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Obstacle Course Racing: The Weekend Warrior’s Paradise

Obstacle course races are all the rage with people that love intense workouts to your average Joe that wants to test what they are made of.  

The number of obstacle course races have multiplied like rabbits over the last few years. You can find one within driving distance from where you live every month. Races like The Tough Mudder, The Spartan Race, and The Rugged Maniac are some of the more notable races that have boomed in popularity. Sponsorships deals with companies like Reebok and TV deals have followed these races. This poses a few questions. How did these races come to be and why are they so popular? 

Obstacle course racing started in 1987 with the Tough Guy obstacle course race in the United Kingdom. It is considered one of the hardest races in the world as the temperatures are near freezing and it takes place in snowy conditions. The evolution of the sport has kept the more popular races from being that extreme, but they are still not easy. 

What has helped propel these races to the masses is that they are hard enough that not everyone can do it, but they aren’t hard enough that no one can do it. Yes, there are elite athletes that run what are called elite heats, which is normally at the beginning of the day with racers that will likely contend for top times. The team aspect has helped make it popular amongst co-workers and friends. Many people don’t like to do this type of activity on their own, at least not casually, but when you can do it with friends it makes it that much easier.  

The courses range in size. Normally they include a minimum of 10 obstacles and range in distance from 3 miles to 15 miles. Military style obstacles are common places, with monkey bars, rope climbs and military crawl under barbed wire being at nearly every event. Steep hills, filling buckets with sand and carrying them a specific distance, and climbing inverted walls are also part of the obstacles that need to be completed. If these sound hard, they are, but not impossible. If you are working with a team they are even easier. Most races included penalties such as a specified number of jumping jacks if an obstacle can’t be completed.  

All this still sounds like torcher, but the icing on the cake has to be that you get a medal for completing. As silly as that sounds, when you complete something that is not easy, nothing feels better than getting something to recognize the accomplishment. In addition to the medal, most races five you a free beer when completing it. What can be better than that? 

The big three when it comes to obstacle course racing are The Tough Mudder, The Spartan Race, and the Rugged Maniac. 

The Tough Mudder

The race started in 2010 and what sets it apart from most other races is that its primary focus is on team work and completing the course. Despite the focus being on teams, there are still solo races. Courses range from 10 to 12 miles, and like most races feature several military inspired obstacles. 

The Tough Mudder has a season finale which is called The Toughest Mudder, and it is a doozy. The race is 24 hours long. The course is shorter than in regular events and the goal of the races is to complete as many laps as you can in 24 hours. There are three categories, solo male, solo female and team. Whoever completes the most laps for each category wins. For the solo races, each winner receives a prize of $10,000 and for the team race they receive $12,000. 

The Spartan Race

This race has blown up and deals with Reebok and NBC have helped propel it to the forefront of obstacle course racing. There are three common types or races for The Spartan Race. Sprint is the shortest, it is 3+ miles with over 20 obstacles. Super is the second longest which is 8 + miles with over 20 obstacles. Beast is the longest and is 13 + miles and has over 30 obstacles. If you can complete all three in one calendar year then you receive a trifecta medal. For those that are more serious competitors there is also the Ultra Beast, which is the Beast times two. The other race is a Hurricane Heat which includes tasks that help set up the course the night before.  

The world championship for The Spartan Race has a prize of $15,000 for the person that finishes in first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place. 

Rugged Maniac

Helping this race was their appearance on the TV show Shark Tank. In their appearance, they were able to make a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban. With his investment, they were able to expand the race and have succeeded because their focus has been on the less fit. Instead of having long races they have focused on a shorter race that is 3.1 miles. 

Focusing on the less athletic people looking to complete obstacle course races has paid off in spades. There events are set up as an all-day festival where you can relax and have fun after the race. Unlike the other races there is no world championship. Instead they have expanded to a costume race called The Costume Dash 5k. 

With each year that goes by the obstacle race industry gets bigger. The Spartan Race put a bid in to be considered for the 2020 Olympics. It was rejected, but that was the first time they attempted it. This is something that can easily be implemented in the Olympics. Countries would easily rally behind their athletes in what can only be described as a decathlon on steroids. Only time will tell if obstacle course races end up in the Olympics, but don’t expect their popularity to slow down any time soon. If anything, it will increase as more and more people find out about them. Currently not even one percent of the population participates in them, but that number will grow. 

Andrea H

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