Muscle Up OCR

This year’s Muscle Up OCR took place on August 26th in Spragueville, Iowa. Held on the grounds of a working family farm this 3.75-mile race boasted some outstanding scenery with about 1,100 feet of elevation change. Now, that elevation change doesn’t sound so bad until you show up and see the grade of the hills.

The farm is also used as an ATV course, the trails are torn up with steep banks and water runoff grooves down the center making the terrain difficult and physically draining.

Muscle Up provided chip timing for both the open and competitive heats with cash prizes being awarded to the top 2 male and female competitive finishers in 3 different age groups 14-24 25-40 and 41 and over. Obstacle completion is mandatory in the competitive waves while open class runners are offered a “muscle out” option at many of the stations. This provides an easier version of the same obstacle for those new to the sport that maybe can’t complete all the tougher obstacles.

I consider this the best family run OCR in the Midwest for a number of reasons.

  1. The farm friendly atmosphere. Chances are if you have raced here before they probably remember you and know your name.
  2. Some of the handmade unique obstacles you will not find anywhere else.
  3. For a short course, it’s very demanding. Most racers will be gassed at the end.
  4. Plenty of great views to see while racing.
  5. Competition level. While not huge in numbers there are always a few awesome athletes who show up to race here.

The Course

The course starts off in a fitting location considering it’s held at a working farm.  Racers are released every half an hour behind a barn where a herd of goats are penned up and continues along a dirt track for about half a mile before turning racers into the woods.

This is the point where racers face their first obstacle. The path leads through a series of ravines where downed logs were thrown across the path making for a challenging climb. After racers picked their way through the logs and rocks the trail led back out onto the initial dirt track where we first started.

Racers encountered a few sloppy mud pits as the dirt track turned into marsh before being led up a hill and along a game trail. Along this trail, racers were required to pick up a log to make the climb just that tougher.

At the top of the trail was a series of wooden walls which needed to be traversed with your log then further down the path was a mowed out section of prairie grass cut into a circle. Once completed a racer could now drop off their log and proceed along the prairie trail.

Muscle Up used every ditch, ravine, and section of woods to their advantage and just as racers thought the trail was getting easier Muscle Up set up an Atlas Stone throw over a wall with a cargo net climb a short distance away. This led to what I like to call “the endless hay maze.” Now, this wasn’t the actual name of the obstacle but after getting stuck in this pitch-black zig zag maze I thought it was very fitting.

The Obstacles

After brushing off the hay and finally getting some oxygen into your lungs racers were now led down a hill towards the festival area, but not before having to cross a rope bridge made up of swinging 4×4 posts and climbing down a ladder.

A sled pull and a tire ladder were waiting for athletes at the bottom before being sent back out on the trail.  Steep terrain came into play again as the trail led racers up and down the ATV path in a route design to tire the legs out before being presented a long list of obstacles situated in the flat open field.

First up in this obstacle armageddon was rope swing across a small creek followed up by a rope traverse over that same section of the creek. A monkey bar setup provided your way back across the creek.

A short jog away Muscle Up placed a rope ladder followed up by a long Atlas Stone carry. The last three obstacles set up in this series included a dual bucket carry over a well-constructed set of A frame type ramps with a rope climb immediately after.

The last and perhaps most tricky obstacle was a tire ladder climb. Muscle Up was able to link together a series of tires vertically that swayed and bucked like crazy when you tried to climb up them!

The Final Obstacles

Thoroughly gassed from the energy expenditure on all those obstacles racers were led up a climb that cut through some awesome scenery. Tunnels through weather cut stone was where the trail now went and I really couldn’t help but to look around and take some of it in as I made my way up the path.

The dirt track flattened out once a racer made their way to the top and continued until the trail opened to a section of hurdles made up of 55-gallon drums that were lined up in a row to test one’s leaping ability.

One final climb down a hill was now all that stood in a racers way to the final section of obstacles and the finish line.

A 7-foot wall climb was first up on this last section followed by a series of wooden hurdles. A metal tube provided a low crawl opportunity but not before an American Ninja Warrior style wall lift. I’ve not seen this obstacle anywhere else. A wooden wall was set into a narrow door frame with wheels on the side requiring an athlete to pull the section of wall up in order to scamper to the other side before letting go and having the wall crash back down! Three of these were included in the final section of the course all leading up to a fun water slide which dumped racers into a freezing creek before climbing out and crossing the finish line.

The Festival Area

Since this event is out in the middle of the country Muscle Up did provide a beer/drink tent and had a mobile food truck on site. A shower area was provided, as long as you didn’t mind showering in a barn. A tractor trailer was converted into a sectioned off changing area for athletes needing a change of clothes.

Conclusion

Muscle Up could have used a few more volunteers in key locations such as the log carry and the barrel hurdles during the competitive waves just to keep people honest. The photography for the event was pretty much just people taking shots with their phone which was kind of a shame because of all the neat obstacles. I personally come to this event every year and it’s never failed to meet my expectations.

 

“Big Dog” Regional Pricing… Is it worth a look?

