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

LONG ISLAND ADVENTURE RACE, Calverton NY, 9/14/14

Right about this time last year I did my first local (Long Island NY) obstacle course race at the Rugged Run for Respect, an easy and not super competitive race for charity.  This event looked to offer more of the same style racing, but had a lot of extra fun and games, literally, thrown in that wasn't expected. In between last week's NJ Super Spartan and next weekend's VT Spartan Beast, this race was a great tuneup, and nice to just have only a quick drive on the LI Expressway.

1.  COURSE-  Anyone familiar with my neck of the woods knows Long Island is pretty flat, which for the few races that come here, that means some pretty fast-paced running.  This 3.8 mile course out on the Eastern parts of Suffolk County was exactly that, though I was surprised the field wasn't more flooded with cross-country tracksters. What I loved, as I'm not one of those 5 minute miler guys, was the variety of really unique (though not extremely difficult) tasks and obstacles that slowed down the pure runner even on these super flat trails.  This race offered as much physical tasks (rope climbing, mud crawls, monkey bars, and a cool American Ninja Warrior stretching plank traverse) as it did some fun, carnival-like "activities".  This was the first event I have seen the likes of a frisbee toss, sledgehammer nail drive, bubble bath pool, and several slippery slides.  While not the toughest or most grueling race, they had a great combo to give both elites and rookies lots of what they wanted.  GRADE = B

2.  FESTIVAL-  I didn't hang around very long, as they unfortunately decided this year to not give out awards, but it looked like by the amount of cars still in the onsite lot that a lot of folks were spending some of their Sunday afternoon listening to the DJ's catalog and munching on the food truck options right in the middle of things.  The viewing and party area was set up to see probably the best string of 4 or 5 obstacles on the whole course, which also gave the racers a solid cheering section toward the finish.  GRADE = B

3.  SWAG-  Before all you swag collectors get on me right away, hear me out.  I commend this race for actually doing something unique- instead of giving everyone a typical race tshirt (which they did also have for sale in nearly any color you wanted), they offered a choice of either a drawstring bag or army-style hat at registration (both shown below). At first I was a little bummed, as I fully admit to my own tshirt-whoredom, but then thinking about how many shirts I wear once and stick on the shelf- the tactic made sense and gave me something different for once.  At the finish line we also got a shiny chrome finisher medal as well as a branded pint glass (not sure if they were selling beer?), so another unique souvenir to bring home!  GRADE = A


OVERALL GRADE = B

SUPER SPARTAN, Vernon NJ, 9/7/14

Each year this has been among my favorite Spartan Races, though every September it has been just a little different from the previous years, going back to its stellar 2012 debut.  Now that Action Park has reopened on Mountain Creek's resort, I hoped some of their "rides" and infrastructure that was abandoned in 2013's race might make their return, but no luck.  Either way, this Tri-State Super still provided a great day of obstacles and challenging trails, as well as being really one of the only closeby opportunities for us Northeasterners to achieve that middle distance blue Trifecta piece.

1. COURSE:  Quite a few year-old deja-vu moments from this weekend's NJ Super, though the dream was playing in reverse.  Literally, much of the course direction was backwards including the start and finish lines. What happened between might be just delirium to some, as the 8.5 miles of inclines and super quad-killing downhills might just be worth erasing from our minds and sore legs now!  Like I mentioned, the fun park slides and ledge jumps didn't grace us with their presence this time, but a couple extended water sections did let the racers splash off and cool down, as late summer temps were in the 80s (cooler on Sunday than the previous day).  I noticed that, whether its a trend or not, this was another SR where some of the strength/carrying obstacles (sandbag, log, gravel bucket) seemed a little easier than its been, or at least the carrying distances were shorter.  No complaints from anyone there I'm sure!  My favorite part was the featured section around mile 6 in front of the festival area, where four of the most popular obstacles were up close for spectators to cheer on their friends.  That wasn't easy on the hands doing the bucket brigade, traverse wall, rope climb, and then spear throw all in a stretch of just 100 yards, but it sure was the most fun and challenging portion unless you were one of the unlucky to succumb to that potential hell of burpee row.  GRADE = A

