Tag Archives: mud runs

SportsBusiness Journal Examines Obstacle Racing

By Pete Williams

Over the years I’ve written frequently for Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, which is a must-read for those who work in the business of sports.

I had not written for SBJ in several years but earlier this month they asked me to write a story taking a look at the booming growth in obstacle racing. The story is not available online, but you can take a look at a PDF of the piece, which appears in this week’s issue.

Front page/start of SportsBusiness Journal story

Inside magazine/remainder of SportsBusiness Journal story

1 Comment

Filed under Races, Running

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Races, Running

Death Racing

By Pete Williams

Logging the Death Race

PITTSFIELD, Vt. – It was 20 hours into The Spartan Death Race on Saturday and the transition area looked like nothing in endurance sports.

Logs were strewn everywhere in front of a barn alongside Route 100 in this Central Vermont town quickly becoming known as the home of the most unusual endurance challenge in sports. Athletes dealt with obstacles in the mountains that loomed in every direction, but some of the more difficult tasks took place right here in this muck of mud and sawdust.

It began Friday night with a few deadlifts – 1,300 or so with rocks ranging from 10 to 30 pounds. That’s 100,000 pounds worth of deadlifts over six hours. That was followed by a hike upstream in 45-degree waters which were at times waist deep.

Joe Decker, shouldering a load

After emerging from the icy waters, the shivering contestants were forced to carry a lit candle for a quarter-mile. If they lost the flame, they started over, repeating the loop seven times over a three-hour period until sunrise.

The log splitting event, a Death Race staple, included a new twist. After selecting their 50-lb. tree stumps, athletes were forced to carry the stump up a windy 2.5-mile trail. At the top of the mountain they were read several bible verses. Upon retuning down the mountain they were required to recite the verse from memory. Miss a word, go back up the mountain. Get it right and they got to chop wood.

Twenty percent of the field missed and headed back up the hill with the wood.

The race already was eight hours old and just getting started.

This is what Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg had in mind in 2005 when they came up with the Death Race as an alternative to triathlons and other endurance races they felt had become predictable and routine. The idea was to create an event athlete couldn’t possibly train or prepare for in advance.

Athletes do not know how long the event will be or what obstacles it will include. They’re not even given the exact starting time, just instructions on when to be on site, along with a list of items to bring. This year’s list included an ax, saw, drill and bit.

Other highlights (lowlights?) of this year’s race included carrying a 40-lb. log for more than 24 hours and carrying 10-gallon buckets filled with water for 2.5 miles. If one drop was spilled, they started over.

After more than 35 hours on the course, the mentally drained competitors were given a 200-question test to recall information given to them at the beginning of the race and throughout the course.

An average Ironman triathlon winner takes eight or nine hours to navigate a course, with much of the field taking between 12 and 15 hours. The 2010 Death Race winner, Joe Decker, took 28 hours to finish.

Decker was back for more punishment, one of 155 crazies taking on the ultimate in a category loosely defined as “adventure mud runs.” It ranges from the low-key and all-inclusive (Muddy Buddy) to the challenging (Tough Mudder and DeSena/Weinberg’s own Spartan Race).

The Spartan Race debuted with three events at the end of 2010 and now has two dozen events with The Death Race re-branded this year as The Spartan Death Race. It belongs in its own category.

Joe Decker, two-time winner

Decker, the 41-year-old owner of Gut Check Fitness in San Diego, was the first to emerge from the woods having hauled his freshly-cut 36-inch log through the mountains. After using his hand-drill and bit to embed his race number in the log, he crossed Route 100 and tossed it in a pond. Then it was back to more hiking and a pitch-black crawl through a small culvert under Route 100.

Emerging from the culvert, Decker was told to hike back to the pond and retrieve his log. Unlike subsequent athletes, whose logs floated, Decker’s sunk to the bottom.

No matter. He entered the pond and retrieved it within 10 seconds.

Back in transition, athletes still were drilling their numbers into logs. One imposing guy in a triathlon tech shirt and right sleeve tattoo struggled with the drill.

“I’d say woodworking is probably my weakest discipline,” he said to nobody in particular.

Death Race attire varies

Perhaps the most striking thing about this mid-race snapshot of The Death Race is how good everyone looked. Some had shredded their white race bibs, but most everyone looked far better than an average marathon or triathlon finisher. Only 20 or 25 athletes had dropped out. Most everyone was in good spirits.

