Spartan goes to Iceland and brings back a new race format

What Was that Spartan in Iceland All About?

While this is a challenge for all of us who write about OCR, my biggest concern in writing about the Spartan Iceland Ultra World Championship was avoiding overuse of the words “epic” and “grueling.” My solution here is substituting the words “saga-worthy” and “difficult,” because Iceland is a land of difficult terrain that inspired centuries of sagas. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This summer, Spartan announced that it was launching a new race in a new location: Iceland. I’ve been before, but I wanted to go back, and this seemed like a great excuse. Spartan also announced a new format:  a 24-hour UltraBeast consisting of 5-mile loops. My first reaction was “So, this is going to be World’s Toughest Spartan?” The staff at Tough Mudder must have been pleased, as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. My next reaction was to note the date: December 16, a month after World’s Toughest Mudder and, more important, a time of year when the sun barely shines in one of the world’s northernmost countries. The flip side of this was that it would make viewing of the northern lights while racing a real possibility.

The Great Unknowns

Racers were stymied at first, as Spartan’s website was ambiguous about what exactly the race would consist of, where it would take place, and who could participate. Many were reluctant to fork over $750 for a race without more details – Spartan promised it would be “epic” and “grueling”, but not much more. Eventually, enough people signed up that Spartan committed to the event and provided a travel agent to arrange hotels and transportation. The exact location was kept secret until close the date of the event, though it was easy enough to guess from Spartan’s description (a quick web search of the term “thermal streams,” one of the course features, pinpointed the site as Hveragerdi).

Adding to this uncertainty was one of the first data points provided by Spartan: a mandatory gear list. While Spartan has made some gear requirements for races in the past, particularly to make sure that racers would have enough water on the Beast and UltraBeast courses, the gear list provided was more reminiscent of what was required for the Death Race or an Agoge. In addition to a pack for water, racers were required to have on their person rain gear, warm clothes, lights, backup lights, and a very specific foot care kit. While I could imagine hikers needing an Ace bandage out in the wilderness, the need for one on a five-mile loop was less clear to me, and an informal survey after the race turned up no one who used it out on the course. The list caused considerable online puzzlement: would we be disqualified before the start if our rain jackets didn’t have the correct type of waterproof taped seams? Would there be pack inspections along the course?

What’s Icelandic for “Athlete Briefing”?

Racers met the day before the race for a mandatory briefing at Reykjavik’s Harpa, a concert hall and conference center, something like Iceland’s Carnegie Hall, but sleek and modern. Before we got to the important race details, we were treated to what might be the Icelandic equivalent of a motivational speaker. Bjartur led us all in a chant, having us cry “Wiking! Yes!” and jump in the air. Yes, Scandinavians have trouble with word-initial v’s, and it’s funny. The next few days included plenty of cheers of “Wiking!”

Next, Spartan Founder Joe De Sena took the stage and explained that staging the race had cost over a million dollars, and he expressed gratitude for some last-minute sponsors who had made the event possible. Given how expensive Iceland is, this was certainly credible. Finally, we were given the details of how the race would work: the loops would be six miles, not five unless bad weather forced the closing of part of the course. We were shown the bling, and we received a lengthy explanation of how that bling would be allocated. The format of the race would have different levels of finishers, one for those who completed over thirty miles, and another for those who completed over thirty miles and did so over twenty-four hours. Calculating the twenty-four hours involved crossing the finish line just after 9:00 am on Sunday, but not after 12:00 noon, which would result in not completing the race at all.

Iceland Ultra medal and belt buckle

At The Start

We picked up our timing chips and race bibs: purple for the elite competitors, black for us civilians, with reflective areas to make us visible in the dark, and so to bed. In the morning (still in the dark – remember, Iceland gets about four hours of sunlight a day this time of year) we were picked up from designated hotels in Reykjavik by bus and taken to Hveragerdi, about 45 minutes away. Iceland is powered by geothermal energy, and Hveragerdi is one of the locations where the steam pours out of the earth. We had been warned to stay on the course during the race because cutting corners could land us in the middle of a scalding thermal pool. Not a good reason to be disqualified.

