Monday, September 26, 2016

The business of Obstacle Course Racing

Obstacle Course Racing, commonly referred to as OCR, is an event typically organized in an outdoor setting that takes participants, traveling on foot, over the course of 3 miles and up to 15 miles or more while navigating various man-made and natural terrain physical challenges placed in their path.  The challenges are referred to as Obstacles.  These courses can be walked or ran.  A standard 3-mile course can typically take on average 1 to 2 hours but there is no time limit except for the hours of operation of the specific event.

OCR began in 1987 in the United Kingdom with an event called Tough Guy.  A few events popped up in the United States, such as the Camp Pendleton Original Mud Run that started in 1992, however popularity did not become widespread in the United States until the late 2000’s when companies like Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Race developed and starting having events in multiple locations around the country.  Participation levels in 2009 was around 100,000.  In 2015, participation levels were approximately 5 million spread across approximately 1000 events around the country with about 300 companies.  These numbers are approximate and very difficult to determine because many of the events are not timed and do not publish numbers of participation.  The number of events hit a high around 2014 and have been on a slight decline since.  In my opinion, this is due to a complete lack of understanding on the part of the companies as to what their market consists of and how to market their product.

The market of OCR is unlike anything else in the country as it truly can be accomplished by participants of any age or level of fitness.  The running industry, for example, is limited to only people that run.  Very few running events accept or allow people to walk.  OCR allows participants to complete the event in any fashion necessary. 

There are a documented 30 million runners in the United States and approximately 17 million of them will participate in an organized running event every year.  Since the market of OCR is more broad, we need to consider the population of the US as the market.  There are approximately 212 million people between the ages of 18 and 65.  If we conservatively remove half of them due to medical, financial or geographical restrictions, we are left with 100 million people capable of participating in OCR.  More than 3 times the potential market for traditional running events.  Considering the fact that only 5 million people are currently participating, the industry is currently operating at a 5% capacity with plenty of room to grow and expand.

In 2012, OCR participation was approximately 65% female.  It was about this time that many companies in the market started to change the focus from fun and challenging to ‘you might die’ if you try this.  In the fall of 2013 BattleFrog entered the market with a Navy Seal theme and was quickly noted as the most difficult OCR in the industry, continuing the changing trend of the demographic.  As a result, in 2015 the market had changed to 65% male participation.  In retrospect, this was an industry wide mistake.  This trend presents an opportunity to change public perception of OCR from ‘you might die’ to ‘it’s recess time, let’s go play’.  I firmly believe it is possible to focus on the remaining 95% of the potential market without the loss of quality or difficulty for the current market.  Any company that would have this focus would yield great gains.

Most OCR companies currently have themes of ‘Tough’, ‘Warrior’, ‘Savage’, ‘Death’, ‘Battle’, etc. and they market specifically to people that take extreme interests in health and fitness, like Crossfit.  This is counterproductive to their individual growth and the growth of the industry as a whole. 

Most of these companies operate every weekend as a ‘race’.  Properly, OCR is an event and the companies that exist in the market are event production companies.  This is only a ‘sport’ to about 1% of the population, yet most OCR companies promote their events as ‘you might die’.  I believe the potential market of people looking for ‘outdoor fun’ is enormous in comparison to the small market of people that are looking for that ‘near death’ experience.
Obesity in the United States has grown to epidemic levels.  There are very few opportunities to inspire people to get off the couch, get fit and stay fit.  Running isn’t for everyone, in OCR running isn’t required.  I firmly believe Obstacle Course Racing, or Mud Runs, can save this country.  Unfortunately, the people running the businesses of these events are ruining this opportunity for these people.  Many people see these events and think, “I could never do that” because the name sounds to ‘Tough’ or the description can be summarized into “you may die”, or the only pictures these companies use for advertising show the most physically fit people on the planet.  I guess that works if you only want to market to people in Crossfit but why would you limit yourself to such a small crowd?  Remember, the industry is currently operating at a 5% capacity and is on the decline, unless these companies change their strategies.

The typical OCR event will bring in a wide range of participation numbers from as low as 300 to as high as 10,000 and some events will bring in 10,000 people per day for an entire weekend.  What remains constant with these events are the averages of who the participants are.

The numbers may vary by a few percentages depending on the company but on average, OCR participation numbers are comprised of the following:
  • 80% of all participants are only out for a fun time and a great Facebook pic and are typically ‘One and Done’.
  • 25% will attend events from multiple production companies as long as it’s within an hour or two from their home
  • 20% will return as a repeat customer to your event that is within an 90 minutes from their home
  • 3% will travel up to 4 hours from their home to events
  • up to 5% participate for the competitive aspect.
  • another 5% will also participate for the endurance aspect.

The costs of producing an obstacle course race vary greatly from the once-a-year, mom-and-pop local events to the large travelling road shows with a full time staff.  The local events tend to be owned and operated by one or two people that spend the whole year building obstacles and planning just that one event.  They typically own the land they use or have some incredible agreement with the landowner that their event is held on.  They will sometimes get sponsors from the local lumber yard to supply the wood to build the obstacles and they get the local shirt shop to provide the shirts.  You get the idea.  These events can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 to produce and will bring in a few hundred to a few thousand participants.

The companies that put on an event every month, or sometimes every weekend, in a different location around the country have huge amounts of overhead.  They will typically have a corporate structure with corporate headquarters and many full-time employees.  The average cost for one of these companies to put on an event typically ranges from $200,000 to $400,000 but have been known to reach as high as $600,000.

What makes up these costs?  Following is an example of the corporate overhead costs and an estimated cost for each event build.

