Tag Archives: Savage Race

The TRI-OCR-SUP Challenge

By Pete Williams

Channeling Mel Gibson at the Savage Race

Channeling William Wallace at the Savage Race

DUNEDIN, Fla. – I completed 25.2 miles this weekend, just one mile shy of a marathon. But as I paddled onto the beach here at Honeymoon Island at the end of the Shark Bite Challenge this morning, it dawned on me that it might have been the most creative almost-marathon in endurance sports.

It certainly was the most fun.

Saturday 7:08 a.m. (Escape from Fort De Soto Triathlon: half-mile swim, 10-mile bike, 4-mile total run)

Saturday 11:20 a.m. (Savage Race: 6.7 mile obstacle run)

Sunday 10 a.m. (Shark Bite Challenge: 4-mile stand-up paddleboard race)

Total time for the “TRI-OCR-SUP?” Just under 28 hours. Total race time? Around 3 hours, 30 minutes.

Admittedly, there’s probably literally nobody else who would attempt this since there’s little crossover between the genres. I saw a guy wearing a Tough Mudder T-shirt at the Shark Bite Challenge. My friend Jerry Napp, a longtime triathlete, kicked butt in the stock paddleboard division of the 4-mile paddle race.

Because there’s so little overlap, it’s hard to tell if 3 hours 30 minutes is an impressive combined time or not. My triathlon time was slower than usual when measured up against friends I usually race against. I’ve never done a 6.7-mile obstacle race, just longer and shorter distances My paddleboard time seemed fast, but who knows? I rode a stock board, not a race board, though Jerry finished so far ahead of me, I couldn’t see him. I always gauge a paddleboard race a success when I stay upright for the duration, especially in choppy water.

EnduranceChallengeOnly in Central Florida could this trifecta even be attempted in one weekend, at least in April. We lead the nation when it comes to endurance sports, staging the most running events, triathlons, obstacle races, and stand-up paddleboard races. We also have the most gorgeous venues.

Consider that the site of the triathlon (Fort De Soto Park) and the Shark Bite Challenge (Honeymoon Island) each have been rated America’s No.1 beach by Dr. Beach, the college professor who compiles an annual ranking. Savage Race took place at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County, just north of Tampa, a 2,050-acre venue that might be the best obstacle race site anywhere.

The biggest challenge of the weekend was not the distance of the events, though that was significant. (I’ve never done a single event longer than a half marathon or Olympic-distance triathlon). Instead it was the stop-and-go nature of the weekend.

There was a 90-minute drive between the Escape from Fort De Soto Triathlon and Savage Race and just 20 minutes between parking and racing. I crashed at 9:30 on Saturday night, woke at 7 on Sunday and got a late start to the Shark Bite Challenge, a terrific 10th annual paddling event that has evolved into mostly a SUP competition.

The other challenge was hauling around a ton of gear, including bike, paddleboard, paddle, leash, personal flotation device, wetsuit (should have used on triathlon swim), goggles, sunscreen (did not use enough), four pairs of shoes, tri shorts, swim trunks, running shorts, kilt (for Running Commando obstacle race team), white socks, black socks, hat, sunglasses, tons of water, recovery drinks, energy bars, gels, towels, and just one energy shot.

So maybe it wasn’t the most impressive endurance sports accomplishment.

But it was a helluva fun weekend.

 

Savage Race: Ready to Go National (April 13, 2013)

By Pete Williams

Savage2013DADE CITY, Fla. – The fourth edition of the Savage Race proved that this Florida-based obstacle event does a lot of things well. Perhaps more than any other obstacle race, it attracts a younger, gender-balanced demographic with an event not as demanding as Spartan Race but certainly challenging enough.

The one knock on Savage Race, which drew about 10,000 to Little Everglades Ranch here on Saturday, is that it’s a shorter Tough Mudder, which is fine if you’ve never done the most high-profile event in the industry or have no intention of doing so. Since debuting in August of 2011 in Clermont, Savage Race has adapted many of Tough Mudder’s signature obstacles, including an ice plunge, electroshock crawl, 12-foot leap into water, and a run up a half pipe.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Tough Mudder founder Will Dean, after all, studied the British “Tough Guy” event as a Harvard Business School project and pretty much copied the blueprint. So for Tough Mudder to say Savage aped Tough Mudder sort of reminds us of when Hooters sued Winghouse for trademark infringement.

