Friday, September 27, 2013

My opinion on the current state of the OCR world - Part 2

Hopefully you have read Part 1 of my opinion on the current state of the OCR world.  If not, please do; My opinion on the current state of the OCR world.

I wrote my first editorial opinion on this subject not even 2 months ago.  Since then, much has happened on this roller coaster ride that continues to prove my opinion that the market is still trying to figure itself out.  The laws of supply and demand have not yet settled into a smooth running market.  Greedy wanna-be's continue to plague the market and stiff the consumer.  In addition to the prerequisite reading of Part 1, I also suggest you read the following related articles from the great thinkers at Obstacle Racing Media: Superhero Scramble UnmaskedNo Refund For You! and Great American Mud Run Cancels All Future Events.

Events and organizations like Hero Rush, Great American Mud Run and Superhero Scramble are destroying all of the good that this great industry has accomplished and making it increasingly more difficult for the remaining events, especially the great ones, to be successful.  Whether these organizations are collapsing due to greed or because of mismanagement, the end effect is the same.  Events in the midwest are being cancelled and people are being left without refunds and bad opinions of the OCR industry.  I hate to say it but as much as I dislike the 'Groupon' approach, it seems to be the best recourse for these folks to be getting refunds.  The result is leaving the greatest percentage of the population, which is the 80% of the people that go to these events, with such a distrust that they will never attempt to do one of these events again.  If you are reading this, you are most likely one of the serious enthusiasts, like me, of the OCR world and either have a personal story of the positive impact this sport has had on your life and health or you know many people that have a great story to tell.  There are many people in this country that truly need the inspiration of completing one of these events to turn their lives around and with these events folding, they will never get that chance.  Following are 2 local media stories regarding the cancellation of the Great American Mud Run and the impact it had on 2 completely different women;  Mud run canceled, local woman wants refund and Mud Run participants left with nowhere to run This has been happening for some time now and not just in the Midwest; Mud run cancellation leaves many without promised refunds.  As mentioned in all of these, regular people take these events on as part of their 'bucket list' and train for months.  These are life impacting and life changing events in peoples lives and they are being taken advantage of by greedy people that have no idea what they are doing.  

Case in point are the not-so-super 'actions' of Superhero Scramble.  Superhero Scramble was to hold an event this past summer in Ohio and cancelled only a few weeks before the event.  Their claim was that they had suffered great losses to equipment from storms at their Carolina event.  Fortunately, this time they did offer refunds or you could transfer your registration to the 2014 Ohio event.  Seeing the writing on the wall, I chose the refund.  I'm going to go out on a limb and call 'bullshit' and believe that the cancellation was due to low registration.  Superhero was to also have their first Super Villain event in July at the same location in Illinois as the Spartan Super.  Many of you will remember this location as the start of the infamous Spartan Rash.  Superhero postponed this event with the excuse that the health risks were too great and they wanted to ensure the area or possible infestation was cleaned up before they exposed anyone to it again.  Once again, I call bullshit and believe this was just a convenient excuse to give them more time to increase registration numbers.  Just this past weekend, while everyone was enjoying a good ass-whooping from a quality organization on Mt. Killington, Superhero announced the cancellation of the Illinois Super Villain and that they were not giving full refunds.  This time they made 2 claims, that the local Board Of Health had not yet cleared the site and that their insurance company was not going to underwrite the event due to the potential health hazards of poison ivy.  The announcement can be read here.  Once again I call bullshit, as does the vast majority of the population, and firmly believe this is a result of low registrations.  Quoted from the Lasalle County Public Health Dept. "Individuals from the state health department visited the site on two occasions to investigate possible causes of the rash. During the onsite visit, initial assessment did not reveal evidence of large numbers of chiggers or conditions that support the presence of Cercariae that causes “swimmer’s itch”."   "On August 27, 2013 IDPH sent out two Environmental Health Specialists.  They were focusing on the presence of chiggers. They did not find any chigger activity from their two testing sites."  They went on to state that there were no further reports of new poison ivy outbreaks since the Spartan incident. The area is known to have large areas that are covered with poison ivy, but sprays such as that used by Dirt Runner control the weeds effectively.  In addition, Dirt Runner has held several events since the Spartan Super without incident or report of any further outbreaks.  

