Cover image for Off course : inside the mad, muddy world of obstacle course racing
Off course : inside the mad, muddy world of obstacle course racing
Beresini, Erin.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.
Physical Description:
239 pages ; illustrations ; 22 cm
A sports journalist describes her experiences and the cast of characters she met during her training and running of obstacle races, courses that consist of mud, fire, barbed wire, and walls.
If it's broke -- The mud kings -- Mouse vs. mudder -- Vermonsters -- Throwing a crossfit -- Training day -- Hobie call and the $100,000 prize -- Unleashing the ultra beast -- In the Army now -- Endurance S & M -- Injury report -- This is the end.
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GV1067 .B47 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A fun, funny, fist-pumping romp through the thriving new fitness culture of obstacle course racing  Obstacle course racing is the fastest-growing sport in U.S. history. Every week, thousands of marathoners, CrossFitters, and casual weekend warriors shell out money to run through mud and fire, crawl under barbed wire, scramble over ten-foot walls, and dodge baton-wielding gladiators. Some even sprint through electrically charged wires only to suffer muscle-seizing shocks and faceplant in the muck.In  Off Course, Outside  journalist and endurance athlete Erin Beresini dives straight into this strange world to reveal a new subculture of military-inspired amateur competition and the industry that's rapidly growing to support it. Having reached a crossroads in her own athletic pursuits, Beresini embarked on a journey to train and compete in several obstacle races herself, culminating in the world's first marathon-length event, the grueling Spartan Ultra Beast. Along the way, she met awild cast of characters, from frat boys to housewives, fitness buffs to financiers to fanatics, and uncovered the sport's biggest scandals, lawsuits, and rivalries. As Beresini inches ever closer to her goal -- and gets pretty buff in the process -- she also illuminates the history, psychology, science, and sociology of this new sport that's taking the endurance world by storm.

Author Notes

ERIN BERESINI's sports journalism has appeared in the New York Times, Outside magazine, Triathlete magazine, Inside Triathlon, and espnW. She is a former senior editor of Competitor magazine. She currently writes Outside 's "Fitness Coach" column. She is a world champion triathlete.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

An Outside magazine columnist and a world-champion triathlete, Beresini delves into the surreal world of obstacle course racing (OCR) as she trains and competes in one of the sport's most grueling, marathon-length events, fittingly called the Spartan Ultra-Beast. Spawned in the late 1980s in England as the Tough Guy competition, OCR is now a multimillion-dollar business that attracts everyone from world-class athletes to amateurs looking for an adrenaline rush and an alternative to mundane exercise regimes. Beresini profiles the operators of America's top races: William Dean of the Tough Mudder competition and Joe De Sena and his Spartan Race series. The logistics of creating obstacles (e.g., muddy fields topped with barbed wire; fields of dangling electrical wires) have created a cottage industry for off-season ski areas and mobile quick-response medical units. Amid her research into the OCR world, Beresini chronicles her personal journey as she prepares for her race, detailing the regimen and questioning, in an engaging, self-deprecating style, what such a masochistic undertaking says about the participants' sanity. A fascinating insider's view of endurance racing's latest craze.--Clark, Craig Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sportswriter and world champion triathlete Beresini has written a fascinating first book about the compelling, and oftentimes wacky world of obstacle course racing-ORC, as its proponents call it-and its meteoric success. "By 2013 more than 3 million people had run an obstacle course," including Beresini, who used ORC to fill her need for competition after an injury prevented her from participating in Ironman triathlons. Her book is both a chronicle of her involvement as well as an in-depth look at the three major ORC event organizers: Tough Mudder, a team challenge that gives people such obstacles as "dunking them in neon ice water or running them through fields of charged wires," the Spartan Race Series for individuals racing to see if they can survive a combination of mental and physical challenges, and the Warrior Dash. Beresini chooses to run the Spartan "Ultra Beast," with a course that includes "2,100 feet of barbed wire, 250 sandbags . . . and 115 spears." Throughout the various events leading up to it, Beresini captures the thrill of ORC as well as defines the key to a successful race. "The trick is to find the sweet spot where obstacles are tough and scary enough that people are challenged, but still want to return." (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Sports