Typically, endurance sports are individual challenges. It's you against the clock, you against your PR, you against your mental roadblocks. Outside of relays that are sometimes offered at races (which are still a collection of individual legs), endurance sports are typically a path to self-achievement.
But sometimes, it's fun to make team the theme. And that's where adventure races are starting to fill a void.
"The tide is changing," said T.C. Carson, director of the World Famous Mud Run at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. "It used to be more individuals than teams, now it's starting to be more teams than individuals."
Whether it's through a corporate challenge or just a group of buddies out to have a good time, many people are finding that adventure races combine fitness and laid-back fun better than any alternative. And they do so while stressing the importance of teamwork.
Keith Cunningham is the marketing director of VAVi Sport in San Diego, which organizes the Del Mar Mud Run and the Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge race series. He's finding that mud runs and obstacle runs are satisfying a niche of people who want to be active, but not necessarily competitive.
"You've got marathons, you've got 10Ks, and a lot of (participants) are competing and going for their best times," Cunningham said. "That's not necessarily the case here. We have people who try to blaze through the course as fast as possible. But it's a social run. It's more focused on the social aspect rather than the competitive element. That's what people want—they want to be active, but they want to have fun."
The Camp Pendleton World Famous Mud Run isn't that team-heavy yet, but Carson said the five-person team option definitely is gobbling up more spots than ever before.
At one of the 2011 races, the World Famous Mud Run had about a 50-50 split between individual racers and those competing with a team. He had never seen it so balanced.
"Many corporations utilize the World Famous Mud Run as well as other mud runs as an opportunity for team-building," Carson said. "They want to get their corporations out there, and they want to make sure they have a good cohesion within their companies."
VAVi Sport takes the team option to another level. While a four-team option is available, they also offer slots for teams of unlimited size. The 2011 ROC Race in Del Mar featured one team of close to 100 runners, all going through the obstacle course together.
Often, the teams dress up in costumes to stand out. And they always stick together and help teammates across obstacles and through mud pits.
Half marathons and 5Ks certainly don't have to apologize for their format. Millions run in road races every year, and the number is growing.
But sometimes, active people want to get away from serious events and just unwind. And that's where adventure races are coming through.
"People love to run," Cunningham said, "but people love to run in costumes and get ridiculous, too."
And do so as part of a team.Search for an adventure race.