• MeggieBATC

Whose Race Are You Running?

“Run Your Own Race.” We’ve all heard this phrase, we all race our own race, and as of late, we all criticize others for their definition of the phase. Does “Run Your Own Race” give you the right to run past an obstacle without doing a penalty? Does “Run Your Own Race” mean you can sign up as an Elite solely for the earlier start time? Does “Run Your Own Race” mean that the rules do not apply to you?

The Obstacle Course Racing community has been saying the phrase “Run Your Own Race” for as long as we can remember. We are a new and intimidating sport. We encourage new racers to push outside of their comfort zone; run up a mountain, crawl through the mud, swing across the monkey bars. “Run Your Own Race” started as a phrase that was encouraging and welcoming to all racers alike. When did “Run Your Own Race” incorporate such a negative connotation?

With the most recent accusations of Ultras running past obstacles to meet cutoff times, to Age Group racers getting assistance simply because they “were not winning any awards”, to Open racers who were left to tears as they burpee and penalty with full integrity as they watch the most fit and able of open runners blowing off obstacles and penalties without even a glance to the burpee pit, I posed this to the OCR Community: What Does “Run your Own Race mean to you?”

“Don’t worry about anyone but yourself, do what you’re able to do and go at your pace.” - @ant2884

The responses I received were overwhelming. @2c_ocr responded “Completing every race with honor, regardless of time” while @scorpio_spartan added in “If you run Elite or AG, you need to run Spartan Rules Race. Open Racing? Race for self respect!” Running your own race is widely seen as running the race based upon your capabilities. It is interpreted as racing to challenge yourself. To @regal_the_tarzaness, Run Your Own Race means “trying your hardest and doing your personal best.”

One of my favorite responses, however, came from @jess_lulu2:

Jess proudly attempts all mens weights when she races

“Run your own race means you sign up for a heat of your ability level and perform to YOUR best ability while adhering to the rules of your heat, while trying to do your personal best… It means you accept when you cannot do 30 burpees and run open so you can do squats instead… It means when you’re ready to truly push yourself against the best, you step into AG or elite and crank out every obstacle, every burpee, and leave nothing in the tank at that fire jump.”

Reading through the responses I received, I noticed a genuine level of integrity with those who shared their experiences. Not only is running your own race about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and achieving something truly great, but you are respecting the race itself in adhering to the rules and making the modifications necessary to succeed for the heat that you signed up in.

When starting to brainstorm this blog, I thought back to my own personal race at the Spartan Tri-State New Jersey Beast and Ultra:

I race in the 30-34 female age group bracket. We are the first female heat after the elites and we all check a box agreeing to adhere to the rules before we pay our entrance fee and receive our red headband. We all agree that we no longer run our own race, we run Spartan’s race to the best of our abilities.

Upon entering the corral for the female 30-39, there were a handful of males 30-39 who jumped in as well, although their heat had just taken off. When confronted, they ran ahead just far enough to where those at the starting line could not see them and they stood and waited for their female friends to meet up with them on the course. These couples then went on to serve as pacers and as racing partners.

If Ryan Atkins were having a bad race and, instead of dropping out, he decided to wait a few minutes to help pace Lindsay Webster, would we consider it cheating?

I encountered multiple couples who I would pass at obstacles, and then they would come running past me, with the male setting the pace for the female as they ran. I would next see the men standing and waiting after completing an obstacle, as the female completed their obstacle. My knee-jerk reaction was to ask those men to “run your own race.”

The Tri-State Beast and Ultra weekend exposed more of the cheating that takes place amongst the elite and age group “early start time” crowd; from groups illegally assisting one another on obstacles, to improper penalties, from the occasional speakers with music, to the people dropping their packs before they go into obstacles and the people discarding garbage and clothing along the course because they don’t know what else to do with it. When did “Run Your Own Race” turn into disrespecting Spartan’s race?

“Run your own race” has a different definition once you check that box agreeing to adhere to the rules or risk disqualification in Elite and Age Group Divisions.

“{Run Your Own Race has} become the general justification for lacking integrity.” - @jodi_ocr

Fenway is for Fun Laps with Friends

Now I will be the first to admit, I have never been the picture perfect open racer. I have run with groups strictly to have fun, trying obstacles multiple times, taking goofy pictures on the course, and testing out the men’s weights of obstacles. This is not following the rulebook and I accept whatever criticism that may come from it.

