Obstacle Racing as Sport versus Obstacle Racing as Industry

This could be a long post with a list of reasons to make my point and another list of reasons on why my point might be off base.  This post could be discussed from a variety of different angles and perspectives, bringing in viewpoints of people smarter than me.  This post will be neither of the above, because I just want to ask the question.   One of the biggest topics of conversation in the competitive OCR community is “OCR as a recognized sport.”  It is discussed ad nausea with different levels of optimism and varying reasons on what is necessary for OCR to emerge as a true sport.

I’m going to throw another question into this discussion.

Is the OCR industry and the viability of OCR as a sport at odds?  In other words, is the current state of business holding the sport back?

Merrian-Webster defines sport as “a contest or game in which people do certain physical activities according to a specific set of rules and compete against each other.”  Clear enough and essentially contains one component of what many have said must happen….a standard set of rules that everyone plays by.

Merriam-Webster define industry as “a distinct group of productive or profit-making enterprises.”

A group of enterprises is what OCR has now……the Big 3 (Spartan, Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder), a secondary tier of national races (Superhero Scramble, Rugged Maniac, Savage Race, etc.) and a gazillion local and regional races.  All of these races are trying to turn a profit.  Some obviously are doing better than others.  As an INDUSTRY, each of these companies is competing against the others for revenue and doing whatever necessary to capture their particular niche of the market.   You don’t hear about companies collaborating with each other to standardize, to form governing bodies, or devise mutually acceptable strategies.  No, you hear all of them scratching and clawing to make their race the most successful it can be.  Industry forces are currently preventing collaboration, just like it does in most every other line of business.  Spartan talks about making obstacle racing a sport.  Let me restate that.  Spartan talks about making Spartan Races an Olympic sport.  Extreme Nation has it’s eyes on OCR as a sport, but a sport in Extreme Nation terms.  Let me also state that there is absolutely nothing wrong with what they are doing.  This is a capitalist country and the owners have significant money invested in their companies.  Their focus, at least in the early stages, has to be on their own well-being.

The question is can and how will the industry co-exist alongside a sport with formal governing rules?  What will happen to the start-ups, local, and regional races?  Are the two at odds?  Will there eventually be a split between obstacle racing and mud runs?  What will Tough Mudder do if OCR becomes a sport?  Will they stick by their “it’s a challenge, not a race” creed?  I could go on and on and on and on, but I won’t.

I want to hear your thoughts on this.  Please comment and take it in any direction you want.  I just asked the question.


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  1. They can co-exist. Look at golf as an easy example. I don’t need to be on the PGA tour to go play. You can have a professional OCR series with standardization, more formal rules and such, while at the same time having an industry there for more amateur/recreational uses. The industry would be a good source of innovation & experimentation for the sport.

    So I think it’s entirely possible.

  2. They *have* to coexist. It’s the grass-roots regional and local participants that are the lifeblood of the big guys in the industry. It’s the regular person who wants to make a change in their life and the former athlete who wants to see if they still have it in them. The elites will push it as a sport, but the regular folks out there who just love to participate and to push themselves and to challenge themselves who will keep the industry alive. Without the industry, who will run/govern the sport and who, besides the elites, could participate?

  3. i think it will be tough for it to be standardized for most of the reasons you stated. If you look at Fencing you have the USFA as a governing body for national competitions and typically the top rated national fencers will join the olympic team. there are small turkey events that people can get rated at, but only national sanctioned events will count for points. the same can be said for track. ultimately there would need to be a governing body that would standardize everything. it is possible spartan could do it if the tv coverage gains interest. ultimately I think a lot of folks feel closer to one of the big 3 while others will do any race. One time I was eating dinner at a restaurant on the way to a tough mudder when the waitress told me I should do spartan races and that tough mudder sucks. so silly!

    additionally, the “is OCR a sport” can be frustrating because it is usually people in the elite heats at spartan races that talk about it. i do think it is interesting and i would watch coverage, but I have never really run mud races with winning in mind and most people don’t. i left most of my competing behind when i graduated college and finished my fencing career. i get my competition in these days on tuesday nights at my dodgeball league. the term ‘elite’ and those that flaunt it sometimes causes me to chuckle, just like all the folks that were outraged that TM opened up WTM registration to anyone. the reactions from a lot of folks was disheartening to read as it echoed sentiments of ‘i’m special’ ‘i’m better’ ‘i’m elite’ which would go against what TM stands for.

  4. Jeff – As always, enjoyed your post on the OCR sport/industry . Also found your comments about the VT Beast/Death Race interesting, as I had similar thoughts during the race (although it’s more about what I imagine the Death Race to be….having never “run” one). It’s taken me a while to get my own thoughts down in my blog since I’ve been in the middle of a move and business startup since the week after the Beast. But here’s a link to that post. It’s a bit of a different perspective, more geared on whether races like this one are actually helping or hurting this quest for OCR “Sport-hood”. Thanks. – John


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