Tag Archives: obstacle races

A Cardio Wake-up Call

Editor’s Note: David Adams, a University of Tampa student and U.S. Army veteran, is comparing obstacle race preparation and other endurance regimens to the training he underwent in the military. In a series of stories for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com this summer, he’ll write about his progress.

By David Adams

Off road at Picnic Island

On Friday evening I participated in my first obstacle course since leaving the Army, the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa.

Hundreds of competitors showed up, and the starting line was crowded. The course design was challenging, and many elements of the race were similar to obstacle runs and competitions I took part in while in the military. I finished the 3.6-mile course in 101st place overall (out of 274 men) with a time of 35:35.

My conditioning (or lack thereof) played a major role in my finish and although I am in good physical condition, Picnic Island was a cardio wake-up call.

Picnic Island is a beach park offering amazing views of Tampa Bay, nestled behind a small industrial district at the very end of Westshore Boulevard. The course was designed with endurance running in mind as right from the start we were running in sand. After a short distance, the route led us into shin-deep water, soaking my shoes and ensuring the rest of my run would be completed in wet footwear.

From there, the race took an uphill turn and led us from the beach into the park. Other obstacles were set up throughout the race in addition to several areas where runners were forced to wade through waist-deep water. The obstacles included a small area of dirt hills, a low crawl underneath cargo netting, a tire run, and a small “wall” jump. At the very end of the race we were required to swim out into the bay around a floating buoy and back to shore.

Compared to the obstacle courses and competitive runs I took part in while in the military, Picnic Island was very challenging. The major difference was the obstacles. Those in military competition were usually more physically demanding. For example, instead of crawling in sand under a cargo net, during my training in Air Assault School we conducted an obstacle course that required trainees to low crawl through mud underneath barbed wire.

Other than the difference in obstacle construction, there were no other glaring differences. If anything, the course design of Picnic Island took runners on a more demanding route than any of my Army runs.

Runners must wade around a buoy

My conditioning at the start of this race was not what I was hoping. I twice had to stop for ten-second breathers, which was very disappointing. Although I run regularly during my training schedule, I never thought to run off-road. I paid the price as I was gassed by the end of the run. I have made the decision to change my training regimen and tailor it more towards endurance and cardio training over the summer in hopes of improving my run times over the summer.

I had a great time at Picnic Island, and I view it as a valuable learning experience.  I am going to strive for improvement on my run times, and am planning to start off-road running on a regular basis in an attempt to improve my endurance.  While 35:35 might not be the fastest time, I am happy with the results of my first adventure run, and look forward to seeing marked improvement after my next race.

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How Do CrossFit, Boot Camps and Obstacle Races Compare to Military Training?

Editor’s Note: How do popular fitness regimens such as boot camps, CrossFit, and obstacle race preparation compare to actual military training? We’ve assigned David Adams to find out. A U.S. Army veteran who was twice deployed to Iraq, David now is a University of Tampa student and avid fitness enthusiast. For the next three months, he’ll train via every popular fitness routine and enter Central Florida obstacle races to see which is the best preparation – and if any of them measure up to actual military PT. David will compete in the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa Friday night (May 11) and write periodically on his findings. He’ll also report on endurance sports news and trends. Here’s his preview of the next three months.

By David Adams

I joined the Army in the spring of 2004 and left for basic training that September. While I always considered myself athletic oriented, once I arrived at boot camp I was introduced into a new world of fitness.

My fellow trainees and I were subjected to a full range of physically demanding activities during 16 weeks of training. Long-distance running and road marches left me nursing large blisters, shin splints, and other lower body injuries.

The first few weeks of basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia were hell. Never had I trained at such an intense level. The intensity had its payoffs, though, and when I graduated basic training in December I was in better shape than during any of my athletic seasons in high school. Being in shape took on a whole new meaning. Instead of hitting the gym and throwing iron around, my world became cardio oriented as I hit the roads and fields running, ruck-marching, and sprinting.

After basic training, I was permanently stationed with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Although I had received an Army Physical Fitness Training award for my scores on the fitness tests, training at my unit was more intense than basic. CrossFit-like routines and long distance runs occurred daily. Our company held regular competitions, pitting platoons against one another. Obstacle courses, forced march-and-shoots, Humvee pushes or pulls, tire flips, and water drum sprints were the more elaborate innovations and, as always, no competition would be complete without pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and lots of running.

