“From start to finish, you have multiple obstacles along the way. It could be a monkey bar, or jumping over walls, crawling under barbed wire – and even cooler ones like diving into ice water!” exclaims Vikram Menon, co-founder of Wild Warrior, a company which organizes obstacle races around India.
In 2017, Vikram was supposed to run a triathlon but found that his swimming was not up to par. His friend, noticing the problem, informed him that there was an obstacle race in Goa – did he want to go try it out?
When a curious Vikram turned up at the obstacle race, it was nothing like he had, up till then, seen only in Ninja Warrior. After winning his category, he grew excited to do more and more. He travelled abroad, participating in various races along the way. What he first noticed was just how enthusiastic people were about obstacle racing.
“Just seeing how the fitness community is linked together through this sport – you can be a runner, a cross-fitter, you can be someone who works out in a park- that brought about an idea to start our own brand in India,” he says.
Today, Wild Warrior has held obstacle races in Chennai, Coimbatore and Bangalore, with plans to expand to Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai. They started officially in Saarang 2018, IIT Chennai’s cultural fest. “We did a short course, and it was a relay format – mixed-gender teams. We did really well – we had a crowd watching and a photo finish in the finals. Since then we’ve done around 20 events, of which 6 have had mass participation – a couple in Chennai, one in Coimbatore, we also did one in Nepal.”
Their events draw large crowds -between 300 to 700 people. In terms of age, their participants are mostly people between the ages of 20 and 35. The oldest person who has ever participated in one of the races was 60 years old. The aim of Wild Warrior is to keep the races challenging, but not hard to complete. Most of the races are held in scenic locations, in the midst of nature. Wild Warrior has two categories in their races – a competitive one where there is a prize to be won, and a non-competitive one.
“We determine our winners based on the time. Everyone starts together, and who finishes first wins. In our non-competitive events, you get vouchers and goody bags. In competitive, you win prizes like headbands and prizes up to 1.5 lakhs,” says Vikram.
The difficulty of the course will be modified based on the category, with the competitive ones being more difficult. Wild Warriors usually starts with a competitive race, and through the day, they hold gyms for anyone to participate.
According to Vikram, OCR is a sport where you run through a carefully-designed obstacle course – the shortest course would be a kilometre, and the longest would be a 24-hour event, which is where you end up running 120 km. The origins of OCR lie in the army, where it is still used as a way of training. Today, OCR is increasingly becoming a fashionable lifestyle as well, with a lot of interested participants staying healthy and fit for the races. “OCR is like a celebration.
In order to keep the obstacle races fresh, Vikram regularly attends races, as well as meeting up with others in the community to come up with unique ideas and obstacles for each race.
“We try to add our own touch to it. The monkey bars, for example, are a standard race obstacle. We designed our own monkey bars, which look and feel different than others. The distance between the bars is a little more. Every race will also have a crawl, like under a barbed wire. In our crawls, you also have to push a heavy weight – like a dung beetle. We combine two obstacles in one to make it more interesting.”
In Wild Warrior races, there’s no swimming, but there are water-based events like crossing a lake. Every OCR will have marshals and volunteers – marshals are the decision-makers in the case that someone is cheating. It’s a sport and you have to play it fairly. There is also a first aid station on the course. One of the things that they insist on is sustenance throughout the course. “In our courses, along the way, we have stations where there’ll be water, bananas, and some electrolytes,” says Vikram.
During their first year of operation, they tried to establish proof of concept, to see if OCR was appreciated in the Indian market. From there, they had to get “out there” – to let people know about the sport. Vikram describes the responses of the Indian market as “interesting”. “I feel like before getting into it, certain sectors that I thought would like this haven’t really responded well, and certain sectors I was hesitant about have. Those who are already in sport haven’t responded well, and older people who come here to have fun have responded well, for they don’t come to compete – they come to build a memory or a relationship. A lot of corporates send people here as a team bonding exercise,” he says.
Has OCR become popular amongst women? Vikram definitely thinks so. “Our ratio has been 70:30 in favour of men. We’re doing a lot of things to change that – we want to bring it to as many girls as possible. It’s because guys have a lot of options in sports, and girls can use this to get stronger, fitter, look better, whatever the goals. We ask all the gyms to send them members, educate them about what this sport is and how to do some of our special obstacles.”
Fun fact – Vikram fully believes that OCR is all set to become an Olympic sport soon if it can be standardized. Indeed, it has already gotten into the SEA games. He describes it as a showcase of who is the most athletic – as throughout the race, you will be running, climbing and pulling. Obstacle course races require specific training, in areas such as strength, grip and running, as a lot of obstacles are hanging-based. “If you can get a rock climber who can run, there’s nothing like it!” he gushes.
For the same reason, he believes that obstacle courses will also be tremendously helpful in boosting the participants’ mental health. “The connection between obstacle courses and mental health is unbelievable!” he gushes. “Whenever you finish an obstacle course, you feel good about yourself because you’ve achieved something. It’s something that anyone can achieve, regardless of fitness level.”
Through Wild Warrior, Vikram aims to make fitness and training fun. His goal is to see people smiling and laughing through their fitness regime.
“People in gyms don’tv look happy – they look serious, look in the mirror. That’s fine, but you should also be open to cracking a joke or playing a prank. What’s the point in being serious?”Vikram Menon