If you're not daunted by a workout that includes challenges with names
such as Goliath and Everest, have no problem getting muddy or jumping
over a fire pit, and pushing yourself to physical and mental limits is
your idea of a good time, then obstacle course racing is for you. But
this grueling effort takes stamina, determination--and plenty of preparedness
to ensure you're ready on race day.
These races, in which participants traverse an obstacle-filled course anywhere
from 3 to 26 miles long, have grown in popularity since the sport's
three major race presenters were founded—Warrior Dash in 2009, and
Spartan Race and
Tough Mudder in 2010. In 2015, about 4.5 million people entered an obstacle course
race in the United States, according to
"As marathons and half-marathons have become a fitness mainstay, obstacle
course races are kind of a next-level opportunity for people to challenge
themselves," says Tommy Parrish, MS, ACSM-CCEP, director of the
Covenant LifeStyle Centre in Lubbock. "There is of course the physical element. Unlike marathons
that are strictly running races, obstacle course events challenge stamina
and whole-body fitness as racers try to climb rope walls, crawl under
barbed wire and carry sandbags up hills, as well as run from obstacle
to obstacle. There is also the mental test, as participants must find
the fortitude to tackle each obstacle, telling themselves they can do it."
Because obstacle course races can be extra challenging, some extra training
and preparation is a good idea, whether you are a novice or well-conditioned
athlete in another sport. Parrish offers some suggestions to help you
Talk to your doctor. "These races require a great deal of physical effort, so before entering
one you should ask your doctor about any possible risks, or precautions
to take if you have any medical conditions," Parrish says.
Know what you are getting into. The websites for the major races have videos and descriptions of obstacles,
so you can get a feel for the race; Spartan races have even been televised.
There are also different course lengths; some are shorter 5K distances
for beginners, while elite competitors can run longer races. And some
races are noncompetitive, so if you don't want the pressure of a timed
race, you have that option.
Hit the dirt. "For the running portion of your training, don't limit yourself
to roads or sidewalks. Because obstacle course races are set on trails,
you'll want to practice running on different types of terrain, such
as grass, sand or dirt," Parrish says.
Train for the obstacles. "The major race organizations have a lot of training videos and advice
on their websites to help you prepare for specific obstacles; you may
even be able to find a trainer specializing in obstacle course races in
your area to offer personalized coaching," Parrish says. When it
comes to exercises that are helpful for these races, Parrish recommends
a regular schedule of calisthenics. "Squats can help build leg strength
to climb walls, while tricep dips, push-ups and pull-ups work the arms
and chest in case you have to, say, lug a tire. Bear crawls can prepare
you to climb under obstacles or through mud, and there are usually hills
involved in these courses so don't forget to include those in training
runs. These are body-weight exercises, so they can be done anywhere."
Take extra care of yourself. "You're asking a lot of your body, so make sure to eat a balanced
diet of carbs, healthy fats and proteins for the fuel you need for training
and racing," Parrish says. "Aim for seven to eight hours of
sleep per night and build rest days into your training program, so your
body has recovery time between workouts."
Dress for success on race day. You'll be getting wet and dirty, so skip the new shoes and fancy workout
gear. Avoid baggy clothing and cotton and opt for fabrics that are quick-drying
and hug the body. And don't forget a change of clothes, plus soap
and a towel, so you can clean up after you cross the finish line.
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