Spartan Announces 2019 Path To One Million $ – Is It Achievable?

Spartan CEO and Founder Joe De Sena today announced a $1 million prize, part of the largest purse in Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) history, to elite athletes competing in Spartan’s three World Championship events in the 2019 season.

Notably changed in 2019, is how you win the $1 million prize. In 2018, athletes needed to win all 3 Spartan World Championships – The Spartan World Championship in Lake Tahoe, CA. The Trifecta World Championship in Sparta, Greece and the Spartan Ultra World Championship in Iceland. After Jon Albon’s victories in Lake Tahoe and Sparta, the eyes of the OCR world followed him as he took on Iceland, only to drop out before reaching the 100-mile mark needed to claim the million dollar prize.

In 2019, Spartan has developed a new points-based system to cash in on Joe D’s new generous prize purse. The payout field is much deeper this year, awarding cash to not only the top 30 Elite athletes but also this will be the first time that cash prizes are also awarded to athletes competing in the gated age group categories. It’s clear that Spartan is looking to bolster the fields for the 3 premier events on their calendar this year.

Spartan Prize Payout System

Now, this excitement aside, the question still remains – Is the $1 million prize achievable?

If you don’t win Tahoe and Sparta Greece, the chance that the answer to that question is “yes”, is minute at best. Ryan Atkins, regarded as one of the premier endurance athletes of our time, won Iceland last year, with just over 80 miles complete in 24 hours.

That distance would have only landed him $1,500 under this new system, regardless of how well he did in the previous 2 events. Jon Albon would have gone home empty-handed in Iceland, failing to make a qualifying distance.

What the athletes are saying:

The best in the sport of OCR are still a bit tenuous about how achievable this million dollar prize truly is:

Jon Albon: “Let’s see how Tahoe goes first”

Ryan Woods: “I’m not the caliber of OCR athlete to contend for the newly announced bonus money but I’m extremely excited to see how this chase for a million plays out.”

Ryan Atkins: “I’ll show up in Sweden ready to run as many miles are my feet will let me, regardless of the prizing structures. Ultimately, our bank accounts will be at the mercy of the course designers who will have the final say in everyone’s mileage.”

Rea Kolbl: “It’s exciting that the new challenge this year allows more flexibility, but whether or not it’s achievable really still depends on the course set up in Sweden which we won’t know ahead of time.”What if there isn’t a winner?

What makes 2019 more interesting for athletes is if someone doesn’t win the million dollar prize, your payout could be even better. Spartan has instituted a backup payout scale, that doubles the payout for athletes who finish in the Top 10. This gives athletes not named Albon, Atkins, Webster or Mericle even more incentive to attend each Championship event.

Wild Card Athletes?

Spartan says they are inviting all manner of athletes from OCR, swimming, hiking, biking, triathlon, and more to step out onto the Spartan race course. To qualify for events like Tahoe, Sparta Greece, or the Ultra World Championship in Sweden, Spartan athletes will have to jump through some hoops.

How will a non-OCR athlete hope to attend with these hurdles in place? Joe De Sena added the fine print: “We reserve the right to use some wild card slots for athletes outside of our sport.”.

Spartan/Craft launch a new OCR shoe – Guarantees them for one year!

Spartan Craft RD Pro OCR Shoe

When Spartan entered a long term deal with Reebok back in 2013, the industry was excited to have shoes designed specifically for obstacle racing. Sadly, the early models never lasted long, under even moderate conditions. Reebok tried several more times over the years, and yet never got it quite right.

In March of 2018, Spartan and CRAFT Sportswear entered a global partnership, naming Craft “official performance apparel and footwear” sponsor. The two companies began selling co-branded apparel almost right away and promised the OCR world a new shoe in 2019. Earlier this year, Altra made a Spartan branded King MT 1.5 model, which confused some in the community who have been waiting for the new Craft/Spartan creation.

Finally, this morning, Spartan and Craft announced  The “Spartan by Craft RD PRO OCR Running Shoe”. Here’s the kicker, they are GUARANTEEING them up to one year. We spoke with Spartan CEO Joe Desena yesterday. He has been doing intense tests (as only Joe can) with them and wanted to put his customers at ease since it went so poorly the last time around. Customers will have to pay to ship the shoes both ways, and there is some other fine print, but the guarantee covers the following conditions:

“If: [1) the sole has split or is removed from the upper, 2) the outsole is worn through into the midsole, 3) the stitching has failed, resulting in a split or torn seam, 4) the upper is damaged, forming a hole, or 5) the eyelets are detached from the upper.

This covers most of the places that the Reebok shoes failed in so many times. I am very curious to see how these shoes hold up. The first things that jump out at me (without holding them) is that certain racers hate speed lacing (I happen to love it). Second, At 295 g (10.4 ounces), they are heavier than several current well-loved OCR shoe brands like the aforementioned King MT, the VJ XTRM, and Hoka Evo Jawz.

