Before we dig into the Day Of this event. Let us back up with a brief history of “City Obstacle Course Races”.
Metro Dash launched in 2011 and did well in a few cities. They started to grow, put several races on the calendar and then promptly crashed and burned shortly thereafter.
Red Frog Events created The Urban Warrior Dash in the spring of 2013. Along with the 14 mile Iron Warrior Dash, that they launched at the same time, these events were the “natural” progression to the juggernaut that was Red Frog back then. Iron did 3 events, never to return and the Urban WD calendar went away after events in San Diego (1600 participants) and Chicago (2800 participants).
Alpha Warrior came along with a “parking lot” style obstacle race with a motto of “No Mud, No Miles, No Mercy”. They too, did a couple of events and faded away. (Rumor is they are making a comeback with some folks from the American Ninja Warrior crew but nothing has become public yet).
The Men’s Health Urbanathlon has actually been around for 10 years. MHURB brings in around 2000 participants per event, yet they only focus on 2-3 cities per year, and seem to be happy with that.
The one true success story in city events has been The Spartan Stadium Series. They had a monster success when they produced a Fenway Park race back in 2012. This has led to a slow but steady growth of their series, with the venue itself perhaps being the biggest draw to these races. It’s a winner for sure, but 6 races a year doesn’t mean the model can necessarily work nationwide.
So, when Tough Mudder announced Urban Mudder as “Tough Mudder’s Cousin In The City”, back in January, I was skeptical that it could work. Sure millions have done Tough Mudders worldwide, but was TM missing out on another huge percentage of humans that had yet to try? According to Alex Patterson, who was the VP Brand at TMHQ back then, potential consumers had told TMHQ that driving to the country was a hinderance to attempting a Tough Mudder. So was the 10-12 mile distance. So was the mud, ice bath, and electric shock obstacles
So Tough Mudder, the event that previously bragged about low finishing percentages, and was determined to make the little orange headband the end all-be all of office humblebraggery, was going to go completely against brand and launch a funsies, beginners race, just 5 miles long, with 10-12 obstacles? Ladies and Gentlemen, Urban Mudder.
Upon arrival, it is very clear you are NOT at a Tough Mudder. The orange, brown and black that we are so used to seeing along miles of mud were replaced by a combination of grey, green and light yellow, along concrete and grass. Fist pumping music was blaring away. The new character of “Coach” is gyrating groovily to music in ridiculously short shorts and an equally ridiculous, yet awesome mustache.
The turnout was so good, and enough people had assembled early, that the 10:00am start wave went off at 9:45. We made it in time for the 10:00am wave. No “Start Line Sean”, no Get down on one knee and thank heroes, no TM Pledge, and no Hoorah! Some fun announcements and we were off. With the racing starting inside a college stadium, we bolted across a track with Coach right along side us.
We typically avoid obstacle by obstacle run downs here at ORM. However, since this is an inaugural event, we’ll lay it out that way, just this one time.
Mafia Blocks. Some mini plastic traffic blocks.
Head Rush. Big points here for a fun, challenging obstacle that anyone can try without hurting themselves. See photo. Tricker than it looks, especially transitioning feet from bar to bar as you go high to low and vice versa.
Heavy Metal. Teams of 2 or 3 grab a big pole and walk around a field. Much like a log carry we’ve seen in multiple obstacles races. Urban Mudder had us take our pole along with us on over, under, and through walls. Again, something a new person can do, but probably has never done before.
6 Feet Over. A giant rubbery thing. It’s called Beached Whale at Tough Mudder. Jeff Marier thinks it looks like a giant hot dog.
Swipeout. A definite trend in 2015 OCR is the sponsored named obstacle. Swipeout, sponsored by Tinder, (Get It? Swiping!?) is a swirling pole that you run across. Not much to it, but it broke up the running a little.
2nd Ave Subway. That thing where you carry your buddy on your back, then you switch. It’s much shorter than the TM version, I think we each carried each other about 50 feet. I am guessing because they don’t want you falling onto the concrete sidewalk. Also, it’s a local joke, which I did not understand until someone explained the history of this mythical subway.
Under Pressure. Like Tough Mudder’s Cage Crawl, without all the water and fear. So just scurrying under a fence really. On lap two, we had to go straight military crawl on this obstacle, as going on your back and pulling down on the fence to propel you forward was causing obstacle damage.
Laser Minefield. HUGE excitement leading up to this one. I had seen the video preview which looked super bad ass. A volunteer excitedly told us to avoid the lasers on the inside, and if we don’t, a buzzer will go off. I could not wait to experience what I imagined to be a mini version of TRON deadly discs. Instead, it was definitely a WOMP WOOMP situation. I entered the black tent, and exited the black tent. I heard a buzzer go off, but saw no “lasers”. One of the more memorable moments of the day was looking back as different people exited the obstacle, and everyone had the same puzzled look of what the heck just happened.
Cut to, our second lap of the day. Either the wind changed, or the sun, or they just figured out how to manage this obstacle better, because the 2nd time through, I definitely saw the lasers. It was super cool stepping over and ducking under them. It was much like that scene in Ocean’s 12 with the french guy. I had a great feeling of accomplishment and high fived my buds when I made it through unscathed.
