The Battlegrounds Fall 2017 Review – Fast fun in Wine Country

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Overall this is an extremely fun fast paced course.  With only 276 ft of elevation gain The Battlegrounds is a “runner’s course,” but it is obstacle dense.  33 Obstacles packed into a 5-mile course or 29 over the 5K course. For those of you who speak Spartan, that’s a beast’s worth of obstacles in a sprint distance.

When I first saw the course map I had wished that the extra 2 miles on the 5-mile course had more obstacles (I always want more obstacles). But while running the race I never thought “man I’ve been running for so long, when is the next obstacle.”  The spacing was good and I really liked how the course was backloaded with obstacles.

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The obstacles were a great mix of classic OCR standards and fun “mud run” type obstacles including a giant waterslide, and a few long runs through a creek. Noticeably lacking were grip strength type obstacles such as Monkey bars and other hanging obstacles. There was a short 8 or 10-foot pipe traverse, and “the gauntlet,” a unique obstacle to the battlegrounds with 6 different lanes.

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You can choose any lane and some are much easier/harder than others.  Some lanes are heavy on grip strength and others more rely on balance, making sure you pick the right lane for you is key to success and speed through the obstacle.  As far as brute strength obstacles go there were really only two; a tire flip and a wreckbag carry.

The terrain doesn’t have many hills so to make the wreckbag carry more difficult you were required to carry the bag over and under a series of walls.  My favorite obstacle by far was the perilous pontoon bridge. A long chain of 4.5-foot square pontoons stretched across a pond. The pontoons rock and bounce and jostle on the water as you maneuver over them. My core has never been used so much while running, I felt like I had done 30 sit-ups after getting back on solid ground.

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This was probably the greatest venue I have ever seen from a spectator’s standpoint.  19 out of 33 Obstacles were easily viewed.  That means that your friends and family not participating could watch you do over half the course, far more than any other venue out there.

In making the obstacles even easier to see there is a giant tower that spectators could climb and see the course in 360 degrees.  While you have to be 18 to participate in the race there was a large kid’s area with a big mud pit to splash around in, balance obstacles, walls, tires and other obstacles for the kids to play on.

Did I mention this race is held at a winery? Because it is, which means if you want something a little more sophisticated than a Miller Lite you can have a glass of Merlot, Riesling, or Pinot Grigio.  In addition to the wine Kor Complex a St Louis area obstacle/parkour gym, and sponsor of the race, brought out a salmon ladder to the festival area that anyone could try and earn a free open gym session if they got up a few rungs.

The-Battlegrounds-Fall-2017-Salmon-Ladder

I was really impressed by the Photographers at this race. They are really amazing, they don’t just sit in one spot and take the same picture of each racer, they are looking around for the best angle, the best shot.  While volunteering at the May race I got to talk with a few of the photogs and they are very passionate about their photography.  Not everyone may get an epic picture and you may not know where they will be all the time, as they move around a bunch, but they do get some amazing shots.

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The race shirt alone sets this race apart from any other OCR I’ve been to or heard about.  Chances are you have lots of race shirts (you might even have 3+ of the same shirt) but I bet they are all short sleeved, and they are all at least 50% cotton.  The Battlegrounds really set themselves apart by giving participants a long sleeved 100% polyester shirt. A great fall running shirt for a great fall race.

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In conclusion, I wish they would add 1 or 2 more, longer hanging “monkey bar” style obstacles, but overall I think this is an awesome race that I would gladly do again and very much recommend.  It was a great course with good people and the best finisher shirt in OCR.

 

All photos courtesy of The Battlegrounds, Justin Smith, and John Kelly Photos

 

“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