That is the catch phrase that Mud, Guts, and Glory had been promoting in the many weeks leading up to their inaugural race. And it could not have been more accurate.
This race review is going to be a long post, because there is so much more to tell about Mud, Guts, & Glory than simply the 5.2 mile course that I covered Saturday morning. (Therefore I am going to leave out the details of my 8 hour adventure in the Philadelphia airport, and get right to it. ).
First off, let me say that I believe with all of my heart that the race directors and staff behind Mud Guts & Glory are more invested into the success of their race than any other organizer/event on this planet. And that is because the success of this race means far more than simply realizing a dream or achieving a profitable business. For Mud, Guts, & Glory, a successful race will mean that they will be changing lives: literally. Profits from this race will help allow Kings Domain (the location of Mud, Guts, & Glory) help change lives by hosting camps, retreats, and other programs for a wide variety of participants such as at-risk inner city youth, and those with substance abuse issues. Now, I’m sure most of you have found your way to this blog post looking for a race specific review, so I will get to it. But I want you to know that hearing the motives behind this race, as well as stories of those who have benefited from some of these programs, moved me to tears. These people have their hearts in the right place, and I have no doubt that they are going to succeed with these endeavors.
Now, onto the race
BEAUTIFUL: the course itself was designed, and built, to be a permanent course on property at Kings Domain, in Oregonia, Ohio (about an hour from Cincinnati). Therefore, the designers had months to build and execute this course, and you can certainly tell. The trails, while absolutely brutal (see: AGONY, below) were meticulously groomed. And no, that does not mean flat and easy, in fact it was incredibly technical with footing, rocks, roots, etc at points. But by meticulous, I mean it is near impossible to get lost on this trail, as every section was lined with logs to keep you heading in the right direction. A large majority of the obstacles were built with logs, which blended right into the scenery. Nothing about this race felt artificial; nothing felt as if it were haphazardly thrown together, as I’ve often encountered at numerous “traveling” races before. Instead, much of it felt like a giant, grown up (and far more difficult) version of my youth spent running around the vast forest of Vermont, climbing impossible hills and leaping downed trees.
AGONY: While beautiful and very well designed, the terrain was unforgiving. I had scoffed in my race preview post about Mud, Guts, & Glory’s claim to vertical gain, and I humbly ate those words. I, and most racers, walked far more than I ran. Some of the obstacles, as you will read in my race recap below, were brutal, and like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
MY RACE: As I mentioned in the preview post, I was invited as a group of Elite Obstacle Course racers to help review this race (not sure who I blame for misinforming them that I was elite, but I digress. Perhaps elite blogger? )And even more exciting, was the fact that we were to race with (and really, against) former NFL player and host of Spike TV’s Playbook 360 (which was filming) host, Dhani Jones. I was joined by the likes of Holly Joy Berkey of Muddy Mommy, Dan Krueger of dankrueger.com, Brad Kloha of Run To Remember, Amelia Boone and Junyong Pak (THE World’s TOUGHEST mudders), Jeff Cain of On My Way to Sparta, Rob Butler of Shale Hill Adventure Farm, a bunch more people that I’m probably forgetting, some amazing Corn Fed Spartans, and of course, our fearless leader and rental car chauffeur, Matt B. Davis of Obstacle Racing Media. (whew, that’s a list).
After my incredibly long day of travel and late arrival, my legs were NOT feeling up to the challenge of racing, but I was excited to see what was in store regardless. After a quick breakfast, Holly, Amelia and I wandered from our cottage down to the race start. We checked in, got our registration packet (which included a tech shirt and a great “MUD” sticker”, checked our bags, and decided to scope out the scene. Amelia went off to warm up, while Holly and I started poking around. We found a sign that said “start”, and headed up the hill towards some obstacles. They were…cute. Creative, but, well, cute. And really close together. Now, keep in mind that the structure of this race contains five sections, each getting progressively harder. So in my mind, it made sense that the first few would be so, well, small and easy looking.
Turns out we were on the kids course. Doh.
Once we realized our error, we headed over towards the REAL starting line. Our group met up with Dhani and posed for some pictures (note, never in my life have I experienced such a “paparazzi” moment as I did right then. More cameras than people, it was crazy.)
Then we lined up. The start line made my heart sink…in the “I am SO not ready for this race” sort of way. For underneath the start line, began a massive hill.
The emcee was awesome and full of energy, giving shout outs to many of the elites (again, myself included, which made me smile and think “I’m really going to give a HUGE ego boost to so many people in this wave who pass me on this hill thinking I’m out to win…). Before I knew it, was the shout of “MUD….GUTS….GLORY!!!” and we were off.
