Category: Interview

Reckoneer Interview

I had the pleasure to chat with Kyle Bondo from the Merchants of Dirt podcast. Kyle is a “reckoneer”, a word he’s created that is short for “recreational engineer”, meaning he’s a creator of high-quality recreational events. Besides being awesome at naming things (Merchants of Dirt? Reckoneer? I wish I had half this much creativity!) Kyle has been pumping out A+ content on his blog and podcast. If you haven’t had a chance to read his articles or listen to his podcast, stop reading this and go to his site, because he is providing incredible insight and transparency into all aspects of transforming run o’ the mill outdoor races into runaway successes. Seriously. Stop reading this. Why are you still reading this? Go to his site. Go.

Oh good, you came back. I was worried there for a moment. Since you checked out Kyle’s site, you know what he’s up to – providing his audience all the tools, tactics, and procedures possible to make their race a success. While Kyle covers pretty much all sports that have races out in the woods, he’s definitely a fan of adventure racing and discusses it quite a bit. Kyle and I had a great conversation about where AR is headed, what the sport is succeeding at and where it’s failing, and what all passionate adventure racers need to do to help growth the sport. I really enjoyed speaking with him, he’s got great insight coming from the “heartland” of AR in the mid-Atlantic and tells it like it is, calling out the sport’s shortfalls. He lays the smack down on those of us still refusing to change our methods and manners. Let’s listen to what he has to say!

90s WWE fans get the reference… credit WWE

ARHub: So Kyle, every good hero needs an origin story. What has driven you to create Reckoneer and Merchants of Dirt?

Kyle: I’ve always been a fan of solving other people’s problems, I like event planning, and always been a fan of outdoor sports. Mountain biking is the sport I’m most passionate about, but I love orienteering and adventure racing too. Reckoneer was the combing of these hobbies into something that would provide a platform to help as many other race directors as possible.

ARHub: Let’s talk about adventure racing. You’ve voiced strong opinions about the sport, both in terms of how races are being put on as well as how the sport isn’t growing like it should be. What is AR as a sport doing right and what is it doing wrong?

Kyle: Here’s what I see AR is doing that’s right:  Race organizations are adapting to the new marketing forces like social media, smarter and friendlier websites, and general marketing savviness. There are some races that have definitely figured out how to be media savvy (read about the Mind Over Mountain race, who’s knocking it out of the park when it comes to media) and are building easily digestible media products that are great promotional content, making their marketing efforts far more effective. On top of that, there are races that are making the right moves to tap into the obstacle course racing (OCR) marketing, recognizing there is always a subset of people who always need their next big thrill and want to be challenged (read about a successful marketing effort to pull in OCR athletes). And then some race directors are seeing how critical it is to lower the barrier to entry for new racers, and redesigning courses that make adoption of the basics of AR (multi-sport, navigation) as easy as possible so not to dissuade beginners.

Now, unfortunately, there’s a fair bit that AR is doing wrong. A lot of us are stuck in the past.

ARHub: Like how all us answer the question “how did you find out about AR?” with the same answer of “so I saw this show Eco-Challenge back in 1999…”

Kyle: Ha! Exactly! That was 2 decades ago! 2 decades! Mark Burnett has moved on, so the sport needs to let go of that too.

Cast photo from the 20 year Eco Challenge reunion. Credit AdventureTravelNews

ARHub: I get it. I hate that I’m as guilty as the next guy because that’s my answer too. Eco Challenge has left such a massive imprint on the DNA of AR that it’s proving to be a blessing and a curse. It’s a wicked hangover, going from massive cash prizes, national brand sponsorships, and network television contracts to next to nothing. We’re starting to see rejuvenation at the expert level, as the ARWS championship in Australia had 80+ teams and great media coverage. But because there are so many adventure racers who cite Eco Challenge as their reason for being in the sport, it’s become very hard for us to collectively let go of races that occured more than a decade ago.

