First off, this documentary about OCR should come with a warning:

Only watch if you have a race booked & coming up soon. Otherwise prepare to experience the worst race withdrawals.

Rise of the Sufferfests is journalist Scott Keneally’s epic quest to: 1) document the development of obstacle course racing as a sport, and 2) to dig into why the sport became so popular so quickly.

Much like Herodotus penning ancient Greek history, Keneally makes sure to describe all of the key events in the rise of OCR and he does it with aplomb. The result is a pump-up OCR primer for those new to the sport. To experienced racers, this will be a feel-good doc that will probably push them to book a few more races.


Mr Mouse Carries the Documentary

The documentary introduces a whole sleet of interesting characters from the sport. At the top of the list is Mr Mouse, the founder of Tough Guy (and technically the founder of OCR), whose brilliant appearances carry the documentary:


“The health and safety people said you can’t do that. I said well…[cut to his face above]”, says Mr Mouse about introducing electrified obstacles in 1999’s Tough Guy. Although eccentric, he isn’t ridiculous and may well be the ultimate badass of OCR. [Photo credit: Rise of the Sufferfests doc]

The biggest takeaway of the doc for me is what an absolute shame it is that the upcoming Tough Guy race will be the last for Mr Mouse. Since 1987, he’s been giving Tough Guy participants “the worst of life so when they’ve done it they go out there with a fresh clean mind and see things in a different way”.

Here’s three-time Tough Guy winner, James Appleton on his experience of Tough Guy:

“I’ve not found any other race–or anything else–that’s destroyed me that much in such a short amount of time.”

If you enjoyed Tim Ferris’ interview with Amelia Boone, you’ll love the appearances of many more inspiring athletes. Notably, however, the best-performing OCR athlete is missing; Jon Albon appears only accidentally in one brief clip from Tough Guy.

“When’s the last time you got to run around the woods and play?” -Amelia Boone discussing motivations for taking part in OCR


Trying to Do Too Much in Too Little Time

Unfortunately when it comes to documenting the history of the sport fascinating events and characters like Mr Mouse of Tough Guy are diluted by…

  • repeated attempts to discuss people’s motivations for doing obstacle course races. These parts of the movie feel very ranty. Guests bring up issues like the narcissism that’s inherent in the sport, but they don’t share valuable insight on any one ‘problem’. Thus a lot of the theorizing about the psychology of the sport and its participants feels very reaching.
  • the meta story of how difficult this documentary was to make. It’s not that Scott’s winding journey to finally releasing it wasn’t interesting–it was–but I’d have rather seen more airtime given to Tough Guy and other races that are the soul of the sport. (Or perhaps even to some of those unknown but excellent races that have sprung up in the UK in the last couple of years.)


Nonetheless, a Must-Watch

If nothing else, the movie is well worth watching for the last 10 minutes. Much like that final pump of adrenaline when you’re *this* close to the finish line, Keneally ends the doc on a pump. First, he gives his own closure to the earlier theorizing (his excellent summary just makes it more obvious how unnecessary a lot of it was earlier in the movie). Then he plays out Mr Mouse’s thoughts about the future of OCR over epic race shots and spine-tingling music:


[Photo credit: Rise of the Sufferfests doc]

“They will reach a point where you’re in between worlds, you’re in between life and death. You’ve taken your body beyond your normal endurance–in seconds, in absolute split seconds–the whole experience of life comes to them. Then they will find whatever it is they’re searching for.

The world is changing–fastly–people are no longer contented and happy. But if they get into our sport it changes your perception. We are on this earth for one purpose: reproducing a better world. And I believe that what we’ve created in obstacle running is going to crack that [purpose].”


Despite its flaws, Rise of the Sufferfests makes for a great watch. Even before those end credits start rolling, you will get tingles to go race right away. I felt that the meta story of Keneally struggling to finish the doc was superfluous. But knowing how much effort he put into this thing, makes us all the more keen to support him. So, if you’re at all interested in OCR, head over to the Rise of the Sufferfests website to get your own copy of the documentary.


All photos in this post are screenshots from the documentary. To buy your own digital download, visit the Rise of the Sufferfests website.

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