A new kind of race has come onto the scene over the past few years. They’ve got fierce names and require participants to leap or crawl around, over, under, or through various obstacles. Sometimes barbed wire is involved, sometimes fire, and almost always copious amounts of mud. At the finish line, the only thing visible through the dirt, grime, and yes, occasionally blood, are eyes.
These events crossed through the barrier of what is considered a typical race, but that was apparently fine for a lot of people – they signed up in droves, pushing registration numbers higher and higher. Soon more events came online, and this encouraged others to push the limits even further. We suddenly had Zombie runs, where some participants spring out of hiding to chase “regular” racers, and rainbow runs, where volunteers throw handfuls of colored dust at racers, rendering their shirts a multicolored mess.
It all seemed to be in good fun, but a nagging question kept surfacing in my thoughts: are these really races? Is this really running?
Before I sound too much like an old curmudgeon lamenting how things have changed since the old days, I need to tell you that I participated in a few of these events myself a couple of years ago. I raced in a Run Amuck event and in the inaugural Tough Mudder. And yes, they were challenging. And I got very dirty. And I had a great time.
When I participated in these events, they were timed, and awards were given to the top finishers. I gave it my all in these races, as I imagine many other competitors did, and I was happy to see the finish line.
So I guess yes, I have to admit that these are races, and they can involve real running.
But since I ran those races, I haven’t felt tempted to go back and run them again. If a marathon is like a Shakespearean tragedy, giving us new insights with each new viewing, these races are like an Adam Sandler movie. Fun to watch once, maybe, but not worth buying the DVD.
My real question then, is whether these races will do much for the sport of running. I don’t think so. If you are a runner, I don’t think you’ll gravitate to these events too frequently. Based on purely anecdotal evidence from a quick, non-scientific survey of friends, these races go in the one-and-done category of fun distractions. After participating in these, my friends go back to the business or “real” racing.
And for those who were not really runners beforehand, I don’t see how these events would encourage a shift to a lifetime of running and fitness. Regular weekday runs don’t involve leaping off docks or scaling walls, and if that’s what it took to get you motivated, then putting on your shoes for a 6 a.m. easy run on dark, quiet streets is unlikely to appeal to you.
Which leads me to this prediction: few of these gimmick races will still be around in five years. Once the novelty has worn off, there won’t be a loyal group of return participants big enough to sustain all of these races.
Of course, I could be wrong. I was the guy who once said that people would never replace their record collections with CDs (true story). But I do think I’m right on this one. So go run one of these crazy races, get it out of your system, and then come back and join us at the start line for our next local road race. We’ll keep a spot open for you.