Kyle: Exactly. Like I was saying, there’s a fair bit of the sport that’s stuck in the past. And not just with “Eco Challenge nostalgia”. We have no industry standard despite being a sport for nearly 30 years. There are no agreed-upon set of rules for scoring an AR, no certified officials that can judge an AR or handle a dispute, no centralized repository for results collection. AR is a decentralized sport with no headquarters element and no broader validity. Look at AR’s cousins, like cyclocross or OCR. For years, cyclocross was this fringe sport loved by just a few, but eventually, USA Cycling took control and then its growth exploded. Why? Because people could show up to a race and be guaranteed their experience would be a professional one. Because all the races under USA Cycling had to follow a set of standards. AR is this bizarre mix of a few professional races series that make up about 20% of the sport and the other 80% are “mom and pop” style races. And the discrepancy between those two groups are slowing the sport’s ability to mature.

In 2016, only 13 race organizations held 3 or more races.

ARHub: Yeah, the median number of races that a race organization puts on is 2. Besides FLX, Michigan AR, and Rev3, there really aren’t any “big” players in the industry. But because the sport is so decentralized, isn’t this sort of consolidation impossible?
And why would we even want to do this anyway? The majority of the sport is amateur, both in terms of racers and race directors. There’s only a handful of people in North America that earn their paycheck primarily from adventure racing. We’re totally dependent on amateurs to run the sport. “Consolidation” is typically a dirty word in most markets, it means things are unhealthy and need to reduce. If anything, we need more races!

Kyle: Not impossible. Very hard, and would take a while, absolutely, but not impossible. The tipping point would be once enough RDs could see the immediate value that would be provided to them by agreeing to follow a set of standards. Look at the OCR world. There are millions and millions of dollars in revenue being made by the big 3 OCR race series – Spartan, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash. These guys are in much fiercer competition than any AR race series are. Yet they’re working together to help establish international standards in order to make a bid for obstacle course racing to become an Olympic sport! You can’t become an Olympic sport without a tremendous number of people already doing the sport to begin with. How I wish AR had this problem! So to say that all the race directors in AR can’t come together and build a proper governing body is total bull. It is possible to compete in the same geographic market for racers and simultaneously cooperate to help advance the sport nationally.

ARHub: Preach, brother!

Kyle: Oh, there’s more. AR needs more visibility. The expedition ARs have got it figured out, now it’s time for all the shorter races to make their presence known. I get that it’s not possible for every race, but for those that can, the races should make sure to pass through population centers and be aligned with other events. If the local city is having some outdoor festival, or the park the race is held at is near a city, make sure the race takes the racers through somehow. Attract spectators. It can’t work for every race, because sometimes you gotta go pretty remote to get to really good racing terrain, but when you can, show your racers off. AR is horribly unfriendly for spectators. But if you can drop a TA or a CP somewhere that will get folks to want to take pictures, do it. It generates buzz, gets people to ask racers what on earth they’re doing, and makes the racers feel like badasses because they look so hardcore. Especially for the beginner friendly racers, it’s a great way to help make sure your first-time racers have a good time.

ARHub: There’s certainly no denying the effectiveness the OCRs have gotten in their marketing campaigns that show people jumping over fires while wearing Viking helmets, or disabled athletes participating in races, or a bunch of super buff folks covered in mud. It’s cool, it sells.

Kyle: Yeah, for sure. What we can’t let AR become is what has happened to orienteering.

ARHub: I’m not following. How’s that?

Kyle: Basically, orienteering, and its governing body, Orienteering USA, have closed ranks and intentionally stifled innovation and change. Instead of embracing modifications or evolutions to their sport, they’ve drawn a line in the sand and said: “it must be this and nothing else”.

ARHub: Isn’t that kind of the job of a governing body? Set up rules so there’s no debate on what constitutes a “right” race and a “wrong” race?

Kyle: Yes, but it’s not supposed to do it at the cost of innovation. Otherwise, it’s not a governing body that is growing the sport, it’s a governing body that is killing the sport. Here’s a wild idea: Why not allow GPS devices? We’re in the age of the smartphone, where at least 95% of the population can’t plot on a map and have no intention of learning this antiquated skill. And we expect them to learn this new (and somewhat challenging skill) as a minimum to participate in our sport?

the opinion of most adventure racing veterans towards phone use during a race. Time to reconsider?

