Obstacle Course Races and the Bad Business of Spectator Fees


Photo Credit Patrick Prentice

Last week I experienced my very first DNF in my three years, fifty plus race career. I was running the Spartan Beast in Spartanburg, SC with my longtime running partner and around mile 2.5 I started experiencing knee pains from an injury I sustained over a year ago. Luckily, we had just passed by the festival area and I sent her on to run the remaining ten miles alone while I hobbled back up the path to turn in my timing chip. My teammate and I had driven up from Florida together so I had no choice but to wait around for her to finish.

This is the first time I have ever spent an extended amount of time in the festival area of an obstacle course race and let me tell you: it was boring. I have been to craft fairs that are more exciting than a Spartan festival area and those have no entry fee. On top of this, there is no seating, the only entertainment is top 40 hits blaring from the center stage, and the food situation is reminiscent of a high school lunch cafeteria (but twice the price). In the end, the most exciting thing I came up with was balling up my gear bag and taking a nap in the grass. So why do Spartan, Savage, Tough Mudder, and all of the other big names in OCR think that this “festival experience” is worth anywhere between $10 and $25 dollars?

The issue of spectator fees really hit me when I ran the fall leg of the Savage Race one week after DNFing my Spartan Beast. My fiancee happily agreed to accompany me to my race just in case my injury started to flare back up while I was on the course and I was unable to drive myself home. After paying $60.80 for my entry, $15 for the insurance, $3 for a service charge, $4.20 for a processing fee, and $10 for parking I had already spent $93 dollars for the privilege of gracing Savage Race’s 7.2-mile course. Upon reaching the entry gates, however, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t accounted for: the spectator fee. This fee not only confused my fiancee but when she inquired about what the spectator’s pass entitled her to she was met with the lackluster response, “Access to the festival area.”


Photo Credit Savage Race

Spectators at athletic events such as races, triathlons, and OCRs have a vital function for the athletes. A well-placed spectator can drastically improve the performance of the athletes and provide the necessary motivation to complete the event. Anyone who has had a friend or family member cheer them on during a race knows what this feels like and it really should go without being said.

Running is a sport where the energy of the crowd can be the catalyst for change. Dave McGillivray, the director of the Boston Marathon, states in his article What Do Race Spectators Need to Know? for Runner’s World, “I always picked up the pace a bit whenever I hit key pockets of screaming fans… If we put timing mats at the beginning and end of this stretch, I’m sure we’d see just about everyone hitting their fastest paces of the day thanks to the immense crowd support.”

On the flip side of that coin is the function spectators perform for the race organizations themselves. In the 2012 study The Relationship Between Visitor Spending and Repeat Visits: An Analysis of Spectators at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon researchers find that “spectators are just as important to a sporting event as participants” (Botha, et al). The reason given for this claim is that the more times a spectator attends a race the more likely they are to visit it in the future. Obviously, in a sponsorship-laden sport such as obstacle course racing having more people exposed to the sponsors can only have a positive effect on a race organizer’s relationship with those sponsors.

In another study published in the Journal of Sports Economics The Rewards to Running: Prize Structure and Performance in Professional Road Racing (Lynch and Zax, 2000) the researchers claim that participants of races actually derive utility, or a sense of accomplishment, from larger numbers of spectators in races. The utility can be seen as the driving factor for participants to actually compete in races, especially in races where they have little to no chance of receiving any monetary compensation. In other words: spectators equal customer retention.


Photo Credit Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon & Half Marathon

I contacted both Spartan and Savage concerning why they charge spectator fees and what those fees are used for. Spartan Race responded by saying that they have started to improve the spectator experience at their races by opening up the venue to allow spectators to follow the racers more closely at a majority of their courses. They went on to tell me that the spectator fee went towards paying the insurance premiums for each individual race. In Savage Race’s response to my inquiry, they simply stated that spectators would have access to the festival area and the ability to follow the runners along the entire course. Savage had no comment on the use of the spectator fees but did exclaim that the fee was similar to any other sporting event.

Not every organizer believes in charging spectators for their attendance. Rugged Maniac, most notably, did away with their spectator fees in 2012 (along with every other nickel-and-diming fees such as insurance and processing fees). In a 2015 interview with Obstacle Course Racing Media Rugged Maniac’s COO Rob Dickens explained their position, “But we stopped doing it the minute we could afford to, which was back in 2012. Why? Because price-gouging your customers show a complete lack of respect for them and violate the golden rule (do unto others…). I don’t like to have a bunch of fees tacked on to something I’m buying, so why would I do it to my customers?” Rob Dickens also claimed the following:

After all, none of the “processing” or “insurance” fees charged by the other guys are legitimate. We all have nearly identical insurance policies, and none of those policies require us to charge our customers an insurance fee. Likewise, we’re all using similar registration platforms, and none of those platforms charge more than a $2 fee per registrant, so why are the other guys charging 8%-12% processing fees?

