Category Archives: Warrior Dash

A Litter Follow-Up: Race Company Responses

Last week I proposed a method for measuring how severe the littering problem in OCR actually is. As part of that post, I noted that I would be asking a few race organizers if they have actually made any effort to quantify the amount of litter (as opposed to properly disposed-of garbage or course materials).

I emailed Spartan, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash, and have now received responses, of a sort, from all three.

Here’s the message I sent to all three (with minor changes as needed for each company):

Do you have any information about how much litter is found on courses after a typical Tough Mudder? There has been a lot of discussion about littering in the OCR world recently, but I’m hoping to quantify how serious the issue actually is. Have you measured how much litter (as opposed to properly-disposed-of garbage, or course-markings and other “official” garbage) you collect after an event? I’ve written a blog post (https://fatboybigwall.com/2015/11/05/why-im-pro-litter/) attempting to define the issues at play and if you have any information I’d like to incorporate it.

Thank you,

Greg Landgraf

The responses were… well, only one was useful, but another was interesting.

Warrior Dash wasn’t really helpful at all—the customer experience team referred the question to the Venue Relations department, so I emailed them and haven’t heard anything back. Although to be honest, Warrior Dash probably isn’t particularly representative on this issue, since it’s a fairly short run that has a relatively high percentage of first-time runners who are unlikely to carry a lot of gear onto the course.

Tough Mudder’s is the interesting one. I got a fairly sincere message of apology for the frustrations and inconveniences I experienced at the event, and for how the Tough Mudder experience didn’t live up to my expectations. Since I wasn’t complaining (and in fact have never actually done a Tough Mudder), it doesn’t provide any actual information, but it does raise a question: Just how unempowered are Tough Mudder’s customer service people? I mean, I get that a lot of customer service is done by boilerplate, and it even makes (a frustrating sort of) sense to respond to common complaints with a response designed by experts to give an official answer and nothing additional and do it in a way that will not inadvertently escalate the situation. But this wasn’t a common complaint, so a little bit of personalization in the response might have been helpful.

<NotBasedOnFact>I just have this vision of the customer service department having a set of, say, six permitted responses that they’re permitted to use to cover all customer comments. And if you’re working for Tough Mudder, you’re not going to go against that kind of policy. I mean, you’re working for a company that thinks electric shocks and tear gas are fun. Imagine what would happen if they’re trying to punish you.</NotBasedOnFact>

Spartan’s response was useful, although perhaps more from reading between the lines than because of what was actually said. The representative said that Spartan does not track litter separately from other trash, but he did confirm that the race does clean up the venue after (and during) the race. He also noted that the race will make announcements about littering and starting-line threats to assign  Did Not Finish results if they’re caught littering.

If we assume rational behavior—and this is getting dangerous, because humans don’t always behave rationally, and my perspective of what “rational” is in this situation is based on very incomplete information, but I’ll do it anyway because I think it’s at least an interesting thought experiment—the response suggests a couple things. Based on the fact that Spartan doesn’t measure the litter generated, combined with the not-necessarily-always-accurate-but-often-useful “you can’t improve what you can’t measure” maxim, it suggests Spartan’s level of concern. Specifically, it seems that Spartan’s opposition to litter is the same as the average person’s opposition to air pollution: opposed, but not really looking to go far out of its way to fight.

That’s got a negative connotation that isn’t fair, so let me be clear: I don’t think Spartan is responsible for measuring the litter generated by a race. By cleaning the venue after an event, they’re fulfilling any kind of moral obligation to minimize the ecological impact of the race. (OK, not necessarily any moral obligation—I know just enough about soil engineering and soil suspended in water to know that there could be issues there that I’m not remotely qualified to address—but any moral obligation related to garbage production.)

But to go back to assuming rational behavior, these between-the-line-readings suggest that Spartan does not consider the amount of added effort resulting from cleaning litter from the course to justify the effort necessary to measure that litter (and then develop procedures to address it).

Not definitive, certainly, but it leaves me inclined to categorize littering on the course as an annoyance rather than a major OCR problem.

(Still, littering is jerky. So don’t. But going overboard in talking about it is also jerky. So don’t do that either.)

