As many of you will know, I have a bit of a love / not-love relationship with mud / obstacle races like the Spartan Race / Tough Mudder / Mud Hero, etc. events. Firstly, I absolutely love the actual races. Running in the woods? Hopping over and under stuff. Risking life and limb while getting really dirty and possibly destroying whatever you wear? Sign me up! However, what I’m not a huge fan of is the chance of huge crowds trying to do the same thing at the same time! The line-ups are long, the race crowds are think, and traffic jams are inevitable. However, there are a few tricks if you plan to actually COMPETE there. First, sign up for the 1st wave (‘elite’ if they have it). Second, Toe the very front of the start line. Third, and obviously, arrive EARLY. With that, allow me to fill you all in on my experience at Mud Hero’s inaugural Ottawa event to kick off their 2013 season. I grabbed a few pictures, and also covered things for Get Out There Magazine, so yes, there is a video that will be embedded at the end. So with that, read on friends!
Pictures from the Event
So, you haven’t heard of Mud Hero? Well, allow me to introduce you to them. Put on by Crazy Canuck Adventures, Mud Hero is a born-in-Canada version of mud and obstacle racing. Started up by the same crew that for years has put on wildly successful mountain biking events in Ontario, they know how to organize and put on an event. Let me also answer the most asked question I’ve heard. “Is it like a Spartan race?”. Yes and no. Yes in that it is heaps of fun, and lots of like-minded people show up to race. No in that the crowd demographics are a bit different, and the race a bit more.. umm… accessible? You won’t find barbed wire, feats of strength, or baton-wielding madmen near the finish. No fire or ice either. Just lots of fun over, under, through obstacles, some water, slides, and yes, heaps of mud (especially for the later waves). From a demographics perspective, over 2/3rds of the participants were female, usually in teams and there for a fun time, grinning rather than grimacing at the obstacles. Does that paint a bit of the picture for you?
Given the pedigree of the organizers, I was pretty excited to tackle their race. Also, due to my performance in the other obstacle runs I’ve done, I requested a seeding in the first wave, to give me a fighting chance. Sporting only a light pair of running shorts, short socks, and a pair of trail runners, I was ready for the race. For the Ottawa event, there were over 1200 participants registered. Apparently, this is the smallest of their events! In Alberta, they have something like 12-14,000 racers! For these numbers, we were each placed in different waves, departing every 30 minutes, with each one comprising of about 250 racers. This spacing and number was pretty good, but as you’ll see by the video, it can’t do away with some clogging.
The silver lining was the course design. We were located at Commando Paintball, a nice big wooded area east of Ottawa near Navan. The overall distance was somewhere between 5 and 6 kilometers, and had about 20 obstacles in total. However, before hitting any of the bottleneck obstacles, there was a good kilometer or more of running. This allowed the naturally faster competitors to sort themselves out in a LeMans style and jockey for position. I showed up an hour before the first wave, and got prime parking and sorted my registration very quickly. Things were very well organized and I had lots of time to start taking establishing footage before I raced. There were already a pretty large number of people out, obviously excited at the prospect of getting covered in head to toe mud. Due to the layout and timing, I decided against wearing a camera on the race, and just return afterwards and film later waves. This was a good move.
Race Summary / Stats
The time came very soon for me to get crack-a-lackin’ on the race. I made my way to the very front, doing a quick assessment of my fellow competitors. Outwardly, there was no way to tell how things would go, but I felt quietly optimistic, and focused. A few final words, and the starting horn sounded. I left at a good clip, and bided my time a little at the front to see if I’d have to go completely red-line the whole way or not. On that opening run, I was at the front, but could hear footsteps behind me, and guessed there were at least 2 or 3 other racers hoping to challenge in this wave. Okay, jets on, looked like I’d have to use my agility in the obstacles.
