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Obstacle Course Run Training For Tough Mudder and Spartan Race

Updated on August 29, 2014

A Guide to Obstacle Course Race Running Training Workouts

Whether you're a newcomer to obstacle course racing (OCR) events or a seasoned mud runner there's no better way of getting the most out of your event than training right. Obstacle race training involves a huge degree of variety from running to lifting.

Getting your obstacle race training right will help you achieve success on raceday- Whether you're aiming to beat top guys like Hobie Call, Thomas Blanc or Jon Albon or simply be able to get yourself through your first event with a big smile.

The body is capable of amazing things but to simply get up off the sofa and run an event like Tough Mudder is unrealistic and our body needs to be trained to meet the demands of the event.

This article initially concentrates on obstacle race run training for beginners before progressing to some more specialist training for intermediate/ more advanced racers to help gain an edge towards event performance.

OCR Events Involve Long Distance Running

12 grueling miles of running and obstacles to go at Tough Mudder
12 grueling miles of running and obstacles to go at Tough Mudder

How Much Running Do You Currently Do?

We'd like to know just how often your run and for how far right now

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~~Medical Disclaimer~~

Before starting any training, It is always recommended you visit your doctor/ physician for a thorough medical check up to ensure your body has the potential to cope with the demands

Beginners. When You Sign Up- Know What To Expect

We all like to follow a crowd and sometimes we do so without really understanding what is involved. If your friends have coaxed you into taking part into an obstacle course race it's always worth making a note of what the event actually entails. Pretty much all events will make you aware of what participants will be expected to do at sign up and on their website so always familiarise yourself with what's required. That way you can use that benchmark as what you're planning to build your fitness towards.

Run, Jump, Wade, Climb Your Way Along The Course

OCR racing involves a lot of distance running as well as countless obstacles- Does your current training prepare you for this?
OCR racing involves a lot of distance running as well as countless obstacles- Does your current training prepare you for this?

How Often Should You Run As A Beginner to OCR?

If you're just starting on your obstacle racing journey from little or relatively no training it makes sense to take baby steps towards your event goal. For many people this will simply be to get round the event with a smile despite a bit of suffering along the way.

If you've not done a lot of running in the past an initial aim should be to build up to being able to run the distance of the event course in training. In many cases this can take an extended period of time so some patience may be required. Initially I would personally recommend no more than twice a week and starting off with short distances or alternating running with quick paced walked. If you body handles two sessions well you can take the step up to a short third session a week over time. Recovery is a key part of the fitness development process which is often overlooked.

Programs such as the Couch to 5k program as featured in the box above will help a beginner get from no running to a sensible 5k level step by step with some excellent help and advice from healthcare experts.

Once you can run for 5k at your own pace you can then work at building up your training distances further towards your race distances and move on to some of the workouts detailed below.

Running Hills Can Be as Tough as the Obstacles

The long running distance of OCR events like Tough Mudder call for a large amount of hill training
The long running distance of OCR events like Tough Mudder call for a large amount of hill training

Get Used To Running Up and Down Hills

Many of the best events are staged on rolling to hilly courses where climbs often form natural obstacles which can further add to the toughness of events as well as calling upon your reserves of leg strength- Especially if they're muddy hills that call for maximum traction from your shoes. It's no wonder that many competitors finish events like Tough Mudder suffering from cramp.

Spartan Race events will always have hills in them to really challenge an athlete physically and mentally. It won't be that you're climbing a mountain but when you're racing hard a climb is always going to hurt.

Aim to tackle hills wherever possible in training. Get some variety- Short, long, gradual, steep, rocky and muddy there are so many potential variables.

The Spartan Preparation Hill Workout

Find yourself a nice steep muddy hill between 10 and 50 metres that is tough to climb but not impossible. Then hit it hard 5 times, jogging for a minute between each effort after going down the hill in the same way you came up.

Build up to 3 sets of 5 climbs with a few minutes easy jog in between.

Spartan Beast Extension- After each climb perform a set of 5 burpees. It will hurt but help to develop your ability to maintain hard efforts after suffering.


