From a pack a day to the world championships – My journey to OCRWC

In a few short days I will be competing in the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships and it has been an amazing and difficult journey getting to this point.  5 years ago I never would have imagined that I would be winning anything more than a video game let alone qualifying to compete in a world championship athletic event.

Just A Skinny Kid

I’ve always been the skinny kid, I never participated in sports in High School or College, never worked out.  The closest thing to an athletic activity I did was play disc golf, which generally involved drinking and smoking weed (not the most “athletic” drugs).  At age 18 I started smoking cigarettes and developed a pack a day habit which would last me almost 12 years.  I wasn’t happy, I hated that I smoked but it was just so hard to quit.   I had tried to quit many times but always failed, I felt defeated by my addiction.  There were so many things that I wanted to do but felt I couldn’t until I stopped smoking.  I wanted to be active I wanted to go to yoga classes but thought “you can’t do yoga if you are coughing every 5-10 minutes”.  I had the desire but I did not have the right attitude. Justin-Smoking

When I was 29 I had the opportunity to go to India with some good friends.  One week of our month in India was spent at an ashram on the banks of the Ganges, where we learned yoga and meditation.  I had hopes that at the ashram I would be able to not smoke. It wasn’t so.  But I learned there, next to that beautiful river, that failure does not mean defeat. I learned how to forgive, and to cultivate love for myself and others.

I Quit

When I got home I started a daily yoga and meditation practice, I started working out.  I wasn’t going to wait till I quit smoking to get in shape. I was going to make a plan and put my hand to the plow to create the necessary environment where I could accomplish my goals.  I wanted to quit before I turned 30 so one week before my 30th birthday with all of the love for myself and will power that I had cultivated over the past 6 months I quit.

I knew that I needed to rehab my lungs so I decided to try the number one cheapest cardiovascular exercise in the world, running. (I would later be dismayed about how not cheap it is to race OCR)  I remember my first run, it was on a treadmill.  I thought “I’ll just run 30 minutes, that will be good” after 7 minutes running at 5.5 mph I was gassed, got off the machine and thought I was going to puke.

I quickly discovered that treadmills are demons from hell that should only be used in times of great need.  Outside was where I belonged and I eventually started to be able to run 5k and thought it was time to do a race.

Enter the gateway drug to OCR – Warrior Dash.

I was such a mix of emotions going into my first mud run, and the biggest was doubt.  That doubt had power and I had a choice of how I would let that doubt affect me.  I could have let it take over and keep me from the race but I chose to face it and put in the training I thought necessary to overcome this new challenge.  I trained my ass off! I would go to the grade school by my house and run a lap around the building then do the monkey bars and run through the play structures, take another lap do some pullups, climb the jungle gym, do another lap, on and on. (I still do this because it’s fun and a great OCR workout) Physically I was ready but I didn’t know it.  The doubt was still there, my goal was just to finish.Justin-First-Warrior-Dash

The day of the race finally came and I was a mix of anxiety and excitement.  I was physically ready but completely unprepared (all of my clothes were cotton).  My first exposure as I pulled into the parking lot was of people drinking and smoking.  Smoking cigarettes! I was surprised, I was confused, I was appalled.  “how could all of these smokers run this “intense race”  My judgement was out of control.  As I got ready to run I saw people of every type, not just the lean athletic bodies I was expecting.  “Maybe I overestimated the difficulty of this race” More unnecessary judgement.  Then at the starting line for my heat was a woman well over 350 lbs, and my judgement melted away.  “This race may be more or less than you expected, but this woman who so many wouldn’t expect to be here is challenging herself with the exact same challenge that’s been scaring you for months.”  I realized that everyone at that race was there to challenge themselves, and I was quite the hypocrite to think negatively of those people smoking in the parking lot.  Maybe they are on a journey towards quitting and fitness is helping them just like it helped me.

New Challenges

The race was easier than I had made it out to be, but it was also way more fun than I thought.  I had been bitten by the OCR bug.  I couldn’t wait to do it again, I signed up for next year’s race once registration opened.  I loved it but after two years of warrior dash I felt I needed something more challenging.