2. FESTIVAL:  Nearly identical to their previous NJ races, though again the start and finish were placed a little differently.  You might have thought this event was down in the Carolinas (it will be next month) with the massive BBQ and pig roast set up, though I didn't get to try any of the grub- which did smell amazing.  It got pretty crowded as the afternoon approached, and without access to much inside the base lodge, it was tough to find seating or really anyway to just hang out without bumping elbows.  One more year of growth and I can see the crowd having to move uphill just like the racers.  GRADE = B

3. SWAG: Of course I already knew what shirt I was getting at this finish line- old news once again. I guessed my 2/3 full Trifecta amulet would be complete now, rather than getting any additional commemorative medal like in 2013. But it was only last week as I prepared for my first triplet this year, that I learned there would no longer be Trifecta shirts given out like I collected last year (see TX Beast Report).  And then when I saw the merchandise tent selling the equivalent of that shirt here for $35, I nearly vomited my figurative slice of delicious blue Trifecta pie!  I stopped taking my finisher shirts months ago (this one below is from who-knows-which race I did earlier in the year), so I was at least hoping to display something different for you with a new top.  But hey, if anyone wants to sponsor the next Report, you'll get to see what Trifecta gear is on their merch shelf [serious offer- contact me for details].  GRADE = B



OVERALL GRADE = B

MUDMANX, New Windsor NY, 8/9/14

I had a "MudmanX family" reunion only 3 weeks ago at their Jersey Shore event at the PNC Bank Arts Center, but it was great to meet up again so soon.  Already I was glad to see some suggestions of mine and other racers' being put into effect from back at that race, and also to see improvements for this particular course that MMX (and myself) have visited this Cousin's Paintball venue for 3 years running.

1. COURSE- While mostly flat, the type of running terrain is so varied that it you will get a little taste of almost everything here.  What I probably liked most, as my race was a late 9:30 start for the first wave of the day, was the constant in and out of shaded areas.  It was easily in the 80's already and getting hot, so any break from sun exposure was a gift, particularly because our competitive heat was running two laps of the 5k course.  There was water scattered throughout the trails, but the best sections were in the last 1/4 mile (of each lap) and were the most refreshing yet at the same time probably the most challenging.  Loved the plywood lily pad hop and waist high pond hurdles, though they gassed me more than any of the running.  The majority of the other obstacles were fairly simple and easy, and I wish they had kept a few more of those from the NJ event last month.  I'll take credit (and apologize at the same time) for them now instituting a 10 burpee penalty for failed obstacles- something that I think is necessary at any OCR at least for the competitive racers, only because cash is at stake and no penalties leaves a lot of wiggle room for bypassing or not fully completing what you're supposed to do on course.  The runner-types were glad to see virtually no heavy tasks (sandbag carry) and the gymnasts only had their moment on one bar-hanging traverse.  Besides that, it was trail running with some rolling hills, but along the way a nice splattering of muddy stops- none better than the last low crawl that nearly took my shoes.  Grade = B

2. FESTIVAL-  Set up a little differently than 2013, as the giant party tent area was now where the start and finish line resided.  It would have been good to have it today, as most of us got a little sunburn on the shoulders without much shade besides a few closeby trees.  As usual, the US Marines were there to hold their pullup contest and group warmups before racing.  It seemed like last year there were more vendors with samples, so I hope they can pick up some more in the future, like they did 3 weeks ago at PNC.  Either way, the free beer was all that seemed to matter to most of the participants after crossing the finish line.  Grade = B

3. SWAG-  For what is still a smaller series compared to the industry giants, both the competitive and fun runners get quite a good amount of "free" stuff.  Their developing Elite heat has always awarded money (which I became $200 richer by grabbing 2nd overall!), but upgraded medals are given out to age group top 3's as well, all in addition to a dated finisher dog tag souvenir.  Shirts stayed the same as the year's earlier races, so I just took the opportunity to donate this one to a friend.  This may be my last MudmanX of the year, but I'm still interested to see what goodies come with completing their Superfecta (3 out of their 4 Tri-State area events).  Grade = B


OVERALL GRADE = B

BATTLEFROG SERIES (15k), Englishtown NJ, 8/2/14

Though the similar name and common background of its Navy SEAL founders have sometimes caused a mistaken identity with BoneFrog Challenge (a race I also did, back in May), this event has done the same as it's cousin in making a real name for itself in just its first year.  Both offered several choices of distance and provided a very tough and obstacle dense course, which was a refreshing break as some of the more established and bigger races have been doing the opposite lately. Beyond solely the course and participants' tasks along it, their true military theme with live demonstrations, obstacle dedications to the fallen, and actual soldiers throughout the course gave it the most credibility toward that claim than I've seen or felt before.  Hooyah!

