Not yet, but it’s getting there. Based on the recent announcement that NBC Sports Network is going to tape the Spartan Race World Championship, you might think so. All the same, how many times have you had to explain what obstacle course racing actually is? “You’ve heard of the Spartan Race? Or Tough Mudder?” usually does the trick, at least to a certain demographic. Last week, I noticed two examples of where what we do has bled into the broader consciousness. First, I saw this billboard:
Shirtless guy flipping a truck tire – that says OCR, right? Because when else would you see that? Maybe it’s shorthand for CrossFit, but I think OCR is a safer bet. The sign was in a highly visible location on Union Square in New York. If a national chain like Vitamin Shoppe thinks that OCR is a way to sell product, that’s a good sign.
Next, I saw this commercial:
It was in heavy rotation during Shark Week. Note the footage of guys jumping into a pit of muddy water and climbing up a cargo net (all while singing the virtues of lite beer). If a brand like Miller thinks that an obstacle that you might see at a Spartan Race is a good way to telegraph “fit outdoor lifestyle”, that is also an indicator that OCR is becoming more mainstream. It means that at least one arbiter of what is generally understandable is convinced that enough people have seen enough Facebook pictures of their friends at a Warrior Dash to know what is going on in that scene.
[As an aside, I can’t help but point out the less-than-healthy gender roles being portrayed in both of these examples. On the billboard, the man performs feats of strength, while the woman does… yoga. In the commercial, the men race and play handball, while the women are chased by a trainer who… rides a golf cart and shouts at them through a megaphone? Really, ad agencies? Is that how you see athletic women? You can do better].
But have obstacle course races hit the mainstream? Not yet. I also participate in triathlons, along with millions of other Americans, but it was only this year that I saw a triathlon worked in as a plot point on a television show (Fox’s The Mindy Project. Yes, I have eclectic taste in television. What’s your point?). Triathlons have been booming for about a decade longer than obstacle course races, and it was only this year that TV writers have been able to expect that viewers would understand them enough for them to work as a background. When we see a character from, say Two and a Half Men, signing up for a Tough Mudder, then we will know that we’ve made it. Because I just can’t see the cast of Big Bang Theory in a Spartan Race, even if it would be comedy gold.