Spartan Race – Boston, aka Barre Mass

Barre-EntrySummertime in New England is a beautiful thing. One day you can have the perfect 70-degree day, and the next you can have blazing hot magma a slight change in humidity and increase in temperature. I ventured back to Barre, Mass for the Spartan Race Boston Super on an early August morning. Having been here once before for the Spartan Sprint, I was looking forward to the tasty burgers that the farm stand has for sale after the race.

Parking was the usual at the farm. You have to drive off site where they hitch you up to a horse and buggy and you chariot race into the venue. Note, this is otherwise known as riding a school bus from the parking lot to the venue. The drop off and pick up locations for your parking lot chariot is a smooth transition. You are dropped off right next to the farm stand and you can find adequate transportation back as soon as you are ready to leave. The venue has strategically made sure that you see and smell the food being cooked in the farm stand so when you have finished running your lap(s) you smell the deliciousness on your way out. Well played Carter and Stevens Farm, well played.

I’ve noticed that this venue does a few things well that stand out in my mind separate from the dozens of other races I’ve participated in. A few of those things are:

  • Well placed porta johns/janes. Close to the start line and plenty of them.
  • Great festival area.
  • Medical tents are placed near the kid’s race start line. I think this is smart, and I’ve seen other race venues plan this out this way, but the kids tend to get more boo-boos than the adults… sometimes.
  • GREAT food vendors.

Barre-Rope-ClimbThe course took you through a lot of wooded areas, plenty of open fields and the same swamp that Atreyu lost his horse Artax in the NeverEnding Story. The swampy areas were insanely impressive. I heard many remarks along the lines, “I’m ready to be done.” “How are we STILL in the swamp?” “Okay.. more swamp, yes I can do this.” “I CAN’T DO THIS!!” I personally gave up running and called it good walking through the swamp. At first, I tried staying off to the sides bobbing and weaving on the high ground to keep from potentially losing a shoe in the suck. By the end, I was just walking in a straight line and I eventually made it out alive.

The course was set up well for the longer distance. Several of the harder obstacles were placed toward the first half like the Rope Climb, Multi-Rig and Herc Hoist. I’ve noticed Spartan has changed up their rope climb recently from years prior. They used to make you wade into a pool of muddy water and climb out soaking wet for the rope climb. Now, they place a bunch of soft hay down and let you climb up without getting wet first. I thought this would make the obstacle easier, but I was wrong. There were just as many people burpee’ing out of the rope climb as there was when it was over water.

Barbedwire-Crawl-Barre

The Multi-Rig that Spartan has come up with is…interesting.  The first part was several plastic rings that didn’t have enough rope at the top to get a proper swing. If you could make it across those rings you would have to grab a hold of two baseballs before grabbing the long metal bar to the bell. I love rings. LOVE love LOVE them, but these were almost impossible for my little wingspan. I made it to the last swing on the rings. Because my wingspan isn’t very wide, I couldn’t get the momentum up to swing far enough to grab the last ring. Thus, I slipped and went to the side to do my burpee penalty.

Barre-Multi-Rig

Depending on who you are and your athletic abilities, this could have been a very challenging course. The layout was different than the Sprint earlier in the year so it didn’t feel like Spartan Sprint 2.0. It was hot and muggy so I kept an eye out for the water stations,. None of them ran out of water (thank Heavens) and one even offered a Gu Gummy for the runners. At the end of the course, all I could think about was the burger I was about to eat for lunch. We grabbed a burger from the farm stand and cooled off with some brews from the…well brewery. When you can have the full experience of running a great race, post-race entertainment and food, with ease of getting to and from the venue, it makes for coming back to race at the Carter and Steven’s Farm a pleasure.

I’ll see you in September Spartan Race.


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Tough Mudder New England: Skiing in June

I had been avoiding drinking the Tough Mudder Kool-Aid for quite some time now. In 2014, I volunteered at one of their events in Tennessee. It was hot, it was muggy, but a lot of fun. Tough Mudder has a great volunteer organization so if you want to check out a race before you run one I highly suggest getting out there and cheering the Mudder Nation on.

That being said, Tough Mudder isn’t known for having difficult obstacles. Being a lone racer for most of my career I avoided the high registration cost and Electro-Shock Therapy like the plague. My partner in crime, Dave and I made the trek out to Vermont one early morning to try out our first Tough Mudder together. We both had fairly low expectation of the event, but this isn’t due to the marketing of the organization. We’ve seen other big race companies hype their races prior to the event, and we’d find lackluster results on race day.

