Tag Archives: obstacle race

Easter Mud Hunt – $1,000 Eggs!

By Pete Williams

EasterMudHuntChris Mohling has put on triathlons for years, well-organized events throughout Florida. So when he attended the Warrior Dash early in 2011, he was curious about whether the mud run trend was a fad or something with staying power.

It took him a while to enter the fray with his own event, but he has an interesting wrinkle with Saturday’s Easter Mud Hunt in Hernando, Fla. Each of the six hourly waves beginning at 9 a.m. will have $1,000 up for grabs.

For the first wave, designated the competitive division, the prize money will be divided among the top three male and top three female finishers. Runners (who must be at least 14) in each of the remaining five waves will collect 2,500 plastic eggs per wave. Most will contain candy and trinkets, but one golden egg per wave will be redeemable for $1,000.

“We think obstacle mud races will be a staple for the next decade,” says Mohling, who is planning a similar race for the fall with a Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket theme. “We wanted to put our own spin on things.”

Mohling says the course, held at the Berry MX Track, will feature typical obstacles such as walls, slides, hay bales, crawls, and at least three mud zones. It’s just two miles, but the hilly nature of the motocross terrain should make it feel as long as a typical 5K mud run through a ranch or cow pasture. Runners will receive draw-string bags to gather eggs.

The strategy, Mohling says, will be deciding whether to stop at the first sign of eggs or keep moving ahead in search of the golden prize.

The 10 o’clock, 1 o’clock, and 2 o’clock waves are sold out, but space remains for the 9, 11, and noon waves. Mohling says he expects the race to draw roughly 1,000 athletes, only 60 of which figure to race in the first wave. That means the other waves will have 200 or fewer athletes competing to find each $1,000 egg.

“You have to remember, there will be 2,500 eggs per wave,” Mohling says. “It’s not going to be easy to find the golden eggs.”

To hear our Fitness Buff Show interview with Mohling, click HERE.



Highlander IV: More Challenges, More Mud (March 16, 2013)

By Pete Williams

IMG_7227WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – We’re still not sure if the obstacle race category is evolving more into a fitness challenge or a mud run. The organizers of the Highlander Adventure Run seem to be placing bets on both.

The distinction might seem minor, especially to the 1,500-plus who raced the fourth edition of The Highlander on a day that started at 40 degrees (for the 8 a.m. first wave) and was approaching 70 by the time the final group set out at 11:30.

Newcomers want mud, not just for the novelty but also for the requisite Facebook photos. For those folks, race organizers Jonny Simpkins and Wendy Carson over-delivered. There were three under-barbwire-through-mud crawls, at least a dozen mud pits and several places where it was hard not to get stuck in the muck. Perhaps not to the degree of Highlander III in September, when participants carried sand bags through waist-deep, black mud, but still as much mud as you’ll find anywhere.

IMG_7201We’ve done two Tough Mudders in the last month and neither 12-mile course produced as much mud as today’s six-mile Highlander (a three-mile option also was available). Tough Mudder, facing increasing competition from Spartan Race, which bills its event as a timed, obstacle challenge and not a mud run, has amped up its obstacles for 2013.

Here, too, The Highlander provided greater physical challenges. It helps that its parent company, Rock On Adventures, has found a permanent home here at the YMCA Roper Ranch near Orlando and can leave obstacles up, adding to them with each new race. The Rock On schedule now includes a year-round slate of events, including the kayak-bike-run “Yak-a-Thon” on May 4 and a July event called “The Intimidator” that’s being billed as The Highlander on steroids.

IMG_7148Even those of us who have done multiple Rock On events at the Roper Ranch got a few surprises starting in the first mile, which included a crawl through freshly-dug tunnels. No race offers more tall obstacles to climb, including a 15-foot rope hoist from waist-deep water to touch a beam, and a challenge that seemed like navigating between two upright Lincoln Logs (below). Both were new for 2013. Simpkins also seems to have borrowed a page from last month’s Hog Wild Mud Run near Tampa, creating an obstacle that combined reverse monkey bars with swinging between a half dozen ropes (left). Few managed to complete the entire challenge.

At times The Highlander can seem repetitious with its multiple barbwire crawls and three tire carries, but nobody will complain about a lack of challenges or too much uninterrupted running. No race does a better job using ditches and trees – both upright and downed ones – to create obstacles, which makes it nearly impossible to count all the challenges. The Highlander’s final mile is one of the best in the industry, with 10 obstacles that include a 12-foot plank jump into water, a zipline, tightrope walk, water slide, and, of course, a race-ending barbwire mud crawl.

IMG_7153Simpkins and Carson, who are not married but have been together more than a decade, have built quite a following in two years one customer at a time. From early in 2011 when they tirelessly distributed flyers at dozens of events to their first two Highlander races that year in Bartow, Fla., to the current schedule of more than a dozen races, it’s perhaps the best local Florida race story in the industry, especially now that it appears the Dirty Foot Adventure Run will not continue beyond last weekend’s third event.

Other Florida-based events such as Savage Race and the Superhero Scramble are expanding beyond the Sunshine State this year, looking to take on the likes of Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, and Hero Rush, all of which have managed to take their show around the country and even the world, setting up and tearing down quickly.

IMG_7147We’re guessing Rock On’s local focus will continue to work well in the highly-competitive Florida market, especially with free parking, no spectator fees, a kid’s race, fitted Tultex T-shirts, terrific medals, and an attention to detail. Simpkins, who previously ran an irrigation business, had some water issues in September, but today delivered 8-ounce bottles at each water stop, ample H20 for the post-race showers and, of course, more than enough hydration at all of the many mud obstacles.

This is a tough industry to strike the right balance between mud and obstacle. At least for now, Rock On is managing to be all things to all runners.




Preview of Hog Wild Mud Run

By Pete Williams

One of the all-time muddiest runs

One of the all-time muddiest runs

The Hog Wild Mud Run is one of the more popular races in Central Florida. For its third event on Feb. 16, it’s departing from the usual obstacle mud race formula by offering free food and drinks as part of your race entry.

We spoke with Hog Wild race director Adam Morejon today on our Fitness Buff Radio Show. You can listen to that interview HERE.

