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?!?

2. FESTIVAL-
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

SPARTAN RACE CITI FIELD, Flushing NY, 4/12/14

It's strange to say that my first three obstacle course races of the year (Spartan's Tampa Sprint in February and now both days of the CitiField race) have all been inside sports ballparks.  The unique type of venue has been quite popular for OCR runners, and it's surprising that only Spartan has really ventured into this style of race course (so far).  Back for it's second year in the NY Met's stadium, they made it a two day event this time, likely due to the many complaints that racers had from the logistical nightmares that happened in 2013.

1. COURSE-  Not much changed other than the placement or order of some of the obstacles, but a few things of note did disappear from this race (and maybe future Spartan's?) as we've known them before.  The stadium series courses have always relied heavily on fitness obstacle stations, and to the delight of many but my disappointment, the rowing ergometer didn't make it into this race.  I know that last year the roughly 30 or so machines they had available just wasn't close to being enough for the masses that went through the race, so it might have been ditched for that reason.  But even bigger news was that the staple, or even trademark, of Spartan Race "gladiators" at the finish line was now replaced with a row of heavy punching bags to weave through instead.  Granted, this aspect of the race never really meant much as far as being any real test of strength or fitness, and it certainly became softer in the last year or so... but, it no doubt was the definitive ending and last battle before Spartan victory (and medal) were obtained.  My next SR isn't until late May, but their other races around the country before that will show if this obstacle is truly history, or was just on a road trip, like the Mets.  Grade = B

2. FESTIVAL-  There never really is one at a stadium, so I shouldn't explain it all again.  I said to a friend as we were looking out from the upper levels, "Why not have these adjacent empty parking lots filled with picnic tables, a DJ, and some contests to make THAT the afterparty?" But no, the only option is field level ballpark seats or to walk around the hollows of the ballpark.  Tampa did it better for sure. Grade = C

3. SWAG-  The one thing you can be sure is a winner at the stadium series are the unique medals, as Spartan once again did a great job with giving everyone a commemorative CitiField one (redesigned- orange instead of last year's blue- the Mets colors), as well as an attached Trifecta piece which was of course the same red pie slice as any other Sprint race.  SR is sticking with the headband bibs again, but did also give everyone a paper version with no safety pins, as they did not want those littered throughout the stadium. I'm not sure which way they are going with shirts (reverse shown in picture), as this one was the same exact look as the one I picked up in Tampa but a different material that was lighter and stretchier.  Overall, I'd say it is an improvement though I wish the shirt also could have been race specific like their medal (as they had done in 2012 Fenway). Grade = A


OVERALL GRADE = B

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



Recently, I was lucky enough to be asked by Reebok to try out a new model of sneaker specifically made for the obstacle course race athlete. We all know that Reebok has done quite a bit to develop footwear and apparel for CrossFit, and now it seems they are venturing into the same idea toward OCR's, on the heels of their (already turned one year) partnership with one of the industry's leaders, Spartan Race.  The only shoe I've tried (trained and raced in) that might be similar is the popular Inov-8 X-Talon 190 shoe.  So, much of the review may be a comparison to that.  I am by no means a professional critic with gear, but I know whats works and what doesn't.  So without further ado, here is what Mudman thought...

1.  FIT/FEEL-  Of course any shoe needs breaking in, but a day of wearing them around the house made the Reebok's cozy and ready to go.  I wore them once for a training trail run and once for the Tampa Spartan Sprint, which was a hybrid stadium and outdoor race.  After both, there were no signs of discomfort which new shoes can surprise your feet with. No aches, blister hot spots, or the like.  The size 9 (ahem, potential sponsors if you are listening- that was a size NINE), fit fairly true, as I prefer a slighly tighter feel for racing.  I noticed, compared to the Inov-8's (also a size 9), that the actual length of the Reebok's were a good half inch longer, and wonder if over a longer run or race if that would be noticeable.  Overall, these were very soft and comfortable, despite much of the upper being a plastic mesh material. GRADE = A