The growth in the sport of obstacle course racing (OCR) is undeniable. Articles about Amelia Boone (one of the most recognizable and successful athletes in the sport of OCR) can be seen in magazines such as Runner’s World and Sport’s Illustrated. Tough Mudder and Spartan Race(the “Big Dogs”) have been featured on Good Morning America and the Today Show. Heck – BattleFrog even stepped up to sponsor the Fiesta Bowl this year. The sport is becoming known and races are being added, but does that mean that it’s growing at the expected rate? Is regional pricing something to consider?

The fact is, the central part of the United States isn’t seeing growth in terms of the number of races, when it comes to Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, to the same degree as the coastal areas of the U.S. Luckily, the lack of growth in the Central U.S. is being filled, somewhat, by BattleFrog and Conquer The Gauntlet, as well as local races such as The Battlegrounds and Mud, Guts and Glory. However, the racers between the mountain ranges are beginning to wonder “what’s up?”
20150904200231Many contend there is a coastal bias when it comes to the “Big Dogs” and their racing locations. It is obvious that the coasts and their high population densities turn out in droves to obstacle races with some having nearly 5,000 registrants whereas locations in the Midwest will draw sometimes only half of that. With this level of discrepancy, it is understandable that race companies look toward the areas that best support their events when selecting locations. However, is this strategy the best option when it comes to growing the sport? Mike McAllister, co-founder of BattleFrog, sees things a little differently.

Mike McAllister, co-founder of BattleFrog, sees things a little differently.

“We see the Midwest as very important to building our brand. People are willing to travel to multiple races within driving distance, so we want to give them the ability to follow our circuit.”

David Mainprize, the owner of Conquer the Gauntlet (CTG), feels similarly regarding the opportunities in the central US. In fact, all of CTG’s 9 races in 2016 are being held between Oklahoma City, OK, and Louisville, KY.

“CTG is a family run business, not a corporate entity. It’s no secret that our region is an area of the country with far less population centers and thus far less obstacle course racers, not to even mention the relative unhealthiness of this part of the country in general. So, to pull this off, we had to find a way to reduce costs. Simple math says, registration fees need to exceed the costs. We wanted to provide an affordable race that is epic but is still one that the common man could afford with ease.”

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It’s obvious there’s a market for OCR in the central U.S., so the question is, why is the overall turnout for Spartan and Tough Mudder lower? I contend that a lot of it comes down to the dollar for dollar value of the experience for those in the Midwest rather than a lack of interest. Now, before you go accusing us Midwesterners of being cheap asses, let me explain what I mean. Plain and simple, the incomes are lower in most of the central U.S., so this means a dollar means a little more to us than it might in areas where incomes are higher. We also have a couple of other regional options from which to choose in addition to CTG. The Mud Guts and Glory course in Cincinnati was the site of the first two OCR World Championships. There is also The Battlegrounds in St. Louis. These are both permanent courses that are fantastic alternatives to the national series and, for the most part, have much cheaper entry fees. I feel that the “big guys” shy away from these areas because why compete with a regional race that has a permanent spot and therefore more fixed costs that would allow them to accept a lesser turnout and still be successful? Carl Bolm, the owner of The Battlegrounds, feels,

Carl Bolm, the owner of The Battlegrounds:

“Competition is good for business and, even if the bigger races come to St. Louis, it would create more awareness of the growing industry. It also would give our current runners a chance to try another race. Of course, participants could come to realize just what an all-encompassing experience they get at The Battlegrounds. As long as we continue to produce the best run possible, I feel our runners will support our efforts.”

Battlegrounds - Race StartThe lack of competition seems to be helping boost race numbers at The Battlegrounds where they are expecting well over 2,000 racers for their May 2016 event, which will mark their largest race ever.

As if the permanent course options aren’t enough to dissuade potential racers from the $130 price tag, let’s look at a comparison of the cost of other activities where individuals could easily spend their disposable income. This is not to say that these aren’t similar things in other parts of the country but their cost and accessibility make them viable options in the Midwest.

Information gathered from a Google search:

Average Game/Event Cost
NFL game: MLB game: Marathon:
New England = $122 Boston = $52 New York = $255
San Francisco = $117 San Francisco = $34 San Francisco = $130
St. Louis = $74 (at least historicaly) St. Louis = $34 St. Louis = $100
Cincinnati = $71 Cincinnati = $22

A possible solution to this conundrum might be a regional price structure that would allow for the national race companies to better compete for the Midwest racer. It happens in other industries, so why not consider it? A concert promoter sets venue prices based on demand. The median price for a Selena Gomez concert in Nashville is $56 while it will cost you $80 for a similar ticket in LA. The Rock n’ Roll Marathon series even raises the cost of their San Diego event over their Nashville event by $10.

The purpose of my proposal here is this: just because regional pricing hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be considered. I am all for whatever will best grow the sport so I guess the market will decide. It should be noted that none of the people I contacted regarding this article thought that regional pricing would ever happen in our sport, but it sure is fun to talk about! As long as race companies keep putting on great events across the country, I think people will buck up and then show up. However, if the money train stops coming in then we may see change. Until then…
Take my money