I hit the first water crossing at top speed and used my lightness and fleet feet to get through fast. I could tell that was already working on my challengers, as they were a touch slower. I should note that one of my biggest concerns was the fact that this was a near pancake-flat course. I like big hills to help me distance myself, but that wouldn’t happen here. However, there were a couple well-placed steep little pitches of maybe 6-10m of elevation gain that helped. I hit the first one and scrambled hand and foot to the top on the dry dirt. So far so good. I was already opening my lead and feeling good. Time to put it on cruise control at 85-90% effort just in case I needed a burst.
After another couple little obstacles like running over crushed cars, it was into the ‘deep woods’. This was a ankle-risking trail running section that had no trails. Moss-covered roots, randoms water holes, etc. I liked it! I was quite careful to not roll my ankle but keep steady pressure on my pace. The course was extremely well taped. I’m guessing they went through several kilometers of plastic tape for this (no joke), as most of the course here was a ‘corridor’ of tape to corral you the right way. I was being cheered on intermittently by Sean Ruppel, one of the race directors, who was cutting the course to see how I was doing. Apparently I was holding a nice lead.
I continued to use the momentum and good conditions to hold the lead. Luckily, as first through, things were pretty dry and in good shape for all the obstacles. In the woods, I was able to find my footing in swamps, etc. by looking at the vegetation. I guess I picked up this skill from years of adventure racing and trying to find the ‘driest’ path in swamps. Either way, it kept me moving fast. It also helps when you don’t sink down as much in mud and bog as others. Once out of the woods, it was on to some more fun obstacles, including honest-to-goodness mud pits where you had to go under logs, tunnels leading to muck pools and followed by steep ascents, etc. It was amazing to go back later and see just how slick one part of the course became after 1,000 people got through it!
A few more woods, a few more obstacles, and I was on the home stretch, being cheered on my spectators. By then, my lead had grown to over a minute. I climbed up a the final ‘super hero’ cargo net, flopped down the other side, and made my way to the final mud pit at the finish line. I dove in, clawed my way through, emerged, rounded the bend, and crossed the finish in 1st for this wave, a full minute and a half ahead of the next fellow, in a time of 32:21. Of course, there remained the question of whether that time would last the day. After all, someone else could stomp out a faster time in a later wave and snatch my victory away! Luckily, the closest anyone else got was in the 5th wave, where one fellow finished a minute behind my time to secure 2nd overall.
So there I was, elevated to the highest rung of Mud-Hero-ness. My prize for winning overall? Nada. Zip. Zilch. What?? Yup, kinda sucked, as I win so rarely, it woulda been nice to get something for my victory. Ha ha. Truth be told, just the fact that I’d celebrated my 38th birthday the day before and managed to beat all these young whipper-snappers was probably prize enough for me. As I tweeted “38 and still kickin’ ass”. Also, with the many waves, an awards ceremony is kind of impractical, as I would have had to stay to the bitter end to collect any prizing. So reluctantly, I accept the glory as it’s own reward.
I spent the rest of my day out there shooting video, talking to fellow Mud Heros, and nervously keeping an eye on the finishing times of others coming in. At one point, I was asked what I thought the fastest time of the day would be by Sean. “Mine” I replied confidently. In addition to the ability to watch other racers at the finish line, there was also a big beer gardens set up near the final few obstacles. Each racer got one free Steamwhistle Beer, and the option to buy BBQ grub. A DJ was spinning tunes, and the mood was fun. There was also a ‘shower’ station set up near a lake. In essence, it was just a place where they pumped water from the lake out through a series of nozzles mounted on a frame. Rudimentary, yes, but effective at getting the mud off your body at the finish :-). We were also lucky to have the weather stay pretty clear during the race.
I left before the final waves finished, as I had previous commitments to get back to town (notably, a co-birthday party I had to attend, the perfect place to celebrate victory!). There was a bbq for the party, which was put in jeopardy when the skies decided to open up an unleash a watery fury upon us. It poured buckets, but the show went on anyway. With this race out of the way, next up was 350kms of cycling with Deanna in the Rideau Lakes Cycle tour. Stay tuned for more on that one! Till then, stay muddy (and thirsty) friends!