Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tundra Challenge Review

My dad, The Husband, two of dad's friends and I took on the inaugural Tundra Challenge event.  The event's website promised 3.5 miles of tundra and over 15 obstacles: including snow walls, crawling and sliding through icy tunnels, a foggy wind tunnel, climbing a 12 foot cargo net, and a leap over flames to the finish line.  After the incredible experience The Husband and I had doing the Warrior Dash last summer, this sounded like a similar event - but snowy!

Unfortunately, the event was a colossal disappointment.  I think the best way to explain the disappointment is to compare what was expected versus what actually occurred.

Expected: Pre-race packet pick at a location to be announced on the website a week prior to race day.

Actual: Multiple calls and an email went unanswered.  The Husband finally got a response to his email telling us that we could pick up our race packets on race day.  No information was provided on the website.

Expected: At packet pick up, participants were to verify their identity with a government issued photo i.d. and turn in a signed waiver to receive a free hat, race bib, beer coupon, and a timing chip.
Actual: There was one woman at a table checking people in, not bothering to check i.d.'s. Even though we registered over a month ago, she couldn't find our names on her list.  She just handed us a race bib and wrote our names and bib numbers down on a sheet of paper.  There were no hats, beer coupons or timing chips provided.  It turns out that the event wasn't going to be chip timed after all!

Expected: 15 crazy, challenging obstacles that were designed by a military expert.
Actual: 10 obstacles that were poorly constructed, and nothing like what the website described.

Almost immediately after the start, we encountered  Obstacle #1:The Great Walls of Snow (3ft & 6ft snow walls according to the event website).  First of all, I don't see snow walls, I see some plywood being held up by 2x4's! Second, these walls were much higher than 3 & 6 feet respectively. My best guess would be about 7 & 9 feet since both of them towered over The Husband (he's 6' 1"). The two 'snow walls' were pretty much impossible to conquer without a serious boost from teammates.

Now, lest you think that the only reason I needed help on this obstacle is because I'm somewhat vertically challenged, below is a picture of my 6 foot tall Dad making a solo attempt before accepting help from the team.

Obstacle #1 was quickly followed by Obstacle #2: Helsinki Hill (advertised as a 205ft climb to the top). This obstacle was the closest thing to what was advertised that I saw all day.  The long series of steep switchbacks was tough!

At the top of the climb we were met by Obstacle #3: The Suicide Slide (not on the sample course map, but heavily featured in a promo video on the event website). The so-called 'Suicide Slide' was actually a short slide down a hill on a plastic saucer - and the most fun obstacle we encountered.

What wasn't so fun? Having to run back up the hill to return the saucer (no volunteers or race staff anywhere) and then run back down the hill.

After this we ran/hiked/walked for quite a while before coming to Obstacle #4: The Matterhorn Travers (sic) (teetering slippery planks per the website). The reality was a far cry from the expectation. The only real challenge was trying to walk across 2x4's in snow-encrusted shoes.
After Obstacle #4, it was a long, winding, and rather boring run across a snowy golf course.  I was beginning to think that the course was mis-marked or we took a wrong turn when we finally came up to Obstacle #5: The Kodiak Krawl (which was supposed to be dodging snowballs while crawling under a cargo net).  Again, this obstacle did not even come close to meeting the expectations.

Where's the cargo net?  Where are the snowballs?  They didn't exist!  What did find at this obstacle were the only volunteers/staff we saw all day. We chatted with these two fine folks for a minute and discovered that they were unpaid volunteers who had been dropped off with no instructions of what to do, no idea of when/if they'd be picked up, and no directions back to the start/finish line.  Oh, and notice how the young lady is holding one of the 'cargo net' stakes in her hand? Yeah, the stupid thing was broken and they were given no supplies to fix it, nor any way to call for someone to fix it.  In my opinion, this is not the way to treat volunteers!

After the 'Kodiak Krawl' it was a long (I'm thinking well over a mile) run/walk/hike to the next obstacle.  At this point, I pretty much mentally checked out.  I was bored.  I was tired. The water station that they promised on the course had yet to materialize, and it turned out it never would.  At long last, we came to Obstacle #6: Koryak Cargo (advertised as climbing up 12 foot high cargo nets).  I think the pictures say it all.

It took multiple people to get each person over this plywood cargo net.  And again, there wasn't a volunteer or staff member anywhere.

After the knee-crushing landing, we headed out on a long, desolate, very serpentine route before finally discovering Obstacle #7: The Badger Crossover (crawling over and under icy cargo nets). Again, I think someone didn't understand the definition of cargo net, because this is what we found.

Following Obstacle #7 was another long, circuitous stretch of nothing-ness.  At that point, we were all thoroughly annoyed and ready to be done.  At long last we came upon Obstacle #8: Ural Mountain Pass (crawl and slide through icy tunnels). Since disappointment seemed to be the operative word of the day, this sight didn't even surprise us anymore.

