Obstacle course racing for first-timers

Spartan racers trudging through muddy obstacle course

From rope climbing and traversing balance beams to crawling through mud, obstacle course racing (OCR) has become so popular that it’s being considered as a Summer Olympics event. But it’s not just a sport for elite athletes. Many participants are just doing it for fun. A lot of gyms now operate OCR boot camps / training classes to prepare everyday folks to participate in these events.

While there are many highly competitive participants, others just want to improve their general fitness, drop some weight, build strength and improve their confidence. Some have always wanted to try an obstacle course instead of a 5K or 10K.

I have trained clients who have never done an OCR through to completing one. It can be intimidating when you look at the videos online. It can also be a bit nerve wracking at first because you’re uncertain which obstacles you’ll encounter. The most important thing to remember is that for most people, their primary goal is simply to complete the course.

The spring race season is coming up! Here’s what to know about getting started.
Whether you’ve tried a few obstacle races or will be a first-timer, the focus should be on completing the course, based on where your fitness level is at, by race day. Here is some additional advice:

  • Have fun! This doesn’t have to be a race about time. It can just be about showing up to complete it. You do it as a team and help each other through. You can tailor how far you push yourself.
  • Work on your mindset. These races are about developing grit and not giving up. Make the commitment by signing up for a race. I love event-based goals because then you start planning what you need to do to eventually cross the finish line. It helps you stay on track because you have a purpose for doing it.
  • Skip the new gear. Unlike a 5K, one of the benefits of a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder is you can show up in a pair of cut-off jeans and the oldest shoes you own.
  • Clean up your diet. What your body needs the most is protein. Avoid heavily processed foods and eat lots of fresh produce. Once you have the proper nutritional foundation, then layer in certain supplements. Look for clean supplements that are Informed Sport certified because they’re free of substances prohibited in sports. I like Spartan Energy because it’s made with OCR athletes in mind. It has ingredients like whole bean green coffee powder, which has the sustained release of energy you’ll need to finish the course. Spartan Hydrate is a good race-day supplement because it keeps you hydrated and replaces electrolytes so your muscles will keep working for you.
  • Expect sore muscles. Recovery should be a part of any training program. Those first few workouts may make you feel like you can’t walk or even bend over to tie your shoes. The trick is getting ahead of the soreness. Maybe have a less intense workout the next day that focuses on the areas that aren’t sore. If your legs are sore, work on your upper body, for example. Or, work on balance exercises. Don’t wait for all the soreness to go away. Adapt what you’re doing but keep moving!
  • Listen to your body. There’s muscle soreness and then there’s actual injury. If you have a sharp pain, get it checked out. But even if you turn your ankle, there are still ways to get a pretty good workout. About the only time to sit it out is if you’re sick. If you’ve got the flu, stay home and give your body time to recover.

Let your adventure begin!
Each spring, obstacle course races begin happening all over the world. There are Spartan and Tough Mudder races happening in the U.S. and Canada, and as far away as Dubai. If you discover that you love the fun of challenging yourself, consider creating a bucket list goal of traveling to multiple countries to participate.


Meet the Experts

  • Brent Bishop

    Brent Bishop is a national on-air fitness expert, celebrity trainer, published author and influencer who has participated in Spartan and Tough Mudder races. He is also the founder of Think Fitness Studios, performance-inspired conditioning centers in Toronto. He is the fitness expert of CityTV’s award winning lifestyle show, Cityline and has made several media appearances on North American networks including KTLA, WFLA Daytime, The Marilyn Denis Show, Global TV, Etalk, ET Canada, Breakfast Television and CityTV to name a few.

    Additionally, he is a regular contributor to numerous print media such as Best Health Magazine, Canadian Health and Lifestyle, Fitness Business Canada, Inside Fitness Magazine, Canadian Living, Sweat Equity Magazine and Marquee Magazine. With over 25 years in the fitness industry, Bishop dedicates himself to inspiring the active lifestyle through fitness, adventure and media.

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