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.

Rugged

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.

 

2019 Race Season Preview: Savage Race

It’s 2019 and that means it’s time to start planning another year of racing. What better way to decide which company gets your hard earned dollar, then by taking a look at what all of the major players will be offering participants in the coming year.

This is the second preview in a 4-week series looking at the 2019 obstacle course racing season.

Savage Race

When you talk about OCR brands, there’s always a conversation about “The Big 4”. And those four are Spartan, Tough Mudder, SAVAGE RACE, and well… the fourth spot is interchangeable. But if there is one race that is primed to challenge for best OCR experience in 2019, it’s Savage Race. Why? Well let’s look at the east coast based powerhouse that is Savage Race

Obstacles

Piece of Queso. Colossus. Shriveled Richard. Chopsticks… and so much more. The obstacle names are just as creative as the obstacles themselves at Savage Race. Want innovation? Want creativity? Savage Race is swimming in it, being awarded “Most Innovative” and “Best New Obstacle” in 2018. Savage isn’t afraid to bring monstrous obstacle builds with them wherever they go. Staples like Twirly Bird, Wheel World, and Davy Jones Locker ensure that Savage tests your body and mind with every race course you step foot on.

Savage was also one of the first companies to put the obstacles at the forefront of their customer experience. Want to see what you’re in for? They’re all on the website to check out. You can see them all listed here. They’ll even list the completion rate for them!

Look for more new obstacles coming in 2019 as well. Savage is constantly upping the bar with obstacles year after year.

Savage Blitz

In 2018 Savage Race announced the addition of Savage Blitz. An obstacle-packed 3-mile version of the Savage experience. The rollout and availability of the Savage Blitz in 2018 were, as all things Savage, slow and methodical. Or in OCR industry terms… smart.

For 2019, the Savage Blitz course has been added to EVERY event weekend now. Savage Blitz is a fast, heart pumping, quad burning all-out sprint through Savage’s signature obstacles with its own custom finisher shirt and medals. And the Blitz counts towards your Savage Syndicate achievement – more on that shortly.

Savage Pro & Blitz Pro

I’m not entirely sure why Savage Race doesn’t get more credit for it’s Savage Pro wave because they are dishing out cash faster than Bob Barker in a Showcase Showdown. Every Savage Race event and every Savage Blitz now offers incredible Podium Awards:

1st Place: $1,000; Gold Medal; The Savage Axe (Yes, an actual mounted Axe)

2nd Place: $500; Silver Medal

3rd Place: $250; Bronze Medal

Age Group awards are offered as well, which don’t carry a cash prize, but do offer Gold, Silver or Bronze medals to the winners.

Savage Pro is mandatory obstacle completion. Which means you’ll get to re-try any obstacles you fail, but you can not continue in the Pro Wave until you complete them. Can’t do it? Give up your band, and you’re done for the day. But for Savage Race veteran Yuri Force, the Pro Wave has been a great way to stuff some money in his pocket. And with 13+ events in 2019, the total purse across all Savage’s events tops $45,000.

Medals & Finisher Tees

It’s worth mentioning again that Savage Race has already taken home a handful of awards – those awards are Best New Obstacle; Runner Up – Best OCR Race Director, Bo Burton; Best North American Race Series; Most Innovative Race Series; and Best Mid-Size Race Series. Why they also didn’t win Best Medal is beyond me. Look at these things:

As if the Savage Race and Savage Blitz races in matte black and blue/green weren’t good enough, you’ll also get a sweet mirrored finish Savage Syndicate medal once you’ve completed any two events on the year. You’ve got Savage Axes, coins for additional races, and a ton more glorious looking bling to take home from your Savage experience..

Summary

Savage Race is doing OCR right. Their methodical approach to growth, use of community feedback, and incredible obstacle design have helped Savage position itself as a strong competitor in this industry. We didn’t even mention their partnership with GORUCK at certain events! I can only say good things about Savage Race, the event, the obstacles, and the community.

I’ll be at the Maryland event in early May this year, so if you’re in the area and you want to watch me shake with fear and cry atop Davy Jones’ Locker, you know where to find me.

Now I know what you’re thinking West Coasters: “Why hasn’t Savage Race come out west?!” Well… because the founder, Sam Abbitt, knows what he’s doing. He’s not going all BattleFrog on us. Trust us when we say, a trip to a Savage event is well worth your time and hard-earned dollars.

Take it from Sam. I mean just look at this guy.

Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas


Overcoming Obstacles of Nature: Savage Race Dallas

I would like to preface this review by saying that, due to unforeseen flooding the Savage Race in Dallas was canceled. This led to a unique hybrid type event the following Sunday. Rather than a Blitz– Sunday’s Race was a hybrid form of both the Savage Race and the Blitz resulting in a 4 and ¼ mile course packed with a lot of mud and obstacles. It was certainly the toughest and muddiest Savage that I personally have ever run. It was far different than the usual fare.

Savage did what they could to ensure as many people as possible got to enjoy a race even if it wasn’t what was originally planned. Therefore this review will be quite unique in that I will not only take note of the course with consideration to the events leading up to it. I saw a dedicated act of care for not only Savage participants, but for OCR as a whole.

The Race that Almost Wasn’t

As I was about to head out of the door Saturday morning, I knew that it had rained a lot the night before. I was prepared for a muddy course. However, I did not expect to receive the message from a fellow athlete saying “Race is canceled, whole festival area and course are flooded.” I sat on my hotel bed contemplating what this meant. I received a link to the video of a very disappointed and very apologetic Sam Abbitt.

Sam explained what had happened and noted that the river on the venue had risen far greater than they had thought it would. Much of their equipment was floating or submerged. They were attempting to salvage what they could, and Sam said “I am sorry” several times noting that Savage Race would do everything they could to make it up to competitors.

Around lunch, Sam released another update video. The river had receded and the Savage Crew and volunteers were working hard and non-stop on putting together a “hybrid course” for anyone who didn’t race on Saturday or who had originally planned to race on Sunday. It would certainly be unique, but they were doing what they could. I personally found this extremely respectable considering the amount of devastation that had befallen the course. The crew could have scrapped the entire weekend.  Instead, they harnessed the spirit of what it means to be an obstacle course racer. When presented with an obstacle, even from nature, we think quickly and do all we can to overcome it. I find this extremely respectable and heartening.

Race Day

Pre-Race

I didn’t expect anything out of the coming course. I don’t mean that in the sense of that I thought it would be bad.  I was happy to be able to race. Showing up to an extremely soggy and muddy venue wasn’t promising either. After a slightly late registration, the venue seemed somewhat empty.   The final turnout was nowhere near a normal Savage event, but far more participants showed up than I expected.

The pre-race rules were easily understandable. The pre-race speech given by the one and only Coach Pain. It was a great way to get us all pumped up and remind us how hard the crew had worked to put this course together after the weather had taken out the course on the previous day. He inspired racers as well as spectators.

Everything felt more “mom and pop” for a Savage Race, but it wasn’t a detriment. The competitors were just as fired up as usual if not more so, and we had one heck of a course in front of us to face down. The river flooded the entire course the day before.

The Course

As we charged out of the starting corral through a mostly flat course it didn’t take long to find plenty of mud and water. Even the pros had to be careful not to slip and slide. The first obstacle was one of the muddiest barbed wire crawls in my recent memory. Next came Shriveled Richard which is always a good start to wake everyone up. As we pressed on through a few 4 foot walls, on to “The Great Wall” and over an A-Frame, we came up to one of the new obstacles for the year “Pedal for the Medal.”  I’ll have to admit, this took a bit for other competitors and I to figure out. A rope connects a giant wooden spool and a tire.

The object of the obstacle is to use ONLY your feet to roll the spool thereby wrapping the rope around it and pulling the tire to you. This becomes hardest at the initial point at which the spool begins to pull the tire towards you. The key is to keep momentum on the wheel. Otherwise, you could lose some of the rope you worked so hard for. This really is a quad and hamstring burner. It presented far more difficulty than I originally imagined.

One of the only problems is that you almost have to rely on a volunteer to let you know when your tire hits the designated pole. Once it does, you must then carry your tire back out to the starting portion which is clearly marked by a mat. I found it inventive, yet I feel a couple of kinks could be worked out especially for competitive waves.

Upper Body Savagery

Next was a combo of 6 foot walls and barbed wire crawls. I found these  both fun and brilliantly placed as a taxation on the cardio system before “Big Cheese” and “Sawtooth.”  The wet obstacles proved very challenging. We barreled through a lot of mud to a mud-covered “Kiss the Walls.”

I do not remember “Kiss the Walls” having such small rock climbing grips on it or footholds. I also don’t remember it being as slanted. The mud and rain made it nearly impossible for most competitors. It was here that in spite of being in the lead pack after MANY tries for over an hour I finally gave up my elite band. All of the caked on slick Texas mud made this the hardest rock wall obstacle I’ve ever encountered.

