| January 31, 2015

Health & Sports, Podcast, Sports

Podcast #99: Conquer the Gauntlet with David & Stephen Mainprize


I have a love/hate relationship with obstacle racing. In some ways they’re awesome because they offer a chance to get outside, do something physically challenging, and sate one’s appetite for some healthy competition. But in other ways they make me rather uncomfortable/disappointed for all the reasons Uncle Buzz laid out in his review of the Tough Mudder. Last year I really got to see both sides of the coin by participating in a few different races: a Spartan Sprint, a Warrior Dash (which isn’t even a race anymore — they did away with timing chips), and Conquer the Gauntlet. Surprisingly, Conquer the Gauntlet, a regional race started here in Tulsa, was far and away the best of the bunch. No parking fees, no hordes of people, no in-your-face marketing — just a truly challenging race packed with awesome obstacles. It was super tough, and incredibly fun.

I wanted to talk to the guys behind an obstacle race that actually does obstacle racing right, and we had a great conversation about the Gauntlet in particular, and the obstacle racing business in general.

Show Highlights

  • Why the Mainprize brothers decided to start their own obstacle race
  • What makes Conquer the Gauntlet different from other mud and obstacle runs
  • What it takes to plan, organize, and execute a successful obstacle race (short answer: a lot of work)
  • Why the Mainprizes plan on keeping Conquer the Gauntlet regional
  • The best way to train for an obstacle race
  • The future of obstacle races and mud runs
  • And much more!

If you’re looking for an awesome obstacle race to participate in, I highly recommend signing up for Conquer the Gauntlet. They’ve got races scheduled for OK, AR, MO, CO, and TX, with other states to come in the future.

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Special thanks to Keelan O’Hara for editing the podcast!

Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another addition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Mud runs, obstacle races, they’re all the rage right now. It seems like they’ve replaced 5k’s as the thing you do on the weekend. The big ones, some of you have probably done some of them. Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash. What’s interesting, besides these big, national, international, obstacle races that are going on, there’s also several regional obstacle races that you can only go to them in a certain area of the country.

There’s actually a regional race here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It’s called Conquer the Gauntlet; it’s owned and operated by two brothers, Stephen and David Mainprize. I really enjoyed it. It had a lot more obstacles than some of the other mud runs that I’ve done. What I liked about it, it was just a little more low key, had more of a community feel to it than some of those big giant ones that I’ve been to. After the mud run, I wanted to get them on the podcast to talk about the business of regional obstacle races and mud runs, and what it takes to run and setup an obstacle race.

Here on the podcast we’re going to talk about why these guys started Conquer the Gauntlet, and what’s involved in running a race that has over 30 obstacles, and the logistics that it takes to put something on like that. So, let’s do this.

Stephen and David Mainprize, welcome to the show.

David Mainprize: Thank you so much, we’re glad to be here.

Stephen: Yeah, we’re pumped about it. We’re grateful that you let us be a part of all the manliness that’s going on over there.

Brett McKay: Well, I can see you in the video. You guys can’t see me, my camera’s not working. One of you has an awesome beard.

David Mainprize: That’s Stephen. Hey, I’m working on it!

Brett McKay: David, you got a lot of catching up to do.

David Mainprize: Yeah, I just started.

Brett McKay: You guys are the founders and owners of an obstacle race called Conquer the Gauntlet. It’s based out of, is it out of Tulsa, Oklahoma?

David Mainprize: Yes, right.

Brett McKay:  All right, tell me the story. Why did you guys start an obstacle race when there’s a whole bunch of different obstacle races out there? What’s the background?

David Mainprize: We started in probably late 2011; early 2012 is when we actually kind of formed the business. Kind of around that time, these races were picking up in popularity. At that time, there was really only races that were backed by really big corporations, really big companies that kind of cared about one thing, and that was making a profit at the end of the year.

There was basically the really big ones, your Tough Mudder, your Spartan, your Warrior Dash. Really those 3. Then there were local ones, which were kind of seen as a mud run or a joke. They weren’t really for the elite runner. We kind of wanted to start one that wasn’t based on how to do we make 70 million dollars a year, but more how do we connect with 70 million people and make them push themselves, and not be worried about how much money we make. I think that’s kind of where the passion for why we started it.

Brett McKay: Was there something in particular … Did you do mud runs before you started the Gauntlet?