When interpreting “Run Your Own Race”, we need to start evaluate why specific rules are in place. There are the obstacles and penalty rules: mandatory obstacles vs single-attempt obstacles, burpees vs penalty loops, and then there are safety rules which should NEVER be broken (no headphones or music on the course, no buckets on the shoulders, no helping someone through hanging obstacles). In the open waves, “Run Your Own Race” means modify your obstacles and your penalties to within your means. If you are gassed and 30 burpees are not in your tank, jumping jacks and air squats are a perfect alternative. If that 8 foot wall is dauntingly impossible, ask the person to the right or to the left of you if they’d be willing to help you over. “Run your own race should mean go at your own pace, and modify as needed. Not, it’s okay to skip everything and act like it’s nothing.” @jodi_ocr.

Before I face the added backlash and the “how dare she” from the community, I want to remind everybody the reasoning behind the open waves - to push yourself in a way you’ve never pushed before. Open waves are where you set goals that you once thought were unattainable, and then as you show up more, the more achievable those goals become. Every single person has a “why” behind their first race; something brought them out there that first time, and there is something that brings them back race after race. We do not know what a person is dealing with, what injuries they may be battling, or what goals they are looking to achieve, but its moments like watching Oscar Mike and the other adaptive athletes on course completing every obstacle they physically can, taking their penalties without making excuses, and fighting until that finish line that remind us all the real reason why we race. We race because we want to overcome whatever is put in our way.

The next time you are out at a race, and decide that you’re going to move on without completing a penalty, watch Oscar Mike come through. It is inspiring to watch them on the course. The strength and the determination they exemplify reminds us all that no obstacle is impossible. These adaptive athletes have every reason to “run your own race”, skipping obstacles and burpees, but instead they trek on and uphold Spartan Rules to every extent of their ability.

As a way to change the stigma and the culture around “Run Your Own Race”, I posed the question to the SGX community: As coaches, how do you define {“Run Your Own Race”} to your new and recurring Spartan clients?

“They have already earned their medal for having trained hard and being at the start line. No one can judge other peoples obstacles and how unsurmountable they may be. For many, having the courage to show up the day of the race is a major victory… I also tell them to always work towards greater objectives. A clean race (all obstacles and burpees completed) may only be attainable on the second or third try.”- Jonathan Redman, SGX

“All my new Spartans I tell them the same - they go into the open wave and enjoy the race and try an obstacle at least 3 times to get a feel and up to them regarding burpees. When it’s all over we meet up to discuss the race and what they felt about the race and how they felt they could improve. And from there we build on their own journey through Spartan.” - Gino Meriano, SGX

“I like the idea of having the group get together in advance and discuss what it means to each individual. In addition, I'd like to have each individual discuss what that means to the group. This allows us then to understand and appreciate the individual and the group. It may also facilitate a deeper understanding of how those differences then bring us together.” - John Honcharuk, SGX

So how can we, as OCR Athletes, take back the phrase “Run Your Own Race”?

  1. The rules are in place for a reason. This is Spartan’s race, we are just running it to the best of our ability.

  2. Elite and Age Group Racers are required to adhere to the rules, or face disqualification (this means no medal, no trifecta)

  3. Try all obstacles before taking a penalty or moving along {Open Racers}

  4. MODIFY (not blatantly skip) obstacles and penalties as needed for health reasons. Find a modification that is within your means, but still outside of your comfort zone enough to be a challenge {Open Racers}

  5. Camaraderie is key on the course. Open teams and racers are encouraged to help their fellow Spartans if they would like the assistance. Share the burpee love with teammates who may need the help.

  6. Always offer positive encouragement to all racers. You do not know what somebody is dealing with and a simple “good job” can get someone to that finish line.

  7. Have fun and keep your eyes on your race goals

We need to get away from saying “Run Your Own Race.” These races were never ours to claim. At the end of the day, we are running Spartan’s race, but to the very best of our ability.

Megan is a Certified Athletic Trainer, a Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and an Obstacle Specialist. She took her love for obstacle course racing and her extensive knowledge of the human body to develop a new style of OCR training


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