People talk about epic failures at Spartan, Tough Mudder, or Warrior Dash constantly: medal size complaints, being bored by the “same old obstacles,” a delay in getting the photos or results. These are all things I have personally had to defend as a volunteer for these race series, yet people still gladly pump out $140 to $245 for an event selling them out in mass, with thousands, even tens of thousands, racers being reported as the official registration numbers. Then an imaginative new start-up series has an issue with getting results posted, photos out, or the racers are not a fan of a new finisher medal and the masses call for their heads, demanding that no one ever try one of these races. All while racers for the new start-ups are paying as little as $40 or so for an equivalent distance course with some obstacles new to the community, or even worse a $60-$80 race that is a superior, well-executed product and they cannot get more than a few hundred people to show up. So the question is, are these true OCR problems or 1st World Problems caused by unrealistic expectations going into a new race?
Do not get me wrong; this is not meant to be a rant against the big races; it is not a rant against the racers and community as a whole. This is not meant to downplay serious issues like lack of water at water stations on hot courses (or any course for that matter), broken restrooms, ATVs almost running over racers or poor parking planning – those are serious issues and need to be called out. Instead, it is meant to be reflective on whether we, as racers, have gotten off course on why were are here and what to expect out of our race experience. Have we gotten ahead of ourselves on where we are as a sport/hobby? Do our demands on Facebook help enhance the community or help meet the needs we say that we want to be met?
This may be one of the common things I hear. Spartan is a fine example of this: “I’m never doing another Spartan because they never give me new things to conquer.” Two weeks later “Here I am at the San Jose Sprint, having an awesome time! Aroo!”
Person A: “I can not wait to do XYZ!” but a week later “Obstacles were meh.”
Person B: “But wait, weren’t obstacles ABC there?”
Person A: “Yeah, but the terrain wasn’t on a mountain.”
Hmm, I thought the point was to do something different, but you are disappointed because it was different. I do not think celebrating diversity means what you think it means. Take a moment to enjoy the variety and take it all in.
Results and Photos:
This one has been one I swam in and semi-drowned in.
Racer: “It’s been 36 hours – where are my photos and results?!?! Never go back to this race they did not have results handy that day.”
Big Race Series: “There is a server issue so we will not have your results today.”
Racer: “Oh, that’s fine as long as I get them eventually.”
Why is one race series eviscerated while the other is given a pass? Many may know the example I’m referring to, and I hope you see the validity of my point. While it took the smaller race series a week to get their results, think of this aspect; the $40 race cost $40 because it keeps its operating expenses low, which means they have less personnel to handle everything and, in turn, less bandwidth to respond quickly. Yes, I know, communication is key and sometimes it is not optimal, but please note my comments on lean operations and resource bandwidth. If one of your goals is to reduce your cost to race without volunteering, you need to be patient with that. Some things may be slower. Poor communication is never appropriate, but proper management of expectations is a required skill for the racer.
One of the first things I saw after the launch of the National Team recruitment call was the statements of betrayal. “How could Spartan do this?! Having trials the same weekend of the New Jersey Beast and Ultra Beast Weekend – they are showing us no respect.” Personally, I have grown up and competed against people who qualified for the Olympics or have previously/currently make a living as a professional athlete in a major US professional sport. If you have been around athletes of that caliber, you would quickly realize people need to take a step back and be reflective of their abilities in comparison to our own. Prepare to be in complete awe of the new class of OCR athletes that will be coming into the light in the next 4 to 6 years as they begin actively training in Ninja Warrior or OCR focused gyms and real money (e.g. Nike, Under Armour, Coke, Pepsi, etc.) starts flowing in. You are going to see course times and obstacles completed in a way that will blow your mind. Yes, it would be great to try out for a national team or even play on the course, but in your late 20’s to early 40’s the likelihood of holding your own against a 21-year-old thoroughbred focused on OCR is slim to none. This coming from a guy who actively trains for top 20 to podium finishes, but I know where I am as an athlete. I am not trying to put anyone down but instead, I am acknowledging my limitations.
“Tough Mudder is $180! Spartan is too expensive – $100 for a 5K??” or “That’s it! They’ll never see another dime from me!” Joe DeSena has long said that to put on the race he wants to produce, that the registration would need to be anywhere from $200 to $450 a person, with or without sponsorship dollars subsidizing things. So their continual price hikes really should be no surprise, especially with their drive to grow and offer more events. Same is said for Tough Mudder. If you want more, the cost needs to increase as there are not many corners to cut. Despite popular opinions, OCR is not a high-profit business. Amazing events like Green Beret Challenge, Conquer the Gauntlet, and Savage can be had for $50 to $80. They often are held at more convenient locations or more exotic locations than their big brother competitors, getting only 500-1,500 participants. Why do more people not give these great series an honest try? They meet all the big check marks people claim to want: new challenging obstacles, significantly lower costs, typically unique vendors, better beer and food choices (because they are unique to the location), and what many claims to be most important, not being the big brother race series.
At OCRAddict, we have unique day jobs that I believe really may bring some solid points up that both the racer and race series may gain some valuable insight from. In our profession, it is how we have to address every situation we enter. In OCR terms, that is “What is your expectation going into a new race series for the first time?” I get it, we are human, so it’s natural for us to use a platform that is personally certified as the measuring stick. Why else do people get worked up when they hear “Spartan? Is that like a Tough Mudder?” or “How was your little fun run?” or everyone’s favorite “Did you win?”. The question is are we putting too much emphasis into trying to find a less costly version of our current favorite? I know I am guilty of doing this. I have branched out more and more, and I have tried to alter my measuring method. I try my best to measure the sign-up price (especially the last two weeks out) and the promotional materials. Was it an X, Y, or really Z dollar quality race or better? What is the experience they are marketing? Spartan promises a soul-sucking, ancient military experience, Tough Mudder, at least to me, as a physical challenge with a party, Green Beret Challenge is military structure designed to make you a better human, Conquer the Gauntlet is an American Ninja Warrior like obstacle challenge that makes you family, Savage Rage is almost Texas-like with bigger is better to create “The World’s Toughest Obstacles, making you Savage As F*@K’, and Terrain is a fun run with one or two legit obstacles and the rest being easy with proper technique. If your goal has shifted from finding old reliable’s doppelgänger to looking for a challenge with a different spin on things, you may find these up and comers to be far more satisfying. Plus, when the cost is 35 to 65% of the cost of other choices, the final evaluation will be more complete.
The point of this opinion piece was to generate some reflective thought and positive discussion. Shortly, OCRAddict is going to be asking for people who want to give honest feedback on the sport. Topics will include why you go to certain races, do not go to others, and what do you want out of the race day. This will be a real opportunity for the racer to make their voice directly heard and addressed by the decision makers for participating race series. For the time being, why do not we all take a moment; a moment to think about what we really want from our OCRs. The beauty of it is that we all have our own drivers and our own wants. We also need to think about when we sign up for a race what is it out of that experience we really want as opposed to the current convention of how it compares to their big brothers.