Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The Tale of Two Races...or is it Three?
The future of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR)? For some reason I keep thinking about this. Maybe it's because of the Spartan Citi Field race on the 13th. A different sort of obstacle race than most of "us" are used to. It begs the question, how do those fit into the future of the sport? The other reason is the post I read from Ekaterina Solovieva. (Ekaterina Solovieva - Does obstacle racing have the feet of clay?) Seems like she's the only other person writing about it. Maybe not though...you see, I don't get out much.
Most of what you do hear revolves more around the type of races...the differences in distance and the density of obstacles on the course. They also seem to be concerned about the rise of new races showing up almost weekly. Many of these races end up being disappointments in any number of ways. Unorganized...long lines for entry, parking and obstacles. Poorly designed or "imitation" courses which have few, if any, real obstacles. Some don't even get off the ground after much hype and promise.
However, to me there really is no question that the sport of obstacle racing will endure. Of course it will likely reach it's peak in the next few years and then contract back to a more solid core of race promoters and a stable base of racers. But here's where the race structure will start to differentiate to accommodate a diverse racing population.
The original style events are generally run in natural settings, if not in the actual woods, and include barbed wire, mud and assorted other hard-core (read: relatively dangerous) physical challenges. Right now, there are two groups that make up the OCR base for these events.
The first group are the serious racers, meaning people who will do at least a few races a year, will travel regionally to compete and will likely do races from different promoters. These "traditionalists" like the format we have now and really prefer to see that remain the same. They will continue to train seriously and continue to attend these events for as long as they challenge and motivate the racers.
There is also a "casual" racer who will probably just do one or two of these traditional races a year. For them it becomes an annual event and they focus on it like they would a holiday event or a company picnic. Well, a company picnic with eight-foot walls, rope climbs and sand bag carries. A challenge to look forward to every year, to prepare for and probably attend with a group of like-minded friends.
The new type of events are the "stadium" style, like the one at Citi Field. A third group of racers...which is just beginning to be tapped...is the "urban warrior". The physical challenge is real and many of the racers are serious athletes! Many of the same obstacles can be found there too. But you won't find the barbed wire...or the mud! There are fans in the stands...there is big screen video of the event from all over the venue. Music blaring from the sound system...it's a true festival atmosphere. Some of the "traditionalists" (like me) were there mostly because it was a first. I mean, how often were we going to have a chance to run through (and on) Citi Field? Without being chased down by security or police I mean (which I guess could be a whole new level of OCR).
There is also a strong contingency of teams at the stadium events, seemingly much more than at the traditional races. Many use the race as an platform to fund raise or bring awareness to their cause. The accessibility to fans also makes this a great opportunity for family and friends to watch the racers...something that is all but impossible in most of the traditional venues.
The third race "style", if you can call it that, is the newest...and least proven. All the top tier races right now are "mobile" courses. They come to a venue for a weekend of races...or now we have Spartan Race doing a second weekend at their Tuxedo venue...then it's off to the next city. This new style is the "fixed" course. The course is stationary...and logic would say that they can develop larger and more challenging obstacles by the very fact that it doesn't have to be moved every week. The big question though is how many people can you attract. Certainly the local racers will flock to it initially, to try it out. Maybe use it periodically to test there progress and condition. But how many people will travel to these locations just to race? Even if it's near a vacation destination, considering the nature of at least a day or two recovery after racing (for normal people), how many people will give up half their vacation week just to run the course? We'll see how this one plays out too...maybe I need to get out to one of these and check it out!
Which promoters will be left standing at the end is unknown of course. An interesting observation is that it's not usually the company that's first out of the starting gate, but the company that makes the necessary adjustments and has the most attractive product that becomes number one. In my opinion though, there will be OCR in the future and I think it will have a substantial following, whichever promoters are left. The fact that races are popping up and disappearing is inconsequential to this future. In fact, I believe it's just a healthy sign of the growth and evolution of OCR. It will be very interesting to watch the progress and development of OCR over the next few years. It's not often that we have a chance to see the birth of a new sport or industry. And I'm guessing this won't be the last thought on the topic....so until then....