Thursday, August 29, 2013

Editorial opinion on the Spartan Super - Virginia 2013

Disclaimer!!  This is an opinion on the event as a whole.  My own personal experience can be read about here.  I truly enjoyed the experience and the challenge.  It was one of the greatest physical and mental challenges I have ever experienced and at some points was very spiritual.

Has Spartan Race gone too far?  The recent Spartan Super in Virginia, in my opinion, did just that.  The definition of the Spartan Super according to is as follows: "The Super Spartan obstacle race provides an 8+ MILES / 20+ OBSTACLES battlefield of insane mud running with 15 or more obstacles to test your physical strength and mental resolve. This mud fest of a race will have many trials to push you to your limits that any man or woman with resolve can complete! This endurance race conists of mud runs, trails, and both mental and physical obstacles and challenges."  Yes, there was 8 miles with obstacles but 'running'?  I'm pretty sure the greater percentage of us did not do much 'running'.  Yes, the course most definitely consisted of 'both mental and physical obstacles and challenges' but the course was not necessarily designed that way.  The course was not designed to be a challenge but to be an elimination.  The ego's of the race director's and course designers have gotten out of control.  They have reached the point of constantly trying to 'out-do' each other that they crossed the line.  This course was designed solely with the elite in mind as if Norm Koch was preparing everyone for the Ultra Beast or the The Death Race.  This particular course quickly became not fun, yes we enjoy these things and think they are fun, and turned into survival and an extreme desire to finish or be finished.

Look at it from a business standpoint.  For generalization let's say that 90% of the Spartan Sprint registrants are out to enjoy a challenge, have fun with friends and get a good Facebook picture.  The other 10% are the Elite out to win money and many of them are probably running for free.  By that reasoning, it would be sound to expect that 80% of the Spartan Super participants would be the same people out to enjoy a challenge with friends and get a good Facebook picture.  Obviously the percentage of the hardcore and the Elite would increase with the level of complexity.  By this same line of reasoning an even smaller percentage of the participants of a Spartan Beast would be just out for fun and a challenge.  So, using these hypothesized numbers, your largest customer base and the people providing you with the bulk of your income are not out to be eliminated but have paid damned good money for a challenge that will put them just outside their comfort zone.  If they don't get there, then they will be hooked to pursue the next level and, guess what, pay more money.  However, if they do not enjoy themselves or possibly do not finish, which happened a lot on this course, they will never come back and they will tell everyone they know what a bad time they had.  Businesses rely on repeat customers and new customers from testimonials.  The sport of OCR is new and growing but it definitely has a finite customer base.  Just as people are being turned away from the sport and pastime as a result of the many cancellations and non-refunds that have happened this year, they will also be turned by having too much thrown at them.  This is where the local 'mom and pop' mud runs will continue to thrive.  Joe Desena constantly talks about how he wants to get people "off the couch" and Spartan Race has done just that but if the level of difficulty continues with this current rate of ascent, they will be putting people back on couches, in hospital beds or possibly in graves.  Course designs like this one are counter-productive to that base goal of 'getting people off the couch'.

As I mentioned in a previous blog over the current state of the OCR world, this is all about the law of supply and demand.  There is a certain demand for Sprints, Supers, Beasts, etc .. and this is what people expect and pay for.  If you do not supply to the demand, the demand will diminish and not require the supply.

A word of advice to Spartan Race; get your organization under control if you want to continue with the great level of success that you have had and continue to provide us with the most awesome events that has gotten this country moving again.  No American TV network or Global shoe manufacturer is going to want to have their name associated to an event that intentionally tries to throw people off a mountain.

Just my thoughts and my opinion .. it's like an a$$hole, everybody has one.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spartan Super - Virginia 2013

Wintergreen Resort, Virginia - August 24, 2013

"Your body will stop when it falls over.  Until then, the only thing stopping you is your mind."  many people have heard me say this over the last 1-1/2 years and I try hard live by this.  It's gotten me to where I am today.  The Virginia Super Spartan of 2013, held at the Wintergreen Ski Resort mountain, nearly broke this credo for me .. several times.  This was an incredible and very long experience for me so I will apologize ahead of time for this lengthy piece, please enjoy.