IMG_7562aWinghouse won that battle when the courts ruled you couldn’t trademark hot busty women serving chicken wings. And so it is that you can’t trademark obstacles, though Tough Mudder did exert enough leverage to inspire Savage to change its color scheme from orange to blue and re-do an initial website that bore a striking resemblance to Tough Mudder’s.

Perhaps the best thing Savage Race did was move into a venue Tough Mudder abandoned. Little Everglades Ranch, the scenic, well-manicured, 2,050-acre property in Pasco County, is the best site we’ve encountered in Florida for obstacle racing. With multiple access points from the highway, a convenient location to major metro areas (Tampa, Orlando), acres and acres of parking, and a festival footprint already in place from hosting major steeplechase and high school cross country events, Little Everglades offers something of a turnkey operation for obstacle course promoters. No wonder it’s the first stop race organizers make when coming in from out of state.

Dirty Girl held a 2,000-woman race here in February and Spartan Race will be coming here late this fall. Tough Mudder held a wildly-successful event here in December of 2011, attracting nearly 20,000 over two days, before making the poor decision not to return, staging a traffic-marred event in Sarasota in December and a lightly-attended race in Homestead last month.

Missing from first two Savage Races

Missing from first two Savage Races

Savage Race, meanwhile, has grown its numbers by hosting out of Little Everglades, first in October. We missed that race, having done the first two events in Clermont, but there was a sense of deja vu harkening back to the 2011 Tough Mudder event here.

It wasn’t just the venue or the similar signature obstacles. Others were in the exact same place as Tough Mudder, including a log carry through a pond and a backward, supine crawl along a wire through water. Great obstacles, to be sure, but it only contributed to the Tough Mudder feel. The walls were shorter (though plentiful), the electroshock was turned down compared to recent Tough Mudder events (not that we’re complaining), and Savage, ironically, eliminated its own most challenging obstacle from its former race venue in Clermont.

IMG_7589aThat was a 150-yard swim toward the end of the course. When Savage debuted in August of 2011, we thought this differentiated the event a great deal. Athletes could attempt the swim or take a five-minute penalty and do 30 Burpees. When Savage returned to Clermont in March of 2012, it shortened the swim and placed ropes and floats all over the swim course, again offering the Burpee option for those still uncomfortable with the water.

Perhaps Little Everglades does not have a sufficient body of water. Perhaps liability is a concern. Perhaps there are too many people like me who do not learn to swim properly until later in life. Perhaps Savage did not want to be at a market disadvantage as the only obstacle race requiring a swim – or at least sort of requiring one.

Savage markets its race as “more obstacles per mile,” so if you want to do a Tough Mudder in 6.7 miles instead of 12, Savage is your race. But we’d still like to see more obstacles that we’ve never seen, especially at Tough Mudder. Admittedly, that’s becoming increasingly difficult in a flooded marketplace, no pun intended. But we’ve seen races like Hero Rush and even the Florida-based Hog Wild Mud Run come up with some creative new material.

IMG_7573aSavage does have Thor’s Grundle, a crawl under submerged upright boards. It does combine the half-pipe (Colossus) with a backside that’s the best waterslide in the industry. Its Sawtooth (monkey) Bars are also the best in OCR, with an A-frame format broken up by a jog in the middle, producing an up-down-up-down challenge.

 

Savage2013aSavage also has a big-event feel, with a massive registration area that handles traffic well, merchandise tent, and event branding all over the course, right down to the army of volunteers in Savage Race T-shirts. We wish Savage still provided on-site race maps — something Tough Mudder seems to have copied from Savage Race, ironically – but can understand eliminating that expense, especially in the digital age. It seems to have minimized wait times at obstacles, even in later waves. Savage also continues to go with Tultex T-shirts, something we wish more endurance races of all sorts would follow. Its post-race party seems to keep people hanging around as long as any obstacle event with the possible exception of Warrior Dash. And it’s worth noting that, depending on when you register, Savage Race can be 30 to 50 percent cheaper than Tough Mudder.