1. COURSE-  Every inch of the 9 miles covered in their longer race seemed riddled with an obstacle, supposedly 51 in total- unheard of!  It bothers me when races jack up their obstacle count with lots of small stops and simple climbs or crawls to just inflate stats.  That was NOT the case here, as almost every one was a legit challenge, with some that could even take several minutes to complete (or fail!).  There are almost too many to name and describe, but there was basically no aspect missed- heavy carries, running, swimming, climbing, crawling, vertical, horizontal- you name it.  Plus, easily the muddiest course I have EVER done (and the Mudman naturally favors that part).  In fact, some of the more simple tasks were made nearly impossible due to the amount of slippery mud.  Walls, balance beams, and ropes caked in the slimy muck tested your balance and grip strength well more than if they were clean and dry.  Such a great mix of speeds to the race, as pace slowed on rolling motocross hills, then fast on some of the flat and dry parts, then again slowing for a swim or two.  As fatigued as I was, and this was also after running another 5k OCR hours before, I was excited all along the race getting to do more and more of their unique and creative obstacles, and not just go through the motions of an extended trail run that too often is in style.  I'm just going to say now that this was perhaps the best course I've done this year, and look forward to what they are announcing is even bigger and better things to come.  Grade = A

2. FESTIVAL-  If you read my previous Report on the NJ Warrior Dash from the same morning, then you know why I was hours later than originally planned on getting to BattleFrog.  I want to mention, on the heels of that fact, that the entire staff here was amazing and considerate of my situation (which I think I wasn't the only one WD screwed things up for).  While I missed the last 15k heat, they had no problem and even encouraged me to still go run at my leisure or even join their volunteer and staff wave in the afternoon.  I've seen other races literally shut down shop after the last gun goes off, but BattleFrog's entire course and festival (including music and vendors) were still alive for hours after.  Some of the crowd had dispersed, of course, following the excitement of their loaded Elite race in the morning, but that didn't stop every one I saw that afternoon from keeping the same great upbeat attitude.  Loved that- even if someone wasn't running for time or awards, they were still given the same experience (during the race and after) as the stars who were on the podium earlier.  Grade = A

3. SWAG-  I came away with more Kill Cliff cans than I know what to do with (don't worry- I'm still a VPX guy), but that may have been my luck of being one of the last to still be in vendor village that afternoon. As for the real souvenirs... shirts were what you see here, nothing mindblowing; but the medals are super nice and heavy with a logo that for some reason I think is one of the most badass in OCR.  They also had a merchandise tent with tons of other higher end apparel and branded accessories, which maybe at my next BattleFrog I'll look to pick up their stickers or a wristband.  Definitely a race worth repping if you ask me.  Grade = A


OVERALL GRADE = A

WARRIOR DASH, Morristown NJ, 8/2/14

Since the popular NY Warrior Dash I had done the last four years at Windham Mountain surprisingly got moved to a different location, I thought I'd try their other Tri State area event (much closer to me anyway) and do this New Jersey one I missed in 2013.  So, I had planned it out perfectly, to do the Elite heat here and then attempt to try my first two-race day by then finishing the new BattleFrog Series 15k race an hour away at Raceway Park (home to many other races including the NJ Tough Mudder).  While the mission did get accomplished, it wasn't without some huge snags and headaches along the way.  Not sure if the stats still hold up to defend their title of "World's Largest Obstacle Race Series", but for all you fans of the fuzzy helmet... keep calm and read on:

1. COURSE-   I felt bad for the residents of Morristown NJ, who were likely as frustrated with the Warrior Dash logistics manager as all of their racers were.  Parking was offsite a few miles from the actual race venue, but I've never seen a simple shuttle bus system become as mucked up as I have here.  Not enough buses, massive lines waiting for them, and worse traffic than Thanksgiving Day through this little residential town made for quite a lot of pissed off Dashers (equally for both going to or coming from the race).  It nearly caused me to miss both my competitive heat here and then close the window on getting to BattleFrog in time.  So, all this for a 5k "OCR" that took me under a half hour?  The course was mostly flat except for one steady paved road incline, and a short water crossing that confused a lot of racers on the cargo net dock section (and from what I heard, there was a SERIOUS controversy involving the lifeguard/safety personnel who supposedly refused to help a struggling swimmer).  I can only say there was one legit obstacle, their new centerpiece "Goliath" that climbed two stories up to a not-very-smooth slide down toward the finish line.  If you check out WD's website and hoped to do the no less than 25 highlighted obstacles there, you'd be surely disappointed- I don't even think half of them came to this event.  Grade = C