journalist and athlete Beresini (Outside) presents a spirited and engaging journey through the quirky sport of obstacle course racing. With everyone from weekend warriors to experienced endurance athletes flocking to take part in nontraditional races, such as the popular Tough Mudder and Spartan Race series, Beresini's examination of the history, background, and culture of obstacle course racing provides a timely introduction to a major fitness trend and its passionate adherents. As a new obstacle course racer herself, the author adds plenty of firsthand, self-deprecating tales of her racing exploits, as she struggles to reach her long-term goal of completing the Spartan Ultra Beast, a punishing marathon-length obstacle course race that would make most traditional marathoners sprint the other way. VERDICT Beresini adopts a lighthearted, conversational tone as she compellingly portrays the unusual cast of characters who have driven this unorthodox sport's rapid growth and embraced its no-excuses military-inspired ethos. Best suited to endurance athletes, CrossFit fans, or other fitness devotees who may also like the more serious Born To Run by Chris McDougall.-Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



1 If It's Broke Killington Ski Mountain, Vermont September 22 0920-ish I'm face-down in the mud. Sharp rocks are poking into my forearms, stomach, and thighs. I'm pretty sure I just lost a big tuft of hair to the barbed wire zigzagged inches above my head, and I don't want to move because a sadistic man with an enormous hose will blast me again with arctic water if he thinks I'm advancing too fast. "You don't roll in the Marines! You'll get shot!" somebody barked at me moments ago. Then came the first icy spray. Stay dry. That's the only way I'll survive out here in the cool autumn forest. Get wet, and hypothermia could set in fast. I'm already shivering, but I'm not soaked. I've got at least thirty more feet of barbed wire to pass under before I can stand again, so right now I have a decision to make: roll forward and plunge into a chilly puddle, or crawl sideways where the ground is more mud than water and risk entering prime hose-blast range. Those are not your standard Saturday morning choices. Oatmeal or pancakes? To get up or not to get up? That's more like it. What I would do for a down comforter and a Tetley tea right now. "Keep going!" someone inching up behind me says. Less than one hour and three miles after this torture began, it looks like we're both about to get drenched. Even worse, we have twenty-four miles to go, and this suffering is nothing compared to what's coming next. Redondo Beach, California Six months earlier I was a broken athlete. Physically, mentally, and spiritually, I had nothing left. I'd spent eight months in a melancholy funk, wondering when and how I would get my health and motivation back. And like most spectacular breakdowns, this one had been a long time coming. I had raced my first triathlon in Tucson in 2005, and I sucked at it. The run was only three miles long but felt like thirty, and it nearly triggered a finish-line upchuck. But the mediocrity I displayed that day sparked something inside of me. I looked at my magnificently fit competitors whose muscles bulged through their spandex and decided I wanted to be like them. Not just like them -- I wanted to beat them. I knew I could do better if I tried. And since I was about to graduate from college with a degree in French, I didn't have a lot to look forward to career-wise. After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles with visions of becoming a screenwriter -- or maybe an advertising copywriter -- and I started racing more triathlons. I learned to accept spandex as a valid category of apparel and found out the hard way why bike shorts are meant to be worn without underwear. I spent a lot of time at my local triathlon shop questioning the sales guy, Robert, about time trial bikes, aero bars, and neon foods that are neither liquid nor solid. Perhaps to get me out of his hair, Robert took it upon himself to introduce me to other people, usually at the most inopportune times. Like at an Olympic distance triathlon in Ventura. I had just completed the race and was covered in my own sweat and snot. I still didn't feel comfortable wearing spandex in public -- it did nothing to enhance my figure, which was somewhat swollen from the stress of adulthood. Salt rings had formed in strange places on my tank top and shorts, emphasizing my jiggly bits. I was about to change clothes when Robert walked up to me with an incredibly hot male triathlete by his side. "Erin!" Robert said. "I want you to meet someone." Oh God. I struck an awkward pose in an attempt to simultaneously cover up my tummy chub and elongate my legs. "Jimmy, this is Erin. She also got second in your age group." That was it. That was all Robert had to say. Then he just stood there like he'd lit a bottle rocket and was waiting for the fuse to burn down. "Congratulations," Jimmy said. "You too," I said. When my car broke down a month later, I asked Jimmy for a