Corporate overhead could include the following: Corporate manger(s), Human Resources, Accounting, Marketing and Sales, Social Media, Registration, Customer Service, Volunteer Coordinator, Sponsorship Director, Director of Race Operations, Build Crew Leader(s), etc.  Overhead would include the costs for websites and other technology like timing chips.  There’s a cost for designing and building obstacles that can be assembled and disassembled and taken from location to location.  All of these costs, and many more, don’t forget your precious finisher’s medal and t-shirt, could range anywhere from $1,000,000 to $1,500,000 and way beyond.

Each event would be made up of, but not limited to, the following costs:
  • $10,000 to $40,000 for the use of the land
  • $25,000 to $50,000 in travel expenses for personnel
  • $10,000 to $20,000 in transportation costs to move everything to the event location
  • $20,000 in equipment rental
  • $40,000 in labor
  • $6,000 to $10,000 in water and snacks for the runners
  • $1,000 to $10,000 in marketing per event
  • $2,000 to $10,000 in photography per event
  • $5,000 to $15,000 in day-labor if you don’t get enough volunteers to staff the event.

Assuming the company wants to have only 10 events in one year.  If you add up all these costs, and more, then divide spread the overhead costs out evenly, you end up with an approximate cost of $300,000 to put on an event.

Documented averages show that 5% to 10% of participants register for Competitive or Extreme options for events.  The price for this level of participation varies greatly from company to company but let’s say it has an average cost of $125.  82% register for Open at an average price of $85 and 9% of the registration is for Kids at an average price of $30.  50% to 70% of all participants use a discount of some sort.  Using these numbers, the average price per registration would be around $75.  With a cost of $300,000 just to produce the event there would need to be a minimum of 4000 attendees just to break even.  Are you in shock yet?  Are you still whining about how expensive these events are?

Between 2012 and 2014, there was a spike in the OCR industry of events being held and companies trying to break into the market.  Some local and some travelling road shows.  Too many people look at the perceived success of Spartan, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash and think, “I can do that!”, “I’m going to be RICH!”.  They think “If I build it, they will come” and droves of millions of people will come flocking out of the corn fields just to run their event because they told someone on Facebook about it. 

To succeed as a company that can compete in this industry, the following should be considered.  Following these methods will bring anywhere from 3000 to 10000 participants to an event depending on how much effort you put into it.
  1. Brand the company with something that is fun and relatable to the larger percentage of the population.  Avoid all things related to ‘Battle’, ‘Tough’, etc.  The masses don’t want to feel like they could die at your event.  They just want to have fun and be a kid for a day.
  2. Theme the event so that all participants can feel as if they are a part of the production and can have fun.  I say this jokingly but there is a lot of truth to it.  If certain events were to change nothing but their name and branding to something like the ‘Rainbow Run’, people would come out by the thousands.  Don’t inherently limit yourself with bad branding.
  3. Make the event obtainable and achievable by the greater percentage of the population.  In the United States, the greater percentage of the population doesn’t even want to do a 5k.  Keep it short and attainable.  Distances greater than 5k will once again inherently limit your participation levels.  You can have the Competitive athletes run multiple laps but DO NOT focus on the 5%.
  4. Utilize the resources of the venue as much as possible to reach their customer base.  These events are quite often held on ATV Parks or Ski Resorts.  Take advantage of their following to drive your participation levels.
  5. Market to everyone but make females between the ages of 25 and 40 your main target market.  Without intentionally offending the ladies I will make the following statements.  No woman ever goes anywhere alone.  Women are the decision makers, especially for weekend activities.  For every one woman that buys a ticket, you will sell one to five more registrations.
  6. Make the event family friendly.  These events bring people together.  Parents struggle to get their kids outside and away from the electronics.  Have a family friendly atmosphere with a kid’s event and you will win.
  7. Use all means of online promotion from social media to websites.  Most event production companies utilize Facebook, Instagram and Twitter fairly well.  Where they fail is to utilize websites such as the local convention and visitor’s bureau or the local running store.  For every event you should be able to find anywhere from 50 to 200 websites that reach people locally within an hour or two of your event.
  8. Create press releases for every event and target all local media sources.  Hardly anyone does this.  For a minimal cost of $100 per event, you can reach tens of thousands of potential customers and get your event on the cover of the local Gazette.
  9. Promote locally to your events within a 50-mile radius.  This is done by traditional guerilla marketing using printed flyers and posters.  Radio and other local marketing tools may be considered on a case-by-case basis but only if you can target your audience.  The circus never came to town without letting everyone in the city know about it by plastering the town with flyers and posters.
  10. Create relationships with all forms of Convention & Visitors Bureau’s
  11. Familiarize yourself with and befriend the fanatic groups around the country depending on the geographic region you wish to operate in.  Groups like the Crazy Mudder Muckers, New England Spahtens and Weeple Army represent thousands of people that will help spread the word for you and become your ‘street team’.

Additionally, the event production companies need to consider collaborating.  There are certain areas of the country, such as Ohio, where there’s an OCR event practically every weekend.  The local producers have started working together to ensure they are not competing with each other by not planning events on the same weekend.  Cross-promoting each other’s events is an excellent way to increase the participation numbers.  Local events in some areas have even gone as far as creating incentives like a special medal or commemorative t-shirt if you run multiple events from multiple companies in a certain region.  The ‘big boys’ of the industry could learn a lot from these smaller organizations instead of intentionally planning events on the same weekend within 30 minutes of each other.  Actions like that do nothing but show ego, not intelligence.

The competitive side of the business is something that should still be considered, but remember what was said about the competitive participants.  Whether you refer to them as the Pro wave, Elite wave, Competitive or anything else, those that run for money make up 1% to 10% depending on the event.  They should not be the main focus.  In reality, 90% of those that run in these waves should not even be in these waves.  For most of these events there are only 3 podium spots.  If you have no chance of coming in the top 3 of these waves, or even the top 10, you have no business being there.  Competitive waves typically have around 100 participants but have been known to go as high as 600.  With that being said, the competitive waves cost more and the organizers of these events are doing everything they can to stroke the ever-growing egos of those that choose to run in these waves, even if they don’t stand a chance of making it to the podium, it makes them feel good that they actually participated in the Elite wave and they will gladly pay the extra amount to be there.

