In the last 8 months, we’ve had great conversations with 8 athletes who run obstacle races competitively. As I hunker down and re-jig my training routine in preparation for next year’s season, I wanted to go over the key learnings from these conversations.
The key takeaways we share in this article will be especially useful for those new to OCR sport. They’re almost a basic how-to of getting started off on the right foot. I’m personally glad I had V’s help when I was starting to train for my first obstacle race this time last year.
The biggest takeaway for new starters
Don’t take on too much at once. When we asked elite athletes what advice they would give to someone just starting out, overwhelmingly they said not to try to do too much right away. Not only does that increase the risk of injury, but it can also be discouragement when you think you’re not improving fast enough. Be realistic and pace yourself by having a solid training plan.
The training plan
A proper running routine is the cornerstone of training for every single elite we spoke to. They run at least 3 times a week, and many advise varying your runs by changing up terrain (trails) and pace (HIIT runs vs. long and steady). A couple like to superset their running with burpees for optimal performance once the race day rolls around.
The second biggest component of the elite’s training is working on strength, especially upper body strength. Half of the athletes we spoke to either do Crossfit or crossfit-style workouts.
If you need some help getting started here, our minimal OCR training plan (free download) was designed in a similar way. That plan is pretty much how V coached me up for my races and it’s advice that’s also worked for his other friends and clients.
Interestingly, elite athletes do adjust their training plans based on their past achievements and racing goals. If there’s an area they are weaker in, it will feature more prominently in their training for the next race. Great approach there and it prevents boredom too – iterate on your training plan regularly!
The top 3 exercises for good performance
Counting up the mentions, pull-ups are convincingly the most important exercise for both budding and experiences racers. I’d absolutely agree with this one since it’s pulling strength you need to get past most obstacles.
The 2nd and 3rd most important exercises seem to be push-ups and carries (for grip strength).
Based on my own experience, I’d be tempted to add burpees as one of the top exercises but interestingly they only got mentioned once in 8 interviews. I guess elite athletes aren’t used to doing them much… except when it’s the infamous Spear Throw obstacle.
In connection to that…
The elites’ favourite obstacles
Whilst this included a wide range of obstacles mentioned, the rope climb convincingly takes the top spot as the elites’ favourite obstacle with 3 votes.
Other mentions included: Hercules Hoist (my own favourite), carries and climbs, wall climbs, the barb wire crawl (who… why?!) and the platinum rig.
Most interesting tip
The prize for this one definitely goes to Brandon Blondeau who had not just one, but two interesting tips for racing. His first tip was consuming orange juice and raisins for extra energy before a workout. The more surprising one for me however, was his mention of carrying packs of mustard as well as turmeric during races. Turmeric has known anti-inflammatory effects which can help relieve cramping and aches, whilst mustard has one additional benefit. In Brandon’s own words:
“I find it sharpens my senses when I feel like I’m wearing down mentally as well.”
On mental strength
Quite a few of the athletes we spoke to have a mantra or a personal story that helps them to push on when they get uncomfortable. Whilst their motivations, mantas and inspirations are all different, it strikes me as being really important to at least have one. It’s tough to ‘grit your teeth and bear it’ if there’s no ‘because’ that follows.
And there you have it! The biggest takeaways from a roundup of truly awesome athletes.
We hope to bring you more interesting interviews and takeaways in the next 8 months. In the meantime, will you put any of these tips into your own practice?