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Featured Review: MuckFestMS

MuckFest_MS_2013_logoMichael Carr took on the duty of writing us a review for MuckFestMS 2015 – Michael has run multiple MuckFest’s and many *many* other events, from fun runs to GoRucks to endurance races – always smiling, always helping others, I can’t thank him enough for taking this duty on for the community!

As the OCR industry continues to expand, we have seen many niches form. The upside to this is that it helps grow the overall sport by reaching different types of people with different interests, abilities, and goals. For the ultra-elite athlete looking to see where they measure up to their peers, we have the OCR World Championship race, and those that lead up to it. For the obstacle hungry, we have courses like Shale Hill and BoldrDash, which feature a very high obstacle per mile density. We have themed races featuring zombies. We have winter races. We even have color runs and foam runs, on the fringe of this industry.

And then we have MuckFest. Where does it fit? Well, first, keep in mind that 100% of the proceeds go to charity (specifically, the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation). Second, know that it is not a timed race. There is no podium, no placement, no timing chips. Also, the obstacles, for most of us seasoned “hard-core” OCR athletes, are not particularly challenging. For their target demographic, however, they may be the hardest thing these people have ever done. The bottom line is MuckFest is a “fun run”, in the mud, with some really fun obstacles. If you go into it with that mindset, it is very hard not to have a blast at this race. Judging by the muddy smiles at the finish line and folks swapping stories at the beer tent, they succeeded big time, for the third year in a row.

Let’s start with the operation and venue. For the third year in a row, MuckFest Boston has been hosted at Ft. Devens, a perfect spot for a race like this. Some short hills and backwoods trail running immediately take most people that sign up for this race out of their element. Onsite parking is free and plentiful, and in no case more than 1/4-mile walk from the start. Registration is a breeze, with plenty of lanes for racers. Ample porta-potties, huge mens and womens changing tent, a merch tent, a beer & food area, and hose-type showers were all present in the infield festival area. At the 1.5-mi mark were more porta-potties and a water station. Security & staff were clearly present and visible, and there were always volunteers at every obstacle. Like most OCRs today, people were sent out in waves, every 30 minutes. Some logjam may have been prevented by using 15-minute intervals (more on this later). The start line MC was great — not the same rah-rah, testosterone pumping delivery as the well know Tough Mudder front man, but definitely more fun, and keeping in the spirit of this particular event.

2015-04-25 13.30.21Now a little about the race itself. After the hounds are released, we immediately ran through a rain stream, so you start off out of the gate wet. It’s really fun watching the reaction of newcomers to the sport who have no idea what they are in for. Next up, a series of four muddy up and overs, each one higher than the next. A short run from there, still in the infield area visible to all guests and supporters, is one of their signature obstacles: Big Balls. Going through alone is a no challenge at all. Going through while the other 200 people in your wave are pushing and shoving their way through at the same time is surprisingly difficult. And again, listening to the laughs, giggles, and screams is just the beginning. Up next just a short distance away (still within 3-4 minutes of the start) is the first backup: the 2015-04-25 13.31.36Spider Web. A take on the traditional barbed wire crawl, made with bungies. The idea is to weave between the ankle high cords and the belly-button high cords. But as 200 other participants crowd into this, it basically just turns into everyone stepping over all the cords, pushing them to the ground with each step. With 3-4 people entering this obstacle, it is challenging and passable. With the mass that descended upon it because it is so close to the start, it is impossible to do as intended. Once through, it’s a third-mile mostly uphill run to the first water obstacle, just a simple pit dug into the ground, lined with tarp, and filled with water — waist-deep water. Up and over a big mound, 2015-04-25 13.36.52and more running. To the next signature obstacle, the Ring Swing — a rotating structure over a moat. This year, they replaced the ropes with gymnastic rings. This greatly improved the success rate over the last two years. Racers grabbed onto a ring and hung on as it spun (slowly) around in a circle, dropping them off 270deg later. After this a short run along the street and back into the woods, and the next obstacle, a twist on last year’s high-low rope traverse. This year, they added another set of ropes running perpendicular. Not only did this improve flow and prevent additional backup, it added a little more challenge to the obstacle, as you had to contend with another racer crossing your path. 2015-04-25 13.38.51Another short run, and onto their newest obstacle, one that this racer has never seen at any race: a zip-line over a 8′ water pit. And the zip-line ended before the edge of the pit, so no matter how skillfully you handled the zip-line, you were dropping into the muck. Continuing on, shortly ahead is a favorite from previous races, the Swing Set. Stand on a giant swing and try to build up as much momentum to launch yourself as far into the water pit as possible. Regardless, you still going in up to your head and swimming out. After another short run, a new obstacle that was 2015-04-25 13.46.45really challening, the Balance Bridge. Even if you are able to keep your balance and cross without falling in, the volunteers are at the controls of water cannons that will surely get you wet (and possibly disrupt your balance). After that, anoter twist on the familiar corrugated tubes: on rollers. As you crawl through the tubes, volunteers rotate them — sometimes with great enthusiasm! This was actually one of the hardest obstacles. Next up: a platform jump into a deep water pit. Not nearly as 2015-04-25 13.59.51high as Tough Mudder’s Leap of Faith, but not everyone is looking for the TM experience. Coming out of the woods and back into the infield area, the next obstacle is actually the Spider-Web station, serving double duty, as a cargo net up-across-down. This was a pretty big logjam, due to the volunteers only allowing 5 climbers at a time. This was a big change over the last 2 years, in which there wasn’t really a volunteer “controlling” the station. There were 20-30 people on that obstacle at a time last year. They were certainly erring on the side of safety and caution this year. A few people grumbled about the long wait, but most people (again, keeping the target demographic in mind) were just taking the opportunity the catch their breath and share some laughs. 2015-04-25 14.07.55Right after that, was another cargo net obstacle, a simple (but very high) A-frame. Then on to a long grass out-and back run to another brand new obstacle, a giant air bag, and racer’s choice of low or high platform off of which to jump. Here too, was a significant backup at certain times of the day. Finally, the last two obstacles immediately before the finish, both extremely muddy: Skid Mark and Belly Crawl .

