“I may die.”This is the stark statement to which entrants must put their name before running the Death Race, held every summer in the Green Mountains of Pittsfield, Vermont, US. The Death Race is particularly gruelling but it’s far from the only event that requires competitors to sign a death waiver. Most big-name events in the upstart sport of obstacle-course racing insist on a similarly morbid release — part legal mumbo-jumbo, part marketing bravado, part daredevil philosophy — before sending athletes over walls of fire, through jungles of electrified wires and into water-filled trenches. Obstacle-course racing, or OCR, is the collective name for these mud-splattered, verging-on-insane events. They’re sold as raucous, extreme challenges, and their rise could be proof that we’re getting bored of running long distances in _ at, straight lines. Muddy hell Figures collected last year suggest that marathon participation might be peaking after a decade of continuous growth, but OCR just keeps getting bigger. In the US, 1.6 million people entered OCR events in 2013, around three times the number who finished a marathon. In the same year in Australia, there were more events offering a chance to climb mud-caked halfpipes and crawl under barbed wire than there were half marathons and marathons combined. From August till the end of this year there are a phenomenal 40 races planned. Given the explosive expansion, it’s time to ask: is obstacle racing safe? Tough Mudder experienced its first on-course fatality when Avishek Sengupta died during an event in West Virginia, US, and in 2011 two competitors died during a Warrior Dash race. OCR has no governing body or code of practice in Australia. And even if they’re safe, are they actually better for you than traditional endurance events, or just more aggressively marketed? Will they make you fittter than running? Or are they just injuries waiting to happen?
Extract from August 2014 issue of Australian Men’s Fitness. On sale now.