Rugged Maniac’s Changes Its Timing Protocol

Rob Dickens, co-founder of Rugged Maniac, recently sent out an e-mail explaining the way this event will time competitors going forward. After relying on timing chips, and then making timing chips optional (at an additional cost), the race has decided to do away with timing chips entirely. For 2017, anyone who wants to compete for a spot on the podium will have to enter the first wave of the day. Other competitors will simply time themselves against the start and finish line clocks. Rugged Maniac will then let you submit your time to their online database so that you can track yourself against others in your age group, at the same event, etc.

This move appears to solve lots of problems: racers who are competitive can race in a competitive heat. Those who want to keep track of their score and compare their performance with others can do so (assuming enough people take the extra step of reporting their time). Those who want to participate as part of a “fun run” are automatically do this. And no one has to pay for a complex, expensive timing system. This arrangement is similar to the one Warrior Dash implemented a few years ago.

The only possible downside to this arrangement is that it might have compromised Rugged Maniac’s ability to serve as a qualifying event for the OCR World Championships.  However, Rugged Maniac and OCRWC are working together so that the top ten male and female finishers at each event will qualify for OCRWC.

I asked Rob some questions about this new format:

ORM: Did you compare notes with the people at Warrior Dash to see how their transition to this system had worked?
Rob: We did not.  We looked at what our contemporaries were doing with regards to timing to see what options were available, and we talked to our Maniacs to understand what was most important to them. What we learned was that Maniacs choose to get timed for one of two reasons: (1) they want to win the race and/or qualify for the OCR World Championships or (2) they want to see how fast they are compared to others.

Moving away from chip timing actually allows us to better provide what our Maniacs want.  With respect to winners/OCRWC qualifiers, we’ll have our staff at the finish line to manually record the top 10 men and women in the Elite Heat, which is a more accurate system than chip timing (but not scalable for timing everyone) and doesn’t cost the runners anything.  We’ll continue to award prizes to the top 3 men, top 3 women, and top man and woman 50 or older.  We’ll no longer offer an under-20 category.

For those who simply want to know how they stack up against the field, we’ll compile self-reported times from Maniacs who wish to be included in the unofficial results, sort them by age and gender, and then make them available after each event.  This is an improvement over what we were doing in previous years because now that Maniacs no longer have to pay $10 for a timing chip, many more will submit their times for the unofficial results, creating a much larger field for comparison.

ORM: Since I am a lawyer by training and therefore inclined to see the worst in people, I have to ask about the possibility of cheating. The start and finish are easy to monitor, but what about the obstacles on the course? Wouldn’t it be easy for a less-than-honest competitor to skip obstacles on his way to a top ten finish?
Rob: Nothing will change with regards to obstacle completion on the course.  We have always relied on a combination of staff monitoring and runner self-policing to ensure that only those who complete all obstacles are eligible to win the race or qualify for the OCRWC.
I reached out to OCRWC founder Adrian Bijanada, who told me “as long as they have sufficient staff to guarantee the integrity of results ” he was happy to accept the new timing scheme.  This includes marshaling on the course.
The reaction on Facebook has been encouraging. One bonus that Rob did not trumpet is that Rugged Maniac does not charge extra to sign up for the first, elite heat, unlike most races with competitive first waves..
 While this might not be the best development for the timing chip industry, it represents progress for the sport as a whole. It acknowledges that participants come to races for a variety of reasons and with a variety of expectations. It also presents the possibility that more races might eliminate the extra expense of timing, which is a good thing for smaller races that are trying to grow. Finally, it sends a message that more people are welcome at more races: you don’t have to be competing against anyone to take part, but if you feel the drive of competition after trying one of these races, you can come back again with tracking your time as a goal. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Here’s the full text of what Rugged Maniac sent out:

In case you haven’t heard, we’ve decided to eliminate official timing at our events.  Going forward, you won’t have to pay $10 for a timing chip to see how you stack up against your fellow Maniacs on the course!

Here’s how it’ll work:  The post-race email will contain a link to an online form where you can enter your name, age, gender, and finish time as determined by you (there will be a clock at the finish line for this purpose).  We’ll then sort all the results by age and gender and post them on our website.  The beauty of this system is that it’ll be open to everyone, not just the people who run in the Elite Heat, so you’ll see your time compared to many more people than in the past.

This system will NOT be used to determine the winners, so there’s no incentive for people to intentionally fudge their times.  The winners will be the top 3 men and top 3 women who cross the finish line in the 9:45 a.m.Elite Heat.  The top-10 men and top-10 women in the Elite Heat will also qualify to compete in the OCR World Championships.  We will not record times for anyone outside of the top-10 in the Elite Heat.

I hope to see you at an event this year! As an added bonus, sign up between now and January 13th and take 10% off your registration with promo code TIMING.

Sincerely,

Rob Dickens
Co-Founder
Rugged Maniac

Obstacle Difficulty: In Search Of The Sweet Spot

When is an obstacle just difficult enough, but not too difficult?