This plywood structure, topped with tarps or trash bags (we couldn't decide which it was) was actually more like a semi-dark rat maze with no cheese at the end! Fortunately Obstacle #9 Whirlwind Whiteout (a foggy windy tunnel) was in view and just like it's predecessors it was nothing like what the website led us to believe it would be. It was just a straight plywood tunnel topped with the same tarps/trash bags as Obstacle #8. 
I am only smiling because I know the 'race' is almost over.
Finally, it was time for Obstacle #10: Tundra Toast (hurdle over or around live fire!). And of course, this obstacle didn't fail to disappoint.
Yes, dear reader, that is a paltry pile of Duralogs that wasn't so much flaming as it was smoldering.  It wasn't even worth jumping over.  A nice solid step sufficed as seen below.
At the finish line, the disappointments just kept coming.  There was one race official (determined only by the fact that she was holding a clipboard) asking people for their bib numbers as they came across the finish line.  No one directed us where to go to get our beer tickets or where to find water/food/etc. Fortunately my brother, who came along to spectate, had seen little packages laying on a table when he darted inside to use the restroom and snagged one for each of our racers.  It turns out that these little packets each contained: 1 beer ticket, a Tundra Challenge sticker, a 5-stick pack of gum and a little-bitty plastic dog tag finisher's medal.  If he hadn't seen them laying around and grabbed them, I doubt we would have gotten them at all.

After procuring beer tickets, we trooped inside the 'Warming Tent' for what was supposed to be a finish line party.  Again, we were met with a stark difference between expectations/advertising and reality.

Expected: A rockin' finish line party with "Music, Drinks, Food and Merriment" (quoted from an email sent out by the event organizers 2 days prior to the race).
Actual: A mostly empty tent with an empty platform where a band/dj could have set up. A choice between Guinness, Miller Lite, soda or water in exchange for a beer ticket or cold, hard cash. A handful of very vocally displeased finishers chugging their free beer so they could get out of there.

And that's just what we did.  We bid farewell to dad's friends, who had other obligations this afternoon, and then the four of us (Dad, The Husband, Brother and myself) trooped off to our favorite chicken wing joint to fill our empty bellies.

Overall, I would not recommend doing a Tundra Challenge event (there are 5 more scheduled around the country this winter) for so many reasons. I paid $55 (about what I paid to do the Full Moon Half Marathon for comparison's sake) to do this event and I seriously wonder where my (and everyone else's) money went, because it certainly didn't go into the quality or construction of the obstacles, the non-existent chip timing, or the finish line party.

The only positive things I can say about this event are:
  • I met some really nice people on the course. All the other racers were really good about helping each other over walls, etc., even if they were total strangers.
  • I got to spend a lot of time with 3 people who mean a lot to me (Husband, Dad, Brother)

Bottom Line: I feel like this event was not only a huge rip off, but a total waste of time.


April said...

I was so looking forward to living vicariously through you for this race! Sad that it was such an utter disappointment. Is there anywhere you can lodge a complaint or voice your dissatisfaction?

Mary said...

Sadly, this is about the only place that I can do that. It's my hope that anyone considering one of their other events will find the review and save themselves some money.

Del said...

God what an absolute joke!! With regards to the obstacles, my grandad could have built better and he's seventy seven years old!

I just hope that no one got hurt because judging by the lack of officials around the course, if a lone runner did injure themselves they could have been in serious trouble! God knows what would have happened if someone had had a heart attack!

The course looked like it had been set up by a bunch of high school kids, not professional at all!

I would seriously consider either going to press with the photographic evidence you have of the days event or push for a refund of your money because no way in hell was that worth fifty five dollars.

I feel very sorry for those volunteers and they must have been VERY good people to stand there in the cold despite not having any clear instructions or help and they did all that for no money bless them.

The lack of water stations also bothered me, what if someone had dehydrated or something? I'm not a runner or anything like that but surely water stations should be standard practice for an event like this?

Ending on a positive note like you did hun, I am so glad you got to spend some quality time with the men in your life. If nothing else, you got that and well done you and yours for all completing the course even if it was a huge disappointment!

Props to you for not turning around and going back home! Well done, you are seriously an inspiration! :)

BeringSeaJunkie said...

Well that sucks big time hun!! I'm sorry that you wasted money doing what turned out to be such a major disappointment!!!

But at least you were surrounded by some nice people, who obviously wanted to help everyone else through it... which is a comforting and rare thing in this day and age... :)

Brenner said...

Thanks for the review, I was thinking about the one in Minneapolis but now I will probably just save my money.

Mary said...

You're quite welcome. I would hate to see anyone else get ripped off by this ridiculous excuse for a race.

Jane said...

The same people are organizing another event called Storm the Stadium. Please be advised that it is being advertised and marketed in the same way as the Tundra. I was hired to market the event and when I had the same questions and concerns about the detailels and complaints from the past I was fired with no pay. When it is all said and done it seems like this is a running scam. I don't want to see people get ripped off or manipulate people into something that is going to put them in danger. People should know what is going on. I can only hope that the organizers realize that what they are doing is wrong and make sure that the event is safe and does not sell something to people if they can not provide it. You can file a complaint with the BBB and there are already complaints filled from the Tundra Event. Stand up for yourself and others. This is unethical behavior and people should not be manipulated in such a way.

Mary said...

Thank you for your comment, Jane. I'm sorry that the organizers treated you so badly, but sadly I'm not surprised.