Written By: Elite Obstacle Racer, Brakken Kraker
As the year began, there were two major questions waiting to be answered. First, can OCR manage to continue its astounding growth in 2014, or is this year “The Beginning of the End”? Secondly, Can the athletes who have been successful in the sport’s inception continue to be relevant, or is the year when outsiders begin to take over the sport? The answer turned out to be ‘yes’ to all the above.
This sport saw no reduction in its meteoric rise in participation. Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash continued their reign as The Big Three and continued to see thousands of unique participants pour into their venues week in and week out. New race organizations made their way into national prominence, with Battle Frog, Bone Frog, Savage Race, and Mud Guts and Glory gaining popularity as the year wore on. Spartan Race continued expanding its venues, entering new markets and foreign countries seemingly weekly. They secured a bigger NBC deal, televising 6 races and bringing OCR even more prominently into the public eye. OCR World Championships (OCRWC) were announced, followed quickly by announcements for a Warrior Dash World Championship and a Spartan Race Team Word Championship.
To the surprise of many, every championship actually occurred as advertised. The sport went from one championship race in 2013 to four in 2014. Both the Warrior and OCR Championships were inaugural events, yet both brought in big names, big prize money, and provided excellent events for both racers and spectators. Thanks, in no small part, go to Reebok, among many other sponsors, for this unprecedented growth. Reebok has a history of backing up and coming fitness and sport revolutions. Reebok backed CrossFit; CrossFit exploded. Reebok backed Spartan Race; Spartan Race is skyrocketing. Reebok just bought into the UFC. We can only imagine where that partnership will go. While the influence of Reebok in the sport seems to be a polarizing issue amongst the faithful followers of OCR, it has undoubtedly helped our sport to gain much needed credibility.
While the sport as a whole continued to see unbelievable growth in 2014, this year did indeed turn out to be the “Beginning of the End” for several race organizations. We saw an exciting flash in the pan that was Extreme Nation. After nearly a year of anticipation, their first race was a flop- ableit an awesome one. They gathered a large percentage of the sport’s best athletes, but never managed to bring in crowds of people. The small market Hard Charge, who had a pretty solid race and even managed to put together a fairly impressive tv show, lost its financial footing.
We saw the continued disgraceful fall of Superhero Scramble, complete with drama, hundreds of workers and athletes stiffed on monies owed, and threats of lawsuits towards anyone who questioned their ethics. Even the promising Atlas Race succumbed to financial woes (although they appear to have righted the ship heading into 2015- more on this later). These downfalls served as a sobering reminder that this sport is indeed still at a fragile point in its development.
Throughout the first few years of the sport, athletes came and went but the names showing up on podiums stayed relatively consistent. Hobie Call and Amelia Boone were king and queen of the sport. Junyong Pak and April Dee were a threat at every distance imaginable. Hunter McIntyre, TyAnn Clark, Jenny Tobin, Claude Godbout, Marco Bedard, Cody Moat and I were probably going to win or be top three at any race we showed up to. Matt Novakovich, David Magida, Leslie St. Louis, Isaiah Vidal and Alec Blenis were going to be on the podium almost every time they raced. Alexander Nicholas was winning or taking second in every Stadium Race. Those were givens; there wasn’t really any mystery there. This year, people predicted, was when we would see athletes from other sports come in and take over.
As the year unfolded, something interesting became clear: New people were indeed starting to take over, but most of the old faces weren’t going anywhere.
Right off the bat, Max King and John Yatsko made big entrances into the sport. Max nearly won the incredibly stacked Atlas Race in Temecula in January and ultimately won the biggest purse in OCR history when he became the Warrior Dash champion. John was unable to pick up a win in his first 2 races, but once he figured OCR out, he didn’t stop winning and never looked back. Glenn Racz burst onto the scene. Cassidy Watton started winning every shorter course offering out there (and even took 2nd at OCRWC). Chad Trammell went from a strong runner who tended to fail obstacles to a serious threat to win any obstacle race he entered. Isaiah made a huge jump in fitness, becoming someone who is never to be counted out of a race.
