If you follow my OCR antics, you know I’m a huge fan of Terrain Race. Not only are there three events per year within driving distance of my home, the value participants receive from the event are one of the best bargains in OCR. In 2018, you were looking at about $50 with registration, parking, bag check and as many laps you can work into the 6-8-hour race day. That’s a lot of monkey medals!
There have been a lot of concerns about Terrain Race lately, as select participants have pointed out their issues on social media.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to speak with Terrain Race Development Team member Dustin Dorough about the future of these events. While he acknowledges some issues with Terrain Race in the past, he seems to be extremely confident that all of the pieces are now in place to provide Terrain Race fans an amazing experience on the course, across the nation, and potentially, internationally.
Check out the Mud Run Guide interview below. I’d love to hear your comments and other questions for a potential follow up piece.
Mud Run Guide: Terrain Race has made significant improvements to its operations and courses over the years. Can you go into detail about those?
Dustin: “It's been a really cool process to be a part of, honestly. There's a big drive within the company to turn Terrain Race into the type of event that the OCR community really deserves. Terrain Race management has reached out to four long-time OCR industry professionals to form this new Development Team, who are tasked with setting Terrain Race on a stronger path.
“The team is basically tearing everything apart and rebuilding from within, setting up the company infrastructure to be more conducive to creating a reliable event series that our participants can be proud of.
“Recently, we all came in together for a couple of weeks of meetings, resulting in an amazing discussion about the future of Terrain Race, showing zero mercy with our past. We understand that many things were done incorrectly while discussing solutions and how we can deploy them. Some of the very first things implemented were strict guidelines on race distance because we discovered that some races were falling short for a race that's advertised as a 5k, and that's just unacceptable. Now we have a set minimum distance of at least 3.1 miles so we're not short-changing the racers.
“We've also been upgrading the timing system, standardizing obstacle quality and equipment on each of the sets of trucks/trailers, and building a company mindset that lends itself to being more mindful of what the racers need and deserve.
“Right now, we're doing our best to implement these new practices, even during the current race and travel season, which is super difficult without throwing a wrench into the cycle for the build teams working in each market. The really big stuff is going to be implemented during the off-season for a huge re-launch at the beginning of 2019.”
MRG: The team includes: Dorough, who began working for Spartan Race in 2010, and spent the next seven years working in various departments such as marketing/promotion, obstacle construction, writing for the Spartan magazine, and as lead emcee/announcer (winning the ORM year-end award for Best OCR Announcer in 2015). Dorough has also worked with Bonefrog Challenge, Savage Race, and many other events ranging from comic conventions to the International Pole Convention. He’s known for an absolute unyielding love and adoration for the racers and the OCR community.
JP Sakamoto is the current is Race Director at Terrain Race/Cool Events. He’s spent previous years with Spartan Race and other top-tier OCR brands. JP’s experience spans a vast spectrum of event production in sports, music, movies and more.
Vinny Cappadora is a long-time race director and timing professional, working with events such as Happily Running, Spartan Race and North Face to name a few.
Tyler Tibbetts is the youngest member of the new team but has proven himself to be an asset to the OCR world. He's been with Terrain Race for 3 years now and watched it through the company’s exponential growth since infancy. He's worked multiple positions within the company and currently serves as a Race Director.
MRG: It is really exciting to hear about Terrain Race addressing these points and we’re looking forward to 2019. How do you envision TR improving in the next season?
DD: “Basically, everything is changing. New obstacles, new merchandise, new logo, new everything. You’ll be looking at brand new race and I'm very excited for all of it. I'm spending this winter overseas to meet with potential venues and race directors for the possibility of our first overseas events in late 2019, too. There are so many things on the docket that it's hard to even condense them all into a short interview, but I couldn't be more honored to be a part of the team undertaking this task.”
MRG: I see Terrain Race as a “value” OCR, where price is very affordable, but I also see it as a challenging experience – more than an “entry-level” course. Is this something you're looking to continue doing?
DD: “With all of our changes, we’re still going to keep prices below industry averages, but there may be price increases in the future, but not by much. I doubt we'll ever see it rise above $60 or $80, because we really want it to remain accessible for all who might be interested, but putting on the type of event that the community deserves while also delivering the sort of customer service, medals, timing results, photos, etc. simply cannot be sustained at $20 per racer. There will still always be plenty of discounts, sales, volunteer and brand ambassador opportunities.
“Before any growth happens, we have to make sure our current racers are happy. It would be an awful move to start recruiting new racers without taking care of the ones who brought us here. A lot of the operations have already been improved, but it's an ongoing process. There will likely be more staff hired in the future so that each person isn't having to do a dozen different jobs. This will help things run a lot more smoothly in order to keep Terrain Race efficient and a positive experience for racer satisfaction.
“We put on 65 events in 2018, most of which were at new venues. Some worked great, others didn’t. We're revisiting and reevaluating all of our options to see what works best. I’m especially excited about all of our new obstacles.
