Friday, October 23, 2015

Spartan Race Atlanta 2015...Another Pure Mud-Fest - Race Review

I have to admit, I'm a bit behind on my posting.  I was unexpectedly at the OCR World Championships last absolute eye-opening experience...and now need to get back on schedule.  The Spartan Race Atlanta, like the Savage Race two weeks before, was an absolute mud mess!  Late in the build week, the rains had stopped and the venue was just starting to drain and dry up some.  But of course, Saturday morning came and so did the thunderstorms...again.

Hearing the thunder early Saturday, I decided to sleep in a bit, feeling that the early heats would be postponed and was raining again, for the second race in a row.  I realize that makes no sense, given that I'm going to be wet and muddy anyway.  But I do like to arrive and leave relatively dry...if not clean.  Sooner than later though, I got my lazy, broken ass up to get to the venue.  Having checked the weather, I saw that there might be a break in the rain mid morning, so my plan was to get off by 10am or so...hopefully missing at least some of the rain.

Arriving at the Durhamtown Resort, the race site, it didn't take long to see the impact of the morning's rain.  Mud!  And where there was no mud, there were puddles...covering more mud.  Joy....  After checking my bag...and praying that we built the bag check racks securely as the ground below was nothing but puddles...I headed to the start corral as quickly as possible.  In just a few minutes we were off and about 20 yards into the race we hit mud.  Slick, red clay that would be the norm for the next 8 or 9 miles.  Another day of slip and slide.

Given the conditions, there was not a whole lot of running going on that day.  For me, that just evened things up since my injuries really kept me from doing much more than a quick walk.  In fact, the only place I can remember not having mud was at the fire jump, where they deliberately put down gravel.  A good thing too as they built themselves a nice size fire to hop over at the end.  Unfortunately, this was only about 30 feet from the finish line.  Surprisingly though, there were a number of places where the mud wasn't slick but was more of a sticky, solid mud.

Most of this sticky mud was on the carries...take pleasure in the little things!  One of the two log carries and the sandbag carry were on what looked like dirt bike race tracks.  So I suppose they use a different mix of soil on those which made for much better footing than expected,  We weren't so fortunate on the long bucket carry though or the first log carry.  Slogging and slipping throughout.  And the atlas carry?  Splashing through puddled grass and mud made me think of pointless punishment in some ancient prison camp....I can't imagine why.

I also did a 'double take' at the second log carry.  Deja-vu hit me and because of a small trail marking mishap, I swore I'd done this already...even though the terrain was a bit different.  My mind was probably rebelling over having to carry another log!  Once again, thanks be given for small gifts.  This log carry and later on, the uphill barbed wire crawl were the same sort of sticky mud on the dirt bike tracks.  Now I'm not saying it was a joy, but by digging your elbows in slightly you could make pretty good time rolling.  And there must have been a lot of newbies on the course that race too.  Very few were doing the roll and there was a lot...I mean a lot...of groaning and slow, slow body dragging that day.  You know you're doing something wrong when an old man rolls by you on the barbed wire!

There were, of course, many of the usual suspects in terms of obstacles.  Various walls to get over, including the 7' and 8' varieties.  Along with the over, under, through wall series.  And as I approached the 8' wall, Taylor Cuevas, one of the build foreman, gave a shout to the crowd from his cart to "get that guy over the wall".  Which I took exception to immediately...mostly because there was no way I could do that wall without help.  Then there were the rig and monkey bars.  Rain and mud were a factor here too...although I still wasn't ready to test my arm on those.

Then there were the cargo and vertical cargo nets...made more challenging from the mud that was on everything.  Including the climbing ropes!  I had tried out the rope climb in the festival area before heading out and felt, despite my shoulder being only about 50-60%, I could 'technique' my way up.  We'll, in spite of the fact that there was no water pit below, the ropes proved to be the new 'rig' that day.  In all the time I watched...before, during and after my race...I don't think I saw more than a handful of people make it up.  There was just no way to get a grip on the rope with all the mud on it.  Iron grip...gloves...handfuls of straw...nothing seemed to work.  Oh well...there's always next time...

All in all, I enjoyed this race and liked the rolling terrain.  Mud levels the playing field for me!  I also enjoyed running into (no pun intended) several racers I had met at the Asheville Super...Brian, Molly and Shana...still out there doing what they do.  Helping others through the course and doing something they never thought they could.  Props to you guys!!  And also seeing Heather the super-photography.  One of the best photographers you'll find out there and certainly the most enthusiastic.  And also seeing my former Spartan crew leaders Steve Oh' and Tracy.  Steve as always, roaming the course in his ATV.  Tracy, in what looked like more than half a hazmat suit...a smart move that day...was doing her thing in the festival area.  I did not envy her this day...but enjoyed running into her again.

