Spartan World Championships Returns to Tahoe

Spartan Race heads back to Tahoe for their 2016 World Championship on October 1st and they also announced their European Championship will be in Edinburgh, Scotland on July 25th.

Read the entire press release below:


World’s Leading Obstacle Race Series to Host International Field of Elite Athletes Competing For Over $500,000 in Cash and Prizes in 2016

Boston, Jan 15, 2016- Spartan Race, the world’s leading obstacle race company, announced today that the internationally renowned mountain destination Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe plans to host the Reebok Spartan Race World Championship presented by North Lake Tahoe, on October 1, 2016. The Spartan World Championship is one of the many races taking place over the weekend. Athletes of all abilities, from elites to weekend warriors will spend the extended weekend racing and celebrating another successful Spartan Race season.

The weekend will feature races for all types of athletes and families to participate in. The World Championship Beast, as well as the Elite, Competitive and Open category Beast races will take place on Saturday, October 1st. Sunday will play host to the Spartan Sprint, Beast and 26+ Mile Ultra Beast. In addition, the annual Spartan Charity Challenge takes place on Sunday. The race weekend is not just for adults, as Spartan Kids races will be going on all weekend.

The Reebok Spartan Race World Championship presented by North Lake Tahoe is obstacle racing’s pinnacle event and the premier event in the global Reebok Spartan Race series. In order to qualify for Saturday’s World Championship heat, men and women racers must finish in the top 5 at any Spartan Race around the world during the 2016 qualifying season. Once someone has qualified and finishes in the top 5 the qualification will go to the next finisher.

Spartan Race expects more than 1 million registered athletes to compete at over 170 Spartan Race events in more than 25 countries from around the world throughout the 2016 qualifying season. From those races, the top five men and women finishers will qualify to race in the 2016 Reebok Spartan Race World Championship, where racers will compete for more than $100,000 in cash and prizes.

Known throughout the world for its pristine lake and impressive panoramic mountain peaks; Lake Tahoe features many attractions, world class restaurants and great places to stay, making it ideal for elite athletes, fitness enthusiasts, weekend warriors, and families alike.

New for the 2016 event, Spartan racers will have exclusive access to previously restricted peaks and trails, giving them the opportunity to race on new and challenging terrain. Additionally, the 2016 Spartan Race European Championship will now take place in Edinburgh, Scotland on July 25, 2016. “By moving the European Championship to July, it allows our top European racers the recovery time to compete in Tahoe,” said Spartan COO, Jeffrey Connor.

“Since 2010, the Spartan Race series has grown exponentially around the world and has seen global success with athletes coming from all over the world to compete in the annual event. I am thrilled to announce that Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe will once again host the 2016 Reebok Spartan Race World Championship,” said Joe De Sena, Founder and CEO of Spartan Race. “We are thrilled to partner with Squaw Valley and the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and look forward to working together to deliver a world class event for our racers. With its Olympic roots and significance in the world of sports, it’s the perfect stage for the world’s best athletes to test themselves against some of the most challenging terrain imaginable.”

Coming off its most successful year in history, Spartan Race, the world’s leading obstacle race series, continues its global expansion with the notable new additions of races in South America, The Middle East and Asia.

“It’s been incredible to see people all over the world embrace Spartan Race and see it evolve into what is now a global movement,” said Joe De Sena, Spartan Race Founder and CEO. “ This kind of explosive growth is due in large part to our millions of passionate fans. We believe the universal appeal of obstacle racing is its ability to not only offer an unforgettable experience, but also to help our racers learn to overcome challenges in their everyday lives by conquering obstacles on the Spartan course.“


How to Train for Heavy Carries

If you’re training for a Spartan Race or Battlefrog Race, you’ll need to practice the heavy carries.  Things like sandbags, jerry cans, buckets full of gravel, and logs are typical staples of these challenging obstacle courses.  Even basic mud runs will occasionally feature tires to carry, flip, or drag.  Carrying heavy stuff, plus running in between, is best way to prepare for any of these strength based obstacles.  In this video, Joel Getty demonstrates some hill climbs lugging 56 lb water jugs (each).  Remember to stand tall, lift with your knees, and repeat multiple times.  Track your time for each circuit and try to improve with each climb.  Repeat 5 to 10 circuits.  Also, you can try carrying one jug, to help simulate single jug carries that require different grips, holds, and balance.  Enjoy!

Savage Race PA 2015 Report


Savage Race PA 2015

On June 27th 2015, obstacle racers descended on the Skirmish USA Paintball Fields of Albrightsville for the 2015 Pennsylvania Savage Race.  The driving wind and rain would add to the 25+ obstacles including the new Wheel World obstacle and the diabolical Sawtooth monkey bars.  As the temperatures dipped into the low 60’s and high 50’s, racers streamed into the soaked and muddy venue undeterred by the nasty weather.  Race favorites Ryan Atkins and Lindsay Webster arrived only minutes before the starting gun due to a car accident that cut off access to local roads.  Another power couple racing that Saturday were Corinna Coffin and Kevin Righi who sought refuge from the rain under the OCR World Championships tent.  Groups of racers huddled under the swag tent, grabbing that extra Savage hoodie to keep warm, while everyone’s favorite race photographer Bob Mulholland readied his gear under a large picnic pavilion with the rest of the Gameface photography crew.  When the announcer called everyone to the starting line, there was no more hiding under the shelters, it was go time.

Garfield Griffiths explained the rules of the SavagePro heat and athletes jostled through their final stretches, warm-ups, and jump-knee tucks.  Leaving all the nervous butterflies to the side with the last trip to the porta potty, athletes put on their serious faces with shouts from the MC “SAVAGE!”, and they responded “RACE! “SAVAGE!” “RACE!” “SAVAGE!” “RACE!” “GOOOOOOO!!!”