David Mainprize: We had all talked about doing the Warrior Dash when it first came to Tulsa in 2010 or 2011, I’m not sure. At the end of the day, we were like well that costs a lot of money, looks like a lot of lines, a lot of fees, and not a lot of really cool obstacles. We decided why don’t we make something that has as many obstacles as maybe a 10-12 mile race, like a Tough Mudder, but maybe is a little bit shorter in running distance. That’s kind of where the melding of the idea came from. We just kind of went from there and it just snowballed.

Brett McKay: Okay. Whenever I look at these obstacle courses, because I’ve done a few of them. Whenever I look at them from a business perspective, I’m like these things look like they’re just crazy to put on. The logistics look nuts; you have to find a location. Can you tell us what goes on into putting on a Conquer the Gauntlet obstacle race?

Stephen: You wouldn’t believe the logistics. It’s funny you bring that up. To find the land is sometimes the toughest. When you’ve got to find 200 acres that also has parking, with someone that’s cool with you digging up a huge 25 by 10 foot wide mud pits, and all that kind of … That’s one of the tougher things.

Our last event in 2014 was September 22nd this year in Little Rock. On October 1st, so 8 days later, we’re already planning our first event for 2015. We are a little bit smaller. I’m sure a lot of the other races that have huge overhead have people that are just constantly doing that. Really, it’s me, David, and my wife Courtney. The 3 of us do everything. We don’t have any other hired people that do anything for us.

The logistics of just volunteers, porta-potties, trash, dumpsters, mud pits, water trucks, backhoes, forklifts, 2x4s, we’re out of screws, all that kind of stuff. It’s worth it, because it’s awesome, but there’s a lot of that logistics that people don’t see when they come to the event. They’re like oh, why do we have to wait in a line for 2 seconds? It’s like well, there’s 2500 people here, so we’re trying to get them all through this thing in 4 hours. It’s not going to be … That’s one of the things that’s frustrating I guess.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stephen: The funny thing is, when we started, it sounds great to have a 4 mile race with 25 obstacles. That sounds pretty awesome. Who wouldn’t want to own that? We could tell you some war stories from the beginning when there was just 2 of us, or 3 of us, or 4 of us out there trying to set up all night long before our first race. As we’ve gone through, we’ve kind of created a standard operating procedure. We have a setup that takes a certain amount of time for each race. We show up about 2 weeks before, and it’s just really us and our family and our friends that help create everything that we do.

Brett McKay: So you guys actually build the obstacles? It’s like you 2 are out there?

David Mainprize: Yeah. There’s not anything out there that anyone else has built. It’s just us. We go to Lowe’s or Home Depot or maybe … A lot of times we like to try to use local companies here in Tulsa. M & M Lumber is one of them. Really, we call around and search to see who has the cheapest price on 2×4, 2×6, 6×6, 2×8, whatever we need that day. We’ll go pick it up in my beat up old 1989 Chevrolet pickup truck, and load that thing up until the tires are about to pop. Bring it back to the warehouse and start designing something.

Brett McKay How do you guys come up with obstacles? I did the race; I guess it was in August I think.

David Mainprize: Yeah, that was our last race I think. Probably our biggest one we’ve ever had, right?

Stephen: Yeah.

David Mainprize: August 23rd was the Tulsa one, yeah.

Brett McKay: Yeah. Some of these things were pretty nuts. I had never seen anything in other mud runs that I had done. How do you guys come up with your obstacles?

Stephen: I think, well, me and Dave both played a ton of sports growing up in high school. David actually played college soccer, so we’re both pretty physically fit. I do cross fit every day here. I think we tried to think of things that’ll push us, but also that are at least attempt-able by someone that’s never done an event before. A lot of people that come to our race have never done an obstacle course race. That might be their first fitness event ever. We really make every effort to be creative in a unique way that young and old, extremely fit and those new to fitness, can have fun doing it.

Still, if me and him were to try it, it’s going to be difficult to do, not extremely easy.

Brett McKay: Yeah. The one that got me … I was doing pretty well. I felt pretty good with myself. I got to the one where it’s like stair steps but you had to use your hands?

Stephen: Stairway to heaven.

Brett McKay: Stairway to heaven. Then I got to the other side. I don’t know what you guys had there. What was that devilish stuff that you put on there? I just slipped and I fell into the mud pit.

David Mainprize:  It was probably Vaseline. To be honest, that’s the first event we’ve ever done that with. We’ve had mixed reviews on it. We’ll never do it again, I don’t think.

