Merrell Down and Dirty CT – 2013


* From: Ben Foster

* Event Details
Better than I expected on all fronts.

Packet pick-up was (optionally) a day in advance at an EMS store in South Windsor from noon to four. Given the early race start time, it was nice to have an option to get everything squared away in advance of the race, though this is obviously only convenient for the relatively local racer. There was nearly no wait at 2 PM, and, other than having to go to two different tables for adult versus kids packets, was super easy.

Plenty of big name sponsors for this one, so no surprise that there was some decent schwag. Registration packets for the adults included a Larabar sample, a Paul Mitchell sample, a Merrell “buff” (you know, like the Survivor ones) and a Merrell green tech-fit shirt with race info printed on it. The shirt was ok – nice that it was a moisture-wicking material rather than a cotton casual shirt- but the actual cut of the shirt left a lot to be desired. On my 6’2″ frame, it’s a lot closer to a belly shirt than a t-shirt. I talked at length (no pun intended) with some of the organizers about my disappointment with the  fit and they indicated it seemed to be a problem with the printer that did the screen printing for them. The steaming process they used seem to have shrunk the shirt quite a bit, and more in one direction than the other. I traded my XL in for an XXL on race day, which is a little better, but still not good. Unfortunately the race did a bulk order for their entire sea
son, so they’re stuck with a product they seem to acknowledge is inferior. Needless to say they have no plans to use the same printer next year, and hopefully have learned their lesson. Kids registration packets included a white cotton shirt (with no fit issues), a matchbox car, and a Larabar sample. For whatever reason the early-registration location was out of kids’ medium shirts, so my 7 yr old ended up with a large. I’m not sure why the planning SNAFU on that one. Race finishers all received nicely printed dog-tags. The kids had their own printing, but the adults had only one set of tags for 5k/10k. I was somewhat disappointed in that. I realize it’s more expensive, but it’s always nice to be rewarded with a little something extra/different for choosing the hard road (other than just more time on the course.)
Parking was easy, and only minutes from the highway. We parked in a designated lot across the highway from the course, which would have been fine had we not been a little bit late and had to climb 2-3 stories to cross the highway and then the same down on the other side, with 2 kids, plus a third in a stroller, plus my wife having a bad-back/cane. Apparently there was another lot closer to the Expo area we walked past, but you could only park there if you had a Subaru (hooray for sponsor perks that seem… prickish). I believe there was another lot on the Expo side of the highway but farther out from the park than the Subaru lot. All the lots were $5 to park, which was fair, especially since there were no Spectator fees. Parking was well organized and seemed plentiful, at least as perceived at the time we arrived/left (we were very much on the early in, late out crew).
Expo was great for a race of this size. The portapots were plentiful and never any waiting. I did have to hunt a bit to find a not-muddy one for my daughter later in the morning, but it says something that I had that option. On the course there were water stations every mile or so, and food at the end for racers (water, muffins, fruit, cookies, etc). The clean-up area had a cute inflatable “car wash” plastered with the Subaru logo, but it was more for show than cleaning. They had three major hose pens further out, though, with more than enough hoses for everyone. A few nozzles were broken, but on the whole it was more than adequate for cleaning up. Paul Mitchell of course had shampoos out for cleaning up with, which was nice. Men’s and Women’s changing tents were spacious enough for the small crowds in them, nothing especially unusual there. In the actual expo, there were lots of vendor/sponsor tents (for an event this size) with some events going on. Merrell had Zorb balls y
ou could try for free, but only if you did it while wearing one of their try-on shoes (the only point in my day I had time to try this was after my 10k, and before my daughters race, so I was a little too muddy to wear someone else’s shoes at that point). There was also a pull up contest going on in another area with Merrell gift cards as prizes, as well as a US Marine booth doing a pull-ups for schwag purchase system (15 for an ipod arm band, 10 for a water bottle, etc). Subaru had a slingshot/water balloon game that sounded fun (kid did it while I raced) as well as giving away bags, sunscreen, black tape sticker thingies for under your eyes. Lara-bar was giving away samples, both at a booth and wandering the expo grounds. We’ll be eating those for a few days, at least. EMS had a table set up with a raffle, and a few sports nutrition things for sale (tough sell when Larabar is right next to you and free). Paul Mitchell was doing $15 haircuts for charity. A couple other smal
ler vendors were present too- Solar Energy company giving away some small stuff, food vendors selling fairground food, etc. Overall, it was more than I expected from an event this size, both on the facilities front and vendor front. Definitely above average, in my opinion, and arguably on par with what the “Big Dogs” in the industry can pull together.