In addition to pervasive eerie steam, Hveragerdi has an inflatable dome that provides an indoor rec center for the locals – basketball court, putting green, soccer field. This served as the Transition Area, and we were provided tables to store our gear, mandatory and otherwise. Cheerily, it was announced that in the wee hours, there would be cots and inflatable hammocks available for napping or for more comfortable viewing of Christmas movies which were to be projected on the walls.

We geared up, but before we could go outside there were two more groups to take the stage. First was a cohort from the concurrent Agoge that had started the day before. I don’t know what they had been up to on their spiritual and physical journey, but they looked miserable. A crowd of hundreds was cheering their efforts, but they all appeared too exhausted and demoralized to crack a smile. I did not envy them. Next were two Vikings (Wikings?), or the modern reenactor equivalents, who led us in a Viking prayer, which consisted of calling out the names of gods in each direction (Thor! etc.) and pouring out mead.

Genuine Wikings

Icy Start

We filed out of the dome into what little daylight there was. The weather called for rain, freezing rain, snow, some clearing, and then more precipitation. In short, a miserable day to be outdoors. Still, there was a race to complete, and twenty-four hours had to start eventually. At noon we took off for a 5K “prologue” through the town. This was a clever way to stretch out the field, and it gave us a taste of what the conditions were like: icy. Even before we started on the trails, we had to figure out how to keep upright on slick surfaces. Running up even a slight incline on ice is tricky.

After the prologue, we headed to the hills and the obstacles. One of the first obstacles was a pipe that was part of the landscape and replaced the usual hurdles that can be found on Spartan courses. Some of the obstacles (Monkey Bars, Twister) were closed on the first lap to avoid backups, and we soon came across another nod to the local conditions: the “farmer carry” obstacle had racers carrying… ice. Handles had been frozen into large blocks of ice. Nice touch, Spartan, and I always appreciate it when races that somehow acknowledge the course settings (think tire carries that used to be part of the Tough Mudder course at Raceway Park in New Jersey).

Why they call it Iceland

Soon we were directed up the side of the mountain. Spartan has steep climbs in its races, but this was among the steepest and most difficult I could remember. This wasn’t running, but rather climbing up the side of the mountain, pulling yourself up on whatever you could grab and hope that your footing wouldn’t slip. Also, hoping that you weren’t inadvertently kicking loose rocks into the faces of those below you. Video of that climb here

At the top of the mountain, it became clear exactly how treacherous conditions were: winds of more than 40mph pummeled racers on the exposed summit. The combination of the slick ice underneath your feet and the strong winds made it tough to stand even on a flat surface, and the wind was powerful enough to blow the snot out of you. Apologies to anyone who might have been downwind from me.

Going down the mountain was not easier: there was simply not much stable footing. Between the ice and the freezing rain on top of the ice and the wet terrain below the layers of grass, my feet were wet, cold, and unstable. The obstacles were spaced out fairly well as a distraction, but when your hands are cold and wet and the surfaces are icy, even simple obstacles like a rope climb are challenging. A complaint I heard from several people was that the sandbag carry was the most difficult obstacle; the sandbags were 60 pound Spartan “pancakes” (who knew they came in this size?), but these bags had been left out in the freezing rain, where they absorbed water and froze into awkward shapes. One noteworthy innovation: Spartan had replaced the typical round of thirty burpees with other penalties for some failed obstacles. Instead, some obstacles had short penalty loops, bucket carries or barbed wire crawls. In another twist, the elites had to carry a “passport” with them where volunteers recorded how many obstacles the racer failed. At the end of each loop, the elites did all of their burpees in one session.

All that steam eventually turns to ice

The obstacles were all familiar, which was a relief given the unknowns of the terrain. As it got darker and as the rain started fogging my glasses, it was tougher and tougher to see the course markings, though I was brought back on course by helpful fellow racers. As I trudged up yet another hill, I had one of the highlights of my OCR career: I got passed by Robert Killian. As he danced up the hill past me, he said “Good job!” What a mensch! [Editor’s Note: Mensch is a person with honor] It says a great deal about our sport that one of the top elite athletes would spare the breath and brain power in the middle of a race to offer some encouragement to someone at the back of the pack. Thanks, Killian.

