Tag Archives: obstacle mud runs

Savage Race Gets “Tougher”

By Pete Williams

Tackling the Savage Race

Sam Abbitt received plenty of positive feeback from his initial Savage Race, the 4.2-mile obstacle mud run he staged in Clermont last August. But he says he believes in borrowing some of the more popular elements of other races to improve his own.

That’s why the second edition of the Savage Race, which takes place at the same Clermont facility on March 10, will include an ice plunge very similar to Tough Mudder’s “Chernobyl Jacuzzi,” where athletes must wade through a dumpster of ice water, immersing themselves completely at one point.

The Savage Race is one of the few mud runs to have a significant swimming obstacle. The 150-yard challenge is back. Non-swimmers and those who don’t wish to swim can take a pass, but must do 30 Burpees and add 10 minutes to their time. The Savage Race will have a total of 20 obstacles, up from about 14 last year. There will be a “super waterslide,” along with a few surprise challenges.

Abbitt, who is expecting more than 3,000 for the event, spoke to us today on The Fitness Buff Show. You can listen to that broadcast HERE.

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Committed to The Death Race

By Pete Williams

Last year's Spartan Death Race

For all the talk about Tough Mudder and the Spartan Race, there is one event that remains far above the rest when it comes to crazy, hardcore, physical challenges.

That’s the Death Race, held since 2005 and rebranded last year as The Spartan Death Race.

Death Race participants don’t know how long the race will last. They’re not even given a start time, just told to be at a farm in Pittsfield, Vermont on a certain day in June ready to go.

As for the challenges, they’re like no weekend mud run, including Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. Last year’s Death Race began late on a Friday night with athletes squatting 10-to-30 pound rocks…for six hours.

They spent the next 39 hours navigating a series of grueling mental and physical challenges throughout a 40-mile course that runs through the woods. Competitors had to wade through icy water, haul 20-pound stumps up and down mountains for hours, memorize Biblical verses, and carry a 10-gallon bucket of water for 2.5 miles.

The Biblical verse challenge came after 15 hours of racing and required the athletes to memorize the scripture, climb the top of a mountain and recite. Get it wrong? Go back to the bottom and do it again.

Rebecca Hansen, shown competing in triathlon, will attempt to complete a second Death Race in 2012

Last year, 185 started the race and only 35 remained when it was called after 45 hours. Remarkably, some of them are among the 200 committed for this year’s event (June 15), including several who finished the race. Rebecca Hansen (left) was one of two Floridians to finish last year’s event. The 50-year-old ultramarathoner from Naples committed for 2012 shortly before embarking on last year’s race.

Paul Roarke,the 51-year-old former U.S. Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant from Pensacola who dropped out after suffering a leg injury 26 hours into the race, also is back. Megan Mays, 28, of Tallahassee, the only other Florida finisher last year, plans to return to Vermont, but only as part of a support team for other athletes.

Joe Decker, the two-time defending champion from San Diego, apparently is not returning. After all, it’s not like he has anything left to prove.

Other Floridians among the registered: Joe Falcone, 35, of Boca Raton; Doug Bush, 32, of Davenport; Joshua Clifford, 26, and Abraham Lara, 27, both of Fort Walton Beach; Andrew Andras, 35, of Miami; Bruce Harris, 48, of Milton; and Ricky Weiss, 28, of Tallahassee.

Unlike other endurance races that offer a detailed map, Death Racers have no idea what to expect next as the course map and list of challenges are kept secret.  This provides competitors with one of their biggest challenges as the length of the race can range from 24 to 48 hours. For an endurance athlete, not knowing where the light is at the end of the tunnel can be sheer torture.

Race founders Joe DeSena and Andy Weinberg created the Death Race after becoming bored with marathons, Ironman triathlons, and eco-challenes. Though it’s not an official policy, it seems they let the race last until about 80 percent of the field drops out. Thus, the event gets longer each year. Last June, they called it after 45 hours with 35 athletes remaining.

“We commend the brave athletes for taking on this challenge and taking the ultimate test,” Desena says. “We are creating a course that offers no mercy and breaks the will of at least 80 percent of the entrants.  We have never had more than 20 percent of the participants complete the course.  We don’t expect that to be challenged this year.”