Of course, when you don’t know when the finish line will come, you pace accordingly.

We spent just 90 minutes at The Death Race, which admittedly is like covering one-half inning of a baseball game. One blogger preparing for the 2012 event did a more thorough job here, noting that Tallahassee’s own Megan Mays, 28, earned everyone’s respect for slogging through the race.

Mays was one of two Florida athletes to appear on our Fitness Buff Radio Show before the event. Rebecca Hansen, a 49-year-old trainer from Naples, also finished.

Decker repeated as champion, which has to rank among the toughest repeats in sports.

Race organizers required athletes to generate pre-race publicity for themselves and the event or risk some sort of hideous punishment. (Full-body shaving, including head, was rumored.) Mays and Hansen, incidentally, were two of the only four women left standing when the race was called on Sunday afternoon after 45 hours.

Just 35 of the 155 athletes who started finished the race and only 7 completed all of the tasks. That group included Vermont’s Grace Cuomo Durfee.

Paul Roarke, the 50-year-old former U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant from Pensacola, dropped out after suffering a leg injury 26 hours into the race.

“No excuses from me,” he says. “I will just have to try harder next year.”

Listen to Megan Mays and Rebecca Hansen discussing their pre-race training HERE.

Listen to Joe DeSena discuss the creation of The Death Race HERE.

Read about Paul Roarke‘s pre-race preparation HERE.

8 Comments

Filed under Races, Running

Surviving the Spartan Race

By Pete Williams

Spartans...Prepare for Glory!

ALDIE, Va., – Maybe it was the 130 yards crawling in manure-smelling mud under low-slung barbwire. Maybe it was tunneling under a mesh net while being drilled with paintballs by a sniper. Maybe it was hauling a five-gallon bucket of gravel up and down a hill, pulling a block of concrete 50 yards or navigating over and around countless logs and obstacles.

Maybe it was doing countless burpees, the penalty for being unable to complete an obstacle or being whacked with giant mallets by guys dressed as extras from the movie 300 protecting the finish line.

This is not you’re ordinary mud run or obstacle challenge.

No. This…is….Sparta – or at least The Spartan Race, perhaps the most creative of the many adventure mud runs that have popped up in recent years.

Conceived by the founders of the legendary Death Race with input from the Royal British Marines, The Spartan Race is less a run than a punishing death march through a roughly three-mile course featuring two-dozen obstacles and challenges that get progressively difficult.

Unlike other events in the category that set up the same course all over the country, The Spartan Race, which made its Florida debut in April in Miami, adapts to the site. For Saturday’s race, held among rolling horse farms and wineries in rural Loudoun County, the site was “Pev’s Paintball,” a sprawling complex of built-in obstacles.

That’s how athletes, who embarked in half-hour waves of roughly 300 (of course), found themselves being used as target practice. (The mesh nets provided some cover, at least from hits to the head). At another point competitors had to pick up a paintball gun and hit a small target 10 yards away. Penalty for missing? Thirty burpees.

Burpees are even more challenging when covered head to toe with mud and mentally and physically fried from completing 90 percent of an obstacle – such as a meandering balance beam – only to slip on muddy shoes or mud left from a previous competitor.

Wave start in Aldie, Va.

The Pev’s Paintball property has no significant bodies of water, so this edition of The Spartan Race lacked some of the formidable water obstacles featured in previous events and recorded on the many terrific videos on the Web site.

To compensate, race organizers added endless mazes of giant log obstacles, usually used as paintball positions. The lack of water challenges meant competitors could never wash off until after the race. Some men went shirtless, avoiding a heavy, bogged-down T-shirt, but subjecting themselves to more inevitable scrapes and abrasions beyond the legs.

There were greater casualties. Twice I saw ATVs equipped with litters hauling competitors off the course to the medical tent, well staffed with local rescue workers. Spartan Race officials reported later that only 81 percent of the field finished. (The Spartan Race waiver is extensive even by the lawyered-up standards of endurance sports boilerplate; you literally sign your life away.)

A buddy of mine who accompanied me to the race suffered a hand laceration early, a minor injury but one that significantly added to the degree of difficulty to his race, especially at the end.

Having thrown the javelin in high school, he had no problem sticking a spear throw into a bale of hay 10 yards away. (Thirty burpees for me).

