After each mud run or obstacle race I compete in, you'll get my review and grades for each event to help you decide which ones you might want to sign up for. The following categories will be discussed:

1. COURSE- the design, venue, and setup of the race itself- how creative/ adventurous/ difficult the obstacles were, and obviously... how was the MUD?!?

all the fun beyond the actual race- the social atmosphere which usually includes food, beer garden, dj/ music/ concert, contests, vendors, and more during the after-party

3. SWAG- the included goodie bag and prizes up for grabs- all the "free" stuff that comes with price of entry and the quality of awards, shirts, and other giveaways

GEAR REVIEW: Reebok All-Terrain Thunder (OCR) shoes

Last year, I gave my Report on Reebok's debut footwear for the obstacle race athlete with their All-Terrain Supers, which have since become one of the more commonly seen shoes at OCR events around the country. The were followed shortly after with a more minimalist, but seemingly less popular, Sprint version that had frequent issues in durability.  Fast forward to Spring 2015 and the good folks at Reebok were nice enough to send me the new All-Terrain Thunder 2.0's to play around with and let everyone know what I thought of them.  There are some new features and ones they brought back as well, and its almost hard to keep track of all the literally trademark* named add-ons that you'll discover all over these.  So without further adieu, here's the breakdown...

1.  FIT/FEEL-  Even just by plain sight, you could tell these would have a much more comfy feel than its Super/Sprint predecessor "racer" style. I'm not sure that the Thunders are really meant for quite the same type of regular OCR beatdowns anyway, most obvious because of the significant added FoamFusion* cushion that looks more akin to typical road racing sneakers.  But they would be sure give a much smoother ride for navigating rocks, tree roots, and such on trails.  Overall, they also just have a much bulkier (heavier?) appearance, but their 8.8 oz weight will surprise you just how light and airy all that bulk actually is. Maybe the biggest surprise I found was their new speed Lock and Load* system (think Salomon SC's) that replaces the traditional laces the other All-Terrains had, though I will admit I have never been a fan of this style.  The lace/wire gets pulled tight to fit, and then the long excess slack needs to be tucked into the shoe's very thin tongue, which might be a task in itself.  GRADE = B

2.  FUNCTION-  The whole idea behind these new All-Terrain shoes is to be extra comfortable and protect against the elements of off-road running, especially with the extreme nature we find in muddy obstacle races. Like their Sprint/Super cousins, the Thunders have both similarities and differences with their older relatives.  You see a much less pronounced tread than in the other shoes, which might have me question how well they'll do on steep muddy uphill climbs when I want some aggressive lugs to dig in.  That same H2ODrain* feature returns to imply these could also deal with being soaked and shed water well, which was probably the best thing the older models had going for them. A big upgrade is the molded rubber DirtShield* along the forefoot and laces, though I'd need more time to see how it performs on actually keeping debris out of entering the top of the shoes.  And the same goes for the main composition of the shoe's TerrainSkin* upper to see how this does against even smaller grit and sand.  I see these being a good option for flat and fast shorter races, and of course for trail run training. But the biggest test still remaining will be how durable these shoes are after many miles of muddy mayhem.  I should trademark* that last line?  GRADE = A

3.  FASHION-  As the trend of super-bright flashy colors is rampant across all types of sports footwear (ever watch an NBA game and see a player NOT in crazy glowing kicks?), these shoes certainly wouldn't fit into the boring meat-and-potatoes category of shoe flair.  I know these come in several designs and color patterns, including a few Spartan race logo'd models, but these fluorescent yellow/green ones are probably the most attractive IMO.  I might even wear these for regular workouts or CrossFit, because you can really never have too much neon there haha.  And why not be able to even rock these casually with a pair of jeans?  Ok, maybe I went too far.  GRADE = A


And for those Reebok fans that thought these weren't "busy" enough, here are a few other options to consider... HOT!!


