Obstacle Course Racing is becoming more and more popular. However specific training is not taken seriously enough. Gym bunnies work on strength and power and then go out on a totally different terrain and environment. They get taken by surprise, they break bones, cut themselves and have an awful day. After participating in OCR’s for the past 2 years, coaching and having covered over 100 km of racing and much more territory training in OCR environments I feel in a reasonable position to write this guide to OCR preparation.

1. Learn to run

The running technique I taught The Monday Magazine readers is the one I, and many OCR racers, use to make sure we get to the finish line safe and injury free.

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OCR running is very very different from off road running. A few puddles on your way is nothing compared to a real OCR.

Here are some basic guidelines to run an OCR:

a) Ride the ground, like surfing. The more resistance the less balance you have and you will find yourself face down in the mud. Go where the ground leads you and don’t try to force your way through or over it. The ground will be muddy, hilly, uneven all the time so you need to run smart.

b) Learn from penguins, keep your feet under your hips and make small strides, you will probably be faster than most others this way and safer.

c) Don’t sprint, unless you are an experienced OCR racer (not off road runner).

d) Keep your eyes open for holes in the ground, roots, fallen trees, branches etc. If you talk to someone talk ear to ear, your eyes are always wide open and scanning.

e) Expect the unexpected. You may think that’s a small puddle, you jump in it or run through it and suddenly you’re in mud or water up to your chest. You can seriously injure yourself.

 2. Learn to crawl and get your hands dirty before the race

Many people crawl on their knees. If you feel good about bruising and scratching your knees then slide and crawl on them.

I like to keep my knees safe. So I learn how to bear crawl (facing down), and inverse crawl or crab walk (facing up).

a) Bear crawl – use under cargo nets, barbed wire, up steep hills when running is difficult.

b) Crab walk – use for downhill so you don’t slip.

With either one dig your finger deep into the ground, as if you had panther claws.

obstacle course race_2

 3. Learn to jump and land

I cannot emphasize this enough. In an OCR you jump off, over, through and land on many, many different types of surfaces (hills, rocks, bogs, roots, branches, ditches, rivers, lakes etc). You have no idea how deep the water is, the mud or what’s underneath it. Expect anything and everything.

I saw many people letting go of monkey bars and dropping into the water below, landing and breaking knees and ankles. This is partially because they assume the water is deep and then they land poorly.

How do you jump and land then? This could be an article in itself but I will do my best to summarize it here (learn the technique in a safe environment).

a) Before you jump make sure you are stable on your feet, so your feet don’t slide backwards and land on your face

b) Use your legs as if they were springs. Don’t jump with straight legs, coil them as if they were springs and when you are ready for take-off release the spring

c) Land with soft knees. If necessary break the fall with your hands, do a roll even, if you think it is necessary and you know how to do it.

d) Don’t resist the landing, the impact will be send straight up your ankles, knees, hips and back. Land with soft knees. Look at your knees as your suspensions.

e) DO NOT ASSUME that if the person in front of you jumped into the water and was OK you will be as well. Two inches to the right may be a fallen tree under water. Expect anything and everything under the water and mud.

4. Learn the break fall

This is a more specific training, it requires practice. But once you get the hang of it can save you form a lot of pain. I’ve been using the break roll in OCR and Karate Competitions when I lose balance and cannot get it back, instead of forcing myself back to standing I do a roll and up and away I go.

Here is a video for you:

WARNING: Break rolls can lead to serious injuries. They are dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing. Hire a Martial Arts teacher or someone who knows how to teach the break roll.

You will need to be able to roll over stones, up and down hills in case you need to. Learning the roll in a gym will only get you familiar with it, but OCR is a different story. Be prepared.

A video is not enough to prepare you for safe OCR racing. So if you need help just get in touch.

7. Face your worst fears and get Your Medal

Whether you are afraid of heights, tight places or water you will certainly have confronted and defeated them at the end of an obstacle race, when, full of mud and cold, you receive a medal and a clean t-shirt. I guess the reason OCR has exploded the way it has is because it’s not about running, it’s about everything that makes us humans. It’s about challenging your mind, pushing boundaries you never knew you could overcome.

It’s about working together and making friends, it’s about living the life of an adventurer, it’s all about going back into our childhood where rules such as stay clean and don’t play in mud did not exist! There is so much more to talk about when it comes to OCR, like adapting to cold water and cold weather, nutrition and hydration before, during and after the race. But these can wait and I hope this has been a useful introduction to the wonderful world of Obstacle Course Racing.

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