If you’ve smashed out a couple of road or trail races and a hungry for more, then perhaps it’s time for you to consider signing up for your first Obstacle Race. Combining running with a course full of obstacles that challenge your grit, strength and determination is a great way to push yourself both mentally and physically to a whole new place.
While this notion may not be for everyone, Obstacle Races have a huge following of die-hard fans who love to battle their way through these obstacles, which include the likes of scaling walls, mud slides, javelin throws and rock climbing. These kinds of courses aren’t for the feint of heart and require a more full body approach to training compared to your typical family friendly 5 or 10km road race. That’s right, it won’t just be your legs burning in this one – you can expect a full body workout like no other!
For this reason, if you want to have a successful race, correct preparation and a suitable training program are key. So if you’ve signed up for your first Obstacle Race and are unsure where to start, here are our top 7 tips on how to best prepare that will see you crossing the finish line smiling!
1. Assess Your Needs
Obstacle Races present a physical challenge due to the varied activities you’ll be asked to perform. For this reason, it’s important to gauge your current level of strength and fitness to know which areas will likely require the most focus throughout your training.
While you may be able to run 5km at a 4-minute 32 pace without breaking a sweat, that doesn’t mean you should skimp over your training. While you may be well served in some areas of fitness, there will likely be others that you are lacking some ability.
Furthermore, not all Obstacle Races are created equally. Some will require more cardio endurance, while in others you may need to draw upon more of your body strength. By assessing your individual needs with regards to your own level of fitness, as well as the race you’re participating in, you’ll have a better understanding of how to best prepare!
Ask yourself the following questions before starting your workout program and this will help guide you as to the areas you should focus on:
- What kind of obstacle race are you planning to complete? Is it a short race or a long one?
- Can you already run the distance? How easily?
- Are you in good shape or just getting back into it?
- Do you have decent upper body strength?
- How would you rate your overall agility and your ability to traverse obstacles?
Once you have understood the race requirements and your own strengths and weaknesses you can train accordingly.
2. Plan Ahead
It might be tempting to jump straight into tackling an Obstacle Race, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’ll be a breeze just because you ran a 10km race last weekend.
To complete an Obstacle Race successfully, you may need to carry out a training program that last for anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks. This will of course depend on your initial base level of cardio endurance and strength, and your plan should be tailored accordingly.
Don’t do yourself the disservice of underestimating the time It takes to prepare. Do, and you’ll likely find yourself gasping for air halfway through the race, covered in mud and unable to clamber over a wall.
3. Build Your Total Body Strength
You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to complete a good Obstacle Race, however having a good level of overall body strength will allow you to perform each of the coarse tasks without completely flunking out.
In the lead up to the race, it’s important that you build up your strength in both your upper and lower body. This can be done through simple bodyweight exercises, such as pull ups, push ups, lunges and squats. However by incorporating some light weight and heavier lifting sessions into your routine, you’ll be giving yourself the very best chance of success.
At a minimum, work up to doing at least a few pull-ups, 30 pushups, 30 to 50 bodyweight squats, and being able to hold an elbow plank for one minute or longer. This general strength will help you pull yourself over walls, climb the monkey bars, run up steep hills, and leap over obstacles.
4. Train like it's Race Day
While you’ll never be able to recreate the Obstacle Coarse exactly, people who can model their training closely to what they might experience come race day typically have a much better finishing time than those who simply stick to the treadmill.
You might be wondering how you can train like it’s race day without setting up an entire Obstacle Course in your backyard. Well, here are a few ideas to consider implementing into your workout to recreate some of the scenarios you may encounter come race day.
- Run on trails and varying surfaces: the uneven terrain of trails will recreate the path of the course, while undertaking some of your training on gravel, sand and other surfaces will help you grow accustomed to other terrain that might get thrown your way.
- Run hills: this will help you build both cardiovascular endurance as well as lower body strength that will be crucial in helping you complete certain obstacles around the course.
- Work body-weighted moves into your run: mix up your run by throwing in a serious of body weight moves, such as squats, lunges and burpees, every 400 metres or so. This will stimulate your body in a similar way that it will be used on race day.
5. Build Your Athleticism
Just as it’s important to build upon your strength, it’s also vital to improve your overall athleticism, including your balance, agility and coordination.
Consider incorporating mobility drills, dynamic stretches, stability moves and flexibility exercises into your training program, as these will ensure you have a full range of motion in all of your joints.
It pays to include some jumping, crawling and climbing practice into your training too, whether it’s during runs or strength workouts. A local playground serves as a great place to get reacquainted with monkey bars, and they often have platforms of varying heights from you can practice your jumping skills.
6. Gear Up
The clothes you wear on race day can either make or break you, so whatever you do, don’t come under prepared.
The first thing to take into consideration is the season and forecast. Will it be freezing cold, or hot and humid? Raining or dry? Whichever it is, make sure you’re aware and dress accordingly.
Ideally, your racing outfit would consist of comfortable and close-fitting athletic apparel that allows for full range of motion. Your shoes should be tailored towards trail running and should not be a pair you want to keep in pristine condition – they’re definitely going to get muddy, whether you like it or not!
Some other gear you should consider taking is a water bottle, sunscreen, a towel, gloves (either for grip or for warmth) and a clean change of clothes for after the race.
7. Fuel Right
When completing your training it’s necessary to ascertain your fuelling needs. Eating incorrectly could jeopardize your training and leave you suffering from fatigue, seeing you fall in a heap on race day.
It’s important to include the right amounts of protein, complex carbohydrate, fruits and vegetables within your diet in the lead up to an Obstacle Race. And on race day, ensure you have a good, sustaining breakfast that will keep you full on the course but won’t leave you feeling sluggish or weighed down.
With these 7 helpful hints in mind you should be ready and raring to go for your next Obstacle Course. Just remember, good preparation is key, so consider your specific race requirements and what your individual fitness needs and goals are. Do this and you should sail through your training and cross that finish line smiling…despite being covered in mud.