The single biggest mistake made by any event production company is to have a ‘Pro Team’.  There is no return on the investment.  Zero, zilch, nada.  Several organizations have sponsored athletes that they pay to go out and run these races with the hopes that they will get on the podium.  One of the biggest mistakes in the industry is paying pro team members to run your own race.  Spartan Race is notorious for this and BattleFrog used to do it as well.  What good does it do to pay a monthly stipend to an athlete to be your pro team member, pay to have them decked out in professionally branded gear, pay all the expenses for that athlete to travel to your event, give them free entry to your event and then pay them the podium amount if and when they get on the podium?  All this just so a small handful of people that check out the awards ceremony get to see a BattleFrog pro team member win a BattleFrog Race.

Remember the numbers of participation mentioned before?  Remember that a minimum of 80% of those participating are only out to have fun with the hopes of getting a decent Facebook photo.  They don’t know anything about any of these competitive runners.  They don’t care and never will.  This once again points to the fact that this is not a true sport but an event.  People play sports like basketball or baseball at the park.  People watch them on TV or go to a game and people know who the players are.  The only people that know who the ‘players’ are in OCR are the players themselves and a small group of fanatics.  Yes, a select few of the very top athletes have graced the cover of magazines but they aren’t being featured on ESPN.  If these athletes want to run for money, let them, but for event organizers to sponsor them and pay them is nothing but a money drain.

In the end, the business of Obstacle Course Racing is very demanding, difficult and ever-changing.  Most of the people that are in it, are in it because they love it and the people that come to the events.  The community is incredible and the events are life-changing for the positive.  The feelings and emotions range from a sense of accomplishment to experiences that are borderline religious.  It’s one of the few addictions that are good for you and everyone around you.  I only hope the industry continues to grow in a positive direction, allowing the remaining 95% to experience it.  I have heard it said many times, “if the rest of the world treated each other like the people participating in an OCR treat each other on the course, the world would be an incredible place.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Going down is optional, coming back up is mandatory

June 12 ~ 17, 2014
As many of you know, I like adventure.  I like to experience what very few others get a chance to and I'm not talking about extravagance.  This may be placing myself on the top of a mountain to obtain a view that few others have ever seen or going camping with friends.  I've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon up close and in person ever since the first time I flew over it 24 years ago.   This year, for my vacation with my two sons Kendall (18) and Kameron (15), I decided we would venture out to the Grand Canyon and it was such a great experience that I deemed it blog worthy.For many trips, getting there is half the adventure.   I wanted to camp in the Grand Canyon, which included hiking down to the bottom and backcountry camping.  This desire made flying there cost-prohibitive so I decided we would drive.  We put in long days going out and made it in 2-1/2 days.  Arriving in the national park just after lunch on Saturday and setting up camp in the South Rim Mather's campground, we figured out our itinerary and determined that we would venture around the tourist areas of the South Rim for 2 days and then hike down the Canyon for one night.  These 2 days were filled the awe and wonderment the Canyon views have to offer as well as lots of seemingly tame wildlife.  The weather was surprisingly cool in the low 80's with very low humidity during the day and cool 40 degrees at night with a constant breeze.   We had to remember that we were at an elevation of 7500'.
Panoramic looking down from South Rim on Bright Angel Trail and Indian Garden

After spending days in a car, I needed exercise and decided to get up Father's Day morning and go for a run. It was sunrise and I ran from our campsite up to the pathway along the rim of the Canyon.  I ran for some time along the rim heading east into the sunrise.   I came out on a point of the Canyon perfectly facing into the rising sun, did some jumping jacks and pushups and decided to have a seat on the edge and dangle my feet over.  It was an incredibly spiritual and meditative moment and I knew that my Father was there with me enjoying all of God's incredible creations.  I could have sat there for hours in that moment.

Sunday night we packed up most of the camp and got our gear and supplies straightened out for our Trek into the Canyon.  Monday morning I woke the boys up at dawn and we packed up camp.   We parked our car at the Back Country Ranger's office and caught the shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead.  On the bus we met others with same idea.   I remember a kind elderly gentlemen in his 70's was there with his 2 sons and their sons, who looked to be around 8, were heading out on the same adventure to spend 2 nights at the Phantom Ranch. 

I was totally prepared for this adventure and I knew the boys would be able to hang in there with me.  Since this was my big idea, I made sure my pack carried the most gear and was the heaviest.  At 8:15 a.m. we set off down the South Kaibab trail which is about 7.2 miles down to the Bright Angel camping area along the Colorado River.  I had heard this trail was more treacherous but I had no idea what it was truly like.  The descent was steep with incredible views and sheer cliffs off the sides of the trail.  The wind was a constant 40 to 50 mph and you had to hold yourself on the trail the entire time.   At one time we came around the point of a canyon on a switchback trail with a steep dropoff on both sides of the trail. The wind was blowing so hard that it nearly picked us up.  We all 3 dropped and crawled around the trail back into the protection of the canyon.   It was a scary moment.  We took several breaks along the way to enjoy the scenery.   The further we went, I imagined the topography and environment we were in would be much like if we were to hike and explore the surface of Mars.
At the South Kaibab trailhead starting our trek down

There were a few others we would meet along the trail, enjoy a conversation and take turns taking each others pictures.  I remember another couple of old-timers that we ran across a little past the halfway point.  We ended up at the same pull off waiting for a mule train to pass.  These guys were easily in their 70's and looked like they had done this before.  I admired them.  A little farther down the trail we met a lady in her 60's that had stopped to rest.  We got to the last established stopping point before the last major descent down to the river.  This station was a repeater station with an emergency phone.   Here we met a man who was hiking with his father who must've been in his 60's.   They asked if we had seen the older guys and the lady and how far back they were.  They were together but had gotten tired of waiting on them.  I thought that was a pretty shitty move and they set out again, not waiting on the rest of their group.  We took a good long rest hanging out with a squirrel that Kendall named Repeater after the station purpose.