Besides the rain, there was another water related issue that day however...the showers stopped!!  Unfortunately, so had the rain and we were covered in mud...and slogging through mud everywhere.  Not sure what the problem was exactly, but there was certainly grumbling and the feeling of "Woodstock" got much stronger looking around at mud covered people sitting in every relatively dry spot within sight.  When the water did come back on...and I'm sure it wasn't off as long as it felt to us...they went to rationing.  Sounds like that would suck, but as I thought about it, they really should institute that as a regular process for the showers.  We all have our plastic bags to carry the wet clothes in and there really is no need (guilty as charged) to clean them off at the showers. So bringing in groups of racers for 2-3 minutes of rinsing is more than enough time to get respectable...if not actually clean.  Just saying....

One more thing...which happened after the race.  In fact it happened at the campsite later that day.  Something that seems to happen more and more in my personal experience.  When I got back to my site, there were a few young guys next door.  When I asked if they minded me rinsing off my race clothes...they were within the potential splash zone...I found out that they had run the race as well.  Three college students from AL...Travis, Jacob and Kyle...two of whom had run this race for the first time.  One thing led to another and before I knew it I was treated to steak, beer, a roaring (think: thank god the woods were still wet) fire and some great company and conversation.  Mostly about obstacle course racing (OCR), different races and college football (very quietly about college football as we were surrounded by GA Bulldog flags and they had just lost!).  Just another example of the impact OCR has...both on and off the course.  A pleasure meeting them and a big thank you for sharing their dinner with me!!

Related Links:

My Journey to the Center of the (OCR) World - OCR World Championships 2015

I've never been to an Olympics, but this had all the feel I would expect of an Olympic event.  From the very first minute I showed up at Kings Domain in Oregonia, OH (permanent site for Mud, Guts and Glory) for the OCR World Championships (OCRWC) build, I knew something was different from any other obstacle course venue I had been on.  That difference would become more and more pronounced as the week went on, culminating in an incredible event and a personal journey of international discovery.

Within minutes of arriving on site Monday, after driving 7 hours up from NC, I was already at work.  Just lending a hand moving around a few partially built obstacles for finishing and painting.  There still seemed quite a lot to do but I figured, hey...we have four more days and that should be plenty of time for a build crew to finish...right?  Shortly after this I got some good news, there would be room to put me up on site.  This fact would make a huge difference for the rest of the week as we'd be putting in very long days!!  I was also a bit surprised when the race founder, Adrian Bijanada, and Mud Run Guide founder Brett Stewart invited me to tag along with many of the staff for dinner that night.  We'd never met before and this was just another indication that "I wasn't in Kansas" anymore.

Tuesday morning was my introduction to the realities of the OCRWC build.  I would say that we had a skeleton build crew but that would be an insult to skeletons everywhere.  What we lacked in the core crew though, we more than made up for in volunteers.  Not the volunteers you normally expect to see on builds either (which I do regularly myself).  These were some of the racers who had arrived early in the week...many of which were international racers.  And by no means new to OCR builds.  They were as comfortable with tools and on the machines as they were on the course.  In some cases I was actually working next to international race directors and even founders of international races.

And I was learning more every day about who was who at the OCRWC.  A bit of a humbling experience when you follow the sport as closely I do and find out how much there is still to know.  A feeling that started at my very first race this summer in Barre.  This sport is exploding...the big-bang of OCR...expanding so fast that there are few people that really know what's going on in every aspect.  But that's a whole 'nother topic.

One thing I was learning very quickly is that there was a very passionate and very intense group of international athletes here.  I was also getting an impromptu introduction to the "politics" of a world championship.  This year was the second OCRWC and many of the international racers feel that the 2016 race should be held outside the US...I assume somewhere in Europe would be the preference.  Something the organizers I'm sure have been keenly aware of.  A reasonable opinion too it seems, as some of these teams were traveling here with 20-30 racers or more...quite impressive for such a young sport.  Some countries can't even manage that many athletes at the Olympics!!

So the build continued...inching forward every hour towards completion.  Each hour,  expanding my knowledge of this new world of OCR.  Learning not only about the design and building techniques the European course builders were using, but also about how they handled some of the race day operations.  Some very interesting aspects that we could learn from as an industry here about race coverage and fan promotion (this also made me wonder if they had peaked at my posts from a couple of years back on these very same suggestions!)