2. FESTIVAL-  Granted I didn't have a lot of time to stay and play at the party since I needed to head out to race #2, but I killed a half hour waiting for the awards ceremony which never happened (more on that in a minute).   Despite it being a cooler day with off and on rain, it seemed like the Shock Top beer garden area was picking up in attendance (again, I was also there in the earliest parts of the morning still).  They had a good stage area with rocking music soundtrack and then a live band that would play, but I do have to say as it faced right at the main hangout area, the speakers were so uncomfortably loud and may have been driving people away from that end of the festival. I'm sure the party really got going later, as it usually does at a WD, provided people were eventually able to get there from the parking site.  Grade = B

3. SWAG-  The fuzzy Viking helmet doesn't really do it for me as much as it did when I got my first one in 2010, but it's become their kooky trademark that a lot of folks still enjoy, so I can't knock it too much.  I was happy they returned to a real finisher medal from the silly bottle opener souvenir they gave in 2013, so that was an upgrade.  They have had a very different tshirt every year, and while this year's isn't breathtaking, at least it's a new design and slogan from the other 4 I've picked up.  Now here's where this category turned bad... chip timing is no longer at their events, so all racers must self-time themselves if they are interested- BUT it seems like an oxymoron to have an elite heat, with awards and qualification for their "world" championship without it, no?  I do like that they set the awards to only apply to the early competitive heats (which they had two, separate ones a half hour apart) instead of combining the entire day and having to wait 8 hours for your standings.  We were told that the top 3 of each heat would be collecting a custom metal helmet, which I know they had given out last year to not just overall but also age group winners.  Well, as I came in 2nd place and then waited around, they not only didn't have those prizes available at the time, but decided to altogether skip having an awards ceremony or any recognition of the winners- and I still don't know why.  As a small consolation, they gave us a $30 merchandise credit and a WD beer mug, but said to contact their customer service who would be able to make things right.  I will say, in the past, their company (Red Frog Events) has been great about responding to issues and is very accessible by phone or email, so I'm hoping to upgrade this mark to a "B" if things are addressed and indeed taken care of.  Stay tuned, Warriors.  Grade = C


OVERALL GRADE = C

SPARTAN BEAST, Ottawa CANADA, 7/27/14

Somehow it took me 4 years into this game with over 60 races completed so far, to finally bust out my passport and do an international OCR.  It's pretty awesome to realize the number of countries and choices that we can venture off to do this sport now, compared to even a year ago! A short flight brought me 450 miles north to the capital of our friendly neighbor, to test out Canada's version of Spartan Racing up at Mont Ste. Marie (which was actually one more hour drive further from home) and endure one of their two Beasts for the year.

1. COURSE-   I'm still not totally clear on the formal division between Spartan in the US and Canada, or any other countries for that matter, but I knew there would be differences from what I've heard from pals and research leading up to the weekend.  Things felt more casual and not as intense, which by no means meant there was lesser competition. In a way, it reminded me of how SR was a few years ago, pre-Reebok, with more of the "300" theatrics and less corporate propaganda.  I'm sure the bulk of Canadian regulars who came for this race were used to the routine, but I loved the emcee at the start line dressed in full Spartan cloak and helmet as well as the lady warriors who bestowed your finisher medal around your neck hours later.  In between those two timing mats was a mix of 13+ miles that had shades of current and past Spartan Race styles. Though Norm Koch didn't cut this course out, the many steep climbs and fatiguing downhills seemed all too familiar to another Beast I've done- you know, that little September one over in Vermont.  I have to say, with over a half marathon of mountain trekking, the course was extremely well marked and there never was a single question about right direction.  So, while the trails were up to par, unfortunately I thought most of the obstacles were far below the American standards that have been set.  Every heavy obstacle to lift, carry, or drag was either a much lighter version or accomplished on flat ground as opposed to typically doing those on the worst inclines.  One thing I won't argue over was the spear throw, which was the closest distance I've seen and easily twice the target size of any I've had to do before (thank you for that!).  While these did feel easier by comparison and maybe made for a few sighing moments of relief, it did kind of take away small pieces from the true "sufferfest" experience that most want from Spartan, especially for a Beast race.  The Canadians have teamed up with a company called Platinum Rig to provide an interesting monkey bar/ ring/ rope/ cargo net traversing obstacle as well as spinning pullup station, but part of me might also have preferred to have these instead be 4 or 5 separate obstacles to spread around the course rather than just one spot near the end.  My biggest gripe, which the American Elites have fought and are finally winning the war on, was that there was almost no accountability for obstacle completion (or subsequent penalty enforcement) in the early heats.  When you're playing for money, standings, and points, you need to have a referee blowing the whistle.  Grade = B

