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.


  1. Hi Steve,
    I'm an event promoter and with the growing popularity of obstacle runs I'm seeing a lot of events like this one. We call them LAME! on our Facebook page. Many are no more challenging that a run through the park.

    But in any case, I'm trying to get inside the runners head, and I'm curious why the timing feature is so important? These courses are not standardized and as you point out, they aren't even the length advertised. I know our 5K's are usually closer to 6K. Some even more, and no two are ever the same. So why the timing?

    Secondly, I share your concern about the safety of obstacles. After designing obstacles for other events for several years we've had to reconsider some of our relationships as some events are going "gonzo" and trying to out do each other at the peril of their runners. Our organizations name "Critical Mud" comes from our desire to offer the most challenging courses possible without resorting to inherently dangerous or "stunt" like obstacles. Contrary to what many people think, broken bones and stitches are NOT sexy.

    I appreciate your posts. Good luck at your next event.

    Todd Griffin

    1. Todd,

      Thanks for the comments. To answer your question about the timing of races, it caters to people's competitive nature. While not everyone is competitive, those of us that are like to know how we fared against the field. I use these smaller races as training for the bigger ones and I enjoy comparing myself to the front-runners. It also always groups within the event to be competitive with one another, especially if they aren't starting in the same group. Timing doesn't have turn an event into a race, it just enhances the event. If timing equipment is cost prohibitive then go old school. Have a start clock and a finish clock and a couple of folks record bib numbers as participants cross the finish line, while periodically recording the time. This is accurate enough for non-race events.

      But timing also goes hand-in-hand with accurate course mileage. Race and event organizers should be able to accurately determine this with acceptable results. There is plenty of affordable technology out there that makes this pretty simple. Heck a $50 GPS watch would do it, or one of those wheels that the guys that do accident reconstruction use would work.

  2. Steve, these guys are scammers trust me. They lie and pass the buck time after time, don't buy into their apology and certainly don't give them any more money. Join my FB group and fill you in more details, but make no mistake about it these guys are going down and have plenty of evidence to ensure that happens.

  3. Their already promoting their San Antonio event, and are deleting any negative reviews/comments.

  4. The October event in San Antonio was cancelled. The company I work for has yet to see a refund for sponsorship. I wonder how many people have not received a refund.