Here is an interview with Mike Lunardelli, the VP of Merchandise over at Spartan Race recorded this afternoon.

Spartan Craft Pro OCR Shoe

Here is the official press release :

Today, Spartan and CRAFT are announced an OCR footwear line to address the needs of the sport’s athletes. Designed in partnership with Spartan’s athletes and CRAFT Sportswear’s team of designers engineered and tested the Spartan RD Pro by CRAFT to ensure it stands up to the rigors of the world’s largest obstacle course race brand.

The Spartan RD Pro by CRAFT focuses on what every OCR athlete needs out on the course:

  • Superior Drainage – CRAFT has engineered Hydrain ™ technology to quickly and effectively evacuate water from the inside of the shoe.
  • Total Grip -The OBSTA-Tech ™ outsole system was engineered to conquer. The lug system provides traction on varying outdoor terrains while the X shaped design pattern on the forefoot and upper ensures optimum grip at the unique angles created by uneven terrain. The midfoot area is reinforced in order to give stability and traction for climbing.
  • Built for Speed – The RD PRO comes loaded with a speed lace closure system and ARC-Foam™ (Active Response Cushioning) technology. ARC was developed to provide an optimum ride for runners.
  • Built to Endure -The RD PRO is “virtually indestructible” according to Spartan and CRAFT. The
    quick-dry and easy-clean nylon upper get you to the next race while the ObstaTech™ KPU engineered cage adds enhanced mid-foot flexible ribs, heel stability layer, durable toe cap reinforcement and added lateral durability to prevent blowouts.

Spartan Craft RD OCR Shoe

The Spartan RD Pro by CRAFT can be pre-ordered as of today for $140 USD on and will be available in a variety of colors for men and women including the red, blue, green and yellow used in Spartan’s variety of event distances.

Bonus: Go to the bottom of this page to see a video of the tests Joe Desena did on the shoes.

New Spartan Craft Shoe Joe Desena




Savage Race – Spring – Georgia 2019

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Finish line fun with:

  • Nick Ryker
  • Ryan Woods
  • Nicole Mericle
  • Alex Walker
  • Yuri Force
  • Chrissy McFarland
  • Justin Williams
  • Leo Doc Bee Bryant
  • Ken Corigliano
  • Rachel Corigliano
  • Rachel Watters
  • Connor Peterson
  • Brad Heilwagen

Show Notes:

All results from this race.

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Listen using the player below or the iTunes/Stitcher links at the top of this page. 

Will Dean Forced Out Of Tough Mudder (And What Else Co-Founder Lawsuit Alleges)

Stories have been circulating for months that Tough Mudder is in tough financial straits: vendors and race winners had not been paid, and TMHQ recently announced that there would be no prize money for any races in 2019.  Last week reports emerged about a lawsuit against Tough Mudder by one of its co-founders, and the complaint pulls back the curtain on the company’s strained balance sheets.

Guy Livingstone co-founded Tough Mudder with his friend Will Dean, who became the face of the company. Anyone who read Dean’s book “It Takes a Tribe” will recognize the name, but the book doesn’t discuss much of Livingstone’s role in the company. While I had assumed this omission had to do with the vanity-project nature of Dean’s book, it now appears that it was a sign of the crumbling relationship between the company’s founders.

The complaint outlines the company’s financial history, from its heyday in 2012 when it made a profit of $10 million, to its current state, where it relied on $18 million in outside financing to keep the operation going. A caveat: this complaint is clearly Livingstone’s side of the story. We have not seen Tough Mudder’s response, nor have the underlying financial documents been revealed. Still, the details are juicy.

According to Livingstone, he pulled back his involvement in the company in 2013, at which point the company started to falter. Tough Mudder was eventually bailed out by Active Network LLC. You will recognize the name from your credit card statement if you have signed up for a local 5K, an Ironman, or any number of other athletic events.

Over the next few years, Tough Mudder went deeper and deeper into debt to Active. At the end of last year, Active tried to find a buyer for Tough Mudder, and when it failed, it moved on to a more aggressive plan: in exchange for its debt, it took control of the company and forced Dean to resign. The litigation stems in part from the terms of Dean’s severance package. Tough Mudder was owned by Dean and Livingstone, 60/40. According to the lawsuit, Dean negotiated his exit without Livingstone’s knowledge or consent, handing over his control to Active.

What does this mean for the average weekend racer? Ironically, all this bad news for two wealthy Englishmen could be good news for the rest of us. Unlike the original Tough Mudder, a scrappy startup with a stubborn leader, Active is a big company. Most of it was recently sold for $1.2 billion to Global Payments Inc., a multi-billion dollar payments conglomerate. This means that Tough Mudder is now controlled by a company with deep pockets owned by a bigger company with even deeper pockets. They have already made changes: a new president took over at TMHQ, Kyle McLaughlin.

