Monday, November 12, 2012

Rebel Race Review

UPDATE 2 (2012-11-13): Rebel Race has banned me from posting on their Facebook page. Classy!

UPDATE (2012-11-13):  Rebel Race deleted the link to this review from their Facebook page along with some other negative reviews. I'm going to put it back and see what happens. Many thanks to Wicked Muddy for linking to my review and the NE Spahtens for allowing me to guest-post a review on their site.

On Saturday (November 10, 2012) I ran the Rebel Race in Haverhill, MA. What follows are my thoughts on the race: good, bad, and ugly.

I have to say, my feelings are mixed about this race. I had heard a lot of bad press about the races that this company organizes, but I've also seen a lot of good reviews. I really didn't know what to think, so I signed up when a discount code came my way and went!

The race was hosted by Kimball Farm. This is a working farm, which means you may experience some, shall we say, disagreeable odors. I spent a good chunk of my childhood at a friend's family farm, so I barely noticed, but others complained. This is really not a drawback in my opinion because some of the farms around here have awesome terrain for runs like this.

So here we go: First the good.

  • I have not yet run some of the bigger races like Spartan or Tough Mudder (they're on my calendar for 2013) so I'm not familiar with all of their obstacles. That said, Rebel Race has one of the most fun obstacles I have ever encountered: a long mud/water slide that ends in a three-foot-deep mud pit. You hit that pit so hard and fast that before you realize it, you're up to your neck in the stuff. Awesome! Ruckus has an even longer slide at the end of their race coming down from Mount Ruckmore. You land in a pile of straw but a mud pit like this would be much more fun!
  • The eight-foot walls were rather Spartan-like. There were few footholds going up, but the other side was just a smooth wall. Drop, jump, or hang off of them, your choice. Pretty standard fare.
  • The fifteen-foot ladder wall kind of freaked me out. I'm not overly fond of heights and this one gave me second thoughts. Going up was easy enough, but getting over the top and climbing down was hard for me personally. It definitely got my adrenaline pumping!
  • There was a cargo net over another fifteen-foot wall. Again, pretty standard, but still fun. It reminded me of the ones at Ruckus this past summer.
  • The terrain was more challenging than I expected! Kimball Farm has some serious hills that are really rocky and steep. You know the stories our parents used to tell us about walking to school, uphill, in both directions? This course felt like it was uphill all the way. My legs were burning about half-way through.

Unfortunately, that's where the good ends. Rebel Race has sparked a lot of controversy around itself over the past couple of years, and I don't think they've really learned their lesson.

  • Parking was $10 per vehicle, cash. Seriously??? This is a money grab, pure and simple. They could probably make more money by raising their entry fee by $5, but then it would be reportable to the IRS. When you park and hand the attendant a $10 bill, who knows where that money is going. Am I being too picky and cynical?
  • Lines at the check-in table were insane. I quickly realized that the bottleneck was that there was only one person running for shirts for all of the lines. I think there were eight people in front of me when I got there, but it took nearly 20 minutes to pick up my bib and swag.
  • The person who checked me in never asked for my "death waiver". They had a stack of blanks on the table, but never said anything to me about it. Sloppy.
  • The swag amounted to a white cotton T-shirt and a small bag. My bib had a bag-check tag included, but I just shoved everything in my CamelBak because my heat was scheduled to start about seven minutes later.
  • Did I mention a bag check? Yeah, the line for that was longer than all of the checkin lines, combined. I didn't even try to go there.
  • Part of the swag included tickets for food and beer. I joked about free beer and the attendant said, "Oh no, the beer isn't free! The ticket simply allows you to purchase food and beer from the vendors." WTF?!? Every event I've been in, except for one small local run, had a free beer for every racer. In my mind, this is just another money grab.
  • Let's talk about lines again, this time at the obstacles. The slide and the rope traverse had extremely long and slow lines. Put another way, my course time on my watch was a minute more than an hour. On my GPS, which pauses the track and timer when standing still, read around 40 minutes
  • Most of the obstacles didn't have any attendants that I could see. Just for safety's sake if nothing else.
  • Speaking of safety, the last major obstacle was horrid. Rebel Race's signature obstacle is the "Rebellious Rope", which is a rope traverse over a body of water. You hang from it and pull yourself over the water. If you fall off, you get wet (and muddy). Sounds like fun, right? I was really looking forward to this one given that Kimball Farm is located on the Merrimack River.

