So you want to run long …

Recently, ORM blogged about the Battlefrog BFX24 event- a 24 hour version of the Battlefrog Xtreme event that proved so popular in 2015.

It looks like a cool event.

I took a little bit of exception to a single line in the article – and called Matt on it. He asked me to write this little blog post. So, here we are.

“we often hear rumblings about this concept from other races, BattleFrog are the only ones pulling it off on a regular basis.”

Here’s why this bugged me enough to say something.

In New England, FIT Challenge has been doing the multi-lap concept since 2014. Sure, they aren’t quite at Battlefrog volume, but Shale Hill has been doing multi-laps at their 8h Polar Bear Challenge since 2013.  Also at their 24 hours of Shale Hell event since 2014.

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We’ve also been promoting, encouraging and facilitating multiple laps in the 2015 #racelocal Grand Prix since the beginning of the year – and since January, you’ve been able to run multiple laps at:

Multiple Shale Hill events, Blizzard Blast, Wason Pond Pounder, both Gauntlet Series events, both BoldrDash events, Bonefrog Challenge, Zombie Charge, Samurai Sprint, the fall Tuff Scramblers, and more.

And I don’t mean “fun laps”, where you just bandit the course again – fully paid, timed (when applicable), insured and Race Director blessed laps. 156 of them between 50 people at the last FIT Challenge.

In fact, during the 2015 #racelocal Grand Prix, we had over a dozen members of our “Century Club” – individuals who covered over 100 miles on nothing but locally owned and operated obstacle course races.

racelocalwinners

BFX is a great event – we’re fortunate enough to have plenty of options like it if you branch out a little.

24 Hours of Shale Hell

 

BFX24 also sounds like it’ll be an awesome event for the right athlete – I hope those same athletes consider hitting up the 24h of Shale Hell for a totally different, grass roots kind of 24 hour obstacle course challenge.

OCR is a huge market. We’re so lucky to have all these events, run by excellent race directors who are all trying to push the envelope.

Civilian Military Combine close up shop

Feb 10, 2016 Update: CMC have relaunched!

Civilian Military Combine were doing things right.

They didn’t grow ambitiously. They didn’t enter markets they couldn’t afford. The races were high quality, obstacle builds were solid. They had something unique, with the PIT that attracted a whole new market to the OCR space.

Their staff were helpful, they operated professionally. If they had venue problems, they handled them appropriately. Over the past couple of years, I travelled to 6 of their events – and they ranked up there as one of my favorite race organizations.

This weekend, cancelled all current events and effectively folded.

CMC Cancelled  

How does this happen?

Obstacle Course Racing is a tough business – but the companies feeling it the most are the companies that travel. The amount of money involved in arriving at a venue, building a full festival and course, then breaking it down and moving it somewhere else is massive, and as we’ve seen in the past few years, it’s not an easy cost to sustain. As far back as 2013, when well liked events like Hero Rush, Run for your Lives and Ruckus folded, we could see the writing on the wall. As recently as FoamFest (USA) and LoziLu – well loved brands that attracted the coveted “newbie” market still couldn’t make the traveling roadshow work for them.

Civilian Military Combine Cancel

 

For CMC – they struggled to get a 2015 calendar to market. When it did, it was a much abbreviated calendar from their 2014 season, and they clearly struggled with venue’s, having to shut down one event early on. All along, they’ve offered full refunds when they run into problems, and thats the message they put out this weekend when they canceled all their events. Staff who’ve worked there for years are out, and it doesn’t look good for their future.

I’ll miss them. They gave me the chance to run an OCR on the pier in front of the USS Intrepid, and do a bucket carry under the wings of a British Airways Concorde. They were the only OCR to have a wave pool at the start of their course, and The Pit was the great equalizer, taking the technique and strength of a Crossfitter, and putting them against the endurance and speed of an obstacle course racer.

What message can we take away from this?

“I’ll register for that one next year” doesn’t help them this year.
Support the good guys. Read (and submit) reviews to figure out who those are.

Civilian Military Combine Cancelled

 

 

All events for The Civilian Military Combine are now cancelled. A good place to find more races to register for is our mud run discount page.

What can you do with your 1,000 finishers?

altas-race-logoAtlas Race have gone under. Again. Superhero Scramble couldn’t make it work for them, Ruckus took their show on the road and it drove them out of business. Battlefrog just reformatted their entire race experience in an effort to attract more people and stay in business themselves. They aren’t the only stories either – Foam Fest, Hero Rush, Extreme Nation and more.

