Mud Mingle, O-Town Style

Mud Mingle, Orlando, Race Review

Tony manages some mud at Mud Mingle obstacle race in Orlando

Contributor Shyam Sriram went down to Florida with his buddy Tony Ferrante and came back with this review.

Advertised as the “silliest, messiest, muddiest, most funnest, mud run ever,” we decided to drive down to Florida for the January 25th Mud Mingle Orlando. The event was not actually in Orlando, but 30 miles north in Sorrento. Mud Mingle is relatively new in the world of obstacle course racing, but many of the course designers and organizers have experience from working on other events and it showed. This was a fun, professional and well-organized event that was not exactly as advertised, but still a lot of fun.

Tony on the bars at Mud Mingle

The course was advertised as a 5K (3.2 miles), but actually came out to more like 3.8 miles. However, due to the absence of mud and that damningly slick Georgia clay, this was a very manageable 3.8 miles (6.11K). Yes, that’s right, very little mud. Oh and even better? We both came to the revelation on the morning of the race that we were in Central Florida so there would be no hills!

What Mud Mingle Got Right

  1. Barring the delay at the beginning of the race when the 8:20 a.m. wave was pushed to 8:40 a.m., this was an extremely well-organized event. The race organizers were cheerful and wandering around and easy to find if you had a question.Registration was a breeze and the bag check at $5 was well-organized.
  2. Instead of mud, the entire course was covered in potting soil that felt like you were running on very cold sand, but that looked like ash. It was much easier to run through than mud, but still challenging. The sides of the sandy roads provided firmer ground when your quads and calves started complaining, but with ample cacti everywhere this was an added obstacle. It really made running kind of fun and interesting.
  3. There was one food truck, but the race organizers received major brownie points for providing not just any beer, but a complimentary Sapporo beer for race participants over 21; a fire pit, which was sorely needed with chilly early morning temperatures; and free hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was a nice touch and no small undertaking. The race organizers put in extra effort to make sure they kept the warm yumminess flowing.
  4. And on the subject of the beer, we want to point out our favorite sight of the day that went unheralded and unnoticed by most folks. There was a group of active duty servicemen in their camouflage utilities assembled to begin their assault on the Mud Mingle. We saw the race director, Garfield Griffiths (who was clad in a killer Union Jack kilt BTW), quietly approach our military men and women and graciously present them with two cases of beer and his thanks. Truly a class act, Garfield.
  5. We counted approximately 15 obstacles including traditional challenges like log and tire carries; a short scramble uphill with a rope for assistance; cargo net bear crawls; short and high walls; a rope climb; monkey bars; and a tunnel crawl. However, we ran through some obstacles that were out of the ordinary. We liked the two mental puzzles, one of which including choosing between two routes – “Death” or “Piece of Cake” – as well as one challenge where participants had to solve a riddle or do push-ups as punishment. We also enjoyed the knife throwing contest, which had an air of country fair coolness about it. You had three chances and if you stuck all three you won a huge carnival stuffed animal that you got to carry with you the rest of the race. Talk about fun, funny, and semi-challenging at the same time!
  6. Margarita and Bacon Stations ON THE COURSE! Clean eating and nutrition be damned! This is a running, muddy party, not an Ironman. The little cup of (possibly) spiked margarita about a third of the way in was delicious and such a fun thing to have. Then another third of the way through was a table of smiling volunteers handing out crispy and freshly cooked strips of bacon deliciousness. Running the rest of the way with the taste of bacon in your mouth is an experience to bring a smile to your face.
  7. The final obstacle was spectacular and a great way to finish the race. The organizers included the often copied inclined wall, but gave participants a very thick, knotted rope. Once you made it to the top, you had to climb down the structure and choose to go through a pipe on your back or head first and plunged about 10 feet into the mud. After a 10-foot crawl under “barbed wire” (actually bungee cords strung low) and staggering up, we were greeted with a full, whipped cream pie to the face – much better than the musclebound gladiators we all have come to know and love at the end of most OCRs.
  8. The medal was a nice, colorful Mud Mingle dog tag on a chain that says “Declare Shenanigans” and that’s exactly what you’re involved in. Blood, Sweat, and Tears may play on the DJ’s sound system at the after party, but it’s not really a part of this race. Even the “Elite Heat” awards had a funny twist. Jars of mud for the fastest Mud Minglers. You don’t see that every day.