I have been thinking about this question a lot recently. One of the great things about OCR is that it appeals to participants at all ends of the fitness spectrum: there are countless stories of people whose first foray off the couch is a Warrior Dash that they got dragged to by a co-worker, and there are athletes whose fitness levels match those of the top-ranked men and women in any sport. The courses that designers create must provide a good experience for everyone who attempts them. How do you make sure that the array of obstacles is a good match for the broadest possible market? And what happens when you don’t?

The first time I noticed this problem was when I tackled the Spartan Sprint at Tuxedo in June.  I went with some instructors from my neighborhood CrossFit box, who had never done a Spartan Race of any distance. After climbing up the mountain and down the mountain and up the mountain and down the mountain on a hot summer afternoon, they were exhausted. Again, these were people who are among the fittest around; there is also supposed to be a good match between CrossFit skills and what is needed to succeed at Spartan Races (and not just because both are sponsored by Reebok). Nevertheless, they found the Sprint distance to be daunting enough that they weren’t going to try it again. I found myself closer to the back of the pack during the race, and I spoke with plenty of people who were overwhelmed with how difficult the course was. Some were novices, and some were racers who had tried the stadium sprint at CitiField a few months prior. If a Sprint distance race, which is presumably the entry-level event for this series, left so many participants gassed and burpeeing out of obstacles, how was Spartan going to appeal to the masses it hopes to convert to its way of life?

Another Spartan Race brought this issue to mind, this time in Asheville. Followers of ORM will remember the time when Ryan Atkins, one of the most successful athletes in the sport, found himself unable to climb a rope because it was too slippery. As he later said in an interview, if it was too difficult even for him, how could anyone else be expected to succeed at that obstacle? For the record, I should point out that because Ryan is Canadian, when he said it he made it sound modest and not at all obnoxious as it might seem out of context.

Ryan_Atkins-Spartan_Race-3

Ryan Atkins has a 100% completion rate for this obstacle

Finally, I read about another race series that bragged about how difficult its obstacles are, which sounds like decent marketing. However, this race also featured mandatory obstacle completion, which is to say that you were not eligible for a spot on the podium unless you completed all the obstacles (i.e, no option for taking a penalty like burpees and continuing with the race). The result was that a number of the age-group podiums lacked anyone who made it to the finish line without failing at least one obstacle.

There must be some kind of sweet spot: a level of difficulty between there being no obstacles at all (a 5K trail run, for example) and where the obstacles are impossible to complete. Somewhere in the middle there must be a level of difficulty that challenges people new to the sport but still makes the experience competitive for those who are hoping to win, easy enough that racers can get through the obstacles but not so easy that the experience is boring. Is this something that race directors think about? How do they balance those needs?

I spoke to Garfield Griffiths, who has designed obstacles for Savage Race, BattleFrog, OCRWC and, most recently, CMC. He is a fan of mandatory completion, though he sees that it can lead to problems and empty slots on the podium. As he put it, “how many 70 year olds can complete Sawtooth?” Races need to appeal broadly, and he is more about people being able to do the obstacles. “A 70% success rate is a decent rate to shoot for.” For example, at the OCR World Championships, he thinks that 70% would be the right level for an designer to strive for, and that there is not much point in making an obstacle so difficult that even Ryan Atkins can’t complete it. He also noted that a world championship event can have the same level of difficulty as a less famous event. The Olympic marathon is just as difficult and just as long as the marathon in your home town, so the obstacles at OCRWC should be just as difficult as at a locally run competitive race. A less competitive event, such as a Rugged Maniac, might shoot for a higher rate, perhaps 80%. He also noted that there are different success rates for different types of obstacles; a showcase obstacle might be designed to have a success rate of 65 to 70 percent, whereas for a harder obstacle such as monkey bars the rate might dip to 60%. Of course, this is balanced by other obstacles where failure isn’t really an issue. “You can’t really fail at a mud crawl.” Finally, he pointed out that “you need people to come back”. If the obstacles are so daunting and discouraging, eventually you lose customers.

cmc-garfield

Garfield Griffiths, right, mugging for the camera

Saw Tooth

Sawtooth. Not easy, especially for a 70 year-old.

I also spoke to Eli Hutchison from Tough Mudder, whose official title is Senior Product Manager, but who might be better known as one of the designers of Tough Mudder’s brilliant range of obstacles. Indeed, he told me that there is a sweet spot for every obstacle, though since Tough Mudder is “a challenge, not a race”, the reasons for selecting that sweet spot are different from those of other events. He opened the (I’ll assume orange-colored) kimono as to how TMHQ selects their obstacles and adjusts their difficulty. For starters, Tough Mudder divides obstacles into four categories, depending on its goal:
1) Fun, such as Mud Mile.
2) Personal accomplishment. An obstacle such as Funky Monkey, requires upper body strength, which comes with training and developing skills.
3) Courage (“Mental Grit”). Obstacles such as Arctic Enema and Electroshock Therapy require participants to overcome fears, but they do not require any physical skills.
4) Teamwork. Generally these obstacles require that you cooperate with other people on the course, though there are some that, if you are a top athlete, you could also complete on your own, such as Everest 2.0. However, these obstacles are all totally achievable if you work together.

