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9 Biggest Trends/Stories in Endurance Sports in 2013

By Pete Williams

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

Obstacle racing gets more intense.

When we launched Endurance Sports Florida nearly three years ago, we could not have imagined that this booming field still had lots of room for growth. Back in January of 2011, obstacle racing still was flying under the radar. Stand-up paddleboarding was a regional phenomenon and nobody had coined the term “theme race.”

These days, the market for all things endurance sports is flooded. No matter where you live, there are numerous opportunities to compete every weekend. In Florida, it’s impossible to find fewer than six endurance sports events within a 45-minute drive any weekend of the year, especially in 2013 with Christmas falling on a Wednesday.

The Sunshine State remains the epicenter for all things endurance sports. The hub might be Benderson Park, a sprawling rowing/swimming/paddling/triathlon complex going up in stages in Sarasota.

With that in mind, here are the top 9 stories/trends in the industry from 2013.

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

A young competitor at the Dash N Splash in St. Pete in May

No. 9 – OPEN WATER SWIMMING: These competitions have existed for years, but there’s suddenly increased interest. Maybe it’s because the roads have gotten crowded (and dangerous) with all of the runners and cyclists, to say nothing of motorists focused on their smart phones. Maybe it’s because swimmers are realizing it’s a lot more fun than training in the pool. Maybe it’s because competitive youth swimmers (above) discovered they can get out of the pool and beat 90 percent of adult recreational swimmers in open water. Maybe it’s because many triathletes didn’t learn to swim as adults and want to put their skills to use as often as possible.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Diana Nyad brought attention to open-water swimming in September by becoming the first to complete the treacherous Cuba-to-Key West swim without a shark cage. In January, 15-year-old Becca Mann won the Frogman Swim, the 5K trip in chilly waters from St. Pete to Tampa. Mann, now 16, hopes to reach the Olympics in 2016 in both open-water swimming and pool events. Anyone who has seen her train and compete for the Clearwater Aquatic Team knows this is a distinct possibility.

ArmstrongIronmanNo. 8 – LANCE ARMSTRONG CONFESSES: It seemed like such a foregone conclusion to all but his most ardent supporters that Lance Armstrong cheated his way to seven Tour de France victories that it’s easy to forget that his confession to Oprah Winfrey actually happened in 2013, back in January. It seems much longer ago. Lawsuits have piled up, sponsors bolted, and Lance even had to part ways with Livestrong. Since Armstrong can’t compete in sanctioned events, he’s not even allowed to enter triathlons, though Chris McCormack has challenged him to a one-on-one tri smackdown.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: The Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. trumpeted its partnership with Armstrong only to look foolish when he was charged with doping in 2012. So vast was Armstrong’s deception that we’re left to wonder if he even raced clean on the triathlon front and whether his Ironman 70.3 win in Haines City in 2012 was legitimate. Surely, he raced clean there, right? Oprah didn’t ask.

RockRollHalfNo. 7 – NATIONAL EVENTS STRUGGLE IN FLORIDA: So often we see a national race promoter come to Florida and assume the masses will show up. After all, we have great year-round weather and hordes of athletes. Unfortunately, race promoters underestimate the number of established, affordable local events we have. Florida athletes are savvy customers with no patience for overpromising, overpricing, and underdelivering. That’s why it was no surprise that Competitor Group pulled its Rock ‘n’ Roll St. Pete event after another disappointing turnout in January. Tough Mudder, which had a traffic-related debacle in Sarasota in December of 2012, saw attendance plunge for events in Homestead (March) and Palatka (May). Even Spartan Race officials, who never seem to back down from a challenge, quietly canceled a proposed Spartan Beast event at Little Everglades Ranch for 2014. Ironman continues to sell out its Ironman Florida race in Panama City in a matter of minutes a year in advance, though that’s essentially a home event for the Tampa-based WTC. Warning to out-of-state promoters: Past performance elsewhere does not guarantee future return here and promoters can and do lose money.

Paddlers compete last month at Benderson Park in Sarasota.

