Tag Archives: Highlander Run

Gearing up for Highlander

By Pete Williams

WINTER GARDEN – The inaugural TGIF Twilight 5K here Friday night was a preview of what will be a four-race, Friday night summer series next summer, sort of Orlando’s answer to the longstanding Picnic Island trilogy in Tampa.

The TGIF was a tweak on the same obstacle-laden course used by Rock On Adventures for its Monster Bash Dash in May (minus the zombies) and part of the Yak-a-Thon race in July. That’s a good thing. Rock On’s Jonny Simpkins created the popular Highlander Run last year, staging it twice in Bartow, but has moved it to the sprawling Roper Ranch, which has become the home of a year-long series of endurance challenges.

Events such as the Monster Bash, which returns in October for Halloween, along with the paddle-bike-run Yak-a-Thon and TGIF, have served as tuneups of sorts for The Highlander. Simpkins, who has a background in motocross and as the owner of an irrigation company, has been able to spend months building obstacles, which will remain in place indefinitely. That gives him a bit of an advantage over some races that switch locations or, at the very least, must construct their courses in a matter of weeks.

Athletes who ran TGIF got to test a few Highlander obstacles after the race. Those included a 12-foot platform and plunge into water and a zipline. They also got a look at some monstrous tire and wall obstacles.

It’s hard to believe, given the number of obstacle races that have debuted in Florida this year, that it’s been only 10 months since the last Highlander race. It seems much longer. Remarkably, nobody has tried to duplicate Rock On’s winning formula that includes not charging for parking and providing soft, fitted, Tultex T-shirts that athletes actually will want to wear. (They gave out another for the TGIF).

Like Picnic Island, the TGIF provided custom awards to the top 30 male and top 30 female finishers – glasses featuring the race logo. Also like Picnic Island, the race attracted a younger demographic that seemed to enjoy hanging out after the race ended. We’re guessing more than a few will return for Highlander III, which takes place on Saturday, Sept. 22.

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Mud Wars: What Races Will Survive in 2012?

By Pete Williams

Getting crowded in the mud pit

Back in July, we tried to count the number of obstacle mud runs that have emerged this year in Florida alone. We figured there were at least 22 representing at least 17 different race series.

More have emerged this year and a good over/under guess for 2012 would be 35. That’s just in the Sunshine State, of course, but it figures Florida would lead the nation since we can stage them all year long.

We still have a few more races this year – including Tough Mudder on Dec. 3-4 near Tampa and the season-finale of Muddy Buddy at Zoo Miami on Nov. 20 – but we thought now would be a good time to handicap the field for 2012.

Already several of the national races have announced events for 2012, including Warrior Dash, which returns to Triple Canopy Ranch in Lake Wales Jan. 21-22; and Spartan Race, which on Feb. 25 again will use Oleta River State Park in Miami, increasing the distance of the event to a “Super Spartan” of eight-plus miles.

Among state-wide events, Savage Race, which debuted in Clermont in August, will return to the same venue on March 10 and has tentative plans to expand to Atlanta and Austin in 2012. Iron Crusader, which made its Florida debut last month, has announced an event, though not a venue, for Oct. 22.

Are obstacle mud runs a fad or will they have a lasting impact? If they do survive, which ones will stand out among a crowded field?

Unconventional training required.

“It’s like anything else,” says Bob Babbitt, the creator of Muddy Buddy, which has two events in 2011 and would have staged three had its proposed year-end event not conflicted with Tough Mudder. “The races that provide the most value will have staying power.”

Defining value in an apples-to-oranges category can be difficult, but here’s what we think will determine which races succeed in 2012 and beyond:

PRICE POINT: Registering for an obstacle mud run can be a lot like purchasing an airline ticket. Prices vary wildly, even by endurance sports standards, depending on when you register.

On average, the races run about $65 to $75 a pop – sprint triathlon pricing. That’s a lot considering many can be completed in 45 minutes, though admittedly a lot of recreational athletes and non-athletes enter mud runs and remain on the course for twice that time. Most races charge $10 for parking and parking fees are unusual in the endurance sports world.

Triathletes would revolt if they finished a race and there was no free food available, but that’s the norm at obstacle mud runs. At the very least, races should enlist a sponsor like Mix 1, the post-workout recovery drink that’s handed out free at many running events and triathlons in Florida.

Earlier this year, I pointed out that one obstacle mud run had a high price point for a 5K course. The race director strongly objected, saying I didn’t know what I was talking about. He later canceled his second race of the year due to low registrations.

Perhaps a cautionary tale for 2012 events who plan on similar fees and/or no free grub.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: This is a fine line to walk. Race directors want huge numbers, so they make the races fairly easy. But this alienates competitive athletes, especially when the marketing for most of these events emphasizes how tough and challenging the course will be.

We’re curious to see how many no-shows Tough Mudder has. Unlike preparing for a running event or triathlon, where there are plenty of train-by-numbers programs to follow, getting ready for a 12-mile obstacle run is new territory for most. As a result, we’re hearing of a number of people dropping out. Few people blend endurance and strength training, a combination that’s a prerequisite for Tough Mudder.

An obstacle run staple

ORIGINALITY: With so many races, it’s growing increasingly difficult to stand out. There are only so many ways to position ropes, ladders, walls, and tires. We’re hearing that races are finding it increasingly difficult to get certain things covered by liability insurance, such as fire-related obstacles.

We’re all for water challenges, but given that 30 or 40 percent of an average mud run field can’t swim, we’re guessing they’re going to go away too because of liability purposes. That’s a shame. After all, swim challenges are a staple on “Survivor,” which is what these races are supposed to emulate, at least in part.

