When you think of obstacle races, does it feel scary? Does it feel like something you could never do in a million years?
Do you feel a tiny bit of excitement, as well?
That’s what we’re looking for! Doing an obstacle race makes you feel so powerful, so alive, and so damn proud of yourself. When I did my first one in 2011, I did three more within six months because I got so addicted to the feeling!
"But I’m too out of shape," you say. "I can’t do a single pull-up, and snails pass me on the trail when I try to go jogging."
Then change that! I’m telling you, it’s possible and you can do it! (Also, you don’t even have to run. I prefer to walk most of them to make Race Day last longer!)
Do you want to know a secret? I am still extremely nervous before every race. Even though I've done a bunch of them, I still worry about being able to do the obstacles. The ones that require a lot of upper body strength I still fail at sometimes, but that's okay! I always try, and often surprise myself with what I can do. In my last race I did like fifteen rows of the monkey bar (while before I always fell after just two or three) and was stunned every time I didn't lose my grip! I guess dragging myself up ziplines all summer did some good! ;-)
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So how do you get started?
First of all, sign up for a race! Don't wait until tomorrow, do it right now!
Don’t sign up for a race next week if you are not ready for it, though. Give yourself time to train and prepare for it. But it’s very important to sign up! You need that motivation to push you and that accountability to keep you moving forward. Nothing gets you to the gym like the knowledge that you spent money on a non-refundable race!
After my first half marathon I was so high on endorphins that when I saw an ad for the Hell & Back obstacle race three months away, I signed up before I could talk myself out of it.
At this point I couldn't even do a single real push-up!
But I set a deadline and a goal, and I started working toward it.
Photo by Martine Jacobsen
Build your strength
Since I knew I would have to be able to climb over walls in a few short months, I joined a budget-friendly gym (that was on my way to work, so I could never make excuses) and started researching everything I could find about building strength. I quickly found what was to become my Fitness Bible -- NerdFitness.com. If you are a bit nerdy (like me), you will absolutely love it. I suggest starting with a beginner’s guide to body weight training, and if you feel ready for some iron (the real love of my life -- sorry, hon), check out this article on strength training 101! If you want to delve deeper, Youssef from DoctorFitHealth recently published a very extensive article about the benefits of resistance training and the twenty-seven most common training mistakes.
Don't go crazy. The mistake a lot of people do is to go from haven’t-moved-in-a-year to I-WILL-WORK-OUT-SIX-DAYS-A-WEEK-AND-TOTALLY-CHANGE-THE-WAY-I-EAT-AND-MAYBE-READ-TO-THE-BLIND-AS-WELL.
For most people, this does not work. You run out of steam after two weeks and then you see Race Day, once far off in the distance, suddenly looming a week away and you feel quite certain that you might be “sick” that day.
Don’t let this happen! Work out 30-60 minutes, three-four times a week, and make good choices in the kitchen. It’s as simple as that. And don’t freak out if things don’t go according to plan! It’s so easy to create this beautiful workout and meal plan, and when life sends obstacles (and not the fun ones we’re paying to do) in your way, you abandon it completely.
If you end up eating a pizza for lunch -- don’t sweat it. It was one meal. And don't skip dinner to "make up for it"; just make a better choice.
If you end up missing a workout due to an extra shift at work -- do a fifteen-minute body weight workout when you get home. Any exercise is better than no exercise.
Something I strongly recommend getting is a pull-up bar. We have had one from ProSource for years, and nothing will prepare you more for pulling yourself over walls! The pull-up is among the best upper-body exercises, and the best part is that the bar hangs in your doorframe, no screws required, so you can easily move it around!
So, we have you signed up and working on building your strength. Definitely a very important component. Just seeing yourself getting stronger week by week will boost your confidence! It’s the most amazing feeling, being able to do something that was impossible a month before.
To make it more fun and easy, I have created this super cute weekly workout tracker for you!
What to expect from the course
If possible, I recommend having someone do the race with you. It is just more fun to share these kind of experiences with someone, even if you definitely make friends along the way! Nothing to bond strangers than helping each other over an obstacle or laughing your way through a mud pit.