Brett McKay: That was cruel, man.

David Mainprize: We had a lot of people complain about it. Some people liked it, a lot of people didn’t. I don’t think we’ll be doing that again. Even without that, it’s still pretty difficult.

Brett McKay: It was beastly. I guess you had some Vaseline on the monkey bars at the end. I didn’t have any problem with that.

David Mainprize: Yeah. What did you think of the 5 walls in a row? Was that hard for you?

Brett McKay: That was tough. That was really hard. There’s some crazy stuff. The monkey bars was insane, the stairway to heaven was difficult, you had one where you had to bust out some American Ninja Warrior skills. Where you could just … It’s like a board that went across a pond, and you just had to do it Rambo style.

David Mainprize: Like a balance beam pretty much?

Brett McKay: Yeah, but with your hands.

David Mainprize: Turned up on it’s … Oh! Yeah. That was like a, that’s a dead-man’s drop.

Brett McKay: Yeah. That was hard too. That was tough.

David Mainprize: Yeah, that one’s difficult. One of my favorites is one called Tarzan Swing. It’s kind of like the monkey bars, but it’s just one Olympic type ring on a chain. You have to swing from it and grab the next one. That’s kind of a fan favorite.

Brett McKay:  Oh yeah, I bit the dust on that one too.

David Mainprize: Yeah that one’s tough. Kind of back to your question, Steve is really the master of the course, if you will. He’s the brains of the operation when it comes to obstacles. He kind of came up with a lot of the marquee ones that we have. Our big ones. Going back to our overall theory, we didn’t want to have small obstacles. The way we broke into the market, was having so many, and having them not just be oh there’s a little mud hill. Or you crawled under some barbed wire. You’ve got to have big boys out there, and that’s kind of what we want to be known for.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I love that. Let’s talk about some of the things that, we kind of hit on them a little bit, the big differences between you and the other mud races out there. For starters, you’re 4 miles long, but you cram in 25 to 30 obstacles?

David Mainprize: That’s correct.

Stephen: Yeah. The Tulsa race you did, we had 32 actually. Which Tulsa will usually have 3 or 4 more because it’s just less money to transport everything, so we can save the cost on transporting our tents and tables and maybe throw some more obstacles up. We’ve never had an event with less than 25.

Brett McKay: Okay. What’s the average on other mud runs? Your competitors?

Stephen: The average other mud runs, your Warrior Dash is going to be 9 to 12. The Spartan Race, I have 3 races Spartan does. They range from probably 9 to 20. I know Tough Mudder’s claim is 25, but I’ve done some Tough Mudders. The ones I did had 21 or 22. I would definitely say we have the most obstacles of a race, especially one that travels around. You’ll occasionally find one in some nook and cranny in some kind of weird place in the country, where they just have a standing piece of land and they do their event like 5 times a year. That’s a little different because they’re not coming and setting it up. I think the average is probably between 10 and 20, let’s say for most.

David Mainprize: You’ve got your 5k basically races that have 10 obstacles. Then your Spartans or your Tough Mudders, they’re going to have longer races with more obstacles. Ours is kind of, we want to pack everything into a smaller area of running if that makes sense.

Brett McKay: Yeah, yeah. When I did that … I’ve done a couple of the other ones. I feel like with some of the other ones I’m just doing a lot of running.

David Mainprize: Yeah.

Stephen: That was something we wanted to cut out. If you want to go run 12 miles, find a treadmill. If you want to do an obstacle course race, come do it. With ours, you’re getting an obstacle 2 every 1/4 mile, maybe 2 every 1/8 mile at the ones that have 30 obstacles. You’re not just jogging and mindlessly running for a mile without seeing anything, which is why I think Tough Mudder why people think it’s tough. The tough thing about Tough Mudder isn’t the obstacles; it’s that it’s a half marathon.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stephen: None of the obstacles are that tremendously difficult compared to a Spartan strand or even our race. It’s just when your legs have to do 12 miles of running-

David Mainprize: Yeah, that’s tough.

Stephen: You’re going to seem tired. It’s not necessarily the obstacles themselves. For some reason they think they can charge 200 dollars because they’re setting up 20 obstacles because they found a piece of land that has 12 miles of ground to run on.

Brett McKay: Yeah, so let’s talk about that. It’s more obstacles, but then your pricing is refreshingly different from the other guys. Can you talk a bit about your pricing model compared to the big guys?