Read our review of last year’s Hog Wild Mud Run HERE.


An Interview with Tough Mudder Founder Will Dean (Sept. 18, 2012)

By Pete Williams

(Published Sept. 18, 2012) – We recently interviewed Tough Mudder founder Will Dean for a story on the growth of obstacle racing that will appear in next week’s edition of SportsBusiness Journal.

Running through fire at Tough Mudder Indiana/Illinois in June (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

Running through fire at Tough Mudder Indiana/Illinois in June (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

We spoke to more than a dozen people for that story. Dean talked at length about Tough Mudder and the future of this growing endurance sports category. Since only a few of those quotes were part of the SBJ story, we thought we’d include more of the interview here.

Dean, 31, might be the modern version of Fred Smith, the billionaire founder of FedEx who as a student at Yale in the early 1960s received little reaction from his professors after writing a paper proposing an overnight delivery service.

ToughMudderAZIn 2009, Dean’s Harvard Business School professors thought his project for an event that would become Tough Mudder was unrealistic. These days Dean, who once worked as a civilian counter-terrorism officer in Great Britain, heads up the hottest race property in the endurance world. This year the Brooklyn-based Tough Mudder will attract 470,000 participants to its 35 events  and generate $70 million, including six-figure deals with a dozen sponsors. Dean says revenue will double in 2013.

Tough Mudder, which only debuted in March of 2010, is not a race but a challenge. Athletes are encouraged to participate as a team in the 12-mile, off-road course, which includes obstacles that challenge the mind as much as the body. There are plenty of walls and ropes, but the event is best known for its dumpster of ice water, its electrically-charged gauntlet of wires, and its signature orange finisher’s headband.

Tough Mudder exploded at the same time Facebook became ubiquitous and that’s no coincidence. Dean says Tough Mudder has been Facebook’s No.1 advertiser, having spent millions on the social networking site. If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen pictures of muddy friends in their orange headbands. In many ways, Tough Mudder and its competitors such as Spartan Race and Warrior Dash have become the new triathlon, the Monday morning water cooler or Facebook bragging rights.

Crawling under charged wires in Colorado (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

Crawling under charged wires in Colorado (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

Tough Mudder, which debuted in Florida last year at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County near Tampa, returns to the Sunshine State Dec. 1-2 at the Hi Hat Ranch in Sarasota.

Here’s our interview with Dean:

Q: How big can this obstacle mud category grow?

A: In my mind you have really three distinct obstacle racing events. It’s like looking at road racing and putting 10K and marathon in the same group. They’re clearly quite different. Marathon is a category. Obstacle race is a pretty wide category. We would actively choose to exclude ourselves from the obstacle race group. There are no prizes at Tough Mudder; it’s not timed. There are no medals and the focus is on teamwork and camaraderie and lots of people helping each other. There are really few people treating it as a race.

ToughMudderVancouver2There’s also Warrior Dash, which is a fantastic concept and absolutely no way am I belittling them. They’ve had phenomenal success, very smart guys. Great company culture, but they use the term “race” loosely. They’re as much about enjoying the post-race fun, having some beer and listening to music. I’m not saying anything controversial when I say that for most people in reasonable shape, Warrior Dash is not a very onerous event. It takes 20 or 30 minutes for most people. You spend more time in the post-race party than the event itself. Then you have Spartan Race, a very different business model than ours and doing very well but clearly an obstacle race

Q: What’s fueling interest in these events?

A: First, from a fitness perspective, the shift to functional fitness with P90X and CrossFit.  At Tough Mudder, we’ve positioned ourselves, if there is a category, at the high end of that. We expend a phenomenal amount of money on obstacle innovation and construction. I’m pretty confident that our budgets are significantly higher than the other muddy obstacle course challenges out there.

People come for the obstacles, but it’s about creating a whole integrated user experience. It’s really a whole weekend concept and that speaks to the second thing, which I believe in very strongly: Experience is the new luxury good. Not just in the endurance space. People talk about what restaurant they’ve eaten at, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, bungee jumping, whatever. That’s far more important than what sort of iPhone you have and I think we’ve captured that.

One thing I realized early is that when people do their first marathon, they talk about how they hit the wall at mile 20 or mile 22 and how some person they’ve never met comes along and they run it in together. They talk about how meaningful that is for them, that shared experience and the bonding that comes with that.

Navigating the balance beam at Tough Mudder Georgia (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

Navigating the balance beam at Tough Mudder Georgia (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

At Tough Mudder, we try to create a variety of obstacles that test you in different ways. Regardless of your body type, shape and fitness, there will be something that will get you outside your comfort zone. We try to create that moment every 10 minutes, that moment of intense bonding on the course. I’m not a sociologist, but with Tough Mudder you realize that even though we live and work in a world where we’re surrounded by people, we really don’t have much meaningful interaction with people. Here in New York, we specialize in avoiding eye contact with each other on the subway or getting out of the car. There’s this irony that all this social networking gets us connected with more people but on the other hand it gets in the way of more meaningful connections.

At Tough Mudder, we created this very earnest, sincere, frankly kind of irreverent event that’s not a race, one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. We position ourselves as the opposite of the Ironman culture. You can help someone if they want assistance. Tough Mudder is about conquering your own Everest and being proud of what you’ve achieved. For some people it’s about getting around the course in an hour and 45 minutes and for other people it’s just about doing it.

Log carry during Tough Mudder Pennsylvania in April (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

Log carry during Tough Mudder Pennsylvania in April (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

Looking at the industry, Warrior Dash is in the fun mud run space. Tough Mudder is the tough obstacle course challenge and Spartan Race is about an integrated racing experience. And while superficially they look similar – we all have mud and walls – they’re three very different events and value propositions. People often ask me if Spartan Race is a competitor and I say not at all. It’s good for us in exactly the same way that for Boston that New York exists and vice versa in the marathon space. Tough Mudder is and always will be an event that’s about more than just the obstacles. People will call it a race because we have a start and a finish line and water stations in between that make it look like a race but that’s not what we aspire to do.

