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.