Rise of the Sufferfests – What I Loved & What I Didn’t

Let me start off by saying if you love OCR then you need to see this movie.

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It’s a ‘must see’ for those of us who would describe ourselves as being part of a ‘community’ rather than ‘oh yeah, I did a Warrior Dash once’…

If you google ‘running documentaries’ you will have a myriad of selections to choose from. There are several documentaries that are purely about specific races, there are even trail running film festivals, but there are no documentaries on OCR…until now.sufferfests-viewing-party

If for nothing else, you need to see this movie because it’s the first. And I don’t mean download it or wait for it on Netflix. You need to attend one of the showings, pay the $7 and shake Scott Keneally’s hand for being a pioneer in this community or have a viewing party with your local OCR group. Just like everyone reminisces about the first Spartan or Tough Mudder and how different things were, going to a Rise of the Sufferfests party/showing will be something you will realize later on (if not immediately) that it’s a significant milestone for OCR. And I’m confident this will be the beginning of many more things to come from Scott Keneally.

What I Loved

If you’ve done OCR to any extent then you know what it means to suffer brutal calf pain, wasted grip strength and throbbing forearms as well as hypothermia and electric shock. Scott does an A+ job at catching some of these moments. In fact, I’ve never seen better examples of hypothermic shock than what you see in Rise of the Sufferfests. You feel it. You remember it, because it happened to you before too.sufferfests-cold-guy-at-tough-guy

Another great thing Rise of the Sufferfests explores is the psychology of why we choose to do such crazy things. The movie features interviews with a variety of sociologists and other authors that give insight into the rising popularity of our cult of insanity…except as Rise of the Sufferfests points out: OCR isn’t a cult…because cults are small…and OCR is not small.

The coverage of the history of the Tough Guy challenge founded by Mr. Mouse is not only interesting, but downright necessary if you’re going to understand the origins of OCR and Mr. Mouse himself, along with his marketing techniques is every bit as noteworthy and interesting as his event. It’s truly where it all began and the Tough Guy challenge is the Torah of OCR.

The profile of Hunter Mcintyre is absolute gold. Not because of his accomplishments, but because the film shows in a brief segment how he has evolved as a person through OCR. Starting out as only a competitor and then taking on the role of a personal trainer has had a great impact on him, and that’s what we love about OCR: how it changes you.

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It made me angry. The film also explores outsiders opinions on why we choose to endure such crazy suffering in our spare time. Some of the theories are silly and some of them such as the ‘white privilege’ argument just made me angry. I have this on the list of things I love about the movie because Scott, being a good journalist, didn’t only choose to include data and experts that would flatter his personal opinions but also included insights that offer a counterpoint. That’s what a good documentary does, it challenges your personal beliefs.

What I wished was different

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, stop reading.

Seriously.

Just stop reading now. I want you see Scott’s vision unfold without any prejudice and it’s worth your time and money to go see it.

Okay..

Only us who’ve seen it are reading still right?

As a videographer and editor I always watch movies and documentaries and have opinions about how I would’ve did it differently. If I was doing a documentary on OCR I certainly would’ve told a different story, but that’s not the type of thing I’m interested in critiquing here. Rather, there’s a few different things that I would’ve done as an editor/videographer to help Scott capture the story HE was trying to tell a little bit better.

Perhaps the biggest thing was the flow of the film felt a bit ‘off’. At first it seemed like it was a documentary about Tough Guy and it’s influence and impact on what we now know as OCR, but then it shifted gears and it felt like it was more about the sociological reasons that drive OCR, then it felt like it was a documentary about Scott and how he evolved as a person through OCR, then it seemed to become a documentary about making a documentary, then it was about a man wanting to be a better role model for his newborn son. As one friend told me “I wasn’t sure what the goal of the movie was”. All of these things certainly had a place in the film, but none of them were held together very well by a single idea and I kept having to adjust my expectations on what the main point was exactly.

