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!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Spartan Race at Asheville, NC 2015 - Race Review - Best of the Old and the New

For those of you who've been following my writing for any length of time, you're well aware of my thoughts concerning the growing difficulty of Spartan Race (SR) events.  So I wanted to jump right out now and say I was thrilled with this course.  Without a doubt, this was one of the best SR courses I've been on...period!  Running through a working quarry on Black Mountain in Asheville, NC, this race had the perfect combination of length and climbing challenge to make you feel the accomplishment of finishing without the brutality that seems so common lately.

This may seem odd to anyone that has read the previous posts about the Wintergreen race or even the Asheville build, coming into the race injured.  And it's even strange to hear myself say it, since I couldn't even actually run the course.  I had to 'force' myself at times but I walked the entire course....and that's really the point.  Finishing a course in  my condition and still feeling good about it...well, that's why I do obstacle course racing (OCR) in the first place!  And it was everything I've come to love (and hate while I'm doing it) about SR (by the way, despite anything else I may say, there was nothing easy about the race in total).

During the build, the course designer told me there was only one long, grueling climb on the course, and it was absolutely true.  All the rest of the climbs were tough but manageable.  Even the log carry, the sandbag carry (dare I admit, after all my ranting, I found both almost too easy), the sled drag and the water obstacles were challenging without being over the top.  Of course the climb over the A-frame cargo net with the view of the quarry below was worth the price of admission.

One of the other things I've always tried to remember, and has proven true time and again on OCR, is that you're never too old to change or learn something new about yourself. Going back to my beginnings in OCR, and probably in life, I tend to take things seriously (put a 'too' in there for anyone that knows me personally).  In my old incarnation, I never felt that people wearing costumes during a race were doing OCR justice.  Having said that, it shouldn't come as a surprise then that I found myself running this course with a guy dressed in a red and black striped shirt and wearing a black derby hat.

A few minutes into the race, I noticed a guy passing me, Sean, that I had worked and become friends with on the obstacle builds during the week.  He was running with a group of his friends (including Bryan...aka B) the derby guy.  Along with Bryan there was Molly and Lisa, and Shana, who may also have joined the group during the of these races tend to blur together for me.

The focus of this team wasn't as much to push for time, but to make sure all the team got through every obstacle...and also made an effort to get as many other racers that needed help through as well.  I think the realization that nothing I could do that day was going to get me a decent time, and still fearing that I may not be able to finish at all, it allowed me to relax into that same mode of just enjoying the company of my adopted teammates and helping everyone through that I could.  Needless to say, each of these team members had their own story to tell, and it still amazes me how many unique and special stories there are.

Sometimes, even my help was limited by my injuries but this reminded me very much of the BattleFrog race in Pittsburgh, an experience that will always be a treasured memory of what OCR can really be about...maybe the most important thing OCR is really about.  Although limited, I managed to do most everything except the overhead obstacles (using the women's 'weights' though since I only had one good arm).  I did manage the legit male tire flip when the volunteer jokingly challenged me...yeah, there's a bit of type-A in me somewhere.  About six miles in though, I realized I was starting to fade.  So I told my team I was going ahead and would wait at the obstacles as long as I could...but I was in real danger now of not being able to finish and that was unthinkable after all the pain and effort to get this far.

Moving ahead through the log carry, the dunk wall and then posting up at the rope climb for a bit (one armed, legless rope climbs are above my pay grade at the moment).  Still not seeing my team coming, I moved on to the slip wall...contemplating for a while whether to give it a go or not.  After all, this was the type of obstacle that blew out my shoulder to start with.  When suddenly, I saw a group trying to help a woman make that last transition at the top.  I could see though that she needed someone behind her or her feet would slide.  Before I knew it, I was up the rope and planting my foot behind hers just as she fell.  But she got up, made it over and I had that great feeling when you know you made a difference in someones race.

However, since no good deed goes unpunished, I knew my tank was all but empty, so I moved on to yet another surprise...a little Spartan twist at the end.  After the rope climb and slip wall, when it looked as if you had a straight run to the finish, you ran smack into a second barb wire crawl and then a wade through a channel of...well, I don't even want to think about what was in there.  This being until recently a cow pasture and all.  Before I hit that wading channel I finally saw my team coming down past the dunk wall.  So back to the slip wall to meet up again and help several more people over.  At a cost that point I may have spent all the reserves I had left.  I barely made it over the top of the wall that last time.  Exertion I never quite recovered from that afternoon....but that's a whole other post...