Everyone’s insurance policies are based on the number of expected attendees in a calendar year, so if Spartan is charging an extra “insurance” fee when someone run the same course twice, it’s simply another way for them to squeeze more money out their customers. Their insurance company doesn’t require it, and they don’t have to pay higher premiums for someone running twice. As I said before, their insurance companies don’t require any “insurance” fee. It’s completely bogus.

If Rob Dickens is correct then this claim would appear to contradict Spartan’s own response to my inquiry over the use of spectator fees.


Photo Credit Rugged Maniac

Despite Rugged Maniac being free to attend, their festival area and spectating experience never leave you wanting. Coincidentally, both Rugged Maniac and Savage Race are held at the same location in Florida every year: Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City. It is hard not to compare the two races, thanks to this shared location.

One of the most prominent differences is in the way they use the venue. Rugged Maniac puts all of the high energy, high traffic areas such as their stage, vendors, and sponsors in one area while Savage Race spreads their vendors, sponsors, and their stage around the edge of their festival area. The difference is pretty dramatic: Rugged Maniac festival area feels more alive thanks to the sheer number of bodies in one area. Savage Race brings out tables and chairs (a huge improvement over Spartan’s zero-seating offerings) but Little Everglades Ranch has its own bleacher style seating that only Rugged Maniac takes advantage of.

Savage may claim they want their spectators to have sporting event style experience, but Rugged Maniac actually achieves this by using these sporting event style bleachers. One other difference that might often go overlooked is the difference in the number of children at each event. Savage Race, unlike Rugged Maniac, has a kid’s course. Despite this, however, the number of little people at Rugged Maniac greatly eclipsed Savage’s population. The reason for this is obvious: if your children want to watch you race you’ll have to pay another $25 to have someone there to look after them at Savage.

Another example of a race organization that does a fantastic job of providing a fun spectator experience is Warrior Dash. Like Rugged Maniac, Warrior Dash is completely free for spectators. I last ran Warrior Dash in 2016 and I heard nothing but praise for the festival area. Unlike most other organizations, Warrior Dash had live bands playing on their stage with a live DJ in between sets.

One other thing that set them apart from the type of audience participation they organized. Pushup or pullup contests are common events that obstacle course race organizers will put on but those types of contests are geared towards athletes, not your average spectator. Compare that to Warrior Dash who delivered a dance contest and a beard competition, both less physical and more engaging than their competitor’s presentations.


Photo Credit Warrior Dash

So why does it seem that the more widespread and well-known obstacle course race organizers are so anti-spectator? There are studies showing the positive effects that spectators have on both race organizations and athletes making it scientifically sound to encourage attendance. Athletes around the world sing the praise of a cheering crowd and the ability they have to motivate. The extra attendance would invariably please the sponsors and vendors of these events.

These are all things that traditional road races such as marathons and triathlons realized a long time ago but at some point, the OCR world dropped the ball. By all appearances, it would seem that removing the spectator fee, a barrier to attendance regardless of what anyone claims, should result in greater customer retention and revenue via sponsors and vendors. Unfortunately, it would seem that OCR organizers would prefer to view their spectators as a revenue source instead of their true function: revenue boosters.


Rugged Maniac Vancouver 2017


Rugged Maniac Vancouver 2017 was Love At First Run!

I’ve run a few OCRs over the past few years, but I’ve not been as impressed by the way any of them were run as much as I was by this Rugged Maniac event. I visited the site last year but did not participate in it. My wife typically runs the Lululemon Seawheeze half marathon on the same date as this event.

Last year we decided to head straight to the site after her race to see if we would be able to even attempt both of them. We arrived with an hour to spare last year for registration. I look back and say we should have just paid to run it even though we didn’t have our OCR gear or change of clothes. We did decide to go ahead and register for this year’s run and lo and behold, it didn’t end up falling on the same day as my wife’s half marathon. Sweet!

I arrived on-site a little early, 7 am, in fact. I was there to help Vancity OCR setup their Platinum Rig for their spot in the Festival area. Upon arriving we came across a group of Volunteers in the Parking lot whom were receiving their training. We apparently arrived at the perfect time as they had just setup the VIP parking area & were going over the procedures for it. My wife & I had purchased the VIP packages when they were originally on sale.

VIP Parking

The organizer asked me for my VIP Parking pass to keep as an example of what they looked like. We were the second car in the lot just behind one of the other Vancity OCR members. The site was still a little sparse but they had their tents all setup & a few areas fenced off, presumably for Registration, Bag Check, & the Beer Garden.

Over the next 2 hours while helping out, I was able to see the hustle & bustle of Rugged Staff members & Volunteers start to build out & setup the course & festival areas. It all came together quite quickly. I guess that’s the beauty of having inflatable Start and Finish lines, and a few as obstacles as well.

I saw a roughly 10-12′ warped wall with a cargo net strung up to a double stacked cargo bin that had what looked to be a soon-to-be inflated slide. It was pretty high and looked like it would be fun though I am mildly afraid of heights. Two of the members of the group that I would be running with had more than their fare share of fear of heights. I was certain this would be a challenging obstacle for them.

