Rant of the Week: 5 Things That are Hurting OCR’s Legitimacy

And…we’re back, after a substantial break that I’ll attribute to a terribly crippling bout of lethargy. I thought we’d start this week’s posts off with something fun. Well, maybe “fun” isn’t the right term for it. Stress release is more like it. You see, part of my contract with Spartan involves being active on social media. So I spend time online. But spreading the goodwill of the sport shouldn’t result in interactions that leave me exhausted, right?

So follow along children, its time for old man Kraker to go on a rant.

By now you’ve probably heard my background, so I’ll keep it brief. Basically, it took me 3 years to start doing OCR. Part of it was a lack of fitness. The other part was the online representation that those involved with the sport were giving off. I didn’t want to be involved with a sport that seemed so, well, un-sport like. Today I’ll be focusing on the latter reason.

As of 2011 I had yet to attend a race, so my image of the sport was based completely upon online interactions. One of the first posts I ever saw was about someone who raced in (among other things) a Speedo. According to them, this wasn’t an attempt to gain attention. No, the Speedo was Olympic-certified and therefore made them faster.

The pictures were even stranger.

OCR appeared to be an odd weekend landscape of face paint and outfits, sponsors and egos, and mud. Lots of mud. Racers wore training masks. Some also had chains wrapped around their bodies. Everyone was flexing. Keep in mind, these photos are taken mid-race.

It was as if Burning Man, CrossFit, and trail running had made a love child. And I hated it.

Fast forward 3 years, and I’ve grown to enjoy the sport. As I’ve said before, OCR is at its core a sport of rebirth. I’ve seen many make radical lifestyle changes with the help of it. Along the way they’ve shed weight, self-doubt, and addictive behaviors (myself included). I’ve also learned to accept some behavior, while ignoring other stranger aspects that once kept me from immersing myself in the experience. And that guy in the Speedo? Turns out he’s pretty cool.

And yet anytime I run into people I competed with in college, I’m reminded of the way the sport presents itself. Mainly, that the sport lacks legitimacy. And how have athletes from other sports come to this conclusion? The same way I did. Media. These are fast, strong runners that would shake the sport up.  But they won’t attempt it because “It’s a joke.” Although deep down I think they might be scared of the strength aspect

I’m of the opinion that this aforementioned experience is hardly unique. There were 36 college runners that ran sub-4 in the mile indoors this year. I’ll guess that 3 times as many post that time equivalent in the 1500 outdoors. Lets say 5% of these guys make the successful jump to OCR. Now take the # of guys every year who do this. Tack on the fact that OCR gives you an opportunity to outearn what you might on the European circuit.  We could have 50 guys in OCR right now that could compete with our top guys. Same goes for the females, of course. But last year only 2 guys who were new to the sport made the jump into the top 10 in OCR.

*And that’s without even bringing up the 3k, 3k steeple, 5, and 10k guys.

Quick Recap for the ADD’rs out there:

The growth of our sport is lagging at the top end. This hurts our ability to make the jump from fringe activity to legitimate sport. And it’s mostly due to an image conveyed by a select few through social media interactions.

So here goes…


1. The word “Elite

We’re jumping right into it here with my biggest pet peeve, and my own personal version of “Death of Auto-Tune“.

What is this obsession with obstacle racers calling themselves “Elite”? No one’s Facebook name should contain the word “Elite”.  If I were to change my facebook to “Elite Obstacle Racer McCauley Kraker” I’d be berated mercilessly for calling attention to myself. And I’d probably deserve it. Coming from an athletic background, it’s something I’ve NEVER seen in another sport. EVER. Not in basketball, football, road and track running, swimming, tri….. So why do we have it here in ocr? Is it an ego thing, or a need for legitimacy? Either way, this attention seeking behavior is hurting our standing with other endurance sports.

elite1 elite4 elite3

elite ocr athlete, elite spartan race athlete, elite obstacle course athlete… there are dozens of them, no congruity at all.

