Wednesday, April 3, 2013

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

I've only been observing the sport of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) for around 2-1/2 years now.  My introduction to the sport was purely accidental, but I can truly say, I will never be quite the same.  I've also been racing for almost two years...although it's not what you would call competitively or even regularly until this year.  Normally, two years would not be considered a very long time to be involved with a sport.  But since this sport is relatively young itself and really has only become popular in the last year or so, 2-1/2 years has seen much change.

There are many different races and it seems that a new one pops up every week (a sure sign of their growing popularity).  Each has it's own story, which I'm not going to try to recount here.  But there are a few that stand out as the leaders in the field.  In all fairness, I have only run the Spartan races so far (Spartan Race homepage) so I don't have first hand knowledge of the others.  However, by most accounts, Spartan Race and Tough Mudder (Tough Mudder homepage) are the top two race promoters.  I've also heard that Warrior Dash (Warrior Dash homepage) is another promoter that puts on similar races.  There are others too, but many of these seem to be more concerned about gimmicks than serious, challenging events.
The big question though is, what is the future of OCR?  Last year I first started hearing talk about the subject.  I heard people talking about a racing circuit, sponsored teams in competition across the different courses, standardized courses and even talk of an Olympic sport.  Of course there's always someone looking towards the future of any activity...and that's important.  Seems to me though that before you can talk about professional OCR racers, you have to develop fans!

When that question was posed last year, that was my first thought.  How can you have a sport without fans?  And how would you have fans when the only view of the race was the start and the finish?  In fact, at that time, the only real interest in these elite racers was from...well...from the non-elite racers.  One of the unique qualities of the sport was the very fact that any racer could run the same course, the same day...even during the same the elite racers.  You could appreciate the accomplishment of these racers because you could test yourself against the very same course.  I mean really, what other sport allows virtually anyone the chance to get on the same field as the very best and compete equally?  Baseball, football (American or the rest of the world's version), track and field?  Try it at those events and they arrest you!

Two problems were evident immediately though.  The first was that, even at the race, the elite race was started and finished before most of the other racers were even there.  Even if people wanted to see the race, more than likely you were either on the course or about to be go on when they were finishing or awarding medals.  And these non-elite racers are your most likely candidates for "fan-dom" least to begin with.  They have to spread the word.  Right now, they're spreading the word about participating...but not about watching.

The other, more serious problem, was that even at the race, there IS no way to watch it.  There's no leader board, no announcements...nothing to tell you what was going on.  If you were lucky there may have been an announcement at the end...if you were lucky.  And if you were interested in following a race that you couldn't attend...well, all you were likely to hear is an update or two, then a Facebook post of the winners.  Could you place cameras throughout the course, at various obstacles and some key people can watch the racers and their progress?  The excitement is knowing where you favorite racer is and rooting them on during the race.  They actually did this very well at the Olympics with mountain bike racing.  While I had no particular interest in the racers or sport as a whole, the way that they broadcast the race, I was not only able to follow it, I found the race exciting and entertaining.  Lesson number one I guess, is learning what's already working successfully. ends part one....more thoughts and ideas on the present and future of OCR in part deux (that's French for "what didn't fit on the first page" I think)....

Part deux...[link to the second part of this blog post]


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