Warrior Dash Gulf Coast 2018

 

Larry

Larry Jumonville happy with his performance

Warrior Dash Gulf Coast 2018

Race Start

From parking to packet pick up the Warrior Dash Gulf Coast venue ran far more smoothly than last years.  Everything was simple and easy.  The fact that parking and bag check are included is a nice convenience. Parking was extremely close to the venue and everything from t-shirt pick up to the starting gate were very easy to find and access.   Volunteers were friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable and there were no shortage of them.  The staff also performed extremely well.

Warrior Dash also did a great job at making spectators and competitors alike feel as if they were indeed walking into a muddy fun zone.  The Warrior Dash sign near the entrance was a symbol of fun about to be had.  Volunteers manned sponsor tents well.  One even presented competitors with a nice warm-up area.  As long as Warrior Dash has been in the game they have begun to excel at race and wave starts.

 

 

The Festival

The festival is the area in which Warrior Dash seems to shine most.  It had everything OCR newcomers and veterans could enjoy.  There was beer, food, a rig to play on, kettlebells, a cargo net, corn hole, lots of opportunities for picture taking, kids play course, great shower stations, and even a hand washing station outside of the port-o-potties.  Warrior Dash also utilized their many different contests to keep festival-goers entertained.  Though the stein holding contest didn’t seem to happen (at least while I was there) the added plank challenge was a nice addition.   There were far more participants in this newer contest as well as the staple push up and tug-of-war contests.  Everyone seemed to be having a really great time and no one seemed bored.

The Course

Designers laid out the course better than last year.  Though many of the obstacles and routes were similar, Warrior Dash made enough changes to make the course feel fresh.   What was not so fresh were the abundance of A-Frames and other climbs.  I understand that this is one of the most basic obstacles that newcomers can conquer. This is Warrior Dash’s bread and butter.  However, the repetitiveness may dissuade some newcomers.

The small slip walls bookending a small barbed wire crawl designed by Grunt Style was a nice beginning.  Upslide down, a favorite of many was a nice break up of running through fields.  Super Soaker gave us an added twist this year by inserting a slip wall bridged with two by fours in the middle of the balance beams making it both more and less challenging at the same time.  I am sure this made the obstacle more enjoyable to those not balance adept.

The Course Second Half

A new obstacle, Rockslide, was a great new addition which added some grip elements.  Though rock climbing grips were the key focus of the obstacle, a toe board underneath allowed competitors to support their weight and shimmy across while gripping.  This allowed the obstacle to be less overbearing for beginners.  Builders suspended each lane allowing them to swing with the competitors’ weight and movement.  This made the obstacle much more fun.  This was much more fun than a stabilized version would have been and brought joy to many racers.

The course ended nearly identically to last year with a fire jump, followed by pallet jacked, and muddy mayhem.  Muddy mayhem was much more fun and muddy this year.  Pallet Jacked offered four separate lanes – two difficult and two easier lanes.  The less difficult pallets were connected with chains allowing less movement from the pallets.  However, I preferred the difficult lane as it allowed me to utilize gymnastic skills gripping the straps and leapfrogging from pallet to pallet.  The volunteers on course did a superb job of cheering on competitors especially at the end through the muddy mayhem.  A good time was had by all both on and off of the course.

Terrain

Once again the flat region of the Mississippi Coast doesn’t offer much in the way of elevation or tough terrain, but Warrior Dash utilized what they were provided in a great way.  The field allowed a bit of difficulty in the softness of the ground and occasional ruts and mud to run through.  There were also a few trails with the occasional slight elevation to push competitors just a tad harder.  All in all, a very good venue for beginners to test themselves on and learn how to handle the basics of trail running.

Ceremony

The awards ceremony also went very well.  Officials presented competitors with shirts and certificates. They announced each competitor’s time and presented them with an entry to the OCR national championships.   The crowd gave winners their due admiration.  In the spirit of Warrior Dash, all competitors were humble and knew that what was most important was the fun they had out on the course.