2. FESTIVAL-  Again, just a different feel than what I'm used to, starting right with that finisher chute and wondering where the CorePower drinks or Clif Bars went!  A little more scaled down and less showy than US events, but the setup was great as this base lodge had a lot of vendors spread around and plenty of seating to spend theday, which went from a drizzly morning to sunny clear skies midday.  I especially liked the practice spear throw area, which is something I've never seen before at a race (too dangerous?).  Even though the party seemed toned down, it was great for the spectators to view most of the best parts of the race and obstacles while perhaps eating some Poutine or Beavertails (Canadian joke- I don't know if they really served those things, and have never tried them, but apparently that's all Canadians eat? And that was another joke.  Haha.).  Grade = B

3. SWAG-  The previous day (though I wasn't present) Spartan held their Super course here, and gave away a finisher medal with a special Canadian ribbon but then gave the same common gray Reebok Spartan shirt as at other races, including the US.  The Sunday Beast was the opposite story- the medal was actually  the green Beast prize from LAST YEAR (old overstock?) but the finisher shirts are awesome!  It's about time a Spartan Race gave away a tech shirt, which they only did in the US back in 2010, and this one was even distinguished as a Beast edition (reverse shown below).  I was a little disappointed that no traditional paper race bib was provided, only the headband that shows your ID number.  One thing I'm still trying to figure out is how their Trifecta system works, as many Canadians were qualifying here but getting a full commemorative medal right on the spot, unlike our US "pie pieces", which I hope I'm owed a green slice after all that work on Sunday!  Grade = A


OVERALL GRADE = B

MUDMANX, Holmdel NJ, 7/19/14

I've known the team from MudmanX for a while now, and they've always been good to me (maybe because of my nickname?) over the last 4 events I've been to.  While they are still in their developing stages, and haven't quite yet exactly figured out their "schtick" in this ever-changing OCR world, a lot of new things have come from these guys in 2014 that have me excited about the direction I hope they're steering toward.

1. COURSE-  This was their first time setting up at the PNC Bank Arts Center, a small venue concert theater in Northern NJ, and it made me unsure of if this was going to be similar to the bunch of Spartan Race stadium series such as CitiField or Fenway Park.  While this race did center around the building, it actually did not go inside at all and mostly avoided what I figured would be lots of rows of stair climbing or that type of running through seat sections.  In fact the only similarity this had was the several parts of the race that were on paved roads around the venue's perimeter (which I honestly was not a fan of, being more of a trail runner myself).  When we did go off-road for the course, which required the elite heat to do two full laps of their 3.5 mile design, it was a fast pace on mostly flat fields, or again, pavement. It's weird to say, but I enjoyed the toughest part most, which was probably the slow stretch of mucky ravine in a wooded section that provided more than 6" deep of thick mud and followed then by the one steep dirt uphill that was your escape route.  Overall, obstacles weren't very difficult, and they weren't focused on the "4 Elements" as they have in the past.  They also took out the electric shock wires, which I don't think anyone had too much of a complaint on haha. The one big wish I have is that at least for their elite heat that they'll establish rules and obstacle penalties, as all other races (for awards) have put in place.  Here, it was a free for all and a lot of varying interpretations on how to run through it.  But again, to be a competitive and tough race, or more of a family affair fun run... remains to be seen.  Grade = B