Ace – Superhero CEO himself – once went on record with the vast amount of money his race costs to put on every weekend. Six figures, and up – each and every weekend – will get you a race comparable to the Spartan Race experience in many ways.

Except, not in the most important way – athlete attendance.

See, when you put on an event, regardless of how much flash or pomp you have, how much money your backers have, how much you spend on social media marketing and how many employees you have, if people don’t show up and spend money … you go out of business.

We seem to have reached a rough – entirely unscientifically studied – going by my gut-feel average of about 1,000 people willing to go to a race – be that a national, traveling event, or a local OCR. Some races with history in an area can do more of course (Savage Race for example) – but as a general benchmark, 1,000 people seems to be it.

Can you survive as an OCR business with 1,000 people?

Local OCRs are doing it.

Local OCRs like Wason Pond Pounder in New Hampshire can. They just had 989 finishers, a certain Junyong Pak won first place with cash on the line, and they had enough money to donate everything they made back to local charities. FIT Challenge – in their third year – regularly has successful 1,000 to 1,500 attendance events, donates money back to charity and can still afford to come back a couple of times a year. I hear of local events in other regions doing the same thing – making it work with 1,000 people.

 Why can a local OCR pull 1,000 people and be a success, when a traveling road show would consider the same numbers a total failure? They spend considerably more on marketing, so surely they should expect more attendees? They’ve got a bigger brand, more presence on social media, sponsored athletes, bigger prizes, bigger obstacles – with names! Surely that should add up to at least a significant uptick in attendance?

Except, it doesn’t appear to be that way at all.

10603552_666698620096929_6171903817587809113_nWason Pond Pounder’s marketing budget bought them some flyers.
FIT Challenge drop under $1k on flyers and Facebook ads for an event.

I’m fairly certain – but have no proof – that Battlefrog, Atlas, Superhero Scramble and co spend more than that.

Why is this not working out for them?

I believe it’s a combination of things. I’m no marketing expert. I don’t work in marketing professionally, but I have slept in a Holiday Inn.

They’re simply doing it wrong, and don’t seem to be prepared to admit it. If you followed the Atlas message, they told you how bad ass they were. How extreme. Battlefrog are at it too – they promote their elites, and the athletes who do multiple laps of their Xtreme challenge. They tell you stories of their biggest and toughest obstacles – with photographs shot by amazing photographers of the elite athletes in sports bra’s or shirtless.

11351375_666697980096993_3114513093996936763_nWason Pond Pounder? A couple of cell phone photos of the construction. FITChallenge? Photos of the owner’s kids

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But they clearly have different target markets! Local, low budget OCRs are only pulling in the weekenders – the casual participant. Big budget traveling road shows are focusing exclusively on the enthusiast and elite market!

Except Wason Pond Pounder did such a good job, they pulled in two time worlds toughest mudder. He wasn’t there for the prize money ($100), nor the incredibly challenging obstacles (they were family friendly). He was (I assume) there for the fun.

junyong-pak-wason-pound

 

How much fun can the average joe or jane have, staring down huge walls or 1/4 pipes, with scary names, or hang upside down from rope ladders over freezing cold, muddy water – or carrying heavy heavy loads for long periods of time?

They don’t. Thats not fun for them, so they stay home and run a 5k on the road – or go to a local OCR where everything is accessible and fun.

Thats not to say these events don’t bring out the enthusiast crowd either – FIT Challenge routinely gets 200, 300 members of the New England Spahtens – a community of enthusiasts. Wason Pond Pounder setup a special desk just for participants of the #racelocal Grand Prix to make the process of registering for multiple laps easier and quicker – some people did the course five times – each lap putting money back into the charitable donation the race directors donated.

 So, what is the point I’m trying to make here?

Local “easy” OCRs pull in the same numbers as the challengers for Spartan’s crown, yet they do it with a fraction of the cost. They don’t market themselves as brutal slog tests, full of military scary stuff, and they don’t make you feel like you have to be one of the fastest runners in the world to toe the start line.

They invite you and your family to enjoy a fun time – and assuming they nail the details and deliver on those promises, people come back time and time again.

And thats not something that anyone involved with Atlas can offer any longer.

The OCR Numbers Game

How many racers do you need to have a profitable event?

How many non-profitable events can a race series weather, before they have to close their shutters, and call it a day?