I signed up for a Spartan sprint and again felt intimidated.  From all accounts Spartan was far more challenging than Warrior Dash and my intimidation and doubt fueled my training.  I joined a gym and upped my running regimen.  That 2016 Chicago sprint was the muddiest race I’ve ever seen and likely will ever see.  It was hard, it was a challenge, but it was also much easier than I had built it up to be in my head.  Having accomplished yet another new challenge I felt confident.  Justin-Spartan

It was time to compete

I signed up for a Savage Race even though I’d never ran a 10K, and I went to compete.  I was timid though and stayed in the middle of the start coral.  I held back since I’d never ran so far in a race.  I let my doubt get in the way of my performance that day.  I let slower runners be ahead of me and hold me back on obstacles where I could have gone so much faster.  Doubt may have fueled my training but it bit me in the ass on the course.  I was a mix of emotions, I knew I could have done better, but I knew I could learn from my mistakes, but above all I had so much fun!  I signed up for two local OCRs and the Spartan Beast in Breckenridge.  Each Race I gave myself a new challenge and pushed myself harder eventually taking 2nd place overall in my final local OCR of the year. Justin-Funny-Faces

Goal Time

I set a goal of competing at OCRWC and signed up for 5 qualifying races.  I was going to set myself up for success.  At Terrain Race 5k in Tucson I went back and forth between 3rd and 4th place for most of the race when a wrong turn with 1 obstacle left took me out of guaranteed spot.  I went from for sure qualification (maybe even pro) to uncertainty.  I felt sick, literally I thought I was going to puke.  I’d never put so much effort into a run before.  It took two days but I found out I got first in my age group and qualified.   Just 5 years removed from destroying my lungs and heart, I had qualified for a world championship event.Justin-Terrain

Overcome Your Obstacles

I know that everyone has adversity and obstacles in their life, whether it is smoking, losing weight etc.  Every obstacle we face in our lives comes with a choice though.  When you are faced with a new challenge and you have doubt, will you let that doubt weigh you down or will you let it fuel you?  Will you take it and use it to your advantage?

Too often we all think “I can’t do that until I do this” I need to lose weight before I can run a race, I don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m doing at the gym.  We setup unnecessary obstacles (not the fun ones we all love) in front of our goals when all we have to do is keep moving forward, and we will reach our goal eventually.  Don’t wait until “the right time” to make improvements in your life.  The “right time” is right now.  It may not be the convenient time but it’s the right time to start making the changes you want to see.  I know that I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to.  And I know you can to if you give your all.

Love

In Conclusion I just want to share the meditation that helped me learn to love and forgive myself.  Imagine yourself as a child and repeat these words to your child-self

May you be well
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you feel loved
I love you

And give your child-self a hug.

Thanks for reading.  I hope to see some of you at OCRWC and other future races.

Be Well.

 

Justin Smith

 

Photos Courtesy of: Justin Smith, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, Terrain Race

Rea Kolbl – Second Chance Athlete

Rea-Kolbl-warming-up-before-Palmerton-superI was lucky to be featured on the Palmerton Spartan Race episode the other day, and I got a chance to share my story of how I got to where I am now. In case you missed it, here’s the short version.

I grew up doing sports, and I was on the Slovenian National Gymnastics Team for almost 10 years. Gymnastics was my life, and I didn’t quite realize just how dangerous having just one big dream could be until I lost it; and with it, losing all of my dreams of being an athlete.

It took me a while, but I did find a new life; one where sports were a side thing, a hobby I did on most days, but taking a day off was perfectly fine, too, if there were other things that got in the way. I lost my fitness, and if someone invited me to climb a mountain I’d have to first consider if I was physically capable of the challenge.

Rea-Kolbl-Double-sandbag-at-Palmerton-Super

And then one day, I signed up for a Spartan Race. There are so many commercials and ads out there, advertising how Spartan changes lives. And really, if you pick any sport or activity, chances are there’s someone saying the same thing. But what I think makes Spartan different, is that it really does change lives (and here I’m mostly talking about Spartan and not obstacle racing, in general, because in my short career so far I haven’t had much chance to branch out and try other events).

