Tag Archives: Florida obstacle race

Gentlemen, Start Your Tough Mudder

By Pete Williams

Tough Mudder’s notorious ice plunge

Tough Mudder, the popular obstacle mud run, has staged events all over the world, typically in rural areas, ranches and at ski resorts in the summer months.

Now Tough Mudder is coming March 2-3 to Homestead-Miami Speedway, best known as the site for NASCAR’s season finale race, which was held on Sunday.

Tough Mudder has worked with other racetracks, including Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., an NHRA venue that hosted the “World’s Toughest Mudder” competition last weekend. In January, Tough Mudder will return for a second year to Phillip Island, a grand prix venue outside of Melbourne, Australia.

Dan Weinberg, Tough Mudder’s director of strategic partnerships, said Homestead-Miami Speedway was chosen because of its vast infrastructure, parking, and experience handling large crowds. Tough Mudder events have attracted up to 30,000 athletes over a two-day period, a fraction of the speedway’s 65,000-seat capacity.

“Racetracks are good fits for us from all aspects,” said Weinberg, who said Tough Mudder is exploring other NASCAR venues for U.S. events. “From parking to concessions to logistics, they make for a great overall fan and participant experience.”

Weinberg said the event layout was still being determined, but said it’s likely the course will go both inside and outside the venue, which is a 45-minute drive south from Miami and just over an hour from Fort Lauderdale. The track is a 1.5-mile oval and the infield includes a man-made lake big enough for swimming. In August of 2011, Homestead-Miami Speedway hosted Olympic-distance and sprint-distance triathlons consisting of a swim in the infield lake, transition in pit road, bike through Homestead, and a run around the golf cart path surrounding the track. The track is surrounded by vast stretches of parking lots and undeveloped areas.

Tough Mudder, at roughly 12 miles, requires only a fraction of that space. The bigger key to the event will be the infrastructure. Since debuting early in March of 2010, Tough Mudder has grown exponentially, with revenue of more than $70 million in 2012. With that has come growing pains, such as a September event near Washington D.C., where massive traffic back-ups and weather caused the cancellation of the event’s second day.

Here in Florida, Tough Mudder had to move its planned Tampa area event from Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade after Polk County officials refused to issue a permit for a 20,000-person event. That event takes place next weekend (Dec. 1-2) at the Hi Hat Ranch in Sarasota.

The Homestead-Miami Speedway race will be Tough Mudder’s first Florida event beyond the greater Tampa Bay/Sarasota area. Tough Mudder debuted in the Sunshine State in December of 2011 at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City and also has events planned for 2013 in Jacksonville (May 18-19) and at a to-be-determined Tampa site (Nov. 2-3).

Unlike Central Florida, with its many sprawling ranches and thousands of acres of undeveloped land, South Florida has fewer wide-open sites for obstacle races. This year, Spartan Race and Superhero Scramble debuted South Florida events at Oleta River State Park in North Miami. Spartan Race will return to that venue in Feb. 23-24, the weekend before Tough Mudder in Homestead. Superhero Scramble shifts to Amelia Earhart Park, also in Miami, for a Jan. 12 race.

Tough Mudder’s move to a larger sports venue is part of a recent industry trend. Last week Spartan Race staged an event at Boston’s Fenway Park, attracting 8,000 racers over two days to the storied baseball facility.

NASCAR’s Sprint Cup circuit will be in Phoenix the weekend of March 2-3, which will make it impossible for any drivers to participate in Tough Mudder at Homestead. Top drivers Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne posted impressive times at a triathlon in Charleston in July, competing the morning after a NASCAR night race in Daytona Beach.

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Highlander III – Mud, Mud, and More Mud

By Pete Williams

WINTER GARDEN – Somewhere in the second mile of Saturday’s Highlander Adventure Run, slogging through waist-deep, black, barnyard-smelling mud yet again, I began to wonder which direction the booming obstacle race category is headed.