2. FESTIVAL-  I actually liked what they had going on, while it lacked big name vendors or exciting games and contests for the crowd, the local feel was in effect (and that's sometimes a nice break sometimes from the DJ'd-out, big screen, in-your-face propaganda show that are at the big races).  There were a lot of tents with giveaways, while they were as random as deodorant sticks or swag from a local radio station. But there was also plenty of picnic table seating, a cleaner than usual hose/shower area, and plenty of beer to go around- which the  owner Jay was also very generous to hook everyone up with.  Grade = B

3. SWAG-  This category is where MMX has changed the most, but I see the new options as an improvement from 2012 and 2013. Previously, finishers received a branded headband, but the entire world even outside OCR knows that pretty much "belongs" to Tough Mudder.  So, rather they have moved to a dogtag medal for everyone that crosses the finish line (yes, though CMC and Merrell do, as well), but it's still an upgrade I think.  I also like that there are now a number of age group categories for awards with special medals (which I took 1st for what could be called their 35-70 "Old Man" division lol) beyond only having the top 3 overall men/women.  Shirt design has also changed as the race has toyed with their logo several times, but I'd like to see if they could get away from the "warning sign yellow" for their next generation? It's unique, but just doesn't go with my shoes.  Grade = B


OVERALL GRADE = B

SPARTAN SPRINT, Palmerton PA, 7/13/14

For those of you Spartan Racers out there who have become familiar with some of the courses and the event's planners, you were either licking your chops or biting your finger nails realizing that this PA Sprint would be one of several designed by the infamous Norm Koch this year.  Known for creating hours of torture and endless uphill hell, fans of Norm got exactly what they hoped for out of what most would agree is Spartan's most difficult short course.  The rest who maybe hoped the legend wasn't true, pretty likely had a miserable and crushing day.

1. COURSE-  This course, which I also ran in 2012 and 2013, has had a unpredictable pattern in its design, unlike some other races that have changed very little.  No, unfortunately the size and inclines of Blue Mountain haven't altered in the last few years, but the course length has been the major fluctuation.  This year's path was reported at 5.3 miles, more like the 2012 race, but much more than a year ago when it was for some reason cut at least a mile less.  I looked back at my times from these years, and saw last year was nearly a half hour faster than either the year before or here in 2014.  Maybe there was a demand for "more"?  Whatever the case, this course had some of the most grueling uphill battles with sandbag and rock bucket carrying, and just some awful incline trails themselves.  I don't think much new appeared in PA, and although the slip and slide was gone, my favorite section of lake traverse was the most welcoming cool-down few minutes of the entire course.  Grade = A

2. FESTIVAL- This year I didn't hang around too long after racing both days, but there was no shortage of others who did.  The weather held out and the action from NBC on Saturday drew a packed house of both racers and spectators.  Sunday was still a good turnout, but maybe a little less without all the cameras rolling on day 2.  One thing to note was that the festival area seemed quite divided with its setup- half near the start and half near the finish line, which were close but not right in the same area of the base lodge.  I guess as race numbers have grown, this festival has had to expand as well. It did make it a little difficult to decide where to call camp, and then to find friends who might be scattered around.   Grade = A

3. SWAG-  Same deal as the previous 2014 Spartan Races have been, but that's to be expected for at least another 5-6 months I would guess.  I've now got so many dark gray finisher shirts (and don't get me wrong, they're nice and of decent quality), that I just pick one up for a friend in their various size with each future race I'll go to. I also have yet to even do a Super or Beast this year, so my Trifecta medal pie is nothing but red so far.  Looking forward to September when I'll be able to put it all together.  Grade = B


OVERALL GRADE = A

SAVAGE RACE, Albrightsville PA, 6/28/14

One of the last "big" veteran nationwide OCR series that I hadn't gotten to do yet, I was as thrilled afterwards as I was leading up to it. I was glad to connect with the co-founders Sam and Lloyd, who were extremely gracious, interested, and available to make sure not just myself but the thousands of others racers that day were having a great time.  These guys have designed a perfect blend of competition and entertainment wrapped into an obstacle course race, and I'm just hoping that their series will soon be able to expand to other parts of the country, as most of their schedule this year and prior have been a little outside of my Northeast corner.

