What a year 2013 has been for UK obstacle racing and for Mudstacle. Before awarding some new year honours to some of the events that have brightened up 2013 for us, I'd like to say an enormous thank you to everyone who has supported Mudstacle since I published our first article on a very basic blog 18 months ago. Everyone who has read the site, liked the occasional article and left a comment has made Mudstacle what is today. Without you, I'd be sat in a pub boring a few friends about my latest exploits... with the occasional "that's nice Pete" in return. Of course I'd like to give an extra special thank you to our contributors and guest writers. You guys are amazing and Mudstacle wouldn't be the same without your support.
So, enough of the mushy stuff, it's time for Mudstacle's second annual new year honours. This time last year, when I sat down and hand picked the three best events from 2012, I had no idea we would be so spoilt for choice in a year's time. The obstacle racing market has boomed in 2013 and it has made it a lot harder to pick out the very best from such an amazing selection. I've witnessed a lot of events and I have to say there isn't one that I haven't enjoyed. As far as I'm concerned that's the beauty of this sport - send me running in the mud with a few obstacles in my path and I'll be grinning from ear to ear. Of course there are some events that have really risen to the top...
Awarded to: Winter Tough Nuts (four laps of the Nuts Challenge course in March)
In an industry which is so focused on being the "toughest", this has to be one of the most sought after awards. The majority of events on the market are as tough as you make them. You could walk around the majority of courses without being enormously challenged but events come into their own when you push your own boundaries. Try running faster around a course than your average training pace and your guaranteed to make it tougher! That being said, there are a few races that stand out for toughness, regardless of how hard you hit them. Some are difficult enough to finish, let alone compete in.
When I stumbled over the line a little worse for ware at January's Tough Guy (read my eye-watering experiences here), it was hard to imagine that events could get any tougher. However, the shear magnitude of Rat Race Dirty Weekend and Man vs Mountain definitely pushed a lot of us to our limits. Of course we have to acknowledge the less accessible events of World's Toughest Mudder, On Trial and the Death Race, which undoubtedly take toughness to another level, but we'll stick to the mainstream for now.
This award has to go to Tough Nuts in 2013. With distances options between 7km and 28km, The Nuts Challenge course is perfect for first time racers who just want to have a laugh, right through to the hard core. Not all of those who picked the four lap 28km option on 3rd March 2013 knew entirely what they were letting themselves in for - one of the most gruelling obstacle races the UK had ever seen. With no less than 150 challenges per lap and plenty of cold water exposure over the course of several hours, this really was as hard as nails. Only six people finished the course that day! Truly awesome stuff. Read our review here.
Best Newcomer Race
Awarded to: RockSolidRace
We're a little spoilt for choice in this category, with a massive influx of new event brands. With three events already under their belts, it seems strange viewing Back 2 the Trenches as a newcomer, but they have built a great event series from nothing over the last year. Dirty Dozen showed some real potential at their inaugural event back in October and are definitely one to watch in 2014. Then there was XtremeSTORM, who put together a truly unique course in Southport and shattered our expectations. Tragically they didn't attract a very large crowd and haven't yet released dates for 2014. Keep your fingers crossed for their return.
The winner in this category has to be RockSolidRace. Their Exeter event in March was great, even though it had a few teething problems. However they came back in full force at Milton Keynes in October, which had to be one of our highlights of the year. Their obstacle packed course was quality through and through. We can't wait to see how they develop in 2014.
Awarded to: Rat Race Dirty Weekend
Picking the best obstacle from such an amazing selection of races is tricky. There are so many worth mentioning. Tough Mudder excelled, with a better organised Everest and the addition of Glory Blades and Gecko. XtremeSTORM had the best tyre constructions we've seen, as well as an enormously difficult overhanging wall. Total Warrior and Wolf Run had amazing tarpaulin water slides. Then Dirty Dozen and Monster Race both entered the market with some awesome big-build wooden constructions.
This award has to go to the audacious Rat Race Dirty Weekend, who went all-out to make something bigger and better than anything we've seen before. Their mission was summed up with their Guinness World Record Monkey Bars - which spanned 110 feet and had 400 rungs! Obviously that was unachievable for all but a few people but anyone who fell had to spend the remaining distance jumping crowd barriers, which was an exhausting and well planned alternative.