On top of all the gear, time, and money required? Don’t get me wrong, I’m talking about beginner races only. But if we’re serious about lowering the barriers to entry, to attracting new racers in a competitive market, then we need to innovate. But when you look at some folks, they are hell bent on not changing their ways because it isn’t proper. The “adventure racing bureaucrats” who insist on standards that no one agreed to because that’s how it was at their race.

 

ARHub: Ahh, so like when you see someone ranting about a race that isn’t a “real” AR because it’s got rogaine-style navigation?

Kyle: Ha! Totally! Like, who the hell cares? Honestly? What’s a real AR? I don’t know because there certainly isn’t a governing body to tell us!

ARHub: Kyle, I gotta say, this has been phenomenal. I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you, it’s great to talk to someone who’s not afraid to call out their own sport on its failures, and it’s clear you’re a force for good within our community. Keep up the great work, let’s speak again soon.

 


So there you have it folks, Kyle Bondo, star of the Merchants of Dirt podcast and Reckoneer.com. If you’re not listening and reading his content, you absolutely should be, he is dialed in and pushing out A+ stuff. To recap our conversation, Kyle believes:

  • AR needs to convene some sort of governing body to help provide the sport standards and a solid foundation so that it can start to exponentially grow.
  • Race Directors need to keep innovating and embracing the demands of the marketplace. Innovate or Die. Well, not really die, but probably not stay in business.
  • AR can’t let itself get stuck in the past because “that’s just the way things are”. We’re in danger of being trapped by our own nostalgia of past years, romanticizing about Eco Challenge and Balance Bar and other former races at the cost of not seeing new opportunities right in front of us.

 

 

Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race Interview

This September, I had the opportunity to race at one of the most unique adventure races I’ve ever done. I guess that the vast majority of adventure racers in North America have never heard of the Atmosphere Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race (MOMAR), which is a crying shame, because it’s a fantastic experience that needs to be on everyone’s race bucket list. What’s critical to understand is that the MOMAR isn’t just a race – it’s an experience across an entire weekend. Where the majority of ARs focus on keeping costs low for both racer and race director, MOMAR tacks in the opposite direction and invests heavily before, during, and after its race. The results speak for themselves:

  • MOMAR sells out 5-6 weeks after registration opens… NINE MONTHS BEFORE THE RACE
  • Close to 700 people sign up for the MOMAR, with a nearly 50-50 split between newcomers and veterans
  • MOMAR has been running for 17 consecutive years (with 37 races in that time span), making it the longest-running AR in North America
  • MOMAR has become a part of its region’s DNA, with tremendous local support
  • MOMAR has become multi-generational, with previous racers’ children now getting on the winner’s podium

Now if you’re a race director, any one of those five results should set your mouth watering. 600 racers? Sold out nine months in advance? 17 consecutive years? These things just don’t happen in adventure racing. In our sport, we’re lucky for a race to stick around five years. That’s why after racing at the MOMAR, I knew I had to pick the brain of its race director, Bryan Tasaka.

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The quiet before the storm. Credit Cy Sack
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Cumberland’s outstanding trail system is a highlight of the race

The race takes place in the small town of Cumberland, out on Vancouver Island, in the province of British Columbia. So unless you’re a local, you’ve got a bit of travel to get to the race location. Recognizing that racers are giving up at least two days to participate in his race, Bryan and his team make sure your time is well spent. The Friday night registration is held at the Riding Fool Hostel with music, free beer, team photos, and swag. It’s clear to every racer upon showing up that this race is about having fun. The race itself is a fantastic production–PA systems at the start and finish, a massive inflatable arch for racers to finish under, drone photography, MCs hyping up the racers, tons of locals and families cheering on each racer, manned CPs with plenty of water and food, etc. The level of production is akin to what you might see at a marathon in a large city. The course itself is a wonderful paradox – accessible, easy orienteering, plenty of volunteers on the course, but it also features the most technical and difficult mountain biking I’ve ever done in an AR. Cumberland, BC is world-renowned for its mountain biking trails, and MOMAR takes full advantage of this, sending its racers off massive 10 ft. drops, across monster roots and rocks, and plenty of mud. My team found itself completely humbled as 16-year-olds and racers in their 60s flew past us with smiles on their faces. And then there’s the after party… MOMAR’s after party has become almost as famous as the race itself. Held at a mountain resort 30 minutes away because it’s the only venue big enough to hold over 700 racers and volunteers, the party starts with a huge buffet and goes until 1am when the live band can’t keep singing anymore. MOMAR’s after party is a critical part of the overall experience, as it’s where marriages have begun, life-long friendships created, and new teams forged. MOMAR doesn’t settle for just being a race, and the results demonstrate that Bryan has found a great formula for success.

