You line up for the start of an event that boasts the most obstacles per mile with advertised numbers of 100+. What should you be expecting? Dozens of rigs? Fifty different low crawl obstacles? The large variations in what constitutes an obstacle and what that means to the course may be overwhelming, confusing and even misleading to athletes, new or experienced.
As Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) looks to move forward, I think it I time we start looking at creating some obstacle rating system. For example, despite various types of trails, skiing has a rating system with green circles, blue squares, black diamonds and double black diamonds. Tour de France uses rates their climb by categories with a 1-4 rating system, with the lower number being more difficult and the addition of HC (or beyond category) as an additional level of difficulty. Competitive climbing also labels their routes with an associated number conveying difficulty. Even Ultra-runner magazine uses rating system assigning two 1-5 difficulty rating to each course with one score for elevation changes and one score for a technical type of terrain or well-groomed trails. OCR is a more complex though and will thus require a more complex system of rating. During some long runs training for OCR America, here is what I came up with as a model:
Obstacles: Broke into six categories
(F) Fear: Obstacles that are easy to complete but require summoning courage.
Ex. The Cliff, Walk the Plank, Electroshock Therapy, Fire jumps, Arctic Enema
(S) Skill: Obstacles that require a specific ability but are not fear or strength based
Ex. Spartan spear throw, World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM) Tramp Stamp, Balance obstacles, swimming obstacles with depth above your head or memorization games. For obstacles like King of Swingers (height jump combined with a bell ring) and Operation (electrified skill game), they would probably be best labeled as F/S due to a combination of characteristics required to complete them.
Category 4: Very easy obstacles that are essentially impossible to fail unless you quit
Ex. Low Crawl, Under Walls, Slides, low walls, shallow water crossings, Mounds of Grounds, mud pits,
Category 3: Obstacles that are hard to fail unless you quit but requires some strength
Ex. Sandbag carry, bucket carry, A frame cargo net, Giant’s Ladder/Confidence Climb, hoist obstacles
Category 2: Obstacles that the average open wave competitor will fail but competitive and elite competitors will pass. Cat2 requires a good strength to weight ratio.
Ex. Monkey Bars, Monkey Bar variations like Funky Monkey or Grease Monkey, angled monkey bars like those at Mud, Guts, and Glory or Cliffhanger at Conquer The Gauntlet, Medium to high walls, warped wall/Everest/ ¼ pipe, the weaver, traverse walls,
Category 1: Obstacles that are significantly difficult and require substantial strength
Ex. Platinum Rig, Conquer The Gauntlet’s Pegatron or Stairway to Heaven, Shale Hill’s Tarzan Swing,
This provides a baseline for advertising number and type of obstacles to all participants whether it is an open wave competitor or an elite going for the win. Companies would be able to state we have 1xF, 2xS, 4x Cat4 obstacles, 10x Cat3, 3x Cat2 and 1x Cat1 giving participants a good idea of the type, of course, they will be participating in. Add this in with a simple word describing the terrain (ex. mountain, urban, trail or technical) and competitors will have a good idea of what events they might prefer over others.
Mountain: Significant elevation change and usually occurs at a ski resort.
Urban: Route involves significant stretches of pavement
Trail: The most common type of course with trails allowing for fast running speeds
Technical: Trails that are very rock or have short, steep elevation changes requiring competitors to switch between walking, jogging and running (ex. think OCRWC 2014/2015).
What do you think? While my model may not be perfect, I think it provides a baseline to get the discussion started that we can shift off of as we look to move forward to standardize the sport. For those that still want the challenge of the unknown, they can just not look at the ratings before the race. If organizers and athletes are serious about moving it to an Olympic sport or taking the sport to another level, it is time we started looking at rating obstacles.
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