October 29th, 2022 Battle Bunker hosted it's first ever Flagship fitness competition. Sixty-four athletes from around the world came to compete inside of the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. Here are some thoughts from our Founder - Austen Alexander on the event's overall outcome.
WHAT IS BATTLE BUNKER?
When I was getting out of the Navy, I had this idea for a Youtube series called "Battle Bunker". I leaned on the idea that I would build my own obstacle course in the desert and make videos to share online.
After months of thinking and budgeting, I built the first Battle Bunker obstacle course in 2020 as I exited the Navy, and worked my ass off to film, produce, and share these fitness style challenge videos with the world.
A year later, I knew it was time to grow the brand even more past the video series. I wanted to plan a big competition completely out of my comfort zone, so that's what I did...
EVOLUTION OF BATTLE BUNKER
In January 2022, we were still leasing a parcel of 86 acres in Moorpark, CA. It was pretty far away from civilization. No power, no water, and at night it was a coyote playground (literally). I had reached out to Brett Stewart from Obstacle Builders, LLC and told him "hopefully one day I'll be able to afford a fully built course from you guys in a different location" and he kept in contact with me every few months to check in on how business was going.
After about 16 months in Moorpark, CA, I knew that we had to pivot locations. There needed to be a place that we could go that had facilities, bathrooms, and somewhere else we could call home. The episodes were performing well, and I finally had the earnings from Youtube to make something happen.
I've always tried to be one of those "aim high" type of guys. I can't say I've always aimed high and targeted massive goals but for some reason I aimed as high as I could, and pitched the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center on letting us build the course inside of their facility. This would give us access to book services with the Training Center, and have incredible experiences there.
THE BIG COMMITMENT
After several meetings with the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, we had come to an agreement that would allow us to build the new Battle Bunker obstacle course inside of their facility. I can remember how stressed I was when I was waiting for the final review from the President of the Training Center. When I got the call with good news, it was hard to believe. One take away that you can learn from this story, is:
"learn to aim high always and even if you miss, this is still greater than not aiming at all"
BUILDING THE HYBRICON
As soon as we got the "okay" from the Elite Athlete Training Center, we got to work. I moved my whole life from Simi Valley, CA to San Diego, CA. This included two ornery puppies, and my girlfriend Sara. Money was tight, but I was prepared to do anything in my power to build this course. We had a couple of big payments close to $200,000 coming in from commercials and video projects that we had been working on, but I didn't have those funds in my bank account yet.
That's when I reached out to a good friend of mine named Demi Bagby and told her what I was trying to do. You may have seen Demi online at some point doing fitness challenges or even racing cars and buggies.
"Hey Demi, I need $100,000. Promise I'll pay you back"
Now any other person would have laughed at me, but not Demi. She wrote the $100,000 check so I could pay for the obstacle course.
Two weeks later, the build crew had driven in from around the US, and they had started the build of the HybriCon course. I won't mention the surveys, planning, insurances, safety, and everything else that went into this (maybe in a different blog) but it was already a headache...a headache that I was so blessed to endure.
PARTNERING WITH HUNTER MCINTYRE
During the building of the Battle Bunker Hybricon course, I had stirred up conversation with a man by the name of Hunter McIntyre. Hunter reached out to me about two years prior to give his support on what we were doing with Battle Bunker.
Hunter had stacked up several world titles in the sport of obstacle course racing and HYROX fitness racing, and I saw him as a valuable resource for my next venture - a big fitness competition.
When I first teased the idea of hosting Battle Bunker's first Flagship competition, he was all over it. Hunter is driven by challenge especially with anything involving fitness, so after a few discussions on hosting an event, we came to an agreement that Hunter would come on as "Race Director" and help map out workouts, athletes, and scoring.
BAD PLANNING, GREAT EXECUTION
Historically, I'm really bad at planning. Most of my life thus far has been built with a "figure it out as I go" type mentality. For me, the first step was to lock a date for the competition and I chose October 29th, 2022 which was the same date as the Rogue Invitational.