These are the pertinent questions you have to ask when looking at the OCR landscape today.

I think at this point in the game, it’s clear that Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash are staying above water. They aren’t struggling to put on events or get mind share in the marketplace.

On our local scenes, most events are put on with a considerably lower budget – they don’t have head offices, paid staff or brand names behind them. Some make money and donate it to charity, others sink it back into their business.

What about the middle ground? Traveling, “national” series that need to move obstacles and staff across state lines every weekend.

Battlefrog and Atlas Race both held highly anticipated races this weekend – for different reasons. All eyes were on the two events.

10007498_747579035260261_758193702_nPeople wanted to know if Battlefrog was on plan. It’s no secret that they have struggled to get bodies across the finish lines at previous events, and for a series spending as much as they are on marketing, course build out, sponsorship, prize money – they need more, and they need more quickly. If you read between the lines, check the tea-leafs at the bottom of cups and make a few speculative conclusions you may imagine Battlefrog is feeling the pinch a little – they let go their chief course designer (edit: Director of Race Operations, thankyouverymuch) this winter, and after making a production of having two day races at every venue, some found their Sunday race quietly get cancelled.

It’s not proof of anything, of course, and the company line continues to be that they have a plan, and they’re executing their plan.

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But, with Miami being their home race, and little in the way of competition going on that weekend, how many people did they get? According to their finish results (pulled from Chronotrack 3/2/15), they had a total of 2,805 finishers, for all series, both days. I’m fairly certain thats a record turn out for them, and with heavy rains it’s possible they had more register, but not come out.

Is this enough? Is this going to be a trend for the future events they hold? Can they break 3k at events not in their home town, possibly up against other races? Time will tell, and race reports from Miami were generally singing Battlefrog praises. It’s certainly a move in the right direction, and proof that what they do works, and people love #froglife.

If you want to analyze these – it’s interesting to note that MORE people did the 5k, than the 15k – despite the longer format being the signature event, and when you consider that BattleFrog Extreme participants were running multiple laps of the 5k, could that have artificially bumped those? Let the speculation commence …

BattleFrog finishers

Saturday Feb 28th
15k Elite – 76
15k Elite Masters – 23
15k Elite DQ – 21
15k Open – 609
5k Open – 1,141

15k total – 729
5k total – 1,141

Sunday March 1st
15k Open – 437
15k Competitive – 40
5k Sunday Competitive – 22
5k Sunday – 436

15k total – 477
5k total – 458

Weekend totals
15k – 1,206
5k – 1,599
Total – 2,805

10552381_750691804968317_6401273341272183271_nAtlas Race made its much awaited re-birth this weekend. Making an impact on the west coast, Atlas have a rocky past and some bad blood – but with new investors, new backers, new sponsors – they promised to make good and provide a solid series that is already hoping to go on the road, with their second event planned for San Antonio TX in just a couple of weeks.

But, is it time? In total, over two days and all waves, Atlas had 1,071 finishers. Thats a great number for a local event, sure, but with a pro-team to support, marketing to do in remote regions, travel and transportation budgets …. things are starting to sound like the early days of Battlefrog again – well funded, with a plan and a goal – and a long road ahead of them to get there. Can they weather that?

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Reports from Atlas this weekend have also been positive, something they desperately needed as they rebooted. (Numbers pulled from J-Chip 3/2/15, updated to correctly reflect Saturday Ranger numbers)

Atlas Race finishers
(Boss = short course, Ranger = long course)

Saturday Feb 28th
Boss M – 275
Boss F – 217
Elite M – 70
Elite F – 26
Ranger M – 262
Ranger F – 148

Boss total – 588
Ranger total – 410

Sunday March 1st
Boss M – 124
Boss F – 87
Elite M – 28
Elite F – 17
Ranger M – 92
Ranger F – 40

Boss total – 256
Ranger total – 132

Weekend totals
Boss – 844
Ranger – 542
Total – 1,386

Of course, numbers are not the whole picture – but they are a measurement of growth and success (or not) and as participants who spend considerable money on tickets, sometimes more frequently than we should, we need to be aware of these things. Last weekend we saw two very ambitious events, put on solid race weekends – as they move through their calendars this year, lets hope they can pull in more people.

*Photos courtesy Atlas Race and BattleFrog Series.

