The McDonald’s Mud Muster 2015 took place Saturday 17th October. Being a Wanganui race and being a Wanganui inhabitant myself, the race was on my must attend list!
It was organised by Sport Whanganui with naming rights sponsor McDonald’s. Sport Whangnaui has a wealth of experience in OCR management – also organising the Mitre 10 MEGA Tough Kid series in Wanganui and spin-off races the Downs Group Rangitikei Tough Kid and Waimarino Tough Kid and the cancelled Urban Assault. With that experience plus the knowledge from being a regional sports trust, it’s a fair bet that the Mud Muster would be a quality event.
Sport Whanganui organisers hard at work
There was plenty of sponsor support, and I volunteered last year helping to find prize sponsors so it’s very cool to see sponsors returning, including Obstacles Racers NZ and Lazer Overload who I’ve started working with in the time period between last year and this year (so have to shamelessly plug them by linking to them). There was also plenty of promotion leading into the event, including a Mud Muster themed car routinely parked in various locations around Wanganui giving out chances to win free entry, and free training sessions in the lead-up to the race from Wanganui Bootcamp. I tried to make it to every session, but then was away for two weeks and after that just got lazy and didn’t get up early enough to do the rest. But with my other training I was feeling a lot fitter than I was running in last year’s Mud Muster.
The Course and Race Experience
The Mud Muster, now in its third year, changed venue this year to the Shelter View Jetsprint Park – a Jetsprint track built on a farm in Upokongaro a few minutes from Wanganui. It was easy to find, with adequate parking, albeit quite a long walk from the parking to the race festival area. The festival area was well populated with amenities of hot showers, changing tents (although the women claimed both tents, leaving the men to get changed outside on the paddock), plenty of food options, plenty of toilets, music, and more.
After getting situated and changed, it was time for the first wave to go. The new venue meant a new course! So we were in for the unexpected.
The first wave crossing the starting timing line
It opened with a loop around the Jetsprint track, previewing a notable feature of the course which we would loop back to and tackle as the final section before the finish line. Continuing around the Jetsprint track, a bank of pine trees slowly blocked out our view… we had entered the suck now, as we started a hill climb – which, according to what some of the organisers were saying, was 1km long.
Embrace the burn of the hill ascent
Having such a long hill right at the opening of the course made for an interesting mechanic which thinned out the pack of runners right at the start, separating those who were there to run competitively and those who just wanted to survive the distance. This resulted in a unique racing experience on my part as we all settled into our positions early.
Part way up the hill was someone stationed with a hose spraying runners and creating, of course, mud. It was kind of a lame obstacle… just running through a hose. But it made for some good photo opportunities, before the course ventured through the first water crossing of a lake – although we only had to skirt the edge of the lake to reach the exit point and not go fully into the deep.
A hose obstacle – fun for the whole family
The first water crossing
The hill leveled out for a well-placed break, which included a wall of hay bales to vault over.
Me stepping down the hay bales
After the hay bales we hit the even harder section – the hill changed into a steeper ascent. I sighed as the runners in front of me hit it at a run… while I dropped down to a power hike. By the top I had settled into 5th position and watched as the people in front achieved the summit and run right past the water station, thankfully placed at the top of the hill for a well needed break. I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain the pace of the people in front, so I reset my objectives and vowed I’d keep 5th position until the finish line and fight to not let anyone overtake me.
After the water station the course veered to the left, with an amazing down hill run leading to a water slide.
The water slide
Then to a second wall of hay bales, which marked the turn-off point for the 3km course distance. I had signed up for the 10km distance (ie two laps of the 5km course. There was also a shorter one 3km lap option). Running with the 10km pack, we all pushed past the turn-off and continued downhill – making trail running shoes a major advantage. This was the second race I’d run wearing my New Balances and they performed well – providing good grip on the hills going up and down and draining water fast after the water crossings. Trail running shoes which their tough grip are a must for mud running, especially going as fast as you can down a hill, and I’m not sure how I managed before I had a pair.
The downhill lead to a second water slide. Although this one didn’t work as well as the first. It either wasn’t a steep enough hill where it was placed or some other malfunction, as sliding down the water slide didn’t work and made for slow going. The runner in front of me just ran down it on foot. I opted to slide, but soon regretted it as the guy in front of me pulled ahead further.
