Obstacle races have become a phenomenon over the past few years. While 5k, 10k, half and full marathons and triathlons are still the most popular of the solo events open to everyone, the obstacle races are quickly catching up due to the variety, challenge, fun and excitement they offer.
There are obstacle races of all kinds all over the world available to people of all ages and athletic abilities. Of course, the more fit and athletic you are, the better race time you’ll have. None-the-less, obstacle races can be challenging and extremely fun depending on the obstacles and layout of the course.
Have you considered adding an obstacle course race to your camp program, either as an evening activity or as part of your camp Olympics or Color War? Before you begin planning let’s start with a few questions:
What do you have available at camp?
A day camp at a school site will create a course very different from a resident camp that has acres and acres of wooded land and a lake. Consider the terrain of your camp and the facilities you may already have that can serve as challenges (pool, archery, mountain bike course, ropes elements, basketball court, hills, canoes, etc.)
Who will be competing?
Will this be for the older campers, the younger campers, or everyone? An obstacle course created for younger campers may be too easy for the older campers. Perhaps it’s a course for the older campers that the younger campers can look forward to one day competing on. Maybe you have two courses. Maybe you have a variety of challenging obstacles and the harder ones can be avoided by the younger campers. This is something you’ll have to decide on.
What is your budget?
Putting together a camp obstacle race can be as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. It can be as small or as EPIC as you want. It can be low-cost or crazy expensive. Or it can be anywhere in the middle (my personal preference).
Do you have someone who can build obstacles?
If you have a maintenance crew or volunteer weekend, then building awesome obstacles may be the ticket. If your camp does not have people like that then you’ll need to find obstacles that don’t require construction experience.
How long should the course be?
Competitors of the first stage of the original Ninja Warrior only have 2 minutes to complete the very difficult course. It’s short but the production team try to make it so that only a few will complete it in time.
Competitors of mud run obstacle races don’t have a time limit per se (you can’t take all day and night). many are 5k in length, which is a bit long for a camp course. Competitors are either shooting for a personal best time or are just looking to have fun completing a semi-challenging to difficult course with friends.
Will you have campers race as individuals or as teams?
Racing in a team allows campers to help each other on the more difficult obstacles. Racing individually allows campers to rely only on themselves and not be weighed down by slower teammates. There are pros and cons to each, obviously.
Will you allow campers to wear costumes?
If it’s Color War then they should wear their colors, of course. If it’s an evening activity, let them go crazy dressing up.
Now it’s time to choose your obstacles. Here are some to consider.
I am sure if you look around the internet you can find plans for some of the more difficult obstacles to construct, but most of the photos should give you a good idea on how to make each of them happen.
If obstacles aren’t enough, or you want to spice the course up a bit, here are some challenge ideas you can add.
Here is a list of possible rewards for completing the course…
- Points for the team (Color War, Olympics, cabin vs. cabin)
- Special bead
- Name on a leaderboard for having the fastest time
- Team Photo
- Individual Photo
- Their own sports trading card
Part of the fun of racing in events is getting the shirt or medal. It used to be that runners would collect race shirts and have a closet full of them, Now it’s all about the medals each finisher receives at the end of the race. I know runners that will not enter a race if there is no medal given at the end. Run Disney has some of the best medals and they change them all the time. They know the medal is important to racers.
The Cherry on Top
You have decided what obstacles you’ll add, the route the competitors will take, and the rewards that they will earn. You have also decided that the campers will create banners and posters for their team or favorite competitors and will be watching the race from different places along the course. Excellent!
Now I want to offer one more suggestion, a little extra challenge to add to the pressure of the race – in a fun way. Zombies!
A few years ago there was a race called Run for Your Lives. It was an obstacle race that has been infested with the undead. Competitors ran the race and avoided contact with the zombies that happened to be strung out along the course. Racers wore 3 football flags around their waist. This represented their health. If the zombies pulled all three flags, the racer would not be able to share in the prizes at the end of the race, but they could still continue on to finish.
Zombies a little too much for you? Well. another fun idea is to give staff water guns to squirt the campers who are racing. On a hot day this may be a welcome treat.
Build It and They Will Race!
Now that you have some ideas, go and create an awesome obstacle course and let your campers race to the finish. If it’s a really incredible course, consider hosting off-season races to raise some camp funding. Weekend warriors are always looking for fun, exciting and challenging races to run.
One more thing…if you add mud pits or water obstacles where campers will submerge themselves, make sure they have an extra pair of shoes and clothes. An outdoor shower (or at least a hose) would be good, too.
Have other ideas for obstacles and challenges, or tips on designing and running a course at camp? Leave a comment.