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

BATTLEFROG SERIES (16k), Barre MA, 7/25/15

I'm wondering if the little farm village of Barre MA is becoming the epicenter of OCR in 2015, as at least 3 major race weekends (Spartan twice, and now BattleFrog) are being hosted here.  Of course I'm kidding, but it does seem like an an odd and out-of-the-way replacement to the now-closed Amesbury resort that served for years as Massachusetts most frequented racing venue.  This being my first visit I wasn't sure what to expect as New England terrain can be about as varied as it gets.  Even from the offsite parking lot a few miles away (more on that later), it was hard to tell if we would get some of the viewable mountains or just totally flat plains that both surrounded this quaint colonial town.

1. COURSE-  Well the clear verdict came in as the latter of the two choices above, almost totally flat except for one mild incline in the first 1/4 mile (and then of course repeated on the extra laps for Elite and Xtreme racers).  However, despite the level nature of the course, it was anything but a speed race as so much technical running on muddy trails or dried mud sections were tough on weak (or injured, in my case) ankles and anyone lacking proper the footwear for it.  And, you can also guess what some other sloppy areas were also due to, as this was a farm with cow pastures.  As for the OCR stuff you want to know about, I've been satisfied after each of my three BattleFrogs this year (including February's Miami and June's Tri-State), but I'm keeping a close eye on a trend that has left me still a little nervous.  The best part of BF has been the number of true obstacles, and they were absolutely on top of the world in this category last year.  There are still some great strength challenges (double jerry can carry!) and skill tests (Platinum Rig, in any of it various setups), but with only a total of 22 obstacles on this New England version, the score is beginning to approach just average compared to their former stellar selves.  GRADE = B

2. FESTIVAL-  BattleFrog usually has one of the biggest scenes surrounding the spectator area, and this edition was true to that claim. So much so, that I almost needed a map to navigate around after crossing the finish line- possibly also due to my delirium after running two laps of the 8k course!?  Every which way was something different to see or visit, and vendor village had some great products for sale, including the same Wreck Bags that we hauled around in the race. Their own BF branded merch tent seems to be expanding as well, in case your t-shirt and medal (see below) weren't enough souvenirs.  And though I won't factor it into the grade this time, the shuttle bus system was a little disappointing, making it almost not worth going to your car (to change clothes or drop bags) before you were ready to totally call it a day.  Might have lost some post race partygoers because of it, but that's an individual choice I guess.  GRADE = A

3. SWAG-  I'll stick to my guns on giving them grief about the mislabeled (read: last year's overstock of 15k) medals that are still being given out to the Elite racers who have actually run a total of 16 kilometers.  That point bothered me so much that I was almost tempted to do the Xtreme race this time just to get a "correct" medal, which by the way is one of the industry's best if you haven't seen yet.  I've always liked the shirts, and wanted to point out (as you see below) that BF has the option of a different ladies cut style, not something many races offer.  And lastly, as I've been lucky enough to boast about it now for my third straight 2015 BattleFrog race, the coveted Elite orange wristband was mine to keep after getting through every obstacle twice- something less than half of participants were able to accomplish.  Sorry Beard, not this time, Sir.  GRADE = B


SPARTAN SPRINT, Palmerton PA, 7/18/15

Returning to a race that has crushed me and so many others every year since 2012, I was almost relieved with my decision to only do PA weekend #2's Sprint course and not the previous weekend's "EffNorm" designed Super as well. Either way, racers who did any of Palmerton's three race days got just what they had hoped for out of one of the toughest OCR venues in the Northeast.  Missing the NBC action could have also been a good choice too, as I might not want to see my annual Blue Mountain agony shown again on national TV this September!

1. COURSE-  Every year this course changes, as I've described in the previous Reports of 2014, 2013, and 2012.  The biggest differences have been in the actual length of the Sprint, ranging anywhere from 3.5 to over 5 miles.  Like other years, the first two miles were the most grueling, almost all uphill, leaving most at a walking/hiking pace within a minute or two. An early morning thunderstorm also left the course (and all its obstacles) a little more wet and slippery for the morning heats, I'm sure leading to that very excuse if burpee penalties resulted for anyone.  I know we have also had the same water crossing on Blue Mountain in the past, but it seemed much deeper (now a full 100 yard swim) maybe due to that rain?  No more tractor (cinder block on chain) pull through the muddy lagoon, as that obstacle seems to be disappearing from the circuit recently.  This course also had the first time I've seen a Tyrolean (rope) Traverse over land, though it was short and not too difficult. For the most part though, the other key elements were there where we left them last July- the steep sandbag carry and endless bucket brigade, and now an even longer down-and-up barbed wire crawl that still has me a little dizzy from all the rolling.  GRADE = A

