Tag Archives: Muddy Buddy

Competitor Group on the Block

By Pete Williams

Muddy Buddy and other CGI assets are up for bids

Competitor Group Inc., the endurance sports conglomerate that includes the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, Muddy Buddy, the TriRock triathlon series, and a number of prominent industry magazines, is for sale, according to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal.

Falconhead Capital, the equity fund that owns Competitor, has been shopping the firm, according to Kaplan. In a summary of the executive prospectus obtained by SportsBusiness Journal, Competitor expects to generate revenue of $126 million in 2012.

In January of 2008, Falconhead purchased Elite Racing Inc., which puts on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, along with La Jolla Holding Group (Triathlete Magazine), Competitor Publishing Inc., and Muddy Buddy, the bike-and-run obstacle relay series. The new company became Competitor Group Inc.

Riding the wave of interest and growth of endurance sports that has continued despite the economic downturn, CGI has expanded its own events, created one (TriRock Triathlon) and acquired others, including the Nation’s Triathlon in Washington, D.C. In June, CGI purchased Women’s Running Magazine and the Lady Speed Stick Women’s Half Marathon Series, both based in St. Petersburg and created by Dawna Stone.

It’s not unusual for a private equity investor to sell after a period of four years, especially given the industry growth that has occurred since 2008.

CGI, perhaps more than anyone else in the industry, has capitalized on the growing interest in half-marathon or “13.1” mile racing. Stone was among the first to recognize the lucrative women’s running demographic and her properties no doubt will add to Competitor’s eventual sales price.

At the same time, Competitor was slow to embrace the booming obstacle race category. Muddy Buddy,  the biggest national series as recently as 2008, contracted from 16 to 8 races this year as events such as Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash cut into its market share.

Kaplan noted that when Falconhead formed CGI in 2008, the company had just 16 races. Today there are 75, making it the largest operator of endurance events in the country.

 

 

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Will TriRock Work in Clearwater?

By Pete Williams

Racing Clearwater's bridges

It’s been quite a start to 2012 for Competitor Group and its endurance sports properties in Florida.

Two weeks ago, the San Diego-based publisher and event promoter pulled its Muddy Buddy series out of Florida, part of a downsizing to just eight events for the bike-and-run event for 2012. Competitor had considered moving its popular Orlando Muddy Buddy race to Pasco County after Disney booted outside endurance sports promoters from the Magic Cashbox, but decided to go with more proven markets, at least for 2012.

This week, runners participating in Competitor’s inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in St. Petersburg on Sunday realized they must pay $15 to park at Tropicana Field to pick up their race packets and another $15 on race day unless they make less convenient arrangements. That’s part of a complicated relationship between Competitor, the City of St. Pete, and the Tampa Bay Rays, but mostly a product of the cushy deal St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster gave Competitor.

But when it comes to sucking up to endurance sports conglomerates and giving away the keys to the city, nobody does it better than Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who after getting little in return for the city’s six-year investment with the World Triathlon Corporation to put on five Ironman 70.3 races and cancel a 5150 event, signed on this week to host a November event in Competitor’s TriRock triathlon series.

The inaugural TriRock Clearwater will take place November 11, the same weekend Ironman canceled its inaugural 5150 event last year due to low registration and the same weekend Ironman staged its year-end 70.3 championship from 2006-2010. That event, which attracted few spectators and little media coverage, generated headlines mostly for tying up 56 miles of traffic in Florida’s most densely populated county.

The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. relocated the 70.3 event to Nevada for 2011 and thanked Clearwater on the way out by not printing “Clearwater” on a single piece of merchandise for the 2010 event. In October, WTC canceled its inaugural 5150 season-ending event in Clearwater just three weeks before the race when it could not reach its modest goal of 800 participants.

Race director Philip LaHaye wondered at the time if Clearwater could “support a bigger production, $150-per-person race” at the end of the season.

Competitor’s entry fees for TriRock, which features sprint-distance and Olympic-length triathlons, rank among the highest in the industry. The sprint distance costs $100 through Sept. 10 and escalates to $150. The Olympic distance costs between $140 and $180 depending on when the athlete registers. This does not include the RaceIt.com online registration fee, which also goes to Competitor, which purchased the Virginia-based online registration company in August.

No word on parking arrangements and fees but they were not an issue during Ironman’s 70.3 events out of Clearwater Beach, which featured roughly 2,000 triathletes per race.

Competitor is banking on athletes paying a premium for enjoying rock bands along the course, much like they do for the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series. The company’s Web site bills TriRock as featuring a “rocking competition, complete with live bands along the swim, bike and run courses, followed by a post-race party and concert.”