Stephen: What we did was, what we found out we had to do just to stay in business and didn’t try to make it so much more than that, as far as the profit side of it. Another thing that you’ll find with the other races, is sometimes people go to our website and go oh, it’s 59 dollars right now or 54 dollars to sign up for Conquer the Gauntlet. They’ll hop over to maybe Warrior Dash and go oh; it’s 55 for Warrior Dash too. But what’s overlooked, is that pricing models kind of a lie. By the time you get through all of the … I don’t know which other races you sign up online, but you go through the steps of the registration process, and creating a profile, but by time you get done with it that 55 dollars turned into 72 because there was an 8 dollar mandatory insurance fee, or some type of convenience fee for online registration. Which is the only way to sign up, which is ironic. By the time … their 55 is not the same as ours.

If ours says 55 dollars, it is 55 dollars. All we need is your name, date of birth, what’s your shirt size. Are you a dude or a chick? That’s 55 dollars to do the best run you’ve gone to all year. That’s one thing that’s a big difference is even Spartan days 50 bucks but by the time your done there is a 13 dollar insurance fee and a 7 dollar convenience fee. Now you went from 70 to 90. Then you pay 20 bucks for parking 20 bucks for your spectators. You’re getting there.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I thought that was nuts about the spectator fee. I think one of them charged 40 bucks.

Stephen: Yeah.

Brett McKay: It’s just weird, my wife’s uncle did Tough Mudder and he wrote a review about it on our site. He just thought it was weird that their charging 40 dollars to see people trump around in the mud. He was like you can go the Boston Marathon and see world class athletes for free.

Stephen: It’s very true. Those big races got to make money for the corporations behind them; that’s what it’s all about.

Brett McKay: One argument they say is these things are so expensive to put on they have to do that. Has that been your case?

Stephen: They are expensive to put on. Sometimes people they’ll go, “You had a thousand people pay you 50 dollars. You just made a boatload of money. Yeah that’s 50 thousand dollars but an event itself cost between 50 and 60. So for us, if we have a thousand people, me and Dave, and Courtney have to work for free that race. We’re not just going to start charging spectators. The thing is when you get Tough Mudder, they get 10000 runners who paid 120 plus parking; look at the money they’re making they don’t need to charge spectating to make a profit. That’s pretty much a bunch of malarkey.

Brett McKay: Got you.

Stephen: The only thing important to us was having a place where people can come and encourage and cheer on their family and friends and really become a part of the Conquer The Gauntlet family and community. Three of the things you’ll always find on our website is character, commitment, community. We want to provide an environment where people can show their character, enhance their commitment and connect with their community. It’s really hard to connect with your community if you’re charging your community just to come watch. Since community is such a big thing for us I don’t to make money off someone who wants to come cheer for their husband. If their husband was overweight two years ago and he trained for a year and a half just to do it; I want his wife and his kids to come be able to cheer for him and be proud of him. Not have to fork out 80 bucks to do that.

Brett McKay: Got you. Another thing I appreciated about you guys is you kept the heaps pretty small.

Stephen: Whenever we looked at breaking into this market … We wouldn’t just do it on the willy-nilly, we had a lot of time and planning that went into it. First of all, you got the shorter distance race with as many obstacles as we have and you’ve got the lower price with less fees and you got what happen there on race day. We time everyone. Most races, actually, I don’t think any races do that anymore. So every single person gets a timing chip. You got those every 15 minute waves. Instead of herding 6 hundred people together every hour we break it up which is a lot harder for us and more expensive but it gives people a better race experience. There’s no line out there. You’re not just running with 6 hundred people at one time. Those couple of keys, the ones you’re hitting on, are the reasons why we’ve seen growth the way that we have.

Brett McKay: Yeah, the being timed I really appreciate it because we’ve done the Warrior Dash several times before for several years and they timed you and then last year there was no timing chip.

Stephen: You have to be in the elite wave at that point to get a timing chip with Warrior Dash, I believe now. The thing that’s cool for us is it doesn’t matter if you’re running a two hour time; you still want to know.

Brett McKay: Yeah, you still want to know; see if you beat yourself.

Stephen: You want to get better and you want to see your name on that list as someone who conquered the Gauntlet. That’s important to people.

Brett McKay: Definitely. Here’s a question I have. Right now you guys limit your races to a pretty small geographical location, where are your races at right now?

