Tag Archives: Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder Moves Tampa Event to Fort Meade (Feb. 15, 2012)

By Pete Williams

(Published Feb. 15, 2012) – Tough Mudder, the wildly popular obstacle mud run series that drew 20,000 athletes to Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City in December, is moving to Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade for this year’s event Dec. 1-2.

One of Tough Mudder's signature obstacles (Courtesy Tough Mudder)

One of Tough Mudder’s signature obstacles (Courtesy Tough Mudder)

Tough Mudder spokesperson Jane Di Leo said the change was made to “give our participants a challenge, whether it is their first Tough Mudder or fifth. The change to the new location in Fort Meade is a way for us to continue to offer a variety of courses to our participants and to offer others throughout the state easy access to our events.”

Dirty Foot Adventures, located in southern Polk County, is just 60 miles from Tampa or Bradenton and 70 from Orlando or Sarasota. The sprawling facility is used for dirt bike and ATV racing and in October hosted the Iron Crusader mud run, which drew about 1,300 runners for an inaugural event.

toughmudderlogoGeno Stopowenko, the vice president of marketing for Dirty Foot Adventures, says Tough Mudder first approached them between 18 and 24 months ago as it was searching for a site for the 2011 event. He said the property also has fielded inquiries from Warrior Dash and other obstacle mud runs about putting on a race at the 1,800-acre facility, which includes miles of trails, creek beds, and other natural terrain.

“This property is the total package,” said Stopowenko, who said Dirty Foot plans to stage its own five-mile obstacle race some time in May. “Every time someone comes to check it out they immediately try to negotiate with us. We’ve hosted events of more than a thousand people, nothing to the magnitude Tough Mudder will bring, but we’ll be ready.”

Little Everglades Ranch, which hosts equestrian and cross country running events, received rave reviews as the site of the inaugural Florida Tough Mudder. The 11.5-mile course was spread out across the Pasco County property and included water obstacles, muddy ravines, and plenty of room for the race’s signature obstacles such as Mt. Everest, the Ball Shrinker, and the Chernobyl Jacuzzi (above).

Convenient to Tampa and Orlando, with plenty of room for parking, Little Everglades seemed a likely site for 2012 and, indeed, Tough Mudder listed a Dec. 1-2, 2012 Tampa event on its Web site within days of last year’s event.

Tough Mudder still lists Tampa as the site of this year’s event. Polk County is considered part of the greater Tampa Bay area.

homewin1The scheduling at Dirty Foot Adventures seems to finalize the Florida scheduling for Tough Mudder, which has been in flux for weeks. At one point, Tough Mudder’s website listed 2012 races without dates for Jacksonville, Miami, and Pensacola before updating them to “coming in 2013.”

Di Leo said Tough Mudder did not have solid dates for those locations in 2012, but “we are very excited to host events in these locations in 2013.”

Billed as “the toughest endurance test on the planet,” Tough Mudder is a grueling 10-to-12 mile trail run containing 20 military style obstacles designed by British Special Forces. Conceived by CEO Will Dean while at Harvard Business School, it debuted in March of 2010, expanded to 14 races last year and 32 this year. Athletes complete the course by navigating a field charged with 10,000 volts of electricity, receiving an orange finisher’s headband for their efforts.

Tough Mudder has become the most popular race in the booming obstacle mud run category, successfully marketing to the 21-to-45 year old demographic and to some degree replacing triathlon and half-marathons as the leading aspirational endurance test. Tough Mudder does not issue timing chips or finishing times, stressing that it’s not a race. That inspires groups of friends to sign up together and complete the race as a single unit, often at a leisurely pace.

That has fueled revenues, which could eclipse $100 million for the three-year-old company in 2012. Tough Mudder, like other events in the category, has raised entry fees considerably. Last year, athletes registering for the Tampa race paid as little as $60 for the Saturday race and $80 for Sunday if they registered by March 15 and $100 (Saturday) or $80 (Sunday) through June 15.