ride to a race we were both doing in Flagstaff, Arizona. On the drive home, I called my mom to tell her I was going to marry Jimmy. He was fun, fit, fast, kind, and a little weird, and I loved him. He proposed seven months later. Since Robert was clearly gifted at setting me up with like-minded people, even if his timing was a little off, I was excited when he introduced me to a group of athletes who were training to race Ironman Arizona. I didn't know what an Ironman was, but I wanted in. I'd spent about half a year in Los Angeles and still couldn't call myself anything other than an hourly-wage product description writer who worked in a freezing cold warehouse and lived off of the old, hard gumballs I'd found in a box under my desk. I desperately wanted to call myself an Ironman and give my parents something to brag about to their friends. Oh, your Jennifer went to Harvard Law and is now a partner at a prestigious New York law firm? Well, my daughter is an Ironman. So, in April 2007, after twelve hours and one minute of swimming, biking, and running, I became an Ironman. I was elated to cross the finish line, but then I started wondering how much better I could do if I tried harder. And so began the cycle of training for and racing in endurance events, each a little bigger and a little badder than the next. Training became a way of life -- and the way I continued to meet new friends as an adult. When I went back to school to get a degree in the more useful but vaguely named field of "communications," I joined the university's triathlon team. Instant friends. While I interned after graduating, I competed in another Ironman and a 100-mile mountain bike race. Instant respect. By the time I landed my dream job at a San Diego fitness rag, there was only one thing left to do: Ultraman, a three-day, 320-mile triathlon. "You do realize it'll probably take you months to recover from this," Jimmy warned when I called to tell him that I was going to sign up for Ultraman Canada. Jimmy was still working in Los Angeles, and we were living apart on weekdays. Ultraman training would help fill the void created by Jimmy's absence and prevent me from replacing him with chocolate cake. It would also be my revenge on Race Across Oregon, a 516-mile cycling race that was the only event I'd ever quit. It happened in July 2009. I had been riding my bike 376 miles straight into a headwind when something in my brain broke. Why the hell are you doing this? a unicorn walking alongside of me asked. I don't know, I replied. Why are you talking to me? Offended, my hallucination trotted into the trees while I climbed into the minivan with my crew for a break and never got back out. I'd felt guilty about quitting ever since. Ultraman would fix that. The endurance gods smiled upon me during training, and I never once got injured. I did get pulled off of the Los Angeles Marathon course at mile 24 with hypothermia -- it was windy, rainy, and in the 50s -- but the gods made up for it two months later when they let me qualify for the Boston Marathon. Life as an athlete was peachy. Life by the border without Jimmy, however, was sad. When it became clear he couldn't move south anytime soon, I had a heart-to-heart with my boss. Working remotely was not an option, she said. Sometimes you have to choose between your career and your family. So I had a heart-to-heart with my landlord. "Honey, every day you get with your husband is a blessing. Go to him!" she said. For the low, low price of an extra month's rent, Park Place Apartments would release me to my man. I left San Diego about a month before Ultraman, so I had plenty of time to burn a swim-cap tan into my forehead while training at noon in LA's outdoor pools. Ultraman itself was magical. It was fun to compete without having to think about a thing because my crew had it all covered. Jimmy kayaked alongside me, guiding me 6.2 miles across Skaha Lake, handing me GUs every half-hour, and wondering why I couldn't pee and swim at the same time. Justin, a former tri teammate, dangled PB&Js and Gatorade and potato chips so I could grab them as I whizzed by on my bike. And when my stomach acted up on the double marathon, my father-in-law, Steve, held up a towel so I could relieve myself on the side of the road, my own personal porta-potty. When my crew realized I was actually going to finish the event, they were overjoyed. I was overjoyed. Together we ran the last half-mile down the road, into a grassy park, and across the finish line. I uploaded a new Facebook cover photo. In it, I'm wearing a Wonder Woman bathing suit with a towel cape and running out of Skaha Lake with a triumphant fist in the air. I look like a superhero. I felt like a superhero. At that moment there was absolutely nothing I couldn't do. I never imagined that only one month later I'd be sitting across from my doctor as he reviewed dozens of blood tests, trying to figure out what had gone so horribly wrong. Excerpted from Off Course: Inside the Mad, Muddy World of Obstacle Course Racing by Erin Beresini All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.