A water crossing and a swamp area lay at the bottom of the hill. The frontrunners were some distance in front of me now but still within sight. They were almost through the swamp by the time I hit the start. It started mild, with dirt churned into mud and a small stream at the bottom of the valley. One could get good footing if you were careful. Unfortunately I wasn’t too careful – I took a wrong step, sinking a foot deep into the mud, and faceplanted. I pulled myself up quickly but realised I had torn three of the pins out from the racing bib pinned to my shirt. I shuffled as fast as I could while re-pinning the race bib and trying not to fall again. This was my fault for messing up my foot placement, and it cost me in time as the runners in front of me pulled ahead out of sight.
The swamp at the bottom of the hill
And then the course changed into a deeper swamp, which was more water than ground, with clumps of grass spotted around the place like miniature islands. This part was my favourite section of the course – as it was difficult to progress through, and you couldn’t tell exactly what was solid ground and what you would fall through and hit water again because it was just a clump of grass. Everyone got wet and muddy in this section.
Emerging from the swamp and leaving the hill descent behind, running on flat ground was freeing.
Breaking up the running was a cargo net crawl and two walls… except, I would barely call them walls, rather “fences” as they had gaps which you could climb up like a fence rather than a wall. These were an oddly designed obstacle, considering solid walls are a staple in most OCR events. It’s interesting that the Mud Muster opted to change the well-tested design, effectively making the walls easier and requiring more lower body as you overcame them by pushing off the gaps which your legs, rather than upper body obstacles as you pull yourself up a wall with your arms. EDIT: browsing though the organiser’s other event, the Mitre 10 MEGA Tough Kid, I perhaps found the reason the walls were designed with foot holds to make them (too) easy to overcome – as shown in the photo below, it looks like they were built to be used in both the Mud Muster and the Tough Kid by children, thus they have to be achievable by children as well as adults. While this is an awesome way to reuse resources it made for not very challenging wall climbs during the Mud Muster.
A “wall”, from the Mud Muster (shown in the photo as used in the Tough Kid) – notice the easy foot holds and the low height
For comparison, here’s a wall as seen in The Madness recently in Auckland (with members of the Wairua Warriors conquering it):
A real OCR wall, from The Madness – notice the lack of foot holds and the top being over head height
I find it interesting that both these wall designs look to be collapsible – designed so that the planks can slide out for easy transport. But moving on from thoughts on wall design…
The course was then an open run along a dirt road overshadowed by trees which made for peaceful running as the festival area emerged into view. The course briefly passed through the festival area and the crowd before heading under a bridge and into water. This was the start of the Jetsprint track. Much to my amusement there was a frog desperately swimming away from me as I pushed forward, and I’m sure much to the amusement of the race organisers they had before the race mentioned there were eels in the water – making people nervous of this section. It’s a good experience from OCR when you’re part scared/part excited coming into a race. Who knows what else was in that water, but it was interesting wading through as the floor was concreted with a layer of mud on top, making it mostly flat and so you didn’t have to be as careful watching your foot placement as you would during natural ground. The intended use of the course as a Jetsprint track meant there was plenty of locations for spectators to watch. Having the festival area right next to the track, made this the perfect location for spectators.
Bouncy castles are fun for grown-ups too
Spread around the water were islands, with some including obstacles. There was a crawl under a tarp and even a bouncy castle which was, I believe purposely, not fully inflated making it difficult to run over at speed. It was harder than what your kids do.
We stormed through a final long water crossing, under another bridge, and then finally emerged from the water to cross under the arches and over the timing line! The 5km runners finished here, while the 10km runners runners such as myself looped into the course again to take-on a second lap.
On the second lap, we hit the hill for the second time and the runners were well spread out by that point. Again, the hill was the defining feature for placings as it thinned out the pack again. Perhaps recovering some time after falling earlier in the swamp, I could see some of the runners in front again. But by the top I had lost sight of the runners in front of me – and I never caught sight of them again for the rest of the race. The Mud Muster was won or lost on the hill. I could however sense the person behind me and see him over my shoulder… but by the top I had widened the gap, and then finally got out of his sight reaching the summit. I was no longer in threat of being passed. And so from there on the rest of the race was struggle running solo, without other runners in front or behind – it was also a struggle to dodge the 5km runners now on the course.
