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How to Dominate Your First Obstacle Race

10 Oct 2012

This is a guest post by Maria “Mud Racing Mom.” Maria was among the top female finishers in her first ever obstacle race. You can follow her blog at mudracingmom.blogspot.com.

How to Dominate Your First Obstacle Race

Six months of anticipation, training and yes, occasional second-guessing faded away as I stood in the starting area of the Super Spartan Mid-Atlantic race in August of this year. It was my first obstacle course race and the butterflies danced inside me as the horn blew and competitors of all levels spilled through to the course. Was the training I’d done enough? Would I finish, and finish in a respectable time? I pushed away these thoughts, and ran.

As obstacle course racing (OCR) aka “mud runs” soar in popularity, the number of people getting in shape especially for one of these races – finally inspired to get moving by the looming race date — has, too. For many of us, the challenge of the race is an incredible motivator to taking our fitness from little or nothing to more than we’d imagined.

This is one of the best side effects of this new arena in the fitness world – it’s something that inspires so many people from all facets of life to get in better shape. For the newly athletic, proper training is key to remaining injury-free and to having a successful race day.

The three most important training areas as you prepare for an obstacle course race of any length and difficulty are endurance, upper body strength, and mental stamina or toughness.

Number 8 Endurance

Endurance, the ability to keep going mile after mile, through whatever obstacles are thrown your way, is the number one training challenge most new obstacle course runners must master. As you know, this only comes with consistent training and time. When I went on my first run after signing up for the Spartan race, I could only jog ¼ mile before slowing to a walk.

Sure, I’d been a cross country runner back in high school and a long distance runner in college, but I was seriously out of shape at this point, ten years and five babies later. Not being able to run to my rural mailbox was a humbling start to my OCR training adventure. What gave me the framework to take that ¼ mile of running ability and improve it to a solid 10.5 miles only six months later was consistent training and adhering to my running schedule.

Whatever fitness level you are when you start training, work up to a running plan that includes 4-5 runs a week, including one long, slower-paced run, two medium distance, faster paced days and one or two interval/speed workouts per week. You can make your own plan based on your current abilities, each week lengthening your long run and improving your speed on the other days, or use a running plan readily available online. Write it down or print it out and don’t miss these runs – they will build your endurance for the race and give you the ability to do what most people won’t.

Armed and dangerous hahaUpper Body Strength

Upper body strength is typically most especially a challenge for us ladies, whose bodies do not naturally build as much muscle in our arms, back and core as men do.

You may be starting out where I did – just able to complete one push-up and dropping off a climbing rope immediately with no progress. The single most important tip I can give you is to do something, preferably more than one thing, with your arms every single day – push-ups, pull-ups, rope climbing (even just attempting it), curls with hand weights, kettlebell swings – anything at all to begin working those muscles.

As your fitness progresses, add more reps, more variety and more weights.

meditation Mental Stamina

Mental stamina is essential for your race day success, especially on the longer races. In fact, what sets two runners of similar physical skill apart on a demanding course is the psychological element.

One remains focused with single-minded determination on finishing that race, on pushing through and getting across any obstacle, on going faster and stronger than the competition, while the other allows doubt to set in.

To be the former, you need to practice toughness in training. Build the power of your mind to keep you going, to train consistently, to complete the runs you schedule for yourself, to push through with a sprint at the end of your run instead of a walk if your body can physically do it (even when your mind rebels).

Mental stamina was one of my strengths on that race day in August. I had decided to finish in the top 20% of women in my heat, the first race of the day. I had the goal fixed in my mind and that helped me to not give in to weakness even when I most wanted to. Yes, I could have done more long distance runs and more push-ups in the months prior to the race. I had trained consistently, but I definitely could have trained more. The thing that kept me going was my determination. And it paid off too – I was 13th of 199 women that morning and third in my age group, landing me a spot in the top 15%.

Final Thoughts

Make your goal, train consistently and keep yourself focused on the result you have decided to achieve. When you cross the finish line of your first long-distance obstacle course race, it will have been worth each aching muscle and every drop of sweat.


Image credits: runner, bicep flex, meditation.

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