The TriRock series debuted last year with races in Annapolis, Md., Seattle, San Diego, and Gettysburg, Pa. This year’s schedule starts in New York on May 5 and includes races in Annapolis, Seattle, Austin, and San Diego.

Competitor expects 1,000 athletes for the Clearwater event, which starts with a swim in the water off Clearwater Beach. Such modest expectations make sense for a city that, for whatever reason, has struggled to build traction around the booming sport. In addition to Ironman’s mixed results, the Sand Key Triathlon initially folded last year after a seven-year run. A new promoter took over the event, postponed it from September to Feb. 25 and this week announced its cancellation.

The Morton Plant Mease Triathlon, a sprint-distance event held like the Sand Key Triathlon at Sand Key Park just south of Clearwater Beach, debuted in 2006 and is scheduled for June 24.

 

 

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Warrior Working to Stay Atop Mudpit

By Pete Williams

Warriors cross the finish line.

LAKE WALES – We’re not sure if obstacle mud runs will be a long-term part of the endurance sports world or just a fad that will disappear after a few years. But Warrior Dash, which kicked off the mud run season this weekend at the Triple Canopy Ranch, seems intent on being part of the category for however long it lasts.

It’s not that the 2012 version is more difficult than the 2011 rendition. Warrior Dash seems comfortable being the shorter, first-timer mud run, as opposed to longer endurance tests like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race. With Muddy Buddy announcing last week that it’s scaling back to eight events this year, in part because of the success of Warrior Dash, it seems Warrior Dash should command even more of the first-time mud run demographic.

This weekend’s Lake Wales attendance was 9,000 over two days, down from 13,000 last year. That’s in part to the countless mud runs that have sprung up in the last year in Florida, at least five of which left postcards on windshields while athletes raced. We’re guessing Warrior Dash will have an easier time maintaining and building its numbers in other parts of the country where there’s not a mud run nearly every weekend of the year.

Race-ending mudpit

With so many events, it’s difficult to come up with new challenges. We liked Warrior Dash’s main water obstacle, a 10-yard swim through chilly water to a floating obstacle, followed by another 10-yard swim back to shore. The distance was short enough for non-swimmers to doggie paddle – lifeguards were on hand just in case – but long enough for everyone to feel uncomfortable. Even with temperatures in the high 70s, it’s still January in Florida and the water is 60ish.

The Dash featured many of the obstacle run staples – walls, rope ladders, hurdles, fire jumps – along with running over old cars. Though it did have 100 yards of mud at one point that took some competitors down waist deep, it was easy for some just to run around the obstacle. Perhaps the biggest challenge was running about a mile through sand.

We missed last year’s Warrior Dash and wish we had done it before taking on Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Savage Race, Highlander, and multiple Muddy Buddies. It’s one of the easiest among that group, though there are a lot of things Warrior Dash does best.

Warrior Dash was the first event to take the mud/party race formula national and they still do a great job with that, attracting perhaps the youngest crowd and probably selling the most beer. (Athletes get the first for free.) It definitely had the liveliest post-race atmosphere. It helps that the Chicago-based Red Frog Events, parent company of Warrior Dash, was founded in 2007 by then-27-year-old Joe Reynolds and the band of Millennial staffers on hand worked tirelessly. The Chicago Tribune recently rated Red Frog as the No.1 small company on its list of top workplaces and clearly these young adults love their work.

We liked the fuzzy Warrior hats all athletes received, perfect for Halloween should we ever go as Fred or Barney. Warrior Dash also has jumped aboard the soft T-shirt craze with some sharp, fitted, navy blue shirts with the Warrior Dash helmet logo on the front. (Hopefully this will inspire Tough Mudder and Spartan Race to give out something other than fairly generic unisex numbers with a concert shirt-like race calendar on the back.)

The back of the Warrior Dash shirt reads “World’s Largest Running Series.” Tough Mudder is taking aim at that title. For now, Warrior Dash, which caused obstacle mud racing to blow up a year ago, shows no signs of slowing down.

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Muddy Buddy Scales Back for 2012

By Pete Williams

Fewer mud pits in 2012

Muddy Buddy, the popular bike-and-run mud race series owned by Competitor Group, has scaled back to just eight events for 2012. After hosting two races in Florida in each of the last two years, and considering a third last year, Muddy Buddy will come no closer to Florida than Atlanta in 2012.