Bottom line? Savage Race is a terrific, all-around value that manages to be all things to all athletes. Next month it moves out of Florida for the first time with an event in Georgia, followed later this year with races in Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Texas, along with a return visit to Little Everglades in October.

SavageLogoWe’ll see how Savage Race’s compressed Tough Mudder-like event will sell outside of the Sunshine State, especially at venues that might not rival Little Everglades in terms of location or amenities.

Maybe the business model of offering a shorter, more affordable race that offers all of the challenges of Tough Mudder will capture a broader demographic of athletes not interested in running 12 miles.

After all, it has played well in Florida and it would not be a surprise to see it take off elsewhere.

 

 

 

The All-Endurance Race Challenge

By Pete Williams

Racing at the Escape from Ft. De Soto Triathlon.

Racing at the Escape from Ft. De Soto Triathlon.

A while back I got into a conversation with a fellow jack-of-all-trades, kinda-master-of-some endurance athlete. We talked about how our home region of Central Florida has more endurance events than any other part of the country.

Whether you’re into road running, obstacle racing, triathlons, or stand-up paddleboarding, you can find plenty of opportunities to race every weekend of the year aside from the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

My friend brought up an interesting thought: If we were to take triathletes, obstacle racers, and stand-up paddleboarders, which of the three groups would be best equipped to compete in the other two sports? In other words, if we took a bunch of athletes who specialize in one of these three endeavors and had them do an event in all three areas, which would have the best overall performance?

HelgaGoebelThis type of discussion is what inspired Ironman Triathlon more than three decades ago, a beer-fueled debate over which of three Hawaii endurance events (lengthy swims, bikes, and runs) was the most grueling. Heck, they figured, why not string them together and see who can finish first?

When it comes to triathlon, obstacle racing, and paddleboarding – TRI, OCR, and SUP – you need to know how to swim properly to even think about entering this contest. That might sound obvious, but not all obstacle racers (or even stand-up paddleboarders) are capable of swimming a quarter-mile, the minimum distance of a sprint triathlon.

Which group would fare the best? I have no idea. But it would be fun to find out. And during a span of about 30 hours next month, we can do just that with three terrific endurance events in the greater Tampa Bay area.

It starts with the Escape from Fort DeSoto Triathlon at 7 a.m. on Saturday, April 13. This 27th annual event in St. Petersburg, which typically draws 1,200 athletes, is long by sprint standards with a half-mile swim, 10-mile bike and 3.4-mile run. The water usually is cold enough for the race to be wetsuit legal, though most athletes go without given the shorter distance.

After completing the triathlon, it’s about a 90-minute drive to Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, site of the Savage Race, one of the more popular Florida-based obstacle races. This event, which debuted in August of 2011 and has since been held two other times, is sort of a shorter, timed version of Tough Mudder, with many similar obstacles packed into a course of around 6 miles. Triathletes should be able to make the Savage Race in time to jump into a noon or 1 p.m. heat.

ESPN's Stuart Scott competes in the Savage Race last year

ESPN’s Stuart Scott competes in the Savage Race last year

We wrap up the weekend at 10 a.m. on Sunday, April 14 with the 10th annual Shark Bite Challenge & Paddlefest at Honeymoon Island in Dunedin. There are 4-mile and 8-mile paddle races where you can paddle whatever craft you like so long as you have both a leash and and a personal flotation device (PFD). Stand-up paddleboarders account for most of the field.

All three of these races are highly regarded for their organization and scenic venues. The “Escape” and the Shark Bite take places at beaches that each have been rated the most beautiful in the country by “Dr. Beach,” the college professor who compiles an annual ranking. And Pasco County’s beautiful Little Everglades Ranch, home of the Savage Race, might be the best overall venue we’ve been to for obstacle racing, having competed there in 2011 for Tough Mudder. Little Everglades also did a great job hosting the all-female Dirty Girl event in February.