Robert Killian, OCR mensch

Throwing In The Towel After Throwing In The Spear

I was cold, wet and not sure how I was going to finish one loop, let alone keep going for twenty-four hours. As I tried to figure out the best way to get to the next marker, I found myself asking “What would Bear Grylls do?” I also remembered that Bear had once taken on Iceland.  But I’m not Bear Grylls, I’m definitely not Robert Killian, and the appeal of warm air and dry clothes back at the dome was overwhelming. I also realized that I should have signed up for the Sprint, not the Ultra, and one loop was going to be enough for me. Trying to hit the spear throw is difficult enough, but doing it in heavy winds, in the dark, and then having to do burpees in an inch of freezing water? I know when to say when, and I opted to avoid the risk of a broken wrist, or worse, from slipping on icy paths.

After admitting defeat, I settled into the world of the Transition Area, the dome where racers warmed up, changed clothes, recovered from each lap and refueled. There were cots and water jugs supplied, and the overall appearance was that of a refugee camp, albeit for especially buff refugees fleeing a repressive Gore-tex based regime. The dome was a veritable festival of DryRobes. There was food for sale, the camaraderie of fellow racers, a festival atmosphere for the few spectators and crew, and loud top-40 hits to keep the mood high. Myself, I took a nap in one of the Spartan-branded inflatable hammocks (pro-tip, Spartan: if you are going to note how expensive the race was to mount, maybe hold back on putting your logo on the hammocks next time).

It was warm and dry in here.

Deflated by De Sena

As I recovered, wedged happily in one of the hammocks, who should stroll by but Joe De Sena. Knowing his goal to yank the world up off the couch, I asked him if he was going to revise his pledge to rip 100 million people out of their inflatable hammocks instead? “They also deflate, you know” he replied.

All through the night, racers trickled in and out. At about 1:30 in the morning, an announcement was made: the skies had cleared and the northern lights were visible. This was enough to get me out of the warmth of the dome, and it was enough to justify the entire adventure. Photographs do not do the phenomenon justice, but this natural wonder was augmented by the tiny lights from the headlamps of the racers out on the course. Saga-worthy.

Spartan’s professional photographers capture the northern lights.

Northern lights plus racers in the night, as taken by my phone.

International Attendance

While this may happen more often at Spartan races in Europe, one notable aspect of this race for me was how international the field was. Joe De Sena has worked hard to build the race series around the world, and the athletes that traveled to Iceland had come from over thirty-five countries. According to Spartan, 48% of the racers came from the US, with 40% from Europe and the rest from even farther away. It was an eye-opener to see how global OCR has become. Also, it afforded a few entertaining cross-cultural opportunities:

Me: “So, where are you from?”

Another American Spartan: “I live in Scranton.”

Genuinely bemused Spanish Spartan: “Wait, that’s a real place? Not just on ‘The Office’?”

American Spartan: “Yes, it’s real. But they made some stuff up for the show. We don’t actually have a Chili’s in Scranton.”

Shortly after 9, Morgan McKay crossed the finish line to win the race for the women, and not long afterward, Josh Fiore claimed the title for the men. He did so in romantic style, having carried an engagement ring in his pack for the entire race and popping the question at the finish line.

ORM’s Matt B. Davis MC’s the proposal from the warmth of his DryRobe and my borrowed warm socks.

You can read more about Josh’s race experience here: Not to be left out, Morgan got engaged soon after.

Iceland Recap

Apart from diamonds, what are the takeaways from Spartan Iceland Ultra? To be sure, there were some rough spots. I try to keep in mind that this was a debut of a new product at a new venue. As an organization, Spartan does not shy away from a challenge, and I respect them for their daring. Still, I’ll point out some mistakes, some of them that were probably avoidable. Too many details were kept under wraps for too long. It’s one thing to tease, but if racers are going to commit to training for an endurance event, they need to know what the event is going to require of them. I was unsure if Spartan HQ was being coy for much of the run-up to the event or they were just not sure what they wanted to produce.