Ryan Atkins had possibly the most impressive 12 month stretch we’ve ever seen, winning back to back World’s Toughest Mudders, taking 3rd at Extreme Nation, 2nd at the Spartan Race World Championships, 10th at Warrior Dash World Championships, 2nd at OCRWC, and helping anchor the 1st place team at OCRWC. And finally, Jon Albon made his presence known to the rest of the world, winning both Spartan Race World Championships and OCR World Championships.
However, the incumbents weren’t about to go away quietly. Hobie Call, amidst rumors of old age and retirement, reminded us all he is still a force in this sport, taking the runner up spot at Warrior Dash and 4th at OCRWC. Claude won her 3rd Spartan World Championship. Amelia was having a great season until a freak injury and subsequent surgery forced her out of the championships races. She then responded by rehabbing and getting back into shape just in time to take back her title as World’s Toughest Mudder. Marco won multiple Canadian races. Hunter picked right up where he left off in 2013, winning everything in sight. He finished off his season with a 5th place showing at Spartan Worlds, 6th and Warrior Championships, and was part of the winning team at both Spartan Race Team Worlds and Worlds Toughest. Cody continued to win almost every race he entered, adding a 3rd place in Vermont, 4th at Warrior, and 1st at Team Worlds. Junyong Pak won Spartan, Battle Frog, and Mud Guts and Glory races. David, Jenny, TyAnn, and Matt picked up several victories. While there have certainly been some athletes who have fallen off the radar throughout the course of this year, it has been remarkable how the originators of the sport have managed to remain relevant. Taking a look back through the results of the 2014 season (going off Spartan Race’s September to September Calendar), here are the stats on who won US races.
*This may not be a totally comprehensive list, as many races had incomplete results and several athletes have registered under different names. Some Canada and England results were counted, when an athlete won races both in the US and on foreign soil.
Spartan Race Saturday Wins
John Yatsko: 6 Rose Wetzel: 8
Hunter McIntyre: 6 Claude Godbout: 7 (6 in Canada)
Brakken Kraker: 4 Ameila Boone: 5
Chad Trammell: 3 KK Paul: 5
Coady Moat: 3 April OCR/Luu/Dee: 4
Matt Novakovich: 3 Karlee Whipple: 3
Alexander Nicholas: 2 TyAnn Clark: 3
Matthew Kempson: 2 Cassidy Watton: 3
David Magida: 2 Elise Fugowski: 2
Matthew Kempson: 2 Samantha Guthrie: 1
Jon Albon: 2 (1 in London) Orla Walsh: 1
Junyong Pak: 2 Laura Messner: 1
Noah Palicia: 1 Shaun Provost: 1
Joshua Zwonitzer: 1 Jenny Tobin: 1
Glenn Racz: 1 Katie Oliveira: 1
Brandon Dupont: 1 Jolene Wilkinson: 1
David Tate: 1 Sue Luck: 1
Tradelle Ward: 1 Alex Roudayna de la Huerta Susilla (aka Chikorita de Leko): 1
James Appleton: 1
Warrior Dash Championship
Max King: 1 Kimber Mattox: 1
OCR World Championship
Jon Albon: 1 Siri Englund: 1
Battle Frog Wins
Hobie Call: 2 Corinna Coffin: 2
Ken Corigliano: 1 Brenna Calvert: 2
Ryan Atkins: 1 Jolene Wilkinson: 1
Junyong Pak: 1 Claude Godbout: 1
Alex Blenis: 1
Atlas Race Wins
Brakken Kraker: 1 Lauren Ho: 1
Hunter McIntyre: 1 Amelia Boone: 1
For the men’s results readily available, there were 54 wins this season. Of those 54, 35 wins came from racers who were veterans of the sport. By ‘veterans’, I am referring to racers who were on the OCR radar prior to the 2014 season. They either won a race or made a podium before September of 2013, and were generally well known in the OCR community. For the purposes of this article I consider Jon Albon a “new” racer because, despite winning every race he enters across the pond, we were relatively unaware of him entering into Vermont. Despite the influx of talented new faces, veterans of OCR managed to win 64% of all major OCR races in 2014. On the women’s side, again only working with readily available results, there were 59 winners. Of those 59, 19 wins came from racers who were new to the sport his season. Just as with the men, the female veterans of OCR held their own this year, taking home 67% of the victories. Not only are the men’s and women’s statistics shockingly similar, they are consistent in showing that the athletes who came into this year relevant in the sport remained so throughout the 2014 season.
