Here’s a quick question for you – what are the rules of OCR?

A. Sign Up. Show Up. Don’t Ever Give Up.
B. No beer allowed in your CamelBak.
C. No flips off Walk the Plank.
D. STFU.
E. Chest to deck, Feet off the ground = 1 Burpee.
F. All of the Above.

Ok, “F” was pretty easy. (other write-in answers included “doing a Messner”, “whatever Joe De Sena says”, and the ever-popular “it’s not fair, the ^&#$ spear bounced off the target – I stuck it right in the middle!”

Now, let’s try one that’s just a little bit harder.

What is the appropriate radii and kerb height of a standard 200m track?

A. 1:1000
B. 0.1%
C. 50mm
D. All of the Above
E. WTH is a Radii? I just want to run!

According to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) 2014-2015 Competition Rules, the answer is:

“The inside of the track shall be bordered either with a kerb of suitable material, approximately 50mm in height and width, or with a white line 50mm wide. The outside edge of this kerb or line forms the inside of lane 1. The inside edge of the kerb or line shall be horizontal throughout the length of the track with a maximum slope of 1:1000 (0.1%). The kerb on the two straights may be omitted, and a white line 50mm wide substituted.”

Duh, of course. Right? (OK, you might’ve missed it because it’s in rule 213 of the IAAF Competition Rules on page 234 of 302.)

You’re probably asking what the heck this has to do with Obstacle Racing, right? Well, if one of the 3 groups fighting for different forms of sanctioning have their way, there will be at least one branch of OCR (or OR) that will strictly adhere to a rule book with hundreds of pages of guidelines about every bit of minutiae that could possibly affect an athlete’s time on the course.

So, will these exhaustive new rules affect YOU, or just the elite athletes? Well, that depends on who you are, and who you’re listening to.

The Players

There are (3) parties that are in the forefront, and all have their own different version of what “sanctioning” means to them, and essentially what it may mean to all of us. Through some digging and phone/email interviews (on and off the record) here’s what we’ve been able to come up with so far.

(Here’s a little primer on the differences between Event Sanctioning and Course Certification from The United States Track & Field (USATF).)

NOTE: Like any developing story about startup organizations, expect plenty of twists, turns, changes, and even complete 180-degree switches. The information contained below is as accurate as possible at release, and will be updated as new information becomes available.

(IORF) International Obstacle Race Federation (Note: There has been no official press release as of 3pm ET on 4/21/14)

  • Who: Founded/backed Spartan Race, currently creating an athletic committee.
  • Goal: Creating an international federation with 42 member countries actively representing the sport of Obstacle Racing in the Olympic Games.
  • Progress (4/21): Launching website and social media within days, solidifying guidelines for athletes and courses and developing a comprehensive rule book, athletic committee/council. In talks with NBC (the network with Olympic broadcasting rights int eh US through 2020) to “broaden the platform.”
  • Differentiating Factor: The Reebok Spartan Race Invitational (4/26, Canton, MA) will debut an “Olympic Distance” 1.5-mile obstacle course with very specific (read as: measurable, qualifiable, quantifiable, repeatable) obstacles and terrain. If this course type and distance proves to be amenable with athletes, it should be developed as the OR Olympic Standard.
  • Sanctioning/Certification: Editor’s note: This appears to be their current direction: Applies to course and obstacle design and appears to be more aligned with course certification versus event sanctioning. See USATF examples above.

(IORF) International Obstacle Racing Federation (Press release 4/20/14)

  • Who: Mike Greer, former president of USA Triathlon (USAT).
  • Goal: The mission of IORF will be to unite the various organizations, events, and communities within obstacle racing and further expand the sport’s global reach. As the international organization representing the sport of obstacle racing, IORF will also complete the membership requirements needed for recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
  • Progress: Non-profit status attained, 501(c) (3), guidelines developed with consultation from United States Olympic Committee (USOC), beginning creation of an International Board of Directors to include representatives in Bern, Switzerland and Noosa, Australia. Website & facebook pages still pending.
  • Differentiating Factor: Non-profit 501(c) (3), Membership in IORF will allow organizations from each country to be established as their country’s National Association or National Governing Body. The primary requirement for these organizations is that they are recognized non-profit 501 (c) (3) organizations in their respective countries.
  • Sanctioning/Certification: Editor’s note: Not a lot of details yet on what they actually will be providing in terms of leadership. The IORF will serve as a gateway to the Olympic games and offer global leadership support across all other aspects of the growing sport of obstacle racing.

(USOCR) US Obstacle Course Racing

  • Who: Sam Mansfield & Mark Ballas (Owner of Green Beret Challenge)
  • Goal: To Offer Safety Standards Program, National Ranking System and Industry-Leading Insurance Program for Sanctioned Races and Participants.
  • Progress: (2) Industry summits in Atlanta with varios members to the obstacle racing community; writers, gear producers, athletes, and event directors, as well as traditional media outlets and insurance underwriters. Website landing page is live, as well as Facebook & Twitter feeds.
  • Differentiating Factor: As a member-based organization, USOCR will offer a wide range of benefits including insurance solutions designed specifically for the OCR industry, discounts on race entry fees, travel assistance, discounts from product and apparel partners along with a racer profile on the USOCR website.
  • Sanctioning/Certification: USOCR appears poised to capture the sanctioning model similar to that of USATF (see examples above) and provide insurance coverage for events while also featuring member benefits including additional insurance coverage and OCR-specific discounts.