Let’s get rid of the word “Elite.” There’s nothing wrong with being a fan of ocr. Or identifying oneself as an obstacle racer. After all, obstacle racing is pretty sweet. So you’re an obstacle racer. That still sounds impressive to me. Lets leave it at that.

Unless, of course, your goal is to be perceived as more important than someone who is slower than you. To differentiate yourself from those lowly commoners struggling along in the open heats. Good heavens, you’re not like them! No, you’re an ELITE!  If that’s the case, your Facebook name should be “(Insert first name) Elitist Prick (Insert last name).” It’s a win-win: You get to keep the “elite” title in your name, we get to judge you.

If you meet a professional runner, triathlete, swimmer, or fighter, and their line of work comes up in conversation, they’ll tell you that they run, do tris, swim, or fight. They won’t call themselves “Elite Swimmers” or “Elite Runners”…..anyways, I’m beating a dead horse here. Time to move on.

There is nothing special about running the “elite” heat. There is no prerequisite skill or ability- the only must is having an extra $30 on hand. But it seems like those racing this heat get a sense of entitlement, and end up looking down upon the “less serious” open heaters. *(And while we’re at it, can we get some love for the open heaters? No drama, no time spent worrying about sponsors or race winnings or any of that stuff, just racing purely for the enjoyment of it) 

When I see someone boasting that they run the elite heat, or using the term “Elite” on social media, I can’t help but think of the Macklemore line from Thrift Shop, “I call that getting tricked by business.”

2. The Anti-Elite Movement

The top racers, especially those representing Spartan, can’t post opinions on relevant subjects without being labeled as “biased.” It’s too bad, because their positions in the community have afforded them unique views into the industry that I bet the average OCR fan would enjoy to read.

As the industry has grown, a schism has formed between top racers and the rest of the community. Sure, many elites bring it upon themselves (and I’ll touch on that later) but much of the criticism is unfair.

These days there seems to be a movement against those who are racing for a living. Primarily, that they don’t deserve respect. Man, I wish I would have screenshot some of the more ridiculous comments I’ve seen over the past year, but many have resembled “I feel sorry for people who do this for the money rather than the love of it.”

Why? How sweet is it that this industry we all support has grown to the point that people can make a living off of doing what they were previously doing for fun? Wouldn’t we all take that deal in a heartbeat? I’m obviously biased here, but if I wasn’t in a position to (barely) support myself through racing, I think I’d still feel the same way.

Then again, many of those bashing the top guys are the same ones willing to push seemingly any product on their walls. It makes you wonder, what if one of the big dogs like Spartan offered them a contract? I wonder how loyal they would become overnight…

3. Elitism Among the Elites

If I lost you on #2, this should more than make up for it.

Many of the top racers do their fair share of bringing backlash upon themselves. These racers set the standard for social media behavior in OCR. And many of them are doing it wrong.

Impossible workouts are a theme in this community. If race results were judged directly from difficulty of workouts posted on social media I’d be in big trouble come race day. 5 by mile in sub 5 with burpees as recovery? 5k time trials in 15:10? 10×400 in sub 60 to end a workout? Not only are these workouts not real, but they’re often the only part of a top racer’s training that those following them on social media see. So now we have a skewed idea of what it really takes to compete at a high level. It sets the standard for a community that believes that going #beastmode is the key to improving, rather than an emphasis on smart consistent training.

Speaking of #beastmode, not every racer needs to follow in Hunter’s footsteps. I really enjoy following Hunter, but that doesn’t mean every single racer needs to be a clone of him. Do your own thing.  #biceps may win Hunter races and followers, but maybe you have your own unique personality and lifestyle to show the world.  I enjoy following guys like Alec Blenis and Junyong Pak; well-rounded guys who have stayed away from the over dramatized style of social media. Instead, they’ve taken a unique approach to how they train and present information via social media. I’ve learned quite a bit from all of them and I think it’s made me a faster, stronger athlete.

Cheating is rampant in races. Contrary to popular opinion, this happens way less in the “Elite” heat than in the open. Just because you watched the NBC race and saw John and April doing crappy burpees does not mean that every top racer is cheating. (And in their defense, they were doing burpees that met the preexisting, albeit crappy standards)

That being said… there are elites that do cheat. This includes Spartan Pro Teamers; top racers with numerous sponsors, who must be aware that they’re under a magnifying glass. So why cheat?

