Critical Cluster

Critical Scam?

In previous months, we have published some articles on less than stellar races. In May we published an article called “Why I didn’t race this weekend” and more recently we published a story called  “Which New Races Should I Avoid” which focused on sub par marketing ploys of some OCR companies.

Up until now, we at ORM have never used the word scam. This may be the first time. Read on, and decide for yourself.

ORM became aware of an event this week that was supposed to be put on by an organization called Critical Mud. Critical Mud sold tickets to an event this weekend and then never bothered to show up.

So to be clear, we aren’t talking about long lines at registration, because there was no registration. We aren’t talking about poorly built obstacles; we are talking about zero obstacles. When registrants showed up at the location this company advertised, the gates were locked and there was no on around to answer any questions. This is called a scam.

In conjunction with Liz Palka from from the Virginia televsion station WAVY10, we have spent the last few days investigating this company in an attempt to get to the bottom of the story.

Big Promises

The man behind Critical Mud is a man named Harrel Todd Griffin. On Facebook, his profile is simply Todd Griffin. We were in conversations with him at the beginning of the month looking into his upcoming events. We had reached out to him on September 5th to ask him about his upcoming events on the 21st and 28th. Here is what he told us verbatim:

“We just had a pre-run with several people that did the VA Spartan race last week and they said maybe they spoke too soon in declaring that it was the hardest race they’d ever run. Our 9/21 event is going to be rough. We just avoid level ground like the plague, and we still add about 5-6 obstacles per mile. But you know, every course is different, you have to work with what you’ve got.”

Brand new race directors comparing their own race to Spartan Race can be cause for concern. For someone to compare themselves to the Virginia Spartan, which most of the OCR community feel is the most difficult race they have ever done, is an enormously bold statement.

Early Aftermath

The comments on Critical Mud’s Facebook page told a very different story than the promises Mr. Griffin made on the 5th. Several posts mentioned the course being “a mile and half dirt track” and not having any obstacles outside of “a few tires laid out”. There were also no t-shirts given, no medals given, and no free beer given out. All promises made by Critical Mud prior to the race. A few people mentioned that they were looking for the free photos they were promised. One called it “a joke”.

Mr Griffin’s responses on Facebook were  lengthy explanations on how the discount sites, Living Social and Groupon, had incorrect dates and addresses for this race. He also stated those sites would not release information on how many people registered or their contact information so he had “no way of knowing who would show up” and “no way to get in contact with them”.

The 2nd event was scheduled to happen just one week after the first. The address listed on Facebook and on Brown Paper Tickets, where many had registered was 1520 Northside Rd, Elizabeth City, NC 27908 – This is the address of  Dixieland Speedway.

One man who registered for this race was Staff Sergeant Jonathan Reid of the US Army. He put together a group of 52 soldiers who wanted to a do a fun mud run together. When he got to the location on race day he told us that there were “Basically a few hundred people with their hands in the air trying to figure out where the race coordinator or the event itself went. No one from Critical Mud was there.”

Upset customers began calling the tv station WAVY10 who then ran this story the day the race was supposed to happen.

The local news was looking for answers on "race" day.
The local news was looking for answers on “race” day.

When ORM learned of this “no race” situation, we immediately reached out to Mr. Griffin by phone. He told us that he was there and that a race certainly happened. When we asked if there are any photos proving this, he told us “We didn’t hire any photographers for this race”. When we asked him if he took any photos on his phone he stated “I don’t have a camera on my phone” We then asked how many staff and volunteers were on hand, and he said about a “half dozen”. So we asked him to produce a photo from any of his staff or any participant. He told us he would work on that and get back to us.

A day later, we called Mr. Griffin back for more answers and he refused to talk to us, hanging up shortly after we began speaking.  He did, however, continue to post what many called “long-winded defensive” responses on Facebook about the discount sites mistakes, but never acknowledged a race that did not happen.

Searching for Answers

We started making phone calls to find out what was really going on. We were able to speak with Carlos Morales. His company,  Alta Sky photography was contracted to shoot photos of the events on the 21st and the 28th. He told us that he was there on the 21st and was surprised at how few obstacles there were. He also told us that Mr. Griffin called him on the 24th and said “Don’t bother coming down on the 28th because I am canceling the event”. We asked Mr. Morales if he had been paid by Todd Griffin. Carlos told us that “He was not answering my calls, so I went to a coffee shop that I know he works out off”. When I found him he stated that “it could take a while to get paid but that he would also get us a lot more work at future races”

ORM’s next call was to the venue itself. We spoke with Red Swain, the owner of Dixie Speedway.  He told us very plainly. “I’ll tell you what I told the TV people, I have never heard of this guy, we have been closed since our last event on August 16th”.

As of this writing we are in contact with Living Social and Groupon to find out about their dealings with Mr. Griffin and Critical Mud. We also want to establish what their corporate policies are in terms of keeping track of sales numbers and if the release registrant information to their clients.

The Future of Critical Mud

Brown Paper Tickets,  has already distanced themselves from future events. Here is what they sent their customers who purchased tickets.

Hello,

This message is regarding your registration for Critical Mud. The event organizer had also posted an event on Brown Paper Tickets for September 28, but that event did not take place, and no notice was given to registrants. Brown Paper Tickets has been unsuccessful at making contact with the event organizer to resolve the situation and get refunds for the event goers. At this time, we have deactivated all future events by this organizer in our system and we advise ticket-buyers to seek refunds for this event.

If you purchased a ticket initially through Groupon or LivingSocial, we recommend that you contact those organizations directly to request a refund.

We sincerely apologize for any frustration you may have experienced regarding this situation. Brown Paper Tickets is committed to providing the highest level of service to its customers – we hope that advising you on how best to achieve resolution with this issue demonstrates how seriously we take situations such as these. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at 1.800.838.3006×1, or at support@brownpapertickets.com.