Paddlers compete at Benderson Park in Sarasota in August.

No. 6 – SUP — UP AND UP: You know a sport is thriving when it seems every interview with a 24-year-old actress/model/singer mentions how she recently discovered stand-up paddleboarding. SUP has become the new yoga or Pilates, which makes sense since it works the body in a similar fashion and there’s now a cottage industry of SUP/yoga and SUP/Pilates classes. Surf Expo, which comes to the Orange County Convention Center each January and September, might as well be called SUP Expo. SUP board manufacturers have taken over the OCCC floor and the Thursday board demo day at a nearby watersports facility has become a highlight of the event for many.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Besides SUP, er, Surf Expo in Orlando, the Florida Cup has become one of the sport’s premier events after just two years. St. Pete lawyer and avid paddler Bruce Denson has built a late May weekend event in Pinellas County that belongs in the same discussion as the Carolina Cup and perhaps one day soon the Battle of the Paddle in California. The Miramar Beach-based YOLO Board has become a major player in the competitive board manufacturing industry. Then there’s Dunedin’s Karen Mirlenbrink, who is a YOLO Board athlete, a race promoter (Shark Bite Challenge), and a SUP Pilates instructor — basically the Queen of all SUP.

PumpRun2No.5 – THE SPORT OF FITNESS: CrossFit and endurance sports traditionally were polar opposites. CrossFit tended to attract the gym rat demographic while runners never touched the weights. But once Spartan Race and Tough Mudder began actively courting the CrossFit crowd in 2011, the two met in the middle. You’ll still see groups from CrossFit boxes tackle obstacle races, though these days you’re more likely to see them enter CrossFit-style competitions or hybrid events such as the Pump N Run, a Tampa event (above) where athletes bench-pressed all of most of their weight and based on their performance deducted time from a subsequent 5K run. We’re not sure where all this is evolving, but it’s an interesting trend to watch.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: In addition to the Tampa Pump N Run, hosted by Tampa trainer Whit Lasseter in November, CrossFit box owners Clint and Maci Lowery stage regular obstacle races from their Sweat Factory facility in Minneola (near Clermont), which is adjacent to a running trail.

TriGroupNo. 4 – MARKET SATURATION – Back in 2005-07, we hosted a Friday afternoon fitness radio show that featured a brief segment previewing the weekend’s endurance events in Central Florida. The segment took about five minutes. These days it no doubt could fill a half hour and not just because of SUP races, obstacle events, and theme runs that didn’t exist back then. The number of triathlons and road running events has perhaps quadrupled and while that’s generally a good thing, it has diluted many races and created others hosted by organizers who have no business doing so. Triathlon seems to have peeked in popularity in 2011 after a decade of unbridled growth. Our theory is that some would-be triathletes instead turn to obstacle racing or CrossFit, where there’s no need to buy an expensive bike or learn to swim. But while there seems to be the same number of triathletes, there are more triathlons. As for running, it’s impossible in many markets to drive on a Saturday morning without being slowed by race road closures. What’s next? We’re guessing more road runners and obstacle racers will find the happy medium with trail running, which is easier on the body, generally offers a more pleasant race experience, and is often the best value in endurance sports. Which means, of course, that we’ll see a ton of trail races.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: It seems like ages ago when the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg sold out in a few hours in December. These days, it’s possible to register the day before the late-April event. This year St. Anthony’s is hoping to stop the attendance decline by offering a sprint distance to go with the traditional international race.

FlavorRun3No.3 – THEMES, THEMES, and MORE THEMES: We’re not sure if color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, and all of the rest are endurance events or merely festivals with jogging and walking involved. But there’s no denying the impact. The Color Run, which debuted in January 2012 with 6,000 runners in Phoenix is now partnered with sports colossus IMG and stages more than 100 runs annually worldwide. The untimed Color Run, in which white-clad runners pass through stations where they’re doused with colored powder, has inspired numerous knockoffs, including the Florida-based Flavor Run. Most athletes walk or slowly run the events, which are great fun for kids.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Like every other endurance sports category, Florida leads the nation in themed races. The Color Run alone has five Florida events scheduled in 2014 before Mother’s Day with more to come.