While I thought I might have a shot at still competing in my 2015 schedule's closest race to home, this injured ankle from two weeks earlier in the High Rock Challenge instead let me do this CitiField Spartan for fun among some friends and at an easier "rehab" pace. What it also did, as these stadium events have never been my favorite to race, was allow me to enjoy the experience a little more and soak up the moments of coursing through a major league ballpark, instead of the quick blur it would be in the elite heat.

1. COURSE-  Being a CrossFit enthusiast, I've not minded that each of the stadium races I've done so far (CitiField, Fenway, Tampa, and Philadelphia) all played well to having practiced those skills daily as many of the obstacles are really just fitness stations.  It becomes a little overkill though when there are stops to do jump rope, ball slams, pushups, box jumps, "ab-wheels", and of course those famous burpees all in the matter of a few mile race, especially for participants who were hoping for more of an obstacle field to navigate rather than going for a workout session. But I understand that space and permits likely place a lot of restrictions on what can "be done" at a multi-million dollar arena for pro sports teams, so I cut them some slack.  I was shocked to see the first Spartan in years not have their customary traverse (rock climbing) wall, though many were happy with that as their new extended zig-zag wall version has been a little tougher to complete. They have also toyed with many different styles of monkey bars at these stadium races, but when I went through in the post-rain afternoon, these monkey bars were closed down (for safety?).  A lot of other obstacles and equipment were wet and slippery too, and I wouldn't have been surprised if others would have been shut down also.  Grade = C

2. FESTIVAL-  CitiField apparently just ignored last year's complaints about their party, as they chose to again send racers across the street to a local bar to redeem their "free" (aka included with entry) beer.  I knew about this from 2014, but I can't imagine how many first timers or out of town visitors had never heard of McFadden's pub and were completely lost on how to get their pint.  With total seating for somewhere around 45,000 in this stadium, I'd think they have enough room to accommodate all the participants and spectators who would have rather hung around in their borrowed box seats than crowd into a local Flushing NY watering hole. Grade = C

3. SWAG-  Last year this race earned an "A" for their giveaway package, but I'm dumbfounded on exactly what happened this weekend.  First of all, as the picture below shows only some of the situation here... I couldnt even keep track of how many bracelets/attachments there were or what they were for, which Spartan wanted us all to wear!  We had one for the race heat entry, one for the beer (see Festival notes), a white and a yellow with Spartan name on them that no one knew what they did, plus the odd shoelace timing chip that seemed to cause issues and glitches all day.  Add in your bag check bracelet, and now you have more accessories than a 10 year old girl coming home from summer camp.  Seriously.  And for the first time ever at a Spartan, there was no bib, which is always a favorite souvenir among racers.  I know previously they had issues with either not including safety pins since they'd not want them littered around the stadium, and also another year they experimented with a sticker-back type that was a complete fail.  At least they continued to get the finisher medal right, going back to the same (smaller) style as all 2014 Spartans, but being unique to CitiField on the reverse side. Not surprised to see the same pile of gray standard (red Sprint version) shirts as we exited the course, but that's something we'll all have to deal with for the next 7 months I suppose.  Grade = B


HIGH ROCK CHALLENGE (Solo), Staten Island NY, 4/26/15

I got invited to come back to this longtime veteran adventure race in Staten Island to avenge last year's second place finish and see what was new at this Henry Kaufman Campgrounds course.  Though I couldn't grab the overall win, it was another heated battle for the podium and again a fun way to spend a Sunday morning at one of the Tri-State area's little know OCR secrets.