A complete unknown racer rocketed to the front, but soon burned out.  Race favorites Ryan Atkins and Jordan McDougal knew their bodies and paced themselves with scientific precision.  The lead wave soon disappeared into the woods of the first massive paintball arena.  The technical trails challenged even the best racers and Corinna quickly fell victim to the rocks and roots, but managed to continue despite an ankle injury.

Winding among the tall timbers, racers caught glimpses of the monstrous paintball battle zones before emerging on a full-size castle complete with battlements, catwalks, and turrets.  The venue sports even more of these themed areas which treated racers to a truly unique experience.  Though Skirmish sits in the heart of the Pocono Mountains, the venue is surprisingly flat, so Savage made up for a lack of hills with barrage after barrage of challenging obstacles.  As the first racers arrived at the castle and challenged the rock-wall traverse, Ryan was nowhere to be seen.  He and a handful of racers went off course when they mistakenly followed some paintball field markers instead of the bright blue tape set up by Savage race designers.  The mistake cost them all about half a mile, but as Ryan exited the wall in the middle of a pack (he should have left them behind long ago), the acceleration in his pace was blistering.

With Corinna injured, Lindsay controlled the women’s race from start to finish.  The most exciting part about the Savage setup at this venue was the hub-and-spoke course that sent racers out into the trails, only to return a few minutes later where spectators could witness the biggest, toughest obstacles, in one central location.  After two miles into the race with Ryan still pushing hard to come back, Lindsay crushed the “Block Party” cinder-block pull and delved back into the forest trails.

A shadow of movement played along the trees as the spectators held their breath.  Who would exit the woods in first place this time?  Like a phoenix, Ryan emerged from the ashes of his mistake to reclaim the race lead at mile 4 and only one mile remained.  With Wheel World weighing on his mind and Colossus still looming in the distance, Ryan cleared the “Nut Smasher” balance beam followed by Andrew Machalick.  They dove down into a muddy trench with some over-under logs, and then the forest swallowed the athletes once again.

Ryan exited the forest for the final time with a commanding lead.  The rotating steel bars of the “Wheel World” obstacle proved to be only a matter of grip strength and timing, as Ryan swung through with considerable speed.  He made quick work of the “Lumberjack Lane” log carry, the “Teeter Tuber” drainage pipe/see-saw, and the fire jump.  Up the massive Colossus quarter pipe, and down the slide on the other side, Ryan finally broke the tape in 38:36.  Soon afterward, Andrew Machalick crossed in 39:11, and Jordan McDougal salvaged a third place finish in 40:24 after running of course with Ryan earlier in the race.


On the women’s side, Lindsay Webster dominated the race with a finish of 43:01, besting the next woman by over 3 minutes and all but 6 of the men.  Jackie Landmark came in 2nd with a time of 46:46 and Corinna Coffin gritted it out on a bad ankle to take 3rd in 51:20.  Overall, 7 out of 14 women managed to keep their SavagePro wristbands in this Mandatory Obstacle Completion format, proving that Savage Race provides a good challenge without alienating the regular Janes and Joes coming out for fun.  About 75% of the men’s field of 102 finished with their SavagePro wristbands.

Thus concludes the SavagePro report of the 2015 Pennsylvania Savage Race, read on for my personal experience.


Woman Gets Flesh Eating Bacteria in Eye and Goes Blind After Texas Mud Run

Woman Gets Flesh Eating Bacteria in Eye and Goes Blind After Texas Mud Run

I’m usually not one for sensationalist media, but I must say that headline is 100% true, though super unlikely to happen to you. I’m an eye doctor during the week when I’m not running in the mud or tackling obstacles, so I really needed to weigh in on this one.  You can see the original story as reported by Dallas CBS here, but it comes down to this:  Brittany Williams, a young woman from Texas, completed her first ever obstacle challenge at a local Mud Run, but her left eye was cut by debris during the event.  She felt like her eye was injured or something was there (we call this Foreign Body Sensation), but did not seek immediate medical attention.  Within 24 hours the bacteria ate through her cornea leaving her blind in the left eye.  She woke up the next day to completely white vision on that side.  After spending a week in the Hospital the doctors could potentially save her some vision doing a corneal transplant, but since she opted out of her company’s medical insurance, she can’t pay for it.  So what can you do to avoid the same flesh eating bacteria?

Check Yourself After Every Mud Run

Do an inventory of your body and any injuries after every obstacle race or mud run that you do.  Even though Brittany got a flesh eating bacteria in the eye, it’s possible to get that in any cut on your body.  Your skin is your first defense against bacteria, so make sure you clean off at the venue with soap and a scrubber if possible.  Next, clean any cuts you have with antiseptic like Bactine.  Put antibiotic ointment and a bandage on any deep cuts or scrapes.  If you wear contacts, throw out the ones you used in the race, flush your eyes with saline, and wear your glasses home.  Don’t put new contacts in until you are properly clean.

If you can’t get rid of the feeling of something in your eye by simply flushing it, go to the eye doctor immediately!

Getting the proper care right away could have saved her vision.  If you can’t get in to see your regular eye doctor, keep in mind that most big box stores like Walmart will have an Optometrist there until late or even on Saturday (and Sunday!).  They will likely see you as a medical walk-in emergency, and they have the same eye doctor degree as me.  As long as they are licensed to prescribe topical antibiotics you are good to go.  Your local urgent care general practice doctor and even most ER doctors are not equipped to properly deal with corneal abrasions and ulcers.  If no one is open, go to the ER, but demand to see the ophthalmologist on call.

Get Health Insurance

This is a no brainer, but Brittany doesn’t get a do-over.  We participate in a dangerous sport and not having health insurance is just plain dumb.  I get it, you’re a single guy, with a crap paying job, and health insurance is too expensive.  STFU.  Not an excuse.  Seriously, it’s the law.  Get health insurance.  Now Brittany is asking people through a GoFundMe page (link is in original story) to help restore her vision, which is a noble cause, but certainly avoidable.

