Tips on Surviving an Obstacle Course Race

Photo: Courtesy of Tough Mudder Series

Whether you’re competing against rivals or just out to finish with friends, obstacle course racing is about tackling a course full of challenging obstructions in order to reach the finish line. In addition to running around on trails and crawling through mud pits, you might be carrying logs, swinging over monkey bars, climbing up cargo nets, scaling walls and, in some cases, jumping over fire pits or trying to avoid electric shock cords. 

The sport continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and could become an Olympic sport in the future. An estimated 4 million people participated in some form of obstacle racing last year in the U.S. So whether you’re a seasoned veteran or an aspiring newbie, here are some tips to help you maximize your fun and performance.

For Beginners

Play on the playground

A little practice on those jungle gyms will get you ready for the obstacles, which in some ways aren’t much different.

Develop grip strength

Simple strength exercises such as pull-ups and pushups will help you tackle the obstacles involving rope climbs or swinging from bars.

Don’t forget the fitness

Strength training is important, but ultimately you’ll do as well as your fitness will allow. Make sure to build a good base of fitness, and yes, running is probably the best exercise for these races.

Do intervals

At least once a week, get your heart rate up and keep it up through high-intensity, short bursts of exercise. This mimics what you’ll face in an obstacle race, and it will make you fitter.

Pick a well-known race

There are dozens of mud and obstacle races out there, but they vary in quality. For your first one, it’s not a bad idea to pick a well-known brand so you know what to expect. Scroll through event photos online to see what kind of obstacles each race has.

For Competitors

Start early

Many obstacle races start in waves. If you’re interested in competing, put yourself in one of the first waves, as that’s where you’ll find the more serious racers. That also helps cut down on the crowds around the obstacles, so you won’t waste valuable seconds waiting for your turn.

Break it up

It’s easy to stay focused in an obstacle race because there’s usually another challenge facing you as soon as you finish the last. So it may be a cliché, but take the race literally one obstacle at a time.

Find your peeps

Just like in the more traditional road races, you’ll want to work your way to the front of your wave. Look for quiet, zoned-in people with runners’ physiques. They will help pace you to the end.

Not so fast

Don’t take the obstacles so fast that you slip and hurt yourself.

Don’t be a jerk

Don’t yell at others or shove someone out of the way just to save some time. Obstacle races, no matter how seriously you take them, are still supposed to be fun.

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