A new splash page on the Muddy Buddy Web site posted Tuesday promised a new Web site and 2012 registration for Jan. 30, along with “the biggest news in Muddy Buddy history.” The page also listed the eight cities that will host events in 2012.

“Choosing only eight events for 2012 was difficult,” Competitor Group said in a statement. “We weighed past participation, local support and event sponsor requests in making our decision. Cities that were on the schedule in 2011, but not in 2012 will be the first cities we reconsider as we hope to modestly expand the series in the coming years.”

A Competitor source said the decision was in response to races such as Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, which routinely draw between 10,000 and 20,000 athletes per weekend. Muddy Buddy need attract only 2,000 to 3,000 per event to be successful, but even that became challenging over the last year with greater competition.

Orlando was the second-most popular stop on the Muddy Buddy circuit after Chicago. A return to Disney’s Wide World of Sports for 2012 was not a possibility, however, once Disney decided to no longer allow third-party endurance sports promoters to produce events on Disney property.

Competitor did consider locations elsewhere in Central Florida, including Pasco County just north of Tampa, but “there were no guarantees those venues would be as strong,” the source said. Another strike against Florida is that Columbia Sportswear, the title sponsor of the series, does not have many retail outlets in the Sunshine State.

Muddy Buddy staged races for years in seven or eight cities, including Orlando, before expanding to 13 for 2009 and 18 in 2010 before dialing it back to 16 last year. The circuit included a late November, season-ending stop at Zoo Miami in each of the last two years.

Back to Florida in 2013?

Attendance at the Disney event, held Mother’s Day weekend before moving to early April in 2011, fell to about 2,000 last year after drawing about 3,000 participants in 2009. About 900 athletes showed up for the Zoo Miami event in late November.

This year, Muddy Buddy will return to Richmond, Austin, Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Boulder, Portland, and San Jose. In addition to Orlando and Miami, the others not to make the cut were Buffalo, Detroit, New York, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

Muddy Buddy, founded by endurance sports publisher and entrepreneur Bob Babbitt in 1999, was the first mud run to go national. As recently as 2008, Muddy Buddy had the national mud run scene virtually to itself. With its entry-level, two-person-team obstacle course, costume contests, and signature mud pit, it attracted thousands of casual athletes looking for an alternative to a pound-the-pavement 5K or a triathlon.

Warrior Dash provided competition in 2009, but the real challenge came in 2010 with the debuts of Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, more difficult races that drew athletes looking for a triathlon-level accomplishment with a bit of CrossFit flavor.

Not only were Tough Mudder and Spartan Race quick success stories – Tough Mudder grossed more than $30 million in 2011 – they inspired countless other events, nowhere more so than in Florida. So crowded did the Sunshine State’s mud run schedule become that Muddy Buddy scrapped plans for a season-ending 2011 championship event in Punta Gorda when Tough Mudder scheduled a Tampa Bay area event the same weekend in December.

Muddy Buddy’s move is the latest sign that the market for obstacle mud runs, which flooded in 2011, could be undergoing a shakeout. The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. scrapped plans for a “Primal Challenge” series of mud runs. Warrior Dash will host about 9,000 athletes for this weekend’s season kickoff event in Lake Wales, down from last year’s 13,000. Several Florida-based mud runs have not been rescheduled for 2012.

But Rock on Adventures, which staged a pair of Highlander races in Bartow last year, announced plans this week for six events in 2012, including an inaugural “Monster Bash Dash” on April 14 in Kissimmee. With Muddy Buddy no longer at Lake Buena Vista in mid-April, the Monster Bash Dash could draw some of the usual Muddy Buddy crowd.



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The Ultimate Obstacle Mud Run

By Pete Williams

How would you build a mud run?

We’ve devoted a lot of space at Endurance Sports Florida to coverage of obstacle mud runs – and with good reason. Just two years ago, the category consisted of little more than the national Muddy Buddy race series and a few regional events.

In 2011, there were more than 30 events in Florida alone. National series such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have developed cult-like followings, to the point where each likely will gross more than $50 million in 2012. That’s amazing considering neither debuted until the spring of 2010. Tough Mudder staged 14 events this year and will put on 44 next year, some internationally. Spartan Race, a spin-off of the legendary Death Race in Vermont, is showing similar growth.

It seems every week another mud run is launched. Florida leads the nation in mud runs because of our year-round warm weather and huge population of endurance athletes accustomed to pushing their limits, acting silly, and wearing little.

Yesterday a friend suggested we launch a mud run series. That’s a lot to tackle and, besides, sooner or later there will be a shakeout in this category. But it got me thinking about what I would include in an obstacle mud run.

