5 obstacle racing trends to watch in 2015

By SOLO

As you are digging yourself out of Christmas gift packaging and warm blankets, you may be wondering…

  • Is obstacle racing dead?
  • Will Ryan Atkins win the World’s Toughest Mudder for the third year in a row?
    What the hell happened between Joe De Sena and Andy Weinberg?

It is like waking up after a good party, trying to reconstruct the pieces of what happened. Brakken Kraker did just that in his article “2014 Year in Review: Reflecting on the Year that was in Obstacle Racing”.

What about the year that lies ahead? Hang tight, because here are…

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1. Tighter requirements for elite heats

2015 will see the increasing trends towards qualification requirements and mandatory obstacles for elite heats. Paying $30 extra will no longer be sufficient for calling oneself elite. Bummer.

BattleFrog has taken the scene by the storm and was voted the best new OCR series in 2014. I predict an even bigger uprising in 2015. OCRWC received rave reviews from everyone and anyone (here and here). The Spartan Race has succumbed to the pressure, and announced qualification requirements for the elite heats in the Tahoe Championship.

And penalty burpees are soooo 2012. Failed an obstacle? No problem. Try again. And again. Until you get it. Otherwise, give up your elite armband, and join the ranks of the open waves. At least, this is the approach that BattleFrog decided to take. After all the whining, complaining and discussing as to how we can ensure that elite racers do their burpees properly, the solution was simple. Get rid of the fucking burpees.

*Edited: It has been brought to my attention that the above paragraph may have unintentionally suggested that the Spartan Race is planning to get rid of burpees in the elite heats. Please rest assured that this is not so, and burpees within a Spartan Race – elite or not – are here to stay. My apologies for being unclear. 

2. Increased sponsorship opportunities for fast racers

Notice I didn’t say elite. Nobody cares if you are “elite”. People care if you are fast. And what was fast in 2012, 2013 or even in 2014, may not be considered fast in 2015.

Lindsay Webster, Ryan Atkins’ (now) fiancé showed up to the Spartan World Championship in 2014 after driving most of the night, and came 4th. Countless burpees and all. In fact, Ryan Atkins himself came out of seemingly nowhere in 2014, and walked away with a fat cheque from the World’s Toughest Mudder. What do surprise appearances like this tell you? Hint – truly fast obstacle racers are not doing obstacle races. They are still happily racing in their original sports – mountain biking, trail running and others. They are are young, strong, and they do not have to try very hard to beat “the best of the best” currently in the sport.

Companies like BeetElite, Platinum Rig, Reebok and OCR Gear have all taken on obstacle racing athletes last year. In 2015, most sponsorships will continue to come in form of gear, fuel, shoes and apparel, and not direct compensation. So, do not quit your day job yet.

3. New partnerships between OCR and those with already existing leverage and connections

Whether it’s a new race series, a podcast or yet another brand of OCR-related paraphernalia, those with existing brand name, social media following and important connections in place will continue teaming up with athletes already in the sport. Brett Stewart and Margaret Schlacter, Ben Greenfield and Hunter McIntyre are just two examples of such partnerships that took shape in 2014. Laird Hamilton already announced his plans to bring a new obstacle race series in 2015. Hold on to your hats.

Whether this tendency reflects a true interest in the sport, or presents a way to make a quick buck, remains to be seen. Some names in health and fitness industry are notorious for following trends around – pay attention to what’s hot (CrossFit, OCR, Zumba) and churn out training manuals and how-to’s at a rate faster than Jonathan Albon runs uphill.

4. Increased competition for customer loyalty

At this point, everyone who wanted to do a Tough Mudder or a Spartan Sprint has done one. Got a checkmark. What’s next?

The very nature of athletes who are driven to obstacle racing in the first place – often achievement-oriented, sensation-seeking folks with high threshold for excitement – is also the same thing that drives them to look for something new. A number of decorated obstacle racers already made the shift to ultra running or extreme endurance events (100 milers, ultra triathlons, extreme winter treks). Racers are not the only ones competing in this sport. An even stiffer competition is taking place among the race directors and race companies.

The big dogs will continue to invent various ways to keep the public interested. In 2014, we saw the Warrior Dash bring in the world championship, Tough Mudder introduce different colored headbands, and Spartan Race gave out progressively bigger Trifecta medals the more Trifectas someone completed. In 2015, the Spartan Race is launching the first ever Spartan cruise and Spartan Up podcast hosted by Joe De Sena.

New is fine and dandy, but companies will do well to remember that keeping customers is easier than getting customers. Customer service must become a priority or else. And the way you ensure great customer service is to show appreciation to those who make the race possible in the first place – employees and volunteers. Spartan Race, I’m looking at you. Please use a fraction of the attention you spend on Pro Team and Transformation Tuesday towards overhauling your current approach to volunteer process. Racers WILL vote with their dollars.

Think New York and Chinese food. Some of the best Chinese food in the world is made and sold in New York. Why? Because there is a shit ton of Chinese food in New York.Want to stand out? Be the best. Or, be the worst. You will also stand out. But, perhaps, not in the way you would like to.

5. Growing importance of social media

Goruck Selection takes the cake for biggest social media hype around the event in 2014. The trailers, the live updates from Goruck, tons of secrecy, yet just enough information to keep everyone on their toes – it was beautifully done. Note the involvement of Java the dog (now Monster the dog) as the company’s mascot – cute, but not obnoxious, yet allowing the organizers to strategically keep distance and de-individualize the communications.

Things are happening in the cyber space. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram is where people talk about new races, recommend new events, and share crappy experiences. Promise prize money and fail to pay up? The world will find out about it. [Atlas Race, I am looking at you.]

The idea of a personal brand will also become more important. Ella Kociuba, with thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter, is a great example. She is fast, strong and beautiful – the ultimate trifecta of OCR social media darling. However, it is her approachability, self-deprecating humour and willingness to talk about her own scars that attracts people. .

Want to have a following? Be inspiring. Be useful. Do not be a douchebag.
People have enough douchebags in their life. They will not follow one online.

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YOUR TURN: What other OCR trends do you anticipate in 2015?

Hugs,
SOLO

P.S. Did you find this helpful? Please share with a friend.

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Posted January 6, 2015

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