On Saturday July 30th, over a thousand Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) athletes, lined up with their eyes on one of the coveted Ninja Swords given to anyone who reaches the age group podium at Mud Ninja in Ohio. I made the six hour drive to experience one of the unique “mom and pop” type OCRs that is still prevalent in the middle of the country.
Festival Area: The festival area was great providing music, allowing clubs to setup team tents, supplement companies giving free samples/selling product, a foam machine for the children to play in, a pita truck and even a crepe stand.
General Organization: Parking, check in, registration and available port-a-potties were all very smooth. No problems regarding any of those areas.
Starting Corral: The first thing I noticed regarding the race was the very narrow starting corral, it was about four people wide and ran in a zig-zag. While not a fan of this narrow start, it was necessary to prevent pushing and shoving that would have ensued if the corale was very corral wide and immediately narrowed into the trail. The chip timing of participants also made the narrow start irrelevant as long as you were not racing for the overall win.
Terrain: The course quickly took off and went into the woods, where the trail was wide enough for about two people. The trail was a little technical with sharp uphill and downhill sections over uneven terrain. This made it challenging to pass people but not impossible. Eventually there were sections of the course that opened up later on allowing for very easy passing. The most memorable piece of terrain was the giant widow maker hill, one final climb before the final series of obstacles.
Obstacles: The obstacles were not crazy hard, but they were a lot of fun. I also experienced no bottlenecks, even though I magically ended up way back in the field (reference complaints). The course was designed so participants raced into the woods only to come back to the center area to complete obstacles. This provided excellent viewing for spectators. The ¼ pipe was challenging but had ropes hanging down so athletes had to make it up about 85% of it before grabbing a rope. Add in a standard array of mud pits, low crawls and balance beams made for a nice mix of fun obstacles.
Two obstacles, the “Autism Speaks” wall and the large pipe, required assistance for all athletes. While I was not crazy about this for a competitive wave, it was a lot of fun for team building in the open waves. Besides those two, the most challenging obstacles were the hanging tires, the wooden overhead bars and the springboard into the net. The hanging tires required participants to traverse four pieces of tires hanging off ropes, similar to crossing a rig with only four holds. The wooden overhead bars involved traversing across what was basically a 2×4 by your hands. The springboard into the net (American Ninja Warrior) was definitely the most fun to do and to watch. The muddy springboards made just getting a good jump a challenge creating spectacular wipeouts. If you missed the net you could grab one of the ropes with knots to pull yourself up to the top platform.
Awards: The best part of Mud Ninja besides the atmosphere was the awards. They give out Ninja Swords (long, medium and short) for placing in your age group. This is great motivation for those who are competitive but incapable of reaching the overall podium. They also gave several awards for things they observed on the course regarding embodying the spirit of Mud Ninja (such as photographer’s pick, farthest traveled, buffalo award for most impressive ninja, sheriff’s award for valor and EMT award for most heroic).
Complaints: The event was fantastic for open wave athletes and all my complaints lie in the competitive portion. The first major complaint was course markings. Within the first ½ mile, the lead group of about 10 athletes almost took one wrong turn (but quickly corrected) and within a couple hundred meters may have actually taken a wrong turn. I’m honestly not sure what happened…either the main pack or the lead group of athletes took a wrong turn early in the race because all of a sudden the lead pack merged with the rest of the first wave instantly putting the top ten scattered between 40th and 70th places. This created problems as faster athletes tried to desperately make their way back into the lead with slower athletes confused as to why they were in front of the leaders. (Add this to me personally taking what would be a 3rd wrong turn due to lack of course markings or visible runners before the final series of obstacles costing me another three places.) Long story short, the course could have been marked better. Previous year’s participants said this was an anomaly and not normal for Mud Ninja. Since they modify the route of the course every year (something which I normally view as a positive), it meant that even previous competitors did not know if they were on/off track nor could they just run the same path as the previous year.
The second issue was the digital display of results at the finish line had the top three separated from their age groups. However, when they announced awards the overall winners were put back into their respective age groups. So, when they announced age group awards, there was three men and three women that thought they would get a sword but did not. Instead, overall podium finishers were given two awards (one for age group and one for overall). I have no issues giving the overall winners two awards, but the digital results should not be displayed differently. The main issue there is the inconsistency between displaying the results and announcing the winners. (After talking to the race director, he was unaware of the inconsistency, which makes me think the decision to pull out the overall winners from their age group was a decision made by the chip timing company.)
Overall: Had they fixed the issues I had with the course markings and awards, I would have given this a perfect rating. It is a fun event with some unique obstacles in a family friendly atmosphere. The course markings ruined my competitive experience but did not ruin the weekend, as I enjoyed spending time running through their course. Mud Ninja is worth the trip if you are looking for a good time (and/or a ninja sword) and despite my competitive experience disaster, I do plan on giving them a second chance next year.
Photo Credits: Amy Perperis of Strength & Speed