Some tips and advice for beginning obstacle racers.
Congratulations on deciding to participate in an incredible sport! After two years competing in OCR and over 100 events, I would like to share some observations and advice. I won’t cover everything but I will hit on some of the more common points that I have experienced and learned from in hopes of helping you enjoy your accomplishment that much more!
Choosing an Event
First things first, choosing the right event for you. There are tons of different types and styles of obstacle course races, which race is for you depends on what kind of experience you are looking for.
If you are competitive and want to see how you stack up against the best, an event like Spartan Race or Superhero Scramble are going to be your best bet. Both races are chip timed, have prizes for top individual and team finishers, and draw some of the highest level athletes in the sport. These races also have multiple distances starting at three miles and going up to 26+ miles.
If you are looking for more of a team work and camaraderie experience, Tough Mudder and Rogue Runner both promote those ideas and even include obstacles that many people will need help from their fellow athletes to complete. You will still find very strong competitors at these events, but the majority of participants are there just to have a good time getting dirty and helping others.
For anybody looking somewhere in the middle, perhaps you want to know your course time but having fun with friends and a great after party are your real priority. It’s tough to beat Warrior Dash. Warrior Dash is timed and is known for having the best after party with live music, plenty to eat and drink, and lots going on in the festival area.
What Distance Should I do?
Aside from what you are looking for as an experience, distance is also something to consider for your first few races. I usually recommend starting with a 3 to 5 mile course for your first one. You will be able to get a good feeling of what OCR really is without being on the trails for hours. If you think you are really going to love it or want to see how fit you really are, by all means try something of longer distance. Average speed for beginning obstacle racers is somewhere between 2 and 4 miles an hour depending on course and fitness, so plan accordingly. You may need to bring some snacks or drinks along with you if you plan on being on course for a while, such as protein bars (Zero Impact or Life Lift) and/or a Ready to Drink (RTD) option like Protein Rush, Carbonx or Amino Rush.
What to Wear
First, you do not want to wear shoes that are completely flat on the bottom. A little tread is good, a lot is better. You are more than likely to be traveling through mud, over rocks, or up steep inclines and flat bottom shoes don’t do well in any of those situations. While you are on your feet, don’t bother with the tape over your ankle and laces. It falls off, usually within the first mile and in that time robs you of precious traction in the muddy sections. Traditional laces in a double knot work just fine. Wear clothing that you don’t mind destroying but are comfortable in. You are probably going to get very dirty and ripping or tearing clothes is always a possibility when tackling obstacles. Keeping these points in mind wear whatever you want, just remember disposable, traction, and comfort.
How to Prepare
Before the Event
I definitely recommend you train as much as possible but training isn’t a necessity. Being able to do a pull up will definitely come in handy in almost all events. Being able to do a few pushups and carrying something for a short distance will be advantageous as well. Tons of people, myself included, did absolutely no training before their first event and still loved it and completed it!! In the days before a race I do recommend being well hydrated and getting a good night sleep. Read the pre-event email that they send you!! It will have important details about parking, registration, and usually waivers. Having a nice breakfast is also a good idea on race day even if you don’t normally eat in the morning. You are going to burn a lot of calories. Most races will suggest you arrive an hour before your wave, I recommend an hour and a half. Parking can be a pain sometimes and it’s not fun having to park and rush to check in and then immediately to the start to make your wave time. There is always plenty to do and see as well as people to talk to so even if you are early the time will go by quickly. Almost all events will have a bag check for you to store your things while you are on the course. Always bring cash for food or drinks, sometimes you have to pay for parking also. Larger events can take a credit or debit card but a lot of them are still cash only at the event.
At the Event
Once you are at the event it’s time to make your final preparations. If you are given a bib attach it somewhere that it is clearly visible and unlikely to get torn off. Almost all OCR’s take pictures and the easiest way to find them is by bib number. It’s tricky finding a good spot where it will be visible in pictures but won’t get ripped off while you are climbing over that wall. I usually put mine on the front of my right hip. At a lot of events a free beer is included, usually your ticket to claim that free beer is attached to your bib, now is a great time to pull it off and put it somewhere safe so you won’t lose it while you are on course. If you are carrying anything with you for the race, energy gels, water, candy bars, etc.. now is when you should get them ready if you haven’t done so before hand.
It’s GO time!!!! So you’ve made it to the start line, here we go. Make sure your shoes are tied up tight, I recommend a double knot. Remember to go at your own pace, trying to outrun others or go at a pace faster than you are comfortable usually doesn’t work out well. If there are aid stations along the way be sure to hydrate and if you need it grab a snack. Thank the volunteers and be polite to them, without volunteers most events wouldn’t be possible. If you have any snacks or gels along the way hold onto your trash until the next aid station or the finish. Passing is always allowed, but if you can, give those you pass a warning of which side you are on and offer an encouraging word or two as you go by. Simply saying “Good job!” as you pass can mean a lot to someone. Remember to look out for your fellow athletes as well as for yourself, we want everybody to cross that finish line and have an awesome experience!!
Through all your preparation, effort, and adventure there is one very important thing to remember. HAVE FUN!!!! Even if you are there as a competitor it is still important to enjoy yourself and have a good time, don’t take it too seriously. Obstacle racing is my favorite way to spend time outside, exercise, and make new friends and hopefully it will be a fantastic experience for you as well!
I’ll see you at the finish line!
This article was written by Jason Henline – VPX Team Xtreme OCR Athlete. He is 27 years old and lives in western Maryland. To pay the bills, he is a heavy diesel mechanic that started obstacle racing in September 2011 and LOVED it! He has a very mixed training routine 6 days a week and balances that with what a 'healthy choices diet' that is about 75% vegetarian. You can easily spot him at events by looking for his brightly colored Mohawk and outfits!