worlds-toughest-eli-and-nolan

Eli, right, poses with fellow Tough Mudder Evil Genius, Nolan Kombol

For the personal accomplishment obstacles, the designers set a goal for how many can complete the obstacle. The rate varies from obstacle to obstacle, but most hover around 60% in dry ideal conditions. For King of the Swingers, about one out of every three participants succeedes in hitting the bell, a rate that TMHQ achieved by adjusting the distance to the bell until they got that rate. Why so low? King of the Swingers, and its level of difficulty, keeps people wanting to come back and try it again until they get it right and attain that level of personal achievement. How does TMHQ figure this out? You know those customer satisfaction surveys they send out? They actually read them and tabulate the results. This should not surprise anyone who remembers Tough Mudder’s origin story as a business school project. King of the Swingers received the highest score when the bell was set at a distance where one in three could hit the bell. Part of the experience that Tough Mudder sells is providing people with true physical challenges and giving them the opportunity to overcome them. Some of the happiest customers are those that surprised themselves.

King-Of-Swingers

King of the Swingers

The same number-crunching applies even for the “Mental Grit” obstacles. These are supposed to instill fear, but the fear is not supposed to be so debilitating that participants balk and cause a back-up as they hesitate to go through the electric wires or into the ice bath. TMHQ calculates the throughput, times how long people stall, and optimizes the experience. When TM introduced the Half Mudder as an entry-level event, they also made adjustments to these obstacles.

Eli also told me that these precepts are applied differently for World’s Toughest Mudder. Given the differences in the number and experience of the participants, they could adjust some obstacles to make them more difficult. When Toughest Mudder (an eight hour version of WTM) is introduced next year, they will shoot for a middle ground because the length of the event gives them more time to work with than the regular Tough Mudder.

Finally, as Tough Mudder branches out globally, they have analyzed how to apply the sweet spot to appeal to customers in different countries. For example “Australians like things to be a lot harder“, so you will find a different menu of obstacles there. Local conditions can also dictate what constitutes a tougher obstacle. As Tough Mudder moves into Asia, they have had to take into account that the percentage of people who can swim is lower than in the US. Even smaller distances can yield different results. Apparently there are 15 -20% swings in completion rates for the same obstacles in Tahoe and Vancouver.

At Spartan Races, I spoke to VP for Production Mike Morris, who told me that the relative difficulty of the obstacles was something they talk about a lot at Spartan HQ.  Their approach is different from Tough Mudder’s, because while both are concerned about safety, Spartan also prioritizes developing the sport of OCR. “The obstacles don’t have to be mind-blowingly difficult or crazy or huge. It’s not about just building the biggest monstrosity, but building and developing the sport and building a lifestyle around the sport.” They are looking to challenge the elites, but they are also looking to engage the majority of runners who are racing for fun. For the elite runners, the variety of the obstacles allows racers to leverage different strengths – a bucket carry is a good obstacle for a stronger athlete, but the monkey bars are a better obstacle for a lighter racer.
Spartan WC 2015 Byrce Stanton Bucket Carry
Bucket carry – better for some athletes than for others.
In its early years Spartan experimented with race-specific obstacles  for the races of different lengths, so you would see some obstacles only at the Sprint or only at the Super distance. For 2017 there will be more specific obstacles, ones that are unique to the Beast or unique to the Super. “People who show up for harder races are in better shape.”

Are obstacles at races too hard? Too easy? And do you seek out events depending on the level of difficulty? While no race series will be able to satisfy everyone, is there one that has the broadest appeal to you based on how tough the event is? Let us know in the comments.

Tough Mudder Introduces New Obstacles for 2017

Tough Mudder has released details about the new obstacles for 2017, and it is clear that they will keep Tough Mudders wet, disoriented, and dangling in midair. Which is how Tough Mudder likes it.

Most of these obstacles will debut at World’s Toughest Mudder, which takes place this weekend outside Las Vegas, and those who are curious are bound to get glimpses of the new obstacles during the copious live feeds that will be broadcast.

