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Featured Review: The Walking Dead Escape

Editors note: The Walking Dead Experience hit our radar because at one point, the Ruckus team was involved in it’s production, and it had an element of obstacle racing in it – maybe not a full on race event, but there was overlap, and Zombies are always popular. They invited us along for their CT event, held the night of the CT Spartan Sprint to check things out. Going in, we knew it wasn’t going to be a race, and we knew it would be much more about a zombie experience than obstacles.

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Reviewed By: Sean Gifford

Location: XFINITY Theatre, Hartford, Ct
The XFINITY Theater is a concert venue with an amphitheater style set up.

Pricing:

Survivor: $75
Walker (Zombie): $95
Combo (Both survivor and walker): $140
Spectator: $20
Discount: $10 off with military ID

Parking: Onsite in the XFINITY parking lot, well organized and FREE

Course: 1.05 mile race “experience” themed around The Walking Dead TV show

Facilities: Indoor theater restrooms, plenty of room and professionally cleaned

IMG_0019Check in: Very easy – every attendee passed through security for a “wand sweep” and bag check, then proceeded to the appropriate check-in, walker or racer. Attendees were given identification badges on a lanyard identifying their role in the festivities – this was a neat idea and added to the “element” of the experience.

Bag Check: None – though for this event there was not really a need since there was no mud or requirement for “race wear” shoes, clothing, etc.

Wash Station: None – there was no need – however if you needed to wash anything the restrooms were more than sufficient.

Changing station: No specific area – though bathrooms were available and would serve this purpose well.

Bathrooms: Onsite in the lobby area of the XFINITY Theater – more than sufficient.

Vendors: There was a unique approach to vendors – since this was a The Walking Dead sponsored event there were not any outside vendors promoting products – however the “festival area” was well coordinated with themed activities revolving around the Walking Dead show – more on that later.

Schwag: Other than the role identifying name badge, there was no specific schwag for attendees. All attendees had the option to pay extra for a VIP area which included The Walking Dead promo material such as comic books. I did not have access to the free schwag.

Pre/Post race nutrition: There was no complimentary drink/nutrition supplied before or after the race.

Beer: No beer was supplied as part of the entry. However, there were beer/alcohol and food/drink vendors – this was provided by the XFINITY Theater and appeared the venue’s normal food service.

Volunteers: There were plenty of volunteer and actors on the course – everyone was very engaged in the race “Experience” and appeared to be very engaged and did not break character – that was the most intriguing and cool part about this race experience – it really encompassed The Walking Dead show and offered participants insight into the post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies from beginning to end – clearly if you were a fan of the show this did not disappoint!

The course

Distance: I GPS’d this course and came up with 1.05 miles

Terrain: The course took place in and around the XFINITY Theater – the RD used the amphitheater terrain including the flat surfaces, stairs and the hill used for audience seating – given that this was a “experience” vs a “obstacle course” I thought it was well set up and utilized

Course marking: The course was well marked and it was always clear where to go – unique to this experience were the volunteers that were actors in the experience – they kept racers on track, provided some dramatic acting and ensure that fun was had by all – for me this was impressive and they MADE the experience. I am not sure if they got a free run for their efforts, but easily without them the experience would have failed.

IMG_0068Difficulty: From an OCR difficulty perspective this does not fall on the radar – there were 0 obstacles. From a non-racer who came for an experience, I would rate this above average for difficulty – this was based on my post-race interviews with participants – many were not physically ready to run between “scenes” of the experience, run up stairs, etc. Many were very pleased with the course and even commented they were glad it was not longer – they were wore out.