After Palmerton episode aired, so many people reached out to me, sharing their stories which were so similar to my own. It’s a beautiful thing, realizing you’re not alone and that your experience is not so different from so many others out there. They shared their stories of injuries that ended their athletic careers when they were young; stories of being forced out of the sports, for one reason or another, thinking that that was the end of the road. But then they found Spartan. And a chance to be athletes again.

Rea-Kolbl-fire-jump-at-Palmerton-Super

So what I realized is that Spartan Races are giving so many people their second chance at what they loved when they were younger. It’s like a second chance sport, and it’s beautiful and amazing how much happiness this can bring. What makes OCR unique is the broad skill set it requires. You need to be fast to run the course; you need to be agile to cross the obstacles; you need to be strong to complete the heavy carries.

And I bet that no matter the sport you did as a child (or young adult), it probably covered at least some aspect that is very important for obstacle racing. It equipped you with a part of a skill set that makes you good at this, and that makes you want to try again, train harder, finish faster, and do it better. And it ultimately makes you stick with it.

There’s also this element of learning on the go that’s unlike any other sport. You don’t know the obstacles on the course ahead of time, and even if you do they might change a little, and you have to figure out how to tackle them. And this need to overcome the unknown fosters the community. There were so many races where I’ve made long-lasting friends from discussing obstacle strategies or trying to develop one together. I did a lot of trail running races before falling in love with Spartan and, while there were definitely chats at the finish line, these were more of a polite small talk. Because everyone there knows how to run, there is no point in discussing with fellow runners how to tackle the trail, how to put one foot in front of another.

Matching-tops-at-Palmerton-Super-Start

In gymnastics, the routines were so polished by the time you performed them and so individual, there was no need to chat about strategies with your competitors. But that’s different in obstacle course racing. There’s always something new to learn, and every race is a chance to improve. More importantly, it’s also a chance to make more friends.

So, people stick with it. The first time I came for the race, but then I kept coming back for the people. Spartan gave me and so many others a chance to find another passion, another focus, a sport to stick with both for the sport and the people in it.

The other day I was thinking that Spartan races are a lot like kindergarten. You play in the mud, swing on monkey bars, and you make friends. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why obstacle course racing can bring back the childhood dreams, and make you an athlete again.

Lindsay-Webster-embraces-Rea-Kolbl-at-the-Palmerton-Super-finish

Photo Credit: Spartan Race

 

Want to train like Rea? Check out one of her favorite workouts on ORM’s Train Like a Pro series.

It Isn’t Always About Winning

Spartan Race posted this video a few days ago with the title “Third place stolen! Make every second count. 👀⏱”.

This resulted in people doing what people do, giving lots of opinions on the 8 seconds they just witnessed.

We reached out to both women in the video to find out what they were thinking before, during, and after this small fraction of their race, and their lives. Here is what they told us:

Amy Bortoff

Amy Bortoff

When I show up on a start line I’m not looking around at who I’m competing with, I’m looking for my friends. Start line hugs are the best!

I’m not nervous at the start line I’m excited about another day that I get to see what my body can do. Somedays surprise me and awesome things happen and sometimes they don’t. Either way it’s a good day.

On Sunday at the West Virginia Spartan super, it was a good day! I ran a strong solid race. I was in second place for the majority of the race. The volunteers at the end told me Nikki had to do burpees and I knew I may have a shot at catching up with her if I could stay strong on the obstacles. Unfortunately, I slipped on twister… But so did Nicki! I caught up with her on the Rings and saw as I got onto the rig that she was in Burpee land again! This was my chance to take my first ever first place for overall female at a Spartan Race…. at age 45 !

Until I slipped on the very last ring reaching for the bell.

I ended up in the burpee zone next to Nikki who was already 10 burpees into her 30.  I tried to catch up, but she finally finished 5 burpees ahead of me and ran to her first place podium win!! 