JenCalendarNo. 2OBSTACLE RACE SHAKEOUT – With a new obstacle race popping up seemingly ever week, it was only a matter of time before races started crashing in spectacular fashion. Mud runs have a bucket-list, post-the-Facebook-photo quality to them and events quickly have discovered it’s difficult to draw repeat customers. The zombie-themed Run for Your Lives endured the true death the day before Halloween. More surprising was the demise of Hero Rush, the Maryland-based, firefighter-themed obstacle race that we considered the best produced obstacle event of 2012. It flamed out in August, a victim of growing too big too fast. Who will survive? We’re betting on the races that position themselves as competitions rather than muddy office team-building exercises, which tend to attract the one-and-done crowd. That’s why we’re bullish on events such as the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash, sort of an outdoor version of American Ninja Warrior produced by Central Florida’s Rock On Adventures. Ditto for Spartan Race, which still trails the untimed, team-oriented Tough Mudder in popularity. With Spartan’s every-athlete-for-himself (or herself) format, new national sponsors such as Reebok, a recent one-hour special on NBC Sports Network, and races of three distances that include events in sports venues, we’re betting on King Leonidas and the gang.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: Hero Rush folded shortly before scheduled events in Ocala and South Florida. Through some poor scheduling (or perhaps intended) Tough Mudder and Spartan Race will go head to head in South Florida during the April 12-13, 2014 weekend. Spartan Race also brings its sports venue edition to Florida for the first time with a Spartan Sprint race at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium in February.

BostonStrongNo.1 – BOSTON STRONG – The Boston Marathon was the biggest endurance sports story of the year for all the wrong reasons. Two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the storied race on April 15, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. The violence drew attention to the vulnerability of endurance events, which take place in wide-open settings, unlike sports competitions in enclosed venues. Runners and non-runners across the nation rallied to stage support runs and raise money for the victims. The Boston Red Sox surprising run to a World Series title further helped the healing process.

FLORIDA CONNECTION: An FBI agent shot and killed Ibragim Todashev, a friend of suspected bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, in Todashev’s Orlando apartment in the early hours of May 22 after a violent confrontation. A Florida prosecutor is expected to release a report of his investigation into the shooting early next year. On a positive note, numerous Florida runners have qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon, which promises to be the most watched, most secure marathon ever.

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Warrior Goes Long with Iron Warrior Dash

By Pete Williams

WarriorDash2012aWarrior Dash, the first obstacle mud run to attract more than 10,000 participants to a single event, announced today a longer version of its popular entry-level 5K race. The move comes at a time when more athletes are shifting to Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and longer, more challenging obstacle events.

Touted as the “most intense obstacle race,” Iron Warrior Dash will debut March 13 in Smithville, Texas, which is between Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, and feature 26 obstacles spread over a course of “15 to 20 miles of ruthless terrain and best-in-class obstacles,” though the three announced events range from 15 to 15.6 miles.

The two other races will take place April 13 in Douglasville, Ga. (near Atlanta) and on Sept. 21 in Michigan. Though there are no Florida locations, a press release issued today promised additional venues to be announced in the spring. The April 13 event could steal some thunder from the Savage Race, which takes place the same day at Little Everglades Ranch, just north of Tampa in Pasco County.

warriordash2012cIn July of 2009, Chicago entrepreneur Joe Reynolds, then 29, debuted Warrior Dash, a 3-mile muddy obstacle race and raucous post-race party, giving finishers one free beer and a fuzzy viking hat that looked like something Fred Flintstone might wear.

Warrior Dash was an outgrowth of the Great Urban Race series Reynolds had created two years earlier after watching an episode of “The Amazing Race.” Warrior Dash has scaled more quickly and this year attracted more than 500,000 participants to 50 events in the United States, Canada, and Australia, accounting for most of the $65 million in revenue that Reynolds’ Red Frog Events will generate from entry fees and sponsor deals with Miller Coors, Reebok, and Monster Energy.