What it Means to You

That’s great and all, but how will this affect the sport we all love?

Right now? Probably not at all. This should not in any way affect the races you participate in now – if anything, you may be better insured at your next race! If IORF (no, not that one, the other one. Seriously, this is going to get confusing… Let’s call it Spartan’s IORF for now) is successful, then there should be a whole new type of OR for us all to participate in, with the ultimate goal of the elite athletes to qualify for the Olympic Games someday. This may end up being the 1.5 mile Olympic distance, with a specific set of obstacles at a measurable level of quality – and should be a boon for athletes and spectators worldwide. If the other IORF were to take off, then hopefully they will provide a little bit of a clearer gameplan for how they will “unite the various organizations, events, and communities within obstacle racing and further expand the sport’s global reach.”

USOCR is not diametrically opposed to either IORF, and their path to adoption seems to be a little more clear-cut; existing races (in theory) will be able to get their events sanctioned and potentially get better insurance coverage at lower rates while also benefitting from some member economies of scale. Racers should be able to sign up as members (akin to USA Triathlon) and get discounts on gear, race entry, and other services while also having a national point system and registry. If they deliver on those items related to races and athletes, they appear to have a solid offering with positive potential for the sport of OCR.

My Take

At Mud Run Guide, we clearly have a deep passion for the sport of OCR. It’s who we are, it’s what we do, and it’s surely something we look to take an active part in growing. With 2 of the 3 players we mentioned above, we have been an active source of dialogue and providing as much input as possible. Without sharing ANY inside information that would compromise our arrangements with any organizations, here’s our “wish list” for development of a International “federation” for the sport of OCR in just a few bullet points.

  • Sanctioning for insurance and certification of courses similar to USATF and USAT. This is a no-brainer, it’s amazing that OCR has grown thus far without it.
    • Why? Because exponentially increasing insurance rates are squeezing the entire OCR industry, that’s why. Many races lack all the comprehensive coverage an athlete needs because it is cost prohibitive. Some races don’t even know the exact limitations of their insurance until there is an audit or a claim. This is a much bigger problem than the racing public knows about. ’nuff said.
    • No, it will NOT ruin the sport. Having a licensed representative check obstacles is an extremely good idea; even the best race director working with unlimited time and budget (of which they always have neither) will still not be able to check every single bolt. YOUR safety is worth it, that’s why you no longer jump off the roof of your garage with your BMX bike… you’ve grown up and realized it’s no longer fun to be severely injured.
  • Membership of an “outside” organization is also a pretty keen idea, but unless it provides worthwhile member benefits, there won’t be adoption. In USAT’s case, forcing triathletes to sign up for yearly or one-day memberships in order to participate in an USAT-sanctioned event is a model that seems to work, albeit a little like them holding you hostage at race sign up.
  • OCR in the Olympics is extremely intriguing, if I were one to succomb to hyperbole I’d say it. sounds. awesome. (luckily, I’m not.)
    • As a triathlete and marathoner, I totally dig watching those sports in the Olympics, and absolutely, positively would be watching (or DVR’ing depending where in the world the Olympics are happening) Team USA take on teh world in OR. Yeah, totally.
  • Standardized “Olympic Distance” courses are a great first step to legitimizing the sport – without necessarily affecting the events we have now. Just imagine if Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Savage Race, and some of the other big names put on events of the same distance all over the world? Then, you’d have the ability to rank your performance against others, apples-to-apples just like you would in a 10k road race or an Olympic distance triathlon.
    • Hold on for a second, before you go nuts – I’m all for keeping the “other” distances too, just like road racing and triathlon do as well. Have you ever run an 8k road race or a 30k trail run? Just because USATF certifies 5k’s, it didn’t affect those events at all. Have you ever completed an “international” distance triathlon? That just means it’s somewhere between a “sprint” and a “half iron/70.3.” No one’s taking your fun away. Take a deep breath, count to 10, it’s all OK.

You love this sport. I love this sport. No one wants to screw a good thing up with 300+ page rule books, right? I sure as hell don’t. OCR has grown to a point where there will start to be a split between the pro athletes and everyone else like you & me – it’s only natural. Professionals cannot exist in this sport without the funding that it takes to train full-time like other world-class athletes. Do you think Michael Phelps bagged groceries while he was training for the Games? Of course not. Sean White blending a Blizzard at your local DQ? notachance. A professional circuit, similar to the ITU (International Triathlon Union) will absolutely exist, and bring along sponsor money that will make the proliferation of the elites in this sport possible. That growth will fuel the fire for the future athletes to want to compete in this sport – the next Michael Phelps or Sean White started as a kid watching the Olympics. The future Hobie Call may get their start the same way.

What’s your take? Share your thoughts in the Comments!

Brett Stewart is a fitness author, OCR junkie, and proud hubby & daddy.