The Active/Mudder/Spartan Standoff

Catch up with the latest Tough Mudder news

Last week Spartan CEO Joe De Sena issued a press release announcing that it has an option to purchase Tough Mudder’s international (i.e. non-US) operations, and that it is in negotiations to purchase the entire company. Joe spoke with ORM’s Matt B. Davis and Josh Chase about the plans, saying that he wanted to expand Spartan’s mission to rip people off their couches, but that he was not planning to change the fundamental look and feel of Tough Mudder events. Yesterday, Tough Mudder founders Will Dean and Guy Livingstone gave an interview with Matt B. Davis, contradicting some of what Joe said. On the surface, it would seem that either one side is telling the truth, or the other side is telling the truth. Or, to be less charitable, it would appear that someone must be lying. However, in circumstances like this, it’s worth taking a closer look to see what is really going on.

The key take-away, where both sides agree, is that Spartan is moving towards taking over Tough Mudder’s operations. While Joe and Will gave different indications about how far along that process has gone, the goal appears to be the same for both Spartan and Tough Mudder. Observers should keep in mind that this is a sizable business transaction, and negotiations are likely to be complicated. Both sides are going to make statements that prop up their status at the negotiating table, whether or not they are 100% true. Also, both sides are going to keep negotiating, using whatever means they have, in order to get the most money out of the transaction. This is the same whether the business deal is over obstacle course racing, real estate or airlines.

There were a couple of points where the two parties seemed to contradict each other. Will says that Spartan has no enforceable option to purchase the international operations at the moment, but that he hopes to work it out. Joe says not so: “After listening to this awesome podcast I thought maybe I’ve entered the Twilight Zone (a show I watched growing up). I was so confused that I had to check my own head by calling others involved in the matter, and they too are baffled. That said, I’m sure reality will reappear within a week or so.”

So, is all this just posturing between two companies involved in a take-over bid? Not quite. There are two major clouds on the horizon for Tough Mudder. First, if you’ve tried to buy a ticket for a Tough Mudder event for 2020, you may have noticed that ticket sales have been shut down for the past week. Why? This goes back to Tough Mudder’s original money woes, which you can read about here.

Tough Mudder Lawsuit

Tough Mudder’s creditor is Active, which is itself owned by the multi-billion dollar company, Global Payments. When you buy a ticket to a Tough Mudder event, your money goes to Active, which passes it along to Tough Mudder, presumably so that Active can make sure that Tough Mudder keeps paying Active back (note that Will characterizes the loan from Active as a “quasi-debt instrument”, but for the rest of us, it’s something that sounds a lot like a loan). According to Will, Active recently started withholding payments from ticket sales. Tough Mudder, in turn, turned off ticket sales to get leverage with Active.

We reached out to Active, whose spokeswoman replied: “Since late 2018, as a service provider to Tough Mudder, Active Network has supported its financial restructuring and turnaround efforts. Occasionally merchants like Tough Mudder are unsuccessful in turnarounds. Active Network has unfortunately been placed in the middle of disputes that have nothing to do with us. We remain steadfast in our commitment to the Active community of event participants, organizers and customers. This matter is immaterial to us.”

This is a little disingenuous. Stepping back again to treat this as a generic business transaction, there is a buyer (Spartan), a seller (Tough Mudder) and the seller’s creditor (Active). As with any such transaction, the creditor is going to be involved in aspects of the sale that will have an impact on the creditor’s financial interests. Will went to great lengths to emphasize that everything is going well at Tough Mudder and that the company’s financial future is bright.

Tough Mudder Active Registration

Which leads us to the other dark cloud: there is, once again, the question of whether Tough Mudder is currently solvent. At least one vendor reached out to us, off the record, to inform ORM of  large receivables due. There are rumors of additional vendors not being paid, and it is unclear whether the staff is getting paid. According to a source close to the situation, Kyle McLaughlin, Tough Mudder CEO, has stepped down from that position in frustration over his inability to get the board to provide the funding to keep the lights on and make payroll. In his interview, Will denied that Kyle has stepped down, and Kyle told us flatly “Unfortunately, I’m unable to comment at this time”.