I also had the unique opportunity to help design asome adjustments for a few of these iconic obstacles, as the construction methods here were so much different.  Looking back, I'm glad I didn't know who some of these people were until later.  I mean, how do you suggest changes to the da Vinci's of OCR?!  In time, the course was coming together through an intricate dance of build crew, fabricators, racers, volunteers and staff...orchestrated somehow by Garfield Griffiths, race director extraordinaire.  An effort I was fortunate to witness up close from the fact that we were 'cabin-mates' for that week.

By Friday, things were getting interesting!  Since I hadn't really looked at the schedule, I was a bit surprised to see SO MANY racers and spectators in the festival/lower course that morning.  I was amazed so many racers had come in so early to check out the course.  What I didn't realize is that the OCR Warrior "Best of the Best" series was happening that afternoon!  Say what??!!  And imagine trying to keep them off the obstacles...really!!??!

The OCR Warrior event lead to one of the more amusing moments of the week for me though.  The event director came over to ask if I could get the obstacle I was working on...Tip of the Spear...ready for the event.  At least the front portion.  "Sure, when do you need it?" I said.  He said, straight faced, "In a few minutes."  ......momentary silence......  As I got out my "I'll do my best", I suppose my face had answered more quickly.  They rerouted the initial heats.  Nothing like the (pleasant) distraction of live OCR races going on right next to you, as you try desperately to finish obstacles on the eve of the Championship.

So for me, the build week finally ended Friday night around 9:30 with the completion of the winner's podium and a "painting by head light" of same...after testing it of course!  Another lesson learned here too!  Since I wanted the best finish to be on the front I asked which way the podium know, which side the second and third place stood, since they were different heights?  Trust but verify!  Needless to say, I forget who told me the answer but the next day I was mortified when they placed the podium with the 'back' facing forward!!  Certain that the imperfections would be the scandal of the event.  Fortunately, nobody but me noticed...

Another first for me at this event was that I wasn't racing!  Although I had qualified, I never registered.  And, while at the beginning of the week I'd hoped I might be allowed to race, the anticipated freezing temperatures and nagging injuries said otherwise.  After seeing much of the course all week, I realized that in my condition, there just wasn't anyway to make a legitimate attempt.  It was a difficult thing to admit that...this course was spectacular and a sort of pilgrimage venue to me.  So many iconic Mud, Guts and Glory obstacles that I never expected to see in real life.  And so it goes...

Race day I did the next  best thing though...after a godsend, Pete Durment of DryWear, allowed me to crash at his room...I went to the race as a spectator.  Armed with warm clothes and my trusty camera pack.  The OCR World Championship did not disappoint!  I witnessed an incredible Olympics worthy event...truly.  Inspiring athletes everywhere!  Team coaches running along the course for the final distance shouting encouragement.  Racers doing the same for each other.  Brett Stewart yelling advice to racers on Skull Valley.  Everyone in an OCR frenzy cheering on any racer within range.  Awesome is a vastly overused word these days.  Awesome though, is the only word that can do justice to this day in OCR...this World Championship day.

All that day I simply soaked in the atmosphere, recorded the memories and witnessed the latest stage in the ongoing development of this infant sport we have come to love...OCR.  And now, after this week, I have also come to know so many people from around the world.  Understand better what this sport means to them as well.  Not to mention becoming Facebook friends with people whose posts I can't understand...even with the translations.  But knowing that the bond of OCR transcends our differences in language.  And when I consider what I thought I knew about OCR before, it reminds me of a line from Men in Black and I think...Imagine what I'll know tomorrow.  Can't wait!!!

Related links:

OCR World Championships website

#OCRUNITED Series Brings Together the Sport of Obstacle Racing

OCR World Championships 2015 - Race Review - ORM/Chris Cow

Kings Domain

OCR World Championships - Thank You's Abundance

Sunday, October 18, 2015

OCR World Championships - Thank You's Abundance

This past week at the OCR World Championship build and race could not have been more just being there...or more eye opening in terms of it's scope and impact across the world of OCR.  More on this later (much more!), but I just felt I wanted to say a very public and very big thank you to a number of people.  Not just for the opportunity to be there in Ohio, but for their generosity in making the week so much better!!


Garfield Griffiths for the opportunity to come and work on the OCRWC build.  Brutal hours and conditions...but a great experience!

Brett Stewart and Adrian Bijanada for their generosity all week in arranging some on site rooming and the late night, build site pizzas...a real life saver those nights!

Kings Domain for all their cooperation in making my tasks go as smooth as possible.

All the OCRWC and Mud Run Guide staff for the countless things that go on in support of every build (like charged radios...something I never seemed to remember to do!!) that again, made build life better.