Spartan’s “Season of Change”

Sometime every winter; Spartan Race has finished up their annual season, the race calendar gets a little quieter, and things get a little less frantic. They take the opportunity during this quiet period to look at their processes and make some decisions about what worked last year, and what didn’t.

Then they change them.

If you recall, in 2014 we were outraged at the idea that the first few waves in the morning were now an additional charge and we couldn’t pick our own time. In 2013 we were upset that Elites now had the entire first wave of the day to themselves. This is my fifth year of Spartan Races, and I’m sure if I go back far enough, I can find something we were upset and outraged over for each and every season. Like when spectator charges were introduced. That was a doozy.

Mostly, these changes blend in, and become part of the landscape. People forget their outrage and get on with the fun job of running races.

These changes don’t always work out, of course. I still miss the days of being able to register for a specific wave without paying extra. They certainly aren’t always popular, initially.

We’re in the middle of this “silly season” for the 2015 Spartan Race calendar, and here we go again. Let’s talk about two big changes – Pricing and Waves, and Season Passes.

Pricing and Wave times.

With 2015, Spartan have left Active behind and are implementing Chronotrack. This is a massive change, and immediately caused confusion – as they develop the year, much of that confusion is going away, and it’s turning out to be relatively simple.

Here’s how it will work for 2015:

Every race has three wave options. Elite, AM and PM.

When you check out, you pick a block of time within your AM or PM window – AM running from the end of the elite wave, until about 11am and PM running from then to the end of day – each block is about an hour in time. You will get a wave time within that block.

Note to teams: AM will get it’s own team time based on majority rule. PM will get a SECOND team wave, based on majority rule.

Pricing *starts at*:

Sprint – $100 for Elites, $75 for AM slots, $60 for PM slots
Super – $125 for Elites, $110 for AM, $95 for PM
Beast – $140 for Elites, $125 for AM, $110 for PM

Spartan 2015 Pricing

** All prices will also see a transaction fee that ranges in the $5 to $15 range, depending on your ticket price, and a $14 insurance charge.

** As tickets sell, the Elite / AM / PM slot will go up in price based on volume. What does this mean? The first – say, 1,000 Sprint AM tickets that sell will be $75. They then go up. The next few hundred people get the next price, then it goes up. It is NO LONGER a scheduled, date based price increase … the more tickets they sell the more expensive things get. It pays to be early.

** This is correct at time of writing, doesn’t take into account Stadiums, Hurricane Heats, Spectators, volunteering, parking passes, your travel costs or replacement Reebok’s – or any other possible variance you can come up with 🙂

Why do this?

It’s possible to sell the less popular, less populated afternoon waves for cheaper. $60 for a PM wave at a Sprint is pretty cheap money. For a while, we’ve complained of the rising costs of Spartans, and now we’ve got an option to run for less.

Of course, if you are of a mind to run in the morning, perhaps you like doing multiple laps, perhaps you need to be home quickly – then the AM is there, and the AM is going to be more expensive. Over to you 🙂

Teams? This is annoying.

In the past, teams would ALL be moved to one wave, sometimes even a dedicated team wave. It didn’t matter if you registered for the morning Open wave or the afternoon Open wave. Now, we get split into two team waves – one in the AM, and one in the PM.

Logistically, this makes sense for HQ. They have fewer people to put through the course, find time slots for – for teams and communities though, I feel like this is a step backwards for Spartan Race. There is little enough nod towards communities, with much talk of that improving. This isn’t an improvement.

So to recap – cheaper PM pricing, sliding scale of price increases based on number of ticket sales instead of date – but less flexibility about picking your own specific wave time, and teams being split in two.

Season Passes

Last year, I picked up a season pass for $400. That let me register for eight events in the region for only $14 each. No frills, no fuss. You paid $600 if you wanted to run in the Elite wave – but overall, it was a very simple transaction.

Not so much in 2015. Pricing was just released at $549, and justified with a smorgasbord of additional *stuff* you may, or may not actually find value in.

One of the justifications for the extra pricing is the idea that there are more races on the calendar in 2015 – which I think is a bit silly. I’d wager the majority of season pass owners travel, sure, but not to EVERY race. Most people buy the SP so they can run multiple laps of the same courses, not travel to more and more venues. It sounds like some regions will find more local events, and more Sunday options – and the calendar should be final pretty soon, so this will become more apparent.

Included in the price is free bag check, which could be valuable to you, sure.