My biggest criticism of the event was one that struck me as soon it was announced: December is the wrong month for the race. I appreciate that the weather and the darkness were part of what made the event so difficult, but bringing an event to a place of spectacular natural beauty only to schedule it for a time when participants can’t see the scenery seemed like a waste. My suggestion: try March instead. You still get 12 hours of darkness, the weather is just as unpredictable, the northern lights could come out, and dates that are not so close to Christmas and coincide with school vacations would all bring out more racers. It also avoids the end of season conflicts with Spartan’s other championship event, with OCRWC, and World’s Toughest Mudder.

Downsides

Iceland is remote. This is part of what makes it appealing, but it also means that it is an expensive trip for everybody (well, almost everybody). There will never be one place that is convenient for everyone, but no one was going to be piling into a car for an affordable road trip for this race. And on the topic of accessibility, the initial price point of $750.00 was off-putting, especially given the additional costs of travel to the venue. Discounts were offered, and hotels turned out not to be too expensive in Iceland at this time of year, but sticker shock was enough to keep many away.

There were other problems that might have been avoided: the timing software was not yielding updated results throughout the race, which is particularly crucial in a twenty-four-hour race, where elite racers’ strategies can be built on how many laps competitors have completed. Even for regular racers, the results were not finalized for weeks after the event, which made the medal vs. belt buckle element confused at the end of the race. Speaking of which, apparently many of the medals that made it to Iceland for the Ultra had ribbons denoting Hawaii as the location. While both are remote volcanic hotspots, the contrast could not be greater. Another gear-related snafu was that there was supposed to be unique Spartan Iceland-themed swag on offer, but only samples were available at the race, to the disappointment of many. I understand that the setting made everything more difficult (absolutely everything: I heard that Spartan lost not one but two drones to the heavy winds, resulting in a lack of aerial footage that definitely would have been described as “epic”), but shipping race merchandise should be a no-brainer.

Final Complaints

Of all the obstacles not to bring to Iceland, there was no fire jump. Normally I think of this as a silly photo-op rather than an obstacle, but when you are in the Land of Fire and Ice, you bring the fire. That’s just what you do, especially when the race is mostly in the dark. I’m hoping a risk-averse landowner was to blame for that. More seriously, Spartan once again has problems measuring its courses. The original plan was five-mile loops, and the day before the race we were told loops would be closer to six miles. In reality, the loops were closer to 6.8. I raise this because it is a flaw I have seen at almost every Spartan course. This isn’t a matter of under-promising and over-delivering. Getting the distance right at an endurance event is Race Management 101. Spartan has enough experience by now that even at a new venue they should get this right.

In the end, the event was a success. It was difficult: 600 racers started the Ultra, and only 322 finished (208 finished the two sprint waves out of 250 who registered). This is not an event for everyone.  While the race could not have been a financial success, it was a way to launch a new product, the Ultra, which appears to be getting its own series separate from the Beast. Exactly how this is going to happen is still murky. The only clear message we received about the new product is that its colorway is going to be purple. However, in the same way that Tough Mudder has used the Tough Mudder distance to generate the multi-loop Toughest Mudder event at its regular venues, it appears that Spartan is using this format to create a much longer event without having to wrangle a longer race course. Very clever.

The Ultra Appeal

Who will sign up for this new product? Plenty of people, apparently. One refrain I heard from several racers was that the race was not challenging enough. At first, I thought this was bravado, but when I talked to these racers, many were coming from an ultrarunner background; their events can be longer and more difficult than what they encountered in Iceland. There is a market for very difficult events, and remember that Joe De Sena has a background in adventure races. Those events are frequently multi-day challenges that test not just athletic endurance levels but also raw survival skills. The question remains whether the Spartan brand can pull together enough new racers into a product with this level of difficulty, either from those who regularly do more difficult events or from those who are attempting their first twenty-four-hour race.

Spartan is definitely going to try: after the race, it sent out a survey asking where racers would be interested in having next year’s Ultra Championship. Iceland was an option, and after the money and research expended to find this unique spot, it seems a shame not to go back. However, other Scandinavian countries were on the list, as were some closer to home. Wherever the Ultra Championship lands next year, one thing is for sure: it will be both epic and grueling.

