Recently, I've seen a couple of articles talking about OCR burnout; about how the thrill of running obstacle course races can wear thin and become such a drag that people leave the sport. This isn't about the “one and done” runners who try a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder, finish it, check it off their bucket list and move on. This article is aimed at those who were avid obstacle course runners; those who were bitten by the bug and obsessed about OCR, only to find that after 2-3 years their interest has waned. The bloom is off the rose, and boredom has replaced excitement as they toe the starting line. They start doing fewer races, and eventually decide they're “done”.
This is a real thing. I've seen it happen to friends. Will OCR burnout happen to you? Is it inevitable, and if not, how can you maintain your enthusiasm.
Will OCR Burnout happen to you?
The answer will be different for everyone; part of it relies on your personality and psychology, and part of it relies on WHY you race. Is it for the Facebook likes, to hang out with friends, for the competitive aspects, to push your body to its limits, or something else? People participate in these races for a wide variety of reasons, and as they're getting you outside and off the couch, I contend that all of them are valid, but some may drive you harder and further than others.
Maybe you're still in the honeymoon stage with obstacle course racing, and can't even imagine it ever getting old. Maybe you're starting to feel like the races have lost their mojo and aren't thrilling you like they used to. Or maybe you recognize that you are already staring OCR burnout in the face, but would like to rekindle your romance with the sport. The real question is, can you prevent OCR burnout from getting you, or at least prolong things for as long as possible (which equates to playing and having fun on the courses as long as possible)? Here are a few methods to stave off burnout.
Try New Races
Are you a die-hard Spartan? Or do you bleed Tough Mudder orange? Branch out and try new races. BattleFrog, Savage Race, Rugged Maniac, OCRWC, Conquer the Gauntlet, Gladiator Rock ‘n Run, and many other quality races are out there. Each of them presents unique flavors and challenges, and this simple answer can be just what the doctor ordered. Plus that way you get more variety in your T-shirt drawer.
Adjust Your Goals
Normally run for fun? Try pushing yourself over a few races and in training to see how well you can place, or even step up and give the competitive or elite heats a try. If you're super competitive instead, step outside yourself and help a newbie or adaptive athlete through the race. You could even get insight into the world of an adaptive athlete by temporarily taking on their challenges, like my friend Kyoul did when he ran a Spartan race blind. Or just hang out and see how LONG you can spend on the course helping others over the obstacles. If you're not finding the race a challenge anymore, go hardcore and run the event with extra… carry a weighted pack or an awkward object like a tire or log through the full course to make it tougher. Or run multiple laps like Battlefrog's BFX as a great way to switch things up and prevent OCR boredom from setting in. The possibilities here allow for nearly endless variations and are limited only by your imagination, though if you’re attempting something crazy, PLEASE clear it with the race in question first for safety reasons.
Change Your Scenery
This may not be an option for everyone, but if you're financially able travel to a new race location, preferably one far different from whatever you consider local. If you're used to running in the desert, book a race on the East Coast or the mountains. Normally run in Florida? Come do something up in Utah or Lake Tahoe. Aside from seeing great new areas of the country, the change in terrain can play a huge role in the difficulty of the race, add butterflies back into your stomach and make the whole experience feel fresh again. If you have the resources, there are also tons of interesting race series internationally in Europe, Australia, and elsewhere that can add a huge element of adventure to your race.
Lighten Up, Francis
Are you a super competitive athlete who obsesses about your finishing time and placement? Awesome. Go do a local mud run that's untimed and has obstacles like three-foot walls along the way. While you're there, open your eyes and look around to see how much fun most of the non-OCR people are having. Watch that little kid doing the backstroke in the mud pit. Feel that simple joy? It's infectious, isn't it? Not everything has to be hard, and you don't need to leave every event covered in bruises and abrasions.
Become More Involved
If racing is starting to wear thin, it's possible to up your ante and increase your skin in the game to keep you motivated off the course. Maybe you hook up with a charity group like Team RWB, Bravo Co, or “I Run 4” to deepen your “why”. Or you start training others to improve their fitness and prepare for obstacle course racing. Heck, you might even start writing race reviews or editorials for OCR specific media with titles like “Avoiding OCR Burnout”. The point is if you increase your involvement in other aspects of the OCR industry, you can find new ways to fan the flames of this obsession.
There's a wide world of events out there. If you've gotten in decent shape for obstacle course racing, most of these are now open to you. Whether you go for straight running events from 5k's to ultramarathons, something more social like Ragnar Relays, or dive deeply into team-building endurance with GORUCK or SISU events depends on your preferences. Maybe you take a leap into the world of rock climbing or triathlons. Regardless of which direction(s) you choose, there are plenty of ways to step outside your comfort zone. The idea here is not to stop running OCR's in favor of one or more of these, but to give something new a try in order to keep growing and evolving. Very likely, you'll find something in these sports (or in training for them) that you can bring back to your OCR performances.
Take a Break
Many of us, when we're pulled into the world of obstacle course racing, can actually overdo it. We start innocently enough with a couple of races, then maybe decide to go for our trifecta. The next year, we feel the need to top our past performance, and maybe hit 3 or 4 trifectas, plus whatever other races we can find, until nearly every weekend is race weekend. This puts enormous stress on our bodies and can quickly lead to weariness, especially if there's a significant amount of travel involved. It's ok to take a few steps back and have more time between races; in fact, you'll likely find a renewed anticipation and enthusiasm before and on race day. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
The Bottom Line
Finally, it's important to recognize that none of these might work to keep burnout at bay forever. As you grow and evolve as a person and an athlete, your preferences and tastes may change as well. At some point along your journey, you may well find that OCR is no longer for you. And that's ok too. If you find yourself at this point, step forward boldly into whatever awaits, and take the confidence, athleticism, friendships, and most importantly the memories and stories you've gained through your participation in this fantastic sport with you into the next chapter of your life.
What do you think?
What have you done to overcome OCR Burnout?
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Mud Run Guide LLC, or their staff. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.