An executive of K2 Insurance, not the insurer of Superhero but an insurer of many other OCR's, stated the following "It would not be uncommon for an underwriter to deny coverage for an event knowing that there has been prior issues regarding the venue location.

It is possible the same company that writes Spartan, also writes Super Hero Scramble. Without the specific declination from the underwriter we can only speculate. The potential exposure to poison ivy would be an “expected hazard,” so it generally would not warrant a declination in and of itself. Knowing that the venue has produced a publicized “outbreak” is enough to make some underwriters uncomfortable enough to just issue a declination. Waivers offer a good deterrent; however, people will still have the right to sue for recovery.

I use several carriers for this type of event. If one says “no” we go to another however, the pricing increase may be significant. Mr. O’Conner may have combined this with other factors to determine it was not worth the potential exposure and harm to his brand.

So IF the insurance company that writes SHS did issue a declination, then SHS has a valid argument. However, it seems like there are plenty of other options that could have been available - e.g. using a different insurance carrier or finding a different venue. I discovered myself that the venue used by Tough Mudder (the hunt club in Seneca) is open for use on Oct 5th as no other events are being held there that day. That could have been a viable option. But regardless, this comes down to the cost/benefit of finding an insurance company that would sponsor this event on grounds that had a known outbreak of poison ivy, and whether the cost of the coverage was too exorbitant to make the race profitable (because we all know that the race needs to make money to continue to survive)."

Sean 'Ace' O'Connor (Founder & CEO of Superhero Scramble) claims "we immediately searched for an alternate venue, however we were not able to find anything suitable" yet many people have stated that the location of the Tough Mudder in Seneca is completely open and available.  By the way, never trust anyone that refers to himself as 'Ace'.  On the Chicago Spartans Facebook page, Mr. O'Connor recently posted this:

Mr. O'Connor, every individual that you have screwed out of their hard-earned money knows exactly what is lost to them and they wish you knew that.  My reply to Mr. O'Connor:

He replied with the following:

The only immediate reply that came to mind was:

The fact still remains that this is a very young industry and the dust is still settling however the standard rules of economics and supply and demand are not being adhered to.  The 'suppliers' are clearly destroying things quickly.  These guys are the first ones to bad mouth having to use Groupon and such just to get people to their events.  The clear message from all of these companies is that they do not have the funds or capacity up front to hold these events and that they are using the cash from registrants to front the event.  They are using the public as unwilling investors.  It would be like going to an amusement park, paying to get in and having the park take your money and try to build the rides ahead of you.  If not enough people show up that day, you don't get to ride anything and have nothing to show for your 'investment'.  These organizations just need to come clean with the truth and be properly prepared to take on these ventures without expecting the public to front the cash for their failures.  Things like this will quickly turn this great, life-changing sport into a fad that will be all but gone just as quickly as it came to be.  I hope for the sake of the health and well-being of this great nation that they do not win and the demand will continue with as much force as it has had.

For those of you that are left out on October 5th, Dirt Runner, the location that was to be the Super Villain, will accommodate any and all individuals (for a nominal fee) that were left out by Superhero and have lots of great OCR adventures.  Go here for details.  I predict this will happen without incident or rash.  I also predict Superhero Scramble to be the next failure in the industry.  If they owe you money, do whatever it takes to get it while you can and be very cautious about registering for one of their events.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mud, Guts & Glory - 2013

King's Domain, Oregonia, Ohio - August 31, 2013

I first heard of this event in January of 2013.  They first advertised it as 7 miles and the date was July 6.  I was already registered for something else on the same day and wasn't really sure if I was ready for the distance.  Even though it's only 25 minutes from my house, I decided to not register.  Months went by and they postponed the event.  With the way the rest of the OCR industry was going (read here), I was glad I wasn't registered.  The new date was August 31 and they started changing the distance with a variance of 5 to 7 miles.  On the outside, this had all the appearances of another failed attempt to get into an already saturated market.