Mr. McLaughlin appears to have a strong background in events management and doesn’t seem as interested in promoting himself the way Dean did. If he can right the ship, Tough Mudder could have a future. The flip side is that the company is now controlled by people at a greater distance from the product and who have no history in the sport of OCR. Should Tough Mudder fail to break even this year, even without handing out prize money, the new overlords might find it easier to pull the plug. They will also need to find a way to resolve what could be a very expensive judgment against the company in the form of Livingstone’s lawsuit.

We have scheduled an upcoming podcast breaking down this even further in the coming days.

State Of The Obstacle Racing Industry – 2019

Obstacle racing attendance

To set the stage for our first article of this kind in 4 years, let’s take a look back to some recent history in the obstacle racing industry.

In December of 2014, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash were well-established as the “Big 3” in OCR and we asked if BattleFrog Series had positioned itself as the 4th player in the space. Great obstacles and professionally produced races were quickly making BattleFrog a  fan favorite with participants looking to mix it up with something besides more Tough Mudder headbands or Spartan Trifecta medals.

Over the next year, BattleFrog announced a massive expansion to 44 races and the biggest payouts the industry had ever seen. They also announced sponsorship of a major College Football Bowl Game in January of 2016, which never made sense to anyone. Eight months later, they closed their doors.

Football fans (no pun intended) could considerBattleFrog as the XFL of obstacle racing. They were new and shiny, had money, and willing to take some risks. They were one of the first to promote obstacle completion over penalties, and they introduced obstacle difficulty lanes. However, the front office seemed to lack the basic know-how needed to compete with the big boys, long term.  There was the Bowl Game sponsorship, along with online ads that promoted sales, not unlike your local rug merchant.

Had BattleFrog been willing to take it slowly, stick to 12-20 markets a year, perhaps even stick to the East coast to minimize costs, and continued to innovate, we may have a different industry. They could have taken market share from the big 3 over time. But, like so many “take over the world today/gone tomorrow” business ideas, they tried to go nationwide overnight. They spent lots of money in wrong places, and could not convert that to high attendance numbers. Leo Fernandez Pujals, the money man at BattleFrog and one of the richest men in Spain, pulled the plug suddenly, after what would be their last event in August of 2016.

So how has everyone else been faring in the last few years? For the purposes of this article, Obstacle Racing Media will focus on industry changes on the United States based companies. We are working on some content for the future that will speak to the growth of worldwide OCR.

Update On The Big 3

*Spartan Race

When our last report went live, Boston-based Spartan Race was still undergoing expansion. They tripled their 2012 attendance numbers to a whopping 320 thousand finishers by end of 2014. While the exploding “hockey stick” growth has slowed, Spartan is still on the upswing. 2018 numbers saw them produce 63 events in the United States and their attendance was over 400 thousand participants. There are currently 57 races on the schedule for 2019.

*Of the Big 3, Spartan is the only race that we can confirm yearly, public-facing, finisher numbers through Athlinks. For Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, and most other races, we will base information on factors such as the number of events per year, and attendance numbers given to us by the race organizations themselves.

Warrior Dash

In our 2015 article, we spoke about how Red Frog (Warrior Dash’s parent company) has suffered the largest retraction in the OCR boom-bust of 2012-2014. However, Red Frog has been steady the last 3 years with 23 events nationwide, and the same amount scheduled for 2019. For their “10th season”, Warrior Dash is announcing new obstacles and launching a two-lap and 1-mile option.

Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder has undergone the most changes since our last report. Right around the time that BattleFrog went out of business in the fall of 2016, Tough Mudder began a year-long stretch of announcing new formats, large payouts, and media deals with CBS, Facebook, Amazon, and The CW. Along the way, they continued to produce 35-38 Tough Mudder events per year. Toward the end of 2018, there were rumblings of financial troubles as athletes complained of payment delays. Last month, TMHQ announced a new stripped down “back to our roots” campaign with the removal of all cash prize payouts. Currently, 26 events are scheduled for 2019.


Why is Rugged Maniac in The Big Three subsection? Because they have proven they belong. The guys at Rugged probably do the least media/ self-promotion, and somehow have made some of the biggest splashes in our industry. Mark Cuban cashed out his famous investment in August of last year when Rugged got acquired by GateHouse Media. From 11 events in 2011, Rugged had brought their race weekend total to 24 events when ORM last did an update. Still growing steadily, they did 29 events in 2018 and will produce the same number of events this year. According to the participant numbers that they provided, their attendance numbers per race have gone down slightly. However, they now put on more events per year than Mudder or Warrior Dash and have very healthy registration numbers.

