By Russ “Ginger” Blatt
I love Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). I start races and I finish them. While my friends are placing on podiums and qualifying for the OCRWC (Obstacle Course Racing World Championships), I am just glad to finish. I cannot complete some obstacles and I do the required penalties. It is not uncommon for me to spend more than 10 hours on the Vermont Spartan Beast. What is common is for me to cross every finish line, even when feeling like crap or with broken ribs.
There are issues within the OCR Community and it is not always apparent what they are. I see them and I know many of you do as well. These issues are easily solved with some changes of thinking and the OCR Community working together.
Many of us are all part of groups within Facebook in which people question each other. We have seen comments about people not doing burpees, skipping obstacles, not earning the medals or swag and just wondering out loud about other’s abilities. How and why is this an issue with the sport? It is an issue because these words and these accusations have the ability to separate the community.
Many of you reading this are mid-level to experienced OCR athletes. Imagine you are an OCR beginner and you see multiple posts with people trashing each other and questioning each other’s integrity. How would you feel? Would you want to be questioned? Would you want your name to be called out, pictures in Facebook groups or Instagram? Would you be excited to go to your next race wondering if people will be watching you to see if you complete your penalty or how you struggle on obstacles? How would that make you feel about OCR?
Sometimes when we talk, post or comment, we should think a little before we hit send. We have to think about the overall community and how words can affect others. There are many people who love this sport and many others who are falling in love with it. We need to make sure that we do not turn people off by infighting, being inconsiderate or rude. Keep things positive and remember what your mother told you when you were a child, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. In this case, your mother will help you promote your favorite sport.
There may be people out there who can learn something from us. If you see someone struggling on an obstacle, teach that person how to overcome it. Ask if they need help. Offer your hand. You never know what a simple “hello” could lead to. I will guarantee that it will definitely lead to overall promotion of the sport. We are all ambassadors and when we act like it, the obstacle course racing community will be better for it.
Author’s note – Scheduling is my next topic. Since I started writing this, there have been two organizations that decided to work together for the betterment of the OCR Community. Keep reading and you will see why this is so important.
I am very much aware that as I write about scheduling that I developed a scheduling application for mobile phones called OCR Buddy. I am not shy about promoting OCR Buddy. If it were not for my work on OCR Buddy, I would not realize how much of a issue scheduling is within the OCR Community.
Some race brands are larger than others. We all know there are “Big Boys” in the sport that have marketing abilities and financial backing that others do not have. These “Big Boys” are the ones with events all over the world, on television and with their own brand championships. Obviously, I am talking about Spartan Race and Tough Mudder. I believe these brands promote OCR. In my experiences, when I talk about mud runs and obstacle races, people ask me “like Spartan Races or Tough Mudders?” This proves their marketing prowess and leadership in the sport. Whether you enjoy these races and plan to run in them or not, their leadership cannot be denied. You may disagree with a philosophy of either or both of these brands, but for the purpose of my discussion you have to accept their place within the sport.
Their planning is done ahead of announcements. They sign contracts and set up dozens of races around the world. There are many other race brands that are also prominent in the United States (and other countries of the world). Rugged Maniac, Warrior Dash, Terrain Race, Savage Race and others have planned dozens of races in 2017 in the United States. When you include all of the regional and local races, we have hundreds of companies planning and scheduling. Planning is done with no coordination. Obviously.
I have a prime example of non-coordination on Long Island where I live. Soon after Tough Mudder Long Island 2016, they announced the date of July 22, 2017 for Tough Mudder Long Island 2017. Soon after, Rugged Maniac announced they would be coming back to Long Island (after their 2016 debut) on (you guessed it) July 22. These are two relatively large companies in the OCR Community holding events 20 miles from each other on the same day, at the same time.
Are there other examples? Using OCR Buddy, I can find three separate instances in New York State of non-coordinated conflicts. How do these conflicts affect the OCR Community? I will explain.
I completely understand that every one of these OCR brands is an individual business that has the goal of making money. Their goal is to attract as many people as possible to their events. The more people that attend, the more sponsors they can attract and the more events can be scheduled. I completely understand this fact and respect it. While all companies are fighting for the same almighty dollar, they are actually hurting all of us, and themselves.
Tough Mudder and Rugged Maniac are large companies with events 20 miles apart. Tough Mudder is a 10-mile course and currently costs $179. Rugged Maniac is a 5km course and costs $59 to run. Rugged Maniac is a qualifier for the OCR World Championships. Many people are going to have to choose between the two races. As there are not many opportunities to qualify for the OCRWC on Long Island, people who do not travel for events will need to choose to attempt to qualify for the OCRWC or run Tough Mudder. People will have to make a choice between two of the more popular events, as they are both very well run and fun events. I personally have run both events and I am a big fan of each.
Choices will have to be made and in the end money will be split between the two events. Rugged Maniac will lose potential revenue to those running the Tough Mudder and vice versa. People will choose and decide which of the races they want to attend and spend their money. Not many, will attempt to do both (although I may).
What happens when a larger race conflicts with a local, small race?
A national brand expects thousands at each event. A small local race expects hundreds. If people have to make a choice between the large and the small, the large brand may not know the difference in the bottom line if people decide to run local. However, if 100 people decide to race with the larger race, the result can be devastating for the local one.