This year, Tough Mudder made no distinction between the days and offered a $95 “early bird discount” through yesterday. The registration fee is $125 from Feb. 16 through May 31, $155 from June 1 through Oct. 31 and $200 after Nov. 1.

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.

Muddy Buddy Miami Preview (Nov. 15, 2011)

Navigating the Muddy Buddy mud pit. The race faces increased competition.

Navigating the Muddy Buddy mud pit. The race faces increased competition.

By Pete Williams

(Published Nov. 15, 2011) – Just two years ago, Muddy Buddy had a near monopoly on the obstacle mud run category, at least among national tours.

These days, it seems a new mud series launches every week, which has stolen some of the thunder from Muddy Buddy’s all-inclusive, entry-level, bike-and-run, obstacle barnstorming tour, which finishes the 2012 campaign Sunday at Zoo Miami.

Bob Babbitt, who created the series 12 years ago, says there’s a place for all of the races.

“It’s like running where you have races from 5K to marathon and even further,” he says. “Now you have Muddy Buddy, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder. There’s plenty of variety and athletes have no shortage of options.”

There’s a lot to like about Muddy Buddy that other events haven’t duplicated. The two-person, leapfrog format is unique. One competitor starts out on the bike, rides to the first obstacle, completes the first challenge and takes off running. Meanwhile the second athlete runs to the bike. After about six miles of changing off, the athletes meet up at the mudpit for a 50-yard crawl.

The bike leg at Disney's Wide World of Sports

The bike leg at Disney’s Wide World of Sports

Athletes compete in male/male, female/female, or mixed divisions and numerous marriage proposals have been made in the mud pit. A frequent refrain is that a Muddy Buddy race might be the perfect third date.

For all the talk about entering other mud runs as teams, that’s usually irrelevant once the race starts. At Muddy Buddy, you must compete as a team since you’re sharing a bike.

Plus, only at Muddy Buddy can you roll back your age. That’s because most scoring divisions are by combined age. In April, I teamed with a 58-year-old triathlete training partner for Muddy Buddy Orlando  and we finished 12th out of 70 teams in the new “competitive” age category, which Muddy Buddy added this year for those who take their mud runs seriously. (The competitive division goes first, thus avoiding the inevitable backup of traffic on the course.)

On Sunday, I’ll team with a 20-year-old pal, also from my tri group, who goes to college in South Florida. Not surprisingly, there’s been plenty of trash talk between my two buddies over which team will post the better 2011 time. (That’s assuming I haven’t gotten any faster or slower in seven months.)

We recently spoke with Babbitt, the unofficial historian of the endurance sports world who dresses in a frog suit for each Muddy Buddy event, on The Fitness Buff Show.

Name of Race: Columbia Muddy Buddy

When: Sunday, November 20, 2011, Zoo Miami, 8 a.m.

History: This is a second-annual event at Zoo Miami, though the Muddy Buddy series is 12 years old.

PeteMossBuddy3Format: Two-person teams with one bike between them leapfrog over a roughly six-mile course, dealing with obstacles and a mud pit at the end of the course.

Amenities: T-shirts, post-race food

Noteworthy: This is the Muddy Buddy season finale. A proposed season championship for the Dec. 3-4 weekend in Punta Gorda was scrapped once Tough Mudder scheduled a race in Pasco County the same weekend.

Projected Turnout: 900 two-person teams

Registration: Online through Nov. 16 at $150/team. Day-of-race registration available space permitting.

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.

Too Late, Too Hot? (Aug. 11, 2011)

 

Too late in the day to be running in August?

Too late in the day to be running in August?

By Pete Williams

(Published August 11, 2011) – Should endurance sports events held in July and August ever start after 8 a.m. and go beyond 11 a.m?

Or is the heat issue overblown?

These seem like reasonable questions to ask in light of two deaths in last weekend’s New York City Triathlon and, according to the Kansas City Star, two deaths in a Warrior Dash event in Kansas City on July 30.

