Where Does Obstacle Course Racing Go From Here?
Obstacle course racing has suddenly come to a painful crossroads. In the last week, we’ve had one of the top OCR athletes call out the sport for a lack of growth and difficulty for the athletes who call themselves elite; we’ve had a tragedy strike on the course of an otherwise routine obstacle course race event; we’ve had one of the leaders in obstacle course racing announce that they are doing away with monetary awards in all competitive fields.
Now I am not in any way an elite racer and I do not for see myself bringing home a paycheck from a podium finish, but what I am is a young entrepreneur who is fighting to get an OCR training business off the ground, while simultaneously questioning the sports longevity. Needless to say, this week has me terrified. What is the future of Obstacle Course Racing?
When I heard about Ryan Atkins’ Instagram post, I, like many, sided with Ryan. This is a sport where we are seeing our athletes leave their typical adult jobs to pursue their dream of calling themselves “Professional Athletes”. You have retired collegiate superstars coming out of retirement and trying their hand in a new sport that has a serious potential for earning and accolades. You have athletic gym-goers wondering “do I have what it takes” and trying their hand in competitive fields. You have Average Joes getting up from the couch and committing to try this crazy sport of running through the mud and swinging from giant jungle gyms. We are now a serious sport.
To call yourself an “Elite” in the obstacle course racing world, you do not have to work your way up. All you do is simply pay an additional fee and receive a different start time where you’re set to face the best of the best (with the exception of Championship races). Then, once you cross that starting line, you set out on the very same course that the Average Joes plan to take on in 2 hours. There is no difference in the obstacles you face, but only a difference in your penalties for missing an obstacle.
We’ve all been at a party, or a family outing, and we tell people about our sport. “Is that like that Ninja show?” It’s always the most common comparison. In any Ninja competition, you have set levels with varying degrees of difficulty. You have to overcome level 1 before moving on to levels 2, 3, 4… Where is our progression into Elite in OCR? Elites should be facing the toughest challenges and having the hardest qualifications to run in their heat. It’s the basic evolution of all sports that have “professionals”.
I first got into Obstacle Course Racing as a way to finally convince the anti-runner in myself to start training my cardio and to test myself in a new fashion. It’s a common story throughout the community. Obstacle Course Racing is NOT a sport that you can get pulled from the couch and immediately take on the course. Obstacle course racing is a sport that encourages people to get off the couch, go to the gym, pick up a weight, or go outside and run. Then once you feel prepared (or when that race day comes), you toe that start line and give the best effort you can.
What happened this weekend in Chino is a terrible and tragic event. My deepest condolences go out to the family. I was not in Chino, I do not know the events that took place, and I will not make assumptions of what happened. Cardiac events occur in individuals of all ages, sizes, and fitness levels. Our community can take events such as these as a reminder that Obstacle Course Racing is a dangerous sport. It is not for everybody and it is not something that you should participate in without training. Please, do your research. Watch race videos, read reviews, find training plans and visit with trainers specific to Obstacle Course Racing (but always check with your doctor first). Injuries and tragic events are not preventable, but if we continue to educate the lay persons about how to race safely, we can keep tragedy to a minimum.
The events of this last week have sent me into a panic. I want to continue to see the sport evolve. This is my passion, this is my career. The greatest panic set in last night when news from Tough Mudder came out.
“We’ve made the decision to remove prize money for Tough Mudder Race Series events in 2019.”
I’m floored. Arguably one of the leaders in the sport of Obstacle Course Racing is now removing prize money, thus decreasing the level of competition at their events, including World’s Toughest Mudder.
How do we go from having one of their first ever Pro Team Member’s calling for increased competition to taking away the incentives of our Professionals? Is the competitiveness of the sport becoming too much for the brand?
In a week where you have top athletes vocalizing their desire for more competitiveness, a harsh lesson on the risks involved in running our sport, and a brand realizing that competition is deterring their market, it’s time for the OCR brands to collectively decide on where we want to go from here.
Are we a legitimate sport? Are we just a fun activity for a couple coworkers or a group of friends to challenge themselves in a new way on any given Saturday?
It is never a bad thing to appease the masses, but it’s time to work together as a community to decide how we are going to continue to grow while maintaining our appeal for those outside the OCR world.
As a very active member of the OCR community, I am most often known because of my affiliations with a specific race brand. I love the brand, but I love the sport as a whole so much more.
I have run Spartan Races. I have run OCRWC and NorAm Championships. I have run local OCRs and a handful of other race brands. I am constantly checking out more and more of the race brands available here in the United States (and hopefully soon more international races). Every race brand has their uniqueness; I never want them to lose that.
We need unity within our sport. As much as I would love to see Mandatory Obstacle Completion across the board, I know it is not always viable. We need some form of levels and ratings. It is possible and we've seen race brands such as Battlefrog and Goliathon utilizing ratings successfully at their events. We need a way to progress the competition and the professional circuit of the sport; we need a system that allows growth from a beginner to the pros; we need a way to identify which races are most suitable for beginners to reduce health risks and to allow new racers to get their feet wet without falling prey to the toughest of courses. The Obstacle Course Racing Community needs to work together. We are one sport, we need to unify.