 

 

Without further ado, here’s my interview with Bryan Tasaka, race director of the MOMAR.

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Having fun is taken very seriously at MOMAR. “Best Costume” winners get a free entry to the next year’s race. Credit unknown.

 

ARHub: Bryan, can you walk me through the history of MOMAR? I just don’t understand how a race is able to persist through 17 years. That’s got to be a record, at least in terms of consecutive years a race has been run.

Bryan: Yeah, sure. So like most adventure racers, I was inspired by the Eco-Challenge, as well as the Sea2Summit races. There was a Sea2Summit held out here in BC at Whistler and I volunteered for a few years. Until that race, I was your standard 10K runner and I had never really gotten out on the trails. But I was so impressed by the Sea2Summit that shortly afterwards, when I heard that a local guy was looking to put on an AR, I volunteered my time and skills (I was a cartographer at the time). We met at his outdoor gear shop along with two other guys who were interested. We formed a partnership and decided our first race would be in Duncan, BC. Before the race even took place, one guy dropped out. It was totally grassroots, no-frills, and I think we made around $700. But word spread and we scheduled three races in 2001. At that point, the two other partners dropped out and I assumed sole ownership of the race series. I continued to conduct races, going up to as many as five ARs across multiple venues in one year. From 2004 to 2007, I left my full time job and focused solely on directing races, so on top of MOMAR, I owned the GutBuster Trail Running Series and took on contracts with BC Bike Race and the Edge to Edge Marathon. In 2008, I got a full-time government job that was event planning focused, so I had to scale down. Oh, and I got married and had a couple of kids too. So time became a much more valuable commodity. I consolidated down to two races in Squamish and Cumberland, and then down to just Cumberland. And the Cumberland MOMAR just kept going year after year, getting better and better. Now we’re selling out five to six weeks after registration opens, with about 700 racers signing up. We’re financially solid now, but there were years that we definitely lost thousands of dollars. But now it’s a second source of income and I can hire a good contract crew which makes a world of differences in execution.  I also have a great team of sponsors who have provided amazing support. And I couldn’t achieve this success if it weren’t for my sister, Janine, and my friend Lisa — the core crew that executes the race.

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Race photo just minutes before we jumped into our kayaks. Bryan is holding the pole at the bottom center of the photo. Credit Bryan Tasaka

ARHub: Wow, there’s so much I want to unpack in what you just said. Let’s peel apart that first year. What was the difference between you and those other three guys who quit? Why did you persist?

Bryan: Well, I’m definitely passionate about producing events.  I also have a background in project management and over the years I’ve managed a celebration site for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, as well as many large music festivals.  I just love producing big events. I can create maps, I like marketing and managing brands, engaging on social media, etc. A lot of these skills have been sharpened through the 17 years of executing MOMAR and managing festivals. Even when we lost money, it’s been a lot of fun. Getting that positive feedback from racers on how much fun they’ve had, and all the friendships that have been made along the way has made it worth it even when it’s been exhausting. There’s something really rewarding about knowing you’ve created something people like that gives them a ton of great memories.

ARHub: Let’s talk about that consolidation. How did you measure the health of your organization and races so you knew when to expand vs. consolidate?

