For a short period of time, I was seeing ads on Facebook promoting a documentary which examined the world of mud running. It was called “Rise of The Sufferfests” and it examined why people are so interested in obstacle course racing (OCR) and why this is a growing sport.
To be honest, even though I would see ads for it multiple times, I felt I didn’t need to watch it because, what could I possibly learn from it?
But it had a lot of fans and a lot of positive feedback, so recently, I purchased a digital copy of it from Amazon and I just finished viewing the 1 hour 30 minute+ documentary.
Here is my review of the documentary…
For the most part, the core of the documentary centers around the creator of it, a journalist named Scott Keneally whose aiming to find out why the sport of obstacle racing is so popular.
The 3 most common reasons throughout the documentary discovered that people do this stuff for are:
1) Because most of the people who do these races live normal mundane lives…
There isn’t really anything being experienced that is primal or challenging and these obstacle races make up for that.
A lot of people aren’t able to compete or travel and do physical challenges outside their normal lives and possibly the gym, so having access to these events makes them live out this “subconscious” need to live and put themselves in danger to feel alive basically.
2) There is an element of narcissism for a lot of people who do this stuff.
People want others (on social media usually) to see what they’ve done and get appreciation for it basically. This explains a lot about why the Tough Mudder page on Facebook for example has so many fans and likes.
The same goes for Spartan Races and these other mud runs too.
In the documentary, the person who points out this theory of narcissism is actually one of the highest tier athletes in this sport whose name is Amelia Boon. I’ve never heard of her until this documentary but she is an amazing athlete who does this for her own fun but basically doesn’t seem to be a fan of people who like to show of that they do this.
3) And finally, the reason I most resonate with:
People just want to challenge themselves. They want to explore new things and see what they can take. That’s basically me in a nutshell when it comes to obstacle races.
I don’t care about being filmed, nor do I prefer it, to me I just want to have skills that stand tests like being able to pass rough terrain and challenges. It makes me feel more alive, and frankly, as one of the interviewees in the documentary said (Laird Hamilton, tsunami surfer), we appreciate life more from doing this type of stuff.
Now after the documentary asks about this main question, there’s pieces where I found some very interesting information, such as the history and facts of it and some stuff I found quite surprising. For example:
1) The supposed original creator of these races was a guy whose nicknamed “The Mouse” and he is quite a character (to say the least). He basically started making these obstacles in his “large” backyard which slowly attracted a bunch of people overtime and this led him to make it an event, called the Tough Guy which until the documentary I had never heard of, but based on what I saw, it may be more difficult the more mainstream OCR’s out there.
But the man who made it, wasn’t so much interested in taking it mainstream as much as he had a passion for putting people through the ordeals he set up to test them.
Now through this idea supposedly, the creator of Tough Mudder was the one who took the concept, mixed with the challenges British Special Forces go through and created the event which would then become arguably the most popular OCR in the world.
2) There were 1,000’s of OCR’s held last year and the sport is growing.
3) Speaking of sports, the creator of the Spartan Race, one of the most popular OCR’s wants to see the event held in the Olympics.
4) There was a part towards the second half of the documentary which talked about injuries and deaths in these things, and with the exception of one unfortunate death taking place during Tough Mudder, when it comes to stats, OCR’s are actually safer than marathons and triathlons and when you think about it, it makes sense.
5) About 30% or more of the contestants are women. Speaking from experience, I do see a lot of women on every OCR I do.
6) This industry has grossed half a billion dollars in sales. Now I don’t remember if it was for a year or overall since their beginning.
7) OCR’s are growing and I can attest to that.
8) There is even some talks about how many of the fans who follow this “sport” are quite fanatical about it and downright go with it in a cult like behavior. I do admit, I have seen “clubs” of people dressed the same way who act a bit over the top when doing these things.
Overall, is it a documentary worth watching?
I have to say, I enjoyed Rise of The Sufferfests. It is from what I know it is the first documentary of it’s kind which talks about this industry.
It doesn’t make fun of it, nor does it endorse it, but rather gives several points of views from people who enjoy doing them and ties it into the heart of the reason that people are so enthralled to try these events.
These OCR’s have been a bit of an acquired taste for me. The first 4 I did, were not to my liking because they didn’t seem creative or challenging enough, but once I did the Spartan Super, I became pretty fascinated with challenging myself further which is why in about a month, I will be doing the 12 mile Spartan Beast.
There is indeed a popular market for OCR’s and frankly, I don’t think it’s going anywhere. If stats show right, these races are only getting more and more popular.
Perhaps one day, Rise of the Sufferfests will be seen as a pioneer documentary that was the first to truly explore the world of OCR’s.
Now I have 2 questions for you all!
23 thoughts on “Rise of The Sufferfests. A Review From an Avid Mud Runner.”
This will be on my watch list as soon as i get the time. Me and a few friends are doing a tough mudder this summer and I didn’t realize there was even a documentary out on the topic. There are lots of these style events out there so it would be nice to get a in depth point of view.
I’ll let you know what i thought after I watch it.
I did Tough Mudder Gareth and I did enjoy it’s creativity, I’ll be doing a Spartan Beast later this month. Good luck on your race.
Very interesting post. I was aware of obstacle races but not at this level. I was completely unaware of the growing nature of this sport. It sounds fascinating and I will keep an eye out for some sports broadcasts about it.
