Obstacle Course Racing in North America was born just seven years ago. Exploding onto the sports and fitness scene in an unprecedented way.  Becoming even more popular than marathons by 2014.  This in itself was a huge change from the previous sports norms, and people are still writing epic volumes trying to explain why.  So it really shouldn't come as any great surprise that Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) has been evolving continuously ever since.

OCR is Evolving

2016 was certainly expected to be a year of change!  Major race series are trying to expand and solidify their base.  Spartan Race continues to spread vertically to capture racers from training to championships while still chasing that elusive winning TV format. Savage Race has significantly upped its social media game, as well as looked towards adding some much-needed variety to a relatively stagnant list of OCR obstacles. BattleFrog Series has been doing the social media thing during their national expansion and showing their penchant for expanding the available race formats out there.

All this while Facebook groups are actively promoting an expanding number of local races with hashtags like #racelocal and #weracelocal.  At the same time, some popular established races have disappeared, and one old race, Civilian Military Combine, has been resurrected, to begin again later this year.

So, with all this new activity and positive change going on, why are some people moving on from traditional OCR races or apparently dropping out of the sport altogether? 

Those reasons seem to be as varied as the personalities that make up the core of racers.  In just the past few weeks, I've seen some veteran OCR writers talking about changes in the sport.  Each a writer I have come to read regularly and to respect their opinions.  One talks about OCR boredom. Others talk about the new breed of racers and their impact on the race experience.  Still another, while still actively involved in fitness and training, has moved on to more endurance challenging events and a metaphysical zone where I just can't follow at least not yet. Why then suddenly, were they all writing independently about these things now?  What's up with OCR…and should anyone be worried about it?

Certainly race promoters would be, at the very least, interested in changes to how people are feeling about doing races.  But change was certainly inevitable.  How long could OCR experience the double and triple digit increases in participants?  Some have thought this just a fad from the beginning that after a few years people would drift off into some other new fitness/sports craze.  After all, people these days have an ever-shortening attention span and a plethora of media trying to lure them away. So some of this prediction is likely to be accurate, as evidenced by a recent addition at most races.  I think we have all seen some of the new fad-following, type-A personalities out on the courses lately.  Crashing through the woods and trails without regard to the other racers or without what is (or was) considered common courtesy.  Fortunately, these racers are typically the last ones in on a new thing and likely the first to be off to the next “fad”.

My opinion has always been that OCR participation would eventually fall off from these initial grandiose numbers but find a solid base to build more sustainable future growth.  So maybe that's where we are now, just the natural settling into this new paradigm.  Room for many different race brands, challenge levels, and distances but of course, not enough room for all.  And that's the free market.  Calls to save the industry or save this race or that will fall on deaf ears.  Racers for the most part (and in a nice way) don't care.  They will go to the race that offers them what they want.  As a group, they're not as likely to travel as they were years back.  So you better come to them…somehow!

Races must find some way to combat “OCR burnout.” 

Anyone who has been doing it for a few years now (and that seems to include many of the writers I mentioned) has felt it at one point or another.  That feeling that you've “been there done that” and literally, “got the t-shirt!”  Or the need for veteran players to step up their game.  It may seem odd for me to say that, being a silver-haired OCR enthusiast and a not-so-much-elite racer.  But once you have conquered a course, there's a limit to how many more times you can get up to that mountain or venue or distance.  For me, it's become the quest for that line that DNF (Did Not Finish) line to find out just how far I can go.  I hear and see that from other veteran racers too.  So we have to go somewhere.  If OCR doesn't do that for some (and I think I'm still far from that stage!), they go into the endurance races or events like GORUCK.  It seems that many of those who have been doing OCR since the beginning have reached that stage together.

OCR is Evolving

Even the ever increasing volume of OCR ‘news' can be daunting.  In 2010, I first heard about Spartan Race there were no blogs, no real website info, no race day posts.  Now you can't get three Facebook posts without seeing medals and mud everywhere!  Never thought I could become desensitized to a good race day photo but that day has come.  As one writer put it “are we overwhelmed with OCR content?”.  We have no choice but to ignore most of it; our time is limited after all.

Meanwhile, as promoters continue to tweak their products and writers continue to write about OCR, the sport will continue to evolve on its own.  I will continue to race the events I can.  And most people will do what they have always done whatever they want to!  Regardless of what that means to an individual race or promoter….or even to the sport of OCR as a whole.  If anyone has to save anything, it's those that control the ‘product'.  People will choose a product they like and see value in just like the rest of a free market society.  These people created the sport and industry of OCR, and those promoters that understand this and continue to meet the needs of the most racers will save the industry….and themselves!

Related Stories

Op-Ed: Obstacle Course Racing Predictions for 2016

The Present and Future of Obstacle Course Racing…and other secrets of the universe (Part one)

Obstacle races going mainstream, more popular than marathons

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