Too much narration. Yes, it needed narration, but there was simply too much of Scott explaining how he felt and what he was experiencing rather than showing it, to the point it felt more like an audio book than a film at moments. Scott is a brilliant writer and one of my favorite OCR articles of all time was written by him about his experience of DNFing a Spartan Sprint, but somehow it didn’t translate as well in the movie. In the future I would like to see Scott get better at verbalizing what’s going on in his mind at the moment he’s experiencing it and capturing it on film. I think that as a writer he probably was thinking “I can put all of this into words so much better if I can just have a moment to reflect”, but doing so is much less powerful in film. Just the visual of a few painful burpees, a disjointed sentence filled with expletives and a hangdog expression with the caption “DNF” would’ve said so much more than a clean voiceover after the fact would. And it wasn’t just this one scene, almost the entire film misses these opportunities.sufferfests-matt-and-scott-qa

Missing key figures/events/places. Yes, we all have our favorite OCR athletes, and having Hunter and Amelia were certainly excellent, if not necessary choices, but it seemed like a few people were missing. What about Hobie Call? He was synonymous with Spartan Race in the early years, Hunter has even referred to him in the past as “the Master”, yet I can’t remember whether he was even mentioned in the entire film. What about Norm Koch? Chris Accord? Certain race directors have become almost like celebrities in this community, but no mention. No mention of Shale Hill or the myriad of other obstacle focused gyms on the rise. Sure, Hunter’s gym is mentioned, but his is kinda small potatoes compared to Shale Hill. No Pak? No Atkins? Noah Galloway? No Albon? And while all of the sociological authors and experts were important to the movie, it seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time on them, especially when you consider the list of people important to defining the OCR community who were left out. Don’t get me wrong, I love A.J. Jacobs and have read a couple of his books, but there was a lot of A.J. Jacobs in this movie.sufferfests-norm-chris-garfield

In the end I want Scott be as powerful as a filmmaker as he is a writer. I think the story Scott was trying to tell was about his experience with OCR and how it evolved him as a person, the intellectual data he gathered along the way and how he used it as a tool to be a better man for his son, I just don’t think he glued all of those elements together as good as he could have to his personal story. I wish he would’ve kept a video journal of his progression. I wish somebody was aggressively pointing a camera in his face throughout some of the more notable races (not just at the end of the race)and he was forcing himself to talk about what he’s thinking and feeling, or at least capturing some of the nervousness in his face as he faced newer challenges and the laughter and joy in his expressions as he reached his goals towards the end. A couple people have anonymously told me they felt the movie was too much about Scott, but I strongly disagree; it just didn’t give us enough reason to root for him and care about how well he did at the end of the movie because we didn’t clearly understand from the beginning what his goals were and didn’t see enough of the ‘visual evidence’ to feel connected to his joys, struggles, hard work and disappointments along the way.sufferfests-scott-and-laura-messner

While it fell short of a few of my expectations, it was still a good movie and I was glad I invested my time to watch it. It was an amazing feat for someone who just did his first film and I hope to see more from him in the future.

Order this movie on Amazon here.

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While We Bitched About the 2016 Asheville Spartan Super, “Rise of the SufferFests” Happened

The 2016 Asheville Spartan Super was a weekend that will live in infamy. In most cases, sequels fall short of the original, however judging by the emotional diarrhea which erupted upon social media following the Spartan Southeast Showdown, the course designer may have gone Mad Hatter as thousands climbed the Black Mountain quarry road, then descended into a rabbit hole of twisted and sadistic goat paths.

Which, many contend, is what we actually signed up for.

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And yet, in the midst of the dust, fury, and flames of the social media upheaval regarding the Spartan “Battle of Asheville,” something amazing happened: a hardly noticed Bethlehem star on the eve of the race which will echo throughout the history of obstacle racing…

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A few dozen OCR enthusiasts gathered in the Summit Crossfit gym, like wayward shepherds and wise folk, all who had traveled far and wide for the Asheville event, and tossed a few spears, ate pizza and mingled as Scott Keneally prepared the latest premier showing of his nation-wide film debut. The premise of this first ever OCR documentary was clear:

Why the hell do millions of people sign up every year to suffer in obstacle course races?

Keneally, a charming chimera somewhere between the likes of Sir Edmond Hillary and Ronald Weasley, asks the question every co-worker, family member, friend, and significant other presents to those who just cannot resist the suck. We, the world of OCR, truly revel in the medals, t-shirts, and battle wounds which in any other context might suggest domestic abuse.

His conclusion, after participating in countless races and probing the minds of social scientists, authors, psychologists, and race creators for this film?

Everyone is looking for something in the mud.” -Scott Keneally

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Something other than, perhaps, your contact lenses, shoes, or soul.

Many question the value of OCR. Sure, you clawed your way to the summit of that mountain, scaled walls, dragged weighted plates, climbed ropes, and dodged heat stroke, wasps, hypothermia and the putrid stench of body odor and sour tears along the way, but for what?