Obstacle Course Races and the Bad Business of Spectator Fees

Spartan-festival

Photo Credit Patrick Prentice

Last week I experienced my very first DNF in my three years, fifty plus race career. I was running the Spartan Beast in Spartanburg, SC with my longtime running partner and around mile 2.5 I started experiencing knee pains from an injury I sustained over a year ago. Luckily, we had just passed by the festival area and I sent her on to run the remaining ten miles alone while I hobbled back up the path to turn in my timing chip. My teammate and I had driven up from Florida together so I had no choice but to wait around for her to finish.

This is the first time I have ever spent an extended amount of time in the festival area of an obstacle course race and let me tell you: it was boring. I have been to craft fairs that are more exciting than a Spartan festival area and those have no entry fee. On top of this, there is no seating, the only entertainment is top 40 hits blaring from the center stage, and the food situation is reminiscent of a high school lunch cafeteria (but twice the price). In the end, the most exciting thing I came up with was balling up my gear bag and taking a nap in the grass. So why do Spartan, Savage, Tough Mudder, and all of the other big names in OCR think that this “festival experience” is worth anywhere between $10 and $25 dollars?

The issue of spectator fees really hit me when I ran the fall leg of the Savage Race one week after DNFing my Spartan Beast. My fiancee happily agreed to accompany me to my race just in case my injury started to flare back up while I was on the course and I was unable to drive myself home. After paying $60.80 for my entry, $15 for the insurance, $3 for a service charge, $4.20 for a processing fee, and $10 for parking I had already spent $93 dollars for the privilege of gracing Savage Race’s 7.2-mile course. Upon reaching the entry gates, however, I realized there was one thing I hadn’t accounted for: the spectator fee. This fee not only confused my fiancee but when she inquired about what the spectator’s pass entitled her to she was met with the lackluster response, “Access to the festival area.”

savage-festival

Photo Credit Savage Race

Spectators at athletic events such as races, triathlons, and OCRs have a vital function for the athletes. A well-placed spectator can drastically improve the performance of the athletes and provide the necessary motivation to complete the event. Anyone who has had a friend or family member cheer them on during a race knows what this feels like and it really should go without being said.

Running is a sport where the energy of the crowd can be the catalyst for change. Dave McGillivray, the director of the Boston Marathon, states in his article What Do Race Spectators Need to Know? for Runner’s World, “I always picked up the pace a bit whenever I hit key pockets of screaming fans… If we put timing mats at the beginning and end of this stretch, I’m sure we’d see just about everyone hitting their fastest paces of the day thanks to the immense crowd support.”

On the flip side of that coin is the function spectators perform for the race organizations themselves. In the 2012 study The Relationship Between Visitor Spending and Repeat Visits: An Analysis of Spectators at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon researchers find that “spectators are just as important to a sporting event as participants” (Botha, et al). The reason given for this claim is that the more times a spectator attends a race the more likely they are to visit it in the future. Obviously, in a sponsorship-laden sport such as obstacle course racing having more people exposed to the sponsors can only have a positive effect on a race organizer’s relationship with those sponsors.

In another study published in the Journal of Sports Economics The Rewards to Running: Prize Structure and Performance in Professional Road Racing (Lynch and Zax, 2000) the researchers claim that participants of races actually derive utility, or a sense of accomplishment, from larger numbers of spectators in races. The utility can be seen as the driving factor for participants to actually compete in races, especially in races where they have little to no chance of receiving any monetary compensation. In other words: spectators equal customer retention.

fort-lauderdale-a1a-marathon-festival

Photo Credit Fort Lauderdale A1A Marathon & Half Marathon

I contacted both Spartan and Savage concerning why they charge spectator fees and what those fees are used for. Spartan Race responded by saying that they have started to improve the spectator experience at their races by opening up the venue to allow spectators to follow the racers more closely at a majority of their courses. They went on to tell me that the spectator fee went towards paying the insurance premiums for each individual race. In Savage Race’s response to my inquiry, they simply stated that spectators would have access to the festival area and the ability to follow the runners along the entire course. Savage had no comment on the use of the spectator fees but did exclaim that the fee was similar to any other sporting event.