An obstacle mud run staple

I competed in six events this year: Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Savage Race, Highlander, and two Muddy Buddy races. I also attended the Spartan Death Race in Vermont, the toughest and perhaps most insane event on the planet. That’s only a fraction of the three dozen races around the country, but it’s a good representation of events in terms of size and degree of difficulty, especially here in the Sunshine State.

Golf writers are forever creating their fantasy 18-hole course, taking holes from Augusta, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and other classic courses. Why not take the best of various mud runs and add a few of our ideas?

Here then is our Ultimate All-Star Obstacle Mud Run

DATE: Mid-November, 2012. That’s ideal weather here in Florida, which this year extended into early December for Tough Mudder. It could be cold in either instance, but we’re more likely to have that high-of-72 day in mid-November.

VENUE: We loved Little Everglades Ranch for Tough Mudder. The Clermont facility used by Savage Race also has its strengths and we liked the rolling terrain of the Bartow property Highlander used. We could go with any of them and there no doubt are other ranches and facilities that will jump into the mix for 2012 races. We’ll keep it closer to Tampa, preferably in Pasco County.

DISTANCE: Ten miles. A good round number not associated with any other race. It’s long enough to be challenging and include enough challenges.

OBSTACLES: Twenty. Anything more can become repetitious. This does not count the many shorter dashes through mud and swamp (a la Tough Mudder) or ducking under ropes and through mazes in the woods (Highlander).

RACE OR NO RACE? We like Tough Mudder’s team-oriented, finish-together philosophy, but we’re going to chip time this and implement time penalties for obstacles that can’t be completed. We’ll also provide bonus opportunities to slash minutes off your time.

We'll have costumes and fire at "The Ultimate"

COSTUMES? Absolutely. We’ve been known to encourage nude running, so anything goes here. We’ll take a page from Muddy Buddy and leave time for a pre-race costume judging with real prizes.

PRE-RACE: We liked the bagpipes at Highlander, but we have to go with the hilarious 10-minute pre-race instructions and pep talk given by the guy at Tough Mudder.

OBSTACLE #1 – This by necessity has to be something simple because the waves of athletes haven’t thinned out. The Highlander’s initial rapid-fire series of 20-foot dirt mounds goes here.

OBSTACLE #2 – We heard some complaints at Tough Mudder from the CrossFit crowd that the race didn’t require enough brute strength, WOD kind of stuff. Fair enough. After running a mile, we’re going to grab large rocks and perform non-stop squats for six minutes. Be glad this isn’t The Death Race. They had to do it for six hours.

OBSTACLE #3Muddy Buddy Miami had a wacky inflatable you plunged through head first. The danger, obviously intended, was coming through it face-planted into the rear end of the person in front of you. I lucked out with the woman in front of me but obviously this could have been a disaster, which is just the point.

Toughest obstacle?

OBSTACLE #4Tough Mudder’s Chernobyl Jacuzzi. Perhaps the most feared obstacle in the industry, it’s best to get this plunge into a dumpster full of ice water early, especially if you’ve got a bad taste in your mouth from the previous obstacle.

OBSTACLE #5 – It’s time for the mandatory commando crawl through mud under barbwire. Most every event has this but Spartan Race seems to have the best (or rather worst) combination of thick, manure-smelling mud and low-slung wire. Like the Spartan Race, this obstacle will be L-shaped, requiring a sharp turn.

OBSTACLE #6Tough Mudder’s Dirty Holes – a 150-yard slog through the swamp where you dip two feet with every other step. No, there are no gators here.

OBSTACLE #7 – Now that you’re shoes are hopelessly caked with mud, it’s time for the Balance Beam. We’ll use the Spartan Race zig-zagging version, short and just a foot off the ground. But we’ll also go with the Spartan Race penalty: Fall off the beam and do 30 Burpees.

We're adding paddling to obstacle mud runs

OBSTACLE #8 – Get Paddled. The Savage Race had a stand-up paddleboard rental outfit giving free demos after the race at a lake along the course. We’re going to make it part of the race. Grab a board, along with a paddle, and navigate a four-buoy, half-mile course. (This does not count as part of the 10-mile distance.) If you fall of your board do 30 Burpees when you get back to shore.

OBSTACLE #9 – Climbing Walls. We liked Tough Mudder’s tall Berlin Walls that required most people to take a team approach to get over. But we’re going to go with Spartan Race’s shorter series of walls – 6-foot, 7-foot, 8-foot – and requirement that you go at it alone or face 30 Burpees. We’ll provide a peg for shorter women. Like the Spartan Race, we’ll also have volunteers stationed as hecklers. (Recommendation: Don’t wear tri shorts like I did.)

