ANGELES ó With macho-sounding names like Tough Mudder, Warrior
Dash and the Spartan Race, obstacle course races have turned
mud, sweat and tears into a flood of revenue.
last year, obstacle races have surpassed marathons in
popularity, with an estimated 1.6 million participants paying
hefty fees to slosh through mud pits, crawl under barbed wire,
scale 10-foot walls and plunge into troughs of ice water. Course
organizers are raking in millions of dollars in the process.
organizers and participants say the adrenaline-pumping races may
have reached a crucial point, with course designers now forced
to dream up new obstacles and themes or risk losing the novelty
that has driven the hugely profitable sport.
are going to have to continue to be creative," said Dave
Iannone, chief executive and co-founder of the Hero Rush, a race
with obstacles designed to mimic the physical challenges of
being a firefighter. "Everyone is trying to find something
of a niche."
crucial challenge because obstacle course races draw as many as
13,000 participants per event, with entry fees of $65 to $180,
plus parking charges. The race distances range from three to 12
miles. But the obstacles are often very similar at many of the
last year or so, a wave of new race organizers have entered the
fray, hosting disorganized events with unchallenging obstacles.
Among the obstacles at the Mud-a-Palooza race in Camarillo,
Calif., last year were plastic hula hoops and Styrofoam cubes.
have started to reach a saturation," said Matt Robinson,
race director at Red Frog Events, a Chicago organizer of
obstacle races, including the Warrior Dash and the Great Urban
Race. "That is why it is important to continue to reinvent
the Warrior Dash.
adrenaline junkies happy, a few races push the danger level to
an extreme. The popular Tough Mudder races direct competitors to
run or crawl under live wires, charged with up to 10,000 volts
of electricity, enough to make you cringe and scream but not
enough to kill you.
organizers declined to disclose their profits, but revenues for
many of the events have surged in the last few years to include
entrance fees, sponsorships and merchandise sales. Advil
recently became the official pain reliever of the Tough Mudder.
Events started with one obstacle race and 2,000 runners in 2009
and plans to expand to 50 races in places around the globe, such
as Queensland, Australia, and Torino, Italy, with more than
600,000 participants by the end of this year. The company
reported about $1 million in revenue in 2009 and approximately
$50 million in 2012.
donít think you could have ever imagined that it would grow as
fast as it did," Robinson said. "People are willing to
pay for such experiences to escape from reality."
hugely successful race organizer, Tough Mudder, began with three
events and 20,000 participants in 2010. Last year, 35 Tough
Mudder races drew more than 460,000 participants. Organizers
plan 52 events in 2013 with as many as 700,000 competitors.
organizers of Tough Mudder say they are on track to collect $100
million in revenue in 2013.
definitely a great return on investment," said Tough Mudder
Chief Culture Officer Alex Patterson.
appeal to athletes and thrill seekers looking for bragging
rights or a new challenge that surpasses the once-popular five-
or 10-kilometer races.
challenging and I love to compete," said Aracely Rodriguez,
25, a Cal State San Luis Obispo graduate student who has
competed in about 15 obstacle races in the last 18 months.
numbers continue to climb but race organizers say they must
continue to push the thrills to new levels by increasing the
distance on some races and adding more difficult obstacles on
organizers of the Spartan Race now host a three-mile Spartan
Sprint, an eight-mile Super Spartan and a 12-mile Spartan Beast.
In some races, competitors who canít complete an obstacle must
endure a penalty, such as a plunge into an ice bath.
organizer of the Rugged Maniac races is pushing the risk factor
even higher by replicating Pamplonaís running of the bulls in
the U.S. The race series, known as the Great Bull Run, drew
12,000 participants who sprinted alongside angry bulls at the
first event in Virginia in August. The bull run will swing
through Southern California in March.
think itís going to be an arms race," said Rob Dickens,
the chief operating officer of Rugged Races, who also founded
the Great Bull Run. "I think people will try to
differentiate the obstacles."
obstacle race trend began a few years ago, organizers said they
couldnít find insurance companies willing to cover such
events. There are no national safety regulations for obstacle
races, but race organizers have appeased the insurance industry
by staffing the races with emergency medical teams. They also
require runners to sign long liability waivers.
obstacles with increased risks are now what drive many
competitors to keep returning to the races.
itís new and not the same old, same old, I like that,"
said Justin Henderson, a systems technician from Chino, who has
completed four obstacle races in the last few months.
organizers must walk a fine line in designing such obstacles.
Avishek Sengupta, 28, drowned at a Tough Mudder race in West
Virginia after jumping from a 15-foot-high Walk the Plank
obstacle to a muddy pit of water below. No one was charged in
the death, which authorities ruled was an accident.
organizers, we take our responsibility to provide a safe event
to our participants very seriously," Will Dean, CEO of
Tough Mudder, said in a statement after the death.
believed to be the fourth death in an obstacle course race since
directors are moving in another direction by reducing the risk
factor to appeal to families.
Events, for example, recently expanded its offerings to include
a beer festival and Illuminite Runs, three-mile nighttime races
with participants who wield neon glow-sticks and dance to the
music from live DJs after the run.
Robinson, events director at Red Frog: "Who knows how long
the mud run fad will go on."