Not every organizer believes in charging spectators for their attendance. Rugged Maniac, most notably, did away with their spectator fees in 2012 (along with every other nickel-and-diming fees such as insurance and processing fees). In a 2015 interview with Obstacle Course Racing Media Rugged Maniac’s COO Rob Dickens explained their position, “But we stopped doing it the minute we could afford to, which was back in 2012. Why? Because price-gouging your customers show a complete lack of respect for them and violate the golden rule (do unto others…). I don’t like to have a bunch of fees tacked on to something I’m buying, so why would I do it to my customers?” Rob Dickens also claimed the following:

After all, none of the “processing” or “insurance” fees charged by the other guys are legitimate. We all have nearly identical insurance policies, and none of those policies require us to charge our customers an insurance fee. Likewise, we’re all using similar registration platforms, and none of those platforms charge more than a $2 fee per registrant, so why are the other guys charging 8%-12% processing fees?

Everyone’s insurance policies are based on the number of expected attendees in a calendar year, so if Spartan is charging an extra “insurance” fee when someone run the same course twice, it’s simply another way for them to squeeze more money out their customers. Their insurance company doesn’t require it, and they don’t have to pay higher premiums for someone running twice. As I said before, their insurance companies don’t require any “insurance” fee. It’s completely bogus.

If Rob Dickens is correct then this claim would appear to contradict Spartan’s own response to my inquiry over the use of spectator fees.

rugged-festival

Photo Credit Rugged Maniac

Despite Rugged Maniac being free to attend, their festival area and spectating experience never leave you wanting. Coincidentally, both Rugged Maniac and Savage Race are held at the same location in Florida every year: Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City. It is hard not to compare the two races, thanks to this shared location.

One of the most prominent differences is in the way they use the venue. Rugged Maniac puts all of the high energy, high traffic areas such as their stage, vendors, and sponsors in one area while Savage Race spreads their vendors, sponsors, and their stage around the edge of their festival area. The difference is pretty dramatic: Rugged Maniac festival area feels more alive thanks to the sheer number of bodies in one area. Savage Race brings out tables and chairs (a huge improvement over Spartan’s zero-seating offerings) but Little Everglades Ranch has its own bleacher style seating that only Rugged Maniac takes advantage of.

Savage may claim they want their spectators to have sporting event style experience, but Rugged Maniac actually achieves this by using these sporting event style bleachers. One other difference that might often go overlooked is the difference in the number of children at each event. Savage Race, unlike Rugged Maniac, has a kid’s course. Despite this, however, the number of little people at Rugged Maniac greatly eclipsed Savage’s population. The reason for this is obvious: if your children want to watch you race you’ll have to pay another $25 to have someone there to look after them at Savage.

Another example of a race organization that does a fantastic job of providing a fun spectator experience is Warrior Dash. Like Rugged Maniac, Warrior Dash is completely free for spectators. I last ran Warrior Dash in 2016 and I heard nothing but praise for the festival area. Unlike most other organizations, Warrior Dash had live bands playing on their stage with a live DJ in between sets.

One other thing that set them apart from the type of audience participation they organized. Pushup or pullup contests are common events that obstacle course race organizers will put on but those types of contests are geared towards athletes, not your average spectator. Compare that to Warrior Dash who delivered a dance contest and a beard competition, both less physical and more engaging than their competitor’s presentations.

warrior-stein-contest

Photo Credit Warrior Dash

So why does it seem that the more widespread and well-known obstacle course race organizers are so anti-spectator? There are studies showing the positive effects that spectators have on both race organizations and athletes making it scientifically sound to encourage attendance. Athletes around the world sing the praise of a cheering crowd and the ability they have to motivate. The extra attendance would invariably please the sponsors and vendors of these events.

These are all things that traditional road races such as marathons and triathlons realized a long time ago but at some point, the OCR world dropped the ball. By all appearances, it would seem that removing the spectator fee, a barrier to attendance regardless of what anyone claims, should result in greater customer retention and revenue via sponsors and vendors. Unfortunately, it would seem that OCR organizers would prefer to view their spectators as a revenue source instead of their true function: revenue boosters.

 

Warrior Dash Gulf Coast 2017

Warriors are Willing to Work for It

Warrior Dash holds a special place in my heart despite its lack of EXTREME CHALLENGE.  The lack of difficulty is not a good reason to pass on the “beginners race.”  If Savage, Spartan, and Conquer the Gauntlet are super healthy foods like organically raised salmon, fresh farm raised avocados and naturally grown kale then Warrior Dash is a spinach/chicken wrap.  While it may not be on the “superior” level of the other races, it takes on an extremely important role in being the bridge for many into OCR or even into a healthy lifestyle.

