On Christmas Day of 2016, a historic event occurred for obstacle course racing. Two end-of-season events for two of the biggest names in OCR were featured as one-hour specials on major broadcast networks. The early afternoon was graced by a special on World’s Toughest Mudder on CBS, while a special on the Spartan Race World Championship was shown on NBC. Both of them featured major names in OCR, like Ryan Atkins and Robert Killian. Both of them were all about the premier compeition. So when these two titans of OCR have their signature events highlighted on the same day, it’s hard for one to ignore the obvious question: Who told it better?
Let’s start with World’s Toughest Mudder on CBS. Viewing this special was more about the people who participate in the event than anything else. There was less talk about the obstacles or the technical aspect of competing in WTM. They featured those competing for the coveted $10,000 prize and those who were shooting for a place in the 100-Mile Club. But it wasn’t just about the hardcore competitors. It was also about those who decided their best needed to be pushed forward. The man with a prosthetic leg who wanted to prove he could do the race. The woman who celebrated her first year free of cancer by shaving her head before taking on the course. This makes sense. Tough Mudder has always been about the people who do the races. This is why they really don’t push competitions during the year. Tough Mudder has never been considered a competition; it’s always been a challenge. So while it’s true the competitors were highly featured during the broadcast, it was definitely about more than just the competitors.
The Spartan Race World Championship on NBC seemed to abandon the formula that was used over the summer with the Spartan Team Challenge mini-series over the summer. The summer series was about the people; the World Championship was all about the sport. They focused more on the competition, even giving obstacle breakdowns and focusing on the elite athletes and big names (such as NFL great Randy Moss, who entered the Beast that weekend with the intent of finishing his Trifecta). Throw in a commentator and epic music and you’ve got a serious athetlic event happening here. This makes sense since even CEO and Founder Joe DeSena has spoken highly about the athletic prowess of the OCR sport. He’s talked about wanting to see Spartan Race in the Olympics one day. With that in mind, this broadcast already had the marks of a high-level sport when it came to sponsorships. Obviously, we know about Reebok, but there was also Marriott, Beet Elite, and more. (Before anyone says anything, yes, WTM had multiple sponsors too, but there were far less commercials for those sponsors during WTM’s broadcast versus Spartan Race’s.) Let’s also be fair: this is not a knock on having sponsorship. It’s a smart business move. It’s just an interesting note.
So, now comes the epic question…who told it better? Truthfully, and this might be the most anticlimatic response you could get, but I thought they both did it well. The world of OCR is made up of two very distinct worlds: the sport itself and the people who participate. Tough Mudder has always been about focusing on the people who participate because they want the diversity of the people to be clear. Spartan Race has been pushing hard (successfully) to advance the sport of obstacle course racing. Both of these names are the biggest names in the sport because they hit on the most important aspects of what makes OCR great. And it was incredibly exciting to see this sport highlighted on such a big stage on Christmas Day. Truly a great present for OCR enthusiasts all over!