Monkey Bars at Tough Mudder Florida last December

Monkey Bars at Tough Mudder Florida last December

It’s this whole weekend experience where guys – and it is 80 percent men – get together for a weekend away and it’s almost a bachelor party for a lot of people. Tough Mudder is tough and it beats you up, but if you’re in good shape you’ll finish Tough Mudder and still walk to the bar that evening. You see a lot of people wearing their headbands to bars after and that speaks to the experience component of it.

Q: Your Harvard Business School professors didn’t think too much of Tough Mudder. What made you think it would work?

A: The vast majority of my professors said, “How are you going to sell a race that’s not a race?” You’re going to have huge liability issues and it will be a real challenge trying to scale this event. Business school professors are very intelligent people but it’s hard to imagine something that doesn’t exist. And a lot of (professors) struggled to envision a world where people would spend this amount of money on an event like this.

At the time I was in my late twenties doing triathlons and marathons and all people would ask is what my time was. That was the only metric. I’ve done races where people were screaming at me to get out of the way, especially in triathlons. I remember asking for help to get my wetsuit off in a triathlon and a guy said he couldn’t. It would have taken all of three seconds. It’s not like this is your profession. There’s no prize money at stake.

Dealing with iced barbwire in Pennsylvania in April (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

Dealing with iced barbwire in Pennsylvania in April (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

I believe there’s no such thing as a good business idea; there’s just good business execution and that comes down to having good people on the team. It all comes down to understanding what problem you can solve and why. I was this guy in my late twenties who enjoyed staying healthy, but I had a full-time job and I couldn’t spend lots of time in the gym. I wanted an event I could focus my training on that required more than aerobic fitness and I wasn’t looking for it to be a race. I knew I wasn’t alone in thinking that way. A lot of professors said it was a bad idea and that I should take a job with a large management consulting firm but I think you have to believe you’re an entrepreneur even if everyone else in the world is telling you that the baby you’re holding is ugly. You have to believe that it’s not.

Q: How do you address the liability issue?

Confined spaces and darkness are always part of Tough Mudder (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

Confined spaces and darkness are always part of Tough Mudder (Photos by Dmitry Gudkov)

A: Any activity is potentially high risk. It’s about building world-class systems and we’re very proud that nearly half a million people will do our events this year – after more than 150,000 last year – and we’ve had no fatalities. Statistically, over the course of any day at home watching TV, at least one of that many people might have had a heart attack.

toughmudderlogoTough Mudder is about getting you out of your comfort zone. The adrenaline is pumping when you’re jumping into a dumpster full of ice, but it’s a somewhat controlled environment. And in some ways it’s like a high ropes course. You can say that if you fall it doesn’t matter because the harness is going to catch you after three feet. But your brain doesn’t think that way. What it sees is that, ‘Wow I’m 50 feet up here and if I fall I’m screwed.” One of our concerns is that there are hundreds of smaller events popping up. From a commercial perspective, having them do well is good for us. If the Des Moines Marathon does well, it’s good for Boston. But there’s always the danger of putting a lot of new players into the market. You have people who might not be aware of best safety practices. Tough Mudder has spent a lot of money working with the relevant safety people here and overseas to see that we meet and exceed safety standards. We have a $50 million general liability policy with Lloyd’s of London and we have to meet standards. It’s a big cost for us, but the far greater cost is providing all of the safety stuff, including 100-plus personnel at any event. We have ambulances, local hospitals briefed, and Medevac helicopters in place at more remote events.

ToughMudderVancouverQ: How has Tough Mudder drawn so many sponsors?

A: The days of being able to drop a lot of money on NBC and reach men in their 20s and 30s are gone. They’re looking for ways to engage with me. It’s a challenge and that’s why you see Super Bowl commercials selling for what they are. We’ve had 1,100 people have the Tough Mudder logo tattooed on them and that speaks to the engagement people have.

Tough Mudder is a real life Fight Club. You have obstacle racing, but Tough Mudder is this beast in an off itself. We have very high levels of Facebook engagement. If you look at our major sponsors – Bic, Under Armour, EAS, Dos Equis – they know there are lots of places with 20,000 or more people in one place. A stadium, sports event, wherever. But where else can you have this many people with a clear purpose in mind? They’re not just thinking about a game for two hours, but thinking of this experience for weeks leading up to it and they have real pride. They’ll wear the headband to work. Brands realize that we have something really unique, a fantastic activation program.

Q: How fast is Tough Mudder growing?

A: We’re hoping for a million participants in 2013. We’ll be at $70 million this year and that should double next year. We have a 50,000 square foot warehouse in Brooklyn and six 53-foot trailers. That will double next year. We also have warehouses in the UK, Canada, and Australia. It’s like a traveling circus. For a typical event, we’ll have 10 to 15 of our headquarters-based staff and another 200 staff plus volunteers. At out Sydney (Australia) event (Sept. 22-23) we’ll have 40,000 participants and easily could have had 70,000 if we did not have to cut it off because of the venue’s capacity.

ToughMudderNEQ: It sounds like Tough Mudder is huge in Australia.

A: Earlier this year we had an event in Melbourne. I touched down at the airport, having never been to Australia. The immigration officials assumed I was from Great Britain, but I said I lived in New York and worked for Tough Mudder. When I mentioned I was the CEO, all these immigration officials came over. Many were doing the event that weekend. It’s all still amazing to me because if you look at the original business plan, which I have new employees read, we projected 7,500 people competing in year four. Now we’re heading into year four and will hit one million.

Spartan Race Coming to Fenway Park (May 23, 2012)

By Pete Williams

(Published May 23, 2012) – Spartan Race, the grueling obstacle race series featuring penalties of 30 Burpees for each challenge not completed, is taking its show to Fenway Park, the historic, 100-year-old home of the Boston Red Sox.

Spartan Race: Coming to Fenway Park (Photo Courtesy Nuvision Action Image)

Spartan Race: Coming to Fenway Park (Photo Courtesy Nuvision Action Image)

Spartan Race typically sets up in remote areas, staging events of between 3 and 12 miles and consisting of 15 to 25 obstacles. The Fenway Park event will be a one-mile time trial taking place entirely within the ballpark on Nov. 17.

Unlike other obstacle events, Spartan Race does not provide course information beforehand. Joe DeSena, the creator of Spartan Race, would say that Fenway’s signature feature, the Green Monster left field wall, will come into play.