This kind of story is always tragic and since it’s in my field, I feel especially bad for this young woman, but let her story be a lesson to the rest of us and hopefully this will never happen again.  When you think of the millions of people who complete an OCR or Mud Run every year, it’s actually pretty great that we haven’t seen more injuries like this and even the death count is lower than Triathlons and Marathons.  Let’s be safe out there, and keep it that way.

This is not Brittany's eye, just a public domain photo of something similar.

This is not Brittany’s eye, just a public domain photo of something similar.

The Perils of Trail Running

The Perils of Trail Running

The Perils of Trail RunningObstacle races and mud runs are typically 90% trail running and 10% obstacles, so when people ask me how to train for an OCR I say, “Run lots of trails.”  Taking my own advice, with a long run on my training calendar, I set out to find a nearby trail system that might give me about 10 miles or at least two hours of run time.  Little did I know, that soon I would be in real peril, fearing for my life, and totally over-estimating my current fitness.

A little back story:

I’m a big guy: 6’1″, 220, and a former track sprinter.  After college I turned to triathlon for my competitive fix, and excelled at sprint distance events, but always bonking at the longer events.  When the SavageMan Triathlon started in my home town, I finally decided to tackle a 1/2 Iron Triathlon and I finished, but only after spending over 8 hours in the mountains of Western Maryland.  It ruined me for endurance.  “I’m never going long again,”  I said.  Flash forward to the OCR boom, and I decided to tackle Warrior Dash first, a Tough Mudder, a Superhero Scramble, and some of the most insanely difficult races including the Spartan VA Super, and both 2013 and 2014 Vermont Beasts.  Those last three races all kicked my butt into next week, literally.  Massive cramps and crushing bonk had me sore for at least 10 days afterward.  So this year, I knew if I was going to finish strong, or even compete toe-to-toe with some of my friends, I had to add more long trail runs.

Enter, Sleepy Creek State Park.  After checking google maps for a place to run (I was traveling on business), I decided to take a trip to Sleepy Creek State Park: a 22,000+ acre park in West Virginia featuring some mountain top ridge runs and a nice lake.  On the way in, I even stopped to talk with a Park Ranger who gave me a paper map and some general guidance on the terrain.  Since I had forgotten my FuelBelt, I decided to run with my “Go Bag”: a large hydration pack that I keep in my car at all times.  The pack contains a myriad of emergency items like first aid, a flash light, iodine pills, a folding saw, and even a splint (in case I break a leg), plus a 1 liter hydration bladder.

Mistake #1: Poor Nutrition Preparation

I failed to pack any calories whatsoever and didn’t have any electrolytes, Gatorade, or mustard packs.  I sweat heavy, and cramp a lot in events lasting over 3 hrs, so even though I’ve lost 10 pounds recently (down from 230), I’ve done so on a Slow Carb diet that is heavy on protein and vegetables, but not a lot of carbs.  That means, I probably started this whole trek with very little muscle glycogen reserves after doing a strength training session the day before.  Lesson:  Pack food and electrolytes for any trail run that might even remotely last more than an hour.

So I felt prepared for an emergency, but I was not prepared for the coming bonk.  I parked my car, strapped on my pack, and headed out to do what I thought would be a five-mile loop.  I studied the map and headed out on the trail, watching closely for a turn onto a power line easement that bisected the entire park about 2 miles in.  More like 2.75…..

Mistake #2: Unfamiliarity With My Route

I look and feel terribly at this point, even though the views are beautiful.  That far ridge behind me where I first popped out of the forest trail.

I look and feel terrible at this point, even though the views are beautiful, don’t let the smile fool you. That’s the far ridge behind me where I first popped out of the forest trail.  It’s way farther than it looks.

The trails before the power line road were shaded and cool, giving me a false sense of ease.  I ran atop a flat ridge with steep sides and the valley below, so when I came to the power lines, the trees disappeared and the road dropped off the side of the mountain in a steep, neck-breaking, ankle turning scree of rocky death.  By the time I hit the bottom, I was almost four miles in, hot, sweaty and starting to realize this route was further than I thought.  As I crossed the stream (or crick as they say ’round here), I chose to continue up the other side onto the far mountain, instead of turning onto the trail the Park Ranger told me to take, that would have brought me straight back to the lake.

Mistake #3: Pushing Ahead, When I Should Have Cut My Losses

By the time I reached the top of the other mountain, I was now five miles in and totally bonked.  Luckily, I found a gel in my pack that I place there only two years before.  I think it expired in 2008, but desperate times call for drastic measures.  Afterward, I found the top of the ridge (what I thought was the halfway point of my epic journey) and tried running some of the flat sections.  If I had followed the Rangers route or even turned back at this point it would have been much easier than blindly forging ahead.

Mistake #4: Grossly Overestimating My Current Fitness

Nothing prepares you fully for the Vermont Beast, but I’ve always done that one on sheer will, determination, and the emotional encouragement of others.  But now, my back was giving out, my lungs were on fire, and my legs were tired and bloody.  As I fumbled on, along the far ridge, a sinking feeling started to creep in:  “I’m way out of shape, I’m too far to turn back, and what if I have to spend the night out here?”  I knew if I just kept running, I’d get out of there faster, but the trail was deteriorating the deeper I got, and every time I tried to run, I just got winded immediately: a possible sign of dehydration or heat exhaustion.  Plus, there was no one within miles to keep me going with moral support.  There is no DNF when you’re alone in the woods.  You must push on.

Mistake #5: Miscalculating the Map Distances

Sleepy Creek MapAs I pushed along the ridge, I knew I had to find a trail that dropped down off the side of the mountain and headed toward the lake.  Eight miles in, and still no trail off the mountain, so I pressed on.  I found a small pond that seemed to mark the turn on the map, but still no trail.  Another half mile past where I thought the trail would be, I finally found the path down off the ridge, even more overgrown than the last.  But what I thought would be about another 800 yards down the side, turned into a mile or more.  With a tangle of overgrown bushes, downed trees, and loose rocks, the downhill that I thought would speed me up, slowed me down even more.  I could see the sun inching closer to the top of the mountain behind me and the creeping voice began again.

