Back in 2012 I started seeing a few things online about these different races that people were doing, mainly, the well advertised Tough Mudder. “Obstacle races? Thats sounds fun!” I thought to myself. I had a brief look into it and then gave up when I saw the Tough Mudder distance of 10miles. “I can't run 10miles! No way!” I argued to myself.
Come Summer 2013 my brother in law came to my husband Kevin and was discussing getting a team together to do a Spartan race. “It's like Tough Mudder, but shorter” he said. Kev looked medium interested, and I stood there making eyes at him saying “yes! Let's give it a go!”.
We duly signed up, I attended a few bootcamp classes and not once laced my trainers up to go out for a run. All in all, I wasn't taking the training too seriously.
A week after returning from a two week stint in Singapore and Australia, doing little to no physical activity and eating pretty badly, we set out to do our first ever race, the Yorkshire Spartan Sprint, a 5km distance interspersed with hills, climbs and carries.
Now i'm going to be honest, I really struggled at this race. I had no idea what they were about or quite how seriously people took them... in all honesty, I think I had some kind of school type race in my head when the term obstacle course race was used. Yes, I had read up a lot on what to expect, I had also watched videos from other races and the previous years Yorkshire Sprint, but I still didn't know what to expect.
Since this first race, where I hated every moment (whilst beaming from ear to ear), I have become 100% addicted. As has most of the country it would seem...as shown by the inexorable rise of the OCR. The nation, nay the world has been gripped by these muddy challenges, undisputedly led by Spartan Races, but where did it all come from?
Enter Mr. Mouse. Back in 1987 the first Tough Guy race was held, concocted from the mind of one Billy Wilson (other wise known as your ever smiling, Mr Mouse).
"We take people to the very edge of their endurance..in seconds, in absolute split seconds, their whole experience of life comes to them, they will find whatever it is they're searching for. We're all covered in mud, we're all cold, and we all cling together for survival. That is what makes Tough Guy"
Tough Guys own description of their race follows thus:
I'm going to be honest, from what i've seen and what i've read, I don't think that this is dramatic enough. Tough Guy has long been the benchmark of Obstacle Racing, the original, the toughest. The inspiration for all the rest.
February 2010 dawned, and with it, a new race arrived on the scene, the well publicised Tough Mudder , the (legally disputed) brain child of Brit, Will Dean.
A totally different animal: whilst to the uninitiated it may appear on the surface to be a similar beast, these two races are similar only in the fact that they involve running, and obstacles... as the mighty Pete Rees himself said:
"... Comparison between the two events is like comparing Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson at his peak. One is popular and a lot of fun, the other is absolutely brutal and wants to punch you repeatedly in the face until you give up."
This is probably one of the reasons why TM became so popular in the mainstream: the fear of Tough Guy is currently rife in the OCR community, as we are gearing up for the original race on 1st February.
Tough Mudder is the stepping stone for those who want to experience the thrill of the OCR without the risk of an event such as Tough Guy. An entry level event as it were, the gateway drug... It is a debate that rages in the OCR community: gimmick or much beloved event? Those who found their way into OCR through Tough Mudder are eternally loyal, those who didn't seem to be uninterested.
Along with women only races to encourage more women into the sport, such as Mudderella in the states, of the UK’s first women only race, Brutal 10 in January, anything that gets people out there and muddy is good by me.
Personally, I love the competitiveness of other events (even though I'm not aiming to podium) I love the timings and the stats, without these being offered to me from an OCR, which crucially Tough Mudder do not do (aside from for the top racers), i'm afraid i'm just not interested. Some people however, love them for this reason, for the camaraderie, the fun and the challenge.
Also in 2010, the mighty Joe Desena held the first Spartan Race in Vermont, US. This, in most peoples opinion, was where Obstacle Course Racing really became mainstream. Let me distinguish the difference here: whilst TM is an incredibly popular and much loved event, without timing and penalties, it cannot be considered a race. Spartan has been the first race to have worldwide rankings, and with sponsorship by Reebok, they continue to grow and improve.
Now the race calendar is awash with new events, from the more adventurous like Stunt Challenge (currently postponed) and urban attack, to the hardcore like Tough Guy and Nuts, there is something for everyone, but why are these races taking off and rising in popularity so much?
I asked the community what is they love about OCR, and the responses all came back very similar: We love the challenge, we love the change it brings about our life, we love the bling, and most of all, we love the family.
Liz Miles stated: “isn't it amazing how total beginners who know nothing and have no confidence can be swept up by world class athletes in our sport and made to feel just as accomplished in the field.”
This is one of the biggest aspects of OCR, the Family. We all love our #OCRFam. Trust me when I say, you have never met a more welcoming group of people. I have myself messaged some of our most elite racers, asking them training and kit questions, to congratulate them and so on. Never have I not had a reply, and always the reply has been friendly, welcoming and helpful. This applies to everyone that I have spoken to, but it always amazes me that the athletes who are winning the races are still so down to earth that they still behave like this. Every question I ask on any of the UK message boards and groups is met by fast, friendly replies: my news feed is filled with muddy updates from all the new OCR friends I have made. My world has changed 100% and I couldn't be happier.
“[I] love the challenge, the atmosphere is amazing, love the community, people don't bring you down because you are not elite instead boost up your confidence, teach you how to be better.
it's kind of like living in perfect world for few hours ...” Jana Heroutová
I met a chap the other night who didn't realise I ran OCRs, and having never run one himself was trying to explain to me what they are like. “they are brutal” he claimed “elbows are flying, teeth are lost. People will push you out of the way to get past.” As much as I protested he didn't believe me.
“I ask myself that question every time I race.. I think nowadays its the atmosphere of everyone together competing against each other. After I did my first ever (Spartan Race), I loved it cause I felt like a superhero” Steve McTavish Gapchenko
Spartans tag line “You will know at the finish line” rings so true. People think i'm crazy for doing these races, we're not, if they tried it they'd be hooked straight away. They're not as scary as people (ok, my mum) think, but they're 20 times harder than they imagine.
“I'm not sure that I do... I just can't seem to stop! I think I need help. OCRs Anonymous, anyone?” Owain Gruffudd
Without a doubt one of the biggest appeals of Obstacle Course Racing is the challenge it provides. The break from normality: sanitary, warm, mind numbing normality. People have become sick of being couch potatoes, of living their compartmentalised lives. The chance to really push yourself, to try something new, different, to break away from being a tv zombie and get out there and get moving is ultimately, what gets people going.
“Because it challenges me, takes me back out of my comfort zone, and although there is a competitive aspect it still feels friendly” Gemma Hebdon
For some people it's in their nature and there is nothing they can do but race.
“Because I'm a duck, what else would I do ;) ” Muddy Duck
The family asked me my own question back, and this was my response:
“It's a hard one to put into words: I love the total abandonment of sensibility and the opportunity to act like a kid in the mud. I love the sense of achievement when you finish, and the struggle I go through at every race: the internal dialogue in my head as I berate myself, which is so much more exhilarating than sitting in a warm office or a comfy sofa. I LOVE competing, i'll never win, but I still love it, the stats, the results, improving on my times, testing myself. And I love how training for these events has made me a fit ass muddy f*er”
And finally of course, the most important reason, and why we actually all do it:
“For the wave after wave of lycra clad muddy hotties.... I mean, for the challenge and erm... Something” Tim Lovett