These days, most people you know can say they've run a marathon and running along a smooth, flat road for 26.2 miles is no longer a notable achievement. For Generation Sufferfest, obstacle course racing and Ironman triathlons are the real challenges. But why? We take a look.
What is Obstacle Course Racing (OCR)?
Obstacle Course Racing is more than just running and it's more than just being fast. These events (notably, not always a race) are 5k, 10k, half marathon, or even further in distance with a scattering of obstacles along the way. These obstacles take many different forms and event organisers are always developing crazy new ways to challenge the participants. Some obstacles are simple, taking the form of having to run up and down the side of a hill several times or wading through mud which is waist-deep. Some obstacles are more severe, such as climbing over a 10ft wall, swinging off a rope from a 20ft platform into icy water, or crawling through a tunnel filled with tear gas (yes, really).
Many of the obstacles encourage solidarity and helping other participants such as Everest which is where people try to run up a 15ft (almost) vertical wall. Your teammates wait at the top for you and help you up, and in turn you wait and help other people reach the top. This is why it's not really a race, because staying behind to help others is essentially the spirit of the whole event.
The two biggest brands in the OCR world are Spartan and Tough Mudder. Globally recognised and with events available all over the world, these events are not necessarily supposed to be competitive or done in as quick a time as possible, and instead encourage camaraderie, teamwork, and testing your own personal limits. If that's not enough for you though, there is Toughest Mudder which is a 12-hour race through the night, World's Toughest Mudder which is 24 hours, and there's also the OCR World Championships which do reward those who are complete the course as quickly as possible.
For obvious reasons, you are not exposed to any real danger when participating in an Obstacle Course Race (think of the liability). However, you can expect to be left bleeding, scratched, electrocuted, and generally pretty battered by the end of it. These so-called Sufferfest events are now gaining popularity at a fast pace and are being enjoyed by people all over the world who find that running along a pavement for mile after mile just isn't exciting enough. Can we blame them?
Why the Sufferfest?
There was a time when saying you've run a marathon was a big deal and you'd get a lot of respect. Not to say you don't these days, however so many people can now say they've run one that it's no longer special. The slightly overweight guy from your accounts department has done one, your aunt has done one, your kid's teacher has done one. It's human nature to want to evolve and discover tougher pursuits, which is where OCR comes in.
It was once seen as a sign of wealth if you had pale skin and were overweight, because this signified a luxurious life spent indoors (Henry VIII being the most famous example) whereas the tanned, slender farmers who spent all their time in the sun were seen as less desirable. Now, those roles have reversed, and it's the people who have the time and money to go travelling, exercise recreationally, sunbathe, and get sun-kissed skin who are the desirable ones, while the pale overweight people are the ones who are unfortunate enough to spend 10 hours a day sitting in an artificially-lit office and rarely take a holiday.
Our ancestors would spend their days in the fields doing manual labour and then even more manual labour back in the home just to do things that we now consider simple everyday tasks thanks to developments in technology. We don't have to hand wash all of our clothing, we don't have to walk everywhere, we don't have to harvest our own food. Our lives are significantly easier, so we fill the void with insane physical challenges and events.