The final gauntlet included getting over a six-foot wall, a seven-foot wall, and an eight-foot wall, all greased with mud from previous competitors. There even were volunteer hecklers assigned to berate competitors still gasping from 30 burpees. (Most missed the spear throw.)

One took a look at me and said, “Are you really wearing bike shorts to this race?”

“Those aren’t bike shorts,” her partner said. “Can you believe he’s actually wearing tri shorts? This isn’t some wimpy triathlon, pal.”

No kidding. I grabbed the top of the six-foot wall and pulled myself over, banging my ribs in the process. I caught my breath and flung myself over the seven-foot wall, struggling to maintain my grip on the muddy ledge.

The eight-foot wall looked imposing. A team of four guys racing together was hoisting each other over. This is allowed, though hardly encouraged. One guy noticed a small piece of wood nailed to the wall about a foot off the ground and took off running.

“Dude,” a heckler said. “That’s for shorter women.”

The guy pulled up shy of the wall and accepted help from his buddies. I turned down their offer, pausing to contemplate strategy. I figured I had enough left to get off one good attempt or succumb to 30 burpees.

Between my muddy clothes, lack of calves, and four-inch vertical leap, it was a long shot. Still, I got my right elbow over the muddy wall and made it over, banging the ribs again.

The last obstacle was an inverted V-shaped wall, which volunteers kept lubed with grease. At least this time ropes were provided. I made it over this obstacle relatively easy.

All that stood between the finish line were a pair of 300 wannabes wielding mallets. Unlike the HGH poster boys from The Spartan Race videos, these guys were a little doughy. Apparently the Loudoun County talent pool is a little thin.

Still, Betty White would have provided a formidable challenge at this point. I knew from watching the previous wave that the strategy was to bull rush the Spartans so they couldn’t swing their weapons.

I did just that and pushed by the first guy, took one last shot to the torso from No.2 and dashed to the finish line, where I received my medal and black T-shirt, which served as a nice face towel until I could hit the temporary-installed showers.

Not sure if non-finishers received shirts. Perhaps for an additional 30 burpees?

Touch-screen monitors were positioned nearby, providing real-time results. Unless I missed it, there was just water, sports drinks, and a race-sponsored energy drink available, no food. This, after all, is the Spartan Race. (There was, however, food available for purchase.)

I finished in 43:45, good for 40th among the 122 men who finished my wave. As I washed the mud and hideous pig farm smell off – cold water only for the Spartans – I thought of the 200 people who this weekend will embark on “The Death Race,” a marathon version of The Spartan Race in Vermont that has lasted three days in recent years. (No one is told the length or duration of that event.)

I won’t be competing in The Death Race.

That is Sparta.

12 Comments

Filed under Races, Running

Muddy Buddy 2.0 a Success

By Pete Williams

Navigating the Muddy Buddy mud pit

LAKE BUENA VISTA – It wasn’t that long ago when Muddy Buddy had a virtual monopoly on the mud/adventure run market. Now, with more than a dozen similar races emerging in Florida alone, such events “are a category,” says Muddy Buddy founder Bob Babbitt.

That’s good for the endurance sports industry and for athletes looking for wacky new races. But is it good for Muddy Buddy? By the end of last season, it seemed like perhaps the 11-year-old series might fade into the background.

I’m not sure attendance at Saturday’s season-opening Muddy Buddy event at the ESPN Wide World of Sports was as high as it was in 2008, but clearly Muddy Buddy has made a strong push to relaunch, improve, upgrade, and otherwise address the competition.

A new competitive wave has been added for those who wish to start out front and that was most appreciated. Several obstacles were added on the course, as well as a pretty tough challenge right before the mud pit. There’s a separate mud run for those who wish to run the six-mile course instead of competing in the leapfrog ride-and-run format. Finishers received medals and even the T-shirts (white the last two years) were upgraded to a sharp navy blue. I don’t recall there being post-race bands at previous Muddy Buddy events, but if there were they were not as good as the group playing Saturday.

The nature of Muddy Buddy, like any adventure/mud run, is that it has a check-it-off, bucket-list vibe to it, but Saturday’s event seems to indicate that the folks at parent company Competitor Group are looking to stay on top in the face of the challengers from Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, et al.

Floridians will have two more cracks at the Muddy Buddy this year, with the second-annual event at Zoo Miami on Nov. 20 and the new, season-ending championship at the Redneck Yacht Club in Punta Gorda on Dec. 4.

