Terrain Race, the Spirit Airlines of OCR?

Terrain Race

Here at ORM, we see plenty of complaints about races. Sometimes complaints are valid, and sometimes race participants are venting about things that don’t really merit the venom that gets spilled. One of the downsides of the spread of social media is that it has become very easy for people to complain, loudly and without the need to show both sides to a situation. Was your life really ruined because they ran out of race t-shirts in your size? Probably not. Disappointing? Sure.

Accounting for the numerous grains of salt that have to be taken when reviewing internet comments, there is still one race that generates more legitimate beefs from racers than any other: Terrain Race. Some complaints represent what I would consider minor inconveniences: having to pay almost as much for parking and insurance as you do for the race fee, for example, or missing race photos. But others are more worrisome, such as complaints about safety and unpaid podium winners. And plenty of these complaints have come from people who want to like Terrain and want to see the company succeed.

Here’s a good example from Colleen in Florida:

I was the first place female finisher at their Pensacola race on April 7, 2018. I was also the only female to keep my band that day. When the results came out, after a ridiculous amount of time, they were incorrect. I emailed them, sending  everything they asked (photo with my band on and a time stamp) and they have never corrected them. As an OCRWC qualifying race, I would think the results would be expected to be accurate.

My husband also had a podium finish that day and the week after the race we sent in the required paperwork in order to have our award checks mailed. After not receiving the checks or hearing back from TR, we emailed and they repeated replied with “we will look into it” or “it has been sent to our accounting dept”. Eventually I started sending Facebook messages and after a couple they ignored those too.

A couple of weeks ago my husband posted on several of their FB ads regarding the issues we have had and they again requested the tax paperwork, which we sent…again. They said it was sent to the accounting dept, again and we would receive checks in about 3 weeks. I’m not holding my breath!

I really HATE to bash a race company because we love racing and don’t have a lot of options here in Pensacola, but it is a business and as customers we deserve what was promised to us.

I have heard that TR has someone new trying to straighten things out and I surely hope they are successful.

And from Greg in Pennsylvania:

I’ve done a few Terrain Races the past few years. The most recent was May 5th Pittsburgh at Mines and Meadow. They were suppose to have an event in Erie, PA on Aug 11th but announced it only a few months ago then cancelled it and apparently rescheduled it for next year. The event is Pittsburgh did not have a single person on course anywhere taking photos. I ran the multi lap option and never came across anyone. Not even someone from terrain taking any photos to put on their own page. Some obstacles were described pretty accurately in the Facebook video the other day that mentioned the Robert Killian stuff. The walls were very wobbly. But their walls are basically 2x6s that they slide into a track that keeps them upright but doesn’t secure them into place. One of the starting pools actually deflated and all the water drained out of it. The half cargo net that you had to climb the metal pipes to reach the net was scary. The net totally had too much slack so when you start to go up or down the other side it shifts. Racers were pulling down the one end to stop it from moving so people could get down it more easily. There was talk that someone fell off it and broke their leg. There were some volunteers at a few obstacles but I can’t remember which ones did and didn’t. A lot of the end obstacles didn’t have anyone like the monkey bars or the plank walk to the sideways cargo net.

Like the bigger races series (Spartan, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash) Terrain puts on over sixty races a year, but they have distinguished their brand by having very low race entry fee, usually $30.00. And those ads you see warning you that you should buy now because the price is about to go up? No, the price isn’t about to go up. It’s going to be $30.00. Is this a good deal? You might think so, especially as you can pay five times as much for other race series if you wait until the last minute. However, the race experience will feature the dramatic builds you see at a Tough Mudder or the well-oiled machine you observe at a Spartan Race.

I’ll make the comparison to Spirit Airlines. Their prices are lower than, say, Delta or American, but the services they offer aren’t as good. The planes aren’t as comfortable, you get charged for every possible add-on, and the customer service? Well, better not to ask. However, Spirit will still get you to Florida, and for less. If that’s what you’re looking for, then Spirit isn’t necessarily a bad choice. I have a friend who is grateful for the existence of Spirit because they had direct flights from her home in Philadelphia to Minneapolis, and she could afford to visit her recently widowed mother each weekend. Spirit doesn’t lack for customers.

Similarly, Terrain Race will get you around a 5K course with some obstacles, and you’ll get a medal and a t-shirt at the finish. Will the obstacles be dramatic or challenging? Not really. Will you still have a fun day out with the friends you brought? Probably, assuming that none of them see themselves as elite racers and everyone keeps their expectations low. And hey, it was only $30.00! What else can you do at that price? It would be churlish, not to mention snobby, to condemn Terrain for being cheap.