All races are of course different, and some will be more “serious” than others. My favorite is the Hell & Back race in Ireland, where a lot of the obstacles are built into the terrain (like running up the mountain, climbing over fallen trees, and dragging yourself across a river). An American organizer I am a big fan of is Terrain Racing. They have extremely well-made obstacles and set up a great event.
Most races will have the staples: walls, monkey bars, tire flips, mud, and rope climbing. Don’t worry! If you can’t do something, they usually have you do push-ups or something instead. And people are so helpful! I can not get over a ten foot wall on my own; luckily, people always hang around for a while, hoisting people up. In Ireland they even give out medals to the people who help their fellow racers the most!
You will get muddy. You will have bruises and scrapes. And you will feel better about yourself and your body than you ever have.
Photo by Paulo Vizeo
What to wear
Most races encourage you to dress up in costumes -- have fun with it! I’ve seen people race in red shorts and devil horns with their whole body painted red (in February), or wearing a tiger onese, or of course the classic tutu. Do keep in mind though that you need to be able to move in it and you will get soaked, so wearing a onese on a winter race might not be the best idea! Costumes are better for shorter races, like a 5k.
So, basically, wear anything you feel comfortable in. Shorts and a T-shirt, a Santa costume, or my go-to outfit; sleeveless top (gotta show off those shoulders!) and ¾ length workout leggings. You will likely crawl on the ground at some point, so covering up your knees can be a good idea. Also -- avoid cotton! Cotton will weigh you down after the first mud bath. Stick to spandex and wicking fabrics.
Your shoes will without a doubt get covered in mud as well. They can always be washed, but if they are in a lighter color they might stay a permanent gray shade, so I usually use an old pair of running shoes. I have also met racers who lost shoes in more extreme mud obstacles, so wearing your brand-new pair might be a bad idea!
Finally; if you wear glasses, like I do, get some one-day contacts. Trying to run around with mud-covered glasses is not fun!
Photo by Jakob Owens
Having prepared your race bag the night before is a good idea, and it should contain a fresh set of clothes, a towel, and snacks. You will get dirty and hungry! Make sure to get there in good time, so you have time to check in and drop it off in the bag-check area (a place where you can safely leave your bag during the race).
Another reason you want to be on time is to just soak in the atmosphere. I have been really late to some races and it’s so stressful when you have to run just to make your start time. That way you also miss the warm up; a guided light exercise that pumps up your mind as much as your body! It’s really important so you don’t hurt yourself during the race, and it also helps to get you in the right headspace.
Some races give you time chips so you can time yourself. Personally I really don’t care about my time; I prefer to enjoy the day and focus on the obstacles and the experience. Plus, the faster you run, the faster the day is over! But if you want to beat your personal best and really push yourself (maybe even win a price!) -- you go be awesome and show everyone who ever doubted you. Including yourself.
Honestly, the best advice I can give you is to just have fun! Laugh at difficulties, and enjoy the feeling of pushing yourself and doing things for the first time. You paid for it, so get your money's worth!
Photo by Marc Rafanell López
After the race
You did it! You are so beyond awesome!!! Enjoy that feeling, hang that medal proudly around your neck, and take that finish-line photo! If there’s an after party, take part of it! Jump around with other racers to loud music and relish the feeling of community with everyone being equally muddy, tired, and satisfied with themselves.
If you are lucky, they will have showers. Some places only have hoses and a simple tent to change in, though, so be prepared with towels in your car to protect the seats.
The last step of the day is to head out with your team to lunch (you will be hungry!) and talk about the different obstacles and views along the course. Discuss how well you handled the monkey bars, how you climbed the rope to the top and rang the bell for the first time ever. When you get home, take a real shower, get a back massage (you earned it!) from you SO, inspect your bruises, and wear them as a badge of honor.
You conquered your fear.
You did something you never thought you could do.
You proved yourself to be absolutely, completely awesome.
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Hi, I'm Erika!
I know what it's like living with anxiety and depression, but living and living are very different things. I believe in practical tips and methods, and I will use them to help you be the brave, daring, darling individual you are.
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