OCRWC Founder Launches a New Organization for Races and Athletes

Adrian Bijanada, whom you may remember as the man behind the OCR World Championships and its sister event the North American OCR Championships, has announced the start of an organization that will support the sport and its participants. The American Obstacle Course Racing Association is intended to be a democratic and transparent group that will offer members tangible benefits, such as race discounts, as well as support for the sport, such as scholarships and access to drug testing at smaller races.

AOCRA is not to be confused with any of the alphabet soup of organizations that have sprung up since OCR took off. Unlike USAOCR and IOSF, it is not intended to be a governing body. “We’re not telling people how deep to dig a ditch or how high to build a wall,” he explained. Rather, he hopes to pick up where the IORCU left off and address the needs of athletes and races to help the sport grow. Since the national and international governing bodies appear to be concentrating on adding OCR to the Olympics, there is plenty of work to be done to keep the sport growing in other ways.

Adrian has a good track record for seeing what OCR needs, setting up a framework and following through. He wants to get many people involved, and he hopes that the community will drive the priorities and the actions that AOCRA pursues. If the success of the OCRWC is anything to go by, this is an organization to watch. In the meantime, I’m proposing that we all pronounce it “A-Okra”, like the vegetable.

American Obstacle Course Association Launches

New York, NY (January 30, 2018) – Today saw the official launch of the American Obstacle Course Racing Association (AOCRA), a cooperative organization with the goal of developing and supporting the sport of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) and its participants within the United States.

The American Obstacle Course Racing Association (AOCRA) is a not-for-profit organization created by a group of companies, individuals, and supporters of the American obstacle course racing community. Through community engagement, its goal is to unite, support, and grow the sport of OCR while establishing a foundation built upon unity, transparency, and partnership.

AOCRA is a membership-based community which will issue athlete development and health care grants, expand anti-doping efforts and testing, support charitable initiatives, and offer an array of benefits for its members, including discounted entry to races, special offerings from AOCRA partners, training camps, and onsite perks at select events. Additionally, a national point series, results platform, and ranking system is planned for mid-2018.

Athlete Members will be asked to adhere to an Athlete Code of Conduct (ACC), which requires that members practice good sportsmanship, clean (drug-free) racing, and uphold a number of other organizational values.

At present, the following organizations have elected to participate in AOCRA:

North American OCR Championships
Green Beret Challenge
Indian Mud Run
Terrain Race
FIT Challenge
BoneFrog Challenge
City Challenge Race
Epic Series Obstacle Challenge
Blizzard Blast
Epic Hybrid Training
Yancy Camp

Governance of the organization will follow a decentralized model supported by race organization voting members as well as an athlete guidance board. To become a member or get involved visit: .

Captain Kaufmann’s Playbook

OCR athlete Jeremy  Kaufmann has assembled 52 weeks of workouts to share with the world in his new book The Captain’s Playbook: More than a Beast as he journals his way through a year of training and races. The book is a collection of workouts and race reviews that chronicle his journey from November 2016 through November 2017. In that time, Jeremy passed many milestones, some OCR related, others personal, and it is clear that he put in a lot of hard work to get the results he achieved.

The format of the book is part diary and part workbook. Each set of workouts is accompanied by ruled pages for the reader to include his or her own results and notes. He includes the workouts he put together for himself, and he includes a few workouts from guest coaches as well. If you were ever curious about how much work the stronger athletes put in to achieve their results, you can now compare what you’re doing with what Kaufmann is doing. And then, if you want to keep yourself accountable, you can write in what you did during a particular week and see how it matches up.

That said, I would point out that these workouts are not for everyone. If you are trying to go from couch to Warrior Dash or your first Stadium Spartan Sprint, these workouts would knock you flat. However, if you are already young, fit and competitive, it could be useful to spy on what someone else is doing to keep up.

If you read between the lines, you can see that Kaufmann has a life beyond fitness and OCR. In his race recaps (some of them originally published here), he gives a first-person account of the races, but he also tells about getting injured and what is going through his head. His real life also “interferes” with his training: he gets married, he moves across the country, and he adopts a dog (a husky, so almost as cool as Ryan Atkins’ and Lindsay Webster’s malamute Suunto). Keep an eye out for Team Kaufmann and its captain in the years to come.