* Race Details
I ran the 10k, did the 100yd dash with my 4-year old daughter and my 7-year old son did the kids’ mile race, so I’ll give an overview of each, with the 10k last since it’s the longest of the bunch. Overall, I’d say we’d definitely run the Merrell Down and Dirty again. While it wasn’t as challenging as a Spartan or even a Tough Mudder, it was well organized with great kids races, so the perfect family race.
Kids 100 yard Dash
Overall Thoughts: A short little race for the 4-6 year old set, ending with a 60′ crawl through the adult mud pit. The race kicked off at 10:45, plenty of time after I finished the 10k so nice and comfortably timed (unlike the mile – see later). This was actually perfect race for this age group. Cargo crawl, balance beam, low wall (with ladder footholds) and then a big long mud crawl. My daughter had a blast and begged me to “go again”. Racers were broken out by gender and age and each group released in waves so kids were getting trampled by their older counterparts. Parents *had* to race with this set, which was fine with me, but apparently a surprise to some parents even though it was clearly published on the website. All the kids got to do a “parade” at the winner’s podium, and competed for the best hero pose to win a big Matchbox set. My daughter was heartbroken that she didn’t win, even though I don’t think she would have cared if they had no prizes. Honestly I think the
y could have had the parade without the arbitrary contest, and had it be more fun for everyone.

Kids 1-mile
Overall Thoughts: Kids 7-13(?) race. Seemed to have similar obstacles to the 100 yd dash, just scaled up slightly and spread out a lot. I say seemed to because unlike the 100 yd dash, parents were *not allowed* to run this with their kids. This kicked off at 11:30ish (was scheduled for 11:45 on paper) and my 7 yr old had been out in the sun for 4 hours and was just done. We really had to push him to get out there and race it. He had fun in the end, but was pretty grumpy throughout. Since the course went off through the woods and wasn’t visible from the expo area, I only have his account and his friends. The scheduling on this was my only real complaint in the organization. The parade for the 100 yd dash was going as the corral was getting set up for the mile race, and several waves left before the parade even finished. Luckily for us the mile was set up oldest to youngest, so my son was at the back, but had we been there with an older kid, this would have been pretty problema
tic for the multi-kid family. As it was my wife had to take my son over to the starting corral (and try to talk him off his ledge) while I was photographing the parade and talking my daughter off her own ledge. Spreading these races out just a little bit more could have improved the experience for everyone.

Hartford Adult 10k
Overall Thoughts:  Overall, the race was well organized with lots of staffing from volunteers. The location was a fairly flat, riverside park (creatively named Riverside Park) in Hartford, but the views were mostly of the CT river and the woods rather than the city itself. Despite the flat terrain. the course designers made good use of the ridge along one side of the park separating it from the surrounding area, having several switchback climbs and straight up and down climbs to get some vertical in. You certainly wouldn’t mistake it for a mountain course, however. The distance was respectable (especially for the price) and the obstacles were well built and varied, if a little “standard” for the OCR crowd. Terrain at the location was mostly trap rock and dirt, with a few areas of pavement towards the “Expo” area of the course.
I was somewhat nervous given the 3 adult start-times (8:00 for 10k, 9 and 9:30 for 5k) that we would be running in one giant pack, but the organizers did a good job of breaking the starting corral into waves and releasing those waves every approximately 4-6 minutes. The runners were spread out on the course enough that there was never really a backup on any obstacle and always room to maneuver around even the biggest of groups on the trails. I will say the 8AM start time was rough for me with packing up 3 small children and my wife, and I’m local. I can only imagine what kind of deterrent this may have been for folks with a little more travel time to get to Hartford. Also, the expo was really broken down and done by noonor maybe 12:30. This obviously makes it not a full day commitment for the event, which I’m sure for some is a benefit and some a deterrent as well.
I honestly hope to see more OCRs come to this area, and this park specifically. There’s a section of the park that has High/Low Adventure Ropes course that was not used, but could be interestingly incorporated in future OCRs, and the location had an amazing balance of scenery and convenience.

Push Ups
They Say: Drop and Give us 10!
Thoughts: Pretty much what you’d expect. They were well staffed enough to actually keep count on you, so attempts at cheating (or miscounts) were called out.

Ladder Wall
They Say: The Ladder Wall is about 8′ tall and requires climbing over the top.
Thoughts: Pretty Standard climbing-type obstacle

Water Crossing
They Say: Racers plunge through waist deep water to get to the other side. Although participants do not have to swim you do have to get wet.
Thoughts: Seems this was replaced by a water crawl of sorts (thing Tough Mudder’s Electric Eel without electricity) under a cargo net. Refreshing on a nearly 90 degree day. Otherwise, Tame.

Marine Hurdles
They Say: The Marine Hurdles obstacle is a series of horizontal hurdles about 5′ off the ground. The hurdle requires athletes to kick a leg up and over the hurdle.
Thoughts: We’ve all seen some variation on low-walls/marine hurdles. Volunteers were helping people over, which I was somewhat disappointed in.

