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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The Ultimate Obstacle Mud Run

By Pete Williams

How would you build a mud run?

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

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

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

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

An obstacle mud run staple

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

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

Here then is our Ultimate All-Star Obstacle Mud Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toughest obstacle?

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

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

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

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

We're adding paddling to obstacle mud runs

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

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

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

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

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

Hope your log floats

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

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

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

Walk the plank, swim 150 yards

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

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

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

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Mud Wars: What Races Will Survive in 2012?

By Pete Williams

Getting crowded in the mud pit

Back in July, we tried to count the number of obstacle mud runs that have emerged this year in Florida alone. We figured there were at least 22 representing at least 17 different race series.

More have emerged this year and a good over/under guess for 2012 would be 35. That’s just in the Sunshine State, of course, but it figures Florida would lead the nation since we can stage them all year long.

We still have a few more races this year – including Tough Mudder on Dec. 3-4 near Tampa and the season-finale of Muddy Buddy at Zoo Miami on Nov. 20 – but we thought now would be a good time to handicap the field for 2012.

Already several of the national races have announced events for 2012, including Warrior Dash, which returns to Triple Canopy Ranch in Lake Wales Jan. 21-22; and Spartan Race, which on Feb. 25 again will use Oleta River State Park in Miami, increasing the distance of the event to a “Super Spartan” of eight-plus miles.

Among state-wide events, Savage Race, which debuted in Clermont in August, will return to the same venue on March 10 and has tentative plans to expand to Atlanta and Austin in 2012. Iron Crusader, which made its Florida debut last month, has announced an event, though not a venue, for Oct. 22.

Are obstacle mud runs a fad or will they have a lasting impact? If they do survive, which ones will stand out among a crowded field?

Unconventional training required.

“It’s like anything else,” says Bob Babbitt, the creator of Muddy Buddy, which has two events in 2011 and would have staged three had its proposed year-end event not conflicted with Tough Mudder. “The races that provide the most value will have staying power.”

Defining value in an apples-to-oranges category can be difficult, but here’s what we think will determine which races succeed in 2012 and beyond:

PRICE POINT: Registering for an obstacle mud run can be a lot like purchasing an airline ticket. Prices vary wildly, even by endurance sports standards, depending on when you register.

On average, the races run about $65 to $75 a pop – sprint triathlon pricing. That’s a lot considering many can be completed in 45 minutes, though admittedly a lot of recreational athletes and non-athletes enter mud runs and remain on the course for twice that time. Most races charge $10 for parking and parking fees are unusual in the endurance sports world.

Triathletes would revolt if they finished a race and there was no free food available, but that’s the norm at obstacle mud runs. At the very least, races should enlist a sponsor like Mix 1, the post-workout recovery drink that’s handed out free at many running events and triathlons in Florida.

Earlier this year, I pointed out that one obstacle mud run had a high price point for a 5K course. The race director strongly objected, saying I didn’t know what I was talking about. He later canceled his second race of the year due to low registrations.

Perhaps a cautionary tale for 2012 events who plan on similar fees and/or no free grub.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: This is a fine line to walk. Race directors want huge numbers, so they make the races fairly easy. But this alienates competitive athletes, especially when the marketing for most of these events emphasizes how tough and challenging the course will be.

We’re curious to see how many no-shows Tough Mudder has. Unlike preparing for a running event or triathlon, where there are plenty of train-by-numbers programs to follow, getting ready for a 12-mile obstacle run is new territory for most. As a result, we’re hearing of a number of people dropping out. Few people blend endurance and strength training, a combination that’s a prerequisite for Tough Mudder.

An obstacle run staple

ORIGINALITY: With so many races, it’s growing increasingly difficult to stand out. There are only so many ways to position ropes, ladders, walls, and tires. We’re hearing that races are finding it increasingly difficult to get certain things covered by liability insurance, such as fire-related obstacles.

