Wednesday, January 22, 2014

As Lombardi Once Said "What the Hell's Going On Out Here?"....And How Does That Relate To The World Of Obstacle Course Racing

2013 has been another interesting year in the world of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR).   The phenomenal growth continued and looks to be off to a great start for 2014.  Although the industry has seen a number of new races come and go.  With some never getting past the announcement phase, while other races managed to collect entry money without ever actually putting on a race.  This past year also saw the first filming of a race by a major sports network.  That was NBC Sports filming the Spartan Race Championship in VT last September.  Although the resulting TV program was not quite a thrill-a-minute [Obstacle Course Racing on TV...well, it's a start!] it was a big step towards building a fan base for this emerging sport.

Speaking of championship races, there was another trend developing late in 2013.  Where last year saw new races growing like weeds, the new trend seems to be for Championship races.  So far, besides the already established Spartan Race Championship, there were announcements from Warrior Dash, OCR World Championship and well, another race called OCR World Championship.  Strangely enough, neither OCR World Championship race actually exists right now and don't seem to have the OCR racing community support at the moment.  Go figure!....growing pains I guess.

Then there was the announcement of a new OCR sanctioning body [USOCR].  Interestingly, this sanctioning body seems to have come to being by self-proclamation...kinda like the big-bang.  Not that I have any objections to this or questions about the qualifications or motives of these individuals.  It's probably a good and necessary step in the growth of the sport.  Just seems like this should grow (as my son might say) organically as OCR matures.  A coming together of the major bring order from chaos, so to speak.  But again, what do I know.  Some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them and some just declare themselves great and leave the proof as a class assignment.

There's an interesting dilemma here too.  One of the major OCR promoters isn't even a race!  That being Tough Mudder.  It's not a isn't how do you have a champion when you don't even have a winner!! [Although there is a "World's Toughest Mudder" competition, which is run in a different manner than their other races].  This could actually get sticky (no pun really!) at some point for Tough Mudder.  Without timed events, they can't be used as qualifying races for any of the so-called championship races.  So they may be left as the only major competitor with a "let's just have fun" attitude.

Last April I was prognosticating on the future of OCR [see The present and future of Obstacle Course Racing (Part1) and The present and future of Obstacle Course Racing - Part Deux)] and a major shortcoming of the races is that virtually no one could see them. At the time, there were a few obstacles visible to spectators, but the vast majority of the race was out of sight.   At the Spartan Championship in Vermont, there was definitely a huge improvement in fan viewing. Quite a number of obstacles were near the festival area, including named (by me) because of it's shorter length, 2 foot clearance and relatively dry condition. Looks impressive, but not too scary to the non-racer (read: parents, non-racing spouses, kids, etc) and barely an inconvenience for the experienced racers.

So fans were able to get a view of their racers although most of the race, even this one, still takes place off stage. And how do you know when your racer would come through that area?  Go grab some food and you may have missed them...and not even know! That's double tough when you're talking about a course where the WINNING times were near 4 hours.

Another thing that hasn't changed noticeably from last year is that you still can't really track the "elite" racers at the event. At Vermont, most everyone racing was out on the course anyway as the winners were coming in.  Unavoidable in this particular instance I guess.  There really should be a separate day for the elites to run this Championship race...maybe...someday [note to self - see multiple new championship races announced recently].  But I suppose, one thing at a time.  First, they need to figure out how to cover a race and make it exciting.  Someone out there has to know how to do that!

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