The Next Tier

Savage Race

Back in 2015, Savage received praise for doing things the “right way”. As opposed to the nuclear rocket-ship takeover plan of BattleFrog and so many others, Savage has continued to grow slowly. They still add a few cities every couple of years, expanding to 15 weekends in 2019. Their attendance has maintained the same or been slightly increased in their most successful markets. Last year they began adding a Sunday, short course “Blitz” with payouts.

BoneFrog Challenge

BoneFrog was created by ex-Navy Seals in Western Massachusetts back in 2013. The put on 10 events last year and are scheduled to put on as many this year. Even though they are an early player in the space, they’ve struggled to get big attendance numbers and may need some help to stay afloat long term.

Regional Series

Conquer The Gauntlet started in Oklahoma and Arkansas back in 2012 and in their largest year, had 9 events. They’ve scaled back to 6 events for 2019, and those appear to be healthy.

Florida’s Mud Endeavor and the northeast’s City Challenge both have been producing 4-5 events since the early days of OCR and are well received in their regions.

Epic Series, which focuses on CrossFit style exercises combined with obstacles, minus the mud, are expanding to 7 events in the southwest region of the U.S. in 2019.

Whatever happened to:

In our 2015 article, we listed Down and Dirty as a potential “Big 4” member. Down and Dirty snagged Subaru as their title sponsor after losing Merrell but seemed eager to leave the industry and closed up shop in early 2016.

Other races with multiple locations that have also left the scene since our last report was Dirty Girl, Ridiculous Obstacle Course, Bad Ass Dash, Men’s Health Urbanathlon and West Coast-based Gladiator Rock N Run.

Summation & Forecasting: Since our last report, the industry apparently still had some market correction of the 2012-2015 boom-bust to experience over the next two years. Since 2017, the dust has had lots of time to settle, and we are left with what appears to be a healthy industry.

Some may see the reduction in events of Tough Mudder and their loss of TV contracts as a sign that they are on the way out. It’s very possible, that they are experiencing their own personal market hangover later than they should have. Putting on 26 events (which is essentially every other weekend in a year) has worked well for Rugged Maniac and Warrior Dash. If Tough Mudder tightens the financial reins and can still build quality obstacles while creating a first class experience like their competitors, they can probably rebound.

*Special thanks to Stuart Clark for his assistance with extensive data research. Art direction by Patrick Keyser.


OCR Goes Mobile – Spartan and Tough Mudder Launch Mobile Apps

You’ve got an app to order your morning latte. You’ve got an app that brings pizza, tacos, beer, and countless other noms to your door. You’ve got an app to purchase flights, rent cars, or book an Airbnb. So why don’t you have an app for OCR?

You soon may – and from a few familiar brands.

Openfit Partners with Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder is already helping people tackle their fitness goals with their Tough Mudder Bootcamp gyms which have popped up in a handful of states across the US. This week they’ve also announced a partnership with Openfit, an all-new digital streaming platform that integrates fitness, nutrition, and wellness together in one place. They’ll be hosting Tough Mudder’s 30-day On Demand fitness program dubbed – Tough Mudder T-Minus 30. The program promises to prepare participants both physically and mentally for their next Tough Mudder event.

2-time TMX Champion Hunter McIntyre leads the 30-day program which will focus on strength, endurance, speed, and mobility. New customers can sign up for a 30-day free trial of Openfit, and a 12-month plan for under $80.

More info on Tough Mudder’s T-Minus 30 is available here.

Spartan Fit

Not to be outdone, Spartan also announced a new mobile app with a focus on building a healthier workplace. SPARTANFIT will launch this May with a challenge that will see companies face off for a donation to the charity of the winner’s choice.

SPARTANFIT focuses on helping employees complete wellness activities over a set period of time. The app contains hundreds of SPARTAN videos on providing instruction on forming good habits, teamwork, food planners, and workout plans. Spartan’s goal is to help HR teams make it easy to motivate their workforce and focus on corporate wellness.

Joe De Sena’s goal of wanting to “rip 100 million people off their couches to help build healthy lifestyles across the world” continues – with the SPARTANFIT app extending that goal to corporate employees as well as fitness enthusiasts.

SPARTANFIT does not appear to have a monthly or annual subscription. Interested companies can get more information here.

Competition Is Fierce

The fitness industry has countless online, mobile, and home-based solutions for would-be fitness enthusiasts. Companies like Peloton, Daily Burn, Nike, MyFitnessPal, already have a foothold in this space. Hollywood superstars like Chris Hemsworth have launched their own apps to capitalize on our obsession with body image. A search on the App Store yields almost infinite results for fitness-based app solutions.

Have you used one of these apps before?  Would you be more likely to use a fitness app created by your favorite OCR brand?

Let us know in the comments.