Challenge Accepted! 4 Steps for Beginning Obstacle Course Racing

Liz Merritt
February 20, 2018

Chances are, you have a friend or family member who has taken the leap into obstacle course racing. With the popularity of these military-inspired races growing by leaps and bounds, it’s key to approach training with a sensible progression, an open mind and an adventurous spirit.

Before you toe up to the start line ready to experience that mud-covered adrenaline rush, here are four essentials to get you ready for obstacle course racing from a woman who knows a thing or two about the sport.

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Obstacle Course Racing for All Ages

obstacle course racing

Robin Legat is a Los Angeles-based fitness and conditioning coach, personal trainer and Certified Spartan Obstacle Specialist.

Robin Legat is a Los Angeles-based the fitness and conditioning coach, personal trainer and Certified Spartan Obstacle Specialist who works with clients of all ages to prepare them for Spartan races. She’s also the founder and host of the popular Seasoned Athlete podcast and a self-proclaimed late-in-life athlete.

“There’s a stereotype that if you’re of a certain age, you shouldn’t be doing certain things,” Legat begins. “But anything you take on in life, at any age, has a risk and reward component. For the older athletes I work with, they’re seeking to challenge themselves and prove to the world they’re not dead yet.”

She assures obstacle course racing is very do-able for anyone at any age with the right preparation. “My goal is to demystify the process and help my clients the gain confidence to get them to that first race.”

Step 1 – Gear Up

When it comes to muddy courses with a range of obstacles, it’s best to make a few basic investments in gear.

First, score a solid trail running shoe. Trail runners are breathable, allow water to escape and provide rugged traction that will be your friend as you shimmy up and crawl up over obstacles.

obstacle course racing

Compression socks that pull up to the knee are also a wise investment to protect the legs and shins.

Legat also recommends compression pants or leggings made from synthetic, moisture-wicking fabrics.

“Form-fitting clothing is best because you’re climbing over and under obstacles. You don’t want your clothes to get caught or in the way,” she says. Avoid cotton fabrics that will get heavy when soaked with water.

Compression socks that pull up to the knee are also a wise investment to protect the legs and shins. Compression socks protect the skin from potential abrasion, as well as provide compression that can help minimize calf cramping. Legat’s favorites are made by Mud Gear.

Step 2 – Basic Training

Legat recommends approaching training in one of three ways – self-training, free online training via the Spartan organization or hire a Spartan SGX (Spartan Group Exercise) coach. Any route you choose, plan on focused training for 12-16 weeks before your first event.

For self-motivated athletes, Legat says take your running to the trails. Look for hills, elevation and opportunities to build endurance. Next, learn to love burpees. In Spartan racing, the penalty for any failed obstacle is 30 burpees.

obstacle course racing

Plan on focused training for 12-16 weeks before your first obstacle course race.

For those who need more formal direction, the Spartan organization offers free online workouts sent to your email. Generally, these are bodyweight workouts done without a gym, in addition to running and core-strength exercises.

Finally, if you find yourself on the competitive side, consider hiring a Spartan SGX coach. The Spartan website features a coach finder tool that makes it easy to find a qualified coach in your area.

Step 3 – Strength-Training

“Spartan races will challenge you in all ways,” Legat assures. Working on upper-body strength is a must in addition to running and building endurance. “Each race you do, you’ll learn where your weaknesses are pretty quickly. And then you’ll have a clear picture on what you need to improve on.

Grip strength is essential. Practice “dead hangs” – basically, hanging from from your hands from monkey bars for as long as you can and building up your time.

“Something as simple as that can get you through an obstacle like monkey bars,” Legat says. “Make sure your shoulder muscles are engaged. Start with 10 seconds and add time. As you get stronger, practice shifting from hand to hand and hanging from one hand at a time.”

Work on upper body strength by incorporating planks and pushups into your training program. Also include core work is essential for building foundational strength to support all other movement.

Step 4 – Relax and Have Fun!

obstacle course racing

Above all else, keep smiling.

Whether you compete in running races or are starting from the couch, Legat believes Spartan racing is for everyone. “It’s exciting to learn a cool, new skill and to challenge yourself through the process,” she says.

The key is to take it one step at a time and focus on a positive, can-do mindset – even when you encounter setbacks. “Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged,” Legat says. “In fact, come up with a mantra that you’ll go to every time you feel discouraged.”

She shares an experience she had at a cold and rainy start line. She looked at her teammate and joked about how they were going to have the ‘best day ever.’ Those words became their mantra throughout the racecourse. Every time they felt beat down or wanted to throw in the towel, they turned to each other and shouted, “Best Day Ever!”

The moral of the story? “You may not be able to do everything on your first race, but you will be able to way more than you think you can,” Legat says. “It’s hard not to feel like a total badass, and the experience is totally empowering.”

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