2.  FUNCTION-  These are called the "All Terrain" shoes since the obstacle course racer will need to be going through a huge variety of surfaces and/or inclines, much of it being wet, muddy, or sandy.  The Tampa Spartan Race was a great test to the shoe's name, since it had performed great on my trail run but now would also have to be fast on hard, dry concrete for at least a mile or two of ramps and stairs inside the stadium.  A little of my worries did come true, as pavement was not ideal for any type of cleated sneaker, needing something to grip where there wasn't anything.  As the rest of the race progressed to dirt and grassy fields, everything was as promised- a solid and stable footing which also didn't feel too "sticky" or annoying to drag through the mud and wet parts.  A key feature I noticed was the drainage system of holes along both sides of the shoe, which allowed water to quickly exit with the first several steps out of the pit, rather than lugging the extra weight around for a while as I'm used to.  I haven't yet used these for any serious inclines or hills, which will be key come summertime as most of my races will be on mountainous terrain.  I'm interested to see how they will perform going up a ski trail the opposite way, though I don't have any doubts in that area due to the number and arrangement of their lugs.  GRADE = B


3.  FASHION-  When I pulled these out of the box, I have to say I was pretty excited about the look of the Reebok's.  Really cool colors, and not obnoxiously bold or bright (like the "other" shoe in the pic!).   If not for the lugs on bottom, I could see wearing these for any sport or even just being casual, but that's just me.  Not much else to say on the styling, but most of the time this summer these kicks will be covered in mud, so you may not even notice how good they actually do look. GRADE = A


OVERALL GRADE = A

SPARTAN RACE SPECIAL OPS, Tampa FL, 2/15/14

Just about a year ago, I made my snowbird winter OCR trip to Miami for both the Spartan Super and then Tough Mudder a week later.  I couldn't pass up an escape from the endless snowfall in NY to check out this new Tampa Special Ops course, a Spartan Sprint housed in AND out of the Buccaneers' football stadium, surrounded with much hype as their first "hybrid" event of this type and promising a heavy military influence like never before.

1.  COURSE- This would be my fourth stadium series Spartan Race after doing NY's CitiField race in 2013 and Boston's Fenway events in 2012 and 2013, so I had a good idea of what to expect and how they naturally differ from your outdoor OCRs.  This race, however, would now combine the indoor stadium style race with the fun and dirt of the surrounding areas out of the arena, a first of its kind.  So, did this format work?  Well, if anyone was familiar with the previous stadium races, it might have seemed short on the number and types of obstacles from before.  We've gotten to expect a CrossFit influenced circuit included in the stadium obstacles list, but that disappeared in Tampa as there were no rowing erg's, slam balls, box jumps, or jump roping.  Instead, lots more ramps and stairs, and surely the favorite section being a barbed wire crawl the entire length of the Buc's field. Hardest to succeed at?... a Nerf football toss into a garbage pail 15 yards away, which left nearly all of the racers doing 30 burpees. Outside on a field adjacent to the stadium were about 7 or 8 final obstacles before the finish, a fast and relatively easy last half mile to the end which probably could have been ramped up to make the finale more exciting.  Important to note in the course discussion was a major marking error or volunteer misdirection which caused almost the entire elite men's field to skip a section of the race mid way through, a problem that just should not have happened especially with an enclosed course like a stadium race of only several miles.  GRADE = C

2.  FESTIVAL-  This was one of the better afterparties overall for Spartan, but definitely tops for their stadium series.  One simple reason- having the finish outside of the arena.  The previous baseball park races have gone around the warning track of the field to cross the finish near the 3rd base dugouts, which then funnels racers into the hallways and leaves many not knowing where to go, what to do next, and often having trouble finding friends and spectators.  As far as this hybrid style race went, the best aspect was the return of the familiar contests, music, and party tents that we know from the "outdoor" OCRs.  GRADE = A

3.  SWAG-  A bunch of new souvenirs from this race earned Tampa a good mark.  Finishers received not one but two medals- a "special" Special Ops medals unique to this race, and the new 2014 (and mixed reviewed) Trifecta 1/3 pie piece.  I was incredibly relieved to also get a new Spartan shirt for the first time in over a year.  As many of you know, this was a major point of contention with Mudman and SRs, pretty much since Reebok signed on as their partner last January.  This version is charcoal instead of all the prior black ones, and FINALLY has the year printed, on the right sleeve.  Aroo!  GRADE = A

OVERALL GRADE = B

SPARTAN BEAST, Glen Rose TX, 12/15/13

I honestly didn’t think I would ever come down to TX just for a race, much less a week and a half before Christmas, and certainly not for a longer distance Spartan Beast race, which many know are not my favorite length events.  But, since a last minute work conflict had canceled my plans for the SC Beast a month ago, it had to be TX as the final race of 2013 to earn my season long goal of a Double Trifecta medal.  At least it would be warm weather down south, right?