Whether it was due to the outdoor amphitheater, or the quality of the speakers, the music they played and the announcer sounded phenomenal. It was nice, loud, and had a good sounding quality even though we were more than 200+ feet away from the closest speakers.


It was now quarter to 9 and the crowds were starting to gather as registration opened at 9am. I wandered over to the Registration area, there were about 7 or so lines with at least 40 or so people in each line already. I made my way past those lines to the VIP registration. Those lines were much shorter, about 20 people or so in total.

The registration process went pretty quickly. I got my additional Rugged Bucks that were included in the early VIP sales, my two beer wristbands, and off I went. I found the rest of my group & awaited our 10 am start time eagerly. Ten o’clock came pretty quickly & after a short preamble from the Starting announcer we were off. The course was slightly altered from what was supplied on the map as a smaller area of wooded area that we were supposed to run through had recently been clear cut. Other than that, the Map & Obstacles therein were pretty bang on.


The Obstacles

First was ‘Shoe Catcher’ an ankle-knee deep pond crossing, nothing too major, but you could hear people complaining that they were already going to get wet. Come on people, wait till they bring on the mud, what are you gunna do then?

Next was a 5′ wall with a sideways freely rolling pipe on it, this one wasn’t all that tough, but having the rolling pipe on top limited your spots for grabbing onto to get over it. Next was a crawl under another obstacle, it had some barbed wire above the crawling area but it was above some beams so it didn’t really pose a threat.

Following that was ‘Tipping Point’, a seesaw-esque type obstacle, the planks are offset a bit so they rest in a downward position for ease of getting onto them. Just walk across the board and keep your balance while the other side lowers down as you cross it, now do it again and you’re onto ‘Jump Start’, a vertical planked wall climb.


Move along to ‘Frog Hop’, four square platforms floating in knee high water attached to each other sideways. As people ran across these, due to the way they were attached to the next lane, they bounced quite a bit. Quick feet & balance failed me & I fell in dismounting the third one. It would be nice if they padded these on top as they really hurt your knees when you went down.

‘Claustrophobia’ was next, this was basically a ditch covered with a black tarp. It got hot in there. Then came ‘Pipe Dream’, this was a typical pipe crawl with a barbed wire covered mud pit, I didn’t notice the barbed wire when I came out, ouch! Out through another pipe & onto ‘The Trenches’, they were just that, 4 equally distanced knee deep trenches. I hopped the first two & then jumped into the next two & box jumped out of them for something different.

The ‘Guillotine’ was next. This one was different, it was basically a 2″ thick, two foot wide wall on rails that you had to lift up, crawl under while holding it up & then let it down behind you. There were two of them & each time a nice person in front of me offered to hold the wall up for me. I turned them both down in order to try lifting it myself to complete the obstacle.

New and Different Obstacles

So far, most of the obstacles have all been slightly different than most of the others I have encountered at other runs. I brought my Garmin Virb XE with me & documented all of the obstacles, I haven’t used it much lately as everything seems to be the same. That wasn’t so with this race.

Next was ‘Commando Crawl’ a barbed wire crawl in the dirt, no mud at this one. ‘Pull Your Weight’ came next, this was like a herc hoist but they had large chunks of chains attached to the other side. I don’t recall if there were different weights as I didn’t really pay attention & this obstacle was the first to be unmanned, or so I thought. I reviewed the footage & did find the volunteer, I guess I just missed him.

Next was ‘Pack Mule’, grab a couple sand bags, walk up a flight of stadium bleacher stairs, across, down & back over again, drop the bag, then up and over ‘Let’s Cargo,’ a cargo net climb, run a maze of cattle stalls then up & over ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.


We then came across ‘Anti-Gravity’, this was fun! It’s basically two rectangular trampolines with a 45-degree angled wall after them with a cargo net to climb to get to the top. There were 4 lanes to this one & it wasn’t that busy so I ended up bouncing between the trampolines a bit then took a good bounce & landed almost at the top of the wall grabbing onto the cargo net for my life.

Onto ‘The Ringer’, a multi ring swing apparatus. Now, I know I have NO grip strength, it’s one of the things I plan on working on this year. My wife and I rarely get through the Monkey Bars or rings. Yet this year, with almost daily training, my wife made it all the way across ‘The Ringer’! I was so proud of her, I ran over to her and gave her a huge hug and kiss, I was just so darn proud of her. I plan on crushing this one next year!


Onto ‘The Gauntlet’, this was a new take on the lily pads, knee deep water with foam pads floating on the water to make a crossing, but this one had four large inflated tubes hanging down blocking your way. They weren’t light either, someone next to me bounced theirs into mine & tossed me right off the pads into the water.

