The news about Red Bull’s aquatic obstacle course race got me thinking: What other new wrinkles could obstacle course racing incorporate? And so, I offer some possibilities here. I haven’t actually thought through these possibilities, so no guarantee that they’re “good” or “feasible” or “not offensive to the human spirit.” But if they can inspire an OCR designer to create something cool, then my work is a success.
The idea: OCR Pursuit
I know certain parties in OCR are quite keen to make races televised galas. The problem is that obstacle course races are fundamentally long-distance races, which aren’t generally terribly telegenic. OCR pursuit adapts the pursuit races from track cycling: Competitors begin on opposite sides of a track, each traveling the same direction, and the race ends when one person catches up to the other.
Benefits: It’s all in one place, so spectators can see everything that’s happening throughout the race. This format would play up the head-to-head aspect.
Drawbacks: First off, pursuit races generally don’t end with one competitor catching the other—they go to a predetermined distance instead. Keeping an entire OCR on an arena floor or stadium field would limit the number and variety of obstacles. It would fundamentally shift the obstacle-to-running balance that obstacle course races currently have—making it much closer to Ninja Warrior. There would be a severe limit to the number of runners who could participate.
The idea: Weight gamble
Some intrepid OCR runners like to run the course with weighted vests or other forms of weight. Why not make that a formal thing? Runners could, if they choose, run completely unencumbered, or they could add any of several amounts of weight in exchange for a time bonus. Add 10 pounds? Take 2:30 off your time. 50 pounds? Cut a cool 10 minutes. Fastest adjusted time wins.
Benefits: It offers a new challenge to train for, and rewards an accurate assessment of one’s own abilities. It may provide a path to victory for athletes whose strengths are power rather than speed.
Drawbacks: The whole system would be a bit fiddly. How exactly could race directors determine a fair time value for an extra 10 pounds on your back? There’s the possibility runners would abandon their weights mid-run.
The idea: Medley relays
Basically, an OCR that’s divided into sections—maybe Speed, Power, and Balance & Agility. Instead of a solo runner completing the course, runners form teams and each runner completes one section.
Benefits: Provides opportunities for success for more specialized athletes. Runners will be able to meet new people. New obstacle course runners may be able to have a less-intimidating entry point by being able to participate on a course that focuses on their strengths.
Drawbacks: This type of specialization goes against much of the current ethic in OCR that runners should (and for the most part want to) prepare for anything. For competitive racers, is it possible to keep the sections truly even in importance?
The idea: Weight penalties
You run a course. Fail an obstacle? Add a couple pounds to your pack (or ankle weights, or whatever). Keep it on for the whole course. Fail another obstacle? Add a couple more pounds. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Benefits: It’s a new approach to penalties, with probably a more variable impact. It would increase the amount of on-course swearing by, like, 1,200 percent.
Drawbacks: It would require a lot of equipment. Enforcement would be a challenge. Probably terrible for beginning obstacle course racers, who would probably suffer the worst effects of accumulating penalties—which could turn what should be a joyous experience into a miserable one. It would increase the amount of on-course swearing by, like, 1,200 percent.
The idea: Advancement opportunities
Many sports offer some sort of grading system that participants can advance through, even if they’re not at the elite level. For example, the age group swimming model I grew up with had A, B, and C times for each event for each sex and age group. Swim an A time, and you can go to A-level meets, B times go to B-level meets, and so on.
Benefits: It provides an institutionalized goal to reach for that is achievable for racers who aren’t going to be competing for the podium. Time ratings would provide a way to compare times at different races.
Drawbacks: Developing comparable time standards for different races would be more or less impossible. Maintaining and publicizing standards would be a burden for whoever takes it on. Probably unnecessary for grown-ups, as we should have the ability to form our own goals.
Do you have other ideas? No matter how far-fetched, they’re welcome in the comments.