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So You’re Thinking About Signing Up for Your First Obstacle Course Race

So You’re Thinking About Signing Up for Your First Obstacle Course Race

So you’re thinking about signing up for your first Obstacle Course Race, intimidated? Don’t be. Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) offers something for everyone. But before you get started, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Are you doing this for fun? You have been challenged by a co-worker/friend/family member? You want to lose weight and/or get yourself back on a consistent fitness path?
  2. Are you doing this because you want to work toward becoming competitive in the sport of OCR?
  3. Are you a high level athlete in another sport looking to transfer over to OCR and quickly learn everything it takes to be competitive as soon as possible?

Just about every person who toes the line at an OCR falls in to one of these three categories and there are definitely things to consider depending on what group you fall in line with.

You’re doing this for fun, you’ve been challenge, or you’re wanting to become more fit:

You make up by far the largest percentage of people who register for an OCR. When compared to a local 5k road, OCR is no doubt a ton of fun. It takes us back to our childhood when it was very normal to jump, crawl, run, carry, climb, scratch, fall, tumble, throw, and bleed our way through childhood. You really don’t need much to do your first OCR. A pair of shoes with good traction, dri-fit clothing (not required but recommended), an awesome attitude, and you’re ready to roll. If you’re entering a long distance OCR, you’ll need to consider nutrition and hydration needs that go above and beyond the water stations you’ll find our on course. Replacing your fuel stores appx every 40-45min and staying hydrated throughout the race is important.

If you have no OCR experience, there are short distances races you can jump in and work your way around the course with little to no experience. In most cases, you’re going to fail some obstacles, you’re going to get muddy, you’ll probably have some bumps and bruises, you’re going to get outside your comfort zone, and you’re going to have a blast. As long as you’re not worried about your time at all, there isn’t a lot of training that needs to go in to your first race. The main concern going in will be can you cover the distance? It’s normal for some people to walk all or a good portion of the course. Along the way you’re going to be doing a lot of crawling, climbing, carrying, hanging and traversing, pulling, and moving. For your basic preparation, I recommend you start walking and/or running. Begin or increase the amount of exercises you’re currently doing in the following areas: ground based exercises like bear crawling, upper body strength training with an emphasis on improving grip and pull strength (this is a common deficient area that causes the most obstacle failure out on course), bodyweight squats and lunges, and carrying weight such as sandbags, logs, and buckets filled with weight. It promises to make for an eventful morning when you try to get out of bed the next day. I know you’ll be back for more though. It’s a wonderful addiction and many of you will have the natural progression of working toward completing your first OCR without obstacle failure. You are the reason the sport of OCR has done so well up to this point and I can promise you’ll love the experience, the people you meet, and just about everything the OCR community has to provide you. Welcome to your first OCR!

You’re doing this because you want to work toward becoming competitive in the sport of OCR:

This is pretty common for competitors who’ve played sports in the past and see OCR as a sport where they can possibly have some success with proper preparation. There are three distinct difference I’ve seen over the years as an OCR coach. Some athletes are coming in with a strong running base and struggle the most with obstacles, there’s a group who will excel at the obstacles and have a lot of room for improvement in the running area, and there will be a group that can hold their own in both areas but has definite room for improvement in both areas.

There are several very specific areas of training in OCR that are required to compete at a high level. You must be a good runner, you must have exceptional grip & pull strength and grip & pull strength endurance. These are to two most important areas of OCR. Many races takes place in areas that require a lot of ascending and descending mountainous terrain. In many cases, strong runners aren’t necessarily strong at the two disciplines. A successful track or road racing athlete will not always adapt well to courses that contain a lot of ascending, descending, and technical terrain. Improving in this area is going to be very important. In almost every race you enter, you’re going to be tasked with carrying something heavy for a long duration and usually up and down steep and technical terrain. To complete these type obstacles at a high level, it requires a strong aerobic base as well as core, upper, and lower body strength.