‘Swing Shot’ came next, these are a bit tough to explain, basically a horizontal ditch is in front of you, you get up on a raised stand & grab onto rigged bars that attached to the top & swing you to the other side. They are weighted to make sure they return back to the other side but be careful as they keep going, swinging back and forth a few times.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Graceful

I knew failing this obstacle and landing in the ditch was a very huge possibility due to my grip. Well, I reviewed my video footage and I stood at this obstacle wiping my hands and the hand holds for a good minute. When I did take the leap, I was able to hold on long enough to get over the pit, but only barely. I ended up landing in such a way that I was right on the edge, heels hanging off, body leaning slightly back, and arms flailing on offset windmill patterns to do all that I could to not fall backwards. Well, it wasn’t a 5 point landing, but it worked!

Next was ‘Bang the Gong’, a waist deep water pit jump that had small gongs hanging over it that you needed to jump up nice & high to slap with your hand. Onto ‘Fenced In’, this one was a fencing covered mud crawl & it had more than its fare share of mud awaiting! We’re onto the home stretch now! Up next was ‘The Crag’, a large inflatable waist height double layered staircase with upward protruding pylons. This one was just way to much fun to bounce & play on.


Almost lastly was a triple threat, The Warped Wall, Mount Maniac, & Accelerator 3.0. The Warped Wall was not too too high, I ran up it, & got my arm up and over the top, someone ended up grabbing my leg & helped me the rest of the way. People helping people, I love our community! I then climbed the cargo net to the top of the slide.

That slide! It was pretty high up & had quite a vertical drop to it. If my Garmin is to be believed, coming down that slide I reached speeds of around 24km/h (14.1mph) & lost about 25 ft of vertical height all in 2 seconds time. Whee!!!


Lastly was ‘Pyromaniac’ a fire jump to be reckoned with! Most fires that I’ve come across near the finish line at other races looked like an afterthought when being planned out. Yet, this one was nice, wide, and quite high at times! This fire put most of those other races to shame, maybe all of those other races could learn something from this fire. The fire roared so much my sister said she thought she got singed from it.

Maniac Multi-Laps

My only disappointment from the day was that we were told that if we wanted to multi-lap that it would cost us another $25 per lap. Just last year Rugged Maniac allowed us to multi-lap for free. A few of our group went to register for a second lap and they were told they weren’t able.

At least as of today, Rugged Maniac has announced they will be coming back again next year and they have unleashed Rugged Maniac X which allows for unlimited multiple laps for $20 and gives you an exclusive Rugged Maniac X Headband. I’ve already pre-registered for next years X event as a VIP.

All-in-all I would still give Rugged Maniac and its festival area 5 stars!

Photo Credit: Charity Fick, Ryan Fick, Game Face

Rugged Maniac NorCal 2017

In 2017, Rugged Maniac came back to the East Bay of San Francisco for their NorCal event. Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Terrain Race have races in the area shortly before and after Rugged Maniac, but Rugged Maniac has a special appeal since it has something for everyone:

A competitive heat at the very comfortable time of 9:45am, muddy trenches and crawls, barbed wire, seesaws, climbing and swinging obstacles, water jumps, cargo nets, a warped wall, and an inflatable water slide to the finish!

Really the only people who would be disappointed are those who prefer long distances or mountain goat running. This mud run was a quick 5k (well, kinda… more on that later) on completely flat terrain.

The combination of fun obstacles, easy terrain, and having a competitive option makes Rugged Maniac a great first recommendation to people who are interested in OCR.

All obstacles can be found on Rugged Maniac’s website and most of them can be viewed in this YouTube playlist.

Event Venue

The Alameda County Fairgrounds have a big enough festival area to host food, drink, and several gear vendors. A DJ stage in the center is used for the awards ceremony, as well as contests like max pull ups or holding up a beer stein as long as possible.

Changing tents and a few weak water hoses hooked up to a metal frame provided something similar to a shower. For the size of crowd, this worked fine; for larger masses of people, it would not be enough. Having Dirty Bird soap next to the showers was nice and made cleaning up easy enough.

Rugged Maniac NorCal Start Finish

Competition and Timing

Similar to Tougher Mudder, only the first wave of the day is competitive, and it costs a little bit more. However, timing is not done via the timing chip we all have learned to love to mess with before races.

Earlier this year, Rugged Maniac announced they would stop timing their events completely. Shortly after, they quickly reacted to feedback and reintroduced manual timing for the Top 10 male and female finishers (=Qualifier for OCR World Championship). Additionally, participants can read their finishing time off of a clock at the finish line and later enter it on Rugged Maniacs website.

Awards go to the Top 3 male and female finishers in the form of Top Finisher medals, a free race entry, and some swag.

Rugged Maniac Results


Flat and fast with a bit of gravel but mostly grass describes it best. The obstacles were spaced out nicely and provided a nice mix of mud, water, jumping, climbing, and crawling, with only a few stretches of uninterrupted running.

The only little hiccup was, this 5k wasn’t a 5k… 5 km equals 3.106 miles and this race was closer to 2.5 miles. It’s hard to imagine that anyone cared too much about getting a bit less distance than they expected though, which is exactly the kind of thing that makes Rugged Maniac a fun obstacle race!

All pictures and videos owned by the author unless otherwise noted.

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.


