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10 Ways to Train for Obstacle Racing and Mud Runs in Winter

Updated on January 29, 2015

Training for Mud Runs in Winter

10 Ways to Train in Winter

Winter is well on its way and it can pose some difficulties to training for many an obstacle racer. The shorter days limit many of us to training in the dark early in the morning or after a long shift at the office and the cold weather can also have an effect on our movement economy, in many cases slowing down our running cadence.

For many of us winter comes at a good time. The forced changes it brings to our training patterns can often be utilised within a successful periodization strategy in search for even great performances next season. Whilst we may lose our ability to really nail down an interval running session on a Wednesday night, winter can be beneficial to us with a switch to re-building a solid endurance base.

Consider Winter a Great Time for a Holiday

Spartans on tour! A post racing season trip to Glenfiddich Distillery- just imagine what you could do with that barrel in a race
Spartans on tour! A post racing season trip to Glenfiddich Distillery- just imagine what you could do with that barrel in a race

If you haven’t taken one- Have a break. (Maybe even book a holiday)

If you haven’t stopped training and regular racing it’s likely that your body is now ready for a break. Schedule some rest and recovery time into your schedule to allow mental and physical recovery from the years hard efforts. Once a competitive racing season ends many athletes will look at it as an excuse to take a holiday, catch up with family and friends who you might not have seen for a while and generally take some time for yourself.

The Importance of an End of Season Break

If you take a break from the hardships and sacrifices of your training and racing regime for 2-3 weeks you’ll be able to hit winter training feeling refreshed and ready to face the bigger challenges which await you next year. Whilst many of us are passionate to almost the point of obsession about training there’s nothing wrong with taking a complete break from training although many will feel the need for a few light training sessions during this period to keep them active.

Cover up those joints in winter

When it comes to racing mud runs and muddy OCR events you may have started to live by the clothing mantra that the less you're wearing, the less clothing you have to get cold, wet and need to dry out. That philosophy is great when your at a reasonable temperature during the summer or for the occasional race event but have some common sense when it comes to your joints and chest in winter.

Our joints take one heck of a battering whilst we're racing and training. Constantly submitting them to cold conditions might not be an issue now, but it could become an issue later in life as many cyclists and runners have found over the years. Long sleeve warm training tops and warmer, wicking winter bottoms are a great way to add some protection for your joints whilst you train with your long term fitness in mind.

Warmer clothing, hats to stop excessive heat less through your head and items like Buffs around your neck help to provide a barrier against the cold of winter getting to your body. We all know how bad we can get when we have a cold and can't get out and train so some common sense on winter clothing will help your long term fitness and allow you to train regularly to achieve the results you're aiming for over the course of a full racing season.

The ultimate book to help you structure your training year

Periodization-5th Edition: Theory and Methodology of Training
Periodization-5th Edition: Theory and Methodology of Training

The seminal text on periodization of training will help any athlete including obstacle racers achieve their best performances


Gradually build up training volume

After a break there’s little logic to jumping straight back into the 10 session a week training schedule you might have had before. By allowing your body a more gradual phasing-in period of training you’re helping to condition yourself to deal with the workloads.

Our fitness is a little like a pyramid- The wider the bottom the further up the top can reach. A strong fitness base developed over the winter months including building a running endurance base will allow you to reach even higher heights when those all-important summer races come.

Start every workout with a purpose

We all get into a habit of doing steady state ‘junk’ miles when we head out on a running route we do on a regular basis. Consider asking yourself at the start of each workout “What do I plan to achieve?”. If you’re easing into training after a break it may be that your workout aim is to re-introduce your body to the movement patterns you plan on developing further over the course of the winter and therefore can scale down the workout appropriately. Or your session could be what you class as your Saturday Long Run and your aim might be a minimum 10 mile session to test your endurance.

Giving purpose to your sessions allow you to concentrate on what you need to do, therefore spending your time wisely with the main aim of building progression into your program.

Workout with a plan

Having a plan helps keep you focused on today, this week, this month and where it all fits into the training year
Having a plan helps keep you focused on today, this week, this month and where it all fits into the training year

Use winter training towards eliminating your weaknesses

There’s always going to be aspects of performance which we class as weaknesses. Some are more visible than others if you take a bath each set of monkey bars you attempt or see yet another runner go past you as you make your way up a long incline. It’s hard to work on these in summer when race events are coming at us thick and fast but a less hectic winter calendar allows us more time to target some of the factors which might be holding back our performances. Some might argue that we can target our weaknesses whilst racing but the concentrated nature of races mean that we cannot spend a large amount of time on certain aspects of our performance and therefore some weaknesses simply involve a large amount of time and concentration to overcome.

Winter is a great time to assess what we need to improve for further success next year. A lower frequency of events means that we have more time off course to concentrate on becoming a better athlete overall for next season.

Head to your local climbing wall to develop greater overall strength

Have you struggled on some traverse walls during the year or feel that your total body strength could do with a boost? Indoor climbing could be a great way for you to develop your balance, leg strength and technique as well as assisting development of your upper body strength. There are many misconceptions that climbing is all about upper body strength but in reality whilst upper body strength is a positive those who struggle with this aspect of fitness should not be put off as development of good technique can easily offset such a perceived weakness.