Obstacles: There were none. This was surprising to me – after reviewing the website and sharing with New England Spahtens to gauge interest I was convinced that this was a Walking Dead experience in which I should “Be prepared to climb, crawl, and slide. The Evacuation Route will feature multiple obstacles to go over, under and around.” The promo video even showed participants engaged in obstacle challenges. I think that this was a bit misleading and a bit disappointing – there was not much of any of this and certainly nothing that resembled obstacles except for one section where, if you wanted, you could climb over a series of cars. Perhaps it is more accurate to call it, “the ultimate interactive fan experience.” – because that IS what it was – 100%

Overall Review: This event has been difficult for me to review – I went to the event as an avid obstacle course racer and someone who had NEVER seen The Walking Dead. I like zombies (they are fun), love acting, and love new experiences – I was not sure what to expect.
The Escape Websites greets you with:

“With the infection spreading and Walkers around every corner, a government evacuation center is your only hope. Or is it? Immerse yourself in the survival-driven world of The Walking Dead to climb, crawl, hide and slide your way through a series of gut-wrenching scenarios—in a team or as a lone survivor.

Your choices will determine whether you’ll clear quarantine or join the undead. For those who are already infected, professional Walker make-up from Greg Nicotero’s world famous KNB EFX will transform you into one of the undead, allowing you to terrify survivors in your path.

The Walking Dead Escape – it’s the ultimate interactive fan experience.”

IMG_0048This is an excellent description of what the Experience was all about – from the time you entered the theater you were part of it all. If you were a survivor you where shuffled to a waiting area where you did not know what to expect. At your start time, an announcement was made and your experience began. The Governor of CT explained the dire situation at hand and asked you to remain calm – you were not infected yet.

Next you were shuttled to a military holding area were a military commander explained what was taking place, what the next steps were….. then…… ahhhghrhhrhghh in came the zombies and racers were off. I ran the course twice – everyone jumped and ran instinctively as the zombies rushed in – no one expected it – JOB WELL DONE.

For the next mile, you were escorted from scene to scene that you walked and ran to and through. Each scene had plenty on zombie and human actors, well dressed with professional make up. There were awesome props which really made the experience feel real. At times, yes, it was a little corny – but it was all in fun and everyone knew it. This reminded me of going to a Star Trek convention – to the outside world it was corny and funny and many would wonder the appeal. But if you are a Trekkie it is the place to be. The Walking Dead Escape was the same type of experience – if you know love the show – this was the ultimate way to spend your time – without a doubt.

IMG_0081At the end of the race you were shuttle to a “sanitizing area” inside the theater which was located inside a military tent – “doctors” scanned you with lights and if you were not infected you passed through, if you were infected you, sadly, were put to your ultimate rest.

All participants ultimately finished into the festival area which was well put together – again, for non Walking Dead fans, it was an area with cool props, DJ’d music and some games. However, for fans of the show, I have to imagine it was mind blowing fun – a zombie themed DJ dance party with zombie props, zombies roaming the area – all in character and interactive. There were zombie themed games – dunk the zombie (water dunk style station) – Walking Dead Trivia for some cool prizes – and a VIP area for the ULTIMATE fans.

Overall, I was immersed in this experience and really enjoyed all that it had to offer. The production company did a very nice job and put on a solid event with no noticeable glitches – a pleasant surprise. From an OCR standpoint, this race is not one I can recommend given the cost. However, if you are fan of the show, I cannot see missing this event despite the cost.

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Ruckus Fall 5k postponed

Ruckus Sports has “postponed” their fall race. Two days before it was supposed to run (and only one day after Run For Your Lives closed their doors)

This is on the back of a poor summer race (review here: http://www.newenglandspahtens.com/featured-review-ruckus-2013/)

and several races in other regions being cancelled.

and their website not allowing signup for any future race.

Time to burn the Ruckus shirts, smash the Ruckus pint glasses, and call the credit card companies for refunds?

I do have emails out to all my contacts at Ruckus, and will update when I hear back with more information.

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Ruckus update

From the CEO of Ruckus to all participants of the Summer 2013 event we were disappointed in.

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Dear Ruckus Boston Participants,

Thank you for racing with us. You, our customers, are our main priority. Most of you are repeat customers for a reason.

With so many options in the obstacle race market, we set our expectations high and our goal is to stay ahead of the industry by creating the best event in the marketplace. In trying to create a best-in-class event, we missed the mark for some of you, and want to address three key areas and explain what we are doing about it.