In the end, stumbling across the finish line (but managing a photo op with my team of course!) then through the festival, I had nothing but good feelings about the day.  SR wasn't going to abandon me to races I wouldn't enjoy doing.  And I realized just how much I enjoyed racing with a team and offering help to other racers...whether physically or just some encouraging words.  It was a continuation of this new focus for me in OCR.  So now, while still desiring to see what I can do personally on any given course, I have to find a way to run for time and for pleasure....together....without killing myself in the process if possible....

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Spartan Race Build at Asheville 2015 - I Finally Get to Build Some S**t

The inaugural Spartan Race (SR) at Asheville, NC was the final venue for my Summer of OCR series.  So regardless of the wear and tear from the last five weeks, the nagging and new injuries, I wanted to make the best of this opportunity.  Not to mention that having lived not too far from here, this race has been on my wish list since they announced the possibility two years ago.

There was another reason I wanted to not only volunteer during the week for this race, but also do it.  That was to be able to compare this to the previous week's Super Spartan at Wintergreen.  One race doesn't make a pattern and to see if there was a consistent attempt to make these courses as brutal as possible, I would have to be on it.  Not that I would have missed it for any reason, but self-preservation and the feeling that it was just plain stupid to risk making a serious injury worse...but that's a whole other story.

But I digress!  This would be my final build of this series...and maybe the last for a while, depending on how my plans played out in the coming weeks.  So, based on the other builds I'd been on, I fully expected to be working on start and finish corrals, festival tents, etc, etc.  The only problem...I wasn't 'picked'!  Meaning the Spartan crews picked everyone else first.  Well...I guess I couldn't exactly be surprised at that.

Then a funny thing happened...a build crew rolled in looking for some help.  Seeing that I was all that was left, this might be my big chance after all.  Being an engineer and former carpenter in another life, and of reasonable size for this sort of work, naturally they looked around for more choices.  Finally, seeing that no other volunteers were showing up, they asked if I was up for some build work!  So, knowing that my shoulder was still not 100% and that my leg injury from Wintergreen would further limit my mobility, I answered immediately..."Hell yeah!"

Like all the other builds I've worked on, I got to work with some great supervisors.  Drew and Steve 'Oh...not to mention some great people like Carl and Sean.  Mostly hired crew as they tend not to use volunteers on the actual build side very often.  So we set off up the mountain and I got my first look at the venue...which happened to be in a working rock quarry too...just one more perk for me.  

One of the things I've noticed on all the builds along the way, and certainly on the Spartan builds, was the way things had changed in just the last two years.  Equipment and parts were now packed in huge plastic containers and dropped at each obstacle location.  And for the Spartan Race at least, obstacles like the Herc-hoist, A-frame cargo net and rig were now made from light-weight metal truss systems, making them safer as well as easier to put up at each new race.

So the morning was spent working on the Herc-hoist, getting a chance to see what goes into these new (to me) construction techniques.  It was like a slice of heaven working on this...did I mention I just love building shit?!...other than the heat and dust and the fact that we had thousands of pounds of metal floating over our heads all morning.  But in the end, we had that obstacle built and I worked with Drew most of the afternoon on getting the bracing and fencing up to finish it off for inspection.

Then finally, we got to move up the mountain a bit to the quarry pit...where they placed the A-frame cargo net.  Poised on the lip of the quarry wall along the road at the top.  Just an absolutely spectacular location with a truly special view of the quarry floor far below.  During the race itself...with the sled drag on the quarry floor...and lines of Spartans everywhere, it reminded me of a scene out of an old movie depicting the building of the pyramids...just awesome!  

