Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lost in the Beauty of Reveille Peak Ranch

Spent a few hours yesterday morning mountain biking with a couple of friends at Reveille Peak Ranch in Burnet, Texas. Reveille seems to be all the buzz lately so we decided to make the hour-long trip to check it out. Here's what we found...

The drive from Austin is easy, hop on 183 to 29 in Liberty Hill and head west to Burnet. From Burnet it's a quick 15 minute drive. Be aware, the turn onto CR 114 from FM2341 is a little tough to see and then your next left into the ranch is almost immediate.  There aren't any signs for the ranch until you are at the driveway. Google Maps directions work well.

Once in the ranch proceed down the dirt road to you come to a large parking area just behind the pavilion. Check in at the small, shed style building that sits between the parking area and the pavilion. You need to sign in, fill out a waiver (print the waiver ahead of time here) and pay a $10 entry fee per rider. I assume the $10.00 is cash only, but i am not positive.

We met Andrea at the check in. Super friendly and very informative. She provided us with a 5 minute overview of the trails as well as some maps and her cell phone number in case we needed assistance on the trails. 

The trails start on the south side of the lake and head south of the lake. We spent a little
Riding up Epic
over 3 hours on the trails and covered about 14 miles. I'm guessing that there is somewhere between 25-30 miles of trails currently cut on the property. 
They are well maintained, but we were surprised at how grown in some of them were. The trails we rode definitely don't get a lot of use. When I say grown in, I am talking about the height of the weeds and grasses, as far as trees or branches go they are wide open. The terrain is varied. Read the trail descriptions ahead of time, if you don't like riding on granite or like to stay away from rocks all-together you are going to want to plot your course carefully. The trail ratings per the map seem to be pretty accurate as well.

The views, especially from the Decision Point and Reveille Peak are stunning. Depending on the trails you are on, there is descent cover from the sun. The furthermost trails to the southwest have the least amount of shade, so they are best done in the cooler hours. The trails along the creek have nice cover and are a good place to be when the sun is beating down.

Our only gripe...the trail markings out on the course are close to non-existent! At most of the major intersections there are signs, but the signs are cut into rusted metal, and while
Epic Trail
they look cool, they are hard to read and hard to spot. But the real problem is that the trails criss-cross each other all over the place. It is at these junctions that it is close to impossible to discern where you are. I consider my self a descent map reader and I think the map we were provided is accurate, and we got lost multiple times. Additionally we had to stop regularly to consult the map and this took some of the fun out of the ride. But the kicker is that as we were on our way in from Decision Point - basically the furthest point from the trail start, we got lost...instead of a 3 or mile mile trek back, we ended up on Reveille Peak Loop which added 2-3 miles of difficult terrain to the ride. 
What is really needed out here is a some colored trail markers and arrows that help the rider navigate the trails - it would make all the difference.

Overall the trails are great, the staff friendly, the facilities top notch. The lake is a nice place to cool off after a ride and then there are showers to get cleaned up before hitting the road. There is camping here that we didn't take advantage of, but this would seem to be a good place to camp and ride for a couple of days since there are enough trails to keep you busy without having to repeat too many of them. Additionally, many of these trails are good for trail running. I give Reveille Peak Ranch an 8 out 10 with all the deductions coming from the poor trail markings.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Gut Check Challenge Austin - Update

The organizers of the Gut Check Challenge were kind enough shoot me a note concerning my Gut Check Challenge Austin - Recap blog and an email I sent to them after the event. Here is what they had to say:

