Toilet Reading: ‘Obstacle Race’

In a regular series, Land of Dope and Tories is reviewing publications from the weird and wonderful world of specialist magazines. This week: Obstacle Race. 

Tagline: ‘The No.1 magazine for obstacle course racing’

Price: £4.95

Who is this magazine for? For some people, plain old running simply isn’t futile or difficult enough. The grim squirt of endorphins garnered from making a trip from A to B under their own steam – one that could just as easily have been made in a comfy, air-conditioned car – lacks the necessary zest.

Anyone can run, they think. I am an elite being. My profile describes me as gritty, determined, wastin’ no time for time wasters. I use exclamation marks a lot, but wouldn’t recognise an actual joke if it bit me firmly on the arse. My friends have long since tired of my overbearing will to win and craven need for attention. But I need something more, something that helps me to fight this inexplicable emptiness I feel in my heart.

I need obstacles I can smash through, to conquer. And, so help me God, I need lycra.

What did you get for your £4.95? For me at least, the biggest obstacle to overcome was the price tag. Five quid for fewer than 100 pages is a tough sell, particularly when 2% of that is invested on a profile of ‘Mr Awesomeness’. For that kind of money, I want something I can treasure for a number of years and consider naming in bequests for when I pass away.

obstacle course

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Awesomeness.

I did not get this.

The mag follows a pretty traditional formula: features (about obstacle races), reviews (of obstacle races), adverts (for obstacle race stuff) and regulars (yes).

I was always going to struggle with Obstacle Race because I find the whole idea of purposeless running morally dubious and carcinogenic. But there were two things that stood out as especially annoying.

The first is the type of obstacles the mag talks about. When I was at nursery school, an obstacle race meant crawling through a hoop, walking along a thin bench, and possibly putting on an unusual hat and skirt combination that smelled vaguely of mothballs. Good, honest English surrealism, but also things that required at least some peripheral brain power to negotiate. Pain was a possibility, but not the object of the race.

Obstacle race

This is a proper obstacle race.


In this adult version, the obstacles are basically mud, walls and the dark. Thinking is not required, beef-witted determinism is. If it doesn’t hurt, you’ve done it wrong. Whereas the kids races would be won by the wiliest and speediest, the ideal adult candidate is nerveless chunk of pork animated by electrodes. One of the reviewed races has a paintball zone in it. It’s only a matter of time before they start using a Gatling gun.

The second irritating thing is the tone. There’s an awful lot of ‘visualising your goals’ and ‘man up your mind-set’ (From a woman! You go girl) management guffpap going on.  Combined with nonsense like ‘really muddy mud’, ‘absolute top quality’ and ‘to my surprise, I could air squat pretty well’, and the net result is the deadening feeling of being lectured at by a Commonwealth bronze medallist turned C-list motivational speaker.

Good subbing should cut the number of words on offer by at least a third, but in swapping defiantly for definitely, sweet potato for a side order of Sweet Potato and having a pretty loose grip on commas throughout, the subs have got other things to worry about. Your Chickens wouldn’t have put up with this shit.

Features: There are four race reviews in the third edition of Obstacle Race, but they all essentially follow the same pattern:

  • I got up very early.
  • The race started.
  • There was some mud.
  • There was some water.
  • I finished.

This leaves precious little scope for comedy, or interest, so I propose we move on.

Adverts: There are amazingly few adverts in Obstacle Race, which explains both the price and excess of content. The handful that have squeezed in are for races (including one called ‘The Suffering’ – sign me up), shoes and the forum ‘Talk Mud‘, which I assume is a safe online space for the discussion of obstacle-based foreplay.

Letters page: Obstacle Course has imposed a 100 word limit on letter submissions. So to be generous to the writers, I’m going to put the fact that their contributions would shame a nine-year old down to that.

It's always nice to make someone's date.

It’s always nice to make someone’s date.

Certainly no sense of community argument here. Which is a shame, because I for one would like the lid to be busted off that ‘barbed wire vs chicken wire’ obstacle tunnel debate.

Rating: 3/10

Lots of people who run obstacle races do it for charity, and that’s lovely.

But that doesn’t prevent the sport, nor the magazine that celebrates it, from being painfully dull. Duller than keeping chickens. Duller than shooting birds.

Don’t make me read it again.

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