By Pete Williams
WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – It’s been more than three years since Jonny Simpkins raced the first Warrior Dash in Florida and figured he could put on something better. Since then, he and his longtime girlfriend, Wendy Carson, have put on two dozen or so races and training sessions, mostly here at the Roper Ranch near Orlando.
Today’s sixth-edition of their signature event, The Highlander Adventure Run, showed why it’s the best of the Florida-based obstacle races and better than some of the well-funded national tours. By using the same property each event, Simpkins and his Rock On Adventures have left obstacles in place and created new ones, occasionally taking old ones down for more exciting models. In that sense, it’s like a favorite amusement park that keeps adding more rides and upgrading others.
And it will soon get even better. Simpkins recently struck a deal with the organizers of the Superhero Scramble to host their May 10 event at the Roper Ranch. Superhero will leave some of their more prominent, expensive obstacles in place for the next Rock On race.
We lost count of how many dozens of obstacles were packed into the 3-mile and 6-mile Highlander races that about 900 runners navigated this morning and we’ve done most every race Simpkins has hosted. We didn’t actually race today, though, wanting instead to help behind the scenes and get a better feel for the logistical challenges of staging an OCR event.
We’ve assisted at triathlons and road races and staged a few 5K events ourselves. But an obstacle race adds so many more variables: water challenges, post-race showers, and obstacles that require lifeguards or, at the very least, staffers to direct traffic.
Simpkins assigned me to irrigation detail and it was my job to keep generators gassed, pumps pumping, and constant water pressure to four or five areas that needed to stay muddy. That’s a tall task, especially considering Simpkins owns an irrigation company and I, well, usually hire someone to fix my broken sprinkler heads.
But because Simpkins is so effective at this day job, I merely had to monitor the irrigation, occasionally adjust valves, and refuel generators. Still, it’s another of the many personnel needs an obstacle race presents that athletes probably don’t consider when factoring the cost of an event.
Unlike most obstacle races, Rock On does not charge for parking, which is just a short walk to the starting line. The company provides fitted Tultex T-shirts, nice medals, and hands-down the best kids’ race in OCR, which has been true since the first Highlander in 2011. The few obstacle races that offer kids heats provide just 100 or 200 yards with little more than a mud crawl. Today’s Highlander kids’ race was a full 1.25 miles of the adult course.
Simpkins says he’s going to scale back his schedule of events and limit the entries to the remaining ones, including The Highlander, to eliminate the headaches of race-day registration. He’ll also continue to stage informal training days at the Roper Ranch and, no doubt, continue to tweak one of the best obstacle courses in OCR.
With so many endurance events across all platforms – road running, trail running, triathlon, obstacle racing, and even stand-up paddleboarding – we’re seeing numbers start to fall across the board. It’s not that there’s less interest; it’s just the pie is divided up among more events. Those that survive, like any industry, will be the ones that deliver the best value.
When it comes to obstacle course racing, few deliver like Rock On Adventures.