The terrain and scenery from the venue was incredible, beautiful, awesome and intimidating.  These weren't hills, these were mountains with black diamond rated ski slopes and some sadistic person (Norm Koch) decided that we shall run (not hardly) up and down these slopes, not once or twice, but several times with Spartan obstacles strewn throughout.  The course was 8 miles with 3,874 ft. of elevation gain and 3,794 ft. of loss.  Minimum elevation was 2,465 ft. above sea level and the peak was 3,498.

I was at the venue around 7:00 a.m. and watched the most incredible sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains.  As the sun rose, the slope of the course came into view and I was suddenly concerned.  I watched the elite groups take off and then went to watch the EnduringWarrior group make their entrance.  (pics here)  I’ve never seen these guys in person and it was awe inspiring.  After that they opened the chair lift and I was able to go down the slopes to see more of the course.  I went from concerned to totally worried.  To look up and down these slopes and see people trudging this mountain side was incredible.  I was fortunate enough to see Hobie Call and Matt Novakovich come over one of the walls and do the log carry.  They were together when they disappeared up the next hill but when they emerged, only Matt was visible.  I watched him finish first and then Hobie came along several minutes behind and I was fearful once again.  11:00 rolled around and I lined up with my brethren from the Corn Fed Spartans and we were off to the inevitable.  I typically like to set my own pace and maintain that throughout an event.  This usually means that nobody will be with you all the time.  The main group of Corn Fed stayed together and were falling behind my pace.  I found that new Corn Fed member Kaitlin Stein and I were maintaining about the same pace so we pulled ahead of the group.  I started out thinking I could do this in 3 to 4 hours but after the second swing back up the mountainside and we still weren’t at mile 1, I started to worry a little more.  The obstacles were the typical Spartan obstacles with walls to climb over, go under and go through followed by muddy moguls and mud pits.  The 3 I failed in the Indiana Sprint were the Rope Climb, Spear Throw and Traverse Wall and I was determined to be burpee free this day.  As we made it to the first water station at mile 2 and officially 25% complete, I was feeling really good and the confidence was up there but these hills were made for goats, not people, and we still had a long way to go.  Somewhere about 3-1/2 miles in and going down one of the many treacherous, rocky, wooded hillsides that were more like glacial runoffs, my left knee decided to start to hurt and it wasn’t long before it just locked up.  The pain was incredible and I have no idea what was causing it but I knew that the downhill slopes is when it hurt, I was fine going uphill.  Kaitlin was kind enough to slow down while I tried to nurse my knee back.  We made it to mile 4 and the halfway point in 1 hour and 30 minutes.  Without knowing the rest of the course, and disregarding my knee, we were on track to finish in 3 to 4 hours and we were feeling pretty good about it.  Right after the mile 4 water station was the spear throw.  I personally don’t like ‘challenges’ like this because they are not really obstacles or anything you can really train for.  They should just call them burpee stations with an option to throw a spear.  I came into this with a plan of attack and a goal of no burpees.  I grabbed the spear, backed up, took a couple steps and threw it like a javelin – nailed it!  Fortunately for me, I got to rest my knee a bit as I waited for Kaitlin to complete her burpees.  After this was another downhill to the monkey bars, I could barely make it down there.  I finally got to the bottom and crossed the bars with ease.  Kaitlin asked if I minded if she went on and I knew I was slowing her down with this knee issue.  Of course I didn’t mind and it was me against these mountains.  The monkey bars were located right next to the operating chair lift and I was in so much pain, this was the first time I actually considered quitting.  I sat for about 10 minutes to give my knee a break but it didn’t help much, so I embraced the suck and trekked on.  Not far after this I was going down through the woods on all those treacherous wet rocks and came upon the Enduring Warrior group.  This is where it became emotional for me.  I’m about 5 miles into the course and approaching the lowest elevation of the course, in so much pain that I can barely walk and suddenly in front of me are a group of men that wish they had a knee to hurt.  I suddenly wasn’t thinking about my problems and my pain and was thinking about how brave, courageous and inspiring this incredible group is.  This was the second time I was choking back tears on this course.  I still am not sure if I wanted to cry from sadness, gladness or embarrassment.  I looked at these guys taking on the most incredible challenge I have ever personally taken and it’s probably just another day to them yet they do it without complaint.  I took the time to tell a few of them how inspiring they were to me and shook their hands.  I feel this pain because I can and I am alive.  One day, I won’t be able to enjoy this feeling.  The vision of these incredible individuals kept me going for the next 4 hours and replaced my thoughts every time I started to think about my knees or quitting.  They don’t know this, but that entire group of extraordinary people got me through this course and I am grateful.  Then I pulled up my big girl panties and trekked on.