OBSTACLE #10 – Target practice. This is from the Spartan Race’s June event at a paintball field in Northern Virginia. Here you’ll crawl on your forearms under a thin tarp as a sniper with a machine gun pelts you with paintballs. Hey, these events are supposed to be inspired by the military, right?

OBSTACLE #11 – The Forrest Gump. We’re amazed nobody has incorporated our favorite endurance hero into an obstacle mud run. Now that you’ve come out from under fire, you have to grab either a 100-pound sack or a smaller fellow competitor and carry it fireman’s style 50 yards to the base of the lake. Run it back to where you started and head back to the lake, where you’ll find a table of chocolates and cases of Dr. Pepper. Ten minutes deducted from your time if you eat an entire box or drink nine Dr. Peppers.

OBSTACLE #12 – We’re going to spend some time in the water here. First you perform Tough Mudder’s Ballshrinker obstacle, where you pull yourself backward along a zipline while mostly emerged in water. After you get off the Ballshrinker, you dip under a series of Highlander-inspired nets to reach shore.

Hope your log floats

OBSTACLE #13 – We call this one Deliverance since you’ll be dealing with a log. Taking a page from this year’s Death Race, you’ll come back to shore, grab a log and throw it in the lake. (Don’t hit any of the Ballshrinker crowd.) Next we’re going to test your claustrophobia by crawling through narrow tubes. But don’t think Tough Mudder. We’re going through a muddy creek and under an actual road through a dark culvert a la the Death Race. When you get out, head back into the lake and find your log – or any log. If it’s not floating, it’s time to dive and find it.

OBSTACLE #14 – We’ve been out here more than an hour and have yet to climb a massive rope ladder wall. We like the one from Savage Race. We’ll also do the Highlander’s climb over a boulder lined with tires.

OBSTACLES #15-16: We’re combining Tough Mudder’s “Walk the Plank” (jump from a 15-foot platform) with the Savage Race’s 150-yard swim loop. You must walk the plank. If you can’t swim, you make a quick doggy-paddle to shore, perform 30 Burpees, and take a 10-minute penalty, along with information on enrolling in a Masters swim program. We’ll have an area to discard your shoes, either temporarily or permanently if you wish to do the rest of the race barefoot. Like Tough Mudder, we’ll donate them.

Walk the plank, swim 150 yards

OBSTACLE #17: Rolling in the Hay. We’ll climb Tough Mudder’s massive hay bale pyramid. After that, it’s on to the Tough Mudder-inspired obstacle featuring five hay bales spaced four feet apart. You must complete this Wipeout-style, broadjumping between bales. Fall off? Thirty Burpees. We’ll also work the Spartan Race into this obstacle. Pick up a javelin and aim for that hay bale 20 feet away. If you miss, yep, 30 Burpees.

OBSTACLE #18: Home stretch now as we leap over three rows of Savage Race-inspired lit Duraflame logs. (Thirty seconds off your time if you tossed your shoes at Walk the Plank). Time now to climb a hill; this might be Florida, but there’s actually a hill like this at Highlander. Run a short loop before climbing the Muddy Buddy wall and maneuvering through the mudpit.

OBSTACLES #19-20: You’re caked in mud but standing before you at the edge of a hill are the Spartan Race’s band of roided up meatheads dressed in crimson. They’re wielding mallets but it’s up to you to bull rush past them and plunge down the Highlander’s 150-foot waterslide. You pass under a giant finish-line inflatable arc and race clock before flopping into the temporary pool. One minute taken off your time for each Spartan you drag down with you.

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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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Muddled Future: How Many Obstacle Mud Runs Can Florida Sustain?

By Pete Williams

Not yet saturated?

The formula by now is a familiar one. Take a 3-to-12 mile off-road course, position a dozen obstacles, add water, and mix.

Voila! Instant mud run.

It seems like a new event emerges every month in the loosely defined category of “obstacle mud runs.” At least 22 such events representing 17 different race series will take place in Florida this year and it’s getting tougher to tell them apart.

Maybe it’s because they feature similar obstacles, themes, marketing, and a Web design that seems borrowed from the same template. Most races offer one free post-race beer, charge $10 for parking, and about $75 per entry.

It was only two years ago that Muddy Buddy had a near monopoly on the concept. But the unbridled growth of endurance sports during the recession combined with the emergence of CrossFit and adventure racing has created the perfect opportunity for events that are part running, part Survivor, and part Jackass.

