I cheated at the Spartan Sprint in Virginia. I’m probably not the only person that cheated at an OCR this weekend, but I might be the only one writing about it. And <<spoiler alert>>, I will probably do it again.
I did all my burpees. I didn’t cut the course (it was very well marked). I paid for premium parking, although they never asked me for proof. I ran in my assigned wave (and watched a Spartan official/volunteer ask a racer to leave the corral after he snuck in to run with friends a half-hour before his assigned time). I didn’t receive any assistance on Twister or the monkey bars. My bucket was filled up to the holes on the side of the bucket.
So, what did I do? I claimed that my 12 year-old was 14 so we could run his first big OCR together. For those that say “That’s doesn’t count” or “Everyone does that”, go ahead and skip to the next article. It is cheating and it is a big deal. And if we want the sport to grow, it’s something that needs to be discussed and addressed.
“I don’t care, I don’t have kids” – Just the fact that you know about ORM means you care about OCR. No sport will have sustainable growth without engaging children and teens in an appropriate manner, (except maybe Beer Pong. Hmmmm… “Milk Pong”?). Baseball has tee-ball. Football has Pop Warner. Soccer has a bajillion levels from 4 year-olds to over 50 leagues.
And let’s go ahead and get the “You’re a bad/unsafe parent” stuff out of the way – my son and I train every week at a Spartan SGX gym. I have run in ~50 OCRs from local mud runs to WTM with a healthy variety of Savage, Rugged Maniac and Battlefrogs along the way. I know my son’s ability and I have a decent idea of the types of risks that accompany the different obstacles.
Finally, yes – maybe I could’ve applied for an exception (google “Milla Bizzotto”), but I didn’t because I am lazy and the application would have tipped them off since I would’ve tried to sneak him in anyway if they said no.
This is an important issue because we need to challenge our kids in order to get them to love the sport as much as we do. If there’s any chance that OCR will be in the Olympics, it won’t be Hunter or Hobie or Faye or Amelia on the podium. It will be someone that’s probably 12 right now. And I don’t want to have to make the choice between telling the truth and sharing the sport I love. Integrity is a delicate concept with a very slippery slope – how do I tell him that lying about his age is okay but doing only 25 burpees isn’t? If you think this is all easy and it’s a simple matter of knowing right versus wrong, then I congratulate you Mr/Mrs Safe Driver for never going 27 in a 25 and for reading EVERY Terms and Conditions paragraph before signing.
Before I actually make some recommendations, I want to commend Spartan Race for doing a great job in this area. They do the best job of the more established brands of providing options and challenges for non-adults. (Although my son does NOT agree that his free post-race Capri-Sun is equivalent to my free post-race beer.) Also, the volunteers were AMAZING. They cheered him on as he ran through and gave him clear and specific obstacle instruction – I’m not sure if they were supposed to make accommodations for him, but they did. He was allowed/directed to the women’s Atlas stone, women’s herc hoist and only filled his bucket halfway (which still kicked his butt). The other racers also cheered him on. I am so proud to be introducing him to a sport where a 12 year-old can be passing a 30 year-old and hear words of encouragement as she/he is being passed.
Here’s the landscape right now: Grades are based on the variety and challenge of offerings from ages 6 to the “adult” race.
- Spartan Race – Grade: B+. They have a ½-mile race for ages 4-8. A 1-mile for ages 9-13 and sometimes a 2-mile for 11-14 year-olds. Then the adult races open up for you at 14.
- Tough Mudder – Grade: C. TM has Mini Mudder. A 1-mile race for 7-12 year-olds and then you can run the 5k and the Half Mudder if you are 14. At least I think so. They hide this information and apparently change it depending on venue. Want to turn a kid off of OCR? Tell your 16 or 17 year-old that they are running TM Kentucky with you and then you get a message 12 hours before the race saying that the venue won’t allow racers under 18. Yep, that happened last weekend.
- Savage Race – Grade: B. Savage Junior Race is a ½ mile course for those 12 and under. Then you step right up to the 6 mile course at age 13. So it’s pretty much like going straight from tee-ball to the minor leagues.
- Rugged Maniac – Grade: C. Only one race offering. Must be 14 to compete.
- Warrior Dash – Grade: B. Only one race offering. Must be 10 years old to compete.
How do I recommend we fix this without boring our kids or lighting our pants on fire? AND without asking companies to operate at a significant financial loss? Here’s some starter ideas:
- Parent/Chaperone Waivers – Have a special waiver for parents that want their kids to be allowed to race before they meet the age requirement. Maybe you even require the parent to run with the child.
- Skill Requirements – Does your 13 year-old want to run with the 14 year-olds? Fine, here’s a special area with three obstacles they must safely complete before they can be allowed to the starting line.
Race Progression – Underage? No problem, just successfully complete the course that’s appropriate for your age first. (i.e. do the 2-mile kids before you are allowed to do the Sprint).
- Scalable Obstacles – Let kids fill the bucket half-way, make it half-way across Twister, stand 5 feet closer for the spear, or push the atlas stone across and back.
The best answer is likely to include many of these – special waivers, obstacle tests, and scalable obstacles. Of course it would be better to have 5 levels of different courses and different obstacles, but that’s not financially feasible for companies that don’t even have enough money to sponsor a college football playoff game.
In closing, I am comfortable with what I did, but I hope I didn’t open Pandora’s Box. We’ve had some good conversations about this topic and I think he is happy that I am writing this article to bring some awareness to the age/challenge gap in OCR. He had a TREMENDOUS time at the race. He is hooked on OCR and is already asking about other races this summer. Sorry, buddy, no WTM for you this year. You’ll just have to be happy as my pit crew again.