MuckFestMS came out of nowhere for the New England region – this was the first race of their 2013 calendar, and their first visit to New England.
I really hope they come back. They had an awesome race.
The venue was right on the grounds of Fort Devens – only a 30minute drive from my house and the closest OCR I’ve ever attended. Point of trivia, the surviving Boston bomber was moved to Fort Devens (it’s a medical prison facility) the night
before, but this didn’t affect the event at all – and while there wasn’t a HUGE amount of elevation change on the grounds, it was littered with some pretty awesome trail running terrain and big open fields. Easily found just off RT2, they also had plenty of parking for the event size, and it was a short walk over the field to the festival location itself.
I don’t know how many events they had put on before this, but they were really slick – big checkin tents, all computerized – with an express checkin line for the VIPs and Biggest Team / Biggest Fundraisers. Each bib and Chronotrak chip had tear off tags for shirt pickup, meal ticket, beer ticket and bag/key check tickets. Because my team, the New England Spahtens were the biggest team of the day – I breezed through the express checkin line in minutes, and headed over to the tent they provided for us, and hung out with the team.
We had actually split our heats, half the team running at 10:30, the other half at 1:30 (with some repeat runners) – I was in the 1:30, so I got to walk the course a little and take photographs of the 10:30 heat. MuckFestMS did a great job of putting some big, scary looking obstacles at the end – in the last 1/2 mile or so – a water jump, giant human swing, huge cargo net, low tunnel crawl were all in the last stretch and provided a great spectator area without having to go too far away from the food/beer/potties.
Eventually, it was time to line up for the 1:30 wave. The starting coral was the usual – an MC pumping up the crowd, music, some light bantering and teasing from the guy with the mic, then they turned on the sprinklers over the start line, and we were off, on time, with minimal clogging at the chute. The first obstacle were some simple down and up muddy trenches to get your feet wet, before we hit what, for lack of a better word, was the giant hanging balls obstacle. Descriptive – they had giant hanging inflatable Orbs (the kind you see at a tubing park or ski slope) – sure beat the typical “hang a few tires on a wobbly wooden frame” obstacle we see at so many smaller events.
Then into some trails – no narrow single track trails at the venue – they were nice and wide, and easy to navigate people on. In fact, the entire time I was out there, I never ran into a spot on the trail where I felt held up – I did have to say “on your right!” a few times for walkers, but that was about it – they moved over, gave me a cheer and no one had their feelings hurt.
I hate doing obstacle walk throughs – I’ve made a 5min long video you can see at the end of this blog post if you want to see them in chronological order, but they had some seriously notable obstacles. Stuff I’ve never seen, anywhere.
The Spinner – looks like an old fairground ride made obstacle – four giant steel arms, rotating around a water mud pit, with several ropes hanging off. Grab a rope, hang on, try not to fall in. I fell in.
Oh Crap – a slanted wall – with a flat base for your feet, and rock climbing grips for your hands, this was considerably easier than the traverse walls at other races, but with a mud pit behind it, wetter if you fell.
Oh Muck – a jump from a platform into a watery bath of cold water. Nothing crazy, unless you hate heights. Or water. Or both.
Swing Set – a human sized swing – huge, all steel construction with a swing you jump on, get moving, then launch yourself into the water.
Even their cargo nets were huge, well constructed and intimidating for even a seasoned OC racer. There were also the usual crawls under nets, through mud, over/under logs in water baths, through pipes – teeter totter see-saws provided the only backlog I saw on the course before hitting the big cargo net by the end.
The venue had it’s own share of natural obstacles – lots of wide open and flat trails that were interrupted by some seriously steep and treacherous hills to make it down (and of course, what goes down must come back up).
At one point in the course, they had a “shortcut” option for people who had bitten off more than they could, or wanted, to chew – a graceful 5k path, or keep running for the full 5 miles (which was GPS’d at around 4.5 miles)
Clearly, MuckFestMS was about raising funds for MS research, and not a competitive OCR – despite that, they did have a
competitive wave at 9am that the NE Spahtens placed well in – but the race itself had no penalties for missed obstacles, and clearly attracted a different crowd to your competitive race. Family teams, older people, people living with MS – I saw one tough as nails lady with a cane walking at the back of the wave, through the mud pits – she told me she was supposed to run the race, but her MS had flared up – she was going to do the thing anyway, and take as long as it took. Once I was running on the course, I quickly caught up with the back markers from earlier heats, the people who were slower, or walking, or waiting on team mates. Definitely a different, less competitive, less aggressive crowd than we see at other events.
The festival was also good – a live band (as usual, too loud for a social occasion, in my opinion), a tear off meal ticket snagged you a pre-wrapped sandwich and chips, a tear off beer ticket snagged you two cups of coors light (yuck – real beer please!), a tear off ticket got you a finishers shirt of pretty good quality – no medal here, unless you placed in some way. Beers were also being sold (at $4, too expensive, but with tickets flying around no one had to pay), as was better quality food – burgers, fried chicken, hotdogs, popcorn and granola bars – I still don’t understand why these events don’t have a much better selection of good foods.
I’d heartily recommend MuckFestMS – they got a great balance between a fun course with easy to manage obstacles for the new comers and first timers – along with challenging and technical obstacles that would give the competitive fast runners a moments pause while they figure it out and navigated through. The distance was great and the venue provided some really nice trails. The festival was well run, with very few things to complain about – and the event organizers worked well with the biggest team and fundraisers.
We want to thank Paul Jones for his first contribution to ORM. He is one of the main men behind the New England Spahtens. If you are anywhere near New England, we highly reccommend joining their facebook group. What is a New England Spahten? Check out their FAQ here.