DeSena, who is friends with former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, says he was contacted by the Red Sox to put on the race, the team’s latest foray into non-baseball events. For about 30 years beginning in 1973, Fenway Park was used exclusively for baseball. Since 2003, the Sox have staged everything from Bruce Springsteen and Rolling Stones concerts to the NHL’s Winter Classic.

Though the Fenway version of the Spartan Race is just one mile long, it’s priced like a regular Spartan event – or a Red Sox game. It’s a whopping $110 to register through June 17 and escalates to $150 through Nov. 9. DeSena says the event is likely to sell out by Aug. 1, with 10,000 competitors expected to participate in what likely will end up being extended over two days.

Even spectator tickets cost a whopping $40.

“You go to Starbucks for breakfast you end up spending forty bucks,” DeSena says.

SpartanRaceLogoDeSena, a Queens native who grew up a New York Yankees fan, made a small fortune on Wall Street before moving to Pittsfield, Vermont, where he operates a small resort hotel. An avid endurance athlete who once completed 12 Ironman triathlons in a year, he created the Spartan Death Race in 2005 because he believed Ironman and other ultra-distance events did not present a big enough challenge.

Athletes competing in The Death Race, held annually in Pittsfield in mid-June, do not know how long the event will take place, what it will entail, or even the exact starting time. Last year’s event kicked off with competitors deadlifting rocks for six hours. The event had a religious theme and at one point athletes carried logs on their backs for 24 hours. The Death Race continued for 45 hours before DeSena called it with just 35 of the 155 athletes remaining.

The Spartan Race, launched in 2010, is a scaled-down version of The Death Race consisting of the Spartan Sprint (3-mile), Super Spartan (8-mile), and Spartan Beast (12-mile plus) events. Athletes typically haul heavy objects such as five-gallon buckets of gravel, drag concrete blocks, climb walls, flip tires, and run a race-ending gauntlet of guys dressed as 300 Spartan warriors wielding double-sided mallets.

Athletes also must perform challenges relating to the host property. At a Virginia event last summer at a paintball facility, athletes had to dodge gunfire and successfully hit a target from 10 yards away.

Failure to do so earned the athlete 30 Burpees, the standard penalty for not completing challenges. Athletes typically do three or four sets of Burpees, which makes Spartan Race arguably tougher than other events in the category, including Tough Mudder, which do not issue penalties.

Tough Mudder, like Spartan Race, debuted in 2010 and now hosts dozens of events worldwide. Each series is likely to clear $50 million in revenue this year. Unlike Spartan Race, which issues timing chips and awards points in a year-long race series, Tough Mudder does not market its events as competitions but team-building exercises.

Boston’s average high temperature for November is 52 degrees with a low of 38. DeSena said the cold and threat of ice and snow will only add to the Spartan challenge. The Fenway Park race could be the first of several ballpark Spartan Races, though athletes in Central Florida should not get excited about a Tropicana Field event.

“We put on very unique events, the only truly competitive events and fans of the Red Sox are pretty competitive people,” DeSena says. “We want to do more of these – but only in the best of the best stadiums.”

Mud Crusade Attracting Big Numbers (March 22, 2012)

By Pete Williams

MudCrusadeSlide(Published March 22, 2012) – Like most people, Marshall Chmura is blown away by the explosive growth in obstacle racing.

As the race director of the upcoming Mud Crusade, which takes place April 21-22 at the Dade City Motocross/Pasco County Fairgrounds near Tampa, he’s preparing for a crowd of 5,000 athletes for the inaugural event. More than 4,300 have registered.

“We built obstacles initially thinking 2,000 people but quickly realized we had to adjust for bigger numbers,” Chmura says. “We don’t want logjams at obstacles because the last thing you want when your blood is pumping is to get stuck and have to wait.”

MudCrusade2That means waves will be restricted to 250 each and obstacles placed to minimize congestion. As for the course itself, there’s a map at mudcrusade.com, but Chmura is keeping the specifics of the obstacles secret. He will say that there will be water obstacles but no water deeper than four feet.

“Due to the length of the course (5K), we can’t compete with a longer event like a Tough Mudder and won’t try to,” he said. “But this is not going to be a walk in the park. At the same time, we’re trying to promote the event and grow the industry and have people come out and have a good time.”

Chmura, who is based in Jacksonville, comes from an athletic family that includes older brother Mark Chmura, the former Green Bay Packers tight end who is lending his name to the event and pitching in occasionally. Most of the workload falls to Marshall and Matt Chmura, who like Mark all fall in the 6-foot-6 range.

“There were a lot of meat and potatoes eaten in our family growing up,” says Marshall Chmura, who is 6-foot-7. “We’re never tough to pick out of a crowd.”

Like most obstacle races, Mud Crusade charges $10 for parking, though there is no fee for spectators. The course will be mostly on the Dade City Motocross property, taking advantage of terrain and obstacles used for dirt bike racing, but also include part of the Pasco County Fairgrounds. The company will continue the motor racing theme in September with a Mud Crusade on the property surrounding Atlanta Motor Speedway. There also are events scheduled for Memphis (Nov. 3) and Miami (Dec. 1-2).

“We’re totally focused on the Tampa race right now,” Chmura says. “We want to give all runners and spectators a great time and deliver an awesome event.”

(Listen to an interview with Mud Crusade race director Marshall Chmura on The Fitness Buff Show HERE:)

Dirty Foot Building Obstacle Race Destination in Fort Meade (March 14, 2012)

By Pete Williams

DirtyFoot(Published March 14, 2012) – When athletes gather in Fort Meade on June 9 for the inaugural Dirty Foot Adventure Run, they’ll compete on the same property that will host Tough Mudder in December.

The course will be 4.47 miles long, less than half the distance of Tough Mudder. But it would be a mistake, says Geno Stopowenko, the vice president of marketing for Dirty Foot Adventures, to think the Dirty Foot event will be easy or any less unique.

Obstacle races have exploded in the last 18 months but this might be the first instance where the property owner has put on a race. Stopowenko says Dirty Foot was inspired to stage its own event after leasing the facility last fall to Iron Crusader, which drew a modest 1,500 athletes and was regarded as a less-than-impressive event. (Dirty Foot had nothing to do with the production of that race.)