This brings up another question that’s been bothering me for a while: If you want to win so badly that you’re willing to cheat in public, and it gets to the point where all the top racers know you’re a cheater, what are you willing to do behind closed doors to win?

Every sport has had doping problems. Look at the sports OCR pulls from: running, triathlon, biking, Crossfit, weight lifting, and MMA. These sports all have huge drug problems. So why would OCR be any different?

I’m sure we’ve all had conversations about this at some point or another. I myself have heard some crazy theories regarding almost everyone in the sport.

In the sprinting community the eyeball test has been pretty accurate over the years. Whose body type shouldn’t be capable of performing to the level that it is, or on the flip side, whose body type is too incredible to be natural?

Then there’s recovery. This is a big part of doping that we often fail to pay attention to when looking for telltale signs of drug use. And this sport is all about recovery.

Maybe this type of speculation isn’t healthy for the sport, but if it initiates discourse in regards to testing, I’d say its worth it.

4. Sponsors

We’re all billboards. And it’s up to us to decide how we present ourselves. What it should come down to is personal and brand integrity. What it actually comes down to is getting free stuff.

What do you represent, and why? Is a free pair of socks and an affiliate code worth potentially turning into that person whose posts cause people to click “unfollow” whenever they post their product codes? Remember, those who shout the loudest are the easiest to ignore. Is this social media technique of excessive posting helping or hurting the brands you represent?

Sponsors go hand in hand with previously mentioned topics. But here’s the thing about sponsors. No one really needs them. Think about that for a second. If you’re dishing out 100 for race expenses every other weekend and thousands a year on travel, you should be able to afford some protein powder. If you can’t afford to train or race without sponsors or a gofundme campaign, then maybe your priorities need rearranging.

Tod Sorum nails it on the head
Tod Sorum ftw

Of course, if you’re trying to help a company that you love, good for you. But if you’re doing it because you’ve seen other athletes do the same, or so that you can tell people you’re a sponsored athlete, or even so that you can look more impressive to your Facebook friends, then you might not be doing it for the right reasons.

*Which brings up a somewhat un-related but still important question: If an obstacle race takes place in a forest, and no pictures from it are ever uploaded and tagged on Facebook, did it really happen?

Your hashtag game is wack, and statistics agree
Your hashtag game is wack, and the statisticians at socialbakers agree

Whether we like or not, our social media interactions largely define us. What is your end goal? Some free product, some extra cash? Is that worth it, image be damned? For some, it is.

On the other hand…
There are some top racers whose outfits are the equivalent of Nascar. They attract criticism from the community, but should they?  Some elites have made appearance fees rumored to be in the thousands just for showing up for a race. In that case, one could argue that it’s probably worth it for them to do what they do. Racing has now become their job.

Now do they really believe in the products they represent? Maybe. And who am I to say that magnetic bracelets or ionized water or even a really cool looking Tom Hardy mask are scientifically speaking, “bullshit”? And who even trusts science these days? As the bracelet seller I got into a tiff with in Hawaii said in response to me calling him out on his pseudo-science and iffy shoulder push/balance test,

“Benjamin Franklin studied this [magnetic] stuff! Are you saying your smarter than him?
*I imagine, given his views, that he would have improperly conjugated “you are”

“Let me guess” he continued, “you just graduated college and now think you know everything.”

“Well actually sir,” I replied, “I dropped out. Thanks for reminding me. Now I’m going to go back to my room and drink my depression away.”

But back to whatever we were talking about pre-tangent, umm, the placebo effect is pretty legit and that alone might make it worth it for you to represent these products….

Straw Man Time
And yes, I realize how hypocritical I’m being here, seeing as I used to race for and promote a team that valued sponsor clicks above everything else.

5. Self Righteous Bloggers

The top photobucket result for
The top photobucket result for the search term “Angry Blogger.” I’ll take it.

