On a hot day in May in a patch of grass near power lines in Odenton, Jared Conover and Ryan Smith are hard at work building a wooden frame that will soon be used in their new obstacle course.
Insects buzz and a neighbor's chickens squawk in a nearby pen as the two men picture the frantic, grueling scene when the obstacles they're hammering, drilling and screwing together in this rural setting are put to use.
"This one is a rope and chain traverse. This will be up 10 feet in the air, with cross beams and ropes hanging," Smith says. "You'll grab a chain one time, a rope another time. It's brutal, you grab a chain with your bear hand, it'll make your upper body burn."
Conover, 28, and Smith, 30, both of Odenton, are co-founders of the Siege Race, a 5-mile obstacle course similar to a Tough Mudder course. The first of the new four-city series will be at Crumland Farms in Frederick on June 14 and will then move to Salt Lake City, Denver and Kahuki, Hawaii.
The hanging ropes obstacle they were working on in May is one of 25 different challenges that will be part of the course. Others include plastic tubes filled with 2 1/2 gallons of water that then need to be carried to the next obstacle. Another one is a wall with widely spread footholds that participants have to clamber over.
Smith, who works for the Department of Homeland Security, and Conover, who works for the Department of Defense, split up the duties of organizing their first obstacle course race. The growth of the industry caught Conover's eye as he took courses toward his MBA.
"I had just bought my house here, and Ryan was over helping me paint," Conover said. "During my MBA, we did a lot of industry analysis, so I had been looking at the obstacle course industry. I talked to Ryan about it while we were painting. And we just decided to do it."
Smith handles the operations and construction of the course along with figuring out the events schedule. He said the race is an opportunity for people to learn about themselves.
"It not only helps you with your physical skills, but when you've got someone who's never done an obstacle course before, they don't think they can handle these obstacles, and then they make it over that wall — that's an epic confidence booster," Smith said.
The average competitor will complete the Siege Race in about an hour and each participant can choose which obstacles they want to attempt.
"We want to give it the American Ninja Warrior feel where you complete one obstacle and then the next one is right there," Conover said. "We want more diverse obstacles as well."
The cost to participate in the race is $100. The organizers have designated a portion of the revenue to go towards the Rods Racing organization, which helps a local family adopting orphans with Downs syndrome.
While many are excited about the new obstacle race, the death of 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta, of Ellicott City, in a Tough Mudder competition last year in West Virginia raised the question of whether or not these races are too dangerous.
There are no formal restrictions for obstacle races, but course owners are keeping safety in mind. Conover said there's been a lot of time spent making sure the race is safe and staffed appropriately.
"One of the things we do is work with amphibious medics who have covered obstacle courses since they have started," Conover said. "They have really helped us be staffed on helping people who might roll an ankle or go underwater."
Even the sequence of events came into play as Conover said they made sure that a water obstacle doesn't follow a tough climbing one.
"There's a lot of progress in that direction, and if they put more restrictions on obstacles and medical staff, that will be good because so many people are nervous about entering this industry," Conover said.
Greg Morton, 28, is a deputy sheriff in Pennsylvania who will participate in the race and said he is aware of the risks.
"There's inherent risk with doing anything. And being a police officer, I know my limitations, so the enjoyment totally outweighs the risks," Morton said. "I've always done obstacle courses in the police academy, they test you mentally and physically."
Once safety procedures are in place, Conover said, the race can focus on its main purpose — having fun. Live music, food and even a massage therapist will be at the event.
"One thing we're doing is bringing a massage therapist. It's something nice for anyone who wants to come out and get a massage while watching others do the race," Conover said.
"I just want to make sure it's fun for the participants. We're both very passionate about fitness and finding ways to inspire and help others, that's the deeper drive."
He said not just the participant but those around them benefit from the process of preparing for and getting through the experience.
"We really like the idea of it inspiring improving families. Inspire families to strengthen them," Conover said.
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