Obstacle course racing can be expensive. I did a survey when I was developing OCR Buddy and many people surveyed spent well over $1,000 and some over $2,000 in 2015 on OCR. People very carefully pick the events they want to participate in based upon location, length, race type and if it is a qualifier for a larger event. When race brands make people choose between events on the same day, they will choose one event over the other. They choose not because they didn’t want to run one of the races, they choose because they are forced to make a decision.
When there is a choice, one business loses potential income to another. It is not just revenue lost from the registration costs. There is the money that people spend at the event on clothing, food and within festival areas. As I said before, the larger brands can afford to lose potential income from some racers choosing the “other” race that day. For some of the smaller companies that put on a one-time event, losing participants to another brand this can be the difference between a successful event and barely breaking even.
Author’s Note – I also understand that some events have no choice. They have to have a specific date based upon their permit applications and the venue’s schedule. However if the venue is making a smaller event choose a specific date, there has to be better advertising and marketing by the smaller brand so that previous and potential attendees know that they have chosen a date.
How do we get coordinated? I do not expect the CEOs of the large pick up the phone and call each other. That is understood. I want to focus on the smaller race brands, the one-timer and the regionals. For this, I will promote OCR Buddy. I want to help with the coordination. I want to help Race Directors find the dates for their events. OCR Buddy is a coordination tool that Race Directors can use to finalize an event schedule.
OCR Buddy is a database in which brings together events from various brands and brings them all to one easy searchable and filterable location. So instead of surfing website to website, everything is all in one place. Events are added to the database by myself and by the users of OCR Buddy. Do we have every race? No, but we try. Now you know what OCR Buddy is, how can this tool help? We can help brands work together and coordinate. More on this later.
Again, I am not expecting Race Directors to contact each other. However, we need to work together. We need to have some coordination amongst us all to ensure that the racers have the best possible race experiences and choices. Although this is an entertainment based industry that has for-profit companies in charge, race brands need to start to consider the racers, the people who spend their money and more than just the 1%-5% of the OCR enthusiasts.
There is a small percentage of OCR enthusiasts that will race anywhere and anytime. People will travel to Hawaii for a Trifecta weekend. They travel to Canada for the OCR World Championships. I know someone who has traveled coast to coast of the United States to race events on Saturday and Sunday. There are people in Facebook groups who live and breathe OCRs, and they are part of race groups who plan, schedule and travel together. Generally, these are the people that are marketed to, focused upon and sign up for events all the time, no matter where and when. However for the future of the sport, the other large percentage of racers need to be the focus. Coordination will help.
There are multiple websites out there that have schedules and a database within them. Any of these websites can be searched and looked upon to determine schedules to help coordinate. Many of these sites invite Race Directors to enter their own event so it within their website’s database. Every event that is announced will only help us all coordinate.
There are many Facebook groups that are regional in the United States and other countries. These groups have events posted and many of these groups promote and focus on local events as well as the major ones. These groups are a good resource for local Race Directors to investigate potential dates for their schedules. The Race Directors that already reach out to regional groups receive a positive response from the local groups and typically gain their support.
Another possibility is for someone to swallow their pride and reach out to others for coordination. These actually happened recently. Where there was a conflict between Conquer the Gauntlet and Bone Frog Challenge (as referenced above), Conquer the Gauntlet changed the date of their event for the overall benefit of the racing community. This is probably the first time that any of the major race brands have moved a date because of a conflict within a specific market. These brands also are offering discounts as a way of saying “thank you” to its potential participants. It took one person with a vision to make a change.
Another possibility is OCR Buddy and how it can help coordinate events. Race Directors can search the database and focus on their geographic locations. Race Directors can also have their event added to the database so others can know that there is already an event planned. OCR Buddy is a simple tool that can be used for coordination by OCR Buddy, its users, Race Directors and others within the OCR Community.
As I said when I started this, I love Obstacle Course Racing. I want this sport to continue to grow and expand throughout the United States and the world. The expansion of the sport is dependent on a few, what I believe are simple, details.
We need to work together as community to promote one another and our accomplishments. Forget the negative and promote the positive. Promote those people that are professional and elite and crush the course. Congratulate these racers and show the community that we are all pushing for one another. The name is on the front of the shirt and the brand we enjoy or promote should not matter. When the new racers and event brands not on the “inside” will see how we help one another and we want this sport to succeed. Morale will increase and people will not be pushed away by infighting.
Next, we need coordination of events. If people look at existing schedules before setting a date and signing a contract, it could potentially benefit the community as a whole. Racers don’t want to choose which event to do when they are on the same day. Racers want to discuss shoes, clothing, headlamps, compression gear, post-workout foods and supplements. When decisions are made for us that make us choose how to spend our money, no one benefits. People then have to make choices and whichever event is not chosen can be hurt financially for this year and possibly future years going forward.
I have personally contacted many Race Directors via email and Facebook offering assistance in choosing dates for future events. I wouldn’t mind helping Race Directors look through dates of existing races and help choose dates that does not have potential conflicts and therefore could potentially boost attendance. There are many people like me out there willing to help, willing to assist in coordination and wanting to help promote the OCR Community.
Let’s work together. Let’s help bring this sport of ours to the next level and let’s help grow it to the worldwide phenomenon it has the potential to become.
As always my friends, be epic and keep playing in the mud.
Russ “Ginger” Blatt