Once we got back on trail we started to see the river and camp getting closer and closer.  The heat was climbing higher and the wind was relentless blowing us and the desert sand.  We looked forward to the opportunity to swim in the frigid river.

We eventually made it to the bottom.  The last half mile into camp includes crossing the river on a footbridge.  The bridge was of substantial steel construction but the wind was so strong that about halfway across the bridge started to twist and move making it hard to even walk straight.   Finally in Camp Bright Angel at The Phantom Ranch, we picked our spot and changed into swimming shorts.  We went straight for the Bright Angel creek that is spring fed out of the side of the North Rim and the water was about 65 degrees but it felt great compared to the 106 air temperature in the bottom of the Canyon, but it's a dry heat.   We then went to the mighty Colorado River.  On the east end of the Canyon, the river is dammed to form Lake Powell.  The river is fed off the bottom of this lake back into the Canyon at about 45 degrees.  By the time it reached our location it might have been a brisk 47.   We all jumped and ran back out.  All you could do is go in enough to cool off but it felt great.  

The point of telling you earlier about the 3 generations we met on the bus in the morning and the elderly people we met on the trail down, was to tell you that the 3 generations we met on the bus never even made it down the Canyon and into camp.  Not sure what happened to them and I told the Rangers about them.  The 2 elderly gentlemen and the older lady that were with the impatient ones finally showed up just before sunset.  My guess is it took them 12 hours to get down the Canyon.  I have no idea how they think they will get out.

One thing about living at one with nature is your body quickly becomes adapted to the day when it is not exposed to artificial light.  When this happens, you go to bed when it gets dark and you get up with the sun.  We experienced this in Costa Rica and it's amazing how good you feel when this happens.  With that, we were asleep around 9:00 that night.  I woke up the next morning just before sunrise and started taking down camp and packing our gear.  I waited til the last minute to wake the boys so we could pack away their tents.  With our water packs filled, we set out the Bright Angel trail to make our ascent to the South Rim.  This trail was to be a little over 9 miles with an elevation change of 5000'.  I originally estimated it would take us around 6 hours, I could not have been more wrong. 

Sunrise through the Canyon was remarkable with all the colors from the different stone formations and types.  The trail was very flat for for the first mile and winded along the River making gradual ascent.  There was a lot of sand on the trail and I remember Kameron saying 'well this is counter-productive' because it felt like you would take a step forward and a half step back.  We finally got around to where the Indian Garden creek meets the Colorado River and the fun began.  This is where we started to climb, and climb, and climb.  A couple miles up there was a great place to take a break and soak our tired hot feet in the cool water.  Something we would die for on the last half of the ascent.

The lower 3 miles of the ascent was canyon covered, blocked from the sun and followed a babbling brook with vegetation.  Even though we were steadily going up, it was enjoyable.  Then around mile 3, the switchbacks started with the major ascent and back up into the desert Canyon.  The heat was building quickly.  I workout constantly and these steep climbs with a 50 lb. pack on my back were getting difficult.  We had to stop often and take breaks in what little shade we could find.  We pushed and pushed and it seemed to be taking forever but we eventually made it to the halfway point, Indian Gardens.  We knew we had come far but I was thinking to myself that 4-1/2 miles today took as much time as it did the day before to go over 7 miles.  We took a long break here, had some lunch and refilled our water.  Our rations were starting to run low and it didn't appear that we would be anywhere near the top for lunch.

So here's where the 'Embrace The Suck' or the 'Spartan The F*** Up' starts.  We were already beat, hot and tired and only halfway to the top.  Kendall was doing great and accepting the fact that we all had a desired end to this adventure and there was only one way to make that happen and we still had around 4-1/2 miles and 3000' of elevation change between us and that desired outcome.  I love this attitude, that's positivity, one form of embracing the suck.  Kameron was a little distressed about the ordeal and having doubts.  He hadn't quite accepted the fact that there was one and only one option out of this.  This wasn't a man-made obstacle that could be maneuvered around.  There was no elevator, we weren't hopping on the back of a mule and there was no 'spawn' point that we could jump to the Rim level from.  These were God's obstacles and those are never trivial.  We were in the middle of the Suck and really wanted out.

We started the second half of the trek up the Canyon.  There are man-made resting areas every 1-1/2 miles from this point forward which meant we had 2 dedicated stops where we could refill water and take a break.  This is a great plan but we were still needing to stop and take breaks a lot more often since we were constantly climbing up.  When we were stuck in switchbacks we would stop a few times and barely cover 1/4 to 1/2 miles at a time.  I was really starting to feel sorry for those pack mules.  We reached what's called the 3-mile House, this is 3 miles down from the top, and we took a long break.  People started asking us where we were coming from because we had these huge packs on.  After they had come down 3 miles, they were amazed at what we were accomplishing.

We set off to the next destination and the last full stop, the 1-1/2 mile house.  Kameron had actually been drinking too much water along the way and with the elevation change and stressed breathing, he had actually started to vomit water.  We were taking breaks more often and I was making sure he wasn't getting dehydrated.  Lots of breaks were had along the way and we finally made it to the 1-1/2 mile house.  The top of the Canyon was looking closer and closer yet still seemed so far away and straight up.  With every stop, we refilled our water reserves and soaked our shirts, hats and shamogs to keep us cool.  