After creating a Google Form to gauge interest, we started sharing this form on social media. The first week, we had around 300 signups from people all over the world who wanted to compete in our first ever competition.
This was an emotional moment for me to see so much interest in something that was just an idea from the start of Battle Bunker. It really made me believe in what we were doing, even though some days it was hard to even believe in myself.
As the signups rolled in, I knew that this was only the tip of the iceberg on what we had to accomplish in 66 days. Judges, volunteers, media, livestream, vendors, insurance, medical, and what seemed like hundreds of other things had to be planned and booked. I wasn't prepared for what was to come next.
ONE MONTH UNTIL SHOWTIME
We had successfully recruited sixty-four athletes, 55 volunteers, food trucks, livestream crew, and I had purchased all of the gear we had to use. We reached out to GORUCK for gear but they didn't seem interested. It may have been because they were a sponsor for the Rogue Invitational that same day, or it may have been because this was our first event and no one really knew what we were trying to accomplish with it.
Hunter was pretty quick to develop our workout and events. Over 16 years of competing full-time had given him the knowledge of some great workouts to send our athletes through.
- 2 Mile Ruck (50lb Men, 35lb Women)
- 700 meter Row (Open Lake)
- 800 meter Track Sprint
This was the original workout for Event 1. We ran multiple tests and friends through this event and after lots of thought, the kayak proved to be a tough one. We would have to add about 20 more safety staff in the water, lifeguards, boats, and about $20,000 in kayaks.
As my spending on this event continued to grow, I made the decision to switch the lake row to rowing machines. For our first event, sadly the kayak was not an option.
The rest of TRIPLE R still stood firm. The final workout would be the two mile ruck, 2000m row on a rower, and an 800 meter track sprint on the Olympic track.
- 4 Rounds of 5 Sandbag Cleans and 5 Sandbag Front Squats
- Build Barricade with 30 - 50 lb sandbags
After testing this event and figuring logistics, we made another alteration to this workout. Since the barricade weighed 1500 lbs in total, there was no way we could get our volunteers to reset these after each wave. That's 120,000 lbs moved across 8 waves of athletes.
We made an alteration to event 2 by taking out the barricade, and adding a "travel bonus" to the end. Hunter's idea was to push athletes through the sandbag work, and as far as they could travel within a 6 minute time cap. We started the bags at 150 lbs each and after lots of testing, we chose 100 lbs for men and 50 lbs for women.
After announcing the weights to the competitors, we began testing more. That 50 lbs seemed light compared to the men's weight which was double, and we by no means wanted to make this workout easy for the women.
We made the choice to change the women's sandbag weight to 70 lbs. After lots of excitement from some, and lots of "wtf" from most, I learned a lesson here.
"Announce the workouts only when you are 100% sure of the workout"
- 5 Sandbag Cleans, and 5 Sandbag Front Squats
- 100 M travel
x 4 rounds
Bonus: Travel outside of the box after completion, and run as far as you can around the field. 100 lb men, 70 lbs women.
Now this one was an easy choice. I knew that incorporating the course into the events would be awesome..but thirty days before the competition, the course still needed a few things before it was ready.
48 HOURS BEFORE SHOWTIME
66 days had blown by, and we still had some additional testing for the livestream, event flow, and staffing. My other businesses were suffering pretty hard. On top of the added stress of seeing numbers decrease, some of our volunteers became unresponsive to emails and we had no food trucks for the volunteers. Simple things such as sending emails, coordinating with different teams (livestream, judges, vendors, staff) became tough as it was down to the wire with prioritizing the most important things...like gear.
This may sound crazy, but we didn't fill the rucks or sandbags until three days before the competition. If you don't believe me, look at the date on my camera roll on the image below.