1.  COURSE-  In the several weeks prior to this event, I checked the weather report almost daily to get an idea of what I was in for, and what to pack and wear for the race.  I don’t think I could have been more confused though, as temps ranged from mid 80’s to low 20’s, and those changes were happening within just days.  The roller coaster thermometer settled a bit for this weekend, just above freezing, but the barely thawed ground and melting snow (yes, snow in Texas!) did take me far out of my warm and cozy comfort zone of seasonal racing.  So… mastermind course director Norm Koch likely enjoyed drawing his blueprint of torture at Rough Creek Ranch, even though several water sections of the race were cut out last minute due to safety reasons. But even in the (approved) knee- or waist-deep water parts, it was enough to shut down some of the fastest legs and deliver quite a lot of cramping calf muscles (even with my Al1ve Magnetics sleeves on). Overall, the course was a bit lengthy with many flat sections that stretched for what seemed like each over a mile of Texas ranch dirt roads.  Between them were all the favorite (sarcasm) obstacles, many of them appearing twice, such as the gravel bucket carry, barbed wire crawl, and rope climb.  And I don’t know if it was just me, but the Hercules Hoist (cinder block raised by pulley) was by far the heaviest I have ever done.  Thank goodness I also completed the Tyrolean Traverse, as a fall there in the course’s deepest water (plus resulting burpees) would have nearly done me in.  Overall, this was the longest and coldest OCR I have ever done, and probably ever will.  GRADE = A

2.  FESTIVAL-  My calculated planning only left a half hour between finishing the race and having to speed out of there in my rental car for the 2 hour drive back to DFW to make my return flight.  So while most were enjoying the contests and usual debauchery post-race, I had to use those precious minutes to unglue the race sneakers from my numb feet and get a quick hose-off.  The weather did warm up a bit by mid day, so I expected there to be a decent afterparty crowd for this final Spartan Race of 2013.  It was a little on the quiet side as far as music and celebrations went, but this was Sunday’s race and I’m sure the real honky tonk action was a day earlier in Glen Rose.  GRADE = B

3.  SWAG-  Back to the real reason for being at this race… I was thrilled to collect my Double Trifecta medal afterwards, which felt well-earned after the many icy miles I had just put it.  This might have been SR’s best idea in all of 2013, albeit a late addition towards the end of this season, to create the “multiple trifecta” series of medals.  With each additional set of the three race levels completed, the reward medal gets bigger by about a half inch diameter.  I was proud of my Double, which is tough enough to attain, but there are folks out there with as many as 7, 8, or 9 Trifectas- what equates to a medal the size of a dinner plate!  The standard Beast medal at the finish line was just for par, but it also came with the most delicious cup of hot chicken broth soup I have ever consumed- really hit the spot!  I forgot to grab both my race finisher shirt and trifecta shirt, but I had both from previous races anyway.  I was a little lost without my usual friends at Zico or Supercandy to replenish my drive back to the airport, but I got by with the awesome supplement snacks I brought from VPX Sports, who have been an absolutely amazing sponsor of my racing and training this year.  GRADE = A
OVERALL GRADE = A

SPARTAN RACE FENWAY PARK, Boston MA, 11/16/13

As much as I loathe the Boston Red Sox (and their scraggly bearded World Series championship a few weeks ago), I do love coming to Fenway Park, whether it's for a ballgame or now the second time Spartan Race has visited this stadium.  A year ago, when I ran the very first 2012 Fenway "Time Trial", it remained to be seen if these stadium races would endure, being so different than the usual outdoor muddy obstacle courses that people have become accustomed to.  But with four different ballparks on this year's tour (and more being added) while pulling in close to 10k racers per event, it looks like the stadium events could be a lasting addition to the mountains and woods venues that fill the rest of our schedule.

