You explode out of the mud, gasping for air and try to get your freezing legs moving again. Staring ahead at the next obstacle (probably named something ridiculous like “Satin’s Sand Pit” or something) in the distance and wishing that your friends hadn’t talked you into this stupid idea in the first place… This may be your reaction or you may go bounding into the mud like a gleeful toddler out for a muddy puddle splashing adventure in your bright shiny new red wellington boots. Either way this kind of race is great fun and well worth the mud, sweat and if in Ireland rain to experience.


Having completed one or two of these races in my time I thought I’d share a post on training for strength endurance rather than just pure power. Most strength athletes even those who maintain a relatively high fitness level for sports or just personal pride often shy away from or avoid entirely endurance races like 10km or marathons like the plague. However with the recent explosion of obstacle course races across the globe it is safe to say that there is a new, fun and more enticing way to test your endurance rather than just pounding the tarmac for long periods of time around your city streets.

The obstacle course races test your endurance and stamina obviously but they also test adaptability, strength, core balance and control and at times mental fortitude. When you are covered head to toe in mud, that makes it look (and smell) like you just crawled through the sewers trying to follow the escape of Andy Dufrense from Shawshank prison, and trying to keep your grip on monkey bars just as grime covered as you, or you are sprinting through waves of potential electric shocks you realize that this race you signed up for is more of a minor recreation of  what would happen if you crossed an episode of Bear Grylls with a final destination movie than a typical 10km race.

However don’t let my description put you off. The race is bloody good fun. If you turn up in a pair or large group you are only making it better as that commradery and team feeling is a great boost to help you round (and it’s always hilarious to see you friend emerge from the mud gasping for breath looking more like the Pokemon Muk than a battle scarred and painted Rambo but don’t laugh too long because no doubt you will experience a similar fate just around the corner.

Normally the races are out in the country side combining forest with river trails, marshes and open grass land with plenty of obstacles spread out a long it. To give you an idea the last race I did was 12.5km starting immediately with a full submersion in an ice bath, followed by about a 1km run through rivers and bogs. Then scrambling up fences and pulling yourself up a hill in your back as others beside you squirmed and panted their way along. After that it was another big bog that you could sink up to your chest into at spots before the first electric shock station and then into a mountain run for about 1km carrying a log. And with more in between it finished with a 10ft wall that makes you happy you pulled your partner though the last river and then a glorious mud slide/ water slide on your chest down a hill and into a 100m sprint to the line.

When you finish the race you may well feel something like Dutch from the Predator movies covered in Mud, bloodied from battle and ready to take on the world, or you may be running screaming from the course with the words get to the choppa bellowing from your lips…

Training is relatively simple but must include some basic principles in order to make sure you have more than enough to match even the toughest obstacle.

  1. Cardio-  obviously it is still a running race but the obstacles provide plenty of breaks and you will never really run for more than 1km without hitting at least 1 obstacle if not 10 or 20. Therefore running is needed but not to the point of ludicrously. I used a system of 1km runs for time with a 2 min rest as the main running work. With a mix of short sprints or longer 5-10km runs now and again to provide speed and variety to the training. I would also recommend running outdoors or around local forest parks to get used to the terrain and hills rathe than treadmill or track running. I also used rowing machines to provide the upper body endurance and a lot of circuits based training to help condition my full body to be able to work hard and recover fast using a jogging recovery in between each circuit to let me get used to recovering on the run.
  2. Strength – full body strength is needed but not necessarily an all out power lifting style. You will not be rewarded here for your 1 rep max but rather your overall strength. I focused a lot on jumping, lunging and squatting for the legs and push ups and pull ups for the upper body to provide that high rep strength needed to get though the many obstacles. However for the real power athletes out there reading this having that brute strength is very handy when it comes to the bogs as you will easily power though the deep mud where others would sink and falter. Or you can be the guy or girl who is able to throw your team mates over obstacles before tacking them yourself.
  3. Core control- at times balance and control are needed and having a strong core will help here. I used things like plank variations (walking plank, superman, cope bar sliding planks) as well as toes to bars, farmers carries and other more traditional crunch like moves. Either incorporating them into a circuit or on their own. You will be glad you took the time to work on balance too when you are on rough terrain, or very slippery conditions and you are the only one not falling and flailing around in the mud.
  4. Team building – Okay so not necessarily important if you are already part of a team or group of friends who have entered a race but it is a fun way to train and bring up the groups fitness together. A good way to work is either in a large circuit where each person does X seconds or reps of an exercise and then moves on. Or using the 300 casts style of partner workouts where one partner has to perform a static hold exercise or keep doing a certain exercise of as many reps as they can whilst the other rows, runs or cycles a certain distance. The slower your partner goes the longer you have to hold that position and believe me you will be screaming at them to hurry up. And when it’s your turn on the rower they will happily reciprocate that desire for you to move your ass. race-1

If you live in Northern Ireland like me and want to try some of these events then have a look at some of these:

  • Hard as Oak
  • Hell and Back
  • Tough Mudder 
  • The Bog Run

I recommend entering it in a pair or larger group to add some enjoyment especially if it is your first go. After that if you think you have what it takes to win then either pick a strong partner or go after it alone and test yourself in the obstacle sand mud until only one truth remains. Either you stand glorious atop the mountainside covered in the sweat and gore of victory or you have sunk deep into the bog cursing your foolishness to leave your partner behind and covered in filth and defeat.

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