Another couple months went by and my good buddy Matt Davis of Obstacle Racing Media sent me a message and asked if I was registered since he knew I probably lived close to the venue.  I replied no, I was already overbooked for the season and it just wasn't in my OCR budget.  He quickly responded with something like "forget that!!  You're doing it!!" and just like that, I was registered in the Elite wave with Matt Davis.  Soon after, the media push started on this event and it was huge.  Dhani Jones, former linebacker of the Cincinnati Bengals, was involved with this event and was bringing his film crews from Playbook 360 on Spike TV to film the event.  MGG decided to get as many top names in the OCR world as they could get to come run this course.  People like Amelia Boone, Jeff Cain, Dan Krueger, Heather Gannoe, Holly Berkey, Brad Kloha, Rob Butler, Matt Davis and last minute entry Junyong Pak.  This just became the playground of champions.

I need to get this out there, I was wrong!  King's Domain is where the newest permanent obstacle course in the country is located and it's first event was titled Mud, Guts & Glory.  King's Domain is a camp/retreat located in Oregonia, Ohio about 1 hour from Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus (depending on what side of town you are on).  This amazing organization is dedicated to providing opportunities and help to 'at-risk' inner-city children and families.  The obstacle course was designed and constructed with many purposes; a place to help train people to overcome 'obstacles' either as an individual or as a team, to help with team-building exercises and also to help provide a revenue stream to assist the fundamental purpose of King's Domain.  It's not often you find such a committed group of individuals all out for the same purpose.  This event was not like most of the groups out there that are trying desperately to tap into a new market and make as much money as they can, this course was developed with a purpose.  When you see the time and effort that was put into this course you understand the conviction to the cause.

To help get this event off right, we got the word out to the Crazy Mudder Muckers and Cornfed Spartans to come give this event a try and we ended up with around 20 participants.  I knew MGG was bragging about the hills and total elevation change on this course but nothing could top the Virginia Spartan Super the week before.  I just wanted my knees to hold out.  We were given the chance to preview the course Friday night with the aforementioned elites.  The first thing you see when you arrive is the 'gauntlet' of obstacles toward the end of Stage 1 and you are instantly full of mixed emotions; fear, intimidation, awe and excitement among others.  The monkey bars were freaking me out and just before that was a mud crawl with electric shock.  Of all the events I have participated in, none of them have had electric shock and I was nervous.  My goals for this course were to survive without getting shocked, falling from the monkey bars and with my knees fully intact.  The course was designed with so much forethought, they incorporated the 5 miles of the course into stages that are approximately 1 mile each and the difficulty increases with each stage.  The end of each stage has an optional exit so the runner can choose to end the course early.  This is for many reasons; in just a training run you may want to only concentrate on a certain set of obstacles or maybe you aren't up to 5 miles yet or during a race you may find you need to exit early.  The current course is about 5.2 miles with 33 advertised obstacles with the intention of getting it up to 7 miles and more obstacles in the near future.

Saturday morning comes around and we make our way to the Start line, something I did not see Friday evening.  It was straight uphill from the start.  I really despise when races do this but this course was all about terrain.  The MC was working crowd and the Spike TV crews were everywhere.  The buzz in the air was electric and everybody was pumped to get this party started.  "Mud", "Guts", "Glory", "GO!!" and we were off!!  Up the hill, winding through the woods, over rocks and logs, a swinging bridge, a 'normal' monkey bars and eventually back to the parade field and the gauntlet.  I could hear the 'ZAP' of the electric shocking people as I neared.  I remembered all of my core training with planks and everything we love/hate and crawled my way through the mud, under the bug-zapper and made it through without getting zapped.  I was safe!  Then a short wall and up the tires to Monkey Madness.  The bars were such a mess, I was really afraid of falling from the highest point so I chose to use my feet also.  There was lots of confusion around what was legal with this one and most people chose to go across the top.  I made it down and back up the other side, down the tires, over another wall and then there are these massive logs that you must go over and under.  After that comes the Castle Wall, a massive ladder-like structure stretching 27 feet into the sky that you must climb up, over and down the other side.  Heights don't bother me but there were many people that opted out of this one.  From there it was through a culvert, up a creek (which unfortunately was dry this time) and up the next hill side.  This was also the end of stage 1 if we wanted out but I wasn't about to not complete this course.

