There is less than one month until my first OCR (obstacle course race). This one is called the Badass Dash. At the time that I bravely registered for it with my 5 K fitness pal Mary, I felt a rush of joy. I was saying yes to life, to challenge, to adventure, to showing myself what I am capable of! Then, in the past 2 weeks, life has been daring to insinuate itself and throw off my haphazard training schedule with demands for meal preparation, work, rides to and fro and emotional support for loved ones.
When I signed up, I had a vague idea that I would start doing push-ups and sit-ups and running a bit further, stepping it up more each day and week, until I emerged a buff and fit obstacle course warrior. I realize now this could be one of those instances in life where a game plan could have been more useful than optimism. Now, with a month to go before I am crawling through tubes and sliding down mud hills (the cool part), I find myself grappling with these questions that you may be tossing around too:
Why did I think I could do this?
Because I’m human. I’m optimistic and I like to work towards something. The long term idea of fitness for longevity and overall health is great, but after a few weeks and months of hard work it doesn’t motivate me as sharply as the terror of not being able to climb a steep incline in the event of a zombie apocalypse (or just in front of my pal Mary). The need to keep motivated in order to keep moving forward was the reason I went beyond my ability level in ambition. This is not a bad idea. Variety in training keeps things fresh for all athletes, even the clueless newbies like me. But could I have committed to something that will allow me to push too far until I snap tendons? Not unless I lose perspective and don’t train or listen to my body during the race. It is important as a beginner to understand that the goal is not to win the race-not yet- but to beat your old self at what you are capable of.
I did read about the event carefully though, and I saw that people do often walk between obstacles (so no need to run the whole 8k) and if you skip an obstacle for any reason (possible reasons I anticipate: fear, trembling muscles, exhaustion, lack of skill) they will ask you to do push-ups or sit ups instead. My push up regime at home as been fierce and very consistent as a result. What this means though is that at most fitness levels a person can participate. You or I can do it, at our own pace, but the desire for our own level and pace to be good enough to really do it will motivate us to work harder during the training period. So, I’m not just working out anymore. I am training. And I’ve got an excuse to make protein smoothies.
Why would I want to do this?
The answer is probably similar for most racers. I do it for adventure, camaraderie, motivation and accomplishment. But perhaps a broader perspective would be to consider that the human body evolved in a setting where physical activities were pretty varied and constant. Walking and running several miles a day, plus climbing, leaping, lifting, crawling and reaching were all part of our original repertoire. When these activities seem obsolete because our work has become less physical and technology has provided us opportunity to move much less, our bodies suffer from underuse and the health effects have far reaching consequences for us modern people with sedentary lives. Some of them you and I would prefer to avoid such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and infertility.
How do I do this?
There are a few people out there who have done this before and are willing to share their wisdom about how to train for an obstacle race. Women’s Running website has a six week obstacle race training plan complete with a handy printable PDF, a terminology guide and some useful guidelines which I will be implementing, such as practice some running off road, since most ORs have dirt and trail courses.
Outside Magazine has a succinct and highly doable 8 week plan (oops, I’m skipping to week 4) that includes frequent use of the terrifying exercise called burpees. There is also a do’s and don’t list that I have scoured in the effort to understand what the correct gear is. The take home message is to use no cotton clothing. It rips, gets soggy and heavy and generally you will want to tear it off.
If burpees and dips and bear crawls all sound like desserts to you, you may need a few video tutorials on how to get your body in obstacle scaling mode. I found the Obstacle Racers website to have all of the moves (done by able bodied demonstrators) very useful and a real wake up call. Thanks to them, I now understand that the one mile runs and 3 pound curls can’t be the cardio and upper body strength pinnacles of my training anymore.
My favorite read on how to prepare includes some useful nutritional information as well. It is titled Top 5 Adventure Race Preparation Tips (so you don’t die) at the fitness blog of Dai Manuel. Dai recommends you eat 40% of calories from carbs, 30% protein and 30% fats for the week before race day. But if figuring that ratio out doesn’t come easy to you, consider eating smaller meals, and cleaner meals (no sugar or junk food) and upping the carbs and vegetable load.
Water will be provided at stations along the race course, but getting your electrolytes in order beforehand is good because it is something that could pop up if you aren’t acclimated to lengthy workouts that last over a few hours. Runner Academy breaks down the signs and symptoms of electrolyte imbalance and has advice for what to do to avoid the issue.
What do I need or want to do this?
I was planning to wear my trusty old running shoes with hardly any tread left (because I won’t care how dirty they get) when my research reminded me of the muddy inclines I would encounter. Fortunately, the Sneaker Report has a list of the ten best sneakers for mud runs that I can now study obsessively over at Zappos.
As for clothes, I am going to defer to the sage advice of Margo at Spartan Race as she not only lays out the wearables but also the post-race necessities, like a spare change of clothes and a gallon of water to wash the mud off. She even provided photos of her kit. I don’t think I’ll be sporting just the sports bra as she does, due to my own concerns about bingo wing arms, but I get the need to make up a gear bag now. Also, I see that the overall cost of the event I am joining in will not just be my contribution to helping find a cure for Autism through Autism Speaks, but also a hefty investment in better gear for myself. Still, I am confident that these items will have their uses in other dirt filled exercise settings. Just having a pair of grimy waterproof sneakers laying in the mud room will no doubt be a call to action all summer long.