I developed a love-hate relationship with these events. I hated them because they were physically demanding. It was a common sight to see soldiers running to the bushes or hunching by the side of the road to deposit their breakfasts, and it happened to me more than a few times over the course of my 5 ½-year Army career.

Although the workouts took the word intensity to a whole new level, nothing was more rewarding than finishing, unless of course your platoon finished on top. After the competitions we felt as though we had accomplished something great. Those are the moments I will always remember, celebrating with my fellow platoon mates after we finished at the top of our company, going out for a victory meal with the guys.

The Army opened my eyes to a different kind of fitness, one that has more real world applications than any other type of training. After two Iraq deployments, hundreds of physical training competitions, thousands of “fun” runs, and what felt like millions of pushups and sit-ups, I was released from active duty.

In January 2010, just two days after my release, I enrolled full-time at the University of Tampa.  I try to go to the firing range on a regular basis to keep up with my shooting skills, but I would be lying if I said I was anywhere near the same level as when I was a full-time soldier.

One facet of the military is so engrained in my head I doubt I will ever lose it: the need to be in the best physical shape possible. The Army educated me on the importance of living healthy, and although I am no longer a soldier, I always try to keep myself in constant “fighting” shape.  Physical training is important, not just for the body, but for the mind as well. Intense training helps with focus, mood, and concentration. Completing rigorous training gives an athlete a feeling of accomplishment unlike any other.

Over the summer, I will be competing in various athletic events in and around Tampa. Since my enlistment ended, I have not competed in an obstacle course, CrossFit competition, or adventure run of any kind.  I am curious to see how these civilian-designed events match up with the intense training I handled during my time as an infantry soldier. My first run will be on Friday, May 11th, when I compete in the Picnic Island Adventure Run.

I’m looking forward to pushing myself and chronicling my latest training journeys here at EnduranceSportsFlorida.com.

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GoPro Cameras and Endurance Races

By Pete Williams

We’re big fans of GoPro cameras, which might be the most popular gadgets on the market without an Apple logo. Skiers, surfers, and race car drivers strap the cameras to their helmets, chests, or equipment and the result is a dazzling first-person viewpoint.

Not surprisingly, GoPro cameras have become especially popular among the obstacle race crowd, to the point where some races have contracted with vendors who will rent cameras and then provide an edited video of your race experience.

Last month I ran with a group of two dozen friends at the Savage Race in Clermont. For $52, we got a camera for the duration of the race and the edited video above. Anyone who edits video knows how time consuming that process can be, so this was a tremendous value, especially when you have two dozen people involved. (It no doubt helped the editor that most everyone in our group was wearing a green kilt.)

I’ve seen GoPros at Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Muddy Buddy, along with some trail runs. They haven’t caught on with triathlon yet. Wearing a GoPro would be cumbersome in the swim and you’d lose some transition time between the bike and run unless you had two cameras. But somebody will figure it out.

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Savage Race – Dialing up the Intensity

By Pete Williams

Exiting the 'Colon 5000'

CLERMONT – The second edition of the Savage Race held here at Revolution Off Road Saturday proved that it’s possible to stage a compelling obstacle race without the mega-distance of Tough Mudder, the simplicity of Warrior Dash, or the pound-you-over-the-head pummeling of Spartan Race.

If Savage Race, a creation of Sam Abbitt, 30, and Lloyd Parker, 31, is to make the Big Three obstacle race series into a Big Four, it will do so because it manages to be all things to all competitors. The second running of the event, held just six months after the debut, took the previous course and extended it a half mile to 4.7 miles and added a number of obstacles as challenging as any in the industry.

About 3,500 competitors, nearly double the initial attendance, tackled 30 obstacles including Davy Jones’ Locker, a 12-foot jump into a lake; the claustrophobia-inducing Colon Blow 5000 crawl through dark muddy tubes; and the Shriveled Richard, a grosser version of Tough Mudder’s notorious Chernobyl Jacuzzi. Unlike that obstacle, where clean competitors jump into dumpsters full of iced Kool Aid early in the race, Savage Race sent muddy athletes near the end of the event into vats of what looked like, ahem, iced coffee.

Navigating the Nutt Smasher

Then there was the Nutt Smasher, a deceptively difficult balance beam over water that seemed to send at least nine out of 10 athletes into the drink. Only one competitor in our 23-member, kilt-clad Running Commando team – an athletic group which won post-race festivities for best spirit — managed to get across dry. (I went in quickly.)