I’ve competed in the Escape, Savage, and Shark Bite at least twice apiece, and though I’ve twice done the Escape and Shark Bite in the same weekend, I’ve never attempted to finish all three within 29 hours.

Not sure what this will prove other than how much gear I can handle in a single weekend. But it should make for a fun challenge. Who’s with me?

 

 

 

The Ever-Changing Obstacle Course Racing Fee

By Pete Williams

IMG_6862One of the more puzzling, and at times frustrating, aspects of obstacle racing is figuring out the actual price to do a race.

There’s the race entry fee, which can vary by 50 percent depending on when you sign up. This isn’t much different than triathlon or road racing, however.

But then there are assorted other add-on fees unique to obstacle racing that at times leave athletes feeling like they’re buying a car – or at least a plane ticket. There’s parking, which almost always is $10 per vehicle. There’s the insurance fee ($10 to $14), which increasingly is broken out as a separate charge. And then there are Groupon and Living Social deals, sometimes last minute, that annoy those who signed up earlier for a larger fee.

One frustrated athlete posted the following on our EnduranceSportsFlorida website in response to a comment by Sam Abbitt, race director for the Savage Race.

Here’s Abbitt’s original comment:

“I do agree that the daily deals like Living Social and Groupon are TERRIBLE for the sport. They are bad for organizers, bad for participants, and generally make for an extremely watered-down event where the only people making any money are the daily deal providers. Participants should remember that they are going to get what they pay for. If you want a great race for the money, come try Savage Race. Yes it costs more than some other events, but we make it worth it. We focus on producing the best event experience possible for our participants – not on the lowest possible price.”

Here’s the reader’s response:

“Funny, I just signed up for a Savage Race and I got a different perspective. In the future I may only do it again if I get a Groupon or LivingSocial discount. (I just search the Internet and found Savage Race is offering a LivingSocial deal for one of their races). Their regular $79 or higher entry fee quickly increases with additional mandatory fees: $12 for insurance, $7 or $8 processing fee, $10 for parking out in the country. Funny how they feel it is appropriate to basically (add) on their cost of doing business as additional fees to their prices. How would you like it if when you checked out at Wal-mart they added a parking fee, an insurance fee, a credit card fee, and a cost of having a building fee? They have those costs, but they are factored into their prices. They like to treat their customers with respect instead of trying to game them into paying more. Why not just make the price the total price, so you don’t leave your customers feeling tricked or taken advantage of with all the “additional fees?” And you wonder why people go for Groupons? Because if you don’t you feel like an even bigger sucker after you see them offered and you already paid full price plus all the fees. Just my two cents…”

Abbitt’s response:

“Thanks for the message. Below is my response to your points.

1. Parking fees, insurance fees, processing, etc: Yes we charge for this stuff. We have to. These a-la-carte fees are legitimate costs that we have to pass on to the participant. If you want the kind of obstacles that we shell out the big bucks to build, that money has to come from somewhere. Our courses cost hundreds of thousands, our insurance is expensive, and we pay a big premium to get the best venues too. There are certainly less expensive events out there. We don’t pretend to be the cheapest. You compare us to Wal-Mart in your comment. We’re not the Wal-Mart of obstacle races.

SavageWall2. We don’t “game” people into paying more. In fact, we are very forthcoming about the cost of our events on our website. Look on our event page. It’s all there. Not to mention that the fees we charge are all pretty much industry standard stuff when you compare us to other events in our class.

3. We recently ran a Living Social offer in a new market. Living Social has changed their marketing format since I made my original post. They are now more willing to work with vendors and will negotiate deals that do not require race producers to LOSE money on sales. I did say that I would never use them before, but they’ve changed the way they do business so that it makes sense for us. Things change. The important thing is that we are able to manage it without ruining the integrity of our events because we don’t have the funds to finance a decent race.

Your analysis is unfair.

I think that this only fair comparison for our business is the event industry, not retail, where margins are often 100% or greater. More specifically, take a look at the obstacle racing industry.