Pete Durment of DryWear Apparel for stepping up and letting me crash at the La Quinta when my own room arrangements fell through.  Huge because otherwise I would not have been able to see the race Saturday...and that would have been tragic.

Bob of Battlegrounds Mud Run for helping out on some of my build work and who apparently doesn't actually know what "I really have to get going now" means.  If I had a dollar for every time he said that, then continued working with me I'd have...well, I'd have a lot more dollars than I started with!

I know that there are many others I would like to thank...Ian and Hubie come to mind immediately.  And Christine from Kings Domain.  So if you did anything to help me this past week...please know that I appreciate it all!!  And......


Friday, October 9, 2015

Spartan Race Build - Atlanta 2015 - The Land of Mud…and Ants

Wintergreen, VA was the land of groundhogs…Asheville, NC was the land of giant granite quarry blocks…and apparently Union Point, GA is the land of ants!  Don’t get me wrong, the venue…Durhamtown Plantation Resort, another ATV Park…is a beautiful venue with rolling hills and lots of mud.  But there are ant hills everywhere…and not just at the venue…everywhere you drive you see these ant mounds popping up.  Thinking about it, that might also account for the giant ‘daddy long-leg’ spiders all over my tent this morning.  Since spiders eat ants…right??  Well, you need to pick up the pace a bit guys, because you are losing this battle!

I bring up the ants so that racers can be prepared with basic 'ant safety' procedures in case of accidental contact (or intentional I guess if you’re an idiot).  So, in the event that you do face-plant into an ant pile during the course of the race (or at festival after a beer of two), follow these two simple steps.  One…jump up screaming and running in circles.  This will draw attention to you and will bring medical personnel or at least other racers to help.  Except those running for time…of course.  Two…run face first into the nearest  obstacle, or tree if an obstacle is unavailable.  This will render you unconscious and, more importantly, immobile and quiet so the meds and racers can attend to your ant problem unhindered by your panic.

Now, about the build!  For anyone following the weather in this area, there has been torrential rain for about a week before I got to the venue.  Bad news for everyone having to work it before I got there.  Even those of us coming in Wednesday were still greeted by the leftover mud…everywhere.  Just getting into the parking lot was a challenge in off-road driving…forget the volunteer tent.  It was going to be long day!

This particular build day was spent again in the festival area.  I’m not sure what sort of  attendance they’re expecting, but these festival areas just keep getting bigger and bigger.  Great for letting a crowd spread out a bit, not getting that claustrophobic or overcrowded feeling that might cause people to leave prematurely.  But not so great when you have to walk from end to end…seemingly all day.  I can’t be sure, but I believe they arrange for the materials we need to be dropped at the furthest point from where they need to be used.  Never mind the trucks…we’ve got volunteers to move it”.

We moved barricades and fences all over that place!   And I swear, the festival area must be at least 150 yards long…and we walked it endlessly.  We moved and put up barricade banners.  And we even set up the bag check area…again!  I must have ‘Bag Check Installer” on my forehead.  This is the fourth one I’ve set up and each one was different.  Who’d have thought  One thing though, I am now fully qualified to set up bag check on any venue…anywhere…let the phone calls begin!  And with all that barricade and fence moving, grip strength workout for the week (month?!)…done.

Thankfully, we had a nice size group of volunteers!!  As always, meeting and working with the other volunteers/racers is always a highlight.  John, Michael, Kevin…just to name a few.  And there were some newbies there too.  Of course, all the veterans offered their advice on prepping and helpful hints for racing, along with a rundown on the course and obstacles.  I’m not sure why, but those newbies may not be back Saturday….go figure.  And Chanel….after mulling it over, I don’t think you made a bad decision for the course.  In fact, I’m pretty sure you were set up.  They knew you would have to choose the tougher option (after all you are a Spartan!) and even if you hadn’t, they would have anyway.  See all (or most) of you guys on Saturday!

Which brings me to another thing I’ve noticed during my OCR travels.  Spartan Race (SR) volunteer crews are usually larger than most of the other races’ entire build crews!  This came in handy too, because we also ended up moving some tents.  And I don’t mean some 10x10 pop ups…I’m talking about the big ones, the 20x20 big-top monsters!  3” posts you can barely grab…and only one person can get each leg, as you stumble through the mud and dried out ruts to get it in just the right spot.  Then swinging that sledge to re-stake the tent?…that would have been a video worth watching…twice.  Luckily, we did all this late in the afternoon when we were pretty much shot already. 