What Mud Mingle Can Improve Upon

  1. For an event titled “Mud Mingle” there was surprisingly little mud. There were only two mud obstacles – an electrical wire crawl under barbed wire and live wires about half a mile in, and then the obligatory mud bath at the end. I understand that the Florida terrain was not inherently muddy, but by naming the event “Mud Mingle” it just seemed like an easy attempt to cash in on the popularity of mud runs. The logistical difficulties of importing dirt to a sandy location are understood, but future Mud Mingles at this venue would benefit from additional mud being added, especially because it was kind of nice mud. A good, muddy pit at the beginning covers the participants from the start and adds to the allure of the mid-race photos.
  2. If you are going to include an obstacle with live electricity than all participants should receive some sort of electrical shock. However, there were only electrical wires in the very middle of the obstacle and if you got very low, almost submerged and emerged “Apocalypse Now”-style at the end, you could avoid getting shocked completely. The gold standard for this kind of obstacle has to be the Tough Mudder’s Electric Eel. Maybe less power like the Savage Race uses so it only feels like you got hit with a rubber sledgehammer instead of possibly being rendered unconscious, but the shock obstacles usually provide the greatest number of screams, shouts, laughter, and “adult language opportunities.”
  3. There should be an option for those who are interested to pay for a timing chip so they could keep up with their time and figure out where they’ve placed among their peers and age groups. This can be a financial burden and may not work, but a lot of OCR athletes really enjoy being timed at these races because let’s face it, all fun aside, they are athletic events and races.

Overall Impression and Recommendation

We both truly enjoyed this event immensely.  It was a fun, semi-challenging way to get together with a large group of our favorite people in the OCR community and do the things we love to do.  If you wanted a more challenging physical experience there was a 10k (which ended up being 12.22k) option available where you just ran another lap to get more of a physical challenge.  We would recommend this race and any other future events organized by this same team, and we’re already trying to arrange to be in Miami for the Mingle de Mayo on May 3rd.

 

Photos courtesy of Fixed Focus Photography.

 

Zensah High Compression Tights

ZENSAH logo

Zensah High Compression Tights Product Review

Product: Men’s high compression tights (L/XL in black)
Manufacturer: Zensah
Website: zensah.com
Reviewer: Shyam Sriram

A year ago, I was blissfully unaware of compression garments. I say blissfully because after becoming an OCR initiate in March 2013 and getting hooked, I was then inundated with competing and conflicting information about the “best” gear for obstacle course racing. I heard a lot of positive and negative theories about compression gear (shorts, tights, calf sleeves, arm sleeves, etc.), but knew after scraping the hell out of my elbows and knees at the 2013 Georgia Spartan Sprint that I needed something to cover my knees. I bought my first pair of compression leggings shortly thereafter when I picked up the 2XU Compression Tights. These tights were very thin, but worked as a great base-layer for cold weather races and events where my clothes needed to dry quickly and where my legs needed protection.

However the 2XU tights, while good, didn’t really help with the issue that has crippled me – delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMES, which affects a lot of athletes, but really did me in as a guy trying to get into shape in his early 30s. After some of my longer races – 11-mile Tough Mudder; 6.2-mile Peachtree Road Race; and the 21-mile Out of the Darkness overnight walk – I was barely able to walk. Plus, after using the tights during the 2013 Barbarian Challenge in Gadsden, Alabama, I tore several holes in them from gravel, rocks and barbed wire.