There’s a reason we have relatively few triathlons in Florida during the summer months. Even those the Sunshine State does host are usually sprint-distance with start times around 7 a.m. That means even with multiple waves and accounting for slower athletes, everyone is off the course by 9:30 a.m.

Unfortunately, the rest of the country seems to forget that weather everywhere in July and August can be every bit as punishing as what we have in Florida.

Oppressive summer temperatures seem to be more of a concern in obstacle mud runs than in triathlon, where deaths tend to take place in the swim, with stress and pre-existing heart conditions usually contributing more than heat. Triathletes are accustomed to getting up at the crack of dawn to train and race early, avoiding the high temperatures.

This doesn’t mean heat in triathlon is not a concern. Next year, Ironman is debuting in New York/New Jersey on August 12. Tomorrow’s expected high in Manhattan is 85 degrees. Would you want to spend 13 to 16 hours pushing your body through summer New York heat? There’s a reason half of NYC heads out of town in August. At least the SUP athletes paddling 26.5 miles around Manhattan tomorrow will need only 4 to 6 hours (starting at 7 a.m.).

Why so late? With 10,000 to 20,000 athletes in some instances, organizers have to spread them out, but that’s only part of the reason. Obstacle mud runs appeal to the 21-to-34 demographic that’s more likely to want to sleep late. Mud run athletes (of all ages) also tend to be less serious than triathletes. I’m always amazed to participate in an obstacle mud run and see people walking less than a mile into it. Many of these athletes have trained little, if at all, and are stunned at the difficulty of some of the obstacles. (The Warrior Dash, however, is regarded as one of the less challenging of the obstacle mud runs.)

Too hot to handle?

Too hot to handle?

Obstacle mud runs like the Warrior Dash, however, tend to start later and attract thousands of participants that go off in waves that don’t start until 8 a.m. – sometimes later – and go on for hours. That means there are participants on the course until mid/late afternoon.

Usually heat concerns can be eliminated with proper scheduling. Tough Mudder, for instance, will make its Florida debut in Pasco County in December. The Spartan Race takes place in Miami in January. Muddy Buddy, though a much easier event, takes no chances, staging its Florida races in early April (Orlando) and late November (Miami).

This weekend, Warrior Dash will head to Windham, New York, where the expected high temperature is 77 on Saturday and 65 on Sunday. Heat should not be an issue.

As the endurance sports calendar gets more crowded, with more races launched to compete in a market that shows no signs of slowing down, there will be fewer available dates. That pushes races into cities and dates that might be too hot to handle.

Part of the allure of the obstacle mud runs is the unknown, to push your body further and face obstacles as they come. That also explains to some degree the CrossFit phenomenon.

And, of course, there’s a reason we call them endurance sports. This summer has been one of the hottest on record throughout the country. If you can’t stand the heat, some athletes argue, stay off the course or train harder.

But it’s worth noting that The Death Race, arguably the toughest event in the endurance world, takes place in Vermont in late June when the average high temperature is 75.

Though it’s a brutal test of endurance, nobody has died in the event’s seven-year history. But could it be that some of these other events, far less challenging but in much hotter climates, are becoming more dangerous tests of endurance?

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?

NATIONAL SERIES EVENTS

MERRELL DOWN & DIRTY

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.

MUDDY BUDDY

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.

ORIGINAL MUD RUN

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.

PRIMAL CHALLENGE: A MUDVENTURE QUEST

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!”

SPARTAN RACE

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.

TOUGH MUDDER

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.

WARRIOR DASH

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

FLORIDA-BASED EVENTS

FLORIDA DIRTY DUO

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.

HIGHLANDER

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.

IRON MUDDER

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.”

SAVAGE RACE

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.

Others:

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

RELATED STORIES

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

Tough Mudder: Growing Pains (Dec. 1, 2012)

A competitor face plants at Tough Mudder's Mt. Everest Saturday in Sarasota

A competitor face plants at Tough Mudder’s Mt. Everest Saturday in Sarasota

By Pete Williams

SARASOTA, Fla. – (Published Dec. 2, 2012) – By now athletes know what to expect from Tough Mudder. There will be a well-organized event of 11 to 12 miles of physical and Fear Factor-style obstacles, adequate water stops, free post-race refreshments, and even a sharp Under Armour T-shirt.