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Filed under Commentary, Funny, Obstacle Course Racing, Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash

OCR Unreport: 2015 Illinois Warrior Dash

The weekend was odd.

I had plans to run the Illinois Warrior Dash on Sunday, thanks to Maggie. She assembled a team, sponsored by Delta Faucet, and invited the Chicago Running Bloggers to participate—with a complementary entry.

Saturday, and the week before the race, and the month before the race, and the whole frickin’ year was rainy, and I spent a fair amount of Saturday watching reports from the race about the aparkalyptic* conditions in the parking lot. Apparently everything got flooded, and bunches of cars got stuck, and more of the kind of thing that happens when an already-saturated wooded area gets more rain and lots of traffic.

I also spent a lot of Saturday at a friend’s birthday party, but had to cut it a bit early so I could wake up good and early. Not for the race itself, but for a volunteer shift. Again, not for the race itself—I take care of birds at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum every other Sunday. That’s not exactly critical to the story, but it is an interesting bit of color, and it will pay off in a surprising way later on.

Anyhow, as I left for the museum, I found this in the lobby of my building:

Passive-aggressive signWhile I’m fundamentally opposed to the passive-aggressive nature of this sign, it also confused and still does confuse me for a couple reasons. First off: spilled pasta? Really? On the scale of urban irritants (of which there are many, no matter how much you like the city) how does spilled pasta even rate as something that gets noticed?

And second: I don’t know what the back walkway is. The building has an alley, but there are far worse things than spilled pasta there. Or there are back stairwells that can be used as an exit, but nobody really does use them.

Speaking of mysteries, I also saw this in my neighbor’s yard:

Sprinkler on a rainy dayDidn’t Alanis Morrisette once do a song about running the sprinkler on a rainy day?

Anyhow, there’s not much more to report about the Warrior Dash, since about 7:30 I got word that due to the weather and conditions (apparently conditions were bad enough that the course was inaccessible to medical personnel) it had been cancelled. In fact, I got that word immediately after getting a call from the car rental agency saying that my car reservation wouldn’t be ready at 9 am as I had made it and did I still need the car after all?

While last year’s experience wasn’t great, and I think that it was due mostly to an unforced error on Warrior Dash’s part (and a cascade of issues that stemmed from it), I’m a lot more sympathetic this year. Obviously I didn’t go there, and I don’t know precisely what the conditions were, but I know that kind of decision is a lousy one for an event organizer to have to make. I am inclined to appreciate their willingness to make that decidedly ungood decision.

* I hope you like the term “aparkalyptic.” It took me an hour to think of it; I wasted a lot of time trying to make “parkopocalypse” or variations of it work. Admittedly, this hour was just idle musing that I did while simultaneously cleaning up bird shit at the museum (payoff!), so it wasn’t like I was spending an hour racking my brains, but it did take longer than I expected.

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Repurposing OCR Bling: My Kentucky Derby Hat

There was a fairly sizable horse race yesterday, and I went to a party to commemorate it. (Actually, it was a fundraiser for a friend’s theater company, only said theater company is almost undoubtedly done, so the fundraiser was to take care of the legal expenses to close it down. Theater!)

Anyhow, apparently the Kentucky Derby is an occasion upon which people wear hats. And I always respect sartorial tradition, so I came up with this (click for full-sized version):

My Kentucky Derby HatI’ll admit that it lacks a certain amount of structural integrity. I was able to wear it, although it flopped over, so for photographic purposes to (sort of) be able to see it all, I’m holding it like this. It consists of: The Old Spice guy on a horse on an elephant on a dog on an octopus on a Warrior Dash hat. And while it probably won’t show up well, the Old Spice Guy is saying “I’m on a horse on an elephant on a dog on an octopus on a Viking!”

Drink dispenser

Like this, only one that’s been in use for long enough that the plastic is good and yellowed.

It went over very well, even though it was a theater crew and not an OCR group. I don’t think the group was terribly invested in the Derby. Also, mint juleps are a grossly overrated drink, particularly if they are dispensed from the same machines that dispense red Fruut Punch in diners.

