For me this year’s Merrell Down and Dirty started out as one of those “if it could go wrong, it will” events. But none was the fault of the race itself. There was an interstate shutdown on the way to the event, and I forgot parking pass and timing chip. Sigh.
This year’s event was held at the International Horse Park in Conyers, a great place to run. Now my background is that of a marathon runner and triathlete so this whole “Obstacle Course” thing is somewhat new to me. While I have done a few OCR’s I am by no means an expert or “seasoned” runner of these events so keep that in mind when reading my comments.
Despite forgetting my VIP parking pass I was fortunate enough to park in the media lot so I was very close to the start of the event (Thanks Matt!) I did notice that there were not any “team” tents like I have seen at past events; I understand that Merrell (or whomever put on the Atlanta event) was not too receptive to the idea. But hindsight being 20/20, there looked to be plenty of space for team tents. Perhaps the organizers will allow that in future races here in Atlanta.
I was signed up for the 10k run which had an 8:30 start. Actually we started at 8:31 as there were different waves for the start based on your speed on the course. While I was not expecting a fast run, I moved myself to the first wave (after the military and public service wave – a nice touch.) At the sound of the start horn I headed out on my 6.2 mile trek, not really sure what to expect. I had done runs at the International Horse Park before, but not from this particular starting location and not this distance of a run.
The obstacles were not very challenging in comparison to what I encountered at the Spartan Sprint, no 8ft. walls to scale, no ropes to climb and no monkey bars (which for me was good as those are 3 of my weakest disciplines). But the obstacles were not easy either. The 5 foot walls actually challenged me more than I thought they would, due to a combination of wet surfaces and my lack of upper body strength. The 30ft beams challenged me as well (required assistance to get onto them).
As a runner, I appreciated the spacing of the obstacles. So while I may have struggled at some obstacles, I was able to make up some time during the run. The course did have a couple of hills that slowed many people down, and in some areas the shade was nonexistent as the morning sun made its way across the sky. The water stations were well placed as were the mile markers (as a runner, I liked that as it made it easier to pace my run).
The water obstacles were not bad. The first water obstacle was a “pool” covered by a cargo net that participants have to crawl through. I opted to lay on my back take a deep breath and pull myself across using the net. In and out with no problems! I was disappointed by the lack of true mud pits or obstacles. It seemed that the mud pits I encountered were just water pits filled with what appeared to be mulch or bark. The closest I got to mud was when I had to crawl out of the Yellow River after running through it and pulling myself up via a rope. The bank of the river was a slippery mud slide, which made it difficult to get out. I came to get dirty and was a bit disappointed over the lack of mud.
Based on my past experience, I would give the overall course a mid-range rating, a bit challenging for a first time OCR, and probably a walk in the park for seasoned Spartan or Tough Mudder participant.
They had a great clean-up area with plenty of hoses and changing areas for the participants. While they had orange slices and chocolate chip muffins for the athletes, a variety of other food items would have been nice, perhaps bananas (for the potassium) and mini bagels. I did recall seeing a food vendor out towards the clean-up area but did not get a chance to see what food offerings they had. Luckily LÄRABAR was there so I snagged few from them (and they took Matt and I’s picture with one of the LÄRABAR ladies). Despite there being plenty of water for the finishers, the addition of Gatorade or PowerAde would have been welcomed by the athletes as well. I like the dog tag style finisher’s medal, it was a nice change to the normal finisher’s medals (the age group winners had gold, silver and bronze dog tag style medals given to them).
Forgetting my timing chip did cost me though. I crossed the finish line in 1:19:05, which would have won me my age group for the event. DOH!
Would I do it again, oh yes! I have to come back to avenge myself and get that age group winner’s medal. Would I recommend it to a first timer? Not the 10k course, instead go with the 5k race; a shorter course and based on what I saw regarding the obstacles, a great entry race for a first timer. If you have done a few “mud runs” then this would be a good course to help you work up to a more challenging course.
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