  • Course Design & Obstacle Mix – Although this course was 15% harder (based on average times), the spectation and diversity of obstacles didn’t cut it.  We hear you and our team is already implementing changes for our next event and for those coming back in the fall, be ready.
  • Medals – Although more than 70% of you preferred the pint glass, we clearly deprived too many of you the satisfaction of acknowledging your accomplishment.  Going forward we will have medals and pint glasses.  Settling isn’t what Ruckus is about.
  • Spectator Fees – Changes are in the works here too.  We can’t be family friendly and charge for the sitter to watch the kids on the Mini, while mom & dad are on the course.  Effective immediately each Mini-Ruckus ticket will get a free spectator ticket.
We take pride in being a leader in this industry and our commitment is to you.  This isn’t all we are doing to be great, but we want to be clear that we are listening. Thank you,

 

I’ll be seeing you at the Fearless Fall 5k, excited to see what Ruckus does next!

 

 

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A chat with Ruckus

I just got off the phone with the CEO of Ruckus Sports.

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He heard us, loud and clear. He understands and accepts that they dropped the ball. They want to make things better, and improve their events, and work through the things people complained about.

  • His priority is the course – previously, they have had innovative and challenging courses and course design – and this year, well, not so much. They understand that we missed the signature obstacles we loved from previous years.
  • He discussed spectator tickets – as an event that has a history of being the most spectator friendly event on the calendar (which I would agree with whole-heartedly), they get that charging your spouses $20 a head to get in isn’t so friendly.
  • We also talked about “medalgate”, and the possible options they have for the future, especially now that glasses are going to be expected by many.

 

It was a very positive call – Ruckus prides themselves on being leaders in the industry, and are going to great lengths to present a more professional event and experience, something I’ve seen first hand with my behind the scenes work with them. They are also a data driven company – as reviews of their races come in, they make changes to respond to those reviews and ratings.

Which is where I think many of the issues stem from – when someone reviews an obstacle and marks it poorly, is it because the obstacle was at fault, or because they couldn’t do it? That’s the reason the Air Loops were missing – the poorest rated obstacle from 2012. When a review lets Ruckus know that 70% of respondents want glasses instead of medals, that didn’t take into account the emotion the remaining 30% have for medals – or the new runners coming out with their friends and families for their first medal, or that medals are displayed proudly back at home in many places.

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Data is something you have to use, but neglecting the emotion and personal feelings is what gave us the lowest ranked event in Ruckus history.

Personally though – I’m confident that they heard us loud and clear, and future events will respond appropriately. I’m signed up to run the Fearless Fall 5k, and I am certainly going to be among the first to sign up for the 2014 event, when it’s available.

Ruckus screwed up. They own it, and they want to fix it. I’m excited to see how they do that next year. 

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Featured Review – Ruckus 2013

  • Find Team Photos here
  • Read Community Reviews here
  • Leave your own review here

Ruckus appears to have been doing a lot of surveying this past year – at least, that’s the reasoning given for many of our favorite obstacles not being present, and the lack of medals for the finishers – of course, for those of us who have run every race they’ve held, we haven’t seen these surveys, so I’m not sure *who* they were talking to. What it led to was a large amount of disappointment in their fans, and a race that was very different from the fun, innovative races they’ve held in years past.

But, in more detail …

 

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Ruckus runs one of the “good ones” – with their history going back to the start of this crazy sport in 2010, and their expansion into other territories giving them a chance to expand and develop quicker than an annual local race – they have given us some really fun, really good events, with some innovations in both obstacles, course design and the event itself.

This past Saturday, the New England Spahtens were excited to hit the fourth year of races held by Ruckus – coming off their smaller, but still excellent Fearless Fall 5k at the end of 2012. Expectations were pretty high, and for the first year the Ruckus crew seemed interested in working more with their fans – even going as far as starting a small street team.

We had a team heat of 11am, with many of our crew getting there early so they could run a clearer course, and many bringing their little ones (me included) to run the very excellent kids race that Ruckus put on – the weather was awesome – mid 70’s and sunny.