Mistake #6: Poor Choice of Footwear for the Terrain

I decided to wear my Inov-8 Trail Rock 245 shoes for their low drop, minimalist feel, and excellent grip.  In reality, I hadn’t run in them for months, the terrain was not muddy, and they lack a rock plate.  I would have been better off in my regular trainers that had more protection from rocks, and were much more broken in.  As I scaled down the side of the mountain, my wet feet began to blister, and I wished I had used some Bodyglide in my socks before setting off.

Mistake #7: Forgetting About the Realities of Chafing

On a normal three to five-mile road run at home, I normally don’t use Bodyglide, never wear a pack, and typically do not blister.  When you are out there for more than an hour things start to chafe.  My armpits were raw, my feet blistered, and I just wanted it all to be over, but by the time I got to the “small” lake on the map, my heart sank as I realized there was no way across (I’m an excellent swimmer and planned a quick dip to cross when I created this route in my head earlier).  The massive lake was shallow, with dead trees sticking up in the middle, and covered by lily-pads and scum.  Plus, with all the cuts on my legs there was a good possibility of infection from the funky looking water.  As I looked at my GPS again, and saw the actual size of the lake, I was crushed.  On top of that, the trail completely disappeared and I still had miles to go.  As the sun started to set, the negative little voice wasn’t just back, it was quickly becoming a reality.

How I Survived and Made it Out

You can’t go back in time and erase your mistakes, but with a little luck, determination, and a few skills you can correct your course, ultimately getting yourself out of crappy situations.  Here are some of the things I did right, after effing up so badly, that eventually got me out of the woods, safe, and marginally sound.

Fix #1: Keep your head

Always stay calm when you’re in the woods.  Never panic, lose your cool, or let your fears get the best of you.  It’s okay to fear bears and rattlesnakes (both a possibility out there according to the Park Ranger), but not the boogeyman.  What I mean is, your fear of real possibilities, like hypothermia, dehydration, and severe injury, should help guide your actions, but never let imaginary spooks freak you out.  Also, don’t get desperate and do something stupid.  I thought about swimming across that lake, but it would have been a disaster, no matter how good of a swimmer I think I am.  I knew I had a flashlight, so even if the sun went down, I could keep going.  I even had an emergency blanket, so I knew I could stay warm or make a small shelter if I needed to stay the night in the woods.  I had iodine tablets if I needed to get more water.  Even though the trail disappeared, I knew that I could bushwhack around the lake and pick up the road on the other side.  I had a cellphone with GPS, so even though I lost the trail, I was never lost.  When you panic, you forget all those positive things, like take your clothes off, eat dirt, and run screaming in circles.

Fix#2: Keep Moving

If you’re truly lost in the woods, stop moving (it will be easier for rescue parties to find you) but I wasn’t lost, so moving forward was essential.  I knew where I was and where I needed to go, but it was just a lot farther than I planned.  I huffed and puffed, but never stopped.  When I could run, I ran.  When I could walk, I walked fast.  I just kept moving, in the proper general direction, one foot in front of the other.

Fix #3: Improvise

When the trail disappeared, I could have wasted a lot of time looking for it, but instead I just looked at my GPS, the setting sun, the terrain, and the lake, then headed off in the direction I knew I should go.  It takes confidence, but I’ve been hunting, hiking, and camping my whole life, so I trusted myself and my woodsman knowledge.  Sometimes there is no path to where you want to go in the woods (or life) and you just have to forge ahead anyway.  When I finally reached the end of the lake, the path kept going straight.  I knew from the map, that I needed to go a different direction, so I just turned off the trail and made my own way.  As I went, I checked off landmarks in my head, like streams that I needed to cross perpendicularly to stay on target, or sounds from campers on the far side of the lake.  My reward came when I finally climbed a steep embankment, pushed through some brush, and landed squarely on the road that would take me back to my car.

Fix #4: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

As I slogged down the road, I noticed that the little beacon on my phone GPS that represented me, wasn’t headed toward the car, but on a parallel course over a mile away (see mistakes #2 and #5).  To my left was the lake, where it should be, and to my right was a mountain.  Grabbing the map, which I had stored thinking I wouldn’t need it anymore now that I was on the road, I realized (to my horror) that I would need to hike halfway down the lake (again) and then turn up a road that would zig back up the side of the mountain in the other direction.  I contemplated bushwhacking straight back to the car, but the side of the mountain was daunting and I was pushing past 10 miles and three hours in the woods on almost no calories.  With the sun fully behind the mountain and the light fading fast, I knew it would hurt, but I could make it.  Maybe another hour or more, possibly another mile or so, but I would press on.  And on….. and on….

When at last, I reached the real road, I began to despair, because when  I looked at the map again, I realized I had been jogging/walking down a service road, that met up with the real road, and my car might still be over two miles away.  I began to pray.  I prayed that someone would come along and give me a ride.  That some other human being out there would take pity on a muddy, sweaty, bleeding weirdo with short shorts.  I kid you not, some campers in a pick-up truck turned the corner just a few minutes later and I flagged them down.  I knew I looked haggard, and in this introverted selfie kind of world, it’s weird to ask strangers for help, but I swallowed my pride, and jumped in the back.

What I thought was just a little drive down the road, turned out to be almost three miles up hill to my car.  A journey that would have likely taken me another two hours in my broken state.  I feel silly complaining when I think of the people who do the Ultra Beast, World’s Toughest Mudder, or Infinitus.  But I’m not built like them, and I don’t have the endurance that they do.  I used to count my races 100 meters at a time, not 100 miles at a time.  I drastically overestimated my abilities, and woefully underestimated those woods.  I paid for it, but luckily not with my life or limbs, even though that danger was a reality I had to face.  For the lessons I learned that day I paid my tuition with dehydration, dry-heaves on the car ride back, the shakes, the skin on my feet, some blood, and a bunch of cramps that kept me awake that night.  And you can bet while I was out there I told myself I’d never do that again, but now that I’ve had a day to recoup, and I’m writing about it, I wonder if I could go a little faster next time…..