1. COURSE-  My initial worry was that the repeat stop at Fenway would just be an identical blueprint of the course from 2012.  Surprisingly, the course included many new paths around the roughly 3 mile course (though many participants thought it was shorter, and certainly seemed faster than last year).  A couple problems came up again as we had seen in the other stadiums- lack of equipment for some stations, cramped areas when running in certain narrow spaces, and the difficult issue of arranging the small starting heats every minute or so.  But what again showed as the worst problem at Spartan's hand was the poor job of holding racers accountable for obstacle completion.  The stadium series has introduced a number of fitness station obstacles, requiring racers to complete a certain number of reps (ball slams, box jumps, rowing erg, and of course burpees) before moving on.  But both the absence of some racers' integrity and volunteer's judging continues to allow both intentional and accidental "cheating" by doing less or incorrect form/standards.  It may be just a personal grudge since I have seen it too often while I am competing, but after all, this is a race and it makes a joke of that fact.  Grade = B

2. FESTIVAL- This now being my third stadium race (2012 Fenway and this April's Citi Field Sprint), I have come to understand the limitations of what an afterparty can simply offer.  What I also found was that due to the lack of large open area to congregate after the finish line, the real party is indeed outside in the streets.  You could see more people enjoying the Fall weather in New England on Yawkey Way and around the local bars and restaurants than in the stadium seats after they were done racing.  It is what it is, but there just doesn't seem like there is much reason to linger around the finish line or hallways after collecting your medal and other swag (at this type of event).  Grade = C

3. SWAG-  A small disappointment here, as the thing I most looked forward to was a new commemorative race shirt like the one that was given out last year, or even perhaps something signifying the home team's recent title.  But then I remembered, last November's race was actually pre-Reebok takeover, and I shouldn't have held out hope for something special.  So once again, plain black RSR shirt (#10?) headed to the pile!  I was happy with the finisher medal, unique with its 2013 ribbon and Fenway design on reverse (and red front rather than green front on last year's).  There were also a bunch of freebie tables with stickers, temp tattoos, and such to pick up some extra swag if you don't have enough logo'd paraphernalia.  It was also interesting that racers were not permitted to wear the race bibs that they gave out, supposedly due to the ban on safety pins inside the stadium?  Weird, but at least I didn't have to worry about losing it on the course.  GRADE = B


OVERALL GRADE = B

RUGGED RUN FOR RESPECT, Wheatley Heights NY, 10/5/13

Not originally on my race schedule, but an invite from friend and course director Matt Lebow (of King of the Mountain Events- who also puts together Civilian Military Combine, High Rock Challenge, and other local NY races) got my curiosity going to take the short 16 mile drive to a rarely found Long Island obstacle course race.  And I just couldn't pass it up when I also learned about the amazing charity this race was affiliated with, as ALL proceeds were being donated to the NY chapter of the Special Olympics.

1.  COURSE- Never meant to be compared to the massive and super competitive OCRs such as Spartan Race, the opening ceremony MC summed up the idea of the Rugged Run For Respect perfectly (paraphrasing): "These obstacles here are only a symbol of the obstacles that those with intellectual disabilities go through every day, which are not over for them once this day is done."  So while some races angle toward the extreme physical limits of exercise, each of their more managable obstacles (cargo nets, ladder and wall climbs) was meant more to slow you down and test your mental stamina and problem solving, while serving as a reminder for all of us who indeed are able to "walk away" from those difficulties afterwards.  The well marked 5k course was mainly flat except for a few hilly spots, and pretty clean besides one crawl obstacle.  I know plans for next year's race will include some type of mud and maybe more obstacles, as the only shortcoming was that it was just over way too fast.  I also want to note that the volunteers for this race, which were at every obstacle, were among the best and very helpful with directions or assisting anyone that needed it.  GRADE = B

2.  FESTIVAL- For the small scale of this event, I didn't expect a huge number of vendors to attend, though I'm sure the Special Olympics strong reputation had something to do with pulling some in.  NY rock radio station Q104.3 provided the music and updates over the speakers, though they packed up before the awards ceremony, which was a little disappointing.  If the finish line bananas and water bottles weren't enough to replenish your body, you could top them off with samples from their two main vendor tents- Nesquik's chocolate milk and Moe's Mexican restaurant's chips and salsa.  Definitely not recommended to consume an unusual combo like that before the race! I believe they had hamburgers and hotdogs for sale too, but it didn't seem like many people hung around after running despite the gorgeous fall weather.  It would have been good to include some activities or contests to keep spectators entertained and to draw runners to stay longer.  GRADE = C

