Tag Archives: Battle Dash

Speed + Power = Future of Racing? (Nov. 10, 2013)

By Pete Williams

The Battle Dash men's winner navigates the final rungs of the course. (Photo courtesy Rock on Adventures)

The Mile of Pain men’s winner navigates the final rungs of the course. (Photo courtesy Rock on Adventures)

The world of endurance sports is an ever changing place. These days, it’s even difficult to pinpoint the definition. It wasn’t that long ago that endurance sports was running, cycling, and triathlon. In recent years, the category has added obstacle course racing and stand-up paddleboarding.

CrossFit, though mostly an anaerobic endeavor, seemed to belong in there somewhere. After all, obstacle course events such as Spartan Race and Tough Mudder aligned themselves closely with CrossFit, though it often seemed like more of a marketing ploy than common ground. CrossFit, after all, usually involves little running.

Everyone, it seems, is looking to create the best test of speed and power. Some point to American Ninja Warrior, though even that seems more like a contest of power and gymnastics ability. CrossFit WODs have inspired all manner of related competitions. And while such events are grueling, they lack any sort of running/aerobic component.

Which brings us to two events that took place under the radar in Central Florida over the weekend – the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash and the Tampa Bay Pump N Run 5K.

The Mile of Pain/Battle Dash is the creation of Jonny Simpkins, who in 2011 launched Rock On Adventures after watching the Warrior Dash debut in Florida. Simpkins, who owns an irrigation company, figured he could create something better.

Athletes got creative tackling the Battle Dash. (Courtesy Rock On Adventures).

Athletes got creative tackling the Battle Dash. (Courtesy Rock On Adventures).

His Highlander Adventure Run has proven to be just that, and he’s also come up with other unique events at his permanent home at the YMCA Roper Ranch near Orlando such as the “Yak-a-Thon” a run-kayak-mountain bike-run competition.

The Mile of Pain/Battle Dash, which debuted earlier this year and returned on Saturday, blends the best of American Ninja Warrior and obstacle course racing. The Mile of Pain consists of a whopping 32 obstacles. Athletes leave in 10-minute waves, 10 people at a time, and tackle roughly 3/4 of a mile of walls, climbs, crawls, and obstacles before arriving at the “Battle Dash,” sort of an outdoors version of American Ninja Warrior. There athletes must complete a U-shaped course of climbs, tire flips, rope climbs, and balance beams before staggering to the finish.

The top time Saturday for the Mile of Pain was 12:30, though most competitors took around 20 minutes. Many did not finish officially since failure to complete an obstacle, as on American Ninja Warrior, removed the athlete from the competition. (Simpkins offered $1,700 in prize money, split among the male and female winners of the Mile of Pain and Battle Dash.)

For the Battle Dash, competitors lined up nine at a time and tackled the event together. The obstacles were wide enough to allow such maneuvering and the U-shaped course allowed spectators to walk the course as the athletes progressed, with most taking between 2 and 5 minutes. Simpkins, who has a background in Supercross racing, envisions a stadium set-up complete with bleachers and lights, perhaps even television coverage. He seems well on his way at Rock On Adventures.

Eric Hall, owner of AWOL Sports Performance, benches Sunday. (Courtesy Tampa Bay Pump N Run 5K).

Eric Hall, owner of AWOL Sports Performance, benches at the Tampa Bay Pump N Run (Courtesy Racehawk).

In Tampa on Sunday, trainer Whit Lasseter debuted the Tampa Bay Pump N Run 5K, a version of similar events that have sprung up recently in the Northeast. For the Tampa Bay event, athletes bench pressed some portion of their weight depending on age and gender. Men benched between 70 percent and 100 percent of their weight depending on age and women between 40 and 70 percent. For each rep, athletes subtracted 30 seconds off their 5K, which took place a half hour later.

After athletes weighed in, they proceeded to one of six benches, where referees/spotters judged their repetitions. Of the 150 or so athletes competing, seven completed 30 reps, the maximum allowed. The event seemed to favor wiry little guys in their 40s, who were required to bench 90 percent of their weight. A 150-pounder for instance, could bench 135 – a bar with a pair of 45-pound disks, a familiar set-up for anyone who has spent time in the gym. (Though I fit the profile, I had to sit out with a pec tear suffered while training.)