Nathan Beisser

Competitor Nathan Beisser after having a great time during his run in the pro wave

 

Helping Start the Addiction

While I may not have encountered obstacles that pushed me to my brink, I did see and meet far more newcomers who were there to make an effort at slowly improving their unhealthy lifestyles than at any other race.  I also encountered more “running for a cause” teams than I have seen recently.  Warrior Dash is that beginning step that is necessary for many.  We can’t all dive head first.  Some of us have to begin with dipping one foot in at a time (not charging for parking or a bag check helps.)  This is where the average working Joe or Jill can see the potential to become greater than they thought possible.

Mud Pit

Venue

The venue of the Harrison County Fairgrounds in Gulfport, Mississippi proved to offer more challenge than most would have anticipated from a mostly flat area.  Though any sort of incline was very rarely found, running three miles in a soggy field that gave way with every step proved to take away some of the speed many competitors would have normally had on a more dry or packed terrain.  Muddy areas were easy to create and find, though they weren’t as large as I have seen before from Warrior Dash.  Even at the finish, each mud pit seemed less like a pit and more like a hole.  The trail was cleared and marked extremely well.  It would have been extremely hard to get lost.

Nets…. Nets Everywhere

The obstacles were a lot of the usual Warrior fare.  There was a lot of crawling under wire and a lot of net usage.  From normal cargo climbs to pipeline to the new (and really fun) Upslide Down I saw more cargo nets during this race than I could shake a stein at. Cargo nets serve as a great introduction to new racers as an obstacle that can burn you out.

Warrior Dash also earned positive points for its new obstacle Upslide Down.  It was a simple, fun obstacle though it could have been longer.  A flat slide lay under a cargo net.  Competitors laid on their backs and proceeded to utilize the cargo net to pull themselves down the slide.  I had a blast with this one and hope to see more like it in the future.

Pallet Jacked

Rather than placing Goliath at the end, Warrior Dash left their new obstacle “Pallet Jacked” front and center for spectators to check out.  I can rightfully say I underestimated this obstacle.   I assumed running across pallets suspended from straps wouldn’t be a problem.  However, the pallets swung and moved vertically depending on weight distribution.  I enjoyed the slight challenge of this obstacle as well as the creativity of Warrior Dash race designers in utilizing simple construction to create a very fun obstacle.  Much like a good hamburger, both of Warrior Dash’s new obstacles offered a lot of satisfaction for something so easily and affordably constructed.

Stein

Stein Holding Competition Trophy

Party Time

Warrior Dash knows what it does well and continues to improve on it year after year by offering more after race competitions and activities than any other race series.  The push-up contests let the macho bros show off for the crowd.  The tug-of-war competition gives families and teams the opportunity to work together and have a good time.  The stein holding competition allows warriors to prove their grip strength and grit and walk away with a free stein.  Even if warriors don’t want to join in on these competitions there are rigs to play on, beer pong setups to play around with, an awesome DJ, and lots of cornholing… I mean the game with the bean bags.

Tug of War

Tug of War Competition

Warrior Dash offers many of the best beer choices and food around as well as the ability to refill your stein for a moderately steep price. A plethora of patrons seemed to be having an amazing time at the festival.  I will be surprised if Warrior Dash doesn’t return to the coast next year given the huge turnout.  Seeing so many newcomers and groups of friends discovering the joys of OCR together filled my heart with glee. I left the festival with a huge smile on my face – not for my own accomplishments, but because I saw something I loved growing and I saw people spreading fitness, love, and no hate all in one place.  That’s one of the better achievements that any of us can achieve in this lifetime.

 

Mr. Incredible

Mr. Incredible receives his newly designed Warrior Dash Medal

Warrior Dash Washington 2017 Race Review

Warrior-Dash-Washington-2017-Festival

Overview

Warrior Dash is one of the oldest companies putting on obstacle course races in the US and have been running events in Washington State since 2011!  With all of those years under their belt, a certain level of polish can be expected and Warrior Dash delivered on those expectations.