In days of old, effort = results. We strive to provide, as it were. Now, social science argues, we’ve manufactured struggle because we’ve advanced ourselves into boredom. Does this make the effort and struggle of obstacle racing superficial, a farce of our evolutionary crucible?

The film leaves you to make your own conclusions, but in reflecting upon the controversy of the 2016 Asheville Spartan Super, I believe the Rise of the Sufferfests question shines brightest.

Why the hell did you pay to participate in this event? Was it to test your limits, and if your limits were indeed tested, did you not receive services in full?

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Suffering defined is the act of going through or allowing an experience. Our perspective assigns whether or not said suffering is positive or negative, which is why some walked away from Asheville elated and others enraged. Suffering is subjective. As Keneally said, everyone is looking for something different in the mud.

I can’t remember who said it, but someone once observed that some of the most important things in life have no objective value. These things include romantic love, reading a good book, quickies, or goofing off with friends. Nothing here produces anything of real value; they aren’t like hunting, cold procreation, taxes, or repairing the family car. The value lies in the experience of these things and with their participants. Sharing these experiences through photos of medals and wounds on social media resemble the tales of battle and the hunt around the campfire or painted hand slaps against ancient cave walls.

Have we changed all that much over the millennia? Is OCR some invention meant to curtail the corporate coma of a pampered and sterile portion of humanity? I believe Rise of the Sufferfests says no. In reality, it’s humanity simply remembering its heritage; that we are a species which thrives in struggle, a species that celebrates and honors a challenge. And honestly, if experiences like obstacle racing are really vicarious connections with our primitive past, then we shouldn’t complain about suffering–even terrible suffering–during a race. After all, not every hunt or battle ended well, and yet we didn’t quit seeking food and shelter, or defending territory and expanding our horizons. No, life had to kill us to halt our resolve.

So, why the hell are you doing OCR, and what will stop you?


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Rise Of The Sufferfests Review

Rise Of The Sufferfests Trailer

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 Rise Of The Sufferfests Review

If there is one thing that OCR participants universally struggle with, it’s trying to explain to our friends and family exactly why it is that we spend our hard earned money on something that they consider “crazy”. My mother visited recently and asked me, “Do you have any of those mud races coming up? You know the ones where you basically run through the woods trying to kill yourself?”

Yes Mom…two, in fact.

Well, fortunately for those of us who love the sport of OCR, there’s a man out there who made a documentary that attempts to answer the popular question of “Why”.

‘Why do we do this?”

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“Rise of the Sufferfests” is the long (long, long, long) awaited film by investigative journalist Scott Keneally. I was fortunate enough to catch a screening of it recently in San Francisco.

The film is a fun and energetic exploration into the history and meteoric growth of the sport and is packed full of insights and interviews with some of the biggest names in the industry.

That alone would have been enough to get my butt in an auditorium seat; however, Scott takes us on a bit of a personal journey during the film as well. A journey that covers everything from failure to success, and even fatherhood.

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Day of the screening – Joshua Cox ,myself, Scott Keneally (director), Keith Lancaster (cinematographer)

While ample screen time is given to several of the well-known stars of the sport such as Hunter McIntyre and Amelia Boone, we also hear from “experts”, authors, and thought leaders such as Tim Ferriss, Morgan Spurlock, and A.J. Jacobs. All of them attempt to help explain how, as the film’s tagline states, “THIS is a THING”.

Many people have waited a long time for this film to be released (an IndieGoGo campaign was launched back in 2013), and I trust that they will not be disappointed. Scott has constructed an absolutely wonderful documentary that has completely surpassed any expectations that I had.

Are you an OCR enthusiast? Do yourself a favor and go see this film. You know those people who think you’re crazy for doing OCR events? Bring them along too. If they don’t “get it” after watching this….I’m not sure they ever will.

The film will eventually be available on streaming channels, but for now, go find out if it’s playing at an event or theatre near you and watch it with your fellow OCR enthusiasts.

Rise Of The Sufferfests Screenings

Rise Of The Sufferfests Screenings

 

Rise Of The Sufferfests Follow Up

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Rise Of The Sufferfests Homepage. (Does anyone say Homepage anymore? Who cares, we just did!)

*ORM’s own Matt B. Davis also makes an appearance in the film, adding some insight as an industry expert.

Order this movie on Amazon here.

Order on iTunes here.