After the fist lap of the 10k the 5km runners were set loose, making the course a mess. People were running everywhere blocking up every obstacle. For the competitive runners doing two laps, the first lap was great as it was open from too many people and allowed for an interrupted race experience. But the design was that the 5km one lap runners start inbetween the two 10k laps, and so (for the competitive runners) the second lap became annoying: obstacles become choked and you could no longer run to your limit. I’ve seen and heard about people running competitively using various strategies for dealing with the holdups: from shoving people out of the way, to yelling at people to move, to patiently dodging people. Fortunately the Mud Muster course was wide enough at most parts to make overtaking easy enough.
In saying all this, it’s true that the majority of the people out running on the course aren’t there to run for time, they’re there to run for fun. And for these people it’s actually quite fun and energising to run on a course packed with people. The people around you are taking on the same challenge as you, overcoming the same obstacles, and pushing you along with them. There’s an energy as you get muddy together and have a shared experience of pushing outside of the ordinary. It comes down to a conflict of different goals for racing: competitive vs casual. But the beauty of OCR compared to many other racing based sports is that the elite and casual runners are often on the same course at the same time.
The second lap was more of the same fun as the first!
2015 vs 2014
The new venue at the Shelter View Jetsprint Park was great. However in previous years the Mud Muster was held at the Rangitikei Farmstay, which is now being used by another race – The Mudder. You can check out my video preview of The Mudder course here. Which course did I like better? The Jetsprint or Farmstay? I have to say the previous course at the Farmstay was better – because in terms of obstacles it had more natural features than the Jetsprint venue and while, there weren’t many obstacles used, it did have things such as a permanently installed wall. The previous course just felt more engaging running it. The good news is that if both races continue, there’ll likely be the opportunity to run both courses next year.
Male 19-39 10km 1st Angus Mckelvie, 2nd Josh Payne, 3rd Max Bell
I’m proud to have achieved my goal I set during the race – of maintaining 5th position without letting anyone pass me. This meant I achieved the podium, coming in 3rd place (while 5th overall, I was 3rd in my division). Training with Yancy Camp now, I have a long way to improve my fitness until I can be really competitive. I’m going to return again fitter next year.
|10km Male Overall
||10km Female Overall
Full results available online.
This year introduced medals for the podium placers. Spot prizes were given out to lucky entrants, using a system of drawing beforehand and then having a board up at registration informing people if their name has been selected.
Overall it was a great event! Fun and challenging.
The course was easily accessible for everyday participants. And accessibility is what OCR is about: about claiming how “hard” and “tough” your race is but at the same time targeting the mass market and making it accessible by everyone. But the course was a runner’s race and could’ve used more obstacles – there were only a couple of walls, a couple of hay bale barriers, a couple of crawls, and a couple of slides, and plenty of water crossings… oh, and a bouncy castle. Of the obstacles present, none were particularly difficult.
While it didn’t have as many hills as the location used in previous years, the Mud Muster was won or lost on the long hill climb it did have: you gritted your teeth and pushed through burning thighs to make ground, or you stopped to recover and lost your placing. From the perspective of competitive obstacle racing, it was a hard opening to a course but a very interesting one which thinned out the runners immediately and setup the positioning for the rest of the race (at least that was my experience from where I was running in the pack. Others are other positions might’ve found the hill functioned differently).
The festival area around the start and finish line was well populated. With plenty of food trucks and tents present. The free hot showers were a welcome addition – which I wish every race had.
Overall, the people I met and the experience of meeting them were great. I chatted with some people about mud running and about Obstacle Racers NZ, and chatted to someone about getting into training with them. Part of the benefit of a race is the social aspect – as anyone can, if they’re that way inclined, jump over walls and run through mud on their own for free. But coming to a race is a coming together of people from various backgrounds, fitness levels, ages, and motivations to all run the course together through mud and obstacles.
The tentative date for the Mud Muster 2016 is 15th October. You can find out more information from Sport Whanganui or the McDonald’s Mud Muster website.