In the meantime, you can also see many of the obstacles in this dramatic video: 

Once you have picked your jaw up off the floor, you might want to know more about the individual obstacles you just saw. The most impressive is called Augustus Gloop. Why is that name familiar? If Johnny Depp is your WIlly Wonka, then you will remember this:

However, if you go old school Gene Wilder, try this instead

Sadly, this obstacle does not involve a river of chocolate. Rather, Mudders will climb up a tube while water rushes down at them. I spoke to obstacle designer Eli Hutchison, who explained that while the tube itself will not be difficult to climb, the force of the water flowing down will make it feel like you can’t breathe. “Just keep your head down”, he advised. Thanks, Eli.


auustus-gloop-top

august-gloop-4
Another brand new obstacle is called Reach Around, which requires participants to climb almost 20 feet in the air to a point which requires some problem-solving to get past a point before climbing back down. This obstacle combines both the need for upper body strength as well as the need to overcome a fear of heights.

the-reach-around-3

The remaining two new obstacles are the latest updates on successful obstacles from the past. Arctic Enema was originally just a dumpster full of ice water separated by a fence, requiring you to dunk yourself completely to emerge at the other side (and originally it was called “Chernobyl Jacuzzi”, but that’s another story). Version 2.0 introduced in 2015 forced Mudders to slide into the ice under wire fencing, preventing you from hesitating on your way down. The latest version, Arctic Enema – The Rebirth, replaces the fenced-in slide with a tube, reminiscent of the old obstacle “Boa Constrictor”. The catch? You’re supposed to go down the tube head first, which means you get more submersion, more cold, and a greater element of fear. Well played, Tough Mudder.

beta-testing-2016-sep-451

Also updated is Funky Monkey. This was originally just a monkey bar climb over water, and it was updated to add a transition from monkey bars to a pole. If you have finally mastered this skill, in 2017 you get to try Funky Monkey – The Revolution, which adds moving wheels to the mix of items you need to grab to get across. This innovation may or may not have its inspiration from the American Ninja Warrior courses.

Legionnaires, those who have already completed a Tough Mudder, will have more options this year as well. Three obstacles will feature Legionnaire Lanes, where an obstacle has been adapted to be just that much tougher (and get an even more aggressive name). You might call these versions “enhanced”, with the same meaning as “enhanced interrogation”. Augustus Gloop will become Snot Rocket, and Legionnaires will have to approach the entrance to the tube through a wire covered pool of water, reminiscent of Cage Crawl, with only a few inches of water between you and the fencing. The Legionnaire Lane for Reach Around is called Stage 5 Clinger and will require you to climb to the top at an even steeper, more technical angle. Birth Canal has been adapted as Black Hole, requiring you to crawl under heavy bags of water, but this time in complete darkness (WTM insider alert: this obstacle will not be present at Vegas this weekend. Now you know!). Finally, instead of Electroshock Therapy, Legionnaires will be able to opt for something called Kong, which will require you to swing from ring to ring high in the air. The twist is that the rings are spaced farther and farther apart as you cross the obstacle.

mind-the-gap-5

Tough Mudder has shown that it can innovate by introducing new obstacles and keep the event fresh by updating old ones. The focus is on making obstacles that are challenging, but entertaining.I know that I can’t wait to give Augustus Gloop a try. Even if no chocolate is involved.

Bonus: You can hear the podcast with the entire conversation between Eli, ORM’s Matt B. Davis and myself, here.

Tough Mudder Press Release:

BROOKLYN, NY (November 10, 2016) – Tough Mudder Inc., the leading active lifestyle brand, announced today its new obstacles for the 2017 event season which feature four new challenges – a new Legionnaire finish obstacle (for participants who have completed at least one Tough Mudder event) and three Legionnaire-only features. Select new obstacles will debut at World’s Toughest Mudder, the grueling 24-hour extreme endurance race presented by Cellucor, on Saturday, November 12 at Lake Las Vegas at 12 p.m. PST.

Fans can watch the world’s leading ultra-endurance athletes take on these new challenges for the first time and compete for a $100,000 grand prize by viewing the Tough Mudder/CBS Sports’ World’s Toughest Mudder Livestream at ToughMudder.com.

The new 2017 Tough Mudder obstacles are:

New Extreme Obstacles:

  • Augustus Gloop – Participants must enter into a chest-deep pit of water before ascending up a vertical tube. As they attempt to ascend through the confined tube, they must fight off a cascade of water gushing down on them from above.
  • Funky Monkey – The Revolution – A literal “spin” on Tough Mudder’s classic Funky Monkey obstacle. Participants test their upper body strength to complete this challenge while transitioning from monkey bars to traverse a series of revolving wheels – all while dangling over a water pit.
  • Arctic Enema – The Rebirth – Participants slide down a confined, dark tube head first into an icy pool of water, navigate across one section and must submerge themselves yet again under a wall to escape this freezing vessel of ice water.
  • The Reach Around – Playing upon one’s fear of heights and one of the most challenging obstacles on the course, this nearly 20 feet tall obstacle forces participants to climb up and go beyond vertical in an inverted 45 degree angle to overcome it.

For those who have completed a Tough Mudder event, known as Legionnaires, Tough Mudder is providing new challenges – in the form of special Legionnaire-only lanes to enhance their experience in 2017. The lanes will be new twists on classic challenges, as well as an all-new Legionnaire-only finisher obstacle that will test participant’s upper body strength and fear of heights.

