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Spartan Race + Reebok - Hobie Call = ?

Few weeks ago, Spartan Race made a big announcement at the Time Square – it’s joining forces with Reebok. According to the letter, Joe De Sena, Spartan Race Founder and CEO, sent out to the Spartan community, Spartan and Reebok share the same ideals about the future of fitness. Joe promised that the partnership would not change the essence of Spartan Races, but rather allow the Spartan movement and lifestyle to grow.

Of course, given Reebok’s partnership with CrossFit, the connection between CrossFit and Spartan races is now even more real. Reebok seems to be really on the ball, when it comes to scooping up emerging fitness trends with cult-like following.

While many were excited, I couldn’t help but feel that something has been lost… [All the Spartan logos were immediately updated to include the word Reebok, and to be honest… to my eye, it still looks a little awkward.] A certain feel of underground sub-culture can be undermined by public recognition.

And now yet another big announcement went out today in the world of obstacle racing – Hobie Call left Spartan Race and signed an exclusive deal with Extreme Nation. [Listen to the interview here.]

It’s not new that Hobie Call is passionate about obstacle racing becoming an official sport. He has been long promoting shorter distance races with more obstacles. According to Call, both Spartan and Tough Mudder tend to think that longer is better.

Indeed, short distance obstacle races like Warrior Dash are considered to be great for beginners. Many racers would start with a Spartan Sprint, then graduate to Super, and then, eventually Beast and Ultra Beast. Meanwhile, the World’s Toughest Mudder is essentially an ultra marathon with some obstacles thrown in.

Right now, says Call, success in obstacle racing is 80% running and 20% obstacles. He wants to change that ratio to 50-50, and partnering with Extreme Nation is the way he is going to do that.

Extreme Nation promises a 2-mile course with 20+ obstacles on a piece of land over 300 acres somewhere in Michigan. The first event will take place in June 2013, with one event per month after that. Call says they also plan to offer training camps there, as well as getaways and corporate retreats.

For this particular event, team racing is where it’s at, as male or female teams of four will compete for a sizable cashpot. At the end of the event, 56 people will walk out with cash.

Another angle that Extreme Nation is pushing – televising the races. Clearly, watching a 2-mile obstacle race where you can see all the obstacles from the bleachers will be more exciting than watching the Spartan Beast, where an average participant takes 5 hours to complete. I’ve had friends and family come out to some obstacle races, and apart from the first five minutes and the last ten, the event is about as exciting to watch as a road marathon.

However, it seems that this view really shifts the focus from the racer to the observer. And, that, my friends, is a shift in the wrong direction. As if, it was not enough that wrestling, one of the oldest competitive sports, has been dropped from the Olympics, as the committee is trying to “appease to sports fans of all generations”. When did the sport become about those watching it?

Traci Martin from the Extreme Nation, laments that her sister and children could not see her during the Texas Beast. “We couldn’t find you, we couldn’t see you, we don’t know what you experienced…”, they told her.

Of course, you don’t. You have to race in order to experience the race. And even then, your experience will be different from mine.

I, for one, do not give a rat’s gluteus maximus (do rats have those?), if someone sees me get across the monkey bars. It is MY racing experience, not my mom’s, my brother’s, or my best friend’s.

Clearly, lots of things are happening. And many wondered what the heck do these changes mean? For the sport? For racers?

Well, for an average participant, probably not much. However, the recent developments all point to a couple of things:

  • Obstacle racing has been noticed in the athletic world. Reebok is coming out with a whole line of obstacle racing specific apparel in 2013. Obstacle racing has been mentioned in Men’s Fitness, Maxim, Runner’s World and other mainstream(ish) publications. There is definitely a market.

  • Obstacle racing is starting to pay. In 2012, the cash prizes for major Spartan races were measured in thousands of dollars. Few top athletes received cheques with quite a respectable number of zeros. In 2013, the Extreme Nation promises $150,000 in prizes at their first event alone.

  • Obstacle racing will attract more athletes from other disciplines. If you pay them, they will come. That, of course, means that the field will become increasingly more competitive.

2012 was a big year for obstacle racing, as the interest in the sport has exploded, and hundreds of thousands showed up to the start line.

2013 will be a big year as well. So far, it seems that the changes center around standardization and commercialization of the sport.

Who knows what 2014 will bring? With Reebok in, and Call out, the face of the Spartan Race definitely seems to be changing. Let’s hope we do not end up with the picture of Dorian Gray.

I’m staying tuned… SOLO


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