Up, up, up. And then up some more. The first few obstacles that I remember was a wooden incline/hill, then a few wooden suspension bridges that were insanely hard to run across when other people were attempting to run across them at the same time (think of those bridges on kids playgrounds, just like those). Up, up, up some more. I was walking already. Most of us were, in fact. Through some tunnels, around some muddy corners, and up even more hills.
I was starting to question how much this race was going to suck (from my fitness point of view, not the course itself) when I came around a corner and saw Dhani Jones walking…slowly…up a hill. Half a mile in and I was about to pass an NFL superstar. Sorry, but this is where I brag. It gave me the little pep boost I needed, and then my race really began.
I fell off the first set of monkey bars (my hand still has horrible grip since the break) but was starting to finally feel like I was warming up. We circled back around towards the main field where we encountered the “Gauntlet”… a series of insane obstacles, one after another.
Now, if you’ve read my obstacle course race reviews before, you know that I do not like to give away the ENTIRE race. I think half of the challenge of an OCR is to be prepared for anything. So I’ll save the exact details of the entire race and instead, show you a few pictures (and for what it’s worth, there were currently 28 obstacles, more coming for future races):
|(photo credit Julia Rohs…this one and most of the others. She was everywhere with that camera, and did a fantastic job capturing the event!)|
That’s Amelia on this beast of a monkey bar obstacle. I skipped this one (and took my time penalty). After falling off a simple set of monkey bars due to the weak hand, I didn’t want to risk that kind of fall).
The Castle…while this is clearly post race, let me tell you, this had me terrified during the race. 30 feet (I believe) made me shake in my Merrell’s when covered in mud and climbing over the top.
Now, as I mentioned already, the premise of this race is that there are five stages for you to conquer. You can stop after any stage, and you are not a “quitter” per se, you just come back another time to conquer all of the stages. I of course, was out for the whole thing (though not necessarily competitively). Many of the obstacles were indeed more difficult for me, but my strength remained in climbing all of those hills. Three cheers for living in Vermont and training like a mountain goat! I passed many people climbing.
Some more photos: ridiculous downhills (this one is called “Rope Burn”:
And even more insane uphills. Below is “The Pinacle”. I truly wondered if this one was even possible…until I reached the top. Pictures don’t even do it justice, it felt nearly vertical. Note there are three sets of ropes going up to the top, so you had to switch ropes when you reached the top of each one.
The “Sternum Checker” and “Weaver” (anyone that has been to basic training may recognize these ones..)
An obstacle not pictured but TOTALLY worth mentioning: David and Goliath. I came around a corner and saw a firing range and a wall with three HUGE “Goliath” warriors. A volunteer handed me a slingshot and three paintballs, and told me to hit Goliath in the forehead. Hilarious…and incredibly hard! I totally failed that one!
The very last obstacle of the day was a waterslide into a mud pit right before the finish line.
As I sprinted towards the finish line ( an ever-so-slight downhill that made you feel on top of the world) those in my group that had already finished were lined up to give me high fives, and the emcee was cheering me on. I crossed the finish line and was given an awesome medal and a MGG bracelet.
As it turned out, I finished as the 5th place elite female. I was pretty excited with that, considering I truly wasn’t out to race, and probably (OK definitely) could have pushed myself a little harder. Truth be told, I was just there to enjoy the race, and I absolutely did, finishing with a smile on my face.
-Gorgeous terrain: we saw it all. Muddy trails, rocky trails, sandy trails, grassy flats, river beds and ravines. You name it, we ran through it.
-Difficult obstacles: challenging for elites, but doable for the average joe (just take your time, and work through them)
-Impeccable organization: there was nothing I felt that the race directors and crew left out, and at the end, they were more than eager for our suggestions and constructive criticism (it was hard to give, there was so little to suggest!)
– THE MOST AMAZING VOLUNTEERS I have EVER encountered at a race. I have never seen so many encouraging, smiling faces, who were more than prepared to perform the tasks assigned to them at their obstacles (NOTHING is more frustrating than an unenthusiastic volunteer who can’t even explain how an obstacle works).
– Elite Prize Money: This particular race, the top three females and top three males received $1000 for first, $500 for second, and $250 for third. And to be noted: they were paid out that day (an issue that is unfortunately becoming a concern in our sport)
– The most heart and passion you will ever see in race directors and organizers.
– Next race: November 2nd. If you are within traveling distance (or even if you aren’t) to Kings Domain, you need to check out Mud, Guts, & Glory. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.
Thank you Mud Guts & Glory, thank you Kings Domain, thank you Obstacle Racing Media and all of my OCR family and friends, new and old, that I met this weekend. I had an absolutely amazing time, and I cannot wait to tackle the MGG course again!
Jennifer at Not Last!
READER QUESTION: Considering the fact that this is a PERMANENT location for this race, what sort of obstacles would you like to see?