Mud Run Review: ABF 10K Mud Run – Medford, NJ

March 31, 2012 10K Mud Run Update: Get 20% off at check-out when you register with the Promo Code: mudrunmaniac

When: Saturday, November 5, 2011
First Heat: 9:00AM
Where: YMCA Camp Ockanickon – Medford, NJ
Distance: 10k (6.4 miles)
Participants: 500 +
Charity: YMCA – The Strong Kids Campaign
Temp at Start Time: 40 degrees

Summary: The ABF 10k Mud Run snaked through a beautiful forest landscape littered with a variety of boot-camp style obstacles such as natural log hurdles, wooden walls, rope climbs, tunnels, low crawls, swamps, inclines, declines and trail runs. Despite the ideal course layout, the event proved one of the most difficult short mud runs that I’ve ever finished due the punishing water obstacles and cold weather. However, the ABF team encouraged runners through the tumultuous conditions with a steady dose of camaraderie, fortitude and fun, and put together an incredibly challenging and successful inaugural run.

Wow was that water COLD!!
I’ve done many mud runs and this was by far the toughest! I’ve got more bruises than ever!! But it was a great time! Thanks! – Dottie (ABF 10K finisher)

ABF 10k Mud Run Review

Registration: Participants parked at nearby Shawnee High School. Registration tables were set-up to check in runners and dish out wristbands for beer, t-shirts and bibs (numbers.) Additionally, two face-painting artists were on hand for those looking to add some war paint to their costumes. Pretty cool! Participants were gathered into groups by wave times and bussed over to the start at Camp Ockanickon. Runners had several minutes prior to start time to drop off their bags at the camp and use the restrooms. Very convenient and easy.
Grade: A

Start: Racing started promptly at 9AM along a sandy driving path that cut through the center of the camp. An organizer started the clock and yelled, “Go!” and the runners quickly made their way through the gate. No smoke bombs or gunshots, but adequate, nevertheless.
Grade: C

The Course: The 6.4 mile course wrapped through wooded trails, swamps, lakes, hills and was scattered with a plethora of man-made obstacles such as walls, tunnels, hurdles, bridges, cargo-net climbs, stairs, pits and several low crawl areas. The diversity of obstacles and terrain really captured the natural appeal of the campground and the challenges of an unknown forest territory. The only thing missing here was actual mud, which was scarce in comparison to the amount of water, sand and leaves.
Grade: A-

Obstacles Overview: Again, this mud run proved very difficult due to the large span of water obstacles required, which in my estimation, comprised between 30-40 percent of the 10k course. Here’s a look at some of the obstacles in greater detail.

The Moat: The ABF 10k proved challenging from the start, beginning with the very first obstacle (or obstacles) – the “Moat,” an bone-chilling stream that runners had to cross three times. To enter the Moat, runners slid down PVC tunnels pumped with icy stream water. I plunged in head first, and received an immediate wake-up call…this was going to be cold! The first swim to safety was about 30 feet away, followed by a quick trek along the stream and back over single-file by way of two skinny ropes (think Tough Mudder’s “Ball Shrinker”). A short climb followed up the bank and then it was back into the stream to swim across to a second set of PVC tunnels jutting out from the water up a hill. Runners had to climb up the pipes with a rope tossed down the middle. For the first obstacle, this was super-challenging and hardly scratched the surface of what lay ahead. As the runners finally ascended from the Moat, myself included, their shocked faces seemed to say, “I didn’t know it would be this bad!”
Grade: A+

100-Yard Lake Swim #1: A short run followed the Moat before I faced one of the most difficult mud run challenges I’ve ever had to endure – a 100-plus yard swim across a bitterly cold lake. Impeding my smooth traverse to the other side, kayaks, about 20-30 yards apart. The idea here was to swim to the other side heading either over or under the kayaks to get there. I jumped in the water and immediately felt my bones begin to numb. I approached the first kayak and told myself, “under.” I duck-dived under the kayak and swam on. As I neared the second kayak, I chose to go over. This allowed me to rest for a few seconds on the kayak before slipping back down into the lake. The strategy seemed to work, so I tried it again at the third kayak. Except now, I could feel that my arms and legs were beginning to numb, my breath was escaping me, and I still had about five kayaks to go. I swam despairingly for the next kayak, made it to the top and tried to leap a few extra yards. The other side of the lake still seemed so far out of reach and already I was spent. I tried for the next kayak and grabbed hold of the rope as I felt my body completely weaken. At this point the only thing that saved me was an adjacent floating dock. I climbed up and got my bearings once more. After a few minutes of shivering and trying to breath, I jumped back into the ice water and finally made it, albeit exhausted, to the other side. Bottom-line – this was a true ass-kicking and nearly scared the life out of me (literally). Note: this obstacle was actually shut down after the first wave for safety reasons.
Grade: A- (difficult as hell, but maybe a tad overzealous)

