Spartan Race + Reebok – Hobie Call = ?


Someone posted this image on Facebook, and it had me laughing out loud, because it was so true:


It’s been a while, since I’ve actually rushed home for a particular time. I haven’t owned a TV for a couple of years, and now you can find everything and anything online. But today, the open workout was going to be announced at 8pm, and I actually ran towards my computer without taking my shoes off.


Open Workout 13.2 is:

10 minute AMRAP of:
5 Shoulder to overhead, 115 / 75 lbs
10 Deadlift, 115 / 75 lbs
15 Box jump, 24 / 20 inch

Not bad. My lower back has been swearing at me since S.E.R.E. this weekend (Ilir, I blame you! :)), so I was definitely thankful to see light deadlifts. The box jumps will be killer. Will report on Friday.

If you haven’t seen the female CrossFitters go at it, you should. Annie did not freaking slow down for the whole ten minutes.

Onto the big news…

Few weeks ago, Spartan Race made a big announcement at the Time Square – it’s joining forces with Reebok. According to the letter, Joe De Sena, Spartan Race Founder and CEO, sent out to the Spartan community, Spartan and Reebok share the same ideals about the future of fitness. Joe promised that the partnership would not change the essence of Spartan Races, but rather allow the Spartan movement and lifestyle to grow.

Of course, given Reebok’s partnership with CrossFit, the connection between CrossFit and Spartan races is now even more real. Reebok seems to be really on the ball, when it comes to scooping up emerging fitness trends with cult-like following.

While many were excited, I couldn’t help but feel that something has been lost… [All the Spartan logos were immediately updated to include the word Reebok, and to be honest… to my eye, it still looks a little awkward.] A certain feel of underground sub-culture can be undermined by public recognition.

And now yet another big announcement went out today in the world of obstacle racing – Hobie Call left Spartan Race and signed an exclusive deal with Extreme Nation. [Listen to the interview here.]

It’s not new that Hobie Call is passionate about obstacle racing becoming an official sport. He has been long promoting shorter distance races with more obstacles. According to Call, both Spartan and Tough Mudder tend to think that longer is better.

Indeed, short distance obstacle races like Warrior Dash are considered to be great for beginners. Many racers would start with a Spartan Sprint, then graduate to Super, and then, eventually Beast and Ultra Beast. Meanwhile, the World’s Toughest Mudder is essentially an ultra marathon with some obstacles thrown in.

Right now, says Call, success in obstacle racing is 80% running and 20% obstacles. He wants to change that ratio to 50-50, and partnering with Extreme Nation is the way he is going to do that.

Extreme Nation promises a 2-mile course with 20+ obstacles on a piece of land over 300 acres somewhere in Michigan. The first event will take place in June 2013, with one event per month after that. Call says they also plan to offer training camps there, as well as getaways and corporate retreats.

For this particular event, team racing is where it’s at, as male or female teams of four will compete for a sizable cashpot. At the end of the event, 56 people will walk out with cash.

Another angle that Extreme Nation is pushing – televising the races. Clearly, watching a 2-mile obstacle race where you can see all the obstacles from the bleachers will be more exciting than watching the Spartan Beast, where an average participant takes 5 hours to complete. I’ve had friends and family come out to some obstacle races, and apart from the  first five minutes and the last ten, the event is about as exciting to watch as a road marathon.

However, it seems that this view really shifts the focus from the racer to the observer. And,  that, my friends, is a shift in the wrong direction. As if, it was not enough that wrestling, one of the oldest competitive sports, has been dropped from the Olympics, as the committee is trying to “appease to sports fans of all generations”. When did the sport become about those watching it?

Traci Martin from the Extreme Nation, laments that her sister and children could not see her during the Texas Beast. “We couldn’t find you, we couldn’t see you, we don’t know what you experienced…”, they told her.

Of course, you don’t. You have to race in order to experience the race. And even then, your experience will be different from mine.

I, for one, do not give a rat’s gluteus maximus (do rats have those?), if someone sees me get across the monkey bars. It is MY racing experience, not my mom’s, my brother’s, or my best friend’s.

Clearly, lots of things are happening. And many wondered what the heck do these changes mean? For the sport? For racers?