Why so jaded, man? Some people are so pessimistic. These assholes dwell on the small amount of problems present in a community rather than the overwhelming amount of good. And then post ridiculous sensationally titled lists. Wait…umm…this seems to be touching a little close to home. No time to dwell on that now though. I have a feeling there’s some drama going on in Spartan Racers Worldwide. Time to do some emotionally compromised posting. Maybe even throw up a #sick workout on Instagram while I’m at it. Ttyl.

12 thoughts on “Rant of the Week: 5 Things That are Hurting OCR’s Legitimacy

  1. Patrick Wrye

    I really enjoyed this article & agreed with about 99.7% (because can you really agree with 100% of what a person says/believes) of what you said. For me OCRs have given me a purpose in being healthier & living a more fit lifestyle. I had no drive in doing anything but jumped into Spartans & having a goal is really key. I definitely see what you’re saying about the Elite title because before I got to it in the article I even thought “yeah you just pay a little more.” It would be interesting if they had Elite heats where you could pay more to race with better athletes and then an “Pro” heat before that where it was for qualified racers from that season. Although you’d likely still run into people latching on to the title of being Pro or Qualified. I, myself, am running my first elite heat (not Spartan) in a month and for me it was about finally thinking I’m ready to race alongside more competitive athletes. I also have not labeled myself as such. Thanks for this article & I hope there are more like it. Take care.


  2. Tony Ferrante

    Interesting Read. I kind of like it, myself. Think I’ll start a new sub group of racers “MRFTFOI – Mediocre Racers For The Fun Of It”


  3. Interesting ideas well expressed. I’ll respond to the points I know and/or care about: #1. I’ll defend “elite,” sort of. Not because I care about the term or aspire to elitenaquacity, but because it seems to me that “elite” is more of an informal brand than a word intended to convey information. And from a race producer’s standpoint, it seems like it’s worked pretty well—as you note, it adds $30 in perceived value to a heat that people are willing to pay for. That’s not a terribly strong defense, since I have no real thoughts about whether or not that’s the way things should be, but I do like to grasp the reason for things. And #5: Self righteous! How dare you? Sure, I just posted 800 words about my nipples, but that was because it’s important information for people to know!


  4. You should be ashamed of yourself, Greg. Only 900 words? Your nipples deserve twice that, minimum.

    Btw, that was a pretty awesome article. And your OCR drinking game? I’ve been saving my spartan beer tickets for a year. Now I have something to spend them on. Name the race and I’m game 🙂

    As far as your defense of the word “elite”, you’re absolutely right. It’s great business, it gives people a goal to reach for, and I can’t think of a third thing.


  5. That’s a real attractive acronym, but it could use some more letters. How about mediocre racers sucking air (for the fun of it)? MRSA. This way you can raise awareness for a disease while racing. You’ve now become an efficient multitasker!

    Also, if this group becomes a thing, I want to become an honorary member.


  6. I took an overly outrageous stance to drive home a point, but you’re dead on. OCR (and more specifically, that heat) has become something pushing many, many people (myself included) to better themselves. I can’t be upset with that. But if the end goal is bragging rights, well, I can’t get behind that.

    In my experience the higher you get in a field, the higher you realize you can go. Its a never ending process. Joe De Sena wrote an excellent article for entrepeneur.com (link here) and in it he has some great points, one of which I’ll leave you with.

    “..the closer we get to self-actualization, the more skills we acquire, the higher our ceiling becomes, the further away we are from being self-actualized. In other words the better we get, the more potential we have..”

    So I guess my question is, what will your next goal be after you run that elite heat and find out that you handled it pretty damn well? Whatever it is, its a fun journey to find out.

    *turns out I dont know how to link things on the comment section


  7. Pingback: Link Dump: Retro Edition | Fat Boy Big Wall

  8. Not to sound jaded or anything, but good writing and critical reasoning is rare in the sport of OCR. Nice to see an exception from that rule once in a while.

    Well done.


  9. Pingback: Episode #32: McCauley Kraker On 5 Things That Are Hurting Obstacle Racing, Racing Without Running & More. - Obstacle Dominator

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