The Swamp: If you’ve ever run a Tough Mudder, you are familiar with the Mud Mile, a forever-long trek through waist-high mud, usually over a series of foothills. The Swamp, in comparison, took runners through a chest-high icy cold stream. Several pits and valleys sent victims splashing head first into the murky water. Because I had yet to warm-up from the Moat and the first lake swim, the Swamp truly sent shivers down my spine. It was cold, dark and torturous. In other words, perfect.
Grade: A

The Snake Pit: Out of the Swamp and into the Snake Pit – a 50-yard gauntlet of fallen trees and sharp branches. Using the gator crawl, I made it through the first claustrophobic bunker unscathed, climbed out to daylight and hopped over a series of tree-trunk hurdles. After a short incline and yet another stream to cross, it was off to the woods for some trail running. Not too difficult, but I was happy that I was finally able to get muddy and really appreciated the effort put forth by the ABF team to use natural elements of the forest for obstacles.
Grade: B+

Barbed Wire Low Crawl: At Tough Mudder, the barbed wire obstacle is lined with string that sits just below the wire to warn you if your butt gets too close for comfort. No strings attached at the ABF! This was pure barbed wire, in its sharpest form, over a long and steady incline; those who didn’t low-crawl faced the wrath of the barbs. Luckily, a volunteer was on-hand to separate spandex from the wire, but this was as legit as it gets. Marine-made, for sure!
Grade: A+

Tree Wall: Wooden boards were hammered between two trees to form a wall. High enough to look intimidating, but not very difficult due to the friendly ladder-like placement of the boards. Although, in terms of a balanced course, it was the perfect timimg for a climbing obstacle after getting low in the dirt for so long.
Grade: B

Trail Run Inclines/Declines: A long stretch of trail running ensued, which I warmly welcomed to get my blood pumping through my veins again. At the foot of the incline, a volunteer stood and handed-out car tires. I tossed my tire over my shoulder and headed up to the top of the hill. Not incredibly challenging, but definitely fun, especially on the decline. A second tire run followed, and the course headed up and down several hills including a clamber up a large staircase. Loved this! The declines were narrow and bumpy and I was able to half-run, half-jump from point to point on the way down. A real thrill! (PS: New Balance Minimus Trail Shoes were awesome here!) While the hills were not nearly as difficult of some of the ones at Tough Mudder, they were exciting and fast, and put me in a really great frame of mind for the next set of obstacles.
Grade: B+

100-Yard Lake Swim #2: Just when I thought things were going good…yet another lake swim lie ahead. This time instead of kayaks in the way, a set of logs tied at about every 50 feet or so float in the way. After nearly dying in the earlier lake challenge, many chose to bypass this obstacle, but I was a test pilot. I used a different strategy this time through, which was basically to swim as steady and fast as possible. I was warm from running, but the water immediately forced pressure on my lungs. I swam to the first log, pushed down with two hands and propelled myself into the next stretch of water. At the next log, I felt somewhat strong still and pushed on keeping the muddy bank in my sights. At the third log, I could begin to feel myself weaken. Not to worry, a few teenage lifeguards floated nearby on surfboards. (Tough Mudder has Coast Guard in dry suits.) At the fourth, fifth, and sixth logs (there could have been more, I can’t remember), it was only pure will and desperation that got me to dry land. At the last log, I could no longer feel my arms or legs and was gasping for air. Feeling like a bloated dead body, I barely mustered enough energy to push over the log, swim a few yards and climb to the surface. Are you kidding me!?
Grade: A (Perfect distance, perfect placement in course, total fear factor!)

Walls: Throughout the course, several walls (similar to Tough Mudder’s Berlin Walls) stood in the path. The walls were set at an exhausting height of around 8-9 feet (guessing). With a running start, I was able to catch the top of the wall with one hand and hit a Primal Pull-up to kick my leg over the wall and leap down to the other side. My Mechanix gloves seemed to make the difference here, as my hand stuck on the top of the wall and provided just enough grip to reach up with my other hand and hit my pull-up. Also, grip exercises and training with Fat Gripz really helped me get a solid grab.
Grade: A

Wooden Log Balance Beams: These were hand-made and involved a cargo net climb, followed by a 5-6 foot high log that stretched over about 20-30 feet of forest floor. The logs were not very slippery, but several runners weakened by other elements of the course,  plummeted to the hard ground. I’m pretty sure my New Balance Minimus Trail Shoes gave me an edge here as I crossed each beam without a hitch. A suggestion for next time, grease-up the logs and set them over a mud pit.
Grade: C+

Hurdles: Using terrible technique, I leapt at the first 4-foot high log hurdle and got stuck on the top and immediately got flashbacks of my days as an obese pre-teen at summer camp. I quickly got my bearings and cleared the remaining hurdles with minimal effort.
Grade: A-

Other Obstacles: Additionally, the ABF team constructed several original obstacles by hand such as a rope climb through a steep wooden tunnel, steep-angled wood walls, and cargo nets. I saw teams of runners take several tries at the angled walls before finally making it over and the cargo nets took care and patience to conquer safely. Chest-high water obstacles continued throughout the course, each full of surprises in the form of high spots and low spots that frequently tripped up runners. Great design and ingenuity and use of natural elements.
Grade: A

The Finish Line: After a final high-step across a lake, it was off to the finish line. After an amazing mud run, the finish was a bit of a let-down. There was a lack of post-race commotion and the run seemed to end abruptly. On a high note, the ABF team handed out gel packs, bagels, pretzels, fruit and water, all of which I greatly appreciated.

