How To Prepare For Your First Obstacle Course Race

You've finally decided to take the plunge and give obstacle course racing a try. Here's how you can prepare for that first event without looking like a complete beginner out on the course.

February 24, 2016
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So you’ve finally given in to the lure of obstacle course racing (OCR). You’ve had your fill of 5 and 10Ks, and you’ve run plenty of half and full marathons, but none of those events holds any thrill for you anymore. With its blend of cross-country running and challenging obstacles to overcome, OCR looked like just the kind of thing to get your competitive juices flowing again.

In a fit of excitement, you signed up for a race, not really knowing what you were in for. Now, as reality sets in, you realize you have no idea how to prepare for this strange new event. Don’t panic: We’ve got tips to get you ready for your first ever obstacle course race.

Keep Running 

If you’re jumping into OCR, chances are you’re already a regular runner on some level. That conditioning and training will come in handy out on the course; although there will be a number of obstacles to negotiate, running is still the core discipline for sure.

If you’re someone who tends to run longer distances, however, you may want to mix up your routine a bit. Conditioning is the key to completing an OCR, but speed comes in handy too. As you prepare for the event, mix in interval training a couple of days a week, running sprints over shorter distances to build up quickness. This will come in handy out on the course, helping you to hit the walls, ropes, and ladders with a burst of energy, and making you more nimble when you’re accelerating.

Strength Training Is Critical 

In addition to running, building a strong upper body will come in handy too. Climbing ropes and scrambling over walls requires plenty of strength in the arms and shoulders, so hit the weight room to get yourself ready. The key isn’t necessarily to bulk up, however, but to build lean muscle using lighter weights instead. Improving your strength will provide serious benefits out on the course.

Calisthenics Are Your Friend 

It may be hard to believe, but basic calisthenics can be extremely helpful in getting you ready for an OCR event. Pushups help to build upper body strength, and sit ups work the core too. Pull-ups are also essential for building a strong grip, which you’ll need if you want to hold on to ropes, walls, and monkey bars. Also, learn to love burpees. Just trust me on that one.

Train Like You’ll Race 

OCR events can be a bit overwhelming for newcomers, and it is easy to rocket out of the gate a bit too quickly. While preparing for the event, learn to pace yourself, and leave a little energy in the tank. Chances are you’ll need it at some point, because many first-timers end up facing as many mental challenges as they do physical ones. When that happens, you’ll be glad that you didn’t expend all of your energy early.

Get Creative 

When preparing for your first OCR event, you’ll definitely need to get creative. After all, you’re going to have to overcome some seriously challenging obstacles while running the race. There is just one problem: It is impossible to build those same obstacles at home to train on, so you’ll have to find some interesting ways to simulate the course.

Believe it or not, a playground can actually be a good spot to get in some OCR training. The jungle gyms, monkey bars, and other assorted equipment found on a playground can often serve as close approximations of some of the obstacles you’ll encounter during a race. They’ll also give you a chance to work on your upper body and grip strength in a real world setting. Just be careful not to scare the children with your intense workouts.

Don’t Train Alone 

If possible, convince another sucker to join you for the race. That way you can both push each other to improve your strength and cardio, plus you’ll have someone to rely on while you’re out on the course. Even if you’re both fit and ready to compete, it is always nice to have someone to share the experience with. After all, misery loves company.

Gear Up 

While not part of your training regimen per se, it is also important that you prepare and race in the proper gear. If you’re taking on an OCR event, there is a high likelihood that you’ll get wet and muddy, so invest in clothing that is quick drying, temperature appropriate, and highly breathable. Those features will help to keep you comfortable and performing at your best.

Also, don’t get too attached to your clothing or your shoes especially. At the end of the race, they could very well be trashed, and you may not even want to take them home with you. OCR events can be very hard on gear, so make sure you wear stuff you’re okay with destroying.

With these helpful tips, a dedicated training schedule, and a healthy dose of determination, you can be more than ready for your first obstacle course race. Upon crossing the finish line, many first timers find themselves completely hooked, and immediately want to sign up for another event. Fortunately, preparing for the second one is usually much easier.

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