This past weekend I had another running first…another thing crossed off of my “Running Bucket List” – My first mud run!
Frankly, I’m shocked my bib (number) survived! This past Saturday I ran Mass Mayhem – a four mile obstacle race going up and down Blandford Ski Area out in middle-of-nowhere Western MA. This race was SO much fun! Overall I have to say it definitely left a good impression on me, and left me hungry for more obstacle races! So how did it go? What happened? Just what is a “real” mud run like…and what do I mean by that? What room for improvement is there considering this was the inaugural run?
Let’s chat…shall we?
Mass Mayhem… Where to begin?
I cannot even begin to describe to you how much I have fallen in love with Health & Fitness. As part of that, I fell in love with running, and now… Obstacle Racing! It’s tough to describe…but at the end of the day I can just say…it’s so freaking FUN! It’s exhilarating! There’s a certain rush you get, a certain sense of success and accomplishment when you’re able to hoist yourself over a 6 foot wall just a little easier than last time…when you’re able to do an obstacle you couldn’t do before…when you finish just a little faster than you did last time…
But I digress.
Mass Mayhem – This was THE FIRST Mass Mayhem, and as such there was a lot of success, a lot of new experiences, and some lessons learned / room for improvement (both for runners AND race team). I’m sure the Race Director and his team learned a lot of lessons and filed away a lot of ideas for next time.
For The Basics (just in case you didn’t see the pre-race breakdown) – This race was put on by the Type-One team.
What is Type-One?
Straight from their Facebook – “Type One was founded with the sole purpose and objective to increase public awareness and to find a cure through research for Type One Diabetes.”
Prior to Mass Mayhem, Type-One had put on Renegade Run twice – Renegade Run is another OCR they hold in Hingham, MA. Some races are for profit, some races donate their proceeds to charity – Type-One donates the proceeds of THEIR races to Type-One Diabetes causes…so while you’re getting muddy and suffering you can feel good about that.
Location, Location, Location.
With Obstacle Racing – location is everything…Tyson and the Type-One team picked a great one! Your entire race can be predicated on your location – is it a ski mountain? Is it flat terrain? Is it moderately hilly? How about altitude – will there be snow? Man-made or natural pools of water? Man-made or natural obstacles? All of these can depend on your location. This race happened at Blandford Ski Area, a ski mountain owned and operated by Springfield Ski Club. In case you’re wondering…Blandford is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of Western Massachusetts…I was wrong. It WAS a great pick thought – this mountain afforded Mass Mayhem some great advantages.
So here’s the course, to the left. The dot at the bottom by the “pump house” is the starting line – the yellow line is the course. If you follow that line, you’ll see we went up and down the mountain SIX TIMES. I saw markers on some of those slopes…black diamond. Here I thought I was gonna run right up it…but after a couple minutes of chugging away…I realized I had to just kinda power-walk up. That’s about how the whole race went. Doing something like this on a mountain was a lot tougher than I had anticipated.
Something I LOVED about Mass Mayhem that I don’t think other obstacle races necessarily nail – it had it all. It had mud, water, even SNOW! There was a lot of different terrain to cover, and it made for a well-rounded course. The mountain itself was like an additional obstacle, which I liked.
Speaking of obstacles…
|Photo from MassLive.com
Let’s talk about those.
I’m pretty sure they said there was about 20 obstacles. I wasn’t exactly counting as I ran the course, but there WAS a GoPro on my head, so I got footage from my perspective of the entire race.
On the Mass Mayhem website there is a “course description” page. On it, they give the image of the course I used above and a “sneak peek” of some of the obstacles we can expect on the course. They all did appear, just took me a second to match up the “sneak peek” description on the site to the actual obstacle on the course. I’m not entirely sure I remember the “Mayhem Web”…maybe it didn’t manifest in quite the way they imagined? Who knows.
Before I go into the video and my experience with the obstacles themselves…
|Me and Tyson, the Race Director
Overall, I had a ton of fun! There were a lot of great things about this race! I have to give major credit to Tyson and the rest of the race organizers – this race was VERY well put-together. These guys had everything covered from soup to nuts. Registration was a snap, there was good pre-race info so we weren’t left guessing, on-site help was plentiful and it was easy to find everything we needed. Race-day check-in was easy too, and the racer packet was even neatly organized into a labeled zip-lock bag with some aspirin in it for after the mountain had its way with you. The race and all the waves (as far as I know) started prompt and on-time, and the course was NOT over-crowded. One of the things that bugged me about the Fenway Spartan Sprint was how LONG I had to wait for some of the obstacles. No worries of that sort this time! VERY short waits, when there were any. There were also plenty of goodies for racers, including PLENTY of water and bananas, more than enough finisher’s medals, a free beer, and (LOTS of) food was available for purchase. There was even a big area to hose off after the race! Thanks!