Joe De Sena spreads the word on fitness

Dr. Fred Bisci, Joe De Sena and Jason Jaksetic at this morning’s AdWeek panel

Spartan Race’s globe-trotting founder appeared in New York for an AdWeek panel to promote the Spartan brand and the healthy living that comes with it. The panel was introduced by Spartan’s Lifestyle Brand Manager Jason Jaksetic, whom you may recognize from those daily fitness e-mails – this morning’s inbox had him urging readers to do plyometric push-ups.

Along with Joe was Dr. Fred Bisci, who heads the Spartan Nutrition Board. Bisci was an early adopter of the raw food diet and advocates using a radical approach to nutrition as a way to promote health and longevity. Given that he just short of ninety years old and looks healthier than many half that age, he may be on to something. You can get more of Dr. Bisci in this interview with De Sena.

There were no major announcements today, but De Sena used the opportunity to expound on Spartan as a lifestyle and a lifestyle brand. In addition to his goal of ripping 100 million people off their couches, he wants to spread his philosophy. Along the way, he shared some stories about the transformative effect that exercise can have, beyond just simple weight-loss goals. And since he is living somewhat nomadically (last year: Japan. This year: Canada) he had the opportunity to compare cultures with how they treat his habit of carrying a 20kg kettle-bell everywhere he goes.

Because this was a Spartan event, there were burpees at the finish, with Jaksetic demonstrating his ideal burpee format. Luckily for the audience, there was only so much room for us to try to copy his form. In the past year, Spartan has had 230 races in 30 countries, and if Joe has his way, many more people around the globe will be doing more burpees.

Tough Mudder CEO Will Dean writes “It Takes a Tribe”

In the tradition of CEOs penning their memoirs while their companies are still growing, the founder of Tough Mudder has written “It Takes a Tribe: Building the Tough Mudder Movement”  which outlines where the company came from, explains why it is such a success and hints at where it might go in the future.

These books can be a branding exercise – I know that I got handed more than one free copy of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness”, which combined the up-from-nothing story of his company with a manifesto about how and why his company was so great. It has never been clear to me who exactly is the intended audience of this genre: MBA students? Potential investors? Prospective mid-level employees? They tend to be an easy read and provide a polished PR version of the company and its origins, but the format can be predictable.

There is one clear audience for these books: superfans. If you love Tough Mudder, you will love reading about how it came to be. “It Takes a Tribe” provides the inside scoop on how Will Dean turned his idea into a successful brand, how he helped create an industry that had not existed before, and how he has changed the lives of many who have joined Mudder Nation.

Happily, I may be something of a Tough Mudder fanboy, so I thoroughly enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at TM’s origin story. And since I am a fanboy, I had heard many of the stories before, but it was entertaining to hear them again, and it was good to get Dean’s spin on many of the company legends.

In particular, it was fascinating to get Dean’s version what I think of as OCR’s Original Sin, the controversy over Dean’s using the concepts developed at the Tough Guy race by its creator “Mr. Mouse” and applying them to the Harvard Business School project that later became Tough Mudder. For those not familiar with the story, you may wish to watch Rise of the Sufferfests by Scott Keneally (which you should watch regardless, as it is a great documentary). The outline of the story is that Dean observed the Tough Guy event, consulted with Mr. Mouse and then built on those ideas to create Tough Mudder. Mr. Mouse sued and Harvard took Dean to task for violating the “Harvard Business School Community Values of ‘honesty and integrity’ and ‘accountability’”(and yes, if you find the concept of Harvard Business School trying to shame one of its graduates over ethics to be comical, you are not alone).

I had heard this narrative in Keneally’s film and in other sources, but for the first time in “It Takes a Tribe,” I got to see Dean’s side of the story. His version is convincing, but more than that the reader learns about the personal toll the litigation took on Dean and his colleagues. Dean also gets the opportunity to snipe about Harvard Business School days and his shabby treatment by the school after he graduated.

Dean is the tall Englishman on the right.

