Ready to overcome obstacles? Races offer opportunities

Paula Reece

Have you heard about the events in which people race up a mountain, crawl through mud and jump over fire? It’s called obstacle racing, and its gaining popularity at a rapid pace. Last year, more than a million people in the United States participated in an obstacle racing event. This new sport is not for the faint hearted, though: It takes some serious training, determination and endurance.

Obstacle racing involves more than just running a race. Participants run from one obstacle to another.  These obstacles vary from event to event, but often include obstacles similar to ones used in military training, like rope courses and wall climbing. Swimming through a pool of ice, climbing a hay bale stack and crawling through a series of pipes are unique to obstacle racing events. Each event varies as to the distance of the course and degree of difficulty.  

An event called the Tough Guy claims to be the first official obstacle event with its origin in 1989. Two of the most well-known races — the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder — both began in 2010. The Warrior Dash is a 3-mile event with 12 obstacles. The race offers a competitive, yet also fun and social event. Designed by British Special Forces, the Tough Mudder is a 10- to 12-mile course with many obstacles. This hard-core event is not technically a race, however. Not everyone completes the course.

Why are these obstacle races so appealing to athletes?  There are many reasons. These events are team oriented. A group of friends get together and train for months. Many have matching clothing to designate their team spirit.  “It’s a way to set a goal you can accomplish with your friends,” said Suzanne Hatch, who just completed her second Tough Mudder. “We are competitive, so we push each other. There are obstacles that we have to work as a team to complete.”

Athletes like these events for other reasons as well. Some like the idea of doing something different. There are always such traditional races as a 5K, triathlon or biking event. But the appeal seems to be competing in an event in which participants push themselves almost in a war-like setting and cross the finish line covered in mud. There’s nothing boring about an obstacle race.

“It was a real eye-opener,” said Lisa Carroll, who has completed two Warrior Dash races. “It’s quite an accomplishment to finish.” 

Although obstacle races aren’t for everyone, most people with the desire to participate can train and do it. Training for an obstacle race involves strength, speed and endurance. Running is the main activity of the event. John Ball, a certified personal trainer at Crossroads Fitness, helps his clients by bumping up their cardio workouts to train for such an event. “I include running stairs, doing line sprints and mountain climbers in their routine,” he said.

Total body strength training is also important. The “burpee” is a favorite training exercise used by race participants. This exercise engages the lower body, core and upper body in one fluid movement. Concentrating on balance and strengthening the core helps with many of the race obstacles. Health clubs offer a boot camp exercise class that could include some forms of obstacles, just on a smaller scale, that would be helpful during training. 

 If obstacle racing seems like a sport you might want to try, check out the different races available in the area. Choose one that best fits your activity level. Round up some friends and start training. 

Who said grownups can’t climb monkey bars and play in the mud?