Thank you,

Brown Paper Tickets
1-800-838-3006

Future races scheduled for Critical Mud
Future races scheduled for Critical Mud

We decide to look into future locations for their races ourselves. Our intention was to call the venues and see if they were in business with Critical Mud. When we did a quick google search on their upcoming locations, here is what we found.

2 races listed for November 30 and December 28th list the following address 4191 The Circle At North Hills St. Raleigh, NC 27609 and were listed as Triangle Adventure Park. No such venue exists with that name that we can find. Also that address in Raleigh  brings up a Target store location on Google maps..

An additional race listed for January 4, 2014 is 9531 South Blvd Charlotte, NC 28273. This is also a Target store location.

The most recent posts by Mr. Griffin were made last last night on Facebook. He stated the following:

“Most of the calls we’ve made and the emails we’ve received indicate that most of the people actually affected are pleased with our handling of this. We’ve had three people working as hard as possible for two and a half days to get to this point, so it’s bed time.”

He also explained that the Facebook page is only down temporarily and went to say:

“Respond as you wish, because I’m keeping my business to myself in the future.There are win/win situations out there, but based on my experiences over the past 3 days, I don’t have much hope for some folks to ever work together. For those of you that have been supportive, I do appreciate it. Your decency was noted.”

Matt B. Davis

is the host of the Obstacle Racing Media Podcast and the author of "Down and Dirty-The Essential Training Guide for Obstacle Races and Mud Runs". He is also the only (known) #wafflehouseelite obstacle racer.

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11 comments
  1. Whether it is a scam or not, it upsets me at how poorly this “race” was executed (if at all). I said it before and I will reiterate again: obstacle course racing has become a passion and a lifestyle for many, and we take pride in the future of our sport. In order to see obstacle course racing continue to grow, we *demand* entities wishing to enter our community not only take their role seriously, but treat the community as a whole with respect.

  2. The thing that upsets me most is that this event was the first exposure hundreds had to the world of OCR.

    And now, they think this is what the world looks like. I can only hope they reach out to local groups, or find a well respected organized OCR to try – and that they WANT to come back.

    Scam? Sounds like it – but if not, it’s still done the OCR world a huge dis-service.

  3. Sure looks like a scam. Two separate “venues” with addresses that correspond to Target stores? That’s one too many to be a coincidence. Has local law enforcement been notified of the issue? The Attorneys General of the states in which he’s done this should shut him down

    Also, anyone think that $110 is a bit steep for a local OCR? Here (FL), those are usually less than $80, even if you show up to register the day of the event.

  4. OCR is big business now. Where there’s money to be made, there will be scams. It was just a matter of time. I’ve been to a few first time events, and although they may have been sketchy or unorganized, at least they went off.
    I will endeavor to be more cautious now, though.

  5. This would be laughable if so many people had not been victimized – and it had not cast such an ugly shadow on legitimate organizers. To the OCR community – please remember that this is the exception and not the rule.

  6. I consider myself to be a regular OCRer havering done over 20 since 2010. I was recently a victim of the hero rush thing after I completed their event in 2012 and it was awesome thought nothing of signing up early for 2013 and well we know what happened there. Crap like this and hero rush and other events not paying prize money is gonna make it hard for new vents to get off the ground. I know I will be very careful who gets my money from here on out.

  7. What a story, I have to say, any of us RD’s that deal with Groupon and the rest, know that you get a login to see and track daily sales as well as sales $$$. The process itself is sometimes such a beat down that I find it hard to believe they would have the wrong date and location. Groupon is very diligent at looking at locations, websites and registration sites.

    As someone fighting hard to compete against the national brands to put on an OCR event, this leaves the public leery of anything not named Tough Mudder, Spartan or Warrior Dash. It is such a shame people like this exist and take advantage. Like it was mentioned earlier, many of these people are still first time ORC or mud runners and to turn them off really hurts the rest of us.

    Where is this so called coffee shop? I think a road trip in order, I like coffee too.

  8. It should also be noted that Mr. Griffin was in bankruptcy court for a second appearance in Greensboro, NC in late September 2013.

  9. I did my best to stop these guys in Texas from running their scam. Had irrefutable proof that they were advertising and selling tickets for almost a month in a locale that they had not secured and for a date that they did not have a permit for. I reported it, along with a handful of others I could find, to the State Attorney general and to IC3.gov and never heard a peep. After several postponements they finally did have an event, it was dreadful, several people were injured without adequate medical response, hell somebody could have been killed. Folks of course came out of the woodwork to complain.

    Then they jumped on the run for your lives zombie bandwagon and heavily promoted a race in nearby by far enough away San Antonio. That race was recently cancelled, and the website says “we are processing refunds as fast as possible.” I started a facebook page to hold them accountable, several folks joined up and several did not even receive the e-mail that the race was cancelled but noticed how the facebook page for the event had disappeared.

    For each of these races you can bet before they accept your $ they will have you check a box that indemnifies them and you agree to “no refunds” for anything policy. So it’s a system that is ripe for scamming and I believe these guys in Texas at Gut check saw there was more money to be had if they cancelled and there ya go. They’re now gone dark. And in this case for a fact I predicted this was likely to happen to the only authorities that govern such manners of money taking and all for naught, they still ripped off a bunch of people anyway.

    Caveat emptor indeed. So if anything, please make sure if you do any further expose on possible scams in the business you look into Gut Check Challenge LLC out of Austin Texas and if you want more information on them, (their site is still up, perhaps waiting for the smoke to clear before they start marketing again) one of the services your site definitely can offer is to be a resource for folks on legitimate races, which of course with Run For your Lives (partnered with Microsoft no less) it still may not matter.

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