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Featured Review: Renegade Playground Challenge NH 2014

Editors Note: Robert Gagnon has ran many OCRs, both local and national, and is owner of Xtreme Fitness in Hampton, NH. He is also a member of the New England Spahtens Elite Team, and placed fifth overall at this event.

renegadeplaygroundlogoParking: Parking was ample, well organized, on site and best of all FREE.

Facilities: The facilities were accommodating and totally adequate.

Check in: Check in was simple, organized and easy. I saw little to no lines and everyone seemed to know what they were doing.

Bag Check: They had a neat type of bag check where they had a mobile locker unit on site that was basically like the paid lockers you would see at ski resorts. Put your stuff in, put coins in, lock the door and take the key with you.

Wash Station: There was an adequate hose station for rinsing of. It was located on a paved area so once you were done hosing off, you were not stepping on muddy ground getting dirty again.

Changing station: There was a changing tent although I did not use it. I heard of no complaints about them. I do know some people used them (Dennis for one).

Bathrooms: There were not a ton of porta-potties, but I saw no lines so it seemed adequate.

Vendors: There did seem to be a couple vendors, but not many. One vendor had a corn hole game going and people seemed to be playing most of the day.

10502115_10202809824306324_5480554316653384364_nSchwag: The medals were upgraded this year and looked MUCH better than they ever have for RPC. The shirts were also upgraded to a nice tech fabric. They also gave a decent RPC pint glass. I saw a few instances of people randomly being given additional shirts, which they seemed to really like. They seemed to be pretty free with schwag so many people had no complaints about this and it was well received.

Race nutrition: Upon completing the race you were able to have bottled water and bananas and there was an ample supply

Beer: They purchased and provided Bud and Bud light, which seemed to not be too much of a hit (I don’t really drink so I didn’t care either way). Everyone was given 1 free beer. If you were on a team of 15 or more people you received 2 free beers and also got a team tent located very close to the beer garden (they called this VIP beer access).

10561738_10202809828746435_1436324409956806403_nKids race: I was not able to check out the kids race but know they had one. I did preview the course and can say that it was designed pretty much EXACTLY as the adults course (style and difficulty level), but just on a small scale.

Volunteers: There seemed to be ample volunteers both on the course and in the “festival” area. Most o f them seemed to know what was going on and were reasonably well informed. The negative, many of them smoked cigarettes and did so while volunteering. In fact, the very first group of volunteers as you entered the event seemed to be smoking so your first impression for a running/fitness event was actually a bit of a turn off. MANY people I spoke to mentioned this and were put off by it.

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The course

Distance: The first place finisher told me that his GPS had the race at 3.1 miles.

Terrain: Super flat. Although the race was an appropriate distance, they course designer decided not to take advantage of any of the woods that were part of the property. They elected to keep the entire race on the fairgrounds part of the property itself. The Rochester fair is technically a “state fair” so it has a very large open area that easily accommodated 3.1 miles of running, parking, and festivities area with room to spare. It IS very flat though so the running itself was basically easy which translated into a fast course (winning time was 22:30). Being a native of Rochester, I can say that there is also a fair amount of wooded property available but the course designer decided not to use them. My thoughts on why will be summarized at the end of the review.

Course marking: I found the course to be well marked and organized. I never came close to making a wrong turn and did not see or hear of anyone else having a problem either.

Difficulty: In some regards the course was difficult. It did have things that taxed you physically (soft sand and MANY mini dirt hills). From a technical stand point, the course was VERY simplistic and not difficult at all. Nothing really to mentally challenge or frighten for ANYONE. I saw a very small 7 year old boy complete the course. Shout out to you Calin! You ROCKED that course (finishing the last mile with just 1 shoe. He was so cute)!