While I was finishing my burpees Sally mastered the rig and passed me taking 2nd.  I looked up and didn’t see another female coming so, winded I got up from my 31 burpees (I always do an extra just in case I miscounted) and knew I had to get moving, but at the same time I still had to get 2 handfuls of CONFETTI out of the ziplock baggie tucked into my belt…. Little did I know, Alex was hot on my trail and powered through the rig in full stealth mode, like a BOLT of lightning!  I see her coming and try to get back into sprint speed, but winded from the burpees, tired from the 15+ miles of solid racing the day before, the 8 miles of that race…. and the CONFETTI, she passed me by a hair over the fire jump and across the timing pad…

Then there was a second timing pad that I didn’t account for…my slip-ups cost me 52 seconds from first place, 24 seconds from 2nd and 4 seconds from 3rd.

I am not disappointed…I am thrilled I could ever be that close to these phenomenal athletes.  I am so proud of them!!

Of course a big win would have been AMAZING… But I have a HUGE smile on my face as I carried home my 1st place masters plaque that day and 2nd place masters the day before.  (And I followed up with the sprint right after the super, coming in 2nd overall female!!! Too bad they didn’t have awards for that one!)

So many critics had such negative words to say about my performance it made me want to throw CONFETTI at them.  

CONFETTI happens:)

Giggle giggle.

More CONFETTI, less STONES please.

At the beginning we all started as competitors…

I’m so happy I now have them as friends❤️

It’s not all about winning. It’s about taking those extra few seconds to enjoy the journey, be thankful for being out there, soak up the views from the mountain tops, encouraging one another and throwing a little CONFETTI when we get to our destination.

Smiles,

Amy

Alex Sawicki

Alex Sawicki

I had no idea I was even close to the podium until maybe the last 1/2 mile of the race when a volunteer told me. Up until that point I had been kind of waffling it a little bit because I was so beat up from the beast. Between the tire flip, sandbag carry, and spear throw I managed to gain some ground and started leaving a gap on the other girls and by the time I was at twister I was fighting for 4th place with third place being only 20 seconds a head of me. I came out of twister in 4th, flew through the herc hoist and Olympus, and I saw Amy doing burpees at the rig. Tyler told me that amy was third place but I didn’t know how many burpees she had done or had left so I booked it up to the rig.

Unfortunately she finished her burpees almost the same time I got there so I thought I was in 4th no matter what. When I got off the rig I looked up and Amy was still running (the rig was like 50-60 yards from the finish) so I was like ok I have to go NOW and I just started sprinting. I didn’t know what happened until afterwards but Amy was trying to get a handful of confetti (she’s sponsored by the company) for the fire jump and had never checked over her shoulder to see if anyone was coming up behind her. I was able to take advantage of that and by the time she saw me we were so close to the finish line and I had so much momentum that there wasn’t much she could of done.

It was an awesome finish but the comments that have come out of it have been less than awesome. Amy didn’t give up, she thought the timing mat after the fire was the last one. When she realized that the last one was actually under the arch she sprinted through it, but the video cuts out before you can see her do that. Obviously none of those people know Amy because if they did they would know she’s a fierce runner and competitor and she would never intentionally give up, she just made a mistake. It was an awesome finish and Amy couldn’t have been more gracious about what happened which speaks volumes to her as a competitor and a person.

For me I think it’s also proof that it’s not over until it’s over and in OCR obstacle completion and fighting for every inch can make a HUGE difference over the course of the race. I was in 10th place up until the spear throw which was only maybe a half mile from the finish and I had to fight like hell for that podium and obstacle completion definitely helped me. Having a big stride and a good top speed didn’t hurt getting to that finish line either lol.

So there you have it. I’d like to think that I can learn from this and try to be a little less judgmental. That 8 seconds into someone’s life, never tells the full story.

 

Should I Fib To Let My Kid Race OCR?

I cheated at the Spartan Sprint in Virginia. I’m probably not the only person that cheated at an OCR this weekend, but I might be the only one writing about it. And <<spoiler alert>>, I will probably do it again.
I did all my burpees. I didn’t cut the course (it was very well marked). I paid for premium parking, although they never asked me for proof. I ran in my assigned wave (and watched a Spartan official/volunteer ask a racer to leave the corral after he snuck in to run with friends a half-hour before his assigned time). I didn’t receive any assistance on Twister or the monkey bars. My bucket was filled up to the holes on the side of the bucket.

So, what did I do? I claimed that my 12 year-old was 14 so we could run his first big OCR together. For those that say “That’s doesn’t count” or “Everyone does that”, go ahead and skip to the next article. It is cheating and it is a big deal. And if we want the sport to grow, it’s something that needs to be discussed and addressed.