Reading between the lines, it seems that Spartan, Will and Active are all in negotiations to keep Tough Mudder afloat long enough so that Spartan will have something to buy. Reaching a deal would benefit everyone. Joe has stated that he does not intend to change the product that is Tough Mudder (keyboard warriors: please stop saying that he’s going to make Tough Mudder participants do burpees. That’s not going to happen). The question remains whether or not Tough Mudder will be around in 2020, transitioning to ownership under Spartan or in some other format. Until all the parties come to an agreement, the situation is, unfortunately, dynamic. With any luck, the high-powered lawyers and savvy MBA’s on all sides will come together so that the rest of us can have fun running around in the mud next year.

Spartan Announces New Standardized Distances in 2020

In January of 2019 David Watson, VP of Product at Spartan talked with Matt B. Davis on the Obstacle Racing Media podcast about changes that were happening in the 2019 season. They talked about the US National Series and qualification guidelines for athletes. During that conversation, Watson also teased a change to the distance of Super events in that conversation.

Spartan then sent out surveys to participants in May of 2019, asking their opinion on the idea of changing Super distances from 8+ miles to a more standard 10K distance.

Standardization – Good or Bad?

We’ve heard the word “standardization” a lot this year – most notably around standardizing the obstacle set that would be at each race distance. Spartan has now gone live with their next iteration of standardization beginning in 2020 – Standardizing the distances of events.

So the 2020 Spartan events now look like this:

Sprint / Stadion 5K
Super 10K (formerly 8+ mi.)
Beast Half Marathon (21K)
Ultra 50K
Trail 10K / 21K

The Spartan website has not yet been updated to reflect these changes. We have seen the 2019 Spartan medal preview however, which removes the word “Sprint” altogether, in favor of the new 5K distance.

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@spartanrace New Sprint Medal!

A post shared by Obstacle Racing Media (@obstacleracingmedia) on

Why the Change?

Spartan’s reasoning behind this change was two-fold; First, the distance is much more recognizable with other running events all over the world. Second, according to Spartan, surveyed participants wanted this change. They wanted “less running and more obstacle density.” It also will help first timers, and Sprint participants to step up easier to a Super as their next achievement.

Personally, I like the change if for no other reason than it makes sense in terms of effort vs reward. Supers are now twice as hard as a Sprint, and Beasts are now twice as hard as Supers. That makes sense. Also, any move to the metric system is a positive move.

Feedback from the Fans

The real question is – what do you think about the change? Social media exploded with both positive and negative comments in regards to the change. Looking at the Instagram post announcing these changes, we’ve got a few examples of how people feel about a 10K Super distance:

“I LOVE it! 🙌” says Spartan Pro Nicole Mericle

@isaac__88 disagrees by stating “Super should of stayed at 8 miles. People that want less should find other races or step their game up!!”

@aka_rhino seems concerned about his or her apparel consistency going forward, “Glad I got my 8+ mile super in so my hoodie is true to its word!”

At first it definitely seemed that the overwhelming opinion was against the change, but there has been a large amount of support for the change recently as well.

Let’s hear your thoughts – How do you feel about Super’s being moved to 10K distance?

 

Jack Bauer – Spartan Tahoe Picks


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Jack Bauer comes on to discuss the mens’ and women’s field for The 2019 Tahoe Spartan Championship.

Todays Podcast is sponsored by: 

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Make your picks here.

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

Spartan North American Championships – West Virginia Beast 2019

Obstacle-Gauntlet-in-West-Virginia

If there’s anything Spartan Race does well, it’s finding one of a kind locations for their races. Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia proved to be the perfect place to not only put on a Trifecta weekend, but host the 2019 North American Championship race. 

The Venue

Summit Bechtel Reserve is absolutely perfect to host an event like this. Those unfamiliar with West Virginia’s terrain were greeted with numerous climbs that ended with gorgeous views. Elite and Age Group racers had to qualify to take part in Saturday’s Beast, while everyone else could run in the Open waves. In total, the Beast ran about 14.4 miles with close to 2,900 feet of ascent. Anyone unfamiliar with West Virginia’s terrain were greeted with numerous climbs that ended with gorgeous views. 

Climbing-the-Mountain-in-West-Virginia

This was only my second Beast ever and happened to be the last piece to complete my second Trifecta ever. My first Beast was the 2018 Ohio Beast held at the Southington Off-Road Park. That venue was very flat with altering terrains, while West Virginia is mostly trail but a good variation of climbs and descents. 

 

The West Virginia race was definitely more difficult, but if I was left with a choice between the two, it’s an absolute no brainer. No matter what distance you want to do, West Virginia is a must race. 