Step after step, break after break, we finally made it to the top, 9 hours later.  There was no finish line, and nobody putting a medal around your neck.  Just the chance to turn around and look at one of the greatest obstacles in the world and know that you just did that.  One of the greatest things that my sons learned on this adventure is the resetting of their threshold.  The rewiring and reconfiguring of their brains with a whole new understanding and appreciation of their own abilities and weaknesses.  We all have a top level of our comfort zone.  Your threshold for pain and discomfort is not as low as you may think it is.  As young men growing up in the 2000's with all the comforts they could ever want for, the worst thing that could have happened to them would be to go without air conditioning or lose their electronics for a week.  Now they truly know what they are capable of and I'm sure they are even more confident now that they could accomplish so much more.  What was once their upper limit of how much they could endure has been reset and raised and we are all better because of it.  We didn't die, our bodies did not fall over or quit on us and even though our minds wanted to trick us into giving up several times, we overcame that and our minds ultimately kept us going.  Live by the creed; Your body will stop when it falls over, until then, the only thing stopping you is your mind.

At the start of every trailhead leading down into the Canyon there is a sign that reads; CAUTION! Down is optional. UP IS MANDATORY.  Heed this and be prepared.

The Grand Canyon gets around 4.5 million visitors per year.  Only 5% of those visitors even attempt to venture below the rim.  2% of the visitors to the Canyon receive backcountry overnight permits.  Many of these only go as far as Indian Garden.  This puts us in the category of between 1% and 2% of the annual visitors to the Grand Canyon ever complete what we just did.  In addition to these statistics, it's important to note that there are on average 300 search and rescue incidents every year in the Grand Canyon, 1200 medical incidents and 10~15 deaths.  This was an incredible, lifetime experience and accomplishment that I am so glad to have achieved with my sons.  I'm so proud of them.

Grand Canyon statistics.

Monday, June 9, 2014

To Pre-Register or Not To Pre-Register? THAT is the question.

So we've all been burned at one time or another with this whole 'pre-register' ploy from events.  What they are doing is using this as a gauge as to whether or not they will lose their ass if they come to your state and put on an event.  Are they really that unsure of themselves?  Is their event really that bad that they aren't even sure if they can break even?  Maybe they should just leave the business all together and leave it to the professionals.  Most of these events don't even give dates or locations as to when the proposed event might happen.

Spartan Race has a requirement that any event obtain approximately 10,000 pre-registrations before they will commit to it.  If you look at the current Spartan Race schedule for 2015, there are no events that you can actually register for.  Every event for 2015 is currently under pre-registration.  Really?  It's halfway through 2014 already!

How exactly are people supposed to plan their personal event schedule when Spartan won't commit to their fans?  Does Tough Mudder do this?  NO!  There is currently only 1 event for Tough Mudder listed as 'pre-register' and it's for Tokyo.  I may not be the biggest fan of Tough Mudder, because of the outrageous cost, but they know how to run a business and run it well.  They know how to take care of their customers and it shows.  They consistently sell out venues with anywhere from 8000 to 15000 participants and almost always run the event for the entire weekend.  They only have one style of event and that's what they deliver to their fans.  Tough Mudder will create their schedule 1 year in advance, and if the event is successful, you can register for the following year the day of the current event.  So why doesn't Spartan do this?  Is this the Reebok influence?  Where's the commitment to the Spartan fan base?  In addition to this poor organization, there are parts of the country starving for attention from Spartan while Tough Mudder spreads the love all over.  Following are maps of Spartan and Tough Mudder locations.  While it may appear that Spartan covers quite a bit of the country, keep in mind that they have 3 level of events and are constantly promoting their trifecta.  If your were to remove the Super (blue) and Beast (green) placemarks on the map, you would see there are areas of the country starving for attention.  Even worse is if you remove the Sprint (red) placemarks.  You run a Sprint and then Spartan is shoving the trifecta carrot out in front of you but the closest Super or Beast could be 8 to 20 hours or more away.

Spartan 2014 event map

2014 Tough Mudder Event Map

I say we take a stand against this tactic from all events and refuse to pre-register.  If you don't get a Spartan, or Superhero, or other national event in your state, it's really no big deal because there are hundreds of local events that tend to be much better than any of the travelling circus acts.  If you need to find one, remember to look under the Event Maps section of our website.!event-map/c20kb

If everyone refuses to pre-register for any 2015 Spartan Race, what will they do?  Will they quit having races?  I seriously doubt that.  Take a stand, unite in one common voice against this practice and don't pre-register.  I guarantee your voice will be heard and Spartan will be forced to change their ways.

Friday, December 27, 2013

2013 - a year of accomplishments

WOW!  That pretty much sums it up.  What an incredible year for team Crazy Mudder Muckers, the world of OCR and me personally.

Let's start off with the world of OCR.  2013 saw the demise of many individual events as well as many event companies.  From cancellation after cancellation to the bilking of the registrants for several Superhero events to the folding of Hero Rush and Run For Your Lives.   2013 was a roller coaster ride for the industry that ended with the announcement of the inaugural Obstacle Course Racing World Championships.  You can read about some of these things in my other blogs; My opinion on the current state of the OCR world and My opinion on the current state of the OCR world - Part 2.  Like it or not, I predict 2014 will continue the Wild Ride so keep your legs and arms inside the vehicle at all times.

For the Crazy Mudder Muckers, I don't know the exact number but we started the year with only a couple hundred members and close 2013 with over 600 strong.  The last big event for CMM was the second installment of Mud, Guts & Glory on November 2nd where we cleaned up the podium from all sides, including largest and fastest team.  The event map that I created and maintain had around 2000 hits at the beginning of the year and closes 2013 with over 23,000.  This is clearly being used by many people and I hope it continues to help people get to more events.  I'm very proud of the Crazy Mudder Muckers and all of the other groups of OCR crazies out there and am excited to see what the future holds.  I have met many incredible people through these groups and OCR and have made many great friendships.