Fortunately I was asked back the next day to work with these guys again, because we didn't get the cargo net up the day before and I really wanted that.  Not only to work on it, but to get a chance to climb up there when it was complete...while the build was still in it's pristine state.  And the work on that net gave me my next surprise...just how much time some of these obstacles take to get right...something we as racers don't always appreciate.  It took four of us, working most of the morning just to get all the straps and each carabiner just right.  There guys have infinite patience and pride in what they do!  (and btw, one carabiner managed to stay clipped to my belt that day...but was carried through five miles of the course and returned race day to the cargo net of course!)

Finally, that afternoon, I worked with Steve on the rig installation.  Funny how un-intimidating it looks just laying there on the ground. I have to say, working with Steve was one of the most enjoyable experiences of the entire trip.  SR really sees their volunteers as more of an asset on their builds and expects more from them in the course of things.  But while he did have those same high expectations, Steve also had the patience to answer any questions I had to make sure everything went smoothly and safely.

Harness Safety Lesson
Of course during the build, there are always opportunities to talk to some of the other volunteers and staff.  In this case, it was mostly for a few minutes at lunch, where I got to talking to this guy about the race itself...and whether it was a good idea for me to go out Saturday.  At first I thought he was in charge of some part of this organized chaos.  Eventually though, I found out he was Taylor Cuevas...death racer and winner of the 2015 Mexico Death Race.  Asking him whether I should try to race, in my now even more deteriorated condition, was like asking a lion if it's a good day to hunt.  He did agree though to take me down off the mountain with his cart if I couldn't finish.  Looking back later on of course, that was never going to happen....I mean, admitting to anyone, let alone a death racer, that you just couldn't handle, not gonna happen.

At the end of the day I even had an opportunity to ask the man that designed and marked the course itself (was I really looking for someone to talk me out of this??!!).  What he said was that, while he didn't know anything personally about the Wintergreen course, this course in Asheville, while tough, only had one seriously long climb and that I should go for it.  Honestly, I had no idea whether he was being straight with me or joking.  Or whether his idea of not-too-bad would kill me.  So, I still had another 24 hours to make the final call.  This was the last race though and somehow, I don't think there was ever really any doubt....

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Spartan Race – Wintergreen 2015 Difficulty Does Not Disappoint…and yet…

This is the first Spartan Race (SR) I’ve run since the Tuxedo 2014 Sprint.  So I was very interested to see what was in store…knowing how challenging the terrain would be and how much SR likes to magnify the difficulty in their races.  And I was not disappointed in this respect.

Having injured my shoulder three weeks previously at a Tough Mudder (TM), I would be "running" for the third week with my arm in a sling.  So right off I knew there would be obstacles I couldn’t do…and shouldn’t attempt!!  (My arm was better than I had any right to expect and I really did want to keep it that way)  Having said that, I also expected the tortuous climbs SR is so well known for, and was not disappointed there either.  There were a number of long, brutal open climbs, as well as a few more technical trail climbs and descents...which for some reason I don't mind as much as the open climbs.  Interestingly, the worst climbs were more toward the middle of the course...unless I've blocked some from memory already...which is absolutely possible!

In addition to the climbs, there were the usual obstacles along the way:  the rope climb, monkey bars (with the new saw-tooth configuration), barbed wire crawl, a pair of cargo net climbs and numerous walls to climb, go under and through...along with a number of other standards like the herc-hoist, sandbag carry and sled drag.  They also had a ring traverse and the dreaded first time seeing both.  

Then there was the tyro traverse, which I was working hard on trying to figure out a way to do with one arm, since it didn't involve water this race...really wanted to do that one somehow, among a number of others.  But one obstacle I did not have any thoughts of doing (outside the obvious ones) was the log hurdle...which I renamed the crotch-buster.  No matter how much help I had or how I figured it, the only way I could get over that was to either face plant on the edge of those beams or crush some very dear friends of mine....pass.

I was reminded during the long climbs of the Vermont Beast in 2013 and a little of the 2013 Palmerton race, even though that was a "only" a sprint.  And I flashed back to the same question about who they were building these courses for.  Coincidentally, I was also intrigued to see this article by David Hellard on the Inov site, echoing some of the same concerns over the growing course difficulty levels.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the challenge for SR to provide a course that will test the elites and the "journeymen" racer and still provide a course that a first-timer can finish.  In all likelihood though, that may be an impossible thing to do.  At some point, they will have to start making a consistent effort in one direction or the other.  Personally, I do want a course that will test my limits, just not push me past my physical limits the way this one did.  Something I am still paying for physically weeks later.  However, in talking with and reading comments by elite level racers, some of those are saying it was too easy (compared to the prior year), while others looked at the climbs as something they would need to train more on.

