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What Hobie Call Taught Us About Going Pro

Hobie Call is retired. Hobie Call is not retired.

With all the excitement around the issue, it's easy to miss a more important underlying message:

You can't make money as an obstacle racer.

At least not yet. At least not if you have dependents.

As it stands today, obstacle racing as a way to support one's livelihood remains the path for the young and the single.

Think Hobie Call and Matt Novakovich vs. Isaiah Vidal and Hunter McIntyre.

If you are an engineer, a lawyer, or a brick layer who just happens to be crazy fast, you can put a nice bonus cheque in your pocket once in a while.

Yet obstacle racing is still a far cry from giving athletes a way to earn sustainable income. Sustainable being the key word here.

"Whoa, $1,000 for an hour racing? Not a bad paycheque!", you may think. Yet the cash payouts are either feast or famine.


The variability of racing field. Imagine if getting paid depended on who showed up to work on any given day.

Lack of standardization in obstacles. If you carry a 60lb log up the mountain, while your direct competition carries a 40lb log up the mountain - no paycheque for you.

Seasonality of the sport. The racing season in Canada is between May and September. That leaves seven months out of each twelve to either sit at home, or seek out racing opportunities elsewhere (which means travel). Ask any racer with a claim to podium, and they will tell you that travel costs are the hardest to cover.

Lack of notice. Some race series are notorious for last minute... well, everything. I have received pre-race briefs with racing rules as late as Thursday for a Saturday race. Try planning your race schedule for the year as an elite racer, who needs to make a living.

Bankrupt race series. Speaking of travel costs - imagine travelling to a race and making podium, only to discover that the entire race series goes bankrupt few weeks later, and fails to pay up. Don't forget the opportunity cost of not racing at another event.

Implications of cheating. You may reconsider your live-and-let-live stance on cheating, if your grocery budget is on the line.

For the most part the benefits elite racers receive are indirect - word of mouth, (questionable) social media fame, potential for sponsorship. Unfortunately, you can't eat shoes.

And... can you perform at the same level when your livelihood depends on it?

Going pro can mean decreased motivation and decreased performance.

Say what?

Let's turn to research.

1. decreased motivation

When we do something, there are usually two types of motivation involved: intrinsic - enjoyment of the activity itself, and extrinsic - reward for engaging in an activity. Overjustification effect occurs when receiving a reward for something you have been engaging in for its own sake decreases your intrinsic motivation to perform that same task.

In the classic study, when kids were promised a reward for drawing - an activity they engaged in already - they noticeably lost interest and later spent significantly less time drawing.

2. decreased performance

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, going pro means more time for training, and more time for rest and recovery. And many athletes indeed get better and faster. However, the opposite may occur also - the overjustification effect in professional sports suggests an explanation for why the performance of many athletes has decreased after signing a big bucks professional contract. If you are into American football, you may remember the name Albert Haynesworth, aka the worst free agent signing in NFL history.

Perhaps, one day the Spartan Race will start paying the Pro Team athletes a salary, racers will start doing their damn burpees, and all race series will live long and prosper.

Until then:

Go to school. Don't quit your day job.

Liked this post? Check out my list of 50 most inspirational women in obstacle racing and the discussion on what makes you elite.

Hugs, SOLO


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