As far as obstacles go, overall I was happy. I didn’t feel like they were crazy hard – as a matter of fact, I was able to complete all of them! Without cheating or skimping! The obstacles were well-built, which is important, and kind of no-frills, which is perfectly fine. They don’t need to be fancy – they need to be FUNCTIONAL.
I suppose the only improvements I would like to see for next time, in terms of obstacles, would be some more challenging/difficult obstacles…and honestly? Just plain more obstacles. I liked that there was some trail running in-between, and I certainly appreciate that the mountain itself (and our six ascents and descents) was an obstacle in and of itself…but it felt like there was even more running in-between than there was in Blizzard Blast. That said, I’m not sure where or how they would include more obstacles. I almost feel like in order to include more they’d have to put them on an ascent or descent, or maybe on a narrow section of path they may not have wanted to stick an obstacle in. None of those options would be unheard of…but I’m sure it would be a bunch more work. At any rate…just a thought, and I heard some other more seasoned racers say similar things (about more obstacles).
In a way, it’s nice that the obstacles weren’t insane or so tough I couldn’t do some – that makes the race accessible. It brings Obstacle Racing to more people! Some super-hardcore events might scare people away, or make some people think it’s out of their reach…but Mass Mayhem? People can do Mass Mayhem. That doesn’t mean it’s EASY…it means it’s do-able. Again – I am not by any means saying it is wimpy. Climbing that mountain 6 times SUCKED (in the best way possible) and I certainly feel like I earned that finisher’s medal you see right there. I think everyone else that crossed the finish line will say the same. Just a thought 🙂
I tried to run the course as much as I could, and I tried to get through the obstacles as quickly and efficiently as I could…but there’s only so much you can tolerate running up a black diamond ski slope, so in the end, I power-walked a little more than I originally intended. I also took a little more time and care on some obstacles than I initially envisioned. At the end of the day, I finished in about 1 hour 16 minutes (official time is incorrect). I’m pretty happy with that for a 4 mile OCR – if that were a standard 5K distance OCR I would’ve finished in under an hour. I’m happy 🙂 and again, I definitely feel like I earned that finisher’s medal (and beer). Speaking of beer, I MAY have ended up hanging out after the race finished…for about 5 hours…haha. The race cultivated a great sense of camaraderie and there was a friendly atmosphere – I was in a group photo pre-race with some members of the New England Spahtens OCR Team / Enthusiast Group, and I found them after the race! Below is me with Chris, Michelle and Nicole. I also had a nice chat with Heather, a fellow Spahten who runs Relentless Forward Commotion (check her out!).
If you read no further, know that it was a GREAT experience! It was a great event put on by some great people that was well-executed and benefited a great cause! What more can you ask for?! I HIGHLY recommend you check out their Renegade Run event in Hingham, MA and get yourself in line for Mass Mayhem when it comes back next spring! I know I’m pretty pumped for it 🙂
SO, let’s talk details – THE OBSTACLES! And my personal experience with them.
I won’t bore you with 45 minutes of mountain-climbing video, but suffice it to say…I spent a LOT of time climbing up and down that damn mountain. Let’s break down how this course went – I’ll mention all the obstacles in order. I’ll also include video – I won’t show you EVERY obstacle…just some of my favorites 🙂
I mentioned there was a lot of mountain climbing, right? I swear, I felt like that first hill took FOREVER. In all reality, looking at the video, it was about 5 and a half minutes of going up. Felt like more. So after that first huge ascent and descent, what did we run into first?
The Classic Over/Unders
Pretty standard in Obstacle Racing world – 4 foot wall to go over, about 3 foot something-or-other (sawhorse, here) to go under. I enjoyed it :). Every time i come across a four foot wall I get excited because I know I can practically throw myself over it 😀 I like how the guy that blew by me clearly didn’t understand the concept of “over / under“.