"Thank you for contacting us. Our message wasn't meant as an apology, so much as an admission that we fell (way) short of our objective.  It was left "generic" because there
were actually people that did enjoy themselves, and we would like to have them maintain their opinions, rather than prompt them to change that by listing out shortcomings reported by others.  That being are completely right; every point you highlight in your e-mail is being addressed by our team.  The course, the food, the venue itself are all being improved.  We honestly did have a goal to have an enjoyable event.  And we do thank you for supporting us, and Make-A-Wish.  As for our Facebook comments...they were deleted because some of the feedback wasn't as constructive as yours.  We do thank you for maintaining a polite communication.  We would prefer to avoid having "back and forth" comments and retorts.  Here is an e-mail we sent to another participant pointing out our actions, going forward:   
        "We could not agree with you more!  This falls directly on our shoulders!  We will make our event better!  What we won't do, is refuse to accept responsibility, or ignore our customers!  Our organization is taking measures to ensure that none of the "snafu's" that occurred in Cedar Creek repeat themselves in San Antonio.  We are wiping our slate clean concerning all vendors and           contractors we dealt with on this event!  There will not be anything advertised that will not be delivered! This was our first event, coordinated by enthusiastic individuals that were frankly, just too "green".  Before you count us         out...let us make it right.  If you are not satisfied with our San Antonio event, then by all means, let your voice be heard...just don't base your entire review of our Organization on a single event.  Everything from the venue, to the food, to the course, to the atmosphere, itself will be improved.  Come out and enjoy an event that you deserve!  Our Zombie Apocalypse will be everything Cedar Creek wasn't."

I really appreciate the response and I am going to really try to attend the SA event to see the changes first hand. Unfortunately this event is the same weekend as the Tough Mudder Dallas which I am doing on Sunday, so doing this one will mean back to back races....

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Gut Check Challenge Austin - Recap

Last week was the Gut Check Challenge, a 5k mud and obstacle run - or so they claimed. I'm on a roll recently and I am booking races for whatever free time I have. So, when this one came up and I was free, I was in. The entry fee seemed fair @ $55.00 since it included entry, (1) food item, (1) beer, a finisher medal and runner's bib. Additionally there was an after party with Jack Ingram and The Chris Castaneda Project.

Arrived at 7:30 for an 8 am. start. Ten bucks for parking, cash only, a little steep but expected. My wife was joining me as a spectator - spectator pass another $10. Check in goes smooth. Plenty of volunteers for the meandering crowd. I get my race bib, pin it on, meet some friends at the start area and spot the porta-potties off to the right. If you've read any of my blog's you know I'm making a visit. Plenty of facilities for the event, and it's early, so they are clean. Woo-hoo.

Back to the start line. Disappointment numero uno - this isn't a timed event. Guess I didn't read the registration info close enough. Okay, but then why do I have a race bib. Silly. Oh, well. Looking forward to the 3.1 miles of trails and 14 gut checking obstacles...and obstacle #1 doesn't disappoint - 50 yards into the race, mud galore! A soggy, wet, dirty pit to crawl through. Way to go! Unfortunately this was one of the few highlights of the 'challenge'.

The obstacles are pretty standard if you've done any mud runs. Walls to traverse, pits to crawl through, but to be honest the website descriptions of the obstacles are 10x scarier than the actual obstacles. For example, for the Ice Bath obstacle...the site states "Your ass has to swim through a long pool of ice water OR chicken out." Translation: three-foot
deep pit, twenty feet long that you walk through (btw the FAQs page states no swimming required, "all mud obstacles will be between 2 and 3 feet deep."). Then how about Tires from Hell, "A hellish amount of tires on the ground that you have to run through OH and there will be 6 inches of mud under them." Hellish? Twenty or thirty feet of tires laying on the ground, mud nowhere to be seen...I've seen tougher obstacles on the playground. I won't even get started on the one called 'Conquer the Web" - a few strands of bungee cord stretched between a handful of trees...

On a positive note, the man-made obstacles that you had to climb over or up were solid, as in, built solid. They felt sturdy and strong, which isn't always the case in races like these. This even goes for the 12' wall that you had to climb up using a knotted rope and 1x2's for footing. Truth be told that when I traversed this one I wondered if someone was going to get hurt on it - the diameter of the rope was too small and the 1x2's were a tough foothold. Unfortunately my wonderment was correct and a participant slipped and fell from this one and severely injured here leg, breaking it. Another observation here - while there was first aid on-site, I was surprised to learn that there wasn't an ambulance. I've never really noticed or payed attention at past races, but with the number of participants it would seem prudent to have one there...I think?