On this specific day (Saturday), temps were in the low-40s at the start, and rose to mid-50s in the early afternoon. Overnight had been upper-30s, so you can believe that the water obstacles were very cold, especially in the first few waves. The water warmed up significantly by noon, and really 2015-04-25 14.15.04wasn’t bad at all. Most people were shocked at first, gasped maybe, caught their breath, and just moved on, warming up by running. At the end, most people spoke of it as a badge of honor, having endured something they don’t normally do in the normal lives. Your registration got you a free event-specific t-shirt, a beer, a snack bag, a really neat orange MuckFest cup (ed: this was due to being on a team of more than 10!), and a food voucher. Also in the infield area were games for adults and kids, such as a “log roll” in a raised pool, and there was also a “kid’s race” (which the writer knows nothing about).

So, all in all, the vast majority of people this writer saw and talked to during and after the race had a great time. It is true that this race would not challenge many of our elite athletes to their limits, and may not appeal to everyone, but, it certainly succeeded in appealing to their target audience. Looking around, most people were part of a small-to-medium sized team, each with unique team-specific shirts made just for this event. Participants really put a lot of time and effort (e.g., fund-raising) into this event, which is readily seen. The event was sold-out for Saturday, and nearly at capacity on Sunday as well, so they are clearly doing something right. So if beating your PR time is your goal, consider a Spartan Sprint, but if having a really fun time with a group of friends, and doing it all in the name of a really great cause, this race is a no-brainer.

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Shining stars

MuckfestMS 2013 was one of our favorite events of the year. The difficulty level of the event was accessible to all, but the obstacles were anything but cheesy or home built – cranes with giant hanging balls, carousels with ropes to hang off, water jumps and human swings – check out our featured review to see how much fun we had, and what you missed if you didn’t come.

Muckfestms group photo

It was also one of our first big team showings for the year, with over 40 people – and since then, thanks to the wonderful Kandice keeping communication open with the New England chapter of the National MS Society, we’ve maintained a good relationship with them.

MFMS_BostonStrong-1We just learned that they have awarded us their Shining Star Award for 2013!

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 12.49.42 PM

This is a huge honor for us! We’re just a little (ok ok, not so little) obstacle community, with a running problem – but with our enthusiasm and experience, we make a difference.

The entire team is invited to the awards ceremony in Norwood, MA on Nov 21st – see the event in our community page for full details if you would like to attend 🙂

Thank you to the National MS Society! What an honor! We will be seeing you again in 2014!

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Featured Review: MuckFest MS 2013

Kandice took on the roll of Race Co-Ordinator for the New England Spahtens, and was put in charge of keeping us organized, pointed in the right direction, and working with the race director along the way – and I can’t thank her enough for her hard work, dedication and efforts. Thanks to her, we were the biggest team, with VIP parking, express check-in and our own tent – she also established a great relationship with the event team behind MuckFest MS, and, she followed through post race by writing our Feature Review.

Over to Kandice!

New England Spahtens at MuckFest MS
New England Spahtens at MuckFest MS

 

Rubber Ducky…you’re the one! This wasn’t bath time, but it sure was fun!

I first heard of MuckFest MS through an email from the National MS Society. I knew that it was an event that I wanted to do, having participated in another event run by the MS society, I had confidence that it would be well run. I posted about the event on the New England Spahten page and was immediately joined by Lisa, Jenn and James. Slowly more and more people started joining, I was thinking we would get about 25 people…but our amazing team topped the charts as the largest team at the Boston Event with 48 people, officially registered (while it counted toward the team total) and at least 1-2 others added in couple of days preceding the event. Shout out to you all for being so patient and making the day totally kick ass! The NE Spahtens are also in the top 5 for ALL of the MuckFest MS events, yahoo!