The obstacles on the course became more of just a place to relax along the way.  With the exception of a couple, none of them are very difficult.  One difficult task was the log carry.  On a good day this is not so bad but this time we had to carry the logs back down the hillside about 130 yards and back up again.  I had to do this walking backwards down the hill because my knees were about to explode.  What made this worse was the occasional person dropping their log on the hillside above me and having it roll down the hill catching everyone like bowling pins.  Not easy in my current physical condition.

The uphill portion between mile 5 to 6 was ridiculous.  I heard it was a solid 1-1/2 mile uphill climb but it was a little more than 1000 feet of ascent.  The day and the challenge passed fun, exciting and challenging a long way back and was now just about survival and getting the hell off this mountain.  The only thing I could think about the whole way up was that I would eventually have to go downhill, and my knees hurt just thinking about it.  I got to the peak, turned around, sat down and looked in awe out over God's incredible world.  These pesky little manmade tasks called obstacles were nothing compared to His obstacles.  

Up and down, up and down, up and down, the repetition was monotonous and every so often there would be an obstacle.  I was getting tired of going down hills backwards or crawling but eventually, I could see on the horizon the rope climb.  I was both elated and concerned at the same time.  No burpees!!!  I was convinced I was going to nail this but I was completely exhausted and running on fumes.  I approached the structure and decided to take a break and contemplate before taking this on.  I gingerly lowered myself into the mud pit, making sure to not get my hands wet or muddy, and carefully selected my rope.  Up, up, up, slip, up, up, break, up, almost there, RING that damn bell!!  Nailed it!!  Still burpee free!!  After the day I had been having, this single ringing of a bell gave me the biggest sense of accomplishment yet.  There was only a little more of a climb to go to my next challenge and then on to the finish line.  Next up, the Traverse Wall, again I carefully selected a wall that looked to be the least muddy.  Board by board, careful to keep 3 points of contact at all times, onward, one more board to go and I get to hear another bell, reaching and my left foot slips off and I fall to the ground.  DAMN!!!!!!  I know that echoed across those mountain tops.  5 hours of pure hell and all I wanted to do was no burpees.  Oh well, I was feeling good at this point and could see the finish line, I just needed to do my penance (burpees), cross the Slippery Wall and jump that fire to the finish.  Those were honestly the easiest burpees I have ever done.  The Slippery Wall wasn’t so slippery, up and over.  I took the moment to stop look up and enjoy the view.  I mustered through the pain and took off running, leaped that fire, through the Gladiators and give me that DAMNED Blue Medal!!  5 hours and 25 minutes after I set out, it was over and the greatest sense of physical accomplishment I have ever felt in my life.

One word best describes this day, this course, this event and even me doing it – STUPID.  I have always told people that anybody can do these, the only thing that matters is that you cross the finish line.  You can walk the entire course if you have to, but challenge and push yourself to do it.  After the 2013 Spartan Super in Virginia, I retract that statement.  I would not take just anyone on that particular course and would definitely tell people (in their best interest) they shouldn’t do it.  There is a point where we can push ourselves too far, beyond necessity or reason, and Spartan created the perfect storm for just such a point.  They admitted that this event was the single most difficult event they have created to date, short of the Ultra Beast.  To them I say … AROO!!!  One more Spartan event, the Carolina Beast, and I shall have that trifecta.

