5 Tips for Your First Obstacle Course Race

If trudging through mud, crawling beneath barbed wire and hopping over fire is something you’d love to do, then obstacle course races are for you.

Thes crazy events have been exploding in popularity over the last few years, and they’re not going away anytime soon. The sport has evolved from a fringe hobby to a worldwide phenomenon that attracts millions of athletes around the world.

OCRs Demystified

Ranging from roughly three miles up to 10, obstacle course races, or OCRs, are non-traditional competition events consisting of plenty of muddy water and military-style obstacles designed to test the racer’s resolve to the breaking point.

Unlike the classic 5K or 10K, crossing the finish line on an obstacle course race requires strength, stamina, coordination and a lot of mental toughness.

The Tips You Need

Regardless of your chosen OCR, follow these tips to get your through your first muddy adventure unscathed while having fun.

Don’t get me wrong. This guide is by no means the full comprehensive checklist for obstacle course racing preparation—complete books have been written on the subject—but if this is your first time, today’s post should put you on the right foot.

1. Prepare for the Distance

Would you be able to run the whole distance of your chosen race safely at your current fitness level?

If your answer is no, then you got some miles to cover.

If you’re not getting ready for the endurance test with regular running every week, completing speed workouts and long runs, you might not make it to the finish line.

That’s why, and regardless of the distance of your chosen race, give yourself enough time to build the endurance to run further than your race distance

Let’s suppose, for example, the OCR you’re joining is five miles. You should be able to complete at least a 7-mile run in your training with ease.

This should be your ultimate training goal.

The rule is, if you feel comfortable running eight miles on the regular running surface, then you should be comfortable running five miles in the mud, with obstacles and added weight.

Here’s your full guide to long runs.

2. Strength Training

If you’re a regular reader of Runners Blueprint, then chances you are big on running, but not that much on strength training. You may have never picked up any weights as a part of your prep work for a race.

But now it’s time for that to change.

For obstacle racing course, strength training is non-negotiable. You’ll be carrying stuff around, climbing, crawling, and likely helping a teammate—or a complete stranger—get over a daunting obstacle.

Here’s the good news. You don’t have to become an Olympic weight lifter to traverse the course. All you need is efficiency with basic bodyweight exercises, such as squats, push-ups, pull-ups, and planks. 

Without enough strength, you’ll be doomed.

At a minimum, you should be able to crank out 25 pushups, 50 to 70 bodyweight squats, hold an elbow plank for longer than one minute, and do at least a few pull-ups.

This is the basic strength needed to help you run up steep hills, crawl under nets, push over monster truck wheels, pull yourself through monkey bars, and leap over various obstacles.

Check my post here for an introduction to weight training to put you on the right track.

3. Pick the Right Clothing

Plan on getting muddy on an obstacle course.

Wearing the right clothing is vital.

Your gear will get wet during the event, and when this happens, your clothing starts hanging off your body, weighing you down in the process.

The rule is simple—wear as little clothing as possible.

Dress a little skimpy—if you have to. The more you put on, the more weight you’ll be carrying along with you—and vice versa.

Never wear cotton. Cotton materials retain water and mud and make it harder to carry around once it’s weighed down. It can also get easily caught in branches and netting

What’s more?

Don’t wear your most expensive pair of shoes or favorite running short of sentimental value—it’ll undoubtedly get ruined in the muddy wreckage.

Go for something small, sleek, and that you won’t mind losing to mud afterward.

4. Your Training Plan

It’s vital to start your training well in advance of your actual obstacle course race.

Sure, you don’t have to train for years to get ready, but it’s a good idea to start at least a couple of months in the advance-that way you ensure you’re ready for the big day.

If the big day is eight weeks away, break down your training program into two four-week blocks that each contains days for running and days for resistance training.

As your training progresses, increase the distance and weight by roughly 10 percent each week. Remember to taper off to recovery runs and easy sessions before the race.

The following weekly training plan should give you an idea of how to proceed.

Monday – Long run

Run five to eight miles at a slightly comfortable pace.

Tuesday – Upper Body Strength

Complete five sets of the following:

  • Pull-ups
  • Plank dumbbell row
  • 90-second planks
  • Chin-ups
  • Chest presses

Wednesday

Following a warm-up, spring up a hill for 30 to 45 seconds, then jog back down. Repeat the circuit for 20 to 30 minutes.

Thursday – Lower Body Workout

Complete five sets of the following:

  • Single-leg deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Weighted jump lunges
  • Bulgarian squats

Friday – Endurance Intervals

Following a 10-minute warm-up, perform eight to ten 200-meter sprints with a 30-second rest after each. Follow with an easy 10-minute jog as a cool down.

Saturday – Total Body Endurance Workout

Complete five sets of the following:

  • Squats to upright rows
  • Woodchop lunge
  • Push-ups
  • Bear Crawls
  • 20 Burpees

Sunday – Easy Run

Run 20 to 30 minutes at a comfortable pace.

5. Start with an easy Race

If this is your first time, I’d suggest that you start with a race that’s 5K or shorter.

These are designed to give you a taste of what it’s like to be in an obstacle race course without requiring long months of training to prepare for.

The following obstacle course races are great for beginners. These are roughly 5K long, the obstacles are not that challenging, and you’ll have a good time.

The 5K Foam Fest. Roughly 3 miles.  Visit website.

Mudathlon—roughly 3 miles. Visit website.

Diva Dasha 5K obstacle course for women only. Visit website.

Warrior dash—about 3 miles. Visit website.

Savage Raceroughly 4 to 6 miles and boasting more obstacles per mile than the others.

Want to move to the advanced ones?

Then get at least of these events under your belt before you take up more challenge, like Spartan Race Sprint.

Conclusion

There you have it! The training guidelines mentioned above are all you need to get prepared for your first—or upcoming—obstacle course race. The rest is up to you.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Keep Running Strong.

David D.

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