This was also another course where cramping seemed to be rampant.  Although this wasn't a course that was particularly longer than some others I've done, it was unique in the sense that there was nothing offered on the course other than water, until the very last water station.  Much too late for most of those people.  I suppose this goes along with the SR toughness mentality, but only if you don't take into account the new or novice racer.  They're just not accustomed to this nor are they prepared for it physically or in their own race preparation plans.

So in the end I'm still not sure how I feel about this course.  And it really centers on what I believe is an unnecessary level of brutality added to a course that was already difficult and challenging.  I am happy to have finished, but I didn't, and still don't, have that sense of accomplishment I had from the Vermont Beast, or any of the other difficult courses I've done.  

It feels more like a sense of surviving an event.  Surviving an event that you don't really want to experience again.  That doesn't make me happy, and I would expect that it shouldn't make SR happy either.  People don't spend their time...and more importantly their money...on experiences that don't leave them with an overall sense of satisfaction.  Then again, my view of OCR has shifted recently to enjoying the racers I come to meet along the way, not just the race...and that was a big win here with these guys!

What was your experience at Wintergreen?
How do you rate the difficulty level of the SR courses?


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Long Overdue Return to Spartan Race - Build at Wintergreen Super, VA

The Spartan Super at Wintergreen Resort in VA saw my return to Spartan Race…for both a build and for a race.  It had been about two years since my build experience with them and about a year since my last Spartan Race (SR).  Being one of the last two races in my Summer of OCR series of six races was unplanned but very beneficial.  I’m sure this would have influenced my expectations at the other races and that would not have been fair.  However, there can be no doubt that there is a reason SR is considered the top dog in the obstacle course racing (OCR) field and that was reinforced this week.

By the very scale of things…the festival, the course…the shear number of racers expected…SR has to deal with a much larger set of challenges.  Magnified by the type of terrain their races are set in.  To be fair, some of the other promoters have difficult venues as well.  But SR thrives on these venues and seems to attempt to have all their races this difficult.  Of course, I can only judge by what I have seen so far, but just getting to the build site the first day was almost impossible with the fog.  And of course, even the GPS data seemed to want to send you off into the woods!  Not to mention that, because of the remote venue, there was no Internet service (which also explains why these posts are weeks overdue now!) or even cell service where I stayed.

One other difference I saw here at Wintergreen, but even more at the Asheville build, was the fact that SR gives more to their volunteers, in terms of swag and free races, but also expects much more.  It's all part of the SR mentality of toughness.  As everything else though, 'toughness' can be a two-edged sword.  SR build shifts are 11 hours.  1-3 hours longer than the other races, but you do get two free races for these shifts...the give-and-get at work here.

As with most of the races, we spent all of our build days in the festival area.  Of course there were hours of table moving and setup.  But there was also the chance to build up the Start and Finish areas.  And there really is nothing like seeing these areas come together, along with the entire festival area, before anyone else gets on site.  Like a little terraced village growing out of the mountain side.

On this build I had the pleasure of working with three great supervisors.  One of which, Thomas, was a reunion of sorts from the build in Amesbury, MA two years back. Part of the work we got to do for him involved setting up the bag check area...which of course we were able to leave our own little signature on at the end.  Apparently no one was particularly bothered by this as it stayed up the rest of the day. 

On the first day though, we started off with Janet.  For most of the day we marched back and forth between the finish and starting areas, setting up the barricades and signage at both, along with several other areas in between.  But that morning the fog was so thick you couldn't see more than 50' in front of you.  And not having been there before, none of us had any notion where one thing was in relation to anything else.  So heading off in any direction often ended with a backtrack just trying to reestablish your original location.  Of course volunteers (generally) can't drive anywhere you went on the walked!  Janet did a great job though herding chickens that day and managed to keep us all, and the jobs, moving forward all the time.

