Mud Running Expands to Norway

Mud Running HQ is pleased to bring you a Q/A with Andreas Dietzal, co-founder of the Viking Race, who is working to bring Norway its very first obstacle race this August.  Enjoy the cool behind-the-scenes perspective into what it takes to put on an obstacle course race!

What made you want to get into the industry? How long have you been working to bring The Viking Race to life?

Mud Runs in EuropeA good friend of mine, Wendy, brought some of her friends together from all walks of athletic life to do an obstacle course race. She brought together gymnasts, capoeiristas, trapeze performers, Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners and runners. We did the Run Ruckus in Massachusetts in 2011 and we were all immediately bitten by the OCR bug. Wendy then created Team Rough & Tumble and we signed up for a bunch more races; Spartan Race, Metro Dash (RIP), Warrior Dash, and we’re doing Tough Mudder this June. After doing my first Spartan Race I thought that someone should do a Viking-themed race in Scandinavia, but I left it at that…

In the spring of 2012, during lunch hour at my current job, me and our analyst Ena started talking about work and life and how cool it would be to start something on your own. We both felt we just needed to connect with some creative people and help them realize their idea, whether it was an organization, business, event, or whatever – just something that we also could be passionate about. Then I said I’ve been thinking about this race-thing for about a year. I mentioned obstacle racing and how cool a Viking Race would be. Ena loved the idea and she immediately signed up for the Run Ruckus and a Spartan Sprint.

We started planning last summer. It’s been a long process since OCR is completely new to Norway. Actually, when we started planning, there were no races in Scandinavia at all. This year there will be home grown races in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Denmark was first off in Scandinavia with the Nordic Race in Copenhagen last year. The process of getting venue approval took a while as well, but now that we have both date and venue set it’s easier to talk to sponsors and other partners.

Tell us about yourselves! Where are you from? What are your professional/athletic backgrounds?

I’m Norwegian. Born and raised. I moved to Boston, MA 7 years ago because I wanted to work in the U.S. life sciences industry. My academic background is in molecular genetics and entrepreneurial management. My professional background is in management consulting for life sciences companies. Currently I work for the Norwegian government, assisting Norwegian life sciences companies in their U.S. market entry efforts. On my team is one of our former analysts, Ena Babic, she has an MBA and is back in Norway working on her M.Sc. in Business and Economics. We also have Isak Ladegård with an engineering background and Jan Mesicek who owns a publishing company that publish books on diet and exercise, so we’re a good core group of people bringing this race to life. Add 50-100 volunteers on race day, and we’re good to go!

Athletically we all have different backgrounds. Isak and I know each other from capoeira, a Brazilian martial art. Ena has a soccer background and Jan is a cross training guy. Personally I’ve never been into running that much, but adding monkey bars and climbing ropes to a race completely changed my attitude towards that.

How did you pick your race venues/cities?

Our first pick was easy. Oslo is the capital of Norway and the most populous city. From the beginning we wanted to do the race up in one of the small mountains that’s inside the city limits and accessible by both subway and bus. We had to apply for permission from the city and after a pretty long process it was finally granted. Another reason Oslo was chosen was because of the Viking Ship Museum there. We’re collaborating with them on the Viking aspect of our race, and in the future we’re hoping to do races in other cities that have some sort of Viking heritage or museum. After our first race is complete we’ll sit down and decide how to proceed, where to host races next year, etc.

What is the most challenging part about launching a new race series?

There are a lot of challenging aspects. First of all, we’re a start up, so we get all the bootstrapping challenges that any other start up company has – basically, everyone has to do everything; planning the race, contacting possible partners, build and manage the website, make promo material, design t-shirts (luckily we got someone to design the actual logo for us), engage people through our Facebook page, etc.
None of us have any race director experience, but we have a great relationship with another race that’s hosted at the same venue for several years. The race director there has been extremely helpful. Also, the education of possible participants is part of the challenge – luckily the marketing machine of the Big 3 US races has reached Scandinavia, so we can ask people if they’ve heard of this and that race. Many people in Norway has heard of the original Tough Guy race in the U.K., so that helps!

However, right now I’d say the most challenging part is logistics and whether we should put a cap on the number of participants to avoid traffic and other issues. It would be nice to have no cap – the more participants, the more likely we’ll break even, or Odin permit, make a little profit 😉

What’s the most exciting part about launching a new race series?

Another tough question. To me it’s both starting something on your own and the fact that “that something” is an obstacle course race. It is very cool trying to build a brand from scratch. We’ve participated in many races so we can borrow things that we like and leave out things that we don’t like – obstacles, the order of obstacles, natural elements – it’s crazy how hard it is running up hill and our race will be on a mountain, so that will be challenging. I’ve been wondering for a long time what would ignite enough passion in me to make me want to spend all my free time and weekends working to put it together – the answer was obstacle course racing.

Another exciting thing is to organize something that will make a lot of people have the time of their lives. I went sky diving a couple of years ago and I thought that the people that do the tandem jumps with you have an awesome job. Everyone is at their absolute most ecstatic and happy after surviving jumping out of a plane – I think obstacle course races emulates that feeling a little bit – at least the harder ones, the ones that almost make you give up. When you cross the finish line then you get a sense of accomplishment. Using obstacle course racing as a platform for team building is fantastic!

What will participants experience at your events?

A short but tough race! We’re really going to exploit the natural elements. We’ll have OCR regulars as Berlin Walls and cargo nets, but also more Viking Age related obstacles involving fish nets and tree trunks. Hopefully we can cut down some trees and have people do 200lb lumber flips!

What is your vision for the Viking Race? How do you hope it stands out from other mud runs?

First of all I think it’s our Viking Age theme and the nature in Norway that will make us stand out. We’re not going to go out and say our race is the toughest or craziest, at least not yet 😉 We really love what the Spartan Race has done with their theme. We’re aiming for something similar, but also more accessible. I’d say our first race would be a mix of a Spartan Sprint and the Run Ruckus, a race that’s for everyone, and with a cool theme around it. The participants in the Viking Race will be actual descendants of Vikings – that is very cool! One of the many things I love about OCR is that it brings out people that normally don’t run that much, people like my self, and also people that do not usually participate in something as strenuous as an OCR. That’s one of our main goals, to get people out in the woods to move, but doing something that in our opinion is way more fun that a regular 5k or 10k.

We’re thinking of doing longer and tougher versions of our race. One of our dreams is a Viking Race Ragnarok, mid winter, in the mountains on the west coast of Norway.I’d also love to do a shorter thing, like Metro Dash did – a full force 10-20 minute sprint. We also have some other plans that I can share when they become a reality, those are more on the team building side.

Our plan is to follow in the path of the Vikings and wreak havoc all over Europe, and eventually the North East coast of America 😉
Our first stop out side of Scandinavia will hopefully be Lindisfarne in England.

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