Bryan: Well, with the closure of the Eco-Challenge and Sea2Summit, a lot of racers moved on. I knew we had a good product, our after-parties were always great, our venues were fun, the races were super accessible. But 150-200 racers didn’t make the races financially sustainable. I think obstacle course racing definitely helped us regain some ground, as it started bringing people back into the woods, getting them comfortable with mud and hard work instead of just running on a road.

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Mud. Lots and lots of mud. Credit Dave Silver

ARHub: 150 to 200 wasn’t sustainable? Most ARs are happy with 50 people showing up.

Bryan: Yeah, but we spend a lot more than most races because we aim to provide a full weekend experience. If you’re just expecting folks to show up, race, then maybe get some snacks or a quick BBQ after the race and then ‘see you next year‘, then sure, you can make the race work with 50 people. But I can tell you after doing this for 17 years, if you don’t spend money on your event, if you don’t invest and provide people with a real experience they’ll remember, you won’t see them again and you won’t turn a profit. 50% of MOMAR’s racers are return racers. And they’re young. Our average racer is in their early 30s.

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MOMAR is a family affair. Husband/Wife teams, Parent/Child teams, best friends, you name it. Credit Dave Silver.

ARHub: No kidding? I’d say the average adventure racer is later 30s, maybe even in their 40s.

Bryan: Not for us. Things like the after-party, the social media engagement, the quality production of the race really helps draw out a younger crowd. We have a much longer average customer lifespan thanks to bringing in racers when they’re younger, so that they return year after year. On top of that, our race is more appealing to female racers. 45% of our racers are women. I think that’s because of the accessibility of the race, not just logistically, but also in terms of easy adoption to a sport that most people are intimidated by. We also have marketing efforts that emphasize that anyone can finish the MOMAR, not just extreme endurance athletes. So we see groups of friends doing the race together, and people who have the MOMAR on their bucket list. We’ve been in Cumberland since 2001, so we have a really strong base of support here. Cumberland is a cool little destination town with awesome pizza and taco shops, great coffee shops, bike stores, breweries, and black bears walking down the main street. We also do the race at a good time of the year. The end of September avoids most other races so we don’t compete with all of the mountain bike and trail races. And for those who take MOMAR seriously, they have all summer to train for it.

ARHub: I can’t get over the fact that you’ve got 600 racers doing an adventure race. That kayak start was crazy. How on earth do you pull that many people?

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The race start. Credit Dave Silver

Bryan:

Marketing. The majority of our marketing efforts are through social media and leveraging our mailing list. After 17 years, I’ve got a mailing list of more than 4K and a solid following on social media. But a lot of it is word-of-mouth thanks to the consistency of the race. We’ve seen impressive results from our social media content and we invest in paid social media ads. We’ve also invested in a high-quality video, which really allows new racers to get a feel for the MOMAR. A good race video can sell your race, as it makes the entire event come to life and it’s easily shareable. So you can imagine someone who’s already done the race trying to recruit their friend by showing them the video as a way to explain the whole thing. People are visual, you can’t expect them to just read a detailed explanation of the race and “get” it. We spend money to make sure our website looks great (it does), that our graphics are good (they’re beautiful), and that images are frequent so that it tells the story of the race. You have to keep telling the story over and over again. People are giving us a weekend, so we owe it to them to give them a fantastic experience.

ARHub: The guiding mission of ARHub is to help spread best practices by reducing the difficulties both racers and race directors face. What can we learn from the success of MOMAR that’s scalable across the entire sport?

Bryan: Race directors have to understand the importance of spending marketing budgets wisely. I remember reading this article about the birth of the first obstacle course series, Tough Mudder. The article talked about how the guys who started it spent $2K on the website and permits and put the other $8K on Facebook ads. And they ended up getting a massive following, which put them on the road to the success they have now. Race directors can’t just expect to focus on setting courses, getting permits, and just throwing the race info up on an uninspiring website and expect racers to show up. You’ve got to inspire, create a narrative, and promote that story to the broadest audience–and that all takes effort and money. In the weeks leading up to the MOMAR, we spend a lot of our advertising budget to boost Facebook ads. We run multiple giveaways and promotions that reach 14K+ people. If we didn’t boost the ads, they would have only reached a few thousand people.

