The Obstacle Race phenomenon

Posted in Dishing the Dirt by Matt Ward on Fri 13 Jan '12


There’s a new fitness phenomenon sweeping the world at the moment, which combines trail and cross country running with military style obstacle courses. Think swimming across freezing cold water, squelching your way through a mud swamp, climbing over a 10 foot wall…

… sliding down a water chute, running through fire, crawling under a cargo net or barbed wire whilst completing a run under a timed watch. Welcome to obstacle races!

Rob from Muddy Race writes

The new craze is predominantly coming from the US with big event brands such as Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash and Muddy Buddy hosting large events – back in August 5,000 people turned up for the Spartan Beast, a 12 mile run with 12 obstacles. Its growth has been huge over the last 2 years with the most popular Tough Mudder (founded by two English Harvard attendees plus have over 1 million Facebook friends) and now with 50 events planned across the globe.

Tough Mudder in particular list on their website ‘we aim to replace Ironman as the preeminent brand in endurance sports’ with their ‘Toughest Mudder’ 24 hour races, which happened in December, and featured 40 obstacles over their 8 mile course with only 12 people finishing out of 1,000.


The origins of obstacle races can be backdated to the Tough Guy challenge in England and Camp Pendleton Mud Run in the US in the early 1990s, in which participants battled their way through numerous obstacles but with little race emphasis. Over 5,000 people turned up in 2011 for the Tough Guy challenge this year alone.

Nobody knows if they will be a fad or they will mature like Triathlons, but it seems they are probably more accessible due to the lack of technical ability and more ‘fun’ atmosphere whereby time’s aren’t so much the focus as your usual 10km run, more getting round in one piece and the added ‘danger factor’.

But why do people love them so much? They definitely have their broader appeal than other recent new sports such as Triathlon, with the low expense, novelty appeal, tapping into the groups market and the army like feel to the events. Although there is a competitive edge to the races (although Tough Mudder don’t individually time) it is also perfectly fine to turn and just have a go, which also broadens the races appeal.

Add in the fact that they’re more fun than running in straight lines and all you need is a good pair of trail runners and you’re in. They also build on the new CrossFit type of fitness regimes that have become popular across the globe, whereby lots of different type of sports and exercises are encouraged to give you a full total body workout.

So what races do you go for? Despite the popularity in the US, the UK already has a pretty good race diary and has actually been doing these for a few years but on a smaller scale. There are different scale of events too with some really extreme.

Here’s some homegrown UK events:

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest series – run by Rat Race event organisers it is obstacle racing on a big scale, well organised and under the £50 mark. With events in London, Nottingham, Cardiff and Edinburgh it’s easily accessible.
AAA adventure series – this series boast 4 events throughout the year in the midlands with good value racing, lots of tough obstacles including water slides and assault courses.

Total Warrior – set in the pretty but gruelling Lake District with over 20 obstacles, which includes 10 mile and 10km options.

Mucky Races – a smaller event but great value at £22 with 4 events planned for 2012 and great introduction to obstacle races.

Major Series – run by British Military Fitness with races in the south, midlands and north of the UK.

And some events from the US coming over to the UK:

Tough Mudder – with 3 events planned for 2012 in Edinburgh, Cheshire and Kettering.

Spartan Race – 6 events planned for 2012 in London, Birmingham, Yorkshire, Edinburgh, Cambridge. There are 2 in London with one being a Spartan Beast which is 10-12 miles long. The others are fairly mild at 5km.

Find your next or first obstacle race at Muddy Race which is dedicated to obstacle races with race listings, interviews and training tips.

Reactions so far
  1. Tony Mollica Jan 14, 01:05 AM

    I have no interest in running any of these made up obstacle races. I get plenty of obstacles and mud when running trails!

    I am not judging anyone who chooses to run those kind off races. I am just personally not interested. If they inspire somebody who is not active to become active, or inspire someone to become more active, then that is a good thing.

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