“SUFFERFESTS”: OBSTACLE COURSE COMPETITIONS or cyclist training videos? Serious cyclists are familiar with a company “TheSufferfest” that provides training videos for their sport. Scott Keneally, director of the documentary “Rise of the Sufferfests” applies this term generically to punishing obstacle course races (OCR). Regardless of the different uses of this term, he says that extreme conditions on these courses make it the fastest growing sport in the world. You can see the trailer to the documentary and decide whether to purchase or rent the full film.
US sport enthusiasts may be familiar with the better known OCRs, some of which have been televised: REEBOK™Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, and Warrior Dash. Others include Rugged Manic, Savage Race, and Battlefrog. European OCRs receive less media coverage here, but the ‘original’ OCR, Tough Guy, has been held in England since the late 1980's, and Viking Strong has more recently entered the scene. There are lesser known local and regional offerings too.
Extreme competitions performed on foot, without obstacles, covering distances of a hundred or more miles, also exist in endurance running races: ultras and relays. Rucking is on the rise in popularity and involves military-inspired hiking with weighted backpacks, and teamwork challenges. What’s driving the rapid rise of these sports? Keneally tries to answer the question in his film, featured in a Competitor.com post that links to a trailer.
I watched the full 94-minutes and found myself rewinding constantly, wanting to capture the many quotable opinions expressed by interviewees. The documentary pays respect throughout its length to the originator of this “new breed” of competition, Billy Wilson. He’s a UK race promotor who introduced the now familiar freezing water, mud, wood structure, and rope climb features to his farmland course starting in 1987. Subsequently the mustachioed eccentric added other crazy and terrifying challenges like fire and electrically charged wires!
The film is as much a history and examination of these events as a personal journey of Keneally, who used his experiences in OCR racing and training to acquire physical stamina and build confidence in himself as an athlete and soon-to-be father.
What struck me were the similarities between what Keneally says about the nature of OCR and Earned Runs’ mission. Both contend that individual growth occurs with tough physical testing; ‘winning’ comes from making firm commitments to a goal competition and training program, and persevering to the event’s finish. Racing requires building strength of body and mind; these same strengths will help us in situations outside of sport. Both acknowledge that in the modern world there few opportunities to experience a sense of accomplishment, especially in the area of physical challenge; we mostly passively watch screens and type on keypads for work, entertainment, and social connection.
There are some differences, however. OCRs believe the coming together of many other like-minded fanatics (this is not meant to be derogatory; it does take a certain mentality to enjoy such suffering) builds a society and establishes rituals not currently found in our comfortable world. Earned Runs believes that for some, large-event bonding is not possible, and going forward alone is a crucial initial step that must be taken in order to join the bigger tribe. The failure to find supportive buddies or partners may be the greatest obstacle to taking on challenges; we’re afraid to do it alone.
OCRs are described in the EARLY part of the film by as being narcissistic festivals, in which social posting of photos taken during the ordeal, of competitors doing crazy, scary, tough stuff, is what drives participation. It’s said to be a “me generation” thing. Earned Runs is about creating training and racing opportunities that don’t require cheering crowds, social posting, or flashy swag. These rewards are terrific fun, but not always required, and can be enjoyed in organized events!
The END of the film left me with the impression that the 5million worldwide competitors who “enjoy” the OCR sufferfests are as diverse in their motivations and reward-seeking as any large population and not merely narcissists. They and the users of Earned Runs bibs share at least one characteristic; all are looking for a PURPOSE to sport and to EARN self respect.
If this type of competition appeals to you or you want to better understand the movement or someone who is hooked on it, view the trailer and download the documentary which is now available directly from the site (buy), through iTunes (buy), Amazon video (buy or rent), and Googleplay (buy or rent), according to the homepage. I very much enjoyed the video.
If you’re a cyclist and never heard of TheSufferfest training aids, give the site a look!
BRIDGE TO PHYSICAL SELF
Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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