Do you think this will eventually become an Olympic event of not? Where can I go to see when and where there may be events I could attend?
Thanks for posting this. I am sure many will be drawn to this sport.
Hi Frank, the creator of the Spartan Race is trying to get it into the Olympics I believe, but as for spectating, you first need to find an event, where it’s taking place, the buy tickets to spectate, some of them may be free though.
Always thought this was kindof a funny thing that people do, but the way you put it it sounds like this documentary really could be the answer to my question ha.
We do have natural primal instincts that are unmet in our moderate and comfortable lives, even our natural fight-or-flight response is out of wack due to psychological stress opposed to physical, ie: rent bills instead of a lion jumping in front of us…
Yep, and I strongly believe, especially from my last race a few days ago that this is a growing industry.
I do like the kind of documentaries that go behind the sport and explore the reasons behind. A sport like this has a really big mental aspect behind it and I am very interested in the mental motivation and drivers behind sports and athletes. Does this documentary go much into this area?
Well I think the 3 main reasons I pointed to are all connected to the mental reasoning of doing these races. I assure you, that when I do them, I make the mental conviction that I need to try this 🙂
The mere fact that these events have its own line of kit, shows the popularity it has gained and the potential for it reaching Olympic proportions, is a real possibility.
Here in SA, I could not find these events being practiced, the closest I could find was the Iron Man type contest, a really interesting article about mud running events.
The Iron man challenge is very different from these mud runs. While people do challenge themselves outdoors, they do not go through the type of mixed terrain like they would in a mud run Gary.
This is the first time I have heard of the Rise of the Sufferfest. I will keep an eye out for it. I have done several mud runs before. The last one I did was the Warrior Dash January 30, 2011. After that I lost interests because it got too popular, too crowded and expensive. I, too, was not interested in being noticed.
Initially in the late 90’s, I ran with my husband and several friends as a team challenge run. My husband and I are runners so we enjoy finding new races to challenge ourselves.
Being runners, we usually go alone against our own time. As a team, we had to work together to support one another through out the race and finish together. We had so much fun as a group that we did a handful more including the 10 miles South Carolina’s marine boot camp. I forgot what it was called. It included swinging on a rope over the mud pit and climbing over an eight feet wall after swimming/running in the muddy water. We recruited friends and families and had a blast.
Thank you for sharing your perspective on the documentary. Obstacle course running can get addictive especially with the adrenaline pumping and high energy of accomplishment. I am wondering how did you get introduced into obstacle course running?
My uncle originally invited me to check out a 5k with him and his friend and that’s what initially got me into the sport, but because that particular run wasn’t challenging, I sought out more difficult events, the hardest one so far has been the 12 mile plus Spartan Beast.
I really learned about a new sport that I had not even heard of before. I will definitely be checking out the documentary to learn more about this sport and all the training that goes into it. Being a former athlete, these things really interest me. How do you get into obstacle racing, and compete?
Just find an event in your area by looking up popular mud runs such as the Spartan Race, Tough Mudder or typing in mud runs and whatever area you live in to see which ones are available.
From there, pick one which meets your athletic level, sign up, show up and see how you do. Obviously, focus on wearing the right clothing!
I will definitely be checking this documentary out. As someone who is always looking to challenge myself in my fitness lifestyle, I have always wanted to try one of these races. I think this would be a good motivator and way to find out about the history of the races. I definitely will be looking to push myself and try a race after watching the documentary.
Much respect to you for doing OCR and delving into this rapidly rising sport. I haven’t done any OCR or seen Rise of The Sufferfests but I do run during the week and try to mix it up via trail and mountain running which is much nicer on the mind and body than hitting cement roads.
I actually also saw a video on facebook regarding this and it lead me to explore it further only to somehow end up seeing there are now even more challenging races, sometimes going into the hundreds of miles run by “ultra marathoners”.
I think the great thing about OCR is the personal challenge is poses and the fact you can do it in a group and have a lot of fun while building important foundational fitness.
Agreed Sam, there is a peaceful element to these races in that it helps the mind relax. Although I will say, I’ve found regular hiking to be more interesting than doing OCR’s.
Thanks for your review of Rise of the Sufferfests. To be honest I’ve never even heard of mud running or OCR’s and didn’t know it was a thing.
Just curious, what is the draw of OCR’s and mud running over say, traditional triatholon’s? I definitely, don’t think it’s a crazy to predict that it could be big in the future. Look at American Ninja!
Triathlons are more repetitive and spread out in length. People go through 3 stages of swimming, cycling and running and it’s really just a straight, LONG path to complete. Some might even argue triathlons are boring.
Mud runs and OCRs have more action in them and I would argue in certain cases are tougher. You’re not running through a flat area, you’re running up and down mountains and that can be harder than a marathon for some.
First time I heard the Rise of the Sufferfests and it is seems to be interesting.
If you do mud runs or are thinking of doing it, I think you’ll really enjoy this documentary Miller.
I have seen some of my friends doing this and by the looks of it looks like a lot of fun! I have never done it and I wish I did while in the States but I never got the chance to. In my country though I am not sure if they do it, but you have definitely given me something to look into. Will definitely let you know when I find it! Just as a side note, where can I find that documentary?
Hi Alex, you can download it on Amazon, I have links above which take you there.