“I don’t care, I don’t have kids” – Just the fact that you know about ORM means you care about OCR. No sport will have sustainable growth without engaging children and teens in an appropriate manner, (except maybe Beer Pong. Hmmmm… “Milk Pong”?). Baseball has tee-ball. Football has Pop Warner. Soccer has a bajillion levels from 4 year-olds to over 50 leagues.

And let’s go ahead and get the “You’re a bad/unsafe parent” stuff out of the way – my son and I train every week at a Spartan SGX gym. I have run in ~50 OCRs from local mud runs to WTM with a healthy variety of Savage, Rugged Maniac and Battlefrogs along the way. I know my son’s ability and I have a decent idea of the types of risks that accompany the different obstacles.

Gym-Training
Finally, yes – maybe I could’ve applied for an exception (google “Milla Bizzotto”), but I didn’t because I am lazy and the application would have tipped them off since I would’ve tried to sneak him in anyway if they said no.

This is an important issue because we need to challenge our kids in order to get them to love the sport as much as we do. If there’s any chance that OCR will be in the Olympics, it won’t be Hunter or Hobie or Faye or Amelia on the podium. It will be someone that’s probably 12 right now. And I don’t want to have to make the choice between telling the truth and sharing the sport I love. Integrity is a delicate concept with a very slippery slope – how do I tell him that lying about his age is okay but doing only 25 burpees isn’t? If you think this is all easy and it’s a simple matter of knowing right versus wrong, then I congratulate you Mr/Mrs Safe Driver for never going 27 in a 25 and for reading EVERY Terms and Conditions paragraph before signing.

Before I actually make some recommendations, I want to commend Spartan Race for doing a great job in this area. They do the best job of the more established brands of providing options and challenges for non-adults. (Although my son does NOT agree that his free post-race Capri-Sun is equivalent to my free post-race beer.) Also, the volunteers were AMAZING. They cheered him on as he ran through and gave him clear and specific obstacle instruction – I’m not sure if they were supposed to make accommodations for him, but they did. He was allowed/directed to the women’s Atlas stone, women’s herc hoist and only filled his bucket halfway (which still kicked his butt). The other racers also cheered him on. I am so proud to be introducing him to a sport where a 12 year-old can be passing a 30 year-old and hear words of encouragement as she/he is being passed.

Here’s the landscape right now: Grades are based on the variety and challenge of offerings from ages 6 to the “adult” race.

  • Spartan Race – Grade: B+. They have a ½-mile race for ages 4-8. A 1-mile for ages 9-13 and sometimes a 2-mile for 11-14 year-olds. Then the adult races open up for you at 14.
  • Tough Mudder – Grade: C. TM has Mini Mudder. A 1-mile race for 7-12 year-olds and then you can run the 5k and the Half Mudder if you are 14. At least I think so. They hide this information and apparently change it depending on venue. Want to turn a kid off of OCR? Tell your 16 or 17 year-old that they are running TM Kentucky with you and then you get a message 12 hours before the race saying that the venue won’t allow racers under 18. Yep, that happened last weekend.
  • Savage Race – Grade: B. Savage Junior Race is a ½ mile course for those 12 and under. Then you step right up to the 6 mile course at age 13. So it’s pretty much like going straight from tee-ball to the minor leagues.
  • Rugged Maniac – Grade: C. Only one race offering. Must be 14 to compete.
  • Warrior Dash – Grade: B. Only one race offering. Must be 10 years old to compete.

Warrior-Dash-Kids

How do I recommend we fix this without boring our kids or lighting our pants on fire? AND without asking companies to operate at a significant financial loss? Here’s some starter ideas:

  • Parent/Chaperone Waivers – Have a special waiver for parents that want their kids to be allowed to race before they meet the age requirement. Maybe you even require the parent to run with the child.
  • Skill Requirements – Does your 13 year-old want to run with the 14 year-olds? Fine, here’s a special area with three obstacles they must safely complete before they can be allowed to the starting line.
    Race Progression – Underage? No problem, just successfully complete the course that’s appropriate for your age first. (i.e. do the 2-mile kids before you are allowed to do the Sprint).
  • Scalable Obstacles – Let kids fill the bucket half-way, make it half-way across Twister, stand 5 feet closer for the spear, or push the atlas stone across and back.