Moving on…the event was held at Ft. Devens, a former military base, easily accessible just off of Rt. 2. Since we were THE LARGEST TEAM we had some perks, including VIP parking, express check in and our own tent with some tables in the festival area. When I arrived the VIP parking was full. We were directed to a lot, that was just as close by, and free! It was a short walk to registration. When we go there there was a decent sized line for registration, that seemed to be moving fairly quickly. Fortunately, we got to go to express check in—pulled out our licenses and were given our bibs and timing chips within seconds of our arrival. We met up with the team, some had run in the competitive heat at 9 am, others were preparing to run at 10:30am and the remainder at 1:30. Since we had such a large team we did split up the heats, which I think worked out fairly well. It seems that everyone was able to run when they wanted to (it was not an issue to jump heats either…shh!).

MuckFest MS Start line
MuckFest MS Start line

The course was a blast!!! There were about 30 obstacles scattered over the 5 mile distance. There were familiar obstacles…cargo nets, tubes to crawl through, spider web, traverse wall, muddy trenches, slip n’ slide, traverse ropes, teeter totters, fire poles, etc.

There were numerous new (at least to me) and super FUN obstacles!

Swinging big balls : the orb style inflatable balls that were hung from cranes that you had to dodge
The Spinner: had large steel arms with a long and short rope hanging from them, grab the rope and take a ride over the mucky water…or fall in and walk through (I fell, both times)
Muck Off : Climb up a platform and jump into a man made “pool” filled with cold water
Swings: Self propelled swings that you jumped off of into, yet again, cold water

 

Giant hanging balls
Giant hanging balls

The course had a great lay out, obstacles were well spaced throughout. Obstacles were built well and at no time did I feel unsafe. There were some decent hills, some flat areas and mixed terrain (trails, grass, and pavement). There were at least four water stations and a couple port-a-potties along the course. There were many volunteers that were very friendly, encouraging and thankful for our support.

The first heat I ran there was no bottle necking, we made it through without any significant wait at any obstacle. The second time around, we started a bit further back in the pack, we did have to wait at a few of the obstacles, but not more than a minute or two for any of them.

Course Cons: Though there was plenty of (cold) water and amazing obstacles there was not quite enough mud! Additionally, there was a “short cut” that took 2 miles off the course…there was no indication of who ran what distance, so the times/places are off a bit. I wasn’t running competitively, so not as much of a concern for me. Alternately, this was a great option for those who were unable to complete the full 5(ish) miles, but wanted to go out and show their support for MS.

Included in the registration fee, each racer got a t-shirt, two beers and some food (sandwiches, wraps, chips). There were also vendors giving away free unlimited Hint water and coconut water, t-shirts, stickers, water bottles, etc. In the festival area there was food and beer for purchase. There was good music, smiling faces and an overall chill environment.
Festival cons: Some of the music had explicit lyrics (only an issue because there were a lot of kids there). The festival area was a bit small, not an issue for us, as we had a designated tent 🙂 (Have I mentioned how incredible the NE Spahtens are!?)

I, unfortunately, did not get to check out the “Little Muckers” area. Though, it seemed that the spahtkins I saw coming out of the area were quite mucky! The “Little Muckers” area was a free area set up for the kids to play in, explore some of the obstacles and get muddy. My kids would have loved it!

There was a bar code scanner, for smart phones, in which you could look up your time, place, etc immediately after finishing. The timing chip was also connected to the photos. Scan the barcode (or go to the website) type in your name or race number and voila, its all there! The photos were posted within 48 hours of the event. Cons: There were not many photos taken by the race photographers.
Never fear, we have Vince Rhee and Paul Jones looking out and snapping photos of us. Thanks guys, you truly rock!

Kandice flying through the air with the greatest of ease ...
Kandice flying through the air with the greatest of ease …

Overall, this was probably the most fun I have ever had doing an OCR. I was certain that I smiled the entire day, that is until I saw the photos of my on the platform of the Muck Off, my face clearly indicates that I was thinking WTF, only to be followed by my mid air shot with a look of pure terror!!! With the exception of those 30 seconds, I was definitely grinning ear to ear for the vast majority of the day. This is not necessarily a challenging or competitive OCR (though there was a competitive wave) but the distance and assortment of obstacles made it suitable for nearly everyone.

The event was so well run. The obstacles were great. The distance was perfect. The festival was fun! I haven’t heard many complaints about the course, obstacles or festival (other than the short cut issue and explicit lyrics). It seems that everyone is looking forward to running it again next year, I know for sure that I am! I am very pleased with how the day turned out. Truly, it was an incredible event for a great cause.

**Just wanted to send a shout out to Samantha Williams from MuckFest MS. She was my contact person, numerous emails, phone calls, etc went into getting everyone situated on the team, arranging and rearranging the heats, etc. She answered all my questions and hooked us up as best she could. Thanks Samantha, it was a pleasure to work with you. 🙂