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Top 10 Endurance Sports Florida Stories of 2011

By Pete Williams

Tough Mudder's infamous "Chernobyl Jacuzzi"

When we launched Endurance Sports Florida in January, we had a pretty good idea that running and triathlon would be a significant part of our coverage. We could not have anticipated the impact sports such as obstacle mud runs and stand-up paddleboarding would have in the Florida endurance world.

So as we look back at the Year in Florida Endurance Sports, it’s perhaps no surprise that the top 10 stories reflect the growth and diversity of an industry in a state that arguably has more endurance sports options than any in the country.

#10 – Introduction of the Tultex T-shirt

Fashion trend of 2011?

We’re not sure who first introduced (or resurrected) the idea of the soft, fitted, blended T-shirt this year, but we’re all for it. Two new obstacle mud runs – Highlander and Savage Race – gave them out, as did the Autumn Fest 5K in Safety Harbor. We even printed Tultex for the second-annual Caliente Bare Dare 5K in October. At a time when athletes are bored with cotton and tech, Tultex is a welcome addition. Anyone who thinks T-shirt related news does not belong in a stories-of-the-year list does not know endurance athletes.

#9 – Participation Up, Spectating Down

Spending more time at the beach

Maybe it’s because Florida’s professional and college football teams are all in the tank at the moment, but the continuing boom in endurance sports seems to coincide with a decline in interest in and attendance at big-time spectator sports. We have a theory on this, and it’s one that some college sports management class should investigate. When the economy went south in 2008, Floridians looked at their suddenly depleted finances and realized, “I’m paying how much for sports tickets? I need to take charge of my health and finances and if I’m going to pay $75 for a couple hours of entertainment, I want to have a sense of accomplishment about it. I want to come out of it feeling great physically, not like I just inhaled nasty processed food and expensive beer.”

Even the Tampa Bay Rays, who generally have played well since the economy crashed, have struggled to draw in this bad economy. But all areas of endurance sports have experienced spectacular growth. Is there a connection? Sure seems like it.

#8 Pasco County – Endurance Sports Mecca

Pasco County is known for many things: sprawling growth during the real estate boom, hot-air ballooning, sky-diving, nudist clubs, Jim Courier, Saddlebrook Resort. It’s had a foothold in the endurance sports world for years between the Longleaf Triathlon, Rattlesnake Run, and Dances with Dirt. Central Florida cyclists flock to San Antonio since it’s one of the few places in the area with hills and the Caliente Bare Dare 5K in Land O’Lakes is now two years old. But Pasco put itself on the endurance sports map in 2011 by landing Tough Mudder, which with nearly 20,000 athletes during a December weekend became the biggest endurance event ever in the greater Tampa Bay area. Don’t be surprised to see Pasco host more larger endurance events, especially with the proliferation of mud runs and a realization by the part of race directors that greater Tampa has more athletes than Orlando.

Eric Stratman of TNL Tampa leads a mud run training program

#7 – CrossFit: Meet Endurance

A year ago, you’d rarely see “CrossFit” and “endurance” in the same sentence. CrossFit athletes were viewed as bodybuilders with a bit of a gymnastics bent and the endurance crowd a bunch of spindly folks who never picked up a weight. But fueled in no small part by the obstacle mud run phenomenon, the two groups have met in the middle, recognizing that an integrated program of interval running and mix-it-up strength work might be the best formula for building a high-performance body, to say nothing of an attractive one. Obstacle mud runs such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have shrewdly aligned themselves with CrossFit programs, many of which like TNL Tampa now offer mud run-specific training programs. Runners and triathletes have embraced such training and the existing CrossFit demographic has discovered the benefits of interval running.

#6 Triathlon Dropoff?

Race directors around the state reported a 10 percent dropoff in entries this year. We’re not sure if that’s a reflection on the economy (unlikely if it didn’t happen in 2009-10), oversaturation of events (probably), or the popularity of newer endurance pastimes like obstacle mud runs and stand-up paddleboarding (possibly). Whatever the reason, the unbridled growth of triathlon in the last five years seems to be leveling off.

Triathlon: Still on the rise?

Triathlon is a sport with a high churn rate, dependent on a constant influx of newcomers. Mud runs, which don’t require bicycles or swim ability, are more accessible. And though endurance sports have been mostly recession proof in a state hit harder than most by the economy, there’s no question Florida’s slow economy is playing an impact.