And, apparently, I need to slightly eat my words. I’ve said before that I don’t completely understand why people get so up-in-arms about OCR medals/sweatbands/hats/stuffed rutabegas/etc. I still agree with that statement, but I have to admit, the Warrior Dash horns really helped to sell the look. Plus, the only other hat I own is Canadian, so…

One disappointing thing about the hat (sort of): I’ve been massively busy for the past two weeks—my job has kind of exploded with deadlines—so I wasn’t able to create the hat much in advance. Specifically: I made it using safety pins while I was riding the el to the party.

That’s not the disappointing thing. The disappointing thing was that I got zero strange looks. The sight of somebody stabbing pins into stuffed animals and attaching them to a fuzzy viking helmet doesn’t register as a weird thing on Chicago’s public transit. And this was on the train that connected the suburbs to Wrigley Field on a day when the Cubs were in town.

I guess people from Evanston are just jaded.

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Sunday Mockery: A Possible New Feature

I’ve decided (or at least, considered the possibility that) it would behoove me to be more aggressive in my non-reverence. In that spirit, and in what may become a new regular thing here at Fat Boy Big Wall, allow me to provide some gentle mockery of the OCR world. (And see below for my justifications, and my worries, and other random brain-explosions.)

The bits:

Muckfest Tweet announcing The Bachelor involvment
Muckfest Facebook post announcing the Bachelor

Is it really wise to share mud pits with the VD-riddled cast of The Bachelor? That’s a crew with enough strains of gonorrhea to save Tinkerbell.

Warrior Dash "follower" post

Show you’re not a follower… by following us!

The concerns

If I may brain dump, let me express my concerns. Basically, snark is fun and all, unless it’s aimed at you. Then, it might be fun, but it might not be. In a former job, I was (by a weird mix of circumstances) a significant conduit to the public, in addition to holding the actual, professional position with functions that had to be done. So I was the recipient of a lot of humor, and a lot of “humor,” and a lot of outright hostility that targeted me because I was a convenient representative of the organization, even though I generally had nothing to do with the subject of the complaint. Being targeted constantly like that massively sucked, and several years of it had a lot to do with how fat I got. So I’m leery of doing that to another person.

Of course, I’m making fun of marketing efforts, which are often inherently absurd. I know this as both a recipient (I once got a press release whose only announcement was that the company had just returned from a major trade show. It was issued about three weeks after said trade show, so either they traveled by koalaback or they ran into a very drunk Doctor Who on the way.) and producer of marketing (checking the math on the statistical reports that employer issued used to chill me to the bone).

My sense of humor tends toward the absurd, so my mockery will in general go at diagonals away from the posts I mock, rather than directly at their heart. (Unless, of course, I detect malice—including that nefarious, doe-eyed “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone so I’m sorry if you were offended” bullshit that is so prevalent among assholes.) That, and the fact that I am giving the mock-ees a Twitter favorite and a link to boost their social media engagement stats, is how I’m justifying my actions in my mind. Even so, I’m not 100% sure that’s right, and my policy may change. If you’ve got feedback, let me know in comments.

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Filed under Funny, MuckFest MS, Sunday Mockery, Warrior Dash

Medal Culture, T-Shirts, and (again) Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder has certainly dropped some news bombs this week. After the tear gas news, they’ve done something that will really make obstacle course racers cry: They’ve announced that they will stop giving finisher T-shirts. (Which I learned via @muddy_race.)

Even from my disinterested, non-Tough-Mudder-racer perspective, I’ve managed to become of several minds of this news.

On one brain, there’s a rational understanding that putting on an obstacle course race is a business, and that cutting costs are sometimes part of doing business.

On a slightly related brain, and one that’s poorly developed with (to gruesomely mix metaphors) grotesque facial features and one arm that’s just a stump and another with a tiny little hand that’s somehow worse than the stump, it seems like over the past couple decades, when businesses shift their focus to cost-cutting it’s a sign that they don’t feel they have any more room to grow the business so if they want to increase profits cutting spending is their only option. So let’s toss that completely irresponsible rumor out there.

