It doesn’t take long when I meet a new friend to somehow start chatting about Obstacle Course Racing… sometimes the reaction is “WHAT?”, but mostly people say "This sounds awesome, I want to try!"
One of the first questions that hits me when people decide they want to give a mud run a go is, “what if I’m not good enough, and how do I train?”. The first question is easy to answer…everyone is good enough. Part of the beauty of this sport is that anyone can have a go, you can run for fun or for competition, you can run in a group or run solo…you can walk if you want! With the option of competitive races and non chip timed, there really is an option for whatever you want to do.
The next question is not so easy to answer, and is often very personal, so to this end, I can only tell you my personal opinion on how would be a good way to train, but everyone find their own level eventually.
First and foremost: Running
Yep, the dirty R word. For some reason a lot of people in OCR don’t love running (myself included). I suppose the reason a lot of people do these events is because it’s a lot more interesting than a road run, but there are ways to make your running fun.
Even if you plan to walk a lot of the course, good cardio skills will always help you, and don’t under estimate how much running will drain your strength for when you get to obstacles.
Personally I like to mix it up with short road runs, hill training, and trail runs. Trails are the most fun, they create interest and also get you used to running in mud and over uneven ground. Sprint intervals are a great way to work on different pace and overall fitness: a lot of your run around a course will be varied pace, and for some this can be difficult.
If you’ve never really run, start small; fast walks, jog and walk, and you’ll get there eventually. If you’re already a runner, push your speeds and terrain and you’ll be on the right track already. Finding a running buddy, or joining a running club can motivate you to get out there and start clocking up the Kilometres.
OCR is a funny mix of cardio and strength, and the reason why many people have their own training regime is that it is very easy to concentrate on one area and allow the others to fall by the wayside: I know I concentrate on strength a lot more than cardio, mainly because I enjoy it more!
Personally I like CrossFit for this, lifting and high intensity workouts prepare your muscles for functional fitness, and you’ll be surprised by how much squats can put power in your legs for running, as long as you work on both.
When I first began OCR I started on lower intensity circuits, and as my fitness improved I moved onto CrossFit, whilst it is suitable for everyone, it can be scary, and it’s important to work at a level that you enjoy: after all, most of us are doing this for fun!
Long runs and a strength workout such as CF (CrossFit) can really help with endurance, which can be really important in a race, especially when you are starting to feel tired, the knowledge that you can go on can be more important than anything sometimes.
Another good way to build endurance can be to take part in something like British Military Fitness (BMF) classes, which take place over all of the country and are done in groups so are also enjoyable… seeing as BMF sponsor the top UK OCR team, we can pretty sure that it’s a certain way to success.
There are two sides to water in races, swimming and cold water. Whilst most races with any distance of swim are quite rare, they do exist. Generally there will be something to assist you, such as life vests at Rat Race Dirty Weekend, or a rope to hold onto at Spartan race. Failing this, there will always be life guards in canoes and drysuits in the water, so you will always be safe. However, having confidence in the water will always help you, and swimming fully clothed and in shoes is a totally different skill to doing a few lengths in your heated local pool in your swimsuit. Outdoor swimming can be dangerous though, so I would never go anywhere unless I was certain it was safe…don’t go jumping into any old river!
The second part of water is the cold… there are many winter races that include very cold water to try and really break you, and often these are full submersions. My first swim in a race was a huge shock to me as I was not expecting the cold and really struggled to breathe. There are different opinions on the efficacy of cold water training, but let’s be honest, getting used to being in the water cannot be a bad thing.
Aside from the after effects of the water (i.e. getting very very cold), one of the things people struggle with the most is the shock. It is not uncommon for you to panic and struggle to breathe when the cold water hits your chest. This can actually be very scary, especially if you have to swim and not just wade. The best way I have found to tackle this is to count your breathes, and focus on getting them regular again. Practice outdoors will help you learn this and become familiar with the feelings.
Grip and Upper body strength
Without a doubt, one of the things people struggle with the most is grip and upper body strength. Thankfully this is easy to work on, from hanging from a door mounted pull up bar to bouldering, there are many ways to improve your grip and upper body strength. Starting small, dead hanging for as long as you can is a great place to start. As you improve, giving monkey bars a go will always be helpful: many local parks have these for children, but there’s no reason why you can’t take a break in the middle of your run and give them a go!
Taking things up a level, bouldering and wall climbing is a fantastic skill to work on and helps more areas than just grip and upper body, again it’s also great fun so doesn’t feel like training!
Without a doubt Parkour (or sometimes known as Free running) is a beautiful sport, and this skill of being able to traverse objects with confidence can only help. The Chainstore in London offered workshops for beginners to those more experienced to help you work on this movement. With things like flying monkey bars becoming popular, this fluidity will give you an extra edge.
Flexibility and balance
To help look after yourself, and for some obstacles, flexibility can really assist with many obstacles. Activities such as yoga or pilates are a great way to help stretch out your muscles after a busy race weekend, and also really help with your flexibility.
Obstacle specific training
With races becoming more and more technical, and with some obstacles you won’t have come across before, it is helpful to attempt some obstacle specific training if you are wanting to take your racing and fitness to the next level.
The idea of many obstacles can be scary, from monkey bars and rope climbs, to rigs and walls a little practice can go a long way, also often the skill is in knowing the technique over using pure strength.
Soon to start is Mudstacle Mayhem, happening at different courses over the country where you get to basically play on different obstacles: organised by Mudstacle we can sure the this will be a fun and efficient trainmen session.
For those wanting to give something really special a try, the Toughest Training lab in Sweden is currently feted as the place to train, and with their first UK race taking place in April, many people are flocking there to give their obstacles a try.
The recently opened PT Barn affiliated with Nuclear races is proving popular with the more hardcore, and a day at Wild Forest Gym will help you work on technique over brute strength. Many of these options are not cheap, but can be a good birthday present or treat with friends.
Whatever your level, there is nothing stopping you signing up for a race and giving it a go… have fun my muddy friends!