10456817_723336161062006_1399558203083275112_nObstacles: There was a large A frame cargo net a bunch of 4’ & 5’ wooden walls (10 to 15 ish), 1 manmade wooden balance beam (with varying heights). 1 fixed height balance beam made by laying a telephone pole on the ground (over some dirt trenches) and 1 balance beam made from a log. There was a trench that you went down into that was filled with water and had 3 car tires hanging from ropes that you had to pass through. There were 2 large piles of hay bales that had to be navigated. There was a small wooden bridge that you went over at one part and then under at another time. This was ALL the wooden obstacles, NOTHING challenging, difficult or even really interesting. The A frame was really the best thing I guess. The ENTIRE rest of the course was comprised of MANY, MANY holes/trenches that were dug by a back hoe. The sand from the holes was piled up either at the beginning or end of the hole and required you to navigate over it. Frankly this WAS the course. This was what sucked the energy out of you. 10553569_723833684345587_7490684724615541172_nThe sand/dirt was soft and required you to expend energy in order to get through it. Some of these holes had water that was about knee deep. One of the holes had a dirt pile that was about 15’ high and they put a .003 mil piece of plastic in an attempt to make a slide (with no water). I was the 2nd person going through at that point and when I stepped on the slide I ripped a HUGE hole in it and basically destroyed in immediately. I couldn’t even attempt to slide down it because it was dry and destroyed from the huge hole I put it it. So all in all, to me the course was a bit of a disappointment. I know what goes into building a course and this took very little effort when compared to other races. They could have made some tractor pulls or bucket carries but didn’t. They could have made some muddy barbed crawls but didn’t. 10449532_724137767648512_1290637613575005722_nThey could have used some of the more hilly, wooded terrain but didn’t. My opinion is that they didn’t do this because they didn’t want to put the effort into it as doing so does take effort. I have no doubt that all the holes were dug in about 1-2 days with a back hoe. They stuck out 10-15 pre made wooden walls and set up the A frame cargo net and the obstacles were basically complete. 2-3 days tops would be my guess. 1 day to mark the course and boom, call it good. Again, it was organized, properly staffed and well marked. It just seriously lacked effort. I cant tell you how many people expressed this opinion to me. I literally heard a 1st time OCR female say “I get dirtier running at the beach and found it to be little to no challenge”. She was scared going into this event, oops! :/

I have really mixed feelings about this. I support RPC and want to see them do well. Frankly they did a lot right here. I’ve seen many races do a worse job on many fronts. However the bottom line is that people come to race/run on a cool course and this just wasn’t it. C’mon a 7 year old did it ALONE! Even with all the things they did right, I have to unfortunately give this a below average rating. Sorry RPC!  Put more effort into your course design and build-out.  You are charging average industry prices, you need to put out an average product.  Not a bunch of holes in the ground.

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Renegade Playground Challenge, 2013

Renegade Playground Challenge was one of the regions early birds. They held their first race in 2010, and I ran them in 2011. Held at the New Hampshire Motorspeedway, they had a good amount of wooded trails and open space to host a race. Their obstacles were more along the “fun” side than the challenging side – but overall, a good solid 5k race.

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Then, late 2011/early 2012, the owners sold the series, and you could feel the change on their social media. The fun nicknames and tie die shirts were gone – and then the 2012 race was held.

It didn’t go so well.

Reports of the course being poor – with obstacles failing and not having staff or volunteers nearby to fix them. Water stops running out early in the day. No water or worse – beer -once you crossed the finish line.

Of course, this was 2012 – and while we thought the OCR world was booming then, things in 2013 have exploded. It’s worth another look at Renegade Playground Challenge ahead of their 2013 race.

The elephant in the room – the owners and people behind it are fully aware of the 2012 races short comings. They heard the feedback from the last race, and have assured me they will be fixing everything they can. From staffing every obstacle with volunteers *and* walkie talkies, putting on another water stop (making three in a 5k race) – and more. They are certainly aware they have some ground to make up, and some reputation that needs restoring. I’ve spent some time talking with the new organizers, both online, via email and phone – and everything I heard was encouraging.

Here’s why I think they’ll do it too – this isn’t just the new Renegade owners, learning from their mistakes … The entire New Hampshire Motor Speedway organization is now involved, and invested, and ready to make this work. The Speedway regularly hosts events with crowds bigger than any OCR, and they have a volunteer pool that is bigger than many OCR’s entire weekend attendance.

I polled the Spahten community – I asked if people would race an RPC again – or if they were “one and done” – the results were interesting, with no one saying they wouldn’t race it again – despite the negative experiences from last year. Several said they definitely would, a few more said it would depend on the changes being made – but with no one counting RPC out, thats an encouraging sign for the organizers – as I told them, you can recover from a poor race. Many have done it – but you can’t recover from multiple poor races – they need to get this right, and they know it.

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I also had a couple of people who ran 2012 ask some specific questions – and Renegade Playground Challenge answered them in great detail – here you go:

Sabrina – With all the amazing local craft Brewers that New England has to offer, why do you not try and use them for post race beer? (I ask that question to myself at a lot of events). 