The venue, Marshfield Fairgrounds is the same venue that Ruckus have held all their events at – it’s easy enough to find, and the parking is fairly easy, if a bit chaotic your first time as every flat piece of land – from front lawns to the fire station gets in on the act charging $10 to put your car there – none of them are much more than a short walk to the venue, so it’s ok, and no one is gouging – it’s simple enough.

Primarily nothing more than a big parking lot, with some grassy spots and a series of pretty good trails in the woods and parking lots – one thing Ruckus has done an incredible job of, is making their event and their venue different every year. I’ve never run from the same starting line, I’ve never finished in the same place, and they’ve never used the same venue layout.

We had purchased our tickets early – during a deal that let you buy two adult tickets and get a free race entry for the mini-Ruckus. Our little one isn’t quite ready for the big mud yet, so we ended up just collecting his bib and shirt. Our check in process was pretty straight forward – show ID, hand over waver and tell them our bib number. We received a bib with chip (from Racemenu), a wrist band good for one free beer (with an X on your hand to prove age), and a very nice T shirt, which is probably one of the nicest race T’s I’ve had in a while.

Then, things started getting a little … out of character.

Check in:

Bag check, which was OUTSIDE the main event area, and apparently run by one 14 year old boy was so backed up … I stood at the rail waving my bag to him for 10 minutes before giving up and taking it with me. The entrance had security doing bag content checks – slowing things down and ignoring us as we walked right by with our bags – then we got into the event proper.

Tips for a smooth checking – great registration process, rubbish bag check, security on the entrance? Really? And please – porta potties as soon as we arrive!

Festival area:

Once in, you walked right into the pretty rad looking kids race. Seriously, this looked awesome. My little one wasn’t interested, but at least one of the 6 year olds on the team did 6 laps all by himself – nice job! The kids T Shirts were nice too – my son was thrilled to have a shirt the exact same as Mommy and Daddy’s. Plus, the kids got medals – some got the metal, cool medals we all covet, others rubber medals. More on this shortly.

Vendors were good – B Good did the food, and this is ALWAYS a huge plus. Good, healthy, local food should be a requirement at an active, healthy pursuit like this. The Earn Your Crown T Shirts were awesome, brought one home. Zico Coconut water giving out free samples, which proved to be fantastic, because the only hydration for sale was at the B Good tent, and consisted of $2 water bottles or sports drinks – my son was not interested in boring water (and $2 is a bit much just to watch him pour it down his shirt), and we’re not quite ready for him to be drinking organic versions of gatorade … but Zico Coconut Water to the rescue! Free beer is always welcome, but three years ago we complained because only Coors Light was on offer, and you fixed that with local breweries in the past two years. Back to Coors Light this year, and it was missed. Ps, I don’t think anyone bought more beer.

Spectator access is one of the highlights of Ruckus – they have a great course layout, and our family members and non-racing team mates were able to see pretty much anything and everything. In past years, we had access to the bleachers which improved the view even more – would love to see those back – but overall, spectator viewing and access is second to none. $20 a head though? While these charges are becoming common, they never feel justified.

Big black mark for hiding the porta potties all the way at the back. Took us a while to find those, and many of the team had driven in from long distances to race.

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Earn Your Crown t shirts rock!

Race:

The race itself – of course, this is the reason we’re here. Ruckus has a reputation for being one of the best races in the area for new runners, and a great challenge for veterans. Unfortunately, they fell flat this time.

We’ve had some awesome innovations and challenges from Ruckus in the past – air loops, ranger bars, monkey bars, lobster pot tunnels, big. ass. cargo. nets. Crawls under the spectator (see through) viewing bridge, wall jumps to get into the start line (way before Tough Mudder and others did the same thing) – the first outing of Mt Ruckmore last year was the first time I saw such an epic, intimidating, involved obstacle used as the finish piece – and the slide was fantastic and appropriately intimidating and fun. Many of these obstacles grace the front page of the runruckus.com website today.

None of them were present – and the replacements didn’t cut it. The entire event seemed to consist of walls, both short and tall (with ropes and a nice ledge at the back), lots and lots of trail running – then, three miles later you hit the fairgrounds and the large concentration of obstacles.

