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Obstacle Course Racing 101

Obstacle Course Racing 101 | UPMC Health Plan

What’s got millions of Americans racing into mud, water, and muck? Obstacle courses, the newest craze in fitness! This year alone there are over 150 obstacle course races scheduled throughout the U.S. — races like the Tough Mudder, Mud on the Mountain, Muddy Buddy, and Warrior Dash. So there’s plenty of opportunity to get down and dirty, if you want to try it out. Could obstacle course racing be the next big thing for you?

I started obstacle course racing in 2010 because I needed a change in my routine. It was a way to put the cross-training I did to a good use while being adventurous. Today, there are so many races to choose from — ranging from short and fun to long and extreme. The most common question I get is where to even start.

To do these races safely, you need upper body strength, coordination, stamina, and a solid running base. The obstacles often require pushing, pulling, jumping, climbing, and running.

Here are the basics for getting started on your obstacle course adventure:

To start, choose your battle. Research the event that you are considering. Look at important details like distance, number of obstacles, and type of terrain. Also look at the organization sponsoring the event. Make sure they offer a safe course where you aren’t putting yourself in danger.

Next, ask yourself a few honest questions. Most of the obstacle races include at least three miles’ worth of running, so you need a solid base to start from. Ask yourself how far you can run, what you can train to run, and what you want to run. Next, decide on obstacles. Be honest about your level of comfort with log walks, net climbs, and mud pits. Look for a race that has the types of obstacles you can realistically train for. Finally, ask yourself if you like to get wet and muddy. Most events end in a giant mud pit, and include swimming or some type of water adventure. Are you comfortable with that?

Start training. Like a marathon or triathlon, this event will require specific training. To be successful, you will need total body strength and endurance — not to mention mental toughness. Obstacle course training requires racers to be prepared for elements of surprise. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many competitors run right into these races without doing their research and training. That’s where you can really get injured.

Dress for the occasion. The last item to consider is gear for the race. I recommend avoiding cotton because it can get waterlogged pretty quickly — and also make you really cold, depending on the temperature. I always wear a compression type top and bottoms, and gloves to protect my hands.

If you have considered all that’s involved in obstacle racing, definitely find a course near you. Chances are, you will find new purpose in your training — and a competitive edge you didn’t know you had. You can rack up new accomplishments and meet new friends along the way!

Are you preparing for any of the local races this year?