Course overview -

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Mudathlon Ohio 2013

Neiderman Farm, Monroe, Ohio - August 10, 2013

Last year I ran the Mudathlon in Ohio and it was only the 3rd event I had ever been in.  My wave time last year was late morning and the course was torn up with backlogs of people at every obstacle.  It was not a good experience.  I've learned a lot since then.  Mudathlon currently has events in Kentucky, Ohio and (2) in Indiana, the only one I've done is Ohio but I've heard they are all very similar.  The downside of the Mudathlon is the price, it's one of the more expensive events out there but it is very well organized.  The Mudathlon event in Ohio always has a very organized check in process and the festival area is very nice and well thought out.  Another negative is they have no changing tent and the wash off is typically the same muddy creek you just ran through.  For the price you pay, I would expect more.

This year Mudathlon added a 7:45 competitive wave, so I registered.  I was the first person in the festival area that morning and it felt a little weird but I wasn’t alone for long as the rest of the competitive crazies started arriving soon after.  For the most part, the course remained the same as last year but I was glad they replaced a few of the more lame ‘obstacles’, things like square hay bales in your path and a potato sack hop, with more appropriate obstacles although they still had us running through the stinky livestock barn and scale a wall of hay bales in there.  One of the things Mudathlon does right is they fill a course with obstacles, ‘3 Miles and 40 Obstacles’ is what they advertise and they deliver every bit of it.  The course in Ohio is basically flat but they utilize the terrain as best as they can by taking you through the knee deep creek several times, throwing in obstacles wherever they can.  I really like the monkey bars they have at the Mudathlon.  They have two lengths, short and long.  For the competitive wave they made everyone take the long route, which I was happy to see.  They reused the same 4’ walls they had constructed last year for the course that were just never removed from the ground.  One of these walls had rotted through the 4x4 posts and it simply fell over during the event.  Fortunately nobody was on it at the time.  The halfway point and the finish of this event are marked with the one of the longest mud pits I have ever seen.  It’s a good 50 yards long and the gooeyness of the mud gets worse as the day goes on.  I love this pit.  The back half of the course is primarily on several paintball courses.  The obstacles are the typical crawl through a tire or through a spider web of roping but they have some very large wooden cable reels that get very difficult to climb up and over as the day goes on.  There are a couple of small hillsides into dried creek beds that are very steep and require ropes to get up and down.  One of the more challenging obstacles is a ‘tight wire’ rope between 2 trees that spans about 30’.  You must traverse the rope from one end to the other, to assist you there is a rope above your head.  Although I don’t consider water slides a true obstacle but more of a ‘fun’ aspect to a course to keep people interested, Mudathlon always has a good slide.  They’ve spent the necessary money to lay down thick plastic so you don’t feel every rock under the slide -

For the competitive run, I came in 32/2373, not bad but that just tells me that when the zombie apocalypse happens, and it will, I will NOT be the last man on earth.  Must try harder!!

The best part of this day was getting to spend the day with a bunch of Crazy Mudder Muckers.  Nothing better than rolling around in the mud with your extended family.  Special thanks to Nicki Green for bringing an extra rucksack.  In preparation for my upcoming Spartan Super, which will be about 9 miles in the mountains of Virginia, I decided to take an extra couple of laps with a backpack carrying bricks.  This was the first time I had ever done anything like this and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I did.  It really boosted my confidence in being able to survive the Spartan Super with dignity.  The downside is the bricks were rubbing my lower back the whole time and gave me an OCR tramp stamp, see pic below.  After the 2nd lap, fellow Crazy Mudder Mucker Phillip Clark texted me that he was running late and asked if I could wait for them to go around, so I did.  Unfortunately, they got there and checked in about 15 minutes after the last wave was released.  We went to the start line thinking there was still time and the 'gatekeeper' was not going to let us go, so we jumped in at the halfway point and ran the rest of the course from there.  They didn't miss too much and everyone still had a muddy good time.

All-in-all this is a good average event, not too hard for the average person that’s only out to get a good Facebook cover picture and just competitive enough for the elite runners in the morning.  The one big downside to this event is the cost.  I don’t feel it’s competitively priced compared to other, better events but their marketing is working because they had almost 2400 runners.

Pictures from the event can be seen here -

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My opinion on the current state of the OCR world

As with any new ‘fad’, there is a period of time that the world is trying to figure how it all works together and there is that roller-coaster effect until things settle down to a nice steady ride.  In geek engineer speak, there’s too much proportional and integral factor and not enough derivative to settle the sine wave to a nice flat line.  This is where we are with the Obstacle Course Racing industry, affectionately known as Mud Runs.

Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, to name a few, started this craze in the United States and it wasn’t long before everybody wanted a piece of the action.  What started with a few thousand people at a handful of events in the country just a few short years ago has turned into millions of participants at thousands of events all over the country.  Hotbed regions like Florida and Ohio have developed with saturation of events happening every weekend.  With Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and Spartan making millions of dollars, everybody wants a piece of that pie.  So we turn to the basic economic principles of supply and demand.  With many new things there is a demand in the beginning but very limited supply.  The supply chain grows and it’s the responsibility of the suppliers to try and not flood the market beyond the demand.  The consumer base will hopefully increase but not necessarily at a linear rate to the supply and the hope is that at some point the 2 shall meet at some happy medium and the market settles out.

The Obstacle Course Racing industry has seen its up’s and down’s this year.  Since I’m from Ohio, I will speak from that market.  In the spring we had Centurion cancel due to low registrations, they were honest with their reason and issued full refunds.  As the season progressed, Superhero Scramble cancelled Ohio for reasons of damaged equipment from a previous race and Illinois for fear of the Spartan herpes, more commonly known as swimmer’s itch.  One event I was really looking forward to was 7-SAR.  They never really offered a reason for cancelling but they did give full refunds and even a free race to one of their other events, which I still don’t think they’ve pulled one off.  Then there’s Hero Rush, they already had a bad reputation in the Indiana region for cancelling last year and not giving refunds but they appeared to have their stuff together this time.  First they cancelled the Kentucky event which was quickly followed by the Ohio event.  Both of which were given full refunds and it’s a good thing because that was quickly followed by them filing for bankruptcy protection with no refunds to their remaining events.  I should probably mention that I was registered for every one of these events except for Superhero Illinois.  I believe that the true reason for all of these cancellations is low registration.  The Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana/Illinois area is a hot bed for OCR events as there is an event every weekend within 150 miles or less from my house.  You just got real jealous and ready to move to Ohio, didn’t you?  75% of these events are local home-grown events that are put on once per year and most of them are incredible events.  Some of them are way better than any of the afore-mentioned national franchise events.

So let’s get to the bottom of this.  Who’s responsible?  Are we just riding the waves?  I say we are all at fault and yes this is part of the cycle to settle the industry.  First, the organizers are responsible for their greed and inability to properly organize.  Everyone see’s the dollar signs that the big boys have been making and think they can take a piece of the action.  What they don’t do is the research required to ensure they maximize their attendance with the least amount of effort.  Everybody rush to Ohio and host an OCR!  If you build it they will come!  All the while there is already 3 events in the state on the same day that are half the price.  There’s nothing wrong with that as long as they understand that they might only get 500 registrants just like the local event 1 hour away.  The local events are very happy with 500 registrants because their overhead is considerably lower than the guy from Florida that has a good following down there and decides to pack up semi’s and staff for a month and try to build the same course in Ohio.  These events need 1000, 2000 people or more just to break even and they simply are not going to get that attendance without doing a whole lot of research and marketing.  They come with their registration costs of $80+ and think people will be happy with that when the event 2 counties over is $50.  They charge $10 for offsite parking and $20 for spectators when the guy in the next town has all that for free.  It’s a very dog-eat-dog market that’s developed in just a few short years and most people don’t even realize it.