Best for Mud
Awarded to Brutal 10 Bordon Heaths
Mud can be one of the best obstacles and comes in many shapes and forms. Some events are lucky enough to have natural muddy sections and some work extremely hard to churn it up (with the help of heavy duty machinery and gallons of water). Particularly muddy races that stand out are Total Warrior, Pain & Suffering, Nuts Challenge, RockSolidRace and Tough Mudder's Mud Mile but one experience blew us away more than any others this year. The swampland of Brutal 10 Bordon.
Bordon's mud is naturally occurring and has the most amazing porridge consistency. It's impossible to wade through it without smiling!
Best for Trails
Awarded to Mud Runner
Mother Nature's obstacles can be the most challenging and many organisers focus entirely on trails, hills, mud and water. Hell Runner, Brutal 10 and Pain Barrier put together some amazing courses and it's hard to choose between them but this year we were particularly bowled over by Mud Runner.
Mud Runner Oblivion, Classic and Icebreaker make use of an awesome 4x4 testing track that is full throttle all of the way. The hills are relentless and the mud is never ending. If you're a mud running purist, you need to check these guys out.
Best for Value
Awarded to Nuclear Races
At some big-name events you're lucky to get change out of £100 but thankfully there are some far more affordable options on the market, otherwise some of us would struggle to get more than a couple of events in each year! There are some great cheep obstacle races - Avalanche Run, Twighlight Run, No Ego Challenge, Mud Sweat and Beer, Pandemonium, Insane Terrain and Monster Race. There are also some even cheaper mud runs - like Brutal 10 - you'd be a fool not to attend all of their events if you live south of London.
This award has to go to Nuclear Races though. As with most events, they have a sliding price structure and, if you catch them early enough, you'll get a hell of a lot of bang for your buck!
Best all round experience
Awarded to Total Warrior
Some events are slick from the minute you visit their website until the moment you drive away from their car park. As you'd expect, Tough Mudder get a hell of a lot right. It really is impressive how they can cope with such enormous amounts of people with apparent ease but heck, they've had a lot of practice! Wolf Run also have a slicker than slick operation, with an amazing course and event village to boot. RockSolidRace are heading in a similar direction but this award has to go to Total Warior.
Total Warrior get everything right. They have the most amazing location in the Lake District, with awesome terrain, incredible obstacles, slick registration, great event village and an after party worth hanging around for. You couldn't fault them if you tried. Seriously - pure class through and through.
Best t-shirt / clothing gift
Awarded to Dirty Dozen Races
Everyone loves a goodie bag! Some organisers cut back on medals, t-shirts and gifts to bring their price down, which is fair enough, but others get an enormous amount of gear together. Rat Race always have a great selection of goodies, really nice quality t-shirts and medals at Dirty Weekend, Man Vs Mountain, Survival of the Fittest, etc. Likewise with Trail Plus at Hell Runner, Beauty and the Beast and the Adventure Challenge Series. Wolf Run also give out some amazing quality and very different t-shirts. Some events went a little left-field with their gifts this year - Back 2 the Trenches gave us a tin cup, No Ego gave us headphones and Dirty Dozen gave us a bobble hat (all of which were awesome).
Here are a few of the t-shirts that I've picked up at events:
It's a really tough choice. I think the Rat Race t-shirts are the best out there, but for pure originality the Dirty Dozen Beanie (along with a t-shirt and beer) has to win the award this year, as modelled by organiser Doug above.
Awarded to Born Survivor
There are some amazing medals out there. Rat Race's are always brilliant (Man vs Mountain was particularly good), the Spartan Trifecta is a medal that means so much but the winner for this year has to go to Born Survivor with their dog tags. A couple of others have something similar but it fits in perfectly with Born Survivor's military theme.
Ones to Watch in 2014
What does 2014 have in store for us? Who knows... but let's hope we have another year where obstacle racing and mud running continues to get bigger and better. There are some high profile new events launching with April's Judgement Day promising to be different from anything we've seen before and Airfield Anarchy's big and bold entry into the market.
There are some existing event series also aiming for bigger and better things. We expect to see some really great things from Nuclear Races, who have re-branded and sharpened up the image of their Essex based events. They have a loyal following with very good reason - give them a try if you get the chance. Also, keep an eye out for Dirty Dozen. They are expanding to different locations across the country and, if their inaugural event was anything to go by, you can expect to see some pretty special events from them with some exceptionally well constructed obstacles.
So there we have it. HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone. Here's to 2014!