The Resurrection

 In the country woods and farmland outside of St. Louis lies the remnants of what was an obstacle racing battlefield from days gone by. The old Battlegrounds course on property of Cedar Lake Cellars Winery still stands as a reminder of many great experiences to those who’ve raced its fast flat terrain. A venue where one minor tactical error could cost you two to three spots of placement. The final Battlegrounds race took place in May of 2018 and those events will never be forgotten, but in its ashes, another has risen!

 August of 2018 marked the first time Tough Mudder brought their version of an event to the Battlegrounds site. To say what took place was piss-poor would be an understatement. In fact, Missouri wasn’t the only event in which Tough Mudder showed a lack-luster performance in 2018. The issues became so bad that the company replaced CEO Will Dean and has promised that 2019 will mark the return of the “Classic Tough Mudder” that we all grew to love over the years. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard that song and dance before… right before Battle Frog closed its doors for good. I actually wasn’t able to attend the MO Tough Mudder last year because the brilliant minds at the 2018 TMHQ scheduled it during the North American OCR Championships (NORAM), a race in which many of us had already committed to racing; so I’m going to be honest, I signed up for the 2019 Missouri Tough Mudder to test the waters of this “new/ revamped” Tough Mudder (TM). Sure I needed an event to attain the Tougher Mudder portion of my 2019 Holy Grail, but I wanted to see if TM had changed its ways and if they would be able to improve upon the experience I’d come to expect at The Battlegrounds course.

 Tough Mudder didn’t start off on the right foot with me for this event to say the least. I’d hoped on interviewing their Race Director and having him give ORM viewers a social media preview a day or two prior to the event to help hype things up but TMHQ declined??? Yes, that’s right; they declined free publicity from ORM for an upcoming event. I mean who does that? My immediate thought was, “you bastards better not screw this up again or I am going to crucify you in my post-event review!!!”

 If you started reading this looking for a blow-by-blow, obstacle-by-obstacle race review you can stop right now and go back to perusing your Facebook News Feed because this is not that type of review. This is the story of a resurrection! The rebirth of both Tough Mudder and of the awesome Battlegrounds/Cedar Lake Cellars venue.

Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the fantastic Tough Mudder experience has returned and with it yet another day of fun at The Battlegrounds! I mean how can you not be entertained at an event that has Coach Mudder himself, Kyle Railton, as its MC and takes place next door to a beautiful winery?

When TMHQ has it going they can put on a party like it’s nobody’s business and they had that place kicking from the time we arrived for check-in at 6:45 am until my girlfriend and I left the winery at around 4 pm. Mudder Village had the music rocking, zorb racing, a Salmon ladder as well as other fun challenges like giant Jenga and Corn Hole and a lot more. Oh, and what’s an amazing Tough Mudder event without a major obstacle opening at around 12:00? Ok well, this one was at like 12:30 pm instead of midnight and obstacle was open to both participants AND Mudder Village visitors! The Torpedo Launchers, as it’s known at the Battlegrounds, is a 100 foot long, 25-foot high water slide that sends you careening into a 12-foot pool at up to 30 mph. This was an absolutely perfect attraction on an 85 degree Missouri day!

 

 Overall the staff at TM had the event running smoothly. The check-in process was quick and painless. The participant “load in” made the starting of each wave easy without much confusion, and for the Tougher wave the lack of a professional timing system really didn’t have any effect on the racers. TM simply had a person at the finish line recording bib numbers and writing down times much the way Rugged Maniac and Warrior Dash do it. Basically, everything surrounding the placement of the racers was seamless on site. However, the person entering the information into Tough Mudder’s website made a gaffe as they listed the Female Tougher winner, Kelly Williams, as coming in 2nd… Which was clearly not the case at the race as everyone there knew the order when it came to podium time. Even this aspect was much more organized than in previous years. I finished 3rd at the 2017 TM Chicago and they didn’t even have a podium nor did they take any top three finisher pics which was frustrating.

 One of the big issues people had with the event at this venue last year was TM’s lack of thought put into the actual course. They basically just used the Battlegrounds five-mile course and implemented their infamous “double loop” design which led to ridiculous backups at obstacles and, from what I understand, left participants with overall “meh” feeling about their experience after it was complete. This was not the case at all this year as far as course design goes. In fact, I’ve been racing and implementing boot camps at this site for years and I saw parts of the property I didn’t even know existed. The race director also did a good job of obstacle placement with the intention of limiting some of the obstacle delays. For example, knowing Everest often has long backups he placed two of the new obstacles, Black/Pink Widow and Texas Hold’em along with Block Ness one right after another following Everest to try to keep the people moving after they finished the wall.

 All of this being said, the event was not all sunshine and rainbows! For instance, somehow, even with that thoughtful design order there ended up being three log jams in a row with Everest as well as those two new obstacles and leaving very few people to help each other at Block Ness… How the heck that happened I have no idea! I can only guess that people were skipping the long lines at one only to get stuck at the next one. There were also a few issues that arose during the Tougher wave due to TMHQ’s lack of defined rules on some of the obstacles like, for example, what a racer needs to do if he/she arrives at the Hero Carry without a partner to carry? Also, what do you do if an obstacle that needs a penalty loop but there isn’t one provided like at say Entrapment? These are questions that should be answered in the pre-race briefing if they aren’t on the rules sent to the athletes prior to the race but adequate directions were not provided.  