Rob Dickens
Rugged Maniac

Rugged Maniac – Chicago 2016

14203219_1497065580319080_2646940759947705795_nThe 2016 Chicago/Milwaukee Rugged Maniac was held August 27th at CPX Sports near Joliet Illinois. The venue was a change up from the old location of Wilmot Mountain Ski resort in Wisconsin. Yes, gone were the steep hill climbs as they were now replaced by trails set between different paintball areas of CPX. Advertised as a 5k course, the distance came up as 2.82 miles with almost no elevation change by my GPS watch. The event was a tad bit hard to find and brutal to get out of with long lines of traffic. Once there, 10 bucks got you onsite parking right next to the event. The first wave, and only timed heat, started at 9:45 and the volunteers checking you in were very strict about not signing anyone in until 9 am. This was super frustrating to those of us waiting in the rain. The volunteers were ready by 8:45 but just sat there for the next 15 minutes. Once checked in, timed runners were given a take home timing chip, and after reviewing the results they might want to use a different timing system. At least half of the racers times were either wrong or not listed causing great frustration.

race_2437_photo_41391125So on to the actual race. The rain leading up to, and during the race made for a sloppy run around the cleared trails. Rugged had us start out with a half mile run through the slop leading us up to a wall to climb over with a padded bar on top called the Barricades before throwing us back on the muddy path towards the shoe catcher {muddy pond) and the trenches. These required an athlete to jump over dug out areas in the ground, one slip and down you went. After a short jog, Beam Me Up was the next obstacle. This was just your basic large wooden ladder you see at a lot of events. Next up were the quad burners, muddy pits with a mountain of dirt to climb out of. I found that Rugged liked to put one of these after a lot of obstacles to kind of ramp up the difficulty. Bang the Gong was the next unique obstacle up for runners. An athlete had to jump into a water pit and smack a metal plate suspended over the pit before moving on to Claustrophobia. This obstacle was a series of covered tunnels that required you to navigate your way through and out of.

14199153_1497065546985750_5505127803929027703_nNow onto the back part of the course; the obstacles came so quickly you could see the next one up in front of you right after you finished one. We started this section with the Pack Mule, a short jog with a wreck bag on your shoulder and over another wooden ladder. The Ninja Escape was next up and the obstacle consisted of a set of teeter totter boards one had to traverse followed up by a set of angled boards called the tipping point where one had to run through very much like the beginning “floating steps” of American Ninja Warrior. Following that obstacle was a very cool set of rings suspended over water and Rugged was smart enough to place a photographer there which sure made for some outstanding shots! After crossing over another large mud mound and rounding a bend sending us back to the festival area, we had to climb up an over the inflatable Blobscicle and jump over the ever popular fire pit. Anti-gravity was a Rugged unique obstacle where an athlete had to use a trampoline to vault oneself up to a cargo net strapped onto an inflatable and was a total blast to complete.

With the end in sight, Rugged threw some of their more popular obstacles at us. The Frog Hop was a series of large jugs tied together over another water pit. One slip and in the drink you went! Another water obstacle, the Gauntlet, placed you over a pit of water on a series of foam mats while you dodged large padded balls that were seriously bent on knocking you off stride. The warped wall led athletes up and onto a cargo ladder called Mount Maniac! Let me tell you, if you missed that warped wall, the slide down tore up whatever skin you had exposed. The Accelerator, a large slide into a water pit was the last obstacle we encountered with a short jog to the finish line right after.

14199400_1497065426985762_1891898805780411826_nI found the Chicago Rugged Maniac to really be a lot of fun. It’s certainly a race most anyone could do, lots of mud and the obstacles were not super difficult. The short distance was ideal for first time racers. Maybe a multi-lap option would be a good thing for Rugged to start offering. As previously stated, their registration process could use some fixing. Most events let you register an hour before the race starts and if your volunteers are ready, let them sign people in. The timing issue is kind of a joke; if they want to draw more competitive athletes they need a more reliable system. The addition of a master’s class might also be an improvement. But overall I’d totally run another one first chance I get!

Photo Credit: Rugged Maniac

Rugged Maniac GA: Maniacs Do It In the Mud

Well, that’s at least what my souvenir t-shirt says, and after running my first Rugged Maniac race at the Georgia International Horse Park this past weekend, I couldn’t agree more! Since my introduction into the world of OCR in September of 2015 (yes, it hasn’t even been a year yet) and eleven OCRs later, I must say that Rugged Maniac is the most fun race that I have run thus far. What made it so much fun? Well, read on and I shall explain….

Saturday, August 20 6:15 a.m. – Acworth, GA
My Garmin starts buzzing and I realize, holy cow – it’s race day! Being in the far northwest corner of the Atlanta suburbs, I’m used to waking up much earlier on race day to get to the venue. However, Rugged Maniac has some unusual later start times, especially for August in Georgia. Registration isn’t opening until 9 a.m. and we are running the second open wave at 10:15 a.m. I jump in the shower to rinse off (okay, really to shave – ladies will agree, we cannot have prickly legs when there is a chance that random men may touch our legs and ass). We get dressed and geared up, and corral the 13-year-old out of bed and out the door.