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MOMAR’s Facebook page was a continuous flurry of promotions, engagements, and interactions

If you’ve got a great brand with a solid website, professional race photos, interesting social engagement, and you’ve got a strong product in terms of venue, race production and course design, then you’re setting yourself up to have a chance at success.

ARHub: Okay, this has been awesome. Last question, I ask everyone I interview the same thing. If you were to become an Adventure Racing consultant, what would be your specialty? What should race directors be calling you to learn more about because you’re the master?

Bryan: I think my strength lies in building a complete experience for racers. Memorable experiences. There are plenty of race directors who are better course designers or better at managing race logistics but when you look at the MOMAR not just as a race – but as an experience from start to finish – from Friday night check-in right up to Sunday morning at 1am when the band stops playing, I think you’d have a hard time finding a better overall production. So if a race director wants to know how they can improve the full racer experience, hit me up!

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So there you have it folks. There’s a lot of gold nuggets of information, so if you’re a race director, I recommend you bookmark this interview and reach out to Bryan with your specific questions about how to improve your races so that you’re delivering a memorable experience to your racers, because that’s what keeps bringing them back. Here are the key takeaways:

Racers: Put MOMAR on your bucket list. Unless you attend a huge AR with lots of production value like Cowboy Tough, you’ll likely never experience something as fun as the MOMAR.

Race Directors: Beware the “field of dreams” fallacy. Just because you built it, doesn’t mean they’ll come and race. It’s easy to fall into the trap that because you’ve built an awesome course or fought extra hard to get the permits in time, that everyone who’s interested in your race will automatically register. If you’ve got a good product, you owe it to yourself to let people know about it. And that can take money to do effectively. Invest early, invest often. Get your story out there!

Oh, and seriously, after-parties. It doesn’t have to happen at every race, but if you want to build a strong tradition, nothing helps quite like a few brewskies and a band…

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Happy Mutant Interview

Back to the Adventure Races Calendar

Adventure Race Hub’s 2nd interview is with race director Toby Evans, the man behind the recently launched Happy Mutant race series. Toby is a long-time adventure racer, having first cut his teeth at Eco-Challenge New Zealand, then continuing on through the various races in the heyday of the sport, including Eco Challenge, Primal Quest, Balance Bar, amongst others. He’s seen the sport at its peak, and then witnessed as millions of dollars left the sport following the infamous. Toby is a man driven to help the sport reclaim its glory and the Happy Mutant series represents years worth of diligent work to make that happen.

 

ARHub: Hi Toby, thank you for joining me this evening.

Toby: No problem, always happy to talk adventure racing

ARHub: So let’s talk Happy Mutant. You’re launching a nation-wide race series in a few months. That’s nuts. Nobody does that. Even the strongest run race series like REV3 or AXS keep their races to well-established locations in order to maintain a high degree of quality. What on earth is driving you to undertake such an enormous task?

Toby: Well, I’ve seen great adventure races. My very first adventure race was Eco Challenge New Zealand, and from then on I participated in lots of great races. Those races made a powerful impression on me – I’m intimately familiar with what a great race looks like. The loss of those races and the effect it had on the AR community made me want to try and bring it back. My efforts in hosting races here in Iowa, as well as running a gear store, were all cornerstones in building up the skills, relationships, and systems necessary to create and run a national series. 2016 has always been my target year.

ARHub: Okay, so how on earth are you planning on pulling this off? Do you have a network of support staff behind you?

Toby: Ha, um, definitely not. I’ve got a few key supporters providing critical help on the ground at the race locations (shout out to Emma Gossett, Rob Remmers, Mike Campbell, and Jon VonDis!) But the rest is on me. I’ve been canvasing the nation over many years, building relationships with local endurance communities and government agencies. There’s been a lot of driving involved…

ARHub: Holy cow, that’s a serious undertaking. Alright, so give me the quick pitch – Why should serious racers add one of your races to their already packed schedules?

