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Why Local OCR's/Mud Runs Are Important, And Some Reasons Why They Fail

This may not be rocket science to you all, but maybe some readers haven't spent time thinking about these things, so here we are. The fact is that there is an enormous number of small/local obstacle course races/mud runs that happen around the world every year. In the USA, there are dozens and dozens. I don't have exact stats, but I personally have a list of over 80, and I know my list is FAR from complete. (For those interested, here is my list of Small/Local OCR's I put together in January this year)

First we need to talk about a few reasons WHY the local OCR's are important:

1: Price: Local OCR's are generally under $100.00. MANY of them are in the $50 - $80 range - obviously it's race dependent. If you get an early bird special, I've seen tickets as low as $35.00.

2: INOVATION!!! While adding new obstacles to large brands can cost a fortune, it's not nearly as pricey to create a new obstacle for a single event. This, along with strong imaginations by race directors/staff results in a lot of innovative and creative obstacles - something the sport absolutely needs! Doing the same obstacles over and over begins to lose it's charm after the hundredth time.

3: Community: If you are attending a small OCR in your community, odds are that you will interact with many people from around your community. This is an awesome opportunity to get to know other athletes with similar interests. Maybe you'll find a group to train with, or find out someone who lives three doors down (excuse the band reference) who also loves OCR. The community comes together for a fun challenge, and that's important!

4: Supporting A Good Cause: MANY of the small OCR's (still sometimes referred to as Mud Runs) are held to raise money for important causes. I participate in several local OCR's each year, and almost all of them are raising support for a cause, local parks, or something of the sort. Don't get me wrong, I am ALL for a small OCR company being for profit and creating a fun event, but knowing that you are supporting a cause that's important to you is a strong bonus.

Now we need to talk about some reasons why we see small/local OCR's fail.

1: Not enough participants. Every race costs SOMETHING to host. If the number of participants doesn't create enough revenue to off-set the cost of hosting the event, the event will go under eventually.

2: Quality issues. I have yet to attend a small OCR that had any real issues. No broken or unsafe obstacles - no life threatening injuries (that I know of), no debacles at the finish line for the competitive waves...With that being said, if the event is not a quality event, and the people within the community see a lack of quality and talk about it, the event is likely to die. With a Spartan Race, athletes travel from hundreds of miles away. With a local OCR, most athletes are coming from the community. If you put on a bad event, that community won't come back.


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3: Expanding too quickly/spending too much money too soon. The legend of Battle Frog remains 7+ years after its demise. Yes, Battle Frog was a large race company, but the lesson is the same. If you spend a lot of money on an event with new obstacles, the highest-end gear, etc. and you can't recoup the money, the event will go under. This is similar to point 1 above, but in this case you created a scenario where you spent so much money that you couldn't realistically earn it back.

4: Too many events. If you are able to host a local OCR and 300+ people come out and attend, that's a big success! If you host that race another time within that year, you might expect 2 events with 300 participants each...but it (unfortunately) doesn't always work that way. Many people will choose one of the two events. Sure, you might get another 100 participants (totaling 400 for the year), but now your total attendance is 400 for 2 events (2 events costs twice as much money to host) instead of 1 event that crushes it with 300. Can a company make it work? Of course, but if it doesn't work, money starts to drain out the bottom.

5: Big-name OCR's take away business. If you host a race in July in Eastern Pennsylvania, you MIGHT struggle with attendance because Spartan Race hosts their Palmerton race there every year - and it's a very well-known Spartan Race. Navigating when to host the race may very well be your biggest challenge. The more competitors that are around, statistically, the more you will struggle getting ticket sales.

I have huge respect for race directors and staff at local OCR's who put together a fun, quality event year after year. Even without ever helping run an OCR, I know it's an ENORMOUS amount of work. I personally participate in local OCRs whenever possible to 1: Experience new obstacles, 2: Support well-run local events, and 3: Get to know more people in the sport. I highly recommend trying any local OCR's you can attend. You may be disappointed once in a blue moon, but I've been disappointed by Spartan Race more than once, and this will cost you less. Odds are, you'll have a blast!

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