Is it progressing more toward the obstacle race (Spartan Race) model or the mud run (Tough Mudder) experience?

The difference might not be noticeable if you haven’t done a number of these events in the last year. It’s been just 11 months since the last Highlander was staged and it’s remarkable how much the category has evolved, and not just in the countless number of events that have sprung up in the Sunshine State. There were nine flyers for upcoming races left on my windshield.

Jonny Simpkins and Wendy Carson of Rock On Adventures have done a terrific job growing The Highlander Run and I lost track of the many obstacles and challenges around the six-mile course at the YMCA Roper Ranch. They’ve taken advantage of making the property their permanent home and it showed.

Rock On did have some water issues, which Simpkins was quick to point out in person post-race and by apologizing profusely online. They ran out of drinking water on the course and water for the post-race showers, which was to have come from clean well water. That malfunctioned, leaving athletes to shower with dirty water from one of the water obstacles.

Simpkins has pledged that won’t happen again and has earned the benefit of the doubt for putting together another solid race (along with the Yak-a-Thon, Monster Bash Dash, and the TGIF Twilight 5K) that included beautiful light-blue Tultex T-shirts, organized registration, no parking fees, a cool kids race, and perhaps the best combination of obstacles we’ve seen yet.

There were multiple sand bag carries, a tire carry, zipline, 12-foot leap into water, monkey bars, rope climbs, numerous walls, going over and around trees, and a few creative touches that seemed right out of the county fair: running/jumping in a burlap sack and walking bent over on wooden shoes attached with short rope handles.

It was hard to avoid the county fair smell, of course, and we can’t recall an event with so many mud crossings and crawlings. The most challenging was carrying a sandbag through waist deep mud for 30 yards, a death slog made even more difficult if you weren’t wearing toe shoes.

Which brings us back to the obstacle race/mud run debate. There’s no question mud is a main attraction to these events. That’s what produces the money-shot Facebook photos that have driven this category ever since Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash broke out early in 2010. Long before those races, Muddy Buddy delivered a similar experience with its race-ending under-barbwire crawl to the finish line.

But if you’re looking to run fast (or relatively fast, anyway), getting bogged down in mud more than a couple times can get frustrating. Joe Desena, creator of Spartan Race, is quick to point out that his event is not a mud run and, indeed, Spartan generally only has one or two mud-related obstacles in its events. (Of the dozen events I’ve done, nothing has kicked my ass like Spartan, though that has a lot to do with 30-Burpee penalties.)

Desena thinks obstacle racing will evolve into a competitive sport, perhaps even an Olympic one, but he thinks it’s about the physical challenge. Tough Mudder founder Will Dean, who tends to throw more mud into the mix, sees it as a group bonding experience and does not issue timing chips or even score the race.

Which is it? It’s both, of course, and perhaps Highlander managed to be all things to all people.

For now, more mud is the better marketing strategy to lure first-time participants. Tough Mudder, after all, draws more athletes than Spartan Race.

There’s a happy medium and for that look no further than Wipeout. Races might want to think about focusing less on mud and more on water. Last year’s Highlander was held at a different property and Simpkins, who owns an irrigation company, put those skills to good work with a rapid-fire series of obstacles at the end through water that wasn’t that muddy. There were more water obstacles and lakes worked into the mix and a killer 150-foot water slide at the finish line. There was no need to shower before you got home; the mud was washed off already.

The Dirty Foot Adventure Run two weeks ago had only a couple truly muddy obstacles and a 150-yard, race-ending swim to clean you off, though even Dirty Foot fell prey to the Fear Factor mud/muck marketing emphasis with a slog through some nasty slime that didn’t come off quickly.

It’s a fine line to walk and, for now, it seems more mud/muck is the answer. There are a lot of first-time events coming to Florida in the next six weeks, most with “Mud” or “Mudder” in their title. So we’re likely to see even more mud. But we’re guessing the longer term play will be more about obstacles and racing and less about getting stuck in the mud.