2. FESTIVAL-  One of the better setups for a Spartan afterparty, with lots of areas to plop down your bruised and beaten selves after competing the race. Or, if you hadn't had quite enough, Blue Mountain had their ski lifts running so you could take in the course from a bird's eye view as well.  My one issue is with the festival area was the limited selection of food offered (which was also difficult to find, hidden in a far corner), though I did personally enjoy my pulled pork sandwich with rice and coleslaw for $10. Maybe the show was smaller being weekend #2 and only a one day race, but there looked to be a packed house so there could have been a little more variety.  I'll also mention, since I don't care for my post race "free" beer, anyone that would like a pint on me just needs to ask, as I've got a growing stack of coupons now. GRADE = A

3. SWAG-  Yeah, you've seen this shirt and medal before, haven't you? Well, I might as well extend the same beer offer to you readers out there too, since I've already collected at least half a dozen or so of these myself.  As for the medal, that's mine, and you gotta earn your own!  I can't wait until I can do the NJ Super in September and finally have (and show you) a different version of these giveaways.  Even if they'll just be blue instead of red.  GRADE = B


RUGGED MANIAC, Brooklyn NY, 6/27/15

Hello. My name is Kevin (aka Mudman), and I am... an OCR addict.  I am ashamed of something I did today, and I can now admit I need help. This morning, I decided to ignore my mistakes of the past, fueled by my need to race, and ran my third Rugged Maniac event held at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn NY.  I regret not going back to re-read those Mudman Report's from 2011 and 2013 on this same race, which could have potentially shifted this pattern of addiction.  I cannot undo what has happened now, but I will hopefully learn from this very poor decision and try to move on with my obstacle racing career, along with the help of my friends...

1. COURSE-   There were several things that brought me back to run this event, besides just being a race "addict" with no other events planned for the weekend:  a) it was local enough with only a half hour drive on the Belt Parkway;  b) I had a free entry from a friend's transfer- they definitely made the smart choice, if they didn't know already; c) my curiosity to see if their "Shark Tank" investment may have just possibly turned this awful race around.  So it's been two years since I was here, and I know I had pledged not to return, but what's done is done.  And what was done regarding the improvement of this race course, was just about NOTHING!  It is just a terrible location to have any adventure type race, unless you like running endlessly up and down flat boring paved airfield runways.  So what was done with Mark Cuban's massive $1.75M influx- more and better obstacles?  They list a total of 25 on this 3 mile course map, but even if there were that many (and it seemed doubtful), none but really the final three-story climb/slide was worth talking about.  The obstacles were so spread out you almost forget it was an OCR, and the poor excuse or two for mud were just some hosed down dirt sections.  Every task was short and simple, with even first timers joking about how easy this was.  If you've ever done another OCR somewhere else before, my advice would be to avoid the letdown and not come out to do one of these.  And so let me tell you one more thing that is finally DONE: me, doing this race, ever again.  This time, fo' realz!  GRADE = D

2. FESTIVAL-  Every event that visits this venue must have the same cookie-cutter festival area allowance.  It's actually not a terrible set up if you just want to drink and get your cornhole game on, but the separate gated off area makes you feel like you are in a time-out from the other action.  Unless certain rules of this park are preventing a more spread out design, I don't see why they want to segregate the party from the rest of the race scene.  It's just about impossible to be part of both at the same time, which kills the spectating aspect.  If they do improve anything on that front here, I'll be telling you from some other event I've signed up for at Floyd Bennett Field, but even that's not too likely.  Hasta la vista, Brooklyn.  GRADE = C

3. SWAG-  If there is any glimmer of a single shining moment, and maybe this becomes their Shark Tank legacy (?), they did make one improvement by now offering finisher medals, and decent ones at that. But that's really where the excitement ends.  Timing chips now are an extra $10 charge if you want to be recorded, but the branded shoelace tie chip is somewhat of a unique soiuvenir (not worth ten bucks, but still).  The t-shirt is really just breaking even on their past swag.  I'm showing the back because the front is just plain with their "I am a Rugged Maniac" phrase.  And due to all that you've read in this Report, I can say I wont be: a) wearing this shirt; and b) ever be calling myself a Rugged Maniac.  GRADE = B


BATTLEFROG SERIES (16k), Englishtown NJ, 6/20/15

If there ever were the highest of my hopes for an event, it might be for this one. BattleFrog has exploded on the OCR scene in so many ways over the last year- major prize money for each event and season series (like Spartan race has done), an announced championship at the end of the year (like several others have also done), and of course the ESPN coverage of their college challenge just a few weeks ago.  But as BF is reaching their Terrible Two's early, they have also been through some growing pains- canceling all Sunday events for the year, changing their 5k or 15k course options to now running laps of an 8k, and the general worry that maybe they have tried to expand just a little too quickly. Either way, two things are certain at BattleFrog:  1) they will always put on a solid race with lots of obstacles, and 2) some guy named Atkins will come down from Canada to swoop up the victory.