The best answer is likely to include many of these – special waivers, obstacle tests, and scalable obstacles. Of course it would be better to have 5 levels of different courses and different obstacles, but that’s not financially feasible for companies that don’t even have enough money to sponsor a college football playoff game.
In closing, I am comfortable with what I did, but I hope I didn’t open Pandora’s Box. We’ve had some good conversations about this topic and I think he is happy that I am writing this article to bring some awareness to the age/challenge gap in OCR. He had a TREMENDOUS time at the race. He is hooked on OCR and is already asking about other races this summer. Sorry, buddy, no WTM for you this year. You’ll just have to be happy as my pit crew again.

Father-and-Son

Spartan Race Balls

They think they have balls, and it may look like they have balls, but they don’t because they haven’t yet figured out how to use them.

I am not speaking metaphorically here, but rather about the new(ish) softball attachments on their Rigs. In theory, it’s a good idea to make the obstacle tougher and introduce some more variety, but in practice…different story.

What I saw at the first SRUSCS was a very mixed bag. I saw Ryan (and maybe Hobie – tough to see with the camera angle) using the balls as they are meant to be used i.e. grabbing the ball, not the chain above it. Done that way, it is a tough piece of apparatus. In fact, Ryan’s advice to Lindsay, as she ran towards the Rig, was that the balls were slippery and tough to grip and that very likely both she and Alyssa would fail, so she should just tag the Rig and start burpees.

As we all saw, Alyssa cleared the Rig and went on to her first Series win. However, it appeared that she was grabbing the chain and using the ball as a backstop. Done this way, it’s even easier than a nunchuk or short rope attachment, because you can’t slip off. Before y’all jump down my throat, I am NOT tossing any accusations at Alyssa nor any other racer. I have no idea what, if any, rules were communicated to the racers and marshals regarding acceptable methods for negotiating the softballs. I am assuming that Alyssa did it properly since there was nothing said by the marshals on the course nor by race officials after the event.

However, that flies in the face of what Ryan did, and especially what he said to Lindsay. He clearly thought that racers needed to grab the balls and could not grip the chains. So which is it?

Spartan needs to address and clarify this ASAP in order to make future races fair. There is a huge difference in difficulty between the two techniques. If the intent is to make the Rig tougher, then using the chain needs to be strictly forbidden and – even more importantly – consistently enforced. Yes, I know this means even more marshals making judgement calls that can decide races. In this case, however, I think a simple design change of the ball attachment could solve the problem.

Or, this being Sparta…

A look back at the first USA OCR National Championships

Take a look at the start line pictures from your local mud run, or “obstacle race.”

Unlike a 5k or marathon line-up showcasing emaciated, linear body types, these photos are usually more of “type-A” line-up. Your OCR start-line is dominated by big arms, distended abs, tattoos, and spandex, lots and lots of spandex. You’d be forgiven in dismissing this strange collection, this burning man/cross-fit baby, as being nothing more than a fad that takes itself a bit too seriously.

But look closely and you might see, sandwiched between heavily tattooed Cross-fitters in checkered board shorts, juiced out powerlifters, and hobbyjoggers with dad-bods, a glimpse of one or two thin, serious-looking runners rocking short shorts and bright invov8 shoes. You’d be remiss if you thought they were nothing more than a marathoner trying something new.

No, these are the first of the professional athletes of this new sport, battling week in and out on the muddy for chicken-scratch prizes and sponsorship, much like the Steve Scotts or Prefontaine’s of track and field’s early post-amateur years.


Despite its lack of experience as opposed to other sports with Olympic dreams (the sport, in the US at least, has been around just under 10 years) obstacle racing has serious Olympic aspirations. This past weekend some of the top athletes in the OCR world met up in Miami to compete over a 3 mile course. At stake were spots on America’s newly-announced Pan-American team, which will spend the coming year racing exhibition races in North and South america before heading down to the Pan-am games.

