For those of us who have taken Obstacle Racing beyond a hobby and into more of a lifestyle (some people use terms like elite, professional, competitive, etc), we are often highly focused on our own results and standings. This is not a bad thing at all, as it creates the motivation to fuel the toughest workouts, produces the biggest performance improvements, and helps us track our progress. That being said, every once in a while it is a good idea to "get back to the roots" and run races just for fun, without worrying about how you place, and with some friends that have never run an OCR before.
Getting Started and Recruiting
You can choose pretty much any race that is logistically feasible for your group, but there are some that are geared more toward the OCR first timers and others that are inherently more competitive. Spartan Race, for example, tends to attract the most competitive racers and imposes penalty burpees for missed obstacles, whereas Tough Mudder is untimed and promotes group camaraderie over personal records. That being said, any race can be run as a group and for fun so do not be deterred.
In terms of recruiting your group, one of the biggest hurdles will likely be the perception that if you are running the race, a first timer couldn’t possibly complete it. Your friends/family/coworkers have seen your Facebook posts, heard your war stories, maybe even treated your injuries, so it is important to remind them that A) in every race there are racers across the full gamut of experience and competitiveness and B) you were once in their shoes as well. Show them pictures from your first race, explain the experience from that perspective and how exciting and nervous that first race made you. Not only will you settle their apprehension, you may be surprised at how great it feels to go back to that place in your mind and also remind yourself how far you have come.
So you have your group, everyone is excited, the email chain has gone around for a week or two with nicknames and banter, and then all of a sudden communication dries up. The initial high of the sign up is gone, life stuff has happened, and the reality of training and preparation has sunk in. It's important to stay positive, and help people remain motivated. They are likely hitting some walls in their training but aren’t telling the group, maybe dealing with some nagging injuries, or in the simplest terms just aren’t thinking much about the race. Send out a training schedule early on that people can utilize and most importantly adapt to their own fitness level and schedule, and then send an update every week or two about a recent workout you did. It is VERY IMPORTANT that these are not discouraging. You got them into this race by telling them how anyone can do it, don't then ask them to do Murph with a 20 pound weight vest on day 1, or spend the whole time bragging about your insane workouts. Maybe even share a workout that didn't go well, a run you couldn’t finish, or when you just could not get motivated to go to the gym (or if you're totally perfect and never struggle with any of that just make a story up about when you did…)
So everyone stuck with it, no one backed out (hopefully), and race day is upon you! Get ready for 1,000 questions about every little detail of the race. First timers are nervous and they know they can't do any more training, so now it's about trying to control every other aspect of the race. Some of the questions are important, especially about what to wear. Let people know not to wear cotton anything, bring a change of clothes, a bag for money and your ID, and all the other little logistics that veterans take for granted. It is best to get together as a group if possible in the days before the race to talk this through, you would be surprised what you forget to tell people and what they may not realize is needed. ON the flip side though, be careful not to give everything away about the race and the obstacles. What makes OCR unique is the unknown element, so you don't want to rob your teammates of their true first time experience.
During the race, you want to be the balance in terms of pacing. You don't want to be speeding ahead and dragging the group into the ground in the first mile, but they also may need you to be the kick in the butt halfway through the race to get them going. Keep it light hearted, keep the conversation away from the "this sucks" mentality if people are struggling. Now is the time to help them through some obstacles, give pointers and advice if they need it, and share your tricks of the trade. One thing to avoid is constantly talking about other races, especially if the conversation is about a tough obstacle and you find yourself comparing this race to the World's Toughest Mudder or Spartan Death Race. This is the hardest thing most of your teammates have even done, and you don't want to make it seem like a walk in the park or diminish it.
Everyone has finished! The endorphins have kicked in, those injuries mid race don't seem to matter, and you can all celebrate with a drink, some fast food, or whatever guilty pleasures you had been diligently avoiding in the weeks leading up to the race. This is the best time to get people to sign up for another race, and most races have great deals only available at the venue that day. Some people like to run another lap on their own more competitively, unless it’s a short course (5k) I prefer not to leave my teammates alone. Enjoy the day with friends and the feeling of getting out there for fun, set your personal record at the next one!
This is a guest post by Brian Lynch. Brian works in Wealth Management at UBS in Boston MA and has been involved in OCR since 2011. Recreation quickly turned to passion and then to obsession, and Brian now focuses his training on Ultra Distance OCR. Brian is a 2 time Worlds Toughest Mudder participant (finishing and completing 50 miles in 2012), a 2 time Spartan Ultra Beast finisher, and one of the 40 inaugural Fuego Y Agua Survival Run competitors. Brian's training focuses on body weight exercises for functional strength, high intensity circuit training for cardio and agility, and long distance trail running for endurance.