As an Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) athlete who typically is better at longer events, I often am asked the question “When are you going to do the Death Race (or insert other similar event)?” The answer is probably never…because it is a different sport. Death Race and events like it such as The Ultimate SUCK, The Brutality, GORUCK Selection, Fuego y Agua and SISU Iron are not OCR events. They fall into a category on their own that lies in a region between OCR and Adventure Racing but closer to the latter.
To clarify, let us run through a couple of definitions and descriptions. OCR are events on a fixed route of a generally known distance that requires movement by foot without navigation due to course markings and has obstacles that have known rules associated with them. Adventure Racing involves navigating from point to point using a variety of methods including but not limited to walking, cycling, kayaking, climbing, rappelling or any other activity that you would typically find in a store like REI. At each point, there may be challenging events or it may simply be a punch card like orienteering. Things like Death Race fall into a category of their own, which I call Assessment and Selection Events (ASE, pronounced ACE). ASE involve following directions from the race staff that typically require movement and the completion of tasks. The movements may or may not require navigation and may or may not be marked. The tasks could literally be anything but are usually designed to mentally or physically tax the participants. Furthermore, the rules that may or may not be known to the participants for each task. Finally, there may or may not be a ranking system to determine a winner or the goal may just be to finish without identifying a “winner”.
In my opinion, ASE would not be associated with OCR if it were not for two reasons. The first reason is that the athletes who are drawn to OCR are looking for an unconventional challenge, which is also what ASE provides. Thus, there is a lot of crossover of athletes between the two sports. The second reason is because Joe De Sena, the creator of Spartan Race, originally had the Death Race as part of the Peak Race Series before starting Spartan Race. This permanently linked ASE with OCR in the minds of many athletes.
This link created between Spartan and Death Race is no longer there, but when it was, it did not make logical sense. Having Death Race as a major event of the Spartan Series does not make any sense because it fundamentally alters the format of the race. Old Spartan Race progression was Sprint (marked, fixed 3+ mi course plus obstacles), Super (marked, fixed 8+ mi course plus obstacles), Beast (marked, fixed 13+ mi course plus obstacles), UltraBeast (marked, 26+ mile course plus obstacles) and Death Race (unmarked course, requires navigation, unknown distance, challenges instead of obstacles). This old model was like having a road running race series that had a progression of 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon and iron-distance triathlon. The final event in both of those are a different sports and should be separated into different categories.
Currently ASE is less of an established sport than OCR. There is no world championship event and there is no unifying organization. Will there ever be? I am not sure because unlike OCR, the average person is not going to participate in the majority of these events. To take off, they need an easier version to allow for initial entry into the sport. There is one company that reaches down to the average person providing ASEs for people who do not want an ultra-distance commitment. This is the GORUCK series of events.
GORUCK provides ASE for the non-ultra athlete and is the best possibility for growing the sport. GORUCK offers Light, Tough, Heavy and Selection as their different levels of events. If you are curious to know more about Light, feel free to look at my event recap from GORUCK Light Kansas City. If you are curious to see if you would like ASE, I would try out a GORUCK Light as a starting point and then work your way up their difficulty ladder. If you do not like GORUCK Light, which only takes around 6 hours, chances are you will not be happy with a 24 or 48-hour commitment for events like Death Race, SISU Iron or Brutality.
Until ASE gets its own website like MudRunGuide.com, its own world championship and/or its own organization, the OCR world will continue to be associated with these events. As an OCR athlete, you may like or hate these events and may have even participated in a couple. Regardless of your opinion, one thing is clear, ASE is a sport in their own and are clearly not OCR.
The opinions in this article are those of the writer and may not reflect those of Mud Run Guide.
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