Now, the participants are just as much at fault.  90% of the people going to these events will only do 1, maybe 2 of these per year and it’s just so they can get a cool Facebook profile picture or get drunk with their friends.  I think this number is decreasing as the popularity increases.  The remaining 10%, which would inversely be increasing as popularity increases, are out for other reasons.  First and foremost, they’re addicted, guilty as charged.  They may be doing this as part of a routine or resolution to get fit and healthy.  They may even actually be competing and winning cash at some of these events.  Whatever the reason, they will go to 10, 20 or even 30 of these events in a given year.  To do that, they will do whatever it takes to go as cheap as possible and many times will go volunteer for half the day just so they can run it for free or a reduced cost.  This mentality typically means one of two things: they will wait until the very last minute to register and pray for a last minute Groupon or Living Social coupon or they will register very early.  Remember, with the likes of Groupon, the event only gets about half of the coupon price which is typically half of the standard price so they are only making 25% on average with those.  The bulk of them don’t plan that far in advance for all of these events and will inevitably wait until the last minute.  This attitude is detrimental to the events.  As much as we have fun at these events, we have to remember that this is a business and these ‘groups’ are out to make money.  When an event needs to know that they are at least going to break even, they have to make decisions at least 6 to 8 weeks in advance of the event just to be able to ‘pull the plug’ when most of your die-hard core runners haven’t even decided which one they are going to run that weekend.  As humans we are natural procrastinators.  If we want these events to succeed, we need to do as much as we can to support them in every way possible.  If this means actually planning out our year in advance and getting the early registration price, then do it.

My suggestion to the guys that are trying to take parts of the OCR country by storm, go to another part of the country.  Go to Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Montana or any other place where the people are starving for these events.  If you want to come to the Midwest or any other region that is already saturated, do your homework, plan way in advance, set the date and start pushing the event or be ready to be happy with 500 registrants.  As participants, we can’t sit back and wait for the last minute Groupon.  You need to understand that the underlying reason for the Groupon is because the event is in trouble and needs more people and more exposure.  The simple fact that there is one should be a sign.  Register early and get 10 of your friends to register with you.  There are many Facebook groups out there with thousands of people that go to these events.  Get organized and help the industry by supporting these events.

Hi everyone!  My name is Kevin Jones, otherwise known as the Crazy Mudder Mucker, and I am an OCR addict.  This is just my humble opinion on the current state of the OCR ‘union’.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Cincy Nation Mud Run

West Chester, Ohio – August 3, 2013

I have debated on even giving this one the time of day: 1; to even run it and 2; to blog it.  I first heard of this event last January and I contacted the organizer.  It was quickly evident that this guy had no idea what he was doing and I’m not even sure if he had ever completed or attended an OCR.  “2 miles and 50 obstacles is what I want to do.”  WHAT?!?!?!   Are you nuts?  “$80 is the price and we aren’t going to budge on that.”  He said he believed that “people want more obstacles and shorter distance”.  After I caught my breath, my reaction was “you want people to pay $80 for a cluster****?”  Nobody in their right mind will do this.  I hung up and wrote this one off.  Too bad, because it was only 6 miles of my house.  The original date for Cincy Nation was the end of June and I was already booked on those days anyway.  At some point, Cincy Nation was ‘postponed’ due to land-owner issues but was eventually rescheduled to 8/3 about 1 mile from the original location.  No less than 2 months after talking to the organizer, there was a coupon out there for $40, which means he was only getting $20.  If he would have listened to me in the beginning and only charged $40 ~ $50 in the beginning, he would have made a lot more money.  In the meantime, Superhero Scramble had announced an event in Logan, Ohio ,also on 8/3, and that’s the one I decided to do.  Inevitably, as is happening with many franchise OCR’s, Superhero cancelled and I was left with an open weekend.  For fear of going through withdrawals, I found the $40 coupon and registered for Cincy Nation.

Packet pickup was Friday evening and all they had ready was a grocery bag with the t-shirt and the finisher’s dog tag in the bag.  OCR Never-do’s Rule #1: Dog tags are a sure sign of cheap and shitty events.  Additionally, there was no timing chip in the bag.  Why would you have ‘packet’ pickup if you aren’t giving the timing chip?  They stated we would have to get back in line Saturday morning to get the chip.

I decided to get there early Saturday morning and run the first wave for a competitive run.  It was raining so that would help make the course more interesting.  The course itself was not bad, although it was something less than 2 miles and maybe only 1-1/2.  The terrain was really good with plenty of hill but the ground was so rough you had to watch where you were running the entire time to make sure you step on a rock or in a rut and break an ankle.  Half of the obstacles actually had thought and time put into them and were decently constructed while the others were simply 4 hay bales stacked in the way.  Most of the ‘mud’ pits were really too shallow and short and not much to them but there were a couple that were of decent size with sufficient gooeyness to them.  The monkey bars were built well although there was only 1 row which created a line.  The feeble attempt at laying a long stretch of plastic on the ground with a garden hose as if to make a water slide quickly indicated that not much thought had been put into this.  The walls were good though, most of them short 4’ walls but there were a few 10’ walls as well.  They had advertised that the obstacle count was reduced to 42 and in the end there were only about 35. 