1.  COURSE-  Last year I got straight-up burned by a very swift young cross-country runner guy, who the race style clearly favored, and hoped this year might have more of a balance.  I was pleased with the pre-race briefing to hear that this course would have both double the obstacles and about a mile less running distance than in 2014's HRC. So with 28 obstacles over 5k, now we were talking more Mudman territory haha!  Many of the same structures were repeated from last year's course, my favorite being the Ranger Rope lake crossing near the last quarter mile- and in April around here, I can't imagine how cold that water might have been to fall off that obstacle (I made sure I didn't!). There were a lot of wooden walls and ladders to climb, but nothing really too technical or difficult for the many veterans here.  I would like to have seen some type of strength aspect, like a sandbag carry or a heavy lift or drag, to even out the playing field a little more over such a quick course (top 3 all finished in under 25 min!).  The course was very well marked and obstacles in great shape, even with their popular duo team race taking place the day before.  GRADE = B

2.  FESTIVAL-  With maybe a few hundred racing today, the scene was quiet, as expected.  I still liked how they planned their spectator viewing area to host the start, middle, and finish all in clear view- and where the bulk of obstacles were also situated.  HRC puts on a nice post race setting with free bagels and bananas, as well as beer on tap (though noon is a bit early to "rehydrate" for me!).  All in all, a relaxed post-race festival, fitting with the family atmosphere they have enjoyed attracting for all these years.  GRADE = B

3.  SWAG-  I said last year that these guys had great giveaways, and they were on par again here.  The medal was the same bottle-opener style, and though the design of the tech t-shirt was identical they changed up the colors quite a bit from last years gray/green.  I managed to also finish 3rd overall despite a rough race after spraining my ankle badly around the halfway point, and will be receiving a trophy like they presented a year ago (they were unavailable as of race day, so I am told they will be shipped out to the winners).  I also won a free entry to next year's race, so you can bet I'll be back in April 2016 to race here again for the top spot.  GRADE = A


ABF MUD RUN, Berlin NJ, 4/18/15

While most of the weekend's attention was on the inaugural New Jersey "Snow" Beast where Spartan Race has held their Mountain Creek Super course each September, about 2 hours south on I-95 was this race which I have wanted to do for years but just hadn't been able to.  Set on Miller Farms' 55 acre horse ranch and built out as a permanent obstacle course for training weekend bootcamps and hosting this annual race (their other in is Medford NJ in early October), Above and Beyond Fitness or "ABF" put on nothing short of an event that went exactly as their name describes.  I also want to note that this particular event, using the online hashtag #CANCERSUCKS, was an effort to raise money for families fighting the disease and a special dedication to those that had recently been lost to it.

1. COURSE:  I'm not sure that just giving an "A" truly does this course justice, as this exceeded all of my own expectations and what I read from other reviews.  What I knew going into this was that it was obstacle dense and despite only about 4 miles in length, to not expect a fast finish time due to the tasks (and penalties?) we'd find on course. As if just having over 50 permanent, fixed obstacles wasn't enough to excite anyone, the variety and difficulty of these challenges really put a smile on my face.  I consider myself more of an obstacle guy than a real running speedster, so the fact that two obstacles humbled me was a great takeaway knowing this race was legit and not just inflating their obstacle stats to make their course sound more impressive.  Many other obstacles gave a tough test of grip such as the two monkey bar rigs with various hanging attachments that left a number of people with some blisters at best, or at worst another failed obstacle penalty in ABF's "Quarter Deck".  This feature, rather than Spartan Race's mundane burpees or BattleFrog's manmakers, was a time consuming and grueling difference maker in the race as participants had to drag a tire the length of a football field and then separately carry two sandbags also to that point, only to drag the entire load back to the starting area.  I was lucky to only have to do that penalty twice, after their 16 foot high ninja warrior Warped Wall (which was actually the first time I've ever attempted one like it) and at the deceptively tricky inverted wall climb named the "Destroyer." Throw in at least 4 very cold water crossings, the longest rope traverse (aka Tyrolean) I've ever done, and about another four dozen obstacles, and you get one of the most impressive OCR courses you can find!  GRADE = A