After getting through that, it was a run up another nasty hill, back down a hill and on to –
Another staple of Obstacle Racing – the 6-Foot Wall
Three of them. This is another pretty standard obstacle, and one of my favorites! Why? It’s a great gauge, for me, of my progress. Each time I’ve come across a 6 Foot wall, I’ve been able to hoist myself over it more easily. The other two obstacle races I’ve run, I only came across one at a time…in Mass Mayhem there were three in a row! I DID have to take a quick breather before the third wall here…but I was able to get over all three AND carefully lower myself down the other side…not just drop like a stone. Turns out that was a wise choice – I heard over medic radios later in the race that a number of people were getting knee injuries because they dropped (hard) into the mud on the other side of those walls. Please, if you’re doing an obstacle race (or even just a regular trail run) exercise a little caution.
After the walls there was a barbed wire crawl, and I had to get REALLY low in my military crawl for that! Even so, it caught my shirt at one point. Had to work for that obstacle. A little after that (and up an incline) there were some wooden crosses like you’d see in a video of Normandy beach on D-Day (not super-tough). Next? Up more hill to get to…
The Monkey Bars
THIS. I was so happy about. Again, this is not an unusual obstacle – many many obstacle races have this. This isn’t even any kind of super-hard or out-of-the-ordinary monkey bar…like ascending and descending…or made of beer kegs…
So WHY am I posting the video? Because I actually DID it this time! I’ve never been able to really do monkey bars. During the Fenway Spartan Sprint I got halfway through and had to drop to the floor – I was slipping thanks to some sub-par gloves. This time? Nailed it.
Next was a partner carry (you switched off in the middle) which I did not do (and was told to skip) since I was not running with a buddy. That was kind of a bummer, not gonna lie. I guess I didn’t really want to carry someone I don’t know, so in the end I guess that’s OK. That led directly to three incline walls with rope to help you up them. I may have just run directly up the first one. Then down a pretty good decline and around the corner to a classic balance beam series (nothing awful). After QUITE a bit of running down the mountain…
Ladies and Gentlemen…we have found THE MUD.
So…Remember that part where I said I’ve never done a real “mud run” before? Yeah…this is one of those things that was just 100% missing. It was fun! Not, like, insanely challenging or anything…just fun. That’s the point, right? Have fun? OK good – Mass Mayhem achieved it.
After that, there were two 8 foot walls connected by a cargo net over the top – yes, you crawled across. Back up the mountain and another 5 minute hike later (yes, really) we got to a water pit we had to wade through. Nothing awful, but it was INCREDIBLY cold. Another couple of minutes of hike up to a climbing wall straight up-and-down, another couple of minutes of hike to a cargo net up-and-down, and then the descent began again. There was a big drainage tube to crawl through – again, nothing really hard. More descent (like, a LOT more) and we then reached the last video I’ll show…
Just in case you hadn’t had enough mud, here’s where you can get a healthy helping. You had the choice to go through one of two tunnels or the trench on the outside. The only difference, really, was the tunnels were covered in plywood and the open trench was not. Oh, and some rocks. Ok…LOTS of rocks… I found that out once I got a few feet into the tunnel. I was very careful not to lose my bib on this one – thus my knees and forearms suffered. Nothing bad, just some scrapes and bruises. I’d rather that than lose my bib.
“The Tunnel” is also presumably where Chris (one of the Spahtens I hung out with post-race) got this lovely gash on his arm. Did I mention there were rocks in there? Don’t worry – he was ok. He didn’t seem all too upset about the “injury”, I think he was more peeved the bandage wouldn’t stay on it. Frankly, I’m not surprised…he was covered in mud!
After almost 10 minutes of ascent we reached a rope swing kinda thing – it was like swings at the playground, except the “seat” was hovering close to the ground and you stood on it. There was a rope overhead to steady yourself with. That was kind of challenging. We then ran aaaaaaaalllll the way down the mountain again and got to “the frog pond”. It was a pond kinda thing in a massive pit (looked like a fenced in asteroid crater in the middle of nowhere) with about a good foot and a half of muck at the bottom you sank into. After that, we ran down the mountain to the last obstacle…
A sled hill!
Because come on…that’s just plain FUN!
So there you have it. My experience in the first Mass Mayhem 4 mile obstacle race! Like I said, I had a ton of fun. I highly recommend it.
Will I be seeing you out there at the next one? 🙂