Enhanced Legionnaire Lanes:

  • Snot Rocket (Augustus Gloop Legionnaire Lane): Before attempting to enter the vertical tube of this kicked-up Augustus Gloop, participants must pull their way through a steel fence-topped trench while floating on their back with only a few inches of air between water’s surface and the fence.
  • Black Hole (Birth Canal Legionnaire Lane): Participants must crawl and push their way through a confining gauntlet of 100 lb water-filled barriers suspended above them in total darkness.
  • Stage 5 Clinger (The Reach Around Legionnaire Lane): In addition to scaling one of the tallest and toughest obstacles on the course, Legionnaires will have to come up with a new strategy to navigate across a now 90 degree angle to reach its peak.

Legionnaire Finish Obstacle:

  • Kong: Taking Legionnaire finish obstacles to new heights, literally, this giant, 30-foot obstacle will have participants swinging like Tarzan, traversing from one floating ring to another with increasing distance between them.

“The 2017 enhancements set a new standard of excellence in obstacle innovation and showcase the physicality and intensity which makes Tough Mudder unique,” said Will Dean, CEO and Co-Founder of Tough Mudder, Inc. “The mental and physical challenges participants experience is ­­­­what makes Tough Mudder the industry leader. We remain committed to exploring and engineering ways to present new challenges and increase obstacle difficultly to keep our events fresh and exciting. We look forward to welcoming thousands of new and returning participants to Mudder Nation in 2017 to face these challenges together.”

Deemed as “probably the toughest event on the planet,” Tough Mudder tests teamwork, while pushing pushes one’s physical abilities and mental grit limits. With more than 2.5 million participants to date across four continents, Tough Mudder events challenge people across a 10-12 mile course featuring 20-25 signature obstacles.

In addition to the Live Stream of World’s Toughest Mudder, CBS Sports will premiere its series of programs on the World’s Toughest Mudder in December. Viewers can tune into Road to the World’s Toughest Mudder on CBS Sports Network on December 15 at 9:00 PM EST for a behind the scenes, in-depth look at the obstacles, the competitors and preparation leading up to the grueling 24 hour competition. On December 25 at 2:00 PM EST on CBS, viewers will get to experience all the excitement, drama, agony and joy from the 2016 World’s Toughest Mudder. Immediately following the World’s Toughest Mudder program, CBS Sports Network will host a post-event roundtable World’s Toughest After at 3:00 PM EST, featuring the winners and top competitors.

For more information on the 2017 Tough Mudder obstacles, World’s Toughest Mudder, the Tough Mudder CBS Sports special or to register for an event, visit ToughMudder.com. Join the conversation by following Tough Mudder on Twitter at @ToughMudder or Instagram at @Tough_Mudder.

###

About Tough Mudder, Inc.:

Founded in 2010 with the launch of the Tough Mudder event series of 10-12 mile obstacle courses, Tough Mudder Inc. has since grown to become a leading active lifestyle company. The brand includes Tough Mudder Half, an obstacle challenge bringing the thrills of Tough Mudder to a 5-mile course; Mudderella, an obstacle course series created by women for women; Fruit Shoot Mini Mudder, a custom event for children ages 7-12; Toughest Mudder Series, the eight-hour, overnight competition series; World’s Toughest Mudder, a grueling 24-hour endurance competition; and an extremely vibrant engaging social and digital destination for leading fitness, nutrition and wellness content delivered across multiple platforms. The Tough Mudder family of brands and online community is united by a commitment to promoting courage, personal accomplishment and teamwork through unconventional, life-changing experiences. With more than 2.5 million participants to date, Tough Mudder Inc. will produce more than 120 events worldwide in 2016 across five continents, including Asia through its partnerships with Seroja and IMG. More than 20 of the world’s leading brands are sponsorship and content distribution partners, including Merrell, Old Spice, Shock Top, Cellucor, Volvic, Jeep, Britvic, L’il Critters, US Army, Virgin Active, Olympus, Bosch, Live Stream, The CW and CBS. To join the conversation, follow Tough Mudder on Facebook at facebook.com/toughmudder, on Twitter @ToughMudder, and on Instagram @Tough_Mudder.

World’s Toughest Mudder

Known as one of the most extreme endurance events in the world, the World’s Toughest Mudder event, presented by Cellucor, is the only competitive event that Tough Mudder, Inc. hosts in 2016. Competitors are eligible to win a total of more than $170,000 in prizing, including a grand prize of $100,000 for teams that complete at least 100 miles together. Like all Tough Mudder events, World’s Toughest Mudder encourages Mudders to work together, help one another overcome obstacles and push past their physical and mental boundaries. While competitive in nature, World’s Toughest Mudder is about finding one’s personal limits and putting teamwork to the test, and hundreds of participants take part in the event as a team. The course is a grueling, five-mile loop featuring diverse desert terrain, steep hills, mud pits and more. Prizes are awarded to participants who complete the most miles within 24 hours, and the team of two or more that completes 100 miles together wins $100,000. Competitors take on 20-25 of Tough Mudder’s most challenging obstacles including The Cliff, Human Operation, and Gut Buster, in this 24-hour, timed event to be deemed the toughest man, woman and team on the planet.