Though Warrior Dash, which returns to Lake Wales, Fla., on Feb. 2, is one of the shorter and easier obstacle races, it attracts an equal number of men and women, with an average age of 30. Most races, including Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, tilt 70 to 80 percent male.

“Being an attainable goal opens up us up to a very wide demographic,” Munirah McNeely, Warrior Dash’s chief innovation officer, told SportsBusiness Journal recently.  “It’s something for young people to do with friends other than just hanging out or going to a concert.”

Warrior Dash debuted eight months before Tough Mudder and 10 months before Spartan Race. Warrior is known for its smooth operations but has seen attendance at some events drop off this year as many obstacle racers seek greater challenges than the modest 5K Warrior Dash.

Tough Mudder, though plagued with traffic issues this fall at events in Maryland and here in Florida, has duplicated Warrior’s lively post-race party scene while providing a more challenging course of 10 to 12 miles, mocking Warrior Dash with a sign at the 3-mile mark reading “Warrior Dash Finish Line.”

WarriorDashGroupAt 15 to 15.6 miles, Iron Warrior will be comparable in distance to Tough Mudder and the Spartan Beast, the 15-mile version of Spartan Race. Entry fees, which range from $105 to $205, are similar to the other events.

Obstacle races have soared in popularity over the last 18 months, with dozens of new events created around the country, most at the entry-level 3-to-5 mile distance to attract the most participants. Since many of those people tend to be one-and-done, bucket-list, casual athletes who do it for the novelty, we feel the longer-term play is at the greater distance as obstacle racing develops into more of a competitive sport.

We’re guessing Warrior Dash, with its experience, bankroll, and legions of Millennial-aged employees who tirelessly work events, has the power to take on Tough Mudder and Spartan at the longer distance.

We’re also curious to see if the World Triathlon Corp., which always is aggressive in protecting its Ironman brand, will go after Red Frog for using Iron Warrior. WTC only has the trademark on Ironman as it pertains to triathlon, but always is aggressive pursuing anyone using Iron in the title of an endurance event.

Of course, that’s usually when a new promoter enters the game. It will be interesting to see if WTC is willing to take on someone its own size.

Then again, given the struggles of WTC this year and the success of Warrior Dash, Red Frog might have leaped over Ironman in terms of size.

(Read our review of the 2012 Warrior Dash at Lake Wales, Fla.)

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SportsBusiness Journal Examines Obstacle Racing

By Pete Williams

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

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

Front page/start of SportsBusiness Journal story

Inside magazine/remainder of SportsBusiness Journal story

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Tough Mudder Changes Florida Venue Again

By Pete Williams

Athletes tackle Tough Mudder in Dade City last year.

Tough Mudder has staged just one race in Florida. But the popular obstacle race series on Thursday switched venues for its Tampa area event for a second time.

Tough Mudder sent an email to athletes registered for its Tampa race informing them that the Dec. 1-2 event, scheduled for Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade, instead will be held at the Hi Hat Ranch in Sarasota.

Dirty Foot Adventures “wasn’t meeting Tough Mudder standards,” the release said. “It was too far from the western Florida coast and wasn’t able to support our new obstacles. At TMHQ (Tough Mudder headquarters), we’re really stepping up our game and designing some outrageously badass courses. To achieve this in Florida, we made the call to upgrade to Hi Hat Ranch in order to bring you:

– A longer and more interesting course

– A bigger post party area so you’ll have enough room to enjoy your free beer

– Easier access – just a few miles off Interstate 75.”

Geno Stopowenko, the marketing director for Dirty Foot Adventures, took issue with Tough Mudder’s announcement. According to Stopowenko, the move was made because Polk County refused to issue a permit for an event the size of Tough Mudder, which can attract up to 20,000 athletes over a weekend.

“Our location is certainly big enough and up to the standards of a Tough Mudder event,” Stopowenko said. “But Polk County would not issue a permit.”