Cargo Climb
They Say: The Cargo Net Climb obstacle is about 8′ high and requires athletes to climb the cargo net over the top and down the other side.
Thoughts: Significantly shorter than cargo nets I’ve dealt with at other events (*cough*Spartan*cough*) so pretty pedestrian

Balance Beams
They Say: The balance beams are 2′ and 3′ from ground level and each participant will have to walk along the top of two beams. Each beam is 4″ wide and 12′ long.
Thoughts: The low beam, high beam, low beam layout was actually a little tougher than I expected. I usually don’t struggle all that much with balance beams, but the transitions made it just tough enough to be a refreshing change.

Sand Bag Squats
They Say: Nothing, interestingly. A couple other obstacles were on the original course map that is still online that were not present, so not sure why this replaced them
Thoughts: 10 squats with a 40-50 lb sandbag. Not particularly challenging.

Monkey Cross
They Say: The monkey cross is a 24′ wide, 20′ long box. Participants will run across straps while holding onto 1″ rope above their heads.
Thoughts: Clearly favors the taller racer. I’m 6’2″ and thought this obstacle was a breeze. The overhead ropes were only anchored on the ends, not on the center support pole, and had some slack. So one side could pull the rope down while it went taut on the other side. The 5’4″ girl next to me had me pulling the rope down to hand height for her, but I’m not sure without a tall teammate this would be any fun

5′ Walls
They Say: These walls are 5′ tall and require athletes to run and jump over.
Thoughts: More or less the same as the Marine Hurdles. A little repetitious, but the two were spread out enough that it didn’t bother me.

They Say: This obstacle consists of 100 tires in a 10×10 box. Racers have to navigate their way through the tires as fast as possible.
Thoughts: Tires were stacked two high so made doing a true “run” through them a little difficult, especially since the top tires weren’t perfectly aligned with the bottom. Otherwise, basic tire field.

Tunnels & Low Walls
They Say: Racers will crawl on their hands for 27′ and then jump over the 4′ tall walls. These walls are smooth and have no hand holds.
Thoughts: Tunnels were collapsible, fabric-and-wire things. Military grade, but still somewhat unimpressive. Reasonably long travel but easy. No mud/muck/rock bottom to make it truly interesting (and hell on the knees). As for the low walls, see Marine Hurdles.

Log Leap
They Say: Run and jump over these 5′ tall inflatable logs.
Thoughts: I can’t imagine these were actually 5′ tall, but they had 3-4 of them bundled together. Lots of people got stuck in the “gaps” between these since they were slippery and squishy. I elected to just jump as far as I could. Landed nicely on the last log and rolled off.

Sand Bags
They Say: Participants will have to carry a 20-40lbs sand bags across a designated distance. Any grip is allowed as long as the racer does not let the bag touch the ground.
Thoughts: Flat ground and not a lot of distance (maybe 60-70 yds total?). Pretty easy for a sandbag carry

Mud Pit
They Say: The Mud Pit obstacle requires athletes to crawl underneath rope while getting Down and Dirty!. No going around this obstacle.
Thoughts: Short mud crawl. See final mud pit.

They Say: Look Out! This monster is 20′ high. Racers will climb the cargo net to the top and slide down the back side of the wall.
Thoughts: This was my first race with an inflatable, and it was tons of fun sliding down. It may just have been the shoes I was wearing, but the cargo net climb on the front side was actually pretty tough as I had a lot of trouble getting the net away from the inflatable enough to get a decent foothold.

Step Up Cargo Climb
They Say: Racers will climb up and over the 16′ cargo nets and back down the other side.
Thoughts: This was actually a tiered climb – 8′ cargo-net wall straight up, then 8′ cargo net across, then 8′ up again. 8′ across the top and then the mirror image on the other side to get down. I didn’t expect this to be tough, but it immediately followed the Inflatable, and after struggling with the climb on the first, was a little more tired than I expected for this.

High Walls
They Say: The High Walls Obstacle is an eight foot vertical wall with climbing holds. Athletes must climb the vertical wall.
Thoughts: Pretty basic climbing wall. A little muddy and slippery, but well staffed with volunteers to make sure people didn’t go tumbling.

Slippery Mountain
They Say: The Slippery Mountain obstacle requires racers to enter on their stomachs and pull themselves up using only their hands. No cheating and using your feet!
Thoughts: Rope climb up a soaped up incline. The volunteers were pretty vocal in enforcing the no legs rule (including knees). Not terrible if you’ve got a decent upper body, but saw some folks really struggle.

Mud Pit
They Say: The final mud pit is a 60′ x 60′ where you will get Down and Dirty. Everyone is watching while you crawl through this mud pit and make a dash to the finish.
Thoughts: Pretty basic mud crawl. There was no barbed wire or faux barbed wire (farbed wire?) to force you to stay low, just a flagged rope. This is understandable since the mud pit gets used for the smaller kids races too, but it meant that you could crawl hands and knees or, if you were in the middle, just pick up the rope and walk under it. Not a complaint, since I had kids going through it later, just an observation.

* Rating
Above Average

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