On a third brain that’s much more robust and still sort of related, kind of like that third or fourth cousin you have who is Justin Bieber (or maybe someone who doesn’t suck), is the thought that T-shirts are a pretty silly expense to cut. They’re popular and they’re a good form of advertising that’s pretty likely to reach its intended audience. After all, people who run obstacle course races generally spend at least some of their time in a gym or some other fitnessy-type place, where other people who might consider an obstacle course race will also spend some amount of time, and as a race T-shirt is appropriate attire for such a venue, it will in all likelihood be worn there occasionally. While seven bucks a shirt (a value that may or may not be close; it was the first figure I found online for 10,000 printed T-shirts) certainly adds up, it seems like the savings probably wouldn’t justify the ill will.

The fourth brain is safely unrelated and therefore marriageable. And that one is: I don’t get the medal culture—and the other gear gift culture—that seems to run through obstacle course racing like some really good obstacle course racer through a really easy obstacle course. (And boom goes the simile dynamite!) Okay, that’s not 100 percent true—I get it in the sense that medals and horny hats and T-shirts are neat things and that there’s an in-built acquisitive nature to our brains, that says when we see something neat, we must have it.

I can even accept that these schmoogies (a highly technical term I once picked up from a trade show booth organizer) are a nice memento of a nice and relatively unique experience, and even an accomplishment. (Although I can’t let that pass without wondering how many people who are deeply concerned about their finisher gear would in the same breath rant about how the real problem with society is that we’re raising kids to expect a participant ribbon whenever they don’t win something.)

OCR Finisher medals, shirts, hats, sweatbands, and mailers with overly defined dangly bits.

My collection of participant ribbons from two obstacle course races (so far).

From a rational standpoint, I just can’t care too much about these schmoogies. In two OCRs, I’ve got 3 medals (see next paragraph), a headband, a hat, and two shirts, and I don’t think I’ll mind I never get another thingy. I suppose I’m not yet actively bothered at having to find a place to stuff them all, but I don’t see any great value to them, and I don’t understand the great passion when something goes wrong.

As it did, sort of, at the Spartan Stadium Sprint in Milwaukee this year. Whether by typo in the design or a production glitch, the finisher medals said “SPARIAN RACE.” I didn’t actually notice, which is odd for me because proofreading is something I naturally do automatically. I once casually caught a typo in Italian, which is not a language I know. My only defense is that I didn’t actually look at the medal upon receiving it until a few days later, when I saw some hyperbolic complaints on the race’s Facebook page about how the error proved just how far down the toilet the Spartan Race had been flushed and how the poster was NEVER going to do ANOTHER one of those TERRIBLE races AGAIN and how they RUINED Christmas ALSO!!!!!!>!!!

As with most things where words appear in all caps and exclamation points are used, that type of reaction was well over the top.

It should be noted that Spartan Race did send out new medals, presumably to all racers but at least to me, with a correctly spelled medal and even a reasonably charming note. (It also included a few photos, one of which had some reasonably prominent dangly bits concealed only by some yellow Spandex; whether you consider that a plus or a minus is beyond my willingness to judge.) So even if you were traumatized by the incorrectly spelled medal, I can’t imagine not considering that an adequate make-right gesture.

Onto brain 5 and final: T-shirts are a bit of a different animal than medals or horny hats or even headbands, as they have a practical use—preventing you from being distracted by my sexy, sexy nipples. I’ve used both of mine for exactly that purpose, even the Warrior Dash one, which has a design I don’t like and is pretty crappily made besides. So while I wouldn’t miss getting race-completer-stuff if it were done away with, I definitely wouldn’t mind getting more race-completer-T-shirts.

So there you have a lovely mishmash of 5 brains on the topic, enough for a full hand or perhaps a basketball team. Which is the center and which is the bird? (Which mixes the metaphors so delightfully that I couldn’t resist even though it will never make logical sense, as the center is the bird on the former, and the Bird is a center on the latter. Except, as I learned on Wikipedia, he was a forward, but I’m not going to let facts mess with wordplay.) As with a great many things, that’s up for debate.

In this case, I would generally be interested in hearing from people who do care more about their medals/hats/bands/etc. As I said, I don’t really understand that perspective, but I wouldn’t mind doing so. So drop your comments in the comments, and let understanding bloom.