Here’s my actual GPS data on


The Nuts Challenge UK

The Nuts Challenge UK

The Nuts ChallengeWhen I found myself heading to London at the beginning of March, I never expected sunny weather in the 50s (F), but I also never dreamed  I would be faced with the most difficult obstacle race ever.  Needing a place to stay in London, I contacted my friend and obstacle racer James Appleton.  James is one of the top obstacle racers in the UK (and the World), plus he’s teammates with World Champion Jon Albon on the Inov-8 OCR Pro Team.  I told James the dates that I would be in town and he said there was room in his flat, but he’d be leaving for a photoshoot in Norway.  However, before he left he’d be heading to the Nuts Challenge to race with his team and earn points in the Mudstacle League.  I vaguely remembered seeing the Nuts on Facebook or somewhere online, but didn’t really understand what it was all about.

The Nuts Challenge boasts 100 obstacles in just 7km.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Located in Dorking, Surrey, outside London, the Nuts Challenge Assault Course takes mud and obstacles to a new level.  Designed over 20 years ago by course owner Wayne Monkman (an ex-parachute regimen soldier), the Nuts could be one of the oldest permanent military style obstacle courses open to the public.  Though many of us have heard of Tough Guy UK as the Grand Daddy of obstacle racing and the genesis of Tough Mudder et al., few from the USA have heard of the Nuts, so when James said he was racing it, I knew I had to check it out.

Since I didn’t have any of my cold-water race gear with me in Europe, I decided I would show up and cheer James on.  Just like the winter Tough Guy, the Nuts in March claims a similar number of hypothermia victims each year.  Just ask James.  However, with a bit of prodding from Matt B. Davis  (“How could you pass that up?”)  I was totes convinced to give it a go, bro.  So armed with a pair of borrowed Inov-8 X-Talons and three layers of compression gear, I showed up on Sunday morning ready to toe the line once more.  The Sunday race consisted of four-lappers vying for the main title, and maximum Mudstacle League points, during 28 kilometers of mud, freezing rivers, tubes, nets, tires, logs, walls, smoke, and thankfully, no electric shocks.  That’s right, four laps of insanity.  Being of sound mind, I signed up for two laps instead.

Clif Bar Race FuelThe temperature hovered in the forties and promised to give a little relief from the threats of hypothermia, but everyone started the first lap in their warmest gear anyway.  The cool thing about multiple laps, is the opportunity to have a gear drop, and a refuel every four miles.  The generous guys at Clif Bar gave the Inov-8 team heaps of gels, chews, and bars to keep everyone going and I looked forward to coming around to the transition area after lap one.  Though I didn’t want to think too far ahead, I knew I wanted to push myself and finish two laps no matter what.  After a quick race brief and some motivational speeches, they sent us off into the growing light and fog.

The first kilometer started like any OCR: some light jogging, a fence here, a net scramble there; nothing I hadn’t seen before.  Then the carnage began.  The course for the four-lappers veered to the left.  Mudstacle released footage the night before of this special section just for the three and four lap athletes that contained all the hardest obstacles on the entire course, which by any standards was already tough enough.  Not wanting to miss any of the action I followed even though, as a two-lapper, I didn’t have to.  How could I pass that up?

First, we faced a Hanging-Tough style set of swinging rings, which I promptly slipped off due to all the mud.  At the Nuts Challenge the penalty for failing an obstacle was a short out-and-back loop with a log.  Thankful to not be doing burpees, I grabbed my piece of wood and did a quick lap.  Next, we faced a 10 foot wall.  This was the first time I’d ever seen a 10 footer, and though I’m really good at the dry 8 foot wall in my yard, I nearly failed out.  Determined to make it over, I used the small ledge about two feet up, swallowed my pride, and asked for help.  Luckily, everyone at the Nuts helped each other out and there was always a friendly vibe.

The best post-race food is Waffles with Nutella

The best race fuel is Waffles with Nutella and bananas

After tackling the 1o foot wall, we headed to the most diabolical monkey bars I’ve ever experienced.  On the surface they looked normal, even easy.  No slick rungs, no uphill or inverted sections, and only about 10 feet from one end to the other.  How hard could they be?  Upon closer inspection, I realized the rungs were square diamond-plate metal, and only about 1/2 inch around.  I should have gone for another log loop, but being the hard-ass that I believe I am, I went for it.  The tiny rungs took every ounce of grip strength I had to get my 230 lb frame from one end to the other, but  I made it!  Before I could start celebrating, it hit me.  A fire kindled in my hands.  My palms began to burn.  I couldn’t move my fingers and the pain became intense.  I can still feel it now two weeks later.  I looked at my hands.  No blood, no blisters, no cuts.  Those little square devil-rungs had bruised and shredded my bones from the inside out.  I will never forget my gloves again.

There was a long queue before the next obstacle, so my hands had a little time to recoup.  This monstrosity must have been called the chimney because we had to climb inside of a stack of tractor tires about 20 feet in the air.  Being a big dude, this obstacle required a lot of squirming, several apologies to the people below for all the waiting, and a great deal of tolerance for mud in the eyes every time I looked up to see where I was going.  After that bottle neck, the course opened up and there wasn’t any more waiting, but the obstacles never let up.