We had a crew of 6 guys from sun up to sun down filling rucks and sandbags for this event. We moved 6,000 pounds of gravel and sand on that day to fulfill the gear requirements of the event. It was actually a lot of fun, and reminded me of the camaraderie that I had with my Harbor team in the Navy.
24 HOURS BEFORE SHOWTIME
Things from here became a blur. There was so much left to be done and so little time. Luckily, Hunter had flown in his entire team to help out - including a nice couple from Ireland with cool accents (got us through the day).
We loaded and labeled rowers, rented trucks, loaded rucks, sat out tables, and prioritized some last minute things like banners and tables.
The livestream director Max Bloom was even on site testing internet speed, batteries, angles, and microphones.
TICKETS AND CHECK-IN
For the competitor tickets, we charged $170. This came with a hotel room inside of the Training Center, competition entry, three shirts provided by Til Valhalla Project, socks from Mudgear, and all you can eat food inside of the World Class Dining Facility on campus.
Now if you do the math on that, something ain't right. How were we able to provide all of this to the athletes for this price? - which is comparable to a single Spartan Race entry.
Well, I'll get to that in a minute, but when I saw our first athletes coming to the check-in booth I was so excited. We were really doing this thing.
0300 came pretty early for me. I was on-site around 0330 AM along with Max Bloom (our livestream director) Ivan Ivanov (our Head of Production) and Hunter's team.
We did several walkthroughs of the events and made sure small things like check-in tables were set, rucks were still there from overnight, rowers hadn't been stolen - ya know, small things.
Seeing all of the athletes line up at the Welcome center and prepare for an eventful day really lifted my energy. I was PUMPED to get this show on the road. On top of that, the President, CRO, and COO of the Training Center were all there watching our operation. Six months prior I was some weirdo walking into their facility asking if I could build an obstacle course, and that morning we were waiting with 64 athletes from around the world ready to compete for $20,000 in cash. It was a feeling I had never felt before.
We launched the men's wave, and I crashed the golf cart into the bushes. It was great!
After getting back on track, we watched these men from around the world gut it out in this grueling, hilly ruck path.
As the men finished the ruck and began to row on their rower, there was an issue. Some of the rowers were slipping which caused some commotion on the competition floor - as it should. It hadn't even been 20 minutes into the competition and we encountered our first big problem. I told myself that I should stay out of the scoring and judging, but at this moment I couldn't help but to try and fix the issues and figuring out what to do.
Hunter seemed to be pretty stressed too, which stressed me out even more. We ended up having the judges record the fastest pace, and project the athlete's time to 2000m. Here's an image of Hunter during all of this happening to give you an accurate expression of how he felt.
Lesson learned here:
"Don't ever leave rowers out overnight, no matter how humid it is. Dew sucks"
As we launched the women's wave, they seemed to be in good spirits. Pretty much everything else was running smoothly. We even had compliments on the live stream.
After TRIPLE R, the athletes had two hours of down time to chill, eat, and recover. But for the judges and Hunter's team, this was only the beginning of a tough scoring day.
There began to be issues with scoring quickly. We had 10 judges each with 12 data points to pull accurate scores from. All of the information was there, but consolidating became a time consuming task for Hunter and the judges. On top of that, all of the scores were manually written on scoring sheets and that made for a long scoring day.
"Be sure scoring is quick and seamless, in order to provide this data to the competitors quickly and efficiently"
As we began FUBAR, we started to develop a crowd of spectators and vendors. After stressing about vendors and spectators, it was good to see that this side was running smoothly and our volunteers knew their role. By the way, out of 55 volunteer sign-ups, we had around 23 that showed up on competition day. This gave us the manpower to ensure smooth operations for the crowd, medical, vendors, photos, and hydration.
Now this was a massive part of our planning. As a digital media focused company, I knew we had to provide a great experience for the viewers back home and around the world.
Max Bloom really saved me here. I had met him just two months prior and he just happened to be pretty dang good at livestreaming and everything media related. When I asked him if he would coordinate the livestream he replied " say less fam" and there he was with a 4 man crew, $100,000 in livestream equipment, drones, and the whole schabang.