As usual, I’m not going to do a step by step recap – I’ll let my video do the talking – but the standout moments (good and bad).

  • I loved the balance beam over the airbag – this was zero challenge to anyone used to such things (and a joke in comparison to the wobbly, cold water affair at Superhero Scramble) – but still, balance beams over an airbag!
  • I enjoyed the three 45 degree walls – these were easily the biggest challenge of the day – with no ropes to help you get up and little padding to coddle you when you slid down. Of course, for many new runners it was simply too much and they walked by (which is fair) – but for some it was far too much and they got injured, resulting in the one challenging obstacle of the day getting shut down.
  • It seemed every time we went up a cargo container, there was a steep – and sometimes precarious drop off the other side – loose car tires don’t make a good landing pad!
  • We only did one large cargo net – Ruckus used to be known for the epic, 15′ cargo nets … I miss those. The cargo nets over the mud crawls right by the entrance were good fun, but little challenge, too slack, and more of a bottle neck than anything else.

Then – the awesome, amazing, epic Mt Ruckmore! At some point between the 2012 debut, and the 2013 showing, it seems Mt Ruckmore got married, let himself go a little, stopped going to his CrossFit gym and took up competitive hotdog eating … it went from a maze of cargo containers and suspended cargo nets – that had you looping in and out and around, under suspended people and through tire filled containers – before a two story climb to a scary cargo net, to a fantastic two story, fast slide down to the finish …. and this year, we had it’s inflatable, cuddly cousin who gently delivered you to the finish mat, at a respectful and courteous velocity.

Yeah. This is what we got in 2012.

You can watch the edited version of the 2013 race to see what we faced this weekend …

Believe it or not – I’m trying not to be too negative. We had several new folks to obstacle course racing in the team, and on the course there were many people clearly pushing their comfort zones. For those folks, this was reported to be a great experience, full of challenges outside their normal day to day life – and frankly, any chance to climb walls and cargo nets with the New England Spahtens tends to be a life changing, rewarding experience. I just wish there was more. The Ruckus I’ve raced since 2010 innovates. That doesn’t mean “makes harder”, it means “makes more fun” and is something that sets you apart from the other races. In 2013, there are a LOT of other races. Many of them are doing the “lots of walls, trail running and climb a net or two” thing as well as Ruckus did today, for 1/2 the price. This market is getting increasingly competitive, and the attendees are getting increasingly aware. Innovation is good.

Tips for a better race – Ruckus has some great obstacles in it’s arsenal – huge cargo nets. Air loops. Lobster trap crawls. I’m sure they have more ideas, and more talent to build these ideas – put them to work.

To confound things – on Sunday, the “dangerous” incline walls had ropes to make them easier, one of the cargo containers was full of tires, and they had a crawl net out in the trail running portion of the course. I wonder if they simply ran out of time on Friday night?

Schwag:

I loved the shirt. A 100% synthetic, light weight shirt. It’s not “tech” material, but it’s not cheap cotton like the Fearless Fall 5k event. Plus points that the kids race shirts matched.

Finishers shirt and pint glass
Finishers shirt and pint glass

Then – the medal situation. I have a collection of 4 medals – one from each Ruckus. I have three medal holders, and I proudly display my medals and dog tags and head bands from races.

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Days before the event, it was noticed that the race packet said there would be no medals – but instead we’d be getting a pint glass. As a team, the general consensus was that this was a terrible idea. Who the heck cares about a pint glass? We’ve all got a million pint glasses, but no one has a Ruckus 2013 race medal … apparantly there was a survey done to discover people wanted pint glasses instead – but no one on our 800 person strong team – many of whom have ran in previous years – appeared to have been on that survey – or agrees to it. Glasses break (several onsite). Print on glasses fade in the dishwasher. Bling is bling. I *really* hope they consider bringing medals back for the fall race. It will be a make or break choice for large numbers of people. To further expand on MedalGate – there WERE medals. I have one. A nice, solid metal Ruckus Charger 2013 medal. It was given to the kids for each lap they ran, and one was donated to me (thank you, Steve) – later on, I noticed the kids had rubber medals too – some kids one of each, or more. Medals existed, and the demand was there.