Spartan-Trifecta-Weekend-in-West-Virginia

Why A Beast?

Maybe you’ve only ever run Sprints because 5 miles seems like enough. Or you’ve done a Super and are wondering if you should take the next step up. So, before we get into the specifics of the course and the obstacles, let’s talk about why a Spartan Beast at all.

 

I would recommend everyone set out for a Trifecta at least one time. If you would rather stick to shorter races, great! But there’s something special about running over a half-marathon with obstacles. 

 

On top of that, the open waves are more spread out than the shorter races. This is great for people who want to get in some running between obstacles. Granted, the climbs and some obstacles do still get jammed up some in open heats. Despite that, even some of the more narrow trails had space between runners. 

The-Views-at-the-North-American-Championship

Oh, The Obstacles!

Outside of what I needed to get a Trifecta in 2018 and 2019, I usually stick Sprints and the occasional Stadion (Stadium). But the way Spartan has moved over the last year or two, you see a lot of the same obstacles. So at that point, the more Sprints you run, the more you’re just looking at the venue itself and the course design. Don’t get me wrong, I love the short distance of a Sprint, but I also love obstacles!

 

If you really want to be exposed to Spartan’s full gauntlet of obstacles, you absolutely positively must run a Beast. This year’s West Virginia Beast had 38 obstacles, many of them I haven’t seen since last year’s Beast in Ohio. Though I didn’t run the Sprint and Super on Sunday, they each had 20 and 31 respectively. 

 

There’s really no room to complain about what obstacles Spartan had because, well, they pretty much had them all (Though I wish they included that Twister/Monkey Bar combo this year). The Beast threw at you everything from the Yokohama Tire Flip to Helix to Tyrolean Traverse and even a Spartan helmet-shaped Bucket Brigade course. The Beast even included a nice little swim late in the race. 

Ryan-Woods-finishing-Helix

Quite A Warm-up

If I had one complaint about the race, it’s that parking was incredibly far away from the festival. Our heat wasn’t until around noon, so 10:30 am seemed like a good time to arrive. But we still ended up on the outskirts of parking. I’m not sure exactly how far of a walk it was to the festival from our car, but I would guess it took around 10-15 minutes. That’s a great way to warm-up for the race, but made the walk back pretty daunting. 

 

Spartan could add a few shuttle stations throughout the parking area. This would allow small shuttles to take racers to the festival entrance. Though parking and bag check were both free this year, so the there would probably be some trade off. 

North-American-Championship-Spartan-Medal

Ya’ll Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

The venue is great. The area around the venue is gorgeous. Southern hospitality is a real thing. Biscuits and gravy are everywhere. There’s a lot to love about going to West Virginia for a couple days. Not to mention the North American Championship Beast medal all Saturday finishers walk away with. 

 

I told myself after this year I would stick to short races and not need more Trifectas in the future. But as long as Spartan keeps coming back to Summit Bechtel Reserve, I have a feeling that so will I.

 

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

emPowered OCR – Lancaster’s First Stadium-Style Obstacle Race

emPowered-OCR-at-Clipper-Magazine-Stadium

 

A well-run local obstacle race is a great find. A well-run local obstacle race that’s for a good cause is a gem

 

emPower Training Systems and The Mighty Mehal Foundation teamed up to bring Lancaster, PA its first ever stadium-style obstacle race. The 3.25-mile course took place in and around Clipper Magazine Stadium, home to the Lancaster Barnstormers. 

 

A lot of local “obstacle” races I’ve experienced tend to be more of a glorified mud run than obstacle race. emPowered OCR was a true obstacle race that challenged competitive athletes while ensuring new racers would have a blast. There were even family waves so parents could run the course with their kids instead of watching them run a smaller course from the sidelines.

 

Inside-Clipper-Magazine-Stadium

For A Cause

A lot of people use obstacle racing as an escape from the ordinary day to day. But some people use it to get through their own personal obstacles. emPowered OCR was created to help those people, with all proceeds benefiting The Mighty Mehal Foundation.

 

The foundation was created in honor of Shaun “Mighty” Mehal and provides scholarships to qualified applicants who are entering a recovery house in Lancaster County. 

 

Free Free Free

We all know how most of the larger races go. Need to park? That’ll be $10.00. Might even have to take a shuttle. Want to bring your grandma so she can cheer you on? Open up that wallet. 

