I went to MuckFest MS 2018 5K obstacle course in Denver. It was my third time running it. A friend, my girlfriend, and I went together and were part of a bigger team of at least 20 people that started the run at 9 am.
The purpose of MuckFest isn’t to beat you down. It’s a relaxed obstacle course over 5-kilometer distance with approximately 20 obstacles in between.
I felt invigorated at the finish line because it was the first time I went through all the obstacles. Several years ago, I didn’t fully submerge into the water because the air temperature hit the freezing point the night before and the daytime temperature was in the low 60’s with the wind. At the end of that race, I saw several people shivering uncontrollably which looked like pre-hypothermia.
Isn’t it odd that crawling through the mud, the cold, climbing ropes, jumping from heights is appealing?
There’s pleasure in getting dirty, submerging in cold water, climbing ropes over a structural hill, riding down a zip line into a pit full of muddy water.
Obstacle courses are growing in numbers. We have UK’s Tough Guy (closed in 2017), Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race.
<figcaption>At MuckFest 2018</figcaption></figure>
Obstacle courses let us quickly go through a Hero’s Journey. They let us experience life shortened down to several hours. There’s a start point and a finish point.
Throughout the course, there are new challenges that you’re not 100% sure you’ll get through. When you do, it’s a notch in your confidence levels. You find out that you’re better than you thought you were.
You have an exact purpose while getting through the obstacles: to cross the finish line. Each obstacle is a mission. You didn’t have to make up a mission, it was already planned in front of you.
When you reach the finish line, you feel stronger than you were the day before. There is a concrete sense of accomplishment.
Running the obstacle course with others is vital. There is a sense of camaraderie throughout the race. When you’re having a hard time getting out of the mud, the person next to you will extends their hand to help. In another situation, you’ll return the favor for someone else.
There is a sense of purpose when you help your neighbor overcome an obstacle.
So back to the question, why are obstacle courses appealing even though you go through mud and the cold?
It’s because a lot of us don’t experience the hero’s journey in our day-to-day lives.
If you’re sitting in an office going through emails and meetings throughout the day, do you really feel you accomplished something at the end of the day?
There will be more emails tomorrow to look through. There will be more meetings about things you can’t control later on in the week. There’s no sense of accomplishment.
Do you truly make an impact on a client or a co-worker in the office on a daily basis? In the obstacle course, you lend your hand, you encourage, you see that your words truly help the person next to you overcome their fears and go for the obstacle or finish that last mile.
In the office, both of you work for the company. You’re both working to fulfill the company’s bottom line. When you help him or he helps you, it’s to ensure that the company bottom line is fulfilled. You’re not really solving his or your own personal goals.
Without a sense of accomplishment, we drift. After a while, we’re not really sure what we’re doing except living and staying awake enough to get a paycheck. We wait for life to start on the weekend…and stop by Monday.
My description might sound bleak and I realize we’re all in different places.
The other reason obstacle courses are fulfilling is because for that moment, we’re mucking with nature. Our senses experience extremes. We go from shivering to sweating under the sun.
In normal life, our senses don’t experience extremes on a daily basis. We’ve learned to control our environment.
You and I have climate controlled homes. We don’t need to muck in the mud because sidewalks are available. There’s no need to climb when elevators and escalators are around. Still, I love these conveniences because they make my life comfortable.
The problem is always staying comfortable. Certain hormones aren’t released often enough when we live in comfort and when we rarely expose our senses to extremes.
With an obstacle course, you feel great because endorphins and adrenaline energize you as you hit the cold water. Serotonin gives you a sense of well-being as you successfully pass through an obstacle. Certain hormones come out and for a moment, you remember how it feels to feel alive.
That’s why obstacle courses live on and we love to take a journey through them.