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Why Bands over Burpees is a silly thought ..

Let me get something clear immediately. I don’t care if your chest touches the ground, or if you have full extension at the top.


burpees2In fact – in the context of this article, “burpees” could be “7 count body builders” or “pushups” or “jumping jacks” – or any other penalty, levied when you fail an obstacle at a competitive obstacle course event, like Spartan or Battlefrog.

Since 2010, when Spartan issued pushups in return for a failed obstacle, the penalty has been present. In some ways, it defined the difference between fun run’s, like Warrior Dash, and countless local events – and races, like Spartan Race and Battlefrog.

The line has been blurred in the last five years – with Spartan’s open waves being much more about fun and personal accomplishment than competition, and many events implementing a dedicated elite wave with enforced penalties – leaving the open wave to make it up on their own – the idea that you have to get down and work out when you fell off a rig, or couldn’t make it up a rope, or simply missed a spear has been present and accepted.

Then OCR World Championship 2014 happened, and change that shit up.

Removing all physical penalties, and implementing a mandatory completion rule for anyone who expects to place themselves on the podium, the game was changed. When you get to an obstacle – you could keep retrying things until you passed it – or you could simply quit. Give up your band. Take the walk of shame passed the rig, and you were done. No podium chance for you, you just gave up your band. The perfect solution, right?

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 2.56.41 PMAnd “bands over burpees” was born.

It’s a solid idea, of course. This is obstacle course racing, and we should expect the elite, podium placers to be pretty damn good at that obstacle thing. Spartan has notoriously struggled to implement their burpee penalty cleanly and effectively – trying everything from paid officials in snazzy ref shirts, to video camera’s and timing mats in roped off “burpee zones” – this whole situation is especially important for them, as they plan on heading to the Olympics – you can bet the Olympic committee is watching re-runs of the Spartan TV show, and wondering what the heck is going on.

So, lets do the band thing shall we? Lets just make every competitive OCR out there mandatory completion, and we have a clean sport.

Not so fast. The band thing has it’s own problems. OCR World Championships kicked it off, with the Battlefrog elite waves also following it through, and it’s a frequent topic on the pro / elite scene.

OCR is growing and developing. Race Directors are always looking for an edge to and to keep their courses fresh and stop their races from getting too dull. Sometimes, they step over the line a little, and make something too hard, or ill timed in the course, and the failure rate on the obstacle becomes high.

This is fine. This is growth. Until race day, when mandatory obstacle completion is a requirement – and you have an obstacle that is eating people alive, or has become unsafe.

12080290_10153750966569468_3182918675422560631_oThe 2014 Platinum Rig at OCR Worlds chewed people up. Massive attrition, when the crew simply over built it. Solid performers in age groups gave up their band, simply so they could move on – sacrificing their podium option. Back at Spartan, can you imagine mandatory obstacle completion on a spear throw obstacle? That seemingly random pot luck of “did I get a straight spear today” would be a game changer, shuffling the elite division simply because the spear didn’t fly right.

Lets also consider retries. OCR Worlds had a retry lane, which became a major sticking point and backlog for athletes who were too exhausted and cold to make rigs on their first pass. Crowds of people at the sternum check could potentially be blamed for more people failing, as they second guess themselves.

So we come back to this idea of – how do we fairly, accurately and consistently penalize elites for obstacle failure at the elite and professional level?

Do we implement an inconsistently enforced, difficult to track physical penalty?
Or, do we implement this mandatory completion, who’s good intentions can quickly be derailed if an obstacle is taken one step too far, or the retry lane backed up?

Or, have we simply not evolved OCR to the point we can run an elite level, professional sport yet?

I have no answers. I know each competitive race brand is trying to figure it out – while local and smaller series are just getting rid of the “elite headache” all together.

What do you think? Burpees or mandatory completion? Do your penalty and move on, or sacrifice your podium spot when you’re sick of waiting for your 5th retry?

(us open wave “fun runners” are happy enough with our sloppy burpee’s and losing our chance at a podium when we give up our bands, thank you very much)