Taking place about a 1-hour drive south of downtown Seattle, the Kelley Farm venue provided a mostly flat, wide open area for everything to be set up.  Unlike some other races, both parking and the bag drop were included in the price of admission which made for a smooth experience from beginning to end.

Parking was very close to the check-in and festival area, so no shuttle was required.  Waiver signing and packet pickup were quick, but it certainly didn’t hurt that I showed up early to run in the first heat of the day.  After picking up the participant shirt and fuzzy helmet before the race, everything was loaded into a bag and dropped off at Bag Drop before heading over to the starting line.

The Competitive Heat

Warrior Dash marks their first wave of the day as the Competitive Heat and it acts as a qualifier for the OCR World Championships taking place in Canada this year.  While there is no official timing of the race, someone was actively monitoring the finish line to record the top 10 finishers of each gender.

Top 3 qualifies you for the Pro Heat, while Top 10 qualifies you for the Age Group competition at the OCR World Championships.

This opening wave was an interesting mix of people containing some determined (very fit looking) people vying for those top spots and several others just excited to get out on the open course and push themselves to their own limits.

The top 3 male and female runners were announced and invited on stage to receive OCRWC Qualifier t-shirts.

Warrior-Dash-Washington-2017-Podium

The Course

After a brief delay to get word from the medical team that everyone was in place and ready to go, the start line was counted down and we were sent off as flame shot into the air above us.

Warrior-Dash-Washington-2017-Start

The very beginning of the course took advantage of a small hill off to our right which we climbed up right off the bat.  After zig-zagging back and forth a few times over small rolling hills, we returned to the level surface that the rest of the race was run on and our first obstacle, a small set of tall, spaced out wooden stairs.

After that was a fun obstacle called Upslide Down where we laid on our backs and pulled ourselves along using acargoe net above us.  Next was a short balance beam before we crawled down into some very long, muddy trenches.

A water station was located at the half-way point of the 5k distance and soon afterwards the course turned into a winding single-track run through a large set of trees that led us to a rather tall barb wire crawl.

Next we ascended a steep wall with the assistance of a rope, navigated through a pipeline made of cargo nets, and balanced our way across a set of pallets suspended over water.  The finish line was within sight, but we still had to navigate through a tricky obstacle where you could balance your way across a cargo net, with or without using a variety of hand holds suspended above you.

Warrior-Dash-Washington-2017-Course

After a quick fire jump, we conquered the largest obstacle on the course, Goliath, which consisted of of ~2 story cargo net climb followed by a steep slide down into a deep pool of water.  Despite the water mostly cleaning us off, the final obstacle made sure everyone finished with a thick layer of mud on them.

Warrior-Dash-Washington-2017-Goliath

This final obstacle took place in a deep pit of thick mud that also had barb wire suspended above.  Impossible to move through quickly or with any grace meant everyone came across the finish line ready for an epic post-race picture of their muddy adventure.

After crossing the finish line, we were given a very unique finishers “medal” consisting of a cube with a something different on each of the six sides.  It’s even numbered if you want to use it at your next board game night!

Warrior-Dash-Washington-2017-Finish-2

Verdict

Overall, Warrior Dash remains the perfect gateway event into the world of obstacle course racing.  The 5k distance combined with a modest number of non-intimidating obstacles makes for a very fun time that doesn’t require a strict regimen of training leading up to the event.

The Competitive Wave was handled very professionally for everyone seeking to challenge themselves and others during the run and the festival grounds made for a great place to relax after the event and sip on the free post-race beer (even if it was 9 in the morning!).

Whether you are a seasoned OCR pro or someone thinking about trying their first ever OCR race, it’s worth checking out the next Warrior Dash near you.

Warrior Dash Obstacle Collapse Investigation – Red Frog Responds

This morning, Louisiana based “The Advocate” released information regarding an investigation concerning the failure of an obstacle at last year’s Warrior Dash near Baton Rouge, LA. The obstacle named “Diesel Dome” collapsed at a race on October 8, 2016 and sent at least 11 people to a local hospital with various injuries.

The event and the investigation that followed has led to unprecedented actions in the OCR industry.

Local authorities who have issued arrest warrants on 5 workers connected to the event. According to The Advocate article:

“The warrants accuse the contractors of negligent injuring, and the employees of both negligent injury and engaging in business of contracting without authority.”

