Try an obstacle race

Fancy swinging from bars above a mud pit? Slithering through a muddy puddle on your belly? Hoisting yourself up and over a giant wall and then running 3km? Then outdoor obstacle course racing is just for you!   

Perhaps it appeals to the inner outdoor-warrior South Africans are inclined towards, perhaps it is the excitement of the unexpected. Whatever it is, there is a definite trend sweeping the country. We spoke to the developers of one of the newest obstacle course additions to the racing calendar to find out more about what it entails, who can take part and what sort of training you need to prepare for it.

Pieter Swart is behind The Warrior Race, an event which consist of three obstacle course races including a 1km, 6-8km and 18-20km course. Watch this video of an obstacle race to see what to expect:

"Outdoor obstacle courses present playtime for kids and adults, getting down and dirty, facing challenges, overcoming fear, having fun and laughter, giving a helping hand and sharing stories of achievements and epic fails afterword with friends and family.  Most obstacle races incorporate a festival atmosphere into the event so that participants and spectators can enjoy a whole day of entertainment and outdoor fun," explains Pieter. 

However obstacle course racing isn't just for serious athletes. Sure, you need to have some level of fitness to participate, but most races cater for amateurs right the way up to those with a serious competitive streak.

"What remains in all obstacle races is the fun and camaraderie factor no matter if your competing for top position or just for the fun of it," Pieter says.

The Warrior Race achieves offers three courses to choose from:

  • Warrior Brats Race- 1km, 8 obstacles tailored for the kids
  • Warrior Rookie Race – 6 to 8km, 15 obstacles, this race is meant for anyone and everyone
  • Warrior Black-ops – 18 to 20km, 30 obstacles, this race is for the serious athlete.

The fitness benefits

The average obstacle course race entails roughly 80% cross country style trail running (or walking if so preferred).  Add to that a few obstacles to overcome and you have a recipe for an extreme workout.  

Pieter says that what makes obstacle racing unique compared to other adventure sports is the fact that participants need to make use of every muscle fibre in their bodies just to complete such a race.  He says it has been proven that obstacle racing requires a lot more than just physical strength and endurance, it is a mind power showdown. 

"Participants that get hooked to the sport will start training to improve on their previous performances.  They will have to achieve the perfect balance between functional full body strength, endurance and mind power."  

How to train for an obstacle course event

Clearly it helps to have some level of fitness to help you compete in the race as best you can - and to recover afterwards. So what does Pieter suggest an obstacle-course wannabe does to prepare?

"The nature and difficulty level of an obstacle race will determine the amount and type of training required.  For Warrior Race events a participant can complete a Warrior Brats or Warrior Rookie Race with little to no training at all although putting in some training will make the race more enjoyable. 

"However, to complete an obstacle course race like the Warrior Black-ops is a totally different story.  Participants will have to train well in advance for extreme obstacle races like these.  Depending on a participant’s current fitness level, training might start anything from three to 12 weeks ahead of the race.

Training for obstacle races must include a few running sessions of thre to 10km each every week to increase endurance.  Functional full body exercises must be added to the training program to improve overall strength."

Running: Be aware that the terrain you’ll be running on during these events will be nothing like the smooth pavements in your suburbs.  Expect steep hills and long distances of mud and sludge.  If you have access to a steep, muddy trail, that will be your new “gym” for the bulk of your training.  Training on the treadmill or the road will just not cut it!

Since the running part during the race is broken up with obstacles; it is best to break up your training runs in a similar fashion.  Try using interval or fartlek training on your runs.  Sprint for a pre-determined length of time or specific distance and then ease off, repeating this process for a number of times. 

Strength training: Swinging from rings and bars, climbing ropes, pulling other people up over obstacles, leopard crawling through mud, running through tyres and carrying heavy objects over long distances are some of the obstacles you will face that will require a great deal of physical strength.  Keep in mind that you are not going to negotiate these obstacles in the comfort of a gym, but in the elements that will be uncomfortable and unpredictable. 

Full body exercises: these are key to your success.  You will not be well prepared for this event by doing bicep curls and bench presses.  You need functional full body exercises that mimic real movements, involving as many muscle groups and body parts at the same time as possible.  Power, explosiveness, strength and endurance will all be required of your body.

Exercises like squats, push presses, Kettle bell swings, windmills, rows, pull ups, push ups, snatches and lateral lunges are all high energy, demanding movements that will recreate the demands on the muscular and endurance systems that you will need.

Pay close attention to form; technique and range of motion during your workouts.  Bad form and technique could lead to injury and the failure to make progress; while a lack of range of motion will simply deny you the full potential of a great workout. 

Alternate your running days with your strength training days and make sure to take at least one rest day per week to recover.

Why you should consider an obstacle course race

You will get muddy, dirty, more an likely a few scrapes and scratches and there is a good chance you will be sore for a few days afterwards. So why should you do it? Among other things, to forget about the hassles of everyday life, says Pieter.

"For the kids, this is what being young and enjoying life is all about.  For adults, come do a Warrior Race and become a kid again for a day. For the athletes and weekend warriors out there, come show what you’re made off and earn your Warrior status.  The harder you fight this race the harder it will fight back so let the games begin."

The Warrior Race is also in aid of a good cause, so you will be doing your bit for charity too. The main purpose of the Warrior Race is to fund a non-profit organisation called The Warrior Foundation, an NPOthat focuses on sport development, education and nature conservation projects in South Africa. 

Tips for first-timers

  • Do not compete as a solo participant especially if it is your first obstacle race.  Do it as part of a team. 
  • Wear clothes that you do not feel sorry for, it will never be the same again after the race. 
  • Any pair of running shoes will work but proper water resistant trail running shoes that are easy to clean are recommended.
  • The Warrior Race will have more than enough water points throughout the course, so no need to carry additional water.
  • If you’re competing in a race like the Warrior Rookie, do it in a team and dress up as wacky as humanly possible.  Big prizes are up for grabs for dress ups.
  • In terms of training, you can do the race (Warrior Rookie) without any training but we suggest you try at least get a run or two in before the race.
  • Only attempt an extreme obstacle race like the Warrior Black-ops if you’re really fit or else you will have a day light nightmare.  You will not be able to complete the race you most definitely will not have a fun time.

Check out their Facebook Page for regular updates on the upcoming events.

Sources: Pieter Swart,
The Warrior Race, Extreme Bootcamp

(Amy Froneman, Health24, November 2012)

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