For me personally, 2013 was a year of many changes and adventures.  I started 2013 with my cholesterol and triglycerides at an all-time high, and that was with medication.  I completed 6 events in 2012 and certainly exercised on a regular basis but never really changed my eating habits.  Starting the first of February I completely changed my eating habits and within 8 weeks reduced my body fat by 27%, 26 to 19.  Within 12 weeks I had lowered my cholesterol and triglycerides by 30% to levels that I haven't seen since high school and I continue to maintain those levels.  My goal for 2014 is to convince the doctor that I no longer need to be on a Statin.

I have to say that, at the age of 45, I could not be more proud of myself for the personal accomplishments that 2013 brought and not without challenges.  My race goals for 2013 were to do as many different events as I possibly could, to feed the addiction.  That goal eventually turned into achieving the Spartan trifecta.  By running in as many different events as I possibly could, I was conditioning myself to be prepared for anything that any event could dish out.  By the time I had reached my Spartan Super in Virginia, I started to wonder if I could even complete the miles of terrain required for a Beast.  I had to change up my training so I would be better prepared physically for the challenges that lay ahead.  In November, I completed my first half marathon and 6 days later travelled to South Carolina to conquer the Spartan Beast and earn my trifecta.  This was a great end to an incredible year and no better way to sum up this year than having that sexy tri-colored medal hanging from my medal rack.  2013 also brought me the opportunity to help design and organize an OCR event, the Mud Gauntlet.  This was a lot of fun and I think the reviews were decent.  I look forward to what the future brings for this event.  I also started this blog in May of this year and am happy to say that it has been read over 4,760 times from people in 10 different countries.  Thank you everyone for joining me in my journey.

Something I had always hoped for since starting this crazy journey in 2012 was to inspire my sons, young men now, to exercise and try to live a healthier lifestyle.  2 things happened this year that I could not have been more proud.  In July at the Mud Ninja, my sons let me sacrifice them to the Ninja as volunteers in the pouring down rain all morning.  They were miserable but made the best of it.  When their shift was over, my youngest (14) came to me and said "I want one of those medals" to which I responded "there's only one way to get it".  He said OK and I went around with him for a second lap of the Mud Ninja.  For those of you that have been fortunate enough to experience the Mud Ninja, you know that this is one of the most difficult courses in the industry.  He completed it, after working all morning, and when he got the medal at the end the look of pride on his face was priceless.  In September at the Mud Gauntlet, my oldest son (17) had agreed to be the DJ for the event all day.  He had a lot of fun with this but when I went to look for him after the last wave had gone, he was nowhere to be found.  His friend said he went to run the course.  I later learned that he didn't even go with the last wave, he went on his own, after all waves had gone, just because he wanted to run this great course.  No words, just changed his shoes and went.  THAT's what I'm talking about!  This was a tie to his completing the Indiana Spartan Sprint with me and seeing the huge sense of accomplishment on his face afterward.  These moments are priceless and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

Following is the complete list of my racing statistics for 2013:
  • completed a total of 37 events
    • 22 Obstacle Course Races (a few were covered multiple times)
    • 11 'other' events including trail runs and my first half marathon
    • 4 virtual 5k's
    • Actually won money as part of the 2nd place team at the TQL Urban OCR
  • over 193 miles ran in all of the events (not including training runs)
  • over 3,350 miles driven to events
  • 10 states travelled
  • Following is the list of 2013 events that I completed
    • 2/17 Fight For Air Climb - Cincinnati
    • 2/23 Sand Mine Challenge - Missouri
    • 3/2 Survival Race - Columbus
    • 3/9 Gladiator Mud Run - Missouri
    • 4/27 Spartan Sprint - Indiana
    • 5/5 Amazing Race
    • 5/11 Mud-Stash 5k - competitive
    • 5/11 Mud-Stash 5k - group
    • 5/12 Morgan's Extreme Trail Run
    • 6/1 Warrior Dash - Ohio 1
    • 6/9 Military Fitness Challenge
    • 6/15 T.A.C. Force Challenge
    • 6/15 T.A.C. Force round 2
    • 6/22 Waterfront Challenge - Louisville
    • 6/29 Mud-Stash
    • 7/20 Color Me Rad
    • 7/27 Mud Ninja
    • 7/27 Mud Ninja round 2
    • 8/3 Cincy Nation Mud Run
    • 8/3 Cincy Nation Mud Run round 2
    • 8/3 Cincy Nation Mud Run round 3
    • 8/3 Cincy Nation Mud Run round 4
    • 8/10 Mudathlon - Ohio
    • 8/10 Mudathlon round 2
    • 8/10 Mudathlon round 3
    • 8/11 The Great Mason Chase
    • 8/24 Spartan Mid - Atlantic Super - Virginia
    • 8/31 Mud Guts & Glory
    • 9/7 Mud-Stash - 5k
    • 9/7 Mud-Stash - 10k
    • 9/15 Mud Gauntlet
    • 9/21 Harvest Dash
    • 9/28 Mudocalypse
    • 10/5 Springboro Rock N Run
    • 10/12 TQL Urban Obstacle Race
    • 10/26 Great Pumpkin Run - 10k with Tough Pumpkin
    • 11/2 Mud Guts & Glory
    • 11/3 Mason Half Marathon
    • 11/9 Spartan Beast - Carolina
    • 11/28 Lifetime Turkey Day Race
    • 12/7 Artic Dash
    • 12/28 Topo Trail Series #2