Tough Mudder PR Contacts:
Angela Alfano
(703) 447-5629
Angela.Alfano@ToughMudder.com

Jodi Kovacs
(732) 597-2094
Jodi.kovacs@toughmudder.com

An awkward moment for the IORF at the OCRWC

 

ocrwciorf

Much has been written about the third annual OCR World Championships held last weekend at the Blue Mountain Resort in Ontario, Canada. The International Obstacle Racing Federation also chose last weekend to host its annual conference at the same location. Its president Ian Adamson wanted to take part in the race, and this has led to some friction between Ian and OCRWC CEO Adrian Bijanada. I spoke to both of them today to sort out what happened.

First, a little background about Ian and the IORF.  Established in 2014 to promote obstacle racing, the IORF describes itself as the world governing body of OCR. Equivalents in other sports might be the IAAF for track/athletics or the ITU  for triathlon. It is no secret that the IORF was originally the idea of Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena, but the IORF has officially established its independence from Spartan in order to work with the IOC to try to get OCR into the Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, also in 2014, Adrian Bijanada founded the OCRWC. Part of the event’s origin involved the desire to sell OCR-appropriate gear, but it has blossomed into an annual event that attracts athletes from around the globe to what has been perceived as a well-organized professional end-of-season event that brings together talent from many different race series as well as obstacles from those events. In addition to elite races, the OCRWC features races for age groupers and those of us who will never set foot on a podium, as well as a charity event on the last day.

While the IORF congress and the OCRWC happened on the same weekend at the same venue, they were not organized together, and the two groups keep a safe distance. Ian and Adrian had discussed the possibility of Ian racing the course, but nothing was ever finalized. Ian explained to me that in the days leading up to the race he tried to reach Adrian, who was understandably busy, and at the event Ian talked to people from 365, the company that produced the event about jumping in. He climbed over a fence and joined in one of the waves of racers. Later on, he raced the course again with a team, having registered in advance for the team event.

A few days later, in a closed group on Facebook, Ian joined in a comment thread discussing fairness to athletes on the course. Very rarely does a story that starts with someone joining a Facebook comment thread end well. All the same, since part of IORF’s mission is to promote safety and fairness for the athletes at races, Ian chimed in with his input regarding fairness, and he mentioned that he had completed the course in an admirably fast 1:55. Another enterprising commenter noted that his time did not appear in the published race results, at which point Ian mentioned that he didn’t have a bib or a timing chip for the event. From there, things spiralled downwards, leaving many with the impression that could be expressed as “IORF official bandits OCRWC race”.

Running a race as a bandit is a phenomenon that drives race organizers crazy. For those unfamiliar with the term, running as a bandit means taking part in an event without paying an entry fee and without the permission of the organizers. People run as bandits at events because they can’t get into a race, can’t qualify, or don’t want to pay an entry fee. While it may seem like a victimless crime to some, it is not only unfair to racers who did qualify and pay to enter, it puts race organizers at risk. A bandit racer who collapses on the course has not signed a waiver and has not provided the organizers with any emergency contact information. It is also a theft of services. It is a bad thing to do. That said, not everyone who enters a race pays an entry fee. Racers are comped for a variety of reasons, but even then, the protocol still requires those racers to register, sign a waiver, and wear a bib like everyone else in the race.

So why did Ian, who is an experienced adventure racer, simply jump into the race without a bib? He explained to me that he wanted to evaluate the course, “and the only way to do that was to get my feet dirty, to talk to the volunteers and the race officials.”. He told me that when officials from international federations host their counterparts from other sports at championships, officials get what are essentially all-access VIP passes, and it would not be uncommon for a federation official to compete alongside the age groupers. Since this behavior was common at other international championships, he did not think what he was doing would be a problem. In retrospect, he told me, it was an oversight on his part. He explained that he was thinking like an international race official, and not from the perspective of an athlete. His goal was to do something for the health of the sport, but his execution was faulty.

Meanwhile, Adrian found himself in an awkward position. The highest priority of any race director is the safety of the participants, and the head of the international federation had just admitted to committing a fundamental breach of safety protocol. Today he told me “While I understand that  the IORF is trying to position itself as a governing body, having an official illegally enter a race is unacceptable regardless of that individual’s intentions. Individuals need to understand that they put themselves at risk as well as others.” Everyone needs to register to race, “otherwise we have no idea who is on the course, and should an individual needed medical attention, or if someone falls down a ravine, we do not know that they are there. While I admire his intentions, this may not have been the best course of action.” Adrian also explained to me that race officials compare the numbers of everyone who crosses the start line and the finish line to make sure that no one has been left out on the course. Given how rigorous the terrain is at many obstacle course races, this is a smart safety routine. 

What are the consequences of Ian jumping into the race without a bib? Adrian told me: “I prefer not to address race violations publicly, but we do want to note that Mr. Adamson did violate the rules by effectively banditing the race and entering the race without permission. We have informed him that we have prohibited him from participating in the 2017 events.”

