Barriers to People Trying Obstacle Course Racing (OCR)

Updated: Jan 14

Disclaimer: In addition to my passion for obstacle course racing, I'm also fascinated with behavior change. So much so that I earned a Master's in Science in Health Communication. That's a fancy degree name for understanding behavior change.


As previously discussed, Spartan is coming up with more ways to get people active. But are they really "ripping 100 million people off their coach" or merely providing more race and competition options to already active people?


As I said in my previous post, I appreciate that Spartan is hearing objections and countering those objections with alternate activities. But seeing Spartan's evolution of race offerings has me wondering if they're merely throwing different options to challenge the objectors rather than understanding what is keeping the 100 million people on their couches.


To be clear...getting people active isn't an easy task

Getting people to change their lifestyle is not easy. If it was, there wouldn't be such an industry on getting people to lose weight or get more active. According to the CDC, just under 40% of American adults are obese. Obese! That doesn't even address the percentage that are overweight. That's a lot of people and getting them to change their behavior can feel overwhelming for many of them.


How do you get people moving?

If Spartan can't get 100 million people off their couches with their offerings, what should they do differently? It's a multi-faceted and complex answer, but I'd hypothesize the answer is a combination of these issues:

  • People don't know how to start: Starting a workout program from zero is hard. While you can see results if you stick to it, you need to get over that "oh my gosh I'm so out of breath" hump. While I would encourage anyone to have a goal of running an obstacle course race, I tell everyone that I coach that it's going to take work to get there. But it's still doable.

  • They don't have a support system: Working out can be lonely. Even if you find a great group of people to workout with, if your family and non-gym friends aren't supporting you, it can be hard to stick with it. You could maybe dump these non-supportive family and friends, but that's a different blog post entirely.

  • People are intimidated by the super intense people in the sport: Obstacle course racers can be a different breed (you think, Rachele?). We're really into our sport and there are many people that are quite muscular. That can be intimidating. I find some of them intimidating myself and I can generally hold my own. While many of them are super nice, like any other sport, there are jerks and people who take themselves too seriously. I wish this was less of a barrier because I've seen out of shape people do races and I can see their struggle and I have intense respect for them showing up. But the struggle is still real. That's a mental thing that you need to push through but it's easier said than done at times.

  • And/or they're intimidated by the race itself: When I saw my first Boston Marathon almost twenty years ago, I remember thinking, "if these people can do this, I can do this." People of all shapes and sizes run marathons. People of all shapes and sizes also run obstacle course races. But not everyone has that level of self-efficacy to have that mindset. Unless people think they can do a race, you'll be hard pressed to convince them they can.

  • Races are expensive: Even with coupons and early bird pricing, these races aren't cheap-think $80 minimum. Not everyone has the disposable income to pay for that. And that's just the race--it doesn't factor in the costs associated with the additional fees most of the races tack on like insurance, parking, etc.

  • Burpees are tiring: Spartan prides itself on making you do burpees when you miss an obstacle. This can absolutely be a motivator to work on your fitness and strength the next time through, but it can also be a demotivator. This is one of the reasons I don't always push people to run Spartan races as their first OCR. There are other obstacle racing companies out there that also run really fun events and as an additional bonus, you aren't penalized for skipping or failing obstacles (so no burpees).

  • People might not be ready: This also known as Stages of Change. At the risk of getting too theory-heavy, OCR isn't on everyone's radar. Maybe it will be at some point, but this can take time.

This just scratches the surface, which further drives home my point of the complexity of this topic. Are some of the above bullets excuses? Absolutely. At the end of the day, Spartan could create a race that addresses every single objection and there will be people that won't get off of their couch.


So what could Spartan and other obstacle racing companies do to get people off their couch? I have some ideas that I'll share next time. In the meantime, what else would you add?

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