Since Dirty Foot routinely puts on big-time ATV and dirt-bike events it made sense, Stopowenko said, to stage its own race. Dirty Foot, which opened in June of 2010, is an offroad motorsports park with plenty of dirt bike obstacles that runners can navigate. There’s a 300-foot sand drag strip, a 1.5-mile MX track, obstacle course, zip line, rope swings, and a large mudpit.

DirtyFootLogo“We have a lot of stuff already in place and since it’s our facility it’s sort of like having home field advantage,” Stopowenko said. “We know this property inside and out and while we’re excited to have Tough Mudder here in December, we’re going to be able to provide some obstacles unlike any seen in other races.”

The race will begin with athletes navigating parts of the 1.5-mile dirt bike course that includes 20-foot obstacles. There will be a challenge called “Fall In Feet,” a 15-foot jump into water; and a “Watermelon Crawl,” where athletes slither through a tunnel full of hundreds of crushed watermelon. Given the property’s core business, there will be plenty of culverts and tires involved in the course.

he Dirty Foot property features numerous creeks that are several feet deep. They will figure prominently in the course, which will have roughly 30 obstacles: 20 manmade and 10 natural. There will be a swim obstacle, though non-swimmers can substitute a combination of pushups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks.

“We want to make it unappealing,” Stopowenko said.

After the June 9 event, Dirty Foot will open the property for training during certain weekends. “We also plan to host three or four obstacle races a year,” Stopowenko said. “Between our races, Tough Mudder, and having it open for training, we want to be the premier destination for obstacle racing.”

Muddled Future: How Many Obstacle Mud Runs Can Florida Sustain? (July 13, 2011)

By Pete Williams

Is the Florida mud run market now saturated?

Is the Florida mud run market now saturated?

(Published July 13, 2011) – The formula by now is a familiar one. Take a 3-to-12 mile off-road course, position a dozen obstacles, add water, and mix.

Voila! Instant mud run.

It seems like a new event emerges every month in the loosely defined category of “obstacle mud runs.” At least 22 such events representing 17 different race series will take place in Florida this year and it’s getting tougher to tell them apart.

Maybe it’s because they feature similar obstacles, themes, marketing, and a Web design that seems borrowed from the same template. Most races offer one free post-race beer, charge $10 for parking, and about $75 per entry.

It was only two years ago that Muddy Buddy had a near monopoly on the concept. But the unbridled growth of endurance sports during the recession combined with the emergence of CrossFit and adventure racing has created the perfect opportunity for events that are part running, part Survivor, and part Jackass.

Unlike triathlons, mud runs can be taken seriously or not so seriously. They can be done solo or in teams. There’s no need to worry about attire since it’s a good idea to wear black and old shoes that can go into the trash. Where else can you exert yourself and get covered in mud with friends and loved ones?

Then there’s this theory, as Original Mud Run founder Paul Courtaway told The San Antonio Express-News recently. “Eighty percent of the people who run (in the Original Mud Run) have never run a race in their life. You know who this appeals to, crazily? College sororities and groups of girls who love to get together and do things they normally wouldn’t be expected to do. Young moms and mom groups. Sixty percent of our runners are female.”

Given our Florida weather and demographics, it’s no wonder each of the nine national series  – including the recently-launched Primal Challenge by the Tampa-based World Triathlon Corp. – pays at least one visit to the Sunshine State.

Fire is always a crowd pleaser

Fire is always a crowd pleaser

From the Warrior Dash in January to the Tough Mudder in December, Florida is the one state that can host such events all year long. No wonder at least eight in-state promoters have launched a series.

The numbers are staggering – crowds of 2,000 are commonplace and the Warrior Dash draws up to 20,000. Muddy Buddy introduced a second Florida race late in 2010 and considered a third for 2011.

The category shows no signs of topping out. But can a state that already leads the nation in number of triathlons, running events, and now stand-up paddleboard races also absorb what presumably will be at least 25 mud runs in 2012?

Since it’s getting tough to keep track of them all, we’ve provided a scorecard in alphabetical order beginning with the national events.

Which is your favorite and which do you think will be the most successful?



Will J-Lo and Anna show?

Will J-Lo and Anna show?

Debut – April 26, 2010 – Los Angeles

Origin: Created by Michael Epstein Sports Productions (MESP), best known as the outfit that produces popular triathlons in Malibu and South Beach that attract paparazzi and feature special transition areas for celebrities.

Number of Races in 2011: 9

Next Florida Race: TBA (Last was in Miami on May 1)

Distance: 5K and 10K

Degree of Difficulty: 5

Signature Features: Inspired in part by the Merrell sponsorship, race organizers recently added a barefoot running division for those wearing minimalist shoes or no footwear. The final event of this season (Oct. 30 in Sacramento) features a Halloween theme and takes place at night.

Outlook: The race with the unwieldy name – Merrell Down & Dirty Presented by Subaru National Mud Run Series – hasn’t mushroomed like some of its competitors, but it’s consistently drawn 4,000 to 5,000 athletes to off-road courses featuring obstacles of above-average difficulty, steep terrain (where possible), and lots of mud. MESP tends to fly under the radar in the endurance world, even with triathlons that attract celebrities, so this could be a series to watch in 2012, especially with its major corporate backing. J-Lo and Anna Kournikova have competed in MESP triathlons, so perhaps Epstein will draw some A-listers into the mudpit.


In the Muddy Buddy pit

In the Muddy Buddy pit

Debut: 1999 – San Diego

Origin: Created by Bob Babbitt, the Forrest Gump/Zelig of endurance sports, who was inspired by a similar leapfrog event involving horseback riding.

Number of Races in 2011: 16

Next Florida race: Nov. 20 – Zoo Miami

Distance: 6-7 miles

Degree of Difficulty: 2

Signature Features: Two-person, bike-and-run format. Athletes, many of which compete in costume, must navigate foot-deep mud pit together before crossing finish line.