The last two obstacles are inflatable ones, things you find at kid's parties. They were
actually fun, but not really obstacles. Finish line straight the race over already? Well, isn't that the kicker. This was a 5k...3.1 miles - or it was advertised as such. Someone has a bad ruler. At best I am a 7 or 8-minute-miler, throw obstacles and trails in there and I am a 10 or 11-minute-miler. Somehow I finished this one in 19 minutes. I'm pretty sure I stayed on course and didn't shortcut anything so I'm not sure what happened, but I am sure this course was closer to 2 miles long instead of the 3.1 miles claimed.

So add up the 40-minute drive, lame obstacles, short course, $10 parking, lack of timing, $10 spectator pass (btw - the spectators only had access to the last 100 yards of the course) and I give this event a 4 out of 10. Honestly I feel ripped-off. The saving grace for many might be the after-party, but that wasn't my motivation for the event. Thankfully some of the proceeds went to the Make-A-Wish foundation...

In October these folks are putting on another event in San Antonio, this one claiming mud, 14 obstacles and the addition of ZOMBIES. I hope they are able to get the first two claims ironed-out - not sure what the zombies will bring to the table, but I'm hopeful there will be progress.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Miles of Mud....But No Burgers

Today was the inaugural running of Miles of Mud, a 4-mile obstacle and mud run with about
40 obstacles. This is a two-race series, the second of which takes place in November.  The event was held at Rocky Hill Ranch, a favorite venue of mine for mountain biking. Rocky Hill hosts numerous races throughout the year including the Warrior Dash and the Iron Warrior Dash, which I participated in this past March.

Miles of Mud claims to be different than the others. This from their site:

  • We give prize money to the top two participants in each category, male and female.
  • We have a separate prize for fastest boy and girl between the ages of 14 and 16 years.
  • We randomly hand out money before, during and after the race to participants and spectators.
  • This is a 2 race series – if you enter both races you can win up to $2500.00.
  • We pride ourselves on having a minimum of  30 obstacles for each race, about half of which have mud elements.
Registration calls out their all inclusive price - which covers parking, t-shirt, hamburger and 2 drinks. More about the claims in a bit....

Rocky Hill is an easy 50-minute drive from Austin so I left the house at 6:15 am. I was meeting some friends for an 8:00 start time, but I needed to swap a registration for one of them so I wanted to leave plenty of time in case there were issues with that.

I arrived a few minutes after 7:00, Josh and Lara has just arrived and Jonathon pulled in a few minutes later. Parking was easy as well as close, about 100 yards from check-in. Check-in was relativity easy; one table to fill out the registration form another to pick up the race bib, third to pick up timing chip and a fourth for ID check (for the beer afterward). There was also gear check - always a nice amenity, but not completely necessary at this particular race since parking was so close. The early crowd was minimal so the process was easy, but if it were busier, it could have been confusing since the tables and order that you had to visit them wasn't well marked.

So we checked in and got our numbers and timing chips. The numbers are the generic type, not branded which is a bummer, if you're like me, and you like to collect them. The timing chips are on a velcro ankle strap which are much nicer that the ones that need to be laced into your shoes.

With about 10 minutes to go the organizers made an announcement through a megaphone letting everyone know that the 8:00 am heat should be getting ready to go. I'm guessing that there were about 100 people in the heat. We moved toward the start line. With two minutes to go the MC with the megaphone made a short announcement about the course and the obstacles, although he was a bit hard to understand through the megaphone as it was cutting in and out.

At 8:00 am the cannon boomed and we were off. Yes, a cannon. A small, two foot long cannon was the starting gun. It was pretty cool and thunderous.

If you've been to Rocky Hill, you understand how it got its name. There are rocks everywhere, a lot of them the size of a flattened softball, sometimes larger. There are trails here that are made up entirely of these rocks. Ankles beware. The first mile or so is consists of trails such as these and most of the uphill of the course as well. It's warm and very humid this morning. The humidity coupled with the hills and rocks made for a tough time for the first two miles.

The obstacles were numerous, I didn't count but there were probably the 30 true obstacles. Here is a link to the obstacle list from the Miles of Mud website. I'm not going to describe them all, but I'll touch on a few.