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OCR Report: Warrior Dash Illinois 2014

This is going to be a periodic feature here at Fat Boy Big Wall: reports about the OCRs, and maybe other events, that I take part in. I’m going to try to take a somewhat journalistic approach-no unjustified hyperbole or superlatives. On the other hand, I will be sharing my opiniony bits, which are, of course, opiniony bits rather than facts. Hopefully they’ll be useful, or entertaining, or a nice distraction from work.

Me jumping over the fire at Warrior Dash Illinois 2014

Look at me, jumpy-jumpy in my very ill-concieved shoes and shorts.

The Illinois Warrior Dash (June 14, 2014) was my first-ever obstacle course race. That figure has since swelled to two—so keep that in mind.

To give you a sense of my mindset going into it, the Warrior Dash was my focus for about 9 months: I set some goals for it, and I was hoping to use it as a benchmark for how I was doing, fitness-wise. In that respect, it really didn’t succeed.

There were several logistical problems that contributed to that. I don’t know exactly what happened beyond some rumors that I heard when I got there or that I read online afterward, so I don’t know truly know the full story, but what I heard was that there were issues with building some of the obstacles and filling some of the mud pits, which meant that the early heats got delayed, and all of the later heats cascaded as well. I didn’t hear any official announcement about this, which is kind of surprising in retrospect. There was an excellent sound system blasting the generic get-pumped party music that you hear at any race. It would have been nice if the race organizers had used that to provide information as well, although maybe it was provided by a contractor with strict agreements on precisely how it would be used.

There was another system used for race announcements, but it was kind of a joke: it was located at the starting line in the far corner of the field, and you couldn’t hear it at the end of the starting corral. So if it provided useful information, I didn’t hear it.

Once I got onto the course, capacity was a serious problem. Several obstacles had long waits, and one of them was crowded enough that I thought it was a safety concern—it was one where you climb up and over a wooden structure, but there was a pretty big gap between the last support slab and the top. I figured I could probably give myself enough momentum to pull myself over, get my foot safely on the support on the other side, and not kick my neighbor in the face—but only two out of the three. Since two out of three would have left someone on the ground writhing in pain, I wound up climbing down in a safe but annoying manner and skipping the obstacle.

I assume the obstacle capacity issues were worsened by the late start, but there were some other capacity issues that seem really unnecessary. At the start, for example, we were let go in waves of about 500 people, and we ran through a wide-open field… which was closed off with flags so the course was only wide enough for about three people.

The section in the woods was even worse, although perhaps more understandable. It had large sections that were only wide enough for a single person. Unfortunately, it was also slick, wet clay. The result was a long chain of people, no one able to pass but no one able to move beyond a slow crawl without breaking a leg. By the end, many people started simply started ignoring the course and cutting through the woods to bypass this short but lengthy journey.

I didn’t, but I don’t blame them. By that point, the warrior dash was an ordeal but not a challenge. The experience of using trees to support myself as I trudge down and back up a slick hill really didn’t tell me anything about myself, which is the experience that I was looking for.

That’s too bad, because if I can take that expectation out of the equation, I did enjoy the experience: being in a semi-race atmosphere, dealing with obstacles and mud and the out of doors, and the whole eventness of it all. It wasn’t really the challenge I was looking for, though. The obstacles tended to fall into two categories: climbing over things (with some form of support) or crawling under things. At the fitness level I was at, the obstacles weren’t particularly challenging; the real challenges were artificial, crowd-related ones.

I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with their post-race response. They received a lot of complaints—I watched the Facebook page for a few days afterward with that petty, self-righteous glee you get when you feel like someone’s getting a come-uppance. But in an email afterward, the company acknowledged responsibility for the problems, and they didn’t try to deflect criticism by pointing out how the event raised money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which I was expecting. They also offered half off another registration for any of their other events. I’m not planning to take them up on it, but I can accept that things go wrong, and that feels like an appropriate level of response.

Overall, I could see it as a fun social event or a good introduction to the world of obstacle course racing. It wasn’t the experience I was hoping for, but it may be the right one in some circumstances.

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