As you may have noticed, I love obstacle course racing. It is fun. It is different. It gives me a good reason to not eat that 13th cookie.
What I don’t love, is how the obstacle course race community is evolving into something that I’m not sure it was really meant to be.
When I was first exposed to this phenomenon, it was being promoted as something to get ordinarily sedentary people off their couches or to escape the doldrums of everyday life. People got together to do this crazy-awesome-fun event and then celebrate being able to accomplish something incredible.
After running my very first race, I was on cloud nine. I had only just given birth a few months earlier and my fitness level was way lower than I would have liked so I didn’t do very well, but the fact that I did it all made me ecstatic. I started to clean up my eating habits and started hitting the gym again. I’ve improved a little bit at each subsequent race. I found new friends who shared in the endeavor and didn’t judge me when they spotted a blob of mud behind me ear 2 days after a race. This is what I thought it meant to be a Maniac/Rebel/DirtyGirl/Warrior/Spartan.
Now, I sign on to race pages and Facebook groups and instantly feel like a giant schlub. Other runners are all going to Crossfit 4 times a week and eating strictly paleo diets. I take classes at Gold’s Gym when I can and follow the 80/20 rule of eating (though it tends to be a little more 60/40.) They are getting cranky if they have to share the course with new runners because it slows them down. I run the course with a team that stays together no matter what and waits to help struggling runners conquer their personal demons- my time is always at least twice what the fastest runners finish in.
Am I a bad obstacle racer? Have I been doing it wrong all along? Was I supposed to let this take over my entire being? Should I be skipping the bedtime story with my son so that I can go for a 5k jog after work? Should I join the campaign to get the free beers at the end of races replaced with protein shakes and vegetable juice? Maybe I’ll stop buying the healthier dog food for my mutts so that I can afford a personal trainer get me to climb a 30’ rope. My stomach isn’t as flat as all those other chicks and I’ve never run more than 6.4 miles. Maybe I shouldn’t have signed up for the Super Spartan and Beast. This is what goes through my head every single day. I was on top of the world and now I feel like the sludge on the bottom of a New Jersey retention pond.
With sponsors like Reebok, Dial for Men, and Inov8, these races are growing exponentially. People who never thought they’d do things like this are trying them out and joining our groups. I’ve seen new runners ask for advice on their first race and instantly have a barrage of responses telling them they need to eliminate alcohol and gluten from their diets and join their local box and run with a 40lb sandbag. I wonder how many of these people never end up running because they are scared off. I try to let these people know that you don’t need to do those things to run an obstacle race. You need determination. You need to set your mind to it. You need to HAVE FUN. If you need a tutu and a free beer to get you going, then so be it. Of course becoming healthier is a good thing, but it people are told that they need to make such drastic changes just to run their first Warrior Dash, they aren’t going to do it. We are supposed to get people off the couch, not scare them back into the cookie jar.
I could drop everything and dive headfirst into a completely Spartan lifestyle. I could run 8 miles every day and get in 100 burpees before breakfast. I could never eat another bowl of pasta or slice of bacon ever again. Maybe then I could cross the finish line in the top 10. But I don’t want to. I want to have fun during my runs. I want to make sure that people do next year’s Warrior Dash or Spartan Sprint. I want to play with my dogs, watch crappy SyFy original movies with my husband, and eat cupcakes with my son. So I’ll continue to finish 2,765th out of 3,962 and people will just have to suck it up and wait behind me as I take a little bit longer to cross the rope traverse.
MEGA NOTE HERE, PEOPLE: Writing this blog is just me getting some crap off my chest. There is nothing wrong with being competitive. There is nothing wrong with living a healthy lifestyle. As I typed, I wondered if this is all just jealousy of the people who have the money and free time to devote. Could be. But I just think it is important for people to remember that not everyone is competing for prize money and glory. Some of us are just competing with our yesterday’s self.