Unlike triathlons, mud runs can be taken seriously or not so seriously. They can be done solo or in teams. There’s no need to worry about attire since it’s a good idea to wear black and old shoes that can go into the trash. Where else can you exert yourself and get covered in mud with friends and loved ones?

Then there’s this theory, as Original Mud Run founder Paul Courtaway told The San Antonio Express-News recently. “Eighty percent of the people who run (in the Original Mud Run) have never run a race in their life. You know who this appeals to, crazily? College sororities and groups of girls who love to get together and do things they normally wouldn’t be expected to do. Young moms and mom groups. Sixty percent of our runners are female.”

Given our Florida weather and demographics, it’s no wonder each of the nine national series  – including the recently-launched Primal Challenge by the Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. – pays at least one visit to the Sunshine State.

Fire is always a crowd pleaser

From the Warrior Dash in January to the Tough Mudder in December, Florida is the one state that can host such events all year long. No wonder at least eight in-state promoters have launched a series.

The numbers are staggering – crowds of 2,000 are commonplace and the Warrior Dash draws up to 20,000. Muddy Buddy introduced a second Florida race late in 2010 and considered a third for 2011.

The category shows no signs of topping out. But can a state that already leads the nation in number of triathlons, running events, and now stand-up paddleboard races also absorb what presumably will be at least 25 mud runs in 2012?

Since it’s getting tough to keep track of them all, we’ve provided a scorecard in alphabetical order beginning with the national events.

Which is your favorite and which do you think will be the most successful?

NATIONAL SERIES EVENTS

MERRELL DOWN & DIRTY

Will J-Lo and Anna show?

Debut – April 26, 2010 – Los Angeles

Origin: Created by Michael Epstein Sports Productions (MESP), best known as the outfit that produces popular triathlons in Malibu and South Beach that attract paparazzi and feature special transition areas for celebrities.

Number of Races in 2011: 9

Next Florida Race: TBA (Last was in Miami on May 1)

Distance: 5K and 10K

Degree of Difficulty: 5

Signature Features: Inspired in part by the Merrell sponsorship, race organizers recently added a barefoot running division for those wearing minimalist shoes or no footwear. The final event of this season (Oct. 30 in Sacramento) features a Halloween theme and takes place at night.

Outlook: The race with the unwieldy name – Merrell Down & Dirty Presented by Subaru National Mud Run Series – hasn’t mushroomed like some of its competitors, but it’s consistently drawn 4,000 to 5,000 athletes to off-road courses featuring obstacles of above-average difficulty, steep terrain (where possible), and lots of mud. MESP tends to fly under the radar in the endurance world, even with triathlons that attract celebrities, so this could be a series to watch in 2012, especially with its major corporate backing. J-Lo and Anna Kournikova have competed in MESP triathlons, so perhaps Epstein will draw some A-listers into the mudpit.

MUDDY BUDDY

In the Muddy Buddy Pit

Debut: 1999 – San Diego

Origin: Created by Bob Babbitt, the Forrest Gump/Zelig of endurance sports, who was inspired by a similar leapfrog event involving horseback riding.

Number of Races in 2011: 16

Next Florida race: Nov. 20 – Zoo Miami

Distance: 6-7 miles

Degree of Difficulty: 2

Signature Features: Two-person, bike-and-run format. Athletes, many of which compete in costume, must navigate foot-deep mud pit together before crossing finish line.

Outlook: As recently as two years ago, Muddy Buddy shared a near monopoly on the adventure mud run category with The Original Mud Run, at least at the national series level, routinely selling out its annual Orlando spring event with 4,000 athletes. At just 6 to 7 miles, with easy obstacles and much of the course completed on bike, Muddy Buddy is not much of a challenge for hardcore endurance types. It’s still the event of choice for folks who don’t race much, but the series is losing those looking for greater challenges. (Muddy Buddy quietly postponed what was to have been its inaugural year-end world championship in Punta Gorda in December.) Still, Muddy Buddy is bankrolled by the well-heeled Competitor Group and this year has added a couple of more challenging obstacles and an elite division.

ORIGINAL MUD RUN

Debut/Origin – 2006, though Mud Runs LLC head Paul Courtaway, an ex-Marine, has been putting on family mud runs on military bases for 12-plus years. Hence, the “original” mud run.

Number of Races in 2011: 11

Next Florida Race: TBA (Last one was in Jacksonville on March 26)

Distance: 10K

Degree of Difficulty: 2-3. There are competitive and recreational divisions.