We’re still bullish on triathlon, but as with any endurance sports category, competition in triathlon is fierce. The most ambitious newcomer is HITS, a group of equestrian promoters who will stage a national series – including events in Naples and Ocala – featuring triathlons of four distances (including iron) in the same weekend.

Just another sign that the triathlon pie, whether shrinking or not, will be carved into more pieces in 2012.

Florida SUP races draw pros like Annabel Anderson

#5 Stand-up Paddleboard Racing

A year ago, there were only a handful of “SUP” races in Florida. Now it’s possible to find one most every weekend from April through October. Until Brody Welte moved his StandUp Fitness operation from St. Pete to San Diego, we also had the YOLO Board Winter Race Series. Florida already leads the nation in putting on the most triathlons, marathons, and obstacle mud runs. Now it can claim the lead in SUP events. SUP racing still is a work in progress, however, remaining mostly under the radar. In September, Exclusive Sports Marketing drew just 65 athletes to South Beach for a race it billed as the “U.S. Open of SUP,” with a whopping $35,000 in prize money. Welte built some traction in two years with his Gulf Coast StandUp Paddleboard Championship in Madeira Beach and it will be interesting how he handles the event from the West Coast – of the country. Still, we’re bullish on SUP racing with its modest entry fees, occasional prize money, nice awards and solid post-race food.

#4 Ironman Gets Rusty?

Mixed year for Ironman

Sure, the World Triathlon Corp. still sells out its signature events, including Ironman Florida, in a matter of minutes. But does it seem like the Tampa-based WTC is wandering in the wilderness? Actually, WTC moved out of Disney’s Wilderness for the Ironman 70.3 event in 2012, relocating to Haines City. That’s just one of several head-scratching moves WTC made in 2011. We love Haines City (RIP Boardwalk and Baseball), but that doesn’t seem like the destination event like Disney. Then again, WTC couldn’t draw many athletes to Clearwater for its much-touted, season-ending, inaugural 5150 series event. WTC canceled the would-be Nov. 18 race in October when it couldn’t reach its modest expectations of 800 athletes, the latest sign that the 5150 concept is a misfire. WTC also seems to be chasing every endurance trend, including half-marathons and an aborted mud run series called Primal Challenge. Here in Florida, the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, now officially a WTC-affiliated 5150 event after a long history of sharing personnel, was marred by weather for the third straight year. If WTC was a stock – and don’t think that idea hasn’t been brought up by the private equity group no doubt wondering if they overpaid the Gills family in 2008 just weeks before the economy crashed – it would be Microsoft, still paying handsome dividends but viewed as stodgy and unable to come up with a new hit. Andrew Messick was hired in May as CEO, but thus far it’s business as usual with the M-dot.

#3 Half Marathons Gone Wild

It wasn’t that long ago that race directors had a tough time convincing the City of St. Petersburg that the market could support a half marathon. These days, it’s difficult to find a weekend between late October and mid-March in the Tampa Bay area without such a race. St. Pete, which added Competitor Group’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half to the calendar for Feb. 12, now has four half marathons. The rest of the state, especially South Florida, also has capitalized on the half marathon phenomenon. We’re not big fans of half marathons, which seem to provide the least in terms of food, cool shirts, swag, and race experience for the money when compared to triathlons, mud runs, trail runs, and stand-up paddleboard races. But there’s no question the half marathon is the sweet spot of the current running boom.

#2 Obstacle Mud Runs

Conquering the Savage Race in August

As recently as 2009, the Muddy Buddy race at Disney’s Wide World of Sports over Mother’s Day weekend was pretty much the only obstacle mud run in Florida. This year, there were more than 40 and the schedule became so packed that Muddy Buddy scrapped its proposed year-end championship in Punta Gorda once Tough Mudder announced plans for its Dade City race the same December weekend. (Muddy Buddy fans still had a late-November race in Miami for the second straight year.)

We’ll see if “OMRs” have staying power or end up being just a fad. For now, they’re drawing runners bored with pounding the pavement, would-be triathletes who don’t want to buy a bike or learn to swim properly, and trail runners, along with the CrossFit and bootcamp crowds. Like running or triathlon, athletes can pick from easy races (Muddy Buddy, Warrior Dash) and difficult ones (Spartan Race, Tough Mudder). The lure of OMRs is challenging both your strength and endurance while acting ridiculous and rolling around like pigs. No wonder so many race directors are jumping into the mud pit.