Since Will Dean took a Harvard Business School project and turned it into Tough Mudder in March of 2010, it has grown into a global phenomenon that will draw more than 500,000 participants and gross $70 million this year.

toughmudderlogoNo company in American business has better harnessed social media, especially Facebook. Tough Mudder now includes major sponsors such as Under Armour, EAS, Bic, and Dos Equis. Dean says Tough Mudder will draw 1 million participants in 2013 and there no doubt are at least that many people still angling to post Timeline photos of themselves smiling, exhausted, and wearing the signature orange finisher’s headband.

Tough Mudder always has been something of the Woodstock of sports with its big crowds of young people, mud, silliness, and rural locations not unlike Max Yasgur’s farm. In recent months, the analogy has become too appropriate. Traffic delays of four-plus hours, first near Frederick, Md., in September and on Saturday here getting to the Hi Hat Ranch off I-75, have raised the question of whether Tough Mudder has become too big to be staged at off-road venues connected to interstates by two-lane roads.

I

Crossing the Funky Monkey

Crossing the Funky Monkey

In March, Tough Mudder will host its first South Florida event at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, a facility accustomed to welcoming gatherings of 70,000 people. Dan Weinberg, Tough Mudder’s director of strategic partnerships, said two weeks ago that the speedway was chosen because of its vast infrastructure, parking, and experience handling large crowds.

With Tough Mudder routinely attracting 25,000 people over two days, we’re guessing we’ll see the event move into similar large venues. Weinberg said Tough Mudder already is looking at other NASCAR facilities. That could make it more of challenge to replicate the backwoods formula that has become arguably the most effective in the obstacle mud run industry.

Spartan Race, with its 30-Burpee penalties for failed obstacle attempts, three race distances, and more competitive mentality, remains the more challenging event. Unlike Tough Mudder, which does not track results or even distribute timing chips, Spartan is billed as an actual race and does a better job coming up with challenges unique to each race venue.

 

The climb to the starting line

The climb to the starting line

But Tough Mudder proved again this weekend why it provides the best overall race-day experience for the masses and for that Warrior Dash, the other major national player on the obstacle race scene, with a more modest 5K race, should be worried. In an industry known for being chintzy with refreshments, T-shirts and other race window dressing, Tough Mudder delivers big-time.

There’s the no-line registration area, free bag check, and several hundred port-a-potties. There’s the memorable pre-race briefing with an emcee who is part comedian and part motivational speaker, sort of a cross between Chris Rock and Tony Robbins. There are the frequent water stops with bananas and packets of gel “chomps.” There’s the finish chute with Dos Equis backpacks and all-you-can-grab Clif bars and EAS recovery drink packets. (EAS ready-to-drink products are available at a nearby tent).

There’s a black Under Armour tech shirt (women’s sizes, too), replacing the unisex, gray, cotton shirts Tough Mudder provided previously. Instead of a concert-shirt style race tour calendar on the back, there’s now the Tough Mudder pre-race pledge recited pre-race. (“I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time. I do not whine – kids whine,” etc.)

Walking the plank

Walking the plank

There’s a Dos Equis keg toss, with those who can hoist an empty keg far enough winning a second free beer to go with the one received for finishing. There’s a live band most of the day and a massive merchandise tent doing brisk sales, perhaps the biggest testament to the Tough Mudder marketing machine.

The course itself remains challenging, but in talking to fellow veterans of last year’s Tough Mudder Florida debut at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County, the consensus was that it felt easier. Maybe it’s because we’ve now done so many other races, some of which have replicated Tough Mudder’s signature “Arctic Enema” ice plunge, “Mount Everest” half-pipe lunge, and “Walk the Plank” jump of 10-12 feet into water. Maybe it’s because Tough Mudder’s notorious race-ending, 10,000-volt “Electroshock Therapy” doesn’t usually deliver much of a current. (Not that we’re complaining, though.) Maybe it’s because the claustrophobia-inducing “Trench Warfare” crawl through freshly-dug tunnels doesn’t seem as uncomfortable as the pitch-black labyrinth of the firefighter-themed Hero Rush event.

