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Obstacle Racing: The Ultimate Fitness Test

Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) gained a lot of popularity in the last couple of years. There are now various different organizers and brands that offer this type of event such as Spartan Races, Legion Races or Tough Mudder. But what they all have in common is that the races are a combination of trail or cross country running including a range of different obstacles. Typically the races have different lengths (short, medium, long) and obstacles include crawling, overcoming walls, crossing rivers or mud pits, rope climbs, monkey bars, carrying heavy objects, climbing or balancing. Generally, it tests a wide range of an athlete's capabilities such endurance, strength, speed, agility, dexterity, and also mental toughness. All in all, it is tough -- especially if you go for the longer races -- and definitely a great way to test your overall fitness. 

Preparing for an Obstacle Race

Last weekend I completed the 26km Spartan Beast in Andorra. It was an OCR in the Pyrenees mountains, which added quite a lot of elevation, too. I train all year round so I have a good general level of fitness. I started the dedicated preparation for the Beast six weeks before the race with the following training elements per week:

  • 2x 10km to 15km runs.
  • 2x high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions (like CrossFit).
  • 1x strength training which included full-body compound exercises like deadlifts and squats and especially pull-ups. 
  • 1x to 2x low-intensity steady-state (LISS) cardio sessions (basically fast walks early morning on the beach). 

I did the LISS element mainly to burn extra calories and lower my body weight. The less body weight, the less you have to carry and pull, which comes in handy for the rope climbs etc.

For recovery I did the following every week:

  • 2x longer full body stretching sessions.
  • 1x sauna visit.
  • 1x massage, which was either a Thai massage or a muscle recovery massage. 

With regards to nutrition I did not really change much but continued a balanced diet with as little as possible processed foods and a higher ratio of protein. I did try to reduce sugar even more and most of the days I followed an intermittent fasting protocol with an 8h feeding window. I managed to reduce my body weight by about 2kg sustainably.

Tips for Race Day

On the race day make sure you are on site well enough in time. I'd suggest at least one hour earlier. Ideally you have already picked up your start number the day before and are ready to go. If it is sunny, definitely apply sun blocker. Make sure you use about half an hour to warm up, mobilize all your joints and do some dynamic stretching. Normally the food and water stations are sufficient but I recommend to bring at least one muesli bar and one energy gel with you. This helps when you have depleted your energy stores and no food station is around. Generally, the fewer things you bring the leaner and more agile you are for the race. I am normally not a fan of the fancy, expensive performance apparel for OCR but this time I ran with compression socks. It was a good choice as it protected my shins during the various rope climbs. Finally, bring the basic stuff you need for the (cold) shower directly after the race like a towel and flip flops. This shower may be tough too but works wonders for faster recovery.  

In Conclusion

The preparation was tough -- the race even tougher. In the end it took me 5:20 which was the 8th best time in my category. The last half hour was especially mentally very tough. But then -- when you cross the finish line and all the feel-good chemicals kick in -- it is all more than worthwhile.  

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