Other challenges were lengthened to add to the degree of difficulty while last year’s 150-yard swim was shortened to encourage more people to brave the water rather than perform 30 Burpees and take a 5-minute penalty. The swim loop was rung with ropes, buoys, and lifeguards offering flotation devices to anyone in need.

Mach 7 waterslide

Obstacle mud races have exploded over the last 18 months by marketing successfully to the 21-to-34 demographic, drawing a younger crowd than triathlon and road racing. Many groups of friends and office mates race together, enjoying a day of mud, fun, and post-race reverie.

Facing Davy Jones' Locker

The organizers hired a lineup of popular local bands, including Chris McCarty. That, Abbitt said, contributed to a larger than expected crowd of spectators, which caused traffic tie-ups later in the morning. Traffic also was an issue on the course, where competitors waited as long as 10 minutes to get through Davy Jones’ Locker and the Mach 7, a steep waterslide added to the course this year.

Abbitt, who is planning Savage Races for Austin, Atlanta, and Virginia later this year  says he’s exploring options for traffic flow for what will be an expected return to Clermont, probably next spring. Expanding waves beyond 1 p.m. is a possibility, along with fewer people than 500 per wave. The water slide will be widened and a more durable material used to prevent the tears and delays of this year’s model. Additional parking could be procured from an adjacent property owner.

Crawling toward the finish (Photo by Julie Austin)

We like the layout of the Savage Race course, roughly around a lake, which makes it both scenic and spectator friendly. The lake also provides easy post-race cleanup. No race does a better job of branding than Savage, which places logo flags on every obstacle, paints many of them orange, and has an Army of volunteers clad in orange T-shirts. Even the barbwire is painted orange.

Last year Savage Race, along with the Highlander Adventure Run, was among the first to introduce the soft, fitted blended Tultex T-shirts. Abbitt said that was the plan this year but the initial shipment was defective, forcing a late order for more traditional 100 percent Hanes products. We can’t recall receiving 8×10, UV-coated race maps upon arrival at any race, which was a nice touch.

Most Spirited: Running Commando

The challenge for any obstacle race is to keep things fresh and challenging. Like a house that’s been remodeled, this year’s Savage Race brought the same footprint, with a 10 percent expansion, and managed to create a more polished product with upgrades. If it can fix the traffic flow both before and during the race, it could take on the Big Three of Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash.

(Listen to Savage Race co-founder Sam Abbitt talk about the event several weeks ago on The Fitness Buff Show.)

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Florida Obstacle Race Calendar Filling…for 2013

Looking for the best list of obstacle races in North America? Check out ObstacleFit.com!

OFlogo2

By Pete Williams

A competitor at last month’s Spartan Race in Miami. South Florida will be busy with obstacle events in 2013.

We’re still not sure if obstacle racing and mud runs are here to stay or just a passing fad. But Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, and especially Tough Mudder already are filling their calendars for 2013, with numerous dates in Florida.

A year ago, Tough Mudder held 14 races in North America, Spartan Race 27, and Warrior Dash 35. That was impressive considering Warrior Dash only debuted in 2009 and the other two races in 2010. This year, the three race series already have combined to schedule 125 events, including races in Canada and Europe, and planning for 2013 is well underway.

Warrior Dash, which has two races in Florida this year, announced a third-annual event at Lake Wales for Feb. 2, 2013 shortly after its January race concluded. Spartan Race officials followed suit after their race in Miami last month and will return to South Florida on Feb. 23-24, 2013.

Now Tough Mudder has announced dates and locations for a whopping 51 events for 2013. Tough Mudder will have just one Florida event this year – coming to Fort Meade’s Dirty Foot Adventures on Dec. 1-2 – but will visit the Sunshine State at least three times in 2013.

Tough Mudder will make its Miami debut Feb. 16-17, 2013 – just a week before the Super Spartan Race, the eight-mile version of the event which has been held at Oleta River State Park in North Miami the last two years. Tough Mudder also will come to Jacksonville on May 18-19 and visit the Tampa Bay area for what will be the third time, moving its date from December to Nov. 2-3.

Obstacle races, which feature 12 to 30 challenges over a 3-to-12 mile course, have exploded in popularity in the last 18 months, especially among the coveted 21-to-35 demographic that’s generally underrepresented in distance running and triathlon. Marketed to groups and featuring lively post-race festivities with free beer, obstacle races have thrived even amid a difficult economic climate. Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash each should gross more than $40 million in 2012.

The races have inspired numerous competitors, including several Florida-based promoters. Savage Race, which drew 2,000 athletes to its inaugural event in Clermont in August, is expecting 3,500 for its second race on Saturday, also in Clermont.