2. FESTIVAL:  Any time you're competing for numbers on the same day with Spartan Race, let alone a new event in the same state that was much hyped for its intense difficulty and the fact that snow was still on their ski trails in Vernon NJ (whether that's appealing, or not!), it's tough to draw thousands to any other race near it.  For me, the fact that the Spartan's mens elite heat apparently became full was a blessing in disguise to decide to instead finally come out for ABF.  Despite a small crowd, and maybe smaller than it would have been without the Beast grabbing most of the tri-state area's racers, the "local OCR" feel was such a refreshing experience that I haven't had since last year doing several MudmanX events.  It was immediately obvious that Chad Mason and his staff, including every volunteer, took incredible pride in the entire production of what went on.  Attention to detail and the satisfaction of every "customer" (whether racing or spectating) was an unmatched effort that I think you will ever find at the big name events. I'll trade volunteers who enthusiastically cheered us the entire course and a personal handshake and congratulations from the owner, over being just another bib number and timing chip to go through the line ANY day!  GRADE = A

3. SWAG:  This was the aspect of ABF that took me most by surprise, but maybe it really shouldn't have.  It's funny how sometimes there is this irony of the smaller events coming out with the best giveaways, which reminded me a little bit here of last year's BoneFrog Challenge and their swag.  Just like I mentioned above with Chads's dedication to quality, the post race souvenirs were top notch.  I'll have to measure by size and weight, but their finisher medal is one of the biggest and heaviest in my collection.  And it's intricate mud splash design is something so artistic it just might make my other medals jealous!  We also received a logo'd ruck patch and a shirt which on the back has the date and location (which I love, as you know).  The front has their motto, which applied as much to the race as it does to their cancer-fighting charitable efforts, reading "Be strong when you are weak, brave when you are scared, and humble when you are victorious." After also being lucky enough yesterday to come in first place overall (and then win their age group cash prize too), I will remember this slogan and continue to try to always do as the shirt suggests.  GRADE = A


SPARTAN SPRINT, Concord NC, 4/11/15

I last came through Charlotte Douglas Int'l Airport last October on my way to the South Carolina Super, which was my final Spartan Race of 2014. I guess it only made sense to visit again and start the 2015 Spartan year (though not their "season") here, but just stayed in the Tarheel state for this popular Sprint that was known as one of the muddiest ever in '14.  While these two races about 6 months and 100 miles apart varied in their distance and number of obstacles, both the weather and the mud in each of the Carolinas made the events quite similar.

1. COURSE:  I ran both Saturday and Sunday mornings in Charlotte (actually, in Concord NC) and each day had a different feel due to the effect of the thousands of racers who ran the course between my heats. Like the Sunday SC Super last year, which followed their Beast the day before, running this day 2 Sprint was a much more beaten down, trampled, and muddy course.  Luckily, that included the high grass field runs that got flattened out for a faster Sunday.  As you can imagine, being on a farm in North Carolina, the running was flat and fast and certainly favored the runners over the "obstaclers," which was either good or bad depending on your style.  Particularly toward the end of this course, a row of obstacles needing superior grip (Tarzan swing) and precision skill (spear throw) became incredibly tough even for a majority of elites since they followed wet and muddy areas. Overall, probably the most challenging obstacles were the new horizontal bars with hanging ropes (a combination of two obstacles I saw at the Vermont Beast last year) and the tricky Z-wall traverse that looks like the mainstay version of the previous straight across rock climbing wall. GRADE = B

2. FESTIVAL:  I first thought that parking would be off-site and would be using a shuttle bus system to the venue, which I never like because I always want to go back to my car when I'm finished running but then return to the race to hang out. However, it turned out that wasn't the case and we could park right at Porter Farms not even a hundred yards from the starting line.  The weather turned out to be perfect for both my early morning race heat as well as for relaxing in the festival area afterwards. It might be a personal taste and could be just for this specific race, but I was really enjoying the music of late 90's hard rocking tunes, taking me back to my college days.  There were a lot of vendors with giveaways, but I had to hold back from too much swag greed as I wasn't checking a bag for the flight home.  If I also wasn't so exhausted from the double race weekend, I would have played around with the bunch of fun one-minute Spartan challenges such as the slosh pipe press, pullups, and what might be my favorite- the wall hop burpees (which may also be a sandbag toss over wall version?).  The winner of any of these gets a free race entry! GRADE = A

