Tag Archives: Savage Race

Savage Race Heads to Little Everglades for Fall Race

By Pete Williams

In March, Savage Race attracted more than 5,000 athletes, including ESPN anchor Stuart Scott (above/photos courtesy Savage Race)

Savage Race, the popular Florida-based mud run that adopted several of Tough Mudder’s obstacles for its race in March, now will use a venue Tough Mudder had great success with in 2011.

Little Everglades Ranch, which drew nearly 20,000 participants over two days in December for the inaugural Florida edition of Tough Mudder, will host what will be the third edition of Savage Race on Oct. 20. Little Everglades is located in Pasco County in Dade City, more convenient to Tampa than the Clermont site Savage Race used in March and for its first race last August.

Savage Race is the most successful of the Florida-based mud runs, drawing more than 5,000 participants in March. Building on the success of its first race in 2011, Savage Race in March expanded its course to nearly 5 miles and added several obstacles similar to those of Tough Mudder, including a “Shriveled Richard” ice plunge like Tough Mudder’s Chernobyl Jacuzzi, and a 10-foot leap off of “Davy Jones’ Locker” into a lake.

Sam Abbitt, the co-founder of Savage Race, says the intent has never been to mimic Tough Mudder. He points out that Tough Mudder stresses camaraderie and a non-race format. Savage Race, on the other hand, is a chip-timed event with awards to top finishers. Savage Race packs about the same number of obstacles – roughly two dozen – into a course less than half the length of Tough Mudder.

“A lot of races have similar obstacles but we’ve done a lot to differentiate ourselves from other races,” Abbitt says. “We call our race a race and give you more obstacles per mile so you spend more time on the obstacles and less time running.”

Tough Mudder’s decision in February to move the 2012 event away from Little Everglades was a surprise, though a Tough Mudder official said at the time the race series likes to vary its venues. Tough Mudder will take place Dec. 1-2 in Fort Meade at Dirty Foot Adventures, which will host its own event, the inaugural Dirty Foot Adventure Run, on June 9.

Abbitt said Savage Race moved to Little Everglades because it had outgrown its Clermont location, where a lack of parking had become an issue. Though the Little Everglades property, which hosts major equestrian and high school cross country events, can host long races such as the 12-mile Tough Mudder, Abbitt says he does not plan to expand Savage Race beyond six miles.

A number of Florida-based mud runs have sprung up in the last two years to challenge national event series such as Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and Spartan Race, all of which have built eight-figure businesses in a short period, staging dozens of events around the world. Savage Race seems the most likely to grow beyond the Sunshine State.

Abbitt says Savage Race will expand beyond Florida in 2013, with dates planned in Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas.

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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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Ragin’ Warrior’s Learning Experience

By Pete Williams

Ragin' Ice Plunge: twice as long, half as cold

OCALA -In the last two years, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and Spartan Race each have emerged as $40 million businesses, each weekend drawing between 10,000 and 20,000 athletes willing to pay between $100 and up to race, along with $10 parking fees and additional charges for post-race food.

It’s a business model with a high profit margin. Not surprisingly, numerous imitators have sprung up around the country.

Think you can put on an obstacle race? You might want to talk to Donny Jones.

Jones is the race director of the Ragin’ Warrior Challenge, which attracted just 96 athletes this morning to the Florida Horse Park. Half of those bought discounted entries via Groupon. Judging by the reviews posted on the race’s Facebook page, a number still felt they overpaid.

Jones admits he didn’t do as thorough a job of planning as he would have liked and didn’t get nearly enough volunteers to show. It didn’t help that his team was not allowed to start setting up obstacles until Wednesday. As a result, the course wasn’t well marked and many athletes ended up running just 6.5 miles of the 10.8-mile course, thus missing five obstacles and all of the water stops.

“I dropped the ball and have no excuses,” Jones said. “Our prep time wasn’t long enough. There were a lot of things we planned on that we couldn’t do. I’m embarrassed at what happened and I want people to know I didn’t just throw this together to make money. I  lost $6,500 on this and I hope this doesn’t kill my business.”

Navigating a tire challenge

The Ragin’ Warrior was hyped as the toughest obstacle race on the planet, the one that would make Tough Mudder and Spartan Race look like fun runs. Jones planned to create a military-style obstacle course with challenges never before seen in the category.

The Ragin’ Warrior showed promise. Less than 100 yards from the start, Jones set up a double version of Tough Mudder’s notorious Chernobyl Jacuzzi: a pair of 30-yard dumpsters lined back. Unfortunately, only half the expected ice showed up and the plunge wasn’t very cold. (Some athletes got in after the race to cool off.)

After the ice plunge, athletes took a right turn into the woods and ran another 100 yards before reaching a dead end. Jones said it was marked with a U-Turn, but apparently not clearly enough. Either way, it set the tone for a course that would leave athletes guessing through most of the morning. (I didn’t run myself, having gotten injured last week at the Spartan Race in Miami, but was able to follow the race via golf cart.)

At one point, athletes dealt with “Shock and Awe,” crawling under barbwire while a 50-caliber machine gun fired compressed air overhead. Smoke grenades went off and someone even sprayed a hose for good measure. Jones had hoped to stage “Mount Ragin’,” two metal cargo containers stacked to form a 17-foot obstacle athletes must climb with ropes, but that was not allowed for insurance reasons.

Another “Barrel Bridge” obstacle required athletes to walk across quickly like in lumberjack competitions, but most misinterpreted it and just belly-flopped across. “The goal was to have a volunteer at each of those,” Jones said.

Jones said the Florida Horse Park would not let him set up obstacles until several days before, which explains why many of the obstacles were steeplechase-like challenges horses deal with during the property’s many equestrian events. The facilities manager told anyone who would listen that he has a major event coming up next month and was concerned about obstacles leaving holes that big-money horses might step in.

Jones has pledged on his Facebook page to give free entries and gas cards to Florida participants to his upcoming Georgia race, tentatively scheduled for May 26, though he says he could push it back to make sure he gets everything right.

Barrels and steeplechase

“Next time, I’ll have it set up two weeks in advance and will let anyone who wants to see it beforehand,” Jones says. “It made me sick to my stomach to see what happened today and I know you don’t always get a second chance. The last thing you want to do is lead people on and not live up to the hype. I know I let 96 people down and I’m determined to give them the ultimate obstacle experience next time.”

Here’s hoping it works, though athletes show little patience for subpar obstacle races, which as a group charge big money when compared to half-marathons and triathlons.

Last year the Iron Crusader debuted in Fort Meade but will not be back. The Champions Mud Bash canceled a proposed second race and does not have one scheduled for 2012. The Florida Dirty Duo, which debuted in 2006, canceled its race last year. This year, Muddy Buddy pulled its two races out of Florida, though it would have returned to Disney’s Wide World of Sports had Disney not banned outside promoters from putting on endurance events there.

Rock on Adventures (Highlander) and Savage Race have built some traction in the last year. But we’re not seeing any other Florida-based obstacle race promoters with staying power just yet.

Maybe one will get a shot at using the Florida Horse Park, a well-manicured, 500-acre slice of Old Florida ideal for obstacle racing, though it’s tough to imagine it wanting to host another event after today. One thing Jones and the facilities manager seemed to agree on is that park officials aren’t too excited to host obstacle racing.

Still, it’s listed as the site for Hero Rush, a firefighter-themed obstacle race series, on Nov. 3.

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Obstacle Course Training

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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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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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