It is a beautiful, sunny, Saturday morning here in Vermont. I am supposed to be racing; however, I’m sitting in front of my computer instead. I am supposed to be enjoying the thrill of the most fun, most exhilarating, most innovative obstacles the OCR world has ever seen, but instead I’m listening to the monotonous click of the keyboard as I type this article. I didn’t miss this morning’s OCR due to injury, illness, or weather reasons. This morning I am sitting at home instead of racing because just five days before the inaugural PeepleChase, the race directors called the whole thing off.
I hate to be a pessimist, in fact I typically choose to see the best in every situation, but I can’t say that I was surprised at the announcement that PeepleChase would not happen.
Back in February I came across a new race series that was at the time known as the “Bloody Murder Race”. The website,
while adequately and professionally designed, contained no substantial information regarding the race itself. Stock photos of other obstacle course races and numerous ambiguous claims of top-secret yet innovative obstacles, promising to be like nothing ever seen before, filled every corner of the website. And I cannot fail to mention my favorite, a promotional video of four young men running aimlessly through the woods while yelling, never once encountering an actual obstacle.
At some point, the Bloody Murder Race rebranded, with the same logos and catch line of “It’s Bloody Brilliant”, but was now known as the “PeepleChase” series: a steeplechase course for people. The mud run stock photos were replaced with steeplechase stock photos, with the same vague claims and promises of world class obstacles. The PeepleChase Facebook page, which very quickly swelled to over 10,000 fans, also contained ambiguous post after post, without ever providing any sort of solid details of the race itself. However, despite the large fan base, on April 27th, PeepleChase announced via Facebook that due to low registration numbers, they were canceling not only the scheduled inaugural event in Vermont, but the next three events as well.
It is no secret that obstacle course racing has gone from the new kid on the block to an incredibly popular and rapidly growing sport. As to be expected, this sudden boom in popularity has entrepreneurs everywhere wondering how they can become a part of (and cash in on) this success. This of course, brings plenty of benefits to the obstacle course racing world as a whole: bigger sponsors mean more venues, more athletes, and more recognition to our beloved sport.
However this sudden growth also brings a new kind of undesirable “obstacle” to obstacle course racing. We are suddenly bombarded with new obstacle course races popping up left and right, each one claiming to be more challenging, more exciting, or muddier than the others. While most of these new organizations and race directors have the best of intentions, the unfortunate truth is that some are putting financial gain before the wellbeing of their potential participants, and the obstacle course racing community as a whole. With all of these new races to choose from, it has become a game of chance for athletes, as they gamble on the probability of a race that lives up to its claims versus the potential of a poor or even unsafe experience.
In the last year alone, we have seen multiple organizations who failed to provide the experience they advertised, with some, such as PeepleChase and Jungle Cup, suddenly canceling preregistered events altogether. Even more concerning are the new races that seem to be hastily thrown together with little to no concern for safety. While risk taking is an inherent part of obstacle course racing, there are certain safety standards that should simply not be ignored, especially when you consider that the majority of race participants are weekend warriors, and not elite athletes. The established races on the circuit are known for spending hefty amounts for the design and engineering of their obstacles. Other races seem to regard safety as a low priority, and as a result, end up with more reports of injury and negligence, rather than victory and personal triumph. Take for example, the 2012 Rebel Race in Haverhill, Massachusetts. A quick internet search will reveal one negative race report after another, with almost all of them mentioning not only the lack of emergency personnel on course, but the numerous injuries due to poor obstacle construction, such as a rope traverse over a rock gulley.
While races like these certainly give more credibility to the successful organizations, they have the potential to damage the reputation of the obstacle course racing community as a whole. Consumers are now becoming more hesitant in regards to registering for newer races on the circuit, which unfairly affects those races that have the potential to provide a really great course and experience. The injuries due to careless planning by race directors or poor obstacle construction exacerbate the ever growing concern that obstacle course racing is simply an unsafe sport. In the long run, all of these concerns will only inhibit the growth of obstacle course racing.
This brings us full circle back to the current demise of the PeepleChase race series. I certainly am not accusing this organization or their directors of being careless with their course design, nor attempting to enter the OCR circuit simply for financial gain. I will, however, point out that their inability to gain traction for their events is a result of, and contributor to, the aforementioned issues. Simply put, consumers want to know that they are going to get their money’s worth: a well-executed race that lives up to all of its claims, as well as the standards the community as a whole has come to expect. PeepleChase spent months trying to advertise and bring hype to a race with little to no concrete evidence or clout to back up their bold statements…and the consumers have spoken: PeepleChase reported only 40 participants had registered for the first day of their inaugural race. Further, on April 29th, a plea for help was posted on their Facebook wall in the form of crowd sourcing; PeepleChase was seeking donations to help get their race off of the ground and recover expenses from their failed launch. *Six days later, they have raised a mere $176.
*Editor’s note: Crowdsourcing is a great way for people and communities to support new creative projects in a way that makes the most of technology and art. However, in this instance, it seems to be saying “Hi, we aren’t very good businessmen and couldn’t figure out a way to sell tickets to our non-existent race. Would you give us 50 grand?
My advice to PeepleChase and all future potential race organizations is to focus less on outdoing their competitors in the field with bravado talk of bigger, newer, and muddier claims, and instead provide a solid, well executed race that will exceed the expectations of participants. I speak not only for myself, but on behalf of the obstacle course racing community as a whole, when I say that for a large majority of us, this sport is far more than a passing fad. Obstacle course racing has become a passion and a lifestyle for many, and we take pride in the future of our sport. In order to see obstacle course racing continue to grow, we demand entities wishing to enter our community not only take their role seriously, but treat the community as a whole with respect.
Heather G. was bummed not to run this race. Find out what else makes her tick over at Relentless Forward Commotion.