The Risks—Good And Bad—Involved With OCRs

For some runners, the risk involved in obstacle course racing is excuse enough to opt out. For others, it’s the perfect reason to sign up.

The Obstacle Course Risk Factor

You’ve raced a few half marathons, and your closet is full of t-shirts from local 5Ks. You’ve done a marathon and have even tested out trail running. So, what next?

Many runners have turned to extreme obstacle racing. Events coordinated by organizations such as Spartan Race and Tough Mudder have become popular among elite athletes and beginners alike. They offer a unique challenge, asking competitors to scale walls, jump into water pits and cross monkey bars. The Tough Mudder even offers an optional electrified wire field on some of its courses, which shocks athletes with 10,000 volts of electricity.

There are a variety of obstacle race choices, however, and not all of them demand risking your life. Spartan offers a 3 to 5-mile Sprint Race that caters to beginners and has only 20 to 23 obstacles. From there, the distance and mileage climbs, maxing out at 30 miles and more than 60 obstacles for the Ultra Spartan.

Similarly, the Tough Mudder offers a 5K which is deemed the mildest of its races as it is “without ice or electricity,” according to the organization’s website. If freezing water and jolts of electricity sound appealing though, Tough Mudder also offers 5-mile and 10-mile distances. It supplements these events with special race series that are designed for elite athletes and teams.

As you can imagine, the nature of these obstacle races has drawn concern about safety. Competitors have reported bacterial infections, dangerous dehydration and broken limbs. In 2013, a young man died while competing in a Tough Mudder event in West Virginia. The death was ruled an accidental drowning and the man’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Tough Mudder.

Tough Mudder, however, claims that safety is its top priority. It says that “more than 2 million people have safely completed a Tough Mudder course,” which, statistically, makes it safer than running a marathon. The company also says that every race has on-site medical experts and emergency response personnel. Spartan says there are “numerous volunteer paramedics and EMS personnel at every event,” but its website lists very little about the actual safety precautions that are in place.

The bottom line is that if you are considering running an extreme obstacle race, you should consider all the complexities one may entail. Like any race, it will require specific training—which both Spartan and Tough Mudder explain on their websites. Like any race, it will require wisdom while competing. But unlike a normal 5K, the stakes are higher when you add obstacles to the course. For some runners, that’s reason enough to opt out. For others, it’s the perfect reason to sign up.


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