    This was not the case at all. The ropes were suspended over a rocky pit that was filled with round hay bales. A quick lesson in hay baling from this old country boy is probably in order: Round bales are up to six feet in diameter and top out at one ton (2,000 pounds) per bale. Round bales are preferred to square bales because they are more tightly compressed, which means they are very hard. Does this sound like something you would want to fall on? Not so much...

    At their highest point these bales were about eight feet below the ropes. It appeared that they were just thrown in the pit with a bucket loader, so it was possible to fall ten feet or more before landing in between them, possibly on the rocks. And that's exactly what happened.

    One poor runner got 90% of the way across and fell. Seconds later they were calling for a medic. I didn't see it happen or get a good view of the person who fell, but I'm guessing a broken ankle or leg was the result.
  • The worst part? I didn't see a single EMT on site. Not one. When that person fell off the rope, it took fifteen or twenty minutes before I saw ATVs driving up the hill or heard an ambulance siren. The big-name races, which Rebel wants us to believe that it is one of, have at least two or three ambulances on standby and ATVs or Gators gassed up and ready to go. Injuries do happen—that is a fact of nearly every sport. We will judge you based on how you handle these issues and right now, Rebel Race has a failing grade.
Will I run this race again?

I have been struggling to answer that question, because the race itself was actually a lot of fun. However I think the bad outweighs the good.

Rebel Race has a lot of problems that need to be solved. Safety is paramount. People do get hurt participating in these races and that's just a simple fact. You can get hurt playing any sport, so this is not a knock against obstacle racing at all. How an event organizer steps up to deal with accidents tells the tale, and right now their story doesn't have a very happy ending.

Lines are bad. I heard someone say that the wait at the rope traverse was over an hour. That is completely unacceptable!

I'm going to post a link to this review on their Facebook Page and hope that they don't censor it as they have many others. They seem to be adverse to negative reviews and delete posts that they don't like. Maybe if they read them and heeded what their participants say, the race would be better.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments.


  1. You know my thoughts on them - just the fact they delete feedback from their FB page is enough for me to steer clear, but hearing dangerous obstacles and lack of medical support? I don't care how fun the rest of the event was - if I'm the guy falling off a rope, or getting caught by equipment failure - thats a much higher priority.

    There are LOTS of other races that will get my support.

  2. Amen, Paul. I may have gotten my race registration couponed, but I'm certainly going to ask for my money back. There were some serious safety violations and deviations from what was promised. I've been and run all the races - Tough mudder, spartan, etc, and been staff at the mudder. The level of professionalism at the rebel makes me laugh.

  3. I posted a review on blog also.

    I really like yours. It's crisp and to the point. You seem to have had more positive to say about this race than I did. Thanks for the post!

  4. It bothers me a lot bit that the company that organized it can't take or permit constructive criticism. I keep checking Facebook to see if photos are up, but I noticed they keep removing negative feedback, esp. a concern considering that some of the issues existed in prior races the organizers had. Even the link to this blog appears to have been deleted. Maybe someone will create a "Truth about the Rebel Race" Fan Page where posts can be made w/o getting deleted.
    I hope if they try to operate the race next year that whatever town it's in will be aware of the serious risks involved by the poor management/organization of the race organizer. From what I could tell from the posts were deleted, there were quite a number of serious injuries - 1 woman fractured her ankle when she hit a rock at the bottom of the mud slide & others got bruised legs, I saw a man who appeared to have a concussion from falling off the monkey bars (bad idea to have people get wet then hang on metal bars), a couple of people fell and hit rocks on the rope traverse incl. 1 woman hit her head when the anchor rope gave way, injuries from rope traverse because the wrong type of rope was used, and a couple of complaints of people hitting knees on rocks while crawling under barbed wire. I consider myself lucky that I just have bruising on my ankles from the rope.

  5. Hey there! I was at the Rebel Race on Saturday as well and think all of your comments are spot-on. I think that the fact that they didn't have personnel at each obstacle (even the 20-foot flag wall?) was pretty irresponsible. I would also add that I got REALLY SICK from the cheeseburger I waited in line for 40 minutes to get. Spent the rest of the night thinking I may die.

