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3 min read

Obstacle Difficulty: Can Ultra-OCR Be Too Hard?

Previously, we discussed obstacle course difficulty for both cash prize OCRs and Championship level OCRs. This week we are talking my personal favorite aspect of the sport, Ultra-OCR.  

I define Ultra-OCR, as I did in my book, Mud Run Guide’s Ultra-OCR Bible, as races where the winner finishes in 5+ hours or the race is 20+ miles in length. So a Spartan Ultra-Beast fits this category regardless of the terrain and multi-lap events like Toughest Mudder or Conquer The Gauntlet’s Continuum.  

Here’s a quick recap if you missed the standard definitions I used in the original article:  

  1. Elite (qualified for Pro Wave of OCRWC)
  2. Competitive (qualified for Age Group of OCRWC) 
  3. Open (didn’t qualify for either)

The course of the Utra-OCR race is 8, 12 or 24 hours long. So long in fact, that even those on the podium have typically failed several obstacles over the course of the of the race.

Most Ultra-OCRs are not mandatory completion courses (must do all obstacles on every lap). For this article, I will assume we are talking about Ultra-OCRs that require a penalty for a failed obstacle (whether that be another obstacle, distance running or calisthenics).

Man carrying sand bag through obstacle course.

Can Ultra-OCR obstacles be too hard?


 Yeah…kind of. If the obstacles are too hard, the event essentially turns into a penalty off with some running. Sure there will always be a couple of obstacles people can do, but with none of the top athletes doing the obstacles it turns into a pure running and calisthenics race. I know from the two times I did 24 hours of Shale Hell.  

OCR Racing

The second half of the race had what felt like an absurd amount of penalties that at times took less energy and effort than the obstacles (this coming from someone who is strong in both obstacle proficiency and Ultra-OCR).  In my opinion, the penalty should never be easier or faster than the obstacle, because that defeats the purpose of an OCR.


 Yes. A lot of the same logic carries over from the Elites for this population. If the event just turns into run laps and do penalties, it loses that OCR feeling.

Unlike regular OCRs though, the competitive and Elite crowd make up a larger percentage of the field than the open crowd.  While not a large of a percentage as a championship race, it is still much higher.

OCR World Championships, U.K.

For example, the field at World’s Toughest Mudder 2017 had 657 people finish with brown bibs thus qualifying them for Age Group of OCR World Championships. That’s around 41% of the field of registered participants (this includes counting those that didn’t even show up but signed up).

Woman using rope to climb a wall in obstacle course.


Maybe. Similar to the OCR Championship level article, many of these people are in over their head. While they are certainly welcome at the event and I love seeing the different shapes, sizes and backgrounds of all Ultra-OCR competitors, this population will find challenges that exceed their capability at almost any Ultra-OCR.

One of the things that make time based Ultra-OCR great is the ability to pit. While you may not be able to walk/run for 24 hours, you can probably go out for a lap or two, take a break and repeat.

OCR race addict at the finish line.

One more article left in the Obstacle Difficulty series where I’ll answer the question of “What is the right level of difficulty for you?”.

Regardless of your ability, I think you’ll find that the answer to the question is applicable to anyone reading this.

–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

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The OCR World Championships is the first truly independent championship event designed to celebrate the athletes in the burgeoning sport of Obstacle Course Racing.

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