Toby: Well, first off, my races are regional qualifiers for the USARA championship, so that’s always an attractive feature as race teams start filling out their calendars. Besides that, my races adhere to the “3 As”: Affordable, Accessible, and Adventurous. If you look at the typical entrance fee to an Ironman triathlon, it’s about $380. Our races cost $400, so pretty much on par with one the most common endurance “bucket list” items most people have. It’s 1/6th the cost of the big time expedition races like Primal Quest or Expedition Alaska. I’ve scheduled my races to fall on holiday weekends to make it a bit easier for people to fit in the travel time and vacation necessary, minimizing the cost both in terms of money and time.

ARHub: Alright, sounds like some convincing reasons. Why did you pick the areas you did? Why not just expand from Iowa to a regional series, and THEN go national?

Toby: Well, to your first question, I choose the sites because 1) they are tied to historic trails (Utah: the Old Spanish Trail, Arkansas: civil war trails, mail routes, Iowa: the Mormon Trail, Virginia: the Jefferson Memorial Trail, Nevada: Old Spanish Trail, Missouri: TBA) that are just kick ass locations. I cannot wait to hear from racers after they’ve gone through my races, I’m positive they are going to have a blast and 2) because the sport is resurging. I’m confident that now is the right time to provide this type of series to help the sport grow even more.

ARHub: Switching gears a bit. You’re outreach campaigning is impressive. Compared to all the other race series out there, you’re pushing out content across social media constantly. What’s your strategy there?

Toby: So in line with my thinking that now is the right time for the resurgence of the sport, I’ve really doubled down on securing sponsorship in order to fund the race series, provide the kind of coverage expected of a race nowadays, and give my racers some top-notch swag. I’m launching a broad-band network to provide the kind of real-time coverage filmed in Virtual Reality and 360 degrees. As for the social media outreach, well, frankly, the sport has just changed. Magazines don’t have the same reach as they once had. We have to shift our efforts. Most people don’t know me or my efforts as a racer. We’ve got to demonstrate a return on investment to our sponsors, and effective social media contact with racers is one way.

ARHub: What about overreach? How does Happy Mutant prevent itself from becoming like Checkpoint Zero?

Toby: Good question. For starters, we’re in concert with USARA. So we’re tied in with the rest of the community. Second, I’ve got very little overhead. Low startup costs. Strong investments from sponsors. I can easily adjust both forward and backwards, depending on how the first year goes. I’ve made my races all within a decent driving distance of major airports. The gear lists aren’t huge. There’s serious prize money. I’ve got a lot great reasons behind why the races will be a success. I want racers to finish a race and be pissed off that they didn’t sign up in time for the next race in the series.

ARHub: Final question. If you had to identify one specific skill that you could offer up to the rest of the AR community, what would that be? Toby Evans should be known as Mr. X?

Toby: I guess I would call myself Mr. Logistics. Between all my liaising with agencies, local communities, and national brands, I’ve learned the hard way how to get a race up and going. I’m good at thinking outside the box, something adventure racers are naturally inclined towards anyway.

ARHub: Well Toby, you’ve got me convinced. I’ll see if I can put together a team and get down to your Las Vegas race. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me and best of luck!

Back to the Adventure Races Calendar

 

Krank Racing Interview

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Hello and welcome to the first edition of Adventure Race Hub’s newsletter. Today I have with me Cory Sytsma, the Race Director (RD) for Krank Adventure Races. In true adventure racing fashion, I choose the shortest route possible, and thus interviewed a RD that lives about 10 minutes from my house. In today’s interview, Cory and I discuss the origins of Krank Adventure Races, the benefits of its unique format, the long term sustainability of Krank’s races, and the potential for growth. Enjoy the read!

ARHub: Cory, Krank Adventure Races is such a unique format, I honestly don’t know of another race series in the US that follows the same system. You put on 4 races, all about 2-3 hours long, on WEEKDAYS! How on earth did you come up with this idea?

Cory: Well, first off, I didn’t think of this format, I stole it. There used to be a race series called B.E.A.S.T. that essentially did the same. When the RD for BEAST decided to stop the series, I took the concept from him and moved the race to the Seattle area . I had been competing and helping BEAST’s RD  over the years, so I was familiar with the races. On top of that, I had been running snow shoe races up in the Cascades for a few years, so adding summer time adventure races just made sense, in a seasonal balancing act sort of way.