Starting-Line-Tough-Mudder

Tough Mudder didn’t disappoint, however. The location at Mt. Snow in Vermont gave us an extra obstacle with the terrain and the 4,000 ft elevation gain and 10+ miles of black diamond trails. The race starts you out in a ‘hype’ corral with Coach pumping you up. After you start, it’s up and over a wall to find… Another starting corral? This was different. You didn’t actually start the race yet. The second starting line was MC’d by an Aussie, I believe his name was Kangaroo, but isn’t everyone from Down Under called that? No? He started each heat by singing the National Anthem. Very cool Kangaroo, I like you.

The race was incredibly hilly but then again we were on a ski slope. Tough Mudder has done a great job in the last couple of years coming up with new and innovative obstacles. There were several that I’ve never seen before on any course, and you can tell that they are marketing their race to be the team building exercise rather than an individual competition. Heck, even Coach tells you in the Warm Up Corral that this isn’t a race. When you look around at the participants you can tell that this race is different than any other OCR out there. Many of them are wearing their headbands from previous races, and a lot of people are out there with many of their friends.

This race was FUN. From the first obstacle to the last I would say that Tough Mudder has done a great job at providing their Nation with an experience that they want to come back to time and time again. Hydration stations were placed about every mile and a half. Each station had water plus an Amino blend. A couple of them had protein bars and bananas and for a 10-mile race this was a welcome site. This brand isn’t marketed towards the elite racer, and you can see that they take care of the average Joe’s that have decided to get up off the couch and try out this crazy industry for the first time. Many obstacles had bottleneck issues, but this isn’t exactly a bad thing for the brand. They had THOUSANDS of participants each day.

Peg-Leg-Climb

Highlights of the race included the Block Ness Monster, Backstabber, and Pyramid Scheme. Both Block Ness and Pyramid Scheme require you to use the help of your fellow Mudders. For a moment in time you create a relationship with another human being, and you help each other out on the course. Several obstacles were individual, but there was never a lack of a crowd cheering you on as you completed it. My favorite one to watch was King of Swingers. For me, it was a whole lot of NOPE and I walked around it. I’m a great swimmer, but I personally hate the feeling of falling. If a T-Rex is chasing me down the mountain and my only option is to jump- I would. But in my everyday life I believe it’s better than I don’t jump off high objects unless my life is on the line. This obstacle had about 500 people ooooing and awwing over each person who attempted to reach the bell. Some people were actually really good at it. I saw flips off the swing, kicking the bell as they went down.

King-Of-Swingers

If you are looking for a great experience and you want to try an obstacle course for the first time, consider Tough Mudder. Yes, it’s a long course, but consider it 10, 1 mile runs or walks, based on your athletic ability. I saw many people out there walking the whole course and it isn’t a timed event. Take your time and enjoy whatever view is in front of you. You can skip any obstacle you aren’t comfortable with, but I highly suggest you try each one.

Pyramind-Scheme-theme

We pushed ourselves and finished right at 3 hrs. Most Mudders finish in 4.5-6 hours so plan on spending the whole day enjoying the scenery. Mt. Snow was a wonderful host. They had multiple food vendors, warm showers (for a charge) and cold showers (FREE!) to rinse off at, great DJ, awesome shuttle service, and a breeze checking in and out. I am excited for the next event in New Hampshire later this racing season. Kool-Aid drank and I’ll wear my headband at my next race.

Runzilla

Runzillasmith

Earlier today, we heard from SmithFest Events about Runzilla. A one day festival to include an obstacle course, a Crossfit style WOD, a 5k, and race expo.

A portion of their press release states:

The Runzilla Expo is a showcase of fitness products built around multiple athletic competitions all in one day! The event will focus on Obstacle Course Racing, XFit Training and racing of all types. This is the Athlete’s Expo!  Our goal is to deliver an event that brings all the major races, products, athletes and vendors together for a great day of fitness and fun!  Come out and race or just enjoy the exhibitors and spectate the races.

As a reminder, SmithFest Events are the creators of Panic in the Dark and Blizzard Blast. They also are behind The Musical Chairs World Championship and one of the world’s biggest Scavenger Hunts.

We asked CEO Fred Smith:

ORM: When did you first come up with this concept?

Fred: I have been thinking about a fitness expo for a few years and over the last eighteen months had discussed an OCR based Expo and felt OCR only expo wasn’t where I wanted it to go. I wanted a more combined expo that would create a fun meshing of the industries. This would allow the products and races to showcase to the entire running and fitness community.