David Mainprize: We’re in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Little Rock, Arkansas; and then this October we’re planning either a Tennessee or Texas event. In the next three weeks we will be running some preregistration ads to just to see if there’s a interest in those areas. Then kind of looking at three spots: Memphis, Nashville, or a West Texas area. Whichever one of those we have the most people wanting our race we’ll bring it to them; planning six events next year; kind of in the Midwest/Southeast area. That’s the feel of Tulsa is kind of a Southern/Midwest and everything right around there is where we’ll go. So much because we’re not getting 10,000 runners but were hoping to get 1,500 to 2,500 runners and keep growing on those numbers. We’re not huge so we can’t pay as much as other race to go everywhere.

Another thing people forget when their looking at cost is your marketing. A lot of other races will spend between 80 and 90 thousand dollars on one event on online ads. We obviously don’t have that budget. We have to do a lot more grassroots marketing things to get people to hear about us and then hopefully they’ll sign up. Usually when people sign up for ours they’ll come back. We have a tremendously higher return rate to every other race because a lot of other people are let down. Whereas ours, they come once and are like, “That was fun and really affordable so I will be back.” That’s one thing we do save cost on, return customers, return runners but the initial marketing is so expensive if you say I’m going to go to 20 events you better have a lot of money for those for each event you’re in better habit just to market with. That’s kind of one reason we’re a little bit smaller.

I think, also, we just don’t want to get to big and just that whole idea of smaller waves, less race is good, too. Sometimes in America it’s seen as bigger is better and we don’t agree with that necessarily. It’s quality over the quantity. We want to have more great races and not just have jumpy ones that are just put on just to, “Tough Mudder does this, tough Mudder is going to have a race in Oklahoma this year.” I’ll guarantee you that’s not the same race their putting on in New York city. They’re going to put on a much smaller race with less obstacles with less staff and spend less time setting it up than their race in Chicago, LA, or New York.

Brett McKay: Right.

David Mainprize: Because if they can get 8 thousand people in Oklahoma that’s not as big as if they can get 17 thousand people to do it in New York City. We don’t want to do that. We always want … Anything we do we’re going to put all whole heart into it and make it as good as any Conquer The Gauntlet event can go.

Brett McKay: I’m curious about that cause as guys grow in popularity, it’s great to hear you guys say you’re okay with not getting too big too fast. It seems like with some of these mud races as they’ve gotten bigger the quality has gone down in the race.

David Mainprize: Oh, yeah. There’s been some big name, high dollar races that have completely gone out of business; the ones that had million dollars backing them. We started with literally with an idea and a pickup truck. We’ve kind of had to slowly build. You see these races, they might have 3 thousand people at a couple of their runs and then they decide to go to 30 cities. Well those races don’t even exist anymore.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

David Mainprize: When we go into a city we want to obviously put on a good race but we can’t market at 20 new cities. It’s not possible. That’s kind of how that works.

Brett McKay: Staying small is part of the plan, that’s great.

David Mainprize: Just expand one or two cities a year and being able to do those in a quality way to where people will come back.

Brett McKay: That sounds like a Southwest Airlines approach.

David Mainprize: Yeah. It’s similar to their business model, yeah. Even as slow … We’re basically trying to grow at our rate not the rate that our competitors are or maybe our runners are like, “Man, why don’t you come here, why don’t you come there.” We just can’t get … Instead of sacrificing that quality just to have another event we’ll take our time and grow at our pace. At the same time we kind of have a cap. We’re not ever going to be a 40 events a year-

Brett McKay: Yeah.

David Mainprize: Even if we took 10 years to do it we just don’t desire to be that because you have to think about there are 52 Saturdays every year. If you’re doing 40 events that’s just back to back to back to back, people are going through like cattle and you’re herding them and that’s what we don’t want to be. If you come to our race you’re an extremely unique conqueror and this is your day to get our best event, the best we have.

We would probably never go over 10 to 12 events even if to 12 events we wouldn’t really do more than that. We wouldn’t do more cities than that. We would just focus on making those events better as opposed to trying to go to more places. It’s definitely unique and it’ kind of odd and I’m sure if Spartan owner’s were listening to this they’d think were morons. We just want to be different from them. Those other events that go everywhere already exist. There’s at least 5 of them. That’s another thing, they just exist. If you want to go and do a 5k, act tough at a warrior dash and chug a beer at the end you’re more than welcome to that event already exist. We did not see the need in duplicating that event for the fiftieth thousandth time. Every other event’s pretty much the same; come run, get a water down experience, here’s a beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s just why ours is different because if you want to that it already exists. We didn’t see the point in duplicating it again in the cities we go to.