The fastest time on this course was 11 minutes.  I really hope that person went around a couple more times to get his money’s worth.  I ended up touring this course a total of 4 times; first time competitively, second with a couple people from the group, third time with a few more people from the group and the fourth time with some new recruits that wanted to go a second time.  The third trip around was the most congested with a backup at nearly every obstacle and I saw (2) broken ankles on that trip around.  There were very few people/marshalls working the course but the course was so small and close it really didn't matter, however it could have prevented the injuries.  There was nobody donning your neck with bling at the end because they had already given it to you, big mistake.

The after party area was really good though with plenty of music and good beer from a local microbrew and a couple food choices.  There were other vendors there as well.  All things considered, this event did exactly what the organizer thought it would.  For the 90% of the population that only hears about Mud Runs and thinks ‘that looks fun’ but has a hard time getting off the couch and putting down the cigarette, he succeeded.  90% of the people that I spoke to at the event were first-timers and for them this was the perfect event, at $40 not $80.  This event was at par with a Rebel Race only half the distance.  I will most likely not do this one again unless he steps it up a little or somebody begs me to do it with them.  I hope he steps it up because I like the fact that it’s so close to home.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Mud Ninja 2013

JL Parker Farm, Greenfield, Ohio - July 27, 2013

The Mud Ninja outdid himself this year.  I didn’t think it would be possible but I’m pretty sure he somehow got more hills into the course this year.  At least there was before they had to start shutting down some areas.

Let me start by giving big shouts out to the volunteers.  Many people from Crazy Mudder Muckers, Corn Fed Spartans and Team Ninja donated their time to help make this event possible.  I need to selfishly give a BIG shout out to my sons who I dragged out to the Ninja course Friday night to camp and then fed them to the Ninja Saturday morning who put them to work.  All of the volunteers on Saturday endured cold rain for at least 4 hours while just standing there at their respective watch.  Great job everyone.  More big props go to Seth Rich who got up in the wee hours of the morning to pick-up a new teammate, travelling from Chicago to run the Ninja, at the Cincinnati bus terminal at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday and drive him to the Ninja 2 hours away when Rich wasn’t even supposed to be there until Sunday.  That’s a supportive family!

