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!!!

Tough Mudder – 1st Event of 2019 – Glen Helen Raceway, CA


Listen To ORM On iTunes

Listen To ORM On Stitcher

Listen To ORM On Google Play Music

The first Tough Mudder of the season happened last weekend. It was held at Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernadino, California and was a great success by most accounts. Learn all about the event through interviews with:

Hunter McIntyre – Bulk Pony

Josh Cox – 1/2 PisNCox

Jared Depolo – BarNana booth guy and musical composer.

Comedy Store Ladies – Leigh Lamson-Quay, Eleanor Kerrigan, Jen Canem, and Punkie Johnson

Pamela Price – Baby Ninja Warrior – 1st place on Saturday

Kyle McLaughlin – Tough Mudder President

Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

VJ Shoes USA – $30 off with ORM30. The largest discount for these shoes anywhere!

Show Notes:

Support Us On Patreon

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

New Tough Mudder President – Kyle McLaughlin


Listen To ORM On iTunes

Listen To ORM On Stitcher

Listen To ORM On Google Play Music

 

 

Hear from Tough Mudder’s new president,  Kyle McLaughlin in this special Monday edition of the podcast. You will learn:

  • How he came to Tough Mudder?
  • What changes has Tough Mudder made for 2019?
  • How often you will be seeing TM faves like Sean Corvelle, Clinton, Coach, and E-Rock?
  • Is there a difference in ownership for  Tough Mudder events vs Tough Mudder Bootcamp?
  • The countries TM is in and will be launching in 2019.
  • What are the names of the Tough Mudder HQ Conference Rooms?

Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

VJ Shoes USA – Current deal has free shipping and ORM’s exclusive discount of $30 off! Use Code ORMMAR

Show Notes:

Support Us On Patreon

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

Will Dean Forced Out Of Tough Mudder (And What Else Co-Founder Lawsuit Alleges)

Stories have been circulating for months that Tough Mudder is in tough financial straits: vendors and race winners had not been paid, and TMHQ recently announced that there would be no prize money for any races in 2019.  Last week reports emerged about a lawsuit against Tough Mudder by one of its co-founders, and the complaint pulls back the curtain on the company’s strained balance sheets.

Guy Livingstone co-founded Tough Mudder with his friend Will Dean, who became the face of the company. Anyone who read Dean’s book “It Takes a Tribe” will recognize the name, but the book doesn’t discuss much of Livingstone’s role in the company. While I had assumed this omission had to do with the vanity-project nature of Dean’s book, it now appears that it was a sign of the crumbling relationship between the company’s founders.

The complaint outlines the company’s financial history, from its heyday in 2012 when it made a profit of $10 million, to its current state, where it relied on $18 million in outside financing to keep the operation going. A caveat: this complaint is clearly Livingstone’s side of the story. We have not seen Tough Mudder’s response, nor have the underlying financial documents been revealed. Still, the details are juicy.

According to Livingstone, he pulled back his involvement in the company in 2013, at which point the company started to falter. Tough Mudder was eventually bailed out by Active Network LLC. You will recognize the name from your credit card statement if you have signed up for a local 5K, an Ironman, or any number of other athletic events.

Over the next few years, Tough Mudder went deeper and deeper into debt to Active. At the end of last year, Active tried to find a buyer for Tough Mudder, and when it failed, it moved on to a more aggressive plan: in exchange for its debt, it took control of the company and forced Dean to resign. The litigation stems in part from the terms of Dean’s severance package. Tough Mudder was owned by Dean and Livingstone, 60/40. According to the lawsuit, Dean negotiated his exit without Livingstone’s knowledge or consent, handing over his control to Active.

What does this mean for the average weekend racer? Ironically, all this bad news for two wealthy Englishmen could be good news for the rest of us. Unlike the original Tough Mudder, a scrappy startup with a stubborn leader, Active is a big company. Most of it was recently sold for $1.2 billion to Global Payments Inc., a multi-billion dollar payments conglomerate. This means that Tough Mudder is now controlled by a company with deep pockets owned by a bigger company with even deeper pockets. They have already made changes: a new president took over at TMHQ, Kyle McLaughlin.

Mr. McLaughlin appears to have a strong background in events management and doesn’t seem as interested in promoting himself the way Dean did. If he can right the ship, Tough Mudder could have a future. The flip side is that the company is now controlled by people at a greater distance from the product and who have no history in the sport of OCR. Should Tough Mudder fail to break even this year, even without handing out prize money, the new overlords might find it easier to pull the plug. They will also need to find a way to resolve what could be a very expensive judgment against the company in the form of Livingstone’s lawsuit.

We have scheduled an upcoming podcast breaking down this even further in the coming days.

Hunter McIntyre – T Minus 30


Listen To ORM On iTunes

Listen To ORM On Stitcher

Listen To ORM On Google Play Music

Hunter McIntyre Podcast OpenFit

Hunter McIntyre is back on the show to talk about his new fitness workout plan:

Tough Mudder T-Minus 30.

We will also discuss:

  • What 10-year-old Hunter was up to.
  • The new batch of athletes he’s surrounding himself with, in Colorado.
  • What it’s going to take to #GetHunterToTheGames.
  • Special appearance by Matt Kempson.
  • So much more.

Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

Tough Mudder T Minus 30 Program

Show Notes:

Support Us On Patreon

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

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.