Many of the obstacles are ones I've seen in other races. The over-unders and walls that have to be climbed or hurdled were used multiple times in this event. Although on their own, they are somewhat easy, there were a few sets in the last 1/2-mile that were tougher to traverse after 40 minutes of exertion.

I would say that the shear number of obstacles made them harder than they were. But
each one on its own was a little bush-league. There are also few obstacles on the list that I wouldn't truly count as obstacles; three connected hills, five ravines and/or cliffs, foot hills-gravel mounds to run over. These are just part of the terrain and to claim them as obstacles is a little misleading. Additionally the Ice Filled Dumpster was really a dumpster with a foot of chilly water in it with a cattle gate hanging inside horizontally, assumedly to crawl under, but I'm still not clear on that.

The terrain definitely makes this race a fun one and a tougher than average course. I tackled all of the obstacles with relative ease and came away mostly unscathed. A small hole in my favorite race shirt from some barbed-wire. Thankful it missed the skin.

As I crossed the finish line I didn't hear the familiar beep from the timing pad and I noticed that the timing clock was blank. Fortunately Jonathon's mother was at the finish line and I got an approximate finish time from her. I'm not sure if the timing was working or not and at this point I'm not even sure where or when they will be posted.

So I took off my timing chip and dropped it in the metal bucket just after the finish line. I started looking for water and food. Most races this would be set up in an obvious location, usually lining one or both sides of the finish line, but not here. After I walked over to the check-in area and inquired, I found out that it's in the 'Saloon', a wooden, patio building shelter of sorts between the finish line and the parking lot. I headed over there and noticed freshwater showers - nice touch, especially since a lot of races pump brown pond water through their showers. I rinsed off and I headed into the saloon and asked for some water. I was offered grape or lemon flavored bottled water. What??? How about some plain old water. Nope, not an option. So I chose lemon, which in my opinion, was the lesser of two evils. Unfortunately, not only is it flavored, but it's sweetened. Not really a good choice for the end of the race. By the way gives these products a F...

I wandered off to catch Josh and Lara on their last 300 yards of the race. There are are 8 or 9 obstacles in the home stretch so its a great place to spectate. They finished strong and we hung out a bit watching some other racers. There was a band setting up near the saloon so we headed to the cars to change clothes, coming back to enjoy some music and the included burgers and beer.

Foiled again. Burgers aren't on the grill yet. Granted it's early, about 10:00 am at this point
but we started at 8:00 am and there are waves every half hour, so 6 waves are either done or out on the course. The food should have been ready. We decided to scrap the food. We were hungry and the lady near the grill said the burgers wouldn't be ready for another 30-45 minutes. Over to the beer counter. After overhearing the folks in front of us, the choices were Bud Light or Shock Top, but I heard that the Bud Light isn't cold yet...Shock Top it is. Thankfully they allow us to pick up two at once and since they are unopened cans we can take them with us. Two of us are driving so the beers would have to wait until later. It's close to 10:30 and still no burgers or entertainment so off we went. As we were leaving the band started some music over the sound system, poor timing.

As an aside, the organizers claim to "give away random money before, during and after the race to participants and spectators." I'm not sure if this happened or not, if it did during the 2 1/2 hours we were there, it was done with little fanfare.

Overall, we had a good time and that is the most important part but there is definitely room for improvement. I am sure it takes a lot to put on an event like this and overall this was a success, but some simple things would have make a big impact.

I will most likely participate in the fall race, hopeful that it will build and improve over today's event.


  • Great venue
  • Fun course
  • Volunteers at registration very friendly and helpful
  • Bag check
  • Plenty of clean bathrooms
  • Changing rooms
  • Freshwater showers
  • Numerous obstacles

Areas for improvement:

  • National Anthem before the race
  • PA system instead of a megaphone
  • Trash cans near registration
  • Entertainment that starts when the event does (at least music over loud speakers)
  • Water (unflavored) and food (bananas, cookies, oranges) at the finish line
  • Operational timing clock
  • Branded race numbers
  • Burgers on the grill at 8:30 instead of 10:30
  • Beer iced down first thing
  • Beef up the obstacles, make sure they are completed
  • Better signage and flow at registration/check-in