Rugged Maniac kicked off its 2016 season with about 5,000 participants in South Carolina on Saturday. It was a beautiful day in the low 70’s – about 30 degrees warmer than last year! The venue, historic Boone Hall Farms, was the same but the event had a distinctly different feel this year compared with the previous four years I’ve run this course. The new vibe this year wasn’t just on the course, but off the course as well.
The Festival Area
Probably the biggest improvement in Rugged Maniac this year was the festival area. They’ve always had a decent festival area, but this year it was noticeably improved. The MC on stage throughout the day had the crowd very engaged in everything from dance contests (we watched a grey haired guy try to outshine a preteen girl doing the Whip/Nae Nae) to oyster shucking contests. In speaking with co-founder Brad Scudder, that was one of the cool things – Rugged Maniac is going to try to bring local flavor and events to each festival area in the different cities across the country – hence oyster shucking in Charleston, SC. It will be interesting to read other reviews in future months from other cities to see what Rugged Maniac comes up with.
There were also other physical challenges in the festival area such as pull up contests, an arm wrestling competition, beer stein hoisting, and even a pie eating contest was on the plate of events. The easy flow of the area and the variety of free fun from corn-hole competitions to mechanical bull riding made the festival area truly fun for all ages.
Starting last year, Rugged Maniac joined the medal mayhem and started offering finishers medals like many other races do. Last year in my review I mentioned that the addition of the medals came at the price of a skimpier shirt. Almost as if they read my review, this year Rugged Maniac not only improved the quality of their shirt back to pre-2014 quality, they also jacked up the quality of the finishers medals too! The new medals are much larger, much cooler, and have #GetRugged engraved on the reverse side. Well done.
Rugged Maniac Course
This year the course was similar to last year but was front loaded with a good stretch of trail running to get the blood flowing. There also seemed to be more giant mounds of dirt to climb up and slide down throughout the course and the mud pits seemed deeper. While I didn’t notice any brand new obstacles at this location, there were some fun tweaks to returning obstacles like The Gauntlet and the Warped Wall. Last year The Gauntlet had us balancing on a wooden beam as we navigated through air filled heavy bags. This year the difficulty was increased by replacing the balance beams with floating, unstable foam mats that slid and buckled under your feet. One wrong move and into the water you went. The Warped Wall had the outline of the state of South Carolina painted on it – just another fun tribute to the local area Rugged Maniac took the time to do. It’s this attention to detail that is starting to set Rugged Maniac apart.
The additions and changes to the course were few but significant. Co-founder Brad Scudder noted that Rugged Maniac is designed to be “an entry level event”. And that is what makes Rugged Maniac shine. At the finish line we witnessed a non-participant dad telling his kids “mommy should be almost finished, we have to cheer really loud for her, OK?” We witnessed multigenerational families running together. Groups of friends ran together as did father and sons and mothers and daughters.
Some races have finishers crossing the finish lines so exhausted that they look like extras from a scene of The Walking Dead. Rugged Maniac, especially this year it seemed, had nothing but muddy smiles and the occasional tears of joy at the finish line. Sure, there was an elite wave where preliminary winner Stephen Wilson posted an impressive finish time of 25 minutes 41.3 seconds. But the small group of about 140 people who chose to have their run timed and compete for glory were by far the minority on Saturday. The majority went out on a beautiful day and conquered some obstacles and maybe conquered some fears with friends and family along the way.
My only suggestion for next year is to have more spectator friendly obstacles more accessible to the festival area. Notably missing from the end of the course this year was The Ringer, in my opinion the best and certainly most challenging obstacle in the Rugged Manic arsenal of obstacles. Last year, The Ringer was near the spectator area and drew big crowds all day. This year, The Ringer was in the middle of the course and had no audience to speak of.
The Future of Rugged Maniac and OCR
I was fortunate to get a good amount of time to talk with one of RM’s co-founders. Brad was very enthusiastic about not only his brand, Rugged Events, but for the sport of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) as a whole. He was an interesting character. In one breath he would talk about keeping his brand to under 36 events per year to keep the family atmosphere and quality of Rugged Maniac intact. In the next breath he was animatedly talking about his hopes and the very real possibility of OCR becoming an Olympic event.
Brad is clearly passionate about our sport of OCR. He sees the entry level niche his brand is now dominating and he also sees the bigger picture of competitive OCR’s growing global appeal and he realizes there is room for both in the industry, which is exactly what OCR needs. We need ambassadors that are passionate about not only their particular brand, but for the overall growth of the sport into the mainstream.
Brad also hinted about some major new sponsors that Rugged Maniac will be announcing in the weeks to come. This is also what OCR needs – behind the scenes guys working to get big name sponsors that will further the overall reputation and reach of OCR. I’m hopeful that the sponsors that get announced are really major brands that will get Rugged Maniac and the competitive sport of OCR into more households in the years to come.
The idea behind Rugged Maniac isn’t to penalize you with extra exercises for failing obstacles or to punish your body with grueling 12+ mile courses. The concept behind Rugged Maniac is to reward you on an enjoyable course with challenging, yet achievable obstacles that if you fail them your only “penalty” is the good hearted laughs of your friends. Our sport needs fun, entertaining events as much as we need events that challenge us to our breaking point. Rugged Maniac is about as fun as it gets.
Short check in lines + good organization + a fun course + greatly improved swag and a fun filled festival area all add up to 4.5 out of 5 stars for Rugged Maniac this year, with only a minor ding for moving The Ringer out of convenient spectator view. Well done Rugged Maniac.
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