3. SWAG:  Would it be too greedy to accept 100% full and total credit for Spartan finally taking my suggestion of creating unique t-shirts for the three course distances?  Ok, maybe it wasn't all me, but I was glad to know there will be at least three different new shirts to collect at my SR finish lines this year (as if I need more tshirts!?), and not just the same one over and over like last year.  The general look is not really that much different than the old one, but the slight revision with color in the front logo was something long overdue and necessary, so we'll take it.  The same can be said for the finisher medals, which have been restyled and have a new edgy industrial design to them.  This mark was a consistent "B" for almost all of 2014 Spartan's because of their refusal to produce any swag variety other than what they sell in merchandise, but these all-important upgrades bump it up here, at least for now. GRADE = A


BATTLEFROG SERIES (15k), Hialeah FL, 2/28/15

After the amazing rookie-of-the-year season that BattleFrog had in 2014, I couldn't think of any better way to kick off my own SIXTH year of obstacle course racing than to enlist as a "combatant" in the first of their very hyped-up 2015 events.  Being in south Florida in February to escape the endless winter back home wasn't such a bad idea either!

1. COURSE-  I tried to research the course in the weeks leading up to this race, and poured over YouTube videos of last year's Miami event at Oleta State Park, where Spartan has also held their Florida Super distance race in the past.  However, a new year brought BattleFrog to a new location at Amelia Earhart Park, farther inland from the beach but still with lots of water (only fresh ponds now, not the salty ocean). In fact, less than even 100 yards into this race, runners were faced with getting soaked on a crowded and furious swim just to mess with the legs and lungs. Lots more obstacle course followed obviously, including at least another 4 or 5 dips in the water, but those didn't feel as harsh considering Saturday was a total washout with non stop rain during the day.  Despite the downpour, the sandy trails didn't produce much mud like we saw in August's NJ BattleFrog, but did still make everything a bit more slippery to climb. And with mandatory obstacle completion required for the elite racers, it stepped up the pressure to succeed on them on the first try.  The obstacle that probably claimed the most casualties, elite and open alike, was the rope traverse (ie "Tyrolean") which was long and a thick rough twine to hang from or pull yourself across.  My scorched and scabbed abdomen is proof of that this week! The most grueling had to be the double jerry can (50# each?) farmer's carry that seemed to stretch for nearly a few hundred yards, with an under-barbed-wire drag included near midway through.  The rest of the obtacles were similar to what BF has brought before, with the best coming all in a flurry before the finish.  The decline and then incline monkey bars were again slippery and tested the last ounces of grip strength left, and then a half pipe run-up to a water slide on the other side was the best ending besides finally crossing the finish and collecting your medal. Grade = A

2. FESTIVAL-  I'm always faced with the difficult task of grading the party scene when it's affected by bad weather.  In this case, we were talking about torrential Florida rain that just pretty much drenched every person, place, and thing nearby!  I actually felt really bad for all the vendor tents and merchandise that got nearly ruined by the sideways rain and flooded floor area.  Nevertheless, if considering this on a nice day, the festival would have been pretty good.  A big military presence, which goes with the theme of their event and founders, was impressive (even though I think they have abandoned the helicopter ride and drill demo's that we saw at some of their events last year). There were lots of samples and a wide variety of products on display, and the official BF merch tent seemed to be hopping with a huge new line of apparel and souvenirs, unless that was just from people staying out of the rain :-P   Grade = B

3. SWAG-  You can't beat what this race series gives you in terms of their medals, with the 15k and 5k versions (I ran both) shown here, both super solid and heavy.  There is also an "Xtreme" medal and stars awarded for their endurance race of doing both distances and repeating numerous 5k laps within a certain time cutoff.  The orange individually numbered wristband (yellow for the ladies) is BattleFrog's new elite disqualification system.  Complete ALL the obstacles and keep your wristband (as well as be eligible for awards) or risk having it cut off and essentially no longer be in the elite class for that race.  I like the idea, since after all this is an obstacle race and not just about seeing who is the fastest runner.  Lastly, the shirt is an updated design and high quality cotton.  It's a minor thing, but for some reason that fact that it has green stitching on the collar and shoulder, as well as a small BF tag on the waist, says to me that they have really tried to make a special and unique product from what many other race companies consider just a standard giveaway.  Grade = A