3.  SWAG- The irony of some of the smallest events giving out some of the best swag is something that has appeared frequently, and is very refreshing sight to see.  Their tech t-shirts are really nice quality material, and I particularly like their logo which is prominently featured on the front of their shirt as well as other prizes.  Everyone received a finisher medal, and top 3 males and females won trophies for fastest times. Not to be cliche, but at the end of the day the real winners are the athletes who benefit from all the money raised by these events and donations throughout the year.  It was especially touching to know that Special Olympics provides over 62,000 athletes in New York with competitive sporting events at no cost to them, their families, or caregivers.  This is what more races should be about. GRADE = A
OVERALL GRADE = B

MERRELL DOWN & DIRTY, Bronx NY, 9/29/13

One of my "original three" from back in 2010, making this my 4th time at Merrell's Bronx NY race.  Consistency has been the keyword all along, and for the most part, every aspect of this event has been a carbon copy of 2011 and 2012 (The Mudman Report wasn't born yet in 2010). And because I have really enjoyed these Down and Dirty Mud Runs, this was also the second year in a row I made it to an additional location- this June in Hartford CT and last June in Denver CO. This is one I expect to visit every fall, as it is also a short drive and just a toll on the Throgs Neck Bridge to get there for me.

1.  COURSE:  The same 5k course around Orchard Beach gave us only a few new obstacles like the cargo net two-story stair climb (which we did see in Hartford), and a slight change in order of the last few leading up to the finish.  Most every obstacle was staffed by members of the armed forces, but as this is a soft competition race, there was not much enforcement of any strict standards or even required completion of any obstacles.  For that reason, it confuses me that this is still a timed event, with awards up for grabs (see below in "Swag"), but either way Merrell puts on a nice event that is certainly capable to finish by runners in any shape or age, even some in their 90's as we have seen before!  GRADE = B

2.  FESTIVAL:  A race afterparty lives and dies primarily by the weather that day, and Merrell has had the best of luck as all six of their races I have been to have been picture perfect days to enjoy the sunshine while the mud bakes in.  Actually, one of the nice parts of this venue is the stretch of ocean beach (part of the course as well) that racers smartly return to take a quick "bath" in, rather than brave the cold garden hose option.  I could be wrong, but the vendor village seemed a little smaller than before (less sponsors?).  Still, there were plenty of samples from those that made it.  What was missing, however, were the refreshments and food options of past races.  I know they used to offer all racers a FREE burger/chips/drink tray, and that was mysteriously gone.  Stinks for those that were expecting it, and didn't bring anything to snack on.  GRADE = B

3.  SWAG:  The registration pickup gives you a handful of swag pre-race.  Literally, a handful...in your hands... as in, with out any bag to put it in, which was a little awkward.  Bib, tech tshirt (which I have always bragged about), headband, mini LaraBar, and some shampoo or gel hair products- glad I brought a bookbag with me.  The finisher dogtag medal is a winner once again, with a new design and 2013 date on it.  And top 3 awards in gold, silver, and bronze are larger size of the swag version (1st placers also get a Merrell gift card to be used on their website).  What I really love about this race series is that there are so many prize categories- top 3 for both males and females in five year age groups, for barefoot racing, in military division, and new was a "brick" (weighted ruck) division- by my count a total of nearly 50 categories between the 5k and 10k races!  That's a lot of winners! GRADE = A

OVERALL GRADE = B

SPARTAN BEAST, Killington VT, 9/22/13

The Spartan Race World Championship...  yeah, kind of a big deal!  By all counts, this was the biggest and most hyped obstacle course race event in the WORLD, and even perhaps in the sport's history.  With weeks of chatter about the course being even more brutal than 2012's Vermont Beast, plus excitement surrounding a $250K cash/prize purse and coverage by NBC Sports Network, there left no doubt that Killington was THE place to be this weekend.  With Olympians and pro athletes from all over the planet attending, an America King and Queen were crowned on Saturday's race as the 2013 Spartan "season" officially closed and 2014 began.