Rob of F.I.T. Challenge struggles to display his Ruckus schwag ... http://www.fitchallenge.org/
Rob of F.I.T. Challenge struggles to display his Ruckus schwag …
http://www.fitchallenge.org/

 

Ending on a positive note – a big shout out to the volunteers. Ruckus had more volunteers than I’ve ever seen on a course – ably aided by the National Guard. Despite them running out of water on course (inexcusable when it’s 80f), the volunteers were always present – I saw and heard of several medical emergencies – from a heart attack on course (update posted to FB – he’s ok), to broken legs on the slatted 45 degree wall, to someone hurting themselves on the bigger 45 degree walls so much they shut them down – and at all times there was a volunteer close by to aid them. Oh, and more water at the hose off station, please. 2 hours in a car covered in mud … not pleasant.

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Ruckus – you’ve rocked our world. After three years of solid, innovative events that we recommended to anyone (indeed, your 2012 summer race was the race I chose to introduce my wife to this sport) – to a mis-step in 2013.

The course needs to be more interesting, and some of your signature obstacles need to be seen again. The venue layout needs some tweaking, and you have some logistical issues to resolve. You’ve nailed these in the past, and it shouldn’t be too hard to get back on track with it. Brand new runners loved your event, but don’t turn off your veteran runners – indeed the very fan based of your brand …

Fearless Fall 5k is in November – I’m signed up – and I’ll be racing with interest.

 

 

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2% of Ruckus racers have done a Spartan? Huh?

Ruckus Logo

Firstly, I love Ruckus – they are one of my favorite short distance “local” races, and I’ve done every one of them in New England since 2010, when they started.

Recently they started blogging more actively, and just posted a bunch of stats, clearly aimed at encouraging the newer participants – it’s a great read – except one stat really stood out …

What about Warrior Dash, Spartan Run, Tough Mudder and other mud runs? 
Many of our participants have engaged in these other muddy obstacle experiences, too.  29% of our runners had participated in Warrior Dash, 4% in Mud Run, 3% in Tough Mudder and 2% in Spartan Run.
Ignoring the “Spartan Run” oopsy – I assume that anyone even peripherally involved in this world of obstacle course racing knows Spartan Race – also ignoring the really odd grammar … the bit that got my attention is that only 2% of folks running Ruckus have participated in a Spartan Race.
REALLY?
I can’t imagine that being even close to accurate. Spartan has had more races in the Ruckus markets than any of the others, and I’d say I’ve seen more than 2% of the field wearing Spartan shirts at a Ruckus in 2012 …
Thoughts? Discuss!
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Ruckus – Fall 5k 2012

Ruckus is almost here!

I’ll not lie – Ruckus is one of my favorite “small” races. This is one of the first obstacle course races I ever ran, back in 2010, and this year, it was my wifes first obstacle course race ever. Every year the Ruckus circus swings through Marshfield MA, I’ve been there.

What should you expect, if this is your first one?

Great spectator access! This has never wavered – they always have awesome spectator access – either from some tall stadium seating, or this year by putting the spectators squarely in the middle of, in fact – ON TOP of the course – we had to crawl through a muddy tunnel, three times, under the see through spectator access bridge.

Great obstacles! They are not so hard you can’t finish them – but expect mud. Expect some walls (with ropes). Expect monkey bars (with rotating bars, dammit), and expect ranger bars.

Expect to be wet, and cold. It’s November. This is New England – the weather looks like it’ll be nice – but thats relative. Be smart.

Here’s my GoPro footage of the 2012 summer event – remember, wifey’s first evah! She did awesome!

This is also going to be the first outing of the New England Spahten shirts! Remember that the team wave is 11am, and we will meet at the “Z” end of the checkin counters before the race. If you’re heading out in an earlier wave and will miss out – bad luck to you! Have a great race! Otherwise, we’ll be heading out as one, shirts rockin, and after that – fall into your own pace, run your own race and as you pass people, talk up the Spahtens. Point them to this website. Or find us on Facebook. Or Twitter.

And stick around for the team photos 🙂