Web Exclusive - April 2015
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No Obstacle to Success

Races can become highly popular events in the communities that host them. From annual 5ks and Turkey Trots to marathons, fun runs and more, many communities have found that a race event can be a fantastic fundraiser, and serves to bring people together in fun and fitness. But with so many races taking place across the country, how can you stand out? Obstacle course races, adventure racing and other themed events are one alternative.

According to a report titled "Obstacle Race World: The State of the Mud Run Business," by Melissa Rodriguez, nearly 3.4 million people took part in an obstacle course race in 2013, and revenues from registrations from those races reached $290.1 million. In 2014, the number of participants is expected to leap even further—exceeding 4 million. Most obstacle races are developed privately by companies, with 70 percent of the industry's market share claimed by the top organizers—those who put together such well-recognized events as the Spartan Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash.

What is obstacle course racing? According to Atlas Race, obstacle racing is similar to off-road racing, with the difference being obstacles that are added to the course, ranging from military-style challenges like wire crawls and rope climbs to natural terrain obstacles such as mud pits. Most obstacle course races have at least 10 obstacles, the companies says, adding that it provides more "… because most racers agree the obstacles are the best and most memorable part of racing."

According to Running USA, the number of events has grown rapidly from just a handful of mass-participation adventure series in 2009 to more than 35 non-traditional or themed running series that include mud, color, foam, electric, zombie and more by 2013.

"In only a few years, obstacle racing has succeeded in attracting participants of all fitness levels, said Melissa Rodriguez, author of the Obstacle Race World report in a press release. "Leading organizers are helping address inactivity and obesity rates by providing a fun, adventurous and social outlet for physical activity. The future of the mud run business looks bright."

Why are themed races and obstacle events so popular?

For one thing, they attract those with fitness in mind who don't necessarily want to be competitive. These events tend to be more about the social than about serious competition, according to Running USA. Some 60 percent of participants in The Color Run have never run a 5k, the organization reports.

Many of the races are also strongly supported through social media presence—something local race organizers could learn from. Lots of folks taking part in an ordinary 5k will enjoy posting their "finish" on their Facebook or Instagram page and sharing their success with friends—but when that post shows them crossing the finish line covered in mud or paint with a big smile, the event picks up more shares—and more steam, leading to higher levels of registration moving forward.

You can learn a lot more about obstacle races in the industry report, "Obstacle Race World" The State of the Mud Run Business." This report examines the history of these races, their roots in other sports and activities, their growth, and estimates and projections about the market size.

"Obstacle Race World is a must-read for any OCR enthusiast," said Andreas Dietzel, founder of the Viking Race, the biggest obstacle course race in Norway in a press release. "OCR organizers, die-hard racers, sponsors and other fans and followers will see how far this sport has come in such a short time, as well as the opportunities ahead. They'll also get a glimpse of the guts and smarts it took for leaders to cultivate a new niche within the competitive fitness industry."

The report is available at www.obstacleraceworld.com. Be on the lookout for a growing number of such races. Who knows? Maybe your community will host the next big event!