2014 promises to be another exciting year.  I don't plan on running as many events in 2014 but will focus on getting to specific events and maybe even a multiple trifecta.  With the announcement of the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships to be held at the home course of the Crazy Mudder Muckers, Mud, Guts & Glory, my main goal for 2014 is to qualify for and ultimately run in the first ever ORCWC.  2014 is going to be a glorious year.
Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Spartan Beast - South Carolina 2013

Carolina Adventure World, Winnsboro, South Carolina - Saturday, November 9, 2013

When I registered for my first Spartan last winter, the Indiana Sprint to be held at the end of April, I remember saying 'There's no way I can do the distance of a Super and certainly no way I could do a Beast and get my trifecta.'  I don't exactly remember where I changed my mind but somewhere I decided that this would be my major goal for 2013.  I chose the Virginia Super when it was still located at a 'flatter' location and the Illinois Super was in October.  Then Spartan relocated the Virginia Super to a ski mountain and changed the Illinois Super to July.  If you haven't read my blog on the Virginia Super, you can read it here, but I'm not sure what would have been worse, the incredible slopes of the course or the Spartan Herpes of Illinois.  I somehow survived the Super but came away wondering if I was just not physically capable of handling the extremes of a Beast.  I immediately started researching what the problem was with my knees and learned that it was more IT Band related.  I set a routine to work and stretch my IT Bands and strengthen my knees for the next 2 months.  A couple weeks before the Beast I met with the running coach at my gym.  His knowledge was invaluable.  He interviewed me and analyzed my gate and told me several things that I was doing wrong.  Using his advice, I hit the Mud, Guts & Glory course for training 2 weekends prior to the November 2 Mud, Guts & Glory event.  Constantly paying attention to my running, particularly with the ascents and descents, and using the advice from the running coach, my knee pain was gone.  I was incredibly happy.  As I mentioned, the week before the Carolina Beast was the fall Mud, Guts & Glory event.  Five miles with 2,200 feet of elevation change and incredible obstacles.  The week before this, I decided to run my first half marathon on Sunday, November 3 with fellow Crazy Dewaynne Tackett.  Yes!  A 5 mile extreme OCR on Saturday and a half marathon the next day, all one week before the Beast.  This was the only way I would feel confident that I could slay the Beast.  The longest distance I had ever continuously ran before was a 10k.  At MGG I concentrated on my off-road skills and keeping my knees and IT Bands in one piece.  At the half marathon I concentrated on pace.  We made it through both without stopping, except for the 5 second water stations and one potty break.  

Coming out of the half marathon I have never felt so confident and ready.  I knew I was going to slay this Beast and the only unknown was the elevation changes and how long my knees would last.

For a few weeks before the Beast I asked questions and paid attention to the posts of the veterans of the Corn Fed Spartans with regards to hydration and fuel.  Our wave time was to be 10:00 so a big breakfast was out of the question and it went through lunch time.  I have a couple hydration packs but they have little storage in them for things like fuel so I started leaning towards my CamelBak Mil Tac H.A.W.G. with lots of storage space.  I decided to remove the hydration bladder and just take a couple of bottles but I had all kinds of room for fuel.  I looked into 'fuel' and everything out there is nothing but simple carb based sugar boosters and my body does not deal with sugar overload well.  In a book I recently purchased called Superfood Smoothies, there was mention of Chia Gel.  I did some investigation into this and the calories in Chia are incredible.  Basically you place Chia seeds in a liquid and they absorb the liquid.  I chose to use 100% Apple Cider so that I did get some carbs.  I found a squeeze bottle at the Eddie Bauer booth at MGG the weekend before and it was perfect.  The substance tasted like applesauce and had about the same consistency.  Total calories in the squeeze bottle was about 1000.  It was incredible and kept me going much longer and better than any carb-only substance would.  For additional carbs I had some Island Boost given to me from Jascia Redwine to test.  It was good but again just straight simple carbs.  Here is a quick and dirty calorie breakdown on the substance.  

I registered for the Carolina Beast because because I had NO intention of going to Vermont or Texas, so this was my only option to complete the trifecta.  Up to 4 weeks prior I still wasn't sure how I was getting to South Carolina or where I would be staying.  Devon Brown hit me up and we decided to drive down together.  I heard there was onsite camping available so I called Carolina Adventure World and all they had left was RV sites.  $63 for the whole weekend was a great deal and it was ONSITE.  There was room for 4 or 5 tents on the site so I let it out that I had room and was able to sublet space to Mark McKennett from Maryland and Jeff Hoskins of South Carolina.  You've heard me mention before how much I love the camaraderie of this sport.  I love it!  Devon and I left early Friday morning.  I set my GPS, not paying enough attention, to the last place in the Carolina's that I searched for, which happened to be the National Whitewater Center in Charlotte where they have held past Spartan's.  We were almost there before I realized we were going to the wrong place.  The good news is we were only an hour off course.  We arrived around 4:30, quickly setup camp and then we were off to dinner with all of the Corn Fed clan.

The forecast for that night was to be cold and we were sleeping in a tent.  When I camp, I do it in style with cots and all.  I stopped and bought a space heater for $25 because I knew we were on an RV site with electricity.  Plugged it in before we left for dinner and it was like sleeping in the tropics all night.  There really was no better way to prepare for this race than to be in a comfy cot at 10:00 p.m. the night before and so warm that you kick the covers off.  We slept a solid 8 hours that night.  We dreaded leaving the tent in the morning because it was 28 degrees but the view of the sunrise over the venue was incredible and required some contemplation.

We walked over to the festival area about 7:00 a.m. and started to gather at the venue.  We got checked in and I watched Devon and others take off in the Elite Heat.  I was extremely disappointed and saddened by the actions of the so-called 'Elite' runners as half of them actually skipped and ran past the first set of obstacles.  They should all have their points taken away from this race.  At 8:30 I watched the ever-inspiring Operation Enduring Warrior group with their grand entrance.  Before you knew it, it was 9:45 and time to make our way to the Start Line so I found my Spartan running partner and pace-setter Kaitlin Stein (who almost didn't make it to the event) and we headed to the Start.  If it weren't for the accomplishments of the weekend before, I would have been extremely nervous.