ARHub: That’s awesome. It’s always good to see volunteers decide to step up to the big leagues and help continue a race after the initial RDs bow out. So what’s the benefit of the weekday race format instead of your standard 4, 12, and 24 hour long races spread across a summer?

Cory: Well, a couple of reasons, both personal and professional

  1. I’ve got kids. As every parent knows, there usually isn’t much free time for personal passions.
  2. My weekends are precious. That’s when I get away from work and get to spend time with the family doing things we love. I know that’s true for everyone, and I try to respect that by offering an adventure racing experience that doesn’t interfere with that time.
  3. Less conflict with other adventure races. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, there aren’t many other AR, but even then, not holding our races on the weekends means we aren’t a competitor, but rather an enabler and enhancer for the other races. This also allows us to escape the busy weekends of the summer time, with every obstacle course race, Ragnar, Rock N Roll half marathons, etc. that competes for athlete’s time and money
  4. Minimal barrier to entry – By putting the races on weekdays, I have to make them simple and easy. This makes them perfect for beginners and limits the gear needed.

ARHub: I see what you’re talking about. By maintaining such a simple race structure, it’s easy for people to show up with their bike and some running shoes and just race! And it serves as a great “on ramp” for people who are nervous about navigation and multisport races. Not to mention it helps us adventure racers scratch our AR itch. So let’s talk sustainability and growth. So many races tend to fall off after a couple of years due to lack of interest. How do you plan to ensure Krank doesn’t suffer the same fate?

Cory: Well, I have a couple factors in my favor. As you said, the simple formula for Krank races means my time commitment prior to the race is minimal. A week before the race, I set out the checkpoints (I use simple streamers, so they don’t stand out to regular park goers). Besides that, it’s some easy coordination with the park(s) involved, maybe reserving a gazebo to serve as the HQ. The minimal footprint doesn’t cost much, so my overhead is real low. This allows me to turn a profit on the races, paying for my time and keeping the races sustainable.

ARHub: It’s a great formula, for sure. Obviously, it doesn’t replace traditional ARs, but like you said, serves as an enhancer. Maybe other race series can throw in a few week night races, so long as they’re in a major population area. So what about the traditional ARs? I know you put on a 12/24 hour race last year, but not one this year. Does Krank have an expansion plan?

Cory: Well, the long races are super time consuming, as every RD out there will tell you. We’ll see if I want to do another long one.

ARHub: So the main reason I started AdventureRaceHub.com was to help reduce one of the major pain points I saw the sport having – there wasn’t a reliable source for all races in North America. I got sick of searching old websites with data that hadn’t been updated in years. What do you think of the various issues facing adventure races and RD? Any suggestions for improving the sport?

Cory: Well, for me, one of the biggest heartaches was maps. So I built my own solution. I use Open Street Maps and combine it with Tile Mill for rendering. I’m super proud of the end result, I think they’re some of the very best maps you’ll find in adventure racing. In fact, a neighboring AR series is using me to help build better maps for their races. So if an RD is looking for help with maps, I’m available….

ARHub: Ha! Fantastic! I’m all in favor of every adventure racer helping the support in their own little way. Everyone has a skillset that can contribute to the health of the support. Any closing remarks?

Cory: Well, I  recommend to our RDs out there to focus on what you’re good at . If you like designing courses, do that. If you like marketing races, do that. But don’t waste time struggling with what you’re NOT good at – ask for help. Don’t let yourself get burnt out trying to solve problems that are way outside your scope. The AR community is fantastic and no one should feel afraid to reach out and ask others for help. If you need map help, give me a call, don’t waste hours that you could use doing something you’re better at. Reduce your pain points! Outsource!

ARHub: Well Cory, it was great talking to you. I look forward to seeing you in September, as I’ll be taking my wife to her very first race! Wish me luck!

 

You can check out Krank Adventure races at http://www.krankevents.com/ and reach him at cory@krankevents.com

 

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