Brett McKay: Very cool. Here’s a question I have, it’s sort of personal because I’ve always wondered about. How do you train for these things? I’ll sign up for then … I’m a pretty fit guy but obstacle races are different from your typical … How do you train for this so you know you can handle every obstacle you’re about to handle.

David Mainprize: I think first of all you got to have the cardio. You got to be able to run four miles at a good pace. Another thing is what are you trying to do? Are you trying to have an elite time or you just trying to get through it? With our race I would say grip strength and upper body strength are tested in our race more than any other race in the world, I would venture to say.

Brett McKay: Yeah, it was tough. That’s what I went out on.

David Mainprize: There are 10 walls in our race, if not more. You got the Monkey Bars, you got the Stairway to Heaven, you got the Tarzan Swing, not to mention whatever else is out there, Dead Man’s Drop. That’s a lot of grip strength. Pull up, anything you can work on your grip strength with your upper body strength; being as lean as possible. The big football type player guys that come out there, your 6 foot 3, 210 lb massive guy, 230 lb … He’s going to have more trouble than you’re 5’9 260 lb guy. I think you want to be lean, have grip strength, and upper body strength. Steve what do you have to add to that.

Stephen: I think the key is, as far as what you you’re going to train for, train doing body weight things. That’s what’s going to be tested. Not saying you have to totally drop lifting weights if you’re a big lifter but go to more push-ups as opposed to just bench press; instead of throwing that mass on. Then again if you’re just trying to do it with some buddies do whatever you want to do to get through it but if you’re wanting to have good time and improve on your time from last year, pull ups. Do pull up, do pull ups, do pull ups because that’s going to help you grip strength. That’s going to make you want to lose weight. If you can shed 5 lbs that’s 5 lbs you don’t have to lift every time you’re doing a pull up. I think body weights, that’s key, doing like air squats, push-ups, pull ups. People train, they go to Planet Fitness or whatever and just jump on the treadmill and jog four miles. Jogging four miles outside is completely different from the treadmill with a TV.

David Mainprize: Especially, on that terrain that we put you on.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stephen: Running on grass is huge, too… race ever heard of trying to do that and they went out of business. As far as obstacle course training, doing it on grass is key.

David Mainprize: Trail running.

Stephen: Trail running, doing stuff like that is a key to it.

David Mainprize: Body weight stuff, cardio, running on grass, pull ups; if you can do that you’ll be fine.

Brett McKay: Another thing is how different is it to run a couple of miles versus running a couple of miles wet?

David Mainprize: Yeah people forget how bogged down your shoes are going to get when they get wet.

Stephen: Slows your time down.

David Mainprize: So maybe jump in a pool then go run a bit.

Brett McKay: What do you guys think is the future of obstacle racing? This is been around for I guess 5 years, 6 years.

David Mainprize: I think 6 years. I think 08 or 09 was when they actually started kind of ramping up and people really started getting into them.

Brett McKay: Do you guys think this is a fad or do you think this is something that’s going to stick around? I’m sure you guys think about that all the time, right?

David Mainprize: Yeah we do.

Brett McKay: As business owners like how long is this going to last and how can we make it last. What are your guys’ thoughts on that?

David Mainprize: I think it will last a long time if the events become more quality. I think just like anything if every time people start signing up and putting their 50 dollars of faith or their 90 dollars of faith into that their run will be fun, challenging, or unique and go they go to some and they aren’t what they expected or they didn’t have the obstacle they did that’s going to turn those people away from doing the quality ones like we think ours is. The more companies try to go big and oh we’re just going to have 50 events, one every Saturday and go to every big city in the US and try to make money. They’re actually hurting the small guys because they’re putting on events of less quality. The common public, that’s not you’re common obstacle course racer, they’re just going to see that as oh that’s how all of the events are, they’re all just trying to get and put on a quick cheap thing. I think that’s the only thing that really hurt it necessarily.

It’s grown so much we already have hundreds of runners that come to each our events. They do 7 or 8 events a year. It’s almost like it’s their fitness training is they try to do 8 to 10 a year and it’s what they look forward to doing. Those kind of runners we love because they come to us every year. They come and say, “Hey your events still my favorite. I did 3 Spartan, a Tough Mudder, 2 Warrior Dashes and yours is tougher. You just don’t have the money to market it but I wish you did because the run is so much more challenging.”