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Spartan Race: Toughest Obstacle Event?

By Pete Williams

Guarding the Spartan Race finish line

MIAMI – If the measure of an obstacle race is how sore you feel afterward, then the Spartan Race is the toughest, most challenging event in the category.

After finishing Muddy Buddy and Warrior Dash, I felt like I could get back in line and do them again. At the end of Tough Mudder, I was tired but not sore.

After completing the eight-mile Super Spartan Race at Oleta River State Park here Saturday morning, I’m sore all over. My legs are scraped, feet blistered, ribs bruised, head pounding. During the course of the race, which included running through woods and brush, pretty much everything but my shorts was ripped from my body: race number, timing chip (which I carried the rest of the way) and even my RoadID.

Does that make Spartan Race the best event in the category? Perhaps. But it definitely could be with a few tweaks.

There are things Spartan does better than anyone, starting with adapting to the venue. At a Spartan Race I did last June at a paintball facility in Virginia, snipers fired paintballs at competitors. At another point, we were given guns and given one chance to hit a target. Failure to do so earned you a 30-Burpee penalty.

Navigate this or face 30 Burpees

Perhaps the coolest challenge here at Oleta River was rappelling down an overpass ramp. At the bottom, athletes were given a six-foot rope attached to a five-gallon bucket, which they had to drop about eight feet into the water below. The idea was to get as much water into the bucket as possible – it was tough to fill it more than half way – and hoist it back up, where it was poured into a 30-gallon trash can. Once the trash can was full, it was dumped and the athlete climbed the rope back up the ramp.

It was a terrific mental and physical challenge – I almost fell with the bucket into the drink – one of many at Spartan Race. Tough Mudder is perhaps more effective at making the athlete uncomfortable, whether it’s with claustrophobic dark underground tunnels or the Chernobyl Jacuzzi ice plunge. But Spartan Race does a better job breaking athletes mentally and physically. I’ve done a dozen of these races and the two Spartans were the only ones I considered quitting because of the challenges.

There was the 100-yard tire carry, a 100-yard rock pull, heavy tire flipping, a pulley requiring the athlete to raise a 5-gallon bucket of cement 15 feet, and an endless (3 mile?) twisting run through the woods where it seemed you had to turn every 15 yards, all the while making sure you didn’t go the wrong way. There were just enough pieces of red tape hung to keep athletes on course. (Jon Watson did a terrific video on the event.)

Burpees and more Burpees

But what makes Spartan Race more challenging than any other race, including Tough Mudder, is that it issues 30-Burpee penalties. If an athlete fails a challenge at Tough Mudder or other races, he simply moves on. At Spartan Race, she must do 30 Burpees, the jumping, thrusting, push-up like move that’s tough under any circumstances, especially in muddy clothes after running several miles in Miami heat.

There were five challenges with Burpee penalties: monkey bars, balance beam, climbing 8-foot walls, scaling a knotted rope about 15 feet, and moving across a peg wall. Screw up any of them and do 30 Burpees, though the monkey bar penalty was only 10. (Women could jump onto a board nailed on the 8-foot wall about 18 inches up.)

So that’s potentially 130 Burpees. I did 90, having fallen off the balance beam and peg wall and given up on the knotted rope.

But here’s where Spartan Race was disappointing. It featured two swimming challenges, neither of which involved Burpees, for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t swim. The first was 150 yards and everyone could – and did – walk across. The second was only 30 yards or so, too deep to walk across, and for this Spartan Race provided ropes equivalent to lane lines to hang onto. Life jackets also were available.

Life jackets? Really? Give 30 Burpees to athletes who fall off a balance beam but give floaties to those who won’t swim?

Somewhere King Leonidas is shaking his head.

Rowing 200 meters, one of the easier challenges

Obviously there are safety issues. But if you’re not going to swim, you should face a Burpee penalty and your finish time should reflect it. At the Savage Race, the popular Central Florida event coming up in Clermont in two weeks, there’s a 150-yard swim in deep water. Athletes who can’t or won’t do it must perform 30 Burpees and take a 10-minute penalty. When the race debuted last August, there was a 5-minute penalty (plus the Burpees) but race organizers didn’t feel that was enough of a handicap since, after all, it could take five minutes to swim that distance in shoes – or take five minutes to remove shoes, swim, and put shoes back on.

But at Spartan Race, some of the top finishers didn’t swim. Sort of runs contrary to the tough-as-nails, ultimate athlete vibe Spartan likes to promote, doesn’t it?