Well, for an average participant, probably not much. However, the recent developments all point to a couple of things:

  • Obstacle racing has been noticed in the athletic world. Reebok is coming out with a whole line of obstacle racing specific apparel in 2013. Obstacle racing has been mentioned in Men’s Fitness, Maxim, Runner’s World and other mainstream(ish) publications. There is definitely a market.
  • Obstacle racing is starting to pay. In 2012, the cash prizes for major Spartan races were measured in thousands of dollars. Few top athletes received cheques with quite a respectable number of zeros. In 2013, the Extreme Nation promises $150,000 in prizes at their first event alone.
  • Obstacle racing will attract more athletes from other disciplines. If you pay them, they will come. That, of course, means that the field will become increasingly more competitive.

2012 was a big year for obstacle racing, as the interest in the sport has exploded, and hundreds of thousands showed up to the start line.

2013 will be a big year as well. So far, it seems that the changes center around standardization and commercialization of the sport.

Who knows what 2014 will bring? With Reebok in, and Call out, the face of the Spartan Race definitely seems to be changing. Let’s hope we do not end up with the picture of Dorian Gray.

I’m staying tuned…

Posted March 13, 2013

5 responses to “Spartan Race + Reebok – Hobie Call = ?”

  1. tormuse says:

    I can identify with what you’re saying about having mixed feelings about the Reebok branding and other changes in the sport. (Setting aside that old cliché of trying to convince newcomers that “I was into it *before* it was cool!”) 😛 I get the feeling, both from your comments and from your pictures, that there’s a real sense of comaraderie amongst everyone involved, a feeling of, “We’re all in this together,” that really enhances the enjoyment of the sport. I imagine that the act of crawling in the frozen dirt overnight isn’t fun itself, but you still enjoy it in the end because of the friends you share it with. 🙂

    On the one hand, it’s great that the sport is getting more interest and promoting fitness to a wider audience, but on the other hand, I can imagine that commercializing it, making it more publicly visible, and introducing cash incentives to make it more competitive could potentially dilute that sense of togetherness and friendliness. If I was to participate in an event like this, (and who knows? I might some day… It could happen!) 😛 I wouldn’t be in it to “win” necessarily, but to just have a damn good time of it. 🙂

    Well, those are my thoughts, anyway. I’m curious to know what you think, Solo. 🙂

    • Solo says:

      thanks for the thoughtful comments. absolutely. the event is usually amazing after it’s over. 🙂 especially if it’s over 16 hours, and includes crawling across a bridge. As for an event, i think i have one for you. come out for my birthday:

      • tormuse says:

        Aah! Early bird deadline is today! 😮

        You know, I’m actually considering this. Hmm… 5k or 10k… I’m not sure if I’m in shape enough for 10k. Decisions, decisions…

  2. Mike Russell "Captain USA" says:

    If there is money to be made by anyone…..investors, promoters, sponsors, celebrities and the like will show up. In some ways it is a compliment that OCR is receiving the coverage that it is. In other ways I guess it could lead to exploitation. Either way, I will continue to run OCR because I like it. I like the challenge! I like the fact that it gives me, at the ripe old age of 48, a reason to train and train hard. My training has a purpose, specificity, functionality and versatility. I have no specific alligience to one race over another. Spartan seems to hit all my hot buttons with the variety of races, but I love the CMC format too. (Although I do have a Spartan Tri-fecta tat) So I think this is a natural evolution of things. Heck if someone wanted to offer me money to do the thing I loved in the format that best suited my abilities….why would I not? Variety is the key to me. I’m not out there for the party or crazy costumes, I’m out there for the personal challenge, the great friends and characters that I have made along the way and the accomplishment of knowing that I left everything that I have in me out on the trail. So my best wishes to Hobie and anyone else that can call themselves a “pro” and earn a living at it! I’m just glad that I was an early adopter / trend setter! Just my thoughts!

  3. For the past two years we all have listened to Hobie talk about wanting to get paid to run Obstacle Courses and now that it’s finally happened he walks away from Spartan Race? I can’t help but feel this is a case of a man who has no real loyalty or passion other than making money. As someone who was on the inside of the conversations when Epic Racing was being batted around as an idea it was clear that Hobie wanted in only if he could be part of the decision making process and receive a cut of the profits. Having talked to Hobie several times in private I can only say that Spartan Race is better off without him and his me first attitude that comes through when there’s not a public audience around. He’s leaving because he wants to be in Joe’s shoes as an owner and decision maker not a professional athlete as he claims. He shares none of the humility or adaptability of top tier athletes in CrossFit yet expects others to bow down to his greatness. I’m sure Spartan Race and its association with Reebok will test the loyalty of purists just as it continues to do in CrossFit but its the best hope for getting cash prizes and lower registration fees to all of us that aren’t corporately sponsored. Good luck Hobie but remember when you bite the hand that feeds you, you often end up starving and hungry for the good old days.

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