Don’t Let Body Image Ruin Obstacle Racing

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body image ocr

Every Wednesday and Friday afternoon I teach an obstacle course and endurance class for kids in my daughter’s local gymnastics facility. While teaching recently,┬ásomething tragic occurred which lodged itself in my feelings place like a splinter and, well, here it is:

“Coach, I have a question.”

“Come on [kid’s name], we’ll never finish the warm-up if you keep on with the questions.”

“I want abs.”


“Will this class make me get abs?”

Sigh. “You’re like 8, why do you want abs?”



If there was a firearm nearby I would have shot myself in the face.

His reason for wanting abs? They look good.

Why would an 8-year-old want to be attractive except for the attention he receives on the digital babysitter, er, social media accounts he owns?

Why would you?

Yeah, appearance was my initial motivator when I began my fitness journey. I was fat and lazy and wanted to look good without a shirt. Except, I never got those washboard abs. I got down to nearly 8% body fat, but never those bodybuilder abs.

In fact, I was winning races, setting course records, and landing nice rankings in open heats…all in this skin:

Andrew Bowen Ft. Bragg Spartan Sprint Wall


No one’s doing laundry on that washboard, folks. So why is it that we are so fixated on the idea that super cut = high performer?

Perhaps I’m part of the exception. I mean, I’ve toed the line with guys who look like they just came off a photo shoot with Do You Even Lift, Bro? magazine and beat them (to my surprise and theirs), but the further into this journey I go and the more races I run I’ve realized something:

You get what you train for.

I train as an obstacle athlete; they go to the gym and lift. I won the obstacle event. Go figure.

That kid in the gym wanted the abs of a model, not an athlete. That isn’t to say serious athletes do not posses serious abdominal architecture. What it means is that while the model trims her mid line for photos, the athlete trains her abs for strength and performance–with their appearance being incidental.

This concept is something I still struggle with every time I look at myself in the mirror. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. Am I eating too much (or even too little), am I not training long enough? Why do I perform so well but look…”average?”

Maybe I should question my motives. Basically the only reason I want abs is because I think my wife likes them. But I’ve seen her face as I train, when I cross the finish line, when we look back on my race results.

Washboard abs don’t turn her on. She gets hot for a warrior, not a model.

daydream heather

Turns out, that’s who wins races and reaches personal goals, too.

So the next time you look at yourself in the mirror with disdain, ask yourself if that image you’re comparing yourself to is really worth the worry and tears. OCR is made of average heroes being comfortable with who they are, having fun, and busting their ass setting healthy goals and training for an epic life.

Kids like my OCR student used to teach us that. Now, it’s up to us to show them that life and fitness are about more than a photo on Instagram.

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