The following email message sent yesterday from Spartan Race to those competing at Tuxedo sparked emotions and debate across the obstacle racing interwebs.

“We will require that those entering the start corral for the professional elite wave wear sensible athletic wear designed for running or trails. You are representing the future of the sport, and it is being covered as a professional sport. So costumes will not be allowed in the elite wave.

I personally have no stake in this decision nor any powerful emotions regarding it, therefore I was able to listen to the intriguing discussion points without major bias. Whether you are interested or not, I’ve attempted to synthesize those different perspectives and offer my own unsolicited comments.

In no particular order, the following question themes emerged across the spectrum of debate.

This action is necessary to advance OCR as a recognized sport and remove the “keg party” perception.
Valid point. Although those deeply embedded in the sport don’t view it as such, the party feel of obstacle racing has been promoted by other racing companies (e.g.Warrior Dash) and portrayed that way in much of the media. The perception of the “sport” will be important as Spartan continues to try to make their race an Olympic event.

It’s all about money: Reebok + television = big money
Valid point. Mega company (Reebok) + television (NBC) = $$$$.   Do you think Reebok is image conscious?  The power of money can never be underestimated in modern American society.

What is considered a costume? Are body markings costumes? What is “sensible” athletic attire for an obstacle race?
Valid points. The email was straightforward with the point to be made, but leaves many things open to interpretation. If you asked 100 obstacle racers to define “sensible athletic wear”, you could probably find a common (but not unanimous) answer. The points regarding body markings, face paint, tattoos, etc… could possibly be viewed as “unprofessional”, but that is not clear. Who will make that call?  I would not want to be the person pulling someone from the elite wave because of “questionable” appearance.

The NBA, pro golf, pro tennis, etc. has a dress code to which all elite athletes adhere, so why shouldn’t obstacle racing?
Semi-valid point. Other sports do indeed have formal and informal dress codes and these codes are important to the culture and image. However, they are not direct comparisons with obstacle racing. Basketball is a team sport. Golf and tennis evolved as “country club” sports. Obstacle racing, like some of the X-games sports, originated from a grassroots level that bucked trends and defied normal societal culture. That aspect alone makes this a different issue for many and the attempts to standardize are often met with disdain.

This only applies to elite, so who cares? If you don’t like it, run in the open wave.
Valid point. Lots of obstacle racing participants, perhaps even the vast majority, couldn’t care less about anything going on at the elite racing level. The number of elites is miniscule compared to the overall crowd and the rules/standards/motivation/dreams/perspectives of the sport are different for each group. Those of us deeply embedded in obstacle racing would do well to remember this aspect.


My overall thoughts
There were very few statements in the various discussions in which I did not at least partially agree.  I can understand and appreciate the reasons for the dress code.  I can also understand why many are aggravated by it. The clear message from it all is that perspective makes the difference in how that email was interpreted. Elite competitors want positive recognition for the sport in which they excel. Why shouldn’t they? The everyday participant simply wants to maintain the grittiness, the uncertainty, the non-standardization and the individuality that attracted them to the sport in the first place. Why shouldn’t they?

Neither perspective is incorrect and all of those debates (in one way or another) are healthy for obstacle racing. Now it’s time to move on to the next debate! What will it be?

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