We weren't 100 yards into the course and there was the first obstacles, a series of ditches at least 6' wide, 4' deep and full of cold water.  Remember, it was 28 degrees at 6:00 a.m. so it may have been 45 by now.  From there it was the standard Over/Under/Through and Walls but for the most part the course was a lot of trail running and the elevation changes and slopes were relatively easy.  I concentrated constantly on my running form to prevent any knee issues.  I have to say that the Spartan obstacles on this course were the most difficult I have encountered yet for a Spartan.  The obstacles at Virginia were lame compared to most of these, but it was the Beast so you have to expect that.  As we approached the half way point, 6 miles, and back to the festival area, there was a small pond that is used by the off-road vehicles for mud-bogging.  The water was nearly waste deep and super cold so we were trying to get through it as quickly as possible when all of the sudden my legs ran into a boulder under the surface of the water that was the size of a small car.  I had been trying to protect my knees up to this point, just to smash them on a boulder that couldn't be seen.  I limped out of the pond with my left knee starting to swell and right shin with an abrasion.  Damn it!  I was feeling great up to this point because I was not having any knee issues and by mile 4 at the Virginia Super I was shot.
Come along little doggy !
Next up, the dreaded Traverse Wall.  I have never been able to complete this and was looking for redemption after Virginia.  I carefully studied every wall and every little board to determine which was the least muddy.  My hands were still wet and muddy from the climb up a small hill to the festival area so I found the only clean spot I could to clean them off, the back of Kaitlin's shirt.  I started my trek across the wall, hold by hold, feeling good and steady.  DING !!!  That bitch was mine and I felt great about it.  Immediately after was the standard burpee station with an option-out if you throw a spear and make it stick in a hay bale.  I nailed this one for the first time in Virginia but missed it this time.  I was ok with this since I was burpee penalty free up to this point in the race.  Next, the rope climb.  The Indiana Sprint rope climb started on muddy ground.  The Virginia Super was over a water pit that was about waste deep.  This one was over water but when I got in, it was chest deep.  WOW!  I had been practicing this one on other courses and made my way up and rang that little bell like I owned it.  We took some time to hydrate and fuel up and then it was time to move on to the back half of the course.  Immediately after the festival area was a series of mud moguls and pits that were just a sloppy mess and then you were off into the woods to run.  We were freezing at this point after having been in so much mud and water and really needed to keep moving.

The second half of the course entailed a lot of trail running with obstacles strewn throughout until just past mile 11 where we came upon the Tyrolean Traverse.  We were just a little past 3-1/2 hours into the race and feeling good about our time as our goal was to finish around 4 hours.  The Tyrolean Traverse had about 10 ropes going across a pond that you had to cross the rope about 40' and ring the bell.  At every rope there was a line of at least 20 people waiting and the people 'attempting' the crossing were taking forever.  I really like these obstacles and find them easy but after watching everyone else, I'm the minority.  After 20 or 30 minutes of waiting in line, it was finally my turn.  I went first so Kaitlin and the others could watch and learn, up and over in about 15 seconds to ring the bell.  To keep the line moving I dropped into the water instead of going all the way across and that was a mistake as I sank in muck up to my knees.  We had considered just doing burpees instead of waiting on this one because of the line and the lack of desire to get wet again but chose to STFU.  Kaitlin started her crossing and made it about half way before she fell in.  Now she was wet, cold and having to do burpees anyway and really hating life.  The good news is we're very close to the finish line.  Just before the Traverse is when I started to feel that familiar pain in my knees bringing back terrible memories of Virginia.  It was funny how throughout the entire course, all we heard was "this is nothing like Virginia" or "Virginia sucked way worse than this".  After the Traverse was the sandbag carry which I'm fine with but had to start going backwards on the downhill or I wasn't going to make it.  After the sandbag carry was an uphill climb to the Log Jump.  The lame part about this was they were allowing you to help each other across this by holding hands.  At this point, we had no intention of doing burpees and were glad to take this opportunity so we helped several people and then went ourselves.  Back into the woods on some gnarly uphill and downhill terrain until we came back out of the woods to the bucket carry.  I've not experienced this one yet but you basically take a 10 gallon bucket, fill it with gravel and carry it up and down a hill.  I carried it on one shoulder going up the hill and switched to the other shoulder on the way down as i gingerly went backwards.  After this was a standard 8' which I can usually handle easily on my own but we were so exhausted that we all worked the buddy system this time.  Then we we see a small little hill with some barbed-wire.  I was thinking "this doesn't look bad", I had heard bad things about last years crawl.  We started up the hill and as you crest this 'little' hill under the barbed-wire then you can see the next 40 yards of the nastiest looking barbed-wire crawl you have ever seen.  It looked like a war zone and the only thing missing was bullets flying over your head.  What looked like mud and muck was really sharp little shards of jagged gravel covered with mud and muck.  This is where all the planking, yoga and mountain climbers pay off but nothing can prepare you for the absolute shredding that my legs got from all the rock in the mud.  Glad to be out of that, but now there was a muddy water pit with a wall across it that you had to go under.

I'm not sure what they call the next obstacle but it's basically a high ladder climb and then you cross a horizontal cargo net that's about 20' up and then back down the other side.  Not good for those with a fear of heights.  I could almost see the Finish Line.  The Fire Jump and Gladiators were the only things standing between me, that pretty green medal and that even prettier tri-colored trifecta medal.


Aside from being near hypothermic, I felt great.  This marked the end of a very long year with enormous strides in my physical health and endurance and I have never felt better.  Now to set next years goals.