So when I heard that Zensah, a Miami-based company, had a line of custom engineered compression gear that actually decreased DOMES and post-workout muscle soreness, I had to try them out. Corey at Zensah hooked me up so I could try a pair of their Men’s High Compression Tights (L/XL size) and I put them through the paces.

Zensah High Compression tight review

This is an excellent product – no two ways about it. These are thicker tights than the usual, thin compression that many may expect, but it’s thicker and slightly ribbed texture provided a high-level of compression that significantly reduced my soreness. With the unusually cold weather we have experienced in Georgia, I used these tights to stay warm, improve circulation and reduce lactic acid buildup during hikes. They worked like a charm.

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give Zensah is that they drastically reduced DOMES after a race. I wore them after finishing the recently concluded Mud Mingle 4-mile race in Sorrento, Florida and for the first time in a year of racing, I was not in intense pain after a race. In fact, even a day or two days after the race when the real muscle fatigue usually sets in, especially in my legs, I felt great.

An added benefit of Zensah’s tights is their moisture-wicking and anti-microbial features. I put in over 30 miles of sweaty, intense hikes and rucks at the Chattahoochee River Trails and Stone Mountain Park and these tights still don’t smell and they don’t hold on to moisture. The company’s claims are dead on. The only issue I had with the tights was an issue with fit. They had a tendency to slip down if I wore them without underwear or compression shorts. Otherwise, I loved the texture and feel.

All in all, this is a great product and I am excited to try the full range of Zensah compression gear.

Product Rating: 9/10 stars

An Early Winter Adventure at Xtreme Ranger

xr-logoDahlonega, Georgia is not the kind of place that immediately comes to mind as a great setting for an OCR, but it should be after the awesome event held there on Saturday, October 26th. This town in the Georgia mountains, about an hour north of Atlanta, and known more famously as the site of a nineteenth century gold rush, was host to the Xtreme Ranger, a 5K obstacle and mud race with an added obstacle – the cold.

 Xtreme5While the gold standard for a “cold obstacle” has to be the Arctic Enema at Tough Mudder, the initial shock of the ice and water wears off pretty quickly. But imagine having to slosh, wade and crawl through ice cold mud and water, all while tackling other obstacles as well? We experienced all of these things at Xtreme Ranger. The event was coordinated by and held on the property of Floyd Wimpy and it is easily one of the best local races in the state.

Xtreme4The race was a solid mixture of hills and flat farm land and racers never had a chance to get used to any one type of terrain because as soon as you ran or crawled up an incline, there was a descent. Floyd’s property worked perfectly for this race and by all accounts, the cold couldn’t keep an enthusiastic crowd away. About 300 runners braved the elements and tackled a lot of classic obstacles –logs and balance beams; a cargo net and tire wall; muddy rope incline; etc.

Xtreme6What made this race so great, and also such a huge pain in the ass, was the number of water and mud obstacles, all of which were between 29 and 35-degrees. It was really cold. There was a stretch of about 100 feet where I had to crawl on my back through ice cold muddy water; attempt monkey bars, which I failed and landed me in more cold water; then about 30 feet of a mud crawl under barbed wire; then mud hills; and then a 25-foot wall with slender holds where two soldiers cheerfully sat at the top to encourage and motivate.

Xtreme3After this enervating obstacle quagmire, which the organizers dubbed “Obstacle Alley” runners had to tackle a creek, climb hay bales, crawl through a tunnel and then wait in line for the highlight of the race – the zipline. It is surprisingly, really, why more races don’t incorporate a zipline. This one was not particularly long – maybe, a 100 feet? – but there was no harness. You just held on for dear life, got a running start and zipped over a pond. I made it about three-fourths of the way over before I fell in to five-foot deep water. Then a soggy run up and down more hills; more water; and of course, a viscous, muddy moat at the very end to suck whatever energy you had left before my friend Matt Reynolds greeted everyone at the finish line.

