About two weeks ago I was gearing up for the 5k Foam Fest in Miami and I’m just now getting around to the race reports, whoops! Busy, busy times.
First things first. I managed to get not one but two! friends to run with me, my long-time concert photography buddy Chris and his girlfriend. This was his second obstacle course race and her first, though she wasn’t sure what she was getting herself into and was visibly worried before the race started. This was an untimed race, so there are no official results but we finished in 1 hour, 24 minutes, not all of that was due running/walking, more on that later. Here’s a nice post-race shot.
But now to the race itself. The course was easy and quick, we just ran the SuperHERO Scramble Charger course in reverse, so Chris and I were already familiar with it. As I said with the Scramble, I like running in Amelia Earhart Park, it’s relatively flat, quick, doesn’t have a lot of nasty coral rock everywhere (like Oleta!) and it has about 1,000 switchbacks on the bike trails. The concept of the race — lots of foam, rather than mud — was a fun one and it made some of the obstacles that much more enjoyable. However, that’s pretty much where the love story ends. First things first, full disclosure. I was provided with two entry passes for the race in exchange for this review and race feedback. I am greatly appreciative of Chandler and Emily of Round House Racing for their hospitality at the race.
As I understand it, this is a very young race series, only in its second year, so there’s always some kinks to work out. Unfortunately, there were a lot of kinks going on here. As soon as I got there, the people manning the registration tables not only seemed unbelievably confused by what they were doing, they looked as bored as humanly possible. My line had three girls in it handing out race packets. One asked my name and marked it off, told the next one to look for my bib, while the third one actually gave me my bib and get my paperwork. Not sure three were needed but they definitely needed an energy shot or something. Past that, the rest of the volunteers looked about as bored as the registration girls, all except those officially affiliated with Roundhouse Racing, who put on the race. All those bored faces don’t exactly get you jazzed up to go run around on bounce houses.
Out on the course, things did not fare much better, actually. All of the big, signature obstacles were well-staffed with volunteers, some of whom enjoyed what was going on, most who didn’t. It was a really mixed bag of emotions out there, unlike the Spartan Race or Scramble where pretty much everyone is amped up to see people scale walls and slide through endless amounts of mud. The three girls volunteering at the first set of foam slides were very excited to see racers and who wouldn’t be? These were MASSIVE foam slides! Those were a lot of fun too, I can’t wait to see my GoPro shots from it. The people manning the first bounce house — the first obstacle we got to — were equally as geared up to watch us fly around in foam as we were about doing it. At the mud crawl near the end of the race, there was a small crowd gathered to cheer and talk smack. The volunteers were happy to be there, mostly because they got to laugh at everyone getting zapped on the back by the (mildly) electric wire we crawled under. That was…a surprise, I didn’t expect that! Downside to this: the mud smelled, quite literally, of a festering porta-potty. I’m not sure if this was by design or chance, but it definitely made you hurry the hell up.
But that’s about all the fun stuff. The only other happy volunteers were those at the end of the race and at the huge Death’s Drop tower slides — totally awesome by the way. Although, they were very lax about letting people cut in line at the slide and when you’re waiting 20 minutes to scale a 4 story slide, no one likes jackasses going to the front, even less of volunteers that let them cut, willingly. The time we spent at the Death Drop isn’t an exaggeration, I timed it. Big, big signature obstacles like these always have long lines typically for safety reasons and this was no different, but about 6 guys got to cut in front of the 20 people in front of me before the volunteer turned the rest of their friends — all two of them — back. But only after a bunch of other people complained, rightly. However, this was how most obstacles ran, unfortunately. On one of the bounce houses, a guy behind me twisted his ankle but there was no volunteer tending to him to make sure he was OK or calling for the Miami-Dade paramedics to come check him out. They were just making sure people weren’t crashing through the bounce house which was hiding a floor with holes it in (by design!) so you could bounce around and fall down to the ground — fun but dangerous. Many other obstacles — wall climbs, mud pits — had no volunteers at all. We didn’t get to do all of the obstacles listed on the Fest’s home page either, which was kind of a bummer, I was looking forward to the lilypad crossing.
So like I said, it’s a young series but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. Obstacles were spaced too far apart and for a race with eighteen different obstacles, I should have been hitting an obstacle every one-fifth of a mile or so, I think mile 2 had three of four obstacles total (if all obstacles are on the course, there’d be about 6 per mile in a 5k). They need a faster volunteer rotation too, all those long faces are anathema to a racer’s energy. I had a lot of fun during the race, thanks to the bounce houses and my friends, but I came out of this race the same way I came out of the Warrior Dash: it was a whole bunch of “meh”. Of course, this is just my observation, I saw a TON of people seriously enjoying themselves, my teammates included — Chris’s girlfriend ended up having a great time even though the cargo net about gave her a heart attack. Without them, I would have been pretty bored throughout the entire race.
In the end, will I check it out again next year? Eh, I’m not sure. On the one hand, I won’t because much of this race felt like it was run on a shoestring budget and didn’t have much pizzazz to it (contrasted, the first SuperHERO Scramble was a giant blowout fun party and it was Sean’s first race he ever put together). I don’t need a party atmosphere, a boisterous DJ, tons of vendors, or anything like that to have fun, just give me a fun course, inventive obstacles and we’ll probably be OK. Even though I received media entry passes for the race, running it this year didn’t really convince me to run it next year. The guys and gals at RHR would have to change quite a few things to convince me otherwise and just adding more foam or bouncy obstacles won’t be enough. Overall, it felt like a mixed bag of a day. I had fun, but it wasn’t solely due to the race. I’m hoping the race does improve. With so few untimed obstacle course races out there, everyone’s gunning to finish fast and not enjoy the race, but even without the specter of a fast time breathing down my neck, I didn’t have much reason to enjoy the course.
Disclosure: Race entry was provided by Round House Racing, who organized the race, in exchange for a race report. I would have written this review even if I had paid for the race, but I am very grateful to the guys at RHR for covering entry.