Or maybe it’s because this year’s course did not feature as many different obstacles as the 2011 edition. There were no cargo nets to climb or roll over, no hay bale pyramid to navigate, or even a balance beam. There was no peg board wall that required athletes to scale from side to side. And for a race that has fire in its logo, there was no fire to run through or jump over as there was last year at Little Everglades Ranch. Instead there were four or five near-identical marches up dirt and through water for several repetitions.

TMTampa2013fTough Mudder still is new enough that most participants are first-timers. But for returning customers, some variety would be nice. It’s like attending a concert for a familiar band. You want to hear their signature tunes, but expect some new material. Tough Mudder, of course, must cart some of its obstacles all over the country, so there are limitations. That gives an advantage to some of the Florida-based races such as The Highlander and the Dirty Foot Adventure Run, which have permanent homes and can keep adding obstacles to existing courses.

The only major addition to this year’s Florida Tough Mudder, albeit a brutal one, was a 300-yard “Wounded Warrior” carry. Athletes grabbed partners and carried them piggy-back or fireman’s style 150 yards before switching off. I had the misfortune of arriving at this obstacle with only two of my kilt-clad Running Commando teammates, both of whom weigh 165-170 and were perfectly matched. I  ended up with a 190-pound partner, which probably explains why all 154 pounds of me are aching this morning.

Little Everglades was a better venue last year than Hi Hat and not just because of better traffic patterns. The scenic, well-manicured Pasco County ranch is accustomed to staging big events and, unlike Hi Hat, there’s more natural water. At Hi Hat, the “Hold Your Wood” log carry took you through the woods. At Little Everglades, athletes went through water for that and for other obstacles, such as a memorable 200-yard slog through waist-deep water where at times you’d sink further in the muck.

Tough Mudder spokesperson Jane Di Leo said earlier in the year that the event did not return to Little Everglades since it wanted to provide athletes with a variety of venues. Its first choice for the 2012 Tampa area event, Dirty Foot Adventures in Fort Meade, was nixed when Polk County, fearing traffic tie-ups, refused to issue a permit for an event of such magnitude. Dirty Foot has since held two successful smaller races of 1,000 or so athletes and will host on third on March 9.

The 5-mile Savage Race, which has emulated some of Tough Mudder’s business model, including a number of its obstacles, moved from Clermont to Little Everglades in October and will return on April 13. Savage flew a plane over Tough Mudder on Saturday pulling a banner pledging “more obstacles per mile.” We continue to be amazed at how many Tough Mudder competitors walk most of the course, so perhaps Savage’s less-running formula is a wise one. (Outside Magazine recently chronicled how Tough Mudder emulated Britain’s Tough Guy and how Savage emulated Tough Mudder.)

Then again, Tough Mudder’s longer course remains one of the more popular challenges in endurance sports, even for those who don’t wish to run all of it. We’re curious to see what location Tough Mudder chooses for its scheduled Tampa-area event on Nov. 2-3, 2013 since it’s hard to imagine Sarasota County issuing another permit for Hi Hat after this weekend’s traffic snarls.

TMTampa2013aWe can’t think of a Central Florida venue like Homestead-Miami Speedway with multiple entrances and vast stretches of parking surrounded by hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, to say nothing of a vast man-made lake in the facility that can be incorporated into the course. Daytona International Speedway is surrounded by an airport, hotels, and commercial development.

No matter. We’re guessing Tough Mudder officials will figure that out in the next few months, further fueling the fastest-growing property in endurance sports.

Dirty Foot: Home Field Advantage (June 9, 2012)

The watermelon crawl added to the degree of gooey difficulty at the Dirty Foot Adventure Run

The watermelon crawl added to the degree of gooey difficulty at the Dirty Foot Adventure Run

By Pete Williams

FORT MEADE, Fla. – (Published June 11, 2012) – With obstacle races appearing on the calendar most every weekend in Florida, it’s become next to impossible to stand out in a crowded field.

