Bodywork

Obstacle Racing Goes Au Naturel

What do you get when you cross three former Navy SEALs, an attorney, degrees from Harvard’s business and Kennedy schools, and passion for the mountains? A brand new breed of eco-friendly obstacle race.

Who needs to create obstacles when the planet provides so many of its own? natural obstacle racing, outside online, navy seals, harvard, mountains, pitches, elevation, camping

Who needs to create obstacles when the planet provides so many of its own?     Photo: Ryan Smith/Flickr

Since its inception, obstacle course racing has been associated with mud and mega obstacles. Think Tough Mudder’s Electroshock Therapy, Spartan Race’s endless barbed wire crawls, and Roc Race’s water slide. The new series O2X is challenging that model.

“We’re creating the intersection between OCR and elite trail running,” says Craig Coffey, one of the O2X Summit Challenge’s four founders (he’s the attorney). Events are point-to-point uphill, and rated and marked according to elevation gain. A Single Diamond course, for instance, will gain 1000 to 2000 feet in 4 to 6 miles, while a Double Diamond will gain 2000 to 3000 feet in 6 to 9 miles, and the monster Triple Diamond will gain 3000+ feet in 9+ miles. Most notably, none of the obstacles will be man-made. 

“We see this as the evolution and the next step of OCR,” Coffey says. “Obstacles are great, but you don’t need to manufacture them. They’re there on the mountain.”

We grilled Coffey about the “natural" obstacle series, which debuts at Sugarbush, Vermont, on September 13. 

OUTSIDE: Are natural obstacles just a convenient way out of having to build and set up expensive obstacles?
COFFEY:
There are so many obstacles and challenges that Mother Nature provides on the mountain—steep terrain, rock outcroppings, glades, fallen trees, rivers. There’s nothing efficient about planning these courses. In a lot of ways it might be easier to go get a set of monkey bars. If you’ve done an OCR in Temecula, then go do the same thing in upstate New York, it’s by and large the same course—the same high wall, the same rope. But when you’re skiing you never say, ‘Well I’ve skied Big Bear, I don’t need to ski Tahoe.’ The mountains are different and every one of our courses is going to be unique to that mountain. It’s certainly a more natural way to go about it. 

There’s a very strong environmental thread running through everything that we do. The owner of Sugarbush hasn’t allowed other players because he’s afraid of how he’s going to put the mountain back together when the circus leaves town. He’s a steward of the mountain, and he let us on it because he feels our race is more authentic and wholesome and natural. There will be no backhoes digging muddy trenches.

Where did the idea for the series come from?
Three of the guys had been Navy Seals, and two of them spent the better part of 12 years in the mountains of Afghanistan. They said the most rewarding part of the physical activity was summiting the different peaks while they were out on operations. One of the guys and I are neighbors and we’ve run six marathons together. It came together one night at his house that this is a race we’d love to do.

[“The guys” include Gabriel Gomez, a Harvard MBA who recently ran for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts; Adam La Reau, a Harvard Kennedy School of Government grad; and Paul McCullough. The company is based in Hingham, Massachusetts.]

Will there be camping?
Yes. There are two different features. There’s overnight camping near the start line the night before your race, if you want to sleep under the stars or bring a tent. There will also be kind of like a runner’s expo before a marathon with nutrition and training talks. We’re sourcing all of our food locally, so there will be a local farmer’s market and local dairy farmers bringing in chocolate milk.

It sounds like the Pikes Peak half marathon meets the Wildflower Triathlon Festival meets Spartan Race. One more question: If you’re just running up, how do you get down?
You take the chairlift!

More obstable racing coverage from Outside

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