Outlook: As recently as two years ago, Muddy Buddy shared a near monopoly on the adventure mud run category with The Original Mud Run, at least at the national series level, routinely selling out its annual Orlando spring event with 4,000 athletes. At just 6 to 7 miles, with easy obstacles and much of the course completed on bike, Muddy Buddy is not much of a challenge for hardcore endurance types. It’s still the event of choice for folks who don’t race much, but the series is losing those looking for greater challenges. (Muddy Buddy quietly postponed what was to have been its inaugural year-end world championship in Punta Gorda in December.) Still, Muddy Buddy is bankrolled by the well-heeled Competitor Group and this year has added a couple of more challenging obstacles and an elite division.


Debut/Origin – 2006, though Mud Runs LLC head Paul Courtaway, an ex-Marine, has been putting on family mud runs on military bases for 12-plus years. Hence, the “original” mud run.

Number of Races in 2011: 11

Next Florida Race: TBA (Last one was in Jacksonville on March 26)

Distance: 10K

Degree of Difficulty: 2-3. There are competitive and recreational divisions.

Signature Features: Lots of obstacles and the Original folks are kind enough to let you in on some of them online beforehand. Knowing how to swim is recommended, but non-swimmers are given alternative challenges.

Outlook: This race or Muddy Buddy can lay claim to the longest-running national series of mud runs. Both court the masses, though the ‘Original’ brings far more mud and obstacles to the table.


Debut – September 16-18, 2011 – Charlotte

Origin: This is a new partnership between the Tampa-based World Triathlon Corporation (aka Ironman) and the United States Marines Corps.

Number of Races in 2011: 2

Next Florida Race: Nov. 4-6, Lake Wales

Distance: Billed as 12 to 20 obstacles over 3 to 5 miles

Degree of Difficulty: Unknown

Signature Features: This being an Ironman-affiliated event, you can count on a bit of organizational arrogance and a T-shirt with at least three dozen sponsor logos on the back. Hopefully the Marines can organize Ironman’s race-day staff, which thankfully includes Kip Koelsch, a veteran Central Florida adventure race director recently hired by WTC.

Outlook: You know a category has jumped the shark when the WTC is getting involved. The Ironman folks have been chasing everything from women’s half-marathons to Olympic-distance triathlons to youth events. No word on whether there will be an announcer to say, “You…are…a…Primal Man!”


Waves of 300 or so

Waves of 300 or so

Debut: May 16, 2010 – Burlington, Vermont

Origin: Created by a team led by Joe DeSena, who also launched the event now known as “The Spartan Death Race” in 2005 after deciding Ironman triathlons and other ultra events weren’t challenging enough.

Number of Races in 2011: 27

Next Florida race: Feb. 25, 2012 – Oleta River State Park, Miami

Distance/Degree of Difficulty: 6 (for the 3-mile Spartan Sprint); 7 (for the 8-plus mile Super Spartan); 8 (for the 10-to-12 mile Spartan Beast); 10+ (for The Death Race)

Signature Features: Guys dressed as movie extras from 300 guard the finish line and pummel athletes with giant mallets, sort of a cross between American Gladiators and Wipeout. Organizers adapt the course to the venue. The June race at a paintball course in Northern Virginia, for instance, featured a sniper using athletes for target practice.

Outlook: This race has evolved in just one year. One writer ripped one of the first races last summer in New York for being too easy and some reported the February event in Miami was easier than expected. It’s a bad idea to call a Joe DeSena race easy as the Death Race creator has ramped up the challenges in recent months, introducing longer versions and making the Spartan Race essentially a shorter version of The Death Race, by far the most demanding event in this category – or perhaps any other. Only 80 percent of the field finishes a Spartan Race. That’s not bad considering 80 percent don’t finish the Death Race.


Walking the plank at Tough Mudder

Walking the plank at Tough Mudder

Debut: Allentown, Pa. – March 2, 2010

Origin: Will Dean, who worked in counter-terrorism for the British government, thought it up as a Harvard Business School project while working on his MBA.

Number of Races in 2011: 14

Next Florida race: Dec. 4-5 Tampa (Dade City)

Distance: 10-12 miles

Degree of Difficulty: 8

Signature Features: Billed as “Iron Man meets Burning Man,” Tough Mudder draws from an arsenal of obstacles, including the charged “Electroshock Therapy” challenge. Orange headband to finishers, Tough Mudder tattoos at finish line (optional).

Outlook: This 10-to-12 mile obstacle course was designed with input from the British Special Forces and encourages athletes to participate as teams to help each other through challenges. The ‘Mudder’ and has taken the lead in national publicity, including a recent spread in ESPN the Magazine. Organizers say only 78 percent of the field finishes.


Costumes optional

Costumes optional

Debut – July 18, 2009 – Chicago

Origin: Joe Reynolds, now 31, launched Red Frog Events in 2007 after watching an episode of “The Amazing Race.” The Great Urban Race came first, followed by Warrior Dash.

Number of Races in 2011: 35

Next Florida race: March 31, 2012 – Live Oak, Florida

Distance: Roughly a 5K.

Degree of Difficulty: 3 – Tougher than a Muddy Buddy, but not nearly as challenging as a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder.

Signature Features: Huge numbers. A typical Warrior Dash draws an average of 20,000 participants in many waves over two days. You get a Viking helmet and free beer.

Outlook: Warrior Dash is a grittier version of Muddy Buddy without the bike. It’s slightly more difficult with more mud and obstacles, bigger crowds, and venues that tend to be in the middle of nowhere. That adds to the post-race atmosphere but does make for a longer day between travel, dealing with crowds, and clean-up. Warrior Dash offers neither the challenge of Tough Mudder/Spartan Race nor the easy access/low barrier to entry of Muddy Buddy. Some view it as the best of all the races – others the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. Either way, Reynolds is arguably the most successful endurance sports entrepreneur of the last three years, which is saying something.

Other national series events:

Gladiator Rock and Run – Coming to Florida in December, 2011 – TBA

Rugged Maniac – Feb. 25, 2012 – Jacksonville



Holed up at the Dirty Duo

Holed up at the Dirty Duo

Debut/Origin: 2006 – Sarasota

Number of Races in 2011: 3

Next Florida Race: Nov. 13 – Tampa

Distance: 6 miles

Degree of Difficulty: 3

Signature Features: A different twist on the mud run, The Dirty Duo consists of two-person teams on one bike covering two three-mile loops. You can race solo but must run the entire course. Unlike the Muddy Buddy, which has designated bike drop points, Dirty Duo participants can choose when they switch.