Climb rope, ring bell

Here’s another beef with Spartan Race. The final obstacle involves getting past five meatheads wielding these double sided mallets. These guys take their gig way too seriously. Yes, I know I’m going to take some shots going one-on-five toward the finish line. It’s part of the race. But it must be embarrassing to fall for a head fake delivered by an exhausted guy 15 years older than you. Why else would you deliver cheap shots to the back of my head after I’ve blown by?

Might want to work some speed and agility training into your next WOD, fellas.

Spartan Race also takes the spartan theme a little too far. I counted three water stops, which isn’t nearly enough for a race in 80-degree temperatures that takes most more than two hours. As for free post-race refreshment? Even by obstacle race standards, a bottle of water and a banana is pretty chintzy. Keep the free beer. My kingdom for a Mix1 or Muscle Milk.

Spartan Race continues to issue black beefy cotton T-shirts with the year’s schedule of events on the back, a concert shirt look that went out in 1989. (Tough Mudder is just as guilty, though their shirts are gray). This year Warrior Dash has followed the lead of several of our popular Florida obstacle races (Highlander, Savage Race) and switched to the softer, fitted T-shirts.

Obviously it’s about the race not the shirt. I have more race shirts than I could ever wear and, besides, I aged out of the coveted 18-to-34 demographic that makes up most of these events some time ago. You don’t want me wearing your shirt. But judging from the lines of twenty-somethings waiting to get on race shuttle buses from the designated parking lot at Florida International University, you do want those kids serving as walking billboards for your brand, especially when it’s the coolest brand in the category. Print some fitted red Tultex shirts with the Spartan logo that they’ll actually wear.

All of the above are easy tweaks. I’ve gotten up twice while writing this story and feel it more than after any obstacle mud run, running race, triathlon, or paddleboard event. Spartan Race seems to have succeeded in becoming the toughest event.

Postrace cleanup

Joe DeSena modeled the Spartan Race after the Death Race, the brutal no-set-time challenge he stages in Vermont each June. When I had him on the Fitness Buff Show earlier this month, he bristled at my use of “mud run,” stressing that Spartan is an obstacle race.

That’s a good point and perhaps a distinction that could give Spartan an edge over Tough Mudder in the long term, even though TM is drawing bigger numbers at the moment. Tough Mudder is an untimed event with no results posted, with the goal of finishing together with your teammates, helping them over obstacles. Spartan bills itself as a race, a new endurance sports category, where athletes must get through on their own or do 30 Burpees along the way.

At the moment, Tough Mudder has an edge in popularity and sponsorships, which include Under Armour and EAS. Tough Mudder provides all-you-can-consume EAS protein drinks and energy bars at the end of its races. Spartan Race’s Miami event was sponsored by “Dial for Men.” The soap came in handy at the post-race showers, but the “Dial for Men” banners everywhere gave the event a bit of a “Meet the Spartans” feel. Seems like sports marketers are missing a great opportunity with Spartan Race.

I hesitate to lob constructive criticism at DeSena, though not because he comped me into his race as a member of the media. DeSena has a track record of taking suggestions and making his events harder. Several athletes I spoke to in Miami who did last year’s race said this year’s edition was much tougher. One guy said he finished in 1 hour, four minutes last year but took nearly two hours this time. “And I was much better prepared,” he said.

DeSena has a Wall Street background and knows a thing or two about building businesses for the long haul. If Tough Mudder and Spartan Race were stocks, I’d be bullish on both, but it seems Spartan Race could be the better long-term play.

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Tough Mudder: The Real Deal

By Pete Williams

Tough Mudder’s infamous Chernobyl Jacuzzi

DADE CITY – We wondered if Tough Mudder possibly could live up to expectations. It’s been nine months since the obstacle mud run announced plans to make its Florida debut in Pasco County this weekend and in the meantime more than two dozen runs have been staged in the Sunshine State, many for the first time.

But Tough Mudder, a Harvard business school project that debuted in March of 2010, showed why it’s the biggest, most imposing, and the most successful race series in the category, drawing a staggering 20,000 athletes over two days for its season-ending event at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County.

Veteran race directors say that’s a record for any endurance event in the greater Tampa Bay area, which is saying something given the volume of races we have here. This was the fifth different mud series I’ve done this year and while I’ve enjoyed them all, Tough Mudder stood out in a number of areas.

