Over the course of the past decade, obstacle course races have blown up in popularity. According to Running USA, the number of participants tripled between the years 2011 and 2013, going from one million to three million. And now the major races, like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder, are focusing on increasing and diversifying their revenue streams in 2017 and beyond. Gritty, dirty, and a bit animalistic, weekend warriors and elite competitors gather by the thousands around the country (and globe) to brave rough terrains and obstacles designed by some of the most athletically inclined sadists in the universe.
What makes OCRs socially unique is the close-knit camaraderie that is woven into the sport’s fabric. Although the spirit of competition runs deep (and leaves you covered in dirt), it’s more about taking care of your fellow racers than showing them up.
“My first OCR was probably my favorite,” says Hunter McIntyre, the 2014 Toughest Mudder champion (an eight-hour overnight OCR excursion) and a two-time champion on Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Ranch. “I had been living in the gym and training like a bodybuilder, and when I got out there and tried it for the first time, I stripped off my pants, took off my T-shirt, and was standing there in my underwear. I was kind of a wild man.”
The shared challenge, perceived danger, and fun obstacles are just a few factors that have led to OCRs’ growth. While the U.K.’s Tough Guy race (commencing in 1987) is often credited as the first modern-era OCR, Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, and Spartan Race—the most popular races held Stateside—all launched within two years of one another (2009 for Warrior Dash, 2010 for the other two) and have put on thousands of events for millions of racers in less than a decade.
More than 2,000 OCRs are held every year, so to make it easy to find the one for you, we’ve selected five you should consider, based on your fitness level.