The word elite when used with the word athlete and OCR (obstacle course racing) doesn’t always mean the same thing for everyone. My fascination with the subject of how people define an elite athlete started after reading this blog by McCauley Kraker (A Spartan Race Pro Team Member). He rants (which can be entertaining) that the sport of obstacle course racing has yet to find legitimacy because everyone and their mother can and are calling themselves elite obstacle course racers. After posting a contest last week for a US Spartan race entry I got into a conversation with a fellow OCR athlete Tyler on the topic (you can see the comments on the blog here). Then the other day at Alpha my friend John and I started discussing it some more. Here is what he had to say “Striving for elitism is great. It’s everywhere in capitalism and sport. It keeps individuals and society as a whole moving forward. Everyone wants to be part of the club that is better than the rest; everyone wants to be better than they are.”
To ground myself I looked up the dictionary definition first to ensure I was starting with the basics before voicing my opinion on the subject.
Elite means it is the choice and best of anything collectively. But what makes you the choice or the best of a group? How does one apply this definition… In many sports, you can be described as an elite athlete if you are paid to play. Does a professional athlete with a salary from a team get to call themselves an elite athlete? Sure it’s how our society currently works. If I go back to the sport of road running an elite athlete is clearly well defined. If you run at certain speeds and win races you are an elite athlete. You run in a specific heat before the others and have to qualify for that heat. So road running has been defined as a sport so there is no confusion. But when do you cross into the elite territory? Only based on time? On podium placements? Are you not an elite athlete if you consistently place top 20, work full time and train in every spare moment of the day? Only because you haven’t hit a certain speed? Are you qualified as the best of the best simply due to speed? When does dedication, sportsmanship, motivation and drive define someone as elite? You know I’d like to see that happen. But I’m diverting on a tangent.
The “problem” with obstacle course races is that there is something called the elite heat and it’s open to anyone unlike road running. It’s the first heat of the day and everyone that runs in it is considered an “elite”. I’ve actually really embraced this fact of OCRs and love it. I run in the elite heat and I’m better for it. I push myself and can see where I rank to consistently yearn to get better. I think it’s amazing for anyone and everyone that chooses to run in this competitive heat.
Then I found this terminology of elite athlete…
A world-class performer in any physical sport… More ambiguity… What makes someone world-class? Is it drive? Is it gumption? Is it dedication to never giving up? Is it simply speed or strength? Why can’t it include someone fighting to better themselves? Until our sport or organization stands up and lays out an exact definition the confusion will continue in the OCR world. Are you an elite athlete if you can finish a certain type of race in under an hour? Are you an elite athlete if you can complete 90% of the obstacles? I’ve recently looked into running a Battlefrog Series Race and the elite is nicely defined. You are given an armband and if you can’t complete an obstacle the band is taken away so you aren’t eligible for prizes based on placement. You can still complete the race but you just aren’t in the running for money anymore. This race series is clearly defining that you have to be able to complete all obstacles to be an elite. Many races, including Spartan Race, aren’t defining what the elite heat means so the ambiguity of being an elite OCR athlete is going to continue to exist. So let’s just embrace the fact that anyone who is competitive is just yearning to become a better person, human and athlete. Athletes no matter what skill level can be proud of themselves. They are working harder to run faster, lift heavier things, have better cardiovascular health, etc. They are challenging themselves to push limits. Is the solution simply to rename the elite heat to the competitive heat?
This post was also inspired by someone I train with making a statement that “they should really limit who is in the elite heat”. As a devil’s advocate, I’d like to say just let them run in the elite heat if they want. I’d actually rather ask races to have better wave organization based on speed so people can seed themselves in the heat or several competitive heats properly. Because at the end of the day… if there are 15 vs 50 people in a heat you will still finish based on YOUR skill level. If the heat has more people you are in a higher percentile which actually makes you look better in the end (all perception really). If there are only 5 people in the heat and you place 5th how would it feel to place last? So I hear you… you don’t want to get stuck behind a line of people at an obstacle. Neither do I! So let’s just request better organization by the race directors who put on these amazing events for us.
When you think about it a little bit more, we are all just competitive racers trying to do our very best and we happen to run in elite heats. I like to call myself an elite OCR racer when I need that boost of confidence and ego. Is it in my Twitter or Instagram bio? No, because there isn’t space LOL. At the end of the day, I am an OCR racer and I am just another person in the sea of OCR racers who are just trying to do better each and every day.
So that’s my two cents about the definition of an elite OCR athlete. I would love to hear your opinion as well in the comments on the blog…