 

 In the end, the issues listed above didn’t overly detract from what was, in my opinion, a fantastic event. Tough Mudder seems to have their act back together and to be focused on what made them so popular which is providing an awesome overall experience with people helping people conquer the course with mud, sweat, and tears. Those participants can then follow that up with a beer or even a few in a carnival style atmosphere in Mudder Village where the participants, as well as the spectators, can continue building memories. Those of us who’ve raced at this venue so many times before can now chalk another one up in our badassery log and look forward to yet another magnificent mudder experience in 2020.

Welcome back!!!

The Battlegrounds

The first of two events held at the permanent OCR location called The Battlegrounds near Cedar Lake Missouri was held on May 20th in what could best be called monsoon rains. The OCRWC qualifying course was originally designed to be a 5-mile loop, but due to the heavy rain, race director Robert Holm was forced to scramble and reroute the course before the 8 am start. This made the course longer, as racers were now required to complete two 3.15 mile loops. So, while racers missed out on some of the fantastic obstacles on the back end of the course, they got to hit some of the signature obstacles that the Battlegrounds featured such as The Gauntlet and The Drop Zone twice. This also caused some course crowding due to racers coming across other racers from the next wave on their second lap. With the extremely sloppy terrain and loads of racers lined up at each obstacle, times were slowed. But with over 2,500 athletes racing, there really was nothing much more race management could do, and I applaud their efforts.

The race started a half an hour late due to the quick course redesign with the elite wave of men and women leaving from the festival area with Coach Pain leading the cheers on the microphone. The cut grass trail racers were led down quickly became a muddy mess as athletes raced away from the festival area and onto their first series of mud mounds. All the recent added rain water made every dip into the water a chilling experience! Now cold, wet, and muddy athletes were back onto the trail racing towards the hanging grape vines of the winery across the street. A series of low hurdles was the next set of obstacles for racers to overcome before being led through another freezing pond of water and muck. Back out of the pit the trail became even worse with all the water dripping off athletes making an already sloppy track miserable. Now it was onto a moat crawl with a twist. For open racers, it was just a basic moat crawl, but for elite racers, fencing was added over the top where only a few precious inches separated the water and the fencing testing your lung power and mental toughness. A short jog led us next to the first of two tall cargo net climbs on the course. Another dip into a small pond with a hurdle in the middle and crawl through a mud pit that resembled soup led racers back round to the festival area where the second cargo net climb was located.  A lake crossing on a series of floating pontoon rafts tested one’s balance to the maximum and lifeguards were stationed on both sides of the traverse for safety.

After a brief jaunt back towards the festival area, a low crawl through the drainage tubes under a low bridge awaited racers before being required to climb up a wooden ladder to the top of a platform where a huge water slide was waiting. Once you flew down the slide into the freezing water an athlete had to swim a brief distance and climb out of the water pit area over stacked tractor tires. The trail now circled away from the festival area in a sloppy loop where just keeping your balance in the much was difficult. The nasty trail loop rounded back to the festival area where an inverted wall and a 6-foot-high Irish Table was waiting before climbing up a mud mound to The Drop Zone. Don’t like the high dive at your local pool? Well this very much resembled that feeling because this obstacle required one to jump from a height over 10 feet into a pool and swim out, luckily there were lifeguards stationed all around the pool! At least you got to wash the mud off you right? Hope you were not tired from your swim cause the next task was a wreckbag trail run where the footing was basically nonexistent. The rains had made all trails very difficult to navigate.

After finally making it out of the woods with your wreck bag, a massive mud mound was waiting for you to climb over….with your wreckbag. Talk about a total suckfest! One of the Battlegrounds signature obstacles was next up. The Gauntlet is an obstacle of chance and luck and caused many people, including myself, to get very wet. Suspended over a water pit are a series of lane, that all include a different configuration, on which you must traverse from one side to the other. There may be a fence to cross, or ropes, or a balance beam, or a rock wall. Pick the wrong lane and fall requires one to swim out and start over. Tired after The Gauntlet? Well up next was a pole traverse suspended in the air where an athlete could only use your hands to cross, no leg help here. There was even Air Force personnel there making damn sure you made it all the way to the end before continuing. A lateral rope traverse led athletes towards the finish but not before a slick warped wall climb that would knock the wind out of even the strongest of racers. One last climb over a semi-trailer and one last dip into a small pond were now all that stood between a racer and the finish!

After crossing the finish line, plenty of snacks and drinks were provided and more substantial meals could be purchased in the festival area along with Battlegrounds swag. Plenty of showers were provided to wash all that muck off and they even had two areas where you could get blasted with a fire hose to get that stubborn mud off, plus a few layers of skin. Parking and photos were free and the festival and parking area were easy to navigate. The ability of race management to adjust on the fly really made this a fun event. The conditions sucked, so if you thought ocr was just a “mud run” you wouldn’t have been far off here and although the back half of the course was rerouted there were still plenty of tough obstacles to overcome and I felt thoroughly tested. This event boasted over 2,500 racers and I’ll certainly be back for their next event September 23rd.

Photo Credit: Battlegrounds