1. COURSE-  The question for me here is, do I compare this race generally to all the other races I do, or compare it very specifically to last August's 2014 Tri-State event at Raceway Park?  The switch to (elite heat) running two laps of an 8k was a big change from a straight 15k course.  Each lap this year had around 32 obstacles to contend with, and doubling that made for "more" than the 51 reported in last years race.  Having to do a few of the more grueling tasks a second time, after an hour or so of fatigue later, was probably the toughest part of the new structure.  At least a combined mile's worth of each lap had us carrying a Wreck (sand) Bag or a single Jerry (water) can, so the second time around seemed to drag on those, almost literally!  I know the rope traverse, aka Tyrolean, was another critical point that cost some elite's their wristband due to diminishing grip, especially on the final pass.  That spot, along with the Normandy Jacks and Platinum Rig, also were the couple major congestion areas where the participants (especially the Elite's and Xtreme'rs who were doing multiple laps) ran into traffic logjams that briefly defeated their idea of racing a quick, unobstructed course.  It's a small mention, but I do applaud whoever was responsible (Mr. Acord?) for finding the absolute muddiest parts of Englishtown's wooded trails-  one section that was close to a quicksand muck death trap if you stood less than 5 feet tall.  Hella fun though! What I missed most from last year were a few of my favorite obstacles toward the finish line- no monkey bars or quarter pipe (or paintball shooting, even if it was just for fun).  Apparently the venue wasn't very accommodating with time for their build, and some things just had to be left out.  Even with any of the negatives, and I include those frequent pavement running sections (hate!) in that, this course was still better than most of what you'll find on a typical OCR weekend.  GRADE = A

2. FESTIVAL-  I didn't get to peruse the vendor area for very long, as I wimped out to hide under a tent during the late morning rain.  It did seem more condensed, but that design helped to provide some good viewing areas for the new Platinum Rig climbing obstacle and the famed Tip of the Spear which became the finale on this course.  One thing I certainly wasn't thrilled with was the different parking arrangement, across the street in a grassy part of the woods.  Parking right on site last year was great to be able to hit the car for your change of clothes after the race, but I think this distance might have hurt the party scene, since some people my not have wanted to walk the half mile and then come back (again, too, in the rain).  GRADE = B

3. SWAG-  I ran the Miami BattleFrog this February, so I assumed to be picking up the same souvenirs again from that race.  T-shirt of course was identical as expected, but it's one I like and was glad to grab a second one (planning on 5 for the year) to give away.  My new favorite swag among probably all OCRs this year is the Elite band bounty that is yours to lose, if you should have to give it up to the Course Marshalls from not completing an obstacle. Individually numbered to your bib from that race, it's also a symbol that you truly passed the course without fail, if you manage to keep it til the end!  On the downside of this year's prize basket, and you know I'm picky, receiving the same "15k" elite medal was kind of a cheap move that a lot of people caught on to, since this event no longer has any 15k course (as of about 3 months ago). It's not that running the extra kilometer was that much more of an effort to deserve a better medal, but we realize that this was simply a way to pass off the inventory of old awards (albeit nice and high quality) that were no longer accurate.  From what I saw, the Open heat 8k medals had no distinction of that on their actual medallion, just on the lanyard?  I'll be at their New England race next month, but if the same thing happens, this mark again won't get the "A" they really should be earning.  GRADE = B


VIKING OBSTACLE RACE, Greenville NY, 6/13/15

Last year this course would probably have won my Best Surprise of the Year award, as I took a shot in the dark on some friends recommendations to try it out.  It was the very first permanent-built OCR I'd done, and the quality of not just the 5+ mile race but also the experience as a whole, has made this one I'll likely have on my schedule every year.  And this time around, their inaugural team competition also pulled in a few of my racer friends from AL1VE Magnetics to challenge the best that would show up.

