Why Thrill Seeking Millennials Love Obstacle Races

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

The Millennial generation is the “live life to the fullest, take on new challenges” generation.  As Millennials are gaining more power in the marketplace, they are changing the way companies are doing business and promoting their brands.  The adventurous Generation Y mindset has transformed the way marathons specifically are structuring their events and marketing campaigns.

As a whole, Millennials value personal health and take pride in their body image and outward appearance.  According to research conducted by Barkley and Boston Consulting Group, 60 percent of Millennials try to work out on a regular basis.  For many young adults, this means going on a daily or weekly run.  Millennials are more likely to partake in a specific physical activity like running as opposed to simply “going to the gym” for two reasons: 1. Gym memberships tend to be overpriced and 2. Millennials like to feel like they are going somewhere and doing something instead of being stationary inside of a gym.


As a result, we have seen a huge Millennial turnout for road races and marathons that offer Millennials more than just a workout run.  Obstacle races like the Tough Mudder and Spartan Race are turning the idea of a traditional road race on its head.  These races are action packed and force Millennials out of their comfort zones.  The Tough Mudder also creates a communal environment and support causes that Millennials believe in and care about like the Wounded Warrior Project.

Millennials are intrigued by opportunities that offer a unique stamp of achievement, combined with a bit of recklessness all for a “cause outside myself.” It’s not the “me generation,” it’s the “me plus the world” generation.  The Tough Mudder Race embraces this collective attitude by requiring that all race participants sign a pledge saying they will help fellow mudders complete the race.

According to Alex Peterson, Tough Mudder Chief of Culture, “[The pledge] really signals how our event is different from the traditional gambit, which is much more about individual performance and beating your PR (or personal record),” says Patterson. “This is much more about having the challenge of overcoming obstacles and leaving no Mudder behind.”

Brands have also swarmed obstacle races as a way to connect with the powerful Millennial demographic.  The companies that hold mud-run challenges typically turn them into all-day affairs; some provide participants with beer after finishing the race, while others feature stages with entertainment acts. Reebok, one of the main sponsors of the Spartan Race, attributes its 11 percent increase in sales to its partnership with the obstacle race geared towards Millennials.

Millennials are redefining not only what it means to be personally fit but also how to achieve that fitness.  Gym memberships within the Millennial demographic are decreasing but participation in marathon and obstacle races are rapidly increasing.  Smart brands are taking note of this culture change and are investing in opportunities that align with the thrill seeking mentality of Millennials.

Leah Swartz & Kelly Lieberman, TeraCrunch, contributed to this post. 

Photo credit: Flickr 

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.