Level Up Your Running with Obstacle Course Races

Running is and always has been its own challenge.  While your body initially wants you to slow down or stop, after a while it gets the message that you’re going to keep going and before too long, you can start to enjoy the endorphins that your body drops in to counteract the pain: this is when running can feel good.  For many that’s good enough and checks that exercise box.  For those who need more, there are obstacle course races.

Tough Mudder

Before the other obstacle races came around, Tough Mudder was there, advertising itself as “probably the toughest event on the planet.”  They pride themselves on not being focused on times, so there are no clocks and there is famously beer at the finish line.  While they didn’t start with three categories, they adapted to trends from competing races and now have the Full (10 miles), Half (5 miles), and 5k versions of the event.  There are obstacles throughout the race that must be navigated by a team, so even if you start the race alone, you’re likely to join up with a team along the way.  They’ve also more recently introduced competitive versions of their 10 mile events as well as a 24 hour endurance competition.

Spartan Races

Spartan Races have more races in more countries than any other obstacle course company.  They offer:

  • “Sprint” which is 3-5 miles with 20 obstacles
  • “Super” which is 8-10 miles with 25 obstacles
  • “Beast” which is 12-14 miles with 32 obstacles

What do some of those obstacles look like?  Crawling under barbed wire.  Climbing up ropes.  Scaling walls.  Fail an obstacle?  That’s okay.  You get to do 30 burpees to make up for it.  Spartan is also known for its “multi-rig” which is a series of hanging objects set on a metal frame that you have to use to traverse an area without touching the ground.  The first heats of any race are for cash and prizes, whereas the later competitors, as with Tough Mudder, are focusing on finishing, not on setting records.


GORUCK was developed from special forces training and ups the ante by putting a pack on your back weighing between 20 and 30 pounds (depending on your own body weight).  Then you get to carry that weight with you all the way to the finish line.  In what you might see as a trend, there are three levels: light, tough, and heavy.  They very much emphasize two things: that there is no race involved, and that there are no individuals participating.

A special forces veteran will lead your class from start to finish, with the goal of helping you learn your limits, and then going one step beyond them.  At the end of any GORUCK event you can earn a 2×3 patch to commemorate your achievement.  All of these companies are also in the apparel and gear business, but GORUCK perhaps a little more so than the rest.


Have you competed in any of these obstacle course races?  If so, share your experience with us below.  If not, tell us which one of these interests you most and why.

Photo by Marc Rafanell López on Unsplash

28520cookie-checkLevel Up Your Running with Obstacle Course Races

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