You are a high level athlete in another sport looking to transfer over to OCR and quickly learn everything it takes to be competitive at the highest level in the sport:

This is the smallest of the three groups but our sport has had great success in a very short period of time and this group is growing. The majority are holding down other jobs while competing but when you combine prize money and sponsorship deals, there are numerous OCR athletes who are training and racing full time now. Just to name a few, we’ve had high level athletes merge over from sports such as biathlon, cross country skiing, mountain biking, road cycling, track and field, road and trail running, triathlon, and others. In most cases, this group of athletes are toeing the line with an exceptional aerobic capacity. They have strong aerobic engines that immediately give them an advantage in a sport that requires just that. Their biggest challenge is becoming obstacle proficient as quickly as possible and adapting to the challenging terrain. Currently there are three basic obstacle failure set-ups across the OCR world.

Mandatory obstacle completion for the top level athletes competing in usually what’s called the elite heat. Just as it states, you must complete the obstacle before you can move on. Wrist bands are given to these athletes and they are cut off or removed if you are unable to complete the obstacle. Multiple attempts to complete the obstacles are allowed.

Spartan Race requires a 30 burpee penalty for failing an obstacle. In most cases, you are given one attempt to complete the obstacle and if you fail, you are required to complete 30 burpees before you can move on.

Penalty laps are used at World’s Toughest Mudder and have also been used at other races across the globe. A penalty lap could be a marked of distance you have to run if you fail the obstacle and in some cases you have to carry some type of weight with you while completing the penalty lap.

Other than the spear throw in a Spartan Race, the majority of obstacle failure occurs on obstacles that require grip & pull strength and grip & pull strength endurance. This is definitely one of the biggest focus points for any high level athlete coming in from another sport. You can be the best runner on the planet but if you can’t complete the gauntlet of upper body grip and pull strength obstacles that are thrown at you, you don’t stand a chance in the sport of OCR. Heavy carries have also created a serious challenge for some top level athletes who merge over weighing much less and not possessing the full body strength required to complete the carry obstacles fast and efficient. For many top level athletes merging over, beginning or increasing the amount of time they spend running on technical trails and terrain that includes a lot of ascending and descending is very important. In summary, the strong aerobic engine is the most important ingredient for a top level OCR athlete but without adequate training time spent becoming obstacle proficient, the sport will eat you up and you won’t find yourself on top of the podium and for mandatory obstacle completion courses, you will find yourself with a long list of DQ’s.

We’re starting to see an awesome push for shorter distance races in the sport of OCR. Spectators (in person or on TV) like watching people and things move fast and the shorter distance courses open the door for a much larger market of athletes who have specialized in shorter distance races in their previous sports. OCRWC will have a 3000m/1.8 mile course this year at OCR World Championships and Spartan recently held an appx 1000m short course at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Up to this point in our sport, the distances have ranged from 5000m/3 mile distance – appx 50k/30 mile distance. There are also races that go for 12 or 24 hour and multiple day races.

No matter what category you’re in, I can promise you’re going to find something you enjoy. It may be your new training partners, your time spent out on course tackling the challenging terrain and obstacles, the amazing friendships that are built hanging around the festival areas before and after the race, or maybe just the new you who’s all geeked up excited about signing up for your next race. We’re living in a time when there is a lot of tension around our country and the world. I’ve been involved in fitness, coaching, training, competing, and racing for a long time and I’ve never seen anything bring people together like organized sports. The sport of OCR has proven this over and over again. There are millions people and groups who have come together because of this sport and everyone in the top group I described, you will receive help out on course from people you’ve never met and you’ll be helping people you’ve never met. It doesn’t matter if they are big, small, tall, short, black, white, brown, etc., you’ll help others and you’ll receive help from others and you’ll be out there conquering the same course the top level athletes are on. I hope to have the opportunity to give each and every one of you a big fist bump and a hug at a training session, at a festival area, or maybe even out on course. A quote from one of my favorite movies The Man From Snowy River, “You’re Welcome At My Fire Anytime”.

-Coach Yancy

Yancy has been competing in the sport of OCR since 2011 and is currently one of the most influential coaches in North America and the Founder of Yancy Camp. Yancy Camp provides Obstacle Course Racing athletes from all levels of fitness with an effective and inexpensive way to team up with a top level athlete to get an insider’s view into their training program. Learn more at

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