Friday, July 10, 2015

OCR...Growing Pains, Competition, Money and Egos

One thing I never envisioned when I decided to run my first OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) event back in 2011 was the way it would permeate my life in general.  It has taught me lessons...both good and bad...about racing, training, limits (or the lack thereof), people and most of all, about the birth of a sport...and about the birth of an industry.

The number of times in one's life where new sports come into being are limited.  To somehow be a witness to, even a participant in, these beginnings are rarer still....and something I'm still relishing.  Although the vast majority of my own personal experience has been with Spartan Race (soon to change dramatically!), much of the growth and change in the sport as a whole has been in the form of race formats,  various "championships"...and even a fledgling sanctioning body.

Back in the beginning, no one knew who Hobie Call or Amelia Boone were. A time where I could speak to Joe Desena on (and about) the Tuxedo course without realizing who he was.  And then there was a thing called Spartan Radio...or was it Spartan TV.  Where they produced weekly multi-feed Skype-type broadcasts, hosted by Carrie Adams, with interviews and odd challenges...usually performed by Todd Sedlak as I remember.

To me, one of the major turning points of OCR going from a fringe sport for these strange and unusual athletes was the Spartan Race Times Square demonstration event.  Unknown to most of us until early that morning, not only was this a major demonstration to the world of this new sport, it also was the announcement of the Reebok-Spartan Race affiliation (although painting the Reebok-Spartan Race logos on all the apparatus was kind of a clue something was up).  To say that taking part in this event as a volunteer was exciting would be an understatement in the extreme.  Maybe like being at the first Super knew it was big, but who knew just how big it would get....and how quickly.

What started out though, as a way to "pull people off their couches" has become a battle of OCR mega-races vying for dominance among racers, fans and sponsors and even talk of an Olympic sport.  Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Savage Race are generally considered to be the top three race promoters right now.  BattleFrog Series is another race series vying for a long term presence in the field (and have actually put together their College Championship event on ESPN, which is the first major TV-friendly OCR competition).  However, they have recently run into challenges that have caused many, many other entrants into the sport to come up short.

Today, these OCR behemoths are each trying to become the preeminent racing model, although it does seem that there may be room for several models to least for now.  There are even places like Shale Hill Adventure that cater specifically to OCR style training with a view towards expanding your "limits" both physical and mental...just as OCR does.  And I haven't even mentioned Crossfit (another Reebok affiliated fitness company), which has it's own style and spin on pushing one's limits.  Or Civilian Military Combine, which is a marriage of the Crossfit and OCR concepts.

Change is inevitable though...the one constant in the universe.  In the beginning, these races encouraged teamwork and be active for health's sake and showing people that their limits are much more in their heads than in their physical abilities.  Now, however, we see the battle of egos and business models vying to control and direct the future of OCR.  Elite racers competing for ever-growing prize money.  Companies competing for the ever growing hordes waiting to test their abilities against these challenging courses.

So where will OCR be in the future?  Obviously no one knows for certain.  I think it's safe to say though, that OCR is here to least for the foreseeable future.  The lure of potentially huge profits will see to that!  There will be more alliances, more new races, more failed races, more innovation, more drama and the best part for the rest of us mere racers....more racing!!

 What is your experience with OCR and where do you think the future of OCR lies?

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