PumpRunWith about 15 runners finishing the 5K under 19 minutes, there were adjusted “times” as low as 2:30. Perhaps not coincidentally, some of the same athletes finished high on the leader boards at both the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash and Tampa Bay Pump N Run 5K.

It was an impressive showing all around. Consider that at the NFL combine, young football players bench press 225 pounds. Very few can bench 225 for 30 reps, even though most players weigh more than 225. Some of the Pump N Run crowd has more relative power.

In the end, isn’t that what all athletes are trying to obtain – the most speed and strength relative to body weight? If so, don’t be surprised if events such as the Mile of Pain/Battle Dash and the Tampa Bay Pump N Run 5K become one of the popular fitness trends of 2014.



Highlander V: Ready for ‘Battle’ (Sept. 21, 2013)

By Pete Williams

Highlander2WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – After staging seemingly every variation of off-road obstacle event over the last 18 months here at the Roper Ranch, Rock On Adventures can roll out as challenging a race as anyone in the industry.

Today’s fifth edition of Rock On’s signature event, the Highlander Adventure Run, included a staggering 100 obstacles in its six-mile version and about 70 in the three-mile rendition. That’s because Rock On’s Jonny Simpkins can leave his obstacles up permanently, adding some while twisting and turning the course in different directions.

As a result, today’s Highlander had a season-opening amusement park feel to it, even for those of us among the crowd of 1,350 or so who have done more laps around The Ranch that we can remember at this point. Certain obstacles, like signature rope climbs, tire walls, and mud crawls remain while others rotate out or even get replaced by more challenging fare. So while some of the course seemed familiar, even veteran Highlanders were left wondering from part of Simpkins’ twisted mind the new material sprung from.

Simpkins has spent the last few months concentrating on the “Battle Dash,” his answer to American Ninja Warrior. “Battle,” which debuted in July and returns in November, is a 150-yard course of about a dozen obstacles that pits two athletes against each other in heats. There’s a leaderboard, cash prizes, and presumably television coverage down the road.

Highlander3Today the three Battle Dash courses figured prominently in The Highlander races – even the one-mile kids’ race tackled by more than a hundred youngsters.

We’ve always been puzzled why Rock On’s races have not drawn bigger numbers than other events, though 1,350 in today’s flooded mud run marked is impressive. Between the heavily obstacle-laden course, soft Tultex T-shirts (light green today), no spectator fees, a kid-friendly atmosphere that today included a bouncy house and mini obstacles, bottled water on the course, and great finisher’s medals, Rock On provides the best value in the industry. This before considering the unusual distinction of free parking, though today athletes were encouraged to make a donation to representatives from a worthy charity helping direct parking.

Maybe it’s because Rock On tried to do too many things, from a zombie run to summer trail runs to a kayak-bike-run “Yakathon” – all well-executed events, but perhaps a little too much distraction from the core product. Simpkins says from now on it will be pretty much just Battle Dash, its “Mile of Pain” companion, and The Highlander.

Highlander4Not that all the other races were lost time. Rock On veterans recognize pieces of the Monster Bash Dash, Yakathon, and the Friday night summer trail runs. For today’s race, Simpkins created something that we’ve never seen at another race: a spectator bridge that itself was an obstacle.

Realizing that the course would cut through a main thoroughfare between parking and the registration area, Simpkins dug a channel under the path and laid logs over top. Spectators and athletes arriving for later waves had to walk over the logpath, getting a good view of athletes going underneath. It wasn’t particularly challenging but, hey, even the spectators had to suck it up and earn their keep. (Those needing special assistance were able to go another route.)

The spectator bridge is the type of detail that can be provided when you operate out of one venue and don’t have to worry about taking the show on the road the following month. At least two Florida-based mud runs that started roughly the same time as Rock On have taken their events national, with varying degrees of success, but Simpkins has resisted the urge, knowing full well that even one of the best-produced events, the firefighter-themed, Maryland-based Hero Rush, recently flamed out in bankruptcy after growing too big too fast.