We’re all for water challenges, but given that 30 or 40 percent of an average mud run field can’t swim, we’re guessing they’re going to go away too because of liability purposes. That’s a shame. After all, swim challenges are a staple on “Survivor,” which is what these races are supposed to emulate, at least in part.

LOCATION: The nature of obstacle mud runs means race directors must seek out ranches, motocross venues, and other out-of-the-way locales, all of which we have in abundance in Florida. But we’re surprised how few races there were this year in the greater Tampa Bay area, perhaps the biggest concentration of endurance athletes in Florida. Nobody wants to get up and drive 90 minutes for a race. We’re guessing more events will join Tough Mudder and visit Tampa Bay in 2012.

BEER: Many obstacle runs trumpet the one free beer you get afterward but, really, what’s the point? Do you really need a beer before noon? Save the beer money and provide some free food, at least some fruit and cookies.

Spartan Race returns to Miami in 2012

INTANGIBLES: We gave a lot of props to The Highlander Run, which featured a live band, a free kids race, and a 150-foot water slide, which falls under the originality category. We liked how Savage Race had a lake for athletes to wash off in afterward, as opposed to trickling shower hoses at most races. (That said, that lake will be much colder to wash off in during March than it was in August.)

Muddy Buddy always seems to provide a free low-resolution digital image via email – or even a hard copy provided by a sponsor.

Props to for Highlander and Savage Race for providing Tultex T-shirts, a welcome change from tech shirts and standard cotton shirts. Again, if you’re going to charge $75 plus parking, this is one area you should get right. Leave the sponsor logos off the back, too.

VERDICT: In 2011, races attracted athletes because of the novelty. In 2012, the market will determine which survive.

Now more than ever, athletes have a choice.

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Obstacle Mud Run Specialization?

By Pete Williams

Savage Racers

It’s hard to pinpoint the reason for the booming popularity of obstacle mud runs. No doubt they tap into the growth of boot camps, running, and CrossFit, all of which have exploded in the last two years.

For some, the allure of such races is simply getting muddy and silly.

But after finishing fourth (out of 113) in my age group at the Savage Race on Saturday, I wonder if these races don’t also appeal to us jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none-types.

Admittedly, these races are not as competitive as triathlons. After all, a good chunk of an obstacle mud run field walks much of the course.

Still, these races require a versatile skill set. You must have a solid running base to navigate the course briskly and the strength and power to blow through the obstacles. Depending on the course, you might also need to know how to swim (like the Savage Race), throw a spear or fire a gun (the Spartan Race).

Having trained with endurance athletes from all walks of life, it’s fair to make some generalizations:

1. Runners and triathletes lack strength. They have tremendous endurance, but they struggle with climbing walls, carrying buckets of sand and gravel, and hurling heavy objects.

2. CrossFitters and other gym rats typically lack cardio endurance. They have awesome anaerobic power and have no problem with the obstacles, but they’re going to take more time traveling between them.

3. Triathletes are prima donnas who whine when they can’t buy their way into faster times with more expensive equipment and know exactly what the course will entail. (Easy now. Just kidding.)

4. Way too few people know how to swim properly. (This isn’t just about racing. It’s about saving your life.)

For those of us who do a little of everything fairly well – but nothing at an elite level – the obstacle mud run is a godsend. If you could design an ideal obstacle mud run male athlete, he’d be a guy with a strong background both in running and core/strength training who perhaps has done some sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons and dabbled in CrossFit and Pilates. He’d have a hybrid physique, lean but not too bulky. Figure 5-foot-10 and 170-175 pounds.

I think I know a guy like that!

Not sure I’m bullish on obstacle mud runs for the longterm. The field already is flooded – not just literally – and part of the attraction is the unexpected. Will people be gung-ho to run a race for the second or third time knowing it can be only so different? Muddy Buddy got away with trotting out the same course annually until mixing it up this year, but now that the field has mushroomed athletes expect more.

For now, it’s an interesting phenomenon to watch — especially when you’ve finally found your calling.

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