Event Industry Overview

1) Almost all major events sold via online platforms with credit cards have to charge a processing fee. Look at sporting events, concerts, marathons, triathlons, and other major obstacle races. In this space, it’s an expectation of the customer to pay a fee like this. We are not dishonest about it. It’s plainly listed on our website and the fees are presented prior to purchase.

2) Most events have to charge for parking too. Look to major players in the categories I listed above and see what they are charging.

Savage20123) Insurance fees are unique to our industry. The major players in obstacle racing all charge for this, with the exception of Warrior Dash. Warrior Dash has smaller obstacles and presumably do not have to deal with the same insurance rates we have to pay. They do, however charge $20 for parking last I check. (Editor’s Note: Warrior Dash did advertise a $20 parking fee prior to its Florida event last month, but charged $10.) I’m guessing they do this to offset insurance cost. Again, the insurance fee is plainly listed just below our pricing schedule so that the customer may consider that when making the purchase.

4) Living Social deals are kind of a scary thing for promoters. Usually they are loss leaders, and the hope is that they will encourage their friends to come later. I’m opposed to using them in general, but sometimes it is necessary to kick off a buzz in a new market. The fair thing to do with a Living Social deal is to offer it EARLY so that people don’t feel like they are getting swindled later as you describe. We have only tried Living Social ONE TIME as a test, and we did not wait until the 11th hour to send it. Were you personally affected by our Living Social deal?

I think your characterization of our company is unfair. We are extremely customer oriented, and I take great pride in being an honest person and in creating a product that provides tremendous value to our customers. We do things like send out random thank you gifts to our loyal customers ALL THE TIME.

I’m sorry if you dislike our pricing structure, and we don’t really have the influence to rewrite those rules.

Just as an FYI, here’s a breakdown of some of the major obstacle race players pricing schedule as of this month:

Tough Mudder

Entry $95-180
Parking $10 to $20 depending on venue
Insurance $15
Processing 7.125%

Spartan Race

Entry $95-145
Parking – $10
Insurance – $14
Processing – 9.5%

Savage Race

Entry $79-109 (Florida)
Parking – $10 disclosed on site
Insurance – $12 disclosed on site
Fee – 5%+3 visible at checkout”

(End of Abbitt’s response)

HeroScaffoldFor many athletes, it’s not the cost of an obstacle race entry fee (which is significant), but all of the add-on costs as outlined above. The one many take issue with is parking. Would you be surprised to learn that obstacle races pay, at most, $30,000 to rent property for a weekend event that could gross in excess of $1 million? (In the case of Tough Mudder; most events gross far less.) In effect, they’re more than covering their rent money with parking.

I’ve never been to a triathlon that charged for parking, though a lot of triathlons have five-figure costs associated with shutting down roads. Triathlons take care of insurance costs by paying a nominal fee to USA Triathlon, which in turn requires all participating athletes to be USAT members. Obstacle racing does not have a governing body to provide similar insurance. We can see a day when there might be such an organization, but it’s hard to imagine an insurance provider offering coverage across the board the way USA Triathlon does for tris or USA Track and Field does for road racing. (The USATF insurance coverage specifically forbids obstacles in any USATF-sanctioned race.)

Hey, more power to obstacle races for, in effect, boosting income by breaking out the charges. It’s what the market will bear. We’re certainly not picking on Savage Race; they don’t do anything differently from Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, and everyone else.

DavyJonesStill, we’re betting that obstacle racing is soon going to become a buyer’s market, at least judging by the increasing number of Living Social deals we’re seeing, even from the likes of established tours such as Spartan Race and Rugged Maniac. A cottage industry has sprung up with obstacle-related websites partnering with races to offer coupon codes. The races kick back money to the sites each time the code is used.

With so many discount codes floating around, nobody ever expects to pay full price for an obstacle race no matter how early they register. As a result, the race directors break out more and more of the costs to make the base price look lower. It’s an endless cycle, one that gets more confusing all the time.

