This article originally appeared on Obstacle Racers NZ.
Dugald Peters, Event Manager at Mule Event Management, talked about putting on public obstacle races as I met him in a parking lot just outside of the airport somewhere. I left with a business card with “Creating your next challenge” on the back.
Mule Event Management organises obstacle races in New Zealand, as well as a range of corporate and outdoor events, and this year they’ve launched two new races: ‘Obstacle Run’ in the Bay of Plenty designed by NZ’s top obstacle racer Josh Bishop, and the ‘Hunter Games’ a Queenstown based event involving three 30-45 minute rounds in an arena where runners, known as the hunted, must complete as many obstacles as possible while being chased by the hunters. These expand their existing race offerings: ‘The Mule’ which is their original race series based at their home of Queenstown, and ‘The Madness’ in Auckland. Largely we talked about The Madness, as it’s a tough course and being held near New Zealand’s largest population centre it’s an experience that may potentially attract a large number of people.
What sets The Madness apart? It’s a team-based event covering 10 miles designed by former military members with each mile having a different obstacle theme.
Last year, in 2015, I headed to the inaugural Madness to run in it myself. Marketed as “NZs Toughest All Terrain Obstacle Course”, I have to say, it lives up to its slogan. Read on for a full race review.
The Madness Race Review
We were in the first starting wave, and didn’t know what to expect. While other races may start with a motivational speech or loud pop music, this race wasn’t going to have any of that. At this starting line we were instructed to assume the prone position (lying face-down on the ground). Dugald, the Event Manager, then lit a flare and tossed it among us, engulfing most of us in bright orange smoke. While shouting last-minute words, which I couldn’t hear because adrenaline was pumping, he loaded a shotgun and walked behind us out of our sight. Our team of four had talked extensively online beforehand but, being from different parts of the country, had just met up that day and nerves were understandably high as we waited, face-down in a cloud of smoke with a guy with a shotgun (loaded with blanks fortunately) somewhere nearby, to start on a course designed by former members of the British Parachute Regiment and Royal Marine Corps.
A moment later we heard the starting shot and everyone jumped up. Go time.
The course started with running around markers in a large field before circling the edge to reach a river, which we of course had to jump into and wade across. Once out of the river and a little further up the dirt road we ran into a sign for mile 2: the log carry. At 40kg for 4-person teams and 20kg for 2-person teams, the logs were threaded with ropes. So each team member could wrap it around a hand and run together with the weight. We headed up the hill in front of us, stopping a few times to switch arms. While a post on the event’s website said if you let the log, or the later weight carry further on in the race, touch the ground you were disqualified, this rule wasn’t mentioned or enforced on the day. And it would’ve been hell if it was – as I’m sure most teams put it down at some point. The course took a sharp turn straight into a creek. After a minute of struggling we figured out we could float the log rather than hold it above the water, which made the going a lot easier. Leading downhill, the creek exited near the start of the mile so teams dropped the log at the starting pile ready for the next victims.
The next miles were a bit of a blur for me as the physical toll started to set in. Walls were positioned on the up-hill segments, making them harder than if they were on a flat. At one point electric wires were strung over what should be the gate through an electric fence leaving only a small gap to avoid a shock. Coming down a hill we hit a very long cargo net crawl. One member of our team was wearing a GoPro with a chest harness which kept getting caught in the netting and so our progress was slow. But the net crawl was a welcome movement change from running. As all the miles involved running, lots of running over varied and technical terrain.
We were the first team to hit the river crossings in mile 4. While half our team were not runners we were making good ground and had somehow pulled ahead to be leading our starting wave. Being first to the obstacles we didn’t know what to expect. The first river crossing we came across consisted of a giant net strung high over the river: and so we jumped on, barrel rolled down to the middle and found the net had just the right amount of slack to fall slightly below the water’s surface and get us wet. Following along the river’s bank, the course eventually crossed over the river again. This time there were two long ropes strung from trees on either side: two of us went on top mostly staying out of the water, while the other two of us went underneath ending up mostly in the water, as once again the rope had just the right amount of slack to sag into the water when a person’s weight was on it. Both techniques seemed to work. The final river crossing was an open swim, no ropes or nets to assist this time. We swum out and then had to head further down the river to get to the exit point, luckily in the direction of the current. It was actually rather relaxing cooling off in the river on our backs staring up at the sky – I kind of wish the swim was longer. Lifeguards were on hand if things did go wrong. We climbed out and saw the sign announcing mile 5: the upper-body obstacles.
Mile 5 had three variations of monkey bars spaced throughout the mile: hanging rings, long horizontal poles to traverse length-wise, and the classic monkey bars of perpendicular poles. One of the hardest things about them, as in all mud runs, was holding on despite hands wet from the water and dirty from the mud.