I had NEVER ran a livestream on the Battle Bunker Youtube channel, so I didn't know how it would pan out. But looking at the livestream numbers during the FUBAR and seeing that a little over 6,000 people had tuned in at one point during the live, I was in disbelief.
As the athletes started running through the course, I got in my zone. Coaching and motivating others through tests, courses, and challenges is what I love to do. This event is when I really just looked at everyone having a blast and competing against each other and I felt proud. Proud of the team, proud of the athletes, and proud that all of these people supported what we were doing at Battle Bunker.
During the Hybricon Course event, Hunter told me he was taking half of the judges into the conference room to score the rest of the data. I knew this would take awhile and I just hoped that they would be done by the time Event 3 was over with.
About two hours later, Hunter came back and said that they had spent that entire two hours reviewing footage, calculating the scores, and finding the winners of the $20,000 cash prizes.
We were not able to provide all of the exact scores from first to thirty second place because of the time commitment, but Hunter was confident that they had the first ten athletes scored from each division - and I was confident in Hunter.
By the end of the day, it had gotten dark and I requested that the Olympic flame be lit so we could award the athletes for a job well done.
TAKEAWAYS AND WHAT WE LEARNED
I'm not the type to say "oh yes our competition was perfect, nor am I the type to throw a cold shoulder to criticism. I know we have areas to improve on, but for our first competition - it was a success. Successfully no injuries, successfully coordinated, successfully executed, and successfully testing athletes through a wide array of events in the Sport of Hybricon.
Some things were not successful though, so here is a recap of my takeaways and lessons learned after completing our first competition.
1.) Announce the workouts only when you are 100% sure of the workout.
2.) Don't ever leave rowers out overnight, no matter how humid it is. Dew sucks.
3.) Be sure scoring is quick and transparent, in order to provide this data to the competitors quickly and efficiently.
4.) Do not rely on food trucks to feed your volunteers. They probably won't show up.
5.) Empower judges by giving them all of the necessary info to score with, and be 100% sure they are all on the same page.
I'm a transparent guy, and I love business. So I'll give the break down of the costs and why we hosted this competition.
Unlike any other competitive brand out there, we don't sell product. We don't sell to customers and we don't monetize from the consumer. So there has been lots of "why are they hosting this competition?" questions out there.
More speculation has been because it "drives traffic to our YouTube channel". To put that into perspective. We spent $45,000 on this event including cash prizes. In order to earn that back, we'd have to generate over 10,000,000 views on the livestream to break even, so that's nonsense.
The truth is, I just wanted to host a big competition. We earn pretty well on the projects we take on, so I saved up all year in my little business bank account in order to support this competition.
After all of the competitor ticket money went to the Training Center for the hotel rooms and food, we had about a $32,000 "loss" on this event. Zero paying sponsors, zero products sold. Money is cool and all, but my passion for this stuff is much greater than money. But in order for us to be able to host another event like this, there probably needs to be one thing in place. Sponsors.
So in my eyes, this competition acted as a challenge for us to take on, and a case study that we can present to a sponsor(s) to help support the next competition.
Don't get me wrong, if we had zero sponsors, I would definitely save up again (already started) to host another competition next year. But it would be nice to not max my credit cards out again lol it's stressful.
As a small startup event production company, we gave away $20,000 total and I'm pretty dang proud of that. It's also already paid out by the way. To put that into perspective, Tough Mudder (owned by Spartan) gives away $35,000 total for their "World's Toughest Mudder" competition. Spartan is a + $100 Million dollar brand. We are a < $1M brand.
Does that math add up?
If I can put a dent in the competitive space and raise the bar to compete with these multi-million dollar company payouts - I'll go that route. Seems enticing. After all, we are a competition company :)
Power to the Athlete.
Thanks for reading, and I'll see you at the next competition 😉
Host - Battle Bunker