Last…but definitely not least…I wanted to mention the Spartan crew leaders.  Seeing some of the crew from previous builds was great….Steve Oh’ (and hey, thanks for the sweet tea!), Drew, Taylor.  Wednesday though, I got to work with two different crew leaders.  Tracy Thayer was our initial leader and we worked with her for most of the day.  It takes special people to be able to work someone’s ass off, and still keep things from becoming oppressive.  Tracy is certainly one of those few and we were very fortunate to work with her!

So is Henry, the other crew leader we worked with that day.  Apparently we must have worked together at the Spartan Race demo in Times Square back in 2013.  Also, apparently, Henry is an aspiring stunt driver and feels four wheels is an extravagance and two is more than enough for driving in mud.  Although, to be perfectly clear, his driving with ‘us volunteers’ was utterly safe!

Even though I didn’t make it out to most of the course, from all reports it will be a good one.  The terrain is rolling hills, so it should not be the killer some other SR courses have been lately.  But there is a wild card in there.  Weather reports indicate a good chance of rain Saturday.  Given that…and the fact that the mud has barely dried from the last storm...if it rains, this is going to be another total mud-fest.  Call it Savage Atlanta Fall 2015 II….except it will be even worse, because it will be another three miles of mud and obstacles.  Oh joy…..

See you all there on Saturday!!!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Savage Race Atlanta - Fall 2015 - Slogging Thru Mud!! - Race Review

Rain...rain...and more rain.  That's all it did from the last time I was on the course Thursday evening until I returned.  When I left, it was a dry, dusty, practically completed obstacle course.  When I arrived back Saturday morning, it was still raining and if there was anything still dry, it was kept well hidden.  But there was a Savage Race course waiting to be tested...and I couldn't wait!  Let it be known now though...this was going to be a mud run of epic proportions!!

Knowing how the weather was supposed to go, I actually agonized over whether trying to run this race was going to work out well.  Not that I was worried about getting wet...I mean, it's a mud run after all...duh!  But I was tent camping as usual and I just wasn't sure about the logistics of 'getting wet'.  I wasn't sure about being able to keep my dry change of clothes dry until the end of the race.  In the back of my mind though, I don't think there was ever really a doubt.  I was there to run (and write about!) my first Savage Race...and nothing was going to stop that.

The Savage Race did not disappoint!!  I found the 5-1/2 mile rolling terrain and well spaced obstacles to be another perfect course for me.  Enough of a challenge to know you'd been pushed, but not so much that you worried about injury or excessive wear and tear.  Although again, because of my shoulder injury, I was forced to pass on several of the overhead obstacles, there was still plenty to make sure you worked for that medal.  And today, with rain still coming down at the start, this course was the muddiest I'd seen yet and everything...everything...was tougher in that mud.  Every climb and every descent became nothing less than a slick mud slip-and-slide.

Of course they had their iconic obstacles, Colossus, Wheel World and Sawtooth...none of which I could do...after all, it was Everest at Tough Mudder that did in my arm just weeks before.  And that was disappointing, because I was looking forward to testing myself on those, particularly Sawtooth...although I did climb Colossus to do the slide...I mean, of course!  There were also a number of barbed wire crawls...challenging in themselves but again, made even tougher in the boggy mud.  

There was also an obstacle I hadn't seen before, the Teeter Tuber...a 20' tube, 24' across and balanced in the middle.  You had to crawl through, pulling yourself up with a rope until it tipped over and you slide out. much tougher with the inside and rope completely glazed over with mud.  Luckily, I had forgotten to put my gloves on for the rope...that was one hard, and fun, obstacle.  

Then they had a number of walls to jump, as well as a mud pit with an inverted wall at each end...interesting combo!  Their versions of the block drag and 'log' carry.  Challenging but not overly brutal.  They also threw in an inverted, transverse wall which was another intimidating climbing underneath a rock overhang.  Needless to say I would be dead or hanging from the lifeline if that were real!

What did surprise me a bit were the number of obstacles either involving water or where falling into water was the penalty.  Davey Jones Locker was the most spectacular, a 15' high jump into the deep pool below.  More than a few people were very intimidated on this one.  The Nutt Smasher (balance beam), Wheel World, Pipe Dreams and Sawtooth were all attempted over water.  Besides the dunk walls, they also had the Savage version of an ice bath...never one of my favorites personally.  Possibly the most feared obstacle on the course, believe it or not...if you listened to the comments of racers!

With all those water obstacles, Savage Race clearly made safety a crucial issue and their efforts clearly showed at Davey Jones, the water jump.  The obstacle was well manned with safety personnel and it was quite obvious that they the entire crew was trained to properly control and coordinate the racers jumping in.  Nice change from some of the more haphazard safety issues that can occur at races.

