Obstacle Races Explained

How to tell an Obstacle Race from a Mud Run

Obstacle Race Rope Climb
Copyright Margaret Schlachter

Obstacle Course Racing better known as OCR consists of a few different types of events; obstacle races, mud runs, hybrid races, themed runs, challenges and extreme endurance events. These type of events have sprung up all over the world and continue to grow each day. It can often be confusing when entering the world of OCR's to figure out which event fits a participants wants and needs. 

All OCR events require participants to overcome physical and mental obstacles. Often obstacles are similar to those seen in military training; ropes, barbed wire, mud pits, walls, and balance obstacles are all common place. As the sport has evolved obstacles have continued to become more creative incorporating agility, speed, even skate quarter-pipes and electricity as Tough Mudder uses in their electric eel and electric shock therapy obstacles. However, most obstacles test a participants ability to continually adapt while running between obstacles on often technical trails and terrain. 

Obstacle races differ from mud runs and challenges as they are a competitive race as the name implies. Obstacle races can be easily identified by the presence of a timing at the event. In obstacle races participants are each given a timing chip to be worn on their shoe or around their wrist. Obstacle races also require successful completion of all obstacles or assign a penalty for each failed obstacle. Reebok Spartan Race uses the infamous Burpee as it's penalty requiring each participant to complete 30 burpees for each failed obstacle.

Obstacle races offer awards for top finishers and sometimes also age group awards. Also increasingly more and more races are offering prize money for top finishers. Races such as Reebok Spartan Race, Atlas Race, and Superhero Scramble all offer cash prizes to top finishers. In order to qualify for these prizes race organizers have a special elite or competitive heat. These heats are closely monitored for successful competition. Cameras are even used in some races to monitor penalties. 

However, obstacle races are not only for the super competitive or elite athlete. All obstacle races offer open heats throughout the day. Open heats are perfect for those looking to test themselves in the competitive arena and see how they stack up against the competition. Most obstacle races now offer computer screens at the end of the race for participants to look up their results. Although open heats are not eligible for prizes they still have their own set of results which can be shared on site like Athlinks.

Unlike mud runs where costumes are encouraged, those attending an obstacle races should leave the costume at home. Better to save the costumes for the mud runs than show up on the starting line of an obstacle race in a funny costume. Participants at an obstacle race tend to wear technical OCR or running gear. In the elite heats it's common to see many shirtless men and women in sports bras and compression shorts. 

A few other obstacle races to note are Savage Race, Gladiator Rock'n Run, Mud Guts and Glory, Hard Charge and Extreme Nation. Also worth noting is the OCR World Championships which competitors qualify from a variety of races during the year. This event brings together the various racers and offers awards in age classes as well as overall awards. 

Obstacle Races are for all participants, finding an event that fits a participants need is critical. The key is to start small or in the case of races start at a shorter distance then as a participant gains experience opt for the longer more extreme obstacle races.