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!

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