Every 10 yards a new hurdle, another net, a pile of tires, a ravine, a mud pit, a river crossing, another rope, a drainage pipe, a log, more barbed wire.  Sections of obstacles followed by….. more obstacles!  All these obstacles made it impossible to run, or move quickly in any way, but at least the activity kept me warm.  Until Hell River.  Hell River was about a kilometer of running right down the middle of a creek with high muddy banks and unexpected drops.  One minute you’re running on fine crushed gravel, in water up to your ankles, the next you’re up to your neck in water just above freezing.  Only a few paces in and my feet went completely numb.  A few cargo nets took us up out of the river and then dropped us right back in.  Just as I began to seriously consider whether I would ever feel my feet again, we passed a sign that read, “Remember, you signed up for this!”  I actually smiled.

Nuts Military Assault CourseHell River wasn’t done with me yet.  To exit this section I forced my wide shoulders and butt up a tiny drainage pipe at an unholy vertical angle with only muddy, wet, knotted strings for purchase (these didn’t qualify as ropes).   Moving on from the water, my frozen feet got a break as I clomped around a replica village of Vietnam complete with flash-bangs, smoke grenades, and dark bunker crawls.  What tied everything together was the mud.  Mud pits, muddy trails, muddy fields, muddy rivers, muddy crawls.  I think there’s still mud from the Nuts on my body somewhere.

About this time, I noticed the sign for 3 kilometers and my heart sank.  I wasn’t even half way through the first lap?!  The negative voices started in my head and the first doubts that I could finish 2 laps crept in.  “Just keep one foot in front of the other,” I told myself and then I joined a couple other runners at the same pace, to share in my misery.  The funny thing was that volunteers kept asking me, “Why are you still smiling?”  which kept me going.  Everyone was suffering, but at least I wasn’t showing it on the outside.  Knowing that gave me some small comfort.

Next we hit a section of hilly trails, wooded stream beds, and another long section of mud pits, crawls, and tubes followed by Hamburger Hill.  As the only elevation on the entire course, Hamburger Hill consisted of numerous climbs up and down the side of a large muddy mound.  Starting with a tire carry, and ending with a giant slide into a cold muddy water crossing, the hill was completely exposed, allowing the wind to cut right through me.  As the day wore on though, the sun warmed up the countryside and only the water threatened to lower my body temperature.

The Nuts Challenge manages to test you physically and mentally non-stop, and the truly unique feature about it is, the Nuts doesn’t have obstacles, it has obstacle sections.  Entire groupings of obstacles that never give you a chance to relax.  You think a 20 foot A-frame cargo net is tough? Try two back to back.  Followed by a 30 foot Weaver section, with full submersion.  Followed by drainage tubes.  Followed by a claustrophobia inducing parachute crawl.  Followed by a lake crossing on floaty platforms.  Followed by a lake crossing on floaty inner tubes.  Followed by a lake crossing in near-freezing water up to your neck.  Followed by…..  you get the picture.  When I finally rounded the lake and entered the transition area to finish my first lap, I couldn’t believe what I had just been through.  In fact, given the position of the 3k sign, I was kind of shocked to finish so quickly, and a little sliver of hope shined down, and made me think, “Maybe I can do two laps after all.”

The Nuts Transition AreaI quickly stripped off my top layer of winter running gear.  It was never designed for water and mud crossings, so it was severely weighing me down, and with the sun out, I felt sufficiently confident in my ability to stay warm with out it.  I also left my hat, in favor of an old Spartan ‘Race Number’ headband just to cover my ears.  I fueled up on Clif Shots and Shot Blocks, then washed it down with some Powerade (in Europe it doesn’t contain High Fructose Corn Syrup! Hurray!).  I headed back out for lap two.

The only big changes for lap two were that within the first kilometer I started to feel a rock in my shoe and secondly, I decided to skip the extra section with the doomsday monkey bars and 10 foot wall.  I completed the extra section on the first lap, and so I experienced the entire Nuts Challenge, but didn’t feel the desire to do it again, since I wasn’t required to do it in the first place.  The rock in my shoe turned into  several rocks, and since the loaner X-talons were a good 1/2 size too small anyway, I’m probably going to lose my first toenail.  When I rounded the lake for the end of that second lap, I received my medal with pride.  It took me just under four hours on a flat course, which by time, is equivalent to the Wintergreen, VA Spartan.

So if you asked me which is the hardest obstacle course?  The Vermont Beast or the Nuts Challenge, I’d say Nuts wins by sheer volume of mud and obstacles.  Any Norm Koch course is hard to beat, but mostly due to the rugged terrain and elevation changes.  The Nuts Challenge, however, is an obstacle racer’s dream.  Obstacles, built on Obstacles, built on mud, with a side of obstacles.  Isn’t that what we’re here for?

If not the obstacles, then we are here for the community.  The UK OCR scene is awesome.  It probably helps that the UK is a lot smaller than the US, so it’s easier to set up a league, get everyone together, and see the same people over and over.  I made tons of new OCR friends, including team inov-8, the Mudstacle Crew with Pete Rees, and I even met Dirk Schrama from Dutch Mud Men (He’s fast!).  Thanks to Wayne Monkman for putting on an awesome race and building such a challenging course.  Wayne said I’m the first American to ever finish the Nuts Challenge! Thanks also to all the runners who helped me along the way.  Congrats to the winners Conor Hancock and Beth Albon (yes, it’s Jon’s sister!).  And the biggest thanks to James Appleton for a place to stay, a tour of London, some proper OCR shoes, and the greatest obstacle challenge I’ve ever had.  Cheers mates!

Wayne Monkman and James Appleton


Obstacle News Spartan Cruise Giveaway


Win a Free spot on the Spartan Cruise!

Win a Free spot on the Spartan Cruise!

The Cruise Giveaway contest is over! The winner will be announced shortly!  The correct answers were:

Tony will be attempting the Cannonball Run, which is 2,811 miles!

The 2014 Malibu Hurricane Heat had 188 participants!

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Battle of the Brands: Who is King of the Mud?

Battle of the Brands: Who is King of the Mud?

OCR Obstacle Race Mud Run Brands

OCR Event Companies Battle it out in the Mud

“Give the People what they want, and they’ll show up.” 