Adrian wrote us close to press time to add  “I truly respect Ian and admire his desire to drive OCR forward. However, it’s important that our organization take a consistent approach in addressing infractions regardless of who commits them”.

Ian has apologized, and there are plenty of lessons to be learned. For starters, never bandit a race. Also, if you break the rules, don’t mention it on Facebook, even in the comments, even in a closed group, even if you didn’t think you were breaking the rules at the time. Finally, there are plenty of people who care about this sport and want to make sure it is safe for everyone. Let’s encourage that kind of concern.

Update 10:05am EST Jesse Fulton, president of 365 Sports and partner for this year’s OCRWC championship sent us an email which reads:

“As much as we want everyone to enjoy our events in no way would we ever allow someone to access the course without going through the proper registration steps, most importantly signing a waiver. This event was insured by our personal insurance policy and we would never allow someone access to the course without a signed waiver. Even the Dj’s and the staff/volunteers all had to sign them. In addition, we do not have the ability nor the power to allow someone access without the expressed permission of OCRWC”

– Jesse Fulton 365 Sports Inc.

Tough Mudder Tri-State returns to Raceway Park, NJ

tough-mudder-tri-state-arctic-enemaThe 2016 version of Tough Mudder’s Tri-State event came back to its original home at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ. Last year, the event was held at Liberty State Park, which offered spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline, but the organizers were stymied by their inability to dig, which eliminated a number of signature obstacles to the disappointment of returning Mudders. This year, Tough Mudder came back to one of the best sites in their roster, the home of the original World’s Toughest Mudder, and used it to its best advantage. This was the gold standard of obstacle events at the gold standard of venues. The course designers use the landscape here in a way that few other events do, and this time, they got an assist from Mother Nature.

Saturday morning started out clear, as you can see from this video taken by friend of ORM Ryan Meade:

While there was plenty of mud, Ryan still ends up remarkably clean throughout.

As the day progressed, the remnants of Hurricane Matthew hit New Jersey, turning the course into something a bit soupier. If you followed Tough Mudder on Facebook Live, you would have seen this video, following Dancing With the Stars celebrity athlete Noah Galloway as he pushed his way through Mud Mile.

This video gives an idea of what the course looked like on Sunday:

By the time I reached Raceway Park on Sunday morning, nearly two inches of rain had flooded the course. In the same way that Tough Mudder is “a challenge, not a race”, heavy rain came as an opportunity, not a hindrance. On the one hand, the organizers closed some obstacles, including Cage Crawl/Rain Man. Normally, the water level was supposed to be a claustrophobic few inches below the wire fencing. Flooding raised that level to a point where there was no breathing room at all; sensibly, runners were instructed to bypass this obstacle.

On the other hand, the rain turned the rest of the course into one giant obstacle. A common obstacle at Tough Mudders is Pitfall: a pit is dug and filled with murky water, but the bottom of the pit is uneven and has holes. Since you can’t see how deep the water is at any one point, the trick is to avoid any muddy, ankle-turning surprises. This obstacle was in the first few miles, but the rain turned pretty much all of the trails into miles and miles of Pitfall.

For me, another bonus of the flooding came at Kiss of Mud, Tough Mudder’s barbed wire crawl. Usually, I don’t enjoy this obstacle because putting all my weight on my knees and forearms is a surefire way to get them scraped and bruised. Not much sense of accomplishment in that. However, because there was so much water at this obstacle, I could float just beneath the barbed wire to the end.

tough-mudder-tri-state-muddy-suits

The rain made the course extra slippery. One of the best features of Raceway Park is that it includes steep man-made hills for motorbike racing. Running up and down these hills is tiring when they are dry. When they are wet, they are slick, and plenty of runners made it halfway up before sliding back down to the bottom. The trails in the nearby forest are also simple to run in dry weather, but when wet they were a series of puddles and slippery mud patches. At an ordinary trail race, this would have been annoying, even hazardous, but for Tough Mudder, it was perfect.

Tough Mudder prides itself on constant innovation of its obstacles, and I noticed at least two examples yesterday. Birth Canal, which requires participants to crawl underneath heavy plastic sheets filled with water, was aligned perpendicular to the participant, which meant that instead of traversing one large sloshing container of water, you crawled under a half dozen shorter troughs. I also appreciated that the water was no longer died an amniotic pink, which I thought was creepy.

