“Every man dies, but not every man lives” is the proclamation on the website of Peak Races’ Death Race (www.youmaydie.com), which is the same event that gave birth to the highly successful Spartan Races. This simple, yet profound sentiment captures and drives the extreme endurance and obstacle course racing craze throughout the Western Hemisphere.
In less than five years, OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) endurance sports has become a billion dollar industry led by two primary race ventures, Spartan Races and Tough Mudder. The emerging sport has attracted a vast cross section of Americans ranging from college students to executives to senior citizens to housewives.
One of the true unisex sports, the average demographic is in her early 30’s, professional and looking for more satisfaction out of life.
What’s the driving force of OCR endurance sports? Society has really become too comfortable and convenient. Americans are gaining more weight, suffering more stress, and spending more time on the couch than ever before in our nation’s history.
A growing number of Americans want more satisfaction in their lives and OCR endurance sports fills the voids of social isolation, low self-esteem, but most importantly, forcing people to get off the couch and go beyond their comfort zones.
Less than 2 years ago, I hadn’t heard of OCR and endurance sports. At 43, I was the typical executive leading a local office of an international public relations agency, spending most of my time sitting at a desk, a conference table or flight. Sure, I would find some pockets of time to run several times a week or workout in a little gym in our office building, but it wasn’t filling the nagging void of wanting more out of life.
At an office party, I overheard co-workers, all in their 20’s talking about an upcoming Tough Mudder in Tampa. I loved obstacle courses in high school and the military. It sounded more fun than running a marathon or triathlon, so I signed up.
Sadly, I couldn’t get co-workers, family members or friends to join me on this 10-12 mile obstacle course, which has the unique reputation of ending the race with hanging wires charged with 10,000 volts of electricity. Also, the signing of a death waiver didn’t set well with many either.
So, I wound up crashing the group of Millennials who I got to know from that office party. They were very courteous and allowing me to join them. I couldn’t help but to think they were saying amongst themselves, “Great, we have this old man who is going to slow us down.”
We did the Tough Mudder in December of 2012. Let’s just say the old man had a great time and I was the only one of the group to successfully crush every obstacle on the course. The inner athlete came out and I was forever hooked on OCR, but that was just the beginning. I now had to find even more challenging races that would test my endurance, strength and toughness.
Today, I have not only participated in several OCR events and qualified to race in the OCR World Championships, but I have become one of the few executive athletes who has successfully raced in extreme endurance events, The World’s Toughest Mudder and Peak’s Death Race.
The Death Race has been ranked in the Top 10 most insane endurance races on the planet. Death Race is a weekend in the Vermont Mountains in town called Pittsfield. About 300 racers begin the race and an average of 15 percent ever finish. Death Racers go more than 60 hours without sleep, enduring upward of 100 miles of insane hikes, painful and physical tests, but most importantly, mental torment, testing your ability to think and perform under extreme pressure.
The World’s Toughest Mudder is also ranked as one of the toughest OCR venues in the world. It’s a five mile course with roughly 28 difficult obstacles that racers have 24 hours to complete as many laps as possible, while wearing a wetsuit in sub-freezing temperatures. Last year's Leap of Faith was the most exciting and grueling obstacle on the course.
Both endurance venues required physical and mental fortitude and the signing of a death waiver, which is somewhat PR, but legitimate in sustaining serious injuries. These two events would have been easily considered the most hellish level in Dante’s Inferno. Instead of Virgil giving the tour of hell, it would be Spartan Races Founder and CEO, Joe De Sena, who has recently written a bestselling book, Spartan Up (Will blog about the founders of Death Race and Spartan another time).
What I’ve come to learn from my experiences in extreme endurance sports is you are really racing against yourself. The greater the challenge and danger, the greater clarity of mind and sense self you must possess. Meaning, there was no room for ego or illusionary self-images. There would be pain and you would have to not only go beyond your comfort zone, but also beyond your breaking points, which we never get to experience.
Why on earth would anyone want to put themselves through this self-inflicted crucible?
I believe it comes down to exorcising the illusions of the world to find our own reality. On the race course or extreme event, it’s you against the obstacles. It’s one thing to believe you can climb up a rope or traverse monkey bars, or never believing you could do it at all, but it’s another to actually accomplish it. When you do, the surge of satisfaction, confidence and empowerment replaces the worldly fetters of doubt and fear.
Also, you’re not alone on your OCR journey. Even if you go to an OCR alone, which I have done, you are joined and supported by thousands of likeminded maniacs wanting to experience the same thrills as you. The comradery in OCR is legendary. It’s addicting and sure makes your Facebook and Instagram pages much more exciting with the new friends you make.
Professionally, OCR endurance sports test your ability to lead, plan and execute. However, it goes deeper than that. It calls upon that warrior or beast that’s been suppressed in the inner well of ourselves. OCR feeds and emboldens our competitive nature and draws out our sense of self.
It’s this intrinsic discovery that answers the question of why we do OCR endurance sports. On one level you’re racing and sweating, but on another you’re feeding your soul and uplifting your spirit.
Not to mention, you get to wear cool and functional attire ranging from compression shirts and shorts to shoes for mud, mountains and madness. There are racers who make the clothes, while there are clothes that make the racers. It’s all good out there.
OCR endurance racers from all age groups and social backgrounds are some of the happiest, most driven and inspiring people in the world. They are more successful in both their personal and professional lives, because they know what their lives are about and what’s important to them and society.
They are easy to spot in a crowd and social media. I encourage anyone who is thinking about doing their first OCR, which can be an 5k mud run in their town, to seek out an OCR racer they know or friend a few on Facebook.
You will join a special family and forever change how you approach your life. It will be a decision you will be grateful that you made for yourself.
Patrick Slevin is public relations executive heading his own national consulting practice based in Tallahassee, Florida. He blogs on his professional and OCR endurance adventures at www.PatrickSlevin.com. You can follow him on Twitter @patrickjslevin.