Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Three Tips to be a Successful Obstacle Course Racer

Three things!  That's all it takes for you to survive Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, Warrior Dash, Ruckus, and any of the other obstacle/mud runs out there!  You do not need to be a professional athlete with a bunch of endurance races under your belt.  You don't need to be an Olympic-caliber weight lifter.  You don't need to have 4% body fat.  Three things will not only get you through these races, but they'll also guarantee you will enjoy yourself and keep coming back for more!


Your gear doesn't need to be fancy or expensive or high-tech, but it does need to be appropriate to your event.  The wrong type of gear, no matter how fancy or expensive or high-tech it may be, will only be a hindrance and detract from what should be a fun experience.  Because you usually end up wet and muddy, I recommend clothing that dries quickly.  If you're wearing a regular cotton T-shirt, it will chafe and stretch out until you look like you're wearing a dress, which will be cumbersome when trying to scramble over walls and other obstacles.  It will stay chilly and damp for the duration of the event.  Wicking shirts dry quickly, are less likely to chafe, and ultimately will not drag you down.

For similar reasons, I recommend fitted clothing on your bottom half instead of sweats or anything baggy.  Running tights or capris will dry faster and won't trip you up on the obstacles.  I personally race in shorts (but again, you don't want pockets or shorts that sag down past your knees ... mobility issue), and wear a pair of nylons under them to provide some protection from scrapes and prickly plants and whatnot.  The nylons are always shredded by the end of the race, but every hole in the nylons is one less hole in my legs!

Last but not least, footwear is critical.  You definitely want sufficient protection, since most obstacle courses involve lots of mud and there are rocks and sticks hidden in there.  But you also want to go with what's comfortable for you.  If you're used to scampering around in Fivefingers or other types of minimalist shoes, then go right ahead!  At least when you get wet, your feet won't be weighing you down.  Running shoes will get you through just fine, but pay attention to what your feet are telling you as you go through the race because wet socks may get bunched up and cause blisters.  Again, close-fitting socks made of some tech-type material may be better than your everyday cotton tube socks.  On one Tough Mudder, I ditched my socks for the last two miles because they were causing more problems than not and I still had the nylons to provide a little protection on the insides of my running shoes.  I also learned after Tough Guy to not wear knee-high socks ... I thought they would protect me from the stinging nettles, but soon as they got wet they sagged down to my ankles and turned into ankle weights for the rest of the race.  I can't speak to whether compression socks handle the damp better, but learn from my mistake and don't wear soccer socks.

Any other gear is 100% personal preference.  If you need a Camelbak to keep hydrated in between the race's provided water stations, then wear a Camelbak.  The main thing is that you should never bust out brand new gear for the race.  Make sure you've spent a bit of time training in the clothes you want to wear so you can resolve any issues before you're actually out in the middle of the course.

A brief comment on the clothing optional ... a lot of people prefer to go shirtless (or in sports bras) which does make the whole chafing/drying factor a non-issue.  However, you also expose that much more skin to the rough boards and rocky surfaces that are common-place in obstacle course racing, so you stand a good chance of ending up with more scrapes and bumps in places that would otherwise have been protected if you wore a shirt.  Just a thought to keep in mind!


Like I said, you don't need to be a super athlete, but it is good to have an idea of what your physical limits are.  This means you can enjoy the experience of pushing past those limits but you also know when you're pushing too hard and should dial it back a little in order to finish the race on your own two feet, not on the ambulance stretcher.

In terms of endurance, if you can run a 5k, you can finish an obstacle course that's 8 miles long.  You don't actually run straight through the entire course because many obstacles end up with lines since only so many people at a time can tackle them, so you WILL have breaks to catch your breath.  And most races emphasize teamwork and simply finishing rather than getting speedy times, so if you need to walk for a while or take a bit of a longer break at a water station, you definitely can.  You'll still make it to the finish and experience that sense of accomplishment!

I highly recommend incorporating squats and hiking hills in your training to prepare for obstacle races.  Having that strength in your legs can make all the difference between having a blast the entire time and getting really tired and frustrated.

Lastly, having some modicum of upper body strength will make everything easier, although not having it will not prevent you from finishing.   For most obstacles, teammates can make up for lack of upper body strength, but it will make the race easier (and therefore more fun!) if you've been able to do some training to increase your abilities in that arena.  In my first Tough Mudder, I literally needed my teammates to boost me all the way to the top of the walls because I wasn't strong enough to push myself over (the same movement when you push yourself out of a swimming pool).  Between my first and second Tough Mudders, my workout routine changed significantly to include lifting and body weight exercises and everything I used to hate (I'm a runner...and I still hate push-ups).  My chicken arms still can't handle a dead-hang pull-up, but by my second Mudder, I was strong enough to push myself onto the top of obstacles.


HAVE FUN!  The entire time!  When you get blasted by a fire hose while trying to climb over a hay bale twice as tall as you, laugh!  When you fall off the monkey bars into a pool of muddy water, be thankful you've had a dunking to get all the mud off!  Support your friends and the random strangers who will become your friends after they submerge in the ice water right next to you.  Cheer for the people walking the plank in front of you, because the people behind you will then cheer when it's your turn!  The most important thing is to be motivating and motivated and enjoy yourself.  Your enthusiasm will be infectious.  Believe in yourself ... it's cheesy, but true.

Trust me, you can do this.  Pick a race, find some friends, do a bit of training, and go out and have some fun!

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