How to Prepare for an Obstacle Course Race

How to Prepare for an Obstacle Course Race

Obstacle course races have exploded in popularity over the last decade or so. In fact, in 2015 annual obstacle course race participants surpassed the number of annual participants in marathons and half marathons, according to Running USA. With each year, more and more people show up to these races test their strength—both physically and mentally.

obstacle course race man running

It’s not surprising that these races have become sought-after by athletes at all levels. They’re fun-filled, exciting competitions that break away from the monotony of things like marathons with obstacles ranging from mud pits to fire jumps. Some races cater to all different levels of experience, so novices and seasoned veterans alike can join in on the fun!

For those of you who are relatively new to the concept of obstacle course races, it can be a bit intimidating at first. But don’t let that deter you from taking part in these fun, memorable experiences. Nothing will beat that rewarding feeling of knowing you pushed yourself through. If you’re a first-timer who’s interested in signing up for an obstacle course race, check out some of these tips to prepare for your first race.

Find the Right Race for You

One of the biggest hurdles of conquering an obstacle course race, and fitness goals in general, is getting started and making the commitment. Once you’ve signed up, you’ve already made a decision that has put you on the right track to succeed.

That said, make sure that you set reasonable, achievable goals for yourself. Some of the races are meant for people with lots of experience, but companies such as the Spartan Race have courses specifically designed for newcomers. Additionally, you want to set yourself up for success in your first race. Find one that accommodates amateurs and first-timers—it’ll still offer plenty of challenges, and hopefully, leave you wanting to try another one and improve your skills.

Physical Preparation

An obstacle course race will require the use of your entire body, so you’ll want to have a diverse workout regimen that you follow for approximately 6-8 weeks before the race. You’ll need to have a good mix of cardio and strength training, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. For cardio, trail running is highly recommended—but any regular jogging or running will do. The key is to stick with it, so take care of cardio in a way that’s comfortable for you.

obstacle course race people running

For strength training, regularity is also key. Always remember the basics you can do from your home like chin-ups, push-ups, burpees, and bodyweight squats, and incorporate these with your cardio workouts. This will help prepare your body for the rapid changes in what muscle groups you use throughout the race. You should be training cardio and strength 4-6 days a week, but don’t overextend yourself. Plan at least 1-2 rest days, and if you feel pain from working out that isn’t just muscle soreness, take more time to recoup.

There are a lot of different regimens out there for obstacle course races, and some of them have differing philosophies on the best ways to prepare. Find one that you’ll be able to stick to with the environment and resources available to you—there are plenty of ways to adequately prepare yourself for a race, and they don’t have to be too difficult or complicated.

The Right Gear

What you wear to the race will be very important. You’ll be navigating many types of terrain and multiple obstacles, so come equipped.

gear activewear shirt compression pants runner shoes sneakers active wear

Possibly the most important thing to check off is a solid pair of shoes. You need good traction as you make your way through the course, but you’ll also be getting wet and muddy, so make sure that the shoes you wear have holes for water to drain. Lightweight is a big plus for the long haul as well.

Compression pants or shorts are recommended for bottoms for both men and women who take part in an obstacle course race. They’ll help you avoid snagging and extra weight or bulkiness—every little edge you can get while running an obstacle course race will make a bigger difference than you might think. If you opt for shorts instead of pants, calf sleeves are a good way to protect your legs from scrapes or friction.

For your shirt, most obstacle course race participants agree that avoiding cotton is always a good idea. You’ll be getting wet and muddy, and the cotton not only becomes heavier but can start to irritate your skin and cause chafing—and believe us, chafing is the last thing you want to have to worry about during one of these races. Instead opt for soft, synthetic materials that are lightweight and help you stay cool and dry. If they do get wet, they won’t be a hindrance the way that cotton would.

Fuel Up

stay hydrated sports water bottle

Usually, throughout obstacle course races, the refueling stations are water-only. Hydration is absolutely vital in races like these, and that can’t be emphasized enough. But on top of staying hydrated, make sure that your caloric intake is adequate for all the energy you’re using up. Bring small packs of sports gels or nutrition bars to get the calories you’ll need between obstacles for the longer races—especially since you may end up spending a longer period of time on the course as a beginner.

Enjoy the Challenge of the Race

Obstacle course races are by no means easy, but the rewarding feeling of finishing one for the first time is something that will stick with you—and that’s exactly why so many people catch the bug after just one race. At the end of this test of your will, good food, beer, music, and a celebration of what you and the other participants have accomplished are waiting. And as great as those things are, nothing beats the feeling of getting out of your comfort zone and reaching a goal you’ve set out for yourself. Good luck!