Thinking About Running An OCR? We've Got 5 Tips For You!

Are obstacle courses for you? Read these 5 tips to see if you're OCR ready!

Are obstacle courses for you? Read these 5 tips to see if you're OCR ready!

With all the Spartan talk going around, we wanted to let you know that ANYONE can do a Spartan Race, or Obstacle Course Race (OCR). Whether you are new to fitness, or are ready to challenge yourself and take your fitness to the next level, there are races for everyone. This summer alone, there are plenty of OCR's you can sign up for, including Estevan's own Dirty Dozen Mud Run this September by the Estevan Exhibition Association. 

We've got 5 tips to help you determine whether an Obstacle Course race is for you, and where you should begin.

 Who should train for an obstacle course? Anyone! Participating in an Obstacle Course Race is a great goal for anyone seeking a challenge, looking to improve their health, lose weight, build strength, add variety to their training, looking to make new friends and meet new people, seeking an adrenaline rush, or if you really, really enjoy some mud. There are so many reasons to embark on a journey to completing your first, or hundredth Spartan race. Regardless of your current fitness, there are no doubts that you can complete an obstacle course race.

Now let’s take a jog (pun intended) through 5 tips in preparation for training for your obstacle course race.

1)    Embark on the journey with others

Like any adventure in life…it’s more fun when you experience it with others!  Sign up for an obstacle course race with someone else and make the commitment together.  Find someone to train with, keep you accountable, encourage you, collaborate training/race ideas, and share in the soreness and struggles.  There will be days your mind might say “I don’t know if I want to train today,” but by having a partner(s) in the journey, they will surely pick you up and you will pick them up!  Les Brown said, “I will heighten my life by helping others heighten theirs.”  You may think that there is no one you know in your area that would be interested; nevertheless, seek out new friendships, join a group, or reach out to friends who are miles away.  You can still share in the journey even though you aren’t face to face.  When we think about our end goal, whether it’s completing an OCR, qualifying for World Championships, or anything in life, we will likely look back and realize that the journey with others was the greatest blessing!!! 

2)    Assess your strengths and weaknesses

We aren’t all superman/superwoman with all strengths and only one weakness, as such we should assess areas that we do well in, and others where we don’t do so well.  The two basic components of obstacle course racing are endurance (cardio) and strength.  Spend time assessing the areas you need to work on.  Make sure you spend equal time working on your weaker areas and your strengths.  We as humans have a tendency to enjoy spending more time on our strengths.  It’s like when making a to-do list for the day, we have a tendency to do the things that are easier or that we enjoy first, and then sometimes those tough/less enjoyable tasks get left on the list everyday….when will the dishes ever get done?! In short, looking at it in terms of OCR'ing if you know grip strength is a weaker area of yours, don’t shy away or give up on training that area. Don’t destine yourself for burpees; attack that perceived weakness, and make it a strength over time!

3)    Cardio is king

 There are varying lengths of OCR, anywhere from 1 km to a 24-hour race!!  In general, the most common distance is a 5K.  They are called OBSTACLE course races; however, you do have to get from one obstacle to another.  This, and other areas require cardio training.  For example, in a standard Spartan Sprint Race the distance ranges from 5K to 8K and has approximately 20-25 obstacles.  The cardio is a more significant portion than the strength based obstacles.

Uffta…the word cardio can sound daunting at times.  Don’t let it overwhelm you; YOU’VE got this!!  Let’s break it down a little bit.  First off, when thinking about an OCR race the cardio portion is variable speed meaning you will be changing speeds throughout the race.  When you look at a 5k road race, you are typically running close to an even pace throughout the race.  Yet, in an OCR a lot of times you will be running at a fast pace, then getting to an obstacle, completing the obstacle, and taking off quickly again.  With this in mind, it is beneficial to have days (2-3 per week) of cardio where you are implementing a variable or fast pace.  This could look like going for a 20 minute walk/jog and training at variable speeds; for example, go 2 minutes at an easy/medium pace, then 1 minute at a fast pace, and repeat until 20 minutes (Fartlek Run Training).  Other options could include finding a track or measuring out 400 or 800 meters and doing 4-8 reps with 1-minute rest in between.  These are just a couple examples of many, many options…get creative in your cardio training and think outside of the box!!  Go for a walk/jog and throw in some push-ups or pull ups at the playground, listen to music: run fast to one song then slow to the next, there are endless cross training options, find non-impact ways to increase your heart rate and make it fun!!  The 20-30 minute walks/jogs are still beneficial, especially when you are just starting. Be sure to start slow at your own pace (this could be a slow walk all the way to sprinting 400s), and lay a foundation to minimize chances of injury as well as overtraining.

4)    "Strength is kind of a big deal too" - Ron Burgundy

 When looking at the strength aspect of OCR event, it requires total body strength.  There will be lifts, pulls, squats, monkey bars, rope climbs, carries, and much more epicness!!!  Yet, let’s refine the strength component down a little.  First and foremost, grip strength is very important…it will be tested on most obstacles and if you haven’t spent time on the "Popeye" forearms it  could leave you “pumped” out early in the course.  A few grip strength training examples: farmers walk, kettle bells, pull ups, dead hangs, rope climbs/hangs, and there are many others.  Again, if right now a pull up is the furthest thing from your mind, start with hanging from the bar, or maybe we are at the point of simply saying “Yeah, I’m going to carry the milk jug to the car today.”  We all start at some level and have to work up; today is a great day to start!!  Other strength areas to focus on: core is always a fundamental part of doing anything, leg strength, and our best friend... the burpee!  In races like a Spartan Race if you can’t complete an obstacle, you will find yourself doing burpees…don’t feel bad if this happens, as the pros don’t complete all obstacles either.  In terms of trying to incorporate all the strength items into 1 workout session, I like to do circuit training (2-4 times per week).  Set up circuits that will train these areas and will ultimately mimic some of the obstacles you will face on race day!

5)    What else could there be….

 There are definitely other aspects of OCR preparation; however, we won’t make it too complicated.  Let’s take a spin through some other high level areas.  In terms of training seek setting a long term plan, be consistent, and listen to your body.  Start at a level that pushes you, but doesn’t lead you to overtraining or injury.  Strive to stay positive and know with consistency you will surely see improvement!  Set small incremental goals where you can see progress, but at the same time don’t be afraid to set BIG goals!!!  BIG goals can look different for everyone whether it’s completing an OCR race, completing that intimidating rope climb, or qualifying for the World Championship!  Lastly, if you feel at ease about all of this, there is an portion of technical training for OCR events.  You could be working on your j-hook rope climb technique, making a homemade spear and throwing it at some haybales (make sure you throw it with a grunt), filling some 5 gallon buckets and then carrying them around, and plenty of other small technical areas.

Let the OCR journey begin!!

You should definitely take the plunge into trying an OCR event, and if you’ve already done so, I’m sure you have the itch to do another!!  Set out with the mindset that you can do it, as we have complete confidence that you can!  Know that you are able to do immensely more than you ever thought you are capable of doing!!

Matt Chandler said, “Don’t let your ‘I want to’, turn into ‘I wish I would have!’”