 

Pretty much the only thing you needed to pay for at emPowered OCR was your registration and bag check, if you needed it. Parking was provided in the stadium lot and spectators were free of charge. There were even plenty of free samples from local and national vendors. 

 

As with the larger events, each registration included a tech shirt, finisher medal and a free beer for anyone over 21 years old. 

emPowered-OCR-course-map

Course Design

The course was designed by the co-owner of emPower Training Systems and personal trainer, Josh March. The distance came in right around 3.25 miles and featured 23 obstacles. Clipper Magazine isn’t as big as a major league stadium so, unlike those, it wasn’t all stairs. Most of the course took place just outside the stadium, with the last quarter-mile or so being inside. 

 

In the competitive waves, the majority of the obstacles were mandatory completion. Racers were given an extra band at registration and had to take it off if they were unable to complete an obstacle. Two obstacles did have a penalty loop, in addition to mandatory completion and one had a burpee penalty. 

 

For the “Strike Zone Challenge,” If you missed the strike zone net, you were required to do 15 burpees. Unfortunately for competitive racers who missed, the burpee obstacle was shortly after, which added another 15 reps in the hot sun (I speak from experience).

 

There were two carries out on the course, bucket and sandbag, which surprisingly had the same weight for men and women. It felt like the weight would be a little light compared to other men’s carries and a little heavy for women. The bucket carry was about a quarter-mile, while the sandbag weaved up and down the stadium steps. 

 

emPowered-Peak-Obstacle

No Easy Task

For anyone looking to challenge their grip and coordination, that was well taken care of. Several obstacles required bell ringing. “Because I Was Inverted” required traversing upside down across a steel beam from one end to the other. The “Y-Wall” was a fun mix of relatively easy rock holds out to a pair of hanging metal tubes. 

 

“emPowered Peak” almost seemed similar to Spartan’s Olympus due to the requirement to go from side to side on an angle. Unlike Olympus, though, there wasn’t much to grab. The obstacle was made up of vertical 2x4s that required careful transitions and shoes with some grip. 

 

Perhaps the toughest obstacle of the day, though, was the Barnstormers Rig. According to March, it turned out to be a band killer among competitive racers. It required transitioning between rings, baseballs and even a baseball bat in order to ring the bell at the end. And because it was late in the race, many of the athletes already had fatigued grip. 

 

A-look-at-emPowered-OCR-rig

What’s Next?

According to March, the race was a great success and they’re already in the works for a 2020 race and potentially a second event. With around 450 total participants, emPowered OCR definitely has the potential to become an annual event, with some expansion.

They do plan to keep the competitive waves mainly mandatory completion, which personally I love. There were a few hiccups with the registration process, but plans are already underway to improve the process for next year. They’re also looking into a more OCR-equipped timing system as this year’s timing was not set up to show 100% completion and non-completion among competitive racers. Instead bands had to be manually checked among the top finishers. 

emPowered-OCR-top-finishers

emPowered OCR was a fantastic race and the team did a really great job running the event. At no point did I feel like this was a first-year race. It’s definitely one that will be on my calendar for 2020 and beyond!

 

Photo Credit: emPower Training Systems, Jesse Keim, Kevin Peragine Photography, Lindsey Makuvek

2020 Spartan Season Pass Info Released

Spartan teased the information for the 2020 Season Passes earlier today.

The Season Pass has always been a popular choice amongst Spartan enthusiasts to get the most bang for their buck. This year, Spartan is including even more with their Season Pass (for even more USD).

The Elite Season Pass is also changing for 2020 – Elite competitors will have to qualify AND apply to run as Elite. The Season Pass will be fully gated, meaning you will not be able to sign up before submitting qualifying information

Season Passholders Receive:

  • Unlimited US Races (Includes Spartan Trail)
  • 50% Discounts off Spartan Ultra & Agoge events
  • One (1) Spectator Pass per event
  • Multi-Lap Discounts
  • Passholder T-shirt
  • Passholder Hat
  • Passholer Jacket
  • 10% Merch Discount at all races

How to Sign Up For Spartan Race Season Passes:

Open Wave Season Pass Sign Up
$799 

Age Group Season Pass Sign Up
icon$999 

Trifecta Pass

$349 – Any Wave for Stadion, Sprint, Super, and Beast.

2020 Elite Season Pass: Article here on Qualifications & Application process.

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