SUPER SPARTAN, Winnsboro SC, 10/26/14

Another busy weekend in the obstacle course racing world, with the OCRWC ("World" Championships) in Ohio and also Spartan out on the West coast with their Sacramento races, most picked their poison either by distance from home or whatever course seemed to advertise the most excitement (or perhaps money/prizes).  For myself, only one goal in mind sent me to South Carolina- to go after my last chance for a second blue medal and repeat my 2013 status in the Spartan double-Trifecta club.  It also didn't hurt that the local forecast called for near 80 midday temps, better than my NY October Fall weather settling in.

1. COURSE:  By the number of friends who were returning to Winnsboro after doing the race last year, I assumed they vouched for the quality of this course, which had both a 12-mile Beast on Saturday and then this 9-mile Super version the next day.  Being from the Northeast and used to the dense and rocky mountain trails of most of my area Spartans, this race had such a different feel in both the "type" of ground and of course, its flatness.  Sure, a few rolling hills and some motocross dirt mounds broke up the level running, but it was more the pavement-like dry packed dirt that shocked me (and my knees, ankles, and feet).  Then, on the flipside (and all the more fun!), whatever muddy parts we met were a slippery clay composition that made every step like walking on slime, and those obstacles to follow that much more difficult and hard to grip.  I've never seen so many people have trouble with the ordinary rope climb than after what was easily the muckiest mud-bog walk of any Spartan Race I've been through!   Besides the terrain, nothing new stood out on the obstacle list, save for the spear-on-a-string which appears to be making its way in as that standard, though it continued to cause a lot of problems with some knots, short strings, or getting caught, as we saw when it debuted at the Vermont Beast last month.  GRADE = B

2. FESTIVAL:  Like I mentioned, OCR diehards were spread out across the US to begin with, but then also as I only could attend Sunday here I expected a smaller party (I know, I'm a broken record on that from previous posts, but what can I do).  Either way, this was one of the best setups of Spartan festivals I've seen.  Placement of spectator areas and all the merchandise/ vendor/ food tents somehow literally sandwiched perfectly in the middle of everything allowed several points of viewing of start, finish, and just about all the best obstacles.  Really an ideal spot for those watching friends and for the racers to receive that encouragement at the most needed stops, as the race seemed to be happening on all sides of the festival.  GRADE = A

3. SWAG:  The hardware I came for was worth this trip (double Trifecta medal shown in center of shirt logo), but getting to see finishers who earned many multiples of this was even cooler.  Two was enough for me this year, but I've heard some have gotten 9x, or even more! Those achievements are definitely impressive but the medals do get silly at that point, as they resemble something closer to a dinner plate on a ribbon or a Flavor-Flav necklace (can you even wear that?).  The rest of the swag is par for the 2014 course- same shirt, same medal/pie piece. I'm excited to see what SR has promised for next year, as all their bombarding emails advertise NEW shirts and medals?  I might personally have to wait til Spring for that, but maybe that release will come as early as mid-January's SoCal weekend, their first 2015 calendar year races.  We'll just have to wait and see!  GRADE = B



I thought long and hard over the rest of the weekend about whether to even do a post on this event.  The format was far from what I ever run, and it didn't appear that mud was even part of the equation.  But, at last, I figured it did still qualify as some sort of obstacle race, just one very different from the majority of OCRs we know and love.  It was really for that reason, that I wanted to check it out in the first place.  A new style of racing, hopefully more focused on the obstacles and perhaps in a direction more suitable for the growing TV exposure of the sport, was what appeared to be advertised.  American Ninja Warrior meets running?