Another area I was pleasantly surprised at...the photos.  Not only were there plenty of photos available, but unlike most other races they were much easier to find.  There's nothing quite as frustrating for racers than to wait days for the photos to come out, spend hours weeding through them, just to find out that they somehow missed you at that obstacle.  I've said it before, someone is going to make a mint if they come up with a perfect way for racers to find photos!  But the Savage Race photo search is the best I've used so far.

I'm not sure when my schedule will allow me to do another Savage Race, but I am already looking forward to it!  Maybe next time though, it will be a little drier, so the only mud we have to deal with is where they make it.  But then again, getting muddy is just one of the perks...

Related posts:

Back To The Basics - Building a Savage Race - Atlanta 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Back To The Basics - Building a Savage Race - Atlanta 2015

I suppose I should have been expecting the unexpected.  But having worked on a half dozen race builds already, it seemed that a Savage Race build would be just another variation on the theme.  Obviously, that was not the case!  Savage Race has been recognized by Inc Magazine as one of the top 500 fastest growing private companies in the U.S.  Savage Race also has a more modest expansion plan than many other race promoters and that is an indication of how they do run this company as a business...with a different focus than you may see elsewhere.

Several things jumped out at me during the build days.  One of the first and most surprising differences from any other race is that Savage builds certain of their largest obstacles to remain on the venue's site permanently!!  Other than fixed venue courses like Shale Hill in VT, Savage is the only major race promoter that does this as far as I'm aware.  Most of these obstacle are wooden too, where the other big promoters have been going to lighter weight metal structures where possible.  As with anything, there are great benefits and great disadvantages of this methodology.

The pros:  Decreased time in building or setting up the obstacles.  Reduced transportation costs...Savage only has one storage trailer to ship to each race venue as of now.  Reduced building and manpower costs as the obstacles do not have to be designed for dis-assembly. 

The cons:  Obstacles must be protected and possibly repaired or restored due to weather.  For new venues, they must completely rebuild each of those permanent a significant cost in time and material.  New venues may not allow these to remain permanently as more races vie for use of a limited resource...meaning practical race course sites.  Limited ability to create truly new/unknown courses since they have to incorporate the fixed obstacle placements.

They also run the risk of 'playing out' a of the issues that I feel is going to be more prevalent in the future.  Obstacle course racing (OCR) is only 5 years young.  With so many race options, particularly in the Atlanta area, races may suffer from stagnation or racer boredom with the 'same old venue' each matter how nice it is.  Particularly in the case of the Atlanta venue, where they run both a Spring and Fall race.

Savage Race was also notable in the fact that they have a much smaller build crew.  Partially, I'm sure, from the fact that they have permanent obstacles.  They also have all the tents and barricades setup through the rental companies.  Again, saving on both the build crew size and shipping costs between venues.  And from what I gathered, this is a family and friends crew that works all the events.*  However, it's efficient and extremely cost conscious...'glitz' is certainly not on the menu.  It has the feel of what it must be like on many of the smaller OCR promoter builds.  But make no mistake...Savage intends to put on a big-time performance and crew members like Gary, Bo and Sean are intent on that happening!  And should I mention their unique ATV trail marking technique?!  No...probably not...but it was different!!

One similarity, Savage does rely on volunteers to come in during the build week too.  Although, as you might expect, the number needed appears to be much smaller than the larger competitors.  They were however, very appreciative of the volunteers and went out of their way to make sure we knew that.

What was also a bit different was the apparent familiarity of the volunteers when it came to other races.  On my previous builds, most of them seemed to be the hard-core Mudder, Spartan or BattleFrog athlete, with little experience outside those races.  Here at the Savage build it seemed to be just the opposite.  The volunteers I met...Chanel and Mike...were very well versed on the other races.  

That may be another challenge for Savage in the future as well.  I didn't see the racer fanaticism/loyalty here as with the other builds.  And they don't have a Savage Pro team.  Whatever the reason, it is doubtless an intentional part of their business plan.  In the end, the race will be the test.  I was looking forward to that with great anticipation as this first Savage race.

* An interesting side fate would have it, I got to meet and work with Garfield Griffiths on the Savage kid's course.  Ok, actually I was told I could go home a little early Thursday afternoon but convinced them to let me "see if those guys over there needed any help".  I'd heard that he was working on the kid's course and I wanted to meet him.  Garfield is the course designer for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship {OCRWC} and happened to see him that morning on Matt B. Davis' Obstacle Racing Media {ORM} podcast...file this under 'small world'.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) Adventure 2015....continued....