“Social media growth will be a big part of it. We know it has slowed down a lot in the past few weeks during this transition, but that's because I've been putting things together to make a big deal out of social media really soon. We didn’t want to swamp it down in nonsense posts that benefit nobody. We purchased a lot of quality filming equipment, and we'll be doing more livestream broadcasts from the events, showcasing the award ceremonies, competitive updates, human interest stories, charity features and more. It's the community that makes OCR into everything it is, so we'd be rather foolish to neglect the community engagement opportunities offered by having a quality social media presence.”
MRG: What value does volunteering bring to those looking to have an even greater experience at TR?
DD: “Honestly, this is another reason we'll probably have to raise prices in the future. Volunteers are the absolute heart of any OCR event. Without that extra staff, the race doesn't happen. We've always had a hard time finding volunteers because it's tough to convince people to do six hours of work in exchange for a race that's $20-$30. I do really wish that more people would sign up though, and I'm personally working to expand the volunteer program in order to be more beneficial to those wonderful souls who come out and join us in such a large capacity. We're also looking to expand some volunteer-specific merchandise that they'll receive for their efforts.
“Beyond that? Getting a chance to see the world of OCR from the other side is really fun and exciting. You get to hang out with the team, see how things run behind the scenes, and it really humanizes the event. You get to see that we're just a bunch of big kids who are really passionate about putting on an event that makes people happy. Most of us are athletes too, and we would really love to have their help in putting together some races they can be proud of.”
MRG: Everyone loves the big checks and those athletes lining up in the first/elite heat at TR are no exception. Will competitive racers looking for a qualification to World OCR expect any changes in TR? Judges? stricter enforcement, etc.?
DD: “One hundred percent, definitely. As we expand, we'll have more eyes on the course, as well as cameras, to watch the progress of the competitive racers and have those options available to us when someone wants to contest results. We want to keep everything as fair as possible. We'll be putting out larger prize money, and more divisions for competitors. Of course, all of this comes with the new and updated timing system to keep things accurate.
MRG: What sets TR apart from the competition?
DD: “One of the things that really sold me on accepting a position in this company was when the CEO said to me that he never wanted to do any kind of negative campaigns against other races. OCR is a community, and there's room for all of us in here. When one company finds growth and success, it's good for everybody. I think that it's really cool that Terrain Race has that kind of mindset coming from the very top of the company. That makes me feel really good about being here.
“But if I had to pick something, I would say the dedication to putting on a good event while keeping the price as minimal as absolutely possible. I don't know another event that tries to do both, but if there is another one out there, I hope they find every joy and success!”
MRG: TR is notorious for delayed results and photos. Will you be improving that process?
DD: “Yes, that's totally fair. It's a reputation well-earned, and the results of past events are unacceptable. It's definitely on our radar and these are some of the first things we started working on. Vinny is a timing professional with years of experience. He's been really working hard to repair the current timing system and get everything running smoothly, while we make plans for the best way to upgrade/replace it later. The photos are also getting handled, but it's been slow going due to some issues with the software we’ve been using. I've been told that we're using a new photo uploading system in the next couple of weeks that should greatly expedite the process of getting these photos to the racers.
“Another big issue we’ve been dealing with is out limited ability to fly out a team of reliable staff photographers to each event, due to the low prices offered to participants. In every new city, we hire local photographers and the results of these hires have a range of efficacy. Some are phenomenal, while others accept the gig and may not show up. On one particular occasion, a photographer arrived at the race, but forgot their camera. We're doing our best to overcome this.”
MRG: As far as the safety of participants is concerned, can you address any issues or complaints you’ve received in 2018?
DD: “We take safety really seriously and it's something we're constantly looking into and finding ways to improve. After working in OCR for eight years with multiple companies, I've seen essentially every kind of injury that can happen in this sport, and so many are completely needless. My heart absolutely breaks every time I hear about a severe injury because all I can think about is how happy that person probably began their day, only to have it end like this.
“We're getting the team together to go through the obstacle designs and upgrade them. This could mean anything from adding more support structure and reinforcement to redesigning the obstacle from scratch or scrapping it entirely. It's a shame that it took this long, but we're taking steps to get it done. I love the racers way too much to ever be okay with any injury. A bit of extra effort is the smallest price to pay to ensure that everyone is safe on race day.”
MRG: After a lengthy discussion with Dustin, I’m confident Terrain Race has the best interest and motivation to continue building a strong, affordable obstacle course race event. I look forward to participating in 2019. I will certainly keep an eye on all aspects of Terrain Race and will follow up in 2019 to see if we’ve noticed the positive impact of the new Race Development Team.
Thank you to Dustin and JP, who have been extremely helpful and responsive with their busy schedules.
MRG Nation, please comment below on your thoughts! I want to hear more from your experiences with Terrain Race and what you’re looking most forward to in 2019.