Adam Spisak knew he was on to something three weeks before his inaugural Big Muddy Challenge in September. That was when he realized he needed more T-shirts. A lot more T-shirts.
The idea for the Big Muddy Challenge came to him in a dream of sorts. It was last fall, he had done the Tough Mudder obstacle race in South Carolina earlier in the day, had driven back to Raleigh and was trying to get his daughter back to sleep. It was 2:30 in the morning, and Spisak needed to be to work in a few hours. Thinking about his own active lifestyle — he was a runner, played golf, was in an adult soccer league — and thinking about his daughter, with whom he wanted to spend time, he got to thinking it would be fun to do an obstacle race with her when she got older. Trouble was, he discovered Googling the next day, no parent-kid obstacle race existed.
“So I decided to create one,” Spisak says.
The notion of parent and child frolicking together in the mud seemed a natural, but who knew? Spisak got to work planning the inaugural Big Muddy Challenge for Sept. 7 at Hill Ridge Farms in Raleigh. Organizers of similar events — charity runs, for instance — told him to expect around 200 participants for a first-time affair. Spisak secretly hoped for 500.
“I wanted it to be big enough to have a significant impact for my charity,” Spisak says. Profits from the first Big Muddy were designated for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle.
The other organizers he consulted told him one other thing: about 75 percent of participants sign up within three weeks of an event. Three weeks from the first Big Muddy, Spisak says nearly 400 parents and kids had signed up, about double what he’d been told to expect. As promised registration took off from there.
By the time the first wave of Big Muddy participants hit the course at 9 a.m. on Sept. 7, registration had hit 1,072.
“In addition to my full-time job, I was putting in another 40 hours those last three weeks on the Big Muddy,” says Spisak.
Among other things, he had to round up another 20 volunteers (in addition to the 35 already committed), make sure the venue could handle the increased demand, handle a deluge of last-minute requests (“We signed up for the 10:30 wave but we need to change it to 11:15”), and get more T-shirts.
“Fortunately, we had a very flexible T-shirt vendor,” says Spisak.
The event went off without a hitch, as did the two days of clean-up that followed. On the Tuesday after the race, on a 6:20 a.m. flight out of RDU for his day job, Spisak finally had a moment to reflect on the event’s popularity.
“I thought, ‘How can we make it better next time?’” Spisak recalls. “And that’s when I realized we’d do another event.”
Several, it turns out.
Already on the calendar for 2014 are two Big Muddys in Raleigh, as well as events in Charlotte and Richmond, Va., Dulles just outside of Washington, D.C., and Fayetteville. More Big Muddys are possible.
“I think we really touched on something here that’s special,” says Spisak as he prepares to launch BMC 2014. “Parents like to encourage their children to be active, but there’s a huge difference between being a spectator, being a parent watching a child do something, and having an event where both go and participate.”
Spisak is in the process of lining up local leadership for the new races and streamlining the administrative side of the event. He’s also working to improve the “customer experience.”
Next year, expect 12 to 15 obstacles for each event, up from 11 at the first BMC. Instead of employing “handy friends” to make the obstacles, he’ll be teaming with professionals — home builders, for instance — to make them. A big goal for 2014: to make sure no one emerges from the course unsullied by mud.
“There was one point [at the September BMC] where a boy and his mom came up to a mud obstacle and the boy hesitated. ‘Is it really OK if I go through there?’ he asked his mom. That brought a smile to everyone’s face,” says Spisak.
Registration has opened for the April 26 race in Raleigh (early bird team fee, through Feb.1, is $60.07). Spisak says to keep checking the website for details on the other races scheduled for 2014.
Here’s the website.