I recently took part in my fifth Down and Dirty Obstacle Race, which might well be my favorite obstacle race series. The event is the perfect introduction to people who are tempted by the sport but who fear that Tough Mudders might be to be too difficult and find Spartan Races too intimidating.
The race organizers, MESP, have been producing this event at Orchard Beach for many years, before the days of Spartans and Tough Mudders, and their experience shows. The obstacles themselves are sturdy, registration and bag check went smoothly, and there were no surprises, good or bad. Over the years, they have kept the race fresh by tweaking the course a bit and substituting a few new obstacles each year.Why should you consider this event for your introduction to obstacle course racing? In addition to a smoothly run professional operation, the race itself is beginner-friendly. The obstacles are all achievable by mortals. You do not need to be an athletic superstar to get over a five-foot wall. You might need a little help from your friends (or a sympathetic volunteer), but you will make it over, and you will appreciate the feeling of accomplishment. If you fail at any obstacle, there are no penalties. In previous years, the event was timed, but this year we were encouraged to keep track of our own time if we wanted to know how fast we completed the course. This also meant that this year there were no prizes awarded. I expect that this made no difference for the vast majority of racers.
The race offers two distances: three miles and six miles. When it comes to races, I’m like a supermodel: I don’t get out of bed for less than 10K. The longer distance includes some pleasant trail running, but nothing too technical. Nevertheless, a novice may find the shorter distance to be enough of a challenge, and most of the racers opted for the three-mile course. The obstacles were mostly ones that you would recognize at other events: cargo nets, slippery walls, two small mud pits. I enjoy the wall with rock-climbing holds, which is something I don’t see that often, as well as the part of the course that takes you on the beach and into the chest-high waters of Long Island Sound for a few hundred yards.
One of the more pleasing aspects of the race is that the makeup of the participants resembles typical New Yorkers more than most other local athletic events: people of all ages, all body types, and all ethnicities. I can’t vouch for the other cities in the Down and Dirty Series, but it would appear that Down and Dirty has done more to broaden the participant base for OCR than the other big operators in this field, and for that they should be commended.
Some final words on why I like this event so much: I can get there without a car. Orchard Beach is on the far edge of New York City, in Pelham Bay Park, which offers plenty of space for the race and has an enormous parking lot steps from the race course. The organizers provide a shuttle bus to take participants to and from the nearest subway station. This makes it much, much easier for city dwellers to take part. Also, the organizers shy away from charging extra fees, unlike many other races. Parking was free, as were bag check and photographs. Spectators could go anywhere on the course without buying a ticket. There were a few food trucks selling their wares, and sponsor tents had additional diversions, making this a suitable fun-for-the-whole-family way to spend a morning outdoors.
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