  6. This is a very accurate review - I enjoyed the race overall, but found the lack of staff and signage on the course to be at times confusing (there was a point not long after the rope traverse where a hairpin turn was needed - one of the farm workers happened to be there and told me and a few other runners which way to go - otherwise I'm pretty sure we would have followed the road over to the other side of the farm) and also dangerous. I had what I thought were long waits at some of the obstacles but not the 45 minutes to an hour that I've read from other posters, that's just ridiculous. For the most part, I thought the obstacles were good, but that rope traverse - it just had trouble written all over it - the rope was too thin, it wasn't over deep water to catch fallers, it was seriously a messed up situation. Of course we all assume risks in doing these things, but you should be able to count on well-designed and sturdy obstacles, and that one just was not. I did enjoy the overall experience, but would probably not put this race in the rotation again - there's simply too much out there that's better.

  7. Thanks for your post! You are spot on with everything! I got to run this on with my 11 yr old daughter and I cannot even begin to tell you how scared I was with fear that something would happen to her during the race! She runs much faster than this old lady! Trust me I ran faster than normal Sat, just because I wanted to get to the end and make sure she was safe and sound! I was happy she skipped the rope traverse as did I when I watched someone fall hard into the hay...didn't look appealing to me and I wasn't risking a broken bone or injury for "fun." I also felt there were a lot of bad attitudes around me, maybe people were just feeling how we all are about how mismanaged the whole event was? I don't know? I just know, I won't be bringing my child to another event like that again. I'm just happy there were some great people running during the 9:30 heat that helped her through the course with some of the obstacles.

  8. Myself, wife and 4 inlaws ran this race. We went off in the 930 heat. My inlaws helped a young girl through some obstacles and appreciate your thanks since I doubt that there were 2 young girls alone on that obstacle course. Most of us did the Tough Mudder @ Mt. Snow last may, did the Warrior Dash @ Gunstock this past sept. So we have seen a few of these now, the good, bad and ugly. Overall, the Rebel Race was fun, we liked the obstacles with the exception of the rope traverse, the only one I skipped and the one I scoped out and decided was too dangerous. We liked the terrain, lots of rolling hills you could actually run rather than be gassed out after hiking ski trails. Since we were early, we did not run into any big lines but did at end of race getting bags back. Overall, the event needed more staff to handle the volume. It seemed apparent that the event planners needed a lesson in logistics. One thing participants may not know about this event is that it got a lot of resistance from the surrounding community. They could not give away that free beer due to local liquor laws and had to resort to the ticket approach, which is why you got two tickets in your race pack. The neighbors to the farm were negative about this race and depicted it as a drunken free for all which it was not at all from what i observed. I did see one local who lived next to the farm who had gated off his driveway and was looking very vigilant, only thing missing was his shotgun and a few overhead warning shots. As for some of the criticisms concerning parking, directions, and everything else, these are all valid until you compare to the other races out there. We had to pay more to park at tough mudder and warrior dash and tough mudder charges spectators along with the spartan races. There were times in all those courses where you werent sure which way to go and had to rely on others. These races are fun but be obviously aware they are dangerous, the event planners are intent on separating you from your money just like any other event and any event can fail logistically when it is overwhelmed. I think these are not races but events where you try to do things you normally wouldnt. Timing yourself is for the narcissistic. If you want to race for time, run a 5k. You should work on getting in shape for these and not do obstacles you have a personal fear of or you dont think you can do safely. I dont think these races are for kids. It should be 18 and over. The Spartan race does a specific kid race at their events that is scaled down and parents can run with their kids. Check those out instead. I would consider running the Rebel Race again if they had it at that location, it was very nice looking over the Merrimack and close to inlaws and a free place to stay with a hot tub. Obstacle races are getting a lot of attention due to skyrocketing popularity and there will be good with the bad. Read about the first Tough Mudder and some would interpret it as a failure due to the many mistakes that were made. Finally, there is a reason to make you do the monkey bars with wet hands, dirty and tired. Its not to make it easy on you, it is to challenge you. If you slip and fall, get back up and do it again. If this is not your thing, then at least you learned you are better off doing something a bit more sedate, like a triathlon or not doing anything like this again. As for medical support, exactly what do you expect, Boston Lifeflight landing in the cornfield? Since you signed the waiver, you basically told them you have no expectation for medical assistance. No whiners.

    1. If that young girl was wearing a red tank top and purple shorts, than that was my daughter. And I would like to say a HUGE THANK YOU!!!! I was trying to find anyone there who helped her through the course to personally thank people, but was unable. I run much slower than she does. She's my little Flash as we call her! So thank you for your help either way it's nice to go to these races and have people help each other out! I know a nice gentleman helped me over one of the walls. So thanks again! :)