Also included are benefits for hotels and car rentals – and a Global Rescue program (medical advice, travel assistance lines). If you work for Corporate America, you may have something like this from your HR department already – but many folks won’t have this.

The big one though – the pass is now valid for any wave and heat – elites actually get to save money for once – and, if you have an existing pass, you can pick up the new one at a $100 discount (so, just a $49 price increase)

Season Pass 2015

Why the changes?

I have no illusions that Spartan lose money on $400 season passes. I know I got my money’s worth, and I barely travelled. I can only imagine the complexity of having to handle Elite and Open passes on the back end too – I just wish the “improvements” were more substantial – as someone who never uses bag check, doesn’t need flight, restaurant or car rental discounts and has a medical / emergency help line with my day job – all I see is a price increase of $49 for me, and $149 for anyone who doesn’t already have one.

This doesn’t make the 2015 Season Pass a bad deal! It just means the market for the 2015 season pass, and the market for the 2014 season pass are different, and I’m not interested in the new version – you may not be either.

Every winter, Spartan Race has a level of reinvention. It’s clear as the years progress that they are streamlining things, trying to turn a bigger profit (and thats not a bad thing), and trying to cut out some of the problems they’ve inherited from previous seasons and previous directions.

We’ll get used to this solution too, even if we don’t like it right now. Change is hard.

*Photos By: Spartan Race 

5KFoam Fest – Another OCR/Themed Race Casualty?

cropped-5k-Foam-Fest-Logo

It’s no secret that the OCR industry is booming – and we’ve got a checkered history of events that simply didn’t make it.

Each time it happens, the warning signs are consistent.

It starts out with a fall from grace. The races that people loved turn sour. Maybe attendance is terrible, or the organizers start to make slip ups with the course. Backlogs and parking disasters. It could be several things, or one thing – but it’s out of character for the event, and they get bad publicity because of it.

Then, future events start to look shaky. Maybe they need to find a new venue at the last minute, or they cancel entirely.

The death knell though? Thats when they don’t offer refunds. Or they “transfer” them to another race.

This process can happen quickly – in just a few races, or it can happen slowly over a longer period of time. Atlas Race, Extreme Nation and Hard Charge – are among those that have gone this road in 2014, with Run for Your Lives, Ruckus, and Hero Rush and several more preceding them last year.

foamfest_R_I_P_gravestoneToday, we may be watching 5KFoam Fest go through this process.

The growth of Foam Fest was fast – they have over 30 events on the US map alone for 2014, which doesn’t count Canada (8 events), or Mexico and Australia ambitions (no events listed *yet*) – and they cater firmly to the fun crowd. 5k in length, the obstacles are fun, featuring foam and inflatables and slides – there are no burpees, no timing chip, no judgement – just some soapy suds and good times.

In 2013, they held an event in New England, and it was by almost every report an absolute scream – despite massive lines for things like the slides (which got popped a few times) and reports of feeling nickel and dimed to death, everyone had a great time – Foam Fest had a ton of great energy and people wanted to go back.

NE Spahtens reviews – http://www.nespahtens.com/submit-a-race-review/foam-fest-5k-2013/

In 2014 though? Not so much.

“The 2014 New England Foam Fest was hands down the most poorly executed race I have run in my entire 8 year running career. Multiple hour waits in the hot sun for shuttles to and from the race, poorly run registration, failure to provide promised race swag (medals, shirts, etc) and a course that seemed thrown together at best.”

– Heather Gannoe, Relentless Forward Commotion

Read more here – http://www.nespahtens.com/submit-a-race-review/foam-fest-2014/

From parking disasters (the owner of the venue indicated that Foam Fest vastly underquoted their expected number of runners), huge obstacle disappointments, no medals … Foam Fest failed to deliver on the fun factor.

This was *half* of the line for parking.

Thats just one venue though, right?

Since then, they’ve cancelled two more events – Cleveland and So Cal were both scheduled for this coming weekend (the 19th) and are being “postponed”.

So, perhaps it’s time to call those credit card companies and dispute the charge? With no refunds being offered, you may be taking a gamble on if your rescheduled race actually happens or not.

It’s worth noting that Dirty Dash, held by Roundhouse Racing, the same company that produces Foam Fest, has events scheduled to take place in New England and beyond – and there is currently no indication of problems there.

We reached out to Roundhouse Racing, and were told they would be releasing a statement “soon”.

July 17, 2014 8:05AM EST – An update to this story has been published.