The Rise of Obstacle Course Racing

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A few years ago, you may have exclusively associated obstacle courses with sports days at primary schools. Sandwiched in the schedule between the egg and spoon race and the beanbag race, it was certainly a highlight. Now, however, obstacle course races have risen in popularity so considerably that the days of association with childhood are long gone. The fundamental structure remains the same – you will be crawling under, climbing over, and battling your way through a variety of obstacles – but today’s popular obstacle course ups the anti, often involving icy waters, electric shocks, barbed wire fences, and fire pits…

ocr course smallJudging from recent stats, it appears you would be in a minority if you thought that wading through mud pits and swimming through underwater tunnels WASN’T fun! Tough Mudder, a renowned endurance test founded only 5 years ago, now has over 1.5 million participants in each ev
ent and if that wasn’t enough, more than 4000 of them have Tough Mudder tattoos. With dedication like that, we’re not surprised that there is a push to make obstacle races an Olympic sport.

So what’s the hype about?

On the fitness scene, these kinds of races offer a unique element that cannot be found elsewhere. The appeal lies in the ability to get competitive, tap into primal instincts, and discover the fun elements of working out. Compare wall climbing, rope swinging, and mud crawling to the monotony of running a marathon?

It is the obstacle element that makes these kinds of events popular amongst groups of friends and teams of colleagues who are looking for a fun challenge. You can enter as a group, support each other to the finish line, and use the test of physicality to build and strengthen existing relationships. Essentially, events like Tough Mudder offer a more hands-on ‘team building’ exercise, and one that can be far more effective than mundane indoor workshops. Encouraging each other through the fire pit is certainly one way to raise morale and build community and group dynamic!

Alongside those less concerned with achieving personal bests and more concerned with just crossing the finishing line with their team are the racers, and this sporting sphere has recently been electrified with an aura of competitiveness. Huge participation numbers, media hype, and serious sponsorship deals has seen the attached prize money rocket, incentivising casual competitors to drag their bodies through the mud with more rigour than ever before.

The Spartan race is at the fore of the shift in intensity as it not only encourages competition, it also thrives on it. Spartan Race co-founder Joe DeSena has competed in ultramarathons through Death Valley as well as scores of Ironmans – including a dozen in one year – and having pushed himself to his mortal limits, he seeks to push obstacle course racing as a competitive sport, not just a mud party.

Girl power

woman on ocr courseContrary to popular belief, these events are also proving immensely popular amongst women who are literally and metaphorically diving in alongside their male counterparts. With no gender discrimination or ‘easy option’ for women, competitive females are jumping at the chance to spice up their regular fitness routines and prove themselves in an assumed masculine environment.

Female participation has soared massively, and 30% of all Tough Mudder entrants are now female. The increase has been so significant that there is even a half-sized Tough Mudder race exclusively for women – Mudderella – for those ladies out there not quite ready to tackle the full course! Other women-only obstacle courses also exist, such as Muddy Mamas, Dirty Girl, and Gritty Goddess.

How to set up an obstacle course event

Obstacle course races are not only challenging to complete, but to set up too. Organising and starting your own running race along requires a lot of work, so think about the extra effort and added hours once you factor in multiple obstacles! We’ve brainstormed the top 5 factors you will need to consider if you’re determined to create an event of our own.

1. Venue
Unlike running races, setting an up an obstacle course event is not as simple as planning a route from A to B. You will need to find the perfect venue that can feasibly accommodate the construction of a sequence of varied obstacles, while also having sufficient capacity for crowds, parking, registration, finishing line etc.

2. Safety
This is of primordial importance and cannot be underestimated. Every single person involved with your event – participant, volunteer, management – is your responsibility. Accidents happen, you can never be fully prepared, but you must be ready with a suitable and safe plan of action in such cases. In the future, establishing safety standards and the best way to enforce them could affect the growth of the industry and how it improves consumer confidence. Participants need to know that despite the inherent risks to obstacle course races, the organiser has prioritised their safety.

ocr race small3. Ideas!
Given the increased interest surrounding obstacle course races, more and more events are cropping up. It is now harder to create an original course, and you must bear in mind that alongside innovative ideas must be a safety conscience. For example, the higher people climb, the further they have to fall…

4. Insurance
Obstacle course race organisers must carry insurance, and often this will be passed onto participants, increasing the price of their registration fee to sign up for the race. As a minimum, you will need adequate public liability insurance as it will provide you with a means of dealing with allegations of negligence made against you, or if you are blamed for an accident. Organising an event like an obstacle course race, you cannot afford to be negligent so be sure to acquire comprehensive insurance cover to protect yourself. To get a comprehensive quote for your obstacle course event insurance click here.

5. Organisation
You’ll need a small army of enthusiastic helpers to make your event come together with great success. Who is going to oversee the construction of obstacles? Who is going to manage entrants and spectators? Who is going to source the prizes? Who is going to organise the post-race party? Established obstacle course races are known second for the fun that is promised post-race…surely yours will need one too!

As we hope you can see, setting up your own obstacle course race is no small feat. However, it is certainly doable as the rapidly expanding choice of such events would indicate. According to Obstacle Race World: The State of the Mud Run Business, 4.2 million people worldwide participated in an obstacle race in 2014. This number is expected to grow to upwards of 5 million by the end of 2015. And whether you’re a casual competitor or a strong Spartan, we wish you the best of luck climbing and crawling and swinging and swimming…which race will you choose?