Check Out This Video- Training For The Man V Mountain Obstacle Race up Mount Snowdon

Run Training For Intermediate/ Advanced OCR Athletes

Whilst many in an OCR field may be simply aiming to finish there is a growing number within the sport who are progressing towards training for performance and with it the personal benefits of achievement. That will involve developing a regular training schedule and a structured running program aimed at race performance.

Compared to regular road and trail races the most significant element of training for obstacle race running is the muddy conditions experienced. Soft ground underfoot creates completely different surface properties to asphalt and hard packed trails. Mud running involves significantly higher levels of strength for the athlete to propel themselves forwards. As a result this can lead to fatigue setting in much faster.

Whilst generally acknowledged to have a less damaging effect on your joints compared to running on roads, trail and cross country running: It is also worth noting that the surfaces events are run across involve pot holes, indentations and tree roots put additional stresses on the joints and a runner must ensure they're mentally aware of what's in front of them to deal with the technical nature of courses to avoid risks of injury.

Due to these factors it's vital to practice running cross country on rutted, boggy fields and in muddy conditions prior to race days to allow development of the relevant strength needed to progress in the mud. If it's particularly dry where you live, soft sand can have a similar effect and will really sap the strength from your legs when you begin training in such conditions.

You May Need To Run Whilst Carrying Objects

Some OCR obstacles involve running whilst carrying items so a degree of training to deal with this will help come raceday
Some OCR obstacles involve running whilst carrying items so a degree of training to deal with this will help come raceday

Being Able To Run On It's Own Isn't Enough- Running With Objects as Training

One of the things you can pretty much guarantee in an Obstacle racing event is the need to carry objects. Sometimes these can be pretty heavy and reduce you to nothing more than a slow walk with a heavy water soaked sand bag or they could involve something lighter like a car tire which can be easily slung over one shoulder as you make your way around the course.

Car tires are often easy to find for part of your training. Ask at your local garage if they have any that they're due to dispose of or alternately be on the lookout as you drive as you never know what you might see. Moderate sized logs can also make for great training buddies or failing that doing circuits of your local gym with a kettlebell cleaned to one shoulder is an alternative. Kettlebells are also great for home training as they are very portable.

Pushing Objects Can Be A Part Of Some Events and Involves Running

Some objects similar can't be carried and must be pushed or pulled whilst your run
Some objects similar can't be carried and must be pushed or pulled whilst your run

Sometimes You'll Have To Run Whilst Pushing Objects Too

Running can take many forms when you're racing and therefore you need to prepare as well as possible. Carrying is pretty much a guarantee but another thing that might be required is to run whilst pulling or pushing an object.

Suggested Workout- Tire Hill Push

Find yourself a road or asphalt path and place a tire at the bottom. Place your hands nice and wide on the side of the tire that faces you and crouch down into a 'pounce' position before effectively running up the hill with the tire in front of you.

Aim to get 50 metres up the hill before easily jogging back down and repeating a few times initially. Repeat more often as your strength develops until you can perform 3 sets of 5 pushes with a 5 minute easy job between sets.

Running is a vital element in obstacle race event performance and therefore needs some specific training
Running is a vital element in obstacle race event performance and therefore needs some specific training

Learn to Break Your Runs Up With Exercises to Mimic Race Conditions

When you're taking part in an OCR event you'll mostly find that you'll run a small distance, have an obstacle, then another distance and another obstacle.

Therefore it's a great idea to mimic this format in some of your training sessions. Consider a weekly run and cross training session which could look something like this

  • 2km Warm Up Run
  • 30 Burpees
  • 500m Run
  • 20 Push Up's
  • 500m Run
  • 50 Air Squats
  • 500m Run
  • 20 Tricep Dips on nearest park bench
  • 500m Run
  • 50 Lunges (Total or per leg depending how masochistic you're feeling)
  • 2km Cool Down Run

How you structure such a session is up to you. If you have some high walls near you that could be used for a set of exercises that would work well too. There's plenty you could do- especially if you have a park with a set of Monkey Bars for training too. Get creative and your fitness can benefit as a result.

Good Luck With Training For Your Obstacle Race Events

We're always looking for feedback here at Hubpages. Do you have any workouts you would like to share? If yes please let us know your obstacle race running workout suggestions below in the comments box.

Liam Hallam (CyclingFitness on Hubpages)

© 2014 Liam Hallam

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