A Race Worth Finishing


By Martel Reid-Warden

Photo courtesy of Funk Dooby.

As humanity is often criticized for choosing technology over experiencing outdoor activities, it is certainly refreshing to discover a new beneficial workout trend making its rounds among fitness enthusiasts. The fact that sports centers are beginning to introduce classes for obstacle race training suggests there is a growing interest in the athletic endeavor.

Economically speaking, obstacle racing is a multi-million dollar industry. Participants on particular courses pay in excess of $100. If it continues to grow in popularity, obstacle racing will certainly become an area that an increasing amount of fitness centers will seek to cash in on.

The growing number of participants taking part in obstacle races also sparked the interest of heavyweight sponsors. Last year Advil and Wheaties agreed to become official partners with Brooklyn-based Tough Mudder series. Obstacle racing is no longer associated solely with military training and game shows, but now viewed rather as a genuine exercise activity. The Spartan Race series boasts prior television coverage, as NBC produced a special based on The 2013 Reebok Spartan Race World Championship held in Vermont.

Obstacle racing provides a healthy alternative to the traditional marathons and triathlon races that fitness enthusiasts have used to challenge themselves at an increased intensity level. Courses typically range from three to 20 miles. Athletes challenge themselves through a combination of running, swimming, climbing, and maneuvering around an array of physically challenging obstacles including electrically charged wires.

Fitness enthusiasts who are looking to experience obstacle training now have a convenient array of classes to prepare themselves for their next race by engaging in mobility, endurance, and strength training.

However, if a local fitness center is not available, how can obstacle course athletes prepare themselves for challenges like the Spartan Race Series, the Tough Mudder series, or the GORUCK Challenge? Simple: Building an obstacle training facility in their own homes.

Rob Butler, a builder from Benson, Vermont, did just that. He converted his farm in to a full-blown obstacle course available to the public for training purposes. The race course facility is so successful at letting participants enjoy the activity that a couple recently said their “I do’s” onsite–sharing vows at the starting line and lightheartedly declaring that they were official once they crossed. Butler rather fittingly served as the race director as well as the officiate for the wedding.

Obstacle-tackling athletes will often need to utilize their strength, endurance, and willpower to complete races. Just how much of these attributes the athlete will need to draw upon will rely solely upon the difficulty of the course. With a multiplicity of obstacle courses available, athletes must be weary of the risks posed to their health–and ultimately their lives–should they choose to participate in a course that fails to match up with their physicality level.

A willingness to put one’s life on the line has also been highlighted as an essential trait for those brave enough to take on advanced courses. For instance, Tough Mudder and the Warrior Dash task competitors with jumping over fire and diving in to ice cold muddy water.

The death of Avishek Sengupta, a contestant at a Tough Mudder event held in West Virginia last year, marked the first fatality of the series. The unfortunate event certainly triggered shockwaves throughout the obstacle-racing world.

The deaths and numerous injuries sustained by competitors who partake in obstacle courses often leave the event organizers in hot water. They face lawsuits filed by individuals that were injured on the course. Moreover, a report produced by the Center for Disease Control warns obstacle-course competitors that they run the risk of ingesting muddy water that has been contaminated by animal feces.

Despite the potential life threatening risks associated with these races, what keeps athletes still keen? For one, they are encouraged by tangible rewards, which range from an orange headband for completing the Tough Mudder series to the cash prizes provided by Spartan Race. Prizes aside, the intangible reward of fulfilling the goal of pushing one’s body to the limit certainly amounts as a reason for participation.

A quick visit to the Spartan Race Series website provides just the type of evidence to suggest why the sport garners such a large following from individuals seeking to keep themselves in shape. Despite the fact that this particular series is revered as the most challenging obstacle race course, their website rather generously offers visitors a number of insightful fitness tips. There’s even a “Food of the Day” section that provides a catalogue of recipes that are designed help athletes reach health goals. Such accessible outreach will go a long way in continuing the burgeoning popularity of this very sport.