At the very least, this will be good for the customer. With no end to the number of events, nobody can sustain attendance and that will mean more competition for athletes. Perhaps they might even start providing free post-race refreshments like triathlons and road races.

Warrior Dash drew 9,000 to Lake Wales, Fla., last month, which was about the same as last year. But Warrior offered deep discounts early and presumably made less money. Dirty Girl drew a modest 2,000 or so to Dade City last weekend for its Florida debut. We’re wondering how Tough Mudder will do with three Florida events in 2013 when it had just one Florida event in 2012 – and that was just in December.

We’re bullish on obstacle racing, of course. But we’re also guessing the winners in this ever-competitive field will be the ones who provide the best value. And that likely will include slashing some of the add-on charges, including them in one lower base rate.

 

 

Savage Race Heads to Little Everglades for Fall Race (May 14, 2012)

By Pete Williams

(Published May 14, 2012)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.

 

In March, Savage Race attracted more than 5,000 athletes, including ESPN anchor Stuart Scott (above/photos courtesy Savage Race)

In March, Savage Race attracted more than 5,000 athletes, including ESPN anchor Stuart Scott (above/photos courtesy Savage Race)

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.

SavageRaceLogo“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.

Savage Race Gets Tougher (Feb. 6, 2012)

After a successful 2011 debut, Savage Race is taking a page from Tough Mudder

After a successful 2011 debut, Savage Race is taking a page from Tough Mudder

By Pete Williams

(Published Feb. 6, 2012) – 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.

SavageRaceLogoThat’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.

The Ultimate Obstacle Race (Dec. 7, 2011)

Our ultimate obstacle race, unlike this Tough Mudder in Pennsylvania, would not include ice. (Photo courtesy Tough Mudder)

Our ultimate obstacle race, unlike this Tough Mudder in Pa., would not include ice. (Photo courtesy Tough Mudder)

By Pete Williams

(Published Dec. 7, 2011) - We’ve devoted a lot of space this year to coverage of obstacle races - 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 ice plunge is a must

An ice plunge is a must

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).

We like weighted carries

We like weighted carries

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.

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.

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.

The mandatory mud barbwire crawl

The mandatory mud barbwire crawl

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.

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.

The SUP obstacle

The SUP obstacle

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.

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.

The Savage rope ladder wall

The Savage rope ladder wall

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.

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.

The Tough Mudder "ballshrinker," shown here in New England, is a crowd pleaser (Courtesy Tough Mudder)

The Tough Mudder “ballshrinker,” shown here in New England, is a crowd pleaser (Courtesy Tough Mudder)

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.

Mud Wars: What Races Will Survive in 2012? (Nov. 11, 2011)

 

Hay bales are a staple at obstacle races. A saturated market should result in more creative obstacles in 2012.

Hay bales are a staple at obstacle races. A saturated market should result in more creative obstacles in 2012.

By Pete Williams

(Published Nov. 11, 2011) – 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.

Unconventional training required

Unconventional training required

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?

“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:

Tough Mudder: Leader in the clubhouse?

Tough Mudder: Leader in the clubhouse?

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 post-workout recovery drink sponsor.

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.

Water obstacles present a challenge for non-swimmers

Water obstacles present a challenge for non-swimmers

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.

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.

Obstacle Run Specialization? (Aug. 29, 2011)

By Pete Williams

Takes a certain type of training

Takes a certain type of training

(Published Aug. 29, 2011) – 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.

Savage Race: Dialing up the Intensity (March 10, 2012)

Geishel Valverde of Miami moves quickly through the Savage Race ice plunge

Geishel Valverde of Miami moves quickly through the Savage Race ice plunge (Photo courtesy of Savage Race)

By Pete Williams

CLERMONT, Fla. – (Published March 11, 2012) -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.

ESPN anchor Stuart Scott raved about his Savage Race experience

ESPN anchor Stuart Scott raved about his Savage Race experience (Photo courtesy of Savage Race)

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.

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.

SavageRaceLogoObstacle 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.

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.

Savage provided some imposing monkey bars

Savage provided some imposing monkey bars (Photo courtesy of Savage Race)

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.

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.)