1.  COURSE-  I'll lump them together, but there were actually three courses in total to run.  Labeled "Speed" (shortest course), "Agility" (medium), and "Strength" (longest), the task was to run all three as fast as possible (obviously!) within a one hour period, for a combined total elapsed time that would rank you in a time trial among all racers. The concept alone, I thought was outstanding.  Their development and execution of it, however, was poorly done.  Going just by the titles of their courses (which were all VERY short), you'd think those fitness elements would be the focus on each, or at least incorporated. Nope! The only thing that separated them seemed to be distance (1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, and 3/4 mile- I'm estimating).  There was no more strength in the Strength race than any of the other two parts, and obstacles were so sparse that the day belonged completely to the fastest sprinters, as this was also on a completely flat lot, and not the mountain across the street where Spartan's Tuxedo Sprint visits every June.  I'd love to see this event become what it could be, a test of the "ultimate athlete", but only 139 racers showed up to vie for that title!  And with my total racing time being in just the 12 minute range, I can't say that it was worth my gas and tolls to compete in something that short.  GRADE = C

2.  FESTIVAL-  As I mentioned, less than a couple hundred racers were all that descended on Tuxedo this weekend, so the party was a little self-limiting.  I also don't know what they would have done should ten times that number have been present.  There was really no activity other than to keep checking scores and get the swag (see below) and beer that was part of the deal.  And grabbing a copy of their headline sponsor Men's Fitness magazine doesn't seem like my kind of post-race fun. With all the hype of an obstacle heavy event (really not so) I could have seen lots of contests being a hit as the crowd, although small, was very athletic and competitive.  GRADE = C

3.  SWAG-  Although no finisher medal like usual [insert sad face] the takeaways were still pretty solid.  But to fair, I 'm not sure what kind of medal would have been worthy from doing an OCR that only totaled about a mile and a half.  I ended up getting multiples of some of the sponsor sample prizes from their tables, not knowing that on my way out we would also get them in our swag bag, which was an actual drawstring sack.  The wicking tech material tshirt was probably the best part of the souvenirs. For the fastest racers, trophies went to the top 3 overall and winners of each race distance time for both male and female, along with the champion taking home a giant cardboard check for $2500 (and hopefully also the regular size one to go with it!).  GRADE = B


MERRELL DOWN & DIRTY, Bronx NY, 10/5/14

It's fair to say I know this race pretty well, as I've hit this one up for 5 consecutive years now- the only event I've been able to keep that streak alive for.  So obviously I like coming back to the Bronx in October for more than just Yankees games (though sadly, not this year for the Bombers), as this will probably be a mainstay for me every Fall as the OCR season is closing out.  I know they have been doing more marketing for their events this year, and it did feel like they had drawn a slightly bigger crowd than in the past, a good sign I'll be back again to make it 6 years running at Pelham Bay Park.

1.  COURSE-  They haven't changed their blueprint in all the times I've run this 5k (they also have a 10k course), save for a few obstacles switched around or added.  So you can go back to read what I've said about this event from past years (here's links to: 2013, 2012, 2011), and see that maybe their success has been based on that consistency. My overall favorite part of this race is the park itself, which begins and ends along Orchard Beach, a hidden gem of calm (and surprisingly warm) water and beachfront that is as much fun to wade through during that last quarter mile of the course as it is also a ritual for many to take a quick swim (aka body bath and pre-laundry rinse) after the race.  GRADE = B

2.  FESTIVAL-  Once again, even as the first weekend of October in NY has started to signal cooler weather settling in, they got another gorgeous sunny day to give all their participants and spectators a great Sunday of racing.  Things have changed a little over the years with the party and setup, namely the food that was offered.  Racers still did get a snack bag with trail mix and tangerine, but that's a far cry from a few seasons ago when they included a burger, chips, and drink for everyone.  I'm not sure all of what was for sale, but I did see a few people with chicken fingers and french fries- not exactly my post-race meal of choice though.  DJ music has replaced the live bands that we also remember from a couple years back, but my biggest surprise was the absence of their usual emcee (for those who know him, the Johnny Knoxville clone), who has always did a great job of keeping everyone excited and informed of the day's events.  GRADE = B

