April 1, 2017
[5:20] Scott Keneally
[14:23] The Hallucinogen That Changed Scott's Choice Of Future
[17:06] How Obstacle Course Racing Got In The Picture
[21:03] When Scott Decided To Make Rise Of The Sufferfest
[23:08] What Makes Tough Guy So Tough
[28:58] Why People Do Obstacle Course Racing
[36:28] Quick Commercial Break/Kimera Koffee
[44:05] Dealing With Post-Race Blues
[47:15] The “Masculinity Crisis”
[52:16] Scott's Favorite Interviews For The Movie
[59:51] The Craziest Event Scott Joined While Filming The Movie
[1:02:33] What May Be Next For OCRs
[1:07:41] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey, all you crazy masochists. You're going to dig this one. This podcast is about why millions of people are basically paying lots of money, including myself, to suffer through ice, and fire, and electricity, and barbed wire, and mud, and more. It's what this guy who put out one of the only documentaries I watched last year that I really liked. So you're going to dig this one. But before we jump in, I want to tell you about how to crank your muscle gains to relatively new heights by flooding them without increasing your protein intake by a single gram with a whole crapola of amino acids. So there is this package and it's called the Masszymes package. It's a one-two workout combo. So it starts off with something called P3-OM, which is a protein digesting probiotic. It's actually one of the most potent protein digesting probiotics in the world. So that breaks down the proteins. And then there's this stuff called Masszymes that comes along with because the proteolytic enzymes in Masszymes combine with these probiotics to break down proteins and deliver them to your muscles very, very quickly. I mean I've seen the videos on their website, and I'll give you the website here all in a second, you can sprinkle that stuff on a steak and watch the steak.
So it enhances your immune system, it clears away undigested protein in your gut. It can even improve focus and mental clarity because all your neurotransmitters are made with, you guessed it, amino acids. So anyways, it's probiotics and digestive enzymes combined together. Super unique approach to protein digestion. It's called BiOptimizers. And to get some for yourself, you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/biopt, that's B-I-O-P-T. bengreenfieldfitness.com/biopt, as in BiOptimizers, and you get 10% off automatically. No code required. And that'll get you the Masszymes, that'll get you P3-OM probiotic, it sounds like a robot out of Star Wars. P3-OM. Get it, baby. Combined with Masszymes.
This podcast is also brought to you by GainesWave. GainesWave rocks. It's changed my life. So I have, and I'm hoping that my dear mother isn't listening because this is going to make her blush, I've used Viagra. I've done it. Yes, I admitted it. I have tried that stuff just to see what would happen. And it works. But it also causes stuff like blurry eyes, and it gets processed by the liver, and it makes your heart rate go up and down. I don't think it's healthy. I'm pretty sure it's not healthy. I've actually got articles at bengreenfieldfitness.com about how it's not healthy. Well, you can get all the same results with acoustic sound waves. And there is this medical clinic that you can go to that just blasts your crotch, whether you're a guy or a girl, works for girls too, with acoustic sound waves. It opens up old blood vessels and stimulates the formation of new blood vessels, and it works fantastically. I've done it. And to do this for yourself, what you do is you get 150 bucks off, you text the word “Greenfield” to 313131. And when you text the word “Greenfield” to 313131, that gives you 150 bucks off this treatment. It's called a GainesWave treatment. And you can also go to gaineswave.com and click “Find a doctor” to locate a GainesWave provider near you. “Find a doctor”. I don't know why I said that like it was a question. It's not a question. It's not “find a doctor?” it's find a doctor. Find a doctor. I found mine in Miami. He was awesome. It was actually Mr. Gaines himself who did my treatment. So I'm special, you can have him do too. You'll get an even bigger discount if you go to the Miami clinic, so I hear. Anyways though, gaineswave.com or text the word “Greenfield” to 313131. And now let's go learn from the guy who directed the Sufferfest, Scott Keneally.
In this episode of The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show:
“We don't really have jobs where we're building things, and seeing results, and feeling a sense of gratitude and confidence that you feel when you achieve something great that maybe you didn't think you were able to do. So I think that's driving a lot of people in general. And who doesn't want to be outside playing in the mud? I think it appeals to like the child in all of us.” “And even like Hunter McIntyre who's featured in the film, and I know you know him well, he definitely, I would say, maybe the world's best obstacle racer. But before that, he was the world's best party boy, and he found a way to channel his energy.”
Ben: Hey, folks. It's Ben Greenfield, and last year I was in San Francisco, I raced the AT&T Spartan Stadium Race in San Francisco. By the way, if you've never done a stadium race, you need to add that to your bucket list 'cause you basically run around stadium seats carrying sandbags and doing an ungodly number of exercises until you, at some point, cross the finish line of a baseball field or football field. It's a ton of fun. We might even delve more into that on today's show. But anyways, after I went to that race in San Francisco, I took my wife and my boys to a private screening of I guess one of the only movies I saw during the entire year last year. I'm not much of a Hollywood guy and one of my secrets to extreme productivity is that I'm actually pretty much an idiot when it comes to anything going on in the TV or movie world. And actually, this wasn't even a movie, it was a documentary. And funny enough, documentaries are a genre that I really only tap into when my assistant sends me an audio download of some documentary that somebody tells me I must see, and then what I do is I listen to it while I'm out like walking through the forest or working out, and I kind of imagine what's going on during all those awkward pauses where I would imagine something's happening visually in the documentary but I'm only listening to it. And I'm sure that as a filmmaker, my guest on today's show would probably throttle me for that practice. But either way, that's the way I usually get through documentaries.
But I went to the screening of this movie and I walked out of the screening really, really impressed, which is saying a lot for a guy who basically eschews TV and movies quite highly. I laughed during it, I got inspired, I was on the edge of my seat, and my kids were actually howling with laughter too, and my wife actually loved it, not that my wife and I disagree on every movie, but let's just say that when it comes to Hollywood and TV's, we generally have differing opinions on many things. But we as a family absolutely loved the whole thing. So what did we see? Well, it was called “The Rise of The Sufferfest”. Yes, “The Rise of The Sufferfest”. And what this thing is about is it was about the global obstacle course phenomenon, and in a really kind of entertaining and funny way, explores like the history of obstacle course racing, and the psychology behind it, and the personalities that drive it, and what it says about the world that we're living in. And I'm going to put the trailer for this documentary for you over on the show notes for today's show at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sufferfestmovie. That's where you can grab the show notes, bengreenfieldfitness.com/sufferfestmovie.
And the guy who directed it, his name is Scott Keneally. And leading up to the documentary, I'd met Scott at a few different obstacle course races. He's this crazy guy with like long hair, and covered in tattoos, and he's a self-proclaimed beta male who did his first Tough Mudder back in 2011, and I kind of want to go into his history of OCR and kind of how he got into it, which we'll do in today's podcast. But prior to that, Scott was basically a writer. I know he wrote for The New York Times Style section, did some stuff for Outside Magazine, and done some speaking and stuff up to the point of making this movie, but in the past had worked with folks in like music videos, and commercials, and writing. So I know he has kind of a little bit of a different history that goes way above and beyond just like Spartan Racing and obstacle course racing that we'll get into today. But in today's show, we're going to dive into this movie and why it is that folks are running around, like paying, paying a lot of money in many cases, to suffer through ice, and fire, and electricity, and barbed wire, and mud, and all other manner of masochistic things, like why this is going on, what you can learn about it, and why, if you haven't yet done an obstacle coursing race, you should probably consider, and if you already have done one, why the heck you did one. So, Scott, welcome to the show, man.
Scott: Thanks. It's a pleasure to be here.
Ben: Yeah. Well, it's a pleasure to have you. And I guess I'm curious, did you always want to do this? Like make a movie?
Scott: Well, always, growing up I always wanted to become the president of the United States. Specifically a Republican president.
Ben: Me too. Actually, I didn't even make a decision on whether I wanted to be the Republican or the Democrat, but that was, like I legitimately wanted to be the, I don't know how serious you were, like some kids kind of sort of off the cuff say they want to be a fireman, or a police officer, or the president, but I like seriously like, I bought books on constitutional law and stuff when I was a kid thinking I could be the president.
Scott: I was very serious about it. And it actually informed many of my decisions throughout high school, I was a bit of a teetotaler, and then I went to Boston College and hoped to go into law, and then you know I discovered some things that reshuffled my deck and I wanted to become a writer suddenly. I found Kerouac, I found certain kinds of hallucinogenic drugs, it just kind of sent me in a totally different direction. And sorry, Ma, it's worked out pretty well.
Ben: Sorry, Ma. Yeah. I actually, we probably shouldn't just like skim over that hallucinogenic drug thing 'cause that happens to a lot of people. Like I've actually, in the past few years, I grew up like super clean. Like I was homeschooled out in the backwoods of North Idaho and my idea of a hallucinogenic drug would have been like a shot of whiskey. But you actually changed up your idea of wanting to be a president, wanting to be THE president that is, the Republican president, based on drugs that you experienced at Boston College?
Scott: Yeah. I went in very, very conservative, and I found some people and discovered drugs, and I would always use it as a tool and it really kind of opened my mind, and no longer did I want to, it just changed me in so many ways. And I really found a passion for music in a way that I hadn't, I found a passion for writing, I really got into literature, and the vagabond lifestyle. And after school, told my parents I was going to move to California to become a writer, and they were like, “You mean a waiter?”
Ben: Usually it's both, right?
Scott: Yeah, exactly. And I got lucky, I found a production company that was looking for someone who had ideas for music videos, and ever since I made a living writing music videos for Katy Perry, Muse, Miley Cyrus, car commercials. And so I have a freelance writing, working with directors, coming up ideas for videos and commercials. And then I also write humorously, as you alluded to, for the New York Times, and I like writing confessional essays about my insecurities. I've confessed to being a chronic bed wetter in Jane Magazine, and my sweaty armpits in New York Times.
Ben: Chronic, you mean like when you were an adult, you were a bed wetter?
Scott: Yeah, like in college. That was a fun thing.
Scott: I'm apparently missing some sort of hormone that alerts me that I have to pee. Now I've become a lighter sleeper so I don't sleep though the pain of having to pee.
Ben: That's interesting. Did you also have to take up like Kegel exercises to strengthen the sphincter, so to speak?
Scott: Yeah. I've tried everything. Fortunately, it stopped. I haven't wet the bed in at least a few years.
Ben: Have you announced that before, by the way, in public? Or is this like you're coming out on The Ben Greenfield Fitness Show that you're a bed wetter?
Scott: No. The first story ever published in a national magazine was…
Ben: Okay. Yeah, that's right. That's what you just said. Yeah, it was actually published. Okay. Just making sure.
Scott: And then Sarah Silverman came out with a book called “The Bedwetter”. So I did beat her to the punch.
Ben: Okay. Nice. What kind of, not to kick this horse to death, but like what kind of like hallucinogens or drugs did you experience that kind of forced you to take a turn in terms of career choices? And the reason I ask that is that, for me, one of the big, big influences on my decision to go big with my business, to create more of like a bigger brand that I'm in the throes of doing right now, was exploring what I wanted to do in terms of the mark I wanted to make in the world while on psilocybin. And so that was one thing that made a huge difference for me was psilocybin. But for you, what was it?
Scott: LSD, a strong dose that really kind of brought my insecurities to the forefront, things I didn't even really know I was insecure about. Like for instance, I stumbled upon a rave in Boston and I was wearing like khakis and white button down, and I don't know I was going to…
Ben: What do you mean you stumbled upon it?
Scott: So I was with a couple friends, we were just wandering around Boston and one of 'em knew about a late night after party at the place called The Loft and I ended up showing up, and clearly the only person dressed like a preppy at this event. And I'm hoping, hoping everyone thinks that like I'm in a Halloween costume or something because I'm glowing in the black light with a white button down and like loafers on and everyone else looks like raver kids. And so I think like that kind of set me off spinning where I wondered, I sort of questioned why I'm wearing these clothes, and I wore them because my mom would buy them for me and she wanted me to be preppy, and God bless her, like I have a wonderful mom and we're very, very close. But shortly thereafter, I started sewing my own hippie clothes. I cut the inseams and put in fake fur. And so I think these drugs like really made me question who I was growing up, why I was making decisions, and it was very liberating.
Ben: Were you, like I'm not really familiar with how recent like the microdosing LSD craze has been in terms of its materialization, but were you microdosing or was this like big doses, like the trip doses of LSD?
Scott: Yeah. These were heavy, like face melting, sky falling doses. I would be very hesitant to do anything like that these days, partly because I'm a dad and probably because I feel like there are some sleeping dogs I don't want to wake up. But I feel like I've been there and I'm not opposed to exploring other drugs, but it's not for me right now.
Ben: Yeah. Have you tried microdosing with LSD?
Scott: I haven't, but I'm aware of the trend.
Ben: Yeah. Very small doses of it seem to work as a little bit of a nootropic. Same with psilocybin. Has kind of like a neurogenesis, neuroplasticity promoting effect in terms of actually, ironically enough, improving brain health. So rather than killing brain cells, you can actually use it for better memory formation and all sorts of really interesting things. That's interesting. So that's what kind of like drove you into filmmaking from wanting to be president of the United States, was essentially LSD, raves, and then eventually beginning to produce music videos.
Scott: Yeah. That's pretty accurate.
Ben: Okay. So where did obstacle course racing come in?
Scott: I have a few heroes in literature, like AJ Jacobs is one of them, and I like the confessional guinea pig type…
Ben: Wait. AJ Jacobs, he's the guy who, is he the guy who, he's like a guinea pig or like a, I know he's a journalist and a writer, but he like does weird things to himself. Like he lived like he was living biblically. He's the guy who did like “The Year of Living Biblically” right, where he followed every rule in the bible, like throwing tiny stones at adulterers, and not shaving his beard, and not, I don't know what else he did, but it's kind of, I never read the book but I've heard him talk about it. He's pretty hilarious.
Scott: He's very, very funny. He even did this one essay for Esquire in which, “do I really love my wife”, and he would look at images of Angelina Jolie while his head was hooked up to a brain imaging scanner, and then pictures of his wife to compare how he reacted, what his response was to seeing Angelina Jolie versus his wife.
Ben: What happened?
Scott: He loves his wife, apparently.
Ben: More than Angelina Jolie?
Scott: Yeah. I don't know the specifics of it, but I do remember the conclusion was he loves his wife.
Ben: Oh, that's admirable.
Scott: And then like “Drop Dead Healthy” was another book in which he tried a bunch of the different health fads. He also had a book called “Mr. Know-It-All” about reading the encyclopedia from A to Z. So I've always enjoyed that kind of stunt journalism, and to me obstacle racing, when I first saw a Tough Mudder video, it's scared the bejesus out of me, and I instantly thought like, “I need to do that”. I thought I'd make for a funny story, like a humor essay, and I also thought I can get a pretty cool public profile pic out of the deal. So it was a little hint of that ego hit that I was looking for and then also some source material.
Ben: So that was a Tough Mudder, the first obstacle course race that you did was a Tough Mudder?
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. And were just like bit by the bug after that or what happened?
Scott: Well, the experience itself was tremendous and overwhelming, and I really, it was like nothing I'd ever done before, and being able to face fears and conquer them was tremendously gratifying. But also like right around the time that I did that first Tough Mudder, I uncovered a scandal surrounding the origins of Tough Mudder, and a bitter legal battle between a race company in the UK called Tough Guy and Tough Mudder. And the cliff note to this, you could read, it was a cover story for Outside Magazine, but in short, Will Dean from Tough Mudder, he was studying at Harvard Business School and he…
Ben: Will Dean is the guy who like owns Tough Mudder?
Scott: Yeah. He approached this “Mr. Mouse” guy, the creator of Tough Guy, this is 80 year old wild man who is kind of the godfather of this industry. He approached him when he was at Harvard and suggested that he would help bring Tough Guy to the USA and expand it globally, and that didn't happen for reasons you can read. And so you know I spent many months reporting this story and this intense fight between these two companies. And during that time, it took about a year for that to hit newsstands. In that time, I did more obstacle races, I fell in love with the community, and really kind of found this, as a writer you're always looking for like your beat, your niche, or where you could stake your claim, and for me no one was writing about or telling these stories in the way that I wanted to tell them. And there are so many great stories within it. You have people like Hunter McIntyre, and Amelia Boone, and you have characters like Mr. Mouse or Joe De Sena from Spartan. It's just kind of a gold mine as a storyteller. And so I just got stuck in the mud just by being fascinated by it all and also really enjoying the experiences.
Ben: Okay. So when did you decide to make this movie?
Scott: I think like after the story came out on Outside Magazine, it got a bunch of attention worldwide.
Ben: And this was a story where he talked about how like the folks who made Tough Mudder, this guy Will Dean that you just talked about, they basically kind of like stole the idea from this crazy old dude in the UK?
Scott: That's what that story is about. And then 60 Minutes, they hired me as a consultant for a 60 Minute Sports segment, and for that, I went over to England and that's where I met Mr. Mouse for the first time. When I was over there, I ran the 2013 Tough Guy, 60 Minutes was filming it.
Ben: And Mr. Mouse is the crazy old guy who runs this Tough Guy over in the UK?
Scott: Yeah. He's the kind of guy like you would expect like Daniel Day Lewis to play in the movie. He's just so eccentric, and odd, and fascinating, and a man who is way ahead of his time. And so I thought he would make a great profile, or a book, or a biography. So once I went over there with 60, I kind of fell in love with this man and the idea of writing a book about him. And then I kind of, I didn't think, I thought this sport lends itself so well to visuals and I decided I'd make a movie. Plus I thought it would be a little more accessible, a documentary versus a book, I thought more people would appreciate. So at that point, I had a couple of early investors, like friends who loved that Outside story who gave me enough seed money to get this thing going.
Ben: So when you went over there to the UK to interview this dude, did you actually do his big gritty race over there, this Tough Guy race?
Scott: Oh, yeah. And it was brutas. It was brutal. Every bit as brutal as built.
Ben: That was after you'd already done the Tough Mudder right?
Ben: Okay. So tell me how this race goes, this Tough Guy. ‘Cause I've never done it, but I've heard is just incredibly brutal. Like some of the images that you showed in the movie of people just hypothermic, not afterwards but like during the race, just like people blue in the face, teeth chattering. I mean it looks incredibly masochistic. Can you go into why it's such a hard race?
Scott: It's the cold. Like the main obstacle there is the freezing cold temperatures. And Mr. Mouse will get you cold, would get you wet early, and get you wet often. So whereas Tough Mudder has like an obstacle called Arctic Enema, and it's a dumpster filled with ice, ice water, Tough Guy has, like you're submerging yourself underwater multiple times and you're in water for like about a 50 yard stretch in this one obstacle called Underwater Tunnels. So you're just, as you're wading towards the part where you have to submerge your head, your core body temperature is just getting knocked down. And then you got to dunk your head three or four times, and after that, I mean it's just like you get an instant ice cream headache, and after that you're just leveled. Like there's no running right afterwards. I just like pause for like two minutes and squeeze my head. And so like that race, that first race, it was so cold that the day before, the course was covered in snow and I was standing on a sheet of ice on a pond that we would be wading through the next day. It was just, it's frigid, it was like a tundra.
Ben: And are there obstacles in it, like similar to what you'd have in like a Spartan Race or a Tough Mudder where you're like doing monkey bars and stuff like that too?
Scott: Yeah. The Tough Mudder is, Tough Mudder, essentially, all of their obstacles, at least several years ago, they've innovated and made some new ones that are just truly originally theirs. But all of their obstacles back in at the start were directly inspired from Tough Guy. The difference is that Tough Guy has been around for 30 years now, and so the obstacles are permanent and they're just massive. They're like four stories tall and they feel old, not like 25 or 30 years old, like the whole experience feels like William Wallace is going to charge out of the tree line. It's really something else.
Ben: Can anybody go over and do this race, this Tough Guy?
Scott: They can, well, supposedly this is the last year. So if you hurry.
Ben: Wait. When is it?
Scott: It's Sunday, the 29th. And allegedly, this is the final Tough Guy.
Ben: Wait, Sunday, January 29th?
Ben: Oh, so it's coming up super soon. Is it toughguy.co.uk? Is that the website for it?
Scott: It is.
Ben: Okay. Cool. I'll put a link in the show notes, by the way, for those of you listening in. Okay. So what happened when you did the Tough Guy? Did you get hypothermic, or did it like completely destroy you, or…?
Scott: It destroyed me. The difference is when you finish, when you cross the finish line of a Tough Mudder, you feel joyful. I mean there's this relief, and you feel amazing, there's this camaraderie of drinking the beer. At the finish line of Tough Guy, like I don't want to be here. Like I literally was wondering if I needed to go to the hospital. I was so cold, I needed help taking my shoes off, I needed help taking my clothes off, and I didn't warm up for at least 90 minutes, and 60 of those minutes, I was in a warm bath tub, and I was still chattering, it was brutal. I didn't know that you could be that cold.
Ben: I think I've been that cold. I think during The World's Toughest Mudder, I got that cold. ‘Cause you don't wear a wetsuit during the Tough Guy, right?
Scott: You don't, no.
Ben: Okay. During The Toughest Mudder, you could wear a wetsuit, but I had like my tiny little thin, like one and a half millimeter triathlon suit, and out there in the desert where it gets close to 30 degrees at night and you're, the year I did it, there were like six different water immersion type of obstacles or swims throughout the night. And by 2 AM, I couldn't, like I couldn't stop my teeth from chattering. I just couldn't stop them no matter what I did. I even wondered in the medical tent and stood in front of their heater and like my whole body was bluish purple. And I eventually, what I wound up doing was basically boogieing over to my little tent, 'cause there's just like this tent city where you can pitch your tent and you can have like your recovery area, and I convinced my wife to let me strip off my wet suit and climb naked into the sleeping bag with her for about an hour while I just shivered trying to get the energy back up to go back out on the course, but I could barely move my body. I was shivering so hard. I can't imagine doing some like that without wearing a wetsuit.
Scott: Yeah. The only blessing is it's a lot shorter than World's Toughest Mudder.
Ben: Yeah. That's true. How long is it?
Scott: It's 8 to 10 miles. You never really know. And for like someone like James Appleton who has won this event, he's featured in the film, it might take him an hour and a half, an hour twenty. For me, closer to 2:40. And, yeah, if you're out there, that's a long time to be out there. You're in and out of water so often, there's this one obstacle, it's just trenches, and my ankles, like literally from the ankle down, it felt just solid blocks of ice, where you're just like, you feel like you're running on peg legs.
Ben: Yeah. Wow. So it's uncomfortable. I'm going back, and this will be my 5th straight year doing it, and I'm looking forward to it, but I'm also not.
Okay. Let's turn to the topic at hand, this movie. Because this is kind of a perfect segue, man. A lot of people are paying to do this, a lot of people are paying to go over and do the Tough Guy. A ton of people, including me and a lot of my friends, are also paying to suffer through ice, and fire, an electricity, and barbed wire, and mud, and all these different races. I know that you interviewed a lot of people in the movie to talk about why it is that folks are actually going out and doing things like this. I mean you just brought up one guy, AJ Jacobs, and he's in the movie right?
Scott: Yep. He is.
Ben: Okay. So when you interviewed AJ, what was his take on the phenomenon? Why does he think that people are out there doing obstacle course racing?
Scott: Well, first of all, his take was absolutely hilarious. It was, essentially, “It's so not for me. I would rather a Pleasantfest,” is what he says in the film. He'd rather like be in a jacuzzi that's 95 degrees.
Ben: A Pleasantfest instead of a Sufferfest?
Scott: Yeah. It's not something he would do. A lot of people felt the same way. Like there's this, a bit of a crisis of masculinity. One of the things AJ would say is, “When the apocalypse comes and we're all fighting for sticks of asparagus, no one's going to be doing a Tough Mudder.” So I think to him, it's a product of the comfort that we, these comfortable lives we live in.
Ben: But the people who did the Tough Mudder are going to be more equipped to win the asparagus clutching competitions. Just saying. We'll be more prepared for the zombie apocalypse. So he thinks that it's because we want to get out of our comfortable offices basically?
Scott: Yep. Yeah. And a lot of people do, or a lot of the people I spoke with feel like it's a byproduct of you know the luxuries and conveniences of modern life. And when you think about it, like we don't have very many challenges, we certainly don't have many physical challenges. And I'm just like the vast majority of us, there are obviously lots of men who have hard, and women who have hard difficult jobs who are various services and forces, or construction. But the vast majority of us push buttons, and pull levers, and sit in offices. And I think like for a lot of people, that's not that gratifying. Completing, like training for an event, going through it, going through the horrors of it, coming out with a finisher's medal or a headband, like that something tangible you can put your fingers on and think, “I did this!” And I think modern life, when you're just sending e-mails to people, it's ultimately very unfulfilling.
Ben: Yeah. It kind of reminds me of like Theodore Roosevelt, I don't know if you're familiar of this speech that he gave called “The Strenuous Life”, and he's a guy who I follow quite a bit, but he talks about how we're kind of like hardwired as humans to have like a life of toil, and effort, and labor, and strife. And when that is stripped away from us, and there was another website that I follow called The Art of Manliness in which they talk about this a little bit, when we don't have access to strenuous things in our lives, one of the things that tends to go way up is the use of things like illegal and prescription drugs, and suicides, and global depression and a lot of these things that essentially would melt away if people just had access to be able to tap into harder things in life. And I mean not that's a huge thing that you see in obstacle course racing, is a lot of people will get out of alcoholism, or get out of drug use or abuse, and I know this may sound ironic after us having just talked about like microdosing with psilocybin and LSD, but we're talking a more serious problems than that on a much larger scale. But in many cases, if people don't have a way to engage in feats of physical strength and toughness, they wind up getting almost like this boredom phenomenon that drives them into things like substance abuse.
Scott: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean there are just countless stories within the community. And even like Hunter McIntyre who was featured in the film, and I know you know him well, and he is definitely, I would say maybe the world's best obstacle racer. But before that, he was the world's best party boy, and he found a way to channel his energy from drugs and alcohol towards the mud, and he's been dominating crushing at life ever since.
Ben: Oh, yeah. He's told that story before. He and I have a podcast together called The Obstacle Dominator, and he's told that story before about like how his parents sent him off to the backwoods, I think it was like Wyoming or something like that, to be a logger just to get him out of like drugs and trouble. And then I think eventually like became a male model, but then it was like Spartan that kind of turned him from a frat-style life of partying into living relatively clean and getting super fit. So, yeah. He's a perfect good example. But back to AJ Jacobs and his philosophy about this just being something that gives us the ability to be able to escape our lives of comfort and tap into living dirty, did he, or have you come across any like science behind this in terms of like some kind of evolutionary mechanism that drives us to want to get out and do this? Or is this all just like societal and demographic observation based?
Scott: I think it's anecdotal for the most part. I mean I'm sure that there are a wealth of studies as far as like your brain when you're actively engaged in difficult tasks, your brain would releases a bunch of endorphins and dopamine hits for like that kind of, when you're overcoming obstacles like you've been engaged in life or in the flow, as some people might say. There's a lot of I think physiological and psychological benefits to that. But might my film wasn't like necessarily a science, it didn't explore the science of it as much as the psychology and sociology.