Signature Features: Lots of obstacles and the Original folks are kind enough to let you in on some of them online beforehand. Knowing how to swim is recommended, but non-swimmers are given alternative challenges.

Outlook: This race or Muddy Buddy can lay claim to the longest-running national series of mud runs. Both court the masses, though the ‘Original’ brings far more mud and obstacles to the table.

PRIMAL CHALLENGE: A MUDVENTURE QUEST

Debut – September 16-18, 2011 – Charlotte

Origin: This is a new partnership between the Tampa-based World Triathlon Corporation (aka Ironman) and the United States Marines Corps.

Number of Races in 2011: 2

Next Florida Race: Nov. 4-6, Lake Wales

Distance: Billed as 12 to 20 obstacles over 3 to 5 miles

Degree of Difficulty: Unknown

Signature Features: This being an Ironman-affiliated event, you can count on a bit of organizational arrogance and a T-shirt with at least three dozen sponsor logos on the back. Hopefully the Marines can organize Ironman’s race-day staff, which thankfully includes Kip Koelsch, a veteran Central Florida adventure race director recently hired by WTC.

Outlook: You know a category has jumped the shark when the WTC is getting involved. The Ironman folks have been chasing everything from women’s half-marathons to Olympic-distance triathlons to youth events. No word on whether there will be an announcer to say, “You…are…a…Primal Man!”

SPARTAN RACE

Waves of 300 or so

Debut: May 16, 2010 – Burlington, Vermont

Origin: Created by a team led by Joe DeSena, who also launched the event now known as “The Spartan Death Race” in 2005 after deciding Ironman triathlons and other ultra events weren’t challenging enough.

Number of Races in 2011: 27

Next Florida race: Feb. 25, 2012 – Oleta River State Park, Miami

Distance/Degree of Difficulty: 6 (for the 3-mile Spartan Sprint); 7 (for the 8-plus mile Super Spartan); 8 (for the 10-to-12 mile Spartan Beast); 10+ (for The Death Race)

Signature Features: Guys dressed as movie extras from 300 guard the finish line and pummel athletes with giant mallets, sort of a cross between American Gladiators and Wipeout. Organizers adapt the course to the venue. The June race at a paintball course in Northern Virginia, for instance, featured a sniper using athletes for target practice.

Outlook: This race has evolved in just one year. One writer ripped one of the first races last summer in New York for being too easy and some reported the February event in Miami was easier than expected. It’s a bad idea to call a Joe DeSena race easy as the Death Race creator has ramped up the challenges in recent months, introducing longer versions and making the Spartan Race essentially a shorter version of The Death Race, by far the most demanding event in this category – or perhaps any other. Only 80 percent of the field finishes a Spartan Race. That’s not bad considering 80 percent don’t finish the Death Race.

TOUGH MUDDER

Walking the plank at the Tough Mudder

Debut: Allentown, Pa. – March 2, 2010

Origin: Will Dean, who worked in counter-terrorism for the British government, thought it up as a Harvard Business School project while working on his MBA.

Number of Races in 2011: 14

Next Florida race: Dec. 4-5 Tampa (Dade City)

Distance: 10-12 miles

Degree of Difficulty: 8

Signature Features: Billed as “Iron Man meets Burning Man,” Tough Mudder draws from an arsenal of obstacles, including the charged “Electroshock Therapy” challenge. Orange headband to finishers, Tough Mudder tattoos at finish line (optional).

Outlook: This 10-to-12 mile obstacle course was designed with input from the British Special Forces and encourages athletes to participate as teams to help each other through challenges. The ‘Mudder’ and has taken the lead in national publicity, including a recent spread in ESPN the Magazine. Organizers say only 78 percent of the field finishes.

WARRIOR DASH

Costumes optional

Debut – July 18, 2009 – Chicago

Origin: Joe Reynolds, now 31, launched Red Frog Events in 2007 after watching an episode of “The Amazing Race.” The Great Urban Race came first, followed by Warrior Dash.

Number of Races in 2011: 35

Next Florida race: March 31, 2012 – Live Oak, Florida

Distance: Roughly a 5K.

Degree of Difficulty: 3 – Tougher than a Muddy Buddy, but not nearly as challenging as a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder.

Signature Features: Huge numbers. A typical Warrior Dash draws an average of 20,000 participants in many waves over two days. You get a Viking helmet and free beer.