With so much talk these days about shady race organizers and events being cancelled without notice, it is refreshing to see a local, DIY OCR and race director with so much flair and energy.  After the event, Floyd spoke to us about future obstacles he wants to build, which can make this course even better.  He also wants to continue to work with those of us in the community to ensure this race can be the best it can be. It is for these reasons, I believe Xtreme Ranger is here to stay for OCR enthusiasts and we should all look forward to more events in the future.

Click the image below to watch a short video recap which includes an interview with one of the race directors. 

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 Shyam K. Sriram is a professor of political science in Atlanta. He is a proud member of Georgia Obstacle Racers and Mud Runners (GORMR).

St. Clair Scramble Blackout Review

A Review of the St. Clair Scramble Blackout

St. Clair Scramble Blackout Obstacle Race

I don’t know what it is about Alabama, but two of the best OCR events I’ve taken part in have been there – the Barbarian Challenge in Gadsden and the recently concluded St. Clair Scramble in Odenville. Benefiting the Ian Harper Memorial Scholarship Fund to provide money to deserving student athletes in St. Clair County, the Scramble was a success in almost every way. This year, it was held at night, which gave an already challenging course an extra jolt of uncertainty. It was only a 5K, but damn it took some time. I had a total blast.

The first heat was moved to 7 p.m. to provide natural light at dusk, but by the time the second wave took off 30 minutes later, the only illumination came from the head lamps we were all asked to bring. I decided to run in the 8 p.m. wave and there were at least 30 people in our group.

After volunteering at the Suck Southeast and the Ultimate Suck, I’ve become a big fan of night time trail running. There is something liberating about jumping, scampering, wading and running through the woods at night with nothing but your thoughts, the curses of others and your headlamp to illuminate the way. I was able to get all of that at the Scramble.

The race organizers and coordinators including Chad Crowe and Billy Findeiss took the time to create some totally unique obstacles. The easy way would have been to just put together a race with the usual challenges – a barbed-wire mud crawl, cargo nets, walls, etc. But these folks really came up with obstacles I haven’t seen anywhere else and which gave me a total body workout. There was something mental, almost cerebral about some of the obstacles – I really had to think about the best way to tackle some of them, which provided an additional challenge.

St. Clair Scramble Blackout

For example, I loved the wall of tires. Cargo nets provide a hell of a workout, but climbing tires was waaaaay harder. The volunteer suggested I climb the side that leaned towards me, but it really took some doing. Climb inside the tire or on the outer tread? I had a similar doubt a few minutes later at the ladder climb, which tilted towards me like the Tough Mudder’s “Glory Blades.” Yes, it was more a ladder than a wall, but I had to really think about the best way to climb up.

The best races have at least one obstacle that makes you challenge your fears. This race had two. I am not afraid of tunnels nor am I claustrophobic. But there is a certain amount of uncertainty that goes through my mind when I’m crawling through a tunnel in the dark and at the end of the first tunnel, I’m in a pool of muddy water, which I have to slither through on my way through yet another tunnel. It was not physically tough, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little anxious.

St. Clair scramble blackout race photo

The same thing happened with the slip ‘n’ slide. I like water rides and water parks, but when you are a big guy like me and are asked to cross your arms over your chest and slide down a one hundred foot plus slide that ends in a not very long or deep pool at the end, well, you get anxious. But I said, “fuck it” and just went down the slide and I am pretty sure, I skipped over the water at the end and almost hit the wall. It was a total rush and absolutely exhilarating, but definitely, a little fear-inducing.