Looping back to the starting festival area, we paused at the water station in the shadow of the “trainasium” – a towering scaffolding structure which formed a barrier on one side of the festival area, focusing the crowd’s attention. Multiple obstacles were combined on the structure so that the course did an ‘S’ shape crossing over it multiple times. The first crossing involved climbing over rails, perpendicular like monkey bars but instead we went on top making precise foot placements – difficult when our shoes were wet and muddy. Each crossing took us progressively higher up the trainasium: we climbed a rope, hoped down multiple platforms on the other side, and then eventually circled around to the final crossing where after climbing a long ladder to the top floor we found two parallel bars confronting us. The wind was strong up there, and the marshall instructed us to climb on top and walk across – there wasn’t going to be any shuffling along only on hands like in gym class. Directly beneath the bars was a hole in the scaffolding floor so that one could look down and see the grass below – a three or so floor drop straight down. Two wooden boards were deliberately placed along the hole to allow enough room to see through, but not enough room for a body to fall through thankfully. While it wasn’t very hard physically shuffling across the bars, the height and the view to the ground was daunting.
We ran away from the trainasium, and as the neighbouring finish line shrunk further behind us one of our team members was hit by the realisation that we had just made it past the half way point… the course still had miles of challenges before we’d be back at this festival area again, hopefully in one piece to cross the finish line.
The next mile, mile 7: the approach, was largely open running with some dramatic hill climbing to reach mile 8: the assault. This took us through some amazing bush and a mixture of obstacles: inward slanted walls, a net crawl, and a steep hill climb with two walls at the top. By this point one of our team members was in pain as an old knee injury was playing up. Each step was clearly difficult for him. But we were committed now and quitting wasn’t an attractive option.
Climbing so high provided some amazing views over the surrounding farmland and down onto the festival area with the trainasium, which looked small this far away. At the top of the hill was mile 9: the stretcher carry. I procrastinate in writing about this section as it was the toughest and most memorable portion for me. Teams picked up a stretcher, loaded at 90kg for a 4-person team or 45kg for a 2-person team, and carried it through a mile of terrain. The course headed further up hill, and then continued uphill, and then went even more up hill. Somehow if a mile could be more uphill than downhill yet still manage to loop back on itself to its starting point, mile 9 of The Madness achieved that insanity. It was brutal. This was the mile in which I was hurting and had to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other. I wanted to stop. But in this race you’re going to have to rely on team mates as, the event’s website states, “great morale will get you through it.” If it weren’t for my teammates at the other corners of the stretcher, I think I would’ve stopped.
Mile 10 was a run back to the festival area, with a final short water crossing that we emerged from to discover four tall walls blocking the otherwise open field leading to the finishing line.
Somehow we lumbered over the walls and made it home. We were handed our race tshirts and there were high fives and hugs and back pats from our team. One of our teammates was off to run in an Xtrerra the next day (“living the dream” was his response to running two events in two days). Dealing with aching muscles myself, I left the Madness reinvigorated by how awesome the experience of successfully completing an obstacle race could be, and so the next day I went for a short run up one of Auckland’s dormant volcanoes before flying back home. I left inspired for the next race and ready to live the dream.
The Madness is a true challenge. Designed my former military, for teams, with each mile having a different theme of obstacles – this event is truly unique amongst the other obstacle races on offer in New Zealand.
I enjoyed running through different scenic types: valleys, hill tops, ridge lines, lush bush, and farm paddocks. Although there were a number of stretches of open running without any obstacles to break them up. There was a good mix of man-made and natural obstacles or features, and the starting waves worked well to avoid congestion. There wasn’t a focus on mud, as in other races, but being held on a farm getting muddy was unavoidable. There was however lots of water to wade through, which was great.
Overall it was a very technical course over grass, dirt, mud, and bush – and no pavement.
There was plenty of food vendors, adequate parking, and even massages on site. Although perhaps a limited festival area overall. But there were no showers, which was a major limitation, and no bag or key check. Bags could be left in an open unguarded tent, but it was a take your chances sort of deal. The Madness wasn’t chasing excessive sponsors so there wasn’t much for sponsor booths nor signage, which many may appreciate the less commercialised atmosphere.
The Madness is the toughest team event of its kind in New Zealand. And is actually what it says it is – in a marketplace where every obstacle race seems to describe themselves as the hardest, toughest challenge out there… the madness is actually a genuine challenge.
At a higher price point than most races in New Zealand, at $139 per person at full price, it is a commitment. However it’s a unique event amongst the NZ OCR scene.
Check out The Madness this year on September 17th 2016 in Auckland. Get in quick, as registrations close September 9th 2016.
You can find more about The Madness, Obstacle Run, The Hunter Games, The Mule and more at www.mulenz.com.