Top 5 Disappointing Obstacles at Many Races



Here’s a scenario many obstacle racers have faced at one time or another… 

You’ve come across the advertisement for what promises to be THE MOST INSANELY DIFFICULT, REALLY TOUGH OBSTACLE RACE IN THE HISTORY OF… EVER!!! You plunk down your hard earned cash for a spot in the elite heat. You travel to the race, pay $10-20 to park, and make your way to the start. The corral announcer gets the crowd pumped up with a mixture of inspiring chants, boot camp slogans, and OCR humor. You and 200-300 other runners are chomping at the bit until the horn finally blows, signaling the start of the race. Your adrenaline pumping, you sprint up the first steep hill to get ahead of masses, smiling inwardly in anticipation of the difficulties to come, and that first challenge. You round a corner and… 

REALLY?! This is meant to be one of the WORLD’S TOUGHEST OBSTACLES?!

Ok, so not every race is meant to be a herculean challenge, and not every obstacle can be spectacular. Still, it is not uncommon to see certain obstacles put into races that seem like they are there as filler. Here is a short list of some we have seen a number of times at different races, and based on feedback from other racers, are not that uncommon. 

1) Slip and Slide

 Mixed feedback on this one. If done right you can get up enough speed to hit the mud/water/dirt at the bottom hard enough to send you tumbling. In fact, we’ve seen some fairly significant injuries on these. And it can be pretty fun if you are sliding down the hard ground on a rubber sheet that is 50 feet long.  On the other hand, this type of obstacle can be problematic in a few ways:

  • they are often shut down early in the day because the bottom area is deemed unsafe
  • short slides on a tarp into a puddle
  • three words – bouncy castle slides
We understand they slid to an untimely and very messy demise.
We understand they slid to an untimely and very messy demise.

2) The (Not so) Heavy Object Carry

 This is most often seen where the race intent is come across as tough, but it seems they do not want to discourage the average non-competitive racer. Perhaps some small logs, or 20lb bags of sand are carried for a couple hundred yards. Once again, this relates more to an expectation of difficulty that is set up in the race branding and promo material. 

Great American Wife Carry
Um… it depends?

3) Scary Fire Jump 

Yes, we get that the insurance underwriters for the race organizers probably do not want the racers jumping through walls of flame 6 feet high (though that does sound like fun!), but come on, really? A few charred logs that may or may not still be on actual fire?  

(Not So) Scary Fire Jump
Scary Fire Jump is Scary

4) The (Not so) Barbed Wire Crawl

 How about an obstacle that is billed as a “Barbed Wire Crawl” but is instead a bunch of lengths of shock-cord strung between trees. Not dangerous, but definitely annoying, and not even the danger of a scratch. Where’s the fun in that? After all, skin grows back. 

Not this kind of shock cord…

5)  Small Wall Climb 

The 7-10 foot walls are not our favorites, to be honest. They can be tough. Especially towards the end of a 15-20k obstacle race, and they are a legitimate challenge for most people. So what about 4 foot walls? Sure they most certainly present a significant obstacle to your garden variety garden gnome (or bunny), but I think your average obstacle racer does not fund them much of a challenge. Another “provide the illusion of challenge” type obstacle. 

You will never be as awesome as Curly Jo the OCR bunny.
(Photo courtesy of

So that is one take.  Sometimes we get the sense that these are included to check a box, to add an extra item to the list of obstacles because they sound cool.  But marketing hype does not always life up to reality. What are your obstacle pet peeves? 



  1. Hard Charge. Thats a problem. Albeit, I’ve only watched one race video (completely through), but the ‘obstacles’ they had were hardly challenging and the race pace on a mostly flat terrain was a heralded “six and half minute per mile pace and they are going at it”. I can do that. Of all the obstacles, I only saw one you can fail (monkey bars over water) and if you failed it, you got back up and got to try it again. Geez. Watch a few events. Let me know what you think.

    Mike The Baconator Bacon

  2. Of course, the reverse can be true of the fire leap too. I shot the fire leap at Rugged Maniac for seven hours. I wanted great photos so I kept egging the firefighters to stoke the flames. I heard people on the fourth row of fire say to their friends: “Damn, I think I burned the hair on my legs off!!!” I could feel the heat and I was nowhere near as close as they were. Now THAT’S an obstacle! I smelled like an old wood-burning fireplace for several days.

    Of course, I’ve also seen them use Duralogs with nothing more than white smoke to throw the auto-focus on my camera off and looks crappy. LoL

  3. We agree! Come check out The ORTC course at Shale Hill Adventure in Benson Vermont! This fixed location course is open for training and racing, so you can actually practice and hone your skills! We offer some of the smaller obstacles for people to get there feet wet, but when you have 50 obstacles in 5 miles you can do that without anyone getting bored!

  4. That’s a great picture, Bob! Good idea on encouraging the firefighters. I’ve known a few, and they are often secret pyros, so probably not all that difficult to do. 🙂

  5. Anything that is an air filled (blown-up) obstacle is stupid and a waste of time. We are not 5. A vertical free hanging rope covered with wet slimy mud is impossible unless you put knots all the way up it.

  6. I would have to agree. I have done quite a few races where they claim 10 (12) (15) obstacles, and while you are running, you run over a smoking log (literally just one), run up a hill or climb a fence. By the end, everyone around is complaining “those better not have been counted in their number as obstacles!” And, of course, you round the corner to the finish line, and you, indeed, see no more obstacles, and you are instantly disgruntled for spending money to run a glorified trail run. I get that a lot of these smaller races are done for the local communities, and in order to make profit (or make end’s meet), the races resort to low scale or “free” obstacles. Nonetheless, if that’s the case, don’t advertise as the “Baddest Obstacles Course Ever” because it isn’t true….you are just lying.

  7. I personally hate the shock cords and wont do another tough mudder because of them. They aren’t difficult and hurt for absolutely no reason at all. Then you have all of the idiot non-participants booing and heckling anyone who is trying to avoid getting shocked.

  8. Thought about it and I have a #6! Obstacles that make pointless uses of tires: go around the tires, go over the tires, step in the tires, tire carry, and such are unchallenging. Tractor tire flips or tire drags on pavement are okay if they are well enforced (some runners tend to cheat if they don’t do correct number of flips for flipping or carry the tires when they are supposed to drag them).


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