Can a local OCR survive in the Land of Mud Run Giants?
Let’s play a game…
Imagine you’re a race director planning the second incarnation of your obstacle course race. Your first year, despite long delays at registration, bad weather, and not nearly enough mud on the course to earn the title “mud run,” you attracted about 1,100 racers, made some money, and paid out a generous prize purse to teams, individuals, and even age group champions.
This year you’ve fixed your problems with registration, have a gorgeous sunny day, have stepped up the mud and obstacles on the course, and have another year worth of word of mouth and marketing behind you. How many racers would you expect this year? Double? Triple?
If you guessed only 350, only about one-third of the previous year, then you might be realizing that competition for participants in mud runs and OCRs has reached new levels, with racers demanding more value before they decide to part with their money. Race Director Brandon Lott seems to think so, stating that he plans to make “some improvements over this year’s course with even more mud and some additional obstacles to add more interest.” He also felt that “it was hard to bring people back after being disappointed from last year,” when the mud and obstacles left much to be desired.
Even though there was a figurative cloud hanging over the race due to the poor attendance, a literal cloud could not be spotted Saturday morning in the desert region of Southeastern Washington that many Gray’s Anatomy and Sleepless in Seattle fans don’t know exists. The course was fast, fair, and fun, especially for beginners. But even with the changes to this event, it lacked the major challenges to keep the obstacle junkies from looking to bigger and better things.
My favorite obstacle was a series of over and under walls through a mud pit. The mud felt great on the hot day; although by my second lap much of the water had sunk into the sand wherever a tarp wasn’t placed first. The most challenging obstacle was a tortuous balance log that zigzagged for twelve separate segments and took out the majority of the competitive field. In the end, the obstacles and race were perfect to get first timers, like Ryan Brown (from team champion Team Atlas) hooked on obstacle racing. But it left him wanting to try “a bigger race with bigger obstacles.” And maybe that’s exactly what happened with the majority of last years racers…
Speaking of Team Atlas, the first incarnation of the Atlas Race Elite team swept 1st-4th in the team race. They will be one of many at the Atlas race looking for the biggest team prize money payout so far in obstacle racing, but had to settle for $200 this year (down from last years $800 first prize due to the poor turnout).
The solo competitive heats featured some great racing as I was challenged by 2:25 marathoner and winner of five separate 50k trail races, Jacob Puzey. His lack of speed work and obstacle experience proved too much to overcome in the end, but he is another first timer that might now be hooked and should be a name to watch for in the future, especially at longer more technical races. The women’s race may have been the best of the day, with the top four women battling for the three prize money payouts and all finishing within a minute of one another after 30 minutes of racing.
Post-race there just didn’t seem to be a large enough crowd to sustain a party, despite good food vendors and the Benton City Fire District assisting by hosing off hot or dirty spectators and racers.
I’m left imagining what could have been with 2,000 participants instead of 350, as I’m sure Brandon, the race director is, and hoping that the changes he has planned will be enough to attract that sort of crowd to raise Tough Rhino to the ranks of the elite mud runs!
Chad Trammell is a Brooks sponsored runner and elite obstacle course racer for Team Atlas Race