Part history of OCR, part psychoanalysis of humanity, and part auto biography, in this five year in the making epic film “Rise of the Sufferfests” Scott Keneally attempts to answer the question many of us have broached, but never known how to resolve. Why do we do this?
This is a subject I have attempted many times, to friends, to myself, and to the general public. In my 2015 article for OCR Europe “OCR Addiction: When real life gets in the way” I discussed:
“She looked at me in only the way she can and replied “But why would you need an excuse? Why would you do something that you hate? What is so wrong with staying at home, spending some time with girlfriends? Why do you have to struggle?”
“Well” I pondered “You feel that you ought to struggle, to become better. You need to face the tricky things to improve. You get a sense of achievement from doing something that you don’t want to and think that you can’t do.”
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”
“How uncomfortable would it be for you to spend the weekend at home, to sit back and relax? To do nothing?”
I tried to explain the theory, put so succinctly by Dirty Dozen, that “life begins on the edge of your comfort zone”, but to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how well I succeeded in this.”
All in all I’ve never answered the question sufficiently, but Keneally turned his life around to discover why. Are we just “weekend warriors”, narcissists craving social media attention, or is there something deeper there?
Canvassing opinion from the biggest names in OCR to the ones off racers, from psychologists and anthropologists, from race directors to champions in other sports, Keneally peels away the layers of this overnight sensation sweeping the world.
“The noise, the shouts of the spectators, fire, flares, smoke. Climbing obstacles with numb hands, surrounded by people. Shivering and shaking and barely able to lift my head to look what I am doing or where I am going. My whole body cramped, an obstacle which wouldn’t normally be noticed, being enough to send my body into spasm. Being up so high. The endless loop of the killing fields, the confusing, “where am I going next?” Round and round the twisting course which leads you deeper and deeper in. The thought of more cold water reducing me to tears. The people around me huddling together, offering a hand of help, in it together. Not a race, an experience”
My first ever Tough Guy stays with me like no other race, attending Nettle Warrior in August 2016 as a member of Tough Guys “The Ghost Squad” I was amazed and impressed by the people I saw around me, most notably one woman who the previous year had been pulled out by hypothermia, and tackled the course again, alone. We encountered her several times on the course, close to the edge and unwilling to quit, and when I saw her crossing the final freezing lake, clambering up the slippy slope that leads you to the finish, I had a true sense of admiration for the human spirit, and was humbled by what one person can put themselves through and achieve.
Rise of the Sufferfests focusses quite heavily on Keneally’s personal story, which for me I found a great insight into the personal reason for doing this crazy sport, and is something many of us can relate to…after all, he set out on this journey to find out why we do this, yes we can hear theories from others, but to explain ones own journey makes perfect sense to discovering how and why this sport has grown so quickly.
His real life story, and that in the film took a sharp turn with some personal news which changed his outlook on the world and himself entirely, and gave him something new to work towards, finding an outlet through OCR. This personal twist for me took this film away from being a mass of information, to someone discovering their own reasons, learnings their strengths and their failings, backed up by research and opinion from some of those who are best in the know.
It’s hard to not relate to this film, Keneally, comfortable enough in his own skin is happy to admit where he can improve, and his ego doesn’t take a battering by failure, instead it’s a catalyst to get better, to be more than just enough. This surely is something that nearly all of us, from every walk of life can relate to, when we’re truly honest with ourselves, none of us want to be just enough….
At times this film made me laugh, especially the witty quotes from top athletes such as Amelia Boone, and at times it made me cry. For a short piece Keneally has tapped into something deep.
Whether to understand yourself, to show your friends what you do, or to just have an insight into a different aspect of humanity, Rise of the Sufferfests is well worth a watch.