I think staying quality is something everybody needs to focused on, progress included. There’s ways we could improve our quality as well but I don’t see it as a fad either way. I think the 5ks and marathons, have been around for decades to decades. Marathons are hundreds of thousands of years and more recently your local 5ks there’s one a month in every city. All of these are just like a 5k or more with more fun stuff. If 5k didn’t die out I don’t see how these would, really.

Brett McKay: Very cool.

David Mainprize: I think with any market you’re going to see … You saw the explosion. Last year a lot of somewhat bigger and more regional races went out of business. You’re going to get your cream to rise to the top and you’re going to have your couple of races that everyone’s going to know about. Of course you’re going to have newcomers as well. I don’t think it’s an industry that’s going to disappear entirely.

Stephen: It will wean itself out kind of like the dot com boom in the early 2000. It kind of went huge then it burst and the guys that were really good stayed. I think that’s what’s going to eventually happen to this. There’s going to be, when the smoke clears, in the next decade, there’s going to be the really good ones left that were able to provide great product every time they had runners show up. They’ll still be there and they’ll be some of the others that will most likely not be.

Brett McKay: Do you think there’s room for regional … Is that kind of like where the future …Like you guys, you’re kind of keeping it geographic in your location is that kind of where you think the future is where you can actually provide a quality race to a pretty decent size locale but it’s not the whole entire country.

David Mainprize: Not to be extreme I think you’ll always have your Tough Mudder, and you Warrior Dash, and Spartan Race, likely. Those guys are insanely big. Having a regional race like ours, is I think is the best ways to provide a quality product and make money while at the same time sticking around for a while.

Stephen: There are ones out there like us and they’re some of the most elite.

David Mainprize: Yeah and we respect the ton that are really, really good. I’m not saying Tough Mudder doesn’t put on a good product, they do. I’m just saying it’s harder to do 40 good events as opposed to 15. I kind of think of it this way as well; when you’re going on a 10 to 12 hour road trip there’s not a lot of really quality clean gas station with a great employee manning them but when you go to Houston, when you go to Tulsa we have a great company called QuikTrip. They have a great gas station but regionally there’s a lot of really quality gas stations but there’s not any one that has a great gas station that’s nationwide because they kind of get run down. They get turned into … the bathrooms are dirty. The guy working was shooting meth 30 minutes ago. I’m just generalizing obviously but the father outside of the big city you get the gas station quality goes down. I kind of compare it to that maybe it’s a bad comparison but just nationwide is really tough to do and stay really quality.

Brett McKay: For our listeners who live all across the country, are there some other regional races like you guys, like in the northeast or northwest that you’re aware of?

David Mainprize: I know in the southeast, they’re actually kind of getting into our area, but, I don’t want to promote them too much but Savage Race is-

Brett McKay: They’re amazing.

David Mainprize: Extremely legit. I would openly admit, just because I’m an honest man, they have better obstacle than we do. The farthest west they are is Texas. They’re mainly Florida, Georgia, I think their doing in Ohio but they do about 7 or 8 events a year. They went to 12 or 13 a year and they’ve back now to about 7 and there all really, really good. They bring their A game every time. I’ve never done one. I wanted to do Dallas last year but because of a conflicting date last year with some other stuff I had going on but they’re kind of like us; their six miles and their 25 to 30 obstacles. There’s a little bit more mileage but them as far as the southeast, they’re probably the best local run in that part of Georgia area and they do Ohio. I don’t know too much about the west, out in California, honestly. We don’t research a ton over there. We do research obviously in the area we’re going to.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

David Mainprize: I’m not completely sure on that one. There was a good one in the northeast called Ruckus Race. They were in the northeast and they were crushing and they tried to go to Kansas City, Texas, Ohio; they tried to expand way to the west. One year they went from 8 events to 20 and they went out of business. They’ve been out of business for two years now. They were really good northeastern that was local and tied to get too big too fast.

Stephen: That’s why we do a ton of research and kind of know who we are. Sometimes you’re McDonald’s and sometimes you’re Five Guys Burgers.

Brett McKay: Yeah.

Stephen: You have to know what you are. We’re just quality and small. We don’t want to get too big and force ourselves out … We don’t want to cannibalize ourselves and our market dollar.

Brett McKay: Yeah, very cool. What’s in the future of Conquer The Gauntlet? What can we expect from you guys in 2015?