To hear our recent Fitness Buff Show radio interview with Muddy Buddy founder Bob Babbitt, click HERE.

5 Comments

Filed under Fitness Buff Show Radio, Races, Running

Muddy Buddy Season Preview

By Pete Williams

Williams, Babbitt

Bob Babbitt wasn’t the first to come up with an adventure mud run, though his 12-year-old Muddy Buddy series is largely responsible for inspiring so many mud-themed races that they’re now considered a separate category in the world of endurance sports.

Muddy Buddy might be one of the easier races to complete and that’s just the point. It takes two-athlete teams only an hour or so to navigate a six-mile course via bike and foot, often in costume.

The race has expanded from its origins in 1999 and now includes 18 events in 2011, three of which will take place in Florida. Like NASCAR, Muddy Buddy will begin and end its season in the Sunshine State, moving its ESPN Wide World of Sports event in Lake Buena Vista from Mother’s Day weekend to the season-opening April 9 date. Muddy Buddy returns to Zoo Miami on Nov. 20 for the second straight year, only this time it won’t be the season finale. That’s because there’s a new championship race at the Redneck Yacht Club in Punta Gorda on Dec. 4.

Babbitt (right) is one of the good guys in the endurance sports world, co-founder of Competitor magazine and the Challenged Athlete Foundation. He’s an Ironman Hall of Famer, host of the terrific Competitors radio show and creator of the Muddy Buddy. These days, he’s perhaps best known for donning a frog suit and emceeing the Muddy Buddy events. He spoke with us Monday on The Fitness Buff Radio Show.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cycling, Fitness Buff Show Radio, Races, Running

Tough Mudder Coming to Pasco County

By Pete Williams

Typical Tough Mudder obstacle

The Tough Mudder, perhaps the most challenging of the growing field of adventure mud runs, is coming to Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City on Dec. 3-4.

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, Tough Mudder seems to delight in providing a far greater challenge than other mud runs. Only 78 percent finish the course during a typical race, with an average time of two and a half hours.

According to the Tough Mudder press materials, USMC participants say the race is just as hard, if not more difficult, than USMC basic training and “significantly different from other mud events like Warrior Dash or Muddy Buddy because the courses are three times as long and held on hostile terrain.”

Tough Mudder “is not your average lame-ass mud run or spirit-crushing ‘endurance’ road race,” the race Web site says. “It’s Ironman meets Burning Man, and it is coming to a location near you. Our 10-12 mile obstacle courses are designed by British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. Forget finish times. Simply completing a Tough Mudder is a badge of honor.Tough Mudder is 3-4 times longer and much tougher than a typical mud run such as Warrior Dash.”

Tough Mudder’s obstacles are not of the pegboard or giant inflatable variety. Obstacles include running through fire, mud, freezing water, jumping off 15-foot planks and being shocked by 10,000 volts of electricity.

Walking the plank

There’s also something called the “Ball Shrinker,”which is appropriate since the Tough Mudder is a bit of a sausage fest, with a field that’s typically 80 percent male. (Perhaps Will Dean has a brother Jimmy?)

The Tampa Bay event is expected to draw 10,000 participants over two days and is a great value compared to triathlons and other mud runs – if you register early. The Sunday race, though identical, is cheaper and the current pre-registration price is $100 for Saturday and $80 for Sunday through June 15. (Those who got in before March 16 paid $80 or $60.) The prices go up on the 15th of each month before topping out at $180 and $160.

There’s plenty of jocularity involved, including free mullet haircuts and Tough Mudder tattoos post-race, along with various costume prizes including one for least clothing worn. (Presumably nudity is not allowed.)

Tough Mudder is one of at least a dozen mud runs coming to Florida this year. As we chronicled last month, the Sunshine State leads the nation in this category, to the point where Tough Mudder is going up against the inaugural Muddy Buddy “world championship” at the Red Neck Yacht Club in Punta Gorda on Dec. 4.

Though Tough Mudder only debuted on May 2, 2010, it’s up to 14 events for 2011 and in 2012 will expand to Canada, Japan, Australia, England, and Scotland.

We’re not sure it’s the “toughest endurance event,” at least not compared to The Death Race in Vermont in June. But we wouldn’t bet against Tough Mudder reaching its goal of “replacing Ironman as the ultimate endurance event on the planet.”

7 Comments

Filed under Races, Running