1.  COURSE:  So much to say on this, and difficult to even wrap my head around everything that the Beast was and wasn't (I ran Sunday's less packed but much muddier race).  Most GPS recordings showed about the same 14 mile distance as last year, but anyone who came back can tell you it felt different.  Killington Mountain is one of the monster ski resorts of the east, and uphill climbs were to be expected, but somehow it seemed like the mountain grew since last September.  Part of it had to be the nature of some of those uphill sections, now with two sandbags carries (one the standard "pancake" carry but before that a punishing 60# construction sandbag up a neverending incline) and in the middle of them a 5 gallon bucket carry with a twist- having to fill it to the very top with gravel, carry it below the shoulder (no handle either) and return it still full.  Grueling!  A lot of people complained at the three water obstacles about the chilly lake temps. I will say that while the swim and bridge rope climb was difficult, having to do the second swim to climb another rope/ladder for the near-impossible Tarzan swing (and resulting burpees for most) did signal the mental fight for a lot of runners, as some were approaching hypothermia or more commonly going down with leg cramps here. Then to make it more fun, another mile later was the Tyrolean Traverse and it's threat of another set of burpees (or more for Elites who were required to make three attempts if they failed, with 30 burpees each time!).  So to summarize... for myself and maybe some of you, I thought the toughest Beast obstacle was really the psychological battle- pushing further than the body wanted and making you get used to that feeling of discomfort, and for a very long time. Of course, being prepared enough with the months of conditioning that led up to race day and running a smart, safe race with fuel and supplies needed are part of it, but anyone that finished this race should be proud to call themselves a "beast" no matter what their chip time.  GRADE = A

2.  FESTIVAL:  Being that I ran on Sunday and missed the action at the bigger event on Saturday, I have no doubt that it was like the hangover after a prom for most that stuck around to see Day 2, including staff and the racers that came to watch or even run again.  It also rained and was much colder, but the hype was minimal and not much was happening after the race (not that you want to do anything after running for 5 hours!).  Some of the fun was seeing the UltraBeast racers and team Death Race participants also coming in to the finish line, but as far as the games and excitement, it seemed like Sunday missed the party.  I'll be fair... in my dreams I picture an unbelievable Saturday post-race with all the bells and whistles worthy of an "A", and for Sunday I'll rate it just a quiet, rainy, cold "C".  Split the difference... GRADE  = B

3.  SWAG:  Oh how I wanted to break the streak and give Spartan a better grade than they have been earning all season at this, their premier event of the year.  I do love the Beast medal with its unique mountain range graphic ribbon including the date and name of race (and for anyone that did the Ultra- congrats and their medal is even more amazing!).  But that's where the kudos ends, at least on Sunday. I don't know if the finisher shirts were anything new, but that's because they had no more when I was done racing.  And I was so excited to pick up my Trifecta medal and commemorative shirt, but they ran out of those too! This just shouldn't happen, and I am waiting to hear how SR will send out our missing swag.  GRADE, as always = B

(photo includes a personal "Spartan" shirt some friends made up for me- not the finisher giveaway- which I thought was more appropriate anyway for this race than whatever standard black tee they were giving out again)
OVERALL GRADE = A

CIVILIAN MILITARY COMBINE, Brooklyn NY, 9/14/13

My last visit to Brooklyn was the miserable Rugged Maniac in June, where I debated whether or not to return to Floyd Bennett Field for another obstacle race, despite it being the closest venue of the year to my home in Long Island.  The Civilian Military Combine has been one of my favorite (and luckily also successful) events over the last two years doing them, as this was my fourth CMC competing both as an individual and on a team.  Having a longtime friendship with their staff and going to defend the previous titles, we had to make it back for another trip to the Flatbush Avenue exit on the Belt Parkway.

1. COURSE:  Being an Urban Assault event in the CMC series, anyone could plainly guess this would be nothing like May's Camelback PA mountain race, as there aren't too many significant ski resorts in downtown Brooklyn, haha.  A flat and partially paved course, originally advertised as 4.5 miles in length, had to be at least a mile less as racers were clocking times around 30 minutes or even slightly under (and that's with first enduring CMC's famed 7 minute "pit" workout portion to burn up your legs and lungs before the run).  But focusing on the obstacle race, this event had a much better use of the land and fortunately did try to not to over-use the long asphault roads to merely stretch miles into the race.  And these old knees certainly appreciated it!  And while the race was quick and not a grueling uphill mountain course, it was obstacle dense with likely in the neighborhood of 30 separate pieces across the roughly 5k distance.  Both the barricaded pit area and at least a dozen of the more exciting obstacles near the final 5 minutes of the course were open to spectator viewing, the best of which was a two story container with multiple sections of climbing and ranger rope traverse high above.  GRADE = A