#1 Tough Mudder

Conquering mud and barbwire at Little Everglades Ranch

As with Oscar-contending films released in December, there might be a tendency to overplay the impact of Tough Mudder’s Florida debut earlier this month. Then again, when nearly 20,000 athletes converged on Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County, it was confirmation that 2011 was the Year of the Obstacle Mud Run.

Tough Mudder, the biggest OMR, has become the aspirational event for endurance athletes, who post their photos and finisher’s badges on Facebook and wear their campy orange headbands proudly. It’s become cooler to survive Tough Mudder’s Chernobyl Jacuzzi and Electroshock Therapy than complete a triathlon of any distance. And to think, Harvard Business School professors scoffed at Will Dean when he submitted Tough Mudder as a class project during his MBA program. Nobody, they said, would pay an average of $100 to get their butt kicked for two or three hours. Dean launched Tough Mudder in March of 2010, staged 14 races this year and has plans for 44 in 2012. He could clear $100 million in gross revenue, including sponsorship from the likes of Under Armour.

So how has your company fared the last two years?

We actually found Spartan Race more challenging with its 30-Burpee penalties, but there’s no question Tough Mudder is the leader in the category and is taking chunks of the running and triathlon pies. Tough Mudder already has announced a return to the Tampa area Dec. 1-2 and also has plans for 2012 events in Miami and Jacksonville, dates and locations TBA.

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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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Race of the Week: Muddy Buddy Miami

By Pete Williams

Navigating the mud pit at Muddy Buddy

Just two years ago, Muddy Buddy had a near monopoly on the obstacle mud run category, at least among national tours.

These days, it seems a new mud series launches every week, which has stolen some of the thunder from Muddy Buddy’s all-inclusive, entry-level, bike-and-run, obstacle barnstorming tour, which finishes the 2012 campaign Sunday at Zoo Miami.

Bob Babbitt, who created the series 12 years ago, says there’s a place for all of the races.

“It’s like running where you have races from 5K to marathon and even further,” he says. “Now you have Muddy Buddy, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder. There’s plenty of variety and athletes have no shortage of options.”

There’s a lot to like about Muddy Buddy that other events haven’t duplicated. The two-person, leapfrog format is unique. One competitor starts out on the bike, rides to the first obstacle, completes the first challenge and takes off running. Meanwhile the second athlete runs to the bike. After about six miles of changing off, the athletes meet up at the mudpit for a 50-yard crawl.

Athletes compete in male/male, female/female, or mixed divisions and numerous marriage proposals have been made in the mud pit. A frequent refrain is that a Muddy Buddy race might be the perfect third date.

For all the talk about entering other mud runs as teams, that’s usually irrelevant once the race starts. At Muddy Buddy, you must compete as a team since you’re sharing a bike.

Plus, only at Muddy Buddy can you roll back your age. That’s because most scoring divisions are by combined age. In April, I teamed with a 58-year-old triathlete training partner for Muddy Buddy Orlando  and we finished 12th out of 70 teams in the new “competitive” age category, which Muddy Buddy added this year for those who take their mud runs seriously. (The competitive division goes first, thus avoiding the inevitable backup of traffic on the course.)

On Sunday, I’ll team with a 20-year-old pal, also from my tri group, who goes to college in South Florida. Not surprisingly, there’s been plenty of trash talk between my two buddies over which team will post the better 2011 time. (That’s assuming I haven’t gotten any faster or slower in seven months.)

Old shoes and black socks recommended

We recently spoke with Babbitt, the unofficial historian of the endurance sports world who dresses in a frog suit for each Muddy Buddy event, on The Fitness Buff Show.

Name of Race: Columbia Muddy Buddy

When: Sunday, November 20, 2011, Zoo Miami, 8 a.m.

History: This is a second-annual event at Zoo Miami, though the Muddy Buddy series is 12 years old.

Format: Two-person teams with one bike between them leapfrog over a roughly six-mile course, dealing with obstacles and a mud pit at the end of the course.

Amenities: T-shirts, post-race food

Noteworthy: This is the Muddy Buddy season finale. A proposed season championship for the Dec. 3-4 weekend in Punta Gorda was scrapped once Tough Mudder scheduled a race in Pasco County the same weekend.

Projected Turnout: 900 two-person teams

Registration: Online through Nov. 16 at $150/team. Day-of-race registration available space permitting.

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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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