OK.  In typical fashion, the Mud Ninja had lots of mud and Mother Nature made extra sure of that on Saturday.  A welcome change this year was the start line.  They added chip readers at the start line which was located next to this year’s big new obstacle, The American Ninja Warrior, more later on that one.  After the start there was a typical mud pond and running up/down slick wooded hills but then you came upon a ‘water slide’.  You first had to climb a near 60 degree incline to get to the top of a very large tarp that went downhill.  Water slides are typically added to courses as a ‘fun’ obstacle and not so much a true obstacle, except this one.  This slide was actually scary and difficult.  The slope made you go down so fast that you were completely out of control and the terrain was so rough that you got beat up on the way down.  The small water pit at the bottom was more like a crash landing.  I loved this slide.  Unfortunately, so many people were getting hurt on it that they shut it down after the first hour but not until at least 2 people from Crazy Mudder Muckers were injured, heal quickly Mandy and Cheryl.  After that more and more hills and rocky terrain and then about half way up the big hill there is the Snake Pit.  I’ve never seen anything like this on any other course.  If you were a Vietnam Veteran it might give flashbacks of crawling through rat holes in the jungle.  Several twisted grooves scraped along the surface of the ground just deep enough for a human body, filled with water and then covered with a tarp.  For fun they added a bunch of rubber snakes just to freak you out.  This obstacle is very difficult to traverse as you must crawl through the entire thing on your belly in the dark with your head just out of the water.  Not for the claustrophobic.  You then complete the climb up the first big hill to the ‘festival’ plateau and are greeted by The American Ninja Warrior, several springboards lined up in front of a 8’ wide water/mud pit.  Across the pit was a cargo net and ropes hanging off a 10’ high platform.  The object was to ‘spring’ across the pit, grab the net and pull yourself up and you were only given 60 seconds to complete this.  If you didn’t get a good leap across the pit or a good hold on the ropes, you were in the drink which is where I ended up.  It would have been much easier to grab the net because trying to pull yourself up the rope out of that pit and all the way up to the platform was NOT easy.  Immediately after that was another new obstacle, I don’t remember the name but it was a traverse wall.  Not like the dreaded Spartan traverse wall, much worse.  This one used the fake rock holds from climbing walls only the really small ones.  There were 4 across the top area for your hands and only 3 across the bottom for your feet and the total span was about 12’ and all of this was over a water/mud pit.  Very difficult but I did it.  This was another one they had to shut down after the holds just got too muddy.  Then the ever-popular Autism Speaks Wall.  What I love about this wall is it is totally impossible to traverse by yourself.  If you aren’t running with a teammate, the person next to you just became your best buddy.  A minimum of 3 people are required to get over this beast but it usually takes 4.  After that were some more additions to this year with the ropes over pits.  Consecutively you had to go down into a mud pit, rope climb out of that pit up a hill, hand-over-hand (no feet) cross a 30’ mud pit hanging from a rope, up and down a hill into a pit and back up another hill then another rope crossing across a pit but this time you can also use your feet on the rope, then down into an 8’ deep mud pit that’s impossible to get out without help.  You’re fairly exhausted after, but wait, you need to go back down the other side of the mountain now;  UGH!  The worst part of this ‘hill’ is the ascent back up the other side.  The angle is typically no less than 45 deg. and there are parts that you have to get on your hands and knees to get up long distances in slippery rock.  About 1/3 of the way up is Spider Web roping strung between trees for about 30’ on a slipper steep incline.  About 2/3 of the way up you meet the Widow Maker, a mean nasty bitch of a hill that’s around 75 degrees straight up for at least 20 yards in fine, shale gravel and mud.  This was the 3rd obstacle to be closed down after the rains and too many injuries.  I’m glad it was after I got tame this bitch.  I heard tell of a lady falling back down the hill to a broken knee.  Finally back at the top of the hill you are greeted by a series of trenches and mud piles that became more and more treacherous throughout the day.  When I went through, I was able to jump across each pit but not so much in the afternoon on the second trip around.  After that was the nastiest, smelliest farm animal pond you would ever NOT want to go in, but you had to this time.  The most impoverished country in the world wouldn’t even consider this a good watering or bathing hole.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t even good for most livestock, but we survived, MRSA results still not in.  This was quickly followed by a climbing wall and then the piece de resistance, a little stretch I like to refer to as the Gauntlet.  The finish is a series of mud pits and hills that are near impossible to get in and out of.  About 3 pits in is my one of my favorite parts of the course, an extremely deep pit with a very tall mound on the backside and a rope to climb up and out.  It doesn't take long for this to become such a slick gooey mess that the ropes are nearly impossible to use.  Again, these pits and hills require assistance and everybody is your friend.  These pits are finished off with a crawl through a mud pit to the finish line and the sweetest finisher's medal out there, a Ninja throwing star.

I set out this year with 2 goals; not get hurt (broke my ass last year) and come in under 1 hour.  I accomplished both with a run of 59:11.  What I didn't know was I would be only be 8 minutes away from one of the top finisher's Ninja swords.  Next year, that baby is mine.  The good news is, several people in our groups got swords, congrats everyone.  One of the best parts of this years event was I wasn't running it alone.  There were many people from the groups of Crazy Mudder Muckers, Corn Fed Spartans and Team Ninja there and we had a blast together.

To close this long review I want to give an extra shout out to my youngest son, who endured the entire morning in the cold rain volunteering one of the obstacles and decided that he wanted that bling so bad that he would do whatever it took.  So I went a second lap with him all the way and watched him trudge through everything the Ninja threw at him, even after blowing a hole in the side of his shoe about 1/3 of the way through.  He got the Gauntlet area, took his shoes off and finished the course barefoot.  Way to go buddy, I'm proud of you.

Until next year Ninja .. Sayonara