Tag Archives: Geno Stopowenko

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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Dirty Foot Adventure Run Review: Home Field Advantage

By Pete Williams

Adding to the degree of difficulty

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.

Familiar barbwire crawl

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).

Running Commando: largest race team (Photos by Renae Peters Blevins)

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.

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Dirty Foot Building Obstacle Race Destination in Fort Meade

By Pete Williams

One of 30 Dirty Foot obstacles

When athletes gather in Fort Meade on June 9 for the inaugural Dirty Foot Adventure Run, they’ll compete on the same property that will host Tough Mudder in December.

The course will be 4.47 miles long, less than half the distance of Tough Mudder. But it would be a mistake, says Geno Stopowenko, the vice president of marketing for Dirty Foot Adventures, to think the Dirty Foot event will be easy or any less unique.

Obstacle races have exploded in the last 18 months but this might be the first instance where the property owner has put on a race. Stopowenko says Dirty Foot was inspired to stage its own event after leasing the facility last fall to Iron Crusader, which drew a modest 1,500 athletes and was regarded as a less-than-impressive event. (Dirty Foot had nothing to do with the production of that race.)

Since Dirty Foot routinely puts on big-time ATV and dirt-bike events it made sense, Stopowenko said, to stage its own race. Dirty Foot, which opened in June of 2010, is an offroad motorsports park with plenty of dirt bike obstacles that runners can navigate. There’s a 300-foot sand drag strip, a 1.5-mile MX track, obstacle course, zip line, rope swings, and a large mudpit.

“We have a lot of stuff already in place and since it’s our facility it’s sort of like having home field advantage,” Stopowenko said. “We know this property inside and out and while we’re excited to have Tough Mudder here in December, we’re going to be able to provide some obstacles unlike any seen in other races.”

The race will begin with athletes navigating parts of the 1.5-mile dirt bike course that includes 20-foot obstacles. There will be a challenge called “Fall In Feet,” a 15-foot jump into water; and a “Watermelon Crawl,” where athletes slither through a tunnel full of hundreds of crushed watermelon. Given the property’s core business, there will be plenty of culverts and tires involved in the course.

Coming June 9

The Dirty Foot property features numerous creeks that are several feet deep. They will figure prominently in the course, which will have roughly 30 obstacles: 20 manmade and 10 natural. There will be a swim obstacle, though non-swimmers can substitute a combination of pushups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks.

“We want to make it unappealing,” Stopowenko said.

After the June 9 event, Dirty Foot will open the property for training during certain weekends. “We also plan to host three or four obstacle races a year,” Stopowenko said. “Between our races, Tough Mudder, and having it open for training, we want to be the premier destination for obstacle racing.”

Registration for Dirty Foot is open at IMAthlete.com.

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Tough Mudder Moves Tampa Event to Fort Meade

By Pete Williams

Tough Mudder, the wildly popular obstacle mud run series that drew 20,000 athletes to Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City in December, is moving to Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade for this year’s event Dec. 1-2.

Tough Mudder spokesperson Jane Di Leo said the change was made to “give our participants a challenge, whether it is their first Tough Mudder or fifth. The change to the new location in Fort Meade is a way for us to continue to offer a variety of courses to our participants and to offer others throughout the state easy access to our events.”

Dirty Foot Adventures, located in southern Polk County, is just 60 miles from Tampa or Bradenton and 70 from Orlando or Sarasota. The sprawling facility is used for dirt bike and ATV racing and in October hosted the Iron Crusader mud run, which drew about 1,300 runners for an inaugural event.

Geno Stopowenko, the vice president of marketing for Dirty Foot Adventures, says Tough Mudder first approached them between 18 and 24 months ago as it was searching for a site for the 2011 event. He said the property also has fielded inquiries from Warrior Dash and other obstacle mud runs about putting on a race at the 1,800-acre facility, which includes miles of trails, creek beds, and other natural terrain.

Walking the plank at Tough Mudder

“This property is the total package,” said Stopowenko, who said Dirty Foot plans to stage its own five-mile obstacle race some time in May. “Every time someone comes to check it out they immediately try to negotiate with us. We’ve hosted events of more than a thousand people, nothing to the magnitude Tough Mudder will bring, but we’ll be ready.”

Little Everglades Ranch, which hosts equestrian and cross country running events, received rave reviews as the site of the inaugural Florida Tough Mudder. The 11.5-mile course was spread out across the Pasco County property and included water obstacles, muddy ravines, and plenty of room for the race’s signature obstacles such as Mt. Everest, the Ball Shrinker, and the Chernobyl Jacuzzi (above).

Convenient to Tampa and Orlando, with plenty of room for parking, Little Everglades seemed a likely site for 2012 and, indeed, Tough Mudder listed a Dec. 1-2, 2012 Tampa event on its Web site within days of last year’s event.

Tough Mudder still lists Tampa as the site of this year’s event. Polk County is considered part of the greater Tampa Bay area.

The scheduling at Dirty Foot Adventures seems to finalize the Florida scheduling for Tough Mudder, which has been in flux for weeks. At one point, Tough Mudder’s website listed 2012 races without dates for Jacksonville, Miami, and Pensacola before updating them to “coming in 2013.”

Di Leo said Tough Mudder did not have solid dates for those locations in 2012, but “we are very excited to host events in these locations in 2013.”

Billed as “the toughest endurance test on the planet,” Tough Mudder is a grueling 10-to-12 mile trail run containing 20 military style obstacles designed by British Special Forces. Conceived by CEO Will Dean while at Harvard Business School, it debuted in March of 2010, expanded to 14 races last year and 32 this year. Athletes complete the course by navigating a field charged with 10,000 volts of electricity, receiving an orange finisher’s headband for their efforts.

Tough Mudder has become the most popular race in the booming obstacle mud run category, successfully marketing to the 21-to-45 year old demographic and to some degree replacing triathlon and half-marathons as the leading aspirational endurance test. Tough Mudder does not issue timing chips or finishing times, stressing that it’s not a race. That inspires groups of friends to sign up together and complete the race as a single unit, often at a leisurely pace.

That has fueled revenues, which could eclipse $100 million for the three-year-old company in 2012. Tough Mudder, like other events in the category, has raised entry fees considerably. Last year, athletes registering for the Tampa race paid as little as $60 for the Saturday race and $80 for Sunday if they registered by March 15 and $100 (Saturday) or $80 (Sunday) through June 15.

This year, Tough Mudder made no distinction between the days and offered a $95 “early bird discount” through yesterday. The registration fee is $125 from Feb. 16 through May 31, $155 from June 1 through Oct. 31 and $200 after Nov. 1.

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