An easier Tough Mudder obstacle

For starters, it’s the longest at 11.5 miles. It has 28 official obstacles, not counting the endless parade of additional treks through mud and swamp of all depths and distances. Several obstacles were a little overrated, most notably the much-hyped, race-ending “Electroshock Therapy,” but others more than lived up to billing, especially the “Chernobyl Jacuzzi,” where athletes must jump into a giant dumpster packed with ice water – three pallets of ice per dumpster, according to officials – and wade 20 feet to the other side. A different event was billed as the “Ballshrinker,” but Chernobyl was as cold as I’ve ever felt from waist to knees.

The toughest part of Chernobyl was waiting for the people in front of you to get through, which was a recurring theme. With waves of 600 heading out every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. until 1:20 (on Saturday) and 11:20 (today), there were backups at most every obstacle, which is not uncommon at mud runs. Tough Mudder bills itself not as a race but as a team-oriented event and few seemed in any hurry to rush through it all.

Plus, it’s easier to do certain obstacles with help, especially climbing large wooden “Berlin Walls” and “Everest,” a half-pipe requiring a running start and a leap to the top. My favorites were the claustrophobia-inducing tubes and underground tunnels. Points also go to “Walk the Plank” – climbing 15-20 feet to a platform and jumping into more cold water – and “Hold Your Wood,” where you grab a large log and walk a 150 yard-loop through a waist-to-shoulder deep lake. (Loved the fake but realistic looking alligator.)

One obstacle featured bales of hay, about four-feet high, spaced about five feet apart. My group opted to leap over each bale but others thought broad jumping from one to the next was required. Clearly some people have been watching too much Wipeout.

Like most mud runs, Tough Mudder encourages teams to dress in costume and there were plenty of superheroes. With such an all-for-one attitude and leisurely pace, it was easy to meet new friends – and stumble upon old ones.

Climbing Everest

A few ambitious athletes hammered through the course, which was not chip timed or otherwise scored. The rest of us moved at a steady pace, handling the obstacles and enjoying the intense marketing wars between the various obstacle mud runs.

Both the Spartan Race and Savage Race hired airplanes to circle Little Everglades pulling banners touting their upcoming events. Tough Mudder reveled in its status as the longest and perhaps most challenging. Instead of a 3-mile marker, there was a huge banner that read “Warrior Dash Finish Line,” a dig at the national 5K mud run series that draws numbers rivaling that of Tough Mudder.

Tough Mudder, like Spartan Race, claims that only 80 percent of those who start finish the race. My guess is it’s more like 97 percent and the other 3 percent are those carted off with sprains and strains. Obstacle mud races want their events thought of as tough – and for people to train accordingly – but they also want repeat business, to say nothing of additional customers.

I was fortunate to compete as part of a talented five-person team of Pasco County officials and friends. Eric Keaton, John Malley and Charlie Scott brought military experience to Tough Mudder, which incidentally was designed by British Special Forces. Justyna Buszewski, our lone female and smallest competitor, had the easiest time negotiating many of the obstacles.

Tough Mudder won’t be the last national mud runs series to roll through Pasco County, which rapidly is becoming a destination for endurance sports between the popular Longleaf Triathlon, our own Caliente Bare Dare 5K, and numerous other races. Most mud runs have gravitated to greater Orlando and South Florida, but Pasco County has both the facilities and the proximity to the most Florida endurance athletes.

We’re most impressed with how Tough Mudder creates the bad-ass vibe better than anyone in the industry. Remarkably, dozens of athletes took advantage of free mohawks. Others went for the on-site Tough Mudder tattoo and nearly 100 percent of athletes followed through on what I at first thought was a joke: writing your five-digit race number on your forehead. The signature orange finisher’s headband is better than any medal. And I don’t know the name of the guy Tough Mudder uses as the pre-race emcee, but I want him at my next party.

Props also for numerous water stops.

Team Pasco celebrates

Tough Mudder also addressed my mud run pet peeve: inadequate post-race food. Sure, most of it was for sale, but you could load up in the finish chute on EAS Myoplex, Clif bars, energy drinks, and bananas. Volunteers all but encouraged you to use your race T-shirt – delivered at the finish – as a bag.

Tough Mudder, which staged 14 events this year, has announced plans for a whopping 44 races in 2012, including a return to the Tampa Bay area (Dec. 1-2) and dates to be announced for Jacksonville and Miami.

We’re wondered frequently on this site how many mud run events the industry can sustain and which events will last. At the moment, Tough Mudder looks like the leader in the mud pit.

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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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