But the Dirty Foot Adventure Run, which debuted here Saturday at a facility best known for motocross racing, managed to add a number of creative wrinkles to the category.

Geno Stopowenko, the marketing director for Dirty Foot Adventures, vowed to put on a first-class race at his property after leasing it last fall to a one-and-done race promoter that staged a forgettable event.

DirtyFootLogoStopowenko succeeded with his race, largely by taking advantage of the topography of the property and adding to the degree of difficulty of obstacle race staples. There were the familiar wooden walls, monkey bars, rope climbs, and balance obstacles. But by making them steeper or providing fewer footholds, Dirty Foot was a more technical course than most we’ve undertaken.

The race began with a challenging half-mile slog through a muddy motocross course where athletes were pelted by dozens of face-high sprinklers. From there it was into the woods for a trail run that included muddy ditches, balance beams, and waist-high water obstacles.

The course measured roughly six miles and while there were plenty of obstacles, this was a race suited to distance runners. Unlike the popular Savage Race, which at its Clermont event in March had backups at several obstacles that unintentionally gave athletes a rest, Dirty Foot offered few respites from long stretches of running.

DirtyFootRace2With the exception of the 8.5-mile Super Spartan in Miami in February, which featured 30-Burpee penalties for failed obstacles, we can’t recall feeling as physically challenged at a race of this distance.

I entered the competitive division and came out bruised, bloodied, and scraped up, a product of my reckless racing style rather than any safety shortcomings on the part of the course. Kudos to Dirty Foot’s first-aid team that quickly patched me up while dislodging the jammed finger of one of my kilt-clad Running Commando teammates in the process.

Dirty Foot is the first obstacle race we know of where the property owners have hosted the race. That gave Stopowenko plenty of time to prepare – he even hosted several obstacle racing groups, including Running Commando, to preview the course and provide input two months ago – and it allows him to leave the obstacles up permanently and add to what’s already a strong course. (A second event already is open for registration for Sept. 8).

Stopowenko followed our suggestions and even convinced Mother Nature to deliver the massive rain the course needed for many of the obstacles.

Signature challenges included a Tarzan-style rope swing over water that was impossible to clear without taking a plunge; a technical up-and-under rope obstacle through a cattle gate; a 100-yard belly crawl under wire through crushed watermelons; and a race-ending 15-foot plunge off a platform followed by a 40-yard swim to the finish line. (Life jackets and substitute challenges were available to non-swimmers).

We’ll deduct a few points for long lines for registration and for a starting line that was little more than a touch pad and a guy with a bullhorn. We’d also like to see more races follow the lead of The Highlander (and our own Streak the Cove 5K and Caliente Bare Dare 5K) and go with soft, fitted Tultex T-shirts. Still, the Dirty Foot shirts – aqua Gildan numbers with no sponsor logos cluttering the back – were better than the tired concert calendar look the well-heeled Spartan Race and Tough Mudder have trotted out. (To say nothing of Mud Crusade, which did not give out T-shirts for its debut event in April.)

But we can live with a modest starting line and a non-Tultex T-shirt when a race puts money into four water stops with bottled water in the form of those new shrink-wrap plastic containers. And Dirty Foot also sprung for AltaVista Sports, the gold standard for race timing in Florida. Results were posted quickly both at the finish line and online.

 

Team Running Commando: winners of the largest team award at Dirty Foot

Team Running Commando: winners of the largest team award at Dirty Foot

Dirty Foot also provided one of the better post-race setups we’ve seen, converting the race’s last obstacle into a “party on the pond,” providing a zipline over the 40-yard water obstacle.

 

We’re guessing Dirty Foot may have fallen a little short of its goal of 1,500 to 2,000 athletes, but for a first-time event the numbers were about right. This race has plenty of room to grow and we’re looking forward to getting our feet dirty again.