Like the Atlanta Mudder held at the Aonia Motorcross Park, the race organizers managed to find property in Alabama that held every possible type of mud in the Southeast – the kind that makes you slide all over the place; the shoe-sucking, deceptively deep stuff straight out of “The Neverending Story”; and the soupy, foul-smelling mud that we had to cross over at times by climbing over logs. I felt like I was trapped in “The Shawshank Redemption” …

I was so damn tired as I ran towards the light – literally – of the last obstacle until I heard a voice ask, “Is that Shyam?” and I replied in the affirmative, I was greeted with shouts of encouragement from a great group of OCR friends. They were all standing at the final obstacle – Sean Dickson, Tony Cammarata, Ambur Holley and Michael Caudell – and they were all cheering me on like I was about to finish a marathon or something. It was just the push I needed. I didn’t even attempt the first part of the final obstacle – something involving jumping face first on to some barrels – so I just jumped into the waist-deep water and waded to the final obstacle: an ol’ fashioned, Tarzan swing. In retrospect, I probably should have held the rope higher and used some momentum, but I was just tired and wanted to be finished. So I made a feeble attempt at a swing, fell into the water, climbed out with some help, climbed over the final hay stack and got my glow-in-the-dark medal!

This was a great event and one of those local, DIY operations that is professionally managed and offers a great running adventure for beginners and pros alike. The only suggestions I have would be to increase illumination in some of the trail areas because there were a couple of times I wasn’t sure if I was going in the right direction, and have some kind of food available for racers after the event. I had high hopes of destroying some BBQ after the run, but was disappointed to see the food tent packaged up by the time I was done. More race directors should follow the model of the St. Clair Scramble if they want to create a loyal following of participants everywhere. Sweet home Alabama, indeed.

Accountability and Obstacle Race Organizers

Does OCR need a governing body?

The August 2013 issue of Outside magazine featured an interesting article and guide to the current state of obstacle course racing (OCR). The magazine’s editors called on folks like Hobie Call and Junyong Pak to dole out advice on everything from what to wear to how to train. The article also suggests that while more Americans are taking part in OCR than even marathons, eager participants should also be wary of “cheap knockoffs.”

I am new to the world of OCR and have only been running in these types of events since March when I took part in the Spartan Race. Since then I have taken part in several others that ranged from very-well to poorly organized, but I was still able to participate and finish all of them (my favorite was the Barbarian Challenge in Gadsden, Alabama).

However, in that time I have also lost $115 because two events were cancelled – Hero Rush (Atlanta) and Badass Dash (Mountain City). While I am still waiting on my refund for the latter, I received a very terse email from the former saying that my registration would not be refunded because Hero Rush was going through bankruptcy. This is absurd and unacceptable.

While OCR has exploded in the U.S. for a number of reasons, the sport currently does not have any sort of organizing body. I think the time has come for race organizers, racers and enthusiasts to join forces and create some sort of governing body for the sport – at least in the United States. While there are many that may cringe at the notion of something so decentralized, so organic having a central, omnipotent body over it, I believe that the time is now. I am not saying there should be a limit on the number of races, but there should be a baseline for organizing an OCR. Here are some potential benefits:

1. Safety Standards: There are too many races now where participant safety is not taken into account. This could be in the form of poorly-constructed obstacles or lack of medical assistance.

2. Registration Refunds: If the race is cancelled or delayed, participants should always be able to get their money back. Participants may be asked if they want to use the registration for a later event, but they should at least be given the option of a full refund.

3. Charity Designations: To many OCR organizers are taking advantage of the willingness to give to charities and designate the money as supporting veterans and/or military, as well as benefiting children, with very little of the money raised going to either. A July 4th report by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting concluded that of the 50 worst charities in America, 18 were for police, firefighters and military, and 13 for children.

I know that the sport is still growing, but without waiting for more events to be organized and then cancelled; more people losing their hard-earned money; and worse, more people getting injured or killed, I think the time is now to form a representative body to govern OCR. As Rage Against the Machine said, “It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime, what better place than here? What better time than now?”

Shyam K. Sriram is a professor of political science in Atlanta. He is a proud member of Georgia Obstacle Racers and Mud Runners (GORMR).