It's hard to believe that the Summer of OCR ended only a few weeks ago.  Even harder to believe that it was only six weeks long.  Seemed a lot longer!  So many things happened during those weeks and it was a whirlwind of traveling, course building and racing.  As with anything I do, I always try to learn from the experience to make the next time even's an engineer thing I guess...just have to try and improve everything!

The first thing I found was that a race each week was a grueling schedule.  Not just the fact that between traveling to the next event, working the builds and then racing, there was almost no time to write!!  Add on to that injuries...illness...general wear and recuperation time/rest/training time and I suddenly had a whole new appreciation for professional athletes.  And props to the elite racers who go at this regularly...even doing multiple laps or back to back days of racing.  Obviously I'm still doing something seriously wrong, besides just being old!

Compounding that, most of the places I camped had no Internet service or very limited service.  One didn't even have cell service.  Hence, every week seemed to put me more in the hole with my writing as well as normal communications.  And just staying on top of OCR activity proved to be difficult.

What I did want to continue was the incredible experience of meeting so many different people and having some truly life changing experiences.  Nor did I want to lose the insights and 'schooling' I was getting on what it really takes to put on a worthwhile OCR event.  Anyone can slap a few obstacles together, mark a trail and charge a lot of money to get in.  But it takes special people to make it exciting, challenging...and safe at the same time.  Meeting and working with these people...that is my mission!!

My initial plans had been to head out west for the Spartan Race World Championship, along with the World's Toughest Mudder and several other Spartan races and Tough Mudders.  In the end though, I had to ratchet that back a bit and stay on the east coast.  Nagging injuries, the final stages of 'swamp fever' and unexpectedly (but not surprisingly) having to give up my place all contributed to the decision.  Gives a whole new meaning to the lyrics from that old Janis Joplin song..."freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".  But I digress...

So, my new plans will be concentrated in the greater Atlanta and Nashville areas for a couple of Spartans, another BattleFrog and my first Savage Race.  With the scheduling of these races I was also able to not only space them out every other week, but because of this generally centralized area, I'm able to stay in a 'normal' house during the off weeks...yeehaa!!  Provided of course that I behave promises there but I'll do my best.

After these I should be heading back towards Florida again for a few more races...where the weather should be more conductive to OCR'ing than skiing.  Then...well...who knows exactly.  One thing for the coming weeks and months there will be change...the one constant in this universe!!  That should make for some interesting reading I'm be continued...

Spartan Race and OCR Back on TV - Here We Go Again....Again...

Being on the obstacle course racing (OCR) circuit the end of this summer (Summer of OCR) and without Internet for much of the time, I seem to have missed this announcement! (PRESS RELEASE: CASTING BEGINS FOR NEW NBC COMPETITION SERIES ‘SPARTAN RACE’).  I did know something was happening since I had received two invitations from one of the show's producers to after I had already (politely of course) declined.

It's obvious that both NBC Sports and Spartan Race believe that these races can be transformed somehow into good TV.  And no doubt this is an important part of the growth plan for Spartan.  Personally, the only successful TV programming I've seen is the recent BattleFrog College Championship.  NBC Sports recently aired the latest Spartan Races produced in 2015, along with one from 2014.

Again, I have to remind everyone (before the hate mail begins), I love OCR and I'm waiting...and waiting...and waiting...for the time when we can actually watch these races in real time, but the 2015 versions of Spartan races were only marginally more entertaining than the initial TV offering Obstacle Course Racing on TV...well, it's a start!.  Maybe it's me, but the NBC shows completely fail to convey any sense of the excitement of doing an OCR race or even some real drama of the race itself.

While I don't pretend to have the answers, I'm hoping that the producers can come up with something better than what we've been subjected to so far.  Or maybe I've missed the point altogether and what the masses do want are more off-the-course drama and tidbits of the racers thoughts about what was going on during their run.  It seems though that before you care about the behind-the-scenes 'fluff', you have to care about the race and the racers.

Which brings me to the next point.  Are they still trying to build an audience without a following?  (The Present and Future of Obstacle Course Racing...and other secrets of the universe (Part one). Right now, the only people that are likely to be interested in OCR TV are the racers themselves.  Well, that and their families I suppose.  And that's the sense that you have to start somewhere.  But what about an audience outside that group?

Not everyone that watches NASCAR races a car themselves.  The same can be said for any other professional sport.  The major difference can go watch them in person!  Of course, you can go watch an OCR event too.  But to watch even a relatively small part of any race you need to be in reasonably decent shape and willing to hike around the venue a bit.  Most people aren't really all that into it enough to do that.  Not yet anyway.