You still get a medal at the finish

However, what about those safety issues? And what about those missing podium checks? Terrain has timed first heats (generally 8:00 a.m. for the men and 8:05 a.m. for the women). Checks are promised to the top racers, but too many people have written in to complain that Terrain hasn’t paid as promised and has dodged customer service requests to fix this. Even those not in the money have complained about timing. This isn’t just an ego issue: Terrain Races are qualifiers for the OCRWC, and there are athletes who are relying on accurate timing results in order to get to the championships. A number of racers have written to ORM with their stories of missing results and getting the runaround from Terrain when they complained.

More worrisome are stories about lackluster monitoring of the courses and safety concerns. After a rig collapsed at the Terrain Race in Chicago in 2016, you would think that safety would come first at every event since then. Nevertheless, a rig obstaclce had to be shut down at a Southern California race last month after it appeared to be unstable (no injuries were reported this time). People will still fly Spirit even if they charge for soft drinks, but if their planes start falling apart, that’s a reason to stay away.


Not Terrain’s finest hour

Terrain Race is currently operated by company called Cool Events. Cool Events have been producing The BlackLight Run and Foam Glow 5k for the last few years. Both of those races have some complaints on social media and the Arizona Better Business Bureau. The BBB states 

BBB files indicate this business has a pattern of complaints concerning service and refund issues. Complainants allege the business may fail to be responsive to race or refund inquiries as races are repeatedly cancelled, and may also fail to ensure consumers are informed of the business’ no-refund policy. In addition, complainants allege the business may occasionally offer refunds, but may fails to follow through with providing the refund. BBB contacted the business regarding complaint history concerns. The business responded indicating a no refund policy, but failed to address the cause or offer a resolution to the current pattern of complaints.

When we reached out for comment to Cool Events management, they referred us to their new spokesman, Dustin Dorough.

Dustin has been a start line MC in the OCR scene for years, and is extremely well liked in the community.  To his credit, he was candid about the problems Terrain has been facing. Many of the problems people complain about simply boil down to money. The race promises course photographs (for a fee, by the way), and social-media-ready pictures are the lifeblood of OCR as documented in Rise of the Sufferfests. And yet Terrain failed to provide any photos at a number of races. Why? Dorough explained that, unlike other races that can afford to bring staff photographers to each race, Terrain hires locally, and sometimes the photographers simply fail to show up on the day of the race (or, worse, one showed up but… forgot to bring her camera).

He also explained the reason for another complaint, the lack of volunteers monitoring the obstacles. Since volunteers are promised a free race entry, and a race entry costs only $30.00, it is difficult to recruit someone to work for six hours in exchange for, well, do the math.

Dustin is optimistic that Terrain can improve. I expect this is partly his nature (you can hear much more about Dustin in a highly entertaining interview here before he was affiliated with Terrain), but he also told me that he is part of a new team of staffers brought in to address the same issues that racers have been complaining about.

Will this new team be able to turn Terrain around? Let’s hope so. There is room in the market for a lower-cost, less epic race product. After all, Tough Mudder has been experimenting with shorter courses with fewer obstacles. Terrain also appears in smaller markets that are not served by some of the big races. OCR shouldn’t have to be expensive. The question remains whether the $30.00 price point is sustainable for Terrain, or for any race, in the long run.

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Christopher Stephens

Christopher is an attorney, a middle-of-the-pack triathlete, a marathoner, an open water swimmer, and a recovering Jeopardy contestant. A native New Yorker, he trains in the rugged wilderness of Central Park and can sometimes be found swimming in the Hudson. He also bakes pies. Delicious pies.
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  1. I had a similar experience at Terrain Race as the comments above. It’s not only poorly run, it’s dangerous. Seems to me like it was created by someone who doesn’t actually care about OCR, but wanted in on the trend for monetary purposes only. Being a smart business man is one thing, but creating a race that puts athletes at risk, unapologetically it seems, is just not cool.
    I still haven’t gotten results from my 8/4/18 race (it’s september 24th). At that race, I busted my ass trying an obstacle 7 times until I got it. I was in 4th place until that point. I watched a few people run by the obstacle, keeping their wristbands. I even yelled to the guy manning the obstacle to “take her wristband” and he just looked at me with a blank stare.
    The obstacles were flimsy. My friend (and very competitive OCR athlete) broke her leg that day falling from monkey bars into very shallow water.

    Long story short- that’s the last time I’ll do a Terrain Race.

    1. They should raise the price a little. Seems realistically too low and seems like the low price has caught up with them. Why so low? Even 40 would be easio acceptable. We all want them to succeed but not paying out podium fees when it is instituting is called Fraud podium winners should contact the district attorney wherever the cool events are located and make a formal complaint. They will investigate because that is their job. People don’t know they can do contact them like that. You will be pleasantly surprised how fast they pay out. I want them to succeed and I hope the CEO of the company isn’t laughing at the money he has in his pocket at our expense. Besides do we rrally want or need a dangerous scandalous event to have fun anymore when there are plenty of other races and things to do. Raise the prices, increase safety, pay up or go away, good riddance

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