2.  FESTIVAL:  Surrounding the fenced-in "pit" filled with barbells, kettlebells, and plyo boxes- the festival had an impressive vendor village with more participants and sponsors than we have seen before at a CMC.  Multiple branches of the military were represented and had fitness contests to win their souvenirs, and the many food/beverage companies had samples or more to give away.  Food and beer (in addition to the one free Bud Light) were for sale as well, though options were limited to surprisingly less than "healthful" options at this CrossFit and fitness-friendly event.  The same DJ that rocked the sounds for the workout sessions was broadcast to the whole area near race start/finish and all afterparty areas.  GRADE = A

3.  SWAG: The trademark dogtags are still among my favorite finisher medals, as one side adds the specific date and location for the race, which I wish more events would do.  Top 3 awards (not shown, as an awards ceremony wasn't held that day) are more high end engraved chrome dogtags, given in many individual categories and to overall teams.  Finisher tshirts are soft cotton Next Level apparel, designed by Muzzlejab and also featuring the season schedule on reverse.  Until this Brooklyn event with these light gray shirts, all previous versions have been black, so it was nice to have a different one this time.  GRADE = A

OVERALL GRADE = A

SUPER SPARTAN, Vernon NJ, 9/8/13

With the Spartan Race points season winding down and memories of an amazing 2012 NJ Super last September, expectations for this return to Mountain Creek had me looking forward to this race for many months. If anyone remembers what last year had to offer, it was nothing short of spectacular… a Saturday tornado/hurricane that sent racers into shelters on the mountain, tales of black bear sightings, a ridiculous 23 foot cliff jump and other crazy obstacles, and of course the legit 10.5 miles of mountain terrain that pushed even most elites to over a two hour chip time.  This year?  Barely a shadow of what 2012’s “mini Beast” brought.  Read on…

1. COURSE:  Wondering if a pattern is developing here, but after July’s Pennsylvania race and August’s Amesbury MA race both seemed shortened and maybe a tad easier than the previous year, a lot of chatter began about how Spartan’s might be trying to appeal to more mainstream America and getting soft on their "beat-you-down sufferfest" that was seemingly their schtick of the last couple years. The NJ Super was no different, though I think too much was taken away from what made this a great (and I don’t give that title away much) event in 2012.  This course clocked in right around 8 total miles (at least 2 miles shorter) and lacked what were the sure highlight obstacles utilizing the unique water features of this mountain.  This was the first location we saw the Tyrolean Traverse last year, puzzling runners with how to best go ninja-style across a horizontal cable suspended over a pond, but it went missing here.  And with Mountain Creek’s (formerly Action Park’s) epic high jump into a deep pool below now gone too, the best thrill obstacle Spartan provided seemed unfairly removed.  I know I would have gone back twice just to take that leap again if it was open! What remained was primarily a long trail run with lots of steep hills and just several bunched up obstacles placed every couple miles.  GRADE = B

2. FESTIVAL:  Exact same set up as last year, with a difficult space to hold a true festival due to the layout of base lodge area.  The long “row”of walking space almost had a carnival feel, as you could go from one obstacle viewing area to another like booths at a circus, which was okay though if you wanted to pace along with someone you were watching finish the last few minutes of the race.  There was a decent menu of post-race BBQ grub to choose from, and not too terribly priced as $6-8 got you a nice size sandwich or burger for lunch.  For the roughly 5K runners and their spectators each day, I would say there wasn't enough picnic area to feel comfortable, as seats under the tent were a little tough to come by at peak late morning hours.  GRADE = B

3. SWAG:  This whole year has been devoted to my “Change the shirts, Spartan” campaign, so we don’t even need to go over that topic. What’s been amusing is how their t-shirt distribution process has changed at nearly every venue- from a finish line direct pick up, to a tagged medal ribbon trade-in at a designated tent, to this time a marked wristband check off at yet another tent.  Not a big deal, but I wonder how many others have been confused if/where they get a shirt, or who has probably even left their race never knowing there was one waiting for them, somewhere at the site.  Just my ramblings lol… GRADE = B
OVERALL GRADE = B