There are people who voluntary swim in mud, get scars and even are reday to pay for this. Dangerous but exciting games called obstacle course racing (OCR) united more than 7 million people worldwide. The recently shot documentary “Rise of the Suffersests” turned to its director to be an obstacte race itself.


A throny way from journalist to film director

When five years ago a journalist Scott Keneally was reporting a story about obstacle course racing for Outside magazine “Playing Dirty“, he did not expected that he will get involved that deeply. Meeting these guys inspired him and later one article turned into a hobby and a full-lenghth documentary. But, just as in OCR, things did not go that slick: making Rise of the Sufferfests  itself was a test of endurance. The Kickstarter has failed and Keneally ran out of money for the documentary just after he started working on it.

The goal was to raise $297,000, but he raised only 12% of the required amount. In order to find any support, he decided to attract the attention of OCR community by integrating there and by participating in Spartan Race in Malibu, but did not succeed there too: he didn’t finish the three-mile race. the pressure kept growing: a bit later the journalist found out that his wife is pregnant with their first child, so the shooting got postponed once again. These life obstacles made the director feel as he is in the middle of the mud run. but this time, there was no option to turn back and stop it. So he decided not to surrender and to finish the film.


Refusing to give up, Keneally went to Tough Guy in England with his team, but the money still were lacking. Then, the director spent half  of ayear for looking into branded content. He decided to put emphasis on branding but again he tried any brand that would make sense and didn’t succeed. Finally, he found Echo Entertainment company, which owner got really inspired with the Keneally’s idea. He was the one who helped to reach the finish of this long shooting story.

What is this about?

One thing that OCR participants universally struggle with, it’s trying to explain to friends and family exactly why it is that they spend our hard earned money on something that they consider “crazy”.The movie answers all the “whys” people ask participants of OCR. Why do they pay for getting dirty and getting scars? Why the great amount of participants are office workers? The film turned to be a fun and energetic exploration into the history and meteoric growth of the sport and is packed full of insights and interviews with some of the biggest names in the industry. And Scott Keneally himself became one of the action-heros. He takes his viewers on a bit of a personal journey during the film as well. A journey that covers everything from failure to success, and even fatherhood.

The documentary gives a lot of time to one of the first obstacle racing pioneers, Billy Wilson, who has long staged an annual race called the Tough Guy Competition on his 600-acre farm in Staffordshire, England. In the beginning, the course relied solely on the naturally rugged terrain, but before long Wilson, a legendary eccentric nicknamed “Madman of The Midlands,” started to increase the pain payout. This was in addition to the formidable challenge provided by the weather, with temperatures reaching below freezing, with many participants contracting hypothermia. He stirred up some controversy in 1999 when he created a section where racers dashed through electric wires, causing many to fall with the shocks. “Nobody trusted that we weren’t going to kill them,” says Wilson in the film. Despite his claim on the industry, Keneally observes that Wilson’s old world ways, like sending paper fliers out — rather than building up Facebook pages — may have prevented him from hitting the level of success that other competitions have enjoyed.

Surprisingly, one of the answers to question “why” were likes on the Facebook. Competitions like Tough Mudder hired professional photographers to capture the participants in action, and then handed out the photos for free, to make all their friends jealous. “It was the most genius thing ever,” observes Morgan Spurlock during his interview. “We’re just going to give you the pictures. Put them out. It was the greatest self promotion ever.” Tough Mudder founder Will Dean puts it this way: “Material things don’t always appreciate in value, but people understand that memories, and not just experiences, do,” he says. “I believe that Tough Mudder is about giving people those experiences that will last forever.” All while showing your Facebook friends that you’re more hardcore than they are.

Over the past several years, obstacle course racing has turned from niche market to billion-dollar industry. Despite the hardships that are seen on the course, many of the experts observe that there is a definite psychological need for the physical challenges in obstacle course racing. Maybe it is what you are looking for?

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