On the one hand, Dean does not hold back about his opinions about Harvard and his fellow HBS students. Similarly, he is not silent about his opinions of his former employers at the British Foreign Office, where he had a brief career before moving to the US. On the other hand, he frequently cites his experiences at both institutions in this book and uses them to demonstrate lesson after lesson about how he has used those experiences to make Tough Mudder the company it has become.

Like all MBAs who become CEOs, he compares himself with other entrepreneurs he admires, mostly ones he has worked with over the years. Of course, every entrepreneur wants to be compared to Steve Jobs, who gets name checked in the book more than once. In reality, Dean’s counterpart is, instead, Bill Gates: driven by numbers, looking years down the road, but not as obviously a genius. Dean has worked hard and kept focus, and his company has made steady, relentless growth by careful analysis and cautious progress. The bright orange obstacles with the cheeky names are thoroughly tested, tweaked, and re-launched to maximize the challenge they offer and to keep the customers returning. A very MBA approach to numbers guides everything the company does, and its success might be a tribute to that Harvard Business School education that keeps Dean so conflicted.

There is an obvious companion to “It Takes a Tribe,” namely Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena’s book “Spartan Up!” In fact, a recent search on Amazon has the two books listed under “Frequently Bought Together.” The two books are good representations of both CEOs and both brands. Dean’s book involves less derring-do, fewer personal exploits, and less lecturing. “Spartan Up!” also glosses over Spartan’s own Original Sin, its treatment of early Spartan superstar Hobie Call.  Both books include profiles of people whose lives have been changed by taking part in these events, and those who love transformation stories will get their fill in either book.

As the two dominant brands in OCR grow, they appear to be coming closer together. Tough Mudder was founded as a challenge-not-a-race, but the past few years have seen the introduction of competitive events from Tough Mudder ready for TV broadcast. Likewise, the fiercely individual Spartan Races have been emphasizing the role of teamwork in their summer reality series Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge. Both brands have launched exercise classes, Tough Mudder Bootcamp and Spartan Strong. Both have major clothing sponsors and both are expanding overseas. While their offerings start to converge, having a book like “It Takes a Tribe” will be a useful way to remember how the two companies and their founders are profoundly different.

Check out Will Dean on our Obstacle Racing Media podcast here

Time to take the ORM Strava Group up a notch

Ready for some competition?

Summer is almost over, and with the back-to-school spirit in the air, it’s time to start getting some use out of the ORM Strava Group. Fabulous prizes will be forthcoming.

Wait, there’s a group for ORM fans on Strava? Why yes, yes there is. You can find it here, and join up while you’re at it.

Wait, what’s Strava?

Strava is a website and app that uses GPS to track athletic activity, and it shoehorns all that social-media goodness to foster competition. Mostly the healthy kind, and sometimes notIf you use some kind of GPS device to track your workouts, you can link that data to Strava and then feel inadequate about your performance when you compare it with others. Or rather, you can then see who else is running and riding and swimming on the same routes as you and compete with them virtually. Judging from the current members of the group, ORM’s readers come from around the world, and many of you spend a lot of time running, much of it on trails, but a surprising number of people run on tracks, which makes for satisfying oval maps.

How is this competition going to work?

I had hoped that we could get Strava to give us monthly totals, but it turns out that’s not something they do yet, so we’ll have a weekly competition once a month. I’ll post when the competition starts and ends. At the end, I’ll see who is in the lead, and the winner will be awarded a prize. What, exactly? Something out of the ORM swag bag, or perhaps even a free race entry. We’ll work something out. It will be totally worth it.

And how do we determine who is the winner?

You’re all winners in my eyes, of course, but each month I’ll use a different metric. Strava measures distance, speed, average pace and even elevation gain. To keep things fair, I’ll mix it up each time, and sometimes I’ll reward creativity: if you record a run that is particularly epic, or if you spell out “ORM” on your GPS map, that’s the sort of thing that will catch my eye.

When does this start?

September’s challenge will start on Monday, September 11th, and end on Monday, September 18th so you have time to download your grueling weekend endurance workouts. In the meantime, have fun, stay safe and keep posting those results.