 gung-ho ambassadors for your quality event – assuming you have a terrific course like Hog Wild – instead of 2,000 people who stood in 95-degree temperatures for 60 to 90 minutes before starting an endurance race.
Hog Wild also could have done a better job marking the course. I was in the first wave and got turned around in the woods three times. And Hog Wild continued the frustrating near-industry-wide trend – which includes Tough Mudder and Spartan Race – of offering a unisex, 100 percent cotton T-shirt cluttered with sponsor logos.
To say the obstacle race category is flooded would be an understatement. There are at least two events scheduled in Central Florida for every weekend in October. Athletes returning to their cars after Hog Wild had a dozen postcard flyers waiting on their windshields.
The races that survive will be the ones that offer value. Forget the Groupon and Living Social Deals. Keep your price point at between $49 and $79 depending on registration. Be well organized, with enough volunteers and staff to handle traffic flow. Focus on putting together a great course – as Hog Wild did – and provide a fitted T-shirt without sponsor logos that your young athletes will wear, especially women who control family budgets and rally groups that do obstacle races together.
Put on that race at that price point and you’ll attract the masses who will support your race rather than paying $125-plus for Tough Mudder or Spartan Race.
That’s what I told Men’s Health and The Tampa Tribune. Give us that race, which is not far from what we saw today, and we’ll be pumped.
Hell, we’d go hog wild for it.