No really, why the hell are obstacle races so effing expensive?

I mean you just find a farm or a big field, buy a bit of lumber and a few ropes, build some obstacles and add tents, and then thousands of people show up…right?  Of course! That’s exactly right! And if you believe that, I also have a bridge for sale and some land on the Moon you might be interested in buying.

venueThe truth is, putting on an OCR event costs a crap ton of money. For a start, venues cost a pretty penny. That is before you even think about selling a single registration. The more calls these venue owners get from budding OCR promoters all with the next huge game-changing OCR concept (ie: edible obstacles, sheep shaving, badger wrestling etc.), the more they think their former pig farm/landfill/crappy motocross track is frickin gold plated, meaning they want to charge ridiculous fees for it. (note to self, pitch edible obstacle idea to Will Dean and Joe D). So, you get past that, and you got yourself a venue! Congrats! Step one of putting on your OCR event is complete. Only 3,564,4444 more items to go before a successful race can take place.

Ok, next up (and in no particular order), I guess we need some insurance? Yes, lots of it. Both the venue and (generally) participants also need to be covered, Oh, you thought the waiver covered all that? our survey says….. “XXX” (sorry, nope). Moving on, there’s the medical team, your event staff, security, an entire build crew, and a myriad of other human beings that apparently will simply not work for free (a**holes right?). Alrighty, we are good, right? The race is ready? Oh shit, medals and T-shirts and beer (oh my), lumber, excavators, tents, permits, barricades, dumpsters, tools, ropes, nets, surely that’s it, right?  No? I need frigging PORTA POTTIES as well? This is getting ridiculous; can’t these people pop a squat in the woods? I mean they signed a waiver, right, the waiver? Geez, what does that thing cover?

Kerching, kerching, ker-f*cking-ching.

drunkOK, so all that is done, surely now the customers will show up in their thousands, right? As they say “if you build it, they will come”… No? Oh, a complete marketing campaign is needed? Well, f*** you very much Kevin Costner for lying to an entire generation of entrepreneurs.

So, I think you get my point…..the list of stuff you need is huge and pretty much never ending.  However, and simply for shits and giggles, I will now attempt to create this endless list, AND, I will attempt this without a safety net… drum roll.

mobOK, before you grab your pitchforks and fire up the torches:

Disclaimer #1: The content of this list and the figures I have come up with are “round about” figures based on my personal experience putting on all manner of events, from music festivals, to Zombie Runs, to bacon flavored 5k road races, and of course enough OCR/Mud run events to sink a ship.

Disclaimer #2: Yes, there are much smaller local events that can do things cheaper than this.  I am using a professionally done, medium sized event, 3-5 miles with maybe 10-15 mid-sized constructed obstacles as my guide (trust me, you’re not building the Savage Race “Colossus” and the rest of their epic obstacles from scratch for $25k).

Disclaimer #3: The costs listed are based on a first-time event. So please know that your cost on a follow-up event would drop as you already have lumber/obstacles, nets, ropes, tents, banners, signage, office stuff, etc. Also, your marketing costs can drop (a little) for follow-up events because you now have an existing database of customers to market to (it costs more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one).

There really isn’t an industry “how- to” list or set budget that all races use.  All races are different. Example: Tough Mudder events are costlier to produce more than say Warrior Dash events. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that, but I did, so there.

Also yes, some prices may be arguable. I can get barricades in Miami for $1 per foot, but as I’ve found elsewhere in the USA, $2 a foot is the norm. So I went with that. So please remember this is an aggregated list based on a bunch of race types, all with rounded (up or down) numbers.

In my very humble opinion, if you break even on your first race and start making a few bucks on the second, third, etc. you’re in decent shape. That is assuming you get your other 3,564,4444 ducks in a row correctly and the race is a success (just another minor detail). But that is the subject for another blog.

Ok, I am going in…. (by the way in finance RED is Bad, M’kay)

Expense Item QTY 2000 (Est)
Staff travel/food: Race week, scouting and course design trips   $6,000.00
Hotels/accom for 8 staff x 10 days (average build time) 8 $4,000.00
Volunteer/staff meals on race day x 150 150 $750.00
Staff wage 8 staff @ $20 hourly x 8 hours x 10 days 10 $12,800.00
Barricades (estimate $2 per foot) 2000 $4,000.00
Porta potties $75 each 20 $1,500.00
Bibs and safety pins  0.25 each 2000 $500.00
Photography Services (Est $2 per person) 2000 $4,000.00
Timing services ($3 per person) 2000 $6,000.00
Videographer  (final editing is a  separate cost) 1 $1,000.00
Medals (say $3 each) 2000 $6,000.00
T-shirts (participants and staff) $4 each 2500 $8,750.00
Rental of 2 way Radios and possible repeater 50 $500.00
Building materials (varies on the type /amount of obstacles) ONE TIME  10-15 $25,000.00
Ropes, Nets and general obstacle accessories  ONE TIME   $4,000.00
Winners Awards (Axes/Swords, block of wood etc.)   $350.00
Insurance: General liability for the venue (varies)  $1-2 million $2,500.00
Insurance: medical for the participants ($4 per person) 2000 $8,000.00
Permits/alcohol license   $500.00
Carts/staff transport + delivery (10 days)   $3,000.00
Venue rental (Anywhere from $10k up to $50k + )   $20,000.00
Participant tables/chairs/Tents/Permits   $2,500.00
Heavy Machinery (excavator) rental  (10 days)   $3,000.00
Heavy Machinery operators 1 x 25 hours @ $100 per hour   $2,500.00
Medical Services/EMT/Ambulance   $5,000.00
Dumpster rental and disposal (for event and build waste)   $1,000.00
Finishers beer (if no sponsor is found) + cups 2000 $1,500.00
Security staff  4 $500.00
Drinking Water (assume 1  water per station x 4 stations ) 8000 $800.00
Sound system/PA  (Main festival and start line systems) 1 day event $1,000.00
DJ and EMCEE 1 day event $800.00
Posters  200 $250.00
Flyers  25k $1,000.00
Flags, banners and signage (for display at event)  ONE TIME   $3,000.00
Google advertising (AdWords) 6-8 months $5,000.00
Flyer distribution (local events, gyms, CrossFit etc.) 6-8 months $700.00
Start/finish arches (simple inflatables)    ONE TIME   $1,500
Fuel for vehicles, generators etc. 10 days   $500
Generators/water pumps    ONE TIME   $2,000
Facebook ads (sponsored ads etc.) 6-8 months $10,000.00
Organic search advertising or Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Ongoing $1,500.00
Email services (Mail Chimp/Constant contact etc.)  6 months $400.00
Graphic design and web design (including website)   $2,000.00
Course marking signs and caution tape   ONE TIME (signs, not tape)   $500.00
General office supplies (pens, printed waivers, dry wipe boards, cash boxes etc.)   $500.00
Sales and use tax (on select taxable products) Est 6%   $3,000.00
Charitable donation (up to you) Tax deductible   $3,000.00
 Office/Warehouse ($500 month)  8 months  $4000.00
Total (estimated) cost for a small local race with 2000 participants   $176,600.00
INCOME (not including discount codes, special offers etc.)    
Participant income (estimating $70 per person) 2000 $140,000.00
Insurance add-on 2000 $20,000.00
Parking @ $10 per car. Assuming people carpool/ travel in a group (the norm) 700 $7,000.00
Spectators (if you charge for them) @ $10 each. 200 $2,000.00
Total from registrations, insurance, and parking (I didn’t mess with merchandise).   $169,000.00
Your retirement fund now looks like this after 8-12 months stress and hard work.   ($9,600.00)


14413745So there you have it. A rough but fairly detailed breakdown of the basics that go into producing an average sized “Mud Run.”  I hope this shows that these race owners/directors are far from making oodles of money. Most of us are lucky to break even. So why do we do it? Good question. I think we would all like to make a little money from this one day – I mean we have families, bills, and after putting on a few races, a solid drinking problem to support.

But honestly, a lot of us do it because we love it. Yes, of course we want to make a nice profit and be the next “big thing”. But that aside, words can’t explain the thrill of putting it all together, the rush EVERY time you see someone sign up for YOUR event online, the surge of stress and/or adrenaline on (and before) race day as things start to take shape, seeing t’s getting crossed and i’s getting dotted, checking things off the “to-do” list (my fave). There is the feeling we get as the first heat of the day goes out and nothing beats seeing tons of happy faces, old friends, people crying with joy and achievement, and then getting the hugs and handshakes for a “great event.”  It really doesn’t get any better than that.




A British import into Miami, with over 20 years in event production under his kilt (don't ask). He has worked with music festivals, nightclubs, bars, hotels through to consulting with some of the biggest race companies in the world. Garfield has vast experience managing every aspect of OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) and non-OCR (road race) events from conceptualization to implementation. He has a typical British sense of humor (lost on many), did we mention he wears a kilt? like a lot. More details>>

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