The past decade has seen incredible growth in extreme physical challenge events (and no, I didn’t say sports…but more on that in my next article). In addition to our beloved Obstacle Course Racing (OCR), there’s made-for-television American Ninja Warrior (ANW) and the oddly mesmerizing CrossFit (CF) Games. I’ll leave it to others to explain the allure of these activities, but there’s no doubt that hundreds of thousands of people are taking part in OCR and CF. Many millions more are enthusiastically watching ANW. Not to mention the thousands (tens of thousands?) who actually train for ANW qualifying. Sometimes on homemade courses, others at Ninja style gyms popping up around the country.

Of course, there’s nothing particularly eye-opening about this. What is interesting though, is the trend towards athletes crossing over between these activities. Some cross-promotion is strictly for publicity. But more and more, athletes are branching out to compete in other extreme events. In hindsight, this appears to be an obvious development. First, because of the relentless need that people have today for that ‘new experience’, which is evident in the short shelf-life that everything seems to have these days. The other is the general competitive nature of extreme athletes…oh, and did I mention the money! ANW’s seven-figure payout and CF’s six-figure number certainly draw the initial attention of athletes who are making, or plan to make, a living as a professional. Surprisingly, OCR may actually offer more prize money overall, and it’s available almost year round, all across the country. Hence, the potential for CF athletes crossing over.

While CF offers that big payout for first place, and even paydays down the line for top finishers, at present it’s an annual event. Even if your focus is the CF Games, the rest of the year is open to other competitions. This was most evident in the recent Tough Mudder X (TMX) finals, where the majority of athletes in the finals were from CF, including the 2018 women’s winner. This, despite the fact that TM is an OCR promoter and there were a number of top OCR athletes competing. Interestingly enough, the reason for this seems two-fold.

The most obvious is the fact that TMX featured two CF style workout sections, which most OCR athletes noticeably struggled with. But also, it was a relatively short, one-mile-long course. The combination really feeds into the strength of those CF athletes while not rewarding the longer distance running skills of the top OCR competitors. On one hand, adding these workstations to OCR events could potentially attract even more CF athletes, seeking year-round competition…expanding the pool of OCR participants. It also makes one wonder though, as OCR television looms larger, the ideal televised OCR event shortens and the prize money grows: will more CF athletes be crossing over, will more events add these workout stations, and will OCR enthusiasts buy into all of it? Or will it end up being (like the TMX Open events), yet another option in the multi-day offerings at the same venue? It’s also worth noting that the 2018 CF Games added an OCR style event to their repertoire as they too look to broaden their audience and possibly tap into the popularity of OCR.

Speaking of blurring lines between these extreme events, for some time now, OCR has been doing it’s part to imitate ANW. For years now, OCR promoters, like TM, Savage Race and Spartan Race (SR) in particular, have been adding upper body strength obstacles like monkey bars, rigs and all sorts of ninja-inspired obstacles to their courses. Partly to challenge the veteran racers, but also perhaps, providing the opportunity for the average person to see what it’s like to confront an ANW obstacle, without the need for a pilgrimage to a qualifier.

As in most things OCR though, what we see happening right now, with the influx of CF athletes into OCR, is not the first time it’s happened. Nor is TM the first to offer CF style workouts as part of their event (google Civilian Military Combine-CMC). Back in 2013, SR held a demonstration event in Times Square, NYC…which coincided with the announcement of their affiliation with Reebok (a significant development at the time). During this event, Hobie Call, the undisputed king of OCR at the time, was challenged by a top CF athlete on the extremely short demonstration course. A few months before, I had driven up early to the SR at Tuxedo, NY to watch Hobie and hopefully learn how to throw a spear…the right way. At that event, he went out in the 8 am heat, finished and then immediately ran the 9 am elite heat…and won the race. So, when they threw in 30 burpees as part of the demonstration ‘race’, I was absolutely certain he would win. Not surprisingly, most people were stunned to see the CF athlete edge out Hobie. It was not an official race, but I suppose it was a precursor to what’s happening now…although at the time, I was barely even aware of CF. That was just five years ago…and only goes to reinforce the fact that OCR is a very young activity.

What people see today and feel is an indelible mark of OCR, is likely just a year or two old. It may change. Most likely it will, as OCR continues to evolve.  Just ask someone today what a Pugel stick has to do with OCR (you can google SR for that answer)! Like the early dominance of Hobie Call and the first OCR/CF style event of CMC, there are developments today that are reminiscent of these earlier events. Unfortunately, CMC and Hobie suffered from the same malady…too early-itis. I feel certain though, that there will be more examples as OCR continues to grow. What’s old is new again, only the cycle is much faster today. What didn’t work two years ago just might work now. Maybe with a slightly different spin. Like all history, if you want to see the future…just take a look at the past.

Did you Miss Parts One and Two?

Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) in 2018 – Part 1 – The Past & Building an Audience

Obstacle Course Racing in 2018 – Part 2 – Pleasing Everyone

Tell us what you think!

Do you also participate in CrossFit… plan to in the future? Are you interested in competing in an event with workout-style stations?  Let us know!

Despite the relative youth of OCR, and in some instances, because of it, many developments are occurring throughout OCR that merit examination. Oversight bodies and the resurgence of multiple championships are just two of them. That and more is coming up in the next article as we look at what that may mean for OCR.



Series Navigation<< Op-Ed: Obstacle Course Racing in 2018 – Part 2 – Pleasing EveryoneOP-ED: Obstacle Course Racing in 2018 – Part 4 – Is OCR a True Sport? >>

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