Rugged Maniac Atlanta - Pre Race Carb Load and Festival Area Obstacles

Pre-Race Carb Load and Festival area Obstacles
7:20 a.m.
McDonald’s pit stop for hot cakes and sausage for the teenager. His carb load and it must work because he beat me. Yeah, we’ll go with that…

7:40 a.m.
Receive traffic report that lanes may be closed. What? No way! Lanes closed on the highway in Atlanta? We gauge the time calculations on the proposed detour routes and decide to continue on our present heading.

8:32 a.m. – Georgia International Horse Park, Conyers, GA
We pull into the parking at the venue, and park within 20 feet of where we parked for Terrain Race. Upon getting out of the car, we hear the typical grumbling from fellow racers about the distance to walk to and from the parking to the festival area (Soapbox Alert: You are running a race people, with physical exertion. I don’t think an extra half to three-quarter of a mile on either side of a 5K is going to make, break, or kill you. If it is, then you have no idea what you have signed up for. Oh, you could have paid for VIP parking and if you chose not to, then don’t bitch!)

8:50 a.m.
Standing in line at the Registration tent and it is moving surprisingly quick. OW! My ass is now stinging. I turn to see who just smacked me and I am greeted by my fellow GORMR (Georgia Obstacle Racers and Mud Runners) teammate, Wesley. He only stands about a foot and three inches taller than my 5’3” stature. “Hey honey, I just had the first guy of the day touch my ass and we haven’t even gotten into the festival area yet!” It’s going to be a good day!

Registration was quick and easy, they had a 3-ring binder to sign off on for waivers. Multiple people to a page. It is a brilliant idea and other races should take note. Finisher shirts and bibs in hand, we head to find our team tent.

9:05 a.m.
We locate the GORMR tent and set up our chairs and leave the bags to go check out the festival area and the obstacles that are in close proximity. While the festival area isn’t as busy as Spartan, they did have a few different companies with booths set up, some fun activities such as Bull Riding and Knockerball, and most importantly, the beer was already flowing. Pre-race carb load!

We mingle a little bit, take some pictures, play some knockerball, drink some beer, and then decide we should start stretching and head to the starting area.

9:45 a.m.
The elite wave bolts out of the starting corral and the day has officially started.

10:05 a.m.
I scale the 4-foot wall placed at the entrance of the starting corral.

10:07 a.m.
The first elite runner comes sliding down the Accelerator and crosses the finish line. Within the next 8 minutes, 6 more elite male and the first elite female cross the finish line. Damn, I can’t even run a normal 5K in that time, much less one with obstacles. Much appreciation for that group!

10:15 a.m.
The emcee is doing his best to pump us up, “I say Rugged, you say Maniac. RUGGED….MANIAC …. RUGGED….MANIAC! GO!”

And we are off….

The trail turns softly to the left and then heads into the wooded area. We run just over a half mile on this wide trail when we come up to the first obstacle, Barricade. It’s a set of two 4’ walls with a rolling pipe sitting about 6” above the top of the wall. The key to getting over this obstacle seamlessly is not even touching the rolling pipe. Just place the hands on the top of the wall and get over. It is a bit awkward with the pipe in the way, but I am successful nonetheless. As I turn to the right to head down the trail, I see maniacs coming down the hill from the opposite direction completely covered head to toe in mud. I can’t wait to see what is in store for us around the bend!

A few hundred yards down the trail we come up to Obstacle #2, Dragnet. It is a net draped over chlorinated muddy water (a bit of an oxymoron, I know). I run through the obstacle, holding the net above my head and up the mud hill on the opposite side. I turned to my husband and son and say, “did I smell….”. “Yep, it is chlorine”, he responds quickly. “Huh,” I said, interesting concept, and I love it! Somehow, it did feel ‘cleaner’.

We turn to the left around the trees and there is Obstacle #3, Head Scratcher. It is your typical muddy crawl under barbed wire. As usual, there are ladies complaining about the amount and thickness of the mud. (Really?!?! Did you NOT know what you were coming to do? I just don’t get it….) I give a few of them some tips, like keeping your mouth shut while crawling through mud and muddy water so as to eliminate the accidental mud in mouth tragedy. Okay, so the tip was somewhat self-serving too…Back to the obstacle, I alternate from a crawl to a roll depending on the distance of the barbwire crawl. I decide to roll this entire distance. However, the only downfall to rolling is how dizzy you may be once completed. I am staggering my first few steps.

Approximately 50 yards after the Head Scratcher, we start to climb Obstacle #4, Jacobs Ladder. It is a wooden 12’ pyramid ladder. All 3 of us are up and over in no time. Looks like it may be time for a little running now.

The trail curves to the left again and we see a muddy mound leading into the Commando Crawl. Ah, this is where all the watery mud is…more complaining from the ladies in front of me. Me? I just splash right in, careful to avoid the barbed wire. As I near the end, I catch a splash of mud right in the eye. Out damn spot, Out! The last wire at the end is quite low, so I reach into my arsenal of old ‘Twister’ moves and contort myself to escape scratching the back. Up the muddy mound and we are headed down the trail again.

