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12 in 2012: Obstacle Course Racing Highlights & Lowlights

28 Dec 2012

Fire jump imageThis year was another year of growth and challenges for the young sport of obstacle racing.

Looking back at 2012, there were a number of highlights, lowlights, and glimpses of things to come.

These are my picks for 2012 and what may be ahead in 2013.

2012 Obstacle Course Racing Highlights

1. Spartan Race Attracts Investors

In August, Raptor Consumer Partners announced their investment in the Spartan Race. This is great news for the obstacle racing industry.

Raptor VC’s investment attests to the profitable opportunity obstacle racing presents for stakeholders, pointing to the potential for future industry growth.

Read the press release.

2. Obstacle Racing Changes Lives and Inspires Many

If you participated in an obstacle race, you’ve probably met a friend, acquaintance, or stranger, each with a unique reason and story behind their decision to race. Some of these went beyond weight loss and fitness goals to culminating in feats that moved many of us.

Two of my favorites: the story of Angel Gonzalez and the legacy of Team X-T.R.E.M.E.

With the help and support of friends, Angel Gonzalez, a paraplegic, completed the Warrior Dash earlier this year.

Also this year, Team X-T.R.E.M.E., a group including wounded veterans, completed a Super Spartan Race in Virginia. Along with five additional team members, amputees Sgt. Jonathan Mozingo and United States Marine, Cpl. Todd Love completed more than 75 obstacles over a 10 mile trek.

3. The Number of New Races Continue to Increase

When I first started a directory of obstacle races last year, there were about two dozen on my list. Now there are more than 50, and more races are popping up on a regular basis. From locally organized 5k’s to worldwide endurance challenges, there’s a race for anyone and everyone.

Earth and North America from Space4. Obstacle Racing Participation Expands Worldwide

Building upon the growth of leading obstacle racing brands, the sport continues to stretch its borders to new geographical and demographic markets.

In 2011, more than one million participated in obstacle racing in the U.S.

In 2012, U.S.-based race organizers expanded their reach in international markets with events in Canada, the UK, Australia, and more.

The Spartan Race held 27 events in 2011. This year, that number grew to 39, more than 12 of which were two-day events. Also this year, the Warrior Dash nearly doubled the number of events they held in 2011, from 33 to 65 races worldwide.

This year, at least 3 million have participated in a local and/or nationally-recognized obstacle course race.

5. Female Athletes Narrow the Gender Gap in the World’s Toughest Mudder

Based on results from select endurance sports, women have shown that they are bridging the gap in athletic performance.

This year’s World’s Toughest Mudder attests to this trend. Two of the top 10 finishers were women as Amelia Boone and Deanna Blegg took second and third place, respectively. Junyonk Pak finished first for the second year in a row, completing 9 laps in a little over 25 hours. Nine minutes later, Amelia Boone finished a ninth lap.

Click here to read the full recap.

6. Obstacle Racing Gets Its Own Magazine

Although Outside magazine provided extensive coverage of obstacle racing in print and online this year, the sport received its own magazine this year, thanks to McDonald Media Group.

Four issues of Obstacle Racing Magazine are planned for each year, with the first issue just recently released. Print and online subscriptions are available at obstacleracingmagazine.com.

7. Joe Decker Becomes First Two-Time Death Race Winner

According to the Spartan Race blog, 344 people registered for the Spartan Death Race held in Vermont in June this year.

Only 15% completed this endurance challenge with Joe Decker reaching the finish line first for the second year in a row.

Coin8. Obstacle Races Give Back

Nearly since it’s inception, obstacle racing has shown concern beyond the bottom line and general fitness of participants.

Many race organizers donate a portion of proceeds to charitable organizations.

To date, the Warrior Dash raised more than $4 million (and counting) for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, while the Tough Mudder has generated nearly $4 million for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Dirty Girl, a women-only obstacle race, contributes to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.


2012 Obstacle Course Racing Lowlights

Although there were more highs than lows for the new sport, there were notable tragedies and challenges in obstacle racing this year.

9. Metro Dash Goes Out of Business

One of the top 10 obstacle races in 2011, the Metro Dash officially went out of business when Frawg Stomp, LLC, closed its doors this year. Specializing in timed trials, the Metro Dash targeted novices and seasoned obstacle athletes, alike, but only an average of 150-300 contestants showed up for races.

Read more on the Metro Dash’s announcement.

10. Mud Run Drowning

One day after an Original Mud Run event in Texas this past April, the body of Tony Weathers was found in a river that served as an obstacle for the race.

Ruled an accidental drowning, this tragedy provides race organizers and stakeholders with the imperative of establishing standards and protocols for obstacle course organization and administration.

Gavel11. Event Partners Sues Run For Your Lives (RFYL)

This year, Event Partners, LLC, filed a lawsuit against Reed Street Productions, the company that organizes the zombie race.

Event Partners helped promote the RFYL event at Amesbury Park in Massachusetts.

According to Event Partners, Reed Street backed out of an agreement to contract Event Partners in promoting the RFYL series nationwide.

Click here to read more about the lawsuit.

12. TM Sues Mad Cap Events, Savage Race Organizers

In March, Tough Mudder filed a lawsuit against Mad Cap Events, developers of the Savage Race. If you’ve visited the Savage Race website anytime before March this year, you may have noticed font colors and effects similar to the Tough Mudder brand.

Since then, the Savage Race has changed it’s logo and trade dress, including font type and color.


Ahead in 2013

So what does the crystal ball say for 2013? For a young activity like obstacle racing, it’s hard to predict what exactly lies ahead. But based on OCR news and developments over the past couple years, it’s safe to make a few educated guesses.

Obstacle Racing Stakeholders Consider a National Governing Body

Athletic Business recently published a blog entry on the potential need for a National Governing Body (NGB) overseeing obstacle course races. The NGB would set standards for race organization, policies & procedures for race development, and even possibly require certification for new organizers.

It’s too much of a jump to say this would happen next year, but it’s a worthy development to consider for the years ahead.

More Niche and Theme Races

Dirty Girl was the first women-only obstacle race. Now there are at least four held on a nationwide basis: the Diva Dash, Pretty Muddy, and Kiss Me Dirty. Don’t be surprised if more female-only race series are introduced in 2012 by new and existing race organizers.

RFYL was the pioneer in zombie obstacle races. Now, there are several locally-organized zombie runs, including one in Oregon and one in Kansas.

Additionally, Ruckus founder Liam Brenner and The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman partnered up to develop The Walking Dead Escape, a zombie-themed survival challenge. The first one was held in Petco Park in San Diego with a second one planned for Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Complex in March 2013.

These are just a couple examples. There are many more niches to expand on and develop, which we’ll likely see in the next 12 months.

Obstacle Racing Participation Will Continue to Climb

With more races and events being added  worldwide by leading brands and themed organizers, we can anticipate an increasing number of participants to continue signing up for obstacle races. There’s a race for thrill-seekers, kids, women, newbies, seasoned athletes, and long-time exercisers looking for the next challenge!


Image credits: Fire jump, globe, coin, gavel

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