David Gaffney, Associate Partner at Charlotte Street Partners, is also a director of outdoor events company Total Warrior which expanded into Scotland last year. Here, David attempts to explain the growing popularity of OCR or “mud runs” in a world where an increasing number of us are flabby anaemic desk jockeys.
East Lothian, an area renowned for the quality and quantity of its golf courses, will for one weekend this autumn turn its attention to a course of a different kind. An obstacle course.
North Berwick will swap putters and pristine polo-shirts for fire, ice, mud and monkey bars when Total Warrior returns to Scotland after a successful debut last September.
Thousands of thrill-seekers will grimace and sweat their way through the extreme physical and mental challenge posed by 30 punishing obstacles spread over a 12km course of rough, hilly farmland in the shadow of Berwick Law.
“Bampots”, I hear you mutter.
Maybe so, but obstacle course racing (or OCR) is one of the fastest growing participation sports in the world. And that’s despite most events requiring entrants to sign “death waivers” confirming that they understand the dangers involved and want to do it anyway, thank you very much. A 5km fun run just isn’t testing enough for some people anymore. As the person primarily responsible for organising the Scottish leg of the three-race Total Warrior series in addition to my day-to-day duties at Charlotte Street Partners, I’m naturally pleased.
But then there was never much hope for me. I used to fidget impatiently through the first 25 minutes of The Krypton Factor wishing they’d hurry up and get to the assault course round. I was distraught when Wolf, Siren, and the rest of the Gladiators hung up their lycra bodysuits for the final time. I watched Total Wipeout regularly despite an intense dislike for Richard Hammond and I’m a dedicated follower of ITV’s latest breathless dip into the genre, Ninja Warrior. That may say more about the sad state of my Saturday night diary in recent years than anything else, but basically I was always going to be a sucker for events like this.
However, the simple fact that ITV has given over a prime Saturday night slot to an indoor obstacle race series is indubitable proof of an appeal that extends far beyond lost causes like me these days. As well as multiplying tenfold since our first event in the Lake District five years ago, the profile of our participants has changed considerably since then, when 75% of our entrants were male. Last year, more than 45% were female and I suspect this year could see more women than men enter our event for the first time. It’s not only the gender balance that is shifting, however, and it’s fair to say that extreme endurance events like ours appeal to a much broader participant base now than ever before. People who’d have looked askance at you and said “that’s not for me” a few years ago are now saying “where do I sign up?”.
So what is driving more and more people to use their spare time in this way? Whatever happened to putting your feet up and having a nice cup of tea and a biscuit to relax?
Well, perversely, that’s how most of us now spend much of our working weeks. Sitting down indoors, drinking tea, eating biscuits, eyes glued to a screen, with only the occasional mouse-click to exert us.
In 1960, one-in-two jobs required some form of physical activity. Today, it’s just one-in-five and we have levels of obesity and heart disease to prove it. So 80% of us are desk-bound and sedentary at work, our jobs demanding mental rather than physical effort. Sitting nine till five — what a way to make a living.
Paradoxically, as our working lives have increasingly become defined by sloth, physical activity has become one of our principal means of relaxation. Being trapped behind a desk all week is inspiring people to seek out more and more extreme forms of exertion, to push their bodily limits, to feel the burn of hard, physical, lung-troubling graft.
This is all quite natural, of course. The human body has evolved to support and sustain physical activity. We were hunters and hunted, which tends to keep you on your toes. So there is, in all of us, an in-built drive to move. To run, to jump, to crawl, to climb. Not to click, scroll, type, and dial. When your muscles ache and your heart pounds from the thrill of the chase, you just feel more, well, alive.
But I would say that, wouldn’t I? Don’t simply take my word for it. Put that biscuit down, step out from behind your desk, and join the growing movement.