“Who am I?” the MC yelled into his microphone, directed at the crowd anxiously gathered behind the starting line.
“I am Spartan! Aroo! Aroo!” the motley crew replied vigorously, a couple punching their fists in the air.
It was the start of a day, unlike most days, for the participants of the Spartan Sprint in Klang, Malaysia, this March. It was a day of adrenaline, spirit-breaking obstacles, camaraderie and lots of mud.
Obstacle course racing (OCR) is a sport where participants have to cover a distance while overcoming various physical challenges in order to reach the finishing line. When the first obstacle course race was introduced to Malaysia in 2013, participants signed up to climb over walls, splash through muddy pools, scramble over monkey bars and crawl under barbed wire. This rough-and-tumble sport is meant to test both mental and physical strength, as well as be a social activity.
“I was nervous about my first obstacle race but after trying it, I realised how much fun these races are. A part of the process for me is to conquer my fears, like my fear of heights. When I come to an 11-foot wall, I'll tell my teammates that I can't do it. But they won't listen and someone will push me up the wall,” says Seira Sacha Abu Bakar, a diminutive lawyer and marathon runner from Kuala Lumpur. Now an OCR enthusiast, she has included the Spartan and Viper events into her calender of races.
On an international level, there is a wide variety of races to cater for all fitness levels. A few are not for the faint of heart: The World's Toughest Mudder race in Las Vegas involves jumping off an 11-metre-high cliff, the Rat Race Dirty Weekend in the UK has a 138-metre-long monkey bar, and the ABF Mud Run in New Jersey requires participants to traverse a 38-metre rope over a pond. Obstacle racing has become such a worldwide trend that there is talk of entering it as an Olympic sport.
In Malaysia, OCR is rapidly growing as a sport, with races throughout the year. If you are ready for the challenge, read on about the races available.
It was the first obstacle racing event in Malaysia. Started in 2013 by Selva Kumar and Simran Latif of Malaysia's Original Bootcamp, they know a thing or two about putting participants through challenges such as jumping over troughs of burning coals or dunks in icy cold water. The team is constantly devising new obstacles to spice up its races, and recently introduced a mega obstacle for each race with menacing names like The Eliminator.
The organisers are emphatic that their events are not about competition. “The Viper Challenge is all about teamwork, discipline, empathy and a common bond to help your fellow man. Teamwork gets you across the line; without it you will not succeed,” says Selva. Saying that, they have introduced the Elite Category this year for hardcore individuals who will vie for placements on the leadership board and a shot at the Gold Series Finisher Medals (normal category finishers win Black medals).
The teamwork nature of their races means that young teenagers to a 72-year-old have signed up for Viper Challenges. “Anyone wanting to challenge themselves, to push themselves just that much more, makes up the majority of participants. But we must say, we have seen it all,” says Selva.
When's the next race?
Great Eastern Genting King of the Mountain, 20 Aug 2016 at The Ranch in Genting Highlands
Great Eastern Viper Challenge, Nov 2016 at Sepang International Circuit
Founded by Joe de Sena, Spartan Race is one of the most popular obstacle races, with events all around the world. When Spartan Malaysia debuted last year, more than 10,000 people participated in the two-day event. The organisation has a range of courses, from the beginners-friendly Spartan Sprint to the mid-level Spartan Super and the uber-challenging Spartan Beast. Participants who complete all three levels within a year will be admitted into the Spartan Trifecta Tribe.
“If you have watched Rocky Balboa, there is a scene where Rocky tells his son, it is not about how hard you can hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and still come back. People love to be challenged,” says Belinda Xavier from Spartan Race Malaysia.
If obstacles alone are not enough, Spartan races are famous for their burpee full-body exercise penalties. Participants who don't complete an obstacle would have to do 30 burpees before they can proceed to the next challenge.
Training is key to an obstacle race, and the Spartan Races are no exception. “Eat healthy and train hard because if you want to be a Spartan, you need to think like a Spartan,” says Xavier. “Anyone can compete in the Spartan Race. It requires a lot of upper body strength and the challenges would not be easy, but including hot yoga and other strength-based exercises with a proper diet would help participants to overcome the obstacles.”
When's the next race?
Spartan Beast, scheduled for Oct 2016
For a bit of a fun race that the whole family can participate in (provided your child is 12 years and above), there is the new Dragon Run, the world's first martial arts inflatable obstacle race.
The race will debut this May in Resorts World Genting, and is expected to feature unique martial arts-inspired challenges with names like Dragon Gate and Giant Dragon. Participants will be expected to complete a course of 10 martial arts obstacles in the styles of dragon kung fu, taekwondo, muay thai, sumo and jeet kune do.
When's the race?
14-15 May 2016, Horse Ranch in Resorts World Genting