While the aforementioned weekend-warrior crowd might pay OCR’s bills, it was the runners who were the focus on this special course. It is these same runners who are instigating an identity crisis in a sport attempting to be both commercial and Olympic in its aspirations, ideas that time and time again have proven to be mutually exclusive.

While participation numbers may be down as a whole since, say, 2010, the mainstream popularity of obstacle racing has exploded in recent years. Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have defied their fringe labels to become household names, benefiting from renewed interest in natural, gymnastic-like movements thanks to the explosion of Crossfit and shows like the ratings-dominating American Ninja Warrior.

NBC, NBC sports, ESPN, and CBS have all begun to devote substantial airtime to their own specific versions of the obstacle race. Even Netflix (Ultimate Beastmaster) and CMT (Broken Skull Ranch) are cashing in on the obstacle/mud-run movement. Sponsors the likes of Panasonic and Reebok have jumped into the fray, marketing action cameras and sport-specific shoes (with built in drainage and extra grip for obstacles like rope climbs) to the mostly middle-aged, upper-middle class participants who shell big bucks for a few miles of mud and object carries on a weekly basis (A typical Spartan race entry costs around $125). Jeep, Coors light, Subway, and others have highlighted the sport in their TV spots.


But why mess around with the massive headaches of properly planning and executing a race when the potential of TV money lies waiting? Battlefrog, previously one of the biggest competitors to Spartan Race, and one with a large, passionate fan base, had a similar thought. They disbanded their race series, fired their staff, and are attempting to jump to ESPN or other networks with a televised racing series.

In this streaming age ESPN is seeing its lowest ratings ever and even dropped 1.5 million subscribers in 2016, according to adage.com. Yet the show has been reviewed well and BattleFrog seems to have no intentions of returning to the original fanbase that made it a household name. 

They say once a rapper uses your name in a song you’ve made it, and in late 2015 Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller dropped the first known OCR-related line in his song “Brand Name” :

“American-ninja to these obstacles, no stopping me…” (Things go downhill quickly from there with euphemisms to ladies of the night and services but you get the point)

I think its safe to say OCR has officially become more than a fad; it has established itself as a concrete societal mainstay. So it’s here, but what’s its identity? Is it a cash cow, a grassroots movement, a professional runner’s sport, or some combination of the three?


Back to that Miami starting line. For an event with as much buzz surrounding it as this, the photos told a different story. The participant #’s were slim, the obstacles borrowed from other sports (Spartan has decided to use biathlon’s lazer pistol as its featured penalty-inducing obstacle), and the athletes fast, fit, runners competing on a fast, flat course where the more traditional cross-fit body-types didn’t stand a chance.


This was labeled a “short-course” by Spartan, and it was shorter than usual, at least by OCR standards, with a sub 30-minute completion time.

But that’s not a “short-course” by any other sport’s standards; after all, the longest track and field event, the 10km, takes around 27 minutes to complete. From an aerobic standpoint, the same athlete who wins an 11-minute running race will, with proper training, be the best in a 2 hr race, and this is often the case, with Ryan Atkins, Hunter McIntyre, Amelia Boone, and other endurance mainstays winning events no matter the course. Spartan attempts to change this by introducing heavy obstacles to even out the playing field, but it could be argued that when events attempt to even out a playing field, the opposite as actually being done.

Fast-forward 30 minutes and Mark Batres crossed the line in first for the males, followed by former Spartan World Champion Robert Killian and upcoming speedster Mike Ferguson. An upland, California native, Batres boasts prs of 13:44 in the 5k and sub-30 minutes in the 10km.

Obstacles can be learned; aerobic capacity can not. If the sport continues this way we may be seeing a field of Kenyans sweeping podiums 5 years from now. 

And Batre’s prize for being crowned the first USA OCR champ and Pan-American team member on the most-hyped weekend of the year? A meager $300.

Throw in a flight from Cali, rental car, hotel, and race entry, Mark likely left in the red (disregarding sponsors, and any unmentioned payouts of course).

So we’re seeing progress on the corporate side of the sport, but we’re not seeing much of a trickle down to the athletes themselves.

But that will change. 

Although optimists were saying the same about track and field some 40 years ago…

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