ORM: How long is the indoor/outdoor course?

Fred: The Indoor/Outdoor OCR course is not finalized for the exact distance as we have a few things we must go over with the venue this week but it will be a short track 1.0 to 1.5 mile course. Keeping this in mind we have added a “unlimited lap” option as part of registration for those who want to get the normal type distance out of their day. We also have a Runzilla “Trinity” option that allows you to complete all three events in one day and receive a “Trinity” Sweatshirt for your accomplishment. The WODZilla Course will be a shorter distance but
with more technical xfit style movements to add to the difficulty andoverall workout.

ORM: Can you list some of the current races/sponsors already aligned?

Fred: We have lots of relationships that we have yearly partnerships with,including: Align Credit Union, Wamesit Lanes, Bahama Breeze, Verizon Wireless, Budweiser, Altitude Trampoline Park, Ameriprise Financial.

ORM: Is there anything else you would like to let us know at this time?

Fred:  The potential of a day of class schedule for patrons that want to come and enjoy a different type of workout than what they are used to, we are working with different local gyms and teachers to organize these
classes. We are also looking into a few motivational speakers is in the works as well.

In the future, we hope to build this event to an entire weekend with 6-8 races with kids pentathlon type event at the indoor track at the High School, a 1/2 Marathon, a Mini tri and some more dynamic race ideas that we have hidden in our vault. This along with adding guest speakers, more great sponsors and some of the industry leaders we hope to become the kick-off to the racing season in New England for years to come!

Learn about the rules, swag, medals and more at Runzilla.net

Blizzard Blast Race Review

January obstacle course races are hard to come by in New England. Enter Blizzard Blast, a five mile winter-themed race that takes place in January at Four Oaks Country Club in Dracut, Massachusetts, put on by SmithFest Events. Blizzard Blast does a good job of filling a niche – the affordable entry-level winter race. At between $40 and $70, it provides good value.

Four Oaks Country Club is a nice place to have a winter race. The entire club is open for post-race meals and as a pre- and post-race hangout. There is ample room for storing your bag and changing. Post-race, there is free chili or soup, and though selection was limited and you had to wait in a line, the price was right. The one big minus to the location is that parking, which costs $10, is offsite and about a 10 minute bus ride away. Getting to the race went smoothly; however, on the return trip, the wait for the bus was almost 20 minutes. Other than that, logistics were pretty effortless. Check-in was a cinch.

Blizzard Blast Tree Carry

The course was 5.5 miles of rolling hills. This year was void of snow and lots of the running was on the concrete golf cart paths around the club. The course also integrated some trails that were in wooded areas adjacent to the golf course. The one real downside to the course was the obstacle placement. Blizzard Blast is advertised as being a 5K race; however, last year it clocked in at 5.8 miles and this year it clocked in at 5.5 miles. The first 2.5 miles of the race contained only one set of obstacles – an over and under wall. The vast majority of the obstacles were jumbled together at the end. I would love to see this race as a more obstacle-dense 5K.

Blizzard Blast Hoist

Blizzard Blast had around a dozen and a half obstacles. The obstacles were in keeping with the race’s winter theme and featured a pine tree carry, a holiday lights crawl (instead of a barbed wire crawl), and a hot chocolate stop mid-race. The race is sponsored by a beer company and kegs proliferated. There were two styles of keg hoists and a keg carry. The featured obstacle of Blizzard Blast is Keg Kingdom. This obstacle is made up of suspended kegs that the racer must swing from, followed by a set of monkey bars. Swinging from kegs is tricky (they move in unpredictable ways!) but also fun and unique.

Blizzard Blast Keg Kingdom

The swag from Blizzard Blast includes a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt and a really nice finishers medal. For those who like to collect medals, this one would make an excellent addition to your collection.

Blizzard Blast Medal

Bottom line: Even with its faults, I’ll keep going to Blizzard Blast because it’s a race during a time of year when there are very few things on my calendar OCR-wise. It’s a good opportunity to play outside in the winter and a great opportunity to get to see friends that I see less often than I wish during the colder months. If this race was instead in a busy month like May or July or very far away from my house, I might skip it. That being said, I like how the obstacles are different from what I see elsewhere and have an entertaining twist that adds up to a good time.

Have I signed up for the 2017 Blizzard Blast yet? No. Will I? Very likely, yes. It’s fun. It’s a race anyone can do, and with all the miles of running without an obstacle, friends are key to the experience. So, yes, 2017, I’ll be there.