Outlook: The one existing Florida-based series got a bit overshadowed by the mudslide of national newcomers that invaded the Sunshine State in 2011. A proposed South Florida date has been postponed until 2012.


High land in Florida? You bet.

High land in Florida? You bet.

Debut – July 23, 2011 – Bartow

Origin: Jonny Simpkins, a veteran endurance athlete and motocross enthusiast, created The Highlander after doing the Warrior Dash in January.

Number of Races in 2011: 2

Next Florida Race (after debut on July 23): October 15

Distance: 3 and 6-mile courses

Degree of Difficulty: 5 (estimated)

Signature Features: This might be the most unique piece of real estate for a run in this category, with thousands of acres available. The property is used for an occasional hare scramble off-road bike event and its multiple elevations will make athletes feel like they’re in Georgia. Among the final obstacles is a steep 150-foot waterslide. Spectators will be able to view 75 percent of the course from an elevated area and can take free hayrides to see the rest. The event also features The Highland Games, a celebration of Celtic culture featuring bagpipes, colorful quilts and many challenges such as the hammer toss.

Outlook: Perhaps the darkhorse of the series and not just because Simpkins and his staff have distributed flyers at virtually every Central Florida event since February. With a family-friendly festival atmosphere, unusual obstacles, and unusually elevated terrain for Florida, the Highlander could stand out in a crowded field.


Debut: Oct. 22-23, 2011 – Fort Meade

Origin: Recent arrival onto the mud scene, Iron Mudder makes its debut in Florida in October and expands to five additional states for 2012.

Number of Races in 2011: 1

Next Florida Race (after debut Oct. 22-23): Oct. 20-21, 2012

Distance: 3.5 miles

Degree of Difficulty: 6 (estimate)

Signature Features: Held at the Dirty Foot Adventure Ranch, the Iron Mudder obstacles include the Fire Gauntlet, Doom Slide, Lunatic Logs, and Quicksand Pit.

Outlook: Though not affiliated with Ironman or Tough Mudder, the Iron Mudder is billed as “a challenging mud/obstacle course to challenge your strength, endurance, stamina and determination.”


Climbing the Savage Race wall

Climbing the Savage Race wall

Debut – August 27, 2011 – Clermont

Origin: Created by Sam Abbitt, a Central Florida CrossFit enthusiast, and billed as the “most badass mud and obstacle race yet” with “extreme obstacles, fire, mud, and bruises,” this race debuts in Clermont, home to many endurance events.

Number of Races in 2011: 1

Next Florida Race: Debut

Distance: 5K

Degree of Difficulty: Unknown

Signature Features: The course features a 70-acre lake, so there figures to be some true water obstacles, though non-swimmers presumably will have alternatives.

Outlook: Nearly 900 athletes are registered for this event on IMAthlete.com. There’s a CrossFit connection to several events in this category, so expect this one to be higher on the degree-of-difficulty scale.


Champions Mud Bash – Debuted June 18, 2011 – St. Cloud

Florida Running Obstacle Challenge – Debuted May 7, 2011 – Daytona Beach

Mud Run MS – March 24, 2012 – Jacksonville

Redneck Mud Run – Debuted June 4, 2011 – Punta Gorda


Mudslide: Mud Runs Overwhelm Florida – Feb. 24, 2011

Tough Mudder Coming to Pasco County – March 19, 2011

Muddy Buddy 2.0 a Success – April 11, 2011

Dirty Foot II: More Obstacles, More Muck (Sept. 8, 2012)

By Pete Williams

FORT MEADE, Fla.  – (Published Sept. 8, 2012) – The second edition of the Dirty Foot Adventure Run could be a preview of the next evolution of obstacle racing. Race director Geno Stopowenko added to the degree of difficulty of the 6.4-mile course, inserting five creative obstacles that required navigating through moving culverts, rappelling down ropes of up to 12 feet, and climbing between walls.

Dirty Foot mystery goo

Dirty Foot mystery goo

Only 400 or so athletes showed for the second Dirty Foot race in 90 days and we’re not about to complain about that. Not on a day when 15,000 athletes in the Washington D.C. area reportedly got stuck in Tough Mudder traffic for up to six hours.

Here in Florida, we’re guessing organizers such as Dirty Foot will find a profitable niche by hosting smaller events on their own property where obstacles can be left up permanently. Since hosting 900 athletes for a well-received debut Dirty Foot race on June 8, Stopowenko and his staff spent the last 90 days adding new obstacles unlike any we’ve seen.

DirtyFootLogo3Those included the “Head Hunter,” where athletes climbed a rope, navigated a short culvert tunnel and rappelled down a rope. For the “Back Bender,” athletes went through a small door and found themselves between walls. They scaled footholds up 10 feet and rappelled down another rope. Then there was the “Swinging Culverts,” hanging culverts on an incline that moved as the runners went through; a volunteer gave the culverts an added push.

“We pride ourselves on coming up with challenging obstacles that no one else has thought of,” Stopowenko says.

The "Back Breaker"

The “Back Breaker”

We’ve seen a trend toward more technical courses featuring less running and more challenging obstacles. Stopowenko says he’s trying to provide an added challenge for those who want it (sort of the Spartan Race model). For those who don’t, teamwork is encouraged (the Tough Mudder formula).

Dirty Foot II also provided perhaps the gnarliest obstacle we’ve come across. After hearing complaints about his 100-yard crawl under wire on a tarp through crushed watermelons, Stopowenko replaced the fruit with a thick, white, gooey substance that some speculated was engine grease or, well, something else.

“We do have a lot of cows,” Stopowenko joked.

Actually, the substance is not automotive and completely non-toxic, though a bit of a challenge to wash out. Stopowenko told us what it is, but asked that we not reveal it to prevent other races from copying it.

The course again featured a race-ending leap from a 12-foot platform into a small pond and a 150-yard swim to the finish, with a tow rope provided for those who needed it. Between the added obstacles and a longer course (6.4 miles as opposed to 6.1 in June), finish times were longer; I needed an additional seven minutes.

