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3 min read

Obstacle Difficulty: What is the Right Level Of Hard For OCR Races?

Obstacle Difficulty vs. obstacle proficiency

As I enter my 7th year racing Obstacle Course Racing (OCR), I’ve found most people’s answer comes down to this: I want the obstacles to be hard enough that I’m challenged but still get through, while everyone who isn’t as good on obstacles as me, can’t get through.

Or in other words, people are the happiest when the obstacle difficulty is as close to their obstacle proficiency as possible without exceeding it.  

As we discussed previously, the tricky part is that the most passionate and most vocal group (the readers of this website) still only make up about around 3-14% of the entire OCR business.

Sure we are the most dedicated and most experienced. We are even the population that puts the most into the sport (time, money and effort). However, we are still a small percentage of the total population that keeps this sport as a sustainable business.  

Man swinging through metal monkey bars on obstacle course.

Obstacle course difficulty opinions are not much different than “flow state”.

For those that are unfamiliar, flow state as defined by Wikipedia: “The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”

Just as Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi stated in his work when he talked about entering flow: flow is when perceived challenges are matching the perceived skill of the participant.

I think you’ll find your favorite races are those where your perceived ability match the event’s challenges.  

Man climbing up wall with rope on an obstacle course.

OCR is evolving.

Just as the maneuvers from diving, gymnastics and extreme sports like skateboarding advance just a little bit each year, I think you’ll find OCR will follow a similar path.  

The just right of 2014 will become the too easy of 2024. The too easy of 2015 will no longer be in the sport in 2025. The too hard for 2018 may be the just right of 2028. You can already see it.

Remember when a single Platinum Rig was knocked out all by nine of the Pro women at the 2014 OCR World Championships?  Now we have two rigs that are arguably harder and several more challenging upper body obstacles. To name a few:

  1. Skull Valley
  2. Indian Mud Run’s Floating Walls
  3. Conquer The Gauntlet’s Stairway to Heaven
  4. the Force 5 Rig 

It’s hard to predict all the details of the future of Obstacle Course Racing (OCR). One thing we can be sure of is that athletes will continue to improve and the sport will continue to evolve in some fashion or another.

I hope you are enjoying the ride as much as I am and I look forward to seeing you at the finish line, preferably with your band intact!

Evan Perperis

Evan Perperis, NSCA-CPT,  is an athlete on the Conquer The Gauntlet Pro Team and author of three books on Obstacle Course Racing. Included in his 39 podium finishes is a 2nd place Pro Coed Team at the 2018 North American OCR Championships and 1st Place Team at 2018 World’s Toughest Mudder. Find more of his content at www.teamstrengthspeed.com.

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