For years when people referred to the “big three” in obstacle racing, it was clear that they were talking about Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and Warrior Dash. Those three races made quite a name for themselves early on and continued to grow and become more and more popular as the years went by. If you were talking to someone at work or in a Starbucks and you mentioned one of these events, chances are either the person you were talking to or someone else in the vicinity had heard of it before. Even now, when referring to obstacle racing, I frequently hear people say, “Oh, like those Tough Mudder thingys?” (It pains me when people refer to obstacle events as “thingys” but there you have it).
However, lately I’ve been feeling a shift in the OCR world, if you will. The big players no longer seem to be the be all and end all of obstacle racing. New races have come on the scene, older races have continued to evolve and make improvements and still some other events have gone south and grown a bit stale. While I still run and love a variety of OCR, I believe there are several other events that need to be mentioned as major players in the OCR circuit. Most importantly, however, are categories of events within the Big Three.
First you have the 5k OCR event like Warrior Dash. While Warrior Dash first appeared on the scene in 2009, their inaugural event bringing in 2,000 participants, they have since grown to over 50 locations nationwide, complete with a national championship race in 2014 that has since gone on to merge with OCR World Championships after only one season. As far as Warrior Dash is concerned though, I think they’ve lost their edge, and it’s only a matter of time before an event such as Rugged Maniac takes over their spot in the big three. The reason behind me saying this is that many have said Warrior Dash isn’t really even trying to create good events anymore- and for good reason. Although I chose their event for my first taste of a competitive wave, I have to admit I did it because I thought it would be probably the easiest course I could compete on. At my first Warrior Dash this year, they had only 10 obstacles over the 3.1 miles, compared to Rugged Maniac’s 25 obstacles over the same distance (that’s an average of 3.2 obstacles per mile vs. 8 obstacles per mile). Rugged is also constantly making attempts to improve- I’ve run them two years in a row and found them to be better organized the second year, with new obstacles and better overall communication.
In the second category, you have the serious competitor OCR event. While I would still say that Spartan Race takes the cake on this one, Battlefrog is making a serious go at becoming national competition for Spartan Race. What Spartan Race has that Battlefrog does not is better communication, more refined and organized events, and more successful events nationwide and even internationally. However, Battlefrog makes a serious case as they have begun hosting regional championship events and had their first overall championship event last year, which was a great success. While not quite as big of a player yet, if Battlefrog works out some of their behind the scenes issues, I see them becoming a major contender for Spartan Race.
Tough Mudder really has no competition when it comes to other events- they aren’t a timed event, so they can’t be compared to the other timed and competitive races out there. In fact they advertise that they are ‘not a race but a challenge.’ They also have pretty much the best obstacles in the business and are constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to make Mudders leap out of their comfort zones by adding something new every season. That being said there is definitely room for a third competitive race as a top event.
So here you have so far:
-Tough MudderWho do you think the #BigThree are in #obstacleracing? Will @savagerace , @battlefrogseries or… Click To Tweet
If we were to add an up and coming event to the top echelon of OCR’s, I would say Savage Race is very close to taking that spot. They’ve consistently added new obstacles since I ran my first Savage Race a year ago- not a single race has gone by without them changing something on the course, even though it’s the same venue, which some racers can find boring after a while. Savage, however, keeps things exciting by revamping obstacles and adding new ones, changing the course direction and placement of the obstacles and continuing to hold quality events with what is arguably the best customer service in the business. I can honestly say no company has been easier to work with than Savage Race. Their staff are friendly and engaged with the racers, and you can always see them circling the courses, making sure everyone is having a good time and enjoying the obstacles. The one thing that holds them back from becoming a serious contender with the likes of Spartan Race and Battlefrog is the fact that they have kept themselves largely on the East Coast and Midwest so far without expanding. While Savage no doubt has a business plan that’s working well for them as they continue to pull in thousands of racers at each event, if they want to become a national contender, adding some additional venues would be crucial.
Some other possible up and coming events that are expanding are Terrain Race and Bonefrog Challenge, coming in from the West and Northeast, respectively. While I haven’t yet completed either one of these events, the reviews I’ve heard from Terrain Race were average, with many stating that the race was enjoyable but they wouldn’t be incentivized to travel out of state or far away for it. Bonefrog, however, has received glowing reviews from anyone who’s done one (and lived to tell the tale 😉 ). According to the competitors so far, Bonefrog was one of the most challenging events they’d taken part in. I’ll get a chance to see for myself come September, when they hit Wildwood for their Florida course, so after that I’ll have a better idea of how much of a potential contender they could become. One thing I do like that I’ve seen so far is that Bonefrog isn’t trying to expand too fast or get bigger than their capabilities- they’ve limited their current expansion to major cities along the East Coast, including the Carolinas, Atlanta, Atlantic City and Orlando.
With Tough Mudder being in it’s own category, I’d say the next Big Three would be Rugged Maniac, Spartan Race and either Battlefrog or Savage– whichever one proves to be more of a contender. This will be entirely dependent on the success of Battlefrog’s season this year, as they have added a huge expansion in the number of venues. If they do well this season, they will easily make a national name for themselves as a top competitive event. However, with the excellent customer service and high quality events Savage Race has been putting on, it’s hard to see them staying in the middle ground. Only time will tell!
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What are your thoughts on the Big Three in obstacle racing? Would you stick with the originals, or do you feel some of the up and coming events have a shot? What event is your favorite?