The After Party: I met up with my friends and family, got my free Sam Adams beer (awesome!), picked up my bag and changed into warm clothes. Surrounded by hay bales, a band played folk-type music and kept the mood lively. Between sets, techno/club music piped-in, which didn’t seem to fit the atmosphere. A few stands sold food and drinks like corn dogs, hot dogs, and hot coffee. There was also a T-shirt stand with inspirational shirts at reasonable prices – $10-20. Not a bad setup, but the majority of the crowd seemed to take the first bus back to get to their cars and get home. I think a bonfire to warm-up to would have kept runners around a bit longer, or perhaps warmer weather would have done the trick.
Grade: B (great effort on part of the ABF team, but poor crowd participation) 

Conclusion: Overall, the ABF 10K Mud Run was totally worth it. It was challenging in so many ways, and I think the water obstacles alone are enough to place this run in a league of its own. What is missing from this review is the incredible effort that the ABF volunteers put into not only building this mud run by hand, but in making certain that every participant had an incredible experience. ABF volunteers trailed runners throughout the day, physically assisting them through obstacles and motivating them to continue through. With so many mud runs nowadays, it’s difficult to choose the right one. But, if you are looking for a serious challenge along with a team of volunteers that truly cares about its participants, I highly recommend you sign-up for the next ABF 10K Mud Run. Word is out that a March run is on the horizon. Check them out on Facebook to stay tuned and be sure to put this one on your 2012 calendar.

Mud Run Maniac wants to know what you think… Did you run the ABF? What was your impression of this mud run? Would you do it again? After reading this review, would you sign up for next year? Leave your comments below. Keep mudding! -Paul

9 comments… add one
  • Bruce

    My wife and I ran the 1030 wave of the ABF. Very Challenging, Very Well Done!
    We have run several other events this year and would have to agree with you about this being an incredible event that is in a league of its own.
    Your review was basically spot on. However, the first swim was still open when we went through. I experienced very similar physiological strain, but pushed through to the end without stopping (there was a girl that I was determined to beat). The second swim nearly put me out too… I was moving very slow out of the water until I caught a bit of sunshine and jumped enough to get the blood flowing again.
    I think the wooden logs we had to cross were ok… I wouldn’t grease them, but putting them over a mud pit would be a worthy addition (any additional mud would be a great improvement on an already super event). The trail was really nice and the volunteers (like you said) were the best of any event we have been to! Loved the motivational element to their team.
    As for signing up for the event in March, we’d love to… I do think the water will be even colder at that time, but we’re up for the challenge. We don’t consider ourselves mud run maniacs for nothing! ;^D

    ps My wife ran in her NB Minimus Trail Shoes too… Loved Loved Loved them…
    I ran in my Vibram Five Finger KSOs… this time with the toe socks (great improvement).

    • Hi Bruce,
      Thanks for your thoughtful reply! I’m with you that the ABF really set the bar high for mud run events, especially those working with smaller budgets. They made up for any lack of mud on the course with their attentiveness to the participants. Glad you made it through the water and so glad to hear whenever a happy couple crosses the finish line together. That’s awesome, nice work! I haven’t tried the five fingers yet, but I think I might give them a go soon. I also used the toe socks, which seemed to work nicely and kept my feet warm, relatively speaking!

      Thanks again for checking in and hope to see you guys in March!
      Best,
      -Paul

  • After completing the 12+ mile Tri-State Tough Mudder last November, I have to rank the ABF obstacles/swims equal to or harder than the TM. Overall great time and great review!!

    • Honestly Eric, I tend to agree. Those lake swims made the rest of the obstacles ten times harder. I think I’ll work on my swimming a bit more for next year and maybe take a few extra polar plunges beforehand!

      Thanks for the comments!
      -Paul

  • We had a team of 16 people complete the ABF Mud Run. We ranged in ages and fitness level and were all able to complete the run. The course allowed everyone to be successful with teamwork while still being incredibly challenging! Our team, Team Reef Fitness, had a blast and are hoping to have even more on our team for the next one in the spring. Your review was perfect!

    • Wow! Congrats on getting your 16-person team through the course. That’s a great display of camaraderie for sure and totally what the ABF team had in mind when designing this challenging course. I had a great time too! I’ll be looking out for Team Reef next year. Keep Mudding and thanks for the kind words!

  • mudrunner

    The Thunder Challenge event in North Carolina was very bad. Very small crowd, no band and people were lost from track markings. Some of the trails we were running up had the arrows painted going the wrong way!

    The Special Forces owner refused to work with the guy in Denver prior to the race.

    This is not the tyoe of company my friends want to support. Your call but I think it is a bad ideal to support Thunder Challenge.

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