3.  SWAG-  I knew the same souvenirs from their race I ran in Hartford CT in June were coming my way.  Luckily this time in NY, unlike last year, we also got a big bag to store the goodies that came with registration- Paul Mitchell samples, Lara Bars, elastic scarf handband, and more.  The shirt was again the same black tech material (though each year has been a different color), and they remain among my favorite race giveaway shirts- simple, nice looking, and comfortable. And out of the dozens of race series I've tried out, these guys still do their prizes and awards ceremony the best.  There are two event distances, several categories in each, and then 5 year age group divisions on top of all those, which leaves plenty of medals to give out.  GRADE = A


MUDMANX, New Egypt NJ, 10/4/14

With a name like this event has, there has to be one main thing to expect: no, not that I would be there haha, but that there will be some serious MUD action going on!  Mother nature helped ensure that with early morning downpours, and combined with the dirt motocross track at New Egypt Speedway that this course centered around, this was one of the dirtiest and sloppiest races I've done in some time.  Cheers to all my Mudmen and Mudwomen out there (including one of my fave racers Marcy, who was volunteering at the merch tent today)... this was certainly one for you!

1.  COURSE-   Having done a few OCR's that center around a race track (such as Englishtown NJ's Tough Mudder and Battlefrog Series, just as examples), I figured this could have had a lot of the same direction, going around in circles on a paved oval.  But my eyes lit up when I realized this was a dirt track instead, transformed into a total muckfest with all the extra rain.  Yes, parts did venture off to either gravel roads or a quick excursion in the parking lot for a couple obstacles, but the majority of the 3.5 miles went through the very muddiest (or even calf-deep water) sections imaginable and some very cool narrow trails that were cut through the adjacent forest land.  Much of the obstacles that MudmanX has put out in past events were there again, and the toughest of those were made even more tricky due to the weather.  It looked like only a few were able to have success on the hanging rope handle traverse, and either way you'd fall or then wade through some thick mud after on your way to the finish line.  You could tell that the venue allowed a lot of freedom for the race organizers to dig and build, as I really enjoyed (?) the underground tunnels and hilly dirt mounds that became a leg destroyer for anyone predicting an entirely flat runner's course.  Inside the track arena, where both the start and finish were housed, the mud was incredibly slimy and never allowed anyone to do more than just plod along, as it constantly threatened to take your shoes from you at any point.  GRADE = A

2.  FESTIVAL-   The rain was a blessing for the race (in my opinion, see above) but of course not so much for hopes of having a great afterparty, as it was also a bit cooler than recent weather has been and most of the local runners predictably went home for a hot shower afterwards.  The huge bleacher area could have done well on a sunny day, which gave open views of racers during all parts of the course.  Unfortunately, the loyal partiers could only take to the small covered tent area behind the grandstand, which did have a fun backyard picnic feel but then left no way to observe the other hundreds of muddy folks trudging through the course.  The free beer and good tunes seemed to make up for that though.  GRADE = B

3.  SWAG-  I picked up one of my best hauls of the year from this race, being my 3rd completed MudmanX of 2014, following their July 19 NJ event and their August 9 NY race.  With that accomplishment (besides another I'll mention in a minute), I achieved their Superfecta status and got a commemorative medal and tech tee shirt (shown below).  Needing to do 3 of their 4 events of the year for that, the last opportunity for any Superfecta hopefuls out there is the NJ MudSpooktacular on 11/8.  So, in addition, I represented the Mudman name well and also ended up taking 1st overall in their elite heat!  The extra swag, besides their standard dogtag finisher medal and tshirt, was an additional medal, some great vendor items (not shown), and an envelope with just some cold hard cash, which can never hurt ;)  GRADE = A