On The Fence. These were two 8 foot walls in a row. If it is one thing I am good at in OCR, it’s walls. I built one years ago in my backyard so I have several techniques that are on point. My favorite, which can be read about in Chapter 9 of my OCR training book, involves taking a running start, and leaping with the front part of one foot onto the wall which propels your body upwards. One of the keys is that your other foot is leaping from solid ground. In this case, Urban Mudder put soft foam pads down in front of the wall. From a distance, they did not resemble foam pads, so my whole body bounced on the way up and confused my brain (much like putting in your hand in cold water that is actually hot or the other way around) and my leg buckled in a way it never had before.
This obstacle was more enjoyable on the 2nd lap because a) I knew it was foam this time and b) we stopped and helped several struggling participants over both walls.
Ape Sh*t. Climb up a truss about a foot before mounting standard monkey bars. The added bonus was the placement of this obstacle. As you rounded a corner, you had a city view of a nearby bridge. I have a distinct memory of the song “Big Poppa” being played and my new New York pal, Brian Burbige, singing along with this bridge in the background. It was a very NYC moment.
Speaking of music. A huge plus for this race was being able to hear music almost 100% of the time on course. Most OCRs, you get music at start and finish and perhaps they have a seperate set up at a few key obstacles. This day, you heard it all day long no matter where you were. Just the right volume to make it enjoyable, and not so loud that you could not talk to your friends. It was all very NY hip hop based so if you did not like that music, then it was a long day for you.
Rock and a Hard Place. A cross between the Spartan Race traverse wall and American Ninja Warrior spider walls. There were hand and foot holds spaced apart that made it challenging, but not impossible. On my first time through I skipped the last foot hold and nearly face planted onto where your feet go at the end.
The next photo shows our friend Anne effectively conquering this obstacle. Below is a great shot of me two seconds after I fell. I quickly regained my composure in time for the click of the camera. It is my sincere goal to teach all of you, that if it one thing that is important in OCR, it’s the photo ops.
Rooftop Series. The grand finale. Urban Mudder gets a double A+ for this one. Begin by climbing up a 15 foot ladder. Then a jump over a 3-4 foot gap onto another “building”. You’ve seen all of your favorite movie heroes do this, now you get to attempt it. Then a brief walk the plank situation over to another “building”. Finally, you get to pull another killer movie hero move, a leap 20 feet down onto a giant soft target.
After accepting your glorious headband, you see a sign that says “Course conquered party started!”. This is absolutely true. First, you are handed lots of sponsored products. Oberto Jerky, MetRX bars, Cellucor Amino Alpha Beta Gamma Post Race Drink. You then enter the festival area that is a true party. You can hang out in the massive shaded beer garden to enjoy a free Shock Top Beer, plus as many more as you would like on your dime. There was a basketball court set up, some other mini games from various sponsors, and the coup de grace – an arctic enema dunk tank. Get dropped into a dunk tank filled with ice, come up with a gold washer and you win a free Tough Mudder. I loved this one so much I tried it twice (and failed twice). You can get a glimpse of how cold it was in the video at the end of this review.
Swag received was a dri-fit tech tank top, plus a pair of Wigwam socks. They also included some discount / coupon codes for upcoming NY Tough Mudders – MoreMudLI to Sign Up for Long Island 2016 for only $99 or TryMud2015 for %20 off Long Island 2015 and Tri-State 2015. GameFace provided free photos within a few days after the event.
There were a couple of areas that needed improvement. Mudder decided to pre-stack corral waves leading up to the actual start line. People stood in these lines for over an hour in some cases. It was hot with no cover, so that is the biggest complaint I heard on site or online afterwards. It seems as though people just lined up when they got there, rather than running in their assigned wave, so that may have been part of the problem. It seems like an easy fix for next time. When we ran our second wave, we also waited 15 minutes to get onto Head Rush. Definitely too long to wait for an obstacle, but I’ve seen considerably longer lines at Wipeout and Rugged Maniac in the past.
The 4-6 jump from wood plank down to more wood plank of Rooftop Series was injury prone. As soon as I landed the first time I did it, I thought “someone is going to get hurt here”. As the day wore on, several people did. They need to soften that landing next time around.
There could also have been at least one more water stop on a 5 mile course on a hot day. There was one official water station shortly after 2nd Avenue Subway. (It included MET-Rx Gummies which I loved). The second time through, they seemed to have added another “unofficial” water station after 6 Feet Over. There were the large tanks of water with the spigots you can drink out of, but no cups. Maybe they intended to add a table, cups, and a volunteer later and forgot?
The positives on the day far outweighed the negatives and TMHQ has to be thrilled with the outcome on the day. Tough Mudder hit a home run on all of the points that Alex Patterson described to me back in January. Beginner’s distance. Some simple, yet challenging obstacles. Taste of teamwork at Tough Mudder. Don’t have to drive 90 miles to get to. Don’t want to be shocked or frozen or jump 20 feet in murky water. An after party that rivals (if not tops) Warrior Dash. Check. Check. Check. Check. and Check.
There are currently no calendar dates for Urban Mudder for 2015. Ben Johnson from TMHQ told us we can expect at least 6 cities in 2016. In the meantime, sign up for a Tough Mudder here and get a $10 debit card back when you register.