1.  COURSE-  Very little was changed from the year before, but that's probably what myself and most returnees were hoping for anyway as this permanent course satisfies just about every OCR want and need.  I still have yet to visit the Shale Hill VT course, but the man who designed both this Viking Race and his Benson Bear Challenge are the brainchild of Rob Butler.  From the reputation of both of these events now, it's clear his focus on creative and challenging obstacles are what he'll always bring.  As I mentioned new for 2015, the team challenge option put a whole different spin on getting through this tricky course, as coed teams of 3 or more raced together, helped each other complete obstacles, and as an added bonus for Flag Day, carried a homemade team flag the entire distance (and not letting it touch the ground). Without going heavy into describing all the obstacles again, read up on last year's Viking Report, which easily earned this top grade once again. GRADE = A

2.  FESTIVAL-  I won't lie- during the nearly hour and a half it took our team to finish the race, at least a dozen times I must have caught myself daydreaming about the amazing lunch that we knew was waiting for us at the end.  As good as the course is, the post race picnic BBQ is one of my favorite summer OCR moments.  Unlimited buffet style burgers and salads (and believe me I can eat!!!) were the perfect treat after burning all those calories.  Everyone was treated like a family member and welcome to stay and relax for the afternoon. We luckily got another gorgeous day in the Catskill Mountains to race and then recover at Sunny Hill Resort, which I'm hoping to plan an overnight stay for my next visit.  GRADE = A

3.  SWAG-  Still the only wooden medal, or woodallion, I've ever come across, so major uniqueness points again.  They upgraded their t-shirt to a dri-fit material, so that automatically bumps up its spot in my shirt rotation.  What I was most excited about, and didn't know before the race, was that our team's tough come-from-behind victory earned us Viking's very first "Top Clan" (fastest team) flag to take home!  Each member of our squad also got a souvenir pack of a branded pint glass, stretchy buff, and bracelet.  The takeaways were fantastic, but still the best Stuff-We-All-Got was a great race day at a reasonable price, and where else do you get a big hug from the resort owner when you cross the finish line?   GRADE = A


SPARTAN SPRINT, Tuxedo NY, 5/30/15

I won't make you suffer again through the long, sentimental intro I gave in 2014's Tuxedo Report (hint: go back and read it!), but longstoryshort, this is probably the Spartan Race I look forward to the most every year.  It came from a humble beginning four seasons ago to now being the biggest event they put on all year (4 race days over two weekends), helped on of course by its relatively close proximity to the dense NY/NJ legion of Spartan's out here.

1.  COURSE-  Each year Tuxedo Ridge surprises us with slightly more difficulty and distance, leaving finishers fooled by how they were somehow slower than the year before (usually).  Of course as I'd tell anyone you can never truly compare any OCR time to another besides only maybe that same exact day, and even that can change with weather or course modifications.  But I digress, this year the Sprint was a hair under 5 miles, so most returnees saw an extra 15-30 minutes on top of their 2014 race. There was plenty of uphill work as there always is here, with the worse being their famous barbed wire crawl (two, actually) and a very long sandbag carry, which apparently was shortened a bit on Sunday.  So again, most chip times were pretty different if you ran back-to-back days.  A few of the strength obstacles were gone, such as the tire flip and the atlas stone carry with burpees, though neither have been much of a game changer. I'm not sure if the traditional monkey bars are gone for good, but the newer Multi-Bar rig has become a regular sighting- an American Ninja Warrior style traverse, with 4 swinging knotted ropes between two horizontal hanging metal poles.  That obstacle seemed to be the biggest cause of penalty burpees, especially Sunday when there was more wet mud to limit grip.  GRADE = A

2.  FESTIVAL-  It's been a pretty consistent setup every time but as I mentioned last year, the growing crowd has forced some of the party to now move partly up the hill from just the base lodge patio.  The hot spot is the beer garden next to the epic barbed wire crawl, where there was also the debut of the Spartan Rig demo, an SR branded monkey bar set up with ropes and other climbing attachments to play on.  Perhaps we will face that in an actual race soon, as we have already seen Platinum Rig before in OttawaVermont, and possibly some other locations.  I kind of like that the festival now has a few spread out areas, so you can spend some time in each and still get a good view of some key sections of the race.  The only spot I'm not a fan of (for spectators) is the start line, which is about a 100 yards or so down a dirt road, in a secluded corner of the mountain.  GRADE = A

3.  SWAG-  No different that any of the takeaways from the few other Sprints I've been to so far this year, like Charlotte or Citifield Stadium. But I was really hoping the race bib controversy was a fluke and we'd get those treasured numbered souvenirs back. No dice, as the registration envelope (shown below) again now serves as that memento, and likely is how that will be from now on.  Warning- if you want to keep that for a wall decoration, do NOT wear it during the race as it isn't waterproof and will become just a soggy shredded piece of paper by the end.  As for medal and shirt, you know the deal... same old, same old.  GRADE = B


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