Chandra Frederick, the director of Polk County’s land development division, said the application for a special use permit for Tough Mudder was denied because of concerns over noise and traffic. A permit was issued to Dirty Foot to host its own event, which took place last weekend when 869 athletes completed the inaugural Dirty Foot Adventure Run. That permit allowed for up to 2,000 athletes.

“We didn’t think the number of people that come to a Tough Mudder event was compatible with the area,” Frederick said. “There were lots of concerns with noise and traffic that would impact the neighbors. When you’re not used to an influx of 10,000 people, that becomes a nuisance.”

Athletes navigate the watermelon crawl at last weekend’s Dirty Foot Adventure Run in Fort Meade.

Stopowenko said he applied in March for permits to host both Tough Mudder and the Dirty Foot Adventure Run. He said he informed Tough Mudder shortly thereafter when that permit was denied, but Tough Mudder continued to market the event as taking place in Fort Meade until Thursday.

Tough Mudder spokesperson Jane Di Leo was not immediately available for comment on the Tough Mudder move to Sarasota, which is slightly closer to much of the Tampa Bay area than Fort Meade.

Tough Mudder debuted in Florida to rave reviews last December at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County, just north of Tampa. But instead of returning to that venue, Tough Mudder announced in February that it was moving the event it bills as its “Tampa” race to Fort Meade, which is 60 miles southeast of Tampa.

Di Leo said at the time that one attraction of Dirty Foot Adventures was its central location, just 60 miles from Tampa or Bradenton and 70 from Orlando or Sarasota. The sprawling facility is used for dirt bike and ATV racing. After last weekend’s inaugural Dirty Foot Adventure Run, Stopowenko announced a second race for Sept. 8.

Little Everglades Ranch, which hosted the first Florida Tough Mudder, on Oct. 20 will host the Savage Race, which will move there after staging two events in the last 10 months in Clermont.

Tough Mudder has announced dates but not specific locations for three 2013 events in Florida: Miami (Feb. 16-17), Jacksonville (May 18-19), and Tampa (Nov. 2-3).

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Dirty Foot Adventure Run Review: Home Field Advantage

By Pete Williams

Adding to the degree of difficulty

FORT MEADE – With obstacle races appearing on the calendar most every weekend in Florida, it’s become next to impossible to stand out in a crowded field.

But the Dirty Foot Adventure Run, which debuted here Saturday at a facility best known for motocross racing, managed to add a number of creative wrinkles to the category.

Geno Stopowenko, the marketing director for Dirty Foot Adventures, vowed to put on a first-class race at his property after leasing it last fall to a one-and-done race promoter that staged a forgettable event.

Stopowenko succeeded with his race, largely by taking advantage of the topography of the property and adding to the degree of difficulty of obstacle race staples. There were the familiar wooden walls, monkey bars, rope climbs, and balance obstacles. But by making them steeper or providing fewer footholds, Dirty Foot was a more technical course than most we’ve undertaken.

The race began with a challenging half-mile slog through a muddy motocross course where athletes were pelted by dozens of face-high sprinklers. From there it was into the woods for a trail run that included muddy ditches, balance beams, and waist-high water obstacles.

The course measured roughly six miles and while there were plenty of obstacles, this was a race suited to distance runners. Unlike the popular Savage Race, which at its Clermont event in March had backups at several obstacles that unintentionally gave athletes a rest, Dirty Foot offered few respites from long stretches of running.

With the exception of the 8.5-mile Super Spartan in Miami in February, which featured 30-Burpee penalties for failed obstacles, we can’t recall feeling as physically challenged at a race of this distance.

I entered the competitive division and came out bruised, bloodied, and scraped up, a product of my reckless racing style rather than any safety shortcomings on the part of the course. Kudos to Dirty Foot’s first-aid team that quickly patched me up while dislodging the jammed finger of one of my kilt-clad Running Commando teammates in the process.

Familiar barbwire crawl

Dirty Foot is the first obstacle race we know of where the property owners have hosted the race. That gave Stopowenko plenty of time to prepare – he even hosted several obstacle racing groups, including Running Commando, to preview the course and provide input two months ago – and it allows him to leave the obstacles up permanently and add to what’s already a strong course. (A second event already is open for registration for Sept. 8).