LOCATION: The nature of obstacle mud runs means race directors must seek out ranches, motocross venues, and other out-of-the-way locales, all of which we have in abundance in Florida. But we’re surprised how few races there were this year in the greater Tampa Bay area, perhaps the biggest concentration of endurance athletes in Florida. Nobody wants to get up and drive 90 minutes for a race. We’re guessing more events will join Tough Mudder and visit Tampa Bay in 2012.

BEER: Many obstacle runs trumpet the one free beer you get afterward but, really, what’s the point? Do you really need a beer before noon? Save the beer money and provide some free food, at least some fruit and cookies.

Spartan Race returns to Miami in 2012

INTANGIBLES: We gave a lot of props to The Highlander Run, which featured a live band, a free kids race, and a 150-foot water slide, which falls under the originality category. We liked how Savage Race had a lake for athletes to wash off in afterward, as opposed to trickling shower hoses at most races. (That said, that lake will be much colder to wash off in during March than it was in August.)

Muddy Buddy always seems to provide a free low-resolution digital image via email – or even a hard copy provided by a sponsor.

Props to for Highlander and Savage Race for providing Tultex T-shirts, a welcome change from tech shirts and standard cotton shirts. Again, if you’re going to charge $75 plus parking, this is one area you should get right. Leave the sponsor logos off the back, too.

VERDICT: In 2011, races attracted athletes because of the novelty. In 2012, the market will determine which survive.

Now more than ever, athletes have a choice.

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Bullish on Highlander

By Pete Williams

Highlander tire challenge

BARTOW – It’s still early to say which of the many Florida obstacle mud runs will survive beyond 2011, but we’re placing a bet on The Highlander Adventure Run which held its second event in 90 days this morning.

We thought it was a little ambitious to return to the same venue so soon after a July 23 debut, but Jonny Simpkins and his crew showed why it’s worth a trip to a property that while off the beaten path even by mud run standards is worth the drive.

Simpkins has a background in both endurance sports and motocross racing and is the owner of an irrigation company. Throw in a unique piece of property, a tract of several thousand acres with terrain of various elevations, and you have a good formula to stand out in an increasingly crowded race category.

In July, we wrote that there were 22 obstacle mud runs being staged in Florida for 2011 by 17 different companies. We haven’t done an updated count, but it figures that list is now 30 runs by 20 outfits, with more to come in 2012.

This year I’ve done Muddy Buddy, the Spartan Race, and Savage Race. Tough Mudder, coming to Dade City in December is on my schedule. Admittedly that’s not a huge sampling of races (especially since I did Spartan Race in Virginia), but it’s enough to know that mud runs follow a typical formula: two dozen obstacles or so over a 3-to-6 mile course, post-race music, limited free food, and (usually) beer, and challenges involving some combination of mud, fire, water, barbwire, and walls.

I lost track of how many obstacles Highlander threw at me over the 3-mile course. I opted for the 3-miler over the 6-miler so I could catch my sons in the kids race (more on that in a moment). There were familiar obstacles such as crawling through mud under barbwire, monkey bars, climbing over wooden walls and ladder obstacles, and negotiating a balance beam and various tire configurations.

Kids got their own race.

More unusual challenges included a series of waist-deep rope maneuvers in a lake best attempted via full immersion (though not required). Pine plantations on the property provided a woodsy change of pace. The last 400 yards included rapid-fire challenges including a zipline, more waist-deep water obstacles, and a climb up the hill to Highlander’s signature finale: a plunge down a 150-foot water slide into muddy water. (I wouldn’t recommend going headfirst and the subsequent belly flop).

The Highlander might have the best layout of any Florida endurance event I’ve attended. Registration, start/finish, and post-race events take place atop a raised area that enables spectators to look down and see more than 75 percent of the course. (This would be an ideal site for a Civil War reenactment if, of course, there had a been a battle anywhere nearby).

A live band kicked into gear before the first wave got underway and a bagpipe player contributed to the Celtic theme of the event. The organizers managed to attract both a younger demographic and a family one with a bounce house and a free kids race.

It’s tough to find a free kids race these days, let alone a significant one. We figured the kids were going to just get a shot at going down the slide, which would have been fine. (Heck, Muddy Buddy charges just for kids to go through a mudpit.) Instead, the Highlander kids got a half-mile course featuring a half dozen obstacles built just for their race – and the slide.

Approaching the waterslide

There were no T-shirts or medals for the kids and, when you think about it, isn’t that how it should be? What parent wouldn’t jump at that tradeoff for a free race? My guys had no complaints, just rave reviews.

The Highlander folks might be largely responsible for one of the most welcome Florida endurance sports trends of 2011: popularizing the Tultex T-shirt. Highlander introduced these soft, poly-cotton, fitted shirts at the first race and, perhaps not surprisingly, the Savage Race provided Tultex shirts as well in August. (We liked them so much we printed on Tultex for our Caliente Bare Dare 5K last week.)

Today’s Highlander shirt was a sharp cranberry-colored Tultex. Hopefully this trend continues. We’re tired of tech shirts that make you feel like you’re wearing a baggy shower curtain, especially when they’re splashed with two dozen sponsor logos on the back. (Not naming names, but an organization with the initials WTC is the biggest offender of this.) Give me a form-fitting Tultex that’s as comfortable as a pajama top and I’m good.

Speaking of WTC, the parent company of Ironman, it quietly canceled plans to launch its own Primal Challenge mud run series. Nothing against Muddy Buddy, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and the other national races – we’ve done most of them and enjoyed them all – but we can’t help but wonder if races put on by Florida-based promoters to smaller, more manageable crowds might be the trend for 2012.

If they’re more like the Highlander, we’ll be all for it.

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