The August 2013 issue of Outside magazine featured an interesting article and guide to the current state of obstacle course racing (OCR). The magazine’s editors called on folks like Hobie Call and Junyong Pak to dole out advice on everything from what to wear to how to train. The article also suggests that while more Americans are taking part in OCR than even marathons, eager participants should also be wary of “cheap knockoffs.”
I am new to the world of OCR and have only been running in these types of events since March when I took part in the Spartan Race. Since then I have taken part in several others that ranged from very-well to poorly organized, but I was still able to participate and finish all of them (my favorite was the Barbarian Challenge in Gadsden, Alabama).
However, in that time I have also lost $115 because two events were cancelled – Hero Rush (Atlanta) and Badass Dash (Mountain City). While I am still waiting on my refund for the latter, I received a very terse email from the former saying that my registration would not be refunded because Hero Rush was going through bankruptcy. This is absurd and unacceptable.
While OCR has exploded in the U.S. for a number of reasons, the sport currently does not have any sort of organizing body. I think the time has come for race organizers, racers and enthusiasts to join forces and create some sort of governing body for the sport – at least in the United States. While there are many that may cringe at the notion of something so decentralized, so organic having a central, omnipotent body over it, I believe that the time is now. I am not saying there should be a limit on the number of races, but there should be a baseline for organizing an OCR. Here are some potential benefits:
1. Safety Standards: There are too many races now where participant safety is not taken into account. This could be in the form of poorly-constructed obstacles or lack of medical assistance.
2. Registration Refunds: If the race is cancelled or delayed, participants should always be able to get their money back. Participants may be asked if they want to use the registration for a later event, but they should at least be given the option of a full refund.
3. Charity Designations: To many OCR organizers are taking advantage of the willingness to give to charities and designate the money as supporting veterans and/or military, as well as benefiting children, with very little of the money raised going to either. A July 4th report by the Tampa Bay Times and the Center for Investigative Reporting concluded that of the 50 worst charities in America, 18 were for police, firefighters and military, and 13 for children.
I know that the sport is still growing, but without waiting for more events to be organized and then cancelled; more people losing their hard-earned money; and worse, more people getting injured or killed, I think the time is now to form a representative body to govern OCR. As Rage Against the Machine said, “It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime, what better place than here? What better time than now?”
Shyam K. Sriram is a professor of political science in Atlanta. He is a proud member of Georgia Obstacle Racers and Mud Runners (GORMR).