Obstacle Course Market & Participation. Data Sources: Outside Magazine, Runner’s World, Los Angeles Times
2013 was a huge year for challenging and athletic, obstacle course events in the U.S.. All indications suggest that 2014 will continue to see dramatic growth. We’re still waiting for stats on 2013, but in 2012, over 1.5 million people competed in 150 events organized by the three largest event organizers. For comparison, only 551,811 people finished the 570 U.S. marathons organized in 2011. The obstacle course market, often labeled as a type of adventure racing, is now officially huge.
With the exception of a few smaller events, obstacle course style competitions were practically non-existent three or four years ago. And the competition for participalnts between the three big companies in the United States, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race and Tough Mudder has been fierce, ruthless and downright dirty. Scott Keneally documented the bout to be the industry’s top obstacle course company in his investigative story, Playing Dirty, delving deep into an evolving international drama, ripe with colorful characters about the competition amongst competitions.
While Warrior Dash, Spartan Race and Tough Mudder pretty much own the US market, Tough Guy claims to have held the first official, and toughest obstacle course race in the world, back in 1987. That race is still held several times a year, on the last Saturday each January in Perton, Staffordshire, UK and again in the spring and summer. The winter event requires competitors to compete in freezing temperatures and also face off against ice and snow with a tagline of “The only course In the world designed to remove your Bravado – Courage and give it to the girl behind you!”
Millions of dollars are being invested into this growing industry and no one really knows who will come out on top or how big the market can get. One thing seems certain though and that is; the obstacle course style of adventure racing is likely to stick around for a while. Looking for a new challenge? If you live within a few hours of a major city, there’s probably an event near you, if not, consider starting your own event. Or, if you happen to be in the UK this month, check out the Tough Guy.