Competitors were bombarded with a series of wet grip and upper body killers. Wheel world was lots of fun as always. After a  very muddy Colossus came “Twirly Bird,” “Holy Sheet,” and “Battering Ram.” I find “Holy Sheet” to be a nice new addition that provides a lot of technical challenge and forces competitors to utilize technique and body control. Most of my commentary is on “Battering Ram.” Unlike what you see on Savage Race’s website, the sliders had heavy iron with a type of handle that hung down for competitors to grab, a transition to a trust, and then grab hold of another handle and scoot along to a bell.

While doable, the rams did not slide as well as they should have and the handles allowed for less usage of momentum in sliding. Essentially, the only way to move the ram was to sling it forward using pure muscular shoulder and arm strength. I am not sure if it is intentional. I feel the more traditional larger pipe on a smaller pipe would  be a smoother obstacle.  It would also allow more fun for open competitors.

The End of a Tumultuous Journey

The festival area didn’t have much going on afterwards.  However, high hopes and good spirits filled the festival area. Top finishers received their awards, but far fewer finishers came out with bands than normal. Some of this could have been due to the placement of obstacles because of the weather. The highlight of the festival was seeing off the volunteer wave with Coach Pain. He commended them on their hard work.

 

What OCR is All About

I am proud of that volunteer crew. I am proud of Savage Race’s crew. I am proud of the understanding and concern from all competitors. Yes, many were disappointed, but at the end of it all, we are a family. This past weekend showed me again why I enjoy Savage Race so much. Most everyone acted like a big family who wanted to help one another and do all they could to help.

Everyone came together with love, logic, and understanding and overcame a problem the best way they could. This embodies the spirit of OCR. In spite of all these adversities, Savage put on a great, well organized, well manned by volunteers event. I’ve seen races in perfect weather with months to prepare that couldn’t hold a candle to this “thrown together” event.  I give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Georgia Savage Fall Race 2018


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Heathyr Marie
Yuri Force
Joby Peake
Kevin Thompson
Cody Wood
Stephen Wilk
Chris Stansel
Jamie Styles/Chrissy McFarland
JD Allen/Justin Williams/Joll Roll/Michael Mitchell
Brenna
Matty T.

Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

Savage Race : New obstacles, new locations, new syndicate medal. Check them out at Savage Race.com

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Get Blitzed! Savage Blitz Maryland – Fall 2018

Savage-Blitz-MD-Rig

Earlier this year, Savage Race introduced its first ever “Savage Blitz” in Maryland. Now, they return in the fall to not only return Savage Blitz but its first-ever Savage Blitz Pro wave, which is Savage’s competitive heat. As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the course was soaked with an all-day rainstorm. But that didn’t stop Savages from coming out and trying Savage Race’s new race.

 

WHAT IS BLITZ?

On Saturday, Savage held their usual format of 6+ miles and 20+ obstacles. Blitz, which took place on Sunday, averages about 3 miles and 15-20 obstacles. Maryland’s fall Blitz saw about 3.3 miles and listed 24 obstacles on the course map. From what I can remember, I believe there were only 22 obstacles, as a second Barn Door and Blazed did not appear on the course. Blazed was most likely removed due to the rain.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Map

The obstacle list included two out of three obstacles that are new for 2018, Battering Ram and Holy Sheet. A side note, which helped me with Holy Sheet, look at the “extra” piece of sheet hanging down by where you transition to the ball holds. Pick a lane where that piece is shorter, so it doesn’t get tangled when you reach for the ball. It’s also easier if you grab above the chain, especially in wet conditions.

 

I did notice that a lot of the water obstacles are absent from Blitz, aside from one called Double Dip. Most of the grip obstacles were above dry ground, too. No Colossus, Shriveled Richard, etc. Blitz is meant to be quick and short and seems to be a nice introduction to anyone wanting to try a Savage without jumping right into a 6-mile course. Some water obstacles, though fun, can be time-consuming or scare away anyone who doesn’t want to jump into a freezing cold tub of water.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Fall-Holy-Sheet

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?

New this year is Pro wave competitors wear two chip bands. One is the standard timing chip. The other is used to keep track of completing obstacles. Savage Pro competitors face mandatory obstacle completion. That’s great if you hate burpees, but can be troublesome if you need to retry and obstacle multiple times before being able to complete it. If you can’t ring the bell, you put your obstacle chip band in the “fail pail” and move on. You can still finish the race and will record your time, but lose eligibility for prizes and go into a non-completion category. Finish with the obstacle chip band, and you’ll receive a Savage wristband to show off your victory.

Savage-Blitz-MD-Nut-Smasher

Savage Race does a great job at getting course maps up early and sending out enough communication before race day. You still need to look up your bib number and do a printed waiver, where other races have the waiver as part of the sign-up process. But otherwise, registration and check-in is extremely easy. There were no lines at all and everything was quick and painless.