(Photo credits: Blizzard Blast and  Caley McGuane Photography)

Spartan Race: Killington, VT Beast – “Founders Race” Review

The Spartans go marching on and on, AROO, AROO!

I usually need a few days to gather my thoughts of the Killington Beast, and I was hoping that my mind would have changed after giving it some time to settle after this weekend. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Killington, VT not only was the birthplace of the Spartan Race Beast, but it’s also single-handedly responsible for it’s namesake – as Killington Ski Resort is dubbed the “Beast of the East”. With that in mind, 2015 was the first time we had seen that the “Beast” was tamed down, both in obstacle challenge, and in that it was stripped of it’s World Championship rights, back in December of 2014. This was the beginning of the end for what was considered the hardest race in obstacle course racing, at least from my point of view.

Killington was the race that elite’s, regulars, and newcomers to the sport spent days, weeks, and months both fretting and being excited about. “Beast Week” across the community pages of the Weeple Army, New England Spahtens, Cornfed Spahtens, and more, saw posts about what people should bring, what should one be eating or not eating, and when the proper time to taper is (what’s tapering, anyway?)

Spartan Race NE Spahtens

While the excitement was there, it was clear there were a few things that weren’t – namely: big time elite competitors and traditional Spartan obstacle builds.

Amelia Boone stated on her Instagram: “I respect that mountain too much to roll the dice with Tahoe two weeks away. I want to make it to the start line of the WC this year” – and a few others shared the same sentiment. The “Beast of the East” was simply too much of a hurdle on the way to the new home of the Spartan Race World Championships and it was clear that the draw of the mountain itself wasn’t enough, being so close to the big event out in California. Would this hurt the experience that is the Killington Beast? To me – Absolutely.

Weeks before the event, Spartan Race put out an email/Facebook blast stating that Killington was now a “Founders Race” – a race dubbed man versus nature. Back to basics, as it were. It didn’t take a seasoned OCR veteran to determine that this, perhaps, was simply an excuse made up to draw away from the fact that Spartan Race had 5 races across 4 countries and a much larger focus on the World Championships, thus stretching their obstacle inventory too thin to spare for the Beast of the East.

What the Founders Race turned out to be, was a trip back in time to Spartan circa 2010, lacking gimmicks an huge branded Spartan Rigs, and trestled obstacles. Turn out that lacking in gimmicks isn’t exactly a good thing.

The course itself was carved out of the many paths and trails that Killington has to offer, in a manner that was supposed to be the hardest Killington race to date, according to Norm K @ Spartan. While it did feature two notoriously grueling death marches, it clearly lacked a heck of a lot more. There was no iconic tarzan ropes hanging under the bridge over “Lake Killington”. There was no Tyrolean traverse. There was no large rope climb rigging over ice-cold water. And speaking of water, while they did have some – it was sure difficult to attain water while folks were on the course – a fact that made even Joe DeSena himself, hop aboard the Spartan-Force One, to address the concerns of racers that were flooding in via social media.

What there was, was a handful of raw and rustic obstacles, like several sternum checkers (or, glorified trees laid across hay bails), there was plenty of Over-Under-Through x5 walls. There was one new obstacle which I enjoyed, a wall climb into a tarzan swing that you finished by scaling a wall on the opposite side. And carries.. oh so many carries. Farmers carry. Log carry. Sandbag carry. Log carry. Atlas carry. Log carry. Log Atlas carry. Sandbag carry. See a trend? The TWO rope climbs were strung across lines that hung barely 15 feet off the ground. Not much of a challenge for anyone, let alone this gangly 6-foot-4 guy. They also doubled up on the spear throw, but the first one was atop the mountain and simply a few piles of hay on the ground, hastily bound together with string. “Spear Man” was also camping out at the finish line, but you only got there after the 2nd and 3rd mud crawls of the day. Doubling and tripling up on obstacles appeared to be the theme of the day. There’s a place for “Founders Races” but to me, Killington isn’t it.

It's easy to be brave when you'll only fall 3 feet!

It was a long day for all on the mountain in both good and bad ways. Me personally? I’ll still be back. Killington holds a special place in many racers hearts, but hopefully after the attention, albeit neutral or negative, Killinton received this year, I hope it gets the treatment it deserves from Spartan, come 2016.

See you next year Killington! - Photo By: Vince Rhee

 

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

10933820_954431164568768_4669540504091255149_n

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.