The best part of the day was trying out a new obstacle, called Block Ness Monster. Two large rotating blocks are positioned in a pool of water. Some participants push the heavy blocks, while others ride the blocks over the top. It requires teamwork and, most important, it is fun to do. I could have spent hours at that obstacle, and not just because the water was a little warmer than the air temperature at that point.

tough-mudder-tri-state-chains-and-blockness-monster

I noticed two other innovations from previous Tough Mudders: as in past years, participants are given a Tyvek number to pin to their shirts and a Tyvek wristband. As in past years, the course is littered with both after each obstacle. This year, we were also issued a cloth wristband with an RFID chip. This wristband stayed on, but more important it was also used throughout the course, to separate full Mudders from Half Mudders, to hand out the appropriate headband to legionnaires, and to assign the appropriate amount of beer after the finish line. As one of my teammates pointed out after the first time we scanned our wristbands: “Just like at Disney!” I haven’t been to the Magic Kingdom in over forty years, but my guess is that the Happiest Place on Earth features a lot less in the way of mud, electrical shocks and ice baths. At least I hope is does.

tough-mudder-tri-state-pyramid-scheme

This was also the first Tough Mudder I attended which offered an option of doing only half the course: the Half Mudder. While I don’t have any numbers on which to base this conclusion, it would appear to me that this program has been a success. I saw plenty of white Half Mudder headbands at the end of the day, and I’ve noticed several YouTube videos of the event posted by people on teams that did only the first five miles of the course. It turns out that offering an event that doesn’t include electrical shocks and ice baths is a good way to attract customers.

If Tough Mudder can get thousands of participants to return year after year, even when they go home wet, dirty, scraped and bruised, they must be doing something right. I know that I am looking forward to next year.

tough-mudder-tri-state-finishers

Photo Credits: Rachel Castellez-Davidson, Tough Mudder, Shayne Bo, and Chris Maxfield

T. Rex takes on Tough Mudder

Earlier this summer, I saw a video that Tough Mudder posted of a very special competitor who took on the Tough Mudder Half on Long Island. Tough Mudder prides itself on opening up its challenges-not-races to people of all ages, but I was surprised to see that their newest Mudder was someone I had thought had been extinct for over 65 million years: Tyrannosaurus rex.

T. rex at Tough Mudder

Apparently I was wrong. Our friends at TMHQ hooked us up with their dinosaur pal for an interview. Here’s how it went:

ORM: So, T Rex, when did you first try obstacle course racing? Was your first race a Warrior Dash, or was it something earlier, like jumping over stegosauruses and dodging that giant meteor that wiped out all the other dinosaurs?

T. Rex: My first event was surviving extinction and that was just preparation for Tough Mudder Long Island this year at Old Bethpage in New York. I’m used to extreme climate changes and it was HOT at the event so I was prepared for that and definitely hydrated beforehand.

ORM: What sort of training do you do for races? Is it trail running with velociraptors plus a little CrossFit?

T. Rex: I train with my fellow dinos; it’s the only way to get through it. We do a mix of cardio and circuit training leading up to events and partner workouts so we can get ourselves into the teamwork mindset. Trail running is our favorite because it helps you prepare for the Tough Mudder course — plenty of hills, mixed terrain, mountains and deep woods.

ORM: Do other dinosaurs team up at these races? I think I saw you posing with a brontosaurus once, but maybe you just bumped into each other in the festival area.

T.Rex: I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen many other dinosaurs at other events besides Tough Mudder, and that’s the first obstacle course I’ve done. [editor’s note: oh really, my dinosaur friend? See below] Any dinosaurs are always welcome to join my team at Tough Mudder though; that’s what those events are all about. I’m happy to give a hand (claw?) to any fellow dino or fellow Mudder.  It’s actually more difficult than you’d think to drink a post-Mudder Shock Top with these short arms though. Funnelling is best.

ORM: Are there any obstacles where being a dinosaur really helps?

T. Rex: I’m not that graceful of a dinosaur, and with my short arms, King of Swingers was pretty tough to grab hold to and reach that bell. I’ve been training though, so next time I’m going for it. My favorite obstacles were Everest and Pyramid Scheme; my height made it a fairly easy climb and I was able to help a lot of people. Being cold-blooded is obviously an advantage for that infamous Arctic Enema obstacle. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a terrible mental challenge — I’d almost rather face another meteor…

At this point, T. Rex got distracted and started running after what I think was prey, but maybe he just spotted another survivor of the late Cretaceous period and wanted to say hello. The crowd of people who ran away screaming probably just misunderstood his enthusiasm. Either way, great training, right?

I wanted to ask a few more questions, because, as with so many OCR athletes, getting a taste of the sport at Tough Mudder seems to have led him to try other races. I’m pretty sure I spotted him in a YouTube video at a race in New Jersey this summer (can any reader find the video?).  And perhaps you saw him on American Ninja Warrior? ). As the announcer said: “this predator is eating up the course”.

The last place I would have expected to see T. Rex would be a Spartan Race because, as we all know, T. Rex hates burpees.

And yet, Spartan Race published this photo.

T. rex at Spartan Race

But that’s probably a fake. It looks like he’s posing with a healthy young racer and Godzilla. And we all know that Godzilla is totally made up.


Tell us what you think of Tough Mudder, leave a Review Here.

Or sign up for a Tough Mudder now with codes:
MoreMudNewEng2015 for 25% off Any Race
or
MoreMudOHIO15 for 15% off Any Race
or
MoreMudLI to Sign Up for Long Island 2016 for only $99
or