Are you one of those adventure or obstacle race diehards? Do you get a kick out of physically punishing your body to test its limits, all in the name of extremely painful leisure pursuits?
Buddy, you may have a problem. I confess, I did too (note the past tense).
It’s a form of escapism. You’re trapped in your humdrum life and seek an outlet to break free. Or something is amiss. No amount of excitement is enough and you keep pushing the boundaries.
For certain reasons, some people tend to gravitate towards such events and the community is growing.
We’re not aiming for bragging rights, but the aftermath leaves us with a temporary high and we feel that we can take on any challenge.
While some people are contented to work off their stress by hitting the gym or going for weekend bike rides or runs to get their endorphins flowing, others need more to get back in touch with their physicality.
Injuries have included spinal damage, strokes, heart attacks, and even death. But this group is undeterred.
On one hand, many seek medications to soothe their pain, whereas others are willing to pay for experiences that are marketed as intensely painful.
According to a study published by the Journal of Consumer Research last year, such individuals use pain as a tool to flee from everyday frustrations, and these races help humans develop a tribal link.
In the study called Selling Pain to the Saturated Self, researchers interviewed 26 participants in Tough Mudder races, which feature such painful obstacles like an “Arctic Enema” ice bath and dangling 10,000-volt discharging wires of “Electroshock Therapy” before and after the races.
The researchers also examined the online communities built up around the events.
“For individuals who feel that modern office work has made their bodies redundant, obstacle racing and other forms of short, but intense and painful activities provide a brief, but acute reappearance of the ‘body’,” said assistant professor Julien Cayla, one of the lead researchers.
Subjects interviewed said such challenging events helped them get away from the tedium of their everyday lives and the boredom of office work.
“Through sensory intensification, pain brings the body into sharp focus, allowing individuals to rediscover their corporeality.
In addition, painful extraordinary experiences operate as regenerative escapes from the self. By flooding the consciousness with gnawing unpleasantness, pain provides a temporary relief from the burdens of self-awareness,” the authors wrote.
In fact, the scrapes and wounds left by the agonising obstacles help people build a story of a more rewarding life spent discovering the limits of the physical body.
You might think these mud-filled tests of stamina, agility and toughness represent a new cultural phenomenon, but their roots actually reach much farther back in history.
Adventure races have been around since the dawn of civilised society; the ancient Greeks had a race called the Stadion, where runners ran naked around a track covered with obstacles.
Before becoming the proving ground for a kind of sport, obstacle courses were used as training devices, designed to build the mental and physical fitness of soldiers, sailors and marines preparing themselves for combat, as well as civilians interested in strengthening the whole body.
The real-obstacle racing trend started a little more than a decade ago when elite athletes started looking for new challenges, ones without the joint-jarring pain of long-distance running or the cost of triathlons.
Of these, The Spartan Race, created in 2005 by eight ultra-athletes, was one of the first major obstacle course races, and The Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder races weren’t far behind.
Spartan Races are timed and range in distance from 5km to 42km. They are held in the United States and have been franchised to 30 countries, including Malaysia.
There’s even a race for beginners called the Sprint, where you can complete the 5km course at your own pace.
If you fail an obstacle along the way, you just have to do 30 burpees before continuing on.
But these races are not just for a small group of thrill seekers.
Many of these are going mainstream, with annual participation having surpassed that of traditional half and full marathons combined, according to statistics provided by the trade group Running USA.
So many of my friends have become addicted to these races, judging from their Facebook feeds and tweets.
They’re not fitness buffs nor regular exercisers, and some of them don’t even train for it! But they get a sense of accomplishment from completing the race.
One friend tells me it’s therapeutic. Another tells me he has more control over his life.
Me? I’ve participated in quite a few, but have lost that thrill in entering big races.
The thought of getting dirty, risking injuries and recovering from them is no longer appealing.
And I seem to attract competitive people who want to win, while I just want to complete.
The occasional temptation is still there, but I’d rather indulge in other not-so-painful pleasures.
When I can no longer resist, I might settle for smaller races.