Stopowenko followed our suggestions and even convinced Mother Nature to deliver the massive rain the course needed for many of the obstacles.

Signature challenges included a Tarzan-style rope swing over water that was impossible to clear without taking a plunge; a technical up-and-under rope obstacle through a cattle gate; a 100-yard belly crawl under wire through crushed watermelons; and a race-ending 15-foot plunge off a platform followed by a 40-yard swim to the finish line. (Life jackets and substitute challenges were available to non-swimmers).

Running Commando: largest race team (Photos by Renae Peters Blevins)

We’ll deduct a few points for long lines for registration and for a starting line that was little more than a touch pad and a guy with a bullhorn. We’d also like to see more races follow the lead of The Highlander (and our own Streak the Cove 5K and Caliente Bare Dare 5K) and go with soft, fitted Tultex T-shirts. Still, the Dirty Foot shirts – aqua Gildan numbers with no sponsor logos cluttering the back – were better than the tired concert calendar look the well-heeled Spartan Race and Tough Mudder have trotted out. (To say nothing of Mud Crusade, which did not give out T-shirts for its debut event in April.)

But we can live with a modest starting line and a non-Tultex T-shirt when a race puts money into four water stops with bottled water in the form of those new shrink-wrap plastic containers. And Dirty Foot also sprung for AltaVista Sports, the gold standard for race timing in Florida. Results were posted quickly both at the finish line and online.

Dirty Foot also provided one of the better post-race setups we’ve seen, converting the race’s last obstacle into a “party on the pond,” providing a zipline over the 40-yard water obstacle.

We’re guessing Dirty Foot may have fallen a little short of its goal of 1,500 to 2,000 athletes, but for a first-time event the numbers were about right. This race has plenty of room to grow and we’re looking forward to getting our feet dirty again.

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Ragin’ Warrior: Mud Runs Go Rambo

By Pete Williams

Coming to Ocala March 3

Donny Jones admires the success that obstacle races such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have enjoyed attracting athletes for a couple hours of muddy strength and endurance tests.

But the creator of the Ragin’ Warrior, which takes place at Florida Horse Park in Ocala on March 3, thinks the category could use more noise, some pyrotechnics, and perhaps even a little gunfire.

Athletes navigating the 11.5-mile Ragin’ Warrior course might feel like they’re in a warzone says Jones, who wants them to get at least a small taste of what it’s like to deal with the mental and physical stresses of combat. He consulted with former U.S. Special Forces personnel to create a course that will include guys dressed as drill sergeants barking orders, smoke grenades going off, and “explosions that feel real as hell.”

“There’s going to be dust and mud flying everywhere and you’re going to have to keep calm and collected while all of this is going on around you,” Jones says. “You’re going to have deal with 24 obstacles, most of which won’t be similar to anything that’s been done by Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, or anyone else.”

Most mud runs require athletes to go under barbwire. For Ragin’ Warrior’s “Shock and Awe,” athletes must crawl under electrified barbwire while a 50-caliber machine gun fires compressed air overhead.

“It’s just compressed air, but it sounds like a 50 caliber firing 350 rounds a minute,” Jones says.

Other obstacles include “Icy Burrows,” where athletes must crawl through large metal culverts partially buried in ice water, and “Mount Ragin’,” two metal cargo containers stacked to form a 17-foot obstacle athletes must climb with ropes.

The military theme continues after the race, when athletes can test their target skills with paintball guns. The Ragin’ Warrior has partnered with the Lone Survivor Foundation as its official charity. Post-race will include bands, beer, and vendors selling food.

The Ragin’ Warrior was moved from its Jan. 28 date after the original race site was sold. Now the event is in the middle of a busy Florida obstacle race calendar that includes Spartan Race (Miami, Feb. 25-26) and Savage Race (Clermont, March 10).