Outlook: Warrior Dash is a grittier version of Muddy Buddy without the bike. It’s slightly more difficult with more mud and obstacles, bigger crowds, and venues that tend to be in the middle of nowhere. That adds to the post-race atmosphere but does make for a longer day between travel, dealing with crowds, and clean-up. Warrior Dash offers neither the challenge of Tough Mudder/Spartan Race nor the easy access/low barrier to entry of Muddy Buddy. Some view it as the best of all the races – others the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. Either way, Reynolds is arguably the most successful endurance sports entrepreneur of the last three years, which is saying something.

Other national series events:

Gladiator Rock and Run – Coming to Florida in December, 2011 – TBA

Rugged Maniac – Feb. 25, 2012 – Jacksonville

FLORIDA-BASED EVENTS

FLORIDA DIRTY DUO

Holed up at the Dirty Duo

Debut/Origin: 2006 – Sarasota

Number of Races in 2011: 3

Next Florida Race: Nov. 13 – Tampa

Distance: 6 miles

Degree of Difficulty: 3

Signature Features: A different twist on the mud run, The Dirty Duo consists of two-person teams on one bike covering two three-mile loops. You can race solo but must run the entire course. Unlike the Muddy Buddy, which has designated bike drop points, Dirty Duo participants can choose when they switch.

Outlook: The one existing Florida-based series got a bit overshadowed by the mudslide of national newcomers that invaded the Sunshine State in 2011. A proposed South Florida date has been postponed until 2012.

HIGHLANDER

High land in Florida? You bet.

Debut – July 23, 2011 – Bartow

Origin: Jonny Simpkins, a veteran endurance athlete and motocross enthusiast, created The Highlander after doing the Warrior Dash in January.

Number of Races in 2011: 2

Next Florida Race (after debut on July 23): October 15

Distance: 3 and 6-mile courses

Degree of Difficulty: 5 (estimated)

Signature Features: This might be the most unique piece of real estate for a run in this category, with thousands of acres available. The property is used for an occasional hare scramble off-road bike event and its multiple elevations will make athletes feel like they’re in Georgia. Among the final obstacles is a steep 150-foot waterslide. Spectators will be able to view 75 percent of the course from an elevated area and can take free hayrides to see the rest. The event also features The Highland Games, a celebration of Celtic culture featuring bagpipes, colorful quilts and many challenges such as the hammer toss.

Outlook: Perhaps the darkhorse of the series and not just because Simpkins and his staff have distributed flyers at virtually every Central Florida event since February. With a family-friendly festival atmosphere, unusual obstacles, and unusually elevated terrain for Florida, the Highlander could stand out in a crowded field.

IRON MUDDER

Debut: Oct. 22-23, 2011 – Fort Meade

Origin: Recent arrival onto the mud scene, Iron Mudder makes its debut in Florida in October and expands to five additional states for 2012.

Number of Races in 2011: 1

Next Florida Race (after debut Oct. 22-23): Oct. 20-21, 2012

Distance: 3.5 miles

Degree of Difficulty: 6 (estimate)

Signature Features: Held at the Dirty Foot Adventure Ranch, the Iron Mudder obstacles include the Fire Gauntlet, Doom Slide, Lunatic Logs, and Quicksand Pit.

Outlook: Though not affiliated with Ironman or Tough Mudder, the Iron Mudder is billed as “a challenging mud/obstacle course to challenge your strength, endurance, stamina and determination.”

SAVAGE RACE

CrossFit training helpful

Debut – August 27, 2011 – Clermont

Origin: Created by Sam Abbitt, a Central Florida CrossFit enthusiast, and billed as the “most badass mud and obstacle race yet” with “extreme obstacles, fire, mud, and bruises,” this race debuts in Clermont, home to many endurance events.

Number of Races in 2011: 1

Next Florida Race: Debut

Distance: 5K

Degree of Difficulty: Unknown

Signature Features: The course features a 70-acre lake, so there figures to be some true water obstacles, though non-swimmers presumably will have alternatives.

Outlook: Nearly 900 athletes are registered for this event on IMAthlete.com. There’s a CrossFit connection to several events in this category, so expect this one to be higher on the degree-of-difficulty scale.

Others:

Champions Mud Bash – Debuted June 18, 2011 – St. Cloud

Florida Running Obstacle Challenge – Debuted May 7, 2011 – Daytona Beach

Mud Run MS – March 24, 2012 – Jacksonville

Redneck Mud Run – Debuted June 4, 2011 – Punta Gorda

RELATED STORIES

Mudslide: Mud Runs Overwhelm Florida – Feb. 24, 2011

Tough Mudder Coming to Pasco County – March 19, 2011

Muddy Buddy 2.0 a Success – April 11, 2011

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