Mud, Blood and Pay Dirt: Planning an Obstacle Race from the Ground Up An Interview with Lauren Gambler, planning team, Run for Your Lives 5K Obstacle Course Zombie Race ONE PART BOOT CAMP, ONE PART FOOT RACE and 100 percent adrenaline rush, obstacle racing has muscled into the public conscience. It’s the latest fitness trend and the latest personal challenge, and if anyone needs a definition, here it is, courtesy of our friends at Wikipedia: Obstacle racing is the sport in which a competitor, traveling on foot, must overcome various physical challenges (obstacles) in order to progress in the race. Obstacles include, but are not limited to: climbing over walls, carrying heavy objects, traversing bodies of water, crawling under barbed wire, and jumping through fire. Whew. In addition to being a great source of pay dirt for cities, obstacle races get a lot of press. Sometimes, they’re a good photo opp for feature photographers who love the shots of competitors climbing ropes and slithering through mud pits. Sometimes, they make for longer articles in the sports feature genre that focus on the race, using quotes from participating runners. Sports event organizers who are seeking to host an event have the option of partnering with an established race, or striking out on their own and organizing independently. There are pluses and minuses to each method. In all cases, it is essential for organizers to work to create a safe, fun, challenging environment for athletes, volunteers and others Lauren Gambler is customer service supervisor for the creative team that developed the Run for Your Lives race, in which participants not only face obstacles as they race for the finish line, but have to contend with volunteers dressed as zombies en route. (Really. And you thought skateboarding was extreme and edgy?) She has seen this event grow (both in participation numbers, and in numbers of cities hosting the event) since it was first offered in fall of 2011. Sports Destination Management: Obstacle racing has exploded in popularity over the last two to three years. To what do you attribute that growth? Lauren Gambler: In the last couple of years, obstacle races have become increasingly popular because more people are looking for unique ways to be physically active and get healthy. And since obstacle races are 5K on average, it’s an attainable activity for novice and intermediate runners, and a nice change of pace for marathon runners. It is no longer a path to the finish line, but a whole body workout with twists and turns, ups and downs and other crazy challenges along the way – in our case, that includes the added motivation of being chased by zombies. SDM: What should event organizers be looking for in a prospective site if they are thinking of hosting such a race? LG: Event organizers should make sure a prospective site has several aspects in place that you want illustrated to your participants to help create the environment without having to bring 100 percent of the environment you envision. For example, our first event site in Maryland appeared to be straight out of a 1980s horror movie with old cabins painted red and a giant barn, so the obstacles were the main elements we needed to build to create the perfect scene. And of course, there needed to be natural terrain of hills and water to really make the event work. Beyond that, standard checklists include a good infrastructure, nearby lodging and/or campgrounds, proximity to major cities and parking. SDM: What have you learned by organizing this race, and what would you tell others who are planning their own? LG: Never stop learning and listening. Survey your participants after each event and make necessary adjustments to ensure issues aren’t repeated. Hope for the best, plan for the worst and be ready for anything. Proper staffing and volunteers are key. Never lose sight of your vision. SDM: Some obstacle races are setting up 'junior courses with smaller distances and lessformidable obstacles for children. Do you think this will become a trend? LG: Safety is a huge concern for race directors, so while there may be an increase in children wanting to participate along with their parents on a scaled-down obstacle race course, I’m not sure this trend will truly catch up if you look at it from a safety/liability perspective. But kids are certainly the best spectators and once they hit 14, they can participate in our event. SDM: Do you see more men or more women in the Run for Your Lives? Any age demographics you’ve noticed? LG: It’s been about 50/50 men vs. women across the board. The average age of our participants is in the 25-35 age range. However, we have participants as young as 14 participate up to over 70. The Hunt for the Hurt: Obstacle Racing’s Fun Facts and Figures By Adam McDonald, Editor, Obstacle Racing Magazine While obstacle racing in the U.S. has a number of websites that act as a centralized clearinghouse for information and links to registration sites, it currently lacks a fully fledged NGB. Fortunately, Adam McDonald, editor of Obstacle Racing Magazine (headquartered in Australia but distributed worldwide and also available on the web at www.obstacleracingmagazine.com) came through with some obstacle racing data for SDM: It’s new: Obstacle racing landed in the mainstream somewhere around late 2009 to early 2010. The year 2011 was probably the boom for the sport when the bigger companies started looking for some overseas opportunities. It’s growing: The Outdoor Industry Association reports an 85 percent increase in ‘extreme enduro’ event participation from 2006 to 2010. There are no ‘official’ figures from 2010 to 2012, but based on information from the top three races, participation-wise (Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and Warrior Dash), there has been over 300 percent growth in participation in the past two years. It’s still formative: Australia has just set up the Obstacle Course Racing Association of Australia to help grow awareness of the sport in the mainstream media, assist event organizers with scheduling and documentation, and negotiate co-op deals with insurance companies and supply companies. Willing to pay to play: The average obstacle racer is educated with access to disposable income. Obstacle racing is an expensive hobby, with common entry fees hovering near $100 for major races, and race locations often require participants to travel and stay overnight near the event grounds. It’s an age thing: Most racers are in the 18-34 age range, with a severe decrease in interest after the age of 44. Gender differences: Some races attract more men, others more women, and some have a mix. Many women new to obstacle racing feel intimidated by the size and intensity of races like the Tough Mudder and longer Spartan Races, so they choose to enter the Warrior Dash (which has the reputation of being a more toned-down race) or another smaller event for their first race. (SDM editor’s note: Some obstacle races do cater exclusively to women.) Even kids are getting involved: The Spartan race organization has launched a children’s race in the U.S. with shorter courses and less intimidating obstacles. In Australia, this race is rolling out a school program and it is gaining popularity. Australia also has just launched a school program called Obstacool and this, it is hoped, will get into the curriculum of all primary schools across the country. It comes with lesson plans for Phys Ed and a mobile course that can be set up at schools using inflatables and foam instead of mud. Different areas, different races: Obstacle races aren’t just held in warm (or even mild) weather, and they take place across the country and around the world. There are snow events already happening, meaning there are mud, city, sand and snow events. Big goals: The real aim is to get obstacle racing recognized as a sport, so perhaps one day, it will end up in the X Games or ultimately the Olympics.
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