Which New Races Should I Avoid?

If you hadn’t noticed, this little sport of obstacle course racing has exploded. With the huge popularity of races like Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, more and more local race directors are getting into the game, with mixed levels of success. It’s not hard to see why they want in on the game either. The kind of money, exposure and sponsorship the big races are attracting is enticing to a new race director … so much so that some of them seem to have forgotten that to get that big, you have to work hard. You have to grow your name naturally. You have to not go bankrupt along the way.

The racing community has exploded too. More and more people want to run races. They finish their local Spartan Race and immediately look for the next hit, the next fix. They see “mud run!” and “hardest thing you’ll ever do!”, with some vague military associations (Designed by Special Ops!) – the website is slick, and the race calendar is full of events, with one of them close to your home.

Shut up and take my money!

Maybe – just maybe – the race turns out to be pretty epic. You love their theme, and you have a great time running through the mud, over well constructed obstacles in your amazing home made costume with the buddies from your gym. Maybe they give you some epic photos as part of your race entry, and have awesome beers, provided by a craft microbrew. Maybe the T Shirt turns out to be technical, and badass, and you wear it with pride to the gym on Monday.

Do you want to guess if this race was a success?
Do you want to guess if this race was a success?


Before you send them your $80 (or more) registration fee, it’s worth doing just a few minutes of research to find out more about them. It’s worth learning the warning signs of an event that has forgotten how to grow a business in a highly competitive market, without over stretching.

1) Check their website. Do they have a website or just a Facebook page? Also, do they have photos? Do they have video? Is this media their own? Or, did they fall into the trap of using race photos from another race? Is their video stolen material? We get it, as a new race director, it’s tough to show your stuff before your first event – but there is a tactful way without blatantly ripping off other race series.

2) Check their event calendar. Are they promising many events, all over the country? Rather than being a sign of encouragement that they are doing well, this should be an immediate red flag .. especially if they haven’t already hosted an event! Check these guys out – they haven’t run an event yet, and they have 10 nationwide locations listed in the near future. An additional red flag is listing race cities and dates with no location. Time and time again, we have seen these dates eventually disappear off websites like these when they don’t get enough registrations. (Incidentally, the video for The Ultimate Titan website has shots which were clearly shot at Spartan Race and other races without permission.)

Um, those are Spartan Race bibs.
Um, those are Spartan Race bibs.

3) Long Weekend? Along with posting several dates nationwide, some of these races will post Saturday AND Sunday race days. This is just crazy thinking. These people expect to sell out Saturday when Spartan doesn’t even have Sunday races in many markets.

New races should be setting the right expectations. They should be working with their local communities. They should be starting out small, and slowly growing their business from there – and if you’re ever in any doubt, join your local OCR community and ask – there is a ton of hive knowledge in the various regional communities, and people are always happy to share that information with you!

Paul Jones is the Idea Wrangler over at the New England Spahtens. With over 1000 members, The Spahtens are one of the most successful and active obstacle racing communities. 

Paul Jones

Paul Jones is the Idea Wrangler over at the New England Spahtens and has been a contributor for ORM since it's inception. The NE Spahtens are one of the most active, and successful obstacle racing communities in the world.

Latest posts by Paul Jones (see all)

  1. The set-up: It’s Sunday at 1pm during football season…wife walks into the living room and the remote is on the table behind the couch.

    Paul (in head): “Oh no!!”
    Paul (out loud): “Not TODAY!!”
    Wife (in head): “(Shaking head) Doesn’t even know I took the batteries out already.”

  2. Logistics question on Point #3.

    Wouldn’t a 2 day race have a smaller per day break even point than a 1 day race? Hosting a race for 2 days gives you a second day to recoup money put into setup, tear down, your marketing, and various other fixed cost. The only extra expense you pay for is insurance, labor, and venue. The benefit of a 2 day race is that you can get people that work on Saturdays and are otherwise unavailable. Your marketable audience likely increases by 33%. Overall, I would think that it would be easier for a race to make the break even point to host it over 2 days instead of one.

    1. Only assuming they can get people to attend for both days … Just because the capacity is there, doesn’t mean the people will come … We’ve seen two day races close one because they just couldn’t get the people in.

  3. This has been good info to look out for.. It has been my experience that some of the big name events have gotten to big for themselves causing their customer service to dwindle.. There are a few that have managed to survive due to their name but offer little in course toughness and competitive value.. There are a few that can no longer claim to be the toughest when some of the more local races run circles around them in obstacle construction and difficulty..

    MudRunFun Joe

  4. In your “Check This Out” link, I found a video on their site that had a clip of me and my friends from a race we did in the spring! I wonder where they got the rights to that video.

  5. All great points. But the smaller local runs can be outstanding. Have you tried Hog Wild, Highlander, FL-ROC, and Monster Challenge in Florida? All of them are just as fun and just as tough as Savage, and much better than one of the famous national brands.

    Join a mud run group on social media and ask questions. I have been to several duds. But I have not been cheated yet. When this all shakes out there will be famous national races and some great local “microbrews”. Right now I am enjoying trying some of each and the start-ups. They may not make it, but I will still have the memories.

    MudRunFun Roger

    1. MRF Roger:

      Yes, I’m familiar with local OCR communities 🙂 The New England Spahtens are my favorite 🙂

      I’ve not run races local to you, but I’ve run *countless* local races in New England, and actively work with local RDs to help them promote, improve and become successful – many work with us and are big successes, some simply don’t. Ultimately, this article was for people who are trying to make their own call, and educate folks on the things they should look for all on their own.

    2. I would have to say that one race that I will never do again is Highlander. They have the run at the same place EVERY TIME. Their way to change it up is to add more obstacles. That was ok, but now it’s just old. Good luck trying to get a hold of anyone as they have absolute horrible customer service.

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