Obstacle races are becoming ever more popular throughout the world. Find out why so many people are taking on these punishing courses and learn how the right training can result in triumph!
In this article, we discuss the following topics to help you prepare for race day:
- What Are Obstacle Races?
- Why Take Part in an Obstacle Race?
- Training for Obstacle Races
- Speed and Power
- Agility, Balance, and Flexibility
- Mental Resilience and Strength
- Still Need Convincing?
- Top 3 Obstacle Races from Around the Globe
1. What Are Obstacle Races?
Put simply, an obstacle race is a solo or team event that requires you to cover a set distance and negotiate various tasks or hurdles along the way. Normally participants find themselves running, climbing, crawling, wading, hopping, swimming, leaping, and even swinging their way to the finish line. The only thing that limits the range of obstacles is the organisers imagination.
The obstacles can be natural or man-made and come in the form of muddy pools, tunnels, streams, fences, tires, walls, rope swings, and a myriad of other gruelling challenges. Some races even use fire!
2. Why Take Part in an Obstacle Race?
Let’s face it, the military have used them for years to train their troops for combat readiness and general fitness. They sound like torture right? Well yes, in some ways they are, but they can also so beneficial to the average person.
When undertaken as a team event, obstacle races are a brilliant way of bonding. They can help build cohesiveness within any type of group or organisation.
There is also quite often a charitable aspect attached to an obstacle race. Participants are encouraged to raise sponsorship money for worthy causes. This can be just the type of motivation that people need to rise to the challenge, knowing that their hard work will ultimately benefit others.
Lastly but perhaps most importantly, obstacle races are fun and give you a great sense of achievement whatever level you participate at.
So, we know what they are and the many benefits, but how do we train for them?
3. Training for Obstacle Races
Going out for a few runs or cycles will build your cardiovascular fitness. However, obstacle races are about so much more than just running. Due to their challenging nature, training needs to be varied using an holistic approach covering all the aspects of fitness.
To give the best performance in obstacle races, you must work on each of the following:
Once you have identified the distance of the course you will cover, it is important that your cardio training is sufficient to allow you to comfortably complete the mileage required. Remember that the obstacles will further deplete your energy. Try and train in excess of what you will actually need to complete the course.
For instance, if the course is predominantly flat, then include some hills in your training. If there are to be hills in the race, then use steeper ones in your training. This not only builds sufficient stamina but also increases mental strength and resilience making race day easier.
Weights and machines can be of some benefit whilst training for an obstacle race, however, nothing beats developing functional strength. This is the type of strength that allows you to move your own bodyweight effectively over obstacles. If possible, research the types of obstacles you are likely to face and try and replicate the moves you will require to negotiate them.
Use Calisthenics, Bodyweight, Animal, and Gymnastic moves to develop a body that is strong enough to crawl, climb, swing, grip, and perform in ways that you probably haven’t done since playing as a child. If you know you will need to crawl, then practice and develop your crawl. If you will need to swing, then start working on your grip strength. Use training that is specific and relevant.
3) Speed and Power
At some point during a race, you may need to use shear speed and power to get you through an obstacle. Think about a muddy incline where for every two paces forward, you will slide back one. This calls for a combination of momentum from speed, and the type of explosive power that will overcome the forces of gravity.
Sprint, HIIT, stair and hill training are all great ways of developing this side of your fitness. Try also using some plyometric style exercises such as clap push ups or box jumps. These create short bursts of force needed to clear obstacles such as fences or walls. Look at the way sprinters train and this will give you a good basis to your speed and power training.
4) Agility, Balance, and Flexibility
Due to the nature of obstacle courses, it is likely that you will find yourself having to contort and bend your body into all sorts of shapes and angles that you are probably not used to.
Yoga is an excellent way of preparing your body for these types of moves during an obstacle race. If Yoga is not your thing, then build in regular balancing drills and flexibility exercises into your normal routine. Not only will it aid you in negotiating the obstacles, it will also decrease the likelihood of getting an injury.
5) Mental Resilience and Strength
It is quite possible during an obstacle race, that despite all of your physical training, you will become seriously challenged. You may feel exhausted, drained and even like you want to quit. This is where mental strength takes over. The desire to succeed and complete the course despite your body crying out to stop.
Mental Strength and resilience comes from pushing hard during your training and gradually working beyond your comfort zones. If you know there are water obstacles, get used to being wet and train whatever the weather. If you usually run on a treadmill, you need to get outside and training in the wind, rain or heat.
Make things tougher in training than they will be on the day of the race if possible. The military have a saying “Train hard, fight easy”, and the same approach can work for you in an obstacle race.
If you are competing to raise money for a charity, then keep reminding yourself why you are doing it and who will benefit as a result of your efforts. We will push ourselves harder when we have an attachment to an outcome that helps others.
Related: Triathlon 101: A Beginner’s Guide
4. Still Need Convincing?
Obstacles races are a huge amount of fun and can be quite addictive. If you haven’t tried one before then sign up with some friends or colleagues to give yourself the additional incentive and motivation to train and participate.
Give yourself enough time to properly prepare so that come race day you are fired up and ready to go and give it your best shot. If you train correctly for the event you are going to be in great all over shape which is a great additional incentive and benefit.
There are obstacle races out there to suit most ages and abilities, so,what is stopping you from taking part, feeling a huge sense of achievement and as importantly having a huge amount of fun!
5. Top 3 Obstacle Races from Around the Globe
Rugged Maniac (USA & Canada)
Rugged Maniac had its first race in October 2010, in Southwick, Massachusetts and had a respectable 2,000 participants. Since then it has managed to expand into 26 cities around United States and Canada.
It has become very popular, attracting an estimated 150,000 in 2015 with 12,000 of those taking part in Southwick where it originated. Rugged Maniac features 25 obstacles over a 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) course and some of the features include The Ringer, The Gauntlet, and The Head Scratcher. All of them are set up to test your skill and endurance.
For Rugged Maniac location search their events list
Rugged Maniac Official Video
Tough Mudder (Several Countries)
Similar to Rugged Maniac above, Tough Mudder also started in 2010. Its first race was at at Bear Creek Ski Resort near Allentown, PA, and attracted an estimated 4,500 participants. Since then its popularity has increased two-fold and there are now races held in North America, UK, China, Australia, Ireland, and Germany. There are several race formats with the typical Tough Mudder course being 10–12 miles (16–19 km) long and and featuring between 20–25 obstacles.
In 2011, Tough Mudder introduced the “World’s Toughest Mudder” and this new race format upped the intensity for competitors, as it is a 24-hour challenge. Unlike other Tough Mudder events, World’s Toughest Mudder is a competition, with the top-ranking man, woman, and team receiving prize money.
For Tough Mudder locations search their events list
Tough Mudder Official Video
Tough Guy Competition (UK)
First staged in 1987, this race is the granddad of the obstacle race family. Tough Guy claims to be the world’s most demanding one-day survival ordeal and It has been widely described as “the toughest race in the world”, with up to one-third of the starters failing to finish in a typical year. The Tough Guy Challenge is held on a 600-acre (2.42 square km) farm in Perton, Staffordshire, near Wolverhampton, England.
In January 2017, the final Tough Guy Competition took place, with over 5,500 testing their abilities and saying farewell. This, however, is not the last we will see from the organiser. Going by the pseudonym of Mr Mouse, he already has several events scheduled, including the World’s toughest obstacle runner championships which takes place in July 2017.
Find out more details on the event