Stage 2 was lots hills and trails with a couple natural obstacles like logs and such but this is where the Sternum Checker was which was very interesting.  I almost fell off this thing because I didn't leap far enough but I did make it.  Back down the hill we went to a very long, rocky creek run and up another hill to stage 3.  At some point I caught up with my new friend Heather Gannoe and we ran together for quite some time.  If you're stuck walking up hills, it's nice to be able to carry on a good conversation with someone.  For some reason most races include some sort of 'fun' obstacle but I never like these.  Spartan Race has the spear throw which I think should be called 'burpee station with an option out'.  MGG has 'David & Goliath'.  The participant must hit Goliath, a large painting on boards about 25 feet away, between the eyes with a paintball using a slingshot and you get 3 tries.  The closest I got was his chin and the only failed obstacle of the event.  Next up was a very long log carry and running more hills until we come upon a rope climb.  Similar to the Spartan rope climb only you didn't start in a water/mud pit but you had to climb the 20' rope up and ring the bell.  After that, more hills but one of the steepest yet, Mt. Kill-A-Man.  I must interject that shoes make all the difference in the world in these events.  At some point we ran past the exit of Stage 3.  Stage 4 was mostly hills and trails and at some point ended up all the way at the top of King's Domain where the cabins and cottages are.  This is where they had you pull a log, tied to a rope, down a dirt road and back for a total of about 3/10 of a mile and then back down the hill you go.  By this time you've pretty much figured out that you will most likely be running back up this hill at some point and are sure it will never end.  I think stage 4 is where the Weaver obstacle was.  I've never seen anything like this and was difficult and time consuming to do.  Stage 5: again, mostly hills and trails but at some point you end up looking down a very steep hillside with ropes leading down.  This hill is too steep to run down without using the ropes so you either slide down on your backside or rappel down, which is why they call this one Rope Burn Hill.  Finally at the bottom, you turn and run 100 feet to your right and realize you have to turn and go right back up that same hill, just a little further downstream.  This climb is so much higher than the downside that there are 3 sets of ropes to get you up to the top.  My guess is about 120' of elevation change on this one.  The hillside is so steep and nothing but sand that it's very difficult to climb.  By the time you get to the top, you're exhausted.

I knew I had to be near the end of the course and it appeared to be all downhill.  I just realized my knees weren't hurting me on these hills.  But these weren't anything like the mountainsides in Virginia.  I took off running down the hill and across the ridge line to the top of the slide.  This is one of the longest slides I've seen on any course and it was smooth and fun.  At the bottom, I sprinted my big finish to the finish line and some very cool bling.

This course was incredible and I will definitely be back there.  Everyone needs to run this course.  It's permanent and hope to hold periodic training events for beginners to advanced runners in addition to the 3 to 4 events per year they plan to hold there.  Everything about this course and event is right; it 100% supports a great cause, the heart and soul gone into the development really shows, the volunteers working the event were the best ever and it's only 25 minutes from my house.  From this moment on, I shall consider this my home court ;)  A lot of thought and consideration has gone into MGG including the festival area and Glory Village located in the gauntlet area and lots of shaded picnic area for post-race libation.  The only down-side was off-site parking.  It was another great day with many great friends and many more new ones.  I have to say that Spartan has nothing on MGG.  The finish line?  For MGG you'll know at the Start line.

Something I forgot to mention is the incredible Family course and/or children's course.  It's every bit as incredible as the big kids but only 1 mile long and they offer some sort of child care so mom's and dad's can go run the big course together without having to split up.

Congratulations to Crazy Mudder Muckers Nicki Green and Ulrike Rosser for taking 2nd and 3rd place in the Female Elite division behind none other than Amelia Boone.  CMM ladies rock !!!  They had cash prizes for top 3 male and female finishers of $250, $500 and $1000 that they paid out on the day of the event, unlike many other races out there (read here).

Watch Spike TV on September 18, 2013 for all the action.

Other reviews of this course can be found here: