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The ridiculously challenging adventure race that’s wooing boutique fitness fans

The Civilian Military Combine, an adventure race that’s growing in popularity, is seeing a lot of teams formed in cycling and fitness studios.
civilian military combine, as one, flywheel
The Flywheel and As One team at this year’s Poconos race. (Photo: Flywheel Sports)

Boutique fitness studios are known for their luxe amenities while you sweat, like filtered water and white towels for dabbing away the byproduct of indoor cycling sprints. Meanwhile, the Civilian Military Combine (CMC) is an adventure race that’s big on athletic challenges but not a bit interested in creature comforts. But now the two worlds are combining, at least six times a year, as teams formed at boutique fitness studios are signing up for the races in droves.

Recently cool boutique brands like Flywheel and The Fhitting Room sent teams made up of instructors and students, and the city’s CrossFit boxes turned out in huge numbers. A total of 22 New York City studios took part in the Poconos CMC race in April. (Altogether there were hundreds of studios, boxes, and gyms nationwide.)

Historically, CrossFit boxes were the first to send teams to CMC, since their feats-of-strength WODs (workouts of the day) are aligned with adventure racing. (And the intimidating name doesn’t scare them!) But as CMC grows, “it’s attracting just as many gym chains and functional fitness studios as boxes,” says Sean Rogers, cofounder of CMC, which has six races in 2014 including Philadelphia and Baltimore. Proof than boutique fitness fans are hard-core, too.

Despite the intimidating name, CMC has the highest percentage of female competitors out of any adventure race series—nearly 40 percent. Here, they’re competing in the pit. (Photo: CMC)


What is CMC exactly? The race includes more than four miles of obstacle racing with a unique challenge at the beginning called the pit—where competitors try to perform as many reps as possible of things like burpees over box jumps and kettlebell swings, before the actual race even begins. It’s a hard-won accomplishment to complete this race.

So why are studios and boxes showing up en masse? The sense of community that competitors feel sharing a goal as part of a team, gets them excited to compete, speculates Julia Avery. The instructor at The Fhitting Room and the blogger behind Average2Athlete, has competed in Tough Mudder and Spartan races, as well as a few CMCs, which always stand out. “At the Poconos, we stayed together as a team through the whole race and crossed the finish line together,” she says, proudly. Teams also spend months together in training. (It’s safe to say you get to know your teammates pretty well.)

An instructor by your side also helps. In the same way that you look to your instructor for kick-ass encouragement in the studio, having them right by your side at the race also really helps. “We spend everyday in the class with instructors leading, but when you get to the race, they’re suffering alongside with you,” says Will Lanier, only half joking. The top coach and general manager at Brick New York had a team of 50 at the Brooklyn race last August. “This aspect really sets it apart from Spartan,” he says.

The Fhitting Room, Civilian Military Combine
The Fhitting Room team at this year’s Poconos race. (Photo: Fhitting Room via Facebook)

The teams formed of instructors and students is part of the race’s special vibe. “Something about having an instructor you’re familiar with gives people confidence,” says Kari Saitowitz, founder of The Fhitting Room. And Rogers says this is something that’s CMC is owning. “The actual concept of inviting trainers, not only to compete and win, but to entice their clients to run alongside them is so unique to us. Other races don’t focus on that,” says Rogers.

It’s that sense of community that makes competitors and teams want to crawl through mud and climb over walls—and come back again, and again. Danielle Devine-Baum, master instructor at Flywheel, led a joint Flywheel and As One team to the Poconos and they’re ready for the next race. “There’s always somebody there to give you a boost,” says Devine-Baum. “I wouldn’t want to do one on my own.” —Molly Gallagher

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