The other supervisor I got to work with was Jeremy.  With Jeremy, we moved a lot of tables...a lot of tables!  And did I mention chairs?!  It never ceases to amaze me how many little details go into the setup for these events.  Part of Jeremy's job entailed making sure all these details were addressed.  Fortunately, it also involved being in a vehicle most of the time.  Unfortunately, it also involved jumping out of it constantly to set up tables everywhere. idea for a 'table launcher' (think t-shirt launcher for tables) was turned down so we had to do this manually.  Go figure!  The one common thread I found among all the supervisors here, and really everywhere in the builds I worked, was a non-stop commitment to make sure the job got excuses!  I like that.

In the end though, these days were highlighted by meeting the other volunteers.  William (the baked potato incident all but forgotten now), Demond, Denise, Mark to name a few.  From all over the country and all with their own stories of why they started OCR and how they came to be at Wintergreen.  After 4 years, it still amazes me how many different reasons people have for starting OCR and even how many people still have not heard of this.  Some of the volunteers were saying that this was the first time they'd heard of OCR and SR and wanted to see what it was all about.

Lastly though, there were the groundhogs...everywhere!  We we warned about groundhog holes when we started.  But the shear numbers of these rodents was incredible.  As they came out late in the afternoon and covered the field around the shower area.  There was even a groundhog fight at one point.  Most likely because of our OCR build is not exactly a zero-impact situation.  But suddenly there were two groundhogs snarling and rolling down the short hill onto the small field below.  Stunning everyone to silence for the next few minutes until the apparent winner...after a burst of groundhog screeching...ran off, and the apparent loser walked back up the hill to where it started.  Odd I thought, but then again, I haven't figured out people's behavior in almost 60 years...why should I expect to understand groundhogs.

Please share your OCR build experiences with me!


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

You May Be In the Wrong Business if You Think of Your Customers As F**ktards!

Now, I never went to business school, so maybe the rules for engaging your customers has changed.  Maybe 'in-your-face' is how it's done.  There are undoubtedly companies, or at least CEO's, who think their customers are "fucktards".  My own take on business acumen...and perhaps remaining in business not to let your customers know that.  As I said though, maybe the rules have changed.

This whole question arises from a recent situation in the obstacle course racing (OCR) industry.  I first heard about this through a Facebook group I am a member of...Crazy Mudder the aftermath of the BattleFrog race in Pittsburgh, PA.  Apparently while quite a few (including me) were at this event...where a small number apparently received relatively minor injuries...a much smaller group were at the Mud Factor event...where a greater number of racers allegedly received more serious injuries.

[Although a group member, I don't know any of the racers personally nor have I run as a member of the team.  I also don't know anyone that was at or injured during the event. Nor have I made any investigation into the allegations in the Obstacle Racing Media story, Mud Factor – A disgrace to racing.]

This is not about whether Mud Factor or the marketing and production company were negligent or misleading about the safety of this event or venue.  It's not about whether these companies had the experience or knowledge to put on a safe or even worthwhile event.  Having run over 15 events myself, I and most of the other racers realize this can be a dangerous sport.  Made all the more dangerous however, when those trusted with the safety of the racers and spectators betray this trust.

No, this is about how to deal with the public...particularly your own this age of the Internet and Facebook (FB).  When I wrote this post in July, Lessons Still Not Learned....Why People Don't Really Care What You Think!, one of the main themes was to be careful about what you post...anywhere!  They have a way of never, ever, ever going quietly into the night.  And if people really get the idea that you don't care about them...that you really think of them as "fucktards" or "meatheads" or even the more affectionately playful term of "goobers"...well, it's time to think of a new way to make a living, because this one is likely cooked.

The other thing that wasn't mentioned in the original post, that is probably just as important, is know who the hell you're dealing with!  This particular FB group is large, active, vocal and extremely knowledgeable about OCR.  They are also part of the core of the OCR community with ties throughout.  Probably not the best people to piss off unnecessarily...certainly from a business standpoint.  Disney had a great way of putting it...'The customer isn't always right...but they're always your customer."  And if you're going to try and look clever anyway, take a note from the movie 'Now You See Me' and make sure you're the smartest one in the room...or in this case, on the page. 

At this point, I seriously doubt we've heard the last of it.  The OCR community is a very large one these days.  At the heart though is a core of serious racers, and serious groups, who have been doing these races for years now.  And part of the purpose of these groups is to expand participation and share race and training experiences.  If a race promoter has any thoughts of becoming a legitimate, national competitor they need these groups on their side.  And vice-versa, once you lose them, word will spread and filling venues or even selling enough entries to break even will be all but impossible.

I know many people will be watching to see how this will play out...for many reasons.  I'm certainly interested on the business side, as well as the OCR end, to see how Mud Factor and handle this and future PR issues...they are sure to come.  Early on in Spartan Race history and in Tough Mudder and BattleFrog as well, negativity has arisen.  How they each handled those times told a lot about the companies and individuals, and had a lot to do with why those companies are still around today.

There is another old saying that I may be paraphrasing a bit...

Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it!!

Enough said.......

Please share your own experiences here with me regarding any similar race/event issues!


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mud-Stock Long Island…Tough Mudder Comes to Town

In this age of the Internet, it seems unlikely that a venue would not look into a company before agreeing to allow them to use their site for an obstacle course race (OCR).  However, it seems that (for the second straight week actually) at least someone on the venue side apparently didn’t quite know what they were getting into.

The Old Bethpage Restoration Village on Long Island, NY was the site for the first Long Island Tough Mudder (TM).  I kept getting this feeling of what it must have been like to the folks of Woodstock, NY back in 1969 when they were inundated with hundreds of thousands of people.  Obviously Tough Mudder wasn’t attracting anywhere near that many, but there were definitely signs that the locals were not even expecting the thousands of racers and spectators that were sure to come.

During the build week, the Restoration Museum…located in the heart of the festival build area…was open!  Employees dressed in their era costumes showed up in the morning for ‘work as usual’.  Except most of the parking was cordoned off and what was left was all but filled.  Later that morning, people showed up…many with kids in tow…coming to see the Museum and Restoration buildings.  Dodging work carts and lift equipment, and often wandering into the TM base camp.  Not really a safe place for a two year old.  In fact not really safe for anyone not focused on the work going on all around them.

Then there were the demonstrators that showed up early in the week to protest the use of the facility for this event.  They were concerned about the ‘hundreds’ of people that would potentially be 'running amok' among their beautiful restored buildings, gardens and fields.

Hundreds??!…..hundreds per heat maybe…try thousands.  Again, none of these people really had any notion what was about to be unleashed on Old Bethpage!  On the other hand, they also had no notion of who the racers are either.  OCR is not a poor man’s sport.  For most of the bigger name events, costs will run in the neighborhood of $150 and up, once you factor in a full price race entry, parking, travel…never mind food, drink and race gear!

When I explained this to one of the County people at the race Saturday, I think it opened his mind to the fact that they probably didn’t need all the ‘guards’ posted at ever building and garden along the route.  No one was interested in shaking loose a doorknob to carry home (apparently a major concern) or trampling their fields.  They were there to run the course and spend the rest of their time in the festival area.  Eating, drinking and reliving the day's triumphs…and maybe some not-so-triumphant moments.

What the locals also don’t know is that, from my own experience anyway, promoters like Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and BattleFrog are very concerned about how they leave a venue.  They take great care to put things back the way they found them…race wear and tear not withstanding.  And if the event has been successful, they would want to be welcomed back in the future.  You don’t do that by burning your bridges....and the smart/professional promoters know that.

In more rural settings, where other similar type events go on regularly, I expect it will be business as usual.  For the more urban, and particularly suburban, settings I would expect to see these OCR events continue to attempt expansion.  Long Island is a great example of an under (read: non) served OCR community where you always have to travel for any event (trust me on this one....I lived there during my first few years of OCR life).

Yet there are tens of thousands of active racers on the Island and as many potential racers who would race, but not if it means 3-4 hours of travel.  On the other side, while there is lucrative money to be made by the venues, local (and mostly unwarranted) fears of being overrun by racers may scare them into passing on the race promoters' offers.  Most likely though, as more positive experiences come to pass, we will likely see more of these suburban venues hosting races.  Which means more OCR races...access for even more OCR racers...and increased local revenues.  A win-win-win....not a bad thing at all!