How to Prepare for an Obstacle Course Race: 6 Key Tips
Obstacle races and mud runs continue to rise in popularity. More than three million Facebook fans “like” adventure runs like the Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, and others. Just as many can be expected to sign up for an obstacle race in 2012.
If you are one of the many interested in trying an obstacle race, you’ll need to be prepared for your event. Some of the tips you may have read for running may also apply for obstacle race training. However, there are some unique points you will need to address in order to be ready for an unconventional run.
Learning how to prepare for an obstacle race with these six key obstacle course race preparation tips will be crucial to your success.
1. Assess your fitness level.
A fitness assessment will be helpful before you start your training. With a proper fitness assessment, you can get an idea of what weak links you may need to strengthen and improve upon during your training.
You may need help from a personal trainer for this step. A personal trainer can help you not only with conducting the actual fitness assessment, but also with interpreting results as they relate to your goal of completing an obstacle race.
2. Choose a race.
Once you have a good idea of your fitness level, you should be ready to pick a race that’s right for you. The good news is that there is a race for nearly any fitness level and interest. You don’t have to take on the Tough Mudder for your first race!
If you’re a beginner, you can work up to a longer race like the Tough Mudder or Spartan Beast, each of which can be longer than 10 miles. Start with a shorter race like the Warrior Dash or other 5k mud run. Keep in mind your training time: be sure to give yourself enough time to prepare for an obstacle race as you choose a specific race and date.
3. Do your homework.
Once you’ve chosen your race, it’s time to develop a training plan. In order to do this, you’ll need to be familiar with the demands of an obstacle race. To be in shape for an obstacle race, focus your training on the following:
- Running. Even though muddy patches may slow you down in an obstacle race, you’ll want to prepare to run as much of the actual course as possible. Work up to running the same distance as the race you are taking on. So if you are preparing for a 5k mud run, you should be able to run at least 3 miles before race day.
- Grip. Many of the obstacles you’ll face will require grip and forearm strength. To be ready for climbing, monkey bars, and similar obstacles, you’ll need to include grip exercises in your training.
- Legs. Strong legs will help you with your running. You’ll also need leg strength to pull your feet from quicksand-like mud. Be sure to include squats, lunges, deadlifts, and similar leg-strengthening exercises.
- Upper body. Some obstacles will require you to be able to pull your body over a wall or crawl under barriers. Developing your chest and back muscles through push-ups, pull-ups, and rows will help you overcome these challenges.
One last thing to consider is how the specific race you signed up for differs from other mud runs. What do other participants say are the most challenging obstacles in the course? Is there a unique component to the obstacle race you signed up for? For example, in Run For Your Lives, a zombie-themed obstacle race, you need to evade volunteers dressed as zombies during the course. In order to dodge “zombies,” you’ll need to add some agility drills to your training.
4. Make time to train.
Set aside time to train in your calendar and commit to it. Plan to train 4-5 days per week at least 8 weeks before your race. You will need to start even further ahead if you are not currently on an exercise program. If you’re new to a structured exercise program, give yourself enough time to build a foundation for fitness and train specifically for your obstacle course race.
5. Get necessary items for race day.
Beyond completing all the important training sessions for your race, you’ll need to dress comfortably and bring a few key items on race day. Here’s a quick checklist to go through:
- Comfortable clothes. Be sure you can move freely in the clothes you plan to wear for your race. You don’t want your apparel to weigh you down after having to possibly immerse yourself in muddy water. Attire among participants varies, but shorts and/or running tights and a breathable top are good lightweight options.
- Footwear. You need the right footwear for your obstacle race. You want your running shoes to be comfortable, but not brand new as you may want to part with them by the end of the race once they’ve gotten very muddy. A trail running shoe may be helpful for muddy patches, but some advanced racers prefer a lightweight, minimalist-type shoe so as to avoid mud weighing down their feet. The right footwear will depend on you, your fitness level, and mud running needs.
- Change of clothes and footwear. After the race, one of the first things you’ll want to do is get out of your race wear. Whether or not you plan on sticking around for the after-race festivities, you’ll want change into a clean, fresh, dry set of clothes. Bring an extra pair of socks and shoes or sandals as well.
- Towel. Expect to be wet and muddy after the race. You’ll need to towel off before changing clothes.
6. Enjoy the race.
Have fun and be safe. Pace yourself, slow down over muddy patches, and expect to be surprised by the obstacles you’ll overcome.
- Obstacle Course Race Training Program
- Key Race Preparation Tips for a 5k
- Obstacle Race Nutrition Tips
- CrossFit Training For Obstacle Races
About the author: Melissa Rodriguez is a personal trainer, strength & conditioning coach, and fitness industry analyst. She specializes in many areas including Obstacle Race Training.