Ben: Yeah. Okay. So AJ Jacobs thinks it's because of this whole concept behind like the strenuous life, how we need to get out, we have this deep rooted desire to somehow get out of the office and actually get our hands dirty, which is actually probably why you don't see a lot like ranchers, and farmers, and gardeners, and stuff during Spartan Races, right? It's always like the CEOs and the folks who are living in cubicles that, in many cases, who do these things. Now you interviewed other people too, like for example Morgan Spurlock. You're into these immersive journalism guys, these human guinea pig, 'cause Morgan's the guy who, he ate fast food for a long period of time. What's his movie? Supersize Me?
Scott: Yeah. It was.
Ben: Yeah. So he ate a whole bunch of fast food just to see what happened to his body, and that was kind of entertaining. One of the other few documentaries I've actually seen. But what was his take on it? Why did Morgan Spurlock think that folks are doing this?
Scott: Well the reason they approached him was he had a movie called “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” and it's about personal branding essentially among other things. And I feel like one of the big reasons why people are doing these things is they want to brand themselves as tougher than the person in the cubicle next to them. There's that sort of narcissism, the profile pic, the humble brag. So a lot of people within Mud, myself included, are branding ourselves as bad asses. That's where I thought Morgan would fit into the conversation. He had other things to say as well like he understand that these things are fun. These experiences are, you're playing on a playground essentially as an adult. And Morgan also spoke to the fact that those kinds of blue collar jobs where we're working with our hands, those are few and far between. So now we have to find other outlets for that.
Ben: Hello. I want to interrupt today's show to tell you, I told you earlier about amino acids, but let me tell you more about amino acids because amino acids are what make up things called nootropics and, in many cases, smart drugs. So there are certain nootropics that are all natural amino acids you normally find in meat, and fish, and things like that, but they're tough to get from your diet. And this brilliant company called Kimera decided to mix all these amino acids with coffee. So you get the high from all the neurotransmitters and the amino acids without any jitteriness, and then you get tasty, tasty premium grade coffee from the Dominican Republic that it's mixed with. Sourced from a single estate coffee plantation run by the same family for over 40 years. So we're not abusing people when they make this coffee. It's got alpha-GPC in it, it's got taurine in it, it's got l-theanine and DMAE in it. If you have never had the experience of combining your coffee with these kind of things, you're missing out on a very important part of life. So check it out, Kimera Koffee, K-I-M-E-R-A K-O-F-F-E-E, and you go to kimerakoffee.com, use code Ben. When you use code Ben that is going to instantly save you 10% off at kimerakoffee.com. So check it out.
This podcast is also brought to you by one of my favorite websites on the face of the planet to buy stuff that I use to beat myself up, Onnit. And I have been taking the Onnit sandbag to town. It's a sandbag, but it has these form-fitted handles for you to grip. So you fill it up with rocks, or gravel, or sand, or whatever you want, and you do your sandbag training, there's for handholds on it, and you grab it anywhere. So it enhances your grip strength, and you can do like cleans, you can do stabilized overhead positions, you can do pulling drills. There's handles at the end that you can use for rotational drills or for even inserting other things into them, like steel bells for example. And you can do swings, and rotations, and all sorts of things. It's one of the most unique sandbags I've ever used. You can even just fill it with other sandbags if you're lazy and you don't want to dump sand into it. Anyways, check it out. You get a discount on this and anything else from Onnit when you go to onnit.com/Ben10, onnit.com/Ben10 gives you 10% off all their supplements, all their foods. I believe you could just use discount code Ben Greenfield. I think that works too. And I totally dig these sandbags. Get yourself a sandbag. If you don't have a sandbag, you're missing out on a really fun and exciting part of life. Especially if you want to carry it up and down your driveway like I do for fitness. And that's science kids. Alright. Back to today's show.
Ben: This, I thought was one of the most interesting takeaways from the film, this idea that as social media, and selfies, and profile pics on Facebook and other social media platforms has increased, so has the increase in obstacle course racing. Was it he who, in the movie highlighted the fact that a ton of people get driven to go out and do obstacle course races essentially to get that Facebook profile pic?
Scott: Yeah. He's one of the people who talked about it. I also had Dr. Jean Twenge, who is a psychologist who wrote “Generation Me” and “The Narcissism Epidemic”. So she spoke that as well. But, yeah, look. Tough Guy's been around for 30 years now. It was popular for 20 something years before Tough Mudder came along, before Facebook, and so you had an event in which maybe 6,000 people did it a year to now we have millions of people doing it a year, it's because of social media. I really think that there would be a small percentage of, the industry would be significantly smaller if there was no social media, if there's no way for us to brag about doing it. ‘Cause most people wouldn't go out there and suffer if they couldn't get a picture of it and at least have some sort of social proof of it.
Ben: It is kind of weird because everybody, it seems, that you know that's an obstacle course racer, that is their Facebook profile pic. Or that is their main Instagram profile pic, or most of what you see on Instagram, et cetera, like it's all about getting that photo, getting that selfie. I remember, I won't drop any names, but occasionally I will take a client and I will bring them through a race so they can go experience it, and I remember one guy who I helped through a race, this was like the CEO of a company, and I went out and I did the Spartan Race with him, and he had a whole film crew there and they would like show up at certain points during the race and he would like stop on top of a wall and pose, like do his double biceps pose, or he crossed the finish line, and then after he crossed the finish line, he walked a hundred yards back and had his whole film crew like film him, after he really walked most of the race, sprinting right to the finish line and crossing the finish line with his hands up in the air, and at one point even bent down and like rubbed mud on his face for one of the photos so he could have more dirt on his face for the actual profile pic. That's the type of psyche that you're referring to?
Scott: Yes. A hundred percent. And look I think what's interesting, and this might be the element of the film that the obstacle race community did not respond to quite as much, like I've seen a lot of feedback where they're like, “I don't like the narcissism thing,” like, “I don't do it for that.” I don't know if they're being honest with themselves. I think for a lot of people who are obsessed with obstacle racing who do this multiple times, after that initial buzz of the profile pic wears off, they find other things, like I have, within this that keep you in it. It's not like you just keep doing it to get more and different profile pics. I think that's the entry point for a lot of people. but I think once you're in there and you're going through these experiences, you find what you're looking for, you find something else that hooks you in, whether it's that camaraderie, or the connection you feel with strangers, or just that feeling of accomplishment, or the feeling I'm doing something fun, or something to train for. I think those types, there are many very valid reasons why people do this. I just think ego and narcissism is what hooks or gets people to the start line in the first place.
Ben: Well, plus once you get your profile pic, that bad boy's good to go for another 10 years. I know some people in the fitness industry who, on their bio pages on their website, have like photos of them bodybuilding from 10 years ago to verify that at one point they were indeed fit. And so yeah, you could have that profile pic go for a long time before it gets outdated. But when it comes to this idea of getting hooked, I think you said, when I used to do Ironman triathlon, and frankly a big part of that was this idea of post-race blues where you'd cross the finish line of an event that you tried so hard, and trained so hard, and had this entire journey to complete, and then all of a sudden the calendar is empty and you have like this empty hole in your soul that you need to fill, this void. And so you stand in line to write the check for the next race that you can somehow fill that void. How much of obstacle course racing do you think is that? Like finishing and feeling as though you must get something else on the calendar right away if you're going to keep training, or if you're going to stay happy, or if perhaps you're not going to return to like a life of addiction, or drinking, or drugs, or alcoholism, or some other thing that depresses you?
Scott: Well in general, I think that speaks to the shift from, let's say, materialism to experientialism, which is another one of the forces driving this whole phenomenon. One of the people I spoke to, Michael Norton, he's a behavioral scientist at Harvard Business School, he has a book called “Happy Money”, and in it he talks about the central power of experiences. There's the lead-up to it, so you sign up for a Tough Mudder or a Spartan race two months from now and you have all this anticipation for it, you're training for it, you're getting excited for it, and then you have the actual experience, and then you can reflect upon it for a time afterwards. And this is a lot more powerful than, let's just say, buying a TV or buying something material. And so I think for a lot of people, yeah, I think a lot of us are experientialists where we'd seek, especially in the social media age, we're seeking cool, fun experiences that we can brag about and also look forward to and enjoy. So I think it doesn't surprise me that you would finish an event, feel a little bit of a hole, and then get that immediate burst once you sign up and have something else on the calendar. Personally, I need that.
Ben: Oh, me too.
Scott: What I really like about obstacle course racing is the fact it's a year round thing. I can plan one of these a month for 12 months and it will keep me in check where I have to keep in relative shape, and it's something to look forward to, and it's something to, yeah. Again, like I know I need to maintain a certain level fitness if I'm going to perform, and have fun, and enjoy this experience. So it keeps me motivated.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I talked about this before on podcasts. Like my own drive to work out, in many cases, if I'm going to go to the gym and not like stay at home working on the computer, or sitting on the couch, or whatever, it's that threat of public embarrassment and extrinsic motivation derived from me being signed up for some event a couple of months later. And I was on a Facebook page, you might be a part of this page, it's called “The Obstacle Racers Worldwide”. It's like a Facebook group page, and I was on there the other day just posting, “Hey, any races going on in February? I'm starting to miss getting out there and toeing the starting line,” 'cause it's been, what, it's been maybe a full two months since I've competed, and for me that's a huge amount of time for me not to be able to scratch that itch and for me not to have that drive to work out. So, yeah, that's a big part of it too. So we've got this concept, Scott, of the strenuous life, like humans who want to get out of their comfortable lives, I know that's kind of like what AJ Jacobs highlighted in the film. And then like you mentioned, Morgan Spurlock and this other guy who wrote the Generation Me book, what was his name?
Scott: Her name. Dr. Jean Twenge.
Ben: Yeah, her name. Jean Twenge. And I'll link that book in the show notes, by the way, for those of you who want to check that one out. She thinks it's because we want to scratch that narcissism itch, like get a cool profile pic for our Facebook page, or be able to have something to brag about on social media. And then you also, you interviewed Tim Ferriss. What was Tim Ferriss' take on the growing global phenomenon of obstacle course racing?
Scott: He had a lot of really interesting things. He talked a little bit about the masculinity crisis and like we don't really have those sorts of outlets anymore to express our manliness. What did he say, he said something really funny like in a dual income household, like women in the workforce that has kind of shifted men's identities and our place in society. “In a dual income household, a lot of times men feel like optional sperm donors,” was what Tim said. But I thought he'd be interesting to talk to just for a number of reasons, 'cause The 4-Hour Work Week is obviously about not being attached to your computer all day long, and I think part of the drive is getting outside and being in touch with nature and the elements. I think that was part of the appeal for these events.
Ben: How dare you say that about the masculinity crisis and just give a middle finger to all the women listening in right now, because there's a huge number of women at obstacle course races. So if men are doing it because there's a masculinity crisis and they don't feel as though they're able to slay the dragon or fight the lion at home, why are women doing it?
Scott: I think all of us, in somewhere doing it, because modern life is a very isolating experience these days. Social media is not that social. And I think a lot of people, men and women both, there's a sort of community and communal vibe that we experience out on the course that I think is really deeply, deeply appealing to people. If you were to ask like a friend to help you move, basically I don't ask friends to help me move anymore 'cause I'd rather just hire someone and I know my friends don't want to help me move, and I think that speaks to like this, we outsource everything, and we don't have like barn raising parties, and we're very disconnected as from where we were even 50 years ago. We live in much more isolated ways, and I think these events, they really bring out the best in humanity, like we're out there with strangers, and helping people over walls, and I think it really touches you on a very deep level when you're just exhausted and you don't think you can get over wall and you have some stranger there's expanding their physical energy to help you over. That creates this kind of, forges a bond and a connection. And I think that's very much missing. I think that's one of the real powers of these, the magic of these events is that sort of human connection.
Ben: Yeah. It's kind of different though, like in a Spartan Race, a lot of times you are a lone wolf out there competing against the clock because most of the obstacles you can usually do without help in most cases. But like in a Tough Mudder, there's stuff that I can't freaking get over, some of those taller Mt. Everest, or some of those climbs that you cannot do unless someone right there during the race is helping you through it. So, yeah. There is that communal aspect, And then of course, whether it's a Spartan or any other obstacle race, that solidarity once you cross the finish line, which granted you get in triathlon, and 5K's, and marathons, and stuff like that, but there's something about the blood, and the mud, and some of the more masochistic elements like the electricity and stuff that seem to bring it to a whole new level with obstacle course racing in particular as far as like that knowing that you give someone that you see walking through the mall with their Spartan t-shirt on, that, “Hey, you've been through it too.”
Scott: Right. Absolutely. And back to the point about women like in mud, like all of us as well, like men and women, the lack of accomplishment that we feel in our day jobs, that a lot of us feel, that's not exclusive to men or women. I think the way that our world is set up with automation and just the modern information economy, we don't really have jobs where we're building things, and seeing results, and feeling that sense of gratitude and competence that you feel when you achieve something great that maybe you didn't think you're able to do. So I think that's driving a lot of people in general is like, “Let me,” and who doesn't want to be outside playing in the mud? I think it appeals to like that sort of child in all of us.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I mean that's a big part of it too, right? Just that return to nature. Now you interviewed, like I mentioned AJ Spurlock and, or AJ Jacobs, and Morgan Spurlock, and Tim Ferriss, and this professor, I keep mispronouncing her name. Is it Jean Twenge?
Scott: It's Dr. Jean Twenge. I think.
Ben: Jean Twenge. I like my French pronunciation better. It's much more Euro. Who else did you interview that you found to have an intriguing opinion in terms of why OCR is exploding in popularity the way that it is?
Scott: Well, I'll tell you one of my favorite interviews was Laird Hamilton. I mean just being in a room, I know you've spent some time with him. Being in a room with him was something I still think back on. It with such fun memories 'cause it was so…
Ben: Yeah. He's pretty intense.
Scott: Yeah, intense. But also so humble, and gracious, and [0:52:34] ______ I think the guy’s vibrating on a whole different level, and it's something to strive towards. What I really liked about what he had to say about fear, and the importance of fear, and how like, we really don't have many times that we're afraid in our lives. We're very lucky living in the west where the vast majority of us will go through life and never have to throw a punch, and will never have to go to war, and so. But fear brings life to the forefront, makes you really appreciate your life, your friends, your family, and that sort of gratitude you feel for life itself is something that I think these events can really rekindle and awaken within you. Perhaps that's why a lot of people will do like a sprint, like a Spartan Sprint and then they'll want to do like a Super, or a Beast, or a Trifecta because every single thing is just a little bit more scary, every single thing induces a little bit more fear, and then they're off doing like a Death Race, or an Agoge, or like that tough guy that you talked about. It's almost like you get on that fear bandwagon, and once something isn't scary, then you want the cold shower to be a little bit more cold, and the electricity to be a little bit more intense, and the barbwire crawl to be a little bit longer.
Scott: Yeah. There you go. And then one day you're doing World's Toughest Mudder like me. So, yeah. I think that, Laird just had a lot of great things and the fact that we live in such a comfort that we can control our climates, and that we live in this very safe, and the lighting is perfect, and everything is perfect in modern life and that isn't natural. And I think for a lot of people, we're just tapping back into our animal nature. I know you also had Scott Carney on the podcast recently and…
Ben: Oh, yeah. The author of “What Doesn't Kill Us”.
Ben: That was a great interview.
Scott: Yeah. It was a great interview and it's a phenomenal book. But he also spent time with Laird for that as well, and I think there's something really to be said about indulging, and it's not even indulging, but our animal instincts, or living in nature a bit more, and experiencing some discomfort, and some pain, and some suffering because homeostasis is not healthy, just living in these isolated tech bubbles where everything is perfect isn't really good for your health and it's not good for our psyche.
Ben: Yeah. And it's kind of find funny, perhaps that's why my wife is not as intrigued with OCR and Spartans as I am. Like she'll go out and do a few with me, potentially for just like family solidarity. But she, unlike me, I'm right now speaking with you in my temperature controlled office with my headphones on in front of a computer with a microphone in my face, and I'll likely be here for several hours today, and really, granted, I go and I work out and stuff like that, but I might you know be outside for, say, an hour today, and she's already been trudging around in the snow, feeding the goats, hauling hay, gardening, chopping wood. Like her day, simply because she doesn't kind of have the same computer chained job as I have, is spent outdoors doing things that are uncomfortable and that don't involve temperature controlled settings, et cetera. And so I think that, to return to that concept of like the farmers and the ranchers and how that's probably like the suckiest demographic for someone like Spartan or Tough Mudder to market towards, those folks who kind of have fear or discomfort built into their lives seem to be a little bit less enamored with obstacle course racing.
Scott: Yeah. And there's a lot of white people out there. I was asked this recently, it's obviously predominately white, and I was asked why, and I feel like there's certain communities and cultures in which there's threats of violence and life is a struggle, and I think this is really appeals to people who don't really have that life-is-a-struggle. This is a way for us to, in a safe, contained environment, like experience a little bit a taste of a war, a little taste of horror. And, yeah, this would be inconceivable to people like in rural India. One of the things I wanted to do for the doc but I didn't get a chance to was just go around to like third world countries and show them some of these videos, tell 'em how much it costs to do, and I think it's insane to a lot of people.
Ben: They'd think it's absolutely silly. I mean like if you look, it's kind of interesting, there is a hunter-gatherer tribe I was recently reading about, it wasn't the Maasais, one of these persistence hunter-gatherer tribes, and one of the things that they'll do, I interviewed Kevin Rose, he and I were talking about this, they'll like stop in the middle of a persistence hunt if they happen to come across like a honey bee hive because all of a sudden the honey is the lower hanging fruit that requires less calories to burn and makes life that much easier to be able to grab. And for them, every single decision comes down to the caloric cost. Like they'd never just go walk into a Crossfit box to workout 'cause you're burning precious calories that you might need for survival. And now when we can pull into McDonald's and grab a 2,000 calorie meal for a little over five bucks, all of a sudden going out and doing these things that seem to fly in the face of our evolutionary mechanisms to simply survive becomes an easy decision, whereas people who are still struggling to live, it's like it's a horrible, horrible waste of calories, and efficiency, and the potential for death and discomfort. It's kind of weird how we're in a completely opposite position where we're striving to get out of comfort and experience discomfort, and many folks around the world are struggling to get out of discomfort and experience comfort, and for them, obstacle course racing would just be a complete waste of time and fly in the face of their evolutionary, built-in, ancestral mechanisms.
Scott: Right. And also this reminds me, like when you're talking about these different tribes and all these various little communities and tribes in the Amazon or wherever, they have specific rites of passage where boys can become men, women, or girls can become women, and that's something that's very much lacking in today's society in which we don't have to go to war, we have the draft. There's no expectation that we will ever go to battle. And so the military has always been the main ritual and rite of passage for us. And without that, when are we adults? And I think that's a question that a lot of people, millennials especially, are asking themselves.
Ben: Yeah. Interesting. So you produced this movie, and while producing it, I know that you did more than the Tough Guy. I mean you traveled all over the place, digging into all these other crazy adventures and masochistic events. What were some of the other crazier things that you encountered while getting an insider glimpse of the obstacle course racing community or this concept of adventure racing and obstacle course racing in general?
Scott: Well, I would say World's Toughest Mudder was the most extreme event that I participated in. The epilogue of the film was my experience at the 2015 World's Toughest Mudder. I went back this past year to do it again, and to be honest, I can't wait 'til the 2017 World's Toughest Mudder comes around. And I think like that was, for me, that event sort of says it all in the sense that afterwards, after the first one, I was bawling, and crying, and I thought there'd be no way in hell I do this thing again. And then a couple days later, I was like, “Yeah, maybe I'd give it another crack.” And then instantly after I finished this year, I just wanted to get back to that. Obviously I'm addicted to this sport and in a lot of ways, and I need to know that I'm going to be doing this again next year and that maybe I'll go for 75 miles this year, and maybe that'll inform some of the decisions I make between now and then in terms of diet, and health, and fitness. And so I think, for me, that's like the ultimate event.
Ben: Hunter McIntyre, who we've mentioned a couple times as one of the world's top obstacle course racers, he and I have talked about this, and he also thinks that this event, The World's Toughest Mudder, is like the world's best obstacle course racing event. If you wanted to really experience everything that there was to experience in obstacle course racing, like this is kind of like the bee's knees in terms of the ultimate event. Do you think that's the case?
Scott: Yeah. I am also very very partial to Tough Guy because it's just so different than what you experience here in the States where you have obstacles that are just built up in two weeks and then taken down and moved to the next city or town. The permanence of that course and that experience are unlike anything I've seen. World's Toughest Mudder is a bit more immersive 'cause you're there for 24 hours, you have that tent city, and the bonds and connections you can form. People are I think a little bit more lasting and more permanent because of just the proximity you have with the people in tents around you, and you might spend multiple laps, multiple hours with someone on the course. So I think like those two are the premiere events for me.
Ben: The two premiere events would be Toughest Mudder and which one?
Scott: And Tough Guy.
Ben: Okay. Gotcha. Now in terms of obstacle course races that you see coming down the pipeline, are there like trends? Do you think that there are places this industry is going that you have a unique knowledge about or that you suspect is going to happen in the world of OCR?
Scott: I mean I can see more ninja obstacle courses. I know Kacy Catanzaro and Brent Steffensen have an event called Alpha Warrior. I can see that being a trend that picks up, just like short courses that are quick little races with American Ninja Warrior-style obstacles because it's replicable in multiple cities. I could see a league starting there and having championship series and things like that. So I think that would be, and then I think the short course, I think at some point Spartan will have a short course championship series, stuff that would lend itself towards television.
Ben: Yeah. Or the Olympics right. I did their test course down in Dallas, Texas when I raced the Spartan Stadium Race down there where we were all running on an indoor track. I think the course was like 1600 meters and took like four to five minutes to complete, but it was just wham, bam, thank you, ma'am, a whole bunch of obstacles all in a row. That was extremely conducive to like television, and a standardized course, and this idea that this could potentially be like a spectator event that is easily replicable in terms of like times, and the course, and even the potential for something like the Olympics.
Scott: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think Tough Mudder and Spartan Race have both on a very, very good job at creating good television content, specifically the NBC Sports series for Spartan Race, and then more recently CBS Sports and their World's Toughest Mudder coverage.
Scott: Those tend to be, I've found those very compelling between the race elements and then also the lifestyle backstory, glimpses into participant lives. And then you know obviously that's not the live action sort of footage that you, or programming that you'd want to develop this into a spectator sport, but I find those to be really, really riveting pieces of film.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Well, I have, obviously for the past, I guess, two to three years, been kind of heavily involved in the sport. I find it intriguing, still, even after seeing your movie, that people go out and voluntarily, people including myself, go out and voluntarily subject themselves to these type of things. But the movie's a really interesting glimpse into, 'cause I think for me it's a mix of everything. It's wanting to get out and experience discomfort, it's the masculinity crisis, it's wanting that cool profile pic that I can put up on social media because of my built-in narcissism and me being a part of Generation Me, it's wanting to have something that sparks fear and discomfort and the biochemical reaction that occurs in response to something like that. I think it's a little bit of everything. I think that might be for a lot of folks. But ultimately, if you're listening in and you're even remotely interested in why you'd go out and do something hard like this, and that could even include why you'd step into a Crossfit box or sign up for a triathlon, not necessarily an obstacle race per se, this is a cool film to see. So it's called “Rise Of The Sufferfest”. I'm going to put a trailer in the show notes over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/sufferfestmovie and also link to some of the other things that Scott and I talked about, like this toughguy.co.uk if you want to get in on that, and some of AJ Jacobs' books on Amazon, more about Scott, my previous podcast with Scott Carney about the book “What Doesn't Kill Us”, and plenty more. So Scott, thanks for coming on the show and sharing this stuff with us, man.
Scott: I appreciate the opportunity, Ben.
Ben: Yeah. And folks, if you're listening in, until next time, I'm Ben Greenfield along with Scott Keneally signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a healthy week.
Last year, after racing the AT&T Spartan Stadium race in San Francisco, I took my wife and twin boys to a private screening of one of the only movies I saw during the entire year last year (I'm not much of a Hollywood guy).
Actually, this wasn't even a movie. It was a documentary, a genre that I really only tap into when my assistant sends me an audio download of some documentary somebody tells me I “must-see” and then I listen to it while I'm walking through the forest and imagine what is going on from a visual standpoint (as a film nerd, my guest on today's podcast would probably throttle me for this).
Anyways, I walked out of the screening incredibly impressed. I laughed, I was inspired, I was on the edge of my seat, my kids were howling with laughter, and my wife loved it.
So what did we see exactly?
The documentary is called “Rise Of The Sufferfests“. It's all about the global obstacle course phenomenon, and in a highly entertaining and funny way, it explores the history of the sport, the psychology behind it, the personalities that drive it, and asks what it says about the world we're living in. Here's the trailer:
Director Scott Keneally is my guest on today's show. This self-proclaimed “beta male” has been stuck in the mud since the fall of 2011, when he tackled his first Tough Mudder. Back then, the first-time filmmaker had no idea he’d be making a movie about any of this stuff. He went into it with a simple plan: to suffer and write a story about the suffering.
Keneally had previously confessed to things like bedwetting and sweaty pits in places like the New York Times Styles section, and figured the one about training up and tackling a paramilitary assault course would make for funny material. That essay was featured on the cover of his local alt-weekly, but more importantly, while researching the history of the company, he stumbled upon a “Social Network”-style scandal surrounding its origins. He quickly reinvented himself as an investigative journalist, and his story ultimately landed on the cover of Outside. The exposé received widespread media attention, opening doors to a consulting gig with 60 Minutes Sports, a speaking engagement at Stanford Business School and—by kismet or luck—an unlikely new career path as a filmmaker.
When he’s not running in mud, Keneally works as a treatment writer for some of the top directors in music videos and commercials. Over the past 15 years, he has collaborated on videos for Rihanna, Madonna, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, as well as Paris Hilton’s infamous burger commercial. He has also been known to play didgeridoo with the criminally under-discovered rock band OURS, through which he has toured with Marilyn Manson and recorded on the band’s Rick Rubin-produced record, “Mercy.” He received his B.A. from Boston College (’99) and his M.F.A. from University of San Francisco (’04). He lives on a vineyard in Sonoma County, CA, with his wife and little boy.
During my discussion with Scott, you'll discover:
-How raves, micro-dosing with LSD, and rebelling against being a preppie turned Scott from wanting to be the president of the United States to instead making music videos and eventually obstacle course racing…[13:45]
-The crazy, eccentric man named “Mr. Mouse” who inspired Scott to make the Sufferfests movie… [19:45]
-Scott's take on why millions of people are suddenly paying to suffer through ice, fire, electricity, barbed wire, mud and more…[28:20]
-The concept of “The Strenuous Life” and why humans are hardwired to want to get out of our comfortable lives…[31:20]
-Why a shocking number of people are doing obstacle course racing to get a good profile pic…[35:20]
-The intriguing link between the “masculinity crisis” and obstacle course racing…[47:05]
-Why you must have some aspect of fear and discomfort in your life…[52:00]
-What were the craziest adventures you embarked upon while filming Sufferfest? [59:35]
-What Scott thinks is the next “big thing” in OCR…[62:20]
-And much more!
Resources from this episode: