What makes a real sport?

So much of the discussion surrounding advancing the new sport of obstacle racing is focused on the features of the sport that matter the least. It needs to be spectator-friendly, we need pro athletes, it needs to be on ESPN, et cetera. These, to me at least, do not define a sport. These things define a business, but that is another story for another time. 

A sport is something that gets you moving, developing as an athlete and as a person, that drives you to be better, and helps those around you to be better by your example. It develops such beneficial traits as courage, fighting spirit, unit cohesion, compassion, sportsmanship, and the list goes on. Making a sport professional degrades much of this.

Rather than pulling people off the sofa to participate, most pro sports pull people to the sofa to watch, and somehow convince them that the pros are so far ahead that it is not worth the effort to even try to emulate them. The athletes themselves often develop an oversize ego leading to behavior that no one should want to emulate. One needs only look at the physique of your average American football fan and the news stories surrounding way too many football players to see my point.

My argument against it being more spectator-friendly is a personal one. I love the obstacles deep in the woods that no one can see, the shit that you tell people about and they think you’re making it up.

“But no one can understand what I just went through” is the common complaint I get, and my reply is stolen from the Corn Fed Spartans: “If you want to understand, come run with us.”

“But they can’t televise it or put it in the Olympics if you can’t see anything!” Who can actually see every mile of the Ironman, or the Tour de France? There are already a number of Olympic events that end up with mobile cameramen following the lead racers.

The truest example of what a sport is, in my mind, can be found in those who ran the New York Marathon this year, after it had been cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy. No cheer section, no official time, no medal, and no one will ever know about it. But the accomplishment is yours.

Heading to Japan tomorrow and running a 12-hour challenge as soon as I get home. So my next post should be off of these opinion pieces and back to what this blog was started for.

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A Well-rounded Athlete?

I want to start off saying that I am not an elite athlete of any sort, and running is definitely my weak point. That being said, I feel there need to be points made on the other side of an ongoing discussion.

There has been much debate lately about the length of the more serious obstacle races, and that they favor runners over more well-rounded athletes (in particular, Crossfiters).  My feeling is that if you can’t effectively cover distance past 10k, you are not really a well-rounded athlete.

Crossfit is a great attempt at what is probably an impossible goal, a single universal training system, a system with no weaknesses. The idea was to specialize in not specializing, to create a single workout program that could adapt to any endeavor. The problem is that by focusing on short, intense workouts, they specialized. Short intense workouts are great… if you are training for a short intense task. This is why great 5k runners rarely make great marathoners, they program themselves to burn up too much too quickly.

There are great athletes out there combining crossfit tactics with tactics more suitable to distance work, and in my mind those are the ones who CAN handle any endeavor that is thrown at them.

I tend to think of military training in conjunction with all-around ability training. As H.W. McBride said, a rifleman not only has to be trained to do everything, he often has to actually do it. All elite military training that I have seen involves a lot of long distance running and rucking.

Speaking for us non-elite runners, the distance contributes greatly to the challenge. You can fake your way through a 5k or 10k (I’ve done it). It is difficult to fake your way through a half or full marathon, even without obstacles. There are a great many of us who don’t care about beating someone else’s time, but only in beating the course. No matter how obstacle-dense it is, the longer races push us harder, force us to dig deeper and become better. For those of us who don’t end up on a podium, that is the whole point.