“Our goal is to not be a regular mud run,” Jones says. “We want to provide a challenge that’s as much mental as it is physical.

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Tough Mudder Moves Tampa Event to Fort Meade

By Pete Williams

Tough Mudder, the wildly popular obstacle mud run series that drew 20,000 athletes to Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City in December, is moving to Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade for this year’s event Dec. 1-2.

Tough Mudder spokesperson Jane Di Leo said the change was made to “give our participants a challenge, whether it is their first Tough Mudder or fifth. The change to the new location in Fort Meade is a way for us to continue to offer a variety of courses to our participants and to offer others throughout the state easy access to our events.”

Dirty Foot Adventures, located in southern Polk County, is just 60 miles from Tampa or Bradenton and 70 from Orlando or Sarasota. The sprawling facility is used for dirt bike and ATV racing and in October hosted the Iron Crusader mud run, which drew about 1,300 runners for an inaugural event.

Geno Stopowenko, the vice president of marketing for Dirty Foot Adventures, says Tough Mudder first approached them between 18 and 24 months ago as it was searching for a site for the 2011 event. He said the property also has fielded inquiries from Warrior Dash and other obstacle mud runs about putting on a race at the 1,800-acre facility, which includes miles of trails, creek beds, and other natural terrain.

Walking the plank at Tough Mudder

“This property is the total package,” said Stopowenko, who said Dirty Foot plans to stage its own five-mile obstacle race some time in May. “Every time someone comes to check it out they immediately try to negotiate with us. We’ve hosted events of more than a thousand people, nothing to the magnitude Tough Mudder will bring, but we’ll be ready.”

Little Everglades Ranch, which hosts equestrian and cross country running events, received rave reviews as the site of the inaugural Florida Tough Mudder. The 11.5-mile course was spread out across the Pasco County property and included water obstacles, muddy ravines, and plenty of room for the race’s signature obstacles such as Mt. Everest, the Ball Shrinker, and the Chernobyl Jacuzzi (above).

Convenient to Tampa and Orlando, with plenty of room for parking, Little Everglades seemed a likely site for 2012 and, indeed, Tough Mudder listed a Dec. 1-2, 2012 Tampa event on its Web site within days of last year’s event.

Tough Mudder still lists Tampa as the site of this year’s event. Polk County is considered part of the greater Tampa Bay area.

The scheduling at Dirty Foot Adventures seems to finalize the Florida scheduling for Tough Mudder, which has been in flux for weeks. At one point, Tough Mudder’s website listed 2012 races without dates for Jacksonville, Miami, and Pensacola before updating them to “coming in 2013.”

Di Leo said Tough Mudder did not have solid dates for those locations in 2012, but “we are very excited to host events in these locations in 2013.”

Billed as “the toughest endurance test on the planet,” Tough Mudder is a grueling 10-to-12 mile trail run containing 20 military style obstacles designed by British Special Forces. Conceived by CEO Will Dean while at Harvard Business School, it debuted in March of 2010, expanded to 14 races last year and 32 this year. Athletes complete the course by navigating a field charged with 10,000 volts of electricity, receiving an orange finisher’s headband for their efforts.

Tough Mudder has become the most popular race in the booming obstacle mud run category, successfully marketing to the 21-to-45 year old demographic and to some degree replacing triathlon and half-marathons as the leading aspirational endurance test. Tough Mudder does not issue timing chips or finishing times, stressing that it’s not a race. That inspires groups of friends to sign up together and complete the race as a single unit, often at a leisurely pace.

That has fueled revenues, which could eclipse $100 million for the three-year-old company in 2012. Tough Mudder, like other events in the category, has raised entry fees considerably. Last year, athletes registering for the Tampa race paid as little as $60 for the Saturday race and $80 for Sunday if they registered by March 15 and $100 (Saturday) or $80 (Sunday) through June 15.

This year, Tough Mudder made no distinction between the days and offered a $95 “early bird discount” through yesterday. The registration fee is $125 from Feb. 16 through May 31, $155 from June 1 through Oct. 31 and $200 after Nov. 1.

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