A question we’ve also asked! While partnering with the speedway to take our challenge to the next level, we are currently speaking with local and national beer companies to see if we can work together! The Speedway’s Official beer is MillerLite, but we are able to utilize other local brews as long as the distributor that supplies the speedway carries it. So, in short, we agree and we are attempting to make headway on this 🙂

Also, what prompted you to decide to make changes? (bad feedback vs. low sales).

From the moment we started getting lines at registration, we knew something was happening and it wasn’t good.  Our number 1 priority will always be safety, although these events come with a risk, we aim to lower that risk and provide a challenge in a safe and fun environment. After speaking with the events team at the speedway, they were not interested in hosting the event again until we made major changes. So, we partnered with them to help the Renegade Team succeed. The team from the speedway that is putting together the 2013 Renegade Playground Challenge has   hosted “Mega” events (that draw over 100,000 people), and knows the in’s and out’s of the property. They have also worked with organizations like Tough Mudder and The Color Run. We did not utilize the speedway’s resources in 2012 to their full potential and will do so this year to ensure a smooth event. After the 2012 event, we responded to feedback about the event and discussed the changes that would need to happen to make 2013 a success.

What errors do YOU think were made in the event in 2012? (as opposed to what you just got feedback on) What do you want your event to be like in the future (basically where do you see yourself in 5 years race edition)?

Our growth was too fast…As the company changed hands, we experienced a tremendous growth that surprised the new leadership team. Of course, we have taken every suggestion (and criticism) into account and we understand we will have some people that we’ve lost  to the Renegade Playground Challenge, it’s no one else’s fault but our own. We will work to build the confidence that came with the event prior to 2012. As far as a 5 year plan, we will work with the Speedway to grow the event in Loudon, NH. Once the event  has been successful and has seen growth again, we will continue to look to other venues to host the event in the New England Area.

* Sandy – I did the run last year and fell while in one of the trail sections. When I returned to the festival area, trying to find a medic was impossible. I never did find anyone. I did find two guys sitting on an ATV next to the ambulance who said they had access to ice when I requested it – then they proceeded to give me an entire 5-pound bag of ice because they didn’t have anything smaller nor did they have any paper towels or wound cleaning abilities. So, my question would be what arrangements have they made with emergency medical technicians to be very visible, very easy to contact, and fully stocked for different medical needs?

Renegade Playground Challenge has plans to create a first aid tent area setup within the festival, not only did the ambulance not have basic first aid items (they were prepared for major trauma, not cuts and bruises)  we also feel that we need clear signage to direct folks to the correct people. RPC’s first aid will have “Boo-boo” items (ice packs, band aids, disinfectant spray, sting and rash spray and other basic items). Contacting First Aid falls back to having enough volunteers on the course to ensure we are adequately covering each obstacle and area. Partnering with the Speedway, we will be paying non-profit groups a per volunteer donation to ensure we are staffed for the day. We will also have a radio at each obstacle location and at point along the course that will be directly tied in with ambulances and safety personnel.

Clearly, they are trying very very hard to improve.

They also want to work with teams – we have a pretty sweet discount, and Spahtens are already registered for the 10:40am heat. If you want to join in, save some cash.

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Register: https://racewire.com/register.php?id=2885

They are also planning on changing the course up to help it flow better – adding in some new obstacles – which include a super soaker station, a mountain of mud – and a color festival that will blast you with colored cornstarch – ala Flying Color 5k.

We also covered logistics – something as simple as the registration process last year was botched, because everything was in separate piles – you gave them your ID, and the poor registration volunteer had to go to several different places for your bib, your shirt, your pins, your timing chips – the organizers of RPC and the Speedway are looking at streamlining everything. One packet, one stop. By the way, their new T Shirts are pretty badass, and being a nice cotton blend shirt, you’ll be wearing this one more than once!

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There will be plenty of other things going on too – they plan a mud tug of war competition, biggest team prizes – they have other ideas too, to spice things up a bit.

All I can tell you is that compared to the very poorly rated 2012 event, they are looking to bounce back. They would like to bounce back to at least their former glory – but with the organization and experience of the Speedway behind them now, I don’t see why they wouldn’t be able to do an even better job than our old friends Tie Dye, Wolf Man and Pony Girl  did.