Obstacle Racing: Your New Favorite Hobby

I hate running.

That is a pretty necessary fact to establish before spending the next dozen paragraphs (and a huge chunk of my work here at RCR) talking about, well, running.

Dating back to the days of the annual Turkey Trot in Ipswich, Massachusetts, there is not a form of physical activity I have disliked more than running. There is a reason why I stuck with football and baseball in high school, as the only running involved is short bursts for short distances (or, in the case of playing first base, almost none at all).

To me, running on a treadmill is just slightly more preferable to hearing nails scratching on a chalkboard. Running on the sidewalk is not much better. Road races? Nah. Ron Burgundy said it best: apparently you just run for an extended period of time.

I tell you all of this because by the end of 2016, I’ll have completed six races covering a total of roughly 46 miles. And I’ve thought about doing even more. So how does someone with a 27-year track record of detesting the act of running get to that point?

Enter Obstacle Course Racing.

Chances are, you’ve heard of Tough Mudder or Spartan Race. You probably know someone who’s into OCR. On the weekend, you will scroll through Facebook or Instagram and see a picture them covered in mud, holding a medal or a beer (or both!) with a huge smile on their face. I am that guy.

As someone who hates running but loves a physical challenge, OCR is the perfect blend. Yeah, you are going to run, but running on trails and other terrain keeps it interesting, and you will only be going for about a quarter-mile at a time before you stop to scale an eight-foot wall. Then you will run and crawl under barbed wire. Next might be a dunk in freezing cold water or a jump over fire. And those are just the basic obstacles.

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You will get wet. You will get muddy. You will probably get scratched and scraped, and the next day you are definitely going to feel like you have done a few rounds in the octagon. But you will smash through whatever perceived limitations you thought you had, and then you will sign up for another race.

For me, one of the greatest aspects of OCR is the community. Yeah, there are elite waves to start each race day, and in the case of Spartan, a pro series with six-figure prize money at stake. But the vast majority of participants run in open waves, where there only true competition is you against the course. 99.9% of the time, your fellow racers are there to offer you support, encouragement, and sometimes a literal helping hand.

Some series completely embrace this community aspect. For example, Tough Mudder has no timing whatsoever and features some obstacles that require multiple people to work together. Plus, whichever race you do, there’s always a party at the end. It’s the perfect way to have some (slightly painful) fun with your good friends, or make new ones out on the course.

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OCR has its origins in the mid-to-late 2000s and has exploded in popularity in the last two or three years. One of the best results of the sport’s rise in profile is the establishment of several major race series that cover all levels. From a Warrior Dash (5k distance and only 12 obstacles, most of which are on the easier side) all the way up to a Spartan Beast (12-15 miles, 35+ obstacles, lots of elevation change, it is going to hurt). I started with just about the easiest race available.

Maybe you are just trying to move around more and get in shape. Maybe you are a marathoner looking to switch things up, or you are someone with a good amount of general fitness but no true athletic talent (it me).

Whatever your story, OCR is your new favorite hobby.

I have even better news: Between now and the end of the year, there are several OCR events within a fairly short driving distance of our city. Next week, I’ll break down the different races to help you decide which one is for you.

Oh, one more thing: On race day, don’t forget to tear your free beer ticket off your bib and store it in a safe place. Trust me.