All over the country, quiet lush fields and fells are being turned into torture chambers of physical and mental gruel as thousands of innocent runners race for their lives with the huge boom in popularity of the now infamous ‘obstacle race’.
But just how did the once leisurely pursuit of a gentle jog through the countryside become such a monster of a marathon?
Maybe it’s in part due to the trend of the military style boot camp training sessions that seem to have sprung up in every park across the country. We no longer see people strolling along with their dogs for a peaceful Sunday morning stroll. You are more likely to be forgiven for thinking that National Service has been re-introduced as a group of tortured looking souls in camo trousers and trainers are being shouted at by a very loud and large man possibly carrying a cane, definitely wearing a beret!!
Or maybe people are simply bored of the monotony of going to the same gym week after week? Maybe it’s the cost of the membership and personal training that has driven folks to the hills for their weekly constitutionals? Outside in the elements you can run free, and it feels great!
Exercise has come an awful long way since the days when star jumping to Olivier Newton John once a week was considered active. With thousands of internet sites giving us oodles of info on the latest techniques, tools and equipment we can get out there and be our own PT’s for free.
So now we know what we are doing without the aid of Mr Motivator’s sound advice every morning at 8.30am, we can build our own training plans to incorporate all the varieties of exercise combined to achieve levels of peak fitness and have some fun in the sun to boot (camp!)
Perhaps that’s why there were more than 850 triathlon events in the UK last year, almost 100 more than the previous year so we know events of this nature are increasing in popularity.
The obstacle race phenomenon seems to have come out of nowhere like a silent beast creeping up from behind to scare the wind out of you, but actually this type of race has been around for a few years now. You have probably heard of ‘Tough Guy’ and if you haven’t then let me reassure you that the name speaks for itself. This originator of challenging obstacle races started their awesome reputation over 20 years ago and now has over 5000 entrants every event. People actually paying to jump through fire, wade through ice, crawl through barbed wire and broken glass, getting muddy in watery tunnels and electrocuted by hanging wires before crossing the finish line and finally getting a lift home in an ambulance, can you believe it? Yes, it’s SO MUCH FUN!!!
One such event based in the East Midlands is the X-Runner series of cross country obstacle races by aaa-adventure. Director Steve Walker says ‘Tough Guy is the original and it’s certainly tough, I’m not sure I could do that one but that’s why we have structured our events slightly differently. There is a hugely wide demographic of people that want to experience this type of event but would not entertain some of the perils of Tough Guy. So we make our 5k & 10k more interesting and challenging in other ways. We have more obstacles than any other race of this nature, usually around 50 interspersed at carefully chosen points on the course. Our obstacles are designed by ex-forces to push every part of your fitness but not be impossible to embark. One of our main features is the water slides; we always include as much water as we can in the course and always a big slide into it just for the sheer fun factor. Our events are designed to be the ultimate adult adventure playground. The course is always a 5k which you do twice with a double or quit strategy, and a lot of people who think themselves not so fit proclaim to do just the first lap, however they always go round again because they enjoyed it so much and that’s what it’s all about to us!”
On completion of the notorious Wild Warrior race, X-Runners agreed “Brilliant, better than any run we’ve ever done before. We ran our first marathon this year but this was just so much more fun!”
So looking into this in more detail, I think that the answer is ‘fun’ these extreme races are simply too much like fun not to try. With the stresses and responsibilities of everyday life weighing heavy on your shoulders during the working week, shrug off your suit, put on your pumps and run around the trees splashing in muddy puddles. Climb things you wouldn’t normally but are secretly dying to, jump over rivers just because you can and squeal your way down the water slide in the ultimate adult adventure playground – go on, release your inner child..