There have been at least 3 OCR related deaths dating back to 2011, the most famous being the 2013 drowning of Avi Sengupta at a Tough Mudder obstacle. However, there have never been warrants issued or criminal charges filed against anyone in association with these deaths. Nor have their been been criminal charges that have occurred following any injuries at any obstacle races.

We reached out to Red Frog, Warrior Dash’s parent company, as soon as possible for a statement. They told us:

“Our understanding from local authorities is that summons may be issued but there are no arrest warrants against Red Frog employees.  We’ve worked closely with the fire marshal’s office and investigators since the accident that occurred at Warrior Dash on October 8, 2016 and nothing we saw, read or heard during that investigation would warrant criminal charges. One of the employees being charged was not even at the event or involved with the planning of the event.  Therefore, we are eager to see the fire marshal’s report.  Since we have not seen the report, we cannot comment on it or the nature of any allegations against specific individuals”

ORM also reached out to several other race companies for a quote and/or their thoughts on how this may affect the OCR industry. Spartan Race CEO Joe DeSena told us “An incident like this is unfortunate and shines a spotlight on the how imperative build standards are for the Obstacle Racing industry”. At press time, no other race series chose to comment.

Below is a video from a 2016 Warrior Dash event with the Diesel Dome obstacle functioning properly.

Warrior Dash Maryland 2017

The Location

I recently participated in Warrior Dash Maryland, which was a very fun and challenging experience. The event took place at the legendary Budds Creek Motocross Park, which is a world class venue known for its many popular motocross events. This location has also become well known for a variety of the top OCR events over the past few racing seasons also.

The Obstacles

The race length was around 3.2 miles and involved over 12 obstacles that were placed throughout the muddy terrain.

The challenging obstacles included:

  1. Trenches
  2. Under the Wire
  3. Goliath
  4. Muddy Mayhem
  5. Pipeline
  6. Warrior Roast
  7. Fisherman’s Catch
  8. Bridge The Gap
  9. Upslide Down
  10. Magic Carpet Ride
  11. Pallet Jacked
  12. Mud Mounds

Some personal favorites from the obstacles included:

Goliath involved climbing two stories and then going down a 30-foot slide feet first. This was a fun obstacle because it was not only a great view of the course, but it was also an adrenaline rush sliding down into the cool water.

Warrior Summit was a great upper body workout that involved climbing up a 30-foot incline with the help of a rope and then climbing down the other side. Strength, quick feet, and balanced coordination helped to get up and over this obstacle efficiently.

Muddy Mayhem was the final obstacle in the event, and it included an army crawl under barbed wire across a 100-foot mudpit. I have a background in competitive swimming, and this experience was unique because it felt like a combination of both swimming and floating in slow motion through the thick mud. Definitely a great obstacle to finish out the event.

The Experience

As soon as the event began, there was a nice amount of distance to get the heart rate up and the blood circulating throughout the arms and legs. With the distance of the race being 3.2 miles, the rugged and hilly terrain added that extra degree of difficulty, especially on the steep hills and drops that are used in the motocross circuit. Some hills had such an incline, that it was a team effort with the other athletes to get to the top.

Slow and careful steps back down the hills were also critical. For this reason, I’m very glad that I put some extra time over the past few months into my trail running abilities because it helped in the ascending and descending throughout the course. A pair of shoes with an adequate amount of grip is also recommended for added stability, not just in the obstacles, but also on the trail sections.

For this reason, I’m very glad that I put some extra time over the past few months into my trail running abilities because it helped in the ascending and descending throughout the course. A pair of shoes with an adequate amount of grip is also recommended for added stability, not just in the obstacles, but also on the trail sections.

There was a fair share of obstacles that involved crawling through mud and under barbed wire throughout the course, so core workouts and preparation for crawling in tight spaces are helpful.

Warrior Dash Culture

The atmosphere at the athlete area, as well as throughout the course, was friendly, fun, and motivational. Everyone was cheering for each other throughout the various obstacles, and even though I ran the event by myself, there was definitely a strong support system among all the participants.

One of the other things that I liked about the Warrior Dash was that there were no additional costs for parking or spectators. Race medals were awesome too!

Overall, an event I highly recommend for any experience level.

Photo Credit: Author and Warrior Dash