Running with goo

Running with goo

Given the distance of the race and the relatively low cost for obstacle races – $44 to $65 depending on registration, along with $10 per car parking – Dirty Foot is one of the better values in the industry, though we’re guessing gas prices approaching $4 a gallon make it a challenge to draw athletes to an area that’s not far from everywhere, but not especially close to anywhere.

Dirty Foot was to have hosted Tough Mudder in December before the event moved to Sarasota when Polk County officials denied a permit over traffic and noise concerns. Such a decision could look prudent after Tough Mudder’s traffic issues today near Frederick, Maryland, where its first D.C.-area event was reportedly marred by traffic tie-ups of up to six hours.

Stopowenko says he still believes a Tough Mudder at Dirty Foot would have gone off without a hitch since there’s nothing but groves and ranches – and no stoplights – for 10 miles approaching the property, which would have helped traffic flow. And it’s unlikely Tough Mudder would have drawn 34,000 athletes (as they did in Maryland this weekend) to Central Florida, where there are obstacle races most every weekend.

But after leasing the property to the one-and-done Iron Crusader race last fall, Stopowenko and his staff have proven themselves capable of putting on quality events. Stopowenko says he’ll stage another race in February or March and is toying with the idea of a shorter course on Saturday and a longer, more technical event of up to 8 miles on Sunday.

We’re looking forward to that.

All except the grease, anyway.

Hog Wild: Worth the Wait? (July 21, 2012)


The Hog Wild Mud Run featured plenty of mud with an all-to-authentic barnyard smell

The Hog Wild Mud Run featured plenty of mud with an all-to-authentic barnyard smell

By Pete Williams

DOVER, Fla. – (Published July 21, 2012) – We’ve done interviews with Men’s Health magazine and The Tampa Tribune this week and both wanted to know if we thought this obstacle mud run craze will last.

I’m bullish on the category, but events such as today’s Hog Wild Mud Run here just east of Tampa show that there are growing pains. The Hog Wild’s 5K course was one of my favorites, with some of the filthiest, wettest, most creative obstacles I’ve seen — and I’ve now done nine different races: the three major national tours (Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and Warrior Dash) along with five Florida-based races and Muddy Buddy, which downsized this year after owning the category for years.

HogWildLogoThe finisher’s medal was one of the better ones I’ve seen, the nylon race logo backpack/goody bag was a nice touch, and we hope Hog Wild will start a trend by not charging for parking and spectators.

It’s not easy to come up with new obstacles and, admittedly, nothing Hog Wild did was that out of the ordinary. But like a good chef, it’s all how you mix the ingredients. The race sent athletes into the water numerous times, including one deep creek crossing where they were pelted with tomatoes. The last 200 yards was a relentless up-and-down through some of the nastiest. waist-deep muck we’ve seen at mud races. This course went mostly through cow pasture owned by the Tampa Police Mounted Patrol – at one point a herd of 30 wandered into the spectator/vendor area – and the smell was horrible, in a good way if that’s possible.

One of the all-time muddiest runs

One of the all-time muddiest runs

Unfortunately, Hog Wild blew some of the goodwill it might have created by under staffing the check-in line. We were among the first to arrive at 7 a.m. and knew they were in trouble with one small tent and three people total to handle both check-in and distribution of timing chips.

That’s not enough for a 200-person 5K race, let alone a 1,500-person obstacle event. It wasn’t long before athletes were waiting up to 90 minutes, missing starting times and beginning the race in a bad mood. Hog Wild sent more volunteers over – maybe about 10 total – but they never caught up.

Given the competition in this field, it’s tough to cut a first-time event much slack, let alone an event like Hog Wild that debuted last November with 800 athletes. David Morejon, the co-organizer of the event, told The Tampa Tribune earlier this month he’s raced in 96 triathlons. He should know what it takes to handle traffic flow. (Yes, like triathlons Hog Wild offered pre-race packet pickup Friday at Tampa’s International Plaza, but that’s asking a lot for mud run participants.)

You know how you can tell a race might have issues? If it offers deals via Groupon or Living Social. Hog Wild advertised heavily via Living Social and it drew the cast of thousands, but it didn’t have the staff, calling for volunteers as late as this week. We saw this earlier in the year with Mud Crusade, another shorter-distance, deep discount race that was forced to cut corners for the thousands they let in for next-to-nothing.

It’s a devil’s bargain. When you offer 2-for-1 deals for as little as $49 via Groupon or Living Social, you’re only taking in $24.50 – or $12.25 an athlete. That makes your race look bigger, but that doesn’t always make it better. And it leads to short-changing everyone. Why not keep your price at market rate – $49 to $79 per athlete – and focus on putting on a great race for a respectable crowd of 800 or so?

Your revenues will be comparable and you’ll have 800 gung-ho ambassadors for your quality event – assuming you have a terrific course like Hog Wild – instead of 2,000 people who stood in 95-degree temperatures for 60 to 90 minutes before starting an endurance race.

Hog Wild also could have done a better job marking the course. I was in the first wave and got turned around in the woods three times. And Hog Wild continued the frustrating near-industry-wide trend – which includes Tough Mudder and Spartan Race – of offering a unisex, 100 percent cotton T-shirt cluttered with sponsor logos.

To say the obstacle race category is flooded would be an understatement. There are at least two events scheduled in Central Florida for every weekend in October. Athletes returning to their cars after Hog Wild had a dozen postcard flyers waiting on their windshields.

Fortunately, there was a creek to wash this all off.

Fortunately, there was a creek to wash this all off.

The races that survive will be the ones that offer value. Forget the Groupon and Living Social Deals. Keep your price point at between $49 and $79 depending on registration. Be well organized, with enough volunteers and staff to handle traffic flow. Focus on putting together a great course – as Hog Wild did – and provide a fitted T-shirt without sponsor logos that your young athletes will wear, especially women who control family budgets and rally groups that do obstacle races together.

Put on that race at that price point and you’ll attract the masses who will support your race rather than paying $125-plus for Tough Mudder or Spartan Race.

That’s what I told Men’s Health and The Tampa Tribune. Give us that race, which is not far from what we saw today, and we’ll be pumped.

Hell, we’d go hog wild for it.