This post could stir up an uncomfortably forced, man-made shit-storm with most individuals who read this.
In 2009, The Warrior Dash emerged as a very young, fresh-faced type of race, the first of its kind to become popular. More “extreme” than a normal 5k, it was supposed to offer more smiles with military-type obstacles to clear during a short run. I was forwarded the information for this romp from a friend, and it looked like an alright way to spend an afternoon. It didn’t look too hard, and it was cheap: I think it was $30 at the time, which included a couple free beers, a t-shirt, and a ridiculous hat.
Everything an active, electro/alt yuppie could want out of a weekend. I almost signed up.
Fast forward to 2013, and these races are out of control. Under various names, they include “challenges” such as crawling under barb wire in mud, jumping over small fires, clearing plywood walls with ropes, and signing a multiple-page waiver without reading it.
I’ve tried to ignore the results of said races: posed photos for facebook depicting people that have covered themselves in mud and/or face paint and/or costumes. Spewing over-edited pixels onto the web along with millions of others at other western-world locales.
These races, along with the ever-looming popularity of marathons and triathlons, highlight the status-quo in modern sports competition: credit, accolades, and attention just for finishing an event that took no real skill or conditioning. Good bait for an unsolicited prop-up from your friends for performing evermore pedestrian tasks.
And that seems to be the reason most people choose to participate: to look like an alternative, extreme individual on the internet. All it takes is $100, maybe an hour of your time, and some of your dignity. But hey, you get a finishers medal, some sweet (read: annoying) stories, and some ruined running gear so you can look rad for your friends.
Participants don’t seem to give a shit where they placed…they finished! This attitude is the result of our All-American get-a-trophy-for-last upbringings, and the first wave of those kids are now finishers crossing the line into adulthood.
I’ve held a distaste for that treatment since I was young. During one of my young summers, my baseball team came 2nd in my hometown’s summer tournament. I was frustrated, dejected, and disappointed. The medal ceremony came, and I watched the first place team receive their trophies. Then…my team was handed medals. I didn’t truly understand why, but I knew I didn’t want or deserve it…because I felt we didn’t earn it. The value of winning and losing and what you can be learned from experiencing both was absorbed early, and fostered by my family. The desire to compete fairly and win is a character trait that I cherish. Apparently, few others seem to possess this strong drive, but still want attention and praise for taking part.
I participated a couple months ago in the cornerstone race for my teams’ off-season, a 62-mile dirt road slog in western Michigan called Barry-Roubaix. I trained hard, but even the most perfectly executed training schedule can be thwarted on race-day. As it turned out, I worried too much, and did not prepare my stomach properly. A choke-fest ensued. I trapped food in my stomach from early over exertion (called cross gut), puked, then was left with languishing legs. 3.5 hours of crappy (to me) riding in 35 degree temps hammering up and down icy hills. That’s real physical and mental suffering. Not a cardiovascularly inconsistent hour of contrived and perceived “extreme” obstacles. Just a rough, wintery, public road, with a racer on a bicycle. I won’t bother detail the skill it takes to keep a bike rubber side down while riding on ice. Only after I had suffered 52 miles of constant attrition did my legs resurface, and I ripped them to pieces to make up for my early-race performance. I blazed past people uphill and down, picking up and dropping dozens of riders.
I finished 62 miles in 3 hours 38 minutes, averaging 17 miles-per-hour.
I rode those miles and passed maybe 10 spectators (which were looking for other riders) and finished with no pomp or ridiculous outcry. All I offered was a mumbled “fuck”.
Even after my late resurgence, my performance was still horrible in my eyes, and I was furious. I didn’t stick around and yuck it up like a tool, or act like I completed an impossible task…the pro’s were done 45 minutes before me. I changed out of my kit, shoved some food down my gullet to prevent fainting, and left in an angry cloud.
I had finished ahead of a few hundred people in my class, did my first 36 miles out of a total 62 faster than many hundreds who rode only 36, and finished 62 miles before some finished 24. I had finished a remote, unsung race organized by one man and his fellow racers and friends.
In contrast, marathoners, triathletes, and now “Obstacle Racers” will laugh like jackasses while drinking Michelob Ultra after being beaten by hundreds or, more commonly, thousands, after a completing a course to be replicated all over the US, Canada and the U.K. by a sports event company out to make easy coin.
While I will admit these events are not without their own great athletes (usually serious cross-fitters), and that it is much more respectable to be crawling through pig guts than laying dormant in front of a TV or computer, the attitude surrounding these races disturb me slightly. It’s all about just completing the event, not competing…and making sure everybody knows you did so.
That lame modern attitude with its good friend social media has blown these runs up to momentous levels of popularity. These races are a $250 million dollar a year industry, and there’s no end in sight.
My point to all this? We’re a nation of fools that strive to be “authentic” and “alternative” while advertising on social media that we live as such, just like millions of others. And these obstacle races…they exist as the epitome of that new paradigm. A generational and societal shift that I despise.
So, I hope you enjoyed that mud and small fire you paid $100 to epically surmount with hundreds of your fellow medal winners. Because after the endorphins leave your system, you may realize that you are a fool.