Down a slight hill and turning right, we see Barricade to the left and I hear one young lady say, “Look at them, I didn’t know we were going to get THAT muddy”. It made me chuckle. I turned to look at the 13-year-old and he is sporting a muddy beard. Well, at least I know what he’ll look like once facial hair starts growing.

Rugged Maniac - Tipping Point

Tipping Point
I turn around to watch where I am going and there it is, about 100 yards ahead, Tipping Point. It is a glorious site, trees on either side and the sun beaming down, highlighting the two rows of 1×6 planks set up teeter-totter style. I sprint up to the obstacle and confidently start walking up one of the planks. (I seriously love balance obstacles!) At the pivot/tipping point, my left foot begins to slide and next thing I know, I am chest against the plank and on the ground. My husband applauds while laughing and says that I looked like a rag doll sliding down a pole. Well, that’s a lovely mental picture! I jumped up and decided to run up the teeter-totter this time. Success! Well, until I get about 2 steps from the bottom, my feet slip again and are over my head and the wooden plank flies up and hits me in the low back and I proceed to land directly on the edge of it on the ground. “FUCK that hurt!” I sat there a minute letting the stinging in my ass and arm calm down. Just as the hubby is thinking I am literally trying to kill myself today, I hop up and sprint over the next teeter-totter. There! I showed that obstacle!

Not even 10 feet away from Tipping Point is Ninja Escape, Rugged’s version of Ninja Warrior’s Quintuple Steps. I take my short legs and try to get high enough on the steps to avoid the muddy area in the middle. 1…2…3…..foot slips, body turns, and face plant into a plank on the ground. Yep, I am obviously trying to break something today. I try two more before succumbing to the fact that trying to one-step gracefully across these steps like Neil Craver is not going to happen today, or maybe ever.

Heading for the trail, the shade is a welcome respite from the blazing sun. As the trees open up onto a grassy area we see

Obstacle #8, Beam Me Up. It’s a 15’ ladder wall climb. I race the 13-year-old to the top, let him know to watch his grip as the top is slick with mud already, and then beat him to the bottom.

Rugged Maniac - Napoleon Complex

Napoleon Complex
A little more running up a nice little hill leading us to Napoleon Complex, the 10’ wall with two 2x4s flush mounted acting as ledges for hand holds or foot placement. I’m so short I couldn’t even touch the top of the wall while standing on the bottom ledge. So I try a slight jump to grab it, my feet slip on the narrow, muddy ledge and my knee goes right into the corner of it. ‘Dammit!’ At this point I am praying to the injury gods, pleading with them that I’m sorry for whatever I did to upset them. Uncle! I guess there is a reason as to why my mom nicknamed me ‘Grace’. The boys are up and over the wall and thankfully we have a bit of trail running for me to run out this limp now.

As we emerge from the trees we see Pack Mule, the 25lb Wreck Bag carry. I grab my bag, hoist it over the shoulder and start my run. It was around a grouping of trees and the shortest sandbag carry I’ve ever seen. I’m handing off my bag and see the boys walking up to get one. Damn, I didn’t realize I had left them that far back. I wait patiently as they sprint the carry course and we all go to the next obstacle together.

About 25 yards away is Bang the Gong. We each get in a line and see 3 people slip as they launch from the edge of the water trying to reach the gong. A face plant, a butt first with feet in the air, and a belly flop. I sympathize with their stinging pain. My turn. I launch off of the edge and miss the gong by what I thought was a few inches, but the mini-version of me in a boy’s body, begs to differ, saying that if the gap was any bigger, he’d need a bridge to cross it. The little smart ass.

Within 50 yards we pull a U-turn and come up to Obstacle #12, Claustrophobia. A darkened tunnel crawl. Or in my case, bent over walk. Note to self, don’t try to straighten up, you may be short, but not that short. The plywood ‘ceiling’ hurts when you bang your head. There’s no hope for me.

Directly out of claustrophobia are the Trenches. There are 4 ditches with varying widths, the last being the widest. The volunteers are warning all of us that the takeoff and landing areas are getting quite slick and to watch your footing. So we towards the side as opposed to the middle. I leap over the first, take a few running steps, and leap over the second. I continue doing the same thing and my husband seems shocked that I make it over each one in an athletic fashion, unscathed.

Another hundred yards or so of trail running and as we see the next obstacle up ahead, the mini-me trips over his own size 11.5 feet and goes knee into rock. Yep, now he’s bleeding too and there is no doubt that he is my kid. Cute and Graceful. I try hard not to laugh, but I can’t hold it in. I’m giggling as we run up to Pipe Dream. I really do love the creativity of obstacle names. Up a slight muddy hill and I go head first into a corrugated pipe into, guess what? Yep, more muddy water and barbed wire. And rocks. Lots and lots of little rocks that continued into the corrugated pipe that we had to climb up and out of with the use of a rope. By the time I crawl out of the pipe, both of my knees are bleeding. But hey, I’m sure there will be more water to rinse them off.