An interesting clash of the old and new guards occurred at the Warrior Dash World Championships. This race was billed as a “true runner’s course”, featuring 10 obstacles rather than the 25+ we are accustomed to. At 3.1 miles in length, the general consensus was that any high level runner with some athleticism would show up and have a great shot at winding up in the money. The runners must have been listening, as a field was assembled that contained running accolades previously unseen in our sport. There were 1:47 800m runners, sub 4:00 milers, mid 13 minute 5k runners, multiple All-Americans, National Champions, World Champions, US National Team members, and Olympic Trials athletes. If there was ever a race that would show us what would happen when true speed shows up, this was it. When the dust settled, there were mixed results for the men and women. The female newcomers ran away with the race, taking the top 4 spots. Only Rose was able to crack the podium, but KK, Claude, Corinna and Cassidy all managed to finish in the top 15. However, the men’s results looked very different. Max King, the best all-around runner in the field won, but he has competed in 5 OCR races, enough to qualify him as a veteran. After Max, the results read like a who’s who of OCR: Hobie Call, Cody Moat, John Yatsko, Brakken Kraker, and Hunter McIntyre finished 2nd through 6th. You had to look to the 7th finisher to find someone who isn’t primarily an OCR athlete. In fact, 12 of the top 15 finishers had run multiple OCRs prior to this race.
2014 was without doubt the biggest, most exciting year our young sport has had to date. But with popularity skyrocketing, high level athletes from other sports making the shift to OCR, and hundreds of thousands getting off their couches and onto a race course, 2015 looks like it has even more in store for us. The big name races continue to expand their race offerings. New players enter the market each month. Atlas Race is back with a new financial backer, and is looking to compete with Battle Frog for the 4th spot at the big boys table. New athletes are making a name for themselves early on in this season. Names like Josh Zwonitzer, McCauley Kraker, Veejay Jones and Ryan Kent will be household names by the end of this year. McCauley and Ryan both have multiple Saturday wins under their belt for the 2015 season, and Josh had made the podium in every race he’s run since Vermont. Veejay is not even out of high school and he already is competing with the sport’s best. For the women, Corinna Coffin made a splash with her 2nd place finish in Vermont, and has continued to dominate in every race she’s entered since. Becca Clifford has finished 2nd in her first two attempts at OCR, and is looking to start her own streak of dominance. Hobie has plans to race more often in 2015. Amelia will look to regain her Spartan Championship. The newcomers will look to assert themselves. The veterans will fight to remain on top.
The lion’s share of this review has dealt with the “elites” of the sport and the professional aspects of OCR, but let us not forget the true backbone of the sport: the weekend warriors who run these races not for money or glory, but purely for the love of the sport. Without their attendance, support, social media presence, and personalities, this sport would not exist. There would be no elite waves, and we would not be able to pursue the careers and dreams available to us in this wonderful sport. To those of you out there who are part of the amazing community that is OCR, I thank each and every one of you.
So this is what we were witness to in 2014: almost a million unique obstacle participants, the birth and subsequent rise of obstacle specific media, televised coverage of races, and arguably the most important development: Obstacle Course Racing’s continued path to not only acceptance but also promotion from the mainstream fitness community. OCR is well on its way to becoming a mainstay in the American (and worldwide) fitness and sporting scenes, joining MMA and CrossFit at the forefront of the fun fitness revolution currently taking off. Finally, obstacle racing has become a sport of rebirth; one that has succeeded in ripping people off their couch and throwing them head long into the quest for a lifetime of fitness. Jack Lalane would be proud.
Here’s to 2015! I’ll see you out there.