HighlanderIt hasn’t even been three years since Simpkins and his longtime girlfriend, Wendy Carson, took a look at the Warrior Dash debut in Florida in January 2011 and figured they could do something better. Now it’s impossible to even track how many outfits are staging obstacle mud runs in Florida alone. Sixty, perhaps? We counted nine flyers on our windshield for upcoming races, none of them older than The Highlander. Five are first-time events and all promised to be the most extreme, the baddest, most “premium” or the most rocking good time.

It’s funny. Unlike other businesses, no one ever promises to provide the best value.

Rock On, it seems, owns that title.

Rock On Adventures: Moving Toward ‘Primetime’

By Pete Williams

Battle Dash race course

Battle Dash race course

Jonny Simpkins believes the future of obstacle racing lies somewhere between American Ninja Warrior and the Hare Scramble races he once competed in as a motorcycle racer.


Simpkins, 50, creator of the popular Highlander Adventure Run, will continue to stage his signature event at the Roper Ranch in Winter Garden, Fla. More than 1,500 athletes are expected for the fifth edition of The Highlander, which takes place on Sept. 21 with 3-mile, 6-mile, and kids races.

We’ve been big fans of The Highlander ever since its 2011 debut. Simpkins and his longtime girlfriend, Wendy Carson, have staged many memorable races under their Rock On Adventures company, included the grueling 11.4-mile “Intimidator” and the “Yak-a-thon,” an unusual kayak-mountain bike-run challenge.

Unlike most promoters, Rock On does not charge for spectators or parking. The company also provides soft fitted Tultex T-shirts that athletes actually want to wear, kids races, and a true family atmosphere, complete with stuff for kids to do.

HighlanderLogoSimpkins was among the first to stage an obstacle race in Florida and has watched as countless others have emerged, to the point where there’s now at least one OCR event virtually every weekend of the year.

It’s hard to reinvent the wheel or the tire, monkey bars, or balance beam, for that matter. Rock On has been as creative as anyone and will include a whopping 100 obstacles for Highlander 5.

Simpkins, whose background is in installing irrigation systems, has the luxury of leasing property from an owner who allows him to leave his obstacles up permanently.

But instead of adding more or crazier obstacles indefinitely, Simpkins is tweaking the OCR format with the “Mile of Pain” and “Battle Dash,” both of which have debuted in recent months to rave reviews. Rock On will stage both on the same day – Nov. 9.

Carson, Simpkins

Carson, Simpkins

During the “Mile of Pain,” athletes face 27 obstacles, including mud, over a one-mile course. Small groups of athletes leave in heats so there’s no backup on the course.

With the “Battle Dash,” athletes compete Ninja Warrior-style in a pair of 200-yard, U-shaped courses, one red, the other white. There are qualifying heats with the top eight in each skill class — expert (A), intermediate (B), and beginners/newbies (C) — advancing to the finals. There’s even a separate course for kids (ages 5 to 8 and ages 9 to 11). There’s Battle Dash prize money, too.

If it sounds like it’s made for spectators and TV, well, that’s just the point. Though OCR events typically charge for spectators – some up to $40 – they’re not spectator friendly. With courses spread out for miles over often wooded areas, friends and family members often can view only a fraction of the venue.

IMG_7147With the Battle Dash and Mile of Pain, spectators can see the entire course, which gives the events more of a competitive feel. Simpkins even provides a running commentary on the race, perched on a platform above the competition with a microphone. (Simpkins says he will continue not to charge for spectators for now, but might in the future.)

The events feel more like stadium competitions than wide-open obstacle races.

“With Supercross events, you’re so close to the action it can be a little scary,” Simpkins says. “I believe this is where we’re heading. People want more competition and the spectators want something that’s more exciting. Right now they’re bored.”

Since Rock On Adventures launched, a number of races have come and gone. Hero Rush, the firefigther-themed event, recently folded. Other Florida-based races have expanded beyond the Sunshine State with varying degrees of success.

Simpkins has stayed put in Winter Garden, focusing on the next evolution of OCR, which could involve stadiums, lights, and cameras.

“People want to be more a part of the action, both athletes and spectators,” he says. “I think we’ve hit on something with this Battle Dash.”