Work on your functional strength in the gym

Winter is a great time to head indoors and concentrate on weights work to develop the overall and functional strength aspects of your racing performance to race stronger, and ultimately faster. By focusing on compound movements (Squats, deadlifts, pull-ups) you can get a great all body workout in a relatively short space of time. As racers for us literally everyday is a leg day and there’s no real need for us to spend a gym session a week working on one single muscle group as we need them all to work in synergy whilst racing.

If you see an aspect of your strength, power or even muscular endurance as a weakness the gym can be a great controlled environment to help- especially with functional fitness rigs now becoming an integral part of many budget gyms including monkey bars and battleropes

Give CrossFit a try

CrossFit seems to be growing fast in the UK (and around the world) and it’s concise and varied nature marries well with the demands of Obstacle Racing. WOD’s challenge participants to withdraw pain, suffering and a sense of the unknown. Whilst CrossFit tends to involve a little less running than found in many an OCR it does concentrate on many of the movements we perform during events with a structured element to help develop technique and strength progression. The intense nature of the sport, with exhaustive workouts featuring blocks of different exercises in some ways provides obstacle racers with a way of ‘over-preparing’ for events where the level of racing intensity is only high at an obstacles before moving on to endurance sections such as running.

If you haven’t got a CrossFit Box nearby you can still consider using a selection of WOD’s in your training at home or in your local gym- for example the below workout is a CrossFit Hero workout which can be broken down into more manageable segments or scaled down to make easier depending on fitness levels.

An Example CrossFit Workout for Obstacle Racing- Murph

(For time)

1 mile run, 50 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 150 air squats, 1 mile run

Ideally you should be considering breaking down the pull-ups, push up’s and air squats. A manageable number might be to consider 10 rounds of 5 pull ups, 10 push-ups and 15 air squats.

Those pull-ups are really going to help with your grip and upper body strength for monkey bars and combined with the push up’s work well when you have high walls to pull yourself up and push over the top, whilst we all know how vital squats are in our training and racing arsenal.

Use winter to try something new to develop your running performance

As obstacle racers many of us live for obstacle racing. But there’s a whole endurance sports world out there where our fitness and mental strength can reap rewards during the winter

Fell running- If you live in hillier and more mountainous areas of the UK you’ll be able to find a big local calendar of fell races which tackle some pretty rugged hilly areas on foot and they’re very soft on the wallet too with many entries costing around £5. Events like these will stand you in good stead particularly if you’re planning on racing Man V Mountain in 2015. You’ll find the terrain makes them significantly tougher than a normal trail run and they should help you develop additional muscular endurance to add to that engine your building.

Orienteering is wild running with an intellectual edge. We often love it when we’re following a tape through woodland with no distinguishable path on the ground in front of us as we shimmy under fallen trees whilst looking out for errant roots. Orienteering takes this to a higher level by forcing us to direct ourselves to designated checkpoints. Whether choosing designated paths or going cross country to find a checkpoint; orienteering is a sport that has great potential to develop our running whilst keeping us mentally focused throughout the winter months. Orienteering will also help you with some of the navigational elements of events like the Fan Dance or On Trial.

Join a local running club. They might not run through bogs,streams and incorporate the monkey bars in at a local park but winter can get a lonely time when training on your own and your local running club could really help improve your running form and important speed for the future.

The safety in numbers will add a degree of comfort for many women running around town at night and as Obstacle Racers we're always a social bunch so any excuse to get some miles in with company is always welcome. You may even be able to drag a few of the people you meet to events in future and show them what they've been missing out on whilst they've been pounding the pavements.

Join your local running club

They may not train by running through ditches, streams and bogs but developing our running form, strength and speed has to be high on the list of any training program for mud runs and obstacle course racing events.

Get yourself a head torch and head for the woods

Dark nights should not be an excuse that stops you from your evening runs. Pick up a decent head torch and you can still head out on your regular trails. Cross country running at night will give you a completely different view of your usual trails which might have started to get boring and samey over your summer runs and will stop you being forced to plod the pavements. Getting accustomed to running with a head torch will help your obstacle racing performance at events like the Mighty Deerstalker.

If you’re new to night running with a head torch always start out by getting accustomed to running well distinguished non-technical paths. As you become more confident you can add some more challenge to your night running by finding some great singletrack for a little more difficulty. I currently run with an Alpkit Gamma (£15) which kicks out 88 lumens on full power and provides adequate lighting to hit the local woodland singletrack for an hour of a weekday evening. It has served me well in nighttime cross country races like the Hope Skeleton Run giving me much better visibility than many competitors. There are some pricier, running specific head torches available such as the 550 lumen Silva Runner or Petzl Nao which would be a better option if your runs head out into the wilderness and onto very technical terrain or you need a head torch for events involving night navigation.

How do you train in winter for obstacle racing and mud runs?

We're all on the lookout for great ways to train in winter. What do you enjoy? Are you more comfortable in the warm of the gym or do you still just love to go out and get muddy on your local trails? Or is winter the time you spend building new obstacles to test out for when the real training starts?

Good luck for your next event

Liam Hallam - CyclingFitness on Hubpages


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