However, that leads us to the next seeming 'obstacle' to building a solid fan base.  At most races, spectators are charged just come in to watch!  Ok, now I get that most professional sports do charge to get in.   But they have a product that people want and are willing to pay for.  OCR is still at a point in it's development where it should be doing anything it can to get feet on the ground at the events [note to self: the Olympics don't care about federations and committees...they care about who's going to watch!!].  It also seems that the more people you have at the event, the more merchandise and food sales you'll addition to the basic goal of building some real fan interest.  Although, to be honest, even being on site there is no practical way to watch the race, nor does there seem to be a general desire to watch anyone other than that family member or friend that's racing.

I do realize of course that there may be more practical reasons behind the decision to, in effect, keep the number of spectators low.  Available parking space at events is generally an issue and actual festival space at the venues is, in all likelihood, inadequate to accommodate any significant increase in the number of people.  

It will be very interesting to see how they do end up developing this show.  I'm still hopeful they will concentrate more this time on the actual racing.  Unfortunately, history would indicate that someone, somewhere along the line, wants this to be more reality TV instead.  Well, hope springs eternal...and in the meantime, I'll still go out and enjoy the races themselves!!

What do you think about OCR on TV?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Joe De Sena Speaks Out On the 2015 Killington Race

Whether you like what he says or not....whether you agree with what he says or not...(see 'Spartan Up – Podcast Review (and why Joe De Sena is wrong about grit & resilience' - Solo), I have always found that Joe De Sena always tells it straight.  Even from the very beginning.  When I called him out after my first Spartan Race at Tuxedo in 2011 regarding their statement that 99% of racers finished.  The response (which at the time always came from the top echelon of Spartan) was roughly - hey, if we told people the truth - 67% finished - they wouldn't try it.  True enough, for me certainly, and I would have missed out on one of the greatest things that I have experienced in my life.

Since then, Joe has spoken out (publicly) only on his other projects and has rarely responded as he did here (What We Learned From Killington: A Message From Joe) on a particular race or issue.  So when he does, you know that it's a serious issue and that Spartan race is treating it as such.  

At this stage in their development (hard to believe it's only been five years!), Spartan Race has likely become a victim of it's own success.  There is a limit to how many things you can do at once...or at least how many things you can do well at once.  They are apparently geared, with their crews and obstacle inventory, to put on two races a week at different venues.  And while you can never please everyone, racers have to come to expect certain things at whatever venue they choose and in many minds, that was not delivered at Killington.

You also can not hold on to the past...however recent that past may be.  Killington is not the Spartan World Championship Race any longer.  But people certainly had expectations that they would be treated to a true championship level course and event.  Calling it a Founder's Race and omitting the obstacles that racers have come to expect (and feel they have paid for) just doesn't wash...nor should it!  It was a rare miscalculation on their part and most likely the reason for the quick and deliberate response from Joe.

Will these issues be resolved?  Absolutely.  The question really is, why did most of these happen to begin with.  Spartan Race puts on so many events now, that they have systematized most of the process (and become a bit more corporate as well I suppose...inevitable).  So when relatively basic problems arise, you have to wonder if they stretched themselves a bit too thin, trying to hang on to this once iconic Spartan venue at Killington, at the resulting expense of quality.  Only they know the answer to this at the moment.  But as a company grows, the direct involvement of it's leaders...those with the initial vision...becomes less and less.  A normal growing pain in any business and one that Spartan must address.

The sport of obstacle course racing (OCR) is still evolving....very quickly.  This will be another learning experience for Spartan Race and isn't likely to have a significant, long-term impact in itself.  However, the world of OCR is become more crowded with race competitors.  And racers, while not only having more choices, are becoming more knowledgeable and discriminating about where they spend their money.  Not to mention the growing divide between the racing preferences of elite, journeyman and first-time racers.  Niches that someone will fill!  The world never stays simple for long and OCR is no exception.  Expect 2016 to be another year of change...and for the most part, change is good!

How was your Killington Experience?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Summer of OCR Review 2015 - Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and BattleFrog

For almost two months this summer I traveled the east coast, from Massachusetts to North Carolina.  Volunteering at obstacle course racing (OCR) builds, marshaling races and running the courses at Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and BattleFrog Series.  The stories below are just a sample of my experiences at these races.  The individual stories are seemingly endless and very often inspirational.  I hope you find as much enjoyment reading and sharing these stories as I did.

I'll be heading back out on the road this coming week for races in the greater Atlanta/Nashville areas, then back down to sunny FLA.  I look forward to even more OCR excitement as I experience my first Savage Race along with several more Spartan and BattleFrog events.  Mostly though, I look forward to the people I will meet and the new stories I will hear.  So many stories to tell....I wish I could write about each one!

If you or your team have a story to tell, share it here!