While there is no set name for obstacles runs/endurance events/adventure races or mud runs, they have taken the public’s attention by storm the past few years. If you have ever experienced any of these new wave of obstacle course runs like Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash or Spartan Race, you know just how thrilling the event can be. Using a combination of endurance and strength, adrenaline pumps through you as you climb, swim, crawl and jump through miles of obstacles, getting quite muddy in the process. It’s exhilarating, and leaves you somewhere between feeling like a champion of men and a little kid again. Which leaves me wondering, since these events are so much fun for adults, should obstacle runs be available for kids?
There is question over whether the adventure race environment would be age appropriate for children. The core demographic catered to ranges from early-20s to mid-50s, predominantly male with an age limit of 18 years old. Most of these endurance events are designed to simulate military style obstacles and training, complete with a couple of mandatory “hoorahs” everyone shouts before beginning the challenge course. It’s not so much that kids would not have fun running the event as it is instilling this branded, military ethos at such an early age that will be increasingly exposed exponentially as they get older.
The most pressing concern is whether it is safe enough for kids to experience these types of obstacle challenges. Simply put, these challenge courses are dangerous, even for adults. You climb up twelve foot walls, jump into freezing (hypothermia-inducing) cold water, fall into deep pits of mud, crawl under barbed wire and run through live electrical wires. The peril of these obstacles is no joke, the “death” waiver you sign is done for a reason and the risk of doing these obstacles can end in tragedy. It goes without saying (as I write it anyway) that children shouldn’t be subject to running through live wires, which frankly is conversation of its own that we choose to endure 10,000 volts of electrical shocks for fun, despite the dangers associated with that sort of thing.
So maybe given the health risks associated with events like Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, kids shouldn’t be able to able to participate in full blown adventure races. However, the upsides of these events are too great to say children shouldn’t have any sort of exposure to them. At the core of the idea, these events encourage teamwork, collaboration, sportsmanship, play and persistence. You enter the event aiming to feel accomplished, but you can often join in teams and finish with teammates, helping each other get through the muddy course. If there was a way to modify these events and tailor them to children’s capabilities, few would argue these kinds of challenge courses wouldn’t be beneficial for today’s youth.
There is at least one organization that has created such a modified event. Spartan Race, which typically hosts 3-26 mile races with over 15 obstacles, has recreated an event for children called Spartan Kids. These races are for ages 4-13, and go between 0.5 to 1 mile in length. The obstacles are far more kid friendly while still imitating the adult version of the course (crawl under rope as opposed to barb-wire, jump over 3 foot walls as opposed to 10-12 foot walls, etc.).
The Spartan Kids Race is geared to encouraging kids to be physically active and become healthier. Their stated belief is that “the sense of fun and camaraderie inherent in our races will help instill within your kids a sense of excitement and respect for fitness.” Even the charity proceeds benefit, which typically would be an American military based organization, is instead the Kids Fit Foundation, a non-profit that aims to fund fitness programs for at risk youth and their families. It’s still too early to tell if Spartan Race has found the right mix for kids. Other organizations like Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash still do not offer youth-versions of their obstacle courses. However, Spartan Kids Race may just have a blueprint for future obstacle runs oriented for the younger child, giving them a chance to get on the outdoor adventure sweeping America, and get caked in a little bit of mud as well.
Check out this video of the Spartan Kids Race, played with the famous inspiring words of Rap preacher Eric Thomas