1. COURSE-  Part cross-country running trails, part thrill-ride obstacle stops.  While this 4.5 mile course was almost entirely flat as we zoomed around the Skirmish Paintball property, the challenges that were both large-scale and adrenaline-pumping were what make their grade here.  The premier 3 or 4 obstacles, including a 20 foot high jump into a muddy pool of water, an up/down/up/down monkey bar "Saw Tooth" climb, and their highlight half pipe "Colossus" that then finishes with a super slide on the other end, were all located at the center of the party area.  This handful of obstacles were so much fun and accessible that I went back after to do them ALL again after my race was over, which was even welcomed by the staff and volunteers- a sign that they're not just looking for your entry fee in exchange for a timing chip and tshirt, but that they want you to get as much of the race experience as you can out of that registration.  That attitude deserves lots of kudos!  Grade = A

2. FESTIVAL-  As I mentioned above, watching from the sidelines was like a front row seat to the amusement park of OCRs.  Great views from lots of spots, and was glad some friends and I got to take fun pics and video of obstacle shenanigans post-race.  A few vendor village tents provided just about the only shade on this very hot and sunny June Saturday, so that might be an area to improve on (at least my sunburned shoulders suggest that).  DJ'd music and food for sale, and the one free beer (which I forgot to have or give away), made for a fun party among what seemed to be a generally young and fit crowd.  I might have also liked to have seen some (unless I missed them) interactive games and contests that are always a sideshow compliment to the race itself and sometimes a fun chance to win merch, race entries, or just purely bragging rights.  Grade = B

3. SWAG-  Your finisher shirt and medal were both high quality and nicely designed, but generally standard level now for a race of this size and name.  I love the fact that this event, like last week's Merrell Down and Dirty, focuses mainly on awards for age groups, which allows many chances for competitors to win prizes (top 3's) among the many divisions.  These placing medals were a much heavier and thicker version of the finisher version, almost like an Olympic Games edition, in gold/silver/bronze.  Top overall trophies were an impressive looking plaque-mounted and engraved battle axe, given only to the #1 man and woman in the elite wave.  Grade = A


OVERALL GRADE = A

MERRELL DOWN & DIRTY, Hartford CT, 6/22/14

I've said it before, and I'll say it once again with this now being my seventh Down and Dirty race... this series is built on its very consistent product as well as its reputation for being a family friendly and all-abilities event.  It was as if I warp-zoned to exactly a year ago this weekend, as nothing really changed from their 2013 event, save a few minor tweaks.  For the most part, that's a really good thing (I came back, didn't I?), though perhaps it doesn't leave a whole lot for The Mudman to Report on ;)

1. COURSE-  I think the course might have been set up here from last year and just left untouched lol.  From what I could remember, almost every path and turn was the same, and even my chip time was within 10 seconds of my 2013 finish!  Hartford's Riverside Park is almost totally flat except for the one 50 yard incline in the first minute of the race, so almost all times (for both the 3 or 6 mile race options) are uncharacteristically fast for an obstacle race. This year did have a heavier sandbag carry compared to last year, and there was also a sandbag pulley hoist that might not have been there before.  The mud was as muddy as ever, especially the last finish line pit, which I know has become their trademark ending.  Still my favorite obstacle, the two story cargo net climb blocks near the last 1/4 mile, made its return appearance to be the only real high climbing element.  Grade = B

2. FESTIVAL-  Even though the entire race day is short- heats only running until 10am or so- the morning is filled with fun to do and see while you wait before or after your race.  Merrell shoes and Subaru are the main sponsors and dominate the festival area with tents and giveaways (or to purchase shoes available on site).  A number of contests and games are spread between the morning's awards ceremonies, including the military pullup contest which always draws a big crowd of spectators.  If that's not for you, its fun enough to just spend hours watching the racers trudge through the grande finale mud pit on their way to the finish chute- no one, adults or kids alike, leaves without being completely covered in muck!  Grade = A

3. SWAG-  While they no longer give you the sandwich, chip, and soda lunch that Merrell had in years past, they did step up in the snack department with a brown paper bag filled with Lara Bars, orange, and gummy fruit chews, plus a water bottle.  But what's really worth bragging about is the actual event swag, both at registration and post race.  Everyone gets one of their awesome tech tees (I recommend getting a size larger than normal though as they tend to run small/short), a stretchy headband thingamajig (which is awesome in colder months), and then a sweet dogtag finisher medal.  In addition, I again was lucky enough to pull out a first place finish in my age group (and first overall!) to earn a Merrell gift certificate that came with a newly designed gold medal for the placement (last year's top 3 medals were a larger version of the finisher dogtag- much nicer this year!) Grade = A


OVERALL GRADE = A