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Dirty Foot II – More Obstacles, More Muck

By Pete Williams

Dirty Foot mystery goo

FORT MEADE – The second edition of the Dirty Foot Adventure Run could be a preview of the next evolution of obstacle racing. Race director Geno Stopowenko added to the degree of difficulty of the 6.4-mile course, inserting five creative obstacles that required navigating through moving culverts, rappelling down ropes of up to 12 feet, and climbing between walls.

Only 400 or so athletes showed for the second Dirty Foot race in 90 days and we’re not about to complain about that. Not on a day when 15,000 athletes in the Washington D.C. area reportedly got stuck in Tough Mudder traffic for up to six hours.

Here in Florida, we’re guessing organizers such as Dirty Foot will find a profitable niche by hosting smaller events on their own property where obstacles can be left up permanently. Since hosting 900 athletes for a well-received debut Dirty Foot race on June 8, Stopowenko and his staff spent the last 90 days adding new obstacles unlike any we’ve seen.

Those included the “Head Hunter,” where athletes climbed a rope, navigated a short culvert tunnel and rappelled down a rope. For the “Back Bender,” athletes went through a small door and found themselves between walls. They scaled footholds up 10 feet and rappelled down another rope. Then there was the “Swinging Culverts,” hanging culverts on an incline that moved as the runners went through; a volunteer gave the culverts an added push.

“We pride ourselves on coming up with challenging obstacles that no one else has thought of,” Stopowenko says.

Dirty Foot “Back Breaker”

We’ve seen a trend toward more technical courses featuring less running and more challenging obstacles. Stopowenko says he’s trying to provide an added challenge for those who want it (sort of the Spartan Race model). For those who don’t, teamwork is encouraged (the Tough Mudder formula).

Dirty Foot II also provided perhaps the gnarliest obstacle we’ve come across. After hearing complaints about his 100-yard crawl under wire on a tarp through crushed watermelons, Stopowenko replaced the fruit with a thick, white, gooey substance that some speculated was engine grease or, well, something else.

“We do have a lot of cows,” Stopowenko joked.

Actually, the substance is not automotive and completely non-toxic, though a bit of a challenge to wash out. Stopowenko told us what it is, but asked that we not reveal it to prevent other races from copying it.

The course again featured a race-ending leap from a 12-foot platform into a small pond and a 150-yard swim to the finish, with a tow rope provided for those who needed it. Between the added obstacles and a longer course (6.4 miles as opposed to 6.1 in June), finish times were longer; I needed an additional seven minutes.

Given the distance of the race and the relatively low cost for obstacle races – $44 to $65 depending on registration, along with $10 per car parking – Dirty Foot is one of the better values in the industry, though we’re guessing gas prices approaching $4 a gallon make it a challenge to draw athletes to an area that’s not far from everywhere, but not especially close to anywhere.

Near the finish

Dirty Foot was to have hosted Tough Mudder in December before the event moved to Sarasota when Polk County officials denied a permit over traffic and noise concerns. Such a decision could look prudent after Tough Mudder’s traffic issues today near Frederick, Maryland, where its first D.C.-area event was reportedly marred by traffic tie-ups of up to six hours.

Stopowenko says he still believes a Tough Mudder at Dirty Foot would have gone off without a hitch since there’s nothing but groves and ranches – and no stoplights – for 10 miles approaching the property, which would have helped traffic flow. And it’s unlikely Tough Mudder would have drawn 34,000 athletes (as they did in Maryland this weekend) to Central Florida, where there are obstacle races most every weekend.

But after leasing the property to the one-and-done Iron Crusader race last fall, Stopowenko and his staff have proven themselves capable of putting on quality events. Stopowenko says he’ll stage another race in February or March and is toying with the idea of a shorter course on Saturday and a longer, more technical event of up to 8 miles on Sunday.

We’re looking forward to that.

All except the grease, anyway.

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