Straight out of Pipe Dream we begin the next obstacle, Quad Burners. A series of steep mounds of dirt and mud. I really think that Rugged Maniac likes to play with their backhoes. We are off and running again, but not too far. The next obstacle, Let’s Cargo, is waiting for us. It is an A-frame cargo net climb and decent. The net is a little slack in the middle and not pulled too terribly tight. So I stay close to one of the middle beams for a little more support. I make it to the top and debate doing the flip and crab, but I really am afraid I would kick someone. And with my luck today, well, it just wouldn’t be a good idea. I hit the ground and look up and mini-me is starting his decent. I hold out my hand for a high-five and that little turd goes running past me and doesn’t look back. Hubby makes his way down the net a few minutes later after helping someone over their fear of heights and asks where the kid is….I just pointed and laughed. He left us.

The two of us take off running and go through one last trail area, and we can start to hear the festival area. We come off the trail and turn right and there is the next obstacle, Antigravity. It’s trampolines! OMG! Trampolines! I break into a sprint because my excitement level just went through the roof. It’s the little things. I climb up the stairs and wait for the person in front of me to get up the cargo net on the opposite side. Once she was clear, I jump onto the first, bounce over the middle spacer, and with one jump on the second I bounce up and grab the cargo net about ¾ of the way up the wall. I was so tempted to go do it again, I LOVE trampolines! A flip is definitely happening next year!

Rugged Maniac - The Ringer, starring TretschThe Ringer, starring Tretsch

We climb down the backside and start a little jog and make it to the next obstacle, #18, The Ringer. Just as the name suggests, it’s an upper body obstacle, a ring crossing over water. I pick a lane and grab the ring. I grab the second, the third – holy shit, I may just make it across this thing – the fourth, and I’m in the water. Damn, so close. Up and out of the water. Hubby is jealous that I’m rinsed off.

We are in the home stretch, the last cluster of obstacles. Up next, #19, The Blobstacle. It’s a large inflatable cylinder, for lack of a better term, draped with a cargo net that you must scale up and over. The more people are on it, the harder it is. It would be like trying to climb and inflatable bouncy house full of jumping kids. However, once I got my footing on the cargo net, up and over was quite easy.

Rugged Maniac - The Blobstacle

The Blobstacle
Next up is the Gauntlet. Inflatable oversized punching bags hanging over lanes of floating pads. You must dodge the bags as you run through the obstacle. If you slip or get hit, you get wet. Guess what? I didn’t get hit by the bag, but in all my graceful glory, I slipped and ended up in the water. Really, my balance is so much better than this. I can’t do anything but laugh.

Up another mud mound and down to the Frog Hop. A pool of water with lanes of floating plastic ‘lily pads’. I sprint across these without issue. Finally! I stayed on my feet. There’s only a few obstacles left until the finish line. We still have not seen my mini-me. I guess he’s still alive.

Obstacle #22, Pyromaniac is next up. It’s the classic fire jump and I get to jump it twice. But wait, where are the cameras? There’s always cameras. I leap over the first fire. Damn, that was HOT! And over the second. I think that one was even hotter. It smells really good and I start day dreaming of roasted marshmallows.

Rugged Maniac - Accelerator

The Accelerator
Now we are staring down the combination of the last 3 obstacles, the Warped Wall, Mount Maniac, and Accelerator. I charge up the Warped Wall, grab one of the volunteer’s hands just as my knee and toes careen into the wall, I lose grip, turn and drop and slide down to the bottom. More bruises and cuts and scrapes. Yep. I’m a mess. We make it to the top and then scale the cargo net climb up to the very top of Mount Maniac. There we see the fun 50-foot water slide known as Accelerator. The volunteer is yelling for 6 people at a time, GO. Next 6, GO! We are sitting atop the slide and push off. A little bumpy for my bruised ass, but it is so much fun. We hit the water and get out to run across the finish line. “Took y’all long enough,” we hear from the 13-year-old as we are getting our medals.

With all my bruises and scrapes, people ask me why I find this fun. I reply that it is like being a kid again. Carefree, throwing caution to the wind, conquering fears, and proving to yourself that you can. Rugged Maniac was the most fun course that I have run because the obstacles never stopped and the largest distance between them was a half mile, and that was from the starting line to the first one. Twenty-five obstacles in 3.2 miles. There were clusters and groups, some we’ve seen variations of and others that we have never seen before. Rugged Maniac is inventive with some of their obstacles, utilizes the terrain to their advantage, provides plenty of dirt and mud, but most of all, this race is really geared toward the FUN aspect of this sport. It’s a great race for a beginner or an elite, for an 8-year-old or an 80-year-old. It’s just pure, play in the mud, I’m a kid again fun. I highly recommend running this race if you have the chance (just don’t be as graceful as yours truly).

Photo Credits:  Jennifer Foster, Sean Gluth, Lisa Gregorio Sands, Stacy West Pitts, Robert Tretsch, and Gameface Media