By Pete Williams
DOVER, Fla. – We almost didn’t give the Hog Wild Mud Run another chance. After last July’s event, which included hour-long delays at registration, a herd of cattle rumbling through the post-race party area, and mud that had a way-too-authentic barnyard smell, we almost skipped today’s affair.
We’re glad we came back as Hog Wild provided one of the better overall obstacle race experiences of the 20-plus events we’ve done. Race director Adam Morejon, who comes from a triathlon background, took a few pages from the multisport organizer playbook, to vastly improve his event.
A pair of packet pick-ups this week eliminated any race-day registration lines. Morejon broke up some 30-minute waves into smaller segments. That didn’t alleviate lines at some obstacles, but it at least separated the packs early. And in a business notorious for providing no free post-race food, he delivered on his all-you-can-eat promise with one of the best spreads we’ve seen in endurance sports: chicken, rice, black beans, and pasta.
The 5K (or so) Hog Wild might have the best location in obstacle racing. It’s not that the cowpie-littered property is extraordinary, though running more through woods and waist-deep streams this time added to the scenery factor. What separates the venue is that it’s only five minutes off Interstate 4. (Part of the property borders I-4, but requires some brief backtracking from the exit.)
That means it’s only 15 minutes from downtown Tampa, within an hour of anywhere in the Tampa Bay area and an easy drive from Orlando and beyond. We can’t think of a more easy-to-reach venue in Central Florida, at least now that Disney no longer allows Muddy Buddy and others to stage events. As the obstacle racing field gets increasingly cluttered, having the most convenient location no doubt will be a competitive advantage.
About 2,000 athletes showed up this morning, paying $5 to park, which is less than the $10 industry standard. There wasn’t free parking like last time, but the food alone made it worth it. Many runners went along with the “Crazy ’80s theme,” and while we’re kind of tired of ’80s nostalgia, it worked for this event.
The course and obstacles were virtually unrecognizable from 2012. There was a sandbag carry over and under walls, two creative walks across a small pond requiring stepping from one moving board to another, muddy runs through the woods, and perhaps the most maddening obstacle we’ve seen.
We’re not sure what the official name was, but it was pretty much the jungle gym from hell. Athletes pulled themselves up wooden ledges and twisted their bodies around to face monkey bars spread far apart. After the bars, they had to navigate rings to get to the end. I failed on two attempts and took a 20-Burpee penalty.
We’re not sure the 20-Burpee penalty (a la the Spartan Race’s notorious 30-Burpee penalty) was official or not, but we heard several volunteers allude to it. Few athletes seemed to be doing Burpees, but the guys in my wave I ended up running with decided to do 20 Burpees for each skipped obstacle with a long line. That seemed fair. (I ended up doing 100 Burpees for the race.)
On a mile-for-mile, degree of difficulty scale of 1-to-10, I’d give Hog Wild a 7, assuming you took the 20-Burpee penalties and recognizing that it was only 5K or so.
It seems next to impossible to avoid lines at obstacles in races of less than six or eight miles but the Hog Wild, like most races, encouraged faster runners to register for the first wave. Like last year, Hog Wild’s last half mile included a death slog through various mud pits, along with a march through 200 yards of waist deep muck. Though it again was the blackest, nastiest mud in the industry, there was no funky smell. And this time, the cows did not come home.
Hog Wild provided strong water pressure in its showers and a better-than-average medal. The lime green T-shirt paid tribute to the ’80s and featured two dozen sponsor logos on the back, one unfortunate element Morejon also borrowed from triathlon. Then again, between the two packet pickups and post-race refreshments, some sponsor payback probably was in order.
Hog Wild lacks the branding and signage of some of the national events – or even the soon-to-go-national Savage Race – but between its reasonable entry fees, creative course, free food, cheaper parking, ideal location, and the gnarliest mud in the mud run world, it has a winning formula.
We’ve done enough of these races not to be easily impressed. But if Morejon delivers another event like today’s, that’s a value to go Hog Wild over.