FESTIVAL, RESULTS & PHOTOS

The festival area had the usual beer tent, bag check, results, etc. There weren’t a lot of vendors, but not many people walked around because of the rain. At the finish line, racers received their medal, a shirt, a water, as well as their choice of a few flavors of protein-infused water (Trimino). Results were available at the results tent as soon as your chip crossed over the finish line. They were online shortly after as well.

 

Most impressive were the race photos. A lot of races take a few days to get pictures up and there are only a couple stations. Savage Blitz had a total of SEVEN obstacles with a photographer. Most of them took at least 3 or more pictures. I know other races have more people so it’s difficult to get a lot of pictures from one race, but Savage did a great job on this front. They also let you run another lap for fun, minus the medal and race shirt, so you can have another crack at the course plus more pictures.

Savage-Blitz-Bling

This was Savage’s fifth ever Blitz, with at least two more on the schedule for 2018. It’s a great introduction to Savage for OCR newcomers, as it allows you to run a minimal distance but still try some of their challenging obstacles. Competitive racers who aren’t into Their site lists Savage Blitz at every location in 2019, which would be

 

Savage Race Chicago 2018 – Spreading the Gospel of OCR through Grit and Grip

 

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Fire_Jump

This is the third year Savage Race has held an event in the Chicago area and the third year at the Richardson Adventure Farm – the same site as the parking lot of Spartan’s Chicago races the past three years.  The festival area is small and simple and parking is a breeze; paying an extra $10 for the VIP parking will get you right next to the entrance but only 60 feet closer than the regular parking.

 

THE BEST START LINE IN OCR

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Matty_T

While OCRWC may claim to have the best finish line in OCR, Savage Race certainly has the best start line.  At the Savage start line there is no canned speech that you’ve heard a thousand times, or a stern drill sergeant-esque man yelling.  Instead, there is a wildly happy bearded man with the energy of a 5-year-old who just drank espresso.  His name is Matty-T and outside of Flava-Flav, he is by far the best hype man that I’ve ever experienced.  It started with crowd surfing, then some call and response chanting as Matty-T skipped and jumped amongst the crowd whipping us up into a frenzy of laughter and cheering, locking arms with fellow racers and creating comradery, eliminating any anxiety a racer might have by simply having fun.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Barbwire

Flatout

The terrain is flat, like Nebraska flat.  According to my GPS there was a total of 356 feet of elevation gain and I’m going to say most of that was from climbing obstacles like Colossus and Davy Jones Locker.  Just because the terrain was flat did not mean it was easy.  Being on a farm the ground was very rutted and strewn with rocks just waiting to twist an ankle.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Colosus

 

This first mile was fairly easy with just 3 obstacles, letting the pack of fresh racers spread out and avoid jams.  The one element that was missing from this race was mud.  Savage made up for this lack of mud by getting you wet early and often with multiple mandatory immersion obstacles.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Barbwire_Justin

 

The next few miles had a few strength obstacles including a cinder block pull followed directly by the new “peddle to the medal,” which is a tire drag powered by spinning a giant spool with your legs.  One thing I liked about Savage Race is none of their strength obstacles are overly heavy, both men and women use the same weights, and there was only one heavy carry.

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Block_Party

 

A Gauntlet of Grip

The final 2 miles were a gauntlet of grip-destroying obstacles starting with “Kiss my walls,” a wall traverse using small climbing holds, exhausting your finger strength. Not 150 meters away it was right into Wheel World which had me spinning.

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Wheel_World

 

Then came the Rig, then shortly after that Twirly Bird and another traverse–this time across rope ladders and cargo nets and then the behemoth that is Sawtooth. Finishing the gauntlet of grip was the new “Holy Sheet” a rig across a saggy piece of cloth then onto ball grip climbing holds.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Sawtooth

 

For the Pro wave I thought the setup of the obstacles made for a good competition, but for the open waves who make up the majority of racers I wish that the grip obstacles had been spaced out more throughout the course.

 

Savage_Race_Chicago_2018_Marcia

 

I was very fortunate this race to have been able to run in the Pro-Wave at the beginning of the day amongst some of the greats in this sport.  I was even more grateful to run in the open wave midday with my sister who had never run a race of any kind in her life.  After spending the last 3 years running competitively it was refreshing to experience the fun of the open waves first hand and watch someone I love overcome fear, push through pain, and laugh while playing in the mud. After we jumped over the fire, crossed the finish line and hugged, my sister turned to me and asked if I would run with her again next year.  A convert to the gospel of OCR was made. Yes, Marcia, I’ll run with you again, maybe even sooner than next year.