Stephen: Well, the most races we’ve ever had, the most runners we’ve ever had, and probably the most obstacles we’ve ever had, I would say for sure.

David Mainprize: Every year we increase our obstacles and we usually gain runners and we’ll add an event, looking to do six events this year and then 2016 we hope to add to that we’re really wanting to do a Denver, Colorado event in early summer of 2016. We’re probably going to start in May and in June of 2015 preregistering for that and letting people know that we’re coming that way. That summer we really want to be present. That’s an awesome area. We have a ton of friends that we know from going to college with in Denver, Colorado area that are kind of begging us to come out here that think we’d be successful. That’s what we’re looking at doing.

As far as this year, just better obstacles, better quality everything. This year we’re doing actual finisher’s medal like a metal piece of hardware you get. Last year we did like a finisher’s magnet. Our biggest thing is trying to be unique and different. We always try to put our money, if we get 50 thousand dollars, we’re going to give you 60 thousand dollars of obstacles and if you need a trinket you can go to your local thrift store and buy one. That’s why we didn’t do metals. We were just trying to be different but we also listened to our runners and a lot of the time we have survey on our website and people said they really want a metal. So we switched from doing magnets that go on a car, refrigerator, or stove and we’re going to do magnets this year. So that’s something that’s definitely going to be new and I think a ton of runners are excited about it. And we’ll always have the best T-shirts in the industry.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I love you guys’-

David Mainprize: Our T-shirts are just by far the best. I’ve done the top mudders and it’s just a toss-the-tshirt that kind of fits. We want our people to wear the shirt so we’ll have more of the good T-shirts, more of the obstacles, doing metals, go into more cities and bring in more people.

Brett McKay: Very cool. Where can people go to find out more about Conquer The Gauntlet?

Stephen: Conquerthegauntlet.com is the website and we also have a twitter handle which is @conquergauntlet to definitely follow us there. Then follow our Facebook page which is Conquer The Gauntlet on Facebook. We also have an Instagram.

Brett McKay: Yeah, it’s also Conquer The Gauntlet, same name different place.

David Mainprize: Google Conquer The Gauntlet, you’ll find us but you type in Conquerthegauntlet.com you’ll definitely … we actually just, 12/13 days ago we launched a brand new website. If you haven’t been there-

Stephen: It’s amazing.

David Mainprize: I know you ran last year, you should go check it out because we have tons of new videos up, pictures of every obstacle; all of our new obstacles, tons of quotes from runners at the day of the events; all kinds of new things going on. We’re about to have a new page added to it, probably in January, called the Conqueror’s Community and we’re actually going to have our runners and different event organizers probably vote and have a conqueror of the month and give a T-shirt away to someone we feel is really showing their a conqueror in their daily lives. Just a lot of cool things going on that we’re pumped about.

Stephen: Definitely. As you know, Brett, a lot of these companies run constant sales so they might say the price is going up but it’s just always the same. With us we try start it out at a price and move forward with the price going up to where the people who sign up early get rewarded. Challenge everyone out there to sign up early and I don’t think anyone in Tulsa ran it under 40 minutes so if anyone think their elite come try to conquer the gauntlet.

David Mainprize: We got a 40 minute clause in Tulsa. If you finish in 40 minute, I’ll give you your 50 bucks back. You’re probably not going to get it because it’s so many obstacles.

Brett McKay: Very cool. Well, Stephen and David Mainprize, it’s been a pleasure.

David Mainprize: Thank you. Good luck with everything, man.

Stephen: Thank you. Keep being manly.

Brett McKay: Oh yeah, keep that beard, it’s awesome. And you keep working on your beard.

David Mainprize: I will.

Brett McKay: Take it easy, guys. I will definitely be doing the race here in Tulsa this year so I’m looking forward to it. Our guests today were Stephen and David Mainprize as they’re the founders and owners of Conquer The Gauntlet. You can find out more about Conquer The Gauntlet at conquerthegauntlet.com. They’re got a few races scheduled already for 2015. I’ll be doing the one in Tulsa on August 22 so if you’re in the area I’d love to see you there and Conquer The Gauntlet with me.

Well that wraps up another addition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com And I’d really appreciate it if you could give our podcast a rating on iTunes, Stitcher, whatever you use to listen to your podcast. That would really help us out because it would help more people find out about the podcast. Go ahead and do that. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

Last updated: December 7, 2017


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