The famous quote often attributed to Red Skelton (referring to movies), applies to obstacle racing as well.  I attribute the rise of obstacle events to the ability of event producers to give us something we didn’t even know we wanted.  Take the primal nature of mud runs, along with the challenge, then add Facebook’s easy image sharing to the mix and you get the recipe for a new sport.  But with any physical endurance challenge or extreme experience, event producers must keep upping the ante, making things more difficult, or more dangerous to keep drawing people back….. Unless, people identify so deeply with the core of your business that it becomes their lifestyle.  That’s where the power of branding comes in.

Marketing guru Seth Godin’s definition of brand is “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer. “

In my recent interview, Spartan Race CEO Joe DeSena went so far as to say that the Spartan brand was the secret sauce of Spartan Race, and the key to their success.  I totally agree.  When you watch the movie 300, you want to be a Spartan.  When you cross the finish line of a Spartan Race, you are a Spartan.  I am a Spartan.  There is great power in saying that.  Spartan Race gives you a chance to be tough, be a warrior, and identify yourself with the first elite military bad-asses in history.

Does Spartan Race have the best customer service? Probably not.  The coolest obstacles? Nope.  The best after-party and festival area? Sorry.  The most physically demanding courses?  Absolutely, and that challenging brand message is what appeals to the masses.  Crossing the finish line of a Spartan race gives you the right to call yourself a Spartan and it wouldn’t mean so much if it weren’t really, really, ridiculously hard (you know I’m all about that Beast…. ’bout that Beast…).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting paid to write this, and I’m not drinking the Spartan cool-aid, I’m talking about powerful brands like Ironman, Nike, Pepsi, and Chevy.  Spartan is no-where near that…. yet, but it is a potentially global level brand.   What about the other event companies?

Spartan show steady rise

These plots show the Historical Perspective of the “Big 3” w/ Warrior Dash jumping off the line, only to crash, Tough Mudder having a size-able lead (’til now), and Spartan having the most steady rise overall since 2010. Note the seasonal peaks and valleys when Obstacle events are less popular in the winter.

Ironman was similarly built on brand.  You don’t walk into a bar and say, I’m a long-course triathlete.  No, you say, “I’m an Ironman.”  At the time of it’s creation, the Ironman made every other endurance challenge on the planet look like child’s play.  People said they were going to die and they were crazy for even trying it, but the resulting brand perseveres decades later, when other triathlon companies have come and gone.  Tough Mudder actually stated way back in 2o12 (at least) that they wanted to be the next Ironman, and if you count participants, they’ve crushed it, but does their brand measure up?

Tough Mudder blew up when their version of Tough Guy came stateside and gave lazy Americans a reason to conquer their fears, help each other out, and drink beer.  Four years later and they’ve struggled with retention (repeat customers) because Tough Mudder seems like a bucket list item to average people.  They’ve recently redefined their obstacles, added new ones, and dubbed multi-Mudders “Legionnaires” in an effort to increase retention and it seems to be working.  The greatest thing Tough Mudder has going it for it right now is brand recognition.  Most people in North America have heard of Tough Mudder and so when you walk into a bar and say, “I’ve done a Tough Mudder,” or wear a TM t-shirt (not anymore!) people will know what you’re talking about.  That wasn’t the case just two years ago, but you still wouldn’t say, “I’m a Mudder” and get the kind of acknowledgment that being an Ironman gets.

What about the other brands?  Warrior Dash’s trajectory through the obsta-sphere (you like that? I just made it up) has been more like the fad fun runs that have come and gone.  While seemingly on top in 2010, with a bangin’ after-party, a cool fuzzy viking hat, plenty of mud, and 50+ races around the globe — the brand has failed to capture long term loyalty.  Though it still has it’s place as an easy entry point into obstacle racing and mud runs (it was my first too!), it captures only a fraction of the attention of “The Big 2.”  That’s right, TM and Spartan are so far ahead right now, that no one else comes close.

Warrior Dash loses Big 3 status

Here’s how Warrior Dash trends against the other 2nd tier events over the last year. Sorry WD, you’ve been demoted.

Which brings me to BattleFrog.  I love me some BattleFrog.  Fun, challenging, great atmosphere, great employees and management.  But…..  BattleFrog has a big BUT.  They have all this great stuff going for them, but can people identify with their brand?  Navy Seals? Check!  Tough as nails, elite warriors; navy seals have got it goin’ on! But, that’s not their brand (Bone Frog has Navy Seals too).  A big cartoon frog is their brand.  If they’re going after a youth demographic, which could be powerful, the toon frog with attitude is very strategic, but do people get that tattooed on their bodies?

Brand can be a powerful motivator and identifier.  Superhero Scramble was such a strong brand at one time that over 100 people actually tattooed the the SHS logo on their body, permanently, in exchange for free races for life.  The Tough Mudder creed was famously tattooed on Ray Upshaw’s back, earning him free Tough Mudders for life, and instant recognition among the early Mudders.  Simply tattooing the Tough Mudder logo anywhere on your body was enough to at least earn you a free race.  However, people get Spartan tattoos without the promise of anything free.  BattleFrog….  not so much.

Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Battlefrog

Looking at this graph, we see Tough Mudder and Spartan Race significantly ahead of Warrior Dash and BattleFrog over the last 12 months.

In fact, I wrote this entire article after being  inspired by ORM’s editorial about BattleFrog joining the “the Big 4”.  The article makes some compelling arguments which include, strong financial backing, excellent product, leading the OCR industry in some great innovations, and A MILLION DOLLARS in prizes this year, but I cannot agree that BattleFrog has joined the ranks of the Big 4.  They’ve got to get way more traction to be considered in the same breath as Spartan and Tough Mudder.  They have a great pro team and a great reputation inside the OCR industry, but there’s a long road to becoming a household name.  Even Rugged Maniac and Savage Race have stronger brands as of this writing.

BattleFrog, Savage, Atlas, Rugged Maniac

Here’s a look at the brand interest of the middle packers since 2009

This is not written in malace or as a criticism.  I’m hoping that BattleFrog grows and pivots their brand into something a little more identifiable to the everyman story.  Seth Godin writes in his blog about brand story “We love the memory we have of how that brand made us feel once. We love that it reminds us of our mom, or growing up, or our first kiss. We support a charity or a soccer team or a perfume because it gives us a chance to love something about ourselves.  More than ever, we express ourselves with what we buy and how we use what we buy. Extensions of our personality, totems of our selves, reminders of who we are or would like to be.”

What are you, and who would you like to be?  A Ninja, a Warrior, a Mudder, a BattleFrog, or a Spartan?  This is the power of a brand.  These brands provoke in our minds an image of power, toughness, endurance, and bravery.  The one that does it the best; the one that shows us our best selves, will be the brand to win.  For those of us in the industry, we don’t care that much.  We love OCR.  We bleed Red, Orange, Blue, and Green.  We’ll show up to whatever event looks fun, challenging, and wherever a bunch of our friends are going.  For us, it’s the community, the competition, and the challenge (don’t forget the beer!).  However, there are arguably less than 5,000 of us really hard core into OCR who care about who wins in Temecula this weekend, check our phone during church to see  who’s leading at WTM, or have a special rack that fits all our finisher medals (plus a fuzzy viking hat).  So it’s the other 2,000,000+ participants that drive our sport week-in and week-out, and how they see themselves will determine the future of OCR.

ION Episode 19 Joe DeSena Talks Spartan Race 2015

With big things on the 2015 horizon I got a chance to chat with Joe DeSena, CEO of Spartan Race, about all the exciting changes.  Right off the bat, he seemed to keep things in perspective and when I asked him about how big a year 2014 was for Spartan Race, he replied,

“Not as big as when we had our first child.”

I followed up with an appropriate question submitted by one of our viewers, “How do you find balance with work and family?”ION Ep 19 Joe DeSena talks Spartan Race in 2015 YouTube

“My wife is awesome and she said that I can be on the road 250 days a year.  As long as I buy her nice things!”  Joe replied.  He also said that his kids workout 2+ hours per day, which allows him to spend more time with them.

We moved on to the new Spartan UP! Podcast and he talked about the whole goal being, to find the attributes that people have within themselves, or develop within themselves, that make them ultimately successful.  Also to find out how they define success, and for some, it’s different from what Joe believes.  Is there a common thread between all these successful people?  That’s the challenge and mission of the Spartan UP! Podcast.  He’s had some pretty funny moments, and some amazing guests like Richard Branson, so don’t miss it.

We talked next about the Spartan Cruise and how the idea stemmed from the second 300 movie based on a navy battle.  To make it as authentic as possible, people won’t ride in the cruise ship, but will be swimming behind, he joked.  But depending on whether you buy a VIP cabin, you might be in the lower decks rowing on the way to the private island.

Joe then answered another viewer submitted question, “Will the Hurricane Heats expand internationally?” and since HH director Tony Matesi sat just out of frame, it was a good chance to ask.  Joe laid out a surprise new partnership with The Weather Channel, in which he and Tony will go to the nastiest places on earth to find the worst weather possible for the new Hurricane Heats.  It started to seem clear that DeSena was joking, but you can’t always tell with Joe and so I take that one with a grain of salt.

Since we were talking international, I moved on to the new World Championship and Joe discussed briefly the new qualifying coin system, but I forgot to ask him why the Spartan World Championship moved to Lake Tahoe from Vermont.

Another viewer question Joe answered was about the quality of elite burpees at the 2014 World Championship Spartan Race in Killington Vermont that aired on NBC.  Some people were pissed at how they didn’t reflect what we all think a burpee should be and Joe agreed.  “I was pissed,” he said, “unacceptable.”

“So how do you combat that?” I asked.

Like any developing sport, Spartan Race will have to enforce stricter rules and scrutinize more closely, including disqualification for some elites.  “You don’t do your burpees right…. You’re out,” he replied, “simple as that.”

I asked him about the trend of mandated obstacle completion and stated matter-of-factly that Spartan has been doing that for a while at the World Championship, but when asked straight up, will the burpee ever go away?  He replied emphatically, “No.  The burpee will never go away….  It’s too much of a staple, too important of an exercise to positively change this world…. I love the fact that it’s so aweful.”

Joe and I next discussed the governing body and he stated that they are still working on it, but with all the regulations, a governing body “does not go as fast an entrepreneur would like.”  And he hates saying that, “It’ll just take time,” but it’s the hard truth.

When asked if Spartan Race will cooperate with other event companies to create a governing body and an Olympic bid, DeSena joked, “Are there other event companies?” But seriously, he said, “as long as they take it as seriously as we do, and they’ve got a solid foundation, and they’re going to exist a year from now, then sure…. Part of the problem is, a lot of these companies come and go.”

When asked how Spartan plans to stay on top, he answered, “Once you’re on top, it’s hard to stay on top.”  He also believes that Spartan Race works hard to stay authentic, getting out there to the races, and living the Spartan lifestyle.  Secondly, it’s everything on the periphery, the NBC show, the elite racing, the Spartan UP! book, and the new Spartan UP! podcast.  It all come back to the secret sauce of Spartan which is the name.  The Spartan brand comes from the first exclusive special operations military unit that evokes a strong emotional response when you hear it.  Are “you gonna go to a race and say, ‘well, I did a mud-run’? No, you did a [Spartan].  You’re a Spartan,”  and there’s a lot of power in that.

Lastly, I asked Joe about the short course racing that we got a taste of in Vermont in 2014 after the Beast, but you’ll have to watch to get his answer.  Did you seriously think I was going to write the entire video transcript here so you didn’t have to watch?


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